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Glory, Part 4

Because the word “glory” is used so often in the Bible, it would be a good idea to see how it’s used. I’ve chosen a handful of examples, and so far here’s what we’ve discovered:

In Colossians 1:27, we read about the “hope of glory,” which is the hope all believers have. The world in which we live has little interest in Christ and frequently Christianity is mocked and Christians are rarely taken seriously, but we have the certain hope that in the future, our faith will become sight and our beliefs will be vindicated.

In Philippians 3:21, Paul talks about our “glorious body.” This is an exciting thought; the moment Christ completely transforms us – changes our earthly body into a glorified body like our Lord’s. This is more than just an end to death and pain and illness. It’s an end to our struggle against the flesh; no more to be pestered by the temptation to sin.

Finally, we discovered in Ephesians 1:18 that Christians are the Lord’s “glorious inheritance.” We have become valuable to God; our worth in Christ in incalculable.

Now let’s consider a couple of verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21 | NIV84)

“The glorious freedom of the children of God” is an interesting phrase that captures both our attention and our imagination. What is our “glorious freedom?” Believe it or not, it all starts back in chapter 7 with the cry of Paul’s heart:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24 | NIV84)

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever looked at the sorry state of your life in the light of God’s Word and realized how truly “wretched” you are? Paul may have written that verse, but any one of us could have. It’s the cry for help from those who see the need to be more than what they are, yet have no power to make the necessary changes.

Fortunately, for both Paul and us, the answer to the cry of his heart is given in the very next chapter:

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2 | NIV84)

This “new law” applies to those who have been acquitted in Christ – those who no longer stand condemned by God – and who are consequently enabled to live in such a way as to:

Fulfill the moral law of God;
Live beyond the reach of sin and death;
Enjoy life and peace.

Romans 8 really is a remarkable chapter and reading it should encourage your heart as a believer. We learn, for example, that the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit enable and empower the Christian to experience the tiniest sliver of what will be ours in full at Christ’s return. It begins “in Christ” at verse one and ends “in Christ Jesus our Lord” at the last verse. It begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation.

No condemnation

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. (Romans 8:1 | NIV84)

This is really a phenomenal verse, and it was accomplished by the work of Jesus Christ. Keeping the Law didn’t do it. Obeying the rules can’t do it. Your standing before God was achieved wholly by the work of Christ. You stand free and clear of any condemnation in God’s presence solely because of what the Lord did for you. This is spite of how you might feel, by the way. From time to time, you may feel condemned or guilty on account of your behavior, but if your heart is right, and you live in a state of forgiveness, then there’s no condemnation coming from God’s direction, only forgiveness and grace.

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2 | NIV84)

Notice that there are two laws here:

The “law of the Spirit of Christ,” in 8:1;
The “law of sin and death.”

The law of sin and death

If you glance back at Romans 7, you’ll see what the “law of sin and death” is all about:

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19 | NIV84)

This insidious, sinister law is always lurking near by, always challenging your earnest desire to right; always positing a sinful alternative. This nefarious law is so cunning and so clever that before a hapless Christian notices, he’s held captive by it.

The law of the Spirit

It seems like all is lost when you think about the power of the law of the sin and death, yet there is a law able to break the influence and dominion of that old law. Through Jesus Christ and the law of the Spirit, you are set free.

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man…. (Romans 8:3 | NIV84)

That’s the very foundation of the Gospel of grace. Thanks to Jesus Christ – the Son of God – becoming a man, God is not an angry and ready to bring the hammer down on His misbehaving subjects. Because of the sacrificial intervention of His loving, obedient Son, God becomes our compassionate, loving Heavenly Father. Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful man.” In other words, remaining sinless, Jesus became one of us to save us.

Through His atoning death on the Cross, God was able to deliver us; to set us free from the law of sin and death, leaving us free to live a new life, led and empowered by the Spirit of God.

Now, that’s true freedom! To be set free from the awful addiction to commit sin is what Paul is talking here. You can’t kill that addiction by grit and determination or by obeying a written “code of conduct.” Some poet somewhere put it like this:

To run and work the law commands,
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands;
But better news the Gospel brings:
It bids be fly and gives me wings.

That’s exactly what God does! He wants you to live a certain way and He enables you to do it. This is the beauty of serving God through faith in Jesus Christ. You are not bound by rules and regulations impossible to keep and unreasonable to demand. You are able to live up to God’s expectations because Who is living in you.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11 | NIV84)

There is no greater power in the universe than the power to raise the dead, and that’s the power resting in you because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your heart. The Christian, who has slipped and sinned, cannot say, “The devil made me do it.” The incredible resurrection power of God is in you; the devil can’t make you do anything. If you stumble and sin, it’s because you wanted to; you took your eyes off the prize for a moment. But fortunately for us, we don’t stop being God’s child because we occasionally sin.

Sonship

Now, all that is well and good, but it’s up to us to implement the power of the Spirit in our lives. To put it another way, the Holy Spirit won’t force us to live right. Paul, again:

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it (the will of the Holy Spirit). For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14 | NIV84)

So the Christian has an obligation to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and when he does that he will be free from sin. Think of it as a test. If you are truly a child of God, then you will live by the leading of the Spirit on a day-to-day basis. This is crucial to understand, and is often missed by the emotion of these verses. It is a privilege to have been adopted by God; it is a privilege to call God your “Father.”

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15 | NIV84)

It’s a singular privilege that has been afforded to Christians ONLY. Only Christians have a right to refer to God as their “father,” or as Paul put it, “Abba, Father,” which is really just an informal, intimate way to address your Father. But with that privilege comes a heavy responsibility. If you want to continue calling God your “Father” and you wish to have that familial relationship with Him, then you have a responsibility – an obligation – to be led by the Spirit of God and not by your sinful nature.

But it’s a great blessing to be a child of God. And sometimes you may doubt that – sometimes, depending on your day, you may not feel like a child of God. God has a remedy for that:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17 | NIV84)

What a blessing it is to know beyond the shadow of any doubt that you are a child of God. God wants you to know it and to remember it, and God wants you understand the ramifications of being a child of God: You are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ. What that means is nothing less than staggering, given what we read in the book of Hebrews:

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2 | NIV84)

Jesus Christ is heir of all things, and so are we! There’s no other way to interpret what Paul wrote to the Romans. It sounds too good to be true, but here it is in black and white. We are co-heirs with Jesus Christ, simply by virtue of our faith in Him.

The now and the not yet

Obviously, God has done so much for us. Yet much of what Paul has written is in the future tense. Our future is full of glorious promises, but in the present, not so much.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18 | NIV84)

Life isn’t so glorious right now. Sometimes we suffer on account of our faith. But whatever suffering we encounter today is nothing compared to the life God has prepared for us in the future. What is involved in that “glorious” future? Consider:

No more sin and decay and death;
All of creation will be released from its captivity to corruption and death and restored to perfection, as in the days of Eden.

The final restoration of all of creation hinges on our final redemption. So great will be the glory of our final redemption, that all of creation is longing for it take place. Nature, as it exists to day is, to use Paul’s word, “frustrated,” in verse 20. That’s the English translation of the Greek word mataioteti, which means, “to no purpose,” or “against the norm.” Nature today is in a discordant key, but when we are finally glorified along with our Lord, nature will be like a harmonious symphony once again.

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Glory, Part 3

The word “glory” and variations of it are seen well over 500 times in the Bible. In this series, I’d like to look at a handful of those uses. For example, we looked at how Paul used the word one Colossians:

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | TNIV)

This “hope of glory” is something Christians have been looking forward to since the time Paul first used the phrase. The “hope of glory” is the hope of a glorious future in Jesus Christ. Your present is probably like mine: Less than glorious! There’s no glory in taking out the trash in the rain, or driving to work on pothole-laden roads, or pumping your own gas. There’s no glory in dealing with lazy, incompetent employees or getting chewed out by the boss for your incompetence. But, that our glorious future is assured in Jesus Christ is the hope we all have. One day, our faith will become sight and our beliefs will be vindicated.

Paul used the word again in his letter to the Philippians:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20, 21 | TNIV)

Most people see verse 21 and get excited because they see the promise of a “glorified body,” which means no more pain or suffering or any kind of physical shortcomings. But Paul’s meaning is much deeper than that. In the body, you can never please the Lord completely. You can never “measure up” to God’s righteous demands as long as you are living in your body. But one day, you old body of flesh, which is so easily led astray by sin, will be done away with – transformed in the twinkling of an eye – so that you will be actually like Jesus Christ.

In writing to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul used the word again like this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TNIV)

There’s plenty going on in those verses, so let’s read it from another version of Scripture:

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him! I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great his power is to help those who believe him. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TLB)

That may help a little, and hopefully you will see your significance in God’s sight. “God has been made rich because” we belong to Him. Bet you don’t think about that much, do you? Too often, you hear and sing phrases like this:

Would He devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?

Isaac Watts wrote than in 1885 of Christ dying for sinners. But a Christian isn’t a worm anymore; he’s been changed. Yet so many Christians cling to that “I am a worm” theology. You’re not! A worm isn’t valuable; you are! You have made God rich because you belong to Him. God has benefitted in some way because you have become His child.

The letter

The letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus has been called “sublime” and “grand” by Bible scholars for centuries. John Chrysostom (345-407) had this to say about Ephesians:

This Epistle is full to the brim of thoughts and doctrines sublime and momentous. For the things which scarcely anywhere else he utters, there he makes manifest.

Chrysostom is right. Paul covers ideas and notions in Ephesians he doesn’t mention elsewhere.

Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world during Paul’s day, and the church there attracted some pretty big name preachers. Paul was the first Christian preacher to bring the Gospel to its half-million citizens during his second missionary journey. After Paul, the very eloquent and refined Apollos took over the church for a while until Paul returned during his third missionary journey. Eventually, young Timothy assumed the pulpit in Ephesus, and near the end of the first century, John, the last surviving apostle, lived in Ephesus and preached in the church there.

Ephesus, with its large population, it’s bustling economy, it’s arts and culture, it’s medicine, and its great church would eventually vanish off the face of the earth. Nothing lasts forever; kingdoms, and great cities, rise and fall and sometimes disappear. Archaeologist’s have discovered the ruins of this once great metropolis, but today in the 21st century, we know about Ephesus and its great pagan temple and its glorious history largely because it was mentioned in the Bible.

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome around 60 AD. In all, the apostle wrote three letters from Rome while awaiting news from Caesar about his release. Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians were delivered to their respective destinations by the greatest mailman who ever lived, a fellow named Tychicus.

A powerful opening

The first few verses of this letter are among the most glorious doxologies found in Scripture.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3 – 6 | TNIV)

We learn something of great significance in that first sentence. Let’s look at it the KJV:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ…. (Ephesians 1:3 | KJV)

God has blessed us. We bless God because He first blessed us. As one Bible scholar noted:

Our blessing is a declaration. His blessings are deeds.

To be “blessed” in the Bible means to be filled with a sense of joy or happiness. We cause God to rejoice because He saved us and because He blesses us. We don’t often think of it that way. But God causes us to rejoice because we receive so much from Him and He rejoices when we turn around and bless Him on account of His blessings to us! That’s some power you have there, my friend! The power to bring a smile to your Heavenly Father’s face.

You’ll notice, though, that the blessings to which Paul is referring are not the temporal blessings you are given here – like the blessings of a good job or a family. These blessings are “in the heavenly realms” and are “spiritual” in nature. They are special blessings we receive because we are “in Christ,” because we are born again. Among those blessings would be things like: salvation, justification, sanctification, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so on. When you pause in your busy day to bless the Lord for those kinds of gifts, you’re making God’s day.

Verse 4 is one of those verses nobody really understands or likes. The sinner hates this verse because it speaks of being “chosen by God,” and that’s a repulsive thought to people who either don’t believe in God or think more of themselves than they do of God. The Christian usually gets it wrong because they don’t read every word, stopping after being told they were “chosen by God.” What Paul is saying here really is quite phenomenal. God’s way of salvation was planned in eternity past. God chose believers in Christ before He created the world, which means you and I didn’t do the choosing, God did the choosing. He didn’t choose us because we were worthy or because we were good. He chose us because we couldn’t choose Him. He chose us so we could do good in this world. The always quotable Charles Spurgeon wrote this:

God chose me before I was born into this world because if He’d waited until I got here, He never would have chosen me.

The point of verse 4 is simply this: We were chosen by God in Christ. That was the plan and God is sticking to it. There’s no other way to be chosen by God except to be in Christ. But the plan has a purpose, in addition to the obvious: To be holy and blameless in His sight. God chose us in order to sanctify us – to make us holy people – to separate us from the rest of the world. And God chose us to be “blameless.” Think about that for a moment. God sees us in Christ as being without blame. This means it’s God’s choice to change you, and that choice was made before He made anything else – including you, by the way.

Of course, that means if you’re a Christian, you have to manifest that change; you have to demonstrate that you are “in Christ,” that you are different person. If there’s no evidence that God has chosen you – if you haven’t changed – then you can’t be one of the elect. John, in a letter he wrote, put it this way:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1 – 6 | TNIV)

Succinct and to the point. Who says the Bible is hard to understand? “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

God’s glorious inheritance

It’s obvious that we, Christians, have been blessed in, as President Trump may say, “an incredibly huge way” by God. He has given us so much and done so much for us. And yet, in verse 18, out of the blue we read this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people… (Ephesians 1:18 | TNIV)

There’s a lot to digest in that verse. The thing that jumps off the page is that we, Christians, are “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.” Have you ever thought of yourself in that way before? You, like me, have always been taught that we bring nothing to God. That’s true, there’s nothing we have that God wants or needs. However, in Christ, we become valuable to God; we are worth something to Him, as long as we remain in Christ.

That concept is so deep and so profound, that Paul tells his friends in Ephesus that he will “pray that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened” so that they may understand their worth in Christ. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of the intelligence and will. Paul prays that their minds and wills may be “enlightened” so as to grasp what he’s telling them. You, my friend, are extremely valuable to God. You may wonder what your value is. It’s simply this: As you live right; as you live like the changed person you are in Christ, you will begin to reflect God’s glory in the world around you. You see, nobody can see God. But they can see you. You become valuable to God because you become His reflection on earth, pointing the lost to Him.

That’s a big deal, and hard to do. That’s why Paul went on to write this:

and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:19a | TNIV)

You have a power deep down inside of you, put there by God, to help you become the changed person He had made you to be. That power is “incomparable,” that is, you can’t compare it to any power on earth; there’s nothing in all the world like the power you hold. It’s the power to become the person God wants you to become; a person who reflects the light of His glory.

Now that is, as Chrysostom might have said, a “sublime and momentous” thought to consider!

Glory, Part 2

The word “glory” and variations of it are seen well over 500 times throughout the Bible. It’s a popular word that deserves our attention. Last time, we looked at how Paul used it in Colossians 1:27 –

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | NIV84)

The hope of glory” was the hope that Paul had; it’s the hope that all Christians have had since the early Church began – the hope that one day, our faith will become sight; that our beliefs – the beliefs that caused Paul to spend time in prison, that caused Stephen’s martyrdom, that caused so many Christians to suffer – will be completely vindicated and we will, like our Lord, will be glorified at His coming.

Closely related to that is Paul’s second use of the word “glory,” and we find it in Philippians:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21 | NIV84)

Verse 21 is almost too good to be true, especially for those of us suffering any kind of chronic pain or illness. Just imagine a day when when your joints no longer ache; when you can hear with crystal clarity; when you can see without having to find your glasses. Imagine the day when your body stops betraying you; stops breaking down; stops aging, and is remade in perfection. That’s what Paul is getting at in these two verses. Jesus Christ, our Lord, will, one day, transform our bodies – the bodies that have right now – into bodies like His glorified Body. It’s an amazing thing to think about; it’s almost inconceivable. Let’s take a look how stunning a teaching this really is by looking at why Paul wrote it.

A look a the city

Philippi had a long and glorious history even by Paul’s day. It was named after Philip, the father of Alexander. It was the scene of the battle between Brutus and Octavian, which gave birth to the Roman Empire in 42 B.C. Octavian (Augustus), the head of the new state, rebuilt Philippi and filled it with his Roman soldiers, making it a military outpost and colony of Rome.

The citizens of Philippi were Roman citizens and were granted special privileges, including the right of voting and of being governed by their own senate and magistrates rather than by the governor of the province. While the official language was Latin, Greek was the language commonly used. Philippi was, for all intents and purposes, a mini version of Rome. It was a cultural center, full of different religions and cultural expressions and the people tended to be on the superstitious side.

The church at Philippi was founded by Paul and his associates during his second missionary journey about A.D. 52. There weren’t many Jews in the city, and there was no synagogue. This meant that Paul was unable to follow his normal practice of preaching and teaching in the local synagogue. But, he did find a prayer meeting down by the river:

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. (Acts 13:13 | TNIV)

Lydia, a seller of purple fabric, was by the river that day and was the first convert and member of the new church. A slave girl, whose conversion brought a loss of profit to her masters, was another convert, and it was her conversion that resulted in the imprisonment of Paul and Silas. From the prison they prayed and sang praises to God and were set free by an earthquake. The prison keeper, seeing the power of God, was converted, with all his household (Acts 16:33).

That’s how the church in Philippi began. People became members of the congregation based on their confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nothing more. No hoops to jump through. No courses to take.

Trouble brewing

There was a problem simmering in the church, though, and that’s one reason why Paul wrote this letter.

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1 | TNIV)

Well, Paul certainly had a good attitude. It was no trouble for him to write this letter; it’s not like he could do much else, since he was in prison at the time! He was in prison for preaching the Gospel but he wrote this letter “as a safeguard” for his friends in Philippi. The problem there was a familiar one. Yet another false teaching had wormed its way into one of Paul’s congregations. And like all false teachings of the day, this one was a mixture of the true, seasoned by lies.

Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. (Philippians 3:2 | TNIV)

Those “dogs” were “evil doers” because the were encouraging Christians to mutilate their flesh. What does Paul mean by that? This was the false teaching and it was being pushed by converted Jews who thought that Christians needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. In other words, these people clung to parts of their old religion and tried to mix it into their new one. This false teaching, then, was a meshing together of Judaism and Christianity.

Now, Paul had encountered false teaching and false teachers before. In fact, most of his letters were occasioned by one false teaching or another. This one, though, was particularly troublesome because it involved cutting the flesh. It’s not that Paul didn’t believe it circumcision; as far as he was concerned only Christians were truly circumcised because it involved, not the flesh, but the spirit.

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your sinful nature was put off when you were circumcised by Christ…. (Colossians 2:11 | TNIV)

These false teachers, though, were all about outward signs; they were all about what could be done in the flesh and to the flesh. The Christian, by contrast, understands that the sinner is changed from the inside out; that mutilating the flesh has no spiritual value whatsoever. None.

You may not be able to relate to this particular false teaching, but there are modern parallels you may be familiar with. Silas, the evil albino monk in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, for example, is seen flagellating himself while praying; whipping himself with a cat-tail whip made of knotted cord, flung over the shoulder until it draws blood. It’s a strange sight, but it didn’t come from Mr Brown’s fertile imagination. Historically, there have been movements that taught that mutilating the flesh purged sin from the soul. In the Roman Catholic Church, they were known as The Flagellants. Pope John Paul was one who practiced this bizarre ritual.

But Paul the apostle condemned such rituals. In his mind, faith in Jesus Christ was all that was necessary for salvation. That was quite a statement for Paul to make, and he certainly knew what he was talking about, considering his past. Here was a man who had, in the past, fulfilled the Jewish law right down to the minutest detail.

If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. (Philippians 3:4 – 6 | TNIV)

If anybody knew about obeying the rules and regulations, Paul did. These false teachings were nothing new to Paul; he’d heard them all before. And here’s what he thought them:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7 | TNIV)

Paul is using the language of commerce here. The English “gains” is the Greek kerde, and is plural, but “loss,” or zemian is singular. Before his conversion, Paul had placed on the credit side of his ledger all of the supposed advantages of his religion, thinking that each one had some spiritual value in itself, and he would remind God of these virtues one at a time. Here is the very essence of sin. Man is so full of himself that he has no room left for the Spirit. He trusts his intellectual acumen, his humanistic ideals, his personal virtues, his disciplined life, his honesty, and even his religious exercises—and holds them up to God as though they merited salvation.

In contrast, repentance is to become horrified at one’s past and present life.. Paul on the Damascus road saw that this native trust in his own achievements merited such horror; it was more of a hindrance than a help. When he found Christ – or Christ found him – he transferred these former works from the credit side of the ledger to the debit side, considering all of them together as one great loss. As the sailor throws everything overboard in a storm to save his life, so Paul tossed overboard every bit of personal merit “for the of Christ.”

And that’s the attitude the congregation in Philippi needed to have. Instead of going backward and retrieving the law that they had tossed overboard for Christ, they needed to forget about all that junk and concentrate on moving forward in the faith, as Paul was doing.

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12b – 14 | TNIV)

That’s what Paul was doing, and that’s what the good folks in Philippi should have been doing, instead of entertaining false teachers and their false teaching.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippi 3:15, 16 | TNIV)

That’s brilliant advice from a man who thought a lot about interpersonal relationships. Mature people, Paul says, press on; they look ahead, they don’t go backward. Mature Christians may disagree on some points, and if they do, they should pray about it and God would make things clear. But most of all, according to Paul, Christians need to live up to their confession. If you confessed Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then live like you believe it.

Two destinies

Living what you believe means not paying attention to false teachers and their teachings. Here’s another reason why:

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19 | TNIV)

Those aren’t the kind of people Christians should be paying attention to. Christians should be paying attention to Paul and those who are living out their faith according to the Scriptures. And, if you need another reason to avoid false teachers and their wacky ideas is this:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…. (Philippians 3:20 | TNIV)

In other words, we don’t belong here; we just visiting this planet, to borrow a phrase from Jellybean, a.k.a. John Benitez. If we don’t belong here, we should be careful how involved we become in worldly things, like the mutilation of our flesh or our participation man-made religions. Why get involved with those things if they are of no eternal, spiritual value.

That finally gets us to the verse that is reason for this teaching:

who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:21 | TNIV)

That’s a final stab at the false teacher who says a Christian must mutilate or alter his body in order to be saved. Paul says, “Don’t do it! Jesus is coming and HE, not you, will transform your pathetic body into one like His.” So just wait! Before you put a knife to yourself, remember that Jesus can do a better job. Jesus will give you a new body that will be glorified, just like His.

Glory! Part 1

According to the only dictionary that matters, The Oxford English Dictionary, the word “glory” means, among other things, the following:

High renown or honor won by notable achievements;
• Magnificence or great beauty;
• A thing that is beautiful, impressive, or worthy of praise;
• The splendor or bliss of heaven.

Who would argue with the great Oxford English Dictionary? The Bible has a lot to say about “glory.” In the Old Testament, “glory” looks like this: כָּבֹוד, and sounds roughly like this: “kabowd.” This Hebrew word suggests heaviness and weight. In the New Testament the Greek word is δόξα, or “doxa,” and suggests an opinion, judgment, estimate, splendor, and brightness.

So generally speaking, “glory” is used to speak of great honor, praise, value, wonder, and splendor. Glory is the “excellence” of anything in display. For example, the Heavens declare the glory of God’s creative skill. The miracles of Christ displayed the glory of what He could do. Here’s what John thought about Jesus’ very first miracle:

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11 | NIV84)

To study each use of “glory” in the Bible would take forever; it’s used over 500 times! So we’ll look at a handful of examples of how the Bible uses this fascinating word.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | NIV84)

There’s another word in that verse that is almost as fascinating as “glory” and that’s the word “hope.” A quick peak back in the Oxford English Dictionary tell us that “hope” means:

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen;
• A person or thing that may help or save someone;
• Grounds for believing that something good may happen;
• A feeling of trust.

What is this “hope of glory?” Where does it come from? What does it involve? Let’s take a closer look at what Paul was trying to tell his friends in the Colossians church and how it impacts us, as 21st century Christians.

Distinctions

To say that Paul was a combative preacher could be an understatement. He had moments where he let his softer side show, but here in Colossians Paul is at war:

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 2:1 | NIV84)

He was “struggling,” meaning that Paul was fighting for his friends and for people who never met him. He was “doing battle” for believers all over. Paul understood spiritual warfare, perhaps better than most:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12 | NIV84)

In this letter, Paul is doing battle against false teaching. He spent a lot of time fighting false teaching and false teachers, and here in Colossians the false teaching that had gripped the Colossian church was particularly sinister. It was a melding together of Christian, Jewish, and oriental beliefs; a version of Gnosticism that taught faith in Jesus wasn’t enough to produce salvation; that Jesus was a superior, created being – better than man but less than God. You’d wonder why Christians taught by Paul would be so quick to swallow this heresy. The problem was that in cultures and societies that were so pagan, some elements of Gnosticism were very attractive and familiar to Christians. For example, there was a emphasis on religious externals on observing religious traditions and practices. There was an emphasis on the supernatural; on angels and supernatural beings.

When you understand the background of this letter and what Paul was up against, it puts this whole paragraph into perspective:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 | NIV84)

Paul was not simply saying nice things about Jesus for no good reason, this is Paul doing battle against all the false teachers and false teaching that had infiltrated the church in Colosse. He was fighting lies with the truth.

And the great apostle had to remind the congregation at Colosse what the truth was; the truth that was verified by their own experiences. It’s curious how so many Christians seem to forget the fundamentals of their salvation the longer they are saved. That’s why we need to read the Bible over and over again, and we need to teach it and study it all the time. The truth, as precious and life changing as it may be, is easily forgotten or challenged by fancy-sounding false truths. One truth forgotten at Colosse was this one:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23 | NIV84)

The work of Christ in context

That’s a brilliant defense of the Gospel, but the reason for it is sad. There was a good chance a sizable chunk of the congregation had forgotten these most basic facts of Christ’s work on the Cross for repentant sinners. It’s completely objective – you were the object of Christ’s work on the Cross; He did certain things for you that you could never have done for yourself. There was no way you or any sinner could become a friend of God’s. You were, as all sinners are, enemies of God. But because of Christ’s physical body, that is, because He bore your punishment physically, you are able, through faith in Christ, to stand before God holy and without blemish and free from accusation. That’s confidence! But your confidence is rooted in Christ’s objective work for you. In another place, Paul put it this way:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2a | NIV84)

Being able to stand in God’s grace, confident that He sees you free from your sins and the guilt of those sins, is possible only through the faith you have placed in Jesus Christ’s work for you on the Cross. You, and all sinners who by faith have trusted in Him, were why the Lord suffered and died on the Cross.

A great many people, like these Gnostics of Paul’s day and many religious people today, think that man has to do something in order to curry God’s favor. But it doesn’t work that way. You can’t help enough people to tip the scales in your favor. You can’t pray enough, you can’t give enough money, you can’t live good enough to get God to even notice you, let alone save you. God, on the other hand, has done everything to get you to notice Him.

With verse 24, there is a change:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24 | NIV84)

Does that sound right to you? It sounds like Paul is saying that he is rejoicing because of his suffering – he was in prison for preaching the Gospel when he wrote this letter – because he was doing something that was lacking in what Christ did. Is that possible? Christ didn’t do enough so Paul had to step in and do more? Of course that would contradict everything Paul believed and taught in Colossians. The sufferings of Paul were not redemptive – his suffering produced no salvation for anybody, not even himself. But there are different kinds of suffering. Specifically, there is ministerial suffering and mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering was mediatorial; He was our mediator and He suffered for us. In fact, Jesus suffered more than any human being ever did, for He suffered as the Son of Man and as the Son of God. As a man, He suffered all things every human has to suffer. Galatians 6:5 tells us something very interesting:

for each one should carry his own load. (Galatians 6:5 | NIV84)

And sometimes that load is heavy. Sometimes it’s painful. That’s life though, isn’t it? There are things we go through in life nobody can help us with. Terrible things that we endure alone. Some pain cant be taken away by your Mother or by alcohol and drugs. Jesus endured all those things as each of us does.

But then He also suffered as the Son of God; He experienced suffering to a degree you never can. He is God yet He became a man to experience all the suffering you do with the knowledge He didn’t have to. No mere mortal has ever endured anything even close to what Jesus did for you.

He also suffered as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death clears the books. That kind of suffering is unique to Jesus. His sacrificial death wipes the slate the clean.

None of that is what Paul was talking about. Paul was talking about something called ministerial suffering. This is the kind of suffering all believers may share in. If you’re going to live right and if you’re going to take your faith seriously, eventually you will have to take an unpopular stand that may result in your suffering on account of your faith. One scholar put it this way:

The world will damn the man of God with faint praise, and they will praise him with faint damns.

Paul, for his part, wrote it another way to the Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (Romans 8:35-36a | NIV84)

So, to this Colossian church that had forgotten the essentials of theology; who had begun to embrace this terrible false teaching, Paul was reminding them both of Christ’s unique greatness but also of the work he was doing and the suffering he was going through for Christians everywhere.

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness–the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:25-26 | NIV84)

The “mystery” Paul was referring to was of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus. The one the Gnostics said was not God but merely a better man, was in fact God Himself – as Paul has been teaching and preaching everywhere:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10 | NIV84)

To this “mystery” Paul was absolutely committed. Jesus Christ: man and God at the same time. The final authority in the universe is Jesus Christ. And that gets us to the “hope of glory,” because that concerns us.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | NIV84)

Did you know that knowing Jesus Christ as the Son of God is “glorious” and “rich?” That’s what Paul is saying here. We spend a lifetime chasing riches and glory, yet when we possess the knowledge of who Jesus is, we possess the wealth of eternity! And though some of us may be a predicament like Paul was in – suffering on account of our faith – and though we don’t feel real rich, we possess something else: “the hope of glory.” There’s no glory in serving the Lord right now, but that will come later. The “hope of glory” is the promise of a future filled with life and light and vindication. But, you must ensure that you have got your faith built on the firm foundation of proper theology.

Who Is God, Part 6

We’ve come to the end of another series, and hopefully you’ve learned some things you didn’t know before or been reminded of things you’ve forgotten. It’s essential that we know as much as is possible about our God if we want to have the best relationship possible with Him. But there’s another reason to know God better. Paul wrote to Timothy about it.

For everything God made is good, and we may eat it gladly if we are thankful for it, and if we ask God to bless it, for it is made good by the Word of God and prayer. If you explain this to the others you will be doing your duty as a worthy pastor who is fed by faith and by the true teaching you have followed. Don’t waste time arguing over foolish ideas and silly myths and legends. Spend your time and energy in the exercise of keeping spiritually fit. Bodily exercise is all right, but spiritual exercise is much more important and is a tonic for all you do. So exercise yourself spiritually, and practice being a better Christian because that will help you not only now in this life, but in the next life too. This is the truth and everyone should accept it. We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe it, for our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted his salvation. (1 Timothy 4:4 – 10 | TLB)

Paul was warning Timothy, a young pastor, about false teaching and false teachers. False teachers love to foist their weird ideas on everybody. These false teachers of Paul’s day were running around teaching all manner of foolishness that some Christians were actually buying. Things like marriage is bad, exercising all day is good, and some foods are bad and should be avoided at all costs. Paul would have none it. He said, “Everything God made is good.” Period. No exceptions. And the Christian shouldn’t waste his time doing things that matter very little in the face of eternity. Don’t place your hope for a good life on your retirement accounts. Don’t place your hope for a good life on never eating fatty foods…on exercising eight days a week…or faithfully using your blue trash bin, or abstaining from this or that. Paul couldn’t be clearer: “Our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted his salvation.” That’s right. Hope for today and for the future isn’t in your spouse or your church or your philosophy. It’s got to be in God Himself. And if you want to have genuine, sincere hope in the living God, you need to know Him. It’s too bad that so many Christians know what false teachers are teaching – and even false teachers themselves – better than God and His Word.

Knowledge: The best defense

Peter was a friend of Paul’s and he also understood the importance of knowing God and His Word.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 | TNIV)

When you read Peter’s two letters, it becomes clear that as far as he was concerned, the best defense is a good offense. Like Paul’s warning to young Timothy, Peter wrote about the dangers of false teachers and false teaching. His major concern was that his readers – young, immature Christians – would find false teaching alluring and be led astray by it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Becoming rock steady in your beliefs begins with something Peter mentioned almost in passing in verse 2:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2 | TNIV)

Those first two words, “grace” and “peace” are important and shouldn’t be glossed over too quickly. Since I’ve spent considerable time defining them, I won’t do that again, except to note their order. It’s always “grace” then “peace.” You can never experience the God’s “peace that passes all understanding” until you have received His amazing “grace.” Grace always comes first; it is always the starting point for anything we receive from God. Salvation, blessings, answers to prayer, anything you can think of comes after God’s grace.

But now notice what comes next. Peter wants his readers to have “grace” and “peace” in abundance. That means He wants them to literally overflow with those things. The key to experiencing overflowing “grace” and “peace” is not necessarily praying for them but through acquiring more knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. It was Sir Francis Bacon, the man with one of the best last names ever, who wrote this famous quote in one of his works:

ipsa scientia potestas est

You probably know it like this: “Knowledge itself is power.” And in the case the Christian, that is certainly true, but it’s a very specific knowledge: Knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ will lead to an ever-increasing supply of “grace” and “peace.” In case you think this was all Peter’s idea, here’s Paul’s version of it:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8 – 11 | TNIV)

Of course, Paul being Paul used many more words than did Peter to say essentially the same thing. But even before Paul and Peter there was a fellow named Daniel who made a very similar observation from the courts of Babylon:

And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. (Daniel 11:32 | KJV)

Daniel is writing about the end times and the Antichrist, but his point is well-taken. People who know their God will be strong and do great exploits. And it follows that a Christian who doesn’t know the Lord all that well will not be strong and will do very little for Him. In all, the words “knowledge” and “know” are used over a dozen times in Peter’s letter and it refers to a personal knowledge; knowing a person for who he or she is, not from what you can glean from a classroom or a text book. Knowing God can never be a theoretical or academic exercise. This kind of knowledge comes from both understanding God’s Word and experiencing the presence of God and of His grace on a continuous basis.

Spiritual provision

So far in this letter, knowing God and knowing His Word form the best defense against falling to false teaching. But the next couple of verses give us two profound truths.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3,4 | TNIV)

The two profound truths are these: Knowledge of God and promises of God and both of these things are involved in living a holy life.

Knowledge of God

God has provided everything necessary for a Christian to lead the good life – a life that is Godly and righteous. This fact, that God gives you the resources to live right, shouldn’t surprise anybody. Christ draws all people into a relationship with Him, and His power enables them to respond.

God’s “divine power” is really the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and it is this exact same power that works in our lives.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11 | TNIV)

God, through the Holy Spirit, empowers you to live a godly life; making you strong and giving you spiritual victories. This power is accessed through “our knowledge of him.” Please note that, because it’s not what most Christians think. Their answer to righteous living is to “pray about it.” That’s church-speak for, “I don’t want to do any of the work, I want God to do it all.” There are a lot of lazy Christians like that, and this type of believer will talk a blue streak about how much they pray, yet a closer examination of their lives shows they know very little about God and are generally unimpressive in the things they do for God. Knowing God means reading and studying His Word. You can’t know about God by listening to sermons or reading books about Him, although you should be doing both.  But knowing God is a supernatural transaction: You do your part by reading and studying the Bible, and God does His part by illuminating that Word in your heart. It’s that intimate knowledge of Christ that gives us power to live and to grow. Everything – everything – you need to live a successful, victorious, powerful Christian life is found in Christ, and when you find Christ as Lord and Savior, you receive those things. You are made complete in Him.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9, 10 | TNIV)

But all that divine provision is activated by knowledge of Him gained in through the Scriptures.

Promises of God

The second great truth involves the promises of God. At salvation, we receive everything we need to live a godly life, but also priceless spiritual promises. In the Bible, there are really two kinds of promises from God. The first group of promises flow into our lives when we accept Christ as Savior. Some of those promises are things like these:

Forgiveness of sins – past, present, and future;
Adoption by God;
Spiritual growth by the Holy Spirit;
Comfort during the hard times;
Provision of our needs;
The sure hope of Heaven when we die;
Resurrection of our bodies when the Lord returns;
Reigning with Him in His kingdom.

That list is by no means exhaustive, but you get the idea. Nothing we do impacts those promises. Those are gifts from God that we can’t earn. But in addition to promises like those, Christians may receive promises based on their actions. For example, there is the promise that we will become like Christ. That starts with the new birth, but after that it’s up to us to do the things that cause us to grow into Christ-likeness. That’s why the very next group of verses go like this:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5 – 7 | TNIV)

As Lou Barbieri wrote that the Christian life if like the use of power steering on a car. The engine provides the power for the steering, but the driver must actually turn the wheel. Without the engine, it’s almost impossible to steer your car. Without the supernatural power provided by God, living the Christian is almost impossible. The Lord provides the power to run our lives, but we must turn the wheel. In a very real sense, the Christian really does determine the course of his life.

This is a wonderful and often overlooked aspect of God’s character. He will do so much for us, all we have to do our part.

Who Is God, Part 5

We’ve been looking at some aspects of God’s character and nature, not because He is mildly interesting, but because understanding God is absolutely essential if you, as a Christian, want to have the fullest, most meaningful, most honest relationship with Him as possible. And it’s not like God is a mystery! If He is a mystery as some think He is, then the Bible is full of lies. Here’s what Paul thought about the issue of whether or not God is a mystery:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18 – 20 | TNIV)

Those three verses are either comforting or scary, depending on the spiritual state of the person reading them! In truth, these verses deal with people – Gentiles, not Jews – who didn’t have the Scriptures. For the Jew, things were a little different; they were the custodians of God’s Word, in which God revealed Himself to them. But the Gentiles were a completely different story. How was God dealing with people who never heard the Gospel or saw a copy of the Scriptures? This section of Romans 1 is just as relevant today as it was when Paul wrote it. We are living in what has been called the “post Christian world,” a time unprecedented in world history. For the first time ever, the majority of those living in the West have no knowledge of the Bible. Others prefer to think of this modern era as “the twilight of Western thought,” and that’s a good label, too. Young people today – from the so-called Millennials on down – have no clue how the Bible has shaped the Western world. From the arts to education to governance to science to even warfare, the pages of the Scripture have shaped Western attitudes and philosophies.

Where once the Bible was taught in public schools (oh, the horror!), now not only is it ignored in public schools, but it is disparaged. One time, not so long ago, a young person with a very limited knowledge of the Bible, knowledge gained in school, understood that he was a sinner who needed God; he had a sense of morality and ethics. We’ll never know how many seeds of salvation planted in elementary school through the most casual of references to the Bible took root that resulted in salvation later on in life.

In Romans, Paul brilliantly explains how God revealed Himself to people who have never had even a glimpse at a Bible. He explains that some people may wonder why they need to be saved. You probably know people like that. They’re good citizens; good parents; decent and as honest as the day is long. They’ve never read the Bible so they have no idea they’re doomed for Hell. For people like that, God’s solution is simple: His wrath is revealed all around them; they are literally living under God’s wrath. But they deny the truth. For example, every living thing all around such a person is dropping dead. Plants, animals, friends and family members. Such tragedies invariably cause a person to think about themselves and their future. But, as Paul wrote, they deny the truth – they refuse to think too much about it. Like the person who keeps putting off making a will, the sinner who doesn’t take notice of what God is revealing all around them, may find out one day it’s just too late.

Paul’s point is clear: Because God has always been revealing Himself to the world, specifically His wrath, people are without excuse. The Jew is without excuse because they had the Scriptures, and Gentiles are without excuse because His wrath is all in the world all around them.

So far is this series, we discussed that fact that God is holy; that God is love; that God the Father and the Son are the same; and that God dwells in all believers as the Holy Spirit, who empowers them to serve Him. And now, we’ll take a look at an aspect of God’s character that some people find surprising. It goes along with what Paul was writing about in Romans 1 and it deals with the revelation of God’s will. Just like God’s character is no mystery, God’s will isn’t really a mystery, either. In Hebrews, we read this:

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20, 21 | TNIV)

Presumably, if God is going to equip you to do His will, then His will must be knowable. Let’s take a look at what that means, from the perspective of the one who wrote this letter to some Hebrew Christians.

Perspective

It frequently surprises Christians when I say that God’s will is no mystery, but it really isn’t. That, of course, doesn’t mean it’s always easy to discern. In fact, often it’s not. God’s will in a general sense is a piece of cake: Christians should live lives that glorify God and help their fellow man. But the specifics of God’s will take a little work to figure out. Maybe that’s why the author of this letter wrote this:

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. (Hebrews 13:18 | TNIV)

The “us” refers to the writer of the letter and those with him (or her). No serious believer engaged in the work of God can do so without knowing God’s will, and sometimes you need the prayers of others for that. Their consciences were clear. They were doing their level best to live according to the will of God. Not only that, they genuinely wanted to live honorably in every way. For the believer, that necessarily means living in accordance to His will.

That request, “pray for us,” should never be taken lightly. Believers ought to be praying about and seeking after God’s will and they ought to be praying for other believers that they may discover God’s will for them and live it.

Power

The benediction, which begins with verse 20, is one of the best in all of Scripture. The writer of Hebrews has discovered that, in spite of it all, he served a “God of peace.” That’s a beautiful way to describe our Lord. The word is shalom, and means much more than just the absence of strife. The peace that God give us permeates our whole being; it’s a restful mind, a quiet confidence that informs the soul that no matter what’s going on, things will be fine because, after all, God’s got everything under control. Of this amazing peace, we are told that is “the peace that passes all understanding,” because it doesn’t make any sense. When everybody around you thinks you should be angry or sad or frightened and you’re not, it doesn’t make sense to them. But it makes sense to you because God has given you His shalom.

The peace that we enjoy is guaranteed by the work of Jesus Christ. Or in other words, God’s peace depends on HIM, not on us; not on anything we do – like taking a vacation or getting pumped up on one drug or another. He is described as a shepherd and we are the sheep. No wonder we can live in peace with the world around us! Unlike those sheep without a shepherd, we have the Great Shepherd keeping watch over us. This is not an empty metaphor; it’s a statement of unassailable fact: Jesus Christ IS our Great Shepherd. He watches over us. He knows what’s going on in our lives. He knows ours needs. We are safe and secure because our Shepherd has shed His blood, making an eternal covenant with His sheep. Part of that covenant looks like this:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”. (Hebrews 13:5 | TNIV)

The writer of this letter is quoting from Deuteronomy, and a look at the whole quote will show you the context. Joshua was about to lead the people into the Promised Land, and here’s what God said to him:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”. (Deuteronomy 31:6 | TNIV)

That was God’s word of encouragement and promise to Joshua, and it’s for us, too. And we have it better than Joshua ever did! We have the Great Shepherd; he didn’t. We not only the word of God’s promise, but we have a guarantee to that promise: Jesus Christ.

But our Good Shepherd does more than just keep watch on the sheep; He actually empowers the sheep to do God’s will. That’s an amazing statement. Leaving the metaphor, what the writer of Hebrews is getting at is really quite profound. God enables His people to carry out His will. He gives them all the resources necessary to live a life completely in accordance to His will. For the Christian, knowing God’s will and doing God’s will are the most important things.  Whatever else may be happening in your life, nothing is as important as the will of God. That’s why, for example, the Lord’s Prayer includes, “Thy will be done.”

But here’s the thing Hebrews is teaching. It is essential Christians do the will of God. Yet even as they go about doing God’s will – which is way more than just doing good works, although good works are part of it – it is God who is working with the Christian to get it done. We work, and God works in us to do His will. It’s a win-win for believers. I have no idea why so many Christians find God’s will onerous. It isn’t. It’s not difficult to know, and it’s not difficult to do when we understand it’s God enabling you to do so. We do the work, but it is really God working in us. It’s the amazing concursus of grace. Another passage makes it even clearer:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12, 13 | TNIV)

Even as God expects us to live according to His will, He creates within us the ability to do it, and sometimes He creates the conditions around us to bring about His will. Just imagine what the world would look like if Christians – all Christians – took seriously this issue of God’s will. Just imagine what your life would look like if you took seriously God’s will.

Who Is God, Part 4

God is holy. God is love. God the Father and the Son are One. These are some profound truths about our God. They are essential to know if you desire a full, balanced, and rewarding relationship with Him. If you believe in God, yet believe in error concerning some point of doctrine, your relationship with Him will never be what it could be. The enemy of all believers is really ignorance.

Here’s another doctrine surrounding God, though it is itself its own doctrine:

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection. (Acts 1:8 | TLB)

That’s our Lord speaking to His disciples shortly before He left them. He called the coming of the Holy Spirit, “the promise of the Father,” and this promise would be fulfilled in the very next chapter:

Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. (Acts 2:1 – 4 | TLB)

This amazing “promise of the Father” was really the promise of power; power to testify about Jesus Christ. And it takes supernatural power to share your faith with others. It’s not easy to be a witness for Christ, especially in these days of intolerance, laughably called “tolerant,” and political correctness, which is anything but correct. The disciples were promised power to share Jesus with the lost, and within a chapter, the believers gathered in the Upper Room were baptized in and filled with the Holy Spirit, who gave them that promised power to “speak in languages they didn’t know.” Onlookers were amazed; they thought this group was drunk! But others had another reaction:

How can this be?” they exclaimed. “For these men are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking all the native languages of the lands where we were born! (Acts 2:7, 8 | TLB)

We can discuss what “speaking in tongues” is all about another time, but for now, what happened here on this particular Day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of what Jesus had spoken of earlier. His followers were given the miraculous ability to speak other languages so that the Gospel could be heard by the thousands of visitors in Jerusalem for the celebrations.

But is this first recorded incident of the Holy Spirit enabling believers to do the will and work of God? Or is what happened in Acts just another incident in a precedent already set by God? There’s an obscure verse found in the writings of an ever more obscure Old Testament prophet:

Then he said, “This is God’s message to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty-you will succeed because of my Spirit, though you are few and weak.’” (Zechariah 4:6 | TLB)

A famous quote, which evangelical scholar D.A. Carson claims his father, a Canadian minister, coined, should be kept in mind when you’re studying any particular verse, but especially a verse like this one. The quote goes like this:

A text without a context is just a pretext.

With that clever maxim in mind, let’s look at just what prompted the prophet Zechariah to say what he said.

Who was this Zechariah?

Unlike a lot of minor prophets, we actually know some important things about Zechariah.

Subject: messages from the Lord. These messages from the Lord were given to Zechariah (son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo the prophet) in early November of the second year of the reign of King Darius. (Zechariah 1:1 | TLB)

Right away we know that Zechariah, whose name means “Jehovah remembers,” was a professional prophet, who came from a long line of prophets. And we know that he was preaching during the reign of King Darius. King Darius was the Mede who let the Jews return to their homeland after the 70 years of captivity had run its course. So, now we know the date of Zechariah’s ministry: 520 BC.

In the historical book of Nehemiah, we read of various priests who left Babylon to return to the land of Israel after King Darius issued his decree:

Here is a list of the priests who accompanied Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah.

The following were the clan leaders of the priests who served under the High Priest Joiakim: Meraiah, leader of the Seraiah clan; Hananiah, leader of the Jeremiah clan; Meshullam, leader of the Ezra clan; Jehohanan, leader of the Amariah clan; Jonathan, leader of the Malluchi clan; Joseph, leader of the Shebaniah clan; Adna, leader of the Harim clan; Helkai, leader of the Meraioth clan; Zechariah, leader of the Iddo clan; Meshullam, leader of the Ginnethon clan; Zichri, leader of the Abijah clan; Piltai, leader of the Moadiah and Miniamin clans; Shammua, leader of the Bilgah clan; Jehonathan, leader of the Shemaiah clan; Mattenai, leader of the Joiarib clan; Uzzi, leader of the Jedaiah clan; Kallai, leader of the Sallai clan; Eber, leader of the Amok clan; Hashabiah, leader of the Hilkiah clan; Nethanel, leader of the Jedaiah clan. (Nehemiah 12:1 – 7; 12 – 21 | TLB)

Now we have some historical and geographical context. Zechariah was likely a young man in 520 B.C. and had come to Jerusalem as a child in a caravan from Babylon. The Book of Ezra sheds a little more light on what young Zechariah’s ministry was all about:

But there were prophets in Jerusalem and Judah at that time-Haggai, and Zechariah (the son of Iddo)-who brought messages from the God of Israel to Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) and Jeshua (son of Jozadak), encouraging them to begin building again! So they did and the prophets helped them. (Ezra 5:1, 2 | TLB)

He, along with his pal Haggai, who also has a book in the Bible, were recruited by God to encourage Zerubbabel, who was a kind of civil governor, in getting on with the daunting task of rebuilding the Temple, which had lain in ruins for some 70 years; since the Babylonians had invaded Judah and Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar, who hauled off most of the Jews to Babylon as exiles.

The Jews that had returned home faced many hardships. Not only the Temple, but most of Jerusalem and Judah had been destroyed and the land overrun by squatters, who weren’t overjoyed that they had come home. The surrounding nations didn’t want the Jews to rebuild and did their best to discourage that from happening. You can imagine how depressing it must have been to see your parent’s home a pile of rubble. The Jews that had left their homes and jobs in Babylon only to face poverty, homelessness, and very real danger, were discouraged, frightened, and frustrated.

And on top of everything else, when Darius issued the decree allowing the Jews to return home, many, probably most of them, didn’t want to leave Babylon. They had lived in exile for 70 years. That means the generation that had lived in Judah and had seen the glory of the Temple, was long gone. Those who chose to return had no memory of living in Judah; no memory of the Temple. Two generations had grown up in exile. They now had homes and jobs and families. You can read about this in the book of Esther. They were prospering in what was Babylon, and had no desire to leave their lives to return to….what? A pile of rubble? So, you can see that the intrepid group that did return to Israel was the minority. They were the group going against popular opinion. These few exiles, in returning home, were swimming against the current.

A parable’s meaning

The first part of chapter 4 is devoted to a strange vision or parable that Zechariah had involving lampstands and olive trees. This was the fifth vision Zechariah had, and if you think it was a confusion one, you’re not alone. Even the prophet didn’t understand what God was showing him.

What is it, sir?” I asked. “What does this mean?” “Don’t you really know?” the angel asked. “No, sir,” I said, “I don’t.”. (Zechariah 4:4, 5 | TLB)

In answer to Zechariah’s question, the angel responded in a very curious way because he didn’t seem to answer the question:

Then he said, “This is God’s message to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty-you will succeed because of my Spirit, though you are few and weak.’ Therefore no mountain, however high, can stand before Zerubbabel! For it will flatten out before him! And Zerubbabel will finish building this Temple with mighty shouts of thanksgiving for God’s mercy, declaring that all was done by grace alone.”. (Zechariah 4:6, 7 | TLB)

That was God’s word of encouragement to an overwhelmed Zerubbabel: Don’t worry about your circumstances (the mountain), because God’s Spirit will give you success.

That’s what the vision was all about. As the lamp was fed with oil without human effort, so God’s Temple would be rebuilt and restored, not by the strength or ingenuity of Zerubbabel or anybody else, but by the power and provision of God. Now, of course, the people had to work, and they did, and it was hard work. The Temple wasn’t going to miraculously appear. But God’s promise was that success was guaranteed.

By the power of God’s Spirit working through human agents, like Zerubbabel and all those who engaged in the arduous task of building the Temple, the mountains of obstacles that stood in the way would be flattened.

But in that coming day, no weapon turned against you shall succeed, and you will have justice against every courtroom lie. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. This is the blessing I have given you, says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:17 | TLB)

Jesus Himself encouraged His followers with a similar admonition:

In reply Jesus said to the disciples, “If you only have faith in God-this is the absolute truth-you can say to this Mount of Olives, ‘Rise up and fall into the Mediterranean,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and have no doubt! Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours! (Matthew 11:22 – 24 | TLB)

Of course, we know there are caveats to what Jesus said. But His point is well taken. If you have the faith, pray in faith believing, and praying in the Spirit according to God’s will, you can’t lose. Recall what Paul said about this very topic:

And in the same way-by our faith-the Holy Spirit helps us with our daily problems and in our praying. For we don’t even know what we should pray for nor how to pray as we should, but the Holy Spirit prays for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows, of course, what the Spirit is saying as he pleads for us in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans. What can we ever say to such wonderful things as these? If God is on our side, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:26 – 28; 31 | TLB)


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