How Dead Were You?

Walking Dead

How dead were you?

When “you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2.1), just how dead was that? Dear Christian, do you recall being dead? Oh, you functioned well enough, as you “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). Remember when we “formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph. 2.3)? We were just like the rest of the world, which walks in the darkness even until now. Just how dead were we?

We were dead to God, dead in spirit. We were not sensitive to spiritual matters and couldn’t tell right from wrong. We may have understood there was a right and a wrong, but we couldn’t explain what it was, and we surely weren’t walking in truth. We directed our own path, guided our own steps, called our own shots–totally and completely divorced from the one relationship which matters most.

TombsDead people are incapable of living. That may strike you as funny, but isn’t it true? Paul used this language of spiritual death on purpose because he wanted us to realize the absolute powerlessness and tragedy of stumbling around dead in our sins–spiritual zombies. We couldn’t make ourselves alive. Dead people can’t reverse the process.

We didn’t even know we were dead–that is, not until God told us through the gospel. I can preach the gospel to my dead neighbors, but it might not wake them up. Many (most?) simply laugh because it seems so ludicrous to them. “You think I’m dead? But look at the life I’ve made for myself!” But God can wake the dead, and He does! Every Christian can attest to this fact–God does, indeed raise the dead. Praise God!

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2.4-6)

In some mysterious, deep, and supernatural way, God breathed into our immortal souls and granted us…LIFE! It’s a life alongside Christ Jesus our Lord, as we sit with Him in the heavenly realms.

How dead were we? We were totally, completely, irreversibly dead, without hope in this world. But for the grace of God, we’d still be dead.

Humility, Grace, and Restoration: Job 42

Why?After saturating ourselves in the book of Job for four wonderful weeks, our church enjoyed a final study last Wednesday. However, we failed to finish the last chapter, where some of the juicy “so-what” information lies. In the last chapter we see Job’s humility, God’s grace, and God’s heart to restore back to Job what had been taken.

Humility

Job’s final response (Job 42.1-6) is a picture of extreme humility. Many recoil at the thought of God allowing Satan to commit those terrible atrocities against Job (see chapters 1 & 2), and they cannot fathom remaining silent. But Job laid a hand on his mouth, realizing he held no authority before God. He had no answer to God’s questions in chapters 38-41, and he had no right to demand an explanation from God.

HumiltyCan you and I be so over-awed by God’s power, majesty, and authority that we humbly accept every insult, every pain, every trouble which comes our way without complaint? Extreme humility engenders extreme contentment. If I can realize, “I don’t deserve anything,” I will also say, “Thank You, God, for what I have.” If I can realize, “God doesn’t owe me anything, yet He has blessed me,” I can also say, “Naked I came into this world, and naked I shall return; the Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21).

Grace

Besides the grace towards Job (God chastened His child into beautiful, humble submission and also blessed him again after the test), God also extended grace to Job’s three friends. In anger, God insisted, “You have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42.7-8).

Apparently, to not speak correctly about God greatly offends Him. This should give us great pause and make us extremely careful (and perhaps uncomfortable) with how we speak concerning the awesome Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth. Let us speak only what He has revealed to us–no more and no less.

RebuildDespite their grave sin, however, God commissioned Job to offer a burnt offering of seven bulls and seven rams, “and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42.9). God forgave those three friends who had spoken rashly and incorrectly about Him! That’s grace.

Restoration

Though God does not owe us anything, He delights in restoring to His servants what we lose. This is wonderful! What a blessing to have a Father who so loves us that He will help rebuild after the storm does its damage. God loves restoration.

“The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten…” (Joel 2.24-25)

Have you wrestled with the deep things Job wrestled with? Have you wondered how a loving God can allow His servant to be treated so ruthlessly and aggressively? Perhaps you’re walking through a fire right now. Job is an extreme case, but we all endure periods of trying, testing, and tempering. Don’t become angry with God, though He did allow your situation to happen! Yes, He controls it; but, no, you don’t have a right to accuse Him of evil. God sometimes allows great pressure in order to shape His clay into something useful. Sometimes He allows fire in order to burn off the dross and leave pure gold. God loves us enough to humble us, He extends grace to us, and He delights to restore to us what is lost!

Is Our Best Good Enough for God?

working hardJesus instructed, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Peter quoted from the Old Testament, “…as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

“But God just wants us to do our best!”
someone blurts from the back of the room (without even raising her hand). “That’s all He can expect us to do.”

Why is that all He can expect us to do? Is our best actually good enough for Him?

When have we actually done our best? Think back to yesterday. Did you do your best? Did you pray at the end of the day, “Lord, I did my best today; I gave it my best shot. I hope You’re happy with me”?

Hard at WorkI confess, I can almost always think of a way in which I could have done something better, spoken more nicely, exhibited more patience, spoken up more, shut up more, desired God more.

What exactly is my best, anyway?

More importantly, is it biblical to insist “God just wants me to do my best”? I read things like…

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4.1-3)

Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5.1-2)

Walk as children of light…” (Eph. 5.8)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Phil. 1.27)

“But God would never command us to do something we can’t do!” returns the lady, now standing red-faced beside her chair.

CamelJesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Literally impossible. For man. But not impossible for God (see Matt. 19.23-26). Did Jesus command that rich young ruler to do something he couldn’t do?

A brother (and brother-in-law) of mine, Edwin Crozier, recently made these observations:

  1. When God commanded Moses to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt, He commanded Moses to what he could not in order to drive him to rely on God’s power (Exodus 3:10)
  2. When God commanded Israel to take possession of the Promised Land, He commanded them to do what they could not in order to drive them to rely on God’s grace (Deuteronomy 9:23, et al).
  3. When God commanded Gideon to deliver Israel from Midian, He commanded Gideon to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on God’s grace (Judges 7).
  4. When God commanded Joshua and Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple, He commanded them to do what they could not in order to drive them to rely on God’s grace and Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
  5. When Jesus commanded Peter to walk on the water, He commanded Peter to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on Jesus’s grace, power, and strength (Matthew 14:28-33).
  6. When Peter commanded the lame man to walk, he commanded the lame man to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on the name and grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6-7).
  7. When God commands us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, He commands us to do what we cannot in order to drive us to His mercy, grace, strength, and power (Ephesians 3:14-4:1).

I whole-heartedly agree with his observations.

Christians do the impossible every day because they rely on the power and grace of God! God has commanded what we are not able to really accomplish, but that’s okay because He can accomplish all these things in us! In fact, Jesus has already accomplished it all for us.

Our best is not good enough for God. But Jesus‘ best is perfect.

Thank You, God, for power and grace to live righteously before You today in Jesus.

Galatians: Praise Jesus, Our Blessed Redeemer!

John17_LawVsGraceTruth_smPaul began defending his proposition that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16) by asking the Galatian brethren when had they received the Holy Spirit–by works of law or by hearing with faith? Of course, they received Him by hearing and believing the gospel, not by hearing and obeying a body of laws. The Jews, as a matter of fact, had lived their entire lives attempting to follow that body of laws yet, despite all their efforts, had not received justification.

Next, Paul demonstrates in Galatians 3.10-12 that those who seek to be under law remain under a curse.

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

What curse? All Jews familiar with their scriptures know the blessings and curses God built into their covenant. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they quickly came to two mountains–Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. From Gerizim they pronounced the great BLESSINGS God would give them if they remained faithful (Deut. 28.1-14), and from Ebal they intoned the litany of CURSES God would bring upon them when they wandered away into unfaithfulness (Deut. 27.15-26; 28.15-68).

Ten CommandmentsPaul gets pretty legalistic here. You might recall a few moments in Israelite history when Israel seemed to be doing okay and God was blessing them because of their faithfulness. But, in reality, the law actually demands a full, total, and perfect faithfulness to all aspects of the law in order to be considered righteous! And who has done that? Only one.

Even in the Old Testament God justified individuals the same way He does now–by faith. Paul pulls from Habakkuk 2.4, “the just shall live by faith,” to show that God justified even the Israelites by faith and not because of their keeping of the Law (praise God)!

We are not justified by law but by faith. We do not live by keeping law but by faith. These ideas of being justified and living go hand-in-hand, for the one on whom God shows His favor has passed out of death and into life (John 5.24); the one God justifies now lives, as once he had been dead in his sins (Eph. 2.1) and under the curse (wrath of God). Law brings curse and judgment; faith brings life and justification.

How can this be? Continue in Galatians 3.13-14…

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The CrossGive us the gospel again, Paul! Hammer it into us and make us full and rich, glowing in the light of God’s truth in Jesus Christ! That’s right–Jesus became cursed in our place. God provided a substitute for us who really deserve the curse, the beating, the mocking, the nails. He hung on that tree until dead, until He had erased our eternal pain and the condemnation of the law. He bore our sin and carried our sorrow so all the people of the earth could have access to the blessing of Abraham and receive that Holy Spirit unto salvation.

And God confirmed these promises by raising Jesus from the dead.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in total awe of what God has done. Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer!

Galatians: Never Justified by Law

Moses and 10 CommandmentsSince the beginning of time, what is the most perfect law ever given whereby men might live? Is it not the law God gave at Mount Sinai through His prophet Moses? The Ten Commandments form the bedrock basis for all of the Law of Moses, which only Israel received. God personally intoned the Decalogue from the top of the mountain, and the people trembled when they heard His voice (Exodus 20)! God has not given another law which so perfectly establishes His concerns for mankind and His own glory.

But did God not give us a new law in Christ Jesus? Indeed, the New Testament mentions, even in Galatians, the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2), but I contend that Christ’s law does not nullify or replace God’s Mount Sinai laws (Matt. 5.17-19).

But doesn’t Hebrews speak of nullifying the old law of Moses and bringing in a new law in Jesus? With our digital access to the biblical texts, it’s easy to search for “old law” and “new law.” I challenge you to run a search on those two phrases and read every instance you find.

What’s that? You couldn’t find a single instance of “old law” or “new law”? Interesting.

Illegal ImmoralWhat you will find are references to “old covenant” and “new covenant” (Heb. 8.13; 9.2, 15; 12.24) and to a “first covenant” and “second covenant” (Heb. 9.1), but that’s not exactly the same as “old law” and “new law.” A covenant is an agreement between parties; law may be included within the covenant, but it’s not equal to the covenant itself. We would do well to distinguish between Old Testament moral laws (instructions towards holy living), ceremonial laws (such as sacrifice, temple worship, special days, and circumcision), and civil laws (such as specific penalties for breaking laws).

Jesus and His apostles continued to refer back to the Law of Moses for moral guidance. Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 for the Greatest Commandment and it’s human corollary (Matt. 22.37-40). He told a young man in Matthew 19.16-19 to keep the commandments in order to have eternal life. Paul often taught Christians using the commandments and the Law (Rom. 7.7-12; 13.8-10; 1 Cor. 14.34; Gal. 5.14-15; etc.).

JusticeMoral law has been the same since God created man. When has it ever been right to murder, to lie, to cheat, or to steal? When God spoke the Ten Commandments, He was not giving the world something new; He was instructing Israel in His character and in how they ought to live before Him! God’s moral law, then, displays His holiness and provides a means for us to understand our right place before Him. But it also condemns, giving judgments for violations.

If the Law of Moses contains the most perfect revelation of moral law since time began, then the way to have a relationship with God must have been through the correct keeping of that law, right? Wrong! This is Paul’s contention in the letter to the Galatians. Notice:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2.21)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3.11; and notice Paul quotes from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2.4, for this proof!)

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Gal. 3.21)

Law has never given life, has never justified a man before God!

There is a huge reason that Paul never contrasts the “old law” with a “new law” in Christ. He always contrast the law with faith and grace. Just as the Jews were not and are not justified by law, neither are we justified by law. Any law.

Think on these things.

AUDIO: Healing a Woman; Raising a Girl from the Dead

We recently enjoyed Mark 5.21-43, in which Jesus healed a woman who had endured a flow of blood for 12 years and raised a girl from the dead.

In this amazing series of events, Jesus shows His great compassion towards women, continues His habit of touching the unclean, and leads people to conquer their greatest fears! Enjoy.

Superstar Suicides and the Secret to Happiness

ElvisOver the years, an astounding number of intelligent, gorgeous men and women have committed suicide.

  • Maralyn Monroe overdosed on barbiturates and was found dead in her bed clutching a telephone receiver on August 5, 1962.
  • The king of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, overdosed on prescription drugs on August 16, 1977, and died of cardiac arrest.
  • The king of pop, Michael Jackson, overdosed on a cocktail of antidepressants and pain killers and died on June 25, 2009.
  • Robin Williams was found on August 11, 2014, hanging by a nylon belt with wrists partially slashed after having dosed himself with antidepressants, caffeine, and a drug for Parkinson’s disease.

Robin WilliamsThe world loved (and many sill love) these icons for their ability to perform, entertain, shock, and amuse. All were top of their game, making headlines, and amazingly successful as this world counts success.

What went wrong?

Obviously drugs were a major factor in each and every case.

But why the drugs? These were not illegal drugs; they were prescription. After brief consideration, you may easily observe that these women and men were not happy with their super-successful lives! In fact, we might conclude they were actually not successful in life.

These folks were, evidently, seeking happiness in all the wrong places. They did not find joy in their beauty, sexuality, money, or fame–yet upon those things it seems they centered their lives. They built upon a shifting foundation of lies.

From where, then, does true worth and abiding happiness come?

Happy KidsActual joy and peace can only come from the presence of the one true and living God, Yahweh! Notice Psalm 16.7-11, especially verse 11:

    7   I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
         My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
    8   I have set the LORD always before me;
         Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

    9   Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
         My flesh also will rest in hope.
    10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
         Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
    11 You will show me the path of life;
         In Your presence is fullness of joy;
         At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It saddens me to think of all in this world who are so far away from true spiritual blessing. How gracious God has been to me in showing me this path to peace, for I surely don’t deserve it. To be allowed into God’s presence boggles the mind, doesn’t it? For Him to forgive our sins and give us the opportunity to experience the fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures, does it not fill you with inexpressible delight, humble thanksgiving, and the motivation to serve Him forevermore?

Happy ChildrenSo spread the gospel, the good news of our Savior, who makes it possible for us to approach God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4.16), because millions of fellow men and women are searching for their lives’ meaning. They won’t find it in themselves, in their friends, or in their fans, and they certainly won’t find it in those pills they pop every day to mask their pain and depression.

Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6.68-39), and He has commissioned us to spread it. Let’s get to work!

Confidence!

Standing StrongTwo understandings I hold seem on their face to contradict:

  1. I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters
  2. I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ

Chew on those for a moment.

How can a person be confident in his relationship with Jesus, confident of his salvation, and also confident he is wrong in some of his Bible understanding?

Actually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not seem the height of arrogance for one to think he has every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.

Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now–there is a right and a wrong, good and evil; it’s just that we, in our finite selves, will never fully discern these things. We grow in our discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.

God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. How much more grace should we give each other, then? In truth, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.

Paul wrote:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)

ConfidentFrom where did Paul’s confidence come? It came from Jesus Christ! Paul was fully confident in Jesus’ power, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ accomplishment. Paul placed no confidence in his own work.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us… (Titus 3.4-5)

We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we. Sure, there are items with which we must have no disagreement, but the “same mind” Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards each other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), the mind of abject humility and obedience to God.

When we divide from and formally disfellowship our brothers and sisters because they have a different understanding, we may actually be demonstrating a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season…perhaps for longer…but that does not mean we must view one another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn’t plow together in the same yoke, but that was only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.

Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.

Are You Walking in Grace Today?

ComfortingTheoretically, I assume grace would come naturally to a sinless and selfless individual. But to all of us lawbreakers who feel guilt and shame in our lives, grace makes us nervous and unsettled. As weird as it may seem, grace almost feels wrong to us.

Take for example the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20.1-16 in which the landowner went out five times during the day to find laborers for his vineyard. The first men began work early in the morning, the second around 9 a.m., the third around noon, the fourth around 3 p.m., and the last at 5 p.m., leaving them only an hour or two of daylight in which to work. Those last men were called “about the eleventh hour,” Jesus said (Matt. 20.6). We use that phrase “eleventh hour” to mean “the very last minute.” Indeed, those men were called at the tail end of the day, and we law-abiding folk balk as the landowner handed every worker the exact same wage no matter how many hours he had worked!

“Not fair! Those who worked longer should have received more. Workers have rights, you know. You can’t give those sweaty, exhausted workers the exact same thing as to those men who lazed around most of the day.”

Oh really? Jesus demands that we consider it. Isn’t it up to the landowner to hire workers and pay them whatever he wants? If the workers agreed to the wages, they received what was fair.

Not only was the landowner fair, but he extended grace to those who worked fewer hours. He didn’t have to pay them a full day’s wage…but he did. It’s not that he wasn’t fair to the first men, it’s that he is more than fair with the last–and therein lies the message. Grace makes us squirm.

When your wife has left several obvious items at the house undone, when your children succumb to temptation and break your rules, when a man holds a sign on the side of the road “hungry, please help,” do you act in grace? Is grace your default, or is it something you must work at?

By the Grace of GodBecause of our sinful natures, grace is often difficult and not our default. Grace is truly being like God, and we have fallen from His nature; that image has been corrupted. Jesus is the exact image of the Creator, but we are not!

How have you responded to your husband / wife today? How have you dealt with your children recently? When your boss is cranky, what is your default reaction? When your employees don’t exactly measure up, how do you treat them? Humans mess up. God doesn’t. Yet see how He treats us in spite of our sins!

Are you walking in grace today? Or do you walk entirely by law? When people don’t measure up, do you prosecute (persecute?) them to the fullest extent of the law?

“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1.17)

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3.21-26)

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6.14)

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. (2 Cor. 1.12)

Think on these things.