Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Merciful Sovereignty of God: God's Sovereign Protection (Part II)

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)

Man, in his carnality, is quick to find excuses. The statement why doth he yet find fault is indicating an attempt to flee personal responsibility due to a warped perception of God's sovereignty. It may be understood this way, “If man's efforts profit nothing and God is the one who decides the course of events, why am I held accountable for my actions. Can I personally do anything about my behavior?” This argument, of course, is a straw man. It attempts to make God the author of sin and free man from his personal responsibility. This argument is rebuked based upon the grounds of God's authority as the supreme Creator. Man, with his finite understanding and severe lack of knowledge, is simply not in a position to argue against the wisdom and mercy of God. God is the supreme potter, and people are the clay. The clay can cooperate in the hands of the potter, or it can resist the formation process and be cast out. Either way, the potter has the final say over the clay (Jeremiah 18:1-6). The phrase fitted to destruction is a Greek participial phrase which can be either passive or middle in its voice. This means that the action can be understood as taking place upon the subject, or it may be understood that the subject has some participation in the action even though it is still being acted upon. Both ideas are present in this participle and both are theologically correct according to the context of the passage. The vessels of wrath are in the hands of the potter; yet, they have made the choice to resist His formation process; therefore, the potter forms them for destruction because they will not submit. Even in this they are still useful because the great Potter is preparing them to magnify His power through their stubborn fall. This in turn will encourage the less stubborn vessels to flee to the mercy of the gracious Potter who has offered salvation.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An Indictment Against the People of Israel (Part V)

Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” (Malachi 2:14)

Israel's unfeeling question reveals the hardness of man's heart. Argument against the truth of God is the ultimate rebellion. A man can do this in many ways. Anytime a person chooses to reject the clear path of truth in favor of self-justification, he is in rebellion. The LORD'S reply is powerful, pointed, and precise. He deals first with the facts of their unlawful separations. The verb which is translated hath been witness is significant for three reasons. Firstly, it emphasizes the fact that the subject has performed the action. When these men made their marriage vows, God Himself was there as the primary witness. God takes the institution of marriage very seriously. He expects the marriage vows to be honored regardless of who has made them. These men proved through their actions that they were not even believers, yet the Lord would not forget that He had been a witness to their vows. Some believe that marriage before salvation is not taken seriously by God; therefore, divorce prior to salvation does not disqualify a man from remarriage. Scripture allows no room for such thinking. God Himself is present as a witness when a man and a woman enter into vows of matrimony. Secondly, the tense of this verb indicates a completed action. The Lord has born witness, and this cannot be reversed. The vows of marriage stand regardless of personal feeling, emotion, motive, or choice. The Witness has seen the couple swear to one another before their Creator; therefore, “...[what] God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Matthew 19:6).” Lastly, the stem of this verb renders it as much of a warning as anything. A literal understanding would be to bear witness for the purpose of warning. An example of this may be seen where the same verb is used in I Samuel 8:9. In this passage, it is translated protest. The Lord wanted Samuel to bear witness to the people concerning the nature of their king for the purpose of warning them against their rebellion, “Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them (author's italics).” God had been a witness to these vows, and now He is warning the unfaithful that He will not pass over such wickedness.

The Lord considered this act of divorce to be “treacherous” on the part of the one instigating it. Contrary to popular opinion and teaching, God views marriage as permanent. Due to the wickedness of man's heart, God temporarily permitted divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances according to Deuteronomy 24:1-4; yet, when questioned by the Pharisess concerning this passage, Jesus said, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered (permitted, not commanded) you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matthew 19:8-9).” This fornication is likely referring to the betrothal period before the consummation of the marriage. Based on the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself and the commands of I Corinthians 7:10-11, if a spouse is divorced or deserted, the choice is either reconciliation or to remain unmarried; therefore, these men were severely oppressing these poor women and placing them in a very difficult situation. In the Old Testament culture, a woman was physically destitute without male headship; therefore, the actions of these men placed temptation in the path of these women to commit adultery through remarriage. No wonder the Lord said that they had dealt treacherously! It must be noted at this juncture that the Lord has promised to graciously care for all who are willing to trust Him. These betrayed wives were not required to commit adultery in order to find sustenance and security. The Lord has promised in Psalm 146:7 that He will execute judgment for the oppressed and give food to the hungry. Anyone who may find himself in such an apparently hopeless situation may rest assured that the same grace which is able to save the soul is the same grace that will sustain it!

Not only was it treacherous for these men to commit adultery against their wives and to encourage their wives to commit adultery with others, but in so doing they completely destroyed the future picture of Christ and His church. As the believer cannot be separated from His Savior, so the husband and wife are not to be separated from one another except it be by death (Romans 7:1-3). In the permanency of marriage is seen the eternal security of the believer. Adultery ruins this picture; therefore, they were guilty of marring the spiritual picture that marriage represents.

The word companion is from a root which means friend. God considered the wives of these men to be their friends. He also considered them to be the wives of the covenants of faithfulness. By divorcing their wives and committing adultery through remarriage, these men were not acting as friends, neither were they honoring the covenants they had made.

Monday, April 28, 2014

An Indictment Against the People of Israel (Part IV)

And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.” (Malachi 2:13)

Unfaithfulness, adultery, and unlawful marriages had plagued Israel's past, and now the Lord says, “...this have ye done again....” The people had not taken heed to past chastening. The fact that God did not simply wipe them out bears witness to His longsuffering nature. Instead of hardening his heart toward God's rebuke, the believer should thank God for administering it. When warned and chastened, a man should respond to God in humility, and thank Him for being so patient and merciful.

Metaphorically speaking, the persecuted wives of these ungodly men were covering God's altar with the tears and cries of their misery. In a feeling of destitution and betrayal, they would come before the Lord's altar and make their supplication before Him. The scene is almost unimaginable. Being cast aside for another woman who was not even a worshiper of God, these Hebrew wives were left to fend for themselves. Such treachery so enraged the Lord that He says concerning the sacrifices of the nation, “...he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.” God would not put up with such pretense. No man will be permanently permitted to oppress and persecute others while maintaining an appearance of worship. God will see to it that such wickedness is adequately rewarded. The Lord hates oppression of any kind. His very nature is one of redemption. He “...executeth judgment for the oppressed...,” He “...giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners (Psalm 146:7).” He “...[binds] up the brokenhearted...,” He “...[proclaims] liberty to the captives...,” and He “...[opens] the prison to them that are bound (Isaiah 61:1).” Concerning the oppression of the needy, God said in Exodus 22:23-24, “If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword....” Oppression directly opposes God's nature and directly compliments the nature of Satan. Isaiah 14:17 declares that Satan “...opened not the house of his prisoners.” With this in mind, anyone who oppresses another is practicing the character of the devil. Oppression can take on many different forms. In blindness, a man may say to himself, “I don't oppress people.” Yet, he does not consider that his bad temper adversely affects others. This is a form of oppression. He does not consider the oppressive nature of his stubbornness. He fails to see that his failure to guide others into the way of truth is a form of spiritual oppression because it deprives them of that good thing which leads to peace. A woman can oppress others by means of her self-centered behavior. A “drama-queen” could well be labeled an oppressor, because she places a constant burden on the souls of others and denies them spiritual edification through her actions. Is not a man who fails to lead his family according to the Bible an oppressor? Is not the pastor who compromises truth an oppressor, seeing that such things lead people astray and make them easy prey to the powers of darkness? Yes, oppression need not be limited to adultery and desertion. The men of Malachi's day had taken oppression to one of its highest points, yet God's people also practice it in the valleys every day. Such a spirit is not only treachery against the LORD's people; ultimately, it is treachery against the LORD's holiness.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Merciful Sovereignty of God: God's Sovereign Protection

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” (Romans 9:14-18)

God's sovereign protection ensures that man's choices do not thwart the ultimate plan of God. This truth is presented in the following verses. The question which opens the discourse is grammatically arranged so that it is expecting a No answer. It may be understood as “Is there unrighteousness with God? No, there is not.” Inevitably, God's mercy is behind all of His dealings with mankind. Were it not for the Lord reaching out to mankind and guiding the course of history, no one would be redeemed. In his flesh, a man could interpret this passage as though God were cruelly withholding His mercy from certain individuals. This perspective is carnal and inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. Instead, this passage should be viewed from the perspective of divine intervention. If God did not reach out to mankind, who could be saved? God desires for all to be saved (II Peter 3:9), and it is His goodness which leads men to repentance (Romans 2:4). Some will consistently harden themselves against Him, and others will humble themselves before Him; yet, if He did not provide the opportunity for an interview in His courts, the entire human race would be destroyed. Truly, it is not of the one who is willing or of the one who is running but of the one who is shewing mercy, even God. He can use the decisions of every man to work out His ultimate purpose. This truth is illustrated in the life of Pharaoh. Pharaoh consistently hardened himself against God; therefore, God hardened Pharaoh in return, thus giving him what his heart desired. Before these events ever occurred, God knew what Pharaoh's response would be; therefore, the Lord “raised him up” and used him in spite of his choices. Though Pharaoh himself was not profited, God used his death and the death of his army to be witnesses to all the earth. Years later, a harlot which lived in Jericho would proclaim to the men of God, “...we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt...And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath (Joshua 2:10-11).” Pharaoh's hard heart resulted in his death, but this ultimately worked out for the salvation of Rahab who chose the path of humility; therefore, hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Merciful Sovereignty of God: God's Sovereign Selection (Part II)

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 9:9-13)

In the account of Sarah and Hagar, it may be seen that God's sovereign selection is apart from the products of the flesh, while in the account of Jacob and Esau, it may be seen that His sovereign selection is apart from the positions of the flesh. According to birthright, Esau should have been given the spiritual promises as well as the head position in the family; however, in His foreknowledge, God knew that Esau would be a man who cared nothing for spiritual things. He knew that Esau would be, as Hebrews says, a “...fornicator, [and] profane person...who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright (Hebrews 12:16).” God also knew that Jacob, though he had great struggles against God, would finally come to the place of repentant faith and dependency. In humility, Jacob clung to the Angel of the Lord at Peniel, and proclaimed in his distress, “...I will not let thee go, except thou bless me (Genesis 32:26).” Because of his submission to the power and promises of God, the angel answered him, “...Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed (Genesis 32:28).” The name Israel comes from a root which means to persist, strive, contend, or have power. It literally means he has power with God. A resultant meaning would be prince of God. His new name did not indicate that he had defeated God, but rather that he had finally entered into the true covenant of faith by his humble submission to God, as Hosea 12:4 describes, “...he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him...(italics added for emphasis).” Esau had no such experience. All in all, he cared nothing for spiritual things. He was a man driven by his flesh, and he fathered a nation which was carnal and consistently evil. In His sovereignty, God knew the future paths these two men would take; therefore, he called Jacob in a special way and rejected the person of Esau. This process was apart from man's works; it was according to the sovereign foreknowledge of God. This passage is not teaching that God specifically made Esau for the purpose of rejection, but rather that God rejected Esau because of foreknowledge concerning Esau's choices. God hates all that is evil. Evil men are diametrically opposed to the holy nature of God; therefore, God hates the very principles by which they operate. This is why the Scripture is able to declare that God hated Esau. This is not license for a man to be hateful. The believer is not to express an attitude of hatred toward others; yet, he is commanded to be against the principles and practices of evil and to “...hate them with perfect hatred...(Psalm 139:22).” Inevitably, the personage of those that oppose God are involved in the exercising of these evil principles, so they are included in that which is hated by God. The workers of iniquity oppose God; therefore, God opposes them.

Friday, April 25, 2014

An Indictment Against the People of Israel (Part III)

The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts.” 
(Malachi 2:12)

The Hebrew verb cut off is in a stem which emphasizes the fact that the subject will perform the action. The idea is the LORD Himself will cut off. Men often feel very secure in their sin, and others are often too afraid to rebuke them, but the Lord Himself will have the final say. Divine retribution knows no partiality. The three classes of people mentioned would often, by men, be considered to be in a position of favor. The word master is from a root which means to arouse, awaken, or enlighten. The word scholar is from a root which means to answer. God does not regard positions of knowledge or service. When those who should be bringing others to enlightenment exalt themselves against God; He Himself will cut them off. When men who should be able to give answers of wisdom go astray in pride; God Himself will abase them. Not even the man who brings God a present is safe, if that man is bringing the gift under false pretenses. Concerning offerings, Jesus said, “...if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift (Matthew 5:23-24).” Bringing a physical offering to God means nothing if the heart has not first been offered, as Hosea 14:1-2 teaches, “...return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.”

The Lord said that He would cut off the treacherous offender from the tabernacles of Jacob. God made a covenant of salvation with Jacob; therefore, He is saying that He will remove these unconverted offenders from His salvation covenant and consign them to eternal damnation unless they repent. They were not going to lose their salvation because they had dealt so treacherously; they were dealing so treacherously because they were not saved to begin with. Such disregard and contempt for others characterizes the lost, not the redeemed (I John 4:8).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Merciful Sovereignty of God: God's Sovereign Selection

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Romans 9:6-8)

God's sovereign selection is different from His national election in that only the truly redeemed are counted as spiritual heirs of the faith of Abraham. To simply be born an Israelite does not guarantee eternal salvation. The true Israel is the Israel that exercises the saving faith of Abraham. This Israel is, as Paul wrote, “...the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).” To illustrate this point, the Holy Spirit immediately directs the believer to the familial story of Abraham and his two sons. Ishmael was a product of man's effort. He was not the product of faith in God's promises; he was the product of disbelief and rebellion. Isaac, on the other hand, was the product of simple belief in the promise of God. Years after his sin of polygamy, Abraham finally came to the place of belief that God would indeed give him a son (Romans 4:19-21). Just as Isaac was the promised heir of Abraham through the covenant of faith, the man who comes to God is counted for a true Israelite through the covenant of faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ expounded upon this truth when the unbelieving Jews attempted to exert their physical lineage to Abraham. He said, “...If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham...Ye are of your father the devil...(John 8:39-40, 44).”

The principles of these verses hold true in any context. Simply because a person is “born into” religion does not guarantee him any security. God respects no man. Many a man and woman have lived a church-going facade only to manifest at last that they are not of their spiritual father Abraham, but of Satan. It is a truth which is all too close to home, and one that most people would rather ignore than heed. Only the children of promise shall be counted for the true spiritual seed. Man's efforts only lead to hell.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Indictment Against the People of Israel (Part II)

Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.” (Malachi 2:11)

Treachery against the LORD'S holiness is the second indictment concerning the faithlessness of the people. The men were divorcing their original spouses and marrying the heathen women of the surrounding nations. The LORD labeled this act “an abomination.” At one point in Israel's history, Judah had shown love for the holiness of God. Righteousness and justice were prevalent under king David. Solomon spent seven years erecting a memorial (the temple) to God's holiness. At one point, Judah was a haven for those who truly feared and loved God. Even just a few years back from Malachi's day, Judah witnessed a love for God's holiness under Joshua, Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah; yet, they had come to the point of profaning the very holiness which they had loved. The Lord called these illegitimate unions marriages to the daughter of a strange god. The hearts of the people had wandered from the true God; therefore, the infidelity that followed is no surprise. Behind every sin is a wandering from the true God. Wandering from the holiness of God and seeking alliances with the wicked is something with which Israel had struggled in the past. Under the ministry of Ezra, both the rulers and the people had marriages with the unconverted heathen (Ezra 9:1-2). This specific sin surfaced again during the governorship of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:23-27), and now, just before the close of the Old Testament, it once again rears its ugly head. Though a believer may not physically commit adultery with someone, any wandering from God's desires is considered spiritual adultery. Loving anything more than God is adultery. This truth is taught in James 4:4, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” A Christian may pride himself in the fact that he has never committed physical adultery, yet, in this very act, he has cast himself into the “bed of pride” and thus had relations with “the daughter of a strange god.” Spiritual adultery is what first took place in the hearts of these Israelites. The physical adultery was simply a manifestation of it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Merciful Sovereignty of God: God's Sovereign Election

Since God used the nation of Israel to bring the Messiah into the world, such a thesis on the subject of salvation would be incomplete without a discussion of God's dealings with the Jews. The next three chapters deal with God's past, present, and future dealings with the nation of Israel. The Gentile believer must never forget that he is very blessed to be a part of such a magnificent salvation which was first offered to Israel (Matthew 15:24). It is easy to “westernize” Scripture and ignore the broader picture. God loves Israel, even though they have nationally rejected Him, He is still interested in the salvation of Jewish souls, and after the terrors of the Great Tribulation have passed, He will nationally redeem Israel. What a day it will be when God “...[pours] upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they [look] upon [Him] whom they have pierced, and they [mourn] for him, as one mourneth for his only son...(Zechariah 12:10)!”

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” (Romans 9:1-5)

This chapter begins with God's sovereign election. This national election did not guarantee the salvation of every individual Jewish soul, but it did promise that Israel would forever be special in God's sight. Paul begins with a heartfelt expression of his concern for his Jewish brethren. A willingness to offer such a sacrifice is only possible through emulation of Christ's Spirit. The Lord Himself expressed a willingness to be forever accursed from the Father should that be necessary for man's salvation (Luke 22:41-44, Hebrews 5:7); thus, Paul's close relationship with Christ may be seen in the expression of a heart that mirrored that of his Savior.

Nationally speaking, Israel has been adopted. This is an irreversible promise. They have been temporarily set aside to some degree, yet, in the future, the full extent of this adoption will be realized. The glory is speaking of the magnificent glory of God. In a special way, Israel was chosen to behold and worship before this glory as is seen in God's presence on Mount Sinai as well as in the glory that filled the Tabernacle and Temple. The word covenant is plural here and must be referring to both old and new. God made a covenant of faith with Abraham (Genesis 15), and then, on Mount Sinai, He made the covenant of His law in order that man might be pointed toward Christ (Galatians 3:24). After these things, He then promised Israel the coming of a New Covenant through the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Israel also had the exalted privilege of legislating God's law and being in a special place of service. All these things were a great privilege and should have spurred them to faith in the righteousness of God. However, it did not; yet, the promises are still theirs and God will hold true to His promises of redemption and restoration. The fathers is likely referring to the patriarchs most mentioned by God: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through these three men, God consistently confirmed His covenant of faith and the coming of the Messiah. These men also understood the necessity of approaching God on the grounds of faith, and they are classified as being truly redeemed and with God in heaven (Matthew 8:11, Mark 12:26-27). These men stand as hallmarks to the humble response that God expects of every man.

The last part of this verse is a tremendous expression of Christ's deity. It may be faithfully translated “...the blessed God who is over all forever....” This phrase, of course, is referring to Christ who was just mentioned. Through the nation of Israel, God brought the God-Man into the world. This is the ultimate privilege of Israel's national election; yet, sadly, when the time came for its fulfillment, it was the most hated.

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Indictment Against the People of Israel

Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Malachi 2:10)

The divine rebukes of this book now broaden in scope to include, not just the priests, but also the entire populace of the nation. More than likely, the priests were intimately involved in the sins mentioned in the following passages, yet they were not alone. It seems that the general population had digressed away from God. This next section begins with the LORD'S declaration concerning treachery. Treachery against the LORD'S people is presented first. The text begins by drawing attention to the uniqueness and singularity of God. The same question is asked in two different ways. This parallelism of thought is very common in biblical Hebrew. In a sense, all men have one Father. This is not to imply that all men know God as their spiritual Father; however, in the sense of being created, all men have come from one Creator. Paul emphasized this truth in Acts 17:29 when speaking to the Athenians he said “...we are the offspring of God.” Every man is equal in God's eyes. No one is above the rules that his Maker has established, and no man has the right to take advantage of another as though others were less important than himself. Every man is sinful and in need of God's righteousness. Every man is accountable to the same Creator, and this Creator is singular, unique, and entirely holy.

The Israelites of Malachi's day had once again come to a place of treacherous dealings. So many people were apathetic toward the commands of God that it seemed as though every man was acting faithlessly toward his neighbor. This faithlessness was being accomplished through a disregard of God's covenant. The heart of this covenant may be summarized in two short passages, “...thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deuteronomy 6:5),” and “...thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself...(Leviticus 19:18).” These simple verses describe the intentions behind God's covenant with the forefathers of Israel. The people were keeping neither one of these commands; therefore, they were utterly profaning the covenant. In so doing, they were not only acting faithlessly toward God, but they were also acting faithlessly toward one another. When a man forsakes the way of truth, the damage is never limited to his own soul. Others are always harmed, either directly or indirectly. When a husband or wife rebel against God, they hurt, not only one another and the children, but also those who would look to them as an example. Such an ungodly testimony tends to pull people away from the truth and make them bitter toward the things of God. The specifics of this treachery will be described in the following verses, but the root issue was a lack of the fear of the Lord. The people had come to a point where they no longer feared God; therefore, His covenant of spiritual circumcision had little affect on their actions.   

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part IX)

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

The verb persuaded is in the Greek perfect tense, thus it is indicating a situation in which Paul has made a decision and the conclusions of that decision are unalterable. Paul is persuaded and nothing can change it! Departure from the body cannot separate the believer from God's sight. Life, with all of its trials, failures, and disappointments cannot separate the believer from God's sight. Supernatural beings, whether good or evil, cannot alter God's faithfulness to His redeemed. The dark powers and principalities of this world with whom the believer has his warfare (Ephesians 6:12) are no match for Christ's love. Neither the things that will be, nor the things that have been, including past sin, are any match for God's righteousness. Not even the height of heaven or the depth of hell could make God forget His promise of “...whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17).” And if that were not enough, God adds nor any other creature. Sometimes it seems that the greatest enemy of all is the flesh. Yet, not even this creature is able to remove the believer from Christ's grasp.

No one is worthy of salvation. Every one is wicked and condemned before a holy God, yet by grace God has enabled His salvation to be accessed through faith, and to those who choose the way of God-fearing faith in Jesus Christ, He has given the promise of the Spirit, the Spirit of life, hope, adoption, and eternal security. He convicts, regenerates, permanently indwells, fills, and secures “ kata. sa,rka peripatou/sin( avlla. kata. pneu/ma [the one who not according to flesh is walking, but according to spirit- literal translation] (Romans 8:1).”

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part VIII)

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” 
(Romans 8:31-34)

When a man has submitted himself to God's ways, what is left to fear? Three young Hebrew men had such confidence in God's supreme ability to keep their souls that they were able to say to the most powerful monarch of their day, “...our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods...(Daniel 3:17-18).” When the soul is safe with God, circumstances no longer have to cause fear. The preposition for means on behalf of or in place of. God's righteousness has stepped in on behalf of the believer through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; therefore, what is left to fear? This passage does not teach that God joins man in his own purposes. God does not take sides with mankind (Joshua 5:13-15); rather, this passage offers security to the God-fearing who would come to their Maker in humble faith seeking rest and peace.

If God handed over His own Son to be the Sacrifice for man's sin, He will not stop short by failing to impart the promised inheritance. The word freely give is derived from the same root as grace. This verb means to give graciously. God's grace is the reason that such a secure salvation is available. No one can condemn the believer because the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ have forever justified him. Not even the believer's own failures and wanderings can infringe upon such security, because not only is the Spirit making intercession according to the will of God, but the Son is ever there at the Father's side, interceding on behalf of the saints because of His blood payment. This intercession is not based upon some inherent goodness in the believer, but rather, upon the payment for sin that Christ has made. His righteous and holy character plead for the believer, and no one can accuse such faultless perfection!

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)

Verse thirty-six is a quote of Psalm 44:22. This Psalm is filled with the troubles and trials listed here; yet, near the end, the Psalmist's trust is declared to be in God's faithfulness and mercy, thus enabling him to be at peace. Paul is making application of an Old Testament truth. God has not changed down through the years. Regardless of situation, circumstance, or feeling, He has always been the believer's Rock, and He forever will be. In fact, the man who rests in God's ability is not only a conqueror; he is more than a conqueror. In this passage, the believer is reminded of the importance of living by faith and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). Adversity is the real test of a man's faith, yet, if God's peace is only present during times of prosperity, was it ever truly present? The believer must mature beyond the point of using his feelings for a measure of God's faithfulness. Christ had peace in the middle of the tormented sea as well as in the quiet place. Daniel knew God's peace in the lion's den as well as in the palace. The love and peace of Christ is most real during the times of spiritual warfare. It is then that the Christian fully realizes that he is more than a conqueror through the Son of God.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part VII)

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

The word foreknow simply means to know before hand or in advance. From eternity past, God, in His omniscience, knew who would and would not believe in His Son. The Lord is not limited by circumstances or frailty. He knows all things in advance, as witnessed by John 18:4, “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth....” Scripture does not teach that God creates people for the purpose of consigning them to the flames, yet it does teach that, in His sovereignty, He can use the choices of the wicked for the purposes of accomplishing His ultimate will, even though they have rejected Him and chosen to be “...vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (Romans 9:22).” Knowing who will trust Him, God decides upon before hand (predestinates) who He will call in a special way. Were it not for God drawing men and working in their hearts through His Spirit of conviction, no one would seek redemption (John 6:44, 16:8). The four verbs predestinate, called, justified, and glorified are all stressing a singular point-in-time action. In relation to the believer who is walking with God today, these things have already been determined and taken place in position. There is great comfort in this! God knew before hand the man who would trust Him; therefore, He has already predestinated that man to the glories of salvation. Knowing the reaction in advance, God called that man in a special way through the witness of His word. Upon the moment of belief in Jesus Christ, God fully justifies that man's soul and makes it clean in the blood of the Lamb. Following this, that man is fully glorified in Christ. Though this glory is not fully realized upon this earth, it holds true in position. The son who is heir to his father may not have all the inheritance at the present moment, yet he is just as sure to have it as if it were a current reality. Praise God for the Spirit of security! The Holy Spirit is consistently interceding in the believer's life, because, in position, he has been glorified in Christ; therefore, the Spirit of security is consistently working toward conforming him into the image of his Master. The term firstborn has the idea of preeminence. The end result of the believer's sanctification is “That we should be to the praise of his glory...(Ephesians 1:12).”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part VI)

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:26-28)

Lastly, the Comforter is presented as the Spirit of security. His gracious work of intercession is seen in verses twenty-six through thirty. The word infirmities means weakness or sickness. It is comprised of two parts which, when put together, mean without strength. In the weakness of his flesh, the Christian is unable to fully grasp the seriousness of his warfare. Neither does he understand all the needs of his own heart and life. A person will often pray for things which will not benefit him or work toward his sanctification. The Spirit of God augments these incomplete, though perhaps sincere, prayers with sighs and groans which are inexpressible because they are so vital and personal. Perhaps this is what is meant when the Bible reads in Revelation 8:3, “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” The prayers of all the saints were mingled with the holy incense thus making one perfect prayer which is in complete harmony with God's will. The Spirit will always work in harmony with God's will. If a believer is praying against biblical principle, the Spirit will not side with the flesh; he will make intercession for truth according to the will of God. In this is great security. When the believer is discouraged or rebellious, the Spirit of God will continue to be faithful in leading His possession toward sanctification.

Verse twenty-eight is not authorization for a man to believe that God will always bless his path regardless. A Christian must be cautious of not heeding God's work of chastening. If a man simply “remains positive” through the consequences of bad choices while claiming this verse, he has failed to understand the heart behind it. The first qualification is to them that love God. This instantly qualifies none but the redeemed. This promise may not be given to the lost unless they are willing to turn to Christ. Not only does it qualify just the redeemed, its main thrust is toward the man who is not walking in rebellion. Regardless of failure, weakness and sin, the believer who will repent and humbly walk with God may rest assured that God is powerful enough to make all things work together for His ultimate glory and the sanctification of His children. To persist in a rebellious direction while quoting this verse is to mock God.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part V)

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:18-23)

The Holy Ghost is now described as the Spirit of hope. The biblical word for hope is more concrete than the hope which is thought of today. Biblical hope represents that which is a sure promise. This is evident in Titus 1:2 where Paul speaks concerning his faith, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” The believer's promise of future glory is so real that no present trial is worthy to be compared in magnitude. This is difficult to believe in the middle of severe troubles, yet it holds true. Paul was persecuted to the point where he “...despaired even of life (II Corinthians 1:8).” Yet, he never lost sight of the hope which is implanted by the Holy Spirit. This passage declares that even creation itself awaits the manifestation of Christ's kingdom. During the millennial kingdom, the sin curse will be lifted and the earth will be changed (Amos 9:13, Isaiah 55:12-13). Under the rule of Jesus Christ, this tired old earth will once again more closely resemble the world God intended, and after the millennial kingdom, the eternal state brings the promise of all things being created new (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21:1-5). When man chose to sin, God allowed all of creation to be subject under sin's curse, yet, He did not do so without a promise of future hope. The turmoil, death, and violence found in creation will someday be done away with. Man has become so used to this situation, yet God never intended it to be so. Such things were brought about by man's sin; they were never intended to be a natural part of God's handiwork.

Sin is so contrary to God's design that it makes even inanimate objects groan under its oppression. The earth was never intended to receive blood shed by sin. It rejected the blood of Abel after Cain slew him (Genesis 4:9-10). God said that the promised would reject the blood of innocent people who were slain by the wicked (Numbers 35:33), and in the end of the world, the earth will finally disclose all of her blood (Isaiah 26:19-21).

Not only does creation look for this coming, but so does the believer. He looks for the hope of complete righteousness (Galatians 5:5); he looks for the true Source of hope, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13); and he looks forward to the hope of a heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20).

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” (Romans 8:24-25)

The believer eagerly awaits the future hope of redemption. A person is saved by the true source of hope which is none other than Christ Himself. However, this hope is accessed only by faith. If a man could see all these promises before him, he would not have to exercise faith. He would not have to look forward to any promises because a man does not have to hope for something that he can see. However, since true redemption is not visible, man is commanded by Scripture to exercise faith in God's promises and hope for the things which are invisible to the eye, yet made visible to the spirit by the indwelling Spirit of hope.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part IV)

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:14-17)

Verses fourteen through seventeen present the Spirit as the Spirit of adoption. Biblical adoption has a much different meaning than modern adoption. In Roman society, a man's son was not entitled to his father's wealth and honor until the father had legally adopted that son. Until this process took place, the son was no different than a servant. He was surrounded by his father's wealth, but he had no legal right to it until the father chose to make it official. This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father (Galatians 4:1-2).” Should the father deem his son unworthy for some reason, he could choose not to adopt him, in which case, the son would forever be nothing higher than a servant. The father could choose to adopt a diligent servant over his own son if the son proved lacking in character. However, once the son was officially adopted, the process was irreversible. The father could never, by Roman law, reverse the status of adoption. Even if the son failed to meet his father's expectations, he would forever be his legal heir. Using this process of Roman adoption as an illustration, Paul explains how God's Spirit forever secures the believer's salvation by adopting him into the family of God.

He begins by once again qualifying the ones who have been adopted into God's family. They are, “ many as are led by the Spirit of God....” as I John 3:24 says, “And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” He then says, “...they are the sons of God.” Amen! Through faith in Jesus Christ, the believer has been permanently adopted into the family of God as a true son. Even when the believer fails to live up to the Father's expectations, he is still secure in his position. He will experience God's chastening, but his salvation will not be revoked. He has been declared a spiritual son, and this position is irreversible.

Because of this, the child of God need not live in fear, but in faith. The fear of anything except God brings bondage. Fear is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is a manifestation of the flesh, as declared in II Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Constant fear characterizes the one who fears death because he has no security in Christ (Hebrews 2:15). The Spirit's presence brings the assurance of a Father-son relationship that cannot be taken away. The word Abba, is the Aramaic form for father. It is a close and intimate term which characterizes a good relationship between a father and his son. It is the same term Jesus used for God the Father while He prayed in the garden (Mark 14:36). A believer's sonship is reassured by the presence of the Spirit as He causes the believer to crave fellowship with the Father. This trait is not present in the life of the lost. It is enjoyed only by the truly redeemed. God marks His sons by His Spirit as taught in Galatians 4:6, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” This desire for fellowship is a great source of comfort to the believer, and its absence indicates a cause for alarm.

The Spirit also brings assurance by reassuring the believer's spirit that he is indeed God's child. No man can do this. People who consistently question their salvation should not be continuously encouraged that they are saved. It may be that the Spirit is absent, and thus they lack assurance. Lack of assurance may be due to a lack of biblical knowledge, but this should not be assumed. God's Spirit has a way of bringing a peace which cannot be explained. This peace must be experienced.

As the adopted Roman child was a full heir of all that his father possessed, so the believer is a full heir of unimaginable wealth in Jesus Christ. God's grace is unfathomable. To be redeemed from eternal damnation would be precious enough, but on top of this, God desires his children to have the full inheritance. The full extent of this inheritance will not be realized until glory, but a glimpse of it may be caught by a study of Revelation.

The last part of verse seventeen is interesting. It says, “... if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together...” This verse is not teaching that every person must suffer great tragedy and persecution in order to fully realize their eternal reward. Suffering with Christ can take on various forms and degrees. The things that vex God should vex His children. The believer should suffer to see and experience the failures of his own flesh. His spirit should be grieved, as Christ's would be, to see the unrighteousness and oppression of mankind. He should suffer with Christ as he experiences people reject the fear of the Lord and choose the ways of death. Suffering may take on the form of severe persecution, but it need not always be the case. The Spirit's presence will cause the believer to suffer with his Master as the Christian experiences the things that God Himself hates.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part XII)

But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 2:8)

In contrast to the God-fearing Levites of days gone by, these priests had left the ways of God. Their departure resulted in the destruction of others. Instead of upholding the law in the lives of the people, they had caused others to neglect and despise God's commands. Eli's sons were guilty of this same crime. Their unjust and vile behavior caused men to “[abhor] the offering of the LORD (I Samuel 2:17)” rather than appreciate it. By disobedience and carnal behavior, the believer priest can have the same affect on those around him. Through observation of hypocrisy and carnality in a believer's life, others are often moved to have a more negative view of God than they otherwise may have had.

Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.” (Malachi 2:9)

The punishment that God had begun to inflict upon these men mirrored the effect of their behavior. They were corrupting God's covenant with God-fearing Levi; therefore, God was corrupting them and their influence on others. People are not completely blind. Most people have a sense of who is legitimate and who is not. Men can demand respect, but true respect can only be earned. Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” A man can be respected without being liked. The very presence of godly fear and righteousness in a person's life demands some acknowledgment. However, when a man is corrupt, compromising, and cheap, he is likely to be held in contempt by all. This principle is relevant in any dispensation. Many a pastor, teacher, evangelist and Christian leader has attempted to demand respect and recognition while engaging in unethical conduct only to find that even the world with all of its wickedness can see right through the facade. A man can say one thing and live another if he chooses, but people will see through it, and God Himself will see to it that “...whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops (Luke 12:3).”

So much for the spiritual leadership of the nation. They were offending God through unworthy sacrifices, profaning His name by unholy services, and disgracing His law through unjust judgments. Let the believer priest beware lest he be found guilty of practicing the very principles of the sins found here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part III)

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Romans 8:9)

The opening phrase is somewhat emphatic. A literal translation would read, “But you, you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit.” Paul seems to be convinced of the spiritual condition of those to whom he is writing. Though he had not yet been to this church in Rome, he had heard of their testimony for Christ. The Spirit of God was evident in the lives of these people; however, the Holy Ghost is careful not give a false sense of assurance; therefore, the verse ends with a conditional statement. If a man does not have Christ's Spirit, he is not Christs. This statement is also emphatic. A literal rendering would read, “Now, if a certain one (the) Spirit of Christ he is not having, this one is not of Him.” The presence of Christ's Spirit, and the holy nature of that presence, is being emphasized. If a person continuously evidences a spirit that is apart from that of Christ, he belongs to Satan, not God. A person who professes to believe the Bible, yet continuously rebels against its authority would do well to prayerfully examine his condition before God. Such things are only offensive to the lost. The truly redeemed have a security that cannot be removed. A man must be cautious not to assume that people are saved simply because they attend church or show a surface interest in spiritual things. Without doubt, thousands of people are destined for a lost eternity because they “...[have] a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof...(II Timothy 3:5).”

And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Romans 8:10-11)

Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing....” Sin has rendered the assets of this body useless to man. A man cannot trust his heart, feelings, thoughts, desires, emotions or cognizant abilities. He may not even completely trust his conscience, because it too is faulty. The body is truly dead. Therefore, it is vain for a Christian to serve it. On the other hand, the Spirit brings life, and everything done in His power brings life. This is not because of man's goodness or even his obedience to truth. Ultimately, it is due to the righteousness of Christ. The Spirit brings life because God is completely righteous, and the one who trusts in Jesus Christ will have the righteousness of God imparted to his soul.

Verse eleven gives cause for great assurance to the believer. Even though the body is dead because of sin, in the end, God will fully raise it a new body in Christ. The salvation God offers leaves nothing to chance. Even death itself will someday be done away with forever. As I Corinthians 15:26 states, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” In verse nine, the Spirit is called, the Spirit of Christ. In this verse, He is called the Spirit of Him the raised up Jesus [God the Father]. In these passages, the unity of the Godhead may be seen. All three Persons of the Trinity are working together to completely deliver the believer from death. The word dwelleth is from a root which means a house. Just as sin is housed within the flesh, the Spirit is permanently housed in the believer's soul. The sin will someday be removed, but the Spirit will forever be with the believer “...until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:14).”

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Romans 8:12-13)

What is the conclusion? The flesh's ways always breed death, so why would a man choose to serve it? The person who resists the conviction of God's Spirit and rejects Christ will die along with his flesh, and the Christian who fights submission to God's Spirit and serves his flesh will reap unrighteous results. The Spirit brings life in every way; therefore, submission to Him brings practical sanctification (the death of self) and spiritual life. He is the Giver of Life; thus, the person who truly has Him need never fear death, but the false professor is encouraged to take heed to himself, because, “...if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”

Friday, April 11, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part XI)

For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 2:7)

This may be the clearest verse in all of Scripture concerning God's purpose for the Old Testament priest. He was not intended to see himself as more righteous than others. Slaying the offerings was not his primary job. Offering up incense and trimming the lamps was not the end of his purpose. As fearful and vital as it was, not even his yearly entrance into the holy of holies was, in and of itself, his greatest responsibility. His most exalted purpose was that of a messenger. He had the overwhelming responsibility of leading the ignorant and the needy to God, of rebuking the behavior of the rebellious, and of teaching all men the difference between the clean and the unclean (Ezekiel 44:23). God has, in every dispensation, loved souls; therefore, the descendents of Levi were to walk in such a way as to point the lost sinner to “...the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” The verb should keep is derived from a root that means to guard. A noun form of this word means a gate. God's priest, whether he be an Israelite priest of the Old Testament or a believer priest of the New Testament, is intended to guard truth with jealousy and great zeal. The people of Malachi's day should have been able to seek the exposition of God's law from the priests. They should have been able to make inquiry concerning its precepts and principles. The priest was to be a messenger! This is the only place in the Old Testament where God's priest is called a messenger. This is the same word translated angel. As God's angelic host is faithful and loyal to His wishes, so must the priest be.

The responsibility of the believer priest is just as great. How many Christians view their purpose as mundane and optional? How many truly realize the tremendous impact they could have on those around them? The people of the world should be able to see a great difference between the world's philosophy and the doctrine of God's messenger. May every believer give himself to the study and practice of the Scriptures in order that the Lord's words be fulfilled, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” This verse offers tremendous conviction concerning a Christian's speech. His mouth is intended to utter words of faithfulness, not foolishness. The believer's speech is to be “...alway with grace, seasoned with salt...(Colossians 4:6).” Foul language, vain talk, foolish jesting, filthiness, and profanity should be as foreign to a Christian as they are to Christ Himself. God's words and God's doctrine should roll off of the believer's tongue with ease. To have it otherwise indicates a focus on something other than Scripture.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part X)

My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.” (Malachi 2:5-6)

The covenant that God made with Levi was one of salvation. Life and peace characterize the spiritually minded (Romans 8:6). The tribe of Levi manifested a redeemed life through their God-fearing actions. The first two words for fear are the same. The third is slightly different. Its basic meaning is to be broken. Numerous times it is translated this way. The resultant meanings include the idea of being in a panic. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which event the Lord had in mind; however, Scripture lists three accounts in which the tribe of Levi was zealous for God's holiness. Exodus 32:26-29 describes the Levites' actions when Moses rebuked Israel for their idolatry, “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD'S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.” The second account concerns Phinehas and his zeal in destroying an Israelite leader and his partner for their lasciviousness, “And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel (Numbers 25:7-8).” As a result of Phinehas' actions, the Lord said, “Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel (Numbers 25:11-13).” In both of these instances, a proper view of God moved these men to righteous indignation and a healthy fear of God's divine retribution. The last instance, though less well known, is that of the sons of Zadok the priest. When the Lord reestablishes the temple in the Millennial Kingdom, these descendants of Zadok will be given a special place of service for their expressed zeal, “But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord GOD..(Ezekiel 44:15)..It shall be for the priests that are sanctified of the sons of Zadok; which have kept my charge, which went not astray when the children of Israel went astray, as the Levites went astray (Ezekiel 48:11).” Zadok was the priest under king David and his son Solomon; therefore, this act of righteousness on the part of his sons must have occurred at some point during the reign of the kings when spiritual degradation was commonplace. Such dedication to God's holiness is indicative of true salvation; thus, God reminded the unregenerate priests of Malachi's day that they were in need of repentance and true conversion. Unless they should follow in the footsteps of their God-fearing ancestors, they could not hope to attain unto life and peace.

The presence of God's law in the mouth of Levi left no room for iniquity. What a beautiful picture of an Old Testament priest who truly knew the Lord as his Redeemer! As a result of Levi's repentance and faith, he walked with God in peace and equity. The word equity means uprightness or a level place. A consistently crooked path is not indicative of a redeemed soul. These unregenerate priests were continuously walking in the crooked path of their sin. The result of Levi's true conversion and walk with God was that he “...did turn many away from iniquity.” The true child of God has countless opportunities to turn “...the sinner from the error of his way....” ,and in so doing, he “...shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:20).”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part IX)

And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 2:4)

In the midst of human failure and degradation, the truth of this verse provides encouragement to those who fear God. Despite the failures of these Levitical priests, the Lord would protect and honor His covenant with Levi. The Lord is not asking for the cooperation of these wayward priests in order that His covenant with Levi might continue. He needs no such assistance from man. Since these priests were corrupt, the Lord would put them away and preserve the priesthood for a future generation that will honor it. As the last of the last days draws nearer, more and more people “push” into Christianity and blaspheme God's name through words and deeds; however, God is not threatened. He has built His Church upon “this Rock [Christ]...and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).” The wicked will soon see with whom God has made His covenant. He preserves His own.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part VIII)

Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.” (Malachi 2:3)

Up to this point, the priestly lineage was distinct and identifiable (Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7). This distinction has deteriorated down through the ages. This may be what is meant by “corrupt your seed.” This is not to say that the twelve tribes have been permanently lost. God maintains His people, and He will restore the twelve tribes of Israel to their rightful place during the Millennial Kingdom. Also, the Lord may be telling them that He would give them despicable offspring such as themselves. Since they would not fear God, neither would their children. This of course would lead to further disgrace and damage.

The dung of the sacrifices was removed from the place of offering and burned outside the limits of the camp or city (Leviticus 8:17). To have this refuse smeared on the face would have been one of the most abominable fates a priest could endure, yet such is what God promised them. Abominable actions deserve abominable rewards. The dung upon the face was not the worst of what they had to look forward to. God also said, “...and one shall take you away with it.” As the dung that was removed and forever out of sight and mind, so would these ungodly priests be removed from God's presence. Unless they should repent, the fires of hell awaited. Their promised fate is a sobering thought. God respects the face of no man. Thousands of people profess Christ with their mouth while their heart is far from Him. Unless such people repent, they will, as refuse, be removed from God's presence and consigned to the flames.   

Monday, April 7, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part VII)

And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.” (Malachi 2:1-2)

Verses one through nine speak of unholy services and unjust judgments. The Lord gains the attention of the audience with emphasis and a sense of seriousness. He says, “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you.” Such a declaration coming from the Almighty should strike fear into a person's heart. These men should have known better. Their ministry of religious leadership was, without doubt, the most important in the structure of Israel's God-ordained government. In such a position, the priests had endless opportunities to point the people to the coming Messiah. As the Israelites approached to offer their sacrifices and to worship, the priests could have explained the picture of the sacrifice. They could have expounded upon the fact that “...God [would] provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering...(Genesis 22:8).” At a minimum, they could have encouraged an attitude of godly fear and reverence among the people through their own righteous example, but instead, they had to be rebuked for their contempt of God's name. It is a sad thing when God's believer priest falls into such a category as this. Endless opportunities are afforded the Christian to point the lost and the saved to Jesus Christ, but oftentimes God's people are too enamored by the world, too wearied by righteous standards, and too full of the flesh.

The priests would not here God's rebuke nor lay it to heart. They were not allowing His words to affect them. To be within ear shot of the Lord's commands is not enough. One must hear with the intention of receiving, thus allowing God's word to work its wonders from the inside out. God wants His people to “ of the word, and not hearers only...(James 1:22).” The priests of Malachi's day did not lack religion; but God is not pleased with religion; He is pleased with obedience. He expects His word to be respected and obeyed, and He is not fooled when the situation is otherwise. The scenario presented here calls to mind the behavior of the Jewish captives in Ezekiel's day. Concerning their attitudes, the Lord said to Ezekiel, “...lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not (Ezekiel 33:32).” A believer can easily practice this type of attitude if not careful. His failure to hear and obey may not be to the same extent as what is found here, but to any extent, such an attitude is sinful.

These unholy services were not without retribution. The Lord says, “I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.” The curse had already begun. Perhaps the Lord had begun to curse their daily efforts in labor. Such punishment is seen in Haggai 1:6 when the Jews failed to keep their priorities straight concerning the Lord's commandment to build the temple. Whatever the case, the Lord promised that His curse would override their blessing. One can almost picture a priest proclaiming some good word concerning his nation and its people while ignoring the fact that his own heart is wicked toward God. The Lord is not deceived by elegant prayers and fair speeches. He is well able to turn the pronounced blessings of the wicked into a curse. In principle, the Christian can experience the same thing. He may bless himself in his purpose even though that purpose clearly violates biblical principles. His pastor may encourage him in his ways while adding his own blessing to the mix, but in the end, God will have the final say, and the day of retribution is not always when men expect it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (Part II)

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)

The being verb are is also in the present continuous state; therefore, it is describing a continuous action which characterizes the type of person being discussed. What people truly believe may be determined by how they continuously live. Jesus said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7:20).” This is not to say that a Christian cannot be carnally minded, because he certainly can be. Should a believer not allow the Spirit to control his will, he will be fulfilling the same principles of a carnal lifestyle.

Carnality always works death. For a lost man, the apex of this death is separation from God in hell. For the believer, carnality destroys eternal rewards, wreaks havoc in the lives of people, and manifests itself in a lifestyle that is not subject to biblical principle. On the other hand, when a person bows the knee to Jesus Christ, the Spirit of life regenerates that person, and God imparts to him his covenant of life and peace. Life and peace are what characterized the Levites who truly knew God as their Redeemer (Malachi 2:5). If a believer will choose to daily submit to this Spirit of life, the effects of life and peace will be manifested in his life. Eternal rewards will be earned and submission to biblical principle will be evident.

The verb not subject in verse seven is in the passive voice; this means that the action is being performed upon the subject, which in this case is the carnal mind. The carnal mind has not been subjected to God's law, and it is completely unable to subject itself. Some people continuously struggle with submission to the things of God because they simply are not saved, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (I John 5:3).” A man who has not been changed from the inside out by the presence of God's Spirit has never been made subject to God's law through repentance and he will never be able to subject himself. Keeping this truth in mind, it quickly becomes obvious that the Christian who lives according to sense rather than Scripture will be in a continuous up-and-down struggle.

Verse eight ends the passage with a short, easy-to-grasp truth. The flesh and God are continuous enemies. The person who is continuously characterized by the god of this world is not saved, and the believer who attempts to live by feeling and desire rather than principle will be at enmity with the One he is supposed to be serving. As James said, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4).”

Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part VI)

But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.” (Malachi 1:14)

A deceiver is the rightful title of the man who possesses that which would be acceptable as a gift to God, yet chooses to withhold it for his own lusts. God deserves the best. He deserved the best from His people in Malachi's day, and He deserves the best from His people in the Church age. Nothing has changed. The Christian who chooses to withhold that which he should give to God and brings something else with the pretense that he loves God is nothing less than a deceiver and a liar. It would be better to bring no offering at all than to bring an unworthy one under the guise of genuine love. The curse pronounced here is not limited to the dispensation of the Old Testament. The believer would do well to heed this warning and follow the example of the widow who cast in “...even all her living (Mark 12:44).” The attitude and actions of these priests was not only wicked but also utterly foolish. When has God ever failed to take care of those who serve Him? Proverbs 3:9-10 is clear in its promises to the one who puts God first, “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”

There are three titles for God used in this verse, and each one is more reverent than the former. First, he is called Lord. This is not His name Jehovah which is most often translated LORD. This is the title for Master. He is the supreme Master who deserves the consistent dedication and loyalty of His servants. Every child of God is first and foremost a servant of His Master. With such numerous and gracious privileges provided through Jesus Christ, it is often easy to forget that a man is first a servant. The second title is that of great King. He is the King of all creation. He made all, and all is held together by His power and wisdom (Colossians 1:17). No place can hide a man from the eye of His great dominion. A man would show proper fear to another mortal who held the position of king; how much more should a man fear the great King of heaven? The last title used is that of the LORD of hosts. This is the name Jehovah of the armies. He commands the armies of heaven and the armies of the earth. He holds absolute sway over all powers, be they good or be they evil. Every nation which has ever existed has ultimately been nothing more than a pawn in God's service, unable to go beyond the boundaries predetermined by His mighty decree. No man or demon could or ever will be able to stand before Him. Should not the deceiver therefore repent of his ways and worship such a One?

The word dreadful is the same word for fearful. Often times the heathen who hold no special place in God's service give Him more deference than the supposedly religious. This verse has some millennial implications. The traumas of the Great Tribulation will give the nations of the earth an appreciation for the fear of the Lord, and all the earth will serve Him during the one thousand year reign of the Messiah.

Such is God's evaluation of unworthy sacrifices. No heart was ever tainted by an imperfect offering, but many an offering has been polluted by an impure heart.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel (Part V)

But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible. Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD.” (Malachi 1:12-13)

Indeed, this is a sad state of affairs. Of all people, the priests should have been leading the nation into a high regard for the Lord's name; but instead, they themselves were profaning it with their attitude. The presentation of the shewbread, the offering up of the morning and evening sacrifice, the sin offering, trespass offering and peace offering had all become nothing more than a burdensome service. It is true that much toil and labor went into the preparation and offering of the sacrifices, yet all these things were not without significance. In some form or fashion, every activity of temple service pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ. These priests lost sight of this fact. Instead of guiding the spiritually blind toward the holiness and grace of God, they were discouraging everyone from seeing the purpose in it all. The Levites were to have no physical inheritance. “...the LORD [was] their inheritance...(Deuteronomy 18:2).” This blessed inheritance had become despised in their eyes. A believer priest can fall into the same trap. He may not plummet to same depths as these priests, but he can, in principle, practice the same heart attitude toward the things of his Master. Instead of viewing worship and Christian service as an inheritance and a blessing, the unfocused believer may begin to view these things as nothing more than monotonous tasks that gnaw away at more “important” things. This destructive and ungrateful attitude does nothing to lead others to Jesus Christ. It only, in every way, works spiritual death for the believer and for those with whom he comes in contact.

The word snuffed means to sigh or to breath out heavily as when one is weary or agitated. As a disobedient child breathes out heavily at the thought of doing his daily chores, so these priests sighed at the service of God. Perhaps they did not speak it, yet God knew their hearts; and the heart attitude is just as wicked as the action or word itself. The unappreciative believer may never speak against the service of God for fear of compromising his pride, but the agitated countenance and sighing attitude will most surely betray his sin.

The phrase that which was torn is a participial phrase that may be taken one of two ways. The verb form of this participle means to tear away, pull off, rob by force or take away violently. In every other passage where the verb appears, it conveys one of these meanings. Here, it may convey an animal which had been attacked by a predator and physically torn in the process. On the other hand, it may convey an animal which had been violently taken away from its rightful owner and used as a sacrifice. In either case, to offer such a deficient sacrifice to the Almighty would be unthinkable. The people thought so little of God that the sickly leftovers were all they were willing to expend upon His altar. Such unworthy sacrifices need not be viewed as being limited to the examples listed here. It is possible for a believer of the Church age to be as guilty when he brings God the sickly remainders of his time, wealth and priorities. God clearly displays His divine displeasure with such improprieties by asking “...should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD.” God's people need not be surprised when His blessing eludes them after they have been found guilty of such unacceptable services. One cannot put God last and expect a healthy home, a spiritually profitable ministry, or peaceable life, or spiritual, mental, and emotional stability.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Spirit's Presence and Attributes

G. The Spirit's Presence and Attributes (8:1-39)

Without the enabling and the keeping of the Spirit in a believer's life, the flesh would surely win. The Spirit's presence truly makes all the difference. Prior to his arrival, the disciples remained behind closed doors in Jerusalem; but after His coming, they were transformed into bold witnesses. His ministry of regeneration, enlightenment, chastening, rebuke, teaching, and keeping should never be taken for granted or go unappreciated by God's people. Above all else, the Spirit's presence is what unmistakeably identifies God's redeemed. Having just described the vile nature of the flesh, it is befitting that the righteous nature of the Spirit be the next topic of discussion. When the believer's internal struggles seem too great, and Satan brings failures to mind, when the battle seems too strong, and the road far too long, when it seems that salvation could be revoked due to sin and failure, let the Christian call to mind the Lord's words in Zechraiah 4:6, “...Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Malachi 8:1-4)

The first part of this section presents the Spirit as the Spirit of Life. “No condemnation” is the promise to the one who has trusted in Christ as Savior. What a promise this is! The believer need never fear the overwhelming wrath of God toward his sin. He need never fear eternal death, because he has the Spirit of Life. The believer's sins have been forever dealt with under the blood of Jesus Christ, and “ far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).” The saint of God need only flee to the righteousness of Christ in order to find eternal safety. This freedom from condemnation is promised to “them which are in Christ Jesus.” This audience is further identified and qualified by the phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” A literal interpretation of this phrase would read, “the ones who are not walking according to flesh, but according to spirit.” This phrase is not teaching salvation by works, it is drawing a distinction between the false professor and the true believer. The phrase who walk not is a present continuous participle which conveys the idea of a repeated action that characterizes an individual. A literal interpretation would convey this thought, “the ones who are not continuously walking according to flesh, but are continuously walking according to spirit.” The false professor will eventually be exposed as a child of the devil because “...he that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning (I John 3:8).” However, though not flawless in this life and even subject to acts of great carnality (I and II Corinthians), the true believer will not be permitted of God to continuously walk in the flesh because of the Spirit's presence. The Spirit of God has taken up residence in the believer; therefore, something must change. The Holy Ghost is not passive; He is active. The believer will not be permitted to continuously walk in sin without conviction and chastening (I Corinthians 11:29-30, Ephesians 4:30). This is what is meant when John writes, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (I John 3:9).”

Verse two declares a more powerful law than that of sin and death, the law of the Spirit of life. Paul just stated in chapter seven that he serves the law of sin with his flesh, and now he reveals the secret to overcoming that wretched law. The spiritual life brought about by Christ's Spirit is well able to overcome the obstacles of the flesh.

Due to the wickedness of man's nature, the law cannot give life; therefore, God allowed Christ “ be sin for us, who [Christ] knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (II Corinthians 5:21).” In so doing, Christ fully condemned and forever dealt with man's sin. The word righteousness in verse four is slightly different from the normal form of the word commonly used for righteousness. This word has the meaning of righteous deeds. Christ said in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” By His holy, sinless character, Jesus Christ lived a flawless life and completely fulfilled God's law down to the very letter. Because of this, the one who trusts in His Person and work will have the merits of this fulfilled work transferred to them. When God the Father looks at the man who is trusting in His Son, it is as though He were looking at the flawless character of the Son Himself. Though, on his own, he would miserably fail at keeping God's law, the believer is counted as having kept it in the Person of Christ. Amen! What room exists for condemnation? If God's law can no longer condemn a person, nothing shall be able to do so. Verse four ends with the same qualifying statement as verse one. This security does not belong to just anyone who decides to let the name of Christ roll off his lips; it belongs to the true believer, the one who “not according to flesh [is] walking, but according to spirit (literal translation).”