THE SIMPLICITY AND POWER OF THE GOSPEL

Many people have heard the gospel message in part but when they hear it fully they seem shocked. This past week I have had the privilege to share the gospel during our weekly Bible study on Wednesday, our monthly visit to prison on Saturday, Sunday School class and in our local jail Sunday night. During each of these opportunities there was at least one person truly enlightened through the sharing of the full gospel message. There is nothing better than getting to be a part of what God is doing in people’s lives and the joy of watching the lights come on in their eyes as they begin to understand God’s love for them on such a deep level.

As I prepared for bed on Sunday night, I found myself reflecting on the past five days and was simply amazed. Since I’ve been teaching the Bible I have had many memorable moments but this week has really been extraordinary. Wednesday night Bible study found us discussing Galatians 2:20 and Romans 6. For those unfamiliar with these verses let me just say I think they are the core of the gospel message. They establish for us that through the cross we, that place our faith in Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, are to consider ourselves as having been joined with Him. In other words, we too have been crucified with Christ! While this is plainly taught over and over throughout the letters of the Apostle Paul, I saw clearly this week many have never really heard this. One lady in our Bible study was so effected by this understanding she chose to stay with us rather than go to a meeting she previously planned to attend. She simply couldn’t tare herself away from the scriptures.

On Saturday night I shared Romans six with the ladies in prison and the response was the same. All but maybe one of them never took their eyes off of me as I talked. I joked with them saying, “Isn’t it amazing how this has been in your Bible the whole time?” You see while many may have read Romans 6 not many really believe what it says. For instance one of the ladies made the comment that “We, meaning Christians, still sin everyday.” While she’s not alone in this view, I simply asked her the same thing the Apostle Paul asked in Romans 6:2-3, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” As our time at the prison came to an end, a few of the ladies excitedly said, “I’ve never heard preaching like that before!” While I’m not sure what she specifically meant, I think it’s because we didn’t berate them to do more, and try harder, instead we shared with them that God loves them so much He has done it all through His Son Jesus Christ and by faith we have become one with Him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17). As we left them one lady said, “You need to tell everyone that message, I know that’s what I’m going to do right now!” as she made her way back to her dorm.

For the sake of any who misunderstand, let me just say, no one is advocating that a Christian can’t sin we are simply saying we don’t have to. While the gospel to many means we have come to God in repentance and He has forgiven our sins in order for us to enter Heaven one day, the gospel message is really much more remarkable than that. According to the scriptures, we who have received Christ have been joined to Him in an inseparable, eternal union. God sees us as having died in Him and been raised back as a brand new creature in Christ. This is not just an old sinner who has been washed off, patted on the back side and told to try a bit harder this time. This is a creature in which God’s Spirit is joined to your human spirit in a way that has never existed before.

One reason many have such difficulty with counting themselves as dead to sin is because we far too often live from our natural senses rather than simple faith in the Word of God. What the Bible calls walking in faith or walking in the Spirit is a foreign concept to the natural man. In fact the Bible tells us the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Maybe we’ll discuss that a bit more some other time. For now I pray God will clarify for you what being born-again really means according to the scriptures.

Louie

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WEAPON OR TOOL?

Reading through Romans six and hearing how we have died to sin never gets old. It seems to be just as fresh this time as it has been in the past. Verse 13 jumped out at me recently though, it says, “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The word instrument, as used here, is defined “an implement, or utensil or tool (offensive for war)–armour, instrument, weapon.”

Tracey and I recently watched the movie Thor with Anthony Hopkins playing Thor’s father Oden. In the beginning of the movie Odin, and all the citizens of Asgard, are conducting a ceremony to announce Thor as the new king. For those unfamiliar with the story, Thor carries a large hammer which is where his real power lies. During the ceremony scene, Anthony Hopkins is narrating and makes a statement that applies to this verse. Speaking of the Hammer, Odin says, “it can be used as a weapon to destroy or a tool to build.”

I’m not going to attempt to tell the full mythology behind Thor’s hammer but I wanted to share a few insights with you. The day after Tracey and I watched this movie I sat in a small circle of men at our jail as we worked our way through Romans six. When we came to verse 13 and its description of us as an instrument I couldn’t help but recall Thor’s hammer. In other words, Thor was a god and he wielded a hammer. We too have a God or “god”, either sin or righteousness, and how we operate depends upon who we are presenting ourselves to.

As our lesson progressed we read about how we are always a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness, never are we the master. This means everyday we are either presenting ourselves as a weapon in the hands of the enemy or the hands of our Savior. You see there are times when our God does operate through us as a weapon; after all in Exodus 15:3 we read “The Lord is a warrior”, but at the same time we know from Ephesians 6 “our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So whether we are being operated as a weapon to destroy or a tool to build is decided by the one wielding the hammer not the hammer itself.

There are several examples throughout the scriptures where the enemy finds his way into people’s lives and attacks others. As we discussed how the enemy operates, we read a few verses in the book of Job. Chapter 1 verse 11 we read what Satan said to God about Job. He said, “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then if you jump ahead a bit to 2:9-10 we read what Job’s wife tells him after his livestock and children have been killed. “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity/evil?” So Job’s wife was obviously being operated by Satan wasn’t she?

We learn a bit more about the enemy’s tactics when we look at how he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. At the root, all of Satan’s temptations were attacks on Jesus’ identity. He said, “If you’re the Son of God then…” Then throughout the gospels we see the exact same tactics coming through the religious leaders of the day. Most of, if not all the times, Jesus was confronted by them they were attacking His identity saying something like, “If you’re the Son of God, what sign will you show us?” Even all the way up to Jesus’ death on the cross the enemy shouted “If you’re the Son of God why don’t you come down from there? Save yourself and save us!”

At the root of all of this seems to be accusation, manipulation and condemnation. Once we start to recognize the enemy’s tactics we will be quicker to respond effectively. Paul told Timothy in his second letter “Refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant, or hammer, must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” In other words, pray that they may come to see they are being used as a weapon in the hands of the enemy, come to their senses and begin to present themselves as a weapon, or tool, for righteousness instead.

Louie

FIRST ADAM–LAST ADAM

Romans six teaches us: those of us who have placed our faith in Christ, and his work on the cross, are to reckon ourselves dead to sin. You see, just as all were originally born in Adam and are therefore  sinners, those of us who have been born again have been born into Christ and made righteous. In other words, the cross is the means by which God transfers us from the first Adam to the last.

Human beings have never been independent we have always been in union with another spirit. For instance we are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. Notice we are always a slave and never our own master. The good news is in Christ our old boss is out and our new one is in. This is what Paul means with his frequent use of the term “Christ in you” and “In Christ.”

As we move from Romans six into Romans seven we read about a wife who simply cannot please her husband and needs to be separated from him, but the law won’t allow it. You see unless he dies, she has to remain married to him and the truth is he simply will not die. This is a picture of our relationship with the Law/sin meaning the Law isn’t going to die, and it is the means by which sin gets its power, so she/we are in a quandary. How will she/we get away from her old husband if he won’t die? God has a solution.

You see God has always known the husband wouldn’t die, but His plan involves the wife/us dying instead. If God crucifies us with Christ and raised us back up with him there would be legal grounds for divorce from the old husband, and we could then be joined to a new one, namely Christ himself. That’s exactly what He did.

The reason Paul uses a wife here as an illustration is because God is looking to produce fruit through His people but like a wife we have to have Him to do it. Just as a wife needs a husband to produce children we too have to have God in order to produce fruit for God. This analogy is teaching us that there is absolutely no way for us to produce fruit for God by way of the Law. Us attempting to produce fruit for God by the Law is the same as a wife trying to have a baby without her husband. It just simply cannot happen. The fruit bearing process requires the husband. Just as a wife has to become one flesh with her husband we must be one spirit with the Lord.

Essentially Romans six and the first part of seven is telling us we have died to sin by being severed from our union in Adam. Through the cross, and our being co-crucified, dead, buried and risen with Christ we walk in newness of life. Now that we are in union with Christ He can produce His fruit through our lives.

Louie

SPLITTING ADAMS AT THE CROSS

While there are elements of the Bible that seem complicated at first glance; overall God has made things quite simple. For instance let’s look at how God sees people. Everyone is in one camp or the other, either in Adam or in Christ there is no other category.

In Romans we discover through the first man Adam sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. Did you catch that? What this is telling us is we were all present in Adam when he sinned so we all really did participate when he sinned. While some may say, “That’s not fair!” I say, “Don’t jump to conclusions quite yet; let’s keep reading.”

If we keep on reading we discover, just as the one man Adam sinned causing all of us to fall, there was another man, Jesus, who obeyed and if we are joined to him we too will be counted as righteous just as he is righteous. I don’t hear anyone screaming about how unfair that is now do I? You see “God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” When it comes right down to it we are either in Adam or in Christ; that’s pretty simple isn’t it?

So the question is how do I get out of Adam and into Christ? Now that is a great question let’s look at Romans six for a minute. There we read the way to be joined to Christ is through being brought into union with him through the cross and his death, burial and resurrection. Just as we were in Adam in the beginning and joined to him and his sin, now through the cross of Calvary, God has placed us into Jesus Christ and all that has happened to him has happened to us. By faith we declare that we have been crucified with Christ, buried and raised to walk in newness of life. That’s what Paul means when he said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death?” You see baptism means “to be overwhelmed”. In other words we have been placed or fully enveloped by him. It is a union like when a man and wife become one flesh except “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.”

God’s ultimate plan is for all of us to be in Christ. It’s not his will that any should perish in fact in 1 Corinthians 15 it tells us this very thing. We read where there is an order for the resurrection of the saints. First of course was Christ then there will be those that are his at his coming. Eventually even the last enemy death will be defeated and all things will be put in subjection to Christ who will in turn subject all things to God, so God may be all in all.

Jesus Christ’s once and for all atoning death on the cross enables God to move into believers by His Spirit so we might participate in His plan to reconcile all things in Christ. What an amazing plan! God reconciles sinners to the savior and not only that he also takes the barriers that used to divide Jew and Gentile and tears it down so we can all be one. The letter to the Ephesians tells us God’s objective is to reveal his wisdom through the church to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. I’m not sure all of what that might entail but God does seem to enjoy choosing the foolish and weak things in order to confound the wise and strong. Maybe he does things this way so throughout eternity no one will have any room to brag about anything but how Magnificent, Wise and Glorious God truly is to have such a plan.

Louie

 

SET APART FOR A PURPOSE

Sometimes we take things for granted don’t we? When teaching a Bible study recently at the jail one of the young men asked me about several words and their meaning. Since reading and studying the Bible so much over the last twelve years it’s easy to assume others know what they’re reading when that isn’t always the case.

We’ve been studying in Romans, and as I read the last bit of chapter six the word sanctification came up a few times and I paused to ask the guys “Does anyone know what the word sanctification means?” One of them said, “I was going to ask you the same thing.” Sanctification is a good Bible word but it isn’t something you hear in the common everyday conversation. If you look up the word you will discover it means to “make one holy”, but I told them it meant to be set apart for a purpose. Of course if you look up the definition of “holy” that is the general idea.

Whenever the need to define sanctification arises an Old Testament story in the book of Daniel always seems to come to mind. In chapter five of Daniel we read where King Belshazzar was hosting quite the party with a thousand of his nobles. They were drinking wine and at one point he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. So they brought them in and used them during the party. You may think so what’s the big deal about that? Wait just a minute though there’s more. They used these vessels, meant only for use in the Temple for God’s purposes, to drink wine and praise gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone. You see those vessels had a specific purpose and now they were being used for something else, something completely contrary to the reason they were created in the first place.

I shared this story with the guys because to me it seems to be a great example of what sanctification is all about. You see God created mankind to be his vessel to contain his Spirit. The story of the fall is actually the story of how the enemy stole us away and used us for his purposes. We were created, just like those Temple vessels, to be used only in the service of the One True God and yet we have been violated and abused by a lesser god and found ourselves lost and undone.

Romans six tells us we have been crucified with Christ therefore we are no longer a slave to sin. We have been set free to offer our bodies (vessels) once again to the original purpose and plan for which we were designed which is in service to our God. Jesus Christs’ death, burial and resurrection sanctified us, set us aside for God’s purposes once again. Now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, we derive our benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the end result is eternal life.

Since being set free from sin, the Law, death, Hell and the grave we can “present our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God.” We no longer have to be manipulated and misused by the enemy. We have been washed and sanctified so we can “present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Louie

DEAD TO SIN

Romans six teaches us those that have placed their faith in Christ have been crucified with Christ. When Jesus Christ was on the cross we were there too. This is the same principle as in Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive.

What exactly does it mean for us to be dead to sin? We can all probably agree that sin is still a very present possibility so how can the Bible tell us we are dead to it? Let’s start by looking at what the Bible means when it says we are dead.

In the Garden of Eden God told Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or he would surely die. Of course we know he did in fact eat of it but it doesn’t seem like he died. I mean he and Eve sowed fig leaves together to cover themselves and ran to hide. That doesn’t sound like something a dead person would do does it?

Okay, so what really happened there? Death really means separation. When someone we love dies they don’t stop existing instead it means they are actually separated from this plane of existence. So when Adam sinned, and subsequently died, he didn’t stop existing he simply changed realms of existing. He was connected to God and now he is disconnected to God and connected to another…the Father of lies. He had in fact died to God and became alive to sin.

Ephesians 2 tells us we “were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (Satan), of the spirit (the spirit of error) that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” Being born of Adam means we are all born “dead, and separated from God” therefore we must be born again. This takes place by way of the cross of Christ.

So, in Romans six we discover the cross is how we are rescued from “the dominion of darkness, and transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son…” On the cross we were crucified with Christ therefore we that were dead (separated from God) can now consider ourselves dead (separated) to sin (the prince of the power of the air).

Now you may ask what about sin though? Can’t we still sin? If we are dead to sin why do we still sin? I’m glad you asked that let me see if I can help you understand.

When Adam sinned and found himself dead to God he could still hear from God couldn’t he? I mean God immediately came searching and calling for them in order to restore them, so we see although they were separated they were not beyond shouting distance and could still respond. The same principle is at work now. Even though, through the cross, we’ve been separated from sin the enemy still shouts at us. We know we can still commit sins so when the Bible tells us we are dead to sin it doesn’t mean we can’t choose to listen to our old sin master but thank God it does mean we don’t have to obey him.

The truth about being dead to sin is made available just as everything else from God is and that is by faith. We don’t always feel dead to sin, in fact sometimes it seems we are very much alive to it but we learn to walk in the truth of the Word rather than what our thoughts and feelings tell us. When the enemy comes to tempt us in some way the path of deliverance is always through the knowledge of having been crucified, buried and risen with Christ. We must see ourselves as God sees us and that is dead to sin and alive to Christ!

Louie

NOT I BUT…

In Romans six we discover all people are slaves. We are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness but either way we are still a slave. This means we are never acting independently as if we are just ourselves operating from our own supply or power source. Jesus said, “you are the branches.” Being a branch means we can’t live or produce fruit of any kind without another. In this case it’s Jesus who said he was the true vine. Could this imply the presence of a false one?

In the first few verses of Romans seven we discover we are likened unto a wife. Paul uses a wife and husband to illustrate this same thing. The wife can never produce children apart from her husband. Without a man a woman will not be able to become pregnant and give birth. Chapter seven is revealing to us that the first husband is impossible to please and this marriage will only bear fruit unto death. The problem is much deeper than that though because the only way for her to be removed from the marriage is if the husband dies. Guess what? He won’t die. The good news is God’s plan provided a way for the woman (we) to die with Christ, but thank God death didn’t have the final word. We rose again and now we are joined to our new husband, Jesus, and he will produce fruit for God through us. You see without Christ himself producing the life he wants from us it can never happen. Apart from him we can do nothing.

As we look a little further in Romans seven we read “But if I am doing the very thing I do not want , I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” Here we discover “sin” is the real culprit not me. Of course this doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible if we commit sin, but it means once again we are a slave, branch and wife and not the originator. This works in the opposite way too. In Galatians two we read, “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” So the truth is we are not the originator of sin or righteousness rather we are a slave, branch or wife of the one who is. Either we are a slave to sin (Satan) or a slave to righteousness (Christ). Either way we do not and cannot produce the fruit of either of them on our own.

Louie