Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: mercy

The biggest threat to your eternal rewards

Nothing wrecks a believer’s life faster than sexual immorality.  The author of Hebrews knew that, and he gave this warning to his readers:

Hebrews 12:16-17
And make sure that there isn’t any sexually immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal.  For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, even though he sought it with tears, because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance.


There are portions of our lives where there are no take-backs.  We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.  Sexual purity is one of them.  The author equates sexual immorality with godlessness (i.e. – acting like there is no God).  Both of these behaviors are selfish; they can completely wreck a believer’s life and witness.  By using Esau as an example, the original recipients of this letter would have recognized the seriousness of our choices in these areas.

As a first-born, Esau was automatically entitled to a double portion of his parents’ estate and guaranteed that he would inherit the role of patriarch in the family’s lineage and decision making.  However, Esau thought so little of this inheritance that he was willing to trade all the future rights and privileges of a firstborn son…to fill his immediate, temporal appetite.  Sexual temptation is also like that.  The immediate appetite is satisfied…but the actions cannot be undone, our life’s course is altered, and the inheritance is lost…no matter how many tears we shed.

Does that mean if a Christian indulges in an affair that he or she are out of the family? 
Will God stop blessing them? 
Will they lose all inheritance?

No, they are not cast out of the family, but there will be permanent consequences – in this life, and in eternity future.  Esau is still our example for how we resolve our questions:

After trading away his future inheritance to fulfill his right-now appetite, Esau eventually returned to his father and repented of his actions, saying he would be content with any remaining blessing his father was able to grant him. 

From there, we find that Esau went on in life and was blessed by God – he even has his own chapter of family lineage and prosperity in Genesis 36.  However…Esau never regained his rights of firstborn inheritance.  Throughout the entire Bible and for all of eternity, the nation of Israel does not list Esau as one of their patriarchs.  Additionally, we consistently find God identifying Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…but we never find God describing Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

Because of his choices, Esau missed out on blessings and opportunities – both in this life and in eternity.  And the author of Hebrews is telling us that OUR sexual purity has that level of importance in God’s eyes.  However, if we blow it…all is not lost…some inheritance will be, but not all opportunity to earn more in the future.

Remember what the author taught us earlier:

Hebrews 4:15-16
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.


There is grace to help us when we are being sexually tempted and we can receive mercy when we fail.  Our relationship with God will remain intact; however, the consequences of our sexual sin will echo throughout eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Making the effort, but struggling in weakness

Christ, the Greater Messenger, has invited us to partner with Him now.  The reward for doing so is entering God’s rest, which is the administration of His future kingdom.  The author of Hebrews is using the example of the Israelites leaving Egypt and their opportunity to participate in the administration of the future county of Israel as a parallel to our own lives:

Hebrews 4:9-11
A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people.  For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.

Notice that the author is stressing our need to make every effort to enter that rest; as such, he is clearly not taking about Jesus’ offer of eternal salvation from the penalty of our sins.  If the rest discussed here were simply heaven, we wouldn’t have to work for it, because eternal life is an unearned gift (John 3:16; John 10:25; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17).  Effort, however, is needed if we are going to be partners with Jesus and His administration of the universe.  Our efforts now do not affect “where” we will spend eternity, but our efforts now will effect “what” we will be doing in eternity future.

Since the Israelites’ example and Jesus’ superior message are available in Scripture, this is the place we should be looking to see what we must do NOW in order to enter into the future kingdom participation LATER.  However, when we look through Scripture, we discover:

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.

Since an account for my life will be given, all my times of having a sinful, unbelieving heart will be known…and I remember how God dealt with the Israelites for the unbelief (they missed out on participating in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel!)  What am I going to do, then?  Given my mistakes, sins, and all the times I act selfishly…How can I ever be considered qualified to partner with God in the future?

Hebrews 4:14-15
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.

This tells me that Christ is on my side, as my brother in the family and the bridge for my relationship between me and God the Father.  I am not alone in my struggles!  Even greater still, we are told:

Hebrews 4:16
Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

In all honesty, my human mind would not expect this.  We are so weak…so very, very weak.  We do not deserve the first, second, or any chance to partner with God.  And once again, our God blows away our expectations with His mercy and grace.

Jesus is here to sympathize with our weaknesses and to help us in our time of need, so that we can make every effort to enter that rest.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Ignorant, undeserving, and accepted

Parenting small children is not for the faint-hearted.  As Dr. Kevin Leman is fond of saying, “We have seen the enemy, and they are small.”  There’s just so much of life – both good and bad – that they simply do not understand.  It’s good how they try to cure their ignorance by asking ‘Why?’ all the time, but even then, a child will trust her own interpretation more than she trusts the answer for her question.

A child’s perception also skews how they interact with the world.  Simple things – like the dark, mannequins, or balloons – paralyze them in fear; but they are oblivious to the real dangers in life – like poisons, traffic, and sharp objects.

A child may even fully believe he is doing a good thing, when in fact, there is a dangerous consequence and he is totally unaware of where his actions will take him.  When one of my boys was quite young, he was wearing a set of headphones and wandering around the house while he played.  However, he was quite upset and threw large fit when I wouldn’t let him plug the headphones into a light socket.  In his mind, everything was fine and dad was being completely unreasonable.  Even after I told him ‘no’ and removed him from area, he stubbornly persisted.

I think we act toward God like my obstinate little boy.  We want what we want, when we want it.  We think we’re doing something ok, even something good…but God knows the real, eternal consequence of our actions.  Just like a small child…even if we know that what we’re doing is wrong, we still chase after our ignorant desires.

But thankfully, God is willing to forgive our selfish, self-focused actions.  Take a look at how Paul describes God’s forgiveness:

1 Timothy 1:12-14
I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry – one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.

Since it was out of ignorance that I had acted in unbelief, I received mercy, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Like a small child, Paul ignorantly acted on his own self-focused desires.  He didn’t believe God, Paul thought he knew better.  However, despite Paul’s actions, God extended mercy.  The term mercy means to help the afflicted, to show compassion to the wretched.  I’ve often heard it described as not giving someone the punishment or consequence they fully deserve.

How was this mercy extended?  Paul gives Timothy the first of three trustworthy sayings to take to heart:

1 Timothy 1:15
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

Paul didn’t say that Jesus came to save those of us who were trying hard to be good.  Jesus’ offer of salvation isn’t just to those people who are “basically good” but just mess up every once in a while. 

Let’s not gloss over what Paul says Timothy should fully accept – Jesus came for the sinners.  Jesus came for those of us who think that God’s work is evil.  Jesus came those of us who support harassment and oppression of Jesus followers.  Jesus came for those of us who vainly believe that we are the most important.  Jesus came for us, despite our ignorance and unbelief.

And after Paul accepted His mercy, Jesus didn’t stop there.  Immediately, the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  The wretched received an undeserved belonging.  He was no longer one of the afflicted ones.  He had a family and a purpose.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Our identity in the gospel

The Bible wasn’t dropped out of the sky as a complete revelation of God to mankind.  Instead, the Scriptures were assembled from the writings of God-inspired authors over hundreds of years.  Through these authors, God revealed more and more of His plan for the world and the salvation of those who trust Jesus for eternal life.  This process is referred to progressive revelation.

Therefore, we must consider each section of Scripture in light of the larger context of the God’s story throughout the Bible.  Most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to a particular group of believers or an individual believer to discuss specific topics.  Since the letters’ recipients have already placed their faith in Jesus, getting an “in a nutshell” explanation of the gospel doesn’t appear very often, as the author typically spends his time instructing his readers about the effects of the gospel in their lives or encouraging them to live their lives with eternity in mind.

Paul certainly wrote to the Colossians to give them instruction and encouragement.  However, after he reminds them of where their identity comes from, in verses that follow, he gives them a wonderful “in a nutshell” statement of the gospel message:

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Paul then uses two illustrations that his readers would have been very familiar with.  These physical examples had been previously used to confirm a person’s identification with a group of people.  Both illustrations contain the imagery of a permanent change that takes place in a person’s life. 

Colossians 2:11
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.

Circumcision was the physical removal of flesh that the Israelites performed as a symbolic indication of their identification with God and a separation from the surrounding nations and their gods.  However, a physical circumcision was no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection – our identity with Him is a spiritual circumcision.  In Jesus, we have rejected, or put off, the selfish desires of our flesh.

Continuing with his next example, Paul says

Colossians 2:12
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

The Greek word for baptism means “to be placed into”.  When we are physically immersed in a water baptism, we are symbolically demonstrating what has already happened to us spiritually.  We were set apart and placed into Christ the moment we put our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead

The beauty of our salvation is that we don’t have to try and earn it.  The truth is – we can’t earn it.  God knew that, but still desired relationship with us.  As Paul reminds the Colossians, Christ took care of our sin debt while we were still rebels. 

Colossians 2:13-15
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

While we were still sinners, Christ paid humanity’s sins.  Because of their faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead, God forgave all their sin.  Christ’s standing with the Father is credited to each person who places their faith in Jesus. 

We’ve all had times in our lives where we messed up and afterward we had the offense forgiven, but we still had to live with the consequences of our actions.  However, that’s not the case when it comes to our salvation from sin.  Not only has Jesus erased the certificate of debt but He has also erased…its obligations.  In Christ, we are free from sin – and its penalty.

Our salvation wasn’t secured by some back-door, secret deal, either.  Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified – the kind of death and separation from God that we deserved.  Jesus’ sacrifice was on display for entire world to see.  By His loving actions, He disarmed the rulers and authorities set against us, and, as Paul stated in verse 9, Jesus became the head over every ruler and authority

In these verses, we find that we have been set apart (11-12), our sins forgiven (13-14), and we have victory over forces of evil (15) – all because of Jesus.  That’s the gospel “in a nutshell”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Our greatest need

Life is messy.  Our selfishness and sin tangles up everything, doesn’t it?  I can make such a tangled mess out of my life that I am bound by knots that I cannot undo…however, our sin-soaked human condition is made even more difficult as each of our tangled messes become interwoven in everyone else’s tangled messes.  Every mess we face is caused by either our own selfishness or someone else’s selfishness. When we recognize our sin for what it is, we quickly realize that life is so messy that we could never un-messy it.

Titus 3:3-4 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But…

In our heart-of-hearts, when we are honest…that is who we were.  Disobedient fools that happily chased and submitted to all kinds of destructive behaviors.  We lived in constant suspicion and envy of others, hating anyone who appeared to have something we did not.  Every aspect of our existence was focused completely on ourselves.

The word “but” always signals a change in direction.  It is a key term to look for when we read the Scriptures.  “But” tells us that the subject matter is about to change, that something different is coming.

Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

In direct contrast to the hateful, envious, disobedient mess that all people are in, God steps in to rescue us.  God intervened in the mess of our sinful lives.  When our lives were full of malice, envy, and hate – God stepped in with kindness, love, and mercy.

These qualities of God and his salvation are the polar opposite of the qualities we possessed.

And just in case we ever think that we maybe earned it, or we somehow convinced God to save us, or that we were “good enough” – Paul instructs us that God’s rescue was not because of righteous things we had done

but because of his mercy – in direct contrast to any outside influence of our works, (because there wasn’t any), God’s motivation for saving humanity comes from his own mercy.  Mercy is defined as the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially showing kindness toward someone in need.  What better way to describe the entire human race? 

We needed someone to feel compassion toward us, to act in kindness on our behalf, someone to deal with our need to have our sin nature resolved.  We couldn’t do it – individually or corporately – and there was nothing about us that could influence God to act on our behalf.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures…living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

We couldn’t fix our mess.  So God did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken