Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Blessings of Obedience

In this post, I am going to try and collect some thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain.  Pardon any randomness that is sure to occur!

Recently, I had a friend ask me about Romans 8:1 and how it works together with Romans 14:22-23.  Upon reading the two passages, which have to do with condemnation and judgment, I asked her what version she was reading.  She was working with the NIV and the Amplified Bible.  I told her to read Romans 8:1 in either the KJV or the NKJV, which come from the textus receptus Greek manuscript (as opposed to the more recently-used critical text).  Here is the difference:

NIV: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

NKJV: 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.

Well, that is quite a difference.  One version shows an action associated with it, and the other does not.  But in fairness, chapter 8 continues, and both versions highlight the same concept in verse 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.

Ooo, suddenly we have a bit of context!  The passage is speaking of walking in New Covenant Law, which is governed by the leading of the Holy Spirit and not by the laws of the flesh that are written on stone tablets under Moses.  (New Covenant law boils down to this:  Love God and love people.)

Do you see how important it is to consider context, and the full counsel of scripture, versus taking one verse out of context?  A person could read 8:1 in the NIV (and most other modern translations) and simply concur that because a person believes in Jesus, they are good to go.  Nothing else required. 

Today in the church, there is much focus on the love of God, as it applies to ourselves.  You hear it quite often in our worship music - He is jealous for me.  Oh, how He loves me.  Oh, He chases me down.  Love is love.  Etc.

And it is true.  God is love.  Scripture says so.  But balance is so critical!  Look at 1 John 4:8: He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Did you notice that this verse indicates a lack of action?  How about this one a few verses later? We love Him because He first loved us.  Action is demonstrated.  We can only truly love Him (and others) because of His great love that He showed us first.

How about the famous verse, John 3:16?  By itself, it seems that only belief is required, and nothing else.  But if you keep reading, you find that there is more:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

True belief requires action.

Matthew 5:16 says this:  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

And James drives it home in James 2:20- But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

In other words, don't just stand there, do something!

What we do matters!

Speaking of taking verses out of context, let's visit the book of Jeremiah (which I am currently reading).  There is a verse, beloved by many and claimed as their "life verse."  You know where I am going, right?

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11.

This is a lovely verse and a wonderful promise.  In context, it was made to Israel's southern kingdom as they were getting booted out of the land for disobedience.  God was telling them to go ahead and relocate to Babylon, assuring them that if they obey His command to go, He would take care of them in a foreign land.

But what comes next is God's assurance of what would happen if they do NOT obey Him.  Nobody ever takes Jeremiah 29:17 as their life verse:
thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. (The passage continues...) And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the Lord.

What we do matters.

Let's visit Deuteronomy 28.  The twelve tribes of Israel are standing on the mountains of Gerazim  (blessing) and Ebal, six per mountain, to hear what causes God's blessings and curses.  The first fourteen verses outline what will happen if they live their lives in obedience to YHVH.  It is lovely, full of prosperity and fruit and rain in season and blessed work and dominion over enemies.

BUT, starting with verse 15 and continuing all the way through 68, YHVH outlines the consequences of disobedience.   And it starts out bad and gets progressively worse.  Why is the warning of the curses so long and detailed?  I believe YHVH really wanted them to understand the price they would pay for disobedience.  The detailed list includes confusion, frustration, pestilence, wasting disease, blight, mildew, famine, defeat by enemies, boils, death, oppression, robbery, scattering, expulsion from the land, and captivity.  Oh, and starvation so bad you will eat your children.  

I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing;
therefore choose life   (Deut 30:19)

What we do matters.

This same theme is carried into the New Covenant on the Mountain of Beatitudes in Matthew 5, but with a New Covenant twist.  Interestingly, Yeshua spends most of his time on the blessings and not the curses.  Verses 3-10 tell us, Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the pursuers of righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted.  For theirs is the kingdom of heaven and they will inherit the earth. (note:  the kingdom of God will someday be on earth and the Messiah will be ruling from Jerusalem).

Now for the twist...  verse 19.  It simply blows me away:
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Did you notice that the commandment breakers are not booted out of the kingdom?  Yeshua's death lifted the terrible curses that we saw in Deuteronomy 28, but there are still consequences to disobediece.  You'll get into the kingdom if you have placed your trust in Yeshua, but you won't have much of a position there.  Compare that to 1 Corinthians 3:9-15...
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

In other words, by the skin of their teeth.

Now compare this to Yeshua's parables of the talents in Matthew 25.  The ones who use the talents given to him by God is rewarded greatly.  The one who basically does nothing with his gift is strongly rebuked and cast into the outer darkness (fringes of the kingdom) where he will gnash his teeth (experience deep regret).

What we do matters. 

1 John 5:2-3 confirm this concept: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

Not burdensome?  More like impossible, at least by our own power!

This is why the appointed time of Shavuot, or Pentecost, is so important.  The Jews have always celebrated the giving of the Torah - the laws of God that were written on stone tablets at Sinai - on this appointed day.  It was no coincidence then, that the Holy Spirit was given to indwell believers on this very same appointed day, when Jerusalem would have been full to overflowing with Jews on their annual Shavuot pilgrimage.

Without the power of the Holy Spirit that was given that day, accompanied by the spiritual gifts that are given to each believer, it is impossible to fulfill New Covenant Law.  

We must discover the gifts that the Spirit has given us, and use them for His kingdom purposes, if we want to hear His beloved voice saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

What we do matters.

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