LET US GO TO THE LORD IN PRAYER
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world: “Jesus answered: ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm’” (John 18:36).
According to the words of Jesus, God’s kingdom will only be established after the final Judgment. “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then, the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ ” (Matt. 25:31-34).
The kingdom of God will not mingle with the kingdoms of this world, for this world is in total darkness and is also under another government, which is an evil government. Therefore, those that Jesus bought from this world are transferred to another place: “…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and TRANSFERRED US TO THE KINGDOM OF HIS BELOVED SON” (Col. 1:12-13).
Up to the final judgment, the devil declares himself to Jesus as the lord and king of this world: “And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours. And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Luke 4:5-8).
Another occasion, Jesus declared that the devil has his kingdom filled with demons, in this dark world. “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?” (Matt. 12:25-26).
Jesus reveals in the Gospels that this world is a pit full of wicked demons; and that He Himself came to teach that there is a kingdom of light, which is not here on earth. “…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:12-13).
Paul makes it very clear that this world is Satan’s domain of death: “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil: and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:14-15).
Jesus in his sinless death on the cross, destroyed the power of death by His resurrection, and now has the keys of hell to set free the ones that are captive to death. “I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:18). TILL CHRIST’S CROSS, THIS WORLD WAS SATAN’S DOMAIN OF DEATH. “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).
The Old Testament, then, was buried deep in Satan’s domain of death. The covenant of the Law, given at Sinai, could only be a covenant of death, for death reigned. Let us hear the apostle saying: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; FOR THE LETTER KILLS, BUT THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE. But the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, etc” (2 Cor. 3:5-7). We may ask: If the Old Testament was given while death reigned, and if the tablets of the testimony, given by Jehovah at mount Sinai, are the ministry of death, Jehovah worked for the devil; or did the devil work for Jehovah?
If the devil pronounces himself king of this world, how could Jehovah also call himself king of this same world, while death still reigned? “For the Jehovah Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2). “For Jehovah is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm. Jehovah reigns over the nations” (Ps. 47:7-8). “Jehovah reigns, let the peoples tremble” (Ps. 99:1). “Who would not fear Thee, O King of the nations?” (Jer. 10:7)
In order to be known as the king of this world, Jehovah founded a kingdom… of the dead: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Are there two thrones in this world? Are there two kings in the abyss? Has God descended from His glory to reign in this dark kingdom together with the devil? To complicate this kingdom of the dead of Jehovah even further, Jesus says: “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man” (John 3:13). If Jesus was the only one to come down and also to go up to heaven, where has Jehovah come from? Jehovah affirmed that he had come down, and would kill everybody in order to increase the domain of the devil.
In Heb. 2:14-15 we find that the domain of death is of Satan; and if Jehovah kills, he, then, feeds into this domain. Jesus came down to snatch men from death and from the evil one.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
The Father has never descended from heaven, but He has sent His Son.
Monday, March 12, 2018
Friday, March 9, 2018
We have seen up to now that the Bible clearly teaches that the dead are dead, i.e. they are without consciousness, waiting for the resurrection. This we recognise is against the traditional view that believes that though somebody dies “his soul continues living”. We have however seen, from a multitude of Scriptures, that this traditional view cannot be correct, as it contradicts Scripture. There are though a few passages of the Bible that being misunderstood are used by tradition to support its doctrine of a supposed life immediately after death. One such passage is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, given in Luke 16:19-31. There we read:
"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, ‘for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’"
Now before we say anything about a passage, especially one that seems to contradict many other passages, we need to study its context. To whom did Jesus say this story ? This we can easily find by looking at the verses that precede the above passage. Starting from Luke 16:1 we can see that the Lord spoke to His disciples and gave them a teaching that ended with the following conclusion: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. ” (Luke 16:13) Now to this the Pharisees that were around responded as follows: “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him” (Luke 16:14). Then Jesus moved on and replied to them:
“And He said to THEM [the Pharisees], You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.”
I have intentionally included verse 19 in the above. Because this is part of the same talk that started in verse 15 and was addressed to “them”, them being the Pharisees. It was to them that Jesus tell the story of Lazarus and the rich man. He was not giving there a sermon to the people or a teaching to his disciples (though they were present). In contrast His eyes were looking at the Pharisees and His words were addressed to them. It was only after He completed this story that He turned again to the disciples, for we are reading in Luke 17:1 “then He said to the disciples….”. In other words, looking in chapter 16 as a whole we can see that what the Lord said in that chapter was addressed to two different groups of people: what he said from Luke 16:1 to 13 was addressed to the disciples with the Pharisees hearing. To this the Pharisees reacted deriding him. Then from verses 15-31 (which also includes the story we are looking at) He turned to the Pharisees and addressed them. When He was done with them, He turned again to the disciples (Luke 17:1).
It was therefore to the Pharisees that the Lord addressed the Lazarus and the rich man story. Now looking at this story we may feel very perplexed as there are elements in this that are not seen elsewhere in the Bible. Let’s see some of them:
i) The rich man died and went to Hades, where he was apparently tormented. As it appears from the passage he was still conscious as he could see, feel and speak. Moreover he had still sympathy and concern for his brothers and he wanted to warn them. This description of Hades and the state of the dead is in obvious contradiction with many Scriptures, some of which we give below:
Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, 10
"But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living KNOW that they will die; BUT THE DEAD KNOW NOTHING, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; NEVERMORE WILL THEY HAVE A SHARE IN ANYTHING DONE UNDER THE SUN. ....... Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might FOR THERE IS NO WORK OR DEVICE OR KNOWLEDGE OR WISDOM IN THE GRAVE (Sheol) WHERE YOU ARE GOING."
“For in death there is no remembrance of you: in the grave (Hebrew: Sheol, Hades in Septuagint) who will give you thanks?”
“let them be silent in the grave (Hebrew: Sheol, Hades in Septuagint)”.
“The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence. [Septuagint: go down into Hades i.e. Hades = silence]”
“What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it declare your truth? ”
“For the grave [Sheol] cannot praise you, death can not celebrate you: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for your truth. The living, the living, he shall praise you, as I do this day: the father shall make known your truth to the children. ” (NKJV-KJV)
As it is obvious from the above, Sheol (in Hebrew) or Hades (in Greek) is a place of silence and non-consciousness. There is no tormenting or refreshing there. There are no feelings of sympathy and there is no knowledge there. There are really more than 70 occurrences of the words Sheol and Hades in the Bible and nowhere do we see in them the characteristics we see in the above story. Really in our story we see the rich man in Hades, speaking, feeling, having sympathy and being tormented. Why is that? Before we see the why, let’s also see some other points of this story. Let’s focus on the poor Lazarus.
ii) So for poor Lazarus we read:
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom”
Once again this sentence contains strange references, unprecedented in the Bible. Indeed, there is no other Biblical reference to “Abraham’s bosom” and to angels bringing people there. There are as we said more than 70 occurrences of the words Sheol and Hades in the Bible that define Hades, literally the grave, as the place that all dead – without distinction – go. But we never read of an “Abraham’s bosom” there, nor do we read that the poor or the just go to a different place than the rich or the unjust. Why is Jesus making such references that have no parallel in the Scripture and in fact contradict it in many points?
The answer can be found by going back to the context: to whom was Jesus addressing this story? As we saw this was not intended to be a general teaching on the dead but it was addressed specifically to the Pharisees that scorned him because he was teaching that there is no way to work both God and money. This audience we read were “lovers of money”, “covetous” and they “were justifying themselves among men”. The Pharisees had, as we can read in other places in the Scripture, traditions that didn’t have anything to do with the Word of God. They believed things that were foreign to Scripture and made the Word of God of no effect. Mark 7:1-13 give us some insight on how far from the Bible this sect was:
“Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash theirhands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honours Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men––the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. "For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ "But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban" ––’(that is, a gift to God), "then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, "making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do."
The last phrase “and many such things you do” shows that the above were not the only instances where the Pharisees were clearly deviating from Scripture. In fact, as it happens many times today, they had replaced the Word of God with their traditions. In fact, as it happens many times today, they had replaced the Word of God with their traditions. Their teaching were not teachings coming from the Scripture but traditions with no base on the Bible and in fact traditions that were blatantly contradicting the Bible. Now why do I say all these things about the Pharisees? The reason is simple: because though the “bosom of Abraham” and the other strange things that appear in the rich man and Lazarus story do not appear anywhere else in the Bible, and in fact contradict other references in the Bible, they do appear in the traditions the Pharisees believed. Here is what the Catholic encyclopedia tells us about the beliefs of the Jews of the 1st century (ephasis added): “In the Holy Bible, the expression "the Bosom of Abraham" is found only in two verses of St. Luke's Gospel (16:22-23). It occurs in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus the imagery of which is plainly drawn from the popular representations of the unseen world of the dead which were current in Our Lord's time. According to the Jewish conceptions of that day, the souls of the dead were gathered into a general tarrying-place the Sheol of the Old Testament literature, and the Hades of the New Testament writings (cf. Luke 16:22; in the Greek 16:23). A local discrimination, however, existed among them, according to their deeds during their mortal life. In the unseen world of the dead the souls of the righteous occupied an abode or compartment of their own which was distinctly separated by a wall or a chasm from the abode or compartment to which the souls of the wicked were consigned. The latter was a place of torments … -- the other, a place of bliss and security known under the names of "Paradise" and "the Bosom of Abraham"
See in the above the emphasis to the “Jewish conceptions of that day”. We are not speaking here about Scripture based traditions that originate from God but “traditions of that day”, “popular representations of the unseen world”. The Bosom of Abraham, the just being in it, the angels bringing them there, the punishment of the unjust, the chaos between these two places and the other points we read above as the view of the Pharisees, have no parallel in any other part of the Scripture except the story of the rich man and the Lazarus. In other words: WHAT THE LORD USED IN THIS STORY, SPEAKING TO THE PHARISEES, WAS WHAT THE PHARISSES THEMSELVES BELIEVED TO BE HAPPENING AFTER DEATH. He used their own story to pass his own message. We can understand the Lord’s point in the conclusion given in the last sentence of the above story:
“If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Obviously the rich man hadn’t heard, which is to say hadn’t followed, the Moses and the prophets, the Word of God, and ended up tormented. He was an unjust rich and his richness didn’t help him to avoid getting the tormenting share. On the other hand the poor man, though he was poor he was a man that followed the Word of God, the Moses and the prophets, and because of this ended up in Abraham’s bosom. And this is exactly what the Lord wanted to tell to these Pharisees. In Luke 16:13 he told the disciples “you cannot serve God and mammon”. Then Luke 16:14 tells us: “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him”. These people were lovers of money and they were not keeping the Word of God, the Moses and the prophets. In fact as we read elsewhere they were making the Word of God of no effect. Yet, they thought that somehow they would be saved – which according to their (false) traditions meant that after death they would go to the “Bosom of Abraham”. Then the Lord, using their own weapons, their very own traditions, turns to them and gives them a story where the poor ended up in the Bosom of Abraham because he kept the Word of God but the rich and unjust – like they were – ended up in torment. The riches were not sufficient to save him from this. Only keeping the Word of God could do this. It is a teaching to covetous Pharisees that in short tells them: “don’t think that riches will save you. What will save you is to follow the Word of God (the Moses and the prophets)”. To tell them this, the Lord used one of the most effective ways: their own language i.e. the language of their traditions about salvation and condemnation.
To conclude, the Lord didn’t intend with this story to give a sermon on what happens in the afterlife, as many have taken His words to mean, ignoring the context and the Pharisees beliefs that elsewhere the Lord judged severely saying that they bring the Word of God to no effect. What the Lord did, was addressing the Pharisees, using their very own beliefs about the afterlife to tell them that what matters is not riches but keeping the Word of God. He used their own framework, their own beliefs about afterlife, to add his own conclusion. He could choose another framework to say the same thing. But few will doubt that the most effective way to speak to somebody is using a language that is familiar to him. And this is what the Lord did: he spoke to them using their picture of the afterlife as a framework, adding to it the message He wanted. It is very sad that many have taken this framework, these wrong Pharisaic beliefs, and turn them into a doctrine about the dead. This is indeed a doctrine but a Pharisaic one. We hope that this article will help the reader to draw his own conclusions.
Monday, March 5, 2018
I would like in this article to go together with you to Acts 27. There we find Paul and some disciples that accompanied him, being en route to Rome. Paul was going there as a prisoner to appear before the Caesar. Starting from verse 7, we read:
“When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone. Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea. Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them saying, "Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives."
It was a difficult trip. Finally they arrived into the port of Fair Havens. Winder was approaching. The phrase “sailing was now dangerous, because the Fast was already over” probably places the events around October, the month of the fast of the Atonement. As the Scripture says, Paul advised them that to carry on the trip was going to be dangerous. As he said it would be dangerous not only for the cargo and the ship but also for the lives of those in the ship. Then the verse that follows tells us:
“Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.”
Though Paul had a true perception of the seriousness of the situation and what was going to happen, he was not the boss of this ship! The boss was the centurion, a Roman, most probably heathen. He was commanding the ship in which there was an able number of believers. Has it ever happened to you that you are in a “ship” with others, believers and/or unbelievers, where the one that commands the “ship”, the one that makes a particular important decision is not you? You may know the outcome but the only thing that you can do is to advise. You can say “I believe we must not sail. I see that we are going to have major problems”. But sometimes there are competing voices too and the one that is making the decision instead of heeding to the right voice, he does what the opposite voice says. What do you do then? Do you jump out of the ship? Sometimes you may be able to do this and it may even be the right thing to do. But this does not happen always and there are cases where this simply cannot happen. You cannot jump out of your family for example because a member made a not wise decision with his life. You can advise, you can say this is going to be dangerous and not wise. But, after an age, you cannot take the steering wheel of their life and make them do what you want them to do. On the other hand everybody in the family (to use this good example) must understand that though “it is their life”, they are not ships sailing alone. Both they and the other members of the family are all in one ship. And if a member of the family decides to unwisely sail this is going to affect everybody in the family, for everybody is in the same ship! I’m not sure whether you understand what I’m saying. Those who have kids or have grown to a good functioning family I think they understand what I’m speaking about. God does the same for us too. He gives us advices, He tells us where to sail and where not to sail, but if we don’t want to heed to Him but heed the opposing voices then guess what: we are going to have trouble. In this case, God is not indifferent because after all it is “our lives”. In contrast, He is sorry about it because after all He is in the same ship with us. Returning to Acts, what we have here is a slightly different case in that the believers, that know what is the wise thing to do, are subject to somebody else to a Roman centurion who heeds not to their voice of wisdom but to the voice of the owner of the ship. Let’s read further to see what happened:
“And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there. When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.”
“The majority advised that they carry on!” Is it the majority that we heed or what God says? It all may seem well and rosy, it may be that we have a south wind blowing softly and we may suppose that we have obtain our desire but sooner or later things may change. In fact, sooner or later things WILL definitely change, if God has said so! As it happened here: not long after, a very strong wind started blowing and trouble had just started:
“So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty. When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven. And because we were exceedingly tempest–tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands. Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. "And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. "For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, "saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ "Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. "However, we must run aground on a certain island."
Finally the things turned out as Paul had told them before they left the port of Fair Havens. Trouble started a little after they started sailing again and it didn’t seem to get any better. Rather it got worse and worse. Where were the believers at that time? There, in the ship. Was it their fault that the ship had sailed? No. Paul had told them no to do so. However this didn’t exclude them from the suffering. They were in the same ship as those who made the decision. There are ships that we sail together with others. In some of them we are the “governors”. In other ships others are the governors. When unwise decisions are made then everybody that is in the ship is going to be affected, even if he knows that this was an unwise decision. Therefore if it happens to have the steering wheel of that ship for a specific decision heed well to the instructions and make sure the ones that you follow come from the Lord. Because otherwise, trouble will not only be your portion but also the portion of the other ones that are together with you in the ship. To give you a practical example think again about your family. You may be a young man or woman contemplating marriage with the so and so person, because “you are so much in love with him or her!” Everything seems so rosy! But young man, I’m speaking to you heart to heart: marriage life is much much more than just “being in love”. Being in love is good but will not take you that far. What will take you far, what will make your marriage to blossom, is character. Your character and the character of the other. Is the other a Christian that honestly loves God? Is he/she a person with values and principles? What are his values concerning work and family for example? Is he a person that takes his responsibilities or he is hiding from them behind others? These are the things that you will live with and if something of them is not there then the “being in love” state will end within weeks and the problems will start. Problems that will be like huge waves and you will be like a small ship in front of them. But this small ship will have inside not only you but also all those who really love you. Thus you have to hear them and in fact you have to ask their advice. For this is not a trip that you are doing alone. It may be that some from your family have seen something that they don’t like. They tell you not to sail. I don’t know whether they are right or not. But you have to very seriously take them into account. You may think: “this is my life. I’m going to do what I want to do.” This is false. It is your life but you are in a family. You are in a ship with others and your decision will affect them. If you are not sure therefore stay in the port and do not leave it till you become sure that this is the right thing to do and you also see the others to be positive about it.
Back to Paul, somebody could ask: why the Lord allowed all this trouble to happen? Couldn’t He that stopped the winds in the sea of the Galilee also stop the Euroklidon ? After all it was His own people who were in danger there - together with others. As we see the Lord didn’t do this. What He did was to give advice before sailing started. Once it started then it happened what He said it would happen: trouble. Sometimes some people start sailing, thinking “if it does not work then the Lord will save me”. And well, yes this may happen and it happened here too: the Lord saved them. He saved EVERYBODY in the ship. BUT He didn’t save them from the trouble. They hadn’t eaten for days, they were sailing in high seas, the ship was finally destroyed. This was not the will of God! It was not His will to go through such trouble! That’s why He told them from the beginning not to leave the port. Yes it may be that the Lord will save you but if you sail without heeding to His advice be sure: you are heading for much trouble. You may save your life but the consequences of the trip will be there. Pay attention therefore to the following: before you decide to leave the Fair Havens make sure you heed to what is the advice of the Lord. He wants ONLY THE BEST for you and though He may save you from the high seas that unwise decisions may bring and you will take a lesson out of them and they will finally work for good, it is not I believe in His will to go through them in the first place.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
A simple look to the thoughts and ideas of many Christians suggests that the idea of righteousness by works, i.e. self-righteousness, is very well rooted in many Christian minds. However, the Scripture does not support this idea. Indeed, what the Scripture points out is not our ability to achieve a right standing before God but the sacrifice of Christ who achieved this right standing for us. I Corinthians 1:30 tells us about Christ's accomplishments on our behalf:
1 Corinthians 1:30
"It is because of him [meaning God] that you are in Christ Jesus....."
As we see, it is BECAUSE OF HIM, meaning God, that we are now in Christ Jesus. It is not because of our worth or our abilities but because of the grace, love and goodness of God that we are in Christ Jesus. In the preceding verse (verse 29) Paul says "so that no-one may boast before him [meaning God]” and then it continues:
1 Corinthians 1:30
"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore as it is written "let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
Jesus Christ became to us all these things. He became (past tense). It does not say that WE became to him. Instead HE became to us. He became wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Do you know why we are righteous, redeemed and holy before God? Because Jesus Christ became to us all these things. When did He become ? When you believed. When you believed with your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confessed Him as Lord (Romans 10:9), you were declared righteous, you were saved, you were sanctified. I know, it would have been very logical if God had told us:
"Look, you will do this and that work and then you will be saved, become righteous etc." Although there are many that teach exactly that, the Bible does not teaches it. What the Bible tells us is that to become righteous and saved you need to believe with your heart i.e. to truly believe, in the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection and stay in the faith. We are saved by faith through grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
In whom shall we boast therefore? Not in our works and achievements but in the Lord who “who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
The good news contained in the part of the Word of God addressed to the believers after the day of Pentecost is that Jesus Christ met all the required conditions so that by confessing Him as Lord and by believing that God has raised Him from the dead you are righteous and saved. This is really good news, is not it? Ephesians tells us:
"For BY GRACE you are saved through faith: and this not from yourselves: it is the GIFT of God: Not by works, so that no-one can boast"
Also Romans 10:9-10
“That if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
And Acts 16:30-31
“Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Also: Romans 3:20-24, 28
"Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by the works of the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. But now the righteousness of God, apart from the law has been made known, to which the law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ......Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law"
The above passages state that our salvation and our right standing before God, i.e. our righteousness, are not based on how many good works we did, do or will do but on the grace of God. According to the above passages, even if you kept all the law you could not be righteous before God; for as we read: no-one can be righteous before God by the works of the law. And it also says that "all have sinned". Even if you had never sinned in your life (which I’m sure it is not true) there is still Adam's sin which passes down from generation to generation. But praise God, another way has been provided by which we can be righteous before Him. This way is called grace. Yes, someone had to work for all these gifts to be made freely available to us. However, this was neither you nor I but the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 3 tells us about the accomplishments of Jesus Christ:
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."
The redemption is IN CHRIST JESUS, not in what you and I achieved. This is very important if we want to understand the relationship we have with God. Our relationship is based upon the grace of God and the accomplishments of Jesus Christ, NOT upon our worth, works or achievements. We are righteous before God twenty four hours a day. The reason is that this right standing was given to us by grace. It was given to us as a result of the unmerited favor and love that God has for us. It is "righteousness of God", NOT righteousness from ourselves i.e. self righteousness. This "of" denotes the source of this righteousness. This source is neither you nor I but God. Galatians 2:16 also tells us:
"know that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we too have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law no-one will be justified."
Once more we see that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ! If it was by works, I could say: "Look I did more than you. I deserve it more than you." No-one deserved something from God. It was God who, motivated by His love for us, sacrificed His Son so that by believing in Him we can be righteous and saved. That's really grace! Amazing grace!
Does God love me and how? This is a question that has been asked by countless people, countless times. The answer the Bible gives to this question is that God not just loves us but He loves us more than anybody else could ever love us. Let’s see this from the Word of God.
1. God loves us - He gave His Son for us.
To see God’s love for us, let’s start from 1 John 4:9. There we read:
"This is how God showed his love among us..."
Love, when it is honest, is always manifested in actions. Here the Word of God tells us that indeed God loves us and that His love was shown, was manifested. How? The answer is in the remaining of the verse:
1 John 4:9
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him."
God showed His love to us by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world that we might live through him. Along the same lines, John 3:16 tells us:
"For God so loved the world that he gave........"
As we said above love always takes actions, giving, and God, because He loved us, He gave! What did He give? Let’s carry on reading:
"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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but the world through him might be saved."
God, for no other reason than love for us, He went so far as to give His Son to die for us, so that by believing in Him to have eternal life. Romans 5:6-10 demonstrate this point even more clearer:
"For, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him. For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having being reconciled, shall we be saved through his life."
See the phrase “God demonstrates His own love for us”. How does God demonstrate His love for us? He not only gave His Son for us, but He gave Him when we were still sinners, ungodly, completely unworthy of any such sacrifice! The same we also see in Ephesians 2:
"As for you, you were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you followed the ways of this world, and of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient; among whom all of us also lived at one time, in the cravings of our flesh, following the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."
I have marked in the above passage several words that are in past tense to give emphasis to the fact that for the man who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection the state described above is PAST. We were dead in trespasses and sins and objects of wrath. But we are no longer any of these! The state described in these verses is for us history, not reality! It is a state out of which we were delivered! But how were we delivered, by whom and why? Ephesians 2:4-9 give us the answer:
"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 - by grace you are saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us up 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 by grace you are saved through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast."
The word “BUT” that opens this passage makes a contrast between what precedes it (verses 1-3) and what follows it (verses 4-9). Verses 1-3 gave us the pitiful state in which we were before we believed. As we read there, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” and “objects of wrath”. But God, “because of His great love for us”, changed all these: now instead of “dead in trespasses and sins” we are “alive with Christ” and instead of objects of wrath we are seated together with Christ in the heavenly places! From God’s perspective, it is already done! And why did God do this? "BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE FOR US......EVEN WHEN WE WERE DEAD IN TRANSGRESSIONS"!
2. God loves us - He made us His children.
Another passage that demonstrates how much God loves us is given in I John 3:1-2:
"How great is the love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God and that is what we are. The reason that the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved now we are the children of God..."
That we are children of God is also what Galatians 3:26 tells us: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus”! And as the above passage makes it clear, this is a proof of how much God loves us. Really “how great is the love the Father has given to us”.
3. God loves us - He trains us.
We saw above that God, because of how much He loves us, He made us His children. And as a loving father trains and disciplines his children, so also and much better does God. As Hebrews 12:6 tells us:
"the Lord disciplines those He loves..."
Discipline may not be what we like but it is what we need! That’s why only those who really love us care enough to discipline us. And that’s why God disciplines us too: because He loves us and cares for us.
4. God loves us - Nothing can separate us from His love
Next and last stop in this short journey in God’s love is Romans 8:38-39:
Romans 8:38 – 39
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels [what kind of angels? fallen angels, angels of Satan], nor principalities, nor powers, nor present things, nor future things, nor height, not depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. "
God loves us and there is absolutely nothing, no power, no principality, nothing present or future that could separate us from His love. He loves us and He will never stop loving us. This is the truth of God’s Word.
5. God’s loves us – conclusion.
To conclude this article: we saw from the Word of God that God loves us and this is proved by the fact that He gave His Son for us, doing this even when we were sinners and ungodly! It would be a huge sacrifice to do this for people who were righteous and good. But we were not any such people. We were sinners, ungodly, dead in trespasses and sins. Nevertheless this did not stop God: He loved us and because of His love for us , He gave His Son for us while we were still sinners, so that by believing in Him can become alive in Christ and seated up with Him in the heavenly places.
Furthermore we saw that because God loves us, He made us His children. And as a caring Father disciplines his children who loves so also and much better does God.
Finally we also saw that God’s love for us is so GREAT and there is nothing that could separate us from it. To say it differently: there is nothing that could ever make God to stop loving us!
Monday, February 26, 2018
Further understanding of the role of righteousness is given in Ephesians 6. There it speaks about the armor of God that was given to us to fight the spiritual war:
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to withstand, and having done all to stand."
I would like to point out two things in this verse. First, the armor is of GOD. It is NOT an armor that you constructed. Rather, it is an armor that has been constructed by GOD. Second, it is YOU that put on that armor. God will not put it on for you. God made it available. Now you have to put it on. These two things are important for correct understanding of the next verse. There it states:
"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around you waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place....."
It is this second piece of the armor, the breastplate of righteousness, on which we will concentrate our attention here. The various parts of the armor, as they are described in verses 14-17, have not been given a name by chance. God has a reason for everything He says. So, we must ask ourselves what is the job that a breastplate is designed to do? I believe that most of us know the answer: in an armor the breastplate protects the breast. As you know, the heart, a vital instrument for our lives, is located in the left side of the breast. Therefore, one of the most important jobs of the breastplate is to protect the heart. Biblically, the word heart means the inner part of the mind; the inner being of a man. What is in our heart determines what we are. As Proverbs 4:23 tells us:
"Above all else guard your heart; for out of it are the issues of life"
The Word of God calls us to guard our hearts more than anything else and when it says heart the actual reference is to the inner part of our minds. Indeed, what is in the inner part of our minds, what is in our heart, determines "the issues of life". No wonder therefore, that it is exactly this part at which Satan aims his darts. If his darts manage to pierce the heart i.e. the inner part of our being, then this is exactly what he wants. One of the weapons that Satan frequently uses to fire his darts into the heart of sincere and devoted Christians is none other than condemnation. Condemnation is one of his best weapons since it makes the heart, the inner part of our beings, ill. It is a powerful weapon of Satan to corrupt our fellowship with God. I John describes the effects of this disease which affects many Christians.
1 John 3:21
"Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God."
Pay careful attention to that "if". Note also that the reference is to the heart. Condemnation is a serious disease that affects the heart, the inner being of a man. When there is condemnation in our hearts then there is no confidence before God and if there is no confidence before God, then I really question of the fellowship that we are able to have with God. The will of God is to "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). It is however impossible to rejoice in Him when you do not have confidence before Him. Nevertheless, Satan will not manage to bring condemnation into our lives IF (and only if) we use the armor of God for our defense. So the question is what is the piece of the armor of God that protects the heart? Ephesians 6:14 tells us:
"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around you waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place....."
This piece is the "breastplate of righteousness". But which righteousness is this? You see, we are accustomed to reading this verse using a preconceived idea of righteousness by works. Thus, we think that the righteousness referred to in that verse is our self-righteousness. We say "if I am good enough and do good works then I'll be righteous". However, we forget that the Bible says "therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by the works of the law" (Romans 3:20). The righteousness here is not our self-righteousness but the righteousness of God. The full armor has been made ready for us by God. It is the "armor of God". It is not an armor that we constructed. The Word does not say "Make up the armor". It says "put on the full armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11). If the armor is of God, whose then is the breastplate of that armor? It is God's. Whose therefore is the righteousness that is the breastplate? Is it your self-righteousness gained through your good works? No! It is the righteousness of God, as indeed the whole armor is of God, and so therefore is each separate piece. You did not make up the armor. You just put it on. In the case of righteousness this means that you place deep in your mind, in your heart, that you are righteous before God BY GRACE ("righteousness of God") and thus you do not try to achieve a self-righteousness standing before Him. It means that you understand that before Him "no-one will be justified by the works of the law" (Romans 3:20) and that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace" (Romans 3:23-24). You must accept that grace is grace and works are works. You must understand that when the Bible says grace does not mean grace with some works. As the Scripture says: "And if by grace it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Romans 11:6). Then, you will have "the breastplate of righteousness in place" (Ephesians 6:14). Otherwise, you will leave your heart unprotected and be vulnerable to the disease of condemnation. Satan will trap you through his cunningness because you are not wearing the full armor of God but something that you yourself made up. You are wearing the breastplate of self-righteousness instead of the breastplate of righteousness of God. However, the breastplate of self-righteousness has been declared faulty by the Word of God. No wonder therefore that if you put on that “breastplate” you will be vulnerable to the Satan-caused disease of self condemnation. On the other hand, when we protect our hearts with the true breastplate of the righteousness of God then that which the Scripture says in Romans 8:1 will be fulfilled in our lives:
"THEREFORE THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS"