Posts Tagged 'Holiness'

Peter and Jude, Part 1

Peter wrote two letters that we know of and Jude wrote one. In the world of New Testament epistles, Paul gets all the press but Peter and Jude had some very significant things to say to Christians. And these three letters are very similar, and because of that, they are frequently studied together.

We’ll begin our look at these letters by looking at what Peter had to say about “hope.” Robert Schuller, who pastored his Crystal Cathedral for an astounding 55 years, had this to say about “hope”:

Let your hope, not your hurts, shape your future.

That sounds good, but it only works when your “hope” is built on the right foundation. I prefer what Mote had to say about the topic:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

And then there’s what Peter said:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (1 Peter 1:3 | NIV84)

Born again to hope

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1, 2 | NIV84)

Peter was an interesting man who had an interesting career. He was a fisherman who had been called by Jesus Christ to become a “fisher of men.” Doremus Hayes, theologian, once described Peter as being: “…a likeable man…a hasty man…a going man…a loyal man…a “rock” man…a growing man…the Apostle of Hope.” He was certainly all those things at various times in his life and career.

The recipients of this letter are described as “God’s elect” by Peter. The Biblical doctrine of “election” bothers some Christians and has been a source of conflict among Bible scholars for generations. The Bible teaches “election.” In fact, you can find three kinds of Biblical election, according to Benjamin Field:

• The election of people to perform certain kinds of service;
• The election of nations or groups of people to receive religious blessings;
• A personal election of people to be the children of God and the heirs of eternal glory.

The third form of “election” is the one Peter is referring to. But this “election” of some to salvation does not exclude others from this blessing. God’s election and predestination are tremendous provisions and blessings for all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not an arbitrary predetermination of those who can believe. All who confess Christ become the “elect,” living with the realization that God will enable them to live victoriously on earth and enter eternity to stand before the Lord as His chosen.

That’s the foundation of the hope Peter’s readers had, and it should be foundation of your hope, too. Peter was writing to Christians living in horrible conditions. Although Nero had yet to begin his persecution of Christians, animosity toward them was growing in intensity. If any people needed some encouragement and to be reminded of the hope they have in Christ, it was the people to whom this letter was written.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3 – 5 | NIV84)

The “living hope” of the believer is based on his personal relationship with Jesus Christ – the living Savior. The hope of these believers, living in tumultuous, uncertain times, was in the One who triumphed over His circumstances; He rose from the dead. That’s not an insignificant declaration. We, as Christians, have a living hope because our hope is in a living Savior!

But that hope we share with Peter’s readers is also in the fact that we are part of God’s family, and are therefore heirs to the glorious inheritance of God! Everything He has is ours. This would have been a big deal to Peter’s readers, many of whom had lost or would lose everything as the heat of persecution got dialed up. The state may be able to take your home and property, but what you get from God can never be taken from you! You may lose your job and your family may abandon you, but what God has in store for you is permanent. Being faithful in this life guarantees your full inheritance. Paul wrote something very similar to the Ephesians:

Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13b – 14 | NIV84)

The basis of our hope

That the basis of our hope shouldn’t be in our circumstances is a thought that Peter expanded upon in this group of verses:

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:7 – 9 | NIV84)

The “these” are all the problems his readers are facing because of their faith. Peter provides an invaluable insight into how God works. The trials and tribulations that his readers were facing, and indeed the trials and tribulations we face, too, were not unknown to God, nor were they punishment from Him, nor were they arbitrary! They served a very distinct purpose: to strengthen their faith in Christ. That’s right; those things we try so hard to avoid; those unpleasant things we plan our lives around escaping, are the very things God uses to make us better Christians! James thought about this very issue and came to the exact same conclusion Peter did:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2 – 4 | NIV84)

As you read what Peter wrote, you realize the power of our salvation. We believe in a living Savior! Ours is not a dead philosopher, whose philosophies couldn’t preserve His own life! Our Savior is the One, the only One in fact, who rose from the dead. Through the power that raised Him from dead, He has reached out and forward in time and space to save us, as we place our faith in Him. From time to time, hard times may come into our lives, but our lives are being actively preserved by that same Resurrection power to the point where what is meant to harm us – what would do irreparable harm to the unbeliever – does us good, making us stronger and wiser and far more valuable to God.

Our salvation is so special and so spectacular, that angels are fascinated with God’s work in man.

Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12b | NIV)

That’s right. The salvation that we so often take for granted and abuse is so unique and so phenomenal that angels, those eternal spirit beings with amazing powers, are desperate to understand it. They can’t possibly because they can’t experience it. Only sinful human beings who have placed their faith in Christ and have had their sins forgiven can. Luke put it this way:

…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10 | NIV84)

Only man can know the salvation God provides through Jesus Christ. Johnson Oatman, a prolific hymn-writer who wrote some 3,000 hymns in his lifetime, captured the thought perfectly in his hymn, “Holy, Holy Is What the Angels Sing”:

Holy, holy, is what the angels sing,
And I expect to help them make the courts of Heaven ring;
But when I sing redemption’s story, they will fold their wings,
For angels never felt the joys that our salvation brings.

Now would be a good time to ask yourself the question: What have the angels learned about MY salvation by observing MY life?

Transformed by hope into a holy person

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13 – 16 | NIV84)

As the Bard wrote, “Ay, there’s the rub.” God did so much for us Christ, but we have a responsibility – an obligation – to live holy lives. Uncertainty, difficult times, trials, and tribulations must not cause believers to give up and go back to their old ways of living, from which they’ve been saved.

Peter’s first bit of advice, “prepare your minds,” tells us something very important. The key to living a victorious Christian life is having and maintaining the right mental attitude. It all starts between our ears; by not allowing our minds to dwell too long on our circumstances, good or bad. Success in the Christian life depends on our intellect working with our moral and spiritual faculties. Paul knew the connection between the mind and the quality of our lives ran deep:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 | NIV84)

Changing our habitual way of thinking is up to us; God won’t do it for us. We wish He would, though. It’s not an easy thing to do. But if we’ll honor God, we must. According to what Peter wrote, we ought to be living and thinking as if Christ could return at any moment. The incredible privilege and glorious future of “the elect” demands that we adopt the “pattern” revealed to us: God is holy and we must be holy.

That phrase, “be holy in all you do,” has been translated by J.B. Phillips as:

Be holy in every department of your lives.

What is in the heart will be manifested in how you live your life. True holiness is not revealed in a church service where you are surrounded by other believers, but in how you live daily. True holiness is related to all civic, personal, religious, private, and public aspects of life. It is demonstrated in all your relationships. Holiness, morality, and ethics are all intertwined and cannot be separated because true ethical conduct is patterned after God, and He is our pattern.

Peter quoted from the Old Testament book of Leviticus to proof text what he wrote about the imperative to be holy:

I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44, 45 | NIV84)

The reason God wants us to be holy is because He Himself is holy. It is His supreme purpose for His people to be as He is: Holy. It is part of our election; our calling. We can’t be holy simply by doing things. It requires our minds being reigned in so that we begin to see life as God does. We become holy because our God is Holy and when we are in a relationship with Him, we become like Him.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 | NIV84)

Holiness is God’s choice for the moral condition of His people. In his commentary on 1 Peter, Roy Nicholson makes a valuable observation:

Because of God’s nature it is right that man should resemble Him. He is the Creator. Because of man’s nature it is possible for him to resemble God. The possibility of being holy determines our duty to be holy.

 

 

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BE’s of the Bible, Part 1

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In Scripture, the little word “be” when it is spoken by the Lord is always part of something He wants from us; it always precedes a command or is part of an admonition. When the Lord uses “be” it’s always an imperative – the one to whom He is speaking is left with a choice: either do what the Lord is saying and be blessed, or don’t and be prepared for trouble. That’s one good thing about the Lord that a lot of people who aren’t part of the Christian faith don’t get. Christians aren’t robots; we aren’t being forced to serve God; we aren’t coerced into living righteous lives. The very God who created us and saved us also gave us a free will and He expects us to use it, along with our reasoning minds and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. So God always gives us a choice: be what He wants us to be or not. It’s always a choice.

Let’s take a look a few examples of the choices God wants us to make as we examine the first “Be” of the Bible.

Be Holy, 1 Peter 1:15, 16

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (NIV)

That’s pretty simple. Believers are expected by God to be holy people. And this isn’t a new idea, by the way, so to back up this New Testament admonition, Peter quotes from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. The notion of God wanting His people to be holy is as old as God Himself; it’s not a new idea.

Peter wrote his first letter to both Jewish and Christian believers – believers who were scattered all over.

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1:1 NIV)

You can imagine that these believers, some of them living in hostile areas, needed to be encouraged to keep the faith; to be patient, to remain hopeful, and to continue living lives of holiness in the pagan cultures in which they were living. Merrill C. Tenney put Peter’s aim in writing this letter like this:

Peter teaches his readers how to live out their redemption in a hostile world.

That’s right. Just because it may not be popular to be a Christian or just because it may be inconvenient to live a righteous life, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. In the darkness of a pluralistic society or secular world, Christians are supposed to shine all the brighter. And they do this outside of the church; they shine for Jesus at work, at the market, at school, in town, everywhere.

Chosen

For people who were having a hard time living out the Christian faith, knowing that they were chosen by God was important. Some of these people had been forsaken by their families and friends, but never by God. How could the God who elected and then chose them, simply walk away from them?

To God’s elect…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood… (1 Peter 1:1, 2 NIV)

These believers, as all believers have been, were “chosen” by God. In fact, as Peter explains it, each member of the Trinity is involved in the salvation of a person. In the first place, election is “according to the foreknowledge of God the father.” Each believer’s election began in the mind of the Father as part of His great plan of redemption. Secondly, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is involved in his sanctification, which carries with it the idea of being “set apart” or being “made holy.” It is a work of the Spirit to conform the believer into the image of Jesus through spiritual growth. And lastly, Jesus Christ is the member of the Trinity that shed His very blood and gave His life as a sacrifice so that man could enter into a relationship with God.

So important and significant were these believers that each one of them received the personal attention of each member of the Godhead. That’s a powerful thought, and it’s a motivating factor for the things Peter will be dealing with later on in this letter.

Deferred gratification

And so believers are chosen or elected by God. That’s a comforting thought. But sometimes the real world hits us like ton of bricks. It’s relatively easy to live a holy life in the safety of our church. It’s easy to be a Christian when you’re among Christians. But eventually you have to go to work. At some point you will encounter resistance to your faith; you will be questioned; you will be forced to take a stand and defend what you believe; you will have to explain why you abstain from certain activities that all your friends are participating in. At those times, it’s good to remember some of the things Peter wrote:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3 – 5 NIV)

We need to pause for a second to consider that phrase “great mercy,” because it’s not just a throw-away phrase. His “great mercy” actually reveals something about God’s character: He is all beneficent, and because He is, He is the source of our hope as believers. And it was the resurrection of Jesus that proved God’s acceptance of His sacrifice on our behalf. Because the Father raised the Son, we have the abiding hope in a future “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” That may not sound like a big deal to you, with the imagined security of a job, a warm home, and healthy retirement account, but to these struggling, first century believers who had nothing and were slightly better off than nomads, it meant everything!

All believers are heirs of God and an inheritance awaits them. We’re all familiar with what an inheritance is, but the one God has reserved for us is a permanent one – it is perfect every way; we can never use it up or break it; it will never deteriorate or disappear. This inheritance from God is being kept absolutely secure for believers, who are being kept for it. The word translated “kept” really means “guarded,” which means that our inheritance is being watched over and protected for us by God!

In a world where everything is so temporary, this is something to look forward to. It puts into perspective the riches of this world.

As if the idea of our eternal inheritance being guarded by God isn’t enough, believers are likewise “shielded by God’s power.” But this shielding by God is activated by having faith in His power. He has the ability to keep or shield every believer who commits his life to His care. And that’s the rub. Not all believers are that committed to God. Are you? Or are you like a lot of believers who have confessed Christ but have distant relationship with Him? You may be close enough to Christ to get into heaven (for now), but not close enough to receive the kind of “shielding” God has for you. Living like that is, to say the least, very precarious. There is eternal security for the believer – but it’s not unconditional. It takes faith, which itself involves mental assent and personal commitment.

There’s a purpose

With verse six, Peter gives his readers the “why” everybody wants to know.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6 NIV)

All the things Peter wrote about up to this point were cause for his readers to “rejoice,” but the reality of the kind of lives these people were living comes out: they were suffering “grief in all kinds of trials.” That’s a big pill for any believer to swallow. Sure, the future looks great for believers, but what about the here-and-now? Unfortunately there are a lot of believers who think there is something wrong with their faith if they are suffering “grief in all kinds of trials.” That’s just not necessarily true, according to Peter. When the bad times comes, there is a reason and purpose behind them –

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 NIV)

Yes indeed, joy and grief may be present in the believer and that’s completely understandable and normal. The key is understanding why the grief is coming. The problem of suffering is something that has always bothered Christians, yet Jesus Himself told us not to be dismayed – that in this world Christians would have trouble. In Hebrews we are told that God tests His people by trials. James said that testings come from God. It’s not a popular thing to say, but the Bible is very clear on this: the path to glory always leads through opposition. But this opposition – trials and suffering – serves to purify the soul and display the soundness of the believer’s faith in and love for Jesus Christ.

The thing is, our trials are only temporary. Like the riches of this world, the trials of this world will pass. Paul understood this –

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (1 Corinthians 4:17, 18 NIV)

Our salvation demands holiness

Our eternal inheritance is cause for us to rejoice, and the rough times we experience here on earth are serving a purpose that, in the end, will greatly benefit us. Now we learn how precious our salvation both is and will be. God’s plan for the redemption of mankind is so unusual; so intricate, we are told by this – Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12b NIV)

Man’s salvation boggles the angels! They didn’t need saving, so they can’t possibly understand the magnitude of God’s incredible plan. Too bad we don’t appreciate it that much. And that brings us to the first “Be” is this series. In light of everything that believers have received from God, God expects something in return –

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do… 1 Peter 1:15 NIV)

God calls and man responds. God gives man the pattern to live by and it is man’s responsibility to adopt it. There’s no mystery to holiness for God has modelled it.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6 NIV)

A lot of people misunderstand what holiness is all about. Even among Christians, there is wonky idea that a holy person is a super pious person. A holy person to some is the weirdo who never leaves his house, doesn’t have a TV or radio, always wears a shirt and tie and when you do chance to see him through the fence, he’s always reading C.S. Lewis and the Bible.  But that’s not it all.

God wants all of His people to enjoy life – to get the most out of living. It is possible to experience life to the fullest without sinning. Holiness is to the spiritual life what health is to the physical life. Holiness is not a superficial thing; it is not accomplished through deprivation or rituals. Our holiness is not an attribute like God’s holiness is. He’s perfect but we never will be. But God wants us to be spiritually fit. Holiness means resembling Him. Because of man’s nature, this is wholly possible! The possibility of being holy makes it our duty to become holy. A holy Christian is a healthy Christian and that’s what God wants of us. To live like Jesus did is what will please God. And that should be our goal.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 NIV)

 

THE CROSS OF CHRIST, PART ONE

THE WORD OF THE CROSS

The heart of Christianity is the Bible. The heart of the Bible is the Cross. The heart of the Cross is the heart of God. (James Smith)

The heart of God is a heart that is full of compassion for the one who is lost and living without hope. When we think about God’s concern for those living without Him, our minds go immediately to a verse of Scripture almost every Christian knows by heart:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Imagine the depths of love that compelled the Heavenly Father to offer His Son in atonement for our sin and guilt. The Cross is, at the same time, the most glorious and the most awful object ever seen by angels or men. 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us what the Cross is all about:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The “message of the cross” isn’t found in any single verse of Scripture, but throughout the fullness of God’s Word. This is why so many Christians don’t really understand the true “message of the cross.” It’s simply because they’ve never really heard it. Modern preaching has so fragmented it that, at best, the average church-goer has only heard bits and pieces of the great “message of the cross.” Even at that, there isn’t a Christian anywhere in the world who doesn’t grasp the eternal significance of the Cross of Christ. They may not grasp it in its entirety, but what they do know has resulted in their salvation. Such is the awesome power of the Cross!

It is a sign that you are perishing if you cannot see the infinite wisdom and power of God on display in the Cross of Jesus Christ. God’s word concerning the Cross is God’s message of love and grace to us through the Cross.

Let’s look at God’s word concerning the Cross and what that great word means to us today.

1. Holiness and sin

One message of the Cross is God’s own opinion concerning holiness and sin; that is to say, the holiness of the Son of God who suffered on the Cross and the utter wickedness of sin for which He suffered. The true wickedness of sin is revealed in what Jesus said out it John 8:34—

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

What an awful thing sin is! It seduces you, tricks you into becoming your friend, then it never, ever lets you go. James, the earthly brother of Jesus, understood all about sin:

Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:15)

Back to John 3, after stating bluntly that sinners are enslaved by sin, Jesus poses a question a few verses later:

Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? (John 8:46)

Jesus’ teaching on sin is plain: sin and slavery are inexorably linked. No human being can be free if they are not free from sin. The only free people are those who have placed their full faith and trust in Christ; who have broken the hold sin had on them.

However, Jesus Christ was completely sinless—He was guilty of no sin—for if He had slipped but a single time, He would not have been fit to be the Messiah; He would have been in the grip of sin. But our Lord knew what His mission was and He remained unfettered and out of sin’s grip.

Jesus Christ was holy, harmless, completely separate from sinners, even while living among them, revealing the invisible God to them. Thanks to the Cross of Christ, we are given a clear picture of our Heavenly Father’s love for sinful man. The holiness of God and the sinfulness of man collided on the Cross, in the Body of Jesus Christ. In the Cross, we see God at His best and man at his worst. Even while the vilest of sinners plotted to crucify Christ, our Lord bore their sins in His body.

But that is the only time holiness and sin have met together in one Person. The truth is, darkness cannot exist in the light. The unrenewed spirit of a man cannot have any fellowship with God on any level. The Word of the Cross is the word of victory because the holiness of Christ crushed the sinfulness of man.

2. Love and sacrifice

John 3:16 tells us that God gave His only son to save the lost. God gave His Son with no expectation that He would escape His death on the Cross. God the Father had no hope of saving sinful man apart from the awful death of His Son. Therefore, man has no hope of salvation without the Cross.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

God loved us so much that He offered His Son’s life in exchange for the ours. Imagine that kind of love! And the Son of God, loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice Himself as an offering for us. Remember what Jesus taught:
the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

The message of the Cross is not only a message of holiness and sin, but also a message of love and sacrifice.

…Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)

Only God the Father could love us so much as to give His one and only Son over to the terrible death on the Cross to save them. Only God the Son could love us so much that even while we were still enslaved to sin; even while were were still His sworn enemies, He offered Himself as the prefect sacrifice for our souls.

As one scholar has observed:

The sufferings and sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the irrefutable proof and expression of the intensity of the love of God.

3. Righteousness and peace

There is aberrant theology that has been floating around since the days of the early church that teaches the redemption price offered by Christ was paid to Satan in order to free the souls of man. However, Satan has never had the right to any soul. In fact, we are told in Scripture that Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice to God. The Cross, then, contrasts the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man, stands for love and sacrifice, but it also makes possible peace with God through righteousness.

...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 1:20)

The requirements of righteousness are infinite, and they are met only by the infinite value of the life and blood of Jesus Christ, who Himself is infinite.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13, 14)

Before Christ, everything stood between us and God and everything stood against us. The work of Christ took it all away! Every single thing that stopped us from approaching God, summed up in one word: unrighteousness, was taken to the Cross and removed from us as far as the east is from the west. Because our unrighteousness has been taken away and replaced by His righteousness, we are now completely free to approach God without any fear.

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (Psalm 85:10)

On the Cross, righteousness and peace have met!

by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:15, 16)

There was no other way to make peace between God and man except by way of the Cross. Only Christ’s righteousness could accomplish this. There is no other way for any human being to be at complete peace with God except through the Cross of Christ.

4. Salvation and power

When we began this study, we quoted Colossians 1:18. Refer briefly back to that verse:

For the message of the cross … is the power of God.

The Cross is a magnificent symbol of God’s power to save. All who believe in what was accomplished on the Cross and all who understand the message of the Cross, are conscious of the saving power of God.

In the Old Testament, during the Passover, the Israelites were safe only as long as they remained in a house whose door posts had been sprinkled by the blood of the lamb. Similarly, as Christians we are safe only as long as we live within the shadow of the blood-sprinkled Cross of Christ. At the Cross Jesus gave His life for ours, so we must lose our lives in that same Cross if we are to truly live for Him.

The word of the Cross is the word of salvation to all who believe. It’s the way to a new life in Jesus Christ. The Cross is God’s instrument by which any sinner may be made a new person. There is not a sinner anywhere in the world who is beyond the shadow of the Cross. Anywhere and everywhere to anyone is available the power of the Cross.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The only way to experience new life in Christ, is by way of the Cross. The Word of the Cross makes no sense to those who are already dying. But to those who are looking for hope and purpose and salvation, the Cross is the power of God.

HEBREWS AND THE FOUR WAYS: THE WAY OF LOYALTY

The Way of Loyalty, Hebrews 13:9—16

The first 7 verses of Hebrews 13 contain the first of “three ways,” namely, The Way of Holiness. The life of faith demands that believers pursue a life of holiness. Holiness isn’t always spiritual; verses 1 through 7 illustrate this great truth that one cannot be holy if one’s actions aren’t holy. How we treat ourselves, other believers, strangers, and even those in prison serves to show the world just how holy we really are.

The last point we looked at was the idea that believers should never forget their spiritual leaders; to remember what they taught them and to follow their example. Verse 8 may be regarded as a transition sentence which leads the reader from practicalities to a brief discussion of doctrine.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

We live in a world that is constantly changing. This has always been the case, especially in the first century AD, when social and political structures were undergoing mighty upheavals. Not long after this letter was written, Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple leveled. Our generation is also experiencing tremendous change, some of it good, much of it bad. Many people today are asking the same questions those in the first century asked: Is there anything or anybody you can count on? The Bible gives us the answer: Jesus Christ! He and His kingdom cannot be moved. If we build our lives on Him, we will discover that He alone is the firm foundation; Jesus Christ is the rock that doesn’t roll! Anything else cannot be trusted. Only Jesus has proved Himself to be absolutely trustworthy 100% of the time.

1. Jesus is the Christ, 13:8, 9

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. (Verse 9)

In our earnest pursuit of holiness, we must make sure that Jesus Christ is the Source, Center, and Goal of that pursuit. True Christian holiness—separation from the world to God—must always be Christ-centered, not man-centered. That’s why the writer cautions his readers not to be “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” How tempting it is to replace the spiritual pursuit of genuine holiness with man-concocked rules and regulations! That is NOT not God’s way! Holiness cannot be achieved by the outward dedication to set of teachings or doctrines. Holiness concerns what is on the inside of a man, not the outside.

The first century readers of this letter, Jewish converts all, were tempted to fall back to the forms of Judaism, mainly the Old Testament laws surrounding food and drink. They are reminded that those dusty, old rules did no spiritual good to anybody who observed them. The heart and soul of man are strengthened by God’s grace, not by food and drink.

And there are all kinds of “strange teachings” circulating today for the unsuspecting Christian to latch onto. The word “strange” does not mean weird or oddball; it means “strange” in relation to the Gospel of Christ. Maybe a better word wold be “foreign.” It’s hard to spot these false teachings. The Greek word for the English “all kinds” is poikilais, and means “many colored.” The idea is that there are so many false teachings or variations on the truth, it’s like looking through a prism. Why waste your time on those things when all you have to do is remain absolutely loyal to the teachings of Christ?

2. Jesus the Crucified, 13:10—14

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (verse 10)

This is a verse that would have been extremely powerful to these Hebrew-Christians. The great Temple was still standing when this letter was written, and there were two altars back then: one in the Temple and the greater one in Heaven. The power of this verse is unlocked by a principle taught by Christ:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24a)

For the original readers of this letter, there was a real temptation to blend their old religion in with their new Christian faith. But it is impossible to trust two altars—those who serve in the Tabernacle had no right to eat at Heaven’s altar. In other words, an overlapping of beliefs and practices could not be tolerated. Intrinsically, Judaism and Christianity are incompatible, even though both faiths center on the same God, Yahweh. Why was it so dangerous to mix the two? The essential, Biblical tenets of the Christian faith can never be watered down because in doing so, the meaning of the Cross becomes diluted. To mix in elements of Judaism or any other belief system is to rob the Cross of its power and it reduces the Cross to the same level as those “foreign” elements. This is why the writer of this letter is so dogmatic on this point: when it comes to faith, it’s one way or another.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (verses 11, 12)

Verse 11 gives us a specific example of what “those who minister” in the Temple did. The example probably refers to the ceremonies that took place on the Day of Atonement, where the bodies of the animals slain that day were completely burnt up in a fire outside “outside the camp,” a phrase that would have reminded the readers of the Tabernacle in the wilderness during the days of Moses.

The phrase “and so,” which introduces verse 12, also introduces an inference: the Day of Atonement typologically foreshadowed the great atoning work of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross took place just outside the city, just as the carcasses of the animals are burnt up outside the city. To you and me, the power of this inference may be minute; we are not Jews and even if we were, we are thousands of years removed from the days of the Temple ceremonies. But to the Hebrews reading this letter, this inference would have felt like a slap upside their collective heads! Christ’s ability to cleanse from sin and His suffering outside of Jerusalem is as superior to the old sacrificial system as fiber optic communication to smoke signals! His atoning work does not involve any special meals for it is faith in Him alone on which the believer’s right relationship to God hinges.

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (verses 13, 14)

Here are two more powerful verses in letter awash in these kinds of verses! As far as holiness is concerned, the cost of pursuing it is no less than the cost of providing it. It literally cost our Lord everything to make it available to us. Can it cost us any less than our very lives? These two verses call on believers not to feel at home where Jesus wasn’t welcomed: in the world. We can’t afford to make our homes where Jesus was homeless! This is the definition of loyalty; to identify ourselves completely with Him in every way. If we are so comfortable so as to remain “in the camp,” we’ll never venture out of it to be with Jesus. There was no holiness to be found in Jerusalem; Jesus did His work on the outside. That’s where He is to be found. He is not in the world or the things of this world.

There is a choice every believer will be confronted with: to be loyal to Christ or cling to the so-called security of the world. The writer urges us to “go to him outside” the world; Jesus can’t be found in the world.

That “city” we are seeking is the city of God, or the Kingdom of God. That’s we are to pray “thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.” That’s our hope—our realistic hope—in the kingdom to come. And yet, our hope is also here, in the here and now, as we spiritually abandon the sinful world in which we are forced to live so that we may abide spiritually in the Kindgom, where Christ is.

To look for hope and security in the world (in Jerusalem) is to look in vain. For the Jews living when this letter was written, Jerusalem was their permanent city. Little could they know that its days were numbered and it was slated for destruction. The things that people think are permanent and trustworthy are really only temporary, while that which believers hope for is eternal.

3. God is the author of all, 13:15, 16

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Verse 15 reminds us that one of the most powerful dynamics of the Christian life is praise. When life beats us up, when we get discouraged, depressed, and despondent, when we’re tired of the “fight of faith,” we need to remember that praise both produces and releases God’s energy in our lives. If only we could grasp and hold on to the reality of this truth! Self-pity and whining about the circumstances of our lives would fade away and be replaced by a cheerful optimism that is rooted in the grace and power of God.

But this praise must be constant, not only when you feel like doing it or when the going gets tough. If you wait till then, it’s too late. There are no inappropriate times to praise God! True believers didn’t get motivated to praise God by the sight of bloody, dead animals in the first century, and true believers today shouldn’t be motived to praise God by any external influence, save the Person of God Himself.

Just in case some of the readers of this letter had been tricked into thinking that without the elaborate sacrificial system of Judaism they had nothing to offer God and no acceptable worship to offer Him, our letter writer reminds them that there certain sacrifices acceptable to God. These acceptable sacrifices can be offered anytime, all the time, not just on certain hours of certain days of the week.

  • The sacrifice of praise. The “fruit of our lips” should be a thankful attitude to God. But this attitude must be expressed; vocalized. Vocal praise of God is a proper response to our indebtedness to Him! We owe Him everything; the least we can do is praise Him.

  • The sacrifice of good works. “Faith without works dead,” wrote our Lord’s half-brother. Our vocal praise of God is directed heavenward, but our good works are directed toward our fellow man. This manifestation of brotherly love, though it benefits people, is really an acceptable sacrifice to God!

God finds great pleasure in us when we praise Him with our voice and honor Him with our actions.

It may seem strange that Christians need to be reminded to praise God and to do good. Unfortunately, sometimes we get so caught up in the minutia of our lives, we get so used to looking inward, that we don’t notice there are people in need all around us and, when it comes to worship, sometimes our worship becomes merely lip service.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

HEBREWS: OUR 3-FOLD DUTY

Hebrews 12:12—17

The writer of this letter just spent a handful of verses encouraging his readers to look at God’s discipline as a good thing. The “therefore” at the start of verse 12 connects this new admonition to the last one. Discouraged believers need to “keep calm and carry on” in the faith. We can’t let hard times deter us from our walk of faith. We can’t let any kind “persecution” on account of our faith cause us to doubt that same faith. In fact, we must “suck it up” and understand that reversals in life are either sent by God or allowed by God to discipline us. That’s not to say God is punishing us; discipline is essentially a means to teach something to somebody so that they’ll learn something helpful.

This is an important topic, and if you can understand how deep it is, it will help you live a more positive, optimistic life. Many believers needlessly beat up on themselves because they are reaping the unpleasant consequences of a decision sowed years and years ago. Instead of doing that—living in some kind limbo of regret—understand that God is trying to teach you something that will not only benefit you, but others as well. And that’s hard to do, but the rewards of doing that will range from lower blood pressure to fewer frown lines to a happier marriage and an all around happier disposition!

The idea in this letter is that if you consider Jesus and what Jesus went through to live a life of faith, whatever negatives you may encounter are nothing compared to He went through! It is important for God’s people to live AS God’s people all the time, not just when things are going their way.

Why is this so important? Believers are called to a higher standard of living than unbelievers. We are not to look to unbelievers for our standards. What that means is this: if a reversal in your life causes you distress, you are NOT to respond to that reversal like an unbeliever. You are not to assign blame to God. You are not to mope around forever, feeling sorry for yourself. You are not to remain in the pit of discouragement and despair for long. You, because you are a child of God, are to respond like a child of God

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:11, 12a)

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. (Psalm 37:25)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

If you understand that and respond as you should as a child of God, then you are fulfilling a three-fold duty.

1. Our duty to ourselves, verses 12, 13a, 14

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.See to it that no one misses the grace of God

The writer quotes from Isaiah 35:3 and Proverbs and essentially tells his readers to “Snap out of it!” Because Jesus is their example and because they now know about God’s loving discipline, it was time for them to get out of their posture of discouragement and to “put their best foot forward.” What an exceptional word of encouragement! These people may have been overwhelmed with a series of adversities, but God had not forgotten them! Let their hands be lifted up in praise! Let their legs stop trembling in fear! The implication of this verse is that these set upon Hebrew Christians had become spiritually paralyzed. Notice that the writer doesn’t offer sympathy; they didn’t need sympathy! What these folks needed was what we often need: somebody to point their spiritual finger at them and say, “get with it” and “put things right” and to “stop thinking about yoursselves!”

Spiritual paralysis” must surely be the plague of the modern church! At least these Hebrew Christians faced real, genuine threats because of their faith. Think about what paralyzes modern believers; car problems, high interest rates, ATM fees, and so on. It may be all relative, but let’s face it: we modern believers have nothing to complain about! And even if we did, the Bible’s advice would be exactly the same: get with it! Stop looking and thinking only of yourselves and look to God.

Though highly metaphorical, verses 12 and 13 are powerful because they refer to aspects of the Christian life. Hands are typically a metaphor for service, knees are a picture of attitude (either courageous or anxious or reverent), and feet picture the daily walk of the Christian. We can’t afford to be spiritually inactive because time is so short. Our duty to ourselves is to make sure our walk is not wobbly or crooked or unsure. Of all the people in all the world, Christians should be the ones who are identified by their optimism, their positive attitude, and their disposition of good cheer.

Why is it to our benefit to be like this? The first phrase of verse 15 suggests that if we respond to adverse circumstances like worldly people do, then we run the very real risk missing out on the grace of God! This is the fundamental risk of spiritual paralysis and may well be the fundamental failure of most believers. If we become so preoccupied with ourselves and the circumstances of our lives, then we will miss out on something special from God. Is there a lack of God’s blessings in your life? It could that the problem is as simple as your outlook!

So, our primary duty to ourselves is to make sure we are spiritually healthy. If we don’t, we’ll be spiritually disabled. True healing comes to us when we put forth the effort to live as we ought. When we do that, we will be the recipients of God’s amazing grace.

2. Our duty of fellow believers, verses 14, 15

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Verse 14 is positively emphatic; we MUST make the effort to live in peace with all men. If we are to live with a Christ-like attitude, it must start with troubled personal relationships. Taken in context, the “with all men” seems to restrict itself to members of the household of faith—so be at peace with other Christians. In other words, we can’t be holy if we can’t live at peace with other believers, and if we can’t be holy, we’ll never see God. You may ask, “How can that be possible?” Indeed, this is a good question that is answered in Deuteronomy 29:18—

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

That verse speaks a mouthful! The implication is that if we are at odds with a fellow believer or believers, we might fall into apostasy. This was a big problem with Israel, and it certainly is a problem in the Church. So much about our relationship with God hangs on our relationship with fellow believers.

Just what is this relationship between “peace” and “holiness?” “Holiness” is supposed to be a characteristic of the believer; it means “being set apart for God.” So, even though the Christian lives in the world, because he is “holy,” he must always be different from the world and separate from the world. In the world, it’s “dog-eat-dog,” but it shouldn’t be like that in the church. In the world, people walk all over each other to gain an advantage; it should never be like that in the church. Those who want to fellowship with God must be able to fellowship with others who want to fellowship with God. Any kind of a “bitter root” can disrupt fellowship between believers and ultimately fellowship with God.

God takes our fellowship with each other seriously, and so should we. Verse 15 tells us as much: “See to it that no one misses….” We are “look diligently” so as to make sure none of us misses out on God’s grace. This is an obligation we have to each other. We are to “look diligently” to the spiritual well-being of each other! This does not mean we are to be intrusive or nosey! We must be ever vigilant and be ready to lend a hand to any brother or sister who is stumbling in their walk. We must bear one another’s burdens:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

So, not only must we make sure WE are not missing out on God’s grace, we have to do our best to make sure OTHERS aren’t missing out on God’s grace. While that may sound like a lot of work, consider this: If we are busy doing the things necessary to live like this, we might be so occupied with the “good fight” of faith that we won’t have time to get mired in our own discouragement.

3. Our duty to God, verses 14, 16, 17

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

Verse 14 makes it crystal clear: we must live holy lives if we ever want to see God. Part of living a holy life is being right with other believers. We may question the order of the words in this verse: God wants us to pursue peace before holiness?  Really?  Why do you suppose it’s that way? As Christians, we cannot be right with God if we are not right with our fellows. An unbeliever, on the other hand, must get right with God first, then with his fellow man. But a Christian cannot be right with God if he is not right with other believers. This is a duty to God, as well as a duty to other Christians.

So, looking out for the well-being of other believes is also a duty to God. We are to strive after holiness in ourselves and in others. Now, those who live this way won’t be like Esau. He’s given as a bad example not to follow after, just as Jesus is a good example we should follow after. Esau was one who allowed a bad attitude to take root in his life. Esau, you recall, was the first born son of Isaac and should have been his chief heir. However, Esau was a bitter, godless fornicator (he married “Hittite” women contrary to his parents wishes). The bitter Christian—the Christian who isn’t pursuing a life holiness in himself or others—typifies that elder brother, Esau. This unfortunate believer’s bad attitude toward God, toward his faith, and toward his fellow believers may cause him to fall from from grace; to become an apostate. Or, alternately, he may stick around his church as a respectable member, his bad attitude rubbing off on all he comes in contact with.

This is why the pursuit of holiness is so vital and is at the very heart of the true believer’s life. When you neglect holiness, you will ultimately despise it, perhaps even going so far as to do just what Esau did: sell your birthright for a moment’s gratification. Remember; holiness is not a kind of moral or ethical superiority manifested by the Christian, but rather a separation from the world. It’s living a life markedly different from that of the unbeliever.  Oour duty to God is to pursue a life of holiness. Esau is given as an example of one who did not do that. He was an immoral man; he was not a holy man and that affected his whole way of thinking. He sold his birthright for some food; a foolish thing to do. The really sad thing about Esau is that eventually he realized his tragic mistake:

He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (vs. 17)

Esau is the kind of man that James might have had in mind when he wrote this:

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:6—8)

Esau didn’t really believe, and his immoral behavior demonstrated that, and he did what a mentally unstable person would do: he gave up his inheritance for a bowl of food. The tragedy is that even while Esau realized his mistake, he couldn’t change it back; he could not undo what he had done. There was a finality to his act.

The lesson for the Hebrews and to modern believers is obvious. Unbelief leads to the hardening of the heart and, maybe in time, to apostasy. Esau cried to his father, but his tears were not tears of repentance, they were tears of anger upon realizing the blessing had bypassed him, only to fall on his brother. The one who falls away from God will find that God has rejected him. This is why believers are to take such pains to guard against drifting away from the faith and to help others to stay faithful. We have a solemn duty to ourselves and to other believers to do all we can to live at peace and promote holiness within the Church. Peter put it like this:

But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

HOLINESS AND FREEDOM FROM SIN

If you misunderstand God's grace, you'll end up like this guy, Rasputin, the Mad Monk!

By the end Romans 5, Paul has concluded the main points of his teaching. All human beings stand condemned before God as sinners—rebels against Him. That same God, however, has intervened on behalf of all those sinners by providing acquittal and forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Jesus His Son, Jesus Christ. What’s awesome about this acquittal is that it comes to sinners initially irrespective of our lack of moral values and sinfulness. Acceptance by God is based solely on our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

As if that weren’t enough, our continuing standing before God—our salvation—does not depend on anything good thing we do, but on God’s amazing grace. Paul even goes so far to state that as sin increases, grace increases even more.

1. Paul and a mad monk

Without a doubt, all that sounds good; maybe too good to be true. No wonder God’s grace is so abused! Paul foresaw the potential that for some believers, God’s grace and forgiveness could lead to a kind of spiritual laziness. Such was the case with a monk; a man of God who confused the gospel of grace with a form of “antinomianism,” a perversion of doctrine that encourages the casting off of all moral restraint so as to experience more and more of God’s grace and forgiveness. This monk, because of his misunderstanding of grace, became a chief contributor to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917.

His name was Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (1972—1916). He was born into a poor, peasant family in a desolate region of Siberia, Russia. Until his religious conversion around 18, young Grigory became known as “Rasputin,” a Russian word for “debauched one,” because of his immoral lifestyle. After his conversion, however, he found himself at a monastery, which was part of Flagellants sect. Thanks to Rasputin’s ungodly influence, their sect became perverted—leaving the teachings of Scripture and embracing absolute antinomianism. The monks believed that one drew closest to God through sexual escapades and prolonged partying.

Eventually Rasputin left the monastery, traveling thousands of miles through Europe and much of the Middle East, finally lighting in Jerusalem. It was there that the “mad monk” solidified his reputation as a holy mystic with supernatural healing and prophetic powers, and in 1903, Rasputin was welcomed by church leaders and by politicians into the highest political circles in the land in spite of the fact that he hadn’t bathed in years.

Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra were completely taken in by the charismatic Rasputin, largely due to a supposed miracle wrought by the monk which saved their young son and heir to the throne, Alexey. This event endeared Rasputin to the royal family and gave him extraordinary influence with them. Within the royal court, Rasputin was viewed as a humble, gifted monk, sent by God. But outside the court, he lived up to his nickname wholeheartedly.

In spite of persistent rumors that Rasputin was having an affair with Alexandra, he was placed in charge of Russia’s internal affairs when Nicholas II left St. Petersburg to command Russian troops when World War I broke out. The “mad monk’s” influence proved to be so disastrous, that a group of conservatives, some related to Nicholas II, met to plot the assassination of Rasputin, ending his evil influence over the nation. They accomplished this in December of 1916, but it was too late to save the political structure of Russia. The Bolsheviks seized the opportunity of national discontent and their revolution broke out in 1917. Russia became as godless as the Emperor’s closest adviser.

Misunderstanding the nature of God’s grace can lead to all kinds of problems, which Paul refutes in Romans 6.

2. An answer to two questions, vs. 1—4

With the beginning of chapter 6, Paul picks up a line of thought he began back in 5:20—

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…

We can imagine how some might interpret a statement like that! As if to head off any misunderstanding of what he was teaching, Paul asks the obvious question:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (vs. 1)

This, of course, was the fatal flaw in Rasputin’s thinking. It’s a good question to ask, though, because it explains a fundamental truth about grace that isn’t always obvious. To answer the question, Paul exclaimed using a favorite Greek phrase of every student of that language: me genoito. The reason we all like me genoito is because it can mean so many different things:

  • Not at all!
  • Certainly not!
  • By no means!
  • Never!
  • Absolutely not!
  • May I never!

The sense of me genoito is obvious: “No way!” There is no way that Paul means to say that the more you sin, the better it is. After getting their attention, Paul warns the Roman church:

By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (vs. 2)

The two tenses of the verbs in verse 2 are important to note:

  • We died to sin. “Died” is in the aorist tense, indicating a past, completed action.

  • How can we live in it any longer? “Live” is in the future tense, suggesting an ongoing, habitual action.

The NIV’s translation here is, perhaps not the best. Eugene Peterson paraphrased verse 2 in a way that brings out the tenses using a clever word-picture:

If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?

The NIV of 1984 leaves out a very important word that the NIV of 2010 has included:

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 1984

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? NIV, 2010

It’s a minor point, but an important one. The word left out in the older NIV is a specialized Greek form of “who.” The sense of the phrase is this: We who are true believers, we have died. The suggestion is that there may be those who call themselves Christians or who are at best nominal Christians who have not died to sin. The fact is, to be a true Christian means to have died to sin. Therefore, it is a moral contradiction for a Christian to remain living in sin, when he has, supposedly, died to it.

But, what does it mean to have died to sin? To answer this question, Paul uses the example of the believer’s baptism:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (vs. 3, 4)

Here is Paul’s theology of water baptism, for this is the baptism to which he is referring. Notice he begins with “don’t you know.” The idea he is conveying is that it was the norm for Christians to be baptized in water; it was something each and every member of the Roman church would be familiar with because they would have experienced it firsthand. For the Christian, water baptism is not an optional experience.

The ordinance of water baptism, though not spiritually efficacious in any way, demonstrates outwardly in dramatic fashion an inward truth. To be baptized into the name of Christ means to be baptized, or placed, into union with Christ. It means to be dedicated to Him, and it means to participate in all that Christ is and has done.

To be baptized into Christ also means to be “baptized into his death.” When Christ died, He died to sin. His death literally cut Him off from all further contact with sin. Our water baptism demonstrates that we, like Jesus, have been cut off from sin. What that means precisely is covered in the next verses.

3. Killing my old man, vs. 5, 6

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (vs. 5)

The phrase “united with him” comes from the Greek symphutoi, which means literally, “grown together.” The sense of the word is that of “grafting,” as in a tree graft, or a “vital joining together” or “fusing.”  The believer has been “glued” to Jesus; our identification with Him is that complete.

Paul is still using the water baptism metaphor to illustrate a spiritual truth. Clearly, the believer didn’t die when Christ died, nor does he die at his baptism. He also won’t rise from the dead in the future the way Christ was resurrected. Paul’s point in verse 5 is actually must simpler than most people think. Water baptism is designed to show to the whole world that a change has occurred within the believer that is as radical as Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… (vs. 6)

Believers have been freed from sin because they have been crucified with Christ; that is, just as Christ severed all contact with sin when He died, so sin’s constant contact with us has been severed. Only one thing can free a man from the temptation to sin: death. The highway of sin leads to one destination: death. The only way to get off that highway is to die before reaching the end of it. Now, obviously, believers haven’t really died; we’re all very much alive. What is verse 6 teaching? What is “our old self?” All those who have identified with the death and resurrection of Christ—believers, “glued to Him”—still have the potential to sin, but no longer the obligation to sin. Identification with Christ through faith, demonstrated by water baptism, does nothing to free one from the possibility of sinning, but it does free one from having to sin.

If we look at what Paul is saying in verse 6, his point become crystal clear:

  • Our old self was crucified with Christ. Again, Paul is not saying a believer is given the ability to never sin, but the ability to say NO to sin.

  • The body of sin has been done away with. This refers to our tendency to sin. Obviously, this tendency has not been eradicated. The Greek word translated “done away with” is katargeo, which is a broad word that means anything from “abolish” to “render powerless” and everything in between. Kata means “according to” argeo means “to be idle,” the cessation of work or activity. But since that tendency was not eradicated, what happened to it? We know that we still have the tendency to sin, and even Paul did, because in verse 13 he encouraged the Roman Christians not to sin! The tendency to sin has not been eradicated, but it has been rendered powerless as we walk in God’s power.

  • We are no longer slaves to sin. This is how our “body of sin” as been rendered powerless. While old habits are hard to break, it is possible to NOT sin because believers are no longer bound to sin. We have total freedom to turn around and walk away from the temptation to sin.

What does it mean to be “freed from sin?” This is the tie which binds the first five chapters of Romans together. The Greek word is dikaio, one of Paul’s favorite words, which means “to justify”or “to pronounce righteous.” We have been “freed” or “justified” from our sins. We have been declared righteous in spite of our sins. Believers have been set free because the price for our sins has been paid for any Another. We have been provided with an off ramp on the highway to death because One went on ahead of us, making a way off the road that leads to death.

A Survey of Romans, Part 6

Romans 8: The Triumph of Grace, Part One

There are two views of Romans 8. Everett Harrison, late of Fuller Theological Seminary states one view so articulately, to change a word of paragraph would be criminal; he writes—

[Chapter 8] gathers up various strands of thought from the entire discussion of both justification and sanctification and ties them together with the crowning knot of glorification.

Harrison views this chapter as far more than just a remedy to the pitiful state of human beings as seen in chapter 7.

Others see chapter 8 and a continuation of chapter 7, providing exactly what Harrison wrote: the solution to the believer’s struggle against the flesh. That solution is walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A. Skevington Wood calls this chapter “the Pentecost of Romans.” Previously Paul had indicated that the love of God had been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit in 5:5. Perhaps Paul had in mind something he knew from the words of Isaiah—

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3)

The word “Spirit” in reference to the Holy Spirit occurs 20 times in this chapter. This fact had led Scottish Reformer John Knox to write:

The Spirit is the theme of this culminating argument which began at 6:1 with the question “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

So, is it “glorification” or is it the Holy Spirit that is at the heart of Romans 8? Perhaps it is both, for the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies our human lives (1:17), but He is also the Pledge of our ultimate redemption (8:18—25). While we as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led believers may be delivered from the grasp of the flesh in this life, our bodies bear the scars of sin; we age, our health breaks down, and eventually we die. However, when Jesus Christ returns to consummate His New Age by the resurrection, our bodies will also be redeemed. Perhaps that is the theme of this whole chapter.

1. Link with chapter 7, 8:1—4

Properly, the first four verses of chapter 8 belong in chapter 7, linking the expression of hope as stated in 7:25—

Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

In fact, it might be said that the first four verses of chapter 8 not only continue Paul’s declaration of hope, but also serve to sum up all the truth of the first half of Romans beginning with 5:12—

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.

And so we have the astounding conclusion Paul comes to because of what Christ did for sinful man and continues to do through the ministry of the Holy Spirit—

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For 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, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Such a magnificent statement as verse 1 requires no qualifying clause; it does not depend on our feelings or even the steadiness of our walk. Not one single person in Christ stands condemned for God condemned sin in sinful man. If we are in Christ, God could no more condemn us that He could His own Son! Graphically, these points emerge from chapters 7 and 8:

  • While we were in the flesh, the law condemned us as sinners and we produced the fruit of that: death.
  • As believers, we have been delivered from the law because we are dead to the law as Christ died. We are now free to serve the Lord just as Christ rose to a His new resurrection life.
  • This new life in the Spirit is described in chapter 8, and the word NOW is the tie that binds 8:1 to 7:6:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (7:6)

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

This “condemnation” (katakrima) from which we have been freed is more of a “judicial acquittal.” In fact, those of us “in Christ” are not only no longer under the law, we are no longer “in the flesh.” Barth observed—

They do not have the disposition, the structure and the inclination of the flesh but of the Spirit.

That is not to say believers don’t struggle against their carnal natures, it means that believers have no business giving into their carnal natures. But when we do, there is no condemnation if we are truly in Christ; there is forgiveness and nothing else. Such a thought provides us with unspeakable relief. We may feel condemned, but we must objectively realize that Christians don’t live by our feelings but on the facts of the Word of God. God’s Word declares that God sees us in Christ risen, forever beyond the reach of condemnation. John Murray comments:

Jesus not only blotted out sin’s guilt and brought us nigh to God, He also vanquished sin as power and set us free from its enslaving dominion. And this could not have been done in the “flesh.” The battle was joined and the triumph secured in that same flesh which in us is the seat and agent of sin.

If you are given to doubt because of feelings of unworthiness, and if Romans 8:1 fails to ignite your spirit, then look again to the risen Christ, who is no longer on the Cross where your sins put Him, and see yourself in Him, where God sees you. Christ is exalted at God’s right Hand in the glories of Heaven, where no sin can exist. If you are in Christ, and Christ is in Heaven, then there can no sin attached to you. Cecil’s majestic lyrics capture this thought—

Oh, the peace forever flowing

From God’s thoughts of His own Son,

Oh, the peace of simply knowing

On the cross that was all done.

Peace with God is Christ in glory,

God is light and God is love,

Jesus died to tell the story,

Foes to bring to God above.

Because of our new position of being “in Christ” before God, we are no longer “in the flesh” away from God. We are now free to devote ourselves to living for and pleasing God, not to appease Him in order to avoid judgment, but out of love and gratitude to Him who brought us out of our hopeless state and into a relationship of peace with Him. What the law, with all its admonitions and warnings could not accomplish, is made possible in the power of the new life by the Spirit, namely, a life of holiness. This new life is given to each believer and in the power of this new life they are called to walk. Paul would also write these words to help us understand how this new life possible:

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

The weakness of the law was the weakness of man; it demanded that which man, without Christ, could not possibly deliver for his nature is utterly perverted and corrupt. But the Holy Spirit has created a new nature in man and linked with this new nature and new life are new desires and affections that find fulfillment in the will of God, to which this new man responds in glad obedience.

2. Life in the Spirit, 8:5—11

5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And 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.

The sentiments of verse 5 are echoed in Galatians 5:17—

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

The “sinful nature,” or kata sarka, “according to the flesh,” way of life completely inconsistent with “the Spirit,” or kata pneuma, “according to the Spirit.” So much so, that one who claims to be walking “in the Spirit” should be unable, on account of his new nature, to do anything according to his “sinful nature.” However, does our experience teach us something different? There is a very important distinction that must be noted. The life in the “sinful nature” (lived “according to the flesh) is a life of bondage. The new life “in the Spirit” (lived “according to the Spirit”) is one of freedom. And so, a person living in their “sinful nature” cannot please God (verse 8) and one “in the Spirit” still possess the freedom to sin (Galatians 5:1, 13).

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13)

This makes the warning of Romans 8:13 so relevant:

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.

What our experience teaches us is that a life in the Spirit does not eliminate the possibility of sin, but instead gives the believer the ability to not sin. It is a choice we must make every day of our lives.

The reason our sinful natures had to be destroyed is made obvious in verses 7 and 8—

The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

The “flesh,” our old selves, can never be improved; the sinful nature in even the oldest, dearest saint in the church is evil. The carnal mind can never be reformed; this is something the law made clear. Those who are without Christ, no matter how wonderful and beneficent they seem, are carnal and they live according to their sinful natures, are wicked, evil and are enemies of God. But the believer, who is no longer “in the flesh,” is now able to please God. It is not just that believers are given the “disposition of Christ,” that is, all of a sudden they want only good and Godly things, for we know that isn’t necessarily true. It is that the Holy Spirit, sent from Christ to indwell every single member of His Church, produces a sense of conviction when a believer lapses into their old ways, and then draws them back into a desire to live according to the Spirit.

Let it be clear: it is the Holy Spirit alone who is the Source of our power for holiness. Our bodies give us no help in living a holy life whatsoever. In fact—

…your body is dead because of sin… (verse 10)

The body, that is, your carnal nature, is useless when it comes to producing any kind of holiness. It is dead. That does not mean your body is worthless, Paul makes the opposite clear in verse 11—

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.

Right now, our bodies are dead; not literally but judicially. In the court of Heaven, the Judge has declared our bodies dead; therefore we can’t expect any good from our bodies at all. Strength of character, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the Judge’s decision. He has declared the believer’s body dead. Eventually, it will be quickened, but it is not now. When Christ comes back, our bodies will be clothed with immortality—

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:52—54).

The body, in Pauline theology, is viewed as the vehicle through which the flesh acts. It is the responsibility of each believer to guard against from happening. Colossians 3:5 teaches—

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Having been crucified with Christ we are now in faith to live as though our bodies are dead to our former natures.

3. Obligations and privileges in the Spirit, 8:12—17

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 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.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 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.

The fact that we have “an obligation” to live according to the Spirit tells us that we have freedom in Christ. This is the great privilege of all believers. We are not robots that mindlessly serve the Lord. We have a choice. In Christ, there is no spirit of bondage; He does not force His children to do anything. Far from being a spirit of bondage that fills us with fear and uncertainty, we are filled with a Spirit of Adoption or Sonship, verses 15 and 16. Hendriksen gives us an excellent summary of this passage, which he calles “Blessed Assurance.” In part, his summary is—

You who are being led by the Spirit are not slaves by children. Having been adopted as children, you, of course, are no longer filled with the spirit of slaves, that of dread. No longer are you oppressed with fear as you were when you were still living in paganism or in Judaism, with their emphasis on all the rules one has to keep in order to be saved. On the contrary, you have received the Holy Spirit, who transforms you into children, Who frees us with a sense of freedom and confidence, so that, in approaching God, we utter the cry of joyful recognition, sweet response, overwhelming gratitude and filial trust, “Abba!”

In regards to our adoption, the most widely held opinion is that Paul has in mind the practices of Roman adoption. This view is held because the Jews did not have a formal, legal adoption procedure. According to Roman law, adoption was not philanthropic but egocentric (Hendriksen). It was primarily practiced for the purpose of keeping property and financial/business concerns within the family. Legal adoption did not apply to females, only to males.

However, while in Jewish law and in the Old Testament in general, there was no legal adoption, there was practiced a kind of informal or “essential” adoption. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses. Modecai brought up his cousin, Esther. 2 Corinthians 6:17—18 speaks of a common Old Testament teaching, God’s adoption of His people:

“Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

That beautiful passage is reflected in numerous OT passages, 2 Samuel 7:8, 14; Ps. 27:10; Isa. 43:6; Hs. 1:10; etc.

It seems clear that when Paul uses the term “adoption” or “sonship” here, he is borrowing the word and the legal standing from Roman law, but the essence comes from God’s revelation of His adoption of His people taught throughout the Old Testament.

Those who are in Christ, who have become His sons and daughters, are now able to cry out “Abba, Father.” Jesus Himself used that double term made up of two languages, while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). This phrase is made up of words from two languages showing that all are one in Christ. “Abba” is an expression a child might use in reference to their father, and “Father” is a more mature term showing that young and old may approach God together; that there is no difference in God’s sight.

He Himself bears witness with our human spirit that we are God’s children. This is, in fact, one of two witness of this great spiritual reality. We received His witness to us as expressed in His Word—

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:15—16)

And we receive His witness in us, as His Holy Spirit convinces us of our new state. He communes with our spirits; He illumines, instructs, and guides us through the Word.

What a marvelous privilege believers have in Christ! Assurance of salvation and an awareness of God’s constant presence and continual lovingkindness belong to us as we walk in the Spirit.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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My Conservative Identity:

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