The danger of emotions unrecognized and unexpressed

“Emotions are good.” This is a statement that it has taken me decades to affirm. When I was much younger, I was even more cognitive than I am now, because I viewed emotion, all emotion, with suspicion. Emotions were associated with pain, and the best way to avoid the pain from emotions was to smother them.

But slowly, step-by-step I have learned that, if I want to be a healthy human being, then I must become comfortable with my emotions. In fact, my emotions tell me where I am hurting and what I am feeling so that I can address those hurts. And I have learned something of how to express my emotions to others so that they can know what is going on with me.

“Emotions are good.” How do I know that is true? Jesus Christ, the perfect God-Man, had emotions. Of course, His emotions were expressed in sinless perfection, expressed exactly as God had intended when He first created man, but Jesus had emotions. So, emotions are good. Also, we read of human emotions throughout the Bible, and especially expressed in the book of psalms. Psalms is God’s great sanctioning of emotions, as He not only allows them, but He also gives us many expressions of them. In this beautiful book of poetry and praise and prayer, we find models for pouring out all sorts of emotions in God-approved ways.

THE DANGER OF EMOTIONS UNRECOGNIZED AND UNEXPRESSED

The more I have learned about emotions, the more convinced I am that the danger is not in emotions felt and inappropriately expressed, but rather in emotions that are unrecognized and, therefore, unexpressed. These unrecognized emotions are the ones that will build up and will manifest themselves in sinful actions. I think that anger is usually not so much an emotion as it is the sinful manifestation of other unrecognized and unexpressed emotions. When I cannot recognize or express what I am feeling, my frustration builds up inside me and is eventually vented as anger. But I am not feeling anger, at least not as the basic emotion. Rather, I am feeling sadness or disappointment or loneliness or rejection or, the most common and most basic of all emotions, fear, but I don’t know how to identify these feelings, much less communicate them with others, and so the feelings erupt as outbursts of anger, an “emotion” that we fallen humans are all able to express.

FEAR, THE ORIGINAL EMOTION

The most basic of all emotions is fear. Fear is the original emotion, the feeling expressed by Adam and Eve against the LORD God the moment sin entered the world. In their guilt and shame, they rightly feared God and hid from His presence (Genesis 3:8). The LORD God had told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die (Genesis 2:17).” Now they had eaten, and fear was the natural consequence of their disobedience.

And fear is still the original emotion, the basic emotion. As Adam sinned and feared, so we children of Adam all experience sin and fear. As fallen people, our default is fear. And why would we not fear? The world is a vast and hostile place full of strangers who are against me. The world is complex, and I am simple. The world is dangerous and threatening, with the constant possibility of loss and, eventually, death. And I am all alone in this world. The only rational response to this situation is to feel fear. Really, how could this ever change?

FEAR VANQUISHED

Then we read in Psalm 34:4 – “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” The psalmist claims that he was delivered from all his fears. Is this just poetic hyperbole? No! Fear is an inside job. Fear is always subjective. Therefore, my fear is always my responsibility. But how was the psalmist delivered from all his fears? When he realized that the LORD has answered him, he also realized that there was no longer a reason for fear. If the LORD is with you, you can be confident. I may or may not be delivered from my objective dangers, but I am no longer a slave of fear, because the LORD is with me.

In 1 John 4:18, the Word says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” There is something about knowing the Lord that directly addresses my fear. If I have grown in my relationship with the Lord such that I know His power and I know His love for me, then my perfected love will cast out my fear.

We read in Isaiah 43:1, “But now thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are Mine!’” Why is the child of God not to fear? Because the LORD, the Creator of heaven and earth, has redeemed you and called you by name. You are His! Fear is no longer acceptable, because the One who ordains all things and who has created all things, the sovereign LORD has personally redeemed you and called you by name. There is nothing to fear.

The One who has written the script of history and who now, through His providence, divinely directs all the action on the stage according to His will, is also the One who loves me with an everlasting love and who has promised to guide me safely to heaven to spend eternity with Him. My God has sovereignly ordained all the events of my life and He has, through my faith in the Lord Jesus, become my Abba, Father. I have become His beloved adopted son. Therefore, I will continue to walk in faith. He has delivered me from all my fears.

SDG                 rmb                 3/24/2021

Sin is crouching at the door (Genesis 4:7)

Do you have an issue with sin? I do. My issue with sin is that sin is constantly tempting me to disobey and to rebel against what God has commanded me to do. But I also have specific sin issues that plague me and lure me into specific disobedience, things like a lust issue, a greed issue, a coveting issue. Perhaps the most prevalent of my sin issues is the anger issue.

CAIN AND THE SIN OF ANGER

Cain was the very first person ever born. He was the first child that Eve bore to Adam and so he was the firstborn of all mankind. And Cain had an anger issue, and that was a problem. One day, Cain and his brother Abel both brought offerings to the LORD. “The LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So, Cain became VERY ANGRY, and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:4-5).” When someone is very angry, explosive things can happen. Cain is in a dangerous place, so the LORD graciously warns him of the danger.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why is your face gloomy? If you do well, will your face not be cheerful? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:6-7

The LORD warns Cain that “sin is crouching at the door.” Notice that Cain’s anger is not a minor flaw. Anger is sin, and all sin is dangerous. Sin is like a poised lion ready to pounce or like a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike. Sin will ruin Cain. Sin has the power to destroy Cain’s life. Sin is bad news.

The LORD warns, “Sin’s desire is for you.” The LORD is stating the danger in graphic terms, as if to say, “Sin desires to tear you apart! It is your enemy!” Cain was supposed to fight against the anger, against the sin, so it would not master him. “But you must master it.” As we know, Cain failed. He failed to master his sin. Instead, his sin destroyed his life. The Bible’s consistent message about Cain is, “Don’t be like Cain!”

US AND THE SIN OF ANGER

For Cain, sin was crouching at his door, waiting to destroy his life. And sin is still crouching at our door, having the power to destroy my life and to destroy your life. In the Garden of Eden, the cost of disobedience was death (Genesis 2:17). And it still is: “For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” “The soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4).” God still graciously and loudly warns from His Word that sin’s desire is for me, but I must master it. Do not surrender to sin! DO NOT BE LIKE CAIN!

DEALING WITH THE PRESENCE OF SIN

In all this discussion about sin, there is good news to be proclaimed and to be kept constantly in mind. The good news of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has defeated sin by His death on the cross. For those who have trusted Him as Lord and Savior, Jesus has broken the power of sin and He has paid the penalty for sin. So, the believer in Jesus has been set free (John 8:36; Romans 6:7).

But the believer also knows from personal experience that, in this life, we continue to live with the presence of sin. In this life, the disciple of Jesus will never be sinless, but the disciple of Jesus should see that, day by day and year by year, they sin less. This sanctification is not automatic but is rather something that we work out with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The disciple of Jesus has responsibility in growing in their practical holiness. How do we become more effective in this process?

First, we need to grow in our awareness of sin. We need to read the Bible carefully with an eye to what the Lord regards as sin and not what we have decided is sin. I used to think that if I did not have explosive outbursts, then I was not sinning with anger. I did not realize that resentment, sarcasm, silence, and abrupt words were all manifestations of anger and were just as sinful as an outburst. Sin is deceitful, so sin uses many disguises to fool the naïve, but the Holy Spirit unmasks sin, if we listen to Him. The primary way to become more aware of sin is by exposing ourselves to God’s Word. Reading the Bible, listening to good teaching and preaching.

Second, the disciple of Jesus must recognize when “sin is crouching at the door.” Just as the LORD told Cain that sin was near, so the believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit to tell them when sin is crouching nearby. The key is to quickly recognize that sin is crouching before it can strike and cause damage. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and heed His warnings. Is this “discussion” heading toward an anger situation? Can you feel the heat rising? Sin is crouching at the door, and you must master it. Growth in this area asks the question, “How can I more quickly recognize ‘sin crouching at the door’?” Increase your hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Spend more time in the Word and with God’s people. We become like those we spend time with.

Third, we must have a strategy for responding when “sin is crouching at the door.” Develop a strategy that replaces the crouching sin with a righteous response or with an act of obedience. Several strategies for dealing with anger were mentioned in our Community Group:

  • Get away from the situation until the emotions are under control
  • Talk to a spouse or trusted friend about what is making you angry to defuse it
  • Go through the alphabet with reasons to praise God
  • Pick a Scripture to obey in that moment, like 1 Thess. 5:16-18

The goal in all these strategies is to keep the door to sin shut! Sin is crouching, but do not let him in! Keep the door shut! Make the strategic response an automatic reflex that quickly goes into effect whenever you detect sin crouching.

After developing a strategy for dealing with anger, take these same principles and apply them to other sins. You should see your practical holiness grow.

SDG                 rmb                 3/16/2021

The Basics: Understanding all the details in eschatology

This is one of a series of articles on what I am calling “The Basics” of end-times study. These are foundational concepts that help define the geography of eschatology. They are landmarks that help us get our bearings when we are entering an end-times passage.

Studying eschatology can be intimidating because, in any given end-times passage, there may be terms or expressions which we do not recognize and there is little in the context to give us a clue or to point us in a particular direction. In most genres of Scripture, the unknowns in the text can be deduced by looking at the context or by observing how similar words are used elsewhere in the Bible. In eschatology, however, there are times when the entire context is confusing, the words are used only in eschatological passages, and the contents of the passage yield no solid, unambiguous starting point. An example would be Revelation 9:13-19, where we read of four angels and two hundred million horsemen and hyacinth breastplates and fire and brimstone coming out of the mouths of the horses. How are we supposed to make sense of all this? (For the curious, the sixth trumpet is the most severe warning for the unrighteous telling of the fast-approaching final judgment and urging them to repent of their wickedness.)

In passages like the Revelation 9, the student of eschatology can take heart, because understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of the passage. It is not necessary to unpack every single symbol in Revelation or Daniel or any end-times passage to understand their messages, and even to grasp the beauty of the individual visions and passages.

MYSTERIES REMAIN HIDDEN

The fact is that it may not be possible for us to understand or explain everything that is happening in all of John’s visions or Daniel’s dreams. Those details may be things which the Lord, for His own purposes, has chosen to leave hidden from us. Even Daniel, who was specifically gifted by God to interpret dreams and visions (Daniel 1:17; 4:9; 5:11-12), did not fully understand what he had seen, even after he had been given an explanation by angels (Daniel 7:15-22, 28; 8:15-19, 27; 12:8). Humility would say that, if Daniel and John did not fully understand all they recorded, there is a more than even chance that I, too, will need to accept some degree of mystery. For His glory, God has written mysteries into His Bible that may remain hidden or unexplained until heaven, and we joyfully and humbly bow before these mysteries.

RESIGN OURSELVES TO MYSTERY?

            If we acknowledge that mysteries may remain until heaven and that there are details beyond our grasp, does that mean that we give up trying to understand and interpret eschatology? Absolutely not! Despite the effort involved, the disciple of Jesus continues to explore and pray through these difficult passages because these, too, are breathed out by the God he loves and are profitable for equipping him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

            SDG                 rmb                 3/15/2021

Why all the warnings? (Hebrews 3:12-14)

False assurance is a dangerous thing. The person possessing false assurance is confident that they are prepared to face a certain challenge or threat when, in fact, their defenses are inadequate, and their preparation is incomplete. This is like the fair-skinned sunbather on the Florida beach with SPF 5 sunscreen that they are confident is SPF 50. Or this is like the rock climber with the 100-foot rope rappelling down the 130-foot cliff which the climber is confident is only 80 feet tall. Or this is like someone who has been attending a local church for a little while and has joined in the singing and has listened to the sermons and has done whatever they saw the other people in the church doing; this is like that person having the false assurance that, because they behave like a true believer and go through the same motions, they possess the same salvation and are safe from God’s judgment. In these instances of false assurance, the person must be warned about their error before bad consequences result. So, we can see that false assurance is a dangerous thing.

The author of “Hebrews” is acutely aware of the disastrous consequences of a false confidence of salvation. He warns those who may possess a false profession, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31),” and “our God is a consuming fire (12:29).” In fact, one of the dominant themes in this New Testament epistle is the author’s warning to those who are religious and unconverted. “Pay close attention lest you drift away.” “Do not neglect this great salvation.” “Do not fall away from the living God.” “Hold fast!” “Have faith, not unbelief.” “Strive to enter God’s rest.” “If you fall away, it is impossible to restore you.” “Do not be a person who shrinks back.” The author repeatedly urges the pretenders and all the falsely assured to fully embrace Jesus Christ and loudly proclaim Him as Lord to rightly be assured of true salvation.

WARNINGS IN HEBREWS 3:12-14

Consider one of the author’s warnings in Hebrews 3:12-14:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.

The warnings in this passage are strident and the implied consequences dire because it is urgent that the writer gain their attention and alert them to their peril. He does not mince words when he warns them of an “evil, unbelieving heart” and tells them they “will fall away from the living God.” Without encouragement, they are in danger of being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You are truly partakers of Christ only “if you hold fast your assurance (your faith) firm until the end.” Implicit and explicit warnings follow one after the other as the writer speaks to this fellowship.

WHY ALL THE WARNINGS?

Why so many warnings? The warnings evidence a heartfelt pastoral concern. The writer-preacher is concerned that some in his congregation are in danger of falling short of salvation, that they have not really embraced Christ in faith, but rather are just going through their old religious motions in a new way. These people must be warned that following Christ is radically different from the old Jewish traditions and practices, and that those who fall short of or drift away from genuine faith in Jesus will eternally perish. Having heard the message about Jesus Christ, you must embrace that message. To go through the new Christian “rituals” without embracing Christ and without being born again is to engage in useless religious works.

THE TASK OF WARNING THE RELIGIOUS

This task of warning people of the peril of religion is never an easy one because most people are quite comfortable with the religion they have been given. Religion gives its adherents a false sense of assurance. Just so, until recently, this Jewish (Hebrew) community was contentedly practicing their religion of external works, moral lifestyle, and traditional practices. All Jews were accepted as full members of the religious community based on their adherence to the external works. (This is the way all religions work.) The community was close-knit because they all maintained the same age-old practices. The old wine was good enough (Luke 5:39). There was no talk of salvation or of repentance or of faith in the Messiah. All was routine and peaceful. And, unfortunately, all were peacefully perishing without a Savior.

But now, the religious landscape has seismically changed. Now the gospel of salvation has been proclaimed. Now Jesus is preached as the Messiah, the Christ. Now the religious community of the Hebrews is being replaced by the faith community of the followers of the Messiah. The traditions of the elders and the fathers are no longer good enough because the works of the Law cannot justify anyone (Romans 3:20). Now we must repent from dead works (Hebrews 6:1) and place our faith in Jesus. Now unity and fellowship in the Jesus community is based on a common faith in Jesus the Messiah.

WHAT ABOUT A THIRD OPTION?

In addition to the old Jewish religion based on external works and traditions, and the new movement of faith in Jesus the Messiah, what we see happening in the book of “Hebrews” is the emergence of a third option. It is this third option that is the reason for all the writer’s warnings. The preacher’s concern is that some in this congregation have exchanged the external works of Judaism for “the external works” of the faith community without embracing Jesus the Messiah by faith. These people emulate the external “religious works” of genuine believers without the new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) of genuine believers. They mistakenly think that this new Jesus movement is just another religion, and, like Judaism, a person can be an accepted and respected member of this new community merely by doing the appropriate works and going through the expected motions. The writer-preacher directs his most urgent exhortations at these people in the hopes that they will forsake this deceptive and disastrous way of thinking and come all the way to full faith in Christ.

APPLICATION FOR OUR OWN TIME

The beauty of the Scriptures is that they are always contemporary, and they apply to our world and our situations. Just so, we must take seriously the warning about this “third option,” which is the circumstance where members of our church fellowship may be falsely assured of their salvation because they are relying on “religious works” or even “Christian works.” In the case of the Hebrews, the people emulated the external “religious works” of genuine believers without the new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) of genuine believers. This is a real concern today, particularly in American churches where religious traditions can replace genuine faith. In churches where conversions are not celebrated (Is that because they do not occur?) and where forms are prominent, the church can gradually become a homogeneous gathering of people united based on shared traditions and externals, rather than being united based on a shared experience of conversion and a fervent faith in the Lord Jesus. I believe that when the writer-preacher of the book of “Hebrews” wrote his warnings, he had specific people in the congregation in mind. He was, thus, compelled to warn them of the peril of religious motions without saving faith. Just so, the concerned pastor today would be well-served to preach these same warnings with vigor to his congregation in the hopes of stirring up faith in those who are comfortably unconverted.

SDG                 rmb                 3/5/2021

Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 2

In the previous article (Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1 – Roy’s Reflections), we had begun a fairly deep dive into Colossians 3:1-12 in an attempt to answer the question, “If, for the believer, the ‘old self’ has died (Colossians 3:3) and our sin has been atoned for and forgiven because of Christ’s death on our behalf (Colossians 1:13-14), why does sin and the ‘old self’ continue to plague us?” This passage in Colossians had been chosen because we discovered that here, in these verses, the apostle Paul gives doctrinal teaching and exhortations that directly address these issues. The first article covered Colossians 3:1-4. This second article will look at the commands we can now obey since we have been raised up with Christ (Colossians 3:5-9). Then the third article will focus on the doctrinal truths about salvation that give the believer the power to obey His Savior’s commands (Colossians 3:9-12).

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST (3:1)

In the first article, we saw the crucial importance of the first phrase in the passage, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if you have, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing, at best. But if, by God’s grace, you have, Paul will teach you doctrinal truth about what it means to be raised up with Christ and will issue commands that you are now able to obey.

SINCE YOU HAVE DIED, PUT SIN TO DEATH (3:5) COMMAND #1

In our last lesson, we discovered that “raised up with Christ” means that “we have died (3:3).” When anyone hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies. Now, we must understand that, while our “old self” was living, it loved sin and so it accumulated an ugly collection of sins in which to indulge, and our physical body (our “members” – NASB; our “flesh”) became accustomed to this sinful indulgence. Now we have been raised up with Christ and the “old self” has died, but our “members” are still craving the old sins. What are we to do? Since you have died, you are to put to death! “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you (3:5 – ESV).” Now that the “old self” has died, your former ugly sins are to be killed. Hunt them down. Shoot to kill. Make them become extinct. Starve them from all nourishment. Drive them away. Take no prisoners. Give no quarter. Celebrate the death of the “old self” by putting to death all its old friends. Yes, because you have been raised with Christ, you have the responsibility to put your sins to death.

PUT YOUR SINS ASIDE. THROW THEM OFF (3:8) COMMAND #2

In 3:5, Paul gives us instruction about what to do with our more fleshly sins, our former sexual sins, but we know that our former sins included much more than these. Now that we have been raised up together with Christ, we are a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) who walks in newness of life (Romans 6:4) and who walks in the same manner as Christ walked (1 John 2:6). That means that now we are also to be done with our sins of anger and our sins of the tongue. Paul commands us to “put them all aside (Colossians 3:8).” For many believers, our anger is barely contained inside us, lurking just below the surface, ready to burst forth without warning like an exploding pressure cooker. Before we met Christ, we had no interest in containing our anger and were unconcerned about who was wounded by it. But now we have been raised up with Christ. Now we have died (3:3) and we no longer walk as the Gentiles walk. Now, therefore, we must put aside all these sins. Anger is a sin that must be thrown off like a soiled coat. The angry tongue must be silenced, and its slashing edge must be dulled, because we have been raised up with Christ.

DO NOT LIE TO ONE ANOTHER (3:9). COMMAND #3

Paul issues his third command in a row, and then tells doctrinal truths which empower the believer to obey the commands. “Do not lie to one another (3:9).” There may be times when we think that these instructions from Paul are new and that the Holy Spirit has revealed to Paul a new mark of holiness, but that is certainly not the case here. In Leviticus 19:11, in the Old Testament Law, the LORD commands His people, “You shall not lie to one another.” Also, the ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Deuteronomy 5:20).” Truthfulness has always been a mark of God’s people, because our God is a God of truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6).” Since Jesus is the truth, those who have been raised up with Him must speak truth.

We may wonder where we are supposed to find the ability to obey all these commands. Paul has given us these commands, but these are anything but trivial, especially if we were in the “old self” for a long time. Putting sins to death and putting other sins aside and stopping my habits of lying; that is a pretty tall order. How do we do this? That will be the subject of the next article in this study.

SDG                 rmb                 3/1/2021

Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1

If I have died to sin (Romans 6:2), why do I still struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-25)?

If he was a slave of sin, but is now a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18), how can it be that Paul, the model Christian, laments his wretchedness in his struggle against sin (Romans 7:24)?

If the “old man” has been crucified, why does he still influence my behavior to sin?

I was musing on these and other weighty issues this morning and was led to consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As I meditated on Colossians 3:1-12, I discovered that the apostle Paul deals with several of these meatier matters here in this passage, so I decided to devote two or three articles to teaching on this.

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST

What Paul is going to now teach in Colossians 3:1-12 is all contingent on his implied assumption in the first verse, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if the person described has, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing. But if you have been raised up with Christ, Paul’s teaching will be amazing and encouraging.

TWO QUICK COMMANDS

To his “raised-up-with-Christ” audience, the apostle issues two commands: seek and set. Since you are a born-again (John 3:3) believer in Christ, “Keep seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1b).” Keep hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Keep thinking about your heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Keep eagerly waiting for our Savior from heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). And again, since you have been raised up with Christ, “Set your mind on the things above (3:2).” Your sight is to be fixed upward. Allow your mind to dwell on noble things (Phil. 4:8). Renew your mind through the Word (Eph. 4:23; Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 2:2). These blessings are only possible if you have been raised up with Christ.

DOCTRINE: SPIRITUAL DEATH AND LIFE, AND GLORIFIED WITH CHRIST

Now Paul adds doctrinal truth to his teaching. A word about doctrinal truth: Doctrinal truth is universal in that it applies to all persons in a defined group without exception. Our “defined group” is all those who have been raised up together with Christ. The doctrinal truth is, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3).” So, we see that, according to Paul’s teaching, all true believers have “died.” In some real sense, we have died, and yet it is obvious that we also live. How do we untangle this knot? This is a complex subject that we will attempt to address briefly. Because of the sin of Adam and the Fall of man, all people without exception are born into the world with a bent toward sin and with a love of sin. This “old self” (Colossians 3:9) is a slave of sin (Romans 6) and, unless and until this person is raised up together with Christ, they continue to be under God’s wrath and judgment because of their sin (Romans 1:18). If they physically die in this state, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire. But the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the news that when anyone who is living in the “old self” hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies, their “new self” (3:10) comes to life, and that person is raised up together with Christ. At that moment, that person has died to their old life of sin and they have been raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Their “old self” has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), but they live to the glory of God. So, in that sense the believer has died, yet they live. And since Paul is teaching doctrinal truth, this “died-yet-living” is true of all believers.

Finally, in Colossians 3:4 we learn still more doctrinal truth about those who have been raised with Christ. Since you have been raised with Christ, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Paul speaks unambiguously about that time in the future when Christ will be revealed. It is an undeniable fact that Jesus Christ is going to appear from heaven in blazing glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). It is a certainty that Christ will be revealed, but “When Christ is revealed,” what will be true of those who have been raised up together with Him? “Then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” This is the doctrinal truth that the apostle here declares: All those who have been raised up with Christ in life will be revealed with Him in glory in the resurrection. Those who have been raised with Christ will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:30). (See also Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17.)

SUMMARY OF RAISED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST (COLOSSIANS 3:1-12) PART 1

Here is what we have discovered so far, in Colossians 3:1-4. “Therefore, since you have been raised up together with Christ:”

  • Keep seeking the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • Set your mind on the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • You have died in a spiritual sense, because the “old self” that loved sin and that lived a life of sin, has died (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • Your new life of holiness and obedience to God has begun (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • When Christ is revealed in glory, you also will be revealed in glory (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)

The next lesson will continue with this passage and will see more of what Paul is teaching in Colossians 3:1-12.

SDG                 rmb                  2/27/2021

A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021

A Purpose Worth Your Soul (Matthew 16:26)

What is the greatest satisfaction? What is that one thing that, if we find it, we will be content? Perhaps another way of asking the question is, “What is that endeavor that is worth the cost of my one God-given life?” Jesus stated the problem this way:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?”

This search for purpose has been a persistent theme in my life, especially since I trusted Christ as Lord and Savior over thirty years ago. Maybe I am unusual in this, but I think that many wrestle with these same thoughts: “What am I going to do with my life?” God has placed within us a desire for purpose. It may be our strongest human desire, the yearning to find that great work, that place where we feel the deepest sense of fulfillment. “This is the reason I exist!”

In a way, we are all exchanging our soul for something. When I was much younger, I was exchanging my soul for rock climbing. Although there were pleasures and accomplishments from my years of rock climbing, there was never any sense that clawing my way up crags was worth my soul. I felt a need for purpose but climbing was never going to get me there. Then I met the Lord Jesus and He changed everything. Now my life had a sense of purpose. When I was a new believer, I had not come close to finding THE PURPOSE, but I knew that now I was on the right road.

THE MASTER ARCHER ANALOGY

I imagine God as the Master Archer and my life as an arrow. The target is that place where I feel the deep satisfaction and contentment of living my life fully to the glory of God, of finding my unique purpose. Before Christ, I had placed my arrow in the hands of clumsy archers who were poor marksmen, and my life was being spent in dissipation to no purpose. But now I have placed my arrow in the hands of the Lord, the Master Archer, and the Lord has launched me from His bow. Like every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am now either a contented arrow in flight, useful to the Master Archer as I fly toward His chosen target, or the greatest of all satisfactions, a fulfilled arrow which has found its target and is living out my purpose. I have found my great work (Nehemiah 6:3). My search is over. This, my purpose, is why I exist.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF PURPOSE

The Bible is full of examples of people who found their purpose. Nehemiah left Susa and the court of King Artaxerxes to find his purpose. He realized that the work of his life was rebuilding Jerusalem. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down (Neh. 6:3).” Having found his life purpose, nothing was going to distract him.

The apostle Paul found his purpose in the dust of the Damascus road. He was a chosen instrument for Christ, and nothing was going to prevent him from fulfilling his purpose. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).” He was a man who had found his purpose, and so he could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).”

The Lord Jesus Himself was completely aware of the reason why He was sent by the Father and was focused on fulfilling His purpose. There has never been and there never will be a Person on earth who was more intent on His purpose. As He was preparing for the cross, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).” Even Jesus knew the joy and satisfaction of perfectly fulfilling His purpose.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet saw the LORD, lofty and exalted, and realized his own sinfulness (“Woe is me, for I am ruined!”), but he found his life purpose.

The Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

Jeremiah was given his life purpose when he was still a youth.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak (Jeremiah 1:7).” “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you (1:17).”

Many others knew the satisfaction and contentment which comes from fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives. Amos 7:15 – “But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’” Peter was given his purpose one day on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to Simon (Peter), “Do not fear. From now on you will be catching men (Luke 5:11).” Moses was a washed-up shepherd in Midian when the LORD met him in a burning bush and gave him a life purpose, to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3). The LORD commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous and then gave him the life purpose of leading Israel in to conquer the land of Canaan (Joshua 1). Caleb demanded to be given the city of Hebron, because he knew that the LORD had called him to drive out the giants there (Joshua 14:6-15). Ezekiel was also given his assignment from the LORD: “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me (Ezekiel 2:3).” And thus was his life determined.  

But I have become convinced that the Lord intends for all His children to know the satisfaction and peace and contentment of finding their life purpose. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).” Now, if He has prepared our good works, he must also know the purpose for those good works.

I feel that, after a search of almost thirty years, I have now found my purpose; my great work. I am now writing full time and have never been more enthusiastic about my life. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).” If the desires of your heart are to glorify God with your life and rejoice in Him, then He has promised to give you the desires of your heart. One of those desires should be finding His purpose for your life. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).” The world searches for riches and fame and power, but the believer seeks the Lord Himself and fellowship with Him. Seek righteousness (Matthew 5:6) and the Lord has promised to add all the other things. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).”

SDG                 rmb                 2/24/2021

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me (Psalm 142:3)

Limitations and weakness define man. Although man is created in the image of God and is the pinnacle of God’s creation, he is nevertheless a dependent being fraught with limitations and weakness. We need other people, yes, but most of all, we need to know the living God, for He is the one who is able to rescue us when we call.

But why would we need rescue? Aren’t we “the captain of our ship and the master of our fate?” An occasional drive by a cemetery will quickly dispel any such myth. But it is not so much death that intimidates us as it is the day-to-day challenges of life. Is it just me, or do you also sometimes have the sense of overwhelming foes and underwhelming personal resources? The reality is that because our spirit is easily overwhelmed, our spirit is often overwhelmed. Will there ever be enough money? Will this conflict never end? Will I find a job? Will I keep my job? Will my children find their way in life? And so on. And so, my spirit is overwhelmed within me.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me You knew my path.

In the way where I walk, they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see, for there is no one who regards me,

there is no escape for me, no one cares for my soul.

I cried out to You, O LORD.

I said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” – Psalm 142:3-5

Like us, David knew what it was to face overwhelming foes. In this passage from Psalm 142, David’s spirit is overwhelmed within him. He looked to the right and he saw no allies, no escape, and no one who cared. Despair and surrender seemed inevitable. But then David reminded himself of this eternal truth:

You (LORD) knew my path.

God always knows my path because God is the one who has planned my path. He has determined my path. The living God who loves me and who has saved me is the God who has sovereignly ordained my path, and I can trust Him.

But also, while my human vision is limited to a little bit of my path at a time, God sees my whole path from start to finish at one time. With my limited vision of my immediate surroundings, my spirit is overwhelmed within me and I feel fear. But God knows my future path in exact detail and, when I trust Him, my fears retreat.

Finally, David cries out to the LORD and affirms his love for Him and his trust in Him.

I cried out to You, O LORD.

I said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

            When our spirit is overwhelmed within us, we need power. We need a Champion who cannot fail. When my resources are exhausted and my foes are not, like David, I will cry out to the LORD and confess, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living (142:5).” When we cry out to the LORD, we can say with David, “You will deal bountifully with me (142:7).”             SDG                 rmb                 2/18/2021

Eschatology: Entering a new culture

Reading biblical eschatology, especially in books like Revelation and Daniel, is like being a stranger in a foreign country. The Bible student is suddenly immersed in a confusing culture of strange language and unfamiliar customs and alien sights and sounds. All that they have learned and experienced in their native country is of little value as they try to make sense of the new environment.

What is the student of eschatology to do? The student must study end-times literature (“eschatology” = study of last things) with the humility of a traveler going to a foreign land, having the attitude of an observant learner. Here is what this looks like:

“Oh, wait! I have heard that phrase before. That seems to be an important phrase. I wonder what that means.”

“Now, wait a minute. When my host said this word, that happened. So, that word must mean this.” And so on, through countless iterations, the learning continues.

As time goes on, the traveler develops theories about the language and the culture, and then begins testing those theories to see if they are true. “Let me see. I think this means that. Does this mean that? Oops! Awkward moment! No, maybe this doesn’t mean that.” Gradually, step by step the culture begins to make sense. Words that were once strange become familiar and useful. Sights and sounds that were once alien and confusing become normal.

Time and humble observation are the keys. Couple humble observation with a system for capturing and connecting your observations and, over time, you will understand the culture. If you are humble and patient and diligent, you may eventually be mistaken for a native.

But notice that with eschatology, as with a foreign culture, you are required to adopt it. You do not impose your views on it, but you patiently and humbly conform to this unusual, unfamiliar, God-breathed Scripture, as you adopt it as your own. In other words, you do not conform the inspired Word to your ideas, but rather you allow the Word to teach you its ideas. In our analogy, the Word is the native, and we are the foreigners.

To give a personal example, I moved to Russia in January of 1997 to begin what turned out to be three years of “missionary” work with the Navigators, a US-based parachurch organization. I lived in a small town called Pushkin outside of St. Petersburg. I immediately entered a foreign culture where I could not talk (I did not speak Russian at the time) and where I had difficulty walking, since the streets were covered with ice and snow. If I had entered that environment resolved to teach the people of Pushkin how to speak English and to convey to them the pleasures of peanut butter, I think that I would have been frustrated. A better approach was to resolve to learn Russian and to try to walk on ice and to eat what they eat and to adopt their culture as my own. By God’s grace, that is what happened.

You can see the analogy with eschatology. Perhaps one of the reasons why Americans have difficulty with understanding eschatology is that most Americans have never had to adopt a foreign culture. That means most Americans have never been through the process of humble observation needed to change their perspective and to see things through a different lens. But eschatology is not like gospel or like narrative history or like Psalm or Proverbs. When studying eschatology, you must adopt the culture of eschatology or you will remain a foreigner and the culture of eschatology will be forever confusing.

SDG                 rmb                 2/17/2021