Tag Archives: salvation

Can the Old Testament be Trusted?

In the ongoing debate over the morality of the homosexual lifestyle this question is becoming more and more relevant, and yet the focus has been entirely on the issue at hand with most people quietly refusing to ask the hard questions that should be at the center. Can we accept the Gospel apart from the Old Testament? Is the Old Testament reliable, and is it compatible with the message of the Gospels?

Over the past few weeks, I have repeatedly seen info-graphics, pictures of facebook discussions, short “stories”, etc. that take an aggressive posture against the teaching of the Old Testament, particularly when it comes to basic definitions of morality. The argument is that the Old Testament Law is separate from the New Testament teaching of grace and forgiveness. The idea is that when Christ introduced the Gospel of grace all obligation to the Old Testament law was lost. For Christians, according to this line of thinking, the Old Testament is outdated and shouldn’t be relied upon for sound moral teaching.

Those who teach this seem to have forgotten to read the Gospels in all of their haste to separated them from the Old Testament.

Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” Matt 5:17-20

We should note that this passage comes right after the ever popular beatitudes, in the middle of the sermon on the mount, and just before all of the “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” teaching that no one wants to dispute.

Is it possible that Jesus could really have meant to uphold the teaching of the Old Testament law? Look at the teachings on murder (5:21-22), adultery (5:27-30), and divorce (5:31-32) that follow right after this teaching. In most of these cases, true to what He said in 5:20 Jesus’ moral teaching either affirms the strictest Pharisaic interpretation of the law or goes beyond it. From this it is safe to gather, that just as He said, Jesus fully intends for Christians to adhere to the Old Testament’s moral teaching.

All the confusion comes from what we see happening in verse 17 “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”. The key to understanding what is going on in this passage is to have a correct view of the unity of Scripture.

The Bible is divided into to two testaments, or covenants, but it stands as a unified whole. The key is to understanding this unity is to properly recognize the purpose of the Bible itself. The purpose of Scripture is to tell the history of God’s redemptive working for mankind after our fall into sin, and to ultimately tell how God stepped down to redeem us from our sin and show us the way back to Him through grace.

This purpose is clear from the message itself. Genesis 3 tells the story of mankind’s deception and fall into sin. Yet look what God promises from the first moments of man’s sinful condition, in speaking to the deceiver:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Genesis 3:15

Even from the beginning God had promised to send One who would crush the head of the Serpent, but since a testament is a covenant, we should recognize that everything that proceeds the giving of the covenant to Abraham in Genesis 12 is the prequel, the back story that explains why the story is necessary. Look at the covenant itself and God’s plan is perfectly clear:

Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis mine)

From the very institution of the covenant, God is working to see the redemption and blessing of all the peoples of the earth, in fact, those who read the Old Testament well will find that the “Great Commission” is simply a restating of what God has been getting at all along.

When we recognize this unifying theme in Scripture, then we can ask ourselves what the point of all those dreaded books of the Law is. The New Testament writers as well as the early church fathers all agree, the purpose of the Law is to demonstrate to mankind our own sinful condition, the insufficiency of animal sacrifice as well as our own works, and our ultimate need for redemption. This means that the moral requirements of God do not simply go away because we cannot meet them, they are tied directly to God’s divine nature and cannot change. What does change is the means by which mankind ACCESS God.

God gave us the full weight of His moral law, and a sacrifice system for when we failed to live up to it, to demonstrate in fullness that we are unable to live up to His just requirements. As shown above Jesus reiterated and reinforced these just requirements, but then chose to introduce the power of grace. Christ bore the punishment of our moral failure on the cross, once for all time, and freed those who place their faith in Him from the just recompense of their sinful ways. In so doing He put an end to the need for the sacrifice system, by His one perfect sacrifice.

It gets even better though! Rather than excuse us from the demands of God’s just law, the power of Christ allows us to receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirt who makes us able to meet God’s righteous requirements. The moral demands of God cannot go away because to do so would make God not God, but being God He has chosen to not only pardon our past sins but also to empower us to walk a life free from entangling sin. The message of Christ is not that holiness will be redefined so we can reach it, but rather that we will be transformed so that we can attain true holiness.

Where does that leave this discussion? What is it we are actually doing when we try to reject the moral nature of God and His just requirements? There are two ultimate issues with choosing to ignore the Old Testament because we don’t like what it has to say.

First and foremost, those who reject the moral teaching of the Old Testament are closing the door to God’s grace. The Old Testament is necessary to demonstrate to mankind that we are sinners in need of grace, without the knowledge of sin, there is no room for grace. When we try to redefine sin to make ourselves or others more comfortable, ultimately we are blocking God’s ability to forgive us of that sin and to empower us to overcome that sin. God had to give the Old Testament first, before we would have any ability to comprehend what the New Testament meant. Apart from the knowledge of sin, there can be no forgiveness of sin. The reason for this is obvious, I won’t repent of sin that I don’t acknowledge is there. Our goal ought to be to recognize and repent of ALL sin in our lives, and as followers of Christ we are under command to help others recognize and repent of their sin as well.

Second, those who fail to study the Old Testament will fail to see the working out of God’s constant faithful dealings with those who follow Him. The New Testament doesn’t attempt to cover any ground that the Old Testament has already thoroughly addressed, for this reason it dwells on the Gospel itself, the establishment of the Church, and the teaching necessary to establish the Gospel in men’s hearts. Most of the great stories of God’s faithfulness to those who trust Him are in the Old, not the New Testament. Christians would have a much better grasp on how to handle suffering and walk faithfully through difficult times if they would just read the first 2/3 of their Bibles.

Ultimately, Scripture is a unity. It is all written for man’s redemption. If we choose to ignore part of it, we damage the means of our own redemption.

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Of Lambs and Lions

When we were deceived and paradise lost,
When chains of sin encircled our hands and feet,
When generation after generation we could not escape,
The power of sin and death that held us tight,
When in our foolishness we pursued false gods,
Making idols of ourselves and of material things,
Pursuing as gods those things which are not gods,
And binding tighter the shackles of our sin,
A rebel race we were,
Completely estranged from God,

Then You were the Lamb,
Offering freely on the alter,
Your blood to set us free,
Your sacrifice tore the veil of separation,
From top to bottom,
And opened before us the throne of grace,
Our chains were broken,
In the moment of your sacrifice,
Your blood purchased for all our race,
Redemption before the Father.

When in Egypt your people were oppressed by the cruel King,
When Goliath spat out his contempt for you,
When the three Hebrew children were thrown into the fiery furnace,
When Nehemiah rebuilt the wall,
When oppressors surrounded us on every side,
In the moments when there was nowhere else to turn,
In times of fear and darkness,
When evil seems to reign upon the earth,
As the Kings of the earth gathered together against us,
And lay siege to your holy people,

Then you were the Lion,
Your roar shaking the earth,
With your arm outstretched to redeem and save,
You struck the oppressors,
They will never rise back up,
Your arm is might to save,
None can withstand the power of your coming,
In righteousness and justice,
You have removed the cruel oppressors,
And reign in truth and love,

To the unreached child who has never heard your name,
Wrapped in fear and sin,
Worshipping with trembling the evil spirits of the earth,
To the orphan child,
Raised upon the garbage heap,
Ignored by a world that has passed her by,
And that could care less for her needs,
To all those in deep despair,
Hurtling into a future apart from you,
Having never heard your name,

I want to be a lamb,
And sacrifice my life that they may live,
Give up the choice things,
To pursue those on your heart,
To tear down from before their eyes,
The veil that separates them from the Father,
And if necessary bleed and sweat,
To make your sacrifice real to them,
I want to walk in their midst,
In such a way that Jesus walks among them

To the unborn child,
Slain in her mothers womb,
To the child starving to death,
Because cruel war consumes his land,
To the woman tricked into a life of shame,
Bound with oppressive chains and lies,
To the generation for whom liberty ought to be a birthright,
But have instead had it taken away,
And traded for cruel tyranny,
And oppressive destruction

I want to be the Lion,
Let my words be like the roar of justice,
Let roar of righteous truth overwhelm the noise of the crowd,
And cut the through the lies of the destroyer,
I want to take my stand in your strength,
To stop oppression,
And rescue those who are being lead away unto death,
Bringing them safe and sound before your throne,
I want to draw them out from slavery,
And strike the oppressors with the arm of your power

To the countless masses,
Who know not of Jesus Christ,
To the men, women, and children,
Still bound in the darkness by lies,
To those who know not His truth,
Nor the comfort of His voice,
There are over six thousand peoples,
Yet unreached and untouched by this Good News,
The cross is of no effect to them,
Because they have not heard of it

Won’t you come and be a lamb?
Trade in your life of ease and comfort,
And sacrifice your selfish desires,
To bring Christ alive in the midst of them,
Through your own bloody hands and feet,
Will you be the incarnate God among them?
Walking and talking in their streets,
And in so doing tearing down the veil,
Be a lamb revealing Christ’s love to thousands,
Let redemption flow from your hands and feet

To the children starving to the point of death,
Despite an abundance on the earth,
To the earth abused and cruelly treated,
To the point of infertility,
To our nation,
Staggering on the brink of collapse,
To your children ensnared by the cruel lies of our times,
To all of the abused and outcasts of this earth,
In times of deep darkness and oppression,
When all the lights in their universe have gone out,

Will you come and be a lion?
A bright light in a world of deep darkness,
Will you shake to pieces the chains of oppression,
With the might of the Spirit that is in you?
Demonstrate the righteous wrath of God against injustice,
And trample the oppressors under your feet,
In you will the arm of The Lord be revealed,
Become again a city of light,
Fight against oppression with a Holy vengeance,
And set free the oppressed to know the love of their Father.

We are, each and everyone,
Called to be lambs and lions,
In a world of hurt and pain,
In a world of oppression and evil,
The righteous light must shine forth,
Full of hope for the hurting,
And strength for the captive,
To redeem and rescue a world in need,
Christ calls out to you and me,
Won’t you come and be a lamb?
Won’t you come and be a lion?

The Reward of the Lamb

“May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

– The final words of two of the early Moravian missionaries as they sailed intentionally
into a life of slavery for the sake of the Gospel.

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign[b] on the earth.”

-Revelation 5:9-10

The Father has ordained that Jesus should be glorified and worshiped by members of every tribe, tongue, and nation as a consequence of His purchasing them with His blood upon the cross.

The events of the cross should not be taken out of their place in history, rather the entire Bible is the story of God’s redemptive plan to rescue mankind from our own sinful condition. The cross and the resurrection represent the most crucial event in this ongoing plan of God to redeem people to Himself. Therefore, we should recognize that God’s ongoing plan to reach all nations as originally laid before Abraham in Genesis 12, is an ongoing work.

While Jesus’ death ultimately made the way to God free for all who would call upon the name of Jesus, the veil before God’s presence being torn asunder, ultimately we the church have now been entrusted with carrying the task to completion. We have been charged with the task of, through the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation that some would turn to Christ Jesus and give Him all of their worship.

This should be a joyous task for us. So often we make out as though it were a burden, or a great sacrifice to maintain active involvement in the mission of God’s people. Yet we are seeking to give the righteous reward to Him who suffered, died, and rose again to purchase our freedom and place before God. Instead of acting as though this were a great sacrifice, we should recognize that we have been purchased and adopted through a far greater sacrifice and that any action we take is for the love of our savior.

Have you advanced the Kingdom of the Lamb today?

God of Wrath, God of Grace

The Gospel is good news, it’s good news for all of humanity; but in order to be good news it has to be understood properly. There has been an on going trend, over the last several decades, to reject anything condemning in the Gospels. As a culture, we have chosen to ignore all references to the need for holiness, and to God’s righteous wrath being poured out upon those who reject the Gospel.

When we look at what the Gospel is all about, we ought to turn to the Gospels and see what Jesus Himself had to say. Many people today, uncomfortable with the moral demands of scripture try to argue that Jesus taught only grace and no punishment, but Jesus in fact was very clear that without salvation, mankind would most certainly face the wrath of a righteous God.

Look at this passage, where Jesus addresses the certain punishment of those who are unable to satisfy the requirements of a just and righteous God, all passages are taken from the NKJV:

Mark 9:42-50

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where

‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

And this one, where Jesus maintains that we must maintain proper fear of God, who maintains the power to cast us into Hell:

Luke 12:5

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

As for the righteous requirements of the law, look what Jesus has to say in this next passage, in that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we are more righteous than one of the most legalistically righteous sects of all time:

Matthew 5:20

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven

Now look at the passages immediately preceding and following the above passage, in which Jesus lays the kind of morality that God demands

Matthew 5:1-19

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Notice that last passage, Jesus affirms that the teaching He is revealing does not in any way remove or nullify the moral law of the Old Testament, rather it reveals more clearly what the law demands. Now for the passage following 5:20

Matthew 5:21-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Notice that Jesus’ moral teaching demands not only right behavior, but right thoughts and heart conditions behind that behavior. If we show self control and don’t commit a sin, such as adultery or fornication or murder; but in our heart we really really want to, and entertain thoughts and images to that effect, then we are just as guilty before God as if we had carried those thoughts into action. This poses great difficulty, because none of us is capable of keeping a law this perfect. In fact, if we are judged for our very thoughts, then everyone of us sins on a frequent basis.

This leads to an important question, if none of us can possibly meet God’s moral demands: What then is the Gospel or Good News?

This is where Jesus’ teaching varies radically from every other religion on earth, take a look:

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Matthew 18:23-27

Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt

A talent of gold, according to at least on source I looked at would be worth over $840,000 at todays gold prices. 10,000 of them of course goes way beyond anyone’s ability to ever even consider repaying.

And this is where the Gospel of Jesus differs from every other world religion. Whereas all other religions in the world lay out moral laws and demand that men be “good enough” to get into heaven, the Gospel clearly states that none of us can possibly live up to God’s moral demands; and so, rather than allowing us to perish, Jesus came in the flesh to dwell among us and took our sins upon Himself. Now if we will accept Him we can put on His righteousness and experience a total heart transformation that will take away all of sins and make us into those who can say honestly they meet God’s moral demands. This an only be done through the work of Jesus on our behalf and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. All we have to “do” is surrender our lives to the work Christ did on our behalf. In choosing to falsely believe that God does not practice wrath at all, we make the work of Christ of no value, and blaspheme the very one on whom we must believe for salvation. If God is only grace, then first of all Christ Jesus Himself was a liar and fool and secondly His death and resurrection were completely unnecessary. As it stands it is the paradox of God’s righteous wrath and saving grace that makes the Gospel the Good News.

Daily Scripture Meditation

2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”

When our Lord Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness and removal of your sins, they were as of yet all in the future. You hadn’t been born yet, you hadn’t committed a single sin and yet He knew, and made a path to salvation for you. When the Holy Spirit called you and you responded, you received through the cross for all of your sin, past and future. Nothing you had or would do remained a secret from God.

For this reason, you can walk out from under habitual and addictive sin. There is no need to feel the ongoing condemnation of sin your life. As Romans 8:33 says “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Only God is lawfully able to prosecute our transgressions against Him, and when you accepted grace through the cross He chose to pardon you of His own sovereign will.

For this reason, the old you – the flesh, actually died at the moment of salvation. Instead you became a new creation in Christ Jesus, and that new creation is completely freed from the sin that used to entangle you. It may feel like you can’t shake something, but the scripture says you can. In fact it says you already have.

All you have to do is recognize that the only way you can be entangled in sin is by giving in to a lie. Sin only has an ongoing grip on you if you believe it does. Repent, not only for your sin but for believing its lie, turn back to God, and then forget. God has already forgiven you, repent and move on!

The Blood of Christ and the Blood of Abel

A Reflection on Hebrews 12:24

The blood runs down my hands,
And it trickles to the ground,
My heart sinks deep into a chasm of despair,
At the though of what I’ve done,
And then done again
It’s been a losing battle for me,
I would restrain myself,
But I am unable,
I lack the strength to resist alone,
And so again I act in my weakness,
And blood is shed in sin,
I begin to weep,
But the real nightmare has only just begun,
Because as though my own guilt did not condemn me enough,
The blood cries out from the ground,
It calls day and night for vengeance,
To the God of heaven who I know is Just and will surely answer
The sound of judgment rings in my ears again and again,
And I know that the wrath is coming,
I am fully condemned,
I cannot deny the blood shed
Here am I damned and doomed in my sin.

But thanks be to God there is other blood,
Sprinkled upon me,
My Great High Priest,
The one called Savior,
The one who is ever with me,
Who loves me beyond all measure,
Christ Jesus!
His Blood now runs over me.
It washes me with it cleansing power,
And it speaks a better word,
Than the judgmental word spoken by the blood of Abel
It cries out day and night before the throne of God most high,
It demands forgiveness and mercy
It satisfies the wrath of God,
And sprinkled with it I now boldly come,
Before the throne of grace,
And God speaks to me face to face.
All that I have ever been is gone,
All that I have ever done is forgiven,
All I am is swept up in the matchless glory of Christ,
Because the blood of Christ speaks a better word.