Jesus and the Religiose

One of the meanings of ‘religion’ is, ‘a particular system of faith and worship.’ Religion is a man-made construct, to attempt to explain God and have a relationship with Him.’ ’Religiose’ is defined as being ‘excessively religious.’

When Jesus began His ministry in Judea, the temple in Jerusalem was a place of worship for Jehovah God, the God of the Old Testament Bible. The New Testament had yet to be written. (Still the same God.)

The religious focus in that temple was centered around the behaviors that one would live by, to satisfy God. These were primarily found in the Torah, i.e. the first five books of the Bible, which were written by a Holy Spirit-inspired Moses, referred to as the Mosaic Law.

Those doing the teaching of the Law were called Pharisees, widely believed to be the first ‘rabbis,’ or at least their forerunners. The problem, in Jesus’ time, was that many of the Pharisees added their own personal ‘interpretations’ to the Laws. Put bluntly, they twisted the scriptures to suit their own purposes, and became fervent taskmasters over their laity – punishing them if they did not live up to them. The Pharisees became religiose.

This did not set well with Jesus, because what they did ran against God’s word with regards to keeping His word pure:

“You shall not add to the word which I command you, not take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God…” Dt. 4:2 NKJV

The first time Jesus voiced His displeasure with the Pharisees was when He was dining with His latest convert, the apostle Matthew. He did so by speaking a parable to Pharisees that were present (they’d been following Him around, worrying that their control over the people was being usurped by Jesus’ teachings and miracles):

“No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old one is good.’ “ Lk. 5:36 – 39. ESV

Jesus was describing a process that was well known and understood by the people living at that time – saying that using a new piece of cloth to patch an older one will tear away from the old if it has not been previously ‘preshrunk’ with a combination of pressure, heat and moisture. He’s trying to get the Pharisees to see that the old forms of Judaism could not contain the New Covenant message He was bringing, because His message was not a patch for the old one.

Similarly, Jesus spoke of the fact that new fermenting wine must be put into new goatskins, because the outgassing of fermentation would cause the old skins to swell to the bursting point. It is metaphorical reference to the fact that the Pharisees can’t mix His message with theirs and that they are not spiritually able to receive His.

Finally, the last sentence in the parable alludes to the Pharisees’ stubborn preference for their old ways, which will ultimately deny them the kingdom.

Jesus has another confrontation with the Pharisees in the temple – they, being angry with Him for previously healing a cripple at the pool called Bethesda. He responds by pointing out their scriptural ignorance regarding the coming of the Messiah:

“…the very works that I do – bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me…You have neither heard His voice at any time, or seen His form. But you do not have His world abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Jn. 5:36 – 40. NKJV

Even though Jesus is chiding them for their disbelief, you can see that He is offering them eternal life at the same time. They refused…

Jesus took issue with the Pharisees again, during His Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For I truly say to you until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Mt. 5:17, 18. ESV

Jesus is refuting the Pharisees’ claim that He was trying to invalidate the Mosaic Law. Christ was sent from God to open the eyes of the ‘spiritually blind,’ in order to give them the full understanding of all Scriptures so they could walk their best with His Father.

He blasts the Pharisees again:

“Therefore whoever relaxes on of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt. 5:19, 20. ESV

He is telling the crowd listening to His sermon that the Pharisees have so distorted the laws of God that if they follow them, it will jeopardize their chance for salvation. Furthermore, He offers an example of a law that the Pharisees had twisted:

“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Mt. 5:43 NKJV

The first part of that sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor is a quote from Moses (Lv. 19:18). The ‘hate your enemy’ part was added by the Pharisees, and thus, not scriptural.

Jesus continued to have run-ins with the Pharisees throughout His ministry. He finally reveals their evil nature:

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’ “ Mk. 7:6, 7. NKJV

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the traditions of men. You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of of God in order to establish your tradition!” Mk. 7:8, 9. ESV

Ouch! That must of stung. Jesus is alluding to the worthlessness of their traditions – those ascribed by them to have the same authority as the Mosaic Law, even though the Pharisees made them up.

Jesus gathers a crowd around Him to crystalize the nature of the Pharisees and their meaningless rituals:

“…there is nothing outside a man [such as food] which by going into him can defile him [morally or spiritually]; but the things which come out of [the heart] of man are what defile and dishonor him.” Mk. 7:15 AMP

Later, Jesus tells them of their ultimate fate for their hardened hearts and their fake religiosity:

“You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” Jn. 8:19 NKJV

“I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot go”…”You are from beneath; I am from above, You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die for your sins.” Jn. 8:21, 23, 24. NKJV

There are still religiose people today – pharisaical, re-writing scripture, judging portions to of it be false, seeking approval and status for their piety and denying the Christ-road to salvation. As you can see, without repentance, things will not go well for them.

That’s why it is so important to bring the message of salvation to as many as we can. What they do with it is up to them…

If we stick to God’s word and live by it, our salvation is assured.

Goodnight and God bless.

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December 10 2017 | experiencing god's love | No Comments »

Understanding What Christ Did: The Book of Romans – part 3

In the second part of this series, Unified By Faith, we continued to examine the apostle Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome, (now known as the Biblical book of Romans). In the section of the letter that we looked at, Paul was explaining the centerpiece of God’s salvation through Christ – that is, having faith in who Jesus is, (the Son of God) and what He did.

Having a better understanding of what it is that you are having faith in, always strengthens faith. So today, we will look at the section of Paul’s letter that brings a greater clarity to what Jesus did and what it meant.

First and foremost, God sent Jesus so that He could undo the sin of Adam and point you heavenward: Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men– Rom. 5:12 NKJV

But the free gift is not like offense. For if by one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.

And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Rom. 5:15 – 17. NKJV

…as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. 5:21 NKJV

Through God’s clemency and grace, He struck down your Adam-derived death sentence through the free gift of Jesus Christ; and the suspension of your sentence is eternal.

Well, if Jesus has already done all this work for us, are we then free to sin at will?

Shall we continue to sin so that grace may abound? Certainly not!

How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

…that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life. Rom. 6:1 – 4. NKJV

…our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Rom. 6:6, 7. NKJV

For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts…but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace. Rom. 6:10 – 14. NKJV

Jesus died for all of our sins for all time, and those who receive Him have, at that very moment, total access to that transformation of righteousness – literally becoming new men and women in Christ.

As a new creature in Christ, we are asked to walk as best we can, in a new way, God’s way – being doers of the word and not hearers only. (James 1:22)

However, the flesh will not give up on its cravings; and there will be moments when we are weak-willed and give into them. Yet we can always tap into the resurrection power of Christ to help us stand in opposition to sin, to keep our transgressions to a minimum; because God promises us that He will always provide a way out of our predicaments. (1 Cor. 10:13) When we do slip, we can turn to God with confession and repentance…

God wants us as far away from sin as possible because He knows that it is so destructive:

Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? Rom. 6:15, 16. NKJV

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

God has a much higher road prepared for you to walk on:

…you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to one another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. Rom. 7:4 NKJV

Paul goes on to write about how the law itself is not bad, and that its job is to show us our sin – so that we could see the need for our salvation. He uses his own personal struggles with sin to emphasize his point:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Rom. 7:14, 15. ESV

So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Rom. 7:17, 18. ESV

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. Rom. 7:21 ESV

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Rom. 7:24, 25. NKJV

We can see then that the Mosaic Law was intended to be a spiritual standard, wherein one’s total obedience to it would guarantee a 100% righteous state before God.

However, there is a continual war within us – between our spirit, which can and wants to obey the law, and the Adam-sin-tainted flesh, which relishes rebellion against the same.

God is showing us His mercy, in bringing to us one of His mightiest spiritual warriors, and revealing to us Paul’s struggles with his own humanity. Our loving Father in heaven is showing us the need to apply mercy and compassion to everyone, ourselves as well, and lay condemnation aside.

God knows about our internal tug-of-war. Even when we seek to be in obedience and advance His kingdom, the voice of Satan is ever-present in our flesh, trying to convince us to do otherwise.

When we do slip and fall, we gain nothing by condemning ourselves. (Remember how Jesus refused to condemn the adulteress?) We have only lost a skirmish, not the entire battle. Christ is at the helm; and the lost skirmish is wiped out through our confession and repentance that connects us with His blood of redemption.

Indeed, Jesus leads us to victory in the battle: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom. 8:1 – 4. NASB

What a God! What a Son! See the word ‘now’ in the beginning of that scripture? God has already freed those from the condemnation of sin who received Christ and placed their faith in His death and resurrection. And that condemnation has been removed for every transgression we have committed or ever will commit, as long as we try to do our best to walk in the spirit and emulate Jesus.

We have actually met all of the Law through the efforts of Jesus on our behalf; and we walk presently in the new found freedom of God’s new and final covenant – through Christ. Moreover, Christ Himself empowers us to live that spirit-filled life. We only have to exercise our free will to make the right choices:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Rom. 8:5, 6. NKJV

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile towards God, for it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Rom. 8:7, 8. ESV

In other words, when we set our minds on going after the ways of the world, we rebel against God, and death is the guaranteed outcome. Praise God that He showers those who choose Him and His ways, through His Son, with His love, mercy, and grace for all eternity:

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of God, he is not His.

And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Rom. 8:9 – 11. NKJV

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. for you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba Father.”

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. Rom. 8:13 – 17. NKJV

When you accept Christ, you are filled with the Holy Spirit – cloaking you with the righteousness of Jesus, which wipes all of your sins off of the heavenly ledger. And, you become adopted sons and daughters – bathed in love and joy, along with a little suffering as well, because the enemy will now declare ‘open season’ on you, as he tries to tear you away from the arms of your Savior.

However, what did Jesus tell us? “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:27, 28. NKJV

That’s what Christ did…

Goodnight and God bless.

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November 23 2013 | experiencing god's love | No Comments »

The Second Coming of Christ: 1 and 2 Thessalonians

In our last post, Paul Takes Another Trip, we followed the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey. At the end of his trip, Paul stayed eighteen months in the church of Corinth. It was at that time, (~ 50 A.D.) that Paul wrote the letters [with a little help from Silas (also called Silvanus) a prophet and elder of the church in Jerusalem) and Timothy – a Christian acolyte whom Paul was mentoring] that would become the Bible books 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Paul writes the first letter in response to a report from Timothy; Timothy said that there was confusion in the church of Thessalonica. The congregants were afraid that if they died before Jesus’ return, they would lose their salvation. The church was also concerned about secular persecution that they were experiencing in their region.

Paul begins by commending the church for their exemplary walk in Christ: For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you; in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 1 Thess. 2:19 NASB

He also reminisces fondly of his prior ministry there, and speaks to his own method of preaching – one that sets a good example for all of us:

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. 1 Thess. 2:4 NKJV

Paul is telling us that it is only God’s approval of our behavior that ultimately counts; and that approval only comes when we speak the truth (God’s word) and live by it.

He continues by telling the church that he had sent Timothy to them previously, to strengthen them in their faith, so that they may face their trials and tribulations with courage. Then he reminds them of their calling: For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 1 Thess. 3:3 ESV

(Jesus told us that we would be hated for following Him. We are the ‘peculiar people’ in the world who have chosen to walk the narrow path – the only path that leads to an eternity of complete love. It’s the path where we walk in love):

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all…so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. 1 Thess. 3:12, 13. NKJV

Paul then reminds them of when he had previously taught them how to walk on that path:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these things…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.

Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thess. 4:3 – 8. ESV

Now, Paul gives them a few more pointers from God for staying on the love path:

Be at peace among yourselves…admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thess. 5:13 – 22. ESV

Paul then addresses the main event – bringing clarity to their confusion over the return of Jesus Christ:

Now also we would not have you ignorant, brethren, about those who fall asleep [in death], that you may not grieve [for them] as the rest who have no hope [beyond the grave].

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep [in death]. For this we declare to you by the Lord’s [own] word, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall in no way precede [into His presence] or have any advantage over those who have previously fallen asleep [in Him in death]. 1 Thess. 4:13 – 15. AMP

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:16, 17. NKJV

How cool is that? God is letting us know that we don’t need to worry about the followers of Christ who die before He returns – because they will be the first ones that Jesus will rally to Him. Those who are still living when He returns, get to become airborne to join the eternal throng.

Jesus’ ‘second coming,’ the ‘day of the Lord’ will be wondrous for the followers of Christ, but it will be decidedly disastrous for those who have chosen not to:

…the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and Safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains…and they will not escape.

But you brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith, and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 1 Thess. 5:2 – 8. NASB

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should be together with Him. 1 Thess. 5:9, 10. NKJV

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. 1 Thess. 5:24 NKJV

Paul, again with some help from Silas and Timothy, sends off the second letter to the church, shortly after the first, because there was a false teacher in their midst who was circulating a counterfeit letter, supposedly from Paul, that said the day of the Lord had already come and gone.

He begins by encouraging them to endure in the face of persecution. Then he tells them that when Jesus does return, it will be a day that cannot be mistaken for any other:

God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thess. 1:6 – 10. ESV

Paul is taking about the ‘great sifting.’ That’s the time to be on the side of Jesus.

He then instructs the church not to put any faith into this counterfeit letter in circulation, stressing that indeed the day of the Lord has not come:

Let no one deceive or beguile you in any way, for that day will not come except the apostasy comes first [unless the predicted great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come], and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (of perdition), who opposes and exalts himself so proudly and insolently against and over all that is called God or that is worshiped, [even to his actually] taking his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming that he himself is God. 2 Thess. 2:3, 4. AMP

What Paul is saying is that there will be unmistakably distinct events that presage the second coming of Christ. One of those will be the revelation of the identity of the lawless one (the Antichrist) – who will be worshiped by most of humanity as he proclaims himself to be God. (This will be revealed in great detail when we visit the last Bible book: The Revelation of Jesus Christ.) However, Paul gives us a few teasers now:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work… 2 Thess. 2:7 NKJV (i.e. there is already a force of evil at work in the world.)

And then the lawless one (the antichrist) will be revealed and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth and bring him to an end by His appearing at His coming. 2 Thess. 2:8 AMP

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they have refused to love the truth and so be saved.

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thess. 2:9 – 12. ESV

Thus, the Antichrist will be empowered by Satan himself – to be able to work false miracles, bringing him the adulation and worship of a rebellious world. It is then that God will begin the extraction process of those who pandered to themselves – separating them from the children of God. We also see that when Jesus returns, the curtain is coming down for the Antichrist.

Paul then changes focus in his narrative to encourage the church (that would be us) to be steadfast in our faith:

…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught… 2 Thess. 2:13 – 15. NKJV

(God chose you before you took your first breath.)

Finally, the apostle writes his parting remarks:

Yet the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen [you] and set you on a firm foundation and guard you from the evil [one]. 2 Thess. 3:3 AMP

…do not weary of doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 2 Thess. 3:13 – 15 NKJV

God is always on your side. When you stick with Him, the devil hasn’t got a chance against you.

We see too that God is always about practicing love. Even if a brother or sister in Christ backslides, you are to distance yourself from them – not to punish them, but in a loving way that encourages their return to the arms of God through Jesus Christ. It’s always about the love.

If we remain at the side of God, ‘the day of the Lord’ is something that we can look forward to with rapt expectation…

Goodnight and God bless.

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September 14 2013 | experiencing god's love | No Comments »