Holidays (Other)

The Blessing of Freedom

Originally published April 10, 2008

Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be a Christian in other parts of the world?

Indonesia, Nigeria- Christians are slaughtered for not conforming to Islamic law. In Nigeria, since the year 2000, thousands have been put to death.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, North Africa, Mauritania, Iran, the Comorros Islands, Sudan- Direct persecution by the state is written into the legal code. Any non-Islamic or dissident Islamic religious expression is forbidden. Any Saudi who seeks to leave Islam faces the strong possibility of execution.

Egypt- The Coptic Church (which is somewhat similar to Catholicism in its roots and practices) has been the target of church burnings and local massacres.

Pakistan- In 1997, the Christian town of Shantinagar, was effectively leveled.

China, Vietnam, Laos, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan- Generally, there is freedom to worship in state-controlled religious bodies, but any religious expression outside of these bodies is strenuously controlled or suppressed.

The Roman Catholic Church is outlawed because it accepts the authority of the Pope, who is from outside the country. Priests and bishops have been imprisoned. Hundreds of Protestant leaders of the underground church have been arrested and sentenced to jail and labor camps.

North Korea- Nearly every free exercise of religion is viciously repressed, and thousands of people have been sent labor camps for practicing their faith.

Burma- An organization called the State Law and Order Restoration Council brutally oppresses tribal minorities, which, in large part, are comprised of Christians. Their tactics include: massacre, rape, forced labor, and the use of children to clear minefields.

(Information from: “Insights on Law and Society: A Magazine for Teachers of Civics, Government, History & Law”, Vol. 7.3 (Spring 2007); Published by the American Bar Association)

United States-
Christianity is protected under the Constitution and is the majority religion in this country. We even have the right to legal redress if our religious liberties are infringed upon.

We can worship publicly with no fear of government, military, or other attacks.

We do not have civil rights (such as the right to vote, work, or own property) taken away from us simply because we embrace Christianity.

We have the right to proselytize (as long as we’re not harassing anyone), advertise and spread our religion.

Persecution is usually limited to people hurting our feelings when we witness to them, and social issues that offend our sensibilities.

We have beautiful, comfortable churches (as well as Christian schools, organizations and stores), complete with heat and air conditioning; comfortable pews; nurseries; indoor plumbing; Bibles, music, and materials in our own language; musical instruments; technology; and paid, and frequently seminary-trained, pastors and staff.

So what are we doing with all these blessings? Have we gotten so used to freedom and opportunity that we consider them a birthright rather than a precious gift from God that He has the prerogative to revoke if He chooses? He did it with the Israelites time and time again in the Old Testament: They obeyed God. He blessed them. After a while, they got comfortable with all the blessings and became lazy. They strayed away from God. He gave them over to oppressive rulers. They cried out in repentance. He delivered them and blessed them, and the cycle started all over again.

What will it take to shake us out of our complacency, humble us in gratitude for the opportunities God has given us, and motivate us to use the freedom with which He has blessed us to build His kingdom?

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Luke 12:48b
Easter

Easter with the King: The Story of Nabal, Abigail and David

Since we’re focusing on Resurrection Sunday this week, I thought we’d take a brief break from our Sermon on the Mount study for an Easter-themed Bible study lesson.

Originally published April 20, 2014

The whole Bible points us to Jesus. Even the Old Testament. Even passages we’d least suspect, like the story of Nabal, Abigail, and David.

In 2014, I led my women’s Sunday School class through a one year chronological study of the Bible. Each Sunday, I taught a lesson from that week’s reading. The lesson below is taken from week 15 of that study, which I taught on Easter Sunday. You can find the entire chronological study at the Bible Studies tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

Read: 1 Samuel 25:2-42

flock of sheep in israel

Filthy Rich (2)
3000 sheep/1000 goats was definitely rich (even today it wouldn’t be too shabby). While cattle are more valued in our culture for their meat, milk, and leather, sheep and goats were more valued in Israel for these, and also for sacrifices. Sheep and goats were Israel’s “pantry on the hoof.”

I Pity the Fool (3)
The name “Nabal” means “fool.” As we have seen throughout the OT, names weren’t just random labels. They told something about the person’s character or life, where he was from, who he was related to, etc. Sometimes names were changed to reflect life circumstances: Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) to Benjamin (son of the right hand- Genesis 35:18), Naomi (pleasant) to Mara (bitter- Ruth 1:20), Simon (God has heard) to Peter (rock- Matthew 16:18).

It seems odd, even by Israel’s standards, to name an infant “fool,” but we have no way of knowing whether this was the case or whether he acquired this name later in life after earning it by his behavior.

“Abigail” means “My father is joy.”

An Offer You Can’t Refuse? (4-13, Deuteronomy 22:1-4, 18:7, 21:11, 15:7-8, Leviticus 19:10, 23:22)
This incident hits our Western ears as odd or inappropriate, even presumptuous or akin to extortion, but Middle Eastern hospitality etiquette and neighborliness, not to mention God’s Law was, and still is, much different from ours in many cases.

Nabal did not ask David to guard his shepherds and flocks. Indeed, he probably didn’t even know David was doing so unless the shepherds told him when they brought the sheep in for shearing. (And since “one cannot speak to him” {17} maybe they didn’t.) David, however, when he met up with the shepherds, took it upon himself, out of his own good will, to look out for them. Maybe he had sympathy for them because he had also been a shepherd.

michael-corleone

David and his men likely put their lives on the line numerous times protecting Nabal’s livelihood. And he didn’t do it with an “I scratch your back; you scratch mine” attitude, thinking he would later demand pay from Nabal. He also didn’t take advantage of the shepherds (such as extorting sheep/goats in exchange for protection) while they were with him. David was obeying the spirit of all those “good neighbor laws” we read about (ex: Deuteronomy 22:1-4). The law is not just “don’t harm your neighbor,” but also, “do good to your neighbor.”

Remember, these shepherds were alone out in the wilderness with the flocks. There was no police force or army to protect them from raiding bands of Philistines. If the Philistines saw a thousand goats and 3000 sheep and wanted them, they just took them and captured or killed the shepherds. No legal redress, no sheep insurance. Nabal’s entire portfolio was at stake. You would think once he found out what David had done –for free and out of the goodness of his heart—Nabal would be extremely grateful. But was he? Nope.

David’s men arrived, explained themselves, and asked politely for whatever food Nabal could spare (kind of hard to make groceries when you’re on the run living in caves). They did not demand his best, and they did not demand he provide enough for their entire company of 600 men. They had even come on a feast day when Nabal was celebrating his wealth, should have been in a good mood, and should have had plenty of extra food on hand. And notice this telling little phrase, “they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited.” (9) Now here’s one way Middle Eastern culture is similar to Southern culture. If someone was standing there telling you about all those nice things he had done for you, how long would it take before you gleefully interrupted him and offered him everything under the sun in thanks? Well, Middle Easterners aren’t as shy about interrupting as we are, and furthermore, they would take it as the highest insult if you didn’t take everything they offered.

Not Nabal, though. First, he pretended not to know who David was. Pretty ridiculous, since David’s conquests were well known throughout Israel (18:7, 21:11- even outside Israel), not to mention the fact that he was next in line for the throne. Next, he insulted David’s men by accusing them of lying about working for David. Of course, if he had been interested in finding out whether or not that was true, he could have brought his shepherds in and asked them if these were the guys who had protected them.

David’s men went back and reported what had happened. David’s immediate response was for everyone to “strap on his sword.” It seems like kind of an extreme response to us, but we have to keep a few things in mind. First, the Law. Nabal was breaking both the letter and the spirit of it. While there was no specific law covering a band of mighty men coming to you and asking for food on a feast day, there were laws about taking care of people who were hungry and poor, such as the gleaning laws (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22).

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says: “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”

When we read through Ruth, we saw Boaz doing a great job of fulfilling this law for Ruth and Naomi. Here, Nabal is showing the exact opposite of Boaz’s kindness and generosity.

Second, Nabal’s actions showed disregard and ingratitude for God’s provision and blessing. God blessed Nabal with wealth and protected that wealth (through David) without Nabal even knowing about it. Do we see any evidence that Nabal was humbled that God should do such a thing for him, or thankfulness to God for what He had provided? No. We see only selfishness, stinginess, and a blatant disregard for God as sovereign provider.

Finally, David’s response was likely an answer to Nabal’s accusations. “He wants to know who David is? He wants to know whether or not my men are lying? Well, let’s go show him the answer to his questions and see if he changes his tune.”

The Go-Between (14-31, John 12:14-15)
Abigail was quite a remarkable woman. This was not the first time Nabal had acted this way. He had a long standing history of being harsh and worthless (“son of Belial” is also applied to Satan in 2 Corinthians). And here, Abigail was going behind his back and defying him. This was no small thing for any wife in Israel. But for Abigail, it could have meant a beating or worse when Nabal found out. It’s possible she was even risking her life. And for what? To save him. Without his knowledge that she was saving him. Without his knowledge that he even needed saving.

www-St-Takla-org--abigail-entreats-mercy

Why in the world would Abigail want to save someone who was probably making her life a living hell? She could have just let David and his men handle Nabal. Certainly he would have gotten what he deserved. But she stepped in because it was the right thing to do. It was right to obey God by providing for David and his men. It was even right to protect her husband from his own foolishness and bringing David’s wrath down upon himself. But even more, she did it because she loved God, and maybe even her husband, too.

She sent the gift on ahead (19) to appease David’s wrath, then presented herself to him on Nabal’s behalf. Notice that she got down off her donkey (23). Kings rode donkeys. Rich people and people of high standing rode donkeys. She left her wealth and position behind and got as low as she could get, bowing down, humbling herself, and submitting herself to David. For Nabal.

Then Abigail did something even more remarkable. She said (24-25), “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he.” She—a completely innocent party to Nabal’s sin (25)—voluntarily takes on the guilt and consequences of his sin. (Is this starting to sound familiar?) In v. 28, she asked David to “Please forgive the trespass of your servant.” It wasn’t her trespass, but Nabal’s. She was asking forgiveness for him.

The King’s Response (32-35)
David blessed Abigail, not just for her prudence and godliness, but also because she had satisfied his wrath and kept him from exercising it on Nabal. Her gift was sufficient, and David granted her petition to extend forgiveness to Nabal.

Happily Ever After (36-42)
Well, except for Nabal. Abigail had to tell Nabal what she had done. She’d been gone for a while and had taken quite a bit of food out of the house. No sense trying to cover it up. Hopefully Nabal would be grateful she saved him from certain death. When she told him, did he repent? Humble himself? The text doesn’t say that he did. It says “his heart died within him.” It’s generally believed this means that Nabal had a stroke (especially since it further says that he “became as stone” and lived for ten more days). Did he become enraged at what Abigail had done, and this physical exertion contributed to a stroke? We can’t know for certain. What seems unlikely is that he genuinely repented, because God “struck Nabal and he died.” As we’ll see later with David, while we usually do suffer the consequences of our sin, God shows mercy and forgiveness to the repentant.

David was thankful he had not taken matters into his own hands and that God had handled the situation. Justice had been served. And for her faithfulness, Abigail—who considered herself the lowliest of servants, only fit to wash the feet of other servants—ascended to the position of Queen. Back on her donkey where she belonged, exalted out of humility to sit at the right hand of the king.

The Backstage Gospel (Psalm 14:1, Philippians 2:6-8, 9-11)
Often, in stories like this, the characters aren’t just playing themselves, they’re playing out the parts of the gospel.

As with Nabal, God blessed His people richly with life, family, provisions, and all kinds of other blessings she wasn’t even aware of. The people didn’t ask God to do these things. God, the Good Shepherd, did these things for them out of the goodness of His own heart, the same way David had done for Nabal. But, as with Nabal the fool, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” (Ps. 14) The same way David presented himself to Nabal and told him what he had done for him, God, over and over, reminded Israel of the way He had protected and provided for them. But just as Nabal rejected David, so, Israel rejected God, and rebelled against Him in favor of their own sin and selfishness. And, like David, God’s wrath was inflamed.

Enter Jesus. Just as Abigail intervened on behalf of Nabal, Jesus intervened on behalf of Israel and all mankind. Just like Abigail, He laid down His life to save us. Before we ever knew Him. Before we ever knew we needed saving. Why? Why would He even want to save us Nabals? He could have let God exercise His wrath on us. We certainly deserve it. But in the same way that Abigail acted in love and in doing what was right, Jesus loved His Father and us enough to fulfill righteousness and to bring God glory by staying His hand of wrath.

hp-crossshadow

In the same way that Abigail got down off her donkey, leaving behind all prestige and humbling herself to the lowest position possible—a servant only worthy of washing other servants’ feet— Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant [one who washed other servants’ feet], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8) And for whom? Us Nabals. “On me alone, my Lord, be the guilt,” Jesus said, even though, like Abigail, He was completely innocent. He voluntarily took on the guilt and consequences of our sin when He died in our place on the cross, and He did it to win forgiveness for us.

Jesus sent this offering of His life for the atonement of our sin on ahead of Himself to the Father, and God’s wrath was satisfied. Jesus’ offering was sufficient, and God granted His petition to extend forgiveness to the likes of us. And just as David picked Abigail up from her humility and she ascended to the position of queen, Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of the King, and “God has highly exalted him [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

This story didn’t have a happy ending for Nabal, because Nabal didn’t repent and submit himself to God. Nabal ended up taking the guilt and consequences for his sin himself (death) instead of gratefully humbling himself and being thankful for the gift of Abigail’s intervention and David’s forgiveness. But the rest of us Nabals can have a happy ending. Jesus has paid the price for our sin with His death, burial, and the resurrection we celebrate today. He completely satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf. It is finished. Forgiveness has been purchased with His blood. If we will humble ourselves, repent of our sin, and accept the beautiful gift of forgiveness God is extending to us at the request of His Son, we can be reconciled to God now and live happily in the ever after.

Random Ramblings Ruminations Resources

Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources

We’ve got to stop meeting like this…only once or twice a year, that is. When I first started 4R, I kind of envisioned it as a four or five times a year feature, and now we’re at about once a year. Well, life happens, I guess.

It’s time for some Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources! Ready, set, go!

#FreeJamesCoates

Have you been following the story of James Coates, Pastor of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada? He was recently arrested and imprisoned for obeying God rather than men by refusing to stop holding church services and refusing to bar those who desperately wanted to attend from coming in to worship, among other official Covid-related reasons that were given. The restrictions on gathering in that particular are are so strict they have effectively shuttered churches. (No, they cannot hold services outside {Have you ever been to Canada in February? I haven’t, and even I know that’s a ridiculous suggestion.} No, “online church” is not the same as gathering in person and it is not a biblical long-term substitute for gathering in person.)

I’m not alerting you to this situation in order to debate whether or not James and GLC should have given in to the draconian demands of their local government. (Frankly, I was shocked and downright embarrassed at some of the cruel and critical comments that were made about James and GLC- by people who profess to be Christians – on my social media platforms Wednesday when I posted about this. And after everything I’ve seen in ministry, it takes a lot to shock and embarrass me. Those folks ought to be ashamed of themselves. No such comments will be allowed on this article or my social media platforms. They will be deleted and you will be blocked.)

I’m asking you to pray.

Pray for James, his wife, Erin, and their children, and GLC. (If the name Erin Coates sounds familiar it might be because she was one of my sister speakers at the Open Hearts in a Closed World online conference last summer, and coming up again this summer.)

The elders of GLC have suggested these prayer points:

Erin’s Instagram handle is @erincoates80 if you’d like to follow her. Here is her most recent update as of the time I’m writing this:

What is something tangible you can do? Open your churches. Worship Christ. Practice the one anothers, sing your hearts out, let your pastor see your eyes as he preaches the word of God to you. Don’t underestimate this task in your life. Obey Christ with all you have.”

Erin says it better than I ever could.

Fakes and Frauds

If you haven’t already subscribed to Justin Peters’ YouTube channel, what are you waiting for? I know it’s super-duper long, but you’ve got to watch one of his most recent videos: 2020 The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Year For The Prophets, especially if you’re unfamiliar with New Apostolic Reformation heresy as it relates to false prophets / prophecy. This will get you up to speed. Also included is an excellent interview with Nathan Busenitz on what Scripture says about false prophets.

Hymn and Hymn, but Not Hymn

You’ve heard that old joke, right? One Sunday morning, the minister of music announced from the pulpit, “In honor of Miss Doretha’s 80th birthday, we’re going to let her choose three hymns today.” Miss Doretha jumped breathlessly to her feet, scanned the room, and began pointing: “I’ll take him, him, and him!”

Well some young whippersnapper took it upon herself (a few years ago, but I only saw it recently) to pick 10 Christian Hymns That Need to Be Put to Rest. At least I’m inferring from the tone of the article that the author, Jennifer, is a young whippersnapper, because – I’m sorry, I’m honestly not trying to be mean here, but to me she comes off as a bit immature and shallow.

Or maybe I’m just old and curmudgeonly, having reached the “GET OFF MY LAWN!” stage of life.

Jennifer’s argument for putting several of these hymns out to pasture seems to be, “This hymn is too hard for people to understand,” or “People don’t understand what these words mean”.

By her logic, we should ditch the King James Version of the Bible, the Puritans (certainly Jonathan Edwards – my stars, have you ever tried to read his stuff?), the Reformers, and the early church fathers.

Schools should stop teaching Shakespeare, Beowulf, and Chaucer. And we should probably get rid of some of our patriotic songs too (I mean who knows what a “rampart” is, anyway?)

It’s just further reflective of the worldly attitude of dumbing things down to the level of people’s sloth (excuse me – “laziness” – since some may not know what “sloth” means).

How about, instead of getting rid of hymns and words people don’t understand, pastors and ministers of music take a second and teach the congregation what those words and hymns mean? Or the congregation could pull their phones out and Google it. We do that with everything else – why not do it with hard words and build our vocabularies and our knowledge base?

But there are some hymns that need to go due to theological issues with their lyrics. I’ve got two picks and then I’ll let you get in on the game. Click on the titles for lyrics. (Please note, I don’t really know anything about the people performing these songs, but I’m guessing I wouldn’t recommend them since it’s pretty hard to find doctrinally sound Christians singing songs that aren’t.)

The Savior is Waiting

It pains me to list this hymn as one that needs to be put to rest because I’ve been singing it all my life and have a deep sentimental attachment to it. Also the music is lovely, and I really do think the hymnist’s heart was in the right place when he wrote it. But…

The entire tenor of the first verse reminds me of a mom nagging her reluctant child to befriend the snaggle-toothed, bespectacled, nerdy little kid on the playground who’s running around offering his entire Hot Wheels collection if somebody – anybody – will just please, pleeeeeeeeeze, be his friend. Jesus is not some pitiful little weirdo whose day would be made if you would do Him the honor of sitting at His lunch table. He is loving and kind, yes, but He is also King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and we humbly bow the knee to Him.

And don’t even get me started on verse two. People who are dead in their sins can’t “take one step toward the Savior,” my friend. Christ has to raise us from the dead to new life in Christ.

Pass It On

This was the (depending on your age) Shout to the Lord, or Oceans, or Way Maker of my day, kiddies, and I have lots of fond memories attached to it, too. It was the song you sang at youth camp, and sometimes – if your minister of youth and music was cool, like ours was – during Sunday night church. (Some of my contemporaries will remember that we used to yell out, “Praise God!” after the phrase, “I’ll shout it from the mountaintop.”).

Whether or not the composer intended to base the opening words of this song – “It only takes a spark to get a fire going” – in Scripture, it evokes James 3:5b, which, in the most popular modern translation around the time this song was written said:

Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

Which would be all well and good except for context, context, context. Because James 3:3-6 says:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Scripture out of context…fires of hell…yeah, as peace, love, and “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” as this song is, I think it could be put to rest.

What do you think? Are there any hymns you think could be mothballed because of their unbiblical lyrics? Comment below and share. But play by the rules:

  • It has to be a non-contemporary hymn. Let’s say anything written between the first century and 1980.
  • None of this, “Everything from Bethel, Hillsong, and Elevation!” stuff. Everybody knows that already. This is about hymns.
  • “Because of their unbiblical lyrics.” Not because the hymnist him/herself apostatized, fell into sin, etc.
  • I get that all of this could be avoided if every church only sang the psalms. That’s beside the point.

OK, get out those hymnals and let’s hear it!

Faith Works

A few thoughts on Hebrews 11:8-19:

The original audience of Hebrews was first century Christians from Jewish backgrounds. Slavery to Law-keeping was so ingrained that the Holy Spirit gave them a chapter of “Old Testament Survey” (let the seminarian understand).

In this portion of the chapter, He demonstrates to them that the central figure of their faith, the one in whom they had their biological, tribal, and spiritual inheritance – Abraham – left them a legacy, not of Law-keeping, but of faith. Abraham believed God, and that is what was credited to him as righteousness, not any good deeds that he might have done. And, indeed that is the preeminent truth of the entire Old Testament: faith in God and in the Christ to come, not good works.

We are part of that same spiritual legacy of faith today. No amount of good works will save you: being a nice person will not save you, going to church, giving offerings, and serving at church will not save you, being baptized will not save you, praying to saints and other religious rituals will not save you, parroting a “sinner’s prayer” will not save you.

Only repenting of your sin and trusting that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection paid the penalty for your sin of an eternity in hell will save you.

If you’ve never placed your faith in Jesus and been completely changed into a new creature in Christ with Christlike desires and a hatred for sin, how about doing that today? Check out the What Must I Do to Be Saved? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page for more information.

Evangelism, Gospel

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

For a while now, I have been wanting to add a permanent tab to the blue menu bar at the top of the blog that clearly lays out the gospel in both text and video format. Well I’ve finally gotten a chance to add it, and I would encourage you to share it around on your social media pages as often as you can to help get the gospel out to the lost. Below is a copy of what you’ll find at the new “What Must I Do to Be Saved?” tab in the blue menu bar at the top of the blog.


“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…
Acts 16:30b-31a

Are you like the Philippian jailer? Maybe you’ve never set foot in a church, but you’ve heard Christians talking about Jesus, and you’re wondering what it’s all about.

Or maybe you’ve been a decades-long member of an organization that calls itself a church but you’ve never heard the true, biblical gospel before.

Maybe you always thought you were a Christian, but lately, you’re not so sure.

Whatever your back story, you’ve come to the right place.

There’s good news and there’s bad news, but the bad news has to come first:

♦ You are a sinner (you have transgressed God by breaking His law).

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned Romans 5:12

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; Romans 3:10

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23

♦ The penalty for your sin is an eternity in Hell.

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

but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Romans 2:8

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15

♦ You can’t escape Hell by being a good person, having a good heart, or any other effort on your part.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Isaiah 64:6a

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5

But the good news is…

♦ Salvation (being forgiven for your sin so you can be in good standing with God) is a result of God’s mercy and grace, not something you can earn. It is a gift.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:16

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

♦ The gift God offers you is that, on the cross, Christ took the punishment you deserve for your sin. He will take away your sin and give you His perfect standing before God in exchange.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, 1 Peter 3:18a

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3:23-25a

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 Corinthians 5:21

♦ The way you receive that gift and have Christ’s righteousness “credited to your account” is to repent from (have the heart desire to turn away from and ask God’s forgiveness for) your sin and trust that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection paid the penalty for your sin.

[Jesus said] “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, Acts 3:19

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:13

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

This is the gospel. Turn from your sin and trying to earn favor with God by your so-called good behavior and throw yourself on the mercy of God, trusting Christ’s finished work on the cross to forgive your sin and make you righteous in God’s eyes.

That’s what salvation – or becoming a Christian – is. Adding anything to the gospel or taking anything away from it is not salvation or biblical Christianity. It is a false gospel. Believing a false gospel will not forgive your sin, make you right with God, or take you to Heaven when you die. Unfortunately, many people believe a false gospel and there are many people who claim to be Christians, pastors, and Bible teachers who teach a false gospel.

What are some of those false gospels?

If you’re basically a good person, or your good deeds outweigh the bad, you’re OK with God, and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.

If you’ve been baptized at any point in your life and for any reason, you’re saved.

If you go to church regularly, you’re a Christian.

If you participate in communion or the Lord’s Supper, you’re a Christian.

The reason we come to Jesus is to have a better, more comfortable, or more successful life.

The reason we come to Jesus is to get healed from a medical condition, because He will make us wealthy, or because He will do cool supernatural signs and wonders in our lives.

Simply saying you’re a Christian, or believing that you are a Christian, makes you one.

If you were born in America and you’re not Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, or some other religion, you’re a Christian.

If you believe in God, you’re a Christian.

If you give mental assent to the facts about Jesus (without repenting and trusting Him), you’re saved.

If, at some point in your life you repeated the words of a “sinner’s prayer,” “accepted Jesus,” or “asked Jesus into your heart,” (even if you didn’t know what you were doing, and without true repentance and faith) you’ve been born again.

You can become a Christian without repenting from your sin.

You can believe in a “Jesus” of your own making, rather the one described in Scripture, and still be a Christian.

Are you a Christian? Have you ever felt the weight of your guilt before God and asked Him to cleanse you and make you right with Him? Do you believe and embrace that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection satisfied God’s wrath against you for your sin?

The Bible says we should examine ourselves to discover whether or not we are truly in the faith. Take some quiet, undistracted time alone with God today and search your heart. What do you really believe? Is it the true gospel of Scripture, or something else? Don’t put it off, it’s too important. If you need some help, try working through my study Am I Really Saved? A 1 John Check-Up.

If you find that you’re not in Christ, talk to Him. Confess your sin and your need for Him to save you. Ask His forgiveness and declare your trust in Him.

Don’t wonder and guess any more about where you stand with God. Know.

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2

Christmas

The Shepherds’ Gospel

Originally published December 22, 2015

Shepherds' Gospel

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:8-20

The Christmas story just wouldn’t be the same without the shepherds, would it? Just a bunch of blue collar guys out doing their jobs one night, when God stepped in and gave them a story they’d be telling for the rest of their lives. We don’t know their names or how many of them there were, but they’re more than just pieces of our nativity sets. They’re a picture of the gospel.

Called Out of Darkness Into Light

The shepherds had no idea God would reveal His Son to them that night. They were just going about their lives, day in and day out, oblivious, until God intervened and brought them the good news of Christ. In a similar way, the Bible says that we walk through life day after day, dead in our trespasses and sins, until that glorious moment when God draws us to Himself, opens our eyes to the gospel, and makes us alive in Christ.

The Clean for the Unclean

The nature of the job put shepherds frequently in contact with the remains of dead animals and insects, rendering them often, if not nearly perpetually, ceremonially unclean according to Mosaic law. While unclean, they were separated from fellowship with God. They were not allowed to enter the temple to worship until they had offered a lamb to atone for their sin. And God chose these unclean men – guilty under the law – to be the first to meet His perfectly clean and spotless Lamb who would offer Himself to make the final atoning sacrifice for their sin, and ours. Through Christ, we are no longer separated from God by our sin and guilt.

Given, Not Earned

Because the shepherds had no way of knowing Christ would suddenly be revealed to them, there was nothing they could do to prepare for His coming or make themselves worthy of Him. God met them right where they were – dirty, smelly, and lower class – and brought them to Christ. Not because they were good people or had earned this honor with commendable deeds, but for God’s own reasons and His own glory.

There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation either. None of us are righteous, all of our so called “good deeds” are like filthy rags, and it’s impossible for us to please God in any way before coming to faith in Christ. Jesus meets us right where we are – dirty, smelly, and in the middle of our sin – and saves us. Not because we’re worthy, but for God’s own reasons and His own glory.

Faithful Messengers for God’s Glory

The angel knew God personally and faithfully declared His word to the shepherds for God’s glory. Those of us who know Christ must faithfully proclaim the gospel, from the Word of God, to others. Proclaiming the good news of Christ brings glory to God.

Hear, Believe, Respond

When the shepherds heard the message of Christ, they immediately believed it and responded by coming to Him. In the same way, when we hear the good news of the gospel, Christ calls us to repent of our sin, believe unto salvation, and follow Him.

Do Tell

Once the shepherds had met Christ face to face, they couldn’t keep it to themselves. With great joy, they went out and told others about Him. Some must have believed them. Others, perhaps not. But the news they spread made an impact on everyone who heard it. If only we would share the good news of Christ far and wide as the shepherds did! Some will believe. Some won’t. But God’s word always impacts people and accomplishes His purposes.

O Worship the King

How could the shepherds help but worship, praising and glorifying God, for all they had seen and heard and all God had done for them? And how can we, after all we have seen and heard from God’s Word, and all He has done for us, help but worship, praise, and glorify our King?

Just a crew of rag tag shepherds tending the sheep that would be sacrificed in the temple. But not for long. A new Shepherd had been born. The Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


This article was originally published at satisfaction through christ.