Don’t Oppose What God Approves.

But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”Acts 11:4-18 ESV
The first question we have to ask ourselves when reading this section of Luke’s account, is why did he include it? After all, it simply appears to be a retelling by Peter of all that happened while he was in Caesarea. In fact, it is virtually identical to what Luke wrote in chapter 10. But the key difference is the audience to whom Peter is sharing the story of the conversions of Cornelius and all the other Gentiles who had gathered in his house to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter is addressing his fellow apostles in Jerusalem. He is explaining to a room full of Jews what went down in Caesarea. And he is having to do so because he had been accused of wrongly associating with Gentiles. There were some in Jerusalem who, when they had received news of what had happened in Caesarea, where less-than-happy. In their minds, Peter had done the unthinkable. He, a Jew, had mingled with the unclean. He had defiled himself by associating with those whom the Mosaic law declared to be common and unclean. When Peter had arrived back in Jerusalem, rather than rejoicing with him over the exciting news of the conversions of Cornelius and his friends, these men said, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV).
Their response brings to mind the kind of reactions Jesus had received from the religious leaders regarding what they believed to be His questionable choices in relationships.

10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 NLT

For some in the Jerusalem church, the idea of Peter eating with Gentiles was unacceptable. To think that he shared the gospel with them was even more disconcerting. How could he do such a thing? Well, Peter goes out of his way to tell them. He explains all that had led to his decision to make the journey to Caesarea. And he makes it clear that this had been God’s decision, not his own. He had simply obeyed orders and followed the divine directions given to Him by God. He recounts the vision he had received from God. And he once again makes note of the fact that the sheet containing all the unclean creatures had descended to him out of heaven. It had come from God’s very throne room, which meant that the very creatures Peter had viewed as unclean and defiled, had come from God’s presence. He had sent them. And at the end of the vision, the same sheet, full of supposedly unclean creatures, ascended back into heaven. And three separate times, God had told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 11:9 ESV).

Notice what God said to Peter. He was very specific in His word choices. God had told Peter that he had “made clean” these once unclean animals. The Greek word Luke used is katharizō, and it means to cleanse or purify. In a levitical or sacrificial sense, it means to pronounce something clean that has been purified by sacrifice. In a moral sense, it means to free something from defilement of sin and from faults (“G2511 – katharizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). God was telling Peter that He had made a divine determination to purify what had at one time been considered unclean. He had done it. God had declared the creatures to be clean. He had passed judgment and declared His decision. And He had expected Peter to accept it.

And the vision had been just that: A vision. It had been a visual tool used to teach Peter a real-life lesson regarding Gentiles and his view of them. God was about to let down a sheet full of unclean creatures, in the form of Cornelius, his family members and friends. But God had cleansed them through the sacrifice of His Son. Their sin debts had been paid for on the cross. They had once been defiled by their sin and separated from God as a result of their impurity, but God had done something to redeem and restore them. He had sent His Son to die for them. And long before Peter and his six companions had made the trip to Caesarea, God had already chosen those who would be saved there. And Peter was not to call common what God had already made clean. God had chosen to remove the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, wrote of this important determination on God’s part.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT
The gospel was not reserved just for Jews. Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but He had become the Savior of the world. And once again, Paul describes that what Jesus did on the cross had opened up the doors of heaven to all – both Jews and Gentiles.

13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:13-14 NLT

Peter had seen this happen first-hand. He had seen God bless the Gentiles with the same blessing He promised to Abraham. He had watched in amazement as the Holy Spirit filled those Gentile converts and empowered them in the very same way He had the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And Peter could only say, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what he had witnessed in Caesarea had been of God. His vision, Cornelius’ vision, the coming of the Spirit, the gift of tongues – it had all been evidence of God’s divine hand. And he had no desire to stand opposed to the will of God.

And Luke simply records that when the Jewish believers in Jerusalem “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:18 ESV). Like Peter, they saw that this was of God and that they had no business standing in opposition to what God had predetermined to do. If He had decided to deem Gentiles worthy of receiving the gospel, who were they to stand in His way.

As we will say later in Luke’s account, many of the same individuals who had called Peter to task over his association with Gentiles, would raise their voices again in protest over the growing movement to convert Gentiles to the faith. In fact, in chapter 15, we will see where Paul and Barnabas are accused of not requiring circumcision of all Gentile converts. Luke records, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5 ESV). These men were teaching that Christianity was nothing more than a kind of reformed Judaism. They were demanding that all the requirements of the Mosaic law be kept in order to any Gentile to be accepted as a true believer. This matter will come up repeatedly in the later chapters of Luke’s account, as we see Paul and others continue to spread the good news regarding Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

There were those who could not accept what God was doing. It went against their preconceived notions of religious right and wrong. They had put God in a box and determined that there was only one way for people to have a right relationship with Him – and that was through some form of law-keeping or adherence to a set of religious rules. But Paul, the apostle who spent his life ministering the gospel to the Gentiles, would later write:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. – Romans 3:27:30 NLT

Peter and Paul were ministering in a new day. The rules had changed. The Redeemer had come. The way of salvation had been paved by the blood of Jesus Christ. No more hopeless attempts to try and live up to God’s holy standards on your own. No more need for physical circumcision. God was circumcising hearts and setting apart a people for His own, whom He had declared to be clean. And that would include Jews and Gentiles.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Devoted to Good Works.

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all.  – Titus 3:12-15 ESV

As Paul wrapped up his letter to Titus, he let his young friend know that he was sending help. Either Artemas or Tychicus would be arriving to assist Titus with the work there on Crete. They would provide much-needed assistance in accomplishing Paul’s goals for the work there, but their presence would also allow Titus take some time off so that he might join Paul in Nicopolis. Paul thought very highly of Titus and looked on him like a son. Paul would be taking a break from his many missionary travels, and spending the winter in Nicopolis. Having Titus there would allow Paul ample time to provide further instruction and encouragement face-to-face rather than by letter. There was likely much that Paul still had to say to Titus and he was looking forward to delivering what he had to say to his friend in person.

Paul also instructed Titus to send Zenas and Apollos on their way. These two men had evidently been on Crete assisting with the spread of the gospel. But Paul encouraged Titus to allow them to leave so that they might take the gospel elsewhere. We know something about Apollos from the book of Acts.

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. – Acts 18:24-25 ESV

Aquilla and Priscilla, two other disciples of Jesus, took Apollos under their wing and gave him further instructions on the gospel and the ways of God. They also helped him network with other Christians in Achaia, where he went and proved to be very helpful in convincing the Jews there of the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.

We know little of Zenas, only that he was a lawyer. This could mean that he was an expert in the Mosaic law, but it is more likely that, because of his Greek name, that he was a literal lawyer, having a thorough knowledge of Greek or Roman law. Paul urged Titus and the believers on Crete to take care of these two men and to send them on their way with all the provisions they may need for their journey. Paul had strong opinions about the care of those who helped spread the gospel, and he derived those opinions from Scripture. He wrote to the believers in Corinth, reminding them that he and Barnabas deserved to be cared for as messengers of the good news.

What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. – 1 Corinthians 9:7-10 NLT

Paul was simply stating that those who spent their lives spreading the gospel deserved to be cared for by the congregations to which they ministered. And Paul went on to tell the Corinthians, “In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it” (1 Corinthians 9:14 NLT).

And Paul demands that the Cretan not be stingy in their support of Zenas and Apollos. He told Titus to “see that they lack nothing” (Titus 3:13 ESV). Much of what Paul has addressed in this letter has had to do with good works – those visible manifestations of the inward change that has taken place in the life of a believer. And he ends his letter with a very tangible example of what those good works should look like. By supporting Zenas and Apollos, the Cretans would be living out their faith and revealing to the lost world around them a concrete example of the love of Christ. Paul told Titus, “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive” (Titus 3:14 NLT). The Greek word translated as “unproductive” is akarpos and it means “without fruit” (“G175 – akarpos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon describes it as meaning “destitute of good deeds.” For a believers to refuse to meet the urgent needs of others would be like an apple tree refusing to bear fruit. It would be useless, having failed to do what it was created to do. Paul told the Ephesians, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). Even Jesus Himself, in His Sermon on the Mount, described the life of the believer as one marked by good deeds.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” – Matthew 5:14-16 NLT

As far as Paul was concerned, the believers on Crete were to be devoted to good works. The Greek word he used was proïstēmi and it literally means to “stand over.” But it carries the idea of presiding over something. They were to care for and protect the practice of good works, knowing that it was their God-given responsibility to live our their faith and in doing so, bring glory to God. We are to do good works, not in order to receive glory from God, but to bring Him glory. We practice a life of good works, because we have been created and redeemed to do so. Man and woman were created to fulfill the will of God, but the fall marred that plan. Instead of doing good works, we sinned. And the book of Genesis reminds us of just how bad it had gotten.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

But God sent His Son in order that man might be restored to a right relationship with God and be freed from slavery to sin. Because of His death on the cross, men and women can be redeemed and provided with the power to accomplish the good deeds they were originally created to do. And when we do, we bring glory to God. Our good works are evidence of the life-transforming power of the gospel. Our good works provide proof of our having been saved by God and of our ongoing sanctification, made possible by His indwelling Spirit. We exist for the good of others and the glory of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Such Were Some Of You.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV

Throughout his letter so far, Paul has been emphasizing the kind of conduct or behavior that believers should model. Their unique status as children of God came with non-negotiable expectations that their life should reflect His character. They had been “called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:9 ESV), and had been given the Holy Spirit to live within them. And as Paul had mentioned in the opening of this letter, as the body of Christ, they lacked none of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1:7). All of these factors should have resulted in true life change, and it had. But they were still struggling with pride, jealousy, and a tendency to view life from their former perspective as unbelievers. Their new natures in Christ had not yet replaced their old tendencies. Which is what led them to settle their disputes in court rather than within the body of Christ. They were thinking more like pagans, than believers. Their focus was on this world instead of the next. They were motivated more by selfishness than selflessness. At this point, their faith in Christ was little more than an add-on, a convenient option that provided them with forgiveness of sins and eternal security, but did little to change the way they lived their lives in the here-and-now.

This is what leads Paul to remind them, “that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9 ESV). He then describes the unrighteous as “Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). These behaviors are characteristic of the lost. And this list should have resonated with the believers in Corinth, because Paul immediately reminds them, “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11a ESV). Paul speaks in the past tense, emphasizing that this was their former condition. It was how they used to live. But something had happened. Their old way of life had been radically changed when they placed their faith in Christ. Paul tells them that as a result of God’s gracious gift of salvation made possible through His Son, “you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11b NLT). Again, he uses the past tense, indicating that these things have already happened. They had been cleansed by God from their former sins, declared to be righteous before Him, and set apart by Him for His use. This is exactly what Paul had written to them in the opening chapter of his letter: “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin” (1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT).

But their salvation was not yet complete. God’s work in them was not finished. God had declared them to be righteous because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, now they needed to live righteously. God had made them holy, setting them apart as His possession, now their lives needed to reflect their holy standing. He had cleansed them from sin, forever delivering from the penalty of death under which they had lived. But through His Holy Spirit, God had given them the capacity to live free from the power of sin in their daily lives. While they were still fully capable of greed, envy, idol worship, sexual immorality, theft, drunkenness and virtually any and all of the sins listed by Paul in these verses, these sins were no longer characteristic of who there were. They were sons and daughters of God. They had been redeemed. They were new creations. They had new natures. As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). This message of new life was a recurring them for Paul. He told to the believers in Rome, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives” (Romans 6:4 NLT).

Salvation not only offers a future reward, it guarantees a real and radical transformation in the here-and-now. Our sanctification or growth in holiness is ongoing. We are constantly dying to our old way of life and being reformed into the likeness of Christ. And this will continue until, as Paul puts it, “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19 ESV). It will not stop until we are “mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). And this transforming process will continue until we are glorified by God and given new bodies, free from sin and no longer held captive to the threat of death. The apostle John encourages us with these words: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). In the meantime, we have been given the privilege, power and responsibility to live our lives in keeping with our standing as God’s children. We are to lead lives worthy of our calling by God (Ephesians 4:1). We are to live in a way that honors and pleases God (Colossians 1:10). “So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9 NLT). We were once sinners. Now we are saints. But we must learn to live like what we are. Our lives must reflect the true nature of who we have become in Christ.

Chosen by God.

And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God. – 2 Samuel 7:23-24 ESV

2 Samuel 7:18-29

David knew that he was the recipient of God’s grace. He had been hand-picked by God to be the king of Israel. Not because he somehow deserved it or had earned the position, but because God chose him from among all his brothers. The only thing we know about David is what God had Samuel, the prophet, tell King Saul. “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). The apostle Paul adds to what we know about David. “And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will’” (Acts 13:22 ESV). David had a willing and obedient heart, but that is not why God chose him. Like all men, David had a sin nature, which his life’s story chronicles all too well. So God did not choose him because he was perfectly obedient and sinless. God did not choose him because he was great or because of his great accomplishments. The truth is, when Samuel went to Jesse’s house to look for a replacement for King Saul, Jesse paraded all of his sons before the prophet, but had left David out tending sheep in the fields. He was an afterthought even for his own father. But not for God. And as significant as the idea of having been chosen by God might have been to David, he was even more keenly aware that God had chosen the people of Israel. David saw himself as just a small part of a much bigger picture.

David did not take it lightly that Israel was “the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people”. He had done great and awesome things for them, including having set them free from captivity in Egypt and having helped them conquer the land of Canaan so they could possess it as their own. Out of all the nations on the earth, God had chosen Israel. Centuries earlier, He had hand-picked Abram, an obscure individual who lived in the distant land of Ur. We are not told in Scripture why God chose Abram. It doesn’t even indicate that he was a follower of God when he was chosen. It simply tells us that God called him and committed to bless him. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV). From this one man and his barren wife, Sarah, God would create the nation of Israel. God would fulfill His promise to Abram and create a mighty nation. Then years later, when that nation found itself living in captivity in the land of Egypt, God would rescue and redeem them, setting them free and establishing them as His prized people. He would give them His law and eventually their own land, committing to live among them and be their God. Not because they deserved it. In fact, God told them, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV).

God had chosen Abram. He had chosen the people of Israel. He had chosen David. Their single claim to fame was the fact that God had set them apart as His own. Their choosing was God’s doing. It had been undeserved and unmerited. And David fully comprehended that fact. His only claim to fame was that God had chosen him. His significance lie in the reality that He had been set apart by God for God. God had chosen to be his God. And the apostle Paul reminds us that our relationship with God is based on the same reality. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV). And he goes on to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). He describes us as God’s workmanship. Our beauty and value come from God having chosen us. Our worth is derived from our position as His possession. We belong to Him and that is what gives us worth. Our value as His possession should motivate us to live accordingly. Paul put it this way: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV).

Delivered. Transferred. Redeemed. Forgiven.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

Colossians 1:9-14

Those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior can be some of the most ungrateful people on the planet. For all that God has done for us, we can easily find ourselves taking it all for granted. It is so easy to treat our salvation with a certain degree of complacency. If we’re not careful, our status as God’s redeemed ones can lose its wonder. The reality of our forgiveness from sin – all sin – can lose its overwhelming significance. And Paul knew that, which is why he prayed that we would have God’s power in our lives and experience the joy of His presence. He knew that, while our initial salvation was important, our ongoing sanctification was just as crucial to our relationship with God. We are to grow in our knowledge of God. While salvation introduced us to the God from whom we were alienated due to our sin, it was not to stop there. We are to “grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). And that happens only as we are “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 ESV). It is the knowledge of God’s will that allows us to live in such a way that pleases Him. It is what produces fruit in our lives and allows us to know God better and better. And that growing knowledge of God produces joy and an attitude of gratitude for all He has done. For most of us, the length of time between our salvation and our ultimate glorification, when we will see God face to face, is going to be relatively long. It is in the space which some have called the “gospel gap” that we must be careful. We must never lose sight of the fact that God has qualified us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12 ESV). He has literally “rendered us fit” for glory. We have all we need to get into heaven, right now. We have all we need to come into His presence, at any time. We have Christ’s righteousness. There is nothing more we need to do, except grow in our knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

Here’s the part Paul does not want us to miss: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” It’s a done deal. He has delivered us. He has transferred us. He has redeemed and forgiven us. That reality should produce in us an overwhelming sense of gratefulness. He has done for us what we could have never done for ourselves. I think that is what it means to “grow up into salvation.” The longer we spend time on this earth as believers, the greater our appreciation for what God has done for us should grow. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we also grow in the awareness of our own weakness and propensity to sin. We should see our sin in stark contrast to His holiness and be increasingly amazed that He has delivered, transferred, redeemed and forgiven us. We didn’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it. We could never repay Him for it. But we can be thankful and ever mindful of what He has done. We can remember the unbelievable gift He has provided through the death of His Son on our behalf. We can also live our lives with a sense of peace, knowing that our future is secured. We can know beyond a shadow of a doubt “that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

We have been delivered, transferred, redeemed and forgiven. God has done all that for us. Jesus Christ made it possible for us. And the reality of it should never be taken for granted by us. Every time we struggle with sin, we must remind ourselves that we have been delivered from the domain of darkness. We are no longer slaves to sin. Every time we feel like this world is our home, we must remind ourselves that we have been transferred into the Kingdom of His Son. We are citizens of another realm. Every time we feel the need to earn favor with God and pay Him back for our sins, we must remind ourselves that He has already redeemed us with the blood of His own Son. Each and every time we sin we must remind ourselves that we are already forgiven. That sin has been paid for. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. All we have to do is confess it and enjoy the forgiveness that has already been made available to us. Confession doesn’t earn us forgiveness, it simply allows us to take advantage of the it. All of this should amaze us. It should constantly astound us. It should never be treated complacently by us. “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT).

Romans 1:1-17

Right With God.

Romans 1:1-17

This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:17 NLT

It’s not hard to tell what Paul has on his mind as he launches his letter to the believers in Rome. Seven times in seventeen verses he brings up the topic of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This was a favorite topic of Paul’s and he never grew tired of writing and talking about it. But his interest was far more than academic. The Good News truly was great news to Paul because it had transformed his life in a real and radical way. At one time he had been a paid persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ, arresting Christians and throwing them in prison. He was determined to destroy Christianity and everyone who confessed to follow the teachings of Jesus. He was on his way to the city of Damascus to continue his personal vendetta against “The Way,” when he had a personal encounter with the resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His recounting of the story is recorded in Acts 26, where he is on trial before King Agrippa. “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the son shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’

“‘Who are you, lord? I asked.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.'” (Acts 26:12-18 NLT).

At that moment, Paul’s life was radically changed and he would never be the same man again. He became one of the greatest witnesses for the transforming power of Christ and spread the message of the Good News found through faith in Christ throughout the known world of his day. Paul knew the power of the Good News. He had experienced it first hand. He had been called and commissioned by Jesus Himself to tell of this Good News to each and every person he met, and he did so unashamedly and unapologetically. The essence of the Good News and what makes its message great is that it contains the key to men being made right with God. Paul knew that apart from the Good News, there was nothing but bad news in store for all men and women. Throughout this letter, Paul would remind his readers over and over that there was only one way for them to be made right with God. And it was through faith in Jesus Christ. No amount of good works, religious efforts, or behaviorial change would fix what was wrong between them and God. They were all sinners and all faced the same dire prognosis. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT). They all faced the same fate. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a NLT).

But Paul had Good News. “…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b NLT). The Good News was that God had provided a way for men to be restored to a right relationship with Him. He had provided a solution to the problem of sin and the penalty of death. He had sent His own Son to die in the place of men, sacrificing His own sinless life in order to pay the penalty for their sins and satisfy the just demands of a holy, righteous God. And all anyone had to do was accept the reality of that fact and believe it to be true for them – by faith. Paul will spend the rest of his time in this letter, painting the very real picture of the bad news and proclaiming the unbelievable reality of the Good News. This letter will be deeply personal, incredibly theological and highly practical. It will reveal the incredible mind of the apostle Paul and his passionate desire to see all believers grow in their knowledge of Christ and experience the full scope of the life-changing nature of the Good News. Read it slowly, thoughtfully and deliberately. Ask God to give you a deeper love and appreciation for the Good News than you have ever had before.

Father, make the Good News truly great in our lives. Don’t let us become complacent about this greatest of all gifts. Drive into our minds the reality of the bad news so that we might better appreciate the unbelievable beauty of the Good News. We have been made right with You and we played no part in it whatsoever. Don’t let us take that for granted. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 102 – Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26

Spiritual Obligations.

Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26

“Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” – Luke 20:25 NLT

In just a few days from now, all American citizens who receive wages in compensation for work done, will be required to file their income tax with the federal government. It will be tax day in the good old U.S.A. There will be those who put it off, others who have filed months ago, and those who refuse to file at all. Some of us will owe more and a happy few will get refunds, having lent our money to the federal government, interest free, for the last twelve months. But it’s probably safe to say that none of us actually enjoy filing our taxes. We see it as a necessary evil and a burdensome obligation. We do it because we have to. It’s required by law and that law carries some pretty stiff penalties for those who choose to ignore it.

Taxes were no different in Jesus’ day. In fact, they were worse. The Romans levied heavy taxes on the Jews. On top of that, the Jewish tax collectors added their own exorbitant fees. And then there was the Temple tax that every Jew had to pay, which in actuality, was used to support the lavish lifestyles of the priests themselves. These men lived in luxury while the average Jew barely made ends meet. In his book, “The Message and the Kingdom,” Richard Horsley writes, “…impressive archeological remains of their Jerusalem residences show how elegant their life style had become. In spacious structures unhesitantly dubbed ‘mansions” by the archeologists who uncovered them in the 1970’s, we can get a glimpse of a lavish life in mosaic floored reception rooms and dining rooms with elaborate painted and carved stucco wall decorations and with a wealth of fine tableware, glassware, carved stone table tops, and other interior furnishings and elegant peristyles.” This staggering combination of tax obligations were overwhelming to the Jewish people, making everyday life practically unbearable and the very mention of taxes intolerable. Palestine was a veritable powder keg waiting to ignite and, according to Jewish historian, Josephus, the refusal of the Romans to lessen the tax burdens would result in the Jewish War and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

By now we know that the Jewish religious leadership were looking for any and all opportunities to trick and trap Jesus in order that they might have Him arrested and eliminated. They were certain that it was just a matter of time before He said something that got Him into trouble with the people or with the Roman authorities. If they could get Him to say something the people would disagree with, He would lose His popularity and His growing following. If they could trick Him into saying something that could be taken as divisive or potentially anti-Roman, then they could enlist the aid of the government in getting rid of Him. So they send some “spies pretending to honest men” (Luke 20:20 NLT). In other words, they didn’t come dressed as priests, Pharisees, or religious leaders. They disguised themselves as average Jews, hoping to blend in with the crowd and catch Jesus off-guard and unprepared. Their question was well-planned and had a clear motivation behind it. “They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). After attempting to butter Him up with false flattery, they ask their question: “Now tell us – is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:22 NLT). But Luke makes it clear that Jesus saw through their ruse and He knew they were trying to trick Him. So He asked for a Roman coin. This coin would have had Caesar’s image on it, which Jesus got them to acknowledge. Then He told them, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25 NLT). The simple interpretation of this passage would be to say that Jesus is simply encouraging civil obedience. The people of God must be good citizens. They must set a good example, even if the government is corrupt and oppressive. But I think Jesus has an even more important point to His statement. It is interesting that He points out the fact that the Roman coin carried the image of Caesar, the Roman emperor who was also considered a god by his own people. Jesus tells them to give this coin to Caesar. It is stamped with his image and so belongs to him. But Jesus also stated that they were to give to God what belongs to God. What is stamped with God’s image? Back in the book of Genesis, we read, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NLT). Every good Jew would have known this story and would have understood what Jesus was saying. Men and women are made in the image of God. They are stamped with His image. Therefore, they belong to Him. Jesus seems to be saying, that instead of worrying about the temporal things of this world, like money and taxes, the people needed to give themselves to God and His Kingdom. All the way back in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT).

Not only were those in Jesus’ audience that day made in the image of God, but as Jews, they had been chosen by God as His special people. They had been handpicked by God and then redeemed out of slavery in Egypt. They were His people, His prized possession. He had told them, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT). These people had been oppressed and burdened before, and God had rescued them. They were being oppressed and burdened now, but it had far less to do with taxes than it did with sin. God wanted to rescue and redeem them from slavery to sin and death, which is why He had sent His Son. But their minds were elsewhere. They saw their burdens as earthly, not spiritual. They wanted a Messiah to rescue them from taxes and the tyranny of the Romans. But Jesus had come to rescue them from a life enslaved to sin and a sentence of death.

Jesus wanted these people to give to God what was rightfully His – their lives. He wanted them to turn over their lives to the very one who could save them. Jesus stood before them as the very Son of God and their Messiah. He was the answer to their problem, but they failed to recognize Him. Jesus had not come to foment insurrection, but to provide salvation. He had not come to lead a revolt against Rome, but to provide restoration with God. His was a spiritual revolution, not an earthly one. And He was subtly reminding His listeners that God, in whose image they were made, required what was due Him. And just as Caesar would punish any and all who refused to pay his mandatory tax, God would punish any and all who refused to give Him what belonged to Him. God had warned the people what failure to obey Him would result in. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him” (Deuteronomy 7:9-10 NLT). As believers, we have a spiritual obligation to God. He has made us and He has redeemed through the precious, priceless blood of His own Son. Our lives are not our own. We belong to Him because He has paid for us at a great price. He has redeemed us from slavery to sin and made us His own. We are stamped with His image and so we should “give to God what belongs to God” – our very lives.

Father, how easy it is to get consumed with the things of this world. We live surrounded by material things and it seems as if that is all that matters at times. But we are spiritual creatures who are eternal in nature, not temporal. We have been created in Your image and therefore, we belong to You. On top of that, we have been bought with the blood of Your Son and we are rightfully Yours. All You ask in return is that we give to You what rightfully belongs to You – our lives. Help me continue to learn each day what that means and how that looks. I want to give to You what belongs to You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men