Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Grace Q and A: What is Grace?

17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 NKJV

  In our last two studies, we examined the place that the Old Covenant has in the life of the New Covenant Christian. This was in direct response to the backlash that arose when a well-known minister dared suggest we unhitch our faith from the Old Covenant. The outpouring of wrath against the minister made it quite clear that many in the Church still have no concept of Grace. 

 Many apparently are still linked to the Old Testament, looking for daily guidance and growth from the Mosaic Law. During my research, I was astounded how some fringe Christian groups even denied the New Covenant Epistles as being Scripture. This led me to seek the Lord about what more to share. I sensed His leading to just get back to the basics and go line upon line of what the Gospel of Grace actually is. 

 So let's begin a study of what Grace is. Let's just ask questions and see what God's Word actually says about Grace. You might be tempted to say "I already know all this." Hebrews and 2 Peter have some good advice we should all heed.

 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1 NASB

12 Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 2 Peter 1:12 NASB

 What is Grace?

 Here we go, how do we define Grace? Is Grace simply empowerment? I have heard several definitions of Grace when I was in Word of Faith charismatic circles. I heard Grace defined as God's ability gift. I heard it defined as God using His ability on your ability even though you don't deserve it. Is this accurate?

 I have used this illustration before, but it bears repeating. How do you define an airplane? You may answer it's a flying vehicle that takes people or cargo from one place to another. Is that the right definition? Nope. That just explains what it does, what its function is, not what it actually is. An airplane is a powered heavier-than-air aircraft with fixed wings. Its function is to fly people or cargo from one destination to another. 

 The point of the illustration is for you to see the difference between what something is and what it does. So many define Grace as mere empowerment. Why is this a problem?

 When we define Grace as simply empowerment we leave the door open for different interpretations. Empowered to do what? Is Grace empowerment to now keep the 613 commands of the Mosaic Law? That has actually been taught. 

 When they cite that passage in Matthew that Jesus said He didn't come to destroy the Law, some tradition-minded interpret that to mean God's New Covenant is simply a renewal of the Mosaic covenant. That Grace now empowers men to do what they couldn't do before, that is to keep the Law and commandments. 

 Another interpretation comes from the performance-minded leaders. Empowerment to them means all the particular rules and regulations their particular religious sect clings to are still in effect but Grace gives people the empowerment to keep them. If you don't measure up, it's because you haven't tapped into Grace. 

 These Law minded and performance driven views are not the Good News of the Gospel of the Grace of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So how do we define the Grace of God? According to Strongs Grace is the divine influence of God upon our hearts. It's His acceptance, divine favor, and benefit to us. 

 Fully defined, we see Grace as God's unmerited, undeserved, unearned divine favor and when received His divine influence upon our hearts produces an empowerment to live victorious in every area of life. It's His goodness on our life. It's His loving kindness toward us. Grace is God stooping down, entering our life with His redemption, righteousness, and favor bestowed toward us, apart from any personal goodness, performance, or merit. 

 This is the Grace of God. This isn't a message or a movement. This is the true Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Accept no substitute. If one comes preaching Jesus plus your performance or ability to be faithful brings about righteousness, redemption, victory or blessing, know that is not the Good News, that is not the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of the Grace of God. 
Image courtesy of Pansa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Welcome to the New: Hitching our faith to the New Covenant

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV

  In our last study, we addressed the issue of Grace and the Old Covenant. This was in response to the volley of vitriol spewed forth toward a minister in America who dared suggest Christians should unhitch their faith from the Old Testament. Even more recently this minister has addressed his critics. He clarified his view. 

 He made it clear that the whole Bible is God's Word. It is inerrant and was given by inspiration of God. As Christians, we should rightly agree with that. Where contentions begin is the place that the Old Covenant has in the life of the Church. 

 The minister clarified that the Church is not to mix Law and Grace or blend the Covenants together. This should be a cause for rejoicing. More and more people are celebrating the New Covenant. Sadly, some in the Church are still debating the place of the Old in their lives.

 I believe in response to the clear message of Grace, the true Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, religious tradition is in a frenzied panic. Religion is about control. Grace removes control from men and puts the emphasis back on Jesus, the center of the Gospel. 

 Because Grace is uncontainable by man-made religion, it seeks to find ways to "balance" Grace. In this pursuit, many look to bring the Old Covenant into a blended mixture with the New. Many who years ago would've never said we look to the Law for righteousness, today often say we should follow the Ten Commandments or look to the Law to see what we define as sin.

  The stronghold of religion must be cast down from the thinking of believers. Rightly dividing the Word and renewing our mind to the understood Word brings this freedom. Knowing when the Old ends and the New begins is paramount.

 Tradition props this passage up and use it to suggest that the Church is still under portions of Law. Jesus words in Matthew 5  are interpreted to mean Christ desires us to continue in the Old and follow the Law. Some even suggest that when He expounds on the true nature of the Ten Commandments, such as adultery is defined as simply looking at a woman with lust, that Jesus is showing Grace has a much higher standard. 

 No, that isn't rightly dividing the Word. What Jesus did was show the Hebrews what the full weight of the Law's requirements really was. The religious leaders had diluted the Law and commandments so people could easily fulfill them in their own might. Again people aren't rightly dividing the Word. 

 First, when did the New Covenant begin? With the birth of Christ? No, the New Covenant began with the ascension of the resurrected Christ and the coming Holy Spirit and birth of the Church. When Jesus was born He was born under Law, not Grace. 

 Secondly, the fault with the Old Covenant was the truth that people couldn't meet the standards of a perfect and holy God. Religion had diluted the Law to such a place, the commandments were manageable in the people's strength. Jesus came and showed the full weight of the Law's requirements revealing the true purpose of Law. To stir up sinful desire and therefore reveal the need for a Savior.

Welcome to the New

 So let's look at the New and answer once again religion's objections to Grace along the way. 

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 
Hebrews 8:7, 10-12 NKJV

 This is the New Covenant. God lives within us and He gives us the guarantee that our sins and unrighteousness will He remember no more. This is where religion goes haywire. The idea that our sins and unrighteousness He remembers no more. That He makes us righteous apart from performance. That even when we fail He isn't accounting our sins against us. God repeats this good news in case some don't get it in Hebrews 10.

 Religion would still find an objection saying see it says He puts His law in our hearts. So they reason, we need to look to the Old Covenant for guidance and living. Listen, the laws written on our hearts are not the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law. 

 When we make this bold proclamation religion gets angry and accuses of antinomianism. That is in their view that we are presenting a life of lawless, licentious living. What they don't understand is that Radical New Covenant Grace isn't lawless. We just aren't bound to that Old Covenant Law. What laws are written on our hearts then?

 Paul declared that the Laws "written in stone" are the ministry of death and condemnation. We don't have death and condemnation written upon our hearts. We have the Law of Christ, the royal law of love, the law of faith written on our hearts. We do have commandments under Grace. These Laws and commandments are so clearly summed up by John. 
23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. 1 John 3:23 NKJV

 Grace isn't some "higher standard" than Mosaic Law that religious tradition wields over believers, creating commands that appeal to their particular traditions. The truth is Grace is a "better standard" than the Law. Not suggesting that Law is bad or faulty. Paul declared the Law is good and perfect.

 The problem was the Hebrews weren't perfect and the Law had no power to make them righteous. If Law couldn't empower Israel to keep its impossible standards what makes us think Law will make Christians righteous? The truth is Grace is a "better standard". Under Law it says don't commit adultery, don't even look at a woman with lust. 

 Grace brings a better way. Instead of just don't lust, it says do walk in love. Love your spouse. The Law doesn't say love your spouse. It just said don't cheat on them. Well, Grace says to love them. Put others before yourself. Be the bigger person and apologize first. Walk in love, don't return evil for evil. Instead of an eye for an eye its forgive others their wrongs against you and don't hold it against them. Paul sums this up nicely.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10:4 NKJV

 We don't look to Law for our standard of living we look to Grace and He shows us the better way. When we receive Christ, we become the righteousness of God in Him. We have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. We love because we are loved. We forgive because we've been forgiven once for all time. We walk uprightly because He already sanctified us, making us holy by His blood. 

 Unhitch our faith from the Old? Absolutely. Though there is a great benefit in studying the Old, though the Old reveals characteristics about God, the plan of redemption concealed, the Lord Jesus seen in types and shadows, our faith is rooted in Jesus and His Finished Work. It is not rooted in the Sinai Covenant, a ministry of death. 

 Want to grow in Grace? Want to progress in your love walk? Want to walk in wisdom? Want to honor Christ in your daily life?  Hitch your faith to the New Covenant and study primarily on the Scriptures written and addressed to you. Focus on "in Him", "in Christ", "in Whom" passages and see who you are in Him and find your true identity. Its found in the New Covenant, in Christ Jesus.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Grace and the Old Covenant

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV

This week, a well-known minister in America made an extremely controversial statement concerning the Old Testament. He declared as Christians we should unhitch our faith from the Old Testament. Now apparently this sentiment was part of an entire sermon series. I have not personally heard these messages but looking at the reactions of many I sensed the need to address this issue.

 What really happened when this minister spoke is it simply located where many people's understanding was concerning the Old Covenant. The anger and vitriol unleashed upon this pastor were relentless. Many were branding him a dangerous false teacher. In the midst of this outpouring of wrath, I thought it best to bring some clarity to this issue of the Old Covenant and its place today.

 There are two extremes I have encountered when it comes to the place of the Old Testament today. The first is some have accepted a foolish concept that says the Old Testament isn't God's Word. That many of the Prophets of Old spoke things out of their own imagination instead of hearing God. They that pronounced judgment and wrath were clearly missing God, right? 

 That is foolish. Again, don't take the amazing out of Grace. At the time of the Old, there was no mediator between God and man. There was no once for all, final sacrifice yet. Jesus hadn't shed His perfect blood. Judgment for sin was swift. It wasn't that God wasn't merciful. 

 God cried out in Ezekial, He didn't want to pour out wrath but mercy but there was no one to stand in the gap. Thank God Jesus stood in the gap and no longer is there judgment. God isn't sending tsunamis or earthquakes to punish sinful nations or cities today. 

 This was the fault of the Old Covenant. This Covenant was cut between God and Israel. That is God and man. Men couldn't keep God's standard. This is why God sought a better Covenant. 

 Don't fall into the trap that the Old, though it at times speaks of wrath, isn't God's Word. The second most predominant extreme is the idea that because the Old Testament is God's Word, the Old Covenant and the Law must still be active today. That the Church is under portions of Law, and the Old Covenant is partially active today.

In effect or obsolete?

13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 NKJV

 I am not sure if it can get any clearer than this. God established the New. If the New has been established, then clearly the Old has been made obsolete. As clear as this is apparently many have failed to grasp this simple truth. When this minister spoke of unhitching from the Old, many began to shout this is heresy and demanded we follow the Old and the New.

 "We must teach the Old Covenant hand in hand with the New!"
"It's dangerous to ignore parts of the Bible!"
"It's very dangerous to unhitch from the Old Testament!"
"This is apostasy!"

 The critics cried out. What has really occurred in the midst of this debate is to once again reveal that many simply see Christianity as "Judaism 2.0". This is because so many don't rightly divide God's Word and also lack a basic understanding of what the Gospel is.

The place of the Old today

 I earnestly desire to keep this as simple as possible. I suppose we could write a whole book on this topic. So just what is the place of the Old today? 

 Paul tells us all Scripture is profitable. That is our starting point. All Scripture is beneficial. Leviticus and Job, Isaiah and Amos all have benefit to us as believers today. Just how is it beneficial today?

 We can see the faithfulness of God in the Old. We can see His goodness to the Nation of Israel. We can see He is a keeper of His Promises. We can see the prophecies that reveal Jesus is the Messiah. We can see the ultimate plan of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. We can see God's best for mankind when we see the garden of Eden. 

 All the promises of provision, protection, preservation and peace we see in the Old has been filtered through the Cross and is been made available to the Church in the Finished Work. Some traditional-minded say we can't claim passages like Jeremiah 29:11. Listen, we are in a better Covenant with better promises. If He has good plans and a hopeful future for his servants (Israel) how much more good are his plans for us, His children? 

 While it is beneficial to us to see the wisdom in Proverbs and enjoy the passion of the Psalms we must remember that as a whole the Old Testament concerns Israel and not the Church. Though there is profit in studying the Old, we must not make the mistake of mixing the Covenants or mixing Law and Grace. This is where we must rightly divide the Word.

 Too many have mixed the Covenants and present a perverted gospel that is no Gospel. Many taken the stipulations God gave Israel to receiving blessings and favor from God and place those same demands on the Church. Some declare the Church is still under the Law.

In Acts 15, we see this conflict debated and resolved. The problem; Judaizers wanted the Church to mix Law and Grace, to adhere to the Old Covenant still. I want to share a couple of passages that settle the issue for us today.
10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Acts 15:10-11 NKJV 

 Peter, declared living under the precepts of Law and the Old Covenant is burdensome and is the antithesis of Grace. He recognized that God had done a new thing in Christ. 

14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? Galatians 2:14 NKJV

Paul in this passage called Peter out for not being true to the Grace Gospel. What is key is Paul declared Peter obviously no longer lived as a Jew. This is major. What this reveals is the place of the Old in our lives.

 Gentiles and Jew alike when they receive Jesus become one new man. The redeemed man. The New Creation in Christ man. The righteousness of God in Christ man. Righteous apart from works of the Law man. There is no Gentile Christian or Jewish Christian, the born-again man is simply a Christian, again Christianity isn't Judaism 2.0. 

 This means we don't look to the Old to see the "rules." We don't look to the Old for customs and practices to continue in. We don't observe Sabbaths and special days. Here is a big one, we don't look to the Ten Commandments to see what is a sin. 

 Think of it this way. Texas has laws that are written for that state. Someone in Pennsylvania isn't under Texas law. However, because murder and theft are against the law in Texas doesn't mean those in Pennsylvania are free to steal or murder. Their state has its own statutes against murder or theft. Many laws are universal in application.

 The truth is the same with God. the Old Covenant Law contained some universal moral laws. Even before the Ten Commandments, we can see theft and murder and adultery are wrong. Just look at Genesis. Adultery is sinful, not because it was written in the Ten Commandments. It is sinful because it is contrary to the character of a holy and just God. It is a universal law, that applies to all. 

 In summation, what is the place of the Old today? It has rich advantages for us to study and has some universal truths that are beneficial. We can see God as faithful and true in our lives, as He hasn't abandoned or forgotten the promises He made to the Nation of Israel. In this sense, the Old has a great place for the Church.

 Where we see the Old as obsolete is when believers try to mix the Old and New. It's obsolete whenever some wish to add portions of Law with the Gospel of Grace. It's obsolete when believers place a spiritual value on the practices and observations of Old Covenant customs and rituals. 
16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galatians 2:16 NKJV 
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Good news vs Fake news: You can lose your salvation

15 Now let me remind you, brothers, of what the Gospel really is, for it has not changed—it is the same Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then and still do now, for your faith is squarely built upon this wonderful message; 1 Corinthians 15:1 TLB

13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do. Mark 7:13 NKJV

 We've been in an extended study as of late. We've been highlighting the differences between the Good News of Jesus and His Grace and the fake news of religious tradition. As we contrast the Good News with the fake news we must remember that people are never our enemy. The same Grace and unconditional love of the Father are outstretched to the religious as well as those who've received His Grace in all its fullness.

 Today, I sense the leading to reveal one of the greatest, if not the greatest fake news view religion and tradition promulgate throughout the Body of Christ. This idea that believers can lose their salvation. This concept has become a stronghold in the minds of so many. 

 Much fear, uncertainty, and resulting insecurity have plagued many a believer throughout the ages because of this teaching. Often a believer hears a message about the eternal insecurity of the believer and they look at their own walk with Christ. They readily see their own shortcomings, faults, failures, and struggles with sinful habits that they haven't shared with others. They feel condemned and are quick to run to a church altar begging God to forgive them and ask to be saved all over again. 

 I remember once before Grace captured my heart, that I had a questioning thought about the possible lack of integrity of a well-known minister. Mind you this was just a passing thought. Almost instantly this sudden fear and concern clouded my mind. 

 This impression filled my thoughts that I had blasphemed the Spirit. It seemed to impress on me that I questioned if God was really using this minister. Therefore, I had attributed God's work with those of the devil. For a brief moment, I thought I really had blasphemed the Spirit and I was a goner. I was toast. I had committed the unpardonable sin. 

 Over a short time, I relinquished that fear. Clearly, that was the work of satan attempting to disrupt my peace and shake my security in Christ. Sadly, similar situations arise often in individual believer's lives. On the many question and answer web pages I've seen many asking "have I committed the unpardonable sin?"

 What the response should always be is, if you've placed your trust in Christ alone then you are saved. Your circumstances, your feelings, your fears, even your sins or present unbelief cannot alter the eternal saving work of Christ Jesus our Lord! Sadly, that isn't always the answer. Some will go on a tangent showing all the alleged Scriptures proving loss of salvation. Still, others answer questions like this, "I don't fear the loss of salvation because I am in Christ and I am not going anywhere." Or they say "I fear not because I am living for the Lord", in other words, if you did too you wouldn't fear the loss of salvation either.

 I trust you can see the error here. The basis of their security in Christ is what they are doing. It isn't based on Christ's Finished Work and God's Word which cannot lie. That is a serious error.

 Our salvation is rooted in Jesus Finished Work and God's everlasting promise that if we trust and believe in Christ, receiving this free gift we are eternally saved and secure. Our security rests in His promise and the Finished Work of redemption and not our steadfastness. It isn't rooted or upheld by our goodness or faithfulness. It started by Christ and He is the author and finisher of our faith. The work He began in us will be completed in Christ.

 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. John 6:39 NASB

 And God, in his mighty power, will make sure that you get there safely to receive it because you are trusting him. It will be yours in that coming last day for all to see. 1 Peter 1:5 TLB 

God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:5 NLT

 These are just a few of the guaranteed promises of our eternally secure salvation in Christ. Still, some will immediately object to this post. Some tradition-minded would say,
"brother, we aren't spreading fake news you are!"
"Come on hyper-Grace preacher, the Word is clear, Demas obviously lost his salvation. Paul even said so."

 He did? Well did he now? Let's look at Demas' life and see. We can readily see Demas was clearly a Christian.  Paul speaks of him here and here in a ministry capacity. Where the controversy begins is with this passage;
10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 2 Timothy 4:10-11 NKJV
Tradition will say, see? It's clear from the words of Paul. Demas who was once saved is now lost. He left his salvation. He left God. He forsook his salvation. Is that what we see recorded here? What did Demas actually do?

 We must rightly divide the Word and be sure not to read our own viewpoint, concepts or traditions into the Scripture in order to make it support what we want it to. There is nothing that states Demas left or forsook his salvation. I am amazed that such an eternally consequential event as leaving salvation wouldn't be clearly delineated in the Scripture.

 Note what this passage doesn't say, "for Demas has forsaken the Lord." No, it clearly states that Demas forsook Paul, not the Lord. The reason for this concept of Demas forsaking salvation is because John's Epistle states if the love of the World is in us then the Love of the Father isn't

 Paul states Demas, forsook him because he loved this present World. Because of this they reference John's words and assume that Demas loved the World more than God, and forsook his salvation and the ministry to go live it up in this sinful World. Is this really the accurate depiction of what happened?

 I'm glad we referenced John. Because this passage is where the key to understand what happened in Demas life is found. It's seen in two separate Greek words. When John referenced loving the World, he was referencing the World system in context. The word "World" he used was the Greek word Kosmos. It means the physical Earth but it also means the ungodly multitude hostile to the cause of Christ. Hostile, not in favor of. 

 When Paul spoke of Demas, he used another word for World. He used the word Aion. Which denotes time. Paul was simply saying Demas loved this present time in his life. Paul's journeys were met with hostilities and danger. Demas left Paul's ministry trip, not his salvation. He may have had a family and didn't want to go on a risky missionary trip. This passage doesn't support the concept that Demas lost his salvation or forsook God leaving his salvation.

 In summation, rejoice that our salvation in Christ is fully secure and this security isn't contingent upon our goodness or steadfastness or faithfulness. Our salvation is eternally secure because of the Finished Work of redemption. Because Christ paid the price. No amount of good deeds or personal holiness merited the free gift of salvation before we were saved. What makes us think our personal failures, sins and unholy actions after we are saved will undo what Christ has done? Our salvation is in God's unwavering hands, it isn't left up to us to stay saved. If it were we would surely already mess it up, thank God for His unfaltering faithfulness and keeping power.
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net