Monday, February 12, 2018

Do Christians Keep the Torah? Should We?

This is a issue that's been around for quite awhile and something that I've thought through for a long time, looking at Scripture and searching my own heart. I have studied both sides of the argument (for/against) thoroughly, have come to the following conclusions.

1) Christians can keep the Torah

In the gospels, the book of Acts and in the letters of Paul and the apostles, we see examples of disciples of Jesus/believers/"Christians" who kept the Law of Moses (Torah) and who didn't. Paul circumcised Timothy (who was half-Jewish), but not Titus (who wasn't Jewish at all).  From Scripture, it's possible to be a "Christian" or disciple of Jesus and to keep the law of Moses as someone who is culturally Jewish.

The biggest argument that Torah-observant Christians have in their favour is that Jesus was a fully observant Jew. He had fringes on His garments, He went to the temple and made aliyah, He worshipped in a synogogue (and outside of it), and so forth. Jesus was never recorded as breaking the Law of Moses though He had a different application and interpretation of it as compared to the other religious groups of His day. For example, Jesus did not consider it breaking the Sabbath to eat or to pluck and eat food from the field.


I think that we can respect and fully fellowship with fellow Christians who do "keep the Torah" as long as they are willing to fellowship with believers who "don't". The simple fact is that if someone believes that somehow I am deceived and not a true Christian (or needs to be "taught better") if I eat certain foods or fail to observe certain holy days according to their estimation, then I don't think we are going to be a good fit. If you think these issues are more important than believing that Jesus/Yeshua is our Messiah and Lord and that the world needs to hear His good news and worth breaking fellowship over, then so be it.

I also would disagree fully with the notion that a Christian must not keep the Torah, that we must purposely eat unclean foods and not observe the sabbath in order to be a true, non-legalistic follower of Jesus. I think the two ("Torah observance" and being a disciple of Yeshua) are not in conflict as long as your priorities are straight.

2) Christians can not keep the Torah

I would argue, however, that disciples of Jesus who don't come from an Torah-obervant Jewish background were never compelled to keep the Torah. To me, Acts 15 is as clear a day. Gentile converts don't have to be taught to keep the law of Moses or be circumcised. They can be, for all intents and purposes, Gentiles. Being a Gentile is not incompatible with being a disciple of Jesus. 

Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
(Acts 15:24)

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
(Acts 15:28-29)


My interpretation hinges on a single nuance. I believe that as a disciple of Jesus, grafted into the "olive tree" and made an heir of Christ, I am a Gentile and I am not Jewish. I am and always will be a Gentile follower of Jesus, whom I believe is the Jewish messiah. I do not then try to convert myself to become a Jew - I think God made me a Gentile for a reason. Yes, I am an heir of God and I am a child of God but I am not a descendent of Abraham or partaker in the specific covenant God (YHWH) made with the children of Israel. When all is said and done, I may be wrong, but this is what I believe from Scripture. And it doesn't really make an ounce of difference in terms of my relationship with God, but more in how I live out my Christian life.

"Praise Him, all you Gentiles" (Psalm 117) and "The Gentiles shall see Your righteousness" (Isaiah 62) are some Scriptural passages that show that we can, as different nations of the earth, believe in the God of Israel. 

3) It's not really possible to keep all of the Torah
I did a study of Leviticus recently. Most of the commandments are unpracticable. They relate to rituals, to the temple, to the priesthood, to a lot of things that aren't really observed by Torah-observant people.

There are three types of laws I'd describe from the law of Moses from the perspective of Torah observance.

1) The unpracticable laws. These things relate to the past and to the future, but not to present. The temple for one thing. How to build an ark of the covenant. How to weave priests' garments. What do you if you have leprousy. Stoning people to death. Kidnapping captured women as wives.
2) Laws that are observable and that pretty much all Christians believe in - Moral laws like the Ten Commandments. We certainly believe that worshiping idols murder, incest, adultery, lying, stealing and coveting are wrong. I also don't believe in having tattoos either. These are a bigger big chunk of laws and they are really unarguable.

2) Laws that are observable but generally aren't. Mainly, the Sabbath, dietary laws, laws about ritual purity and the Feasts. 

We hinge "Torah observance" on these few select portions of the Torah. We make Torah observance to be about these few excerpts on the Torah while ignoring the previous two types of laws a lot of the time. And some of these areas are a bit gray - should I not cook lamb or veal in milk, or should I separate all meat and milk? (I'm not talking about Judaism, I'm talking about Christianity here)

If I don't get rid of all pasta in my house, am I not keeping Passover? Who's keeping a score here? Is there a checklist I should follow? What qualifies as a cleansing bath? Should a menstruating woman sit on separate chairs? Can I use electricity on the Sabbath?

Some aspects of ritual purity and the feasts are tied to the Temple. What is the day of atonement without the High Priest and the tabernacle and the sacrificial goats, anyway? 

4) We aren't really given very precise instructions on how the Torah is to be practiced. 

Having a "legalistic" mindsets brings up more questions than answers. If I were to think, well, there's a very. specific. way. to keep the Torah and that God absolutely requires that I should do so, I would spend all my waking moments thinking about the unanswered questions like, is tearing toilet paper okay or not okay on the Sabbath? Does Sabbath start at sunset or sunrise? What calendar should we use to determine the right days to celebrate the feasts? I would think that those little nuances are extremely important, life and death issues (fear not, I don't).

As Christians, we don't have precise instructions on what to do with the Torah, as I mentioned above. If you believe Sabbath and the Feasts are important, another Christian who does believe in the same thing actually has a totally different way of applying and practicing it.  I  know fellow believers who do believe that keeping the Torah is important, but they aren't very tied up in knots about teensy details. Jesus really wasn't caught up in those details either.


The Bible doesn't give us very specific instructions for a reason, I'm sure. There are Christians who do keep the dietary requirements without very much fuss, who do observe the Sabbath without worrying about whether turning the lights on and off would be a serious infraction.

God isn't in heaven keeping score on how well we figure out how to keep the Torah, that I know. It is possible to keep His commandments out of love for Him and without strife, pride and judgmentalism. Loving Him is most important commandment anyway.



5) Let's focus on what's really important
In arguing over what we eat and whether we should wear mixed-fiber garments or not, we are forgetting the biggest picture and are not "setting our minds on things above".

I can name you three things that are infinitely more important and that everyone on "both sides of the fence" should focus on, rather than a few laws from the books of Moses.

Firstly, unity in the body of Christ. The early church consisted of people from all walks of life, social classes, ethnic backgrounds and differing levels of "Torah observance". They had trouble getting along occasionally and so do we. However, the way that the whole world knows we are Jesus' disciples is if we have love for one another. 

This following passage from Romans is I feel a final conclusion on the matter: we are to love one another and never, ever, judge one another based on food, holidays and any such matters. 

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
(Romans 14:3-10)
If any Christian at any times evaluates another believer based on this practice or that practice, then he or she is seriously in the wrong, no matter how "right" he or she may seem.

Secondly, love is the most important thing. We don't usually associate this with the Torah but this is not only a commandment in the law of Moses but also a commandment of Jesus Christ. Love God, love our neighbours, love our brethren, law down our lives for one another and so forth.

1 Corinthians 13 says that if we hath not love, we really hath nothing. Everything hinges on love.

Thirdly, the commandments of Jesus. 

Both non-Torah-observant and Torah-observant Christians often forget that Jesus also gave us commandments. They are the commandments of the Father, obviously, but they do differ from Moses's commandments. For example, Moses permitted divorce but Jesus makes it clear that that was not a part of God's original plan. Jesus brought a higher law - you could call it the "law of liberty". The Torah never told us to love our enemies, it told us to slay them with swords. Obviously there is a difference, not because God is inconsistent but because the law had a purpose.


He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
(Matthew 19:8)








I believe that the law given at Mount Sinai is not a perfect, eternal and final representation of God's eternal law. God is the perfect, final and eternal representation of His law, and Jesus was. Jesus was the Word and the Word made flesh.

This is where I also differ from Christians who believe in observing the Torah. I believe that the Torah was temporary and imperfect. Simply put, if it had been perfect then we would have had no need for Jesus. We can simply convert, keep the law, and be saved. It was also given at a particular time to a particular people. Some of it is eternal, and some of it, like the clause allowing divorce, is obviously imperfect. 

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
(Matthew 5:21-22)

The Torah could only judge men's actions and offer temporary forgiveness. It could not judge men's hearts not change men's hearts.

For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
(Galatians 3:18)

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:24-29)




 If the first thing we are teaching new believers are not the commandments of Jesus which He clearly told us to teach, then we are doing them a serious disfavour and warping the gospel. We need to go back to the importance of discipleship, of taking up our cross, of receiving the Holy Spirit... of preaching the gospel, or being "lights" in the world, and so forth. Basically, the teachings of Jesus must be first and foremost.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
(Matthew 7:24)

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
(Matthew 28:19-20)

All this being said, I do believe that all Scripture is given by God and absolutely important.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)


Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
(1 Corinthians 10:11)

The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
(Luke 16:16-17)


Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:17-20)

Conclusion
 I could write pages and pages upon the subject, and quote Scriptures more intensively than I have hear. However, it is suffice to say that my heart is at rest and that I am at peace. Rather than ignoring the issue I have faced it head-on and have emerged without being confused, dismayed and disheartened.
 I sincerely believe that observing a few holy days and dietary laws have nothing to do with one's maturity in Christ or walk with God. These things are not wrong in themselves but can very easily become too important and cause us to be blinded by self-importance and legalism (as I know all too well from personal experience).

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
(Colossians 2:16-17)
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4)








Friday, February 9, 2018

Who and What are Apostles?

I woke up this morning with a simple question. What is an apostle? I sat down and studied the Scriptures for an answer, and here is what I found.

The word "apostle" is from apostolos in Greek (G652). It means someone who is sent on a mission, someone with a mandate, someone who is a delegate or ambassador, someone who is commissioned, someone who is set-apart for a specific purpose.  The other key word is apostello which is the act of sending.

In Mark 6, Jesus sent His twelve disciples and sent them (apostello) forth two by two. By the time we get to the end of the chapter, the disciples are referred to as apostolos, the "ones whom He had sent". 

And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
(Mark 6:7)

And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
(Mark 6:12-13)
 
And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.
(Mark 6:30)

 John 13:16 talks about the disciples not being greater than their master, about those who are sent not being greater than he who sends them. It is clear that by the act of sending His disciples, He had commissioned and made them into "apostles" of the gospel. However, the following verse goes further and shoes that when He chose His twelve, He chose them to be apostles.

And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;
(Luke 6:13)

 
Acts 1:2 refers to the apostles as those whom He had chosen as well, and adds that through the Holy Spirit He gave them commandments.


Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
(Acts 1:2)
 
 Add to that John 15:16, which states that Jesus chose and ordained His disciples to go and bear fruit. 

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
(John 15:16)

Here are some additional verses that I found that relate to the topic:



As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
(John 17:18)

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
(John 20:21-22)
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
(Acts 1:8)

From these verses and other passages of Scripture, I can therefore conclude that apostles are the ones who
  • were disciples of Jesus
  • were chosen by Jesus
  • were taught Jesus's commandments
  • were sent forth to preach the gospel
  • were filled with the Holy Spirit

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
(Matthew 28:18-20)

So let us ask ourselves:
  • Can we be Christians without being disciples of Jesus?
  • Are we as Christians supposed to hear and obey the commandments of Christ? 
  • Can we as Christians be exempted from the command to preach the gospel and fulfil the Great Commission?
  • Are we not sent into the world to be witnesses and lights?
  • Are we not given the Holy Spirit?
  • Is not the purpose of being fillled with the Holy Spirit to be go in the world and preach the gospel? 
Are we then not apostles, regardless of whether we consider ourselves "clergy" or "laity", "full-time workers" or "tentmakers"?

Perhaps we need a change in mindset, and we need to realise that "Apostle" is not a grandiloquent title of privilege but a function related to a task. Yes, there were the twelve original disciples, who become apostles, but they went on to make disciples and to send others forth in Christ's name. If the twelve apostles were the only apostles, then the gospel would have died out with them. However, the gospel is still being preached in every corner of the earth.

Everyone who is called by Christ to be a disciple is also sent by Him to do His work in this world. There are many different functions believers can have, and many different callings. We need to hear from Him what His will is for us and what He will have us do. It's not about our own ideas and initiatives, about what we think we can and should do.
 
 



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Faith - Pointless Without a Relationship

Faith is believing and trusting, having a conviction and being assured. Many times, Christians say "Have Faith". However, we often miss the point, and think of faith as a quality we must have or something we must try to build. We mistake faith as a kind of "spiritual fitness test", as if by effort and exercise we can "build up" our levels of faith the same way we go from 4-pound to 6-pound dumbbells.

Jesus told the woman with the issue of blood, "Your faith has made you whole".

What is faith? Faith is simply knowing God, knowing He is our Father and trusting Him. The more we know Him, the more we trust Him. Faith is not an inner quality that we build up like "endurance" or "strength". It's not about us pushing ourselves to the limits and setting new challenges.

When we take God out of the equation, faith becomes pointless. It becomes a meaningless idea, even a self-deception.

"You must have faith and do this," someone might say. It's not about whether others think you have faith. Forget about everyone else, forget about all the judgment and snobbery and pride that gets mixed in like poison. Just go back to the bare bones of it, which is you trusting in someone who loves you, who will never hurt you, who knows you better than you know yourself and knows everything. 

Faith is realising that I'm small, that I'm weak, that I can't know everything. But, I know that God knows.

Faith is born of this trusting relationship, this dependent relationship. When God asks you to do something or to trust Him over something, it will be based on this relationship. You will know what God has asked of you if you listen to Him. Faith is holding to Him and trusting Him above what we feel and what the world around us seems to say. Faith is clinging to God.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for - if God has promised us something, even though we don't see the results yet, we can continue to trust God. That's how David trusted God while fleeing for his life. That's how Abraham trusted God and followed Him, believing Him from a son and heir.


Mankind likes to turn everything into a formula and system, because that is what we understand. But God is bigger than our ideas and our man-made wisdom and proves us wrong. We often tell people what to believe and what to trust God for, rather than let them be rooted and built up in Him. We often dictate to people what faith looks like and how it should be worked out, when actually God asks different things of different people, and doesn't fit into our neat little boxes of prescriptions and ideals. We need to also let people dive into God's Word and hear from the Holy Spirit.

Faith is not based on self-delusion. Often, we start believing in the healing and in the miracles and in monetary prosperity, and not actually in God. Let's just cut all that out and focus on having a living, real relationship with God. Faith is simply living out that relationship.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

How Counter-Cultural Are Christians Supposed to Be?

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
(Romans 12:2)
 

I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
(John 17:14-16)


Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
(2 Timothy 2:3-4)

 

 Something that I've been thinking over for a very long time is the idea of being counter-cultural as a Christian. From an early age, I was taught and believed from Scripture that we are called to be different, that we don't have to do things the way that society does things. One preacher used the word, "antithetical". I still believe that. I don't believe that we should conform to society and modelling our faith and worship after what is contemporary and popular.

However, I see things I used to believe as being in addition to the cross of Jesus Christ and the word of God. There were teachers and preachers who have deviated from truth by adding their own ideas of what being "counter-cultural" means. I have personally been tempted by the idea that we have to create our own culture and way of life, outside of Scripture but based on so-called "Biblical principles". A "new way". This involves eschewing healthcare, fashion, employment, dating and a thousand other things. It involves, very simply, the idea of "do's" and "don'ts". A lot of things are taught that are simply not in Scripture. They may sooth itching ears but we must remember that we are not supposed to add a jot or tittle beyond what is in the Bible, no matter how tempting that may be.

Whatever the world does, we  may "try" to "do differently".  For example, the Pharisees created their own value and culture system very different from that of Roman and Greek cultures, but it was a culture nonetheless and no less worldly, but built on pride, human achievement, arrogance and the desire to think of oneself better than others, rather than others better than oneself.

We see this in various church history movements as well. The "plain" Christians of the past created their own "plain dress" and culture. They made rules and regulations of it, so much so that those man-made ordinances overshadowed the preaching of the gospel. It wasn't just about Jesus, it would about Jesus plus... plus a culture, a way of life. For example, dancing, reading novels and playing cards were considered things a faithful believer should never do. They had good reasons to do them, but then when they passed on their faith, it was not the sincere faith in the cross of Jesus Christ and a living relationship with God that got passed down, but these restrictions. These restrictions deviated from the original purpose, that is, to free oneself of addictions and distractions to follow God. But when the following of Christ is taken out of the equation as it usually is, then these rules just become useless, pointless, and harmful.

We should never let ourselves get to the point where we sit down and think, "Well, the world does things this way. How can we do it differently just to be different?" Just because we're radical doesn't mean that we're any godlier or any more righteous. Sometimes, Christians can be so arrogant as to come up with things that are offensive to our consciences and to the human belief of right and wrong, and just because we are opposed, think we are being persecuted for righteousness sake. Our morality becomes all upside-down. We thrive on arrogance and pride, rather than on "serving as Christ served" and "thinking others better than ourselves".

What does the Bible say? Just take a look at Colossians 2.

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

Paul immediately goes on to say:

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4)


To be legalistic is then to be worldly, despite our every effort not to be. If we are truly not to be conformed to this world then we must not conform to legalism and the fleshly faith built on rules and regulations, ordinances of men that concern things of no heavenly, eternal value. If we were "risen with Christ" then we seek something far greater, far better, that transcend and supersede religiosity and outward faith.

Legalism is like whitewashing a tomb.You can put on certain Christian clothes, quit your job and get another more "holy" job, change the way your children are educated and so forth, but that can do little to make you an actual follower of Jesus with a real, living relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working in your life. Jesus, however, changes us from the inside out. He doesn't come into our lives to renovate it, to make us look better. In fact, we are too full of mold, rot, sin and decay to be redeemable in our natural state. We have to completely die and be reborn. The old has to pass away and be left aside, and a new creation "started from scratch".

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
(Matthew 28:19-20)



The final nail on the coffin of this spirit of legalism is the fact that we should ask ourselves the following question - if someone were to come to Christ, what would we teach them to do? Do we say to them - you have to stop doing this, stop doing that, eat special food, wear "holier" clothes, observe this rule and that regulation and so forth, or do we teach the commands and doctrines of Christ. When we allow mixture in, our own man-made teachings to defile the truth, then we are doing God a great disservice.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
(Matthew 18:6)

Jesus spoke this about physical children, but we should also have the same responsibility towards those who are "babes" in Christ. We should say, "Hold it! Am I teaching everything Jesus commanded, or am I forgetting to teach those and teaching my own ideas and so-called convictions instead"?

I have been exposed to preachers who teach that there are only certain types of music and certain types of musical instruments to be used that is "holy", only certain terminology we must use even to refer to God... basically a formula to do the right thing through which we can, if not achieve holiness, than greater godliness and spirituality. We stop being led by the Holy Spirit and stop letting the Holy Spirit work in people's lives when we do all these things. Instead, we do a great injustice to Jesus and to the gospel by causing others to stumble under the weight of our petty demands. Beware the leaven, indeed!

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
(Matthew 23:13)



Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
(Matthew 23:15)


For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
(Matthew 23:4)


But what Jesus calls us to do is die. Let go. Give up even our over-zealousness and initiative. Let ourselves be humbled. Just as Jesus said,

""For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak." (John 12:49 NASV).   

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30)


At the end of the day, legalism is a cop-out. It is a poor attempt at holiness, a cheaper, lousy substitute that has no resemblance to the real thing.  All those man-made rules are easy and achievable compared to the real cost of discipleship. Perhaps in our hearts we yearn for something a bit easier than the real sacrifice God would have us make. And that is what we much teach - discipleship, obedience, genuine sacrifice.


The cross is laid on every Christian. It begins with the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. Since this happens at the beginning of the Christian life, the cross can never be merely a tragic ending to an otherwise happy religious life. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at His call. 

- Dietrich  Bonhoeffer in "The Cost of Discipleship"

We need to be on our knees praying for God to redeem souls and transform lives through us. We need to pursue the real holiness and forsake sin, selfishness, worldliness and the like. Yes, there may be little initial difference between true and false godliness but it is by the fruit that we know what is genuine.

After more than ten years of learning to be a disciple (and failing, as we are all prone to doing), I have learned to be cautious and to separate the "wheat" from the "tares". I was sincere, yet immature. Yes, we could be on a walk with God and yet be imperfect and think imperfectly. As one popular Jewish song goes, "Bound to stumble and fall, but my strength comes not from man at all". We need our minds renewed by the word of God.


Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
(Micah 6:7-8)



Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
(Proverbs 3:5-7)



And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
(1 Samuel 15:22)


Finally, another "test" we can apply is simply to do look at whether through this or that action, we are loving, serving and edifying others. Legalism is always connected to self-absorption and selfishess, but the cross of Jesus Christ is about genuine, sacrificial love. Do we put barriers between ourselves and others, cause divisions, or become judgmental? Then it is not of God, because it does not bear the fruit of the Spirit. Obsessing over the works of the flesh blinds us to the needs of others and the ways God would have us serve them. We become very "busy" pursuing "holiness" and perfection, like trophies to be admired, but are not fit vessels, sanctified to be used by the Master. 

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
(John 13:35)



For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
(Matthew 25:35-36)



















Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sanctification: A New Look

Throughout my Christian life, I had had an understanding of sanctification as was taught and as best I understood it from the Bible. Recently, however, I have come to see sanctification in a new light that has, for me, been quite helpful and illuminating.

It is quite normal to start out with one understanding and then to become quite accustomed to it. However, I think that God teaches us layer by layer, precept by precept. Here a little, there a little. I don't fancy getting new Revelations apart of Scripture in a gnostic or mystical way, but in my eyes being opened to what's already in Scripture by the Holy Spirit.

It is amusing that I grew up a Methodist and in many ways have adopted a Wesleyan way of thinking - arminianism, for example. John Wesley believed that God's grace can be described as threefold - prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. Justifying grace, from what I understand, is the grace God gives us when we come to Him in repentance. We have forgiven and justified because of what Christ did on the cross. Sanctifying grace is God's continuing work of perfecting us, making us more like Him. The work of sanctification is really on-going and is completed when our mortal bodies pass and we are taken into glory, so to speak. "Work out your salvation," says Scripture.

I remember, as a child, attending Bible studies on the books of Nehemiah, Romans and the like. These were not children's Bible studies but the same studies given to adults. We learned passages like Romans 6 and 8 by heart and all in all were given a good scriptural foundation.

However, I had always thought that justification and sanctification were individual processes, meant to make us perfect, meant to save us as individuals. I never thought about it in a wider context, so to speak. What if justified and sanctified was more than just about God purifying me, doing a good work in me... Ephesians 5 talks about Christ purifying the Church by the "washing of water by the word", to present to Himself a glorious bride "without spot or wrinkle".

But there's more. There's always more - when you go back to Scripture you can never say you "already know it all".

Let's go back to the word sanctify - it means to "set-apart", "make holy". God is Holy or "Wholly Other" from us. Set-apart. To be made holy is to be made like God, in His image. For His use.

I think of the vessels and tools used in the temple, as described in the Torah. They were set apart, consecrated, dedicated to be used in worship and offerings and the like. In the same way, I quite suddenly have realised, we are like instruments and tools. God sanctifies us not to be simply "polished trophies" but so that we are fit to be used. Sanctification is not some end-goal to be fulfilled upon our deaths. It is a continuous process of being sanctified and then being "put into action", being privileged to be part of God's plan.

Sanctification, therefore, also has immediate and practical use.  It's not about me eventually being sinless, without flaws and failings.

All of the sudden, Scriptures sprung to mind that corroborated this.

But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.
(2 Timothy 2:20-21)
 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:10)


These are verses that I had known and studied for a long time, and yet now they are linked and I understand them a little more clearly.

I love seeing the word "good works" in Scripture. There's a sense of joy and hope, and I cannot help but ask God what works He would have me do, how he would have to cleanse me by trials and fires in order to make an unworthy, carnal vessel a useful one.

The verse that sparked all of this was one that was one in James. It's been awhile since I have revisited James, one that is like the book of Proverbs to me because of it's meaningful practicality. James launches into talking about "divers temptations", which I feel is best translated to the modern tongue by the word "difficulty". He's not talking about temptation in the sense of later verses, but in trials. Situations that aren't easy for us. Challenges.

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
(James 1:2-4)


Another similar verse is in Romans 5:

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
(Romans 5:3-5)



 If a beloved brother and sister in Christ is going through seemingly pointless hardship and great difficulty, and if we go through such trials ourselves, there is a "silver lining". It's not that we are masochists and enjoy tormenting ourselves - God is not like that either. It is that life's difficulties -and life in this earth because of man's sin is one fraught with difficulty and sorrow - can bear good fruit, and work out for good rather than evil.

Take Joseph's life - his brothers meant evil, but God caused good to come out of it. It is not that the brothers were right and justified in their actions. They were not. They had to repent of their sin and hatred, the heart of murder that is evil in God's sight (Matthew 5). However, pointless and irredeemable circumstances in the world's view are not pointless and irredeemable in God's view. Even being sold into slavery was not just a "crime", "waste" or "injustice" to Joseph. Those years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit were not meaningless.

To the Christian, it is not that suffering is any less of a sufferance. It is because we know that it is not in vain, that God makes all things "work out for good to them that love Him" (Romans 8). We also have hope beyond this life.

Think about people who are suffering in the world because of the cruelty and wickedness of others. Yes, it is wrong to do those things and we must do what we can out of love of our neighbour to prevent and stop any such thing. But to a person going through such a situation, Christ offers hope and redemption beyond what any human being can.

But I digress. To return to the thesis of this post, I would like to highly this passage from Second Timothy, a verse learned by heart as a child that I have thought back to several times for different reasons.


And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
(2 Timothy 3:15-17)

And there it now as clear as day: perfection is not just about perfection in the sense of achievement or having something to admire or enjoy. It is linked to the good works God intends to do.

Holiness is not self-centred. To be over-occupied with cleansing and purifying ourselves, with making rules and achieving personal right-ness is to veer off-course from the center of our Christian faith. I've seen and have been guilty of the tendency of become self-righteous in pursuit of this version of holiness, which is not altogether long but very lacking and a kind of deviance we need to guard against. A righteous person, I have realised, is not a person who "does all the right things" and "avoid doing all the wrong things". Sacrifice is not only about how many things I can give up "for God" but, just as importantly, the things God asks me to give up for others. It's about "laying down" our lives for our friends, it's about loving our neighbour, it's about serving and ministering and doing things for the "least" of Christ's brethren. It's about being used by God as a vessel of love.

The testimony of Scripture as a whole shows us that we are not being to be "so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly use". To be heavenly minded, it can be argued, is to be of great earthly use (according to God's will and ways, not our own).








Monday, September 14, 2015

Servanthood

Servanthood is something difficult to understand, a Christian principle that is often misunderstand by the world as being warped, cruel or abusive. It is contrary to human nature, because we by nature are intemperate, selfish, and self-serving. Obedience, submission, and sacrifice are difficult, painful, hard to swallow, and inpalatable. What is being required is indeed the highest and most difficult price - a price that is as good as death.

When we are called to follow Jesus, we are called to lay down everything - our lives, our ambitions, our rights, our previous existences... Such a calling is anthetical, but we have a precedent for this and that is the example of Jesus Himself. If Jesus did not do what He did, He could not have preached what He did.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Php 2:5-11 KJV)


We do not need to learn to be leaders, but to be servants. It is far more important to be under the authority and leadership of God That is why the only Christian leaders are servant leaders.

Wash one anothers' feet, Jesus commanded. He emphasized that He came not to be served and ministered to but to minister.

The last shall be the first, the greatest least and the least greatest.

Again and again, Jesus lambasted religious hierachies, decimating the pedestrals that religious people tried to create for themselves. He scorned those who dictated "laws" and "regulations" and who put burdens on others' shoulders that they themselves could not carry. 

The teachings of Jesus call us to ultimate servanthood, to meekness, to humility, to brokenness, to the laying down of our lives and surender of our rights. To those who want to borrow from us, we cannot turn away. We are to turn the other cheek when struck, even. We lose our rights to self-defense, in deed and word.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
(Mat 5:43-45 KJV)


Indeed, in God's eyes, observance and worship (religion) is found in serving the poorest and weakest in society.


Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
(Jas 1:27 KJV)


Let us not forget that in serving the people we come across who are in need, we are serving Jesus. Jesus was truly a "man for others" as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put in. Indeed, he would not have been became a man it is was not for the Father.

Serving God essentially serving other people, because that's where God's love, grace and mercy extends.

We know that God's ways are in all ways superior to our ways. It is by being faithful in little, by serving the least and the lowest, that we are serving Him. In addition, Jesus in Matthew 6 commands us to pray, do charity, and fast in secrecy, away from the people we might be tempted to impress, even the religious and pious we wish to have of ourselves. What matters is what God sees, not from outward appearances, but from the heart.


This is not something only a select few Christians are called to do. It is the same calling and requirement that Jesus has upon all His disciples, something that can be applied even in daily life.

It is only from this perspective that we can view submission to authority, whether governments or otherwise. The epistles of Paul often speak of slaves' obedience to masters or wives' obedience to husbands. Indeed, Christians are called to "submit to one another", and we are reminded of our inherent and inherited equality in God where there is no distinction by gender, race, or hierachy - all have sinned, and the same God is rich upon all who call upon him. However, we are called to serve one another, love one another, to be humble and meek and lowly, and to lay down our lives for one another because Christ has done so for us.


Separation From The World

Humanity is sinful. Society is sinful. The world is sinful and corrupt.

Man's solution is often this: Let Christians live apart from the world in a parallel culture. Let Christians strive to cleanse ourselves and remove any worldly influences. Let us shun the people of the world and live holy and separate lives.

To put it simply, we often think that the best solution is to build a wall to shut the world and its sinfulness out.   However, that is the antithesis of the gospel, because the Messiah Jesus came to 
to be the reconciliation between humankind and God.

What is God's solution to sin?

 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 KJV)

What then is the role of the body of Christ, the church, in our world today? We are to go out into all the world,  proclaim Jesus and preach the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are to point men to the reconciliation of Jesus' blood. How can we do this if we barricade ourselves in Christendom, if we live in isolation?

For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
(Col 1:19-22 KJV)



The word "holy" often brings to mind "piety" or "religiousity". Another synonymous phrase, "set-apart", is also a good translation. Unfortunately, that again conveys the impression that we are to be "separated" from humanity. While God is indeed high and lofty and set-apart, He came and dwelt amongst men, He took on the corruptible and mortal human flesh, and yet without sin and was not corrupted.

We are not to withdraw from the world. We are not to be quarantined in a sterile environment as perfect Christians. being preserved or pickled until the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed.

Under the previous covenant, God INDEED called for his people to be separated from the sinful society of world. That is because they were living by the flesh had inherited the sin of Adam. However, in the Messiah, we have now been redeemed and made a new creation. What separated God's chosen people from the Gentiles who were without hope has now been abolished through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
(Mat 27:51 KJV)


That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(Eph 2:12-18 KJV)



What then is our answer? As Christ has saved us, so He has called us to proclaim His salvation to all people, and to overcome the world.



These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
(John 16:33 KJV)

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
(1 John 4:4 KJV)

God does not call us to hide from sin, but to overcome it, which is of course not only far more difficult, but humanly impossible. Only by a supernatural work, the miracle of the cross, can sin be overcome and slain, the devil vanquished and rendered powerless, impotent.



For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
(Rom 10:12-15 KJV)


However, let us not forget to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, to serve God singleminded and not mammon. Let us remember that this battle is not one that we fight externally, but that worldliness is essence self-service, indulgence, pride and lustfulness. Indeed the battle within us the fight that we must overcome.


Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
(Jas 1:27 KJV)






 











Sunday, June 28, 2015

Courage or Compromise


It's one thing to be a narrow-minded, self-righteous delusionary and quite another to be a coward. To be clear, I cannot support compromise in theology. The minute we try and "water down" the Bible to make it acceptable to the world, we have lost our witness, our testimony, our "light"!

There are reports of Christians, so-called Christians who are nothing but vile hypocrites, who make racist, completely bigoteous, or statements and who are so repulsive to the world that many turn away from God altogether. Such people are those who are concerned and obsessed with being "right", in drawing lines and closing themselves in from all the pollution and corruption in the world, but whose doctrines are poison and whose gods are themselves.

On the other hand, there are so-called Christians who cannot be distinguished from the world altogether, who think the Bible must reflect the changing times and who think it is their place to "accept" and "celebrate" what God calls abominations and wickedness, who rewrite the Bible under the slightest of pressure so that they may be lauded by men.

It all boils down to two things - do we love God and love our neighbour, even when those two commandments are in seeming opposition?

I'd completely recommend the following article:
http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/in-the-line-of-fire/read/articles/what-do-we-do-when-loving-god-conflicts-with-loving-our-neighbor-16316.html

Unless we struggle with the issues ourselves, unless we are confronted by conflict, our words are empty. We must overcome these struggles so that we walk can in the grace, mercy and love of God and yet not compromise even a foothold to worldly deception.

For Judgment Begins in the House of God

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
(1Pe 4:17-18 KJV)

 I'm not saying that the world won't be judged, but I've been reading many articles of Christian after Christian condemning the world, which is odd, to say the least. "God will judge society for allowing such-and-such a perverse, immoral practice," they say, but we forget that sin in the why is precisely why the gospel is needed, and, furthermore, it what is far more abhorent is the corruption, greed, immorality and licentiousness in the church. 
  
1) Jesus told us to look at the planks in our eyes before pointing out the speck in others' eyes.
2) Paul said that we do not judge those who are outside, but those who are inside (believers).

Yes, it's to easy to point out everything that's wrong with the world. We should, however, be quicker to examine ourselves. 

It is no point being shocked at "sin" and "degeneration". It is no point taking the moral highground.

3) Jesus said  He did not come to condemn the world.

We don't need to say, "Society is doomed", because it is. We don't even need the Bible to condemn the world, as its standards are already clear. People do not need us to feel "judged", we are all judged self-condemned because of our sins. We don't need to preach the law in a sense, for the law and our consciences are innate in nature and human nature.

If anything, it should be clearer than anything that we are be lights in the world. We don't need to point out that the world is sinful and unsaved and dark, but we need to make sure that we are witnesses.

I would point out that Christians are in general so quick to impose their standards on society, but are reluctant (read: self-preserving) when it comes to condemning sin in Christian leaders, especially leaders they idolize.

We aren't supposed to be perfect, in a way, to cultivate a perfect church in which the impure and imperfect cannot enter. Jesus, after all, attracted the most sinful in society, the most condemned, not the righteous.

In fact, the way our Messiah came was through an unwed, virgin mother, a "smack-in-the-face" of the godly, the conservative, the "righteous". Jesus said that the sick need a doctor, the sinful need forgiveness, etc. etc.

The new developments in the definition of marriage should teach us that WE as disciples of Jesus need to (more than ever before, perhaps) uphold amongst ourselves the sanctity of Biblical message. We shouldn't be shocked by the polygamy, adultery, fornication, licentiousness and sodomy of the world. We are all capable of the same sin because we all have the same tendencies and the same sinful nature. We shouldn't fight to make the world "Christian", but should strive to be lights in the darkness, the salt of the earth.

After all, judgment begins in the House of God. We must live by the Word if we indeed want to judge the world by it! How can we overcome challenges and live peaceful and godly lives? How can we cease from immorality. After all, the same God who abhors immorality abhors divorce, fornication, lies, hypocrisy, etc. 


More than ever before, we need to realize that humanity needs Jesus, salvation, and everything he has done for us. 

More than anything, we need to love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. This includes loving those who do not "deserve" it. How many of us can love prostitutes, tax collectors, even religious Pharisees the way Jesus did, and how many of us would lay down our lives for them? How many of us would carry our cross? That is the question.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In our weaknesses

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
(2Co 12:9-10 KJV)


As Christians, we often have the convoluted idea that we need to present ourselves to the world as "perfect", that we need to hide our blemishes behind smiles and our struggles behind praise songs. We have to have an impeccable testimony, we have to do what is absolutely right and show how our Christian lifestyles are full of joy.

It isn't like that. We don't need to make ourselves into saint or portray ourselves as "enhanced beings". The fact is, as Christians, we were sinners and He saved us. We remain "sinners saved by grace," transformed each day by His power. The sins and struggles, the difficulties and distresses are inalienable parts of our testimony, for when we are truly honest and we cry out to God and God alone to deliver us, can be have the testimonies of overcomers.

We don't need to boast of our strength, our humility, our sinlessness. Let our boast be Jesus and Him alone. Let our weaknesses be testimonies to the undeserved grace and resurrection, redeeming power of Christ.

Let us show God strong when we are weak. 

There needs to be bluntness, honesty and candour, rather than the all-too-common unreality, false hype and facades we feel we need to put up.



The world doesn't need Christ because Christians are an elite breed of superhumans, the world needs Christ because we are all born sinners, weak, fallible and all too human. We are just like everyone else, have the same struggles as all men. Hey, even Jesus was tempted on all points like we are!

We need to be real about temptations, about struggles, whether it is in Christian leadership or amongst Christians. We need authenticity and this kind of relevance and practicality in the church, an openness about individual struggles.

Furthermore, we need to witness the salvation of Christ by showing who we are and were, and who He supernaturally made us be. If we were not sick, then we cannot have been healed by Him. If we were not sinners, then we have no need of redemption.


When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
(Mar 2:17 KJV)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Seat of Sinners

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psa 1:1-6 KJV)


Psalm 1 speaks of the righteous man, one who studies the word of God day and night and shuns sinners. This is a very commonly cited Psalm by Christians, but we must not forget that our first and primary focus should be following Jesus, not living a "righteous" life and being "righteous".

It just isn't that simple. I don't believe that God is calling us to do nothing by study the Bible all day and to live a life separate from sinners. We must hold all truths in balance, after all.



The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.
(Mat 11:19 KJV)


Now, I don't believe in holding a black-and-white view of the Pharisees, but from what I understand about religion during that time was that the Pharisees were very devout. They absolutely gave their life to the study God's law and they sought to follow the principles of Psalms 1 - live a righteous life, study the Law of the Lord day and night, and avoid the company of sinners. If I were to judge them by Psalms 1, from a human perspective, they would pass with flying colours.

But what I recently realized is that Jesus wouldn't. I'm not saying that Jesus wasn't meditating on the word of God but rather that He was the living word of God and did not deviate an iota from the will and purpose of God. However, He did spend time in the company of "sinners", people that Psalms 1 calls us to avoid. 


And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
(Mat 9:10-13 KJV)

This should raise questions about our attitude as Christians and the way we live our lives. Simply put, we are called to follow Jesus. How can we understand how Psalms 1 applies to us from Jesus' example?

I'm not saying that we are to live hedonistic lives and accept the ways of the world, but it is clear that the common, pietistic and religious interpretation of Psalms 1:1 just doesn't line up with Jesus' example.

I believe, in a way, that the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees is meant to show us, in a way, how we are to approach the Hebrew Scriptures.

My understanding the issue is that Jesus was amongst sinners yet He was not contaminated by sin. He didn't follow after the way of the unrighteous or seek to "fit in" by And yet, the sinners did not reject Him either. He came to seek and save the lost and the sinners.

What are we called to do? Hide away from the world and read our Bibles or to be the living word and testimony of the gospel by being "lights in the midst of darkness".

I believe fully in the entirety of Scripture, that we cannot have one verse without another holding it in balance. I also believe that we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit without which we cannot have understanding or know how the Word of God is to be applied in our individual situations and to the choices we have ot make.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ultimate Freedom

Where can we find the greatest liberty as Christians?How can we be set free from the bonds and chains of legalism and man-made doctrines?

Only in one place, at the cross of Jesus Christ. The words and calling of Jesus are the only things that can set us free from the bonds of "law".

How?

Only by the cross, the death and resurrection of Jesus, can we escape the guilt and condemnation of the law, not by removing the law but by removing the sin that is in us.

As Christians, we might find ourselves "detoxing" from religious legalism, from rules and regulations, doctrines and formulas. We might be tempted to run away from God and everything to do with Jesus, but the solution is entirely the opposite.

We will never find peace and victory in being liberal, being worldly or being immoral, even. It is simply another side of the same coin. Legalism and licensiousness are two, fleshly and imperfect ways of dealing with sin, one by fighting it and one by making peace with it. Neither can overcome it.

Our freedom, our liberty, can only be found in Jesus, in His law of liberty, love and mercy.

"Come to me," He says to those who are weary and heavy-leaden, "And you will find rest."

"Follow me," He says to us, "And I will make your fishers of men."

"Take up your cross," He said, "Deny yourself, and follow me."

"Go into the World," Jesus says, "And make disciples of all nations."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can you be a born a Christian?

Firstly, what is a Christian? Someone who is a disciple of and follows Jesus. It doesn't matter if they don't use the title, "Christian", because the disciples were first called Christianos at Antioch. You can called yourself a follower of Jesus of Nazereth, a follower of the Messiah, a follower of the Way, etc. it means the same time.

If you follow Jesus, if means that Jesus is alive to you today, that He is real and living and speaks to you, that He delivers you and heals you and gives you new life, etc.

Can you be born a Christian? No. It is not like a religion or a way of life based on lifestyle of rules, it is simply obeying and following the living Messiah.

"Christianity", or discipleship, is all about choice. It cannot be forced on anybody. We cannot compel a person to follow Jesus - they have to meet Him and respond to His invitation.

Discipleship is not inherited. It can be taught, "discipled", but it is not an inherent state one inherits at birth. Belonging to a race, or having a father or mother who is a Christian does not make you a nothing. Nothing will make you a Christian except your own free choice to follow Jesus. 

Following Jesus is not about rules, steps or even a system. The world is crazy, and no system, even the best system delivered by God Himself on the Mount of Sinai, will not save us. Only Jesus can save us. Outward obedience cannot save us. Good deeds cannot save us, because good deeds will never be good or perfect enough. We can't think in terms of a formula when it comes to discipleship.

Except that a man be born again, He cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That is something Jesus told Nicodemus, that is recorded in the third chapter of the gospel of John.

We are born unsaved. We born in need of salvation. Rather than being born Christians, it is quite the opposite. We are born apart from God, alienated from Him because we are Flesh and He is Spirit. That is why He came in the flesh, that we might be born in the Spirit, that we might have a new birth and be "born again".

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:5-6 KJV)

He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
(Joh 1:11-14 KJV)



The way of salvation is open to all, to anyone regardless of birth or deeds. It is without discrimination, but, it is for us to choose it or reject it. To choose it, and few will choose this narrow (literally troublesome) course, is to choose eternal life. To reject it is to reject the one chance God gives to escape our certain fate of destruction and doom.

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
(Joh 3:36 KJV)


And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved.
 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already,
because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
(Joh 3:14-21 KJV)



Monday, February 23, 2015

Let Us Not Bury Our Heads in the Sand

As Christians, we must be mature and realistic enough to cope with the real world, to work with people who we disagree with and to be lights in the darkness, the salt of the earth.

Often, we are not realistic or mature. We don't want to have to deal with problems within our own spheres and we definitely fear encountering opposition from the world. That is cowardice.

Social and moral problems are pervasive today. Christian morality and beliefs are not the dominant beliefs any more. So what? Does the Bible tell us how to live in a sinful world? Does it tell us to hide, or does it tell us to go right out there and save souls.

We are here not to only work with and interact with those we like or whom we agree with. We are on this earth to be salt and light. If we marginalize, avoid or do not know how to interact with people whose choices and lifestyles differ from us, then we have a lot to learn from Jesus, who was God and came down to live amongst stinking, dirty, and sinful mortals.



Are we as Christians allowed to choose whom to serve and who not to serve? Jesus came to be a servant to all, especially and only to those who did not deserve it.

What should we do when encountering sin? Resist it, overcome it, and grieve for those caught in it. We should be taking opportunity God gives us to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to witness to and have interactions with unbelievers.



If I am a Christian, I have to treat every person like I treat Jesus, and like how Jesus would treat every person.

We don't force our beliefs on people; we point them to Jesus who offers the supernatural solution to our dire, natural state.

We don't go against our consciences,  but we should be virtuous and strong to overcome the world, not quick to run away from anything that doesn't fit into our comfort zone. The world is uncomfortable. It is often disgusting and filthy and definitely unclean. But we if do not go out into the world and reach people, who will?



What would Jesus do when faced with sin? Jesus would be grieved. He would weep, he would pray, he would love anyone and lay down His life for them.

Are we grieved and distressed by the state of the world and the hearts of men, or are we disgusted and righteously outraged.

Grief, I believe, is the answer. We should not praise sin; we should not run away from it either. We should grieve because of it and overcome it with the blood of Jesus.

Grief comes from love, love comes from God. Condemnation does not come from love, but conviction does. We can pour condemnation on the world but it will not convict anyone. People are convicted by their God-given consciences and by sincere love. They are condemned by their own natural states; that is why they need Jesus to heal and deliver them.

God has a better way, but that way is paved with blood and tears. The Christian life is marked by suffering and sacrifice, not by prosperity and ease.We have to honest firstly about what walking on the narrow way and following Jesus means for us, and we have to be real about our faith and living it out in this world.




Saturday, February 14, 2015

It's Not About Right and Wrong, It's About Jesus

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
(John 3:17-18 KJV)

Today, my Facebook page has been invaded. I am being bombarded. My feed is awash with thousands (I'm exaggerating) of articles proclaiming why Fifty Shades of Gray is SO SO Wrong.

Wrong. Abortion is wrong. This is wrong. That is wrong. So and so people are evil and perverted.

It would seem that condemnation pours continually from Christians, at least those who haven't compromised on the Bible.

It's not that I condone such things, but I fail to see the point in heaping condemnation for something that is by nature already condemned. Of course, we must be the voices of morality and truth. Of course someone needs to speak up to give people an alternative to what they are hearing, but...

What do we really want to accomplish by telling society that everything it does is wrong? We pose problems, but are we emphasizing enough on the solutions and answers to those problems?

The problem is human answers will never suffice. If we want to promote the Bible's morality we must promote the Bible's solution, a spiritual solution and not a human answer. 

We Christians have a lot to say on social morality. Many oppose abortion, but many also oppose contraception. If we really want people to stop aborting babies, maybe we should be stopping conceptions in the first place, right? Safe sex and all that... No, no, no. We don't want people to be promiscuous either; we want to enforce our traditional model of marriage, a model that also can be perverted in the form of all kinds of wrong things, like domestic abuse, child neglect, etc. etc. Families fall apart. People get divorced. People experience hardship. Even if you follow the Biblical pattern 100%, regardless of whether you are a Christian or not, things can go wrong for you.

We have such a narrow vision of what is right, and we want to fight against everything that goes against it. But can we really control people? Can we stop people from engaging in things that we don't agree with? Do we really to keep telling what we do is wrong? Can we control society and force everybody to follow the rule of law of the Puritans?

I think we should take a moment to realize that EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD IS WRONG AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN SINCE ADAM'S FALL. This world is f*cked up, to put it crudely in modern terms.

Everything, even good things can be abused. Everything that happens, harms people. Even the very best things like our Christian religion and our moral convictions.

Either we're telling the world that it is wrong to justify and elevate ourselves, OR we are living as lights in the darkness, quietly and meekly walking in God's ways without blowing our trumpets. We make choices that glorify God and avoid things that don't edify other people.

People have consciences, and deep in our hearts God has put a moral compass in us that is very difficult to ignore. We don't always have bombard people with 10 or 20 reasons why whatever it is they practice or enjoy is wrong - if they feel the emptiness and the guilt and the pain, then they will seek the healing and cleansing Jesus can give.

What we can do is stop preaching "This is Wrong" or "That is Wrong" as our main message, because pointing out these things doesn't automatically give people the answer. If abortion is wrong, then shouldn't we encourage safe sex? If promiscuity is wrong, then what in the world do we expect hormone-ravaged teenagers to do? Do we really expect everyone to be abstinent until marriage? What do you expect people to do who struggle with same-sex attractions? What do we expect people to do who feel alienated from their bodies and who are driven to depression and self-harm?  Can we make them conform to our standards? No. We can't provide people with solutions, we can only point them to the one who can change them. It's not wrong deeds that needs to be purged, but the states of our hearts.

We need to start pointing people to Jesus. If they say, "I'm born like this, I can't help it." but they are looking for a solution, we can't possibly find a human way to deal with that. All our best efforts will backfire.

There is only one person who can really help them, and that's Jesus.

Jesus is alive. Jesus is living.

He can speak to people.

He won't turn people away because of who they are and what they've done.

He will accept everyone as sinners.

And then He will be able to give them the power no one else can give, the healing no one else can offer.

Jesus can change lives.

Jesus can tell people, "Go and sin no more."

Jesus can convict people and change their hearts without a single word (like the woman who wept at his feet).

If a people who identifies as such-and-such comes to Jesus, Jesus can do what we can't do for them despite our best efforts. And He will do it. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is transformative. We aren't meant to change society, we're meant to bring people to Jesus to have their lives changed.

The thing is, Jesus doesn't force Himself on people. But those who seek Him (and, mercifully, even those who don't) will find and encounter Him.

A untransformed society cannot be expected to conform to Biblical morality. The world will always be sinful and full of sin until Jesus returns. We will always be the minority in this world. We will always be going against the grain. We will always be the ones left out, misunderstood, marginalized, even persecuted for our faith in Jesus and the way we live. That shouldn't affect us in the slightest or detract us from our ultimate goal of proclaiming Jesus as ultimate answer. 







Saturday, January 3, 2015

Anabaptist Vision

I set out to study the principles of catechism in order to write one out for myself clearly, and then started reading Anabaptist cathechism which led me to this:

http://www.anabaptistwiki.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=The_Anabaptist_Vision_%281944%29

I was touched immediately by the strength of the living faith of the historical Anabaptists... more on that later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Good works = wrong??

A little theological ranting.

Okay, so you know when you start talking about the importance of good works, the first reaction you get from other Christians is that "Good works are filthy rags, our righteousness cannot save us."

Actually there are two kinds of works in the Bible.

One are religious works. Just things we do to save ourselves, things we perform to earn merit. These are self-directed, pious works meant to earn God's favour. It's obvious that Jesus already threw those out of the window, so to speak. We don't need to earn salvation.

But NOWHERE, absolutely nowhere in the Bible does Jesus condemn or tell us NOT to do good works  ie. help others, be kind, be loving, etc. etc. No where.

what DOES the Bible say?

Faith without works is dead (James). Also, pure religion means visiting widows and orphans (a.k.a. people in need).

We are supposed to be lights in the world, which means doing works before others so that God is glorified.

Time and time again, in Romans 2:6 and Matthew 16:27 amongst other places, God/Jesus is said to judge every man according to their WORKS. (Oy, you might say, isn't it all about faith now?)

There is a difference between working for salvation and doing good works. A huge difference.

BTW, Jesus separates the righteous and the unrighteous in Matthew 7 and Matthew 24. What does he say?
1) In Matthew 7, he accuses those of performing "powerful" works of being unrighteous workers of INIQUITY
2) He accuses those who neglected to do simple things like feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned and give water to the thirsty... According to Jesus, the things that you do for the least of men, you do it to Him.


So if anyone tells you that doing good has nothing to do with faith, the the Bible says your faith is useless, to put it bluntly. "Good works" are not  "works of the law" or "righteous works".

There verses are amongst many, but serve to hammer home to the point. Basically, they reiterate that we are created FOR good works, that we must be ZEALOUS to do them, and careful to maintain them.

Ephesians 2:10
1 Timothy 2:10
1 Timothy 5:25
1 Timothy 6:18
2 Timothy 3:17
Titus 2:7
Titus 3:14
Titus 3:8


There are conditions/qualified to good works
1) Must be according to the commandments of Jesus and the will of the Father
2) Must be done secretly and humbly without the intention of seeking praise from other people or earthly rewards.
3) Genuine and sincere
4) Not things that we force others to do but fail to do ourselves

Time and time again in the NT, we see God noticing people who are kind, loving and charitable. These are virtues that come from God and are demonstrated by God. People like Dorcas and Cornelius were noticed and praised for their charitable works.

No. Good works are imperative upon us. They are required of us. We are follow God's model, the ultimate finished work of Jesus on the cross. Why? Because in that he poured everything of himself. It was the ultimate act of love. It was the ultimate sacrifice. It was the ultimate unselfish, charitable act.

Jesus is our role model, the cross our example. Go forth, He says, and be LIGHTS.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Christian, Christian

(Disclaimer: I don't have all the answers, but I believe that God does, if only we would actually listen to him and be willing to accept the answer even if it is what we do not want to hear.)

Christians either try to blend seamlessly into society, willing to put aside principles of the Bible and sacrifice them in order to be relevant (assimilation) OR try to create a segregated counter-culture based on some past romantic ideal of “Christian government” (isolation, utopian ideals) or “Christian society” (Dominion-ism, fundamentalism, etc.) Both assimilation and isolation are evasions of the question, “How can I be a Christian in the world I live in today?”. Some try to live in the world as the world, and simply be a part of it, worldly in all ideals and unwilling to be different. They simply accept society and culture. Others, fundamentalists, attempt to seclude themselves from “secular society”. They attempt to create a perfect society, a perfect society with a perfect system, perfect government, and perfect way of life. They want to make everything “Christian”. They want Christianity and Western, Christian culture to dominate and subjugate all opposition. People are tired of Christianity. They are tired of being preached to and sanctimoniously told that they are going to hell. They are tired of the rhetoric, they are tired of the hypocrisy and two-facedness. They are willing to accept anything, anything other than the so-called “Christianity” of the Western World. They are willing to accommodate Islam, atheism, anything that allows for a plural and open society. They want two sides. They want fairness and equality. They want the freedom to think and act outside of so many pointless constraints.


The world struggled under the burden of Western Christianity. It cried out to be free from the religion that had been manipulated for the self-serving purposes time and time again, from unscrupulous and self-serving church leaders, to the dictatorial popes of the past, to the monarchs of Europe, even in the extreme figure of Adolf Hitler.


Yes, there are honestly genuine and kind people who call themselves Christians but Christianity itself has become insufferable to modern society. Christianity pisses people off. It is an affront to people today in Western countries to read the Bible and to pray and to be in any way Christian because to them, you are being a self-righteous "assh*le" ready to force them to mold them to your form of religion.


Let's put aside our pride and self-righteousness for just a second, or long enough for me to plead the case that it is, most of the time, not Jesus or the Bible or the true faith of Christianity that people hate so much, it is us. Christians – haters, bigots, bullies. It's not because of Jesus that we are hated, its because of us that Jesus is hated.


Of course, I'm being very general, but I believe we only have ourselves to blame for half the “persecution” we believe happens to us. So often, is not “persecution” in Western society actually simply the loss of power and influence (which hurts our egos and makes us feel insecure) than the real persecution. We are suffering the whips that we laid upon other's backs – they are now lashing us back in the face.


We have a persecution complex, feeling every bit of opposition to our precepts a violation of our religious rights.


We complain about our religious rights being trampled upon while we do and build towering buildings and monuments that Jesus never told us to be, hold religious services that Jesus never prescribed..... we want to parade our religion on the streets and scream it from every rooftop. We want every billboard plastered with Christian threats of eternal punishment. We want the world to belong to us, and not to Jesus. We want people to cower in fear when we instruct them in the way they should go.. We are like spoiled children, grabbing toys for ourselves and crying “foul play” when the other children we bullied unite together and take them away.


We are called to be humble. We are called to be disciples, and naively put, sacrificial do-gooders. We are not to become religious police, or institute religious government. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said, and He is always right. Jesus' kingdom, Jesus' temple, is built in the hearts of men, men and women and children from all around the world. He wasn't looking to restore a Davidic monarchy (yet) or to take over the Roman government and use it for Christian ends.


We are called to be lights in darkness. Stand out, and stand alone. We are called to be the unpopular ones, the poor ones, the humble ones, the meek ones, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit... not the dominating, authoritative ones. Not the ones that push our weight around (Jesus never did). We are not called to take dominion – All power already belongs to Jesus.


Humble, penniless, property-less, stateless, poor in everything, despised for our insignificance and overlooked for our obsequity... and yet rich and powerful in all the ways that count.

First of all, we have to acknowledge our attitude to problem. Then we have a huge public-image problem to deal with, which we can only do by being a witness in little ways. Maybe we have to prove to the world, not by big events and showy dramatics, but in our every-day life, in our attitudes and in our dealing with others,
who Jesus really was and is and always will be.


Glory be to Jesus alone! Power belongs to Him alone!