Thursday, April 25, 2019

Scriptures on How to Overcome

Most people in the Church of God know that the Bible teaches that we should be overcomers (Revelation 2:8, 11, 17, 26-27, 3:5, 12, 21). We need to overcome our sins and our sinful habits. We need to overcome Satan and his evil influence in our lives.

But how?

In my last post I quoted Romans 7:15-25 in which Paul described his struggle against sin. Included in this passage, Paul says, "for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (Romans 7:18).

Paul said that he did not find how to do what is good.

So a question is, how? How do we overcome?

There are some Bible passages that help to answer this.

"Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death' " (Revelation 12:10-11).

We overcome Satan by the blood of Christ and by the word of our testimony.

We must rely on and trust in the sacrifice of Christ to make our forgiveness possible. But we also overcome by the word of our testimony.

In the context of the above passage, this applies to martyrdom, for it says, "they did not love their lives to the death". But this can also apply, I think, to preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world, sacrificing for this purpose even to the point, figuratively speaking, of death, not loving our lives in this world, but seeking to do God's will and finish His work (John 4:34-38).

Here is another passage that tells us how to turn from evil: "In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil" (Proverbs 16:6).

A way to turn from evil is to fear God. What does fear of God mean? It means we are afraid to go against God, afraid of the consequences of sinning against Him, afraid of His wrath and His punishment for our sins. God is stronger than we are, and every sin has consequences. It means we make our obedience to Him and our fear of Him very personal. Jesus said, as I quoted in my last post, "Yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

When times of temptation come, we can recall God's power to discipline us and bring the consequences of our sin upon us. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

God has powerful control over our bodies, our health, and the circumstances of our lives in the world around us. He can bring pain and trials upon us even greater than we can imagine. And ultimately, He can cast us into the lake of fire. Do we want to provoke such a God against us by sinning?

Also, notice in Proverbs 6:6 that in mercy and truth atonement is provided for sin. This can tie in with a previous point I made, that our efforts to overcome are helped by sacrificing to preach the truth to the world. We show mercy to the people of this world - our neighbors - by supporting the preaching of the truth to them. They need a warning message of the tribulation to come upon them if they don't repent.

Here is one more passage. "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' " (John 8:31-32).

We need to abide in Christ's word, the word of God, and He promises we will know the truth and the truth will make us free. What kind of freedom is Christ talking about? Freedom from sin. "Jesus answered them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed' " (John 8:34-36).

We can abide in Christ's word by immersing ourselves in the Bible, striving to believe and live by the Bible, all of it. Christ said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' " (Matthew 4:4).

This is not an exhaustive list - there no doubt are many other Bible passages that teach us how to overcome sin. But these are a few that I find to be powerful scriptures that help me, and I thought I would share them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Motivation for Obeying God's Law

Everyone in the Church of God, every truly converted member having God's Holy Spirit, has made a commitment to God to obey His spiritual law, summarized by the ten commandments, in the spirit and the letter. And we strive to keep that commitment.

We fall short. We have to struggle against our human nature. Paul describes that struggle, using himself as an example.

"For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:15-25).

We all struggle against sin. And it is useful, in times of temptation, to remember the reasons for our commitment to obey God's spiritual law. We need these as motivations to resist temptation and obey God.

One motivation that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong emphasized is that obedience to God's law brings blessings, and sin - the violation of that law - brings curses. As he put it, if we break God's law, it breaks us. There are always penalties involved in breaking God's law, and Mr. Armstrong also said, you cannot cheat God out of the penalty. Sin brings penalties of suffering, for ourselves and others, and if not repented of and turned from, death.

Obedience to God's law brings blessings in this life, and disobedience brings penalties. So for example, if we obey the commandment that says, you shall not commit adultery, our marriages will be happier. If we don't murder and steal, we have a better chance of staying out of jail. Those are good motivations to keep God's commandments. His commandments are for our good.

But obedience to God's law does not always bring happiness in this life. Sometimes we suffer for obedience. People who keep the Sabbath or refuse to lie for their bosses may lose their jobs. If we keep God's commandments, we may suffer persecution. Sometimes God tests our faith with suffering as He tested Job.

Remember the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus must have obeyed God because he ended up in God's kingdom with Abraham. Yet he suffered miserably in this life. In the parable, the rich man was told, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented" (Luke 16:25).

Paul, though he obeyed God's commandments, suffered in this life, along with many other servants of God (1 Corinthians 15:19, 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, Hebrews 11:32-39).

But the main fulfillment of the blessings of keeping God's law will be in the resurrection and in the kingdom of God. "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).

So a motivation for obeying God's law is possible blessings in this life. But a greater motivation is the blessing of being in the kingdom of God after the resurrection.

But there may be a greater motivation than either of these. We should want to please God and do His will for His pleasure and glory.

Our relationship with God must be based on love. That is built in to God's commandments, for the first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:25-28). We should love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

That love towards God should motivate us to please Him by obeying Him. "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).

We should also fear God, and this should motivate us to obey Him. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all"
(Ecclesiastes 12:13).

"In mercy and truth
Atonement is provided for iniquity;
And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil"
(Proverbs 16:6).

"But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

God wants obedience to His holy law, but He wants that obedience to be based on a relationship with Him. God wants relationship-based obedience. God's whole plan shows this. His sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ shows the kind of loving relationship God wants to have with us. It is a relationship that will carry on into the kingdom of God and prepare us to be full members of His divine family for eternity.

So to be motivated to obey God's law because obedience brings blessings, sometimes in this life, but totally and definitely in our future eternal life in the kingdom of God, is a good motivation for resisting temptation to sin. But to obey because we want and treasure a close relationship with God and seek to please Him is a better motivation, I think.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review of Spring Festivals 2019

Starting Thursday night, tonight in the United States, the Church of God will be keeping Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.

The keeping of God's annual holy days and festivals is an important characteristic of the true Church of God. We owe this tradition to Mr. Armstrong and his willingness to believe what God says in the Bible more than tradition, even tradition in the Church of God. We also owe this tradition to the thousands of people who heard Mr. Armstrong on the radio say, Don't believe me, don't believe any minister or man, believe God, believe your Bible. These people believed God more than their church and their traditions and joined in supporting Mr. Armstrong, and it was their support that enabled the work of God to grow at that time. We are the fruit of that effort. Our traditions must be based on God's word and commandments (Matthew 15:1-9).

Each annual festival and holy day that God gave Israel in the Old Testament has meaning for the Church of God. Observing these days helps us to understand that meaning. Together, the weekly Sabbath and the annual holy days and festivals help us understand the whole plan of God for the salvation of the human race.

Observing God's ordained festivals and holy days and the weekly Sabbath helps us understand the whole plan of God in two ways. We hear sermons and scriptures on the subject and meaning of the days we keep, and this helps us understand the plan of God. But also, when God sees our obedience in keeping these days, He blesses us by opening our minds to understand His truth and His plan (Psalm 111:10).

Passover is observed at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month, at evening after sunset (each day begins and ends at sunset) (Exodus 12:1-11). It is an annual festival, but not a holy day. Work may be done on the fourteenth day. We observe it, following Christ's example, by eating unleavened bread and drinking a small amount of wine (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:15-20). The bread represents the body of Christ, which was broken for our healing. The wine represents His shed blood - His death - which pays the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and reconciled with God the Father (John 6:32-58, Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12).

We also wash each other's feet, following the example of Jesus Christ, to represent the attitude of humble service we should have towards the brethren (John 13:2-17).

Before Passover, we should examine ourselves so we can keep the Passover in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).

Passover is kept by those who are baptized. God's instructions for Old Testament Israel were that only those who are circumcised could keep the Passover (Exodus 12:43-44). In the Church, circumcision is of the heart (Romans 2:23-29). It is those who have repented and made the commitment to obey God represented by baptism who are spiritually circumcised (Acts 2:38).

Passover day is not a holy day. It is an annual festival of God, but not an annual sabbath. We can work on that day. But the next day is the first day of unleavened bread, and it is an annual sabbath and holy day. It is the first day of a seven day festival in which we avoid leavening and eat unleavened bread each day.

The first and last days of unleavened bread are annual sabbath days - holy days - and we refrain from work and we assemble for services on those days (Leviticus 23:4-8). Offerings are taken up on the holy days (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).

During the seven days of unleavened bread, we avoid eating leavening (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc.) and leavened products. We should have all leavening and leavened products out of our homes (or our living space we control if we live in someone else's home who is not a Church member) before the first day of unleavened bread. During these days, leavening represents sin because it puffs up and spreads. As Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ that makes forgiveness of our sins and our healing possible, the days of unleavened bread represent our part in putting sin out of our lives. In other words, the days of unleavened bread represent repentance.

As leavening represents sin, the unleavened bread we eat each day represents the righteousness of Christ. We are not only to get sin out of our lives, but we are to live righteously following the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:4).

But at the very beginning of the days of unleavened bread, this coming Friday evening, we keep the night to be much observed.

Passover at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month represents God sparing the firstborn of Israel when He killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. For the Church, it represents God sparing us from the death penalty for our sins because of the sacrifice of Christ. The lamb that was killed in Egypt represents Christ.

But that is not the day Israel left Egypt. Israel walked out of Egypt the following night, the beginning of the fifteenth day of the first month. God has commanded that this time be observed. Egypt represents this sinful society and bondage to sin, and for the Church this night represents our coming out of this sinful society and its ways. We observe this by gathering together, usually in families in a Church member's home, to eat a special meal. Often, members talk about how they were called and how they came into the truth and into the Church (Exodus 12:41-42).

There are lessons to be learned about sin and the effort we must make to put sin out of our lives and keep it out. God often uses physical things to teach us spiritual lessons, and so it is with unleavened bread.

We must be constantly diligent to avoid eating leavening during these days. It is easy to slip up and forget, especially in the workplace and when we are going to lunch with people who are not in the Church. Thus it is with sin. We have to be constantly alert. Also, we may find some unleavened bread - perhaps a package of crackers in a corner someplace - that we missed when we put leavening out of our homes. When we find it, we must get rid of it right away. That is what sin is like. We may discover sins in our lives that we have not been aware of, and when we do we are to repent of those sins.

As we observe the spring holy days and festivals, let's keep the meaning of these days in mind and learn the lessons God wants to teach us. And let us be thankful to God for these days and their meaning.