Archive | March 2014

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on Colossians 2:11-15

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.                     NKJV

What a glorious passage of scripture! The death of the Lord Jesus Christ has completely removed our sins. In verse 11, Paul compares the removal of our sins to circumcision—not the removal of physical flesh in our case, but the spiritual removal of our sins. God has forgiven us, as Christians, all trespasses in Christ. It is not that we do not sin as Christians, but rather that God does not press His eternal charges against our sins. Christ has freed us from the curse and penalty of sin, having become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13, Rom. 6:23). Because Jesus has paid for our sins on the cross, God is merciful to our sins, our unrighteousness, and our lawlessness, and will never bring them back into remembrance again (Heb. 8:12). The Biblical term for this wondrous act of grace is justification (Rom. 3:24), which literally means “to declare or pronounce one righteous.” Because we have trusted Christ as our personal Savior, His righteousness has been charged to our account (Gal. 3:6). What a transposition! On the cross, God the Father looked at His own perfect, sinless Son as though He were looking at us in all our sinfulness, and His reaction to His Son was the same as it would have to us on the Day of Judgment. Literally, His wrath was poured out on His own Son at Calvary (Matt. 27:46), and because of this, God the Father now looks at us in Christ as though we had perfectly obeyed His divine laws and commandments (II Cor. 5:21).

In addition to removing our sins through Jesus’ substitutionary death, God has provided us with spiritual life through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (v. 12). In John 3:3-8, Jesus refers to this act of spiritual regeneration as being “born again.” Man is spiritually dead outside of Christ (Rom. 5:12, II Cor. 5:14, Psa. 58:3, Eph. 2:1) and is incapable of knowing or fellowshipping with God, being separated from His Creator by His sins (I Cor. 2:14). But even though we were spiritually dead, He has given us spiritual life in Christ (Eph. 2:5). In verse 12 of our text, Paul uses the imagery of baptism to picture the believer’s spiritual resurrection in Christ (Rom. 6:4) and informs us that the same power of God that raised Christ physically from the dead has also raised us spiritually (Eph. 1:19-21).

Not only has Christ given us victory over the penalty and power of sin, but He has also subjugated Satan. In verse 15 of our text we see that Satan and the powers of darkness were thoroughly defeated through Jesus’ resurrection. The principalities and powers refer to fallen angels or demons (Eph. 6:12). The scriptures declare that Christ is the head of all principality and power (Col. 2:10). The word “triumphing” in verse 15 was used to describe the triumphant entry into the city of Rome by the Roman general as he returned from a victorious war campaign with the kings of all the countries he had conquered chained to his chariot wheels. The greatest battle in history however was not fought by any earthly general, but at dark Calvary, and when the smoke of that battle had cleared the resurrected Christ ascended victoriously into heaven with the enemies of sin, Satan, and death chained to his chariot wheels (Eph. 4:8). What a reason for celebration and thanksgiving to God who has saved us by His power and grace. The Lord Jesus Christ has conquered all of our enemies (sin, Satan, and death) and has given us the victory over all of them.

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on James 3:1

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.             NKJV

In establishing leaders in His church, God instituted two primary categories of church offices. The first of these includes those offices that were given to the church temporarily, such as apostles and prophets, who laid the foundation of the church through the teaching of God’s word by direct revelation and who passed from the scene after the first century (Eph. 2:20). The second category of offices includes those positions that will remain in place until the return of Christ. Pastors and deacons will lead the church until the rapture at Jesus’ second coming, but these respective positions are not the only continuing church offices. The Lord has also provided teachers to instruct His people until He returns in glory.

Didaskalos is the Greek term translated “teacher.” In the ancient world, a didaskalos was one who mastered a certain skill or subject area and taught it to others. In the first century, Jews used the title of didaskalos to refer to teachers who had a great deal of knowledge and could apply it practically to everyday life. The Jews gave the title to men who were highly skilled in the knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures. The gospels refer to Christ as a didaskalos more than forty times because of His understanding and application of the scriptures.

Jesus is the ultimate Teacher, but He is not the only teacher of God’s people. God continues to call and equip teachers in the church to this present day. He has gifted many individuals with the skill to interpret, communicate, and apply the teaching of God’s Word to God’s church. This call to teach is a high and weighty calling. As our text indicates, not many should become teachers because the Lord judges teachers more strictly than others. Because of their influence, there are more opportunities for teachers to lead people astray than there are for ordinary laypeople to lead others astray. Teachers must not take their call lightly, for they will have a lasting impact on God’s people for good or for ill.

God holds all of the teachers in His church accountable, whether they lead the two-year-old Sunday school class or teach a graduate-level seminary course. Therefore, all Christian teachers must study diligently and work hard to present their subjects clearly and without error. As teachers we should take advantage of training opportunities and other helps and spend much time studying the scriptures so that we are fully and properly equipped to handle God’s Word rightly (II Tim. 2:15).

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on James 2:14-26

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by myworks. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.                  NKJV

In this passage, James deals with the relationship between saving faith and works.  A better translation of the last sentence in verse 14 would be can that kind of faith save him?  The verb form of the Greek word for faith is pisteuo which literally means to trust in, rely on , or cling to.  True saving faith is not a passive acceptance of facts about Christ, but is an active dynamic in the life of the believer which reaches out and clings to Christ.  The Hebrew word for faith, aymoon, was originally used to describe the “anchors” or “stakes” that were driven deep into the ground to hold the tabernacle in place.  No matter how great a storm might arise or how hard the winds might blow, the Israelites were confident that when the storm had passed the tabernacle would still be standing, secured by the anchors that held it down.  Likewise, when the winds of God’s judgment have come and gone, we believers can have complete confidence that we will still be standing, held up by Christ, who is the anchor of our souls (Heb. 6:19).

We see examples of this active dynamic of saving faith in the lives of Old Testament believers.  When Jacob wrestled with Christ in human form, despite the agony of a withered thigh that would cause him to limp for the remainder of his life, he cried, “I will not let You go unless you bless me!” (Gen. 32:26). No matter how difficult Jacob’s circumstances were, he was determined to cling to Christ.  Job, despite having lost his possessions, his children, and his health, refused to turn from Christ, and instead declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15).  Like Jacob, Job continued to cling to Christ no matter how bad the circumstances in which he found himself.  When many of those who had been following Jesus departed from Him because of the hard things He said, He asked the twelve apostles if they would also go away.  Instead of departing from Him, they clung to Christ saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life?” 

Mere acceptance of facts does not produce works, but true saving faith does.  In verses 15-17, James compares faith without works to words of compassion without acts of compassion.  They are both worthless.  In verses 18-20, James is being facetious.  He knows full well that a person cannot show faith without works.  In effect, he is saying, “big deal” to those who accept the fact of God’s existence.  Even the demons accept the fact of His existence.  Simply accepting the fact of God’s existence, and by extension the fact that Jesus is God’s Son, is not saving faith.  The demons are well aware of who Jesus is (Matt. 8:29, Mk. 1:24), and yet they are not saved.

In verses 21-24, God uses Abraham as an example of how saving faith produces works.  It is important to understand that neither Abraham nor anyone else is saved by their works.  Verse 23 of our text (quoting from Gen. 15:6) declares plainly that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  God made this declaration before Abraham ever offered up Isaac in obedience to His command.  Abraham was saved by his faith, not by his works.  The scripture states plainly that God preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand (Gal. 3:8, Jn. 8:56).  Abraham believed God concerning His promise to send the Messiah who would save Him from his sins and his faith was charged to his account for righteousness.  Likewise, we as New Testament believers are also saved by our faith in the Messiah (Gal. 3:6-7).  Everyone who has ever been saved, whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, is saved through faith in Christ alone (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12, 16:30-31).  The only difference is that Old Testament saints looked forward to the cross, while New Testament saints look backward to the cross.  Because we are all sinners, guilt of breaking God’s laws (Rom. 3:10-12, 6:23), none of us can ever be saved by our works (Eph. 2:8-9, Tit. 3:5).  We are saved solely by the grace (undeserved favor) of God through faith in Christ alone. 

Then what does the scripture mean when it declares that Abraham was justified by works?  It means that his obedience to God demonstrated his faith both to himself and to others.  His faith was justified or declared in the sight of men by his works.  In verse 25, the Lord gives us another example of saving faith producing works.  Like Abraham, Rahab’s actions demonstrated her faith, both to herself and to the Israelites.  The Israelites believed her claim to have trusted in their God (Josh. 2:9-11) because she hid the Hebrew spies and obeyed their instructions in hanging the scarlet cord in her window (Josh. 2:4-6, 16-21; 6:17, 22-23, 25).  Her works demonstrated her faith.  The point of our text is that where there is no works there is no true faith (v. 26).

This passage is a call to self-examination for each of us.  Do we have saving faith?  Have we truly repented of our sins and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior?  If so, is our faith demonstrated in our works?  Is it demonstrated our devotional life?  Is it demonstrated in our church attendance?  Is it demonstrated in our obedience to God’s commandments?

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on James 1:1-13

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?  Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,”you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,”also said, “Do not murder.”  Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.                     NKJV

James begins chapter 2 by dealing with the issue of personal favoritism.  The Lord exhorts us not show partiality—not to be a respecter of persons (KJV).  To be a respecter of persons is to exalt or favor someone on a superficial and external basis such as physical appearance, wealth, race, rank, or social status.  To show partiality or be a respecter of persons is a clear violation of the will of God as revealed in the scriptures (Prov. 24:23, 28:21; Deut. 10:17; II Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11, 6:8-9; Col. 3:25; I Pet. 1:17).  In verse 5, we have an example of God not being a respecter of persons.  God has primarily chosen to save those who are less esteemed in the world’s eyes (I Cor. 1:26-28).

In our text, the Lord gives us a concrete example of being a respecter of persons in giving the best seats in the church to the wealthy (vs. 2-3).  Such partiality makes us judges with evil thoughts (v. 4).  There are two ways that this can apply to us.  First, we can equate superficial, external things with spirituality and God’s approval.  The church of Laodicea was guilty of this very thing (Rev. 3:17).  Or we can cater to the wealthy, the educated, or those of high social standing or influence because of the perception that they can bring greater benefit to the church.

In verses 6-7, we see that some of the Christians were showing partiality toward the rich, and the Lord reminds them that it is the rich who oppresses them.  Judgment based on superficial, external things if faulty, erroneous, and twisted judgment, and is actually a violation of the royal law (love your neighbor as yourself) and therefore sin.  Unlike the unsaved, who are in bondage to sin (Eph. 2:1-3), Christ has freed us from the power of sin (V.12, Rom. 6:6-7, Jn. 8:36) enabling us to obey God.  As Christians, we do not have to sin.  We sin because we choose to sin and whenever we judge with partiality we are acting like the unsaved who are enslaved by sin.

Whenever we judge others, we need to remember that we will be judged by the same standards with which we judge others (v. 13).  If we are critical and harsh in judging others, then the Lord will be harsh in judging us (Matt. 18:23-35).  And even though as Christians we will never be condemned (Jn. 3:16-18, 5:24), we will still stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for the things we have done in this life (II Cor. 5:10, Rom. 14:10-12). 

So what do we learn from our text?  First, we need to make sure that we have truly repented of our sins and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.  Secondly, if we have been saved, then we need to live like one who has been freed from the power of sin.  We need to be sure that we are not being a respecter of persons and not being critical and harsh in judging others.   

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on Psalm 37:12-22

The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn the sword And have bent their bow, To cast down the poor and needy, To slay those who are of upright conduct. Their sword shall enter their own heart, And their bows shall be broken. A little that a righteous man has
Is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, But the Lord upholds the righteous. The Lord knows the days of the upright, And their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, And in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the Lord, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away. The wicked borrows and does not repay, But the righteous shows mercy and gives. For those blessed by Him shall inherit the earth, But those cursed by Him shall be cut off.                       
NKJV

The Bible tells us emphatically that the wicked hate the just (I Jn. 3:13).  The just are those who have been justified through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jas. 2:20-23, Rom. 5:1, Gal. 2:16, Phil. 3:9, Rom. 3:28, Gal. 3:11), whose righteousness has been charged to their accounts (Gal. 3:6-9).

The wicked hate the just, who are Christ’s ambassadors and messengers (II Cor. 5:20), because they hate the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 15:18-20).  Since they can do nothing to Christ, they will attack his ambassadors (II Tim. 3:12).  When laws prevent them from physically attacking the just, the wicked show by their gestures what they would do to the righteous (v. 12).  If they cannot gnaw, they will gnash.  If they cannot bite, they will bark.

The Lord however is not disturbed or concerned by the plotting of the wicked and will bring judgment against them (vs. 13, 20, 22).  The day of recompense is coming (v.15, Gal. 6:7, Prov. 26:27) and the Lord will ultimately cast the wicked into hell (Psa. 9:7, Mat. 13:50, I Thess. 1:9, Rev. 20:15, Mat. 16:26).

As Christians, we should never fret because of the deeds and temporal success of the wicked because we have a far better heritage than do they (vs. 17-18).  We have a glorious and eternal heritage (Rom. 8:18; I Cor. 2:9; Jn. 3:16, 36; Jn. 5:24; Rom. 6:23, I Jn. 5:13, Rev. 22:3-5).  Those who have been justified through faith in Christ will never fall under the Lord’s condemnation (v. 19, Jn. 3:18, 5:24).  The righteous will inherit the earth (vs. 21-22, Mat. 5:5) and will reign over the nations with the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming (I Cor. 6:2; Rev. 2:26-27, 5:10, 22:5).

Is your heritage that of the just?  Or will you spend eternity in the lake of fire because you refused to repent of your sins and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?  The choice is yours.