Wednesday, December 30, 2009

But What About Those Who Have Never Heard The Gospel?

Paul lays out six principles of God's judgment in Romans 2:2-16
A) Romans 2:2-3 "We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?"

God's judgment is according to truth, according to things as they really are. God is an utter realist. God sees us exactly as we are. He knows all our secrets. He knows all the carefully concealed, hidden areas of our life that we keep away from every other eye.

God’s judgment is based on truth, but our own judgement is not always based on truth. Often it’s based on how the issue affects us. A matter is right or wrong depending on how costly it is to us, or makes us look, or affects our own wants and desires.

Romans 2:4 "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"

Yet God patiently waits to help us see through these delusions. God is patient with us; He is forbearing. God doesn't beat us over the head, and demand that we face the truth. He patiently waits and gently leads, and put us in circumstances where we will be able to see these things if we are willing to face the facts.

B) Romans 2:5 "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed."

People bring God’s judgment on themselves In verse 5, having a hard and impenitent heart does not necessarily translate into leading the lifestyle of a criminal. Most of us are very much blessed. We have access to everything we need, clothes, food, shelter, transportation, comforts, education, and so much more.

People who live the good life often don’t sense the need to be saved from God’s wrath. Their life is fine, they’re happy, they’re doing good things, they don’t “need” salvation, they’re doing great. It’s easy to get lulled into the idea that God isn’t concerned about this little secret thought, or that little secret sin. That attitude is showing contempt for God’s forbearance and patience. God’s kindness is designed to lead one into repentance, not indulgence.

C) Romans 2:6-8 "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury."

Is Paul really saying that God judges according to works? Almost everyone has the idea, even if they have never actually read the Bible, that God has a giant scale in heaven. He puts all one's good deeds on one side and all one's bad deeds on the other side -- and if the good deeds outweigh the bad, one gets into heaven; if the bad outweigh the good, one goes the other direction.

But this isn’t what Paul is saying. All the rest of Romans makes it clear that salvation is by faith, not by works. Works don’t save a person, but they do come out of being saved. If there is no fruit, then it’s probably not a fruit tree, because a saved person always produces fruit. Paul is pointing out that the deed reveals the heart. God will judge according to the result of obedience to the truth, or lack of obedience.

Putting it another way, what makes a person do good? That person is following some principle of truth! What makes a person do evil? It's right here in verse 8: They are self-seeking; the do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness. This is why they do evil. This is going back behind the deed, into the heart, into the belief. The truth is, people are what they believe.

So how does one explain the good things people do who are not Christians? They are obeying some principle of truth, even though they don’t yet know God. That’s called God’s common grace, when He fills the world of humankind with the knowledge of how to love, how to be kind, how to be patient, how to forgive and so on.

Will God save someone who lives a good life but never hears of Christ? In light of everything Paul writes in this letter to the Romans, the answer would be: "It is impossible to live a truly good life and never hear of Jesus Christ!" If God gives anyone eternal life, it is only by knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son. Truth obeyed leads to the knowledge of greater truth, until it leads at last to knowing Messiah Jesus.

God says if someone is really looking for Him, He’ll make sure that person finds Him. Read about Cornelius in Acts chapter 10, a Roman centurion who was a good man and devout, even though he was also a pagan. But he wanted to know God, so God sent an angel to tell him to go find Peter, who would tell him the gospel. Read about the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts chapter 8, where God miraculously presented Philip at exactly the right moment to help him.

These people were eagerly obeying the truth that they had. The test of whether a person is really obeying the truth and doing good is to offer that person the Lord Jesus in the gospel -- they will eagerly receive Him if they are obeying truth. If that person is simply a respectable sinner, trying to look good, then he or she will reject the offer of grace.

D) Romans 2:9-11 "There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality."

God judges without partiality, whether a Jew or a Greek, a religious person, a moral person, an educated person, or a total pagan who knows nothing of God, it makes no difference whether one's sins are notorious sins or respectable sins, obvious sins or hidden, secret sins, one still falls under God’s judgment, there is no protected class of people who are exempt from God’s judgement

There will come a time when Jesus returns, when all secret thoughts and acts, good or bad, will come out. For Christians this means that all those sinful acts, all the bad thoughts and deeds are already covered in Christ’s righteousness, and all the good thoughts and deeds will be rewarded, at Christ’s judgement seat. You are not judged for the bad, but you are judged and rewarded for the good.

On the other hand, for unbelievers, all disobedience will be revealed, and they will be judged for it.

E) Romans 2:12-15 "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them."

God judges according to opportunity. This is for those who are wondering how God could judge people who haven’t been taught about Him, who don’t even know about Him. It is a common charge against God that He is being unjust by condemning people to hell who have never heard of Jesus Christ. It's pretty commonplace to hear the idea that "people are basically good."

People accept that nobody's perfect, but the idea of human wickedness, the depravity of sin, is minimized. But if people were born basically good, we could expect at least a small segment of people to remain good and sinless. Instead everybody deals with sin.

What person has lived up to their own ideals? -- because God won't judge a person on the basis of something that one has never heard, but on the basis of what one already knows. Which person has never deliberately done wrong? What person can say that he or she always measures up to his or her own standard of what they ought to be?

God judges according to the light given. And some light is given to all persons in the form of a conscience. God's judgement is based on what you do with what you know. Even those who have never heard of Jehovah or the law have a conscience. If a person hasn’t heard of God, if that person would live even according to her own conscience, she would be justified. But the fact is, no one lives even according to their own conscience. No one of any religion lives up to their own religion or philosophy, or their own principles. God judges us not by some artificial standard, but by our own standard. God is justified in judging all, because all are guilty even according to their own conscience.

F) Romans 2:16 "...on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. God judges according to the secrets of men."

This is not talking about every thought that comes to one's mind, because often those thoughts are temptations you and I are powerless to stop. But it’s the reception you and I give to unworthy thoughts. We sometimes open the door and welcome them. Instead of driving these thoughts away when they come, we usher them into our living room, and set them down, and ask them to be comfortable and stay with us, and we invite them back again and again; we allow them to take their coats off, get comfortable and live there. These are the secret things that we don't want to tell anybody about -- even our dearest friend.

God searches the heart and knows exactly what one's true motivations were, even when one is suppressing one's motivations to oneself.

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

A while back I read a fascinating article called “How the new science of thank you can change your life.” Apparently science has now been able to prove what God has been teaching people since the days of Cain: practicing gratitude can actually make us healthier – literally!!

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, has been able to prove, in his lab, that being thankful can change us for the better. He took three groups of volunteers and assigned them to focus on one thing:

1) The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong, or irritated them
2) The second group homed in on situations they felt made their lives better
3) The third group was asked to think about ordinary life events

After the experiment was over, the people who focused on gratitude discovered they were happier – the difference was so noticeable that others recognized it too.
1) We’ll sleep better
2) We’ll be more enthusiastic, more interested, more determined
3) We’ll be less materialistic, less apt to connect life satisfaction with material things
4) We’ll be more energetic and actually exercise more
5) We’ll feel more optimistic and joyful, better resilience during tough times
6) We’re more likely to share what we have with others
7) We’ll have fewer headaches and colds and a stronger immune system
8) We’ll be less envious, less anxious, less prone to feel the blues and less stressed
9) We’ll be more alert and active
10) We’ll be more likely to help other people
11) We’ll actually live longer
12) We’ll have closer family ties
13) We’ll have a deeper spirituality
14) And if we’re willing to stick to it, being thankful, practicing gratitude, we’ll realize we’re making progress toward our life goals.

As Paul the apostle instructed in Colossians 4:2, "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ancient Jewish Weddings (Continued)

3) Mohar

Genesis 24:50-51 "Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, 'The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.'"

The family accepted the servant's offer, they could clearly see this was God's will. The servant then presented Rebekah with the mohar, all the gifts Isaac had prepared for her, samples of the wealth he would provide for her as her husband. This is so much like the Holy Spirit in your life today, giving you spiritual gifts according to His grace.

4) Cup of Acceptance

Genesis 24:54a "And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there."

Once the terms of the ketuvah had been specified and the father of the bride had agreed to them, betrothals were sealed with a traditional "cup of acceptance" from which both parties drank; the covenant was sealed, and the couple was considered to be betrothed. Think about how God gives us His Holy Spirit as a seal for that day when we will be joined to Him forever in heaven.

The betrothal period typically lasted one full year, beginning with the sealing of the covenant and ending with the wedding ceremony. During that time the groom would prepare their new home, which meant adding on to his father's home or building a new home on the family property. He would have stocked the bridal chamber with seven days' worth of provisions so they could spend a week together inside as their honeymoon.

Think of Jesus saying, "I go to prepare a place for you; in My Father's house are many mansions." As fast and as hard as he worked, though, it was the groom's father who made the final decision as to when the bridal chamber and new home were ready, and gave permission for his son to go marry his bride. Think of Jesus telling His disciples that He would return for them to bring them back to Him, but only the Father knew the day and the hour.

For the bride this time was for purification and preparation for the wedding feast. She would wear a veil whenever she stepped out of her house to show that she was set apart for marriage to a particular man -- she was "spoken for," no longer available because she had been bought with a price.

In Hebrew, she would be called a "me `kudeshet," meaning one who is "sanctified, dedicated to another, set apart and consecrated to her bridegroom" just as every believer is being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, being transformed by the renewing of your minds, one day to be glorified with Christ (and this is where we are in the marriage process with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are certainly His, but the wedding itself is yet to come).

[C] Nissuin: The wedding (nissuin) was the next stage of the marriage process. It was always a surprise for the bride, she never knew when the groom was going to come. Finally, the groom's father would approve all the preparations his son had made and would release him to go get his bride. A great processional would be made, to the bride's home. Typically, this processional would happen at night. The groomsmen and other attendants would carry large torches through the streets to illuminate their path, with lots of noise, horns blowing and fanfare.

The bride and her attendants would be able to hear the approaching party giving her a few minutes to get ready. (This is where the parable of the ten virgins takes place, in Matthew 25). In the final minutes of readiness, the bride was to put on her veil. The bridal veil was a symbol of authority. By placing the veil on her head she was demonstrating to herself and the whole world that she was coming under her husband's authority.

Genesis 24:64-65 "And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, 'Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?' The servant said, 'It is my master.' So she took her veil and covered herself."

For Rebekah the surprise was that her betrothal would last only one night, but the processional would last nearly two months across 600 miles of desert.

Ancient wedding ceremonies were actually very simple. Before witnesses the bride accepted gifts from her groom, and the groom spoke a few words of acceptance and consecration to his bride. During the wedding ceremony the bride's veil was placed on her husband's shoulder. This signified the bride yielding to her husband's authority. After this the husband drew his wife into the bridal chamber for seven days of celebration.

[D] Fourth part of marriage: The joyful celebration would last one week. As the happy couple stayed in their marriage chamber, being served by their attendants, the guests would partake of a week-long feast. Isaac loved Rebekah from the beginning, and their marriage comforted and strengthened him.

Think of the wedding feast described in Revelation.....

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ancient Jewish Weddings (And What That Has To Do With Christ)

Talking about eschatology is fun, I like it, it's all conjecture and all that really matters is that we know He's coming back, and He's coming back for us.

You all know the analogy of the onion: it's comprised of many layers, as you peel off the outer layer, here is another underneath. That's what this story is like.

A) There are four main characters: Abraham, his chief servant, Isaac and Rebekah.

B) There is the story of an ancient marriage, which had four main parts: The arrangements, which were made by the fathers; the year-long betrothal, which the bride and groom entered into if they each freely agreed to the marriage; the wedding ceremony, which was very short; and the celebration, which was a week long.

C) Theologians have long associated this story with God's redemption of believers: Abraham standing for God the Father sending his unnamed servant into the far country to take a bride for his son, though she doesn't yet know she has been chosen; the servant is like the Holy Spirit, to invite her to come, to woo and win her, bringing her back to the Father's house; Isaac is like Jesus, the sacrificial lamb Who is resurrected, ready to receive and claim His beloved for Himself; Rebekah is like the believer who chooses to leave her old life and enter, by faith, into communion with the Lord

For Abraham, part of imparting his God-given responsibility was finding a godly wife who would uphold godly principles instead of leading her family into idolatry and godless ways.

Genesis 24:24 "And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, 'Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.'"

It was the custom at that time for the parents to arrange for the marriage of their children, as is still the custom in some eastern and near-eastern nations today. Most theologians believe the servant in this story was Eliezer, and possibly one of the two servants who had accompanied Abraham and Isaac to Mt. Moriah. He would have had a deep understanding of how important this commission was to Abraham.

Putting the hand under the thigh as an oath was an oriental custom recognizing that the loins were the source of life. Multiplying his seed to be a blessing to the whole earth was one of God's unconditional promises to Abraham. For the servant, it was a representation of being bound in the very deepest part of his life. This was a solemn vow concerning the covenant promises of God.

Abraham had begun the marriage process with what was called
[A] The shiddukin: or "the arrangement," where the father would choose the prospective mate for his child. Most often this process began early in the child's life. Often neither person knew who their father was making arrangements with until the time to agree had arrived. In the same way God the Father loved and foreknew from before the creation of the world those who would be redeemed to eternal life through union with Christ. Think of all the places in scripture where God says He has chosen us since before time.

The Biblical principle in this case is that a believer is not to marry someone who has not committed their life to the Lord Jesus Christ. There can be no fellowship of light with darkness, no harmony, no unity. Abraham refused to even entertain the idea, even though finding a godly wife was going to mean lots of risk, dangers and total reliance on God to bring her safely back to Isaac.

Genesis 24:22 "When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel,[a] and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels..."

He was all ready to offer betrothal gifts to this young woman once she answered his critical question

Genesis 24:23-24 "...and said, 'Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?' She said to him, 'I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.'"

Rebekah invited the servant to their home, assuring him of their warm and capable hospitality for his entire caravan.

Genesis 24:26-27 "The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.'"

[B] Eyrusin: And here began the second stage of the marriage, the betrothal. From verse 22, rings were used as currency in the Middle East before there were coins, and were a sign of a person's wealth. The giving of a betrothal ring was first practiced in ancient times when the groom purchased his bride. The size of the ring showed the wealth of the family.

The ring itself was a symbol of unending love, since the ring has no beginning and no end. This is reminiscent of the Holy Spirit quickening in a believer's heart the call to belief, presenting the pure gold of the gospel, the unending love of God and of eternal life. Think about how the Bible talks about Jesus purchasing us with something far more valuable than even gold – His own life. Rebekah accepted these gifts as the servant worshiped God for the success of his mission.

1) Kinyan

Genesis 24:28-31a "Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, 'Thus the man spoke to me,' he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. He said, 'Come in, O blessed of the LORD.'"

A lawful marriage required an act of kinyan: that the bride be given -- and that she accept -- something of nominal value from the groom. Laban understood that Rebekah had just accepted, however tacitly, a proposal from the servant, so he ran out to invite him into their home to wash his feet, be fed and hopefully describe a little more fully what he proposed, while the camels and the rest of his company were taken care of. In the east you never talk business until after you've eaten.

So it was very unusual for the servant to refuse food until he had delivered the story of his mission. He left nothing out, but was forthright and candid. He began by talking about the glories of Abraham, telling about all his wealth, flocks, herds, silver and gold, servants, camels and donkeys.

Genesis 24:35 "'The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys.'"

Why? Verse 36 "To him he has given all he has." Because this would be the inheritance of Isaac, Rebekah's future husband.

2) Ketuvah At the time of betrothal, a ketuvah, a written notice of intentions, would be presented to the bride and her father by the groom and his father. This ketuvah clearly defined the agreed upon conditions of the covenant being entered. Specifically it detailed the bride price and the other conditions of the marriage.

The ketuvah was much more than the marriage license we acquire today to authorize our legal unions. This contract was initiated by the groom obligating him to his bride. The legal document detailed the groom’s responsibilities to his wife including his promise to serve, support and sustain his bride and denying himself for her good. In a culture that predominately viewed women as property, the document accompanied a monetary obligation in the case of a divorce as well. The ketuvah elevated the woman to a valued companion in life emphasizing the protection of the wife and her welfare in the Jewish community.

Today the contracts are still written in Aramaic and elaborately decorated on high quality parchment. The ketuvah is signed by the groom and two witnesses and preserved by the bride. Tradition held that the bride remained in her father’s house for one year until the wedding, but they were considered man and wife at the signing of the contract. The bride had no conditions or obligations in the contract, but received and held her husband’s commitment as a gift. She only need remain pure until the designated marriage feast at which time the groom would arrive to gather his bride to himself.

The bride at this point had a choice to make. She could accept the ketuvah, or she could walk away. The servant presented his case:

Genesis 24:49 "'Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.'"

Here again is that swirl of currents, God's sovereign will and humankind's genuine free will: God had chosen Rebekah for Isaac, and yet Rebekah was also presented with a choice to make.

As the servant related his story, Rebekah was given an opportunity to observe him closely: a man of integrity, a man of faith and serious intent, his words could be trusted and God was blessing him with clear guidance and success. In the same way the Bible states that once you and I are presented with the Gospel, we have a choice to make: to accept Jesus' offer of salvation from the penalty of sin, to be joined with Him in eternal life, love and be loved by Him forever in heaven, or to reject Him and remain under God's wrath over sin. The Holy Spirit is at work, enlivening your heart to the winsomeness of Christ, and at the same time you are given the choice to make.

More next week.......

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation