Privilege and Authority

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”. 
Romans 12:3 NLT

Is Paul getting a little ahead of himself, by claiming that he can effectively speak for God? He claimed that he had “privilege and authority”, a status not given by a societal or governmental process, but by God Himself. The problem for some people is that they do not observe, or participate in, the process that provides such authority. In history, many people have claimed that they have some special power or mandate given to them by God, and, through that, they have gone on to deceive people and lead them down a path that is nothing to do with God at all. The Bible accounts call them false prophets, and Jesus warned about them, as we read in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves”. So how can we validate Paul’s claim that God had given him His authority?

In the Matthew 7 account, Jesus went on to teach His disciples how they can avoid being misled by these false prophets. Matthew 7:16-17, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit”. And He finishes the section by saying, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:20).

So back to Paul. He claimed that Jesus had appointed him to his ministry. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him” (1 Timothy 1:12). Romans 1:1, “This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News”. Paul was obviously recognised as an Apostle by the other Apostles at that time. Paul met with the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, and we read in Galatians 2:7-8, “Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles”. There are other verses in the New Testament that confirm Paul’s appointment as an Apostle, so we can rest assured that he did indeed have God’s authority, and he considered it a privilege.

If we apply the false prophet test to Paul, it soon becomes very clear that his single-mindedness in furthering the work of the Gospel throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region and beyond, often at great personal cost, was indisputable. No bad fruit there at all. And as a legacy Paul left us with his letters, that have shaped and instructed disciples ever since.

We believers, pilgrims for Christ, also have the same authority that Paul had. We read in Matthew 28:18-20, “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age””. The early disciples were given the authority to make more disciples, who go on to make even more. And that process has been continuing ever since.

So, the question is, how many disciples have we made? We have Jesus’ request, His mandate, and authority to do so. Hmmm… 

Father God. Please forgive us for our lethargy in spreading the Gospel to those around us. We pray for Your guidance to take us the the right people, at the right time, so that we too can obey Your instructions to make disciples. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Christ’s Blood

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

Paul wrote “people are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood“. We know of course of the historical fact that Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross at a place called Calvary, just outside Jerusalem. And we know as well that although Jesus could have called upon sufficient forces to save Him, He instead chose to die in that way, sacrificing Himself for the benefit of mankind. But why this mention of His blood? To find out more about this we have to turn to Hebrews 9, which clearly explains the importance of blood. In Hebrews 9:22, we read, “In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness”. Of course, we can claim that we are living in a new dispensation, the New Covenant through Jesus. But there is still an important connection with the Old Covenant emphasis on blood.

For the High Priest to be able to attain God’s presence, blood had to be offered for the forgiveness of sins. We read in Hebrews 9:7, “But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance”. Something significant had to happen to allow the contact with God, and this was the shedding of an animal’s blood. 

We read in Hebrews 9:11-12 that Jesus is now our High Priest. “So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever“. But we can’t stop there. The writer to the Hebrews continued, “Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:13-14). 

Jesus willingly offered Himself at Calvary, so that His blood could once and for all time, become the offering that God demands for our redemption. Through Jesus’ blood we can attain the righteousness that meets “God’s glorious standard“. And through faith in God’s free gift of grace, sealed for all eternity by Jesus’ blood, we have our salvation to look forward to on the day that Jesus returns. “God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus”. 

We pilgrims, of course, believe in Jesus. It is more than believing that Jesus came to this world. The devil and his minions all believe that. It is the belief that Jesus not only came to this planet to die at Calvary. It is believing that through His shed blood there we have redemption for our sins. Such a belief is life-changing. But what do those in our families believe? Or our friends and neighbours? once again, I encourage us all to share what Jesus did for us at Calvary. It’s too important a gift not to.

Dear Lord. How can we thank You enough. You faced into a terrible death for me and my fellow pilgrim brothers and sisters. We are so grateful. Amen.

God’s Grace

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

Paul made a profound statement, unequivocally through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when he said, “God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight”. Just a few words, easy to say but rooted in the God-experience Paul enjoyed. What is this grace? Why is it so powerful? And how can we take advantage of it?

Grace, and in particular God’s grace, is a very fundamental truth for the Christian life. Without God’s grace we are a deluded people, wasting our lives on something pointless. But here’s the thing, because of His love for mankind, God chose to allow His Son, Jesus, to take on board our sins so that we could become righteous before Him. That’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is so true. Grace isn’t something tangible. We can’t measure it, or prove that it exists through some scientific analysis. It’s not built into our education system. It doesn’t appear on our statute book. It is only available to us through another unmeasurable word – faith. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Grace and faith walk hand in hand. But together they form an eternal combination. Our salvation depends on the grace of God, and our faith assures us that He means what He says, and what He did, through Jesus.

God’s grace is freely given, gifted to us, and is more valuable than anything man can devise. We have done nothing at all to deserve it. In fact, we deserve God’s judgement, not His grace. Earlier in Romans 3 we found just how depraved and wicked humanity is. And we think of the Apostle Paul, who was guilty of murdering the early Christians through his mistaken belief that they were a deviant sect that had to be eliminated. Yet even though he deserved the punishment meted out to murderers, through God’s grace he had an encounter with Jesus. An encounter so profound that it totally transformed his life. Saul the Pharisee became Paul the evangelist and writer of letters that have touched and helped millions of people over the time since he wrote them, and will continue to do so far into the future.

The saddest thing, though, is that most people have rejected this gift of grace. Imagine someone, perhaps a total stranger, offering you a package, all nicely wrapped up and one that you know contains something valuable. And yet, you turn away, rejecting it. Well, that is what most people do, and have done. The one thing that can assure us a future with God in an amazing place called Heaven, is despised and rejected. It doesn’t make sense somehow.

Most people feel uncomfortable in accepting a gift. They feel obliged to do something in return. But with God’s gift of grace, there is no response required. His gift is freely given without any expectation of repayment. His gift is not a loan either, requiring to be repaid one day. Through the gift, something of God is transferred to us, enriching our lives. And by accepting what He gives us, we also accept so much more, as He works in our lives, aiding our transformation into the people He wants us to be. 

Truly, the song “Amazing Grace” is just that, God’s amazing grace. “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see“. Words to dwell and meditate on; words penned by a man who really came to experience God’s grace. We have our own stories of amazing grace to tell as well. Let us not hold back as we walk this world, telling others about this free gift from God.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your free gift of salvation through Jesus. We worship You today. Amen.

Another Way

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”
Romans 3:21-22 NLT

Paul had been building up to this position for some time in his letter. It was almost as though he had made his audience thoroughly depressed and put them in a hopeless state of mind, before dropping a bombshell of light and hope. He said it all boils down to having faith in Jesus. We mustn’t forget that even before the Law was given, it was possible to be made right with God through faith. In Genesis 15:6, we read, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith“. And even after the Law was given the same principle applies. In Habakkuk 2:4b, we read, “… But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God“. The whole point of the Law wasn’t that it was just a set of rules and regulations that resulted in righteousness. It was about having faith in God.

We can say, quite glibly, that we have faith in God. Faith is a strange concept, and often greatly misunderstood. The dictionary definition refers to confidence or trust in someone or something. So we can have faith in a medical doctor, that he or she correctly diagnoses a condition from which we are suffering. Or we can have faith that the brakes in our car won’t fail, and will stop us in the required distance. But these are not in the same league as having faith in God, which requires adherence to a different paradigm, one that extends greatly beyond our earthly and natural experiences. 

The obvious go-to verse about faith is Hebrews 11:1, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see“. But Hebrews 11:3 is a major stumbling block for most people around us. It says, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen“. Such faith does not have a natural basis for supporting it. Most people shelve the origins of our world, as not being all that relevant in their day to day lives. Human beings have a propensity to shelve or ignore things they cannot influence or control, like their humanity, or life span. But as far as our eternal future is concerned, faith is really important. 

Paul pointed out to the Roman Christians two important faith facts, about which there was no alternative. The first is that they needed to be righteous in God’s sight. And secondly, that righteousness can only be achieved through Jesus. Just to rub it in, he then said that these faith principles apply to everyone, regardless of their heritage. Faith in God is universally available. There is no irrefutable evidence to support it. We cannot observe it, measure it, or control it. Instead, with faith we accept that through Jesus we can stand righteous before God, not just at some time in the future, but right now. Today. Through faith, we believe that what God said through His Word, the Bible, was enough to provide us with the reality and “evidence of things we cannot see”. 

Dear Lord. We thank You for Calvary. Through faith we place our faith in You, the Righteousness of God. Amen.

Snake Venom

““Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies.” “Snake venom drips from their lips.””
Romans 3:13 NLT

Paul continues his Old Testament quotes with verses from Psalms 5 and 140. The first is “My enemies cannot speak a truthful word. Their deepest desire is to destroy others. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with flattery” (Psalm 5:9). This Psalm was written by David, who was mourning the behaviour of those he regarded as his enemies. He wrote it during his morning prayer time – “Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3). So, we have the contrast between David, close to God in prayer and presence, and his enemies who are closer to the devil, the father of lies. 

The reference to “snake venom” comes from Psalm 140:3, where David wrote, “Their tongues sting like a snake; the venom of a viper drips from their lips”. We of course will immediately remember the snake in the Garden, with his lies that drew the first man and woman into sin. And David viewed the same behaviour in his society, where people continued to speak the lies of the snake. Sinful and lying talk that hurt and poisoned those around him. 

But in both Psalms, David found solace in the presence of God. Referring to his enemies, the followers of the father of lies, he finished Psalm 140 with, “But I know the Lord will help those they persecute; He will give justice to the poor. Surely righteous people are praising Your name; the godly will live in Your presence”. 

Paul in his letter to the Romans was comparing the behaviour of sinful people in his Roman audience to the same behaviour noted in the Psalms. And he seemed to be saying that some things never change. We pilgrims today can draw the same conclusion, as we look on at the behaviour of our politicians and other leaders. There are even some in our church denominations who would be included within Paul’s accusations. 

So we pilgrims read the Book of Romans, sobered by Paul’s warnings, by his accusations, knowing in our hearts of our propensities to sin, included with those he was railing against in Rome. We are grateful for the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in allowing these words to be recorded. God, through His Spirit, influenced David to write these verses in the Old Testament, and Paul, to repeat them in the New. A significance that we should not miss. In repentance we bring our own behaviour under God’s spotlight and receive the cleansing through Jesus’ blood, bringing us back on track in our hours of need.

Dear Father. Once again we embrace the entirety of Your Word, omitting nothing, because all Scriptures emanate from You. We are so grateful. Amen.