Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Is This Biblical?

Ask, and it will be given to you. Andre asked, I responded.

(Disclaimer: although I appreciate the quote from George Muller, I disagree with his conclusions found in Wikipedia. Not that its the best resource, but I didn't know who this guy was.)

A social media post...

There many wise theologians and students of the Bible. A) is this Biblical? If so, what would it look like? B) What does the Bible mean that we should die to ourselves?


To answer your questions, Andre, A) absolutely this is Biblical, as phrases in his quote are almost exact verses from Scripture, and B) to "die to self" means is very much what George said, which is to quit living for yourself.

But, this is only half the teaching in Scripture. The other half, the better half, is to "live to God." It's equally important to understand what that means, otherwise we'll be in danger of trying to become righteous by modifying our behavior.

Salvation is not about behavior modification, nor is it merely an emotional response. It's not about sacrifice, it's about humility. It's not about becoming righteous, it's about taking on His righteousness and growing in grace.

"It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:8-9) Now that you're saved, grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. It's not about your plans for success, or about worldly roles. It is about His will for your eternal life (John 17:3) and confirming to the image of His Son.

Jesus died for a miraculous reason, only part of it was for your salvation. The other part is the second half of 1 Tim 2:4 which says, "[God] who desires all people to be saved (first desire) and to come to the full knowledge of the truth (second desire)."

Here are a few Scripture references for George's quote: John 14:20; Col 3:1-3; 2 Cor 5:14-15, 17; Romans 6:7-8, 11; 2 Tim 2:15). However, I do not agree with His conclusions. Once he discovered that God had a plan for church-age believers, he failed to elaborate on that plan; what is the mystery, the secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before for the ages for our glory.

Dwight, a serious student of the Bible

Dwight, I am very grateful for your helpful explanation. But where does enjoying what God created and is lawful come in? Like giving us a huge variety of delicious food to eat, having a great beer, sexual intimacy with your wife?

What I mean is, dying to self means not caring about yourself?

I will embark on a study based on your post. Thank you for taking the time!

Excellent questions, Andre. That's why you can't do one without the other. You must have the living part to even be motivated for the dying part. Dying is not fun. But, as the saying goes, some things are worth dying for, yet not literally!

Since you brought it up, let's use the marriage and intimacy analogy. I love it! Would you agree there are phases of you getting to know your wife and being closer to her, and she to you? Of course! But, it didn't start out that way, did it?

There was probably a time you didn't know her well at all, or at least not as well as you thought. You may have dated other girls beforehand. But they became less interesting to you as you got to know your future wife better. Eventually, you knew her, and cared for her, well enough to decide to commit to an exclusive relationship with her.

The wedding ceremony is kind of like baptism; it's an outward sign and celebration of this inward commitment you already felt in your heart. You were a little nervous, perhaps, and knew you didn't know all that the future held you two.

What you felt in your heart can be likened to salvation. That's the part where you believed in God's solution to condemnation and trusted in the righteous work of His Son. Likewise, you believed in your wife before the wedding, more likely the engagement. The wedding, the baptism, was what made the belief, the engagement, magical event, and a sheer delight.

Around this time, you may have acknowledged other women as beautiful and attractive. But you knew this one was special. You had wonderful hope for your future together. You trusted she was worth exploring. To trust, you had to be a bit humble. Through humility, intimacy could grow between the two of you. You may have had second or third doubts about your decision and commitment, but you stuck with it. You may have been tempted with an emotional affair, but you come back to your wife, recommitted, having faith, humble, trusting.

Sanctification with God is like that. Salvation, like the wedding, is behind you. You didn't have to know everything to be saved, just like you didn't have to know everything about your wife to get married. Your wedding is in the past, just as your salvation is in the past. God is now 100% responsible for your soul. You can rest and be assured in that. You don't continue to become saved, you are already saved.

In the same way, you don't live with your wife trying to relive the wedding over and over. Sure, you want to keep the relationship magical. But, over the years, magic is produced in different ways, more meaningful ways, ways others probably wouldn't understand.

It's only gotten better. You've experienced profound things together, laughter, adventure, boredom, arguments, making up. You've discovered each other's vulnerability, grew in deeper appreciation, and that brought greater maturity and understanding.

Now, after years and years of marriage, ups and downs and up again, you're at a point where the thought of being with another woman doesn't enter your mind beyond a fleeting moment before it's brushed away as silly and irrelevant. You know where your heart belongs. In fact, your heart would feel ripped to shreds if anything took that away.

Self was what you wanted long ago when you first dated.Dying to self would be impossible by itself. But when presented with the chance to live, love and cherish your wife, the self melted away. It died a quiet death. You didn't have to shove it in the coffin. For the desires of your heart were before your eyes, and the will to live for her consumed you, willingly, delightfully.

Therefore, delight in the wife of your heart. Enjoy each other. Enjoy all creation, for He has created these things for good. But also know Him. "Delight in Him and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4) Dying to self is not a burden when we experience the profound joy of the fullness of Him who died for us.

He wants the desires of your heart to be for Him, above everything else. Seek Him, both of you, and He will become the desire of your heart (singular because the two have become one flesh). His love goes beyond all that we could think, ask or imagine (Eph 3:14-21).

May the joy and peace of the Lord be with you always!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Amazing and Sad

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 ESV)

It's amazing, and sad, how the teachings of the traditions of people as doctrine has kept people away from Jesus Christ. Many are offended at the mere mention of His name because loud, religious, arrogant hypocrites claim to have equal authority (implicitly or explicitly) as God and impose all sorts of rules and requirements for behavior modification and blind submission to that false authority.

Yet, Christ went all out to completely remove the barrier of personal sins from reconciliation with the Father, and the Father was completely satisfied with that work.

If people would humbly give Christ a chance apart from rituals and sacrifices, maybe they would see the beauty, patience, loving care, mercy, and grace of a Person who wants nothing more than to have intimate fellowship with them.

Maybe then they would believe, trust, and learn from Him in the Scriptures, and know real love and truth for the first time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Freedom in Christ

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:1, 13, 16 ESV)

Gorgeous view of the bay near sunset from Route 64 bridge heading west toward home from Nags Head, NC, where I spent the day with my friend Steve and his family. Wonderful time. Lovely family. Good man.

Beautiful scenery, too. Reminds me of freedom. In this case, freedom from a huge, deceptive lie.

The yoke of slavery was not slapped around my neck and bolted while I was distracted or unconscious. Rather, I walked in to a popular outlet that sold them for a tithe, eyes wide open, and admired their sturdy, aromatic, and decorative qualities. I thought it would be good to wear one and it would look good on me, or I in it.

So I slipped it on. At first, I took it off and put it on as the mood fit. Eventually, I wore it all the time, even sleeping with it on.

After a while, however, something didn't seem right. Its qualities I once admired, I noticed, were merely external. I wasn't becoming sturdier. I was starting to look like a hypocrite to those who knew me, including myself.

In addition, it was feeling tighter, even if only in my mind. When I went to adjust it, I noticed it was stuck. It had fused with the skin of my neck.

I had to make a choice. Would I scrub it off by the washing of water with the Word? Or would I try to ignore the discomfort, think of something else, busy myself with rituals, and get used to it?

I knew the former choice would be a path of pain and suffering before it got better. It might even leave scars. Likely so, but still I clung to the hope of it getting better.

I knew the latter choice would be torture. I couldn't pretend my heart matched the appearance or ever would. I was no longer motivated to fit in. Besides, I couldn't ignore the slow tightening of the yoke like a noose; it would eventually strangle me.

Freedom came with a fight.

For some battles, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you in the separation process. I was wielding weapons of warfare I hadn't yet been trained to use. I was cocky as a toddler with a red cape and a pencil-sword. And just as annoying.

Eventually, I acknowledged the fight was inward, not external. I wasn't going to be able to release the yoke by yanking and criticizing it. Nor was I wrestling with the flesh and blood of those who sold it.

I became more focused on fighting the good fight, contending for the faith in my own mind and heart. The Word of God would provide the armor I needed for the real battle.

As I focused, new skin on my neck provided healing from the inside out, becoming transformed by the renewal of my mind and heart. The yoke lost its grip as I shed the old layers of lifeless cells.

One day, it just slipped off and fell. My yanking it was only counter-productive; a lesson I had to learn. I stared at the crumpled yoke, with its claw marks and stains of dried blood lying in a heap at my feet, wondering why I ever admired it.

Then I looked up to the heavens and smiled, recognizing the Word coming alive within me. Healing and transformation had come as I humbly abided in Him. Not to impress, for that was the lie. Not to judge others or be judged by others, for that was the deception. But to know the truth.

The Son had set me free and I was free indeed.

Can a person's lifestyle condemn them?

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19 ESV)

For a good friend (thanks for the chat)...
Can a person's lifestyle condemn them?

Answer: No! 
In God's eyes, it is not behavior that condemns a person.

Condemnation is the judgment declared by God for the trespass of one man, Adam. The rest of us were born condemned; God established that as well. Condemnation is not, and cannot be, the result of personal sin, bad choices, disagreeable lifestyles, or immoral behavior any more than one can decide whether or not to be born.

Justification, on the other hand, is declared by God to be the righteousness available to us because of the righteous deeds of another man, Jesus Christ, who was not "born of Adam," and, therefore, was not born condemned. Justification is not, and cannot be, the result of moral behavior, good choices (except one*), decent living, loving others, judging others, or hating sin.

* What is the one "good choice?" God declared a simple solution to go from condemnation to justification; believe in His only Son, Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. That's it; choose to believe, which means to trust Him for your soul's salvation. Humbly turn the responsibility over to Him and rest in Him.

Adam did what he did on his own free will, and yet we all are paying the price. In him, we were all born condemned. No one is better than anyone else or has any advantage. This is death, which is separation from God.

Christ also did what He did on His own free will, and now we can all share in His Sonship. In Him, we can be born again to justification. No one is disqualified because of what they did or did not do; anyone can be saved. This is life, the new life, which is reconciliation to God.

He made this offer because He "so loved the world." He "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4)

Don't reject Him because of what arrogant people say and do. Accept His pure love, motivation, mercy and grace because of what He has said and done for you.

Trust Him for the salvation of your soul. It's your choice to accept His offer. You'll be glad you did.

(Also read Ephesians 2:8-9.)

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Romans‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭ESV

Think about it...

If you are already condemned at birth, how do you earn condemnation? Can you become more condemned? If you have a sin nature because you were born in sin, how do you earn that sin nature from the sins you personally commit?

It would be like earning a heart after you are born; it's there because you were born with it. You deserve a beating heart because it's a part of who you are. Likewise, you cannot do anything righteous because that is NOT who you are. That is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.

Think about it some more...

Absolutely, you are responsible for your own sin. But in Romans 5:12, "All sinned" is not separate or new information than 5:18; the point Paul is making is that sin came into the world and was spread to all people through one man, Adam. Another way to say the same thing is condemnation came into the world and was imputed to all people through one man, Adam.

What then would be the difference between sinning before one is saved and after one is saved? Do both condemn a person? No, absolutely not if one is justified in Christ. Does it condemn a person who is not justified? No, absolutely not, because they are already condemned.

No one earns salvation. Can anyone reduce their sinning enough so that God would say, "Okay, that's good enough. You're saved." Likewise, can one increase their sin enough to become condemned? What if a person born in Adam never sinned? Hypothetical, yes, but they would still be just as condemned.

Besides, lost and saved alike both sin. Those don't change your status of saved or lost. Both condemnation and justification are on God's terms, not ours. If God declares it in His word, it must be so. Christ already paid the full price for everyone's sins because "He is the propitiation for our sins, but not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). And He, in Christ, is "reconciling the world to Himself, not counting man's trespassing against them" (2 Cor 5:19).

Now THAT'S Good News!‬‬

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Married to Christ (Part 7 of 7)

[The Apostle Paul worked hard ...] that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 
(Colossians 2:2-3 ESV)

As I explained previously, I am referring to my spiritual, Christian marriage to Christ. He is the bridegroom and I, as part of His church, which is His body, am the bride. Together, the two have become one.

In today's verses from Colossians 2, we have the word "mystery" again. On day one, I quoted from Ephesians 5 which showed that earthly marriage was used as an analogy for a "profound mystery." This profound mystery is what Paul indicated he was really talking about.

I used to believe the cliche "God moves in mysterious ways" applied whenever the word "mystery" was used. Whatever was a mystery was unknown, couldn't be known, and a little spooky.
After quite a bit of study, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand the original Greek word translated as "mystery," and how it applied to the profound thought Paul was communicating.

Unlike the genre of movies where certain knowledge is forbidden and remains shrouded, its usage here in Scripture describes something previously hidden but now fully revealed. This is special information that God has been saving up. Now He "desires all people to be saved and to come to the [full, accurate] knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4).

This mystery is unprecedented unity with God the Father and Christ, His Son, and through all of us sharing the same Holy Spirit.

That is why I say I am married to Christ, whose work, not my effort, made this all possible according to the will of the Father. Am I happily married? You bet!

Married to Christ (Part 6 of 7)

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 1:4 ESV)

For a long time, I certainly didn't "walk in the truth." Not even near it. I didn't know what the truth was, or why I should care. I was occasionally curious enough to extend some sort of effort to find out. But mostly not.

Was truth even knowable? If so, who was closest to finding out? Scientists? Philosophers? The classical writers? Ancient civilizations? Religious leaders? Seminary scholars? Spiritual gurus? Mom? Dad?

Maybe truth wasn't knowable, even though it sometimes tugged on me hard enough that I'd slip into its pursuit. Maybe it wasn't even relevant to life. So what if I found truth? What would I do with it? Would anyone believe me?

Then one day my older brother shipped to boot camp in preparation for his Navy career. I was given a small box of stuff he brought with him, but couldn't keep while there.

One of its content items was a Bible. Curious, I picked it up and started reading it, randomly. The book of Proverbs was particularly interesting, very interesting. In fact, at times I felt Someone had been watching me over my shoulder, and they knew me better than I knew myself. Where did such wisdom come from?!

I opened other books within its covers and had two thoughts as I read: 1) this was incredibly profound, and 2) this was incredibly confusing. I'd have to come back to this, but for now I had young adult issues to deal with. Discovering truth was an on/off, fair-weather friend kind of a relationship, even while at church.

Fast forward to today. I know now God's Spirit, through His common grace, was convincing me that the light I was seeing at the end of proverbial tunnel was real.

It's been a twisty, challenging, refreshing, gritty, painful, joyful journey coming to know God, and being saved, all the while struggling to make sense of His place in the world. Why did denominations compete? Why were there still apparently conflicting verses in Scripture? And most of all, having turned to many resources to help me understand, why did I believe what I truly believed?

Was there more truth beyond the salvation of my soul and visible changes in moral behavior? Was worship more than gathering together on a weekly basis? Mostly, could I prove (to myself) from Scripture, not from among man's many interpretations, that God's word made perfect sense?

It was with such gladness in my heart that I discovered the positive answers to those questions, especially the latter. Then I recognized my salvation, as great as it was, was merely a door. Far more truths, deeper truths, were awaiting me inside its warm walls and cathedral ceilings.

God's Spirit Himself would guide me into many rooms, and the whole structure would glory in its exquisite details. I stood at the threshold of a gorgeous mansion when I realized I was neither visitor nor guest. I was home.

My heart rejoices greatly. And now it brings me such joy to hear when others have gone beyond the threshold and into the mansion, walking in the light as He is in the light. Walking as One in the Spirit.

Thank you for reading.

Married to Christ (Part 5 of 7)

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4 ESV)

Sometimes, I just delight in Him. I'm not sure how to describe it. It's like my mind and heart are in harmonious contemplation of His words and His thoughts, and they are so soothing, comforting, and encouraging.

(If you have one, get out your copy of God's word as I leave a trail of Scripture references below. Or use the Internet, such sites as BibleGateway, or smart phone apps, like YouVersion.)

I could not have imagined the wonderful things He planned for me from before the ages. Things He planned for all who believe in Him in this church age. (1 Corinthians 2:6-7)

No one could have asked or thought of what He can do. For it is exceedingly abundantly beyond our capacity. Yet, what no heart has imagined God prepared for those who love Him, He has revealed through His Spirit. (Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

I delight in knowing who I am, Whose I am, why I'm here, what is my purpose. No, I'm not wealthy, nor am I poor. I have a job, but I'm not wildly successful in business. I have some stuff, but nothing luxurious or exquisite. Yet, I'm perfectly content. In all honesty, however, I have yet to completely conquer complaining. (Philippians 4:11-14)

Most of all, I delight in knowing these are His words and His thoughts. To me, what this world has to offer is ultimately trash compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.

What are the desires of my heart? To delight in Him!
(Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 3:7-8; Psalm 37:4)

What are yours?