Is Christianity Essentially A Jail?

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Is Christianity Essentially A Jail?

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For many, living under the auspice of the Bible is not only seemingly impossible, but, perhaps, a ridiculous idea.

You know the story, don’t you? A young Christian at college gets invited to a party and says, “I just can’t go.” The organizer says, “Why not?” The Christian responds, “It’s not what I believe or follow.” It’s enough to make some believe that Christianity is too restrictive, rules-minded, and life-altering.

They may say, “Why should I follow something that will limit me?” Of course, the catch for our culture is that freedom is defined as having no restrictions — to shed all authority and discover what works best for you.

Ironically, that is exactly what biblical Christianity is all about – allowing you to discover what’s best for you. Following the risen Christ allows you to really thrive in the purpose God created you for (to glorify His name).

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In John 8:31-38, Jesus unpacks two truths that help answer the question, “Is Christianity a jail?”

First, Jesus—God in the flesh—teaches that true, authentic freedom is found only in serving the living God.Serving” seemingly reeks with the chains of non-freedom. But freedom isn’t just throwing off any man-made restraints. It also comes from within:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’” (John 8:34)

In other words, we all work hard for something – success, romance, acceptance, achievement, materialism — that we think will fulfill us. And, instead, of us controlling whatever that is, that thing ends up controlling us.

But notice what Jesus says in John 8:35-36:

“The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Is Christianity Essentially A Jail?

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The son has real freedom. But why is that? Because the son knows he is in union with the Father. No matter what we may chase in this life, nothing can replace the fact that we are created for God and His purposes. Moreover, the son also knows that the Father best recognizes the way he should live. The world claims that true freedom is experienced by whatever we want. Yet, Jesus Christ says that His freedom is doing what you were created to do—following Him.

Real freedom is found only in serving the living God. Freedom isn’t just living independently. We all long and cling to something—known or unspoken. That thing becomes our master and lord. The world says freedom isn’t having a boss or master. Jesus says that true freedom comes with acknowledging and having the right Master.

Secondly, the biblical Gospel alone sets you free. Let’s be honest—when you don’t live in the Father’s house mentioned above, then yes, the Father’s house is going to be like and feel like slavery. We become resentful of being in such a home and look for “greener pastures” and a chance to get away.

Notice Jesus’ words in John 8:37-38:

“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Jesus wants to give us back the heart of the son in this passage. A son who trusts, loves and follows his Father. One that is like the Father in all respects and loves what his Father loves. You need the Holy Spirit of God to change your heart, not more resolutions or plans to “do better.” You need to be absolutely overcome by Jesus’ love for you and what He did for you in the Gospel.

For many who are reading this, going to church and trying to live the Christian life does feel like drag. They reason many believe that Christianity is restrictive is because they’ve never accepted Jesus’ free offer of forgiveness by repenting and believing the Gospel.

Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Life isn’t a “cake walk” with Jesus. But He will sustain you and satisfy you under any burden.

So, make a choice today: Would you rather have a burden or the right master? I don’t know about you, but the biblical Jesus is my desire, not a burden. Only is Him can true, non-restrictive freedom found.

What is your choice today?

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Why Did Jesus Say He Didn’t When He Would Return?

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Why Did Jesus Say He Didn't When He Would Return?

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In Mark 13:32, Jesus says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

But wait, isn’t this Jesus, the God-man? How does the very Son of God not know when He will return? Doesn’t this show He isn’t God?

Each of these, at first, are very valid questions. It’s also worth noting that his isn’t the first time Jesus is described with restrictions. Luke 2:52, for instance, says Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature.” The book of Hebrews says that “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”

Let’s be clear: Scripture teaches that Christ had to be fully God to represent God to men, and be fully man to represent man to God (Col. 2:9; John 1, etc.). He’s 100 percent God and 100 percent man!

To save us from the Father’s due wrath upon us, He had to be both. If He wasn’t a man, he couldn’t have died in our place as a substitute. If He was not God, He would have been just like you and me—that is, unable to defeat the power of sin and death and satisfy the Father’s wrath as a perfect sacrifice.

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Throughout His life, we see glimpses of both natures.  For instance:

  • Because He was human, He got thirsty (John 19:28). But because He was God’s Son, He could turn water into wine (John 2:1-13).
  • Because He was human, He got hungry (Mark 11:12). But because He was God’s Son, He could feed 5,000 hungry people (Mark 6:30-44).
  • Because He was human, He became weary (John 4:6). But because He was God’s Son, he was raised from the dead (Matthew 28:1-15).

Why Did Jesus Say He Didn't When He Would Return? And, to answer the question posed at the beginning, because He was human, He didn’t know the day or the hour of His return. But because He is God’s Son and fully divine, He promised He would return with great power and great glory.

In other words, while on this earth, Jesus willingly emptied Himself of many of His divine powers (Philippians 2:5-11). The Greek word is kenosis, which literally renders as “emptying.” In His human nature, Jesus has limitations like you and me.

In short, the reason Jesus doesn’t know is because, in His humanity, He “emptied himself” of all that knowledge and access to it.

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But here’s the bigger question: Are you ready for Jesus’ return?

Here are four questions to ask yourself.

  1. Are you spiritually alert? How would your life be different if you knew Jesus was coming back today? Wouldn’t it make you question, “Am I ready? Am I living to please him?” For many reading this, the ultimate question is, “Is your soul ready for Jesus to return? Have you repented and believed the Gospel (Mark 1:14-15)?”
  2. Are you urgently on a mission? If you knew the world would end, how would your priorities be rearranged? We are consumed by work, possessions, hobbies and bucket lists. And there’s nothing wrong with these things. We need rest and recovery and we have to work! But in the midst of these things, are we investing our life, time and resources to eternal matters?
  3. Do you find hope in your most intense suffering? Suffering is a reminder that this world is not the way it is supposed to be. The world is full of unfathomable evil and suffering. The Lord is full of unending love and comfort. If someone you loved died of cancer, if your closest relationship is severed, or if your body is full of pain, you can lift your eyes! Jesus is coming back. His return promises us that the things of this life are only temporary.
  4. Do you have an intense power to forgive? If you believe Jesus will return as He said He would, then you can forgive as He commanded. At the return of Christ, He’s going to set all things right, and we can endure until then because of that fact.

May we long daily for heaven, pray daily for Christ’s return, and live daily content and joyful as we rest daily in the sovereignty of God.

Does The Bible Really Say We Shouldn’t Judge?

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Does The Bible Really Say We Shouldn’t Judge?

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Visit Google and type in the phrase “The Bible says not to ….” What do you think pops up first? It is the essence of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

This is no surprise to most of us. We live in a culture that believes religion should be kept private and that absolute truth is negotiable — depending, of course, on your preferences. Practically, since we have no standard for truth, one is prevented from telling others if he/she is right or wrong. Is that really what Jesus meant in Matthew 7:1?:

Notice that Jesus didn’t say that we shouldn’t ever tell anyone he or she is wrong. In fact, Jesus spent His time on earth doing this very thing!

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Later in the same passage, in Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus makes a distinction between the broad and narrow way. He doesn’t say, “Oh, golly gee, whatever you want to do in life is cool with me. I am not going to judge you!” Instead, he says:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

So, what is this the “judge not” verse of Matthew 7:1 saying?

First, you truly judge someone not when you analyze their position against truth, but when you reject them as human, made in God’s image.

Isn’t this what John 3:17 characterizes?:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

While Jesus made abundantly clear that He alone was the narrow gate to heaven, he still didn’t “condemn the world.” You see, not condemning the world doesn’t mean you don’t forthrightly speak the truth. Instead, what you do after stating the truth determines whether you are judging.

Think about it: After telling us the truth of the kingdom of God, Jesus didn’t cast us off or dismiss us. No, he drew us closer and closer and made us — the sinners — his friends.

Perhaps the most famous Bible verse — John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world …) — precedes John 3:17. Jesus not only told us the truth, but He laid down His life for salvation!

Second, judging mirrors excessive obliviousness of our own immorality.

Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:5 about taking “the log” out of our own eye before addressing others. That is, we shouldn’t criticize others for the exact same things we are guilty of doing.

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Jesus’ words here assume that there is a perpetual “log” lodged in our eyes as Christians. We might learn to lessen or downplay these “logs” by social and cultural domestication and rules, but the fact remains that the sinful depravity still lingers.

What has God given me in Christ? Grace, mercy and forgiveness. Doesn’t that change how I treat and speak to people? It should.

So, when Jesus said “judge not,” he was telling us to review the situation without rejecting the person. As Christians, we are called to speak with grace and truth (1 Peter 3:15).

Again, this doesn’t mean we can’t engage someone with truth. Rather, we have in Matthew 7:1-6 specific instructions about how to engage anyone we may meet who we may never agree with.

How do we make this practical?

  1. Make sure private prayer is your main arsenal. We can’t change someone’s heart — only the Holy Spirit of God can do that work.
  2. Seek for someone to come to Christ before chasing secondary issues. You may want to really make sure your co-workers know your sports team is the best in the world. But what does that have to do with eternity?
  3. Make sure you are “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19b). Be careful to protect your pastors, staff and church by heading off gossip and slander. Be slow to speak and quick to pray.
  4. Make sure you are patient with the speed of how God is working in someone’s life. Change is a process, not an event. We need to be patient with people as they struggle with sin. God’s timetable isn’t ours. His sovereign will is perfect, and we can trust Him.
  5. Learn to speak to different people differently, as God leads. Jesus didn’t speak to Herod or Pilate in the same way He spoke to others. Paul didn’t talk to the Gentiles and Jews in the same way. Yet, it was the same message — the Gospel message.

Remember, we set standards that we use to judge, not realizing that we will fail our own criteria. Most judgments, accusations and verdicts don’t even need to be rendered (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). In heaven, there’ll be no judging motives, no racial profiling, no injustice, no theft, no vengeance, no hate, and nothing but love — eternal and free from the one true God of the Bible. The only fully competent Judge is coming.

In a world gone mad, only one hope remains: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). Do you trust Him today?

How Can The Bible Be Trusted?

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How Can The Bible Be Trusted?

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One of the most notable hang-ups people have with the Bible is often the Bible itself. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “Man is messed up and sinful. Man authored and wrote the Bible to suit his needs. How can it be trusted?”

How are we to respond? Second Peter 1:12-21 gives us the answer. Peter is answering objections that everything the apostles taught was simply made up.

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Notice what 2 Peter 1:16 says:

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Some modern-day critics such as Dan Brown (author of the “Da Vinci Code”) and Bart D. Ehrman insist that early Christians selected stories that, in essence, propped Jesus up to a supernatural level. And here are four quick reasons why that isn’t the case.

  • The date is too early for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to be simply fairytale. Most books were written some 20-30 years after Jesus’ death. Paul quotes a hymn in the book of Philippians 2, for instance, that sprung from the Gospels themselves. Further, the Gospel writers referred to current events of the first century in their writings (e.g., 1 Cor. 15, Luke 13-14, etc.).
  • The actual subject matter of the Gospels is too extreme to be a fairytale. Why would they include such claims as Jesus is God? Why would they include Jesus praying to His Father? And, in a first-century context where women were nothing more than property, why would they put them first at the tomb of Jesus? If you were simply writing a myth, you would never go that direction.
  • The Gospels are way too detailed to be a fairytale. From first-person narratives to historical dates, times and customs, the Gospels are richly laced with factual statements. Take Mark 14:52 as an example. In the throes of describing some of the most intense scenes so far of his book, Mark tells of someone (probably himself) who fled “naked” from the last night of Jesus’ life. That’s the kind of detail you put in when you’re writing a historical account. You don’t do that when you are merely making it up.
  • The meaning is too big to be a fairytale. What reward was there for telling the story as we have it today? All the writers and apostles, save John, died unnatural deaths for their faith – they were killed. You might say, “Well, don’t people die for lies all the time?” Yes, but people don’t die for something they know is a lie.
How Can The Bible Be Trusted?

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Peter also argues that the author of the New Testament (and Bible at large) isn’t man but God.

2 Peter 1:19-21 says:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit

Christians have long believed that the Bible itself is written by God and man. It has a unique part of each author’s perspective, writing style and personality. Being from God, it is infallible and inerrant. Yes, the authors were very fallible, but it wasn’t the authors themselves that were flawless—it was God.

Someone may say, “Yes, but we don’t have the original letters.”

Did you know that in Britain the official measure of a yard is encased in a heavy metal of titanium? What if someone stole it? Would we have to development a new measurement? Not at all! We have copies—yardsticks. You can compare the copies and know within a millimeter how long a yard is. The vast number and availability of yardsticks makes the original all the more trustworthy.

Likewise, the fact we have thousands of biblical copies affirms that it’s the Word of God. It hasn’t changed.

The Bible offers the only practical explanation for mankind’s plight and the presence of evil. History affirms that what it says about man is true (we are sinners in need of divine grace alone for salvation).  Any subject on which the Bible speaks, the Bible must be our final authority. God’s Word gets the last word. Give the Bible a chance and see if it makes better sense out of your life than a secular worldview.

What’s the difference between the Bible and the Internet? The former deserves your unreserved trust and the latter deserves a good measure of suspicion. Choose wisely.

The Ninth Commandment: Can You Handle The Truth?

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The Ninth Commandment: Can You Handle The Truth?

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Do you have a problem with lying?

Well, if you don’t, you’re among the 10 percent who don’t struggle with this!

A quick glance at research revealed that nine out of 10 people learn to lie—and lie well—by the time they are four. One study done by the University of Massachusetts in 2002 showed that nearly 60 percent of adults can’t go 10 minutes without lying. Crazy!

As we approach the Ninth Commandment — “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) — it is worth breaking down the various types of lies we participate in from time to time.

  • Straight-out lying: You know, the type of lie you tell to get yourself out of a messy situation.
  • Twisted-half-truth lying: You say something that’s mostly true but then clarify it in a way as to mislead.
  • Exaggerating-the-truth lying: You inflate your weaknesses, strengths, failures and successes to make yourself or your situation look or sound better.
  • Not-owning-the-truth lying: You “explain” why you didn’t get your job done at work, or why your homework wasn’t complete on time.
  • Avoiding-the-truth-or-confrontation lying: Maybe you don’t tell your employee why you’re really firing him or her. Basically, you deny or withhold the truth to someone who has the right or need to hear it.

A couple of observations…

First, it’s interesting that the Ninth Commandment comes one spot away from the end of the Ten Commandments.

Lying is the way that we go about breaking the other commandments. If you commit adultery, you attempt to lie about it. If you steal something, you attempt to change the facts about your part. Like a kind of superglue, lying brings together all other sin. Satan, who is the father of all lies (John 8:44), intertwines you in a mesh of lies and gets you in a situation where you feel like you literally can’t repent—so you lie.

Second, notice the commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

The prohibition is against misrepresenting the truth as to hurt your neighbor. One focus is on the truth and the other is on the good of your neighbor.

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Ask yourself, “Are my words true? Are my words a blessing to those around me?”

What does God say about lying?

It is worth quoting, at length, the verses below to answer this question.

Psalm 5:6: “You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”

Proverbs 12:2: “A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns.”

Revelation 21:8: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

God is truth (John 17:3). He is light (John 9:5). His entire universe, that He created, is founded upon truth. When we speak falsely, we contradict God’s nature and character, unraveling his whole creation which is built on divine integrity.

Why do we lie and what can we do about it?

The Ninth Commandment: Can You Handle The Truth?

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Not telling the truth comes from a deep insecurity we all possess in this sin-filled life. Think of Adam and Eve who lied to God after eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3-4). Naked as they were, both felt they had lost the security and satisfaction of their relationship with God.

Or, what about Jacob? You may recall that he stole his brother Esau’s birthright by deceiving his father, Isaac, into believing that he was his brother.

Why did he do this? He didn’t believe God’s nature and promise! He didn’t believe in God’s blessing. He really just wanted his father’s blessings—not God’s. Jacob was so insecure before God that didn’t trust the goodness and sovereignty of God in his life. Thus, he doesn’t tell the truth to protect his own skin.

What do we do to overcome this insecurity in our hearts that leads to lying? We must, like the numerous honest confessions in the book of Psalms, restore a true sense of God’s security to our hearts (Psalm 16:9; 18:33, etc.).

And how do you do that? With the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-8)!

In the death-instrument that is the Roman cross, God the Father has the means of taking care of our greatest need—salvation in Christ alone—and the will to do it on all levels. Friend, the security we really, really need to overcome not telling the truth is believing what God has said about us (we are His alone!) and promised us (His Son, the God-man, Jesus Christ!).

Indeed, when you have found refuge only in Him, you won’t need to wear a mask before God or anyone.

How does this apply to you further?

There are certainly many avenues of application beyond the space of this article, but here are three fresh on this author’s mind.

First, we must always tell the truth, but that doesn’t mean we have to say everything all the time just because someone asks. Gossip is the chariot on which the devil rides. You should be more upset by your own gossip about another than you are about another’s gossip about you. Gossip is a sinister sin because it charades as “well-concern” and “truth-finding.” However, gossip is as evil as the sin it claims to snuff out (Romans 1:29-32).

Second, ask yourself: “Is your disgrace lying to you about God being the final judge?” Anyone who says, “I don’t care what anyone thinks” is either lying or crazy — and often both. Remind yourself that the most compelling people are those who’ve gotten past the need to be compelling. They just tell the (Gospel) truth with love and boldness, and that’s compelling. Remember that Galatians 4:16 reminds us that you can’t make everybody happy. But if you tell the truth, you especially won’t make everybody happy.

Third, thank the Lord if you have a pastor or spiritual leader who tells you biblical truth. The work of the pastor is to tell the truth and to expose the lies. The most loving thing we can do is tell the truth so people can be reconciled to God. Be slow to speak and quick to pray. And praise God for those in your life who do this!

Are you a pipeline or a lake? Are you just a channel of truth to others, or a Gospel pond, deep and overflowing?

Why Are There Hypocrites In The Church?

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Why Are There Hypocrites In The Church?Mahatma Gandhi, India’s famous leader of the early 20th century, once said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

No doubt, there are dark spots in Christian history. Words such as the Crusades and the witch trials, among others, come to mind. But for many reading this, hypocrisy in the church is more of a personal thing. Perhaps you have experienced some sort of judgment or had a terrible experience by a pastor, teacher or church member over the years. Maybe you felt you weren’t accepted. Or perhaps you have witnessed how some Christian leaders used their church position and influence to collect power and money. In short, sometimes, it seems, the best argument against Christians are Christians themselves.

These objections are very real for this author, and Jesus dealt with them famously in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Notice Luke 10:30-32 (ESV):

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

What is Jesus doing here? He’s admitting the truth of hypocrisy among very religious people. Each of the characters in this story was off to do something religious—“I have to get to the church to do my duties.” And in the line with their duty, they step over someone who is truly hurting and in need.

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You know, occasionally I gaze at the conduct of many Christians in our culture and I really wonder if we care more about being right factually than we do about people. Yes, proper theology is needed and can’t be dumped. Correct Orthodoxy equals correct orthopraxy.

church 1But if we are against something biblically (as we ought to), it should only be because we are for the people that are hurting, and that should come through in how we dialog about it. Remember: Jesus taught about trying to eliminate a crumb of dust from our brother’s eye when we have a plank in our own (Matthew 7:3-5).

In Luke 10:33-35, the Jews had the correct theology. Yet, the Samaritan acted more God-focused than the Jews, and God used this Samaritan to correct the Jewish people.

As Christians, we have to be meek enough to receive correction from any person—even if we think they are wrong biblically and even if it’s not done in a loving way. Honestly, many times in my life I have had people who weren’t Christians point out contradictions in my life. And, while I never liked it one bit, I’m grateful. We must accept truth in whatever way it comes to us.

But what do you do the next time someone tells you, “The church is full of hypocrites”? You can simply say, “You don’t even how much!” The greatest enemies of the church aren’t agnostics, scientists, atheists, Muslims or cultists, but pharisaical and nominal “Christians” who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle. True Christians aren’t hypocrites; they’re repentant sinners—big difference (2 Cor. 7:6-10). Hypocrites are those who pretend to be what they never intend to be. Hypocrites love what God can do for them, but true Christians love God for who He is. The hypocrite asks, “How little can I give and still be noticed?” The truly saved Christian asks, “How much can I give without being noticed?”

You may have been hurt by church people, but you should only give up on the local church when Jesus does (which is never) and not a second sooner.

Do you want to honor Jesus in the way you engage others? Don’t be easily offended. Be gracious. Give others the benefit of the doubt. And know God can work through all sinners—including yourself—for His glory.

3 Myths About The Christmas Story (That Most People Believe)

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3 Myths About The Christmas Story (That Most People Believe)

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The Christmas story is well-know, but many myths and misconceptions nevertheless abound.  Below are three of the most common myths:

1. Did the angels actually sing at the night of Christ’s birth?

Specifically, this deals with the angelic announcement to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth. A large number of Christian Christmas songs, old and new, indicate that the angels sang that night.

But did you know the Scripture doesn’t actually say this? Rather, the Bible says that they praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).

True, the angels may have really sung that night. The counter-argument is that the Bible often links singing and praising (Psalm 47:6-7; James 5:13). Yet, it doesn’t actually say the angels sang. The word used (legonton) in Luke 2:13 is often translated “saying” from the root word lego, which means to “say” most commonly.

This idea of the angels not actually singing may rub some the wrong way. But the Bible doesn’t explicitly say this.

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What’s the takeaway? Simply that all traditional understandings are not inherently wrong in themselves. But, with all things, we must examine the Scripture (Acts 17:11) to see if these things are true. And, if they go against the Bible, we must reject them as such.

2. Didn’t the wise men see Jesus the same night he was born?

According to Hollywood and tradition, the wise men were present that first night Jesus was born. Again, though, what does the Bible say? In Matthew’s account (2:1), the magi traveled to Jerusalem and visited with King Herod after Jesus was born.

Remember that the angels came to the shepherds at night (Luke 2:8). We can infer, then, that Jesus himself was born at night. What’s more, recall that Luke 2:11 tells us that the shepherds were told at the announcement of the angels that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The translation of “this day” literally refers to the same day — today. Historically, the Jewish day started at sundown, which was about 6 in the evening. The angels’ use of “this day” (KJV) shows us that Christ was born during the night since the day would have begun at sundown.

3 Myths About The Christmas Story (That Most People Believe)Why is this so important? The possibility that the wise men came to Jerusalem the same night Christ was born and had an audience with Herod is highly unlikely. Matthew 2:4 tells us that Herod “gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together” to determine “where Christ should be born.” They responded with the prophecy of Micah 5:2, which indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. From Jerusalem, the distance is about six miles to Bethlehem. If the wise men did meet with Herod the following day after Jesus’ birth, the soonest they could have visited Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have been the second night after the birth.

So, who was present at Jesus’ birth? The shepherds, Joseph and Mary for sure. But most likely not the wise men. Matthew used the Greek word paidion to describe Jesus (Matthew 2:8-9, 11, 13-14, 20-21, etc.). This word can mean anything from an infant to a toddler. This variety of meanings would be on par with King Herod killing all the young Jewish boys ages two and under (Matthew 2:16-17). In short, Jesus was probably two years or younger when the wise men visited him.

3. Was Jesus born in a stable?

There’s no doubt that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-6). The question is: “Was Jesus born in a barn, a stable, a cave, or where?” It is clear from Luke 2:7 that there “was no room for them in the inn.”

Traditionally, Christians have made nativity scenes depicting Christ surrounded by animals. In fact, there are many books for children that give the biblical account through the eyes of the animals the night Christ was born. Yet, Luke’s account, coupled with historical consideration and knowledge, outlines the following events.

Joseph brought his betrothed Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:5). Since Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown (Luke 2:3) and in step with the marriage customs of the time, it is likely that they completed the marital process by bringing Mary into Joseph’s family home. Because he was newly married, he didn’t have to sleep in the main house any longer with his relatives.

Most likely, Joseph and Mary would have been in a marital chamber attached (or near) the house. They stayed in this smaller dwelling until she was ready to give birth (Luke 2:6) to Jesus in the main room of the house, which was larger. These ancient farmhouses included mangers (Luke 2:7) where she would have laid Jesus. And, finally, after residing there for roughly 40 days (Luke 2:22; Lev. 12:2-8), this young family moved to Nazareth to make their life together in her family’s hometown (Luke 2:39; 1:26-27).

Certainly, that isn’t your typical understanding of the Christmas narrative. There’s no innkeeper, inn or stable.  However, careful Bible study in the context is grounded in the above. The Greek word kataluma used in Luke 2:7 is, perhaps, best translated “because they had no space in their [place / home] to stay.”

This Christmas season, your house may be a mess, the kids and your in-laws may be nuts, laundry may be overdue, but Immanuel means “God is with us,” even in the midst of many misconceptions and myths. Praise God today that His Word is true and the eternal Word, the God-man, Jesus Christ, became flesh to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

The 8th Commandment: We’ve Got The Definition Of ‘Stealing’ All Wrong

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The 8th Commandment: We've Got The Definition Of 'Stealing' All Wrong

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As with all of the Ten Commandments, there’s a negative command in the Eighth Commandment (“you shall not steal” – Exodus 20:14), but there is a positive, too. That is, we are to be those who are known for our generosity and not our taking.

And, truthfully, most of us understand that we shouldn’t steal or take things that aren’t ours. But this commandment, properly understood and applied, refers to becoming the kind of person who is naturally giving and generous. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ said, as quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So, what is stealing, anyway?

According to the Bible, stealing is basically taking anything (or anyone) that isn’t yours. What does this look like? Here’s a list of many:

  • Robbing a bank.
  • Getting a soft drink when you ordered a water.
  • Breaking into property not your own.
  • Stealing your neighbor’s Internet signal with an open connection.
  • Pirating music by “ripping” CDs that you borrowed from a friend and didn’t pay for, etc.

But the biblical definition of stealing goes beyond the common definition.

James 5:1, generally speaking, reminds us that employers steal from employees when they fail to pay them properly for work done. Conversely, as an employee, you can steal time and true effort from your employer by surfing the Internet instead of, well, doing your actual job.

According to Jesus, you can steal from the government by not fully disclosing all of your earned income or paying taxes (Luke 20:25). You can also, aside from monetary items, steal the credit due to others for their work. As a student, you can steal the answers of other students.

You can steal from your family by staying late at work all the time. Men, you can steal from women by leading them on emotionally with no desire to commit beyond the feelings you get from her being around. And, finally, you can steal from God by not giving back through the local church in a tithe (Malachi 3).

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Do you see the point? We steal because there’s something that is bigger than God in our lives. We can’t live without whatever it is … so we go to steal.

How Do We Fight The Temptation?

Perhaps you steal because you feel like you have to have money, credit or emotions to be secure in the future. I had someone say to me one time, “How can I live without the money? If I am going to be giving so much away, how will I be taken care of?”

The 8th Commandment: We've Got The Definition Of 'Stealing' All WrongFriend, the only true way to change your heart is to thoroughly know, live out, experience, and pray through the Gospel. The God who saved you when you were His adversary will surely provide for you now that you are His child (Phil. 4:19).

Or, perhaps you steal for the reason that you need to raise your standard of living to “become happy.” For you, maybe joy and happiness includes a better sports package on cable, the high-status membership at the local athletic club, an HGTV-worthy house, and nicer vacations. Are you one of those people who always feel like “the good life” is making $40,000 more than what you’re making right now?

What should you do? Remind yourself of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). This God of the Bible who took the wrath of God Himself for you is the God whose plan you get to be a part of on this earth. We are to strive toward God’s Kingdom – and not earthly possessions.

The Ultimate Question

When you truly experience the Spirit-transforming, life-changing Gospel of the Bible, it’s not a matter of must you give but what can you give. When you don’t trust in money as your god, you are free to give and not steal. When you don’t lust after other people’s things, you start to see the unsaved of the world—fellow image-bearers of God—as more valuable than anything you can possess When you see God and His Gospel as your ultimate treasure, you start to live life amply and give generously,

What we selfishly cling to, we lose. What we generously give away, we keep. It works every time. Almost no one will give faithfully and generously without planning to give faithfully and generously.

Have you ever said you’d be generous when you had more money? Be generous now. When you get more money, be more generous. God doesn’t necessarily want us to be rich (as some would have you believe); he wants us to be generous (2 Cor. 9).

So, where do you start? Don’t know how to be generous in a world of so much pain? Try praying: “God, what can I do to help my brother in need?”

For what great purpose will you give your life?

Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?

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Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?During the Christmas season, people are absolutely fascinated by the extraordinary virgin birth described in the Bible (Matthew 1 & Luke 1). For many, Mary’s status as a virgin didn’t end once she gave birth to Jesus some 2,000 years ago. For others, Jesus was, indeed, born of a virgin, but Mary went on to have marital relations with her husband and bore other children.

It’s like a championship sports match – and one group has to be right and one group has to be wrong. So, what’s the correct answer?

The Backstory

The virgin Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, living with her parents, still waiting for Joseph to prepare for their marriage. Mary is highly favored (Luke 1:28), not because of anything she had done, but because God chose her. Gabriel tells Mary who Jesus will be: God’s son and Mary’s son (1:32-33). This was prophesized in verse 35: “the most high will overshadow you,” or, as Gabriel says in verse 37, “nothing is impossible with God.”

That’s the point: God is omnipotent. The eternal Creator can take on the form of man and come down to live among His creation.

The cost for Mary was high. She was pregnant, and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. Mary had a humble response when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Joseph could have believed Mary’s unique story, or he could have considered her to be an adulteress. Mary is a good example for us. Her faith was strong and she accepted the role that God wanted her to play (1:38). It was not an easy role. Under Old Testament law, she could have been stoned for being an adulteress.

And, yet, God Himself became a man and He suffered. That’s why we can trust Him with our lives on this earth.

Before we get to the question of whether Mary was a virgin the rest of her life, we should consider: Why was it significant that she was a virgin in the first place?

First, Christ’s birth represents the uniting of full humanity and divinity (John 1:14; Col. 2:9.  So, we can see that Christ was both fully man and fully God.

Second, the virgin birth enabled Jesus to be born human without inheriting our sinful nature.  Luke 1:35 says that the Christ child will be “holy.”

Third, the virgin birth reminds us that salvation is solely by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9).  Our human efforts can’t bring about our salvation—only God can. Our salvation is a miracle just like the virgin birth (John 3; Titus 3:5, etc.).

The Answer to the Question

Alright, but was Mary a virgin forever?

First, we must ask, “What biblical evidence there is stating she remained a virgin?” Simply put, there’s little biblical evidence that Mary remained a virgin. If we believe in sola scriptura (Scripture alone), then we must consider what the Bible does say and not trust tradition or mere human opinion.

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Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?Second, we must ask “What does the Bible actually say?” The plain reading of Matthew 1:25 is that Joseph didn’t have sexual relations with Mary until after the birth of Jesus. The word “know” in the Old and New Testaments is a word that, contextually, refers to the sexual union of two persons. If there were other Bible verses to mean something else, it would seem that Matthew or Luke would have given them. There’s no reason to reject the simple reading of Matthew 1:25 as stated.

Third, other verses suggest that Jesus had brothers and sisters.  Mark (3:31-32; 6:3), Luke (8:19-20), John (7:5), Paul (Gal. 1:19), and Matthew (12:47; 13:55-56) all record this. Since there are no other verses that state Mary remained a perpetual virgin, we shouldn’t take liberty to stretch the literal meaning of “brother” or “sister” in these passages.

One common objection to these verses about Mary’s other children is that Joseph might have been an elderly widower, not been interested in sexual relations with a younger Mary, and had previous children from his first (now deceased) wife that became step-brothers and sisters to Jesus. While this is an interesting theory, there’s no biblical or historical evidence to corroborate this.

Finally, we have to ask, “Honestly, were Joseph and Mary really married? Or, was it just a front?” Yes, the Bible says that Joseph took Mary as his wife (Matt. 1:24b). A marriage, much like it is today, was official by way of a verbal witness in front of family and friends, as well as the physical consummation in sex. Unless both the verbal and physical aspects are involved, no biblical marriage is maintained.

What’s more, according to the Lord’s command to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, one duty of every married person is to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouse. If Mary failed to do this, she would have been in sexual sin—as would have Joseph.

Conclusion

When we think of Mary, we should admire her humility and faith but not allow ourselves to idolize or worship her. Like every human, she was a sinner in need of saving grace found only in the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Remember, too, that in Luke 11, Jesus said it is not so much the one who bore Him who is blessed, but rather those who hear and obey the Word of God. Similarly, in Luke 8:19-21 when His mother and brothers came to Him, Jesus taught that those who hear and obey God’s Word are His true family.

The story of God being born of a virgin and killed by men is the most unbelievable story ever told, and one only God Himself could tell. And we’d do well to speak not only of the virgin birth of Jesus, but of his virgin conception.

In short, it’s essential that we stick to the Bible as our sole authority in matters of faith and life—including on this issue. When we cut ourselves from the moorings of Scripture, we are susceptible to any whim and idea.

Why Should I Give Thanks When I Don’t Feel Blessed?

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Why Should I Give Thanks When I Don’t Feel Blessed?

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How has God been good to you today? This year? Ever?

Perhaps you recall specific blessings. Maybe no particular evidences of goodness come immediately to mind. Or perhaps you feel distracted by the cares of this life.

Today’s passage from Psalm 103 answers the questions:

Why should I praise God? Has He given me any reason to do so?

David repeatedly calls on and reminds himself to praise God. How often we have to encourage ourselves to praise God from the deepest place in our heart and soul, not out of mere ritual! Today we look at two important places to turn as sources of praise.

Thanksgiving isn’t “What are you thankful for?” but “Who are you thankful to?” Actually, thanksgiving is worship. And, if there is a deficiency in our praise and thanksgiving to God, the problem doesn’t lie in Him, but in us.

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Psalm 103 is 22 verses, and while we won’t re-post the entire passage, the first five verses read:

1. Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name!

2. Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits,

3. who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

4. who redeems your life from the pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5. who satisfies you with good

so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.

(Read the full passage here.)

1. Praise God for what He has done.

“All His benefits” (v. 2) begin with the forgiveness of sins (v. 3). This is the foundation of God’s goodness to us. How can He bestow any blessing on us apart from His forgiveness?

“Heals all your diseases” (v. 3). Because of sin in this world, our bodies and hearts and minds are afflicted with diseases, fears, disabilities and shortcomings. No disease exists that God can’t heal, and one day, He will bring that work to completion.

Verse 4 turns to an image of coronation. We were condemned traitors headed for punishment, but the King has extended pardon and bestowed on us His very love and compassion. As our kind Father, He provides and sustains that we might be strengthened and satisfied in our hearts.

What does it say about God when we complain? That we are forgetting His benefits! One of the reasons we gather as a church is to stir one another up to remember what God has done and praise Him in response.

2. Praise God for who He is.

Praise God for His gracious love (vv. 6-10).

God chose the foolish, weak and despised things of this world to be His (1 Cor. 1:18-31). Just look at the history of Israel and the history of the church. Even when His people were unfaithful, God fulfilled every promise He ever made.

We have a hard time believing this love sometimes — either because we think God won’t forgive us this time, or that we have somehow earned His favor. If you are in Christ, neither is true. Though we deserve His eternal wrath, He turned it away. Be thankful that the three-in-one God is slow to anger, but abounding in love and mercy. How graciously God deals with us even now!

Praise God for His boundless love (vv. 11-13).

Why Should I Give Thanks When I Don’t Feel Blessed?

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These aren’t abstract descriptions of God’s love. No, these are specific examples of the love God demonstrates to those who are His.

Consider the vastness of the universe God has created. Neither science nor the human mind has been able to grasp it. As vast and numerous as our sins once were, God has removed them completely — in Christ alone.

God delights in you! He’s the perfect Father who never disappoints and whose love knows no limit.

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Understanding this love and its implications is no small task. Join Paul in praying that we will “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18). This will guard you against temptation. After all, doubting God’s love was our first parents’ sin.

Praise God for His everlasting love (vv. 14-18).

The above descriptions of God’s love would lose meaning if they had an end point. But these verses highlight the reality that no such end point exists. This world will go on when we are gone just as it did before we ever got here.

But, even in our frailty, God is mindful of us. He’ll never be apathetic toward our existence. How foolish it is to treat this world as our home when it will forget us — while God will remember!

Praise God for His reign of love (vv. 19-22).

All those who enter this Kingdom and embrace the authority of this King will be eternally blessed. This is the Kingdom announced by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago. It is the Kingdom to which all believers belong already. In the next world, we’ll experience in full what we know now in part. The saving reign of Christ has begun and will soon be brought to completion.

God is calling everyone to lay down their arms of rebellion and embrace Him as Creator, Savior and Lord. But first, we must humble ourselves, repent and believe the Gospel – accepting the love of a kind, gracious and loving King.

We have rich cause to praise God.

A blessed Thanksgiving to all! May we fight against all the distractions that would turn us away from a Christ-centered Thanksgiving.

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The 7th Commandment: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

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The 7th Commandment: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

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It is no secret that people are getting married—if they’re getting married at all—later in life than in generations past.

Why do you think it is? Are they waiting because they feel they can be better prepared for marriage? Perhaps during those extra years they’re memorizing Bible verses, applying biblical wisdom, and studying under long-married couples?

Not quite.

Many, especially those who profess the name of Jesus Christ, are breaking the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 22:14). They don’t want to commit to marriage, and thus they feel freer to have sex on their own terms.

In fact, a 2013 government study found that 48 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 had moved in with a man to whom they were not married. The study covered the years between 2006 and 2010 and discovered that cohabitation was on the rise. In 2002, it was 43 percent, and in 1995, 34 percent.

This Commandment Is for Our Blessing

There’s a universal notion in our nation that rules are bad—really bad. We love freedom in America, which is good thing, and we reason that actual freedom is essential to any pleasure. And true freedom, we imagine, comes from chucking any outside restrictions and following only the orders of our own hearts.

Two myths emerge from this line of thought:

1. “I am most free when I am liberated from all rules.” John said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Real freedom is found not in existing by our desires, but by our design in God.

2. “My desires are the top track to knowing what’s best for me.” Have you ever had a time in your life that you followed your heart and it got you into trouble (Jer. 17:9)? God’s laws are beneficial. They flow out of the intention of a good and loving God for us, not the random orders of a controlling and distant tyrant. The commandments lead to our blessing, not our unhappiness.

What Are the Restrictions of This Commandment?

The fundamental focus of the Seventh Commandment isn’t on what is banned, but what is supported. This commandment is a protection of God’s view of sex and should be ours as well.

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Why? Because God created the pleasure of sex and knows how it works best!

In the New Testament, any type of sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is known in the Greek as “porneia.” This is, of course, where the current words “porn” or “pornography” originate.

(Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 that even lusting is breaking this commandment.)

Several cultural responses arise from this restriction of sex outside of one man and one woman in marriage:

  • “But we love one another.” Great! Have you united in marriage? If not, it’s porneia.
  • “We are engaged and are waiting to get married.” Engagement is different in the Lord’s eyes than marriage. It’s porneia any other way.
  • What about “friends with benefits”? What harm can come?” Everything—it’s considered porneia.
  • “What about homosexual marriage?” If it isn’t between one man and one woman in marriage, it’s porneia. And it is often said, “Jesus never denounced homosexuality.” Yet 11 times in His ministry he affirmed the Old Testament’s understanding of blessed sex between a man and woman in marriage. Anything outside of that was breaking this commandment.

Okay, But Why Is Sex Outside of Traditional Marriage Bad?

According to Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33, sex is more than just biology. Since we are created in God’s image, marriage and sex are to point to something divine and eternal beyond us. Earthly marriages are given to us as a depiction of God’s relationship to us.

The 7th Commandment: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

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In marriage, there’s a complete union of two persons. It’s total oneness. What’s more, there is exclusiveness in marriage. Even if you’re not married, when you’re having sex with somebody, you don’t want them out “playing the field” on you, do you? Marriage confirms there is no other person but your spouse. And, finally, in marriage there’s total acceptance. The goal is to see your spouse for who he or she is and love him or her no matter what.

Likewise, in our relationship to God, it ties Himself to us when we become Christians through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15). Second, just like the earthly picture of marriage, we have no other gods but Him and Him alone. And, finally, God unconditionally accepts us in Jesus Christ and the Gospel. He sees us for all that we were (sinners by nature and action), in all our shame, and loves us just as we are in His Son.

Where Does This Leave You?

Sex is an echo of God’s love for all humanity. When you take it simply as a “good time,” you downplay the mystery and glory God put into us.

Throughout the Bible, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the people of God is that they view sex differently. God guards sex for our good. When adultery was rampant among God’s people, God saw it as an offense against Himself, as if He were the injured one (Jer. 5:8-9). Satan’s plan for sex is to have as much of it as possible before marriage, and as little as possible within marriage. One of the many wonderful things about the Song of Solomon is that it says sex inside the marriage covenant is supposed to be sexy.

The Bible has an extremely high view of sex. It is a part of the most intimate, vulnerable and personal parts of our body. There’re so many who resist this commandment because they are afraid of missing out on something. The Bible tells you to keep sex in marriage precisely because it doesn’t want you to miss out on something.

So, ask yourself honestly, what is your God? What commands your obedience? Is it sex? Pornography? Lust?

What you really need to do is return to the First Commandment—“no other gods before me.” Your soul isn’t right with God and so you crave all these things in sex. Remind yourself that sex is a picture. Yes, it is wonderful, but it points beyond itself to the love of God given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God values our sexuality, more than we do. Does your view of sex line up with God’s?

The 6th Commandment: Why Everyone On Earth Is Guilty Of Murder

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The 6th Commandment: Why Everyone On Earth Is Guilty Of Murder

Cain Slaying Abel (Jacopo Palma, 1590)

 

Have you ever “lost” an argument?

If you’re like most people, you always replay the argument in your mind. Of course, in the replay you always win the argument! You always smash ’em down and put them in their place. You’re like, “They say that, but then I make this super-amazing argument. That would have been great!”

Indeed, we’ve all lots many arguments—but we’ve never lost a rerun. While our mental replay may not seem to have any harm in it, at its core is a murderous spirit, which is exactly what the Sixth Commandment prohibits:

Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.”

Observing the Sixth Commandment is more than just dealing with physical murder (though it does do that!). Essentially, this commandment is about valuing the lives of others and realizing that people are precious image-bearers of God Himself (Gen. 1:26). This commandment means that the most valuable things on Earth are others. And loving others and leveraging your life to protect and prosper them is of utmost importance.

Why Do People Murder?

First, let’s remember that the Bible says that sin extends to everyone and sinfulness is total. Read Romans 3:9-20. We are all sinful. There is not a culture, time or ethnic group that is not sinful. There are no excuses and no exceptions. Sinfulness is total. It affects every part of us—every thought, word and deed. NO ONE seeks God and no one fears God.

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Second, people murder due to greed (Esau tried to kill Jacob because he took the family birthright), jealousy (Cain murdered Abel because his sacrifice was better), fear (King David killed his faithful soldier Uriah because he was fearful of having his sin uncovered), and personal revenge (Absalom killed his brother for raping his step-sister).

The 6th Commandment: Why Everyone On Earth Is Guilty Of Murder

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What’s the common denominator here? Someone values a thing, idea, or power more than they value the life of someone else. Again, each commandment goes back to an idolatrous heart. To live in idolatry is to live in such a way that you can’t live without something. Like all sins, murder begins there. You’re not satisfied with something, and you take someone’s life into your own hands.

What Does the Bible Say?

  • Genesis 9:6: God says the price for taking a life … is life. If you take a life, you must pay with your life. There’s nothing on earth that you could use to pay for life. This is to say that human life is invaluable, irreplaceable and matchless. There’s no worldly equivalent to it. When you think of men and women as anything less than the image of God, you devalue life.
  • Matthew 5:21-22: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus “ups the ante” and equates having anger toward someone as a murderous spirit. And viewing people as anything less than the special image-bearer of God that they are is a type of murder.
  • James 2:1-11; 5:1, 5: From this passage, we understand that not to murder has all to do with how we regard the poor.

What About…?

  1. “What about self-defense?” In certain situations, the Bible allows for self-defense (Exo. 22:2).
  2. “What about capital punishment?” Deadly force by police and capital punishment aren’t essentially murder. Only the living God has the authority to take human life. But God has implemented that right through the power of the governing state (Exo. 22:3; Gen. 9:1-6; Rom. 13:1-4, etc.).
  3. “What about going to war?” Honestly, most wars are brutal and unjust—perhaps, even some of those fought by our country. On the flip side, some wars are meant to protect innocent life. And if battles, wars and such are carried out for that reason, then the Bible wouldn’t consider the actions of those fighting as “murder” by definition.
  4. “What about abortion?” The Sixth Commandment is denoting to an exact type of killing—the taking of innocent life. As Christians, we believe that, from conception, the baby in the womb is human life (Psalm 139). And contrary to cultural wisdom, human life in general doesn’t come in stages. Just as you’re not more of a human when you graduate from high school than when you graduate from third grade, you’re not more human when your head is fully developed than you were when it was smaller.

What’s the Practical Takeaway?

Perhaps you thought you had never broken the Sixth Commandment, but now you see the stains of breaking it on your hands.

So, what are you to do?

  • Put to death your anger. It is a sin of the heart that flows out of pride, self-centeredness (James 4:1-3) and fear. Don’t take you anger lightly—the Bible doesn’t! Don’t stuff or even ventilate your anger. Instead, pray about it and process it.
  • Value life of all kind. All heresy begins with a partial truth. Don’t believe the lie that the unborn, mentally challenged, physically challenged, a person of a different race or the elderly aren’t fellow image-bearers of God. Pray that each person of each background in each culture would come to know the living God through Jesus Christ the Son.

As the old Heidelberg Catechism says, “God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy and kindness towards him, and to prevent his hurt as much as possible; also, to do good even unto our enemies.”

Friend, there is so much we could apply this to in life. But the bigger questions are: What are you pursuing? What are you leveraging your life for? Is your aim to glorify God with this commandment?

The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible To Us?

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The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible?

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Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”

Where the first four commandments deal, primarily, with our relationship to God, the final six commandments deal primarily with our relationship to one another. In other words, the first four commandments are vertical and the final ones are horizontal.

But in what group should the fifth commandment about honoring your parents really be listed? It can be seen as a segue bridge between the first four and the final commandments.

On one hand, the fifth commandment deals with a human relationship—child to parent. Conversely, there’s nothing comparable that shapes and influences our relationship to this God more than our relationship to our parents. Our parents, Lord willing, are there to teach us submission to authority, right from wrong, responsibility, and what it means to be truly loved without exception in God’s eyes.

Worldliness encourages the reversal of the fifth commandment—parents obeying their children instead of the other way around.

Did you know that the some of the most well-known atheists in the last century (Freud, Marx, O’Hare, etc.) all had a severely dysfunctional or damaged relationship with their biological father? Most of the world’s most famous atheists started out as believers in some form of organized religion and became disenfranchised about why God (or a god) would do and not do certain things.

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The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible?

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If your father cheated on your mother, then you may struggle believing that God works out all things for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). You may not trust God. Or, if your father was never really happy with anything you did, thought or produced, then God may become, in your opinion, one that can never be satisfied, either.

The bottom line is that many of us have come from messed-up homes. Any current or future family you may have is affected. Your marriage is affected. Your career is affected. And, ultimately, your relationship with God.

So, what can we learn from this verse – not only those who grew up in good homes but those who did not? Let’s take a look.

1. Command: In sum, to honor means to cherish your parents as the substitutes for God that they are and admire and respect them for the fact that they embody that standard. Parents are to be the primary teacher of God’s Word, authority and disciplinarian—among other duties.

Biblically, to honor your parents means to distinguish the establishment of parenthood as the short-term replacement for God that it is and value it fittingly. So, when you live at home as a kid, you obey your parents. After you’re out of the house, for all of your life you are to respect them and take care of them when they are older.

What if your parents did something horrible to you that leads you not to respect them? You can still demonstrate a certain degree of respect to the office they embrace. When you honor your parents in this way, you are honoring the one true God behind the commandment.

If your parents did unspeakable things to you, how do you live out this commandment? You must understand that the injuries they’ve caused to you aren’t lethal. In the God-man, Jesus Christ, you can find absolute freedom from that injury by finding the kindness and support you desired from them in Him alone.

Then and only then can you say, “You hurt me, and it really hurt, but it wasn’t lethal. I once needed your approval but I don’t need it any more. I used to cry all the time over your lack of love for me but no more. In Jesus Christ and His Gospel, I found what I most desired—what you were supposed to represent. I found in Christ the kindness that I desired. And now that I have His, I can forgive you for not giving me yours.”

2. Promise: The second half of Exodus 20:12 affirms the fact that the entire nation of Israel, should they honor their parents, will flourish and their nation will thrive. You see, God uses the family as the basic element of all society. If the family is healthy, then the community, state and nation will be, as well.

The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible?

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In Exodus 21:17, Moses repeats the command of the Lord that revolt and deep impudence for your parents should lead to death. Most of us wouldn’t have made it out of middle school!

But the severity of this truth is before us—this wasn’t just a private matter between parents and children. No, the community saw an attack on the family as an attack on the public good. If you untangle the family, you untangle society.

1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

Friend, your parents have and will disappoint you, just as you will disappoint your own family, friends and co-workers. But our all-faithful, all-knowing and all-loving God won’t. Remind yourself today that you’re made to live for God and His glory. Even if you don’t really believe this, there is a longing for an eternal Father innate to all of us.

Parents, Satan wants to shrink your whole world to the size of the latest trial with your child. Let’s show forth our love for our kids out of pure hearts, not merely so that they would obey us. But know you will fail. When your kids see your sins, let them see your repentance as well. If we were perfect parents, our kids wouldn’t need Christ. How grateful we parents must be whenever we witness the mercies of God manifest in our children. We are so undeserving. God is so gracious!

Have you submitted your past, your parents, your children and your life wholly to the Lord?

The 4th Commandment: Are We Still Required To Keep The Sabbath?

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If we’re honest, breaking the Fourth Commandment is one we might be not feel as bad about as breaking the other nine. Certainly, if you kill, commit adultery, or make a carved image, you should and usually do feel guilty. But, at least by today’s standards, breaking the Fourth Commandment — keeping the Sabbath — doesn’t usually require a trip to your local psychologist.

Yet breaking this commandment does produce stress in your life, because the whole commandment relates to our work. Work is stressful; we absolutely lean on work to provide for our needs. For some of us, we find our identity and pride in work alone. Thus, work remains one of the highest stressors in the average person’s life.

The Fourth Commandment provides a “why” and a “what” to those who fear God. The “why” is practical because we all need physical rest. The why is also practical because we need to refocus on the God of the Bible — the one true God. We need to reset and refocus because we, indeed, have short-term memories to the things of God. In the midst of family, work and life, we forget what God has called us to do (glorify Him), what our mission is (become more like Christ and share the Gospel with others), and what the point of it all is (to bring praise to God’s name).

The First Commandment (“have no other gods before Me”) sets up the rest of the commandments. The Fourth Commandment is given to us to help us make sure that our work (which we do for dozens of hours a week) doesn’t overtake Almighty God as our primary means of sustenance, security and identity. In other words, God wants us to make sure that it is His nature and character, not our work, that remains our rifle-like focus, source of trust for the future, and source of our identity now.

Friend, your work isn’t your identity. Being changed by the power of the Gospel means the “here’s your identity” comes before the “here’s what you do.” Obedience is rooted in a biblical understanding of your identity in Christ. As a believer, you will struggle and suffer many failures, yet your identity and the direction of your life will reveal Christ’s mastery over you (read 1 John)!

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And, remember, too, that the more you work, the easier it is to trust your ability to provide over God’s ability to supply all things. If God is our patron, He will provide. If He does not, we should not exist. He has never failed. You can trust this omnipotent God to provide everything you need (Psalm 68:19; Phil. 4:19), and you can trust Him enough to rest.

But Are We Still Obligated to Keep the Sabbath Today?

The 4th Commandment: Are We Still Required To Keep The Sabbath? The New Testament teaches that Christ freed us from the demands of the Law because He has completely fulfilled it (Matt. 5:16; Rom 10:4, etc.). All of the laws of Israel were given to point us to a greater reality that has come in the God-man, Jesus Christ. Ceremonies, special days, and dress codes of the Old Testament all pointed forward to His coming.  When Jesus literally and bodily resurrected three days after His death (1 Cor. 15), He fulfilled the Sabbath law. Thus, Christians changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. In short, the point is that Christ is Himself the Sabbath (Heb. 4) and, if we are resting and rejoicing in His resurrection, we have fulfilled this commandment

You may say, “Okay, that’s great. But you still haven’t answered the question. Am I still required to keep the Sabbath?”

Friend, you should still keep the standard of the Sabbath. While we are freed from the technical law-keeping of the Sabbath itself, we are still sinners just like the Israelites were. This means that we should take the Lord’s Day (Sunday) to do a few things.

First, we should, literally, rest. No, this doesn’t mean you sleep all day. Be active in your local church on the Lord’s Day. Take a nap. Go to bed early. Avoid the trap of playing “catch-up” on your school work, laundry and house work.

Second, we should remember the mighty work of God in the Gospel. Why? Because, ultimately, the Gospel is our identity in what Jesus Christ has done for us. In Jesus, we’re totally loved and totally established by the only God whose opinion really matters. The self-improve and self-justification project many call their Christian life is quicksand.

What’s more, the Gospel is our security. I know that if God saved me, He’ll take care of me. If God gave up His Son to rescue you from slavery, do you really think He won’t help you to pay the light bill? Finally, the Gospel reminds us of our God-given purpose. When you look through the Gospel lens, everything starts to look different — your job, the people around you, your family.

Finally, take time to recalibrate your focus on God Himself. As humans, though created in God’s image, we are like a car out of alignment or a battery that must be recharged. You need — you must! — take one day to truly refocus your heart. God gave us His church to do that! It’s not about you. There’s only one glory and audience to live for — and that is God!

What do you trust in for your identity, security and provision? If you truly trust God, it will be shown if you obey Him (1 John 5:2-3). If you really trust Him, you obey Him knowing that He is responsible to meet your needs. Resting on His day is proof of this, too.

And what do you delight in? What do you rest in? What one thing are you most excited about? What does your heart most naturally gravitate toward?

If it isn’t resting in the all-providing God, you may be breaking this commandment.

Will you trust Him alone today?

The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?

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The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?

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It always amazes me how young our children are when we see rebellion in them. I recall that our toddler daughter didn’t want to submit to my authority – or her mom’s authority. If she didn’t want to eat her veggies, she’d try to throw the jar across the kitchen or knock the spoon from my hand. If she didn’t want to be held and if she wanted to walk—never mind the fact it was 100 degrees outside—she’d try to hurl herself out of our arms.

But we always had her best interests in mind.

Likewise, many believe the Ten Commandments to be limiting instructions given by a far-off God who doesn’t want you to “live a full life.” He’s seen as a “cosmic killjoy.”

But, truth be told, the commandments provide us a look into the character of God, a look into our own sinful heart, and — rather than restrict, they give us a way to be free. The commandments were given to the Israelites after coming out of Egyptian slavery, and given as a way to live free.  Thus, it’s for our good—indeed, our eternal perspective—that the commandments were given.

From Exodus 20:7, the Third Commandment reads:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

So, what does this mean? Literally, this means to falsify who God is and what He stands for. Indeed, each person should actively reflect God’s nature in actions, speech, thoughts, plans, etc.—all of life! Taking God’s name in vain, then, is to reflect His nature in an erroneous way.

The character and names of God speak to His nature and person (Ps. 20:1), His teaching (John 17:26), His saving work (John 1:12; Acts 4:12), and His power (Acts 3:6). In this way, it’s impossible to disconnect God from His name.

Are You Guilty of Breaking This Commandment?

If you are a Christian, the name “Christian” means “little Christ.” And, as such, when we take on the name of Christ by repenting and believing the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-8), and then misrepresent God in our sin, we’ve broken this commandment.

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Here are some common ways we break this commandment:

1. We swear by God’s name and character when a promise won’t be fulfilled.

Simply put, we use our language carelessly. How often do we say, “I swear to God” as if it means zilch? In truth, we’re vowing by the name of a God that can’t lie and whose word can never be broken. Jesus said to let your “yes be yes” and your “no be no” (Matt. 5:37).

2. We try to make our name more famous God’s.

Even after being saved from all of our sin, we’re unenthusiastic to lay down the desire to make our name great. Though it is Christ’s name that should be propagated among the nations, many times we want our name, our talents and our personality to ring out to the world. We reverse the words of John the Baptist (John 3:30) and say, “I must increase, and God you must decrease.”

3. We link God’s name with ideas it should not be associated with.

The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?Think of the Crusades from the Dark Ages. People were rallied around “God’s will,” and this led to a complete abandonment of biblical principles in just war and the sanctity of life. And today we do this by attaching God’s name to political parties and ideologies.

4. We don’t worship in a manner that uplifts God’s name.

You have been there, right? Our minds wonder during church, we come in late, we’re texting or checking our e-mail, as if nothing has been done for us, at all. And our lack of excitement and enthusiasm in worship misrepresents God’s name.

5. We employ God’s name lightly.

Let’s be honest: People stub their toe on a table and blurt out a curse word related to God’s name. You aren’t asking God to eternally judge the table, are you?

Surely as Christians who bear His name, we’ve broken this commandment. But, if you’re a non-Christian reading this, you were created to display His image. You were created by God and for God. And, therefore, you take the name of God in vain also when you twist who God is.

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Jesus did justice to God’s name because He never took the name of His Father in vain. Even in His final hours on the cross, the question was still churning of what name should be attached to Jesus. He was asked in Mathew 26:64, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” And Jesus retained that name, and lived up to it perfectly to the point of death.

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A guiltless man—Jesus Christ, the God-man—was seized guilty so that you, being guilty, could be avowed guiltless. Paul speaks of these commandments as a mirror into our sinful hearts (Galatians 3:19-29). The commandments were given by His grace so that we would see our need. We don’t live up to God’s standard and, therefore, we need a Savior. Not one drop of the blood of Christ was shed in vain. None for whom He died will ever perish.

We must recognize the greatness that is in the name of God. In this name is salvation, love, mercy and grace. The psalmist said, “Great is His name and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4). Knowing, seeing, meditating and living this out puts you on the path of sanctification in not taking His name in vain, but, rather, living in reverence and honor to it in all you say, think, plan and do.

And, finally, Christian, let me say something about your work for God. It is not a vain thing to serve the living God. If you are doing the work God called you to, it can’t be in vain, whatever the apparent outcomes (1 Cor. 15:58; Gal. 6:10). Don’t be discouraged today, wondering if it’s worth it. It’s impossible for anything you ever do in God’s name to be in vain. Just when we think that all of our ministry and work efforts have been in vain, we see that God has been working above and beyond our greatest hopes (Eph. 3:13-17).

Are you trusting your vain efforts — or the great God today

The 2nd Commandment: No, We Don’t Get To Define God

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The 2nd Commandment: No, We Don’t Get To Define God

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Imagine someone coming up to you and saying, “I want to write a memoir about your life. In my biography of you, you are an Olympic athlete, you’re terrible at personal relationships, and you live with 25 birds and 10 fish.”

You respond, “Well, that’s interesting. But I’m not an athlete, I love being around people, and I’m more of a dog person.”

The man, though, won’t budge: “But this is how I desire to see you! You’re much more fascinating like this.”

How would you feel? You’d be offended.

It’s the same way with the God of the Bible. We can’t just remake Him into what we want Him to be. God is who He is, and is this why the Second Commandment is so important:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:4-5).

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Image source: Pixabay.com

The truth is this: It doesn’t matter how we “want or like to see God,” God is who He is, and He gets to define Himself to us as shown in the Bible. Our job is to conform our preconceptions of God to His reality, and not vice versa. How we “want or like to see God” and how “we believe God should be” is utterly irrelevant. All that matters is what He’s really like.

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People say that “their” God wouldn’t:

  • Punish sinners in hell (Rev 20:11-15).
  • Claim Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6).

We make God into what we want Him to be, rather than just believing Him for who He is. When we do this, not only do we get angry and disappointed, but we also rob ourselves of the joy of really knowing God.

From the Second Commandment, we learn at least three things about idols and false views of God:

1. Carved images spring from idolization.

The Israelites created carved images because they were scared. Frankly, they didn’t trust God, weren’t satisfied with Him, and felt like they needed something besides Him (or something more) to protect them.

Certainly, they made an image that mirrored God on some level. However, the whole attempt was to guarantee God’s protection. Their real idol was a need for guaranteed protection, and they thought they needed that more than they needed God.

That is the textbook answer for idolatry. You “carve out” an idol out of anything whenever you believe it so central to your life that you couldn’t be content and safe without it. So, you prioritize it or hold on to it over God and His Word.

Here are some common “carved idolatries” in America today:

  • We must have more money and wealth to be happy, so we invent a “god” that will guarantee that to us.
  • We want to understand ourselves as “decent people,” so we invent a “god” who is madder at other’s evils than He is at ours.
  • We need to see punishment on our enemies, so we invent a “god” who dislikes our enemies and prefers us and our philosophy best.
  • We really need domestic steadiness to be happy, so we invent a “god” who guarantees it!

2. Carved images misrepresent the actual biblical God.

In not seeing God for who He is, we end up seeing Him as our idolatrous, dysfunctional messed-up heart wants Him to be. God just becomes a reflection of ourselves and a reflection of our idolatry. Truthfully, your God may have elements of reality in it, but you’re not seeing the true picture.

The 2nd Commandment: No, We Don’t Get To Define God

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Yet, the biblical God can’t ever be reduced to a stone figure or a single attribute. No, He is a being complete in all of His holiness, perfections, almighty in strength, fully just and infinitely loving, transcendent above the heavens, and also close and intimate in our hearts.

Friend, that’s the problem with a carved image of God. It shows you only one dimension of God—never all of Him—and that ends up distorting who God actually is.

For example, imagine you sketched an image of God. Would you draw Him laughing or scowling? If you drew Him laughing, you might capture His goodness but not His wrath and judgment against sin. But if you drew Him scowling, you might capture His wrath against sin, but you wouldn’t show His grace, love and forgiveness.

Christianity was unique among religions in the ancient world in that it was a religion of Word—the Bible. The secular world of the time was filled with big, impressive statues of gods.

After Jesus rose from the dead, His apostles didn’t run around the world building big glorious statues of Jesus or cathedrals that boasted His size. No, what the first Christians did is they went around preaching, because Christianity is a religion of Word—the preached word.

God discloses Himself in words because images and pictures can never contain Him.

At our church, now and then, someone will say, “Well, the pictures honestly help me worship God. In fact, they bring to mind God for me.” That’s because human nature loves to break the Second Commandment and twist God down into something you can manage, handle and control.

But, friend, if you want to know God, then you should think on Scripture, memorize Scripture, and meditate on Scripture. Even our worship is built around the Word.

3. Carved images create tainted behavior in our lives.

Authentic, strong spiritual growth comes from seeing and knowing God as He is. All of Him, not part of Him. If you only focus on one dimension of God, then you’ll grow in a deformed way.

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For example, if your god is divine and just but not compassionate and gracious, then you are probably judgmental.

If your god is kind but not just and holy, then you tend to treat casually things that He abhors.

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Image source: Pixabay.com

If your god is sovereign but not affectionate and concerned, then you become an angry Christian who argues continually about theology but rarely tells anyone about Jesus.

If your god is not fully sovereign (which means that He’s in control of even the miniscule details of your life), then you tend to get worried and stressed out when something goes wrong.

If your god is a god of uprightness but not the God who gave Himself for you on the cross, then when things go wrong in your life, you think that He’s angry at you.

If your god is not stunning and all-satisfying, you’ll find you serve Him lukewarmly (so you won’t go to hell). But you won’t desire Him with all your heart, and you’ll fight a lure to the sin of this world and its pleasures.

If your god is a god that promises wealth, then when things go wrong in your life, you’ll lose your faith.

What does this mean for you?

First, quit trying to playing the umpire on God and just let God be Himself. Indeed, you’ll find it is hugely satisfying,

Second, remember that we want clarification but God gives us revelation. If you would ever quit trying to control God like He’s a lucky talisman in your pocket, you’d find it would fill your life with so much more comfort!

Do you follow God for who He is in the Bible — or follow one of your own making?

The 1st Commandment: What Does It Mean To Love God?

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The 1st Commandment: What Does It Mean To Love God?

Stop reading this for a moment, and try to say the Ten Commandments from memory. Do you know them? Many people may have heard about them on the news, but they have never read them.

Exodus 20:7 lists the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

A world of good flows from this confession: There is one God, and I am not Him!

Salvation, love and who God is are all tied together in what Jesus taught as being most important. From Mark 12:28-34 and Exodus 20:7, we see elements that help us understand and apply the first commandment.

1. Who is God?

This God is the only God, and He is one. A.W. Tozer said:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

The Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 declares: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is one.” Have you considered the importance of this truth? Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Is Christ divided?” Paul recognized that the unity of the church reflected the unity of God.

God isn’t only one; He is the only one. The entire religious world goes along just fine until Christians show up and declare that there is only one God and one Savior: Jesus Christ. We see this idea throughout the Old Testament. Only God can make himself really God to us. There is one God, one mediator, one sacrifice and one way. The true God is unique (Isa. 45:5).

Jesus said in Mark 12:29: “Hear, O Israel, ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’”

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What threatens the exclusive place of God in your life? Comfort, job, getting ahead, reputation with family?  What vies with God for your chief reason for existence?

No one other than this God is to be worshiped. Since He is the only one, we give ourselves only to Him. Every day should be lived for Him, and every step should lead us closer to him.

2. What does God most want us to do?

God wants us to love Him exclusively, uniquely and totally. Jesus teaches that all of our passion, our wit, our intelligence and our enthusiasm is owed to God. There’s no part we can leave to the side—He wants it all.

ten-commandments-wikipediaHave you had some lesser notion of Christian discipleship? Jesus teaches that the greatest command is to love this God with all that we have. Jesus defines Christianity as a religion of love. And He exemplified that in His own life and death. If we claim to follow Him, then this is how we are to live. All of us belongs to Him—we are totally His.

Many people say “only God can judge me” – and they live like He won’t. Yet, there’s two betrayals: to worship a false god, or to worship the true God falsely (Deut. 12). Our idols promise life but always lead to death. It’s the difference between the true God and a false god.

Our heart’s inclination is to be to God, not evil. All of our soul means we’re to love Him even at the cost of our life. All our strength means even at cost of all we own.

3. What must accompany love for God?

This love that we claim to have for God must be accompanied by love for others made in His image. Did you realize that loving your neighbor was so important?

In 1 John 4, we understand if anyone claims to love God while hating his brother, he is a liar. If a love for God isn’t matched with love for others, it isn’t true love for God.

Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 here. Moses teaches that as God is loving, we are to be loving.

Jesus, in Mark 12:28-34, summarizes the law and His teaching, which He is about to exemplify in His death. It is important that both these commands are given here together. We cannot claim to truly love man without love for God, and vice versa. Jesus was only asked for one command, but gives two. He knew that to omit the second would risk misunderstanding the first.

This is a warning against any privatized idea of Christianity.  There are no “lone-ranger” Christians before this one God. Love for God necessarily involves you in love for others and not just your friends. Love those who you may find inconvenient to love.

We can’t know how to love one another apart from having love for this one true God. Is your relationship with your fellow church members and Christian friends—or the person who irritates you at work—described by 1 Corinthians 13?

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If we claim to love God, that love must be linked with love for one another. What does it mean to have all kinds of knowledge about God and have it not affect your life in love for others?

4. What does it mean to be in God’s Kingdom?

This exchange is so different from the earlier verbal duels in which Jesus engaged. This lawyer notices that Jesus answers well. He then asks about the most important commandment. Notice Jesus’ compassion. Even with one who came to test Him, Jesus answers with grace. The lawyer seemed to understand what Jesus had been saying. Jesus, upon hearing him, responded wisely: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Jesus let us know how to get into the Kingdom of God. Can we enter the kingdom of God by loving perfectly? No! He gave us this command to exhaust us, and to show us that we cannot come close. He gives us this law to lead us to Himself, who perfectly fulfilled this law. He loved God perfectly. He has loved others as Himself.

He also gives us this law to instruct us. Some may think that because God saved us by grace, any command we find in Scripture is only to show that we cannot do it, that we must rely on His grace. Of course, we can’t do it, as we must rely on grace. But we must also learn from these commands. We are to love God fully and to love others as ourselves.

One can only be in the kingdom of God if one confesses his lack of love for God and others. We have known God’s rich blessings. He calls on us to love with our hearts, souls, and minds and strength. Love this God and so be under his reign.

Is your life being spent for that which is truly important? Love this one and only God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. These are more important than all else.

Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?

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Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?

We live in a world of constant change. Knowledge is changing so much that we can’t keep up. Technology changes so quickly that the time a new product hits the store, it’s nearly outdated. And the world’s morals are supposedly changing, too. What used to be unlawful and unthinkable is commonplace. Nothing shocks us anymore.

What about God? Does He change? And if He doesn’t change, how do we explain the so-called “angry” God of the Old Testament and the “loving” God of the New Testament? Is this, in fact, the same God?

I have good news: God hasn’t changed (Mal. 3:6). He can’t change because He can’t improve on absolute perfection (Heb. 13:8). He can’t decline, increase or improve. Why is this? It’s because God Himself stands forever (Psalm 90:2). God doesn’t react; rather, He acts with unchangeable purpose.

The Bible makes four major points about God’s unchanging character:

1. Unchanging in His character (Ex. 3:14; Jam. 1:17)

God isn’t the “I will be who I will be” in a metamorphosis-type God or “I was who I once was.” No, He is the “I am who I am” – one altogether uninfluenced by the flight of time, with no wrinkle on the brow of eternity.

2. Unchanging in His purpose (1 Sam. 15:29)

We change our plans because we lack something that may pass. God perfectly knows the future. We change plans because we can’t select the best plan. We change our plans because we lack the power to execute. But not God. He’s omnipotent, and nothing is impossible. He carries out all the pleasures of His heart.

3. Unchangeable in His Word (Num. 23:19)

God can’t lie. Everything He has spoken and commanded, He stands behind it with all of His power and sovereignty.

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Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?In Luke 16:17, Jesus says that it would be easier for the sun to go away and for all the planets to no longer rotate and for the world to evaporate and to go away, then for the slightest part of God’s Word to come to pass.

4. Unchangeable in His salvation (Romans 8:28-29)

We’ve given God countless reasons not to love us, but none of them has been strong enough to change Him. What God has purposed in eternity past is unchangeable within time and eternity future. God’s saving enterprise by sovereign grace will never be changed or altered.

In short, the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. His character, ways and judgments haven’t changed. In fact, God’s love and mercy is seen throughout the Old Testament.

The story of Noah is an example of God’s grace. The beginning of Genesis 8 marks the center point, the hinge of the story. God remembered Noah. During a flood of unimaginable scale—like a cork on the ocean—we see the ark a symbol of God’s grace and mercy.

We see four aspects of God’s mercy in the Old and New Testaments in the midst of judgment:

1. Saving mercy. The ark floated safe on the surface of the waters. It was a picture of God’s grace. The ark was preserved by God’s own plan. The ark is a symbol of the church. We, the church, are the ark going through the judgment of God.

2. Distinguishing mercy. God had given Noah mercy to distinguish himself from others in the way he lived. He could look around and see that it was to Noah and his family to whom God was showing mercy to. God owes mercy to no one, yet, He bestows mercy to all. He gives distinguishing mercy to some.

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3. Unilateral mercy. God’s covenant with Noah was unilateral. Here we see the covenant established by God, unilaterally. He gives instructions to Noah and his descendants – but the covenant is not conditional. The rainbow is a sign of His covenant, to remind us of it that we may not forget. Thank God that He unilaterally acts to save us. Wonder at the mercy of God, putting Christ in our place.

Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?4. Contrary mercy. Consider Noah’s and his sons’ sins (9:18-29). This mercy was given despite sin that cried out for judgment. If there is any doubt that God’s saving of Noah was gracious – consider this account. Noah’s sin of drunkenness is shown in verse 21. No sooner does Noah receive the command to subdue the earth that he submits himself to the control of a product of the earth. Ham’s sin was dishonoring his father – exposing his father to ridicule rather than protecting his father’s honor.

Noah was a sinner. Any good he received was by God’s mercy. Think about what you deserve and what you have been given. You and I have been given far more than we deserve. God shows us His goodness by showing mercy to Noah and does the same for us today.

God shows His goodness to us in both His justice and in His mercy. His justice we admire. His mercy we require, if we are to be saved. Both are seen most clearly on the cross of Christ. We see His mercy and His judgment. The penalty justice demands was satisfied. God Himself satisfied that justice.

God’s grace to Noah, through Shem, points forward to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our world today—with this same unchanging, perfectly balanced God of justice, mercy and love—surely deserves the judgment Noah’s world got. Yet in His mercy and patience, He delays the judgment that we might partake of His mercy.

Do you know this God today?

Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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“Will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). Or, said another way, “Is this Jesus really the only way to heaven?”

That was a big question in Jesus’ day, and it’s a big question in our day, too. Jewish rabbis were kicking this question around a lot in the first century, and it was widely believed that every Israelite would somehow have a share in eternal salvation—except the really bad ones, of course.

But Jesus upsets the apple cart, because up to this point in Luke, His teaching has ruled out the very people everyone thought had it made easy—moral people, rich people and religious people.

And in our day, the question is just as relevant, but for different reasons. The reason many people ask this question, both Christians and non-Christians, is that we think God should be an equal-opportunity redeemer. We judge God by our standard of fairness, and we assume humanity’s moral innocence. So, when we’re confronted with the reality of hell, or the idea that Jesus is the only way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), or the cost of following Jesus (Luke 9:23-27), or the fact that our morality isn’t good enough for God (Rom. 3:10-18), then we come out asking, “Will those who are saved be few?”

And we ask it with a chip on our shoulder. We’re dubious about it.

Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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We say, “If the God of the Bible is worth His salt, then surely those who are saved will not be few, because the God I believe in wouldn’t do X, Y or Z; or He wouldn’t require this or that of people.”

It’s a challenging question, but how does Jesus respond?

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Jesus doesn’t answer the question as it was asked. He actually poses and then answers a different question. He says, in effect, “You’re asking the wrong question.” He answers a question about the few in 13:23 with a statement about the many in 13:24:

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

Jesus answers a question about the passive idea of being saved, with a command about the active idea of striving. And he answers an impersonal question about others with a personal question of His own.

It’s not about the few, but the many. It’s not about passively being saved, but actively striving to enter. And it’s not about them; it’s about you.

Someone asks, “Will it be few?” Jesus asks, “Will it be you?”

Asking “will those who are saved be few?” or, “how can there be only one way?” is a smokescreen. It makes us appear humanitarian, but it only serves to hold Jesus at arm’s length.

The right question is, “Am I entering, am I striving to enter, through the narrow door?” Jesus is saying we should be, in some sense, be narrow-minded. We should agonize to enter God’s kingdom through repentant faith in Jesus Christ alone.

How we answer the question, “Aren’t Christians just narrow-minded, bigots? Wasn’t Jesus?” is telling. Here are a few key answers that will help us understand the answer.

1. It’s no narrower to claim that one religion is right than to claim that your way to think about all religions is right.

Logic cuts both ways. Every faith is “narrow.” Even the faith that says all faiths are equal excludes those who disagree.

Yet, at His birth, Jesus was unlike any baby ever born—eternal Deity joined to sinless humanity, the Infinite Infant. The God revealed in the Bible is no local deity, one of many. He speaks as the King of the whole earth (Jeremiah 46-51). One would have to read their Bible upside down, in a dark room, with their eyes closed not to see the deity of Jesus Christ and His superiority over all and the only way.

2. No Christian struts through the narrow gate of Jesus—we’re sheep, not peacocks.

True Christians realize that the irony of Jesus’ Gospel is that the only way to be worthy of the Gospel is to confess you’re utterly unworthy of it. Neither does anyone who truly understands the biblical truth strut through the narrow gate, but all enter with lowly humility. No one snickers through the narrow gate, but all who enter come mourning over their sin. The narrow path is difficult, demanding and less traveled, but is paved with blessing, and it only leads to life. Better to travel on the narrow path with the few than on the broad path with the many.

This is why all Christians are called to be “fishers of men.” We understand that before the thrice-holy God of the Bible that we are simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. We are to tell of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—who He is and what He can do—not just in deeds, but we are to speak of the Gospel in words.

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Are we willing to risk being misunderstood and maligned in order that the truth of the Gospel might be told and men might be saved? Yes, as Christians, we are to share this eternal message.

3. Christianity is radical inclusion, yes, but through the narrow gate.

Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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Our culture’s madness rests on the assumption that the gate is wide and the way is easy. Jesus said otherwise in John 14:6:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unabashed critics of Christianity demand a false inclusion; they want not the word that their sins are forgiven but that their sins aren’t sins. The Bible doesn’t say that as we know God more, we are more comfortable with God. As we draw near, we are more mindful of our own sins and God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

Jesus gives inclusion to the disqualified. He never sells it, especially to those who think they deserve it (Romans 9:30-33). The command to believe in Jesus Christ can only be obeyed to the exclusion of all other objects of faith.

Those of us who have passed through the “small gate” must walk in the narrow way — the way marked out by Scripture. Which one are you on?

Do You Find It Hard To Forgive Others?

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Do You Find It Hard To Forgive Others?

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Have you ever forgiven someone who didn’t deserve it? Or, do you find it hard to forgive?

Regardless of which category you fall into, this post is for you.

In many respects, our culture has come to reject the idea of forgiveness. According to the Bible, however, man is in great need of forgiveness.

Philemon was written by Paul during his imprisonment, and it is a book that focuses on the gift of God’s forgiveness and our corresponding responsibility to forgive others.

In these verses, Paul is laying the groundwork before asking Philemon to exercise forgiveness. Paul cites five “building blocks” for forgiveness that apply to us just as much as Philemon.

1. The foundation of the Gospel (Philemon 1:3-4).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers …

Grace—that is, the mercy of God—enables us to have peace with God. “Grace” is the traditional Greek greeting, and “peace” (shalom) is the traditional Hebrew greeting; combined, it is a thoroughly and uniquely Christian concept.

The Gospel alone brings grace and peace. God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth and lived a perfect life, which He then laid down as a sacrifice for our sins. God vindicated Jesus and demonstrated His acceptance of that sacrifice by raising Him from the dead.

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Christians know a great unity in being able to call God “my God” and “our God.” Refusing to forgive others shows a lack of belief in the Gospel. Unforgiveness is not an obedience issue—it’s a belief issue. Reflect on the beauty of these statements and the unique nature of our claim to know God personally.

2. The context of the church (1:1-2).

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house …

These are members of the church in Colossi. Overlapping names lead many to believe this letter was sent along with what we know as Colossians.

The church is more than a building or location—it’s the believers who gather together. It is those who congregate to worship, to read God’s Word and pray.

This letter opens to the church generally. Paul then speaks to Philemon specifically, but Paul has already invited the church to listen in on his message. Paul is wise here; he’s encouraging accountability so the church can watchfully care for one another’s souls.

Godly relationships help you prepare for the trials you don’t know are coming. This is why intentional membership in a local church is so important. Failure to participate in these relationships hurts you and prevents you from being an encouragement and help in others’ lives.

3. The practice of prayer (1:4-5).

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints …

Regular practice of intercessory prayer—asking God for things on others’ behalf—is a necessary step for Christians. We’re often tempted to only pray for ourselves or those who are just like us.

Thanksgiving is an important part of praying for others. It characterizes Paul’s prayers. Does it mark your prayers? Do you thank God for what He has done in your life and in the lives of others? Thanks to God acknowledges Him as the author of good, in both the world generally and in specifics. Are you better at asking God for things or thanking Him?

Do You Find It Hard To Forgive Others?

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Every prayer of forgiveness is immediately followed by our prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done for us in Christ. Thankfulness helps change our attitude by recognizing how much we have received.

4. The necessity of love (1:5-7).

Because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Faith without love is dead (1 Cor. 13). Faith appears to us as love. Paul is talking about sharing faith and love with fellow Christians. As we act in faith, we come to understand it more. The experience of the Christian encounter with God’s love changes the way we respond to others. As many examples of love and forgiveness as we can point to, none surpasses what God has done for us in Christ.

Paul is refreshed just by knowing of Philemon’s love for his fellow believers. Christians around the world share stronger bonds than physical families or countrymen, because the same spirit dwells in us and will do so for eternity.

As Francis Schaeffer once said, “If a Christian doesn’t show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian.”

5. The example of an elder.

If elders and other ministers of the Word don’t practice forgiveness, they shouldn’t hold that position. This is the only time Paul introduces himself as a “prisoner of Christ.” Paul is setting an example: humble, joyful, thankful and full of praise even in extremely difficult circumstances. This character should be mirrored in every father in every family and in every elder of every church.

Can you forgive? Do you know yourself to be forgiven by God? If you can’t forgive, then perhaps you have not experienced God’s forgiveness. Have you taken forgiveness for granted, or thought too little of it? Come to Christ.

What more significant thing can be said of us that that we are forgiven by God? Those who know themselves to be forgiven forgive others.

How Do You Spot A False Teacher Within The Church?

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How Do You Spot A False Teacher Within The Church?Think about the last time you felt different. You know, when you were on the outside of something wanting to be on the inside? We all deal with the desire to fit in.

When it comes to matters of right and wrong, this herd-mentality is perilous. How do we know what is right and wrong? How do we spot false teachers? Second Peter 2:1-9 helps us answer three questions to know what truth is and what is not.

1. What do false teachers do (2:1-3)?

These false teachers betray and injure Christians. They claim to have a “word” from God when they really don’t. Indeed, they may be heartfelt, but, really, they are an instrument of the evil one. They succeed for a time (2:2).

Surface-level Christianity will always be popular, but extremely dangerous. So much of false teaching comes down to the same thing: Final authority becomes something other than the objective standard of God’s Word.

Christians understand that some of those who say they are “Christians,” well, really aren’t. Indeed, the Scripture doesn’t state Christians are the greatest people. It’s those who grasp their lack of virtue and find their only confidence in the God-man, Jesus Christ—in the perfect life that He lived and the death He died on the cross, receiving the punishment of God for sins of ours and for all of those who turn from their sins and trust in Him.  A true Jesus-follower is someone who repents of their sins, very unlike the false teachers in 2 Peter.

Don’t be duped, but be alert. Ponder cautiously how well-equipped you are to watch yourself against false teaching and teachers.

How do you recognize a false teacher? Or, how do you tell “bad sheep” from “good sheep”? Bad sheep:

  • Have bad fruit. We will never have the luxury of laying discernment aside.
  • Exhibit greed. Often, they minister only for monetary gain.
  • Lead depraved lives. Teachers should strive to live up to what they preach.

False doctrine will always be good-looking to some. If you’re frequently giving into greed and sin, you’re arranging your mind to want false teaching that will bless you in your sin. You want it to be true. You don’t need to read a doctrine or theology book that is wrong to prepare your mind and heart to desire what is wrong. You simply need to be unconcerned about your sin, content and developing in your waywardness, all the while appearing to follow Christ. This is how heresy (false teaching) grows in a church.

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This is why fellowship is so important—because it leaks our lives to others. Drive yourself to that uncomfortable area to let others know you well—spiritually, above all—in your local church.

How Do You Spot A False Teacher Within The Church?We’re aware that there’ll be frauds in the church. We are all guilty of sin (Rom. 3:10-23), but hypocrites are committed to remaining in sin. Don’t think that because there are so many hypocrites or fakes that real, genuine Christians don’t exist. You don’t stop shopping at the grocery store because there are hypocrites there, do you? Then don’t draw false conclusions that all Christians are fake. Scrutinize Christianity by getting to know a Christian.

As Christians, the decisive reference for all our actions is the three-in-one God. What would your friends and family say about the God that you say you serve based on your actions this week? What can we do to bring Christ honor? We want our lives not to be distractions, but to be attractive for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. 2:15). We want our standing in the community to be a good example of Christ. The battle against false teaching is won not just by decrying false religion, but by practicing true religion.

2. What will be done to these teachers (2:4-6)?

They’ll be punished. God will judge sinners.

So who’s to say what’s right and wrong? Were the Nazis or slave-owners right just because designated officials were in charge? Only God can say what is ultimately right and wrong, for He is perfectly holy and good.

Because God is good, there’ll be condemnation for sin. Judgment may not be instant—many in the Bible existed for a time prior to being judged (Sodom and Gomorrah—Genesis 19). A postponement in sentence is part of God’s grace, but a delay in judgment is not a denial of judgment. Do you really think you’ve seen all of God’s judgment on your sin?

3. What happens to those who truly know Christ (2:7-9)?

Christianity teaches that we don’t have our best life now. Actual, real Christianity doesn’t disguise problems, but challenges, and acknowledges, rejects and heals. Don’t be discouraged because of trials. God will continue to be kind through them. We will be rescued (2:9). Christians have hope of eternal fellowship with Christ; He made us for Himself. When we’re in the closest communion with Him, we are most satisfied.

In another letter, Paul tells Timothy (2 Tim. 4:1-6) to detach himself from false teachers who define their own gospel and surround themselves with false teachers. As a result, Timothy was told to preach the truth at all times.

This is why churches can’t be built on popular fads or pastoral personalities. The church must be based on the truth of God’s Word. Has the world ever wanted to sit and listen to be rebuked by God’s Word? No! Discomfort with God’s truth in the world isn’t a new spectacle. We know that speaking Christ crucified is a stumbling block—it has been since the start of time—but it is the truth and wisdom of God, and must, therefore, be proclaimed.

Scripture contains all that a Christian needs to preserve the church from false teaching (2 Tim. 3:16). Are you building the Bible into your life in every conceivable way, Christian? Does the account of Scripture have a place in your mind and heart?

The Scriptures are all-sufficient and they won’t disappoint, especially when knowing biblical truth from falsehood.

Pro And Con: Should Churches Display The American Flag In The Sanctuary?

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Pro And Con: Should Churches Display The American Flag?

As we enter the most patriotic season in America, an annual debate rages in local churches.  Should a church have an American flag on display in the sanctuary? Or, how about the church in general? Can a church be pro-God and pro-America?

Below are crafted the major points of each position. What do you think? Please feel free to comment below.

Pro:

The American flag represents the nation we live in—the United States of America. Our nation was founded as a Christian nation in principle and practice. Other countries have long known and appreciated this fact. Displaying the American flag in all public places, including churches, reminds us why this country came, by God’s grace, into existence and who suffered for it. That is, because our ancestors wanted to be able to worship according to their conscience and not under the control of a state-run church.

It was this Judeo-Christian heritage that dictated much of what the Constitution entrails. Most, if not all, of the problems we face as a nation can be traced back to the fact that we’ve pulled away from our country’s original values and standards.

Perhaps this is why Psalm 60:4 says:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you.

In Old Testament times, a banner was a flag. God has given a flag to those who fear him and him alone. To “fear” isn’t some Casper-the-Ghost-type reaction, but rather to show reverence and to be in awe of someone or something—that is, God.

In the Lord’s gracious providence, He saw fit to give birth to the United States of America—a place to which people can flee from the bow, from oppression, from tyranny, from bondage, and from servitude.

Thus, to display the American flag in a church is to affirm our Christian heritage and pay homage to all of those who have sacrificed for it.

Pro And Con: Should Churches Display The American Flag?Let’s be reminded that it isn’t a small matter when a man or woman gives a part of their lives to our country. It truly is powerful to know that someone would pay the ultimate price of their life to defend what God has bestowed on us. In fact, Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

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The one sacrifice of our Savior is the ultimate sacrifice, to be sure. However, such words unify the military veteran, the average citizen, and the stark pacifist in our country under this banner.  And displaying the flag in a church upholds what a Christian holds true in salvation and in the nation.

We need to display the American flag in light of the truth of God’s Word, and not let anything or anyone force its removal from our land. If someone is offended by the flag in church, they have well-forgotten the prosperity that God has given us to make us the greatest nation on this earth.

In short, placing a flag on display in a church doesn’t mean the worshippers or leaders are bowing to the flag or the nation above God (such as in Nazi Germany in World War II). Church leaders should make this clear distinction. For if we do not display the flag or indulge ourselves in the freedoms that flag stands for, then what’s our faith really worth in and outside of the church (James 2:14)?

Con

In the local church, above any celebration of our nation is the correct and true worship of the triune God. His kingdom is one that can’t be shaken, and we are to offer to Him acceptable worship with “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). Shouldn’t the physical elements of the service—such as displaying an American flag—reflect this very truth?

Although displaying a flag isn’t referred to in the Bible directly, when we gather in the local church, biblically, we’re more primarily Christian than American (or whatever nation’s flag is being displayed—Gal. 3:28). A Christian has more in common with the Pacific Islander who is born again in Christ than the non-Christian who lives on the block or shares a cubicle at work. A church should be a testimony and witness for the glory of God and His Gospel, not promoting a certain nation (Eph. 3:21).

Since the first church council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, the church has understood that any tradition or custom that interferes with multi-national worship in Christ’s name must go away (Acts 15:21; 21:25). When a church gathers to worship, the congregation doesn’t gather just in a certain country, but to “Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23).

Thus, a local church shouldn’t put any needless obstacle to the worship of those visiting from other countries (whether as citizens or immigrants).

What’s more, worship in the local church shouldn’t be the source of confusion of who or what we worship. The church is meant for the “mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19) and common good. So, if displaying the American flag causes believers of any nation to be confused or to stumble in worship, there should cause for concern. Christ has accomplished eternal salvation for every tribe, people, and nation—not just America (Rev. 5:9).

The critic will say, “Doesn’t removing the flag take away the sacrifice and affection we have for our country and those that gave their lives for it?” But does this justify presence in the sanctuary? Yes, Christians in America should honor those veterans who have served. They should remember and thank God for the tide-turning events that constitute the annals of American history, and use holidays to that end. These, however, have nothing with the true worship of God’s people in the church.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that schools, civic organizations and other similar venues shouldn’t display the flag. We expect—and cherish—such placement because we know the context. And let’s be clear: Being a Christian doesn’t mean you hate your country (1 Tim. 2:1-5; Rom. 13, etc.)! We just need to know how to organize our priorities and celebrate being Americans apart from displaying a flag in the sanctuary.

As with any decision in the Christian and church life, we must ask: “Is it scriptural? Is it Gospel-centered? Does it uplift man or God?” In this instance, it appears not be the case.

Do I REALLY Have To Pray For Politicians I Oppose?

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Do I REALLY Have To Pray For Politicians I Oppose?

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With today’s ever-changing political environment, it is very easy to complain and not pray for our leaders. And, yes, many are deserving, sadly, of the comments they receive. Yet, the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

God calls us to pray for everyone. The verses above reveal that prayer for all people (and especially those in civil authority) is:

  • A priority – “First of all.”
  • Wide-ranging – “Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.”
  • Inclusive: “All men.”
  • Specific: “Kings and all who are in high positions.”
  • Focused: “That we may lead a peaceful and quite life, godly and dignified in every way.”

But, what specifically should we pray for those in authority? Here are six ideas from selected Bible verses:

1. Pray for leaders to come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Like everyone else, those in civil authority and politics need the forgiveness only offered by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. In fact, Paul says that praying for our leaders to know Christ personally is a top prayer (1 Tim. 2:1-4). An elected official living a Gospel-centered life is a win-win for everyone.

2. Pray for leaders to have God-given discernment & wisdom.

Those in governmental authority are daily charged with making tough decisions that affect living, breathing people such as you and me—and millions at that! Pray that they have the wisdom that James 3:13-17 mentions:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

3. Pray for leaders to have boldness & courage to stand on God’s truth.

Those in politics are often pressured to make compromises. Not doing so can cost them their careers. Pray God would give them the conviction and firmness to stand on truth that is eternal and not man-made.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

4. Pray for leaders to have Christ-Like humbleness.

Have you ever really considered the amount of power, people, places and personalities to which government leaders have access? To say that a politician can quickly get a “big head of pride” is the century’s understatement!

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In God’s providence, pray that leaders remember that it is only on their knees before a thrice holy God that they truly stand the tallest.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

5. Pray for leaders to have supernatural strength.

How many leaders in government have been involved in scandals surrounding money, sex, alcohol and drug abuse, and power-grabbing? Pray for them to grow in their knowledge of the triune God so they can thwart temptation and have the necessary, God-ordained strength to avoid traps that destroy not only their careers, but their families and ideals.

And [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:46)

Do I REALLY Have To Pray For Politicians I Oppose?

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6. Pray for leaders to be convicted of sin & seek God’s forgiveness.

Scripture leads to consideration of how we measure up to God’s Word. Do you pray for God to convict you through His Word? Do you pray this for your leaders? Pray that the Lord would uncover sin so that you can confess and turn away.

David’s inclination was not to flee from God, but to go to God.  He fears God because of what the Scriptures say about Him and about man’s sin – then he goes to God in humble trust. He asks for forgiveness and help. Pray this for your leaders.

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:12-14)

Final Thoughts

Paul is enlisting the prayers of Christians for the salvation of the countries and those who lead those nations. Remember, the emperor was Nero. You know, the king who burned Christians on stakes at his garden parties and threw them to the lions.

Friend, it doesn’t matter who our leaders are or in what country we are. We are to pray for them. We are to pray for our nation and every nation, our culture and every other culture, our leaders and every other leader. Famed preacher Charles Spurgeon said:

“We do not know what God may do for us if we would but pray.”

It was part of Daniel’s government job to pray to King Darius (Daniel 6). If we want our prayers to do the most good for the largest number of people, we must include those in our prayers whose decisions create the circumstances in which the purposes of the Gospel prosper. It is important to pray for governmental leaders because the circumstances they create either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.

Now is the time to pray for those who were elected and for the government they will serve. Will you?

God’s Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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God's Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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Americans have lost their way on right and wrong. According to a recent poll by Gallup, about half or more of all Americans believe that abortion, homosexuality and sex outside of marriage are not sinful.

Even in early Christianity, there was confusion over marriage. Marriage was said to have stemmed from a concession to human weakness. But a closer look at Scripture tells a different story.

1. The Biblical Basis for Marriage

In Genesis 1, God was creating and declaring everything He made to be good. In Genesis 2, we see the first thing that wasn’t good: verse 18 says it isn’t good for man to be alone. God brought all the animals to Adam for him to name, but no suitable helper was found for him. So God created woman (2:20-24).

God's Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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Biblical theology talks about the four states of man: created, fallen, redeemed and glorified. And in creation we see God’s plan for marriage through these four states (2:20-24).

  • Marriage is rooted in our inadequacy. This isn’t to suggest that single people aren’t fully human. We all, however, are made to desire another. In verses 19-20, God prepares Adam for Eve by exhausting other possibilities. He doesn’t just give man the woman straight away. God is teaching Adam to trust Him and teach the man the value of the woman. Humans are no mere animals, but being made in the image of God sets us apart.
  • Marriage is of God’s design. Verse 21 especially shows this by the way God makes the woman … while Adam was sleeping. It was all God’s work, making it clear she is in no way inferior to man, she, too, was divinely created.
  • Marriage is a relationship of companionship. Man was alone and needed a suitable helper. The woman was taken from his side to show she is a suitable companion. She wasn’t taken from his head to rule over him or his feet to be trampled under him.
  • Marriage is a relationship of attraction. Gen. 2:23 reveals to us the only pre-Fall statement of man. Adam is clearly excited here. “At last! A suitable helper!”
  • Marriage is a relationship of authority. Hierarchy isn’t the result of the curse; authority is inherent in the world’s design before the Fall (Gen. 3). Adam named her woman before the Fall. The man being created first implied authority. After the first sin, in Genesis 3:9, God calls out to the man — implying his responsibility in the situation.
  • Marriage is a particular union. God calls man and woman to be together; it is the first and most basic of all institutions. There is covenant language of being united. Sexual pleasure shouldn’t be isolated; it is a part of marriage. God’s design isn’t Adam with another man. It is the union of one man with one woman where they become interdependent and complementary to each other.
  • Marriage is a public covenant. Note the official language in verse 22 — God brought and presented her to man as a kind of marriage ceremony. Verse 24 shows a change in priorities from parents to spouse. A new family is established. God didn’t put a parent and a child in the garden. He is emphasizing the importance of this relationship.
  • Marriage is a lifelong relationship. It is intended to be permanent (Mal. 2). Jesus references Genesis 2 in exhorting us not to divorce.

Effects of the Fall on Marriage

After the Fall, the marriage relationship became distorted. Strife was caused by a desire for dominance, and Adam and Eve being alienated from God. Adam acted for us (Romans 5:19), making God our enemy. The whole context for marriage has been changed by sin.

Marriage’s continuation is part of God’s kindness to us. Marriage is under assault in this sinful world. We are taught to be ashamed of this need and told it is just a social contract. The world devalues spouses, seeks lust that is impossible to fulfill, abuses or abdicates authority, and engages in homosexuality and polygamy.

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Marriage is publicly trivialized. Man’s law pronounces divorces that God doesn’t recognize.

Yet, marriage survives! It is necessary for a nation’s survival; it is society’s infrastructure.

Marriage and Redemption

Marriage predates sin — it is part of God’s good gift in creation. It is in the context of marriage that we’re most our own gender yet displaying unity in diversity.

Perpetual adolescence is part of the spiritual battle in our culture. Christians see the need for marriage because we recognize our incompleteness. It’s not just for propagation of a family. It is about relationship. God delights to give us what we delight in.

2. Roles in Marriage

Husbands – Serve the Lord as is written in Joshua 24:15: “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The best way to love is by leading well. We should lay down our own comforts, preferences and even our lives (Ephesians 5). Love your wife like Christ loved the church.

Men read love as “don’t upset her.” This is a self-serving definition. Love is to risk upsetting; it’s an inevitable part of a loving leadership. Observe and lead in your wife’s relationship with the church. Lead in the way that Christ leads and cares for the church.

Do you know what your wife likes? Make her an object of your intent investigation. When giving advice, tell her how much you love her.

Wives, correct your husbands in a loving way if they are doing wrong. Husbands, love with a self-sacrifice. Resolve to grow in humility, be more sensitive, be a better communicator, and to love better.

Husbands, do you feel like a failure in this? The Gospel is for failures like us — man, woman, and child.

Wives — What’s so astounding about marriage isn’t the similarities between a husband and wife but the real unity amid a beautiful array of differences. In the teaching of the New Testament, wives are addressed first. Biblically, being a Christian wife means having a love for God and a love for others, obedience to God’s Word, helping her husband, being industrious, teaching younger women, loving her husband and children, being self-controlled. Ephesians 5:22 adds that a wife is to “submit” to her husband.

God's Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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Also, notice that Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:15, 1 Peter 3:1 and 5 all stress submission. Christians know all about submission. We are to submit to Christ, the governing authorities, leaders at church, parents, etc.

Submitting doesn’t imply being of lesser value. Christ submitted to the Father. Submission doesn’t imply inequality, but different roles. Submission does not mean that one is not to express thoughts or is to follow a husband into sin.

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1 Peter 3 gives Old Testament examples of how wives are to love, honor, respect and encourage husbands.

Here are more ideas: Give yourself to reading and knowing God’s Word better. Read Proverbs, a chapter a day, and apply it to your marriage. Pray God would make you an easier person to lead.  Encourage your children to honor their dad. Speak well of him to them.

What if your husband is a non-Christian? In 1 Peter 3, wives are told to submit to back up their evangelistic words. Wives, do you feel like a failure in this? The Gospel is for failures like us — man, woman, and child.

3. Theological Reflections

Why does the Bible teach this about marriage? The Lord reflects Himself in marriage. Christ is proclaimed through marriage. Marriage reflects Christ’s love for the church. Marriage is a picture of the Gospel.

Hosea is written in the context of marriage and depicts the theme of unfaithfulness and reconciliation. Genesis 2 is a foretaste of what we see at the end of Revelation 21, “the bride dressed for her husband.” Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Here’s What God Really Has To Say About ‘Gender’

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Here's What God Really Has To Say About 'Gender'

What it means to be a man and a woman is increasingly referred to as “gender.” Today, perhaps unlike any time in history, there are fewer rights, privileges and expectations tied to our physical sex. Roles are said to be determined by our culture or religious beliefs, so they must constantly be explained and evaluated. What’s more, the academic world has sought to change our world by changing our words.

What has gone on in the West is so shocking that it could not have been imagined even 100 years ago.

While many developments have been positive, others have not been: Illegitimate births have increased, marriage has been and continues to be redefined, and divorce has skyrocketed, even among professing Christians.

The implications of these changes reach beyond the family and into our very understanding of God. And with such diverse and quickly changing views of gender in the world, we must turn to the Bible to see what God has to say on these issues.

The basic storyline of the Bible isn’t that everything is OK. No, it’s that God created us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27), but we have rejected His authority in our lives, and, consequently, have sinned against Him (Rom. 3:23; Jam. 4:4). As a result, we are subject to God’s judgment.

But God provided His Son as a substitute. Jesus died to take the wrath for our sin and was raised back to life (Rom. 5:6-10). Forgiveness of your sins and reconciliation with God is possible.

In the following areas, we see that God has made His will on the issue of gender inherently obvious.

1. Creation

The loudest voice for the Christian in gender discussions is always God (Gen. 1:26-27). God specifically creates a worshipper in His image, who is special from the rest of creation—male and female He created them. This is the first chapter in the Bible, and it starts with God. God is the uncreated being in the universe; He is the One from which everything else has come.

What is God like? Look at people around you. Talk to them. While God is certainly not like us in every way, we learn something of Him by His creation of us. The ability to think, to know, to communicate, and to be in relationship is at the core of this description.

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Gender is no biological accident. God’s image is seen in male and female — individually and together. The mystery of marriage speaks to the love between the persons of the Trinity, and the perfect love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. The image of God

Here's What God Really Has To Say About 'Gender'

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Being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from animals. We see two creation acts in relation to mankind in Genesis: physical creation and a spirit breathed into man by God.

The doctrine of the image of God is what gives Christianity a reason to defend people of both genders and all races. It is our very belief in God that makes us an encouragement for the good of all (Gal. 6:10; Pro. 3:27).

The image of God in us can’t be abolished, and our innate knowledge of God can’t be totally eradicated. That’s why God’s purpose in your life isn’t comfort but conformity. In all things, He is making the Christian into the image of Christ. In issues of gender or otherwise, the pursuit of a trivial life isn’t befitting for creatures made in the image of a weighty God full of glory. God didn’t save you and me simply to take us to heaven. He saved us to conform us into the image of Jesus.

The image of God didn’t dissolve when Adam sinned. We can act contrary to the image of God, and it is diminished by sin. But man reflects God’s image as a spiritual and physical being with the capacity for relationship.

3. Masculinity

Biblically, men are to take responsibility and are called to initiate and protect (Eph. 5; 1 Tim. 5:8, etc.). Men are to be the head of their families. Masculinity is to lead, not desert; to provide for, not take from; to protect, not kill. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, perfectly exemplifies this.

In the essence of biblical masculinity is a man understanding that authority is not authoritarian but humble, sacrificial responsibility. Biblical masculinity is meek. Not passive. But meek. At the heart of biblical masculinity is the taking of responsibility — period. Taking responsibility is true masculinity. Passivity is marital sabotage.

Too many people have a distorted sense of masculinity characterized by a lack of responsibility and a freedom from any obligation that might tie him down. This isn’t masculinity, but adolescence! Men are to cultivate self-sacrificial love as demonstrated by Jesus. The call to leadership is a call to repentance and risk-taking.

4. Femininity

Biblical femininity is a disposition of affirming, receiving and nurturing the strength and leadership of worthy men (1 Pet. 3:1-6; Col. 3:18, etc.). The Bible doesn’t teach that God created men and women as duplicates, but as complementary to one another (1 Tim. 2:8-15).

In fact, the cultivation of good male leadership benefits women. Women’s liberation has often turned into women’s domination, or a complete denial of any differences between men and women at all.

The vision of harmonious relationships between men and women isn’t possible when one or both parties aren’t pursuing God’s call for their particular role. True freedom comes in submission to God’s will and the affirmation of His wisdom.

5. Popular confusions

Here's What God Really Has To Say About 'Gender'

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When the authority of the Bible is rejected or distorted, the beautiful differences between men and women are deserted. As men try to put themselves first, or as women try to dominate, life becomes more like war. The evil one hates all that is good and is working hard to distort the truth and beauty of God’s creation.

Alternative understandings of gender are promoted in our culture — while more “flexible” norms are marketed.  Family units are now chosen instead of being biological in nature. And sex is divorced from the responsibility of reproduction.

What intimacy is there in non-monogamous relationships? Look at the drug use, depression and disease among those involved in sexual behavior outside the context of biblical marriage. Is this the “freedom” offered by the alternative?

6. The explanation of gender

Gender isn’t a “choose your own adventure story.” God didn’t make us gender-less.

God has included hierarchy in the fabric of creation. God creates mankind (people) to rule over creation in His stead. Whenever authority is correctly used, God’s own character is reflected. Good authority is fruitful in the lives of others; it creates stability and promotes good for all. This is why abuse of authority is so terrible, whether in marriage or the church or in a nation.

The issues of trust that crowd around this topic lie very near to the Gospel itself. Gender is now, in the culture at large, understood to be an expression of personal autonomy. Tolerance is not enough. The biblical Gospel calls us to strong love for others. The image of God is there. Christian eyes see it.

Can you see something of the way God structured this life to mirror how we are to approach Him? Yet we may rely on and submit to Him wholly, without any fear of failure or potential betrayal of trust.

The good news is that the grace of God isn’t bound by race, gender, age, social class, language, ethnicity, history or location. God offers grace to all. You can trust Him today!

Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle,” said President George Washington in his farewell address.

But Washington’s words can be more broadly understood as a good representation of how many Americans view religion — useful, respectable, good and honorable — although most Americans are vague in what they exactly mean by that. President Washington mentioned “providence” many times in his speeches and addresses, but rarely if ever explicitly mentioned Jesus Christ.

Indeed, this fits well with many Americans’ view of democracy: tolerant, inclusive and expansive. We would think people undemocratic who are sectarian and narrow-minded.

So, does it matter what you believe? Beyond believing in a providential Being who may have wound up the universe and is somewhere out there in it, does it really matter what you believe? If you are a good person and believe in a god and live a good life, does the “fine print” really matter?

We know that the details of what you believe matter in concrete things like believing whether to add a teaspoon or a cup of baking powder to a recipe, or mixing concrete with 12 parts water instead of 2 parts water.

But in the metaphysical realm, does it really matter what you believe?

For the answer to that question, we turn to 1 John 4:1-6. We will see that the Apostle John addresses if it matters what you believe and how you know what to believe.

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1. It does matter what you believe (4:1)!

John says here to be careful what you believe. Christians believe there is an objective, real world besides this physical world — there a spiritual world. What John is saying here is that there are people who won’t tell you the truth about this spiritual world; they are misleading you and lying about the unseen world.

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Is John paranoid to warn against false prophets? No. Actually, Paul, Peter and Jesus all warned believers several different times to beware of false prophets and lying teachers (2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Peter 1:16; Matt. 7:15-17, etc.).

Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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Christianity teaches that it matters greatly what you believe. What you believe isn’t simply on opinion for a nice, quaint discussion.  Rather, it is your belief about reality, the nature of man, the nature of God, the existence of sin and evil, and the purpose of life.

If you are irreligious, did you ever consider that what is true may not be obvious to you? Beware of a subtle arrogance that would tell you only your experience and perception and natural observations can tell you the truth about the world. Just because you don’t believe something is real or will happen doesn’t mean you are right. There can be many things that happen that you may believe shouldn’t happen or won’t happen, but do happen — illness, pregnancy or malnutrition.

As Christians, we must be aware and discerning, because it matters what we believe. Theology matters! What someone thinks about God affects how they respond to Him — either in repentance, trust and love, or in indifferent dismissal, ignorance and rebellion.

If you’re a Christian, you should be like the Bereans, searching the world of God to discern the truth (Acts 17:11). There are many, many false prophets in the world who aren’t your friend. These individuals speak falsely and don’t tell the truth.

We must be mature and test everything. Unbelief can be a mark of spirituality and Christian faith just as much as belief. We must test everything and be careful what we believe. Let us prove, test and validate ideas before we embrace them through the all-sufficient Bible. There are a lot of ideas that are dangerous.

Why should we work at better obeying what John is saying? So we can know God better through His Word and so we know God’s Word better and can more wholly follow Him.

Do you pursue this each day? Do you work to show your dependence on God and renew your mind (Rom. 12:1-2)?

2. How do we know what to test? (4:2-6) 

So we know we should test what people tell us to believe. But that begs a question: How do we test it?

How do we evaluate what we see and hear and are taught? What standards of judgment can a Christian use to examine teaching? How do we know who belongs to Christ?

ATTITUDE TOWARD CHRIST (4:3)

John says we can test a person’s attitude toward Christ. John says there are anti-Christs in the world — that is, people who teach false things about Christ.

There has always been popular debate over Jesus’ physical appearance, coming to earth, and the time of His return. But the fundamental and most important debate is over Jesus’ identity. Those who deny the Son have neither the Father nor the Spirit. Every person — teacher, businessman, scribe, churched person or otherwise — who doesn’t acknowledge Jesus as fully God and fully man doesn’t know Him. Anyone who denies that Jesus is fully God and fully man is against Christ, having the nature of an anti-Christ.

This can’t be minimized: Christ is at the heart of Christian faith, not just of Christianity. Understanding the identity and work of Jesus Christ isn’t a time for creativeness or cleverness — it is a time for clarity.

ATTITUDE TOWARD THE WORLD (4:5)

The world here is not the physical cosmos, the created earth, or the terrestrial ball hurtling through outer space. The world here that John refers to is the system of people and spirits in rebellion against God’s rule. The simple fact is that man is by nature, fallen. We are naturally rebels. John is saying that worldly people listen to the world and buy-in to its lies, lust and rebellion. There is always a bustling market for false teaching.

Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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This understanding of the antagonism between the world and the truth is a fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam. Christians don’t believe that any amount of physical coercion can bring about spiritual conversion. There is no political order that can bring us back to God.  No, we’re by nature rebels and our best efforts are fallen and sinful.

Friends, we should never be surprised that the world doesn’t like Jesus. We should never be surprised that unsaved people are comfortable being “religious” and “spiritual,” but don’t like talking about the truth claims of Jesus. The world has never been and never will be a fan of Jesus. We shouldn’t expect secular sources to understand sacred truths.

Remember: The cross is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Cor. 1:18-31). We shouldn’t expect authentic discipleship and worldly applause. We can’t follow Jesus and popularity. We follow a Savior who was killed because He was unpopular and controversial.

But John isn’t discouraged because of the world not liking Jesus. No, John is encouraged, saying that the believers to whom he is writing are of God and have overcome the system aligned against Christ.

How can John be so sure and hopeful, you ask? John was a monotheistic Jew who traveled with Jesus, learned from Jesus, and saw Jesus die. But most importantly, John saw this “Spirit in you,” the one “greater than the world,” raise Jesus from the dead. John already saw God’s Spirit overcome the death and the grave and wants his readers to understand that it is the same resurrection spirit who is at work in them.

Dear friend, what is your hope centered on? Is your hope centered on God’s Spirit alive and at work in your life? Is your hope centered on the church, victorious because of Christ’s work on the cross? Do you meditate on Christ being the Firstborn of the Dead, the first man to get up from the grave, and the forerunner of those to come?

As Christians, we have every reason to be hopeful because what we have before us is better than what we have behind us. This doesn’t mean that tomorrow will actually be a better day than some time last week. No, we look forward to the great day when we, too, will get up from the grave and know full, final victory over sin through Christ. The best of all is still to come. Our joy is built upon the rock of hope — Jesus — and what He has done on the cross. This is the truth John celebrates.

ATTITUDE TOWARD US (4:6)

John says that those who belong to God follow the faithful people of God. Worldly people don’t listen to, obey and follow the faithful people of God.

What does this mean for you? No true Christian can be indifferent about doctrine. The Gospel has always been the bedrock of the church. False teachers are not listening to the Gospel and those who articulate it; they are perverting it.

Don’t let your feelings inform your doctrine; let your doctrine inform your feelings. Doctrine in the mind should never be dry in the heart, but should ignite our souls for God.

We must follow men and women who have been faithful to God’s Word. How do you respond to God’s Word? Are you willing to change how you live based on it? We cannot pick what we want to obey. We must submit and follow.

“Doctrine is useless if it’s not accompanied by a holy life. It’s worse than useless — it does positive harm.”

–J.C. Ryle

If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering?

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“Why?” is a question we often ask about suffering. This question is so important because it directs people in one of two directions: toward God or away from God.

We ask this question for ourselves, and for others. Often our “why” is not just the inquisitive “why” of a child, but it is the angry, confident “WHY?” that is more an argument than a question. We act as if we know there is no good reason for what is occurring.

Have you come to a satisfactory solution to the question of why there is suffering? Is there an answer?

Suffering is an inescapable part of our world. It draws our attention completely inward. How do we deal with it? We want to make sense of it. We live in a cursed time. God made the world, but He allowed rebellion (sin), which affected creation and our lives. All of us rebelled against Him (Gen. 3; Rom. 3). Therefore, the world is marked by suffering.

And from the book of Job, we see three truths that will help answer even more.

1. The Plain Truth About God and Job

God is all-powerful; Job and his friends both agree on this (Job 26, 34, 36, 37:14, 23).

Non-Christian friend, what do you think about God and what He does? Is it evident to you that God is all-powerful?

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Job and friends agree that God is all-good. Elihu says it is unthinkable that God would do wrong or pervert justice (Job 34). They understood that God blesses those who are good. Bildad explains that God, because of His goodness, punishes the wicked (Job 8:3, 20).

This book clearly teaches us that God is omnipotent and all-good. He blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. And that is normally evident in this life because that testifies to what God is like.

If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering?

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Job is suffering amazingly; his friends do not dispute this. His situation was more difficult than normal. Job had lost all 10 of his children in a single day just a week before this dialogue begins. He also lost all his possessions and his standing in the community. In chapter 29, Job has a nostalgic look back.

The Bible is very realistic about suffering. Christianity is centered on an all-good God who came as a man and suffered and experienced death. Jesus understands us. We are not to put our hope in this life or any good thing God gives us. God’s goodness and power and Job’s suffering fit together. That is what has brought people to the book of Job.

Much of your suffering has nothing to do with your sin. But mark it well, sin makes for the worst suffering. God warns us of suffering now so we don’t have to be afraid of it later. God may be giving you the biggest megaphone of your life in your suffering. And when your sin is deep, the suffering is strong, and your resolve is weak, remember: He gives more grace (James 4:6).

2. How Job Is a Puzzle

To his friends, Job’s guilt was so obvious that they can see his suffering from a distance. His guilt was clear to them from the magnitude of his suffering. But Job professed innocence to them (Job 13, 31).  Job was not maintaining sinlessness, but was saying he had not sinned in such a way as to bring this kind of severe suffering upon himself.

Job’s innocence is comparative only. None of us are as sinful as we could be, but our sin has affected every part of us. The Bible teaches clearly that everyone deserves hell as a punishment for our rebellion against God (Rev. 20:11-15; Luke 16:19-31, etc.).

Job was also puzzled himself. He was confused over why God would treat him like this if He were his friend? Job is confused as to why he is suffering so much if God is his God. An all-powerful God that is not all good would be a terrible monster to us.

What Job believed about God’s goodness seemed to be confuted by the prosperity of the wicked (Job 21). If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why has He allowed this to happen? We see injustices all throughout history.

The book of Job isn’t philosophical—why we suffer—but practical, that is, how to suffer—namely, by clinging to God. “If God loves me, why do I suffer so?” you may ask. God himself allows the suffering, to save me from a faith that doesn’t ask questions. If you are a sinner today, Jesus will be your sacrifice. If you suffer, He will be a sympathetic High Priest, too (Heb. 4:15)

It is not God’s kindness that allows sin and prosperity to continue together; that is a part of God’s judgment—to allow sin and prosperity together in our lives. It is God’s kindness when He wakes us up. If God allowed a perfect man, Jesus Christ, to suffer terribly, why should we think that something like that could never happen to us?

3. How God Is a Puzzle

We know why Job is suffering as he is. Without chapters 1-2, we wouldn’t know whether Job or his friends are correct.

Image source: Pixabay.comEliphaz presented a question as evidently false (“Of course, God doesn’t bring a charge against you for piety!”), but that is actually the key truth in unlocking the whole puzzle as to why Job is suffering! Eliphaz’s rhetorical question was in fact revealing the truth.

See the danger of truths misapplied. Their arguments imply Job’s friends thought themselves innocent because they weren’t suffering like Job. But the whole story turns precisely on the fact that they were not as good as Job. If they had been as good as Job, they could have been suffering like him. It was because of Job’s piety, not his sin, that God had allowed this suffering upon him. God knew this would bring Him praise, glory and honor.

The book of Job isn’t addressing a hypothetical question about why good people suffer but a very practical question instead: “How to suffer.” The book of Job tutors us in how to suffer when we don’t know why: accept it, keep trusting God, and hold on. When (not if) we suffer, it simplifies the only finally important question: “What does God think of me?”

When we suffer, the primary question is not, “Why is this happening to me?” but, “What does God have for me in this?”

“Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).

Where Does This Leave Us?

God is mysterious by nature, but He has also revealed Himself to us in the Bible. We will not have all the answers to all the questions in this life. Suffering for the Christian is rarely about “learning a lesson.” It’s mostly about the cross. We need to realize this world is not mainly about us; it is about God. To solve the puzzle of God, we first need to realize that the difference between His nature and ours.

God is patient; full justice does not always come immediately. Our salvation hangs on that fact. Not all suffering in this life is punishment. God may teach through suffering (Job 33). Or, it could be discipline (Heb. 9-12).

But now God is about other things than merely punishing. We do reap what we sow, but we do not only reap what we sow. God uses suffering to teach us more about Himself, us and our need for Him. God is patient even sometimes when we wish He wasn’t. The Gospel gives suffering bearability, purpose and — best of all — an expiration date.

Furthermore, God is trustworthy. He has proven himself by His faithfulness. As bitter as Job’s complaints are, he seemed to know that God was trustworthy. The call to trust God is at the heart of Job and the call to us. Know the Redeemer lives — even in the midst of suffering by sin and God’s providential plan for His glory in our lives.

‘If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?

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'If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?

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Some our deepest longings, played out in box office hits, call for swift justice against wrongdoing. Yet, our society is built on the foundation of the rule of law and justice for all — the very antithesis of this spirit of vigilantism. We go to great lengths to ensure even criminals receive equal protection. We settle for procedural justice, knowing it isn’t perfect, while longing for a primitive yet perfect justice, where the criminal meaningfully pays for the wrongs he committed.

Yet, who among us is capable of determining and executing this perfect justice? We reject vigilantism in real life because it is private, unaccountable and quickly corrupted. We fall back to a legal system built on procedure, and vicariously enjoy our desire for vengeance on the movie screen.

Must we always choose between the two? Is there any hope for real justice in the world?

God has revealed Himself as an avenging God (Nahum 1). We recoil at the thought, but the omniscient, holy God is the only one capable of dispensing perfect justice. We are conflicted, because we know this vengeful God can finally judge evil — but we also know that puts us in jeopardy, because we, too, have done evil. So we imagine that God is like us, that He hates the things we hate, and will put the Hilters and Stalins and serial killers of the world in hell … but not people like you and me.

But what kind of God is that? The sort of God who is partial and plays favorites isn’t one to trust.

Because God is perfectly and always good, He isn’t partial; He must put an end to sin, and all sinners, for His justice to be perfect. Therefore, a good God must be a God who judges all evil—including the evil in me. If real justice is what we seek from God, the irony is that very goodness is what we can least endure about Him in our own lives, because He demands perfection.

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And in Jesus Christ, the God of towering, unimpeachable and unbending justice shows mercy to any and all sinners who bow their head and put their faith in Him.

What is our situation (Romans 3:10-20)?

'If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?In a word, bad. Everyone is in trouble—separated from God. We are spiritually condemned. We are characterized by faithlessness, unrighteousness, sin and rejection of God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans makes it clear that we’re depraved. We have rejected God.

You have a problem with justice—or, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that justice has a problem with you. If you don’t understand this, you won’t understand Jesus’ claims.

Paul’s indictment is also aimed at you. People have two defenses they tend to make against the accusation that they are sinner—either: “I’m not that bad,” or “God isn’t really that good.” The Bible says you are, in fact, that bad. The human reaction to these truths might be a resolve to “do better,” but Paul sweeps that hope away. No one can make themselves righteous.

God is holy—He does not just fudge to get His children out of trouble. The perfect Judge will condemn sin, including yours and mine.

Where does that leave you?

How can we be saved from this Judge (Romans 3:21-26)?

Your greatest need is for God to declare you righteous, and Paul declares that need can be met. God’s throne is built on righteousness and justice; this demands our sin to be dealt with.

How can He show mercy to the guilty?

God showed mercy and provided Christ to prove His commitment to justice. We often act on a presupposition that we deserve to be forgiven. But if you understand who this God is, you know this isn’t the case. God owes you nothing.

Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice. Jesus took God’s wrath on our behalf, and God punished all our iniquities. This means the justice that demanded our death now pleads our case. God’s sword is no longer raised to strike us, but rather, to defend us.

This salvation is for all who will come (Rom. 3:26). It’s not something you work for or earn; it is a free gift by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). You must reject any notion that you play a role in your salvation. It is all by faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone.

So, why would God send people to hell?

The world says, “How can God be love and send anyone to hell?” But heaven says, “How can God be just and allow anyone into heaven?”

The one who minimizes the gravity of hell minimizes the gravity of the cross. If hell isn’t real, Jesus was all bluster. If hell isn’t real, we ought to say, “Give it a rest, Jesus. We all know you’re just being metaphorical.” But not even one door in hell is found the word “exit.”

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The fact that God is love doesn’t mean there is no hell. It means that if God abides in you and you in Him, there will be no hell for you.

Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven during His three year ministry (Matthew 13:41-50; Mark 9:43-49; Luke 16:19-31, etc.).  And the Bible isn’t sentimental about heaven and hell—not hesitant, not mushy. The message is clear and alarming (Isaiah 65:13-15).

All sin costs. It is very easy to go to hell. Simply do nothing. Or lots of things. Either way. Part of our sin is that it blocks out a feeling of sin. The “little” sins of everyday life will send us to eternal hell. The Quran says that God sends bad people to hell. The Bible says that, at the cross, God went to hell for bad people (Galatians 3:13). If God let every person run head-long into hell, He would still be just, and His reputation would remain untarnished.

'If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?

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The wages of sin cost God His Son and Christ His life. It costs believers repentance and unbelievers hell. Sin always costs. The next time you think you’re a good person, remember that God had to kill His Son to keep you out of hell. God says the worst about me (I deserve hell) & the best (I am loved & justified), so what you say about me is held in this perspective.

There are many paths to hell, but only one way to heaven. If everyone escapes hell and goes to heaven without trusting Christ alone, then Jesus was just wasting his time. Salvation is not just getting man out of hell and into heaven, but getting God out of heaven and into man.

Why, then, is it that some people are more sad by how many people unfollowed them on Instagram and Twitter and unfriended them on Facebook than by how many unbelievers went to hell today?

And if, at your church, you never hear about the righteous wrath of God, unleashed either at the cross or in hell, run.

The word of Christ’s finished work changed me, rescuing me from sin, hell, shame, depression and suicide. No church marketing gimmick can do that.  If we really believed in hell, our teaching, preaching and evangelism would be far more convincing.

One of the most loving and merciful things Jesus did was preach about hell. Unless you believe in hell, you will never know how much Jesus loves you. Hell is full of sincere, religious people, never born again, and heaven is full of immoral people who repented and believed in Christ.

Friend, if we didn’t wake up in hell today, we should be dancing. If we don’t know we deserve hell, we don’t know Christ.

This is why the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon said:

“When men talk of a little hell it’s because they think they have only a little sin and believe in a little Savior.”

God is good, and He’s a refuge to everyone who trusts in Him. But because He is good, He will also judge those who oppose Him to the bitter end. The cross is proof of that. On the day you appear before God, He will be good. The only question is what His verdict on you will be. Trust in God, trust in His goodness, and find Him to be good to you—all through Jesus Christ.

4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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Many people don’t believe in a literal bodily resurrection of Christ; others don’t believe it matters. The Corinthians, too, were confused about the meaning of the resurrection, and so Paul wrote to dispel their confusion and to tell them the significance of Christ’s resurrection.

We need the same truths today. Here are four reasons why Easter is relevant from 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

1. Easter proclaims salvation (15:1-2).

The resurrection is the moment all heaven broke loose. It’s the eucatastrophe of the story of the universe. And because Jesus’ resurrection can’t be contravened or circumvented, it’s the well-spring and foundation of surest joy!

Paul reminds the Corinthians of what they have already received and what he has already taught them. It wasn’t something that he came up with, nor is it something that Christians throughout the ages have invented, created, or re-amalgamated.

Paul doesn’t say, “I submit this to you for your consideration, get back to me…”  Nor does the Gospel allow for individual customization. There is no right to private interpretation. This is the very essence of objective truth. It’s not subjective or relative. It’s a true truth that must be received “as is,” without editing it for aesthetics or softening it up to make it easier to swallow.

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That’s why I wish the American church would stop treating the resurrection like it’s the heartworm medicine you put in a hot dog to trick the dog. No gimmicks or gadgets will commend the death-proof king. His resurrection is awesome enough. It God’s power unto salvation.

We must come to terms with the truth of the Gospel, because it won’t be changed to come to terms with us. The most important issue is not interiority or the “inner you.” It’s not about what makes you comfortable, but what took place on the cross and at the empty tomb.

Our acknowledgement or lack of acknowledgement doesn’t change the facts of the Gospel or resurrection. There is one Gospel, one faith, one mediator, one death and one resurrection

2. Easter requires explanation (15:3-5).

4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians because the church at Corinth had been experiencing moral compromise. The very Gospel itself had fallen into disrepute and the resurrection with it.

This isn’t uncommon even today. Many Christians today call for a doctrine-less Christianity — a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of belief. They feel that Christianity is more attractive if it’s non-literalistic and non-exclusivistic. However, there is no Christianity that is non-literalistic and non-exclusivistic. This form of post-modern Christianity isn’t Christianity at all. There’s no doctrine or truth to it.

Church leaders: Don’t metaphorize the resurrection into “new opportunities” or “starting over in life.” It’s literal death and life. Christianity is a religion of resurrection. Without the resurrection of Christ, the church local and the church universal are just a social club going to hell.

A criticism of Christianity is often that we care too much about the truth. This, however, is exactly what the apostle Paul sets out as our first priority in verse 3 of the passage, “as of first importance.” This wasn’t some “plan B.”  It was God’s original plan. He was going to glorify Himself though the cross and the resurrection from the start.

The apostolic authority is based upon the Gospel — the authority of the Bible and the Bible alone. Repeatedly, Paul emphasizes “according to the scriptures.” We can’t trust tradition, experience or reason. We could never “reason” our way from sin to the cross. Only revelation will get us there. This is why one can’t claim to be a Christian and yet deny the truths that exist in Scripture, because even Christ’s death, resurrection and the fulfillment of the prophecies was according to the scriptures.

This is how we are to live: according to the scriptures. Paul points this out plainly as he shows that our faith is in vain without this truth. There’s no Christianity without the empty tomb because the triumph is in the resurrection, and the resurrection points to an empty tomb. To edit this part of the Gospel is to remove the very basis of the faith.

3. Easter provides certainty (15:6-7).

The church didn’t create the resurrection accounts; the resurrection accounts created the church. And the resurrection gives certainty that the Gospel saves. God’s faithfulness is revealed by consistency in nature.

Many people were witness to Christ’s resurrection — over 500 people. The resurrection really happened. They didn’t have to take Paul’s word for it. There were literally hundreds of people who would attest to it. Jesus is alive.

You can be certain about the resurrection and must stake your life upon it. It should be our life project to continue to read the whole of Scripture, looking for what it teaches us about Christ, His resurrection and His Gospel. We receive the promises based upon our belief of this fact.

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The resurrection of Jesus Christ is why I get up in the morning. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is why I can sleep at night. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is why I do what I do in the way that I do it every day.

Romans 10:9 says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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This is the Gospel, which can be reduced no further. The resurrection is the sum and substance of the Gospel of Christ. There are not two versions of Christianity; it’s an objective reality — a true truth for our salvation, not simply for our intellectual consideration. We receive the promises based upon our belief of this fact. If we are not raised, there IS no hope. If the Gospel is not true, and if we don’t believe, we are still dead in our sins.

4. Easter produces humility (15:8).

Profundity tops out at this: God saves sinners through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This kind of certainty causes humility.  Paul said he was “untimely born.” The Greek words here mean “born too young to survive.” This is a world that makes us cry out for the one to come. Paul saw Christ with his own eyes. Jesus’ life gives life, and Paul rejoices in this.

He was the last of the apostles. Paul was a demonstration of God’s grace to the world; this brought him humble joy as the last and least of the apostles. God takes those spiritually dead, resurrects their spirits, and will one day resurrect their bodies, as well.

The pain we experience leads us to hope in the resurrection. God loves you not because of anything in you. It’s a testament to God’s grace. We should be comforted by those named in Scripture here as witnesses: Peter denied the Lord, James scoffed at Him, and Paul persecuted Him. Those are the kinds of people Jesus saves.

There is joy in thinking little of ourselves and much of Christ. Humility is to lean on Christ alone, think less than nothing of ourselves, and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as our all in all. Your hope is not in what you wish Jesus would provide, but in what is yours already by means of His life, death and resurrection.

What are you trusting in this Easter season? The resurrected Christ, or yourself?