Monthly Archives: August 2013

Tools of Faith: Truth

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 ESV]

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [Ephesians 6:10 ESV]

If faith is the conduit through which God delivers the tools needed to live a godly life in this world then faith is not the only tool. It is one of the tools. We are attacked by sin from every side, from within and without. Since God has left us in a sinful world and in sinful bodies to teach us to war, to discipline us and to prepare us for eternity then it is imperative we have the tools He offers and know how to use them. Intimately knowing these tools and effectively using them is an act of our wills directed by God as we come under His control.

Paul, in Ephesians 6, gives a list of characteristics all from God which prepares us for battle with the world, our own flesh and our adversary. There is no place for passive attitudes in this war. We must be fully engaged and totally committed. We cannot sit or lie down in this war. Whether we are on the offensive or defensive is dependent upon the circumstances.

Paul’s first involves strapping on or fastening on the belt of “truth” (Ephesian 6:14). We are to allow truth to hold us together just as a belt holds together the garment and carries the tools needed to work. God demaned we know and adhere to the truth. Look back at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, two verses before “blessed are the meek.” Those who are “poor in spirit” love the truth so completely they cannot abide a lie, in themselves or in others. No one is meek, no one has God’s strength in them under His control, until they have submitted themselves to the truth of the reality of sin and the truth of God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. In everything the truth must prevail, not just precision of thought and speech, not just adherence to superficial rules which exonerate behavior without admission of internal guilt. Sin corrupts the whole person. Deciding a lie is true is the benchmark of the world’s insane thinking. God is truth, in Him there is no lie. Those who think clearly know the truth.

I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. [1 John 2:21-22 ESV]

How then do we measure and validate truth? According to John, those who deny Christ deny the truth and try to make truth a lie then make the lie truth. But isn’t John speaking about Religious things? Isn’t he giving Christians a way to test the claims of those who teach the Bible, proclaim the Gospel and show them how to live? He is. But don’t limit truth and its measurement to simply the written or spoken Gospel message for the Gospel touches every part of life. Jesus’ intent in these first verses of the Sermon on the Mount is to describe the whole person as a citizen of the kingdom.

Those who deny God and the truth of God have formed the foundation of their thinking based upon falsehood. We cannot separate God from any part of our thinking or understanding of the truth whether of the laws of the physical universe or the moral code which govern our lives. If we do not believe God is who He is then all of the rest of our thinking will be ungodly. Every decision we make based upon ungodly thinking and reasoning will deny Him and deny the worth of all made in His image. All of the evidence of the breakdown of the structures of society shows this. Compromising the moral code destroys relationships. Even though people may do “good” things none of what they do brings glory to God, nothing done is from obedience to Him.

Those who believe abortion is acceptable cannot then think, or espouse the value of every person other than the unborn. The evidence says they do not value every person but have decided some have more value than others. From conception to death to eternity the person has the complete image of God. Those who believe deviant sexual behavior is acceptable cannot then think or espouse the truth and sanctity of marriage. Their beliefs deny the truth of the relationship Jesus has with His Church, or God has with all people. Those who think God is something other than who He is cannot them espouse the value of knowing God. They know an idol, a figment of their imagination, not the truth of God revealed.

Our first weapon in defense against the sin which surrounds and is within us is truth. It is the truth which holds everything together. The universe is held together by the grace of God’s might and the truth of the physical laws He has set in place. The truth of the moral code holds together those made in His image and provides a good relationship with God and others covered with Christ’s righteousness. It is the citizens of Gods kingdom which shows the evidence of the full measure of His moral code kept perfectly. We must have a rigorous discipline in the thinking of our hearts toward the God of creation and then those created in His image.

Object of Faith

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 ESV]

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 ESV]

Faith always has an object. Even when we turn away from something we must turn toward something else. In every circumstance we are moving toward the object of our faith. Faith’s object draws and attracts and compels the person to move forward approaching the object with a steady pace and deliberate intent. It is the object which has shown itself desirable and trustworthy.

But, what happens when we discover the object of faith is not desirable and trustworthy?  What happens when we see the evidence of the hollow promise and the devious intent to enslave and destroy? Do we not find another object and turn toward it?  We may face every which way at one time or another first placing faith in this object and then that one only to discover the evidence of empty promises until  we are overcome with despair. Until we decide even if the  empty promise is a lie we have to face some direction and move toward some object in order to keep control.

Is there an object upon which we can have faith which is not a lie? Faith’s object cannot be a thing. Faith’s object must be a person with whom we may have a relationship, knowing both intellectually and intimately and growing in that knowledge. Yet, first the person must recognize the lie and  desire truth, then realize the consequences of the lie and the consequences of knowing truth. There is only One upon whom faith has substance. Turning away from sin toward another sin does not substantiate faith. Turning away from sin toward God opens the conduit of faith. God must be the Object because no other object is capable of fulfilling the promises of faith guaranteed by faith. No other object is trustworthy.

With the constant tug and pull from sin, the object of our affections before being called by God and turning away from sin demands the refocusing of our attention. Jesus gives, to some a not so obvious progression of events through which the Christian must move to achieve the goals of the kingdom. Sin, by its very nature, fights against the goals of the kingdom and seeks to make the Christian ineffective in achieving these goals.

Here is a quick recap of the first two elements Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount.

In the first element of this progression the Christian must exercise their minds by believing the evidence of sin. Once sin is recognized comes a realization of the consequences of sin, which is separation from God, who gives and sustains life. Thus, those who are poor in spirit are moved to mourning over their total depravity, their inability to do anything to attain a righteous standing before God. Mourning is the emotional part of the human condition, created in the image of God. Next is the will. There must be a willful relinquishing of control of self over to God. Faith changes the object from self to God, from sin to God.

Faith is the conduit through which God delivers everything the citizen of His Kingdom needs to live in a world which hates Him and them. There is nothing else which will give the necessary tools to live a righteous life. Having faith in an object other than God means continued rebellion, self-righteousness and rejection of God’s just judgment against sin. In order for faith to function the will of the citizen must come completely under God’s control.

There are many characteristics which define the object of faith. Failure in any one of these characteristics destroys faith because the object cannot fulfill its obligations. Some of these characteristics include action, promise, protection and direction. There are other characteristics but we will focus on these first.

Before there was anything there was God and He acted. In creation He built eternity and the Universe in which we live. He created in minute detail every atom in the Universe and set them in motion where they are, were, and will be. He did much of this before He created Man in His image. Since part of the image of God is Man’s intelligence the evidence of God’s action is readily apparent. Man intellectually understands the evidence of God’s work because he is built to see and know God. It takes fervent rebellion to not see what God has done and imagine what He can do.

Though made in the image of God Man rebelled in Adam which caused the detaching of that relationship. Nothing man does can reestablish this severed relationship. It is broken and bent, corrupted and poisoned beyond repair. Sin must be judged by a righteous and just God and the sentence for sin is the separation of the rebel from God. Except God promised Man His Son, God Himself, would pay the penalty and suffer the sentence demanded by God because of the violation of His moral law. God’s promise demands each person believe God has done what He said He would do, trust He will fulfill His promise and then obey Him. Once again, trust is an emotional response to the Objects ability to deliver what is promised. Man is uniquely given the ability to trust because of God’s image. Yet, rebellion corrupts the image making it impossible for man to trust God.

Think about God’s original intent for Man which is His eternal purpose. God created Man perfectly built to do something he can no longer do. This dichotomy conflicts all men and drives them either toward God or away from Him. Think of a tool built to do a specific function used in such a way to destroy its ability to do that function. A screwdriver whose blade is dulled or bent. A socket wrench whose inside is stripped. A man who is meant to worship, glorify and enjoy God, who, because of the corruption of sin, cannot.  Man is not a tool.

I realize much of this is foreign thinking. Few have said knowing God intellectually and intimately is natural to Man because all of the evidence screams against it. Those in complete rebellion against God demand there be no connection. There is a connection, a spot of God in a corrupt being which cannot be explained away, but can be ignored. Our image reflects His image. When critically examined, no naturalistic explanation may exclude God without violating, even destroying, that explanation. Refusing to examine, with the head and the heart, will not make Him cease to exist. Wishing something true not true is close to insanity.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. [Philippians 2:12-13 ESV]

God image in Man is found both in the spiritual person and in the soul of the person. It is not physical. We cannot define the spiritual. We can define elements of the soul. Three of these elements are the mind, emotions and will. Being poor in spirit engages the mind. Those who mourn engage the emotions, which help interpret the moral law of God. Meekness is an activity of the will.

You ask, how is meekness something done by will power alone? Do not jump to conclusions based upon faulty, incomplete thinking. Do not detract from or add to Jesus’ teaching. His purpose  in placing “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” here is intentional, deliberate. Meekness is part of the process of being a citizen of His kingdom. It is not a characteristic smiled upon by the world. This statement, like the previous  two statements and all of Jesus teaching has the opposite outcome from the teaching of the world. Jesus’ teaching is diametrically opposed to everything taught and believed in the world.

One of the phrases used to define the Greek word translated “meek” is a “disposition of gentleness” or “humility”. Like the word meek these phrases carry worldly baggage which weakens them and our understanding of them. Do not think any longer the word meek means something weak or spineless. Meekness is strength controlled. Meekness is the activity of the will in directing strength in a manner which promotes the Kingdom of God and brings Him glory. Shake off any other silly, worldly notion of meekness. It is not what you think.

We are intellectually and intimately capable of having faith in the true Object. He has all of the qualifications for the Object of faith because He determined what they are. To place one’s faith in an object other than God is an act of willful rebellion and idolatry. Saying anything other than God can fulfill His purpose displaces Him as the center, which is His rightful place. Replacing Him with anything else says we are not as He created us and that His image in us is either not true or changed.

Faith, the conduit through which God delivers all we need to live as a citizen of His kingdom in this world is clogged. Not at His end but at ours. Sin has stopped up, not God’s ability to deliver but our ability to receive. God, the Object of faith, remains true. It is the subjects who cannot receive what is offered and delivered through a faith which is false.

Since faith is only the conduit we must recognize the difference between what is delivered, or offered for delivery, what is promised, and the vessel through which it is delivered.

Salvation is the primary example. God acted by sending His Son to die for our sins, He taking the sin of the world upon His shoulders and we being given His righteousness. God acted by raising His Son from the dead, by seating Him in the heavens where He continually intercedes on behalf of those who are His. God promises He will apply Christ’s Righteousness to us and our sin to Him. The evidence is the life, death and resurrection of His Son. Since God is God, and there is no other, His word is completely trustworthy. We cannot see how God does this. But, the evidence He has done what He promised is substantial and convincing. We must trust He will keep His promise. We believe the evidence of His resurrection which supports the trustworthiness of the promise. Now we must do something. We must act in obedience to the command of God. Remember, obedience to a command given by a Master to His slave or bondservant carries no merit. Nothing is earned. Nothing is owed. Obedience is expected.

We can actively obey God or continue in active rebellion. Faith is receiving and using the tools God gives to actively obey Him in a world which actively hates Him. Meekness takes ownership of this responsibility while watching as God’s strength works in and through me while under His control.

Meekness: God’s Strength

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 ESV]

Rarely do people recognize perspective which is not their own. We see ourselves as we want, as we have been trained or as we have trained ourselves. From our vantage we see how circumstance affects us or impacts our lives. Expectations, either great or small, are built and developed and hardened in the thinking of our hearts which demand others meet and adhere to them. Anger flares when expectations are not met or fulfilled and we either fight harder, flee farther or do nothing quaking at the  “unreasonableness” of those who dare challenge our perspective.  Are not expectations  a fixing of our eyes upon some dream made possible by our own strengths or reduced to nothing by the weaknesses of others? Do we not see ourselves as strong and others as weak?  Or, perhaps, we see ourselves as weak and others as stronger.

False humility magnifies weakness as a point of pride.  Have you not heard those who denigrate themselves before others, usually as an excuse to not think or feel and therefore to not be responsible for the results of their actions. They have strength but have either been trained by themselves or others to view acting in their strength as arrogance. Their expectations of others is high and of themselves is low or nonexistent.

Arrogance, on the other hand, magnifies strength as a point of pride. Have you not heard those who know all, can do all, and will through their demeanor, place themselves higher than they ought or deserve. They have been trained by themselves to not recognize weakness in themselves and only in others. Their expectations of others is low and themselves is high, even unreasonably high.

“Meek” is translated “humble” or “gentle.” One phrase used to describe “meekness” is “strength under control.”  This phrase leaves the impression the individual is in control while responsible for their strength. Perhaps, from the world’s perspective, that is from the perspective of each individual in the world with their various expectations, they are free to do or not, depending upon their training and discipline.  But there are a couple of things over which no one has control, in themselves or in others.  All sin, missing the mark as determined by the God of creation and upon whom the image of God is based.  All die, a consequence of sin and judgment of God against the rebellion of the person. What is the implication of these truths? We may view ourselves as strong but our strength is never enough to make us right before God. Arrogance before God will only bring His wrath.  False humility before God will only bring His judgment.

In the Sermon on the Mount the word “meekness” demands, not a loss of control but a relinquishing of control.  Meekness is God’s strength in His person under His control. Here, “meek” implies disciplined action under the direction of a greater authority, resulting in honor to that greater authority and not to the instrument of the action. While the instrument is a living being, a person, that person’s disposition is taken into consideration by God when being used by Him. A meek disposition is one which will not resist the leading of God in taking a specific or generally necessary action and will not try to accomplish God’s will in their own strength.

What are the characteristics of a meek person? First, a meek person is one who has moved through the first two spiritual characteristics and agrees with God’s assessment and direction. They cease rebelling against God because they have recognized the full effect of sin and realized the complete consequences of sin.

A meek person is seen by the world as someone who has difficulty making any decision then waffling when the decision demands steadfast resolve. From the world’s perspective this idea of meekness is wholly true. Yet, those who live in God’s strength are meek before Him, rely upon His strength and are firm in their decisions and unbending in their stance when it comes to applying that decision. It is the disposition of working with people in a gentle, humble yet uncompromising manner while remaining resolute which defines meekness.

One of the standard examples for meekness is the image of a Clydesdale Horse, one of the biggest and strongest horses created. My image of these horses are with bushy hoofs and flying manes hauling huge wagons through snow. With their heads tossing and their nostrils flaring, great puffs of mist blowing out in the winter, they look horribly fierce and intimidating. But they are as gentle as they are intelligent. A small child leads them by the reigns unafraid. Their giant strength is under the control of a gentle disposition. Should their fury rise the surrounding destruction would be great.

Inner strength does not need to fortify an outward appearance. Those with true inner strength have no need to show off to anyone. Such inner strength is complete and sure of self, under control, not out of control. Such control comes through time and experience and discipline. God teaches those with such dispositions, training them for a specific place in His kingdom. His training begins where all His training begins, with the admission of sin bringing the person to the absolute certainty they are not only incapable of accomplishing anything righteous, but are completely sinful. They must first experience poverty of spirit, the absolute recognition of sin in themselves and those around. This recognition must stop them in their tracks, keeping them from moving toward that which is abhorrent, even though pulled by the desires of rebellion.

Stopping is not enough. They must turn from sin. It is the turning from sin, known as repentance, which dissolves their personal strength. For with the realization of sin comes recognition of the consequences of sin, the separation from God the source of Life, and the absolute inability to do anything righteous. It is the turning away from sin, called by God through the sacrifice of His Son, which breaks the bonds of sin upon the person. Here, the person becomes a bond-servant of God and ceases being a slave to sin. Their strength is gone but their will is not broken. Repentance makes a willing servant of one who knew only how to serve themselves and sin.

When one turns away from sin one must turn toward that which is not sin otherwise they spin in a complete circle and begin, once again, moving toward that which had enslaved them. Turning away from sin means they must turn toward God. If turning away from sin is repentance then turning toward God is faith. If recognizing sin takes intelligence, believing the evidence of sin, and turning away from sin demands repentance, the emotional recognition that God’s moral law has been violated and they receive His just sentence, then faith may be characterized as an activity of the will where one relinquishes control of themselves to the object of their faith. Faith involves believing the evidence of the Object, emotionally trusting the Object and willfully following the Object. Faith demands the whole person focus upon the Object of faith.

God is the object of true faith. For any to make themselves or another the object of faith is to have the perspective God does not own that place in creation rightfully His.

Introduction: Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 ESV]

Every group has its jargon, words with specific meanings for specific purposes used by the group to communicate quickly. Often these words or phrases only to the group speaking and hearing. Even within the group assumptions are made all know what is being said. Often what is being said carries undefined or even unexplainable assumptions. At other times words used carry meaning which has changed over time and with use. Meekness is one such word, viewed as a negative, undesirable personality flaw in the modern world. Meekness is equated with weakness, being spineless, not sticking up for oneself, being a door-mat. There is no passion in the word but mild acquiescence to uncontrollable circumstances. When Jesus is called “meek” or “gentle” He is seen in a negative light. This gives an inaccurate description of who He is and how He lived His life. There is nothing weak about Jesus. His gentleness comes from His compassion and mercy but there is a sword in His mouth. Our definition of meekness does not accurately describe the person who carries that personality trait.

Let’s find another example of Christian jargon, a phrase misunderstood and misused. In Luke 14 Jesus declares the motivations of those who would follow Him.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. … So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. [Luke 14:26-27, 33 ESV]

What does Jesus mean by picking up “his own cross?” How have you used this phrase? In what context? What were the circumstances, the experiences? Were you or a loved one faced with a minor thorn in the flesh, something which, in the cosmic eternal scheme of things, has no value? Were you or a loved one having to endure some kind of suffering because of sin, disease, accident or “act of God”?” Were you facing “persecution?”

When many Christians use this phrase or a derivative are they facing death? I have never heard an adequate explanation of what it means to “bear my own cross.” Am I able to die for my own sins and be justified before God because of my suffering, whether justified or caused by another? Other Christians were crucified because of their relationship with Christ, suffering for righteousness’ sake because they refused to not identify with Christ. In the last century, and the coming century, more people have been and will be persecuted because they are Christians, because of their stance before the world as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven than in the previous 19 centuries. They are identified with Christ because He first identified Himself with them. On the cross Jesus fulfilled the justified sentence of death for sin so those who are His would receive the grace of God’s righteousness. Only one person can die for the sins of all. That person is the sinless Christ.

Our cross is His cross. Listen to what Paul states in a passage every Christian should memories and repeat often. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [Galatians 2:20 ESV]. Have you been crucified for yourself, bearing your own sins? We may not say so, even denying with words what actually lurks in our hearts. We want to think our suffering, no matter the circumstance, has some bearing on what God thinks of us and may even induce Him to act in our favor. Knowing the hearts of men because his own heart exposed the corruption of thinking twisted by sin, Paul continues “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” [Galatians 2:21 ESV]. Christ has done everything and we have done nothing. If we are righteous before God it is by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His eternal favor.

Does the word “meek” as used by the world describe Jesus who endured the cross?

We must change the way we think. Jesus demanded we think differently, not like the world, whose mind and emotions are corrupted by sin. We must relearn how to think in a manner originally determined by God. This has been a foundational principal of the Sermon on the Mount and the description of the Christian contained therein. Even though we are only at the third statement in the Sermon all of Jesus’ words, all of His teaching, challenge our misconception of what it means to be a human created in God’s image, saved by grace and in process and preparation for eternity.

God is not weak. Nothing in His creation is supposed to be weak. Since Man is stamped with His image, no one is supposed to be weak. Since there is weakness in people, perceived and real, the weakness is a result of the corruption of sin. Corruption weakens everything touches, including our witness when we use words and phrases which mean something to us but we know not what, and mean nothing to those in the world.

Jesus continues giving a list of those characteristics, personality traits, which describe the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. This is the third statement. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” [Matthew 5:5 ESV]. He is deliberate in His descriptions. First, the citizen is poor in spirit. They are not self-righteous but recognize their sin and hate it. Second, they mourn. After seeing their sin they realize the consequences. We are not what God originally intended. We do not fulfill the purpose He gave when He put His image in man, because of sin. Recognizing sin brings a deep, emotional grief. His third statement brings the element of decision to His description of the Christian. Christians recognize sin and mourn over the consequences of sin. Now, something must done.

Let me be absolutely clear, if I can. Nothing anyone does is enough to right a relationship destroyed by sin. Let me be equally clear. Obedience to God carries no merit before God. I will develop this in future essays. Let me continue being clear. We, you and I must still do something, must make a decision demanded by God. We must decide to obey Him. Any other decision we make is disobedience. God demands we exercise our wills in obedience to Him. When Jesus tells us what it takes to be His disciple He is demanding absolute, unqualified obedience. We cannot be obedient independent from Him any more than we can pick up a cross which He has not already carried.

Here is another element of the image of God in Man. That element is our volition, our wills. This element works in conjunction with all the other elements we carry within the image of God given us. He gave us a mind, the intellect. With it we recognize the fact of sin. He gave us emotions, the means of interpreting His moral code. We mourn with our emotions over the realization of the consequences of sin, of the violation of God’s moral code. Now, we confront the will, our volition, in doing exactly what God commands we do. Here is the turning point. We will do what our mind and emotions tells us to do. We do not have the option of living dishonest lives described by undefined words and phrases which carry hollow meaning designed only to make us feel good.

Will we do what God tells us to do showing ourselves, not Him for He knows, we are His disciples?

Conclusion: Those Who Mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 ESV]

One of the world’s stereotypes of serious Christians is their lack of humor, almost sour personality. For the Christian it would seem the continual struggle with sin, the war which rages within those who follow Christ, anything which may resemble contentment and tolerance is treasonous toward God. Swinging the pendulum to the opposite side in an effort to weaken the acerbic stereotype many modern Christian embrace entertainment, games and fun. Both extremes offer poor examples to the world by revealing motivations designed to point at self by either separation from or embracing of the world. Both extremes are an illusion. Our fallen nature demands we point at self and not God. However, we are commanded to not allow our struggle with sin to compromise our testimony before the world. Nor are we to allow an illusion of happiness to reinforce sinful rebellion against God.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives, in short eloquent statements, a description of what a citizen of the kingdom of heaven looks like before God and the world. Integral to these statements are the demands we confront the true nature of sin, its reality and power, its enslaving control over those fallen because of the rebellion of Adam. He states “blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of heaven”  [Matthew 5:3 ESV]. This is the first element of the description of the citizen of God’s kingdom. Those who are poor in spirit recognize the truth and reality of sin and hate sin because it is a lie while loving God because He is truth.

Mourning is the next element following those who are poor in spirit. Those who mourn are those who, after realizing the reality of sin and rebellion against God, recognize the consequences of sin for themselves and for others. These are the ones who repent, and turn from their sin, toward God.

Made in the image of God every person has the internal motivation and desire to have a relationship with their Creator. Mourning, or grieving, is an emotional response to the consequences of sin, which is separation from God. Yet, the emotional response is evidence of a greater focus than self. Deep grieving associated with the recognition of sin points to the absolute moral standard of God. Our emotions are indicators of His morality which He has given us in His image. That the image is corrupted does not negate the morality, or the moral code, to which we adhere as a natural part of our being. We fight against the moral code while we fight against God.

God’s judgment of sin, which is the violation of God’s absolute moral code, is death. Physical death is separation from that which sustains physical life. All need food, water and air. These needs are part of the natural law God established when He created the universe, the earth and the creatures who dwell upon the earth. Physical life is a reflection of spiritual life. Since physical death is separation from that which sustains physical life spiritual death is separation from that which sustains spiritual life. Spiritual death is separation from God. Conversely, spiritual life is eternity with God and without sin.

According to Scripture, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”  [Matthew 4:4 ESV; see Deuteronomy 8:3]. We do not need anything other than God to sustain life. There are examples from Scripture where one or all of the elements needed to sustain physical life were removed from a person yet they continued to live because God sustained their life. There are examples from Scripture where a person died and was raised from the dead. God sustains physical life. But, He has placed physical laws over all life which cannot be violated but can be suspended by Him. Miracles are God suspending the physical laws for a moment because He can. However, God will not terminate the physical laws as long as His created universe exists. Suspension is momentary. After He has accomplished His desired purpose His physical laws return to normal because He determined they be as they are.

When a person dies their physical body decomposes but their spiritual self does not cease to exist. God did not create man in His image to cause man to cease to exist. Though the body dies the person does not, unless they are separated from that which give spiritual life. Then they continue to exist without having life. This is called hell. Thinking about hell should cause one deep, uncontrolled fear and mourning.

Separation from God is judgment for sin. God has to judge sin because of the moral code, which I think is defined by who He is and since we are created in His image who we are. Since there is nothing we can do to right our relationship with God, corruption is absolute, God must do something. He created us to have a relationship with Him and continues wanting us to have that relationship. We don’t have a relationship because we do not want to. Through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, God has redeemed those who are His. Through His resurrection and the giving of the Spirit to those who are His, He guarantees their eternal existence with Him. Our sin cost Jesus more than we can know.

Yet, Jesus does not stop at telling us we are to mourn over the consequences of sin and that those who do are blessed. He says those who mourn will be comforted. The word for “comfort” means to call someone over in order to instruct them, to exhort or comfort them, to console. The word comes from another word, to call, used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the one belonging to God.

Where once we were separated from God, under His wrath based upon His righteous judgment because of our violation of His moral code, now we are recipients of His divine pleasure and instruction through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are comforted by the One Who Comforts.

Love for God made real by those who realize the lie of sin, those who are poor in spirit, motivates those who mourn to show their love within their eternal selves. Their desire is service, placing God before all else, because of His sacrifice for sin. Jesus came to serve and demands we follow Him if we are His disciple.

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. [Matthew 20:25-28 ESV]

Where recognizing the consequence of sin is deep mourning recognizing the consequence of Christ’s sacrifice is even deeper eternal service. Such service from duty only is still service but the motivation is not love. From such service are the  perpetually unattractive Christians made. Service from a reaction to change the negative stereotypes of the world is still service. From such service comes a toleration for that which God does not tolerate, rebellion against Him. Nothing motivated by the thinking of the world may be deemed righteous. Just as Jesus abandoned Himself for our eternal benefit so He calls us to abandon ourselves for Him.

True servants are those who are more concerned with the thinking of the one they serve than of anyone else. Such a motivation for service leads naturally, according to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, to the motivation of “meekness.”

The Corinthians

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 ESV]

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. [2 Cor. 7:8-12 ESV]

Paul lived in Corinth for 18 months teaching these new Christians all they needed to know to live a righteous life before God in their world. He left, driven out by an unruly mob of Jews who accused him of teaching false ideas about God. When the Roman authority refused to do act against Paul the mob beat Sosthenes, the leader of the local synagogue. See Acts 18 and 1 Corinthians 1:1. 

Sometime after Paul left the city the Corinthian Christians wrote him a letter asking questions about eating  food offered to idols. Before he answered their specific questions he dealt with many others sinful actions into which they had fallen. He heard about their soiled reputation from the many people who traveled to see him who described the struggles with sin plaguing the Corinthian Christians.

Paul’s first letter was a deliberate confrontation of sin which compromised their redeemed character as Christians and sent a misleading message about Jesus Christ to the world. Their sin was blatant and demanded a rebuke by their spiritual authority. There is no teaching in the first letter to the Corinthians until you reach chapter 15 and 16 in which Paul is commending the Corinthian Christians. Not even chapter 12-14, Paul’s teaching on grace gifts of God is a positive reflection on the work of the Corinthians. They got just about everything wrong. God inspired  Paul’s letter designing the words to cause grieve, to cause mourning because of sin and then to bring repentance. His letter worked.

Two things happened when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians. He was grieving and mourning over their sin. At first his letter probably caused anger at such a sharp, documented rebuke. But finally his letter caused them to grieve and mourn. “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” [2 Cor. 2:4 ESV].  It was astounding to him they should sin so grievously. They argued and quarreled, they ate and got drunk, they took each other to court before the gentiles, they allowed sexual sin to occur unabated within their midst. Instead of going to them and rebuking them face to face, which would have caused much more grief he wrote them a letter outlining their sin.

Used here the word for “grief” or “sorrow” or “pain” is a verb denoting action on the part of the person. Paul wanted them to know the full extent of his grief and sorrow so they might identify with him. He wanted to test them to force them to look at themselves, to examine themselves and recognize sin. It is not the same word used in Matthew 5:3 for “mourning” but its effect is almost identical. They saw what they were doing and it caused them Godly sorrow.

God uses the Corinthian’s dilemma with sin as examples for us for at least two good reasons. First and foremost, we have the Word of God divinely inspired part of the Scripture. We also have a splendid example of how God wants the church to approach discipline within the Body of Christ. It is important the Church confront sin uncompromisingly. There can be no vacillating when it comes to sin within the Body of Christ. But this confrontation must be done in a way which allows God to convict the person, or group of people, breaking their will without breaking their spirit. We are His instruments. We do not wield ourselves against sin but allow God to wield us as He see fit. This is a difficult place and is only attained by having a right relationship with Him who directs.

Paul draws a distinction between godly and worldly grief. Godly mourning brings repentance. Worldly grieving brings remorse. There is a huge difference between these two words and the motivations they describe. Repentance is turning away from sin. Remorse is being hurt because of being caught. Repentance happens whether others know of the sin or not. Remorse always happens in a crowd and is more akin to embarrassment. No one feels remorse without being prompted. Only the Holy Spirit prompts to repentance.

We see in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians how they, touched by God, turned away from specific sins. There was one specific sin Paul confronted in his letter where he suggested they turn the evil person over to Satan so his flesh would die but his spirit be saved. “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV].  Here is another instance where God will allow a person to sin to a point but no further. God’s judgment against sin is death, which is separation from that which sustains life. All physically die because of sin. There is the possibility of being removed from the world through death because the Christian embraces sin to the detriment of the Body of Christ, to the questioning of their place before God. However, we know, because of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, God will not separate Himself from any He has redeemed in Christ. This does not excuse sin but demonstrates the limits to the divine patience.

As servants of God we are directed by Him to live His will in an intimate relationship with Him, not just do His will mechanically without thinking. Our lives are a confrontation of sin by a life of righteousness. Christians who confront sin in the Church according to the will of God, by His direction, will affect the one sinning.  Christians who do not confront sin in themselves and the Church will eventually cease serving God.  This is dangerous for God will not abide unrepented sin in His people.

Ananias and Sapphira

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 ES]

Every lie is an attack on truth whether it is a small “white lie” told at the moment or the big, premeditated lie meant to deceive. One of the characteristics of every lie is the capacity of the lie to change the way a person thinks soon becoming “truth.” In a corrupted mind truth becomes a lie and the lie believed becomes truth. When you lie to yourself, to justify or excuse an untrue belief or immoral behavior, you are lying to God. Claiming to know God and then lying suggests either ignorance of His revealed will or stubborn disobedience.

Jesus uses harsh words against those who place their traditions over the word of God, saying bluntly they have “made void” the word of God for their traditions.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”  [Matthew 15:1-9 ESV]

When God establishes a Moral Code based on His eternal, holy being, such as the Ten Commandments, it is not the servants place to change that code. Miriam, and Aaron, lied to God when they lied to themselves about Moses’ Cushite wife and their own political position before the people and nation of Israel. Gehazi lied to Naaman and to Elisha. Jonah did not lie but willfully disobeyed because he knew how God would work and show mercy to the people of Nineveh. In each instance, where mourning over the consequences of sin is absent so is repentance. 

Willful, stubborn disobedience brings judgment. If God’s judgment is not immediate it is only because of divine mercy. Physical and spiritual death is the righteous judgment against sin. But separation from that which sustains physical life, a judgment because of sin, does not mean the person is separated from God, He who sustains spiritual life. All will die physically. Not all will die spiritually.

God, as the Righteous Judge, has the absolute right to judge at His desecration. In the days of the nation of Israel, after they had been freed from the slavery of the Egyptians and given the Laws of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, a man was found picking up sticks on the Sabbath.

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses [Numbers 15:32-36 ESV].

God had just given the command to not work on the Sabbath. Read the verses previous to this incident. God recognizes the difference between those who sin unintentionally and those who do “anything with a high hand” [Numbers 15:30 ESV]. There is no mercy for those who willingly rebel against God. Yet, God’s mercy extends through each person’s lifetime until He determines their end. We look at the incident and deem God unfair, harsh, unmerciful. He is just, good and  eternally merciful. He is holy and demands from those who are His holiness.  Are there any other places in Scripture where a person is put to death for working on the Sabbath?

In Acts 4 and 5, the new Church, its believers recently filled by and with the Holy Spirit, show their separation from the world for service to God. They, many of them, for a short period of time at least, seek to care for each other’s physical needs. Then willful rebellion crept in. For a time there each need was met by the generosity of those living in the new eternal community of believers. Then Ananias and his wife Sapphira deliberately lie to their community

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.  

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things [Acts 5:1-11 ESV].

Does God ever in Scripture do something like this again? There are instances where God strikes down those who are not His, pagan priests, armies warring against His people. There is an instance where God judged a prophet, killing him with a lion, after he disobeyed God when he was lied to by another prophet (1 Kings 13:24). There is another instance where God commanded a man who blasphemed Him be stoned (see Leviticus 24:10-16). However, I can find only two instances of such harsh, immediate treatment, whose conclusion is death, immediate physical death, for those individuals who sinned publicly. This instance in Acts 5 is a parallel for that in Numbers 15. God’s intent is to show the seriousness of sin, and to strike fear in the hearts of His people. He wants all to mourn over the eternal consequences of even the “smallest” sin.

If not for God’s mercy all of us would face immediate judgment. Does not God use the weak, the lowly, even sinful people to accomplish His purposes?

Public sin teaches those who are weak to sin both publicly and privately. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea [Matthew 18:6 ESV]. It is better to remove yourself from any place of influence completely if your influence is going to teach others to rebel against God. When a servant rebels it becomes a detriment, actually working against the One they are supposed to serve. It is appropriate for God to remove them from His service. Those who mourn over their sin may remain a servant by the grace and mercy of God.

I am a servant. It is not my place to hold myself up for acknowledgment, to be applauded by people for my accomplishments or work. It is my place to point toward God and what He has done. It is my place to mourn over the sin of others, and for my own sin, because I do not want them or me to rebel against our Creator.