COLOSSIANS #8: RECONCILED

 

 

Even though we were hostile toward God, and alienated from Him, he gave his life to restore us to Himself. He is the Lord and Master of the universe, and when we receive him, he also becomes the Lord of our lives. Though this can be scary, we can trust his love for us, because he loved us before we cared about him. Continuing on in faith means that trusting Jesus is not a single, one-time thing, but, rather a lifelong journey that affects every aspect of our lives. When you receive Jesus, the “truest you” has already been made holy and blameless. That reality is more powerful than our experiences of struggle here on earth.
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Paul is moving in a clear direction. He starts with Jesus as the Creator of all things. He is God in a visible form. He holds the highest rank in the universe. Then, Paul gets more personal. Jesus is the head of the body, the church. We are related to him. He is not just chief of the universe, he is our chief, our leader. Paul moves from the impersonal toward more and more personal. Jesus is not only our leader in the church, he is our leader in resurrection. In verse 19, Paul makes sure we understand, once more that if we are looking at Jesus, we are looking at God himself: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” After this reminder, he gets even more personal. Jesus is not just the Creator, not just the highest rank in all creation, not just the leader of the church, but also, it is through Jesus that we are brought close to God. He is the one who has reconciled us to God. He is our savior.

This is the wonder of Jesus – he is both Higher and more Majestic than we can imagine, and yet, at the same time, he  cares for you, personally. He is Lord and master of the universe, and also, the one who loves you, personally. He inhabits and fills the entire cosmos – and yet he also makes his home in your very soul. The very leader of the world is also your friend.

Sometimes people make a distinction between Jesus as savior, and Jesus as Lord. There are Christians who appear to believe that you can receive Jesus as savior, but still not have him as Lord. Paul reverses this. He makes sure we understand that first, Jesus is Lord of all: Lord of All Creation, Lord of the church, Lord of Us – only when we have that straight does Paul talk about Jesus as savior. He is not savior unless he is Lord. If he is not Lord, he cannot be savior – the two go together. What this means practically is this: If you want to be a true Christian, it means surrendering your entire self – your will, your heart, your mind, your life – to Jesus. This doesn’t earn salvation, but it is the only way to receive salvation. If we retain control, we are not trusting Jesus, and if we don’t trust Jesus, we aren’t saved.

Now, I don’t mean that we do this perfectly. But it is our intention to let Jesus have our lives, even if in reality, we sometimes try to regain control. Failing is normal. But you cannot say, “I’ll take salvation please, but I withhold the right to live however I want to.” Salvation involves giving up on ourselves, and putting all our hope in Jesus. Paul makes sure that we know that Jesus is worthy of our trust. He is creator, chief, first in all things. He went through death before us. He went through resurrection before us. He does not ask of us anything that he himself did not do first. We can trust him with our lives, because he has already done all that we needed.

Paul says that the Colossians were once hostile and alienated in their minds. This is true of us, even if we have followed Jesus for as long as we can remember. We were born with a spiritual genetic defect called sin. Our condition at birth was alienated from God, and hostile in our minds. That is every single human’s “natural condition.” Children do not need to be taught how to be selfish, or mean, or angry or how to lose self-control. All of that comes naturally. But children do need to be taught how to be kind, to share, to think of others and how to control themselves. Every single human being is born alienated from God, hostile in mind to him.

God did not wait for us to shape up:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV) Romans 5:6-11

Here in Colossians, Paul describes that process in more detail:

22 [you] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him

When Jesus died physically by crucifixion, there was something else going on spiritually. In the spirit realm, he included all those who would trust in him in his death and resurrection. When Jesus died on the cross, for all intents and purposes, our sinful flesh was punished and killed along with Jesus. Through faith, this is the truth: we died with Jesus on the cross. Our sin was punished on the cross by his death.

Being born in sin, we were helpless to do anything to make ourselves better. Jesus did that for us. We don’t deserve it. We cannot earn it. There is nothing in the universe more valuable than the life of Jesus, so there is nothing we could possibly earn or borrow or even steal to pay for our salvation. We receive it as a gift, or not at all.

By the way, this is why Christianity is the source of the concept of human equality. The teaching is that we are all equally lost. No one can claim to be intrinsically better than anyone else. And our salvation is not earned, so not even anyone who is saved can claim to be a better person – we are what we are by God’s grace alone. The death of Jesus declares that we are equally helpless. It also shows us that he puts such value on every human being that he was willing to give his own life to save us. At the foot of the cross, the ground is perfectly level.

Jesus reconciled us in order to present us to God as holy, blameless and above reproach. This is already the second time we have encountered this idea in Colossians, and we aren’t out of the first chapter yet. It will come again later on. We live in two worlds at once: the physical world, and also the spiritual world. In the physical, natural world, we look around and say, “I am not holy and blameless. I am not above reproach. So this text must be wrong.” But in the spiritual realm, you already are holy and blameless and above reproach. The bible teaches us that the spiritual, unseen world is greater, and more permanent than the world we see.

It’s a little bit like the movie, the Matrix. People are living lives, falling in love, fighting, struggling and so on in a world that is imaginary. They are wired to a virtual reality. It looks and feels real to them. But if they could escape, they would find there is a more powerful reality, and what happens there can change everything in the virtual world. For our purposes, the physical world is like the Matrix, and the spiritual world is the “real world.” Paul describes elsewhere like this:

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

The things that are seen (the physical world) are transient. That word means, “temporary, of short duration. Not permanent.” But the unseen world – the spiritual realm – is eternal. It lasts forever. So when we look at ourselves in the physical realm and see someone who is far from holy, we need to understand that such a thing is temporary. Yes, for now, for a short time, we don’t look holy and blameless. But in the spiritual realm, the world that lasts forever, we are already holy and blameless. And that realm is greater, and lasts longer.

Paul ends this section with a final thought:

23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (ESV) Colossians 1:18-23

You are reconciled to God, you are holy and blameless and above reproach before God, if indeed you continue in the faith, not shifting from the hope of the gospel. It is important for us to understand this. Being reconciled to God and being made holy and blameless are things that come through Jesus Christ alone. We receive them by trusting in Jesus. If we were to shift our trust from Jesus onto someone or something else, we cannot receive these things. It is not that we earn them by trusting Jesus. It is not that God punishes us by taking them away if we stop trusting Jesus. But Jesus is the only way to receive these things. So, if we refuse to get them through him, there is no other way to get them.

Imagine a beautiful island in the ocean, with some of the most stunning scenery in the world. There is no bridge to it – it is too far out into the ocean. There is no airstrip on the island. It is privately owned. The owner welcomes guests, and he accommodates them, provides rest and entertainment and delicious food, all for no charge. Regularly, he sends a ferry to the mainland to pick up whoever wants to come. But some people don’t like the look of the ferry: they think it doesn’t look comfortable enough for their tastes. Some people think it doesn’t look seaworthy, and they don’t trust it to keep from sinking. Others just don’t want to travel by sea – they’d prefer to fly. But this island is private property. The Owner doesn’t have to allow anyone at all to come there. If you want to go, he has provided the ferry. If you refuse to take the ferry, then there is no other way to get there. He isn’t mean or exclusive: anyone who wants to can use it. Many have, and they’ve told others that it is just fine. But if you reject the only way to get there, you have excluded yourself from the island. Everything is free, but you can’t receive it unless you take the ferry.

So it is with Jesus. We must continue on in faith, because without faith, we cannot receive all that Jesus does and is for us. Paul says we must continue, because it isn’t a one time deal. It is not all like buying a ticket for heaven, or life insurance. No, if we truly trust Jesus, it changes our whole life. It effects how live and the decisions we make for the rest of our lives. If it does not have that effect on our lives, then I question whether or not we truly believe it. I don’t mean that we will suddenly behave perfectly. But when we truly believe something this big and important, it will have an effect on us. It won’t make us immediately perfect in this natural world, but it will begin to work on us.

For now, I want us to focus on this fact: In the eternal spiritual realm, you are already holy and blameless. You are above reproach. That “you” is more real and permanent than the “you” that keeps failing. Jesus has given those gifts to the spiritual you, and he wants them to define who you are. Trust him!

Revelation #18 JUDGMENT: GOOD, OR EVIL?

Judgment

The judgment of God is problematic for many people in today’s culture. Read on for some thoughts about how to understand and talk about justice, and God’s judgment of the world.

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Revelation #18. The Problem of Judgment & Punishment

This next message is not directly about the text of Revelation, but rather about issues raised by the text. I think it is important that we deal openly and clearly with the messages of judgment, justice and vengeance. All over the Book of Revelation we find God judging the wicked, and, in many cases, causing them to suffer. For instance:

3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. (Revelation 9:3-6, HCSB).

Even the good saints who have already been martyred, seem almost bloodthirsty. When the fifth seal is opened, the Martyrs cry out:

10They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth? ” (Rev 6:10, HCSB)

The idea that the wicked will be punished for their sins is problematic for our culture. For one thing, the dominant view in Western culture is that no one is truly wicked (with the exception of one or two people like Hitler). On the other hand, they also believe that no one is truly good, either: they think, in general, that all people of faith are hypocrites who don’t actually practice what they preach.

Non-Christians and pseudo-Christians in Western society do have a sense of morality, a curious mix that is partially derived from the Bible, and partially from secular humanism. Very high on the moral list of secular culture is that we should not judge anyone. I think this has rubbed off on most Christians also. So, how do we handle the judgments in Revelation? How do we handle the destruction and death that is released by God’s command? What do we do with this almost black and white view of the righteous and the wicked? I think there are several points that might help us understand and accept these concepts in Revelation.

1. God is infinite, and we are not. If you’ve been following this blog in real time, you know that last time we talked extensively about how God is so much greater than we are. Trying to understand God is like trying to use a tablespoon to contain the contents of a running garden hose. The tablespoon is filled up immediately, but there is no end to the water that comes out of the hose. This is what it is like when we try to understand God. What this means is that there could be a very convincing and satisfying explanation for all of the things that trouble us, and yet we will never be able to understand it. In fact because God is infinite, and we are not, it is very likely that we won’t be able to understand much about God at all, including the way he judges the earth. In plain language, we need to accept that God has very good reasons for what he does, and that we cannot understand very many of those reasons.

2. God is God, and we are not. In other words he can do whatever he wants to do. He made this world and he can do what he likes with it. Even if we could understand the reasons for what he does, we have no right to judge him. Another very important aspect of this point is that we human beings are not the ones who do the judging. It is absolutely wrong for us to take judgment into our own hands.

If we say something different from what the Bible says, even if we think we are being more lenient, then we are putting ourselves in the place of God, and judging others.

When we tell other people what the Bible says, we are not judging others – we are simply repeating what God has already said. Even so, we must remember that final judgment belongs to God, and it is not up to us to put God’s judgment into action.

The martyrs under the altar were asking God to act, because they understood that it was not their own place. Violence is never an appropriate expression for any part of the life of a Christian. We may, in extreme situations use violence to defend ourselves from physical danger. But we may never consider ourselves the instrument of God’s judgment, and it is not our place to deliberately harm any other human being. When David had the opportunity to kill King Saul, even when Saul was pursuing him in order to kill him, David refused. He said:

12“May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you. 13As the old proverb says, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ My hand will never be against you. (1Sam 24:12-13, HCSB)

This should be our attitude towards those who oppose us also. Paul wrote to the Romans:

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. (Rom 12:17-19, HCSB)

We Christians interpret the whole  Bible in relationship to Jesus. Therefore, even though there are texts in the Old Testament instructing the Israelites to wage “Holy War,” those texts cannot be taken literally by those who follow Jesus. Jesus himself made this very clear:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:38-45, ESV2011)

Clear enough? God will take care of these things. It isn’t our place to harm anyone.

3. These violent and overwhelming judgments tell us that sin is serious.

Imagine that a terrible sickness was discovered. It is a virus that inflames the lining of the brain. Those who get it eventually go mad, and if not restrained, many of them, in their insanity, commit cruel and horrible crimes. Driven by the disease, they rape, humiliate, torture and murder others. Eventually, everyone who gets the virus dies; the mortality rate is 100%. It is extremely contagious, and there is no cure.

Now, some of the people who get this virus manage to control it to some extent. They are able to refrain from the worst cruelties. However, that same virus that makes some people do unspeakable horrors lives inside everyone who has it. You never know when the sickness might suddenly progress and cause someone to commit a horrific crime. The potential for the most awful cruelty will always be there, in every single person who has the disease.

In addition, everyone who has it is a carrier. Everyone who has it will infect others. So even if someone has mild symptoms, that person will pass the disease on to others; and those others may end up with the very worst symptoms.

You can see that this is a terrible, horrific virus. To control it, you would have to implement a zero tolerance quarantine, and enforce it 100%. The only thing to do, is to wait for those who have it to die.

My little analogy is actually quite true. The disease exists: it is called sin. In some people, sin exhibits mild symptoms. But the same thing that makes me snap at a dear friend in selfish anger is what makes someone else commit the most horrific crimes: rape, torture, murder. The root cause is the same.

Yehiel Dinur was a Jew. During the 1930s he experienced the increasing bigotry and persecution of the Jews, fostered by Hitler. During WWII, he ended up in a concentration camp, and after unspeakable horrors, survived. Many years afterward, he was summoned to Nuremberg Germany, to testify at the War Crimes Tribunal. He was called upon to testify against Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the holocaust, who had been one of Dinur’s torturers. When he stepped into the courtroom and saw Eichmann sitting on trial, he broke down in uncontrollable sobs, and had to be escorted out of the room until he could compose himself. When he was later interviewed, the news reporter assumed that Dinur’s breakdown was due to hatred, fear, or terrible memories. Or perhaps it was just the overwhelming emotion that came as a result of knowing that this terrible man was finally brought to justice.

Dinur denied all of these. He gave this as the reason for his uncontrollable emotion: “I was afraid about myself. I am — exactly like he is.”

Dinur knew that the same horror that caused the Nazi to commit such atrocities lived also inside of him. According to the Bible, he was absolutely correct. That horror lives inside each one of us, even if some of us suppress it better than others. The sin that lives in me is just as evil as the sin that lived inside of Nazi torturers. It is that serious.

All this is to say that we cannot criticize God for taking severe measures to stop the horrible disease of sin, even when its outward symptoms are mild among some people.

4. Although judgment is coming, Jesus has provided a way out for all people. That is why the gospel must be preached before the end can come (Revelation 6:1-2): so that all those who want to can escape the final judgment. The full judgment for sin fell upon Jesus. Jesus died, and if we trust him, our sinful nature was killed along with him. As Paul writes, we were united with him in his death, which means that the terminal illness of sin has been purged from our souls and spirits.

3Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 5For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. (Rom 6:3-7, HCSB)

Anyone who trusts Jesus is counted as having already died; we were included in the punishment and death that was given to Jesus on our behalf. In addition, he creates within us a new life, a spirit that wants to do good, and not evil:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come” (Second Corinthians 5:17)

What about those who never got a chance to hear the gospel before they died? Only God knows. But we know that he is merciful and gracious. Again, it is not our place to determine what happens to such people – thank the Lord!

5. The terrible judgments are also paid out against the spiritual forces of evil. In other words, if it makes you uncomfortable to think of God judging human beings, remember that some of this judgment is also given out against evil, demonic forces. If you feel like it is hard to give your hearty agreement to the judgment of the world, even after all these things we’ve been saying, we can certainly agree with these sorts of judgments against the devil, and his evil spirits.

6. Human beings are hardwired for justice. Think about this: every day, all over the world, 12 and 13-year-old girls are being kidnapped. They are raped repeatedly until the abuse brain-washes them into submission, and then they are sold as sex slaves. How can we possibly say that this is okay? How could we possibly suggest that God gives those evil and twisted abusers a pass, because “he’s a God of love?” He wouldn’t be a loving God if he allowed that to go on without consequence. I don’t believe that anyone reading this thinks God should give these rapists/slave traders a pass. Our natural response to hearing this is to demand justice. Revelation tells us that God will put all things right, including this evil. He will finally destroy the awful disease that makes people do this. He will fully punish everyone who refuses to repent. When we open our eyes to the true evil that lives in this world, how can we wish for anything less?

When we think about judgment, there is a very useful acronym to sum all of this up. The acronym is LOVE.

Look beyond the human instrumentation to the real enemy of our souls (Eph. 6:12).

On the cross, Jesus himself bore every curse (Gal. 3:13).

Vengeance belongs only to God (Rom. 12:19).

Eventually, God will set all things right (Rev. 11:15).

(This acronym is not original with me. I found it at: (http://psalms.seedbed.com/frequently-asked-questions-about-psalms/  accessed 2/6/18)

Let the Spirit speak to you today!

WHY WOULD A LOVING GOD SEND ANYONE TO HELL?

hell

OK, the part about hell is a little ways into the message. But here’s a teaser: The essence of love is choice. For love to be real there must be an alternative to it, some other choice that could be made. It is that choice, choosing a person when you don’t have to, that is the essence of love.So what is the alternative to loving God?  What would it be like to be completely separate from the loving Creator of the universe, to be apart from every good, loving, holy thing that exists in the universe? That alternative is what we call “hell.” Hell exists precisely because God is truly loving. If there was no hell, there would be no true love.  

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Download Matthew Part 89

Matthew #89  Matthew 25:31-46

We considered the parable of the sheep and the goats last time. There are still a few things about the text that I would like to talk about. I realize that when we read this parable, it will naturally raise a number of questions about things that are really outside the scope of the text alone. The two that stand out to me are these: “Do good works get us into heaven?” And, “Is hell real?” Since those related questions are pretty important to the Christian faith, I want to look at them before we move on from this text.

At first reading, the passage makes it sound like people will get into heaven based entirely upon how they treat the poor and needy. As we learned last time, we need to refine that to “poor and needy fellow Christians.” Even so, that still leaves us with the problem that it looks like we get into heaven based upon our own good works. Is it true? Did Jesus really teach that we enter heaven based upon what we do?

Now, I did refer to the answer to this question when we talked about the parable of the talents. But even if you already know the answer, I think it is helpful to go through the process, so that as you do, you “practice” interpreting the Bible.

First, let’s look at a possible answer from the text itself. Consider verse 34:

34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:34, ESV2011)

We tend to read over such things quickly, but there is something startling here. The sheep are invited to enter “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This makes it sound like these people were chosen for the kingdom long before they did any good works; in fact, before they were born.

When we study difficult things in scripture, it is helpful to look at other verses that address the same subject. With that in mind, let’s consider what Paul writes in Ephesians (I’ll italicize parts, for emphasis):

4For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4-6 HCSB)

Now, this brings up another difficult subject, that of predestination. I don’t intend to get into that just now, but my point is, Jesus said that the kingdom was prepared for his own people (the sheep) from the foundation of the world. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and passing on to us and explaining the teaching of Jesus, says the same thing. So the sheep could not be chosen, or saved, by anything they did. Their salvation was given to them first, long before they did anything. Their actions simply reflected the fact that they belonged to that kingdom.

So the kingdom was given to them by grace, not by any works they had done. But they did their good works because they already belonged to the kingdom. This reminds me of another verse from Ephesians:

8For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — 9not from works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10, HCSB)

The good works that the sheep did were prepared ahead of time for them by God, just like the Kingdom they were invited to enter.

Let’s make sure we have all of this very clear. The New Testament teaches that we cannot earn our salvation. We are forgiven for our sins, restored to a healthy, joyous relationship with God, and given eternal life, only because of the work Jesus has already done for us. We receive those gifts only by God’s grace, through trusting Jesus Christ, not through any works that we do. Here are some of the verses which teach this clearly. I’ve italicized parts of them, for emphasis:

We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:3-9, HCSB)

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom 3:27-28, HCSB)

He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2Tim 1:9-10, HCSB)

He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7, HCSB)

Yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. (Gal 2:16-17, ESV)

So we have these many, clear verses telling us that salvation is a gracious gift, not a reward for good works. But then we have this passage here in Matthew, and several other passages in the New Testament, that seem very concerned with how we behave:

I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal 5:16-26, HCSB)

20If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. 21And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother. (1John 4:20-21, HCSB)

14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?

15If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?

17In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. 18But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe — and they shudder.

20Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

22You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. (Jas 2:14-22, HCSB)

Forgiveness and salvation are offered to us as God’s free gift in Jesus Christ. We don’t earn it in any way. But we also need to understand this: a true, living faith will result in good works. A true living faith will express itself in love for fellow-Christians. A true and living faith will fight against sin in your life.

If you continue to live in an ongoing pattern of sin, or if you do not love your fellow Jesus-followers, it may be because you do not have true faith in Jesus Christ. As James says: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Faith without works is not real faith.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that when you are a Christian, you just can’t help yourself from doing good works, and you should sit on your hands until the impulse to do good overtakes you. Good works often require self-discipline. They aren’t always enjoyable. Sometimes you must make yourself do them even when you don’t feel like it. But the point is, you do them because you love and trust Jesus, not because you think they will earn you special points with God. You do them because it is in you to do them (even if that “in you” looks like self-discipline). And it is in you to do them because your faith is real. Again, particularly in this passage of Matthew, the good works we are talking about is to love, and do good to other Christians.

Now, there is an important contrast between the fate of the sheep and that of the goats. The place of the sheep was prepared for them from the foundation of the world. But the place to which the goats were sent was not originally intended for them. Listen to what Jesus says:

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matt 25:41, ESV2011)

There is the contrast. The kingdom of God’s people has been prepared “for you” from the foundation of the world. The eternal fire was prepared “for the devil and his angels.” In other words, though people will be sent there, God intended it originally for the devil and demons, not for human beings. I want to tread lightly here, since we are touching on some very profound subjects. But I think we should understand this: God’s desire is for all people to be saved.

3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle ( I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1Tim 2:3-7, ESV2011)

Although this is God’s desire, many, many people thwart God’s desire, and he allows them to do so. Clearly, in this parable, as well as many other points throughout the gospels, Jesus thinks of hell as a real place into which some human beings will go. Just in case you aren’t sure, consider these other verses, just from the book of Matthew alone (there are more in the other gospels, also):

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13-14, ESV2011)

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!  (Matt 5:29-30, HCSB)

Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  (Matt 10:28, HCSB)

The rest of the New Testament also affirms the teachings of Jesus about hell. Even so, recently it has become unfashionable to believe in hell. The endlessly repeated question is this: “If God is so loving, why does he send some people to hell?”

That question reveals our huge cultural misunderstanding of love. Love is not something you “fall into.” Love is not something you “can’t help.” The essence of love is choice. If you know someone has no choice but to “love” you, you do not feel loved at all. You feel loved when you know the other person has the alternative not to love you, but does anyway. Think about it: Forcing someone to love you is technically impossible. The very idea of forcing is antithetical to love. For love to be real there must be an alternative to it, some other choice that could be made. It is that choice, choosing a person when you don’t have to, that is the essence of love.

So, God doesn’t have to love us. We don’t have to love God. But what is the alternative choice to God’s love, and loving him back? What does rejecting God mean? What would it be like to be completely separate from the loving Creator of the universe, to be apart from every good, loving, holy thing that exists in the universe? That alternative is what we call “hell.”

Hell exists precisely because God is truly loving.

If there was no hell, there would be no true love.

And now we are back to the parable of the sheep and the goats. The exact difference between them is that the sheep exhibited the love of God in action to fellow Jesus-followers, and the goats did not do so. Their actions revealed their inner choices about God’s love.

Let’s make sure we have this all straight:

  • Salvation is a free, unearned gift of God, offered in the context of love.
  • Those who reject that gift, who choose not to love God, will go to hell, which the New Testament teaches is a real place, or state of being, that is utterly separated from God and all goodness.
  • Those who receive God’s salvation in faith will express it by loving their fellow Christians.
  • Those who do not love their fellow-Christians are shown, by that lack of love, to not have true faith.

 

I think we have plenty to chew on for this time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re invited to the Feast!


To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Matthew Part 77

Matthew #77 Matthew 22:1-14

When we deal with texts that are longer than just a few verses, I don’t usually include them in the written version of the notes. I think it would help you if you opened your Bible and read the text yourself, and follow along as we go over it.

This chapter begins with some important words: “Once more, Jesus spoke to them in parables.” This is important because when we read the Bible, we need to pay attention to the genre of what we are reading; Matthew tells us it is a parable. A parable is a story that is told to illustrate just a few main points. The story is not meant to correspond to reality in every detail, and we can misinterpret a parable if we try to find meaning in each small detail. For instance, we may read verse six and say: “That’s not realistic. They would never mistreat or kill the king’s messengers, just because they were invited to a wedding they didn’t want to attend.”

Of course it isn’t realistic: it is a parable. The story is told to illustrate spiritual truths. It is not intended to be understood literally. On the other hand, this over-the-top treatment of the messengers is meant to illustrate something: that the behavior of those who reject God’s invitation is outrageous, as offensive as the behavior of the people in the story.

This is the third parable in a row in this part of Matthew. Like the other two, it is aimed at those who claim to be God’s people but do not act like it. In the parable of the two sons, the main point was the difference between saying you will do what God wants, and actually doing it. In the parable of the vineyard tenants, it was similar: God gives his people all that is necessary to produce good fruit, and expects to see that fruit. Here, Jesus addresses the relationship between God and his people.

He says the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a King throwing a wedding feast for his son. I think he has in mind God the Father inviting his people to the great celebration of the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is the Son.

First, the original guests were invited. Here, I believe Jesus was speaking to his immediate audience: the religious leadership. He has been doing so all along, and there is no indication that his audience has changed. So, he is illustrating the fact that the people of Israel were chosen by God. They were the first to be invited to the feast. But they rejected the invitation. Many of them simply weren’t interested – they had other things they wanted to do. Some of them were offensive about it – they mistreated, and even killed the messengers sent by the King. I think Jesus wants to remind his listeners of the many prophets who were rejected by God’s people. Most certainly, he is pointing out that they have rejected the Son of the king.

In the next part of the parable, the king sends messengers to invite “everyone you find.” Jesus says they gathered everyone they found: “both evil and good.” In other words, this invitation is open to everyone.

However, the fact that the invitation is open to all does not mean that there are no standards for the wedding feast. The expectation is that the guests should be wearing clothing that is appropriate to the occasion.

The great Christian thinker, Augustine, suggested that on such an occasion, the host of the wedding feast would provide a “wedding garment.” Therefore, if someone was not wearing “wedding clothes,” they had overtly and deliberately rejected what was provided by the host. Unfortunately, Augustine lived about 300 years after the time of Jesus, and does not tell us how he knows that this was the case during the time of Jesus. I myself could not find any reliable evidence one way or another about whether the clothing was supposed to be provided by the host or the guests.

Even so, I don’t think it matters much either way. Remember, we are dealing with a parable. I don’t think we need to get bogged down in details like where the appropriate clothes were supposed to come from. I think it is safe to assume that one way or another, the person who was not wearing the right clothing had made a deliberate choice about what to wear.

I think even today we can see how offensive this would be. Imagine you are invited to a Royal wedding, like the wedding of Prince William of England to Kate. Would you show up to such an event wearing ratty old jeans with holes in them, and a dirty T-shirt? Of course you wouldn’t; and the reason is that you know it would be disrespectful. Wouldn’t the royal family have every right to turn you away if you showed up to the wedding in those types of clothes? After all, it is their private family occasion; you are there by invitation, not because you have a right to be there.

Or, suppose one of the movie stars from Star Wars decided to hold a party. Anyone is welcome, however, everyone must be dressed like one of the characters from the movies. The rich and famous are going to be at that party. You might meet any number of movie stars. The food and drink will be awesome; the evening will be one to remember for your whole life. Is it too much to ask that you dress as the host requested? Would it not be ungrateful to show up in ordinary clothes? Wouldn’t the host have every right to kick you out if you made no effort to comply with his wishes?

So, it seems to me that the parable is making these three main points:

  • The Jewish people, God’s chosen ones, did not respond to him, and in some cases, even violently rejected his messengers.
  • God is seeking out those who will respond to him. The invitation is open to everyone.
  • Though the invitation is open to everyone (“both good and evil”), it is still required that we accept it on God’s terms.

I think it is hard for us today to understand how radical it was for Jewish people in the first century to accept that God now wanted to treat even non-Jews as his chosen people. The religious leaders at that time felt secure in that they had the temple; they also felt secure as God’s specially chosen people. However, as in the previous two parables, Jesus is saying: “None of that matters if you actually reject God. And not only that, the time has come when God is going to welcome anyone who will receive Me in faith.”

Now, of course this is not particularly radical to modern Christians. So how does the first part of this parable apply to us today? Just as in Israel during Jesus time, today there are many people who feel secure because they are religious in one way or another; however, in spite of their religion (or perhaps because of it), they have rejected God’s will and purposes for their lives. Jesus’ words were offensive to the religious leaders of his day. My next words may be offensive to some of you. I’m not setting out to be offensive, I only want to make sure that we get the full impact of the teaching of Jesus in our lives today.

Just as in Jesus’ time, some people today feel spiritually safe and self-satisfied for all of the wrong reasons. Some of them say things like: “I go to church pretty regularly. All in all, I’m a pretty decent person. I’ve done the best I can.”

Others might say: “Well, at least I’m not a hypocrite. I’ve never pretended to be a better person than I am. And I try to do right. The Bible says God is loving, and people who follow him are supposed to be loving; well, I am loving. I’m probably better off than a lot of those hypocritical church-goers.”

Still others might say: “I got saved when I was 13 years old. I prayed the prayer, and I got baptized. I know I haven’t been perfect since then but praise God, when I die I’m going to heaven.” Now, someone like this might indeed be going to heaven. But if their lives show no evidence at all that Jesus is living in them, and leading them into greater holiness, then I’m concerned for them. “Getting saved” is not a ticket that you buy, after which you can live however you want. If you are really saved, it means that Jesus owns your life.

The problem with each one of these things, is that while the people may trust in one form or another of religion, or right-living, they’re rejecting the life of faith and obedience in Jesus Christ.

Some of the people in Jesus’ parable chose not to come to the wedding because they were busy with their lives. Everyday things interfered with them accepting the King’s gracious invitation. At one level, they were supposed to be the friends and guests of the King. But when it came to actually doing something with the King, they preferred other things. This part of the parable concerns me greatly. Everywhere I look, I see people who say they are Christians, but their lives are really no different from others who say they aren’t Christians. They are still living essentially for their own goals and purposes. Sometimes those goals and purposes are not bad. They want a good family, and a stable, secure life. God is fine, as long as he is merely an accessory to that life, or perhaps as a means to getting that life. But they don’t want a King who has the right to tell them to change that life in any way he pleases. They don’t actually want a regular, meaningful relationship with the King.

I think the very last part of the parable goes along with the first. The man who went to the feast without any concern or respect for the King is also someone that we can learn from. Too many people today talk and act as if God must accept us based upon our standards, rather than his own. We think the deal is that Jesus died for our sins, and now we can live however we please. We think that receiving salvation from Jesus does not have to involve any change in our lives. The last part of the parable shows us that this is not true. Trusting Jesus should change us. The change may be slow, it may come in fits and starts, but if we truly trust Jesus, if we have truly allowed him to be our king, it will make a difference in our lives. And if our faith makes no difference in our lives, it is a warning sign.

There are two types of people who read this blog, who might misunderstand what I’m saying here. Some of you are dear, beloved Jesus-followers, but you are afraid that you are not. Every time you hear a sermon like this one you think: “Is that me? Has Jesus really changed me at all?” Let me remind you that Jesus has already reached the perfect standard on our behalf. You don’t have to be perfect. In addition, it is often hard for us to see, from within, what Jesus is doing in our lives. We often are not the best judges of whether or not we are bearing fruit.

Others who read this blog may be very inclined to excuse themselves. Their reaction might be: “At first I thought maybe that was me. But then I remembered the basic thing is just that God loves me, so I’m fine as I am.” These are people who either justify, or blow off the fact that they live in a regular pattern of ongoing sin.

The apostle Paul has some words for both types of people.

16I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The desires of the Spirit and flesh are opposed to each other. So if you desire what the Spirit desires, your heart can be at rest. If, when you fail and engage in works of the flesh, you are upset, and think, “I didn’t want to do that,” then you know that the Spirit is at work in you, making you desire what is right. Paul goes on:

19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We don’t have to wonder – the works of the flesh are obvious. Many of them are listed right here. If you practice such things – that is, if they are a regular part of your life – then you should be concerned. Next, Paul describes the life that is surrendered to Jesus:

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.

24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit (Gal 5:16-25, HCSB)

The basic point is that the works of the Holy Spirit, and the works of the flesh, are obvious. If the fruit of the Spirit are increasing in you – even in small amounts – that’s a very good sign. If you desire to be better than you are – more like the Spirit, less like the flesh, then that is also a very good sign.

But if you are practicing (verse 21) – that is, repeated engaging in, living in a pattern of – the works of the flesh, then in all honesty, you ought to be concerned.

The point is, it should be pretty obvious whether the fruit of the Spirit is gradually increasing in you, or whether the works of the flesh are present in the regular pattern of your life. Even your reaction when you sin can guide you. If you think “Rats, I really wish I hadn’t done that. I really want to be better,” the Spirit of God is at work in you. But if you think “No big deal. Everyone does it,” then you are in spiritual danger.

But this parable can be good news, very, very good news for us. The party is open to everyone. Everyone. Jesus even says: “both evil and good.” Your sin, your failures do not disqualify you, if you are willing to come on God’s terms. Of course, if we come, he will change us from evil into good, but we don’t have to make that change ahead of time. Instead, we come as we are, and allow him to make those changes in our lives. Those who are willing to come, and come on his terms, are welcomed into his joy.

ARE THERE “EXTRA” REWARDS IN HEAVEN?

IRS Treasure in heaven

The concept of rewards in addition to simply being in heaven is one of the least-taught, least understood aspects of the New Testament. Too often we look at the subject as though in heaven we will still struggle with resentment, pride and envy.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 57

 

Matthew #57 . Matthew 16:27-28

My wife recently told me that I’m still trying to pack too much into one sermon. So this time, I’ll attempt to cover only the next verse in Matthew:

For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done. (Matt 16:27 HCSB)

If we just stop and think about this for a moment, it could be problematic. I mean, I have always taught that we are judged based on our response to Jesus, not on the good works we have done (or failed to do). But here, it sounds like we will be rewarded based not on our faith in Jesus, but on our behavior. If we investigate, we find something puzzling: The New Testament appears to teach both things.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul brings up the issue of rewards in heaven:

Now the one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Cor 3:8-9)

According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. (1Cor 3:10-15, HCSB)

This is one of the least understood and taught doctrines in the New Testament. Paul says the foundation is Jesus Christ. But then he talks about the quality of what we build on that foundation, and receiving rewards for what our work. But Paul makes sure we understand that it starts with the foundation of Jesus Christ; in fact, the foundation that was revealed by Peter’s confession. Let’s begin by making sure of it.

The Bible teaches in numerous places, over and over again, that we are saved only through God’s grace, which comes to us through a faith-based relationship with Jesus Christ.

Here are just a few of many, many, many verses that affirm we are not justified before God by what we do, but by God’s grace given to us when we trust Him. I’ll italicize a few parts for emphasis:

We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:3-9, HCSB)

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom 3:27-28, HCSB)

He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2Tim 1:9-10, HCSB)

He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7, HCSB)

Yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. (Gal 2:16-17)

Clear enough for you? Over and over again, the New Testament teaches that we are saved when we trust Jesus Christ, and our own “good works” have nothing to do with it. So we know that our eternal destiny – whether we go to heaven or hell – is determined not by us being good enough, but by trusting Jesus. That is the foundation. Paul says, you can’t build on any other basis (1 Corinthians 3:11). If we have that foundation, we will spend eternity with Jesus and our loved ones in the New Heavens and New Earth. The whole Bible is crystal clear on that.

However, we do find many places in the New Testament, including several places in Matthew, which talk about rewards for doing good works. Now, we have just reiterated that heaven itself is not a reward for doing good. So when the New Testament talks about some kind of reward in the afterlife based upon what we do here, it cannot mean salvation. Well then, what kind of reward does Jesus mean here?

This is actually very important for how we interpret the Bible. When we read any other book, we assume that the author will not deliberately contradict herself. It should be the same with the Bible. So if the Bible says clearly (as it does) that salvation is not a reward for good behavior, but only the result of faith in Jesus; and then it says there is a reward for good works, we have to assume that the reward for good works is something other than salvation. As it turns out, there are many Bible verses that talk about these rewards. Just a few of them are Revelation 22:12; Matthew 5:11-2, 6:1-6, 17-18, 10:41-42; Luke 6:35; and this one:

7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6:7-8)

James writes that not many should presume to be Bible teachers, because they will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). Well, as a Bible teacher I know that my salvation will be judged based on whether or not I trust Jesus. So in what way will I be judged more strictly? The logical answer is: in the matter of my work, and any reward I might get for it.

Now, for many people, the idea of reward in heaven presents some problems. First, some people feel that it implies that there might be inequality in heaven. Second, some people feel it implies unhappiness there also.

Scripture is clear that in heaven, God wipes every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more grief or suffering or pain (Revelation 21:3-5). So rest assured, reward or not, your joy will be complete.

In addition, when we think this way, we forget that jealousy and resentment are the product of sin, the flesh and the devil. In eternity, all these things will be defeated and destroyed. We will be able to fully rejoice at the triumph of another, and bear in humble joy our own situation, unmarred by sin, bitterness, resentment or envy. Seeing someone else rewarded more than you will lead only to praise to God for his goodness, mercy and justice.

What Paul says in the Corinthians passage I quoted above is that those who have no reward will still be saved, but it will be like an escape through a fire. If we really imagine that, we get a sense for what it is like. Ultimately we will be safe, and will find joy in that. But as we initially enter heaven, if we have built poorly on the foundation of Jesus, we might find the judgment day to be harrowing.

Consider it this way: do you think it would be fair if Mother Theresa, with all her self-sacrifice, receives nothing more than me, with all my self-centeredness? We are both saved entirely by God’s grace. But shouldn’t she be rewarded somehow for the fact that in Jesus Christ, she used her life more faithfully than I used mine? Shouldn’t heaven celebrate and appreciate those who have done good things for the Lord on earth? Again, I think what we know of the kingdom of God is such that there will be no resentment involved.

Now, I want to speculate a bit on what the rewards mean. I do have some scripture that suggests what I think about this, but I can’t nail this down for sure. In other words, what I am going to share next falls more into the realm of conjecture than solid biblical teaching. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the parable of the Talents. In it, three servants were given different resources to use on behalf of the Master. They were rewarded according to how they made use of those resources. The reward is that they were given additional resources to use, according the ability they had demonstrated.

This makes me think of rewards in heaven in terms of capacity. Picture two buckets. One bucket can hold one gallon of fresh, clear water. The other bucket can hold five gallons of beautiful clean water. Now imagine both buckets, filled to the brim. Which bucket has more water? Obviously, the one that can hold more. But they are both full. The one gallon bucket has as much water as it can possibly hold. It doesn’t have as much as the five gallon bucket, but then, it can’t. It is still completely full. I think maybe heaven will be like that. We will all be as full as we can be. But some people will be able to contain more of God’s fullness and joy than others. The ones with smaller capacity will still be completely full and satisfied – but the ones with greater capacity will experience their joy to level that the others can’t.

Here’s another way to look at it. In my left eye, my vision is about 20/100. It cannot be corrected, and so I am considered legally blind in that eye. Now, my right eye is basically fine, and it does most of the seeing work for me. I can drive, and watch movies, appreciate visual art and generally enjoy life. Where my half-blindness affects me most is in depth perception. I have a horrible time shooting a basketball. Things that are far away look equally distant from me. If I see man standing 100 yards away, and another man 200 yards away, the only way I can tell they are not next to each other is because one looks smaller than the other. I can get some experience of 3-D movies, but not the same as other people. Binoculars only work for me if I close my left eye. But I was born this way, I have never seen correctly out of my left eye, and so I’m perfectly happy with my vision: I don’t really know what I’m missing, except the basketball hoop. I don’t feel sorry for myself and I enjoy my vision fully, and I feel no lack. But if there was something I could do to get true binocular vision, I would be a fool not to do it. Though I enjoy the visual aspects of life as much as I can, wouldn’t it be great if I could somehow exercise my eyes to get full range of vision?

One more analogy. When I was younger, I could eat all day long, and it did not affect my weight, my health or even how I felt. Now that I am older, I can’t eat so much, and certainly, what I eat has greater consequences for my body. I even get full faster. Sometimes I find myself at an event a party where there are all kinds of delicious food. At such times, I wish I could eat like I did when I was younger. I could enjoy more of that delicious food, if my metabolism was still young. I have a close friend who has aged differently than me. He can’t eat like he’s twenty, but he can still eat more than I can, with fewer consequences. Sometimes I envy him. I wonder if I had made different choices, if I might still have been able to enjoy as much food as he does. Now, what if I had the chance to get that metabolism back, so I could enjoy delicious food all the time without feeling too full, gaining weight or negatively affecting my health? There’s a billion dollar industry trying to sell people exactly that: everyone wants that.

You can get that, in heaven. You’ll have all the delicious food you can handle. But maybe some people will be able to handle more. I think this is probably how rewards in heaven will work. Everyone will be happy. They will get as much joy as they can handle. But if they had made different choices while they were living on this earth, they might have been able to experience much more in heaven. C.S. Lewis explores some of these ideas a little bit in his excellent and entertaining book, The Great Divorce, which is all about Heaven (it has nothing to do with divorce; the title was not well chosen). He speculates that perhaps even after we get there, we can still increase our capacity to experience more joy and fullness.

I used to say that heaven itself was enough reward for me, and so it should be – it is, in fact, far more than I deserve. Even so, what a fool I would be to waste any opportunity to enjoy heaven to the fullest possible capacity! Think of it like this: Do you really want to make a deliberate choice to enter heaven by the skin of your teeth, with the minimum possible capacity to enjoy it? That is an attitude that comes not from the Spirit, but from the flesh. And it is ridiculous, when you think about it. It’s like a teenager saying, “I don’t care about my future after High School. As long as I’m alive and can work a minimum wage job, I’ll be fine. So right now I’m not going to study or learn or prepare for the future. What is important is not life after graduation, but only life right now.” Some people have that attitude, but it is a very short-sighted one, and most people who do take that approach end up regretting it within a few years.

Jesus’ words should encourage us to take a more spiritual approach to the future, and to the here and now. It should be helpful to know that we do or endure here and now does not go unnoticed. It should motivating to think of the joy that awaits all of us who trust Jesus.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

917 Canyon Creek Drive

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

THE BLESSING OF FAITH

BLESSING OF FAITH

All of this should be cause for great comfort for us – our very belief is evidence of God’s work in us. If you, like Peter, believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, you are blessed! It means that God himself is at work in your heart. It means that our trials and grief and suffering in this life are not the full story.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 53

 

Matthew #53 . Matthew 16:13-20 (Part B)

Bible passages like the one we have been studying these past few weeks strike me as extremely important. As I have been working on these past few messages, I have found myself hoping and praying that more and more people can hear them.

That is one reason I deeply appreciate your partnership in prayer. It is a great joy to me to know that some of you are praying along with us that the Lord uses this ministry to get his message out to the world. We aren’t the only ministry preaching God’s word, not by a long shot; but I truly believe that we do have responsibility for one small part of what God wants to do in the world during our lifetimes. Please pray that his purposes are fulfilled in and through Clear Bible. Please pray for protection and provision for me and my family.

Another thing I’d like prayer for is the idea of getting more “space” on the internet to archive more sermons. The hosting for our sermons is relatively inexpensive, but it is also limited. I recently had to delete about a hundred old sermons in order to make room for new ones. The great thing about the internet is that someone could come along and benefit from this sermon years from now. But to make that possible, we’re going to have change some things. Pray for guidance in this process, and technical help.

We value your prayer partnership above all. We do also welcome your financial partnership, if the Lord leads you to give. Please don’t feel guilty or bad if he does not. If the Lord does lead you to give financially, you can, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

917 Canyon Creek Drive

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

~

Last time we considered the substance of Peter’s statement that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), Son of the Living God. Theologians sometimes call a statement like this a “confession.” Many people think “confessing” is the same as “admitting,” but there are subtle and important differences. To confess in a biblical sense means “to say with,” or “to agree with the truth.” So, when we confess our sins, we are agreeing with the truth that the Bible teaches about those actions: namely, that they are wrong (they are sins) and also that we have done them. You see, it isn’t just admitting that we sin, it is agreeing with what the bible says about it. Confession can also be positive. You may have been in a church service where everyone said the Apostles’ Creed together. The pastor probably said something like: “Let us confess our faith together in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.” We are agreeing with the truth – thus, confessing. So Peter is agreeing with something that was already true – the identity of Jesus.

Now Jesus tells us several very important things about this confession:

He says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! (literally, “Simon, son of Jonah”). This confession blesses those who make it. Actually, it is hard to overstate how much blessing comes from truly believing and confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. To agree with this truth, to submit to the implications of it – that is, to personally submit to Jesus Christ and put your trust in Him – this is the only path to Life, according to the Bible. Jesus says elsewhere:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, HCSB)

John writes:

The one who believes in the Son of God has this testimony within him. The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:10-13, HCSB)

That Life starts now. Even now, before we die, through Jesus we can find increasing wholeness in our spirits and souls. Even now, we can begin to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness faithfulness and self-control in increasing measures.

But of course, it doesn’t stop when we die. The bible is pretty clear that we can’t even begin to grasp the wonder and joy and hope of the life to come, but it gives us some very exciting hints. I think this is one of the great biblical truths, one of the great Christian hopes. Our trials and grief and suffering in this life are not the full story. The Life after death – promised in Jesus alone – gives meaning and hope and joy to all things now, even the ones that seem to defy explanation. 1 Corinthians says:

What eye did not see and ear did not hear, and what never entered the human mind — God prepared this for those who love Him. (1Cor 2:9, HCSB)

Life begins now, but it continues on into eternity in a way that has “never entered the human mind.” If this is not so, says Paul:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1Cor 15:19, HCSB)

Our hope is much, much greater than simply a good life for 100 years on earth. This life we have in Jesus makes sense of things that are otherwise terrible tragedies.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)

Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:24-25, HCSB)

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28, HCSB)

All of this begins with truly confessing, along with Peter, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Those who confess it are blessed.

There is another thing. Jesus tells Peter he is blessed because “flesh and blood” did not reveal it to Peter, but rather the Father in Heaven. The only reason Peter is able to really trust and obey Jesus as Messiah and Lord, is because the Father has enabled him to do so. Paul put it like this:

Now concerning what comes from the Spirit: brothers, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you used to be led off to the idols that could not speak. Therefore I am informing you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1Cor 12:1-3, HCSB)

Obviously, anyone can pronounce the words “Jesus is Lord.” But what Paul means is that no can say it and truly believe it unless God has enabled him or her to do so. I think this is exactly what Jesus is saying to Peter. If you truly believe Jesus is Lord and Messiah, it is because God has done something in your heart. This is true of all believers. To make Peter’s confession (and believe it) is a sign that God is at work in us, and we are saved. There are many places in the bible that demonstrate that faith in Jesus as the Messiah comes about as a gift from God. I will italicize the relevant parts in the following verses:

Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.  (1Cor 2:10-12, HCSB)

This is a reiteration of what Jesus said to Peter. This confession is given to us through the Holy Spirit.

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10, HCSB)

This is very clear – even our faith is “not from ourselves, it is God’s gift.”

[Jesus said]: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44, HCSB)

It’s hard to be clearer than that. If we come to Jesus, it is because the Father has drawn us.

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him for the administration of the days of fulfillment — to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him. (Eph 1:9-10, HCSB)

The mystery of the Messiah was made known to us by God, just as it was to Peter.

For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, (Phil 1:29, HCSB)

To believe in the Messiah was “given to us.”

For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Phil 2:13, HCSB)

God is the one working in us for His good purpose.

I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:3-6, HCSB)

The “good work” is salvation – and it was started in us by God Himself, and will be carried to completion by Him.

All of this should be cause for great comfort for those of us who believe – our very belief is evidence of God’s work in us. If you, like Peter, believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, you are blessed! It means, among many wonderful things, that God himself is at work in your heart.

But what about those who do not believe? Does this mean God isn’t at work in them, or doesn’t care about them? Not at all. The verses I have already shared make it clear that even faith is a gift from God. But, because God wants love to be real, the choice to receive God must also be real. Scripture shows that though we don’t create our own faith, or accomplish our own salvation, human beings can refuse and reject the gift that the Lord offers. I’ll share some more verses, again marking important parts with italics. Jesus says, later in Matthew:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing! (Matt 23:37, HCSB)

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. (Isa 30:15-16, ESV2011)

The Lord’s desire is always for all of us to receive the gift of grace through faith when he offers us. But some people are not willing. Some people say “No.” The negative result is their own responsibility, not the Lord’s fault.

Woe to them, for they fled from Me; destruction to them, for they rebelled against Me! Though I want to redeem them, they speak lies against Me. (Hos 7:13, HCSB)

“You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you. (Acts 7:51, HCSB)

God does enables us to receive his grace through faith, but he does not force us to do so. Also, the fact that someone has so far resisted God’s grace does not mean he or she always will. The apostle Paul violently rejected Jesus for a number of years; but finally he repented and did receive grace and salvation through the Messiah.

Now, I want to make something clear. Jesus’ words to Peter are also words to us. We don’t need to go around wondering if we have rejected God or not. Although we are called to continue trusting and obeying Jesus, we don’t need to do it perfectly, and we don’t need to fear that we will somehow accidentally reject him in the future. As we trusted him to save us, we can trust him to continue to keep us. Your very faith is evidence that God has got you. You don’t have to worry.

Let’s close by meditating on one of my favorite passages of scripture:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom 8:31-39, HCSB)

WHY DID JESUS SAY THE WAY WAS NARROW?

narrow way

Sometimes it feels hard to be a real Jesus-follower when so many others seem to get by just fine ignoring most of what he said, and even call themselves Christians while doing it. But Jesus told us right here that that is how it would be. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, it seems only right that we don’t dispute what he said.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 23

 

Matthew #23 . 7:12-29

Matthew 7:12 deserves honorable mention, but it isn’t my intention to preach an entire sermon on it. Jesus said:

In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets. (Matt 7:12, NET)

We call this “the golden rule.” It isn’t complicated to understand, so just do it. If you have trouble doing it, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you – ask him to do it through you. There.

Now, let’s move on to verses 11-29. Jesus begins with this statement:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matt 7:13-14, HCSB)

I think many Christians often forget that Jesus said this. I know I do. I get to feeling uncomfortable that I am so out of step with the culture around me, that my values are so different, or that so few people seem to have the same outlook on life. Sometimes it feels hard to be a real Jesus-follower when so many others seem to get by just fine ignoring most of what he said, and even call themselves Christians while doing it. But Jesus told us right here that that is how it would be.

John records some other words of Jesus that explain this a little bit:

So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9, HCSB)

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, HCSB)

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)

The gate, the door, the narrow way, the life – is Jesus. If we have Jesus, we have life. If we trust Jesus alone, we are on the narrow way. If we do not have Jesus, we do not have life, and we are on the road to destruction. This is the exclusive claim that Jesus himself makes. This is what makes Christianity different from all other religions. It isn’t about earning points with God. It isn’t about bettering yourself, or peace, or making the world a better place. It is all about Jesus Christ. Some of those other things happen, but they are side effects of trusting Jesus and letting him be our king.

Claiming that Jesus Christ is the exclusive road or gate to heaven may make some people uncomfortable. But it is what Jesus himself teaches, as evidenced right here. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, it seems only right that we don’t dispute what he said.

He also said “few find the narrow road.” This is an uncomfortable statement, but obviously, Jesus said it. We should not expect the majority of people to be on the narrow road, the road to life through Jesus. On the positive side, it should not discourage us when we don’t encounter many people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus. It should also not discourage us when many other people do not understand what we believe or how we are living. As Jesus said earlier in the sermon on the mount, we are supposed to be different.

On the other hand, it should encourage us to tell others about Jesus. If He claims to be the only way (and He does), we shouldn’t be apathetic about Him, or about how others feel about Him. If we really love someone, and we really believe that Jesus is the one narrow way, the loving thing to do is to tell other people about Him,

Jesus goes on, with a related topic:

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. (Matt 7:15-20, HCSB)

First Jesus says the way is narrow. Now he adds that false prophets will come. To put it another way, not every preacher or leader who claims to speak the truth is actually doing so. Jesus gives us a way to know who is “false” and who is not. He says we should know them by their fruit.

Now, I’m afraid sometimes we Christians forget what the Bible actually calls fruit. Spiritual fruit does not mean “outwardly successful.” Sometimes following Jesus brings outward success, sometimes it does not. Fruit does not mean “something that works.” We can’t say, “Hey I did what this preacher said, and it works for me, so he must be from God.” The bible is actually quite clear about spiritual fruit. First, good spiritual fruit comes only from staying connected to Jesus:

Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. (John 15:4, HCSB)

There are many verses talking variously about the fruit of righteousness or of peace or good works. There are many other verses talking about “fruitless” behavior. Galatians 5:22-23 pulls it all together for us:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:19-23, HCSB)

Fruit is found in these spiritual qualities, manifested in connection with Jesus Christ: love, joy, peace patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Galatians passage also lists “the works of the flesh.” We can discern if someone is a false teacher or not by examining whether or not the fruit of the spirit is present and growing, or whether or not the works of the flesh are present and increasing. We can also know them by their attitude toward Jesus Christ. Jesus said we can’t produce fruit apart from him, so if someone appears to be loving and peaceful on the outside, but denies Jesus or His words, we know that person is also not from God.

But then, Jesus adds this sobering thought:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ (Matt 7:21-23, HCSB)

First, this confirms what we said above – true spiritual fruit does not consist in the achievement of great deeds, or outward success. Prophesying in Jesus’ names and even exorcisms and miracles do not mean that a person is from God.

I once met a woman on a plane who worked a conference for a famous Christian healer. I know people who have been healed and delivered at his events. Even so, I have heard him preach on television, and it didn’t sound right to me. What this woman told me, along with the preaching I had heard, suggests to me that this man may be a false teacher, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, he has healed people and performed miracles in Jesus name. But according to this passage, that does not necessarily mean that he actually knows Jesus and has surrendered his life to Him.

You may wonder, how can this be? Actually, there are a number of places where the bible teaches that miracles can be done by false prophets and those who would lead people astray. The magicians of Pharaoh’s court duplicated Moses’ first few miracles, in Exodus chapters seven and eight. A slave-girl at Philippi prophesied through the power of a demon (Acts 16:16). Jesus himself reiterated this later on, as recorded by Matthew:

False messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note: I have told you in advance. (Matt 24:24-25, HCSB)

Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, also taught this same thing:

The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved. (2Thess 2:9-10, HCSB)

In some ways, it is in the book of Deuteronomy that we hear mostly clearly how to evaluate false miracles:

“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the LORD your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. (Deut 13:1-4, HCSB)

The fruit of the Spirit is important in evaluating false prophets. So is the truth. No matter what kind of miracles someone works, if what they are teaching goes against the truth of God’s Word (the Bible) then we consider them to be false teachers who work miracles either through trickery or demonic power.

I have a friend who really doesn’t like this verse about people who said they did all kinds of things in Jesus’ name. He worries that maybe he’s one of the people doing that. You may have the same fear. I have a few responses. First, I hope you can see now that this is connected to the business of false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. In other words, it is partially about understanding the things I have just laid out in the previous few paragraphs. Second, I think the whole passage is all about knowing Jesus. The gate is Jesus. The road is Jesus. The way is Jesus. The life is Jesus. And Jesus is a person. So the way to have the life, the gate, the road etc is to “have” Jesus.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s like marriage. I’m married. That means I “have” a spouse. What “having” a husband or wife means is that you have a certain kind of relationship with that other person, a relationship that is not like any of your other relationships. In the same way “having” Jesus means you have a relationship with him. It is unlike any of your other relationships. It requires a lot of trust on your part, because you can’t see him or feel him physically.

Suppose I get married. I go through the ceremony with my wife, consummate the relationship, and then leave her. Maybe every few years I find my wife again, and spend a long weekend with her. But on a regular basis, I don’t live with her. I don’t interact her. In fact, I almost never act like a real husband. If that were the case, would our wedding really mean anything? Could you really say I am a husband?

Now, imagine that after a lifetime like this, when we are old, I find out that she has inherited a huge amount of money. I find her in a big, beautiful new house, and say, “OK honey, I’m ready to share my life with you. Let’s take a trip around the world, and maybe buy a private island.”

Wouldn’t such a husband be thoroughly despicable? Wouldn’t the woman have every right to say: “Forget it. You’ve never been a true husband. You’ve had nothing to do with me for years. You come back and use me when it suits you, but you’ve never wanted to even live with me. You think you can just waltz in her, now that I am wealthy, and have whatever you want? No way.”

Too many people treat Jesus like that despicable husband. Doing things “in his name” is not the same thing as having a relationship with the Person, Jesus Christ. The relationship starts with trusting Him and letting Him be the King of our lives. In other words, how you live and what you do should be directed by Jesus, starting with what He says through the Bible. That’s what Jesus is saying here. If you get baptized as a baby, and later confirmed in the church, but have nothing to do with Jesus afterwards, you are not in a relationship with Jesus. You are not his follower. If you “get saved” in church, and baptized, and then afterwards have nothing to do with Jesus, you are not his follower. You are in danger of being someone who says “But Lord, I got baptized in your name. I got saved, and said a prayer in your name!” And Jesus might reply: “But you never knew me. You never trusted me, you never obeyed what I said.”

You see, we are not called to be just converts, or church-goers. We are called to be disciples – people who trust Jesus and increasingly seek to let him work in and through us. Jesus makes it clear that we should also be people who seek to trust and obey what he says. The whole bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So when we seek to trust and obey, it isn’t just the “words in red,” the words of Jesus. It is the whole bible.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ” (Matt 7:24-27, HCSB)

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

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Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

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New Joy Fellowship

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Thank for your prayers, and your support!