Please Take a Seat

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”

Hebrews 11:6

Multitudes of people seek ways they may please God. Religions have been established on this desire. Their adherents are trapped and held captive in futile hopes of pleasing a god or gods so that this life, or the life hereafter, is made more comfortable and pleasant.

Faith always requires an object and, when the object is deemed worthy of that faith, appropriate action will follow (James 2:20). Hebrews chapter eleven reminds us of many people who have acted out of faith in God.

No one is able to have or exercise faith in God unless they first believe He exists and it is naive to expect anyone to place their faith in Jesus Christ without first evaluating the evidence. No one sits on a chair without giving it at least a cursory evaluation so we shouldn’t expect someone to trust their eternal soul to Jesus without an evaluation of whether He is worthy of that trust. This is one of the benefits the Bible brings but there are other witnesses. We who have already trusted Christ are living witnesses of, and evidence for, the ability and worthiness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). He has made us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new and living way of life (Hebrews 10:20) by which we are able to commune with God. We are witnesses that Jesus Christ is worthy and faithful. It is our day by day living faith in Him that pleases Him and witnesses of Him. Service follows faith and is our response to receiving eternal life through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 6:23). Faith in Jesus Christ pleases God because:

  1. It recognises who Jesus is
  2. It recognises what Jesus has done for us on Calvary’s cross
  3. It recognises that we are sinners in need of a Saviour
  4. It is acceptance of God’s remedy for our sin
  5. It is the opposite of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. They distrusted God whereas faith is trust in God

It is as simple to please God as it is to sit in a chair yet many make it a hopeless and useless burden. Paul writes, “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a matter of will. Will you believe?

To Be With Jesus

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”

1 Timothy 2:3-4

The Bible teaches that God is not willing that any should miss His gift of salvation (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Hence we read in several places that Christ died for all (e.g. John 1:29; Romans 5:6, 8; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). Since God created us in His image we have the ability to choose how we respond to God’s invitation and He will not override that choice or we would be no more than robots. Out of love for mankind God sent His Son to deliver us from sin and death by dying in our place. Now that the price is paid God invites all who want to, to come to Jesus and receive eternal life in Him as a free gift (John 1:12; Romans 6:23).

Sadly, most will go to anyone or anything except Jesus; but Paul writes that there is only one Mediator between God and man and that is Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). The reason He is the only Mediator is that He alone died for our sin and is therefore the only one qualified to forgive sin (Romans 5:8; c.f. John 14:6; Revelation 5:1-7). There are some who want a heaven without Jesus but that is impossible. Heaven is being with Jesus. Anything else is hell. If you don’t desire to be with Jesus then it may be that you have a false or futile hope of heaven. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for the saved and it is with Him (John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 5:8; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:10).

In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes that he was appointed to preach Christ primarily to Gentile unbelievers but also to unbelieving Israel (1 Timothy 2:7).  That mission has also been given to the church, a living body composed of all individuals who have received Christ as Lord and Saviour. The Gift of God, which is Jesus (John 3:16), is offered to all people because Christ died for all people. But God will not usurp a person’s own will. He invites, He provokes, He persuades but He does not force anyone. Only those who will of free will receive God’s Gift and appropriate Him will benefit. Many years ago I was conscripted into the army but there will be no conscripts in heaven. Everyone in heaven will be there because they believed God’s offer, wanted to be with Jesus, accepted His invitation and received His Gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

I am Alive

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins”

Ephesians 2:1

There can hardly be sweeter words than these to a person who knows that they were spiritually dead with no fellowship with God but now have intimacy with Him. What real joy can one have if they only have a vague and uncertain hope of heaven? John writes, “These things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). He is referring to the very words of Jesus who said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Joy is in knowing (1 John 5:13).

Our Creator had placed Adam in His beautiful garden and said, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). We know that he did eat and he did die immediately in regard to intimacy of fellowship with God and he brought both spiritual and bodily death to all mankind (Romans 5:12).

Clearly, from the verse at the head of this article, we can be made alive to God again and this is the foundation of our joy. Paul writes, “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul writes that being made alive is a gift. That is, we have done nothing to deserve or merit God’s favour. “The gift of God” might be better translated, “The Gift which is God.” God Himself is the Gift in the Person of Jesus Christ. At Christmas we focus on the arrival of that Gift and at Easter we focus on the means by which He made it possible for we who were dead to be made alive.

We will be filled with joy when we are aware that salvation is God’s gift to anyone who will believe Him. Who can attain to God’s righteousness and holiness from conception to bodily death? Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and he goes on to write, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As we read Ephesians 2:1 again, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” our hearts leap with joy that He has given the perfect Gift which is His Son. “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).

In His Time

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”

Galatians 4:4-5

Like many phrases in the Bible the first few words of this passage have been adopted by some into their regular speech. The “fullness of time” means at the right time. It was God who declared the time right. The people involved had no foreknowledge and it was unexpected on their part. Neither Mary nor Joseph had any warning.

The reason Jesus came is stated for us here. His mission was to buy back that which Adam had given away to Satan. The price was the Son of God crucified. The law could not redeem people and neither could any person redeem themselves or anyone else because all were born in sin and have sinned. All that the law can do is reveal people’s condemned state. It would take incarnate deity to pay the price for our sin; One without the sin disposition and who has never sinned. At its root sin is rebellion against God: “I want to do it my way, not His way.”

On the cross Jesus not only delivered us from justifiable punishment but in His resurrection He gave us a new position that we could never attain ourselves. An adopted son is equal with a biological son concerning inheritance. In Christ’s death and resurrection He has taken away the penalty for sin and also the very root of sin and placed us as sons with Christ to share in His inheritance.

Only as we have the same nature as God can we commune and coexist with Him. Jesus accomplished that for us and that is the Gift of God to undeserving sinners. The magi from the east brought gifts to Jesus in worship and thanksgiving. Everyone who has truly trusted Christ will be thankful to God. Paul writes that it is therefore reasonable that we should present ourselves as a living sacrifice in thankfulness, and as an act of worship, for His unspeakable gift (Romans 12:1).

The times are in His hands and at the right time He will again invade the earthly realm and assume His rightful place as KING of kings and LORD of Lords. Then, and only then, there will be: Peace on earth and goodwill toward men. May you experience a very happy and blessed Christmas with joy that endures all year.

Raised from the Dead

“Some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame”

1 Corinthians 15:34

By itself this statement may seem a bit too obvious. It was as obvious to Paul’s readers as it is to us that most people do not have a true knowledge of God, our Creator. The context reveals that he is writing to the church in Corinth saying that some in the church do not have the knowledge of God. That is also just as true today as it was then. I have heard many testimonies of people who had been attending church for years before discovering that they were not born of God. On discovering this they received Him as Lord and Saviour. This is true of me.

The specific truth that some people in the Corinthian church had not accepted was the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul concludes that people who deny Christ’s bodily resurrection do not know the truth and are therefore not born of God, not saved. The fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection is just as much a key element in the Gospel as is Christ’s atoning death (vv 3-4). If He is not raised then neither will we be raised. If that were true, there would be no hope beyond the grave (vv 17-19).

Paul affirms that Christ is risen (v 20) based on the many witnesses who had seen Jesus after His crucifixion and burial, many of whom were still alive at the time of writing and could testify to that fact. This includes Paul himself (vv 5-8). Only two or three witnesses are required to verify a fact but Paul could produce many more than that. Any serious seeker of the truth would be able to find a living witness. Paul’s experience mirrors that of Israel when Jesus returns after the Tribulation. At that time all Israel we see Jesus come in the brightness of His glory and receive Him (Romans 11:26).

Those professing Christians in the Corinthian church may have thought they were true followers of Christ but their own testimony denied that to be so. Those who are truly born of God have the witness of the Holy Spirit in themselves that Jesus is raised bodily from death. From His witness, and that of the Bible, we are able to affirm with Paul that Jesus is raised and is our hope of our own bodily resurrection. Paul queries why he or anyone would risk their lives daily for a gospel that only gives hope in this life (vv 29-30, 19). Christ is raised bodily and all in Him will also be raised bodily (v 20). Those who truly know Him can give a hearty “Amen” to this.

Stepping Stones

“Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification”

Romans 15:2

Romans 15:13 concludes Paul’s explanation of what it means to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). The purpose of pleasing our neighbour is for his good and for his edification, not to satisfy fleeting earthly pleasures.

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) explains who our neighbour is. Essentially it is anyone who is in need that we can help. Every unsaved sinner is in desperate need of help. Comforting him by telling him he is okay is not going to be for his good. His lost state needs to be revealed along with the remedy that is in Jesus Christ. What is for his good is that which is true; that which will edify or build him up is also truth.

Sharing the Gospel with a man I once worked with brought a rebuke that I didn’t love him because I told him that he came short of the glory of God and was a sinner before God (Romans 3:23) and that he needed Jesus Christ to take away his sin (John 1:29). It hurt me deeply that he thought I hated him. Sharing the Gospel of Christ with a lost person is the greatest act of love we can do for anyone. Not to do so shows indifference to his plight and hatred. The good news was that he did eventually take on board the Scriptures that I had shared with him and a month later received Christ’s forgiveness and new life. It took the truth of the Gospel to reveal his perilous state so that he was motivated to seek the remedy.

In Romans 15:3 Paul gives us the ultimate example of what it means to please our neighbour for his good and edification. Of course that example is Jesus Christ. “For even Christ did not please Himself” He always pleased the Father (John 8:29). Since Christ indwells us it is reasonable to expect that when the Holy Spirit fills us Jesus Christ’s nature and attitudes will be observed. We will please God through conforming to His will and obedience and not by fulfilling our own selfish desires. That is a “living sacrifice.” It is to God’s glory that we live in this way because it reveals the Divine Nature in His creation in a way that physical features cannot. “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). As Jesus has been for us, let us be stepping stones for others and not stumbling stones.

Fully Persuaded

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Romans 8:35

It isn’t unusual for new believers and sometimes people who have been Christians for a long while to question their faith. There are a number of triggers that the accuser may use to set raise doubt in our minds. He is the accuser so when we stumble in our walk and sin he is quick to accuse us to our spirit, our conscience and to God with a view to creating doubt in our minds. He did that with Eve in the Garden of Eden; “Has God indeed said …” (Genesis 3:1) and has been at it ever since. Jesus gives us the correct response to this; “It is written …” (Matthew 4:1-11).

There will be occasions when we sense the biting accusations of Satan more acutely but God allows them for His purpose and our benefit. He may let us remember past sin to humble our hearts and remind us of His grace and forgiveness. That will produce a thankful and worshipful heart in one with a right spirit toward God. Quite likely we have all done something immensely foolish and/or sinful at some time, perhaps many times. The memory of these is intended to restore humility before God and a thankful heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are as secure in Christ as Christ Himself is in God.

If Satan’s accusations bring doubt or a sense of failure then they are God’s means of bringing us back to that place of reaching out to Jesus. Peter was able to confidently step out of the boat and walk on water but when he was reminded of the circumstances around him he began to sink and would have drowned. He reached out to Jesus and Jesus was immediately there with a strong arm to lift him out and walk him to the boat.

When a Christian continues in doubt it likely means they have not really reached out to Jesus and trusted Him to deliver them. They may want Jesus to deliver them from the circumstances but He may wish to show His strength and faithfulness by delivering them through the circumstances. Paul is convinced that tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, poverty, peril and the sword cannot separate him or us from God’s love because we are in Christ (v 35). We share in the life of the Conqueror (v 36) and nothing above or beneath can separate us from the love of God (vs 38-39). We can have this same assurance if we will choose to believe what God has said in His word.

Slaves

 “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

Romans 6:16

In answer to the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul gives an emphatic, No!  In expanding on that succinct response he gives us a few before-and-after statements in support of that response.

We know that having been crucified with Christ we should no longer be slaves to sin (v 6). We know that having died with Christ we shall also live with Him (v 8). As a result we are to count on the fact that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (v 11). Since these things are true it is unreasonable that we would yield ourselves to sin’s power. On the contrary, the reasonable thing to do is to yield to God and His righteousness (vv 12-14). Thank God there is forgiveness when we do stumble (1 John 1:9).

In verse sixteen, quoted above, Paul compares two opposites: sin and obedience. Sin is that disposition that is in rebellion against the will of God. It started when Adam chose to disbelieve and disobeyed God’s word. That disposition has been passed down through every generation to every person. Obedience is that disposition that flows out of love and trust. One who receives God’s love and trusts Him will obey His word because he/she knows it leads to God’s righteousness and holiness. Disobedience shows that we have accepted Satan’s lie and do not desire God’s righteousness.

If we allow sin to reign in our bodies and present our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness we will not be able to experience intimate fellowship with God. This will be loss to us and those around us but especially to Jesus Christ. The more intimate our fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the greater we will experience the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If we are lacking in any aspects of this fruit it may be because we are yielding to sin. We were slaves to sin (v 17) but now, in Christ, we are set free from sin (v 18). Do I want to be a slave of sin or a servant of Jesus Christ? We are slaves to whom we yield. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v 23). Choose!

Up to Jerusalem

“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished”

Luke 18:31

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem (vv 31-33) but the disciples didn’t. We are told that it was hidden from them (v 34). This reminds us that God can and does keep things hidden from us. Some things He grants only through careful and faithful study (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). Like any good teacher He only teachers us that which we are ready to receive. The problem in our learning is never with the Teacher.

As with Jesus, the aim of the Christian is to do the will of God. We usually interpret that as serving where we think we are of most use to God but that may not be the case. Unless our service is in obedience to the will of God we may just be accumulating wood, hay, and straw (1 Corinthians 3:12). Our service must be in His will and that is where He judges us most useful. It is not for us to choose our place or role. The clay does not tell the potter what to make of it. Jesus always obeyed the Father (John 8:29). His aim, and ours, is to obey the Father and be led by the Holy Spirit.

There are many examples in the Bible and church history where God seems to us to have wasted His most gifted people. Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12:2)  are two of many examples. We cannot see what God is aiming at, so let us walk by faith and trust God to accomplish His plan and purpose in and through us.

Jesus went to Jerusalem and the cross to fulfill the will of God as prophesied in Scripture. Though they did not understand, the disciples went with Him anyway. Oswald Chambers writes, “In our Lord’s life Jerusalem was the place where He reached the climax of His Father’s will upon the cross, and unless we go with Jesus there, we shall have no companionship with Him. Nothing ever discouraged Our Lord on His way to Jerusalem. He never hurried through certain villages where He was persecuted, or lingered in others where He was blessed. Neither gratitude nor ingratitude turned Our Lord one hair’s breadth away from His purpose to go to Jerusalem.” We may not be able to see our “Jerusalem” but we will go toward it as Jesus did, in the will of God as a living sacrifice on the altar of His love (Luke 14:27; Romans 12:1-2).

I’m Not That Bad

“… we preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.”

1 Corinthians 1:23

One of the most abhorrent and counter-cultural ideas in Christianity is that everyone is a sinner, and is freely offered forgiveness and redemption. Every “monster”, no matter what they have done, can be saved. Is there any sin that is too great for Christ’s atonement on the cross? No. Was his death sufficient to cover all the worst atrocities perpetuated throughout history? <strong>Yes, it was.</strong>(1 John 1:7)

This concept is anathema due to one of our greatest weaknesses – the persistent notion that at least we are “not as bad as those others”. After all, it’s insulting and degrading to be lumped into the same category as those we regard as the “worst of humanity”.

A certain man was quoted saying “Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.” (this quote is also attributed to another). This implies that we often sell ourselves short – by comparing ourselves at our worst, to others at their best. It has a grain of truth: that we fail to retain a right picture of ourselves. Although I expect the author of the quote did not intend it, a higher truth may be obtained from it: that we should instead compare ourselves with some One who is not of this world.

We ask the mirror on the wall, “who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror replies, “You are the fairest” – but the mirror is merely parroting what we already believe to be true. The higher truth is that only through God’s eyes (as revealed in his Word) can we know ourselves truly. And only thereafter can we start to see our fellow humans in the right way as well.

We must let go of pride (Isaiah 5:21), and let go of condemnation (Romans 8:1). Instead of comparing ourselves to fallen creatures, we must set our eyes on the sinless one, Jesus, who has called us to Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).