The Blessing in Christ

It is one thing to receive a blessing; it is quite another to receive “the” blessing. The blessing which is ours in Christ takes us back to the time when God made His promises to Abraham. The Lord said to Abraham, who at that time was known as Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1–3).

The promised blessing through Abraham’s seed is Christ. Paul says, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). In Christ, we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:29). This is the blessing God promised long ago.

The apostle Paul describes the promised blessing to Abraham under the heading of faith in Galatians 3:25 where he says, “But now…faith has come” (Gal. 3:25). The original text carries an article indicating that the apostle is referring to the system of faith as opposed to the law. He says that we are (1) no longer “kept in custody under the law…” (Gal. 3:23); that we are (2) “justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24); that we are “no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:25); and that we are “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). Then, by way of explanation, he adds, “For all of [us] who have been baptized into Christ have clothed [ourselves] with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). These are some practical implications that pertain to the coming of the faith and how we may take hold of the blessing promised centuries ago to Abraham through Christ.

The blessing of Christ enriches our whole outlook on life because we know that in Christ we are “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Eph. 1:3). In Christ, we are of all people, most blessed! When our focus is on Christ, our outlook is bright because He is the source of every spiritual blessing. “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1–4). May God bless each of us with the blessing which comes only through knowing Jesus, the promised Messiah (Jn. 14:6).

Protector or Proclaimer

Very familiar to us is Paul’s affirmation of the power of the gospel. He expressed his ardent desire to preach the gospel to those who were at Rome, explaining, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rm. 1:16). James agrees, saying that, when the implanted word is humbly received, it has the power to save souls (Jas. 1:21). We believe this intellectually but, sometimes, our willingness to allow God to work through His powerful word is hindered by our desire to protect others from the force of the gospel.

Influenced as we are by the overly tolerant and non-judgmental philosophies of the world, we are driven to protect those in religious error from being exposed to the convicting power of the truth. God’s word “is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hb. 4:12). While we must “preach the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), there is no Bible precedent for withholding truth for the sake of avoiding personal offense? When we shield people from the penetrating power of God’s word, we are walking on dangerous ground. Who are we to withhold the soul-saving power of the gospel when it is within our power to enlighten souls? There is great value in teaching the gospel in a logical, orderly fashion. Some matters are better approached after laying a proper foundation. But this is part of the teaching process—a process which includes difficult moments of self-reflection and conviction of wrong-doing. No one is converted to Christ without risking personal offense. Driven by a spirit that seeks first not to offend, we may soon find ourselves preaching a message void of the power to save sinners.

The lost are best served by those who simply trust in God’s power to save. We are planters and waterers; but God is the One who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). In the Parable of the Seed, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know” (Mk. 4:26–29). We do not know how the seed grows. Therefore, it is not our place to protect people from the truth but to preach the gospel and allow God to give the increase. Otherwise, we may find ourselves doing very little preaching and a whole lot of protecting. It is only by preaching and teaching the gospel that souls be given opportunity to accept or reject the salvation which is available in Christ Jesus.

The Gift of Forgiveness

At a time of year when giving and receiving gifts seems so important to so many, it may prove helpful to pause and reflect upon a far-greater gift—the gift of forgiveness. It is both a gift given and a gift received. Jesus says, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). How completely foreign to human reasoning! Yet, He followed up this teaching with personal example when He looked upon His tormentors, praying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).

If we are completely honest, we must confess that forgiving others is not an easy thing for us to do. C.S. Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” But, in spite of its difficulty, forgiveness is essential in that Jesus went on to say, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions” (Mk. 11:25-26).

Someone has astutely observed: “We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.” Alexander Pope wrote these familiar words: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Indeed, offering the gift of forgiveness draws us closer into the image of God than does resentment. In fact, there is no disposition more destructive to the emotional and spiritual well-being of a person than harboring an unforgiving attitude. Such a spirit contaminates every other emotion. Injured egos and hurt feeling move us from anger to hatred and then from hatred to retaliation. Human nature demands revenge. This is why it is so important for us to immediately forgive even the smallest deed done against us. Someone has written: “Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, and the waste of spirit.” When bitterness and hatred rage within, we should take warning, for in the words spoken to Cain, “sin is crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7).

What is forgiveness? Webster defines it as “pardon, acquittal, or remission; or to cancel, remit or to give up resentment against.” The word most often translated “forgive” in the New Testament means “remit, send away, to set or put apart, forsake, or leave.” Consequently, the principal meaning of forgiveness has to do with putting away all grudges and forgetting the wrong that has been done to us. This is what God promises to do for us in Christ. He will not hold our sins against us anymore (Heb. 8:12). Thank God for the precious gift of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus!

Once Is Not Enough

We will never understand the beauty of forgiveness until we understand our need for it. Why do we need forgiveness? Because we are guilty of sin. In Romans 3:23, Paul says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” Later, John confessed the same truth, saying, “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us….If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8, 10). Because we are guilty of sin, we all need God’s forgiveness through the blood of Jesus our Savior.

Perhaps, a more penetrating question is: “Why should I forgive others?” We must forgive others or our own sins will remain unforgiven. Jesus taught us to pray as follows: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12). Then, He adds: “for if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Mt. 6:14-15). Sounds like people have always struggled with forgiveness. But someone might object, saying, “I would forgive, but they do not deserve it!” While that may be true, neither do we deserve God’s forgiveness.

Closely related to our need for God’s forgiveness, is the question of how often must we forgive others. Peter asked, “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Mt. 18:15-20). Peter may have thought he was being generous in being willing to forgive seven times; after all, the Jewish rabbis taught that a man should only be forgiven three times. We might say that it was a “three strikes and you’re out” policy on forgiveness. But, Peter doubled that amount and added one more for good measure. He might have even patted himself on the back, thinking that Jesus would be proud of the way he had grasped His teaching about forgiveness. But, instead of praise, Jesus provided correction. He replied, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Peter’s math was way off.

The number “seven” often has a special meaning in the Bible. Seven or multiples of seven sometimes imply completeness or perfection. It is likely that Jesus was suggesting to Peter that forgiveness ought to occur an inexhaustible number of times. He was not teaching Peter to forgive 490 times and no more. He is saying that we must always be willing to forgive. Once is not enough.

Thoughts from the Mound

Thoughts About Daniel

As the story of Daniel’s life unfolds, we learn that he, along with other members of the royal family in Judah, had been carried away into Babylonian Captivity. Although captives, Daniel and his friends were well-treated. In fact, the king appointed daily provisions for them from his own table (Dan. 1:5). However, Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself with the king’s meat or wine (Dan. 1:8). The most likely reason for Daniel’s refusal is that the meat served would have been unclean according to regulations under the Mosaic Law.

There is little doubt but that Daniel and his friends were under tremendous pressure to conform to the king’s expectations rather than maintain their own religious convictions. Initially, his overseer was reluctant to grant Daniel’s request that he and his friends be allowed to refrain from eating the king’s choice food. However, a compromise was worked out and they were allowed to eat their preferred diet of vegetables and water for a trial period of ten days. At the end of their trial period, Daniel and his three friends were found to be distinctly superior to their counterparts for God has blessed them with “knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom” and Daniel, himself, had been given understanding into “all kinds of visions and dreams” (Dan. 1:17).

Daniel did not “go along to get along.” Too many in our day have little real conviction and are willing to compromise on most any point of doctrine or matter of faith in order to be accepted by others and avoid the possibility of being labeled as intolerant. Jesus was intolerant of sin and error. The people He was hardest on were the religious leaders who knew the word of God but refused to stand for it. In our day, many have swallowed the lie denying the existence of absolute truth, choosing instead the false belief that every person determines their own standards of right and wrong. When tempted to follow this crowd, we should remember the words of Solomon, who said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). We must not surrender our convictions to the changing tides of human opinion but ground our beliefs solidly upon the word of God. Paul encourages us, saying, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17). May God bless each of us as we seek to stand firm in true conviction of our faith.

A number of years ago, in an article published by the Big County Christian News, we were informed of the decision of a panel of judges in Florida who upheld a $108,000 fine against a man who poached 1,088 turtle eggs from one of the state’s parks. The defense argued that an egg isn’t a turtle until it hatches. The prosecution affirmed that 80 to 90 percent of marine turtle eggs are fertile and should be consider a unit of marine life. The judges sided with the prosecution.

Under a decision like this, if human babies were hatched, they would enjoy some measure of protection under the law. But, as it is, many pro-abortionists do not consider a human being a “person” until birth. Apparently, the Supreme Court agreed, and declared all laws protecting the unborn unconstitutional. The article cited asks this very important question: “Isn’t it more than ironic that laws protecting unhatched marine turtles are perfectly all right, but laws protecting unborn human beings are unconstitutional?”

Abortion is more than just a political issue; it is a moral issue. This is not a matter of a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. It is a matter of a human being’s right to exist. The fetus is not a potential human being; but a human being with potential. Legislation cannot legitimize what is inherently wrong.

The Bible describes life in the womb. The apostle Paul was called to be an apostle from his mother’s womb. Likewise, some of the prophets expressed their calling in similar words. David spoke to the matter quite clearly, saying, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” This he said in reference to the fact that God had formed his inward parts even while he was in his mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13-14). It was not just a blob of tissue; it was David in his mother’s womb. In the Law of Moses, the life of an unborn child was protected. Apparently, God considers the unborn to be a living human being.

Science and medical technology have made a strong case supporting the proposition that life begins in the womb. Increasing pressure is making it more and more difficult for those insisting on a woman’s right to get an abortion, even in the later stages of her pregnancy. However, medical science has also provided an abortion pill which is becoming more and more popular in the United States and throughout the world. This allows the unthinkable to occur quietly and conveniently behind the scenes. Abortion is the deliberate termination of that which has already begun—life. Just because the unborn are unable speak for themselves does not mean that actions taken against them are without consequence. Among those things which the Lord hates—things that are an abomination in His sight—are “hands that shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:17). Pray that the passing of time does not cause us to lose sight of how precious is the life of the unborn.

Preparing the Way for Forgiveness

Jacob was returning home after twenty years. His hasty departure and long absence is explained, in part, by his brother’s oath to kill him. Esau was upset at Jacob for stealing his birthright. It is understandable, then, that Jacob’s eventual return would be marked by fear and apprehension. How would Esau react to his return? Would he carry out his threat to kill him? Jacob prepared for the worst. He placed his wives and children in an order which reflected his favorites and divided his flocks and herds in hopes that some might be saved in the event of conflict. Then, he sent servants to Esau with overtures of peace along with gifts, hoping to soften Esau’s attitude toward him. The gifts were not accepted and his servants returned warning him that Esau was on his way with 400 men. It would be an understatement to say that the situation was tense.

Having done the best he could to protect his family, Jacob prayed to God for protection. He reminded God of His promise that He would make of his seed a great nation. That night, in an event unparalleled in human history, God appeared in human form and Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night. Following the struggle, God provided assurance to Jacob, changing his name to Israel, meaning “prince of God” (Gen. 32:28).

As Esau approached the next morning, Jacob left his family behind and went out to meet his brother, bowing seven times before him. Esau ran to meet his brother, fell upon his neck kissing him, and they both wept. Jacob expressed his gratitude, saying, “I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably” (Gen. 33:10). There was no hint of the bitterness which had characterized their previous time together. All had been forgiven.

Centuries later, another situation arose—a situation intense beyond comparison. Jesus faced the men who nailed Him to the cross, the soldiers who cast lots for His clothing, and the Jews who had condemned, ridiculed, and mocked Him. These angry, hardened souls might have expected words of condemnation, anathema, and cursing as was common place among those being crucifixion. Instead, they heard words of love for His mother, cries of anguish to His Father, and words of mercy for His tormentors. How could He do it? How could He forgive those who had treated Him so badly? Paul answers the question, saying, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm. 5:8). In light of the fact that our sins put Jesus on the cross, it is remarkable that He should be so utterly selfless in His sacrifice. Since He was so gracious in preparing the way for our forgiveness through the blood of the cross, how earnest ought we to be in extending mercy to those who sin against us?

He Hardens Whom He Desires

Does God harden the human heart? This question has been asked in reference to Romans 9:18 where we read: “So then He has mercy on whom He desire, and He hardens whom He desires.”

As we look at this passage in its context, we discover that it has nothing to do with an individual’s salvation. Nor can we interpret this passage in a way that removes a person’s free moral agency. The question raised in verse 19 sheds light on the meaning of the passage. Paul writes, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” If the mercy discussed in this passage made it easier for one person to be saved than another, then one might argue: “Why does He still find fault?” Similarly, if the hardening discussed applied indiscriminately to one person and not to another, one could still argue: “Why does He still find fault?” In other words, our salvation would have nothing to do with our faith response. That position violates other clearer passages of Scripture (Acts 10:34-35; Eph. 2:8-9; Hb. 11:6).

So, in what sense does God show mercy on whom He desires and hardens others whom He desires? In the context, two examples are given. One has to do with the selection of Jacob as the child of promise rather than Esau while the other example has to do with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the process of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage.

In the first example, God chose Jacob to be the one through whom the lineage of Christ should come (Rm. 9:12-13). This choice did not make it any easier for Jacob to be saved nor any more difficult for Esau. It was simply an act of mercy extended to Jacob by the hand of our sovereign God. It has nothing to do with his individual salvation.

In the second example, we observe that, in the process of delivering the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Ex. 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8). This allowed God to work all ten of His plagues and demonstrate to the world His superiority over the gods of Egypt. While it may puzzle us to observe that god hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we should also note that Pharaoh first hardened his own heart (Ex. 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35). God did not make it more difficult for Pharaoh to find salvation, but allowed the stubborn will of Pharaoh to a more complete, God-glorifying deliverance.

The matter might be illustrated as follows: The sun shines on wax and on clay. It melts the wax, but hardens the clay. Pharaoh by his own free will chose to be clay. If he had chosen to be wax, God (the sun) would not have hardened him. In other words, Pharaoh would not have been hardened by the actions of God had he chosen to submit and obey His will.

So, the matters addressed in the above passage have to do with choices God has made in influencing human history rather than matters which influence individual salvation. God’s justice will not allow Him to act in such a way as to make it easier for one person to be saved and more difficult for another. All are saved on the same conditions.

Hearing and Speech

Our two grandsons, Carter and Sawyer, both had tubes put in their ears this past week. The procedure involves a small incision and placement of tubes to drain excess fluid behind the ear drum. It is a relatively minor procedure designed to prevent recurrent infection as well as aid in hearing problems and speech delays. A couple of spiritual applications may be in order.

First, there is the matter of hearing. A buildup of fluid behind the ear drum prevents it from vibrating properly and passing sound along on its journey to the inner ear. It is like trying to hear underwater. The problem is not unlike what happens when the ear canal is plugged with wax. In both cases, something must be removed to restore proper hearing.

In discussing the proper reception of the word of truth, James exhorts us, saying, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). Proper listening to God’s word is hindered by sinful behavior. In his commentary on James, William Barclay says that, when used in a medical sense, the original term translated “filthiness” can refer to “wax in the ear” (57). If so, then, James is telling his readers to get the wax out so that they might be able to humbly receive the implanted word which is able to save the soul. What sin keeps us from truly receiving the life-giving word of truth? We must put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness in order to properly receive God’s word.

A second spiritual application involves the matter of speaking. Our daughter, who is a speech pathologist, tells us that proper speech development is dependent upon proper hearing. Output is determined by input. As Christians, accuracy in communicating the message of Christ is dependent upon humble reception of God’s truth. This is true of the message we speak as well as the message we live. James warns his readers, saying, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jas. 1:22). Faulty listening skills result in distorted messages. We must get the wax out—put aside filthiness and all that remains of wickedness—so that we might prove to be effective communicators of Christ’s message to the world.

Thanks so much to my friend Alan at Bartlett, TN Heating and Air Conditioning repair for sponsoring my blog.

Unanswerable Argument

In the face of religious opposition, we may defend our belief in Christ in a variety of ways. We may argue for the Bible on the basis of archaeological evidence. Or, we may rely on its scientific foreknowledge. We might even choose to use examples of fulfilled prophecy as proof of the Bible’s inspiration. All of these are viable forms of argumentation, but there remains one unanswerable argument. This argument, when properly used, will utterly confound the enemies of Christianity. Are you interested? Then, let us proceed.

In the fourth chapter of the book of Acts, we read about two ordinary fishermen who had become followers of Jesus Christ. They were arrested for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. When the Council assembled for the purpose of dealing with these men, they observed that a change had taken place within them. The text says that “…as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply” (Acts 4:13-14). There was nothing they could say—it was an unanswerable argument! They could not deny the miracle that these men had performed in the name of their Lord.

We are not in a position to do what Peter and John did through the special gifts they had received through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). However, the fact remains that good works provide an amazing, if not unanswerable argument, in our lives as well. The works we do out of love for Jesus demonstrate to the world our faith in Him. As James pointed out, “someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’” (Jas. 2:18). Works done for the Lord demonstrate our faith and shine like a beacon in a world of darkness. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). We will have little lasting effect on the world if we argue for Christ merely on the basis of words. Actions that reinforce and illustrate our message bring things together in a way that attracts the seeking heart.

The world may ridicule our faith in God. People may mock our good behavior in Christ. But, they can never adequately answer the argument rendered by changed lives that are filled with good works offered in the name of Jesus. Remember that one unanswerable argument for Christianity is Christianity!

In Pursuit

Oliver Cromwell said, “He who stops being better stops being good.” It is worth noting that a life worth living will be an uphill pursuit. For no one coasts through life who wishes to leave the world a better place.

While the life of the apostle Paul was marked by incredible accomplishments, he was always in pursuit of becoming a better person. As Christians, our definition of “better” is “Christ.” Paul could have boasted in the persecutions he had endured for the sake of the gospel. He could have gloried in the number of souls he had won to the Savior or the number of churches he had planted around the world. He could have. But he did not. The same cause which produced such untiring effort in the proclamation of the gospel, also kept him from indulging in self-glory. His life was marked by reaching forward and striving to be more and more like the Master who bought him. In his letter to the Philippian brethren, we hear him say, “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus, Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

A Christian has but one purpose, motivation, and goal for life and eternity. In a word, that purpose, motivation, and goal is “Jesus.” Our longing for spiritual growth must lead us in the direction of becoming as close to and as much like Jesus as possible in thought, word, and deed. When such is our pursuit, the hope of a home in heaven with Him becomes a powerful force deterring evil and promoting good in our daily lives.

Paul writes, “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

Make Christ your hope and pursuit in life. Strive to be more life Him in specific ways each day. It will be an uphill struggle. Becoming like Jesus is a goal we never fully attain; but we are made better in the pursuit.