BECAUSE HE LIVES…

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this? Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world”

Jn. 11:25-27(NIV)

Life here is ‘Zoe’, the resurrection life. Jesus says, “I Am Life Myself. I don’t’ give it. I Am it Myself”. This was one of the ‘I Am’ statements of Jesus. Again, He’s not saying I give life, He says, ‘I Am life’. He Himself is the focus of life. To know Him is to have it. “whoever continues to believe in Me will live right on even though he dies, and no person who continues to live and believe in Me will never die”. And this has to mean ‘die’ spiritually. Because Lazarus is dead, and He’s telling Martha, ‘…will never die’. So, obviously it means spiritual death. You’ll never lose your fellowship with God, that’s what He’s saying. “Do you believe this?” “Yes Lord”, she says. What a tremendous affirmation. She doesn’t say, ‘I believe in the resurrection of the dead’. She says, ‘I believe You are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world’. She makes that theological profession. The word ‘believe’ is in perfect tense which means, ‘I believe in the past, I continue to believe’. And the word ‘Christ’ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’. What she’s saying is, ‘ I believe You’re the promised One, the Son of God that has come into the world’. She says, ‘I believe You’re the Old Testament One whose scepter will not depart from Judah…’ (Gen. 49:10), the Lily of the valley (Song of Solomon 2:1), the bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16), the Promised One (2 Sam. 7:8-16), the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12), that’s what she’s saying. Friend, how do you respond? Will you trust Him, the Author of Life, the Truth, the Resurrection and the Life?

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WE ARE GOD’S IDOLS

We are created in the image of God. To be in the image of God is to represent Him in doing His will. It comes just from the way that the wording is expressed in the original. What you have in Genesis 1:27 is the word ‘tselem’ in Hebrew. That term is a standard term elsewhere in the Old Testament translated by the word ‘idol’. In other words, when a person reading in Hebrew looks at Genesis 1:27, it says literally God created man in His own idol or as His own idol. As the idol of God, “He created Him male and female He created them. This means that humans are God’s idols. What does an idol do? How did the people understand ‘idol’ in the Old Testament times? Well, when they came to the shrine of an idol of a pagan god, like Asherah (Canaanite goddess), and gave an offering to it hoping to get a good fertility on their crops and cattle, and so on, they believed that Asherah actually saw what they offered and prayed for. Now, using that terminology well-known in their culture, Moses describes our creation in God’s image as like an idol. We are God’s idols. We are the real idols of God. We are the actual idols of God. So therefore, the practice of making of idols of gods and goddesses is ridiculous because humans are God’s representatives on earth, not statues. Secondly, this truth also tells something us about why we exist. We exist to represent God; to do on this earth things that God wants done. And so in Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them and said, be fruitful, increase in number, fill the earth, subdue it, rule over the fish of the sea, birds of the air, and every living creature. So we get the job assignment; to be in the image of God is to have a job, and the job is to take good care of the world. That’s what it means to be in the image of God. Now, surely we also have similarities to God; intellectually, we do think at a higher plane than animals do, but that’s not what’s basically in the word image. The basic notion of being in the image of God is to have a job assignment – to represent Him on earth, not merely in the sense that we are like Him in some ontological way.

AMAZING GRACE

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)

The flow of salvation is such that, there is no way that any man has ever come to God by himself. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray…” (Isa. 53:6), no one is turning to God, and no one can come to God unless God draws him (cf. Jn. 6:44). I believe in predestination, and the other term for that is Grace. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved, no-strings-attached love of God for man. It is fully culminated, it is fully flowered, fully matured in the birth, life ministry, teachings, death, resurrection, and coming again of Jesus Christ. We are saved by grace. “For by grace you have been saved (perfect passive participle – it happened in the past by an outside agent, and it’s a continuing experience) through faith…” Are we saved by grace or are we saved by faith? We are saved by grace, but there’s no other way to be saved than through faith. By that i mean, man must respond to it. Faith is not a work. Faith is a response to grace. Faith in Greek can be translated three ways – BELIEVE, TRUST, FAITH. Biblical faith primarily is the word trust, trustworthiness, loyalty. Faith is not something that focuses on man. Faith is something that relates to God. Faith is the trustworthiness of God demonstrated in the Bible and experienced in a person’s life. We trust God because He has proved Himself to be dependable and trustworthy. Faith is a response in man to the trustworthiness of the promises of God. Faith is not how deep you feel. Faith is not how emotionally high you can get. Faith is not how committed you are. Faith is directed toward God, not toward you. Grace is unconditional, and faith is the condition. But how can something be unconditional and yet conditioned? Think with me > salvation is absolutely 100% free. You can’t earn it, you can’t deserve it, and you can’t merit it. God gives it with no strings attached, but it costs everything that you are. It is the pearl of great price (cf. Matt. 13:45-46) that when a man finds Jesus, everything else becomes insignificant compared to Him. He becomes the consuming desire and motive of human life. Our response to Him is the condition of unconditional love.

GOD CHOSE US BECAUSE HE LOVES US

“… so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Eph. 2:7 (NASB)

There were three ravaging forces that dominated our lives before we were saved: namely, the world, the devil, and the flesh. Howbeit, because of the generosity of God’s mercy, and the greatness of God’s love, and the glory of God’s grace, the moment we were saved, we were made alive together with Christ instantaneously. That means you received spiritual life, eternal life; you were born again. And not only that, but we were also raised up together, we were taken out of the place where we were spiritually dead; that old position and raised us out of it and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ. There had been a shift in position, from death in sin to life in heavenly places in Christ. That’s how God sees you today, in heavenly places in Christ. That’s the reason why Paul “prays that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms,” (Eph. 1:18-20). In the book of Romans, we learn that the believer is declared legally righteous once he trusts Christ (Rom. 5:1). That is our position “in Christ”, but we need to possess that position. We are “in Christ” and we have all the blessings of heaven, but we need to grow into Christlikeness before we “possess the land” (cf. Deut. 1:8), so to speak. God chose us, set us apart, foreordained us to become His sons by adoption through Jesus Christ. God wants us to live a certain life that reflects who He is, becoming more and more of what we already are in Jesus Christ “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” – (Eph. 1:4). Adoption is a metaphor to describe salvation (cf. Rom. 8:23; Gal.4:5). In the Roman law system, adoption was a very important concept. A natural son could be disowned, but an adopted son having gone through the rigmarole of Roman adoption could not be put away. I think this is a very important concept that speaks greatly about our security in God. God chose us according to the kind intention of His will. People say, God knew all the time what we’re going to do before we were born, and He chooses us because He knew we’re going to choose Him. WRONG. God didn’t choose us because he knew what we’re going to do – that would be works>salvation. God chose us because of his love and grace. We can’t make foreknowledge the key to predestination or election. God chose us because He loves us, PERIOD. GOD IS LOVE; it is His character. God accepted me in Jesus Christ. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to be anything. God accepted me in Christ, and God chose me, and marked me out as His child before I was ever born. My name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. I believe the doctrine of predestination is more to get backbone to the saints than it is to keep a lost world out of the Kingdom of God.

WHY WOULD JESUS TARRY?

(Read John 11:38-44)    

There’s a man that Jesus loved who’s going to get sick and die, and Jesus is glad about it? I would never say Jesus caused Lazarus’ death, and i would never believe that. But i do believe God took Lazarus’ death in a fallen world and used it to glorify his Son, and used it as a forum or a stage to impact all generations of believers by what He did with this one special family – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus is trying to reach His generation, as well as our generation with a radical new message. And the message is this – eternal life is in Jesus, and what you do with Him right now will determine your eternal destiny.

As Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, who thought he had done everything right, that he must be born again, now here Jesus is going to use this opportunity to step into a painful, hurtful, unfortunate, and tragic situation,, and He is going to let it unfold with all of its implications, with all of its pain, and then He’s going to change it for the purpose of reaching people of every generation who are caught in the same kind of pain.

I don’t understand, really, why there is so much evil, and pain, and suffering in the world and it seems like heaven is silent, even if we pray and pray, nothing happens. How can a loving God allow this tragedy to happen? It’s almost become the question of our day. I submit to you, the reason why we think this way, is because we misunderstand the purpose of God. You see, we are putting everything in this life into a worldview that if you live long, and you have everything, and you do what you want, and that’s success; that’s greatness. We live in a culture that over-emphasizes the individual. We say, “Oh, if I just have 70 years of good health, and prosperity, and good insurance, and I really enjoy my family, and a good church to attend on Sundays, oh man, things are good! I promise you that is not the way that God keeps score of things. The people around us are going to hell! This is not the end of the book. This is not where the focus of it is. This is not what real life is all about. There is death, there is pain, there is suffering, but Jesus can take that tragedy of human experience and engineer it for the kingdom of God, and the glory of Christ, and the reaching of multitudes for Him.

Amid the problems that all of us face, if we would stand up with the most powerful testimony which is faith in the midst of crisis. If we will stand up amid the pain of death of a loved one, when cancer is the diagnosis, and bankruptcy is on the horizon, if we could just stand up with Job, and say, “though He slay me, yet will I serve Him!”, then perhaps the fallen world will listen.

SUBMISSION TO CIVIL GOVERNMENT IS A BIBLICAL MANDATE

(read 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Rom. 13:1-2) Christianity is a re-orientation of our world view. It introduces the concept of submission which is exactly the opposite of what we culturally think about individual human rights and the worth and dignity man. Something has changed in us. As believers, now we are to be submissive to earthly government even when we do not agree with it. Submission goes against the grain of human nature. Submission is diametrically opposed to everything that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil stood for; that polluted our hearts and minds into thinking that “whatever i want, whatever I need, I have the right to do”. The fall has caused all of us to turn inward – “what’s in it for me?”, “What do I get out of it?”, or “how do i control my own life?”. Submission is the way to keep score that Sin is no longer predominant in our lives. The purpose of submission is primarily evangelism. We submit not because we are weak, or we don’t have our own opinion and authority. We submit to show that there is a difference in the Christian life. We submit so that the Kingdom of God might be lifted up through our lives as a witness to the lost and fallen world. We must realize that God is sovereign in human governments, not just in history but in the formation, the continuation, and the limits of human government (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22; Isaiah 44:28; Daniel 2:21). God is in control of human governments. That does not mean that they are spiritual entities. It simply means that God has purposed that human government exists for the purpose of keeping law and order in a fallen world. Therefore He establishes them and controls them. God’s people are repeatedly admonished to submit themselves to these human governments, even invading occupying governments for that matter (cf. Daniel chapts. 1-4). God’s people are also admonished to pray for civil governments (cf. Jer. 29:7) lest men would swallow each other alive (cf. Sayings of the Fathers 3:2).Christians are to give unto civil governments that which rightly belongs to them because it is God Himself who sets governments up, but give to God what belongs to Him whenever the state claims ultimacy (especially in the sense of the deity of the emperor cf. Matt. 22:21; Romans 13:1), and the state has gone beyond the bounds that God has given it. And therefore we cannot submit to that, yet there is a realm in which we are to submit as unto the Lord to civil authorities, not necessarily that we agree with them, but we are to do it because we are Christians, and how we act affects evangelism and ministry. Everyone must obey the civil authorities as a matter of attitude. It’s a Biblical attitude of reverence and submission to others because of our relationship with God (cf. Eph. 5:21). No authority exists except ordained by God. All human governments have only the authority that comes from God, because God is the only source of authority. This is not to assert the divine right of governments, it simply means that God prefers government order than chaos. Human governments are under God’s control and God’s appointment or ordination, and anyone who resists its authority sets himself against God. To rebel against civil governments is to rebel against God. The basic attitude of Christians is reverence, honor, respect, and duty towards civil governments.

CORE TRUTHS WE SHOULD WILLINGLY DIE FOR

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul addresses the problem of the church at Corinth which is being disrupted by some people in the church who deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and the resurrection of all believers being denied, impugned, or ridiculed. So Paul wants to share with them again the basic Kerygma model of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe this is the basic or bare-bones minimums of salvation. In verses 3-4, Paul presents the Gospel in a bulleted form – “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,…”, as a reaction to those who deny the resurrection. These are the basic criteria about the Lord Jesus Christ which Paul preached to them which they received, and wherein they also stand (cf. vs. 1). Interestingly, the word ‘received’ in verse 1 and verse 3, in Jewish circles, meant ‘passing on of a tradition’. Now Paul is telling us about the gospel that he received. Now, where did Paul receive elements of the Gospel?

I think there are several sources. Number one: if you look at Paul’s conversion that’s recorded in Acts 9,  22 and, 26, Paul was persecuting the church, killing Christians. He was really tearing the church up. Those Christians who were dying would have witnessed to him. Paul heard some of these truths from the very people he was persecuting. Paul in Acts Chapter 7 called Saul of Tarsus then, held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. Stephen of course preached in the temple, and the Jews got so mad they dragged him outside and stoned him on the spot. And Paul heard that sermon of Stephen. Another source in Acts 9, Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus and asks him “why are you persecuting Me”, and Paul of course is struck blind, and Ananias a lay person, never read a theology book, laid hands on Paul, and Paul was healed. Ananias tells him about the Gospel, and then Paul begins to preach. In Galatians 1:11-12, Jesus Himself revealed the Gospel to Paul. So Paul was saying that the Gospel was passed on to him and he responded to it. “…in which also you stand,..” – this is a good parallel of Romans 5:2. I would call this positional Christianity. I think we are in Jesus Christ once we trust Him. This same truth about Abraham when he believed God, it was counted to him as his righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6); imputed righteousness. Imputed is an accounting word which has the idea of God’s righteousness was placed on our bank account. We are righteous because we are in Christ. We are holy because Christ’s holiness is imputed on our account. So, I’m holy because I’m in Him now. That’s the positional aspect of justification by faith. Now because I’m holy on account of the fact that I’m in Christ, the Bible calls on me to live holy > that’s the progressive aspect. The possessing my position aspect. I’m called to be what i already am. Another way of illustrating this is, let’s think of the Christian life as a race. When i trust Jesus Christ, I’ve already won the race, the trophy is on the shelf. I’ve won because I’m in Him. Now because I’ve won, I’m called to run for Him. The thing is, i don’t run to get the trophy. I have the trophy because I’m in Him. I run because I have the trophy and i run because I’m part of the family. I run to please my Father. I don’t run to get anything. So i stand in the Gospel, i am accepted in Christ.

“…by which you are being saved…(vs. 2) – If you’ll look at the verb tenses in the New Testament to describe salvation, sometimes it is past and complete. Sometimes it’s present, ‘being saved’, and sometimes it’s future. Therefore i submit to you that none of us are completely saved yet. We’re not fully saved until we see Him, and are changed into His likeness (cf. 1 John 3:2). I believe that there is a point at which we receive the Gospel. There must be a time where you ask God to forgive you, and to save you. There is a point, and then there is a process, that’s what it is about being saved.

“…if you hold firmly to the message…” – this is a first class conditional statement (assumed to be true) meaning “…since you hold firmly to the message…”. What message? That the  Messiah died for our sin according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and was raised on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures (i.e. vs. 3 & 4). The resurrection is not an option in Biblical Christianity. If Christ’s resurrection is a sham, we’re the biggest fools the world has ever known. The resurrection is not something you can fudge on. If the resurrection is false, Christianity is false. But if the resurrection is true, Christianity is true, and there is no middle ground.

That Jesus Christ died for our sins; that He was buried; that he resurrected on the 3rd day are the core beliefs of historical Christianity that we must go back to again and again. These are the essential truths that we must rally behind, and be united about, and even willingly die for.

THE FALLACY OF PROOF TEXTING

The key principle in Bible interpretation is the intent of the original author. The intent of the original author is the meaning of Scripture – not you, not your denomination, not your experience. The only inspired person in Bible study is the original author, so what you must do is to put yourself back in the place of the first hearers. WHO? WHAT?, WHERE?, WHEN?, WHY? – these are exactly the questions we have to ask. We must ask who wrote this? when did they write it? who did they write it to? Why did they write it? These are the crucial questions in Bible study? Just think of the difference between a letter from your lawyer and a letter from your sweetheart, wouldn’t you interpret those differently, would you? Wouldn’t you be mad if someone got a hold of a love letter you’ve written a long time ago, that’s 5 pages of drippy, gooey, “I love you” stuff, and puts one sentence from the 3rd page of that letter on the blackboard. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed, and say, “wait a minute, you’ve got to know when i wrote that, you’ve got to know who i wrote that to, and you’ve got to read the whole letter”. And that’s what we’re doing to the Bible every day, if you could just hear God screaming at you. We jump in His Book, pull out one verse, redefine the words based on our own culture, apply it into our life immediately, and say, “Thus saith the Lord”. It’s called proof-texting, and we’re horrible at it. Every book of the Bible is one connected, succinct, unified message. That’s why we read through Romans, that’s why we read through the entire Book. You cannot study the Bible without moving through the entire book. There is no way to jump all over, pick one verse from Daniel, 2 from Matthew, 1 from Amos, 2 from Revelation spin them together, and say, “This is the word of the Lord”. That’s not the Lord speaking! It’s you who’s speaking. It’s your denomination that’s speaking. The tragedy is, we just buy it like, “if it’s in the Bible, it must be true”. You can’t do that to the Bible and make it prove anything!

A case in point: Through the years I have heard sermons on 2 Chronicles 7:14 applied invariably to a nation or to the church whenever it is stricken by a disaster or a calamity. This text refers particularly to God’s covenant people Israel, of which we are not, by any stretch of imagination. We (modern-day believers) are not part of a performance-based covenant (cf. Acts 15; Galatians 3; Hebrews), but under the covenant of grace (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Gen. 15:1-21; Eph. 2:8-10). This text could apply as an application or significance but not as an original intent of the inspired author of Chronicles. Be careful of proof-texting Old Testament texts and bringing them directly into the New Testament covenant of grace.

Here’s a good quote from the CSB Study Bible by the Holman Bible Staff:

“(2 Chronicles 7:13-16) This promise presupposes a very specific context. It was given to God’s people, who bear his name, and it is a part of God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. It refers to times when the Israelites have become faithless to God and are enduring the consequences, whether it was a famine, an invasion, or even the deportation to another country. To be humble . . . pray . . . seek God and turn from sin are four aspects of one attitude: repentance. If Israel would repent, he would forgive them and heal their spiritual relationship with him associated with the promised land. Furthermore, as was established earlier, the prayer mentioned is specifically intended to refer to prayer in the temple or, if that is not possible, prayer said facing in the direction of the temple. This promise is given specifically to God’s covenant people, and by itself it should not be applied to other nations or to the church. However, these verses reflect God’s gracious nature, and on that basis, we may draw out a more fundamental principle—that any person, regardless of ethnicity or location, can come to the Lord with a repentant heart and find forgiveness (see 6:32-33; Jl 2:32; Ac 2:21; Rm 10:13; 1Co 1:2).”

THERE IS DELIVERANCE!

If you’re a normal human being, need I convince you that there is estrangement between you and God? In the loneliness of the long nights, in the terrible fear of death, in the guilt that overwhelms humans from what we’ve done in the past to others, and what we continue to do with a terrible claw of self that’s in our lives, we all stand before what we believe is a reality and say, “O my, is there any hope for me?”, “wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of sin?” (i.e. Rom. 7:24). BUT THERE IS A DELIVERANCE. God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love for us even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (i.e. Eph. 2:4-5). We have been transitioned radically from the hopelessness and helplessness of the black pit of the human condition to the majesty of His grace. What more would it take to convince us that our greatest hope is in the unchanging, unmerited, and undeserved merciful character of God which is in Christ Jesus. God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s love – did it come when we were seeking God?; did it come when we were open and repentant?; did it come to good people? NO! It came to us while were running away from Him, dead in trespasses and sins (cf. Rom. 5:8). What good news this is! I don’t know who you are but, I know this – God loves you, and Jesus died for you, and whosoever will may come!

WHY EVEN SINCERE CHRISTIANS DISAGREE OVER THE BIBLE

In the course of my personal Bible study, I have struggled with a realization that has somehow defined my over-all worldview and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This has become a path that led me to great peace about the Bible in a day when there is still tremendous controversy about the Bible even among sincere Christians. One Christian focuses on this passage, and another focuses on that passage, and they disagree and build walls of denominations. We are all guilty as human beings, and I understand where it’s coming from, because our mind is like a gigantic computer, and we categorize all kinds of information into some meaningful grid. What we have done, of course, is to systematize the Bible into certain categories – Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, and so forth and so on. We forget that these are man-made structures that the Bible does not really fit well, because the Bible is not primarily a theological dictionary which we just turn to for a certain topic, and look up what God says about it. To a very large extent, we are all influenced by western culture, and western culture is primarily Greek. We think as the Greeks, and we structure our thoughts as the Greeks. We tend to be logical, rational, and literal. We tend to order our thoughts on precepts built upon precepts. The only problem is, the Bible is not a western book. The Bible is an ancient eastern book. The people of the near eastern world would never have structured their thoughts in those ways. They are much more used to tension in their presentation. They are much more used to overstatements, understatements, and exaggerations. They are used to presenting truths not in ‘black and white’, ‘either/or’ categories, but in categories of stories that pointedly tell this truth, and another story that seems to say what looks like exactly the opposite truth. It is for this reason that the Bible is so greatly misunderstood, and so easily proof-texted, that we say, “Well, God said it right here, and that settles it”. I think in doing that, we have destroyed the very nature of Biblical truth itself.

I believe that most Biblical truths come in paradoxical pairs, sometimes called dialectical pairs. In other words, the Bible seems to speak out of both sides of its mouth. Like in the Parable of the soils, on one hand, it teaches the absolute necessity of fruitfulness as an evidence of a true salvation – not the means to that salvation, but on the other hand, John 10:28; Ephesians 2:8-9 and a whole lot more teach believers about grace as a bedrock truth on which to base their assurance of salvation. Here is an obvious tension created by two paradoxes; perseverance on one hand and faith assurance of grace on the other, and both truths are divinely inspired. Other examples are: God as transcendent versus God as immanent; security vs. perseverance; Jesus as equal with the Father vs. Jesus as subservient to the Father; Christian freedom vs. Christian responsibility to a covenant partner; etc. Therefore, we need to take these scripture texts to a balance by living our Christian lives within the tension created by these seemingly opposing truths. We do not have the right to affirm one inspired Bible text and at the same time reject or relegate to second importance another equally inspired Scripture text. Therefore truth is found between the two seemingly paradoxical extremes. Denominationalism tends to proof-text one side of the paradox and radicalize truth by literally and dogmatically interpreting one expression of truth without seeking to relate it to the opposite truth. We must live within the tension created by these truths no matter how seemingly paradoxical they are because all Scriptures are divinely inspired. If all Christians will have this kind of mindset, i believe Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23, for the unity of all believers will be realized.