9/22/19 ~ What We Share in Christ II

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Relationships are always a challenge. Being friends with someone takes effort and so, too, does being family. Many times we take those relationships for granted and end up estranged, no longer close as we once were. For those family and friends that we really consider important to us, we make the effort to keep close, to not only maintain, but grow that relationship. The same lesson applies to our relationship with our God and Savior.

What We Share in Christ – 2

As Christians we enjoy a very special relationship with each other and, especially, with Christ. Like any especially close and important connection it is important that we not only maintain but grow that rapport. Let’s look at a few more of the snapshots that God gives us of just how special that connection is.

To begin, we must first remember the constant New Testament lesson that all God’s promises and spiritual blessings are only available to those that are IN Christ. Last week we noticed some of the many lessons of Romans 6 so let’s begin with another important passage on this subject, this time in Ephesians:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

As Romans 6 pointed out, our transition from death to life begins with baptism. So now in Ephesians we again see that, once in Christ, we are made alive (verse 5). In Christ we are raised together with Him (verse 6, again the echo of Romans). The point of all this is to be seated with Christ in Heaven as part of God’s eternal family (verse 6).

It is worth noticing when comparing Romans 6 and Ephesians 2 that God’s marvelous grace is the key to making this transaction complete. Often we hear the nonsense that “if grace saves us, then baptism is not important.” The words of the Holy Spirit in both of these passages makes that a lie. Our baptism is NOT an ACTION we take in saving ourselves by our own power. Our baptism into Christ is entirely a submissive action to God and His will.

We do not baptize ourselves as the Jews did under the Law. Baptism into Christ is ALWAYS in the subjective, we submit to, we allow ourselves to BE baptized. And, in so doing, we die and are buried, and are raised anew, just as our Savior was.

Because we submit to His grace, we are made alive, raised and seated together with Him. This changes everything!

Colossians 3:3 says that our life is now hidden, literally concealed by the life of Christ. Romans 8:17 tells us that this change makes us heirs, co-heirs with Him. As such, we have, again only IN Christ, ALL things, ALL blessings, ALL hope given to us (Romans 8:32).

When we realize all the greatness of God, when we see all the treasures that He possesses, only then do we see how much He freely gives us in Christ.

The real question for us is, Are you IN Christ so that all these promises might be yours?

— Lester P. Bagley

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4/21/19 ~ Grace: God’s Marvelous Gift

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Many years ago, a fellow preacher commented: “We’ve allowed the denominations to steal grace, the cross, and the Holy Spirit from us. It’s high time we got up a posse and got them back!”

He certainly makes an important point as many times Christians can seem bothered by someone wearing a cross or mentioning grace or the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is time for us to remember that those things belong to God and His people and NOT to the false teachers of the world.

Let’s begin with Grace as it is one of those Bible terms that sometimes cause us to cringe. Why? Because, like the cross, we see it misused by others. But to fear God’s grace is to miss out on a marvelous, precious gift that God Himself gives to His children:

Grace: God’s Marvelous Gift

Most of us have treasured memories of a special gift. I still remember the Christmas I got my first bicycle. When morning finally arrived, I couldn’t wait for everyone to get up so I could try out my bike. That gives us a starting point for one of the most amazing and precious, but misunderstood, gifts of God.

What is this thing called grace? God is called a gracious God and we are supposed to show grace to others. In Romans, the word is used 21 times and includes the idea of mercy and kindness. It also includes the concept of freeing from harmful, offensive or sinful things. OK, so much for the dictionary, what does it really mean?

Remember that bicycle? I couldn’t earn it since I had no money. You can be sure my parents were not into buying bikes for all the kids in town. I didn’t receive it because I was so handsome and intelligent. I was given it because of our relationship. My parents bought me what I could not get for myself; they did it because they loved their son.

What saves you? Paul says we are “now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). In saving us, God takes us into His family and as family members, He gives us gifts, the greatest being the gift of salvation (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

Sounds great, but aren’t we saved by baptism or by going to church or by doing lots of religious things? Look back at Romans 3:24, which says redemption is in Christ. How do we get into Christ? Romans 6:3 says we are baptized into Christ. Baptism makes us a part of Christ and thus a part of God’s family. Once we are in God’s family, He gives us gifts.

Can we separate salvation into several steps then isolate one single item as the magic ingredient that saves us? Once isolated can we make it our pill, swallow it and instantly be saved? No, salvation is not like that at all.

Baptism of just “getting wet,” never has and never will save anyone. It’s only useful when combined with the other ingredients that make up salvation. Going to church or living a good life will never save anyone. Only God’s grace can save, and He only gives that to those who accept and obey His will. In so doing they become a part of His family also known as “the church” (see Acts 2:47).

What if I don’t accept? A brother attended a denominational funeral where the preacher claimed that the anyone who is “saved” is going to heaven and there was nothing that they could do to prevent their salvation. Suppose I had run away from home before Christmas and never returned. Would I have still received my present? What if I stayed at home but told my parents that I didn’t like the bike and simply never rode it? You and I do not have to accept God’s gifts. We can refuse to come into His family or, once in it, choose to run away. We could even pretend to be a member of His family while accepting none of our blessings. God forces no one to be saved. Since salvation is a gift, you must want it, accept it, make it your own, or else lose it.

For me? We all need to belong. None of us can survive very long without a sense of belonging; be it to a family, a sports club, a gang, a religious group, whatever. Nothing is worth belonging to more than God’s family. When we are a part of that family, God gives us His grace. No one is ever a second-rate member of His family because all are important to Him.

So let’s get with it. If you don’t belong, then you need to get into the family. If you do belong, you need to act like it and so remain in it. Then you’ll find His grace begins to grow in you. And when His grace grows in you, it will overflow and be shared with others.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (Romans 16:20). Let’s make a point of enjoying and sharing our rich blessings this week!

— Lester P. Bagley

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Creeping and Drifting…

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From the Preacher’s Pen… I once heard of a mayor who firmly believed that traffic warnings were overdone. He was elected just because he felt it excessive to always be telling people how to run their lives and what not to do. So, his solution was to get rid of all the traffic control in his city. No more stop lights, no more stop signs, no more yield signs, no more signs preventing people from driving however they wanted.

As you might expect, things didn’t go well in that town. As traffic snarled and accidents abounded, pedestrians were increasingly run down and people eventually became so angry that they replaced their mayor with one that promised to put the rules back in place and restore order.

Hopefully, you realize the lesson has important parallels for us in God’s word. Let’s look a moment at…

Creeping and Drifting

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about the salvation we share, I felt the necessity to write to you urging you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)

Jude presents an important reminder of the fact that sin does not appear to us dressed up with horns and a pitchfork. Satan and his false-teaching followers know how to creep in without our notice. The warning from God is clear; we must always be on the alert, watchful lest the Devil and his ungodly companions sneak in and cause us to also do wrong.

The NIV renders verse 4 like this: For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Watch out for the dangerous, unnoticed, secretly slipping in ungodly people who are perverting God’s will! Do we get the point?

What is amazing in light of God’s clear teaching is how often someone will suggest that we “let them talk and have their say. After all, won’t everyone recognize false teaching?” Do we really have a God-given responsibility to protect those babes and immature ones in Christ? Let’s check with God on that: Reject a factious [divisive, Paul literally calls them a heretic] person after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11) Paul also warned the elders of the Ephesian church that savage wolves were going to be a threat to the church and that they would be leading people away from salvation (cf. Acts 20:25-30).

God’s lesson for us is important: There is danger out there and it will sneak in and destroy our lives and the Lord’s church if we let it. Be careful, always watchful, always devoted to the truth in God’s word! Okay, as soon as we observe the big bad wolf huffing and puffing at our door, we will immediately stop him and never allow ourselves to be led astray!

The problem with this boast is that God also warns us of another danger… that of drifting. The Hebrew writer warns: …  we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3a)

Danger does not always come with a sign and a warning. Indeed, it is especially deadly when it creeps in. We miss the signs when they are almost unnoticeable. We drift ever so slowly away. It is dangerous simply because it is insidious, easily missed until it is too late.

All the warnings in the world are useless without us first knowing God’s will. Reading your Bible daily is a beginning. Studying intently on your own and with your fellow Christians will help even more. James puts it like this: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22–25)

Be careful not to allow either creeping or drifting into your life for the Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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low either creeping or drifting into your life for the Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/3/18 ~ Degrees of Punishment and Reward

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

A few weeks ago a dear brother and fellow preacher and I were looking at what the Scriptures say about degrees of punishment and reward. It is an interesting study and one that, like everything God teaches us, points us directly to the importance of handling God’s word correctly.

There is really no point in giving the false arguments and wishful thinking of those who disagree with God. So, let’s look at what Scripture actually says about…

Degrees of Punishment & Reward

Reward

To begin with, degrees of reward has virtually no real support. 1 Peter 4:18 is not so much a comment on degrees of reward as it is on the difficulty of salvation, much like Jesus’ lesson of the broad vs narrow ways. It is thus fitting that Peter is also the one to remind us (2 Peter 1:11) that, because of our Savior, our entrance into heaven is NEVER just “barely making it into the pearly gates” but rather is an “abundant” entrance.

Yes, there are several times that Jesus refers to varying rewards. “The five talent man received five more but the two talent man ‘only’ received two more,” you say. On the other hand, Jesus plainly provoked the ire of those who believe in degrees of reward with his lesson in Matthew 20:1-15. There He tells of the one working only the last hour of the day as receiving the same reward as the one that worked longer hours.

The balance between teachings that seemingly suggest greater rewards is offset by those teaching equality of reward for all. So we must conclude, as with any other imagined contradiction in scripture, that the idea of greater rewards is our misunderstanding of God’s point. John describes many of the eternal blessings of heaven (Revelation 21:1-4). But never does he suggest that anyone in heaven receives only some tears wiped away or only some pain removed or only some eternal life. Like Jesus’s example of the talents, the real reward is the gift of God and not to be measured.

Yes, there are plenty of people that see various rewards, some rich and happy in heaven and some miserable, or even temporary punishments to further qualify one for heaven. Since those positions take a lot of work at misunderstanding what God says they rightly belong to the study of denominational doctrines and other false teachings.

Punishment

Degrees of punishment requires a bit deeper study, but again, we have to be careful about the meaning inserted by false teachers. Matthew 12:41–42; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 11:31–32; 20:47 are all passages in which Jesus speaks of “greater condemnation” for some people. Note that it’s not always the same people, so the exact reason for the comparison (hotter seats next to the fires?) is not really stated. We must be careful not to make more than is actually said, since in each case Jesus’ point is that it is worse for you (His subjects) than for everyone else in general.

Two further passages make an interesting lesson as they are often seen as in opposition to each other: James 3:1 is used as a “popular excuse” NOT to teach the Gospel. In contrast, Hebrews 5:12 counters that interpretation by saying maturity in Christ requires ALL to be teachers. Is James perhaps using some of the same sarcasm Jesus often used to suggest that those rejecting Him felt that they “needed” less forgiveness than the “common” sinners? Certainly, James knew that failure to actually obey the “Great Commission” as part of our obedience to the whole of Christ’s teaching would NOT result in salvation!

2 Peter 2:21 is often used to “prove” a worse punishment for those that once were faithful. While they “could” have one of those “seats closer to the fire,” it certainly could also remind us that eternal punishment will certainly be a self-inflicted “worse” for someone knowing for all eternity that they had no excuse of ignorance to fall back on, while that same “ignorance” defense might allow others to feel a bit less tormented.

That last discussion also leads to the oft-debated “ignorance” plea. Will God actually condemn those that do not know His word? God never has accepted the “ignorance” plea as Leviticus 26:14, 18, 27; Deuteronomy 28:15; Romans 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17 all show. His standard has always been much like that of a parent, “did you DO what you were told” and unaccepting of the “I didn’t hear you” excuse.

Jesus made an interesting observation and gives us a bit more to think about in the explanation of a parable dealing with being prepared for Jesus’ return (Luke 12:39-40). When Peter asks about the target of that preparedness parable, Jesus responds with a lesson contrasting faithful servants and unfaithful servants thinking they can get away with something (Luke 12:41-46).

The conclusion Jesus draws is three-fold. First, the slave that willingly fails to obey will “receive many lashes” (Luke 12:47). Second, the slave that did wrong out of “ignorance” will receive “few lashes” (Luke 12:48). Third, the Lord’s final comment on the matter is the reminder that the more we know and are given by God, the more God requires of us (end of Luke 12:48).

Putting all this together brings us to two important lessons:

1) Our reward is based on grace. Our “merit” is that of Jesus who gave His life for us. Thus, the abundance of that inheritance is enjoyed by all because they gave their all. Without giving God our ALL, there is no hope of heaven.

2) Punishment is dealt out to those who do not OBEY the will of Jesus, whatever the excuse. One might well receive a technically lesser punishment for ignorance, but it will never be anything like the reward for obedient service. Spending eternity cheering partial failure is no more a win than any other loss.

There is no second-place finish when it comes to salvation. Either we “fight the good fight… finish the course” and “keep the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7) and receive the same crown prepared for all, or else there is no crown, no win. God’s promises belong to those that faithfully DO His will. What are you doing when it comes to obedience to the Gospel?

— Lester P. Bagley

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