Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Resurrection

The Apostle Paul:  This Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message . . . . Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then He was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw Him. . . . Since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. . . . and you are still guilty of your sins. . . . But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another Man (Jesus Christ). Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when He comes back. After that the end will come, when He will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until He humbles all His enemies beneath His feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. . . . The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second Man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly Man. . . . But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. 1 Corinthians 15: 2-8, 12-14, 17, 20-26, 45-49, 57-58 (NLT)

The resurrection!  The day of Easter celebrates annually and every Sunday celebrates weekly the resurrection of Jesus Christ from complete death by God the Father through His Holy Spirit. Thus, the resurrection involves all of God – God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:30-35; Romans 1:4). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the center of the Christian faith. In fact, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 gives the heart of the Good News that all humans must believe to receive salvation:  that Jesus Christ died for our sins (not for His own sins), that He was buried (really dead), and that He rose from complete death (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Jesus Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) and was “raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20) is the only hope for sinful humanity to “inherit the Kingdom” of God (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53-57). Because of Jesus Christ’s life, sacrificial death and resurrection, He is indeed Lord and Son of the living God (Mark 15:39; Romans 1:4). “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11, NLT).

Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection are so important, that all four Gospels and most of the New Testament speak repeatedly of this important and world-changing event. Without the wonderful death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there would be no hope for sinful humanity (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Yet, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was real and eye-witnessed by many people (see 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). The Apostle Paul assures us that many people saw Jesus Christ after His resurrection:  Peter; His disciples; more than 500 believing Christian (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote); James (Jesus' brother); all the apostles; and finally Paul himself. 

Through our faith and trust in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we have hope – hope of salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, righteousness, and reconciliation with God (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:17; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 17-22). In fact, we are made alive – to live forever – and delivered from sin through faith (Ephesians 2:1-7). Because Jesus Christ rose from complete death, He is our life-giving Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). In other words, Jesus Christ's resurrection is the source of our new spiritual life as He is Life (John 14:6; see also Acts 3:15). Jesus Christ is not only Life but He gives life to all who believe so that death will never triumph over them (John 1:4). 

Everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. . . . There is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when He comes back. 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 (NLT)

Believing Christians know there is life beyond the grave and that our life on earth is only a preparation for our life that will never end. Because Jesus Christ’s resurrection, we also will live (John 14:19). Jesus Christ’s resurrection conquered all evil, including sin, sickness, and death (Acts 2:24; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, 54-57; Colossians 2:12-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; see also Revelation 20:11-15). When Jesus Christ returns again, He will present God the Father with a perfect new world (1 Corinthians 15:24). Indeed, Jesus Christ’s resurrection is VICTORY to all who believe!

Jesus Christ:  I am the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes (trusts) in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes (trusts) in Me will never ever die. John 11:25-26 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan,1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Packer, J.I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Carol Stream, IL:  Tyndale House Pub., 1993.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Repent and Believe

Apostle Paul:  I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things (deeds) they do. Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike. Acts 26:20-23 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul of Tarsus was a strong and obedient believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, no other person, apart from Jesus Christ Himself, has shaped the Christian faith like the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul was truly “a servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1, NIV).  Sadly, many times Paul suffered greatly for his belief and defense of Jesus Christ. He was often stoned, whipped, and severely beaten for his faith in Jesus Christ (e.g. see Acts 16:16-40; Acts 21:27-36).

Prior to his conversation to Christianity, the Apostle Paul was an expert on all Jewish customs and laws (Acts 26:3). He was born a Jew in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia (Acts 21:39). Paul was brought up and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, a well-respected rabbi in the first century (Acts 22:3; Acts 26:4; see also Acts 5:34-40). As Gamaliel’s student, Paul was carefully trained in the Jewish laws and customs and became very zealous for the Jewish heritage and beliefs (Acts 22:3; see also Philippians 3:4-14). In fact, the Apostle Paul was previously a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of Jewish religion (Acts 26:5) and well-trained in the Old Testament law (Acts 22:3).

Before his conversion to Christianity, the Paul was a leading persecutor of the early Christians. He breathed out murderous threats against Christians – followers of Jesus Christ – arrested many followers of the Way (Acts 9:1-2, 13-14, 21; Acts 22:4). The readers were first introduced to Paul at the stoning of Stephen, an early believing Christian (Acts 7:58). Paul stood by and kept the coats of the people who stoned Stephen (Acts 22:20). The Apostle Paul (formerly called Saul) was so passionate for his Jewish beliefs and against Christians that he began a persecution campaign against anyone (men and women) who believed in Jesus Christ. He viciously pursued believers to their death and threw some in prison (Acts 22:4). Yet, Paul’s life changed when he encountered the risen Jesus Christ – the hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to the Jews (Acts 26:6-8).

One day, Paul was on a mission trip to Damascus when about noon a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on him (Acts 26:12-13; see also Acts 9:3, Acts 22:6). The Apostle Paul met the resurrected and living Jesus Christ face to face (Acts 26:16; see also 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8) and his life was never again the same. He fell face down and heard a voice saying “why are you persecuting Me” (Acts 26:14; see also Acts 9:4).  Jesus Christ informed Paul

I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as My servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles (non-Jews) to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in Me. Acts 26:15-18 (NLT).

After this wonderful encounter with the living Jesus Christ, Paul was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by his companions (Acts 22:11). Once in Damascus, a godly man named Ananias came and helped Paul to regain his sight (Acts 22:12-13). Then, Ananias told Paul

The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and hear Him speak. For you are to be His witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the Name of the Lord. Acts 22:14-16 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul obeyed Jesus Christ’s instructions from heaven (Acts 26:19). He immediately began boldly preaching about Jesus Christ in the synagogues, saying “He is indeed the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Paul’s message was a declaration of what he had become convinced of on the Damascus road:  Jesus is the risen Messiah. The Apostle Paul dedicated the rest of his life proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord throughout the Mediterranean world. The Apostle Paul’s vision brought him to the realization that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection brings salvation, righteousness and life-transforming power to all who wholehearted believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior (Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-26; Romans 4:1-8; see also Ephesians 2:8-9).

Paul preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do (Acts 26:20; see also Acts 16:29-34). “Everyone who believes in Him (Jesus Christ) will have their sins forgiven through His Name” (Acts 10:43, NLT). “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household” (Acts 16:31, NLT).

The message of the Good News (Gospel) is simple: turn from your sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (God) with your whole heart, and be committed to obey Him (John 13:34-35; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 2:11). The Apostle Paul repeatedly proclaimed that Jesus Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death on the Cross, and resurrection from complete death assures our salvation and new life (e.g., Romans 3:23-26; Romans 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). God freely gives all people forgiveness of their sins and eternal life as a gift of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  

All who believe in Him (Jesus Christ) are made right with God. . . .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. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. . . . Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:4, 9, 13 (NLT)

Many Jews harassed and persecuted Paul for preaching this Good News, and they even tried to kill him (Acts 26:20; see also Acts 9:23-24). But God protected Paul as he taught a message that the Jews should have embraced (Acts 26:22-23). The Apostle Paul preached from the least to the greatest what the prophets and Moses said would happen (see also Acts 9:15-16). He preached that Jesus Christ (Messiah) would suffer,  be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light and inheritance to all people – Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 26:22-23; see also 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). This inheritance is the promise and blessings God made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 4:1-8).

As Paul’s preaching became more and more powerful, the Jews in Damascus could not disprove his proofs that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah (Acts 9:22). In fact, the Apostle Paul preached boldly in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and encouraged the people to live their lives for good and God’s glory, not evil lives any longer (1 Corinthians 10:31; see also Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 7:15-23). He encouraged believing Christians to live a life of love and truth that is fully submitted to Jesus Christ (Romans 13:8-14; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:6, 14; Ephesians 5:1-2). Our good deeds and good works do not bring our salvation either before or after acceptance of Jesus Christ, but they are a sign to the world of our true repentance (Acts 26:20).

The conversion of Apostle Paul was very important to the early church. In fact, the author of Acts (Luke) recounts Paul’s conversion story three times (Acts 9:1-31; Acts 22:1-21; Acts 26:1-29). The Apostle Paul’s experience with the risen Jesus Christ convinced him of the truth of the Gospel (Good News) and that became the foundation of his theology. On this fact, Paul based his qualification to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8). Even more, Paul’s conversion reveal God’s power to reach, redeem, and use anyone for His holy purposes—no matter our background (Luke 1:37).

Apostle Paul:  Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. . . . It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you. . . . I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then He was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw Him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I am not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by His grace. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

God’s Love and the Wonderful Cross

Apostle John:  Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us. 1 John 4:7-12 (NLT)

The New Testament frequently connects Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross with God’s love and our salvation (e.g., John 3:16; Romans 3:25; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:11-28; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 1:5). In fact, the Cross of Jesus Christ has become the symbol of Christian faith and God’s love for the world (John 3:16; see also 1 John 4:7-12). The Cross is absolutely central to Christian salvation from sin and eternal death. Other religions have their martyrs and rules, but Jesus Christ’s sacrificial life and death was of a Savior to save humans (Matthew 1:21). Jesus Christ’s death saves all people from their sins through belief and acceptance of His life, teaching, and death on the Cross.

Apostle Paul:  Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it (sin) completely into Himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"? That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the Cross: He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse. And now, because of that, the air is cleared and we can see that Abraham's blessing is present and available for non-Jews (Gentiles), too. We are all able to receive God's life, His Spirit, in and with us by believing—just the way Abraham received it. Galatians 3:13-14 (MSG)

God is a loving (1 John 4:7-21) but He is also a holy God of justice (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Holy Scriptures are clear that God cannot forgive sins without a sacrifice to pay the full penalty for sins. The Apostle Paul explains that is why a loving God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die and become the final sacrifice (“propitiation”) to save human sins (Matthew 1:21). Jesus Christ voluntarily took the full penalty due for our sins, God’s wrath, and died for our sins (Romans 3:25-26; see also John 19:30; Hebrews 2:17). In other words, Jesus Christ bore the sinful weight of millions upon millions of people on Cross and took on God’s wrath and fury for our sins. Therefore, there are no more penalties for sin left to pay.

And He did not enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, He has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by His own death as a sacrifice. And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for Him. Hebrews 9:25-28 (NLT)

As the final sacrifice for human sins, Jesus Christ's death brings our eternal redemption, salvation, rescue, and restoration (Romans 8:1-4; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19). In other words, Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross became our rescue by ransom because His death paid the price to free and deliver us from sin, death, and condemnation (Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 1:14). Even more, Jesus Christ's death was God's way of reuniting and reconciling us humans to Himself and overcoming His own anger and hostility towards us that our previous sins had caused (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20-22).

Apostle John:  I am telling you this so that you will stay away from sin. But if you sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father. His Name is Jesus Christ, the One who is all that is good and who pleases God completely. He is the One who took God’s wrath against our sins upon Himself and brought us into fellowship with God; and He is the forgiveness for our sins, and not only ours but all the world’s. 1 John 2:1-2 (TLB)

The Cross propitiated (or satisfied) God’s anger and wrath against human sins by atoning (expiating) our sins and so removing them from God’s sight (see Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10). God’s holiness and righteousness demands punishment for human sin. Therefore out of love, God sent His one and only Son into the world to make a substitutionary atonement for human sin for all who believe (1 John 4:10; John 3:16). In His sacrificial suffering, Jesus Christ assumed or absorbed our sinful identity and endured our just punishment for sin (Galatians 3:13). In other words, Jesus Christ became our sin and took our punishment from God for our sins (Colossians 2:14; cf. Matthew 27:37; Isaiah 53:4-6; Luke 22:37). God placed our sins and shame on Jesus Christ while He was on Calvary’s Cross (see Isaiah 53:6, 12; 1 Peter 2:24). In this way, God the Father’s wrath against sin was satisfied because His wrath against our sins has been turned away and directed to His own Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25). There was no other way for our loving God to save humans than for Jesus Christ to die in our place on Calvary’s Cross. Here, we see the amazing love of both God the Father and Jesus Christ in redemption of human beings. Therefore, God’s love and justice are equally revealed in the atonement – Jesus Christ’s life and sacrificial death.

Apostle Paul:  When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of His Son while we were still His enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of His Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:6-11 (NLT)

Through FAITH and acceptance in Jesus Christ’s life and sacrificial death, God becomes favorably disposed toward us and we are declared righteous and holy by God (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Philippians 3:9). Because the penalty for our sins has been entirely paid by Jesus Christ on the Cross, we have no remaining fear of condemnation or punishment (Romans 8:1-4). This transaction is often called “the great exchange” or “marvelous exchange” – our sin for Jesus Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21 see also Romans 5:19; Galatians 2:16). Our sins were poured into Jesus Christ at His sacrificial death and His righteousness is poured into us at our acceptance of His life and death for our sins.

And He took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He (Jesus) gave it to them (disciples) and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is My blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Matthew 26:27-28 (NLT)

Most important, Jesus Christ's atoning death confirmed the beginning of a new covenant (relationship) between God and His people. Under this new covenant, we humans now have full access to God under all circumstances as guaranteed by Jesus Christ's final sacrifice that covers all our sins – past, present, and future (Matthew 26:27-28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:14-15, 26; Hebrews 10:12-18; 1 John 4:10). In other words, we humans can approach God directly through faith because Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice and death has made us righteous, holy, and acceptable in God's eyes (Romans 3:21-24; see also Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Peter 2:24).

Apostle Paul:  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for He was looking ahead and including them in what He would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He Himself is fair and just, and He declares sinners to be right in His sight when they believe in Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 (NLT)

Forgiveness through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice is not limited to one particular group only. God’s forgiveness has worldwide applications (John 1:29). Jesus Christ was our sinless and spotless Passover Lamb of the world (Isaiah 53:7; Hebrews 9:28) offered for the sins of ALL people (John 1:29; Revelation 5:6-14). To receive God’s forgiveness, all we have to do is turn from our sins, receive Jesus Christ's forgiveness, and wholeheartedly commit our lives to Him (John 3:16; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:4-10). Through faith and acceptance of Jesus Christ’s atoning work, we have “received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11) with God and become “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Jesus Christ, we are now forgiven, cleansed, and declared righteous. Because of Jesus Christ’s selfless, sacrificial death, He is SUPREME above all!

Apostle Paul:  Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we cannot see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the Cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were His enemies, separated from Him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Do not drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it. Colossians 1:15-23 (NLT)

The sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ has so many benefits. First, faith in Jesus Christ’s blood removes our guilt and shame before a loving and holy God. Also by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are cleansed and purified (Hebrews 9:14). “The blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out” (Hebrews 9:14, MSG). Moreover, we gain full access to God in worship and prayer through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial blood (Hebrews 10:19). Finally through Jesus Christ’s blood, we are increasingly cleansed from remaining sin (1 John 1:7; see also Revelation 1:5); we are able to defeat evil (Revelation 12:10-11); and we are saved from our sinful way of life (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Apostle Peter: For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered. He left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in His body on the Cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By His wounds you are healed. 1 Peter 2:21-24 (NLT)

Jesus Christ’s sacrificial life and death was part of God's loving plan (Matthew 16:21-23; Luke 24:25-27, 44-47) and was purposed to save humans (Matthew 20:28; 26:28). God replaced all the Old Testament ritual requirements for sacrifice by Jesus Christ’s final sacrifice on the Calvary’s Cross, which wipes away our sins (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 10:14-18). The only sacrifices now required of believing Christian are those of praise and thanksgiving, which take the form of worship in spirit and in truth and obedience to Jesus Christ’s teaching (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5). In essence, God calls us to demonstrate our thankfulness for Jesus Christ’s self-sacrifice by leading lives of love, goodness, holiness, truth, and mercy – just like Jesus Christ!

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
Packer, J.I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Carol Stream, IL:  Tyndale House Pub., 1993.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not Guilty!

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving (Holy) Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The Law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the Law could not do. He sent His own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the Law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the (Holy) Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus Christ is our “sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:25, NLT). In other words, Jesus Christ died in our place, for our sins. All people are sinners – Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) (see Romans 1:18-3:20). We all have disobeyed and offended a holy God by our sin (Romans 3:23). No acceptance by or fellowship with God can be expected unless atonement is made. Even more, our best efforts or good actions to establish our fellowship with God is ruinous foolishness and simply cannot be humanly done (see Job 15:14-16; Romans 10:2-4).

However, God has graciously and mercifully provided everyone a path to righteousness and a return to a state of glory through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23; see also Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:4-8; Ephesians 2:4; Hebrews 2:5-9). God kindly declared Jesus Christ's death on Calvary’s Cross to be the appropriate atonement for all human sin. In other words, Jesus Christ’s selfless death became God’s designated sacrifice and ransom for all human sin as He paid the penalty of death for ALL our sins (past, present, and future). This atoning work of Jesus Christ is an act by which God Himself through Jesus Christ restored a right relationship of fellowship and unity between Himself and sinful humanity (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). This amazing grace is the focal point of New Testament faith, hope, worship, ethics, and spiritual life.

Because of Adam and Eve’s sin (Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22) and our own personal sins (Colossians 1:21), no human is worthy of relationship with God (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23). In fact, all humans helplessly stand as condemned or guilty sinners before a holy and righteous God (Romans 3:9-18). Yet, our loving and gracious God responded to our helplessness by sending His one and only Son, Jesus Christ as a ransom to free us from our sin and condemnation (Romans 8:1-4). Jesus Christ bridged the gap between a holy God and sinful humans by making salvation and righteousness available to all people that believe in Him (1 Timothy 2:6-7). The Holy Bible teaches that Jesus Christ willingly gave Himself as a sacrifice (“a sin offering”) and a ransom on Calvary’s Cross to free us from human sins (Matthew 20:28).

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Hebrews 10:10 (NLT)

When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He established a system of atonement for the Israelites’ sin. This system involved the shedding and offering of the blood of unflawed animals “to make atonement” for sin (Leviticus 17:11). The blood of animal sacrifices was continually offered at the Temple as a substitute for human sin and death (Ezekiel 18:20). The human sinner deserved: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls” (Leviticus 17:11). However, those repeated sacrifices could never permanently remove human sins (Hebrews 10:4) as they were only temporary (Hebrews 10:1).

And she (Mary) will have a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21 (NLT)

God sent Jesus Christ to pay the final ransom price and became the final sacrifice to permanently save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). The name Jesus means "the LORD saves." Thus, God sent His one and only Son Jesus into the world to save humanity because we could not save ourselves from sin and sin’s consequences (John 3:16). Jesus was God in the flesh; thus God was literally among us, "with us" (Matthew 1:23).

Atonement was possible because “God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin” (Romans 3:25, NLT). God’s justice against our sins was served in the death of Jesus Christ as a substitute: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12) and declared us humans “not guilty” (or justified). Even more amazing, Jesus Christ willingly gave His life as a ransom for our sins (Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6). Though God laid on Jesus Christ the sins of us all (Isaiah 53:6; also 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13), Jesus Christ “has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2), so that those who believe in Him (Romans 3:22) might receive atonement and “be saved from [God’s] wrath” (Romans 5:9) through “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter. 1:19). Through Jesus Christ, God will present us “faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). Jesus Christ has purchased our freedom from sin and the purchase price was His holy life (Romans 3:24).

Through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement, we are declared not guilty and innocent by God regardless of our background, previous sins, and past failures as if we had never sinned. God removes all the charges from our record and we are given a fresh start (a new beginning) (2 Corinthians 5:17). No matter how good we are or try to be, we humans cannot eliminate our sinful nature. ONLY faith and acceptance in the atoning work of Jesus Christ can remove human sin — the permanent, powerful, sin-destroying forgiveness (Romans 3:21-25). Even more, God send us His Holy Spirit to give us a new life or rebirth – we are born again or redeem by God – through faith and acceptance in Jesus Christ’s atoning life and amazing work on Calvary’s Cross (see John 1:12-13; John 3:3, 6-7; Colossians 2:6-7). The Holy Spirit gives believing Christians the power needed to live holy and righteous lives like God (see John 3:6; Acts 1:3-5). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is present every day in the lives of believing Christians (Matthew 1:23).

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past. Romans 3:23-25 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Packer, J.I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Carol Stream, IL:  Tyndale House Pub., 1993.
Youngblood, Ronald F. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1995

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Ransom

For even the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45 (NLT)

As we approach the Easter season, let us not forget the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ for our sins. God sent His one and only Son Jesus Christ into the world as a humble and selfless servant – indeed, the Servant – to suffer and die for our redemption (see also Isaiah 52:13-53:12; see also Luke 22:27; John 13:5). Jesus Christ willingly gave His life as a ransom to give us salvation (life) and release us from the bondage of sin and death (see also 1 Peter 1:18-20). In other words, Jesus Christ redeems us through faith from a bad situation (e.g., sin and eternal death) and endured our punishment for sin at the cost of His own blood on Calvary’s Cross (see Romans 3:24; Titus 2:14, 19; Revelation 5:9). Through a marvelous exchange, the result is our “forgiveness of sins,” righteousness, and reconciliation to God (Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:14). God redeemed us from the slavery of sin, not with money, but with His one and only Son’s precious blood on Calvary’s Cross (Romans 6:6-7; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 9:12). Jesus Christ's sacrificial death for our sins was not an afterthought by God, but predicted by God because of the great fall of Adam and Eve (1 Peter 1:20; see Genesis 3:15) as an expression of His love for humanity (John 3:16). Everyone who accept and believe in Jesus Christ will be saved from their sin and eternal judgment (John 3:16-18).

For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18 (NLT)

Theologians call Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross atonement. The word “atonement” or “make atonement” is frequently used in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, but is rare in the rest of the Holy Scriptures. Yet, the basic idea of atonement is widespread throughout the Holy Scriptures. As mentioned earlier, the need for atonement arrives from the sinfulness of humanity (Genesis 3). Throughout the Holy Scriptures, sin was serious and sin would be punished unless atonement was sought in the way God provided. In the Old Testament, atonement was sometimes made separately from sacrifice by paying money (Exodus 30:12-16) or offering life (2 Samuel 21:3-6). In each case, to make atonement means to prevent divine punishment and anger by the payment of a ransom, which may be money or which may be of life. The Old Testament sacrifices were types (foreshadowing) of Jesus Christ, depicting the ultimate and only sacrifice for human sin.

In the Old Testament, the word atonement is often found in Leviticus, particularly Leviticus 16, which describes the most important day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Sin was dealt with by the offering of a sacrifice. Thus, the burnt offering would be accepted “to make atonement” (Leviticus 1:4), as also the sin offering and the guilt offering (Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 7:7), and especially the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). Many times the Old Testament prophets criticized the offerings of sacrifice as merely external action by the people. Instead, the prophets encouraged the people to offer sacrifice as the expression of their repentant and trustful heart to find atonement.

This truth of atonement is repeated and enlarged upon in the New Testament. The New Testament makes clear that all are sinners (Romans 3:23) and that hell waits any unrepentant sinners. Yet, the New Testament also makes clear that our loving God wants to bring salvation from hell to everyone. God has brought that salvation in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Even more amazing of God’s love is that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19, RSV), a reconciliation brought about by the death of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10). God in Jesus Christ took our sins within His sinless body and died our death for sin (Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21). Thus, Jesus Christ became the last and God’s perfect sacrifice for human sin (Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 10:4-10). In other words, Jesus Christ paid sin’s due penalty – a ransom (Romans 3:25-26; Romans 6:23; Galatians 3:13) to redeem sinful humans (Ephesians 1:7) and set us free (1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 5:1). Thus, Jesus Christ is the sinless and holy Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Even more, He has made a new covenant (Hebrews 9:14-15). Jesus paid it all! As believing Christians in Jesus Christ’s death, our part is simply to respond in repentance, faith, and selfless living.  

Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He (Christ) died for everyone so that those who receive His new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know Him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to Himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (NLT)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House Company, 2001.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Apostle Peter:  But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of Him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom He paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose Him as your ransom long before the world began, but He has now revealed Him to you in these last days. Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because He raised Christ from the dead and gave Him great glory. You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. 1 Peter 1:15-23 (NLT)

God is holy and His Name is also holy (Leviticus 19:2; Psalm 99:3, 5, 9; 1 Peter 15-16).  Holiness is the very foundation of God’s very being, as God is absolutely pure and separated from evil (Isaiah 6:3; see also Habakkuk 1:13; Revelation 4:8). “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3, NIV). Because God is holy, all sin and disobedience is offensive to Him (Psalm 51:4). God’s holiness is also seen in the Trinity. The God of love and grace is our Holy Father (John 17:11), Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24; John 6:69), and the Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit. Our primary response to God’s holiness is our respect, reverence, and worship, which is the basis for all godly living (Exodus 3:5; Psalm 96:9; Proverbs 1:7).

For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. . . . Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44-45, NLT).

Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the God who makes you holy. . . .  Live holy lives before Me because I, God, am holy. I have distinguished you from the nations to be My very own. Leviticus 20:7-8, 26 (MSG)

Since God is absolutely holy, His concern is that His people likewise become holy (Leviticus 11:44-45). God’s people are called to be holy (Leviticus 19:2; Deuteronomy 7:6; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Peter 1:16). Holiness means being completely devoted to God and set aside for His special use and purpose – separated from sin and impurity and set apart or dedicated for God (see also Romans 6:22-23; 1 Corinthians 1:2). There is no eternal life without holiness (Hebrews 12:14) – turning from sin and wholeheartedly obeying God (see Psalm 24:3-4). Since the Old Testament, God’s fundamental calling for His people was to be a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). God wanted a people dedicated and devoted to Him as King, and completely set apart to do His will and service (see also 1 Peter 2:5-9). Thus for God’s people, holiness contains the negative sense of separation from sin and evil and the positive sense of consecration or sanctification for good.

David:  Who may climb the mountain of the Lord and enter where He lives? Who may stand before the Lord? Only those with pure hands and hearts, who do not practice dishonesty and lying. They will receive God’s own goodness as their blessing from Him, planted in their lives by God Himself, their Savior. These are the ones who are allowed to stand before the Lord and worship the God of Jacob. Psalms 24:3-6 (TLB)

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:10 (NIV)

All believing Christians have been made holy through faith and acceptance in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on the Cross (Acts 26:18; Hebrews 10:10, 14). Jesus Christ has made all believing Christians holy in God's sight through faith. The New Testament makes clear that Jesus Christ came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31-35). Jesus Christ redeems and saves all believers (Romans 3:-23-24) at the cost of His blood (Ephesians 1:7; Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9). The result is the “forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14) and justification (Romans 3:24). Thus, God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s death saves us from the sin (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11-12). Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross sanctifies and cleanses us from the old ways of sin and sets us apart for God’s special sacred purpose (Hebrews 13:12). Believing Christians’ holiness through faith in Jesus Christ is preserved through their clean, moral, and peaceful living. Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death saved us from guilt and judgment (Romans 3:24) and produced in believing Christians moral purity and helpful services to others (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? . . . But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9, 11 (NIV)

Our faith in Jesus Christ declares us righteous, holy, wise, and redeemed (Mark 10:45; 1 Corinthians 1:30; see also Colossians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27, NIV). We cannot escape from sin on our own; only faith in the life of Jesus Christ frees us and then following Jesus Christ in loving faith and obedience by God’s Holy Spirit keeps us from sinning (Romans 8:13; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:11, 19-20; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 13:20-21). God’s Holy Spirit helps us to live according to God's purpose and “work out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13). Holiness is an ongoing cooperative process in which believing Christians, alive to God and freed from sin (Romans 6:11, 14-18), are required to actively love and obey God and flee sin and wickedness with the help of God’s Holy Spirit and continually abiding or walking with Jesus Christ (John 15:1-17; Colossians 1:11; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Timothy 2:1). Thus, holiness is neither a self-reliant activity nor God-reliant inaction, but a daily God-dependent effort (2 Corinthians 7:1; Philippians 3:10-14; Hebrews 12:14).

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God. 1 Peter 2:9-12 (NIV)

Being sanctified, or made holy, is a work of God’s Holy Spirit on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the Cross (Titus 2:14, Titus 3:4-5). Through our faith in Jesus Christ, God sends us His Holy Spirit to cleanse us from our sins (John 15:26-27; Acts 5:32). God’s Holy Spirit is the agent of holiness for God’s people (John 3:5; Acts 1:8; Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit keeps the church pure (Acts 5:1-11) and promotes holiness in God’s people through our obedience to God (1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). God’s Holy Spirit living within believing Christians give us the ability to obey God’s holy standards as He controls every aspect of our lives.

Our faith in Jesus Christ does not mean ignoring God’s righteousness. Instead as believing Christians, we willingly exchange a sinful way of living for God’s righteous way of life (Romans 6:15-23; see also 1 John 3:3, 6).  Obedience to God produces holiness (Romans 6:22) and the end of the process is eternal life. There is no eternal life without holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Participation in God’s divine blessings is conditioned on obedience added to faith. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ will express itself in obedience to God (see James 2:14-26). Thus, worshipping God has a horizontal aspect -- that is, God is honored by our lives as we wholeheartedly obey Him and flee sin and evil. A central teaching of the Old Testament and the New Testament is that God desires obedience and a right heart, not empty compliance to rituals or hypocrisy (see e.g. 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 51:16-19; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 9:13).

Apostle Paul:  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

Because of all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ, we should strive to be His holy people (Romans 12:1-2). As mentioned earlier, holiness is a twofold action: turning away from sin, and wholeheartedly turning toward God (2 Corinthians 7:1; see also Acts 20:21). We must devote every area of our life to God with absolute love and obedience in motives as well as practices (Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:1-2). God wants His people to imitate Him by following His high moral standards of love, truth, grace, mercy, and forgiveness (Exodus 34:6-7; Ephesians 5:1-2; see also Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 23:23). Jesus Christ, as God in human flesh, revealed to the whole world God’s love, humility, and mercy (Philippians 2:5-11) for a Christ-like life and attitude are part of what obedience and law-keeping means. As the Lord God passed in front of Moses, He declared “I am the Lord. The Lord is a God who shows mercy, who is kind, who does not become angry quickly, who has great love and faithfulness and is kind to thousands of people” (Exodus 34:6-7, NCV). The prophet Micah proclaimed “the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NLT).

God’s Scriptures gives us guidelines to help us remain separate —both socially and spiritually — from evil and wickedness. We can pray to God to give us strength to live holy lives and God is faithful to help us (see Psalms 99:6). We cannot become holy on our own, but God gives us His Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ to help us obey and to give us power to overcome sin and evil. Call on God's Holy Spirit power to help you live holy and free from sin.

Apostle Paul:  Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:15-23 (NLT)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House Company, 2001.
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991.
Packer, J.I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Carol Stream, IL:  Tyndale House Pub., 1993.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

From Our Hearts

One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They noticed that some of His disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. . . . So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked Him, “Why don’t Your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.” Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” Then He said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.” Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” He said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and His disciples asked Him what He meant by the parable He had just used. “Don’t you understand either?” He asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, He declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.) And then He added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:1-2, 5-23 (NLT) see parallel reference at Matthew 15:1-20 and Old Testament reference at Isaiah 29:13.

The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day were often hostile towards Him and His ministry. In fact, some religious leaders would follow Jesus from place to place simply to watch for something to criticize. The religious leaders had created many man-made traditions. The Jews called their traditions “the fence of the Law.” These man-made traditions and teachings were often considered as authoritative and important as the Word of God—even though they contradicted living Word of God. Sadly, these traditions were external religious rituals and empty words to the lips (Isaiah 29:13). These traditions and rituals were not motivated by love and mercy, but by a desire to appear holy and to increase their status with people (see also Matthew 23:23-28). The religious people went through the outward forms of worship, but these rituals and traditions were not true worship of God because their hearts were far from Him (Matthew 15:1-9). 

Even today, people will follow routine religious patterns yet neglect to give God their first love and devotion (Matthew 6:33). Jesus proclaimed that God wanted our genuine and wholehearted love, alliance, and devotion to Him and not our empty, dishonest, and half-hearted worship (Jeremiah 4:4; see also Isaiah 1:10-20; Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 22:37). God wants everyone to love, obey, and worship Him from their whole hearts (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:37). In fact, the Great Prophet – Jesus Christ – quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 when He gave the most important commandment as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (see Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30).

Jesus taught that true holiness is a matter of inward affection and attitude and not just outward actions and rituals (see also Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:17-26). True worship of God comes from the heart and directed by God's truth, not man-made rituals and traditions. Jesus stated that the source of holy living is from within, not from without. Since the Old Testament, true holiness has always been a matter of the heart, a right relationship with God by faith and worship of Him alone (see also Genesis 15:6; Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 16; Psalm 51:6, 10, 16-17). Moses made it clear in Deuteronomy that God wanted love and obedience to come from our hearts, and not be merely outward obedience to rules and rituals (see also Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 30:6, 20). The Holy Scriptures clearly teaches that God wants our wholehearted love, worship, and devotion to Him, and not just our lip service. It is not enough to act religious, but what is in our hearts is even more important to God. No wonder David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” (Psalm 51:10).

Sin begins in the heart. The human heart is sinful and produces all kinds of evil desires, thoughts, and actions, everything from murder to envy (Jeremiah 17:9). Sin produces defilement and death. Jesus declared boldly that sin comes from the heart. He pointed out that sin actually begins in the attitudes and intentions of the inner person (Luke 6:45). It is what comes out of the mouth and what we think that defiles us and makes us unclean. What comes out of the mouth begins in the heart, and these things defile a person. Allowing our minds and thoughts to dwell on lust, envy, hatred, or revenge will lead to sin. That is why the Apostle Paul encourages everyone to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT). What we allow to occupy our minds and thoughts will eventually determine our speech and actions.

Jesus realized that all humans are sinners and unable to control or change their hearts. That is why Jesus came to earth—to die for lost sinners. The heart can be cleansed and changed only by faith in Jesus and His saving work for our sins on the Cross (Acts 15:8-9, 11). When we place our wholehearted faith in God found in Jesus Christ, God makes us clean from within and gives us a new heart. We are not holy because of outward acts — we become holy on the inside as Jesus renews our minds and transforms us into His image through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 11).

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KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.