The Joy of Living Sanctified

To my brethren in the Lord;

May the grace and peace from our Father in heaven and from our Lord, Jesus-Christ, be with you. If my Lord Jesus will permit, it is my prayer that through these few words, you will be convicted to earnestly pursue holiness, for in it we find the pure joy that comes from living sanctified, freed from the power of sin.

The joy that we experience from living sanctified comes in great measure each time we get to see the extent to which sin has truly been rendered powerless in our personal lives. Here are two examples from the scriptures which illustrate this point.

2 Corinthians 8:1-3 –  We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

How could the Macedonians be so joyful while being severely tested and extremely poor? Where did that joy comes from? It came from living sanctified. Normally, you would not expect joy in the midst of a severe test, let alone while also living in extreme poverty. In those circumstances, sin typically rages in our lives: envy, jealousy, greed, bitterness, hatred for those who have much, etc. all typically erupt and consume us in such circumstances. But look at the Macedonians! They were joyful! They were abundantly joyful! Sin truly had no power over them, to consume them. And the Macedonians were not unique, for we see for instance Peter speaking in similar ways of those he was writing to in 1 Peter 1:8.

In 2 Corinthians 7:4, Paul stated “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy”. What was the source of that joy? It came from sin having lost its power in their lives, so that even in all their afflictions, sin, with all its temptations, could not overcome them. No, their minds were clear and focused on the big reward…the lives of the Corinthians. Sin could not convince them that the reward was not all that great after all, and that they should simply save themselves from all this unnecessary pain.

You, my friend, can experience the same joy today

The joy that comes from living sanctified is a tangible one. The things that you used to aspire to slowly lose their importance. The bitterness that you have been harboring, for whatever reasons and perhaps for years, starts fading. Those things that you could not resist in the past (extreme drinking, indecent behavior, fornication, pride, etc.), you find yourself conquering them time and time again. Ohhh the unspeakable joy that emanates from deep within when your very eyes see sin defeated in your life, lying flat on the floor rather than ruling your heart, mind and body as in the days of old. A new man you are becoming, a new woman, a new creature entirely indeed (2 Corinthians 5:17).

What we are talking about here is not to be confused with the old adage of becoming wiser as we grow older. Sin is age-agnostic. Nooooo my friend, what we are talking about is the tangible power of the Holy Spirit in your life. We are talking about Romans 6:22 becoming a vivid reality that you can see, touch, smell, taste and hear everyday.

Romans 6:22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

That joy my friend is the fragrance of freedom, the aroma of the true freedom that Jesus gave you, for He declared Himself… I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:34, 36).

No wonder even the gates of hell cannot prevail against those who continually pursue holiness. And no wonder their joy is an unshakable joy, for it is the joy of the victory of sin, the sweet aroma of pure freedom, permeating every aspect of their own lives, even in the deepest of afflictions.

Dear brethren, I pray that you will be provoked to grab hold of the true freedom that has been purchased for you, and experience the unparalleled joy of living sanctified.

Grace to you, from my Father in heaven and yours, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Do Not Shy Away From Them

May the God of all grace be with you. Today, allow me to exhort you on not shying away from your least favorites verses. All of us individually, our denominations, and our churches are likely to have favorites verses in the scriptures. There are also universal favorites, as well as universally unpopular ones.

But if you believe that the Word of God is the truth, then you are doing yourself a MAJOR disservice by shying away from those least favorites, since in them, are some of the most profound revelations that God has given us about Himself. Hence, when you shy away from them, your view of who God is, what is His nature or His character, is most certainly heavily skewed, and therefore inaccurate. As uncomfortable as they might be, I plead with you to dwell on them at the very least as much as you dwell on your favorite ones.

Allow me to share some of them here…a very small subset…

John 14:22,23  – God does not love everyone the same way: He makes Himself at home only to those who love Him

“But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

Matthew 7:21 – Many professed Christians won’t make it!

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Hebrews 12:14 – Holiness is mandatory to make it

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Isaiah 53:2 – Jesus was not physically attractive

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

2 Timothy 4:3 – Many professed Christians fabricate their own custom Christianity – A Christianity that suits them

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

John 14:15 – The only way to Love Jesus is to do His commandments

“If you love me, keep my commands.

1 John 2:3 – If we are not keeping His commandments, then we actually do not know Him

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

Philippians 1:29 – Suffering for Christ is part of the deal

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him

Ecclesiastes 1:2 (and 12:13,14) – Everything we do, without exception is absolutely pointless, unless it is out of our  reverence for God.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

May the Lord be with you all my dear friends, and may He give you the grace to take His entire counsel.

Blessings

Fear of the New Day

To my brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus

May the grace and peace of God our Father, and of Jesus our Lord be with you, as you read and hear the words of this letter. Allow me to exhort you on not being afraid of what the day may bring. Psalms 118:5,6 reads

Psalms 118:5,6Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. 6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Generally, we are afraid because what may come is not what we desire. If we just had some medical tests performed because some strange mass was discovered in our body, we are afraid that the test results will show that the mass in question is cancerous. If we just landed a first job interview after a long period of unemployment, we are afraid that we might not get an offer. Fear feeds on the fact that there are outcomes that we desire and others that we do not.

Fear of the unknown is a natural feeling, for it is the product of us being sinful human. Not just human, but sinful human. And therefore, it is accepted as the norm. The first time we encounter fear in the Bible is right after Adam and Eve sinned. Once sin entered them, they experienced fear. Listen to Adam answering God, when he heard Him coming.

Genesis 3:10And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Therefore, fear feels natural, because it has been with us since the very first man, Adam. But while fear is IN us, it is NOT OF us. Fear is of Sin! Now look at what God did. He tells us that He has given you and me a Spirit, and He wants us to know that one key aspect of that Spirit is that He is NOT a Spirit of fear.

1 Timothy 1:6,7For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God,…, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Do not be afraid of the outcome, not matter how dreadful it is. But if we go by what we have just read, we also understand that fear cannot simply be wished away. Fear is defeated when one relies on the Spirit that God gave us. That is the only way fear will be eradicated in our lives. This is the case because that Spirit will convict our heart that all things works for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). Suffering, pain and undesirable outcomes can all come, but the person who walks by the Spirit, the person who loves God will be able to walk without fear, for he or she will be convinced that everything is for his or her good, although it may not appear so at the time.

Therefore my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, hear, HEAR the words of God, for this is how you will be able to believe them. Hear the words of God, when He says that as opposed to the rest of the world, you have been given a way out of fear, a Spirit, not of fear, but of power, love and self-control. In all things, good and bad, exercise yourself to giving glory to God for He cares for you. He cares for you individually as His child.

Trust Him, Hear Him, Pray to Him, Read Him, continuously, and you will find yourself walking powerfully in the Spirit, and seeing fear, the weapon of sin, gradually defeated in your life.

In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

 

Have the Churches Lost their Focus?

To all my brethren in Christ, called to be saints;

Grace, mercy and peace from our God, our Father, and from Jesus, our Lord, Savior and King. In this long letter, which ends in an appeal to our church leaders, I would like to submit to you that our churches should not be considering Evangelism to be their core function. Instead, their primary function should be to ensure that we, their members, grow in the Spirit, and that we stay spiritually clean, since Jesus, our Lord cleansed us with His own blood, and freed us from the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13).

The scriptural passage in Matthew that is used often to support the idea that one of the (if not “the”) primary function(s) of our churches should be to evangelize, is the commission message that Jesus, after His resurrection, gave to His disciples:

Matthew 28:18-20And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Because of what Jesus said above, most churches today feel obligated to have an “outreach ministry”, whether locally in their community, or even abroad, where they will organize missionary trips in which some of their members will travel sometimes thousands of miles to “preach” the Good News.

But have you ever wondered how this practice of “outreach” that is so prevalent today aligns itself with the practices of the early churches?

Where is the Outreach?

Consider all the following letters, in fact all the epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. These letters are addressed either to a church (a group of brethren), or a leader of a church. We shall address Revelation after.

These letters are outstandingly devoid of passages where the brethren are exhorted to evangelize. Can you, for instance, find a passage in any of these letters where the authors (Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude) went so much as even raising the importance of the brethren embarking on some outreach ministry? Can you think of a passage in any of these letters where the authors felt the need to reprimand the brethren for not doing outreach?

If outreach, the reaching of the “lost”, should be one of the key functions of a church, then why are the Apostles of Jesus not addressing this issue with the early churches? In everything they raised in their letters, they either 1) encouraged the brethren to do even more of what they were doing right (1 Thessalonians 4:1), 2) exhorted them to persevere in their sufferings (1 Peter 2:20-22), or 3) reprimanded them for either slacking in their walk or for being completely off-mark (Galatians 5:7). But WHERE, WHERE do we read them speak of outreach, of going into town to reach others, or of traveling long distances to spread the good news?

In addition, consider the letter that our Lord Jesus addressed to the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation. In His address, Jesus did a number of things in each church: 1) He acknowledged what they were doing right (Revelation 2:2,3), 2) He pointed out the issue(s) He had with them (Revelation 2:14,15), 3) He counselled them on what they should do to correct the wrong (Revelation 3:3), and 4) He made a promise to anyone who would listen, whom He called, the overcomers (Revelation 3:21).

We should find it peculiar that whether as a commendation, or even a rebuke, in none of the churches does Jesus bring the subject of outreach, or evangelism. If some of the seven churches were great at evangelizing, we do not see Jesus acknowledging it, and if some of them were worst at outreaching, we do not see Jesus addressing this issue either! How is it therefore that churches today consider outreach to be one of their most essential functions when neither Jesus nor any of His disciples seemed to dwell on it when caring for the early church members? Why is there such a contrast on the subject when we compare Jesus and His Apostles on one hand, and on the other, many of our church leaders today? Rather than focusing on outreach, what do we instead see our Lord and His Apostles to be focused on?

Before addressing this last question, two facts are worth mentioning:

1) The scripture instructs us that it is God, not us, who adds to the Church those who will be saved. It is by the Will of GOD, not of man, that men are saved

Acts 2:47And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

John 1:12,13But to all who…believed in his name, he [JESUS] gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

2) Evangelists are but one of several groups of people in God’s arsenal of servants

Ephesians 4:11,12And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

Now, I am certainly not suggesting in any way, shape or form that evangelism is unnecessary. Matter of fact, it is so necessary that, as we just saw, God has Evangelists as a special category of servants. However, just as not everyone has been called and gifted to be an Apostle, not everyone has been called or gifted to be an Evangelist. Hence, what I am suggesting is that the idea that evangelism should be one of the core function of each church has no scriptural basis.

What did Jesus and His Apostles focus on?

Returning now to our last question, if we do not see either Jesus or His Apostles focusing on outreach, what do we see them focusing on instead? What seemed to be their priority when caring for the church?

Time and again, and returning to all the letters we mentioned earlier, we see that the focus of the Apostles was on what we would label “spiritual purity” (the putting to death of that which is earthly) and spiritual growth (the putting on of that which is heavenly) in the brethren, the members of the churches.

2 Corinthians 6:14Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Colossians 3:5,8,9Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.

2 Peter 1:5-8For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Church Leadership:

Furthermore, we see the same focus when we look at the criteria that the Apostle Paul gave to Timothy (1 Timothy 3) for the appointment of church leadership. Those criteria centered around the leader being a model that can be imitated by the church members, and on his ability to truly care for the flock. But nowhere do we see Paul requiring such a person to have made his mark in outreach efforts, or to be effective as an outreach minister. Paul simply made absolutely no reference to outreach when it comes to what should be the focus of good leadership. The focus of the leader should be toward the flock he has been entrusted with.

Churches in Revelation:

Lastly, we also see the same focus on the members’ spiritual purity and growth when Jesus addressed the seven churches in the book of Revelation. The church at Ephesus had abandoned its first love (which we understand to be His affectionate love for Jesus). The church at Pergamos was tolerating false doctrines within its midst. The church at Thyatira was also allowing false doctrine to persist within its midst. The church of Sardis had completely slacked to the point of death. And the Laodiceans were no longer hotly zealous for God, yet they thought they were at the pinnacle of where a church should be. All these issues were matters that were “internal” to the churches. They were matter of individual personal growth, as well as spiritual purity and sound doctrine within the church.

And such were also the commendations of Jesus, which were matters that looked inward, and not outward (as would be the case with “outreach”). For instance, the Ephesians were commended for their labor for Jesus, and for successfully identifying false Apostles within their midst and casting them out. Those in Pergamos were commended for staying faithful even in the face of martyrdom. And Philadelphia was commended for keeping the faith, and was told to hold fast that which it had (and so were also told some in Thyatira).

Conclusion:

I submit to you that it results from the above that the primary focus of any church, any group of brethren should be directed “inward”, toward “itself”. Evangelizing, outreach should NOT be the primary focus of the church. God did appoint SOME to be evangelists. They will do their part, and the rest of us should do ours. It is true that with today’s technology, a Pastor in the United States could be bringing the Gospel to someone in the remote confine of India. But the flock, the brethren should be the focus, not the “so-called” lost. There are Evangelists for that, and they will by the grace of God do their tasks. Those who read this letter and have been gifted to evangelize should by the Holy Spirit continue to strive to put to good use the gift that has been given to them. However, for the rest, and particularly for the church leaders, their focus should be directed toward the flock that God has given them. They should not be focusing on those who are outside, and whom God has not given to them! By imitating Jesus Himself and His Apostles, our church leaders will find themselves spending all their energy in caring for the portion of the flock entrusted to them, by doing everything possible by the help of the Holy Spirit to ensure that their members continuously grow spiritually and maintain themselves spiritually pure. Should God decide to add some sheep to that pastor or teacher, so be it, and may that Pastor or teacher be counted of double honor for it. But until then, his focus should be leading to green pastures the flock that has been entrusted to him.

Hence the plea to the vast majority of our pastors and teachers: Please shift your focus away from evangelism and direct it instead toward the flock you have been entrusted with. You will have more time to feed the flock so that it may grow and mature, in such a way that it will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), or continue to be easily entangled by sin (Hebrews 12:1). I believe that such inward focus lines up more accurately with Christ and the church fathers. It is the Father, not you, who adds to the Church. And it is the Father (not, you, yourself) who prunes you so that you may bear more fruits. Be therefore diligent with what God has given you, and He shall prune you so that you may bear even more fruits, either by giving you more people, or by some other means.

May the grace of God be with all of us. In the name of Jesus-Christ, our Lord.

Amen.