Faith and works (part 2)

Key verses:
“And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” – Mark 2:23-28
Our God is amazing. In the beginning of time, He designed this perfect system that, if adhered to, would ensure the happiness and fulfillment of all who chose to follow His precepts. In Psalm 119, David speaks of the Law of God as the ultimate prize that sinners should attain towards. “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes.” David wanted to please God, and to walk in His ways, realizing that God required this of him. As a caring Father, God wants His children to stay within the boundaries He has constructed for us. This isn’t because God is a control freak, but because He actually knows what’s best for us.

Paul, that most misunderstood apostle, wrote that “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6) Paul understood that God allows His children 100% freedom to do as we wish. God’s hope is that we choose Him over all else. This choice is called faith. To the faithful, God provides His grace, a free gift available for all, but only imparted to those who ask for it. Grace is the means to salvation, to eternal life, without which we would perish and die as the natural body is wont to do. Faith leads to God, grace proceeds from God, and we must walk in the light provided by grace, through the power of unwavering faith.

When this occurs, the will of God becomes the focus point of the man. The man will say “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” and Jesus will answer and say “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The saved have a need, a desire, to please God. Nothing seems good enough for Him, because truly nothing is. Yet we pray that God’s will is done in us, and through us. Inevitably, Jesus points us back to the commandments. There are many, many instances of this in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. All God wants from us is to keep His Law, and to walk with Him in faith while He shows the way.

Where does the Sabbath play into all this? Exodus 20: 8-11 ” Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” There is nobody in the Christian world who disagrees with 9 of the commandments, yet this one seems to throw the whole kit and caboodle into disarray. “You’re a legalist” they say. “Sunday is the sabbath”, they argue. As in all other things, Jesus shows the way. He died Friday before sundown, rested all Friday night, all Saturday, and arose from the grave early Sunday morning. The period that Jesus spent in the grave is the biblical Sabbath, the only day of rest, the only day of the Lord.

Yet, this day was removed from our memory. In 321AD, Constantine declared that Sunday should be a day of rest instead of the day that God appointed (see here). He did this for many reasons, but they each are irrelevant. What he did was “change times and laws” (Daniel 7:25). When we remove a law from God’s Law, what we are basically saying is that we know better. Someone recently wrote to me saying that “I am not under the Mosaic law but under the Law of Christ.” That’s like saying I don’t observe the laws of the United States, but I regard the constitution and amendments with utmost reverence.” Just as the constitution and amendments of the United States are the law of the land in that country, so the Law of Jesus forms the law in heaven. Moses was given a set of 10 laws to give to Israel, written by Jesus on tablets of stone, which were then placed in the ark of the covenant, God’s seat on Earth. Why would Jesus go through all that trouble if he had another secret law to pass on to us at a later date? That’s the must unjust and unfair thing for someone to do, change the rules mid-way through the game and then claim you’re breaking both the old and the new regulations.

My God is fair, just, and constant. He doesn’t promote confusion by changing His mind at random. If that were the case, the rules could change again in the future. God is the same as He was, and the same as He will ever be. We serve with pleasure, not out of fear. We exercise freedom when we choose to be His. He does not force Himself upon us. He is a loving Father, not a heartless tyrant. He is our hope, our salvation, and our joy. May you find peace in this version of God.

Faith and works

Key verses:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
Obedience to God and His Law is a pre-condition to a positive relationship between mortals and heaven. Yet, it’s grace that calls us to obedience, not the other way around. This is the meaning of the phrase “salvation is by grace not by works”. When we start seeking to understand the will of God, the Holy Spirit opens our minds and encourages us to seek godly wisdom. Inevitably, the guidance of the Holy Spirit leads us to understand that the will of God is to heed the precepts of His Law. Christ calls us to come to the cross as we are, wretched and poor and blind. We allow Him to transform us and to impute his righteousness unto us. At this point, the works of righteousness should start to be apparent in the life of the new man. Salvation leads the believer to unselfish good works.

 

At the same time, it’s very important to understand that we cannot buy our way into heaven. No amount of “Our Fathers”, “Hail Marys”, rosary beads, or burned candles are enough to match the selfless gift of God’s grace. No amount of good works are enough to seal our names in the book of life. The reason for this conundrum is that God has already given us all His gifts. Everything that He has is freely available for us to take, if only we ask for it. We have nothing more to gain from God by doing good works and keeping His Law. We do these things because they are the right things to do. In Matthew 7:7-8, Christ speaks these words: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

 

Asking, seeking, and knocking are actions that we must perform in order to receive these free gifts from God. Salvation is free, but it requires a conscious effort to receive it. These acts are a demonstration of our faith and intention to subject our will to the will of God. When we ask for good health from our Lord we do so with the expectation that He will deliver. It was an act of faith when Moses lifted up his rod and stretched his hand over the sea (Exodus 14:16). Faith is not idle; faith begets actions, results, good works, obedience. These truths stem from the fact that God does not force Himself onto anyone. To follow God is to freely give up your self to His will.

 

In our church there has been some confusion regarding these things in the past. We are very much focused on the commandments of God, and sometimes we may be deceived into thinking that obeying these precepts makes us holy. This is a simple case of putting the cart before the horse. We are not holy because we obey God, but we obey God because we are holy. The holiness is not actually our own, or of our own doing, but it is Christ’s holiness, manifest in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit. We have nothing to bring to the table except a contrite heart, sincere repentance, and the willingness to be led by God into the right way. Our only redeeming feature is repentance, the acknowledgment that something is wrong in our lives, and that only God can fix it.

 

Please remember to give thanks to God for the good He is doing in your lives. Praise His name and thank Him for all the gifts that He has spread upon the table, in particular the promise of eternal life. Let us go forth and pray to be reflections of Christ’s righteousness, lights unto the world, so that all may see and be amazed. The changes God is making in our lives are firstly meant to change us into beacons to those around us, attracting them to the Source of life.

 

In closing, here is a quote from this week’s Sabbath school study guide:

“To live a spirit-filled life means that we live according to the law of God. The law is the unchanging rule of His holiness. The standard that the law sets does not change any more than does God Himself. Jesus affirmed that the law is not abolished, but that every part is to be fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-19). To keep the law is not legalism; it is faithfulness. The law does not save us. It never can. The law is never our way to salvation. Rather, it is the path of the saved. The law, so to speak, are the shoes in which our love walks and expresses itself. This is why Jesus could say in a most remarkable manner that when “ ‘lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold’ ” (Matt. 24:12, ESV). Love diminishes when the law is not appreciated.”

Life and death

Key verses:
Genesis 2:7
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

1 Kings 17:17
And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.
Today I’d like to speak a bit to the subjects of life and death, and the nature of heaven. These are very complex subjects, and I don’t think I can do them enough justice here. A whole book may not do them enough justice. However, let’s let God speak to us plainly about these concepts. As you can see in the key verses above, the difference between life and death is clear. We are alive due to the breath of life that God breathes into our nostrils. In contrast, we are dead when the breath of life is no longer in us. In the key verses above, the same Hebrew word is used to describe breath, “nĕshamah”. See more info and references here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5397&t=KJV.

There are other words used in the Bible to refer to God’s breath, see https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H7307&t=KJV, and in all cases its presence signifies life, while its absence is the sign of death. Therefore, according to the bible, life is a constant, ongoing miracle, not just a one time miracle (birth), as we often might think. God is not only involved in our creation (see Jeremiah 1:5), but He is actively breathing His life-giving breath into us every minute of the day. We may have a constant reassurance that our connection to God is never severed until the hour when His breath departs from us, the hour of our death.

I think this is absolutely magnificent of God. How many times do we feel separated from Him? How many times do we feel utterly alone? The simple act of breathing should be a reminder that God is not very far at all. In prayer, we use that God-given breath to praise our Lord, to ask forgiveness of sins, and to claim the promises He gave to us. Prayer is so much more meaningful when spoken aloud simply because God’s breath is used in the process. Yet, we have all, at one time or another, wasted God’s life-giving breath with swearing, gossip, put-downs, smoking, etc? Those are all a literal waste of God’s life miracle.

If God’s breath in us is life, then when we no longer have breath, we are dead, but even in death there is potential for life. The breath of God can raise the dead. See John 11:11. Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is sleeping, and he only needs to be woken up. Clearly, to everyone else, Lazarus was dead. In fact, he was already buried when Jesus arrived. Yet, the breath of God, coming from Jesus, was enough to wake Lazarus from death. Not only did it wake him, but it also repaired whatever damage his short death sleep had caused to his physical body. Like Lazarus, when Jesus was in the grave, dead, the breath of God gave him life and repaired the physical damage caused by torture and death.

This concept, of the resurrection from the dead, is a huge theme in the Bible, not only for Jesus, but for every believer. Right after Jesus died there was a small resurrection of the saints. See Matthew 27:52. That small resurrection was a fore-shadowing of the resurrection that will happen at Jesus’ second coming. See 1 Timothy 4:17. All those who died in faith will be raised up at this resurrection. This leads to a few other conclusions. One, which is most important, is that there are currently no dead people in heaven. Heaven is for people who are alive, which is why the dead require a resurrection. Elijah was alive when he was caught up to heaven in the chariot of fire. Jesus was also alive when he went back to heaven.

Our popular culture has used elements of paganism to explain death, borrowing especially heavily from the Greek tradition of the underworld. See these wiki pages for further information on Greek theology:
There are several flaws with the thought that people go straight to heaven or hell when they die. The main one is that the judgment does not take place until after the second coming of Jesus. How can we be sent to our reward without first being judged, either worthy of heaven, or the fires of hell? And how can we populate heaven when our bodies are yet interred in the earth? The discussion then shifts to the soul, which is meant to be separate from the body, but our key verse (and many others) are clear that a soul is the combination of a physical body and the breath of God. When a person ceases to live, she also ceases to be a soul. Therefore, souls cannot exist separately from the physical bodies of men and women. Heaven is a real physical place, filled with real people who have a corporeal body. There is no such thing as ghosts, and there certainly are no ghouls in heaven. Solomon was very clear about the nature of death. See Ecclesiastes 9:5-6.

This should give us great hope. It’s the final equalizer and the last missing piece in the question of eternal life. Believe that Jesus is alive, and you too can live forever, in a physical body, in a physical heaven, doing much of the same things you are now enjoying. Have you ever wanted to see the whole world? Aim for the eternal life promised by the Saviour. You can then explore every nook and cranny, not only of this Earth, but of the universe. I don’t get why some people think that the point of heaven is to sit on a cloud and play a harp. How boring! God would never design such a pointless place. Have hope that heaven is going to be the most awesome experience you could ever imagine.

With that, I’d like to pray that everyone reading this article claims his or her place in that eternal city of God. If you’ve never thought such things possible, but are yearning for this experience, speak with God, don’t take my word for it. The Bible is the easiest way to understand the mind of God, and His plans for each and every one of us.

For the Bible tells me so

Key verses:
Romans 4:1-3
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Genesis 15:5,6
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
The Bible is a collection of writings. These writings were directly inspired by God. The Bible, as a collection, was compiled through inspiration. The original anthologists left out many texts which did not seem to be in agreement with the rest of the writings. The Old Testament is actually the translated Jewish scriptures, which were passed down through the generations. These scriptures remain unchanged thousands of years after being written. It is these scriptures that Paul refers to when he says they are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”, and “given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

The New Testament is simply an extension of the Old, an account of the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Jesus, the work of the disciples, and a view of the early church. There is no New without the Old, and vice-versa. The New Testament was originally translated from the Textus Receptus, Latin for “received text”, into a variety of Bible versions and languages, including the King James and the original Serbian Bible. More information on this text can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textus_Receptus.

 

The point I’m trying to make is that the Bible is a collection of texts originating directly from God, written down by His faithful servants, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The stories of the Bible are historical events which took place in the past, or will take place in the future. Most of these stories hold both a literal and a symbolic meaning. The stories of the Bible are meant to serve as examples for us (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-11). In addition to parables, there are laws, prophecies, songs, prayers, and proverbs. All of these come directly from God and should be treated as such.

 

One of the main characteristics of the Biblical figures, the good ones at least, seems to be obedience and faith. When God called Abram out of Haran, Abram obeyed the call and left his family. When God called Moses to be the leader of His people, Moses obeyed and faced the most powerful man in the world, even though he was afraid. When God told Gideon that 300 men would be enough to defeat the mighty armies of Midian, Gideon trusted God and went forth in faith. True to His word, God removed the threat.

 

We see from the Bible that these faithful and obedient men and women are not perfect. In fact, many times, the lives of the patriarchs and prophets could even be considered completely unholy. However, once confronted with truth and the Word of God, they repent of their sinful ways and become paragons of faith and obedience once again. We are meant to look at these examples and use them in order to avoid the pitfalls of sin altogether. Most of the time, this is as futile as attempting to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle. We are almost unable to resist sin. Of course, God doesn’t allow more than we can handle, but even this seems too much most of the time.

 

Our only hope is knowing that Jesus paid the price for these sins. We are recompensed, and only need to claim the free gift of eternal life. This does require faith and obedience on our part. God has made it very clear what He requires us to believe. The laws of God have been in place since the foundation of the world, and they are clearly given to Moses on Mount Sinai. These are the precepts that we must aspire to, even though we will most likely fail to keep within their bounds. God wants us to keep trying, but not of our own strength. He knows we cannot do it on our own, which is why we have the Holy Spirit to guide us through the labyrinth of sin. Of note is that we have no claim of righteousness by keeping God’s Law. We must do it because it is right, not because we gain favor with God.

 

Our only claim to righteousness is through our faith and obedience, yet this faith and obedience comes from God Himself. It is the faith of Jesus, the obedience the precious Son of God showed by allowing His own sacrifice to take place. It’s a circular argument, and we are only bit players in this greatest of controversies, the battle between good and evil. Yet, here we are, and we must soon choose a side. In Revelation 3:14-22, apostle John is given a vision of the church in the last days. We are described as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Yet God’s only command to this last church is to choose a side, either cold or hot.

 

Today, I challenge you to choose God over all others. I challenge you to ask God to write His Laws on your heart, in your forehead and in your right hand. This means to feel, think, and do according to God’s will. The time is coming when the choice will be made clear, but until then, practice makes perfect.

Let’s talk about evil

Key verses:
“Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.”
Ezekiel 28:12-15

In these verses we see a description of the king of Tyrus as having been in heaven with God. This isn’t possible, so the use of “king of Tyrus” here is an analogy, or a type, for Satan. The description fits much better to Satan than it does to an earthly king. We see therefore that Satan was in fact perfect when he was created, but iniquity was found in him. This is the source of all sin and along with it, all evil.

What is the purpose of evil? Some say that evil has some purpose in the world; that without evil, we would not see the good for what it is. Others say that evil is the divine retribution meted out upon the unrepentant sinners. Still others claim, even in the churches, that evil is the result of our own fallen nature, and a necessary part of God’s plan.

What is the purpose in a child dying of cancer? What is the meaning in her suffering? Does the good in the world look better when put in contrast with her wilting soul? Is God punishing her and her family for some sin they have committed? Is cancer just a natural part of life and we should just learn to live with it? Where is the justice in suffering? Where is God’s love in pain?

Ellen White states in The Great Controversy: “It is impossible to explain the origin of sin so as to give a reason for its existence. . . . Sin is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be sin.” (pp. 492,493)

As we saw in the key verse, Satan had absolutely no reason to rebel. God gave him everything he could have possibly wanted. Satan’s position in heaven was just below God’s, just as Joseph’s station was right below Pharaoh’s. Joseph had control of everything in Egypt, save for the crown, and he humbled himself and served Pharaoh with all the wisdom that God granted him. Satan had control of everything in heaven and earth save for the throne of God, but he did not humble himself and chose to lead a rebellion for the throne.

Political uprisings in the world are a carbon copy of Satan’s first rebellion in heaven. The will of the people is used as an excuse to topple God’s appointed servants, peacefully or with bloodshed. The disease, murders, thefts, perversions, and all manner of other sins are a direct result of Satan’s rebellion. He is the cause of our suffering, not God. Let’s lay the blame at the feet of the one responsible for our suffering. His time is short, and he is walking about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

He is desperate to destroy the faith of God’s chosen people by leading us to believe that God is the one responsible for all the suffering in the world. The way he manages to achieve this is by creating even more suffering, mayhem, and destruction. Our world is breaking up at the seams, and we all point our finger to God, asking what is the purpose. Why does a loving God allow this evil to exist?

The answer, as we see from The Great Controversy, is that there is no purpose. God’s plan does not include sin or evil. God is good, and all that He made was good, including Satan (see Ezekiel 28:15). When you see suffering, know that God is crying along with those in pain. Know that He is looking forward to the day when He will wipe away all tears from our eyes, a day when there shall be no more death, sorrow, crying, nor pain (Revelation 21:4).

Our Lord is returning soon my friends. Let’s welcome Him with hosannas and hallelujahs. Never forget that God is fighting for us, not against us. He is true to His word. He is the only good that there is, the only one who may be called righteous. He is the only living God, the Alpha and the Omega, and the only one worthy of praise.

The Word of God

Key verses – Ephesians 6:10-18
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;
praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—
The Word of God is extremely important, as Paul points out in this letter to the saints at Ephesus. He refers to the word of God as the sword of the Holy Spirit. The word of God is an instrument of attack, according to Paul. It can be used in defense, but it is not defensive; it can be used in offense, but it is not offensive. The sword of the Spirit signals to the forces of evil that we have a means to defeat them.

This brings me to a conversation I had on this very blog with a gentleman who does not much care for Paul. I don’t think I handled the argument very well, losing my patience, and I hope this man is reading this post, as I’d like to apologize for the way I ended our conversation. However, I stand by my convictions, and would like to give a public explanation for all to read and analyze.

The premise of the conversation started with the gentleman mentioning that Paul’s description of “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 goes against Jesus’ description of “love” in Matthew 22. The gentleman, in my opinion, made two logical fallacies:
  1. That Paul was talking about brotherly love
  2. That Paul was talking about a commandment
Basically, the argument went like this: Paul said that love is the greatest (presumably love thy neighbor), while Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God, therefore Paul’s message to the Corinthians goes against Jesus’ teachings.

In response, I presented what I thought to be logical arguments for the two points mentioned above. Namely, I addressed point #1 by looking at Paul’s use of words. In his letter, when referring to “love”, or “charity” in KJV, Paul uses the Greek word “agape” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agape). Translated, this word means “the love of God for man and of man for God”. Paul was telling the saints that between faith, hope, and love (agape), love is the greatest. That is, love of God is the greatest of these three concepts. This explanation shows us that Paul was in complete agreement with Jesus, who said the greatest commandment is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”. It also shows that Paul was not talking about brotherly love, which in Greek is “philia”.

Jesus also uses a form of the word “agape” In Matthew 22, namely “agapao”, to explain the love for God. Later, Jesus also uses “agapao” when talking about love for our neighbors. To Jesus, these two concepts are inseparable, you cannot love God but hate your neighbor. The apostle John also mentions a variation of this concept in 1 John 4:20. Paul understood the words of Jesus, and related a similar concept to the saints at Corinth, but Paul was not talking about God’s commandments.

This brings us to point #2. As a Pharisee, Paul knew that God’s commandments number 10, not 2 or 1. Found in Exodus 20, God’s Law is immutable. Written by Jesus on tablets of stone, it is no wonder that our Saviour has intimate knowledge of its precepts. Jesus did not literally mean that there are two commandments. Jesus condensed the first four commandments into his statement that loving God is the greatest commandment.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. Paraphrasing:
  1. You shall have no other gods before Me
  2. You shall not practice idolatry
  3. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain
  4. Keep the Sabbath holy (this refers to the seventh-day Sabbath by the way)
The rest of the commandments deal with our relationship with our neighbours, and Jesus included them in his response to the scribes, even though they only asked for the greatest commandment, referencing Deuteronomy 6:4. The scribes thought they could trap Jesus by asking him to rate the 10 commandments and accuse him of blasphemy. However, Jesus was the one who wrote the Law, and he could not be trapped by these so-called enlightened ones.

Jesus presents the whole of the law in two simple concepts, using the word “agape”. Paul presents a hierarchy of three concepts (faith, hope, and love), also using “agape” to describe love. Paul is in complete synchronicity with Jesus on this subject, any other claim is extremely ignorant of the context of Paul’s letters, which are inspired writings.

The point I’m trying to make with this post is not that I’m right and the gentleman I spoke with is wrong about this particular doctrine. I’m trying to show that the word of God is an integral part of the Christian faith. Without it, we don’t have a sword. When we start picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we like, and which ones we don’t, we are throwing away our swords. In this world full of principalities and powers, we cannot stand without a sword. A shield and a helmet are not enough, we must be able to pierce the darkness with the sword of the Spirit. The word of God is eternal, true, and good. We must either take it as a whole, or not take it at all. Let us remember to always have that as the starting point of any doctrinal conversation with believers and non-believers alike.

Perfect freedom

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” – Noam Chomsky
I wanted to change tracks a bit, if only for this post. I want to talk a bit about secular freedoms, and compare them with the freedom found in Heaven. God’s government is based on freedom. Though He is the head of a theocratic government, His subjects enjoy total freedom of choice. We see this concept manifested in the way God dealt with Lucifer’s rebellion. God could have easily destroyed Satan and sin at the very first sign of trouble. Instead, God allowed sin and rebellion to flourish, even within the ranks of heaven, until the situation had to be addressed.
God allowed Satan to choose his course. God allowed the angels siding with Satan to choose their course as well. God doesn’t want coerced worship. He desires that we worship Him out of love, after choosing for ourselves our own course. This is why Satan was allowed to exist after the rebellion. God made the rules, and had to abide by them just as His subjects have to abide by them. “Thou shalt not kill” takes a whole new meaning in this context. Imagine now an Earthly theocracy and how these governments have dealt with dissent. Certainly, there was no freedom of choice for the subjects, and justice only applied to those in high positions.
Some of you reading these words live in “free” countries, where speech and opinion are not regulated, at least not officially. We are told that we may believe what we wish, worship how we wish, think and speak as we wish. However, the spectrum within which these freedoms are possible is getting narrower as each day passes. These days, sharing the Word of God, or inviting someone to accept Jesus as their savior is considered hate speech, on the same level with racism and incitement to violence. We have arrived at a point in history when speech is considered violent and violence is considered speech.
This is all according to God’s will, as humans don’t have the wisdom necessary to administer a government in which there is complete and total freedom. We humans love to burden ourselves with laws governing each and every little thing we may conceive worthy of regulation. Through this, God is trying to show us that the only perfect freedom can be found in God’s Law and His government. This is the perfect freedom that allows a dissident such as Satan to exist, for a time, because this perfect freedom protects any kind of speech, even the hateful kind.
How far we are from God’s Law is represented by how little freedom we are allowed to exercise by our respective governments and law enforcement agencies. Had the angels of heaven all sided with Satan, this is the kind of government that would exist in the loftiest courts as well. Thank God that good prevailed in those days. Thank God for providing us with His perfect Law, that we may judge for ourselves what we can expect after we enter the Promised Land. I for one am looking forward to eternal life in a place where there is complete freedom, but where sin and temptation are no more. Let’s pray that our Lord will return soon to take us home.

Baptism

Key verses – Matthew 28:16-20:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Jesus’ command to His disciples contains three parts:
  1. Teach the nations
  2. Baptize them
  3. Teach the nations
The first thing I noticed about this passage is that Jesus mentions teaching twice. The first teaching that Jesus is talking about is the teaching used to provide information. After hearing this information, the gospel truth, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of the listeners, anchoring the spoken and written word within the recesses of the mind. As the truth embeds itself into the minds of the hearers, further study is required. More truth is collected, analyzed, and stored for future access.
This initial learning process is incremental and will eventually lead to baptism. As a personal example, it took 8 years of study for me to be convinced of the things I was learning. Even then, I gave it another year, just in case. Baptism is a symbol of rebirth, of giving in to the call from God and renouncing the old sinful ways of the world. Baptism represents capitulation to the will of God. It is the ultimate sacrifice that we as humans can make and it is not to be taken lightly. Also, baptism is not just symbolic. The Holy Spirit finds a much better home in the body and mind of the baptized Christian. The baptized is much more receptive to the voice of God and is much more likely to follow His instruction.
This leads us to the second mention of the “teach the nations” command, which is just as important as the first, if not more. Jesus tells his disciples to instruct the newly baptized to observe all the things that Jesus commanded the disciples to observe. After baptism, the life of the Christian is meant to change. We are meant to be closer to God, to read His word daily, to pray constantly, and to be a light unto the world. All these directives require instruction from the Christians who have been practicing for years. Bible study with an elder, prayer meetings with brothers and sisters, and following the good examples in the church are practical ways to live a Christian life in accordance to the commandments of God.
Let there be no confusion about what God expects from us in these last days, or about what Jesus commanded his disciples to observe. In Revelation 12, verse 17, we are told that the remnant church will keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. God expects us to keep all His commandments. There is no excuse not to do so. He also expects us to have the words of Jesus imprinted into our very being. Just as Jesus commands the disciples to teach the nations to observe his instructions, so John the apostle reminds the remnant church to observe the instructions of Jesus, his testimony.
Let us not forget in these last days about these extremely important parts of the Christian life: baptism, keeping the commandments of God, and observing the teachings of Jesus Christ. May the Lord guide you as you reflect upon these matters.

The delay

Key verse: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”. (2 Peter 3:8)
Since Jesus departed into heaven, and the disciples started to fulfill the Great Commission, every early Christian has been waiting the return of our Lord. It has been almost 2000 years since these events took place, yet Jesus has not come back, leaving many to wonder, both then and now, what could possibly be holding Him up. The world is descending into chaos and anarchy, and Jesus seems to have forgotten His promise. What’s worse, He seems to have forgotten us, in this fallen world.
Peter addresses some of these issues in his second letter to the churches (ch. 3), and says that even in the mid-late 1st century there were scoffers asking “Where is the promise of his coming?” and “all things continue” as they always have. This clash of ideologies has been present since those times. In one camp, we have people who claim that Jesus is returning soon. In the other camp, we have those who say he’s forgotten about His promise.
Peter says that the latter group are ignorant of the fact that everything was created by the word of God. He also mentions the flood in the same thought (v. 5,6). This is important because the same kind of attitude can be seen in the days of Noah. While Noah was building the ark, he preached to people that the world would soon end, and that they should repent of their evil and return to God’s grace. Then, as now, there were scoffers, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24: 36-39).
In other words, Jesus is saying that there is a catch 22 situation. Those who proclaim that the end is near, have no idea when the end will come, while those who scoff demand evidence that the end is near. Neither camp seems to be able to convince the other, because the believers in the second advent rely on faith, and the scoffers rely on skepticism. In order for the skeptics to believe, they must become faithful, and in order for the believers to doubt, they must become skeptics. This situation does certainly happen, and there’s a constant trade-off between the camps, but there isn’t a clear winner yet.
Now, as faithful Christians, we know that Jesus will keep His word. God cannot lie, because everything He says becomes reality. If God tried to lie, and say that the sky is red instead of blue, the sky would become red. If God tried to lie by saying the color yellow doesn’t exist, the color yellow would be gone from the universe. The word of God is immutable, it is truth, it doesn’t change. When Jesus says that He will return, that means He will return. He never gave a date for His return, so we must wait patiently, and try to convince the skeptics that His return is imminent so that they too may taste the reward of eternal life with the King of the universe.
What the early Christians didn’t seem to understand, and this applies to most modern Christians as well, is the timeline that must first complete before Jesus’ return. Jesus points to the book of Daniel as an important part of scripture that deals with date prophecies (Matthew 24:15). There are two big date prophecies related to the end times in the book of Daniel: the 2300 days, and the 1260 days. I will address these in future studies, but for now, it is enough to understand that these prophecies were not yet fulfilled for the early Christians.
This leads me to believe that they either forgot to study Daniel, or they didn’t know what it all meant, as the angel speaking to Daniel does say that the words would be sealed until the end days (Daniel 12:4). This would mean that the prophecies wouldn’t make sense until they become fulfilled in the modern era.
As we will see in later studies, we are living in the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary. In order to understand what Jesus is doing right now, we must understand the symbolism of Leviticus 16 and the earthly sanctuary in general. These are the days spoken of by Peter in his second epistle: God “is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”.
This delay, then, is for our sake, the inhabitants of the earth. God doesn’t want us to perish into death, but He wants us all to be saved. Brethren, those in the church and those outside, remember the promises of God and that the word of God is truth. God doesn’t have the capability to lie. His very words become reality, so whatever He says is true. Jesus is coming back, and His second advent is near. Keep the faith, remain strong, and prepare for the coming onslaught upon those who have the faith of Jesus and keep the commandments of God.
Prayer: Our heavenly Father, we cannot wait to see you and to be in your presence. We cannot fully comprehend what it will be like to live with you, and have eternal life. We do look forward to find out though, and to discover all the secrets of the universe. We ask that you send us your Holy Spirit so that we may be strengthened against the tide of evil of this world. We ask that our lives will be cleansed of sin so that we may stand in front of you without blemish. We ask that the gospel will reach every living person in this world and that all will keep your word in they hearts so that it may blossom into life. Maranatha, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

If Jesus came tomorrow

If Jesus came tomorrow, would you be happy? Would you welcome Him with open arms, or would you cower in fear under a rock? Christians always claim that Jesus could come tomorrow, or at any moment, unforeseen. It’s because of this uncertainty that Christians must always strive to live a holy life. It would be extremely unfortunate for Jesus to come tomorrow and to find us not ready to welcome Him (Matthew 25:1-13).
In Matthew 5:19, Jesus tells His followers that “whosoever therefore shall break one these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is addressing the immutability of the Law of God as it relates to the eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is saying that breaking the least of God’s commandments will cause the breaker to be the least in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is clearly addressing believers here, not unbelievers because believers know the Law of God. There’s a greater expectation for the believer to keep the Law of God compared to an unbeliever.
Most Christians are aware that God has a set of laws, or commandments, that He expects us to faithfully adhere to in our daily lives. Exodus 20 has the details, but let’s look at the outline:
  • Do not worship other gods
  • Do not make images of things in heaven or earth to worship them
  • Do not use the name of God lightly
  • Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy
  • Respect your parents
  • Do not kill
  • Do not commit adultery
  • Do not steal
  • Do not lie
  • Do not covet
Every Christian on Earth is guilty of breaking at least one of these commandments. According to Jesus, even one broken commandment relegates us to the bottom of the ladder. Looking back at Biblical men and women, there is not a single one whom we can point to as a shining example, except for Jesus Himself. How do we reconcile these seemingly disparate realities? On the one hand, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). On the other hand, Jesus expects us to keep His commandments (John 14:15) and be righteous.
The answer to this dichotomy is in the book of James. Christians do good works through having the faith of Jesus, and our faith is kept strong through doing good works. As a born-again Christian, I have experienced this relationship between faith and works first-hand. At the beginning of the journey, the Holy Spirit starts to gently nudge the person toward repentance. As each sin is repented, the person starts to fix their eyes upon Jesus and to want to be molded in His image. The person no longer has a desire to sin; sin becomes abhorrent. The more we listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudges, the closer we come to understanding God’s will for us. This leads us to want to live holy lives, untainted by sin.
Unfortunately, sin is still very much a part of this world. As much as we want to be holy we will not be able to be like Jesus until the Holy Spirit fills us completely, just prior to Jesus’ second advent, during an event known as the latter rain (more to follow on this topic in a future posting). Until that future time, we must live in a perpetual cycle of repentance, and praying for guidance so that we may not sin. We must be continually be broken by the Rock who is Jesus Christ so that we will not be crushed by the same Rock at His second coming (Matthew 21:44).
I have a challenge for those of you reading this article. Look at the Law of God, either the simplified list above or the detailed list in Exodus 20, and think about how you have broken each commandment at one time or another in your life. After you do that, think about how Jesus hung on the cross, for you and as you, and how He paid the price of sin, which is death, so that you don’t have to. Think about the gift of eternal life that accompanies each repentant soul and how easily this gift can be claimed.
This Sabbath, I pray that all who call themselves Christians will hearken to Jesus’ challenge, to try to live a holy life through the power granted to us through the Holy Spirit. I pray that those who are not Christians will see the shining lights in the darkness of this world. I pray that everyone will come into the light before it’s too late, and that everyone will be counted with the sheep at the second advent.