Friday, October 5, 2012

Romans 6:1-14 (ESV)

(1) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 
Paul identifies a possible objection to what he says in Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”. Some might then ask why we don’t just sin more so that grace may be more abundant.

(2) By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Paul provides an emphatic NO in response to the question in verse one. He also gives an initial reason which he fleshes out in the following verses. The reason for not sinning to increase grace is given as a rhetorical question, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

(3) Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (4) We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (5) For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (6) We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (7) For one who has died has been set free from sin. (8) Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (9) We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. (10) For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
This is the beginnings of the picture of regeneration, being born again. It is impossible for us to live a life in bondage to sin if we have shared in the cross of Christ, dying with him so that we no longer live under the rule of sin. We are a new creation that has received life and victory with the risen and ascended Lord. We are no longer bound to obey sin as we once were. Now we are free to pursue righteousness in Christ, and in doing so glorifying his victory at Calvary.

(11) So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Here is presented the key to victory over sin in the life of the Christian: simply know and act as if you are dead to sin and alive to Jesus.

(12) Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. (13) Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 
This means walking away from what you know is wrong at every moment of every day, and seeking to be righteous in the strength of the Lord. This may seem impossible but God strengthens us. When we fail, we must confess, forsake and trust God to forgive our sin.

(14) For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
You are able to do as Paul recommends because as a Christian, sin will have no dominion over you. If you never seem to make gains against the sinful state of the old nature then you should go back to the basics of the gospel and see if you are really saved, if you are really trusting God for forgiveness of your sin and new life in Christ Jesus.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Revelation (an overview in easy to understand language)

The last book in the bible can be a right pain to understand.  How do we deal with beasts coming out of the sea, bowls, trumpets, stars falling, and all of the rest of the odd things we read about?  I’m going to attempt to provide an overview to help you find understanding, or at least start the process.  As you do this, remember that you probably have an idea what Revelation is all about (rapture, tribulation, mark of the beast, etc. and what some of these things mean).  It's important when reading the Revelation that you don’t assume that you’ve got it right yet.  It’s possible that you’ve heard something that someone once said, and thought it made sense, but please keep in mind that there might be another explanation which could be better.  With open minds, here we go!

An Overview of the Whole Thing
The Introduction (Chapter One) - shows the calling of the prophet John (who also wrote the gospel of John) and describes John’s commission to write down and share this revelation from God

Messages to Specific Churches (Chapters Two and Three) - this is information from God for seven local churches and their local problems and successes.  The advice given to these churches can inform our churches today of what to do if they are in a similar position to one of these.

The Hard Stuff: Visions, Symbols, and Things That Need to be Interpreted (Chapter Four to Chapter Twenty Two Verse Five) - John goes to heaven in a spiritual state and is shown a bunch of amazing images which are similar to the amazing images seen by some of the Old Testament prophets.  God’s judgement and wrath on His enemies is described; and mixed up with this without much obvious structure are promises of protection from harm, overcoming of evil, and the eternal joy of heaven for God’s people.  Various amazing things are seen and described by John.

The Conclusion (Chapter Twenty Two Verse Six Until the End) - After the overwhelming scenes described in the previous 17 or so chapters, the final summing up message draws the reader/hearer back to the main message to take from the revelation given to John; and that is the immanent return of Jesus which brings ultimate judgment for the wicked and ultimate deliverance for the saved.

A Note on the Way I’ve Divided the Book into Sections
(Don’t read this bit if you don’t feel a need to)
About 800 years ago, an Archbishop (Stephen Langton) divided the bible into chapters and verses for an easy way to find parts of the bible.  We need to be aware that these, along with the mini titles, paragraph divisions, and study notes, were not from God as part of the bible He gave us.  People have added them for various reasons, some good and some bad, but we can use them as long as we don’t let them influence our understanding in a way that misses what the bible is really saying.  

The way I’ve divided Revelation up is meant to be a way that helps people get a handle on this book which can come across as a right mess of imagery and symbols.  My way is only one way, but I think it will help draw attention to the useful bits.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Isaiah Chapter One (and a bit of chapter two)

Isaiah Chapter One 
(1) The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Time period:  740-700 BC (2Kings chapters 15 to 20)
Historical context:  Israel was in decline at this stage of history, heading towards the end of the era of the Kings of the Northern Kingdom (Israel).  People of the Northern Kingdom increasingly ignored God’s command and each person did what was right in his own eyes.  God raised up Assyria to take Israel into captivity as judgment for their sin.  The Northern kingdom never truly repented.  In New Testament times we see the Northern Kingdom still doing its own thing and not even considered part of Israel by the New Testament writers, e.g. Samaria: woman at the well (John 4), Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28)
Intended Audience:  Judah – the Southern Kingdom.  Referred to as the “Daughter of Zion” (Zion being Jerusalem)
Major Themes: Call to repentance and warning of coming judgement yet Isaiah is not meant to convince them to repent but to preach knowing they won’t repent (Isaiah chapter 6)
Points of interest:  Judah as a fraction of all Israel parallels the true children of Abraham who are circumcised of heart, i.e. not all Jews were saved, but only those who had been born again.  Judah is often seen as more special in scripture.

(2)  Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.  (3)  The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."  (4)  Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.  (5)  Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.  (6)  From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.  (7)  Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.  (8)  And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.  (9)  If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. 
V2 – Isaiah calls on the heavens and the earth to bear witness to what the Lord has said regarding Judah.
V3 – The people are worse than a dumb ox because even the dumb animal knows who it belongs to and where it lives.
V4 – Their ancestral heritage may as well be from sinful man and not from the Lord because they are estranged from Him.
V5,6 – They are like a man who has become (or is rapidly becoming) terminally ill with sickness in his entire body that was not treated.  Oil was used for medicinal purposes.
V7,8 – Still figurative speech (hence the use of “like” regularly).  This is speaking of their spiritual desolation with foreign gods and customs.  The physical desolation is to come if they don’t repent, and it has already come to the North.  The booth and the lodge speak of being cut off from everything, cut off from the nations and settlements around them.  There is no help available.
V9 – Yet God has kept some amongst all those who have rebelled and has stopped such complete spiritual destruction and iniquity as was in Sodom.
Without getting into specifics, Isaiah is telling Judah they are sinful and spiritually dead.
Is this a picture of the church today?

(10)  Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!  (11)  "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.  (12)  "When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  (13)  Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations-- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  (14)  Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  (15)  When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 
V10 – Continuing with the picture of Judah/Israel as evil Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaiah calls them to hear the details of their sin.
V11, 12 – They worship in vain, with their hearts absent.
V13, 14 – God’s anger at their vain worship is emphasised by His command to cease from doing so.  God is weary of having to endure their sin in this.  This is not a limitation on His mercy and grace but an unwillingness to leave His people in their sin.  Coming up is the plan for reform and refinement.
V15 – God will not listen to their prayers because there is still blood on their hands from the evil they have done and continue to do.  They must be washed clean before He will hear them. Christ is our justifier and washer.
How much do we do this in our churches?  Singing in vain, sitting in church listening to the preacher without engaging our minds, going through the motions of what it means to be a “good Christian” without caring for God in our every action.  In one sense this is an impossible expectation, which makes the work of Christ all the more amazing in that every moment he actively did all to the Glory of God.  We must have God honouring reasons for doing everything we do so that our lives (our whole worship) are not in vain.
Dangers of doing things in vain: When a new and different situation arises then we have no process of reasoning to work through to find whether it is something that is usable for the kingdom or not, e.g. Internet, TV, etc – Many Christians have struggled to learn to approach these things appropriately and some just say, “lets have none of it” but they fail to see the opportunity for spreading God’s Word and advancing the Kingdom.  So we need to know why we do things in order to apply our reasons appropriately.
This passage also shows us that the sacrifice was never what God was after when He gave Moses and Israel the law.  He was after their heartfelt obedience.  Without the heart the rest is nothing!  We are fortunate now that under the new covenant we have much more clarity and we no longer have to follow laws to direct us in this way except the law written on our hearts.

(16)  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,  (17)  learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.  (18)  "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  (19)  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;  (20)  but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (21)  How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.  (22)  Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water.  (23)  Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them. 
V16, 17 – the call to repentance.
V18, 19 – The consequences of repentance is being cleansed from sin and the blood from V15 will no longer be on their hands.  “Reason together” – this seems absurd: how can we reason with God?  This is a call to listen to a reasonable suggestion, not to engage in discussion or negotiation with God!
V20 – The consequences of remaining in their sin.
V21 – The covenant that God has with Israel has been broken by them and it is as if a married person has been unfaithful and broken their covenant of marriage.  Israel should see this as a description of the greatness of their sin.
V22 – Tarnished and corrupt they are no longer pure.  Watered down.
V23 – James 1:27 and true religion.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  OT + NT is the same God who wants His people to provide for those who cannot do so themselves and to look after the weak.
This is something we do well today (in some ways) but are our hearts in it for God?

(24)  Therefore the Lord declares, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: "Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes.  (25)  I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.  (26)  And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city."  (27)  Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.  (28)  But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.  (29)  For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen.  (30)  For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.  (31)  And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them.
V24 – God calls His people His enemies!  He will bring judgment on them, but…
V25 – this is more for the purpose of discipline and bringing them to repentance and buring off the dross.
V26, 27 – depicts the cleansed nation.  Judah restored to her purity.
V28 – 31 – describes the destruction of evil with V29, 30, and 31 as a picture of their idolatry being something to be ashamed of and being burnt up by God.

Isaiah Chapter Two
(1)  The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  (2)  It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,  (3)  and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  (4)  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.  (5)  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
V2 – Figuratively speaking, the world (not just Jews, but Gentile also) will look to Jerusalem as the source of access to God.  The coming of Jesus was a fulfilment of this, at least in a partial sense, with the culmination at his return.  Not mountains per se, but Christ as the mountain!  Worship in spirit and in truth and not at any mountain.  (John 4:19-26 – the woman at the well and which mountain to worship at?)
V3 – The nations will recognise that this is so, to the point that Gentiles will seek the teachings of God through Jesus, a Jew.  Law = word of God, not just Mosaic law.
V4 – Again, a partial fulfilment as Christ is the one all Christians everywhere in the world look to as their judge and king.  This will again be completely fulfilled when Christ returns to rule in the recreated earth.  Christians united under Christ have no need to war against each other.  This is the only way to unite the nations of the world – under Christ. 
V5 – Israel are invited to repent and enter into this picture of peace and joy in the Lord.

Four major eschatological views (as best as I can summarise briefly and as I understand them to be):
  1. This is a picture of the development of the kingdom on earth, growing by the spread of the Gospel until the entire planet is subverted/converted to Christianity in which the millennial reign will begin (Post-Millennial) [Large parts of the Reformed Church – also A-Millennial]
  2. This is only speaking of the millennial reign of Christ when he returns after the tribulation and reinstitutes the Mosaic Law (Dispensational Pre-millennial) [Calvary Chapel, though with some crossing over with Historic Pre-Millennial I think]
  3. Same as for 2. but with without the Mosaic Law being re-established and without a specific time period for the tribulation.  Christians are here through this version of the tribulation and it is more of a tribulation in terms of suffering for the faith.  Takes a figurative understanding of the tribulation (Historic Pre-millennial) [Spurgeon and a few other reputable Christian scholars – Wayne Grudem]
  4. This is a picture of the partial fulfilment that Christ achieved at his resurrection and is descriptive of Christians living now on earth but at the same time in the Kingdom of Heaven (seated in heavenly places with Christ, etc).  The fullness of this picture is to be completed at the return of Christ.  The millennial reign of Christ is now, in the last days, and has been since the first century and will continue until his return (A-millennial) [Me, large parts of the Reformed Church]
There are difficulties with all of these systems of eschatology and most people don’t fit neatly into any one group.  What they all agree on is the return of Christ and the expectation of Glory to God at this time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Noticing Details in Scripture (John 3:16)

John 3:14-21 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (15) that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (16) "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (17) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (18) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (19) And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (21) But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God."

Isn’t it interesting how we can so easily take a verse out of context, and lose so much of the meaning that a particular passage may be trying to get across? How many times have you read this passage of scripture and only noticed verse 16? Do you notice verse 16 at the expense of the rest of what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus? Did you even remember that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus who came to the Messiah at night? If your conscience is pricked regarding a too casual reading of God’s words to us, then be aware of this for the future and grow in your maturity in handling the revelation from our Lord. The purpose of this brief consideration is not to bring you down and leave you there. Rise up in joy as you consider some ideas about this passage. Let them lead you to even deeper reflection on some of your favourite verses of inspiration.

First, let us ponder two reasons that Nicodemus may have come to Jesus by night. There may be many reasons but of the many it seems two are most likely. One is that Jesus was so busy during the day that it was impossible to speak with him alone and open up to him privately – as we can do in prayer in our own era. Another is that Nicodemus was afraid of being seen with Jesus and used the cover of night to hide from eyes that might’ve spread rumour that could damage his “reputation”. Either way, it is not of much use to ponder too deeply. Where scripture does not give us any clues as to the answers to our questions we clearly do not need to know more. The scripture we have is sufficient, and where it is silent we can know that it is not an important detail for us to know.

Verse 14 gives us a valuable link between the Old Testament and the New. We see one clear parallel of Christ’s crucifixion given as a prophetic type. “The serpent can’t possibly represent Christ!” some might cry, “The serpent is Satan!” Yet the link is undeniably here and is a caution to using symbols, that appear through scripture, too dogmatically. We can draw clues from symbols but, when trying to understand the meaning of a passage, the immediate context must be adhered to first.

Verse 16 tells us that God has created the potential for anyone to be saved, but on the condition that they believe. This verse does not tell us that Jesus took the punishment for everyone when he suffered on the cross; it only shows that he has made a way for anyone in the world who believes.

Verses 17 to 21 tell us that, for his first coming, Jesus did not come into the world to directly condemn the world, though by his actions he has brought judgment on those who did not believe. When he returns the second time he will judge the nations. Verse 18 seems a bit of an odd way of putting this indirect condemnation, but it basically tells us that people who do not believe are condemned because they do not believe. This could be taken in a number of ways but the main one seems to be the emphasis placed on faith in Christ. Repetition is a well-known tool used for emphasis in Jewish writings and Jesus is here speaking to a Jew which means this is not an unreasonable interpretation. This lack of belief on the part of the condemned stands as a strong reminder that it is their own fault for not believing what should be believed, and that it is not due to having sinned so much as failing to deal with that sin before God, that condemns them.

Verse 19 describes the judgment of those who do not believe, i.e. they are given over to the darkness and are compelled to love it and follow it. This is similar to the judgment described in Romans chapter 1:

Romans 1:18-32 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (21) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (24) Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, (25) because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (26) For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; (27) and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (28) And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (29) They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, (30) slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (31) foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (32) Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Verses 20 and 21, of John chapter 3, contrast with each other to show that people can be placed into one of two groups: Good or Evil, Light or Dark, Righteous or Wicked, Spiritual or Carnal/Fleshly. There is no middle ground here and when we all die and stand before God to be judged we will be placed in one of these groups and receive the eternal fate accordingly. Earlier, Jesus describes how a man can pass from one group to the other through being born again by the power of God, which is given freely and un-coerced in His own time. All we can do is seek His mercy until He chooses to give it.

Lastly, we can see something that is fairly obvious, but which is worth mentioning because it is everything, and that is the glory of God. He is light, not dark. He is good and righteous, and has no need to fear what people say about His actions. He is truth and, from the knowledge that He has made a way for people to be saved, we can see His great mercy on those who do not deserve it.

God has been kind to us and has had mercy on us. How much more should we take the time to read carefully what He has set down for us in His revealed word?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Kingdom of Heaven

This study will look at some scriptures through the entire bible to see some of the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven (also called the Kingdom of God, the everlasting kingdom, and other names too). I intend to keep this fairly light with just enough of the background context given to help understand one or two main aspects of the kingdom from each verse/passage. If you do an electronic search for "kingdom" in bible software (such as e-sword which is free from you will see hundreds of results with most of them telling us something about the kingdom. All quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV). Here we go:

Exodus 19:6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel."
Moses on mount Sinai is speaking with God. God tells Israel that they shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Never in the history of Israel have they all been priests. I would argue that this is a much farther reaching statement from God than something that was said to mere "Israel of the flesh". Instead, it is fulfilled in all who are justified by faith in Christ, making every believer a part of the kingdom right now. This is shown in Revelation 1:6. How does the fact, that the Bible says we are in the kingdom now, fit in with other scripture which indicates the kingdom is still to come (2Timothy 4:18)? There is no contradiction if we have a right understanding of the nature of the kingdom, i.e. that it is both here and now, but also still to come in its fullness.

1 Chronicles 29:10-13 Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: "Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. (11) Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. (12) Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. (13) And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
This tells us very clearly that the kingdom belongs to God.

Daniel 4:3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.
The kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.

Matthew 3:1-2 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (2) "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
In some sense the kingdom, while being already in existence, is something that can "arrive", i.e. there is a sense or context in which it did not exist. During the first century when Jesus was on the scene, Israel had an idea that their Messiah would restore the earthly kingdom of Israel to the Jews when he came. This was partially true. Christ showed that the kingdom of heaven is actually present among believers (see below) and can come to individuals when they become Christians.

Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The oppressed can know blessing in the kingdom.

Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus includes prayer for the kingdom to come to earth as part of an outline for how to pray. This could include prayer for the spread of the church's influence in the world, prayer for the salvation of our loved ones, as well as prayer for Christ to return quickly.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
The kingdom of God is to be higher in our priorities and desires than earthly needs.

Luke 17:20-21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, (21) nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
This verse shows that the Pharisees had a wrong understanding of the nature of the kingdom. They were expecting something physical from their messiah but Jesus offered something better that was spiritual. The heavenly kingdom will come in its fullness at the end.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
We have to be cleansed from our sins (born/washed of water) and then remade into something that will no longer sin (born again by the Spirit) before we can enter the kingdom. Though we have been born again, our transformation will not be complete until the return of Christ.

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
All of this should compel us to worship God in gratitude.

This has been a necessarily brief look at the kingdom of heaven. It is a central theme of scripture that we cannot avoid to learn more about. I'm quite excited about this as an avenue of study. Future posts will likely take a look in more detail at elements of the kingdom as revealed in the parables told by Jesus in the gospels. What Jesus had to say sheds a lot of light on the meaning of many old testament verses. I hope to discover in detail his perspective as God incarnate and the one who is directly responsible for our means of entering the kingdom.

May he help us to walk in his ways.


Friday, October 2, 2009

2Peter 2:18 - The Folly of the Church

It's worth reading 2Peter chapter 2 before getting into the details below

2Peter 2:18 (ESV) - "For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error."

This verse explains the metaphor of the preceeding verse further, but without the veil of figurative language.

V17 - "waterless springs..." corresponds to v18 "loud boasts of folly". All talk and no substance. All show and no go. The show is the "sensual passions of the flesh" but there is no spiritual depth to this enticement.

"those who live in error" are the people of the world (who are not saved). "those who are barely escaping" are Christians who have been saved but are enticed by the sensual sham of those who are boasting.

Overall, we see a description of Christians who are saved but are being drawn into error by very poor leaders.

How does this apply today?
  1. As a caution to church leaders who pattern their ministry this way, i.e. relying on sensual means to draw people into their church. Anything that seeks to produce an emotional response that is independant of the knowledge of God (as revealed in scripture) is something that is purely sensual. This is a characteristic of many cults who manipulate peoples' emotions with guilt and fear. It is also a characteristic of many churches that have been influenced in their methods by New Age concepts, e.g. most "pentecostal" churches. Verse 17 warns of the judgment to come upon false leaders who lead their church down these paths.
  2. As a caution to believers to learn the difference between "sensual passions" and real spiritual truth and substance in your life. We are commanded to worship in spirit and truth (John 4). The truth is easily understood as correct doctrine but there is often confusion over what it means to worship "in spirit". Galatians chapter 5 gives a clear description of what it means to be spiritual.
  3. There is a further caution as to the form these "sensual passions" take, i.e. boasting, which comes from sinful pride. Boasting of goals and achievements that are folly. Sensual passions don't have to be sex, money, drugs, food, etc. but can be power, status, authority, and the like. [Note: A realisation, that the flesh corrupts gifts from God, is necessary here. Sex is not bad, but how you use this wonderful gift can be. Money isn't evil, but the love of money is. Food and pharmaceutical drugs can be used wisely to sustain us but gluttony or excess is bad.] Back to power and status: Have you ever been around church leaders that boast of their takings in the offering, or of how many members are in their congregation? This really is foolish behaviour and, if you sit under people like this to regularly listen to their teachings, you need to ask yourself if you should be placing yourself under the authority of them.
  4. A word of hope to those on the outside, for those people who are watching, crying, and praying for those they love who are caught up in false ministries. Remember that they are escaping from hell, though barely.
An observation:
Ministries that are characterised by "loud boasts of folly" and sensual enticements often spiral down into excess with leaders and congregation members being caught up in scandal. God has exposed their shameful affairs to the public so that their folly becomes known to the world. God does bring judgment here and now as a means of purifying His people. This is a stern warning to us all; yet at the same time, we should be aware of His great mercy in saving us from the hell we deserve through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Gospel (in brief)

God is the Creator of the universe, the earth and you. He is good. He is loving and forgiving but He will not let the guilty go unpunished. Liars, thieves, drunkards, the selfish, the sexually immoral and all evil will receive eternity in hell. God commands us to turn from those things that are wrong and to throw ourselves before His feet seeking His mercy. Jesus is the only way that forgiveness is possible. God sent him to take punishment for sin. Those that turn from sin and trust Jesus to take their punishment, God will grant them mercy and everlasting life. You do not know the day of your judgment. Seek God today.