Monthly Archives: January 2015

Judgment and Discernment

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:22 ESV]

We are responsible for judging the intent of the thinking of our hearts. Outside of us only God can know what is in a person’s heart. He knows better than the person. Few are honest enough with themselves to know when their thinking and their hearts are bent toward evil or wickedness. Fewer allow guilt to drive them toward God. Without the forgiveness which comes through grace none could survive the conviction of sin. We must admit we sin before we will admit what our sins are. Those who refuse to admit what their sins are face God’s wrath.

Francis Schaeffer has suggested when someone is confronted with their sin and the enormous consequences of their sin they must do one of two things. Either they will go insane in trying to absolve themselves of the consequence through ignoring sin or they will commit suicide. We cannot live with guilt. Either we declare ourselves not guilty or we sentence ourselves to death.  Schaeffer knows the third option is to acknowledge God and His ultimate authority and compassion for us through the sacrifice of His Son.

We are responsible for accepting or rejecting the grace offered by God. He commands all to receive His grace, to accept their guilt and admit the truth their death sentence has been fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ.

From the beginning of man’s history, from Adam in the garden created in the image of God and given a realm in which to serve God, all are commanded to follow and obey Him. It does not matter that sin entered the world when it comes to obeying the commands of God. Sin is not an excuse for disobedience. Adam was commanded to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He was also given permission to eat from any other tree in the garden including the tree of life. Only after he willfully disobeyed God was he driven from the garden so he could not eat from the tree of life. Now all are commanded to eat from the tree of life, which is Christ, and live, but do not. Again, most in the world are in willful rebellion against God refusing to obey His explicit command.

Jeremiah, prophesying against the nation of Judah, compares those who are under God’s grace and know it and those who only think they are God’s yet rebel against Him.

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds. [Jeremiah 17:5-10 ESV]

God sees the evidence of the thinking of the heart in each person because He intimately knows each person. At the same time it is the responsibility of the individual to recognize the thinking of their own heart and accept responsibility for their thinking and actions. While the thinking of their hearts may be hidden from others their actions and the body language which accompanies their actions are never hidden. Others will see and form judgments based upon what they see. It is easy to judge others. Are we honest and discerning with ourselves concerning our own sin and guilt?

Obedience to God and right relationship with Him brings clarity. All judgment, in order for the judgment to be righteous, must be viewed through a Godly filter which recognizes sin and realizes the consequences of sin and followed by relinquishing control to God. Without doing these three steps, judgment, whether of self or of others, is arbitrary and sinful.

We are responsible for the intent of the thinking of our hearts. It is not our responsibility to judge the intent of the thinking of the hearts of others. It is our responsibility to be discerning, open to the counsel and instruction of the Spirit and confront sin where ever we find sin, whether in ourselves or in others. God commands we love Him and live according to truth. There are no other options.

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Godly Motivation and Mystery

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:21-22 ESV]

Abel did nothing to deserve death. He offered God an acceptable sacrifice. His sacrifice is evidence the thinking of his heart was in line with what God wanted from him. He knew to bring a sacrifice from the correct motivation. God accepted his sacrifice because of his motivation. Abel’s sacrifice was not given with the expectation of receiving anything in return. He sacrificed as a show of his love and affection for God.

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. [Genesis 4:3-5 ESV]

Cain murdered his brother Abel though he had committed no crime worthy of capital punishment. In fact, there were no written or spoken laws. There was only one prohibition given which did carry a spiritual and ultimately physical death penalty. That prohibition was given to Adam about not eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All indications are Cain, their first child, was born after his parents were driven from the garden. All he knew was what his parents told him and the evidence suggests they didn’t tell him accurately what happened, if at all.

God did not protect Abel from his brother Cain. He did tell Cain he was in danger of allowing sin control of his life. He did not stop Cain nor protect Abel from his brother’s murderous intent. “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” [Genesis 4:3-8 ESV].

Though we may hate what happens to us this is how God works. It is the corrupt thinking of our hearts which leads us to believe that which is not true, either about God or about us. There are times when God does protect from the effects of sin.  However, He is not unjust when He allows us to be affected by sin, especially the sin of others. It is not we deserve what happens, though all who sin deserve eternal punishment, but His eternal decrees, His knowledge and will see and know what occurs will ultimately bring Him glory. We do not know how sin, especially the vial sin of people, brings Him glory but we are told it will.

We must see what He does through the clear lens of His truth, not allowing ourselves the permission to color His truth with our misconceptions.  He allows sin full reign in a person so they might see and know and understand the full extent and consequences of sin. He does this so those He wishes to teach might see the complete degradation sin brings upon every iota of human existence.  He points to the consequences of sin in His Word, His laws, the prophecies and teachings, and in His love for each person.  Sinless Jesus died because of sin. This is the most effective evidence for the reality of sin and His love for those He created. He did not protect His Son, Jesus, from the full effect of the sin of the world.

Does this mean He does not love those who are victims of the abhorrent sin of those around them?  It would seem He does not love them. If this were true those who have endured the most violent, degrading, and vile acts against their person would never be covered by the blood of Christ, who endured the most violent, degrading and vile act against His person. His blood shed to cover those who are God’s is the eternal evidence of God’s love for them.

Cain could not hide his murder from God even though he tried. Nothing which happens to anyone is hidden from God. Perhaps this is why we believe He could have prevented sin, especially against ourselves. He could have kept Adam from sinning. He could have prevented Cain from murdering. He could have rescued Abel from his brother’s murderous intent. He did not. He could have kept His Son from dying. He did not. His full reasons are mysterious, seem callus and unloving, but we know, by the resurrection of His Son, they are just and righteous and void of sin.

We also know the intent of the thinking of our hearts is our responsibility, for which we will be held accountable.

Who is in Control?

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:21-22 ESV]

From where does murderous intent come? Does not such intent begin with the imagining of unreasonable expectations which becomes a demand, a law the person requires of others? In the Hebrew Scripture the first sin recorded was not murder. In fact, God does not list all of the sins Adam and Eve committed before Cain was born. God never give a litany of a person’s sins. He reveals some but mostly He documents that they sinned.

After Cain, the first born, and Abel offer their sacrifice God comes to Cain and speaks with him and warns him about the battle raging within his heart. Cain wanted to worship God the way Cain wanted to worship, not the way God wanted. It was not the actual act of worship God spoke to Cain about but the intent of his heart. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” [Genesis 4:6 ESV]. Cain was angry. God had not met his expectations. This is because, even without knowing Cain’s exact expectations, we can suggest they were unreasonable.

Cain carried his emotion in an obvious way. However, no one else saw Cain’s struggle but God and He see everything. Perhaps, Cain had not yet learned to hide his emotions from himself. Before this would happen Cain had to train himself to allow his anger to control his expectations. He excused his sinful thoughts and unrealistic emotions which were contrary to what God had originally designed. He was made in the image of God but carried the bent to sin. God gave him his image. His parents gave him, and all who follow him, the bent toward sin. Sin is an unnatural inheritance. We all have this bent but we all struggle against it because of the natural godly image within our being. God wants control. So does sin. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” [Genesis 4:7 ESV].

Cain chose to allow sin to control his life. Could he have chosen differently?

Here is a conundrum faced by all Christians. God holds us responsible for our sins even though we can identify sin as an unnatural inheritance, a controlling force in our lives, coming down from Adam and Eve to everyone who has ever lived. Except Christ. We have been taught we have no choice but to sin. We have been taught everything we do is sin. We have also been told Christ covered our sin with His righteousness so we are no longer under God’s judgment for sin. But we still sin while we have been taught God expects holiness and righteousness from us. It is impossible for us to reconcile the two positions. They are in conflict.

God told Cain he must control sin by ruling over it so it would not control him. Does He not tell us the same thing? Sin wants us. We must recognize the assault of sin and steadfastly fight to not allow sin control over us. We do not belong to sin but to God. Sin owned us but He bought us back with the eternal price of Christ’s blood. Our fight begins, not with sin but within ourselves. God never lost His fight with sin. We must be willing to allow God to show us what is truly happening within ourselves. We must honestly confront ourselves and the sin which assaults us, recognizing it as sin and not excusing it as natural and expected.

Sin began outside of us, has become an integral though unnatural part of us, and God has given us the tools, strength and grace to combat it. But first we must recognize our own powerlessness and His power in us. James addresses our conundrum.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for ought when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. [James 1:12-15 ESV]

Introduction to Matthew 5:21-26

You have heard that it was said to those of old … But I say to you … [Matthew 5:21-22 ESV]

In a world where God is viewed as negligible, absent or non-existent anything imagined is considered possible and viable. Nothing is objectionable. Everything is permissible.

In Genesis 6:5 God sees the wickedness of the thinking of the hearts of all people, evil thinking and feeling only all of the time. Unfettered and undisciplined imagination and actions breed contempt for God and for His person. Even when we carry the attributes and characteristics which help us know Him, the image of God, we train ourselves to view Him as something He is not.

It is His person which establishes and defines creation. Those who allow themselves, even give themselves permission to ignore God, will imagine and believe their imaginations true. Even those who recognize the corruption of sin will try to make what they have imagined true. Just because we want something to be true does not make it true. We do not make truth.

In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 Jesus uses an expression, a couplet of opposite phrases, to show the lies people tell themselves which have become accepted tradition. “You have heard … but I say to you.” You have been taught something by the legalists, the scribes and teachers of the Law, which is not true.

Jesus is transitioning from the previous, foundational statements to illustrations of what He has taught. Adhering to manmade religious traditions, lies covered with the skin of a truth, will make no one righteous. Obeying these opinions and traditions may make you feel righteous, as if you are obeying God’s will, but accomplish nothing of eternal value. Though you dearly hold to your traditions as truth they may be only partly true. It is the part which is not true which captures just as sin captures and claims ownership. These traditions only claim truth as their foundation but spring from the imaginations of a people corrupted by sin, having rejected God.

Let me tell you the truth, Jesus says. He stresses the truth of His statements, backed by the evidence of His life. Ultimately, it is His resurrection which corroborates His words and teaching. But those who listened to Him and watched Him and experienced His healing powers had not yet known His resurrection.

In the context of the current setting His statements “you have heard it said … but I tell you …” are audacious and authoritative. His words and the implications of His words demand careful examination and application. Ignore them at the risk of eternal separation from God.

With these verses, beginning with Matthew 5:21, Jesus begins illustrating all He has been saying. He has succinctly described the citizen of the kingdom of God. Those who are not His hate those who are. Yet, what they think does not eternally matter. But we are conflicted, tugged and pulled by the world in such a way we are tempted to compromise and fail. When our eyes are fixed upon what is in the world, even the smallest part of the world, we are tempted to imagine something other than what is true. Citizens of God’s kingdom cannot become non-citizens but they can temporarily act motivated by their imaginations as citizens of the world. Our lives must revolve around Him and not anything opposed to Him.

Jesus, in the rest of Matthew 5, illustrates the nine points given in verses 1-20. Seven of these illustrations are of the seven characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Once the citizen is defined by the characteristic given, and the illustration meant to drive His point home, Jesus tells how the world will react to the citizen and then how the citizen is to act toward and within the world. He illustrates both the violent reaction of the world and the benevolent action of God through those who are His when facing violence. Finally, Jesus shows the foundation in a way which cannot be denied.

Matthew 5:21-48 are illustrations supporting the teaching of the Son of God in 5:3-20.  Do not lift these verses out of their context and make them stand alone. Jesus does not mean for them to stand alone.

God has purposefully included imagination in the image of God. He has also given us vibrant and living information about Himself, His Son, and His Holy Spirit which He uses to prepare us for eternity. We are citizens of the kingdom of God not of the world in which we live. We are here as witnesses of God to the world. His words, the Scripture given, and His Spirit are meant to teach us and change us into the likeness of Christ. Let us diligently seek Him so we will find Him.