“I have heard of one man who said that he did not like to prejudice his boy, so he would not say anything to him about religion! The devil, however, was quite willing to prejudice the lad, so very early in life he learned to swear, although his father had a foolish and wicked objection to teaching him to pray! If you ever feel it incumbent upon you not to prejudice a piece of ground by sowing good seed in it, you may rest assured that the weeds will not imitate your impartiality, but they will take possession of the land in a very sad and shocking manner! Where the plow does not go, and the seed is not sown, the weeds are quite sure to multiply—and if children are left untutored and untrained, all sorts of evils will spring up in their hearts and lives!
If a professedly Christian parent has not even put his children under godly tuition, what shall I say of him? He must be a Christian watered down to a very low point, or beaten out to extreme thinness. There must be very little, if any, Divine Grace left in such a man as that! We have known wealthy Christian men send their boys to school where the whole influence was altogether against religion, or else utterly neutral. Girls have sometimes been sent abroad to learn a foreign language in the midst of those who are steeped in gross error—and it does not seem to have occurred to the parents that they first ought to have cared about the souls of their daughters. Oh, dear me! Are such people as these worthy to be called Christians at all? Or do they merely wear the Christian label upon their breasts without having the Grace of God in their hearts?
Dear Brother or Sister, if you cannot speak to your own children altogether as you can wish about their souls, do follow the example of this man (in Matthew 17) and bring your dear ones to the disciples, that they may see what they can do for them in the Master’s name.”
Have you ever seen a magician? A magician’s tricks are all performed with the use of gimmicks. Sometimes the trick is in the wooden box, the black hat or some other device. Sometimes the gimmick is in the skill of the magician, his sleight of hand. Even with the use of carefully designed devices and a practiced hand, every magician relies on guiding the eyes of the audience. If you know where to look many magic tricks become obvious. A skilled magician knows how to turn the eyes away from his movements at the crucial moment. By controlling where you look the magician makes things seem different than they really are.
False teachers are masterful magicians. They turn the eyes of their audience away from the One that matters most. Their deceptions cause many to believe something that is not true. As Paul points out in Galatians 3:1 believing false doctrine is turning your gaze from Jesus to trust a trickster. Paul asks five questions of the duped Galatians. All five questions can be summed up in one. Who are you trusting?
Trusting Jesus for salvation excludes trusting all other gods, efforts, righteousness and personal entitlement. Trusting anything else for entrance into heaven excludes Jesus. Jesus’ work cannot be supplemented. Believing Jesus enables the person to perform deeds worthy of salvation rejects Jesus. To add anything from Jesus is to take away from Him. The insistence of something else as necessary declares Jesus is not enough. Either Jesus is the fulness of God, the author and finisher of the faith, and the one who filleth all in all or Jesus is not. There is no middle ground here. Jesus is either fully sufficient to save and keep saved or He is not. He either does all to save or He does not. He is either the only hope of eternal life or He is not. No matter how it may be spun, there are no other options. Trust Jesus alone for salvation or do not trust Jesus at all for salvation.
“We often . . . are willing to be fascinated and to turn our backs upon Jesus. Mysterious it is, for why should men cast away diamonds for paste? Mysterious it is, for we do not usually drop the substance to get the shadow. Mysterious it is, for a man does not ordinarily empty his pockets of gold in order to fill them with gravel. Mysterious it is, for a thirsty man will not usually turn away from the full, bubbling, living fountain, to see if he can find any drops still remaining, green with scum, stagnant and odorous, at the bottom of some broken cistern. But all these follies are sanity as compared with the folly of which we are guilty, times without number, when, having known the sweetness of Jesus Christ, we turn away to the fascinations of the world. “
– Alexander MacLaren
The Old Testament is immensely profitable for New Testament Christians. Having stated the obvious attention must be given to one of the threats to the American Christian’s benefiting from the Old Testament. The confusion of America with Israel severely undermines a proper understanding of the Old Testament. Sometimes this conflation is blatant by applying to America the promises and curses given to Israel. Sometimes it is more subtle by reading the Psalms as if they are about American Christians or by believing that being moral will automatically result in physical prosperity for our country. If America is going to be compared to the Old Testament the more accurate comparison is to the Gentile nations of Canaan or to Babylon.
America is not israel. We are not a covenant people. Even if one was to grant a Christian founding for our nation and to assume a pervasive Christianity until the mid-1900’s, this still does not make America a covenant nation with God. In the Old Testament God called out a person, a family, a tribe and a nation to be His people. He formed that people into a unique state that existed as a sovereign nation among the nations. He gave laws for that nation, made promises to that nation and marked that nation out as His own special treasure.
God has done none of those things with America. God’s covenant today is with the church. The church is not a tribe, an ethnicity, a biological family or a sovereign nation. Even if one believes the is Israel, America is not the church. We are not a nation called out by God to bring blessing to the entire world.
America is not the world. In some areas America still sets the trend for world culture, but the moral trends in America are not identical with the trends around the world. Some places are farther down the slope of sin, others are not. Some nations are violently opposed to all Christians, some are welcoming of Christianity. Some countries are seeing an increase of Godliness, some are not. America is one nation in the world. Though it is influential, God is not limiting His work in the world to what He does in and through America.
The plan of God, the fulfillment of the end times promises and the progress of the church is not directly tied to the Christianness of America. We are one nation, but not set apart by the covenant of God like Israel. We are one nation like England, Rome, Greece, Iran and Egypt. God’s plans do not rise and fall on America. For all we know America may be playing nothing more than a secondary role in the great theater of God’s eternal plan. For all we know America is the expendable crewman in God’s epic saga of redemption to show the world His incomprehensible, inconceivable, immeasurable glory.
We are Americans, but first we are Christians. We must never forget that the plan of God is far greater than this one nation. We love America, but our hopes are not in its moral, military or economic might. God’s plan to redeem men and usher in His glorious kingdom will be accomplished in exact accord with His will with or without America. As Christians we pray for our nation that it might be peaceful so we can proclaim the gospel without hindrance. If God choses to continue to allow Americans freedom, then we rejoice. If God choses to allow the ongoing dive into judgment, then we rejoice. Christians are a peculiar people. We are not a royal priesthood because we are Americans. We are a holy nation because God has called out us of darkness into His marvelous light. Christians are the people of God and nothing that happens in America can ever strip us of that eternal citizenship.
Jesus is creator of all. Few truths in the Bible have such monumental importance as this. Jesus’ work to redeem a people to Himself is repeatedly connected to His work to create all things. In Colossians 1:16 Paul gives a plain and exhaustive discussion of the extent of Jesus’ creation. If it is in heaven, Jesus created it. If it is in earth, Jesus created it. If it can be seen, Jesus created it. If it cannot be seen, Jesus created it. If it has rule, Jesus created it. If it has any realm of power, Jesus created it. If it has any importance, Jesus created it. If it has any authority, Jesus created it. All things, without a single exception, were created by him.
Jesus created all things, and He created it all for Himself. Nothing was created purposeless, it was created for Christ’s sake. Nothing was created for its own pleasure, it was created for Christ’s pleasure. He is the single aim of all creation. Creation is not first for human benefit. God did not put all things here to give mankind pleasure. Nature is not for man. Possessions are not for men. Wealth is not for personal pleasure. Family and friends are not for individual satisfaction. Creation does not exist to make man happy. Creation exists for Christ’s pleasure.
Not only were all things made by and for Him, but He also holds all things together. The hand of Christ is the only thing that keeps this world from flying apart. The protection of Christ is the only thing that keeps this earth moving safely in its course through space. All things stay together because Christ keeps them together. Without Him this world would be chaos, flying apart at the seams to its own destruction. Christ has the chief place in all creation because He made it all, He made it all for Himself and He keeps it together.
Nothing exists that is greater in power, authority, majesty, importance or position than Jesus. How can there be any thing that defies the success of Jesus? How can there be anything which keeps Him from doing all He desires? How can there be anything which hinders the fulfillment of His promises? How can there be anything which adds to the work He has accomplished? How can this One who is the perfect revelation of God, the Lord over all creation, the Creator of all things and the Sustainer of all things lack in any necessary thing? If Jesus cannot perform or provide, what creature could possibly fill up any thing which the Almighty might lack? Of all spurious ideas, none is more ridiculous than the folly that imagines a created being could produce something not given by the Creator. He is all!
Two different rationales are behind this question. Some see the moral corruption of the United States and conclude that it is under the judgment of God. If God is judging America wouldn’t praying for God to bless America be contrary to His will?
Some read the New Testament and realize the world will plummet further and further down in wickedness. The worldwide depravity will increase until it reaches its peak under the reign of the Antichrist. In the end God will bring judgment on the world through a series of horrible catastrophes. The judgment of God will be completed by the retunring Jesus who will conquer the Antichrist and will then bring all living men before Him for individual judgment. Since the world is on this unalterable collision course with Divine wrath, what is the point of praying for God to stay His judgment?
The mercy of God teaches Christians to pray for America and for the world. God delays His coming so men will have opportunity to repent. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Though God will bring judgment on this world He desires that all should turn to Him. We should pray in accord with God’s delight in repentanceTHe book of Ezekiel says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. He delights in the repentance of sinners. We should delight in the same and pray for the repentance of our nation.
Christians are commanded to pray for governments and for all men. The Roman Empire of the first century was more wicked and more hostile to Christians than America has ever been. To those living under the rule of debauched Rome God commaned, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) When Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians God commanded them “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7) Enslaved Israel was taught to pray for the peace and prosperity of her captor. God had had already foretold Babylon would be judged but still commanded the Israelites to pray for Babylon’s peace. Christian’s today should pray for the peace, not trouble, of our nation that we might live peaceful lives that further the preaching of the gospel.
Basic Christian compassion motivates prayer for our nation. All of God’s commands can be summed up in the phrase, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Even those Christians who feel that America has turned again them should be praying for America. Jesus said in Matthew 6, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” Christian’s ought to pray for this nation because we sincerely desire blessing and salvation for those around us.
The Christians is righteous because through Jesus we are dead to the law. All are condemned as guilty under the law. No Jew kept the law perfectly. No man keeps God’s law. God, in His mercy, included in the law provisions for the covering of guilt. The many sacrifices offered by the Israelites were all necessary because the law condemned each and every Jew. Every morning sacrifices were offered. Every evening sacrifices were offered. Sacrifices for sin were made over and over again. Sacrifices for impurity were made over and over again. Every year the sin of the nation was symbolically placed on a goat and that goat was driven out into the wilderness, taking their sin with it. Every year a sacrifice was made for the sin of the entire nation during that year. Every year the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on and around the mercy seat. The Israelites were constantly reminded that they were condemned by the law and under penalty of death.
The law did not only condemn. God provided substitutes that would die in place of the Israelites. Did you know God demanded the death of every firstborn in a household? He demanded the sacrifice of the first born sheep, the firstborn cow and the firstborn son. (Exodus 34:19-20) The eldest son in a family was under death. Yet God provided, no, God commanded the firstborn be redeemed. Every Israelite family knew the penalty of death. Every person in Israel knew God had provided a substitute. Instead of the person dying for his sin, a sacrifice died that his sin would be covered. Instead of the son dying a lamb died. The law did not only condemn the law provided for a substitute which would suffer death so another did not have to.
The law condemns all as guilty before God and sentences all to death. In Jesus, the penalty of the law has been met. Death has been suffered. Wrath has been appeased. Justice has been served. This is the importance of the first part of Galatians 2:20. “I am crucified with Christ”. If you are not crucified with Christ you are still under the penalty of the law. Jesus is our scapegoat, bearing on Himself our sin. Jesus is our atonement, paying the penalty of sin through His own death. Jesus is our redemption, dying in our place so we do not have to. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He is the substitute for all who believe Him.
Those who receive Jesus through faith are recipients of Jesus’ death and no longer under the penalty of the law. The law demanded death as payment for sin. The law provided for a substitute to die in the place of the condemned. Jesus is that substitute and the law has no more that it can do to those who have received Him. All who are crucified with Christ are through the law dead to the law because the demands of the law have been met. The law now has no more claim on you.
To navigate conversations in this postmodern world the Christian must never forget that truth comes from outside the person and from outside the world. American culture has long rejected a transcendent standard that defines truth. The pervasive rejection of objective, ultimate truth has inevitably eroded Christianity’s confidence in God’s truth. Christian’s must recapture the conviction that truth is absolute, authoritative and revealed by God.
Today a necessary component of renewing the mind is regaining the full realization that truth and error, right and wrong, moral and immoral are all defined by God and revealed through His Word. Truth and holiness are not defined by the person, the culture, the situation, feelings, potential outcomes, motives, personal identity, philosophy, science, newspapers, the internet, the government, might or mindset. Rightness is real and is anchored in the Reality who is the source of all that exists. Morality is defined by God who is the Author of all.
God is holy. God’s holiness is not a measure of His conformity to the moral law. God’s holiness is His nature. He is holy in His essence. God’s holiness cannot be separated from God as if it were a habit of living which could be put on or put off. God is not holy because everything He does is right, just and moral. God is holy because holiness is His nature. God cannot do that which is unholy because to do so would be to violate a basic essential of who He is. The essential quality of God’s holiness is foundational to absolute nature of right and wrong. Righteousness is the man-ward expression of God’s holiness. That which is right is that which agrees with the eternal character of God.
Think of a yard stick. A yard stick does not define a yard. A yard stick of 34 inches is not, in fact, a yard stick. Only that which conforms to 36 American inches is a yard. Likewise, only that which conforms to the measure of God’s holiness is holy. Some may claim an unholy action is holy and right. Any behavior which does not measure up to the standard of God’s holiness is not, in fact, holy. Any standard of rightness which falls to line up with God’s holiness is not right. Unlike God the yard is an an arbitrary determination of a standard of measurement. The length of a yard was last determined by an international agreement and its long history is punctuated with various decrees specifying it’s exact length. God’s righteousness is not defined by tribunal, council or agreement. God’s righteousness is not measured by anything external to Himself. God is holy and His holiness is the yardstick. He is the very law by which right and wrong are measured.
Sin is unholy because it is contrary to the character of God. Sin has bad consequences and has wrought havoc on the world, but God did not declare sin to be sin because He knew it would have negative consequences. Sin is evil and has negative consequences because it acts contrary to the perfect character of God. God is the ultimate standard by which everything is judged. This is true in science, in philosophy and in morals. This means that what God has declared to be right or is right because God has declared it ot be so. What God has declared to be wrong is wrong because God has declared it to be so. Right and wrong are eternally rooted in the unchanging character of God not the fickle opinions of men.
The American system of justice declares that a person once declared not guilty of a crime can never again be tried for that crime. Even if he were later to confess to the crime he can in no way face criminal prosecution for that crime of which he has been declared not guilty. When the judge makes the declaration of “not guilty” a legal decree is made which can not be altered.
At salvation believers are declared not guilty by God. Not just not guilty for one sin, or some sins, but for all sin. All Christians are declared to be not guilty of being sinners or any of the wicked deeds, words, attitudes and desires that flow out of the inherent sin nature. In the court of heaven God decrees you are not guilty. For anything. Ever. At all. No matter what.
Justification is goes beyond being found not guilty. Justification is the Divine declaration of a person’s righteousness. When one is saved, God, as Judge of all, declares he is righteous. When God declares a person righteous He is not speaking a pleasant fiction that believers hope will one day become true. God’s declaration of the Christian’s righteousness is reality. God miraculous intervenes in the heart of the person to create in him that which was not.
God’s justification is more than a dusty statement that gets put on an official form and filed in an official filing cabinet in some official basement somewhere. What God decrees becomes reality. God spoke and out of nothing the universe came into existence. God spoke and out of darkness light shone forth. The prophecies of Scripture are as certain as if they had already happened. God’s promises are not maybe’s they are definitely’s. God’s decrees are those things which will come to pass.
When God declares a person righteous that person becomes truly righteous. The Christian is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. The believer is given a righteous heart. God begins a transformation which conforms the believers behavior to the righteousness which he possesses within. God gives the Christian the Holy Spirit as the certification that the person will be made perfectly righteous in mind and body as well as in heart and soul. Justification is God’s declaration that His child is now righteousness which results in the person becoming righteous in every facet of his being. Before salvation there was nothing but the darkness of sin when God speaks the light of righteousness springs forth.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
Some have described Christians as living in an already/not yet relationship to Jesus’ kingdom. I believe Jesus will return sometime in the future to establish a physical reign over the entire world. His reign will complete the fulfillment of all the promises given to Israel through Abraham, Moses, David and the other prophets. The worldwide kingdom of Jesus will fulfill the promise of a geographic territory held by the Israelites and it will fulfill the promise of an eternal king descended from who David who rules over Israel from Jerusalem. Jesus’ kingdom is still to come and His kingdom will be a physical kingdom. This coming kingdom is different from Jesus’ reign over all things as God. He is truly Sovereign over everything, but His Sovereignty is not visible or acknowledged by most of mankind. In Jesus’ kingdom His reign will be visible and will be acknowledged by all on the earth.
The nature of the Christian’s relationship to Jesus’ promised kingdom raises some challenging questions. 1 Peter says Christians are, like Israel (Exodus 19:6), a holy nation and a peculiar people for Him. Hebrews says we are entered into the New Covenant. The New Covenant was a part of the promises of the Messiah’s kingdom given to the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah. The promise of the New Covenant is a new heart that desires to obey the law of God. Christians are entered into that Covenant because they are new creatures in Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit who gives us the desire and ability to obey God. Paul says that we are citizens together with believing Jews, part of the temple of God, grafted into the promises given to Abraham and brought into unity with the Jews. The New Testament believer is presently a citizen of a kingdom. This kingdom is being readied but it has not yet been realized. The King has been declared but not crowned. The kingdom has been defined but not conquered. The kingdom of which the Christian is a part is a physical kingdom which will one day be established on this earth. The Christian will enter the promised kingdom when Jesus returns, defeats the armies of the antichrist and reigns from Jerusalem as King Supreme over the world.
In 1776 “our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal”. The declaration of independence severed the 13 colonies from England. The Revolutionary War did not end for seven years. The US Constitution was not ratified until twelve years after the Declaration of Independence. George Washington was not inaugurated until 1789. During that period of time the nation was in great turmoil. It could have fallen back under the heel of England. Those who rebelled against the tyranny of England were in fact citizens of a nation which had not yet been formed. The relationship of the Christian to Jesus’ kingdom can be likened to the relationship of Benjamin Franklin to the United States of America in the 1780’s. The Christian’s citizenship in this coming kingdom is real though the kingdom does not yet exist.
Mythology tells of a Greek king named Sisyphus who angered the gods. His cruelty and cunning caused Zeus to sentence him to an eternity of punishment. Sisyphus was forever condemned to push a boulder up a hill. Whenever he managed to reach the top the boulder would roll back down and he would have to push it back up again. Trying to become righteous by keeping the law is like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up hill. It is an impossible task. The self righteous life is one doomed to constant turmoil. It is a life of hopelessness and perpetual failure. There is no gospel more cruel than the one that promises eternal life by your own works and obedience. This wicked gospel promises freedom, it offers hope of success, it assures the person of true freedom all while wrapping him in eternal chains. The gospel of works, of obedience, of merit, of “I think I’m good enough” is a fraud that terrorizes the soul.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is very different. The gospel brings liberty. The gospel frees from the slavery of the impossible. The gospel of Jesus does not offer false promises about your ability and goodness. The gospel of Jesus convicts of sin. The gospel of Jesus persuades of your own inability. Only when you first realize your guilt and the impossibility of making yourself right with God can you be saved. The gospel of Jesus frees from the effort to always be keeping the law. The gospel of Jesus frees from the slavery of trying to perform the impossible. The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ completed work. The gospel of Jesus gives liberty. The gospel is the promise of righteousness given by God, kept by God and eternally perfected by God. This freedom from the bondage of saving oneself is the liberty of grace and the freedom of Jesus Christ.