EVERYONE BELIEVES IN SOMETHING!

An old joke told by my husband goes something like this:

After a long discussion about serious matters confronting our country and our businesses, one man asked another “What do you believe?”  The response was “I believe I’ll have another cup of coffee.”

While the humor is superficial, the real question hangs in the air like Spanish moss hangs from tree limbs – what do you believe?  Or, more pointedly, what do you believe about God?  This is the question, the only question, that is of eternal significance.  Do you believe that because you are a good person God will certainly accept you into His heaven?  Do you believe that your money and fame will be, on balance, more than your evil, selfish deeds on earth?  Do you even believe that there is a future or do you think that life on this earth is all there is?  What if you are wrong?  What then?

What you believe in is of critical import – it is a matter of eternal consequence.

One thing that is certain  is that you can trust the Holy Bible to be true.  What it says is true because it contains the Word of God, the Creator and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And, regarding the need for a Savior, the Bible says this:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

John 3:16. 

Cross
Consider the cross, a reminder of the glorious gift provided to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While there are many additional concepts involved in God’s salvation for His people, the Scripture of the Holy Bible encapsulates them concisely and definitively in the John 3:16.  Christians can argue about the finer points, the details and the doctrine, but ultimately, eternal life comes down to believing in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

But salvation does not come just from believing that Jesus existed … even the devils believed that.  Rather, Paul expresses the belief required as:

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Romans 10:9

In our church, we recite The Apostles’ Creed each week.  

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic* church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

*Catholic means “universal”.

It is appropriate for us to remind ourselves of that which we believe because what we believe about Jesus Christ determines our ultimate destiny.  Why do we need Jesus as a Savior?  See Romans 3:23.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 

Unfortunately, we cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our rebellious sin. 

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,”

Colossians 2:13

Paul said that we are “dead” ro God because of our trespasses and sins,  and we know that a dead person cannot do anything to bring himself back to life.  Rather, God has to intervene to raise that person from death to life in Jesus Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

Ephesians 2:8-9

If you receive Him as your Savior through grace alone, as you believe in His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension into heaven, if you confess your sins and repent, Scripture says that you will be saved.  Your position in Heaven for eternity is guaranteed and you will be a new creation in Christ.

Think about the Apostles’ Creed and each of its elements.  Do you believe this?  Does it make a difference in your life?  Pray that you will be more aware of how your beliefs determine your actions, because they do.

Here is a song entitled “I Believe” sung by the Bar J Wranglers from their album entitled For God and Country.  I pray that you would be encouraged by its beautiful message.

 

Father, I thank You for Your grace that was extended to me by Christ’s death for me on the cross of Calvary.  I thank You for the mercy and forgiveness you granted to me and I praise Your holy name for the gift of salvation.  I pray that these words would challenge those who may not know You, and I pray that Your Holy Spirit would touch their hearts and bring them to You.

 

 

WHAT IS GREATER THAN ALL OUR SIN? GRACE

When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness.  Helpless sinners can survive only by grace.  Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. 

Dr. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998. p. 180

God’s grace is the bestowal of blessing that is neither earned or merited.  God’s grace is extended to us totally because of Christ’s death on the cross.  He took the death that we sinful creatures deserved so that we could live our life in and through Him.

The Hebrew word for “grace” means favor, acceptance, kindness. 

In Genesis we read God’s description of the wickedness on the earth and of His intention to destroy all creation.

“So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”

Genesis 6:7-8 KJV   The English Standard Version of this verse says “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”  But Noah found grace, favor, before God and Noah and all his family, as well as the creatures of the earth, were saved from the all-consuming flood that arose by God’s power.

In the book of Exodus, God, Himself, includes grace as part of His nature when He was speaking to Moses.

“The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”

Exodus 34:5-6 (KJV) and (ESV)

In Psalms 145:17 we read:

            “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works.” (KJV)

            “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, kind in all His works.” (ESV)

While the word “gracious” is not used often in the New Testament with reference to God, the word “grace” is used over 100 times when speaking of God’s actions toward His children.

For example, Paul in his letter to the Romans uses the word “grace” often.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”

Romans 3:23-24

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 5:20-21

The writer of Hebrews says:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

The demonstration of God’s grace towards us comes in different ways.  There is the grace that God shines on the elect and wicked alike; this is called “common grace”.  The word “common” does not denote that the grace is cheap or ordinary.  Rather, this grace provides all of mankind blessings that are non-eternal, such as health, good weather, prosperity, rain, etc.  In fact, life itself is a gift of common grace.  He does not have to give life to any one, no one can demand it from Him, and He can take it when He pleases. Indeed, sinful man deserves nothing but death. 

Then there is that special grace which God demonstrates toward those whom He chooses to be His people, just as He did with the children of Israel.  We read in the book of Deuteronomy these words of God:

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

 

 

Cross
This sign is outside the “Minister’s Treehouse” in Crossville, Tennessee.
Jesus shed His blood for You and me. 

God chooses His children not because they are more powerful, wise, intelligent, charismatic, pious, handsome, or any of the other characteristics that we would consider important in selecting someone for some specific honor.  Rather, He chooses His children simply because that is what He chose to do.

This grace is amazing for it relies not at all upon us, but solely upon God and His providential will. Our adoption as children into His family is not based on any service or good we are capable to render. The enormity of this grace is impossible to comprehend, but our reaction to it should be bowing ourselves at the feet of the Lord in praise and rejoicing for His pleasure in granting us salvation.

The hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” encapsulates the response we should have to this grace of our loving Father.  Listen as The CenturyMen present this hymn on their album The CenturyMen Silver Anniversary, Disc 2.

May we crown Him Lord of All as we praise Him for paying our ransom from the fall, not because of any merit that we have, but because of His abundant grace toward us.

Father, there are no words to express our gratitude for the gift of Your grace.  Lord Jesus, we fall before You and praise Your name for Your paying our ransom so that we could be relieved of the debt of sin and come to You now, and forevermore.

 

CAUGHT AND CAGED

We live on an acre lot with our house surrounded on the side and back by dense woods.  We have various feeders out with a plethora of cardinals, woodpeckers, titmouse as well as other brightly colored birds swirling around the backyard as the squirrels and our canine daughters eat the birdseed that falls to the ground.  These are our welcome visitors. 

Then we have some unwelcome visitors as well.  We have seen a groundhog for several weeks and, given the kind of damage they can, and have, inflicted on the house, my Beloved bought a trap so we could capture it and send it on its merry way via the City’s Animal Control van.  He put the trap in the backyard with an apple for bait and, low and behold, the next morning there was a plump groundhog munching on the apple, seemingly unaware that his ingress and egress had been drastically reduced.  The Animal Control officer took him away to a relocation place far from our yard.  Expecting there to be more than one groundhog in the woods, we set the trap again and went to bed.

In the morning, we could tell that the trap had worked and captured its prey.  What we could not tell from the house was that it was not a groundhog.

Racoon in overturned trap
Raccoon in overturned trap

Rather, it was a huge, angry raccoon.  He was so mad about things that he had turned the trap over in his machinations trying to escape, to no avail of course.

When I saw the pictures of the critter in the trap, my mind went to our situation as sinners.  We each have disobeyed God, multiple times in our lifetime: in fact, it is more likely correct to say that we have disobeyed God’s law multiple times per day!  We are caught in the trap of sin and we cannot, on our own merit or work, get out of the situation. 

“The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.

Proverbs 5:22 

Then, in the New Testament, Scripture repeats that all mankind has sinned. 

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 8:7-8

We are then told that redemption must come from outside ourselves as a gift of grace from God through the atoning work of Christ Jesus: 

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” 

Romans 3:22-24

Racoon in trap
Trapped, caught and unable to get free!

Like the raccoon that was trapped and unable to get free, we, too, are trapped in sin and we cannot get free even though we struggle and fight.  Sin has too strong a grip on us.  But, through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and as a gift of God’s grace, we can be set free from sin’s trap.

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:2

Listen to the song “Free Indeed” as sung on Scripture Memory Songs: Overcoming Guilt, the song focusing on the words of John 8:36 and Galatians 5:1, using the NIV translation.

Praise the Lord for His incredible, wonderful gift of life and love in His Spirit and through His atoning work on our behalf.

Father, I praise Your name for your grace and your wonderful gift of life through your Spirit.  Thank you for releasing us from the bondage of sin and death when we receive, by faith, Jesus Christ as our Savior.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, GOODNESS, part one

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Series Post No. 17

GOODNESS – A FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTERISTIC OF GOD

PART ONE

In his sermons compiled as The Glorious Feast of the Gospel by Richard Sibbes, an Elizabethan Era theologian, teacher and preacher, he makes the following statement: 

Here you may see that God doth veil heavenly things under earthly things, and condescends so low as to enter into the inward man by the outward man. For our apprehensions are so weak and narrow that we cannot be acquainted with spiritual things, but by the inward working of the Spirit of the Almighty.

 

Simply, we cannot understand spiritual things except for His imparting that ability to us.  This is precisely what we have been speaking about throughout this series. The Holy Spirit resides within us and it is He, and only He, who can teach us of the fruit of the Spirit as we allow Him to do so.   

What does Scripture say?

 

So, turning to Galatians 5, we read:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

Galatians 5:22-23.  

 

The Greek word used here is ἀγαθωσὐνη.  The transliteration is agathosyne. According to Strong’s Lexicon, it means “uprightness of heart, goodness, kindness.”

 

Dr. R. C. Sproul notes, in the Developing Christian Character, CD Teaching Series from Ligonier Ministries, that goodness is a relative term and that any definition must be based on a standard.  First, there is an external and an internal aspect of goodness.  Externally, a good deed is one that appears to conform to the demands of the law … but this is not the full definition of a good deed.  Rather, it also incorporates an element related to motivation.  Internally, a good deed is one that is motivated by a desire to please God in our vertical relationship with Him.  The concept of goodness as moral excellence is evidenced horizontally in our personal relationships by unwavering integrity and a generosity to others that is based on the recognition of how God has blessed us through Christ.  Further, there is a new ability to appreciate excellence and beauty, this being evidence of the beauty, order and exquisite detail of God’s nature and character.

 

The Jews knew that to call yourself good was to take an attribute of God and apply it to yourself, something that was clearly within the definition of blasphemy and not to be taken lightly, as is evidenced by Jesus’ response to the man in Mark 10:18 where He says:

 

“Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.” 

Mark 10:18.

 

Paul said in Romans 3:11-12: 

“None is righteous, no, not one;   no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”

 

Given Jesus’ statement that only God is good, and given Paul’s assertion that no one is good on their own, it really is a futile gesture for us to look within ourselves for goodness.  Why?  Because of sin. Sin has robbed us of the good that God granted to us at creation. 

 

We know that Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And, if you are like me, you have learned that sin is “missing the mark,” rather like shooting an arrow at God’s glory and the arrow fell short. 

 

However, John Piper in God’s Passion for His Glory, (Crossway Publishers, 1998) argues that the Greek definition of the word for “falling short” (husterountai) means “lack”.  The concept focuses not so much on the missed target but on the fact that you were aiming at the wrong target.  In other words, Piper says that sin is where you could have had God’s glory as a treasure but you chose something else instead.

 

In Romans 1:23, Paul confirms this concept when he says that people “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image.”  John Piper elaborates on Paul’s statement when he says: “This is the deepest problem with sin – it is a suicidal exchange of infinite value and beauty for some fleeting, inferior substitute.  This is the great insult” to God.  We choose sugarcoated misery while at the same time we mock and dismiss as irrelevant the God upon whom our very existence depends. 

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

 

While believing that we ourselves are good may be arrogance of the highest order, it is by far not a new problem.  In Jeremiah 2:12-13 we read the Lord’s words saying that the people’s dismissal of God is appalling. 

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the L
ORD, for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

 

The people had needs that the Lord was ready to provide, but they did not want His help – they wanted to do it their own way without realizing that their way was incapable of satisfying.  

 

Unfortunately, the Old Testament people of Israel are not the only ones who miss the mark, who have traded a counterfeit for the only real, living God, and who sin in word, deed, and thought; it occurs today in 2016 just as it has in all the years since the fall.  We may not have idols of wood or precious metals that we have fashioned with our hands, but we sin in trading God for our bank account, or for our self-confidence, or for our family, or for Hollywood stars, or for our houses, or for our successes, or … well you fill in the blank. 

 

What does this have to do with the Fruit of the Spirit?  A great deal!  Rather than simply wiping everyone out in judgment and condemnation as would be His right, our living, creating and loving God is GOOD. 

 

GOD IS GOOD.  It is a fundamental characteristic of His being and it is the underlying aspect of virtually all that He does, although we do not usually think of it in that way.   He is the source of all goodness.  In other words, Goodness is not an abstract concept – it is personal – it is WHO — it is part of the character of God.  The only reason we know anything at all about goodness is because God, who created us in His image, IS good.

 

Theologian J. I. Packer says God’s “sovereign redemptive love is one facet of the quality that Scripture calls God’s goodness”.  According to Packer, the supreme expression of God’s goodness is His amazing grace and inexpressible love that is evidenced by His saving sinners, who deserve only condemnation, at the tremendous cost of Christ’s death on Calvary

 

Next we week we will speak more of Goodness, its characteristics and how it is evident in our day to day life.  For now, bask in your relationship with our God who is Good and praise Him for his grace and inexpressible love extended to each of us!

 

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.