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Our DAILY GOSPEL DEVOTIONAL is the story of Jesus from Incarnation to Ascension. This is a chronology and harmony of the gospel accounts in which the ongoing narrative and doctrinal context are carefully considered. In one year we reflect on every passage of every gospel.
May God bless you as we follow the disciples on the journey through the earthly life of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Christology

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God
(Matthew 16:16 – ESV)

In doctrine and practice, it is not merely what you affirm, but also what you deny. For example, a child doesn’t need to know all about the Trinity to be saved. However, if a theologian, pastor, or so-called seasoned believer knows about the doctrine of the Trinity and yet denies it, then we have a different situation. Again, does a person need to know all bible doctrine to be saved? No, but if that same person denies essential doctrine, say the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and clings to some other way, say salvation by grace plus works, then we do not have a believer but a heretic and/or an apostate.

There are many false Christ’s out there and false doctrines about the true Christ. What we want to do here is to explain some of these Christological heresies. For some, this may seem a little too heavy for you at first, but it isn’t and you need this information, so stick with it, because you will see these things pop up in your future, and you need to be able to recognize them and run from them.

Doceticism – doctrine especially associated with the Gnostics that Jesus had no human body and only appeared to have died on the cross. Jesus only spirit not physical man; also used to describe teaching that focuses on divine to the exclusion of human (Luke 24:36-43 / Acts 10:41 / 1 John 4:1-3).

Other Gnostics admitted the humanity of the man Jesus, but claimed that the Christ was an aeon or power that came on Jesus at His baptism in the form of a dove and left him on the Cross so that only the man Jesus died. This power was not all power, and Jesus was not fully God.

A variation of this is that some Messianic Jews and others believe that Jesus was born fully man and became fully God upon His baptism by the Holy Spirit.

Cerinthianism – This flawed notion, separating Jesus from “the Christ”, and saying that Jesus was a man who attained godlike power, or that he simply "realized" the "divine spark" or "the Christ within", and that we can do the same. This fails to give Jesus the glory He is due, and is therefore worshipping man and his potential instead. This goes all the way back to Paul’s time: the Son was simply a man filled with the divine power of God and therefore was in no way a divine person. In the book of Colossians, Paul nails the door shut on the “divine principle” nonsense we hear of today. Paul says unequivocally that Jesus was and is God, fully God. He doesn’t have the power, He IS the power. Modern day variations include Christian Science, and the New Age Jesus.

Ebionites – many believe that some of the Judaizers (see Galatians) were of this sect. This is a belief that Jesus was the entirely human son of Jesus and Mary. This denied preexisting divinity of Jesus, believing He was a mortal man who was adopted by God for perfectly performing the Jewish Law. The Ebionites believed in the necessity of following the Law and observed all the Jewish rites, such as circumcision and the seventh-day Sabbath, while rejecting the writings of Paul as those of an apostate. This leads to a denial or a distortion of the Trinity, the virgin birth, original sin and the death of Jesus as an atonement for sin, or having to reinterpret Paul through some other grid. Modern manifestations include the Seventh Day Adventists (to a degree) and in a sense the Sufi Muslims.

Arianism – Jesus was of similar (but not identical) substance as the Father; there was a time when He was not. This denies that Jesus was of the same substance as God and holding instead that He was only the highest of created beings. Jesus had the divine power but was not a part of it, but created by it. Not quite fully human, not quite fully divine.

Modern manifestations, variations, and theological cousins: Some adherents of Unitarianism fall into this category. Jehovah's Witnesses do have some similar beliefs to Arius, namely, that Jesus had a pre-human existence as the Logos. However, Arius viewed the Holy Spirit as a person, whereas Jehovah's Witnesses do not attribute personality to the spirit. Jehovah's Witnesses also, unlike Arians, deny belief in a disembodied soul after death, and in eternal punishment in hell for the unrepentantly wicked. Christadelphians, along with the Church of the Blessed Hope, believe that Jesus' pre-natal existence was a conceptual Logos, rather than a literal Logos. Mormons believe in the unity in purpose of the Godhead but that Jesus is a divine being distinct from God the Father, but the same in every other respect.

Apollinarianism – Jesus' soul was divine rather than human, only his body was truly human. God was in Jesus' head, in a sense. In this view, Jesus was the man; Christ was the mind.

Socinianism – Jesus only the human instrument of divine mercy and the Holy Spirit only the divine activity of God. This leads to a denial of God’s omnipotence and of original sin. Modern day manifestations are seen in Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist churches and in what is known as the “Open Theism” view.

Nestorianism – this view of Jesus is that the divine, and the man, shared the same body but retained two separate personhoods. This Jesus would be schizophrenic in a sense.

Eutychianism – Jesus' two natures were assimilated so that his human nature was deified by its union with his divine nature, and formed a new hybrid (theanthropic) nature. Modern manifestation and variation can be seen in the Eastern Orthodox conception and doctrine of theosis.

Modalism / Sabellianism / Patripassianism – is the belief that the Father, Son and Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, rather than three distinct persons. There are subtle differences in these but a modern manifestation / variation is the Oneness Pentecostals.

There are actually more we could mention, but you can begin to see why the Trinity is such an important doctrine because it holds the other important things together (like the Hypostatic Union, or the Atonement) and acts as a bulwark against heresy. John Calvin called the doctrine of the Trinity Christianity’s special mark of distinction. Virtually all heresies begin with a misconception the nature of God. Mess with Jesus, and you mess up everything else.


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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Performance Rider

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines… yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
(Habakkuk 3:17-18 – ESV)

In the world of entertainment, there is an item known as a performance rider. This is an artist (musician, actor, guest, etc.) giving a set of requests as criteria for performance. In other words, a performance rider is a list of accommodations that must be met in order for the talent to agree to perform at the venue. If the demands cannot be met, the artist will not perform, simple.

We might relate this to some professed believers and their attitude toward God, with regards to going to church or reading their Bible or praying regularly. What some are doing is serving the God of self. They are saying, in effect, “I’ll serve God as long as He serves me”. They go to church when it is “all good”; when God is giving them what they want, they give Him what they think He wants. Let me tell you, He wants none of that trash. You are not the “talent” in this scenario, God is the one who has performed in Christ on your behalf, and now it is your turn to meet His demands, not vice versa. His criterion is a repentant and humble heart.

In the world of sports, there is the phenomenon of “contract negotiation”, where a player bargains with a team for a fee for services to be rendered. The contract calls for so many years of service for so many dollars. The better a player had performed in the past, and the more potential for the future a player has, the more the contract will be for in terms of length and/or money. Interestingly, on today’s scene, players who perform up to the potential that was seen in the negotiating phase, and agreed to by both parties, now they feel as if they are entitled to more.

Again, we can relate this to the “church world” today. When the chips are down, for many they just cash in. But for others who perform at what they feel is a peak level, well, they want God to “sweeten the deal”. But God offers no such incentive to “performance”. What He calls for is endurance, that is the deal we signed up for, and He doesn’t do contract negotiation. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12 – ESV).

We should rejoice that God doesn’t give us a performance rider, and that He doesn’t do contract negotiation. It isn’t our performance that counts, amen, it is what Christ did for us, and His performance rider was to suffer for the sins of the world on the cross; do you want that? Rejoice, even in troubling times, for God doesn’t look to our performance, and He always comes though on His end of the deal.

Without ignoring the reality of suffering, Habakkuk turned his attention away from it and fixed his gaze upon the more critical issue of salvation. So which are you more aware of, the present suffering, or the great salvation (Hebrews 2:3) that is in Jesus Christ?

To know true joy in the midst of suffering is to recognize that regardless of the severity of suffering we experience in this life, it is never as great or as serious as our sins. That's a divine perspective of suffering. As a Christian, our suffering is never as great as our sins.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fortune Seller

Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
(Ezekiel 13:3)

Much of what the true prophets of the Old Testament did was to confront the false prophets of that day. In our time, this is also one of the signs of a God sent prophet, to distinguish them from the many counterfeits that are always near the real men of God. The prophet will speak against those who hear, not from God, but from their own imaginations. Men like John MacArthur or the late A.W. Tozer are persons I would consider to be a “prophet”.

We all need to be on the lookout for the false prophets of today, or any day, if we are reading material from the past. Just because you do not believe in so-called “prophecy” today does not mean that you cannot be fooled. Let’s look at this for a moment.

The false prophets of today are often not acting as fortune tellers, but fortune sellers. They have guaranteed ways of garnering God’s blessing for your life. Or so they imply, what, with their steps to success, keys to the kingdom, miracle water, anointed prayer cloth, or whatever the toy in the happy meal package is this month. These days they are not so much into telling the future, but selling the future. They may not even call themselves a prophet, but they are certainly looking to profit, if not from your money, then from your recognition. That is where even the non-charismatic person can get duped.

It is up to the believer to be able to look to the Word of God to discern truth from error. The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, points to many warning signs of a false prophet. Often false prophets understand that others are on the lookout for them, or they don’t want to be considered a false prophet, because they are deluded by their own status of self. Because of this they will make sure to maintain a sterling character, and many will not make wild predictions.

However, this isn’t the only measure of and the only way to spot a false prophet. The false or foolish prophets are not only those who incorrectly foretell the future, or those whose moral character is lacking, but also those who are self-promoters instead of God promoters, and those who do not confront the people with their sin, but instead speak smooth words designed to flatter the people. Mark it down; a false prophet will fail on one or more of these accounts. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Often we hear talk that the Bible is God’s “owner’s manual”. This is wrong. The Bible is not an owner’s manual; God is not a vehicle for you to drive. Others use the Bible and its promises like a witch uses her dark books. They distort the Word of God. If you would use proper context and a decent hermeneutic, you might see that they often claim promises that are not actually there. When we use the Word like a magic book, we try and find "spells" to justify our actions. They ask you to plant your seed, but what they really mean is grant their greed.

Self-deluded and self-important people often take the title of “prophet”, or assume a position of leadership within the visible church, but speak little more than empty words. There will always be, however, weak minded, backslidden, or fleshly churchgoers who will flock to these popular but poisonous teachers. Many whom haven’t been renewed in their minds or transformed in their character are simply looking for an edge. What they get is cut to pieces.

With so many examples of false prophets, so many warnings against falling under their influence, and so many signs given to distinguish the true from the false, it is easy to see that those who do fall prey to false prophets are often ignorant of the Word of God on the subject.

Sell out to God: read the Word, know the Truth, and stay with that!

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Shadow Boxing

These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
(Colossians 2:17,23 – ESV)

After Paul spoke about Christ and His work in Colossians 2:9-15, he gave some practical application. Because of and through Christ, God has taken away any subordinate means as essential to being accepted by Him. He goes on to explain in verses 16-23 of the things we are therefore not to succumb and submit to, stating in essence that legalism, mysticism, and asceticism (monasticism) do not work.

Spiritual maturity is not gained through the methods often employed by some in the church, but a measure of maturity is the sense of your own sinfulness. Humility is the seed of holiness, and holiness starts in the heart not the hands.

The legalism that takes a matter and makes it a must or at least a higher standard of spirituality is typified by the idea of Sabbath keeping and the like. Christians are free to keep the Sabbath day if they so desire, but this doesn’t make them more spiritual, give them special blessings or bring them closer to God. They can’t bind the consciences of other’s with their convictions; it is a matter of liberty, not a binding legality.

No rigorous self-imposed devotion to types and shadows will make you more spiritual. It is Christ’s life being formed in you by abiding in Him. It is not done by formula or ritual. One aspect of legalism is that the doctrines of men are promoted as the laws of God.

Paul also says that it isn’t some mystical experience that will get you to grow; it is God’s life in you that is growing. These movements often appeal to elites or an elitist notion, not something for the whole body. Jesus wants us all to grow together.

Galatians 4:17 – some will shut you out from the elite so that you will strive to become a member of the elite. The gnostics had a type of higher knowledge theory, and so, too, many today sell a deeper life or a higher level or whatever, so as to get others to come after them and their new improved doctrine and not after Christ (Acts 20:20-32).

Some so-called spiritual disciplines and contemplative prayer are simply self-made religion. We are not called to be monks but missionaries. Self-made religion is man reaching to God, trying to justify himself by keeping a list of rules. Christianity is God reaching down to man in love through Christ.

Gnosticism places the emphasis on the individual outside any real context of community (solipsism – for knowledge, my mind is the only thing that matters). What is noteworthy is the lack of any uniformity apart from its elitist notion that salvation comes by special knowledge. As the Christian community of the early centuries started to become established, they codified common belief in creedal statements and councils. Gnosticism knows nothing of this because it rests upon an elitist, intellectual, and self-centered sense of what their religion should be. It is easy to see modern reflections of this idea. Of course, all of these are just some more reasons why it is vital to be in fellowship and growing with people of like precious faith.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saturday Special: Pastor Dave Arnold #2

“THE SEVEN STEPS OF TEMPTATION”

Dante Alighieri, the Italian Florentine poet, who lived from 1264 to 1321, has an allegorical picture of life as a journey in which a man climbed up a winding mountain road. He begins his journey as a young man. After climbing for a short while, a vicious wolf leaped out of the bushes and attempts to rip him to pieces. According to Dante, this was the wolf of lust, of physical passion, and represented the major temptation of a young person. As the man climbed higher, reaching “middle life,” a huge tiger sprang on him. This was the tiger of pride, representing the great temptation of middle age, which is pride of position, reputation and social standing. Finally, as he approached the top, at the time of “old age,” a large, hairy-maned lion came bounding after him. The great temptation of later life, money and financial security, is the lion. As he classified these three great temptations, Dante’s point is that there is no level of life where you will be free from temptation.

It has been correctly observed, “You are not tempted because you are evil. You are tempted because you are human.” Temptation comes to us all, but we can resist if we know the process the devil uses to cause us to yield. There are seven steps to temptation.

1. The ENTRANCE of the thought. This is not a sin. Everyone has thoughts. Satan works from without to within. When Paul spoke of spiritual warfare, he used words such as “strongholds,” “arguments,” “high things,” and “thoughts” that must be dealt with in our mind (see 2 Corinthians 10:3 – 5). Helmut Thielicke, in his sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, said that the petition, “Lead me not into temptation,” should be more accurately phrased, “Let nothing become a temptation to me.”

2. The ENTERTAINMENT of the thought. This is the first mistake. In 1667, a doctor named Richard Gilpin wrote a book entitled, “Demonologia Sacra,” where he suggested ways to win over temptations. One he listed was, “Put a sudden stop to any possibility of giving in to your temptation.” James 1:14 warns, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” The words “drawn away” pictures an individual being drawn to temptation by a strong lust within his or her nature. The expression was used to describe wild animals drawn into traps, frequently resulting in death. The word “enticed” pictures a fish being lured by bait dangled before its eyes. Within the bait is a hook that ensnares the fish. One said, “When a man feels sure he is free from temptation, it’s a sure sign he should be on his guard.”

3. The EXAMINATION of the thought. This is when we go over the details. We consider and think about how we would do it. Back in 1998, a local publication in the Tampa Bay, Florida area printed the story of how an English owner of a two-football-fields-long freighter, agreed to pay the 700 natives on an isolated Pacific island about $ 2 million for the damage to a valuable coral reef. The damage was caused when the skipper tried to maneuver out of the ship channel just so he could get a better look at the island’s topless women! J. Wilbur Chapman said, “Temptation is the tempter looking through the keyhole into the room where you are living. Sin is you drawing back the bolt and making it possible for him to enter.”

4. The ENJOYMENT of the thought. This is the bonding to the thought. The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 2:11, appealed, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” “Fleshly lusts” speak of “an immoral desire,” and “war” means “to lead a military expedition, to lead soldiers to war or battle, and to carry on a campaign.” These immoral desires are carrying on a campaign against us. Martin Luther learned that a man was seeking an opportunity to stab the Reformer to death. To avoid it, Luther obtained a portrait of the would-be murderer, so that, wherever he went, he was on his guard against the assassin. Using this fact as an illustration, Luther said, “God knows that there are sins that would destroy us, and He has therefore given us portraits of them in His Word, so that wherever we see them we may say, ‘That is a sin that would stab me; I must beware of that evil thing, and keep out of the way’.”

5. The EXPERIENCING of the thought. This is when we go over the details, and consider and think about how we can do it. Thomas Secker said, “To pray against temptation, and yet rush into occasions, is to thrust your fingers into the fire, and then pray they might not burn.”

6. The EXCUSING of the sin. This is to pass the blame, without taking responsibility for our choices. This is the tendency of the flesh, to blame personal failure on someone else, or on some external circumstance that was beyond control. Remember, it was Adam (the natural father of us all) who shifted the blame for his own moral failure to Eve, rather than taking personal responsibility for his choice. Shifting the blame is as old as the Garden of Eden!

7. The being ENVELOPED by it. Like an enclosed envelope, we allow ourselves to become under bondage. In 1 Peter 5:8, we are admonished, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” To “be sober” means to “be self-controlled.” “Be vigilant” warns us to “be watchful.” “Devour” speaks of the enemy in his “attempt in some way to swallow you in one gulp.”

Here is a story, in five short chapters, about how the devil knows just how to trip us up, and how the Lord makes a way of escape, if we so choose.

Chapter one. I walked down the street. There was a deep hole in the sidewalk. I am lost. I am helpless. I fall into the hole. It takes forever to find my way out.

Chapter two. I walked down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend that I don’t see it there. Again, I can’t believe I’m in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter three. I walked down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit. My eyes are open. It’s my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter four. I walked down the same street. There is a hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter five. I just choose to walk down a different street.

Let’s be on our guard, for “Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on our front door forever.”

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all, Amen.” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

To read more from Dave Arnold, you may order his book, “Discipleship Manual,” at www.davidarnoldonline.org. or you may phone at 727 – 868 – 2089.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

No Way To Work It

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight…
(Romans 3:20a – ESV)

The Jews tried to keep it but they couldn’t and so they tried to reinterpret the standard so that it could be met. But the righteous requirements of the Law only awaken resistance not responsiveness, it doesn’t bring justification, it brings condemnation (Galatians 2:16, 21). The Law keeps us in chains so that we may be set free in Christ (Galatians 3:21-22).

Now people want to say they are more good than bad, but no one will be justified by their own good works, their works are not enough (Isaiah 64:6). For those that would try and say that they have followed the Law, Jesus showed up and shows us the true standard and interpreted the spirit of the Law as He did for the rich young ruler. Jesus said unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, and be ye perfect. The question is not are you as good as the next guy but are you as good as Jesus? You have got to keep it all (Galatians 3:10 / James 2:10).

The Ten Commandments are not some ten-step stairway to heaven they are proof positive that no one could climb up to God even if it were only one step. The Ten Commandments are just the preamble to the Law and no one can even do them. Jesus also gave us the true sense of the Law, which upped the spiritual ante so high that no one dare lay claim to a perfect righteousness.

But no one else seems to think you have to be perfect. All the other religions of the world say you can do it if you do this or that but God says no matter what you do it isn’t good enough because you aren’t Me. Romans 3:23 – the question is are you God, not are you good. Most of us realize we aren’t good compared to someone else we know, we are not the best person we have ever known. What then is the median point between good and bad? Who determines this, who decides this? If you are hoping your good outweighs your bad and that this will justify you, how do you know you are better than half or whatever standard you set for yourself?

God doesn’t leave us to guess He gives us His Law and then He gave us Jesus and we all realize that none of us are good compared to God, and we are not even close to being the kind of person Jesus Christ was in morality, in character, and in power. We cannot be justified by our own deeds they will never be enough.

We must be justified to God not justified by men, not justified by your parents or your wife or your husband or your family or your peers or your priest or your guru or your whoever else. God is the one to whom we are responsible, it is God to whom we have to answer to, and it is God whom justifies us, and here through the Apostle Paul and throughout scripture God tells us that no man can be justified in His sight by things that they can do.

Man cannot even keep one law, Adam and Eve proved that even without a sinful nature, and the Law magnifies that. It is like seeing a “do not open” sign. It isn’t that the words are evil but that they reveal what is in our hearts. If the sign weren’t there we wouldn’t have seen our desire to do what we ought not to do. The Law is a signpost folks, a signpost to sin, not a signpost to salvation, and you can replace the Law with any man made religious system that tries to earn its way to heaven or merit the mercy of whatever god it might serve.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Nothing to Say

…so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
(Romans 3:19 – ESV)

The Jews were the “test case”, the object lesson about man and his ability to truly worship, serve, and love God, as He requires. They failed, miserably. People think they could do it, they think they wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit in the first place, or they think that they would obey if they had seen those miracles like the Jews did, but that is pure nonsense. Plenty of people would say they aren’t guilty but compared to what? That is why we have the Law and that is why Jesus gave the spirit of the Law. Looking at the Law we can see that we have not kept it either, and besides, Jesus shows us the spirit of the Law (Matthew 5) and there is no way we are doing that. We see that there is no way we compare to Him and He says we must be perfect. We must be like the Father and like Jesus; we must be perfect.

No one is doing good enough anyway, read the paper, look at TV, the Internet, or you can walk outside, or just look in the mirror and know that the world is a sinful place. Why do we have suffering, because of sin, and suffering doesn’t prove there is no God it proves that we all need God; the problem isn’t God the problem is you. See how we have distorted it all now? The Jews had the rules and they couldn’t do them either. After all Paul has shown us and seeing all we see around us, what will it take before you realize that you are sinful?

The test case failed showing representatively that no one can get the job done. Even the privileged people couldn’t make it. Their priesthood became tarnished with the very first high priest and these people kept on rebelling even though they saw many mighty miracles. From start to finish the flaws of man were obvious, and so they, and by extension we, have nothing to say.

When Paul says every mouth it is present tense. Just because you are not under the Law doesn’t mean you are above the Law. We are guilty and we are responsible before God for that guilt. Your works cannot justify you. Paul has already stopped the mouths of the Jews as we see repeatedly in Romans 1:18-3:18, and he has shown us all that we are guilty. Paul has said that there are no excuses before God.

Still we hear the excuses being made. “This preacher one time did this and that or that church did so and so”. Well that just means they are like everyone else on the planet, a flawed sinful human being. They aren’t good enough. Besides we aren’t asking you to trust religious people or a religious system we are asking you to trust the one priest on this earth who never strayed and the only one who can say anything to God on your behalf (1 Timothy 2:5). There is no hope in anyone or anything else. Why would you stand before God and claim your own righteousness?

The mouths that raise objections against God now will one day be silenced. Every mouth will be stopped. Confident are the declarations of defiant men these days. "Where is God?" they say. Where is yours, I say? How is he doing, how is humanity doing, where is the power, where is the purity? Your man made god has no righteousness; your man made god cannot save you. Man can never climb his way out of his own heart. "Where is God?" they may say, but only for a short season. Then they die, and then they meet Him (Hebrews 9:27), and their mouth is stopped. All boasting will be silenced (Isaiah 2:17). People can trash talk now but really when they look at the Law what have they got to say? Nothing except to explain it away or dumb it down, which you can do now, but then, in the presence of Almighty God, you will have nothing to say.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Behold His Beauty

as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one;
(Romans 3:10 – ESV)

Man best sees the marvelous beauty of Christ when it is set against the backdrop of sinful humanity, in all its depravity. In Romans 3:10-18 Paul uses quotations from the Psalms (Psalms 14:1-3, 5:9, 140:3, 10:7 and 36:1) and from Isaiah 59:7-8 to support the statements of verses 9 and 10: both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, and none is righteous, no, not one.

This look at the human condition is depressing. What’s the point? The Apostle Paul wants us to understand our complete inability to save ourselves. This is actually a hopeful message, we are hurt to be healed, wounded to be made well, put to death to be made alive. If we see the depths of our sin we can appreciate the magnitude of our deliverance. We must believe that we have the sickness so that we will believe in and take the cure. We see the problem before the prescription.

In looking at each of these six Old Testament quotes Paul doesn't mean that every one has the whole indictment in it, but that taken all together they have the whole indictment. Psalm 14:1-3 (vs.10-12) refers to the Gentile world, while Isaiah 59:7-8 (vs.15-17) refers to the Jews. The point is that the Old Testament declares that Jewish people are sinners and Gentile people are sinners.

No one seeks for God – What about all the religion and rituals and practices from the beginning of time? What about them? If man initiates the search then he doesn’t seek the true God, the God of the Bible. Instead he seeks an idol that he makes himself, as Paul explained in Romans 1. Again, he has already said all of this, now he is using the OT scripture to back it up conclusively. He finishes off with “There is no fear of God before their eyes”.

In Romans 1:18-3:18 we see ourselves, and our whole race. We see our lack of power and our lack of purity. I am not God, and I do not deserve His kingdom. Neither do you. I realize that I deserve nothing from God but His anger, and that I am lost without hope if I do not receive grace from Him. I know this to be true. How about you?

Now having seen what we all are, what about Jesus? That is the whole point isn’t it? Just look at Him here in all His beauty. Yes, against the backdrop of sinful humanity, we see the surpassing glory of Christ! Look at the negative phrases in Romans 3:10-18 again and see Christ as opposed to them in magnificent splendor. Like a diamond set in a black box, His radiance shines all the more brighter.

10 – as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one;
Jesus was righteous; the Bible says yes, He is the only One.

11 – no one understands; no one seeks for God.
Jesus did understand God, the Bible says He is the only One to have seen the Father, and came from Him, and Jesus is His Son. The Bible says that Jesus did seek God. He only did what His Father wanted; He sought Him early in the morning and late at night in prayer, and followed the lead of the Holy Spirit His whole life, even if it meant death.

12 – All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
The Bible describes Jesus as turning aside to do the work of the Father, turning aside to help others, not turning aside to His own, selfish way. Jesus started out in a manger, but became of more worth to the world than anyone else in history. The Bible says Jesus went about doing good, healing people, and setting them free from oppression.

13 – "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."
His throat wasn’t an open grave; He called people out from the grave. When He died people sprung forth from their graves, and when He returns we will all come out of our graves. His tongue spoke no deceit and His lips had no poison, His words were Spirit and Life.

14 – "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
His mouth was full of praising His Father and His bitterness was sorrow for those that had caused curses upon themselves.

15 – "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
His gave His own feet to be shed blood for those who didn’t even love Him.

16 – in their paths are ruin and misery,
In His path are resurrection and joy.

17 – and the way of peace they have not known.”
Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

18 – "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Jesus only had eyes for His Father’s will, and for your salvation He said to the Father, not my will but thine be done.

Jesus was like us in that He had human flesh, but He was not like us in that He had no sin. Against the backdrop of all we have seen here, we can surely see that Jesus is the most beautiful, wonderful, marvelous, awesome being in the universe, and He bids us to come to Him. If we receive Him, He will receive us into glory.

In this passage I see my own sin, and I see my only Savior. It is Jesus that I want, it is Jesus that I must have, it is Jesus that will truly fulfill me, it is Jesus that will pay the penalty for me, it is Jesus who will be righteousness for me, it is Jesus to whom I owe my love and my life, it is Jesus who will set me free, it is Jesus who will bring me back from the dead, it is Jesus who will give me eternal life. Jesus is what I need, how about you?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jesus the Jew / Jesus in You

…that in everything he might be preeminent.
(Colossians 1:18 – ESV)

Christ is to be first and foremost, the scriptures plainly declare that truth. However, this can be subtle when we speak of Christ as preeminent; in what way did the Apostle Paul mean this? What about Him is preeminent, everything He is, or does that also include everything He did, or does it even include everything tangent to Him, such as the temporal circumstances of His life, where He lived, His job as a carpenter, and all that? Well, we know that we aren’t becoming more “Christlike” by becoming a carpenter, don’t we? So it isn’t everything about Him and His life, the question is valid. So what then?

What the bible is teaching us is that Christ is to be preeminent as to His person, who He is, and what He has done for us, not in the particulars of when and where He was. It is about Him, not His surroundings. To help get a grasp on this realize that any religion, movement or ministry whose primary focus is not on the person of Christ (His divinity and sinless humanity), His atoning work (and our justification by faith), our becoming like Him (in His character) is not of God. No matter how much “good” they are doing or how “right” it may seem, it is only a distraction, which leads to diversion, then deception, where we believe we are doing right when we are not.

Often we see believers discovering the Jewish roots of the faith. Getting excited about doing something “deeper” with God, and misunderstanding Christian maturity, many then want to add the feasts or ceremonial customs to their worship or personal devotions. Now as a matter of preference and conscience these things can be fine, but we cannot bind the consciences of other people with our preferences. Some go as far as to claim that doing these things makes one more spiritual or a better Christian. Instead of growing in grace they are trapped in world of thinking they have found the “key” to Christianity or Christian living.

It isn’t true. Including or insisting on these things does not constitute a superior brand of Christianity or a more spiritual strand of Christianity. They can be a sign of wanting to keep your pride AND Christianity. They can inform your faith, and give you an appreciation and understanding of the meaning of some of the types and shadows leading to Christ, but we shouldn’t attach a higher level of spirituality to them.

Some become confused and want to do what He has done in every way, thinking that THIS is what it means to be Christlike, to practice the culture and customs of the day. However, our sanctification is about focusing on Him, not using means to get closer to Him, which at best are not New Testament Christianity, are heretical at times, and can border on blasphemous as well.

Some movements have as their main focus keeping Christian things in a Jewish context. The focus may be on becoming like Christ, but becoming like Him in His Jewish-ness, more than His character or spirituality. They will say, “Jesus was a Jew”, to which I say, so what? Jesus was a man also. Are we all to become men? The Jews are special because God chose them as His vehicle, not because of something inherently good in them. Yes we are to honor God’s people, but God also chose Mary for special revelation as the “mother of God”. How many of these same believers would agree that it is okay to indulge in Mariolatry, as do some within the Catholic Church? Hopefully none. Again, the focus is wrong. Mary is to be honored because of her faithfulness, but not to be overdone so as to take the focus and glory from God.

We are to be conformed to the image of Christ not the lineage of Christ. The fruit the Holy Spirit produces is the timeless character of Jesus not the temporal culture of Jesus. We are to pursue spiritual holiness not cultural heritage. The Apostle Paul got it right, of course. He placed the emphasis on the divinity of Jesus not the nationality of Jesus. Paul doesn’t say Christ the Jew, the hope of Glory but Christ in you the hope of glory.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Spin the Sin

But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just.
(Romans 3:7-8 – ESV)

Paul restates the objection so as have this imaginary (but all too real) objector take the point to what they think is the obvious conclusion. But the real conclusion is that God is just, not them. “I just don’t understand, and well then, why not just do whatever we want?” People try and spin the sin and say it isn’t what it is. They try and play games with God’s Word twisting it like a pretzel. It is just like when Paul answers the questions about God sovereignty in later chapters. Liken this to the person who when told of God sovereignty they say, “well then why do anything?” All this does is show the wickedness in their hearts not the injustice of God, and as Paul says their condemnation is just. He has shown us how far it goes. Everybody has sin and everyone makes excuses, even the most patently ridiculous kinds like admitting there is a God while still putting Him on trial for His actions. Of course what some people are trying to do is justify in their own minds that there cannot be a God, because they like being blind (John 3:19).

They were slandering Paul’s message. How often do we begin to know some deep truth but on the surface it may seem like a contradictory thing? There is much in the world that reflects this idea. There are things that children just aren’t ready to deal with and yet they are perfectly suitable for those that can handle them like driving a car. Ever known someone who took a little bit of knowledge and it was like the proverbial monkey with a machine gun? It is like those that are educated beyond their intellect and wisdom, they have too much of a good thing. Your kids ever come home from school with some new fact and think they are smarter than you? Responsibility without maturity is disaster; power without respect is dangerous.

Some of God’s truths are necessarily hard and this is why we must study hard (2 Peter 3:16 / 2 Timothy 2:15 / Hebrews 5:13-14). There are those that would try and say “well then if we are justified by faith, if it is a free gift, if we are forgiven of every sin, well then lets live it up right?” Well that is just playing games with God. Yes, God accepts us as we are but He doesn’t leave us there. We haven’t arrived but we’ve left where we were. Sanctification is the fruit of the justification tree. Those that are saved will glorify His name, not give Him blame.

The problem with those that would try and twist God’s truth is that they fail to see the righteousness of God and the beauty of His plan. We need to just admit it, we are unrighteous compared to God, but He in His grace overflowing to us will give us the kingdom. Now even if we were good little boys and girls why would we deserve the power and the kingdom of God? We wouldn’t, and God makes it easy for us to differentiate between Him and us by this vast Creation, because we realize we could not create all this, and we can easily discern that we all stink compared to Him so that we can see we need Him. He illustrates His righteousness by our unrighteousness and His power by our lack of power. But people explain it away by saying that because there is sin that there must not be a God, or by saying He must not be just. Can you now see just how ridiculous that is? God is real and He loves you, so stop making excuses, they are lame. Paul will continue to unravel the mystery of God’s perfect plan to give us, who don’t deserve it, everything. Don’t you see your sin, and don’t you want more than this world has to offer? God is willing to give it all to you, but if you don’t want Him, you are not left with much of an alternative. Don’t play games with God.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday Special: Pastor Dave Arnold

A WOODEN SWORD?

In ancient Rome, the gladiator was a slave who fought in the arena to a bloody death. If he was agile and skilled enough, and lived long enough, the emperor might grant him his freedom. With great pomp and ceremony, he would kneel before the Caesar and be touched on his shoulders with a beautifully crafted wooden sword. He then would be given this sword as a sign of a free man. However, this wooden sword was useless to him, serving only as a symbol.

The Apostle Paul referred to the Bible as the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17 and 18. The Word of God serves as a weapon in both offensive and defensive encounters. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” However, unless we read it, meditate on it, and apply it to our lives, it serves no better than an ineffective wooden sword.

Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to a friend, said, “I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this Book upon reason that you can and the balance upon faith, and you will live and die a better man.” Is the Bible a living sword to you as you read it and apply it? Or is it just, like to a gladiator, a symbolic wooden sword?

John Wesley wrote, “I beg leave to propose a short, clean and strong argument to prove the Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures:

The Bible must be the invention of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God.

It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither would nor could make a book and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord’, when it was their own invention.

It could not be the invention of bad men or devils, for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.

Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by Divine inspiration.”

Psalm 119, with its 176 verses, tells us all about what God’s Word has to offer. Here are a few of them:

1. The Word cleanses, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word,” verse 9. In John 15:3, Christ stated, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you,” using the word, “clean,” which means “purity.” Daniel Webster said, “The Bible fits a man for life and prepares him for death.”

2. The Word gives direction, “Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors,” verse 24. According to Nehemiah 8:13, the leaders met with Ezra, “in order to understand the words of the law.” “Understand,” means, “to be prudent, wise, and have foresight.” The idea is being shrewd in daily affairs.

3. The Word provides songs of encouragement, “Your statues have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” verse 54. D. L. Moody testified, “I know the Bible is inspired because it inspires me.”

4. The Word is forever founded, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven,” verse 89. As life changes and society shifts on uncertain foundations, God’s Word is settled forever.

5. The Word is truth, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth,” verse 142. Francis Shaeffer reminds us, “If we say we believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, then we do not have to face the howling winds of cultural change—we have an immovable base. And yet, if the Bible truly be the Word of God, we ourselves must live under it.”

A little boy noticed a large, dust-covered book on a high shelf in his grandparent’s home. Out of curiosity he asked about it. His embarrassed grandparents explained, “Oh, that’s the Bible. That’s God’s Book.” He thought for a moment and then asked, “Well, if that’s God’s Book, why don’t we give it back to Him? Nobody around here uses it.”

The Word of God is a light for our understanding, Psalm 119:105. It is a mirror for our self-knowledge, James 1:23. The Bible is a sword for our conflict, Ephesians 6:17. God’s Word is honey for us to feast on, Psalm 19:10. It is a hammer to break through the most difficult situations, Jeremiah 23:29. The Word will lead us, protect us, and speak to us, Proverbs 6:22. It will keep us from the devil’s path, Psalm 17:4. This is most likely why Merrill F. Unger said, “A contagious enthusiasm among Christians for the Word of God, and a return in faith and obedience to its precepts, would do more to point the way out of present world distress and despair than all the plans and strivings of men.”

To read the Bible through in one year it takes, approximately, 52 hours and 20 minutes to read the Old Testament, and 18 hours and 20 minutes to read the New Testament, for a total of 70 hours and 40 minutes. This is only about 12 minutes a day! We have recorded in the four gospels ten times where Jesus, in reference to the Scriptures, asked, “Have you not read?” According to Hebrews 1:3, Christ is “upholding all things by the word of His power.” It is through His Word that He is holding all the universe together. With this in mind, would we not concur that His Word will certainly hold our lives together? I agree with the one who said, “A Bible that is falling apart, usually belongs to a person who isn’t!”

The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:130, “The entrance of Your words gives light.” A small boy was walking along a dark, scary dirt road with his dad. They were miles from their farmhouse, and the only light they had was a lantern. As his father carried the lantern, they could only see about two feet in front of them. The young son kept thinking about all the wild animals that could spring out of the darkness to harm them. He grew more and more frightened. Though he desperately tried to see the farmhouse, he couldn’t. Finally he said, “Daddy, I’m so scared. This light doesn’t reach very far.” His father looked at him and said, “Son, I want to teach you something. If you just keep walking, you will learn that the light reaches all the way to the end of the road!” Sometimes we panic because we cannot see the end of the road. If we just keep walking God, from His Word, will provide just the right amount of light that we need to take the next step. We will learn that it reaches all the way to the end of the road!

2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”

Dave Arnold, Gulf Coast Worship Center, New Port Richey, Florida

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Ministry Mandate

…of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,
(Colossians 1:25 – ESV)

Now we are all servants of Christ and His body, but our role is not something we choose so much as God chooses it for us. Galatians 1:15-16 – God begins to reveal His grace to you in subjective experience thorough the object revelation of the Word and through prayer. We may follow our desires if they are informed by a godly conscience, but we can remember that where God places us He graces us. He decrees from eternity, we discover in time. It is between God and us, but it will be confirmed by others and leaders (Galatians 1:24, 2:9). This ministry isn’t for us; it is for others, by God to you, through you, for them. Find out who your “them” is (2 Corinthians 1:4-7).

1 Peter 4:10 – be a good steward of God’s grace to you. For Paul it was to make the Word of God fully known (Galatians 1:8-9). The more we fulfill our ministry, the greater the benefit to other people, and our treasure in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:58). Imagine if everyone were going after it full tilt? Of course, Paul will explain that it isn’t how hard we work, but Christ.

His main ministry was to reveal the mystery of Christ in His church, and the Gentiles included in that (Colossians 1:26-27). There were aspects that were not clearly revealed in the OT times, but we can see them more clearly in light of the NT revelation. To the saints he has revealed this mystery of Christ in us (Ephesians 1:8-14). His power not ours.

We cannot impart what we do not possess, and we must impart more than knowledge and even wisdom. We must impart Christ, and to do that He must possess us. I would pray that I might be so fully with Him that the Holy Spirit would be gracious to allow the beauty of Jesus to be imparted to people by my witness, that they would see a person who loves Jesus Christ fully, and that they would want this for themselves, realizing that Christ is the most beautiful "thing" they could have, and that they can "possess" Him, they can have Him, and He can have them. That is our ministry mandate.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Stable and Steadfast

…in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…
(Colossians 1:22-23 – ESV)

How do we become more stable and steadfast in our lives and in our Christian walk? By continuing on with the gospel. Now this doesn’t only mean to keep believing it for your salvation, but continuing on and realizing (making it real, cashing in on the idea) that Christ is all you need for these things, in a tangible way. It is a process and a cycle. As Jesus said, the blade, the ear, and then the full corn in the ear (Mark 4:28) When you remain steady in your devotion the fruit of that will increase and you will be established, rooted, grounded, steadfast. You have got to keep planting seeds in order to remain grounded. Plant now while things are going good, otherwise you will have nothing to keep you grounded during the dry seasons.

The hope of the gospel is a road; it leads somewhere. Paul was saying, “You are on the road now continue and follow Christ”. He is leading you to the cross. Continuing in that walk will make you more steadfast and stable, it will continue to set you apart for God’s purposes and make you more and more blameless. Your life walk will be a place for others to see and to find their own path in Christ. Jesus died to present you to the Father as a faithful follower of the “Rock Walk”.

If indeed you continue, in other words this is the proof that God has reconciled you. Remember this, that He ordains the ends and the means. The warnings we see in the Bible are real, but the elect will heed them. We are to see this not as a condition, but as an exhortation to employ the means at our disposal, chief of which is to rest secure in the finished work of Christ on the cross for our forgiveness and deliverance. Those that shift are those that are on shifting sand, they weren’t actually founded on the Rock.

You are forgiven and you are delivered. You don’t work for forgiveness you work from forgiveness and you walk in it. In the same way, you don’t work for deliverance you work from deliverance and you walk in it, and any other way is a false way. When people are ensnared what they need is Jesus, what they need is the gospel. They need repentance and faith (2 Timothy 2:25-26 / Colossians 2:6). Listen Christian; the same gospel that justifies is the same one that sanctifies. People get away from that and can slide into all sorts of other things; this was the point Paul was making. The Colossians had their hope and they were doing well, but Paul prayed for them that they would be strengthened to see the continuing hope of Christ and to grow in the knowledge of that, experientially finding out that Christ was indeed all that they needed.

God doesn’t always deliver us from the desire, He delivers us from the control it has over our lives, but we have to “exercise control”. We have to be stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope. Why does He allow the desire to still be there? Desire doesn’t go away so that we stay tethered to Jesus. Tethered to Jesus not some other way. Make sure you stay grounded today (Matthew 6:33-34). Keep planting and keep receiving it. How’s your “Rock garden” doing?

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

God on Trial?

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?
(Romans 3:5-6 – ESV)

Our unrighteousness serves to illustrate the righteousness of God. Paul answers the objections of those that would take the truths he is proclaiming and then say something like, “if we are just a pawn then how can God punish us?” or “If my sin brings Him glory, and He uses my weakness to show His strength, why am I guilty?” or “Doesn’t this make Him unjust?” This is definitely an argument you hear a lot today. That is why Paul says he speaks as a man, because he knows the depravity of the human heart in opposition to God.

The people Paul was addressing all conceded the fact that God was going to judge the world, and that some would make it and some wouldn’t. The Jews of Paul’s day figured that God would condemn the Gentile for his sin, but save the Jew despite his sin. Paul easily dismisses this objection by pointing out the fact that we know God is going to judge the world, and so obviously He cannot be unrighteous in doing so, so the objection is self-refuting. If what they said were true, God could judge no one. Let’s further illustrate this using scripture.

Acts 2:23 – even though your sin magnifies His righteousness this doesn’t mean you weren’t or aren’t wrong for doing it. Today we scream for justice, and God will be just, but we just don’t want Him to judge us according to His standard. That is what the real problem is, and our word games won’t change that.

Some of this may seem like overkill to you. You may be thinking, “yeah Paul, or yeah preacher, I get it, we all are sinners and we need the gospel and no special privilege will get us out of our problem without His provision”. However, Paul continues on because guided along by the Holy Sprit he knows that people might say that but they don’t believe it. He knows that they will play word games with God, just like the Pharisees tried to twist Jesus’ words, and we try and twist the truth of God. He knows how far men will go in their attempts to derail the truth train to avoid being hit. When we are confronted we will just start using anything we can to try and get out of it. It’s like your kids making up some unbelievable story when they come home with one shoe and no shirt, or you find them up in a tree with binoculars and a slingshot. God isn’t naïve. He isn’t playing your game.

Haven’t you ever run across someone like that? When witnessing they have every excuse in the book, intellectual (ironically), practical (too hard), supposedly moral (that principle against homosexuality is wrong or the God of the OT was a bloodthirsty tyrant, etc.), sociological (the church hurt them or someone they know), or whatever. Well that is why you don’t go there first. Don’t play their game. What you explain to them and get them to see is their sin. Of course, that is what people don’t want to see, and what Paul is confronting here. Oh yeah, they can see it in the world and in everybody else, and cry for justice, but they are “basically a good person”. It is so out of hand that people will go as far as to blame God for their sin, as Paul anticipates here. It is not that God is on trial, but us, and we are all guilty of sin. Only through Jesus can we receive pardon.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Motion Detector

…circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.
(Romans 2:29 – ESV)

This Bible condemns ritualism and going through the motions. You can be coming to church, you could have been baptized, you could be taking communion, involved in projects, giving regularly, doing the Bible reading plan, and more. You can be doing all this and God still not have your heart (Ezekiel 33:31). None of these outward things are bad, they are good, we are supposed to do these things, but these things are not what saves us, these things are not what give us a right standing with God, these things are not what secure the blessings of God on our life, what God wants is your HEART!

In the Old Testament, the law and the sacrificial system pointed to Christ. There were those who were doing that and they didn’t really believe in what they were doing, they were going through the motions. Salvation has always been about the circumcision of the heart, which is performed by God (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6 / Jeremiah 4:4).

Holiness starts in the heart not in the hands. When you try and do the Law without the Spirit all you are doing is the external ritual, a set of do’s and don’ts. In Matthew 5 Christ points out the fallacy of this thinking, and James 2:10 echoes this. Without the Spirit we either reject the Law of God out of hand, or we change it into something we can manage. In either case we lose, and the Law condemns us: you can become a transgressor of the Law by rejecting it or by trying to keep it in your own strength. Paul calls the Law minus the Spirit "letter" (2 Corinthians 3:6).

So the point is that a person is a true part of God's redeemed people if he fulfills the Law, that is, if his heart is circumcised by the Spirit to love God. That's what Paul is talking about here, and you don't have to be a natural-born Jew for it to happen to you. God circumcises our heart to love the Lord, writing the Law of God on our heart (Jeremiah 31:33), freeing us from our need for the praise of man. All of this is what Christ obtained for us when He shed His blood to seal the new covenant (Luke 20:22 / Hebrews 13:20).

Christianity is a heart religion. It isn’t “if you give Him your hands He will move your heart” it is that if you give Him your heart He will move your hands. We can summarize Romans chapter two using the sermon titles we gave when teaching through this chapter, to put it all in perspective for you. Others may be worthy of judgment, but so are you, we have the ultimate issue before us, and there are no secrets before God, so don’t fool yourself, because the key to holiness is the heart not the hands. However, we have seen repeatedly that Man left to himself can never climb his way out of his own heart. So the answer to the ultimate issue doesn’t lie within us, but within God.

That is the gospel, that God has done what is necessary for us to be in right standing with Him, all we need to do is to give Him our heart. No one can examine another man's heart or even his own heart infallibly, but where the Spirit of God lives, there will be evidence of it. You can’t change your own heart but you can have a change of heart. Is God tugging at your heart today? Or are you just going through the motions?

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Continuous Christianity

Hebrews 6:4-8

Today we want to touch on several matters pertaining to perseverance. We will answer the questions of what is apostasy, can you lose your salvation, what is eternal security or once saved always saved, what is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and have I done it, how can I have an assurance of salvation, and how can I weather the storms of life without wilting? This sermon is going to start out tough, but it will bring great hope, joy, faith, and power as we come to a greater understanding about God and His plan for us. These are important items that are woven into our sermon today, and they all spring from an understanding of the biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Looking at our first text, who is this passage is talking about? We have three basic choices.

1. Genuine Christians who began sincerely but fell away and lost their salvation. If that is true then according to this passage those losing it can’t get it back, which creates a problem because those that teach that you can lose your salvation also teach that you can get it back. John 10:28-29 – some say you cannot be snatched out but you can jump out, but think about that, because God is preventing us from being snatched out, and we are not strong enough to jump out when God is determined to hold us in. And how would you jump back in since His fist is tight around those who are already in? They shall never perish comes before no one can pluck them out. It’s not about us holding on to Him, but Him holding on to us, and He won’t let us go.

2. Genuine Christians confronted with hypothetical warning (if they fall away). It is true that God ordains the end and the means – and so this view is possible, and it does fit with some of what this passage is about, but the last view makes the most sense because it accomplishes this and also speaks to apostasy, which is the most relevant point of the text.

3. Influenced by gospel with outward signs but in fact are not Christians (Judas Iscariot / 1 John 2:19 / Luke 6:16 the two Judas’). They taste of the heavenly gifts but they don’t swallow them on down, they eventually and inevitably fall away to stay. In Hebrews 6 they are not just drifting away their apostasy is deliberate, ongoing, and persistent, public, renouncing Christ and His work and joining the enemies of Christ. Matthew 24:10 – many turn away but those who will hold firmly to the end will be saved.

These warnings are not given to cause those that are sensitive of their own sin to despair (vs.9), but to produce caution in the complacent, and to cause the careless to take stock of where they are (1 Corinthians 10:12 / 2 Corinthians 13:5). 2 Timothy 2:19 – The Holy Spirit within someone does not lead them to a morally careless life, but to an increasing holiness and fruitful walk with God through love for Christ. If they are stuck in infancy, it says something to those who want the Christian reality, but without the reality of a Christian walk.

The doctrine of perseverance is not intended to cause discomfort but assurance and comfort for those who are both believing and showing it by living the life. A saint acting like a sinner cannot draw assurance from this doctrine. That is why it is the doctrine of perseverance, not once saved always saved. Eternally secure from God’s standpoint, yes, but it plays out in our lives through persevering to the end in faith (2 Peter 1:10). When someone has no interest in the gospel, they won’t attend church, they never share their faith, they have no interest in worship, well, what kind of eternal security is that? It isn’t what the Bible pictures. We are preserved to persevere (Jude 1:1 / Philippians 1:6).

God keeps us, not in a vacuum irrespective of our lives, but He keeps us through faith (1 Peter 1:5). His power doesn’t work to keep us without us at all; it works through faith (Philippians 2:12-13). We are either shielded by God’s power (Ephesians 6:16 / 1 John 5:4), or we become a casualty. Faith produces persistence (1 Corinthians 15:10 / Colossians 1:29). We don’t retain our salvation on the basis of our persistence, but we give evidence of it by our persistence. The persevering faith is part of the preserving faith, the saving faith that God gives us. It is being done to us; it is not the power itself. But the evidence of this will come out.

We can follow Him on that gospel road by faith. We will not walk it perfectly, but His walk not our walk is what saves us. That is the gospel and out of gratitude for it and love for Him we attempt to walk that same path, knowing that our walk will be imperfect and that we will stumble and fall, but that God will pick us up and if we will get up and want to walk again He will empower us to do so. In holding on to the end we show that we are being held on to.

To the backslider: get back on repentance road, which leads down submission street, which you will find on your knees. Just because you know the truth doesn’t mean you are trusting in it. Those that do not walk the path at all are saying that they have no faith. If you are a believer, I want you to work out what God has worked in by walking in that, in the fullness of God.

John 8:31 – At what point does the spiritual condition reveal that a profession is not actually real? Been enlightened, been made partakers, but not sealed. John 16:8-11 – they were convicted but not converted. They experienced temporary provisions and blessings, they professed Christ but they did not possess Christ, and He did not possess them. They may have rejected the materialism, humanism, or other religions and embraced Christianity intellectually because its precepts seemed appealing. They may have experienced some of its power, but since they were never really taken by Christ they finally and totally fall away. They placed themselves under Christian influence and perhaps even made Christian profession. They had a taste of the gospel, the medicine was in their mouth but they didn’t swallow it all. You can have somewhat of a taste without truly experiencing something in its fullness (Luke 8:13). A true taste gives spiritual hunger for more (1 Peter 2:2-3). They are not getting full from the gospel; they feed on themselves and on other things.

They might have even been convinced as to truth as far as the demons are, they believe (James 2:19) but they don’t trust. They have been through this and done all that but they haven’t been converted, that is why they have no interest in spiritual things. They bear no real lasting fruit; there is no radical change, not radical attitude but radical transformation. We won’t be as fruitful as we want to be but as real Christians we will be thankful for any growth we get, the apostate doesn’t even look for fruit at all.

Despite initial appearances they were never saved to begin with. But if they were to be wakened up to flee from wrath like the prodigal son, if they did not continue in the apostasy but turned to Christ again as their only hope, then they could be saved. Apostates are not damned because they sought the Lord for mercy in vain, but because they continue in their apostasy.

Now, we must go even farther, because some would claim Christ but not actually be of Christ, as we see in Matthew 7:21-23. 1 John 2:19, 22-23 are important verses to understanding apostasy, as is Galatians 1:6-9. So apostasy would include denial of the faith, denial of Christ, denial of the Gospel of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. Any of these would put a man or woman in the 1 John 2:19 category.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 – more and more we need to focus on this real issue that will not simply go away, and one that is not best served by just letting it go and playing nice. Recently, the president of the ETS stepped down, left the ETS altogether, and ventured back to the RCC. We must explore this question of defection. It is not about an individual, isolated incident, but the larger question, "How much is too much, how long is too long, how far is too far?"

Perhaps we may not be able to answer that question definitively per person, it’s not our judgment to make, but we know what it looks like, and can call the scriptures to witness on this. The warnings are real, God ordains the end and the means, and some, in denying these things, are living examples of 1 John 2:19. It is not about being out from the evangelical camp itself, but out from the fold, and the question is answered by determining what the scope of that "fold" is. If we have determined the extent prior, and someone leaves that, then the person in question, to our knowledge, is out from among us. This is what the writer to the Hebrews was saying to those who went back into Judaism, when the going got tough they went back, and were damned.

The real question is, for those that would still say they cling to Christ; “Is where they are within the pale of orthodoxy or not?” Regardless of individuals or our affinity for them, THAT is the standard, based on the Word of God, not our feelings or ideas. We must defend the faith (Jude 1:3), which is one reason we are preserved to persevere in that fight. If we don't value the truth, God may take it from us. The lines certainly are not easy to draw, and we don’t want to draw the circle so tight that only us four and no more fit in. But some lines MUST be drawn, and they MUST NOT be re-drawn, simply because someone we really like steps over them.

If you are hearing this word today and it is pricking your heart, you cannot presume upon convicting power of the Spirit of God. His goodness is leading you to repentance (Romans 2:4), to trusting in Him instead of trusting in yourself. Today is the day (2 Corinthians 6:2); don’t wait till you think you are ready. To become a Christian, no man makes himself ready for God, but God makes man ready for Himself. God does not rescue people because they love Him; He rescues people because He loves them, and so that they will love Him. The Holy Spirit reveals that God loved me not because I was lovable, but because it was His nature to do so.

We don’t work for our justification we work from it and the doctrine of perseverance gives us hope. Perhaps it should be called the doctrine of preservation but once saved always saved only confuses the issue and only focuses on the end result not on the power to be had in this life. Now we are going to apply this truth, we are going to talk about real spiritual power the power of perseverance and how this doctrine can give us great comfort in the most troubling of trials.

At the end of the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus talked about the implications of either doing or refusing His words (Mathew 7:25,27). Consider well the fact that both houses had a storm. Yet one served to destroy the house and the other pointed out how secure the foundation was. The truth is that the trials of life are bound to happen to all people, they are an irresistible event, in that they will come, no matter any of our plans. However, we can be like the immovable object, our being grounded in Christ gives Him glory when the inevitable storms of life come our way. It is about the power to withstand the storm, not the power to withdraw the storm. Christianity is less about being an irresistible force, and more about being an immovable object (1 Corinthians 15:58). Look at the immediate context, the word therefore, and the verses 21-23.

Now sitting there in God’s house doesn’t mean we just sit there and do nothing (2 Peter 1:8). If these qualities are increasing: think about that. In the kingdom of God we are either increasing or decreasing. We are either increasing in fruitfulness, and thereby decreasing in self and sin, or the opposite, we are increasing in self and sin, and thereby decreasing in fruitfulness. We are either moving forward or sliding back, there is no status quo in the process of sanctification. We must be about the business of increasing, growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). The alternative is spiritual blindness (2 Peter 1:9). We are all increasingly decreasing: either in sin, or in sight.

When you are increasing in spiritual sight it increases your eternal perspective; you learn to live prophetically and you can see beyond the here and now, and yet it helps you right here in the here and now. This is what we all want whether we recognize it or not, but I want to go from recognizing it to realizing it, cashing in on it, making it real in my life because I know the storms are real and I want to know the power of His resurrection, the power that can withstand any storm, even death. As we come to know something, in that we become aware of its reality, and its importance, we can be said to recognize it. When we go from a mere awareness to a more full understanding, or apprehension, what we are doing is realizing something. To recognize something is to spot it, to realize something is to capture it. Again, there is a difference between the two and it can be stated thus. Recognizing is about seeing it. Realizing is about being it.

Continuous Christianity is realizing the power of God by being a Christian in any and every circumstance you are in. We need to realize this doctrine of perseverance because we need Christians in difficult circumstances, because unbelievers are in difficult circumstances, and so they are both in a dark place, it would seem. But when people are in a dark place what do they look for, what do they need, someone with a light, and Christians have that Light, so don’t hide it let it shine, ESPECIALLY in those tough circumstances.

We are talking about the doctrine that leads to the demonstration. Philippians 1:6 – God started it He will finish it / Philippians 2:12-13 – so we act in accordance with that truth / Philippians 3:14 – we keep on keeping on / Philippians 4:13 – we get to the place where we can do, or endure all things because we realize Christ is strengthening us. We can be beaten on and beaten down but the light of Christ will always shine through (2 Corinthians 4:7-11: By His stripes we are healed, and by our stripes He is revealed). Romans 8:35-39 – His love for us cannot be lost, no matter the cost / Job 13:15 – because of perseverance, we can say though He slay me, or someone I love, I can still trust Him, we are not the only ones God has brought through storms / Psalm 23 – He leads me into these good times and also through those bad times and finally to the eternal time. Perseverance based on preservation. That is the power of God.


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Friday, May 11, 2007

Comparing Apples And Oranges

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
(Matthew 7:20)

Have you ever wondered about this teaching of Jesus? Doesn’t it seem impossible to apply, in that no person has had all good fruit? We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Where do we draw the line? Can Christians claim that they never yield bad fruit?

By the same token, even those with bad fruit might have done some good things, as far as civil good. Jesus said that even while being evil, we could give good things to our children (Luke 11:13). Did you ever think about the fact that Judas very likely healed, raised the dead, and all the things the other disciples did? So even though we know that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, and vice versa, we seem to see it happen, so what gives? How do we answer this?

The truth is, of course, that Jesus is right. What we must realize, however, is that some people can place fruit in your hands that looks good, but it didn’t actually come from their tree. There are many ways to muster up false fruit. Satan is the master counterfeiter, and it takes wisdom to identify the true from the false. 1 John 4:1 tells us to try the spirits, Hebrews 5:14 says we learn to discern between good and evil by practice, and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 exhorts us to test all things, and then to hold on to what is good.

Going further, Jesus said by their fruits, it is plural; ye shall know them means when they are planted in the same soil. Two trees could have different soil, different climate, rain, care given, sunlight or other factors, and so you might actually be trying to compare apples and oranges. If they are planted together, however, then you will see what happens for real.

Put two people in the same situation and you will see this in action. It has been said that you can tell what a man is like if you give him power; what does he do with it? Does he cling to it and use it in an overbearing way, or is he more like Jesus, who was equal with God, but didn’t grasp on to that too tightly (Philippians 2:6). In the same situation under the same circumstances, two men might have two very different results; by their fruits you will know which is the right one. Not a singular instance, perhaps, but over the course of time.

Is everyone a singular tree? Every tree bears its own fruit. Sometimes we do wrong things but what is the normal course of our lives? What does it bring forth consistently? Some trees aren’t meant for some climates. Repentance from dead works means that you cut down the trees in your garden that are being rotten fruit, and water those that are bringing forth the fruit of faith.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Garbage In Garbage Out

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
(Galatians 6:7 – ESV)

We cannot completely stop Satan and evil spirits from attacking our minds, but we don’t have to allow their thoughts to become our thoughts. The shield of faith will quench the fiery darts of the wicked (Ephesians 6:16). That is, we don’t have to dwell upon demonic ideas and suggestions, taking possession of them. As it has been said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” We have had a lifetime of pagan programming as according to the principles of this world. Now we must be renewed in our minds (Romans 12:2 / Ephesians 4:23).

In Ephesians 4:24-32, the apostle Paul said some good things about not letting the devil use you by lowering your standards. Verse 27 says, “Neither give place to the devil.” Romans 13:14 (ESV) echoes this sentiment, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”. We should be careful not to subject our minds to ungodly influences whenever it is within our control.

When we sit down in front of the television for an hour, or read the newspaper, we are putting out the welcome mat to be influenced with thoughts that may be satanic. Directly after He told the parable of the sower and the soils, Jesus warned us to take care what we listen to (Mark 4:24). Jesus knew the destructive effects of listening to lies, allowing Satan to plant his “seeds” in our hearts and minds. Those seeds may grow up into “thorns and thistles” which will ultimately choke the Word of God from our lives (see Mark 4:7, 18-19).

Proverbs 6:27 (NLT) – “Can a man scoop fire into his lap, and not be burned?Garbage in, garbage out – what you let into your ears, eyes, etc., will come out. You cannot plant a bitter seed and expect a sweet harvest. Whatever is sown into your life will bloom, especially if you keep watering it by doing the same thing (i.e. you keep watching that show or magazine, or listening to that ungodly music, etc.). You may think that the filth you bring in is just a little thing, but that scrap will fester and stink more and more every day. The problem for many is that they get used to the smell. Eventually that stink will invade your whole life, just like a dead rat stuck in the walls of your home. You won’t know where the stink is coming from, but everyone will know it smells in there.

The way to resist the devil is to submit to God; when you draw closer to Him, you will find Him drawing closer to you (James 4:7-8). It is high time to take out the trash. He is more beautiful than that garbage you’re holding onto anyway.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Holy Hypocrisy

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.
(Romans 2:23 – ESV)

Here in this passage of scripture Paul is not trying to get people to be more moral, he is trying to get them to see that no one is without hypocrisy. Some are more so than others, of course, but all are guilty when it comes to doing what is right. We tell others what is right, and we actually believe what we say, but we also fall short. This doesn’t let anyone off the hook, though; just because everyone does it doesn’t mean it is right, and it doesn’t mean that God excuses it, He does not. That’s the point, and we are without hope if we are without a savior.

Now the answer is not to stop preaching against stealing, lying, hypocrisy and sin, just because we have done it or are doing it. The idea is to preach against it but also to preach Christ as the answer to it. Why do we still preach against the very things we have been guilty of? Why, because God wants us to that’s why. Because these things are wrong that’s why. Because we all need help and we need to know that we can’t make it without Christ, that’s why. Because we should be reminded that these things are not in the character of God, not in the will of God, and not what God wants for us and that we should be ridding ourselves of these things, that’s why.

It is not like you have to be perfectly morally pure in order to speak out against sin, what you need to be is on Repentance Road, and using the standards of the Word of God, that person has the authority to speak to issues. I may not be perfect, and I may have had certain sins, and I may still have much sin, but I can and should and must still speak out against sin. If you are on the repentant road, you have the right, and the obligation to preach about sin. Just make sure you preach Christ as well.

Paul said he was not perfect, that he had not arrived, but that sin was still exceedingly sinful, and that he was forgetting what was behind and pressing on to Christ. These Jews of Paul’s day were looking around saying, “yeah society stinks, they are all rotten and on the road to hell”, to which Paul is saying back to them, “yeah, you are right, but hey, you guys, you have the law, the right moral code, and yet you do some of the same things too, so what does that make you, it is actually a little worse isn’t it?” Today, many claim the name but they dishonor and shame, and with the lives they lead they show they aren’t led. Don’t fool yourself.

To some Paul would say, “You say you are giving God the glory He is due but by your actions you do not.” The cause of Christ suffers in a sense because you don’t live the gospel. Christ would have you live, as you will in heaven. You don’t try, you don’t care about sin in your own life, and you defile the name of Christ and treat salvation as a common thing (Hebrews 10:29-39). Some aren’t doing all the immoral things, but they aren’t giving glory to God, either. They are not humbled before the Master. Rebellion Road has all kinds of moral people on it. Paul is saying that we need to be holy, yes, but we must also be humble. We need to have the right sort of confidence, not in ourselves but in God, and this sort of confidence acts in accordance with what Christ has done, and what Christ would have us do, which is to lead increasingly holy, and yet increasingly humble lives. Don’t fool yourself.

The Jews were fooling themselves. Knowledge of God rightly understood brings humility, not pride, which is what was happening to certain Jews and moralists. We are brought low so that God may be brought high. When you see the depths of your depravity compared with the heights of His holiness, then you can begin to see the measure of God’s love to us. Holy and humble, we must be both: don’t fool yourself.

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