Profiting from Teachers (Part Two)

Ephesians 4:11-12

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).

The Lord Jesus uses God’s word to equip the church for her spiritual progress. Along with the word, he has given us the Spirit of God, whom he poured out on his people. The work of the Spirit is essential for anyone truly to profit spiritually. And along with the Spirit and the word, the Lord has given us gifted men. How can you profit from these gifted men?

Hopefully, you have a pastor-teacher that preaches and teaches regularly through entire books of the Bible. I will offer no objection to the occasional stand-alone message or even to occasional textual and topical messages. Sometimes there are glaring needs to be addressed in a local congregation. Sometimes a pastor and the congregation need a break from a long teaching series, like one through the book of Genesis or Acts. The people should not need to ask for a break. A pastor should be sensitive enough to lead his flock into other pastures for a short time. For example, I used to break from a regular teaching series in the summer, especially during July and August when people went on vacation. In the Bible studies I lead, we usually study an entire book of the Bible. For example, on Thursday mornings, we are going through the Gospel of John. But currently, we are looking at some of the Psalms during the summer months.

However, you may not have access to a sound teacher that leads you through whole books of the Book of books. And even if you do, you need to supplement such teaching with study on your own. To do that requires two actions that we might be reluctant to do: work and invest our time in the Scriptures. People use up too much time in “binge watching” TV shows and movies. I can understand the perceived need to escape from pressure by chilling in recreational activities. What would you do if you didn’t have such things and still had the pressure? Consider David’s thoughts in Psalm 19:7-11, in particular 19:8. The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up (CSB).

So then, how can you profit? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read the text of a Bible book at least five times. Always begin with your personal reading and read slowly, attentively, and carefully. Look for words or ideas that are repeated, like in Christ in Ephesians.  Pay attention to connecting words, such as but, for, therefore, if… then, if, so then. Read by paragraphs to gain entire thoughts. What is the main point the writer is making? Read like this with a friend to gain their insights.
  • Have a good study Bible, like the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. As a pastor, I accumulated many study Bibles, and the notes in most of them are not worthwhile or are theologically biased. Doctrinal bias affects everyone, but unless you are well-versed in where the editors are coming from, you can easily be misled. You need a worthwhile study Bible for its introductory material about the particular book you plan to study, and for a good outline of the book. A worthwhile Study Bible will not only have an outline, but will point you to the book’s purpose and to its major themes.
  • Read a worthwhile book on Biblical Theology. This will help you grasp the overall message of the Bible while you focus on a certain book. I will suggest three: According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ from Beginning to End by Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum, and for the ambitious, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by James Hamilton.

This is a starting place to give you access to teachers of the Bible. But you must invest time and work into reading them. I try to walk outside a lot, when the weather permits. (My doctors tell me to avoid extreme heat and cold.) After years of experience in walking, I will testify that the hardest steps to take are those first steps to get up and begin walking. I have climbed mountains, and the sight of the elevation of the peaks seemed too difficult to make the attempt. But for the good of your soul, I plead with you to invest the time and the work to study God’s word and to learn from the wisdom of teachers that the Lord Jesus has provided for you.

Grace and peace, David

Profiting from Teachers (Part One)

Ephesians 4:11-12

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).

The Lord Jesus cares for his people, the church. The letter to the Ephesians displays the Lord’s love for us in numerous ways; one of these is the giving of gifted people in the church to help them serve. As all the people serve, the spiritual body of Christ, his gathering of people saved by his grace, is built up. Today, we want to focus on benefiting from teachers that Christ has given to us all, including teachers profiting from teachers.

The NIV translation follows the structure of the Greek text, which speaks of four types of gifted men, the last mentioned being “pastor-teachers”. It is too easy for us to want to read this fourth type through the grid of 2,000 years of church history and our denominational views that rigidly control our thinking. I also know that some want to divide the last mentioned into two kinds, pastors and teachers. Without getting hopelessly tied up in such disputes, I want us to recognize that the Lord Christ has given us teachers for our benefit.

During much of church history, Christ’s people could be helped by teachers in one of two ways, which are still available to us. They could listen to the teacher in person or they could read what the teacher had written or spoken. Hearing skilled and Biblically faithful teachers was limited by transportation issues. Even by the time of Whitefield (1730- 1760), people had to walk or slowly ride distances of five to ten miles to hear the famous preacher. That required a tremendous investment of time and energy for hardworking subsistence farmers and shopkeepers. By the mid-1800s, it was much easier for preachers like Spurgeon to travel around Great Britain for people to hear him personally. Before the printing press, access to the written word was limited because books were expensive to produce in time and money. The invention of the printing press dramatically increased the spread of Biblical teaching. God also used the skill of notetakers to record the spoken words of men like Luther and Calvin in those days, so that their sermons, lectures, and “table talk” were spread across Europe and eventually North America.

We ought not to underestimate how all this contributed to healthy, critical thinking about our faith. People could read many teachers that they never had an opportunity to hear personally. Coupled with the regular teaching by pastors through books of the Bible, a store of knowledge gradually accumulated on many books of the Bible. This was, and remains, uneven in accuracy and usefulness, but it still has aided the church’s overall knowledge of God’s Word.

Another help has been the study of the three Biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) since the time of the Reformation, coupled with the discovery of many more ancient manuscripts than were available for about 1,400 years. This has enabled teachers to better understand what God the Spirit actually says in his word. Historical and archaeological research have also aided teachers in learning the Biblical message. In addition, the rise of Biblical theology (knowing the storyline of God’s revelation of his glory in Christ) has helped the overall interpretation of the Biblical text.

In this digital age of information, we have enormous and fast access to Biblical teaching from the early church to the present day. This is a great help, if we are wise and discerning. We must know the faith once delivered to the faith to be able to process this information accurately. The question is, “How is the typical Christian able to profit from all this information?” To provide a starting point, we will provide some suggestions in the next post.

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part Four)

Luke 18:18-30

Seeing that he became sad, Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God (18:24-27 CSB).

Jesus presented to all the necessity of God’s grace.

He illustrated how hard it is let go of an idol of the heart. The camel was the largest land animal of the area. The eye of a needle is a tiny opening. It is totally impossible for a large camel to pass through such a small opening! Jesus wanted everyone to understand that salvation is totally impossible through human effort, works, or merit. Since we are all so filled with pride in ourselves, we need to hear this over and over and over again. We cannot save ourselves!

Observe how Christ enlarged everyone’s understanding. To inherit eternal life or to have treasure in heaven is equivalent to entering the kingdom of God. The people of his time thought that riches were a sign of God’s favor. “If God loves anyone, he must love the rich! Look at all the wealth he gives them!” Jesus shocked everyone by declaring that riches are far from a sign of God’s favor and acceptance. In fact, it is impossible for the rich man idolizing and trusting in his riches to be saved. Certainly, people of God’s Word ought to know this. Psalm 73 wrestles through the problem of why the righteous suffer, while the wicked live affluently. King Ahab (among many others) had wealth, but he was far from God and an oppressor.

Those listening were stunned, and they ask, “Who then can be saved?” Notice that they understood that being saved was equivalent to entering the kingdom of God or having treasure in heaven or inheriting eternal life. They all mean the same thing. Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3 NIV). As Jesus went on to teach, this is the action of the Holy Spirit, far beyond human power.

Jesus taught the total necessity of God’s saving grace. It is impossible for a rich ruler or any other person to do anything to earn eternal life. No one can save himself or herself! Is there any hope for anyone? The good news is that what is impossible for all people everywhere is very possible for God. At this point Jesus does not explain to the crowd how God saves people. He merely points them to God. People must become God-focused in their thoughts and ideas. Jesus decided to drive this one point home with great emphasis. In the next section, we see that he took the Twelve aside to explain God’s way of salvation in more detail. That way is through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Do you realize your complete need of God, if you are to have any hope at all of salvation? Christ’s offer of eternal life is clear. “Come, follow me.” Why not change your mind about whatever has a hold on you and cry out to God through Christ, relying totally on him to give you eternal life and treasure in heaven? Your hope is not found in you at all. It is found in Christ alone.

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part Three)

Luke 18:18-30

When Jesus heard this, he told him, “You still lack one thing: Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” After he heard this, he became extremely sad, because he was very rich (18:22-23 CSB).

Jesus exposed the young man’s need in the above verses. Plainly the ruler didn’t think of himself as a needy person. He was rich and a leader of the people. What did he need?

  • The young man needed to recognize the hold that worldly riches had on him. But first we must clarify. Giving all you possess to the poor is not the way to eternal life. God gave wealth to many people recorded into the Bible, like Abraham, David, and he never required them to give it all away. As Romans 4:6-8 clearly states people like Abraham and David, whether rich or poor, are not made right with God by good works but by grace. Listen to the remarkable statement of Romans 4:5. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (NIV). Notice that God graciously justifies the ungodly, not the religious who try to be godly by their good works.
  • The rich ruler needed to understand that his riches could not buy eternal life. He could give them all away and have treasure in heaven. But is the rich man really interested in eternal life or heaven, as Jesus enlarges the topic? Does he feel the need to “hedge his bets”, keeping his wealth just in case? Or does he really desire heavenly pleasures above earthly ones? Jesus is opening up to the rich ruler that he really has an idol in his heart, and that idol is his wealth. He cannot worship his idol and love it, while claiming that he wants eternal life in heaven with God.

Don’t get too hard on the rich ruler! What idol has such a hold on you that you prefer the temporary pleasures it can provide above eternal treasure in heaven? Don’t settle for too little, like most people do.

The young man needed to recognize his need of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Christ was the man’s greatest need. If he would follow Christ, changing his mind about the value of his possessions and his religious works, and instead trust everything to Christ, the rich ruler would receive eternal life! What he said he wanted was right in front of him! The “Good Teacher” was fully able to give him eternal life! The rich young ruler needed to change his mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and so receive the free gift of eternal life?

Christ’s offer stands good today. Trust everything you have and hope to be to Jesus Christ and follow him. The rich young ruler was about to play “Final Jeopardy” with Jesus. The answer is “Come, follow me.” Will the ruler understand that Christ is the answer to the question, “How can I have eternal life?”

  • But the rich ruler would not accept Christ’s offer. Luke tells us that he became very sad (18:23). Matthew and Mark tell us that he went away sad. Sadness filled everyone’s eyes at that moment, including the eyes of the Savior, who loved the rich young man (Mark 10:21). There is always sadness when people prefer earthly riches above eternal treasure.

Are you walking sadly away from the Savior right now? Do you prefer the mud pies of earthly wealth above eternal treasures? Find the true riches by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

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