Monday, May 3, 2021

All things are lawful but...

    1Corinthians 6:12

    All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 

    1 Corinthians 10:23

    All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

What are these verses saying and why are they saying basically the exact same thing in different ways, and in two totally different locations (four chapters apart) within this letter? 

Like all passages, context -  historical or cultural setting - is key to accurately understand their meaning. 

The Corinthian believers were having a unique issue with being distracted and living lives somewhat out of control, more than many other churches Paul ministered to. In part because Corinth was a hub of commerce ripe with both material and sensual distractions as well as idol worship. As a result, Paul felt it necessary to help them understand that even though they are under grace there are consequences to living contrary to God's design and righteous standard - i.e. the law.

What is interesting is what these verses have in common is very instructive in determining what is meant by their differences.

The first (chapter 6) talks about not being dominated (ruled/controlled) by something and the latter (chapter 10) about how some things do not “build up” or strengthen us in our walk with God.

One emphasizes how some things we experience externally have a bad effect on us - dominate us. The other about how some things hinder something good internally - being built up. 

How does the first part of these two passages relate to the last part of each?

Even though we are free in Christ and can never do anything to cause his love to stop or be separated from us, living contrary to God's direction/law still has negative consequences. We may go to heaven if we die from jumping off a building, but we still die. Being perfectly free (legally) to do anything we want does not necessarily mean doing it is good for us. It can result in us being dominated by those things and hindered from being built up our relationship with God - i.e. doing things can't and won't be legally held against us because Christ already fully satisfied the requirements of the law but just because it is lawful in this sense, does not mean it is good or helpful. 

Our good standing before God, as His beloved children, is legally and fully established in Christ. Simply stated, because of Christ, we have been declared righteous by God himself. Nothing we do or don't do will affect this status. We are perfectly accepted and fully received as children of God no matter what we do or experience or don't. 

Paul's point is in Christ nothing we do or don't do will be legally held against us. i.e. All things are lawful,”  

To say all things are lawful, though true, is also shocking. But Paul deliberately says it this way to drive home the completeness of Christ's work. 

The fact that it's also in quotes indicates it was a popular saying among the Corinthians and apparently was being used to justify all kinds of destructive behavior.

The equally important point Paul seeks to drive home is living any way we wish is not in our best interests no more than a child in a candy or toy store doing as he wishes is in his. As our loving Father, he gives us direction to avoid what is harmful i.e. things (idols) that could dominate us and hinder our pursuit of Christ.

Paul is simply addressing the debate on the interplay of grace and law. Being under grace does not mean the law no longer has value or should be ignored. What has changed is how we approach or relate to the law, not the law itself. 

We are not under grace to do *anything we want. The very reason we are under grace is so we might naturally - or rather supernaturally - and organically fulfill the law in all our words and actions. 

When we understand the law is merely an expression of God's loving will and direction for us, this makes even more sense i.e.  It is not a requirement or demand to be met but loving instructions to guide, direct and protect us. In short, we are wise not to ignore God's law. To say it positively, we are wise to give the law our utmost attention. 

The ultimate end of all God's directions is that we love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. This is a good thing, not bad. It is not just honoring to God, but good for us and our neighbor. Living according to God's law/directions does not cause God to love us more but it does result in us experiencing more of that love. 

The question isn't whether we are allowed - is it lawful - to do certain things or not but does our conduct hinder or strengthen our walk and relationship with God and better enable us to honor him. All things being lawful does not mean all things are good for us.

For a discussion on walking in the Spirit and not under the law click here

For a discussion on if obedience matters, click here

For a further discussion on law and grace click here

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*The interesting part is when we truly understand grace we only want to please God i.e. do what he wants us to do. It is counterintuitive.  Or as Paul said, "the goodness of God leads to repentance..." 


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Being devalued

When you are wronged you are being devalued. i.e. you're being treated as unimportant - insignificant, worthless; as if you don't matter.

Why is this wrong? Because you do matter; you have value and significance.

Why are *we valuable and significant? Because God is the most valuable and most significant of all, and He made us like himself - in His image. Therefore, we have intrinsic value. Our intrinsic value is not based on something you or I do but who we are, who God created us to be i.e. like Himself - in His image.

Why did God make us this way?

So we can participate in who he is as the most significant and valuable Being of all, in order to enjoy the eternal bliss (happiness) within the community of Father, Son, and Spirit.

And when we do, we reflect His value and significance back to Him and out to others like nothing else in creation i.e. only we are created in His image. The only other being described this way is the Son of God. 

To treat someone who is God-like with honor and dignity - which is rightfully theirs as God's image-bearer - honors God and others for who they truly are, i.e. as significant and valuable. God being the most high, most significant, and humanity being like him. 

Our most basic value has to do with who we are, who we were created to be by the infinitely valuable/supreme God, not in what we do. We can only do, because of who we are 1st. And we can do as we were designed to only if and when empowered by God's Love-Spirit. Our value may be expressed and displayed by what we do but is not the grounds for it. God and who he made us to be, is the basis for our value.

When we see this we understand why loving God with all we are and have and our neighbor as ourselves is the 1st and 2nd greatest commandment and why the 2nd follows the 1st. Everything about who we are and what we do must start with God, and return back to Him for from him, through him, and to him are all things. To him be all glory (honor) forever! Amen!

In summary, there are 4 reasons we are valuable and significant!

God is a being of infinite value and significance, and we are like Him. This is who we are and has nothing to do with our actions i.e. what we do. 

Because we are like God we can partake in and enjoy His value and significance, in a way no other being other than himself can. 

And we can bring joy to God by enjoying, trusting, and following His directions...

Thereby reflecting God's value and significance to others

Because this is true of all men and women before they come to Christ they can reflect Him in an even more significant way once they are restored to a right relationship with Him by being empowered by his Love/Spirit. They can bear good fruit thereby reflecting and honoring God, their infinitely valuable Creator, like nothing else in Creation can since nothing else is created like God; in His image. 

We alone are like God i.e. in his image. To not be treated accordingly is a huge violation/offense against us - who we are - and against our Creator who made us this way.

For further discussions on our value click 


Friday, March 19, 2021

The law, grace, and God's will

We cannot see or receive the full demands of the law until we grasp the fullness of God's *grace. Without a clear grasp of grace, the **law crushes us.

However, in order to have a clear understanding of God's direction and will, we must have a clear understanding of the law. The law spells out, in no uncertain terms, the conduct God desires and designs for us. That conduct and design are God's expressed, revealed, or written will - vs his secret, vocational or providential will. 

But we cannot receive the direction of the law the right way until we have a clear grasp of grace. Both the law and grace are vital in our relationship with God and must be held in tension. It is easy to fall on one side or the other i.e. legalism or antinomianism

Walking with God by grace is truly freeing. Once we fully grasp God's infinite grace, we will never be the same. There is no longer any condemnation, only full acceptance by God in and through Christ. 

But that doesn't mean walking with God is mushy or wishy-washy. It is solid and has teeth. Because God's law clearly lays out how we are to operate according to His design, to not live by it is to our harm, loss, or eventual destruction. Living contrary to His design-will-law matters, similar to using equipment according to the owner's manual matters. If the equipment doesn't operate as it was designed, it eventually breaks down or worse. Not operating according to the manual (the "law" on how the equipment works best) always results in negative consequences.

If we are to know and walk with God well, we must know and walk with him exactly as he prescribes. The law isn't a list of recommendations. To operate optimally, we must operate according to His direction, which is also according to our design, i.e. in the way He designed us to operate. Walking with God is grounded in truth/reality, not a lie. There are no ambiguities within God or his direction. Any ambiguities lie only within us and our lack of understanding of God; his directions, design, and purpose.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1‭-‬4 ESV  


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. Matthew 5:17 ESV

 

For a discussion on legalism click here

For a discussion on walking in the spirit and not under the law click here

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*Grace consists of God fully receiving us in all our brokenness and having his eyes set upon us in perfect care and love even when we stray...no, actually... especially when stray.

This is only because Christ fully satisfied the demands of God's law on our behalf and credited us with His perfect obedience as if it was our own. In Christ, God now sees and receives us as perfect. He could not set his love upon us otherwise.

**By law, I mean God's moral standard - not any ceremonial rituals that were done away with by Christ completing them. 

God's moral standard is summed up in the greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the 2nd which is like it... loving our neighbor as ourselves. This is what we are called to live out, not in order to be received by God but because we already have been fully and perfectly received in Christ.




Wednesday, February 24, 2021

acceptance vs pleasing

What is the difference between being accepted (received by) someone and pleasing them i.e. bringing them joy?

God fully accepts us

We are told God fully accepts us if we are in Christ. Nothing we do, say, or go through will make this more or less so than it already is. In the eyes of God, we are perfect and fully loved as if we are perfect (even though we are not).

We can please Him 

However, as our loving Father (parent), he is always delighted when we faithfully pursue Him and His directions (commands). This doesn't mean he loves us more for doing so, it means we experience and participate in His love more fully which brings Him greater joy.  

This isn't hard to understand when we consider our own kids. Because they are our kids, who we love dearly, we always want what's best for them no matter what. In fact, when they go down a path we know is *not good for them, our love is expressed even more by the ache it causes us and any actions we take that might help prevent their harm - even if it causes them lesser pain to avoid a greater pain. We simply do not want our kids to be harmed *if at all possible. 

And when they return and acknowledge they have been on the wrong path, are we not delighted? Yes, but why? 

Just as the father of the prodigal son was delighted to see his son return - so much so that he ran to him when he saw him a far way off (why do you think he spotted him so far away? He was scanning the horizon hoping and looking for his return). In this way our heavenly Father delights in us when we return to pursue and honor him. He knows our doing so is in our best interest as well as for his greatest glory.

If this is the kind love we have for our kids - imperfect as we and our love are - how much more so is this the kind of love our perfect heavenly Father has for us.

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:7-11

For a discussion on whether God's love is conditional or unconditional click here  

For a discussion on being under grace and not the law click here

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*we know that pain can be a good teacher, so we may allow our kids to make mistakes and simply make ourselves available to comfort them when they return and seek it and us.  

As a child, when my dad spanked me, he would say something like "this hurts me more than it does you."  I would think to myself "sure it does dad" having no idea what he meant. Once I had my own kids I understood. He was inflicting a smaller pain to prevent me from experiencing a much greater pain if I continued on the destructive course I was on.

When my kids were young we had a golden retriever named Buddy. Though he was a great dog he had absolutely zero street sense. He had wandered into the street on several occasions and at this point had been hit at least 3 times. As a result, he was once laid up for almost a month from one incident. 

One day he had gotten off his chain and had bolted for the street. I ran after him screaming "stop Buddy" and was able to grab him right before he ran into traffic. I yanked him into the yard and grabbed a small branch from the tree and swatted his backside until he yelped. My 2nd son yelled "stop! You're hurting him, dad." To which I replied, "exactly!" Then I explained to David by causing Buddy a little pain now it may prevent him from going into the street again and getting killed... a far more significant harm. I asked my son which was more acceptable to him, for Buddy to get killed or to experience a little pain now that might prevent him from being killed in the future. He got it. 

God desires our highest good and knows that He alone is that highest good and we experience him most fully in our faithful pursuit of him. When we veer off that path He will either allow us to suffer the consequences (if they are not too severe) so we learn to more faithfully pursue him or deliberately and directly chasten us - remember it is those who God loves that he corrects. However, when we are faithfully pursuing him, this pleases him because he knows it not only brings him his highest and rightful honor but also is our greatest good. This has nothing to do with whether he does or doesn't accept and love us and everything to do with the fact that he already perfectly does in Christ. The fruit of knowing we are perfectly loved is faithfulness to the only one who loves us perfectly.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Why Christ must be the only way

"By the works of the law no one will be justified…" i.e. declared righteous, whole; be in right standing with God; accepted and approved by God.


When we understand what Paul is saying, we realize that our only hope or chance of wholeness/contentment (justification) is through Christ - his right efforts done on our behalf, and *assigned to us as a gift. There is no other way to God. Every other way - i.e. religion (even some so-called versions of Christianity) - involves justification by works - i.e. being made acceptable to God through our efforts. Paul clearly says in the above quote this is not possible. No efforts (works) by us of any kind can cause God to accept us in our unredeemed condition. 

All other ways believe that God's acceptance of us - our becoming whole - is based on our performance/efforts/"works." Only Christ offers justification - being complete - as a gift received by faith i.e. based on our recognizing the need for and accepting the promise of perfect righteousness and love offered as a giftThere are no exceptions.

Christ is the only way to God simply because only Christ did what was necessary to restore us back to God. No one else did and can do what he did. If for no other reason than He is eternal God as well as a man. He alone fulfilled the just requirements of **honoring God perfectly by loving His Father with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. So much so he died as a result. No one else ever has or ever will do this. He is the only one. Now He offers to assign this perfectly lived out (righteousness) life to us as a gift who haven't earned it, lived it, or deserve it...or ever can or will. Christ is the only solution and only hope.

There is no other solution simply because we could never do this ourselves. Without Christ doing this for us we could never be restored to right standing with God - resulting in wholeness and true contentment. All of us miss the mark and come up short, without exception - every one of us.

To acknowledge this doesn't sit well with our rebellious independence and attempts to be our own god i.e. our own deliverer and provider. This was the disposition first expressed by Adam and has continued to this very day. We all have it. 

Those who object to Christ's claim of being the only way, do not understand - and refuse to believe - that outside of Christ there is no other way to God because only Christ did what we or the various religious leader couldn't do. 

Simply stated, "other ways" do not understand or acknowledge justification by faith but think there is a way to possibly justify ourselves by finding a path - any path will do - that will cause, force, or require God (or the universe or whatever else they believe) to receive us (align us with e.g. "the force" or source if you prefer). They say the path doesn't matter, but how faithful you are to that path. The problem with this view is it's not about how well you walk a path, it's about not recognizing you never will walk any path well enough to honor God as He deserves. Only Christ did this and only he has the right to bestow this to us as a gift. Only he can justify us...we can never justify ourselves.

Outside of Christ, there is no path back to God. It simply does not exist. It's not a matter of Christ being another way to God out of many. It is that he is the only way to God. The only way we can be restored to right standing with God is by receiving His free offer - which only he earned - of justification by faith. Thats it!  Christ alone did for us what we could not and cannot do for ourselves. Outside of Christ we have no hope of restoration to God. He alone gives true and lasting contentment.

This is good news for anyone who will humble themselves, recognizing their need for this and receive his offer. When they do they will be made right and restored back to God. 

But this is bad news for the arrogant and self righteous who believe they can save themselves i.e. gain a good standing with God - become approved (aligned with) and accepted by him (or the "force" or karma etc.) - by being good enough.  As long as they are faithful to their path, whatever path that is, they will be OK. To say their path won't work requires them to admit they can never be good enough. This is the real issue and objection. No one likes to hear this. This is at the heart of their objection to Christ being the only way.

The real issue of Christ being the only way is we stubbornly refuse to accept (believe) we cannot justify ourselves. This cuts to the heart of our arrogance and stubborn belief that with enough time and effort we can somehow ***be made right with God and save ourselves - enter Nirvana...become self-actualized... if we do enough rosaries, hail Mary's, or any other promise of self-salvation offered. 

Our real problem isn't that Christ is the only way to God but that in order for us to be restored back to God at all, it must be done for us, not by us. God must do it because we cannot. We do not like being told we are not the captain of our own ship or destiny i.e. we are not our own god but must answer to another; to the Creator and Sustainer of life, love, and all things. 

We are not that person and never will be regardless of what path we take and how hard we pursue it.

If in fact Christ was simply another way of gaining a right standing with God through right conduct, it is understandable why some would see Him as simply one among many ways to God. But this is not what Christ says or offers. Christ said He was the way to God. Or to use Paul's words, "By the works of the law no one will be justified."

For a further discussion and what it means to be righteous click here

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*Honor he rightfully deserves as the Giver and Sustainer of all things.  

**When we accept Christ's free offer of restoration to God we are acknowledging that we cannot restore ourselves. This is a posture of humility.

***Or at least if I do more good than bad things it will be enough to offset the bad things. Christ didn't do more good things than bad, he lived for God's honor and glory perfectly. This perfection is what God's perfection calls for and requires to be made right with Him. And thanks to Christ has been lived out for is and offered to us as a gift. In Christ, we are now perfectly righteous if and when we receive this gift.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The 2nd is like unto it...

Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him (Jesus) to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He (Jesus) said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

27 And he (the lawyer) answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and

with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

You have likely heard this passage often. Maybe even memorized it. However, it is worth pointing out this is not exactly how it's originally presented in the OT.

Deut 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Notice what is missing? I added the context of verses 6 - 9 so it's more obvious. What is not mentioned in this OT passage? Right. There is no mention of loving your neighbor in the immediate context, the chapteror even the entire book.

In all three NT passages loving our neighbor is *added as if they are quoted together. In Luke, the lawyer talking with Christ adds it and Christ agrees. Did this lawyer get it wrong? No, Christ agreed that this commandment is the second greatest. In fact, in the other two accounts Christ lists them together himself

But all these accounts also say the second is like, but not equal to the first. If you look around more in the OT there is definite mention of loving our neighbor but not neatly together and in the immediate context with the greatest commandment as we see it in these three NT accounts. In fact, it is mentioned in Leviticus,  an entirely different book.

My point? The second is *only the second. It is like the first, but not equal to it. It comes after, for a reason i.e. the second will not and can not happen as God intends unless the first happens... first.

Why do I raise this? Because we sometimes hear in the church, an equal emphasis on the 2nd or it is brought up without ever mentioning the 1st as if it isn't tied to and dependent on it (Christ clearly ties these together in the order he does for good reason. Loving God 1st is vital). As a result, we can lose sight of the first; of the necessity of it being first. And when we do we can turn this into a performance-based activity, as if we must do it to be loved and accepted by God - as we are inclined to do with every other commandment of God.

Why do we do this? Because we are prone to do it. In our fallen and rebellious state, we tend to turn every commandment into a way I can be my own god, my own savior, my own deliverer, provider i.e. we seek to be independent of God, operating in our own power. So it is when we come to God's commandments also. We treat them as some kind of hoop we must jump through to make ourselves acceptable to God and our fellow man. We are prone to use any and all of God's commandments to earn God's acceptance - and sadly think we can - instead of obedience being the fruit and expression of God's acceptance of us in Christ. We are naturally inclined to read scripture through a performance-based lens, even as his redeemed children and more so if we are not his. This is our natural orientation since the rebellion in Eden, which we should always be on our guard against. It is also an affront to Christ and the very gospel of grace that God has provided for us in Him.

So if loving our neighbor is not 1st, how is it like the first? 

It is an expression of love. Both are about love, but love in its proper order. As scripture clearly states, we love God because he first loved usThe second is tied to the 1st by flowing out of it. We are not the source of love, God is. This is received love that is vertical and comes from above. That is why the first command is the first - and must always be the 1st - and the second is the second and only like the first. The 2nd is the horizontal love that flows out of us to our fellow man due to our connection vertically with God himself, the only source of love, life, and all things. To him alone be all the glory for he alone deserves it - is worth it.

Related discussions:

Love is power

Empowered by what?

It all depends on God and you.

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*If the 2nd commandment is not in the original context, why would Christ add it? I think the point Christ is making is loving our neighbor is evidence that we truly love God as the greatest commandment tells us to. It is the natural out flow of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

**Even though it is the 2nd, Christ ties it to the 1st for a good reason. It is the natural outflow of and progression from the 1st. As Christ said, in these two commandments all the others are summed up. In fact in the letter of 1st John it is evidence we are engaged in the 1st and the fruit of it i.e. If the 2nd is not happening it is because the 1st is not either. Nevertheless the 2nd cannot occur as God intends unless it flows out of the 1st.

How can all the commandments be summed up in these two?  Everything God calls (commands) us to be and do involves our love of God and our love of man, and in this order.



Saturday, January 16, 2021

How do we best impact the world for God's glory?

How do you or I best impact the world for God's glory?

By shining God forth in a way most suitable to our abilities, gifts, talents, resources, and experience. No matter who you are or what you do - be that a truck driver, a sales person, a surgeon, a homemaker and spouse, a cashier, or an author etc. - do all to the glory of God. 

The good news is we are not rewarded based on our gifts but our *faithfulness. In this sense, we are all equal and on a level playing field. Bringing God honor has nothing to do with our "station" in life but our heart i.e. why we act. The more we use whatever gifts God has given us, for His glory, the greater our reward. The widow's mite would be the perfect example. 

In so doing, we must also recognize we will encounter resistance - thorns, and thistles - in our efforts, no matter what we do. Even if you are doing what you love to do there are still mistakes, failures, accidents, loss, damage etc. 

A difficult path does not mean it's the wrong path. We are not supposed to quit because we encounter difficulties, it simply means we're broken and live in a broken world. Christ said, "in this world, you will have trouble (tribulation)..." It is inevitable. There is no "if" or "when" we will encounter challenges, only how we will. 

Persisting in using what God has given you in the face of great opposition actually brings Him greater honor and glory. It shows you value him and desire to honor Him more than the comfort you set aside to pursue him - i.e. your desire to show him forth out of love for him is greater than any distaste of pain you may encounter doing so.

So whatever you set your hand to do, do it with persistence, faith, and for his honor. And when you're done he will tell you "well done good and faithful servant..." enter into your rest and reward. Rest implies there was struggle in  accomplishing your task. Not just any task but a good and right one.

There is no complete avoidance of pain in this life. That comes later.  For now, we have the opportunity to "fill up" the sufferings of Christ and let them prepare us to take part in heavenly glory, when we are face to face with God himself. 

For a further discussion on what it means to be broken click here

For a discussion on the nature of our reward click here

For a further discussion on being in God's will click here

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*The truck driver who seeks to honor God in all he says and does will be honored by God and told "well done good and faithful servant" - while the author who sells many bestsellers that lead people away from God will not.