Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have alsoobtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
As believers, what should be our response to this passage? Are we to work to obtain these things? Or rejoice because we already have them?
1. Peace with God - This passage says "since we have been justified" (past tense - already done), we have peace with God." = a done deal, we already have it
2. Stand in grace - This passage says "we have also obtained access (past tense - already obtained) by faith into this grace in which we stand." = a done deal, we're already there
3. Hope of the glory of God - This passage says "we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." This hope is not an uncertain thing, not something we really wish for but aren't sure we'll get. This hope of the glory of God is a sure thing (c.f., Rom 8:24-25; Col 1:27; Heb 11:11). = a done deal, though still in the future
4. Suffering produces endurance, character, and hope - This passage does not say we may experience sufferings. It assumes that we will. But even though sufferings are a sure thing, we know that God works everything together for good (c.f., Rom 8:28) = a done deal, we will experience suffering in this broken world but good will come of it
5. God's love in our hearts - This passage says that God's love has already been poured into our hearts. Why? Because we have been justified by faith and have peace with God (go back to verse 1). The love of God is already in our hearts. = a done deal, we already have it
6. Saved from the wrath of God - This passage says that since we have been (past tense) justified by His blood, we will be saved from the wrath of God by His life. = a done deal, though still in the future
7. Reconciled to God - This passage says "we were reconciled to God (past tense) by the death of His Son" AND "we have now received reconciliation" (past tense) "through our Lord Jesus Christ." We are already reconciled to God. = a done deal, we already are
So what don't we have that still needs to be worked for? Nothing! This passage tells us we already have it all. We may not always FEEL like we do, but feelings are fleeting. We can't rely on them. We can, however, rely on the word of God.
So take God at His word (faith), and REJOICE!
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Rom 12:12).
Not long ago while researching the subject of prayer I came across a paper that directed me to a November 2003 article in Christianity Today entitled "Mr. Jabez Goes to Africa." In it Bruce Wilkinson, author of "The Prayer of Jabez", relates how he came to minister in Africa. Wilkinson says he had a sort of 'burning bush' experience at a Wendy’s restaurant. He confesses he was stunned when he realized that he may have just had a conversation with God, explaining that after he asked, "God, tell me what do you want me to do," he sensed God’s reply: "I want you to keep the Great Commission." But did he really have a dialogue with God?
I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately. The puzzling thing about Bruce Wilkinson is that his conservative evangelical approach to the Bible scarcely puts him in the charismatic camp, so where did this come from? He's far from being the only one, though. I hear similar things said all the time, from pulpits and lay people alike. And certainly the amount of information and themes about God speaking to individuals today — both directly and indirectly — in Christian books and literature increases with each passing year. I imagine Christians everywhere must be asking themselves: "Could this kind of thing happen to me?" "Or does this only happen to ‘superstar’ Christians?" "And why didn’t God respond to me when I asked that question?" "Wasn’t I listening?" "Don't I have enough faith?" "Am I unworthy?"
I think Dave Swavely in his book “Decisions, Decisions” makes an excellent point when he says, "Christians...are not content to make their choices based on the principles in the revealed Word, but want God to give them some more specific information, direction, or guidance." But why do we want this? And is God giving new revelation today — even though the canon has been completed? Does He communicate with us through feelings and impressions?
The truth is, these 'experiences' cannot be supported with Scripture. The Bible never instructs or encourages us to look for, listen to, or follow inner promptings or impressions. And there are adequate examples of satanic influence in Scripture to cause us to view any we might have with suspicion. Sure we all have inner promptings and impressions. We're human after all. Good and bad desires come and go. But I don't believe they should be interpreted as signs from God — not even the good ones. Certainly an example to us would be Paul’s desire to take the gospel to Asia (Acts 16:7), and to visit the saints at Thessalonica (1 Thes 2:17-18) and Rome (Rom 1:13). That was obviously a good desire. But it didn't work out because of circumstances. Good desires are just that — good desires. The Bible, wisdom, common sense, and wise counsel, must always be the primary guides for our decisions and actions.
But certainly we should be led by the Spirit, right? Actually, there are only two references that talk about this regarding the life of the believer — Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18. It's because of these two verses that we use the phrase ‘led by the Spirit’ as rationale for proceeding with a course of action. And once we say "The Spirit led me" or "God led me", it automatically becomes the uncontested ‘will of God.’ I mean really, who can argue with that?
The problem with using the phrase "led by the Spirit" like this is that in context, Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18 have nothing to do with guidance or making decisions. When we look at these passages as a whole, we see that they are contrasting the lifestyle of the old nature with that of the new nature. Choosing to live in our new nature is the same as being led by the Spirit. Maybe if we understood spirituality as godliness, we would not so readily confuse it with mysticism.
Sadly, however, we rarely use doctrine to govern and interpret experience anymore. Rather, we use application and experience to control interpretation. In other words, we assign meanings to Scripture instead of allowing the writer to do so. We also give multiple meanings to a single passage, the key interpretive question being "What does it mean to me?" rather than "What did the author intend his readers to know or do?"
Don't get me wrong, I’m sure few of us have any intention of putting subjective mysticism on the same level with the written Word of God. It's just that it's so easy for even the best-intentioned Christian to get caught up in an emotional experience due to exposure to non-biblical philosophy. In fact, our evangelical culture has become so ingrained with such spiritual language as: "I have peace about it," "I was praying and sensed God speaking to me," "I feel like this is what God would have me do," and "I sense that the Holy Spirit is leading me," that it is difficult to break away from this way of thinking. Along these same lines, I don't think circumstances and so-called open or closed doors should be our guiding factors either. For example, Jonah found a boat going to Tarsus, but that was hardly divine guidance (Jonah 1). The major concern with all of this will always be the lack of objectivity. And because of its subjectivity, it can easily lead us into false doctrine and sinful actions.
This is why I have concluded that impressions, promptings and feelings should not be considered the voice of God or a source of truth. I know this is contrary to majority evangelical opinion today, but to me, viewing them as divine communication is a kind of counterfeit spirituality that has the potential to side-track us from letting all Scripture thoroughly equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So many believers assume this passage is written directly to us and about us. It would be hard for them not to come to this conclusion when so many pulpits teach this very thing. There are, of course, general principles in this passage that can be applied to us, but we must remember to check everything we hear (no matter who is saying it!) against what Scripture actually says, taking into consideration progressive revelation and to whom the passage IS directly written.
The "they saw him" in verse 17 may include the 500 of 1 Corinthians 15:6, as it is unlikely the apostles would be doubting at this point.
As Williams well says about this passage:
"These were the 'poor of the flock' (Zechariah 11) to whom in distant Galilee and far from Jerusalem the Great Shepherd connected Himself, and whom He commissioned to proclaim His rights as King and the laws of His Kingdom throughout the whole earth. He assured them of the donation of all power given to Him both in heaven and in earth, and promised to be with them until the consummation of the age. That consummation would have then come if Israel had repented; but the two tribes in Jerusalem sent Stephen (Acts 7) to say 'We will not have this Man to reign over us,' and the ten tribes in Rome, the capital of the Dispersion, committed a similar message to Paul (Acts 28). Hence this commission is now in abeyance, but will be resumed, and obeyed, when Divine relations are once more resumed with Israel. There is no Ascension in this Gospel, for all in it relates to the King and to the Kingdom which He proposed to set up upon the earth; and so He promises to be with them until the predicted hour came of the establishment of the kingdom. The interpretation of this commission belongs, therefore, to the Hebrew church, represented by the apostles and the five hundred brethren. The Church of God — the 'secret' revealed in Ephesians — does not here appear, for its home is heavenly, and its commission is to take out from both Hebrews and Gentiles an election to heavenly glory."
That this "commission" cannot be intended for the Body of Christ, the Church of the age of grace, can be seen by its contrast with 1 Corinthians 1:17, where Paul writes: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Rather, the "commission" intended for us today is the ministry of reconciliation:
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:11-21).
Well, it's certainly nothing new! Human philosophies and mysticism have been influencing the Church since the very beginning. In fact, we can see from the topics Paul talks about in the book of Colossians that these false teaching were already being taught in the church at Colossae even then. Basically, they had allowed Jewish legalism, Greek philosophic speculation, and Oriental mysticism to seep into their assembly. For example, in the second chapter we read: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col 2:8).
Apparently some believers in Colossae had been taken in by a philosophy that involved regulating their religious life by observing the movements of the stars, which they associated with the powers of the angels. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow (Col 2:18-19). And some were teaching a false humility and the worship of angels, claiming special mystic insights by way of visions ("taking his stand on visions he has seen" v 18 -NASB). The underlying problem was their egoistic or fleshly minds.
In Paul's condemnation of all these heresies (including legalism and asceticism in vs 11-17, 20-23), he emphasizes the significance of Christ as Lord of creation and Head of the Church, essentially saying that since we are complete in the Head (v 10) and perfectly nourished by the Head (v 19), and since the Head has "disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities" and has set us high above all angels in Christ (v 15; Eph 1:3, 2:4-6), then human philosophy, legalism, mysticism, and asceticism are useless. Indeed, any teaching, practice, or intermediary that detracts from the centrality of Christ is against the faith.
True spirituality comes from staying focused on Christ, and the only way to do that is to be in the Word.
I'd like to talk about one little word — the word IF. Basically, there are two Greek words used for this word in the New Testament — ἐάν and εἴ. The first word shows a statement is conditional, the other assumes a condition is factual for the sake of argument. Strong's defines them this way:
(Strongs 1437) ἐάνean - (a conjunction, derived from 1487 /ei, "if" and 302 /án, a particle showing a statement is conditional) – if, referring to a condition extending to its "spin-off" possibilities – i.e. that happens if the condition is actualized or is valid. [used 350 times in the NT] (Strongs 1487) εἴei- (a conditional conjunction) – if. 1487 /ei (followed by any verb) expresses "a condition, thought of as real, or to denote assumptions" (i.e. viewed as factual for the sake of argument) (BAGD). Accordingly, 1487 (ei) should not be translated "since," but rather always "if" – since the assumption may only be portrayed as valid (true, factual). [used 502 times in the NT]
I bring this up because so often I hear or read that believers can lose their salvation.* Pointing to Colossians 1:23 for support, it is explained that those who have trusted Christ as their Savior are saved but that they might become lost again "if" they do not continue in the faith, stable and steadfast...
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, IFindeedyou continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Col 1:19-23).
The thing is, the word "if" in Colossian 1:23 is not the conditional "if" (ἐάν), but rather the factual-for-sake-of-argument "if" (εἴ). I think Stam explains the meaning of this "if" rather well when he says,
"I might illustrate it in this way. Here's a mother, and her son has turned to be 21, and he's bragging: 'I'm 21 now, you know, and I can do what I want' and so on. And the mother says, 'Well, if you're 21, act it.' Now she didn't have any doubt that he was 21, and yet she used the word if. She was challenging him, and Paul used it in this very same way here in Colossians One. Christ died to reconcile you...'Assuming' is the way he uses, 'IF INDEED,' 'assuming that you are still as you were when I saw you.'"
This same "if"(εἴ) is found in Colossians 3:1.:
IF then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:1-3).
We don't usually question whether or not the "if"(εἴ) in this verse is conditional because of where it is in the sentence. But remember, no matter where this "if"(εἴ) is placed, it assumes the statement is a fact.**
*Be on your guard, CS Lewis fans! I like him too BUT in his book Mere Christianity he says this very thing:“The world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 percent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name; some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so.”
**The same "if" (εἴ) is used in 1 Cor 15:1-2: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
What is this? I had never heard the phrase "fit for heaven" before, but over the last couple of months I've heard it twice. Both times it was used in reference to our sanctification — not our positional sanctification, but our walk — and how it is daily making us more fit for heaven. The first time I heard this, I was a bit surprised. The second time I thought, "What's going on here? Why am I hearing this all of a sudden?" But my immediate reaction both times was, "What?! That's legalism!"
And that's the problem with quite a few words and phrases we throw around in our "Christian language" (Christianese) today. Some terminology just naturally leads us to think "legalism", while others lead us to think "license" or some other wrong theology. I think of them as "baggage words" — words or phrases that need to be defined or, in some cases, not used at all. Others that come to mind are "repent", "confess", "kingdom", "God-inspired", "Spirit-led", "the providence of God", "let go and let God", and the "yes, no, and wait" explanation regarding answers to prayer. That's why it's so important to go back to Scripture to see what is actually said about these things.
So, what about this phrase "fit for heaven"? It sure led me to think that what was being said was Christ's death and resurrection were insufficient so we need to work hard to make ourselves fit for heaven. And some, but not all, seem to believe that's true. Therefore, it seems to me that the phrase "fit for heaven" is confusing at best, and misleading at worst.
For those who hold to the belief that we're declared perfect at our conversion but after that we need to work our way to heaven, I'd like to discuss the following question: "Are believers unfit for heaven now?"
First off, I'd like to figure out where the phrase "fit for heaven" came from. When we look in Colossians, we see that it speaks about our being made fit for heaven, so perhaps it came from there:
Giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified and made us fit (notice the past tense?) to share the portion which is the inheritance of the saints in the light. [The Father] has delivered and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have our redemption through His blood, [which means] the forgiveness of our sins (Col 1:12-14).
From these verses we can see it's nothing we do that makes us fit; it's all Christ's doing. And because Christ has already done it all, we're just as fit for heaven as newborn believers as we are when we're mature (2 Cor 5:21). (Remember the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus in Lk 23:42-43?)
Actually though, it is true that our old nature is unfit for heaven, but it is also true that it will always be 100% unfit for heaven. It can never be improved. Notice how we are exhorted to put off — not clean up — the "old man" (Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). The fact is, Christ didn't come to reform our flesh; He came to execute it and to give us new life (Gal 2:20-21; Col 3:3-5). Trying to clean ourselves up is merely returning to the law — the ultimate exercise in futility.
That's why we were instantly given a new creation/nature at our conversion (2 Cor 5:17-21), which is 100% fit for heaven now — and always will be! It is this new creation/nature or "new man" that we are instructed to "put on" (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). Reading further in Eph 4:25-32 and Col 3:12-17 tell us what it "looks like" when we put on our "new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."
Thankfully, when we physically die we'll be free of our old, dead sinful nature (Rom 7:14-8:10). It will never be in heaven; only our new nature will be there. So what exactly are we trying to make fit for heaven? Our new nature, which is already perfect in every way, or our old nature, which can never be improved and is considered dead already?
Maybe you think I'm encouraging license by saying Christ's blood is all that's needed to make us fit for heaven. But that is exactly what Scripture tells us — Christ's blood is fully sufficient (1 Cor 1:30-31; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 2:8-9)! And actually, having full confidence in the finished work of Christ on the cross for us does not produce carnal Christians; rather, His love and grace compel us to live godly lives (Rom 6:14; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Titus 2:11-12).
In light of all this, I would like to make a motion that we stop using the Christianese phrase "fit for heaven" in reference to our daily walk — as if it's something we're working toward — because in Christ we are complete (Col 2:9-10) and fully fit for heaven now!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
The principle we learned last time was how to bless God — bless those who don't bless you to be more like God (Matt 5).
We have all spiritual blessings in high places. Charles Spurgeon, referred to as the "prince of preachers" once said: "When you're in the Bible, you're in your Father's house." Every promise/blessing in the Bible is not ours. Spurgeon did not take into consideration progressive revelation. We are in our Father's house but we are also in another person's house — be careful!
"Be spiritual" are the buzz words of today. For example, Oprah says look on your spiritual side, whatever that means to you. She is not referring to the Holy Spirit.
Our spiritual blessings versus Israel's earthly blessings:
Israel's blessings were in earthly places and were conditional — "If you're good, I will bless you." (Deut 28:1-14):
If you're good, I'll will bless your commerce, etc... (This promise is for Israel, not us. Prosperity preachers say if you send me money, God will bless you. They are preying on the poor.)
If you're good, I'll bless your crops, give you children, keep you safe.
In Exodus 15:26 God promised to keep Israel from diseases if they were good.
There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, "If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer. I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer" (Ex 15:26).
All these promises were for Israel. God blessed them with physical blessings in earthly places.
God also promised to curse them if they didn't obey (exactly the opposite of blessings) (Deut 28:15-45. All the blessings and cursings were show them they couldn't be good! (Gal 4:1-7)
Our blessings are in heavenly places and are unconditional. We are in no condition to dictate the terms, we can only believe. A few of these blessings are: We are new creations (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15), complete in Him (Col 2:9-10), heirs of heaven (1 Pet 1:4), adopted as full grown sons (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:1-7), saved by grace, through faith, entirely apart from works (Rom 4:4-5; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5), made acceptable in the Beloved One (Eph 1:6-7), justified — clothed in His righteousness and standing before God as if we'd never sinned — by the finished work of Christ (Acts 13:38-39; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:24; 5:8-9; 8:33-34; 1 Pet 2:24), given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee unto the day of redemption (2 Cor 1:20-22; Eph 1:6, 13; 4:30), and we can never be separated from the love of Christ (Rom 8:31-39), etc...) God gives these to us up front and then beseeches us to walk worthy of them (Eph 4:1).
Not all Israel's blessings have been realized. All of them will be realized in the earthly Kingdom to come. If His disciples (Jewish) have enough faith, they will be given anything they ask for (Matt 21:20-22). God will cause them to obey in the earthly Kingdom (Eze 36:26-27). This promise is not for us. In Romans 8:26 we told that we do not know how to pray as we ought. If we were given everything we asked for, it would be a curse, not a blessing.
Our physical blessings are such things as rain, sun, food, etc... Everybody, whether saved or not, receives these blessings.
We havealreadybeen blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. Be thankful for our physical blessings — sun and rain, etc. — (the unsaved do this, too) but be especially thankful for our spiritual blessings and walk worthy of them!
This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God (1 Jn 4:9-10). For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. There is no eternal doom awaiting those who trust him to save them. But those who don’t trust him have already been tried and condemned for not believing in the only Son of God (Jn 3:16-18).
"It's a God-thing." You hear it everywhere. Anytime something works out particularly well for us, it's "a God thing." Why must everything be about us and our comfort? And what if things aren't going particularly well for us, does this mean God has abandoned us?
Recently I came across this passage by Harriet A Harris, Lecturer in Theological Studied, University of Exeter, in her book, Fundamentalism and Evangelicals. She presents a rather interesting perspective on God's supernatural activity:
"Charismatics challenge traditional fundamentalist thinking about God’s supernatural activity. Traditionally fundamentalists confine miracles to the Bible and regard them as violent divine interventions (Barr 1984: 86). In John Wimber's words: 'Christians unconsciously consign the supernatural to an impenetrable upper tier (except for the resurrection, early church miracles, and transcendent moral standards), excluding God’s power from their theology and practice' (1985: 88). However, increasingly in fundamentalist circles God is regarded as ever-present and active, providing such mundane services as finding parking spaces in the centre of town on a Saturday morning. As Nancy Ammerman (1987: 48-9) found, having spent a year studying a fundamentalist church in New England,
"'Almost anything good or bad can be explained as God's doing. God keeps the dishes from breaking, locates things that are lost. He supplies friends and offspring. He makes sure cars get fixed at affordable prices. He arranges convenient overtime work schedules and makes hiring and firing more pleasant. He provides clothes and food when they are needed, as well as less essential items like tickets for a rodeo or a pet dog for the children.'"
Does God really work like this today? Some may say yes. But when we look in the Bible, we see that when miracles were performed, they were proclaimed (Matt 4:24; Mark 3:9, 10; 6:56) — they were not performed by stealth. There was no guessing or wondering if they were miracles or not (e.g., did God really provide that parking space, etc... or was it just a coincidence?). They were always straight-forward. And regarding the healing miracles, there were no doctors, drugs and gradually being healed. Miracles were instantaneous — the dead immediately got up and walked, blind men from birth suddenly could see, the sick were instantly healed, etc...
In an article for Christianity Today, Dr. Paul Brand, a well recognized authority on orthopedic surgery for leprosy patients and a well respected Christian, said:
"From my own experience as a physician I must truthfully admit that, among the thousands of patients I have treated, I have never observed an unequivocal instance of intervention in the physical realm. Many were prayed for, many found healing, but not in ways that counteracted the laws governing anatomy. No case have I treated personally would meet the rigorous criteria for a supernatural miracle."
Yet many Christians today point to John 14:11-14 and claim if enough people pray in faith, God will give them what they request. But can every word addressed to the apostles be intended to apply to all believers at all times? For instance, go to John 14:12. Is every believer to be endowed with miraculous powers equal to or greater than those performed by Jesus Christ Himself? Most are quick to say, “Of course not.” So should we then suppose that the verses that immediately follow are for universal application?
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14:11-14)."
Also, when looking at progressive revelation, who can fail to notice the difference between the earlier and later chapters of the book of Acts? In the beginning of Acts, we see the apostles performing extraordinary miracles in His name, and no one who is preaching Christ dies. But as Israel's opposition increases, Stephen is killed (Acts 7:54-59), and a little later James dies by the sword of Herod (Acts 12:1-2). Notice, too, that in Acts 5 all of the sick who were brought from various cities to Jerusalem were healed by the apostles. But twenty-five years later we find Paul himself denied healing (2 Cor 12:7-9). And near the end, we see him advising Timothy to take a little wine for his frequent ailments (1 Tim 5:23). Still later we learn that Paul has left another worker sick at Miletum (2 Tim 4:20). So although in the early chapters of Acts Jerusalem, the seat of Israel's government, is filled with miracles, after the stoning of Stephen there is never again any record of a public miracle in that city called the city of the great King (Matt 5:34-35).
Moreover, "to the Jew first" is stamped on every page of the book of Acts. The twelve apostles went to the Jews. And when Paul comes on the scene half way through the book, it was by divine appointment that he too went first to "the chief of the Jews" in every place he visited. It is because of this that I believe the purpose of miracles in the NT was to accredit the Messiah to Israel (or the messenger bringing a message), and not, as generally supposed, to accredit Christianity to the world (Luke 19:36-38; Jn. 2:11; 10:25, 32, 38; 14:11; 15:24; 2 Cor. 12:12). That people were relieved of their infirmities was a loving byproduct, not the main purpose, of these miracles.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:22-24).
Though no one may dare limit what God will do for the believer, I believe we need to realize that during this age of grace, we live by faith, not by sight; and that ours is a higher privilege as those "who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29)." If "signs and wonders" were given to us, as in times past, faith would sink to a lower level, and the whole standard and character of the Christian walk would be altered. Paul's sufferings toward the end of his life show a higher faith than the miracles of his earlier ministry.
In fact, Paul's letters contain many accounts of unanswered prayers. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to fix his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7-8). But did the Lord say to him, "Whatever you ask you’ll receive, if you have faith?" Not at all. The Lord told him that His grace would be enough for him (His grace meaning His power working in Paul's life). And, "…My strength is made perfect in weakness..." (2 Cor. 12:9) We always want the Lord to fix our problems, but He wants to show us the sufficiency of His grace and power working in our lives.
It appears that Paul’s whole attitude about suffering changed as a result of this prayer experience because He says that he learned to "take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor. 9:10)."
And in Philippians 4:11-13 he says, "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
Here is a glimpse of the life Paul led: "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Cor. 11:24-27)."
And what was his response? Instead of grumbling at his infirmities, he boasted in them. Not vainly or morbidly, but "for Christ’s sake he had suffered the loss of all things." In fact, he described them as "light affliction which is for the moment, working for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory," and continues, "while we look, not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17, 18)." And, "…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18)."
So then, should we expect miracles when we pray today?
Sir Robert Anderson in "The Silence of God" puts it this way:
"…it is plain matter of fact that before this, the great characteristic truth of Christianity, was revealed there was immediate Divine intervention upon earth: in a word, there were miracles; whereas, after this truth was revealed, they ceased. The era of the reign of grace is precisely the era of the silence of God. To grace, therefore, we look to explain the silence. Christianity is the supreme and final revelation of the Divine 'kindness and love-toward-man.' Therefore when God again declares Himself it can only be in wrath, and wrath must await 'the day of wrath (Rom 2:5).'"
"…From the throne of the Divine Majesty there has gone forth the proclamation of pardon and peace, and this without condition or reserve. And now a silent Heaven gives continuing proof that this great amnesty is still in force, and that the guiltiest of men may turn to God and find forgiveness of sins and eternal life."
God has said all He needs to say (the canon is now complete) and done everything that needs to be done — through His Son’s death on the cross on our behalf. In Christ, we are complete and have been blessed with all spiritual blessings. What greater gifts could He possibly give? Now He is lovingly drawing all who will come to Him in faith, patiently waiting with outstretched arms.
"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself (Jn. 12:32)."
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20)."
“For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Col. 1:19-20)."
May we, like Paul, look past the events and circumstances of this life, see our home beyond, and rejoice in the glory to which He calls us.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
So what are we to make of this, especially in light of Ephesians 2:8-9?
The commentaries either say that this parable is referring to Christians who, if they don’t forgive, will not lose their salvation but will be punished; or, that the servant who didn’t forgive was never really saved in the first place.
Both of these explanations show the problems that crop up when we try to apply portions of Scripture to ourselves that aren’t intended to be applied to us. The Lord was talking about the kingdom. He says so clearly in verse 23. During the kingdom, a person who doesn’t forgive will not be forgiven. Period. This is a carryover from the law, as the Lord explained in His Sermon on the Mount:For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt 6:14-15).
If this seems impossible to live up to, that is the whole point. The law was given to show that all men are sinners. So how can anybody live up to this, even in the kingdom?And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek 36:27; c.f. Jer 31:33).
The parable was not intended to be applied to us today. Yes, we should forgive, but as a response to what Christ has already done for us:And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4:32).
Under law (Matt 18:21-35), a person forgives others and then is forgiven by God. Under grace (Eph 4:32), we are forgiven in Christ and our response should be to forgive others. This makes it no less important, and in fact, if we live by grace, it makes it much easier to do.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Grace to you
Paul always begins the same way — "grace and peace."
Grace is a panacea — a cure for everything.
Problem of sin (Corinthians)? Solution - grace, not the law (1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 9:8; 12:9). Problem of legalism (Galatians)? Solution - grace (Gal 1:6-7; 2:21). Problem of fighting (Philippines)? Solution - grace and peace, not the law (Phil 1:7; 4:23). Problem of worshiping and following the law of angels (Colossians)? Solution - Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Col 3:15).
Grace gives us what we don't deserve. Mercy doesn't give us what we do deserve (hell or annihilation).
and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who are justified always have peace with God.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).
The only way we can be sure we have peace with God is through the eyes of faith — it's all because of Calvary. If it depended upon what we did, we could never be sure (Rom 4).
Peace with honor; He didn't sweep our sins under the rug.
Grace comes before peace.
We should give the message of grace and peace to each other.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Bless God? He's already blessed beyond measure. The blesser has to be in a higher position than the blessee (Heb 7:7; cf. Ps 50:12). How can we bless God?
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ (Matt 25:40).
We can bless God by blessing His people (Prov 14:31; 19:17). Be a giver (Rom 15:25-27).
We can bless God by speaking of His work and will before people (Neh 9; Acts 2:4; 20:18-24).
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
God showed on the cross what He thought of sin. God spent His wrath on the Son. He isn't mad anymore. Now we have to answer to the Son, and He isn't mad either — if we have placed our faith in Him.
God was Jesus' judge — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Mk 15:34) Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (Jn 20:17)
Jesus hadn't yet ascended into heaven to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat, but He could say "my Father" and "my God" because the sacrifice was accepted. And we are accepted in the beloved.
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Eph 1:5-6).
Paul wrote this epistle from prison. He ignored his circumstances and concentrated on his blessings — "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ ... who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing."
He was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:1-3). Is this why he could ignore his circumstances? No. He was caught up to the third heaven 20 years before he wrote Ephesians. The glory and drive begins to fade after awhile. He (and we) had to constantly re-motivate himself through the Word.
Q: When I share Bible truth with some of my Greek Orthodox friends, they say, "That's your interpretation, and according to 2 Peter 1:20, we cannot have a private interpretation of the Bible apart from what the church teaches." Is that really what 2 Peter 1:20 means?
A: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:19-21).
Peter is not talking about the interpretation that we give the Scriptures; he is talking about the interpretation that the Bible writers gave the Scriptures.
We know that the Bible writers wrote using their own words, for each one wrote in his own individual style. Luke was a physician (Col 4:14), so his description of the healing of the lame man sounds like something a doctor would say (Acts 3:7). This might lead you to think that when Bible writers sat down to write the Scriptures that God spoke to them and they just gave their own interpretation of what God said. Peter is saying that Bible writers did not give their private interpretation of God's words, that the prophecy of the Scripture came when "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Remember, Peter is talking about how the Bible came to to us, not how we receive it. It didn't come from someone's own interpretation. Rather, they chose their words by the will of God.
For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom 4:14-15).
This should be obvious to us all. If blessing is gained by the works of the Law, it is earned. This is why Gal 3:18 says: For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
The Apostle Paul also declares in Rom 4:4-5: Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. We can, of course, decide that we'd like to go by way of verse 4 and receive payment for our works. But if we do, we had better be perfect, because that's what's required (Rom 6:23; James 2:10). And don't forget that Romans 3:23 clearly says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
But let's go back to that phrase: "the law brings wrath." Many people somehow do not see this. Even some clergymen tell us that the Law was given to help us be good. But God Himself says, "the law brings wrath." Every criminal knows this, and every sinner should know it. God certainly places strong emphasis upon it:
"Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions" (Gal 3:19), "that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God" (Rom 3:19). "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin" (Rom 3:20).
If we come to God expecting eternal life because of our good works, whether they are performed before or after we trust in Him, are we not offering Him our terms, which He can never accept? He will never sell salvation at any price, and certainly not for a few paltry "good" works when our lives are filled with failure and sin.
Our only hope? God has promised to give eternal life to those who trust in His Son (John 3:35-36; Acts 16:31). It's not our good works, nor is it faith plus our good works, that justify us. It is faith in Christ — alone.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom 3:28).
For...the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23).
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).
We are not the 13th tribe of Israel. We are not spiritual Israel. You can't serve efficiently if you don't know who your apostle is.
Paul was perfect for the job because he:
started out in the other party.
was Jew and Gentile
was a Roman citizen
I urge you, then, be imitators of me (1 Cor 4:16) — KJV uses the word "followers"
In Ephesians and Romans (books of doctrine), Paul stands alone. His other epistles were written with others.
by the will of God - Paul could have said no.
This is the will of God for us in the Church age, not just for Paul.
...who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).
God's will is that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. He is not going to make you believe. The power of salvation begins where your heart stops. His will begins with salvation but doesn't stop there. (Example: In America, we have "the right to swing your fist, but your right ends where my nose starts.")