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How to Have Assurance of Salvation

Monday, 18 Jun 2012 Leave a comment

One important aspect of our salvation is how we continue to view our salvation after we are initially saved. This is often called “assurance of salvation” or “eternal security.” Peter discusses this topic at the beginning of his second letter.

3According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:  (II Peter 1:3-10)

The verse to start with is at the end, verse 10, where Peter exhorts us to make our calling and election sure (to be assured of our salvation). This verse is a perfect example of the dangers of reading a scripture out of context. Taken on its own, our human nature easily focuses on the fact that we are told to “make your calling and election sure.” If your relationship with God is contaminated with legalism and religion, then your mind will immediately begin trying to figure out what you must diligently do to be sure of your salvation. Often this takes the form of striving (in your own strength) to lead a “good, moral, Christian life” with the thought that success in doing this is what assures you of your salvation.

This is simply wrong. This is a works-based, legalistic, religious approach to Christianity, which is supposed to be a relationship, not a religion. The context of this verse illustrates this exact point. If we fail to understand the context of verse 10, we easily fall into our own human perceptions of life which are so often contaminated or plainly wrong.

Peter says in verse 10 that you will never fall away if you “do these things.” What are these things? Working backwards, verse 9 ends the explanation: do not forget that you have been purged from your sins.

A person who is not assured of their salvation has some level of guilt, shame, or condemnation in their life. These things create doubt concerning your relationship with God. They are poison. You are in a state of sin consciousness. But, Hebrews 10:2 is emphatic that once a perfect sacrifice has been offered, a worshiper should have no more conscience of sin. A perfect sacrifice has been offered for you – Christ, the Lamb of God. Therefore, you should never have to think about or worry about sin ever again; you should no longer feel guilty or condemned – all of your sin has been paid for.

This is what Peter says you must not forget. You must not forget that you have been purged of your sins. (Peter says “old sins” but I John 2:2 and Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 make it clear that all sin has been dealt with past, present, and future.) If you understand this, you will not have guilt, shame, or condemnation; and, you will therefore be assured of your salvation.

The other “things” Peter mentions besides knowing your sins are forgiven are also related to an understanding of your salvation. Faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness, and charity are largely part of another familiar list – Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit. Once you are born again, your spirit nature is changed. Your spirit is now the same as Christ’s – the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:17). You have all of the fruits of the Spirit on the inside of you in your born-again spirit. The challenge is to renew your mind to your new nature and these will be released into your soul and body. This is what Peter says in verse 3 – we have already been given all things that we need for life and godliness. Knowing your sins are purged is related to fully understanding your salvation. Understanding your salvation, not self-effort, leads to all of the things listed in verses 5-7. They are realized in your life by knowing who you are in Christ.

So, to summarize, assurance of salvation comes from not being sin conscious, from knowing who you are in Christ, and from renewing your mind to know what (and who!) lives on the inside of you. It is not something you must work for or work at. It comes from knowledge and rest (see Hebrews 4 where we are told to labor to enter rest).

– Be loved and blessed to be love and a blessing

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God Loves You Unconditionally

Saturday, 16 Jun 2012 Leave a comment

Need a simple proof that God has paid for all of your sins, that your actions do not affect His attitude and love for you?

God is love (I John 4:8 and I John 4:16). This is an equivalence. Where we see the word “love” (meaning agape in the Greek), we should be able to replace “love” with “God.”

Love keeps no record of wrongs (I Corinthians 13:5, more clearly stated in Amplified, YLT,  NASB, NIV, etc. than in King James).

Therefore, God is keeping no record of wrongs.

Simple isn’t it? How is God able to do this? God remembers your sin no more (Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17, prophesied in Isaiah 43:25) because Jesus paid for all of your sins past, present, and future (I John 2:2). No matter who you are or whether you have a relationship with God, this is the truth. But, the Bible is also clear that you must believe and accept what Jesus has done for you (Romans 10:9-10).  We are to receive God’s grace (the payment for all of our sins) through faith (belief, trust, and acceptance of what has been done) – Ephesians 2:8. It is this simple. And, nothing changes once we become a Christian. As we received Christ is the same way we should walk with Him each day (Colossians 2:6) – by grace through faith.

– Be loved and blessed to be love and a blessing

Why not remarry?

Friday, 15 Jun 2012 Leave a comment

While being challenged whether I believed everything in the Bible by a professing Christian homosexual (who pointedly does not believe everything in the Bible and for obvious reasons does not want to), I was directed to the verses below.

10And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. (I Corinthians 7:10-11)

As I read them, I felt the Lord give me revelation into these verses that I had not had before. Very specifically, I want to look at the Lord’s heart for the divorced – why are the divorced instructed not to remarry? And, is the only option?

I would argue that the part of this verse that draws the focus of most people is the phrase “let her remain unmarried.” God’s initial instruction to the divorced is to remain unmarried. In our human nature, we tend not to like to be told what to do. Our flesh rises up and we reject what we are being told. But, in many cases, if we understand the reason for or the benefits of an instruction, our hearts soften and we can come to accept it in our heart. And, if an alternative is given to the instruction, all the better.

Along these lines, I invite you to take your focus off the initial stated instruction – for the divorced to remain unmarried. To regain our proper focus, let us consider the reason that Christ came. We could easily start with the verse below.

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (I John 3:8)

Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. This is exactly what we want to understand, but it is still too broad for our purposes. The works of the devil could include sickness and many, many other things. But, what was the first work of the devil? He deceived Adam and Eve. He caused them to fall out of relationship with God. So, then we could say the first reason Christ came was to destroy the first work of the devil. This was made crystal clear by Paul.

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation. (II Corinthians 5:18)

Christ came to reconcile us to God. This is God’s heart: reconciliation. One of the first things said after the sin of Adam and Eve (which is something akin to a spiritual divorce) was a prophecy about the coming of Christ through which our reconciliation would happen (Genesis 3:15).

And, this brings us back to the verses in I Corinthians 7:10-11. The phrase immediately following “let her remain unmarried” is “or be reconciled to her husband.” The alternative given to remaining unmarried is to reconcile. In fact, in addition to be an alternate choice to remaining unmarried, this is the precise reason for the instruction to remain unmarried. If the divorced remarry, reconciliation is no longer possible (without further divorce, hurt, pain, and mess). Forgiveness and friendship may be possible, and these are good, but reconciliation would not be possible. And, reconciliation is God’s best. Do you see God’s loving heart here? This is the reason for God’s instructions through Paul in this passage.

This is the only point of this writing. God’s heart for the divorced is for reconciliation. It is that simple, and we should really be done. But…

Disclaimers

Unfortunately, with such a subject as this, it is necessary to give much more teaching and explanation, none of which has anything to do with the actual topic itself. This is necessary because of the tangle of legalism and condemnation that exists in much of the Christian church today, and because of pride that so easily besets all us.

1 – Don’t be condemned

If you have already closed the door to reconciliation through remarriage after a divorce, do not enter into guilt and condemnation (sin consciousness – Hebrews 10:2). This instruction is for the future, not the past. God has dealt with the mistakes and sin of the past, the present, and the future (I John 2:2). The past we cannot repair. The present and future we can. Apply this word to your present and future, if and when necessary. Do not let it mingle in the past where it will do nothing but bring guilt and condemnation from the devil.

2 – Do not follow just to follow

As humans, we have a natural tendency towards legalism. We will almost always focus on the specifics of an instruction or command and completely lose sight of the reason behind the instruction. Attempting to fulfill a command for the sake of obedience will almost always fail. This is an attempt to change the fruit of your tree (your outward actions) and not the nature of the tree itself (the root or the motivation for your action). If you do not in your heart understand, accept, and believe the reason for a command, you will follow it out of a sense of debt or obligation – an effort that almost always fails and leads to resentment or bitterness. Only when your heart is changed will you be able to follow the Lord effortlessly.

If you do not want to follow this instruction, then consider pursuing God and His heart until you do want to follow this instruction (meaning until the instruction and its purpose come alive in your heart).

3 – Don’t be prideful

We may not like these instructions (that if we are divorced we should either remain unmarried or reconcile), and we may be unwilling to follow them, especially in the midst of the situation, but they are a blueprint for doing things God’s way. You may very likely think that reconciliation is impossible or even highly undesirable. But, that is today. You do not know the circumstances of tomorrow much less those years in the future (this exact point is made for slightly different circumstances in the subsequent verses 12 through 16 of I Corinthians 7). What if one or both of you suffer radical transformations and healing in the hand of God to a point where reconciliation is possible or even desirable? God knows the future; you do not. By ignoring His instructions, you can preempt God’s best plan for your life.

Conclusion

A marriage may have much pain and hurt because of poor choices and self-centeredness. It can take time for these things to heal. But, a man leaves his father and mother and should cleave to his wife. Marriage was intended to be a lifelong commitment. If Satan attempts to destroy a marriage, we only help him fully succeed by not heeding God’s instructions in this passage. If you are in this situation, consider leaving the door open to reconciliation. Leave God’s best as a possible path in your life.

– Be loved and blessed to be love and a blessing

New Bible Reading Plan

Sunday, 10 Jun 2012 Leave a comment

As I picked up my Bible to do my daily reading one day, I noticed the Bible reading plan I was using had just finished Colossians in one day after having spent 7 days on II Samuel. Coming up was 8 more days in the Old Testament followed by just one day in the New Testament. I had liked this plan for a number of reasons, including going book by book, but it has been emphasized in Bible college that as New Testament believers we should really be reading the New Testament more than the Old Testament. This plan was definitely not doing this. But, as I said, I liked many of its other features.

Now, to actually read the NT more than the OT with your reading plan, you would have to read in parallel the Old Testament over something like 2-3 years and the New Testament twice a year. I didn’t feel like that was best, as it would probably be better to see all of the Old Testament once each year. Nevertheless, I felt it was time for a change.

Over the years, one of the challenges I have faced is finding a Bible reading plan that works well for me. I used this one for a while because it provides catch-up days, mostly goes book by book, and intersperses the Old and New Testament books. But, as I described above, I was not seeing nearly enough of the New Testament each day.

Many other plans read the Old and New Testament in parallel. But, the reading is still heavily favored towards the Old Testament. I also wanted a plan that functioned like the one I had been using but brought the New Testament forward in frequency and comparative time allotted.

So, I created a plan of my own. If you feel that you are “in the market” for a new Bible reading plan, take a look at the one I have created by visiting the Bible Reading Plan page and see if it works well for you.

– Be loved and blessed to be love and a blessing

Categories: General

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Thursday, 7 Jun 2012 Leave a comment

One of the most prevalent teachings about the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh is that the thorn was a sickness. Today, we will take a constructive approach to Paul’s thorn by letting scripture speak for itself. We will look at the verses describing the thorn (its nature, purpose, and origin) and the context of those verses. We will also look at other usages of this idiom in scripture. The goal will be to provide a simple, straightforward explanation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh from directly relevant scriptures without wandering into other scriptures that are not explicitly described by the Bible to relate to Paul’s thorn.

Overview

7And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
(II Corinthians 12:7-10)

Virtually everything we need to know about Paul’s thorn is given in exactly one verse – II Corinthians 12:7. The source of the thorn, the nature of the thorn, the purpose of the thorn, and the effect of the thorn are all described here.

The Purpose of the Thorn

In verse 7, Paul explicitly says the thorn was given to him to prevent him from being overly exalted (admired, celebrated) because of the abundant and incredible revelations he had been given by God. Do you see how specific this is to Paul? I would venture that virtually no one alive today can put themselves in this category. So, if this is one possible criterion for receiving a thorn in the flesh, you (and I) likely don’t qualify. The whole thing appears to be a very special circumstance related specifically to the Apostle Paul.

The Nature of the Thorn

So, what exactly was the thorn? This is the biggest sticking point for many people. For some reason, the obvious answer given in this verse has been completely overlooked. The next part of verse 7 describes the thorn for us. We need not speculate or wander to other parts of scripture to find the answer. It is right here.

The thorn is described precisely: it is a messenger of Satan. The word messenger is the Greek word aggelos which is almost always translated “angel” and never anything but “angel” or “messenger.” If the messenger was an angel of Satan, then this was what most Christians call a demon.

Paul’s thorn in the flesh was simply a demon.

The Source of the Thorn

If you read very carefully, the scriptures do not say that the Lord sent Paul the thorn. It says Paul asked the Lord to take it away (verse 8), but it does not say that God had sent it in the first place. Remember, the thorn was a messenger of Satan – a demon. The source of the thorn was the devil, not God!

If something bad has happened to you, do not blame God. God loves you. It is the devil who comes to steal, kill, and destroy – but Jesus came that you might have life (John 10:10). Paul was seeking help from God concerning an attack from the devil. It is that simple.

The Effect of the Thorn

Verse 7 continues by describing the effect of the demon in Paul’s life: to buffet him. In most of its uses in scripture, the word buffet has an implication of a repeated strike, blow, or mistreatment. So, what was this buffeting that Paul endured? Unfortunately, these verses are not terrible explicit on this point. The best they offer is stated in verses 9 and 10: the effect of the buffeting was infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses for Christ’s sake. And, in this we find some clues.

“St. Paul in Prison” by Rembrandt

First, If we would be honest and look at Paul’s documented life in the New Testament, by far the most prevalent feature of Paul’s life was persecution and misfortune. There is scant evidence of sickness in his life. But, almost every turn of the page in Paul’s life leads to some type of upheaval.

Using the context of the scriptures describing Paul’s thorn, we can see Paul’s own description of this in just the previous chapter of II Corinthians. In II Corinthians 11:23-27, all of the sufferings listed by Paul himself relate to persecution or natural misfortunes or catastrophes. The only question might be the word “painfulness” in verse 27. But, this word mostly means “toil” or “travail”, not physical pain.

Returning to the verses describing Paul’s thorn, we do see mention of the word “infirmities” in verses 9 and 10. While this word does have the connotation of sickness in some usages, it is not required to. To understand Paul’s usage of the word “infirmities” here, again use the context of the thorn scriptures. After the list just examined in II Corinthians 11:23-27, in verse 30 Paul says he will glory in these “infirmities.” Remember that list contained no references to sickness. And, in chapter 12 verse 10, right after the reference to the thorn, Paul again lists things he relates to infirmity: necessity, distress, and persecution!

And this is the key. When Paul asks the Lord to remove the thorn, we see that Paul is asking the Lord to remove the demon and, by implication, the persecution (and the resulting distresses and such) stirred up by that demon. We have been redeemed from many things, but scripture is clear that persecution was not one of them. Paul appears to have been pushing so deep into the finished work of Christ that the Lord had to finally say, “I am sorry, but you cannot go that far.” Jesus was persecuted, and we have been warned that we will be as well. This is the lesson Paul learned, and we see perfect evidence of this because he states it himself in II Timothy 3:12 which was written well after II Corinthians. Paul had learned that persecution is something we must endure with the Lord’s help. We have not been redeemed from it. This is the lesson of Paul’s thorn for us.

Ans, this is why the Lord tells Paul that His grace is sufficient for him. We do not endure and overcome persecution through redemption – we endure and overcome persecution by grace and strength from Christ. When we are weak, He is strong in us.

Other Usages of the Idiom

As we look into the Old Testament, we find several verses that use an idiom very similar to “thorn in the flesh.” Since Paul was one of the most well-versed men of his day in the Old Testament scriptures, it is logical to conclude that he was using an idiom that was well-known. To further reinforce the proposed understanding of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, it should be compared with usages of the idiom in the Old Testament.

In Joshua 23:13, the Israelites are pointedly warned by God that if they associate with the nations surrounding them that those nations would become “scourges in their sides and thorns in their eyes.” Here we see an idiom very close to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. And, what was the thorn? Was it a sickness? No, it was something that caused irritation and persecution, in this case a group of people – something that has a personality if you like.

In Judges 2:3, the Israelites are rebuked for not having obeyed the Lord concerning the inhabitants of the land. The consequence, the Lord says, is that those inhabitants would be as “thorns in their sides.” Again, the thorn is described as a group of people that caused irritation and persecution.

In Ezekiel 28:24, the city of Zidon is described as being a thorn to those around them. Again, the thorn is a group of people.

From this, letting scripture comment on itself, it is not logical to conclude that Paul’s thorn was anything else than what it is described as in II Corinthians 12:7 – something that caused irritation and persecution in Paul’s life, in this case instigated by a demon. This fits well enough with the Old Testament usages of the idiom to describe people – a being, something with a personality, not an object or concept.

Conclusion

A simple examination of the context of Paul’s thorn and usages of the words elsewhere in scripture shows that Paul’s thorn was a demon sent by the devil to repeatedly stir up persecution and misfortune in Paul’s life with the intent that he would not be overly admired and celebrated for the incredible revelation given to him by the Lord.

– Be loved and blessed to be love and a blessing

When does the storm stop?

Monday, 4 Jun 2012 Leave a comment

Today we look at an important principle in our walk with the Lord.

28And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
32And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
(Matthew 14:28-32)

“Lord Save Me” by Simon Dewey

Once Peter had walked most of the way to Jesus on the water, his eyes became focused on the circumstances instead of Jesus and he began to sink. But, what I want us to notice is that once Jesus had caught him, once Peter had a problem, the winds did not stop. The winds did not stop until they had come back into the ship (verse 32). The scripture does not describe the trip back to the boat, but I would venture to guess that Jesus made Peter walk on the water all the way back to the ship – in the still raging storm!

Once you look to Jesus in whatever circumstance you are facing, whether immediately or not, the storm very well may not cease. But, with His help, you will not fall, you will make it “back to the ship”. This is an important principle for us to recognize, a principle that Jesus Himself made clear to us.

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (John 17:15)

The Lord will not normally take you out of a situation, but He will provide for you through it. Paul provides us with another example of this principle. In II Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul’s thorn in the flesh was persecution stirred up by demonic opposition to the spread of the Gospel. The Lord did not remove the persecution, but He assured Paul that “my grace is sufficient for you” to walk through the situations. The “wind” in Paul’s life did not cease, but neither did God’s grace, and His grace is (and always will be) greater than the “wind.” Paul expressed this beautifully in Philippians 4:13 where he said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” No matter your circumstance, it is strength from Christ that will bring you ultimate victory in your circumstance.

We can see this principle repeatedly through scripture: the Hebrew children in fire, Daniel in the lion’s den, and so on. In all of these situations, the Lord did not miraculously cause the situation to stop. But, He did provide strength and miraculous provision to walk through the circumstances.

Remember Hebrews 13:5 – “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” And in verse 6, “the Lord is my helper”. God is always for you; He is never against you. He is not sending the storm into your life, and He may not even stop it, but He will be there to get you through it.

– Be loved and blessed to be love and a blessing

Categories: Bible Commentary

The Word of God, not the word of men

Friday, 1 Jun 2012 Leave a comment

I think that one of the greatest challenges in ministry is to help people understand that the Word of God is not just a collection of the writings of men. And, sadly, this challenge exists not only in the world, but in much of the Church. But, this is not a new challenge. Paul faced it as well…

For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. (I Thessalonians 2:13)

St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael

This verse seems to indicate that Paul likely had to work to convince his listeners that they were hearing a message from the Lord and not just from men (in reality, God often did the convincing with signs and wonders – see Mark 16:20 and Acts 14:3). But, notice the results in those that believed – the Word produced the desired effect. For unbelievers, this effect is salvation – coming into right-standing with God and the fullness of all that He has done for us. For believers, fully accepting all of the Word of God leads to the fullness of salvation – peace, healing, and so forth. This was indicated by Paul in his letter to Philemon.

That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. (Philemon 6)

This verse says that, for a Christian, your faith produces the desired results in your life by acknowledging every good thing which is in you. How can you acknowledge (believe) what is in you, the truth about you, without knowing who you are in Christ? And, how can you know who you are in Christ without reading the Word of God? Christ lives in you; this is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). This is the source of much of what God has for you.

Let me encourage you today, whether you are a believer or not, pick up a Bible. Read it as a message from God to you. God may have inspired men to write it, but it is from His heart to yours. When properly understood, it is a love letter from the Lord to you to tell you who He is, who you are, and what He has done for you because of how much He loves you.

– Be loved and blessed to be love and a blessing

Categories: Evangelism