Monthly Archives: September 2014

Separation and Reunion

Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. [Luke 14:34-35 ESV]

Being covered by Christ’s blood does not mean all are guaranteed salvation just as being included in the sin of Adam does not mean all are finally separated from God. Adam’s sin did separate all from God but not all are finally separated. Christ’s blood does cover all with righteousness but not all are finally covered. It is the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit which guarantees eternal life. Rejecting the command of the Holy Spirit to eat from the tree of life, which is Christ, is the deciding point.

Separation is always an act of violence.

Jesus uses the phrase “salt is good” a third time in Luke 14. Each time He uses this phrase, in Matthew, Mark and here in Luke, He precedes it with violent imagery. In Matthew He precedes the illustration of salt and light with suffering for righteousness’ sake. In Mark 9 he precedes the phrase with an exaggerated response to our own sin, the need to cut off or out anything which would compromise righteousness. Here, in Luke, Jesus states what is necessary to follow Him. He demands we detach from the emotional bonds of the world and cling to Him.

Detach from the emotional bonds of personal relationships.

Approach life like you are ready to die.

Lose everything.

Jesus does not make following Him easy but the most difficult thing a person will do.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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 14:25-26, 33 ESV]

Turning to those following Him Jesus commanded they do the impossible. Surely this man who lived God’s love for the people is not really asking us to hate? How can someone who is right with God hate anyone? Does He not say we are to honor our parents, to love them? Are we not commanded to love our neighbors? To love ourselves? Surely, He does not mean to hate the way the world means to hate?

“Hate” means to detest, or by extension, to love less. He means us to hate in the same way we are to cut off whatever causes us to sin. Jesus is using violent hyperbole to describe the attitude necessary to truly follow Him. He wants to know if we love anyone, even ourselves, more than we love Him. Do we love Him more than anything else?

While instructing His disciples just before sending them out to preach to the towns and villages of Galilee, Jesus gave them authority to do miracles, told them who they should stay with, and explained how they would be received. They would suffer for righteousness’ sake.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. [Matthew 10:34-40 ESV]

Jesus is exclusive. He created us for Himself first and then for others. He did not create us so we would be the center but He the center. There can be only one center.

He gives us the love we need to love those who are unlovable. It is not we are to hate as the world hates but to abandon. Making Him the center, which is His rightful place, does not compromise anything but instead sets it right. Where relationships are bent, idolatrous, spiritually unhealthy, He changes the person and the relationship changes. Our love is His love in us under His control. We cannot love Him, or anyone, in our own strength. When we try, and fail, we show our sin. Those around us, when they demand we love them exclusively, when they try to emotionally control us, become a cause of sin and must be excised, like the hand or foot or eye which causes sin. Being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven demands we see life as eternal and value what God values, conforming ourselves to His image and will.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Illustrations of Righteousness

Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. [Mark 9:50 ESV]

Illustrations used by Jesus are meant to drive home the point of His teachings.

Jesus has just come from being transfigured, changed back into who He really is, and then expels a demon from a child. He then explicitly tells His disciples what is going to happen. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” [Mark 9:31 ESV].

While they are walking, seeming to forget all which had just occurred, they argue amongst themselves about which of them is greater in the kingdom. Jesus tells them the greatest in the kingdom are those who serve, who place God before anything and anyone else. He draws a child into His arms and tells them whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” [Mark 9:37 ESV]. They must be like a child, who naturally loves Him, to even enter the kingdom. Children are easily taught. People would be better dead than to teach a child to not love Him and to sin. He illustrates the gravity of sin by stating it would be better to physically cut off an appendage, which causes sin, than keep the appendage and continue to sin. By extension, whatever causes sin teaches sin and stymies God’s peace.

He tells His disciples that “everyone will be salted with fire” [Mark 9:48 ESV]. If I am correct in my assessment then “salt” is Christ’s righteousness, a fire which burns away sin.

Everyone is covered with Christ’s righteousness but not everyone stays covered. As the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and points to the grace offered by God through Christ the individual may respond with obedience or rebellion. God commands all to eat from the tree of life, which is Christ. His command is given but not repeated, issued by the direct command of the Holy Spirit to those created in the image of God and able to receive and understand the command. Obedience carries no merit but does bring the blessing of being in His eternal presence. On the other hand, disobedience does carry punishment, the consequence of existence away from the life sustaining presence of God.

Once righteousness has rooted itself in the citizen the affect is more righteousness. Pursuing righteousness produces righteousness. We are called to hunger and thirst after righteousness and in doing so God fills us with that which we need. Righteousness is not a desire or a want but a need. God has created us, and recreated us, in a manner which spiritually needs His moral character more than we need physical food and drink. We need His life to stay alive. It is the evidence of His life in us which the world sees. We are the “salt of the earth” [Matthew 5:13 ESV] which makes us the evidence God uses to show the unrighteous their sin. Because we pursue righteousness we love as only God will and we either draw people to God or they hate us because they hate Him.

But what happens to those who rebel. Salted with the fire of God’s righteousness they are snatched away by Satan because they do not understand it, or are enticed or driven away by the pressures of the world, or are choked and deceived by their own flesh. (See the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:18-23.) Mixed with the impurity of the world and sinful flesh the salt, through trial and testing, is leached away leaving worthless dirt. Those who had salt lost the salt through disobedience until what remains is a person condemned by God because of their one sin of rebellion.

It is no coincidence the last of the seven characteristics Jesus gives is peacemaker. He wants us to have peace with God which results in peace with those with whom we live and work. This is a dilemma. God’s righteousness in us will either draw people to God or drive them away. How can Jesus say “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”?

Jesus attracted people to Himself because He was righteous and at peace with God. Soon, others who pursued unrighteousness and hated Him would kill Him. Facing this depth of anger and hatred and bitterness from those who rebelled against God did not break His righteousness or His peace with God. He was willing to give everything to do God’s will and command. Again, we are faced with a mystery.  He cried out while on the cross “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34 ESV] and then “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” [Luke 23:46 ESV].

He rose from the dead, conquering death.

If our lifestyle and beliefs are not evidence of God’s righteousness as we go then we will either face God’s discipline or His wrath. Peace is the evidence of righteousness working in our life, first with God and then with those around us. Our peace with God, even while facing persecution for righteousness, is attractive. Being a peacemaker is a natural characteristic of the citizen of the kingdom of God.

So is eternal life.

One Act

In the garden were two trees, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Adam was commanded to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Every other tree was given to him for food including the tree of life. When Adam sinned he was forbidden the fruit of the tree of life and dying he died. Notice what God says.

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever —” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. [Genesis 3:22-24 ESV]

For Adam, now corrupted and sinful, to become like God and live forever, knowing only evil and never able to do good is a perversion of God perfect creation. For him to reach out and eat of the tree of life would mean eternal life in an eternal state of sin. God cannot allow this because of His eternal being. God separated Adam, and all those in him from the source of life, which is Himself.

For Adam and for us in him, only one sin is enough to separate all from God, who is the source of life.

In the garden the tree of life is a “type” of Christ. It is a true representation of the only means of attaining eternal life, which is Christ. Like Christ, the tree was placed in the garden and given as food to those in residence. Finally, the tree of life pointed to Christ. John tells us “in Him is life” [John 1:4 ESV] and then Jesus declared “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father Except through me” [John 14:6 ESV].

Yet, Jesus declares there is an unforgivable sin, which is the rejection of the leading of the Holy Spirit by disobeying God’s direction given by the Spirit.

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. [Matthew 12:31-32; see Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10; 1 John 5:16]

It takes only one sin to separate from God.

When Jesus died it was for all, for everyone. God now commands, He never requests, all to eat from the tree of life, which is Christ, and live. Many do. None can declare they decided to eat from the tree of life. They responded to God’s command in obedience.

Those who refuse to obey the command to eat do not get life but continue in death. Their disobedience is a hand held up to God’s face showing their hatred toward Him.  Christ’s righteousness becomes a fire and they desperately try and finally succeed in escaping its heat. What changes some, preparing them for eternity with God, drives others mad with anger, hatred and bitterness.

One act of disobedience by Adam brought death to all people. One act of obedience by Christ, His sacrificial death on the cross, brought righteousness to all people. Now, one act of defiance toward the absolute authority of God results in death for the individual.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. [John 6:53-58 ESV]

God’s Testing

For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? [Mark 9:49-50 ESV]

From where does our responsibility, our obligation to obedience to Him, come?  If my argument is correct, then our obedience and responsible actions are founded and directed by His eternal moral character, by His righteousness and by the image of God in us. Consequently, anything which tempts us to fall, to sin, must be excised.

Jesus does not simply hide the symptoms of sin under His blood. His admonition to cut off a hand, a foot, or pluck out an eye is hyperbole. What He requires is even more desperate. We must change. The “old man” or the “old self” (see Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:9) with its unrighteous, worldly ways must die. None of the old may be carried into the new life.

God shows us sin, our unrighteousness through Himself and His moral character. It is our responsibility to recognize our sin, admit and turn away from that sin and strive to emulate His moral character. He demands nothing less than perfection.

Here is a mystery. Like the blood poured out on the covering of the alter, known as the mercy seat, which hides the sin of the people from God’s eyes, so Christ’s blood covers with righteousness those who are His. This process is called sanctification.

Sanctification happens immediately for eternity, upon death for eternity, and throughout eternity. What God begins in those who are His at salvation is completed at death. God always finished what He begins.

So, what does it mean to be salted with fire?

If the salt Jesus is speaking about is righteousness, God’s moral character, then the infusion of righteousness onto and into a person will have one of two outcomes. For those who are owned by God His sprinkling of righteousness will produce more righteousness. For those who are not His, exposure to righteousness will drive them away from God. Those who respond with obedience to the call of God will be drawn toward Him in confession and repentance. Those repelled by God’s righteousness will  produce anger toward Him and those who are His. Their anger will show itself in ways ranging from ambivalence to violence.

Yet, Jesus is not speaking to those who hate Him but those who love Him. He has already shown the reaction of the unrighteous toward those declared righteous.  It is the natural action of righteousness to act rightly under every circumstance. Yet, sprinkled within the sanctified citizen of the kingdom of heaven is the world and the flesh, both under attack by our adversary, the devil. We are torn, driven by the Spirit to love those who persecute while compelled by sin to react with unrighteousness toward them.

We are tested and our true master will wield control. Either we are slaves to sin or children of God, citizens of the kingdom of unrighteousness or of heaven. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” [John 8:34-36 ESV]. God’s testing does one of two things. Either His testing removes the impurities leaving pure salt, which has great value, or it removes the salt leaving the impurity, leaving only that which is worthless.

I will say this over and over. Obedience carries no merit. Obedience is a natural action for those being trained and fit for eternity with God. We must fight against the philosophy and thinking which suggests God owes us anything. He owes us nothing and has given us everything of eternal value. Those who believe God owes them something for their obedience want a temporal reward, something they can use and spend on themselves. Love is unconditional. Demonstrated by God toward us love is a giving of self for an other.

God takes the time to remove the impurities from those who are His. Let us think He is removing the impurities, He will remove them, He has removed them. God has made us righteous based upon the sacrifice of His Son. He is making us righteous. He will make us righteous.

Removing the Impurities

… how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. [Matthew 5:13 ESV]

For everyone will be salted with fire. [Mark 9:49 ESV]

Here is the second of three places Jesus uses the analogy of salt to describe the evidence of the thinking of a person’s heart. Those who are naturally born have the morphe of a sinner, the inner bent to sin, under the control of the thralldom of sin.  Those reborn by the Spirit of God are recreated and given the morphe of a Christian, under God’s control as a citizen of His kingdom. Salt illustrates the inclusion of righteousness, inherent to the image of God, mixed with the presence of rebellion, unrighteousness, found in everyone.

As always, the context and understanding the context is vital to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words. The immediate context of Mark 9 is found and enhanced by Matthew 18. Jesus revealed His glory to three disciples  on the Mount of Transfiguration. He healed a young boy, casting out the demon which tormented him and his family. Peter has confessed Him as Christ and is then rebuked for responding to Him like the world and not like someone who truly understood who stood before him.

Then, as they walk along, the disciples argue about who among them is the greatest in the kingdom of God, for none other outside of their clique could possibly attain such an exalted position. What arrogance. Their misunderstanding of Him is deep and potentially deadly.

Calling a child to Himself He admonishes His disciples and us. To enter the kingdom requires being like a child. Children are sinful, born with the natural bent to sin. They do not have to be taught to sin. Before pronouncing this warning Jesus declares His prescription for sin. His words are hyperbole, but the action required is even more mentally, emotionally and spiritually harsh. Whatever causes, inspires, is the vehicle for sin, whatever is used to move temptation into full-blown sin, must be excised. Children lean toward sin but if you are the one who teaches a child to how to sin it would be better for you to kill yourself.

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:42-48 ESV]

Does your hand, your foot, your eye cause or lead you into sin?  Cut it off. It is better to spend eternity with the Giver of Life and without a hand, foot or eye than to spend eternity in existing death without God. But what if it is my heart which draws me to sin and the various physical appendages are simply the tools needed to accomplish the sin desired?  How do I cut out my heart?

People make excuse to not be responsible. Jesus’ teaching demands a shared responsibility with God. While God is responsible for everyone all are responsible before God. Our works carry no merit. Yet, obedience to God’s commands is expected because He is the Creator and we are the creature, His creation.

He wants us to hate sin and love truth and righteousness as a natural part of being a Christian. We do not belong to ourselves but to Him. Our actions, the thinking of our hearts, must reflect the likeness of His Son. It is better to cease conforming to the world by cutting off or away whatever demands unrighteousness. What we think we lose here has no eternal value and is even eternally detrimental to our spirits. Our responsibility is to act like a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

What you do reflects who you are and dictates what you will become. God is adamant we are responsible for our actions and motivations. Yet, He  has not left us to our own devises but given His Spirit to lead and direct and empower the Christian in the war against sin.

Saltiness

You are the salt of the world, but if salt has lost its taste … [Matthew 5:13 ESV]

Salt has an essential characteristic. It is salt. Sodium chloride. It is made of two chemicals, sodium and chlorine. Take away one of the chemicals leaving the other and it is not salt.

Christians also have essential characteristics, though these are not chemical but spiritual and eternal. Jesus is using an analogy to differentiate between those who are His and those who are counterfeit. Those who are His carry within the morphe of a Christian. They have that which makes a Christian a Christian. Those who do not have the morphe of a Christian may try to manufacture a substitute but will never actually succeed. God is not fooled.

In ancient times salt was hardly ever pure, depending upon its source and the integrity of the person gathering and selling the substance. It would naturally contain other elements as impurities. Gold in salt is an impurity. This doesn’t mean the salt is not salt but that it is salt and something else not salt.

Salt dissolves in water. When the impure batch of stuff claimed as salt is exposed to the weather or humidity the actual substance salt dissolves leaving the impurities which do not dissolve. Salt loses its taste because what is left is everything mixed in which is not salt. Jesus uses the word “lost” in Matthew 5:13 which means to become simple, to lose intelligence, be compromised in the ability to think, or to lose savior. Salt is salt, and when the bags of stuff called salt loses the salt what is left is tasteless and worthless. The more of the worthless stuff mixed in with the salt the easier it is for the actual salt to leech out. What is left can never do what salt is created to do.

For the sake of the discussion let us say salt is a symbol for righteousness, even though righteousness is much more. Because of the image of God in each person, everyone has a sufficient understanding of righteousness. All know the difference between right and wrong and are capable of identifying the measure or standard for their actions and attitudes, the thinking of their hearts. They may not want to recognize God as the ultimate measure for their behavior, or use the term “righteousness” but all know guilt intimately.

Those who are truly salt have God’s righteousness embedded within and covered without, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Those who are not salt have created a self-righteousness, seeking to justify themselves according to the acceptable standards of the world. God is the Eternal Taster and He knows when the salt of righteousness is present and when it is lacking.

Jesus takes it further. No analogy will perfectly describe or define the actual. He is giving those who are His, and the world, a warning about the need and uses of righteousness. He hates unrighteousness and expects the citizen of His kingdom to hate sin as well, while loving the truth. He expects those who are His to hunger and thirst after righteousness. He says those who are His will stand for righteousness when persecuted because of Him, the Giver of Righteousness. Every statement implies His work in the Believer and their work for Him, the evidence of ownership. What owner keeps anything which is useless? Even hoarders see their stuff as valuable to them. Either a person assigns value or they recognize the value assigned by God. Those who think they own themselves, and act like God has no ownership, are still owned by Him and He will do with them as he pleases.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” [Matthew 7:21-23 ESV]

God will look at the evidence of His ownership recognized by those who are His. Do not interpret these verses as something we do under our own power, from our own direction, while in the world. It is too easy to remove God from the equation of our lives. The tugs  and pulls of the world, our own flesh, and Satan, assault us every moment, seeking to compromise our effectiveness for God. These assaults are failed unless we give them permission to succeed. The more we allow the world, our own flesh, and Satan to compromise who God is making us the more unrighteousness is mixed with God’s righteousness. I am not suggesting any who are His can at sometime be not His, or lose their salvation. I am questioning the perception of those who think they are saved, by their own effort, when they are not. Those who reject the absolute authority of God will pile up evidence of their self-righteousness just as those who humble themselves will show evidence of God’s grace.

Salt of the Earth

You are the salt of the earth… [Matthew 5:13 ESV]

This verse is a warning.

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warns those who say they are His but are not. His first seven statements contain warnings. If you are this way you are blessed. Conversely, if you are not this way you are not blessed. You are rejected or cursed. His warnings are subtle, easily missed by those who cannot hear or who cannot see because their ears are stopped and their eyes closed. To those who are His, who through the indwelling Spirit are changed from slavery to sin to covered with His righteousness, the warnings are readily apparent. Here is the heart of the matter. There are those who are His and those who are not, yet claim to be.

Jesus uses an analogy to describe the essential evidence of those who are His. They are His, being recreated and made into His image, to the core of their eternal being.  Philippians 2:6-7 says Jesus has the form (morphe, that which makes something what it is) of God and a Servant, man as he was originally created, before the fall. So the Christian has the morphe of the true citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Just as the essence, the morphe, of salt is salt so the essence of the citizen of God’s kingdom is righteousness. Everything Jesus has said to this point, and continuing on, is the evidence of the righteousness of God working itself into the being of those who belong to God.

Jesus is speaking to the vital, eternal being of the Christian. He has defined that being in the first seven statements of this teaching. Christians are all of these things.  Just as salt has specific evidences of its presence so to the Christian exhibits the characteristics of a regenerated, changed, person.

Salt of the ancient world is quite different from the modern, processed and refined salt found on store shelves. Not that salt itself is different but the level of purity is considerably refined more now than it was then. It was hard to remove all the impurities from the salt of Jesus’ day. So too, it was easy to add impurity to salt through everyday living. It was not uncommon for the salt in “salt” to leech away leaving only the impurities. God refines the Christian, through conviction and persecution, removing the impurities and leaving just salt, something universally useful and necessary.

We are God’s righteousness in a world dominated by unrighteousness. Everyone knows the difference between right and wrong. We all have a witness, in ourselves, of the implications of the moral law of God. While many can, through sheer will power, live up to the outward standards which define the moral laws only those changed, recreated and filled with the Spirit of God, can live, as an essential part of their being, His moral law. His indwelling Spirit does not preclude temptation and sin but guarantees our place in eternity in spite of our surroundings and failures. God strategically places us to grow us and convict those in the world. The more we wrestle with sin, fine tuning our understanding and living of righteousness, the more effective we become as His witnesses, the less we will compromise who we are for what the world is. We leave the world behind and, used by God, draw those He is calling into His kingdom.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. [1 Peter 3:14-16 ESV]

Our lives, the deepest essence of our being, the morphe of the citizen of His kingdom, exposes His righteousness, His glory, His being, which impacts everything we do and everyone we meet.