Answering Legalism

There are some preachers that are fairly well known who preach some sort of legalism. Sure, they don’t call it that because legalism is a sort of “dirty word” in Christianity these days (rightly so, in my humble opinion)– yet that’s what it is. It’s not hard to pull verses out of context [or not look at them in the framework of the entire Bible] and make a case for legalism. The problem is it appears to invalidate the finished work of Christ on the cross for us and is in complete disagreement with scripture to make a case that works, along with a saving faith in Christ, are necessary for salvation. Rather than simply sitting at my keyboard, rendering my opinion on the screen, I’m going to offer some Bible verses to back up what I am saying:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASBThis is perhaps the most famous verse often quoted in support of faith in God’s loving grace as the only method of our salvation. It blows a whole in any theory that requires one to do certain things (often under the auspices of some particular religious denomination) to be saved.

At least one well-known preacher I am aware of teaches that, if you are a Christian, in general you do not sin any more– and, if you do, you have somehow “fallen” into it and didn’t do it deliberately. While that statement alone does not indicate a works type of salvation, much of his preaching hints at that. Sadly, such teaching could serve to be a tool of the evil one by rendering believers ineffective if they adopt a “what’s the use?” attitude. Let’s hope they don’t. The blood of Christ forgives our sins past, present and future– if we ask Him.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. -Romans 7:15-20 (NASB)

 

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What Bible Should I Read???

There are so many Bibles available today that it almost staggers the mind. It seems like, since the seventies when the “Living Bible” came out and was embraced by Billy Graham, the number of translations and versions to hit the market has exploded. Prior to that, we had variations of the KJV such as the ASV and RSV— but nothing like we have now. You probably already know this if you have been a Christian for any length of time. So which one should you read? That question can have a variety of answers provided, depending on who you ask. I can only tell you which I like and read, and why. You must decide for yourself and then take the plunge. Start reading. Ask God to guide you [through the Holy Spirit] to understand the truth he has in store for you within its pages. With one exception I know of (which I will note later), all of the versions tell the exact same story– the doctrine is clear and does not change.

I used to read the King James most often (if I kept track of the time I spend reading God’s Word). But why? It’s English is over 400 years old and many words have changed. The manuscripts it is translated from have come under fire for not being the oldest, most accurate. You will come to realize this as you read more modern versions and see certain verses removed or (as in the case of the ending verses of Mark) called into question as to their authenticity. So why would it be my favorite? Because it makes me think when I thumb through its pages. I often stop to look up words I’m not familiar with or ponder exactly what a verse is trying to tell me. Could a young person or new Christian understand the KJV? Certainly. If you wish to know God’s Word, He will make it known to you. Perhaps, however, a modern language version would be best for a new believer, since there are so many good ones to choose from and so many words have changed meaning over the centuries. By the way, who is to say that the manuscripts it uses aren’t the best ones available? If you love the King James and hate to stop reading it as your daily Bible, perhaps you might want to check out the New King James Version. It is very similar in style, uses the same textual base, but has modern words where the old ones no longer work.

For the past year + I have been using the English Standard Version. It is a literal translation that is easier to read than the KJV, as its English is updated, but still reads like a Bible. I would have to say it is one of my favorites. It is becoming very popular with conservative evangelical Christians. Many well known Bible teachers use and endorse it. Similar to the ESV in its literal nature is the New American Standard Bible, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It is popular with well-known preachers and teachers like Charles Stanley and Kay Arthur. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is also an excellent translation that arrived on the scene a few years ago and strives to seek a balance between literal and dynamic without straying from the original intention– I enjoy it and carry one with me to worship on the weekends– I guess it’s my “second favorite.” It has been accused of being a “Baptist translation,” since it was a project of Lifeway (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention). I think that criticism is unwarranted– and it’s not because I’m a practicing Baptist. I’m not. I actually attend a Calvary Chapel and am fond of a great many translations. I don’t pick up any bias in places I might expect to. I find myself reading it more and more lately. Some churches have replaced the controversial 2011 edition of the New International Version with it.

For a very easy-to-read Bible, you might consider the New Living Translation. Originally started as a re-working of the beloved Living Bible of 70’s fame, it transitioned into a whole new translation. Some accuse it of being nothing more than a reworking of the Living Bible paraphrase, because it uses many similar/virtually identical renderings as the LB did. To that I say, if it’s accurate and works, don’t fix it. It’s probably the one I would recommend the most to new Christians.

If you’re interested in why verses are translated as they and wish to know more about the language they come from, I would recommend getting a hold of a copy of the NET (New English Translation) Bible. If you do not wish to purchase one, you may read it for free at net.bible.org– an excellent resource for serious Bible students and one I would recommend for every Christian’s library. Although somewhat dynamic in its approach, it does offer a plethora of notes explaining how certain passages were derived.

It would be wrong of me not to mention a Bible I refer to quite often when studying certain passages and want to make sure I’m getting the right meaning from the original languages: The Amplified Bible. Not something I would recommend for daily “devotional” reading or preaching from, it is good to refer to it and possibly quote from it to make a point. It is a popular Bible among many charismatics– such as Joyce Meyer. I use it a lot in my studies and think it’s a valuable tool.

As I said earlier in this post, I know of one Bible version that should be completely avoided: The New World Translation. Popular with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, some of its verses have been deliberately altered to support their unconventional theology. I’m being nice– much of it is simply heresy, in my opinion. There is no support in manuscripts for most [if not all] of the changes. A popular example of this is John 1, where they alter the text to refer to Jesus as “a god” rather than GOD–THE CORRECT RENDERING. For that one verse alone, I recommend avoiding this Bible version like the plague.

The bottom line is this: pick one and read it. Then I might suggest reading another and another… my goal is to read at least one translation per year cover to cover. Whatever you do, find one that is an easy read for you and read it. God will bless you richly as you endeavor to know Him better through His Word.

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Saved By Faith

ImageBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 (NASB)

Recently, at a Bible study I attend, we focused quite a bit on salvation through faith versus works, Often new Christians are puzzled as to how men of faith in days of old (prior to Jesus appearing on Earth) found salvation. The answer is they were men of faith. They got it: the idea that there was no way for them to work their way into God’s “good graces” -as the expression goes. The Bible is pretty clear on this fact.

Let’s look at Abraham, a man of faith who lived on Earth long before Christ: For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” -Romans 4:3 (NASB) He believed God. He had faith. Paul made it clear there is only one way: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. -Romans 3:28-30 (NASB)

Faith. Faith. Faith.

All About Love

The Great Commandment

When you come down to it, it’s really all about love. So many people (non-Christians and Christians alike) seem to think that God is some kind of angry, vengeful being who takes some delight in inflicting pain and suffering on His disobedient children and death for those who reject Him. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God loves us and wants us to love Him back, that’s a given, but His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9) that it’s hard to fully comprehend the extent to which this is true.

Jesus made it clear that love is the key when He answered the question about which is the greatest commandment: Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. -Matthew 22:36-40

Recently at a newly-formed Bible study I’ve been going to, one of the participants plainly stated a fact we must never forget when arguing or explaining some sort of theology to somebody else: when you come right down to it, it’s all about Jesus. When I think of Him, I cannot help but think about love because that’s what He is all about. Is it all about Jesus for you? If it isn’t, please take the time right now to make it that way. Pray a simple prayer and ask Him to come into your heart right now as your  Lord and Savior, acknowledging the simple fact that He died for you for the remission of your sins, that you might have a loving relationship with God that will span all eternity. Think you’re too bad to be loved by God? Think again. The offer is for you.

Reposted from one of my other blogs: Waiting [impatiently] for Spring!

For now the winter is past;tulips
the rain has ended and gone away.
The blossoms appear in the countryside.
The time of singing has come,
and the turtledove’s cooing is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs;
the blossoming vines give off their fragrance.
Arise, my darling.
Come away, my beautiful one.
Song of Songs 2:11-13 (HCSB)

Driving to work yesterday, I listened to a talk radio host lament on the saga of an unending winter. It had been nearly 70 degrees where she is located a few days earlier, and this particular morning it was in the twenties with remnants of yesterday’s snowstorm all about her. I feel her pain– as it has been a long, hard winter for most of us in the northeast section of the United States. Now, of course, there are those readers who would be quick to point out that we have it much better than many people in other areas of the world (and I am not referring to economic status, either–merely a climate comparison). While that is true, it does not negate the fact that this has been a long, hard winter for many. Snow removal has been costly, draining resources from municipalities that were not prepared for the volume of storms, heating costs have risen, accidents have been plentiful– as people try to reach their destinations with either skills or vehicles ill-equipped for the task. I took off the rose-colored glasses years ago, having learned to acknowledge that some things just stink. OK, I’m done complaining– for now. Read on, please…

The truth is that we must go through tribulation and tough times to appreciate the good. It somehow prepares us to appreciate with more fervor the wonderful, beautiful things of this earth. Spring would have little meaning if it lasted all year long. Summer, with its warm hazy days filled with beaches, ponds and picnics would be hum-drum if it were not interrupted by falling leaves and frost-filled nights.

I shall leave you with some wisdom from the Bible that has been the basis for a song or two: for everything there is a season–

There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven:
a time to give birth and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing;
a time to search and a time to count as lost;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (HCSB)

Romans: Victory Over The Carnal Mind

I especially love the Book of Romans, because it explains so much about the grace of God and all it accomplishes for us as believers in Jesus. We know we cannot measure up to the law, because we have tried so often and utterly failed. Religious rules and regulations, no matter how virtuous they may sound, are utterly ineffective in bringing us to God because we can’t keep them–no matter how much we may want to. If Paul couldn’t do it on his own, I am certain I can’t.

Paul writes in Romans that he does the things he hates: For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. -Romans 7:15-17 (HCSB)

So how do we claim victory over this?

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you. So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:1-13 (HCSB)

We see from the preceding verses that, even if we wanted to, we cannot obey the law from strictly the perspective of the flesh. We know that, since the days of Adam and Eve, the body dies as a result of sin. This is an inescapable fact of life on this earth in our present form. Try as they might, the people of Israel were unable to attain sin-free living by keeping the law as God gave it to them. Knowing this, he had no choice but to send His only-begotten Son for us as a sacrifice for our sin, which he took upon Himself at Calvary. The Bible makes it clear that, in so doing, the requirement of the law was met and we now live in accordance with the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit constantly intercedes for us and prays for us when we are unable. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness: In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. -Romans 8:26-27 (HCSB)