Monthly Archives: June 2014

Guilty As Charged

GUILTY AS CHARGED

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them). This will take place when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” Romans 2:12-16.

What is this “law” Paul kept talking about? Did he mean that things like not eating unclean foods or not wearing clothes made of mixed fibres would be the standard by which we will be judged? What about all the rigmarole of animal sacrifices, or for how many years we must plant our fields and for how many years we must leave them fallow? All of these things and many more were included in the law.

Is the law he referred to only the Ten Commandments? If the Jews keep all ten commandments, will they be safe from God’s judgment? What about those he called “the Gentiles”, all the people who were not part of God’s covenant people and who did not know the Ten Commandments? How will they be judged? How can God be just if they are ignorant of His standards?

Although the translators used the word “law” to translate “torah”, torah actually means “teaching” and God’s teaching reflects His nature. When God gave His people His torah, He was introducing Himself to them and the telling them what He is like. To the Jews He gave His teaching and the rest of the world who did not have His teaching, had the law of God written on their conscience as does every human being.

So, Paul made it clear that everyone has a standard by which he will be judged. God has not given us the right to set up our own standards because He is our Creator and we are accountable to Him. The standard for the Jews is the law of God written in stone and expanded in His covenant given to them at Mount Sinai. The standard for the Gentiles who do not have the written word, is the law of conscience written on their hearts.  Just as Paul said in Romans 1, people are without excuse.

Because God is absolutely just, He will judge everyone by His own nature, whether His standards are written on stone, in a book or on the heart. God’s nature has been fully revealed to us in His Son. Jesus came from the Father in human form to show us the Father.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” Hebrews 1:1-3.

The problem is that, whether we are Jew or Gentile, when we look at Jesus we realise how impossible it is to live up to God’s standard. Even if it were possible to keep the letter of God’s law perfectly from now on, we are guilty because we have already broken His law, and we have not understood or kept the spirit of the law which is the inward attitude of the heart.

Why is Paul telling his readers these things? Just to make them feel bad? I don’t think so. What would be the point of that? His intention was to show them that there is not one human being who can perfectly measure up to God’s standard; all are guilty; all are condemned and there is no hope for them if they think they can measure up to God’s demands by their own efforts.

Religion tries to tell us that we can, but God shows us that we can’t. We will have to look elsewhere if we are to have any hope of escaping God’s wrath and experiencing eternal life.

Acknowledgement

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

 

 

Faithful And Fair

FAITHFUL AND FAIR

“God “will repay each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism.” Romans 2:6-11.

Isn’t it amazing? God is so fair that He allows us to choose the outcome of our lives! But, unlike the devil, He tells us all the options and doesn’t hide the small print. He lays it all out for us and then allows us to make an informed choice.

So why do so many people ignore His warnings, reject His offer of a new start on the right way, and end up where they didn’t want to go? There are some very powerful forces at work to keep us from believing God and being the beneficiaries of His mercy and grace.

The first is the same deception that led the first pair to defy God. Satan suggested that God is unreliable and unfair. He sowed doubt into their minds about His integrity. According to the devil, God either did not say what He meant or He did not mean what He said. In spite of all the warnings in Scripture, many people still refuse to believe that God means what He says. In their foolishness they brush Him aside with the age-old argument, “It won’t happen to me.”

Long ago God said through Asaph, the psalmist, “You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you…When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you.” Psalm 50:17; 21. People are still like that today. They think that, because nothing bad has happened to them, God either does not see or does not care about what they are doing. But they have forgotten that there is a day of reckoning coming.

The second force at work to keep us from God’s grace is the evil nature within us. Not only do we not believe Him; we don’t want to believe Him because we enjoy our sin too much. Satan does not have to do much deceiving and much persuading because we are willing allies to his deception. It suits us to believe him because we have no inclination towards God and His ways.

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear their deeds will be exposed.” John 3:19, 20.

But, in contrast to the dark side, there is a bright side. Paul said that there is a reward coming for those who persevere in doing good. Perseverance is the key. In the same way as punishment doesn’t come immediately, so rewards are being kept for the day when Jesus returns. It would be easy to lose heart and give up if we were not convinced that God is faithful and fair. We can count on the fact that He means exactly what He says.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58.

This is what the Bible calls “the fear of the Lord”. To fear God is to revere and honour Him, and to act on what He has said because He is utterly faithful; firm and immovable on what He has spoken. We can depend on His reliability because He can never contradict Himself.

It costs discipline and stickablilty to keep on doing the right thing, like the salmon swimming against the current to get to their spawning ground. Like them, we have a reward coming at the end of the journey and it is worth the trouble to keep the end in view. Those who live for the moment have their reward – the momentary “pleasure” which will turn around and bite them in the end. Those who live for the end result, glory, honour and peace, will have to wait for it, but the outcome will be forever.

Acknowledgement

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

 

 

 

 

“We Are Not Like Them!”

“WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM!”

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else for, at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:1-5.

So who is Paul talking to now? Again he highlighted people’s behaviour, not their clan or category. His words can apply to anyone in any religious group who acts like this.

The first group of people he indicted was the group who refused to acknowledge the true God. Instead, they created gods for themselves who would sanction their evil behaviour because their gods were just like them regardless of what they looked like. They were religious alright, but their “religion” was invented to suit them.

The second group was equally religious, but this lot claimed to worship God. The problem this time was not so much who they worshipped but what they thought and said about the idolaters. “We are not like them. We don’t worship idols. We worship the one true God.” They had had their experience of idolatry. It cost them their land, their temple and the indignity and suffering of exile in Babylon for almost two generations. They were fiercely loyal to their God, to a fault.

But they were so contemptuous of non-Jews that they would have nothing to do with them. They regarded them in the same category as dogs simply because they were not Jews. Jesus came in for a great deal of criticism because He refused to bow to their arrogant attitudes. He interacted with anyone who had a need and anyone who came to Him.

“But, wait a minute,” said Paul. “You who are so contemptuous of idol-worshippers and sexually promiscuous people, what is your behaviour like behind closed doors?” They were quick to point fingers at others, but three fingers were pointing back at them. Even if they were not worshipping idols in public, they were guilty of a far worse form of idolatry – they worshipped themselves. They had set themselves up as the standard for right and wrong. They measured themselves against themselves and found themselves not guilty and everyone else guilty.

Once again, just like the idol worshippers whom they so despise, people who practise religion, that is, any belief system that attempts to reach the deity by self-effort, be it God or any god invented by human imagination, are equally guilty of failing to acknowledge God or give thanks to Him. Instead, they acknowledge themselves and set up their own system of so-called worship, using rules and ritual to reach their god.

Even believers in Jesus can be guilty of this form of idolatry. This was the issue Paul battled in his letter to the Galatians upon which Romans is based. The Judaisers were adding their bit to the good news about Jesus. His sacrificial death was not enough to save Gentiles, so they said. Gentiles needed to be circumcised to gain entry to Judaism first. Jesus plus! They thought they knew better than God.

“Jesus plus” is still being peddled today; Jesus plus the baptism of the Holy Spirit; Jesus plus tongues; Jesus plus baptism; Jesus plus good works; Jesus plus self-inflicted punishment; Jesus plus discipline, etc. None of these extras add to the efficacy of His death to rescue and redeem guilty sinners.

The problem with those who treat offenders with contempt and judge them by their standards is that their heart attitude is far more heinous in God’s eyes than the things they judge in others. It was pride that brought Lucifer down. Pride excludes people from grace. Pride blinds out eyes to the goodness of God, the very thing that should bring us to repentance.

Strangely enough, accusation and condemnation do not bring us to repentance. They only drive us into guilt or defensiveness. It is the kindness and mercy of God towards us that makes us change our mind about Him and draws us to Him. There is only wrath for us until we realise just how good God really is.

Acknowledgement

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

 

FREEDOM

Dear Family

Freedom means different things to different people. Our own South African context is perhaps an obvious one to understand, but there are many other forms of lack of freedom or bondage in which people find themselves. Debt, slavery, oppression, addiction, captivity, crime, abuse, greed, self-centeredness, fears of every description, issues of the past and so the list goes on. Many people spend their entire lives struggling against their “captor” and the reality is that even believers are often found in a similar position.

The Bible gives us incredible hope for all our bondages. Obviously it starts with the freedom from the power of sin in our lives we gain in Christ. That glorious starting point whereby God takes us out of the dominion of darkness and plants us into the kingdom of light – new creatures freed to worship Him. But then the journey begins – extricating ourselves from incorrect thought patterns and beliefs about ourselves, life and God. It’s His glorious word, the power of His Spirit, and the decision of our wills which combine to get us free. I am not of the opinion that these are merely psychological crutches to help us hobble along in a life of hopelessness, but rather a source of unlimited power enabling us to undo the works of darkness in our lives and to overcome. God wants us to be victors alongside His Son. That’s the point of the whole story. Over-comers in love with God, focused on Him and not on our issues.

In John 8:32-36 (selected verses) Jesus said, “…If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free….I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

And that’s really what freedom is all about – holding to His teaching by following Him and watching the shackles fly!

If you know bondage to anything other than Jesus, why not decide to choose His way, His life, His freedom. He simply invites us to die to self daily and to follow Him.

Paul

Rotten Through And Through

ROTTEN THROUGH AND THROUGH 

“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve those who practise them.” Romans 1:28-32.

What am I reading, the Bible or the newspaper? Who is Paul writing about, the people then or now? Nothing has changed, has it? What a description of dehumanised people and a dehumanised society!

In my country, the decision was made by parliament to write into our constitution that we are a secular country. God is no longer welcome or acknowledged. The results are obvious; many wicked practices have been written into our law books as legal; abortion and homosexual marriages, for example; human rights now tip in favour of the criminal and the lawless ones; parents are losing their right to discipline their children and there is now a move to disallow parents the right to have a say in their children’s education.

Lawbreakers, thieves, fraudsters and corrupt public servants simply disappear from one portfolio and turn up somewhere else, as arrogant as ever. Convicted criminals who happen to be public figures are let out of jail on trumped up health issues.  They quietly move back into society as though nothing happened.

The prophet Habakkuk had the same complaint about society in his day. He took his problem to God: “Therefore the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” Habakkuk 1:4.

Although God seems silent and inactive; He is actually righteous and just by simply allowing the wicked to go their own way. Their judgment is written into their choices and actions. God does not have to do anything because they have done it to themselves. They have become incapable of living decent human lives. Their minds have become so depraved and perverted that they call right “wrong” and wrong “right” and applaud those who do what they do.

There is no place in God’s presence for those who think and behave contrary to the nature of God. They are rotten and putrefying in their sin and the only place that will accommodate them in the end will be the rubbish dump. They enjoy their wickedness now, but they have no idea what it will be like to live forever in complete darkness, physical and moral darkness so dark that they cannot even see a finger in front of their faces and can only think evil thoughts always.

Hebrew people described hell as a boundary less place. Boundaries are never intended to be restrictive, but protective. When people deliberately overshoot the boundaries, they have to face the dangers that lie on the other side. To deny them does not make them any less real. God had clearly stated His boundaries and when they are ignored, the consequences come into play.

Why did Paul paint such a gloomy picture of his society and ours? For two reasons: firstly, because it was accurate and secondly, because it formed the backdrop to God’s amazing answer, His grace revealed through His righteousness. But first of all, Paul had to show his readers that the whole world is guilty before God. There is not one sector of society or of the world that escapes God’s judgment. Before he can give them God’s answer, he has to ensure that they understand their plight.

No amount of religious fervour or rule-keeping can change the heart of a human being. Of what use is it to eat or not to eat certain foods since food only influences our bodies? What can the “holy” water do to cleanse a polluted conscience? It only touches the skin but leaves the soul unchanged. How can doing good alter our debit balance in God’s books? Even good works are done by people rotten with selfishness.

Paul is building up to a solution so breath-taking that only God could have thought it up!

Acknowledgement

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