Enjoy these entries - we hope they make you think.
Some people have gotten the notion that being spiritually “hot” is staying in a constant state of active adoration towards God, talking about Him, and saturating every minute with praise and worship.
Then they go to work and have to focus their minds on their daily tasks, which requires them to shift their adoring gaze downward for a while, and they are disappointed because they were not able to maintain that spiritual high. Their conscience is pricked because they haven’t been able to actively think about and dwell on God for several hours, and they feel condemned because they think they haven’t been “spiritual” for that amount of time.
Paul wrote in Romans 12.1, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” What did he mean by that? Perhaps we need to expand our concept of worship to include every corner of our lives. We please God when we do good things and share with one another (Hebrews 13.15–16).
Dear Christian, the way you work each day should please God. How do you worship God through your job? How do you offer yourself as a living sacrifice while focused on the complex or mundane chores of the day? When you work for people, obey them “with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6.5–7). “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3.23).
When we work this way, we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God, and God is pleased with us. This is a good day.
When you have a good attitude, when you work hard and heartily, when you seek the good of the people around you, when you serve others, when you submit to authority, when you do things you know are right, when you bring order out of chaos, when you clean up messes and organize, you fulfill God’s purpose for you on this earth. You reflect His image.
Those moments are precious when we can focus entirely on praising and magnifying the name of God, and we should look forward to and make regular time for that. But we can live every moment of our lives for God if we understand how our entire life works in the context of His kingdom. This is wisdom, peace, and joy. May we learn to live this way!
These seem on their face to contradict:
- I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters.
- I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ.
How can I be confident in my relationship with Jesus, confident of my salvation, and also confident I am wrong in some of my Bible understandings?
Actually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not be the height of arrogance to think I have every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.
Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now—there is an objective right and a wrong, good and evil; it's just that we, as finite men in corrupt flesh, will never fully discern these things. We grow in discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.
God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. What abundant grace should we give each other, then? Truthfully, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)
Where did Paul's confidence come from? It came from Jesus Christ! Paul was fully confident in Jesus' power, Jesus' love, Jesus' accomplishment. Paul placed no confidence in his own work.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us... (Titus 3.4-5)
We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we do. Sure, we must have no disagreement in a few articles of faith, but the "same mind" Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards one other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), which was the mind of humble obedience to God.
When we divide from brothers and sisters because we have a different understanding, we may demonstrate a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season...perhaps for longer...but that does not mean we must view each another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn't plow together in the same yoke, but only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.
Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.
In The Message—an interpretation, not a translation (so read with caution!)—the introduction to Galatians includes the following:
Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for "Logos":
In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).
Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps "Are you a born again Christian?" (isn't that redundant?) is even more popular, but "Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?" definitely competes.
Can we claim Jesus as our own "personal Savior"?
Personal is used here in the relational sense—that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and me or Him and you, personally.
What does the Bible teach on this?
The Bible does not contain those exact words—"personal Savior"—but what about the concept? Consider two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.
David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.
I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)
Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)
Do you sense a personal relationship in David's words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David's God! This relationship comforts and empowers because it does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world—it's directly between a man and his God.
Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2.20)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)
Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have—and you either are His or you aren't.
In yesterday’s sermon (April 30, 2023), we reviewed Dispensationalism. The dispensationalist claims and tries with all his might to read the Bible literally. Notice what dispensationalist Ken Blue wrote:
B. Dispensationalists hold to the literal principles of interpretation of Scripture. Someone has said that men spiritualize because they have no 'spiritual eyes.' The most dangerous method of Bible interpretation is that of spiritualizing a text or making everything a type.
Illustration: God promised Adam and Eve that the Seed of the woman would come. He did. Noah was warned of a flood. It came. Abraham's seed were promised a land. They received it. Moses was promised victory in leading Israel from Egypt; he did it. Rebellious Israel was warned of their coming dispersion; it came. The prophets promised Israel that God would return them to their home-land. He is doing it as we write. The virgin birth was foretold. It came to pass. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ was prophesied. It took place. The destruction of the temple and of the nation was prophesied. It happened.
If these and hundreds of prophecies like them were literal and proved to be so, why should the Bible believer assume that remaining prophesies are to be spiritualized and applied to the church? One opens himself to serious error when the literal approach to the Bible is rejected. A study of dispensations demands a literal interpretation of Scripture.
Have you ever heard of the logical fallacy of equivocation? It’s when someone uses a definition for something one way (usually a way in which most everyone agrees), and then he subtly switches the definition a bit later in his argument. Equivocation is “calling two different things by the same name.”
For example, “Dairy is good for me, so I eat a gallon of ice cream a day.” The argument equates dairy and ice cream. Ice cream has milk in it, but it also has a bunch of other stuff that, unfortunately, makes it unhealthy in great quantities.
Often, we omit important information to get our equivocation argument to go through. My child might say, “Can I go over to my friend’s house for a little while? He’s having a couple of friends over to play some games.” I might ask my child to further clarify because those statements are quite general. I’m picturing four or five guys sitting around a table playing Risk, when the real plan is for half the school to come over and have a pool party with illicit refreshments freely flowing. If I confronted him later about his deception, he would say, “We didn’t say how long and who can say how many ‘a couple’ of friends is?”
Dispensationalists often (though not necessarily on purpose) equivocate with this idea of reading the Bible literally. You see what Ken Blue wrote above. Read through all his illustrations of how the Bible literally says something and that thing literally happened. There is practically nothing you would argue with, right? He seals his argument up at the end with a question: “Why should the Bible believer assume that remaining prophesies are to be spiritualized and applied to the church?”
Well, he didn’t give us any examples of some of the other prophecies he takes literally. Neither does he explain what “spiritualizing” means to him. If we take the land promise and nation promise of Genesis 12.1–3 and apply those now to the church age, is that spiritualizing, or is that seeing how God is literally carrying out His promise in the way He had determined before time began? The dispensationalist waits today for God to fulfill the land promise to the nation of Israel. We read Jesus in Matthew 5.5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and we realize this is connected directly back to Old Covenant language such as Psalm 25.13; 37.9, 11, 22, 29, 34. Jesus applies that language to citizens of His Kingdom under the New Covenant, so why should we not connect the land promise to ourselves who are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom?
There’s a reason why we interpret all those things Ken Blue listed as literally true. Almost all of them come from historical narratives in the Old Testament. When we read history, of course we interpret it literally. We believe it happened just as it is written.
However, other genres exist among the books of the Bible. Not everything is historical narrative. Prophecy in scripture is often proclaimed through poetry, and sometimes a certain type of prophetic language which we call “apocalyptic” is used.
For example, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in Daniel 2 about a statue which had different body parts composed of different metals: a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, middle and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. A huge rock was cut out without man’s hands and was hurled at the feet of the statue, breaking it to pieces. Daniel interpreted the dream, and we understand each part of the statue stood for a kingdom in present or future history (future to Daniel). Was the statue literal? It was a literal dream of a statue, but Nebuchadnezzar would not be looking for a literal statue like that because he discovered that it was merely symbolic of historical realities to come.
We could also look at Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great tree in Daniel 4. Again, the tree symbolized Nebuchadnezzar himself and what God had planned for him in his near future.
The last six chapters of Daniel are full of prophetic imagery. Daniel 7 reveals a dream Daniel had of four great beasts: one like a lion and had eagles’ wings which had the voice of a man given to it; one like a bear raised up on one side with three ribs in his mouth; one like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and one with ten horns and great iron teeth which it used to devour and break in pieces. Are we to take Daniel’s dream literally? In what sense do we take it literally? We believe he literally had a dream, but we also understand that those four beasts were not literal freaks of nature that God brought or will bring to earth. They stood, again, for four kingdoms which would come. We know that because Daniel received an interpretation at the end of the chapter (“As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth…” Dan. 7.23).
When Jesus spoke in parables, He interpreted a few of them (Matthew 13) but not all of them. His interpretations of the few instructs us on how to interpret the rest of them. He teaches us how to listen to parables, to find a deeper meaning behind the simple stories. Likewise, God gives us interpretations for some apocalyptic language (such as in Daniel 7), which helps us understand how to read other apocalyptic literature, even when God does not supply the interpretation. We understand how to read this kind of literature. We are not supposed to read it literally but as it is given in symbols and signs.
Take Revelation 14.1–5. The premillennial dispensationalist believes in a literal 144,000 who have the literal name of the Father written on their literal foreheads. I assume they also believe these 144,000 will be literal viren men who never lie.
In Revelation 20.1–6, John five times mentions a 1,000-year period. The dispensationalist believes in a literal 1,000 years, and they believe it has not yet begun. They believe Jesus will come to earth to reign for this 1,000 years. You will notice, as you read those verses, that they do not say that Christ will reign on earth during those 1,000 years. That is read into the passage by bringing in other passages and ideas.
Are we to understand those numbers as literal? If we take them as figurative or symbolic, are we guilty of “spiritualizing” the text? Or are we reading it the way God intended us to read that genre of literature?
Reading the Bible is not always cut-and-dry easy, and that’s one reason it is so thrilling! We have much to learn, many mysteries to investigate, and wonders to behold of which we probably have no clue. As the Jews under the Old Covenant completely failed to understand the exact nature of God’s plan, even though it was revealed throughout the prophecies, so I expect we completely fail to understand the exact nature of what God is planning for us. Two things should be true: (1) we should investigate what God has revealed, asking questions and digging deep; and (2) we should be comfortable with not knowing all the details and waiting for the reality to come upon us.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3.5). Walk in humility. Love those who think they have it figured out, and encourage them to walk with God in faithfulness whether or not history works out exactly like they think it will.
God has the plan, and He’s working it!
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Jesus said I am blessed if I am poor in spirit, and, in addition, I have (present tense) the kingdom of heaven, so it sounds important to be poor in spirit.
Jesus started His list of “blessed” statements (what we typically call the “Beatitudes”) with this one. Notice, by the way, the how many Ts are in “beatitude” and how many are in “attitude.” They are not related words. A beatitude is not an attitude we are supposed to be. “Beatitude” means “a supremely blessed state.” Jesus said I am supremely blessed if I am poor in spirit.
In fact, all citizens of Jesus’ kingdom must be poor in spirit, because if we are not poor in spirit, we do not have the kingdom of heaven!
The first and last of the eight beatitudes hold the same promise—“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—so this short list defines citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. This is not some random list of proverbs; this is a definition of who is in the kingdom of heaven. Every Christ-follower is poor in spirit, mourns, is meek, hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is merciful, is pure in heart, is a peacemaker, and rejoices in persecution.
But return to the first one—what does it mean to be poor in spirit?
Poor means lacking, not having, being empty. But what do we lack? Jesus taught that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and He told the rich ruler to sell all he had, give to the poor, and go follow Jesus. Is that what this is talking about? Does Jesus demand all His followers sell everything they have and give to the poor?
A man can be worldly poor and still not be poor in spirit. These are not equal.
Poor in spirit is like humility. We realize our low place in reference to God and others. Yet it is more than simple humility. We stand before God spiritually destitute, having nothing to bring to Him. Like Adam and Eve, we have sinned and stand naked before God, without even the ability to properly cover ourselves.
Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Vile, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.
(from “Rock of Ages” by Augustus M. Toplady)
Every citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven comes to Jesus with empty hands, on his knees, asking for Jesus’ blood to cover his sins. And after Jesus wondrously, graciously, lovingly applies the blood and forgives the sins, the kingdom citizen remains perpetually conscious of his never-ending need for grace and strength from the Lord. Never will he boast of anything before God except the work of Christ!
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven.