Archive for Salvation

Do Unto Others: Part 5–Faithful

Hold on to loyal love and don’t let go, and be faithful to all that you’ve been taught.  Let your life be shaped by integrity, with truth written upon your heart.  That’s how you will find favor and understanding with both God and men—you will gain the reputation of living life well.  Proverbs 3:3-4 (TPT)

In Part 3, we learned that one way to win the respect of others is to mind our own business and show appreciation.  Here’s another one—being faithful.

 

Probably the most common way we use the word “faithful” today is in the context of a relationship.  When we are “faithful” to a significant other, it is a sign of focus and commitment.

 

The original Hebrew word emeth, rendered “faithful” in the verse above has much more depth.  It means sturdy, stable and trustworthy.  Something you can depend on without thinking twice.  In the King James Version, emeth is most frequently translated as “truth,” so you can see why it’s a favorite word of mine!

 

The word signifies things that are firmly established as being right.  To apply this word to a person would be to describe them as reliable, sincere, and one who clings to the Truth.  And as we proclaim God as the source and embodiment of all Truth, it stands to reason then that a faithful person is reflecting the image of a faithful God.

 

We like it when we can rely on people, don’t we?  It sure takes a lot of stress out of life when you know you can count on someone.

 

Sometimes, though, it seems that we may not put as much energy as we should into being that kind of person.  If faithfulness is a sure way to win respect, then a sure way to lose it is hypocrisy.

 

A hypocrite is, at the heart, a pretender.  A hypocrite shows you one face while being someone else underneath.  If a person makes a habit of being this way, it won’t take long for the word to get out.  A hypocrite is untrustworthy, because you never know what to expect from such a person.  One thing you won’t expect is truth and faithfulness.

 

There is no room for hypocrisy in the Church.  As Paul advised to the Colossians:

 

Don’t lie to each other.  You’ve gotten rid of the person you used to be and the life you used to live, and you’ve become a new person.  This new person is continually renewed in knowledge to be like its Creator.  Colossians 3:9-10 (GW)

 

If you have professed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, none of the bad stuff you did before that counts against you, but there’s a catch.  You can’t go back and do that stuff anymore.  (Of course, if your conversion is genuine, you won’t want to anyway, so it’s all good.)  But God created you in His image, and if you have accepted His invitation, you have become eternally adopted into His family.  Since God is the source of all love and the essence of all Truth, that means you have His faithfulness in your DNA.

 

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from.  God created you to do the work He had planned for you, but He also gives you the strength and endurance to perform this work faithfully.  When you follow through with that, it pleases God to see His plan working itself out in your life.

 

And as an extra added bonus, other people will notice not only the work you’re doing, but also the manner in which you do it.  They will see your sincerity and know that you are someone they can trust.

 

(Some days this is easier than others, however.  Come back for Part 6—Courage.)

 

Do Unto Others: Part 4–Who Do You Think You Are?

 

Who do you think you are?

 

I’m not asking that in the sense that you usually hear it.  Usually this is a rhetorical question reserved for somebody who is getting WAY out of line.

 

But seriously, who DO you think you are?  What kind of adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

 

Unfortunately, the words many people would think of are not flattering.  “Depressed.”  “Worthless.”  “Insignificant.”  “Damaged goods.”  “Failure.”  “Unlovable.”

 

This matters, because how we see ourselves is a major factor in determining how we interact with others.  People who have a low self-image are not likely to engage in a healthy way, if at all, with the world around them.

 

Self-image is a complex thing.  It is the sum total of every attitude we have ever had about ourselves, but also everything we have ever HEARD about ourselves.  Some people are just jerks that like to pick on us and beat down our self-image.  Sometimes, however, we suffer long-term consequences for something we actually did do.

 

If any of this sounds familiar to you, may I offer you some encouragement, courtesy of St. Paul?

 

And his fullness fills you, even though you were once like corpses, dead in your sins and offenses.  It wasn’t that long ago that you lived in the religion, customs, and values of this world, obeying the dark ruler of the earthly realm who fills the atmosphere with his authority, and works diligently in the hearts of those who are disobedient to the truth of God.  The corruption that was in us from birth was expressed through the deeds and desires of our self – life.  We lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated, living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath like everyone else.

But God still loved us with such great love.  He is so rich in compassion and mercy.  Even when we were dead and doomed in our many sins, he united us into the very life of Christ and saved us by his wonderful grace!  He raised us up with Christ the exalted One, and we ascended with him into the glorious perfection and authority of the heavenly realm, for we are now co-seated as one with Christ!

Throughout the coming ages we will be the visible display of the infinite, limitless riches of his grace and kindness, which was showered upon us in Jesus Christ.  For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him.  Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ!  So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.

We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One.  Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it!  Ephesians 2:1-10 (TPT)

 

Our worth does not come from what we have done (or failed to do) or from anyone’s opinion of us.  We have value simply because we were created in the image of the One who is the most worthy of all.  We didn’t have to clean ourselves up or check of a list of criteria or accomplishments to be “good enough” to live this life.  Rather, we have this life to live because we are already counted as good enough by the only One who matters!

 

We were made in the image of the all-sufficient God; therefore, what we have in our hands will always be sufficient for the tasks ahead of us.  Because when we were created, so was all of the work that God had planned out for our entire lives.  We are all wired to be proficient at and passionate about certain things.  And although we do have the free will to choose whether or not we want to walk on this path that has been so scrupulously marked out for us, it always seems to go better for us when we do.

 

Will we get off the path from time to time?  Of course we will.  We’re humans; we do that.  Remember, though, that the value of your life is not determined by how many times you screw up.  There are no “D-” children of God.  Life is pass/fail, and the pass is irrevocable, because the One giving the grade rigged the coursework in our favor.  All you have to do is show up for class.

 

Success!

 

I think the reason so many of us (myself included) see ourselves as failures is because our definition of “success” is all whackety.  We live in a world that is constantly judging our performance, so naturally, we do that to ourselves as well.  It seems we’re always trying to measure up to something.

 

Can we please help each other get over this?

 

I’m going to repeat myself here, because I need to hear it again too.  We don’t EVER need to worry about being good enough, because we were designed to be good enough to do the work that we were designed to do.

 

At the end of our lives, there are no bonus points for climbing the corporate ladder.  No other human will be giving testimony at the Judgment Seat of God that will determine whether or not we make the cut.  God is only going to ask us about two things: What we did with Jesus, and what we did with the gifts He gave us.

 

I need to pause here to note that the questions come in that order for a reason.  Because if you haven’t done anything with Jesus, the rest of this doesn’t matter.  You can’t do the work God predestined you to do if you are not even aware of (or are in denial of) the Truth that God actually did do that.  The thing is, we can’t do any of this on our own.  God doesn’t just provide the calling for our lives, but also the strength to live it out.  If we aren’t in a state of total trust and reliance upon that strength, then we are doomed to failure.

 

But wait a minute, aren’t there lots of successful people in this world who don’t believe in God?  Again I ask, how are you defining success?  If you’re talking about worldly things like money and status, then sure, I guess.  But as the King of the Piedmont Blues, Cootie Stark, once sang, “I never saw no U-Haul behind no hearse.”

 

 

 

Sure, we can make money and get the corner office, the big house, and all that.  But are we ever satisfied with our own efforts?  Solomon was one of the richest kings who ever lived, but this is his observation:

 

If you love money, you will never be satisfied; if you long to be rich, you will never get all you want.  It is useless.  Ecclesiastes 5:10 (GNT)

 

It is true that our identity is inextricably bound to our work.  It’s supposed to be that way, but we tend to look at this truth from the wrong angle.  Our work doesn’t determine who we are.  Who we are—who we REALLY are—determines our work.

 

So maybe when we meet people for the first time, instead of asking the typical guy question, “So what do you do?” maybe we should be asking, “Who do you think you are?”  Well, maybe not, but you get the idea, right?

 

So, Truthseeker, who DO you think you are?  Or better still, who do you KNOW you are?  Because that will determine what you do.

 

Do Unto Others: Part 1–Justice

 

The Lord always does right and wants justice done.  Everyone who does right will see his face.  (Psalm 11:7 CEV)

 

 

 

Way back in 2012, we defined justice as “getting what you deserve.”

 

However, from the quote above, we can see that the Bible has more than one definition of justice, depending on the translation.  It wouldn’t make sense to interpret that God wants to see everyone get what they deserve, when His Word clearly states that, “He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9b GW).”

 

Instead, what the verse is saying is that the Lord does right, so that everyone who does what He does, having been created in His own image, will get to be with Him.  With this context, we can see that “justice” is referring to righteous deeds.

 

Now we also have established that salvation is by grace alone, and that through faith.  Our righteous deeds do not save us; rather, they are the evidence of our salvation.  Our making the decision to follow God and join Him in His work is what leads us to a state of righteousness.

 

Taking that into consideration, we can see that there is no separation between “being saved” and acting justly.  Doing justice (acting righteously) is the evidence of our salvation, because we are reflecting the image of the One who created us, the One who always does what is just.

 

Justice and Righteousness

 

 

Abraham is a perfect example of how this plays out.  Back when Abraham was still “Abram,” God made him a promise regarding his abundance of descendants, which Abram believed, even though he had no logical reason to do so.  Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

 

This example is frequently cited when people explain salvation by faith, but there is more going on here.  Abram’s act of faith entered him into a covenant with God.  God bound Himself with a promise because Abram fulfilled his part of the covenant, which was to believe and conform to God’s plan.  Therefore, the “righteousness” with which he was “credited” is something like a legal standing.  Abram isn’t just a good guy; he has a distinct position because of his act of faith.

 

In other words, he did the right thing, and it had a good result.  His salvation was through God’s grace, but it was also an act of justice.  Abram got what he deserved, because he did what God expected him to do.

 

The prophet Micah, in chapter 6 of the book bearing his name, asks rhetorically what must be done to get God’s attention and earn His forgiveness.  Then he answers his own question, saying:

 

The Lord has shown you what is good.  He has told you what he requires of you.  You must act with justice.  You must love to show mercy.  And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.  Micah 6:8 NIRV

 

The key word in that quote is “act.”  God wants us to do justice, not just think happy thoughts about it.  And how do we do that?

 

The simplest way is to stop thinking of ourselves first.  God wants us to think of Him first, because of who He is.  Next, as written in Philippians 2:4, He wants us to “look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.”

 

Doing this can be temporarily inconvenient, but it will yield great rewards.

 

(For more on the “show mercy” bit, come back for part 2.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 9–The Armor of God

 

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].  Ephesians 6:13 (AMP)

 

 

First and foremost, remember that the devil is a created being.  Though he would much like to tell you that he is equal with God, or even superior to Him, he isn’t.  Nevertheless, being spirit, he is more powerful than we are in our flesh by ourselves.  This is why we need to call on the power of the Lord to defend us.

 

In Ephesians 6: 14-17,  Paul uses the imagery of a Roman soldier by telling us to “put on the full armor of God,” meaning that we need to make use of every resource that God makes available to us to win this struggle.  These are the examples that he lists:

 

  1. The Belt of Truth. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know this is my biggie.  The first four tenets of the Truth Mission Statement lay this out.  Acknowledge Truth, recognize it for what it is, give credit to the Source of Truth, and never stop seeking it.
  2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. True righteousness is a right standing with God that is given by His grace, not earned through our efforts.  Knowledge of this righteousness that is imputed to us helps us to do the right thing and to keep our word, among other things.
  3. Feet fitted with the Gospel of Peace. A good pair of running shoes provides you with stability and speed.  So it is with the Gospel.  It is the foundation upon which you stand to face the enemy, and the Good News you take out into the world to foil his plans.
  4. Shield of Faith. Faith is more than just belief.  Even Satan believes in God; he has seen Him face to face!  It is only when you firmly rely on God and His strength that you are able to deflect the devil’s attacks.
  5. Helmet of Salvation. It’s your head the devil tries to get into.  Cover it with the knowledge that God has already accepted you and has no intention of giving you back.
  6. Sword of the Spirit. This is referring to scripture itself.  Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This is the double-edged sword that Revelation depicts coming from the mouth of Jesus at the Second Coming, when Satan is defeated forever.  Guess what?  You have access to that very same Word.  It is the most powerful offensive weapon you have in fighting against the devil.

 

With all of these items in place, now you’re ready to pray like you mean it.  That is what vanquishes Satan.  A person who prays while knowing the One being prayed to, knowing that He’s listening and most of all, knowing that He will honor that prayer with His protection—such a person is unstoppable in spiritual warfare.

 

So what is it that actually goes on in the spiritual realm when we pray?  Hard to say, as most of us can’t see it.  Some people do have that gift, but I am not one of them.

 

Author Frank Peretti burst onto the Christian Fiction scene in 1986 with his book This Present Darkness, which vividly addressed this very issue.  In the book, angels are constantly engaged in battles with demons over the souls of people.  Prayer is like a caffeine rush to the angels.  When people put on the armor of God and pray, the angels drive back the demons.  But when prayer falters, the demons have the upper hand.

 

Now I don’t know if that’s how it actually goes down (many theologians argue that it isn’t), but it’s a neat picture (and a highly entertaining read as well).

 

The important thing to remember is, like the soldier, we must always be on our guard.  Satan and his minions do not sleep.  Ever.  They’ll keep coming back, no matter how many times you pray them away.  This doesn’t mean your prayers aren’t effective or that God isn’t listening.  This is just what demons do.  It’s their nature.

 

(For some final words of encouragement, come back for the conclusion in Part 10—Be Still and Know.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 6–Internal to Eternal

 

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 NIV)

 

Life can really wear you out sometimes, can’t it?  We work so hard to try to better ourselves and to make the world a better place for our families, but some days, it just looks like we aren’t making a difference at all.  It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

 

What is it that wears us out when the problems of the world overwhelm us?  Everyone’s situation is different, of course.  It seems to me, though, that the things that often trouble us the most usually aren’t even happening to us directly.  The problems that are too much for us to bear weren’t even supposed to be our own personal burdens.  We barely have enough strength to get through the trials that life hands us, but we can’t seem to keep from taking on extra baggage as well.  Why do we do this?

 

Can we just call this what it is?  It’s fear.

 

It’s fear that gives birth to worry.  You worry when you seeing angry mobs rioting on the news, but is there an angry mob outside your house right now?  (Of course, if there actually IS one outside your house, you have an actual problem, and should stop reading this blog and go take care of yourself.)

 

My point is that we worry ourselves into exhaustion and despondency about things that aren’t even happening where we are.  Yes, they are happening in the world, and they are real, but if we’re not in a position to directly solve the problem, it’s not our problem.

 

Now please don’t misunderstand what I mean by “not our problem.”  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about things in the world that are wrong and need fixing.  What I am saying is that 99.99% of the time, it’s not up to us to fix it, either because we lack the resources, the ability, or we are simply too far away to have a direct and immediate impact on the situation.

 

So what can we do?  We can give the situation over to the One who can do something about it.  And while we’re at it, we can give Him our anxieties as well.

 

Yes, the world is a mess.  It’s a mess because it has people in it, and people are a mess.  And yes, you and I are people, so guess what?  We’re a mess too!  But we can be less messy.

 

A good way to start that process is to examine what you expose your mind to.  How do you start your day?  If you’re turning on the TV or rushing to social media, that’s what’s going to set your tone for the rest of the day.  Is that the tone you want?  In the same amount of time, you could meditate on a Bible verse or an inspirational quote of some sort.  You can’t control what happens out in the world, but you can control what goes into your head, which is what feeds your attitude.

 

Once you have developed the habit of being intentional about this, it will become easier for you to shift your perspective from the now to the not yet.  When things are going badly, it is easy for fear to rob us of hope, but remember this.  EVERYTHING we fear, or could possibly fear, has an ending.  We may not be able to see it from where we’re sitting, but all the troublesome things of this world will pass.

 

Instead, what we can learn to do in ALL situations is to focus on the things that won’t pass away.  Truth.  Love.  The Word of God.  Best of all, the eternal life that is given as a free gift to all those who put aside their fears, worries and the troubles of this world and trust in Jesus, who by His death and resurrection, has overcome all of them.

 

Now of course, we can’t see any of this.  We can’t see our fear, the Lord’s Spirit, the actual physical Kingdom of Heaven.  We only see this world, its problems, and our own aging faces in the mirror.

 

But as the risen Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

 

 

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 1–What We’re Up Against

Lord, save our children.

 

When did it become not OK for kids to be kids?  There is hardly a child now that by the age of 14 hasn’t either cut themselves, questioned their sexuality or rejected God.  Anyone that tries to lead them to Truth is labeled intolerant, hateful, an ignorant bigot, or worse.

 

We are even accused of trying to indoctrinate our own children, but only because our parenting gets in the way of the attempts at indoctrination by our accusers.  And they want to call US hypocrites!

 

How fortunate then, that God already has a plan for these people.  He will have the last word, as he told His prophet Isaiah:

 

  I stop the highbrow intellectuals in their tracks,
and I show the fault of their reasoning.
  But I stand behind the words of My servants,
and I accomplish what they predict.
  (Isaiah 44:25b-26a VOICE)

 

We must endure.  As righteous as our anger may be toward our antagonists, we must remember these things:

 

  1. In our anger, we must not sin.(Ephesians 4:26)
  2. Vengeance is the Lord’s not ours.  (Romans 12:19)
  3. We do have a real enemy, but it is not a human enemy (2 Thessalonians 3:15, 1 Peter 5:8)

 

Our job is to spread the Gospel.  We can’t praise the name of Jesus and sully it at the same time.  If we take our eyes off of Jesus and start worrying about what other people are doing, then we lose sight of our mission.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book, Strength to Love:

 

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence, you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence, you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

 

Our job is to bring the light of Jesus to a darkened world that does not know it is in darkness.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter opposition to the Truth.  This has been going on since day one.  Jesus was crucified, the apostles were persecuted and martyred, and on and on through the centuries.  There may soon come a day when preaching the word of God becomes illegal in this country, as it is in many communist and Muslim countries.

 

But here’s the thing.  Even if they put us in prison, God’s word can not be bound.  As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:

 

Remember always, as the centre of everything, Jesus Christ, a man of human ancestry, yet raised by God from the dead according to my Gospel.  For preaching this I am having to endure being chained in prison as if I were some sort of a criminal.  But they cannot chain the Word of God, and I can endure all these things for the sake of those whom God is calling, so that they too may receive the salvation of Jesus Christ, and its complement of glory after the world of time.  (2 Timothy 2: 8-10 PHILLIPS)

 

We are called to persevere under trial and not to give up.  Even if we get tired and weak, God won’t.  So if we trust Him to carry us when we can’t go on, He will be faithful to do it.

 

We must stand firm, not only for our children’s sake, but also for our own.  Will you join me in praying for our youth today to be Truthseekers and not herd followers?

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 1–Adoption

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came near to him, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask.” Mark 10:35 WEB

 

James and John have historically gotten kind of a bad rap for this quote. It sounds like they’re just boldly strolling up to Jesus and saying, “give us whatever we want.” When you consider that what they ask for next is to sit at the places of honor, at Jesus’ left and right hand, when He comes into His kingdom. . .well, that doesn’t do much to help this misunderstanding either.

 

The Greek word rendered “ask” in most English translations is aiteo. This does not signify asking as an equal or with the sense of entitlement. This word shows humility and respect. They are making a request of someone who is clearly above them, yet has given them permission to ask.

 

As bold as this question was, it definitely displays a comfort level that James and John have with Jesus at this point (even if their mother did put them up to it). They know Jesus well enough to know that He would not mind them asking for a favor, yet they ask with the reverence and respect that their master is due.

 

So what kind of a relationship do we need to have with God to ask Him for a favor? The one we already have, if we have put our trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

 

You see, you have not received a spirit that returns you to slavery, so you have nothing to fear. The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy. (Romans 8:15 VOICE)

 

Paul is the only writer in the Bible to use the Greek word hyiothesia for this concept of adoption. By God’s choice, we are given the rightful position of sons and heirs, though we do not come by this position naturally.

 

Because God has drawn us this near to Him, we are indeed in a position to ask Him for whatever we want.

 

(But does that mean that we will GET whatever we want? Come back for Part 2: Ask, Seek and Knock)

 

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DN=: Part 4–Holy

Another troublesome churchy word is “holy.”  Like “righteous,” the word “holy” also has some unnecessary baggage attached to it.  What I mean is that just as some people see the word “righteous” and think “self-righteous,” some people see the word “holy” and think “holier-than-thou.”

 

If you’re not familiar with the term, “holier-than-thou” is used to describe the attitude of a Christian condescending to non-Christians based solely on church affiliation or some other man-made construct (such as denominations) apart from the grace of God.

 

Naturally, this attitude is very off-putting.

 

HOLY DN= HOLIER-THAN-THOU

 

The word “holy” simply means “set apart for God’s purpose.”  It can refer to a day, a place, a nation or an individual.  Mostly, however, it refers to God Himself.  As Isaiah wrote:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55: 8-9 NIV)

God is holy, or set apart, simply because He’s God, and we’re not.  When people put their faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His saving work on the cross to make them righteous, and make Him the Lord of their lives, then they also become holy.  They are still human beings, but now they have been set apart from the rest of the world to do God’s work.

 

It is critical to understand the progression here.  God makes us righteous through JESUS’ work, not ours.  In the same way, God makes us holy only when we realize that we AREN’T made righteous by the good that we do.

 

If a person claims to have faith in Jesus, but still lives as he did before being saved, then how has that person been set apart?

 

He hasn’t.

 

Christians are SUPPOSED to stand out.  We are SUPPOSED to be different from everybody else.  Otherwise, what would be the point of being one?

 

The irony of holiness is that just as we were set free in order to become servants, we were also set apart to become unified—not to the world, but to each other.  As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about Jesus:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4: 11-16 NRSV)

 

When Paul refers to “saints” in this context, he is referring to all believers, not people (such as himself) who are referred to with a St. in front of their name.  The “work of ministry” for which said saints are being equipped is the service to which we are called upon having been made free.  Still with me so far?

 

In addition to the teaching, preaching and shepherding gifts Paul mentions above, there are many other spiritual gifts that believers receive when they are made holy.  I’m not going to go into all of them here, but in light of the sudden aggressive turn our culture is taking lately, I feel it necessary to expound upon one of them—discernment.

 

(And I will do that in Part 5–Discrimination)

 

DN=: Part 3–Righteousness

One of the pitfalls of using churchy jargon is the proclivity for misunderstanding of these terms by those outside the church.  (For more on this topic, check out the Saved series.)  One of those commonly misunderstood words is “righteousness.”

 

To be “righteous” is to have “right standing” with God.  This is not a status that can be achieved through human effort.  As Solomon pointed out, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV).”

 

This concept is explained further in Romans 3:

 

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:9-12, 19-26 NIV)

The passage above contains the word “justify” a couple of times.  Justificiation is the act of being made righteous by one who has the authority to do so.

 

In other words, since we can do nothing to make ourselves righteous, God makes us righteous through faith in Jesus.

 

 

When we were slaves to sin, we were lawbreakers and were therefore under the penalty of the law.  That penalty is death.  Jesus paid that penalty for us in order to pay our debt to God.  This is the “redemption” spoken of in the passage above.

 

The danger for Christians, having been made righteous by faith, is to forget that we had nothing to do with being forgiven.  Sure, we made the choice to follow Christ, but we are forgiven because HE says so, not because WE say so.

 

If we become too accustomed to our view from the mountaintop, and forget how we got there (by God throwing us down a rope, not by our climbing), it is all too tempting for us to look down on the people still “down in the valley.”

 

Basically, if you ever find yourself looking down on someone else from a position that you have not earned, you have crossed the line to self-righteousness.

 

RIGHTEOUSNESS DN= SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

For Christians, self-righteousness comes from the mistaken idea that we are somehow better than other human beings are because of our relationship with Jesus.  For a non-Christian, self-righteousness occurs when one must put another down in order to elevate oneself.

 

Since true righteousness comes from faith in Jesus alone, a person without that faith would have no means of being made righteous.  Since no one can earn the favor of God by good deeds, anyone who boasts in those deeds would be self-righteous as well.

 

Simply put, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.

 

(For more clarification of church jargon, come back for Part 4–Holy)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 9–Spirit and Truth

 

God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.  (John 4:24 CEV)

I distinctly remember the occasion when a lady joining the Catholic church met our bishop for the first time.  This particular bishop was one of the most down-to earth bishops I had ever met, yet this lady still said after meeting him, “I have never felt so holy.”  Just because he was a bishop, she regarded him as being above regular humans.

 

But what example does this set?  Even if a bishop, when addressing God, calls himself “your lowly servant” (as this particular bishop was known to do), he still has the fancy robe, wears a mitre (the tall pointy crown-thing) and sits on the big fancy chair, which looks rather like a throne.  He is royalty because he is perceived as royalty, regardless of what comes out of his mouth.

 

By contrast, consider Jesus, the King of Kings, God in human flesh.

 

The Greatest became the least, born in a manger in the home of a carpenter, living as a peasant instead of as a king, and suffering the most horrible and humiliating death imaginable—execution by crucifixion:

 

The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun.  They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga.  They plaited a crown from branches of a thorn bush and set it on his head.  They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter.  Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said.  “Bravo!”  Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick.  When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him.  Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.  (Matthew 27:27-31 The Message)

The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning “Skull Hill.”  They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn’t take it.  And they nailed him to the cross.  They divided up his clothes and threw dice to see who would get them.  (Mark 15:22-24 The Message)

 

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:44-46 NIV)

 

So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. (John 19:32-34 GNT)

 

To save our souls from sin, the Creator of the universe sent his One and Only son to be flogged, beaten, publicly humiliated and finally killed, naked, on a cross.

 

The Catholic church, on the other hand, claims that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”[1] only when we attend their masses, go through their rituals, receive their sacraments and submit to their man-made laws and traditions, else we be excommunicated, as the Jews in Jesus’ day were put out of the synagogue for not conforming to the legalism of the Pharisees.

 

Nevertheless, Paul was clear when he wrote to the early church at Ephesus:

 

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith.  And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;

 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast.  [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] (Ephesians 2:8-9 Amplified)

 

Although the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago, they are still fresh today in the lives of every believer.  Through the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit, God’s Truth leaps off the page to convict us individually of our sin and lead us on the straight and narrow path of our sanctification, that is, our journey of being gradually transformed into the image of Christ.

 

Indeed, many people in the Catholic church are on this journey.  However, if they are, it is likely in spite of the Catholic church’s teachings, not because of them.

 

Again, as I said at the beginning, nothing in this series was meant to offend.  I have simply told my own story and presented a few facts to explain it.  Everyone’s story and perspective are different.

 

But Truth, as well as being eternal, is universal.  This means that the Truth behind what I say will apply to anyone who reads these words regardless of their background.  Be you Catholic, Protestant, atheist or any other ideology, I pray that you have found something here that has led you back toward the Father.

 

Amen.



[1] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html#_ftnref1