Category Archives: Bible Study

IT’S A MYSTERY

IT’S A MYSTERY

“What, then, shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” Romans 9:14-18.

Now we get to the difficult part. We view God through our human eyes and think that He has no right to do with people whatever He chooses.

Does that mean that God deliberately creates some people to show off His glory by making them wicked and then sending them to hell? The Bible never insinuates that He ever does anything like that. This is the kind of thing a man-made god, capricious and unpredictable like its creator, would do!

We have to see the picture from God’s perspective. Since our forefather Adam decided to disregard God’s instruction and make his own rules, the entire human race has been in a state of rebellion against God, leaving Him no option but to allow the consequences of our rebellion take their course. To be true to His justice, He has to punish sin. His punishment comes in the form of death because death is the result of anything imperfect and corrupt.

God could have left it at that and allowed the entire human race to perish at its own hand. Instead, because of His mercy, He intervened by sending His Son to take the rap for us. Having removed the reason for our punishment, He invites whoever wants to, to receive His mercy and His gift of forgiveness, and get back on track to being restored to His image. With sin and punishment out of the way, those who entrust themselves to Him are in the process of being made holy; that is, being set free from sin to obey God for His purposes and for His glory.

So, where do our rights come into it? As guilty sinners, the only right we ever have is to God’s justice – and that means eternal separation from Him. He put His law into our hearts at conception. Everyone instinctively knows what is right and wrong; and that makes us doubly guilty before God – guilty because we know what is right and guilty because we because we refuse to submit to His authority and choose to do wrong.

How can we question God if He chooses to show mercy to those who respond to His invitation to return to Him, and to reject those who reject Him? Take the case of Pharaoh to which Paul refers. The Biblical record indicates that God gave Pharaoh ten opportunities to listen to His instruction, and release His people, but five times Pharaoh refused.

Every time he refused to obey God, his heart became harder towards Him. It was not God’s fault that Pharaoh would not acknowledge His authority. Pharaoh made his choice and God simply confirmed it by making it impossible to for him change his mind. So, whose fault was it that Egypt was destroyed? God’s fault? No! Pharaoh chose to ignore God’s warnings and take the consequences. And, in so doing, he inadvertently shone the light on God’s power and glory.

Does that mean that our destiny is in our own hands? Yes, in a sense it does, and yet, at the same time, in a way which is beyond our understanding, God miraculously intervenes and rescues us from our own stubborn rejection. Take Paul, for example. He would never have become the apostle he was, had Jesus not confronted him on the Damascus road. He needed that kind of shock treatment to wake him up to the truth.

That is the mercy of God! If left to our own devices, would we ever turn to Him? I don’t think so. Self-will is too deeply entrenched for us to let go easily. The miracle is that some people actually respond to God’s mercy, turn away from their sin and follow the way back to Him. They are the ones who fulfil His will, enjoy His goodness and will experience the fullness of eternal life.

It truly is a mystery – this sovereignty of God!

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

ELECTION AND PREDESTINATION

ELECTION AND PREDESTINATION

“Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by Him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” Romans 9:10-13.

This election thing is mighty confusing, isn’t it? It seems as though God is unfair. How can He choose some people to salvation and others to condemnation before they are even born? But wait a minute. Before we jump to such conclusions, we need to get rid of some assumptions.

Take predestination, for example. Does the Bible imply that God sits in heaven sorting people out and saying, “One for heaven, one for hell,” like a love-sick teenager picking petals off a daisy and chanting, “He loves me, he loves me not”? Not at all! What kind of God would He be to do that? What does the Bible say?

Predestination is not about eternal salvation but about destiny. So what’s the difference? Look at it this way. If I choose to make medicine my career, the moment I walk through the doors of the university and begin my studies, I am destined to be a doctor. I will study medicine and be trained in the skills and practices of a medical doctor and when I Ieave the university and go out to practice what I have learned, I will be able to give myself the title, Dr So-and-So because that is what I have been trained to do.

The only difference between what happens to me in my career which is earthly and temporary and my eternal destiny is that God pre-destined me, not to be a doctor but to be conformed to the image of His Son. Before the foundation of the world, He decided that those who believe in His Son will perfectly resemble Him when God has completed His work in them. Can you see the difference? It’s not about who will be saved and who will not be saved. It’s about who we will be like when we have followed Jesus and lived out this life.

What about election? Again, we must set aside our assumptions and read what the Bible actually says. Election is also not about salvation. It’s about God’s choice of what people will do with their lives. He chose Jacob to be the ancestor of the people through whom He would create a nation that would belong to Him. He wanted a group of people with whom He would be in a covenant relationship and through whom Messiah would come.

He chose Jacob over Esau before their birth, not because of anything they had done but because of His grace. It was about Him, not about them; about His purposes, not theirs. Why did Paul quote the verse, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”? This is not about emotion but about intention. Jesus used the same idea to describe what a disciple’s attitude should be towards Him in comparison with his relationship to his closest relatives. Love – hate is about priorities, not attitudes.

God chose and focussed His attention on Jacob because He had chosen him to be a forefather of Jesus. That did not mean that Esau was chosen for hell. It meant that God had a different purpose for him and his descendants and it was up to him to obey God and fulfil his purpose in God’s scheme of things.

God’s purposes for us are all different, but that does not mean that we are not part of His big plan. If we obey Him, we are all part of what He is doing even if we are not in the limelight as His people were. What is most important to us is that we are accountable for our choices and for the way we live our lives, whether we fulfil our destiny or not.

So. let’s not misjudge God. Let’s check His word and see for ourselves that His dealings with us are always in love and grace. That we have any part in His plan is because of His mercy. When we are in Christ, we have a destiny to be like Jesus and to be part of God’s plan to reach others in whichever way He calls us and fits us for our calling. Our response should always be one of thanksgiving for His mercy and trust that He will perfect His will in us as we follow and obey Him.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM

DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM

“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Romans 9:6-9.

Who, then, are the true children of Abraham? Although Ishmael was Abraham’s first child, he was the son of Sarah’s slave and not Abraham’s heir. It was Isaac, Abraham’s son by his wife, Sarah, who was reckoned as Abraham’s firstborn and therefore entitled to inherit Abraham’s property but, even more important than that, the promises of God to Abraham and his offspring.

According to the Scriptures, there are three streams of people who claim descent from Abraham. The ancient Israelites and now the Jews, are his physical descendants and are the rightful heirs of the land of Israel. God promised it to Abraham and gave it to the nation born through him by divine intervention. Although it is the source of bitter conflict and bloodshed, and although much of the rest of the world refuses to recognise their rightful ownership, God’s mandate to the Jews has never been withdrawn.

The second group of people who claim legitimate descent from Abraham are the offspring of Ishmael. God promised that He would also make him a great nation (Genesis 21:13, 18) but he and his descendants were not included in His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 21:12). They have no legal right to the land of Israel.

But there is a third group whom God recognises as the true sons of Abraham. During a heated debate with Jesus, the religious leaders vehemently defended their legitimate descent from Abraham. Jesus promised freedom to those who followed Him. The Jews responded:

“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” John 8:33.

Had they conveniently forgotten that they were descendants of those who had been enslaved by the Egyptians and by the Babylonians and, even as they spoke, they were under Roman oppression? Did not God identify Himself to them as the God who delivered them out of Egyptian bondage?

Jesus’ reply was scrutinising:

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father… As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who told you the truth that I heard from God.   Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father… You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” John 8:37-38; 40-41; 44a.

A true son is one who resembles his father. Since the Jewish religious leaders were bent on killing Jesus, they were reflecting the nature of their spiritual father, the devil. The true sons of Abraham, then, are those who reflect him in their faith in God’s promises. Without denying natural descent, spiritual descent, from God’s point of view, is far more important than natural birth.

So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” Romans 4:11b, 12.

But what about the Jews who are natural descendants of Abraham but who reject Jesus as their Messiah? Is God finished with them? Do they no longer have a place in His plans? Although there are those who firmly believe and adamantly declare that the Christian church has replaced the Jews, we need to find out what the Scripture teaches about the future of God’s chosen people.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

A PRIVILEGED PEOPLE

A PRIVILEGED PEOPLE

“I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Romans 9:1-5.

What an illustrious pedigree the Jewish people have! Is it any wonder that they are so hated by the rest of the world! The devil has made sure that God and anyone or anything that has to do with Him is thoroughly vilified.

Since the call of Abraham, the Jews have been the most blessed and privileged people on earth. From the first family, they have been surrounded by God’s protection and provision. Abraham was called from his idolatrous environment in Ur to a journey of raw faith in a God who was unseen but real to him. He heard Him speak and learned to follow His instructions with amazing results.

Who else, at the age of one hundred years, when his wife was old and barren, became a father because God said he would? Who else was so blessed that he became so rich and famous in a foreign land as a nomad that he was respected wherever he went?

Abraham’s descendants became so numerous in Egypt that they were a threat to the Pharaoh of a new dynasty who disregarded Joseph’s contribution to his nation? Who else was delivered from slavery in such a dramatic way that it became their signature? God, Israel and deliverance were tied together as their unforgettable identity. “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

Who else received a constitution for their nation, written on stone by His own finger, that has never been surpassed? God’s covenant with His people, if faithfully obeyed, would have elevated them above all other nations in their care for one another and for the foreigners who found shelter among them. It bound them to God in an indestructible union in which He pledged to live among them and be their God. What a God to worship! To belong to Him was the safest relationship in the entire universe.

What other nation had the glorious presence of their God in a visible representation within the very building in which they worshipped Him? Other nations had gods of wood and stone but they were as dead as the material that represented them. Only the God of Israel was among them, symbolised by the unearthly light that radiated His glory from the mercy seat between the golden cherubim above the Ark of the Covenant.

No other temple on earth was as beautiful or lavishly adorned as the temple that Solomon built as a place of worship for his God. It was David’s dream to honour the God he adored with the best he could give – a dream carried out by his son – as a permanent and visible reminder of the glory of their God who was among them.

What other God wanted a family of sons and daughters who would live in harmony with Him and with each other in an eternal bond of love? What other God came in person to His people to tell them and show them how much He loved them – so much, in fact, that He paid the debt of their sin by giving His own life for them?

Is it any wonder that Paul grieved for his people, so much so that, if possible, he would have forfeited his own place in the family of God for them, if only they would believe? But Paul knew, just as it had taken a mind-blowing encounter with the living Christ to convince him of the truth, that his people needed the power of the gospel through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, to bring them to faith in their Messiah.

It had happened in Jerusalem fifty days after the resurrection, when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers and the church was born, Jewish to the core. But, once again, the stubborn hearts of his people turned them from the Messiah and drove many of them into becoming bullying persecutors.

And Paul grieved for their loss.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US

NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

“As it is written:

For your sake we face death all day long;

We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life; neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future; nor any powers; neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39.

These are some of the most loved and treasured words in the whole Bible. Over the past eight chapters, Paul has built his case for the power and effectiveness of the gospel against the backdrop of real hardship. Believers were alone in the world. Both Jews and Gentiles were against them, and not just mildly antagonistic; they were murderously anti them, to the extent that they martyred Christians everywhere for their faith, even as Paul wrote.

Even as I write, the persecution of believers is escalating in the Middle East. Brutality against people simply because they believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, is driving people from their homes and taking their lives in hundreds and thousands.

Did Paul have an answer to this carnage? Does the gospel really work? Why does God allow these things to happen? Why does He not intervene to protect His people? Where is His power now?

God has given us enough evidence to persuade us of His love for us. He did intervene, but not just to rescue us from physical death. There is so much more to life than breathing. He sent His only Son to rescue us from eternal death. By dying and rising again, Jesus conquered death. Death no longer has the power to hold us in its eternal grip. Yes, His children may have to face a gruesome and horrible death, but it is only the gateway to a new life where there is no more death.

Killing people for their faith is the worst that the enemy can do. All they are doing is facilitating what must happen to us anyway. Jesus viewed His death from another perspective, not as the violent end to His life or as a terrible waste of a young life, but as the planting of a seed. From His death would come a harvest of new life in the many who would believe in Him.

One of the early church fathers, Tertullian, wrote of the martyrdom of believers in his day, “As often as we are mown down by you, the more we grow in numbers; the blood of the Christians is the seed.” (http://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/tertullian).

Those who kill Christians think that they are getting rid of them. If only they would realise that everyone they plant in the ground will produce a harvest of many more. Since God has done everything necessary to bring us back to Himself, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from Him love, not even martyrdom.

Whatever happens to us, good or bad, can only serve to strengthen our faith in Him and our experience of His faithfulness. God allows us to go through tough experiences, not to punish us or alienate us from Him but to purify our faith and to strengthen our confidence in Him. He surrounds and steadies us in the storms of life so that we can know, without a doubt, that we are His deeply loved children.

Does the gospel work? Yes! A thousand times, yes! Jesus died to remove our sin and reconcile us to the Father. His life in us gives us power to overcome the desire to satisfy fleshly lusts and sets us free from the fear of death. Tragic as it is that believers are being slaughtered for their faith in Jesus, death is not the end but the doorway into God’s immediate presence and the fullness of life.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.