Monday, November 26, 2012

Days Gone By

“Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me.” (Job 29:2)

Why is it that we are so prone to living in the past? Why is it so easy for us to remain shackled to our failure and enamoured by our success at the cost of foregoing victory in the present?

It is a common theme even amongst the great examples of faith in the Bible. Job despaired of his life when calamity hit; Abraham followed his wife’s advice and turned to Hagar (Gen 16) and Elijah despaired of his life after the overpowering evidence of God’s power at Mount Carmel. (1Kings 19)

There is no easy answer to that, but God wants us to live in victorious faith in the present, knowing that “the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” (Ps 100:5) We do well to remember the faithfulness of God in days gone by, knowing that God STILL preserves us today!

-A. N. Scharf

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

God's Vote

“He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle…. He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.” (Job 12:18, 23)

In the aftermath of the recent election in the United States I have heard some very harsh statements made against the elected officials. Many Christians are concerned, and often rightfully so, about the direction western civilization is headed as we see the erosion of many ethics and freedoms. However, as Job declared so long ago, it is God that places those individuals in places of authority. That, then, means that when individuals despise those in authority they are in fact despising God’s authority.

God told Nebuchadnezzar, who was declared by God himself to be the pinnacle of Gentile civilization as a “head of gold” (Daniel 2:38), that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” (Daniel 4:32) Nebuchadnezzar subsequently came to the realization that God “doeth according to his will…among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Daniel 4:35)

As believers we know that God does not change, so it matters not whether the rulers of men come to power by appointment, conquest or election—God is still in control! This, then, brings new meaning to Paul’s words in the book of Colossians. God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated [us] into the kingdom of his dear Son…For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” (Col 1:16)

And yet there is a greater truth that follows—one that should change our whole perspective on the affairs of the kingdoms of men. “He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence.” (Col 1:18) The Son of God—the Lord Jesus Christ—will have the pre-eminence and as believers we are his body the Church that will “reign with him.” (2 Tim 2:12) That is much better than putting our trust in a human leader or the outcome of an election!

-A.N. Scharf

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marvelous Things

I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause: which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number.” (Job 5:8-9)

We have all had the unfortunate experience of discovering that someone is not who we thought they were. Sometimes such discoveries are disappointing, while other times they bring incredible pain and difficulty into our lives, especially when it involves people we love and trust.

It is in such times that the sin of man is juxtaposed in sharp contrast against the holiness of God. While some mistakenly think that God will relax his standard in extenuating circumstances, and others wish he would, it is in fact his unchanging nature that is the anchor for the believer’s soul. We can have complete confidence in God because of the fact that he CANNOT change! Furthermore, God has been revealed to us in the person of his Son “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” (Heb 13:8)

The longer we walk through this world the more we learn the truth written by the Psalmist in Psalm 118:8. “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”

-A.N. Scharf

Friday, November 16, 2012

One Commandment, One Sin

What began as a way to segue back into the subject of law on Good Friday has become what could much more accurately be called a hiatus. However, despite the fact that almost nothing is the same in this world as it was seven months ago, the Word of God stands as sure as ever, its words eternal and its principles timely and applicable to any day or hour.

This morning I was reading once again the account of the foundation of all things—the first few chapters of Genesis. Without that revelation from God surely we would be lost in a labyrinth of imagination and a quandary of speculation, as evidenced by the philosophy of evolution all around us. Furthermore we would have no means to understand the source of the obvious problems in the world around us, that being sin.

If, in fact, the way to God is through keeping a set of rules and regulations, then surely Adam and Eve should have been able to retain God’s favour. After all, they were created with a perfect physical form in an innocent moral state and placed into a garden of incredible beauty and splendour with all their needs freely supplied. They had but one rule to follow, that being abstaining from the fruit of one tree amongst a myriad of choice selections. They, however, did not abide by that one simple commandment, and thus “sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men.” (Romans 5:12)

What hope then do we have of winning God’s favour through law if Adam and Eve, in an environment free from sin, disobeyed God’s ONE commandment, when we live in a world saturated by sin and must keep MANY commandments? None whatsoever!

Our tendency then, is to reduce the number of commandments, and try to convince ourselves that God will overlook some of our deficiencies if we have good intentions or make good moral choices most of the time. Unfortunately God is perfect and holy—that means he requires the same of us to accept us into his presence.

There is, then, only one option: to be like God. There are many in the world today that continue with the lie of Satan put to Eve so long ago “ye shall be as gods” (Gen 3:5) apart from God. That can never be, for God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14) and will never share his glory with another.

God has, however, “made us accepted in the beloved” through Christ his Son! (Eph 1:3-6) Why would we even want to win God’s favour through law when he has given us his Son?

-Andrew N. Scharf

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good Friday

Today—or rather yesterday now in my time zone—was Good Friday. No matter what the historical accuracy of the day is or isn’t, it is nevertheless a day that represents great significance as the accepted commemoration of the death of Christ.

Historically speaking it was actually the 14th of Nisan, a day that was foretold centuries earlier with the first Passover in Egypt when the Israelites were finally released from the bondage of slavery to their Egyptian masters. (Exodus 12) That Passover—and every other one up to the death of Christ—pointed forward to the single greatest event in all of earth’s history, the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled every aspect of the Passover, not to mention a multitude of other prophecies and foreshadows in the Old Testament, when he suffered and died upon the cross of Calvary. The question we might ask is, “Why did it take so long.”

We don’t have to speculate, for the Apostle Paul answers that question for us in Galatians chapter four. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Gal 4:4-5)

The answer is “when the fulness of time was come!” In other words, in God’s perfect timing he “sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” (1 John 1:9) We can live because he fulfilled the law and the prophets and every requirement of a holy God. (Mat 5:17)

Unfortunately our Good Friday does not correspond with the 14th of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, but nevertheless it is a perfect segue into the subject of law, as the verses from Galations 4 and Matthew 5 make obvious reference to the law in regards to the person of Christ.

The Lord Jesus Christ was perfect, holy, and sinless. Not only did he not sin, he COULD NOT sin. In both the Old and New Testaments God is described as being thrice holy—the triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit is spotless in every way, without so much as a shadow of sin in character or deed. “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts.” (Isa 6:3) and “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev 4:8) The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was therefore qualified to fulfill or complete the law.

He did not, however, have to keep the law. Now that statement might be a bit enigmatic, but allow me to use a simple example from the natural world. An apple does not have to expend energy to keep the law of gravity—it has no means to do anything but operate in perfect subjection to that law. When an apple becomes dislodged from the tree on which it grew, it falls to the ground. It does not, and cannot, do anything else.

In like manner, the Lord Jesus Christ, being the Son of God, operated in perfect subjection to the law of God—he could do nothing else. And because of that, we have a Saviour! “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 1:5) Think about that! The MAN Christ Jesus, who is also the Son of God! And as Galations 4:5 says, we have received the adoption of sons, to be “no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Neither are we relegated to second-rate heirs, but we are “joint-heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:17)

Thank God for the gift of his Son!

-Andrew N. Scharf

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Power of Forgiveness

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

I have referenced the passage above before, but it is such a powerful passage that we would all do well to consider it on a daily basis. For this reason I must postpone the consideration of law once again, for without forgiveness there would be no escape from the condemnation of the law.

First of all, I would like to draw your attention to the word “then.” This seems like a rather inconsequential word, but in fact it is of incredible importance because it indicates that Jesus said it AFTER something else. In this case it is after a lot of things, for Jesus said it as he was hanging upon the cross of Calvary.

The worst that man could do to the Son of God had all been done, save for the piercing of his side in John 19:34. In other words, all of man’s hatred and guile against the Lord Jesus Christ was reckoned as ignorance in that one statement by the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) As a result, not one person that has ever lived, before that time or since, is left ineligible to claim the atoning death of Christ for their own salvation.

For centuries much hatred and persecution has been heaped upon the Jews for a statement made to Pilate by the unruly crowd at Jesus’ mock trial. “Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” (Mat 27:25) The Catholic church has a long history of persecuting the Jews, which they have justified based on that sentence the Jews pronounced upon themselves. Even many Reformers, most notably Martin Luther, held views of extreme anti-Semitism, and that vein of hatred continues in Christendom to this day.

However, that statement was also BEFORE the Lord’s declaration of forgiveness on the cross. In fact, it was primarily for the Jews’ benefit that he made that statement because they KNEW he was their Messiah, but rejected him. The gentiles, on the other hand, including the Roman soldiers, were not privy to that knowledge, and so they were truly ignorant of the true import of their actions.

As Christians, then, we have no right or means to hold the Jews responsible for the death of our Lord, for their sentence has been commuted in God’s eyes to manslaughter, for which there is a City of Refuge and pardon at the death of the high priest. (Num 35) The City of Refuge is a subject that I hope to explore at a later date, but in short, EVERY sinner—that is every man, woman and child upon the face of the earth—can claim God's forgiveness in accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

So just how big is the sinner’s offence against God? Just how much is he forgiven when he begs for mercy from Almighty God? The Lord himself illustrates it for us in Matthew 18: 23-35.

“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” (Mat 18:23-27)

How much is ten thousand talents exactly? Well, to put it in perspective, the annual budget of Herod at the time is estimated to have been 2000 talents at the most, and more likely closer to 1000 talents. That man’s debt was 10 times larger than the annual budget of Herod’s entire kingdom! However, even that is hard to conjure in our mind, so let’s convert ten thousand talents to today’s US currency.

A talent is generally accepted to have been 75 lbs, and there are 16 ounces in a pound. If we take today’s gold price of approximately $1650 per ounce, that translates to 19.81 BILLION dollars! That is an inconceivable debt for almost any man to pay, but let’s not forget that this man was a servant—a slave in other words—with no real source of income.

That is what we were! We were slaves to sin that owed an insurmountable debt of incredible magnitude to God with absolutely no means to pay so much as a penny against it! The only thing we can do is throw ourselves upon his mercy, and he will forgive us that debt.

You would think that a man that had been forgiven a debt of such magnitude would be the most magnanimous individual you would ever encounter. However, the subsequent actions of that servant exhibit nothing of the kind.

“But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.” (Mat 18:28-30)

If we are to understand the magnitude of this action, we must understand what 100 pence is. In US currency today it is approximately $16. What? He had his fellow servant thrown in prison for 16 bucks? A sentence, by the way, that was indefinite, for he had no way to pay a cent of it in prison!

To put it in perspective that would be like a Microsoft employee making such a monumental mistake that it cost the company 19.81 billion dollars, but Bill Gates forgave him that debt. In return, that employee went down the hall and had a fellow employee—one who had done nothing against him by the way—thrown in prison because he owed him lunch at Starbucks!

Absolutely unbelievable! Where is the guy’s perspective? Where is his gratitude? Who could possibly do something like that?

I can. You can. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we have been forgiven a debt that we could never pay in an eternity of judgment! Not only that, but the Lord has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6) And what do we do in return? We withhold forgiveness from our family, our friends, and our brethren in Christ. It doesn’t matter what it is—anything that anyone could do against us is so puny it is not even worth considering when held in the light of the debt that we have been forgiven!

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!

-Robert Robinson

Are you holding something against someone—anyone—today? Let it go! And forgive that person. Maybe you haven’t even talked to that individual in a very long time—there is no better time than right now. The other party may not repent, but you MUST extend the offer of forgiveness, just as my precious Saviour did upon the cross of Calvary when he died in my place.

If you do not, you will experience the same thing as the man in Matthew 18:34, for God will deliver you to the tormentors. If you are a true believer you will not lose your salvation, but God will not permit you the assurance of that. If you are holding an unforgiving spirit you have no right to call yourself a child of God, for “if a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 Jn 4:20)

Bitterness is the result of an unforgiving spirit, and it will destroy you. This is a solemn warning to all of us, and we MUST follow its admonition. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Heb 12:15)

-A.N. Scharf

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Salvation is Final

When a sinner falls before the Lord Jesus Christ in humble repentance, that individual takes responsibility for his or her own depravity and sin and accepts the atoning work of Christ as the only means to reconciliation with God. At that moment something amazing happens: salvation. We know that because that is what God’s word tells us. Paul told the despondent jailor in Acts 17: 31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” I have used that verse many times, and will continue to do so, because it is one of the simplest and yet most profound statements found in the Bible, indeed all the books of history combined.

There is no waiting period, no probation, and no penance to pay—it is immediate and complete. However, it is not a reconstitution or rehabilitation of the sinner—that individual in fact receives an entirely NEW nature. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor 5:17)

Our old nature, sad to say, continues to live and we must continually reckon that nature to be in the place of death because he cannot be rehabilitated. He is a sinner by nature and practice. “Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Rom 6:6) We should not serve sin, but sometimes we allow our old nature to wreak havoc in our lives. That is why a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ can still commit sin. “The evil which I would not, that I do.” (Rom 7:19) That is also why John said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

However, the “new creature” in a believer CANNOT sin. That is why John makes a seemingly contradictory statement in the same epistle. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:9) This is entirely the result of God’s grace working in us. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Eph 1:6)

We are accepted by God in Christ! “Where is boasting then? It is excluded.” (Rom 3:27) It is all because of the work of Christ on the cross at Calvary. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5:21)

All believers in the Lord Jesus are made as the righteousness of God! Unbelievable! God is perfect, holy, without spot or blemish. “Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be…even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.” (Rev 16:5,7) We, on the other hand “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Eph 2:3)

How is this change possible? “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” (Tit 3:5) That is such good news because “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Is 64:6)

The last thing the Lord of Glory uttered as he died at Golgotha was, “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30) The Greek is actually one word that means paid in full. We know from Luke 23:46 that this was uttered “with a loud voice,” and that statement should resound loudly in the heart of every believer.

This should enable all of us who have put our trust in the Lord Jesus should echo the words of Paul in his epistle to the Galatians. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Gal 5:16)

The verses just quoted, and many more, also prove that one who has believed in the Lord Jesus Christ can never lose their salvation. If it is God’s work and he has declared it as finished there is nothing we can add to or take away from the salvation that he offers. If we accept that offer we become one of his sheep, and he our shepherd. (John 10)

In that same passage the Lord himself assures us that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

However, many true believers in Christ have no assurance of their salvation. They continue to be plagued by their own failings and sin, unable to have the peace in their heart that the Lord intends them to have. This leads me to the subject of the question with which I began this series, and that is the principle of law. I will endeavour to explore that subject in the coming days. While the previous installments may seem like a lengthy preamble, it is vital to understand the principle of mercy and the resulting outpouring of grace when juxtaposed against the principle of law.

-A.N. Scharf