Is Your Soul a Weaned Child?

Right after Psalm 130 about fearing the Lord because He’s the one who forgives, comes Psalm 131. It’s a short Psalm, three verses, and beautiful. Here’s the entirety of the Psalm:

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.

The stretch of Psalms here are called Psalms of Ascent. They were sung on the way up to the temple in Jerusalem. They were sung in a row. Marking iniquities, getting forgiveness, and fearing God are all humble things.

At this point his heart is not exalted and proud, and his eyes are not raised up, looking down in condescension on everyone else. He doesn’t walk around in great matters, meddling in issues he has no concept about. “Too high” means marvelous, wonderful things beyond his power.

He knows his role and he stays in his lane.

Wow, do we need more of this in our day!

Proud people are constantly messing in other people’s business. They think they are the people and wisdom will die with them. If they were in charge, they’d have all the world’s problems solved pronto.

Humble people understand the limits of their powers and thoughts. I can tell you how to solve inflation, but do I really have a clue? If you or I were president, would we really have the slightest idea what we were doing?

I think this is one reason very few humble people are in politics! Who in their right mind thinks, “Yeah, I think I should run the most powerful country in the free world.” Only crazy people!

But this isn’t just about politics; it’s about all kinds of stuff. Your predictions about how things will go, your plans made on incomplete information, and so many of our lectures and witty one-liners. We have no idea.

If we saw our sin, we’d shut up more.

You would quiet yourself as a well-fed baby. What an image!

When our kids were little you could tell when they were hungry because they got angry and screamed. They just lost it. Then they’d get fed and they were the happiest little creatures on the planet. So calm, no fussies. So sweet.

That’s how your soul would be if your hope was in the Lord and you saw your sin and need of forgiveness.

Our pride forgets about our sin. It justifies our actions and we give ourselves a break. We think we’re better than others whom we do not justify and routinely credit the worst possible motives to. Evil people. Let me tell you what’s up! Let me fix you!

Humble people know they need fixing. They know they have no idea. God is the Father; I’m just a kid. Childlike faith. Dependence on Him rather than self-assured lecturing of others.

How’s your soul? Does it act like a well-fed baby; or is it screaming and crying and telling others what to do so you get your food?

Be humble. Hope in the Lord. And chill.

Our Attitude Toward God’s Forgiveness

We are sinners. I know we know this. Doesn’t cost anything to say it. But since we’re sinners and have basically come to peace with that, plus we’re surrounded by other sinners, sin has lost its seriousness.

Everyone’s doing it. What’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal according to Psalm 130:3, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” If God kept track of our sin, which He does, but provides no way to remove it, then we’re doomed. Thankfully, He does provide relief and an escape from sin.

Before we get too carried away being happy again, “Yeah! God forgives me, now I can sin again!” Think about what was just said.

If there is no way for God to remove my sin, then I am doomed. I’m done. Toast. Literally.

But there is a way for sin to be removed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who takes away the sin of the world. This is fantastic. So, what should our response to this sin removal by God be? I’ll let Psalm 130:4 answer that, “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”

Maybe not what you were expecting. Perhaps you think forgiveness means joy and peace and happy. That is included for us, but if this forgiveness leads to more sin, to taking advantage of who God is, then you’ve missed it.

If God is the only one who can forgive sins, if Christ is indeed the only way to the Father, the only means by which sin can be dealt with fully, then this should lead us to fear God. There is nowhere else to go with your sin. He’s it. That demands our fear.

“Fear” means awe, dread, astonishment, and to be terrified. A massive degree of respect, awe, and fear should fill our hearts. Do we understand forgiveness?

We can’t unless we see the seriousness of sin. We don’t fear God; we take advantage of Him. Israel and the church have both excelled at making a mockery of God’s means to deal with sin. Israel went through the motions of sacrifice and worship, but their heart was far removed. There was no fear; there was simply the gaming of the system.

Christians do the same thing. We say the prayer and get baptized, then we return to our sin. Sure we sing our songs and keep our couple holy days, but we do this to relieve our guilt so we can get back to sinning.

We’re playing games with God’s forgiveness. Taking it for granted, turning grace into lasciviousness. We’re sinning so grace may abound and feeling great about it the whole time.

Where does Psalm 130 go next?

I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.

Are you looking for the Lord, or did you rush by Him quickly on your way back to sinning? Are you waiting for Him as one who has a sleepless, miserable night and longs for the dawn? Is your hope in His word?

Or is He a game? A genie in the bottle to rub the right way so you can indulge your flesh’s wishes some more?

Do you know with whom you deal?

Does Your Sin Crush You?

After David got busted by Nathan for his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, David wrote Psalm 51. It’s a beautiful psalm of contrition and repentance. The guiltiness of sin leads to the beauty of forgiveness.

David, being the king of a people in a covenant with God based on obedience, suffered mightily for his sin. Thousands of Israelites died because he gave an occasion for the Gentiles to blaspheme.

The downside of the Old Covenant was the system of physical curses and blessings for keeping God’s Word. I don’t know how long most of us would last if we lived under that same covenant.

The giant plus side is that the Old Covenant was not about salvation. When it came to David’s eternal salvation, no sin would separate him from God, even adultery and murder.

Seems hard to imagine that’s the case. It reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the guy who hires workers throughout the day, then pays them all the same regardless of how long they worked. In the end, it’s the boss who got robbed!

If David hadn’t sinned with Bathsheba and Uriah, there would be no Psalm 51 in the Bible. So, I guess, if I can say such a thing, we can be thankful for David’s sins!

The two verses that stand out are 16-17:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

What can a guy do after he sins? How can he make up for blowing it so bad? The flesh suggests running away, pretending it didn’t happen, going silent. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, go find a convenient bush to hide behind. But God will come looking. Be sure your sins will find you out (Numbers 32:23).

“Confess” means to “say the same thing as.” God already knows what you did. Be honest about what you did too. He already knows. You have no alternative but to talk to Him about it. If you don’t, He will force the conversation at some point. Every son the Father loves, He chastens.

Admit your sin to the Lord since He knows it anyway. But then what? Shouldn’t I make up for it somehow? Shouldn’t I work it off? Pay some kind of penance? That’s the natural urge. When I’m rude to someone, I try to make it up to them. Shouldn’t I do that with God?

What exactly are you going to do to make up for sinning against the Lord? What are you, a single human being, going to do for the Creator and Lord of the Universe that will make up for your sin? Give him a couple bucks? Kill an animal? A food offering? He doesn’t need anything. What’s He going to do with dead animals?

God has no pleasure in sacrifices and burnt offerings. If He did, then yeah, I’d bring it. But God desires obedience rather than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). But David didn’t obey, so now what?

Sacrifices in the Old Testament were not for salvation. Sacrifices were part of the Old Covenant system established for the prosperity of Israel. If they kept the Law, they would be blessed in the land; if they broke the Law, they and their land would be cursed.

By doing sacrifices they had a physical cost to put the covenant back in order. In essence, the physical sacrifices were completely stupid to any non-Jewish observer. Why give up your food? It was part of the curse of sin: if they didn’t obey they would suffer physically, part of that physical suffering was the loss of good animals. No supper for you!

But sacrifices never took away sin (Hebrews 10:4). Sacrifices never accomplished salvation. People have always been saved by grace through faith, regardless of what covenant you lived under. Don’t confuse what Israel did to maintain their covenant with salvation. Much error has been brought into church because of this confusion.

God does not desire dead animals; He wants you humble. David says his sacrifice is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. God will not despise that.

If your sin makes you run from God, then you are still holding onto pride. You think you can carry on without God. If your sin makes you work off the guilt, then you are also stuck in pride.  Pride, and its cousin self-pity, go hand in hand. Both keep you from actually dealing with the problem.

If you face your sin, see it for what it is, and say the same thing about it as God does (confession), it will lead to a broken spirit. “Broken” means crushed, crippled, wrecked, quenched. Smashed to bits perhaps.

This is not the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 3:15, “thou shalt bruise his heel,” but it has a similar meaning. Christ was crushed for our sin. Our sin can quench the Spirit as well. Quench and crush are two possible definitions of “broken.” This is God’s attitude toward sin. If we confess our sin, we have the same thought about it as God does: a crushed and quenched spirit.

“Contrite” means collapsed, crushed, broken in pieces. Very similar idea to broken. It doesn’t require much more elaboration. This is what sin should make us feel.

How does this jive with the modern emphasis on grace? If I’m already forgiven, already saved and loved by God, why would sin make me feel so bad? It’s not the end of the world!

If your sin doesn’t bother you, then you don’t know who God is. It’s not a religious related guilt; it’s a complete disgust about what you just did in light of who God is. It has nothing to do with appearances or people’s judgment of you. It’s a total immersion in your stand before the Lord.

My sin in front of His glory, holiness, and perfection. If God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness make sin not bother you, I suggest you don’t understand the seriousness of sin, or the cost of your forgiveness, or the character of God.

We should feel the same way about our sin as God does. Jesus suffered and died for our sin. He was crushed and quenched by it; we should be too.

I know this flies in the face of our modern happy Christianity where Jesus did all the heavy lifting and I just get health, wealth, happiness, and my best life now, but the Bible should carry more weight with us than the opinions of other sinners. Sin doesn’t bother us because we compare ourselves to other sinners, because we’ve made peace with our sin and justified most of its evil away.

Get before the Lord with your sin. Being broken and contrite will be the result. Look at Isaiah before God. Look at Job when he sees the Lord. That’s what broken and contrite looks like.

It’s no happy-happy “it’s ok because I’m forgiven and Jesus loves me!” It’s a total awareness of the glories of God and the grossness of what I just did. God will take your genuine brokenness without contempt. He will look on it favorably.

See your sin for what it is before the Lord and don’t be afraid to feel that.

BOOK REVIEW: Gentle and Lowly

I’ve been reading Gentle and Lowly: the heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers, by Dane Ortlund. I’ve heard this book praised by many people, not all from the same theological background either.

One of my hobbies in life is to analyze things that “everyone” likes. I enjoy being contrarian! I know that if many people like something, it’s probably wrong!

So, those are my upfront admissions! You know where I’m coming from.

The point of the book is that Jesus is a lot more loving than we think. He bases his points on Puritan writings, which I find slightly ironic. Puritans are Calvinists. Calvinists are the ones who have beaten wrath and judgment into our heads.

One of the reasons people don’t think God is as loving as the Bible says is because of Calvinism! Their stress on wrath and justice in the Gospel has diminished love. You can look at all the verses in the Bible that mention the Gospel and you will see love associated with it way more than wrath or justice. Yet Calvinism has majored on those and minored on love.

So, for a guy to use Calvinist writings to prove God is loving and not so wrathful is kind of odd. You will also notice he can’t quote a ton from most of them!

If Calvinism hadn’t taken over the Gospel, this book would not have been necessary.

At the same time, I also think people like the book because it emphasizes love and mercy. Both are fine things, but in so doing he does kind of make it sound like sin isn’t that big of a deal. I know that’s not the author’s point, I’m not accusing him of anything, I actually like most of the book as it is a needed corrective of the Calvinist wrath motif. But I do know people are hearing him that way.

“God loves to be merciful” sounds to most people like, “Should we sin that grace may abound? Absolutely yes, go for it!”

I think the two reasons people like this book are because for once a Calvinist emphasizes love, and his emphasis sounds like an ok to go sin.

Me, being a not-Calvinist, heard his Calvinism throughout the book. He never harped on it much, so it was not a hurdle to my enjoyment. Then I got to chapter 22! He let it all out in this chapter!

How much less could we comprehend what it meant for God to funnel the cumulative judgment for all the sinfulness of his people down onto one man. But reflecting on what we feel toward, say, the perpetrator of some unthinkable act of abuse toward an innocent victim gives us a taste of what God felt toward Christ as he, the last Adam, stood in for the sins of God’s people. The righteous human wrath we feel—the wrath we would be wrong not to feel—is a drop in the ocean of righteous divine wrath the Father unleashed.

After all, God punished Jesus not for the sin of just one person but many. What must it mean when Isaiah says of the servant that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6)? What was it for Christ to swallow down the cumulative twistedness, self-enthronement, natural God hatred, of the elect? What must it have been for the sum total of righteous divine wrath generated not just by one man’s sin but “the iniquity of us all” to come crashing down on a single soul?

So, there ya have it! Calvinistic wrath in all its glory.

God “unleashed” “divine wrath” on Jesus. It would be more than the wrath we would feel toward a child abuser. God views Jesus as worse than a child abuser is the idea. The “sum total of righteous divine wrath” “came crashing down on a single soul.”

There are no verses that say any of this. Yes, he includes Isaiah 53:6 that our iniquities were laid on Christ, no argument there. But the whole divine wrath on Jesus is a complete abstraction. The Bible nowhere says that God the Father had wrath toward His Son. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Isaiah 53 has several mentions of God being pleased with the Suffering Servant. There is no wrath. Why would God be upset with Jesus for doing the most loving, sacrificial work ever done to save us from our sin? It makes no sense.

Several times Ortlund says Jesus suffered hell. Again there is no place in the Bible where it says Jesus went to hell for us. The KJV uses “hell” sometimes instead of “the grave,” but other than that, there is nothing about Jesus going to hell. “Today you will be with me in paradise” is the only mention of where Jesus went after His death. Maybe he’s being metaphorical with the hell talk. That’s my best take, otherwise it’s all speculative.

During his explanation of suffering God’s wrath, Ortlund doesn’t quote many verses. There’s a reason for that! Here’s one snippet he throws in to give seeming biblical support:

And in venting that righteous wrath God was not striking a morally neutral tree. He was splintering the Lovely One. Beauty and Goodness Himself was being uglified and vilified. “Stricken, smitten by God” (Isaiah 53:4).

Isaiah 53:4 has more words in it that Ortlund leaves out:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

There are some key words in here he conveniently leaves out: “we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God.” See, that’s not saying Jesus was stricken and smitten by God; it means that’s how we viewed it. When Christ was on the cross He was being mocked. “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” This was their ultimate victory. They overcame and killed the one who claimed to be equal with God. Humanity’s view is that God was against this so called Messiah. Is God really for a guy who we just nailed to a cross? I don’t think so! God is clearly against this guy.

So, where does all this orgy of God’s wrath on Jesus come from? It comes from extrapolating a lot out of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Ortlund talks about this passage for a few paragraphs. Allow me to quote his opening phrase about Jesus being forsaken:

“It’s speculation.” (pg. 200).

Yup, it is!

The whole God’s wrath on Jesus angle is speculation, because it says it nowhere in the Bible. If the point were clear, Ortlund would not have to speculate. But he does.

If you read the context of Psalm 22, which begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You will note that the forsakenness is dealing with physical death. As the chapter goes on you’ll see many prophecies that were fulfilled while Jesus was on the cross. You will also note that the Psalm ends with a clear understanding that he’s not forsaken by God. Yes, he’s forsaken to the point of physical suffering, but essentially he knows he’s ok. His feeling is not the full story.

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard (Psalm 22:24).

Jesus did suffer, but God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted. He wasn’t really forsaken. It looked like He was, we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, but in the end the Lord was with Him and heard His cries.

I guarantee you the thought of God when Christ was on the cross was not wrath against Jesus; it was sorrow. If our sin grieves the Holy Spirit, how much more must it have grieved God to see what was going on here?

In the end, this chapter refutes the entirety of the rest of Ortlund’s book. Ortlund tells me several times that God is my Father and the Father loves His sons. God only has love and mercy and compassion toward His kids. Except of course for His one Son who never did anything wrong; He blasted Him with His wrath! If God can be that upset with His one perfect Son, what chance do I have?

That’s exactly why Ortlund wrote this book, to balance out the wrathful extreme of Calvinist doctrine. I like that people like the book because he’s right when he’s right. He just can’t bring himself to admit that it’s Calvinism’s gospel that caused the problem in the first place!

Oh well. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

God was never wrathful about His Son this I know, for the Bible also tells me so.

Stick with the Bible. You’ll have a much better understanding of God.

Isaiah 66:2 and You

God is way far above us. I know we know that in theory, but like, no really, He’s way above us. If I were as far above you as God is above us, I guarantee I’d let you know on a regular basis!

When I beat my kids at Candy Land or some other dumb game when they were 5, I’d let em know they lost and I won! Little did they know I cheated the entire time just to make it go quicker. I was so far above them, they had no idea I was totally fooling them! Ha! Losers!

If I can’t handle that sort of superiority, wow, you better be glad I’m not on God’s level.

We’re told that we are made in God’s image. Does that mean my gloating and pride in my superiority is from God? Nope. The concept of superiority and betterness is from God, but sin, resulting in pride, is what takes any degree of superiority I have and turns it into fleshly pride.

But God who is infinitely above us, is not tainted with sin and has no fleshly pride, nor does He grind our faces in our inferiority. A great passage to illustrate this is Isaiah 66. Verse 1 says God resides in heaven, there’s no dwelling place on earth that we can make that would contain all He is. Verse two says the reason why is because God made everything!

The one who made all things does not need us to rearrange the things He made into a nice building for Him. He’s fine without our efforts!

OK, so now what do we do? If there’s nothing I can do to house Him, if He doesn’t need me, why would He pay attention to me? If I were so superior to you that I didn’t need you, I’d ignore you. There wouldn’t be really anything you could do to get my attention. Who needs you?

But God does pay attention to people, but not the people who can build Him stuff or do great things, which is merely rearranging stuff He made. Verse two lets us know who the all-superior God pays attention to:

For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

Wow, what a verse.

Want God’s attention? It’s not by “doing great things” for Him. You might get my attention by doing great stuff for me, but that’s because I need stuff. God doesn’t. The way to get His attention is by being completely unable to do anything, by being inept, by understanding I got nothing.

“Poor” here means afflicted, needy, weak, depressed, and lowly. Not too impressive. But it gets worse. “Contrite” means smitten, maimed, or lame. The only other place this Hebrew word is used is in reference to Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son that David wanted to honor. Mephibosheth is described as being “lame in his feet.” His feet were broken, they didn’t work. That’s the only other usage of this word! God listens to people with lame hearts.

How do you know you are poor and lame? Is it an emotional state that proves it? No, that’s not it. It’s also not some kind of mopey, sad countenance, trying to act the part. It’s a genuine understanding of lack and humility. You know you need something outside of you. It’s demonstrated by trembling at God’s word.

Do you tremble at God’s word? Do you thirst for it as a new born baby craves milk? Do you submit your will to how God says to do things? Like, even the parts in the Bible you don’t like?

Being broken hearted and weak, resulting in complete dependence on God’s word, those are the people God pays attention to. Fascinating stuff. Do you believe this? Do you tremble at these words?

So many Christians think faith looks like health and wealth, your best life now, a happy materialism with Jesus. But faith looks like dependence on God and His word because you are broken and weak and have no alternatives.

God, who is so far above us, does not choose to associate with people who think they are above others. The God who is so far above us likes to associate with the lowest of the low. While competing for dominance and preeminence down here, we get further from God. You cannot serve God and mammon.

And, here’s the real kicker: the proof you are poor and contrite and tremble at God’s Word is that you become more like God. That’s why Paul tells us in Romans 12:16 to associate with people in a low position. He tells us elsewhere to esteem others better than ourselves.

People who are poor, contrite, and tremble at God’s word associate with those who are lower. Spiritual strength never results in holier than though aloofness, it always results in bearing the burdens of the weak; that’s how strength is shown.

God, the ultimate source of strength in the universe, condescends to men of low estate: you and me. When you get that, you relax and quit the rat race. You depend on Him. You also have compassion on those around you that others have no use for, those who are lame, and weak, and depressed, and lowly.

Wow. What a God. What a charge to keep. Man, I need humility.

What Does “My Yoke Is Easy” Mean?

Jesus tells us that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

This gives the impression that Christianity is easy breezy. Perhaps one might claim Christianity leads to health and wealth, or your best life now. It’s like an infomercial where it’s so easy, even a blond could do it.

The Greek word translated “easy” is fascinating. It’s used seven times in the Bible, only once is it translated “easy.” Here are the other uses:

The word is translated “kind” in Luke 6:35 where God is kind to the unthankful and evil, and in Ephesians 4:32 where we are supposed to be kind one to another. Jesus’ yoke is kind. It’s not nasty and evil, He’s not a cruel master working you into the ground for pointless work. Following Him is still hard, it’s still a yoke, but it’s way kinder than being yoked to sin and death.

Luke 5:39 talks about a guy saying the old wine is better than the new wine. “Better” is the same word as “kind” in relation to Christ’s yoke! That’s a cool translation, my yoke is better! I like that one a lot. In life you have to serve someone, might as well serve a kind and better master. I believe that’s pretty much the idea Jesus is conveying in Matthew 11:30.

Evil communication corrupts good manners in 1 Corinthians 15:33. “Good” is the same word as easy, kind, and better. Following Christ results in good manners, manners that are better and kinder than what the world is doing.

Romans 2:4 mentions the goodness of God. Goodness is our word. This is obviously connected with the good translation in 1 Corinthians 15. Christ’s yoke is good, it’s not evil or harsh. It leads to a good ending.

“The Lord is gracious,” says 1 Peter 2:3, gracious is our word. Grace gets close to the concept of good. God is favorable and giving, slow to anger and willing to forgive. All of this explains why His yoke is easy.

I find these translations to be interesting, and mixing the various options around into the different verses is fun. Translation is not an exact game. You want to be careful and consider context at all times. You don’t want to get too flippant with things and start messing with words though.

But I like these possible translations because they give a better idea what the easy yoke is. It’s not simple, it’s not tip toeing through tulips. It’s no picnic or vacation.

Paul says we are to fight the fight and run the race. These are not easy things. You have to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ and put on the full armor of God. Nothing in the New Testament should lead you to think the Christian life is easy. In fact, Paul says if there is no resurrection, no life after this one, then the Christian life is most miserable. He didn’t say, “Hey, if there’s no resurrection, at least following Jesus was easy and fun!” You don’t get easy and fun out of reading what Paul and the apostles and Jesus Himself went through down here.

Jesus told His disciples they would suffer for His sake. He didn’t tell them being an apostle would be easy. When we include these other words into our understanding, we get the idea.

Following Christ is not easy, it’s taking up a cross, but it’s way better than the alternative! This has to be understood through resurrection and the life that is to come. In the end, being yoked to Christ is good, kind, and better than living for sin and getting death.

Keep your eyes on the prize. Press toward the mark. Life isn’t easy and Jesus didn’t come here to make it easy, in fact, He made it harder in some ways. But the end, the fruit, the eternal reward, will be all you need to see that His yoke was indeed good, kind, and better.

Does Our Sin Separate Us From God?

A “yes” answer typically relies on two proof texts: Isaiah 59 and 1 John 1. Do these passages teach that our sin separates us from God?

First, is Isaiah 59:2:

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

OK, so this verse comes right out and says that sin separates from God! Proof texting at its finest! As we know, in order to understand a passage, one must look at the context.

The first question is, “Who is ‘you’ and ‘your’ referring to?”

Fantastic question, glad you asked it. Sine this is the second verse, not much has been said before it. “You” and “your” are not defined in verse 2, nor is there a noun in verse 1 that “you” would refer to. So, we are forced to read the whole chapter. I know, I know, you’re busy and the chapter is long, but Bible comprehension requires this sort of chore.

“You,” “your,” and “us” are used repeatedly throughout the chapter, and it’s not until verse 20 that we see a mention of Zion and Jacob (Israel). The last verse of the chapter (21) says a bit more:

As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.

The Lord mentions a covenant made with “them.” The “them” refers back to Israel/Jacob in verse 20. God made a covenant with Israel, sometimes called The Law. If Israel as a nation kept the Law they would dwell in the Promised Land and everything would go great. If Israel rejected the Law and did not do their part, God would turn from them and they would get whooped up on by their enemies and eventually booted out of the Promised Land.

So, in verse 2 God says

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

The “you” and “your” refer to the Covenant People, Israel. The terms of their covenant with God made clear that if they chucked the law and went after iniquity, which the entire middle portion of Isaiah 59 says they did, then God will not hear their cry or deliver them. They blew it.

If you are a member of the Old Covenant people, and the Old Covenant people reject the covenant and do crazy sin stuff, then yes, their sin would separate them from God. They’d be cut out of His blessings and instead receive His curses, just as He told them at the beginning of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 11:26-29).

Believers today are not part of the Old Covenant. They are members of the New Covenant, which is far better, according to Hebrews. Old Covenant people were not all believers. That is a big point frequently missed as we read the Old Testament. Not all who are of Israel are of Israel. Old Covenant people could be separated from the goodness of God by their sin. The New Covenant is not so structured.

Second, we come to 1 John 1, which is the typical passage used to say that New Covenant people’s sin can separate them from God. Here John tells us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins. Some interpretations think this refers to confession of sins past at the point of salvation. Others take this as sanction for the Catholic system of confessing to a priest. Others take it as possibly losing salvation if you don’t confess every sin. Still others think the confession is done because our fellowship with God has been broken.

This last take is the one that enters our discussion about whether our sin separates us from God. The pertinent verses are 1 John 1:6-9:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Verses 6 and 7 both mention “fellowship.” The “fellowship” theme ties back to verses 2 and 3:

the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

If you receive the message of Jesus Christ you have fellowship with the Father, with Christ, and with fellow believers. If you say you have fellowship with the Father, Christ, and believers and yet continue your worldly, sinful, and unrepentant life, well, has John got news for you! You are a liar and do not do the truth.

Getting into fellowship with God means faith in the Gospel, being one of God’s sons, being born again, a member of the family of God. The life of faith should be characterized by confession of sin. “Confess” literally means in the Greek to say the same thing as. God knows who you are, He knows your frame, He is omniscient. You can’t hide anything from Him. If you truly have faith in Him you would know this! Faith and humility go together. Humble, faithful people agree with God about who they are. They say the same thing about their sin as God does.

Confess here does not mean some elaborate priestly ritual with works to do afterwards to make up for your sin. He also can’t simply be talking about salvation; this is not a one and done confession, but a life of being honest, walking in the truth.

This passage does not say that our sin separates us from God. At no point does John say you have to confess your sins to get back in fellowship with God. Confession is a simple, humble recognition that you are a sinner and are dealing in your battle with sin in complete truth, honesty, and transparency with God.

I do not think either passage teaches that our sin separates us from God. I also cannot think of any other passages that get close to saying it. Yes, our sin is bad. Yes, our sin can quench and grieve the Spirit. God doesn’t want you to sin. You may incur His chastening as a result of your sin, but chastening is done in love, not some petty shape up or I’m out of here threat.

Once you’re in the Body of Christ, you’re in the Body of Christ! There’s no falling out of it. Why would God cease to deal with one He loves and views as His own child?

If there is any feeling of separation or barrier between us and God due to our sin, it is entirely on our part. Probably a result of some sort of religious guilt tripping you heard as a child.

The big thing is: make sure you’re in the Body of Christ. Make sure you are saved. Make your calling and election sure. Not by convincing yourself, or remembering something you did in a church one time 22 years ago, but because a new life has taken root in you. You continue to grow and mature into the perfect man Christ Jesus. You walk humbly and honestly with God, in agreement with Him about who you are.

God is always on your side. He wants your spiritual health more than you do. He will never leave you or forsake you. Trust Him. Deal with the truth and walk in the Spirit. Keep going. Don’t quit. Run the race with patience. Go, fight, win!

How Does a Person Glory in the Lord?

Clearly the opposite of glorying in the Lord is glorying in something else. How’s that for deep? Think of the Tower of Babel: they gloried in their awesomeness and got judgment. Think of Nebuchadnezzar who looked out at his kingdom he ruled: judgment came after that.

Anytime we glory in our awesomeness without a humble heart of dependence on God, we are glorying in something other than the Lord. Think of the rich guy who build bigger barns. Pride goes before a fall.

Paul mentions “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord,” twice. Here are the contexts of both passages.

The first mention is in 1 Corinthians 1:31. This is the last verse in the chapter. Chapter one is all about how man’s wisdom is foolishness with God and God’s wisdom is foolishness with man. Not many wise, mighty, or noble are called. God uses the base things, the despised stuff, of this world to show up the wise and mighty. He does this so no one can glory in the presence of God (1:29).

Think of it this way: if God only used smart people or rich people or beautiful people, then those people could boast about how God used them. If God only used people who were humanly spectacular, then God would be dependent on spectacular humans, and those people deserved to be used. But if God uses low things, the not-wise, not-noble, and not-mighty, then no one can boast. “Ha, I’m uglier than you, I’m so ugly, God could use me!” Just doesn’t sound right.

We see examples from the Old Testament of God using the lowly to beat the mighty. Think of Gideon going out at night to chop down the statue, so timid he’s hiding in a hole to thresh his grain, needs God to do multiple signs. Yet Gideon wins when his little army is whittled down so it’s obvious God did the delivering.

Then you have a guy like David, the lowly shepherd who defeats a giant with a sling and a stone. David gets much success and later gets proud and sins in devastating ways that lead to judgment. David went from humble to proud, glorying in the Lord to glorying in himself.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Christ has been made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is those things on our behalf; we have nothing to boast of before God. I can’t stand before him in my wisdom and impress Him, nor my righteous deeds or how holy I’ve become, and I have no idea how to redeem myself. Therefore, if I boast, I have to boast in Christ because I got nothing else.

Paul goes on in chapter two talking about how he came with humble speech, just preaching Christ and Him crucified. He didn’t come in with slick speeches and marketing skills. Just humble Paul pleading for people to come to Christ.

The second context is in 2 Corinthians 10:17. Paul says that he went where no one else went so that he wouldn’t borrow another man’s work. In other words, to go where the skids were greased and then brag about how great he was. You see this all the time in ministries today. People get big success and claim God was in it and blessing it, when in reality they just used human means to get humanly impressive results.

In verse 18 Paul says it’s the Lord who commends, it doesn’t matter what people think of his ministry.

I think it’s interesting that the two contexts of “if any man glory, let him glory in the Lord,” are to the church in Corinth. I think that’s because this church thought they were kings and rich and awesome. They despised lowly Paul and the apostles. They constantly questioned proofs of Paul’s apostleship. Paul lists all his failures as his proof! Which is awesome.

Glorying in the Lord means to rejoice that your name is written in heaven. It means to not boast in external attainments, impressive stats, or other measurably proofs that you’re better than others. The Lord is the judge, so judge nothing before the time. Paul said he didn’t even judge himself, so your opinion of his ministry wouldn’t bug him; he serves the Lord Jesus Christ and His judgment is all that matters.

This sort of thing can come across weird in practice. I’ve heard Christians upon being complimented say, “it was all God.” Meh. That doesn’t sit right. Paul is not talking about some false humility, claiming that you’re awesome because God is working mightily through you. I don’t know if that’s the case, and you probably don’t either.

The Lord is the judge. When you’re complimented say, “thank you,” and then forget the compliment as soon as possible. If you listen to compliments too much, you are susceptible to criticism defeating you. Ignore the cheers and the boos, glory in the Lord. Keep serving Him. Get your heart lifted up in the Lord’s ways—His salvation, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Do your job and let the Lord judge.

That is humility and that is glorying in the Lord.

The Good and Bad of a Heart Lifted Up

Pride is our biggest problem. God resists the proud, yet we can’t help it. I can be proud for knowing pride is our biggest problem. Knowledge puffs up.

Pride is mentioned a lot in the Bible, but even more so if you include its synonyms: puffed up, haughty, willful, and arrogant. There’s another one that is used primarily of kings and rulers “his heart was lifted up.”

Deuteronomy 8:14 is a general warning to the people of Israel that when they get the comforts of the Promised Land they will be lifted up, which will lead to their destruction. The rest of the usages are all kings and rulers: Amaziah, Uzziah, Hezekiah, the prince of Tyrus (some think he is a type of Lucifer, Satan; Ezekiel 28), Pharaoh the king of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel’s “king of the south.”

Typically their heart was lifted up because they had success. They won some battles, got some loot, and enjoyed prosperity and greatness. You can’t help but feel good when the stuff under your control goes well.

In all these cases however, their success was determined by how well they obeyed God. It wasn’t their strength or intellect that got the success; it was their humble obedience to God.

As soon as they took credit for it; success disappeared.

“His heart was lifted up” means pride had overtaken his thoughts. He took credit for everything going well. The bad results? Not me, but all the good stuff is definitely me!

As soon as you get proud that you understand what “his heart was lifted up” means, the Bible throws you a curve. I love how the Bible isn’t consistent! I know, lots of people argue that there are no inconsistencies in the Bible. These are clearly people who have not read it.

For everything there is a season. Faith doesn’t have a black and white list of what to do or not do all the time. Faith often chooses between two options of behavior. Should I scatter or gather right now? Should I build or tear down? Both options are viable and cases can be made for both. So, what do I do?

There is even a season when “his heart was lifted up” was a good thing! I love that! Here’s a verse talking about King Jehoshaphat:

And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.

–2 Chronicles 17:6

Isn’t that great?! And, just so there’s no confusion, this is the exact Hebrew phrase that is used elsewhere when “his heart was lifted up” is stated. It’s not a textual difference, it’s just another context.

“Lifted up” literally means exalted, lifted up, or to soar. Figuratively, and in most contexts, it means proud, haughty, above everyone else. God is exalted and lifted up, but that’s not pride, that’s just who He is. He is above all else and should be viewed that way. If a king thinks he’s above everyone, now we have issues! That’s what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, who after patting himself on the back, soon crawled on all fours with long hair eating grass!

But Jehoshaphat’s heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord. The ways of the Lord were held up highly. His heart was entirely enthralled with the Lord’s ways.

This is reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:17, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

Be proud of who the Lord is and of His ways. Boast in that. If you have to glory, don’t glory in your own little perceived awesomeness. Glory in the abundant awesomeness of God.

So many kings of Israel and Judah fell on their faces because their heart was lifted up in themselves and not in the Lord. Good old Jehoshaphat was a tremendous exception. He knew what was worthy of honor and his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord. May our hearts be as well!

Does Grace Give F Students an A?

I’ve heard many times that law and religion say “do,” but grace says “done.”

I understand the point, and in many ways it’s true. The law was all about do, but the law was never given to save anyone. It was a covenant between God and the racial nation of Israel to abide in the Promised Land. No one was ever saved by the law. Anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by the Gospel. Genesis 3, right after the first sin, reveals the Gospel—a seed of the woman will come and crush Satan’s head. People have always been saved by grace through faith. Jewish people of faith in the Old Covenant would endeavor to keep the law still as that was the terms of the covenant they were in. Unless they wanted to get wiped out, kicked out of the land and live in slavery, they kept the law.

Just a reminder: people got saved before the Mosaic Law existed. This is a big point in the Book of Galatians.

The New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant (read the Book of Hebrews for more details). The Old Covenant is gone. You don’t have to keep the regulations of the law to stay in the Promised Land. It’s over. You can keep those laws all day and the land of Israel is not going to flourish, especially since odds are you don’t live in the land of Israel. We are in the New Covenant. We are still saved by the Gospel. We are still saved by grace through faith. The New Covenant also has commands.

This is where most explanations of grace fall apart. Grace does say “done” when it comes to how God provides for your salvation—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing you can do to make a road to God other than The Way laid out in Jesus Christ.

But that grace was available just as much before the resurrection as it is now after the resurrection. No one can work their way into heaven. No one can impress God through effort. We need God Himself to intercede for us, which is what He does through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God and has always been in existence. Jesus Christ eventually became flesh and dwelt among us, died, and was raised again. This has always been and will always be the only way to salvation, in both the Old and New Covenant.

Here’s the big shocker: the New Covenant has things in it you’re supposed to do!

If you were a person of faith in the coming Messiah in the Old Covenant, you would demonstrate that faith by keeping the Law. Lay keeping did not save you. Lay keeping meant Israel could stay in their land.

If you are a person of faith in the already come Messiah who already died and rose again, you will demonstrate that faith by keeping the commands of the New Covenant.

Grace brings salvation and also teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, so we live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. Grace saves us through faith and also makes us Christ’s workmanship to do good works, which God has always wanted us to do.

How do you know you have God’s grace? Because it makes you do better things.

That’s the test. Works won’t save you. They can’t. They never have and never will. If you’re saved, you will do good works. Grace gives you enough from God (all things that pertain to life and godliness) to completely transform your life. Grace doesn’t just save you; it changes you into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Often the illustration given for grace is about taking a test. The Law tells you to study and then take the test. Your grade will determine your salvation. Grace, however, gives everyone an A whether they studied or not.

Again, I understand the point and when it comes to salvation it has some truth to it. However, I fear it goes too far and makes people think that I don’t have to do anything at all ever and God just gives me A’s while I keep living it up in sin! Sounds like a good deal.

But if this is true, if I can do everything consistent with an F student and yet get A’s, in what sense is Galatians 6:7 true: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a person sows, this he will also reap.” If I sow an F, I’m guessing I’m going to get an F! If I sow to the flesh I will reap flesh results; if I sow to the Spirit I will reap Spiritual fruit. Paul commands Titus to tell his people to do good works that they be not unfruitful.

If, however, I’m told that grace means I don’t have to do anything, and can in fact continue to act like an F student, how do any of those verses make sense? In fact, why would God have written a New Testament? If you read the New Testament you will find many, many commands. Why? “Well, if you really want to be a special disciple you can do all that, but you don’t have to.” Are there upper tier believers, or are their just believers all called to grow into the perfect man Christ Jesus?

There is one kind of believer. There is one Gospel. There is one body. There is one Spirit. Believers may look different as far as their giftedness and the roles they are to play in the Body of Christ, but all of us are equally in submission to the Head of the Body, Jesus Christ.

Grace is not F students acting like irresponsible F students but magically getting A’s. Grace is taking F students and making them progressively into A students doing A student things. Grace transforms us into the perfect man Christ Jesus. If this transformation isn’t happening, if instead you find yourself still acting out F student traits, there’s a good chance you have not come into contact with God’s grace.

You don’t work yourself into being an A student to get God’s grace; you humbly recognize your failings (because God gives grace to the humble), and call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In His grace He will save you, and then that very same grace will begin to transform you, from glory to glory, into Jesus Christ.

That’s what grace does. It’s not F students getting A’s while they continue to be F students. It’s F students being transformed, taught, corrected, instructed, and trained into being A students.

Fighting Sin Through the Power of the Flesh or the Spirit

Sin is bad; we’re not supposed to do it. How, pray tell, do we fight off sin though?

There are many Christians who think if you just faith enough God will make you not sin, or that you won’t be tempted. There’s a magic moment when you truly call out to God in surrender and the battle is forever over. Sinlessness takes over.

Others think that sin should be fought, that there are actual things we do to defeat sin.

The first option means we do nothing except surrender. God does it all; we’re just passive victors of what Christ does for us.

The second view says we have a part in our own sin battles. That the level of sin in our lives has a direct correlation to our effort to stop it.

The surrender option would be cool, I know why it has a lot of people who believe it. I do nothing and still win! Sweet gig.

The battling view seems more legit, however, both from a practical and a biblical approach.

Paul says we are to bring our bodies under subjection; there are literal physical things we can do to fight off sin. We lay aside the weight of sin, we flee youthful lust. Hebrews says we sin because we haven’t yet striven against sin to the point of shedding blood. Most of us have made peace with sin in our lives. We’re not fighting it as much as we’re covering it so we don’t get caught or look bad.

I think bringing our bodies under subjection is largely something you have to put your mind to and exercise the option. For instance, if your flesh is getting carried away with any number of sins, fasting can be a good route to practice controlling your flesh. Maybe even use it as a punishment for indulging the flesh, make a severer consequence to your actions.

Now, this is where heads explode. “That’s legalism! You’re putting yourself under a yoke of bondage! We have freedom in Christ. You’re undoing grace and trying to overcome sin with works!”

Am I though? How pray tell does sin suddenly stop by me doing nothing?

So if I’m truly tired of a sin I do, how do I get it to stop? Do I just believe more? Surrender more? What does that even mean? How do I go about believing more and surrendering more? What if I already am believing and surrendering, how do I do more of it? Wouldn’t doing more of that be me doing a work?

There is no answer really. All that camp has on their side are increasing levels of doing nothing, which seems entirely weird and hopeless as a strategy.

I’ve run into a number of people who tell me they don’t do anything and now they enjoy levels of no-sin that boggles the mind. I have hung out with these people. I have never been struck by the reality of their alleged sinlessness. Of all the people I know who take the “do nothing to beat sin” approach, they do not strike me as paragons of spiritual attainment.

Yes, there is a pitfall in legalism, just as there is a pitfall in being a lazy bum who does nothing but sit around and wait for Jesus to eliminate their sin struggles. You can attain levels of behavior through sheer will power and discipline. Paul uses the example of athletes striving for a temporal crown as an example.

But Paul’s next point isn’t “So do way less than athletes striving for mastery, in fact, just sit on the couch and do nothing until Jesus magically eliminates your sin battle.” Nope. What Paul says is be like those athletes and do everything to win.

Paul is not a passive person. He attacks. He uses discipline and strategy. I recommend the same thing. I know that’s hard and it would be nice if we could theologically eliminate personal accountability from our levels of sin, but Judgment Day looms and guess what? You will give an account for every deed done in the body whether it is good or bad.

This is a fight worth fighting. It’s why Paul calls it the “fight of faith.” He doesn’t call it the “sit on your butt and do nothing of faith.” I suggest you start fighting your sin by any means necessary, even if it involves you doing something. The entire time you are praying and listening to Scripture. This isn’t some flesh overpowering the flesh thing.

This is the flesh being mortified by the Holy Spirit, it’s having our bodies walk in the Spirit and not fulfilling the desires of the flesh nature. Your body responds either to the flesh or Spirit. Your flesh wants you to sit and do nothing and let sin reign, wait for someone else to take care of my problems. The Spirit wants you to get up and fight with what Christ has given you in the Gospel. Go. Fight. Win.

The Good Samaritan and Your Journey

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar. Two religious guys avoid the beat up guy in the ditch, while the lowly, despised Samaritan stops and helps him out.

Obviously the point of the parable is love your neighbor. It was given in answer to the question, “And who is my neighbor?” Everyone, especially those in need. Brings to mind the “when I was hungry, you fed me; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink.”

There’s a little phrase in there about the Samaritan that was brought to my attention, I don’t know if it’s significant or not. Notice the way it describes how the three men were traveling:

–there came down a certain priest that way

–a Levite, when he was at the place

–a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed

The two religious guys are just described as having gone that way; the Samaritan is described as being on a journey. Probably this just has to do with the fact that a Samaritan didn’t live there, he was on a journey, not near home, just passing through. Whereas the two religious guys lived there, it’s the way they went to work perhaps.

Maybe there’s no significance there at all. Maybe it’s a condemnation that this actually is the physical neighbor of the two religious guys, whereas the Samaritan being a foreigner had less obligation to help but did anyway.

I imagine that’s the point. But the book I was reading said we are all on a journey. We’re all growing and changing as we go through life. It’s very easy for us to get caught up in our growth and journey, too busy being awesomer, to notice and take time to help someone else.

The religious guys didn’t want to get their hands dirty. The body was left half dead, perhaps it looked dead. This would risk being unclean according to the law. The letter of the law forbade them in their minds.

The Samaritan, who is already unclean, isn’t troubled by being unclean more.

So, several points. If your sense of righteousness prevents you from getting your hands dirty in loving people; you’re not very righteous.

The point of being righteous is to do right things. If you can’t fellowship with sinners for fear of risking your reputation, your outward appearance of religiosity, then you’re doing it wrong.

(There are biblical reasons to not fellowship with certain people, but make sure you get them right. If you’re going to be tempted into sinning then avoid them. If they are so-called brothers who are ruining the reputation of the church then back away. Get those reasons right. Paul clarified that if he said never to hang out with sinners you’d have to leave the world! This isn’t as black and white as people make it—never sit with sinners or always sit with sinners. I’ve heard people stress both points. Neither is right. There is a time and season for such things.)

If your journey, physical or spiritual, makes you superior to everyone around you, you’re journeying in the wrong direction! Being like Christ should not make you more isolated. If other people and their opinions make you want to stay home in your righteous bubble, you’re not growing spiritually.

Love is the whole point. Christ came into the world to save sinners. He didn’t float above us for all time; He came among us. Love. Love is a big deal in the Bible.

Spiritual growth always leads to being more loving. Always, no exceptions.

The Fruit of the Spirit begins with “love.” Love has to be there. It is THE PROOF that you are growing in Christ.

Unfortunately, human pride makes us think spiritual growth puts us above others. That’s self-righteousness, not Christlikeness.

Love people even if they aren’t your responsibility. Love people even if it means getting your hands dirty. Love people. If that is getting harder for you to actually do, then you’re not growing spiritually; you’re growing self-righteously.

Angels are not Fat Flying Babies

Satan is a deceiver. His main goal is to diminish the glory of what God has made glorious.

You can see that with Satan himself. He was an angel of immense gory, yet he chose to rebel and diminish his glory. His existence ceases to give God glory.

Beyond that, Satan wants to diminish your understanding of his glory even more so you won’t take him seriously. That’s why there are so many cartoon images of Satan as a red beast with horns and a pitchfork ruling hell. He’s a cartoon character. You might dismiss him like Santa Claus.

Satan wants you to think of God as a senile old man floating in the clouds, or to view God as an impersonal, uncaring force.

Look what he does to humanity, creations made in the image of God! All his lies and sin destroy people. Our sin kills us. It distorts the image of God. Satan’s point in attacking you is so God’s glory would be covered up with your grossness.

Then there are angels. Angels always make me think of old ladies with Precious Moments fat baby angels, or fat, flying baby Cupid shooting arrows through people’s hearts.

Yet when you see angels described in the Bible, or when people in the Bible see angels, they are blown away. Isaiah 6 has impressive angels that look nothing like fat flying babies. Joshua sees an angel with a sword and immediately falls to the ground. John is corrected by an angel when John falls in worship before him.

People don’t worship fat, flying babies.

Angels have been stereotyped in imagery but also in function. Angels do not guard you from tripping. Angels are on missions from God to accomplish things on this earth. Much of what they do is unseen and will remain so.

The Bible gives us fleeting glimpses of angelic activity. I don’t know what all they are doing currently, but if we saw their activity we would be blown away.

Even demons have been trivialized, again because Satan either wants you to not take them seriously so they can get away with stuff, or completely freak you out so you don’t do stuff.

Stick with Scripture and what it says about Satan, God, humanity, and angels and demons. Most of what you know about them is based more on popular media and goofy traditions. Don’t defend your take on angels with your feelings or what your grandma said. Use Scripture. Get to know these impressive creatures correctly.

One day we will behold them and it is going to be awesome. They will not look like fat flying babies! I’m totally looking forward to this!

Why Did Jesus Say There Will Always Be Poor People?

Jesus could say offensive things. When Judas criticized the woman who poured ointment on Him because the ointment could have been sold and given to the poor, Jesus said:

“For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always” (Matthew 26:11).

Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t help the poor; He’s specifically telling this group that this expensive act of worship was well done. She’s taking advantage of her opportunity while Jesus is still alive to show Him worship. She, Judas, and the rest of them can spend the rest of their lives helping the poor! They won’t run out of opportunities.

This is like people who can’t make it to church on Sunday for an hour because they have to clean the house. You can spare an hour for church; you can only go to it when it’s time for it. You have many other hours in the week to clean the house; the dirt aint going anywhere.

People aren’t as offended by the serve me while I’m here part as much as His assumption that there will always be poor people.

Everyone and their mother knows how to solve poverty. Republicans and Democrats both have their ideas. Commies and Socialists and all other political groups think if they were in charge the world would be bliss.

It’s not true.

This isn’t some cynical statement by Jesus, nor an off the cuff remark. Jesus is actually quoting the Old Testament.

“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Now think about what is said here. He’s talking about the Promised Land; the land flowing with milk and honey. The land where God’s law would reign as people followed the Lord’s guidance.

This is the best land in the world with the best governor over it—God Himself! And even here, in this blessed land under God’s authority, there will always be poor people.

If God Himself can’t eliminate poverty in the best land in this world, you think your political party can do it?

(Notice that the verse still says to help the poor. Saying that there will always be poor people doesn’t mean helping them is pointless.)

The Bible is very consistent on this issue. The Bible was written over thousands of years and throughout all those years there are commands to help the poor.

For thousands of years of writing the Bible, the poor are still there. There will always be poor people.

This isn’t a spiritual statement or prophecy; it’s a simple statement of truth. It’s an observation of how life works.

In statistics there’s a thing called a bell curve. A bell curve is the way things get distributed. The Middle Class will always be huge. There will always be a smaller group of poor and rich. It’s just the way stuff gets distributed in this world.

People are poor for many reasons. Some choose to be so—vows of poverty, disinterest in work or wanting more stuff, being a pastor with three kids, etc. Some are forced into it—physical or mental issues, poor family environment, lack of escape, corrupt governments, and so on.

There will always be poor people as long as there are people on this earth.

There is a new earth coming, which will be free from the Curse and from sin, where God’s righteousness will reign supreme. At that point, and not until then, will poverty be eliminated.

Living in a fallen world has consequences. I appreciate the desire people have to end poverty, but frequently the well-meaning intentions make the problem worse. It also gives people the idea that they don’t have to actually help the poor because, “I pay taxes and I vote for the people who will help them.”

Our job as believers is to give to those who ask of us, to be a Good Samaritan, looking for opportunities to share the love of God, not in kind thoughts and promises of prayer, but in actual prayer and giving.

Stop worrying about political wrangles over the issue and waiting for Your Guys to get in there and solve it all. You personally go help someone. That is what you’ll be held accountable for.

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him” (1 John 3:17).

Other People Determine Your Doctrine More Than Scripture Does

Protestants are people who protested against the Catholic Church. But specifically they are people who used to be Catholic, who then became not quite as much Catholic.

There were other churches around during the height of Catholicism. Baptists have been around forever and various other churches were around as well. Catholics get the most publicity; many think the entire church was Catholic at one point.

That’s mostly because Catholics have always been expert at getting people’s money and also killing opponents and destroying their work. When you have the power and money, you dominate the narrative.

Luther was Catholic and wanted to stay in the Catholic Church, and he would have if they hadn’t booted him. Calvin copied Augustine on 90% of doctrine and Augustine is considered the Father of Catholicism.

Most of the doctrinal differences between denominations today is how much not-Catholic they are. Most denominations and churches will tell you that their sole authority is the Bible, but reading the doctrinal statements of all these churches lets you know someone aint giving authority to the Bible.

If all churches who said the Scripture was their authority actually had Scripture as their authority, there would be lots more unity. There isn’t. Why not? Because a lot of doctrine is formed not on Scripture but on Let’s Not Be Like Those People.

People are great at throwing babies out with bath water. In fact, sometimes we just throw out babies and keep bath water.

Churches throw out the baby (the Scripture) and keep the bath water (whatever drivel they decide to believe instead). Each assumes they are spiritual because spiritual maturity is mostly measured by comparison with other people. Since we’re Not Like Those People, we assume our not-likeness is where we are better, more mature, more right. Simply being better than others is good enough.

This is not growing into Christ though; this is just growing into being Not Like Those People.

We’ve reached a point where true uniqueness is a church that actually has Scripture as their authority. Does this church exist? I think it’s about impossible.

2,000 years of church arguing and factions has created an environment where it is very difficult to agree with any Christian anymore. Human philosophy, church and family tradition, and many other things have clouded our vision.

Is it possible for a church to have biblical doctrine? Maybe, but it’s highly doubtful. Is it possible for a person to? It’s more likely, but also very difficult.

How do you know if your doctrine is based on Scripture? Well, read the Bible a lot. Anytime a verse annoys you, pay attention, that’s probably where your doctrine is based on something else. If you read the Bible over and over, every time you should learn more, and it should slightly inform and change your doctrine.

If that’s not happening, then you aren’t paying attention. You’re simply reading the Bible and your brain is doing confirmation bias—it only notices verses that agree with your doctrine.

If you claim you’ve attentively read the Bible and didn’t change/modify any views, then you have to conclude you have 100% perfect doctrine. That’s quite the claim. I know people who get pretty close to claiming this and well, they don’t agree with each other on doctrine!

Read the Bible. Change your beliefs where necessary. Be part of a body of believers. Don’t isolate yourself. Hopefully you can at least find a church that has a couple humble people in it who truly want to grow and don’t think they’ve already arrived. You can help each other detect bias.

Please read your Bible. Over and over. Pay attention to context. Do the work.

But also know that knowledge puffs up. If you have all knowledge and have not love it profits you nothing. Doctrine is not simply for picking fights. It’s for informing your life and changing you into the person of Jesus Christ. And please try your hardest not to fall into the trap of “Not Being Like Those People.” Just follow Christ. Let Him change you.

What Does “Eye for an Eye” Really Mean?

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

So goes the saying. It appears as though this saying came from Gandhi, or at least one of his biographers as a summation of Gandhi’s thoughts. It’s popular for many Christians to celebrate Gandhi. I am not one of those Christians who does so.

Gandhi was a fine political leader and accomplished a perfectly noble political end. I’d celebrate his political accomplishments. As far as his religious views, and more precisely his biblical views, I’ll take a pass.

Exactly how would the whole world be blind if we enacted an eye for an eye? I’ve lived for 47 years and never poked out anyone’s eye. I don’t know anyone who has poked out anyone’s eye.

The context of the edict is from Exodus 21:23-25, “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Physical harm is what is in mind. If you hurt someone, the punishment for so doing should be equal. This is the reverse of, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”

The context is also the political setup of the nation of Israel. The Old Covenant law was not a means of salvation. It was, in part, the legal code to direct the nation of Israel. This is what a Messiah-creating nation’s laws would look like if God were its King. People get punished for their sin.

The Book of Proverbs tells people to use just weights and measures, not to favor the rich and disfavor the poor, nor should you nail the rich and let the poor off the hook. They should judge with equity and fairness.

Today there are stories where people get millions of dollars for burning themselves on hot McDonald’s coffee. They do that because McDonalds has a lot of money. Let’s stick it to The Man! Make em pay! Israel’s law was written to prevent such extreme court results.

Jesus brings up an eye for an eye in The Sermon of the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

Ah, so Gandhi was right! Down with eye for an eye!

Nope: context. Remember, in Exodus God is giving a nation their legal code, how to enforce the law of a nation consisting of believers, non-believers, Jews and non-Jews. Jesus is correcting the notion of individuals seeking revenge on those who wrong them.

When it comes to individuals, let wrongs against you go. It’s not your job to smite those who smite you. If you are a nation, then yes, your legal code should have a fair and consistent form of punishment for evildoers.

Jesus was correcting the personal desire for revenge that many took that verse to mean. That’s not what it’s talking about. It was specifically a command for the nation of Israel and their legal code.

So, in summation: Context is king. Gandhi is not a good interpreter of the Bible. Don’t poke people’s eyes out first or second.

Does Taking Communion Forgive Your Sins?

Short Answer: No.

Longer Answer: Not even close.

The idea that taking Communion is a means of grace, an action we do to get sins wiped off our record, is yet another Catholic Church perversion of the Gospel.

Power is the main thing the Catholic Church wanted/wants. It invented doctrines to make sure people were dependent upon them.

Communion became a mysterious rite that required institutional guys to work a supernatural wonder to convert the elements into the literal body and blood of Christ. You can’t do that on your own, bub. You need US!

“Forget that noise” was the response of many people who really didn’t want to go to church. As people began skipping church, the Catholic Higher-Ups had to invent ways to manipulate people to come back. I mean, how else would they make money?

So they began teaching people that all the special churchy things they alone could perform were absolutely necessary for your sins to be forgiven. You don’t want to go to hell do you? Well, come to church where we alone can do special things to make sure that doesn’t happen!

Indulgences were the pinnacle of this. They came right out and just said, “Hey, give us money or you’ll suffer for your sins.” I mean, they just chopped out the middle man of ritual and went straight for the wallet. Unreal.

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What was in the Cup that Jesus Drank?

I’ve heard the question asked from time to time, mostly by Calvinists, about what was in the cup that Jesus drank?

The answer you’re supposed to give is that He drank the wrath of God.

Here’s how Desiring God, John Piper’s organization, puts it:

The disciples will drink a cup, too — a cup of suffering. But Jesus’s cup of suffering is different from theirs because Jesus’s suffering is under God’s anger. Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath, a cup that has accumulated the fury of God against sins of all types. Heinous crimes, adultery, careless words, dishonoring thoughts, lies — all of it will be punished by God. This is the cup Jesus drinks on the cross.

Those Calvinist types who enjoy detailing God’s wrath will go on to say He drank every last drop, the dregs, sucked it dry, and God unleashed anger and wrath on His Son because you are terrible!

This is all nonsense.

Jesus is indeed drinking a cup given to Him by His Father. John 18:11 Jesus says, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” In Matthew 20:22 He asks a couple disciples if they can drink the cup He is going to drink. In the Garden He asks if the cup can be taken from Him.

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What is Communion for?

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 are Paul’s words to sum up what Communion is all about. They should be read when you take Communion at church. If your church never refers to these verses while doing Communion, odds are you aren’t really doing Communion.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul states that he received these instructions from the Lord Himself. Paul isn’t making this up. This isn’t his idea. Communion has divine sanction. Also, as the Old Testament repeatedly shows, when God gives instructions about how to worship Him, He really means it!

Be careful of weird variations on worship-looking things. Do it the way God says or don’t do it at all. Israel tried many times with God’s commands about worship to do it a bit different. Typically people died right after, sometimes even during. This is Paul’s warning that follows this passage. God means what He says.

The bread is the body of Christ broken for you. The cup is not His blood; people say that all the time. The cup is “the new covenant in my blood.” People who say the cup is the literal blood of Jesus are missing Jesus’ point. The cup is the new testament in His blood.

What does that mean?

I’m sure it’s deeper than we take it, but at its simplest it means the shedding of His blood is what brought in a New Covenant. The Old Covenant had blood of animals all over it. As Hebrews says, the New Covenant is a better covenant with a better sacrifice.

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Do People Really Die Because of how they take Communion?

The instructions about Communion as given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 contain a warning. We discussed yesterday what causes judgment to come on Communion takers—their flippancy in regards to what is going on in Communion.

Now we will look at the judgment included in the warning. Here’s the whole passage:

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

The manner in which someone partakes of the elements is the problem, it’s not because you sinned yesterday. Examine yourself: are you understanding what’s going on? Do you partake with the proper respect for what it represents? Are you treating others well? Are you showing off? Are you doing this to look good? Are you truly remembering the Lord’s death?

Those who are not “discerning” the body and blood of Christ, are not understanding the significance of what He did and act disrespectfully, are going to be judged.

Paul says some in Corinth are weak, sick, and others have died because of how they took Communion.

Wow. Is this for real?

Continue reading “Do People Really Die Because of how they take Communion?”

Paul’s Warning About Taking Communion

There are people who are afraid to take Communion. I respect that. It’s much better to be hesitant about it than to be flippant.

At the same time, when I hear some who are afraid to take Communion, I get the idea that their fear is misplaced. I don’t know their heart obviously, maybe they should be afraid.

But often their expressed fear is not based on Paul’s warning about taking Communion. So what exactly was Paul’s warning?

The context of the Corinthian church is part of the problem. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:17, “I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.” Oof, that aint good.

The Corinthian church service was so bad, Paul says it would be better if they didn’t even have one! I wonder how many churches he would say this to today?

We all know about the divisions in Corinth, that was a big clue that things weren’t right. These divisions led to many other abuses and the Lord’s Supper was one of those abused things.

So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)

The Lord’s Supper was extended into an actual supper. This wasn’t all bad. Based on some verses in Acts, the Last Supper, and here, it does seem as though the early church took Communion attached to an actual meal. Breaking bread together was more than a 7 minute ritual.

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Participation in the Body and Blood of Christ

Paul warns the Corinthian believers to leave their idolatry as it doesn’t fit with being a follower of Christ. To bring the point home he talks about taking Communion.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

A little bit of a side note here:
Your church doesn’t do Communion biblically. Notice what he said about the bread coming from one loaf? Most churches have individual little square, Styrofoam bits for the bread. If you were to do Communion strictly literally it would be one loaf with pieces broken off of it. It is supposed to be wine if you’re going literal and the wine is from one cup, which being poured from one container might suffice. You’d be hard pressed to find a church that does all these things, especially in our Covid freaked out day.

Anyhooo,

Taking Communion is a participation or sharing in the body and blood of Christ. What does Paul mean by that? Does it mean you are literally eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood?

Paul uses “participation” a couple times in this chapter, which is helpful.

Continue reading “Participation in the Body and Blood of Christ”

Eating Jesus’ Body and Drinking His Blood

One of the main points the Bible stresses in both baptism and Communion is unity. There is unity of the believer with Christ and also unity between all those who are partaking.

It’s important to keep unity in mind here. Let’s say that the bread you eat at Communion literally becomes the body of Christ. What do you do with the leftovers?

You may laugh but this was actually a big deal in the early Catholic Church. The reason you see old depictions of priests as drunk is because they drank the leftover wine because it was wrong to throw it away. What if one piece of bread got dropped on the floor and someone stepped on it and crumbled it?

The Bible says there are many members but one body. Christ’s body has to be one. Ephesians 4 says there is “one body.” If there are little parts of the body floating around everywhere doesn’t that destroy its unity?

In the Last Supper that Jesus ate with His disciples He said “Take and eat; this is my body.” He didn’t do any Latin mumbling to convert the pieces into His actual flesh. He just broke it, gave it to them, and they ate.

When it comes to the cup He says:

“Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27-29).

He says right there this is the last time He will drink the “fruit of the vine.” He’s drinking wine; He’s not drinking blood.

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Communion, The Lord’s Supper, and John 6 “Eat My Flesh”

The Lord’s Supper or Communion is another physical thing the Church does as ordained by the apostles and the Lord Himself.

Communion is supposed to center us on the Lord Jesus Christ and celebrate the unity all believers have in Him.

So, naturally, just like with baptism, church history is filled with arguing, fighting, and even killing each other over this issue.

Fun times. Who saw that coming?

You want to know why God doesn’t have more physical stuff for the church to do? Because we’d all have killed each other off by now if He had.

There aren’t too many verses about Communion. 1 Corinthians 10-11 are the primary instructional verses about it.

The Last Supper was the initiation of it, which ties back to the Passover supper of the OT. Jesus hints at the Lord’s Supper a few times in His poke-in-the-eye style from time to time (eat my flesh!).

And that’s pretty much it. It’s a simple idea representing massive things.

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1 Peter 3:21–Baptism that Now Saves You!

There are many people who say that being baptized is what gets you in heaven. You can live however you want, doesn’t matter, as long as you got wet at an official church function with an official churchy official person your entrance to heaven is guaranteed.

This is complete nonsense.

1 John, which is all about the assurance of salvation and giving you many tests to see whether you are saved, says not one word about baptism. Curious.

What John does bring up is whether or not a new life has occurred. Are you more like Christ? Are you loving people? Are you departing from the control of sin?

Instead of dealing with the entirety of the New Testament when it comes to figuring out how to get saved or how to determine whether you are saved, people instead take one phrase out of the New Testament and call it good.

Here’s a phrase from 1 Peter that gets trotted out in this context: “baptism that now saves you.” Boom! There it is! What more do you need? Some church dude did some water stuff to me, so Bible says I’m saved!

Well, what more you need is context. “Baptism that now saves you” is not the only phrase Peter wrote.

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Baptism, New Life and How Your Mom is Probably Messing it Up for You!

Baptism is the outward physical demonstration of Gospel truth. When you believe the Gospel you are identified with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism physically does to you what has already spiritually happened to you by faith.

“Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).

Buried and raised up, that’s what Christ did. By faith we identify with Him in this. Baptism literally shows this happening to us with the dunking in water deal.

The significance of this new life blows by us though. Colossians 2 has some other stuff to say about this new life. We’ve already talked quite a bit about losing your grasp on your physical identity. Here’s another bit:

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (2:6-7).

Baptism isn’t just this thing you do this one time and now you’re saved and all spiritual obligation is gone.

Continue reading “Baptism, New Life and How Your Mom is Probably Messing it Up for You!”

Baptism and Unity

The essential point of baptism in the New Testament is identification with Christ. You and Christ are no longer separated. You are in Him and He is in you. You are one. A member of His body.

This is what the passages about baptism stress.

You wouldn’t know this by listening to Christians talk about baptism. Mostly it’s just arguing about how to baptize, who baptizes, what church to baptize in, how old you have to be to be baptized, etc.

Argue, argue. Fight, fight.

Let me draw this together for you the way Paul does. Read this passage. Like, really. Read it. It’s Ephesians 4:3-6:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Then he lists a bunch of things that there are only ONE of. If we’re all focused on the ONE then we can’t argue about anything!

If there were two, yeah, we could argue about which is better. But there’s only one.

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Baptism Means Losing Your Identity

I’m going to hit this one more time, mainly because Paul does.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).

Baptism is you identifying with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. You are raised up with Him to newness of life. Old things are passed away, behold all things have become new.

This isn’t a metaphor or word picture.

This is what baptism is.

The result is that you lose all grip on your identity which has so long defined who you are.

Your old you, the old man, was filled with sin and sinful desire. It lived in sin. Was bound to sin. All it did was selfish. It lived for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

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What Does Paul Mean by Being Baptized for the Dead?

1 Corinthians 15 is all about resurrection. It’s specifically talking about bodily, physical resurrection: dead bodies living again. He’s not talking about the spiritual concept of being raised up to newness of life, as in being born again.

He’s talking physical resurrection.

In the midst of this chapter Paul throws in this doozy of a verse:

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

What in the world Paul?!

I love how the Bible throws in stuff just to see if you’re paying attention.

There are various interpretations of this verse.

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Baptism and Spiritual Gifts

Baptism is an identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It’s no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.

Salvation is a loss of self. You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. You lose your life to keep it. You take up the cross and deny your self.

These aren’t just high sounding metaphors. This is what the Gospel literally does to the believer. You lose yourself in Jesus Christ.

When Paul speaks of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, he has baptism as a part of the foundation.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

You should note that he’s not talking about getting wet baptism. This is the baptism into Christ idea again. This is all done by the Spirit. Note also he says we “were all given the same Spirit to drink.” The Spirit is linked with water, or at least drinkable liquid!

Baptism is immersion into Christ. The life of the believer is now about edifying the Body of Christ. Before conversion the individual was entirely filled with pride and self-serving. Salvation delivers you from this.

Love is the outflow of losing yourself.

Continue reading “Baptism and Spiritual Gifts”

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