Sunday, March 30, 2014

Eviction Notice Part 1

Today, we began a new series called “Eviction Notice.” This is about weeding out the law and self-righteousness in our lives and living truly by faith in grace. In this first part, we went through a little bit of a history lesson regarding the message of grace in the early church. As I often teach, understanding scripture requires knowing context. So many restricting and condemning doctrines come from a very surface reading of scripture with no consideration of context. We must always seek to know WHO is talking, TO WHOM are they talking, WHERE they are talking and WHEN they are talking. It is also important to consider whether the word something GOD said or something MAN said.

We examined, in detail, Galatians 1:6-17. In verses 6-9, Paul admonishes the church in Galatia to not receive any Gospel other than what he had preached. What other Gospel was being preached? What was happening was, after he would preach the message of righteousness apart from works and establish a church, Judaizers would follow behind and preach that you had to still obey the Law to be saved – particularly the law of circumcision for Gentiles who wanted to become Christians.

Talk about how to motivate Gentile men NOT to become Christians! These religious leaders were teaching a different Gospel than Paul preached. They preached Christ, but that you still needed to obey law in order to be accepted. Paul goes on to say “let them be eternally cursed.” Now, Paul is not saying – as some have used this passage to imply – that if someone teaches something that is not correct, God is eternally condemning them. If you make your righteousness about your works, you are eternally condemned. There is no peace in righteousness by works. You will never be righteous by your works.  This is why Jesus came in the first place.  Why “let” them be eternally condemned? Shouldn’t Paul have encouraged them to try and preach the truth back at them? No. Remember, these are baby Christians. The entire message of grace was even younger than the church itself. Paul was one of the only ones who, at that time, had real revelation knowledge. These baby Christians were not equipped to argue with scholars on the law.

I think a great example would be with our children. I teach my kids that God created the earth in six days. I know that is truth and they know that is truth. Their teachers in school are going to teach a vastly different account of how we all got here. They will even imply that what my children believe is backwards and foolish. But I tell my children NOT to argue with teachers. They are very knowledgeable in their foolishness and can easily use intellect to crush the faith of a young believer. I watch kids in church who love God graduate high school and go to college. Within one semester, all the professors have “convinced” them there is no God and that to believe in God is idiotic. Thankfully, most have returned to the way they were brought up, but, without deep revelation knowledge of God’s Word, it is easy to be intellectualized out of your belief.  I think this is what these Judaizers were doing to the church in Galatia and elsewhere. It “made sense” to be required to follow the law to please God. That is all they had known, but Paul says to not let ANYONE (even himself) talk them into a different gospel than the gospel of grace. 

As part of the history lesson, we went to Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to help clear up a similar matter. Jerusalem, in the heart of Israeli territory, was quickly falling back into law after receiving Christ. Specifically, they did not want the Gentiles to be able to claim “child of God” status without having to obey all the law they had obeyed (kind of) for generations.  Eventually the church leaders agreed that Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised, but that there were going to be four rules they must keep. Now, they felt they were okay with these four rules because they were given by God BEFORE the actual law was given. They were still missing the point. Jesus did not just come to fulfill the Mosaic law but any law that would separate God and man.

The more I study Paul’s writings, the more I see that God used him to save the early church. I believe that, without Paul, we would not be here as Christians today. The early church – even by the leadership of the disciples who walked with Christ, was quickly falling back into law living. The belief in Jesus as Messiah was layered on top of their belief, but they were still legalist Jews by nature.  Paul spent 14 years (Galatians 2:1) studying and receiving this message. He points out that he did not get this message from the disciples or any man, but from God himself. I often wondered why (and even Paul wondered at times) Paul, who was a Pharisee, was chosen to bring the Gospel to Gentiles and not the Jews. I believe what we saw in Acts 15 shows that he had more impact on the Jews than we realize.

I think God needed someone who was not there for the physical ministry of Christ and who understood all of the Old Testament to be able to connect all the dots. You know, sometimes when we physically experience something we can miss some of the deeper, spiritual meaning. Paul didn’t see it all happen, but he knew what happened and he knew well all of the things that were being fulfilled by Jesus. He had to have 14 years of “a-ha” moments as he gained that revelation and then passed it on to us in the New Testament.  We must also get that deep understanding of grace or we too can fall into the trap of turning our Christianity into a list of rules and rituals that have no power to grant us fellowship with God or to actually overcome sin.


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Monday, March 24, 2014

Oil and Water Part 5

This week we finished the “Oil & Water” series. In it, we examined major contrasts between Old Covenant and New Covenant and how we cannot mix the two together.

In this final part we discussed the following contrast:

7) OLD COVENANT: Law could not provide an intimate relationship with God.

NEW COVENANT: We enjoy a close, intimate relationship with God through faith in righteousness through Jesus.

Hebrews 4:12-16 illustrates this point. The key verse is verse 16, but going back to verse 12 gives us a clearer context. Verse 12 is what I call one of the “mission statements” of the Word. It says that the Word is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword and that it divides soul and spirit and judges the thoughts and intents of the heart (my paraphrase). The Word shows you the truth about who you are and what God wants you to be. In essence the Word is your judge.

Then in verse 13, we are told that everything is revealed to God’s sight. Nothing is hidden, and we must all give account. Often, this verse is quoted without the 3 verses that follow it that give it context. We are left in fear that every single thing about us will be called into question by God, and we will have to give account. But, Pastor, that’s what it said!  Read on! The next verse (14) begins with “therefore.” Whenever you see a therefore, you always back up a few verses to see what it is there for. So the statement in verse 13 is a lead-in to verses 14-16. In other words, understand that all are required to give account and based on that, you might want to know what comes in these next verses.

 Verses 14 and 15 tells us that we have a high priest (Jesus) who understands our weaknesses, because He was a man tempted in every way that we are tempted. He was without sin, and He offers Himself as the sin sacrifice for us. Then verse 16 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  You could actually look at this passage this way… you must give account, therefore approach the throne of grace…

There is an account with a debt on it for your sins. If you approach the throne of grace, that debt has been paid by Jesus, so you may approach confidently, in faith, knowing you have no debt with God. If you choose instead to approach the throne of law and works, you will still be condemned for every failing. You then must account for every thought and action.  Understand that God does not have multiple thrones. He is on the throne of grace, but the world has other thrones. If you attempt to approach God through works, you will not find Him. He is not there. All you will find is guilt and condemnation, and, ultimately, destruction.

Revelation 20:11-12 talks about the dead being brought before the throne of God for judgment; however, it talks about there being many books AND the book of life. Your judgment depends on which book your name is in. If it is in the book of life, there is no judgment because your sin account was paid in full by Jesus, but if your name is in the book of “I was a good person” or the book of “I did it my way” or the book of “it’s all good,” you are in trouble. Anything but the book of life is a book based on your works. If you are not in Christ, you are left to justification by your works. Your works will NEVER be good enough.

But let’s get back to the close, personal relationship and the confidence with which we approach God. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Paul is discussing the higher standard that those who influence the Body are held to. In this passage he states that no one can judge him, and he makes a very profound statement in verse 4. He says, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.”  In order to stand before God confidently and to be truly used by Him, we must get this same revelation. We will never be innocent. We are human and, even with the best of intentions, we will still sin, but because of the blood of Jesus, we can have a clear conscience. We should not walk in guilt and condemnation for our sin.

 As I have stated before, guilt should only drive you to God to ask forgiveness. Once you ask, receive it by faith and then do not stay guilty. We may think it is honorable to walk around acknowledging your pitiful state. No…You are forgiven. Walk like one forgiven. Paul understood that he needed to walk with a clear conscience – not calling himself innocent (like one who thinks they have obeyed all of the law), but forgiven.   Going back to Hebrews 4:16, we must understand that it is precisely because of our sin and failings that we need that mercy and grace “in our time of need.” Those things should not be stopping you from boldly approaching that throne of grace!



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Monday, March 17, 2014

Oil and Water Part 4

This week, we continued in the “Oil & Water” series. We have been studying 8 specific stark contrasts between the Old Covenant of the Law and the New Covenant of God’s Grace. This week’s study was:   

6) OLD COVENANT: Obeying law did nothing to give power to overcome sin. It made no one holy, just or good.

NEW COVENANT: Sin has no dominion over the believer (Romans 6:14). Consciousness of righteousness in Christ IS the power to overcome (Romans 4:6).

We did a verse-by-verse study of the first half of the sixth chapter of Romans in order to illustrate this point.  First of all, in the first couple verses it talks about being dead to sin. What does it mean to be dead to sin? Does it mean you no longer sin? Perhaps you’ve been led to believe that, but if that were the definition, no one on earth could claim to be dead to sin. Being dead to sin means that you no longer live for sinful ways. Your life is not guided by sinful desires.

We must also remember that when we become “born-again” we are no longer firstly a physical being. We are spirit – alive in Him. You are spirit. You have a soul (mind, will and emotions), and you live in a body. When you are born-again, you are alive in spirit and, therefore, dead to sin. You can’t be alive in both. Many have used even this definition to try and make people feel that maybe they were never saved if they sin, but  that is not the way to look at it.  You ARE spirit and you are saved. Your flesh will always desire sinful things – some blatant and some that just simply fall short of God’s best. Your soul is what is being constantly renewed. Remember that last week we looked at a scripture in Hebrews 10 that pointed out that we have been made perfect (spirit) and are continually being made holy (soul).

 In later verses in Romans 6, Paul begins using an illustration based on slavery and freedom. Before we knew Christ, we were slaves to sin and, if you put it together with many other illustrations he used, slaves to the law. Understand that, as a slave, the only way out of slavery was death.  Jesus died to the slavery of sin and the law for us. We are resurrected with Him. Remember, if we died with Him at the cross, we also were buried with Him and resurrected with Him – the complete package. We are no longer, by the spirit, slaves to sin. We died to that. Now we are alive in Him!

Verse 11 tells us to count ourselves dead to sin. That is a big part of this. When you received the gift of salvation, God counted you dead to sin, but you must count yourself dead to sin or you will continue to live like a sinner – and a dead, smelly one at that! The only way we will be confident in counting ourselves dead to sin is by having faith in His work and not faith in OUR works.

Then Paul does on to remind us not to let sin reign in our lives and make our bodies instruments of evil. What is defining what you do and controlling your decisions?  That is what is reigning in your life.  Realize that you are going to sin, but do not let sin rule over you. You are no longer its slave, and it is no longer your master. It will try to rule you if you let it, but don’t let it. When you allow yourself to feel condemned when you sin instead of running to God for forgiveness, you let sin reign.

 Finally, in verse 14 he says that sin shall not be your master if you are under grace and not under law. So, by examining what he said, he is also saying that, if you are under law, sin will be your master.  It is the grace of God alone that empowers your to RULE OVER sin. Law will not allow you to do so. You will remain a slave. Receive that grace and get revelation knowledge of the fact that you ARE righteous in Christ.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Oil and Water Part 3

This week, we continued the “Oil & Water” series. We continued looking at the major contrasts between Old Covenant or law living and New Covenant or grace living. In this part we discussed the following:

 5) OLD COVENANT – The blood of animals provided temporary atonement.

NEW COVENANT – Jesus’ blood removed sins – past, present and future.

 To illustrate this contrast, we read Hebrews 10. One of the things we may struggle with in the forgiveness of sins is that it was past, present and future. We probably have no difficulty believing the past sins were forgiven and that today we are forgiven, but we have a hard time believing my future sins are forgiven.  Do not misunderstand me:  we  still must ask for forgiveness in order to be forgiven. Forgiveness has already been supplied for even your future sins. Think about it: when Jesus was on the cross, ALL of your sins were in the future.  I want to emphasize that we do no put Jesus back on the cross when we sin. Maybe we’ve been told that to make us feel guilty for sinning, and maybe it was effective, but it is simply untrue. His sacrifice was ONCE AND FOR ALL. In fact, we are not supposed to walk around feeling guilty for our sins.

Hebrews 10:2 actually says that. The goal of Christ’s sacrifice was for you to no longer feel guilty. The ONLY time you should feel guilty is from the moment you realize you have sinned to the moment you ask for forgiveness. God is faithful and just to forgive. He does not forgive like man does. When we ask someone to forgive us for hurting them, they may say that they forgive us, but we certainly don’t feel as though we can immediately move forward as though nothing had ever happened.   Isn’t there some unwritten and vague rule about how long we have to wallow in our shame before we’re allowed to move on? Maybe with man, but not with God! Forgiven means forgiven. Leave the guilt behind. Are you going to sin again? Yep. God knows that. He loves you anyway and wants nothing hindering your relationship with him – especially guilt that Jesus already paid for.

In Hebrews 10:5-7 it talks about how the Old Covenant offerings did not please God. Doesn’t that seem unfair? God told them to make the sin offerings, but He says they were not pleasing. Why? Well, it was not the act of the offering or the one making the offering that He was not pleased with. It was that the offerings, though necessary until Christ came, were ineffective in forgiving sin, guilt and condemnation. They could not change the heart of man. They were simply a band-aid fix until the true offering (Christ) could be made.  In verse 9, it says that Jesus came to do God’s will – and that will was to put aside the Old Covenant and establish the New. That is WHY Jesus came. That was God’s will. We must also learn to put aside the old so that the new can be established.  The principles of the law do produce good fruit, but no righteousness.

That means that, as long as we still try to operate by law and works in order to obtain righteousness, we have not put that old way aside. Until we do so, we cannot even ESTABLISH the new. That is because they don’t mix. God doesn’t work by a little of both. If you want forgiveness and freedom from guilt and condemnation you MUST put aside the old so that the new will be established in you. 

Then, in verses 12-13 it tells is what Jesus is doing now that He finished the work. He is sitting at the right hand of God (not getting back on the cross when we sin). It says He is waiting for His enemies to be made His footstool. So, who, or what, are His enemies? It is not THE enemy, Satan, because this is a plural noun. It is also not people. God wishes that none perish, but all come to the saving knowledge of grace. Those enemies are the law – law meant to instruct us in right living that ended up bringing death and condemnation – and all its requirements. Every one of them hangs over us until we take hold of righteousness in Christ and put them all under Jesus’ feet.  We must cease from our works to gain righteousness and put all of them under Jesus’ feet and live in His righteous rest.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Oil and Water Part 2

This week, we continued in the “Oil and Water” series. We find in Galatians 3:19-20 that Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant. A mediator is one who is supposed to impartially represent both parties in a matter; seeking the best possible outcome for both. Jesus is the ONLY one qualified to mediate this covenant as He is 100% God and 100% man.  In the Old Testament, under the old covenant, the High Priest was the mediator between God and His people. He offered sacrifices before God on behalf of the people, but because the atonement was only temporary, his work never ceased.

In Hebrews 8:3 and following, we learn that Jesus has done the completed work of the High Priest. He is now seated at God’s right hand. There was no chair in the tabernacle. The Priest was never done with the work, but Jesus competed the work. Man’s sin has been not only atoned for, but forgiven. All we must do to be forgiven is to choose to receive what Jesus did. Then, we must rest from the work of gaining righteousness.  We do not rest from all work, though. God has a lot of work for us to do. We can never get to what He needs us to do if we are consumed with continually working for our righteousness. That work has been done by Jesus. Stop trying in vain to earn something that you could never earn; something that has already been earned for you!  We are back to the promises made to Abraham, which had no strings attached.  This is hard for us to swallow, but it really is the covenant we are under.  The New Covenant is superior, according to Hebrews, and founded on “better promises.” 

We looked at some stark contrasts between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The more we know about them, the more clear it will become that we cannot mix the two. They are incompatible.  The first thing to remember about covenants is that it involves 2 parties fulfilling their side.  The Old Covenant depended on us fulfilling our side.  It was doomed to be broken.  The New Covenant depends on God and Jesus fulfilling their end, and not on us, so it is truly eternal.

1) OLD COVENANT: God demanded righteousness from men.

NEW COVENANT: God imparts righteousness to men through the finished work of Jesus (Romans 4:5-7).

Under the old covenant, the Law placed the demands on man to work to earn righteousness. It was a futile task. Even under this law, God had mercy. He provided the sin offering instructions so that man could have an annual atonement for the places where he fell short of the law.

2) OLD COVENANT: God visited your sin to the third and fourth generations (Exodus 20:5-6).

NEW COVENANT: God will by no means remember your sins (Hebrews 8:12-13 and 10:17-18).

You can actually read the stories of people in the Old Testament who had sin-related curses on their lives that passed to three and four generations later and then seem to disappear.  Under the New Covenant, God has promised to forgive your sins and remember them no more. God chooses to forget, and so must we. The enemy likes to remind you of your sins, and we need to remind him that God has already forgiven that!

3) OLD COVENANT: You could be blessed only for full obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

NEW COVENANT: Jesus fulfilled all of the righteous requirements of the law for us, qualifying us for the blessing of God (Colossians 2:13-14).

No one was capable of fully obeying everything God commanded. Therefore, no one could truly live in God’s blessing.  Jesus fulfilled the law for us. He became the curse for us. We are now blessed not because we fully obey, but because He did!

4) OLD COVENANT: Attempts to change behavior without heart transformation.

NEW COVENANT: Beholding Jesus and His finished work brings heart transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The law (and rules in general) do not change the heart of anyone. The best that rules can do is to create an appearance of holiness, but the heart still desires to sin. It is actually not possible to change someone’s heart using rules and regulations. That is what the law was incapable of doing and, for whatever reason, what much of the church today still tries to do. The ONLY way a man’s heart can change is by the Spirit. Until Jesus completed His work, the Holy Spirit could not be in the heart of men. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was frequently ON someone, but never IN them. Until Jesus cleansed us and provided the way for us to be born of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit could not reside in us, but now he does! The Spirit in you will transform you from the inside out. Our spiritual growth and victory over sin is a slow but sure process, but as soon as we get impatient and try to speed things up by putting ourselves under law to bring change, we go back to the fruitless means of bringing change. Let grace do its work in you and in others!

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