Thursday, September 19, 2013

Unashamed of the Gospel – 2 Tim 1:11-12

[The gospel] for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (NASU)
Appointed to Suffer
How would you like someone to offer you a job that would take you around the world? It would be a job that would never be dull or boring. You would meet new people in various countries and be able to talk to the most powerful leader in the world. You would become a person of great influence even able to perform miracles. That was Paul’s job offer and it came out of the blue. Here’s how it was described to Ananias.
But the Lord said to him [Ananias], "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." (Acts 9:15-16 NKJV)
Would that caveat about suffering stop you from accepting the job? This short job description was completely fulfilled in the life of Paul. After attempting to share the Gospel with Jews in Damascus, he had to escape. When he came to Jerusalem and started preaching to Jews there, he was escorted out of town (Acts 9:23-31). After he left Jerusalem, the church enjoyed a time of peace. Obviously, Paul wasn’t going to make any headway with Jews. It has been estimated that he stayed in Troas for about twelve years until Barnabas took him to Antioch to help educate the Gentiles who had come to Christ (Acts 11:25-26).
When Paul left Antioch and went on his missionary journeys, he still followed the same pattern of speaking first to the Jews in the cities then to the Gentiles. The result was usually the same. A few Jews would believe and many Gentiles. The Jews who didn’t believe would become jealous of Paul’s converts and this is where the suffering starts (Acts 17:2-5).
In 2 Cor 11:23-28, Paul summarized his suffering for the Gospel and Jesus. He was in prison frequently, flogged at least five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned once, and shipwrecked three times. He faced danger from the elements, bandits, Jews, Gentiles, and false Christians. He had to work to supply his own needs, went without sleep and food. On top of all that, he still had a concern for all the churches which weighed heavily on him.
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. (Phil 1:29 NLT)
Do you consider it a privilege to suffer for Christ? We should stop and look at our comfortable lives and ask how far we are willing to go to suffer for the Gospel. Paul called it a privilege, not a duty or requirement or command. Perhaps we feel inconvenienced by the Gospel at times. Shoot, let’s be honest, there are times when we feel inconvenienced to go to church on a Sunday morning, especially if our favorite team is playing at the same time. No wonder we don’t share the Gospel with others when we’re in the checkout line or at the bus stop. It isn’t convenient, we don’t have the time.
Our modern conveniences are making it easier and easier to minimize our contacts with people. Gas stations are mostly self-serve without a need for interaction with others. Self-check lines in stores are doing the same. Smart phones and the apps are making it easier to buy in or out of a store, get directions, ask questions without looking anyone in the eye. Garage door openers are great devices but also allow us to be virtually invisible to our neighbors.
That’s just inconvenience but what about real suffering? When was the last time you actually suffered for the Gospel? When did you go out of your way to speak to someone about Jesus? If you have, did you suffer? Did the person punch you out? Did you have to pay your own way to get to the place where you shared the life-giving message of Jesus? If you’re anything like me, then it has been a while since you attempted to share and you’ve never been physically attacked.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Heb 12:4 RSV)
I would suspect that if we haven’t been extending much effort at resisting sin, then we probably have been extending even less effort in spreading the Gospel. This is especially true if spreading the Gospel means taking risks that could result in bloodshed. While we don’t see this in the United States, there are many countries where preaching the Gospel is a capital crime. The result of conversion is often decapitation. If you don’t believe it’s true, then look it up on the internet.
Not Ashamed
O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. (Ps 25:2-3 ESV)
Why would anyone be ashamed of the Gospel or trust in God? Perhaps it is because of the enemies of the Gospel. They ridicule and often make sincere believers look foolish, at least that’s what they want you to believe. The whole issue of creationism vs. evolution is a good example. The believer has trusted what God said is true regarding creation being done in six literal days. The evolutionist ridicules creationism by bringing up what he calls scientific evidence that makes the believer look like a backward, uneducated, ignoramus. Because the believer is not a scientist, he stumbles and mumbles and is unable to refute even a poorly informed skeptic. The believer may even modify his faith by distorting the word to make a day of creation into an eon as some have erroneously concluded. The result for the believer is a watered down faith that can eventually lead to compromise. They are ashamed of the Word.
Ultimately, unbelievers discount creation so that they will not feel accountable to God for their actions. But God says the way He created the universe was done to show His eternal power and divine nature. His creation makes sure that anyone who does not believe in Him is without excuse (Rom 1:20). Had He used evolution and chance then He would not be the all-powerful God that He claims to be. In the end, the believer will be exalted and the enemies of the Gospel will be the ones who are ashamed.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Rom 1:16 NIV)
If you were diagnosed with an incurable disease but found an unorthodox cure, would you be ashamed to tell others about it? We all have a terminal disease that will end in eternal death. The cure is the Gospel, the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, His burial, and resurrection on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3). It is unorthodox. It isn’t something that a human being invented, it was God’s unorthodox plan prescribed before the earth was ever formed. It is so unorthodox that neither Jews nor Gentiles turn to it automatically but it is the way God has chosen to save us. Before we are saved, we consider it foolishness and unwise (1 Cor 1:18-31). If we don’t renew our minds after salvation we will continue to be ashamed of it. If we are, then we are ashamed of the only way God has planned to save anyone, Jew or Gentile.
How Are You Convinced?
And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. (Ps 9:10 NASU)
If you are like most people, you are convinced of something based on what someone else has said or written. At some point you trust the person. Paul says that he knew Jesus and that knowledge caused him to believe. God’s name represents everything there is about Him, His character, promises, ability, power, and everything else. Jesus is the image of God and His exact representation (Col 1:15, Heb 1:3). When we know the name of Jesus we will know God and we will trust Him.
Some people claim to know God, but don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus. Since knowing Jesus is knowing God and the only way to the Father, they are going to be sorely disappointed when it comes time to meet their maker face to face (John 14:6, 9-10). They will find that Jesus will deny them before the Father which will result in being rejected by the Father because they rejected the son (Matt 10:33, 1 John 2:23).
I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. (Acts 26:9 RSV)
Perhaps you have been convinced by your own thought process to oppose Christianity, as Paul did. The problem with depending on our own reasoning is that without God’s leading, our hearts will lead us astray. God spoke through Jeremiah telling us how deceitful our hearts are (Jer 17:9), that they are stubborn so that they will follow evil (Jer 18:12).
Throughout the book, God compares His heart and Jeremiah’s with the hearts of man. God’s heart will not turn toward those who are sinning and following their own hearts (Jer 15:1). Jeremiah’s heart is a foreshadowing of the heart of Jesus. His heart is in anguish at the calamity that is about to come upon Judah (Jer 4:19). His heart is wounded at the sins of Judah (Jer 8:21).
And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (Jer 24:7 KJV)
God also predicts a day when we will no longer follow our own hearts (Jer 3:17). That will occur when He gives us a new heart. We can’t be convinced in our faith until we receive that new heart from God. He has promised that when we turn to Him, we will be a new creation with that old heart crucified with Christ. When we trust the promises He has given in the Word, we can be convinced that He will guard and protect us to the very end.
Convince Others
Agrippa interrupted him. "Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?" Paul replied, "Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains." (Acts 26:28-29 NLT)
Do you attempt to convince other that Jesus is the only way to the Father? If we aren’t convinced about our own faith there is no way that we will be able to share the good news effectively. Look at Paul, standing before King Agrippa while in chains fearlessly attempting to convert the king. Most people would be shaking in fear, begging for mercy and release. Instead, he used the opportunity to witness. His defense before the Festus and King Agrippa is what we can do when we witness.
1.       Briefly explain our life before Christ (Acts 26:4-11).
2.       Tell how we were converted (Acts 26:12-18).
3.       Tell what life is now like in Christ (Acts 26:19-22).
4.       Announce the good news (Acts 26:23, 25-26).
Paul didn’t get a chance to finish because he was interrupted, but he did provide the Gospel outline in 1 Cor 15:3-4. In 22 short verses, Paul proclaimed the Gospel so powerfully that Festus and King Agrippa both interrupted him. However, the seed was planted and God could make it grow. We need not fear rejection – Paul was rejected by mighty men but he didn’t back peddle, instead he reinforced his testimony (Acts 26:29). It is a good lesson for us to learn.
Guarded
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:4-5 KJV)
Why could Paul be so bold in front of a king? He knew that this life isn’t all there is. We have much more in store in eternity. It is described as an inheritance that can’t be diminished in any way. Paul knew that God guards our salvation. It can’t be kept by our own will power. If it were by our ability then we would get the glory, but as it is, Jesus gets the glory when our completed salvation is revealed at His return.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one. (John 10:27-30 KJV)
I often stop to think about what Jesus said regarding our eternal security. It starts with election. We are His sheep and He knows us and that’s why we follow Him. He gives us eternal life as is often repeated in Scripture. We aren’t saved because of anything we do or say but because the Father draws those to Jesus who have been chosen before the earth or time began. Certainly, at some point we place our trust in Jesus and demonstrate that God has changed our hearts by obedient love of Him, but we must also acknowledge that it is a gift to be able to do that.
Who can cause us to sin or stumble in any way to that would cause us to lose our salvation? According to Jesus, He says that no man can do that. Can I do anything to reject Jesus if I’m truly saved? Not according to Jesus, that is unless I’m not part of the human race. That “no man” includes me! I may falter, have doubts, rail against God, and sin in various ways, but if my salvation is genuine, none of that will make God decide to turn His hand over and drop me out of His hand. Does this assurance give me license to sin? Of course not. 
My salvation is doubly secure. I’m held in Jesus’ hand and God’s hand. Jesus emphasizes that He and the Father are one. If I or anyone else were powerful enough to pluck someone (or myself) out of Jesus’ hand, then I would be more powerful than Jesus. I would still have to get past God and be more powerful than Him. There is just no way that a true believer could be lost after being saved.
If you haven’t turned your life over to Jesus, today could be the day. Don’t wait because you don’t know when you will be yanked out of time and into eternity. Don’t be mislead though, your decision could result in suffering and times when you are tempted to be ashamed. If you are convinced that you have eternal life guarded by God Himself, then the even the possible downside will bring you joy and glory to God.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jesus Glories God and Abolishes Death – 2 Tim 1:10

And [God’s purpose and grace] which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (ESV)
Manifested Glory and Grace
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14 KJV)
If God’s purpose is to bring glory to Himself, how was that done through Jesus? We can start before the foundation of the world but that has already been covered. So, how about His birth? We could point to the prophecies of the Old Testament that predicted the exact time of His arrival. That brings glory to God, as He is the only one able to orchestrate all of history to bring Jesus at the exact right time. Or we could read the Christmas story in Luke 1 and 2. It is summed up when the angels appeared to the shepherds.

A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (Luke 2:32 KJV)
At Jesus’ presentation at the temple, Simeon stated that Jesus was God’s glory for Israel. Israel had fallen to the notion that they were the only people that God loved. They didn’t realize that their true purpose on earth was to bring glory to God by being the vessel by which Jesus would come and save all people including the Gentiles.
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:4 KJV)
The work that Jesus did before His crucifixion brought glory to God. Every time Jesus healed someone, God received the glory. Each time He taught with authority He brought Glory to God. Each time He confronted the distortions that the religious leaders introduced, He brought glory to God. When the crowds were amazed by Him or when He escaped their clutches before His time, He brought glory to God. When He had testified about the kingdom of God, revealed Himself to the disciples, and was ready to go to the cross, He had completed the first part of His mission to glorify God. All that was left was to pay for our sins on the cross.
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. (Eph 1:12 KJV)
When we trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, it brings glory to God through Jesus. We’ve talked a lot about election so how does the moment we trust in Jesus for salvation bring glory to God? It confirms that God’s choice is correct. Anytime we do His will or acknowledge that He is in control, it glorifies God. Since there would be no salvation without Jesus, the glory belongs to God through Jesus.
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (KJV Phil 1:11)
When we live godly lives by the power of Jesus Christ living in us, we bring glory to God. Again, God is glorified though Jesus because Jesus is living in us. Without Jesus living in us, our fruit is spoiled. It can’t result in righteousness. But Jesus is the vine and we the branches; therefore the glory belongs to God, through Jesus.
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:11 KJV)
There will be a day in the future when everyone will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. They may not know Him as their Savior, but they will know the truth. In the same way that we glorify God when we accept Jesus as Lord, those who oppose Him are demonstrating that His election was correct. Still, in eternity, before the great white judgment throne, they will kneel and admit that Jesus is Lord. It will be too late for their salvation. On the other hand, there will be unknown multitudes who have already bowed their knees to Jesus in this life.
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb 1:3 KJV)
Before His incarnation, Jesus represented the Glory of God. He gave that up for a little while to take upon Himself our sins. By providing purification for our sins, He regained that same glory with the Father (John 17:5, Phil 2:7).
Abolished Death
Some have a hard time understanding how Jesus has abolished death. They look around at this sinful, decaying world and wonder how death has been eliminated. Even Christians die. The only way to understand is to go back and see when death was first mentioned.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Gen 2:17 NKJV)
In a perfect world, Adam and Eve may not have understood what death meant. After they disobeyed, their bodies didn’t die immediately. Since God doesn’t lie, the understanding of death and its abolishment must be taken in a different light. The first thing that happened is that they were ashamed of their own bodies. They recognized their nakedness. Then they tried to hide from God. Finally, God pronounced judgment upon them and all the earth because of their sin. They were sentenced to pain in childbirth, toiling for food, and relationship problems (Gen 3:1-19), finally they experienced physical death many years later.
Death of Innocence
If I understand death from this, it is first of all, death of innocence. Adam and Eve knew only goodness and holiness. Their death of innocence was and knowledge of sin or guilt was demonstrated by being aware of their nakedness. They tried to cover up based on their own works.
This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. (Heb 9:9 NIV)
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Heb 9:14 NIV)
The problem with any religious system, even the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law, is that it can never ease our guilty conscience. In fact the Law served to convict of sin. Jesus abolished this aspect of death when he sacrificed Himself. As hard as it is for many to believe, the vilest criminal or saint with an occasional slip can have a clear conscience when they trust the blood of Jesus to save them and give them a clear conscience. Once we confess our sins and believe that Jesus has cleansed us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), we can move on. Otherwise, it is like death in our lives to live with guilt.
I’ve talked with many who have sinned and it keeps dragging them down. Most people have no problem accepting God’s cleansing when they come to Christ. However it seems harder to get over committing sin during their Christian life. They feel unworthy to serve the Lord. This is especially true of those who have had or participated in abortions or committed adultery. They can’t seem to shake the guilt.
… I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer 31:34 KJV)
They know 1 John 1:9 and Jer 31:34 but still feel guilty. There are several reasons they still have guilt after confessing their sin and abandoning their sinful ways. Unbelief is the first. They have read God’s word but simply have not believed that God could forgive them. In the deepest recesses of their hearts they are still seeking to please God by their own works. They believe they need to do something or suffer to earn forgiveness. But, as the Word points out, that is impossible. In a sense, they have elevated themselves above God when they don’t believe. They think they know better. This too is sin and must be addressed.
Another reason for guilt is a really poor teaching that has crept into the church through popular psychology. That is the notion that we must forgive ourselves. There isn’t one shred of biblical evidence that says we must forgive ourselves. We are commanded to forgive others when they wrong us and we are to forgive them as well (Matt 6:14-15, Eph 4:32), but nothing says we need to forgive ourselves. To get rid of a guilty conscience requires God’s forgiveness, which we already have. You can believe that you need to forgive yourself all you want, but it is the wrong direction and contrary to God’s word, so it is no wonder that people say they just can’t forgive themselves!
But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Cor 2:10-11 NASU)
If we know and believe God has forgiven us and we have done what we can to obtain forgiveness from those who have wronged us why do we still feel guilty? The only other answer is that Satan is messing with our minds. Who else would want us to think that we still need to forgive ourselves? Who else would want us to wallow in self-pity and defeat so that we are ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Jesus Christ? Keeping us feeling guilty is just one more of his schemes.
As a side note, I’ve written a small booklet about battling Satan (Battling Satan with the Armor of God). You can find it on Amazon.com (follow this link). It is available in print and as an eBook. One aspect of the book deals with Satan’s ability to implant suggestions in our minds. Most Christians deny he has the ability to do this, but before you dismiss the possibility, you should read my analysis of Scripture and also consider this recent news article which reports that scientist at the University of Washington have been able to transmit signals from one person’s brain to another so that the second person’s fingers pressed keys on a keyboard (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021706478_mindmeldxml.html). If mankind is able to achieve this, what do you think Satan has been doing for millennia?
If you know you are child of the One True King, then the next time you are being harassed over a past sin for which you’ve repented and confessed, tell Satan where to go. Praise Jesus and thank Him for the righteousness you have because He has cleansed you. Satan will flee and you will find release in Jesus.
Spiritual Death
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. (Eph 2:1, 3 NLT)
Adam and Eve experienced spiritual death. It was marked by their desire to hide from God. They are different from us in that they once had close fellowship with God, and then it was removed. We never had close fellowship with God until we were saved. They were created in a state of spiritual life but we were born in a state of spiritual death and darkness.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 RSV)
Instead of eternal death, anyone who believes in Jesus is transferred from that state of spiritual death to eternal life. This happens in an instant when we believe. Just as Adam and Eve died spiritually in an instant, we come alive in an instant. I can remember when that happened. One moment I was a skeptic and the next I believed. Just as Adam and Eve recognized that they were naked, I recognized that something had changed in me. Instead of dragging a dead spirit around for many years, my spirit was made alive and by the power of the Holy Spirit, He carries me.

Please note that along with spiritual life come the promise that there is no judgment. That judgment is also called the second death. We’ll discuss that shortly.
Physical Death
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… But when … this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin … but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:50, 54-57 NASB)
Adam and Eve finally experienced physical death. Were they afraid when it came? It’s hard to tell since they had known God before their fall. However, people today usually fear death. Most will do almost anything to avoid it. Some Christians when confronted with an incurable cancer will go to extreme lengths of medication or naturopathic treatment to extend their lives a few months. It should not be so! I underline extreme to make sure that you don’t think we should give up and not make any effort to continue our lives for that would not be scriptural either (Phil 1:21-22).
Until Jesus returns, death is our entrance into heaven. Our physical bodies can’t live in heaven. Paul is clear about this. We have to pass through death to put on an immortal, imperishable body that can live in the presence of a holy and pure God. Sure, Paul says some will be changed in the twinkling of an eye when Jesus returns (1 Cor 15:51), but that is for a very small minority who will be alive when He comes back.
The problem with fearing death is sin. Sinners who have not repented should have a horrible fear of death. It means the end of a wonderful life on earth where they were able to do what they wanted and the beginning of an eternity of punishment in hell. Christians who fear death are sinning in unbelief. They are still putting something in this world at a higher value than the path chosen for them by the Lord.
Since Jesus conquered the grave when He was raised from the dead, He has proven that He has also conquered sin. If He had any sin, He would still be dead as the punishment for sin. However His resurrection proves that everything He said about Himself – being God, having authority to forgive sin, and believing in Him will give us eternal life – is true. He has abolished death because He will raise us up with Him at the last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52, 1 Thess 4:16). We should have no fear of death because we have the same victory over death through Jesus.
Second Death
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:14-15 KJV)
Hell in this verse is literally hades, the place of departed souls as opposed to geena, which is used to describe the place of eternal punishment. Both are translated as hell in the King James. Because Jesus has abolished death the place of departed souls is no longer hades for anyone who belongs to Him. Instead, when we die we will be with Christ (Phil 1:23).
Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev 20:6 ESV)
Since we share in the resurrection of Jesus and our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, we are not among those who are in hades waiting for the judgment. All these have died a physical death and will suffer a second death when they are judged and thrown into the lake of fire which will be their final habitation for eternity. That is hell.
Life and Immortality
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26 NIV)
We are immortal beings. Some will live forever in hell and others will live forever in heaven with Jesus. Jesus brought this to light in The Gospel when He explained it to Martha. He confirmed that most of us will die physically, but that isn’t the end of life. We will continue on and never die. Death has the double meaning of eternal punishment as well as physical death. So anyone who believes in Jesus will not suffer eternal punishment. How could it be any clearer?
The only caution I might add is to understand what believing in Jesus really means. It means that we have to believe everything said about Jesus in the Bible is true. We can’t believe He is a good teacher but not believe He is God in the flesh. We can’t believe there are many ways to heaven, but must believe He is the only way. We can’t believe that we will be saved by His blood and not repent of our sins and obey Him. We can’t say Jesus is our Lord and do whatever we want.
Do you know for sure you have eternal life with Jesus? If you don’t, you can believe in Jesus and repent today.