Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Free Indeed - Galatians 4:1-7

15 Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free,male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. - Galatians 3:15-29

When we initially confess our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are born again.However, for some of us it may take time to allow Him to be the Lord of our lives. It is through the process of sanctification that the Holy Spirit reveals the inadequacies within every believer that prevent us from being "holy as He is holy."

The new birth experience does not differ much, from the natural birthing process. For example, although a baby in the natural has everything that (s)he needs to drive a car, no parent would strap a baby into the seat of an automobile and expect the infant to drive. The same holds true in the spiritual realm. 

Spiritual "babes" learn, during the process of sanctification, to live as mature believers. We learn what we need to know about living a life of faith from our spiritual leaders (e.g., Bible teachers, pastors, etc.). More often than not, we also learn about God and who we are in Him through our experiences; especially our failures. The tests and trials of life reveal who we are, who God is, and help us to mature in our faith in God.

What the Apostle Paul has been telling the church of Galatia is that they cannot live the faith life unless they've received salvation by faith. The false gospels (doctrines) that were being taught to the Galatians were hindering their growth in the Lord. The same can be said for present day believers. We cannot grow up, in our faith in Christ, if we allow ourselves to believe teachings that are contrary to what we believed when we first professed faith in Christ.

This is why it is so important that we read the Bible for ourselves and reject any teaching that is not consistent with what our teachers, pastors or other spiritual leaders have taught us. To live a life of faith we should not be hindered by legalism and the traditions of men that drive us further away from the Gospel of Grace to a works oriented gospel.

At the beginning of our walk of faith, we follow the instructions of our spiritual leaders. However, at the same time, we're learning to read, understand and apply the truths of the Bible to our lives as the Holy Spirit leads us. Eventually, rather than relying upon others to "feed" us the Word of God, we learn to "cook" our own food.

It is very important what we listen to and read. Initially we practice the spiritual disciplines because we are told to by human leaders in our churches. However, as we grow in the Lord, we no longer need other church leadership to tell us when, where and how to live a life a faith. The Holy Spirit becomes our teacher as we grow in Christ.

Believers are unlike babies in the natural in that, as we grow in Christ, the more dependent we become on Him to live a life of faith. This is because it is impossible for us to do so apart from the leading of the Holy Spirit. Like toddlers who balk at the idea that they can't tie their own shoes without the help of their parent, many believers experience the same frustration when we discover how futile our attempts at living the faith life are, apart from the Spirit's leading.

Some believers may find that it takes much prayer and fellowship with other believers before we are enabled to fully become "new creations" in Christ (i.e., wholly surrendered to the will of God).


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Free Indeed - Galatians 1:11-24

11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they praised God because of me. - Galatians 1:11-24

Can you imagine how well received Osama Bin Laden might have been had he converted to Christianity, during his lifetime? How well might that man have been accepted as a fellow brother in your church? Sadly, there are those in the church who find it difficult to believe that the Lord is able, or even willing, to change a notoriously wicked individual, after their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Our natural tendency is to believe that the individual professes faith in Christ for personal gain and that their conversion is not genuine. Consequently, we often treat such individuals as false converts; relating to them as if they'd never been delivered from their former behavior.

The same holds true for "baby" Christians who mature in the Lord over a span of time. They may have been delivered from the sin that so easily beset them, when they were younger in the Lord. However, we often treat them as if they will respond to the same temptations, just as they did prior to their deliverance. We conveniently "forget" that God is a Deliverer!

Paul did not meet with any of the apostles immediately following his conversion, but went to Arabia. He went to Jerusalem three (3) years after he was converted and received the Lord's call on his life. The Jewish believers and apostles did not have the opportunity to treat Paul as an enemy of the cross because he distanced himself from them. Perhaps, after Paul had spent all those years in Arabia, the likelihood that his conversion was seemed more genuine to his fellow believers. The text records that they were so convinced of Paul's conversion, that the Jewish believers "praised God because of him."

How have you changed since your profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? The Lord delivers every believer from many of the sins that bound them, prior to conversion. However, the Lord may not deliver us from all our sins, immediately upon conversion. Instead, the Lord (for whatever reason) grants deliverance from certain sins, over time.

More often than not, there are those in the church who will declare a conversion to be false because the Lord did not deliver the professing believer from every one of their sins immediately. Instead of attributing the sinful behavior of a spiritual "babe" to spiritual immaturity, we tend to believe that they were never really saved in the first place. This is unfortunate for the church and for the spiritually immature.

Just like newborn babies, spiritual "babes" have everything within that they will need to grow into a fully functioning spiritual adult. Yet, too many in the church want to "throw the baby out with the bath water" when (s)he inevitably messes up and falters in her/his faith.

The "good news" is that the Lord has promised us that "He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it." The day will come when we will praise God because of those spiritual "babes" who grow up into their full stature in Christ.


Free Indeed - Galatians 1:1-10

1 Paul, an apostle--sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- 2 and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! 10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. - Galatians 1:1-10

It's astonishing that in this age, when "knowledge is increasing," that many churches have accepted a diluted (permissive) or legalistic (restrictive) version of the Gospel of grace. On one side of the spectrum we've all heard of "cheap grace". This gospel teaches that whatever we do is acceptable to God because we have been saved from the penalty for our sins. The problem with this gospel is that it ignores the "sanctification" process. The sanctification process requires that the believer take a more active role in their salvation.

We can never save ourselves and the process of sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit. But, "cheap grace" says that there is no need for the believer to do anything to be transformed to the image of Christ. This gospel discourages Christians from daily devotional practices that draw us closer to our Lord. They negate the necessity of prayer, Bible reading (let alone meditation), and worship. Proponents of this gospel have forgotten the Scriptures which say, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" or "draw near to God and He will draw near to you".

As we grow in grace and the knowledge of God, the true believer begins to seek more of Christ in their lives. Many believers, though saved, need more of Christ's presence in their lives because they are bound by besetting or habitual sin. We may have been born again and become new creations in Christ, but like new born babies, we have to grow into our full-stature (maturity) in Christ Jesus. As Christians, it is incumbent upon us to learn the ways and will of the Lord through Bible study; to pray, and even to fast, until there is less of the fleshly (or carnal) nature manifesting through us and we are led exclusively by the Holy Spirit of God.

On the other end of the spectrum there are those who believe that what we do externally is what saves us. This is legalism! Rather than being led by the Holy Spirit, these believers have attempted to deny their flesh by dressing and behaving in ways dictated to them by man-made religion. They are in error because the salvation experience is not external, but internal. "Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God." Please don't misunderstand, what we really believe about our God, will eventually be evident in our speech, behavior and dress; not because a pastor has told us what to do, but because the Holy Spirit has led us to do that which will please the Father.

Another, and perhaps the most dangerous, gospel is that in which the professing believer becomes their own god. They have not submitted to the will of the Almighty, but insist upon living life their way. This gospel is typically referred to as  "Name-It-Claim-It, Grab-It- Blab-It" gospel. Many such Christians have not learned to "die to self" and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. They "declare", "decree" and "call those things that be not, as though they were." They don't seek the Lord's will concerning what they want, their will is all that matters to them.

Prayerfully consider the gospel that your church preaches and teaches. The true Gospel of salvation teaches that we are saved through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. If your church does not fully accept that gospel, ask the Lord to direct you to a church that believes the true Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Noah's Sons - Genesis 9:18-29

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father's nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father's nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.26 He also said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave." 28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Altogether, Noah lived 950 years, and then he died.- Genesis 9:18-29

The Lord had extended grace and mercy to Noah's family, by sparing them from the fate of the rest of the inhabitants of the earth. However, Ham did not extend the same grace and mercy to his father when he saw Noah drunk and naked in Noah's tent. Instead, Ham left his father's tent to tell his brothers what he had witnessed. 

There are those who believe that Ham's sin, and the resulting curse, occured because Noah's son  looked upon  his father's nakedness with "longing," "lustful," "lewd" or "evil" desire in his heart. However, that supposition would be as much a perversion of the truth as "the act" itself, if Ham had not looked upon his father's nakedness with depravity of heart. The text plainly records that, "Ham saw... and told." God had judged Ham based upon his telling his brothers of their father's shameful behavior.

What do you do when you learn that a brother, or sister, has faltered in their faith? It's only natural for us to reveal their indiscretion to the first person, or people, we talk with. However, is that what the Lord would have us to do?  Remember, that the Lord Himself sacrificed an animal to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness after their fall!

Ham's brothers recognized the severity of the situation. Rather than put their father to an open shame, by leaving him uncovered and telling others about his sinful condition, the two men walked backward into his tent, with a garment over their shoulders to cover his nakedness. 

Ham's sons were cursed as a consequence of Ham telling his brothers of his father's indiscretion. But, Noah's other sons and their descendants were blessed. Are you more like Ham or his brothers when you learn of another believer's shameful behavior?



8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: 9 "And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. 11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; 15 and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth."- Genesis 9:8-17

The divorce rate among born-again believers' is equal to that of the people who are in the world. Why is that? We were made in the image of God and are being conformed to the Lord's likeness, yet it is so difficult for us to keep a commitment to our spouse because we are not perfect, as God is perfect.

When God makes a covenant with mankind the terms of that agreement have little, if anything, to do with man's faithfulness to the Creator. God's covenants with man are unconditional and depend entirely upon His truthfulness and faithfulness in keeping His promises to human beings, regardless of our behavior toward Him.

The Lord promised Noah that He would never again destroy every living thing on the earth, as he did at the time of the flood. Yet, the flood is a shadow of what will happen on the earth before our Lord's return to earth. This earth will pass away and the Lord has promised His people a new earth, along with new heavens. But, that may not happen until believers' are caught up to meet the Lord in the air.

"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man" (Luke 17:26). Many believe that we are living in the days foretold by our Lord, just before His return.

What are you doing to prepare for the end of the age and the reappearing of our Heavenly Bridegroom?


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

God's Blessing and Caveat - Genesis 9:1-7

1 So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. 6 "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. 7 And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Bring forth abundantly in the earth And multiply in it." - Genesis 9:1-7

Just as He blessed Adam and Eve, the Lord renewed His blessing with Noah and his descendants. However, given the corruption that permeated the human race, as well as all living creatures, the Lord made provision for mankind by allowing the fear of man to be ingrained in the hearts of all other creatures. In this way, man could kill and eat animals, whereas he could not do so before, and during, the flood. 

No longer vegetarians, man could eat the flesh of living animals. However, the Lord added an interesting caveat to the blessing. Man could not eat meat in which the blood remained in the animal that had been killed. The life of God's creation is in its blood. This is why the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has such power to this day, and into eternity. 

Whereas the blood of other living creatures carried impurities that could make a person ill, the blood of the sinless Lamb of God was perfect and completely pure. Pure enough to wash away the sins of every man, woman, boy or girl who would ever believe that His blood would take away our sins.

In this age of grace, the Lord exhorts those who follow Him to forgive those who offend us. To bless and even to pray for those who mistreat us and say all manner of evil against us. As Christ's followers, the Lord no longer allows us to vindicate ourselves when someone offends us. The Lord Himself is our vindicator. When He chastens those who oppose us, His judgment is always just and fair.


Monday, November 5, 2012

God's Promise - Genesis 8:20-22

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. 22"As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." - Genesis 8:20-22

Though the land was dry, Noah did not leave the ark until the Lord told Him to leave. As a result of his obedience, Noah witnessed the God's faithfulness. 

Our first inclination, when faced with a trial, is to seek safety or protection for ourselves. But, this is not the Lord's way. He alone knows the best time for us to be delivered from the hardships that we face in life. 

If we do not wait upon the Lord's leading, we may find ourselves in yet another season of trial. Perhaps, this is why the Lord states that "those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings as eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint." 

When we do not know which way to go, as our season of trial ends, it is always best to wait upon the Lord's leading. In so doing, we can be assured that we will not stumble or falter again.

After allowing the flood waters to destroy all that was living on the earth, the Lord promised Himself that He would never again destroy all living creatures, as He had with the flood. Yet, we know that this earth, and everything on it, is temporary. The Lord is preparing a new heaven and a new earth.

We can take some comfort in knowing that while this earth remains, the sun will continue to rise and to set, and the seasons will come and go, just as they always have.