Love Wholeheartedly

Our next minor prophet is Malachi. In Hebrew, Malachi means “messenger of Yahweh” or “my messenger.” Was Malachi the name of the man who wrote this book? Some scholars believe “Malachi” was simply the title of the book, as in “my message” to the people. We don’t know anything about the man himself, but it’s helpful to think of Malachi as the name of the prophet who wrote it. Verse 1 tells us that the book of Malachi is “An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.” The word “oracle” implies a burden, a heavy message from the Lord.

Malachi came after Haggai and Zechariah and probably wrote this about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah. Here’s a probable time line —

538 BC — Zerubbabel leads the first return of Jews from Babylon (prophets Haggai and Zechariah)
521–486 BC — Rebuilding the temple
458 BC — Ezra leads the second return of Jews from Babylon
445 BC — Nehemiah leads the third return of Jews from Babylon
433 BC — Malachi rebukes Israel

After admonitions from the earlier prophets, the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt, but over time the people became lazy, earlier spiritual reforms were abandoned, and conditions declined. Jerusalem fell into poor shape, both economically and spiritually. Nehemiah mentions in Nehemiah 5:5 that conditions were so poor, some parents sold their children into slavery to pay debts. That’s not legal today, though goodness knows I once tried. (No, no, no, I’m just kidding.)

The people had turned away from their faith, marrying non-Hebrews and practicing in the occult, and blaming their own poor conditions on God. Malachi challenges this mindset — the people can’t neglect their faith and then blame the resulting poor conditions on God. God’s love is unchanging, forever faithful. It’s the people; it’s us, that are not consistently loving.

Do You Trust God’s Love?

Let’s start with Malachi 1:2-3 —

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

God says He loves us, and the people respond “How? How do you love us? We have no prosperity, we’re selling our children into slavery, and times are tough. What do you mean you love us?” They people of Jerusalem had a lot to complain about. They had been in captivity by the Babylonians for over 80 years, then 70 years since they had returned to Jerusalem, but they were still not independent. For 150 years their destiny was manipulated by the Babylonians and Chaldeans, and now, even though they had rebuilt the temple and rebuilt the walls under Nehemiah, they didn’t have the manpower to defend against their enemies. From their point of view, God had allowed them to be dragged off into exile, and only through their own hard work did they return, rebuild the temple, rebuild the wall, and rebuild whatever prosperity they could muster. Where was God? How could God possibly say He loved them when so many bad things had happened?

Bad things happen to us today. We complain about them. In Afghanistan, there were 23 South Korean Christians captured by the Taliban; two of them, including the pastor, have already been killed. Where is God? I once lost my job and was unemployed for 2 months. Does anybody here have some health issue that doesn’t seem to have any Godly purpose? What sort of bad things are happening to us or in our society right now?

Do these bad things mean God doesn’t love us? Do they mean that God isn’t paying attention to us?

The people of Jerusalem must have a lot of nerve to say that God doesn’t love them. When he says, “Yet I have loved Jacob,” God is reminding them that God chose His people and has given them preferential treatment. If you remember the book of Obadiah a few weeks back, the people of Esau, the Edomites, share the same father as Jacob. Esau’s people, though, were not chosen by God, and the people of Edom openly rebelled against God. When Moses led the Israelis to the Promised Land, the people of Edom would not allow them to pass. When Nebuchadnezzar attacks, the Edomites tell the Babylonians where the Israelites are hiding, then join in the sacking and plunder. The Lord reminds the people of Jerusalem of His preferential treatment of Israel. The Lord God parted the Red Sea, had an angel of fire to protect them, provided manna in the dessert, but to the Edomites, God promises destruction. God reminds the people of Jerusalem that He loves them, but it appears the people do not remember or do not appreciate what God has done for them. It is true that God allowed their captivity, but only to cure them of their persistent idolatry. God had preserved them, though, and kept them from being destroyed. The people of Jacob only have to look to the people of Esau to see how much God loves them. Without God’s protection, they would have been destroyed.

What has God done for us? It can be difficult to see what God is doing in our lives with our narrow view of “me, me, me.” We’re too limited in our vision, only looking at the moment. God’s love works over a long period of time, and only over time do we get a perspective of how much God loves us. We get mad at God for something that just happened just now and forget about all His other mercies in the past. Perhaps when I lost my job, God saw that I was dependent on something other than Him, and I needed a reminder that if I was faithful, He would provide all my needs. Perhaps health issues give us empathy for others that have similar health issues; nobody can speak God’s love to a cancer patient like a Christian cancer survivor. Perhaps he uses health issues to remind us that our lives are temporal, short, and that we should devote whatever time we have left to loving our Lord and loving others.

But God does care for us, even in the middle of trials. Jesus tells us (Matthew 10:30) that our Father has numbered the very hairs on our head. One… two… there are a lot of hairs, some of us more than others.

It is God’s discipline in our lives that we have so much trouble understanding. The Babylonian captivity was discipline imposed by God to cure them of idolatry. A parent will punish their child for playing in the street, not because the parent hates the child, but because the parent loves the child. The parent could stand in the street also to direct traffic and protect the child, or the parent can teach the child the dangers of traffic. God often chooses to teach us, not just protect us.

There’s a story about a summer Christian camp for kids, and one of the counselors was teaching that God had a purpose for everything He created. The kids came up with good reasons for clouds, trees, animals, rocks, dirt, rivers, and so forth, when one of the children asked, “Why did God create poison ivy?” There was an uncomfortable pause while the counselor thought, but then one of the other children said, “God made poison ivy to teach us there are some things we should just keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off of.”

The people of Jerusalem clearly misunderstood about God’s love. When we trust in God’s love, it does not mean we no longer have responsibilities. The people of Jerusalem though they were exempt from responsibility and effort. They believed they can slack off, be part-time lackadaisical believers, and God will take care of them. We too, pray for God to just fix things. While God sometimes just “fixes” things for us, most of the time God teaches us not to play in traffic. There was a prayer I heard long ago about how God works, it goes like this —

I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.
He said it was not for Him to take away, but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.
He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.
He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.
He said He gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”.
He said suffering draws me apart from worldly cares and brings me closer to Him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”.
He said I must grow on my own. But He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. And God said “No”.
He said He will give me life, that I may enjoy all things.

I ask God to help me love others, as much as he loves me.
And God said “Ah, finally you have the idea!”

How does God love us? Like the people of Jerusalem, in the midst of our lives, we focus too much on the here and now. If we would ask God if He loved us, God would say “Yes.” He gave me his only Son who died for us, and we will be in heaven someday because we believe. That’s how much God loves us.

Question for the class — What helps you trust that God loves you when it seems to you God’s doesn’t hear your prayers?

Consider –
1. I can trust God’s love because…

Do You Honor God’s Greatness?

The real question isn’t whether God loves us. The real question is: do we love God? Malachi 1:6-9 —

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“You place defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

“Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”-says the LORD Almighty.

God asks a good question — with their mouths, the people say they honor God. But God shows them their hypocrisy — they say one thing, but their actions show their lack of respect for God. Starting with the priests; the Lord says the priests are showing God contempt, not honor. The priests are offering blind animals for sacrifice. The animals are crippled and diseased. Where did the priests get the blind and crippled animals? The people offered them. The Lord asks them to try offering them to the governor. Would the governor be pleased? If you were going to a friend’s house for a potluck supper, what would your friend think if you brought an expired can of sauerkraut and a half-open carton of milk?

If we truly believe God is our almighty God, we should honor him with our best. How do we do that? For instance, at work, how should we honor God? With our best service, the best job we can do. As a neighbor, how should we honor God? By loving our neighbor as ourselves. At home as a spouse or a parent, how should we honor God? By loving our spouse, at a minimum, like we love our neighbor. At worship, how should we honor God? With all our hearts; with repentance, reflection, forgiveness. Matthew 5:23-24 tells us, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Let me ask you something — who here thinks they are truly loveable? I mean if we could see everything in your life, what you do, what you say, even what you think, who here believes they are truly warm and fuzzy and loveable all of the time? And yet, God loves us anyway. What do we do to earn this love? Nothing. God loves us even when we’re unlovable. That is a truly extraordinary demonstration of what love is. It’s not a feeling, it’s an action. We love our neighbor, not because he’s necessarily loveable, but because we are called to love him. And it’s a great example of how we are to love our spouses — our spouses may indeed be truly loveable, but that’s not why we love them. When our spouses are loveable, that just makes it easier to like them. We love our spouses because by loving our spouses, we are honoring God.

As Christians, we worship God through our service to Him and through our obedience. Not just on Sunday mornings, but Monday mornings and Tuesday mornings, too. Notice that God doesn’t want our gift if we are at odds with our Christian brother or sister. We’re a married class; who is our closest brother or sister? What God says here is that if we’re at odds with our spouse, our gift is meaningless. Our worship to Him is expressed through love to one another. Before we worship on Sunday morning, it should be our reminder to forgive one another, to love one another, to be reconciled to one another.

How strongly does God feel about this? Malachi 1:10 has very strong words about this.

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

Any outward ritual is worthless. God doesn’t care about outward rituals. God cares about the heart and mind and spirit. If your heart is not right, if your heart is not repentant, forgiving, and full of love, God says He’d rather we nail the church doors shut and go home. He doesn’t want half-hearted worship. He doesn’t want worship from us if we’re angry or gossipy or unforgiving. In Mark 12:28-34, one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. What was Jesus’ response?

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.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The verse after that isn’t quite so well known; the teacher of the law agreed with Jesus —

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This verse doesn’t say that the burnt offerings and sacrifices were unimportant; it says that the offerings and sacrifices are worth less than the love of God and the love of each other. Whatever effort we go through to love God and each other, our offerings are worth less. If you love God half-heartedly, the offering is almost worthless.

I believe the Lord would almost rather we be like Esau, who He hated. I think He would have us hate God and turn our face away from Him. If we’re in church going through the motions of worship, but being a poor example of a Christian to our neighbor, our co-worker, our bible class friends, or heaven forbid our spouses, we are harming God’s church. When we are a poor example of Christ’s love, we hinder the witness of those fully devoted followers of Christ.

Let me give you an example of how being a poor example of an obedient Christian can harm the church and turn away potential believers. There was an article last week from Rome; an Italian politician whose party represents Christian values was caught in a hotel room with two prostitutes and a large amount of cocaine. When he was caught, this was his response:

“So politicians in the UDC [Christian Party] do not make love? Of course, I recognize Christian values. But what has that got to do with going with a prostitute? It is a personal matter. This affair has nothing to do with family values. I cannot be branded a bad father and a bad husband simply because after five or six days away from home, an occasion presented itself.”

In Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says this about being a half-hearted Christian —

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.

I’m not sure what the theological implications of Jesus spitting us out of His mouth are, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing. Non-committed Christians can be more harmful than non-Christians. Part-time Christians can be distasteful to God. It is not our actions that please God; it’s our heart. If our tongue both praises God and curses men, we are lukewarm, we are dishonoring God. God would have us nail the church doors shut.

Consider –
2. I will honor the Lord’s greatness by offering Him the best of my…
3. I will repent of my unacceptable attitudes and actions that include…

Do You Love God Wholeheartedly?

God wants the best from us. Malachi 1:11-14 —

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty.

“When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the LORD. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

God wants our best; God wants us to lean on Him, not on ourselves. When we hold back from God, like the man who keep the best for himself and offers the blemished leftovers to God, God doesn’t bless that. God says instead of blessings, such a person is cursed instead.

The purpose of our lives is to show God’s glory, God’s excellence, God’s love, in everything we do. Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Another question for the class; I assume nobody brought an unblemished goat to sacrifice this morning. What are examples of an unacceptable offering today?

What is the best way to show that we love the Lord with all of our heart?

Consider –
4. I will express wholehearted devotion to God by…

Conclusion

If I truly trust in the Lord and believe He is greatest among all names, if I truly believe Jesus is my Lord and savior and not just a religious figure, then I want to offer my Lord my best. I can trust in the Lord; he has provided great things to me; my wife, my life, my health, my hair number 2,063,425. Most of all, He provided His son to me to that I shall not perish but have eternal life. If we trust that the Lord loves us, even when we’re suffering or when we don’t feel as though God hears our prayers, we still give the Lord our best. A half-hearted effort of going through the motions means nothing to the Lord, He would rather nail the church doors shut than to listen to us mouth off about each other or to give lip-service to His will. Even when we don’t feel loved, we should give our best to the Lord, just like when we don’t feel loved, we should still give our best to each other. For great is His name above all other names, and our actions and worship should recognize that He is Lord.

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God's Word is Essential

Have y’all seen the stories on the news this week about Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda? For the last few years, Mr. Miranda has claimed to be Jesus himself. He says he had a vision in 1973, then after 3 marriages, 5 children, a heroin addiction and a couple of jail sentences for petty theft, in 2000 Mr. Miranda claimed to be Jesus himself. Mr. Miranda says there is no devil or sin because all of that was defeated 2000 years ago, prayer is a waste of time, and he teaches that his followers have a “freedom to indulge” because his followers are predestined for salvation no matter what they do on earth. He tells all of his followers that all churches and religion are heresy and they are to burn religious writings and attack local churches. He’s been banned in several countries. He’s in the news this week because he now claims that besides being Jesus, he’s also the anti-Christ. He is a “good” anti-Christ, though, because there is no such thing as evil. To mark this new revelation, Mr. Miranda now has a very prominent “666” tattooed on his forearm. Of course, his followers happily had their own “666” tattooed on their arms.

1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” We know that this Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus because of scripture passages such as, well, the entire book of Revelation. It’s also clear from scripture that Mr. Miranda cannot be both Christ and the anti-Christ at the same time. If you ever watched “Star Trek” you’d know he’d explode and the universe would cease to exist.

Why are people misled by a charismatic preacher? It’s because they do not know who Jesus really is or what Jesus says. Colossians 2:4,8 says, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peter faced similar situations with false teachers. Peter and the apostles had been in direct communication with the Lord Jesus Christ and knew exactly what Jesus’ message was. The Word of God was shared through oral traditions and through the Holy Spirit, but the written word, the New Testament, had not yet been written. There was a vacuum of information, and men being what they are, unscrupulous or misinformed people stepped into the vacuum and began to spread problems of all kinds. Legalism was taught, authority of God was challenged, the core teachings of the gospel were challenged, and even the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus was challenged. The apostle Peter wrote this scripture specifically addressing the true theology of Christianity. He wanted Christians to know the truth, the freedom of living in Christ, and put to rest the false heresies that were being spread.

Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:12-15

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

Peter tells the early Christians that they already know the truth, but Peter will “always remind them.” Peter tells them he wants to “refresh your memory” for as long as he lives. Let’s see if Peter’s assessment holds true for us today – do we know the truth about Jesus? Are we firmly established with this truth and what Jesus wants for our lives? I think so. So why is it important to be reminded of these things and to have our memories refreshed?

Let me ask it in a more personal way. We are not perfect like Jesus, are we? We are tempted and fall into sin, whether it is lust of the eyes, hurt with the tongue, worshipping money and idols, sin of pride, something personal we struggle with as we persevere in our faith. When we sin, is at that moment that we stop believing in God? When we sin, is it at that moment that we stop believing in the bible? No, not at all. Of course we believe. What we have forgotten, though, is the truth of the Word. We forget that sin has consequences. We forget that Jesus paid an incredible price for that sin. When we fall into sin, we don’t become unbelievers. We become un-rememberers. We forget our need for grace. We forget God is watching every move and listening to every thought. Peter doesn’t want the believers of Asia Minor to forget. God doesn’t want us to forget.

When Peter says “as long as I am in this tent,” this of course, refers to Peter’s mortality. Our bodies are frail, they are impermanent, and they are imperfect. We have only so much time on this earth to do God’s will. When we are aware of our limited time here compared to our eternal destiny, it should give us some urgency to do God’s will while there is still time.

Peter knows that his time is short – Jesus hinted to Peter in the book of John (John 21:18) that someday Peter would also be crucified. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter had an urgency to share the gospel, but we, too, have the same urgency.

Let’s read 2 Peter 1:16-18 –

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Peter is telling us the truth; false teachers are not. Peter’s words have the strength of his conviction behind him, the truth of the Lord behind him, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. Myths about Roman gods were passed along from generation to generation that illustrated a particular Roman lesson, but they were myths. Peter reminds us that the story of Jesus is not a myth. Peter didn’t learn about it from others, it wasn’t hearsay or gossip passed along. Peter was there; he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. Peter was there on the mountain when he heard God speaking from the heavens. And notice Peter says “we” – Peter, James and John were there on that mountain and were direct eyewitnesses to the transfiguration of Christ. God directly spoke from the heavens that Jesus is the son of God and that God is well pleased with Him.

It’s important to remember that Jesus appeared to thousands or people. When Jesus fed the 5000, how many people were there? Ok, that was a trick question. The point is that these 5000 people were still alive and it was very easy to check to see if the story was true. These were real events that had occurred during the last 20 or 30 years, during their lifetime.

Let’s say I told you that 20 or 30 years ago that Richard Nixon was a great war hero and had fought in Vietnam and because of his great leadership the Vietnam war was won? It would not be a credible story because there are people here in this room that know that isn’t true. In Peter’s day, Jesus was well known. He had appeared to thousands of people, taught thousands of people, and after he died and was resurrected appeared to hundreds of people. They were eyewitnesses. The apostles were so sure that Jesus was the messiah, the son of God, that they were willing to die for preaching Christ crucified. Not one of them recanted their story, even though they were martyred for preaching the gospel.

Peter knows without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came as the Messiah, as the Christ, as the Son of God, that Jesus died and rose from the dead after 3 days and ascended into heaven. False teachers could not claim that, nor could they dispute Peter’s eyewitness account. What other miracles did Peter see first hand?

That’s why Peter knows he is speaking the truth. Through divine revelation, Peter heard the very words of Jesus. The faith of Christians is not based on clever stories. Christianity is based on real, historical events with multiple eyewitnesses. Can you imagine seeing the transfiguration and hearing God speak from the heavens? Can you imagine how confident Peter was in his faith after seeing that? God wants us to have that same confidence in Him. How does God do that?

Let’s read the rest of our verse for today, 2 Peter 1:19-21 –

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

I love that part – you will do well to pay attention to the Word of God; it’s like a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word gives us confidence; even though we are not eyewitnesses, we have the words of the eyewitnesses.

The bible is a unique book. There are 66 separate books written over 1500 years, by over 40 separate authors from all walks of life. Amos was a farmer. Luke was a doctor. Ezra and James were ministers. David and Solomon were kings. Daniel was a political prisoner. Peter was a fisherman. Mathew was a first century IRS agent. It was written in Europe, Asia, and Africa, from deserts, dungeons, palaces, and battlefields. It covers all sorts of controversial topics such as raising your kids, improving your marriage, managing emotions, handling money, breaking bad habits, and inheriting eternal life, all in unity. And yet the entire bible has one hero – the Messiah, Jesus Christ. One villain – Satan. One problem – sin. And one purpose – salvation. The entire plot of the bible can be summed up by –

Jesus is coming (the Old Testament)
Jesus is here (The 4 gospels)
Jesus is coming again (The New Testament epistles)

Peter reminds us here – he’s always reminding us, isn’t he? And then he’s reminding us that he’s reminding us. He reminds us that the Word of God is not written by man. Man may have been holding the pen and using his own unique personality, but the Word of God is provided by the Holy Spirit. Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This is repeated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture is spoken by God, every word inspired by the Holy Spirit working through men. And it’s not just relaxing Sunday-morning reading, we are to use the Word. It teaches us, it rebukes us, it corrects us, and it trains us in righteousness.

If we take God’s word that the bible is indeed God’s word, how does that affect our relationship with Him? For one thing, if this is God’s Word, does God make mistakes? No, we know God is perfect and holy and infallible. Therefore, we take every word in the bible to be true, holy and infallible.

I heard a story about a pastor who was going to be preaching about Noah and the ark and the Great Flood. A couple of boys decided to play a prank on the pastor, and they snuck into the sanctuary and glued some of the pages of his bible together. Sunday morning, the pastor started reading from the bible and it came out a little different than he expected. He read, “And Noah took a wife, and she was” (here he struggles to turn the page) “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall.” The pastor stood there stunned for a minute, and then said, “I have been reading this Bible for 30 years, and there are still some things that are hard for me to believe.”

Skeptics and atheists claim the bible is full of discrepancies and inaccuracies, but theologians have a scholarly rebuttal to each claim. Some scripture, a lot of scripture, may be difficult for us to understand, but what we have to recognize is that the problem is not with the bible. The bible is incredibly consistent, and when we come across what appears to be inconsistent scripture, we can recognize that the problem is with us. We have limited understanding. With study, prayer and meditation, we can understand more and more, and when we arrive in heaven, we will understand all of it. Right now, in our mortal life, we have a limited view of an unlimited God. Eventually, if we continue to seek him, the full meaning will be given to us. We can learn to doubt our doubts.

What do we do about scripture we do not understand? In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The Pharisees knew the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. I believe God reveals himself to us slowly over the course of our life; just as He revealed himself to Israel over 3000 years. Scripture that is unclear to us one year becomes incredibly clear to us in later years. Jesus says that if we seek Him, we shall find Him. What that means to me is to implicitly trust that the bible is true even if I cannot fathom its full meaning.

If we accept the entire bible as complete true, what does the bible say about the bible? Besides being useful for teaching and rebuking, the word is relevant. Does anybody remember the scripture that is at the bottom of each class newsletter? Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living 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. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The bible is not dead literature, it is living and active. It’s sharp and it cuts and exposes us to God. It convicts us and shows us our sin and how we fall short of His glory and how much we need our savior Jesus Christ.

There are many ways to ask the Lord for this sort of surgery, surgery that cuts the sin out of our lives. Try asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Read His word and apply it to your life. The problem, I think you’ll find, is not one of understanding so much as it is a problem of obedience. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me; it’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand.” Many passages are easy to understand. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are very easy to understand. “Honor thy father and mother, especially on Mother’s Day.” If you want God to work within you, try committing a favorite passage to memory. Try reading your bible eagerly and accept it as God’s holy word and then submit yourself to what it says.

Let’s look at John 8:31-31 – To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To the non-believer, Jesus has but one command: “believe in me.” But if we are to grow in our faith, Jesus wants more from us. Jesus tells us to “hold to His teaching.” Where do we find His teaching? The very word of God, the bible. His teachings are here. Hold to His teaching, and we become His disciples, followers of Jesus. Hold to His teaching, then we will know the truth. Hold to His teaching, and we are set free from the bondage of sin.

An intellectual belief in God is not sufficient. The wisdom of man pales next to the foolishness of God. Heartfelt emotions are not sufficient – emotions can mislead us. Sincerity is not sufficient – the most sincere person can be most sincerely wrong. Sincerity does not equal truth, and sometimes religious leaders can be wrong. In Acts 17:11, it says, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” While the Bereans were excited that Paul was in their midst and preaching to them, they examined scripture for themselves to see if Paul was preaching the truth. That’s how we know that Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus the Christ. What he preaches conflicts with the Word of God. It’s misleading. It’s false.

I’d like to close with the words of another eyewitness to the life and words of Jesus Christ. From the book of John, chapter 1, verse 1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Let’s give a word of thanks to our Lord who has given us His holy Word.

Christian Submission

When I started studying for this lesson, my first thought was, “ooh, I’m not going to like this one.” Then it was sort of a frustration, like God is picking on me and giving me a lesson that probes specifically at my weakness. Of course, it also brings a smile; I know that God is working on me. It’s always a good thing when you realize when God is at work, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable.

Today we learn about submission, whether you want to or not. Do you hear me? “It’s a free country! You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!” When I hear the word submission, my first reaction isn’t good. I don’t like other people telling me what to do. So before we get in too deep into the book of Peter, let’s define what we mean by submission. What do you think it means?

Submission is Opposite of submission Too much submission is
Acceptance Arrogance Wimpy
Willing Resistance Cowardly
Humble Pride Spinelessness
Respect Conceit Slavery

The Greek word used here in the book of Peter is “hupotasso” and is a military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” When used non-militarily, it meant “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” What is your normal reaction to yielding to somebody else’s authority?

In America, we value our freedom. Nobody tells me what to do. It’s a free country. And freedom is a good thing, of course, but used improperly, total freedom can be destructive. Teens that want total freedom from their parents rebel against rules and can wreck their lives. Husbands and wives can alienate each other by pursuing self-fulfillment. Workers lose jobs because they don’t like the idea of obeying the boss or being told what to do. Many people nearing retirement are looking at meager years because they spent their money in search of freedom in their younger years.

Freedom can be misused to the point of harming ourselves or harming others. God’s plan is that as Christians, we are to lead lives of submission in service to one another. Our submission first is to God and to God’s Word. But when we think about submission, it can make use feel uncomfortable because we are voluntarily surrendering authority to somebody else. We’re agreeing to let somebody else tell us what to do. I think part of that reason is we’re afraid to surrender, to give up control of our lives, but that’s exactly what Christ calls us to do when we follow him.

Does submission mean we become second class citizens? Not at all; the bible is clear that whoever would be first will be last; whoever would be last will be first. Submission is far more challenging than anger or rebellion or arrogance. The natural reaction is to rebel; the Christ-like example is to serve. Rebelling is simply reaction; submitting is a conscious decision not to rebel. We are called not to be a slave to sin, not to be a slave to our rebellious nature.

Our scripture today is 1 Peter 2:13-25. It’s only 12 sentences long, but they’re powerful sentences, so we’re going to step through them one at a time.

Peter is living as a subject of the Roman Empire. The Romans at this time were not especially kind to Christians; Christians who confessed Christ as their Lord were often punished or killed for treason for not obeying the Roman Emperor. The Romans were suspicious of early Christians, suspecting them of insurrection and planning to overthrow the empire. So in a brutal repressive society, how do you reconcile that with the Christian teachings of freedom in Christ? Did this freedom allow rebellion? What about slaves who worked for cruel masters? What about Christian wives who were married to harsh, unbelieving husbands? Peter points to the Lord Jesus Christ to see how we are to live.

Let’s start with verse 13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” I told you I wasn’t going to like this. Studying this week as focused my attention on my rebellion and how I rebel in a hundred little ways, my natural tendency toward passive aggressiveness. Here are ten simple words that we all might want to rebel against, but what does Peter call us to do? Submit ourselves. Why? “For the Lord’s sake.” Not because those in authority can crush us, but because it is the Lord’s will (and we’ll get to more of this in a moment). To who do we submit ourselves? To every human authority. The context here is that of governmental authority, that God calls us to voluntarily and cheerfully submit to legal authorities. We are to obey the law and to be good citizens. And we do this, not because the government is a huge bureaucracy that can throw us into jail, but because we are to be obedient to Christ.

Let’s continue with the rest of verse 13 and 14, “whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the President of the United States, or the local policeman, we are called to submit to every human institution, and we obey the state and the laws out of our obedience to Christ.

The Roman emperor at this time was Nero; Nero was capable of rewarding obedient citizens and punishing rebels. Even though Nero was a pagan emperor, Christians were still called to be good citizens. God creates governments to accomplish His will, whether that government is aware of it or not. Government over us keeps us out of anarchy. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells us:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Peter is teaching us to submit to the government because the government is teaching us right from wrong. Submission to authority, cheerfully and willingly. Being good subjects of the Roman Empire. That doesn’t mean we can’t use legal, peaceful means of bringing change in our government. Certainly as good Christian witnessed we should seek to change those government laws that violate God’s laws; our Christian duty is to be agents of change in this world, but we are to do it within the framework of existing governmental laws.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. We must be careful to set aside our personal desires and goals; those goals are subject to government. But God’s goals supercedes those of government. Peter, who wrote our scripture today, was faced with this exact circumstance in Acts 4:18-20. The Jewish leaders were disturbed that Peter and John were spreading the message of Christ and ordered them to stop, but Peter chose to obey God instead of man:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So we are called to follow authority and show respect, but not at the expense of following God’s will.

A moment ago in Romans we learned that a government agent is an angel of wrath, to enforce right and wrong. When we submit to authority, Peter tells us in verse 15 why God wants us to do this. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” When we’re argumentative and rebellious, we are poor examples of Christ. The Romans distrusted the Christians because they openly declared Jesus as their Lord. Jesus was their king, a king that was crucified on the charge of rebellion against Caesar. Word about town is that those Christians are dangerous; they’re planning to overthrow the government. In order to silence rumors and ignorant talk, Christians are to lead a law-abiding life of respect to the government.

Verse 16, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” Jesus came to set His followers free, but this is not a freedom to do evil. In order to be free of sin, we voluntarily become slaves of God. Using our freedom to conceal evil actions is hypocritical. The world only grudgingly gives respect to Christians, and quickly condemns us when our hypocrisy shows. Expressing our freedom from sin means we obey every legal authority and not our own selfish, rebellious heart. We are to lead holy lives, set apart lives, and law abiding lives.

Verse 17, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” I find these distinctions interesting. We are to show “proper” respect to everyone, but that proper respect isn’t equal. We show respect to everyone – after all, everyone is created in God’s image.

To our brotherhood of believers, though, we show more than respect. We show love, the same kind of love Christ showed for us. The word used is “agapao” or agape love, and it means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be content with. Christ showed agape love to us to model, and we are to show this agape love to our brothers and sisters. Submission in the church, submission within this bible class leads to the purest kind of love, where we are genuinely concerned about each other and set aside our own vain attitudes. We are not in competition with each other about who can be the best Christian. Or the worst Christian, for that matter.

And to God, we show fear – not scared fear, but reverence and worship. The word used here is “phobeo” – our God created the heavens and the earth and if He so wished He could smite us so hard we’d be smitten. We are thankful for the grace He shows us through Jesus that we don’t get the punishment we deserve; Jesus has already taken our place.

We are to show honor to the king and to people in authority. The word “timao” is used here; it means to estimate or to set a value, to respect and honor. Note that it says we are to fear the Lord but give honor to the king. Jesus made the same distinction in Matthew 22:21 when the Pharisees asked Him if it was right to pay taxes. Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We give our authorities respect and obedience, but to God we give reverence and worship.

Next, in verse 18, Peter addresses a particularly difficult subject, slavery. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” Where’s that freedom Christ promised? Many early believers were slaves. Educated slaves, sometimes, but still slaves. They served as teachers, doctors, administrators, musicians, craftsmen. Over the centuries, Christian influence about our equal worth as God’s children eventually led to the abolition of slavery, but opposition to the slavery during the time of the Roman Empire would be seen as an insurrection and would certainly bring the wrath of Rome, crushing the early Christian movement.

Peter’s not justifying slavery here in any circumstances; but if a Christian is in slavery, the Christian is to submit, to obey their master. I think we have an innate repulsion to this idea, that slavery is wrong and we should oppose it. And while that is true, slavery shows us an extreme example of how we are to behave as Christians. We are to submit and show respect. Not grudgingly and with an attitude, but respectfully and willingly. And while there are no Christian slaves today, we can extend this instruction to our workplace, to our bosses who are in authority over us. We are to obey our bosses, be a good example of Christ within us. The natural tendency of the unsaved person is to gripe, to badmouth, to fight back. As a spirit-filled Christian, we learn to submit and let God fight our battles for us.

Verse 19 tells us suffering in slavery or suffering in our job in obedience to Christ brings favor with God. “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” The word is “charis” and can be translated commendable, finds favor, a reward, good will, but also means grace. As a slave to God, we submit unconditionally, we love unconditionally, we obey unconditionally. How can we do otherwise? How can we set rules for when and how God shows us grace? We can’t of course; as we learn to submit unconditionally, we learn how God’s grace is provided to us. Jesus submitted unconditionally; through His submission, God brought salvation to all humanity. Jesus certainly had the power to resist, to punish the men responsible, but instead Jesus submitted to authority and at the same time showed us how to forgive those who oppress us.

Verse 20 also gives us another reason to submit. “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” If we do wrong and we’re punished, well, we deserve it. If I go out to the parking lot and spray paint a bunch of cars and get caught, will anybody respect me for the way I bravely take my punishment? No, they will say I deserved it. But if I am innocent and I’m punished, by freely submitting to those in authority, God will find favor in me. If we spend all day at work surfing ESPN for the latest basketball scores and our boss comes in and gives us a dressing-down, well, we deserved it. But if we are innocent in these things and our boss treats us harshly, we are to endure it patiently. We show respect because this brings glory to God. This is a true test of our faith. Being a good example when things are going well is easy. God’s not impressed. Being a good example when under stress or persecution – God will find favor in us.

We are called to do this as Christians. Verse 21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Christ suffered unjustly for us. When we think about our suffering, think about the suffering of Jesus. The Romans punished Jesus, flogged Him, and crucified Him to die a slow death on the cross. What did Jesus do to deserve it? When our boss tells us to work late, compare that to the suffering of Jesus. Why do we grumble over minor afflictions when Jesus submitted willingly to crucifixion? Think about your job for a second. Think about those things that irritate you the most. Coworkers? Bosses? Clients? Customers? That’s your suffering. Compare it to the suffering of Jesus. Who suffered more? Who complains more? Yet verse 21 tells us to follow in His steps. Here’s how Jesus set an example for us when He suffered –

Verse 22, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” Jesus suffered and died without a grumble, without a complaint and without a sin. Because Jesus was innocent, He can take the blame for us. If Jesus was a sinner, the punishment He received would be His own. But Jesus is sinless and can offer to take our punishment for us. Because He can do that, He is our savior. When we suffer, when we are punished unjustly, Jesus is also our role model, our example. No deceit in our mouth, we hold our tongue and do not condemn.

Verse 23, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” As the son of God, Jesus could threaten to destroy His oppressors. He could have said, “I’ll get you my pretty… and your little dog, too.” Instead, Jesus left us an example – he committed himself to trusting God to judge. Jesus showed us that a person can be in the will of God, be loved by God, and still suffer unfairly. Don’t fall for that “feel good” brand of Christianity that says trust in God and you will never suffer. It’s not biblical; it doesn’t reflect the life that Jesus gave for us. Instead, unjust suffering – at work, at home, in pain or poor health, in loss of a loved one – unjust suffering gives us an opportunity to showcase the Holy Spirit within us. No threats, no insults, no retaliation, no harsh words. We trust God will right all wrongs at the Day of Judgment. By the time Peter wrote this book, Peter had been preaching the gospel for 30 years and the Holy Spirit has made him into a true man of God – where once Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus, now Peter preaches submission to authorities. This is how we lead as Christians; we lead by submission.

The last two verses, Peter reminds us why Jesus is our example. It’s because Jesus is more than just an example. Jesus is the savior we all need. In verse 24, Peter reminds us what Jesus did for us and why Jesus could no what none of us can. Jesus is more than “just a good man.” “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Jesus did not die as a martyr; Jesus died as a savior. He took the punishment for the sins we commit. Christ was wounded so we might be healed. Christ died so that we might live. Our sinful lives died with the crucifixion of Christ; we are no longer slaves to sin, but willing and righteous slaves to God. One day we will have glorified bodies, but right now, even some of God’s most favored servants suffer physically. By the wounds of Jesus, we will be healed of this physical suffering.

And in verse 25, Peter says, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Every lost sinner is ignorant, lost, foolish, wandering, in danger, and unable to help ourselves. We have wandered into the wilderness without a Shepherd to protect us. Before we accept Christ, we have a mistaken belief that we can save ourselves, that we are all we need, yet we spend our entire lives trying to figure out why that hole in our soul won’t fill up with toys, entertainment, knowledge, service. It’s only when we recognize that we cannot do it on our own and accept Jesus that we truly begin to live in Him. Jesus is our good shepherd; Jesus watches over us and protects us, and nobody can snatch us out of His all-powerful, ever-loving arms.

After studying for this lesson this week, I’m convicted of some growth in Christ that I have to do. Not to gripe about what minor hardships I have at my job, but to respect my boss. And while I will continue to speak out against what I believe is bad legislation that goes against the will of God, I will remember that God expects me to submit to governmental authorities and to obey the rules willingly, respectfully, and without complaint. And to show love to my brothers and sisters, respect and honor to those who fulfill God’s plan of government that keeps us out of anarchy, and to remember the example Christ set for us as one who suffered unjustly.

April 15th is approaching. So who’s going to cheat on their taxes this year?

Once Saved, Always Saved

We’re going return to the New Testament for the next 3 months and work through 1st and 2nd Peter, written by the apostle Peter approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the 30 years since Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter has grown a lot. Within two years of writing 1st and 2nd Peter, Peter was martyred, proclaiming the glory of Christ till the very end.

I’d love to spend a lot more time discussing who Peter was, how he grew from a fisherman, and in Acts he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” to the man who wrote these letters. Peter is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Peter was in Rome when Rome burned; Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned,” blamed the fire on Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul during this time. So you can see how much history is wrapped up in Peter’s life, but we need to delve right into 1 Peter and see what this apostle has to say to us. So let’s get started and see what the Holy Spirit has to say through this man of Christ and perhaps have hope that we, too, may become this unlearned and ignorant. So take out your bibles and turn to 1st Peter and let’s dig in. 1 Peter 1:1-2 :

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

“Strangers in the world” is also sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens residing in a foreign land.” Believers in Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit inside, soon find that their moral values are different from the world. We become new creations that don’t seem to fit with the old world anymore. We turn from partying to service, we turn from selfish behavior to loving our neighbor. We become strangers in the world. Peter defines a whole bunch of characteristics of Christians in a single sentence –

  • God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. God knows all, including knowing who will choose Him. It doesn’t say God makes us choose Him, we have the gift of free will He gave us. But God knows all.
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who turbocharges our conscience and begins the lifelong process of sanctification.
  • Obedience to Jesus Christ. To love our Lord, we seek to find His will in our lives.
  • Sprinkling of His blood. This is a also a gift given to us, and nothing we did to earn it. Christ died for us.
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Two more gifts given to Christians; as we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, God’s grace and the peace from Christ lives in us. In abundance, too.

Wow. No wonder we’re going to go through the books of Peter slowly. That’s five descriptions of Christians and we’re not out of the first paragraph yet, and each description we could devote a complete study. Not today, though, we’re going to study 1 Peter 1:3-9 instead. I’d like to read this together as a class, and to make sure we’re all reading the same version, I’ve provided a handout with these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us so much here, about how to have inexpressible and glorious joy, how our faith is protected by God’s power, how we suffer so that our faith may be proved genuine. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved?” I confess that before I started studying this week, I had some doubts about that. No more, no more doubts. And absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess that up brings me this peace and inexpressible and glorious joy. The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Peter tells us that through Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never, spoil or fade, that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by the all powerful God.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven? Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven? Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven? God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge. Let’s see if there’s any other scripture that talks about this confidence.

1 John 5:13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life. So that we may *know* we have eternal life. It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven. It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice. Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you, never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

John 5:24, Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point. When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense. Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”. Jesus says believers have it! And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life. We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die. We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned. Past, present and future.

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.” John 6:47, “I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.” It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord? Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

  • somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,
  • change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,
  • remove the brand He sealed onto us,
  • snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,
  • cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,
  • evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,
  • dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,
  • remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,
  • and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?” What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – Am I still going to heaven? And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want? Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer? Am I still going to heaven? How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore? Am I still going to heaven? And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore? Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions. I hope somebody here can answer them, I ran out of time studying.

No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1. What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? Partying and drinking and so forth? I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. God does the rest. If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God. Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has nothing to do with what we do. We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance. It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift. The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down. In Galatians 3 Paul writes, “You foolish Galatians! […] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” 2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace. We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace. So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have an invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2. If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want? If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do? Why not lie, cheat and steal? Why not cheat on my spouse? Why not party like it’s 1999? I’m going to heaven! Well, there’s a serious problem with this. You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames

.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation. We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness. The choice is up to us. But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are. Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward. What kind of reward? I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate. All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line. What if your building is all gone? Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved. You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Another problem with living a sinful, selfish life, the Holy Spirit is inside doing a number on our conscience. We will feel guilty. Things we could get away with before accepting Christ, we feel bad when we do them now. David writes in Psalm 32 that when he kept silent about his sins, not confessing, not repenting, his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. When we accept Christ as our savior, we become more focused on pleasing God.

Number 3. What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist. Are they still going to heaven? Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.” Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who do not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened? We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart. But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven. Even if we are faithless, God is faithful. In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither. You become bitter and angry. I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around. They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people. But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit. So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus. It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven. But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4. What if I just don’t feel saved? What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church. Am I still going to heaven? One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy. Feel bad about debt? Go shopping until you feel good. Feel bad about weight? Eat until you feel better. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction. When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly first hand what happens when you let feelings rule. I left my wife because of feelings and my feelings drove me right off a cliff. But you know what? Christ caught me. Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven? Does John 3:16 read, “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,” as long as he feels like it? John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” How do your feelings change that? John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Unless, of course, they’re unhappy? Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Where do feelings come into play? Your feelings are something you do, and nothing you do will gain your salvation. I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe. God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.” That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that. No performance evaluation, no report card. Just grace. Your destiny is already safe, already secure, you are already an eternal being. When you’re not afraid to die, then you’re not afraid to live.

So you don’t have to get up every week and walk down the aisle every single week and give your life to Christ, Meredith. You already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit. Your destiny is safe. And that’s why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Once Saved, Always Saved? It really is that simple. Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions. Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure. To receive it, all we have to do is ask. And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

* due credit goes to Lon Solomon of the McLean Bible Church and his sermon series on Bible bootcamp for the ideas and scripture references behind the “fine print of the contract” above.

The Meaning of Life

We started a new bible class today, and I am blessed to teach adults this year every 2-3 weeks. Not that I wasn’t blessed teaching 3rd graders last year, but teaching married adults will be infinitely more challenging. I look forward to what God teaches me this year.

Anyway, I’m going to try to share my notes each time, so here’s this week’s lesson:
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Where Was the Media When the Pope Was Alive?

Today’s OpinionJournal focused in on something that was niggling at me, and now I know what it is.

On all the TV stations, we’re getting round the clock Pope coverage. Where were all these people when the Pope was alive?

Even in the current coverage of how the Pope helped bring down communism, most of the media is bypassing the theme Pope John Paul II brought to the masses. THe underlying theme of love and hope, that we are all Christian brothers and sisters struggling through momentary trials with the help of our savior, Lord Jesus Christ. Nope, the media just sort of glosses over that point.

For all the affirmation of John Paul’s thinking, notably on communism, he received little sustained support in the U.S. or Europe for the spiritual content of his message. Across 26 years, this pope–preaching holiness–has been a voice crying in the cultural wilderness.

The article is well worth reading. John Paul’s politics may have won in the East, but they lost in the West. In order to accept the pope as a champion, you also had to consider his overall message on abortion, sexual preference, stem-cell research, etc. The pope was very conservative on all these issues. If you oppose the rest of John Paul II’s message, is he still a champion?