Monday, February 25, 2008

Legalism Not the Path to Victory

The Promised Land was the place God had always envisioned for His people. He told Abraham that “All the land you see I will give to you and your descendents forever.” Genesis 13:15. Even though many did not ever see it because of disobedience and unbelief, it was His purpose to lead them there. In the same way it is God’s purpose to lead the Christian to a life that is full of faith and rest, even though there will be battles and hardships. But some will not enter into that experience because of disobedience and unbelief.

Sometimes we try to bring about the victory by putting ourselves under legal constraints. In other words we try to bring the law to bear on our lives with the hope that this can accomplish what God desires.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t work. In the Old Testament story, we’re told that Moses is dead. Joshua now is to lead the people. John 1:17 tells us that the law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The name Joshua is basically the same name as Jesus so we have the picture of Moses as representing the law being dead before the life of victory is entered.

That makes for nice illustrations, but is there reality to that in Scripture? I Corinthians 15:56 says “The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law.” We find, then, that sin’s strength is found in the law. So if you try to enter a life of victory and try to empower it by bringing more law into your life, you actually empower sin in the process.

Romans 7:5 states, “For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.”

And then in verse 7, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.”

So here again we see that even though the law is holy and the commandment just and good, it enlivens our sin and brings death.

Scripture gives a completely different answer for bringing a fruitful and victorious life. Bringing the law into it does not accomplish it. According to Colossians 2:23 we’re told that even though such legalistic endeavors “have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

As we proceed through this study of Joshua, we’ll see that God has an entirely different approach to providing the victory and peace we seek.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Picture of Victory

The leadership of Joshua as he led the Israelites out of the wilderness and across the Jordan River into the Promised Land is a great picture of God’s desire for each one of us as Christians. In my view, the Jordan River doesn’t represent death and heaven as some describe it but rather leaving behind a life of wandering and aimlessness and pressing forward into a trusting relationship with God that rests upon His promises and enjoys His peace and victory in life.

In the Old Testament example, those that wholly followed the Lord entered in to the promised land. In the same way, the New Testament Christian is challenged to enter into God’s rest.

Consider Hebrews 4:6ff “Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today,’ after such a long time, as it has been said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

Think about what this is saying. God is offering a rest. He says, “There is a rest.” And He said that the person who has entered God’s rest has ceased from his works just as God has from His. This promise comes right on the heels of discussing the disobedience of the Israelites. I take this to mean that this life of rest and trust is the reality that the Promised Land pictures.

More on this next time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Final Thoughts on Joel

We’ve been looking at the second chapter of Joel’s prophecy in the Old Testament. We’ve seen that the promise of the outpouring of God’s Spirit had a partial fulfillment on the day of Pentecost in that the very same Spirit is at work. But the specific fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy is awaiting a later time. We noticed that the darkening of the sun and moon did not take place on the day of Pentecost. In verse 31 we learn a little bit about the timing of these events. They take place before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. “Day of the Lord” is a phrase used several times in the book of Joel and refers to a time of judgment from God. The immediate context that the people would have had was the onslaught of locusts that had just come upon them. The prophecy here in verse 31, however, is of a greater and more cataclysmic day of the Lord.

On that day it shall come to pass that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance. I don’t see any other way to interpret this other than literally. I’m not a big prophecy buff, but it certainly seems to me that in That Day Jerusalem will be the focal point of the action.

Joel goes on to say in chapter 3, “Behold in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there.” Why will He judge the nations? He will judge them for what they have done to His people, Israel. He calls on the nations to arm themselves and fight. “The day of the Lord is near.” He repeats the fact that the sun and moon will grow dark. The Lord is going to roar from Zion. He is jealous for His people. Here again, it seems to me that this is a real judgment on nations which have attacked and plundered God’s people Israel.

But the Lord will be a shelter for His people, the mountains will drip with new wine, a fountain will flow from the house of the Lord. Egypt and the other nations will be a desolation but Judah will abide forever. And then here comes the amazing promise in verse 21, “For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; for the Lord dwells in Zion”.

God judges His people, but in the final analysis, they are His people and He will be merciful and forgiving for His own sake and for the sake of the covenant that He has made with them.

Next time we’ll go back pick up some of the lessons I’ve been learning from the book of Joshua.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Joel's Prophecy of the Spirit

It’s been a cold and blizzard-filled Sunday for us here in Michigan (Feb 10). We made it half of our 30 mile ride to church this morning and had to stop four times right in the middle of the highway because we could not see where we were going. So we turned around and came back home. It’s been kind of a slow day, but has given us some time to read and write.

We’ve been looking at the book of Joel for the last couple of posts. One of the things that has struck me is that God makes specific promises to the nation of Israel. After the immediate discipline of God by means of locusts, God promises restoration and peace. Some of those promises were obviously not for immediate fulfillment.

Consider specifically Joel 2:28: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

On the day of Pentecost, Peter referred to the outpouring of the Spirit about which he said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” (Acts 2:16) An interesting question is whether the events of that day are the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. I don’t see how it can be since Joel continues to describe events, which Peter also quotes, that didn’t take place. Joel speaks of wonders in heaven above, the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood. These obviously didn’t take place on the day of Pentecost. What I think Peter means is that this Holy Spirit that came upon the church on the day of Pentecost is that same Spirit which the prophet Joel is talking about. The literal fulfillment of the prophecy with the signs in the heavens is yet to occur.

More next time.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More thoughts on Joel

Throughout the book of Joel, God is challenging His people to repent and turn back to Him. He has sent a plague of locusts and other “natural” disasters to get their attention. God’s promise to His people is that He would restore what the locusts have eaten. In chapter 2:26 He says, “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame.”

One of the things we need to ask ourselves is, “Who are these people?” In my opinion there is a tendency today to take what the Bible says, especially in the Old Testament and spiritualize it to the Church. There are definitely spiritual lessons that are to be learned in the Old Testament. Romans 15:4 for example says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

However, I believe that the promises given specifically to the nation of Israel are their promises. So the promise quoted above about not putting His people to shame is a promise to Israel. In fact verse 27 says, “Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel; I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.”

The locusts attacked the land of Israel and God’s promise of blessing was also made to them. I think one would have to conclude that the promise that His people would never be put to shame has not come to pass yet. That’s why many Christians look for a literal future establishment of the nation of Israel under the rule of Christ.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

More on Joel

Well, the snow is piling up again in Michigan. Yesterday was a very tricky driving day here, but God granted us safety in our travels.

I’m looking this morning at Joel 2. Joel’s theme is “The Day of the Lord” throughout this small book. Chapter one had talked about the locusts and the devastation that brought to the land. In chapter two it seems as though he is talking about an army, but I suspect he is still referring to the locusts. There are so many that they just come in swarms going up into the houses through the windows and attacking whatever is in front of them. But these creatures have a commander – the Lord. Verse 11 says, “The Lord utters his voice at the head of his army; how vast is his host! Numberless are those who obey his command. Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed—who can endure it?”

Just as in the first chapter, there is a call to repentance. “Return to me with all your heart,” the Lord says. He calls for all the people both young and old, even the infants, to be gathered together for an assembly. The bride and bridegroom should halt their preparations and celebrations and come to this assembly. What is the purpose of this meeting? To cry out to the Lord to spare His people. It’s interesting that here, just as in many other places in Scripture, the plea to God is that He not make his people a mockery so that people will say, “Where is their God?”

God responds to this prayer and shows pity on the people. He promises rain and food and plenty as He restores what has been destroyed by the plague. In addition to the physical healing of the land, God promises a spiritual work. We’ll look at that next time.

The lesson for us as men who desire to be faithful, is that we need to learn to have a repentant heart. When God disciplines and chastens us, we need to respond with humility and God-honoring repentance.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Thoughts on Joel

As I mentioned several weeks ago, when my daily Bible reading brought me to the Minor Prophets, I decided to slow down and give more thought to my reading since I have not paid much attention to this section in the past.

In the book of Joel, the theme seems to be “The Day of the Lord” since that phrase is repeated 5 times in this one little book. There are only 19 occurrences of the phrase in the whole Bible.

Chapter one talks about a swarm of locusts that has decimated the land having stripped virtually all green things from the landscape. Everyone is mourning the destruction and famine that has resulted from this calamity.

As a result of this, Joel’s call is to “Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; wail, you who minister before the altar; for the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God.”

I appreciate the fact that there is concern for the worship of God in the midst of the starvation that is coming to the people generally. Because of the famine, there are no grain or drink offerings for the Lord. “Joy and gladness are cut off from the house of our God.” This makes me ask myself what level of passion I have for the worship of the Lord. Would I be as concerned about the fact that proper offerings weren’t available as I was about whether I had the food and drink I needed for my own life?

One other observation occurred to me in this chapter from verse 18. “How the animals groan! Even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment.” It reminds me of the passage in Romans 8:19 which says, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope, because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”

The judgment of God is upon sin even now, and the plant and animal kingdom is not immune from the curse even though it was caused by our transgressing the commandment of God.

More thoughts on Joel next time.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Super Bowl and Scripture

I'm not a sports fan and so don't have a lot to say about the Super Bowl, but over at the Shepherds Press blog there are a couple of posts on the importance of guarding your heart and teaching your children to guard their hearts while watching the Super Bowl and listening to all the hype surrounding it. A faithful man will want to do all he can to protect himself and his family from cultural influences that might negatively affect their spiritual lives. It's an encouraging read.

Jesus Christ our Representative

I have some things I want to write about the book of Joel, having just read it recently, but for now I think I’ll continue our thinking from the previous post related to the book of Joshua.

In verse 3 of chapter 1, God says to Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have give you, as I said to Moses.” God obviously isn’t promising the land of Canaan to Joshua only. He is promising it to the whole nation, but He is giving it to them through a representative who claims it for the people.

Now before you go on, if you haven’t read the previous posts it would be a good idea to do that. These incidents we are looking at in the conquest of Canaan is not just history lesson. There is a practical application and picture for us who are Christians. Look back over the previous lessons to see that Jordan and Canaan are not pictures of death and heaven as is usually thought, but of living a blessed and victorious life for Christ.

Just as Joshua was given the promised land as a representative of the people, so Jesus Christ was given all blessings as our representative. It’s not a matter of imposing more law upon ourselves, but a matter of believing what has already been done and given.

We’re not going to be able to study this in detail, but look at the book of Ephesians as an example. Ephesians 1:3 says we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Notice the phrase “in Christ”. Every spiritual blessing has been given us. That means nothing is lacking.

Consider the following verse in Ephesians:

1:4 chosen us in Him

1:6 accepted in Him

1:7 redemption in Him

1:11 we have obtained an inheritance in Him

2:5 made alive with Christ

2:6 raised us up with Him

2:7 God is kind to us in Him

This can make a very profitable study for someone who wants to dig a little to work it all out. Christ’s righteousness and death and resurrection are all attributed to us by faith. We are already in a position of victory whether we feel like it or not. We need to accept and believe what God has given us in Christ and live our lives in light of those truths.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Law Does Not Bring Victory

We’ve been having a snowy day here in Michigan. I work for a school and today is the third snow day we’ve had this week. The kids love it, but the slippery roads are starting to wear on me.

As I write these blog entries, I’m moving along a couple of different lines. I’m teaching the book of Joshua in Sunday School, and my regular Bible reading and meditation is taking me through the minor prophets and the book of Hebrews so I’m being overwhelmed with more things to think about than I can write about. I’m trying to use this blog as an opportunity to put my thoughts into words so that others can hopefully be encouraged and motivated to study the Scriptures and learn so as to be increasingly faithful in the Christian life.

Today I’m going to add a couple of thoughts that come from the Joshua study. As the book of Joshua opens, verse 2 says, “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people.” You’ll have to read back over the last couple of posts to understand what crossing over the Jordan pictures.

It strikes me as interesting that Moses dies and Joshua is commissioned with the responsibility. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on the potential symbolism of this because we know that Moses was not allowed to enter because of his disobedience. But it is interesting to me that Moses is associated with the law and Joshua, which is another name for Jesus, represents the Savior.

John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” There are a multitude of Christians who believe that trying to live by the law is the path to living a victorious Christian life. It turns out that according to Scripture this is not true at all.

I Corinthians 15:56 tells us that the law gives sin its power. Paul, in his letter to the Romans says the same thing. In Romans 7:8 he writes, “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.”

He tells us later that it is not the law that brought death, but it was sin that did so. The law is spiritual and it is good, he tells us. However, the fact still remains that law gives sin its power. Therefore, bringing more law into your life does not increase the level of spiritual victory in your life. The scripture provides a completely different answer. Developing this will take several more postings, but for now suffice it to say that the victory is in a person – the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the promises were given to Joshua and were to be accepted by faith, so everything we need spiritually was given to Christ and we claim them by faith through Him.

Alan Redpath, in his book Victorious Christian Living, describes it this way: "A Christian does not work his way up to victory, but down from it."