Of Pigs and Men

Jesus meets a demon possessed man near a herd of pigs in the country of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes as recorded for us in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8. He commands the demons, who call themselves Legion, to leave the man, and Legion’s last request is that Jesus allow them to go into the nearby pigs. Granting Legion’s request, they leave the man and enter the herd of about 2,000 which immediately rushes downhill and drowns itself in the Sea of Galilee.

Whenever I read these accounts, one of the first things that puzzles me is that the people ask Jesus to leave the area. Why, I wonder, would they send away such a powerful miracle worker, one who had returned one of their brothers to them? Why would they not rejoice that a local travel hazard was removed? What if the demons left that man and infected others?

Some teachers say that the expense of the pigs was a factor. Jesus had just cost someone (or maybe several someone’s) a lot of money. Others say that these people weren’t supposed to be growing pigs for market because pork was not to be eaten according to the Mosaic Law. I get that these were possibilities, and perhaps they can stay in the mix for explaining the incident. But they just are not that satisfactory to me. Wouldn’t the loss of the pigs be worth removing a hazard like a man who could break chains and attack people? I’d think so. Were the citizens Jews, who would care about the Law, or were they gentiles, who wouldn’t? The ESV study Bible says that they were Gentiles, but there must’ve been some Jews around too. And Jews aren’t exactly known for always sticking with all of the Law anyway.

I was able to make a great deal of progress understanding this situation as I read further in Mark and got to the rich young man of Mark 10, and the question on the authority of Jesus in Mark 11. Now how, you may ask, did I connect the people of Gennesaret unwilling to allow Jesus to stay in the area with a rich man unwilling to give up his riches and the unwillingness of the chief priests to answer Jesus about whether the baptism of John was from heaven or from man? I’m glad you asked that. (You might be guessing at the same conclusion as I because of the way I phrased the question.)

The chief priests could not answer a simple question, because they refused to acknowledge that the authority of Jesus was from God. If they did it would mean that their authority was from man, and they would have had to give up their cushy positions. The rich man knew that Jesus was a “good teacher,” but not so much that he was willing to suffer economic harm to follow Him. The Gennesaret people knew Jesus was at the very least a holy man of God, but were not willing to suffer further economic harm in order for Him to have stayed in the area.

In other words, none of these people wanted to go all the way. They saw the miracles done by Jesus, acknowledged His power and authority, recognized that He was from God, but didn’t take the next step of risking everything to follow Him.

In modern times we find the same sorts of attitudes. We hear people saying “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” all the time, in song and prayer and sermons. We see regular attendance at a church service, with many an “Amen” during the preaching. There are bumper stickers and hats and T-shirts proclaiming that the wearers “know Jesus.” Mega-churches abound, pastors have carved out positions with nice paychecks claiming to speak for God, and television stars rake in the bucks while hawking their latest books and trinkets.

Very few will see the Kingdom of God because the ticket into the Kingdom costs a lot more than simply raising a hand and “going forward.” Faith is putting your money where your mouth is, like the rich young man refused to do. It is the willingness to give up possibly everything you have to follow Him, like the people of Gennesaret could have done. It is submitting your will to His, and giving everything to welcome Him into your heart unlike the chief priests, Pharisees, and other religious leaders then and now.

Jesus obviously had authority from God because He did what God told Him to do and taught what God wanted Him to teach. Everything Jesus did or said was right from the written Word, and could easily be checked if one wanted to do so. But we don’t want. We fear to give up our position, our money, our reputations or our lives because the short term suffering is not worth the long term gain.

Like Frank Sinatra or Cain, we want to do it our way. We want to retain parts of the world system and try to merge them into the Kingdom. We say “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” not realizing that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. We want to patch the garment with unshrunk cloth because we don’t want the work of making it right. We try to fit new wine and old wineskins together when they are just not compatible.

We refuse to accept a message from the Christ because it will cause us too much trouble and might wreck the nice little corner of the world we have made for ourselves. It might cause us some discomfort. It might make us change. It might make us realize that even with the talisman of the name of Jesus we are still far short of what God requires of us.

Shalom

Bruce

God More Skeptical of Humans Than Ever Before

I read the headline on Drudge with amusement: Americans More Skeptical of God than Ever Before. I had to laugh. And laugh. And chortle. And maybe even snicker. All these surveys measuring human belief in God, and not a single one measuring God’s belief in humans.

According to the article in vocativ.com, in previous studies it was assumed that people were losing trust in organized religion, but were still pretty spiritual (whatever that means) in private. Now the researchers are thinking that people’s faith in God is declining, public or private.

I don’t have any trouble believing that people are fading. Selfishness is at an all time high, judging from observation. We buy Bibles at record rates, but our actions indicate we must be using them to prop up a broken couch leg or to hold our porn collection more securely on the bookshelf. We aren’t reading it, and we certainly aren’t doing what it says either.

Which begs the question: what does God think about us? We know He’s a God of love, or at least we hope He is, even to the extent that we hope He will always love us no matter what we do. So we keep doing it. But I don’t think that He loves unrighteousness at all. And for those who practice it He has a very dark, hot place all prepared.

Is this the falling away or rebellion that is spoken of by the Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3)? The whole world knows about God, but doesn’t know God? Without a doubt, in my opinion, yes.

I think we have turned God into a cosmic sugar daddy, and if He doesn’t deliver the goodies we turn away. Many of us only worship Him because of what they think they can get (health, wealth, etc.) and when they don’t get it they throw a temper fit. They wonder why God allows evil to continue, never questioning their own part in refusing to obey His Laws and causing the evil in the first place.

God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but at the same time He knows many will insist. He is losing His patience, I think, and for the sake of those who really believe in Him, evidenced by actions consistent with His Word and Law, He will be cutting things short very soon. Just because people lose faith in Him doesn’t mean He will leave those few who don’t out in the cold. But He’s very skeptical about those who are falling away.

Do unbelievers matter to God? I’ve got to say, I don’t think they matter very much to God at all.

Shalom
Bruce

A Whole Bible Look At Romans 9 through 12

The third video in our Romans series is up, and I’ll bet you’ve never heard Romans this way!

Shalom
Bruce

In Peter’s Place, What Would I Say?

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21–23, ESV)

I was thinking about this event today, and I wondered what I would say had I been in Peter’s place. Pete was motivated by a desire to protect Jesus from the authorities, not quite realizing yet the full extent of who Jesus was and why He was going to have to suffer. Peter’s motives were perhaps “good,” but they were wrong. So wrong in fact that Jesus rebuked the person behind the statement (Satan) who had motivated the response of “This shall never happen to you.” Not only does this show that motives, even if we would classify them as “good,” can still be wrong, but it shows us that motive alone is not enough. We need to be in line with God’s will in order for even “good” motives to be actually good.

The thing that really got me with this situation though is that, knowing what I know now, what would I have said? Could I have looked into the eyes of the most humble, loving man ever and said, “If you don’t die I cannot live?” Would I have been able to say to God almighty that, “We need to get you to Jerusalem when it is time so that your miserable death can save the whole world?” Knowing that He is my Lord and Savior, God in the flesh, perfect and without shadow of turning in every way, could I have encouraged Him to suffer a vastly painful, torturous and ignominious death at the hands of murderers in exchange for my ugly, pitiful, sin-filled life? Would I have had the faith to trust and obey God’s will in this matter?

I don’t know. Jesus had to die, but woe to the people who did it, and woe to those who refuse to accept what He did. I thank Him every day and in every way I can think of for His sacrifice by reading every Word from Him and putting it everywhere in my life. He asks so little of me. Living the whole of His Word is such a small thing to do for a God who died such a huge death for me.

Shalom

The Word of God Saves Us

Does the Law save us?

 

Lots of Christians say that the Law doesn’t save us. They hammer the point, mostly made plain by Paul, that salvation is by faith, not by works. Works, it is claimed, is doing something, including doing the Law. Therefore, according to this line of thinking, we shouldn’t follow Laws. The Law doesn’t save us. “It isn’t a salvation issue” as I’ve been told. A few modify this idea with the imaginary designations of civil, ceremonial, and moral and just say we don’t do the first two. Never mind that the Bible doesn’t do this, that everything God says is moral, and that they can’t tell you which commands are “only” civil or ceremonial. They are all linked together. There are other excuses too, but this summarizes the main points. But let’s go with their hammering for a moment.

 

It is true, of course, that salvation is by grace through faith. It is also true that it is a gift, and cannot be earned. It is received by accepting the finished work of Jesus in the crucifixion and resurrection. His blood pays the debt incurred by our sin. For our sake He who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). We cannot work for this. We can’t follow some rules then demand salvation as wages. That is what Paul is talking about. Merit versus a gift. Wages versus unearned wealth. We are not saved because we behave so well that we deserve it. While we were yet sinners Jesus died for us.

 

But what would these people say if I asked instead, “Does the Word of God save us?”

 

That kind of changes the dynamic, doesn’t it? Because in fact it is the Word of God that saves us. “God said let there be light.” He speaks, we accept His Word, and we are saved. By His Word He creates a new heart of flesh in us, and engraves His Word on it through the Spirit. We respond by abiding in that Word, eating and drinking His body and blood (the Word of God) on a daily, minute by minute basis.

 

Before you get too uptight about my characterization, remember also that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” as John says in John 1:14. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). His Law and His Word are the same thing. The goal of the Law is the Christ (Romans 10:4). We cannot say we abide in His Word, that it is written on our heart of flesh, then get picky about which ones we’ll consent to follow, can we? Does such pickiness really go along with salvation?

 

The Word of God is life, it is moral, it is in civil laws and ceremonial laws, it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. He does not separate His Word into a sections that we can dismiss on a whim. That attitude is certainly a “salvation issue” in the negative sense.

 

So answer me, you who say the Law doesn’t save. Does the Word of God save us?

Non-Essential Doctrine

I’d like to know: What the heck is a non-essential doctrine? I keep hearing this from all different kinds of people about all different kinds of biblical teaching. We especially hear this when telling others about the wonderful blessings of including His Law in the believer’s daily walk. It seems that to the non-essential people “salvation” is the only essential doctrine. Salvation, of course, is defined by raised hands and going forward in a church or tent meeting, and then giving money while attending their church. That’s it. That’s their “essential” doctrine. Essential for keeping the money flowing, I guess. Essential for making notches in their Bibles or on the crucifix at the front of the church. Essential for building the pastor’s job into a multimillion dollar empire with a vacation house in the Bahamas and a nice Mercedes to go back and forth to church.

I’ve looked and looked in the Word, and I can find no “non-essential” doctrine. God doesn’t have one. I can find “weightier” and “lighter” commands, but the Bible says they are all important. Essential even. Every single word from His mouth as near as I can tell is “essential.” What possesses people to sit in judgment on God’s Word and label much of it non-essential?

Now, there are many doctrines of men I could count as non-essential, including the doctrine of non-essential doctrine. So much of what men teach sandbags God’s Word and directs us away from it. It’s time people ask, “What is essential about the drivel you are teaching and preaching from your high and mighty God’s-Word-denying pulpit?”

Adopted Into Salvation

God has given us space to “choose this day whom we will serve” as Joshua says (Joshua 24:15). But those who are born naturally also have to be adopted into God’s family no matter their family tree. As Jesus says in John chapter 3, everyone must be “born again” to enter God’s kingdom. This spiritual birth or adoption is much more binding than natural birth.
I was adopted at 14 by my own request. I asked my natural parents to relinquish their parental rights and signed my own adoption papers with my new family. So I understand the concept very well. Adoption means that the former family is not yours anymore. You have a new one. Even your birth certificate is changed to reflect the change in families.
I don’t agree with people who were adopted young and later search for their birth parents. Birth parents that let go of their offspring are just egg donors and sperm donors to me. They have nothing to do with the blood, sweat and tears of raising a child. So in my view they are not really the parents. Adoption is permanent, and at the age I was adopted I had the privilege of choosing a new family. They are more than merely genetic influences for me.
When we are adopted into God’s family, it is the same. We make the choice, and it’s permanent. God takes us as His children, with all of our faults and failures. He chooses us even if we are not the model child. Like my adoptive parents, He sticks with us through our teenage years when we know everything but are still dumber than rocks. He is patient, loving, and kind, and requires that we live by the rules of His household. We are treated just like any other son or daughter, protected and nourished and disciplined to stay on the right path.

From Whole Bible Christianity chapter 2 Salvation

Salvation by Love Through Love

One of the mainstays of whole Bible Christianity is the theology of salvation by love, through love. This is a slightly different way of looking at the twin opposing arguments of salvation by faith through grace and salvation by grace plus works. Salvation is by faith through grace for certain. The problem is defining “grace” and “faith.” So our version covers it from more of a whole Bible perspective. It includes grace and faith, and frames them and suffuses them with Love. He loved us by doing something (sending His Son) and we love Him by doing something (anything He says). Our love is more than sentiment or emotion, just as His was “more than a feeling.” Love gave the Law; love lives it.

Feelings, Nothing more than Feelings

Feelings are a key factor in “decisions for Christ.” Most public appeals for these decisions rest on emotion and don’t generally last. Ray Comfort says he found an 80% to 90% failure rate for decisions in one study. He cited a major denomination which in the early 90’s racked up 294,000 “decisions” but later could find only 14,000 in fellowship (95% failure).

Besides, have you ever tried to teach someone how to feel? Specifically, to “feel” like doing something? It can’t be done. Many things we have to do in spite of our feelings. We don’t pass on the Word of God to the next generation by getting them to ‘feel’ it. We pass it on by living it. When we back up the truth with our lives, then the kids get it.

Fear the Lord and be Treasured

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Malachi 3:16–18, ESV)