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Why Jesus Hates Legalism – Luke 11:37-54


There is probably no sin more tolerated or more widespread in the Christian world than legalism. It may surprise you to hear it labeled as sin. Legalists are thought to be a bit overzealous or “uptight,” but they aren’t usually thought of as sinning in the same sense as adulterers, thieves, liars, and the like. To the contrary, legalists seem to be concerned about holiness.

Yet the Lord Jesus had more conflicts with the legalists of His day than any other group. It wasn’t the adulterers, the robbers and that sort, who put Jesus on the cross. It was the legalists. Later on, the Apostle Paul had the same experience, as the legalists dogged his steps, perverting the gospel of the grace of God.

When you study the life of Christ, it is noteworthy how He deliberately did things to provoke the legalists. He could have healed people on any other day of the week, but He often did it on the Sabbath. He could have been more discreet in violating the Pharisees’ rules, but He did it openly. When a Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner, He could have gone along with their elaborate hand-washing custom, but He deliberately ignored it. When they questioned Him about it, He could have been more polite, but He blasted them for their hypocrisy. When a lawyer pointed out that Jesus had offended them as well, He didn’t say, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to offend you good folks.” He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well!” Jesus confronted legalism as sin.

And yet many Christian churches today are riddled with legalism, but the ministers are too “nice” to stand up to the legalists and say, “You’re not going to do that in this church!” The evangelical church today is plagued by “niceness.” Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that to be like Jesus means always being nice, never offending anyone, never confronting anyone. But clearly, if we want to be like Jesus, we must confront sin. And, legalism is sin!

What is legalism? Some erroneously confuse it with an emphasis on obedience. I have been accused of being legalistic because I preach that we must obey God’s Word. But every book of the Bible teaches that we must obey God. Being under grace does not mean that we are free to disobey God.

Others say that legalism is when we set up any man made rules. But there are many areas not specifically addressed in the Bible where we need some rules in order to function as a family or church. Parents are not being legalistic when they set a curfew for their kids. Churches are not being legalistic when they follow certain procedures or practices.

So, what is legalism? Legalism is an attempt to gain favor with God or to impress our fellow man by doing certain things (or avoiding other things), without regard to the condition of our hearts before God. At the root of legalism is the sin of pride, because the legalist thinks that he is able to commend himself to God by his own good deeds. Invariably, he is only looking at externals, not at his heart.

Also, the legalist’s pride motivates him to exalt himself in the sight of others by his outward behavior, again neglecting to see the corruption of his own heart. As such, it is opposed to the gospel of God’s grace. That’s why both Jesus and Paul clashed with the legalists.

The real bottom-line: we never know how we stand before our God!

Jesus hates legalism because it does not deal with the condition of our hearts before God.

Christianity is primarily a matter of the heart. Everything flows from a heart relationship with God, who transforms our hearts when He regenerates us. The Jewish religious leaders seemingly were seeking after God, but in reality they were self-seeking. They didn’t see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They saw themselves as good people because they kept the Law. But in reality, they didn’t keep the Law because they didn’t apply it on the heart level. Thus, Jesus in effect said that if they would be as careful about clean hearts as they were about clean hands, then they would be what they ought to be.

The structure of our text is that in 11:37-41 we have the setting and overall theme, that legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal.

Then, in 11:42-44 Jesus pronounces three woes on the Pharisees in which He sets forth some of the specific problems with legalism. At this point, an expert in the Jewish law speaks up in self-defense, pointing out that Jesus’ remarks not only condemn the Pharisees; they also insult the lawyers.

Rather than apologizing, Jesus launches into a series of three more woes on the lawyers (11:46-52). The result was not repentance, but rather increased hostility on the part of the Pharisees and lawyers in an attempt to trap Jesus in something He might say (11:53-54).

The overall theme: Legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal (11:37-41).

37  While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table.
38  The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.
39  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.
40  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?
41  But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

 

Before we look specifically at the theme, take note that Jesus accepted social invitations from unbelievers. But, also note that He did not hesitate to confront unbelievers with their sin! He deliberately provoked this confrontation by doing something that surprised His host. But we need to be careful about how we apply this. Jesus was in a cultural context that understood the bold language of the prophets. Also, He is the Lord and as such has both the insight and authority to speak in this manner.

Paul instructs us, “Walk with [NASB, margin] wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5, 6). The metaphor of salt implies that we can and should be provocative, but we also must speak in a gracious and sensitive manner. But in every social contact with unbelievers, keep your purpose clear. You’re there to be the instrument of the Holy Spirit in convincing the person about sin, righteousness, and judgment, and to proclaim the good news of God’s grace in Christ.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, ostensibly in an attempt to keep God’s Law, had devised and added hundreds of manmade laws. But in so doing, they had shifted the focus from the heart to the outward man. This included elaborate rituals for washing themselves before meals and for cleansing their dishes and utensils. While there was a basis for these practices in the Book of Leviticus (11:33-34; 15:12), the Pharisees had taken them far beyond what God intended. Jesus uses this practice to confront the main issue.

Religion apart from God is always trying to fix the outer man to look good to other men, but it neglects the fact that the Lord looks on the heart. Jesus (11:39) confronted the Pharisees with the fact that although they went to great lengths to clean their cups and platters, they neglected to cleanse their hearts, which were full of robbery and wickedness. The Pharisees despised those who were openly sinful, but God looks not only at the outward person, but also on the heart. Inwardly, the Pharisees were greedy and wicked. Jesus compares this to washing the outside of a bowl and then eating out of it, even though the inside was filthy! The God who made the outside made the inside as well. Genuine religion is a matter of the heart, not just of external compliance.

The meaning of verse 41 is debated, but Jesus seems to be saying that if we deal with our hearts before God, then everything that flows outward is clean. As J. C. Ryle explains, “Give first the offering of the inward man. Give your heart, your affections, and your will to God, as the first great alms which you bestow, and then all your other actions, proceeding from a right heart, are an acceptable sacrifice, and a clean offering in the sight of God” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:48-49).

Then Jesus launches into the three woes on the Pharisees:

1. The first woe: Legalism majors on minors and minors on majors (11:42).

42  “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

      The Pharisees were meticulous about giving a tenth to God to the degree that they even tithed their spices! (Rue is a strong-scented herb.) While Jesus upheld the obligation of tithing (Lev. 27:30 was used to support the tithing of spices), He condemned them for neglecting the weighty part of the Law, namely, justice and the love of God. As He elsewhere affirmed, the love of God and the love of neighbor sum up the entire Law (Matt. 22:37-40). But the Pharisees would cleverly tell even their parents that they could not help them financially because their money had been devoted to God (Mark 7:11). Technically, they were tithing, but practically, they were neglecting to love their own parents!

Modern day legalists also major on the minors and minor on the majors. Some churches and Christian parents put major attention on rules about petty issues, such as dress codes or certain activities, but they tolerate serious sins, such as gossip, greed, and pride. If we shun people because of how they look, or over certain behaviors that, according to the Bible, are not major, we are guilty of the sin of the Pharisees.

2. The second woe: Legalism focuses on self-glory (11:43).

43  Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
Jesus next condemns the Pharisees because they loved the front seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. They loved to have people notice how important they were! It made them feel good to be addressed as the Reverend Doctor So-and-so. But pride was at the root of it. They were focused on their own glory, not on God’s glory. Pride is at the heart of legalism; humility is at the heart of true Christianity.

The legalist can take pride in himself and his attainments because he is looking at outward matters, not at issues of the heart. He doesn’t acknowledge that his heart is just as sinful as the heart of the prostitute or robber. If he had been reared in their circumstances or had encountered the problems in life they had faced, he would have engaged in the same behavior, because he had the same heart of lust and greed. No, he sees himself as a notch above these sinners. He has attained a righteous life by his own hard work and discipline. The legalist is puffed up with pride.

Scripture declares that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). One sure mark of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts is that we see ourselves as terrible sinners in the sight of God. We see that we deserve His judgment because of our pride, selfishness, and rebellion. Rather than comparing ourselves with others and concluding that we are basically good, we compare ourselves with God and conclude that no good thing dwells within us. Thus convicted of our great need, we flee to the cross for mercy. But legalists don’t like the message of the cross, because it confronts their pride.

3. The third woe: Legalism subtly corrupts others (11:44).

44  Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
     Jesus compares the Pharisees to concealed tombs. If a Jew came in contact with a tomb or a dead body, he was ceremonially unclean for seven days (Num. 19:11-22). The picture behind these ceremonial laws was that sin leads to death and that the contamination of sin and death spreads to others if it is not dealt with. The Jew who became contaminated by contact with a dead body had to take responsibility for cleansing through the ashes of a red heifer and ritual washing (Num. 19:1-11). Here, Jesus accuses the Pharisees, who were meticulous about such laws of cleanliness, of defiling the Jewish nation through their own spiritual death! The charge must have shocked them!

The application is that the sin of legalism contaminates unsuspecting people. It turns off unbelievers and keeps them from the truth of the gospel, because they can see the hypocrisy of the legalists. It contaminates young believers, who are mistakenly taught that if they do certain things and do not do other things, they will grow in holiness and be pleasing to God. But invariably, the things that they are told to do and not do are not the important issues of the Bible, such as the love of God and neighbor (as summed up in the Ten Commandments). Rather, they are petty things, often things that Scripture does not directly command.

One reason many kids who grow up in Christian homes later reject the faith is that the parents and the church have been shot through with legalism. Instead of the joy of knowing God and of having our sins forgiven through His grace, the focus was on the rules and the outward conformity that had to be maintained so that everyone else would think that the kids (and parents) were good Christians. I’m not saying that Christian homes should not have any rules. But the emphasis in our homes and church should be on the joy of knowing God. As Paul says, “the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

At this point, an expert in the Jewish Law who was at the dinner spoke up. Probably he thought that this young rabbi did not grasp the full implication of His words. He was not only indicting the Pharisees; His scathing words also insulted the lawyers and the entire Jewish religious leadership. But rather than apologizing or backing down, Jesus laid into the lawyers with three more woes:

4. The fourth woe: Legalism burdens people with peripheral commandments (11:46).

46  And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
    The lawyers had taken the commands of Scripture and had multiplied them into hundreds of minute adaptations. But, like lawyers in every age, they had also come up with legal loopholes that enabled them to skirt around their own rules, while the average guy was still burdened with them. For example, on the Sabbath the lawyers determined that you could only travel 1,000 yards from your home. But if a rope was tied across the end of the street, the end of the street became his residence and he could go 1,000 yards beyond that. Or, if before the Sabbath a man left at any given point enough food for two meals, that point technically became his residence and he could go 1,000 yards beyond that.

On the Sabbath, you couldn’t tie a knot, because that was work. But a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So if you needed to draw water out of the well on the Sabbath, you couldn’t tie a rope to the bucket, but you could tie a woman’s girdle to the bucket! (These examples are in William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke [Westminster Press], p. 158.)

The Sabbath laws were given for our benefit, so that we would set aside one day in seven for worship and rest. I believe that modern Christians err by throwing out the entire Sabbath principle. Most Christians treat Sunday just like every other day. But some err by coming up with specific lists of what you can and cannot do on the Lord’s Day. The main issue is our heart before God. We are to honor Him one day each week by ceasing from our normal routine and worshiping Him.

Legalism burdens people with peripheral issues and rules. Biblical holiness frees people by pointing them to the beauty of God’s holiness and love. As 1 John 5:3 states, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” When we obey out of a heart of love for God, even though it is not always easy, it will always result in great joy and blessing.

To summarize, Jesus is elaborating on the theme that legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal. He has shown that it majors on minors, it focuses on self-glory, it subtly corrupts others, and it burdens people with peripheral rules.

5. The fifth woe: Legalism dodges the personal application of God’s holiness, but pretends outwardly to honor it (11:47-51).

47  Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed.
48  So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.
49  Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’
50  so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,
51  from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.
     The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not submit their lives personally to the message of the Old Testament prophets, but they built monuments to them to make it look as if they honored them. But Jesus lumps the current leaders with their ancestors who killed the prophets. He is saying that the current leaders are finishing off the job that the earlier generations started. As in all the other woes, the underlying problem is that though outwardly they act as if they honor the prophets, inwardly they do not repent of the very sins which the prophets condemned.

When Jesus refers to the wisdom of God (11:49), He is not quoting any specific Scripture, but rather is summarizing and personifying all of God’s wisdom as revealed through the prophets. Abel was the first man to die because his righteousness convicted his brother of his evil deeds. In the arrangement of the books in the Hebrew Bible, Zechariah was the last prophet to be killed (2 Chron. 24:20-25). Jesus is saying that the blood of all the righteous men who were martyred in the Old Testament would be charged against this current wicked generation, because they rejected God’s revealed wisdom about their sin. This may point to the awful judg­ment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or it may also include the final judgment. The point is, legalists don’t apply God’s holiness to their hearts; they just put on an outward show of honoring it.

6. The sixth woe: Legalism misses the true knowledge of God and misleads those who seek to know Him (11:52).

52  Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”
     The key of knowledge refers to the personal knowledge of the living God through His revealed Word. As Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). True religion is a matter of knowing God personally and growing in that relationship with Him. Legalism is a matter of going through rituals and of keeping rules, but it’s devoid of the personal knowledge of God.

In many well-meaning but legalistic Christian homes, parents mistakenly think that the way to keep their teenagers in line is to lay down and enforce a lot of rules. But the way to keep your teenagers in line is to lead them to a personal knowledge of the Holy One. He’s with them when you cannot be there. If they truly know Him and know the great love of Christ who gave Himself for their sins, they will want to please Him, beginning on the heart level. As our kids grow in their walk with God, we should be able to ease up on the number of rules, not impose more. Our goal is to get each child to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ, in a growing personal relationship with Him. Legalism takes an external approach; biblical Christianity focuses on the heart relationship.

53  As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54  lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2019 in legalism

 

Is God inclusive or exclusive?


Exclusive Is God inclusive or exclusive?

The answer is a resounding ‘both!” He wants all to be saved but there are “steps of faith.”

Peter proclaimed the clear answer in 2 Peter 3: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Churches today are less and less likely to ask “What does the Bible say?” and more likely to ask, “What does the community want?” We need to be reminded that the church belongs to the Lord, not the community. The church is uniquely His and was designed to be His servant to take His gospel to a lost and dying world.

Truth has become trivial, irrelevant. Realize that 72% of Americans between the ages of 18-25 now believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth!

David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland, “We have turned to a God that we can use rather than to a God we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our needs rather than to a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. He is a God for us, for our satisfaction – not because we have learned to think of him in this way through Christ but because we have learned to think of him this way through the marketplace.
   “In the marketplace, everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well. And so we transform the God of mercy into a God who is at our mercy.”

Jesus once asked regarding John the Baptizer, (Matthew 11:7) “As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” A reed is a symbol of instability; it pictures that which yields to other forces.

On the other hand, Paul described the church as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The imagery here is that of a solid, immovable foundation. It is a question that the church of today must ask. Are we a “reed shaken in the wind,” or are we the “pillar and ground of the truth”?

Real Love – Real love doesn’t leave another person in error. Real love takes the time to show them the error of their way:  (Galatians 6:1) “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

(2 Timothy 2:24-26) “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. {25} Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, {26} and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

inclusion-wordle11Jesus was exclusive! (John 14:6) “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unless you believe that I am He (John 8:24) “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.””

One Gospel  – (Galatians 1:6-9) “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– {7} which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. {8} But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! {9} As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2019 in God

 

10 Reasons to Believe in Christ rather than religion


God never asks us to be religious; He asks us to believe in His Son. So why have human beings turned God’s simple offer into something convoluted—and despairingly difficult? 

Christ Is Someone to Know and Trust. Christ is more than a system, tradition or belief. He is a Person who knows our needs, feels our pain and sympathizes with our weakness. In exchange for our trust, He offers to forgive our sins, intercede for us and bring us to His Father. He cried for us, died for us and rose from the dead to show that He was all He claimed to be. Conquering death, He showed us that He can save us from our sins, live His life through us on earth and bring us safely to heaven. He offers Himself as a gift to anyone who will trust Him (John 20:24-31).

Religion Is Something to Believe and Do. Religion is believing in God, attending religious services, tradition, ritual, ceremony, and learning the difference between right and wrong. Religion is reading and memorizing Scripture, offering prayers, and giving to the poor. Religion helping the poor and making amends for past wrongs. Religion is something that was practiced by the Pharisees, those Scripture-loving, conservative, separatist, spiritual leaders who hated Christ enough to call for His death. They hated Him not only because He broke their traditions in order to help people (Matthew 15:1-9), but also because He saw through their religion to their hearts.  

Religion Doesn’t Change Hearts. Jesus likened the religious Pharisees to a group of dishwashers who clean the outside of a cup while leaving the inside dirty. He said, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:39,40, NIV). Jesus knew that a person can change his image without changing his act (Matthew 23:1-3). He knew that religious credentials and ceremony cannot change the heart. He told one of the most religious men of His day that unless a person is “born again” by the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Yet from that day until now, many of the most religious people in the world continue to forget that while religion can give attention to outward appearance, only Christ can change the heart.  

Religion Makes Much of Little. Jesus spoke to religionists who had a passion for detail when He said, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11:42). Jesus saw our tendency to make rules and to focus on “morally correct” behavior instead of keeping our eyes on the bigger issue of why we are trying to be so right. While the Pharisees were big on knowledge carried out to its logical conclusions, they forgot that God doesn’t care how much we know until He knows how much we care. It was this greater “why” that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1,3, NIV).  

Religion Offers the Approval of Men Rather Than God. Jesus reserved His strongest criticism for religious people who used their spiritual reputation to get social attention and honors. To such religionists Jesus said, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (Luke 11:43). Then, speaking to His disciples, He said of the Pharisees, “Everything they do is done for men to see” (Matthew 23:5). Jesus saw clearly into the practice of religion, which holds the opinions and attention of man to be more important and desirable than the approval of God.  

Religion Makes Hypocrites of Us. Jesus said, “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it” (Luke 11:44). What looks better than being dressed right, attending religious services and doing things that mark us as decent, God-fearing people? Yet how many religious scholars, ministers and faithful followers withhold honor and encouragement from their wives, attention from their children and love from their doctrinal enemies? Jesus knew what we often forget: What looks good may have a heart of evil.  

Religion Makes a Hard Life Harder. Because religion cannot change a heart, it tries to control people with laws and expectations that are not even kept by the religionists who interpret and apply the rules. With this “burden factor” in mind, Jesus said, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Religion is good at describing high standards of right behavior and relationships, but poor at giving real and merciful help to those who realize they have not lived up to those expectations.

Religion Makes It Easy to Deceive Ourselves. It’s been jokingly said, “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.” The Pharisees acted out a similar idea, but it wasn’t funny. According to Jesus, the Pharisees prided themselves in honoring and building memorials to the prophets. The irony is that when they met a real prophet they wanted to kill Him. Barclay says, “The only prophets they admired were dead prophets; when they met a living one, they tried to kill Him. They honored the dead prophets with tombs and memorials, but they dishonored the living ones with persecution and death.” This is the point Jesus made in Luke 11:47-51 and in a parallel passage in Matthew 23:29-32. The Pharisees had fooled themselves. They didn’t think of themselves as prophet-killers. Religionists don’t see themselves as the God-rejecting people they are.  

Religion Hides the Key of Knowledge. One of the greatest dangers of religion is that it causes us to be a danger not only to ourselves but also to others. To the religious biblical experts of His day Jesus said, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52). Religionists take away “the key of knowledge” by distracting people from the Word of God and from a “right attention of heart” by the unnecessary additions of denominationally correct traditions and expectations. Rather than leading people to God, religionists shift the focus to themselves and their own rules. Religionists are those who trust the beliefs and actions of their religion to do what only Christ can do.  

Religion Leads Its Converts Astray. In Matthew 23:15 Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Converts of religion are in double jeopardy. They bring a double enthusiasm to their new way of life, and with zeal they blindly defend their blind teachers. They put themselves in the trust of people who have exchanged a system of rules and traditions for the life, forgiveness and relationship of an infinite Savior.

Religion is important in its place (James 1:26-27), but only when it points us to the Christ who died for our sins and who now offers to live His life through those who trust Him (Galatians 2:20; Titus 3:5). You’re not alone if you are unconvinced that Christ is all He claimed to be. But keep in mind that He promised God’s help to those who have good reasons for their questions. He said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

Here Jesus reminds us that we see things not only as they are, but as we are. If you do see the reasonableness of faith in Christ, keep in mind that the Bible says to the family of God, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works [religious efforts and accomplishments], so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The salvation Christ offers is not a reward for religious effort but a gift to all who put their trust in Him.

 

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2019 in Jesus Christ

 

Are we living in the last days?


signs

Are we living in the last days? It’s a question often asked when difficult times arrive.

Yes, we are living in the ‘last days.’ It should not be a cause for alarm, however, because we have been living in the last days for more than two thousand years!

The ‘last days’ refer to the last great period of history, the Christian Age. There have been three great dispensations or ages of God dealing with mankind. The first was the Patriarchal Age, when God dealt directly with the heads of families (from Adam to Moses). This period ended with the beginning of the Mosaic Age, when God gave the Law of Moses to Israel. The Mosaic Age (the age under which Jesus lived) ended with the advent of the Christian Age, ushered in by the preaching of the Gospel and the establishment of the first century church.

On the Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ, Peter rose up with the rest of the apostles to speak and said, concerning the things that were happening, ‘This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Acts 2:16-17). Peter said that the events of that day were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning what would happen ‘in these last days.’

Succeeding verses describe dramatic events: ‘…wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood and fire and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come’ (2:19-20). This ‘apocalyptic’ language describes cataclysmic events that man could hardly imagine. Some have suggested that these events refer to the crucifixion of Christ or the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies.

The Spirit was poured out on ‘all flesh,’ as the Gospel message was to go from Jerusalem to all the nations of the world, a message of salvation: ‘And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21). To the Jews it was almost unbelievable that the Gospel could be for the whole world, including Gentiles, but Peter promised such: ‘For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call’ (2:39). He called all present to respond: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for (in order to have) the remission of sins’ (2:38).

Later Peter wrote that Christ ‘was manifest in these last times’ (1 Peter 1:20).

Time may be drawing to an end.  Today may be the last day. Or, the Lord may delay His coming for a thousand years so more can ‘come to repentance’ (1 Pet. 3:9).

Look for no special ‘last days’ signs in present events. Do not listen to false teachers who set dates for the second coming or the end of the world. Do not be lulled into thinking you have plenty of time to make your life right with God, either. We should prepare to meet Christ-the angel may be getting his trumpet ready (1 Thes. 4:13-18). Now is the time to obey Christ (2 Cor. 6:2).

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2019 in Doctrine

 

Solving Our Money Problems


No test of a man’s true character is more conclusive than how he spends his time and his money. The following table might give us three perspectives which can be useful:

  POVERTY PROSPERITY STEWARDSHIP
View of prosperity Non-materialistic, disdain for possessions Prosperity is the reward of the righteous Possessions are atrust given in varying proportions
Possessions are: a curse a right a privilege
Scriptural reference Luke 18:18-22: sell, give to the poor (rich young ruler) Matt. 7:7-8 ask, seek, knock Matt. 25:14-30: parable of the talents
Mitigation Prov. 21:20 In house of wise are stores of choice food & oil, but a foolish man devours all he has Prov. 23:4-5 Don’t wear yourself out to get rich None
Needs met by “carefree attitude” don’t worry- seek kingdom 1st Matt. 6:25-34 “transaction”tithe for a blessingMal. 3:10 “faithful administration”1 Cor. 4:2;Matt. 25:21, 23
Concept Rejecter Owner Steward
Attitude toward poor We are We owe We care
Preoccupation Daily needs Money Wisdom
Attitude Carefree Prov. 3:5-6 Driven Prov. 10:17 Faithful Luke 16:10-11

Poverty Theology:  This theology is disgusted with worldliness, best symbolized by man’s obsession with money. He believes possessions are a curse and has rejected materialism in any and every form. A strong bias toward helping the poor exists, but he has few, if any, resources to actually help with the solution. A few guilty Christians with wealth may also fall into this category, especially if they inherited their money.

Prosperity Theology: This theology believes you have not because you ask not. They often have learned about tithing and have experienced the material blessings available by following the tithing principle. Because of their success with tithing, a preoccupation with money develops. They soon begin suggesting that the reason others are not experiencing God’s blessings financially as a lack of faith. No room is allowed for God to call some people to be poor. Many disciples of prosperity theology live consumptive lifestyles.

Stewardship Theology: Stewards believe God owns and controls everything. Possessions are a privilege and not a right; the steward gives up his rights. He reads Scripture to say possessions are a trust given in varying proportions, depending upon the innate, God-given abilities he has and his faithfulness and obedience to follow Biblical principles. The steward believes prosperity results from faithfully administering his talents, as given by God in His sole discretion.

Which one is correct? The steward!

Scriptures for discussion:

Proverbs 13:11: “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, But the one who gathers by labor increases it.”

   1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Encouragement

 

Experiencing Joy… Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an attitude. A posture. A position. A place.


flowerIt says in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those words are the preamble to the American dream. But more than 225 years later, the innocent, hopeful intentions of our founding fathers have become blind and dangerous compulsions.
We all know we can’t buy happiness, and we are often surprised by what brings us happiness and frustrated by what we believe should make us happy.

It has been suggested that we are becoming a nation of men and women who, in the quest for happiness, all too often fall short of achieving any kind of inner peace. Instead of life’s journey being an exhilarating adventure into the unknown, for many of us it is a compulsive and tiring trek, an exhausting journey where the next stop for replenishment never seems to arrive.

George Santayana: “A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness rsides in an imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one’s life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted.”

“Many apparently successful people feel that their success is underserved and that one day people will unmark them for the frauds they are. For all the outward trappings of success, they feel hollow inside. They can never rest and enjoy their accomplishments. They need one new success after another. They need constant reassurance from the people around them to still the voice inside them that keeps saying, “If other people knew you the way I know you, they would know what a phony you are.”.

Happiness is not about having what we want…but wanting what we have! In many ways, happiness is within us waiting to be discovered.

Fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply committed Christians, says pollster George Gallup, who adds that these people “are far, far happier than the rest of the population.” Committed Christians, Gallup found, are more tolerant than the average American, more involved in charitable activities, and are “absolutely committed to prayer.” While many more Americans than this 10 percent profess to be Christians, adds Gallup, most actually know little or nothing of Christian beliefs, and act no differently than non-Christians. “Overall,” says Gallup, “The Sunday School and religious education system in this country is not working.”

They (we) need to discover the difference between happiness and joy! If our goal in life is to match our will to God’s in serving Him, then we will always have work to do. In that work we will be content. And in that contentment we will find joy.

The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a “happy Christian.” Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays “that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

I was told recently of a Russian view of happiness: An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. “Happiness,” said the Englishman, “Is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire.” “You English have no romance,” said the Frenchman.

“Happiness is having dinner with a beautiful woman at a fine restaurant.” “You are both wrong,” said the Russian. “True happiness is when you are at home in bed and at 4 a.m. hear a hammering at the door and there stand the secret police, who say to you, ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,’ and you say, ‘Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.'”

Statistics show that despite conflicts, married people are generally happier, live longer, and contribute more to society than those who remain single or leave a spouse.

People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. Waiting is interpreted as pain. … People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so.

The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. … People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God?

In the grand and deeply moving prophesy of the ancient prophet Isaiah, it was foretold that when Christ comes He would impart to His people “the oil of joy” for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). Joy has always been one of the most significant hallmarks of God’s people. Joy springs from the presence of God in a person’s life!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personal experiences certainly proved correct the statement that “the cross of Christ destroyed the equation religion equals happiness.”

Millions of men and women across the centuries attest to a transformation in their lives. It is what is meant by Paul in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” God is here! He is alive! He is in charge!

Can this statement be said of you? Now that I know Christ, I’m happier when I’m sad than I was before when I was glad.”

I ask you, “Do you have that joy?” It’s obvious that many people don’t. And you’ve been around them, haven’t you? They’re grumps, they’re gripers, they’re very negative about virtually everything that happens in life, complaining almost all the time. As a result, they just aren’t much fun to be around.
One of my favorite stories about a person with a grumpy personality begins with a man going into the doctor’s office. As he walked in, he was met by the receptionist. He told her that he had a sore on his chin that he want-ed the doctor to examine.

She said to him, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said, “it’s just a sore on my chin. I don’t think all that is necessary.” She repeated, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said. “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.”

So he went down the hall, took the first door to the right, walked in & saw another man already sitting there in his boxer shorts, shivering. He said to him, “Boy, that receptionist is really something, isn’t she? I just have a little sore on my chin & she told me to come down here, go through this door & take off my clothes.” The man in the boxer shorts said, “You think that’s bad? I’m the UPS delivery man.

There are some difficult people, aren’t there? “Some cause happiness whenever they go; some, whenever they go.” And what they need is a personality transplant.

There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him, and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable.

Let me give you a definition of “joy.” “Joy is an evidence of the presence of God in your life.” If God is in your life, if you are filled with the Spirit of God, then this fruit of the Spirit will be obvious in your life. (Jesus Others You)

Now don’t mistake happiness for joy. It’s easy to do that. The Bible mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 330 times. But it only mentions “happiness” 26 times. Happiness depends upon what happens to you. So if all the circumstances are right, then you can be happy. But joy comes from inside.

Kaufmann Kohler states in the Jewish Encyclopedia that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. In the Old Testament thirteen Hebrew roots, found in twenty-seven different words, are used primarily for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship. Hebrew religious ritual demonstrates God as the source of joy.

In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life. Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object.

If you want to live longer and have a more effective witness for Christ, let his joy in your heart spill over into happy laughter. When you laugh, your diaphragm goes down, your lungs expand, and you take in two or three times more oxygen than usual. As a result, a surge of energy runs through your body.
Dr. James J. Walsh said, “Few people realize that their health actually varies due to this factor. Happy individuals recover from disease much more quickly than sad, complaining patients; and statistics show that those who laugh live longer.”

C. S. Lewis in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, writes, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchanged it for all the pleasure in the world.”

Joy is really the underlying theme of Philippians – joy that isn’t fickle, needing a lot of “things” to keep it smiling . . . joy that is deep and consistent – the oil that reduces the friction of life.

If we can convince people that we are on to something that’s full of joy, they’ll stampede one another to follow us.

Clyde Reid says in his book, Celebrate the Temporary: “One of the most common obstacles to celebrating life fully is our avoidance of pain. We do everything to escape pain. Our culture reinforces our avoidance of pain by assuring us that we can live a painless life. Advertisements constantly encourage us to believe that life can be pain-free. But to live without pain is a myth. To live without pain is to live half a life, without fullness of life. This is an unmistakable, clear, unalterable fact. Many of us do not realize that pain and joy run together. When we cut ourselves off from pain, we have unwittingly cut ourselves off from joy as well.”

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Some needed comment
flowerThe picture of Brinson holding the dandelion flower at the beginning of this post has a special story, which is told in two emails sent to the family by their father, Eric: 

“One of Brinson and Aiden’s favorite things to do on a walk is pick dandelions (and drag large sticks around…I wonder where they got that). By the end of today’s walk Aiden has accumulated quite a collection of sticks, branches, rocks, and dandelions. He continuously would drop one at a time and have to reshuffle all his treasure in order to bend over and pick the dropped one back up without dropping the rest. Brinson was satisfied with just one large branch and a small stick.

“Aiden collected every dandelion that we passed but Brinson would not pick any because they weren’t big enough…he was holding out for a ‘really big one.’ We got back to our house and he still had not found a dandelion that met his specs. We decided that we would pray for God to make a really big dandelion for Brinson to find on our next walk.

“At dinner and at bed time Brinson prayed for it. God says that if we ask in faith he will answer and Brinson fully expects to find his flower from God on our next walk. I invite you to pray along with us. Somewhere in our neighborhood tonight God is bringing up a little seed just for Brinson. It will go unnoticed by everyone except for one little boy…the little boy that it was made for. God is good and faithful…and I know that he will thoroughly enjoy watching Brinson search for his gift.”

The next morning the following email and picture came from Eric: “This morning Brinson prayed for his flower for breakfast and as he, Aiden, and Wendy were walking into their school he looked down and saw a big, yellow dandelion by the door. Obviously, he was very excited and kept it with him all day long. If only we all had faith like a child.” (In Him, Eric).

 

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2019 in Encouragement

 

The Discipline of Meditation


In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.

C. G. Jung remarked: “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.” All the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well.

They tell us of exciting possibilities for new life and freedom. They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this  frontier of the Spirit.

It is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of modern Christianity that meditation is a word so foreign to its ears.

Genesis 24:63 (NIV) He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching.

God spoke to them (fathers and prophets of old) not because they had special abilities, but because they were willing to listen.

R. D. Laing: “We live in a secular world…There is a prophecy in Amos that a time will come when there will be a famine in the land, ‘not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.’ That time has now come to pass. It is the present age.

Psalm 63:6 (NIV) On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.

Psalm 119:148 (NIV) My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.

Psalm 1:2 (NIV) But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God and to other human beings. Christian meditation leads us to the inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely, and to the spiritual perception necessary to attack social evils.

“The contemplation of the saints is fired by the love of the one contemplated: that is, God.” (appreciation to Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline).

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2019 in Disciplines

 
 
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