Saturday, June 19, 2010

God's Government Part 2: God's Laws

Random Bible Chapter for the Day – courtesy of
I started writing this, and it turned into a longer study than I anticipated, so I’ll post it in three parts.
Part 2 God’s Laws
Yesterday I talked about why God’s judgments are a means to salvation; today’s topic is “Why are His laws a means to salvation?”
This particular subject can lead to some hot debates about grace and works, but I think it’s pretty simple. Let’s take a look at the argument:
God’s laws are perfect; man is not, so we sin (or break the law), which is where condemnation and punishment come in. In God’s grace, He sent Christ to die and take the punishment we might otherwise have received. However, does this grace mean we have get to ignore the law and call it obsolete?
This argument is as old as the New Testament itself. Paul and James clearly butted heads about this issue, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the whole spat Paul has with Peter is about in Galatians 2:11-19.
Paul says,
So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith" The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:9-14)
And James says,
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless. Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:17-24)
Clearly the two were at odds and arguing somewhat bitterly via their letters about whether it’s faith or the works that brings salvation. You just have to do a quick Internet search on grace and salvation to see that this argument still rages on 2,000 years later.
My take on the issue starts with a few questions:
Number one: Why did God save us? Was it just to go to heaven instead of hell? Paul answers this question:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Number two: How can we do these good works “aka follow the law” having now been saved by grace? God answers this question:
"The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, " declares the Lord. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Number three: Why should we even worry about obeying God’s commandments if we are saved by grace? Jesus answers this question:
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:21-26)
So, my take on the whole argument is that if you aren’t following God’s commands, you don’t love God, and if you don’t love God, you don’t know His salvation, and if you don’t know His salvation, you can’t follow His commands, and if you aren’t following His commands, etc. It’s grace that breaks this cycle of sin and condemnation, and starts a new one. When we know salvation through grace, we come to know the love of God, and when we know the love of God, we are enabled to return that love by following His commands, and when we follow His commands, we know salvation, etc.

Friday, June 18, 2010

God's Government

Random Bible Chapter for the Day – courtesy of

I started writing this, and it turned into a longer study than I anticipated, so I’ll post it in three parts.

Part1: God’s Judgments

The chapter starts out prophesying the fall of the Assyrians (the destroyer destroyed, the betrayer betrayed), and exalting the power of the Lord to do it at His leisure. It goes on to talk about the restoration of Jerusalem and eventually the reign of our King. Praise God!

The part of this chapter that caught my attention and got me thinking was verse 22: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.”
In the U.S. we have the executive, legislative, and judicial branches complete with checks and balances in order that no one branch would become so powerful as to overshadow the other branches. Historically, one branch or the other certainly overstepped their respective areas and took a little more power than allotted, usually to the detriment of the populace, but such is the nature of our fallen human government.

However, Isaiah assures us that God’s system of government is a means to salvation. So, let’s look at that a little more closely.

Why are his judgments a means to salvation? Reverlations 19:1-2 answers that question: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.” Truth and justice are the two ways that God’s judgments lead to salvation:

The truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

God's Discipline

In Job 33, young Elihu is weighing in on the conversation between Job and his three friends. While Job has been defending his own righteousness from his three accusing friends, and his friends have been trying to find fault in him, Elihu defends God against the accusations on both sides, and when God speaks to Job, He speaks in a continuation of Elihu’s words.

In chapter 33 specifically, Elihu talks about God’s discipline, which in his description is sometimes kind and gentle like a warning in a dream or a vision, but most of the examples that Elihu lists are not so pleasant: sickness, pain, terror, etc. And God uses all of these to turn us away from destruction.

And then in verse 26, Elihu says that if a man turns from the path of destruction, “He prays to God and finds favor with him; he sees God's face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. Then he comes to men and says, 'I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved.’”

While reading this chapter, I was reminded of Hebrews 12:4-11:

4. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6. because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8. If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live. 10. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Most of the times when these verses are quoted, verse 4 is left out, but when was the last time our struggle against sin resulted in us having our blood shed? I can honestly say I’ve never struggled against sin that much in my Christian walk. In fact, I can’t say that I would right now if the option was presented.

I’m not talking about forsaking Christ under duress; I’d like to think I could be brave and die a martyr’s death in that situation; rather I mean giving up little sins under duress. For example if someone said “watch this movie with violence and sex in it or I’ll kill you,” I’d watch the movie. No question. If someone hijacked my car and said “drive 5 miles over the speed limit or I’ll cut your fingers off,” you could bet I would. Why would I? Well, I do those things anyway, and I don’t struggle against them without the threat of violence. And I don’t think anyone reading this can point an accusing finger when it comes to the little sins either.

But if sin is sin, how is denying Christ in these little sins any different than pointedly denying Christ in a moment of duress? And if we are engaging in these little sins so readily without even the threat of bloodshed, how can we hope to avoid the discipline of God in our lives or call it anything less?

I pray that we, and by “we”, I mostly mean “I”, can accept God’s discipline and turn from our ways quickly not for God’s sake but for our sakes and for the sakes of those we come into contact with since as Elihu so succinctly puts it: “If you sin, how does that affect him? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself, and your righteousness only the sons of men.” (Job 35:6-8).

Lord, in your justice, remember mercy.


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