Recently I was reading an advertisement from a local retail establishment. As part of a campaign to increase sales, the ad told me, I could now “earn free gifts” by making purchases of different amounts.
Earn free gifts? How can this be, seeing that a gift, by definition, is already free? And how can a gift, or anything else free, be earned?
Mark 16:17, 18
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
We Christians love the name of Jesus Christ. And rightly so, for it is in that name that we have received eternal life, freedom from sin, and all of God’s blessings and benefits.
(New American Standard Version)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
The Scriptures speak often about the salvation which is bestowed on those who believe in, or call on, the name of Jesus Christ. By simple logic, we should be able to recognize that such verses must be referring to more than the literal name, “Jesus Christ.” For there are many who believe that there was a man named Jesus Christ, and many who freely speak that name, yet remain far from this salvation.
What is the Christian life supposed to look like? Many seem ready to answer this fundamental question, and yet their answers vary greatly. According to Hollywood, the Christian life is apparently marked by condemnation of others, hypocrisy, and close-mindedness. Closer to home, we find that even Christian writers and teachers can differ widely, some emphasizing a life of trial, temptation, and pain that will only be ameliorated in heaven, and others insisting on an unbroken happiness, health, and wealth, with little concern for the rest of the world.
With so many contradictory voices in the air, thank God that we can, once again, go to His Word for an answer that is both dependable and satisfying. As we do so, we find that God describes the life of the believer in three short verses.
Though initially addressed to a very specific audience, some of whom were not Christians, the book of Hebrews contains great learning for the Christian today. Consider, for example, the strong reproof found in the final verses of chapter 5:
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses [mental faculties] exercised to discern both good and evil.
Jeremiah 9:23, 24
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory* in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory* in his might, let not the rich man glory* in his riches:
But let him that glorieth* glory* in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.
These two verses contain a daunting challenge to all that the world reveres. These truths mock all that human civilizations have glorified throughout history. They spit in the face of that which, for most people, is the most powerful of motivations. For in all that God does, His hand alone is sufficient. He does not require man’s assistance. Therefore, there is nothing left for man to do but to gratefully and humbly receive.
Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
If you have ever been envious of the wicked, you’re not alone. Asaph viewed the prosperity of the wicked and became envious of their seemingly-perfect lives. However, he learned something that can be extremely helpful to those of us endeavoring to live a Godly life in this world that is beckoning us to follow its allure.
In part one of this study on the Epistle of Jude1 we learned that Jude was writing to a church that was being terribly assailed by false teachers, whose words were deceiving many of the saints. Others, though not deceived, were unsure as to how to respond to this attack. In the opening verses, they are pointedly reminded to simply continue to contend for the faith, and to leave retribution in the hands of God Almighty.
As the epistle continues, we learn something of the true nature of such teachers. And truly, these characteristics are shared by all those who would willingly teach doctrine which is contrary to the Word of God.
But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.
Near the end of the New Testament Scriptures, we find the short but powerful epistle of Jude. In this study, we will examine some of the crucial teachings of this epistle, but the reader is encouraged to take the time to study this epistle in detail.
Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.
Two significant points should be noted about the introduction to this epistle. First, according to most scholars, this man Jude is the same who is noted in the gospels as being the half-brother of Jesus Christ. And yet he introduces himself as the brother of James (another of Jesus’ half-brothers, who was a prominent leader in the first century church) and the servant (doulos, or bond-slave) of Jesus Christ. Clearly, this man had little interest in furthering his own reputation; rather, he was interested in furthering the kingdom of God.
How thankful I am that God chose to reveal His Word. God’s Word gives us a true picture of mankind, of the world, and of the purpose of life. It clearly shows the way that God has made through Christ for restoration of all things. It gives us glimpses of eternity. For the Christian, it explains the many rights and privileges which belong to one who is in Christ.
Most importantly, perhaps, God’s Word tells us of the nature of God Himself. It shows Him as He is: a God who is above the heavens and earth yet involved in the daily dealings of mankind, who is absolute in His justice yet abounding in mercy. It sings of His goodness, faithfulness, and truth.
And it teaches us about God’s holiness—a holiness that shakes a sinful world—and beside which no trace of sin can avoid being instantly consumed. This is a holiness that, by our own devices, you and I could never dream of approaching. Only the holy can approach the Holy One.
The Epistle of II Timothy is in some ways one of the saddest of Paul’s epistles, in that it was written at a time when Paul knew he did not have much longer to live. And yet, due to this very fact, as well as to the condition of the church at the time, II Timothy is one of the clearest and most pointed of all Paul’s writings: this was not a time to deal with peripherals, this was a time to get down to the essentials.
As we consider the entire epistle, it becomes clear that the list of essentials was a list of one. Throughout the letter, Paul gives a number of charges (or commands) to Timothy, and each of them emphasizes one thing and one thing only—the gospel. Continue to hold fast to the gospel, continue to teach the gospel, and continue to guard the gospel.
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
As we see in Romans 15, one of the distinctions God makes within the Body of Christ is the distinction between the weak and the strong, or the mature and the immature. The difference is not due to one group having received more, but rather to their recognition of that which all have received in Christ.
One earmark of the immature is the assumption that some work of mine can have an effect, positive or negative, upon that which has been accomplished for and in me via the completed work of Jesus Christ. In the first century, there were some immature ones who felt that the food they ate could have such an effect.
Like many others, I really enjoy a good Western movie. I think that this type of story appeals to a good number of people for a very simple reason: good guys and bad guys are clearly defined (often by the color of their hats!) And we know that, whatever happens along the way, by the end of the movie good will win.
In some ways, this can be applied to the spiritual realm. God is absolutely good in His ways, in His works, and in His nature. The Scriptures also make it clear that there is a real, conscious, and directed force of evil which is ever opposed to the things of God. Thankfully, they also tell us how that movie ends!
In our fellowships, we often sing a wonderful song that expresses so much in just a few words, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Each verse closes with the refrain, “No turning back, no turning back.”
And yet, many Christians, having been delivered from the corruption of the world, do indeed turn back. Why would they do such a thing, especially in light of admonitions like that found in the epistle of I John.
After Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, about 3,000 people were saved. Holy spirit had a very powerful impact on the way they began to live their lives. One of the changes that took place was that they “had all things common.”
And all that believed were together, and had all things common.
Even those with little or no knowledge of God’s Word can tell you who Daniel was—he was the guy who the lions didn’t eat. Sadly, this is about as much as most Christians can tell you about Daniel. He was cast into a den of lions (some even know why) and “God did shut the lions’ mouths so they could not harm him.”
Praise and Worship is a topic on the minds and lips of many Christians today, even though it often seems they have a hard time agreeing on exactly what “Praise and Worship” is. One thing all seem to agree on: praising God makes us feel good. Some speak of “feeling the spirit descending on the room,” others of the feelings evoked in their hearts.
They might be surprised to discover that God’s Word has very little to say about feelings. It does, however, have much to say about praising God.
Many of us might not consider the city of Corinth to be an ideal place in which to start a church. Yet the Lord called the Apostle Paul to preach the gospel there and he obeyed, despite much opposition. Due to his faithful testimony many came to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and we learn from the book of Acts that Paul remained in Corinth for a year and six months, teaching those new believers the Word of God. (Acts 18:11)
Over two thousand years ago, an event occurred which was easily the most significant moment in human history up to that point. It was not hidden; it did not come unannounced. Yet even among those who professed to be waiting for it, all but a few remained unaware of what was occurring right in their midst. Still, despite the lack of human acclaim, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.
Many in our day seem to have the idea that, if there is a God, we would do well to avoid Him. In light of the example being set by many Christians, this attitude is understandable. Indeed, if the lives of some Christians were the standard, it would seem that God’s only reason for noticing man was to restrict man’s pleasures and replace them with burdensome, pointless duties.
Like reading the Bible.
Our human minds have limitations and, because of this, we truly perceive only a small fraction of the many sights, sounds, and other sensory stimuli we encounter during the course of a day. We retain certain things, but the rest go unnoticed.
What is particularly interesting about this phenomenon is that a group of individuals in the same location, engaged in the same activity, will perceive and thus remember entirely different details regarding that place and event.
When God speaks, He speaks truth. Unlike the words of man, God’s Word is always faithful—as faithful as God Himself. His Word will always accomplish what He sent it to accomplish.
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Have you ever felt intimidated by forces that seemed to be bigger and stronger than you? Have you ever engaged in a conflict in which your opponent appeared to have everyone’s support, while you stood alone? Have such situations ever tempted you to speak less than the truth, to do less than what was right?
You are certainly not the first to have been faced with such a challenge. God’s Word abounds with accounts of people like us in similar circumstances. One of these is recorded in I Samuel 17.
Jesus Christ is no mere helper. He is the Savior, the Redeemer, the only way by which man can be restored to God’s divine presence and blessing.
In the early centuries of the Christian church, when Christians were in the distinct minority, certain of the church leaders took it upon themselves to change the public perception of Christianity. To do so they began writing to various public officials, presenting their beliefs and practices in terms that, they hoped, would sound “normal” and non-threatening to these unbelieving rulers. Modern scholars refer to these writers as the Apologists (the term “apologist” does not refer to making apology, but rather is derived from the Greek word apologeomai, meaning to answer or defend, as in a court of law).
It’s interesting to note that the religions of the world are really all in agreement on some very fundamental matters. Although they may differ on specifics, the central focus of all religion is upon some work or works which must be done in order for man to be acceptable to some god or gods. Christianity, when defined Scripturally, stands apart from all religion; it differs not just on specifics but on that very central focus. For the message of Christianity is that no work of man’s hands can ever render him righteous in the sight of the one true God; thus the need for a savior, a redeemer, a substitute: the Lord Jesus Christ.
All religions have one thing in common – they are all systems designed to earn God’s favor for man. Though they may differ in particulars, they share the common assumption that some work of man can win the approval of Almighty God.
Psalm 119: 105, 130
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
God describes His Word as being light and as giving light. Light enables us to see where we are going. Light helps us to distinguish the good from the worthless in order that we might embrace one and avoid the other.
Over the past several decades, the world around us has experienced an upswing in what is referred to as “health consciousness.” Many people are concerned about purchasing clothing, cosmetics, and cleaning products that are “100% natural.” Foods for the health-conscious carry labels assuring us that they contain no artificial additives.
When it comes to the material realm, the relative benefits or perils of additives are perhaps debatable. But when it comes to God’s Word, the disastrous effect of “additives” is clearly addressed in the Scriptures.
Many men and women in the world today, if they acknowledge the true God at all, consider Him to be, at best, whimsical and unpredictable. This contention is often accompanied by a “Bible” verse: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” (Of course, like “God helps those who help themselves,” this verse is not even in the Bible but rather, in this case, is a misquotation from a poem written in the Eighteenth Century!)
No one has ever truly stood for the One True God without encountering opposition. As we read—in the Word of God and in the records of history—about the lives of godly men and women who have gone before us, it seems that even their smallest advance was accompanied by persecution, derision, and misunderstanding.
We can’t help but ask the question, “How (and why) did they put up with it all?” An answer can be found in Romans 1.
I am continually amazed at the number of people who assume that the Christian life is one of “giving up” present enjoyment in the hope of some vague future gain. What is even more amazing—and pitiful—is the number of Christians who hold this same view.
Has no one taught them? Have they not read God’s Word for themselves? God’s Word abounds with examples of the riches which become mine when I believe on Jesus Christ. Not “someday,” but at the moment I believe. Not “in the sky,” but right here, right now.
Consider just a few of the things that God says belong to His sons and daughters.
Outside of the book which bears his name, very little is mentioned in God’s Word regarding the prophet Jonah: in the gospels, we read of Jesus referring to Jonah, even comparing himself to Jonah, and the following verse in the Old Testament speaks of his ministry to Israel.
II Kings 14:25
He [Jeroboam II, king of Israel] restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher.
From these records, we gather that God considered Jonah to be both a servant and a prophet, one who spoke for Him. The Scriptures give no other information as to Jonah’s ministry to Israel. However we do read that Jonah had the distinction of being one of the very few prophets called by God to speak for Him to another nation. In other words, to the Gentiles.
Recently, I was listening to a compilation of Christian music, a whole series of songs about how God had helped “when I was at the end of my rope,” “when my own strength just wasn’t enough,” and “when I couldn’t find my own way.” And although the songs were both sincere and emotionally moving, I really would have liked to ask the various songwriters something:
When can man ever find his own way? When is his strength enough? When is he not at the end of his rope?
We have seen that doctrine – the teaching regarding what God has done in Christ – is essential, yet is so often absent in the life of the average Christian. In fact, many Christians are not aware that doctrine should have any place in their lives at all. Perhaps this is why so many Christians today exhibit such timid uncertainty, unsure of their relationship with God, unsure of their rights as sons, unsure of their very salvation.
Do you spend much time in the kitchen? I don’t. I tend to avoid the kitchen if at all possible. In fact the wise cook makes sure I never darken their kitchen door.
You see, I have this problem with recipes. I have a tendency to leave ingredients out. And leaving just one ingredient out of a recipe can have interesting results. The absence of a particular herb or spice, for example, can result in a dish that is still edible, but flavorless. Alternatively, the absence of a key ingredient can result in catastrophe!
The epistle of I Corinthians was written to a church in trouble.
The believers in Corinth knew many wonderful things. They knew about their righteousness in Christ. They knew that they had been made holy. They knew who their Lord was, and they knew about his promised return. Regarding the nine manifestations of the gift of holy spirit which are given to all believers and the ministries which are given to each believer, their knowledge surpassed that of most Christians today.
As we endeavor to make known Christ in this dark and lost world, we sometimes encounter those who refer to themselves as “seekers after truth.” Many of these people appear to be sincere and dedicated, and perhaps they actually are what they claim to be. Regardless, this is a title that can no longer apply to those of us who have believed on Jesus Christ and have come to know God’s Word. For us, the search is over. We are no longer seeking truth: we have found it.
The Word of God is eternally living and powerful. It is not like the words of men. It is as true today as when it was first given. It is God speaking now.
Psalm 37 contains verses that, while written thousands of years ago, speak loudly to our time and circumstances. The Christian would be wise to consider them.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.
One of the many wonderful records of deliverance in the Gospels is that of the woman with the issue of blood. This woman was truly tormented. For twelve years, she lived with a seemingly incurable disability. She consulted with all of the experts and specialists of her day, but to no avail. At the end of her quest, all of her material resources were exhausted, and still she had no deliverance, and no answers. Many people in similar straits have simply given up, crushed under the weight of frustration and despair.
The book of Isaiah was written during a time of intense emotional strain. Political and military turmoil were on the rise, and the uncertainty of the future was the topic in everyone’s mind and on everyone’s lips.
Isaiah was a spokesman for God. Rather than uttering the happy platitudes which the people wanted, and even at times demanded, Isaiah spoke God’s Word. And much of what he spoke promised not peace, but even greater upheaval because of the choices God’s people were making.
The world is searching for the ultimate experience.
Virtually every day it seems that I receive some form of communication from someone who has a new “experience” to market to me. “Experience white-water kayaking!” “Experience polar bears in the wild!” “Experience New Jersey!!!”
One brochure went so far as to inform me that I would not be “complete” without the experience of jumping off a bridge with a piece of elastic tied to my ankle.
The book of Ephesians is a most amazing and remarkable declaration. Within its short six chapters, God reveals some astounding truth for the very first time. Until the writing of Ephesians, the details regarding God’s plan for man’s restoration were not known. The culmination of that plan, and its impact on all eternity, were a mystery, hidden from man and even from angels (I Peter 1:10 — 12).
Many consider God’s Word, the Bible, to be one of the great religious books. They readily point to it as a work of profound importance, containing the thoughts of deeply spiritual men of former generations. They go so far as to assert that our very culture rests upon the philosophy, morality, and world-view of the Bible.
Regardless of intent, all of these supposed honors fall far short of the truth, and in fact are an insult to the Bible’s true source and true purpose.
Many students of God’s Word expend great effort in unearthing, enumerating, and compiling lists of God’s many promises and of the benefits available to those who trust in Him. And this indeed is a worthy endeavor, in that far too many Christians, though well-versed in dogma and time-worn ritual, are virtually ignorant of the blessings which are theirs in Christ and the further benefits that God is fully willing to impart to them.
Our culture appears to be obsessed with change. Change is offered as the cure for nearly every ill. Don’t like your life? Don’t like your condition? Don’t like yourself? Or are you simply bored? Change! Change your hair, change your job, change your spouse, change your gender [!] — change something!
Sadly, that which is new becomes old, and for the man or woman addicted to change, the future holds nothing but a series of momentary delights followed by frustration.
Have you ever attempted to read God’s Word “from cover to cover?” It is well worth the effort, and much learning can come from it, but you will encounter some challenges. For instance, what about those long sections in the Old Testament that seem to have nothing to do with me?
The church which began on the day of Pentecost is referred to in many ways throughout the Church Epistles (for example, the church is called the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and the household of God in various places), and each of these terms illustrates a different aspect of its nature. In I Corinthians 3, this same church s called the temple of God.
When the sincere believer approaches God’s Word, it is essential that he or she recognizes that the Word of God is totally different from everything else they have ever read. For all other writings, regardless of what they claim to be, are the words of men. They issue from the hearts of men, express the thoughts of men, and reflect the ways of men. Not so the Word of God.
In the book of I Samuel, we can read in great detail of the first king of Israel, Saul. We read of his early faithfulness, of his descent into pride, and of his eventual replacement by a young man named David. When Saul was rejected and David was anointed to take his place, David was, from God’s point of view, the new king. Many years elapsed, however, before David was actually to sit on the throne. During that time he was a fugitive and his life was literally in jeopardy daily.
Occasionally we hear certain geographical locations referred to as “dark areas” If I understand the term correctly, it is used to indicate a place where Satan is particularly active And it is usually heard in the context of an explanation as to why it is “impossible” to stand on God’s Word in that place.
First Peter chapter five proclaims a truth that should bring great comfort to the hearts of all believers.
The book of Ephesians is the apex of the revelation given to the church of God. The believer can’t help but marvel at its first three chapters, in which God fully reveals the significance of Christ’s completed work and all that it means to, for, and in us.