Saturday, November 17, 2018

Snares and Pestilence

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. Psalm 91:3

We know that God rescues us out of danger, but these two metaphors are special, in that they represent dangers that overtake people before they are aware.

1. Think of Satan as the trapper laying out his snares of temptations for us.
2. Think of the infectious, corrupt ideas of the ungodly as pestilence that will lead us down the road to destruction.
3. Those who have faith in Christ are preserved from such.
4. Such snares and pestilences can cause danger to both body and soul.
5. God preserves us from both kinds.
6. God not only breaks the snare, He enables our escape.
7. Our help is in God's name.

Why God's name? Well, God's name is his identity. It separates the true God from all the false gods that are claimed to exist (even though they are no gods at all). In the Old Testament the identity of God was YHWH, which in Hebrew means, "I AM." In the New Testament, the identity of God is still I AM, but Jesus Christ identifies himself as the same. He claims to be I AM, but he is also Jesus, the name meaning "He Saves." God is one. Worship him and him alone, but the conduit through which he has chosen to save us is his son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. To worship him is to worship the true identity--the name--of God, who rescues us from the snare and pestilence.  Read Christ's own words in John 8:31-59 as he discusses true freedom with people who don't know Christ, because they remain captives to the snares of the devil and are infected with the pestilence of false doctrine:

1. If we continue in God's Word, then we will be true disciples.
2. The truth found in the scriptures about Jesus will set us free from spiritual snares and pestilence.
3. Jesus is not talking about physical slavery, although that can be a consequence of spiritual slavery.
4. Jesus is talking about us all being slaves to sin. We didn't choose to have sin in our lives or not. We are born with original sin, and from that foundation we commit actual sin.
5. Sin is the ultimate snare, because it cannot be avoided by man.
6. The slave to sin does not remain in the church forever.
7. The slave to Christ remains in the church forever.
8. Slavery to Christ is true freedom.
9. Where sins are snares set by the devil, Christ is the one who destroys the snares.
10. Where the pestilence of sin leads to death, Christ is the cure that leads to eternal life.
11. In God's Word we find the true identity of YHWH in Christ.
12. To reject the Word of God is to reject Christ and remain ensnared.
13. To reject the Word of God is to not know his true identity, the name of God, which sets us free.
14. To trust in another god will fail to free us. To trust in another christ will fail to free us.
15. Lies are the ultimate pestilence, because once a lie takes hold, it spreads like a wildfire, infecting so many who come in contact with each other.
16. Jesus' true identity is violently offensive to those who are slaves to sin.

What snares have captivated you? What false ideas about Christ have taken root in your heart like a disease? True freedom comes from knowing God and his son Jesus Christ. This knowledge can only be found in his Word. Take and read. The truth will set you free.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

More Than You Can Handle?

The words, and message, "God won't give you more than you can handle," are not in the Bible. God gives us more than we can handle all the time, sometimes to the point of death. Where did this idea come from?

The verse that gets twisted is 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."

1. The verse is about being tempted, not pain or struggles or adversity.
2. All fallen mankind receive similar temptations. None are "special cases."
3. If the temptations become so strong that you may not be able to overcome them, God will help.
4. God helps his children. He is faithful to his children.
5. God will provide a way of escape from the temptation.
6. God will help you endure the temptation.

This help from God is for those who are in Christ. This is clear. We see from 2 Peter 3:4-10

1. God condemned sinning angels to hell.
2. God flooded the entire world and saved only Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and his family.
3. God destroyed all the cities among Sodom and Gomorrah, sparing only righteous Lot.

Given these three historical facts:
4. God certainly knows how to rescue the godly from temptation. Righteous angels, Noah and his family, and Lot: all were extremely tempted. When everyone else is "doing it", the temptation is mighty high to go along to get along, to "join them." So, God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what believers can endure.

It is of great importance that we do not take God's help lightly, and plunge, of our own will, into temptation, because we know that God will get us out of it. This help is for those who have an abiding faith in Jesus Christ, and if we put God to the test, it shows that we do not fear God--do not have reverence for him--and may not be his children.  For an example, we look to Christ's temptation in the wilderness: Matthew 4:1-11.

1. The devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem.
2. The devil quotes scripture to support his temptation.
3. The devil omits a crucial part of the verse, because it is contrary to his point.

The devil quotes, "He will command His angels concerning you. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."

The actual verse from Psalm 91 reads, "For He will give His angels charge concerning you, TO GUARD YOU IN ALL YOUR WAYS. They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone."

What are your ways? Are they godly ways that are acquired from faith in Christ? Or are they the corrupt ways of your old nature? Help from God comes from walking in his ways. Christ affirms this when he responds to the devil, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."

Use Psalm 91 to examine yourself:

1. Do you dwell in God's shelter?
2. Is God your refuge and fortress?
3. Do you sense God's faithfulness to you?
4. Do you fear the world and not God?
5. Do you fear death?
6. Do you fear the wicked?
7. Do you sense God's protection?
8. Or do you sense the continual oppression of fate or bad luck or karma?
9. Do you love God?
10. Do you know God?
11. Do you call on God in times of trouble?
12. Are you satisfied with your circumstances?
13. Do you see his salvation in Christ?

Have a deep reverence for God. Study his word and pray continually. He will not lead you into temptation, and he will not allow temptation to overtake you.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Two Covenants

Two covenants exist for all of mankind. 

1. The covenant of Moses. This is the law. The ten commandments and all the permutations thereof. All moral law is built upon this covenant. All worship is built on this covenant.

2. The covenant of Abraham. This is faith. God made a covenant with Abraham 430 years before he gave the law through Moses. God fulfilled both sides of the covenant and Abraham believed God's promises. In Genesis 15, God told Abraham:

a. Do not fear.
b. I am a shield to you.
c. Your reward shall be very great.
d. Your heir will be your natural son.
e. Your descendants will number the stars.

Abraham believed the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. When we have faith in God, we do not fear, because he is a shield to us. Our reward is very great, for our reward is Christ, who is the ultimate heir of Abraham. Anyone who has faith in Christ can be called a true descendant of Abraham, and we can be numbered among the stars visible from Earth. That is a great amount of believers in history.

Now, Hebrews 3 describes the flaws in the singlemindedness of the Mosaic covenant, which, when followed alone, does not enable us to enter God's rest:

1. Moses freed the slaves of Israel from the Egyptians.
2. He brought them out into the wilderness.
3. God gave them the law through Moses.
4. They hardened their hearts when they heard his voice.
5. For 40 years of trial they hardened their hearts.
6. They did not enter the promised land.

Because of sin, all of life for everyone is one big trial. It's as if we are all in a vast wilderness of struggle. All mankind, regardless of religion or philosophy, are in a struggle to obey a universal standard: do not murder, do not lie, do not steal, do not cheat. The law given to Moses is an explicit spelling-out of the God-given conscience that is burned into all human hearts.

Here is the unique claim of Christianity: if you struggle to keep the law, you will fail. If you attempt to conquer the Mosaic covenant, it will crush you. However, if you embrace the Abrahamic covenant, God will bless you with the ability to keep the Mosaic covenant, too. Remember, do not fear; God is our shield; he rewards our faith in his son by making us his children.

Galatians 3 spells this crucial difference in the covenants out:

1. We do not receive the Holy Spirit by works of the law.
2. We receive the Holy Spirit by hearing the gospel with faith.
3. Those who are of faith are the true sons and daughters of Abraham.
4. The faithful include those naturally outside Israel and those naturally inside Israel.
5. Outside of faith in Christ, all mankind is cursed.
6. Attempting to fulfill the law and failing increases the effect of the curse.
7. Living by faith enables us to fulfill the law. Why?
8. Because Jesus Christ took on the curse for us. How?

a. He fulfills the law. He kept the Mosaic covenant perfectly.
b. He was cursed anyway.
c. He suffered the penalty of the curse on our behalf.
d. Faith in the cursed one removes the curse from us.
e. We are able to live by the law as a rule of life.

For a demonstration of the two covenants, we turn to Mark 9:14-29:

1. Sin is a destructive force that corrupts the whole man. (v. 17)
2. Attempts to live by the law only intensifies sin in us. (v. 18)
3. Christ reveals the problem to be unbelief. (v. 19)
4. Sin corrupts us from childhood. (v. 21)
5. Our unbelief reduces God to just another option for help. Maybe he will work, maybe he won't. (v. 22)
6. With faith, all things are possible (v. 23)
7. Even with faith in Christ, unbelief will still creep in. We must cry out to God for help. (v. 24)
8. Jesus defeats sin.
9. We must die to sin.
10. Christ raises us to everlasting life.

Which covenant are you immersed in? Which one are you following? The Mosaic? Are you attempting to live by the law and finding that it is more difficult than ever? Do you find that sin keeps getting the upper hand? Open your Bible, pray to God, and let the Abrahamic covenant be your guide. Think of God as your protector, not your oppressor. Think of him as your hope, not your judge. Live life in faith and you will find that you are able to worship God in truth and holiness, and you are able to love God and your neighbor as yourself.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

He Descended Into Hell

What does this phrase in the Apostle's Creed mean?

Hell can mean three things in scripture:
1. The Grave
2. The Place of Damnation
3. Extreme Distress and Anguish

Which is the way the phrase is meant in the Apostles Creed?
Answer: #3.

Why?

1. The Grave. The brief Apostle's Creed wouldn't have a redundant line in it. He was crucified, dead, and buried. He went to the grave?

2. The Place of Damnation. The divinity of Christ could not descend there, because God is everywhere already. The body could not descend there, because scripture says it was in the grave for three days. That only leaves the soul.

Did Christ's soul descend into hell?  No. For three reasons, which are also three phrases spoken by Christ on the cross:

1. "Father into thy hands I commend my spirit." Now, the Father's hands could be in hell to catch Jesus' soul and protect him, but nowhere in scripture is this even implied. Furthermore:

2. "Today you will be with me in paradise." These words were spoken to the thief on the neighboring cross. This can only mean that the soul of the thief would be with the soul of Christ that very day in paradise. Paradise is not hell.

3. "It is finished." These words mean that Christ's work to save humanity is completed. If he still had further work to do in hell, such as rescue the Old Testament patriarchs, he wouldn't have said, "it is finished."

Further work in hell? There are two theories that Christ descended into hell in order to accomplish further work. The theories are these:

1. To liberate the OT fathers.
2. To declare victory to and strike terror in the hearts of devils.

However, we can conclude from scripture that:

1. The OT Fathers were not in hell. Jesus himself declares in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that Lazarus dies and goes immediately to Abraham's bosom, where there is no pain and one is in the hands of God the Father. This place where Abraham currently resides is Paradise, which Christ tells the thief about.

2. There is no place in scripture that declares that Christ gloats to demons. There is 1 Peter 3:19, but in context that means something completely different:

a. The entire letter of 1 Peter is about how to be a Christian, and the passage from 1 Peter 3:8-22 in particular is about evangelizing the lost and the Holy Spirit's work in the conversion of unbelievers.

b. Breaking down the passage, we see:

i. we are to be kindhearted
ii. we are not to respond to the evil of the world with evil but with blessing
iii. by embracing good, nothing can happen to our souls
iv. our bodies will be persecuted and we will suffer physically
v. be ready to defend your faith to the hostile world
vi. those who revile you will be put to shame
vii. suffer for doing right, not wrong
viii. Christ suffered also for what was right, to the point of death
ix. Now his spirit lives in us
x. Because his spirit lives in us, we can successfully proclaim the gospel to the lost, whose own spirits are imprisoned to sin
xi. In the days of Noah, 120 years passed in which not a soul responded to Noah's preaching. None were saved except Noah and his family.
xii. Now, with Christ's spirit in us, we are able share the gospel with the lost and have much better success.
xiii. Baptize all converts to represent their salvation from the flood of God's wrath.

c. Preaching the gospel to living bodies with dead souls may make them alive in the spirit. The passages in 1 Peter apply to living people, not souls in hell or devils.

3. Ephesians 4:9-10 is talking about Christ's incarnation (descending to Earth) and ascension. Match this with Philippians 2:5-11.

So, what does it mean that Christ descended into hell?

1. That Christ's soul suffered the extreme agony of the damned.
2. That he suffered these very things during his passion.

Why does "he descended into hell" appear in the creed after "he was buried?"
A: Because "he was crucified, died, and was buried" are taken together as sufferings of the body, and "he descended into hell" is taken as not only a summary of what precedes it but as a description of the suffering of Christ's soul.

Finally, why? Why did Christ suffer such torments of the soul?

1. That our souls may not go to hell.
2. That our souls may not ever suffer there.
3. That he may carry our souls into heaven.

Jesus Christ went through a great magnitude of suffering during his passion, such that the torments he went through can be accurately compared to the sufferings of the damned in hell for eternity.  He suffered in this way, so that we may avoid the same, through faith in him. He not only keeps us out of hell and away from its torments, but he lifts us up and carries us with him to paradise, where we will know no pain, every tear shall be wiped from our eyes, and we will experience the eternal love of God in our souls forever.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lambs in the Midst of Wolves

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16

Jesus speaks these words to his twelve apostles, and indeed they do have a hard road ahead of them. In Luke 10:3, Jesus uses the word "lambs," which is even more docile than "sheep." What Jesus is telling his twelve, and telling us today as we try to be living disciples of Christ, is that the world is a very dangerous place for people who follow him. How true this is, as we can see from gleaning the news each day. The world is like a horde of ravenous wolves, ready to devour the weak, and when the foes these wolves face are mere lambs, there is no sneaky pretense of kindness. The wolves will attack and attack hard.

So, Jesus gives us instructions on how to behave in such a world: "be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." How do these instructions help us today? Well, the first thing we must do is figure out what he means, and to do that, we must have scripture illuminate scripture.

Shrewd as Serpents
Now, the first place we can think of to examine the behavior of a serpent is Genesis 3. Is Jesus telling us to behave like the devil himself? Of course not, but we can learn much from the way the serpent interacts with Eve in the garden. The primary tool Satan uses against mankind is to ask questions and make brief statements (not long-winded speeches) in order to place doubt in the first woman's head. His technique works, and he is able to change Eve's whole worldview, as well as her husband's. Being lambs in a world of ravenous wolves and being shrewd as serpents at the same time, is going to involve asking specific questions and asserting specific statements in order to change a wolf's worldview into that of a lamb's.

Second, being shrewd as a serpent is knowing your enemy. The "wolves" of the world are divided into two parts, according to scripture. In not being shrewd, we may fall into the trap of thinking there is one body of wolves: the unbelieving world. However, there is a second front against God's church on Earth, a second grouping of wolves: the false church. If we think that we are only standing up to unbelievers, we lay unprotected from a formidable foe. In Matthew 24, Jesus warns us against those who are "in" the church but not "of" the church:

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (Matthew 24:23-28)

Being shrewd as serpents involves knowing the true church from the false one, and to know that, we must be well-versed in scripture. The Holy Bible is the only source of God's truth available to us, and we must study it well to learn the differences between the truth and a lie, especially when the lie is compelling and seemingly rational.

The third and last point about being shrewd as serpents is also the first point about being innocent as doves. Look at Romans 16:

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Romans 16:17-20)

Paul here, like Christ before him, warns the true church of the false church. After Paul rejoices over the Roman church's obedience, he exhorts them to be "wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil." This is a clearer way of looking at being "shrewd as serpents" and "innocent as doves." Being shrewd as a serpent is being wise in what is good. What does that mean? It means that, as saved Christians, we are interacting with the unbelieving world and the false church--not being OF them but being IN them--and injecting, whenever possible, good wisdom. When interacting with the wolves, we do not play their game and pretend to be wolves ourselves but let our words and actions be filled with Christ's righteousness. Ask questions, make statements, know the two-fronted enemy...and wisely insert God's truth into every possible moment of your discourse.

Innocent as Doves
As Paul writes in Romans 16, innocent as doves means being innocent in what is evil. We are all sinners, yes, but Christians are penitent sinners. We repent of sin, and our desire is to not know sin anymore. That means we are not to act worldly around the worldly, but we are to plead ignorance of the world's ways, even if we know such ways personally. This is not lying, not pretending to be something we are not, but to show our denial of our past selves, to be above the practice of sin that we used to be involved in, to placard our new lives in Christ on our faces and display Christ's righteousness within us.

In Hosea 7, the prophet preaches against Ephraim, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, part of the church:

Ephraim mixes himself with the nations;
Ephraim has become a cake not turned.
Strangers devour his strength,
Yet he does not know it;
Gray hairs also are sprinkled on him,
Yet he does not know it.
Though the pride of Israel testifies against him,
Yet they have not returned to the Lord their God,
Nor have they sought Him, for all this.
So Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense;
They call to Egypt, they go to Assyria. (Hosea 7:8-11)

We are to be in the world but not of the world. Now, we are not to isolate ourselves from the world. We see what has happened in this regard in history. When the church separates completely from the world, it becomes corrupt. Why? Because, as I wrote above, the true church has forgotten to take in to account the false church, which is among them, no matter how much we separate, and a tiny part of leaven will leaven the whole lump of dough. The leaven of the Pharisees and the antinomians will destroy the whole church. We need to be in the world and interacting with it, even as we are not OF it. Now, Ephraim, according to the prophet Hosea, has done the opposite: it has mixed with the world and become worldly, like a cake cooking on the grill that has not been flipped, and so the downward side blackens. The wolves begin to devour him, because he has abandoned the true church for the lie. The wisdom of the world becomes his wisdom. The Biblical wisdom begins to leave his discourse and the worldly wisdom begins to infiltrate it. He uses worldly expressions in his everyday life. He turns his back on his Lord and forgets to seek him ever. Their world is in Egypt, in Assyria, in Babylon. Ephraim is a silly dove, without sense. This innocence actually destroys the true church, because it is not innocent of evil but innocent of good and truth. Christ and Paul encourage us to be innocent of evil, and that means not being of the world, but we are to be shrewd as serpents, which means being in the world and injecting truth and goodness into all our interactions. So, we must be BOTH shrewd as serpents AND innocent as doves. We cannot be one without the other.

Christ the True Lamb
So, being shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves is a complex and tall order, and it may seem impossible to us weak souls. But the key to success in this lesson is not in ourselves but in Christ himself. In Luke 10, the disciples return with the happy results of their excursion into the world. They were even able to fight the demons, but only in Jesus' name. Christ is the true lamb. Christ is the shrewd serpent--always injecting righteousness into his interactions with the wolves. He is also the innocent dove who knows no sin. He is wisdom of God, who asks questions of the world and makes statements of truth to the unbelieving ear. He turned high-ranking Pharisees to his cause: men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. He spoke against the false church in all of his discourses, and he even made a point of making sure we bewared the false church over the unchurched. Indeed, when we look at Jeremiah 29 next week, we will see that we have more to fear from the falsely converted than the unconverted.

Christ tells his disciples not to rejoice that the spirits are subject to them (a prominent aspect of the false church) but that their names are recorded in heaven. Indeed, this is the foundational motivator of the true church. We don't have the power of Christ in order to wield it and wage war with the world. We have the power of Christ, because we believe, and that power comes to us through faith. We have a supreme gratitude for our names being written in heaven, and this gratitude enables us to be lambs in the midst of wolves without fear. It enables us to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves, all in Christ's name. Christ is the lamb, and we have the lambs power only through faith.

Where do you see yourself? Are you Ephraim? Mixed with the world? An unflipped cake burning on the grill? Are you commanding Christ to serve you, so you can use his power for your whims (even if those whims are honorable)? Or are so so thankful that your name is written in heaven that you gladly preach Christ until he returns, no matter what the cost?