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NOVEMBER  2016

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What is a Christian?

 

Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

 

Today we keep hearing about the problems between Christians and other religious groups such as Muslims or Jews or Hindus. The word Christian means different things to different people.  Some see the Catholic Church as the only true Christians; others see the Protestant churches as the only true Christians.  Some say that the only true Christians are those who are born-again, but they disagree on what that term means.  Some see people who live good lives as Christians.  Some think that ceremonies such as baptism make Christians.  So what is the Biblical definition of a Christian? We will see that a Christian is one who believes in or trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal savior. 

 

There are three references to Christians in the New Testament, These are:

(1) Acts 11:26, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”

(2) Acts 26:28, “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

(3) 1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”

 

The normal Bible dictionary definition of a Christian is one who follows Christ.  A secular dictionary may have as a definition one who follows the teachings of Christ, but it will also indicate that a Christian is a moral person or a person having the qualities of Jesus. In other words, most people consider a Christian to be a person who lives a certain kind of lifestyle. 

 

Now let’s see how the Bible defines a Christian:

In Acts 11:26, the term was used by non-Christians to identify the believers in Christ.  Notice in verse 21 that a great number believed and turned to the Lord. The Christians had been called Nazarenes by the Jews according to Acts 24:5. The Jews had originally considered believers in Christ to be a sect of the Hebrew religion.

 

In Acts 26:28, King Agrippa uses the term after Paul tells him how he came to trust in the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road. Thus, Paul has explained how he became a Christian.  There is no doubt that King Agrippa understood that Paul was trying to persuade him to trust in Christ so that he too could become a Christian.

 

Peter uses the term to identify Christians. His writings are clear that Christians are "born-again."  He makes it clear that taking the name of a Christian is going to have certain consequences and responsibilities.  When he uses the term, he is identifying the people who believe in the Lord. 

 

In summary

A Christian is a person who has received Christ as his or her personal Savior by trusting Him (John 1:12).  A Christian is born-again since one can’t be a Christian without the new birth (John 3:7).  The new birth involves a whole new way of thinking.   A real Christian is one who really trusts in the person of Christ and who has had that affect his or her lifestyle in contrast to one who casually says that he or she believes in the Lord Jesus with no conviction about what that means. No ceremony makes a Christian, though Christians believe in ceremonies such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. One can’t join a group to become a Christian, though Christians do join together for the purpose of worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship. A Christian is a follower of Christ because he or she has utmost confidence (faith) in Christ and thus knows that his or her sins are forgiven and that he or she has eternal life (1 John 5:13).

 

We should emphasize that acting like a Christian does not make a Christian; however, because Christians are "born again", they should have a conscience about sin.  Some people say they are Christians but are greedy, contentious, slanderers, drunkards, and immoral.  When they not only do these things as a lifestyle but identify with and defend those who do these things, something is simply not right.

 

Being a Christian is not a casual thing.  It results from conviction about our sin and conviction about Christ loving us enough to die for our sins.  And while it is faith in Christ that makes a Christian, that faith will normally be reflected in our lives.  We are not saved by works but unto good works as today's verses say.  So we need to be sure we have trusted in Christ, and those who have trusted Him should act like they have.  Those who have not trusted Him can do all the good works that they want to do but they will still not be Christians.  They can join churches, get baptized, participate in the Lord's supper, but until they have come to the Lord as guilty sinners and have trusted Him for salvation from the penalty that they deserve because of their sins, they are simply not Christians in the Biblical sense.

 

Meditation for the week of November 6, 2016

Who is Really in Charge?

 

John 16:11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world (society) is judged.

1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world (society) lies under the sway of the wicked one.

Ephesians 2:2 in which you once walked according to the course (age) of this world (society), according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.

 

The Ruler of this World

This ruler of this world is a bad one.  We often hear that God is in control.  While He is Sovereign and while He does set limits, it is quite evident that He has allowed Satan a lot of latitude when it come to the affairs of this society or world.  Down through the years there have been different ages of this society.  But ever since Adam and Eve sinned, Satan has been working his evil and his deceptions in each of these ages by getting society programmed to do his will.  So when we say God is in control, is He?  Or has he allowed Satan to deceive the world and to test the world's faithfulness to Him, the Living and True God?  Is he allowing Satan to test those who claim the name of Christ today?  When evil raises its ugly head, can we really blame God for that?

 

Who is this Ruler?

According to Ezekiel 28:13, he was created.  He was perfect until iniquity was found in him.  According to Isaiah 14:13-14, he wanted to be like the Most High.  He wanted the exalted place in heaven.  He wanted to be in charge.  A lot of what we know about him is allegorical.  While some of the passages we are quoting might refer to a man who will one day rule on earth as a sovereign despot, the imagery also seems to refer to Satan who is called the Serpent and the Devil and the Liar.  One of the best pictures of the way he works is seen in Absalom, David's son who tried to usurp the throne.  He stole the hearts of the people by coming between them and King David.

 

Sometimes this ruler appears as a bear who seems harmless but is very dangerous.  Sometimes he is a roaring lion who is on the attack.  Sometimes he appears is an uncircumcised Philistine who is nine feet plus tall, and who likely represents the enemy called the flesh.  The flesh is associated with ungodly appetites or lusts that many of us cannot overcome.   But whether he comes as a lion or a bear or as an uncircumcised Philistine, he is the enemy of God and of the people of God.  He is a great deceiver.  And today, within the limits set by God, he controls this particular age of this society in which we live.  The events taking place in our world are not random but are carefully orchestrated to defeat all that honors the Lord Jesus. 

 

If He can't Keep us from the Lord, He will try to keep us from Serving the Lord

Satan is very clever.  He tested the Lord in the wilderness at the beginning of the Lord's public ministry.  He tested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane just before the Lord went to the cross.  In both cases angels ministered to the Lord.  And you can be sure, that if he tested the Lord, He will test anyone who claims to believe in the Lord.  He knows how to deceive us.  Recently, many people voted in an election for the lessor of two evils.  But Satan managed to back them into a corner.  By their own admission, they voted for evil.  We often find ourselves doing things that we really shouldn't be doing in order to win the favor of the unsaved in the hopes that we can advance the Gospel and see some saved.  He is really a bad one!

 

Satan blinds, Satan deceives, Satan destroys.  The Lord enlightens, the Lord tells the truth (He cannot lie), He saves.  How can we make sure that we are not believing the Liar and destroying rather than saving?  How can we make sure that our lives reflect Christ and not our own self will?  How can we be sure that we are teaching divine holiness which requires separation from the world and not practicing ungodly divisions?  These are hard questions.  I personally wrestle with them all the time.  But I believe that when we truly believe God and rely on His Word and when we pray, the Holy Spirit will guide us.  The path may not be smooth, and the wind may not always be at our back, but we will know the peace of God that comes with being faithful to the Lord who has been faithful to us.

 

So in answer to my question, in many of the affairs of life, God has relinquished control for a time and has allowed Satan the right to deceive and to destroy.  I believe he has done that because that is what mankind has wanted down through ages.  He has wanted to be in charge and to call the shots and to worship a god that makes him happy rather than a God of righteousness.  And God has allowed Satan to really foul us up.  It is time to admit that and to admit that we need the salvation and guidance of the Lord.  We can only find that in that old archaic book called the Bible and then only after much prayer and soul searching.  

Meditation for the week of November 13, 2016

How can we Know?

 

John 17:17 Sanctify them (or set them apart as a special people) by Your truth. Your word is truth.

 

This Got Me to Thinking!

I was awakened on a recent Saturday morning by a call from a man who told me that he and his family were without food and that they couldn't get any help from the Salvation Army or the food bank until Monday morning.  I had helped him once before and had given him a piece of literature dealing with how I became a Christian so he had my phone number. Now he was using it.  But I questioned whether he was telling me the truth.  Why hadn't he realized he was in trouble on Friday when he could have gotten some help from the food bank?  And why did he know what he wanted from the grocery store including brands?   Do I believe him or not?  He may be one of the best con men I have ever helped.  Anyway, I went to Aldi's and bought him and his family groceries.  I didn't really do it out of the goodness of my heart.  I did it because the Lord tells me to help the poor and there are months when I am just a few dollars shy of where he said he was.  But I do believe God when He says His Son died to save me and when He says He will take care of me.  So far, He has never left me or my family hungry.  Fortunately, I have not had to become a professional beggar, as some religious demagogues have, in order to keep food on the table.  I realize that it isn't because of my strong faith that I haven't had to beg, it is because of the faithfulness of my God.  Did I believe the man who called me?  Not really!  Do I believe God?  Absolutely.  Do I believe everything that others tell me I should believe about God?  Absolutely not!

 

What is Truth?

Even Pilate had trouble knowing what Truth was.  When he was sitting in judgment with the Lord before Him he said, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all.” (John 18:37-38).  I think Pilate disregarded what he knew to be true in order to save his own skin.  But what is truth?  Many people get so frustrated trying to decide what and who they should believe that they give up trying to discern the truth.  For others, they just put their faith in some man or in some organization and follow what they do and say.  That way at least they “belong.”  I guess I am kind of like that.  I have put my faith in the Lord Jesus.  Because of that I belong to a community of people called the church.  But I have found that even within that community, sometimes I have trouble knowing what to believe.

 

Actually, believing God is difficult and the Lord tells us that.  He says in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  In order to believe God, we have to have a thinking adjustment because what we think is right in a natural way is generally wrong when it comes to spiritual truth.  The Jews thought that Barabbas made more sense as a national deliverer than the Lord did.   Barabbas was willing to fight.  But the Lord was the real deal and the religious leaders convinced Pilate and the crowds to crucify Him.

 

We all Believe Something

One of the big controversies of our times has to do with fake news.  How does one tell the real from the fake particularly when we know that even the more respected news sources are biased?  So when we cannot depend on current writers, when we realize that much of that which is called truth today is nothing more than political propaganda, why would anyone believe the Bible which educated people keep questioning?  Particularly when it says we were created and that we didn't evolve out of nothing.  Why should we believe in the story of the flood and in the story of Jonah?  Actually I believe these things because I think they make sense.  If I didn't believe what the Bible says, what would I have to fall back on for my belief system?  I would have to fall back on what I think is right.  Since everyone thinks differently, that leads to confusion and anarchy. 

 

I Believe God

I am told I am a very suspicious person.  I find it hard to take people at their word.  I have been burned by so-called friends; we have all been burned by business people.  The products we buy are warrantied until we try to use the warranty and then for some reason, our problem is not covered.  We have all been burned by politicians.  And while I don't want to be too negative because there are people over the years that I should have trusted that I didn't, still it is difficult to know who is telling the truth.

 

I had a difficult time coming to the conclusion that God will not lie and that he has told me the truth when He says that Christ died for the ungodly of which I am one.  I am not like God and neither is anyone reading this.   But 53 years ago about this time of the year, I took God at His Word when He told me in the Bible that Christ had died for me so that I could go to heaven.  I have made it my business to study the Bible ever since and I try to make sure that I am rightly interpreting it.  I don't take Jewish promises as my own.  I take Christian promises as my own.  And so far, God has been faithful. For that I am thankful!

 

Meditation for the week of November 20, 2016

The Cost of Obedience

 

Hebrews 5:7-9  who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,   though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

 

In the Days of His Flesh

The Lord was not a superman type of man.  He was an ordinary type of man.  We understand that he had all the feelings and emotions of a normal person but experienced temptations and feelings and emotions without sinning.  When it came time to die on the cross, He agonized in anticipation of that event in the garden of Gethsemane like a normal man.  He agonized to the point that He was sweating great drops of blood.  He told His disciples that His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.  It is my opinion that Satan was attacking Him and tried to convince Him that it would be better to die before the cross in order to avoid the agony that was coming.  But the Lord didn't sin.  He did however vehemently cry with tears as a normal person would.   

 

Vehement Crying and Tears

The Bible records three times that the Lord cried.  He cried over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41.   Because the nation of Israel had rejected Him, the day was coming in the not too far distant future when the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people in the city would be massacred.  Titus. the Roman general, fulfilled this prophecy.  The Lord knew that this judgement was coming.  There can be no doubt that He caused the judgement to come after giving the Jews the opportunity to change their minds about Him (repent) and receive Him as their Messiah.  But, even so, He was not happy with the fact that this judgement was coming.  He wept in view of it.  And I wonder if He isn't weeping today over all of those who have had opportunity to be saved for eternity and for one reason or another have rejected Him and His claims.  Those of us who believe in the truth of the Bible agonize over those who are missing out on God's salvation.  But our agony is nothing compared to the agony of the Lord.  He LOVED the whole world, not just the part of the world that has accepted Him. 

 

The Lord also cried at the grave of Lazarus in John 11.  He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead but I believe He understood and sympathized with those who had lost a loved one.  They had thought that the Lord would come and heal His friend but He didn't.  They didn't know that the Lord had something better in mind.  He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  I have often wondered how Lazarus felt about that but certainly his sisters were happy to have him back.  But while the Lord may have cried for a number of reasons, He certainly understood in a very human way the sorrows associated with losing a loved one.

 

And now He weeps in the Garden as He anticipates the Cross.  He will be bullied.  Psalm 22 tells us of the strong bulls of Bashan.  He will be mocked.  He will be scourged.  All the while He will be declared innocent by civil judges.  But all of this was necessary to fulfill Old Testament prophecies and for Him to SUFFER the just for us the unjust.

 

Salvation from Death

Many people seem to think that the cup that He wanted removed in the Garden was death on the cross.  But He was not saved from death on the cross.  However, He was saved from death according to this passage in Hebrews.  He says in the Garden, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me. (Matthew 26:38)."  Whatever He meant by that, that is the death from which He was delivered in this passage in Hebrews.  I believe that the cup he wanted removed had to do with the attack of Satan causing him to want death in the Garden.  Angels ministered to Him because of the oppression and mental agony that He was experiencing.  His mental suffering must have been as bad as his physical suffering.  I don't think we understand how bad Satanic attack can be at times.  Thank God, we have the Lord to encourage us when Satan goes on a mad rampage. 

 

Experiencing Obedience

As I said earlier, the Lord was a normal man.  As a normal man He experienced the cost of obedience as a result of the Garden experience.  He didn't learn how to be obedient, but He did experience obedience and He experienced its cost.  Today as Christians we want to be popular, successful (which means we want to make lots of money), we want to be accepted.  We don't want the reproach that comes with obedience.  We have cast off many basic truths that are clearly taught in the Bible so that we don't offend unbelievers who may visit with us in our church meetings.  The Jews said they were worshipping Jehovah and that they were the chosen people, yet they crucified the Messiah.  Religious people did the crucifying!  I wonder how many of us today who claim to be Christians in the United States have followed in the footsteps of Christ and have taken unpopular positions that please the Lord even though those positions are condemned by those that call themselves Christians in this world.  Have we "learned obedience?" 

 

Meditation for the weeks of November 27 and December 4, 2016