Kingdom Warfare

 

Introduction

 

I wondered when we were going to get to study this. Armor of God class? Today we are going to study the Armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18. So let’s read our scripture first and try to imagine it being read in Tony’s encouraging voice because no doubt at the end of class we will be blessed to hear Tony say these words again. Ephesians 6:10-18 –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.   Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.   Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

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So let’s start with the scary truth – we are in battle with evil. Our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a hungry lion, looking for someone to devour. And the truly scary part is that the devil is very successful. He is the Father of Sin and owns this world and this culture and most – not some, not a few – but most people are deluded by the beauty of evil and the pleasures of sin. Narrow is the gate which leads to life, but wide is the path that leads to destruction.   That means most will not find their way to salvation despite the evidence of God’s love being abundant in creation.

Wiersbe’s commentary of Ephesians had this quote –

“Sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground, and that he faces an enemy who is much stronger than he is – apart from the Lord.”

Slide4.JPGYour task and my task is to be Christ’s ambassador, showing His light of salvation so that all who are called may be saved. But the devil isn’t going down without a fight, and he has had thousands of years of practice and deception, so we must be prepared.

 

The Enemy

 

The first strategy in our battle is to understand the enemy. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general and philosopher who lived 2000 years ago and wrote a famous document called Art of War, and I think this is his most famous line –

是故勝兵先勝而後求戰,敗兵先戰而後求勝。

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

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If we are to win against our common enemy, first we must understand who our enemy is. In the book of Ephesians, Paul describes the enemy like this –

      • The Prince of the power of the air (2:2)
      • The spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (2:2)
      • A schemer (6:11)
      • Not flesh and blood (6:12)
      • Principalities (6:12)
      • Powers (6:12)
      • Rulers of the darkness of this age (6:12)
      • Spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (6:12)
      • Uses fiery darts (6:16)

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Notice though, who is not our enemy: people.   And that is the biggest baddest mistake of well-meaning Christians, to go to battle against people. When we make people our enemy, we are actually helping our enemy win. We can look back at the study of Jonah, who rebelled against the Lord when commanded to go to Nineveh. We all remember the fish in the story, but it’s the last two chapters that give the story of Jonah meaning. Jonah had been sent to a wicked people, and was resentful against God for not destroying them. God’s response is that the wicked people of Nineveh were God’s wayward children and he wanted Jonah to teach them about His love. That’s why John 3:16 is so powerful –

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

Not for a few, not for some, not even for many. God loves the people of this world and there is no celebration in heaven greater than when a sinner turns to repentance. The enemy isn’t people, no matter what horrible accusation or insult comes out of their mouth. That’s the devil working through this world. That’s why it’s so important for us to remember to “hate the sin, love the sinner.”

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So when we go into battle against the prince of the power of the air and the rulers of the darkness of this age, what is our battle plan? First, we need to be equipped for the battle, and that begins with Paul’s description of the battle armor worn by a Roman soldier –

 

The Armor – Belt of Truth

 

Ephesians 6:14a,

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth ((Ephesians 6:14a, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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In the first century, a soldier would wear a belt that would hold his sword. The belt would also hold his chest plate in place and allow for him to tuck his robes above his knees so that he could engage in battle. Without a belt, the rest of the attire could not function. The belt held everything together. Paul makes a comparison between the belt of a soldier and truth.

The truth of God holds everything together. Without it, we cannot hope to prevail in battle.   If we are going to fight this spiritual battle against the devil and the forces of evil, we must have truth to win.

The devil is the enemy of truth, but he’s devious about it and twists the truth to make it sound believable. Remember his first deception in the Garden of Eden? Genesis 3:1,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

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That wasn’t God’s command, God told Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree, except one, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The devil twists the truth.

Sometimes he even quotes the truth, daring us to misapply it. When Jesus was in the desert for 40 days and the devil tempted him, the devil quoted scripture to Jesus. But it was a misapplication, a distorted truth. Matthew 4:5-7,

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

   and they will lift you up in their hands,

   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

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In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us great insight into the character of Satan. Jesus tells us that the devil does not “hold to the truth, for there is no truth in him.   When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

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The devil wants us to believe lies about ourselves and of this world. The devil wants us to believe lies about God. The devil whispers lies into our hearts and minds and attempts to lead us away from God. We Christians must arm themselves with the belt of truth so that we can engage in the battles against the lies of Satan.

Truth is more than feelings. Truth is even more than facts. Truth is reality from God’s point of view.   We need an objective standard of reality for the world we live in as well.   Thankfully, God has provided that objective standard in the truth of His Word. Every day you and I must engage in God’s Word of Truth so that we can differentiate between lies and reality. We must put on the Belt of Truth first to properly equip us for spiritual battle.

 

The Armor – Breastplate of Righteousness

 

Ephesians 6:14b,

having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14b, Chronological Bible p. 1532

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Soldiers would place a breastplate over their bodies to help protect their vital organs during battle. The breastplate would cover them from their collarbone to their lower abdomen, guarding their heart, lungs, and intestines. With their breastplate on, they could enter the battle with confidence knowing they were protected.

After the fall, Adam and Eve were aware of their nakedness and clothed themselves with leaves.   They attempted to protect themselves with clothing of their own making. God, however, replaced their clumsy attempt to cover themselves with clothing of His own making.

When we clothe ourselves in unrighteous, legalistic, or worldly truth, the self-righteous person is doomed to certain defeat by the enemy. But God clothes believers with the very righteousness of Jesus Christ.

The Breastplate of Righteousness represents the external righteousness of Jesus Christ placed on us. Jesus’ righteousness protects us, and it guards us against the blows of the devil for eternity. But the Breastplate of Righteousness also represents the internal righteousness of a godly life.

Our greatest protection and ally in the Christian life against the schemes of the devil is to pursue a righteous life. Satan, who is our Accuser, cannot accuse us of sins we do not commit. He cannot condemn a consecrated life. Integrity and righteousness in the Christian life protect us from the everyday assaults of the devil and helps us to engage the spiritual battle with confidence. When we live righteously, we can know that we are covered and protected. An obedient Christian is an effective Christian.

 

The Armor – Shoes of the Gospel of Peace

 

Ephesians 6:15,

and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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The Roman shoes were tied, ready to go, ready to fight. They had short nails that would help give the soldier traction to make sure they were not slipping in battle. Paul tells the Church at Ephesus if they want to stand firmly in battle, they need to put on the shoes of the gospel. But notice it is the gospel of peace.

I’m reminded of Peter in Matthew 14. The disciples are in a boat, buffeted by winds, when Jesus begins to walk across the water toward them, and the disciples are scared. They think He’s a ghost. Then Peter says in verse 28-31 –

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

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The peace that the gospel offers is not peaceful circumstances throughout all of life.   The peace of the gospel is, that when the storms of life come, you are still walking on His Word. Peace is not the absence of chaos. Peace is assurance in the midst of chaos.

The gospel is good news because it is the gospel of peace. It offers us true peace with God, providing reconciliation for our sins. It offers true peace with our self, transforming us into the image of Jesus.   The gospel gives us true peace with others, providing an example of sacrificial love through Jesus Christ.

The peace of God are the shoes that hold us firmly in place during spiritual battle.

 

The Armor – Shield of Faith

 

Ephesians 6:16 –

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Ephesians 6:16, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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A Roman soldier’s shield was large. It would cover their bodies from shin to shoulder. It was wooden but covered in leather so that it was fireproof. The soldier would hold it out in front of him to protect him from spears, swords, and flaming arrows. He could interlock his shield with the shield of other soldiers and form a wall that was virtually impenetrable.

Have you ever watched old black and white Western movies? There is often a scene where the Indians repeatedly ride around the circled wagons of the cowboys. Then, one Indian would dip his arrow in oil and light it. He would shoot his flaming arrow at the wagons. The flaming arrow would not be meant to kill the cowboys.   It was meant to distract the cowboys because you cannot fight fire and fight Indians at the same time.

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Satan will try to shoot arrows of distraction in our lives with the purpose of distracting us from the real battle. We are to take up the shield of faith and protect ourselves from these fiery arrows.   Satan will shoot arrows of distraction to move our attention away from the fight and toward the fire.

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The Apostle Paul instructs us to carry the shield of faith so that we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the devil. When we focus on the object of our faith instead of the distractions to our faith, we can effectively engage in spiritual warfare.

Throughout scripture, faith is always measured by action. Faith is not measured by good intentions, chills that run down our back in worship service, or feelings. Faith is accounted for by action, moving us in the direction that God has called us to go.

If you look at the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 you will notice a pattern of faith. It goes like this: the person is named, a declaration of their faith is stated, and a display of their faith through action is explained.

  • Noah → Trusted God → Built an ark.
  • Abraham → Trusted God → Left home to another land.
  • The People of Israel → Trusted God → Went through the Red Sea on dry ground.

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When we utilize the shield of faith we can trust God, extinguish the distractions, and move in action to what God has called us to do. This is a prerequisite to winning our spiritual battles.

 

The Armor – Helmet of Salvation

 

Ephesians 6:17a,

And take the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17a, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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Soldiers marching out onto the battlefield would first place a helmet on their heads. It was absurd for anyone to engage in combat without a helmet. The Apostle Paul tells the church at Ephesus to put on the helmet of salvation. It was their salvation that served as a guard for the Ephesian church. Their salvation was their standing before God.

The spiritual battle is won on the battlefield of the mind. If Satan can infiltrate our minds and cause us to think wrongly about God, he can convince us to disobey God. He did it with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He twisted their thoughts about God and tempted them to sin. God commands us to put on the helmet of salvation to guard our minds with the reality that we have been saved by Christ.   Right thinking leads to right living.   If we protect the way we think, by filtering it through our salvation, then we will protect what we love. If we protect what we love, ultimately, we will protect what we worship.

Believers must take errant and suspicious thoughts captive and operate out of a renewed mind.   Consider 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 –

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Or consider Romans 12:2 –

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

But too often we fill our minds with trash – movies and television shoes that promote evil or sexual immorality. Garbage in, garbage out. We should fill our minds instead with the goodness of His love.

 

The Armor – Sword of the Spirit

 

Ephesians 6:17b,

and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; (Ephesians 6:17b, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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This is the only offensive piece of weapon to use in spiritual warfare. Paul says to take the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. In Greek, there are three different words for “Word.”

1) Graphe – which means the writing compiled, as in a book.

2) Logos – an announcement or written narrative or treatise, the topic that is inside the book.

3) Rhema – specific statements or sentences in a book.

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Paul uses the third word Rhema for the word of God. He is urging the Ephesian church to memorize and apply specific statements from scripture to help them successfully fight their spiritual battles.

When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil, He used rhema- specific statements from God’s Word to defeat the devil. Satan would tempt Him and Jesus would reply with scripture. And if Jesus relies on specific statements from scripture in order to defeat the devil’s temptation, how much more do we, being mere mortals, need to memorize and apply specific statements from God’s Word in spiritual warfare?

Paul knew the power that came from the scriptures. He knew that the Sword of the Spirit is Hebrews 4:12 –

…living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

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Unlike a physical sword that grows dull after it is used, the more we use the Sword of the Spirit the sharper it becomes and the deeper it pierces. When we interact with specific statements of scripture applying and memorizing them, they bring life and heal us while simultaneously defeating temptation and Satan’s schemes.

 

The Armor – Cloak of Zeal

 

There’s one more piece to the Roman’s soldier’s wardrobe. Paul doesn’t mention it, but centuries earlier, Isaiah mentions in in Isaiah 59:17 –

He put on righteousness as his breastplate,

   and the helmet of salvation on his head;

he put on the garments of vengeance

   and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

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Isaiah is referring to the Lord’s passion to send a savior to save sinners from His wrath, and the Lord wrapped Himself in zeal.

The Roman soldier used his cloak for many things – it was somewhat waterproof against the rain, warmth against the cold, even used for bedding at night. The comfort of his cloak made him a better soldier during the battles.

A cloak of zeal will make us better spiritual warriors. The Lord was passionate enough to save sinners that the Lord sent His only son to die for us. Can we, then, muster enough zeal to be good warriors?

As adopted children of God, we should adopt the same zeal for His Good News that Jesus did when He willingly went to the cross for us. I have always been struck by this passage in Revelation 3:14-16,

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

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Jesus is telling the church that spreading the good news of salvation should fire us up, give us a passion to save others with the same passion Jesus had to save us. He didn’t save us just to be nice. He saved us to saved others. Are we so comfortable in our salvation that we will let others perish? Or will we get zealous for the Lord and spread the news that Jesus died for their sins so they could be saved from a fiery eternal death?

Jesus thinks our lackadaisicalness – that was a hard word to write, much less pronounce – he thinks our lackadaisicalness when He gave His very life is so despicable that He will spit us out of His mouth. Let us have zeal and passion for His word by adding the cloak of zeal to our spiritual armor.

 

Conclusion

 

We engage in spiritual activities every day; therefore, we need to clothe ourselves with the appropriate spiritual attire. Every day we live, we enter into a spiritual battle against the devil and the supernatural forces at work around us. We must put on the full armor of God to stand in the fight.

Remember king David as a boy when he first stood against Goliath? David, too, was well-armed, and as he stood against Goliath, David knew that victory was already his. Why? David’s weapon was the sling, and it was not the first time he had picked up a sling.   David had guarded his father’s sheep for years against lions and bears. He knew how to use the armor given to Him by God because he practiced using it.

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Every piece of armor is important, and the good news is that the battle has already been won.   Colossians 2:13-15,

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Stand and resist the devil, and he will flee. Every morning, put on the whole armor of God and prepare for the spiritual battles of the day, wielding the spiritual armor given to us by Christ Jesus so that we may be victorious in Him and give Him all the glory.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

Kingdom Liberty

Introduction

 

We’ve been progressing through the Chronological Bible this year. We spent a long time in the Old Testament and I feel like we just arrived in the New Testament, and there are only 6 weeks left to wrap up our one-year journey.

The Old Testament had many rules, and until this year it never struck me how much man deserved all those rules. The rules God put in place were to prevent man from self-destructing. In the Garden of Eden, there was only one rule.   Of course, we broke it. There was no need for Ten Commandments when we couldn’t follow One Commandment.

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Soon after, Cain slew Abel. Abel didn’t last very long. He was first mentioned in Genesis 4:2 and by verse 8 he was gone. He only lasted 6 verses. The sanctity of life through the ages is clear in our studies, and God said that Abel’s blood called out to Him from the ground.

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So God gave us more rules to protect us. The Ten Commandments included, “Thou shalt not murder.” And then ten commandments grew into hundreds of rules and laws as we read in the book of Leviticus.

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And then came the New Testament. And many feel that the New Testament rules on top of all the Old Testament rules are overwhelming.

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I used to think that #1 rule for Christians was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week? The church meets throughout the week, too. Many churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. If you want to be a good Christian, you must go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday. Sometimes there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays.   Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.

There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.

And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.

 

Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew

 

We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed now to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.

I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:

But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.

These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Apparently even who you eat with will determine your salvation!

Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and for their entire lives followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow. And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-15 –

When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.”

Paul calls Peter a hypocrite because Peter feared men more than he feared God. In the first century the Greek word for hypocrite, “hypokritḗs” was used to describe an actor’s mask. Off stage he was one person, but when he stepped on stage to be seen by others, he would put on a mask and be another person.

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The word for hypocrisy reaches back even further, though, to 400BC. Hippocrates was one of the most influential men in medical history. Doctors today who practice medicine swear in by the Hippocratic Oath.   Hippocrates is famous for practicing medicine in the ancient world under what is now known as the tree of Hippocrates in Kos, Greece.

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The tree is massive, with branches that reach far out. All around the tree there is scaffolding used to uphold its branches.   On the outside we see the structure of the tree but here is the strange thing: the tree is hollow. On the inside, there is no substance. The tree appears healthy, but underneath the surface there is nothing.

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Slide11.JPGThe Apostle Paul is telling us, that those who are hypocritical may have an outward appearance of godliness but inwardly they have hollow faith. They have the structural appearance of being healthy, but they lack the substance.

Peter presented himself as an adopted Gentile to one group and as a Law-keeping Jew to another group. If we are honest, we are all guilty of the same sort of hypocrisy. We present ourselves one way at church but can act another way at work. We sing loud praises to God in Sunday Worship, but as soon as we get in our car after Church and get in Houston traffic, what comes out of our mouth is most certainly not praising God. We read scripture about how to love one another, then we ignore or insult people than annoy us. We believe Jesus loves the whole world, but we refuse to love those who are different than us.

Then Paul tells Peter that the very Jewish Law that Peter is pretending to follow wouldn’t save him anyway. It’s not the Law that saves. Paul says in Galatians 2:16,

“And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”

Paul’s argument throughout the book of Galatians can be summarized by this one verse. He tells us repeatedly we are not saved by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Remember, there were false teachers in the church in Galatia with the view that they were justified with God because they both believed in Jesus and kept the Law. They were teaching a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine so that their works under the Law would give them salvation.

Paul’s emphasis is that we are not declared righteous by keeping the Law. Our level of righteousness in God’s eyes is not upheld by our good works. Instead, our righteousness in God’s eyes is upheld by Jesus’ work: Jesus’ death on the cross for us.

We do not need to uphold the dietary restrictions that the Old Testament prescribes in order to be declared righteous. We will not be deemed unclean if we wear clothes with mixed fabrics as declared in Leviticus 19:19. And even if you boiled a baby goat in its mother’s milk in the past month or so as prohibited by Exodus 23:19, you are still saved.

Remember, this letter was to the Church, to believers. It is a reminder that we cannot earn our way into God’s presence by being at every Bible Study and small group. We do not earn favor with God because we prayed today. We do not earn favor with God because we memorized three Bible verses this week.   We do not even earn favor with God by listening to Christian radio, although KJIC 90.5 Country Christian Radio comes pretty close.

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

This is obviously true, because Jesus said it. “Only the one who does the will of my Father.” So is Jesus saying that works can save us? But then the rest of the verse says that even people doing the will of Jesus will be told to leave because Jesus didn’t know them.

What is the will of the Father? It is for all of His children to place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t ask us to drive out demons.   He just asks us to trust in Jesus. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us.   Two verses in Ephesians 2 makes it clear, verses 4-9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.

And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians:

You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.

What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace. We have been freed from the bondage of performance slavery.   Jesus liberated us from believing that religious practices and rites save us. As a Pharisee and member of the straight-edge religious elite of Judaism Paul knew what it was like to struggle with trying to earn God’s approval with his behavior. He found rest in the Gospel that the only thing that makes us righteous is faith in God. Whether you are a son or daughter with good behavior or bad, nevertheless you are still a son or daughter of God.

 

Misconceptions About Salvation

 

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.

      • Ask Jesus into your heart.

Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told his student he would be saved if he invited Jesus into their heart. But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus into his heart along with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.

It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. In this verse, Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers.   These are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, and He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him.

Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Is this teaching that you must ask Jesus into your heart? Again, Paul is teaching believers here. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just naturally what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.

      • Be sorry for your sins.

Should we Christians beat ourselves up for all the bad things we did before we became Christian, and to be honest, for all the things we continue to do? Do we have to have regret to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. In other words, every Christian has a past. So just leave it there. There’s no reason to drag it around with you everywhere you go.

What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? This verse says “Godly sorrow.” How in the world are non-believers supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. If it did, this corrupted version of John 3:16 would read this way–

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.

That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever *believes* in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.

      • Give up your sins.

This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. We just covered a little while ago that bible studies and church attendance doesn’t save us. But what about repenting of our sins? After all, the bible is full of calls to repentance, isn’t it?

“Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?

Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.”

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In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word “repent” a single time. The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though that often follows from changing one’s mind first.

So, is giving up our sins a sign we are a believer? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth.   In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to stop arguing with God.   I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. Thank the Lord we don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved. Jesus cleans up our act after. Romans 5:6-8,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We do not have to clean up our act before accepting Christ or to be saved. We are saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Pray a prayer.

All we have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right?       After all, Romans 10:13 says,

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let me put it this way: Can you say a prayer out loud while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? You’re thinking to yourself, I’m saying this but I’m not going to do it. The prayer itself has no power.

But can you place your faith in Jesus silently, without a prayer? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved.   It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Give your life to Jesus.

Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved?       I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved:       Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.

What does save you?   Acts 16:31,

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

What all of these misconceptions have in common is that they are works of man. And we know that we can never be good enough, to work hard enough, to assure our place in heaven. How would we ever know it’s been enough? No, to be saved, we have to change our mind about who Jesus is, to place our faith in Christ. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.

 

Christ Did It All

 

Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,

But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord.   Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.

What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved.   The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *we* still have to fulfill the law, too.

That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus?   What are we putting our trust in?   Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we obey all of those rules with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?

Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter.   Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ.

Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.

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Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory for believers. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus Christ your Lord and ask him to lead you to baptism.

But we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

Let’s consider a light bulb. It’s wired up, and when the switch is flipped, it brings light to the room.   If we don’t flip the switch, though, is it still a light bulb? Of course it is. It’s just not a useful lightbulb. And if we have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us power, and we are asked to shine the light of Christ for others to see. We can refuse and stay dark, but we’re still saved. We’re just not useful.

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But are we saved?   Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.

 

The Simplicity of Christ

 

I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.

But there’s nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.

While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”

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There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.

 

Conclusion

 

It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”

It’s just Jesus.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

That is the simplicity of being in Christ.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

Authority of Scripture

I. Introduction

There are many sources for inspiration.

Inspirational movies, Like Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X.  Now they’ve changed the names of the movies to Creed and started over at I.  But the story of a man overcoming all odds to become a winner is inspirational.

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And “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  I watch this every Christmas, the story of a man who feels he has nothing left to live for finds his life worth living in the lives of everyone around him.  I’m not convinced the theological message of angels and their wings, though.  Great story, inspirational.

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There are inspirational books, like “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.  I love the subtitle, “and it’s all small stuff.”

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Inspirational people like Nick Vujicic.  He was here at Second a few years back.  He’s an Australian man born with Tetra-amelia syndrome, is missing all four limbs and has only 2 small toes protruding from his left thigh.  He graduated at the age of 21 with a double major in Accounting and Financial Planning, he surfs, swims, plays golf and soccer.  And when he’s done describing how wonderful his life is, I remember him asking the audience, “the crazy thing is that you’re sitting in your seats envious of me.  I’m happy; why aren’t you?”

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But the bible is different.  I get more out of a single paragraph from Paul than I do from all the “Harry Potter” movies combined.  And do you know why?  Because the bible isn’t just an inspirational book of sayings.  It’s the very inspired word of God.

II. Inspirational Word of God

Let’s spend some time in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 and see what the bible says about the bible,

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and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

One paragraph from Paul.  If you spend enough time in the bible, the evidence of God’s inspiration is amazing. There’s just nothing else like Scripture in all of literature, in movies, in reality TV. A heart tuned in to God will find inspiration in Scripture that can’t be found anywhere else.

Beginning next week, Second Baptist will start a 52 week series on a chronological study of the Bible. We’ll go through the fourteen eras of the Bible in our quest to understand the overall scope of Scripture like never before.  We will see how God’s plan is rolled out, how man rebelled, how God’s love overcomes God’s perfect justice, and how the End of Days gives final victory of God over evil and life forever with our savior.

I’m looking forward to every bit of it.  Well, with the possible exception of Exodus.  I like the story of how God rescued Israel, but man, that Moses was a basket case.

If you don’t think that was funny, you’re in da Nile.

But before we begin that series of lessons, let’s look this week at how important, helpful, and useful Bible knowledge is.

III. Background

Paul is writing to Timothy at a time when wayward elders and teachers have been deceived and are deceiving others, even to the point of abandoning the truth.  Some of these leaders are twisting the truth for their own ends, teaching false doctrine, and worse, leading others astray.  Those who seek to follow Jesus must remember to keep their eyes on Jesus, and not be distracted.  I think of one of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter.

I like Peter, probably because he was such a mess.  One minute incredibly devout and trusting, and then the next minute doing some sort of bone-headed move.  Reminds me of me.  Anyway, in Matthew 14, Jesus had just heard about his friend John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod and then beheaded.  Jesus withdrew to a secluded place by Himself, but a huge crowd followed him.  Jesus had compassion, healed the sick, fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish.  He must have been exhausted and sent his disciples into a boat while Jesus went up on a mountain to pray.  When it was dark, the boat was offshore, and Jesus walked across the water.  And all the disciples were like, “Aiieee!  A ghost!”

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Here’s why I like Peter – he said to Jesus, “Lord, command me to come to you on the water,” and then Peter, too walked on the water.  What incredible faith and trust.  But then Peter started looking around, saw the waves, he got frightened, he began to sink, and cried out, “Lord save me!”

Focusing on Jesus gives us the power of the Holy Spirit living with in us.  Taking our eyes off Jesus sinks us.  That’s what Paul was telling Timothy about the false teachers, Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:18-19,

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

Focusing on Jesus we can walk on water, fight the good fight.  Anything else is a shipwreck.  It makes a shipwreck of our own faith and the faith of others.  Paul tells Timothy to oppose heresy by remaining faithful to what he has learned, both verbally from Paul and from the written Scriptures.

When I was a new Christian, it took a while for me to get pointed in the right direction.  I went to several churches with incomplete doctrines and light Christianity. One of my weirdest experiences was at a church where one of the members told me that the bible had a secret code in it that foretold Martin Luther King’s assassination, the twin towers of 9/11.  You just needed a computer to find the hidden patterns.

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Of course, it’s a bunch of hogwash.  The Bible is not to be read to discover “magical number formulas,” hidden scientific discoveries, or as an answer book for every question about the world or God that we might have. The Bible doesn’t tell us all we want to know, but it does tell us all we need to know. The main objective of scripture is to tell the story of God and his people – where we came from, who God is, what went wrong, and how God is setting everything right through Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible invites us to join this story by becoming “saved” – people who accept God’s truth in Scripture, people who respond as He asks us to respond, and people who live to proclaim His truth to others.

When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy,

and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Paul presents two central truths about Scripture: its origin and its purpose.

  1. Scripture’s origin is nothing less than the mind of God himself.  God did not “dictate” Scripture in most cases.  There are a couple examples in the Old Testament when God told a prophet to write something down verbatim; also, the original Ten Commandments were written by God’s own finger, but God primarily worked through humans to breathe out truth, instruction, warning, and encouragement.  Scripture’s ultimate author, therefore, isn’t an inspired individual; it’s the Holy Spirit working through different people over the centuries to proclaim one story that tells one truth.
  2. Scripture’s purpose is to teach us truths that ultimately result in salvation and to show us how to live righteous lives.

When Paul says that the Scriptures are useful to make us wise for salvation, this tells us the Bible’s first purpose isn’t history – although the bible is historically accurate.  The bible’s first purpose isn’t science – although the bible does present truth without contradicting known scientific facts.  The bible’s first purpose isn’t a series of object lessons or proverbs or parables.  The purpose of the bible is to show the way to salvation and help us live lives that are pleasing to God.

IV. “All Scripture”

What does Paul mean by “all Scripture?” How can we be sure he’s referring to what we call “the Bible” today?

Let’s just try the two words, “all scripture.”  What does “all” mean?  It means “all”.  Not “some,” not “most.”  Not “the majority” or “the parts I like.”  I might be going out on a limb here, but I believe “all” means “all.”  That includes both Old and New Testaments.
Paul encourages Timothy to receive and stay true first to the teachings of what we today call the Old Testament.  In Romans 3:2, Paul refers to the Old Testament this way,

First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

Paul refers to Old Testament writing as “the very words of God.”  God’s word was relevant to the Jews, but it also means they are relevant for Christians today.

In this same letter of 2 Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy that Timothy learned doctrine from Paul himself and from the other apostles, so it’s also clear that Timothy would understand the word “scripture” to include select writings from Paul and the other apostles.

There are other reasons to consider the New Testament writings as part of scripture, including:

  • Colossians 4:16,

    After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

    Paul tells Timothy to read his letters in public worship, alongside the Old Testament.  Paul says the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:27.

  • 1 Timothy 5:17-18,

    The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

    Here, Paul intermixes Old Testament and New Testament.  The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4, the 2nd quote is from Jesus in Luke 10:7.  Paul calls both of them “scripture.”

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13,

    When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

    Paul claims divine inspiration, one who speaks the very words of God.

  • And similarly, Paul tells the Corinthians his words aren’t taught by human wisdom but by the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13,

    What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

    This is a direct claim to inspiration by God, which is a distinctive characteristic of Scripture.

  • Even Peter refers to Paul’s letters as “scripture” in 2 Peter 3:15-16,

    Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

    There’s that shipwreck again when one doesn’t focus on the truth of Jesus.  And Peter also says in 2 Peter 1:21,

    For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

V. Historical Acceptance

It is sometimes taught by the secular world that there wasn’t a “Bible” as we know it until several centuries after the death of the apostles.  But what does history teach us about the early church and the acceptance of the bible?

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Clement was Bishop of Rome from 88AD till his death in 99AD; you can tell from this photograph that cell phone cameras were not very advanced back then.  The apostle John is thought to have died in 100 A.D.  During John’s lifetime, Clement reveals that he is very familiar with Matthew, Mark, Luke, the letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, and 1 John. These were treated by Clement as authoritative Scripture while the last apostle John was still alive, and clearly John would have spoken up if he disagreed.  Clearly the early church accepted these letters and writings as authoritative truth from God.

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Marcion was excommunicated in 144 AD for teaching there was no connection between the Old and New Testaments, meaning the early church already saw this as heresy, so the early church also accepted the authority of the New Testament.

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Polycarp, who lived from 69 to 156 AD was a direct disciple of the Apostle John, and Polycarp referred to Old and New Testament books as “Scripture.”

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The early church had recognized the 27 New Testament books as canon by AD 200, though it’s not likely they were collected as one volume, even though the individual books were regularly referred to as authoritative. They were already being translated into many languages, demonstrating their value, and Origen of Alexandria in approximately 220AD began writing commentaries on them.

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By 367AD, the canon of the New Testament – including the same 27 books affirmed 150 years prior – were officially gathered and recognized as authoritative by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in the East, and the Council of Carthage in the West.  This council didn’t grant new authority to the books we now think of as Scripture as much as it denied authority to other books not considered inspired, affirming the long-held view that there is something distinct about the New Testament books that make up the “canon.” All the books recognized in 367 had been used, studied, and treated as Scripture from the time of the early apostles.  It’s an important distinction to note that the canon was not created in 367AD.  It was rather closed, definitively so.

We can, with confidence, state that Paul’s assertions about the origin of Scripture refer to all the books that Christians today call the Old and New Testaments.

VI. God-Breathed

So when Paul tells Timothy that all of scripture – remember what “all” means?  All of scripture is “God-breathed,” what does “God-breathed” mean?

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Some translations use the word “inspired” instead of “God-breathed” which is more or less accurate, but the original Greek work packs a lot more meaning into it.  The word is “theopneustos,” “θεόπνευστος,” and literally means “divinely breathed by God.”  God spoke His Word to us with purpose for us.

Paul isn’t claiming that there is simply something exceptional about Scripture.  He goes much further than this, Paul claims that scripture is the very breath of God. As B.B. Warfield once wrote, the Bible isn’t so much “in-spired” as it is “ex-pired.”

“God-breathed” does not mean dictation, as if God somehow “possessed” the biblical writers and wrote through them.  When scripture is read in their original languages, the biblical writings clearly display that each writer has different levels of education, style and personality. But God oversaw what they were writing to supernaturally produce completely reliable truth.

VII. Scripture’s Use

2 Timothy 3:16 offers four purposes of Scripture with two positives and two negatives.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

The first two pairs of purposes are “teaching” and “rebuking.”  This refers to Scripture as the final authority on doctrinal truth.  The positive angle, teaching, proclaims Scripture’s usefulness to tell us what is true and what we need to know. The negative angle, rebuking, speaks of what is in error and what must be rejected, so that we believe the right things and reject everything that is false.

The second pair of positive and negative purposes, “correcting” and “training”, refers not to what we believe, but to how we should live. 2 Timothy 3:16 is the only place in the New Testament when the word that is translated “correction” is used; outside the Bible, the Greek word typically refers to helping get someone who has fallen back on their feet.  So the spirit behind the action isn’t to simply condemn people for committing these acts, but to help people get back on the right path.  The negative “correcting” refers to Scripture’s role in moving us away from harmful, sinful, God-dishonoring actions, such as the lists found in Colossians 3:5 and 8:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

The positive “training in righteousness” refers to Scripture’s many admonitions about how to live, such as the list found in Colossians 3:12-13:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Notice that both doctrine and life matter, both thoughts and actions.  Belief alone is not enough.  Consider James 2:19,

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

Clearly Satan believes the right things about God, but Satan’s actions are certainly displeasing to God.  Correct beliefs are not enough.

On the other hand, if we live a “good” life that resembles how Scripture calls us to live but believe lies about God, such as believing that salvation can be gained through anyone other than Jesus, we are also in error.  Salvation is obtained only through trusting in the perfect sacrifice in our savior to pay the price for our sins.  I have met some truly wonderful people over the years with such a wonderful, encouraging, helpful attitude, but have no interest in trusting Jesus.  Our life and our beliefs work together, as Paul tells Timothy directly in 1 Timothy 4:16:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Then, continuing in 2 Timothy 3:17,

So that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The “servant of God,” or in the Greek anthrōpos theos (ἄνθρωπος θεός), means the “one who belongs to God.”  It’s a title of endearment.  We are God’s treasured possessions.

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This means we cannot expect nonbelievers to accept this book or to try to follow its rules just because the Bible tells them to.  The Bible is a love letter to those who love God; it’s not a book of verbal hand grenades to toss at people who don’t yet believe.  If someone doesn’t accept Jesus, obeying the Bible won’t save them.  They need to come to Jesus first, and obey second.

However, Scripture is powerful enough that when it is read correctly and appropriately, it can draw others into a life of faith.  Consider Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

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My wife recently had shoulder surgery; she had some damaged cartilage and a torn rotator cuff.  The doctor would have used a sharp scalpel to cut out the damaged tissue in order to repair the shoulder.  The bible is sharper than a scalpel and helps us cut out the sin and damaged life so that as “servants of God,” God’s treasured people, we can be

Thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I recently read this story in the news, but it’s been around for awhile.

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The Oakland Raiders used their first round draft pick of 2007 to select JaMarcus Russell, a 6’-6”, 265lb quarterback.  In the NFL, he was a mediocre player; coaches suspected he wasn’t preparing for the games like he should.  The coaches sent him home with some blank videotapes, and the next day asked him what he had studied on the tapes.  JaMarcus answered, “blitz packages.”

As Christians, disciples of Jesus, ones who belong to God, we should study the game tapes.

VIII. Conclusion

Scripture gives us everything we need to be thoroughly equipped.  If we read them, meditate on them, listen to them, ask God to enlighten us through them, and then apply them, we won’t be lacking for anything when it’s “game day.” We’ll be thoroughly prepared and have all the wisdom and truth we need as parents, friends, teachers, and workers on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture is the very Word of God.  John 1:1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Slide38.JPGTo God be the Glory.  Amen.

With Perseverance

I. Introduction

In our recent study of the Book of Galatians, Galatians taught us a lot about what it takes to become a believer, and all the misconceptions that people may have about what it takes to get into heaven.  It’s not following certain rules, it’s not performing certain rituals, it’s not anything we do.  All God asks of us is to believe in Christ Jesus, and even that ability to believe comes from God.  Remember, it is faith alone, through Christ alone, by Grace alone.  Nothing else.
We’re starting the book of James today and much of James talks about what is expected of us as Christians.  In fact, it is so much about works that you may begin to wonder what our study of Galatians was all about.  Are we contradicting ourselves, first by saying “faith alone” and then talking about works?
So before we actually start the book of James, let’s see if we can understand some of the differences between these books.  Galatians, addressed to the church of ….
… that’s right, Galatia.  Man, we are one smart group today.  In Galatians, Paul was talking primarily to the Judaizers, those teaching a “Jesus plus Moses” philosophy.  In other words, the Galatians were teaching that Jesus had done 95% of the work and we have to chip in the other 5%.  We are saved, but we still have to be circumcised, follow Jewish festivals, follow all the Jewish rules, etc.  These requirements were obstacles to new believers, and Paul was saying that circumcision, festivals and rules had nothing to do with obtaining salvation.  Jesus did it all, 100%.  Faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
The book of James is written to different audience – believers that are already saved.  James 1:2 begins,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Who are the brethren?  Right, believers in the church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And James is talking to believers about the spiritual walk, how to understand trials and tribulations, how to grow closer to God.

II. Salvation vs Sanctification

So I want to bring this chart back up, I showed it briefly a few weeks back:
Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10
When we say, “faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone,” we are talking about what it means to be saved.  It is a one time event at the moment we trust in Christ, with ongoing effect.  But once we are a Christian, we become aware of God’s purpose for us, and aligning ourselves to that purpose is our spiritual walk.  We grow in Christ.  And this process continues until we die or are raptured.  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.  All three tenses are true.  And James is focusing in today’s lesson on our progressive sanctification and understanding the events in our lives.
The book of James contains 50 different commands for Christians, “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”  Are these things we must do to be saved?  It depends on which definition of “saved” we are talking about.  It has nothing to do with going to heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, but it has everything to do with understanding the loving God that created us and how we as believers are to live our lives.
So with all that behind us, let’s begin.

III. Purpose of Testing

So far we nearly finished studying 6 words in James, so let’s look at them again,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Of the 50 commands to Christians in the book of James, we’ve already discovered the first one.  The word “consider” is an imperative, something we are commanded to do.  Let’s read the entirety of our verses for today, and then go back and study them individually.  James 1:2-15,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Whew.  Ok, this looks easy.  James is teaching us about the purpose of trials in the life of a Christian.

A. Joyful Attitude

First of all, we are to have a joyful attitude.  Verse 2,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
Various trials are hard to define.  Is James talking about running out of money?  Getting sick?  Dealing with people that mistreat you?  And the answer to all of that is yes.  Specifically, the Greek word for “trials” is peirasmós,
πειρασμός peirasmós, pi-ras-mos’; a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity:—temptation, × try.
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Basically, anything with the potential to be drawn toward sin and away from God.  While I was contemplating this and thinking of an example, I could hear my wife in the next room bawling her eyes out.  She was ok, but she was watching a NOVA special on organ transplants, and an especially touching event where a mother had to let her son, traumatized by a brain injury, be released for organ transplant.  The mother, obviously a Christian believer, was holding her son’s hand as they were wheeling him away so that his organs could be harvested to save somebody else’s life, and she was crying out, “I’ll see you soon!”
I can’t even imagine what this mother was going through.  And is this verse from James telling her to be happy about it?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
How does one “consider it all joy?”  First by understanding that “all joy” is not the same thing as happiness.  James isn’t a masochist.  James is telling us to continually seek the mind of God and how God will be able to use the trial for His purpose.  If we understand God is all good and in charge of all things, then all trials accomplish His purpose.  And if we know that the trials are accomplishing the will of God, then we can have an attitude of joy even in the midst of pain or suffering.  Chuck Swindoll put it this way –
“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
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We are to live our lives for the things that matter most.  If we get to thinking that our suffering is more than others endure, or more than seems fair, we can remember our savior on the cross.  Did Christ suffer pain?  Yet Hebrews 12:2 says,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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If Jesus can have joy during His crucifixion, perhaps we can find joy in our trials.

B. Endurance

How do we find this joy?  By seeking God’s purpose.  Let’s continue with verse 3,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
We are to know that God has a purpose to our trials.  God always tests our faith.  It doesn’t way “if” we encounter trials, but “when.”  Christians are not sheltered and pampered.  Some trials come because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments.  Some trials come because we live in a fallen world – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods.  And some just because we are Christians.
These trials work for us, not against us.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17,
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
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We tend to think trials are inflicted upon us, but this scripture says even the worst trials we endure are fulfilling a purpose that brings glory to God.  Satan tempts us to bring out our worst, but God tests our faith to bring out our best.  James says it produces endurance in us.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Endurance leads to perfection?  We’re to be perfect?
Trials help us mature.  It’s easier to trust in God when things are going great, but I’m not sure that’s really trust.  It’s when times are tough that we learn if our faith is genuine.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:3-4,
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Perseverance.  Endurance.  Patience.  Waiting on God.  Patience is a foundation of our spiritual journey.  Patience is the key to receiving God’s blessings.  God told Abraham to be patient and God would give him a child.  At some point, Abraham and Sarah decided God needed help, so Abraham produced a son with Hagar.  It brought great difficulties in Abraham’s life, difficulties that have endured through the ages and affect us today.  Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own.  How much more blessed their life would have been if they had been patient, endured, persevered.
Impatient children never learn, never mature.  They want it now.  And patience can only be learned by waiting.
Patience has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of my pride.  I thought I was patient.  Meeting somebody at a restaurant and they’re an hour late?  I can do that.  Waiting for my birthday to arrive and it is months away?  I can do that.  Waiting on the Lord to answer prayers for my wife’s health or for salvation to come to some members of my family?  What is taking Him so long?
But patience isn’t a specific length of time.  Patience is waiting.  Why hasn’t the rapture come yet?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says it’s because the Lord is patient –
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord is patient for as long as it takes.  I have prayers in my life I’ve been praying for decades.  Unanswered prayers teach me what real patience is.  So I keep praying, and I’m learning patience, perseverance, endurance.  And there’s a purpose to learning this, James 1:4,
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To make me perfect.  I certainly don’t feel perfect.  But “perfect” here doesn’t mean without any flaws.  The Greek phrase “perfect and complete” means one who fulfills the purpose for which God created him or her and are fully attaining their higher calling.  In other words, we are content to be in Christ, we are fulfilling Christ’s will for our lives, and we need nothing else.

C. Wisdom

Am I perfect and complete?  I don’t think so.  I’m at the point in my life, though, where I see more and more how my own will for me sometimes stands in opposition to God.  God wants me to have joy, patience, endurance, produce fruit in accordance with His will.  But I want a boat.
See, my will for myself continually misdirects me from what God wants for me.  I want a boat, I want to win an argument, I want to watch television, I want a raise, I want I want I want.  If I am to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, then I want what God wants.  How do I figure out what that is?
James 1: 5-7,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I can trust in this promise.  Believers in Christ, if they ask for wisdom, they will receive wisdom.
I don’t think God is satisfied with the unfinished Christian.  He has a purpose for us that starts with our character which is perfected through our joy in our trials, endurance through our patience, and wisdom through prayer and study of His Word.
Unanswered prayers teach us so much besides patience and endurance.  God desires for us to trust in Him alone.  What do we do when a prayer is unanswered?  Are we patient and do we endure as God asks us to do?
I’ve experienced this in my life first-hand.  When I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I felt like maybe God didn’t hear me.  I listened, I waited, and there was no answer.  And I decided on my own that I didn’t need to wait on God, I could fix the problem on my own.  I could choose a course of action that I felt was best for me.
And I remembered how Abraham and Sarah didn’t wait on the Lord.  They, too, felt the Lord had forgotten His promise.
James says that if we aren’t patient and trust in the Lord’s promises, we get only the reward of our own effort.  Trusting in the Lord gave me a foundation of solid stone.  Trusting in myself gave me a foundation of shifting sand.
I still wrestle with this, trying to do things on my own instead of relying on God.  And I learned that when I do things on my own, I fail.  But when I rely on God, He never fails.  I learn through these trials to endure, be patient, ask for wisdom, and listen for His still small voice.  And every time I listed to Him instead of me, I know that He is perfecting me for His glory.
Why does God want all of this for us?  God wants to build our Christian character so that He can use us according to His purpose.  God works in us before He works through us.  And at the end of the trials, what then?  Let’s look at James 1:12.

IV. Crown of Life

James 1:12,
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
I mentioned a few months back about the 5 crowns available to believers, and I hope you will indulge a few minutes of exploring in more detail these crowns.
The Crown of Life is mentioned here as a reward to those who endure trials and are perfected by God.  This same crown is also mentioned in Revelation 2:10 when Jesus talks to the church at Smyrna–
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
There are 5 crowns available to believers, each one as a reward for different aspects of the Christian character –
Scripture’s Five Crowns
Crown Scripture Purpose
Life James 1:12; Rev. 2:10 Enduring trials
Incorruptible 1 Cor. 9:24-27 Gaining mastery over the flesh
Rejoicing 1 Thess. 2:19-20 Winning Souls
Glory 1 Pet. 5:2-4 Shepherding God’s people
Righteousness 2 Tim. 4:8 Longing for His appearing

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  • The Crown of Life.  Joy in our trials, knowing that God has a plan.  Spiritual growth through our adversity.
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  • The incorruptible Crown.  We have eternal life that can never be destroyed, we have life forever in Christ Jesus.  Believers that endure to the end and pursue God-given ministry and triumph over sin are given an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
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  • The Crown of Rejoicing and Exultation.   These crowns come from others we minister to in this life; those believers believer become “our glory and joy” before the Lord.  We rejoice in heaven upon seeing and talking with our loved ones who we shared our spiritual growth.  (1 Thess. 2:18-20)
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  • The Crown of Glory.  Jesus promises that those who leave everything to follow Him receive a hundredfold reward in addition to eternal life.  As Christ is our Great Shepherd, those who shepherd His flock while waiting for His return are given the Crown of Glory.  (1 Peter 5:2-4, Mark 10:29-31)
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  • The Crown of Righteousness. The reward for living righteously and giving Christ the glory when facing temptation or hardship. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
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In heaven, what will we do with the crowns God has given us? We will cast them before Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10), laying them down as a tribute to the One who saved us, gifted us, equipped us, and lived in us. Everything good and right comes to us through the Lord, so He deserves our crowns.

V. Conclusion

So
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Life is hard.  It’s full of trials and difficulties.  There’s pain and persecution and loss and suffering.  But God has a purpose for each of us, and it starts with our sanctification, our spiritual walk.  We can consider it all joy knowing that God is in control and He has a plan.  Romans 8:28,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We can’t understand everything that God is doing, but He promises to provide wisdom if we trust in Him and pray to understand.  In other words, when life is too hard to stand, then kneel.
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To God be the glory.  Amen.

True Freedom

I. Introduction

We’ve been studying the book of Galatians and the truth of how God loves us, to free us from our bondage to sin. So that no one may boast by works, our salvation is secure through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. And I also know we’re supposed to study Galatians 4:8-20, but we’re not going to get that far. We’re only going to cover 3 verses today and stop in verse 10.

II. Galatians 4:8, Slaves to Sin

Today we’re in Galatians 4 beginning in verse 8, and Paul is reminding the Galatians who they once were.

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

The Galatians were pagan gentiles living in the Roman Empire. They worshipped Roman deities like Apollo the sun god and Venus the goddess of love and beauty. One of the cities in the region of Galatia was Lystra, and there’s a peculiar story about Lystra in Acts 14. In Acts 14:8-10, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel, and Paul spied a man who was lame since birth and had never walked. When Paul realized this man had “faith to be made well,” Paul commanded him to stand up on his feet and walk. And the man got up and walked!

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The crowd around Paul and Barnabas were amazed at this miracle and proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be Roman gods. Not just any gods, Barnabas was Zeus, the head god, and Paul was Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the Gods. And I know those are the Greek names, but that’s because the book of Acts was recorded in Greek. The Roman equivalent were the gods Jupiter and Mercury.

Anyway, I digress, Paul & Barnabas immediately denied they were gods, of course, and gave credit to our Lord in heaven who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. The crowd, of course, nodded their collective heads in understanding and then immediately tried to stone Paul and Barnabas to death.

That is who the Galatians were before they received Christ. Paul reminds them in Galatians 4:8 of their past,

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

Before the Galatians came to Christ, they were enslaved to demons impersonating deity. The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” It’s #1 on God’s list.

In the New Testament, Jesus repeats this Commandment #1 in more gentle terms; when asked by a Pharisee which commandment was more important, Jesus says in Mark 12:29,

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

If we are not free in Christ to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we are in bondage to sin. Jesus puts this bondage to sin even more strongly in John 8:44a,

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.

There is only one was to be free of this slavery to sin. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

III. Galatians 4:9a, Free in Christ

So, now we are free in Christ. Now what? Let’s look at the next verse, or rather the 1st half of the verse, Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

It’s a curious phrase. Paul is writing to the Galatians, and halfway through his sentence, he corrects himself.

God already knows us, of course. In Matthew 10, Jesus is telling his disciples to spread the good news, and that God Himself will protect them from evil in verses 29-31,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Slide8.JPGGod knows us before we are born, Psalm 139:13-14,

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

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So when Paul says, “or rather be known by God,” Paul cannot be saying that God doesn’t know us. I believe Paul is using a phrase to describe our spiritual growth in getting to know God.

Another way to look at it is this: everybody knows there is a god because the universe declares His existence. Psalm 19:1,

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Slide10.JPGAnd we know that as God, he created the heavens and the earth, he is just and punishes the wicked, he is all powerful. But what does God think of me? How do I get to know the love He has for me? Why does He think of me so valuable that He would sacrifice His only son so that I may dwell with Him forever in the House of the Lord? My spiritual walk consists almost entirely of getting to know God intimately, only to discover that God already knows me. So let’s look again at Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

And now look at it in the original Greek cuz it’s fun,

νῦν δὲ γνόντες θεόν μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα οἷς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεύειν θέλετε

Yeah, don’t understand it either, it’s Greek to me. But this word shows up twice,

γινώσκω ginṓskō, ghin-oce’-ko; a prolonged form of a primary verb; to “know” (absolutely) in a great variety of applications and with many implications (as follow, with others not thus clearly expressed):—allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.

When Paul says the Galatians are to know God and be known by God, he means to know God intimately. In fact, we are to get to know God so intimately that we know how much God already knows us intimately.

I find it comforting to know that God knows me so well. My struggles, my plans, my history, my health, my thoughts… God already knows them because He loves me. And Paul challenges me to get to know God as well as God already knows me.

IV. Galatians 4:9b, Weak and Worthless Elemental Things

Let’s continue with the rest of Galatians 4:9,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

When we become Christians, we are free of the penalty of sin. Jesus tells us in John 8:36,

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Slide15.JPGBut what does that mean?

When I last taught from Galatians 2, I spent a lot of time going over what it means to have faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone, and all of the rules we put in place that become obstacles to new believers. Nothing else saves – not church rules, not church attendance, not praying a prayer, not baptism. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

I was focusing on repentance, and how we are to change our mind about Jesus, in order to have faith, and it is this faith that saves us, and not by our own effort, but because of God’s love. But that lesson focused on how to become a believer and gain salvation.

But what then, once we are believers? I have this little chart that talks about our spiritual growth and the different meanings of salvation:

Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10

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So last week was all about the justification column. It occurs once for all believers and then that’s in the past. Once saved, we are free of sin’s penalty. For the rest of our temporal lives, we are sanctified, on our spiritual walk, and we are free of sin’s power. And then when we die or are raptured, our heavenly bodies are glorified in Christ and we are free from the very presence of sin.

So this week, let’s talk about that middle section, our spiritual walk. We are free of sin’s power as well as sin’s penalty, but not free from the presence of sin. That comes later in heaven.

So how does that tie into our scripture in Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Sin is all around us, and we can be so easily deceived. Christians are not immune from turning to “weak and worthless elemental things.” Christian superstitions. For instance, I know realtors sometime bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house they’re trying to sell. In fact, when I went looking for an illustration for this, I was astounded to find that you can buy a St. Joseph Home Sale Kit from Walmart for only $13.90. Free shipping, too.

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And this isn’t the only example of Christian superstition – rosary beads, holy water. Have you ever seen a horror movie where the good pious people were saved from a vampire by holding up a wooden cross?

What was happening in the church of Galatia was that these new Christians had started as pagans which mandated observations of certain days such as full moons, spring equinox, summer solstice, and so forth. Once these pagan Galatians had converted to Christianity, though, Jewish Christians convinced the former pagans that they should now follow the Jewish calendar of festivals.

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There are a lot of pagan holidays. Here are some of the holidays for just this month of September 2018 –

1: Celtic Tree Month of Hazel ends (there are thirteen lunar divisions in the Celtric Tree Calendar, Hazel Moon celebrates to “the life force within you.”)
2: Celtic Tree Month of Vine begins (Vine Moon celebrates happiness and wrath and intense emotions)
22: Mabon, the autumn equinox (celebrate gifts of the earth)
24: Full Moon – Harvest Moon (storing your harvest for the winter, and a month of thanksgiving. )
29: Celtic Tree Month of Vine ends
30: Celtic Tree Month of Ivy begins (self-improvement)

But many people do not realize the pagan influences on our Christian culture. The early church began new traditions on the same day as pagan traditions, I suppose to replace them. Instead, they melded in some weird hybrid way.

a: Christmas is probably the most well-known. While we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time, what’s with the tree? Christ wasn’t even born in December since shepherd would not have been in the fields in this month. The Christmas tree’s origins are based on the pagan celebration of Odin the sun god. Yes, that Odin, the father of Thor and Loki. And evergreen trees and mistletoe were decorations honoring Odin. Odin is usually depicted as a big chubby elf with a white beard and flowing coat.

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b) Easter. What’s with the bunnies and the eggs? As a kid, I wondered what kind of bunnies laid eggs. But while Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the date is chosen around the spring equinox and celebrates new life and the end of winter. Not surprising early Christians could connect this with Jesus. Even the word “Easter” has pagan roots, named after a goddess of fertility.

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c) Halloween. The origins of this come from Celtic pagans marking the end of harvest and the beginning of death, spirits roaming the earth and spirits of ancestors returning home. Costumes were created to keep the spirits from recognizing the living.

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What did Paul say again to the Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

I think we need to give thought to the holidays we celebrate. The celebrations should be out of love, not obligation. And we should be careful to give God the glory, and not Thor or the Hulk.

V. Still Galatians 4:9b, Do Not Be Enslaved All Over Again

Look, whether one celebrates Christmas or Easter or Halloween or Valentines Day makes no difference to whether one is going to heaven or not. But Paul is telling the Galatians specifically that an obligation to follow a certain ritualist holiday is just like becomes enslaved to sin all over again.

How could that be? What is Paul really saying here? I believe he is saying that, to God, there is no difference between paganism and legalism. Whether one worships other pagan gods or whether one tries to comply with biblical rules makes no difference. Our obedience to the Lord’s commands should be out of love, not obligation or fear or compulsion and slavery to cultural expectations.

I think when we first come to Christ, we find joy and peace and life in Him. But we may also try to cling to our old ways because they’re comforting. We do them because they are tradition, or because we grew up doing it, or because our family or friends or neighbors expect us. And if those are our reasons, we have enslaved ourselves to the culture around us. We are in the world and of the world. You are in the world and of the world. And returning to our old self, our old ways, our old habits, our old sins before we knew Christ is how it’s described in Proverbs 26:11,

Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.

Slide24.JPGI know as we approach each holiday, I’m going to examine my motives. I am not interested in being a slave to the culture around me; I want to be a bondservant of Christ. So here are some of the thoughts I’ve had regarding the holidays – just for me and my household, you make up your own mind:

a) Thanksgiving. I’m still going to enjoy turkey or ham, and still celebrate a season of thanksgiving. But I’ll be sure to thank God for all His provisions. Just being thankful, in and of itself, to me is meaningless. I thank God specifically.

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b) Christmas. I’m still going to celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s good news! And the lights are pretty, I love driving around and seeing Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. My wife and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago, though. As she put it, “It’s not my birthday.” If I had kids, I’d probably still give gifts to express love for them. I’m conflicted on the tree, though. If I just like it because it’s pretty, then, sure, let’s have a tree. But considering the pagan roots and how I don’t see how it honors God, am I allowing myself to be enslave to the culture? Do I think people think it’s mandatory I put up a tree because I’m Christian? I want to be sure I’m honoring God with everything.

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c) Easter. There is never going to be a bunny or an Easter egg hunt or goddess of fertility in my future. But celebrating our risen Lord? Is there any better news? In the last few years, though, I’ve stopped calling it Easter and started calling it Resurrection Day.

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d) Halloween. You’ve got to be kidding.

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VI. Conclusion

Whatever you decide, make sure you examine your motives carefully. Make sure that your choice honors God and you aren’t following traditions because it’s an obligation. Don’t be enslaved to rules and regulations.

And whatever you decide – whether to go trick or treating or not, whether to have an Easter egg hunt or not – has no effect on your heavenly destination. But if you do not examine your motives and giving glory and honor to God, then you’re enslaved to culture and the world’s expectations. Your spiritual walk, your progressive sanctification, depends on your examining your motives and aligning yourself to God.

God wants our hearts in everything we do. He wants us to seek Him as He sought us. He wants us to love Him and love others out of love and not obligation. He wants us to be more like Christ because we love Christ and not because it’s a rule in the church.

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Christ came to free us, so let us be free indeed.

To God be the glory. Amen.

True Grace

 

I.   Introduction

 

It is so difficult to become a Christian. There are so many rules.

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I used to think that rule #1 was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week?   The church meets throughout the week, too. Turns out, Wednesday nights are mandatory, too. Some churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. We have Outreach here. If you want to be a good Christian, Sunday morning isn’t enough.   You need the Sunday evening service, too. Then the Wednesday service. Also, there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.

There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.

And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you may only to a Catholic church. At the Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.

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And when you come to church, there’s a mandatory dress code. For men, coat and tie. I wore a coat and tie for a while this year, but then the summer came. It just shows how spiritually weak I am, not to wear a coat and tie when it’s 105 °F outside.

For women, well, I’m not an expert on women’s clothing. I just know that you’re doing it wrong.

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And then there’s the tithing. Whatever you’re giving, it’s not enough. You might think the rule is 10%, but that’s so Old Testament. In the New Testament, we give with joy. We keep increasing our giving until it hurts, and that’s where we learned we’re not as full of joy as we thought. We are supposed to be filled with joy, so if we find giving hurts, we’re not joyful. Give more, God’s working on you.

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And quiet time is mandatory. The first hour of every day should be spent in quiet time with the Lord, followed by an additional hour to reflect on the conversation in the first hour. And then quiet time again in the evening.   Amateur believers like us limit ourselves to just these three hours of quiet time every day. But if you want to go to heaven, three hours probably isn’t enough.

And all these rules are for other people to follow. If somebody askes us if we spend 3 hours in quiet time, we are to mumble a vague answer and let them think we do, because, hey who has time for all that, but I still want them to think I’m a Christian.

Man, it’s complicated being a Christian.

 

II.  Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew

 

We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.

I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:

But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.

These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Rules, I tell you! Church attendance, clothing, tithing, and even who you eat with will determine your salvation!

Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow.   And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-16 –

When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”

Have you ever heard of the doctrine of Lordship Salvation? In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Obviously true, because Jesus said it. Some churches teach that this verse says that obeying Jesus is necessary for salvation.

In context, Jesus has been talking about false prophets in the church that say one thing and do another, and we can know they are false prophets by their deeds.   Even if they can perform miracles in Jesus’s name, if they do not trust in Jesus, they are not saved.

In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, one can recognize true believers by their changed lives. In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, you demonstrate that you are a believer by making Jesus your Lord. In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, one must both receive Christ as Savior and cease from sin (or at least be willing to cease from sin) in order to be saved.   If you do not have a changed life, you may not be a true believer.

There’s a lot of truth in Lordship doctrine when it comes to the life of a Christian. To truly grow in faith, to be sanctified, to regenerate as a new believer, then indeed one must turn from sin and surrender to Jesus. But those works are for spiritual growth, not for salvation. What is required to be saved? Faith alone. Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us. Two verse in Ephesians 8 makes it clear in verses 4-9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.

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I like to think of it flipping a light switch. Flip a switch, the light comes on. Practically simultaneously. But the electricity comes first, and instantly there is light. The Holy Spirit is like that electricity and gives us light and as Christians we shine in this dark world. But to expect that light to shine first makes no sense.   All salvation comes as a gift from God and not ourselves.

And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians.

You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.

What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace.

 

III.  Misconceptions About Salvation

 

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.

A.  Ask Jesus into your heart.

Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told the student to invite Jesus into their heart.

But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student disagreed, he was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus in with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.

It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers, these are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him. Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Paul is teaching believers again. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.

B.  Be sorry for your sins.

Should you beat yourself up for all the bad things you did before you became and Christian, and to be honest, for all the things you continue to do? Do you have to regret what you’ve done to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. No regrets!   In other words, every Christian has a past. Leave it there.

What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? How in the world are they supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. Let’s try this version of John 3:16 –

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.

That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever believes in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.

C.  Give up your sins.

This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. After all, we preach repentance, do we not?

I know I myself have taught this incorrectly in the past. “Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?

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Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.”   Sometimes indeed when the word “metanoeō” is used in scripture, it means “to turn from sin,” or more accurately, “to change one’s mind about sin,” but when used that way, the word “repent” is not connected to salvation. But in Acts 11:18b, it says,

God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.

In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word repent a single time. To believe is to change one’s mind about God, to repent.   The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though changing one’s behavior often follows from changing one’s mind first.

So, give up the sins? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth. In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. We don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved, that comes after.   Romans 5:6-8,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Thank God I didn’t have to clean up my act first. That burden of cleaning me up I give thanks to Jesus *after* I became a believer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

D.  Pray a prayer.

All you have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right? Romans 10:13 says,

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let me put it this way: can you say a prayer while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? If the answer is yes, then the prayer itself has no power.

But can you place your faith in Jesus silently? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved. It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

E.  Give your life to Jesus.

Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved?       I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved:  Judas Iscariot.  Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.

What does save you?   Acts 16:31,

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

To be saved, you have to change your mind about who Jesus is, to place your faith in Christ.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.

 

IV.  Christ Did It All

 

Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,

But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord.   Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.

What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved.   The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *you* still have to fulfill the law, too.

That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus?   What are we putting our trust in?   Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we abstain from all of those with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?

Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter.   Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ.   And still to this day we have our ideas about what clothing is acceptable to wear to church and what is not.

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Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.

Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus “Lord” and ask him to lead you to baptism.

We are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

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Let’s use that analogy about the light bulb again: You’ve accepted Christ, the electricity has been applied, and you’re asked to shine your light for others. You can refuse and stay dark. Or you can follow Christ and shine His light. But either way, the electricity has been applied and we are saved.

Or consider this:   you’ve given your best friend a present because you love them. Which response from them would you prefer:

      • Thank you. I love you.
      • Let me pay you back.

Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.

 

V.  The Simplicity of Christ

 

I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.

But nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.

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While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”

There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.

 

VI.  Conclusion

 

It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”

It’s just Jesus.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

That is the simplicity of being in Christ.

To God be the glory.   Amen.

Finding Strength

             I.      Introduction

We continue this week in our study of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, and this week we will focus on 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 –

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The first word is “therefore,” and I’ve heard it said that when you see “therefore,” you must ask yourself what it’s there for.  Paul is referring to his amazing experiences, both before and after Christ.

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I think we can all agree that Paul was such an influential Christian.  The letters he wrote contained amazing insights, Paul met Jesus personally on the road to Damascus.  He performed signs, wonders and miracles, and we know that because in verse 12, Paul says he demonstrated signs, wonders and miracles.  And if Paul is speaking about himself in verses 2 onward, Paul visited heaven itself and was witness to a great many more things he cannot express to us.

In fact, here’s a picture of Paul.  See that halo around his head?  You don’t get those by being a pretty good person.  Those were only given out as prizes at the Best Christian competitions in the Middle Ages.

 

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But seriously, Paul says in our first verse today that he received a thorn in the flesh to keep him from becoming conceited.  What was this thorn?

          II.      The Thorn in the Flesh

There are many theories about this thorn.  Medieval theologians believed it represented Paul’s earthly lusts.  Still others have theorized that Paul had a speech impediment.  One theory I find plausible is a pain in the eye, an eye inflammation.  Paul was literally blinded on the road to Damascus.  You can find support for this position in Paul’s letter to the Galatians; in Galatians 4:13-15 Paul writes

As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.

And signs the letter in Galatians 6:11,

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Did Paul have difficulty in his vision?  It’s possible.  It’s also possible, though not likely, it was an actual thorn.  I know a bible study teacher in Sugar Land that was hospitalized about two months ago with sporotrichosis, it’s an infection in the skin caused by a puncture by a rose thorn.  This infection can spread to joints, the lungs, the lymph nodes, even the brain.  The teacher I know was hospitalized 3 days because of a thorn.

Still others hypothesize Paul’s metaphorical thorn in his side was certain people causing him grief.  There is good rationale for this hypothesis.  Did you know that “thorn in your side” has biblical origins?  In Numbers 33:55 and Judges 2:3 (King James version) the Lord says,

Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

This phrase is used to describe adversaries but never used to describe illness or pain.  Paul had issues with people causing him troubles, especially Alexander the coppersmith, who Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:14 caused Paul “a great deal of harm.”  Paul may have been referring to Paul’s opponents who confused the message and opposed Paul’s efforts to spread the good news.

So what was this thorn?  We will never know this side of heaven.  Whatever this thorn was, Paul goes on to describe this thorn as a “messenger of Satan.”  Whether physical, emotional, social, spiritual, it’s clear that Paul’s thorn is from the devil with evil intent, and despite Paul praying to the Lord three times to remove it, the Lord allows it to remain in Paul’s life.

       III.      Purpose of the Thorn

The Lord answers prayers, does He not?  If we’re doing good things for the Lord or for the church like Paul was doing, that’s the definition of being in God’s will and so the Lord should always answer prayers, shouldn’t He?  Shouldn’t the Lord do what we tell Him to do?

There’s a whole lot of pride in a statement like that.  God doesn’t bend to our will, oh no.  God is sovereign and perfect and He is executing His plan, not ours.

Paul had a great many reasons to be full of pride.  Before Paul became a Christian, he was an amazing Jew both by birth and by works.  He lists many of them in Philippians 3:4b-6,

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:  circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

And then Paul had one of the most amazing testimonies a Christian could have, beginning with meeting Christ Himself on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:3-5,

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

 

Paul had a direct word from God at least 6 more time mentioned in scripture, in Jerusalem (twice, Acts 22:17-21, Acts 23:11), At Troas (Acts 16:8-10), in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11), and on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:22-25), and Paul’s vision of Paradise here in our book today, 2 Corinthians 12 verses 1-6.Slide9

Paul had a lot of reasons to feel like he was an important person, an important Christian.  And the early, church, too, had every reason to look at Paul as an awesome person.  He was awesome, and everybody should know it.  Right?

But Paul received a “messenger from Satan,” this thorn in the flesh.  This messenger, this thorn, “buffeted” Paul, it beat him up.  No doubt this thorn from Satan was intended to hurt Paul and derail his mission, to keep people from hearing the good news. 

Why did Paul receive this messenger from Satan?  To bring him humility.  It says in 2 Corinthians 12:7,

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself!

Paul says that without the thorn, he’d exalt himself.  He’d praise himself.  Look at me, look at what great work I’m doing for the Lord.  But the thorn kept him grounded in the Lord’s will.  Paul isn’t awesome after all.  He can’t remove a simple thorn.

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Pride exalts us.  Pride tells us that we don’t need God, we can do anything under our own power.  And when we do things under our own power, we pat ourselves on the back and say, “job well done.”  The glory that belongs to the Lord, well, we decided we’re going to keep it for ourselves.  We deserve it.

But God won’t use people full of pride.  God wants people that will humble themselves unto the Lord.  Paul’s thorn reminded Paul that Paul wasn’t God.  Paul was just… Paul.  With a thorn.

          IV.      Paul’s Reaction to the Thorn

Our scripture says in 2 Corinthians 12:8,

Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.

Raise your hand if God has answered every prayer you’ve had with a “yes.”

God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we want.  In fact, in many cases, I know why God doesn’t answer me, it’s because I’m praying for God to change somebody else.  I’m fine, they’re the problem.

Some problems in our life are our own doing, but many times these problems in our life are often mischief or evil from the devil.  1 Peter 5:8 says,

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

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The devil is not omnipotent, he is not all-powerful, he cannot win any battle with God.  But God allows Satan to mess with us, to interfere with us, to become a thorn in our side.  Why?  Often, just as with the case with Paul, it’s to keep us humble and reminded that our power is small, and God is big.  If we want to fight the devil on our own terms, we will lose.  We let God fight the devil through us, God will win every time. 

The rest of this verse says the same thing, that we need humility if we are going to let God fight these battles through us,

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

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We cannot do it on our own, but we forget so easily.  When things go right, we say, “look at me, look how great I’m doing!”  It’s when things go wrong that we say, “Lord, I need you.”

Azalea shared her testimony a few weeks back about being a diamond in God’s eyes, amazing testimony.  But I was thinking about the last lesson I taught about being clay in the potter’s hands.  How do I reconcile being a diamond and being a big blob of clay?  In one of the many ways God performs miracles in our life, we must be humble enough to let God shape and form us into a diamond.  If we resist, well, we can remain clay if we want.  God will give us our desire.

Paul says he prayed three times for the Lord to remove the thorn.  Do you know who else prayed three times for the Lord to do something?  Matthew 26:36 –

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Three times Jesus prayed to the Lord to take away the cup from Him.  But Jesus also prayed in verse 39,

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.

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God’s will is sovereign, God’s will be done.  When we pray, both Jesus and Paul prayed persistently, earnestly, specifically for something.   

             V.      Paul’s Reaction to the Lord’s Answer

And did the Lord answer Paul’s prayer?  Of course the Lord answered.  But like Jesus, Paul didn’t get the answer he wanted.   God’s answer to Paul was not, “here, let me help you with that thorn.”  God’s answer was in 2 Corinthians 12:9a,

My grace is sufficient for you.

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What can the world throw at us that God cannot overcome?  We complain about the problems in this world, but God has an answer.  He has a better place for us.  He sent His own son to die for everything we’ve ever done wrong or ever thought about doing wrong so that we may dwell forever in the house of the Lord.  We don’t have to earn it; God’s grace is freely available to those who believe.

What, then, is a thorn to us?  2 Corinthians 4:17,

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

A thorn is nothing compared to the grace of God.  God’s grace is sufficient.  God sacrificed everything He is because he loves us. 

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God’s answer to Paul was also,

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.

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God is there for us when we need Him.  But too often we think we don’t need Him.  We can do it on our own. 

I know I’m guilty sometimes of “saving” God as a last resort.  I can do this on my own, I don’t need to bother God about it. And when things go right, hey, I did it myself.  I didn’t need God after all. 

It’s when I can’t do it on my own that God demonstrates His power.  As a result, I find myself praying more and more, not just about the big things but about the little things.  And every time God answers, I can offer thanks and remember, “Every good gift comes from the Lord.” 

Paul prayed three times and didn’t get what he prayed for.   But He received something better.  2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 –

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul rejoiced.  When Paul is committed to rejoicing in the Lord, he can expect trials, tribulations, difficult times.  Many of those times challenge our understanding of God’s work in our life, and we want to respond in anger or sadness.  But Paul says if we can rejoice in unanswered prayers, then we are trusting that the Lord knows best for us. 

Everyone of us has gone through a trial, most of us more than one.  I shared part of my testimony a few months back about how on my own power I failed in marriage and in my weakness finally bowed my knee to God and told Him I was ready to follow Him instead of trying to drag Him around like a merit badge or “shown and tell”.  I was ready to honor Him and follow Him, and I needed His help to learn how to do that.  And that I saw miracle after miracle as God moved me overseas, taught me about the love of Christ, moved me back, and then restored my marriage.  I’ve thought often about unanswered prayers during that time, thinking at the time that if my prayers would have been answered, I’d have been a lot happier.

Or so I thought at the time.  Doing things God’s way brought more challenges, pain, tears.  But it also brought me far closer to Him as I learned to depend on Him instead of myself.  To do things God’s way instead of trying to fit God into a box I built for Him.  And during this journey, found more joy than I could imagine, bringing me closer to Him.

I know you’ve been through challenges.  Lost parents, children, siblings.  Lost a job, lost health.  And if you’re like me, you’ve found that depending on God because we realize we are weak has brought you even closer.

Knowing all that, make that same prayer again.  Pray for God to show us our weaknesses.  They say the hardest thing to pray for is patience because God will answer that prayer.  God will give you a reason to need patience.   But I say that prayer is easy compared to the lesson we learned today.  Pray for weakness.  Pray for God to bring us to our knees and show us His power in our lives.  When we are weak, then the we are strong with the power of Christ within us.  We can rejoice in our trials and tribulations because we know that God is at work in our lives.

          VI.      Conclusion

Our human nature urges us to show the world around us how strong we are, how fast we are, how smart we are, how rich we are.  It’s all about us and our human pride.

But pride in our own strength is ridiculous.  We aren’t strong.  We can’t move a mountain, we can’t calm a storm.  We can’t remove a thorn.  In our Christian spiritual walk, it’s a paradox that we do not get stronger.  We get weaker so that Christ may be demonstrated.  The more we rely on the Lord’s power instead of our own, the more we bring glory to the Lord instead of to us. 

Let’s look at our verses one last time:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

  • Verse 7: Protect me from my pride
  • Verse 8: Remind me to pray persistently
  • Verse 9a: Remind me of the grace You provide.  If your grace can save me from Hell, it can surely delivery me from temporary pain.
  • Verse 9b: Remind me that your power is perfected in my weakness.
  • Verse 10: Remind me of the proper perspective of Your strength and power.  Please Lord, teach me to be weak so that your power is demonstrated, for your power is unmatched.  When I am weak, then I am strong in you.

What are you struggling with?  What is your greatest challenge?  Are you trying to solve it under your own power?  Maybe it’s time to stop, breathe, and confess to the Lord that there is no power like His power. 

It’s time to stop telling God how big the storm is.  It’s time to start telling the storm how big our God is.

To God be the glory.  Amen.