Tag Archives: Armstrong

To Trust Obedience is to Fail, Bro.

The way to be eternally secure is to cleave to, trust, rely on and have faith in (believe in) Jesus Christ!  The way to be eternally insecure is to cleave to, trust in, rely on and have faith in anything else, even one’s obedience to God’s perfect law.  The latter will fail a person.  The first will secure a person.  His name, Jesus, means God is salvation.

When I trust in my obedience to God’s law I fail to see my own terrible lack and deficiency, my own disobedience.  I fail (come short of, be deficient in, cease to be furnished with, be cut off from the supply) in life by focusing on the idolatrous illusion of my own obedience to the detriment of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  When I trust in my obedience to God’s law I am blinded to the miserable, pitiful decay, lack and deficiency of my own need – the very reason Jesus died.  Therefore when I trust in my obedience to God’s law and commandments, my obedience is idolatrously exalted and the Source, the very Source of Life is relegated to an inferior position.

To believe in (be habitually, routinely committed to) Jesus Christ is to trust (assured resting of the mind in the veracity, integrity, justice or other sound principle of another person; confidence; reliance) in Jesus Christ (i.e. God) for my salvation. One path to failure in salvation is to trust and believe my obedience to God’s perfect commands or commandments will save me.  My obedience will fail me because I am human.  The source of life is not obedience.  The source of my eternal life is none other than Jesus Christ, who judicially declares me justified, sanctified and to be glorified.

To be saved then starts with a simple belief in Jesus Christ (John 1:12) which over time will grow to a confident assurance (strong belief) and absolute resolved single-minded purpose and determination in Jesus Christ first and foremost, above everything else and to then obey out of thanksgiving for what God has done.  As we grow we learn to not just to obey because of His gifts or His blessings, but in all assaults and barrages of lies and deceit from the enemies, in all of physical life’s circumstances we grow in Him through good times, as well as terrible suffering.

To God be the glory – He is the source of our salvation!

Update (3-21-14):

John 11:5 (Amplified Bible) “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus [They were His dear friends, and He held them in loving esteem.]”

When I read this verse this morning, it occured to me, I don’t view Jesus in the same way as Martha, Mary (her sister) and Lazarus did.  That’s tragic.  Why is that?

As I thought and prayed about that, it occurred to me that I still struggle in my view of God.  I still see Him too often as a Being who is watching my every move to catch when I disobey so He can correct it.  Do we really think thoughts like mine were the thoughts of Martha, Mary & Lazarus toward Jesus?

It’s their relationship with Jesus that better proclaims the beauty of the Gospel – God coming into His creation to build a relationship with fallen sinners, even an intimate friendship.  Friends and even marriage partners don’t worry about obedience, it’s more about respect for one another.  They don’t fret about obedience because obedience is not the focus of the relationship.  It’s deeper than obedience, love and gratitude toward the other person are the focus.  The focus of obedience is on the self.

Now certainly disciplines, “ought to’s,” and even at times “commands” are part of love.  But aren’t commands and obedience more of a framework, rather than a way of life?  Doesn’t the question from Jesus, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments?” a question targeted more toward those who are immature or are children than a mature friend?

Obedience certainly is clearly addressed in the New Testament, but it seems to me (and I need more time to process this and would appreciate feedback here), that obedience issues in the New Testament relate more often to non-believers and to immature believers who need warning about going astray, using grace as a license, and taking God far too casually, etc.

Think of it:  “a friend of Jesus – one who is free.”  It’s a relationship concept that I trust we all desire to have with Jesus, instead of a slave relationship (which involves oppression, not freedom).  That friend relationship is not to mature to a trust in obedience, but should mature into a strong relationship of trust in Jesus, the One who died for us.  He’s the object of our desire, right?  Or is the object obedience?  I think Jesus is the object.  For “a slave (a person oppressed to obey and keep commandments, who points to his obedience as to whether he is worthy enough) does not abide in the house forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:35-36).  Free to be a child, a maturing believer, a dear friend and eventually an intimate spouse of the King – in His very house relating to and with Him.

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Jesus Was No Sabbatarian

Luke 6:1-11 For purposes of this blog, a Sabbatarian is defined as a person who obstinately holds to the 7th day Sabbath command so much as to define who a true Christian is.  Jesus was no Sabbatarian.

In my experience as I have watched xCG’s they always have within their organizational walls those people who watch carefully to see who is breaking the Sabbath.  The Sabbath in Jesus’ time was the core religious belief, the identifying sign.  For the Pharisees the Sabbath was a complex set of rules.  Those extra Biblical laws they created resulted in the Sabbath becoming the worst day of the week.  In the Bible the 4th commandment, the Sabbath, was simple:  Keep it holy by no work.  That’s it. Simple.

The 4th commandment is silent about attending worship service.  Does that not imply 7th day worship service was a tradition or ceremonial?  And does that not imply worship should be a 7-day-a-week practice?  There is no command in the 10 commandments to go to synagogue or church on the 7th day, although that was certainly done by Jesus, and it was commanded in Leviticus 23.  Paul went to synagogue until Acts 18:6 when the Jews opposed him and blasphemed.  Paul shakes his garments and he says, “Your blood be upon your own heads…from now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  From this point forward Luke no longer records the Christian leaders going to synagogue on the 7th day Sabbath.

One thing that bugged me when I was in Worldwide Church of God (WCG) was that I knew I was a Christian because I went to church on the 7th day.  The 4th commandment is rest, not church attendance.  Yet my ticket to salvation was 7th day church attendance and rest.  That was my security.  That was my salvation – my obedience.  The other six days, I needed to live a moral life and be a good person.

Now read carefully, after Jesus heals another man on the Sabbath in John 5, Jesus says in John 5:39 to the Jews who sought to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life.”  Stop right there.  I thought my security for eternal life was in Sabbath observance – that identified me as a child of God similar to how the Jews thought their eternal life was in the Scripture.  What does Jesus say?  And these (the Scripture) are they which testify of Me.”  The purpose of Scripture and Sabbath is pointing to the reality, the One who possesses and gives eternal life.  The purpose of the Scripture and Sabbath is to point to Jesus.  When we elevate either to eternal life security, we fail and miss the fulfillment; the Savior and the relationship with Him.

Jesus comes along, and He doesn’t just crush the extra-Biblical laws the Pharisees created, He uncovers their deceit by actually fulfilling the shadow of 7th day Sabbath observance and presents Himself as the reality and fulfillment of the shadow – the Lord of the Sabbath who says, “Come to Me all who labor and I will give you rest.”  This was prophesied in Isaiah 30:15.  You want true rest?  “Follow Me,” Jesus says.  Then your salvation will be a delight.  “The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.”  “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:37, 47)

But Sabbatarians ask, doesn’t following Jesus require observance of the 7th day Sabbath? Herein lies the crux of the issue:  if you didn’t keep the 7th day Sabbath, you were not a true follower of God.  In the new covenant there is no problem resting or worshipping on the 7th day Sabbath.  If the Holy Spirit leads you to do that, you should obey the lead.  The problem exists in denying the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ in the lives of other people whose lives and work evidence fruits of repentance.  That problem was the same problem the Pharisees had – they could not, would not, let Jesus work in their hearts and minds because they myopically limited the very work of God.  They stubbornly and obstinately refused the work and life of Jesus Christ.  They held to their 7th day framework.  Jesus said, “you will know false teachers by their fruits.”  To deny Jesus and the Holy Spirit working in lives of sinners outside the 7th day observance, that is borderline blasphemy.  It is denying the work of God through Jesus.  It is the same sin the Pharisees had.

The Pharisees missed both the Savior (God) and God healing the man with the withered hand!  They overlooked God and the miraculous healing.  Why?  In order to differentiate and reject Jesus from themselves and their religion.  They denied the work of God in Jesus in order to protect themselves, their positions and their religion.  They had control and they were not about to humble themselves and lose it for God’s glory.  After all they were God’s people.  They followed Moses.  They were children of Abraham.  Yet, Jesus came and messed all that up and they would kill Him because they hated what He brought – God’s fulfillment.  They didn’t need Jesus’ salvation, theirs was secure in their religious framework, heritage, obedience and Scriptures as opposed to being secure in Christ.

What about you?  Have you missed the healing today – I’m referring to the spiritual healing of sinners outside the walls of 7th day Sabbath observance?  Is it because you refuse to acknowledge that Jesus heals spiritually outside of the 7th day religious framework?  Sinners lives are being dramatically changed.  If you deny Jesus works outside of 7th day observance, it’s not a simple mistake.  You are denying the very work of God Himself to draw people to Himself.  That’s dangerous ground.  The Pharisees did the very same thing – denying that God would even work in a sinners life.  Those sinners never measured up.  The Jews  could not answer the healings, but in turn they refused to believe Jesus’ work and miracles in other peoples lives so as to stubbornly hold to their history, heritage and framework.

Think about it.  When the early church received news of the salvation of Gentiles, the true believers rejoiced.  The problem came from those hypocrites and Pharisees who wanted to burden the new converts with requirements of circumcision, Moses laws, eating clean meats, and 7th day Sabbath observance (Acts 15).  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was made for man to point man to the true salvation rest found in its Maker, Jesus.  Jesus is the true, pinnacle fulfillment of the 7th day.  It’s Jesus who calls the shots on the Sabbath, not religious leaders or churches.  It’s Jesus who decides who is saved and He secures sinners.  Did He not say, “I will lose nothing” (John 6:39) and “neither shall anyone snatch them from My hand” (John 10:28)?

Don’t miss the symbolism in Luke 6:6-11.  This man’s right hand was withered, probably from paralysis.  The right hand represents the strength of a man, work.  It was withered.  The Pharisees watched carefully to see if Jesus would heal this man on the Sabbath.  They knew He could heal.  Was the paralysis healed on the Sabbath so the man could do Kingdom work?  It’s an interesting thought, but the text reveals Jesus did this healing defiantly, right in front of them as a witness and testimony of who He is.  The result was rage!  It got them mad enough to kill Him!

xCG’s always have within their walls those people who watch carefully to see who is breaking the Sabbath.  Why?  They don’t want to lose that identifying sign.  That sign is their security, while Jesus is minimized; secondary.  They cannot and some will not, see Jesus as their salvational security.  They essentially don’t trust Him.  “If I mess up, make a mistake, God is so harsh He may kick me out,” they reason.

Isn’t that the idea of the man who received one talent, who did nothing with it because he knew Jesus to be a hard man?  Matthew 25:26 Jesus says of this man, “you wicked and lazy servant.”  This man didn’t work, he physically rested.  His hand of work you might say was withered because he was paralyzed with fear of God as opposed to joy; obstinately holding to what Jesus had given him, hiding the gift and ultimately denying the Lord and Savior, the true Jesus.

Piper

Desiring God above His Gifts

Turn to Jesus, our true rest.  Leave your salvation in His capable hands.  He will cause you to rest, but also do His work.  If you are convicted by the Holy Spirit to observe the 7th day rest and gathering for worship, do so.  Just do not commit divisions, disunity and borderline blasphemy by rejecting the work of God amongst other Christians who follow Jesus within the Body and have fruits of righteousness and lives that glorify God.  This is what true atonement means – being at one with God because of what Jesus has done for us.  Jesus will never disappoint.  If Jesus were to ask you, “Why are you saved?” and you answer, “Because of my obedience,” you’ve got the cart before the horse and you’re resting in failure, for He is the power to repent, love and obey.
Some of the thoughts and ideas from this blog and it’s title come from John MacArthur’s sermon on this piece, as well as my own research and experience.  See http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/42-70/

Of Truth & Death

Today’s blog will differ in writing style from previous blogs.  I divert to address a reality we all must eventually face.  As such, the topic is of tremendous importance.

Over the last couple weeks I have been faced with the reality of death:

1) With Samuel’s father (I wrote recently of his murder here in Uganda).

2) Just this past week my 86-year old grandmother, Beulah Wise, died.

3) In a Facebook chat recently with a childhood friend of mine, he shared his experience of the death of his close and intimate friend.  The death had a deep and dramatic impact on my childhood friend, even resulting in depression, numerous gravesite visits, hospitalization, a break-down, counseling and medication.

4) The subject of death indirectly arose in the last couple weeks with a 30-something year-old young man (who admitted he has left Christianity for further enlightenment and spirituality).  He stayed with us for about two weeks at the house where we resided here in Jinja during the month of May.  I deeply desired to hear more of his thoughts and how he constructed his beliefs.

5) The reality of death came up in my quiet time yesterday and then again, today during our pastor’s sermon at church this morning.

Additionally, most of my friends and family know that I worked in Hospice care for 15 years, surrounded by stories and the reality of death.  That reality of death and watching how different people responded to it has intrigued me and caused me to reflect on what happens after death.

From my childhood, up until I was in my 30’s I was taught from the Bible that death is a “sleep.”  This meant, as I was told on numerous occasions with Biblical references and as I understood it, the person was not consciously aware of their surroundings when they are dead.  Then, later when Jesus returned, there would be a resurrection of the saints.  That belief was similar to what Jehovah Witnesses believe about death.  I recognize Biblical elements in that belief, but also am aware of some of the inadequacies of those beliefs.

One fact I remember about my grandmother was her continual longing to depart to “be with Christ” – something the apostle Paul referenced in the book of Philippians, chapter 1.  She vocalized to me a number of times the fact that she could not understand why my grandfather died first and why the Lord kept her here as long as He had.  She also communicated on numerous occasions that she was “ready to go.”  She had a confidence about her death and did not fear it – similar to the apostles.

This I admired, since by contrast, as I matured, I feared death.  I was not confident in the final decision Jesus would make about my life.  I was not assured of salvation.

It is not the purpose of this blog to analyze or attempt to argue about my beliefs.  My desire in this blog is to think reasonably and Biblically in forming an understanding of death (not just what people think about it) and present what I understand here in this blog.  I am more confident about some of my views about death now because my beliefs are rooted in certain Biblical truths, but I certainly do not claim to have “total truth” about death.

For any topic, especially one as serious as death, one must seek truth – not what one desires to believe, or wants to believe, or what other people believe, or the popular opinion of the time.  But rather what is real, not fiction or myth.

One of the positives of death is that it causes us to question life, destiny and purpose.  I would hope that questioning would cause us to discover truth in life.

Truth by definition is “that which is in accordance with reality or fact; not fiction; genuine; actual; proven; reliable; trusted.”

The first truth I am confident of is that Jesus is the life.  If there is anyone I am going to “bank on” or “invest in,” “follow,” or “bet on” (pick your metaphor) for life, it is Jesus.  Other religions and religious leaders fail miserably in making the promises that are recorded about Jesus.  He performed many miracles that resulted in improving life and at least two miracles where he resurrected dead people.  No other religious leader behaved like He did, loved like He did, nor made claims like He did, backing up those claims with “many infallible proofs.”  One of His closest followers even claimed Jesus said He was the Truth and the Life.  He not only alleviated suffering, but He set an example of how to persevere in life through suffering.  He is called a “man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief.”  When I suffer, He understands, and to a limited extent I experience what He experienced.  He claimed to be God and He allowed people to worship Him.   He is controversial.  Many people have written of Jesus, perhaps more than any other religious leader.  At least 500 people personally witnessed Him after His resurrection.   Controversy and religious conflict and failure does not shake my confidence in Jesus.  When He says to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life” I think these statements are such critically important statements that they deserve attention and research.  Speaking of Mary, Jesus respected and esteemed women and other cultures, which was very controversial to do in His day.  If people argue against Jesus, they usually do so by striking at the people who wrote about Him or the people who follow Him.  While there may currently be no archeological discoveries which point to a real life Jesus, I am reminded that one of the criticisms of the Biblical Pontius Pilate was the same – no archeological proof of Pilate’s existence, until a coin was discovered in 1961 with his name on it.  My desire is to follow the One who made a claim of conquering death.  That is Jesus.  Finally, one of the primary reasons I am convinced Jesus is real is because He has revealed Himself to me and my family personally.  You be the judge as to whether you think the changes have been for good.

The second truth I am confident of is that the Bible is God’s inspired word given through men.  The last (New Testament) writers of the Bible make fantastic claims about Jesus.  At least two or three of those writers were radical skeptics who remained committed to Jesus to the end of their lives.  The Bible is unique to other religious books – it has unity in diversity.  It respects people from all walks of life (thereby better reflecting the diversity in creation than any other religious book that I am aware of).  The Bible contains an amazing message.  It elevates God first, and then elevates man by stating in the beginning, man is created in the image of God.  Man fails.  God, not man, makes a way back for man.  Consider also that books of the Bible were written by people from all walks of life – shepherds, a farmer, priests, kings, a physician, fishermen, and others over a long period of time (about 1500 years), some well educated, others un-educated.  Although very hard on its skeptics, the Bible does invite and elevate those skeptics at times when they turn in favor of its God and its teachings.  It holds no single person as the ultimate, perfect person and sole source for truth other than the person of Jesus, who claimed to be God.  We see in its pages, numerous successes and failures of its followers – simply stated, we see life at its best and worst.  We see fantastic grace and mercy extended to humans in all sorts of situations and it addresses a vast array of topics.  We have warnings.  We have judgments.  We have truth.  We see fulfilled prophecies – hundreds of them.  It is written literally, historically, figuratively, poetically and dramatically.  The Bible is more resilient than any other literary work.  Over hundreds of years it has not lost its message, keeping words the same.  Men and women have died for what they believed about it.  Lives have been radically changed.  It has gone into the world like no other book in the world.  It has been translated into almost all the languages in the world.  Its message is living, breathing and sharper than any sword, convicting and changing many failures and even successes.  The Bible helps provide rational, reasonable and logical answers to critical questions of life – origin, purpose, destiny and morality.

Thus the reason for my blog.  The following is not an exhaustive explanation of death in the Bible.  It is very limited, but addresses key concepts important to my understanding of death.  Since Bible writers under the inspiration of God make claims that Jesus is the Life, has overcome death and is resurrected, I can trust the Bible to tell me what happens after death:

1)      My body perishes (1 Cor 15:53).  This is quite obvious and we do not need the Bible to tell us this fact.  However, in discussing the subject of death, we find that at least two Bible writers (Paul and Peter) claim that the body (both refer to the body metaphorically as a “tent”) is “put off” (see 1 Cor 5:1-9; 2 Peter 1:14-15) when we die.

2)      But we have a “house (contrasted with a temporary tent) not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” – something more solid, more permanent (1 Cor 5:1).  Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:3).

3)      The Bible reconciles both the future bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15) with the move of the believer (some call it a believer’s spirit, some call it a believer’s soul) into the presence of Jesus.  Jesus, after all, will return with ten thousands of His saints (Jude 1:14).  Soul is defined for purposes here as one’s “mind (thoughts), will and emotions.”

4)      After death, the saints will be with Jesus, Paul states in 1 Thes 5:10 that, “whether we wake (live physically) or sleep (die), we should live together with Him.”  That is, whether living physically or dead, we’re with Jesus.  Paul also equates being absent from the body to being present with the Lord in 2 Cor 5:8.  Paul also states in Phil 1:23 that he would rather “depart to be with Jesus.”  Jesus states, “that where I am, you may be also” (John 14:3).  Peter describes it this way, that shortly he will “put off his tent” implying like Paul that he too will move to a permanent, eternal house not made with hands (2 Pet 1:14).

5)      Those who are not believers and followers of Jesus will not be with Jesus.  Jesus and His followers were very clear about this.  After one of the most well known verses in the Bible (John 3:16) where John describes the love of God through Jesus and offers hope of not perishing by accepting Jesus, John then writes the following “He who believes in (Jesus) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:18-20).  The Bible and Jesus have much to say about this.

Whether you agree or not, I encourage you to seek Truth.  Truth provides the solid foundation for our beliefs.  Jesus illustrated His teachings this way, 24“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
26“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
(Matt 7:24 – 27)