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One Bible = One Belief: The Dilemma of Biblical Authenticity


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The authenticity of The Bible has come under increasing criticism in the last 150 years from a plurality of sources. However, that is largely to be expected. As the Bible itself explains, it is impossible for the unsaved person who (by definition) is uninhabited by the Spirit of God to understand the things of God:

“Now we have received… the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God… But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:12, 14

Therefore, criticism from such sources is hardly offensive.

What is more disturbing, however, is the number of people who identify themselves as Believers/Christians yet similarly cast doubt on the Bible as representing the pure and unadulterated, complete and unabridged truth of God. Can the Bible, for a Believer, be anything less than completely authentic?

The Basics of Biblical Authenticity

To explore the notion of the authenticity of Scripture, let us consider what The Bible is and what The Bible says about itself.

SOURCE of Scripture

First, let us examine its source

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16a

If ALL scripture is God-inspired then which parts did a perfect God get wrong? Clearly, if God is perfect then the Scripture He authored must be perfect too. Nevertheless, some will say, “Man has corrupted the Scripture.” Certainly, mankind has tried to corrupt the scripture and has had some illusory success. However, if the Scripture points the way to God, we must believe that God Himself will preserve it; that, despite mankind’s greatest effort, the omnipotent God will uphold His Holy Word. For we know that:

“…faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” ~ Romans 10:17

If God does not safeguard His Word, what hope can we have of coming to Him in faith to receive salvation? What would be the point of Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross? Moreover, what is the identity of the God whom we would seek? Surely, we would not be able to find Him through a flawed imperfect scripture. Even more appalling, each person would have to define God for himself because there is no reliable standard. Is my ‘god’ better than yours?

PURPOSE of Scripture

Second, let us examine how The Bible defines its purpose:

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Doctrine is fundamental truths about God, reproof is the act of verifying our actions against God’s truth, correction is the act of replacing the false in our heart with God’s truth and righteousness is the condition of living/walking in God’s truth. In other words, ALL Scripture tells us the truth; it shows us the difference between the truth and the false; it enables us to replace the false in our lives/thinking with the truth; and it teaches us to walk/live in the truth. In short, ALL Scripture is all about the truth ALL-ways and therefore must its self be true.

Now the determined naysayer may question the legitimacy of the Scripture claiming its own validity. Such antagonists demand independent verification. However, this is logically futile since an independent document would have to be of the same or higher qualitative standing as the Scripture. One cannot test the accuracy of a computer with an abacus; one cannot calibrate a micrometer with a yardstick.

Consequently, if there exists a document of comparative standing to the Bible then it must be the Bible. To wit, if there is a device exactly (no more and no less) as accurate as a micrometer then it is the equivalent to a micrometer.

Likewise, if there is a document superior in every way to the Bible, then it would be superfluous to validate the Bible; it would simply render the Bible obsolete. We don’t do our calculations on an abacus and then check the results with a computer. We simply use the computer to do our calculations.

Accordingly, before questioning whether ALL Scripture is true ALL-ways one must answer the question:

“Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” ~ James 3:11

With the only reasonable answer being “No”, one must conclude the Scripture to be ALL true or ALL false.

VALUE of Scripture

Third, let us examine what Scripture says about its value/status.

“The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver. …I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” (Psalm 119:72, 127b)

“I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” ~ Psalm 138:2

God holds His Word in a much higher status than His Name! There are various names for God in Scripture (Elohim, Jehovah, etc.). But it is Scripture itself that explains the meaning of those names. In other words, Scripture gives us both the richest and the most accurate description of God. Names do give identity, but to really understand someone we have to know more than just their name. It is not sufficient just to call on His Name; we must also get to know His character. And that character is uniquely defined in His Word.

The Crisis of Biblical Authenticity

If the Scripture is authentic, indispensable and invaluable, why does it come under unrelenting attack? To answer this question, let us explore three crises that face us when we confront the implications of the authenticity of Scripture: Conformation, Consequences, and Comprehension.

The Crisis of CONFORMATION

One problem with an authentic Scripture is that it demands our conformation. Scripture defines good and evil and demands that we choose the former and reject the latter. On issues/subjects that matter, Scripture delineates a single path for us to follow. However, because of a desire to have things our way, we are tempted to ignore inconvenient parts of Scripture. To justify this, of course, requires that we deny and decry the validity of the parts we don’t like. So we try to make Scripture conform to our lives, instead of conforming our lives to Scripture. This has been true since the time of the prophets: e.g., (Jeremiah 7:1-34) the Israelites ignored the Scriptures that warned them of impending punishment for their rejection of God, and only focused on the parts that told them of God’s abiding love/protection (because of the presence of His temple).

Consider the following conversation Jesus had with His disciples:

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.”
He saith unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.~ Matthew 16:13-17

“For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.” (Psalm 33:4)

People had various ideas about Jesus’ identity and His ministry. Some thought (ostensibly due to mistaken identity) Jesus was John the Baptist: here to teach them about true righteousness. Some thought he was Elias (Elijah) whose return had been prophesied (Malachi 4:5): here to work great miracles. Yet others thought he was Jeremias (Jeremiah): here to prophecy of things to come. Jesus’ did teach, prophesy and work miracles. But He was far more than a teacher, prophet, or a miracle worker. He was The Christ: The Messiah! He came to bring salvation through His death and fellowship (with God) though His resurrection.

If the people could hold on to their preferred definitions of Jesus, then they could ignore His true purpose and the life changing challenge that He presented. If Jesus was just a teacher, then scholarly communication was all that was required. If Jesus was just miracle worker, then they just needed to bring him their sick/problems. If Jesus was just a prophet, they only needed to heed his warnings of impending doom. But, if Jesus was Messiah they had to yield to Him every facet of their very lives. Their concepts, their values, their goals, their aspirations would no longer be their own to shape; they would now have to conform to Him.

Regardless of our noble thoughts/definitions of Jesus only one definition of His identity is true: Messiah. All other definitions are, at best, only partial truths and therefore, by definition, false. Moreover, the true identity of Jesus was/is not obtained from human deliberation; it was/is given by divine revelation (vs. 17). Therefore, it does not matter who we think Jesus is. What matters is who God says Jesus is in His divinely inspired authentic Word.

In short, Jesus does not conform to our notions/ideas. Rather, we must conform our notions/ideas to who Jesus really is. Moreover, by extension, we don’t define who God is and what a ‘reasonable’ God does. Instead, we learn from God’s Word who He is and how He reigns over the universe in justice and righteousness. We must conform our philosophy to God’s directives, as they are described in His Word.

Crucially, this is the basis on which the Kingdom of God is built and the source of power for all believer’s:

And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.~ Matthew 16:17-19

“The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Psalm 18:2)

The kingdom of heaven is founded on the revealed truth of God accepted through the faith of an individual: that forms the basis of the church (Ephesians 2:8-9) and it empowers the church to perform the work of God here on earth (Ephesians 2:10).

If we don’t accept God’s revealed truth by faith, if we hang on to our own notions/ideas of who God/Jesus is, then the church falls apart for lack of a foundation and the remnants of the church as we (not God) choose to define it is powerless, ineffectual in changing the fabric and outcome of the society it inhabits.

The crisis of conformation is that we must either conform our ideas to the Scripture or conform the Scripture to our ideas. If we accept the divinely inspired truth in God’s authentic Word, it means that our lives have to change. But, if we can define which parts of Scripture are true and which parts are tainted by historical bias, then we can have the scripture that suits us.

Therefore, when Scripture says, e.g., homosexuality is wrong (Genesis 19:1-25, Romans 1:16-32); we say that was just historical context. We pretend that God is ONLY love (two references in scripture) and choose to rationalize and/or dispensationalize all Biblical evidence that God is JUST; that God is HOLY; that God is set apart from sin (as He defines it) and will punish the guilty.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Crisis of CONSEQUENCES

Another problem with having an authentic Scripture is that it outlines consequences. Authentic Scripture defines absolute truths AND absolute consequences to ignoring those truths.

“…Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” (Daniel 5:27)

“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth… And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD… For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed… If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good… Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.” ~ Joshua 24: 14-23

“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” ~ Revelation 21:7-8

“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” ~ Revelation 22:14-15

God defines righteousness and salvation and describes their consequences. Similarly, God defines unrighteousness and sinfulness and describes their consequences. The crisis of consequences is that they (the consequences) cannot be ignored if Scripture is authentic. If Scripture is true, then there is a price to pay for ignoring its teachings. Therefore, the only way to continue on our own autonomous path through life is by presuming that Scripture has somehow misstated the consequences. “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” Because God doesn’t just love, God also judges.

Because the consequences in an authentic Scripture are inconvenient and unpleasant, it is preferable for many to ignore its authenticity instead.

The Crisis of COMPREHENSION

Yet another problem with a divinely-inspired, authentic Scripture is that it is difficult to fully understand.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:9

There are many difficult concepts that believers have wrestled mightily with almost from Jesus’ resurrection. For example: Predestination vs. free will; eternal security vs. temporal insecurity of salvation; the gifts of the Spirit; the Rapture; the millennial rule of Jesus Christ; the identity of the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation, etc. The crisis of comprehension is whether to accept by faith what is difficult to understand or to discard those things that elude our understanding. Shall we choose faith in God or strength of (human) logic?

It is hard to understand why God permits such dreadful suffering in this world, especially when that suffering is “close to home”. Does that mean the Scripture is false when it tells us that God loves us? We should never forget that God calls us to faith in Him, not to logic. He tells us to trust in Him, not in our understanding.

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-7

Newton’s laws of motion are not wrong because we don’t understand them. And they don’t suddenly become true when we do understand them. Likewise, the truth of Scripture does not depend on our ability to comprehend it; it depends solely on the Omniscience of God.

Salvation and Biblical Authenticity

The purpose of Scripture is first to bring us to faith in God, which then enables us to receive salvation through the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). The second purpose of Scripture is to enable us to know God, which empowers us to serve Him by accomplishing the work He preordained for us to do (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 3:8-11). Central to both these functions, is the identity of God. All of Scripture works in harmony to present the true and complete identity of God. If we selectively remove certain parts of Scripture (because we deem them to be irrelevant or in some way inaccurate), then we distort the identity of God. Consequently, one must ask: “Which God do you have faith in?” A god that conforms to our desired image is not god at all. Such a god is merely the figment of our Sophistri-cation.

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

Moreover, salvation requires faith in the true God: the God described by the Authentic Scripture: The Bible. If we do not believe in the God of the Scripture, then we are not saved by the God of the Scripture. Every god defines his/her/its own terms of salvation.

The God of the pure unabridged Scriptures defines His terms too. If we do not like His salvation plan, we are free to construct our own god from the parts of the scripture we find convenient to our lifestyle and philosophy. But, make no mistake, that god is NOT the God of the Bible.

And the Heaven described by the Bible is reserved for those who believe in the God of the Bible. But, the Hell described in the Bible is available for those who reject the God of the Bible: whether they believe in it or not.

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" ~Romans 3:23

Sin Doesn’t Come in Sizes

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Recently someone asked (paraphrase): “I’ve been praying to God for help to overcome my addiction. Why hasn’t He helped me to do it?”

This question is not uncommon and reveals some problems with the way that we think about sin and how God works in our lives to enable us to overcome the power of sin. To better understand this, it is useful to first define what an addiction is.  An addiction is any action/practice or sequence of actions/practices that is repeated enough that a permanent (but not necessarily irreversible) change in the brain architecture of the addicted occurs in order to perpetuate the action/practice.  Addictions can range from thumb-sucking to drug-abuse, from workaholic-ism to pornography.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” ~Romans 3:23

Generally, addictions are only overcome when a new agent hierarchically replaces the importance of the addiction in the mind of the addict: when a competing structure develops.  Even when this happens, the neuron-network associated with the addiction does not disappear immediately:  it takes time for the brain to gradually reorganizes its structure.   Hence, the likelihood of relapse is an ever-present danger for many.  The key to overcoming addictions and potential relapses is the strength and constancy of the new agent neural-network.

As long as the neuronal pathways of the new agent fire more strongly and consistently than that of the addiction, then the addict is in a good position to overcome his/her addiction.     For example, kids usually stop sucking their thumbs when social pressures related to the habit and to the resulting orthodontic damage supersede any comfort they got from it.   Likewise, some drug abusers are “scared straight” by the fear of dying from the drug use.  Fear of death overrides the neural-network of the addiction, thereby allowing them to quit.

It is true that more people are addicted to various actions than they might realize.  This unawareness arises because people mostly only consider socially unacceptable habits as addictions.  More important, however, is to realize that ALL addictions are sins, because they are, by definition, the antithesis of self-control and the Christian is commanded to bring his/her entire body under the control of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The essential difference between addictions and “regular” sins, is that addictions are sins that have become “hardwired” in the brain with an associated reward (usually dopamine) to reinforce the behavior. But, as will be argued below, the cure for addictions and non-addiction sins is the same:  Love for God must grow in us (in our minds) until it is preeminent.  That love for God will then overwhelm the addiction network as well as all other desires to sin.

“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” ~James 1:14-15

That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days… ~Deuteronomy 30:20a

Finally, we must avoid conflating salvation with the absence of addiction.  Only God determines who is saved (addiction or not). Moreover, the Scripture makes it clear that sinlessness is neither a prerequisite for salvation nor sanctification.  That means some Believers might be in bondage to unsavory addictions.  However, while we should always clearly and unequivocally declare addictions (unsavory or not) as sin.  We cannot refute the work of God in the addicted. Some of us have further to go than others.  And, the person addicted to food should never look down on the person addicted to drugs.  Indeed, both are listed together as heading for the same end:

For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags. ~Proverbs 23:21

Let us, therefore, examine the Proper Perspective for sin, the Prescribed Procedure to overcome sin and God’s Precious Promise to never give up on us.

THE PROPER PERSPECTIVE

First, the question (above) suggests that the addiction is a bigger sin than the other sins that we (including the questioner also) all struggle with. Certainly, if God took addictions from all of our lives it is unlikely that any of us (including the questioner) would be perfect. More pointedly, eliminating addictions of any sort, does not guarantee that we will draw closer to God’s and walk in obedience.

The problem here is the perception that some sins, such as addictions, are worse than others. This notion implies that if I get rid of some “bad”, really “ugly” sins then I will be a better person; even though the “not-so-bad”, “not-so-ugly” sins remain. But, that is not God’s calculus. Romans 14:23b tells us that sin is anything that is not done in a faith response to God.

…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. ~Romans 14:23b

And, Romans 6:23a tells us that all sin has the same punishment.

For the wages of sin is death… ~Romans 6:23a

So, we must deduce that ALL sins are equally offensive to God.

Therefore, God’s ultimate purpose is not to excise the “uglier” sins (such as addictions) while the “not-so-ugly” sins remain. His purpose is to enable us to overcome ALL sin. And to accomplish this, Romans 12:1-2 tells us that we should offer ourselves to God and allow Him to transform us, by the renewing of our minds. Only then will we know His will and have the power to walk in it: the power to overcome ALL sin!

“All unrighteousness is sin…” 1 John 5:17a

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. ~Romans 12:1-2

Accordingly, God focuses on the state of our ‘minds’, i.e., our mindset, rather than any specific sin. God intends to change our entire attitude to sin, so that we will choose His way instead of going our own way.

God sent The Holy Spirit to indwell our lives in order to change the way we think about life: to replace our values with God’s values. Therefore, we must constantly ask ourselves: “Am I beginning to look at life through God’s eyes?”; “Do I delight in the things that please God?”

If I overcome an addiction but my mindset is unchanged then I have not benefitted, because sins (even if they don’t look as “ugly” as an addiction) are still rampant in my life.  On the other hand, as God transforms our minds, all the sin-strongholds in our lives are likewise weakened.

To be clear, God is NOT ‘comfortable’ with an addiction or any other sin: God hates sin! And that’s why His purpose is to overcome ALL sin, in your life and in my life.

THE PRESCRIBED PROCEDURE

Overcoming sin, even addictions, does not occur magically. Moreover, God never forces us to obey Him; He gave us free will. However, God will always lead us to a point where we choose to change.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. ~Psalm 51:1-4

However, we Christians often want God to override our wills. We want God to take away enough of our freedom of choice so that decisions are “easier” to make. We want, somehow, not to have to make the decision not to sin: we want God to make that decision for us, to have Him force His will on us.

“…my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation.” ~Psalm 69:13

In other words, we want God to treat the symptoms instead of the disease. The disease is a heart (mind) that is not completely yielded to God. And sins, all types of sins, are the symptoms. As a good doctor would, God intends to treat the disease so that the symptoms will end. God will not remove our sins and leave behind un-yielded hearts. Indeed, it’s our heart that He is after.

Thus, we should stop our preoccupation with ‘ugly’ sins (like certain addictions) and instead seek to draw ever closer to God to enable our ‘mental’ transformation to accelerate. To that end God has given us these keys for success:

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. ~Psalm 119:11

By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. ~Proverbs 16:6

First, it is the word of God (the truth of God) in our hearts that washes sin out of our lives. As we study, memorize and meditate on His word, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, it renews our mind. As we orient our lives according to the Scripture, as we base our lives on His commands, we are able to overcome sin, because we are walking in daily fellowship with our God.

Second, we must accept His mercy. Accepting God’s mercy is not being presumptuous. Presumptuousness arises when we demand/expect God to sanction our plans; when we tell God what to do. To accept God’s mercy is to acknowledge our inadequacy. It is to realize that our transformation, from a self-focused mindset to a God-focused mindset, is slow and sometimes painful BECAUSE of our weakness.

It is the combination of God’s mercy, as He patiently works with us, and His Word, as it transforms our mindset, which ultimately breaks the power of sin over our lives.
Therefore, we do not draw back or hide from God when we fall into any sin; neither the ‘ugly’ ones, nor the not so ‘ugly’ ones. God instructs us to confess our sins, not hide from Him (like Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:8). He then MERCIFULLY promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9) and continue the transformation process in us (Philippians 1:6).

“…This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:13-14

We must never allow the devil to separate us from God. The closer we draw to our Father, the faster our transformation and the sooner our victory over all forms of sin, even the uglier-looking ones!!! We should take courage, continue to walk with God and continue to allow Him to change us. We must journey deep into God’s word and fellowship with Him, even when we are discouraged.

THE PRECIOUS PROMISE

Finally, let us always remember

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 1:6

If God has started the transformation process in us, He won’t stop working (even if He has to use trials to get it done).

God won’t quit on you… so don’t quit on yourself!!!

.

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Reflections-in-the-WORD would like to thank INSPIKS for inspiration and for insightful comments on this topic.

Seven Reasons for Salvation

“For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
“For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
“And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.
“He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
“He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
“He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.
“He hath [helped] His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.”
(Luke 1:48-55)

After, declaring her submission and joy in The LORD (Luke 1:46-47), Mary explains seven reasons why she looked to God for her salvation. The seven reasons undergirding Mary’s Salvation must be foundational for all Believers as well.

1. God has the sole solution to our sin problem

“For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” ~ Luke 1:48

The first reason to look to God for salvation is that He alone has the solution to our sin problem.

Mary considered that God looked with concern at her “low estate”, her “tapeínōsis”. From both Strong’s and Thayer’s concordances, the Hebrew word “tapeínōsis” means vileness, spiritual abasement, spiritual humiliation. In other words, Mary admitted that her sinfulness was exposed before God. And it was awful, shameful and disgusting. But God did more than just look at her sinfulness, He saved Mary. Mary, went from “low estate” to “blessed, from “filthy sinner” to the mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. God cleansed her from sin and imputed His righteousness to her so that she could be the one to bear His son. And, for that reason, all generations, all peoples, all nations would call her blessed.

A parallel of Mary’s experience is recorded in Zechariah 3. In Zechariah’s vision, the High Priest, Joshua came before into The LORD’s presence to receive a message for Israel. But, before Joshua could receive God’s message, his sin, metaphorically represented by his filthy clothes, had to be removed. God removed Joshua’s sin and clothed Joshua in righteousness: spotless white raiment that God Himself provided.

Like Mary, we too must come to recognize our abject and awful sinfulness, our filthiness in the God’s holy presence. Like Mary, we too must see that God has the solution, the only solution, to our sin problem: Jesus Christ, His son. And if we put our trust, our faith, in Christ for our salvation, God will remove our sins; He will clothe us with His righteousness; and make us, like Mary, bearers of His Son (Ephesians 3:16-19, John 14:23, John17:23, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Colossians 1:27).

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” ~ Galatians 2:20

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God;
for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…” ~ Isaiah 61:10a

2. God is good

“For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.” ~ Luke 1:49

The second reason to look to God for salvation is that God has been good to us. Even while sin made us repugnant to God because of His holiness, God still reached into our lives to bless us, to do great things to us.

Central to salvation is the belief that God is good.

Who can trust salvation from a “bad” God? Who wants to be saved by an “unkind” or “unfair God”? How will one have faith in God if God is not good?

“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” ~ Hebrews 11:6

That is why those that oppose God always begin with questioning/challenging His goodness: “How can a good God allow _________?” Or “If God is good He wouldn’t allow _______!”

However, the problem with that approach is that God’s goodness does not depend on our ability to see/perceive it. He requires us to trust Him.

Infants cannot understand many of the good things their parents do for them. When my son was a few weeks old, he would cry relentlessly whenever he was bathed. He did not understand the importance of cleanliness. And when he was a few months old he would cry relentlessly when we took him out of his bath. He did not understand that baths should not last forever.

But my son’s lack of understanding did not mean his parents’ actions were unkind or unfair.

Mary’s circumstances give us even more insight. Mary was a poor girl from a town (Nazareth) with a bad reputation (John 1:46). Mary’s pending marriage was in jeopardy because of her pregnancy (Matthew 1:19). And if people found out she was pregnant before marriage, they would slander her. Her pregnancy would be a disgrace to her family.

Mary, by human standards, had little going for her, and that little was about to lessen. Yet Mary avers that God has been good to her: “He that is mighty hath done to me great things”.

How is that possible?

Mary could proclaim God’s goodness because she trusted in Him, not in her own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). She examined her life through eyes of faith and saw God’s blessings. She saw how God had provided for her; how He had taught her His Word, how He had guided her steps. She felt the good hand of God upon her life (Nehemiah 2:8, 18). For understanding, Mary looked to God rather than her circumstances.

We can only see God’s goodness if we trust in Him: if we, in faith, look at life through His eyes, from His perspective.

When we see by faith that God is good, we will accept His salvation.

But there is more…

Mary never forgot that she did not deserve God’s goodness: “…holy is His name”. God’s holiness precludes us from His presence. Yet, because of His love, God reaches into our lives to bless us.

For this reason, God’s offer of salvation is not to be treated lightly. Jesus Christ gave up His glory (Philippians 2:7) to come to earth and He gave up His life on a cross, all to save us from our sin.

3. God is merciful

“And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.” ~ Luke 1:50

The third reason for salvation, given in Mary’s song, is God’s mercy: Without God’s mercy, we have no hope of avoiding judgment for our sins.

Mercy is often informally defined as “not getting the punishment that one deserves”. But, while that definition is useful, it does not fully capture the meaning of God’s mercy. God is neither a weak, nor an unfair judge not properly dispensing justice. Rather, God remembers our weakness: our complete inability, in our own power, to do what is right.

Anyone anywhere who by faith, confesses their inability AND cries out for God’s ability (His power to enable us to do right), will receive God’s mercy. And God shows His mercy not by withholding judgment, but by paying the price for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the propitiation for our sin.

However, those who claim to be able to pay the price themselves, those who do not fear God, do not have any access to His mercy.

Mary was aware that she needed God’s mercy, that she could not escape judgment for her sin, that she needed the Saviour. Mary feared God. And so should we.

We will not look to God for salvation until we realize our need for His mercy. Until we confess that we have no inherent ability to be righteous, we will not call on God. Instead, we will declare ourselves good enough to get into heaven. God’s Word, however, tells us otherwise:

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” ~ Isaiah 64:6

4. God’s offer of salvation will not always be available

“He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” ~ Luke 1:51

Mary’s song reveals a fourth reason for accepting God’s offer of salvation: the window of opportunity will not stay open forever. There comes a time when God removes His light.

God reveals Himself to us: He makes us aware that He is real and His authority and power are real: “He hath shewed strength with His arm…”. In Romans 1:19-20 and John 1:9, we learn that God makes Himself known to everyone.

However, some choose to ignore God’s revelation because they prefer to live their own way: they prefer to live in the darkness of sin, Romans 1:18, 21-23, John 3:19-21.

Accepting their choice, God removes His light and allows them to become what their hearts desire, Romans 1:24, 28, Psalm 81:11-12, Ephesians 4:17-19, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”

The Hebrew word used for “scatter” in our text is “ diaskorpízō ”. And it means “to winnow”, i.e., to separate the chaff (the proud) from the wheat (those that fear God, the humble).

Also important in understanding God’s message is the tense of the verb. In this verse, the past perfect tense is used to convey that the action has been completed.

Put together, the idea is that Mary has already seen God’s judgment of the proud, which is to separate them from the wheat and set them aside for burning (Matthew 3:12).

Just like Mary, we can see around us those that reject God and the terrible results of lives lived in the darkness of sin.

To be clear, we do not decide who no longer has access to God’s mercy: that is God’s job, not ours. It is sufficient for us to observe the degeneration caused by sin and thereby to be aware of God’s judgment and our need to accept His light NOW, before it’s too late.

Why would we believe that Almighty God allows us to respond to Him when we want? Do we presume to set God’s schedule?

If we do not know the urgency of our plight, that God will not always strive with man (Genesis 6:3), we will not look to God for salvation. If we believe we can come to God whenever we decide, we will ignore His offer of salvation.

“…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:2b

5. God’s alone is King

“He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.” ~ Luke 1:52

In this verse, Mary proclaims the fifth reason for salvation: God is the sole authority in the universe.

The lyrics from a famous Bob Dylan song say,

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Since God is the sole and ultimate authority, serving anything or anyone else is a waste of time and effort: a fool’s errand. The first sin was a result of man wanting to be his own authority (Genesis 3:1-6). The temptation was as follows

“…in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” ~ Genesis 3:5b

That desire for independence from God, for self-determination, has never left the hearts of men and women. We do not want to submit to God’s authority over us. But Mary’s statement shows us that our insubordination is futile: God is in control. Even in our imagined mightiness, God will pull us down from our self-made thrones. Conversely, when we are humble, when we yield to His authority, God will lift us up.

Looking to God for salvation requires that we acknowledge Him as the ultimate authority over our lives. In everything we do in life, we must be about serving Him. The one who seeks to serve himself will never come to God.

6. God’s supplies all our needs

“He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.” ~ Luke 1:53

The sixth reason for salvation given in Mary’s song is acknowledging that every good thing comes from God.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father…” ~ James 1:17a

In other words, if you are looking for good in life you must come to God, because that’s where ALL good things come from. There is no way to get good things aside from coming to God. This is more than just saying God is good, it is saying God alone is good: there is no good without God.

This concept is fairly straightforward, but we run into problems with the definition of “good” things. Our tendency is to use our human nature to define what good is. By this approach, good things are those things that appeal to our bodies, our way of thinking, and/or our pride (1 John 2:16, James 4:3).

However, not only do ALL good come from God alone, God also defines what is good (Luke 11:13). And God is not concerned with feeding our lusts. God wants to bless us with things that primarily benefit our spirit, not our flesh. Our spirits are eternal but our flesh is temporal.

Indeed, focusing on fleshly desires causes our spirits to wither (Psalm 106:13-15, Numbers 11).

God feeds those hungry for righteousness with good things, things that will feed their spiritual growth. But those who are rich, those who are self-sufficient in bodily desires, in philosophies of life, or in self-importance, they receive nothing good from God.

If we reckon that we can get good things outside of God we will never accept His salvation. Instead, we will consider other paths more agreeable to our mindset. Likewise, we will never accept God’s salvation if we are seeking things to feed our lusts, because God is not concerned with assuaging our flesh-focused desires.

To accept God’s salvation we must believe, as Mary did, that all that is truly good comes from God alone.

7. God’s is faithful, we can trust His promises

“He hath [helped] His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.” ~ Luke 1:54-55

Mary’s seventh reason for salvation is God’s faithfulness. She recalled the promises that God had made to Abraham, the Father of the Hebrew nation, a few thousand years earlier. And God had remained true to His promises: God was faithful: God’s Word was true.

Moreover, God’s faithfulness was not because of man’s goodness. Indeed, over the years, the Hebrews had broken all their promises to God and had failed in all their obligations. God was faithful because of His mercy, because He remembered that man is “dust” (Psalm 103:14). God was faithful because He was willing to pay the price to redeem the Hebrews and all of mankind for their unfaithfulness.

God’s faithfulness means we can trust Him, it means that we can find rest in Him, we never have to worry that His character will change, or that His plans will change.

Belief in God’s faithfulness is crucial for accepting His salvation. If God is not faithful, could we believe that we are truly saved?

Our difficulty in trusting in God’s faithfulness often arise from insufficient patience. It is instructive that Mary examined God’s promises over the course of thousands of years. It was only then that she could see His faithfulness clearly.

Abraham died long before all of God’s promises to him were fulfilled. But though Abraham’s death meant he never lived to see God fulfill His promises, it didn’t mean God wouldn’t keep them. Likewise, we sometimes have to wait for a long time to see God’s promises fulfilled.

“The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” ~ Lamentations 3:25-26

Moses had to wait eighty years, forty of which were in the desert tending sheep. But God kept His promise.

Joseph has to wait more than ten years, mostly in an Egyptian prison. But God kept His promise.

It is our impatience, our unwillingness to wait, that causes us to doubt God’s faithfulness.

But, if we, by faith and by testimony in His Word, believe that God is faithful, then we can also trust in Him for our salvation. Mary believed God was faithful, therefore, she trusted God as her Saviour.

“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations” ~ Deuteronomy 7:9

Closing Remarks

At this time, the Church is beset by easy “believism”: whereby we confess faith in a God of our own making. Some believe in a God that does not judge sin. Others believe God exists to give them whatever their lust desires. Still, others believe Jehovah is just one God of many.

Real salvation is available only from the real God of the Bible, not of our imaginations and idiosyncrasies. We come to Jehovah on His terms, not on ours. He is the God that He reveals Himself to be, not the one we wish for.

True salvation requires that we believe what God says about Himself in His Word. Therefore, it behooves us all to examine ourselves to discover what it is that we truly believe.

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.
Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” ~ 2 Corinthians 13:5

 

Rejoicing in The Saviour Readies us for His Service

“… my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” ~ Luke 1:47

In the opening line of her song of praise to Jehovah, Mary testified of her salvation: “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46). It was God that was most important in her life, not herself, and not anyone or anything else.

In our text, which is the second line of her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55), Mary testifies of her (ongoing) sanctification.

The key word in Luke 1:47 is the word “rejoice”. To rejoice means to be very happy; to rejoice in the Lord means to be very happy in the Lord or to find happiness/joy in the Lord.

What/Who do you find your happiness in?

So-called Carnal Christians find happiness in the things of the flesh: the pleasures of the world. They recognize and acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but find little happiness in Him. For them, the “grass is greener” on the world’s side of the fence. They might have come through the strait gate and set a foot on the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14), but they delightfully inhale every aroma from the broad road that wafts by.

Each person has both a body and a spirit. When Adam sinned, his spirit died (Genesis 3). And all Adam’s offspring to come, all of mankind, are born with dead spirits that can only be enlivened by salvation (Ephesians 2:1-5). Therefore, the unsaved can only find joy in their bodies, through (physical and mental) interactions with the world.

However, the saved have both bodies and reborn (quickened) spirits.   And each saved person must decide in which they will find their happiness. Will the saved continue to seek joy in the world through their bodies? Or will they find their joy in God through their reborn spirits?

God’s Word defines sanctification as being made holy. Sanctification is the process of being made more ready to serve God in more ways.

“…in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:20-21

The Christian that finds joy only in their flesh will not be able to endure sanctification; because they find neither pleasure nor value in spiritual development. Indeed, things of the spirit are only hindrances to the happiness they seek.

Mary was not carnally minded. Not only was she saved, she sought and found her joy in the LORD. Mary is an example of who we must become so that God can work through us.

From a secular viewpoint, as a poor, uneducated young woman from a “bad neighborhood” (i.e., Nazareth), Mary didn’t have much going for her. The best she could realistically aspire to was to get married to a good man.

Being called by God to be the mother of Christ Jesus, meant that even that modest dream was in jeopardy.

How could she explain her pregnancy to Joseph? How could he believe her? And, even if he did believe her, why would he still want to continue with the marriage. Her embarrassment would become his if he did. Indeed, no man would want her now. And she would bring lifelong disgrace on her family.

Every worldly hope of happiness would be lost.

But though her circumstances were surely a concern, Mary was neither distressed nor despondent. Because she did not find her joy in the approval of people. She did not find joy in the elevation of her social status. She did not even find joy in her betrothed, Joseph. Yes, she loved him dearly; but Joseph was not the source of her joy: Jehovah was. Mary’s joy was in the Lord.

If we are to serve God, we must undergo the process of sanctification. But we will never have the courage to become holy until and unless our happiness is found in The LORD. And, without God’s sanctifying work in us, we will never be able or available to serve Him.

Mary rejoiced in The Lord her Saviour, therefore God could commission her to give birth to His Son.

Where do you find your joy? And what can God do with your life?

“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” ~ Philippians 4:4

Magnifying The Lord Means Minimizing Myself

And Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord” ~ Luke 1:46

The focus of this verse is the word “magnify” which means to enlarge: to make big. However, the creator of the universe, our Lord, is already big and powerful. The emphasis, then, is not on “the Lord”; the emphasis is on “my soul”: me.

It is easy to make other things in our lives more important than God. We often care more about what people think than what God thinks. We spend more time thinking about money than about God. We curate our social media profiles more carefully than our spiritual accounts. We play games more often than we read God’s Word or pray. Effectively, rather than magnifying God, often we minimize Him.

To magnify God means that we choose to make God an ever bigger part of our lives. Indeed, our Lord must become so big, so important, that He fills our focus and we only see Him: every aspect of life is seen through Him. The Lord must become everything to me.

This is the only way: this is the definition of salvation. If God is anything to us, God must become everything to us. There is no halfway. Anything in our lives that competes with God is an idol.

As the Scripture says,

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” ~ 1 John 2:15

In other words, loving God and loving anything not-of-God are mutually exclusive: we can only do one or the other; we cannot do both.  If we belong to God, we will magnify Him over everything else. And if we belong to the world, we will magnify the world over everything else.

Therefore, the one central question in life may be stated as: “Who or what does your/my soul magnify?”

And, likewise, the metric for spiritual growth is the answer to the question: “Who or what is becoming more important in your/my life?”

All of life rests on our souls’ response to God. Are we minimizing Him? Or are we magnifying Him?

Mary made her choice. And it was the right one.

“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” ~ Psalm 34:3

The Blessing of Believing

“…Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
“And blessed is she that believed…” (Luke 1:42b & 1:45a)

Mary was blessed because of what God did for her (chose her to be the mother of our Lord Jesus) AND because of her faith response to Him (she believed). Both go hand in hand.

We all love to have God’s blessings, but if they don’t develop faith in us, what is the point?

God’s blessings in our lives are meant to prompt and to grow our faith. Unbelievers see God’s blessings in their lives and are challenged to put their faith in Him for salvation. And Believers experiencing God’s blessings are challenged to trust Him even more.

For example, when Jesus blessed Zacchaeus by choosing to stay at his house, Zacchaeus responded by trusting in Jesus for salvation AND by returning, in faith, up to four times the money he had stolen from people when collecting taxes (Luke 19:1-10).

On the other hand, when Jesus blessed the man by the pool of Bethesda, he responded by helping the religious authorities accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath laws (John 5:1-18).

What benefit is it to us if God blesses us, but we do not believe?

Indeed, blessings without belief bring judgment on those who were blessed.  In Matthew 11:21-24, Jesus pronounced judgment on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because, despite being blessed by the many miracles Jesus performed during His ministry, they never turned to God. God’s blessings did not result in their belief and so they were condemned.

“…choose you this day whom ye will serve…” ~ Joshua 24:15b

Likewise, the Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years because their unbelief prevented them from entering the Promised Land:

“So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” ~ Hebrews 3:19

Despite experiencing the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, and many other miraculous blessings, they would not trust God and so they were doomed to the desert. Only their children would survive to enter into the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14).

Earlier in Luke chapter 1, when Zechariah heard the angel announce that he would be blessed with a son, he doubted and was struck with muteness. But when Mary heard the angel announce that she would become Jesus’ mother, she believed and was blessed even more as a result.

Let us endeavor to be like Mary. Let us respond to the blessings of God in our lives by trusting Him more.

There is great blessing in simply trusting that God’s Word is true: It means we don’t have to strive, we don’t have to pilot the ship. We, with our limited knowledge and understanding, can rest in God: knowing that He will guide us through the storms and bring us safely to harbor, safely to rest.

blueberries

Fruit Foundation

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” ~ Matthew 7:17-18

In our text, Jesus makes a biconditional statement, in the form of an analogy, that can be summarized as follows:

If the tree is good, then its fruit is good and if the fruit is good, then the tree (that produced it) is good.

To properly grasp what Jesus is saying, we must first examine the symbols that He uses in the analogy.  From earlier statements in the chapter (see Matthew 7:15-16), it is clear that good trees represent those who are Jesus disciples, i.e., those who have received salvation (see, e.g., Ephesians 2:8-10). Accordingly, corrupt trees represent the unsaved, particularly those who have rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But what are the fruits?

Fruit Truth

The Bible defines good fruit (i.e., the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us) in this way:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Similarly, bad fruit (works of our flesh) is defined in this way:

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” ~ Galatians 5:19-21

Before continuing, we note that the word “do” in Galatians 5:21 is “prássō” in the original text, which means “to practise, that is, perform repeatedly or habitually”. In other words, those who are saved might fall into the swamp of sin, but they don’t stay there. Like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the fallen child of God recognizes that the pigsty isn’t their home. So they leave the pigsty and head back home in humility and repentance.

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” ~ Galatians 5:24

Now that we have established what the Bible defines as good fruit and bad fruit, we are better able to understand what Jesus was saying in our text.

blueberry-bush

Fruit Root

The difference between a good tree and a corrupt tree is the Holy Spirit. The good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, is only available to those who have the Spirit. Those who are rooted in Christ, those who have received His salvation, have been given the Holy Spirit (John 14-16). Therefore, the fruit of the Spirit, the good fruit, can be manifested in their lives.

Conversely, those who do not have the Spirit cannot manifest the fruit of the Spirit, they can ONLY manifest the fruit (works) of the flesh.

As Jesus said,

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” ~ John 15:4-6

When the fruit of the righteous man is examined, one sees all the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in him because he is rooted in Christ Jesus. And one does NOT see the acceptance of sin as a way of life. Instead, one sees the ever growing fruit of meekness in the righteous man as he submits ever more of his own will to God’s will.

Conversely, when the fruit of the unsaved, those who have rejected God, is examined, one sees all the fruit of fleshly lusts, because the Holy Spirit is not available to him. One sees the ever growing fruit of sin in his life because he has rejected God and chosen rebellion as his way of life: The pigsty (Luke 15:11-32) is his home.

Fruit W00t

Finally, the tense Jesus used in our text is instructive. Jesus used the simple present tense in His message to us. This is significant because it removes time specificity and replaces it with generality. In other words, good trees produce good fruit ALL the time; that is what good trees do. Whenever you come to a good tree you will find good fruit.blueberries in cup

Jesus expands this point in John 15:2a

“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit [God] taketh away…” ~ John 15:2a

If the good tree stops bearing good fruit, God removes it presently, immediately, right now.
Life for Believers, therefore, is all about fruit bearing: It is all about being in close fellowship with (abiding in) Jesus: It is all about allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us to produce fruit.

Similarly, corrupt trees produce evil fruit ALL the time; that is what corrupt trees do. Whenever you come to a corrupt tree you will find evil fruit.

And there is an ultimate consequence for consciously continuing to be a corrupt tree:

“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” ~ Matthew 7:19

Every corrupt tree should repent, accept Christ’s offer of salvation, and become a good tree bearing good fruit.

Closing Thought

If the tree is good, then its fruit is good and if the fruit is good, then the tree (that produced it) is good.

We cannot fake our fruit.

fig tree with fruit

Fruit Fidelity

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” ~ Matthew 7:16

Our text comes from the latter part of the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’, which was addressed specifically to Jesus’ disciples, and by extension specifically to the church, those who have believed in Christ Jesus for salvation. As the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ draws to a close, i.e., as Jesus prepares His followers to descend into the world, He wants Believers to be able to identify false prophets (see Matthew 7:15) that would confront the ministry.

Fruit Inspection

False prophets had long infiltrated Hebrew worship, turning the people away from God and into sin (e.g., see 1 Kings 13:11-29). And they would become a problem for the church too, therefore, it was crucial that Believers be adept at identifying them.

“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” ~ 2 Peter 2:1

Fruit: the answer was fruit. False prophets could be determined easily by examining what they produced. Do they produce a harvest that glorified God? Or does their fruit dishonor Christ Jesus?

But there is more.

Grapes & Figs; Thorns & Thistles

At the end of the verse, Jesus asks the question: “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” To an audience from a farming community, this question might have been seen as rhetorical at best and just plain silly at worst. The answer would be “Of course not!”

But therein lies Jesus’ second message to Believers: It is not hard to distinguish false prophets from true Believers.

There is an innate assumption in the modern church that false prophets are hard to find. Often there is shock and even disillusionment when men/women who seemed to be so sincere, so “anointed”, turn out to be charlatans. However, Jesus makes it clear that Believers never have to be fooled. Because as easy as it is to know that grapes don’t come from thorns and figs don’t come from thistles, so it is easy to see the absence of good fruit from the ministry of false prophets among us.

However, as encouraging as this truth is, it also illuminates a problem.

Harvesting Thistles

If identifying false prophets is as easy as observing that figs are not harvested from thistles, why have so many been deceived by false prophets? Why are so many harvesting thistles?

The answer to this question is probably best captured in Jesus’ words to Peter, James, and John:

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” ~ Matthew 26:41

We fall prey to false prophets because of two reasons:

  1. We fail to be alert (we don’t “watch and pray”).
  2. We yield to our flesh, which is prone to evil suasion.

False prophets come into the church “unawares” (Jude 1:4, Galatians 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:6): they infiltrate the church when we are not looking, when we are not alert, when we fail to watch and pray.

And when false prophets come in they twist Scripture to appeal to our flesh, not to our spirit (Jude 1:4, Galatians 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:6). And sadly, many want to hear messages that appeal to fleshly desires.

Many want to hear that greed is good if you call it blessings. Many want to hear that extra/pre-marital sex is okay because God’s grace covers it. Many want to hear about casting out demons because they can blame demons for every sin in their life. Many want to hear about special knowledge that makes them superior to other Believers who don’t have it.

But all of these are heresies and not supported by Biblical doctrine. And all of these bear thorns and thistles, but no good fruit.

Harvest Good Fruit

On the other hand, Jesus’ question, “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”, has a second and quite encouraging implication: Believers know where to find good fruit.

As easy as it is to identify false prophets, we can also identify good prophets. But we must be willing to look at the fruit, not the flowers. Many thorns and thistles produce beautiful flowers but no good fruit. Let us not get distracted by flowery presentations of evil men. Let us examine the fruit of all men and determine which one is godly. It is easy to see because Believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ:

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me:” ~ John 15:26

God will show us who His servants are by their fruit.

boots on railroad track

My Personal Walk with God Over The Years – by Lisa Rodney

My Journey over the years has been bittersweet. Nonetheless, I would not have it any other way. My walk with God began 25 years ago in Jamaica. I was baptized at Portmore United Church and quickly became involved in various activities such as the choir, drama group, and youth fellowship.

While I enjoyed being involved in my local church and doing good things, I did not realize that I was living the life of a Moralist and not a person who has a personal relationship with God. All that I did at that time had no eternal value: it was all for my glory and not God. God was not being glorified in my life during that period because I was not even trying to carry out the great commission.

Drifting

After migrating to the United States, I drifted away from God. I strayed so far that it was easy for me to convince myself that as long as I am honest, give freely, love others, and be a good citizen God would still bless me and be my shield. So I would go to Church occasionally, but I was not serious about my walk with God.

I had no prayer life. I would do quick two-minute prayers daily, but I had no connection with God. There was always a void. Eventually, I realized that I was built with a God-shaped vacuum, and I would never succeed until I allowed God to live in there. Because I can’t truly live the life of a Christian on my own, in my own strength. This Flesh would always fail me: It does not want to be under God’s authority because it only wants to me to yield to its own wishes and desires.

I had to make the decision to clear my God-shaped vacuum of everything that does not belong and to be intentional about serving God.

Homecoming

The past 7-8 years have seen a transformation in me. I finally decided to walk with Jesus, no turning back. I decided to trust Him with everything in me and to be obedient to His will. And I discovered that He was always there waiting with outstretched arms waiting for me to come home.

As I grew spiritually I realized that I was created to worship God. Everything else is secondary and can wait. Life was never about me at all, it’s all about God. When I accepted that it’s not about me, I started to experience a true and genuine relationship with God. My life then became a life of prayer and worship.

sprout

As I began to agree with God’s precious promises for my life, I developed this zeal and zest to always want to be in His presence. When I had my encounter with God all I wanted to do is to love Him above all human relationships, and to do my best to make my life reflect Him in everything I do.

I have developed a prayer life over the years I started to speak to God with His own words. I tell God that He said that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:6

I tell Him that He said He knows the plans He has for me.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

I just tell God whatever He puts in my thoughts when I pray, and that I am standing on His Word.

Over time, I started to believe that I have in me the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, so I refused to walk around a defeated Christian. Because I know the battle is already won. I tell myself that signs, miracles, and wonders follow Lisa Rodney. God did not give me a new name for riches and wealth but to declare that He is Lord.

When I started to walk in the power and authority that God gave me, I experienced tremendous blessing and miracles in my situation regarding the things that I had prayed for. Recently, I was facing what seems like an impossible issue, and there is no way around it except a miracle. I fasted and prayed about it and I trusted God with all I had in me. Favor was granted because I serve a God of the impossible. As God’s Word tells us

“For with God nothing shall be impossible.” ~ Luke 1:37

I also know that God orchestrates every event in my life and He is supreme over everything. So, if He does not give me what I ask for, I know that a delay is not always a no. He is still God, He is still victorious, He still sits on the throne, and He has something greater for me. When God does not give me what I ask for, I ask Him, if it’s not His will, to help me to understand.

As I grew in my relationship with God, I had the desire to tell everyone about my hope and to defend my faith, but I needed more of the Word in me to evangelize and declare boldly the name of Jesus. As a result, I attended Ebenezer Bible School and completed a three-year course in Christian studies to help equip me for ministry.

May I confess that reading the Bible is SWEET? I get excited when I read the stories and get an epiphany, which I then discuss with my brothers and sister in Christ.

I am still shy and reserved, but I try to obey God’s Word even when I am fearful of what could go wrong, because I know He did not give me a spirit of fear but of sound mind. I know the devil is a liar, so if he tells me I can’t do it I know I can because he always lies. Now when I am asked to do something, I step out in faith and rely on God’s strength, despite all my “what ifs”.

Commitment

beach, footprints in sand

I have become active in my local church again, but this time around I serve gladly. I gladly show up for church and Bible study on time. I gladly teach Sunday school and serve on the finance team and the ladies ministry board. Not seeking earthly approval, but knowing that my reward is in heaven and that what I do for Christ has to have eternal value.

At times when I see the hand of God in my life, I would smile and say “God you are the boss”. I am now connected to God and know that He is my only source. I know who I am in Him and who is He is to me. I understand that it is who I am in Him that is going to sustain me when the trials of life hits. I now realize that my only Job is to worship him, to make disciples, and to love everyone with no conditions.

This walk is not always easy but I am determined to finish this race where there are no losers. I am determined to stay focused and true to Him. I am pressing on to heaven my home, I continue to cultivate my heart for God and contend for my faith daily.

cross on hill + sunset/sunrise

The Three Steps of Discipleship

[Jesus] said unto them, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” ~ Mark 8:34b

STEP 1: Deny self

It is not what I want for my life, that matters. What matters is what Jesus wants for me. I’ll give up my life, and my liberty to pursue Jesus’ “happiness”.

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. ~ Philippians 3:7

STEP 2: Take up your cross

Your cross is not your sacrifice. Jesus was crucified ON a cross. Therefore, to take up your cross is to be ready for the world to crucify you for the sake of the gospel. Taking up my cross is the willingness to be rejected by the world.

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  ~ Galatians 6:14

STEP 3: Follow me

Obey the teachings of Jesus: live by the WORD of God: Imitate Christ. Read the Bible and live the Bible. If Christ is our shepherd we must follow His instructions: His Word preserved for us in the Bible.

Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. ~ Psalm 119:133

A Word on Judging

“Judging” is a topic that we find difficult to understand and apply. And one that the enemy tries to use against the children of God to make us impotent, compromising, and complacent. We had addressed this topic in detail (Fruit Finding vs. Branch Burning) some time ago and this response is both a synopsis and minor update.

Laying out the doctrines of the church, Paul addressed judging in some detail in 1 Corinthians 5:11-6:6. In summary, Believers are to judge each other as pertains to what is right and wrong (see also Galatians 6:1). On the other hand, Believers are not to judge unbelievers since an unbeliever is already judged because of his/her unbelief. And more pointedly, everything the unbeliever does is wrong, because his/her actions are not a result of being in a right relationship with God.

The confusion about judging comes from an incomplete reading of Matthew 7:1-5. We read verse 1 and stop there; without continuing all the way to verse 5, where Jesus says:

“…and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” ~ Matthew 7:5b

Clearly, Jesus was rebuking judging when we have a beam in our own eyes. However, the verse also shows that Jesus EXPECTS us to judge our brother when that beam is removed.

Jesus had already warned in v.2 for us to be careful of the measuring scale employed in judgment. In particular, we should use ONLY God’s Word as our “yardstick”. And Jesus says in Matthew 9:13 “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”: i.e., we should be merciful (though not compromising or complacent) in the application of His Word.

However, we tend to place all our attention on the “beam in our eyes”, which is a critical point, but one that can be twisted if forced to stand alone, apart from the rest of Scripture.

What exactly is that beam that Jesus mentions?

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Most often, we incorrectly assume that the beam Jesus mentions is sin in itself. However, if that was the case, Jesus would have set an unattainable expectation, since we never achieve sinless perfection here on earth.

Rather, the beam is whatever prevents us from seeing clearly. Eyes need light to see. Whatever blocks light from entering an eye makes it harder for that eye to see properly. Likewise, whatever blocks the light of God’s Word from entering our spiritual eyes, makes it hard for us to see spiritually.

Certainly, sin can be one of those blocks or “beams”. However, more generally, it is our biases, our wills, our selves, that get in the way of God’s light. To get a clearer picture, consider Galatians 6:1 below:

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” ~ Galatians 6:1

  1. 1. The instruction clearly assumes a judgment has been made.
  2. The one judged is a brother in Christ, not an unbeliever.
  3. The corrective measures (the mote removal) are to be taken by those that “are spiritual”.

“…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” ~ 2 Corinthians 10:12

We can define those that “are spiritual” as those that “are NOT carnal”, i.e., those who are not living primarily by their flesh. This distinction is important since it does not require sinless perfection. The only requirement is NON-carnality, i.e., their flesh is not in the way, their flesh is not a hindrance to the light of God’s Word.

Carnal Christians are not good at making judgments because their self/flesh-centered biases, like beams in their eyes, make it impossible to see clearly. However, those that “are spiritual”, those that are mature in Christ, have the light of God coming into their “eyes” and they can see what needs to be done.

The Proper Way for a Man to Pray


“Pray without ceasing.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:17


“The proper way for a man to pray,”
Said Deacon Lemuel Keys,
“The only proper attitude
is down upon his knees.”
“No, I should say, the way to pray,”
Said Reverend Doctor Wise,
“Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapturous upturned eyes.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” said Elder Slow;
“Such posture is too proud:
“A man should pray with eyes fast closed
“And head contritely bowed.”
“It seems to me his hands should be
Devoutly clasped in front,
With both thumbs pointing t’ward the ground,”
Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.

“Last year I fell in Hodgkin’s well
Head first,” said Cyrus Brown.
“With both my heels a’sticking up,
My head a’pointing down.
And I made a prayer right then and there,
Best prayer I ever said—
The prayerest prayer I ever prayed
Was standing on my head.”

–Author unknown