Holy and Unholy

I travel a lot for work: Poland, Mexico, China, South Africa, Germany, Singapore, India … all over the world. Everywhere I go I’m careful what I eat; pork and shellfish are standard fare most places, and often comprise the bulk of the menu. I seldom order salad without specifying “no bacon,” and when language is an issue it’s extra challenging. There’s a constant striving, an alertness required to eat according to God’s pattern, but as I delight in God’s Law (Ro 7:22) I see an important spiritual lesson in it.

Trevor Rees: Long clawed squat lobster

In calling us to put away all uncleanness, God gave us laws describing unclean animals to train us in the habit of discerning what we take in, both physically and spiritually. (Lev 20:25) He is concerned about our health and knows we live in a polluted, broken world. He wants us to test everything that’s presented to us as food, for both body and soul, and to our best to ensure it passes the litmus test of His Word. (Is 8:20)

What this seems to mean is that we are to be constantly evaluating any and all spiritual teaching that is offered to us, checking the Scripture to see if it is so. (Ac 17:11) When verses are taken out of context or faulty reasoning is applied, we’re to recognize it, call it out and reject it. (Ps 119:104) Failing to do so permits lies into our lives which defile and weaken our souls and spirits, giving the enemy access (2Ti 2:25-26) to steal, kill and destroy. (Jn 10:10)

Additionally, we should be comparing all of our own thoughts and motives with God’s Word (Ps 119:113), identifying as unclean anything within us that’s contrary to His Way. (Ps 19:14) This seems consistent with God’s call to gird up the loins of our mind (1Pe 1:13), to be circumspect, sober and vigilant (1Pe 5:8) in following after holiness(He 12:14)

We’re each accountable to God for what we believe and do (Ro 14:11-12), for every idle word we speak (Mt 12:36); we each bear our own burden before Him. (Ga 6:4) No one else can watch our spiritual diet for us; let’s enjoy and leverage God’s training plan so that we can differentiate between holy and unholy, and between unclean clean. (Le 10:10)

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Desperately Wicked

People are bad, really bad, intensely evil (Job 15:16), desperately wicked; God says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Je 17:9

Total Depravity, a basic Christian doctrine, is simply stated: We choose the most evil choice God allows us to make every time we make a choice. In our natural state we consistently seek rebellion; we do so with relentless, unyielding, desperation; without God’s aid we’re incapable of anything else. (Je 13:23) It’s insanity at best, this mystery of iniquity within us, but it’s very, very real.

Yet we don’t ever actually experience total depravity, either in ourselves or in others; we only get glimpses of it, hints, so it’s easy to dismiss God’s Word as allegorical or obsolete. But our lack of experience proves nothing; God also says He limits or controls our wickedness, holding us back, restraining us. (2Th 2:7) This is God’s irresistible grace, enabling us to be good (He 12:15), moving in us to be less wicked, more righteous. (Php 2:12) It’s a gift, something He does in us. (Ep 3:7) One Day He’ll stop doing this with those who aren’t His; only then will depravity be on full display. (Re 6:4)

Man’s total depravity humbles us, dismissing all formal religion as vanity, all supposed religious power and authority as deceit, all hope of meriting God’s favor as a lie. It’s the key to soteriology, how God’s unconditional election and limited atonement align with His genuine, universal offer of eternal salvation. (He 5:9) It explains how God can be in absolute, total control over all things, yet how Man still has free will. It even moves Hell itself into glorious context, as awesome, unarguably appropriate and just. All these truths appear hopelessly irreconcilable until we understand Total Depravity. There’s comfort, peace and joy in seeing it all from God’s perspective. (2Co 13:11)

Yes, it seems the world’s “going to Hell in a handbasket,” it sure does, but it shouldn’t surprise or alarm us. God has a glorious purpose in all He allows. Let’s pray for and be concerned for others, and for our world, while exulting in God, being anxious for nothing. (Php 4:6-7) He knows what He’s doing.

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Tell the Church

Christ’s prescription when a professing believer offends us is straightforward. [1] Confront him/her privately. (Mt 18:15) If that fails to restore fellowship then [2] involve one or two others to [a] ensure there’s no misunderstanding, and [b] discretely encourage resolution. (Mt 18:16) Failing here, [3] take it to court: tell the church. Her verdict is considered binding and final; those who refuse it are treated as outsiders, unbelievers. (Mt 18:16) This is ultimate spiritual authority.

Personal offenses being the most common and critical challenge to unity, Christ is actually telling us how to handle any type of corruption among professing believers; whether it be a divisive spirit promoting destructive teachings or blatant sin, this pattern is evidently applicable.

So who or what is this church, the final authority deciding all spiritual matters impacting the well-being of the body of Christ? (Col 1:24)

The word church is from the Greek ekklesia, meaning assembly or congregation (1Co 11:18), and the fact that all are subject to its judgement implies unity. In other words, spiritual authority lies only in a unified brotherhood; without this, the church is lifeless and powerless, nothing more than decor in a broken world.

To destroy a brotherhood, and thus the church herself, impose any type of hierarchical leadership; elevate a small group to exercise spiritual authority over others. This undermines the foundation and subverts the purpose of the assembly. It’s the default model in our churches today, and the result is easily observed: spiritual devastation.

Promoting this destruction presumes that Christ uses “ekklesia” symbolically here, that He must be refering to leaders representing the assembly. Yet, being honest with the text, we must still expect the brotherhood to be informed and unified, or such leadership could not intelligently speak on its behalf.

To maintain integrity in light of Christ’s instruction, we must acknowledge the centrality and spiritual authority of a unified brotherhood. This is what Christ is building, nothing less, the strongest force on Earth. (Mt 16:18)

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A Falling Away

Most evangelical Christians seem to believe the end of the age is upon us, that Christ’s second coming is just around the corner. I’ve found this common in bible-believing circles since the late 70’s … I’ve seldom met an earnest believer that felt otherwise. Evidently, Christians have been feeling this way ever since Christ departed, nearly two millennia ago.

Yet Paul begs us not to expect Messiah’s return prematurely. (2Th 2:1-2) Have we been overlooking something basic? Perhaps a little gullible in our exuberance?

LightedCastleGod’s told us there’ll be a vast change in humanity prior to His return, a wickedness like nothing we’ve ever seen … what He describes as “a falling away.” (2Th 2:3) A city He calls Babylon the Great will rise to supreme dominance in world affairs, the cornerstone of global economic and political power, as well as the epicenter of a new global occult religion. These kinds of things don’t generally happen over night; as of now, she’s nowhere in sight.

Yes, the world’s wicked (1Jn 5:19) and bad things happen: economies grow and collapse, global powers rise and fall, deadly new diseases appear, social norms drift and natural disasters disrupt it all … and it’s always been this way. (Mk 13:7-8)

Let’s be sane in the midst of it all, no longer giving occasion to the world to mock God’s people by claiming Christ’s return is near. Let’s walk in wisdom, in hope, delighting in the goodness of God, knowing He’s sovereign and faithfuljoying in Him and edifying one another.

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Root of Bitterness

When things aren’t going our way, and we’re praying for God to come through for us … and He doesn’t, it’s tempting to doubt His goodness, to question His justice, to become resentful and angry. It’s called a root of bitterness. (He 12:15)

Robert Charity: Smoky Mountains
Robert Charity: Smoky Mountains

Giving in to bitterness is accusing God of being unfaithful, unjust, missing a precious opportunity to glorify Him in faith when all seems lost. It’s presuming that we’re being treated unfairly, but how do we know what’s fair? Isn’t this raw presumption and pride? Why is this so tempting for us? What good ever comes of it?

No suffering is easy, but sinning in our pain always makes it worse. Bitterness steals our joy and hope; it can spread quickly into others suffering with us.

We’re saved by hope, so when we’re seeing rock bottom let’s do as David did: “But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” (1Sa 30:6) Let’s humble ourselves, remember what we deserve, and be thankful in everything.

Nothing’s too hard for Jehovah; every promise He’s ever made He’ll keep. He is perfectly just; He only allows evil in order to glorify Himself, and He will right all wrongs. (Is 4:4-5) Let’s count on His faithfulness and rejoice in Him, especially when it looks hopeless … that’s His specialty.

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Your Father Knows

In giving perspective in prayer, Yeshua grounds us in the fact that we aren’t informing God of anything: He already knows what we need. (Mt 6:7-8) So it isn’t the form or quantity of our prayers that matters; the key is in our motivation. (Ja 4:3) Prayer is God inviting us into His work. (Ep 1:11)

Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Brazil
Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Brazil

Given this, it really makes no sense to recite prayers unless our hearts find honest, sincere expression in them. Just think how anyone else would feel if we scripted conversation like that!

Similarly, neither does praying in tongues, apart from our understanding and will, make any sense — using our bodies as passive conduits rather than expressing our hearts. (1Co 14:14-15)

To pray apart from thoughtful passion is to think wrongly of God, that He’s disinterested in our hearts, that He’d rather partition and fragment us than engage intimately with our entire being. (1Jn 5:14-15) It treats Him more like a vending machine than a loving father, like a robot responding to command stimuli, regardless of motive or source. It’s a pagan view of God.

While God delights in engaging us in His work and transforming us through prayer, He’s not limited by our ability to pray, or even our lack of prayer. (Da 4:35b) He’s actually the One moving in us to pray according to His good pleasure (Php 2:13); and when we don’t pray like we should, or don’t know how to, He is praying for us Himself according to His own will. (Ro 8:26-27)

So let’s pray like we breathe … organically, intrinsically, continuously (Ro 12:12) … telling Him everything, moving in and through Him with every pulse of our being. (Ep 4:6) Dial Him first thing in the morning, and never hang up.

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What If God?

Why does God allow so much evil, pain and suffering in the world? We know instinctively that He could stop it … but He doesn’t — so we’re tempted to doubt His goodness. What could be His motive?

Well, what would it be like if God never allowed anything bad to happen? Sure, there’d be no sin or suffering, but what would we know about God or ourselves?

We’d never know He was preventing evil and suffering … would we? We’d never FireyTreeexperience His mercy or patience; we’d know nothing of His sacrificial love or His willingness to suffer with us, or of His justice, wrath and holiness … or of our own selfishness and depravity … and very little of His wisdom and power. It would be pleasant for sure, but rather dull … uninteresting … boring. There’d be no contrast.

By allowing evil God has been revealing both Himself and everything outside Himself; this is actually His motive in Creation: the more evil He allows the more we know about Him and ourselves. (Ro 9:22-23)

Will knowing God intimately be worth it all in the end? Evidently, God thinks so … and He’s already there (Is 57:15) … bringing forth unspeakable beauty from all the brokenness. (Is 61:3, 1Pe 1:7)

The truth is, God hasn’t responded to most of the evil in the world yet, but He will one Day. (Ac 17:31) Just because we haven’t seen full justice doesn’t mean we won’t. And if the little we’ve seen of His response so far is any indication, it will be utterly amazing, glorious beyond description. (Re 20:11)

Meanwhile, God has shown us enough to help us rejoice in Him, to trust Him implicitly and confidently, and to glory in Him alone. (Je 9:23-24) Let’s do so, believing He will never break a promise, be unfaithful, or a disappointment in the end. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1Co 2:9)

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Eternal Salvation

When Jesus Christ died on the cross “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” (He 5:9) He does not offer a temporary salvation, but an eternal one.

By definition, salvation from Hell must be eternal, for if one ever ends up in Hell there can be no real sense in which one has ever been saved from it. In other words, a salvation that can be lost is no salvation at all.

Yet many complain that eternal salvation –  the once saved always saved kind –MountainBalloonRays means we can “get saved” and then live like the devil. But this is not salvation at all; God saves from the dominion of sin as well as from its penalty (Ro 6:14), such that the saved obey Christ as new creatures, with a new nature. This renewing of our hearts is not by the will of Man (Jn 1:12-13); it is the work and gift of God. (Ep 2:8-10)

If salvation can be lost, the question to ask is, “How good do I have to be to keep it?” The question has only one safe answer: “Be perfect.” (Mt 19:20-21) We dare not presume a lower standard, and there is no higher one … yet it implies we can never know we have salvation.

But those who trust in Christ know they have eternal life (1Jn 5:13), and that it is not dependent on their works in any way. (Ro 4:5) They know God is able to keep them from falling and to present them faultless before Him. (Jud 1:24)

Those who don’t have an eternal salvation have not yet grasped the significance of the cross; Christ’s work is an efficacious, limited atonement for all — He did not merely make salvation a possibility for all, He has infallibly saved all who believe (He 7:25); their eternal end is already certain. (Ro 8:30)

Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” (2Pe 1:10) Once Jesus Christ pays your sin debt, you will never be condemned … ever. (Ro 4:6-8) Once we see the power of His cross we cannot doubt its efficacy, and we come to understand the only salvation there is … an eternal one. (He 7:25)

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Edify One Another

Why go to church? I find hiking in the mountains and looking at sunsets more worshipful; I can listen to uplifting music and sermons any time, and I learn so much more about God from just reading my Bible.

As I see it there’s only one reason to go, yet I can’t find a single church set up for it! I think we’ve totally missed God’s purpose for church and it’s hurting us all. I go and make the best of it, but I’m afraid these aren’t the churches Jesus is building (Mt 16:18); I long for His design.

God’s churches are spiritual families of brothers and sisters regularly assembling for one unique purpose: to help each other follow God. (1Th 5:11, He 10:25) It’s an extension of God Himself on Earth. (Ep 5:30) I think the early Christians got this, and it’s why they were powerful.

If we started meeting for the right reason we might find we need to change a few things … lose the fancy buildings, stop hiring musicians and pastors to entertain and sermonize us … and diluting the message so we can get people who aren’t seeking God to help pay for it all.

Maybe we’d start building relationships with people who challenge us to grow, who love us enough to humbly confront our sin … and invite us to humbly challenge theirs. Maybe we’d come to meetings with more of a sense of responsibility, more prepared to give than receive. (1Co 14:26)

Maybe we’d start teaching each other about things that matter … how to overcome sin and walk joyfully with God. Maybe we’d pray for and comfort each other more, and ask for prayer more, and maybe we’d think more soberly about our salvation, eternity and holiness.

Then maybe we’d even find God Himself living in and through our churches like He used to, Christ in us, showing up in our meetings and filling us with faith and power to glorify His name. (1Co 14:24-25)

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None Good But One

When Christ is called, “Good Master,” He responds, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, that is God.”  (Mk 10:17-18) This is helpful: God is good, and only God is good.

So, Man is not good; Man is bad; desperately wicked. Man has free will: God gives Man freedom to choose, and in choosing freely Man always chooses badly. (Ge 6:5)

We should not be surprised that people are evil and that God’s angry — it’s a miracle that any at all are good … indeed some are (Lk 1:5-6), a mystery hid in God constraining evil. (Pr 16:1,9)

God can make us good, and only God can make us good. If He can make anyone good, then He can make you and me good, by replicating His nature in us.

Do we want to be good? This is the beginning of goodness, itself the gift of God, working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (Php 2:13)

I seem to need a constant reminder that my hope is not in politics, or in religion, or in my family, my friends, my job or my country … or in myself … but in a sovereign God Who always does according to His own purpose and will … which is always good. (Ep 1:11)

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