Friday, February 25, 2011

Doxology – 1 Tim 1:17

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (KJV)


What happens when you start to meditate on your salvation? For Paul, it resulted in this doxology. He poured out of his heart a few words to describe our Savior God and the response we should have in light of who He is and what He has done. When I think about my salvation, my mind has a hard time comprehending it. I know that many people don’t believe in election – that God chose me for salvation and that He didn’t chose others. I don’t know about the others, but I do know that He chose me. Paul previously said that he was shown mercy. Why did God show mercy to him, me or anyone else? There isn’t anything about me that deserves mercy. If God hadn’t chosen me, I would not be a Christian. It is as simple as that. I wasn’t looking for God – at not least consciously. It staggers my mind that the God of the universe, the creator of all things, the one who keeps all things in the universe going, would chose me. When I think of His awesome mercy and grace, I can join with Paul in proclaiming this doxology.

The King Eternal

Ps 45:6 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. (NIV) God isn’t just eternal, but He is the eternal King. It’s one thing to be eternal but another thing to reign as king forever. When Israel asked for a king to reign over them, the prophet and priest, Samuel, was displeased. He took the matter to God in prayer and He responded. 1 Sam 8:7 And the Lord said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” (NKJV) It would seem that there is a contradiction. If God is king and they rejected Him, doesn’t it make sense that He isn’t king anymore? But that is the wonder and sovereignty of God. Even as the people reject Him, even if you or I don’t submit to His authority over us, He is still king. He still has the ability to do as He pleases. He still executes justice over the whole universe.

The world has always been in turmoil. Nations rise and fall. Dictators appear to be firmly entrenched in their countries then God, who is in control of it all, dethrones them as He pleases. Look at Egypt. In less than a month, a regime that lasted just short of 30 years was overturned. The protestors claim the victory, but if God were not king over all, their efforts would have been fruitless. Political analysts will talk about it for months but never acknowledge that without God’s active choice, it would have never happened. Daniel had it right when he said in Dan 2:20-21 "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” (NIV)

There will be one more change of command for which I’m looking forward. This came from Daniel but it wasn’t his own thoughts, it was God telling him what would happen. Dan 7:13-14 "I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” (NASB) This is a time in the future when the Eternal King turns His dominion over to His Son, Jesus. There won’t be any more despots ruling on the earth. All people will serve Him and despite rebellious man’s inclinations of his heart to be independent and sinful, Jesus will prevail. After 1,000 years of His rule on earth, people who don’t love Him and know Him, who haven’t been born again, will make one last attempt to rebel. It won’t work, of course, but they will try. Sorry, I need to plug my novel here. I wrote 999 Years After Armageddon – The End of the Millennium because it is so hard to imagine why anyone would rebel against Jesus as He physically reigns on earth.

Immortal

The Greek word for immortal in most other passages is translated as incorruptible or imperishable. It seems redundant to say that the Eternal King is also immortal, He can’t die or perish. Perhaps the reason Paul emphasized this is because of the Greek culture that permeated society. They believed in fallible, mortal gods that were just super men. Today, some people in certain cults have a problem with Jesus dying on the cross. They argue that if Jesus were God, then He couldn’t be killed, since He was killed, then He can’t be God. At this point, many Christians stumble because they don’t have an answer.

I have to start with what Jesus said about His life. John 10:17-18 “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." (NIV) If someone were to tell me that he could die and then raise himself from the dead, I would be sure to think that the person was crazy or had been watching too many science fiction movies. What Jesus said doesn’t make human sense. And that is just the point. We can only imagine and comprehend things from a human standpoint. We can’t understand it from His perspective.

Peter made it easier for us to understand. Acts 2:24 But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. (NLT) As I think about this verse, the imagery is of Jesus still alive and conscious, wrapped in a cloak – death. God the Father, then unwraps Him and brings Him back from death into life. In a sense He never died because His spirit was always alive. Rather than making Him alive again, God simply releases Him from something like a prison that couldn’t keep its hold on Him. Jesus indentified Himself with the Father in such a way that the Father’s action of raising Him from the dead was no different than His own action.

Peter also explains the resurrection in his epistle. 1 Peter 3:18 Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. (NLT) Again, the Trinity is now visible as Jesus has asserted that He can take up His own life and Paul affirms that God (the Father) raised Him up and now, Peter says that the Holy Spirit made Him alive.

Think about our own souls. When I die, I will still be conscious. I will be taken into the presences of Jesus. My physical body may be dead but my spirit will still be alive. In Phil 1:23, Paul was completely sure that this would happen when he died. Jesus was raised as proof that He is God, that our sins have been forgiven and that we will be with Him after we die if we believe in Him.

God is immortal and because Jesus is God and He is immortal, we too have eternal life.

Invisible

Why is it important to understand that God is invisible? From a human standpoint it is important because of these verses. Jer 23:23-24 Am I a God who is only close at hand?" says the Lord. "No, I am far away at the same time. Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" says the Lord. (NLT) If God were visible then His presence would overwhelm the universe. There wouldn’t be room for anything else. Atheists claim there isn’t any God because they have never seen Him. They are fortunate that they have never seen Him. From God’s earliest revelations of Himself comes this warning. Ex 33:20 “But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (NIV) Since He is invisible and can’t be seen, Atheists’ claim that God doesn’t exist is without merit. Even if God were visible and didn’t fill the universe, their claim would be false since no one has been in every place in all the universe at all times to ensure that God isn’t there.

You may argue that Abraham saw God when He appeared with two other men or angels before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). In Exodus 33:22-23 God doesn’t let Moses see His face but lets him see His back. You could also argue that those who saw Jesus saw God. John 14:9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?” (NIV) We know that Jesus took the form of a human being when He was born. Since God is beyond time and space and is omnipotent, why couldn’t He appear as a human being to Abraham. Why couldn’t He show His back in some form to Moses? If He were a God who must follow our rules then He couldn’t. Fortunately for us, God is not bound by our ability to comprehend Him. Rather than putting God into our mold, we must worship Him as He is. The woman at the well in Samaria had the same problem. She was trying to box God in when she talked with Jesus. Jesus’ response was in John 4:24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (NASB)

Paul emphasized God’s invisibility because it makes sure that we don’t put human limitations on Him. We must turn to Him as He has described Himself and not as we would like Him to be.

Only Wise God

Some translations don’t include the word wise, but state “the only God.” The difference comes from the original text. There are several differences between Textus Receptus (which has the word wise) and the Nestle which omits the word wise. I’ve chosen a version that includes wise since this is an attribute of God that deserves mention.

I could write about God’s wisdom in creating the universe. After all, how could He create this universe and make sure it all works without being wise. One little mistake in all the governing laws of physics and we would have physical anomalies worse than Science Fiction horror movies.

However, there is one thing that overshadows all other things regarding God’s wisdom. It is the cross of Christ. 1 Cor 1:20-24 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (NIV) Man has come up with thousands of religions. They all demand that to reach salvation, nirvana, or some other state of enlightenment or eternal state, we must do something. We must be good enough, suffer enough, be spiritual enough, or even be smart enough. It is all about us reaching for God or gods or appeasing them or even trying to become gods. All these religions are either the products of human logic and satanic inspiration to keep us from knowing the only wise God. In as much as most have a source in demonic activity, beings who would want to be god and worshiped as god, it shows that the true God is the only God and a wise God.

It is total human foolishness to think that God would become a man and die on the cross for sinful man. It is scandalous to think that a perfect and holy God would allow Himself to be tainted by sin on the cross in order to atone for the sins of His enemies – the people who hate Him and sin against Him. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did. Jews should have recognized Jesus’ sacrifice because of the system of sacrifices that they had to perform. Instead, they asked Him for miracles to prove that He was sent from God. When He offered the ultimate proof, His death and resurrection, they stumbled over it. They couldn’t believe that this is what God would do. Gentiles or Greeks – the rest of us – just can’t see the logic in it. It just seem foolish that God could or would die much less be raised from the dead. Yet our only wise God did exactly that. It is human foolishness that keeps us from accepting such a great offer of salvation through Jesus’ death orchestrated and planned by our wise and merciful God.

Honor and Glory Forever

There is only one way to give honor and glory to God. That is by giving ourselves to Him. That is more than simply believing and wanting to be saved from our sins. It is surrender and obedience that comes as a result. Many believe in God and Jesus but do not honor Him. Luke 6:46 "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (NIV) As parents we certainly know what it is to have our children honor us. If we tell them something and they disobey, there is no honor. It goes even further with Jesus. Jesus went on to say that people who don’t listen to Him and put His words into practice are like a house that has no foundation and is destroyed in a flood (Luke 6:47-49).

We are also a people who do not want to glorify God. We don’t glorify Him when we deny that He is the Creator. His creation shouts that there is a God. It not only says there is a God but it demonstrates His eternal power and nature. Because we live in a created world, we have no excuse for denying God and glorifying Him. Rom 1:20-23 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (NKJV) In the past, people turned to idol worship when they deny God. Now they turn to various religions that have their own concept of God. Many don’t even do that as they make themselves gods by their relativistic thinking. They set themselves up as their own authority with their truth being right in the face of the undeniable fact that God is Creator. They promote their own opinion as truth and therefore believe that if there is no heaven or hell then there isn’t. It is a downward spiral that you can see when your finish reading the first chapter of Romans.

Honoring and glorifying God requires our obedience to Him. There is no way around this. It starts with honoring and obeying Jesus. John 5:21-23 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. (NKJV) If we want to have eternal life, then we must honor Jesus in order to honor God.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Did Jesus Come? – 1 Tim 1:15-16

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (RSV)


The Gospel can’t get much simpler than this. Jesus came to save sinners and it doesn’t matter how bad of a sinner anyone is. Jesus will save anyone who believes in Him for eternal life.

I’ve heard many different reasons why Jesus came to the earth. Some say He came to guide us in the way we should live. Other say that He came to teach us how to love each other. Some may even say He came to establish the Christian religion or to establish peace on earth.

There are preachers who will come up with many reasons why Jesus came. Some do it because they have to invent a clever sermon topic. They don’t preach from the Bible but have to have a topic. Instead of letting the Word of God determine what they are going to say, they go to the Word to back up their theories. In doing this they promote the wrong emphasis. Sometimes they do it so they don’t have to confront people with the fact that we are all sinners. Doing that would be politically incorrect.

Most of these reasons are not incorrect, they are simply not the primary reason Jesus came. Others are so far off track that it is obvious that those who believe them are not really Christians.

We are Sinners and Need a Savior

From the beginning of the Bible to the end, this is the message. In the beginning, it wasn’t clear; it was a mystery. Gen 3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (NIV) Adam and Eve had just become the first sinners. The pronouncement was that they would die as a result. They didn’t fully comprehend the horrific effect that their sin would have on their offspring; we would all be sinners. Our spirits would be dead to God when we were born. We would all suffer physical death. God’s message to Satan gave only a hint that someday, a descendent of Eve would battle him and defeat him. The defeat of sin would cost the Savior, but it wasn’t clear what it was.

As the years passed and God revealed more of Himself to people, the mystery became clearer. First, our sinfulness was revealed. Gen 6:5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (NKJV) There are low points in the Bible describing how sinful we are. Sodom and Gomorrah were examples. All through the times of the Judges, each man did what he thought was right in his heart and the nation of Israel wavered between worshiping idols and God. David was given insight into our condition. Ps 14:1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. (NIV)

The mystery was still hidden as sinful men didn’t focus on their need to be saved from their sins but envisioned God as their savior from physical death. 1 Chron 16:35 Then say, "Save us, O God of our salvation, And gather us and deliver us from the nations, To give thanks to Thy holy name, And glory in Thy praise." (NASB) Yet the picture started to clear up as glimpses of our real need to be saved from our sins became more important than salvation from enemies. Ps 79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, For the glory of Your name; And deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins, For Your name's sake! (NKJV)

In Isaiah 53, the mystery was revealed more clearly than any other portion of Scripture of the Old Testament. Isa 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV) I won’t quote the whole chapter but it clearly portrays that the coming Savior, Jesus, was sent to die for our sins. It repeats the theme that we are sinners and that He bore the punishment of our sins. It also speaks of His resurrection.

The mystery is no longer concealed in the New Testament. Jesus’ purpose was announced before He was conceived. Matt 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (NIV) Jesus confirmed His mission in Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (RSV) In his great theological book, Paul confirms Jesus’ mission. Rom 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (NLT)

The book of revelation completes the message of the Bible. It also reiterates that we are sinners and that Jesus is our Savior. Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (NIV)

Full Acceptance

No wonder, Paul says that the saying is trustworthy and deserving of acceptance. Unfortunately, those who do not accept fully this message don’t receive the blessings of salvation. As Paul stated, Jesus came to save those that believe on Him for eternal life. If I don’t believe in eternal life, I can’t be saved as I will reject the whole idea that Jesus died for me. I will not see my need for salvation. I will not look upon Paul’s example as something that I need.

Full acceptance can’t pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe. If I am to have full acceptance, I must agree with the Bible that I’m a sinner. That shouldn’t take much convincing since everyone has told at least one lie. However, the usual problem is that we don’t want to admit that our sins require punishment. Therefore, we don’t believe we need a Savior. The Old Testament was clear. Ps 1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. (NIV) Jesus didn’t change that in the New Testament. Luke 13:3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent (change your mind for the better and heartily amend your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins), you will all likewise perish and be lost eternally. (Amplified Bible) Paul’s clearest statement about the punishment of sin is in Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

I might look at what Jesus said and think that I can save myself by repenting of my sin but still ignore Jesus. However, Paul makes sure I understand that I need a Savior. I need Jesus to give me the gift of eternal live by His death on the cross. I need to accept fully that I can’t do anything to save myself. I need to accept fully the gift of eternal life through Jesus. I need to accept fully the fact that Jesus took all of my punishment on the cross (look back at Is 53:5). That’s why Paul stated at the end of 1 Tim 1:16 that eternal life is for those who believe on Jesus.

God’s Mercy and Patience

Paul had a realistic view of his own sinfulness as stated in the previous study. There was no reason for God to choose Paul above any other of the many dedicated Jews of his day. Acts 9:15 But the Lord said, "Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. (NLT) However, Saul, the persecutor of the Church and renamed Paul was chosen in spite of his grievous sins. Paul is making it perfectly clear that he was chosen because he could be an example to others of God’s mercy.

I have met several people who feel that they have sinned too greatly for God to forgive them. Some know little of the Bible and others only enough to think they have committed the unpardonable sin. They all should take a good look at Paul before God chose him. Since God had extended His great patience while Paul persecuted the Church, then God is still having patience waiting for anyone who is sinning. God is waiting to show mercy on the worst of sinners who do not believe in Jesus.

You may say that you haven’t been chosen as Paul was. But God issued an open invitation to the whole world through Jesus. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV) If you accept the invitation fully, then you will know you were chosen. However, many do not accept the invitation because they are afraid that their sins will be exposed. John 3:20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (NIV) If you are in this category, then remember Paul. His deeds were exposed but only so that we may know how gracious God is to forgive even the worst sins.

Turn to Jesus for salvation and know that in eternity, your sins will be completely wiped out and never brought up again. Jude 24-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (NASB) Jesus will help you keep from sinning while in this life. Without His Holy Spirit, we couldn’t live one minute without sinning. He gives us the desire not to sin. When we enter eternity, not one of those sins will be mentioned. Jesus will present us before God without any blame. We will be able to stand before God joyfully knowing that Jesus is our Savior and that if it were not for Him, those sins would condemn us to hell.

There aren’t any really good excuses to not accept the Gospel message. If you haven’t turned to Jesus as your Savior, why not today?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Unfaithful and Worthless – 1 Tim 1:12-14

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (NIV)


Previously, Paul listed some very gross and violent types of people. As I read these verses that followed, I can’t help thinking that Paul had been looking into his own heart at a time before he became a believer. While he hadn’t committed all of the sins listed, he certainly was an accomplice to murder. Acts 8:1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. Acts 8:3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Acts 9:1-2 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (NKJV) While there is no record of Paul blaspheming, I can imagine that he had some pretty nasty things to say about Jesus and where His power came from. Looking back on Paul’s life and what he had done to Christians, in the name of God, it is no wonder that he identified with being a persecutor and a violent man.

The good news is that he gives thanks to Jesus who saved him. Jesus also gave him strength. When I think back on my life and some of the things I’ve done, I can identify with Paul. I didn’t realize how wicked my heart was until I became a Christian. Unfortunately, that wicked heart, even though changed by Jesus still has some junk in it. That has resulted in sins that were just as bad if not worse than my life before being saved.

How did Paul get over the guilt and shame of his past life? How can I put the past behind me and do the same? Paul gives the answer. Jesus gives me strength to do that. He considers me faithful and appoints me to His service. Say what? Even as a Christian I’ve blown it. How can Jesus call me faithful? How can He use me?

Heb 10:14, 22 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. 22 Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ's blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (NLT) When I stop to think about it, it doesn’t make sense – at least from a human standpoint. These verses and the whole discussion of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in Hebrews 9 and 10 tell the truth about how God now views us and how we can respond to Him. Jesus has forever made us (you and me) perfect. When He sees any of us who have accepted His sacrifice for our sins, He sees the perfection of Jesus. At any point in time, He doesn’t look upon the past but the reality of who we are in Jesus. Does He know we just sinned or will in the next couple of minutes? Sure, but He says we are being made holy. God looks at the ultimate results and gives us the strength to be made holy in the everyday parts of our lives.

At any time – no, all the time, I can and should be in the presences of God trusting fully in Jesus. My conscience has been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus so that I can say that my conscience is clean before my Lord. That spark of sin that is still in my heart and Satan’s prompting will tell me that it is impossible because I’m going to sin again or remind me of how badly I blew it in the past. They will try to keep me from being useful in Jesus’ service by making me wallow in my guilt instead of celebrating the strength Jesus gives and His attitude toward me, calling me faithful. I have been shown mercy, right along with Paul and every believer in Jesus.

Paul says he was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief. This has always puzzled me, not the mercy, but receiving mercy because of his ignorance and unbelief. I think it puzzles other as well since many commentaries don’t even talk about it. Does this mean that a person who rejects Jesus after he has known God’s Word about Jesus won’t be shown mercy, especially if they believe that it is true? Paul knew the Scriptures. He had been trained by the best Acts 22:3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (NIV) How could he claim to be ignorant? Certainly, he had heard of the claims of Christ because he persecuted the Church. How could he claim ignorance? Unbelief, yes, that he could claim.

On the other hand a better translation is 1 Tim 1:13 And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; (NASB) The emphasis in this translation is that ignorant modifies unbelief instead of standing alone as in the NIV translation. Most other translations agree with the NASB.

A side note about studying the Bible; never depend on only one translation. I don’t care how brilliant or godly the translators are, they very often insert their own bias when dealing with difficult passages, or in this case, cause a passage to be more difficult that it should be. I’ll give you another hint about studying the Bible; watch out for people like me. We often pick the translation that fits our bias. While my desire is to present an good biblical study that is in accordance with God’s Word, I don’t always achieve my goal. I attempt to look at several translations to see if they agree and look at the Greek to see which seems more accurate. There are times when I’ll pick one that makes the most sense to me and that’s where my bias can come in. As a fallen human being, I don’t always realize it. Now, let me give you the same warnings about study Bibles and the footnotes. The footnotes are no more Scripture than my writing. It is always best to try to understand the Word based on the Word than anyone else’s word. Sure, if you are having a hard time, look up the notes but don’t rely only on one set.

Getting back to ignorant unbelief, in one sense, any unbelief in Jesus is ignorance. I wished I knew exactly how much knowledge a person has to have in order to know Jesus enough so that they are no longer ignorant and then believe. Even as I mentioned above, Paul should have known enough to belief, but he didn’t. I should have known enough with the religious upbringing I had to believe, but I didn’t. That seems to be the point that Paul is making when he talks about grace. Left to ourselves, we’ll always be ignorant of Jesus.

God poured out his grace abundantly on Paul. There isn’t any human reason anyone would have suspected that God would want to save Paul, the persecutor of the Church. When I look at my life before Jesus, there is no reason that God would want to save me. After I was saved, I walked into a noontime Bible study at work. The leader of the group was shocked that I was there, but after asking me about my faith, welcomed me. I was one of the last people he expected to see there. That is what God’s grace is about. I didn’t earn God’s favor and neither did Paul.

Paul also says that along with that grace, God gave him faith and love. Everything Paul did up to the point of getting knocked off his horse, demonstrated unbelief and hate. How did Paul go from unbelief to belief? How did I go from believing in myself to faith in Jesus? The answer is not in anything Paul or I had to offer God. Eph 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (NASB) Grace and faith are both a gift from God. If it were based on anything in me then I would be able to boast about it. I would be able to say, “Hey, look at these abilities, skills, potential, or whatever that I have that are so great that God chose me. He thought I was worth it.” On the contrary, I was worthless.

I’ve heard it said that we were of such great worth to God that Jesus died for us. I think we have it backward. We are worth nothing to God. Because Jesus died for us, we now have worth. Eph 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (NASB) We were like Onesimus, Philemon’s slave. Philem 10-11 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. (NIV) Even though God had a plan of good works for us, it wasn’t until we became a son of His that we became useful. We were slaves to darkness but now, in Jesus, we are sons of the Light. It is all because of God’s love.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Using the Law – 1 Tim 1:8-11

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. (NASB)


What is the Law? The NASB capitalizes the word, which gives a hint. When I looked up “the law” in a concordance of the NIV, I found it used in both the New and Old Testaments so many times I didn’t count them. Many times, it was in reference to the Law of Moses, the Law of God or the Lord, the book of the law, or simply the law. It most often refers to the first five books of the Bible even when the reference is within these books. The following verses describe it and its purpose.

Deut 31:26-27 Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! (NIV) When Moses spoke these words, he had just finished reciting the law to Israel before they were to go into the Promised Land. The law encompassed the Ten Commandments and the way the Israelites were to govern their lives and their worship. It was the way God had established so that they would be a witness to the nations around them about the goodness of God. It was also a witness to the future generations of God’s grace. In doing this, it would proclaim for all generations of Israel how rebellious they were. No one could keep all the law so it would convict everyone of being lawbreakers. This is exactly what Paul is saying to Timothy and to us.

Jesus confirmed the content of the law when He announced the following in Matt 22:37-40 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (RSV) He acknowledged the authority of the whole Old Testament when He put the prophets alongside the law. He also established a fundamental principle found in the law that if we love God and our fellow man in this God-ordained way, then we would not have a problem with any of the laws. Paul is saying that a righteous person (one who loves as Jesus said) won’t have a problem with the law either.

Of course, the big problem is that no one can become righteous by obeying the law, especially the two greatest commandments. We start as babies and continue loving ourselves more than others throughout our lives. In fact, we usually love ourselves more than God and fail both of the laws. That’s why Jesus had to come.

When I look at this list of what lawless people do, I could easily skip over it and say that this doesn’t apply to me. However, when I stop to think about the list, I can see that Paul started with some generalizations that do apply to me. Rebellious stops me right in my tracks even before I get to sinner. Ps 25:7 Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. (NIV) Anyone who thinks he isn’t a rebel is already rebelling against God’s Word. Anyone who thinks being a rebel is good or that he isn’t a sinner is deceived. Based on human nature, the law is there to convict us of sin.

Rom 3:19-20 Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. (NLT) I’ve read Romans a lot and there are many verses that talk about the law only applying to those to whom it was given, i.e. the Jews. But these verses make it abundantly clear that regardless of who received the law, it is to show that the whole world is guilty. It shows us how sinful we are.

I don’t need to go down the list of sins that increase in heinousness. I don’t think he put this list together to tell these people that they are sinners. Deep down, they already know it. The list goes on because Paul will later demonstrated that even those who have engaged in these crimes may also be forgiven.

How do I use the law lawfully, properly, or correctly as some version translate? The Way of the Master (http://wayofthemaster.com/ © 2010 Living Waters Publications) is an approach to evangelism that uses the law in the way it should. Their basic premise is that God’s Word in the Ten Commandments will convict a person of sin. They suggest asking questions of a person regarding how good they are. They then interject one or more of the commandments and ask if they have always obeyed them. Most people will answer truthfully, especially when they hear about the way Jesus explained them in the Sermon on the Mount. For instance, have you ever told a lie? If you answer no, then you have just lied. What does that make you? It makes you a liar. (You didn’t make a mistake, a bad choice, or a slip of the tongue; you lied.) Most people will agree without argument – the law has convicted them. I didn’t have to tell you that you are a sinner and going to hell.

I think that using the law incorrectly is by walking up to someone who has just lied and telling them they are a liar, they have sinned and they are going to hell. Using it correctly is showing them the law and letting the Holy Spirit convict. It is not my job to convict. Jesus used this technique and that is why it is called The way of the Master. Matt 19:20-22 "I've obeyed all these commandments," the young man replied. "What else must I do?" Jesus told him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away very sad, for he had many possessions. (NLT) Jesus let the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself convict the young man. He was convicted as his sadness demonstrated. Unfortunately, conviction doesn’t always lead to salvation – at least not right away.