Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Great Grace: So Great Salvation

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

 In the recent weeks, we've been engaged in a study of God's great Grace. We've seen that Grace is greater than our failures. We have seen that Grace has freed us from the Old Covenant Law. We have seen that Grace has brought liberty whereof we are not required to observe any special day or partake of any type of ceremony to advance in faith or achieve a deeper spiritual intimacy with God.

 God's Grace is greater than we can fathom. Grace is so far reaching and knows no boundaries. It turns the hardest and coldest hearts. His Grace stoops to the lowest most undeserving one offering hope and new life. His Grace has appeared to all men in the person of Jesus Christ.

 In spite of this great Grace being revealed so many still only see Grace as a minor portion of the Gospel. That it was only part of the motivation that moved God to pay the price and offer new life. It is only utilized for the Gospel invite but once received it is no longer consequential. Devotion and consecration are what is paramount and is all that is of significance. Personal commitment and devotion and determination are what the Christian life is founded on.

 There is no place for Grace for believers. Think openly and with honesty. We hold our hands out offering hope for hopelessness and light in the darkness. We strive to bring in the multitudes to hear the good news. There is a Savior. There is forgiveness, we proclaim. We are quick to declare there is nothing you have done that will disqualify you from receiving. Then, the lost, the hurting, the sinner hears and responds with open hearts and hesitantly comes forth and receives this good news. 

 Then the lost who is now found sees there is no longer a place for Grace for believers. You've responded, now the open hands with their invitation of unconditional love and acceptance close and a finger comes forth pointing out all your flaws and misdeeds. The open hands become clinched fists angrily preaching about the lack of devotion and commitment among the found. Finally, these open hands sometimes become hands closed clinching stones to throw at the fallen among us.

Freely Given Freely Receive

 The truth is God's Grace is greater than our flaws. His Grace is greater than any achievements we strive for. His Grace is greater than our commitments. Because we try, we promise, we make pledges but we in our fleshly frailness often times come up short. Grace says He is the missing element in any and all equations.

 The Gospel is Grace from start to finish. The Christian life is predicated on the great Grace of Almighty God. No amount of devotion causes His favor or love or mercy or hope to shine more upon us. The way His favor and love and blessings flow upon us in a greater measure is when we simply agree with Him and identify with who we already are, the righteousness of God in Christ.

 The ministers and believers who see Grace as a minor part of the Gospel are missing it in a couple of ways. One, they are walking by sight not faith in God's Word. His Word declared we who believe are righteous and holy and redeemed and eternally secure. Many times they walk by their senses and see the failures and shortcomings of the Church. So they attempt to front load the Gospel. They teach if a believer isn't committed or devoted or persevering to the level they deem acceptable they must not really be saved. I've even heard a minister once say if a professing Christian was caught up in a specific sin or they didn't believe exactly what he did they weren't "true" Christians. They were merely a "believer". They were some type of lower class Christian.

Secondly, they are entrenched in Christian guilt. Because those of us in the West aren't being driven from our homes or being massacred or beheaded for our faith we aren't truly dedicated. The believers who have suffered so much in certain nations hostile to Christians are the real Christians. One theologian that is immensely popular coined this phrase "cheap grace" in this vein. Because Christians don't stand up and allow themselves to be murdered they must not be truly committed.

 They make catchy slogans. Things like Christ died for you will you die for Him? I trust that you can see this Christian guilt. This guilt in my view is what is motivating some of this extreme commitment and consecration and devotion and persevering achievement goals intending to prove one's genuine salvation.  

 The truth is God's Grace freely offers all who will hear and respond new life. We freely receive all He accomplished for us. There is no commitment or obedience requirement to receive salvation. Salvation isn't Jesus plus your commitment to long-term obedience to God. It isn't Jesus plus your achievements and consecration. It is not Jesus plus your bravery and courage enough to suffer and die. It is Jesus plus nothing. Salvation is by Grace through faith. 

 Free your mind from this never ending treadmill of duty and achievement syndrome. Reject any guilt over any blessings and goodness you have because of where you live and what Christ has done. Christ doesn't need our help to perfect us or mature us. Maturity and growth come simply by renewing our minds to our new identity in Him. When we acknowledge as often as we can who we are in Him growth occurs. 

 As for those suffering for their faith, we do all we can to help. We provide aid and support through charitable means. We pray in faith for their protection. What we don't do is create a theology of works to compensate for us not "suffering enough". 

 Brethren, renew your minds to this great Grace. Understand where the "you're not trying hard enough", "there is still much more to do" mindsets originate from. Those looking at behavior instead of trusting God's Word and His Spirit to renew and awaken and bring growth and change. Or it's rooted in those so entrenched in guilt for freedoms and blessings they have. We no longer have to prove our worth. God freely giving us His own Son reveals our worth to our good Father. So simply and freely receive all His Grace has purchased and provided. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Great Grace: Greater Liberty

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

 We've been in a study of the great Grace of Almighty God, our good Father. We began last week looking at our great freedom from the Law. The legalistic Judaizers often reject the concept clearly detailed in the New Covenant that the Law and Old Covenant is fulfilled in Christ. The Old has been abolished, has come to an end in light of the activation of the New Covenant.

 Now let's establish something that is true that is not contrary to the New Covenant. You see the legalists often look for ways to ensnare us and claim New Covenant Grace is a false teaching. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe. That is the clear New Covenant truth. In the Law, though we can clearly see the perfect righteous moral standard of God. 

 What I mean by this, is that the moral aspects of the Ten Commandments such as not committing adultery or murder are a standard seen in the New. Let me say it as clear as possible to not confuse you. The Love of God abiding in our hearts, and the Spirit directing our paths would never lead us into any sexual immorality. It wouldn't ever lead us into lying or cheating or taking advantage knowingly of anyone. 

 That said we still can't say rightly that we abide by the "moral" components of the Mosaic Law. Because some of the 613 commands have nothing to do with any ceremony or sacrificial procedure and are not listed in the "big ten" but have a seemingly "moral" aspect to them.  For instance, the commands that men must not trim the sides of their temple or clip the edges of their beards is a moral command given so as to not appear as the Gentiles. So is it a sin today if Christian men don't have properly shaped facial hair?

Rightly dividing the Word of God would end so much of the debate and confusion in the Body of Christ. When Paul in his Epistles references behavior he is not saying anything unusual or what we haven't seen recorded in Scripture since Genesis. It's pretty basic and is summed up by the royal law of love. If we love people we won't betray them or take advantage of them. That should settle the debate about the place of the Law in the life of the believer. 

 Sadly, this is insufficient for the legalists and Judaizers. These Legalists want to take the Church backward. They are steadily teaching that Christians would grow more and experience a deeper spiritual walk with God if they just followed the Mosaic Law and observed Sabbath days and Feasts days. Let's establish once again the truth, we as Christians aren't anti-semitic. As Christians, we believe the whole Bible. I affirm Israel is the land God gave the Jews. We stand with them and support them. God made a Covenant with Abraham and will ultimately fulfill all the promises to Israel when Jesus returns.

Sabbath observance and celebration of Feast days?

 As for New Covenant believers, what then has the manners and customs and practices of the Old Covenant to do with the Church? They do have significance. They are shadows and types that point us to something. The shadows pointed to the Substance. The Substance is the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 This truth doesn't seem to penetrate the thinking of the legalistic Judaizers. The plain truth is that the Feast days and Sabbath and Passover and Seder meal have significant educational value to the Believer. They point to and illustrate Jesus perfect redemptive work. The problem is that the legalists teach that there exist a deeper spiritual intimacy and understanding with God when we actually observe and celebrate these things.

 Some even go a step further and teach that if we don't keep Sabbath we are disobeying the Commandment of God. This is dangerous deception creeping into the Church. The legalists point to Paul and his life often to prove their stance.

 They point to Acts 21, that Paul entered the temple and supposedly took part in a Jewish ceremonial practice. They also reference Paul looking to go to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost in Acts 20. They also note Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 16 that he wanted to abide in one place until Pentecost. In Acts 18  Paul noted he desired to be in Jerusalem for the feast or festival. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul talks about keeping the Feast.

 The Judaizers also share other common themes, that observing the Sabbath or Feast holy days aren't burdensome. They say how burdensome is taking a day off? How burdensome is it to celebrate a feast? They also proclaim on all their web pages and sermons that the Sabbath and Feast days aren't for Israel under the Old. They proclaim that these Feast days and the Sabbath is the Lord's Sabbath and the Feasts are the Feast's of the Lord. They are to be observed forever.

 I have basically summed up the arguments for observing the Old Covenant practices. Now, are these points valid? Not a single one. This is because the Judaizers fail to rightly divide the Word and keep the passages in Context.

 When you have time study the passages about the Feast's of the Lord in Leviticus 23. Now, what you will see is a common theme spread throughout each feast. Offering a sacrifice and the command to not work, but to rest. What does this prove? What does this point to? All of these Sabbath and Feast days point to the Finished Work of Jesus. That in Christ we rest because the work is complete and Jesus has done it all and we can do nothing to earn, achieve, or merit His love, redemption or provision.

Answering the legalist's objections to Grace

Let me very briefly answer the objections about Paul's life. First, Luke, writing the book of Acts used the Hebrew calendar as an indication of time and documenting events on Paul's journey. Paul was using Jewish feast days as an indication of dating and time. As for going into the temple in Acts 21, Paul was fulfilling James' request in order to keep the peace between Jew and Gentile. This principle is the true motive and answer for why Paul did what he did. 

 In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is making a referencing to the Passover feast, in order to encourage the church at Corinth to remove the leaven or serious sexual immorality they'd allowed to fester in their midst. As for the objection that keeping these customs aren't burdensome, look back again at Peter's words in Acts 15. 
10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? Acts 15:10 NLT
 Peter's words decimate the claim that observing Feast days and keeping Sabbath are not burdensome. The problem is the legalistic Judaizers are doing exactly what the Pharisee and Sadducee had done when Jesus walked the Earth. They had diluted the Law into a standard that man could keep. Teaching today that we should keep Feasts days is to dilute the perfect, impossible standard of the Law.
 As for the objection that these are the Lord's Feasts and Sabbath and they are forever, God was talking directly to Israel. They were forever in their generations. When Jesus came these customs found their fulfillment in Christ. To celebrate them today is to take the glory away from the Finished Work. For us to observe these customs is for us to celebrate something that was designed to look forward to an event to come. It is actually dishonoring Christ to keep Sabbath days and observe Feast days.
10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. Galatians 4:10 NLT
16 So don’t let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating Jewish holidays and feasts or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.  17 For these were only temporary rules that ended when Christ came. They were only shadows of the real thing—of Christ himself. Colossians 2:16-17 TLB
Those looking to keep Sabbath days and Celebrate the feast days are walking by sight and not faith. They are saying the shadow is more real and relevant than the substance which is Christ and His Finished Work. That the shadow offers more Revelation and in-depth intimacy than the substance who is Jesus. They say they are just honoring Israel and the Old Covenant words. 

 If they want to show honor then honor God's New Covenant, which is a Covenant of faith not sight. To embrace shadows and not the substance is to walk in unbelief. Under the Old, you could "see" your righteousness by how you kept the holy days, honored the Sabbath, and abstained from forbidden foods. It is not a light thing to God to try to mix the Covenants and to teach the Saints that keeping or honoring or observing holy days, feasts, manners and customs is honoring God and His Word when the substance has already appeared and fulfilled all the shadows by His redemptive Work. We are to honor the Finished Work and His New Covenant and keep it free from mixture and error.  

 Under Grace, there exist no form of greater spiritual blessings or intimacy or growth achieved for keeping Sabbath days or observing or participating in Feast day celebrations. We honor Christ. We honor His triumphant resurrection. We honor His defeat of the enemy satan. We honor the Finished Work, mixture free! This is great Grace, great liberty in Christ.
Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw at 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Great Grace: Greatly Freed

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

We've begun a new study looking at God's great Grace. His Grace is greater than our mistakes or failures. Grace is greater than a performance based faith. We rejoice in just how great His Grace is. 

 Even in the midst of His great Grace there still exists a prevalent uncertainty and debate raging within the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. There exist an uncertainty about Grace. That too much Grace is dangerous and out of balance. This uncertainty finds its roots in a wide-ranging debate. What is this debate?

 Books have been written and ministries established all for the sake of substantiating a certain view within the Body of Christ. What is truly amazing is with sermons that were preached, commentaries that were given, and objections raised all this effort was truly in vain. Believers are debating a matter that has long since been settled. This debate is the age-old issue of Law versus Grace. 

 There exist this uncertainty about Grace because some view Grace as only important for your entryway into salvation. In other words, Grace is great to get the lost undeserving one born again, but it is the Law that is most important because this is what sanctifies or sets the believer apart. The Law is what brings perfection and maturity. 

 So this uncertainty increases and finds strength and traction in the Church as a whole because some still wish to cling to the Law. When believers object and say we are under Grace, not Law the debate begins afresh. What the Church needs to grasp is the truth that the Law versus Grace issue was settled for us already by the Apostles. 

 I encourage you to study for yourself the account in Acts 15. I want to share with you the conclusion of the issue. 
24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment— Acts 15:24 NKJV
 Here is the proof. This matter has already been settled. The Apostle James sometime between 48 and 50 AD already addressed the Law versus Grace issue. We have no command to follow the Law or observe the manners and customs of the Old Covenant.

 Now the legalists and Judaizers object saying this was only an issue about those teaching we must be circumcised to be saved. That we are still beholden to portions of the Mosaic Law. Is this true? 
But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:5 NKJV
 It is clear, the legalists wanted the Church not just to follow circumcision but to keep or observe the Law. Just to note, this would include the practice of Tithing. It's also clear we aren't under any portion of the Mosaic Law.

 What was the consensus of the Apostles? 
11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 15:11 NLT
We already know Paul's view. This is Peter's view. He saw clearly it's all by Grace and not Law. The debate is settled. We aren't under Law but Grace.
 Some would still raise questions about James and his letter to the Gentiles. If you read Acts 15:19-21 closer one can readily see God's love and Grace. At this time, James knew Gentile believers and Jews were in close proximity throughout many cities. James gave these instructions to keep the peace and to ensure the believers weren't a stumbling block to the Jews. James had a heart for his people. 

 So the question is are we under Law or Grace? Is there still a debate? There shouldn't be. Acts 15 has settled the matter. As believers in Christ, we can rejoice because we have been ushered into a New Covenant. We are blessed to partake of a living and vital relationship with our Father. He isn't just our God He is our good Father.

 We rejoice for God has set us perfectly free from this Old Covenant Law. We are no longer in a Covenant rooted in our ability to remain steadfast and faithful. A Covenant based upon our performance. We are in a New Covenant cut between Father God and Jesus the Son, where we are the beneficiaries. 
So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get all tied up again in the chains of slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies. Galatians 5:1 TLB
We have been made perfectly free from performance and Law. Now the legalist will still object even in the face of this overwhelming evidence. They point to Paul going into the Temple in Acts 21. 
 The Law was our schoolmaster. It was designed to show us our sin and inability to keep God's perfect standards. It was also given to stir up sin. It wasn't given to lessen it. The strength of sin is the Law. 
 We are now in a New and better Covenant. His Grace has greatly freed us from the bondage of the Old. We no longer have to have fear of letting God down. We aren't holding Him up. Rejoice we are completely free in Christ.
 Next time we will address this issue of Paul going to the temple and answer the objections raised by the legalists on this matter of Law versus Grace. We will also address this teaching that Christians should observe the Sabbath or celebrate the Feasts. You don't want to miss it.