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The Blessing of the New Covenant – Isaiah 55 (Part 3 of 3)

Isaiah 53 presents the work of Christ and how He bore our transgressions and took away our guilt. The New Testament affirms the reality of this truth and shows how it applies to our lives. One thing that stands out in these Messianic prophecies is that they are directed to the Jewish nation of Israel. Of course, as you read through these, the Bible makes it clear these are not merely for the Jews, but rather it is through them that God would deliver the New Covenant that all nations shall enter.

If you read the book of Acts you will see that the early church had a difficult time understanding that the New Covenant was not only a Jewish promise. The apostles of Jesus helped the church understand this by pointing to the promises which said, “In Him shall the Gentiles trust,” and as we read earlier, Christ’s atonement was for the sprinkling of the nations. The Bible goes on to say that in Christ, no one is viewed as male or female, imprisoned or free, or Jew or Gentile. We are all one in Christ. There are no races, denominations, class distinctions, or hierarchies. We are of the same body with gifts and callings that work in agreement with the whole body.

Keep these things in mind as you study through these prophecies. They are often directed toward the people of the Old Covenant, but through them, the New Covenant is delivered which includes all people, nations, races, classes, and any other distinction man uses to create divisions.

Most of the Old Testament examples are testimonies of what God was doing to prepare the way for us, the people of the New Covenant of Christ. In the passage we are about to read, this is also true. The Old Testament people fell under the wrath of judgment because of their sin against the law, but only for the purpose of revealing the end of wrath in the New Covenant. The same is true for you and I. Let’s begin with Ephesians 2:3-6

3 [W]e all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

You were once children of wrath when you were in sin. Not sins, but in sin. Under the law, you were under the wrath of God, for sin is imputed against all those who are under the law. As we read in the previous message, where there is no law, sin is not imputed. But once we are in Christ, we are justified – or counted as just – for the law has been satisfied. The wages of sin, which is death, was satisfied through Christ’s death, and once we are in Christ, we have passed from the death of the flesh to the life in the Spirit. This is why we escape wrath. This is reiterated in Romans 5:9

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

We were under wrath because we were in sin. Now we are MUCH MORE justified by His blood. It isn’t the equal force of righteousness butting against an equal force of sin. It is the abundance of righteousness plowing over sin. We have much more righteousness than we ever had sin. For a moment, we were overwhelmed by sin, but when God’s grace enters, the moment has passed and the eternal has begun. This is the promise foretold in Isaiah 54:7-10

7 “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you.
8 With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” Says the LORD, your Redeemer.
9 “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; For as I have sworn That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, So have I sworn That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.
10 For the mountains shall depart And the hills be removed, But My kindness shall not depart from you, Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” Says the LORD, who has mercy on you.

This promise emerges after the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. Jesus bore our transgressions and was punished for our sin. The chastisement for our peace was laid on Him. Once Jesus made an end to sin, the promise above is born. For a moment we were under wrath because of sin, but once we are in Christ, everlasting favor has begun.

In the early church after the New Covenant was given, there was a big push to reintroduce the law to Christians. Jewish Christians raised under the Old Covenant were law-minded and had a difficult time believing the work of Christ fulfilled all the law. The Gentile Christians were pressured by Jewish Christians to submit back under the law. This created a lot of conflict between the apostles and the legalists of the first century church.

Legalism has always been a point of confusion in the church, but in our era, there has been a return to the law and Christians are being pressured to return to Hebrew roots and several growing movements are teaching grace gives us power to keep the law.

When a Christian submits themselves under the law, they are denying the work of Christ. If Jesus fulfilled the law and you are called the justified by God because you put your trust in Christ’s finished work, then to depart from that trust is to fall from grace. This is exactly what the letter to the Galatian church was addressing. “You have fallen from grace, you who try to keep the law.” Many Christians are being persuaded to trust in the law and are also falling from grace. Christians simply don’t understand that the law was completely satisfied in Christ, and the law has come to an end for those who are in Christ. Let’s let the Bible explain. Look at Romans 8:2

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Recently I had a Jewish Christian write me a rebuttal of more than twenty pages that made the argument that we have to keep the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament where the law was given – in order to stay in a right standing with God. He argued that the law of sin and death came to an end, but not the portions of the law that makes us righteous.

Every scripture he shared was out of the Old Testament. What those who focus on the law and how they are attempting to keep it is that all the law points us to Christ. The Bible calls the law our tutor which brings us to Christ. What this critic of grace doesn’t understand is that the law makes no one righteous. The Bible tells us that the law never justifies a person. Look at Romans 3:20

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

It is as we examined earlier. The law was given that sin might appear to be sin. We think we are righteous until the full measure of the law comes in. Then it reveals that we cannot be righteous. The law does not make sinners into saints. It reveals to those who think they are saints that they are in fact sinner. It’s like the rich young ruler that came to Jesus claiming he had kept the whole law. When Jesus asked if he had loved his neighbor as himself, the man said, “I have done this from my youth up.”

In his self-justification mindset, he believed that because he gave more to the poor than other people, he was fulfilling the law. But the law doesn’t say to do more than others. It said to love your neighbor as yourself. How could he be rich and his neighbor poor if he is fulfilling the law? That’s when Jesus issued the challenge to sell all and give to the poor. That is when the law made the man who thought he was righteous into a failure, and he walked away defeated. The law is intended to show us that if man wants to be like God, this is what he must do. Perfection, absolute perfection is the standard. It isn’t doing better than those you are comparing yourself to. It isn’t doing your best. The law asks one question, “Are you in perfect standing without spot or blemish?” If not, you can’t attain to salvation by human effort.

That is when the work of Christ is unveiled. Here are your two choices – be perfect, or trust in Christ’s perfection. Pay for your sins, or trust in Christ’s payment for your sins. Once we are in Christ, we are no longer under the law of sin and death – which is our condemnation. Not only that, but we are no longer under the law’s demand for our righteousness. Look at Romans 10:4

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

So you can see that not only has the law of sin and death come to an end in Christ, but so has the law’s demand for our righteousness. Legalists are missing half the gospel. Jesus did not only take away our sins. Jesus also gave us His righteousness. Take this passage to heart, 2 Corinthians 5:21

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The law of your sin has come to an end in Christ, for as we read previously, “He who has died has been set free from sin.” You died in Christ and are freed from sin. But that’s only half the message. The other half is you were raised with Christ into new life. That new life is born in the righteousness of God. The Bible doesn’t say to become righteous for God. It says you are the righteousness of God in Christ. It’s God’s righteousness. Even Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.” You are not seeking your righteousness, but by faith you are seeking the gift of righteousness that makes you in perfect standing with God. This is also explained in 1 John 4:17

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.

As Jesus is, so are you in this world. It doesn’t say you will be as He is in heaven. You are already in the reality of eternity now, but without faith it cannot profit you. You are already complete in Him. The Bible promises that just as sin once reigned in your mortal body, no righteousness reigns much more in you through Christ. You are MUCH MORE justified in Him.

Not only has the judgment passed, but it can NEVER return. It has passed and is sustained by the promise of God. Grace is under the surety of God’s promise. The rainbow was given after the worldwide flood of Noah’s day. Never again will the earth be flooded to wipe out all life. That promise is certain and will never be broken. The rainbow stands as a testimony to God’s sure promise. Now the cross stands as the testimony of God’s sure promise.

Just as the world CANNOT be extinguished again by a flood, you and I CANNOT be under the condemnation of sin again – EVER. It is as sure as the promise given to Noah. God has promised you that He will NEVER be angry at you again. God has sworn that He will NEVER rebuke you again with is wrath. The rebuke here is the image of a judge punishing an offender.

That is indeed good news, but wait, there’s more! When God is pouring out His favor, it is never merely a sufficient dose; it is always abundantly above what we could think or ask. You ask for forgiveness, thinking that escaping judgment was sufficient. But God not only forgave, but poured out the abundance of His favor upon you. And then God says, “I am swearing an oath to you that as sure as the world cannot be flooded again, I cannot withdraw my favor again.” Grace is irrevocable. It’s irrevocable because it is based on the certainty of God and not the weakness of man.

Even if the mountains of the earth could be shaken away and removed, His kindness and favor (grace) cannot be removed. God’s promise of kindness is more certain than the mountains. The New Covenant, paid for and sealed with God’s own blood, can never end. It is sealed and guaranteed by God – not by your performance. When you fail, and you will, it does not affect God’s covenant, for you are not the guarantee of His covenant of peace. Let’s look at a passage that identifies and overcomes the reason most Christians fail to experience the life of peace. Look at 1 John 4:16-19

16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.

Do you know and believe in the love God has for you? If you are like most Christians, God’s love is a vague concept that religious teaching has made into a conditional reward instead of an unmerited promise.

There is only one requirement for all of God’s promises – faith. The Old Testament saints failed to enter into God’s rest because of unbelief – even though the works were already completed by God. We also fail to enter into the promise of rest in Christ for ONLY one reason – unbelief. We don’t really believe God’s promise. Once we believe, everything changes. Let me give you an example.

Why do people rebel? Stop and think about why rebellion occurs. Whether it is a group rebelling against a government, a person rebelling against authority, a child rebelling against her parents, or us rebelling against God, there is one common denominator in all these things. Trust has been lost. And that is how Satan tempts you to sin. His method has never changed. Look at Genesis 3:4-5

4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
5 “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan prepped the temptation by devaluing the consequences of sin. “God said you would die, but you won’t die.” “God said sexual immorality is sinning against your body, but it isn’t really. He said it will destroy your body, but that’s not true.” “God said unforgiveness is a snare to your soul, but that’s not true.” Name the sin and Satan will devalue what God warned, but that isn’t the temptation. That is to undermine you from reasoning out the consequences of sin. People say that grace-believers think it’s okay to sin, but it’s quite the opposite. Understanding grace unveils our eyes to see the truth of sin.

The heart of temptation is the belief that God is not out for your good. God is depriving you. “God knows that in the day you partake of sin, your eyes will be opened,” Satan whispers in your ear. “You can turn to sin to get the good God is depriving from you,” his promises are empty words of promise laced with mistrust. If he can persuade you that God’s best for you is less than what you can produce outside of him, rebellion seems like a logical decision.

When does a teen rebel? They rebel when they believe their parents are not seeking their good. When Mom is denying me something that is good, I am angered. When Dad is enforcing rules that I don’t understand, I become frustrated. Every teen believes they know better than their parents, otherwise, they would have no need to become rebellious. In their eyes, what they desire appears good, and they don’t believe their parents know the consequences. They trust more in their own understanding than in their parents knowledge and experience.

When a governing authority has oppressed people to the point where they lose hope in finding good, revolt begins. The Soviet Union was one of the most feared governments in the history of the world. For more than forty years, they kept people in check through fear and punishment. The entire world was on edge out of a fear of this mighty nation. Yet when the people lost hope, consequences and fear could no longer constrain them. They stormed the walls that caged them and tore free from the people who once oppressed them.

Religion is no different. Proverbs 29:18 says that where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint. The fear of judgment has been the church’s tool for many generations. Yet in this generation people are saying, “Let’s cast off all restraint.” Preaching hell, judgment, and God’s wrath cannot keep this culture from abandoning the church.

The real question is, “Why has the church employed this method of religion?” Part of the reason is because when the natural mind sees people going astray, it seeks to enforce standards by human methods. If you quit coming to church, this church will dry up. The culture will become unChristianize. Therefore, I must do something to prevent them from making choices I believe are wrong. If this is my way of viewing the church, I’ll employ tactics to use fear and intimidation to keep people in check.

This method works until people stop believing God and the church has their good in mind. A child who lives under the fear of punishment will stay in check for a while. But the time will come when the child loses hope and says, “I can never please mom or dad, so why try?” Or, they don’t know what they are talking about and consequences are less fearful than what I can gain.

A child who is nurtured into seeing the value of the old rules will no longer need restraint. A three-year-old can only understand the rules. But as that child grows, they begin to shift into ‘why?’ If that question is not answered, the question will grow into mistrust. Mistrust always leads to rebellion. Outwardly, some personalities may give a show of obedience, but inwardly they resent it. Even the keepers of the law had this problem, which is why God said, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”

Religion can only take you so far. At some point it is just going through the motions. A person going to church just to appease God is a heart ready to fall away. Giving an offering, doing works, and reading the Bible just to ease your guilt or appease God is also a heart prepared to fall away.

This is why the Bible says, “The goodness of God leads you to repentance.” A guilty heart does not lead to true repentance. Guilt may stir you for a moment, but when temptation is greater than your guilt, you’ll fall again. And there will come a time when you are tired of guilt, knowing you are not able to conform to a holy standard, and that’s when falling away begins.

But when someone sees the value of what God says and does, then obedience is not forced. When I value what God is giving me, the worldly things that rob me of eternal treasure will lose value. Then I don’t feel the same temptation. Then when Satan says, “God is depriving you,” that voice will be rejected. We must allow grace to draw hearts. If releasing people from fear and condemnation, and proclaiming their freedom causes some to go their own way, we have to let them make that choice. Having a congregation of people bound by fear is worse than having fewer numbers of people gripped by faith. It is better to have 10 people who understand grace than 500 pretending to serve God in order to escape wrath.

Let’s reverse this and look at the problem for what it is. If we dwindled down to 10, that means we have 10 people walking by faith instead of 500 who stay only out of fear and guilt. It is better to have 10 of faith than 500 faithless attenders. But the reality is that many more will respond to the gospel of peace than we expect. We are losing a generation because fear tactics no longer work. Or perhaps we have lost generations because fear tactics blinded the people to true faith based on the love and grace of God.

Do you believe God is good? That is the heart of the question. And this is why the gospel is given. The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. But it’s usually presented as bad news. Instead of showing how much greater the love of God is than what we are leaving behind, we are presenting the gospel as though God is not as bad as the hell you will have to endure. How is this the gospel? “Suffer through religion and obedience because it’s better than going to hell,” is not the gospel!

This is why the Apostle Paul said that the message they preach isn’t yes and no – or sometimes we see God’s goodness and sometimes we see God’s wrath and rejection. Instead, Paul said, “For all the promise of God in Him [Christ] are ‘Yes’ and in Him are ‘Amen’, to the glory of God through us.” ‘Yes’ means we are receiving goodness. ‘Amen’ is our rejoicing heart saying, “May it be done in me!” The gospel isn’t goodness, and bad news. The gospel is good news. I’ll reiterate, the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good tidings’ or ‘good news’. The law is the bad news. The gospel replaces the law with the good news.

The church has been in the business of empowering sin instead of empowering people with the good news. The good news is, you who are burdened under the law and condemned, come to Christ and be set free. He carries the burden, not you. The bad news was you were born under sin, and you were heavy laden with individual sins stacked against you. The good news is that all those were judged in Christ, and all you must do is step out from under sin, and into Christ. The really good news is now you are imputed, or credited with the good works and righteousness of Christ. All He accomplished is credited to you, and every failure you have made or will make has already been credited against Jesus and punished through the cross.

You and I are blind to the eternal. When we use human eyes, we see sin, condemnation, and our efforts. Our efforts never defeat sin or our weakness, so the best we can do is deceive ourselves into only seeing what boosts our ego. Those who become willfully blind to their sin do well in religion and are blind to their sin and God’s gift of righteousness. Those who can only see their sin and failures are also blind to the goodness of God. The truth is, every person is blind, and only those to whom are given sight through Christ can see truth. Everyone else sees deception in one form or another, for they are trusting in the things of this life, which are the mirage and not the reality of God. Take to heart the words of 2 Corinthians 4:18

While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

This means that everything you see is a veil preventing you from witnessing the things that cannot pass away. The things that are not seen are in the spiritual side of life, and it is the spiritual that created the physical world we see. After all things are completed, the physical world will pass, and we will then understand that all things in this life were a mere passing vapor. This is why investing in this life is utter foolishness.

This is also why viewing the law creates blindness to the life of the Spirit. The law ONLY applies to the physical, but once the physical has passed, the law will have no effect. It’s also why the Bible says the law has no effect on those who are in Christ. Romans 3:20 tells us that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified before God. Law is only intended to give those who are still in the flesh the knowledge of sin. Two more times God emphasizes that flesh will not be allowed to glory in God’s sight.

The Bible says that the law is spiritual, but because those who attempt to keep it are carnal (or of the flesh), it cannot justify. It only condemns. The law stands guard over the spiritual world and says, “If you are of the flesh, you cannot enter here. If you are spiritual, you cannot bring anything of the flesh with you.”

When the physical tries to enter the eternal, it dies. We see this as far back as the Garden of Eden. Once man sinned and died spiritually, he was no longer permitted to partake of the tree of life. An angel stood guard to slay any who would come near until the flood buried the garden.

The law introduced the spiritual to man, and only allowed him as far as entering the temple. Even then, if flesh interfered in any way, death was imminent. The high priest had to cover himself with garb filled with symbolic references to what would one day be revealed in Christ. He had to be ritually cleansed and was limited into only using the instruments God had consecrated for Himself. When a priest failed in any point, or contacted God through the flesh, he died. This is why Aaron’s two sons, who were priests, offered an improper sacrifice and were instantly killed. It’s also why the other priests tied a rope around the leg of the high priest. If he died in the holiest place, no one could come in to retrieve him.

Yet something miraculous happened at the cross. Under the law, the holiest place was veiled with a heavy cloth to shield it from the outside world. This was to protect the people, not the holiest place. But when Jesus cried on the cross, “It is finished!” the veil was torn from top to bottom. From heaven to earth the hidden life of the Spirit was unveiled, and now we are commanded to come confidently to the throne of God. Outside of Christ, flesh ruled and the holiest place was veiled. In Christ, the holiest place was moved from the temple to the heart of man, and the flesh was cut out of our hearts so we could become spiritual in nature and now united with God.

Yet when people turn back to the law, they are placing the veil over their eyes and it can only be removed when someone turns to Christ. You are blind outside of Christ. In the flesh, you are blind. In the Spirit, God opens your eyes.

Let’s bring in another passage to shed light on this important truth. The Bible gives us the account of a man born blind who encounters Jesus. Because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, the religious community was in an uproar. They called the man before a council and eventually excommunicated him when he testified of Jesus. The man left and Jesus came to find him. Some of the Pharisees followed, and an interesting interaction took place. Jesus first revealed to the man He was Christ, and then the following discourse occurs in John 9:39-41

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”
40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”
41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, `We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

Notice that the blind were made to see, and those who trusted in their sight remained blind. Jesus used a physical healing of sight to reveal a spiritual truth. Until Jesus opens our spiritual eyes, we are in blindness – whether we know it or not. Those who understand they are blind, look to Jesus and He gives them sight. Those who say, “We see,” will remain in blindness.

God will not allow flesh to be glorified. Those who look at religion and build their own doctrines with human understanding will not discover the life of the Spirit, which cannot be seen with human eyes. Man has created 33,000 denominations and sub-denominations with spiritual eyes based on man’s own understanding. Each one says, “I see,” and therefore they remain blind. It is only when you and I understand we are incapable of seeing the spiritual life we are called into that we learn to trust in Christ. Then the Spirit reveals understanding to us, and we get a glimpse into the life of the Spirit.

We will see more and more as we learn to quit looking to our own understanding and begin trusting in God. This is even affirmed in the Old Testament when God said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” We must learn to lean on Him and not ourselves. As we do, we get a new glimpse and we grow into spiritual maturity.

There is a reason why God has designed faith this way. God does not want you to gain mere knowledge. Let’s let the Bible explain. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.
2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

Now this is an interesting instruction. In this passage, the Bible isn’t addressing those who are stuck in idol worship, but those who know an idol is nothing. This person knows idolatry is a sin, but that knowledge, instead of producing godliness, it produces pride. Then pride has blinded this person to the love of God, thus making the one who abstains just as blind as the person he is condemning. His knowledge has puffed him up with pride and he needs to be reminded that he knows nothing other than what God has revealed to him. Knowledge puffs up, but agape love edifies. Everything must come through the agape love of God.

God does not want you to discover knowledge outside of the agape fellowship of God. Many wonder why God blinds people or makes spiritual life such a challenge. The reason is simple. God does not want you to be lifted up with knowledge by personal effort. God wants you to discover the knowledge of His love. The agape fellowship you have entered is the focus. As you discover Him through the relationship you have been given, you discover deeper truths that help you grow deeper into that fellowship.

Knowledge without agape is worthless. It makes men puffed up. It causes religious leaders to look down on those with less knowledge. It causes religious people to look down on sinners. It causes denominations to look down upon other denominations. As we declare, “We have the answers,” God is declaring, “Because you say ‘we see’, you will remain blind.”

It’s interesting that when the Pharisees that scoffed at Jesus statement, “Those who see are made blind,” Jesus shifted the focus to sin. “Because you say, ‘We see,’ you will remain in your sins.”

In the flesh we are in sin. In the Spirit, sin becomes irrelevant. Never do you see God saying to those who discover grace, “Look at your sins.” It’s only those who believe they are doing good who are declared as sinners. In the Spirit, the flesh is not the focus; therefore, sin is irrelevant. When the flesh is the focus, sin is always magnified for the purpose of showing each of us the words of the ex-Pharisee, the Apostle Paul, “In me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells. Even when I desire to do good, I cannot find the way to do anything but evil.”

Every person pursuing life through the flesh is in sin. This is true for the prostitute and the drug addict, and it is also true for the minister of the gospel and the one trying to accomplish good works. In the flesh everything is sin. Lust is rebellion against God believing the pleasures of the world are greater in value than the goodness of God. Self-righteousness is rebellion against God, for it casts aside the work of Christ in an attempt to make ourselves good without the righteousness of God given to us. My works by human effort is an attempt to make myself into Christ’s equal, making myself His rival. And that is a more blatant rebellion than riotous living.

When the people of the Old Testament blundered through sin, the Bible says, “He called to mind that man was only flesh,” and He had compassion on them. God confined man to flesh so man would learn to look to the relationship of God knowing the answer couldn’t be found in the flesh. It’s a gift of God that prevents us from following our own tenants and believing we are great enough to discount grace. It’s a gift that keeps us from settling for the flesh and missing the eternal.

But there’s more. The nation of Israel is a picture of God’s mercy as a testimony to the nations. The Bible tells us that they were blinded so God could show mercy on all. Look at Romans 11:7, 32-33

7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

We can dig out some wonderful truths here. They were blinded by God so that righteousness could only be discovered through Christ. They were all committed to disobedience that God might have mercy on all.

This is the same as we see in the law as it applies to our sin. Through the law, every person was committed to disobedience without any hope of becoming righteous. We were blinded to the reality of the life in the Spirit and all made guilty through our common heritage – Adam. All were committed to sin so that every person is on equal ground. And then each person is called into Christ where mercy is given to every person.

God did not prepare Christianity for the elite. The clergyman and the layman and the vile sinner all have the same condition and all are invited into the same glory. We are invited into God’s agape fellowship where all has been given, we are complete in Him, and all have the anointing of the Spirit upon them.

If it’s about knowledge, then the theologians are favored. If it’s about works, the strongest are favored. Instead, God made it about His agape love. Every person, regardless of status, education, race, or any other thing, enters the same way. It’s all about the love of God. All of us have different gifts and callings, but we have the same focus. Everything emerges from the love of God. God reveals Himself to you through the fellowship of agape love. God empowers your calling through His fellowship love. Your gifts of the Spirit are given through His love, and must be empowered through His love. Your spiritual gift outside of agape means nothing. Your works outside of agape mean nothing. Agape covers sin, justifies the sinner, gives us life in the Spirit, and places us in a united church where all have the same value and access to God.

God doesn’t want you to discover anything but the depth of His agape love. You were committed to sin so you could see that hope is not in the flesh. You were blinded to truth so all that does not come through agape could be proven as false.

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this it’s that sin doesn’t matter. Failure doesn’t matter. Your works don’t matter. Your efforts don’t matter. Everything is a gift designed around a life established in the agape fellowship of God. Once you understand God’s love, everything else loses value. Once you understand how much God loves you, your failures become irrelevant. Once you realize there is no difference between the saint and the sinner, but all is transformed through grace – God’s gift of love, the barriers preventing you will crumble.

The more you trust in God’s goodness, the less power sin will have. When you know and believe in the love God has for you, then you will understand that God’s commandments are intended to lead us away from what is of the dying flesh and toward that which is truly good, rebellion will lose its hold.

The more you understand grace, the more sin’s power is destroyed. Grace does not lead to sin; it destroys the false promises of sin.

Eddie Snipes 2014

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The Promise of the New Covenant – Isaiah 54 (Part 2 of 3)

Isaiah 53 presents the work of Christ and how He bore our transgressions and took away our guilt. The New Testament affirms the reality of this truth and shows how it applies to our lives. One thing that stands out in these Messianic prophecies is that they are directed to the Jewish nation of Israel. Of course, as you read through these, the Bible makes it clear these are not merely for the Jews, but rather it is through them that God would deliver the New Covenant that all nations shall enter.

If you read the book of Acts you will see that the early church had a difficult time understanding that the New Covenant was not only a Jewish promise. The apostles of Jesus helped the church understand this by pointing to the promises which said, “In Him shall the Gentiles trust,” and as we read earlier, Christ’s atonement was for the sprinkling of the nations. The Bible goes on to say that in Christ, no one is viewed as male or female, imprisoned or free, or Jew or Gentile. We are all one in Christ. There are no races, denominations, class distinctions, or hierarchies. We are of the same body with gifts and callings that work in agreement with the whole body.

Keep these things in mind as you study through these prophecies. They are often directed toward the people of the Old Covenant, but through them, the New Covenant is delivered which includes all people, nations, races, classes, and any other distinction man uses to create divisions.

Most of the Old Testament examples are testimonies of what God was doing to prepare the way for us, the people of the New Covenant of Christ. In the passage we are about to read, this is also true. The Old Testament people fell under the wrath of judgment because of their sin against the law, but only for the purpose of revealing the end of wrath in the New Covenant. The same is true for you and I. Let’s begin with Ephesians 2:3-6

3 [W]e all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

You were once children of wrath when you were in sin. Not sins, but in sin. Under the law, you were under the wrath of God, for sin is imputed against all those who are under the law. As we read in the previous message, where there is no law, sin is not imputed. But once we are in Christ, we are justified – or counted as just – for the law has been satisfied. The wages of sin, which is death, was satisfied through Christ’s death, and once we are in Christ, we have passed from the death of the flesh to the life in the Spirit. This is why we escape wrath. This is reiterated in Romans 5:9

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

We were under wrath because we were in sin. Now we are MUCH MORE justified by His blood. It isn’t the equal force of righteousness butting against an equal force of sin. It is the abundance of righteousness plowing over sin. We have much more righteousness than we ever had sin. For a moment, we were overwhelmed by sin, but when God’s grace enters, the moment has passed and the eternal has begun. This is the promise foretold in Isaiah 54:7-10

7 “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you.
8 With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” Says the LORD, your Redeemer.
9 “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; For as I have sworn That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, So have I sworn That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.
10 For the mountains shall depart And the hills be removed, But My kindness shall not depart from you, Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” Says the LORD, who has mercy on you.

This promise emerges after the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. Jesus bore our transgressions and was punished for our sin. The chastisement for our peace was laid on Him. Once Jesus made an end to sin, the promise above is born. For a moment we were under wrath because of sin, but once we are in Christ, everlasting favor has begun.

In the early church after the New Covenant was given, there was a big push to reintroduce the law to Christians. Jewish Christians raised under the Old Covenant were law-minded and had a difficult time believing the work of Christ fulfilled all the law. The Gentile Christians were pressured by Jewish Christians to submit back under the law. This created a lot of conflict between the apostles and the legalists of the first century church.

Legalism has always been a point of confusion in the church, but in our era, there has been a return to the law and Christians are being pressured to return to Hebrew roots and several growing movements are teaching grace gives us power to keep the law.

When a Christian submits themselves under the law, they are denying the work of Christ. If Jesus fulfilled the law and you are called the justified by God because you put your trust in Christ’s finished work, then to depart from that trust is to fall from grace. This is exactly what the letter to the Galatian church was addressing. “You have fallen from grace, you who try to keep the law.” Many Christians are being persuaded to trust in the law and are also falling from grace. Christians simply don’t understand that the law was completely satisfied in Christ, and the law has come to an end for those who are in Christ. Let’s let the Bible explain. Look at Romans 8:2

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Recently I had a Jewish Christian write me a rebuttal of more than twenty pages that made the argument that we have to keep the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament where the law was given – in order to stay in a right standing with God. He argued that the law of sin and death came to an end, but not the portions of the law that makes us righteous.

Every scripture he shared was out of the Old Testament. What those who focus on the law and how they are attempting to keep it is that all the law points us to Christ. The Bible calls the law our tutor which brings us to Christ. What this critic of grace doesn’t understand is that the law makes no one righteous. The Bible tells us that the law never justifies a person. Look at Romans 3:20

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

It is as we examined earlier. The law was given that sin might appear to be sin. We think we are righteous until the full measure of the law comes in. Then it reveals that we cannot be righteous. The law does not make sinners into saints. It reveals to those who think they are saints that they are in fact sinner. It’s like the rich young ruler that came to Jesus claiming he had kept the whole law. When Jesus asked if he had loved his neighbor as himself, the man said, “I have done this from my youth up.”

In his self-justification mindset, he believed that because he gave more to the poor than other people, he was fulfilling the law. But the law doesn’t say to do more than others. It said to love your neighbor as yourself. How could he be rich and his neighbor poor if he is fulfilling the law? That’s when Jesus issued the challenge to sell all and give to the poor. That is when the law made the man who thought he was righteous into a failure, and he walked away defeated. The law is intended to show us that if man wants to be like God, this is what he must do. Perfection, absolute perfection is the standard. It isn’t doing better than those you are comparing yourself to. It isn’t doing your best. The law asks one question, “Are you in perfect standing without spot or blemish?” If not, you can’t attain to salvation by human effort.

That is when the work of Christ is unveiled. Here are your two choices – be perfect, or trust in Christ’s perfection. Pay for your sins, or trust in Christ’s payment for your sins. Once we are in Christ, we are no longer under the law of sin and death – which is our condemnation. Not only that, but we are no longer under the law’s demand for our righteousness. Look at Romans 10:4

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

So you can see that not only has the law of sin and death come to an end in Christ, but so has the law’s demand for our righteousness. Legalists are missing half the gospel. Jesus did not only take away our sins. Jesus also gave us His righteousness. Take this passage to heart, 2 Corinthians 5:21

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The law of your sin has come to an end in Christ, for as we read previously, “He who has died has been set free from sin.” You died in Christ and are freed from sin. But that’s only half the message. The other half is you were raised with Christ into new life. That new life is born in the righteousness of God. The Bible doesn’t say to become righteous for God. It says you are the righteousness of God in Christ. It’s God’s righteousness. Even Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.” You are not seeking your righteousness, but by faith you are seeking the gift of righteousness that makes you in perfect standing with God. This is also explained in 1 John 4:17

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.

As Jesus is, so are you in this world. It doesn’t say you will be as He is in heaven. You are already in the reality of eternity now, but without faith it cannot profit you. You are already complete in Him. The Bible promises that just as sin once reigned in your mortal body, no righteousness reigns much more in you through Christ. You are MUCH MORE justified in Him.

Not only has the judgment passed, but it can NEVER return. It has passed and is sustained by the promise of God. Grace is under the surety of God’s promise. The rainbow was given after the worldwide flood of Noah’s day. Never again will the earth be flooded to wipe out all life. That promise is certain and will never be broken. The rainbow stands as a testimony to God’s sure promise. Now the cross stands as the testimony of God’s sure promise.

Just as the world CANNOT be extinguished again by a flood, you and I CANNOT be under the condemnation of sin again – EVER. It is as sure as the promise given to Noah. God has promised you that He will NEVER be angry at you again. God has sworn that He will NEVER rebuke you again with is wrath. The rebuke here is the image of a judge punishing an offender.

That is indeed good news, but wait, there’s more! When God is pouring out His favor, it is never merely a sufficient dose; it is always abundantly above what we could think or ask. You ask for forgiveness, thinking that escaping judgment was sufficient. But God not only forgave, but poured out the abundance of His favor upon you. And then God says, “I am swearing an oath to you that as sure as the world cannot be flooded again, I cannot withdraw my favor again.” Grace is irrevocable. It’s irrevocable because it is based on the certainty of God and not the weakness of man.

Even if the mountains of the earth could be shaken away and removed, His kindness and favor (grace) cannot be removed. God’s promise of kindness is more certain than the mountains. The New Covenant, paid for and sealed with God’s own blood, can never end. It is sealed and guaranteed by God – not by your performance. When you fail, and you will, it does not affect God’s covenant, for you are not the guarantee of His covenant of peace. Let’s look at a passage that identifies and overcomes the reason most Christians fail to experience the life of peace. Look at 1 John 4:16-19

16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.

Do you know and believe in the love God has for you? If you are like most Christians, God’s love is a vague concept that religious teaching has made into a conditional reward instead of an unmerited promise.

There is only one requirement for all of God’s promises – faith. The Old Testament saints failed to enter into God’s rest because of unbelief – even though the works were already completed by God. We also fail to enter into the promise of rest in Christ for ONLY one reason – unbelief. We don’t really believe God’s promise. Once we believe, everything changes. Let me give you an example.

Why do people rebel? Stop and think about why rebellion occurs. Whether it is a group rebelling against a government, a person rebelling against authority, a child rebelling against her parents, or us rebelling against God, there is one common denominator in all these things. Trust has been lost. And that is how Satan tempts you to sin. His method has never changed. Look at Genesis 3:4-5

4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
5 “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan prepped the temptation by devaluing the consequences of sin. “God said you would die, but you won’t die.” “God said sexual immorality is sinning against your body, but it isn’t really. He said it will destroy your body, but that’s not true.” “God said unforgiveness is a snare to your soul, but that’s not true.” Name the sin and Satan will devalue what God warned, but that isn’t the temptation. That is to undermine you from reasoning out the consequences of sin. People say that grace-believers think it’s okay to sin, but it’s quite the opposite. Understanding grace unveils our eyes to see the truth of sin.

The heart of temptation is the belief that God is not out for your good. God is depriving you. “God knows that in the day you partake of sin, your eyes will be opened,” Satan whispers in your ear. “You can turn to sin to get the good God is depriving from you,” his promises are empty words of promise laced with mistrust. If he can persuade you that God’s best for you is less than what you can produce outside of him, rebellion seems like a logical decision.

When does a teen rebel? They rebel when they believe their parents are not seeking their good. When Mom is denying me something that is good, I am angered. When Dad is enforcing rules that I don’t understand, I become frustrated. Every teen believes they know better than their parents, otherwise, they would have no need to become rebellious. In their eyes, what they desire appears good, and they don’t believe their parents know the consequences. They trust more in their own understanding than in their parents knowledge and experience.

When a governing authority has oppressed people to the point where they lose hope in finding good, revolt begins. The Soviet Union was one of the most feared governments in the history of the world. For more than forty years, they kept people in check through fear and punishment. The entire world was on edge out of a fear of this mighty nation. Yet when the people lost hope, consequences and fear could no longer constrain them. They stormed the walls that caged them and tore free from the people who once oppressed them.

Religion is no different. Proverbs 29:18 says that where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint. The fear of judgment has been the church’s tool for many generations. Yet in this generation people are saying, “Let’s cast off all restraint.” Preaching hell, judgment, and God’s wrath cannot keep this culture from abandoning the church.

The real question is, “Why has the church employed this method of religion?” Part of the reason is because when the natural mind sees people going astray, it seeks to enforce standards by human methods. If you quit coming to church, this church will dry up. The culture will become unChristianize. Therefore, I must do something to prevent them from making choices I believe are wrong. If this is my way of viewing the church, I’ll employ tactics to use fear and intimidation to keep people in check.

This method works until people stop believing God and the church has their good in mind. A child who lives under the fear of punishment will stay in check for a while. But the time will come when the child loses hope and says, “I can never please mom or dad, so why try?” Or, they don’t know what they are talking about and consequences are less fearful than what I can gain.

A child who is nurtured into seeing the value of the old rules will no longer need restraint. A three-year-old can only understand the rules. But as that child grows, they begin to shift into ‘why?’ If that question is not answered, the question will grow into mistrust. Mistrust always leads to rebellion. Outwardly, some personalities may give a show of obedience, but inwardly they resent it. Even the keepers of the law had this problem, which is why God said, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”

Religion can only take you so far. At some point it is just going through the motions. A person going to church just to appease God is a heart ready to fall away. Giving an offering, doing works, and reading the Bible just to ease your guilt or appease God is also a heart prepared to fall away.

This is why the Bible says, “The goodness of God leads you to repentance.” A guilty heart does not lead to true repentance. Guilt may stir you for a moment, but when temptation is greater than your guilt, you’ll fall again. And there will come a time when you are tired of guilt, knowing you are not able to conform to a holy standard, and that’s when falling away begins.

But when someone sees the value of what God says and does, then obedience is not forced. When I value what God is giving me, the worldly things that rob me of eternal treasure will lose value. Then I don’t feel the same temptation. Then when Satan says, “God is depriving you,” that voice will be rejected. We must allow grace to draw hearts. If releasing people from fear and condemnation, and proclaiming their freedom causes some to go their own way, we have to let them make that choice. Having a congregation of people bound by fear is worse than having fewer numbers of people gripped by faith. It is better to have 10 people who understand grace than 500 pretending to serve God in order to escape wrath.

Let’s reverse this and look at the problem for what it is. If we dwindled down to 10, that means we have 10 people walking by faith instead of 500 who stay only out of fear and guilt. It is better to have 10 of faith than 500 faithless attenders. But the reality is that many more will respond to the gospel of peace than we expect. We are losing a generation because fear tactics no longer work. Or perhaps we have lost generations because fear tactics blinded the people to true faith based on the love and grace of God.

Do you believe God is good? That is the heart of the question. And this is why the gospel is given. The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. But it’s usually presented as bad news. Instead of showing how much greater the love of God is than what we are leaving behind, we are presenting the gospel as though God is not as bad as the hell you will have to endure. How is this the gospel? “Suffer through religion and obedience because it’s better than going to hell,” is not the gospel!

This is why the Apostle Paul said that the message they preach isn’t yes and no – or sometimes we see God’s goodness and sometimes we see God’s wrath and rejection. Instead, Paul said, “For all the promise of God in Him [Christ] are ‘Yes’ and in Him are ‘Amen’, to the glory of God through us.” ‘Yes’ means we are receiving goodness. ‘Amen’ is our rejoicing heart saying, “May it be done in me!” The gospel isn’t goodness, and bad news. The gospel is good news. I’ll reiterate, the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good tidings’ or ‘good news’. The law is the bad news. The gospel replaces the law with the good news.

The church has been in the business of empowering sin instead of empowering people with the good news. The good news is, you who are burdened under the law and condemned, come to Christ and be set free. He carries the burden, not you. The bad news was you were born under sin, and you were heavy laden with individual sins stacked against you. The good news is that all those were judged in Christ, and all you must do is step out from under sin, and into Christ. The really good news is now you are imputed, or credited with the good works and righteousness of Christ. All He accomplished is credited to you, and every failure you have made or will make has already been credited against Jesus and punished through the cross.

You and I are blind to the eternal. When we use human eyes, we see sin, condemnation, and our efforts. Our efforts never defeat sin or our weakness, so the best we can do is deceive ourselves into only seeing what boosts our ego. Those who become willfully blind to their sin do well in religion and are blind to their sin and God’s gift of righteousness. Those who can only see their sin and failures are also blind to the goodness of God. The truth is, every person is blind, and only those to whom are given sight through Christ can see truth. Everyone else sees deception in one form or another, for they are trusting in the things of this life, which are the mirage and not the reality of God. Take to heart the words of 2 Corinthians 4:18

While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

This means that everything you see is a veil preventing you from witnessing the things that cannot pass away. The things that are not seen are in the spiritual side of life, and it is the spiritual that created the physical world we see. After all things are completed, the physical world will pass, and we will then understand that all things in this life were a mere passing vapor. This is why investing in this life is utter foolishness.

This is also why viewing the law creates blindness to the life of the Spirit. The law ONLY applies to the physical, but once the physical has passed, the law will have no effect. It’s also why the Bible says the law has no effect on those who are in Christ. Romans 3:20 tells us that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified before God. Law is only intended to give those who are still in the flesh the knowledge of sin. Two more times God emphasizes that flesh will not be allowed to glory in God’s sight.

The Bible says that the law is spiritual, but because those who attempt to keep it are carnal (or of the flesh), it cannot justify. It only condemns. The law stands guard over the spiritual world and says, “If you are of the flesh, you cannot enter here. If you are spiritual, you cannot bring anything of the flesh with you.”

When the physical tries to enter the eternal, it dies. We see this as far back as the Garden of Eden. Once man sinned and died spiritually, he was no longer permitted to partake of the tree of life. An angel stood guard to slay any who would come near until the flood buried the garden.

The law introduced the spiritual to man, and only allowed him as far as entering the temple. Even then, if flesh interfered in any way, death was imminent. The high priest had to cover himself with garb filled with symbolic references to what would one day be revealed in Christ. He had to be ritually cleansed and was limited into only using the instruments God had consecrated for Himself. When a priest failed in any point, or contacted God through the flesh, he died. This is why Aaron’s two sons, who were priests, offered an improper sacrifice and were instantly killed. It’s also why the other priests tied a rope around the leg of the high priest. If he died in the holiest place, no one could come in to retrieve him.

Yet something miraculous happened at the cross. Under the law, the holiest place was veiled with a heavy cloth to shield it from the outside world. This was to protect the people, not the holiest place. But when Jesus cried on the cross, “It is finished!” the veil was torn from top to bottom. From heaven to earth the hidden life of the Spirit was unveiled, and now we are commanded to come confidently to the throne of God. Outside of Christ, flesh ruled and the holiest place was veiled. In Christ, the holiest place was moved from the temple to the heart of man, and the flesh was cut out of our hearts so we could become spiritual in nature and now united with God.

Yet when people turn back to the law, they are placing the veil over their eyes and it can only be removed when someone turns to Christ. You are blind outside of Christ. In the flesh, you are blind. In the Spirit, God opens your eyes.

Let’s bring in another passage to shed light on this important truth. The Bible gives us the account of a man born blind who encounters Jesus. Because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, the religious community was in an uproar. They called the man before a council and eventually excommunicated him when he testified of Jesus. The man left and Jesus came to find him. Some of the Pharisees followed, and an interesting interaction took place. Jesus first revealed to the man He was Christ, and then the following discourse occurs in John 9:39-41

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”
40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”
41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, `We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

Notice that the blind were made to see, and those who trusted in their sight remained blind. Jesus used a physical healing of sight to reveal a spiritual truth. Until Jesus opens our spiritual eyes, we are in blindness – whether we know it or not. Those who understand they are blind, look to Jesus and He gives them sight. Those who say, “We see,” will remain in blindness.

God will not allow flesh to be glorified. Those who look at religion and build their own doctrines with human understanding will not discover the life of the Spirit, which cannot be seen with human eyes. Man has created 33,000 denominations and sub-denominations with spiritual eyes based on man’s own understanding. Each one says, “I see,” and therefore they remain blind. It is only when you and I understand we are incapable of seeing the spiritual life we are called into that we learn to trust in Christ. Then the Spirit reveals understanding to us, and we get a glimpse into the life of the Spirit.

We will see more and more as we learn to quit looking to our own understanding and begin trusting in God. This is even affirmed in the Old Testament when God said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” We must learn to lean on Him and not ourselves. As we do, we get a new glimpse and we grow into spiritual maturity.

There is a reason why God has designed faith this way. God does not want you to gain mere knowledge. Let’s let the Bible explain. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.
2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

Now this is an interesting instruction. In this passage, the Bible isn’t addressing those who are stuck in idol worship, but those who know an idol is nothing. This person knows idolatry is a sin, but that knowledge, instead of producing godliness, it produces pride. Then pride has blinded this person to the love of God, thus making the one who abstains just as blind as the person he is condemning. His knowledge has puffed him up with pride and he needs to be reminded that he knows nothing other than what God has revealed to him. Knowledge puffs up, but agape love edifies. Everything must come through the agape love of God.

God does not want you to discover knowledge outside of the agape fellowship of God. Many wonder why God blinds people or makes spiritual life such a challenge. The reason is simple. God does not want you to be lifted up with knowledge by personal effort. God wants you to discover the knowledge of His love. The agape fellowship you have entered is the focus. As you discover Him through the relationship you have been given, you discover deeper truths that help you grow deeper into that fellowship.

Knowledge without agape is worthless. It makes men puffed up. It causes religious leaders to look down on those with less knowledge. It causes religious people to look down on sinners. It causes denominations to look down upon other denominations. As we declare, “We have the answers,” God is declaring, “Because you say ‘we see’, you will remain blind.”

It’s interesting that when the Pharisees that scoffed at Jesus statement, “Those who see are made blind,” Jesus shifted the focus to sin. “Because you say, ‘We see,’ you will remain in your sins.”

In the flesh we are in sin. In the Spirit, sin becomes irrelevant. Never do you see God saying to those who discover grace, “Look at your sins.” It’s only those who believe they are doing good who are declared as sinners. In the Spirit, the flesh is not the focus; therefore, sin is irrelevant. When the flesh is the focus, sin is always magnified for the purpose of showing each of us the words of the ex-Pharisee, the Apostle Paul, “In me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells. Even when I desire to do good, I cannot find the way to do anything but evil.”

Every person pursuing life through the flesh is in sin. This is true for the prostitute and the drug addict, and it is also true for the minister of the gospel and the one trying to accomplish good works. In the flesh everything is sin. Lust is rebellion against God believing the pleasures of the world are greater in value than the goodness of God. Self-righteousness is rebellion against God, for it casts aside the work of Christ in an attempt to make ourselves good without the righteousness of God given to us. My works by human effort is an attempt to make myself into Christ’s equal, making myself His rival. And that is a more blatant rebellion than riotous living.

When the people of the Old Testament blundered through sin, the Bible says, “He called to mind that man was only flesh,” and He had compassion on them. God confined man to flesh so man would learn to look to the relationship of God knowing the answer couldn’t be found in the flesh. It’s a gift of God that prevents us from following our own tenants and believing we are great enough to discount grace. It’s a gift that keeps us from settling for the flesh and missing the eternal.

But there’s more. The nation of Israel is a picture of God’s mercy as a testimony to the nations. The Bible tells us that they were blinded so God could show mercy on all. Look at Romans 11:7, 32-33

7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

We can dig out some wonderful truths here. They were blinded by God so that righteousness could only be discovered through Christ. They were all committed to disobedience that God might have mercy on all.

This is the same as we see in the law as it applies to our sin. Through the law, every person was committed to disobedience without any hope of becoming righteous. We were blinded to the reality of the life in the Spirit and all made guilty through our common heritage – Adam. All were committed to sin so that every person is on equal ground. And then each person is called into Christ where mercy is given to every person.

God did not prepare Christianity for the elite. The clergyman and the layman and the vile sinner all have the same condition and all are invited into the same glory. We are invited into God’s agape fellowship where all has been given, we are complete in Him, and all have the anointing of the Spirit upon them.

If it’s about knowledge, then the theologians are favored. If it’s about works, the strongest are favored. Instead, God made it about His agape love. Every person, regardless of status, education, race, or any other thing, enters the same way. It’s all about the love of God. All of us have different gifts and callings, but we have the same focus. Everything emerges from the love of God. God reveals Himself to you through the fellowship of agape love. God empowers your calling through His fellowship love. Your gifts of the Spirit are given through His love, and must be empowered through His love. Your spiritual gift outside of agape means nothing. Your works outside of agape mean nothing. Agape covers sin, justifies the sinner, gives us life in the Spirit, and places us in a united church where all have the same value and access to God.

God doesn’t want you to discover anything but the depth of His agape love. You were committed to sin so you could see that hope is not in the flesh. You were blinded to truth so all that does not come through agape could be proven as false.

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this it’s that sin doesn’t matter. Failure doesn’t matter. Your works don’t matter. Your efforts don’t matter. Everything is a gift designed around a life established in the agape fellowship of God. Once you understand God’s love, everything else loses value. Once you understand how much God loves you, your failures become irrelevant. Once you realize there is no difference between the saint and the sinner, but all is transformed through grace – God’s gift of love, the barriers preventing you will crumble.

The more you trust in God’s goodness, the less power sin will have. When you know and believe in the love God has for you, then you will understand that God’s commandments are intended to lead us away from what is of the dying flesh and toward that which is truly good, rebellion will lose its hold.

The more you understand grace, the more sin’s power is destroyed. Grace does not lead to sin; it destroys the false promises of sin.

Eddie Snipes 2014

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The work of Christ – Isaiah 53 (Part 1 of 3)

Over the next three messages, we are going to look at the work of Christ, the promise of the New Covenant, and the result of that promise. All described in the Old Testament, Isaiah 53 – 55 to be exact.

Isaiah 52 ends with the explanation of the coming Messiah as someone whose visage was marred more than any man for the purpose of sprinkling the nations. Isaiah 53 begins with the complaint, Who has believed our report? It is those whom the Lord has stretched out His arm and revealed Himself to. Of course, we now know this was a foretelling of the rejection of Christ, and His marring was the scourging and the crucifixion. Upon that prediction, the reason for Jesus’ marring is given in Isaiah 53:4-8

4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

In Acts 8, God sent Philip into the desert where he met a chariot travelling back to Ethiopia. The man in the chariot was reading out loud to himself from this exact passage. He did not understand who was the focus of this prophecy, so Philip joined him in the chariot, and began to preach Jesus to him.

This passage is the foundation of the gospel. From the crucifixion of Christ, the church is born and you are born into the church. Unless someone understands this basic truth, they remain under the condemnation of sin.

Remember, you are not condemned because of your individual sins. You are condemned because you are in sin. Sin as a whole was defeated in Christ. In order to understand this truth, we are going to have to use a lot of scriptures. The Bible paints this wonderful picture of sin, how it condemned us through the law, and how it and the law was taken away in Christ.

I use a lot of scriptures, but in this message, I’m going to use more than normal. The reason is because the Bible is very thorough in explaining this truth, but because the church does not understand the completed work of Christ, we are focused on the law instead of focusing on the work of the cross. We glance at Christ but then strive for justification by human effort. Some call it sanctification, but what they are striving for is justification.

Justification is to be counted as either forgiven or worthy of favor based on our standing. When we are outside of God’s favor, we are not justified, or accounted as just based on innocence to the law. If I do something wrong, and I must do something to make it right, that is striving for justification, for I am again trying to make myself right with the law.

If I am asking for forgiveness, I am trying to get God to pardon my sin which has broken His law. I cannot say, “I am justified,” and “I need to ask for forgiveness.” Either I am justified, or I am not. If I am justified, I do not need forgiveness, for I am already right with the law. If I need forgiveness, I am not justified. It really is that simple.

Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God. It has nothing to do with forgiveness, sin, or justification. It is me standing with God with a complete focus on Him. The Bible also says we are sanctified in Christ – past tense – speaking of our new spirit given to us at our new birth in Christ. Our lives are not always living in perfect sanctification, but our eternal spirit is. We’ll dig into this in a separate study, but just be aware that sanctification has nothing to do with sin or forgiveness. Any time sin is unforgiven, it is in a person who has not been justified – or is outside of God’s forgiveness. The unjust are those who have not been transformed through the cross. For those of us in Christ, justification is a completed work.

To understand this, let’s look at sin. The way the Bible deals with sin is completely different than the way religion does. To understand this, let’s first look at how sin is applied. Look at Romans 5:12-13

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned–
13 For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Notice two key truths here. Sin – the object of sin, or the prison of sin – entered the world through Adam. It isn’t Adam’s individual sins that brought us under the curse. Sin entered into the world and Adam’s nature, corrupted by sin, was passed down to us all. That sin nature gave us a bent toward sin – the prison – and it came upon all man. The wages of sin is death; therefore, all die in Adam. Our spirit was dead to God, but physical death also entered the world.

The second truth I want you to notice is that even though sin spread to all man, it was not imputed to man until the law. Though all have sinned and all inherit the wages of sin, no one was judged as guilty of sin by God until the law was given. The Bible speaks clearly to this, “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” If there is no law, sin is not applied to the person’s account.

The consequences of sin reigned outside of the law. People committed wrongs, tyranny, murder, thievery, and all the pain of sin reigned from Adam to Moses, but God did not condemn man for his sins until the law was given. For where there is no law, sin is NOT imputed. The Bible could not state this any clearer.

This changed when the law was provided. We can also see the evidence of this truth in the lives of the people of God who were delivered from slavery in Egypt. God’s people were in bondage for 400 years, severely oppressed, and helpless. God delivered the people by the hand of Moses after God broke the will of Pharaoh.

In Exodus 15, the people murmured and complained against Moses and God about thirst. They came to the waters of Marah where the waters were poisonous. They complained and God instructed Moses to cast a tree into the waters – which by the way, is a picture of Christ taking away the bitterness of sin on His tree. The waters were made sweet and their thirst was quenched.

In Exodus 16, the people murmured again, “Oh that we had died in Egypt, for there is no food in the desert. We are all going to perish from hunger.” No faith. No wisdom. God gave them bread from heaven – manna.

Exodus 17. The people ran out of water and complained to the point of an uprising. Moses said to God, “They are about to stone me.” Did God’s judgment fall? No. God had compassion on them and God called Moses to strike the rock. Water flowed out of the rock, which was also a picture of Christ’s provision. The rock provided the water twice in the desert. The first time was a picture of Christ bearing our judgment. In this incident Moses was instructed to strike the rock. The second time was a picture of Christ’s glory, and Moses was told to speak to the rock, a picture of us trusting in Christ through prayer. Water flowed and the people were quenched.

Instead of judging the people for their unbelief and rebellion, God used their needs to point to Christ. The tree of the cross made the bitterness of the polluted waters sweet. A famished people were given the bread of heaven. The people in the desert were again watered through the flow of the rock. The cross is called the tree where Jesus bore our sins. Jesus said He was the bread that came down from heaven. The Bible says the rock that followed them was Christ. The tree is the payment of the cross. The manna was the broken body of Jesus. The first rock was the blow of sin Jesus took on our behalf. Each took the emptiness of man’s soul and filled it with the provision of Christ.

These people were murmuring against the Lord, Moses, and disobedient to God. They were robbed of peace, joy, and because their focus was on their circumstances instead of God, they were frustrated. Yet their sins were not imputed, for there was no law.

When they were given manna, God gave them commandments. One was not to keep manna overnight. Only collect one day’s provision. Anything left over was to be cast out. When the people disobeyed, there were consequences. The manna rotted and stench filled their tents, but God did not impute their sins and they were not judged. Consequences, yes. God’s condemnation, no.

Something changed in Exodus 20. Over the next few chapters, the law was given. The people had said, “We will keep all your commandments.” They were a people convinced they could become righteous by human effort. Since these people were persuaded of their own righteousness, God provided the law to say, “This is what righteousness looks like. If you are going to be good, you have to measure up to my goodness.” They wanted to prove their goodness, so God provided the law, which empowered sin and produced condemnation.

From Exodus 20-31 the law was given. In Exodus 32 we see the first emerging of God’s wrath against the sin of His people. It didn’t take long.

From Exodus 32 through Leviticus 15, the full weight of the law was laid out, the order of worship, and the requirements of the priesthood were given. Do you know what the first thing that happened once all was laid out? Leviticus 16 begins with the sons of Aaron offering a sacrifice that God considered profane, and the fire of God’s judgment killed them. If you are going to enter life in the Spirit, you can only do so in absolute perfection. Imperfection dies when it enters the realm of the eternal. This is why God judged the people trying to live according to the eternal law. The people tried to live according to the eternal standard of God, but attempted to do so with the incompatible life of the flesh. Flesh is always judged as unworthy when it tries to enter the Spirit.

The rest of Leviticus is laying out more of the law and the judgment against those who violate it. Numbers 1 – 11 is more law, the building of the tabernacle, and its dedication. The first act of the people mentioned after the law was given is in Numbers 11:1-2

 1 Now when the people complained, it displeased the LORD; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.
2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched.

Do you see a difference? The people complained constantly from the time they left Egypt until the law was given. How many times did God judge their sin? And yes, complaining is a sin. God did not judge them once. He met their needs and led them to His provision. God pointed them to the rock and fed them from heaven. Yet once they were in the law, every sin was judged. From Numbers 11 through the sacrifice of Christ, the Bible is all about God’s judgment against sin. But once sin was judged in Christ, man is back under grace instead of the law.

There was no difference between the people murmuring in Exodus 15, 16, and 17, and the people complaining in Numbers 11. The only thing that changed was that where there was no law, sin was not imputed, but under the law, judgment was a guarantee.

The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. The picture of God we see in the New Testament is the same as the picture we see of God from Genesis to Exodus 20. It isn’t God who has changed, it’s the law. When the people chose to become their own righteousness, the law was given to expose sin and drive man to the reality that nothing good comes outside of the Lord. This is explained in Romans 3:19-24

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

The purpose of the law was to give man the knowledge of sin so we could understand that nothing we can do produces righteousness. This is further explained in Romans 7:13

Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.

The law was given that sin might appear to us as sin. Until sin is exposed as sin, sin can masquerade as good. We think sin is righteous until the law proves to us that what we thought was good is actually another form of sin. We think stealing is sin, but self-righteousness is good. We think lust is sin, but the goodness of human effort makes us pure. But the law comes in to show us that there is no difference between lust and man’s goodness, stealing and self-righteousness. One is to deny the value of God’s morality to elevate sin as though it has value. The other is to deny God’s gift of righteousness and to declare the works of our own hands as equal to Him. One says the desire of sin is more value than God, the other makes ourselves into God’s rival as though we can replace His goodness with our own. Until we can understand that lusts and self-righteousness are equally sinful, we can’t understand grace, mercy, and the love of God.

Self-righteousness is not only the pompous zealot looking down his nose at others. It is the person sincerely trying to merit God’s approval. It is anything we do to make ourselves good by human effort. The sin of self-righteousness is equally in the person who judges those less spiritually accomplished AND in the person who sacrifices all to meet the needs of the poor. This is why the Bible says, “Even if I give all my goods to the poor and give my body as a burnt offering, if I lack love (agape), it profits me nothing. Since agape is a gift of God given to us by the Spirit, there is nothing I can do to produce true love.

But the law takes what we think is good to the human eyes, and makes it appear to be what it is – sin. Under the law, we are condemned. The problem with religion – even Christian religion – is that we are blinded to sin by our own works, and we are blinded to God’s gift of righteousness through the veil of our revamped law. Most Christians never experience the fullness of God’s righteousness because they see their failures and weaknesses as causing them to fall short of the Christian law. Others are able to recreate the law into something they can keep so they feel self-righteous.

The good news is that your sins cannot nullify the work of Christ. Why? Remember our earlier passage? Where there is no law, sin is not imputed. Look at Romans 10:4

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

I had a Christian law-keeper challenge me once by saying, “Jesus said that heaven and earth shall pass away, but His law will never pass away.” This is absolutely true. The law is just as alive today as it was in the day of Moses. It is still issuing condemnation and making sin appear to be sin by dismantling our righteousness and making us guilty before God. The law has never made a sinner righteous. But it has made many righteous men into sinners. The law still condemns and still judges. But the Bible says that those who have died have been freed from the law, and Romans 10:4 above explains why. In Christ, the law has come to an end to everyone who believes.

He fulfilled the law on our behalf so we could be counted as righteous. Our sins are not imputed because for the one who is in Christ, the law has come to an end. The law hasn’t come to an end. It is only ended in Christ, for in Him we are credited with His righteousness because He was marred for our sins. He paid the wages of sin through His death, and we are paid the wages of righteousness through His life! Once we understand this basic truth, we can fully understand why Romans 4:7-8 says:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered;
8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”

Why are our lawless deeds forgiven? Because in Christ our sins are covered. In Christ we are under the blessing and you are the man/woman to whom the Lord shall not impute sin! Once you have died to the law, you are no longer under the law and sin cannot be imputed to those who are not under the law. Let’s let Romans 6:5-11

5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
6 knowing this, that 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.
7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,
9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Your deliverance comes by grace through faith. You reckon, or account yourself as God has declared, dead to sin. You’ve died to the law, and this makes you also dead to sin. Until you believe this, you will reckon yourself under sin and will live like someone still under the burden of the old life. Your old man – that sinful nature inherited through Adam – was crucified with Christ. Your new nature, that which is born of God by grace through faith, is raised with Christ. Just as death no longer has dominion over Jesus, death has no dominion over you, for you are no longer under the law of sin and condemnation, but you are in the blessing of God’s promise. Let’s look at two more passages. First look at Romans 8:1-2

 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. You are under the law of life, not under the law of sin and death. Where you were once imputed with the condemnation of sin according to a corrupt nature born through Adam, you are now imputed with righteousness according to the new nature born through Christ. The law of the Spirit of life has overcome the law of condemnation. Condemnation ONLY has power over that which came through Adam. It has no authority over that which is eternal and from the Spirit.

God did not only remove your sin. He removed the nature that was bound to that sin. Look at our last passage today in Colossians 2:11-14

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Circumcision is a picture of the work of God. In the Old Covenant, the foreskin of the male child was cut away so they could enter the covenant given through Abraham. It was for God’s chosen people, the Jewish nation of Israel. They were called out of the world as a foreshadow of what God would one day accomplish through faith.

Now God calls us out of the world into the New Covenant. Just as the flesh of a child was cut away as a symbol of God’s promise in the Old Covenant, our flesh is cut away so we can enter the promise of the New Covenant. We were uncircumcised and of the world. We had a flesh nature that could not enter God’s promise. When we turn to Christ by faith, our fleshly sinful nature is cut away with the circumcision of the Spirit, taken out of the way, and we are given a new nature that is born of God.

Notice a few important truths in this passage. Your dead nature was circumcised away and you were made alive with a new nature, but there are two other promises tucked away in this passage. Christ wiped out all your trespasses by nailing them to the cross, but He also accomplished one other thing on the cross. Not only were your sins taken out of the way, but so was the written requirements of the law. It was taken out of the way and also nailed to the cross. Not only is your sin removed, but the written requirements which were against you and condemning you were also removed.

It is not your sin that condemns you – it is the Law! Let me repeat this vital truth. Your sins do not have the power to condemn you. It is the law that condemns, and without the law, sin has no power. The Bible says the strength of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:56). If the law is taken out of the way, sin is still sin, but it has no power to condemn.

Once that law was taken out of the way, you were made free from the law of sin and death. Now there is no condemnation in Christ, for where there is no law, sin is not imputed! Just as it was before the law, if sin is allowed to reign, it produces consequences, but your spirit can never be condemned again, for there is no law by which you can be judged as guilty. Your sin was taken out of the way. The law written against you was taken out of the way. You are now free to walk without condemnation and fear, and because the bondage of sin is removed, you can now run the race before you without hindrance.

Even if sin arises, we merely cast it off and run with endurance the race set before us. It can never bring us under the chains of condemnation. Let’s end with the final words of Isaiah 53:

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. You are that pleasure. He will be satisfied with the labor of His soul. You are the labor of His soul. He became sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God in Christ. He made an intercession for you, the transgressor. He became your transgression. God was pleased to bruise Him because in Christ, your sins were judged. There is no double jeopardy. If Jesus was judged for your sins, the righteous requirement of the law has been satisfied, you died to the flesh and are now free from the law of sin and death.

Now reckon yourself dead indeed to sin and alive in Christ. Then you will see the labor of Christ come to maturity in you, and you will be transformed into His likeness. Sin has no power over you, but you must reckon, or account yourself as God has declared. This is the life of walking in the Spirit by faith. When you blow it, reckon yourself dead to sin but alive in Christ. As you believe, you will walk.

Eddie Snipes 2014

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The glory of your weakness

When is the last time you felt discouraged or defeated in your Christian life? Everyone experiences defeat, but the Bible presents a benefit for your failures that most Christians are completely unaware of.

The average Christian blows it in some way, and they feel the perception of God’s anger. They feel the perception of their guilt. They promise God their best, make oaths never to act out in certain ways, and try to cover their shame with good works. Do you know what? Your good works can NEVER cover your sins. It can never take away your shame, failure, or guilt. There is only one thing that can cover your sins. 1 Peter 4:8

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."

That word ‘love’ is the Greek word ‘agape’. Agape is the love of God – it is never the love of mankind. We can produce philia love – or friendship love – but only God is the author of agape love. The principle here is that we are to be fervent in our expression of agape love. Love that we have first received from God. The Bible says that the agape love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Agape is the gift of God’s love, invested into each person who is born into faith through Christ.

God’s agape love covered all our sins; therefore, we are to be fervent to take the agape poured into our heart, and extend it toward others in the faith. Just as agape covered our sins; if we are fervent in expressing agape toward each other, their sins will become irrelevant to you. Why do churches fight and Christians become divided? If there is war within the church, agape is being suppressed. If you are expressing agape toward another and building your relationship upon the knowledge of agape that unites you, division becomes impossible.

A few years ago, conflict began to emerge in a group of believers I was part of. One individual had a difficult personality, and it rubbed others the wrong way. There was no intentional wrongs being done, but he just came across abrasive and forward in his approach. I confess that I also did not like this man, but I felt the Spirit convicting me of the fact I was not expressing love. After some internal prompting, I decided to resolve my feelings of conflict. Though I didn’t like his personality, I knew for certain he was a Christian, and since we both are in God’s circle of agape love, I knew I had no choice but to practice what I preached or become disobedient to God.

I invited him for coffee with only one goal – to find common ground so we could experience unity in the Spirit. Over time I discovered that as the foundation of our relationship solidified, the things that bugged me about him became irrelevant. I didn’t even try to stop being annoyed, nor did I try to change him. As agape ran its course, the petty things faded from view and I stopped noticing them.

In the past, I was unable to relate to Christians from other denominations and those who held beliefs I didn’t agree with. Non-essential doctrines and differences became dividing lines. The differences were the focus and not agape. Errors in their beliefs were the focus, and not agape. I’ve seen my previous attitude throughout many churches. Many times I’ve heard, “If you don’t believe our way, you aren’t welcomed here.” Or, “If you believe that, you don’t belong in this church.” Is this the message of Christ?

Certainly there are essential Christian truths that can’t be compromised. There may be doctrines and beliefs in other Christians we sincerely believe are wrong. But an interesting thing happened when I left the rejection mindset and began to view people as God views them – at least as much as humanly possible to see them as God does. When I meet a fellow believer from a different background, and I start building a relationship based on agape, a friendship develops and I am able to honestly discuss differences without conflict. Two friends searching the scriptures and hashing out what is true and what is based on assumptions is very edifying. Two friends discussing differences makes for great discussions. Two opposing denominational trenches does not. I have been able to share my insights with people who I could never have influenced in the old sectarianism mindset. And I’ve had my own assumptions challenged and discovered insights I would never have discovered.

This is what is meant by fervent love. Fervent is the Greek word ektenes, which means to stretch out toward someone or to do something without ceasing. Fervent love is to extend agape toward someone and refuse to abandon agape love until we are established in each other’s lives. It is to extend agape into the life of someone so the faults that would have offended us are covered. Just as your sins were covered by God’s love, your fellow Christian’s sins and failures are covered by that same agape love. If agape is the focus, everything else will be fade under its covering.

It’s when we don’t recognize our own weaknesses that we hold others to a standard we also fall short of. I can see your weaknesses with perfect vision – if that is my focus. But I can scarcely get a glimpse of the depths of my own weaknesses. The great irony is that the weaknesses we do see discourage us, but they pale in comparison to those we cannot see.

There is one fault that alienates us from God. Self-righteousness. Look at James 4:5-8

5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?"
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Let’s take note of a few things here. It does not say that God resists the sinner. Many people say that they minister like Jesus did. Most churches would claim they are following Jesus’ lead, but this is far from the truth. How many sinners did Jesus condemn? We have no record of a single time. The woman in adultery was not condemned. In fact, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. God and sin no more.” The woman Jesus met at the well had been divorced five times and was now shacking up with someone who wasn’t her husband. No condemnation. Zacchaeus was a corrupt tax collector who admitted he had used the Roman system to pilfer others for his own wealth. No condemnation. He dined with drunkards and prostitutes, drawing the condemnation of the religious leaders, but never did He condemn them. Instead, Jesus called Himself the physician who was healing those in need.

Yet Jesus did condemn some. Consider these quotes from Jesus:

“You are of your father the devil.”

“You will receive the greater damnation.”

“You brood of vipers. How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”

“Inside you are full of rotten bones and all uncleanness.”

“When you influence people, you make them twice the child of hell as yourselves.”

“In your heart, you are full of extortion and self-indulgence.”

Harsh words, no doubt. But who was the target of these words of condemnation? The prostitute and sinner? No. These words are the condemnation of those who held the highest achievement of religion. These are the religious leaders who dedicated themselves to the study of the Bible and were looked upon as the pinnacle of moral excellence by the culture they led.

You see, God is not calling you to achieve moral excellence. He is not calling you to measure up to His standard of righteousness, good works, or religious effort. God is not even asking you to overcome your sins. No, the call is to humble yourself, submit to Him, and He will lift you up. Then once you are upheld by the strength of God’s power, Satan can do nothing but flee. And the call is not to resist sin, but to resist the temptation of the devil. And the most powerful tool in the devil’s arsenal is your self-righteousness. Once you put your eyes on yourself, you are no longer looking to Christ, are no longer submitting to God, and are no longer humbling yourselves. Once your faith is based on your power and your abilities, you are now outside of God’s power and God opposes the proud. The proud says, “I have made myself righteous. I am good for you, God. I can become righteous for you. I can resist Satan with my own will.” Consider the words of Ephesians 6:10

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

Finally. This word speaks volumes. When you finally grasp the truth of the gospel, it’s all about being strong in the Lord and not in yourself. The truth is that once you fail, you are closer to God’s power than when you think you are succeeding. This principle is taught well in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What is the thorn in your flesh? Is it lust? Anger? Greed? A physical infirmity? Your weakness is a gift of God. Strange words? It is true. The sins you think are driving you away from God are driving you to His power. Religion – even Christian religion – blinds us to this vital truth. We are told to try harder. We are taught that if we can get sin out of our lives, God will accept us. We are taught that if we do enough righteous acts, God will be pleased with us. It’s a lie. It is your humility that pleases God. Humility leads us to faith, and faith unveils the power of God in our lives.

When Paul came to the end of himself, he prayed in desperation. He thought that if he could just get the thorn out of his life, he could achieve spiritual success. God allowed him to struggle, pray, struggle, and pray again, and again. Once Paul reached the end of himself, God revealed this basic truth, “Your weakness weans you off yourself and drives you to My power.” Once Paul understood this truth, everything changed. Instead of saying, “God make me strong,” or “God get me out of this,” he started looking at his weaknesses as the unveiling of God’s power. Then instead of saying, “If only I could get rid of this,” he embraced it. No, he gloried in it. He rejoiced in the weakness.

This word is for you as well. What is the weakness defeating you? It may be delivered by a messenger of Satan, but instead of defeating you, God uses it to unveil His power in you. Your sins drive you out of self-righteousness and into faith in His righteousness. Then His righteousness drives sin out of your life. This is a gift of God, for God is not allowing you to be robbed of His glory. When you can glory, you are missing out on the glory of God intended for you. God uses your failures to reveal His power in you. Then the more you understand you are weak, and you are trusting in His strength, glory is inevitable.

Be strong in the Lord – not be strong for the Lord.

Let’s look at another amazing passage – 2 Corinthians 13:4

For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.

It’s all about Christ. You are weak in Him that the power of God may be strong in you. This is the common theme throughout the Bible. When Hebrews 11 goes through the examples of faith, it adds this important truth in Hebrews 11:32-34

32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:
33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

In weakness, these icons of faith were made strong. Everything they accomplished, they did so in human weakness so the power of God could rest upon them. God doesn’t pick the most valiant conquerors. God picks the weak so He can be their valiant strength. When God raised up Gideon to lead Israel out of the oppression of the Median kingdom, this young man was hiding in a vat in order to thresh wheat. He was afraid of the bands of raiders that would steal their food if he did it openly. The nation was in desperate poverty, and God picked an unknown young man, hiding from the raiders, and an angel was sent to proclaim God’s call. The angel began his words with, “Hail, valiant warrior.” Valiant warrior? This lad, who had never fought a battle and was afraid of his enemies was called a valiant warrior?

God was looking at what He would accomplish through Gideon’s strength, and God was calling the reality of what was not yet revealed as though it were an accomplished fact. In God’s will, it was already an accomplished work, and Gideon was being called into the victory God had already declared.

Let’s conclude with two passages that explains how God’s invitation is not limited to our weakness. Not only that, but God reveals His greatest works in those who are incapable of accomplishing the work. Let’s look at Romans 4:16-25

16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all
17 (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations ") in the presence of Him whom he believed– God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;
18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be."
19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.
20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,
21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.
22 And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness."
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him,
24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead,
25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Just as God did in Gideon’s life, so He did with Abraham, and so it is with you. God looks at your life and calls those things that are not as though they were. This was not only written for Abraham, but it is for you. And you, by faith, agree with God’s declaration and it is accounted to you for righteousness apart from your own works. Are you fully convinced in God’s declaration of you? Or are you looking at your weaknesses and declaring these as your trust. Or are you looking at your accomplishments and your own righteous acts, thus nullifying the promise of God. It is by grace that the power might be in God and not you.

Let’s end with one last passage, 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,
29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God– and righteousness and sanctification and redemption–
31 that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD."

Why does God choose the weak things and the foolishness of the gospel to accomplish His work? Why does God do His work in ways the world can’t understand? And in ways the church doesn’t even understand? Because no flesh will glory in God’s presence. God chooses our weakness to reveal to us God’s power. You are a possessor of God’s power. God doesn’t choose you for your abilities, talents, or status. If God is going to use these, the flesh must first be made weak and our confidence in ourselves must be stripped away.

More times than not, God picks those who lack human ability, and He uses their weakness to do His amazing work so we will stand back and say, “Wow. It’s all about Christ.” Until we understand this truth, we limit the power of God in our lives. Though God can use those who don’t understand this, the things these ministers in this limited faith are accomplishing pales in comparison to what God desires to reveal. How much greater would we experience God’s power if we stopped looking out ourselves and started trusting in Him. Even when we see our failure, it is an invitation to rest in the power of God.

God rewards you for faith in Him, and though it is His work, God rewards you as though it were your works. It’s the amazing love of God. God wants you to inherit all He has, and all He asks is for you to be humble and trust in Him instead of yourself.

Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987

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The Prodigal Brother

In the previous studies, we looked at the prodigal son and the prodigal’s father. The heart of the story is not about the son, but the love of the father. The parable of the prodigal was introduced by Jesus when the religious people of that culture criticized Him saying, “This man receives sinners and even eats with them!”

They were appalled by the concept of having fellowship with people of lesser character. As we discussed in an earlier message, in that culture, to sit down at the table with someone was to proclaim your acceptance of that person. No respectable leader would be caught speaking to a prostitute, thieving tax collector, or drunkard, much less would they dare to dine with them and acknowledge them as acceptable.

Instead of criticizing their judgmental attitudes, Jesus first explains how God cares enough about the sinner, that He would go out and seek to save those who are lost in their sins. Later, Jesus will begin to explain how the law condemns anyone who is born into a sinful nature, for not even the elite religious thinker can avoid sin. They may hide it from public view, but they cannot purify the sin inside.

In Matthew 23, Jesus was moved with compassion to rescue the masses from the burden placed upon them by religion. He condemned the heavy weight placed upon those deemed to be sinners and explained to them the true acceptance by God is to be humble. Through the scriptures, we understand that humility is recognizing we are all incapable of becoming righteous by our best efforts, and we then acknowledge all good is a gift from God. It is God’s righteousness, given to those who recognize they can do nothing, and then turn to Christ. The humble depends upon God’s gift of grace. The proud still thinks they can achieve goodness by making themselves perfect for God. The self-righteous has rejected the gift of grace, and is making themselves into a rival of Jesus by presenting their own works in the place of Jesus’ work.

The law was given to reveal to man the perfect standard of good. Since Adam’s fall, man has looked to himself for good. He still believes the lie, “You can be like God to know good and evil.” It is in human nature to fashion rules into something we can keep. For this reason, God gave the law. Man has always tried to reshape the law into something self-affirming, but God is constantly reminding man that if we fail to keep the whole law, we are guilty. If we fail in one point, we are guilty of the whole law. Therefore, there are two things you should know about the law. It is the standard of perfection based on God’s character. It is also the revelation that you cannot find perfection in yourself. It is intended to drive you away from trusting in your works so you are forced to look to the cross.

Religion can spruce up the outward appearance. Anyone can present a perfect façade to the world and other religious people, but the most religious and the most morally bankrupt have the same problem. They have a rotten sinful nature, and though some may mask it better than others, at our core, we all are in the same position. This is why Jesus said, Matthew 23:27-28

27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The very people who were condemning the riffraff of society had the same problem. You can paint a tomb white, but it doesn’t change what is on the inside. Those who are looking at the outer shell will be impressed. Those who are decorating their outer appearance can give the pretense of perfection, but just below the surface is rottenness and corruption. We are all in the same boat.

But the good news is that it doesn’t matter. As we have discussed before, when we trust in Christ, we have the promise that the Holy Spirit circumcises (or cuts away) our old inner rottenness, and replaces it with a new nature, born after the Spirit. It is born of God, abides in God, and is a partaker of God’s divine nature. From this point on, the problem is no longer our inner corruption, but remaining in the mindset of the outer flesh.

The problem with religion is that it blinds the self-righteous to their need, and blinds the immoral of their deliverance. I say ‘immoral’, but the truth is that every person has the same heart. Some sins are just more socially acceptable or easier to mask than others. Let’s illustrate this with the story of the airplane pushers.

A certain village was settled in a valley encircled by a massive mountain range. Their forefathers had been banished to this place and they still lived in extreme poverty. The limited resources made every day a fight for survival. No one had ever successfully crossed the mountain ridges to discover what was on the other side. Generations ago, their forefathers wrote of a land of abundance, but they had no way to reach it.

One day the Lord spoke to a man and gave him a message for the village. The people were to build an airplane according to specific instructions. If they trusted and obeyed, they would soon discover God’s promise of a land with every need met. No one knew what an airplane was, but it was the only hope of escaping this place. The man carrying God’s instructions assured the people God’s plan was perfect, even if they didn’t understand. These impoverished people rejoiced at this word and began constructing the airplane.

Though they didn’t understand, they built it according to God’s message, and soon they had a plane at the foot of the mountain. The base of the mountain was a gentle slope, but the higher the mountain went, the steeper and more rugged the terrain. Soon the Lord spoke again and instructed them to take the plane over the mountain. The strongest men were placed at each wing, and the rest pushed from behind. Then the journey began. For a while, things went fine. It was tiring, but the plane moved steadily up the rising slope of the mountain. But then they reached the first cliff.

The people reasoned out a new plan. They roped the plane, and after many struggles, they pulled the plane over the first small cliff. They pushed the craft along until they reached the next cliff. It was higher and steeper than the one before. With great effort, they tried to scale the cliff with the plane, but failed. They regrouped and came up with a new plan. They would disassembled the plane, climb the cliff, and reassemble it again.

Some argued against this plan. Their instructions was to take the plane up the mountain, not pieces of the plane. They had to stick with the original word. The disagreement became so great, the village divided. The majority sided with disassembling, and those holding to the original plan were left without a plane, so they built their own airplane.

Those who carried the pieces scaled this cliff with great effort, only to find the next cliff was higher and steeper still. What’s more is they were barely started on their journey. It was clear that the only way to make it would be to do the best they could. They reasoned that if they could get one piece to the top of the mountain, God would honor their efforts and reward them. They would focus on getting the most important piece to the top.

The people began arguing over which was the most important. When they could not agree, they divided again. Those who thought the wings were what God wanted called themselves the wing nuts, and they focused on carrying their valued piece. The holy rollers said the wheels were most important. The visionaries took the windows. Each group set out to get their piece to the top.

Those with the lightest pieces made fast progress. The strongest among them soon climbed the highest. Everyone began to bog down as the mountain became more treacherous. The complete plane crowd made no progress, but they kept trying and repairing their plane. God would be pleased because they were the most faithful to the original instruction. Each group looked down at those below and were sure God would honor them because of how much more progress they had made than others. Each group began measuring themselves against those below, and obedience was based on how much better they were than others instead of the impossible task of climbing the mountain.

The weaker among them became frustrated and gave up completely. They returned to the valley, and were considered as outcasts. As they looked back to the mountain, from a distance the highest achievers looked no different than those at the lowest cliffs. No one was even a fraction up the mountain, so why bother?

One day a man showed up in the village. He told them it was impossible to get the plane to the top of the mountain, and it was never in their power to do so. God never intended for the people to carry the airplane. Those who had made it the highest hated the words of this man. Their identity was now wrapped up in how much better they were doing than other groups, and especially the mere valley dwellers.

The man readied the plane and invited any who would come to enter the plane. He claimed he could use the wind to lift the airplane and guide it over the mountain. All they had to do was get inside and rest.

“That’s preposterous,” the elite of the village cried. They condemned anyone who would trust in this ridiculous doctrine. God instructed them to take the plane over the mountain. They could not accept that taking the plane was to get in it, and not to bear it on their backs. Besides, how could God measure their worthiness if their efforts meant nothing?

They scoffed at the idea that the wind could have the power to safely lift this plane. They had seen evidence of the wind many times. Sometimes it knocked things over. Sometimes it turned the windmill. One nutcase even built wings for his arms and flapped around like a fool. He never left the ground and no one had flown with the power of the wind.

Those who believed, climbed in the plane and were amazed that this mass of material could fly. The wind was able to use the wings to create lift? The power was in the wind, and not in the plane itself? The mechanics of the plane only served to receive the wind? Their limited understanding couldn’t comprehend how this was possible, but they rejoiced when the mountains that had been their prison for so many years drifted powerlessly under them as the plane carried them to the promise God had given them.

Their best efforts had been worthless, but now they also realized their weaknesses and limitations were irrelevant. Once they were carried by the wind, the mountain that once imprisoned them had no power at all.

This mindset is why God’s people could not comprehend the message of Christ. Those who compared their success against those who appeared weaker scoffed at the gospel, for it said they were all hopelessly imprisoned by the law. Those who saw the impossibility of climbing the mountain of holiness and perfection rejoiced at the gospel message.

You mean to tell me that nothing is about what I do for God? It’s not about me fulfilling the perfect standard of the law? The law only served to reveal to all of us the impossibility of measuring up to God’s nature. Even today, those who look at their accomplishments by comparing themselves to those with greater limitations will feel self-righteous, and their identity is wrapped up in self-glorification. But if we turn and look at the mountain, the cliffs of human limitations, sin, and our nature that weighs us down, we will understand why religion cannot please God. When we look at others, we might feel proud. When we look at our own weaknesses, we might feel defeat. But when we look at Christ, we discover that our works are irrelevant. Our sins are irrelevant. Our limitations are irrelevant. We are trusting in His works, His power, and His strength.

This is what the prodigal son discovered. When he turned to his father, he was focused on his defeat, but the father revealed to him that all his sins and failures were irrelevant. All he had to do was turn away from what was worthless and enter into the fellowship of agape love. Yet his brother wasn’t focused on the love of the father either. He was looking at himself and comparing his works to his brother’s failures. Look at Luke 15:25-32

25 "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 "So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
27 "And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 "So he answered and said to his father, `Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 `But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 "And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 `It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’"

Which of these brothers were denied love or fellowship? Neither. The son who fell into sin allowed the world to rob him of experiencing love, but once he turned back, he found that the only thing between him and the father’s love was his rejection of that love.

The brother who didn’t fall into sin also missed fellowship. Because he counted his brother as unworthy, he refused to participate. Yet the father refused to cast his brother out of the party just because the older brother put that condition in place. The self-righteous brother withdrew because he thought his younger brother was unworthy. Yet it was he who missed the joy of fellowship, not the brother who returned from sin.

This is you and I when we deem someone a sinner to be shunned. We are all in the same boat. My sins may not be as blatant as the outcast of society, but we both have a sin nature. We both are incapable of becoming righteous. We both are incapable of fulfilling the law.

Human nature is masterful at self-deception. When we see the law, we shape it into something we can keep, and then we convince ourselves we are righteous. I go to church, but they don’t. Yet is my heart in worship of who God is and what He has done for me? If not, I might as well not be here. I’m not doing God a service by being here. If I am in a spirit of worship, then I am also in a humble spirit of receiving from God. I then understand I am only righteous because He has given me His righteousness. The only difference between me and the one I deem as a sinner is that they have not yet discovered God’s gift of righteousness. They become righteous the same way I did – by grace through faith. It is a gift of God not of works so I cannot boast.

We recreate many laws in order to create a standard by which we can feel as if we’re measuring up, but that’s mere religion and will not be honored by God. I’ll give an example. Some claim that unless we keep the Sabbath, we are guilty of violating God’s law. The Sabbath is Saturday. Yet these people don’t keep the Sabbath? Do they travel to church? Do they get their kids ready? Do they cook, set the table, clean up, or do any chore or work in any way? The law of the Sabbath is to do no work – at all. Don’t buy, sell, or exert yourself in any way. Not only can you not work, but it is also a violation of the Sabbath to allow a stranger with you to work. That includes supporting businesses or allowing someone else to do the work for you. Oh, and don’t buy or sell on the Sabbath.

Yet we have shaped the Sabbath into something we can keep, and then we feel justified for keeping our version of the law. We are breaking the Sabbath and then placing ourselves above God by rewriting the law to fit our culture and lifestyle. It’s not just us. Jesus said to the law-abiding Jews, “Moses gave you the law, but none of you keep the law.” And no one disputed Him because deep down they knew they were guilty, though they tried to cover their sin with human effort.

Yet the word Sabbath means rest. That’s why Jesus said, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” It’s also why the Bible says, “We who have believed do enter that rest.”

If you are in Christ, you are a Sabbath keeper, for He is that rest. If you are in Christ, you have kept the law, for the Bible says in Romans 8:3-4

3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Just in case you may misunderstand the wording here, let’s bring in Romans 8:9

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 Christ, he is not His.

If you are in Christ, you are a fulfiller of the law. The law is fulfilled by faith. Your faith is to trust in Christ, who fulfilled the law, and you trust in His gift of grace, which blesses you as though you have kept the law. It’s all about trusting in Christ.

The message of the prodigal is all about the love of God, your Heavenly Father, given to you. God does not love you because of what you do or don’t do. He loves you for who you are because of who He is. God is love, and He loves you because that is His nature. He invites you into His agape fellowship because He is glorified when you receive His goodness. And then He blesses you for receiving grace.

Back to the story of our airplane pushers. When they landed in the land of promise, some who had made the most progress on the mountain were stuck in that mindset. They met together and discussed how much God had been pleased with their work on the other side, and to receive the greater blessing, they had to show God how much they were willing to do for Him. So they began climbing the mountain from the other side. They persuaded others to follow them.

When they felt beaten and famished, it must be that God was not pleased. They had to be strong enough to conquer this mountain. Now they had God’s strength, so they would use it to defeat the mountain.

As the Restoration of Mountain Climbers grew in popularity, others began climbing with them. Again people began feeling defeated and falling away. They were shunned, just as they had been on the other side. Someone came to the group and said, “Turn around and look. All you need has already been given,” but they were scorned and counted as offenders. Even in the land of plenty, many lived as though they were on the other side. The same mountain that defeated them before, continued to defeat them. They couldn’t understand why God wasn’t blessing them to climb. Some enjoyed the promise and lived by faith in what they had been given. Others returned to the self-righteous mindset and lived as though they had never been delivered.

The truth is that God will never bless you to accomplish for Him what He has already accomplished for you. Even a Christian, if he or she returns to the law, will live as someone under the impossible burden of the law. They will be tempted to reject others because they are again looking at themselves instead of the giver of all things.

If we look to anything other than faith in Christ, we are under a burden not intended for us. We are also blind to the love of God. The Bible says that when people read the law as their focus for obedience, the veil is placed over their hearts. That veil is only taken away in Christ. While under the veil, the only measurement we have is our works and the sins of others. Both are false measurements.

The prodigal son could not receive love because he was focused on the false promises of sin. The prodigal brother could not receive love because he was focused on his false righteousness and refused to be in the fellowship of those he deemed unworthy of love. Yet he was rejecting the Father’s love just as much as his brother did. Unfortunately, it’s easier to recognize our weaknesses when we fall to sin than when we fall for religion.

Regardless of which side you are on, God’s love does not change. He pleads with the prodigal sinner, and the religious sinner. Any who will come will rejoice in the fellowship of God’s love.

Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987

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Prodigal’s Father

Last week we discussed the prodigal son, and how he believed his sins drove him away from his father’s love. However, his failures revealed the depth of his father’s love in a way that he could not understand until he had nothing but failure to offer him.

In the same way, we don’t understand the depths of God’s love for us until we begin to understand that we have nothing to offer God but sin. In the flesh, even our righteous acts are sin, for as Jesus said, everything that is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is of the Spirit. The works of the flesh cannot produce anything of the Spirit.

When we begin to grasp this truth is when we begin to understand that God doesn’t love us based on what we have done or not done, but based on who He is. God loves you because He is love, and the only barrier God has established is our faith in His word of promise.

Let’s begin studying this truth by looking at love by comparing the Old Testament to the New. The unveiling of our need began when Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation in the garden. It began with questioning God’s love. Genesis 3:5

"For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

How subtle temptation can be. Man already had the knowledge of good. The only thing he lacked was the knowledge of sin. Before sin entered, man was God-conscious and only saw the good coming from the Lord. Once he stepped into sin, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, and though nothing in life had changed at this point, they became ashamed. They were ashamed because they now looked for good in themselves instead of receiving the righteousness of God. From the beginning, it has always been God’s intention to be our righteousness instead of demanding righteousness.

Once man set out on a quest to make himself good by human effort, the law began to take shape. In the beginning, there was only one law – don’t eat of the tree. Once the tree was taken away, man was in sin, but incapable of understanding his inability to be righteous outside of God. The Bible says that where there is no law, sin is not imputed. In order to reveal to man that good only comes from above, God began unveiling the law in order to drive mankind into the knowledge of sin outside of Him. The Law cannot make us good, it can only reveal our sin. Look at Romans 7:9-10, 12-14

9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.

12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.

Let’s look at how the law was introduced, how it drives us to the knowledge we are sinful by nature and cannot become unsinful, and then see how God uses our weakness to reveal His love. In order to reveal the power of His love, God first based the Old Testament law on our love. Look at Deuteronomy 6:4-5

4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
5 "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

The law was based upon the command to love God with all – not part – of our life. All your mind. All your heart. All your strength. If you fail to give God everything, you are guilty of breaking the law. The nation of Israel was put under the law, and they could not keep it. They began to shape the law into their culture, and then they strove to accomplish it through a never-ending expansion of the law. The question has always been, “Are you doing enough? Are you loving God enough?”

When the lawyers asked Jesus which was the greatest commandments, He quoted the above passage, but He used the word ‘agape’, which is the love of God. Man’s love is ‘philia’, or friendship love. Philia love is dependent upon receiving. Philia love dies or weakens when it is not returned, but agape is the unconditional love of God. Take time to read 1 Corinthians 13. This explains agape love – it seeks not its own, is not provoked, rejoices in truth, endures all things, and so on. It is beyond human capability to fulfill this. What’s more, is that if you do good deeds, and do not have agape love, your good works profit nothing. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:3

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Agape cannot be earned, nor can it be produced. Either our works are produced by God’s agape love, or they are worthless. Even our good deeds are mere acts of the flesh. This is why Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteous acts are filthy rags in God’s sight.

This is what those focused on the law could not comprehend. This is why grace was a threat to the religious community at the birth of the church, and why trusting in grace is viewed as a threat today. No one wants to believe that their works profit nothing. Yet once we understand the love of God, we discover this doesn’t matter, for by faith we receive the greater blessing than what we were trying to earn before.

When Jesus quoted the law, it was always to reveal to those who trusted in their works the reality of their guilt. To the Pharisee who thought they were keeping the law, Jesus dismantled all their works. They brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus knowing He would not condemn her. They said, “She was caught in the very act. The law says she must die, but what do you say?”

Jesus stooped down and began writing in the dirt. I imagine he was writing the secret sins He knew they were guilty of. Lust, greed, hatred. Perhaps He wrote the command to love God with all our soul, heart, and strength. Then underlined the word ‘all’. Why is Jesus writing these things, they wondered. Then they demanded, “The law says she must be stoned. What do you say?” The law had already condemned this woman, now those who trusted in the law thought the law could also condemn grace. But the reverse was true.

Jesus stood up and said, “Whichever among you is without guilt, let him be the first to cast a stone.” Then He returned to highlighting their sins in the dirt. One by one, they dropped their stones in frustration and walked away.

Under the law, we are all guilty. And if you look to your works or righteousness – or anything from yourself, you will find guilt instead of righteousness. And that is the purpose of the law. Look at Romans 3:19-20

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

The law was intended to show you are guilty because God wants you to understand that you are loved, not because you do good works. Not because of the sins you manage to avoid. Nor does God deny you because of your sins or lack of good works. God doesn’t love you because of what you do or don’t do. God loves you because He is love. God defeated sin for you in order to reveal that nothing can stand between you and the love of God. Nothing but your refusal of His love. People refuse God’s love because they either don’t believe God loves them because of their failures, or because they believe they can earn His love by human success. But the law never produces righteousness. It only reveals whether a person is already righteous by nature.

After the incident with the woman condemned by the law, Jesus began revealing how they are also under condemnation. He said, “You have heard it taught that if a woman leaves her husband for another, she has committed adultery. But I tell you, if you even look at a woman to lust after her, you have already committed adultery in your heart.”

To those who boasted of their righteousness, Jesus revealed their sin. The rich young ruler who said he loved his neighbor as himself was instructed to sell everything he had and give it to his poor neighbors. To those who condemned murderers, Jesus said that hatred in the heart makes you a murderer. To the person who condemns the thieving tax collectors, the Bible says that greed is equal to thievery. To the one who condemns idolaters, loving wealth is idolatry. Every sin we can observe is already in our own hearts, even if pride blinds us to its reality. Pride blinds us to our guilt, but the law reveals our condemnation. A condemnation that is removed in Christ.

Do you love God with everything? Every thought is based on love for Him? Every action is out of a love for Him? Everything in our heart is grounded in love for God? Our love for our neighbor is so great that we give from our own table to them?

Anyone who trusts in the law or believes they are keeping the law is deceiving themselves. Anyone who thinks they love God enough is living a lie.

That’s the bad news of the law. But the good news is that Jesus fulfilled the law for us to give us God’s favor, bore the penalty of sin for us to take it out of the way, and gives us birth into new life by the Spirit whose life is from God.

The Old Testament law is, do you love God enough. The New Testament says, “It’s not about your love at all. It’s about His love.” Look at 1 John 4:16-19

16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.

It was never about our love. It has always been about God’s love. In the beginning, man enjoyed fellowship with God until his focus was turned to himself. Remember the account of the tower of Babel? Their goal was to build a tower to heaven. Man’s goal has always been to make himself good, yet every good and perfect gift comes from God, not from man. The law reveals to you and I that our efforts can never be good enough, and it doesn’t matter. Our failure reveals God’s love.

The law was never about man. It has always been about God. The law unveils God’s perfect character and nature, and it unveils our inability to be perfect or attain to God’s standard of perfection – a standard that has always been about God. Now we see the promise, it isn’t about your love for God, but His love for you. God couldn’t have made this clearer than 1 John 4:10

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

It’s not that you love God, it’s that you know and believe in the love God has for you. That is the message of the prodigal son. It wasn’t about the son’s love. It was that the son could not comprehend the love of the father until he had nothing but failure to give to his father. It was then that he discovered the father loved him only because he was his child, and because that was the father’s nature. It was never about the son. It was about the father’s love for the son.

This is you. You are the focus of God’s love. He loves you because you are His child, and His love transforms you. But that transformation cannot take place until you come to the end of yourself – the point where you stop looking to you and begin to know and believe in His love for you.

You see this in the disciples of Jesus. Peter boasted of his love for Jesus. He proclaimed his willingness to fight for Jesus, die for Jesus, and affirmed that he would never forsake Jesus – even if all these others do. Who was the only disciple to deny Jesus? It was the one trusting in himself and his own love for God.

All the others forsook Jesus and fled for their lives – except one. John went to the palace with the crowd arresting Jesus. He is the one who helped Peter get into the courtyard where Jesus was being tried. He was the only disciple at the crucifixion. He was the one Jesus spoke to from the cross when Jesus delivered His mother into John’s care so she would not have to watch Him die. Now look at how the Bible describes John in these passages?

John 13:23

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.

John 20:2

Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."

John 21:7

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!"

John 21:20

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following,

Do you notice anything unusual about the disciple Jesus loved? Have you noticed this only appears in the gospel of John? John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved, but this only appears in John’s own writing. John endured because he understood the love of Christ for him. Never does he boast about his love for Jesus. In John’s latter years, he writes to the church and says, “It’s not that we love God, but that He first loved us.” Following this he says, “We have known and believed in the love He has for us.”

From here we have the promise that perfect love casts out fear. No fear can abide in the heart that is receiving perfect love. Human love can never be perfect. Perfect love is God’s love received into our hearts. When you understand that you are the disciple God loves, you will begin walking in confidence. Fear is forced out of your life, for the disciple God loves has no fear of judgment, but has confidence – even in the day of judgment. God loves you so much that He was punished for your sins. Someone who lives in that kind of love could never fear judgment.

There is no fear in life, for God has promised that He has worked out all things for your good – this includes now and in the future. If you know and believe in the love God has for you, and His love has already prepared the way, how can you fear anything this life can throw at you? Look now at Daniel 10:19

And he said, "O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!" So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, "Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me."

You are God’s greatly beloved. God’s beloved has no fear, but peace. And where does strength come from? God strengthens you and it is by His grace we stand. Don’t believe the lie that Jesus loves you and defends you to the Father. Indeed Jesus is our advocate, but He defends us when the accuser tries to condemn us with the law. Your Heavenly Father loves you and you must know and believe in His love. Look at the words of Jesus in John 16:26-27

26 "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you;
27 "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.

You and I are in that day. He is referring to the day when our redemption was complete in Christ. The barrier of the law was removed, sin was taken out of the way, and now the love of God is unveiled in all its glory. When we fall into a humanistic religious mindset, we falsely think God is pleased based on what we do for Him. Not so. Let’s wrap up with Hebrews 11:6

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

All of this is based on knowing and believing in the love God has for you. Have faith in His love for you. Many children go through rebellious attitudes during the transition from childhood to adulthood. During the dark years of adolescence, children doubt their parent’s love. I’ve heard children say, “My parents hate me,” when I know for certain that youth’s parent would give up everything for their child’s good. They work to provide every necessity, education, and gifts. Yet if a child disbelieves in their parent’s love, they will live life under a false ideology and their own perception becomes a reality in their lives.

We do the same with God. He has done everything to unveil His love for us, yet if we place ourselves under the perception of condemnation, we’ll live under condemnation, doubt, and frustration. We can live as a child who has an unpleasable father and never experience the love given to us.

During Jesus’ last prayer, He said the following in John 17:22-23

22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
23 "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Your heavenly Father loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. You have the glory of God resting upon you, but you can live as a condemned man or woman. Or you can walk in God’s strength and trust in His love.

Know and believe in the love your Father in Heaven has for you. If there is one truth that will transform you into the victorious Christian life, it is this. Once you begin to believe in God’s unconditional love, you will begin walking as a child of the Kingdom. Once you understand you are loved, not because of your own abilities, but because God delights in you solely because you are His beloved child, you will experience a life of love. And God’s agape love transforms lives because it is the power of God within you.

Abide in God’s love. Know and believe in the love He has for you. In this rests all the promises of the life we have been given. It’s all a gift of God’s love for you. You are the disciple God loves!

Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987

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The Prodigal Son

For the next three weeks, we are going to study the parable of the prodigal son. We call it the prodigal son, but it’s more than just a story about a wayward son. It’s one of the richest illustrations ever told. It’s about a son whose life was changed by the love of his father, and a brother who didn’t understand grace.

We are going to study this story from all three perspectives, that of the son, the father, and the brother. Let’s begin by reading the entire illustration from Luke 15:11-32

11 Then He said: "A certain man had two sons.
12 "And the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.
13 "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
14 "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.
15 "Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 "And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 "But when he came to himself, he said, `How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 `I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,
19 "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."’
20 "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
21 "And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 "But the father said to his servants, `Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
23 `And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;
24 `for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 "So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
27 "And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 "So he answered and said to his father, `Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 `But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 "And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 `It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’"

Prodigal Son

You and I are either the prodigal, or the brother. Keep in mind that Jesus told this parable in response to those who criticized him for showing acceptance of prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and other sinful people that the religious community shunned as unworthy of God’s acceptance.

In the ancient Jewish culture, to dine with someone is a declaration of acceptance. No Jew would ever dine with someone they didn’t consider respectable and acceptable. Do you remember the story of Jesus and the woman at the well? When Jesus asked her to draw out water for Him, she was shocked. No Jew would dare speak to a Samaritan. They were considered polluted people. They would not even acknowledge their presence, and certainly wouldn’t stoop so low as to ask one for help. Jesus not only spoke to this woman, but He spent two days with the Samaritans, dining with them and teaching them.

If you want to understand the heart of the Father, look at Jesus. We like to separate the Father and the Son as though the Father is angry and the Son appeases Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Father sent the Son and the Spirit empowered Him to perform miracles, teach, and fulfill the mission He came to accomplish. The Bible says that Jesus, though He existed in the form of God, veiled His glory and took upon Himself the form of a bondservant, and came in the likeness of sinful flesh.

The power of Christ was veiled for His earthly ministry, and His power on earth was the same power we have on earth – the ministry of the Spirit. This is why the Bible speaks of Christ this way in Luke 4:18-19

18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."

This is also why Jesus said in John 14:12-13

12 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
13 "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

God is not a seething angry judge. Wrath is against sin, not against you. When Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God, judgment was satisfied and we now have absolute confidence in the Father’s love toward us. Look at 1 John 4:17-19

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.

You are not of fear, but of confidence. Your confidence should not be in yourself, or you will never have confidence. In Christ, the Bible says we have been given the adoption of God as sons. Until we became children of God, we could not have confidence. If a servant rebels, what happens? He will not be treated as a son, but as an offender. Yet we are not servants, but sons. Both men and women are sons of God.

Have you ever noticed how the Bible always talks about us as sons of God? We are sons of the inheritance? In the ancient culture when the Bible was written, women didn’t inherited the possessions of their father. They married into the inheritance of their husbands, but unless there were no sons, they did not inherit the estate of their family.

Though men and women have different gifts and callings in scripture, they both have the same inheritance, for the Bible says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. We are all one in Christ. When it comes to our lives in the flesh, we are male and female, but when it comes to the inheritance, we are all counted as sons. All who are of faith are counted as sons – there is no difference. There aren’t kings and queens in God’s kingdom. There are kings and priests – and we are blessed through faith and not gender.

Also absent from the kingdom is slave verses master. In the biblical culture, slavery was not a racial ideology as we think of in light of the 17-1800s. Slavery was the solution to bankruptcy. When someone borrowed money, but were unable to pay it back, they paid the debt through servitude. When borrowing money, the servitude would have been agreed upon before a loan was made.

In God’s kingdom, we are not slaves, for the debt has been paid through Christ. A son can never become a slave, even if he squanders his inheritance. Do you think the prodigal son understood his father’s love?

This immature young man had no concept of the value of his father’s love. Jesus uses this illustration to shock the hearers who didn’t understand God’s love. So he used a rebellious man’s love for money to drive the point hard. A son could not inherit the father’s wealth until after his death. Therefore, this young man is saying, “I wish you were dead. But since you don’t look like you are dying, I want you to just get out of the way and give me what I’ll get if you were dead.”

All the father had to say was, “No.” The young man would have had to stay, but this father understood that forced obedience was not valuable. He divided the inheritance and gave all he had to both his sons. The younger son probably sold off the cattle and goods, then took the money and said, “I’m out of here.” He left without caring how much his father loved him.

It was probably years that he was gone. He partied hard, and everyone is a friend to the big spender. Once the money was gone, the lad had to begin earning his keep. But life threw him a curve. A famine hit the land. In order to create a famine, there would have to be several years with no rain. No crops in the field meant no one was hiring laborers. The only job this man could find was helping a pig farmer.

You need to understand how low this job would have been to a Jewish man. The most vile creature on earth was a pig. Jews would never eat or even touch a pig. Not only that, but they considered themselves unclean if they touched anything or anyone who had come in contact with a pig. In an act of pure desperation, this man took the worst job imaginable.

The famine continued, and the young man grew so desperate that he not only worked in the pig sty, he also began eating the refuse thrown to the pigs. The food not fit for human consumption was the only thing he had available.

While choking down this vile slop, he finally realized he was as low as anyone could go. No friends. No money. No shelter. No food. Even the slaves back home had food, clothing, and shelter. He then rehearsed a speech that he would give to his father and headed home.

Do you think this young man had perfect love? Did he trust in his father’s love? Did he have any comprehension of how much his father loved him? No to all of the above. When he was at home, he wasn’t looking at his father. He was looking at the desire of temptation. After pursuing what he thought would bring fulfillment, he inherited the consequences of his life’s choices.

Do you think he was focused on the father’s love when he came to himself? No. He was still thinking about himself and his desperate situation. He didn’t think his father could love him. He looked at his sins, life’s choices, and the consequences of his own actions. He was certain that his sin had driven him away from his father. He would beg to become a slave just to survive.

How many sins did the father make his son recount before forgiving him? None. Did the father withhold love from the son? No. He loved him even while he was living in debauchery. The father knew the son could never understand his love until his son came to the end of himself. The love of the father never changed. The only thing that changed was that his son could never understand how much dad loved him until he had nothing in his life worthy of love.

Many of you are the prodigal son, or have been there. I have been there. In the past, I thought my sins were driving me away from God, but I discovered they were driving me to Him.

It was not until I had nothing to offer God but sin that I discovered God doesn’t love me because of who I am, but because of who He is. It isn’t until we understand that all we have to give to God is our sin that we can then understand that everything is about His love and not our efforts.

The prodigal son illustration was given because the people who thought of themselves as good were looking at Jesus and saying, “Why are you accepting these people who are bad?”

It isn’t until we understand that we have nothing good to give God that we can begin to comprehend the depth of God’s love.

The son practiced his rehearsed speech, and when he came to his father, something unexpected happened. While he was a long way off, the father ran to meet him. Before he could say a word, the father embraced him and began kissing him. A little is lost in translation here. There are two words used for ‘kiss’ in the New Testament. One means a fraternal kiss, or the common kiss on the cheek used in many cultures. The other means to kiss repeatedly. A good example of both usages is found when a woman known for her sinful lifestyle came when Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house. People were amazed that Jesus allowed this sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears. It was vile to be touched by such a woman.

Jesus explained how that someone with little sin doesn’t recognize the love of God, but a person who is hopelessly in debt to sin loves much because they are loved much. When they recognize the depth of the love of God, they recognize how much of a treasure they have been given. In this interaction, Jesus says the following in Luke 7:45

You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.

The first usage of the word ‘kiss’ is ‘philema’, which is a sign of respect and acceptance. It’s a fraternal kiss on each cheek. The second usage of the word kiss is the Greek word ‘kataphileo’, which is the act of continually kissing someone. It is to kiss again, and again, and again, and again.

I once saw a mother whose child was rescued from a well. The rescue was televised. She didn’t know if her son was alive or dead until a rescuer went down the shaft and came up with the child, safe and sound. She embraced him and kissed him over and over. This is what kataphileo is communicating, and it’s the word used in the prodigal son.

Before the son could say a word, the father embraced him with a bear hug and kissed him again, and again, and again, and again. Then they wept together until the son could speak. Then while the son is saying, “I have sinned,” the father is commanding the servants to put good sandals on his feet. While the son is saying, “I am not worthy to be called your son,” the father is crying out, “Bring the best robe for my son. Put the family ring on his finger.”

Was the son worthy? No. And that’s the point. It wasn’t about his worthiness, but about the father’s love.

Your faith is not about your worthiness. It isn’t about your sin, or ability to not sin. It’s not about your righteousness or works. It is about the father’s love for you. If you could be worthy, you miss the greatness of God’s love. It is when you have blown it to the point where you know you smell like you’ve been in a pig sty, you’ve been driven to despair by your sins, that is when you can understand the love of God.

God loves you because God is love. Your sins, failures, and weaknesses do not drive you away from God. They drive you to the reality of His love for you. It is only then that you are able to understand how much God loves you. When you understand that all you have to give God is filthy rags, that is when you will see God joyfully take away your rags and give you the robe of righteousness.

The sad reality is that we rarely can grasp how much we are loved until we have failed so miserably that we can no longer deceive ourselves into thinking we can please God by anything other than faith. Let’s wrap up this portion of study with Hebrews 11:6

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

It’s not works, righteousness, moral excellence, or religious activities that pleases God. It is faith. Faith says, “I know and believe in the love God has for me.” Faith says, “I am righteous because I am receive the righteousness of Christ.” Faith understands that all I can give God is my sins and failures, and He gladly gives me His goodness and righteousness. Faith is to believe in God’s grace, not our abilities or lack thereof. Faith reveals that my sin is not God’s barrier, and it isn’t sin that overthrows grace, but grace that overthrows sin.

Faith says, “It’s not about me, but it’s about Christ. It’s about His work given to me as a gift of God’s love.”

God transforms you through His power and gifts of love. You don’t make yourself acceptable to God. You are accepted in Christ, and it’s God’s job to transform you into His likeness. The more you learn to trust in God’s love, the more His love forces out of your life the things that hinder you.

Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987

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The Peninsula Experience

One of the great injustices the church does to its members is teaching that problems are not part of the life of faith. I’ve heard some say that if you have problems in your life, it is either a lack of faith or the judgment against your sin. This is false. Consider the promise of Psalm 34:19

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.

Notice, the Bible says ‘afflictions of the righteous’, not of the sinner. Even Jesus alluded to this when He said, “He that bears fruit will be pruned that he may bear more fruit.”

Your troubles are not the evidence of God’s anger. Nor is the lack of trouble the evidence of God’s favor. How many billionaires are great men of faith? The rich are rarely men focused on godliness. God directs our lives according to His will. Some will indeed have abundance and some will have the greater blessing of being God dependent. I say ‘greater blessing’ because the one who has to trust has the opportunity to grow in faith as part of their daily life.

When the church associates material wealth and a lifestyle of ease with spiritual maturity, they are depriving those whom God is refining, and they are denying the work of God. In the Old Testament, Job went through a time of intense testing. His spiritual friends came to comfort him, but ended up piling a greater burden upon Job. They said, “God would never do this to anyone who doesn’t have sin in his life.” In the end, God said that Job spoke the truth, and his friends spoke falsely – even though one of them said their words to Job came from the Lord.

The human intellect associates good with karma. If I do good deeds or act righteously, good things will happen. The world believes in karma, as do many in the church. We call it blessing, but our belief system is mirroring the world.

Because the church believes hardship is the evidence of faithlessness, people are taught to resist instead of embracing our circumstances through faith. None of us want hard times, yet the man or woman grounded in faith fully believes the promise, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

When you struggle, God is with you. You may have been taught that God is with you during times of blessing, but God is with you during the times you struggle as well. In fact, you will experience God’s presence greater during affliction, unless you believe He is angry and you withdraw from Him. Take encouragement from 1 Peter 4:12-13

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Don’t think something strange is happening when you find yourself in the fire. Rejoice, for God is working to reveal His glory in you!

Does God want you to be blessed and thrive in this life? Yes, but not at the expense of the true richness of our eternal life. God doesn’t want you to miss the eternal fruit of your new life for the fading pleasure of this life. Remember Jesus’ words, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you His Kingdom.” This is fully received through a life of faith. It is not received through the flesh. God refreshes you by the quiet waters and green pastures, but then takes you through the valley of testing. And there is a reason for the testing.

Abraham was promised many things that would prove God’s power on his behalf, but when it came to the reward, Abraham was told, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” It was after Abraham learned to walk by faith that the promises became reality. Yet his investment was not merely in this passing life, but in the life to come.

God’s purpose is to shake loose the things that are temporal so that which is eternal may remain and become our focus. God will wean you off of any trust you have in any thing, person, or selfish belief that draws you away from Him. God doesn’t want you to trust in things. God doesn’t want your confidence to be in people. God doesn’t want you to be dependent upon emotions. When these things become blockades for spiritual growth, God will shake them loose. And if we are taught to reject this work, we will be stuck in the perpetual loop of frustration. The frustration is because our faith is dependent upon the things of the flesh instead of our life in His Spirit.

There will be times when God will put us on the peninsula of despair so we will find hope in nothing other than Him. A peninsula is a land mass that protrudes into the water so it stands alone. Let’s take a look at a few examples from scripture.

The strongest example is when God delivered a faithless people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. We looked at the exodus last week when we studied the unveiling of the Passover. Ten plagues broke the will of Pharaoh. The final plague was the death that fell on any family not under the blood. Once the first born children died, the Egyptians thrust Israel out of the land. They were suddenly free.

Instead of leading them to safety, God led them to a peninsula a few miles outside of Egypt. When Pharaoh pondered this, he raged against these ex-slaves. Let’s pick up the story from Exodus 14:8-13

8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness.
9 So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside Pi Hahiroth, before Baal Zephon.
10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.
11 Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?
12 "Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying,`Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."
13 And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.

What did the people do to deserve their desperate circumstances? Nothing. They obeyed and followed the Lord’s command. They had a moment of freedom, but in a flash, it turned to despair. They heard a rumbling sound in the distance, turned, and saw the land filled with horsemen, chariots, and sword bearing soldiers. They were not merely coming to recapture the slaves. They were going to annihilate them. Behind the people was a sea of water. On both sides, more water. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. They were helpless and defenseless.

This is exactly what God wanted them to experience. God wanted them to be defenseless. He wanted them to be helpless. He wanted them to have no way of escape. God stripped away everything they could lean on so that there were only two possibilities – death or deliverance from God.

This is exactly what God is doing when your life ends up in a quandary. Our natural human reaction is to escape and use our own resources to get out of trouble and find success. God leads, but at the first sign of trouble, we abandon His leading and fall back to our own ways and trust in ourselves, our resources, or other people. When we do so, we are robbing ourselves of the greatness of God’s power in our lives. Knowing that we are incapable of walking by faith without being forced to do so, there will be times when God will strip everything away so He alone is our way of escape. Consider 1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

I’m going to challenge the way most people view this passage. The word ‘temptation’ does not only mean the temptation to sin. The Greek word we translate into tempt means, testing, trial, or to prove our feelings or judgments. It can be us being tested by our flesh as it attempts to draw us into sin, but this is not the limit of this passage. Sometimes we are tempted to fall back into trusting in human effort. Sometimes we are tried by our circumstances. Or tested to reveal where our faith lies.

Here is another truth. The way of escape is through Him. God is not promising that our flesh will have the power to resist, or that we will be victorious through human effort. The Bible is not saying we will be able to bear this by our own strength. We are commanded to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might – not be strong for the Lord with the power of our might.

Sometimes the way of escape is through the defeat of the flesh. When we are broken of self-reliance, our human effort may have been defeated, but our escape is then revealed through the Lord’s mercies. Mercies we cannot comprehend until we stand before Him broken, with nothing to offer but our shattered hope. Then God takes away the worthless hope and replaces it with true hope. Unfortunately, I can’t recognize how worthless my hope in my own abilities or righteousness truly is until it is broken and in ruins. Then the broken pieces lose value, but God comes to us with a restoration that wasn’t possible until we became broken enough to let go of human hope.

I’m going to use an illustration I’ve used a few times, but is important enough to repeat. Key truths are often repeated in scripture because we need to be constantly reminded. Peter understood this, which is why he said, “I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things.” Our faith is constantly being challenged; therefore, important doctrines must be reinforced regularly.

Peter, or as Jesus called him, Simon, was self-confident and self-reliant. He’s about to experience the greatest defeat of his life, and Jesus prepares him with an interesting instruction. Look at Luke 22:31-32

31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.
32 "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

Peter is about to fail, and fail badly, but his faith will not. His faith is given to him by God, and Jesus is promising that he will return from his fall. Satan wants to grind Peter into destruction, but this won’t be possible, for God is preserving him. Not only that, God is about to use Satan to prepare Peter for a life of faith that can never again be shaken.

From the human way of thinking, the above is a contradiction. Your faith won’t fail, and when you return to Me? Why would Peter have to return to Jesus if his faith doesn’t fail? It isn’t Peter’s faith that is about to fail; it’s his flesh. All his confidence is about to be stripped away, and he will crumble in utter defeat. From his perspective, his life is ruined, but from God’s perspective, the worthless part of Peter’s life has been shaken loose so he can now discover the gift of faith that can never be shaken. Peter now stands by faith in himself, his righteousness, and his own love for Jesus. In a few days, Peter will be restored with faith in Christ, stand upon the righteousness of God, and he’ll discover the love of God that can do what his own love could never do.

Most of us know what happens next. When Jesus is arrested, Peter first tries to defend Him by attacking the servant of the High Priest and cutting off his ear. He is rebuked by Jesus and then Christ heals the servant’s ear. All the disciples flee and some follow Jesus from a distance.

Peter makes it into the courtyard where Jesus is being tried, and then a servant girl comes up and says, “Aren’t you one of His disciples?” Think about the position Peter is now in. He attacked the servant of one of the highest rulers in Israel – a crime punishable by death. Now he’s trying to keep anyone from recognizing him, so he denies he knows Jesus. The man who a few hours ago declared confidently, “Though all will forsake you, I will never deny or forsake you. I would die before I would deny you,” is now saying he never met Jesus.

He puts as much distance as possible between himself and the girl, but Satan is stirring her to pursue him. She comes up again, this time inciting others. Someone else joined in, “You must be one of Jesus’ disciples. You sound like a Galilean.” Peter denied and withdrew again.

This nuisance of a girl came up a third time, “This man is one of Jesus’ disciples.” Then someone else from the crowd looked over. He was in the party that arrested Jesus. He gave Peter a suspicious stare and said, “You are one of them. Didn’t I see you in the garden?”

Panic surged through Peter. Someone now could identify him as the one who drew the sword against the servant of the priest. Time to take desperate measures. “I tell you, I have never met the man. May God curse me with death if I have ever met that man!” The Bible says Peter began calling down curses upon himself to prove he wasn’t a disciple. At that moment, the rooster crowed, and the words of Jesus came to mind. That is when Peter’s confidence, self-identity, and hope imploded upon himself. He walked out and wept bitterly. That word ‘bitterly’ tells us that Peter was completely defeated. He failed, seethed against himself, and agonized over his own stupidity and failure.

Where was the way of escape that Jesus promised? From the human perspective, Peter had to endure more than he could take. Indeed he did. Peter wasn’t supposed to escape. The only way Peter could escape his own self-focus was to have it crushed. Look at his words in Mark 14:30-31

30 Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times."
31 But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all said likewise.

The disciple is rebuking his Master? Foolish? Yes, but you and I have the same attitude in us. We can’t believe that our good is worthless. We can’t believe that human faith is contrary to the faith God measures to us. We can’t believe that we can’t please God by what we do or don’t do. We naturally fall into self-righteousness and self-sustaining behaviors.

Why didn’t the other apostles have to be broken this way? Merely being helpless to protect Jesus was all the breaking they needed, but Peter was strong in himself and was unbreakable without being broken by Satan. God ordained the circumstances that would crush Peter’s spirit. From the human perspective, this seems tragic, but the truth is that God loved Peter enough to not leave him in self-reliance.

What appeared tragic for a moment gave birth to a victory that would last a lifetime. In forty days, this man who cowered in the courtyard would be boldly proclaiming, “This Jesus, whom you crucified, is both Lord and Christ.” And he would be proclaiming it among the very people who had the power to crucify him. But he could never be that man until everything of the flesh was shaken loose.

A broken Peter stood with Jesus by the seashore while Jesus restored him. Peter thought his failure destroyed his ministry and place in God’s plan, but the truth is that Peter was unusable until he reached that point. Satan’s sifting was God’s tool of preparation, and he had the promise of Jesus, “Your faith will not fail.” Once he was restored, he then remembered the words of Jesus, “When you have returned, strengthen your brethren.”

What? The man who had the worst failure was now the one called upon to become a strengthener of the brethren?

This is you. This is me. God leads us gently through His word, but there are areas in our life where we are stubborn and hardened against the way of life. This is when God leads us onto the peninsula of despair. When you find yourself in distress, stop looking at yourself. Stop looking at your circumstances. Stop saying, “Why God,” and start asking, “What God? What are you doing in my life?” Consider the words of Jesus about Himself in Luke 20:17-18

17 Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:`The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone ‘?
18 "Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."

This sounds harsh unless we look at it from the eternal perspective. When I fall upon Christ, I’m broken from my own strength and He becomes my Rock and strength. When I resist the Spirit’s work, the hardness of my life in the flesh is ground away – not because God is judging me, but because God sees the end result. He crushes the things in my life that prevent me from experiencing true life. The only pain comes through my will that clings to what is harmful. God doesn’t want me to labor for this passing life. God doesn’t want me to trust in my own righteousness – a righteousness that cannot produce eternal fruit. God wants me to inherit His kingdom.

God will put you into a place where you can find hope in Him alone. That is when we either swim against the tide driving us back to the peninsula, or we stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

And remember this, the coral bridge that rests even today many feet below the water’s surface was prepared when God designed creation. It was hidden for thousands of years, only to be revealed when God unveiled His plan. And that would not come until a helpless people had no hope other than to cry out to God while on the peninsula. When the people had no hope other than God, the Lord said, “Take a good look at your enemies. You will never see them again.”

Is the sifting of Satan’s hands our judgment? No! It is God preparing us to see His plan emerge from a place where human eyes cannot see. God’s call is to first take our eyes off our problems, circumstances, and ourselves and place our eyes upon Him. Once our eyes of faith have been opened, God then says, “Take a good look at your problem. You will never see it again.” That is when you are delivered from your harmful habits, sins, or hardships. These things are not God’s judgment. These things do not drive us out of God’s love. These are the siftings that shakes away confidence in anything but the Lord, and then God’s deliverance is unveiled, and you will walk in the Spirit through God’s deliverance.

Your sin is not God’s barrier. Your failure is not God’s limitation. Your efforts and skills are not God’s provision. It is all by Him and is the evidence of His power and love toward you.

Eddie Snipes 2014
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