The Rich Young Ruler (Part Two)

Luke 18:18-30

A ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said (18:18-21 CSB).

Jesus challenged the ruler’s understanding of the law covenant (18:20). We must see that Jesus answered the rich man’s question. He had asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In answer, Jesus directed him to the law covenant, which promised life to those who obeyed the commands of the law. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:5 ESV).

There is only one person who ever fully kept the law covenant given at Sinai, and he is Jesus, who was talking to the rich man. Since he kept the law covenant, it could not condemn him. That is why Jesus was able to give his life as an atoning sacrifice for those who could not keep the law covenant. He was the pure and spotless Lamb of God. We were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:19 NIV). Let us understand clearly that the problem was not with the law. It had a good promise, a promise of life. But the problem is with all people everywhere. We are all sinners, and no sinner keeps God’s law perfectly.  We do not obey God and his laws. For example, do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Think of how evasive we all get on that one, as seen in the question of the law expert to Jesus (Luke 10:25-29). There is no law that can give a right standing before God to those who break it. Therefore, we need another way to be saved, and that way is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:21-22). So then, Jesus answer was intended to bring the young man to the end of his self effort.

The Lord Jesus selected a short list of commands to present to the rich man. Why Jesus chose these and not others is a matter of speculation. The Bible simply does not say. Moreover, to speculate is to miss the point. If the rich young ruler had seriously examined himself in the light of God’s holy commandments to which Jesus referred him as well as to others in the Scriptures, he would not have given his answer. “I have kept all these from my youth” (18:21 CSB). The rich ruler was being superficial or perhaps evasive, like the woman at the well (John 4:16-17). The point that Jesus wanted him to grasp is that he could not save himself. He could not do what the law covenant demanded. Therefore, he needed another way to eternal life.

What is your opinion of your own religious efforts? Do you really think that you have kept all God’s commands since your childhood? The answer is not “mostly” or “I’ve tried in God’s viewpoint”. God doesn’t say that 99% obedience to the law is an excellent way to earn righteousness. It is all or nothing. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10 NIV). Have you seen your desperate need to have the Savior, Jesus Christ, save you?

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part One)

Luke 18:18-30

A ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said (18:18-21 CSB).

People tend to evaluate other people on the basis of worldly success: wealth, education, popularity, physical attractiveness, social standing, and likeability. The higher someone “scores” in these areas, the better person he or she must be! If we are honest, we will admit that we all do this to some degree. People judge by outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). On one level we must do this, since only God can see the inner person of the heart. We humans have to gather the best information we can, weigh everything by the Scriptures, and then make a right judgment (cf. John 7:24). However, people seldom bring the Scriptures into this process and evaluate each other my worldly methods. And people assume that God does the same thing. He looks at what we do, and if “the good outweighs the bad”, then we suppose he accepts us. This is a root of people trusting in works to save or to do religious things “to get God to like me”.

In this event from the life of Jesus, we read of a rich, young leader approaching Jesus with an important question. It is a question that people who believe in God or some kind of god and who understand somewhat of humanity’s problems ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” God has placed a sense of eternity in human hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), but we see ruin and death around us, and we want to escape from it. We want eternal life—life that is really life without end and without suffering.

So we read that this very rich man, someone who had it all from a human standpoint, decided to go to Jesus with this very important question. Surely Jesus would know. Isn’t he a good man? He was constantly helping people wherever he went. And think of the wisdom that he spoke with! No one else had ever spoken so wisely. Yes, he had to know how to gain eternal life. So let us follow this rich young man, a leader among his people, to Jesus and learn along with him.

First we see that Jesus challenged the young man’s understanding (18:19-21). Jesus did not give quick, shallow answers to crucial questions. This is especially hard for people in our culture who expect instant gratification to accept. Jesus invested time in leading people to an accurate understanding of God and the way to eternal life. Sound answers require comprehension of the issue, and this requires time.

Jesus challenged his understanding of who Jesus is (18:19). The rich man called Jesus “Good teacher”. What did he mean by that? Was he just politely flattering? Or had he come to know who Jesus is? Compare his approach with the woman at the well (John 4:10).

Christ did not just jump on a trivial statement. The rich ruler lived in a religious subculture influenced by the Scriptures that held that only God is good, and no one called any rabbi or teacher “good”. That was an honor reserved for God. So Jesus is saying: You have called me “good”. Are you just flattering? Or do you really understand that I am the Son of God and can therefore be called “good”, because only God is good.

But there is something else here. By reminding the rich ruler that only God is good, he prepared the young man to evaluate himself in the light of God’s holiness. God is holy and his law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12 NIV). Did he have an accurate understanding of the law covenant?

When someone claims to “be a good person” or to “keep the commandments” in a religious discussion, don’t be afraid to examine their understanding in a kind and wise way. Let us show discernment. A few religious sentiments and phrases do not mean that a person has a correct idea of God and the gospel.

Grace and peace, David

Bragging or Praying? (Part Three)

Luke 18:9-14

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (18:13-14 CSB).

Since we cannot save or help save ourselves in any way, how can we be saved? How can we be rescued from the righteous consequences of our sin, of our rebellion against God and his word, of our refusal to love God with all our being, and our rejection of God as our God? I use this longer description of sin, because we all lack a proper understanding of sin. We use the word ‘sin’ but don’t comprehend what God is communicating. He speaks of an offense against him of large proportions. The tax collector realized his guilt before God.

The only hope for sinners is found in the free grace of God (18:13-14). Jesus asserts two important truths of salvation. Let us first think of two general remarks about them. Both are spoken of in the passive voice. God does something for us, and not we for God. Both of these are teachings of Christ, and not latter “fabrications” of Paul.

Christ taught the doctrine of propitiation; that is, God’s justice has to be satisfied before God can show mercy toward a sinner. The tax collector understood his problem, and he calls himself “the sinner”. He acknowledged that he deserved wrath. He knew that God had to solve the problem. He was in way over his head and only God could get him out!

Christ taught the doctrine of justification. Justification talks about our legal standing before God. The greatest need is to be right with God, or his justice will fall on you! People are justified freely (Romans 3:24): without any cause in their hearts, attitudes, decisions or actions.

Here are a couple lessons from the whole section (18:9-14). First, God knows exactly who and what we are. Hypocrisy is a position impossible to hold before God. Yet, here is comfort for a true believer. Listen to the words of John Newton:

True, I’ve been a foolish creature,
And have sinned against his grace;
But forgiveness is his nature,
Though he justly hides his face:
Ere he called me, well he knew
What a heart like mine would do.

Second, Jesus speaks very directly to people. He does not beat around the bush and or apologize. God deals clearly and openly with us. The Lord wants you to be right with him, but that righteousness only comes through faith in him and his saving work.

Third, we must have the proper attitude in prayer. God will not hear you on account of who you think you are or because of your self-righteousness. However, God does hear sinners who confess their need of him.  Which of these men are you most like? If you say, the Pharisee, then you need to get right with God. Do you focus on God when you pray, or are your prayers a litany of self-praise in which you tell God how much he owes you? If you pray like the Pharisee, you need to change immediately and instead pray like the tax collector.

Grace and peace, David

Bragging or Praying? (Part Two)

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get” (18:11-12 CSB).

A person that lacks true humility is not truly right with God. Yes, he or she might be very religious, but that is different from being right with God (18:9, 14). Consider God’s desire. For the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed (Isaiah 57:15 CSB). Contrast this with 1 Peter 5:5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (ESV, my emphasis).

People should evaluate themselves properly. We need to ask, “How does God view me? What is my true position before him?” To help, let’s look at the Pharisee’s mistake. He compared himself with sinners worse than he assumed he was. He did not compare himself with Samuel or Daniel or Noah. Worse, he did not compare himself with God, like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) and Peter (Luke 5:8) did. He failed to consider that God is completely holy and righteous. The core issue is that the saved person has had a change of mind about themselves in relation to God. He is holy (set apart for his glory), while we are not (we’re glory thieves, trying to make ourselves look good or great).

When you have an eye exam and need to have prescription glasses, the eye doctor will try out various lenses to find out which combination helps you to see most clearly. To see ourselves properly, we need to see ourselves through three Biblical lenses: the lens of creation, the lens of the fall, and, in addition, the Christian must add the lens of redemption. The unsaved person has a distorted view of reality because they don’t want to see themselves as created by God and ruined by sin. They distort or refuse to wear the first two lenses. For this reason, when we witness, we must explain a text like Romans 3:23 (for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God) and not just quote it. Make sure a person understands and kindly press it home to their conscience. What about you? Have you ever compared yourself with God?

The folly of self-trust happens when a person does not realize his or her true, desperate condition before God. One of the key happenings in a genuine revival is the humbling of people before God. “Lord, you are true and righteous; we are false and sinful!” In our day, we have Christians who run around and call themselves “Reformed” and toss around the Ten Commandments as “the moral law” and “the believer’s rule of life” as if they were some kind of test of true holiness. The Pharisee in this parable would have agreed with all that and it did him no good. And where is the burning concern and zeal for the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23-24)?

Think also of the inability of works to obtain salvation and God’s approval. The Pharisee’s reliance on works failed him. He was not right with God though he was outwardly pure (18:11). Though he did “extra works”, like fasting far beyond what God had commanded in the law (18:12). He did not understand that works fail because they cannot save. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11 NIV; cf.  Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:14-16). Are you right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Or are you under God’s curse?

Grace and peace, David

Bragging or Praying? (Part One)

Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (18:9-10 CSB).

I once went on a “mountain climbing adventure” on South Bubble in Acadia Park with one of my sons. That experience does not mean that I qualify as a mountain climber, partly because it wasn’t even high enough to be classified as a mountain. The other reason is that I wasn’t much of a climber, being terribly out of shape. If I had been more in tune with my condition, I would have scheduled a visit with a cardiologist then. But we can’t rewrite our lives, can we? Although I have climbed other true mountains in the east, I am still not a mountain climber, but just a hiker, who sometimes enjoys terrain that is a little bit more challenging.

It is of fundamental importance in true Christianity that a person has a correct idea or evaluation of what they are. Only when a person, by God’s grace, realizes what they are, will they turn to God, acknowledge their deficiencies and insufficiencies, and humbly seek grace. This holds true whether a person needs to be saved or needs to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

In this parable, Jesus tells a story with one main point. This time, it is not about the need for persistent prayer (Luke 18:1-8) but about true righteousness and how to attain it. God does not acknowledge people as righteous on the basis of what we do or do not do. No one can be right with God that way, because we are all ruined by sin. Everyone who is righteous before God owes all to God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.

Outward religion is not a sign of inward grace (18:10). Both men in this parable were visibly associated with the people of God. They prayed at God’s temple. Membership in a church or attendance at a church does not save or help save in any way. For example, attending a football game does not make you a football player, and even being on a team doesn’t equate with really knowing how to play football, as a lot of coaches will testify! We must beware of self-deception (cf. Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23). True Christians follow Christ, and to follow him requires supernatural power, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Both were outwardly performing an acceptable act of worship (cf. Matthew 6:5-15). Flowery words and cleverly crafted phrases are not a sign of a pure heart. There are many art critics and aficionados that can tell you everything about brush strokes and composition of paintings yet cannot paint! True prayer comes from a heart of faith in God and love for God, not from a “dictionary of religious phrases”.

Consider this typical example of a Pharisee’s prayer. “I thank thee, Jehovah my God, that thou hast assigned my lost with those who sit in the… (house of learning) and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in (street) corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labor and they labor, but I labor and receive a reward and they labor and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction” (Talmud, Berakoth 28b, quoted by Morris, p. 264).

Both were performing that act in a way that God appointed. These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7 ESV).

The contemporary church would call people engaged in such activity “committed Christians” or “spiritual Christians”. But Jesus says, “Wait; we must look deeper.” The question for us is, “Are we willing to look deeper into the subject? Will we approach God in humility and say, Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)?

Grace and peace, David

We Need to Talk (Part Two)

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4 NIV).

Let’s talk about our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We, Christ’s new covenant people, the church, belong to him. And he belongs to us (John 14:20). We ought to take this truth seriously. More than that, we should rest in it, rejoice in it, and in revel it. The purpose of salvation is to be a people who belong to the Lord. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

The law that Paul speaks of is the law given on Sinai as God’s covenant with his people. The law or old covenant regulated the life of the people of God from Sinai to the cross. The people of the law covenant had its promise of life (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but being sinners, they could not keep it. Thus they fell under its curses (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The law demanded spiritual fruitfulness, but offered no power to produce fruit. We do not belong to the law covenant. It was given by God and its commands good (Romans 7:12), but it could not produce godly fruit in sinful people. But the resurrected Christ can produce spiritual fruit in his people. He does this by the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

This much Christians have said through the years. It is the idea of belonging to Christ that we should have a greater awareness of. Paul uses the illustration of a married woman. At the core of marriage is the concept of the husband and wife belonging to each other. Each hands over to the other their aspirations, their financial independence, their bodies and so forth in order to form a union with each other. As Jesus said, Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6 NLT).

We need to become serious that we are joined to the Lord. Do we share his aspirations (his revealed will for his people)? Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to him (2 Corinthians 5:9). Jesus knew the Scriptures, so should we. Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38), and that is our calling (cf. Titus; 1 Peter). Jesus lived a life of love (Galatians 2:20), and our love for others ought to show up in how we talk to each other (Ephesians 4:29-5:2). Jesus completed the work the Father gave him to do (John 17:4), and we need to pursue the task of making disciples and being his witnesses (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

Part of the marital relationship is properly representing your spouse. When my wife and I had just started to get serious in our dating relationship, we agreed not to refer to each other as “the old man” or “the old lady” or other derogatory terms. We speak in words that seek to honor the other before God and people. This means we are also careful in the way we speak of the Lord, whose name is constantly dishonored in our time.

Positively, this means that we show the Lord Jesus’ qualities to a watching world. Consider Colossians 3:12-15. Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful (CSB). Here is how the Lord wants his wife to dress. He wants us to wear godly relational qualities. This starts in our relationships with other believers, and extends to acting in a beneficial manner to all. With the internal squabbles that characterize most local churches and the fruitless quest for political power by many professing believers in our time, the world does not see the above fruit. It hears the defiling speech spoken against in Colossians 3:8. It observes contention, arrogance, impatience, and a mournful lack of gentleness, kindness, and love.

Dear brothers and sisters, we need to face the hard truth. Our words and our contact have not properly represented the Lord Jesus Christ. We desperately need a radical change in our world and life view that restores the supremacy of Christ in our attitudes, words, and behavior. The Lord wants us to relate to him and to others in a much godlier way than we have been.

Grace and peace, David

Avoiding False Religion (Part Two)

Hosea 8:1-14

When Ephraim multiplied his altars for sin, they became his altars for sinning. Though I were to write out for him ten thousand points of my instruction, they would be regarded as something strange. Though they offer sacrificial gifts and eat the flesh, the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their guilt and punish their sins; they will return to Egypt. Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; Judah has also multiplied fortified cities. I will send fire on their cities, and it will consume their citadels (8:11-14 CSB).

They had a religion of self-will. God intends that our lives conform to the standard of the Scriptures (8:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). He expects us to be holy (set apart) as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Our way of life from the inside out is to reflect God’s message and great aim, being set apart for his glory. But in Ephraimite (Ephraim is a name for the northern ten tribes) religion, the Holy Scriptures are regarded as something strange, “alien”, having no relevance to one’s life (8:12). The world thinks that godliness, marital faithfulness, self-control, prudence, humility and gentleness are strange things (cf. 1 Peter 4:4). The only relevance it knows is immediate self-gratification. This produces rebellion against God’s covenant law (8:1). Why obey something you think is weird and irrelevant?

When people refuse the Bible as God’s will for their lives, they become their own authority. What is right or wrong is then determined by human preference. Two ways Israel did this:

  • They chose rulers apart from God’s consent (8:4). A parallel in our day would be ordaining ministers apart from the requirements of God’s words; namely, setting up women as teaching pastors or tolerating ministers who do not have a firm hold of the faith once delivered to the saints. Churches look for managers or marketers, because they think their problem lies in their form rather than their substance. Sound teaching that sets forth God and his glory means little to many. “Just tell me enough so that I can live prosperously, and after I die, have a prosperous eternity.” God is forgotten! They tragically are unaware that eternal life involves knowing God and Christ (John 17:3).
  • They mixed themselves among the nations (8:8-10) Today the church mixes herself with the world by adopting unspiritual, ungodly, unbiblical attitudes and practices. How is the contemporary western church, claiming to be God’s nation, different from the world? What of the way she measures success? The way she markets herself? The lifestyle her members live?

They had a religion of empty ritual. Outwardly, everything seemed to be in order. Worshiping in a certain way (that is assumed to be attractive to the current lusts of the culture) is very important in Ephraimite religion. “This is the way we worship here.” Ephraim built altars for sin offerings (8:11). This looks good, doesn’t it? She seemed to confess the guilt of sin. Ephraim offered sacrifices to the Lord (8:13). Wasn’t she confessing her need for redemption and cleansing to the Lord? Do not read too much into what ritual and the recitation of the creeds are supposed to mean. Ask about the understanding of the heart. Is there love for the Lord and his truth? Are we set apart for what the Lord desires?

In reality, Ephraim’s situation was desperate. The altars were merely monuments to her sins, because she did not want to turn from her sins (8:11). It is one thing to sing the name of Jesus and speak of how kind and caring he is to affluent people in all their miseries; it is a very different matter to want to bring your life under his lordship. The Lord was not pleased with her sacrifices. She was ripe for judgment (8:13-14).

Are your sins taken away (Micah 7:18-19)? Do you have a promise from the living God that he will never remember them (Hebrews 8:12)? Such a promise and cleansing is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ and received through faith in him. Don’t build empty hopes on empty profession, your opinions, and religious rituals. Find the lasting, substantial joy of knowing God through Christ. When you come to know the Author of life, then you will experience life.

Grace and peace, David

We Need to Talk (Part One)

Ephesians 5:22-33

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church (5:32 NIV).

The Biblical passage from which we begin this series is often used to talk about the marital relationship between a husband and a wife. Clearly, it does provide crucial teaching on the sharing of life between the two partners in the marriage covenant. But there is more to these words than the relationship of two humans. Their union is a picture of the greater union of the Lord Jesus Christ and his people. Christ is the husband and the church is his bride. As a man and a woman share life in their marital union, so Christ and his people share life. Marriage is about knowing a person and being known by that same person. Our eternal life with God is about personal knowledge (John 17:3) And knowledge involves communication. So, in this series think of Christ saying to his dearly loved bride, “We need to talk.”

Now on the human side of things, when a man or a woman says to their spouse, “We need to talk,” it is because there is a problem of some kind. Some might be small and others very serious. When one says this phrase, the other might begin to think, “Now what have I done,” and “how can I defend myself?” To ease into this, imagine that a married couple is a party. The husband tells a joke of some sort, that he assumes is simply funny and harmless. But the next thing he knows, his wife comes up to his side and whispers in his ear, “Dear, we need to talk.” Immediately, by her tone, the husband knows he is in trouble! And he is ignorant, and thinking, “Oh no, what did I do or say now?”

In that situation, the husband is probably guilty of some social faux pas. However, we the church are united to the Lord of glory, who is all-wise and never makes mistakes, even when we fail to comprehend his ways. On the other hand, we commit many sins and errors, which require our repentance and faith in his grace to restore our fellowship with him.

For our constant benefit, the Lord Jesus talks to his church through the living Word of God. We don’t need to find a time to talk with him in a busy schedule, which can be difficult for married couples in the busyness of our fast-paced lives. His words are always available, and we can always talk with him (prayer).

This series does not directly speak to the issue of reading the Bible and prayer. A discussion about the latter usually turns into a guilt trip (hardly anyone prays like we all know we should), an excessive concentration on the physical and financial needs of others (who prays for spiritual matters?), or a mystical quest (there are many forms of mysticism in prayer that have little or no connection with the Bible). Dare I even mention attempting to get “Bible believing” Christians involved in reading the Bible regularly? I think it would be easier to encourage believers to wade waist deep through a horrifically smelling swamp for a year than to read the Bible daily for three months! We have a serious problem with distraction or disinterest or disillusionment when it comes to reading God’s word in a consistent manner. Do you think I’m joking? All right… Read First Thessalonians every day for a month. The Spirit might use it to change your life.

Instead, I want to think with you about teachings of the Scriptures that the Lord wants us to pay attention to, as he talks with his dearly loved bride, the church. Christ says to us, “We need to talk;” that is, we need to listen to him about our relationship with him, our worship, our fears, our pride, our lack of passion, our brotherly love, and our need for wisdom. May God our Father give us hearts to listen and grace to change!

Grace and peace, David

Avoiding False Religion (Part One)

Hosea 8:1-14

Put the horn to your mouth! One like an eagle comes against the house of the Lord, because they transgress my covenant and rebel against my law. Israel cries out to me, “My God, we know you!” Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him (8:1-3 CSB).

One of the saddest sights in nature is to see vultures circle in the sky, because you know that death is present. The great enemy has claimed, or is about to claim, another victim. Where life once rejoiced in all its vitality, soon all that will be left is the dust of death. Hosea saw the vultures circling above Israel, the people God had called him to minister to. It was no time for soft words, but for the blaring noise of the trumpet. “Israel, you are near death! Your religion is worthless! Wake up, repent and turn to God!”

The vultures are wheeling over the western world, too. It has become decadent, debauched and depraved. The religion of the day, if it pretends to be Biblical at all, is usually like Ephraim’s false religion. We will do well to recognize and to avoid it. The sad fact is that many cannot.

It is a religion of empty profession. On the surface, the profession seems to have some substance (8:2).

  • It used the language of worship: cries out. This is the language of one moved to the depths of one’s inner person, being filled with passion, wonder and amazement. Notice the “O” in Elijah’s prayer. And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV; cf. Exodus 15:6,11; 2 Samuel 7:18-19; Nehemiah 1:5; Psalms 6:4; 8:1, 9; 10:7; 130:1-2; etc.). How much do we know of this desire for God in our worship, public or private?
  • It used the language of relationship: “my God.” They claimed to belong to God, to be his people, to be the objects of his special concern. They also professed allegiance to the Lord and submission to his authority.
  • It used the language of salvation: They asserted they knew God. They claimed to know the Lord, unlike other nations that had no regard for the living God. Had Israel heard Hosea’s previous sermons saying that she did not know God, and now she picked up the right words? People can be skilled in doing that.

What they said sounded good. They sounded like they were committed to the Lord. In reality, their experience was far removed from what it professed with the lips.

They forgot the Lord, whom they outwardly worshiped as Defender, by trusting in human works (palaces for fame and fortresses for power) 8:14. Biblical worship seeks only the Lord’s fame and trusts only in his power. What is your boast and your hope (Galatians 6:14; Colossians 1:27)?

They substituted the imaginations of idolatry for God’s spirituality (8:4-6). Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). The Golden Calf, a physical representation of God’s power was more precious to them than God’s real nature. Are we content with God’s revelation of himself — holy, sovereign, all-knowing, Ruler above all and unchanging? Or are you trying to remake God into a more manageable and understandable form?

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Reconciliation (Part Three)

Ephesians 2:11-18

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (2:17-18 NIV).

Let’s look deeper at this reconciliation. God in Christ formed a new people of God. In the past, this aspect of reconciliation was underemphasized. This severely hurt the church when it needed this truth the most in a changing world. The church had an opportunity to demonstrate that she is God’s new society, but she wandered far into the swamp of worldliness. This happened at least twice in America, especially in the 1840s-1860s and the 1940s-1960s.

On the cross Christ accomplished the final fulfillment of the law, meaning the law covenant given at Sinai, and so he abolished it and its commandments and regulations (cf. Romans 6:14; 7:6; 10:4; 2 Corinthians 3:4-16; Galatians 3:19-25; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 7:18; 8:6-13; 9:1, 10; 10:1-10). Christ satisfied all the demands of the law for his people, and so we are legally free from it. We do not and cannot achieve a righteous way of life by putting ourselves under the law.

At the same time, the Lord created a new man or a new humanity in himself out of former Jews and Gentiles, reconciling both to God in his one body through the cross. Here is an important aspect of the power of the cross: the creation of a new people of God (cf. Ephesians 3:6).

What is the outcome of this reconciliation that makes us Christ’s new people?

  • We share his peace (2:17). Christ’s peace not only means the absence of hostility, but also the presence of great spiritual blessings. We belong to God. We are adult sons and daughters of God; we are free! We have the Holy Spirit of God, who keeps us, fills us, empowers us, transforms us, assures us, and makes Christ’s presence known to us.
  • We have access to God (2:18). This means “that the relationship is restored, that friendly relationship with God whereby we are acceptable to Him and have assurance that he is well disposed towards us” (Lloyd-Jones). Here is the beauty of worship in the gospel. You and I can boldly share fellowship with the Holy, Almighty, Sovereign God, as the Holy Spirit makes real to us the presence of the risen, ascended Christ to us.
  • We together form a holy temple in the Lord in which God lives by his Spirit (2:19-22). We are “home”, God’s home. In a practical sense for you and me, eternal joy, peace, and glory begins in your gathering of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, it does for believers in Jesus. But you can only realize it by faith. We must by faith in Jesus see one another in him.

Have you ever arrived for a gathering of your physical, extended family exhausted from a long ride in a car in the driving rain? You are weary, and you get drenched on your way into the house. You want to be there, but you feel out of sorts. But you get in the house, and your family welcomes you, takes your wet jacket, leads you over to the fire to get warm, and brings you a soothing drink to refresh your spirit. And you say, “Ah, it feels so good to be home.”

This is what I want you to understand and live. Since God has reconciled us to him through the power of the cross of Christ, we’re in God’s home. Here is peace, beauty, joy, and glory begun, if you will grasp this through faith in Christ. A church is not a place you go to that has nice buildings and exciting, glitzy programs. A church is the people of Christ, whom he has reconciled to the Father by the power of his cross. You can feel at home among Christ’s new covenant people. You ought to feel at home with them! Are you reconciled to God?

Grace and peace, David