398:  When Our Blessings Become Curses

398: When Our Blessings Become Curses

One of the greatest blessings the church has experienced has become its greatest curse.  And that is wealth.  Opulence.  The ability to run ahead of God rather than waiting on Him to provide what His church needs and when it needs it.  Then there’s the great blessing that comes with persecution that a wealthy church always views as a curse.  How did it become so upside down?

The early church understood the blessings that come with persecution.  Because they remembered the promise of Jesus when He preached His sermon on the mount where He said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

And later, Paul would tell his son Timothy that “Yes, and all who (condition) desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (result) will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Do you see the condition and the result?  If you desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, which most Christians would say they do, then you will suffer persecution because of your godly life in Christ.  It’s a given.  A promise.

And the opposite of this promise is also true.  If you are not suffering persecution, then it stands to reason you do not desire to live godly in Christ Jesus.  Sobering, isn’t it?  This is not how the early church lived.  They embraced every opportunity to live godly in Christ, regardless of how they suffered.  Do you want to know more about people who love Jesus that way?  Good.  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Acts 4:1-35.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

Download this episode (right click and save)

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Jude:  The Non-Negotiables of Salvation

Jude: The Non-Negotiables of Salvation


The Non-Negotiables of Salvation

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation,
I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith
which was once for all delivered to the saints.
Jude 1:3

Jude’s intention was to write about their common salvation— the salvation believers share together.  One of the definitions of the word common (koinós) means “belonging to several, of which several are partakers.”1  Jude’s letter was originally designed to talk about the salvation they shared and what it all means.

But something changed.  Now the Holy Spirit has moved Jude on to a related, yet new topic.  He finds it now necessary to encourage those who share this common salvation to learn how to contend or strive or fight earnestly for the faith on which their salvation was built.  It’s as if the object of their faith was under attack, which it was.  To “contend earnestly for the faith” implies it’s a single, finite faith. It’s a faith that isn’t fluid or breathing, or doesn’t change with the whims of each generation.  This is the faith “which was once for all (final) delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

And the faith that undergirds their common salvation is what we call the gospel.


Look What We Done With the Gospel

If the faith, the gospel, is unchanging and finite, why do we see so many interpretations of the gospel within the Christian church?  At last count, it has been reported there were over 33,000 Christian denominations worldwide, which reeks of chaos.  No single entity now speaks authoritatively for the church at large.  If the world, for example, wants to know the Christian view on homosexuality, they can ask ten different pastors and get seven different answers.  But our faith, like prophecy, is not open to private interpretation (2 Peter 1:2).  It’s a faith that was delivered from Jesus Christ based on His rules and standards, and accountable only to Him.  We didn’t secure the way to salvation through consensus. He paid for it with His own blood.

What we’ve done to His church is splinter it into a million different fragments all separated by personal nuances that seem to work with our personalities.  If someone preaches holiness too much for our taste, they’re legalistic.  If someone is more licentious than we feel comfortable with, then they’re liberal.  We judge everything by ourselves, creating God in our image and according to our personal likes and dislikes.  Assuming, of course, that God feels like we feel and thinks like we think.  Which He doesn’t (Isa. 55:8-9).

Otherwise, how can you have one Bible and so many interpretations?  How can some churches teach homosexuality is not a sin and hold to the same Scriptures that clearly teach it is?  You have some churches teaching you can lose your salvation because your salvation is based on your obedience to Him.  And other churches teach one’s salvation is secure because it’s a sovereign act of God He determined “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).  How can they both be right?

They’re not.

Jude was writing about their common salvation, something they shared together.  It’s not how they got saved, the when and where, but the basis of their salvation.  One person may have been saved in a one-on-one encounter with a Christian at a local Wal-Mart.  And another person may have received salvation by reading the Bible, alone, late one evening in their hotel room.  The way salvation takes place, or the means by which it takes place are as infinite and as varied as there are individual Christians.

But the basis, the faith of that salvation must be the same.  Are you saved by grace, through faith, plus works and obedience and faithfulness in tithing to your local church or by receiving the approved religious sacraments?  Or are you saved by grace, through faith, plus nothing?


Stuff On Which We Must Agree

For centuries, the church has tried to come up with an agreed upon set of non-negotiable, basic standards that must be believed before one can declare themselves a Christian.  We may disagree on modes of baptism, gifts of the Spirit, or Bible translations.  But the one thing the church can never disagree on is salvation.  How does someone come to faith in Jesus Christ?  What must they believe to be saved?

Let me close by listing for you a few of the agreed-upon, non-negotiables of salvation.  These are the common truths of our common salvation.  These truths must be understood, embraced, and fully believed for someone to have true salvation.

  • You must believe that Jesus is God.  Now, it may take some time to understand the doctrine of the Trinity, but this core belief undergirds all the rest. It’s a non-negotiable.
  • You must believe you are saved by grace and not on your own merits (Eph. 2:8-9).  Salvation is a gift paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus.  There is nothing more you can do except receive the gift of salvation on His terms, which is by faith.
  • You must believe salvation comes through Jesus alone.  He is the only way to God, not one of many ways (John 14:6).
  • You must believe Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sins.  That’s you. Your sins. It’s a personal, one-on-one sacrifice He made for you.
  • You must believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:14).  If not, everything else is pointless.
  • You must receive Him into your life as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10).  Not just savior, or friend, or something less than the sovereign God and Lord of all creation. Because that’s who He is.

This is our common salvation.  This is what we have in common with all those who we disagree with on subjects that divide rather than bring us together in unity as one.

So remember, when you come upon a believer who views baptism different than you do, focus on what you can agree on, your common salvation, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

After all, the final prayer of our Lord was for unity in His church (John 17:23).  So let that unity begin with you and me.

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Notes

1. Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (p. 872). Chattanooga, TN: AMG.

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Jude:  Why is Diligence Such a Neglected Discipline Today?

Jude: Why is Diligence Such a Neglected Discipline Today?


Why is Diligence Such a Neglected Discipline Today?

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation,
I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith
which was once for all delivered to the saints.
Jude 1:3

There seems to be a difference between those whom God uses in a mighty way, and the rest of Christianity.  It’s not their skill or education that makes them most likely to succeed in the kingdom of God.  It’s certainly not their pedigree or upbringing that matters.  For 1 Corinthians teaches that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27).  God can take anyone, of any background and experience, and turn them into a D.L. Moody or a Billy Graham.

It seems the single attribute that separates those who serve Him with reckless abandon and those who just go through the motions, is commitment.  Or, to use the words of Jude, being very diligent.


Some Background

It appears Jude had a different intention for this letter.  He begins by saying he wanted to “write to you concerning our common salvation (Jude 1:3).  But in the span of the same sentence, Jude pivots by saying something has changed.  “I find it necessary (as the Holy Spirit changes his focus) to write to you exhorting (helping, encouraging) you to contend (strive, struggle) earnestly (not casually or haphazardly) for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  In other words, what began as a letter exploring the nature of our “common salvation” has now changed.  The Holy Spirit is moving in a different direction.

It’s this new direction, the warning and rebuking of the apostates within the walls of the church, that gives Jude a special place in the New Testament.  But we’ll talk more about that later.


Very Diligent

The phrase Jude uses, very diligent, means “speed, haste, earnest in accomplishing something, zeal.”1  It implies someone who is totally committed or single-focused with tunnel vision aimed at completing the task set before them.

It’s a trait we honor in every area of life except the spiritual.  Michael Phelps, for example, won more Olympic Gold Medals than anyone in history.  Do you think he was able to accomplish that feat with a haphazard attitude towards his sport?  Of course not.  We applaud his commitment, his diligence, and the obvious sacrifices he made to achieve success in his field.  But do we applaud the same in other Christians?

For some reason, we see diligence and commitment as a necessary element of success in every form of life except in our relationship with Christ.  We admire those who make sacrifices to attain certain levels of success, like Michael Phelps, yet we assume the same is not required of us.  When we study the lives of great men of God, we see that’s not true.  Those who accomplished great things for God also sacrificed great things for God.  They were very diligent about serving Him.  As Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”2

Plus, there are promises made, not to the casual believers, but to the one who seeks the Lord with his whole heart.  Or, as Jude would say, is very diligent about the things of God.  And each of these promises is conditional.  They only belong to the diligent and committed, and not the casual or carnal.  Consider the following:

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with (condition) all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In (condition) all your ways acknowledge Him, and (promise) He shall direct your paths.

Note the conditions and the promise.  If you want the promise, you must first meet the condition.  You must be very diligent about the things of God.  It’s Contract Law, 101.

Jeremiah 29:13 – And (promise) you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me (condition) with all your heart.

Again, note the condition and the promise.  If you want to find God, you must meet the condition He sets for that revelation.  And, as always, it’s “with all your heart.”  Jude would call that being very diligent about the things of God.


No Pain, No Gain

We’re all familiar with the No Pain, No Gain mantra when it comes to working out or getting a graduate degree.  It shows how much we’re willing to sacrifice to achieve our goals.  The same is true with the things of God.  For some reason, God seems to honor the fervent, the committed, and the diligent— and not the casual.  And we do the same.  What employee gets the raise and promotion?  The one who works hard and is trustworthy?  Or the one who shows up when it’s only convenient for him?

One final thought.  Paul understood this principle in his life.  Look at what he said about sacrifice and commitment:

1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

That’s run with sacrifice, commitment, diligence.  It’s getting up early and training harder than the rest.  It’s doing your best and giving your all to the race that’s set before you.  In fact, Paul goes one step further:

1 Corinthians 9:27 – But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

By disciplining his body, Paul is saying “no” to the distractions, to the things that don’t bring him closer to his goal.  In the spiritual life, we call this living with fervency, with total commitment.  Or, as Jude says, being very diligent.

Examine your life today and ask the Lord what you’re wasting it on?  And then burn those bridges and center your life on Him and Him alone.  Run the race the Lord has set before you— and don’t get distracted and don’t look back.

Be very diligent in all you do for Him.

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Notes

1. Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (p. 1307). Chattanooga, TN: AMG.

2. Jim Elliot (1927-1956) was a missionary who gave his life, along with four others, while trying to evangelize the Huaorani people, also known as the Auca, in Ecuador. He was 29 when he was martyred. This quote is from one of his journals, written on October 28, 1949.

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Jude:  Mercy, Peace, Love, and Multiplied

Jude: Mercy, Peace, Love, and Multiplied


Mercy, Peace, Love and Multiplied

Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Jude 1:2

It looks like this verse presents us with a few more Greek words to define.  First, there’s the three-word salutation Jude employs: mercy, peace, and love.  In Paul’s general epistles, his opening salutation usually only involves grace and peace.1  In the pastoral epistles and 2 John, mercy is added to the mix.2  Now, in Jude, love replaces grace.  We then find the Holy Spirit choosing to amplify the blessings of mercy, peace, and love by using the word multiplied instead of given or added— which is breathtaking in its implications.  Let’s take a look at each of these.


Mercy

The word mercy (éleos) refers to “compassion, kindness or goodwill towards the miserable and afflicted; it’s a state of active pity, accompanied by a sense of piety and innate goodness.”3  It’s not getting what we deserve, which is pretty much the opposite of justice.

Some teach that mercy is just another word for grace.  But that’s not true.  There’s a gulf of difference between these two words.  Mercy is when God chooses not to punish us for what our sins rightly deserve (Rom. 6:23).  We are spared the chastisement we’ve earned.  And grace, on the other hand, is when God chooses to go a step further and bless us in spite of our sins.  One is the removal of just punishment, and the other is the pouring out of undeserved blessings.


Peace

Next, the Greek word for peace (eirḗnē) means “to be in a state of tranquility, harmony, and accord; it’s the opposite of war and dissension and arises from the reconciliation with God and a sense of divine favor.”4  Psalm 7:11 says “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.”  But not with us.  We are at peace with God due to the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf.

But Jesus spoke about another peace.  Jesus promised us this peace when He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace (eirḗnē) I give to you” (John 14:27).  Note, it’s His peace.  It’s the very peace He experienced in the midst of His pain and suffering, that He now gives to us.

A few chapters later Jesus said the only peace that can overcome the tribulation of the world is found in Him (John 16:33).  And this is just a taste of our inheritance as children of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).


Love

Then we have agápē, the Greek word for love. Agápē is the love God has for each of us and is not based on performance or perfection.  It’s a type of love that doesn’t come naturally, but is imputed to us by the source of that love, which is God.  The word means “love, goodwill, and benevolence; it’s God’s willful direction toward man.”5  It’s the highest, most unselfish, and graciously giving form of love imaginable.  Especially when compared to érōs (erotic or sexual love) or philéō (brotherly love or friendship).

And just think, Jude begins his letter by praying this trifecta of blessings on each of us, his brethren: “mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 1:2).


Multiplied

Which brings us to the last, and the most encouraging, truth in this short verse.  It’s the word multiplied.  Not added.  Not combined.  But multiplied— in greater, ever-increasing proportions.  The word multiplied (plēthúnō) means to “make full, increase, to have much or too much, to abound exceedingly.”6  The implication is that mercy, peace, and love will come upon the believer in waves of ever increasing blessings.  They will be multiplied upon each other, like compound interest on steroids, and grow to exceedingly abound.  It’s a hint of what Jesus meant when He said “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  The word for abundantly refers to “more than enough, over and above, surpassing, super-abounding, much more than all.”7

The Father doesn’t say: “Here’s one for you.  Oh, let me give you another one.  And another one, which makes three.”  Instead, He says, “Here is one for you.  Then two more.  And then four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four”— and on the numbers go!

Jude’s prayer for the children of God is that they would find His blessings multiplied to them, in ever-increasing, super-abounding portions, regardless of what turmoil they may be suffering.  And the blessings of God are found in His mercy, His peace, and His love— which are all revealed through His Son and lavishly imparted to us by the Spirit.


How Much Does the Father Love Us?

This is where it gets so exciting it’s hard to grasp, let alone believe.  But it’s truth, nonetheless.  Jesus, in His last prayer for His disciples, prayed for unity among all believers (John 17:21-22).  He then concluded His prayer by saying:

John 17:23 – “I in them, and You in Me (unity); that they may be made perfect in one (unity), and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

Did you catch the last part of His prayer?  Jesus wants the world to know that God the Father loves us, His children, as much as He loves His own Son.  Let that sink in for a moment.

How much does the Father love you?  As much as He loves His own Son?  What can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus?  According to Romans 8:38-39, pretty much nothing.  And when you come to grips with the reality of God’s love, in all its magnitude, intensity, and mercy, it gives you what nothing else can, peace.  It’s the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).  This amazing peace can belong to you.  All you have to do is ask.

Rest today in His mercy, peace, and love for you.

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1. See Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thes. 1:1; 2 Thes, 1:2.
2. See 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; 2 John 1:3.
3. Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (pp. 564-565). Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
4. Ibid., 519-521.
5. Ibid., 66-67.
6. Ibid., 1175.
7. Ibid., 1151-1152.

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Jude:  How Are We Sanctified and Preserved in Christ?

Jude: How Are We Sanctified and Preserved in Christ?

How are we Sanctified and Preserved in Christ?

Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James,
To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ.
Jude 1:1

There are two key words we are going to look at today.  The first is sanctified and the second is preserved.  Let’s look at what they both mean before we go any further.


Sanctified

The word sanctified (hagiázō) means “to render holy, to separate from profane things and dedicate to God, to purify, consecrate, devote, or set apart from common to sacred use.”1  It’s the condition of a believer after regeneration takes place, after their salvation.  Some Bible translators replace sanctified with the word beloved, and that is unfortunate.  It would then read, “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept (preserved) for Jesus Christ” (NASB).  Although it is true, we are beloved in Him and by Him, the essence of what Jude is saying about his intended audience is that they have been set apart by God the Father for a holy and righteous purpose.  They have been, past tense, sanctified.  Their sanctification came by way of the Holy Spirit who now lives in them and their salvation is now “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13).

Most of the modern Bible translations remove the word sanctified and replace it with beloved.  In essence, they make the verse more about us and what we receive from God and less about who we become by God.  That seems to be the way we go today, living in the land of self-indulgence and having our narcissistic attention focused solely on us.  But to be sanctified is to be changed into something that reflects the nature of our God.  And that nature is holiness.  It was the single attribute both Isaiah (Isa. 6:3) and John (Rev. 4:8) heard the angels proclaim when they were allowed to see the throne of God.

But we are not only changed; we are changed for a purpose.  We are “set aside for a holy purpose” in much the same way the Old Testament priests would take gold and silver utensils and remove them from everyday use and set them aside to be used exclusively in the temple of God.  There was a change in their purpose and their audience.  We are to be sanctified, like God, and reflect His glory and His holiness, just like His Son.  To change that into “beloved” is to lessen our responsibility and our calling.  Are we also loved and cherished in God the Father?  Yes, without question.  But we are also created for a purpose.  And that purpose is not for our self-gratification, but to be used by the One who gave us eternal life.  We are to be like the One who saved us.  Sanctified.  Set apart.  Holy, because He is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).

Note also that the person of the Godhead who came to reside in those sanctified by God the Father is the Holy Spirit.  Note His name, attribute, and description: Holy Spirit.  Not loving, or forgiving, or gracious Spirit (which He is also).  But Holy Spirit. His nature is holy.  And it’s this Holy Spirit that now lives in us to do His will through us, His bondslaves.  Again, are we beloved?  Absolutely.  But more so, we are called to a deeper purpose.  We are set apart for something much more important.  We have the privilege of allowing the Holy Spirit to manifest His life through us.


Preserved

The second word is preserved.  This word (tēréō) means to “keep an eye on, to take care of, to attend carefully, to guard like a warden watches over those prisoners under his care.”2  It implies watching closely, like a doting mother or a protective father does their young child.  It’s the same Greek word used in verse 21 where the believer is to “keep (tēréō) yourself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”  The implication is to not only “watch” or “carefully guard” but to also remain secure through obedience.

This promise is reflected in the prayer of Jesus in John 17:12 where He prays: “While I was in the world, I kept (tēréō) them in Your name.”  And now, with Christ seated at the right hand of the Father (Eph. 1:20), He keeps us in Him through the Holy Spirit who now resides in each of us.


By the Father, in Jesus Christ

One last point that involves two small words, by and in.  The passage reads we are “sanctified by the Father” and “preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1).  Sanctification is something done for us “by the Father” and our being kept or preserved is accomplished by our position “in Jesus Christ.”  Both are gifts and blessings from our God who loves us as His beloved.  Yet, one comes as a part of our salvation and the other is the promise because of our salvation.

We are sanctified and set apart by the sovereign act of the Father.  Our sanctification is what makes us a child of His.  It’s now part of our nature.  It’s in our DNA.  And we are guaranteed not to fall or lose our salvation, our sonship, because we are found in Christ.  We belong to Him and are “joint heirs” with Him (Rom. 8:17).  Plus, we are now seated “in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).  How?  Because we are “in” Christ.  Where He is, so are we.

And because of this— our being sanctified, beloved, and secure in Him, we can rejoice at the promise given to all who belong to Him:

Romans 8:38-39 – For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rest and abide in this truth today.  You are truly loved by Him who “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 1:24).

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1. Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (pp. 69-70). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2. Ibid., 1380-1381.

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