Sunday, March 31, 2013

Does It Matter Which Fellowship We Attend and Support?

Does it matter where you attend and which Church of God fellowship you support?

Suppose every group taught the same doctrine to the brethren, exactly the same, and each group taught that doctrine equally well. That is probably not true, but for a moment, pretend that it is.

If all teach the same doctrines equally well, does it matter which fellowship we are a member of?


Not so much for the major doctrines, but for the world that needs a warning message.

If all taught the major doctrines equally well, it might seem that it would not matter, for our personal salvation, which group we attend with and primarily support with our tithes, offerings, prayers, and service.

But does it matter for others outside the Church of God? Does it matter for God's work of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning about the tribulation upon the English-speaking nations if they do not repent? Yes, it matters FOR THEM which fellowship we support.

Not all fellowships put equal effort, or are equally effective, in getting that message out. Some do better than others. In my opinion, LCG does the best job of any major Church of God fellowship of getting that message out to the public. They have a TV program on many stations and typically bring in about 5,000 responses or more a week, people asking for booklets after seeing the TV program. They have public Bible lectures and a magazine. Their message is strong, but balanced, and people respond to it.

God's tithe money, dollar for dollar, will be more effective in getting the Ezekiel warning out to the public when sent to a group that has the zeal, the talent, the experience, and the blessings of God to preach the gospel and warning effectively than if it is sent to a group that does not have these qualities. So if you want to get the warning message out to your friends and neighbors and fellow workers in this country, not members of the Church of God, but ordinary people who never heard the truth before and don't know that a severe punishment is coming, then you should want to support a fellowship that is getting that message out effectively, even if all fellowships teach the same doctrines.

Is that important?

"Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" (Proverbs 24:11-12). "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19). "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18).

Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you want your neighbors to hear a warning before it is too late? Do you love the people in the neighborhood you live in, the people you see at work, your extended family and relatives not in the Church, as you love yourself? Or do you love yourself more (Matthew 19:19, Luke 10:25-37)?

Do you want them to hear a warning before it is too late for them to escape the tribulation? I am not suggesting you push your beliefs on them directly. But you can help them have access to the truth by supporting a fellowship that is preaching that truth on TV, in magazines, on the Internet, in public Bible lectures, on radio, or any other effective means.

All those who know the truth, that is, all of us in the whole Church of God, have the job of giving the Ezekiel warning. We are the watchman God talks about in (Ezekiel 3:16-21, 33:1-11). If we do not give the warning, their blood will be on our heads. In other words, their guilt for breaking the Sabbath will be transferred to us, because we didn't warn them, and WE will be punished for it. God has made us the watchman.

How do I know this? The verses I quotes MAKE us a watchman because they command us to give the warning.

Here is a command, in effect, to give the warning: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19). Love requires that we give the warning message, because the people need the warning message.

Here is another command to give the warning: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). If you were headed for trouble and didn't know it, wouldn't you want somebody to warn you? If there was an obstacle on a dark and wet road up ahead that could cause you to have an accident, would you not want someone to light a flare to warn you to slow down? If you were asleep in a burning apartment building, would you not want someone to pound on your door to wake you up to save your life? If you would want a warning, then likewise you should give a warning to those about to die. Then these verses are equal to a command to give the warning, and they give you and me and anyone who knows what is coming the job of watchman.

Here is another command to give the warning: "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11). The only way you can hold back those who are sinning and bringing punishment on themselves is to warn them before it is too late. So this is another command for us to warn, and this scripture also gives us the job of watchman to give the Ezekiel warning, and if we are not diligent to do it with all our might, we become guilty for our failure to give the warning.

Here is another command to teach God's truth to the public: "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' " (Matthew 28:18-20). This is a commission for the Church.

So it matters for other people, our friends and neighbors and fellow employees at our places of work, people who live next us, among our extended family if they are not in the Church of God, and the whole nation whether we know the people or not, that we do everything we can to get a warning message out by supporting whatever Church of God fellowship is doing that most effectively. That is true even if every fellowship teaches us, the members of the Church, the same basic doctrines.

So when you make a decision where you attend and where to send your tithes, you should think beyond yourself, not just, how will this affect me, but, how will this affect other people? How many people will I get the warning to if I contribute to this Church of God fellowship more than if I contribute to this other Church of God fellowship?

But in fact, even for our salvation, it matters where we attend, because we need to be supporting a group that is getting the warning message out. Also, a group that is not doing the Ezekiel warning work, because they do not have the zeal for God's work or true agape love for the Israelite nations, is likely not going to do a good job of feeding the flock and teaching us and helping us in our relationship with God.

Why is it important that the Ezekiel warning go out to the people before the tribulation begins? Basically, they need to know that they heard a warning so that if they do not repent and heed the warning (and most will not), they will remember that they ignored the warning, and they will accept the blame for not heeding the warning and not try to blame God because they never heard the warning. Many people in this country and others do not know they are doing wrong. Catholics and Protestants don't know it is wrong to keep Christmas and Easter and to work on Saturdays. They need to be told. That way, if they ignore the warning and continue, they can remember that we warned them but they ignored it. Otherwise, in the tribulation they will say, "it wasn't my fault, no one told me, so God is unfair to punish me."

I go into this in more detail in chapters 3, 4, and 5 of my book.

God will judge us for our love, or lack of it, for the nations that will go through the tribulation. God will judge us if we do not go all out to support a warning message, just as we would want to be warned if we did not know the truth. If you and I have a strong love for other people, enough to go all out to get the gospel and warning message out, Christ can say to us, "well done, good and faithful servant". But if we do not have that love and do not go all out, He may say something else to us. But one way or another, we will be judged for our decisions, for good or bad. Let's make sure we are judged favorably, because we please God, not unfavorably for what we do, in all our decisions, including the decision of which Church of God organization to attend or support.

It matters.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:




Saturday, March 30, 2013

Democracy Is Failing in the United States - What that Means for the Church of God

As anyone in the Church of God who has spiritual discernment can see, this country is going downhill fast. We are turning away more and more from God. We are not the same people we were even 50 years ago. Atheism and materialism is becoming the dominant culture in the United States, and government, education, and media are leading the way.

As we decline morally, we are also declining in power. We are a sick nation. We are financially sick. Government, which is supposed to protect and strengthen the nation, is helping to ruin it. Spending keeps increasing, and the deficit keeps increasing, and we are bankrupting ourselves. In the end, the direction government is leading the country will pay a major part in our final ruin. The collapse, when it comes, can come suddenly, in a moment, but the preparation for the collapse has been going on for a long time.

We are like a building that is being weakened at the foundation. It hasn't collapsed yet, but it is growing weaker and the collapse is approaching. When the collapse comes, the building will fall in a few seconds, but only because it has been weakened for a long time before the collapse.

It should be clear that a major contributing cause of the disaster that is coming will be financial. A crippled economy will lead to military weakness, and military weakness will set us up for a defeat.

It is our national leaders who are setting us up for disaster. They are not making responsible decisions.

But who has chosen these leaders? The president and the members of Congress who are putting into place irresponsible budgets that will in the end help to destroy our economy were elected by the people. Many Americans do not want their government benefits cut, so they vote into office politicians who will not make the hard decisions necessary to save and protect our economy. Many Americans, who themselves are liberal in their thinking, vote for politicians who will support their liberal, anti-God agendas. That is where our leaders came from. That is why we have the leaders we do.

God is allowing our own ways to correct us. "Your own wickedness will correct you, And your backslidings will rebuke you" (Jeremiah 2:19).

And democracy is part of our ways that will correct us.

What does this mean for the Church of God in the years ahead?

There are Church of God fellowships that do not trust Christ to appoint leaders in the Church. They want the ministers to vote to select the leaders through the democratic process. This is the same process that has given the United States the leaders it has today, the same process that is contributing to the disaster that is coming on the United States. And in choosing the democratic process, these fellowships are disregarding what the Bible says on the matter of selection of leaders of the Church. They are showing the same contempt for God's word, to a lesser degree probably, that the United States is showing towards the Bible.

The majority of American people do not believe the Bible. They disbelieve God in matters of morality and doctrine. Church of God fellowships who practice balloting to select their leaders do not believe God in matters of governance. They may agree with God about marriage, the Sabbath, and many matters of doctrine, because that is their tradition, but not governance. They won't believe God about that.

But the same spirit of distrust and disbelief towards God is at work. Just as the American people do not believe God about homosexuality, abortion, or creation, likewise some Churches of God do not believe God about governance.

Will God protect from the tribulation members of the Church of God who support democratic governance of the Church rather than the rule of Christ when it is that same democratic process that is helping to lead this country into that very tribulation? Will He protect members of the Church of God who practice the same distrust and disbelief towards the Bible in the matter of governance that our nation practices in matters of morality and doctrine?

If we refuse to believe what God says about governance, we are like spiritual brothers and sisters to those in the United States who believe in homosexual union (I refuse to call it marriage), abortion, the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and our materialistic culture. We would be like spiritual brothers and sisters because we would have this in common with them: we don't believe God.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:


Friday, March 29, 2013

Building the Wall

There is an interesting passage in the Bible about building, or repairing, the wall of Jerusalem when the Jews returned there from captivity in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. You can read this passage in Nehemiah chapter 3. Nehemiah is inspired by God to record in detail what part of the wall each person worked on and in some cases how well they worked (or didn't - see verse 5). We do not find any similar account in the Old Testament before this. The closest I can recall is the record of the exploits of David's mighty men and the contributions of others also, in 1 Chronicles chapters 11 and 12, where a number of individual men are named, along with their accomplishments and responsibilities.

Examples in the Bible are written for our learning. What is God teaching us here?

One lesson might be simply that God knows our works, each one of us individually, so that He can reward us according to our works, just as He knew the individual accomplishment and work of each of David's mighty men and each person who worked on building or repairing the wall in Nehemiah's time (Matthew 16:27, John 4:36-38, Hebrews 6:10, Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-26).

But with the wall, there may be another lesson.

The wall around a city was the protection of the city. Jerusalem may represent the Church, and the men building or repairing the wall may represent the members of the Church who each individually has a responsibility to do his or her part to protect the Church of God from Satan's and the world's influence.

And God pays attention to how well each of us does his part of that job.

Just as each of the men who built or repaired the wall had a portion of the wall he was responsible for, so each of us has a portion of the Church he or she is responsible for protecting from wrong spiritual influences and from sin.

What is that portion?


Collectively, we are the Church of God, the body of Christ. We each protect the Church, "repair the wall" so to speak, by guarding OUR OWN MINDS from sin and from Satan's and the world's temptations and influences. My own mind is the portion of God's Church I must protect. Your mind is the portion of God's Church you must protect.

Figuratively speaking, this is like the responsibility each Jew who worked on the wall had to repair his portion of the wall to protect Jerusalem.

Our portion of the wall is the wall of our own mind. We need to protect it from the evil influences of Satan and this world.

How can we do this? We do it by fleeing temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18, Matthew 5:29-30). We can avoid this world's entertainment, which is Satan's educational system, his school for training the world in his way of life. We can strengthen the walls of our mind with Bible study, prayer, meditation, and fasting.

The responsibility is ours, and as we each protect our mind, we also protect the Church, because we are the Church.

And just as God kept track of how each Jew in Nehemiah's day worked on the wall around Jerusalem, so God sees and remembers how each of us protects that part of the Church of God that is our own mind.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Beware of Those Who Preach Against Organization

There are some who claim affiliation with the Church of God who love to speak against "organization" or "corporation" in the Church of God, and they often accuse brethren and ministers of being more loyal to Church of God corporations than to God. Some who teach against organization are also disrespectful to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and are filled with a spirit of accusation. While they speak of the need for repentance, they are blind to their own need to repent (Matthew 7:3-5).

Now, there is a time to give godly warnings and correction in the spirit of "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17), turning a sinner from his ways and towards righteousness (James 5:19-20, Daniel 12:3), and giving a warning to those who need it (Proverbs 24:11, Ezekiel 3:16-21, 33:1-11). But Satan, who is the great deceiver and counterfeiter, can inspire false teachers to stir up a spirit of accusation among the brethren in the guise of godly correction. But their criticism and fault-finding is anything but godly.

I have been reminded of these things after reading a post by Mr. Wally Smith in his "Thoughts En Route" blog titled "On Talebearing, Pettiness, Food Fights, and Passover", dated March 15, 2013. Actually, there have been several good posts in that blog (which I think is one of the best blogs on the Internet) about this subject. Links:

"Has the Church given up its freedom to speak?":

"Follow up to 'Has the Church given up its freedom to speak?' ":

"Warning: The internet is full of ninnies":

"On Talebearing, Pettiness, Food Fights, and Passover":

Some characteristics of those who wrongly accuse others is a tendency to blow things out of proportion, to assume the worst about people they accuse, assuming guilt on the flimsiest of evidence, and assuming wrong motives, which they cannot prove. They also make personal accusations against individuals and spread unfavorable (and sometimes inaccurate) information and gossip about individuals that others cannot know or prove or disprove. I am not talking about debating a doctrinal position or practice someone might openly teach, but revealing personal details about people's private lives and accusing them of sin, which matters have no purpose in an open forum like the Internet.

And some may have found a gimmick or method of accusing others that may sound righteous, but isn't. "Stop following corporations and organizations and start following God", they may say.

Beware of those who rant against organization and corporation in a general sense.

While it is true that our first loyalty should be to God, not to an organization, we must realize that God Himself uses government and organization to accomplish His purposes, and He requires that we respect those He places in office in those organizations.

Those who speak against all organization are often really against authority, even the authority of God's government, and ultimately even God's authority. They like to use God's name to back up their personal opinions, but they often are worshipping a god of their imagination, a god they created in their mind and in their own image, a god who agrees with their opinions. But people like them do not really submit to God's word.

And they love to speak evil of dignitaries.

"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

"For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) - then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.

"But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption .... These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever" (2 Peter 2:1-17).

"But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

"Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah ....

"These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit" (Jude 5-19).

By the way, I often wondered why these two passages are so similar. Read them together, as if side by side, directly in your Bible (you will have to do a lot of page flipping, so have book markers handy), and you will notice that, while the words differ, the sequence of thoughts and points is nearly identical. I don't think one man copied from the other. Perhaps God gave both writers the same inspiration, letting each man choose his words and examples to express the same thoughts God was inspiring in their minds to show us by example how God inspired the New Testament writers, but let them choose their own words and examples, to express the thoughts God was inspiring.

I notice that those who teach against organization do not seem to have zeal for God's work of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel about the tribulation to come. That takes organization to do it effectively. It takes teamwork.

We should be motivated by love to want to get the message of the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning out to the world. But those who rail against organization and incorporation do not seem motivated that way.

Don't be infected by a spirit or attitude of accusation and disrespect against Mr. Armstrong and all authority in the Church of God from those who criticize all Church of God organizations. Don't be fooled by their claim to be teaching repentance and loyalty towards God. Their teaching is spiritual poison.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Will There Be Anger In God's Kingdom?

We are being trained and prepared in this life for eternity in the Kingdom of God.

After our resurrection at the return of Christ, after the millennium and after the white throne judgment is over, after the third resurrection and the destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire, when the new heavens and new earth are here, will there be anger in the Kingdom of God? Will there be any anger among members of God's family for eternity to come?

Will we see any anger a million years from now?

I don't think so.

Not all anger is wrong. "Be angry, and do not sin..." (Ephesians 4:26). There is such a thing as "righteous indignation" (2 Corinthians 7:11). We should be angry with sin for example, especially our own sins when we see them, and there may be times when we should be angry with ourselves for some of the stupid and wrong things we do, especially if that anger towards self arouses a determination in our mind to never repeat the mistake. And sometimes it is right to be angry towards others.

God Himself becomes angry (Psalm 7:11). Christ became angry at times (Mark 3:5).

But while we may become angry, occasionally, the tendency to become angry should not become a major part of our character and personality. We should not harbor and nourish the attitude of anger. And that is a danger. We should be slow to anger. "The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy" (Psalm 103:8).

We should learn to give a soft answer to those who become angry with us and not return anger for anger. "A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).

God teaches us to pacify those who are angry by answering softly. Did God practice what He preached?

Look at the ending of the book of Jonah. Jonah became angry with God twice. How did God react? He did not return anger for anger but answered Jonah's anger by patiently reasoning with him. "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it" (Jonah 3:10). "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, 'Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!' Then the Lord said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?' " (Jonah 4:1-4). "And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, 'It is better for me to die than to live.' Then God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?' And he said, 'It is right for me to be angry, even to death!' But the Lord said, 'You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?' " (Jonah 4:6-11).

Much of the time, our anger is not "righteous indignation" inspired by God, but unrighteous wrath inspired by Satan. "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).

We should not let anger dwell in our minds for a long time. " not let the sun go down on your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26). In this verse, God is not telling us to be like Joshua and pray that the sun not go down so we can remain angry. He is telling us to end our anger quickly. I suppose I could joke and say, it is better to get angry 2 minutes after sunset rather than 2 minutes before sunset - that way you can stay angry for almost a whole day and still stay within the letter of Ephesians 4:26. You'll have a whole day to get over it. But then, the person who makes us angry could plan to get you angry two minutes before sunset. (Next time your husband or wife starts to get angry, just before sunset, say, "watch out, it's almost sunset.)

But God's purpose is that we get over our anger quickly. Our anger hurts us as much or more than it hurts others.

We do not need to make anger a permanent part of our character. Why? It will not be needed in the Kingdom of God for eternity. It is a temporary, "throw away" emotion, something that when used righteously and kept under control can be useful when dealing with sin. But when sin is gone, there will be no need for anger.

Anger is caused by sin. Righteous anger can be a response to sin, and unrighteous anger can itself be sin. "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matthew 5:22). But when sin is abolished, anger will no longer be useful. Probably, God Himself was never angry until Lucifer committed the first sin. And when Satan and his demons are permanently put away, when sin is banished from the universe and from God's Kingdom, we will never again have any need for anger.

God is building our character to prepare us for an eternity without sin, without tears, and without anger. "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

Let's not make a tendency towards anger a part of our character. We won't need it in God's Kingdom. Instead, let's develop love and faith (1 Corinthians chapter 13, Hebrews chapter 11), attributes of character that we will be using for eternity.

Let's be slow to anger and quick to put our anger away and replace it with love and faith.

Let's remember that people sin because this world is enslaved by Satan, and Satan tempts even us in the Church to sin and make mistakes, and only God can rightly judge how much blame attaches to Satan and how much to the human who sins.

Let's not repay with anger, but trust the righteous judgment of God (Romans 12:19-21). Let's replace anger with mercy, and have a merciful attitude towards others as we want God to be merciful to us. "With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful" (Psalm 18:25). "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13).

On the other hand, if you want God to have an angry attitude towards you, then nurture and develop an angry attitude towards others.

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How Faith Works with Repentance

Godly repentance and faith work together. In some ways, they are two sides of the same coin. Each will lead to the other. And like two sides of the same coin, you can't have one without the other.

Godly repentance means turning away from our former, carnal way of life and towards obedience to God and living according to God's law. It means repenting of our sinful nature and our sins, what the Bible calls "dead works" (Hebrews 6:1-2).

Sin is the transgression of God's law (1 John 3:4), so repenting of sin means setting our hearts and minds to obey God's law.

But God's law requires faith because faith is one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). Faith is believing what God says. So when we repent, we agree and commit ourselves to believe God, to have faith in His word.

Believing what God says is also required by the spiritual intent of the first great commandment, to love God with all our being, because it is God's will and desire that we believe and trust Him, and if we really love God with all our being, we will give God our trust and belief in His word.

Anyone who says, "I will stop sinning, but I don't trust God and I won't believe what He says," has not fully repented. God wants faith and trust in Him to be a motivation for us to obey. Repentance requires faith.

Godly repentance then includes and leads to faith in God and His word, a willingness and commitment to trust and believe everything He tells us. Faith is part of the way of life we commit to at baptism.

But also, godly faith leads to repentance.

If we trust God and believe what He says, we will agree with God that His way of life is best and that we should repent and turn from our sins and live according to His spiritual law.

Faith is more than believing that God exists. Satan and his demons know that God exists. "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" (James 2:19). But do they believe in God's way of life? Do they believe God's way of life, living according to His commands and laws, is the best way of life, the way they should live? Do they believe the teachings of Jesus Christ, that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)? I don't think so, or else they would live that way of life.

The first sin recorded in the Bible may be Lucifer's sin of vanity. "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor" (Ezekiel 28:17). From this, all other sins seem to have come as a result.

But Lucifer was a free moral agent, and if he was the first being to sin, that means no one tempted him. God must have taught Lucifer and all the angels the right way of life and he must have warned them of the consequences of vanity and sin so they could avoid it.

Once Lucifer allowed vanity to enter his mind, his thinking became more and more twisted and perverted and evil. By exalting himself in a spirit of vanity, he corrupted his own mind - "You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor". He became more evil as sin led to more corruption of mind and the corruption of his mind lead to more sin. And because sin brings suffering, Lucifer, now Satan, God's enemy, has brought misery and suffering upon himself and others. And he can never go back because he can never think clearly enough to choose to go back.

Yet God, in love, must have warned Lucifer of the consequences of living the way of life of vanity and self-exaltation instead of God's way of outgoing concern and love for others. The Bible shows with example after example that it is God's way to warn. Yet Lucifer, even after being warned of consequences, made the choice that destroyed his chance for eternal happiness.

Why would Lucifer do this? He could not have wanted to be miserable.

He was not tempted as we are tempted. We feel tempted to sin because Satan tempts us. But when Lucifer first sinned, there was no other evil being to tempt him. And God did not tempt him or create any evil nature in Lucifer that Lucifer would have to resist or struggle against (James 1:13).

Yet Lucifer, without any evil influence in the universe to pull and tempt him to do wrong, sinned. Why?

The only reason I can think of is that he didn't believe God's warnings. He didn't trust God that God was telling him the truth, that vanity and self-seeking would ruin him. He probably never experienced mental suffering before he sinned. He had no experience with sin or the consequences of sin. For him to truly know and understand what consequences would be in store for him if he sinned, he would have to believe God and take God's word for something he never experienced for himself. He would have to trust God, that God knew what He was talking about and was telling the truth. And apparently Lucifer was not willing to do that.

So he chose to exalt himself. He experimented with vanity. He trusted his own thinking and his own experimenting and chose to learn by experience which way of life is best. Maybe he thought his own self-centered, vain, competitive way of life would lead to a greater level of happiness than he already had. Or maybe he wasn't sure but wanted to learn from experience, to do an experiment, to find out for himself what sin and the consequences of sin would be like. If that was the case, he took a chance, a gamble, and lost. God was telling him the truth, but Lucifer didn't believe Him. Lucifer may have been the originator of "gambling". He threw the dice, so to speak, betting that God was lying or mistaken, and he lost. He may also be the originator of the "scientific method" of rejecting divine revelation and only accepting knowledge that comes from experimentation, observation, and interpretation of results.

Lucifer lacked faith when he chose to sin.

God does not want another Satan in His Kingdom. Once was enough.

God is building in His children the character of faith so He will know that we will always believe His word, for eternity, without doubting, without second guessing, without thinking we have to experiment to see if God is telling the truth.

We have to learn the lesson of faith, the lesson of believing and trusting God's word unconditionally, before He will let us into His kingdom.

For a related post, see "Day of Atonement" in this blog, published September 16, 2010, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:


Monday, March 25, 2013

We Must Overcome by God's Power AND Our Power

I once heard a sermonette in which the speaker said that one or more Church members talked with him about their problems with trying to overcome sin. They were not making the progress they wanted and expected. The sermonette speaker said he thought their problem was that they were trying to overcome by their own power, and instead they should rely on God's power to overcome sin.

But I thought this was a wrong way to put it.

The speaker talked about whose power we use to overcome sin as if it is a choice between our power or God's power, but not both. I think that is wrong. It sets us up for failure by giving us an excuse for failure. Our excuse is, "I prayed for God's help to overcome, but I still sinned, so He didn't help me." Thinking we overcome sin only by God's power is misleading because it omits our part which we have to do. Yes, we need God's help, but we also have to make the maximum effort ourselves. It is our power AND God's power, both, that enables us to overcome. Both, not either or.

We are free moral agents and we have to choose to resist sin, and we express that choice by the effort we make as well as by praying for God's help.

By ourselves, we may not have enough power to overcome particular habits and problems. We need the help and power of God's Holy Spirit. But we still have to do our part. God will not do everything for us. He will do for us what we cannot do ourselves provided we do the part that we are able to do. He does not necessarily make it easy for us.

We all know the greatest commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27).

But also, we know that loving God means keeping His word and His commandments, or in other words, not sinning. "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me" (John 14:23-24). "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5:3).

The truth that loving God means obeying His commandments is a consistant message throughout the Bible.

So when God says we are to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, He is really saying we are to obey His commandments with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, because obeying God's commandments is what love towards God is. There can certainly be an emotional aspect of loving God, but obedience must be part of that love or it is not really love.

In our modern English, the word "love" sometimes means something different to most people, and we can be confused by that. Our modern culture often thinks of "love" as just an emotion.

So let me rephrase the great commandment a bit, substituting the word "obey" (God's law and commandments) for the word "love", like this: "You shall OBEY the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind."

Now let me focus on one part of this: "You shall OBEY the Lord your God with all your strength."

And now, one more word to emphasize: "You shall OBEY the Lord your God with all YOUR strength."

We are to obey God, that is, resist temptation to sin, with all OUR strength.

Can we overcome sin alone, without God's help? No. Christ said, "...without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

We have to try as hard as we can, striving to obey God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, but rely on God for the extra power we need to do what we are not able to do with our own human strength alone. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:). God gives us the extra power we need by His Holy Spirit, but He wants to see us try as hard as we can and put forth maximum effort.

We are to STRIVE against sin. "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (Hebrews 12:4).

An event in the life of Samson may help to illustrate how God's power and our power work together.

Samson was given the gift of great strength by God. It was God's power that gave Samson His strength, for no man could do what Samson did by human strength alone. But God removed that supernatural strength when Samson's hair was cut. After that, he only had normal human strength. You can read the whole story in Judges chapters 13 through 16.

But at the end of his life, Samson prayed that God would give him supernatural strength again, and God answered his prayer. "Then Samson called to the Lord, saying, 'O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!' And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it" (Judges 16:28-30).

Was it by God's power or Samson's own human strength that he brought down the Philistines' temple? If you answer, by God's power, you are partly right, probably 99% right. But part of that power was Samson's natural human strength, for he pushed "with all his might". Perhaps only 1% of the power that toppled the pillars came from Samson's muscles and 99% from God's miraculous power. Or maybe only one tenth of 1% of the power came from Samson's human strength. The point is, Samson gave everything he had. He didn't hold back. He didn't say, "Well, I can't do it by my power anyway, and since God has to do it, I will take it easy and push just a little bit - why strain myself?" No, whatever human strength Samson could contribute, HE USED IT ALL. God merely added the part Samson could not do and added that much miraculous power to push over the pillars.

God doesn't necessarily want our struggle against sin to be easy.

Jacob had to wrestle with Christ all night, and Christ even took "unfair" advantage by putting his hip out of joint (which must have been very painful). It was not really unfair, because God was teaching Jacob a lesson and perhaps testing him, but it certainly made it more difficult for Jacob. But Jacob would not give up, and in the end, God blessed him. But think of what a difficult trial this was for Jacob, the exhaustion, the muscle fatigue, the pain. Try wrestling with someone 8 or 10 hours straight.

We are to go all out against sin, making the maximum effort to resist temptation we can, even when we ask God for the extra help we need.

We are to avoid temptations, even to the point of giving up things we love because they tempt us to sin. Christ used the analogy of cutting off our hand or cutting out our eye if it causes us to sin (Matthew 5:29-30). Obviously, He is speaking figuratively - we are not to mutilate our bodies. But the analogy He uses illustrates how zealously and fervently we are to fight against sin, comparing it with cutting off parts of our body in terms of the mental sacrifices we may have to make.

We should certainly pray and ask God for help to overcome sin. But we should also go all out to do our part, resisting temptation with all our strength, even while we trust God to give us the help to do what we are not able to do, even when we try as hard as we can. And then we have to stick with it until we obtain the victory.

That is not an easy struggle, but eternal life is worth it.

For a related post in this blog, see "Do We Overcome Sin by Our Power or by God's Power?", which I published around the Days of Unleavened Bread two years ago.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Right and Wrong Examples of Correcting Someone Over You

If someone above you in authority, your boss in other words, makes an error of some kind, maybe doing something that causes harm to yourself or to others or even to himself, and you want to correct him, is that lawful? Is correction always from the top down or can it sometimes be from the bottom up? And if it is lawful in God's sight, what is the right way to do it?

There are examples in the Bible of both the right way and the wrong way to correct someone who has authority over you.

First the wrong way. You should not discuss the correction with others. Here is an example:

"Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?' And the Lord heard it" (Numbers 12:1-2). "So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed" (Numbers 12:9).

Notice, this was not a case of Miriam or Aaron respectfully going to Moses in private and saying, "Should you marry an Ethiopian woman?". Moses might have had an explanation that would have satisfied them, or at least there could be an honest discussion about what God's will was in the matter, and Moses could always take the matter to God. Not that Moses had to explain to them, but he could have. And if Moses was really at fault or in error, he might have accepted the correction. But instead, they were talking with each other ABOUT Moses, probably behind his back. Notice verse 2: "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?" The word "us" indicates they were discussing this between themselves. And the fact that they referred to "Moses" in the third person indicates they were not speaking TO Moses but ABOUT him behind his back. In effect, by talking about it between themselves, each was encouraging the other person to have an attitude of disrespect towards the office and the authority Moses was given from God. That is why God said that they were speaking "against" Moses (verses 1 and 8). They were complaining and undermining Moses's authority by talking to each other about it. By talking with each other about his faults, they were weakening the great respect they should have had for Moses and the office God had given Moses, and they were undermining his authority over them, whether they realized it or not.

But does this mean we can never offer correction to someone who has authority over us?

Here is another example in the Bible of someone correcting someone above them in authority:

Naaman, commander of the Syrian army, went to Elisha to be healed of leprosy. You can read the whole story in 2 Kings 5:1-19. But notice these verses: "Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, 'Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.' But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, 'Indeed, I said to myself, "He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy." Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?' So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, 'My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, "Wash, and be clean"?' So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5:9-14).

Notice what happened. Naaman planned NOT to do what Elisha said because he was angry. But Naaman's servants went to him and encouraged him to do what Elisha said. This was correction from the "bottom up" if you want to call it that, not from the top down. But it worked! It had a good effect. Naaman listened to his servants, even though he was their boss, took their advice, and washed in the Jordan. And God healed him. God backed up this process of Naaman's servants giving him advice to do the right thing, and God blessed this with good fruit - Naaman was miraculously healed. The results show that this was a good thing that Naaman's servants did.

Consider this also. If God did not want us to learn a lesson from this passage, that those under authority can give loving correction to someone over them in authority, God did not have to include this incident in the Bible for us to learn from, for the examples in the Bible are for our learning (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). God could have inspired the writer of 2 Kings to simply omit the part about Naaman being angry and his servants correcting him. Just omit verses 11 through 13, and the passage would read like this: "And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, 'Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.' So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." The account would be just as true if the details of Naaman's servants correcting him were left out, and God could have left them out. The Bible doesn't give every detail of every event. God chooses what details to tell us and what not to tell us. And if the action of Naaman's servant's was a bad example, God could have left that out. But He didn't. He included that detail and showed the good result from it because this teaches us the RIGHT way to correct someone over us.

First of all, notice the respect and the love the servants had for their "boss". They called him "my father". They offered advice for his good out of their concern for his welfare. Second, it was advice or counsel. They were not trying to force their will on Naaman, but simply encouraging him to do the right thing and offering advice, which Naaman could heed or not heed as he chose. They were not speaking against him behind his back, criticizing him in conversation with each other, complaining, plotting, encouraging disrespect among themselves, and undermining his authority. In fact, there is no indication they talked about it among themselves at all. Perhaps each of several individual servants spoke to Naaman privately without the others around. That may be implied by the term "MY father", not "OUR father".

So if your boss does something wrong or makes a serious error, and you want to show God you respect top-down authority, but you feel you should offer correction to your boss, don't criticize him behind his back in conversation with other people. Go to him very respectfully in private. Offer him your advice on the matter (assuming he is willing to listen to advice). Don't be forceful or contentious about it. If he heeds you, fine, and if not, you have done your part and it is his responsibility. He may have an explanation that will make it clear that he is right and you were mistaken. And especially in the Church of God, if a pastor over you or the leader of a fellowship commits some error, do not undermine his authority by discussing his "fault" with other members of the Church also under his authority.

Am I saying that you have to correct? No. You can overlook the matter, especially if it is not serious. You can certainly pray, and should pray, that God will help the person to make right decisions in the future. You can, and should, pray that God will give you wisdom to know how to handle it, whether you should offer corrective advice or not. Everyone isn't like Naaman. Some men do not appreciate correction, especially from someone under their authority (Proverbs 9:7-9). Every situation is different.

But if you do offer corrective advice to someone who has authority over you, do it in private and do it respectfully, in love. And then submit to the boss's decision, unless he would require you to sin against God. In that case, you would have to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Passover Symbols: What Part of the Sacrifice of Christ Makes Possible the Healing of Our Character? / Should You Partake of the Passover?

When we sin, we incur two penalties. We incur the death penalty, that is, the penalty of the second death in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23, Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 14-15, 21:8). But we also incur damage to our character which produces suffering. Sin changes us, for the worse. Sin produces a tendency to sin more, the habit of sin. It corrupts our minds. We learn the habit of sin until it becomes our nature. And sin and the tendency to sin produce suffering. Obedience to God's law results in happiness, but sin, the violation of God's law (1 John 3:4), results in suffering.

Christ's sacrifice removes both penalties of sin for those who repent and believe the gospel and are baptized.

We know that the death and shed blood of Christ, symbolized by the Passover wine, pay the penalty of our sins so we do not have to suffer eternal death in the lake of fire and cease to exist forever. There is no resurrection from that death. We also know that the suffering He endured in His body prior to death, including the scourging he received, symbolized by the broken unleavened bread we take at Passover that represents Christ's broken body, pays the penalty for broken physical laws that cause sickness and injury so God can heal us of our diseases and injuries (Isaiah 53:5-6) and relieve us of the suffering our sicknesses and ailments cause.

Much suffering in this world is caused by physical sickness, injuries, and disabilities due to the breaking of the physical laws of health. But there is also much mental suffering caused by sin, by vanity, jealousy, contention, resentment, hostile competition, unfaithfulness, lying and deception, broken promises, lust, selfishness, hatred, rage, violence, etc. People become frustrated, depressed, discouraged, and miserable because of their sins and the sins of those around them. Sin robs the human race of the joy and happiness we could all have if everyone obeyed God's spiritual law of love, which joy and happiness God intends for us.

The problem of the unhappiness and suffering produced by sin goes much beyond the problems of sickness and injury caused by breaking the physical laws of health.

Sin produces suffering. Obedience to God's law of love produces happiness. Suffering, both physical AND MENTAL, is one of the penalties of sin. All suffering in this world is the result of broken law. The violation of God's laws, whether physical or spiritual, causes all the suffering we see around us, whether that suffering be due to sickness and disease or any other kind of suffering.

If God only healed our physical bodies, but did not heal our character, we would not be physically sick but we would still bring misery upon ourselves and others by our sinful, carnal nature and character. We would still not get along with each other. We would still have wars, contentions, resentment, bitterness, and conflict of every sort.

If God removed the death penalty and allowed us to live forever, but did not heal our character of the damage caused by sin and did not remove the tendency to sin, the habit of sin in our minds and character, our sinful, carnal nature, we would live forever, but in misery and frustration, continuing our sinful way of life for eternity, like Satan.

It is God's purpose not just to give us eternal life but to give us eternal life with joy and happiness. But our sins have brought upon us the penalty that our minds have become twisted and sin has become a habit of mind. Our character has become damaged by our sins.

So God must remove the spiritual penalty for our sins that causes suffering.

The suffering that Christ endured pays all penalties of our sins that cause suffering.

Christ's suffering pays the penalty for our violations of the physical laws of health that produce the suffering of sickness, injury, and all diseases and disabilities. But His suffering also pays the penalty of all suffering that results from sin, any kind of sin, any kind of suffering, including any mental or physical suffering that results from spiritual sin, that is, the sin of violating God's spiritual law of love, as summarized by the two great commandments (Matthew 22:34-40), the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23), and the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).

And just as Christ's suffering makes possible the healing of our physical bodies damaged by violations of physical laws of health, so His suffering also makes it possible for our character to be healed of the damage produce by sin. God is able to remove from us the tendency and habit of sin that causes suffering for ourselves and those around us.

This process of spiritual healing begins in this life when God works with us, and then in us, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that heals our character spiritually by giving us the power to overcome our carnal nature. Spiritual healing is completed when we are resurrected as full sons of God and receive immortality in the Kingdom of God.

The gift of the Holy Spirit, which heals our character, is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ.

Just as we give God thanks for the sacrifice of Christ that enables our physical bodies to be healed, so we should be thankful that His sacrifice enables our character to be healed by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Should You Partake of the Passover?

Around Passover time there are often some who, after examining themselves, feel they are unworthy to keep the Passover.

But observing the Passover is not about us being worthy. None of us are worthy in that sense. Rather, we are to keep the Passover in a worthy MANNER.

"Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

Paul is talking about the manner or way in which we keep the Passover, not whether or not we should keep it. It is understood in this passage that we are to observe Passover. We are to keep it with a deep awareness of its meaning. We are to examine ourselves first. And then we are to observe the Passover. Paul did not say, "examine yourself, and if you are worthy, observe the Passover, but if you are not worthy, do not observe it." He says, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup."

Why examine ourselves? When we examine ourselves, we see where we fall short and why we need the sacrifice of Christ to pay for our sins. We should be inspired with humility and gratitude. We should also have faith in the sacrifice of Christ to pay for all our sins so we can be forgiven. We should be inspired to respond to God's love by being a living sacrifice, to do God's will and strive to overcome our sins (Romans 12:1-2). All of this is part of keeping the Passover in a worthy manner.

If you have repented, have faith in God and Christ, and have been baptized, examine yourself, and keep the Passover. Renew your baptism commitment to God.

For a related post, see "Physical and Spiritual Healing", April 2, 2012, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why Did Christ Have to Suffer and Die?

We have been taught that the Word, who was with God from the beginning, had to become man to suffer and die to pay the penalty for our sins. This is what the Bible teaches, and it is true (Isaiah 53:5-6, 10-12).

But was there another way? Was it really necessary?

Considering that God made death the penalty for all human sin and that God determined that this penalty could not be compromised with but must be paid, yes, it was necessary.

But it was God who set the penalty and the rules for its application, and God is able to foresee all possible consequences of His decisions. He knew in advance that if he made death the penalty of human sin, that man would probably sin and this would require the death of His Son.

Yet knowing this, God made death (and suffering) the penalty of sin and determined not to compromise or make exceptions - the penalty would have to be paid. God made it this way, knowing the consequences for Himself and for the Word who was to become Jesus Christ whom God deeply loved, His companion for eternity (Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:31).

Could God have avoided the sacrifice of Christ? Could He have spared His Son from this experience and still saved mankind? Yes. All He had to do is not make death the penalty for sin. He could have set a lesser penalty, or simply allowed exceptions to be granted at His discretion to remove the penalty without it being paid.

But He didn't do it that way. Why? Why plan a salvation for mankind that required His Son to suffer and die if there was an easier way?

I don't think it was only God the Father that determined this. The Word must have agreed to this plan also. Why do I say this?

God commanded Christ what He was to teach (John 12:49-50). But I don't think the Father commanded Christ to suffer and die to pay the penalty for our sins. The Word, Christ, voluntarily agreed to be the sacrifice for our sins.

I think God's justice would not allow a penalty for sin to be transferred from a guilty party to an innocent party against the will of the innocent person. The penalty for sin is not something that could be forced on Christ agaist His will. I don't think God would command an innocent person to bear the penalty for someone else's guilt. But an innocent person can voluntarily agree to bear the penalty for someone else, and that is what I think the Word did.

So the Father and Christ were in perfect agreement about this. So again, why this plan for our salvation? Why not make it easier by NOT making death the penalty for all human sin, or by providing provision in God's law for Him to simply remove the penalty, at His discretion, without requiring it to be paid even by Christ?

The Bible doesn't elaborate on all of God's reasons for the way He is working things out for His purposes. So what I am about to say can be speculation. God does teach us in the Bible what His character and way of thinking is like.

So here is some food for thought.

God is building His character in us so we can be His children and can share in His divine nature, so He can trust us with His divine power to rule the universe, according to His will, forever. We have to become like God in our thinking. And for this purpose, God has to teach us lessons that will reside deep in our character forever.

There are two lessons we learn from the sacrifice of Christ: obedience to the law of God, and sacrificial love. Humility may be a lesson too. God so set His law and His plan for our salvation to require the sacrifice of Christ, not because there was no other way, but because it was the best way to teach us the lessons we need to learn.

There can be no compromise with God's law. That is lesson number one. Once we are in the Kingdom of God, we cannot sin, ever, not even a little, not even once, none of us, and we must voluntarily, willingly agree to that now in this life and demonstrate our agreement by striving with all our might to obey God and His law 100%, to put sin completely out of our lives, and to overcome our evil, sinful, lawless human nature. "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

Though we will not achieve perfection in this physical life, we are to strive for perfection, never being content with even a little sin in our lives, and God will then complete the process in the resurrection and make us perfect for eternity.

The sacrifice of Christ, by showing that God will not compromise with the penalty of sin by forgiving us without that penalty being paid, helps to impress on our minds how important God's law is to God and how important it must be to us if we are to become like God.

Secondly, the sacrifice of Christ teaches us the lesson of sacrificial love. Christ teaches us by His example (John 13:15, Luke 6:40, Matthew 10:24-25). We should love each other as Christ loved us and gave His life for us (John 13:34, 15:12-17, John 3:16, Romans 5:6-8). We should also love the Father as Jesus loved Him, seeking to do the Father's will in everything, for this is part of Christ's example (John 4:34, Luke 22:41-43). Christ did not just suffer and die for us because He loved us. He also did this because He loved the Father and knew it was the Father's will.

This is a love that goes beyond the letter of the law.

When we take the Passover symbols, indicating our acceptance of Christ's sacrifice as payment of the penalties for our sins, we must also accept that way of life that led Christ to be that sacrifice, and be willing to live that way of life ourselves for the good of others and to do God's will, beyond just what God commands. In effect, we are saying to God, "I want to be like Christ, who willingly suffered and died to sacrifice Himself for me, because I see that is the best way to be, and I want to sacrifice myself, as He did, because that is the best way to live" (Romans 12:1-2). We are not just selfishly accepting the sacrifice of Christ, just so we don't have to die, but we are accepting the way of living and thinking that led Christ to willingly be that sacrifice, so we can live that same way of life.

Humility is also a lesson in this. It is humbling to know we deserve to suffer and die for our own sins, but an innocent person, Christ, paid that penalty in our place so we don't have to. This should inspire humility, and gratitude, in us for eternity. We should be eternally thankful to God the Father and Jesus Christ for what they have done for us.

There may be other lessons. We learn how great is God's love towards us and how we can trust Him for eternity. We learn thankfulness, as I have mentioned. We learn that God the Father is trustworthy because Jesus Christ, as a human being, who knew the Father intimately and was with Him from eternity trusted Him completely to save Him and resurrect Him.

God the Father required the sacrifice of Christ because that is the best way to teach us these lessons. And there may be a lesson in that too. God and Christ chose the best way to teach us, not the easiest way. So we should follow their example when we make decisions. Make the best decisions and choices in life, not the easiest ones. Set the highest standard as God has set the highest standard in His plan for our salvation. Don't take the easy way out. God didn't.

See also my post around Passover time last year, "What the Sacrifice of Christ Teaches Us". Here is a link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Count the Cost

Prospective members, in counseling with a minister before baptism, are advised to count the cost of their commitment to God before making that commitment.

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-33).

At baptism we commit ourselves to give ourselves totally to God, one hundred percent. We commit to a willingness to give up everything in this life, even to death, to do God's will. We commit ourselves to strive with all our strength to obey God's law, also relying on God to give us the extra strength we need but lack as human beings.

Mr. Armstrong emphasized God's law in his teaching. He taught that God's spiritual law defines a way of life that leads to happiness and everything good, but the violation of that law leads to suffering and death. He placed emphasis on the law of God bringing blessings because much of traditional Christianity teaches that the law is done away.

God's spiritual law defines a way of life that leads to happiness when everyone lives it. But all it takes is for one bad apple to live the opposite way of life, the get way, the way of sin, Satan's way, to bring misery to everyone around him. And in this world, Satan's world, it is not just one or a few who violate the law of God as a way of life, but the majority. And as a result, this world can be a miserable place for many who live in it, including Christians who obey God's law.

It is easy for a prospective member to assume that if he obeys God's law, obedience will bring such blessings in this life that he will be healthy, prosperous, and happy. God will provide a good wife for him and happy, healthy children, and God will protect him from all harm. His life, even in this evil world, will be physically and emotionally blessed.

Not necessarily so.

Obedience to God's law is certainly a way of life that produces happiness. Much unhappiness people suffer in this world comes as a result of their own law breaking. By sinning, they bring suffering upon themselves. Those who are obedient to God are spared that source of suffering. They do not have to suffer as a result of their own wrong doing and sin. And that can certainly be a blessing.

But all suffering we go through does not come from our own sins. And God does not promise the Christian an easy life.

Christ did not say in vain that we have to give up everything to be His disciples.

What if God does not provide a wife or husband for you? Are you willing to remain single all your life if that is the price of being a Christian?

What if, despite your hard work, your obedience, and your tithe paying, God afflicts you with poverty most of your life. Are you willing to pay that price?

What if you take care of your health and obey God's laws of health. You don't smoke, you don't drink alcohol to excess, you eat a good diet, avoid unclean meats, get plenty of exercise, etc. You even pray for God's protection from accidents. But a drunk driver hits you and you end up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. Then, you are anointed for healing, you pray in faith for healing, but God does not heal you in this life. Can you pay that price, if that is what God requires? Or, if this happened, would you lose faith in God and conclude that God broke His promises to you?

God promises He will not put us through greater trials than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), but He does not promise that we will be blessed with physical blessings in this life, even for an obedient Christian.

What God promises is eternal life in His kingdom, and in that kingdom everyone will obey God's law and we will have been perfected, and at that time, yes, we will be joyous and happy for eternity.

Not necessarily in this life.

The Old Covenant promised national, material blessings in this life, but the New Covenant gives us better promises. The New Covenant promises, not happiness in this physical life, but eternal life and happiness in the Kingdom of God.

It takes faith to trust that promise, and to the extent we have that faith we can be joyous even in our trials. But that joy will come from the hope and confidence of our salvation and our ultimate destiny in God's kingdom, not necessarily from the physical pleasures and blessings of this temporary life.

Look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). Especially look at verses 19-22 and 25. Was Lazarus converted? Did he keep God's law? He must have, or if he didn't he would not be in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:16-17, 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-11). In this life, we are not yet perfect, and we slip and sin because of temptation, but we must be striving to obey God as a way of life. Since Lazarus in the parable ends up in the Kingdom of God, he must have been converted and striving to obey God.

Yet, did Lazarus's obedience bring blessings in this life? Was Lazarus healthy, prosperous, and married to a Proverbs 31 wife and his children all around his table? The parable doesn't say he was married and had children, and he was definitely poor and in bad health. Was Lazarus blessed with physical blessings in this life for his obedience? No, in the parable the rich man is told that in this physical life Lazarus received "evil things" (Luke 16:25).

Paul suffered after conversion, so much that he said that if it was only in this life he had hope he was of all men most miserable (1 Corinthians 15:19).


"Are they ministers of Christ? - I speak as a fool - I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

What if God, instead of blessing you with health, prosperity, family, and happiness for your obedience gives you the kind of suffering, pain, and poverty He gave to Lazarus in the parable to test your faith and your commitment to him? Will you remain faithful, trusting God to bless you for eternity in His kingdom? Or will you have second thoughts about your decision to be baptized?

Some servants of God reached a point in this life that they hated their lives so much they wished they were never born. Job cursed the day of his birth (Job 3:1-19). Jeremiah went further than that. He not only cursed the day he was born, he also cursed the man who announced his birth (Jeremiah 20:14-18)!

Count the cost, then choose to pay the cost. Choose God's way of life. God may indeed bless you with the physical blessings of this life, or He may not, but He will work things out for your good in the long run if you obey Him, even if that good does not come in this life but in the Kingdom of God.

God is preparing us to live a perfect way of life in His kingdom forever, and in that kingdom everyone will be blessed because our character will be perfected and no one will sin in that kingdom to make a dent in our happiness. But in this life, God is molding and shaping our character, as well as testing us, and that may involve sacrifice and suffering. We have to learn to pay that price without grumbling, without looking back, without doubting God's righteousness and wisdom.

Trust God, believe God, and obey God, not just for a happy life now in the flesh (though God may give you blessings now), but for eternal life in God's kingdom and for God's honor and glory.

Sometimes God puts us through trials to teach us lessons, but we are frustrated because we don't understand the trial or what we are supposed to learn from it. But God doesn't promise we will understand every trial we go through while we are going through it. Look at the example of Job. He went through a severe trial for a long time without understanding it. Later, he understood, but not during most of the trial. This whole world is suffering under Satan's deception and rule, and the people of this world do not understand the purpose of it, but they will later. God can put you and me through long trials we do not understand to test and develop our faith, and then the understanding will come later.

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).

"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

"We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

" 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11).

"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

If you are going through a trial you don't understand, hang in there and trust God to the end, even to the end of your life. Count God as true and faithful and continue to believe and obey His word. Trust God unconditionally. That is part of the commitment we make at baptism and the commitment we renew at Passover.

If God blesses you in this life, give thanks for it, but if it is God's will that you live a life of suffering, whether that suffering comes from pain, illness, poverty, loneliness, or any other physical or emotional cause, trust God, believe in his promises, count God as faithful, and continue to obey His commandments. Give God thanks for His promise of eternal life in His kingdom, and renew the commitment in your mind to trust, believe, and obey Him forever, no matter what.

This is part of counting the cost.

Eternal life is worth it.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New Pope Has Been Chosen

For those who are interested, a new pope of the Catholic Church has been named. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina has been selected and will be known as Pope Francis. According to reports I heard on the radio, he is the archbishop of Buenes Aires, Argentina. He is 76 years old, apparently in good health. He is the son of Italians who moved to Argentina.

Here are links to a few news articles about this:;_ylt=A2KJ2Ua500BR5EUA8zfQtDMD

I am sure there will be many more news articles as more information becomes available about the new pope.

It would be natural for the new pope to be sympathetic to the interests and concerns of the people of Argentina, since he would be very familiar with that country. It will be interesting in the long term to see if and how the new pope influences the dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, whose population recently voted overwhelmingly to remain with Britain. Link:

UPDATE 3/14/2013:  See my comment below about the pope's stand on the Falkland Islands.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Did Christ Choose Joseph Tkach?

Did Jesus Christ, as head of the Church, choose Mr. Joseph Tkach to succeed Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong as Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God, or was naming Mr. Tkach to succeed him Mr. Armstrong's mistake?

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).

"Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

"For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23).

"And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23).

"But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (1 Corinthians 12:18).

I believe Christ, as head of the Church, did name Mr. Tkach and led Mr. Armstrong to announce His choice. I believe God led circumstances to cause Mr. Armstrong to name Mr. Tkach. I also think Christ allowed Mr. Armstrong to be blinded to Mr. Tkach's true character or level of understanding (or lack of understanding) of the Bible, else Mr. Armstrong would not have named him.

Mr. Armstrong was right in his understanding that Mr. Tkach was Christ's choice - he was only wrong in the reason why Christ chose him. Mr. Armstrong thought Christ was choosing him because Mr. Tkach would be faithful to the doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught. Christ allowed Mr. Armstrong to think that, but Christ chose Mr. Tkach for the opposite reason, because Christ knew Mr. Tkach would change doctrine.

Why would Christ do this?

The Worldwide Church of God had become predominantly Laodicean by the time of Mr. Armstrong's death. By that I do not mean that Mr. Armstrong was Laodicean, but that 51% or more of the converted members and ministers in Worldwide had become Laodicean, and the words Christ spoke to Laodicea in Revelation took effect: "I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:16).

The time had come for Christ to rebuke and test the Church of God for its lukewarmness and spiritual blindness and complacency. So Christ gave us the leader we deserved and needed, to put us through a trial. Christ did this, not to harm us, but because He loves us and knew we needed a trial to test us, to teach us, and to wake us up and lead us to repentance. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).

Mr. Tkach changed doctrines, and faithful ministers and members had to leave the organization that Worldwide had become. The doctrinal changes began gradually but continued at an increasingly rapid pace over about ten years after Mr. Armstrong's death in 1986. Ministers and members left at different times, some early in this process, such as around 1990, some late, around 1995, and at various times in-between. Some ministers quit and some were fired.

The evidence and proof that we had become Laodicean is the way we left Worldwide.

Did the true Church of God, which came out of Worldwide in those years, stay united? No, we did not. We scattered, and we remain scattered today into competing Churches of God. If we were mostly Philadelphian, I think we would have remained united even as we came out of Worldwide.

Christ saw we were Laodicean. So He gave us a test to show us what He could already see. He gave us a pastor general who followed the traditions of mainstream Christianity rather than the doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught from the Bible, forcing the true Church of God to leave the organization. The test was, how would we leave. Would we be united or would we scatter?

We failed the test, as Christ knew Laodicea would. We scattered. Thus, Christ shows us what He knew would happen, giving evidence to anyone with spiritual discernment that the majority of us were not Philadelphian any longer. For if we were all in the Philadelphian condition, we would have stayed together as we left.

In addition to showing us our true spiritual state, the events that occurred allowed Christ to test each of us individually in a way that did not occur while Mr. Armstrong was alive, and that individual testing is still going on.

Some might say, Christ would never name someone as leader of the Church of God whom God knew would be unfaithful, or God would have removed him as soon as he became unfaithful.

But Christ named Judas and used him for three and a half years even though Judas was an enemy (John 6:70-71). Christ allowed King Saul of Israel to remain on the throne for years after God rejected him, using Saul during that time to test and train David's character. And even now, God allows Satan to remain on the throne of the earth because it accomplishes God's purposes to test and train us and to teach the world that Satan's way does not work.

So yes, Christ can appoint a man who does not understand the Bible and will not remain faithful to the true doctrines of the Bible if it suits His purpose to test us and put us through trials to teach us lessons and develop our faith, or even to rebuke us and show us our sins.

Mr. Armstrong did make one mistake with Mr. Tkach, not in naming him to replace himself as pastor general after Mr. Armstrong's death, but in teaching us to follow the next pastor general if we want to make it into the kingdom of God. He should have placed a condition on that statement. He should have said we should follow the new pastor general as he follows Christ and the Bible.

Perhaps Christ allowed Mr. Armstrong to make that mistake to prove to all who are willing to see that Mr. Armstrong's teachings were not infallible, even to the end of his life.

I think Worldwide Church of God while Mr. Armstrong was alive was truly led by God. I think Jesus Christ led Mr. Armstrong personally, and I think Mr. Armstrong was overall faithful in following where Christ led, though he was not perfect in following Christ. But I think Christ did lead Mr. Armstrong to name Mr. Tkach as pastor general, but not for the reasons Mr. Armstrong thought. Mr. Armstrong thought Mr. Tkach would be faithful to the Bible and to the doctrines Mr. Armstrong got from the Bible, and that is why he named him his successor. In a letter to the brethren, Mr. Armstrong said that Christ led him to name Mr. Tkach, and I think that is correct. Mr. Tkach was Christ's choice, but for a different reason.

The Church of God had become mostly Laodicean by the time of Mr. Armstrong's death. In the early years, from about 1934 thru the 1950s and maybe the 1960s, the majority of Worldwide converted members were probably Philadelphia in character and spiritual condition, and that is why Christ gave an open door to Mr. Armstrong for rapid growth. That was the Philadelphia era. But there was a drifting into lukewarmness and the Laodicean condition, and by the time of Mr. Armstrong's death in 1986, more than half of the converted members I think were lukewarm and Laodicean. The Laodicean era had begun, and Christ had determined to put the Church through a trial to shake us up, to rebuke us, to let us be scattered, as He says in Revelation, "I will vomit you out of my mouth". So Christ chose a man whom He knew would change doctrine, and He arranged circumstances to lead Mr. Armstrong to name Mr. Tkach as successor. In other words, Christ used Mr. Armstrong to announce Christ's choice for the new pastor general, Joseph Tkach, but for reasons exactly opposite of what Mr. Armstrong expected.

And though the scattering has been hard (and ugly), a trial from God, even a punishment in a sense, in the long run it will be good for us. For example, I know one young man who grew up in the Church who said the doctrinal changes forced him to study the Bible more seriously and to really prove what he believed.

God let the Church of God be scattered for our own good, to wake us up, to help us see our spiritual condition as God sees it, to test us and to lead us to repentance. Let's make sure we repent and pass the test in the time remaining that God gives us.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5

The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5

We Need to Repent, Chapter 9

Laodicea and Philadelphia, Chapter 9

We Need to Be More Zealous for the Things of God, Chapter 9