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Friday, May 31, 2013

Heart to Heart

Luke 9
            We have all seen and known people who become emotionally attracted to a project, human need, or cause and then not follow through on the commitment they made to the cause. We find this circumstance throughout life and it is not limited to any one age group. We also see this occur in religious organizations. Each week, people walk forward to commit themselves to give money or pray or they commit their lives to Christ. We see people from all walks of life get attracted to these and other things because of an emotional pull. We have also seen people not follow-through on their commitment.  Jesus encountered people like this, too. 

            In Luke 9, Jesus empowered the disciples to go out and heal people and to cast out demons.  He fed 5000 people.  He met with Moses and Elijah at His transfiguration.  He also dealt with two brothers, coaxed by their mother, who were seeking the seats of honor by Him.  Finally, He encountered three men who, upon seeing all that Jesus was doing and hearing all He was saying, decide they wanted to be followers/disciples of His.  Jesus knows all men’s hearts; He knew the hearts of these three men.  

            Jesus’ confrontation with the first two men involved Him explaining to one man that being His follower meant that he did not have a home or human comforts he could call his own. To the second man, Jesus explained that being a follower meant that he had to give everything to Him. He had to love Jesus more than his mother, father, sister, or brother. Both of these men changed their minds about being His disciple when their emotions were faced with the fact that following Jesus came first. 

            The third encounter Jesus had was with a man who decided he wanted to follow Him but did not seem determined and was distracted in his mind and heart. The third man went to Jesus and told Him he would follow Him, but He first needed to go home and tell his friends and family goodbye.  Jesus countered Him by saying that once a person begins to plow, he does not look back to what he is leaving behind or else he is not fit for God’s kingdom. Several commentators compare this to exactly the person Jesus does, a plowman or farmer. If a farmer is busy looking behind him to see if he is doing his work right, he will not be plowing a straight furrow; he will be going astray of his goals. Jesus seemed to be saying that once you make the decision to follow Him, if you take your eyes off of Him, you are distracted and your walk will not be straight. You will begin to falter in your walk and possibly in your faith. A person who is not totally dedicated to the purpose of Jesus, is not doing proper work for God’s kingdom. The person service to the Father and Son becomes worthless.  

There are times in life where, after we have given our lives to Christ, we get caught up in the affairs of our families, friends, or the world. We become susceptible to influences from society by not staying 100% focused on God. Gradually, this little change of focus becomes bigger until eventually, our eyes are not focused on the path that God has set before us. We become swayed to consider another life than that which God has called us. Maybe this life would be one of more financial ease. It could also be a life where we are considered more highly and are more popular. It is so easy to lose our focus when we begin to consider other things. It is a gradual occurrence and, before you know it, you have stopped looking to God to guide you. Sometimes it may seem easier if you were closer to family so that you could take care of aging parents. That seems like a worthy cause for a person to spend a few years, to take care of parents. It could also be that your children are starting college or beginning their careers and they are not located near you, so you want to move closer to them. Unless these things worthy of consideration are God’s purpose for your life at the time, they are some of those things that make you look away and cause your farming to be in vain.   

            Jesus calls all people to come to Him. He even calls some to be close disciples and follow Him to another place in the world. He might just be calling his close disciple to change his or her vocation. Unless we are determined to be absolute followers of Christ and willing to change vocations and locations for His purposes, we are not determined to give our whole selves for His service. We then are like these three men who had to bury a parent, see how his planting was going, or live knowing where he would sleep and eat. We must determine if we are wholly willing to follow Christ no matter what occurs, where we will be, or with what we will live. Christ does not ask all of us to give up everything to follow Him. He does ask that we be willing to give up everything to follow Him. If we cannot even make this statement that we are willing to give up everything, then what we do in our lives will not testify to the glory of God or preach the Gospel. We must be willing to commit 100%. God can then use us for His kingdom purpose; otherwise, our lives become a distraction to those who are watching. Are you willing to give up everything so that the world can know God’s salvation through His Son, Jesus?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

As for Me and My House

The book of Romans is Paul’s great theological treatise on justification by faith through Christ’s death on the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Chapter 2 announces God’s judgment and explains that the judgment by the law, which requires human action, and the circumcision performed by human action is not sufficient for the removal of sin and acquiring righteousness. Nothing that humans can do will bring them into a right relationship with God.
Chapter 3 begins with the statement that no one is justified by works, but only through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Atonement is God’s making a person at-one with Him, which can only occur through the perfect sacrifice. Only through this sacrifice is true compensation made for the sins of humanity.

Finally, from the end of chapter 3 through chapter 4, Paul shows how the ritual of the sacrifice provided for in the Old Testament did not provide the sufficient, perfect pardon for sins. Christ’s death provided this sufficient perfect pardon for all humanity. Still, not all are saved from death because they do not choose by faith to accept Christ’s sacrifice. Paul makes the distinct point that each person must accept Jesus’ sacrifice by faith in Him. This faith of the person in Christ’s sacrifice must be exercised for the atonement to be effected in the life of the person for their eternal station, life eternal.

Because this book is packed with theological and legal terms, I have endeavored to understand each verse individually and within the whole of Paul’s presentation of salvation.

1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 

 If the uncircumcised man keeps the Law, his uncircumcision will be accounted as circumcision, for it is not the outward sign of circumcision that makes you a Jew but the inward circumcision of the heart that makes you a Jew, a child of God (from chapter 2). This inward circumcision of the heart, which is of the Spirit not of the flesh which is by the written word, is what brings one into a heart/spirit relationship with God. It is what is inside a person and comes from the person that determines if they are circumcised.

The question then that Paul writes in this verse is compelling. What is the advantage of the Jew if any who allows his heart to be circumcised can be called a child of God?

2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

First, they were the ones to whom God spoke His oracles, His Word and commands. The non-Jew can be accorded as being a part of the people with whom God entrusted the Law, to teach and to pronounce obedience to Him, if they have circumcised their hearts and follow His Law. All must remember, though, that none will have entrance into God’s eternal Kingdom without the permanent remission of sins, which God will provide through the death of His only Son, Jesus Christ. The Law could not save a person but it points a person to the Lord God.

3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?

If some did not believe based on the Law, will this make God unfaithful. We can see that will never happen. God has been faithful through all the Israelite history and even to today. Samuel points out God’s faithfulness and His willingness to listen to His people when He brings a king to be over the Israelites at their request. Samuel recites a list of God’s faithfulness to the people in 1 Samuel 12. The Jews unbelief did not nullify God’s faithfulness; it did shadow the people’s faithfulness.

4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED."   

Though the words that come from our mouths contradict our actions, God is always faithful to His word through His actions.  God’s foretelling have all been fulfilled or the promise of them has yet to come.  God is always faithful.

5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)

Paul answers this question in verse 6.

Even though we remain unrighteous because all men sin and fall short of God, we can know that God remains faithful and His righteousness is not sullied. In our unrighteousness, God still shows His righteousness by offering us cleansing of our sins by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s righteousness is shown even in our unrighteousness; His wrath does not make Him unrighteous. His wrath is Holy indignation over our sinful acts and words. His wrath leads to discipline which is aimed at returning us to Him. Therefore, God’s wrath does not make Him unrighteous; it shows His holiness. 

6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

7 But if through my life the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?

God’s faithfulness to forgive us does not increase if we sin more. God only needed to provide one sin sacrifice, that being Jesus Christ. This is a reiteration of verses 5 & 6.

We do not show God’s glory more by sinning more. That is a fallacy. God is glorified because of Who He is, not because of what we do. God will always give us our reward even if it is punishment.  God is a just Father God and He will discipline His people when they need to correction to turn them around and see Him.

8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say ), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is just.

Since God is faithful and righteous even when I lie and sin, why should I even need to be faithful and strive to follow the Law?  Paul puts forth this hypothetical question and then answers it with the next verse.   Will not my sin make good come because God’s actions are always right and good?

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all ; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;

Neither Jew nor Greek is without sin and their sin does not make God righteous or gracious. Our sin brings about disciplining from God to lead us back to His way, the path of righteousness. Paul asserts in verse 10 “there is none righteous, not even one.” God had to send His Son to be the final sacrifice for sinful humanity because we could do nothing to bring ourselves into right standing with God. Our circumcision of the flesh did not make us righteous; it set the Jews apart from the rest of the people. We even found out that though the Gentiles were not physically circumcised, they who followed the Law of God that was written upon their hearts and on the tablets were circumcised of the heart. This means that the Law we followed or did not follow was not enough to make us righteous (holy enough) to enter into God’s presence. God had to provide that one sacrifice that would be sufficient for all the sins of humanity. Whether a person follows the written Law or the law written on the heart, it is not enough to keep our sins from making us unable to enter God’s righteous presence. For us to be able to be in communion with God, a means for our being made right, justification, had to be made. God made that means through the perfect, sufficient sin sacrifice in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

10 as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;

As Paul showed above, the Law cannot make us righteous, able to be in God’s presence. It serves to identify a person who is in connection with God, one who keeps His Laws and statutes, and it points to God Who issued the Law. The Law serves to convict us of our sins; it shows us our sins by the fact that we could not keep the 10 Commandments. 

20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

These commandments show us that we could not even keep just 10 commands; we could not walk in accordance with God 100% of the time. We are weak sinners, and need a way to be cleansed so that we can be made holy enough (righteous before God) to be in His presence. The means to become righteous comes through Jesus Christ.  The Son of God is the only means in which a person can be cleansed  to be considered justified/righteous enough to be in Yahweh’s presence. Humans can do nothing to make the stain of sin in their lives go away. God provided the only means available to do that through His Son, Jesus Christ.

If Jesus had been just a man, His name would have been Jesus bar Joseph (Jesus the son of Joseph) or Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, God gave His name in prophecies long before His birth. He was to be called the Savior. Upon looking at the Hebrew and Greek, the name Jesus came from Yehosua and Iesous, meaning salvation. Jesus was named before His birth. The name Christ came from the Greek word Kristos, which came from the Hebrew Masiah meaning “the anointed one.” Jesus Christ would become the anointed Savior of all humanity. The Law could not save the people from the death their sin deserved. Only Christ could be the sufficient sacrifice for our sins.; He became the anointed sufficient sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. As the Son of Yahweh, Who is the maker of the Law, only the blood of the Son of Yahweh would be sufficient to atone for the sin from which the Law could not save humanity. 

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

Long before God brought forth His perfect means to righteousness, He had a plan, which He revealed through the Law and the Prophets. His prophets speak of this Yehosua and Masiah. They speak of the one Who will come and save Yahweh’s people. The people of the time thought the prophets and priests were speaking of a man who would free them from the outside forces putting them in peril. They did not consider that it was to free them from the sin that came from the hearts, minds, and spirits.  Sins come from within a man or woman. God knew before humanity, that some of the strongest battles would have to be won internally. Humanity did not consider their mind, heart, and spirit, as the source of their sinful selves.  They only consider sin as coming from their body/actions. This is one of the reasons He gave the Jews the Shema, which states, “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength.” He gave them the basis from which they should see the battle and where they would need Yahweh to give them His strength. We need someone Who is stronger than ourselves to make us strong enough to withstand temptations.  We cannot do anything to save ourselves from our sins. There is nothing we can do to be righteous. We need God’s plan to be saved; we need the strength of or Creator to be more powerful than the strength we have been given. God’s method of justification is not new; He foretold it throughout the Old Testament times through His prophets. It was not a new righteousness but is a newly revealed plan of righteousness.

God had to show them that not only is He the God of the Law, but He is God over everything. He had to remind them of His power which makes Him the God over heart, mind, strength. He is also the God over the spirit of the person.  Christ expanded the Shema when He told the disciples the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:27-28.

 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction ;

It is through faith that we believe in Jesus Christ and receive the righteousness He imparts to us. We must not only love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, and strength, but also with our spirit (Matthew 22:37-38). We cannot say that we are doing this until we give Him our hearts, mind, body, and spirit. Secular society says that belief is irrational; however, even if you find it irrational, try God; ask God for faith and He will give it to you so that the eyes of your spirit will see Him and accept Him. Faith is a gift from God and He wills to give it to anyone who asks. Faith is the first gift Paul mentions when he tells the Corinthians which are the greatest gifts.  He says the greatest gifts are faith, hope, and love. God seeks to be known to His creation, the children to whom He is calling. To make it possible, He has given His Son, Jesus Christ, “the anointed Savior,” and He will give faith upon request. By giving this faith and by giving this salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, God has made a way for us to become righteous and to be in His presence for eternity. There is no distinction made between Jews or Gentiles, men or women, slave or free person. God calls to all of humanity to come to Him. All of us have fallen short of attaining glory and being in His presence because we have all sinned against God. As verse 23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

Being justified (made righteous or put in right standing with God) is a gift He gives us because of love that we do not deserve, His grace. There is nothing we can do to earn it. He gives it to us as an earthly parent would give a gift to their child.  He gives it because we are His children. This right standing with God comes through the redemption found through the death/blood of Jesus Christ. Because of our sins, we had to be redeemed. Without something to make s clean from or wrong doings, we could not be in the presence of the holy God.  God cannot be in the presence of sin. This is similar now when someone is put into jail for committing a crime. If that person is put into jail and then one day the jailor comes to him and tells him he is free to go, even though he was expecting to spend the rest of his life in jail, that person will wonder who is taking his penalty for the crime he did. That criminal is us. We have each not kept up the standard of the law of life. We are each guilty. God, though, in His love, wants us to be with Him in His castle so He sends someone else to go to jail and die for us and the sin we committed. That person is Jesus. Jesus not only took the penalty for the sin which put us in jail, but He fulfilled all the requirements of the Law and was able to be returned to normal life because, not only did he become the sacrifice for our crime, but He is the King’s Son. His sacrifice was perfect and fulfilled all the requirements of the law. The law could not keep Him because He was the maker of the law. He fulfilled the Law, became the sacrifice, and paid the whole debt, because of His love. He gave us a pardon from the just penalty for our crime.

25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed ;

With Jesus’ fulfilling of all our criminal penalties, He demonstrated how great God’s love is. It demonstrated how right and pure His sacrifice was in that this one sacrifice is all that will ever be needed for any sin we commit. The blood of the Son of God, the Holy One, is the only sacrifice that could have cleansed all our sin from the past, present, and future. It is a faith in the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from our sins that makes us able to be in God’s presence. Faith that Jesus’ blood and death is the sufficient sacrifice for or wrongdoings is what makes us clean.  No other sacrifice would be sufficient for all our sin, for under the Law, each sin had to have a separate sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all sin because His blood is the blood of The King, the one who made the laws for humanity. His righteousness is the only thing that could have made the sacrifice perfect for the sins of all humanity. Only the Lord, the Maker of the Law, could provide the satisfactory sacrifice and pardon for all sins against the law. God passed over the sins previously through the ancient sacrificial system and the Law until the time was right for the perfect sacrifice. This is what is meant when Paul speaks of the forbearance of God. Christ is the perfect sacrifice to take away the sins of all humanity, past, present, and future. There was no remission of sin until Christ offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice. Before Christ’s sacrifice, there was only forbearance.

26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Because God is the King and the maker of the Law, He is the only one who can provide the only perfect sacrifice for sins against the Law. Thus, He is not only the Lawmaker, but also the justice, jury, and the justifier. Therefore, He could provide the only adequate provision for the punishment, which would allow the sinner/criminal to go free. He is the only One who could provide the pardon through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. Jesus was just in punishing and merciful in pardoning. Jesus, in His righteousness, through His death, was made the substitution for us and our sins so that His blood and death became the perfect sacrifice and the perfect means of pardon. Justice was fully satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice.

The view for Old Testament believers in Yahweh is that God put up with and passed over their sins awaiting God’s timing for their future expiation (washing away).  The New Testament tells of the promised means of cleansing and pardon.

27 Where then is boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  Of works?  No, but by a law of faith.

Only by this method of forgiveness are both Jew and Gentile made equally forgiven. This method is open to Jew and Gentile equally, to all people. None of us could have provided the restitution for our sinful acts. There is nothing we could do to pay back fully for our crime. Nothing we could say would be sufficient to pay back for our wrongdoings. The Law could not provide the payment, just the condemnation and the required sacrifice mandated by God so that He could pass over our sins for the time being. All we can do is ask for faith to believe the truth, that God provided the sufficient restitution for our sins; He gave the sufficient propitiation, means for making us at one (atonement) with God.. The Law was given by a King’s mandate and only by a King’s restitution could it be fulfilled. There is nothing we can do or say that would provide the sacrifice necessary for our sin; our crimes are against God. No human could ever provide a remedy for our sin great enough to appease our sin against our God.

28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.  

Paul reiterates what he and the other apostles of Christ believe and have learned from Christ that humanity is only made righteous/justified by faith in the saving blood and death of Jesus Christ, not by doing/following the works of the Law. The Law only served to make humanity aware of its’ sinfulness towards God and the need for a Savior from Yahweh. All of the Old Testament/Old Covenant pointed to this need for a Savior because of the inability of humanity to keep the Law. The Law was there to point people to God. This sacrifice of God’s perfect Son, Who is wholly man and wholly God, provides the perfect sacrifice for Jew and Gentile, the whole family of humanity. This sacrifice also made for a universal religion.

29 Or is God the God of Jews only ? Is He not the God of Gentiles also ? Yes, of Gentiles also,

He reiterates that God is the God of Jew and Gentile, those who circumcised their flesh and then came to give their hearts to God and those who did not circumcise the flesh but yet gave their hearts to God. Remember, the Law serves to point us to God. Some were pointed to God by the Spirit acting within their hearts.  Some were pointed to God by the bodily action of the Law, like circumcision or sacrifice.  Circumcision was required by Yahweh to show to the world the people whom God had called to Himself.  Performing the act of circumcision and knowing God circumcises them should have made them remember the God of their fathers and kindled in them the desire to follow Him.

30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

The same God calls both the Jew and the Gentile. It is not just the circumcised of the flesh He calls but He calls all those who have circumcised hearts towards Him. The Jews were circumcised by faith and the Gentile believers were circumcised of faith. The first was a law mandated to be performed upon a man. The latter is the choice of a person to give his or her heart and life to God.  However, this faith by the latter does not make the Law null and void. 

31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith ? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

This doctrine of justification by faith does not dissolve the obligation of the law, which is to bring people to God. Justification by faith in the atoning power of the blood of Jesus Christ fulfills the law. The Law is fulfilled through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Only a King’s sacrifice could fulfill a King’s Law and proscribed punishment/discipline. The proscribed restitution was a perfect sacrifice and that perfect sacrifice could only be acquired through the life of Jesus the Messiah.  Additionally, we who were raised in a God-fearing home do not automatically have pardon for sins. Each of us must personally ask and accept the gift of faith to believe in Christ’s once for all sacrifice  and believe it is sufficient for our sins. We must believe that God loves us so much that He would allow His only Son to die as the means to secure our permanent pardon for punishment of our wrong doings.  Christ is the complete and perfect fulfiller of the Law of God since He is God’s Son.

When a person accepts by faith Jesus’ sacrifice to bring him or her into right standing with God (to be made at-one with Him), he or she fully apprehends God’s law and, at that point, God is brought fully to the throne of the person’s heart and life. The person sees fully Who Jesus is and believes by faith in the gift that God gave through His death, the perfect atoning for the sin of each person. Whether we grow up in a religious household or not, whether we are rich or poor, Jew or not, we each must choose who we will follow, the One who loves us so much He paid for our sins with His life or our fallible, selfish, sinful selves. We each must choose to enthrone God in our hearts, minds, and spirits and to follow Him with all our being.

“Choose you this day whom you will serve/follow. [The god of your fathers or of your neighbors]...But as for me and my house, we will serve Lord.” (Joshua 24:15 AMP)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Good, Better, and Best

There are many times in life where we must make a decision between things. The choice can be simple as in which candy should I eat or as difficult as which person should I marry or which job offer should I take. If we are not happy with the choices given, he or she may demand our right to choose. At other times people do not give us an option to make a choice and we demand our right to choose for ourselves. We do our best to make the right decision.   

When we become Christians, decision-making does not end. We are often given the choice between things. Sometimes we think our right is to choose between the choices God has given us. From a historical perspective, I see that sometimes this decision point is more than a chance to choose what we want. It is the oppor­tunity to choose between the good and the best. Consider the story of Lot and Abraham in Genesis 13. The herdsmen of each of these men argued over their rights to particular grounds upon which their cattle, sheep, and camels grazed. Abraham and Lot conferred on this and God gave Abraham the wisdom to tell Lot they should choose from the land God presented to them. Abraham offered Lot the opportunity to choose which land he preferred. Lot looked at the land and chose the green, fertile land on the Jordan River side of Bethel. This decision left Abraham with green areas and dry regions. Abraham chose to give Lot first choice. How did Lot choose? It appears he chose based on what he thought would make him more prosperous, the greener territory. He gave the land that appeared less prosper­ous to Abraham.  

Abraham did to Lot what God does to us; he gave Lot the choice be­tween two good things. Lot chose, though, what he, as a human, thought was best. In the end, the land Lot chose was not the best land, only a good place. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah was located in the region Lot chose and God eventually destroyed those two towns. Abraham received what appeared to be a good parcel of land. Occurrences soon showed him it was not just a good choice, but it was the best choice. God assured this land, as far as Abraham could see, as the Promised Land for the family from the line of Abraham (see Genesis 17). Lot had the preference of choosing and he chose instead of seeking God’s will to get the best. Abraham had the option of choosing first, but gave the choice to Lot. Abraham chose the best, by honoring his nephew with respect by allowing him to choose first. From Abraham’s decision, the best decision, God provided the best land, the chosen Promised Land for the Israelites. 

With  this said- how does this apply to us? God sometimes gives His children a choice between options He approves. If we jump to make a choice based on our rights, such as “I have a right to whatever I want because God has given me these choices,” then we might not choose the best alternative. When God does give us the choice between two things of which He approves, we must always seek God’s will for us and choose what the “best” opportunity is. Remember, God knows what will happen in our lives, so He knows what is best for us to help us get to and get through future expe­riences. I know giving our choices to God is not easy. As humans, we want our rights and if God gives us a choice, that becomes our right. Consider it a further growing opportunity. We have the opportunity to come before God again and trust in His wisdom so we can choose what is best for our lives, not just what we want because we have a “right.” I pray each of us will learn to do this, take the options to God and let Him choose for us. This will give us the opportunity to grow spiritually. We must continually walk with our eyes towards God.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Our Calling: To Be One

So many of us Christians baptized long ago, think we are always right; we think we do not sin. When Jesus prayed in John 17 for His disciples to be one with the Father as He and the Father are one, He was not just speaking of our hearts. Yes, we may pray to God at meals and before bed and we may read the Bible, but we may not be at a point yet where we are near God. 

Consider Jesus’ relationship with the Father. You say, well, that is obvious, they have to be close because they are both of the triune Godhead. Well, yes. Jesus was not speaking about that, though. Jesus was speaking of being one in mind, heart, and Spirit. Being one with God should not be a new idea to the Jews; their parents taught them the Shema from their birth. Though their parents taught them the Shema, that does not mean they lived by it. This is why Jesus is praying for His disciples; He wants every one of His disciples, then and now, to be as familiar with the Father as He is. 
For many, to become a Christian appears unreasonable. It does not make sense to follow something/someone you cannot see and because of this, many do not become believers. To most Christians, it might make sense to become a believer; God spoke to their hearts. They could not turn away from God’s call on their lives. The question remains, though, how is Jesus asking us to be in as close a relationship to the Father as He is? What does He mean? Well, consider the Shema. It says we are to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. Christ added we are to love God with all our soul, too, when He stated it as the Greatest Commandment. When you became a Christian, you followed Him with your heart. You love Him with your heart. Growing to be more like the Lord, though, requires you to love Him with your mind, soul, and strength, too. Loving God with your soul/spirit comes once you love God will all of your heart, mind, and strength. These rely on each other.
Your next step after giving Him your heart is to love him with your mind. We must not just “conquer” our minds to live a civil life, but we must do it to live a moral Christian life. Jesus said if the outside of the cup is clean, it does not mean the inside is clean. It is the inside that is important Jesus said in Mark 7:23 (NASB), “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed…All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.” If you are not clean on the inside, which comes when God does not control your mind, then your sinful human thoughts taint whatever you do. Consider Consider this; theft comes from the internal feeling of greed or lust. Adultery comes from the feeling of lust which when decided and acted upon by the head and body results in adultery. Slander comes from jealousy or hatred, a decision by the head, which informs the body to act. God must control your head as well as your heart for you to be closer to Him the way He and Jesus are close.
Additionally, beyond the head and heart, to be near God, to be one with God as Jesus is, we need to give control of our actions to God. As we saw above, most times actions occur because of a decision we make, so the biggest part of living like Jesus is letting God control our hearts and minds. You must give God control of your body and actions; that is your offering to be one with Him. Consider, before you became a believer, the Holy Spirit did not live in you to guide you. Your body was susceptible to the leading of Satan in the world. You learned actions and reactions that are not those God condones. God needs to be one with you in this part of your life so He can re-teach you how to respond to different situations, for example, loss of home, betrayal, uncertainty. God’s ways to handle these adversities is different from Satan’s ways. You also need to be taught how to handle blessings in a way that is appropriate for a follower of Christ, for example, to celebrate a job promotion you would not go on a weekend drinking spree and you would not “lord it” over other people. You must give over your body to God so you can be one with the Father as Christ is one with Him.
Once we are growing more in tune with God through our hearts, minds, and bodies, then we will notice our spirit is becoming more in tune with His Holy Spirit. We find we are thinking and doing the things He wants us think and do because we give the Holy Spirit more rein in our lives. To be able to grow in these three areas, our spirits must become more in tune with the Holy Spirit.
As we come to love God more with our hearts, minds, strength, and soul, we will notice not only are we becoming more like Him, but we can discern what He wants us do and why. We can become more adept at discerning the mind of Christ. Once we are able to do this, we can see why God allows bad things to happen or why God is having us go through a desert experience right now. Not only will we be able to understand these things more, but we will be able to accept them knowing God has not left us or forsaken us. God is not far, but is growing us. Jesus explained to us in John 17:21 why these things occur, so we can become one with God just as He is one with the Father. God is answering Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. Are we at the point where we want to have Jesus’ prayer answered in our lives? This is a big step. It means giving up control to not only your heart, which you initially gave to God when you made a profession of faith, but to every part of yourself. Are you ready to do that? When you get to the point where you wonder if “this is all there is to it” then you are ready to grow on and have God answer Jesus’ prayer in your life. Jesus is still calling you. He does not stop when you become a believer. The question remains, are you going to follow His calling?