Tag Archives: Holy

Drinking

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; (Ephesians 5:18)

The Bible nowhere prohibits absolute abstinence from alcohol. Indeed, Solomon seems to encourage one to “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works” (Ecclesiastes 9:7). The psalmist says that God has given us all good things, “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart” (Psalm 104:15).

So, the Bible does not prohibit the use of alcohol, however, it does discourage its abuse. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1) “He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich” (Proverbs 21:17). Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder” (Proverbs 23:29-32). “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted” (Proverbs 31:4-5).

However, there are practical reasons to abstain. First of all, I do not know of anyone who can honestly say they can “control” their consumption of alcohol, especially in a “social” setting. By the time they get “a buzz,” they are already too incapacitated to operate a motor vehicle. At that point, they have already lost some of their self-control. Furthermore, no one knows how alcohol will affect one, or if one has a propensity for alcoholism. Therefore, as a practical matter, it is better to abstain altogether. After all, there is no proven health benefit from drinking alcohol. On the contrary, prolonged alcohol use is deleterious to one’s health – cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, hypertension, et al.

For Christians, the primary reason for abstinence is the Christian testimony we give to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to the non-believing world around us. The Apostle Paul gives practical reasons for abstinence in Romans 14. “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Romans 14:21). Notice that he does not say, “don’t do it,” but rather that is better not to. To the Corinthians he writes, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.… Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 32-33). In a nutshell, he says that our Christian testimony supersedes our personal interest. Furthermore, God calls us to holiness, i.e. to be set apart from the world around us. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). This requires a serious lifestyle adjustment. Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). Notice that “holiness” makes the “living sacrifice” acceptable to God.

In summary, there is no absolute prohibition against alcohol consumption in the Bible; however, for the Christian, it is a matter of one’s testimony and a matter of holiness. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Leave a comment

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Religion

Good For Who?

Set Apart

For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  (Leviticus 11:44)

We are right in the middle of the Lenten Season observed by many mainline Protestant denominations and different varieties of Catholic churches (Roman, Greek, Russian, etc.). Beginning with Ash Wednesday (this year observed on February 10, 2016), the faithful observe 40 days of “fasting” in preparation for Easter. (I prefer calling it Resurrection Sunday.) Celebrants observe the season by giving up something “sacrificial” for Lent. The sacrifice could be anything like giving up TV, Snickers candy bars, eating meat on Fridays, not going to movies or anything equally superfluous, but prior to the season of deprivation, celebrants indulge in a day of depravation known as Fat Tuesday. They stoke up on enough indulgence to last through the 40 days of deprivation.

If it sounds as if I am making light of the observance, please understand that I know many who are sincere in the practice, and that is admirable; however, there are more who observe the season by rote without taking into account the significance. However my theme here is not about Lent, but rather it is about holiness. Would it not be better to live a godly lifestyle consistently as a matter of practice rather than trying to force upon oneself a token meaningless act that, if kept, lasts for a short time and then is forgotten? Indeed, God would have us conduct ourselves in holiness all the time.

I have addressed this topic in the past perhaps because the older I get, the more I recognize my own deficiency in this area. I also see the growing invasion of “worldliness” spreading in our churches, including our more “conservative” evangelical churches. I attribute much of this to a general lack of biblical literacy, especially with regard to Old Testament teaching regarding the Mosaic Law.[1] To many modern Christians, only the New Testament applies to us because we are living under “Grace,” not under the “Law.”[2] That, I believe, comes from a misunderstanding of both Grace and Law.

I recently read through the book of Leviticus, and it once again became apparent to me that many of the laws given had no other purpose than to distinguish the “people of God” from the goyim (Gentiles/nations) among whom they lived. The phrase “be holy” is repeated some 29 times in the Pentateuch, and whether applied to objects used in worship or to the people themselves, it means to set that thing apart for a special and unique purpose. Our leading verse instructs the people to “sanctify yourselves,” i.e. consecrate or set yourselves apart. Where the implements of worship were concerned, they were not to be used for common purposes. Every object used in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple) was dedicated only for the purpose it was designed. If a platter held the showbread, it could not be used for any other purpose. It was “holy” – dedicated, consecrated, sanctified, set apart for one purpose only.

The people likewise were to be set apart. “Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, emphasis mine). For what were they to be holy? “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6, emphasis mine). God’s purpose for His people has not changed in that regard. Note John’s description of the risen Christ in his address to the churches: “Unto him [the Lord Jesus Christ] that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (Revelation 1:5b-6).  Just like the nation of Israel, the Church of Christ (not the denomination that takes that name) is to be holy – set apart – to be a kingdom of priests to the world around us.[3]

As kings and priests, we should exemplify the Law of God. We do not obey the Law in order to obtain our position as kings and priests, but because we have obtained that position through Grace. In order to obey the Law, we must first know and understand the Law, and that understanding comes from studying the Law that God gave to Israel in the Old Testament. Granted, much of particulars, such as dress code and dietary laws do not apply to us, but the principle of distinctiveness from the “world” remains.

One example that came to mind was the prohibition from wine that was given to the priests. “And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” (Leviticus 10:8-10, emphasis mine). Notice that the prohibition was limited to their going into the Tabernacle (later that applied to the Temple). Now consider what Paul said to the Corinthian Church: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, emphasis mine). Not only are we kings and priests, but we are also the Temple of the Holy Spirit, so with regard to “wine and strong drink” Christians should abstain. Yet there are many Christians that will excuse themselves from this prohibition by saying that the Bible only condemns drunkenness and not simply the occasional glass of wine or just one brewski. Well then, what about the fact that we are kings and priests and that we are the Temple of God? We are to be “holy” in all things. “Be ye holy” was not only meant for the Israelites; it applies to us as well. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16, emphasis mine). That archaic word “conversation” refers to one’s life-conduct; so in every manner in which we conduct our lives, we should be holy.

More examples could be cited. What about the prohibition against tattoos (Leviticus 19:28)? Yet we have many Christians following the pattern of the world rather than being distinct from the world. But the point here is not so much about following an arbitrary set of rules, but following the One who put those rules in place. Over 73 times in the Pentateuch God emphasizes “I AM the LORD.” Forty-five (45) of those (62%, almost 2/3) appear in the book of Leviticus. Might God be trying to tell us something – “Do what I say because I AM the Lord!”

In closing, let me stress that this is meant for God’s people. One does not have to keep the Law to become a child of God. But as any good son desires to please his father, should not God’s children desire to please their Heavenly Father? And how does one do that? One does it by following His laws. He gave them to us as a pattern for our life conduct. Can we do that perfectly? I know I can’t, but that does not mean I don’t try. Nor should it be something over which we fret, because He has given us His Holy Spirit to help our weakness. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis mine). The faith “of the Son of God” is our source of strength. We live holy lives for Him and by Him.

Notes:


[1]  See “Is the Law Sin?” https://erniecarrasco.com/2014/06/08/is-the-law-sin/

[2]  See “God’s Laws” https://erniecarrasco.com/2016/01/10/gods-laws/

[3]  See “Kings and Priests” https://erniecarrasco.com/2015/09/06/kings-and-priests/

1 Comment

Filed under Apologetics, Bible, Christianity, Easter, Religion, Theology

God’s Laws

GodsLaw

… in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Genesis 26:4-5)

I don’t know where we, Evangelical Christians, have gotten the idea that the Old Testament laws no longer apply. A few years ago, Dr. Charles Swindoll came out with a book entitled Grace Awakening where, I think, he attempts to assuage the guilt some Christians bear due to unnecessary legalism and encourage Christians to take joy in the freedom found through Christ. I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Swindoll. He is a far greater scholar and theologian that I can ever hope to be, but I think he unintentionally opened the door to liberalism here.

Swindoll rightly affirms that salvation, i.e., “justification” cannot be achieved through the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9), but then he unintentionally, I hope, implies that the Christian is no longer subject to the law. Here it is that we part ways, because the results of “grace living,” from my observation, are “carnal” Christians. The result is that modern Evangelical Christians are indistinguishable from the world around them, except on Sundays, when they are at their worship services.

Here is the truth: no one can be saved – be justified, have eternal life – through any act or effort of their own (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9). It is only through grace – the unmerited favor, the free gift – of God. It is all God’s doing, and it happens the instant one believes – places his trust – in the saving work of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (John 1:12; 3:16, 36). Once that takes place, the matter is forever settled. One does not have to keep a long list of laws to come to that point. One does not need the proper theological understanding to come to that point. In the words of the children’s chorus, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Salvation takes place the instant one believes. That one act settles the matter. Now there remains the matter of “living” the Christian life. Here is where the Law comes to play.

Before I develop that point, let me preface the keeping of the Law by assuring the believer, especially the new Christian, that keeping the Laws of God is not accomplished through our own effort. At the moment we are saved, God’s Spirit comes to reside in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). God says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:29-30). The “burden” of the Law, for the Christian, is born supernaturally, so that the Christian should not suffer undue stress over keeping the law; however that does not mean no effort is required. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15), so obviously some effort is involved on the part of the Christian, but that effort is aided by the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

So, what are those commandments, i.e. the laws, which the Christian must keep? Simply speaking, they are the same laws God has always maintained. God’s laws are eternal. God says, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6, emphasis mine). Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18, emphasis mine). In our beginning verse above (Genesis 26:4-5), Abraham lived about 500 years before the Mosaic Law was given, and yet God says of him, “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (emphasis mine). When Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17, emphasis mine).  By fulfilling the Law, He did not negate God’s law. Rather, by perfectly keeping God’s law, He qualified Himself to be the perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins, so that we don’t have to – not that we could ever keep God’s law perfectly. As His followers, we are still responsible to keep His commandments.

How does the Christian accomplish that? Jesus gave us the simplest way to accomplish this. He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind … And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). This is good for beginners, but as the Christian grows in the faith, the “heart, soul, and mind” will want to do more out of love for “the Lord thy God.”

Love for God implies love for God’s Word – all of God’s Word, which includes the Old Testament. There the Christian will find the Law of God in the first five books of the Bible. Obviously some of those laws no longer apply. For example, we no longer have to offer animal sacrifices, because the blood of Christ is the ultimate sacrifice. Most of us Christians are Gentiles, so the dietary laws no longer apply, although, following them might make us healthier. Some of the dress code does not apply to Christians, however the principal behind such laws is still in effect.

Many of those laws were given to distinguish God’s people from the heathen nations around them.  God said, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine (Exodus 19:5, emphasis mine). That word “peculiar” in the Hebrew implies something “special” that is “shut up” and treasured. In another place, God said, “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2, emphasis mine). “Holy” means to be set aside as consecrated or sacred. In fact God demands holiness from His people: “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 20:7, emphasis mine). For those who think that the Old Testament no longer applies, that command is repeated in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16).

God’s people are to be distinct from the world. They should be set apart. They should be holy. God’s people should reflect God, not mimic the world. The way we do that is to follow God’s laws. Will we be able to follow God’s laws perfectly? Don’t count on it, and don’t be disheartened when you fail. But that does not mean that we don’t try. When we do fail, we can find comfort in knowing that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We can still be joyful knowing that God loves us and has forgiven us even when we fail to keep His laws perfectly. But don’t think for one moment that God’s laws can be discarded by the Christian. Indeed, Paul, that great advocate of grace said, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12) because it gives us a standard that we can follow. It helps us to recognize sin in our lives and it guides us to holy living. But on the day we stand before God’s throne, we will not be judged by the Law, but by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for us.

2 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Evangelism, Gospel, Religion, Salvation, Theology

Psalm 103

All that is within me, bless His Holy Name!

All that is within me, bless His Holy Name!

Psalm 103

A Psalm of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. (Psalm 103:1)

This wonderful psalm reminds us to give grateful praise to God for all His goodness and love that He continually demonstrates for His children. When we think of blessing someone, we often think of doing something good for that person. When we think of God blessing us, we might think of having good health, a nice home, a wonderful family and friends or any number of things – good things. But is that really what it means to be blessed? And if that is so, how can we possibly bless God? I mean, what can we give to God that He does not already have? (Besides your heart)

Perhaps “blessing” is not what we think it is. As translated in this psalm (and many other places in the Old Testament) the Hebrew word is bârak, and according to the Strong’s Dictionary, it means: “to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration), and (vice-versa) man (as a benefit); also (by euphemism) to curse (God or the king, as treason): –  X abundantly, X altogether, X at all, blaspheme, bless, congratulate, curse, X greatly, X indeed, kneel (down), praise, salute, X still, thank.” I don’t know about you, but that definition is certainly confusing. In reading the context of the psalm, we gather that cannot mean to curse God, so by the general tone of the psalm we can infer “an act of adoration.” The Greek translation in the Septuagint (LXX) of this psalm uses the word eulόgei, which means “to speak well of,” and from which we get our English word “eulogy.” I have never been to a funeral where an ill word was spoken of the dearly departed; only good is spoken of the dead in a eulogy.

So this psalm encourages us to “eulogize” God from the very core of our being. We are to “speak well of” His holy name. Why should we do this? The next four verses instruct us. We “eulogize” Him because of how He treats us, i.e., “His benefits.” He forgives our perversities (“iniquities”) which is a disease that only He can heal. He “redeems” our lives, i.e., He “buys us back” from destruction, i.e., eternity in hell. Not only that, but He elevates us to royal status by awarding us a crown, and all of this is because of His “loving-kindness” and “tender mercies.” This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) who spurned his father’s love and wasted all that his father gave to him. Then, while in the filthy, smelly pigsty, having hit absolute bottom, the son remembered all that the father’s house had to offer, and leaving his pride in the mud pit, he determined to return to his father’s house as a lowly servant. But rather than chastise him for his ingratitude and cast him out as a worthless vagrant, the father welcomed him with open arms and elevated him to his former status of the master’s son and heir to the father’s wealth. Then the father threw a huge party with lots of wonderful food – he killed the “fatted calf” that was reserved for special occasions – to celebrate his boy’s return. The fifth verse tells us that He “satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Imagine how the son felt after a long season of hunger, shame, and disgrace! That is what God offers us, and we should speak well of Him for that.

We eulogize the Lord because He carries out righteous judgment on behalf of all who are oppressed. He is merciful – He withholds the punishment we deserve; He is slow to anger. He is gracious – granting us what we do not deserve; He is abounding in mercy. “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (v. 10). As great as His mercy is – greater than the heights of heaven – it is there for those “that fear Him.” Do not think for one moment that you can live like the devil and obtain His mercy; but His mercy is there when you recognize Him for Who He is – the great Creator God, Who is to be feared, and whose name is holy and deserves to be “well-spoken of.” When we understand that, He will remove our transgressions, “As far as the east is from the west so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (v. 12).

“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (v. 13). “Pity” is an unfortunate translation here. The Hebrew word is râcham, and it means to fondle, love, show compassion. Picture a father or mother cuddling an infant child – that’s the picture; and again it is qualified by “them that fear Him.” His love and compassion stem from the fact that He knows our “frame.” That Hebrew noun is yêtser, whose verb form is yâtsar, which means to “mold” or “form” as a potter fashions a clay vessel. God knows how we were made because He made us out of the dust of the earth, and He cherishes us. This should cause us to “bless” His name!

Our life on earth is brief. Moses said, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). This psalm reminds us of that truth. When compared to eternity, our life is like grass or a Texas wild flower; when the hot winds of summer blow in, they dry up and their beauty is forgotten. But God’s mercy is not like that. This psalm says that His mercy “is from everlasting to everlasting” (v. 17). Once again, the promise is to “them that fear Him,” i.e., “To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them” (v. 18). For these “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (v. 19).

In light of all that God has done, all of His creation – the hosts of angels that do His bidding and all of His “works” over which He has dominion (that includes everything and excludes nothing) – can do no less than “speak highly, reverently, and fearfully of the Lord.” And if we fail to do so, Jesus says that the very “stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40). Let not the stones do what we were created to do.  “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”

Comments Off on Psalm 103

Filed under Christianity, Creation, Evangelism, Gospel, Heaven, Origins, Thanksgiving, Theology, Worship

Top Priority

treasure

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

A “Christian” young man once lamented the exhortation to holy living by exclaiming, “Do you expect me to become a monk!” Sadly, that is not an uncommon sentiment. Such a sentiment coming from an unbeliever is understandable, but too many Christians these days harbor the same sentiments. The call to holiness[1] is prevalent throughout Scripture, yet many Christians try to hide behind “grace” claiming that we are no longer under the Law.[2] Somehow the world has taught Christians that living a life dedicated, in all things, to the service of Christ denies them of the benefits that only the world can give. But is that true?

Our verse above is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In this portion of the sermon, Jesus begins by calling attention to worldly “treasures”: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Here Jesus points out an undeniable fact that everyone understands: “things” do not last. There exists an unrelenting physical law which dictates that everything degenerates, wears out, or slows down. It is the inescapable Second Law of Thermodynamics.

65 T-Bird_SM

1965 Ford Thunderbird

My brother recently tempted me with the opportunity to purchase of a 1965 Ford Thunderbird – a beautiful automobile. For an antique of that type, the price was reasonable, and not outside my ability to purchase it. My brother mentioned that it had “some rust,” a couple of the electric widows were not operating properly, and the paint job was poorly done, but still, it was worth the money. As I battled the temptation, I considered the “little rust” that has the potential to spread like cancer. It would have to be cut out and replaced with “healthy” metal. Then it would need to be repainted. It needs some upholstery work. The windows need new motors. Many “minor” things are needed to make the car “right.” Then, after all that expense, I would end up with an old car that is still wearing out as parts for it become rarer. “Things” just do not last. Jesus says, “Don’t invest in things that will just wear out in the end.” Instead He says, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:20-21). What do you treasure?

Jesus goes on to talk about real needs: food, clothing, shelter (Matthew 6:25-30), and He emphasizes that “your heavenly Father” knows that you need all these things (v. 32). Just as the Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the fields with flamboyant colors, He will provide for all your needs. After all, “Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26). The birds of the air, and the lilies of the fields were not created in the image of God, but you were (Genesis 1:26). “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32). The Greek word translated as “thought” is merimnaō and it means to be “anxious,” and it carries the idea of being overly concerned about these things which are under God’s divine control.

An old hymn that my mother used to sing to us comes to mind. The third verse of that hymn says:

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.[3]

God will take care of you. He has promised to provide for all your needs (not necessarily your desire for a 1965 T-Bird). With your needs met, what should be your priority? “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Top priority is the kingdom of God.

This is the first place this phrase appears in Scripture. If the search for the kingdom of God is to be foremost, we should have an idea of what that is. The next occurrence of this phrase takes place after Jesus has been accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus asserts that He casts out demons by the “Spirit of God” testifying to the presence of the kingdom of God (Matthew 12:28). The “Spirit of God” indwells every believer (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16) so that we should strive to “walk not after the flesh [i.e., the desires of this world], but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, 4). “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). But Christians can suppress the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) in their lives (1 Thessalonians 5:19). So, in seeking the kingdom of God, we need to continually turn over control to the Holy Spirit in our lives (Ephesians 5:18) so that through His power we can cast out the demons in our own lives.

The “kingdom of God” is synonymous with the “kingdom of heaven” and both terms seem to be used interchangeably in the New Testament. The kingdom of heaven seems more often to refer to the realm of the elect, i.e., the children of God (Luke 20:34-36, John 1:12), the saved (John 3:17), the church (Acts 2:47), etc. To that end our top priority is to expand the kingdom of God. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15). As we draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we each in our own way and as the Spirit leads can share the good news of God’s love. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The message is simple:

  1. We are all sinners (Romans 3:10, 23)
  2. We are all condemned to “eternal” death (Romans 6:23)
  3. God offers eternal life which we cannot earn (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9)
  4. God’s offer is in spite of our sinfulness (Romans 5:8)
  5. Our only requirement is to believe and accept (Romans 10:9-10; John 1:12)

The other priority we should seek, according to our verse, is “His righteousness.” Note that it’s His righteousness, not our own. Because of our sin nature, our righteousness could never measure up to God’s standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6). It is Jesus’ righteousness we seek, “Whom God hath 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; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26, emphasis mine). The Greek word translated “propitiation” is hilastērion, and it is “an expiatory (place or thing), that is, (concretely) an atoning victim.”[4] In other words, Jesus, the sinless Son of God, offered Himself and His righteousness as the one and only atoning sacrifice worthy of acceptance by God and sufficient to cover (the meaning of “atone”) our sin and make us acceptable to Holy God. Notice that it comes by or “through faith in His blood.” When we receive Jesus as our Savior “through faith in His blood,” i.e. His sacrifice, we are “dressed in His righteousness.” The heavenly scene in Revelation says, “And white robes were given unto every one of them” (Revelation 6:11). Later the source of their whiteness is described: “And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, emphasis mine). So, our entry into heaven is not gained through our own righteousness, but through His righteousness.

Our top priority then should be to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” then all “these things” will be added. In fact, when your first priority is right, the stuff the world offers will seem worthless. It will no longer have same appeal to you. Top priority: God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.

NOTES:


 

[1] Be Ye Holy

[2] Is the Law Sin?

[3] “God Will Take Care of You” – Civilla D. Martin: http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/God_Will_Take_Care_of_You/

[4] Strong’s G2435

Comments Off on Top Priority

Filed under Christianity, Evangelism, Gospel, Religion, Salvation

Is the Law Sin?

The Law

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? (Romans 7:7)

In recent years I have heard Christians reject the Old Testament as if it no longer applies. One young man tattooed the inside of his left arm with: ουδεν αρα νυν κατακριμα τοις εν χριστω ιησου. In case you do not read Koine Greek, it says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, NASB). This reading is translated from the liberal Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament. That text omits the phrase: μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV). This additional phrase is included in the Textus Receptus Greek New Testament from which the KJV is translated. (Bear with me; there is a point to this.) When I pointed out the biblical prohibition against tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) to this young man, a seminary student at the time, he lashed out at me pointing out that we are not under Law, but under Grace. Then when I pointed out the missing phrase in his tattoo, he lashed out against the King James Bible. Hmm! The missing phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” suddenly takes on greater significance. Perhaps the compilers of the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament did not like that phrase either.

So Paul asks an important question: “Is the Law Sin?” Judging from this seminary student’s reaction the answer must be, “Yes!” But what does Paul say? “God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7, emphasis added). So, where do we get the idea that we are to disregard the Law contained in the Old Testament? Jesus quoted from the Old Testament exclusively. Of course, that was all that existed at the time, but He never gave any indication that it no longer applied. In like manner, all the New Testament writers referred constantly to the Old Testament and never hinted that it was passé. In writing to Timothy, Paul affirms that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added). When he penned these words, there was no New Testament, only the Old. Instead of rejecting the Law, Paul says that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12).

Salvation does not come through the keeping of the Law. That is impossible. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). We know that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works [of the law], lest any man should boast” (Ephesian 2:8-9, emphasis added). So, does the Law serve any purpose? Paul seems to think so. “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:13, emphasis added). The purpose of the law is to shine a spotlight on what is sin.

The Christian is saved by Grace, not by attempting to keep the Law (which is impossible to do), but the Law should be to the Christian a guide as to what God regards as sinful. God wants His children to be holy – set apart from the world, and the Law guides us to what pleases God. Can we keep the law flawlessly? Probably not, but we have the assurance that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But how can we confess, if we do not know that we sinned? The Law helps us see that.

That young seminary student thought his tattoo would be a great witnessing tool. I venture to say (although I do not know for sure) that his tattoo has not helped him lead a single person to Christ. Perhaps, if he had taken to heart the omitted qualifying phrase in Romans 8:1 – “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” – he would not have violated the commandment against tattoos. I do not question the young man’s salvation, and I fully understand his motive however misguided; but when Paul said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), I doubt that he meant for us to go out and get tattoos in order to win over tattooed people.

Is the Law sin? No, but it serves to show us what sin is and what we should avoid. God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and He has always expected holiness from His people. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Law is not sin; it reveals sin. The Law should be heeded, not disregarded.

3 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Evangelism, Gospel, Religion, Salvation, Theology

Be Ye Holy

Image Credit: Rob Birkbeck

Image Credit: Rob Birkbeck

Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 20:7)

First of all, I need to emphasize that I believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone apart from any works of the flesh (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5). In addition, salvation cannot be maintained through any effort on our part, but it is dependent on the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His ability and faithfulness to keep His promises. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29, emphasis added). Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:3). Then he provides a long list of possibilities before answering, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

That said, as His children, God still expects us to live “holy” lives. Our opening verse comes from the Old Testament law, and it was directed at the Children of Israel. Many Christians will object: “That’s Old Testament! We are ‘New Testament’ Christians. We are not under the Law; we are under Grace!” Well, what does the New Testament say? Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandmentsHe that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:15, 21, emphasis added). Then He makes Himself our example: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Peter also echoes the words of the Old Testament when he says, “But as he [Jesus] which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [i.e., “manner of life” or “life conduct”]; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). James, the brother of Jesus, puts it very plainly, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). James is not preaching a salvation of works, but rather calls for a practical, visible manifestation of the faith we claim. He explains: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). A very simple illustration of James’ premise is this: To convince my wife to marry me, I told her that I loved her. But once we are married, I never take her out, I never help her at home, I never pay any attention to her or listen to her; I go out and spend time with my friends and leave her at home alone. I stay out late at night and use our home as sort of a “flop house.” Could an outside observer testify that I really love my wife? That is the point James is making. True faith demonstrates some sort evidence to the genuineness of that faith.

So what does it mean to be “holy”? Does it mean living a sinless life? If that were even possible, what purpose would Christ’s death on the cross serve? Of all our godly examples from Scripture, not one lived a sinless life, except for Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul lamented, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). So, being “holy” does not equate to being “sinless.”

The word “holy” means to be set apart. When God commanded the Children of Israel to be holy, He intended them to be distinct from the nations that surrounded them. Modern Christians often make light of the Old Testament laws and reject them as not applicable to New Testament saints. But, other than the sacrificial laws which were done away with the sacrifice of Christ, many of those laws were put in place for the sole purpose of distinguishing the people of God from the people of the world. Take for example, the prohibition against piercings and tattoos: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). Piercings, cuttings of the skin, tattoos, etc. were all common practices of the pagan nations that surrounded Israel. These kinds of markings are still considered “beautiful” with many primitive people today. God wanted His people to be different. I selected this one example because it is one of the most obvious that I see among Christians today – they are hard to hide. To me what this says is “I can make my body more beautiful than the one God made for me.” That aside, the point is that we have a lost generation out there that needs a Savior, and this is what they do. Christians, rather than set themselves “apart,” fall right in line with the rest of the lost world, and yet, God still calls His people to be “holy.”

“Holy” also means to be “sanctified” or “consecrated,” i.e., to be “dedicated” to the service of the Lord. That does not mean that we put on our “holy” garments on Sunday for worship and live the rest of the week serving ourselves – in whatever form that takes. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2, emphasis added). A “living sacrifice” is a daily thing. Note that it is “holy” – distinct from the world around us. Our lives should not be conformed to the passing fads of this world, but rather our thinking should be “transformed” according to the pattern of our Savior. Our lifestyle, distinct and set apart from this world, will prove to the world, as James pointed out, “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” For that Christian who thinks this cannot be done, you are correct. It cannot be done through your own strength, but by the Grace that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Be ye holy.

1 Comment

Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Evangelism, Gospel, Religion, Salvation, Theology