The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Watch Israel!

“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen,” - Isaiah 43:10a
 
Why should we watch Israel? The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13l Luke 21), Jesus’ primary teaching on the End Times, is a description of The Tribulation, a seven year period of God’s judgment on this Christ-rejecting world. God’s word on the Tribulation period indicates there will be a refocus on Israel, not the church. That is because the church won’t be around. (More on this later). This period is also known as the  Seventieth Week of Daniel’s prophecy about “your people” Israel (Daniel 9:24-27).

In the Old Testament God gave Daniel a word about the final 490 years of prophetic events which pertain to Israel. The first 483 years of prophesy were fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, Israel’s promised Messiah. The final seven years of prophesy yet to take place will also primarily pertain to “your people” Israel. Not recognizing this leads to a great deal of confusion prophetically about what pertains to Israel and what pertains to the church. In His Discourse Jesus mentions the Abomination of Desolation that will take place in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. He speaks of fleeing on the Sabbath. He speaks of a budding of the fig tree. All of which find there prophetic meaning in relation to Israel. Israel is an integral part of God’s last days prophetic plan.  If we want to know what’s going on and where we are on God’s prophetic calendar, we need to watch Israel. This has always been the case for a number of reasons. 

First, Israel is God’s tool to make Himself known to the world. In the book of Isaiah it states, “"You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen,” (Isaiah 43:10a; See also Isaiah 43:12; 44:8). God has chosen to use the nation of Israel to prove His existence and reveal Himself to the world. One way He has done this is through the preservation of Israel and especially the reestablishment of Israel as a nation in 1948. The reestablishment of Israel is a strong indication we are living in the End Times.

Second, Israel is God’s tool to glorify Himself to the world. God refers to Israel as, “Israel My glory” (Isaiah 46:13). He says of Israel, “. . . ‘You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified’” (Isaiah 49:3). In describing the events of the great End Times battle of Ezekiel 38-39 God states, “Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.” ’ (Ezekiel 38:23).

Third, Israel is God’s tool to reveal Himself via prophecy. One of the proofs of God’s existence is prophecy. In Isaiah it states, “ Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’” (Isaiah 46:9-10). God proves He is real and true by speaking prophetically through prophets. God has used the nation of Israel in particular to reveal Himself prophetically. 

God promised a Land to Israel through their patriarch Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 13:15; 15:7; 26:3-5; 28:13; Leviticus 25:46; Joshua 14:9). God brought Israel as a “chosen people” into this Promised Land (Exodus 6:7-8; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2). He warned Israel if they practiced idolatry and immorality He would evict them from the Land (Deuteronomy 9:4; 28:63; 1 Kings 9:7; 2 Chronicles 7:19-20). They persisted in sinning against God so He did indeed allow them to be taken captive from the Land. God declared Israel would be scattered throughout the earth and they were as a result of their sinfulness (Deuteronomy 28:64; 1 Kings 9:7; Nehemiah 1:8; Jeremiah 9:13-16; 44:2-17; Amos 9:9; Zechariah 7:14). God warned that when Israel was scattered they would be a curse and byword (Deuteronomy 28:37; 2 Chronicles 7:20; Jeremiah 29:18; 44:8). This has come to pass as Jews have been persistently persecuted throughout history.  God put His signature on these prophetic events by miraculously predicting them through His prophets. And God’s prophetic word has come true and will continue to come true 100%. Fulfilled prophesy is God’s fingerprint on history.

Despite their being targeted by merciless persecution, God promised that His chosen people would not be utterly destroyed and would continue as an identifiable ethnic and national group (Jeremiah 30:11; 31:35-37). History has proven this to be true. God promised to bring Israel back to the Promised Land in the Last Days and He did this on May 14th, 1948 when Israel was reestablished as a nation  (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 30:10; 31:8-12; Ezekiel 36:8-10, 22, 24, 33-38). He promised that in the Last Days, Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel, would become a “cup of trembling” (KJV) and a burden to the people’s of the world (Zechariah 12:2-3, 6-8). Jerusalem and Israel, a nation the size of Rhode Island are at the center of proliferating international controversy and tension proving God’s word of prophecy to be true.

There is a trendy movement of our day to theologically try to cast Israel aside and replace her with “the Church” (e.g. Preterists; Replacement Theology). But God’s inspired words clearly state, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! . . .” (Romans 11:1a). In the Bible God refers to Himself as the “God of Israel” over two hundred times and the “Holy One of Israel” thirty times. God associates Himself with Israel throughout the Bible. An entire book is devoted to God as Israel’s Husband (i.e. Hosea). God says He blesses and curses in relation to how people treat the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12:3). Those are enlightening words and should be sobering words to those who oppose Israel.

In Romans 11 God reveals His plan for Israel. This plan includes, “that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25b). The word, “until” points to a future purpose of God for Israel. God isn’t finished with Israel. But some persist and protest, “Israel rejects Jesus as Messiah! How can she still be included in God’s plans?” The answer is found in the inspired prophecy of Ezekiel. He spoke of a day when Israel would be reborn as a nation. The vision God gave him was one of a gradual coming together of dead bones (Ezekiel 37:3-6). First the sinews, flesh and skin of the nation, then the breath of life! The nation comes together physically first, then spiritually later. Eternal life is coming to Israel!

When Jesus returns at His Second Coming He will touch down in the City of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4-5). The Second Coming of Jesus will occur at the culmination of the final world war associated with Armageddon (Revelation 16:13-16; 19:11-21). This is when He delivers Israel from a siege of overwhelming enemies. And it is at this point that Israel will receive Jesus as her Messiah (Zechariah 12:4-10).

Before this time of Tribulation that climaxes in the Second Coming, Jesus will return in the clouds  to rapture all true believers to be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The Tribulation period is a time of God’s outpoured wrath on a Christ-rejecting world (e.g. Revelation 6:16, 17; 11:18). Christians are saved from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). God’s wrath is not for Christians, but His one last effort to shake up sinners to repentance, make up this world like a maid readying a hotel room for a guest, (in this case Jesus), and to wake up Israel.

The events happening in and around Israel today indicate we are in the End Times. The rapture could take place at any time. It’s time to get right with God! (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:10, 13; 12:1-2). Only God knows when the final parts of His prophetic plan will be put in motion. A lot of God’s unfolding plan centers on Israel. God has His eye on Israel (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8). We should too. Watch Israel and give your heart to the Lord Jesus!

 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The WHOLE Truth

"And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them" - Matthew 13:4

God wants you to know the WHOLE truth. It seems that there is a great deal of watering down, changing, and editing of the gospel and God’s word occurring in the world and unfortunately, in the church today. The popular reason for altering the gospel is the feeling that it is outdated and needs modernizing, or that its too offensive or too narrow minded, or too intolerant. Some alter the gospel with “good" motives; they want to make the gospel palatable and seeker friendly. From the seeker friendly church we see an evolving emerging church whose stated goal is to provide a culturally sensitive ecumenical experience oriented “gospel.” You can put on a show and attract a large crowd in the church, but that doesn't mean what is happening is spiritual, of the Spirit or is the "Church."

Large crowds don't necessarily mean the Spirit is moving or what is happening is from God. Jesus was followed by a select few and then all deserted Him as He went to he cross. Was Jesus a failure? No! Jesus resurrected and then ascended and then poured out the Spirit upon His followers creating the church. Three thousand were added at the birth of the church (Acts 2:41). After that we see mention that the Lord "added to the church "(Acts 2:47; 5:14; 11:24) and even "multiplied greatly" the disciples (e.g. Acts 6:7; 9:31). But there is another multiplication that we don't see so much of in our day, and that is , "But the word of God grew and multiplied" (Acts 12:24). We see people being coaxed into the church today but often at the expense of God's word not by the increased multiplication of the teaching and preaching of God's word. That should tip us off that something is wrong.

Outside of Pentecost we don't see the "mega" or the BIG of today's "Church" happening in the early church or really historically. What wee see today is really historically unprecedented. That doesn't necessarily mean "BIG" is bad. It simply means its unprecedented and unusual based on what we see in God's word about how the Holy Spirit works. And therefore we should question it and prove it based on God's word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

On one occasion Jesus described the kingdom of heaven saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches" (Matthew 13:31-32). Now its possible that Jesus is alluding to the future "growth" of the kingdom. But note something. When interpreting parables its best to be consistent in what certain things represent. Earlier in this chapter of Matthew Jesus gives the Parable of the Sower. In Mark's account of Jesus giving this parable he is inspired to record Jesus commenting, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?" (Mark 4:13). The Parable of the Sower is a kind of starting point to interpret succeeding parables. And based on the Parable of the Sower I'd like to point out that "the birds" that devour the seed on the surface of the ground are representative of agents of Satan who snatch God's word away (Matthew 13:4 and 19).

The point I'd like for us to consider here is that the Parable of the Mustard seed speaks about abnormal growth. And in the abnormally large mustard tree, if we are consistent in our interpretation, "the birds of the air" just might be agents of Satan too in some way; agents who snatch the seed of God's word ("Seed" = God's word - Mark 4:14). Some BIG churches are teaching God's word, some are not. I think it prudent to assess or prove these churches accordingly.

By stating this I don't mean to paint with a broad brush condemning all "mega" or large size churches. I would however, like to note that this interpretation mentioned above (i.e. that the birds of the air are evil agents of Satan) I heard at a Calvary Chapel Pastor's conference and was taught by Pastor Chuck Smith. The Calvary Chapel movement has some of the largest churches in the world. Thankfully our heritage of ministry is one based solidly on the teaching ministry of God's word. There are many BIG churches around the world outside of Calvary Chapel churches. We look at these BIG churches and assume they are a magnificent work of God. But while BIG may mean better by the world's standards, it isn't always the case from God's perspective. In the Middle Ages there were some mighty BIG church cathedrals built. Yes, they were built really BIG by a "Church" that had become corrupt to the core and was in dire need of a Reformation. Thankfully God sent reformers through whom He worked to save His church. But looking at the church o our day I think we may again need some reforming.

Pastor Chuck Smith has gone home to be with the Lord now, but the church he pastored was in excess of 10,000 at the time. And as a pastor of what we would define as a mega church Pastor Chuck had a good and wise perspective on the church. His teaching is worth mentioning for this study. When Pastor Church taught about the "birds" in a BIG tree, I think he was perhaps giving a warning that "bigger" is not always "better" and something less can be best too. What matters most is a church has Jesus as its foundation based on the revelation of God's word (1 Corinthians 3:11; Acts 2:42). Our job is to teach and live by God's word in the power of the Spirit. The size of each church is something God will settle in His sovereign determination.

You see, the problem is that when our focus is on building a BIG church our focus is on the wrong thing. A lot of people have made and are making a lot of money pitching church growth strategies or "How to make a REALLY BIG church." But church growth strategies too frequently come at the expense of relying on God’s word, God’s truth, and in reality, God’s true gospel. They tend to look beyond God's word and prayer and the Holy Spirt to more human methods of "building" a church. And in so doing some of these churches can really become nothing more than Towers of Babel or human efforts to reach the heavens (Genesis 11).

The only One whose word really matters in all of this is Jesus. He gives us the final word on the Church and the Gospel. What does Jesus have to say about all of this? 

Jesus stated, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). Often times people discard God's word and the gospel because they say, "It doesn't work." Why doesn’t this “gospel” work? Those who alter the gospel would say that it is out of date, archaic, and needs to be modernized. They blame the lack of power in the gospel on being an outmoded message. The cross of Christ and the blood of Jesus are seen s being too coarse. But Jesus and His word are unchanging (Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 13:8). The gospel of God’s word is still powerful (Romans 1:16-17). If that is so, why are people missing out on that power, on that life changing power? The reason there is no freedom from sin is because the "gospel" being presented is "really no gospel at all." What is the cause of such a truth heist? The truth is robbed from the gospel because well intentioned messengers filter the gospel for fear of offending listeners. The consequence of such actions is an inoculation against the true gospel.

"The Great Inoculation"

Medically, inoculation is the injection of a controlled amount of microorganism or toxic material into the body. This is done to allow the immune system of the body to build up a resistance to the alien substance infecting the body. There is another area where inoculation takes place. "The Great Inoculation" is an inoculation in the spiritual realm. It is an inoculation against the gospel and all that God calls holy.

This inoculation takes place whenever God’s word is castrated by spurious paraphrase renditions. This inoculation takes place when the gospel is given in dosages judged to be inoffensive or non-threatening. Gospel inoculation takes place when the gospel is watered down. The premise underlying this practice is that the gospel is too offensive or too likely to "turn off" the recipients if spoken directly. The concern and worry of the Gospel inoculators is that "relationships" need to be established before the gospel is shared.

This brings us to some questions. What comes first, establishing a relationship unassociated to Christ with the hope that in the future Christ can be injected into the relationship? Or, first being associated with Christ which draws people into redemptive relationships? It's a question of honesty. Will we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)?

Charlatans, false teachers, politicians and shady lawyers may feel it is acceptable to bend, and mutilate the truth, but God's ministers certainly should not! If you detect an air of urgency in my words it is because we live in times perilously close to the completion of the scriptural prophecies concerning the last days (2 Timothy 3). Given global unrest, economic instability and uncertainty, ecological disruption and natural disasters, even the common person on the street can see something is going on that we need to take notice of. Then we have in relatively recent times works like the DaVinci Code, and the presentation of Gnostic gospels as alternatives to the true gospel. These and their ilk are evidence of the wave of deception that serves as a one-two punch combination that has many people reeling.

Besides the propaganda and negative reporting in the media, we still have the perennial problems of immorality, abortion, crime, self-indulgence, the Middle East "Peace" etc. And on top of all of this, people are losing faith in the church because it is in the church where much of the deception, abuse, and manipulation is taking place.  It looks at least as though we are in the twilight years of planet earth as we know it. The apostle Paul warned of these last days writing, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

And what of the psychologizing of the church? If gospel counsel from God’s word is avoided by those who would be ministers, what is ultimately communicated is that counsel does not have to be based on the Gospel and God’s word. If scripture is avoided in counsel, then scripture is not seen as foundational or even necessary as a means to healing life problems. Instead counsel can be humanistic or based on another resource. Furthermore, the appearance of lukewarmness is communicated as well as a lack of commitment to Christ and His holy Word. The impression left is, "Maybe Jesus and His Word aren't the 'only way'." The so-called minister of Christ loses their identity and their effectiveness as Christ's ambassador. The image of Christ is lost. Their reason for being becomes vague. And there we have it, the germs of gospel inoculation! Inoculated by a "gospel" that is really no gospel at all.

This issue is nothing new. In the first century Paul wrote the Galatians stating, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7). Paul goes on to warn, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 6:8-9). Those are Paul's inspired, clearly stated and clearly condemning words toward those who would alter or teach a different gospel than the one taught in the New Testament.

You see the problem with the premise that we can water down the initial presentation of the gospel in hopes of maybe later divulging the full gospel is that such a transition often never takes place. What happens is because the truth has been so minimized and the churches filled with “seekers” attracted by palatable sweets, the fear of losing the crowds is so great that they settle for living on the watered down milk toast, wishy washy word and non-gospel. Those introduced to the church with an inoculating gospel become immune to the true gospel.

I would ask those who defend this "gospel" inoculation to consider the following observations.

First, the nature of the gospel is that it is offensive. When the apostle Paul referred to the gospel he often described it by way of the Greek word skandalon. Skandalon is translated "stumbling block" and "offense" (1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11). We get our English word "scandal" from this word. The gospel by nature is scandalous! The apostle referred to Jesus as, "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense [skandalon]" (1 Peter 2:8 NKJV). Because of this, we ought to expect some people to take offense at the gospel, no matter how much we speak the truth in love.

Second, to depend on mere human perspective to gauge the extent to which we share the gospel is sinful. Such an attitude comes perilously close to trying to usurp the throne of God. It betrays a lack of trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. It is God who works on the heart of humans and draws them to Himself (John 6:44; 14; 16). When a person attempts to take over the role of God, the mission is doomed to failure (see Saul for example - 1 Samuel 15). Doomed to failure because the human perspective is limited to the surface of people's reactions. God can plumb the depths of our being. We can view the blank stare of a recipient as either thoughtful agreement with our message or daydreaming disinterest. God is the Knower of the heart (kardiognostes - Acts 1:24; 15:8). He has no such confusion or will He make any such mistake.

Third, to carve up the gospel and present it in an inoffensive way results in modeling an air of non-urgency. The gospel becomes a secondary life source of direction. The recipient is tempted to wonder, "The gospel can't be that important if nobody wants to talk about it." Suppose you are waiting for the train that arrives 6:55 a.m. and someone comes to you at 6:50 a.m. and asks, "Do you think I have time to go grab a bite to eat and do some window-shopping before the train comes in?" You answer in a way that you think will bring comfort and peace, "Sure go ahead, enjoy yourself, you've got plenty of time." How do you think that inquisitor is going to respond when he or she returns half an hour later to find both you and the train are long since gone? Or maybe they get back in time to see you and the train pulling away. How do you think they will feel? How do you think you will feel? It's safe to say no one will be happy. And you will have had exactly the opposite effect that you intended.

The apostle Paul wrote, "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2 NKJV). Each day is a gift from God and only He knows each persons allotted amount (Proverbs 27:1). Jesus can return for His Church at any time (Luke 21:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:2). What right has anyone to presume on the time a person has to make a decision to accept Christ? To assume such responsibility is to tread where angels fear to go.

Fourth, the convert of a non-urgent and secondary gospel message would likely be doomed to lukewarmness from the start. The strategy of inoffensiveness plays into the hands of those who seek only an undisturbing amount of Jesus. The result is a generation of those who talk-the-talk but overlook walking-the-walk of Christianity. Jesus warned, ". . . Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:16 NKJV). The first words out of Jesus' mouth in Mark's gospel involved a call to "repent" (Mark 1:15). The Greek word for "repent" is metanoeite which literally means "to have a thorough change of mind." Change is integral to gospel salvation. Without repentance, the good news is out of the gospel.

Fifth, being inoffensive is often justified by those who say, "love does not offend." But "love" is said to "rejoice in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). A heresy is a half-truth. It's hardly an act of love to expect someone to make a decision of eternal consequence based on half-truth. Jesus wants us to speak the truth in love. That means loving people enough to risk offending them. True love peaks the whole truth. There is self-denial, a cross and following involved in coming to Christ (Luke 9:23). Paul wrote, ". . . I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Galatians 6:17 NKJV). Peter wrote, "It is written, 'Be holy for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:16 NKJV). Jesus said our top priority was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37 NKJV). God takes a back seat to no one and no thing!

I once heard a youth worker comment on another youth worker's interaction with some youth during a Bible study. Their comment was, "It was a pretty good study, but too much Scripture is a real turnoff." That’s what is being said in many of the seeker friendly and emergent church groups. That's what is being said in many trendy church settings. Maybe this preoccupation with what is and isn't a "turnoff" is the cause of lukewarmness amongst many of the youth in churches today. Maybe people haven't rejected the gospel or the church because maybe they haven't been exposed to the real thing. Young people and all people need to be given a chance to accept or refuse the gospel in its entirety. People ought to be permitted to make an educated decision.

The Apostle Paul was inspired to write to the Ephesians (who would eventually walk away from their first love Jesus - Revelation 2:4), ". . . We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ" (Ephesians 4:14-15 NKJV). Maybe if the Ephesians would have heeded these words they would not have had to later be rebuked by Jesus.  

It is a disservice to "lead" someone to Christ under the mistaken notion that it is a comfortable thing to do and requires no tangible life changes. It is counterproductive and only results in inoculating the recipients against the gospel. Those who have slipped into the inoculative mode need to turn around and trust in God to draw people to Himself. If you call yourself an ambassador of Christ, then represent truthfully The King you claim to serve!

Maybe you've been reading this and wondering "Where do I stand with the Lord and His gospel? Am I saved?" If you are uncertain about where you stand with God then the way to find assurance of your salvation is in God's word. The word of God is clear about the gospel (literally "good news") of salvation. This is what it says:

1.     All people fall short of what God requires to get into heaven and are sinners (Romans 3:21-25). People are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). Everyone has broken God's Law and even just one offense condemns (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). Jesus is God's standard to get into heaven (John 16:8-11). Jesus said the destiny of the sinner is separation from God (Matthew 25:32), everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 19:20), everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46), and an everlasting sad, lonely, darkness (Matthew 8:12).

2.     God Himself has made provision to reconcile us to Himself in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Only God incarnate could live the required perfectly just life and pay the price for the sins of all people (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11).

3.     God's salvation is a gift to be received on His terms, by faith (Ephesians 2:4-10). Jesus requires us to make a decision about Him. To make no decision is to decide against Him (Matthew 12:30). Indecision is decision. He also requires us to publicly confess our faith in Him (Matthew 10:32-33). God forgives us when we repent (Acts 2:38-39) and trust Him to forgive us on the basis of the work Jesus has done (Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-8). Salvation is free, but it wasn't cheap. It cost Jesus His life. God loves us and knows we can't save ourselves. He has done the work for us. He sent Jesus to die and pay the penalty for sin instead of us (2 Corinthians 5:21). We need only accept it. An acronym for the faith that saves is Forsaking All I Trust Him to forgive me of my sin. Your prayer for forgiveness could be as follows:

Father, I come to You in Jesus' name. I admit I am a sinner and have sinned against You. Right now I am turning from my sin to You in faith. I ask You to please forgive me of my sin. I believe Jesus died on the cross for me; to pay the penalty for my sin. I ask Your Son Jesus to come into my life to be my personal Lord and Savior. I ask You to please fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Help me to be your disciple. In faith I thank You that You have forgiven me. Thank You that I'm now a child of God. Thank You that I'm going to heaven. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

When you pray that prayer from your heart, understand that the Bible states you are born again (John 3:1-21); a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); a child of God (1 John 3:1); you are forgiven (Colossians 2:13).
  1. When you become a Christian you are born again into the Body of Christ which is called the Church (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Spirit has a spiritual gift for you to use to serve God (1 Corinthians 12-14). You have a part to play. God has a plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11-14; Ephesians 4:11-16). You need to be taught God's word and learn about your faith and Who God is (Acts 2:42; Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Timothy 1:12). Find a church where you can be taught the word of God and where you'll find the support of loving fellowship (1 John 2:3-11). Read God's word on a regular basis and pray to your heavenly Father in the name of His Son Jesus. Begin by going back and reading all the scripture references in this study. Let them sink in prayerfully.

Don’t settle for half truths or anything less than the whole truth of God in His word. Don't let any devilish birds steal the whole truth of God's word from you. Only the whole truth of the whole gospel provides a way for you to enter into a powerful life changing personal saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for anything less than the whole truth! (I John 1:1-4).



 


 

 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Is it of God?


“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God;

because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1

 

How do we determine if something is of God or not? This is an important question because we are in a spiritual war in which our adversary the devil is a master liar, deceiver and destroyer. The apostle John was inspired to warn his readers to “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). He wrote this in love.

 

The Last Days will be characterized by “deceiving spirits,” “doctrines of demons,” and lies spoken by psychopathic hypocrites (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Satan’s aim is to murder you spiritually and physically (John 8:44). His main tactic is appearing as something good and luring people into evil. Therefore, if we ignore or take this question lightly we risk being victimized by the enemy or worse, being manipulated into a position where we give the enemies of the Lord reason to blaspheme God (2 Samuel 12:14). Because of this God has given us clear precautions in His word to help us discern what is of Him and what is not of Him.

 

There are many scriptures in the Bible which help us discern whether or not something is of the Lord. Below we list these scriptures with questions we ought to be asking when we are seeking to discern whether or not something is of the Lord.

 

Is it scriptural? Just because someone uses scriptures does not mean they are of the Lord? Satan used scriptures (out of context) against Jesus in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). Cults use scriptures, as do false teachers. How can we know if scripture is being used in the right way?

 

We need to see if the interpretation is correct based on the context, or the way it was used in the letter or book in which it is found. Usually you can determine this by reading before and after the scripture to see the proper interpretation of the verses. You may have to read the entire letter or book in which the verses are found. You should also ask whether or not the interpretation in question contradicts other parts of the Bible. God’s word does not contradict itself. We need to determine God’s truth based on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

 

Does it bring me closer to God? You should ask if this use of scripture or thing in question is drawing you closer to or pushing you further away from God. The Bible tells us to draw near to God and move away from the devil (James 4:7-8). This is a question that can be tricky because our hearts are deceitful and we can’t know them on our own (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We need to ask God to search our hearts and see the truth in us (Psalm 139:23-24). And the way we do this is to bring our hearts and thoughts prayerfully to the altar of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12).

 

There is an interesting scripture in this regard and it states,   “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

 

Notice it is not the sign or wonder or impressiveness of something that determines whether or not it is of God. It is whether or not something draws us closer to God and moves us to love Him more and more that determines whether or not something is of God. Jesus said eternal life is to know the One true God and Him (John 17:3). That in a nutshell is the prime reason Jesus came to be with us (John 17:4). We should be asking, “Is what I’m doing bringing me closer to the Lord? Is it making me more spiritually sensitive to His voice? Is it helping me to know Him better? Can I see Jesus involved with what I’m doing?”

 

Is it causing me to worship the Lord? God is looking for true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth. Those who are trying to determine if the music they listen to is of God should be asking themselves, “Is this causing me to love God more? Is it causing me to worship the Lord in spirit and truth?”(John 4:23-24). Does the music put me in awe of the Lord and cause me to fall at His feet in worship?

 

Does it bring pleasure to God? Contrary to the popular philosophy of the day, we do not exist for our own pleasure. Humanity was created for the Lord and His pleasure! (Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11 KJV). Christians have been purchased by God and redeemed from their sin by the precious blood of Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Christians should especially be asking questions like, “Is what I’m doing pleasing to God? Is it selfish? Does it risk displeasing God in some way?”

 

Is it really worth it? Is what I’m doing really worth the time? If I’m being tempted to do something that is questionable, is it worth risking my walk with the Lord in any way? Nothing is worth risking a single drop of closeness to the Lord.  Greg Laurie once shared some questions we could ask to help us make good sound spiritual decisions. When you come to something that is questionable or really in any situation you should ask yourself five evaluative questions. First, “Will it build me up spiritually?” We have great freedom in Christ, but we should use our freedom judiciously and wisely to assure what we do is edifying. It’s very easy to get entangled in things that will fuel the flesh rather than support the spirit (1 Corinthians 10:23; Galatians 5:13; Hebrews 12:1-2).

 

Second, we should ask, “Will it bring me under its power?” We have to guard against indulging things that will bring us into slavery. Jesus said he who sins is a slave to sin and that the truth of His word can free us (John 8:31-36). Again, are the things you do lead to sins’ dominion in your life? It should not be so! (1 Corinthians 6:12; Romans 6:14).

 

Third, “Do I have an uneasy feeling about it?” Whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). We have an anointing from the Spirit to help us in discerning truth from falsehood (1 John 2:27). If you have an uneasy feeling about something or someone, it just may be the Spirit warning you.

 

Fourth, “Will it cause someone else to stumble?” We should always hold a person’s spiritual welfare as a top priority. We should be others oriented. We should restrict our own freedoms for the eternal welfare of others. This is what love is all about (Romans 14:15; 15:1).

 

Fifth and lastly, “Will it bring glory to God?” This is the bottom line and most important question to ask. Can you say that what you intend to do brings glory to the Lord? Would you be embarrassed to bring Him with you where you are thinking of going? Would you be embarrassed and ashamed if He were to return and find you doing what you are doing? (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17,23).


Satan is a brilliant enemy who is the master of deception. He disguises himself as something good when he is really the worst of the worst. Those he uses practice the same deception (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Satan does not usually try to sidetrack or victimize people with what is blatantly bad. No. His tactic is to rob people of God’s best by tempting them with what is second best. Unfortunately too many Christians have passed up God’s best because they were impatient and settled for something good, but not God’s best. The choice is not necessarily between good and bad as much as it is between God’s best and an alternative.  That tactic is as old as the Garden of Eden, but it is no less effective today (Genesis 3).  So beware, pray to the Lord and ask Him for help to discern. Go to God’s word and let His peace be your guide (Colossians 3:15-16). But above all, care whether or not something is or is not of God.

 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Watch Israel!
 
“And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’” - Isaiah 49:3

The Olivet Discourse of Jesus is a prophetic message that is directed at Israel in particular and the Church in a secondary fashion. In the discourse Jesus mentions the Abomination of Desolation and the budding of the fig tree, both of which are particularly linked symbolically to Israel. Don’t miss the point Jesus is making here. The important thing he is stating here is that the nation of Israel is an integral part of God’s prophetic plan and therefore a barometer of where we are on the prophetic calendar. Israel is an important sign for us to examine for a number of reasons.

First, the nation of Israel is God’s tool to make Himself known to the world. In the book of Isaiah it states:

  • Isaiah 43:10a – “"You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, . . .” (See also Isaiah 43:12; 44:8)

God has chosen to use the nation of Israel to prove His existence and reveal Himself to the world. One way He has done this is through the preservation of Israel and especially the reestablishment of Israel as a nation in 1948.

Second, the nation of Israel is Gods’ tool to glorify Himself to the world. We see this in the following verses:

  • Isaiah 46:13 – “I bring My righteousness near, it shall not be far off; My salvation shall not linger. And I will place salvation in Zion, For Israel My glory.”
  • Isaiah 49:3 - “And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’”

In describing the events of one End Times battle, the LORD explains how He will use Isreal when through the prophet Ezekiel He states:

  • Ezekiel 38:23 - “Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.” ’

Third, the nation of Israel is God’s tool to reveal Himself via prophecy. One of the proofs of God’s existence is prophecy. In Isaiah it states:

  • Isaiah 46:9-10 – “ Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me,10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’”

God proves he is real and true by speaking prophetically through prophets. God has used the nation of Israel in particular to reveal Himself prophetically. The following are a few examples of God’s prophecy regarding Israel:

  1. God promised a Land to Israel through their patriarch Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 13:15; 15:7; 26:3-5; 28:13; Leviticus 25:46; Joshua 14:9).
  2. God brought Israel as a “chosen people” into this Land (Exodus 6:7-8; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2).
  3. God warned Israel if they practiced idolatry and immorality He would evict them from the Land (Deuteronomy 9:4; 28:63; 1 Kings 9:7; 2 Chronicles 7:19-20). They persisted in sinning in this way against God and His patient grace and He did indeed allow them to be overcome by their enemies and evicted from the Land.
  4. God declared Israel would be scattered throughout the earth and they were as a result of their sinfulness (Deuteronomy 28:64; 1 Kings 9:7; Nehemiah 1:8; Jeremiah 9:13-16; 44:2-17; Amos 9:9; Zechariah 7:14).
  5. God warned that when Israel was scattered that they would come to be a curse and byword because of their sinfulness in forsaking God (Deuteronomy 28:37; 2 Chronicles 7:20; Jeremiah 29:18; 44:8). This has come to pass throughout history as Jews are persistently maligned and the subject of slurs, jokes and hated and persecuted perpetually.
  6. Despite their being targeted by merciless persecution, God promised that His chosen people would not be utterly destroyed and would continue as an identifiable ethnic and national group (Jeremiah 30:11; 31:35-37). History has proven this to be true.
  7. God promised to bring Israel back to the Promised Land in the Last Days and He did this on May 14th, 1948 when Israel was reestablished as a nation  (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 30:10; 31:8-12; Ezekiel 36:8-10, 22, 24, 33-38).
  8. God promised that in the Last Days, Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel, would become a “cup of trembling” (KJV) and a burden to the people’s of the world (Zechariah 12:2-3, 6-8). Jerusalem and Israel a nation the size of Rhode Island, are the center of the International controversy and tension proving God’s word of prophecy to be true. [i]

On January 15th France is hosting a conference to discuss the two state “solution” to the problem of Palestinian statehood. The likelihood is that any arrangement will be based on the pre-1967 war borders and that any decision will be aimed at unilaterally pressuring Israel to comply to this decision by surrounding her and isolating her in the court of world public opinion. All this while Islamic Palestinian sourced terror attacks continue.

Don’t think God will stand by as the world tries to carve up His Land. There are battles in the near future. I would encourage you to examine such portions of scripture as Psalm 83, Isaiah 17, Ezekiel 38 and 39. But more importantly, I would encourage you to watch and pray and look up! For our redemption is drawing nigh!

 




[i] A good book on the role of Israel in prophecy is A Cup of Trembling by Dave Hunt, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1995.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hands off God’s Land!


“The land is Mine” Leviticus 25:23
 
President Barack Obama has repeatedly voiced his support for limiting Israel to the pre-1967 war borders. He has repeatedly declared his opinion that Jerusalem is up for “negotiations.”  He most recently supported the UN Resolution 2234 to criminalize what he and others see as a Jewish “occupation” of the West Bank and Jerusalem. In instructing our UN ambassador to not veto this resolution he has broken with decades of support of our nation to Israel. And on top of all of this there is a scheduled European meeting set for January 15th wherein it may be declared that Palestine is a State and a “two-state solution” is to be enforced. All of this does not bode well for the nation of Israel. But to Israel, those who support Israel and those who have a love for the Jewish people I encourage you not to worry. History has demonstrated how the God of Israel has a way of protecting His people and His Land.  

But those of us outside Israel need to consider something. If God blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who curse Israel (Genesis 12), where does that leave this President? Where does that leave the US of A who elected this president and whom this president represents? Yes he is on the way out, but there is still time to do a lot of damage. Yes we elected Mr. Trump to be the next president and he has unequivocally expressed his support of Israel and a desire to rightfully put the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, the rightful capital of Israel. But as it stands right now, President Obama has steered out country further and further away from supporting our democratic “ally” Israel. We are moving closer to cursing than blessing. And that is not good. Maybe we should run for cover.

There were some things that President Obama has said and done that are supportive of Israel. He has affirmed this nation’s military support of Israel and has followed through on that with arms deals. But any good mentioned by President Obama is overshadowed by the presumptuous declaration about land swapping and Holy City swapping to form a Palestinian state. This is the height of folly. It is based on an ignorance of the true borders of the land. It is based on an atheistic world philosophy and historical perspective.   

The Promised Land according to scripture stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates River (Gen. 15:18; Num. 34:1-15). Go to a map and check out those borders. Rather than decreasing Israel’s borders we should be talking about increasing them.  With all the commotion over the very existence of Israel can you imagine what would happen if a discussion was brought up about giving Israel that body of land that truly belongs to her? Can you imagine the reaction if President Trump follows through on his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? I can hear the war drums already! The thought of the international problems that would arise from giving Israel her Land tempts people to ignore God’s originally promised boundaries of land. When politicians for political expediency talk about forcing Israel to give up land, (even land for peace; indeed, especially land for peace), they are making a huge mistake. Let me tell you why?

First of all, the Land doesn’t belong to Israel. What? Wait a minute, I thought you were pro Israel and this was a pro Israel article. I am supportive of Israel. Hear me out. The Land doesn’t belong to Israel. It doesn’t belong to any other nation either. All land belongs to God! In His Word God says, “The land is Mine” (Lev. 25:23). And God loves His land. God is agrarian at heart. Scripture tells us He cares for the land and, “the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it” (Deut. 11:12). It all belongs to the Lord! “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1).

Israel was given the Land by God but there were limitations on what they could do with the Land. They were never allowed to permanently sell the Land. Israel was to oversee the Land, live in the Land, cultivate and defend the Land, but they were still to have a sojourners attitude (Lev. 25:23). God gave them a Land, and it’s a blessed Land, but His greater purpose was that they and we look forward to an Eternal Land (Heb. 11:13-16).

Second, the Owner is able to give the land to whoever He wants to. God did not give the Land to the Palestinians (who in truth have no historical basis) or any other Middle Eastern group ancient or contemporary. He did not give the Land to the Egyptians, Saudis, Iranians or the descendents of Ishmael (Gen. 17:18-19; Heb. 11:18). He didn’t give the Land to the United States, the Russians, the Chinese, the French, the Germans, or any other Gentile nation or group. God has given the plot of Land from the Nile to the Euphrates to the descendents of Abraham (Gen. 12:7, 15:18). He gave the Land to Isaac and his descendents not to Ishmael and his descendents (Gen. 25:5-6; 26:3). He gave the Land to Jacob and his descendents not to Esau and his descendents (Gen. 25:23; 28:13-15; 35:11-12; Rom. 9:10-13). And when God gave this Land to Abraham and his descendents he gave it to them “forever” (Gen. 13:15). Did you read that? FOREVER. That is God’s prerogative alone.

Third, God gave the land to Israel regardless of their obedience or cooperation. He gave the Land to Abraham and his descendents, to Israel, as an “everlasting possession” (Gen. 14:7-8). God is omniscient. He knows all things all the time. The eventual and repeated sinfulness of Abraham’s descendents did not surprise God. In His foreknowledge God knew very well what the history of Israel would entail (Lev. 26:40-45; Deut. 30:3-5; Jer. 31:10; Amos 9:14-15). He knew this and He still committed the Land to Israel forever. This is because the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendents which gave them the land depended and depends on God’s faithfulness, not Israel’s. Read what it says in Psalm 89 in this regard: “If his sons forsake My law And do not walk in My judgments, 31  If they break My statutes And do not keep My commandments, 32  Then I will punish their transgression with the rod, And their iniquity with stripes. 33 Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, Nor allow My faithfulness to fail. 34 My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. 35 Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: 36  His seed shall endure forever, And his throne as the sun before Me; 37  It shall be established forever like the moon,  Even like the faithful witness in the sky.” Selah (Psalm 89:30-37).

Sin has a consequence and God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12). Israel was removed from the Land for 70 years as a consequence of their sin (Jer. 25). But God also restored the people to the Land He had given them. Again in 70 AD the people were removed from the Land. But again on May 14th, 1948 God restored them miraculously to the Land. And in 1967 He even gave them Jerusalem! In light of such miracles how can anyone dare to blaspheme God by bartering His Land or His holy City?   Atrocious!

The point here is that the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendents giving them a certain Land is based on and is a testament to God’s faithfulness and character. That Israel is back in the Land God gave them should be a rich encouragement to us all because it testifies to the faithfulness and true character of God. It is a testimony to God’s love for the small and the oppressed (Deut. 7:7-9). Because God’s giving of the Land to Israel depends on His faithfulness, it is as certain as the order of the universe (Jer. 31:35-37).

Fourth, God has gone out of His way to make sure that Abraham’s descendents are in the land He ordained for them. In Genesis 46 there is an account of a severe famine. Jacob takes his entire family and brings them to Egypt. As he is contemplating this decision God speaks to him and tells him not to fear assuring him that, “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again . . .” (Gen. 46:4). Later while in Egypt Jacob shares the words he received from God with his son Joseph saying God told him, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendents after you as an everlasting possession” (Gen. 48:4). God multiplied Israel and God brought them back into the Promised Land (Joshua 3).

When Abraham’s descendents came under the oppression of Pharaoh Scripture records God heard their groans. He then delivered them from that oppression and set them on a journey to the Promised Land (Exodus 2:24; 3:8, 15-17; 6:4). The hope of oppressed Israel was God’s promise to bring them into the Land He had set aside for them, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 13:11). Once delivered and on their way Moses even wrote a song for the people to sing which said in part, “You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O Lord, which You have made For Your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. ‘The Lord shall reign forever and ever.’” (Exodus 15:17-18). There’s something special about that Land. It is a place where God has his eye and a place where he makes His presence known. Anyone who has been there can testify to that. And God has given that Land to Israel to oversee (Deut. 1:8). 

Lastly, the only way Israel will ever find peace in all the Land God has ordained for them is through Messiah Jesus. God put Israel in the Land and told them to rid it of the wicked (Deut. 9:3-5). That has never completely or enduringly happened. Israel has always been plagued by various pagan peoples. It isn’t any different today. It’s only going to get worse.

A day is coming when the entire world will come against Israel. We see this happening right before our eyes! That day is soon approaching, (if not already here given President Obama’s actions.) Things will go from bad to worse and become apparently hopeless for Israel. But when all seems lost, Jesus, Yeshua, will break through the clouds in glory and descend to the Mount of Olives and destroy the enemies of God who have gathered against Israel (Zech 14). Jesus, Yeshua, is the only true and eternal hope for Israel. When Jesus returns to the earth, God promises to pour out His Spirit on Israel saying:

·         Zechariah 12:10 - “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

There is a great revival coming to Israel and her people. It’s at this time that all the pieces of the prophetic puzzle will fall into place for Israel. It’s at this time that the most hardened resister to Yeshua Jesus as Messiah will grieve over their hardheartedness, repent, and turn to Jesus as Savior. Paul spoke prophetically of this time proclaiming, “And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Oh what a day that will be! God will have demonstrated and revealed Himself in an incredibly holy unique way. And God will pour out His Spirit on Israel (Ezek. 39:25-29). When the Spirit is poured out He convicts people of their sin and saves their soul (John 16:8-11; John 3; Titus 3:5). It’s at this time that Jesus, God in the flesh, Messiah, YESHUA will dwell in Jerusalem amongst all His people and the Land. The Promised Land will be His dwelling place in an incredible way.

All land belongs to the Lord. He gives it to whomever He pleases. He has given the Promised Land from the Nile to the Euphrates to Israel. It would be best for those who casually barter a land they do not own to let the Owner apportion the Land as He sees fit.  It’s God’s land. He has given it to Israel. Hands off! Hands off Mr. President and anyone else who wants to divvy up the Land!

 

 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Resolutions or Regeneration?


O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25a

 

Every year on New Years Eve people make New Year’s Resolutions promising to change themselves for the better. But New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure. If people want to change they don’t need resolutions, they need regeneration.

 

How Successful are New year’s Resolutions?

 

How successful are New Year’s resolutions? Statistics in a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed the following:

 

·         40 to 45% of American adult make one or more resolutions each year.

·         Among the top new years resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and stopping to smoke. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money management / debt reduction.

·         The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
- past the first week: 75%
- past 2 weeks: 71%
- after one month: 64%
- after 6 months: 46%   [1]

Another study  estimated that 97% of New Year’s resolutions do not work. In this study entitled New Years Resolutions: Why Don’t They Work ? Michael York of the Michael York Learning Center theorized the reason why resolutions don’t work is because people expect to fail and that they don’t know how to properly set goals in order to keep their resolutions. But I would say that the reason people don’t expect to keep their resolutions is because they have learned from experience that they can’t keep their resolutions and no amount of proper goal setting is going to change that.

 

So what’s the answer; how can we change for the better? The answer is that we need regeneration not resolutions.

 

Why Resolutions Can’t Work

 

The reason why a resolution can’t work is because it depends on me, myself and I; it depends on my own “strength.” The Bible refers to this self-centered dependence upon self as the flesh. Paul was inspired to speak of the predicament of the flesh when in Romans he writes:

 

·         Romans 7:18-24 - 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Do you see the futility of relying on your own strength to try to do good things? The New Living Translation (more of a paraphrase) of the Bible renders this portion of scripture in the following way:

 

  • 18 I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. 19 When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. 20 But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. 21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?[2]

 

These words express the futility, frustrations and ultimate failure of attempts at self-reformation and that is exactly what a New Year’s resolution is. The reason such attempts at change are doomed to failure is because they depend on an inadequate power source, the sinful self. Read what the Bible says about our self, the me, myself and I of who we are:

  • Genesis 6:5 - 5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

·         Job 14:4 - Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!      

·         Job 15:14-16 - “What is man, that he could be pure?  And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous?15 If God puts no trust in His saints, And the heavens are not pure in His sight,16  How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!   

·         Psalm 5:9 - For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.     

·         Psalm 51:5 - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

·         Isaiah 64:6 - But we are all like an unclean thing,  And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

·         Jeremiah 17:9 - “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked;     Who can know it?

·         Mark 7:21-23 - 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

·         Ephesians 2:1-3 - And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

These verses are ample evidence that anything that depends on this flesh or us, is doomed to fail to reach its goal.

If that is the case, then how can a person change successfully?

Regeneration the Way to True Transformation

Sometimes we can have what we believe are the best of intentions, but they are the wrong intentions. Our motives are not always what they ought to be. We may want to change, but if our motive is only to please our self, then we are only compounding our problem and off the mark. What we need is an entirely new way of looking at things and an entirely new way of doing things. What we need is REGENERATION.

What is regeneration? Regeneration is a work of the Spirit wherein He gives spiritual eternal life to a repentant sinner. In Paul’s letter to Titus he is inspired to write:

·         Titus 3:3-7 - 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The term “regeneration” (παλιγγενεσία - paliggĕnĕsia, pal-ing-ghen-es-ee´-ah[3]) means new birth, regeneration, or rebirth. This is a compound word made up of the Greek term palin which means “again”  and the Greek term genesis which means “birth.”  Regeneration is the work of God to change us from death to life spiritually. God regenerates the person who receives Jesus as Savior. All of this is a work of God offered graciously as a gift to be received by us.

 

Jesus described regeneration with the following words:

 

  • John 5:24 - 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

Regeneration is passing from death to life spiritually. Just as we are physically born, we must be spiritual born again if we are ever to be changed from our present state of sinful futility. Before we are spiritually born again we don’t even understand our true need (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need to be born again, we need to be spiritual born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5).

How do I get this regeneration?  If you want to change for the better you have to realize the following.

First, realize your real problem is sin. Sin is the destructive cancer like thing within you that is keeping you from successfully changing for the better. The Bible says:

·         Romans 3:10, 23 - 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,    

Sin keeps us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and it is God alone who can work true change in us. Sin keep our focus on sinful self where we will wallow in defeat and despair.

Second, realize only spiritual birth or spiritual life can make a true lasting eternal change in you. It is the gospel that is the power of God to save us from sin (Romans 1:16). Jesus told the religious Pharisee Nicodemas that he “must” be born again. Jesus said:

  • John 3:3-7 - 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

 

Here we see by way of comparison that Jesus taught Nicodemus just as he had been born physically he needed to experience spiritual birth as well.

This is not something we can work in ourselves, which leads us to the next realization.

Third, realize regeneration is a work of God offered by His grace through faith in His only Son Jesus. The Bible says that salvation is a work of God (John 6:29). The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and our need of salvation (John 16:8-11). It is God who draws us out of our sin to Himself (John 6:44). And God draws us to Himself by dealing with our sin through faith in Jesus (John 6:29).

Here is the beauty of how God resolves our sinful predicament. He has sent Jesus to pay for our sinful debt (because we are unable to pay that debt off on our own). And He has done away with our sin as we put our faith in Jesus and His work (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is why at the end of Paul’s passage in Romans 7 he is inspired to proclaim:

·         Romans 7:24-25a - 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

It is a glorious thing to turn over the reigns of your life to God. We need to stop trying in our own strength (i.e. weakness). We need to turn form our way of doing things and surrender or turn to God and His way. This leads us to our final realization.

Fourth, realize you need to repent or turn humbly to God from your sinful self ways and rely fully on God’s gracious provision and strength. We can’t work our way out of the mire of our sin (Psalm 69). It is only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ that this regeneration can occur (Ephesians 2:4-9). If we turn from our self efforts and self interests to God then we can expect times of refreshing from the Lord (Acts 2:38-39).

It has been said:

Our lives are fields that primarily contain weeds. We cannot produce strawberries. We can mow the weeds, but that effort alone will never produce acceptable fruit. If we really want that fruit we will have to go deeper. We must plow up the whole field and start again with new plants.[4] 

We can’t change by resolution. We need the regenerative work of God to change.

But I’ve Done that and I’m Still Failing and Faltering

Sometimes those who have experienced regeneration continue to have difficulties in their lives; why is that? Those who have received God’s gracious gospel provision in Christ need to realize a few things too.

 

First, realize transformation is only begun at regeneration and is a life long process. The Bible refers to Christians as “being sanctified” (Hebrews 2:11; 10:14). Change is a process that God works in us over time as we live a life of surrender to Him (Romans 12:1-2). Regeneration is when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell a person (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20). It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to overcome our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). The work of the Spirit in us is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is God’s purpose for us and should be our goal and target in life.

 

Second, realize the problem is that many who have been regenerated continue to live to please self rather than to please God. There are what are called carnal Christians who live to please themselves rather than to please God. The Christian who lives to please self will only find discord and disruption in their lives much the same as before they were regenerated (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; James 4:1-6). To overcome this problem the Christian must turn their focus on God and seek to please Him by faith (Hebrews 11:6). Paul explains this well when he is inspired to write:

·         Romans 8:1-9 - There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

When we are regenerated through faith in Christ we are called by God to walk no longer after the things of the flesh or to walk in the power of the flesh, but we are called to live in the Spirit (8:1). It is this life in the Spirit that can set us free from our futile fleshly lives (8:2). God does away with the destructive and depressing affects of sin in a person through faith in Christ (8:3-4). This new life of spiritual regeneration is an entirely new way of life and an entirely new way of looking at life (8:5). If we continue to have a fleshly mindset after regeneration we will continue to experience its destructive and depressing ways (8:6). It will hinder our relationship with God (8:7) and prevent us from pleasing God (8:8). In fact that is exactly the issue; in our flesh we seek to please self; in the Spirit we seek to please God. The truth is when we seek to please ourselves no one will be happy. But when we seek to please God everyone benefits. Without the Spirit in your life, you don’t even belong to God (8:9), which leads us to our final realization for the believer.

 

Third, realize victory comes through abiding in Christ. The closer we come to Jesus the more power we will have over sin in our lives. We are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). In other words, get as close to Jesus as possible, as close as your very clothes, and you will have more and more power over the flesh. Drawing close to Jesus is the way of escape from many a problem issue in the life of the Christian (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus put it this way:

·         John 15:4-8 - 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.   7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

We need to “abide” or stick close to Jesus. When we get away from Jesus we shrivel up spiritually like a piece of fruit plucked from a tree. If we stay connected to Jesus, we will grow and become fruitful in Him.

 

How do we do this? How do we abide in Jesus? The key is in the words “My disciples.” A disciple is a learner who studies the words of Jesus (verse 7 i.e. the Bible) and surrenders to the Spirit to apply those words to their lives (John 8:31-32, 34-36). Disciples also “ask” (verse 7) or pray because prayer is a declaration of dependence on God and a means of relating verbally with God in Christ. A disciple lastly does all they do to bring glory to God which is the culmination of spiritual fruitfulness (verse 8). The more we seek to bring glory to God the further away from self we move. The further away from self we move and the closer we come to God, the more power to live victoriously in life we will experience.

 

In his book The Power of the Spirit, William Law, writing in the early 1700s, makes the following statement about the church living in the flesh rather than the Spirit:

A letter learned zeal has but one nature wherever it is, and can only do that for Christians which it did for Jews. As in ancient times it brought forth scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, and crucifiers of Christ; as it afterwards brought forth heresies, schisms, popes, papal decrees, images, and anathemas; so in Protestant churches it will do the same things, only under different names. The empty idolatry of Rome will show itself even without crucifixes and indulgences. Images of wood and clay will only be exchanged for images of doctrines. Grace, works, imputed sin, imputed righteousness, and election will all have their worshipping advocates, dividing the body of Christ in their very zeal to defend their own good opinions about Scripture doctrines. And so great will be the blindness thus generated that every kind of gossip, slander, and hatred will be pursued by  brother against brother, all of it done in the name of Him who prayed that we might be one. . . . Our divine Master compares the religion of the learned Pharisees to ‘whited sepulchers, outwardly beautiful, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones.’ How was it that a religion so serious in its restraints, so beautiful in its outward form and practices, and commanding such reverence from all that beheld it, was yet charged by Truth itself with being ‘inwardly full of hypocrisy and iniquity’? It was only for this one reasons: because it was a religion of self. Wherever self has power and keeps up its own interests, even in teaching or defending sound Scripture doctrines, there is that very same Pharisee still alive whom Christ with so much severity of language constantly condemned. The reason for such heavy condemnation is that self is the root and sum total of all sin. Every sin that can be named is centered in it. Self is nothing else but the creature broken off from God: the power of Satan living and working in us the sad continuance of that first turning from God, which was the whole fall of our first parents. (Emphasis added.) [5]

Unfortunately what William Law wrote 300 years ago was not heeded by much of the church and today we have a church that is more carnal and centered on its sarx, than it is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We cannot afford to allow our flesh to rule us; we need the Spirit to overcome it and empower us to do all that God has wonderfully laid out for us to do. If you are a Christian and have slipped back into the futility of a life lived for self and in the weakness of self, surrender to God anew and He will empower you to victorious Christian living. That would be a great way to start a new year.

 

 



[1] At http://www.proactive-coach.com/resolutions/research.htm - Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers, by John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo, Matthew D. Blagys , University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 4 (2002).
John Norcross is a co-author of Changing For Good.
 
[2]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
[3]Strong, James: The New Strong's Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1996, S. H8674
[4] Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 59. at http://www.higherpraise.com/illustrations/resolution.htm
 
[5] William Law, The Power of the Spirit, Edited by Dave Hunt (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade Pubs.) Reprinted 2003 . Pages 28,30.