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.

Encouragement

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Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is.

– Blaise Pascal

Every spoken word, every action we take, effects another person.  We either affect somebody positively or we affect negatively.  Even many neutral actions, since they don’t affect another in a positive way, can be considered negative.  We label ourselves as either an optimist who sees the glass half full, or a pessimist who sees the glass half empty.  Or as an engineer, who sees the glass as excessively sized for the application.

Some Christians look at the people around them and find fault with them.  *They* gossip too much, they only hang around with their friends; they don’t serve like they should.  Other believers seem to have a good word for everyone they meet.  Which type of person do you like to be around?  Which type of person are you?

If we’re critical of others, we make excuses for our behavior.  I don’t feel good.  I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  It’s just the way I am.   God made me this way.  Or, they’re just out to get me.  They deserve it.  Or we hide our criticism behind the phrase, “bless their heart.”  You can say the absolute meanest, despicable things about somebody as long as you add the phrase, “bless their heart” to it.  “He’s just a blathering idiot, bless his heart.”  “She’s a wicked gossip who smells bad and dresses like a vagrant, bless her heart.”

Why do we do this?  Like many sins, this one, too, is based on pride.  *We* are better than them.  If they don’t know that, then we can drag them down and push ourselves up by criticizing them.  We think so highly of ourselves that we don’t consider the other person’s feelings before we open our mouths.

That’s not God’s plan for us.  God wants all His children to encourage and lift one another.  Proverbs 10:10-11,

He who winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

And Hebrews 3:13,

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

What day is it?  That’s right, it’s Today.  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.  And 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

And Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Slide3Ok, so does God want us to encourage one another?  Who can guess the answer to that question?

Today we’re going to study Acts 11 starting in verse 19 about a great encourager.  This is a difficult time for the early church; the early Jews preaching the gospel were persecuted by Herod.  Stephen had been stoned to death, and the early Christians were scattered.  There was some confusion around this time about the good news of the gospel and who could receive it.

Then Peter has a vision.  In Acts 11:1-3,

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Criticism is everywhere; here, early believers are criticizing Peter, one of the original 12 Apostles.  I can imagine them saying, “Well!  He may have traveled and listened to Jesus for 3 years, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Why, just the other day, he was eating with so-and-so, you know, that ‘gentile’.  He calls himself a follower of Christ but you sure can’t tell by the way he’s behaving.”

As a devout Jew, entering the house of an unclean gentile under Jewish Law would cause Peter to become unclean, a fact other Jews pointed out to him.  But Peter has a vision, and in verse 4, Peter tells them about this vision.  He repeats it “precisely” to them;  he saw a sheet coming down from heaven, and inside were four-footed animals, and a voice from the Lord saying, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”

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Peter’s initial response indicated Jewish thinking; he cannot eat those animals because Jewish law forbids it.  “Surely no, Lord!  Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth!”  And the Lord responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

When we study God’s word, we often stop right there and think that God’s message is that it’s ok to eat pork.  Or shellfish.  Or… scorpions.  Or whatever.  And indeed, the scripture tells us this.  When you couple this vision with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” we can also conclude that we are not bound by the Old Testament laws because Jesus completed them.  We are free in Christ.

But for Peter, the vision he received also addresses the salvation of gentiles.  Gentiles are also made by God.  Gentiles are non-Jews, not part of God’s chosen people.  Gentiles can also be made clean by God.  The Holy Spirit came upon some gentiles in Acts 11:15-18,

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

Slide6.JPGIn verse 19, after the stoning of Stephen, the early Christians scattered but continued to preach.  Those that went to Phoenicia, Cypress and Antioch taught only to Jews.  Other early Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene also went to Antioch, but began to teach the gentiles, the Greeks.  The early church began to grow rapidly.  Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the early church there began to hear of the conversion of gentiles in Antioch.  Verse 22-24, 

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Slide7Barnabas is a great example of the Christian God wants us to be.  In Acts 4:34-37, scripture introduces us to this man.

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Slide8His given name was Joseph, but the early church gave him the nickname “Barnabas”.  A complete reading of the word “barnabas,” gives a more complete picture of his name.  Barnabas means –

  • Son of encouragement
  • Son of prophecy
  • Son of refreshment
  • Son of comfort
  • Son of consolation
  • Son of preacher

In Hebrew names, the prefix “bar-” meant “son of.”  For instance, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah.”  It meant “Simon, son of Jonah.”  If Jesus had said, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Smith & Wesson,” that could also mean “blessed are you Simon, you son of a gun.”

The selection of Barnabas by the early church was a wise decision.  Barnabas is described in glowing terms in verse 24.  He is the only man in Acts called “good.”  He is “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith.”  And then Barnabas gives 3 examples of who we are to encourage.  First, by going to Antioch to share the gospel with gentiles in verses 19-22, Barnabas encourages new Christians.  These new Christians came not from Jewish backgrounds, but from pagan backgrounds.   It is because of this encouragement that (verse 21) “the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

Why do new Christians need encouragement?

  • May have zeal and happiness, but not knowledge of scripture
  • May fall into old secular habits easily
  • If not welcomed, may seek inclusion elsewhere

We can definitely encourage new Christians by assuring them that God is at work in their lives, that God loves them and gave His son for them.  We can encourage new Christians, not by looking at what they are doing wrong, but by affirming the positive qualities they have and the positive actions they do.  We must approach them in love, not criticism or condescension.

I look at these early Christians, the aggressive evangelism they do to spread the Word, and the persecution they endured, and compare it to the safety and comfort of our modern church.  We’re coddled by Christianity, but it’s the suffering of the early Christians that produced the hope and character of zealous Christians.  I once heard it said that they did so much with so little, while in our modern comfortable lives, we do so little with so much.

Another person Barnabas encouraged was Saul.  Verse 25-27,

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Slide11Saul wasn’t exactly a new Christian; Saul was an educated Pharisee, a very devout Jew who had persecuted the Christians until Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.  When Saul converted to Christianity, there was a lot of suspicion about him.  After all, Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen; how could this man be so changed after his encounter with Jesus?

Barnabus went specifically to search for Saul and bring him to Antioch and together they helped grow the early church there.  This was not the first time Barnabus had encouraged Saul; in Acts 9, immediately after Saul’s conversion, the Jews conspired to kill him and Saul tried to join the early church.  But the Christians there were afraid of him and distrusted him.  Then Acts 9:27, “But Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles.”

Saul became Paul and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, including the letter to the Hebrews, verse 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.”  While we think of Paul has an incredible teacher, how much of Paul’s writing can be attributed to the encouragement and joy of Barnabas?

Why do established Christians need encouragement?

  • Initial zeal of forgiveness fades, tempted by world
  • The stronger the Christian, the more Satan steps up his attacks
  • Like Paul, Christians we encourage may contribute to God’s work in ways we could never imagine

It says here in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.  Here’s the rabbit trail for this week; up until this time, followers of Christ had sort of an identity crisis.  For a while in Acts 1 through 4 they were called “believers”.  In Acts 5, they referred to themselves as the church, and then in Acts 6 they called themselves disciples and then brothers.  In Acts 9, they called themselves “The Way,” I assume because Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  They also called themselves the Lord’s people in Acts 9, the Followers in Acts 17, and the Flock in Acts 20.  But it was here in Acts 11 that followers of Christ were first called Christians.

Slide13So back to Barnabus; he’s encouraged new Christians, he’s encouraged experienced Christians, and now Acts 11:23 it says Barnabus encouraged all of them, the entire church of Antioch.  So Barnabus has shown by his example we are to encourage new Christians, established Christians, both individually and in groups.  Did we miss anybody?

Acts 11 ends on a note that a severe famine began to spread throughout the Roman worlds, and in verse 29-30,

“The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”

Slide14Barnabus’ encouragement was not limited to words; he also encouraged them by his acts of service.  There are many ways of providing encouragement; here’s a list called “8 Simple Ways to Encourage Others”

(http://www.ismckenzie.com/03/18/8-simple-ways-to-encourage-others/):

  • Take an interest. I believe this is one of the most effective ways of encouraging others. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Get them talking. People like to talk about themselves and once you get them talking, you fire up their enthusiasm.
  • Acknowledge what’s important. When you acknowledge what’s important to another, you provide validation about who they are and what they’re doing. Whether we admit it or not, each of us craves acknowledgement. Affirmation fuels confidence and self-esteem.
  • Acknowledge a job well done. Worthwhile accomplishments take time and effort. You can encourage by acknowledging someone’s effort. A simple “well done” or “thank you” can have a strong effect, which can make the difference between going on or giving up.
  • Show your appreciation. It’s common courtesy. Thank someone when they do something for you. Thank your partner after they cook a nice meal. Thank a friend for lending you a book. A simple thank you lets others know what they have done is meaningful to you.
  • Return the favour. If someone does something nice for you, show your appreciation by returning the favour. This should not be seen as an obligation, nor as a contest. You’re not trying to top the other’s contribution, but to express what their actions mean to you.
  • Do something unexpected. This is a step beyond returning the favour. Respond with something unexpected: out of the blue. Such a response has a strong impact and can reach others at an emotional level.
  • Ask for advice or confide in them. Haven’t you felt important when someone asked for your advice or confided in you about something important? Didn’t you find you were energised and eager to help. Taking someone into your confidence can motivate them to show your faith in them is well founded.
  • Lend a hand. Waiting for someone to ask you for advice is passive. You can take the initiative by offering to lend a hand. If a person sees you are willing to commit your time and energy to their interests, they will be more committed to seeing it through and less likely to give up.

Slide15What about you?  Are you an encourager?  Do uplifting words come from you, or do words of condescension and criticism come from you?  Are you a Barnabas?  Or are you a barnacle?

Let’s keep in mind that all Christians need encouragement.  For new Christians, simply going to them and offering help is encouraging.  For maturing Christians, we can encourage them by affirming their good work and character and helping them apply their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord.  For all Christians, just being concerned about them and helping them is encouraging.

Nicole Johnson, a Christian author and encourager herself, wrote

“Encouragement is to a friendship what confetti is to a party.  It’s light, refreshing, and fun, and you always end up finding little pieces of it stuck to you later.”

Slide16.JPGLet’s go be encouraging confetti to someone today.

To God be the glory.

Persecution & Hope

  I.      Introduction

We begin today a brand new series, and I’m always overwhelmed with the amount of wisdom that is packed into each verse of the New Testament.  We have nine verses to study today, and we could easily do an entire lesson on just the first word.  Got your bibles ready?  Let’s start at 1 Peter 1 verse 1.

II.      To God’s Chosen, 1 Peter 1:1-2

Today’s lesson is actually a very good illustration of something I’ve said numerous times; standing in front of the class to teach is not a goal of mine.  I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, but actually standing here isn’t something I crave.  But I would say 90% of what I know about the bible has come not from listening to the Word, or even reading the Word, but from preparing to teach.  We have 9 verses to study today, but let’s just read the first two, 1 Peter 1:1-2,

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of 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, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

When I first sit down to study, I read the verse once and sort of let it sink in, sometimes up to a week.  Then when I sit down to prepare, I start jotting notes down and try to arrange them in an outline that makes sense.  Here’s the notes I jotted down from the first two verses –

  • Peter the apostle. Discuss life of Christ, how Peter was selected as a fisherman, denied Christ 3 times.  In the book of Acts, he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” yet he penned several books of the New Testament and Christ built His church upon him.
  • God’s elect, chosen through foreknowledge, free will versus God’s will, Arminianism vs Calvinism,
  • God’s exiles, sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens in a foreign land, and how believers with the Holy Spirit inside find their moral values are different from worldly values.
  • Geography, how the Christian church spread in the first century
  • Sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, not through our own works
  • Obedience in Jesus Christ.
  • Covered by His blood, saved from our own sins by His substitutionary death.
  • Grace and peace, gifts of the Holy Spirit. And in abundance, too.

These are just the topics I identified in just the first two sentences of 1 Peter 1.  My point is, when we study the bible as a class, it is worthy and provides us knowledge, but there is no possibility that 30 minutes a week is sufficient to understand all our heavenly Father wants to teach us.    If you and I want to get closer to our God, then we must spend the time to get to know him in our own individual reading and studying.  It is a privilege for us to be able to study His Word when in so much of the world bibles are difficult to find or are banned outright.

Why were these early Christians in exile?  This world persecution of Christians goes all the way back to the first century church.  While many of the apostles like Peter showed their human weaknesses while Jesus was in their midst, every apostle except John (who died of old age) was eventually martyred proclaiming the good news of the Christ.

In the USA, we believe we see persecution of Christians.  In California, Christian adoption agencies are closing because the state forces all adoption agencies to accept same-sex parents as well as provide contraception as part of their health care for adoption agency employees.  Christian businesses are closing in several states because they won’t make cakes for lesbian couples or take wedding photos for gay men.  These are most definitely challenges and persecution of Christian values.Slide3

But in Philip Yancey’s book, “Where is God When it Hurts?”, quotes Helmut Thielicke, a German minister who survived Nazism and World War II.  Helmut was asked, “What did he see as the greatest weakness among American Christians?”.  Helmut answered, “They have an inadequate view of suffering”.

So while in Houston, Christians struggle to preserve the Ten Commandment display at a Veteran’s cemetery, OpendoorUSA reports that around the world, 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month, and 214 Christian churches are destroyed.  I saw the movie this past week called “The Insanity of God” and the story of a missionary who had traveled the world, witnessed dying children in Somalia, the imprisonment of the faithful in the former Soviet Union, and the persecution of believers in China.  As he spoke to some underground Christians in China, he noted that before the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse Tung, there were 400,000 Christians.  Today, after decades of persecution, there are 50 million.  And the underground Christians asked the missionary, “Have they heard about Jesus outside of China yet?”Slide4

Sometimes it’s hard to grasp why God allows the persecution of His people, and I can’t begin to understand all of His purpose.  But it’s unmistakable that persecution allows demonstration of His mercies.

 

III.      Saved, Now and Forever, 1 Peter 1:3-5

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once Saved, Always Saved?”  It was a phrase that I had heard but didn’t think about it too much.  My first thoughts are, “well, it’s not in the bible” and “if you could see the way some people live, they couldn’t possibly be saved.”  And if you continue that line of thinking, eventually you get to wondering, “Am I saved?  And if I am saved, can I lose my salvation?  What do I have to do to earn eternal life?”  In 1 Peter 1, we will find rest for our souls and comfort that our inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven is secure.  Verses 3-5,

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. This inheritance is 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.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven?  How about, 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 look at some other scripture that backs this up.  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 we should “think” we have eternal life.  It says 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.  It’s not based on me.  It never was.  It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

In John 5:24, Jesus says,

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses several tenses of verbs to make His point clear.  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 is 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.”   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 become 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?

So 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.  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, all the terms of the contract would have to be abolished.

  • 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.
  • We would have to change from Christ’s sheep into a toad.
  • We would have to remove the brand He sealed onto us.
  • Somebody would have to snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us.
  • God’s adoption papers would have to be cancelled and He writes us out of the will.
  • Holy Spirit would have to be evicted out of His home in our heart and told to find someplace else to live.
  • We would have to dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up.
  • Somebody would have to remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more.
  • And somebody would have to 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, these were hard and 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 their admission ticket 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.

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.

Slide21Beautiful 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 does 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.

Slide23In 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 firsthand what happens when you let feelings rule.  I have let my feelings drive 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?

Where do feelings come into play?  Our feelings are something we do, and nothing we do will gain or lose our 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.  Our destiny is already safe, already secure, we are already eternal beings.  And when we are eternal, when we are not afraid to die, then we are not afraid to live.

IV.      Rejoice Always, 1 Peter 1:6-9

This is indeed cause for celebration.  In 1 Peter 1:6-9, Peter goes on to say,

In all 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 the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – 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 end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

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 despite the persecution of the church, those who have place their faith in Christ Jesus are already receiving the result of our faith: the salvation of our souls.  We 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.  Our destiny is safe.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  And let nothing steal that joy, for Christ Jesus loves us so much that He gave His very life for us.  And nothing, absolutely nothing that the world, others, or even ourselves can do, can take that away from us.  We are saved, permanently, now and forever.

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.

  V.      Conclusion

Peter tells us that through Christ Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never spoil or fade, and that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by our all-powerful God.  Let us have no more doubts, no more fears.  Absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess this gift from the Lord brings me peace and inexpressible and glorious joy.  I have been set free.  The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power.

To God be the glory.

Acceptance

   I.      Introduction

We’re continuing in the Book of Acts, and last week, Theresa gave a great lesson that touched on Peter’s character.

I like Peter.  He’s messy.  When I study Peter, I find I’m often studying myself.  Peter’s growth isn’t clean and neat, it’s random and backsliding and lurching forward.   It’s full of mistakes.  And yet, Jesus loved Peter.

II.      Acceptance of Peter

As I was studying the life of Peter for this lesson, I found that many scholars believe that the book of Mark could have possibly been called the book of Peter.  Mark wrote the gospel, but many indications are that Peter dictated his life experiences to Mark who wrote them down.  One indication that Peter dictated the book of Mark was that Mark was a constant companion of Peter and they were very close.  1 Peter 5:12-14, Peter ends his letter like this:

Slide2This is the same Mark, and so close to Peter that Peter calls him his son.  Then, one of the most telling indications that Peter dictated the Book of Mark is from the Transfiguration of Jesus, let’s take a look quickly at Mark 9:2-4 –

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So Jesus Peter, James and John were all alone.  So where was Mark?

Some of the confusion, I think, comes from thinking that Mark is one of the twelve apostle, which he is not.  The word “apostle” implies “sending forth,” while “disciple” implies “following.”   Mark was certainly a follower of Jesus and a close friend of Peter, but Mark was not one of the apostles.

Peter was a fisherman.  Fishermen were gruff, sometimes vulgar.  They used colorful language.  They had tempers.  They smelled like old fish.  And yet, when Jesus said “follow me” in Luke 5, Peter dropped everything to follow Christ.  Jesus accepted Peter, smelly fish deodorant and all.

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Peter still made mistakes.  In Mark chapter 8, Jesus is telling his disciples that the Messiah would suffer and die for their sins, and Peter rebukes Jesus.  And Jesus turned, looked at Peter, and said, “Get the behind me, Satan!”

It’s not the only time that Jesus looked directly at Peter.  In Mark 14, Jesus tell his disciples that they will all fall away from him, like sheep they will be scattered.  And Peter, “Even if all the others fall away, I will not.”  And Jesus tells Peter that this very night, Peter will deny him 3 times.  When the rooster crows for the third time, Luke 22:61 says, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  Can you imagine what “the look” looked like?

And yet, there’s hope for Peter.  When Jesus asks His disciples in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say I am?” Peter blurts out – Peter blurts a lot of things – “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”  After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter was the first to “raise his voice” at Pentecost, the day the church came into being.  Peter was “the rock” that Christ founded His church. 

And today, in Acts 10, we see both sides of Peter.  We see his stubbornness and we see his leadership at the same time.  He’s already founded the church and our smelly fisherman is now preaching to the church.

III.      Acceptance of Food

Let’s start with Acts 10:9-15 –

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We’re going to look at our scripture today from a couple of different viewpoints, but first I want to point out that Peter is still a mess, but he’s learning.  Peter’s initial response to his vision is basically this:

“Lord, no.”

 If the Lord asks us to do something, our response shouldn’t be “no.”  Is He Lord or is He not?  If He is Lord, then our only response should be “yes”.  But like Peter, I seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.  Sometimes my response is something like, “Good idea, Lord.  I hope somebody does that.  Soon, too.”

God tells Peter that it’s ok to eat that which was previously considered unclean.  Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 defines what is unclean, things we should not eat.  Things that are unclean include fish that do not have scales, a mammal that that does not both chew the cud and have a divided hoof, flying insects that walk instead of hop.   It’s a pretty complicated list.  Most carnivorous creatures, so some birds like vultures and seagulls.  Interesting that though the list of unclean foods goes back thousands of years, science is starting to show that “unclean” foods are not the healthiest things to eat, and some are very unhealthy.  So under Old Testament Law, the Jews were prohibited from eating unclean foods.

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http://www.uncleanfoodsdietarylaws.com/clean_unclean_food_list.html

The list of clean and unclean foods was quite extensive.

Peter was a devout Jew.  He didn’t eat unclean foods.  But remember that, while we learn a lot about God’s character through the Old Testament, we do not have to obey the 613 mitzvots.  We can if we want to, but two scriptures tell us that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law, and that such obedience doesn’t save us anyway.  We cannot work our way into heaven.  First is this statement from Jesus in Matthew 5:17 –

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 Christ didn’t delete the Old Testament; He fulfilled the Old Testament.  It is finished.  Galatians 3:24-25 says –

So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

 Now Peter is still trying to live under the law and refusing to eat unclean foods, when God tells Peter that these rules regarding unclean foods have also been fulfilled in Christ.  God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

IV.      Acceptance of Gentiles, You and Me

Jew Acts 10 goes on to say that Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision when a Roman Centurion named Cornelius summons him.  The Holy Spirit tells Peter to get up and go with them. 

Now, this was something Peter wouldn’t want to do as a devout Jew, so when Peter arrives at the centurions, he says in Acts 10 verse 28,

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This is important to us as follower of Jesus.  God’s plan of salvation was originally for Israel alone.  However, especially in the book of Matthew, we see that the Jews rejected the Christ, and salvation was opened to the gentiles as well.  Peter is sort of clumsily getting this message – in fact, one of Paul’s letters to Peter was to rebuke Peter for his duplicity.  When Peter would go to a new town, he would go to the synagogue and observe all the Jewish rituals and traditions.  Peter would be a very devout, orthodox Jew.  But then Peter would preach that there was only one plan of salvation, and that was to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ.  It was gift of grace, and nothing we could do would earn our salvation.  Paul’s letter essentially asked, “Well, which is it?  Why are you following the law if it is by grace alone that we are saved?”

Peter’s vision was about unclean food, but he realizes that the message is for Jews and gentiles, too.  God created gentiles, and it was not for Jews to judge God for His plan of salvation for the gentiles.  And it is good news indeed that God accepts gentiles like you and me.

I make mistakes.  To that extent, I’m a lot like Peter.  And the more I study, the more I realize what a slow learner I am.  Even this week, during a visit with somebody very close to me, I attempted to make a funny.  But it didn’t come out funny.  It came out vulgar and crude. It came out ugly.  It came out like a fisherman’s deodorant.

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And I realized that, though I try to walk in the light and live my life according to the riches and the grace within Christ Jesus, I still walk in the flesh.  I’m still a mess.  And I am so, so very thankful that, despite my deodorant, I am accepted.  I am loved.  I am a child of God.

  V.      Acceptance of Others

In Acts 10:34, Peter offers this observation,

Slide16 Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  Not just the Jews.  Not just people in Judea.  Christ is Lord of all.  Jews, gentiles, you, me, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton. 

The thing is, that nobody who we are, Jesus Christ will accept us.  When Jesus asks us to follow Him, He doesn’t ask us do run some sort of spiritual obstacle course before we’re allowed to call ourselves Christians.  When He calls us, He meets us where we are.  We might own our own company, we might work for somebody who owns their own company.  We might be a world traveler; we might be a homebody.  There are no prerequisites, Jesus accepts us as we are.  If we accept Jesus into our hearts, then we begin a lifelong journey of understanding love, forgiveness, acceptance, sacrifice.  But we don’t start at the end of that journey, we start at the beginning.

Accepting Jesus is easy.  Living for Jesus is a lot harder, but don’t confuse the two.  Accepting Jesus gives us a gift to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Living for Jesus gives us the abundant life He promises us, now and eternal.

For those of us who have accepted this gift, we begin a new relationship.  Of all the gospels, the Book of John is written to the gentiles.  The purpose is to evangelize a lost world and call the gentiles to the love of Christ.  In John 1:9-13, let’s read the message to gentiles –

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Let’s parse this a little to understand it.

  • “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”  Who is John talking about?  John is talking about Jesus, the true light that shines in a dark world of sin that we were born into.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that has come to fulfill God’s plan to take away the sins of the world.
  • “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”  Jesus was born in this world, but John 1:3 says that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  In other word, though Jesus was responsible for creating our world, the very world He created didn’t know who He was.”
  • “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  Jesus came as the Messiah to save the Jewish people, but the Jewish people didn’t now accept Him as the Messiah.  Instead, they taunted Him, they scourged Him, they crucified Him.  They killed Him.
  • “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  And here good news for the gentiles – if we receive Jesus Christ, our lives are changed forever.  Where once we were enemies of God, now we are His adopted children.

I think it’s important for us to recognize where we are in this world before we accept Jesus.  We are children of God now, it says.  But before, well, let’s look at John 8:42-44 –

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Like it or not, before we are adopted by God, we are children of the devil.  The destination for the children of God is heaven, the destination for those who do not accept the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus is to accept the wages of sin, and the wages of sin is death.  John 8:23-24, Jesus says,

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It’s more than sad that those that die in their sins are one profession of faith from eternal life.  But when one rejects God in this life and chooses not to follow Jesus, God grants their ultimate wish.  If they do not want to be with Jesus, then forever more they will be away from Jesus.

We are children of God; they are children of the devil.  We are in this world; they are of this world.  But God’s instructions to us as followers of Jesus is to be like Christ Jesus.  We do not – cannot – condemn those who reject Jesus.  Instead we pray for them and live our lives with the light of Jesus Christ within us.  They are one profession of faith away from being our brother or sister in Christ.

I’ve been going to a bible fellowship every other Friday night, and for the last year, one of the group has asked us to pray for her brother.  She had accepted Christ, her brother had not.  And every time she brought up Jesus to him, he shut her down, told her he didn’t want to hear of it.

He developed cancer, and it advanced rapidly.  He went into hospice 2 weeks ago, and he would let his sister read from the bible, but other than that, would not discuss it further.  She continued to ask the group for prayers.

And then, this week, he died.  As John 8:24 says, he died in his sins, no evidence that he had accepted the free gift of salvation that was right in front of him.  No matter how he had lived his life, he would have been accepted all the way to the last breath.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Everybody wants to be accepted by somebody.  I once read an essay that everything we say and do can be summarized by just one goal:  We want to matter to somebody. 

Love and acceptance is available to us in abundance if we just know where to look.  Christ loved Israel.  Christ loved the gentiles.  Christ loves the world.  Christ loves you and me, and accepts us just as we are.

We’re called to be like Christ, which means we are to love those that do not yet love Christ.  To let them know they are accepted.

And we can be at peace, that despite our deodorant, Christ accepts us.  Turns out, we do matter to somebody.  We are adopted children of God, and we matter to Jesus.  We matter so much that He gave His life so we can be saved.

Have you made an error you regret?  Something so icky you would never talk about it with friends or family?  And is it coming between you and God?  Don’t be afraid that it’s too icky for God.  God saw death on a cross, and scourging and crucifixion is icky.  Whatever it is, acknowledge it to God and talk to Him about it.  God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west.  God is accepting and does not hold it against you.  You shouldn’t hold it against you, either.

Let others know that this love and acceptance is available to them, too.  It doesn’t matter who they are, where they came from, what they’ve done, salvation is available to everyone who asks. As it says in Galatians 3:26-28,

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To God be the glory.