Reaching those in religion

INTRODUCTION. Encouragement for ambassadors for Christ who encounter people devoted to a religion. Thoughts on how to evangelize unbelievers in religions. Also, the power of the gospel.

Martin was a Vietnamese man who also worked at SGI. I had recently made his acquaintance and had invited him to lunch. As we were returning to work, I had asked Martin, “What would you say is the most important experience is your life?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. What’s yours?” Eager for the opportunity, I told Martin how I had met Jesus Christ and had become a follower of Jesus when I was thirty-one years old.

“So, Martin, what do you think about that?”

He paused for a second and then pointed to the jade green statue of the Buddha that hung from his rearview mirror. “Roy, I’m a Buddhist. My grandfather was a Buddhist, my father is a Buddhist. I’m a Buddhist.” Thus I encountered the immovable object of “religion.”

RELIGION ENCOUNTERED AND DEFINED

It can be frustrating to the witness, the ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) who has stepped out in obedience and begun to tell the gospel to someone only to encounter the stone wall of religion. Religion comes in many guises, but these various religious guises have a common trait.

A religion is a formal spiritual system which is given to the adherent at birth, and which becomes part of a person’s self-identity.

Let’s consider this definition for a second.

That a religion is “formal” means that it has a structure and is recognized as a system of thought or behavior by the adherents. So, poker players do not make up a religion because poker playing does not constitute a formal system, but Islam is structured as a formal religion.

Another distinguishing aspect of a religion is a “spiritual” component. Broadly speaking, the “spiritual” component of a religion is that part that provides a counterfeit or substitute for the one true and living God. Buddhism is “spiritual,” but atheistic. Hinduism offers millions of false gods. Islam presents the false god of Allah.

A religion is given to the follower at physical birth. Strictly speaking, of course, the newborn infant is not a Catholic or a Hindu, but the newborn infant raised in a Catholic or Hindu family will certainly take on that family’s religion. If asked, a Catholic or a Hindu will tell you they have been in their religion since birth. That a person has been in this “formal spiritual system” since birth is a distinguishing mark of someone in a religion.

Finally, this “formal spiritual system” is an integral part of the person’s self-identity. Now, by itself, the characteristic of “self-identity” could be religious or not religious. Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ certainly self-identify as believers, as Christians. But the self-identity of those in a religion is of a different flavor.

RELIGIOUS SELF-IDENTITY

The adherent of a religion certainly identifies strongly as a member of that religion, but that identification is not by choice, but is by obligation. The person identifies with that religion because they must. Their religion is believed to be unchangeable, and so it is unchallengeable. The person entrenched in a religion has probably never thought deeply about their religion and has never considered any alternative to their religion. In fact, many of those who follow a religion are not aware that an alternative even exists. It has never occurred to them to question their religion. Their religion is “right” because it is the only thing they have ever known.

When one follows a religion, the religion is simply a fact of their existence, like the color of their eyes and like the color of their skin. And, like the color of eyes and skin, it cannot change. What the religion believes or does in its practice is irrelevant to the adherent. By that I mean that the beliefs or practices do not need to “make sense” with experience or with logic or even with any religious book. As the falcon flies because that is part of its essential “falcon-ness,” so the religionist does what he does without question simply because he is of that religion, and that’s what those in that religion do.

So, my friend Martin was born a Buddhist, and he will live as a Buddhist as long as he lives, and then he will die as a Buddhist. That’s just how it is with religion.

Unless . . .

That’s just how it is, unless there is a message that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The situation is hopeless for those trapped in the grip of religion unless there is some means available to set these people free (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1).

ONE GOSPEL CONVERSATION AWAY

And the good news is that the person who is trapped in his religion, even the one who is zealous for his religion may be one gospel conversation away from true freedom and salvation. The Bible declares that if someone will preach the gospel, then anyone may hear and believe and then call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:14-15) and be saved.

Before he was converted to Christ, the apostle Paul was as zealous a Jew as ever lived (Galatians 1:13-14), who persecuted the church and threw believers in prison (1 Tim. 1:13-15; Acts 8:1-3). He was born a Hebrew of Hebrew parents and had every pedigree of a religious Jew (Philippians 3:5-6). I suspect no one was praying for unsaved Paul, except perhaps that he would drop dead or go away. Then this zealous Jew was converted by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:4-6) and was sent out as an apostle to proclaim the gospel of salvation.

Thus, the Bible makes clear that the gospel is more powerful than the stone wall of any religion. Religion is one of Satan’s tools for creating confusion and for generating zeal in the wrong direction, but the gospel is “mighty before God for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4) and we can be confident that the gospel will do its work.

A POSSIBLE STRATEGY FOR REACHING THOSE IN RELIGION

Like you, I do not have a “silver bullet” for winning anyone to Christ, let alone a perfect strategy for reaching those in religions, but I have thought about it some and suggest this as a possible approach. Since evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel to the unsaved, any strategy should lead to a gospel presentation as quickly as possible. The challenge is that the one who is trapped in a religion is predisposed against Christ and the gospel. But the evangelist and the religionist do have something vital in common. They both face death. So, once the witness has discovered that the other person is in a religion, he might say, “That is very interesting. I am a follower of Jesus, so obviously I do not share your religion. But there is something we both have in common, and that is that, as human beings, we both face death. What is your religion’s answer for death? How does your religion help you deal with death?” From here you would bring up Jesus Christ and how He has conquered death, which would hopefully lead to a discussion about the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 5/5/2022                     #526

John 6:31-65 – Part 1: Come to Me, believe in Me (v. 31-40)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts giving insight into the metaphors and analogies Jesus uses with the crowd to explain what it means to believe in Him. This is the first part of the study, John 6:31-40.

OVERVIEW. As our passage opens, Jesus has just fed the five thousand from “five barley loaves and two fish (6:9). The Lord created food from heaven to feed the five thousand in order to make clear to the crowd that He was the bread that came down out of heaven, but the people are spiritually blind. They understand Christ’s metaphors literally and thus become confused and even disgusted. We want to be sure, as we go through this story, that we are not likewise confused by Jesus’ analogies and metaphors, but instead are encouraged to draw closer to Him and to enjoy Him more.

JESUS IS THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN. One of the main messages that we should receive from this passage is that Jesus is the bread that the Father has sent from heaven. Jesus says this many times and in many ways to make unambiguously clear that He is the bread of life (6:35, 48) and that, by believing in Him, you will be satisfied. Eat Him, and you will have life. The Father has sent Him from heaven to be the bread of life for the world. Jesus did not just show up one day and start making outrageous claims. Rather, Jesus was sent by the Father to the world to accomplish a specific mission (17:4; 19:30). So, Jesus = bread from heaven. This is the message. Let’s see how Jesus communicates this.

6:32. “My Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” Jesus is the true bread from heaven and has been given by the Father.

6:33. “The bread of God (from heaven) gives life to the world.” Jesus gives life.

6:35a. “I am the bread of life.” Can’t get much clearer than that!

HE WHO COMES TO ME, HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME. Jesus now shifts slightly from proclaiming to teaching. In 6:35b – 6:47, Jesus teaches about the significance of His being the bread of life. For the value of bread is not merely beholding the bread or acknowledging that bread exists, but the value of bread comes from eating the bread. Bread cannot sustain life unless it is eaten. Just so, Jesus will not give you life unless you come to Him and believe in Him.

6:35b. “He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus now introduces these two critical phrases, “he who comes to Me” and “he who believes in Me.” The two phrases mean essentially the same thing. The one who comes to Jesus comes to Him because they believe in Him, and the one who believes in Him has first come to Him. Thus, they are equivalent expressions and mean “to trust in Christ savingly.”

6:37a. Here Jesus speaks of God’s election of those He will save. “All that the Father gives Me” makes clear that the Father is the One who initiates salvation. The people who come to Jesus for salvation come, not because they personally have made a decision, but because the Father has given them to the Son. And whom does the Father give to the Son? The Father gives to the Son those “the Father chose in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

6:37b. “will come to Me.” Jesus now moves from God’s election, those whom the Father chose for salvation, to God’s certain calling. The math in this verse is clear: If the Father has “given you to the Son” (chosen you for salvation), you will (definitely, irresistibly) come to Jesus for salvation. Or again, if you have been given to Jesus, you will certainly (eventually, before you physically die) believe in Jesus. That is simply what these words mean. Jesus is not here speaking about possibilities but about divine certainties. Those who are chosen will be saved.

6:37c. “and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Having declared God’s sovereignty in salvation in His election and in His calling (see above), Jesus now tells us that, once a person has come to Christ (that is, once they have believed in or trusted in Christ), they will never be “cast out.” That is, those whom the Father has given to the Son are given forever. These are saved, and they will never be lost. (See John 10:27-30 for another strong statement of this doctrinal truth.)

6:38a. Jesus now returns to His essential message in the gospel of John, but here He leaves out the bread. “I have come down from heaven.” Jesus again makes a clear declarative statement about His origin. There is no ambiguity. You either believe what He said or you don’t, but there is nothing to be misunderstood. Simply put, Jesus came from heaven.

THE WILL OF THE FATHER

6:38b. Now another central theme in the gospel is voiced, namely that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Notice again that Jesus was sent from heaven, and the One who sent Him was the Father. Jesus, as God the Son, has submitted His will to the will of God the Father. Jesus has been sent to accomplish the will (or possibly “mission”) of the Father who sent Him.

6:39. And what is the will of Him who sent Jesus? It is explicitly stated in this verse. “Of all that He (the Father) has given Me (see 6:37a) I lose nothing (see 6:37c) but raise it (or “them”) up on the last day.” Much theology is packed into this verse. First, the Lord affirms that He will certainly not let anyone who has come to Him be lost. This is not only a statement that gives the believer security in their salvation, but it is also a statement of Jesus’ deity, for He is claiming the power to guarantee that no one who comes to Him for salvation will ever be lost. How can He make such an outrageous claim? He can do so without arrogance and with complete confidence because He is God.

TEACHING ABOUT THE END OF THE AGE

But second, there is much here about the end of the age. Notice that Jesus says He will be there on the last day. This is another testament to His deity. The Man who is here making statements to this crowd about being the bread of life will also be the One who will raise up in glorious resurrection all those who believed in Him throughout the ages. Jesus is God, and He will be there on the last day of human history to speak to those who are in the tombs, and “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth” (John 5:29). So, the message is that, on the last day, Jesus will personally raise up all those who have come to Him. He will lose nothing.

Notice also that there is certainly coming a last day. Many people live as if things will just keep going along like this forever and there will not be a day of reckoning when God will judge the living and the dead, but that is foolish. There is coming a last day when the resurrection will occur and the final judgment will take place. God will surely render recompense to the unrighteous for their sins and will finally redeem the righteous. It will be an awesome day. I know where I will be on that last day. How ‘bout you?

6:40. This verse parallels 6:39 and says essentially the same thing in different words. This is a common occurrence in John’s gospel. Jesus will say the same thing several different ways in order to make the message unmistakably clear. This teaching method also allows us to see that there is more than one way to state a theological truth.

Phrase in John 6:39Phrase in John 6:40
the will of Him who sent Methe will of My Father
all that He has given Meeveryone who beholds the Son and believes in Him
I lose nothing **will have eternal life **
I raise it (them) up on the last dayI Myself will raise him up on the last day
** not exactly parallel, but similar

Now we can see how this teaching method helps us understand phrases in this passage and in other passages in John. Below I lay these ideas out explicitly.

  • “Him who sent Me (Jesus)” = “My Father”
  • “all that” = “everyone who”
  • The person given by the Father to the Son (Jesus) = The person “who believes in Him” Every person given by the Father to the Son will believe in the Son.
  • This is not an exact parallel, but “I lose nothing” tells of the believer’s eternal security and “will have eternal life” also gives assurance, because an eternal life that can be lost is obviously not eternal
  • “I raise it (them) up on the last day” = “I Myself will raise him up on the last day”

This study is taking more time than I thought, but it is an edifying experience, so I will cut off this part here at the end of John 6:40 and pick it up with John 6:41 with the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 4/29/2022                   #523

1 Peter 2:9 (Part 1) – The believer’s new identity

INTRODUCTION. The first letter of Peter provides a sound foundation for the newly converted disciple of Jesus Christ to begin their journey with their Savior, and the heart of their conversion is captured powerfully in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Here Peter declares the disciple’s new identity, their new purpose, and their new people. This post is about the disciple’s new identity.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Our study text above begins by Peter telling us about our new identity, and the apostle gives us four characteristics that are now true of us that were not true of us before. But the presence of a new identity requires the existence of an old identity. And this is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that “the old man” can and must die and “the new man” must rise to take his place. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to convert a human soul, to “rescue us from the domain of darkness and transfer us into the kingdom of Christ” (Col. 1:13). Only by bowing the knee to Jesus and trusting Him alone for my salvation can I receive my new identity.

But before we explore the four characteristics of our new identity in Christ, we need to look at the old identity we had without Christ.

THE OLD IDENTITY OF “SINNER”

Formerly, unrepentant sin was the dominant and defining characteristic of our life. It may seem strange for me to say that, because, for the sinner, sin is just not that big a deal, and for someone to say that “sin is the defining characteristic of your life” seems like hyperbole. But keep in mind that we are now seeing the issue of our sin from God’s point of view. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin defines a person’s life. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin results in condemnation and judgment. So, sin is big deal to God. Having unrepentant, unforgiven sin gives us the identity of “sinner.”

So, formerly, with our old identity as “sinner,” our sin established a separation between us and God, the Holy One (Isaiah 59:2). On our part, we sinned with delight and we sinned without remorse (Romans 1:28-32; 6:20-21; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 Peter 4:3; etc.). We sinned without regard to consequences and without regard to “the wrath of God revealed from heaven against our ungodliness and our unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Regardless of the degree of our sin, whether small or great, we were defiant rebels who willfully remained ignorant of our sin. We were happily oblivious to the fact that we were “storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).

Then came the day when those who were happy in their sin heard the gospel. An ambassador for Christ proclaimed to them that God is holy and that they were sinners and that God’s wrath abided on them (John 3:36) because of their sin. But Christ, the Son of God, had exchanged heaven’s glory for the agony of the cross so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life (John 3:16). They had believed that message and embraced that Christ and had passed from death to life (John 5:24).

THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST IS “SINNER” NO LONGER

Recall that, before we had repented and trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we had our old identity of “sinner.” But now in Christ, believers are sinners no longer. This is the amazing reality of our new life in Christ. While it is true that we continue to sin, we are no longer “sinners.” Even though we will not be free from all sin until we die, when we finally shed the flesh that indwells this mortal body, our old identity as “sinner” is no more. God now relates to us as saints who are wrapped in Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Our sins, which were as scarlet and which were on proud display for all to see, have been made whiter than snow (Isaiah 1:18).

The Bible does not refer to believers as sinners because heaven no longer sees our sins. All our sins – past, present, and future – have been nailed to Christ’s cross (Col. 2:14) and are, therefore, no longer a barrier between the believer and the living God. All the believer’s sins, whether flagrant or mild, whether intentional or unintentional, whether acknowledged or unknown, are as far from the believer as east is from west (Psalm 103:12). Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, the Lord has cast all my sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17), yes, He has cast all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Those whom the Lord has declared as righteous can no longer be “sinners.”

NEW IDENTITY

So, if we are no longer sinners and our old identity has been buried with Christ, who are we now? Who have we become? That will be the subject of the next post on 1 Peter 2:9 as we look at the four characteristics of the disciples of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 4/27/2022                   #522

Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 2)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the second of two posts on these principles. (See post #520, April 25, 2022, for the first post.)

THE IMPORTANCE OF IDENTIFYING THEMES IN ISAIAH

Thirdly, a helpful approach for interpreting a passage from Isaiah’s prophecy is to begin by identifying the main “big” theme of the passage. Although Isaiah writes on a broad range of themes, identifying the specific theme of a given passage is usually not difficult. The chapter breaks in the book often serve as theme breaks or as theme identifiers. Identifying the theme also helps identify the time frame of the prophecy, whether the passage is talking about the sin of national Israel in 700 BC or about the first advent of Jesus or about God’s call to come to Him for salvation or about the day of the Lord, “that day,” when the glorified King Jesus comes back to gather all His people to Himself forever and to judge the wicked. Correctly identifying the theme of the passage will greatly help your interpretation of the passage.

For example, we have talked already about Isaiah 24. The whole chapter is about the judgment that comes upon the unrighteous on the last day. Thus, the theme is the day of the LORD and the timeframe is the last day. Isaiah 53 is obviously about the life of Jesus the Messiah with an emphasis on His passion when He atoned for the sins of His people. So, the theme would be Jesus’ first advent.

The following chapter, Isaiah 54, the theme is about the LORD’s blessings that He will certainly pour out on His people. The chapter overflows with compassion and redemption and tells of the LORD’s demonstrations of His love for His people. This theme is as relevant today as it was when Isaiah wrote the prophecy.

Isaiah 55 sees the LORD calling His people to Himself and offering free pardon for all who come to Him. The theme, then, is the availability of a yet-to-be-defined salvation. Now that the gospel has been clearly proclaimed in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, this call to salvation and pardon is much more defined. We can see in the LORD’s call in Isaiah the call of the evangelist in our own day. This, by the way, is a common theme in Isaiah, that salvation and pardon for sin is available, but the exact details of that salvation are not made clear in Isaiah. In Isaiah 55, we see a hint in the mention of “David” being a “witness to the people (55:4), a leader and a commander for the people,” but this veiled statement awaits its fulfillment in the New Testament when the gospel is made visible in the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God.

The point is that identifying themes and then defining the timeframes of a given passage can be very helpful in interpreting the passage and grasping the meaning of complex imagery.

So, having spelled out some suggestions for understanding the prophecies of Isaiah, it is time to plunge into the ocean of this prophet’s writings.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #521

Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 1)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the first of two posts on these principles.

HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED PROPHECY
First, Isaiah did not write his prophecy from his own brilliance as a result of his own human insight. Isaiah, like all biblical writers, wrote what he did because he was “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” In his second epistle, Peter writes, “20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Isaiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit and so his writings are God-breathed. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes, “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (ESV). Therefore, when we read from the book of Isaiah, we are reading the very words of the living God. This explains how Isaiah could pen for us with astonishing accuracy prophecies about events that would take place hundreds and even thousands of years after he wrote them.


CONSISTENCY OF A GIVEN THEME THROUGHOUT ISAIAH
Second, Isaiah’s prophecy about each specific theme is consistent throughout his prophecy, regardless of when in his prophecy he writes about that theme, and his overall concept of history is consistent throughout his prophecy. This is a complex idea, so I will explain below with some examples.
A frequent theme of Isaiah’s writing is the topic of the last day, also known as “that day” or as “the day of the LORD.” For example, in Isaiah 24, the prophet declares that “the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants” (24:1). The reader would identify this as a prophecy about the theme of the last day when the LORD returns to destroy the earth and render recompense to the unrighteous. But it should be noted that what Isaiah writes in chapter 24 is consistent with what the prophet writes in other passages about this theme of the last day. By consistent, I do not mean they are identical, but that they are complementary. They are obviously about the same event (in this case, the last day) and they share the same features. Passages about the same theme “fit together.”
Another of Isaiah’s prominent themes is prophecy about Jesus’ first advent, most notably in the passages on “the suffering Servant.” The best known of these is in Isaiah 53, where we see the suffering of the Servant with dazzling clarity, but there are numerous other passages on the theme of Jesus’ first advent (His birth, His earthly ministry, and His passion, etc.) and these prophecies are consistent with one another. They “fit together” and are obviously about the same person. The fact that there is consistency within a theme also makes it easier for the reader to identify the theme. That is, the reader will have the experience of thinking, “Wait a minute. This sounds a lot like what I read elsewhere in Isaiah.”


WORLD HISTORY IS LINEAR WITH A DEFINITE END
But also, Isaiah’s view of world history is consistent throughout his prophecy and is in agreement with the rest of the Bible. That is, Isaiah sees history as linear, with a clear beginning and a definite end. Isaiah’s worldview has the LORD as the ruler of the universe He created. The LORD is in sovereign control of all events, and He directs history according to His perfect plan. Isaiah’s world is a world where the LORD is Holy, Holy, Holy (6:3) and man is ruined (6:5). The LORD is merciful, and man is in rebellion against the God who created him. Man is, therefore, subject to God’s judgment. But Isaiah also envisions the LORD sending a suffering Servant (Isaiah 53; etc.), the Messiah, who will bear their iniquities (53:11). This One will be crushed for our iniquities (53:5) and on Him the LORD will lay the iniquities of us all (53:6). Remarkably, by His scourging, we are healed (53:5).
Additionally, Isaiah’s prophecy tells of a God who is merciful to rebellious mankind. The LORD calls us to come to Him for salvation (Isaiah 55:1-3). The LORD is Redeemer, Savior, the Holy One of Israel, your Husband is your Maker, Creator, the LORD of hosts. For Isaiah, the LORD is the patient Holy One of Israel, calling rebels to repentance and inviting sinners to draw near to their God. In Isaiah’s worldview, there is redemption, forgiveness, and atonement.
Finally, a linear view of history means that there is coming a last day. Isaiah’s prophecy is full of warnings to the unrighteous, calling them to repentance and telling them of the disaster that awaits all who will not forsake their wicked ways. And these warnings are not to no purpose, for as surely as there was a beginning, there will certainly be an end. Isaiah writes about Jesus’ first advent, but he also writes about His Second Coming. There will be a last day, “that day,” when the LORD’s patience will end and will be replaced with His wrath poured out on the unrighteous. Isaiah writes of the suffering Servant coming back as the crowned and conquering King. Isaiah knows that history will end, and that end will be terrifying for those who have not rejoiced in the LORD. But for those who have known the LORD and who have been wrapped with the robe of righteousness (61:10), the last day is a day of rejoicing as they will finally and forever be redeemed by the LORD.
In summary, Isaiah is consistent in the way he presents each of his themes throughout his prophecy and his view that history is being directed to a definite end “on that day” is consistent with the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture.

In the next post, we will look at a third principle for understanding Isaiah, that of beginning our interpretation by carefully identifying the theme of the passage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #520

Psalm 116:4 – I called upon the name of the LORD (Part 4)

INTRODUCTION. My fourth and final post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see previous Post #518, 4/19/2022)

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the fourth verse. .

116:4 CALL UPON THE LORD – “SAVE MY LIFE!”

When we had last seen the psalmist at the end of Psalm 116:3, he was in a desperate place. Having been convicted of his sin and having realized the wrath of God that was directed upon him because of his transgressions, the writer felt the awful weight of condemnation. His sin must be punished and so, he appeared doomed. Who but himself could pay the penalty?

THEN . . . MERCY!

“Then . . .” (116:4) It is such a simple word, but in the right context, it can have life-changing significance. “Then . . .”

Then I thought to myself that the Holy One of Israel may also be merciful to me, the sinner (Luke 18:13). Then I dared to think that perhaps ‘the Lord GOD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ (Ezekiel 33:11). Then I imagined that it could be that ‘while I was still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6). In the depths of my sin, I had looked within, but there was no salvation in me. I had looked to the Law to see if I could obtain forgiveness there, but the Law could only condemn and show me my sin. The Law’s sacrifices could not remove my sin. ‘Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?’ (Micah 6:7). Ah, but then I turned to the LORD for His mercy. ‘I confessed my transgressions to the LORD, and You forgave the guilt of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5). Could it be that simple? Could it be that ‘If I confessed my sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9)? Then I remembered that ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:13). And so, what would be the only reasonable thing to do?”

To call upon the LORD!

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

THE CRY OF INITIAL FAITH

When I had no reason to receive mercy and deliverance, when I had lost all hope, then I called upon the name of the LORD. Out of the depths I have cried to the LORD (Psalm 130:1). I cried aloud with my voice to the LORD (Psalm 142:1). “In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried to my God for help” (Psalm 18:6). In an outburst of initial faith and with a cry to the One whom I cannot see but whom I suddenly trust and believe for my salvation, “Then I called upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:4). Hopelessness is vanquished by faith, and I am compelled to call upon the name of the LORD.

And what do I cry out to Him? “O LORD, I beseech you, save my life!” Lord, rescue me from sin and death and bring me into Your kingdom! Save my life from death and Sheol!

By faith, Bartimaeus asked Jesus for the impossible, to receive his sight (Mark 10:51). By faith, the leper asked Jesus to make him clean (Matthew 8:2). By faith, Jairus begged Jesus to save his daughter from death (Mark 5:23). And Jesus responded to their faith and granted their requests.

In the same way, the sinner comes to Jesus in repentance and faith, requesting the impossible: “Save my life!” And Jesus assures us that “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). And we know from the rest of this psalm that the Lord is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death. – Psalm 116: 7-8

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY OF PSALM 116:1-4

In this brief study of Psalm 116:1-4 we have seen there are sound reasons to pray to the Lord. To those who know Him, the Lord has inclined His ear to hear their calls for help. And to those who do not know Him, the Lord has promised to hear them when they beseech Him in faith and ask Him to save their life.

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2022                   #519

Psalm 116:3 – Rescue from death and Sheol (Part 3)

INTRODUCTION. My third post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see Post #517, 4/15/2022)

The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow. – Psalm 116:3

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the third verse. .

116:3 CONFRONTED WITH DEATH AND SHEOL

The psalmist now speaks of the consequences of years, maybe decades of godless living.

THE CORDS OF DEATH

“The cords of death encompassed me.” These cords have not come upon the writer for no reason. Rather, the accumulated sins that were once so delightful and offered their wicked pleasures for my enjoyment have borne their bitter fruit of hopelessness and despair. Having walked in the path of anger, greed, hatred, selfishness, lust, strife, lying, deceit, and pride, I have reaped the fruit of fear, loneliness, and emptiness. Now suddenly death appears on the horizon as a dreaded specter, threatening a just recompense for my myriad transgressions. Like a stick floating irresistibly toward the brink of the towering waterfall up ahead, I float toward  my own death unable to slow the progress and unable to change the outcome. The icy fingers of the cords of death are tightening around my soul and in a panic, I search for an escape from this pit. “The cords of death encompassed me.”

THE TERRORS OF SHEOL

With the cords of death inevitably come the terrors of Sheol. Instinctively I know that physical death is not the end of my existence and that my sins must be punished, for the Lord will not allow His righteous Law to be trampled with impunity. I know “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4), and that verse has a very personal sound to it. “The terrors of Sheol came upon me.” As my death steadily approaches day by day, the terrors of Sheol grow more acute. The Lord has prepared a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48) and I realize with horror that my sins have purchased that place for me. And so, “the terrors of Sheol came upon me.” But regretting my sins now does no good. The crimes against the Holy One of Israel have been committed and they cannot be undone. Blood is on my hands and guilt is on my soul. The terrors of Sheol await and how can there be any escape for me? God is just, and how can He acquit the guilty and still remain just?

And what must be the inevitable result? “I found distress and sorrow.” The cords of death grip my throat and the terrors of Sheol threaten my eternal soul, thus distress and sorrow ensue. There is vast misery and horror as I see that I must reap the harvest of the sin that I have sown. “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). Who can deliver me from my deserved condemnation? I look within me and know that this sinner cannot save himself. I look around me and know that all others are in the same boat with me and cannot save themselves and certainly cannot save me. And so, I am hopeless and my doom is sealed, for where else can I look? I am condemned before a holy God, and His justice demands punishment for sin. And is there any answer to God’s justice?

THE PERIL OF EVERY SINNER WITHOUT CHRIST

This is the situation and the peril of every person who remains outside of Christ. For every soul who does not worship Jesus, there will be eternal “distress and sorrow,” unending misery and ruin. God’s justice must be satisfied, and every sin must receive a full recompense. God is infinitely holy and, in His universe, all sin must be punished. If God were only a God of justice, every child of Adam would have no hope. And as we finish examining Psalm 116:3, we are in a hopeless situation. We have “found distress and sorrow.”

IS DISTRESS AND SORROW THE FINAL ANSWER?

But the good news is that God the Judge is also the God of mercy. The good news is that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). The good news is that “God is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). The good news is that God is perfectly just and the Justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). The good news is that God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). And the psalmist who wrote Psalm 116 had experienced this God of mercy.

The next post from Psalm 116:1-4 will tell of how the unrighteous can receive mercy from the Lord.

SDG                 rmb                 4/19/2022                   #518

Baptism of Simon the magician (Acts 8)

INTRODUCTION. A study of the fascinating character of Simon the magician from Acts 8:9-24. Simon is a false convert who “believes” and is baptized during the ministry of Philip in Samaria but is later revealed to be still in his sins. What can we learn from him and his false profession that will help us in our own ministry?

In this study in Acts 8:5-24, we read about the fruitful ministry in Samaria of Philip the evangelist as men and women hear Philip’s gospel message, believe the message, and are baptized, a pattern that is typical of the apostolic ministry of the book of Acts. We also meet Simon the magician, who is anything but typical. Simon clams to believe and, as a result, is baptized, but his claim of believing is proven false by his actions and his words.

The key verses are Acts 8:18-19:

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

What we see here is that our magical friend had a very distorted view of the Holy Spirit and of the gospel of salvation. In fact, I suggest that Simon the magician is seeing this entire gospel event through a dark, occult lens. Remember, Simon is a magician, a wizard who was called “the Great Power of God” for astonishing the people of Samaria with his magic arts. But when Philip comes into Samaria performing signs and great miracles (8:13; see also 8:6-7), Simon is forgotten, and his fame and income vanish. The Samaritans “believe Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) and, when they believe the gospel, they forsake all their interest in the magic arts and thus give evidence of their true conversion.

By contrast, Simon claims to believe and yet he continues to pursue his magic arts. This is a first hint that his professed belief is suspect. Despite “believing” and falsely being baptized it seems Simon is still a magician. As a magician, Simon does not see Philip as an evangelist who is preaching the gospel of salvation, but he is a powerful fellow magician who can do amazing magic arts through the name of this Jesus Christ. And so Simon “continued on with Philip” (2:13) not so that he could hear more about Jesus, but so that he might learn how Philip was performing all these signs and miracles. Simon wanted to learn Philip’s magic, no to know Philip’s Christ.

In the same way Simon does not see Peter as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ but as another powerful spiritist who is able to bestow occult powers on people simply by laying his hands on them. Not believing that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, but is instead some spiritual force, Simon appeals to Peter as his fellow magician and offers him money so that he too may bestow this “Holy Spirit” on others by laying hands on them.

Taking a closer look at 8:18-19, we see Simon’s errors.

  • Simon believed that the Holy Spirit was bestowed mechanically when anyone with power laid hands on anyone else. But the Holy Spirit is the gift of God that is given to the believer when they place their faith in the Lord Jesus. Thus, it is bestowed spiritually as a result of faith.
  • The magician thought that he could buy the Holy Spirit with money. It is typical of unbelievers to believe that money can buy anything, but the Holy Spirit is God and cannot be purchased at any price.
  • Simon assumed that he could buy the Holy Spirit and then dispense it to whoever would pay him money to get it. (“So that everyone (or anyone) on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”) He treated the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, as a commodity that could be sold.

These were the thoughts of Simon the pretender. He pretended to be a genuine believer, but, as Peter pointed out, he was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (8:23). Simon the magician is thus guilty of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:24-32), for he views the divine Spirit as a demonic force to be dispensed to anyone willing to pay money. Simon treats the Holy Spirit of the living God as an occult spirit, a commodity sold by the magician as part of his dark trade.

Finally, Simon betrays his unregenerate state by refusing to obey the instructions of the Apostle Peter. In Acts 8:22, Peter commands Simon to repent of his wickedness and to pray to the Lord for forgiveness (both “repent” and “pray” are in the imperative in the Greek), but Simon ignores the call to repent and tells Peter to pray, instead (8:24). Simon is either unwilling or unable to pray, and so he asks Peter to pray for him. But a man must repent for himself, and a man must ask for forgiveness himself. No one can repent for someone else, and no one can ask the Lord for forgiveness for someone else. Simon hears the gospel but does not believe. Simon is commanded to repent but ignores the command. He is commanded to beg the Lord for forgiveness, but he refuses to act. Thus, in the end Simon perishes.

SDG                 rmb                 3/9/2022                     #501

Considering Religions – Part 1 Pagan religions

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a series of articles about “religions.” After defining a “religion,” I will examine two categories of religion and how these groups of religions confront and interact with churches and individuals that follow the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that this thinking will lead to a sharper mind for evangelism and will enable believers to scatter the seed of the gospel more effectively.

STARTING WITH A DEFINITION

What is a religion, as I am defining it? I am going to take a few different runs at the definition.

  1. A religion is any system of thought or philosophy intentionally structured to deny the deity, the incarnation, the sinless life, the atoning death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This definition also includes Satan’s purpose for creating religions.
  2. A religion is any system of thought, philosophy, or worldview that would continue to exist if Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible had never existed. That is, a religion is any worldview that would continue to function if the Man Jesus had never been born of a virgin, had not lived a sinless life, had not died on the cross, had not been buried in a tomb and been raised from the dead.
  3. A religion would continue to function without interruption if Jesus of Nazareth was simply a myth, a fictional character made up by those who want to control us through the means of religion and religious heroes. In a religion, the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth is irrelevant.
  4. A religion is a worldview for which the existence of the Jesus of the Bible is unnecessary.

What I am trying to do with these functional definitions is to make clear that religions are not created in a vacuum and do not come into existence to no purpose. Rather, religions are Satanically conceived for the purpose of intentionally obscuring the gospel of Jesus Christ so that people remain trapped away from salvation in a godless, Christless, hopeless religious system. Religions are based on godless ideologies and are designed to convince the adherents that they can ignore or despise or even hate Jesus Christ with no consequence. My definitions for “religion,” then, center on the purpose of a religion (philosophy, worldview, ideology, system of thought and ritual) rather than on the form. The forms of religions vary widely, but the purpose of religions is the same. The purpose, of keeping people away from Jesus Christ and away from His salvation, is thus the defining characteristic of all religions.

TWO CATEGORIES OF RELIGIONS

Having given the definition of religion, I suggest that religions fall into two categories. The first category is those religions which exist completely apart from any biblical reference. In the past, these religions were referred to as pagan. They do not recognize or worship the God of the Bible, even falsely or as a pretense. Their worldview and practices are foreign to the teaching of the Scriptures and are therefore completely devoid of any element of the gospel of salvation. Those who identify with these religions will surely perish (Romans 2:12a); they “have no hope and are without God in this world” (Eph. 2:12).

These are what typically comes to mind when a person thinks about false religions in the world, religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. This category would also include philosophies and worldviews like atheism and agnosticism, as well as those loosely described as spiritism. Again, the main feature of this category is that the religion makes no reference to the Bible, to the God of the Bible, or to Jesus Christ.

The second category of religions consists of those which have an obvious connection to Christianity but have none of the saving power of the gospel (refer to 2 Timothy 3:5). I will take a closer look at these systems in the next post on religions.

SDG                 rmb                 3/3/2022                     #495

Cut down the fig tree! (Luke 13:6-9) – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is the second part of a study from the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. This post will take the form of a sermon, calling the sinner to repentance before it is too late. The context for this parable is the subject of saving repentance. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:1-5 stresses the critical importance of repentance, and the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 stresses the urgency of repentance.

In the previous post #485 on January 17, 2022, we had looked at the “big picture” interpretation of the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. We saw that the parable could be understood as a picture of national Israel and their long-term rebellion against God culminating in the rejection of their promised Messiah, Jesus. God finally decides to “Cut it down,” which He does in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

THE MEANING FOR THE INDIVIDUAL SINNER

But there is another way to understand this parable that applies to every unbeliever who hears the gospel. For just as Israel continued in their rebellion against God and their rejection of the Messiah until God’s patience finally ran out, so the individual sinner can continue in their own personal rejection of Jesus the Messiah until the Lord closes the door to repentance and salvation. In other words, in this parable, instead of the fig tree representing the nation of Israel, the fig tree represents the individual who continues to reject Jesus as Lord of his life. In this case, God would figuratively come to the individual looking for the fruit of repentance and faith. After all, this person has heard the gospel many times, so by now there should have been a response to Jesus. But, in fact, there has been no response at all to the gospel call. Instead, the person has continued in their sin and has rejected and despised Jesus. Thus, God the vineyard owner decides to cut the fig tree down, by ending the person’s life. But in this hypothetical conversation, the vineyard-keeper, Jesus, intercedes and asks for a little more time. But if there is still no response to the gospel, then the fig tree will be cut down.

The chilling reality for every unbeliever is that only the Lord knows when your life will be over or when you will have rejected Jesus for the last time, and you will be “cut down.”

We know that there are many people in this world who never hear about Jesus. They never hear the gospel message of Jesus’ sinless life, of His atoning death, or of His glorious resurrection. They never hear a herald calling them to faith in Christ and calling them to repentance from sin. They never hear of Christ and so they perish (Romans 2:12) and are forever condemned.

But we also know that there are many who do hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, but who never respond in faith. Perhaps they are always learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7), but the gospel message is useless to them. They hear the glorious, good news, but they go away unchanged. In the New Testament, Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist (Mark 6:20), but he never believed his message. The philosophers in Athens (Acts 17) heard Paul tell of the resurrection of Jesus, but they scoffed and did not believe. In Corinth (Acts 18:6) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:9), the people rejected Paul and his gospel and did not believe. Felix (Acts 24:26) talked often with the apostle Paul, but he never believed. Agrippa and Festus heard Paul proclaim the gospel (Acts 26), but they never believed in Jesus. In each of these cases, there came a last time to hear the gospel. The gospel was proclaimed, Jesus was exalted, and the people were urged to repent and believe, but they refused, and so there came a time when the Lord said, “Cut it down!”

What I am saying is that you must respond now to the gospel call, for you do not know when God will decide that you have heard your last salvation message and it is time for you to be “cut down.” In Luke 13:1-5, the Lord Jesus speaks about the necessity of repentance for salvation, and then He follows that teaching with a parable about the urgency of repentance. Now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2), and you do not know if there will ever be another such day.

EXHORTATION TO THE UNBELIEVER

It is urgent that you repent and believe now, so I offer you these words of exhortation.

O, unbeliever! O, you who refuse to confess Jesus as Lord! You who continue to live as if your life will go on forever and who despise God’s gracious gift of His crucified Son! You do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?” You do not know when the Lord will finally harden your heart so that you cannot respond to the call to repent and come to Christ. The gospel declares your moral ruin, that you have sinned against the living God. You have violated God’s holy laws and you have rejected the offering of His Son, and you are condemned and stand under God’s terrifying judgment.

But now consider this parable that we have read. As long as you still draw breath there is time to repent. O, today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart, for you do not know when the Lord will say, “Cut it down! Why does he still use up the ground?”

Today, right now if you hear God’s voice, believe in the Lord Jesus. Today you must respond to Christ. Know that your response to Christ is never neutral. You either embrace Christ as Lord or you rebel against Him and reject Him and despise His salvation. You are either for Him or against Him, and there is no middle ground (Matthew 12:30).

“Maybe tomorrow I will come to Christ.” But tomorrow never comes! Today is the day of salvation. If you do not come now, you have rejected Christ.

“The next time I hear the gospel, then I will respond.” That would be a foolish response, for there will never be a time like now. Now the Lord is delaying the axe and is offering Christ. If you wait till next time, you have rejected Christ.

Know that to reject Christ is to continue in your rebellion. Know that today, if you do not worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then God sees you as a rebel and as an enemy. And, dear friend, you must understand that if you die as a rebel, you will be a rebel against God forever. For all of eternity, God’s holy wrath will be poured out on you.

But today you can pass from death to life! If you will bow the knee to Jesus, you will be adopted as a child of God. If you confess Jesus as Lord today, right now, you will never hear the Lord say about you, “Cut it down! Why does it still use up the ground?”

SDG                 rmb                 1/18/2022                   #486