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Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Commandments of Jesus Part One

Note to my usual blog readers: I am aware most of my readers will not be aquainted with my faith related blogs. You are more than welcome to continue reading if you are curious about my beliefs but I make no apologies if this does not meet what you may be used to from my corner of the bloggerverse! This particular series marks the beginning of an e-book I am writing reflecting aspects of Christ's teachings that I feel are neglected in modern churches today....


These days, in the churches I’ve attended at least, there is a tendency to recoil from a brother or sister who talks about “Commandments” and with an accusing finger say, “Get thee out from under the law!”

As an example I was once asked whether I thought Smoking was a sin. I thought about it for a bit and decided, based on my finite understanding of Scripture, that yes it must be. So in the most non-judgment way possible (or so I thought) I vlogged my thoughts on this tricky subject on YouTube and explained why I thought it was still a sin to smoke.

I have never been satisfied with my answer exactly, but I did the best I could and tried to point out that even though I thought it was a sin that as Christians we were undergoing the process of sanctification and we should not judge one another because in truth we all have one thing or another that God is dealing with in our lives. Paul puts this more sublimely than I do of course, in the first verse of Romans Chapter 2 – You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things! Never the less I failed miserably and received a barrage of negative remarks from angry spiritual siblings slapping me with Scripture as if by the proverbial gauntlet, quoting things like, “It’s not what goes into a man’s mouth that makes him unclean but what comes out of his mouth” and “We’re saved by grace not by the law…”

Looking back I realize that were the question “Will smoking keep a believer out of the Kingdom of Heaven?” I most definitely would have answered differently. Because yes indeed, we are saved by Grace and not by works lest any man should boast.

But how on earth did we, the Western Church, come to this point where we act as if Grace has somehow turned Sin into Not-sin. We may be saved by Grace but that does not exempt us from living a righteous life in any way, shape or form. Grace makes it possible for us to finally do good deeds for the right reasons, so that men may see our good deeds and praise our Father in Heaven as Jesus said in Matthew 5:16. Rather than do them to earn brownie points with God, which we can’t, we do them because by doing them we actually prove that we have faith. (James 2:17)

In fact, if we call ourselves Christians and state boldly that we are saved by Grace and not by works; the natural consequence is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which results in a real desire to live a life worthy of Christ. Because the Holy Spirit lives in us we no longer find satisfaction in the sinful things we used to so easily derive pleasure from before we were saved! May I be so bold to say that if you have “become a Christian” and still do the sinful things you used to do with wild abandon while feeling not even the slightest bit of remorse over grieving the Holy Spirit then I ask you to sincerely and prayerfully examine how genuine your conversion actually was!

This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the life in the Spirit that Paul talks about in Romans 7 & 8 where we learn about having been released from the law to now live according to the Spirit. But being released from the law does not mean, as some seem to think it means, that we are now free to do whatever we want, it just means that where the law was once our master, for through the law we became aware of Sin, we now serve the Holy Spirit as our Master, to lead us on the straight and narrow and guide us into doing the right thing.

A popular thing to say in Church today is, “Don’t be religious, Jesus hated religion!” It’s a true statement but I’m skeptical over whether people mean it in the correct way. Too often I have seen brothers and sisters being persecuted (by other believers) because of their dedication to Holiness under the guise of stamping out the “religious spirit” amongst us. Many times I have found things going on in a Church that will have no Scriptural basis and upon pointing it out I’m given the old line about being legalistic.

In a nutshell I am saying the modern, Western Church has turned Grace and the biblical warnings against religious attitudes on their heads, thus removing the balance we need in order to survive the Christian walk. Jesus said to resist the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, two groups representing two distinct attitudes towards God’s Word in Christ’s day. The Pharisees preached ultra-religion, the kind only a Religious Super Hero could hope to achieve. The Sadducees, on the other hand, took a more liberal approach to Scripture and did not take it seriously, not even believing in the Resurrection, as an example. I think what is happening in the Church today is we have been taught to resist the yeast of the Pharisees but who is warning us against the yeast of the Sadducees? We cut and paste the word of God to suit our lifestyle as if the Bible was like a social network profile in which you choose what goes on the newsfeed and cleverly delete, hide or ignore the things you don’t want to keep. If you go to a Church like that, where those with a “religious” attitude are laughed at or mocked, look for the Sadducees. Can you find them?

No doubt there are religious nutcases out there who really are Pharisaical in their approach to the Faith, to the point where their name and Faith become a veritable oxymoron! But the easiest way to tell the Pharisees from the Sadducees is to hold their views against Scripture and see whether it measures up. The Pharisees were famous for adding to Scripture, as Jesus put it “teaching as doctrine rules taught by men.” (Mark 7:7) While the Sadducee approach was to take away from the Word. (Matt 22:23-33)

I would suggest that many Christian’s today are scared of the Word. They’re scared not because they don’t understand it, but because they’ve been taught by their leaders not to be religious, not to be legalistic and have had the t-shirt of Grace put on them backwards, so that the very act of regularly reading the Word becomes a sort of religious deed that goes against the type of Christianity that they are trying to live out!

You don’t go into a cave without a torch. And yet let me tell you that this world is the darkest of caves and the Word is the only lamp for your feet. A Christian who doesn’t read his Bible is like a Doctor who never went to medical school! A man going into battle doesn’t get laughed at and ridiculed for putting on his armor! Yet we laugh at those among our congregations who choose to “religiously” commit themselves to the commands of Christ. It’s almost a joke, except it’s not funny.

One book of the Bible that I have paid particular attention to in recent times is the book of Matthew and lately there has been one line that Jesus stated that I can’t get over. We call it the great commission, when he declares that all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given him, therefore, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”That last line flashes like lightening on the page every time I meditate on it. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Jesus is literally talking about commandments here and yet in the church today we have it drummed into us that we are not under the law!

Could it be that living by the Spirit has something to do with keeping the Commandments of Christ? Could it be that the Law of Moses taught us what Sin was but the law of Christ teaches us to live by the very Spirit of that law? In John Chapter One we read that the Law was given through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. So often we have been taught about the grace that came through Jesus but what of that truth that John mentioned? What are the Commandments of Christ anyway?

And so I have begun a quest.

Over the next however long it takes I am going to go through the Gospels in particular (and Revelation) and look for those imperatives, those commandments that Jesus taught his followers in order to get an idea of whether we are indeed following his law and according to his last words before leaving the Earth – teaching everyone to obey everything I have commanded you.As I go I will update this blog with a new commandment and invite you to join me on this journey and regularly revisit this page to see the work as it progresses, and by all means, share it with your friends that we may teach everyone to obey everything he commanded.

The First Commandment: Rejoice and be glad (Matt 5:12)

Specifically for those who are being persecuted because of Righteousness. A true believer will on some level face persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Jesus commands us to Rejoice at such a time because great is our reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before us.

I am greatful that Jesus gives a reason to obey this commandment because he links the good deeds of a believer with our rewards in Heaven. While our good deeds will not save us (Christ did that for us) our good deeds will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ where we will be rewarded for that which we did for him. This is worth meditating on before you fall into the trap of believing Grace to be your get out of jail free card the next time a sinful opportunity presents itself!

This commandment is about having the right attitude in the face of hostility. The Word gives us the tools we need to carry it out by reminding us in Romans 5:2-5 that “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Also in Romans Paul considers that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18) Again in Romans 8:28 we are reminded that for those who love God all things work for good. Not some things, not just the good things – all things. We are able to Rejoice and be Glad as Jesus commanded because we are able to look beyond the present into a future of insurmountable glory for all eternity, understanding that whatever we may face in the present is just for a little while.Rejoicing comes before being glad. It seems arbitrary but I believe the action of rejoicing produces the physiological changes necessary to be glad.

To prove my point let me share a small testimony with you, that while not about persecution as such it does prove the immediate benefits of obeying this commandment.

Earlier this year, I found myself overwhelmed with debilitating bouts of depression. I had had a history of clinical depression but that was mainly in my early 20’s during a period in which I had turned my back on God and my entire life crumbled around me. I came back to the Lord after drifting in that spiritual wasteland for nearly a decade and am glad to say most of my depression lifted. So to suddenly find myself drowning in the rapids of despair, as a Father of 2, happily married with a stable job, and with no visible reason to be depressed, was very distressing! As much as I prayed for it to lift, or thought about it, or talked about it I still found myself waking up every morning not wanting to get up. Ever.

I am greatful that the Lord has given me some very mature Christian friends because when I shared my personal torment with them over coffee one morning one of them simply asked, “Have you praised God for it?” Which led me to realize that God will mould every harrowing experience in our lives to his purposes and for our good, which gives us the ability to thank him and give him the appropriate praise in advance for how he will do this!

I then militantly took time out every day to praise God for my depressed state and every moment of the day when something got to me, I thanked God for that thing and within a very short space of time I found myself coming out of the mess of ill emotions I was flailing in and into a state of gladness like I had not felt in a very long time. It was indeed the first time in my Christian experience that I understood that rejoicing and praising God is not about singing songs on Sunday; it’s about giving God praise for everything because in so doing you are acknowledging that he is in control of your life and along will come the endurance, the character and the hope promised by Paul in his letter to the Romans.

Rejoice and be glad!
As an afterthought - In the Western Church today there has been a great tendency toward what we call Seeker Sensitivity. I don't like it. We have laid Sin, Repentance, The Purpose of the Law, the Blood of Jesus and not to mention Hell on the alter of our desire not to offend or scare away the unsaved, and yet, ironically these were the very things bellowing from our pulpits when most of our populations were still Church Goers. This statement will not make me popular but I would like to suggest to my fellow Western Christians that "Seeker Sensitivity" is nothing more than a smoke screen for fear of persecution. We don't preach these things any more because we are too scared too. We have forgotten Christ's command to Rejoice and be Glad in the face of persecution. Just imagine how much would change if we embraced this one simple commandment and did away with the modern chains that have the church in a stranglehold, too afraid to preach the real gospel anymore? We pray for revival but revival does not come where the gospel is not preached - and the Gospel is about Repentance, it is about the redemptive power of Christ's Blood, and it is about salvation from Hell.

Rejoice and be glad!

Commandment number Two: In the Same Way Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in Heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

As mentioned earlier I sincerely believe that while we understand we are saved by our faith in Christ alone, a natural consequence of our Salvation is that we will desire to do good works for Jesus and live according to his commandments.

In this commandment we see it clear and simple that the purpose of living a righteous life here on earth is that the unsaved may observe our actions and give glory to God.

My heart has cracked every time I have heard a non-believer say they are not a Christian because of an example of Hypocrisy from a so called Believer.

I know it is indeed a cliche that we are the Bible that sinners read, but if its true then keep using it, cliche or no. If we are not putting God first in our lives, if we are committing consistent idolatry or using God's name in vain, are workaholics 7 days a week, dishonoring our parents, hating others, committing adultery overtly or subtly, stealing, lying and coveting and the unsaved can see it, do you really think they will want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Honestly? The best thing about Heaven is there is no sin, if there was then it would actually just be another Hell. Don't you think we owe it to the unsaved by bringing a little bit of Heaven to Earth by living righteous and holy lives?

I was in a situation some years ago where I owned a house with another couple. We shared the upstairs like flat mates while leasing out the flat below. The time came around when we had to do our taxes and the other couple, who weren't Christians, began putting pressure on us not to declare the income we received from our tenants. This made my wife and I very uncomfortable because we did not want to lie, even if it ended up costing us a potential tax refund. In the end we told them that we would not lie, that we intended to declare the extra revenue. We received no end of pressure from them and other outside sources who thought we were being ridiculous. But we stuck to it and in the end we all declared the correct amount for the previous tax year. The result - all four of us received a massive tax return.

I believe that experience served as a valuable witness to the other couple, especially when they shared in the blessing that came from our decision not to lie to the tax man.

I don't say that story to boast, on the contrary, I would rather have not shared it. But I say it here to illustrate how crucial it is that we strive to live out excellent lives for unbelievers to witness. There is absolutely no point in trying to share the Gospel with anyone if they can not see Jesus in you. I don't think God will be the only one spitting us out because of Luke Warmness; I think the unsaved feel the same way.

Of course we can't be perfect, but I'm not saying we must live perfectly and rigidly according to the law for God's acceptance! What I am saying is we should live righteous lives for the sake of those who are perishing so they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in Heaven. See what a massive difference a change in motivation makes to the burden of good deeds? We can try to live holy lives knowing that "though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets back up!"

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven!

Commandment number Three: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. (Matt 5:17)

I think I can safely say that by the Law and the Prophets Jesus is talking about what we have come to know as the Old Testament. In one simple statement Jesus aligns his ministry with the Old Testament Scriptures for he goes on to say that he has not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

So many times I have heard a Christian casually refer to the Old Testament as unimportant or irrelevant. They sort of wave it away and say, “Oh you know, that’s just Old Testament stuff,” As if Jesus somehow came and decided to rewrite what God had already said and call it the New Testament. Sometimes they will do this to justify something in their life that they know is wrong but because the Old Testament said it then it doesn’t matter, because you know, “I’m saved by Grace.”

This is rubbish. It is the Old Testament that validates Christ’s ministry by foreshadowing the Messiah to come. Without the Old Testament the New Testament makes absolutely no sense! We would not know the origin of sin and suffering; we would not even recognize Christ’s credentials or claim to Authority. We would not understand the significance of Christ’s blood or atonement. Sure Paul does a great job of explaining these things but he does so with context to the Old Testament. If we disregard it we cannot hope to even remotely understand what the epistles are really about! As Paul points out, through the law we become conscious of sin.

As a matter of fact most of Jesus’ teaching comes from the Old Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew you often find him preaching from it more than the so called religious leaders of the day to the point where he had to remind them of what the law actually said because they had polluted God’s Law with additions and revisions of their own. He revered the Law. He used the law to show the Rich Young Ruler that he was not perfect, he used the law to show the Pharisees the moral bankruptcy of their traditions, and he used the Prophets to validate his ministry time and time again, one example being when the mob came to arrest him in Gethsemane he says twice in Matt 26:54 and again in verse 56 that everything was taking place that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. It would take an entire book to discuss the 300 plus references to him in the Old Testament let alone the many cases where parallels can be made between events in the Old Testament and the events of Jesus’ life, such as Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac before God stops him at the last minute, an object lesson of the fact that as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son for God but in the last minute God provided a different sacrifice, God would later sacrifice his own Son for Humanity. The Old Testament is full of this sort of thing.

Some Christians ignore the Old Testament because they simply don’t understand it but if you don’t understand something in the Old Testament, put Jesus in there and find out where he fits. Here’s an example. For years I had glossed over Genesis Chapter 5, a whole chapter devoted to recounting the genealogy of Adam to Noah. For years I thought it was a frightfully boring passage not worth reading until I heard Dr Chuck Missler’s commentary of Genesis where I learned that if you took each name in that genealogy and read the names in sequence from Adam to Noah, the meanings of those names actually make up a hidden message that absolutely boggles the mind. Here’s what it looks like:

Adam = Man
Seth = Appointed
Ensoh = Mortal
Kenan = Sorrow
Mahalalel = The Blessed God
Jared = Shall Come Down
Enoch = Teaching
Methuselah = His Death Shall Bring
Lamech = The Despairing
Noah = Rest, or comforth.

Put together these names actually say:

"Man was appointed mortal sorrow but the blessed God shall come down teaching that his death shall bring the despairing rest."

If you don’t understand something in the Old Testament – find Jesus in it and it will totally blow your mind.

The Bible refers to itself as the double edged sword. I would like to suggest that if you only dwell on the New Testament then your sword is blunt on one edge, and therefore useless in the war we fight.

Finally I would like to recall what Jesus said in Matthew 13:52 after preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and asking his disciples if they had undertood all these things, he said, "Therefore, every teacher of the Law who has been instructed about the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." The Teachers of the Law were famous for knowing the Old Testament inside out; armed with the knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus points out that when you visit the Old Testament - you just may find treasure.

Do not think that Jesus came to abolish the law or the prophets.

Cick here to jump to part two in this series...

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