Approved Approach

“I did not even think myself worthy to come to You” Luke 7:7

These are the words of a Roman centurion, a Gentile. It is not the kind of words one would expect from a man who is used to throwing his authority around and expecting people to look up to him with a measure of fear. Something had happened to this man that changed his attitude and behaviour toward others, especially toward Jews.

When he heard that Jesus, a Jew, was approaching his town he sent Jewish synagogue leaders to Jesus pleading for Him to heal his servant. It would appear that they did not represent him faithfully. On his behalf they presented him as one worthy who merited Jesus’ power to heal. Their appeal, typical of Israel at the time and most Gentiles then and now, was on the basis of good works and merit.

As Jesus came even nearer to his town, without response, the centurion sent friends who were faithful to the centurion’s words. They repeated his words, “I am not worthy … I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.” He knew that Jesus came in the authority of God (v 8) and he knew that while God is holy he was a sinner and unworthy of His presence.

The people following Jesus in Capernaum at the time were most likely all Jews and He took the opportunity to point out the contrasting means of approach to Him by saying, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (v 9). The leaders of the synagogue had sought Jesus’ favour on merit but the centurion sought Jesus’ favour on mercy and grace. We can readily see to which Jesus responded and approved.

Historically this is how Israel has generally approached favour with God but they are not alone in this. Most religions of the world, even some claiming to be Christian, come to Jesus like the synagogue leaders, on the basis of merit or partial merit. Therefore, thinking they deserve God’s favour, they praise themselves and not God and they are unthankful toward God. After all, they did not receive a gift, in their eyes they received a payment for works done.

Of the ten cleansed lepers recorded in Luke 17:11-19 only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for healing him. The other nine thought they deserved His favour and that their healing was merited. They saw no reason to thank Jesus. Only one knew that he was unworthy and was therefore thankful.

If we do not continually have thankful hearts to the Lord it is because in some way we think we deserve His favour. At those times we are like the synagogue leaders who presented the centurion’s case to Jesus and the nine unthankful cleansed lepers. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32). This centurion was not worthy to come into Christ’s presence and he knew it but he is just the kind of person who Jesus is calling to Himself.

Reconciliation and Restoration

“I will heal their backsliding,

I will love them freely,

for My anger has turned away from him”
Hosea 14:4

These words were very precious to me when a man I had never met shared them with me many years ago. I had been away from the Lord but the Lord had brought me back. In a way it was a picture of God’s love for Israel. In the book of Hosea we read of God’s severe chastisement of Israel and we might wonder how a God of love could inflict such severe pain. However, it is a reflection not only of God’s anger against sin and love for the sinner but also of the hardness of the human heart apart from Christ. I don’t believe God will chastise more than necessary. That people still do not respond reveals the hardness of their heart.

So often in the prophetic books of the Bible we read this same pattern; God’s severity on Israel for turning away from Him and His gentle love for them when they return. In all of the prophecies concerning Israel’s return there is certainty that the day will come. When God says, “I will,” He means He will perform it. If He can’t then He is not the God of creation.

There is no comfort in these words for unbelieving Israel but there is enormous encouragement to believing Israel, the “remnant”. God is still on track and on time in fulfilling His Covenant promises to Israel.

Likewise there is no comfort in these words for unbelieving Gentiles but to those who have trusted Jesus Christ there is great encouragement in our walk with Him. These words from the Lord to Israel reveal the love and compassion that God has for His people when they walk with Him. For a Christian who has strayed these words show the welcoming arms of God when they return.

In 14:1 & 2 God invites the one who has strayed to return to Him. In verses 2 & 3 we see the evidence of repentance and in verse four is God’s response. Reconciliation is complete.

Another verse that was shared with me by the same person at the same time follows on from this scenario and is recorded in Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” While this verse is written to Israel and has application upon their reconciliation it reveals the heart of God toward Christians who return to the Lord after straying. We may have wasted years in going our own way but God is able to turn that to His and our benefit.

God forbid that we should ever stray from walking with the Lord but if we do, or have, the revelation from these verses and many others is that He is waiting with loving arms for our return and repentance to reconcile us to Himself and reinstate us in fellowship. To read Jesus’ words on the subject read Luke 15:11-32.

A Love Gift

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21

This verse at the end of John’s letter refers to the newer Christians to whom he wrote. Every new child of God will benefit greatly from acquiring and maintaining a good understanding of this letter.

Ever since Cain offered the fruit of the ground (Genesis 4:3) people have been creating gods from their own imagination and often in their own likeness of character. These are idols even if they have no physical representation. This gives their creators freedom of conscience to do as they please.

This time of year our society brings out one of its gods in the person of Father Christmas. The concept is that if one does well one can expect to be rewarded. The gifts they receive are perceived to be because they deserve them. Consequently children who are taught that meaning of Christmas may have a distorted view of what it is to be Christian. The world may say that it is harmless fun but we should reflect on how a child may understand and apply the principle. It is possible that they may believe that salvation is a reward for behaviour rather than a grace gift.

God’s Gift to mankind is not offered because we deserve it. On the contrary, it is a gift of grace to people who do not deserve anything but condemnation and have done absolutely nothing to merit it. No payment is required or necessary for a gift. In fact offering to pay for a love-gift would be an insult.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our lord” (Romans 6:23)

The focus of many of the world’s children this time of year is that of receiving a reward from Father Christmas for good behaviour. In contrast Christians exchange gifts as a way of showing that we have received His unmerited Gift of love and in thankfulness desire to share that Gift with others.

The exchanging of gifts gives parents a valuable means of teaching their children the Gospel of Christ. We give out of love, not merit, because He gave out of love, not merit. We accept the Gift because it is given out of love and not merit. Security, peace and joy come from the sure knowledge that God’s Gift is an undeserved love Gift.

Closed Bible = Closed Heart

“The Word of God … is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” Hebrews 4:12

On their way from Egypt to the land promised to Abraham and his descendants Israel neglected the Word of God. They heard it but left it out of their lives. As a consequence of not believing God’s Word they did not act upon it or obey it. The further consequence was that they never experienced the rest that God had for them in the land of promise; they never even entered that land and therefore did not know what they missed.

It isn’t unusual to hear comments that produce fear when people speak of governments becoming “big brother.” We don’t like someone else peering into our lives especially when it is someone who has authority over us.

As we read the passage above, and its context, we may be inclined to think that God is up there somewhere with a big stick looking forward to an opportunity to use it. However this is opposite to reality as the context of this verse shows.

The intent of God’s Word is to show us where we have attitudes and behaviour contrary to or out of kilter to His own. Such attitudes and behaviour prevent intimate fellowship because God is holy. “God is light and in Him is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). The Divine Nature is such that God can have no fellowship with any nature that is not exactly as His own. This is why we are helpless in ourselves to enter into fellowship with God.

For each of us the “eyes” of Scripture searching our thoughts and inner-most being is painful but there are two possible outcomes. Either we will close the “eyes” of Scripture by closing our Bible or we will embrace the truth and reality it reveals however horrid and wicked it may reveal us to be. God’s intent is that we see what He already knows us to be so that we will agree with Him that this is what we are. He will then forgive and cleanse us from our sin through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9).

The writer of Hebrews writes, “Let us therefore come boldly (with confidence) to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” He means that when the Word of God reveals the evil thoughts and intents of our heart we may come, by God’s grace, to the throne of grace and obtain mercy and find grace even though we are what the Bible has revealed us to be.

When the Bible reveals sin in our heart it is not time to close our Bible, it is time to pour out our heart to God, agreeing with Him, and accepting His forgiveness and cleansing. We can do so with confidence because Jesus Christ died for our sin.

To Save Alive

“You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people  alive” Genesis 50:20

What a difference it would make if all Christians had this attitude toward people who acted in an evil way toward them! Most of Joseph’s brothers had wanted to kill him but they ended up selling him into slavery. By God’s grace, as a slave, Joseph rose to the highest position he could in Potiphar’s house before being falsely accused and placed in prison indefinitely. Again, by God’s grace he rose to the highest position in the prison and then in Egypt under Pharaoh.

There is no doubt his brothers did mean evil against him and they were held to account but Joseph was not looking at their deed. He was looking at God’s sovereign and providential hand over the events in his life that brought him to this place. The outcome was that he did not judge his brothers. When the brothers sought forgiveness they discovered that it had already been given long before they asked.

Joseph had previously expressed to his brothers that he held no grudge (45:5) but with the death of their father, Jacob, the brothers thought that Joseph might now seek revenge. Joseph’s eyes were not on them or on their evil deed. His eyes were on the Lord who had placed him, through both the evil and the good situations, so that he could save those who had conducted this evil against him. Joseph, in hindsight, recognised God’s plan and purpose even though there was evil intent on the part of his brothers.

Undoubtedly we have all suffered at the hands of someone who wittingly or unwittingly perpetrated some evil against us. In the light of Joseph’s testimony to us how might we respond? Will we seek revenge?

How we respond will depend on where our eyes are focussed. If we are looking at those who hurt us then we will seek an opportunity for revenge. If our eyes are on the Lord we will see His sovereign and providential hand working good for His people even though events may have been with evil intent.

Joseph could have enslaved his brothers or he could have refused to help them during the famine. Because he saw the Lord’s hand working through their evil deed and he was surrendered to the Lord, all his family, including those who acted in an evil manner toward him, were saved. In God’s grace there was a further earthly reward for Joseph; he was able to cuddle his great-grandchildren before he went to his heavenly reward (50:23).

These words of Joseph have their parallel in Christ’s words when He was on the cross. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). The apostle Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

24/7 Grace

“Therefore we also pray always for you … that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:12

This verse sums up Paul’s greeting to the church at Thessalonica, a church that abounded in the grace of God in such a way that he used them as an example of God’s grace to other churches (v 2).

He commented that the evidence of God’s grace among them was cause for continual heartfelt thanksgiving and praise to God (v 3). The good thing for us is that he mentions what the two most important evidences of God’s grace in that church were.

Firstly, he writes that thankfulness to God is appropriate because their faith grows exceedingly. They were rapidly and correctly growing in faith.

Secondly, he writes that the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other. Paul was also thankful that their love for each other was not just tolerance or out of duty but a genuine care and concern for each other’s physical and spiritual welfare.

We may dismiss this by responding that they had a favourable environment but such is not the case. They were enduring persecutions and tribulations and they did it patiently because of their faith in God’s promises (v 4) concerning Christ’s coming again.

What was it that made them patient and faithful? It was because they believed that Jesus would ensure that righteous judgment would come to all at His coming. Notice the contrast between believers and unbelievers in verses 6 & 7 and 9 & 10.

God is gracious and this attribute, like all His attributes, are in full effectual working all the time, 24/7. We often only comment that God has been gracious to us when things, in our estimation, go favourably for us. However, God’s grace abounds to us 24/7. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that God’s grace abounds. When this happens it is our perception that is wrong. It is not a lack of God’ effectual grace that is wrong.

In correction, chastisement or instruction God’s grace abounds to us just as much as in meeting our physical and spiritual needs. It is a 24/7 grace.

Do we really believe that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose? If we do, we will be thankful for God’s 24/7 grace. It reveals itself in that your faith grows and we will have an abounding love toward each other.

Constrained by Christ

“I also withheld you from sinning against Me” Genesis 20:6

As a youngster growing up and in my teens there were many temptations to sin, not that I recognised them as such at the time. There were things that others were doing that I wanted to do as well but there often seemed to be a limit as to how far I could go. It was more than just conscience. There were physical barriers such as opportunity, interruptions or distractions at key moments. There was also the risk of being caught doing what I knew to be wrong and in other cases the matter was simply not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. That is not to say that I did not indulge in sin. There is not one of the Ten Commandments that I did not disregard at some time if we use Jesus’ application of the commandments that He gives in the Sermon on the Mount.

Even so, as I look back on my life I am well aware that there was a hand limiting my indulgence in sin. At the time it caused me frustration and even anger but now as I read this verse I am so very grateful to God for the merciful and gracious resistance He gave to my lustful self-seeking passions. No doubt His resistance also flowed from praying parents but in this passage we find that it appears that no earthly person was praying for Abimelech. God took the initiative by making Abimelech, his wife and all his servants impotent. Then he spoke to Abimelech in a dream explaining the reason and the solution.

Perhaps as you are reading this article the Holy Spirit is bringing to mind occasions when He put something in the way so that you did not venture down a particular path of sin. As I look back I now wish that He had done so much more. Perhaps part of the answer as to why God has not always kept us from sin can be found in this account of Abimelech.

He was told to restore Sarah to Abraham but he was not forced to do so. However, the way he chose to respond would have a consequence. If he did not restore Sarah to Abraham he and his entire house would die. God had a plan for Sarah and Abraham and He would not be thwarted. If Abimelech did restore Sarah, Abraham would pray for him and he and his entire house would be healed.

We suffer consequences when we disregard God’s word or do not obey Him. God will perform His will with or without our cooperation – but it will be far better for us to join with Him and do as He asks. When we do, there will be a better outcome for our children, grandchildren and others we love.

Let us give a little time each day to thank God for the times He kept us from unwitting and witting sin.
Let us praise Him for His kindness and great grace toward us even before we believed.
Let us humble ourselves before Him and magnify the name of Jesus – because it is only by His shed blood that He is able to forgive and cleanse us, and still remain just.

The Gift of God

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith” Romans 3:27

If obtaining God’s favor is based on our effort then those who gain acceptance would have something of which to boast. Paul makes it clear in this letter, especially the first few chapters, that there will be no boasting because acceptance is not gained in that way. He also says the same in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (2:8-9).

Some people believe that they will be able to mount a credible defense at the judgment but Paul says that “every mouth will be stopped.” No one will be able to defend themselves against the indictments of God. All will know they are guilty and without any defense (Romans 3:19).

The indictments of God are taken by Paul from the Old Testament and recorded in verses ten to eighteen. Alva McClain writes that there are fourteen indictments recorded here. One should take note of the words “none” and “all” in this passage. There are no exceptions. This is God’s assessment of each and every person against His measure.

When we make an assessment of ourselves we use our own idea of what is good or we may compare ourselves against other people who are esteemed by our peers. But are these valid measures?

In the last two chapters of the Bible we read that nothing that is corrupt or that defiles will enter God’s presence. God is holy, without corruption and defilement. Heaven would not be heaven if it did not match God’s purity, perfection and holiness. Jesus Christ is the measure and all judgment has been given to Him (John 5:26-27). Anything that is less than His perfection and purity cannot enter His presence.

Since the indictments taken from the Old Testament are all inclusive of mankind no one will enter God’s presence based on his own effort. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v 23). If anyone is to enter His presence then there must be another way.

This is the reason Christians celebrate at Christmas and why we give and receive gifts. Jesus Christ is God’s gift to mankind (John 3:16) and through faith in Him (John 6:40) He gives us His righteousness as an undeserved (grace) gift. The title of this article might well have read, “The Gift that is God.” Paul’s testimony is that righteousness is a gift so that no one will be able to boast in themselves. Paul writes that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v 24).

We are glad that God does not demand that we attain purity by our own effort because it is evident that there is no way we can change what we are. That He changes what we are as a gift in Christ is cause for great joy. Our boasting is not in our own achievement but in the Gift of God and that Gift is Jesus Christ. “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

All Were Amazed

“All were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” Mark 2:12

All were amazed but were they all amazed in the same way and for the same reason? The answer is not in the passage but it is in the Gospel records. In the incident Mark describes all were amazed but there are two possible reasons for that amazement; the miracle or the words of Jesus. Either would have caused amazement to His Jewish audience.

The purpose of the miracle in Mark 2:1-12 is to demonstrate that Jesus has authority to forgive sin (v 10). Only God has that authority so Jesus is declaring Himself to be God. The miracle was to confirm Jesus’ authority to make such a statement but being physically healed was not evidence that the man was forgiven. The evidence that the man is forgiven is revealed in the man’s faith demonstrated when he obeyed Jesus by taking up his bed and walking.

People often seek the miracle of physical healing but are less interested in seeking forgiveness of sin. The people on this occasion were amazed and gave glory to God for either the miracle or that the man’s sins were forgiven. In either case each person realised that God had done a wonderful thing and in that recognition they gave God the glory. However, it meant different things to the two possible groups. One group glorified God for the miracle of healing and the other group glorified God that in Jesus Christ their sins could be forgiven.

The man knew his sins were forgiven. If he didn’t, he would not have obeyed Jesus and taken up his bed and walked. The many who witnessed the words and miracle of Jesus had a choice. They could either accept the testimony of Jesus or reject it. The miracle was of no value to them in itself. The man would still eventually physically die and so would they.

Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (v 17). Some in the gathering did not see themselves as sinners and went away amazed with the miracle of healing but with sins still unforgiven. Any who recognised that they were sinners, as the formerly paralytic man had, had the opportunity to go away forgiven.

Jesus would later say, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it” (8:35-37). Those who seek physical healing often forget that their bodies will still eventually die even if they are healed of the current malady, then what? Those who have their sins forgiven are forgiven for eternity and their bodies will be healed for eternity in the resurrection.

Luke records that Jesus sent out seventy disciples to give witness to the coming Kingdom. When they returned they were all chatting among themselves about the miracles they had performed (Luke 10:17) but Jesus quickly pointed them to the most important thing. He said to them, “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (v 20). Their names are not written in heaven because they have experienced personal physical healing or even that they have healed others. Their names are in heaven because their sins are forgiven.

The trend these days for many is to seek physical healing and neglect the infinitely more important matter of forgiveness of sin.

I am glad that I have a doctor who is treating me through my current bronchitis but I am immeasurably happier that my sins are forgiven. That is what amazes me – Amazing Grace that saved a sinner such as I.

“Come Back!”

“Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” Joel 2:13

It seems to be more common these days that I hear people, both face-to-face and in the media, claiming to speak with authority regarding the Bible. Quite often they imply that they are quoting the Bible and yet the words they speak I am yet to discover in the Bible. In fact, I know that they are not in it or that the “quote” is distorted so much as to say the opposite to the meaning intended.

I heard a man claim that God could not be a God of love because his child died of a terrible illness. He was angry and bitter at God. He did not make the connection that God’s Son died in his place and for his sin. The Father knows his grief and could have comforted him in his grief.

The reason for much error is ignorance of what the Bible actually says. One person says something that he thinks is in the Bible, another quotes him to others saying that it is in the Bible and before we know it the God of the Bible is being much maligned. This is just one of many scenarios that reveal the critical importance that Christians know their Bibles and are able to correct such abuses.

When driving on highways we see signs that tell us the distance to the next few exits. On most occasions we will only remember the one relevant to us at the time. It may be that we do the same when reading the Bible. We may miss parts that are not significant to us at the time.

In the passage from Joel, cited above, the Lord is calling for His people to return to Him. If they do they will find Him gracious, merciful, patient and kind. Most of all they will find forgiveness and the Lord will have a change of heart regarding the judgment hanging over their heads. The people of Nineveh found this out in living practice when they responded to the word of the Lord spoken by the prophet Jonah.

It is very disappointing whenever I hear someone misquote the Bible regarding the Divine Nature. It is even more disappointing when it comes from Christians. My wife and I were away from the Lord for about eleven years until the Lord restored us. Two verses were shared with us at that time, Hosea 14:4 and Hosea 2:25. Even though both are written with regard to Israel, God’s nature does not change. We have found them both to be true to us personally. The Lord has healed our backsliding, He has continuously poured out His love on us, He has forgiven us and restored the lost years. Joel 2:13 has also been demonstrated to be true because God is faithful to His word.