The Galatians, who had received the Gospel of salvation by grace, had been infiltrated by Judaizers, men who wanted to impose their own legalistic requirements on them. It’s as if someone came into your church or mine and began to hold his own Bible study telling people they are not really saved unless they’ve been baptized, or unless they become vegetarians, get circumcised, take communion every week, worship on a certain day, or some other list of requirements. It may sound foolish, but if you don’t know the truth and have it firmly fixed in your mind, you will fall for anything!
Legalism is much easier to fall into than we might think, but sometimes it shows up in very subtle ways. Many people who sit in church every week, when asked if they are sure they’ll get to heaven will say “yes,” but when asked why, will say “because I’m a pretty good person.”
What is that? It’s salvation by works. It’s legalism! They may have received the gospel on an intellectual level, but in their hearts believe they must add something to it, and certainly must do something to keep themselves saved.
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13.5 NASB). In today’s New Testament reading the Apostle Paul talks about the test of genuine faith.
In today’s other readings read about:
The schemes of the enemy & how the devil wraps up sin so deceptively.
The result of the failure to exercise self-control.
“For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced” (12.20-21).
After that sharp rebuke, the Apostle wrote:
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13.5 NASB).
As believers, we can and do sin, but genuine believers will experience conviction and, eventually, repent. If we can sin without any conviction, we too, should examine ourselves to see if we are really saved. A redeemed life will produce good fruit. Jesus said, “You will know a tree by its fruit” (Lk. 6.44). And John the Baptist warned the Pharisees, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Lk. 3.8).
No amount of “good fruit,” what is often called good works, can save us. The Prophet Isaiah said, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Is. 64.6). Paul said, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” Romans 3.20 and when writing to the Ephesians he said:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2.8-9).
We are saved by God’s grace when we put our faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. But Paul when on to say in the next verse:
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph. 2.10).
While good works cannot save us, the result of a changed life is good works or fruit.
It will vary in degree and amount and even the speed with which it is produced, but that fruit should include: Continue reading →
While Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles; he was a true apostle, because he was taught personally by the Lord. Here in chapter 12 he talks of being taken up to the “third heaven” either literally or in a vision. The things God spoke to him there were so incredible, that he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to help him keep his feet on the ground and remember that it was all about God and, like all of us, he was just a vessel.
But let’s look again at the first few verses:
It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Verse 4 caught my eye in light of some books and movies that have come out in recent years.
Paul said he heard, “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” If the great Apostle was not permitted to share what he saw of heaven, it certainly should make us question the validity and claims of those who say they did and are telling all about it! Heaven is real, but perhaps we need to be cautious about believing any personal accounts. What are your thoughts on the subject?
15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
He who despises the gain of oppressions,
Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes,
Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed,
And shuts his eyes from seeing evil.
16 He will dwell on high;
His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks;
Bread will be given him,
His water will be sure.
When Jesus spoke truth to the rich young ruler, he turned and walked away. And Jesus didn’t stop him! If we as individuals, or even as a nation, are determined to continue turning our backs on God and refusing to live His way, He will let us! But the results could be disastrous.
Over and over throughout these passages God is warning His people to not rely on themselves or their own wisdom and not to turn to false prophets who merely tell them what they want to hear. He also warned them not to turn to outsiders, other nations, no matter how strong they look. The message is “I am sovereign—I am in control.”
He warns them that all the false prophets, all the strong nations, all the wisdom of man will ultimately be brought to naught. With all the problems in our country today many cling to the idea that some leader, some program, some philosophy, some scientific discovery will solve our problems nationally and individually. We are so much like the people in Isaiah’s time (30.9-13):
Children who will not hear the law of the LORD;
10 Who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
And to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things;
Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.
11 Get out of the way,
Turn aside from the path,
Cause the Holy One of Israel
To cease from before us.”
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel.
“ Because you despise this word,
And trust in oppression and perversity,
And rely on them,
13 Therefore this iniquity shall be to you
Like a breach ready to fall,
A bulge in a high wall,
Whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant.
The list of things we no longer want to hear as a nation is endless:
That rebellion and disrespect is wrong (1 Sam. 15.23). Consequently, we disrespect policeman and other authority figures. Our children, in turn, disrespect us, their teachers, and anyone else who tries to tell them what to do.
That marriage is to be between one man and one woman for a lifetime (Matt. 19.4-6). Consequently, the rate of divorce and of couples living together without marriage happens across all levels of society in huge numbers and without any shame. And now so-called gay marriage has become the law of the land.
That sex is holy and reserved for the marriage bed (Heb. 13.4; Rom. 1.24-32). Consequently, sex outside of marriage in all of its forms is rampant: adultery, fornication, rape, incest, molestation, homosexuality, pornography and more.
That life is precious and God is the giver and taker (Acts 17.24-25; Ps. 139.13-16). Consequently, abortion is now called a woman’s right, euthanasia has been openly debated and practiced, murder is rampant in many of our cities, and mass shootings because of anger, hate, or political ideology happen all too often.
That work is God-ordained and the way God provides for His people on a day to day basis (2 Thess. 3.10; 1 Tim. 5.8). Consequently, we have husbands and fathers who find every excuse possible not to work and provide for their families, people who know how to “work the system” going from agency to agency, organization to organization, even church to church getting every handout they can, and others who live much of their lives dependent on the government. (Bear in mind, that other passages commanded God’s people to care for the genuinely needy and unable to work.)
And if we continue going our way and turning our backs on God, things will get worse, but the answer is the same today as it was thousands of years ago: to return to God, not to become independent, but God dependent: Continue reading →
God has given us a powerful weapon for overcoming evil. When we’re sinned against we want to fight back with anger, bitterness, gossip, withholding love and affection, and dozens of other sinful ways. But those are not the weapons God has commanded and empowered.
Today’s passage says:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”
These are coals of conviction. Love and kindness will often soften the hardest hearts. But no matter how the other person responds, God has commanded us to do good for them. And the promise that follows is, “the Lord will reward you.” Paul quoted this passage in Romans 12 when he said:
17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12.17-21).
We are not to be overcome by evil. In fact, we are commanded to overcome it! So how do we overcome evil?—with good! The love of God is the most powerful force in the world and it wins in the end!
Verse 13, “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.”
God is not impressed with our “praise-the-Lords,” our Christian yard signs, or our involvement in religious activities. Neither is He impressed with our Bible knowledge or our pious-sounding prayers. Continue reading →
In previous posts (see list at bottom) we’ve looked at some of the problems that are often present in blended families. We’ve talked about taking the logs out of our own eyes so we can see clearly. We’ve looked at some of God’s promises and, in the last blog, we talked about changing our goal from liking each other to loving each other with God’s kind of love. But there’s an even bigger goal that needs to become our number one priority. Paul talked about it in 1 Corinthians 5.9:
9 So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him.
Our primary goal individually and as a family should be to please God—not to get along, not to have our needs met, not to feel loved or appreciated, but to please God. We please God by becoming more like His Son (Matt. 3.17; Rom. 8.29), by obeying His Word, and by making His priorities our priorities.
Psalm 128.1-4 (NLT) says:
1 How joyful are those who fear the LORD—
all who follow his ways!
2 You will enjoy the fruit of your labor.
How joyful and prosperous you will be!
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine,
flourishing within your home.
Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees
as they sit around your table.
4 That is the LORD’s blessing
for those who fear him.
The Lord’s blessings are contingent on fearing God and walking in His way. Isaiah 43.7 says we were created for His glory. Whatever we do, including blending a family is to be done in a way that brings Him glory.
It starts with the husband and wife relationship. Genesis 2.18, 24:
18 And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
The man and the woman are to leave their parents and be joined to their spouse in a covenant of companionship. The parent-child relationship is a temporary one. That means we’re not only to leave our parents, but we’re to be preparing our children to leave our home one day.
The husband and wife relationship is to be permanent and given priority. The one flesh relationship is much more than just sexual, it’s a bonding of two lives: physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, and socially.
When the Apostle Paul gave instructions for the Christian family, he first addressed our relationship with God, then the husband-wife relationship, and then the parent-child relationship (Col. 3.16-21; Eph. 5.15-33, 6.1-4). The husband-wife relationship is to be second only to our relationship with God.
The husband and wife are to be a unit, functioning together as a team, making decisions and working to solve problems together.
But, sadly, in many blended families, biological parents side with their children in disputes, are more permissive with them, and grow to have an us versus him or her mentality.
A biological parent may believe the step-parent is harsh or lacks understanding. All of this can be complicated by shared custody, different parenting styles, angry or manipulative children, feelings of guilt over a divorce, or a general lack of understanding about biblical principles.
One step-mother’s experience (the names and some of the details have been changed):
“Monday through Friday things are pretty calm. But come Friday night when Joe picks up his son, Jesse, everything changes. Jesse is younger than my two children, so they’re expected to let him have his way. I’m not allowed to discipline him because his mother wouldn’t like it. He’s a picky eater, so he usually demands something special for meals, often requiring a trip to the store. The whole week-end is structured around what Jesse wants. He stays up late, is over-tired the next day, and whines when things don’t go his way. My children are hurt and angry and I usually end up taking them to the movies or out for pizza just to keep the peace. Joe and I both end the week-end exhausted. I got married so Joe and I could share the load, but I feel like I do everything I always did, plus trying to keep conflict to a minimum. On top of everything else our relationship is suffering. We don’t talk because we just end up arguing and we don’t have the energy to do anything else.”
Verses 3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
Notice three words in this passage: “arguments,” “knowledge,” and “thought.” The strongholds Paul talks about here are not physical and they are not demonic in the sense of “demon possession” or a spirit holding us captive to some behavior (“spirit of alcohol,” or “a spirit of nicotine,” or “a spirit of lust,” etc.).
They have to do with arguments, knowledge, and thoughts—our thinking, ideas, and beliefs. The strongholds we have to battle are false ideas, false religions, false doctrines, and false philosophies—wrong thinking. We fight them on our knees and with “the Word of Truth.” The way to overcome strongholds is by replacing lies with truth.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2.15).
It’s easier to see some of the big lies or strongholds that keep people in bondage—lies like false religions and cults. But there are many more plausible lies, lies that are easier to believe and buy into.
A plausible lie: A woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. The truth: “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed and in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps. 139.16).
Plausible lies: Kids are going to have sex. We just need to teach them how to have “safe sex.” Or, God certainly doesn’t expect me to be chaste; after all, I’m only human! Or, that was for Bible times; this is a different culture! The truth: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification. that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4.3-5).
A plausible lie:Homosexuality—God made them that way, so they can’t be expected to change. The truth: Homosexuality like all sin is part of our fallen nature, but we are redeemable. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
A plausible lie: About dating or marriage—I know he’s not a Christian, but how else is he going to get saved? At least he comes to church with me and I’m sure he’ll become a Christian. The truth: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God …” (2 Cor. 6.14-16).
A plausible lie: God wants me to be happy! The truth: God does want His children to be blessed, but he first wants us to be holy! “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1.15-16). Happiness if fleeting, but holiness leads to joy unspeakable!
But there are other, more religious sounding lies.
A plausible lie: How could a loving God send anyone to hell? That’s not the God I serve! The truth: God isn’t sending us to hell. We’re already lost and He sent His Son to rescue all those who will believe (Jn. 3.16; 1 Jn. 4.9).
A plausible lie: All religions lead to God though they may call Him by another name. The truth: Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14.6).
A plausible lie: Jesus just loved everyone. We should do the same. After all, who are we to judge? The truth: We should love everyone, even our enemies, but part of loving means there are times when we need to speak the truth in love (Gal. 6.1-2; 2 Cor. 7.8-11; Prov. 27.5-6).
A plausible lie: It doesn’t matter what I believe about God and the Bible, as long as I love Jesus. The truth: What we believe about God and His Word as revealed in the Bible matter a great deal. It affects how we handle tests and trials, how we reflect Him to a lost world, the level of our trust, and our ability to have peace and joy no matter what our circumstances. For more on this, check out my post, “Good Doctrine Matters.” In that post I explain how some false doctrines sound good, but have a nasty downside.
We, of all people, should not buy into the plausible lies that the world uses to argue against the truth and keep people in spiritual blindness and bondage! But we also need to be on guard against the religious sounding lies that can destroy our testimonies, keep us discouraged, or cause us to doubt God’s love.
Let’s purpose in our hearts to tear down those strongholds, first in our own hearts, and then to prayerfully share the truth with others.
Verse 1 of chapter 28 says, “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valleys, to those who are overcome with wine!”
This passage is written to the ten northern tribes represented by Ephraim. The area where they lived was very lush and fertile. God had blessed them with an abundance of beauty and fruitfulness, but they were puffed up with pride as if they had caused it and had wasted God’s blessings on “drunkenness”—their own sensual pleasures.
Verses 28- 29 “Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble, And He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still.”
God has complete and sovereign control of His world, including the elements. And He has the same control over the events of our lives. If you are in a storm today, first and foremost, decide to put your complete faith and trust in Him. If you are truly one of His children and you keep your eyes on Him, He has promised that he will never allow that storm to be greater than you can handle without sinning (1 Cor. 10.13).
But He also wants you to ask for His help. Verse 28 in our reading says “Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble …” James said we have not because we ask not (Jas. 4.1), and Jesus said in Luke 18.1, “…that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” Call out to Him.
That 1 Corinthians 10 passage tells us that “… God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able …” That means if we choose to sin in response to our trial or storm, it’s just that—a choice to sin! Nothing—no one, no circumstance can force us to sin! We choose!
Chapter 26.1-4 is a picture of the church and its blessings. Verse 1 says we have “salvation for walls and bulwarks” and verse 3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
There is great protection in being a part of a good biblical church. The flip side of that is illustrated in a couple of New Testament passages.
Matthew 18.15-17 says:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
In other words, let him be considered as an unbeliever.
In 1 Corinthians 5.4-5 Paul told the believers concerning a man involved in sexual sin:
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
These two passages talk about putting someone outside the fellowship or membership of the church. This is sometimes called “church discipline” or excommunication. As you can see from the 1 Corinthians passage, Satan has much more freedom to attack someone when he or she is outside the fellowship. But the reverse is also true; when you become a member of a biblical church and submit yourself to its authority, you have the protection of that body like an umbrella over you. Continue reading →
There will be a day when, “… the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout … we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air …” (1 Thess. 4.16-17). There will also be those who think they’re OK with God because of all the things they have done. They may be religious, but will realize too late that they were not truly saved and that they have been left behind. What about you? Will you experience the Rapture or the Tribulation?
Chapter 24 changes the pattern in this book. Instead of talking about God’s judgment on specific nations, the prophet begins to speak to the inhabitants of the earth. This prophecy is more general in nature.
It certainly had near future meaning, possibly either the devastation brought about by Sennacherib and his Assyrian army or by Nebuchadnezzar and his armies from Babylon.
But it also has yet future application concerning the period of history called the Tribulation. The book of Revelation talks about the incredible destruction that will take place during those horrible, terrifying seven years: fires, earthquakes like the world has never seen, pestilence and wars, among other things.
The next few chapters of Isaiah will continue talking about God’s judgment on the world, but there is also comfort contained in many of the passages for God’s people. Even in the worst of times, God cares for His own! And as for the Great Tribulation to come, I don’t believe those of us who have made a decision for Christ now will be around to see that time. I believe that time will be proceeded by the Rapture of the church:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4.16-17).
But there will also be those who attend church, but who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and who will realize too late that they were not truly saved. Continue reading →
Have you ever heard someone say, or perhaps thought it yourself, “I know this is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway. Afterwards, I’ll ask God to forgive me.” David called this presumptuous sin, presuming on God’s grace when we don’t have a truly repentant heart.
In a previous letter Paul had rebuked the Corinthians for their unbiblical behavior. In verses 8-12 Paul followed up and revealed the reason he was willing to say things that were hard to say and hard to hear:
8 For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner. What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 12 Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you.
Sometimes we must be willing to speak the truth in love even if it means offending someone, risking our friendship with them, or not being liked. No one wants to do so unnecessarily, but when we see a pattern of sin in someone’s life, Galatians 6 tells us:
1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Notice that even when we must speak to someone who is caught in a pattern of sin, we are to do it in a spirit of gentleness, examining ourselves first and continually, lest we fall into sin ourselves in the process.
On another note, as I reread today’s reading I started contemplating MacArthur’s notes on verse 1. In reference to the phrase “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” he says, “False religion panders to the human appetites represented by both ‘flesh and spirit’.”
I believe that is the reason men and women can appear religious on the outside, even being priests or pastors or involved in ministry in some other way, while excusing drunkenness, sexual immorality, theft, or other sins. Their religious activity sometimes causes them to believe they have somehow earned a little favor or collateral with God.
On other occasions, they excuse immoral sexual appetites like adultery, fornication, homosexuality, or child molestation by rationalizing about “all the good they do.”
But perhaps the most pernicious way, religion keeps us bound up in sin is by seeing it as a system that cancels out or appeases God. Have you ever heard someone say, or perhaps thought it yourself, “I know this is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway. And, afterwards, I’ll ask God to forgive me.” Continue reading →