Tag Archives: obedience

The Fear of the Lord

 

The Fear of the Lord

Why fear?

In my reading this past month, I have been drawn to scripture that speaks to the “fear of the Lord”.  Because of the uncanny way it has repeatedly appeared in my daily devotions, I felt compelled to dedicate more time to study this phrase and share my insights with you.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”

In Proverbs 1:7a, the writer conveys the belief that the beginning of knowledge, begins with fearing the Lord.  Knowledge, in this context, refers to wisdom.  The person who begins with the fear of God is contrasted with the fool who “despises wisdom and instruction.”

The fear of the Lord is a common expression found in both the Psalms and Proverbs.  Fear, in this context, is interpreted to mean respect and reverence.  No single English word conveys every aspect of the word “fear” in this phrase. The meaning includes worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect to the covenant-keeping God of Israel.  It has even been defined as “hyper-respect” based on a realization of how awesome God is and how insignificant we are in comparison.

The complexity of fear

Fear is a complex quality, creating a myriad of emotions and feelings based on terrors, both real and imagined.  However, when used in a religious sense, especially with regard to God, it becomes even more intriguing.  Fear of God is a concept which describes both awe and reverence of the Lord.  It results in both obedience to His commandments and rejection of those things which compete for His affection. 

In the Old Testament, fear of God follows the introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden.  Before the fall, Adam and Eve had enjoyed a close and loving relationship with their Creator.  After their gross disobedience, the pair fled from God’s call, nervously explaining, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked” (Gen. 3:10).

They now feared God because of their new awareness of their vulnerability.  Sin made them fearful because of the perceived power of another to harm them, in this case, Creator God.   Do we flee from the voice of the Lord when He calls to us?

Fear of God:  Old Testament

Fear of God in the Old Testament is also linked to the covenant promises.  Protection and loving kindness were exchanged for obedience and loyalty to God.

From the Patriarchs to the great Kings of Israel, special worship and respect was given to the Lord.  This was based not only on His actual awesome presence (Ps. 33:8) but also on the perceived consequences for failure to acquiesce to His laws (Exod. 14:31).

Jacob expressed this reverence by referring to God as the “Fear of Isaac”.  Jacob’s reference suggested that his father was the embodiment of fear (Gen. 31:42).   To fear God meant to reject every competing deity and to serve Him only (Deut. 6:13).  Do we fear the Lord simply to receive His favor or to avoid sin’s consequences?

Fear of God:  New Testament

With the arrival of Jesus came new revelation as to who God the Father was and the unlimited depth of His love.  God’s love was demonstrated by the atoning work of Jesus and freely given to “whosoever would call on the name of the LORD” (Rom. 10:13).

Reverence and awe to the Lord was now to be motivated by love versus fear of reprisal (1 John 4:18).  To fear God meant to live a disciplined and holy life.   Fear, in this case, is expressed in acknowledgment of God’s power and authority in the believer’s life.

In addition, fear of God is expressed by walking in all His ways (2 Cor. 7:1), by loving Him (John 14:15), and by serving Him with all our heart and soul (Luke 10:27).   What is the basis for our fear of God—love or dread?

21st Century view of fear of God

As I survey the world we live in, I ask myself, do we as a nation or even as the universal Church “fear the Lord”?  The greater question is, as individual believers, do we “fear the Lord?”

While fear of God is closely related to morality and obedience to God’s commands, it is also very freeing.  Our awareness of God’s power and of His love releases us from other’s opinions, the world’s influence, and fear of rejection.  These move us to compromise or to disobey the Lord.

Our fear of God is redefined when motivated by love (1 John 4:7-21).  We are then released to live out of the purpose He has ordained for us who love Him (Ep. 2:10).  “His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50)

I close with these words from Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher and author.  Though originating in the 17th century, its message still is true.  Why?  Because it speaks truth of the nature and heart of God, which never changes (Mal. 3:6).

The fear of God promotes spiritual joy; it is the morning star which ushers in the sunlight of comfort.  Walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, God mingles joy with fear, that fear may not be slavish.

Where do you get your information?

Where do you get your information

What’s up?

Well it’s October.  The fall is my favorite season.  Good-bye bugs and bites!  No more 95% humidity and sneezy nose.  Bye-bye day light savings time!  Better than it being fall, it’s Throwback Wednesday. For those of you who may be new to WordBytes, on Throwback Wednesday, we look at what’s trending in the news or what the hot topic of the week is.

Well if you slept through yesterday, you failed to experience the crash of Facebook and its social media sisters, Instagram, and WhatsApp.   Facebook-owned services, WhatsApp and Instagram went down on Monday, for the second time in 2021.  This failure left some three billion online users frustrated and unable to connect all over the world.  It is reported that Zuckerberg lost nearly $7B alone on the Facebook outage.  The outage shut out 2.9 billion Facebook subscribers.

So what did we do when Facebook and her affiliate platforms went down?  There are about 3.78 billion social media users worldwide.   Social media has become the life blood for us living in the 21st century.  It has become not only a source of information, but also our primary connection with others.  This sometimes fosters a false sense of belonging and fellowship. Now really, who has over 20,000 friends? Have you ever asked them for a loan?

Where did you get that from?

That’s the question I usually ask people when they share information that I question.  Surprisingly, we look to social media to inform our decision making.  “If it’s on the internet, it must be true”.  Really?

So where do we, who rely on social media platforms, go to get our information. Is social media the “best” source of truth (that is if you’re looking for truth)?  Does it help us “respond” wisely or simply “react”?

According to the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of U.S. adults get most of their news through social media.   They recently shared information on “Americans Who Mainly Get Their News on Social Media.”  Here are some of their key findings.

    1. U.S. adults who mostly get news through social media lag behind others in attention to election and pandemic news.
    1. U.S. adults who mostly rely on social media for political news are often less knowledgeable about current events.
    1. In addition to lower awareness of current events, social media news users hear more about some unproven claims.

Where do you get your information?

When I opened my email today, I received two invitations to help “inform” me.  One was 10 Things You Need to Know Today.  They highlight key news stories nationally and internationally.  They know where I should focus my attention, right?  The “1 Thing I Need to Know Today” is that in Christ Jesus, I live, and move, and have my meaning (Acts 17:28).   This one thing guides my actions and thoughts for the day.

The other is The Week.  Their subject line states, “Read what the world’s thinking”.  I asked myself; “do I really care what the world is thinking?”  The only Person’s thinking I’m concerned with is God.  So I pray that I have the mind of Christ and joyfully obey His will (Phil. 2:5).

Our continual reliance on social media and the Internet makes it necessary to carefully examine the sources of our information.  Believers must especially be intentional in practicing spiritual discernment.  Truth and life come from God through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

We must not only seek truth in all we do, but we must also boldly denounce lies that keep others in darkness (Eph. 5:11).  A lie by any other name—alternate view, misstatement, or an error in communication, is still a lie.  Its intent is to deceive, mislead, and misrepresent.

So for this month’s Throwback Wednesday, we offer for your reading, Discernment:  Light for Darkened Eyes.”   MAY THE TRUTH BE WITH YOU!

Recapturing Our Thoughts

 

Recapturing Our thoughts

A penny for your thoughts

Where is your mind leading you?  Most biblical teachers and preachers will agree that the battle for our faith begins with the mind.  It is here that Satan, the world, and our flesh continually attempt to exercise their influence and control.

In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, the Apostle Paul advises believers in Corinth to bring into obedience and compliance every thought that is not in agreement with God’s plan and purpose for their life.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

The J.B. Phillips New Testament paraphrase says it this way:

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.

Why is Paul’s teaching relevant today?

As we live in this 21st century, postmodern world, our Christian faith is being challenged daily.  In its place are worldviews that discount or exclude the truth of the gospel.

This is especially true in “these days” when we’re living with uncertainty in every area of our life.  Is there a better option for those who are desperately seeking answers for living in these tumultuous times?  People are seeking security and hope for the issues they face.  That can only be found in Jesus (John 14:6).

Believe it or not, we are a “modern day Paul”, who need to be bold in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  “We are not merely human agents but God-appointed ministers.”

What’s capturing our thoughts?

Satan invades our thoughts by planting seeds of doubt which left unchallenged or unchecked, will lead to disbelief and ultimately, disobedience.  Remember Eve?  “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat that apple?”  What began as doubt soon became disbelief.  The result was disobedience, shame, and regret.  Sound familiar?

The world pervades our thoughts by convincing us to conform to its lifestyles and beliefs. Paul warned the church at Rome not to be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2).  The world’s beliefs are characterized by the lust of the eyes— “I want what I see”; the lust of the flesh— “I live how I feel”; and the pride of life—“I value only what’s important to me” (1 John 2:16). The result is vanity and emptiness.

Our flesh persuades us by appealing to our physical and emotional desires.  Our flesh tempts us with words of deception— “If it feels good, do it.”  “You only go this way once, live life to the fullest.”  “You deserve whatever you want.”  Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).  Her flesh deceived her. The result was the introduction of spiritual and physical death, expulsion from Paradise, and alienation from God.

Recapturing our thoughts

Bringing every thought captive to the obedience of God requires that we:

    • Accept our identity in Christ.  We are no longer obligated to follow the dictates of Satan, the world, and our flesh.  We have been set free by the blood of Christ and are no longer slaves to unrighteousness (Romans 6:12-14).
    • Believe the truth of God.  It is the truth of God that exposes the darkness of sin and its influence in our lives.  It is knowledge of this truth, in Him, that keeps Satan, the world, and our flesh at bay. You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).
    • Commit to the lordship of ChristOur obedience is not based on fear of punishment when we sin.  Our obedience is our gift to the Lord.  We give it in gratitude for His gift of eternal life to us (John 3:16).  We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Let us daily use the powerful weapons God has provided for us to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.  These weapons are not human but mighty in God.  God’s weapons are dunatos (doo-nat-os).  They are both powerful and capable.

God Speaks through Circumstances

God speaks through Circumstances

Under our circumstances

In our culture, it is not unusual for people to greet one another with the inquiry, “How are you?”  In response, a multitude of replies are available.  However, my favorite is, “I’m doing fairly well under the circumstances.”

This is my opportunity to respond, “Why are you under your circumstances and what are you doing to get back on top?”  Circumstances are conditions or facts that affect a situation.  These can be either positive or negative.  They define a state in which an individual, group, or even a nation may find itself.

As we daily face “tumultuous” circumstances—pandemics, social strive, economic uncertainty—it is important to remember that God sees.  Even in our worst of circumstances, God is present (Ps. 139:7-10).   God sees, God cares, and God speaks.

Circumstances for all times

There are many biblical examples that illustrate how God used circumstances to speak to His people.  Circumstances dictated that Moses would be set adrift in the Nile.  It was there that he would be found by the king’s daughter and adopted into the royal household by the ruling Pharaoh (Exod. 2:1-10).

God later spoke to Moses after his “40-year circumstance” of working for his father-in-law Jethro the priest of Midian (Exod. 3:1).  God then re-directed him to deliver His people Israel, who were dealing with their circumstance of bondage.

In the book of Acts, God speaks to the early church by using the political and social circumstances around them.  Jesus had clearly articulated the scope of the church’s ministry:  “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

While it was within their “comfort zone” to stay in Jerusalem, God spoke through the circumstance of persecution to move the gospel to a larger audience.   Throughout the Bible we find God speaking to people through special favor (1 Sam. 1:20), through personal loss (Ruth 1:3-5), or through miraculous deliverance (Acts 23:30-31).  God spoke to them through their circumstances.

Circumstances today

God still speaks today through circumstances.  He will use conditions and situations from our everyday life to place us in a position to hear His voice.

Does God create circumstances to make us do His will?  No, God has created us as freewill agents and desires that we choose to live within His divine plan. But God will allow circumstances to flow into our life to accomplish His glory and our good (Rom. 8:24).

Conforming circumstances

God permits circumstances in our lives that will mature us and grow our faith (1 Pet. 1:5-7).  What may appear at first to be a “stumbling block” may, in actuality, turn out to be “steppingstones”.

God also speaks through closed doors as well as opened doors, this includes delayed prayers. While the Apostle Paul wanted to share the gospel in Asia, he repeatedly found the way blocked by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-10).

What our passage suggests to me is that God may close one door of ministry in order to open a better one. Paul was thinking locally—Asia and Bithynia. God was thinking more globally—cross the Aegean Sea into modern-day Europe. Divine redirection demands that we trust divine omniscience: we would have made the same choice if we knew what God knew. Through God’s providential redirection, Paul was able to plant churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. What a great open door![1]

As we proceed in this Christian walk, we must remember that the intent of our life is to glorify God and to accomplish His purpose on earth (2 Cor. 5:15). That is why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word especially during difficult and challenging times, regardless of the circumstance (Phil. 4:6-13).

As we develop our personal relationship with God, we will understand that He loves us and can be trusted with every aspect of our life.  Sometimes our circumstances will take us out of our comfort zone, but we can be assured we are not in them alone (1 John 4:4).

Next time you feel “under your circumstances”, ask God what He is saying to you.   

[1]   “Live with a Mission”, Timothy Berrey with the Gospel Fellowship Association.

 

What keeps me from hearing God?

What Keeps me from hearing God?

Is God speaking to me?

God speaks.  For many people this is hard to understand and even more difficult for others to believe.  I’m often asked, “How do I know if God is speaking to me?”   Perhaps the more appropriate question is, “are you listening?”

Wrong tapes in our head

Many people, even people of God,  do not believe that God speaks to them.  Their disbelief in God’s speaking is sometimes tied to “false narratives” (wrong tapes playing in our head) about Who God is.

Some see God as an indifferent creator looking down on us ready to punish us for doing wrong.  Others see God as a benevolent grandfather patiently waiting to indulge our every need.  Unfortunately,  both views are incorrect.   Who is God and why does God want to speak to us?

Why would God speak to me?

First, God wants to be in relationship (not religion) with us (Isa. 49:15-16).  When we spend time with Him, we begin to understand the love He has for us.  During those intimate moments together, we discover His ways (how He operates in the world) and His paths (how He operates in our individual lives).  (Ps. 25:4-5)

Secondly, God desires that we live free from the bondage of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).  Satan and the world want to keep us in darkness through lies.  These lies result in guilt, shame, and fear.   God, however, wants us to know the truth—His truth concerning our identity (heirs of God and children of light) and our destiny (eternity with Him).  It is this truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

Lastly, God longs for us to walk in the purpose He has ordained for our lives (Jer. 29:11).   We are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10) created for “good works” which include service to others.   True joy in the Christian life is found in discovering the plans that God has for our lives.  All things are possible with God (Mar. 10:27).

What keeps us from hearing?

Although God desires to speak to believers, we have, unfortunately, developed “habits of behavior” that often hinder our ability to hear Him clearly.  As we move through life, we have, metaphorically, “gotten on the wrong BUS”—a bus that frequently takes us away from God and toward the things of the world.    

Busyness robs us of both energy and our ability to hear.  Busyness most often is the result of wrong priorities.  As a rule, we place importance on the things we value.  Hearing from God deserves first priority. It’s hard to hear God when you’re multitasking; He gets caught between our thoughts and His voice becomes “muted”.

Unbelief houses all the lies we hold about ourselves and about God.  We believe that God speaks to others but not us.  We attribute this excuse to “being humble” but in reality we don’t believe that God is (His existence) or God can (His power) or God will (His promises)—so why talk to Him?  There is always a “lie” in unbelief.

Self (sin, too) keep us from hearing from God.  This happens when “self” (versus God) rules our life—self-righteousness, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, self-promotion.  When self is on the “throne of our heart”, God finds no place for Him to sit (except on the outside).  Sin separates us from a holy God.  When sin dominates our life, God won’t talk or listen (Gen. 17:1).  This condition, however, can be corrected (1 John 1:9).

How much do we want to hear God?

Bob Sorge offers these thoughts concerning hearing God’s in his book, Secret of the Secret Places.

Hearing the voice of God is largely a matter of the will.  We must choose to hear Him.  We must make the choice of setting aside time to listen quietly.  This hearing is a today thing that we do.  Hearing His (God’s) voice is conditional—built upon the condition of quieting our hearts to listen.

Want to hear God speak?   Have the courage to get off the BUS!

Livin’ my Best Life: You asked for it!

Livin' My Best Life: You asked for it!

From basics to best

As we discussed last week, best life is something that seems to have the attention of many people.  Each generation has made it its pursuit as they moved forward in time.

In the 19th century, our desire was for the basics—food, shelter, and security.  In the 20th century that desire morphed into a good job, a reasonable mortgage (so we could still travel), and a healthy 401K.  Now we have our eyes on electric cars that drive themselves and tickets into space.  Sorry, but we all can’t be Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.  I guess their “best life” means more than being a billionaire.

Messaging, media, and marketing

The 21st century has introduced for our consideration, a variety of views as to what best life is.  The range of differences in its description demonstrate the subjective nature of this topic.

Cultural messaging, media, and marketing are successfully redefining what best life looks like.  Our expanded technology has now positioned companies (we don’t even know) to “popup’ advertisement as to what they think will appeal to our “unique definition” of best life.

The difference in best life views can depend on any number of factors.  Many authors and musicians have used the best life mantra to help us develop a definition that best fits our life and circumstance.  Even WikiHow got into the act.  Author, Guy Reichard, offers a four-part blueprint for designing our best life.

Last week we offered the belief that, for the believer, best life is dependent on our reality, our identity, and our purpose.  We now share, for your consideration, some other “views” on best life.

Oprah’s best life

“Live your best life.” These four simple words, made famous by Oprah Winfrey, give a single instruction to follow for happiness and success. While the quote is priceless in its meaning and simplicity, it leaves much to our individual imagination as to what that includes.

While there are more descriptions contained in her book, Live Your Best Life, Oprah offers some clarity to her best life description.

I learned when you use the energy of why you were born in service to something that is bigger than yourself, then goodness and greatness come to you.  Because that’s where the real power lies.  When you can use your personality to serve others rather than yourself. 

Best life views

Since the initial citing of the phrase in Oprah’s book in 2005, there have been many other “opinions” added to the contemporary tapestry of American life.   The Urban Dictionary[1], most popular definition for best life was this.

A stupid phrase that is used, commonly on Instagram, to give the false reality that you can wake up and choose which “life” you want to live. Perhaps you want to be a lazy dog, or a human facing the challenge of whether to have avocado on toast or a green smoothie for breakfast. Either way, it’s got to be the best (breakfast) life you could possibly be living.

Comedian Lil Duval earned his first No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart with his debut solo single “Smile (Living My Best Life)”.  The feel-good track features Ball Greezy and Snoop Dogg.  Sorry but I really can’t include the exact wording from the song.  You might ask your children or grandchildren.  When asked to give his definition of best life, DuVal shared these thoughts.

Just living in your means. Living with whatever you have at that point. Being happy with it — and when you’re happy where you are, you can grow even more. You’re not chasing somebody else’s perception.

 Developing our own view

I close with input from a fellow blogger (which I usually don’t do).  But I feel their description might be helpful in developing our own view.  They write to a “20 somethings” audience which, in my mind, is an important generation for our future.  They open referencing Oprah’s original casting of the best life phrase.

Her (Oprah) personal brand and mantra is centered around self-growth, reaching new heights, and finding meaning. These are all ideas that we, as a society, constantly try to work towards, and I think these are concepts that can truly help us elevate and live more fulfilling versions of our lives. 

Thus, I think the most beneficial and realistic explanation of what “living your best life” means is as follows:  One that encompasses reaching new levels of self-awareness and self-growth, that ultimately leads to taking actions that help you to discover and hone into your interests, talents, and passions.  Living your best life is truly subjective, so an explanation such as this one allows for the unique life experiences that everyone has.

I invite you to spend some time this week thinking about your personal definition of best life.  Without one, we are subject to the influence of others who may not understand God’s will and purpose for our life.  Choose one (or all) of the following readings to help you begin formulating what your best life looks like.  Listen for God’s Spirit as He speaks to your spirit.

  • Psalms 34
  • Ecclesiastes 11-12
  • Matthew 6

[1] Urban Dictionary is a crowdsourced online dictionary for slang words and phrases, operating under the motto “Define Your World.” The website was founded in 1999 by Aaron Peckham. Originally, Urban Dictionary was intended as a dictionary of slang or cultural words and phrases not typically found in standard dictionaries, but it is now used to define any word, event, or phrase.

The Surrendered Life and Sin

The Surrendered Life and Sin

Who do we choose?

Sin and surrender have more in common than their first letter.  Sin has at its core the stubborn resistance to surrender oneself to the authority and rule of God.  Remember Adam and Eve?

We all have used the excuse, “the devil made me do it” but someone had to open the door and invite him in!   As a child I accepted Jesus as my savior.  I bought the fire insurance but lordship?  That came much later in my adult life.  After much sinning and denying Jesus’ rule in my life, I surrendered to His lordship.  Thank God for His mercy and His glorious grace (Ep. 2:1-6).

Often time we fail to see the spiritual reality of two conflicting influences in this world—God and Satan. Each day we, unknowingly or knowingly, choose the one we will surrender to.  We give them rule, control, and influence in our life.  Paul makes clear this truth to the church at Rome (Rom. 6:16).

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

The surrendered life in Christ, is by far the best choice.  But as Jesus cautioned, it is important that we consider the cost.

“Everyone need not apply!”

Jesus in His teaching on the cost of discipleship was brutally honest about His expectation of His followers.  There was no mincing of words or changing of position to make the offer more appealing to His listeners (Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:33).

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Deny or forsake?  It’s still good-bye!

Intimate relations with Jesus require that we “deny self and forsake all”.  Such was the case during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ ministry continues today with us as His disciples.  His expectations have not changed.  

Deny has two meanings: (1) to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone and (2) to lose sight of oneself and own interests.  Matthew uses the second definition to explain Jesus’ rebuke to would-be disciples unaware of the cost to follow Him.    

Luke chose to express the same idea using the word forsake.  To forsake adds further to the ideal of departure from one’s old self and habits.  It means to renounce or bid farewell to.    

As we deny our own interest and forsake our past self, we must also reject our love for this world—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  All these create within us a divided heart which cannot love Jesus well nor surrender to His leading.

The surrendered life

The world, Satan, and our flesh are not big on “denying or forsaking.”   They encourage us to place our desires above the Lord’s.  They deceive by whispering, “You can have it your way right now.  Jesus can wait another day.”  Jesus replies, “I am The Way” (John 14:6) and offers instead His love (John 3:16), salvation (Heb. 2:10), forgiveness (Ep. 1:7), freedom (Ps. 146:7), and peace (Col. 3:15).

The surrendered life in Christ results in great joy and wisdom.  There is great confidence in knowing we have made the best choice in choosing “the Pearl of Great Price” (Matt. 13:46).

Making the Right Choice

Maing the Right Choice

The warnings included in the letter of Hebrews were written to believers who were being tempted to return to the Jewish religion and traditions.  In their actions, they were not only choosing Judaism but in their choosing they were also rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Such is the case in all decisions we make.  When we say “yes” to one thing we simultaneously are saying “no” to its alternatives. In addition, with each decision there are consequences.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Regardless, there are consequences.

Such is the case with this fourth warning.  The choice to return to Judaism contained dangerous consequences which the author attempts to convey in this fourth exhortation.    

Danger! Danger!

The writer of Hebrews has been diligent to warn of the dangerous behaviors being exhibited by the readers of this letter.  Behaviors that are leading to spiritual erosion. They include neglect, unbelief, and spiritual immaturity.

Hebrews 10:26-39 contains the fourth warning to the readers of this critical epistle.   This exhortation deals specifically with the “danger of drawing back”.

The writer continues this serious discussion which first began in Hebrews 6:4-8 with the danger of “falling away” (from Christianity).[1]   This verb is found only here in the New Testament.  The writer is picturing people who have been numbered among the followers of Christ but now leave that company.

Dangerous behaviors and consequences

The behaviors and consequences of “falling away” and “drawing back” are a real and present danger to believers.  We are to take these warnings seriously.   They highlight our need to remain steadfast and faithful (Heb. 10:38).

Behaviors and consequences (are)

Hebrews 6:4-8 

“Falling away” 

Hebrews 10:26-39 

“Drawing back”

Intentional

“with knowledge”

“Those who have were once enlightened, who tasted…who shared” (vv. 4 and 5)

“If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth” (v. 26)

“Recall the former days…after you were enlightened” (v. 32)

Irreversible

“unable to restore”

“It is impossible to renew to repentance” (v. 4)

“no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (v. 26)

Irreverent

“of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice”

“They are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up in contempt” (v. 6)

 

“a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation” (v. 27)

“Trampled the Son of God…the blood counted a common thing…insulted the Spirit of grace.” (v.29)

 Apostasy by any other name

The writer’s admonition begins with calling out the willful sin of the readers (Heb. 10:26).  Our sins are often the result of our deliberate choice to impose our desire over God’s leadership (James 1:13-15).

This warning deals with the sin of apostasy, an intentional falling away, or defection. Apostates are those who move toward Christ, hear and understand his gospel, and are on the verge of saving belief, but then rebel and turn away. This warning against apostasy is one of the most serious warnings in all of scripture.[2] 

The fourth warning is contained in the final verses of this chapter (Hebrews 10:38-39).

Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. 

“The just shall live by faith” is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:1-4.  Who are the “just”?  The just (RSV, my righteous one) in this passage is the person God accepts as righteous who will live by faith. In this verse, the writer is drawing attention to the fact that faith and drawing back are opposed to each other.

To “draw back” means to withdraw self or to shrink from declaring.  It is clear that God is not pleased with the one who draws back (Heb. 10:38). It is important for believers to go forward in the path of faith. To draw back offers the worst consequence–perdition which in some translations is interpreted to mean destruction.  The best choice is to persevere in our faith and be saved.

21st Century Danger

We continually make choices.  Some are simple.  Others may be more complex.  As we make our choices, we, as believers, must also be mindful of potential consequences.  This is especially true of those that affect our spirit man and our walk of faith.  Are we making decisions that cause us to “draw back”?  How are we to respond?

We are to remember when we first came to faith and the gratitude we exhibited in the gift of salvation (Heb. 10:32).  We boldly witnessed the goodness and greatness of God.  We eagerly served and engaged in God’s work (Heb. 10:33).

It is important to know “that we have a better and an enduring possession in heaven” (Heb. 10:34). We should include in our daily routine the reading of Scripture that reminds us of our eternal rewards and destination (Eph. 1:13-14).

Let us refuse to “cast away our confidence” (Heb. 10:35).  To “cast away” conveys the thought of a reckless rejection of what is valuable. Only Jesus Christ holds the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46).

Through Jesus, we have received all spiritual blessings (Ep. 1:3) and great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4).  These enable us to endure struggles, reproaches, and tribulations (Heb. 10:32-33).  Because of this, believers can boldly proclaim, “We do not draw back to prediction but are of those who believe to the saving of the soul”.  (v. 39)

 

[1] Such cannot be brought back to repentance. Notice that he does not say cannot be forgiven or cannot be restored to salvation or the like. It is repentance that is in mind, and the writer says that it is impossible for these people to repent. This might mean that the repentance that involves leaving a whole way of life to embrace the Christian way is unique.  It cannot be repeated.  There is no putting the clock back.

[2] The MacArthur Study Bible

 

A Final Word on the Sovereignty of God

 

This week we close our study on the sovereignty of God.  It is our hope that a better understanding of God’s sovereignty has expanded your trust and confidence in our “all wise God” (Jude 1:25).

Our appreciation of the sovereignty of God will also help us as we attempt to make sense of these tumultuous times.  We know that our future is not dependent on our past or current circumstances but it is based on Who we serve (Ps. 20:7).

We thank God for His grace.  Grace introduced at Creation when we were given God’s image.  We thank Him even more for salvation resulting in our righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  All these are ours as a result of sovereign God’s fulfillment of His purpose for mankind.

The Challenge to God’s sovereignty

As a result of God’s grace and love, we are now invited to freely choose a lifestyle that will result in God’s glory and our good.  So why is it so hard for man to operate under God’s sovereign rule?  The challenge to God’s rightful position and authority boils down to a matter of sin.

Man’s resistance to God’s sovereignty is rooted in sin that began in the Garden of Eden and is still manifesting itself today on the world stage. Remember, the wisdom of God, revealed in His purpose and will are foolishness to the world (1 Cor. 3:19).  Such thinking leads to disobedience.  And disobedience to God is a fast track to sin and ultimately death (James 1:14-15).

God’s sovereignty or man’s sin

Unless led by the Holy Spirit, man, by nature, will most often choose to be wise in his own eyes (Prov. 3:5-6).  He is persuaded by his lust of the flesh, the lust of his eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) which satisfies his fleshly impulses.

However, when led by the Holy Spirit, man can more clearly see and discern the will of God  As it is only by the Holy Spirit who can reveal the sovereignty of God, it is not surprising that when the Spirit has been poured out in such an abundant measure, that this truth has been clearly known and loved.[1]

The biblical account cites many who chose their will over God’s with disastrous results. Yet God’s sovereign will was accomplished (Job 42:2; Is. 14:27).  Many of them were kings, prophets, and people of God.  They “should have known better” but they didn’t do better.  These accounts were written for our learning so that we might not make the same mistakes (Rom. 15:4).  Here are just a few to help illustrate man’s resistance to God’s will.

    • Saul (1 Samuel 10:8; 13:7-10)
    • The children of Israel (Exodus 32)
    • Jonah (Jonah 1)

Alignment with God’s Sovereignty

We can better position ourselves to align with God’s sovereignty when we recognize:  (1) God’s authority and plan, (2) man’s moral responsibility, and (3) believer’s relationship with God.

God’s authority and plan

    • His right—as Creator God, He is the only rightful ruler and authority over His universe.
    • His rule—it is God’s nature, His goodness and greatness that “qualifies” Him to rule.
    • His will—His divine plan of salvation and redemption of mankind is constantly at work.

 Man’s  moral responsibility

    • Our choice—how we exercise our “free will” is an indicator of how we respond to God’s sovereignty.
    • Our love—God is the object of our affection resulting in our loyalty and our obedience.
    • Our obedience—we are to submit to God’s will by actively participating in His eternal purpose.

 Believer’s relationship with God

    • Our reality—it is grounded in the belief that God can do what is needed to bring about His purpose. That belief fosters our trust in God.
    • Our partnership—it gives access to God’s will and ways. This opens up enormous opportunities to join with God in establishing His kingdom rule.
    • Our service—it is a natural outcome of our belief and partnership with God.
Final Words on God’s Sovereignty and You

We conclude this study with remarks from one of my favorite teachers, A. W. Pink.  He shares his “heart” on this matter of sovereignty so that we may grow strong in our faith and witness for the Lord.

The sovereignty of God is something more than an abstract principle which explains the rationale of the divine government: it is designed as a motive for godly fear; it is made known to us for the promotion of righteous living; it is revealed in order to bring into subjection our rebellious hearts.

 A true recognition of God’s sovereignty humbles as nothing else does or can humble, and brings the heart into lowly submission before God, causing us to relinquish our own self-will and making us delight in the perception and performance of the Divine will.

 When we speak of the sovereignty of God we mean very much more than the exercise of God’s governmental power. Truly to recognize the sovereignty of God is to gaze upon the Sovereign himself.  It is to come into the presence of the august “Majesty on High.”[2]

[1]   The Sovereignty of God,  A. W. Pink

[2] Ibid.

Stay on the Path

“Enter through the narrow gate.

For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7: 13-14 (NIV)

 

A few years ago there is a commercial for financial planning that features a wide green path and arrow to guide the investor along life’s path.  As the investor strolls through the city, they are tempted to step off the path to pursue things that could hinder their ability to accomplish their long-term investment plans. The voice of the financial advisor coaches the investor to “just stay on the path.”  The implication is that as long as the investor “stays on the path” they will realize their financial goals and live happily ever after.

This commercial reminded me of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He told His listeners to, “Enter through the narrow gate.”  The King James Version renders “narrow” as “strait.”  Strait (stenos) refers to a narrowness created by obstacles standing close about.   These obstacles could be the world’s view on how we are to enter God’s kingdom.  Jesus’ point in this teaching is that the way to life is through a portal providing controlled access along a narrow way defined by God.  In contrast, the wide highway represents the world’s “substitute” for the way of life.  The end, of course, is death.

As I talk with believers about activities in their local churches, I am disturbed and heartbroken.  The Church, which was created to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13), is choosing to “get off the path.”  Churches across this country have abandoned teaching and preaching the “full counsel” of God for “trendy methods” of ministry.  The “fervent prayers of the righteous” (James 5:16) have been replaced with small group discussions on why the church should practice religious tolerance.  Churches are more concerned with not offending others than with grieving the Holy Spirit.  Peter reminded the early church, that Christ Himself was “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8).

It is extremely difficult to stay on the path of God when the world, especially the Church, is encouraging us to do otherwise. It is critical and life affecting that we stand fast in our faith (1 Peter 5:12).  We must resist being lured to “enter through the wide gate.” Do not be enticed by false teachings with their “faith-by-works, all-roads-lead-to-God” beliefs. Stay on the path until you reach your eternal goal of heaven. Remember, it is a narrow path that leads to life, and only a few find it.

SELAH: One of the inherent gift that is available with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is spiritual discernment. Spiritual discernment is “the ability to see life from God’s perspective”. It helps us to evaluate potential choices, options, and actions we may need to make in our life. Spiritual discernment helps believers to avoid potential “spiritual landmines” that might take us off path.

Read “The Power of a Discerning Spirit” then invite ask the Holy Spirit to heighten your discernment and reveal spiritual landmines currently in your life that might detour you from God’s desired purpose.