Galatians 2:20 (NKJV) 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

This week was father’s day and I did not have a holiday message planned. However, after my daughter got up and shared some wonderful things about me as a father, some even deserved, I began sharing my heart with our church. The Lord seemed to lead me to talk a little about identities.

One of the things we get from our fathers is an identity. Much of who we see ourselves as comes to us through the home in which we were raised. If our homes were good, our identity will tend to be healthy but if we were raised in a home that communicated the wrong things to us, we might develop an identity dominated by rejection, abuse or some other unhealthy view of self.

We tend to focus on the abusive mistakes that fathers can make, but sometimes our home identity can be that of a spoiled child. We may see ourselves as entitled in life. We may never understand the need for work or patience. We may not be able to see others as more important than self. We may never learn to handle disappointment or hardship. Either extreme is a wrong identity.

Of course the identity we carry only begins in the home. Many people develop identities of failure because of the disappointments of life. Some become cruel or angry. Some develop alcoholic or addicted identities.

Some identities are not necessarily wrong. They may even be good or healthy. I am a husband, a father and a grandfather. Those are identities. I am a preacher and a teacher. Those are also identities.

Whatever we do in life and as well as the trials we face contribute to the identity we carry. Race, nationality and region can be contributors to our identity. Whatever it is that makes up the way we see ourselves, we must understand that there is one identity that we must grasp and cultivate over all others.

Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live.” He did not say it was someone else who now lived. It was still Paul, but it was a Paul with a new identity dominating his view of self. He was what we might call a “Jesus” Paul. He was still Paul but his old life and old identity had been placed on the cross and now he had a new identity dominated by his life in Christ.

Many things hinder us in life. Many things keep us from growing in the Lord. I think one of the most powerful is identity. When our identity is dominated by the flesh it will always be a problem. We may see ourselves as too important or not important at all. We may think we have no value or we may value our flesh identity so highly that we cannot allow Jesus to become dominant. Either extreme will keep us from being able to submit to the Word of God fully.

Who are you? How do you see yourself today? What dominates your identity? I knew a person once who was so dominated by their identity as a musician that they could not see any other value in their life. If they did not receive the recognition they felt they deserved their conclusion was that everyone was against them. We were all holding them back because they were so talented that surely they would be a “star” if only everyone else cooperated.

The truth was that this identity, which was true to a degree, was masking many hurts and problems that plagued this person throughout life. This person had gone through some deep trials and these things set something in motion that made relationships difficult and caused great depression. The musical ability became so important a part of identity that it was impossible for this person to receive the other things Jesus wanted to give. It was impossible to let go of the music identity long enough for Jesus to bring healing.

I have seen other people who go through counseling and sometimes deliverance. When they begin to come out the other side they no longer know who they are. They think something is still wrong with them because they do not know how to function without the identity that their depression, oppression or other emotional damage had created. In extreme cases I have seen people so lost without their old identity that they simply could not progress and they fell back into the thinking that bound them to begin with.

Poor people are poor because that is how they see themselves. That is their identity. Often sick people stay sick because that is their identity. Victims stay victims as long as they allow that identity to dominate them. Some people cannot rise to adulthood because they cannot lose the identity of immaturity. Some are so severe in their view of life and self that they can never receive the joy of the Lord. I could go on but I expect you have the idea by now.

One of my challenges as a father was to communicate the kind of identity to each of my children that the Lord showed me they really were. Each of the six is different. They had different strengths and weaknesses. They had different gifts and talents. They each had very different personality types. Of course I communicated a certain identity to them based on who I was and how my wife was. I communicated the values that I believe to be important and that became a part of their identity. In the end I could only do so much because as well as I knew them, I did not know them perfectly.

Our heavenly Father does know each one of us. He is the one who formed us in our mother’s womb. He is the one who planned our lives before we took a breath. He made us to fulfill a destiny and purpose. Only when we submit all other identities to the identity that comes from him will we find our true self and our true life. (Psalm 139)

I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I do live. There is a real me created by my Father God and that real me is the one who can walk in the fullness of life God has planned for me. We know that part of the meaning of this verse is the crucifixion of our fleshly desires and selfish goals. However, this verse means much more than that. It is the revelation of our true self.

Sometimes it is difficult because the person that you used to be will still be imprinted on your memory. The devil will say as you try to serve the Lord, “That isn’t you. You’re being a hypocrite.” That statement is the real lie. You are who God says you are. You are who and what the Word of God says you are. Any other identity, no matter how long it has been with you, is the false one.

Take some time today to look at who you think you are. What part of your identity comes from both the good and bad things in your life or personality? They are a part of you. However, when you met Jesus the true identity that God created you to have was released. The real you is the “Jesus” you. Do not let the devil, the world or your emotions convince you otherwise.

Open your heart to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will help you discover who you really are. Renew your mind by finding your true self in the Word. You will still be you just like Paul was still Paul, but it will be a different you, a Jesus you. When you accept that identity, it will make all the difference.

Paul’s Response to Grace

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NKJV) 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me

This week we have been looking at the wonderful grace of God. Yesterday we looked at the first verse in today’s section of scripture. Paul says he is the least of the apostles and not even worthy to be called an apostle. This seems like he is submitting to condemnation or false humility. He is doing neither. He is simply stating the fact of grace. He once persecuted the church. He does not deserve salvation let alone the position he occupies. However he is not apologizing or focusing on his negative past. He knows that the old man is dead and he is a new creature in Christ Jesus. In verse 10 he boldly declares that he is what he is by the grace of God.

Grace has made him an apostle, but he does not forget what God’s grace saved him from. He understands that the life he lives is not the life he deserves. As a result he loves God more and appreciates this grace fully. We are to walk as new creatures in Christ. We have a covenant with God in Christ Jesus and we can indeed come boldly to the throne of the universe. However, we must never forget that we are there by God’s undeserved favor. We are not there by anything we have done to deserve the privilege. When we, like Paul, remember what we were saved from, we appreciate our position and maintain the proper attitude.

What is the proper response to grace? Some would say that the proper response is to forget about sin. We should do our best, but it is not really important if we sin. Grace covers our sin. We should just enjoy life, try to be a good person and love Jesus. Our behavior is not important.

I would agree that our behavior does not earn us the grace of God. Our behavior cannot buy us salvation or righteousness. This does not mean our behavior is unimportant. What was Paul’s response to grace? In verse 10 we see what it was. He says, “His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Paul’s response to grace was to work harder in the preaching of the Gospel than anyone else. You may say, “I thought grace meant we were free from works!” Grace means we are free from dead works. (Heb. 6:1) The proper response to grace must never be a lax attitude toward our Christian life. The proper response to grace is the one we see from Paul. He is so appreciative of the grace of God and so filled with love for God that he desires to please him and works harder than everyone else to live in such a way and do such works as those who would do so.

The problem for most Christians is not that they are working too hard in their walk with God. The problem for many is that they are working for the wrong things. If you are working hard to gain what you already have by grace, you are wasting your time. You are already loved by God. You are already accepted in the beloved. (Eph. 1:6) You are already a child of God. You are already a joint heir with Christ to all that God has or is. (Rom. 8:17) You do not need to work to gain any of these things. You simply need to appropriate them by faith. Working to get these things is religion. These are the dead works that Hebrews 6:1 says we should repent from.

This does not mean that we do not work. We must work. We must pray. We must study the Word of God. We must repent from know sin. We must “put off the old man and put on Christ.” (Rom. 13:14) All of the things I point out here are taken from the writings of Paul. He is the same one who gives us the revelation of Grace to begin with. Paul worked. Paul did everything he could to walk “worthy of the calling with which you were called.” (Eph. 4:1)

The difference between Paul and those who would work to measure up to a standard that is impossible is simple. Paul already knew he could never measure up except by the grace of God. He also knew that he had that grace and therefore already measured up to what God required. He was right with God by faith through grace. No more work was necessary. Now he was free to work because he loved the one who gave him grace. He was free to work so that he could gain more knowledge of this wonderful grace giver. He was free to work to bring others into this grace. He did not have any reason to think his work was to earn anything and he did not think he was entitled to anything he received.

We have all done works for someone we loved. Those works may not have always been pleasant. We may have done things our flesh did not want to do. We may have endured some kind of hardship to do those works. If they were done for someone we love they take on a different feel. We may not like what we are doing but we love the ones for whom we do it. That makes the work a joy. Every person who goes to work every day in a job that is not what he or she planned for their own life in order to provide a life for their children knows what I am talking about.

I am not a swimmer. My wife is. I met her at a swimming pool. I did not go into the pool I was just there to hang out. She was a lifeguard. We have swimming pool. I do not go into the swimming pool more than once or twice a year. My wife spends as much time in it as she can. Every now and then as she is floating around in circles in our pool she looks lovingly at me and says, “Have I told you recently how much I love my pool?”

We live in the northeast of the United States. The pool must be closed in the fall and opened in the spring. Getting the pool clear in the spring can be a challenge. This year we had an inordinate amount of leaves in the pool. A couple of weeks ago we were trying to get the leaves out. We were using a tool that would pick them up so we could throw them over the side. Between the weight of the leaves and the water it was too heavy for my wife to get the leaves out. I do not like cold water at all. However, if my wife is going to be able to swim the leaves have to come out. Somebody has to go into the cold water and get the leaves out. Guess who went in?

I did not enjoy the job. The cold water took my breath away. The job was boring. I was not going to reap the benefits of my work. I was not going to earn anything for my efforts except the gratitude and love of my wife. We are not big “Facebook” posters, but she took a picture and posted it with this caption. “Not that I needed it but here is further proof of how much my husband loves me.” That was reward enough.

Why should I work hard to grow in the knowledge of the Word of God? Why should I pray for others? Why should I abandon myself in worship? Why should I do my best to introduce others to Jesus? Why should I live in a way that is pleasing to God? Why should I stay away from anything I am not sure would please God? Why should I strive for a lifestyle of holiness? I should not do any of these things to gain God’s love or acceptance. I should not do them so I will be worthy of receiving the promises of God. I should not do them to measure up to a standard. All of those things are mine by the grace of God and I receive them by faith.

I should do these things because God loved me so much that he came to earth and paid the price for the sin and rebellion of man. I should do these things because I have grace from God. I should do them because I love him and appreciate what he has done for me. I should do them to please the one who gave all for me. As a covenant partner of almighty God, that is what I must do.

Paul’s Revelation of Grace

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NKJV) 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me

This week we are looking at the concept of grace. We began by looking at Hebrews 4:16. The Lord tells us we can come boldly to the throne of grace where we will find mercy to help in the time of need. Grace is favor with god that we do not deserve. This idea of this favor being undeserved is key to really understanding the concept of grace. Israel had grace from God, but the Old Testament references to grace do not carry this idea. To the Israelites they had favor because they were God’s chosen people and they maintained favor by keeping the Law. This makes grace deserved in their theological thinking.

In the New Testament this changes. Grace is favor that comes from God as in the Old Testament but in the New the realization that no one deserves this grace is fundamental to the idea. We are not beggars. We are not to concentrate on how unworthy we are because God made us worthy. However, we must remember that we are not worthy on the basis of anything we have done or can do. We cannot earn our standing with God. It is given to us independent of any actions on our part or of any payment we could make. It is a free gift.

Paul had the greatest revelation of grace that anyone has ever had. There are some interesting facts that I have uncovered in my study. These numbers are based on searches that I have done with my Bible software so I would not say that they are definitive but I think they are representative. The Old Testament uses the term grace 39 times. The New Testament uses the term 139 times. That is 100 more mentions of grace in the New Testament than the Old Testament.

Of the 139 times the word is used in the New Testament, 91 appear in Paul’s letters. If we include the books of Luke and Acts, written by Luke a student of Paul’s, we find that 102 of the 139 uses of the New Testament word grace occur in things written by Paul or someone highly influenced by Paul. Why does Paul seem almost preoccupied with this idea of grace? Today’s scripture gives us some insight.

Let us look at this verse a little more closely. Paul says he is the least of the apostles. The record does not support his conclusion. No one is more responsible for the growth of Christianity in the first century than Paul. He took the Gospel around the world. He was brought into the apostolic circle because he had revelation concerning how the Old and New Covenants worked together that no one else had. The rest of the apostles of the day were largely uneducated. Paul had studied with the greatest teacher of his day.

Imagine how many people have been influenced by Paul’s ministry. His letters have been read by every bible believing Christian since the New Testament was compiled. Every believer has been instructed, corrected and strengthened by this man’s ministry. Others have contributed to the New Testament, but not in the volume that Paul has.

In his day there were many apostles who might have been considered important. Most of them are forgotten. Some are remembered but what they taught did not survive. Paul wrote two thirds of the New Testament. He stood for righteousness until his death. In his own words Paul says, “I fought a good fight, I finished my course, I have kept the faith.” Why would Paul say he was the least of the apostles?

He goes on to say that he does not even deserve to be called an apostle. Once again I would point to the record. This does not seem as though it can be true. Even though Paul is saying this in his lifetime, if we look at the record up to this point in his life we would have to say Paul is more than worthy to be called an apostle.

Could it be that Paul is just speaking out of modesty? I do not come to the conclusion that Paul was all that modest when I read his letters. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul repeatedly says he should not boast but in verse 11 he says, “I have become a fool for boasting.” Pride was a consistent problem with Paul. We might conclude that Paul was exhibiting false humility. That fits what we read of him in his letters even less. Why does Paul seem to have such a low opinion of himself in this verse? He tells us why. He said these things because he persecuted the church.

This is the same Paul who wrote 2 Corinthians 5:17.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

If Paul believed his own revelation of the New Creation, why does he look to his past to determine that he is the least of the apostles and not worthy to be an apostle? That person is dead. The Paul writing this letter is not the same person who persecuted the church. He is a new creature, a person that never existed before his encounter with God. Could it be that Paul does not believe his own doctrine? Of course that is not the case.

Paul is looking at his past in the light of grace. He goes on to say that it was by the grace of God that he was an apostle. He is not speaking out of humility, false or otherwise. He is speaking what he knows to be the truth of the matter. It is grace, God’s undeserved favor, that washed away his past life. It is grace that enables him to be an apostle of God. It is grace that enables him to take the gospel around his world. It is grace that has opened the door for the wonderful revelations that he will impart to the ages through his letters. Grace is the source of it all.

Why is this so important? Paul understands that he is not what he is because he has worked hard or earned the title of apostle. Tomorrow we will see that he did work hard. However, that is not why he is what he is. He has a deep understanding that what he is comes from God and is neither earned nor deserved by him. That revelation keeps him in the proper frame of mind and gives him the right motivation for all he does.

We need to know that the old man is dead and the new creation is what we are. We have been born again. This is not a theological term it is a spiritual reality. All that I did before Christ has passed away. In salvation I am made new. This is a powerful truth.

Equally powerful is the understanding that I did not earn my present condition. I did not pay for my past. Someone else paid for it. Someone else died so I could live. Therefore, the life I live now comes as a gift to me. All that I am all that I have and all that I do is a product of the undeserved favor of God. I have no right to boast or feel proud. What I must do is feel the same way Paul felt. I must cultivate the same preoccupation with grace that he had. If I do, I can enjoy this wonderful gift and it will not become corrupted into something that seems to say I can live any way I want because I have grace.

What did Paul feel in response to grace? He felt profoundly grateful. He felt profound love for the one who would do such a thing for him. That is why he looked at his past and that is why we should never forget that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If I remember that, I will do well. If you remember it, so will you.

The Throne of Grace

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Last week our discussion centered on the idea that favor flows to faith and faith should be a rest not a work. Hebrews 4:9-11 tells us that there is a rest God intends for his people. That rest comes when we cease from or own works and begin to do the labor of building relationship with him. The more we know him the easier it is to believe him. Proverbs 3:1-6 tells us that we must be willing to abandon ourselves to trust in God. That means we must put the full weight of our lives upon him. That is the rest we are seeking. Favor will flow to that kind of faith.

As we came to the end of the week, I pointed out that there was a bible truth that must be in place in our thinking if we are going to be able to abandon ourselves to trusting God. That truth is another aspect of favor. It is favor with God called grace in the New Testament. We closed last week with the scripture I want to begin with this week.

Thank God that this verse tells us to come to the throne of grace, not the throne of works or the throne of judgment. What is grace? We know that favor is something done for us but not for payment or out of obligation. Favor is “preferential treatment” given to us for no particular reason. How does grace differ with what we have been studying in the idea of favor? Let us look at some definitions.

Both today and in bible times the word grace is used to describe someone of elegance, politeness, generosity of spirit and other pleasing qualities. In the Old Testament, we often see the term favor or grace used in the way we have been looking at it all year. God used favor with people in Exodus to enable the Hebrews to “spoil” the Egyptians. We see favor with God spoken of especially in the Psalms. However there is a difference when we look at the New Testament.

According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, “in none of these instances (of the use of grace in the Old Testament), is there any emphasis on the recipient’s lack of merit as in the New Testament concept of grace.” If we are to understand grace as it is taught in the New Testament, we must understand that it carries with it the idea that we do not deserve the favor that comes to us from God. If we do not understand this point we will interpret grace to mean something it does not.

The Old Testament carries the idea of undeserved favor in the stories of how God dealt with Israel. The words “love” and “mercy” carry a similar idea to that of New Testament grace, but the Israelites did not understand it in the same way. They were God’s chosen people. Through the course of their history this idea caused them to see favor with God as their heritage. The idea that it was underserved did not enter into their theological thinking. They were the children of Abraham. If God gave favor to someone else, it was not deserved. When God gave them favor it was a birthright.

That is not to say that they did not understand that they could lose the favor of God. However, they lost God’s favor by transgressing the law. If they kept the law they had God’s favor. Therefore, the favor of God depended on their keeping of the law. Favor was deserved. The fact that they had both the covenant and the law because God chose to give them to Israel was lost in the equation. They were God’s people. They had a covenant. If they kept the Law God gave them favor so it was deserved in their minds.

We need only look at the majority of the Pharisees to see this attitude graphically displayed. They were inflexible where the law was concerned. They were arrogant and self important. They were the guardians of God’s people and, in their minds, deserving of a special place in society. The people of God deserved favor and the Pharisees deserved it most of all. It would never enter into the pharisaical mind that the favor of God was an undeserved gift from the Lord.

In the light of this thought let us look again at today’s verse. Keep in mind that Hebrews 3 and 4 refer back to the Israelites on their journey from bondage in Egypt to destiny in Canaan. The first generation of Israelites came to the border of the Promised Land and could not go in. Why? They looked at the giants, the walled cities and their own lack and found themselves incapable of overcoming the obstacles before them. One might say that they came to the “throne of what they deserved and what their strength could do instead of the throne of grace and mercy.

The throne we must approach is the throne of grace. You might call it the throne of what we do not deserve. Mercy is getting help from someone who does not have to give it. Mercy implies that the person has the ability to help, but no obligation to help. So we need to come to the throne of what we do not deserve where we will find help we are not owed which will enable us to overcome in the time of need.

The problem with this is that we are conditioned to believe we must pay for help like this. There must be some catch. In the world the saying, “If it’s too good to be true it probably isn’t true.” is very valid. However, when we are talking about grace “too good to be true” is exactly what it is. Even so, it is true. God really gives us favor we do not deserve and help that we are not owed.

There is nothing to pay where grace is concerned. There is no standard we have to achieve in order to receive grace. Grace by nature is a free gift that comes to us from God. We did not earn it and we do not have the price it would take to earn it. We cannot work for it because there are no works that can obtain it. It is free. That is one side of the equation of grace.

The other side is that we do not deserve it. If we forget that part we will make grace a license to live in a way that cannot please God. We may say, “I have grace so it does not matter if I sin. Grace will cover it.” If we respond to grace this way, we have forgotten an important element in the grace equation. I do not deserve grace. I am not owed grace. I did not earn grace. I am not entitled to grace.

In our entitlement oriented world we think that things we do not work for are owed to us anyway. That is the mentality Israel took towards the favor of God. It led to an ungrateful and legalistic people. The Pharisees often placed requirements on people that they themselves could not carry.

Matthew 23:13 (NKJV) 13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

I thank God everyday for the unmerited favor that comes to me by the grace of God. I thank God that I do not have to pay the penalty for my sins. I thank God that I do not have to earn my salvation but it comes to me by faith through the free gift of God’s grace. At the same time I remind myself that it is in this unmerited favor that I stand clean before my Lord. I did not deserve it. I still do not deserve it.

I stand before God clean and free. I have a covenant and I am not a beggar because God gave me “great and precious promises.” I can come boldly to the throne of grace. However, it is still the throne of grace. I do not deserve to be there. I am not entitled to be there. I am there because God did something wonderful for me and if I forget that, I will never understand the wonderful grace of God.

Trust in the Lord

Proverbs 3:1-6 (NKJV) 1 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.

This week we have been looking at the rest of faith from Hebrew chapter 4. Favor comes to us the same way anything else in the Kingdom of God comes to us. It comes by faith. Faith should not be something we strive about but a rest. Hebrews 4:9-11 tells us that we enter the rest when we cease from our own works. If we are trying to follow God in our own strength and by our own merits we will fail.

We have also learned that there is a work we must do. We must keep the Lord’s commandments, obey his voice and walk in his ways. One of the most important things we must understand is why we do these things. We do not do them to gain God’s acceptance. We do not do them to “measure up” to a standard. Hebrews 4:11 specifically says that the point of the labor is to enter the rest. When we walk in God’s ways, obey his voice and keep his commandments, faith becomes natural and favor will follow.

As I was preparing to preach this message, I felt the Lord said something to me that I found significant. To enter into the rest of faith we must abandon ourselves to trust in God. We will never find rest if we “try” trusting God. We will never find rest if we question God’s motives or actions. We find it easy to trust when we understand. We find it easy to trust when things are going the way we think they should or in the way we expect they will. However, when things do not, we find it difficult to trust in him. Rest requires that we abandon our life to trust in God.

One of the best illustrations of this in my life is flying in an airplane. I do not know how to fly a plane. I look at the size of some of the machines I use to cross the ocean and I cannot imagine how they can possibly do what they do. How can something so big and heavy get off the ground and then stay off the ground for hours at a time? I understand that there are principles of physics at work, but it is still hard to grasp. For a time fear almost made getting into an airplane impossible.

I had to trust in the Lord, the pilot and the technology in that order! Every time we fly we abandon ourselves to that trust. Once in the air there is nothing we have control over. Whether we live or die is in someone else’s hands. I finally settled that in my heart and now I have no trouble getting into a plane and flying across the world. I do not understand it any more than I did before. I still could not fly the plane if something happened to the pilot. I just have to trust that nothing bad will happen.

If we are going to enter the rest of faith we must do the same with the Lord. In some ways it is easier to trust the plane and the pilot because we know that planes fly every day and that millions of people are safe in them. However, there are millions upon multiplied millions of people who have found that trusting in the Lord leads to life and blessing. We must abandon ourselves to trust in God. He knows us. He loves us and he will never do anything that does not lead to our highest good.

In today’s verse we see some interesting things about trust. We see that the same elements that we have been discussing this week appear in this section of scripture as well. In verse one, we are told to keep the Lord’s commandments. We cannot say we trust God if we will not keep his commandments. Very often we tend to focus on the restrictions involved in keeping God’s commandments. There is a restricting factor. They keep us from things that will hurt us. However, they also provide something for us. Look at verse 2 from the Amplified bible.

Proverbs 3:2 (AMP) 2 For length of days and years of a life [worth living] and tranquility [inward and outward and continuing through old age till death], these shall they add to you.

Keeping God’s commandments lead to a long that is also one worth living. They produce peace and tranquility that will last until we leave this earth to spend eternity with the Lord. The benefits from keeping God’s commandments far outweigh the restrictions that may come when we do.

In verse 3 we find that we must not forsake mercy and truth but we must bind them around our necks and keep them in the midst of our heart. To me this speaks of his ways and his voice. God deals with us through mercy and truth. We should deal with him and with others in the same way. When I keep his ways in my heart, I am cultivating that inward relationship from which his voice flows. What happens when I do these things? I find favor with both God and man.

In verses 5 and 6 the writer exhorts us to trust in the Lord with our whole heart. Once again the idea is that we must abandon ourselves to trust in God. How do we do that? We must not lean to our own understanding. We cannot figure out everything in life. There will be things God wants us to do that we do not understand. There will be things that happen to us we will not understand. In those times we must place trust in God above our understanding. He will do what is right and he will bring us through to blessing.

We must also acknowledge him in all our ways. He must be involved in every area of life. We must acknowledge his hand in everything. To acknowledge him means that we recognize he is there and that he is the force behind everything. I do nothing by my own strength alone. He is always the major player in any endeavor of life.

When we have these things in place we will be abandoning ourselves to trust in God. When we abandon ourselves to trust in God we will find rest and faith. We will learn more and more about him and the more we learn, the more we will understand that we can trust him. Favor will flow as we rest in the Lord doing what he asks us to do but letting him be in control. This is a life that will be worth living.

As we close this week, we must realize that there is a bible truth without which we will never enter in to any of this. 2013 is a year when God wants us to have favor with people and in the circumstances of life. However, there is another favor that supersedes all other kinds of favor. That is favor with God. The bible calls this grace. When we understand that we have favor with God, we will trust him, we will enter the rest of faith and we will have favor in all other areas.

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Thank God we can come to a throne of grace and not one of works. Thank God that when we come to this throne we find mercy to help us in our time of need. To obtain favor in the world we must understand the nature of the favor that God has already given us in Christ. We must study grace. And so we shall!

Labor to Enter the Rest

Hebrews 4:11 (KJV) 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

We have been looking at Hebrews 4:9-11 this week in the context of the rest of faith and the favor God wants to bring to his people in 2013. Specifically, we have been looking at “ceasing our own works” and taking up God’s works. In verse 9 the word translated rest means a “Sabbath keeping.”

The Sabbath was designed as a time when man would stop his normal work to concentrate on his relationship with the Lord. In our study this year we have found that Deuteronomy, a book that centers on relationship as opposed to law, has a recurring theme. Moses tells us that we must keep God’s commandments, obey his voice and walk in his ways. These are the works of God we must do while we rest from “our own” works.

We are very busy with many things in life. We face challenges that require our attention. We must work to provide for our needs. We have projects to do, families to raise and ministries to accomplish that require effort on our part. God is not saying that we should not work. However, when we do the things that relationship with him require, we will find that the other things we must do will flow in a different way and with much less stress than if we simply do them in our own strength. This is the rest of faith.

I quoted Hebrews 4:11from the King James Version today because it uses the word labor where the NKJV uses the phrase “be diligent.” “Be diligent” is a perfectly good translation but in this case I think using the word labor to describe what we must do is more descriptive. We must labor, or work, to enter the rest God has for us. This is made clearer when we understand that the word translated “rest” in this verse is not the same as the word in verse 9.

The word in verse 11 has a number of meanings but the ones I want to focus on are “calming a storm” and “an abode.” We are to labor so that we can calm the storms of life. Have you ever faced a storm? I know I have. The rest of faith calms the storms of life. That does not mean you do not have challenges. It does mean that the challenges will not “swamp your boat.”

This word also means an abode. I believe that we are to labor in order to build an abode of peace we can live in. Most of the time we come to crises and then we try to find a promise or a Word of the Lord that will calm our storm. The picture here is that we labor to build a place of rest where the storm cannot overwhelm us. We do not wait until the storm is upon us. I think Jesus had something to say about this idea.

Matthew 7:24-25 (NKJV) 24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

In this scripture the wise man labored by digging into the bedrock to build his house long before the storm hit it. He had peace in the storm. He had done his faith work and was able to rest in the storm. We are to labor so that we can be in a place of rest in our faith in God when the storms and challenges of life hit.

Another definition of the word translated rest here is that it is not a “rest of inactivity.” Some would say that Christianity requires no work on our part. They would say that we have been saved from works. This is not exactly true. We have been delivered from dead works. (Heb. 9:14) We have not been delivered from work. The problem I find in many Christians is they do not understand the point of their labor. They do not know what they are working to accomplish.

I hate busy work. That is work that is pointless. I worked for 5 years in a gun factory. There were times when we had no materials for my normal job. I still had to go to work and they still had to pay me. Often I would be given something to do that had no point but they were not going to pay me to sit around. This kind of work that has no point is tiresome, boring and distasteful. If you know what you are accomplishing work may not be pleasant but you are accomplishing something. There is satisfaction in the job well done.

Many Christians know that they must pray, study the Word, go to church and do good works. They often do them for the wrong reasons. Many think that this is how they will gain God’s love and acceptance. If that is why we do these things we are just doing busy wok. We already have God’s love and acceptance and there is nothing we can do or must do to earn them.

Sometimes people do these works out of religious obligation. Religion is pointless. Christianity is not, in its essence, a religion at all. It is a relationship with almighty God. Religion is our search for God and the structure that develops around our relationship. In Christianity our search is over. God found us! We will always have a structure that develops around relationship however, when the relationship is gone the structure is empty and any works we do to maintain it are also empty and dead by nature.

If we are going to be successful in our Christian walk there is work we must do. Study is a joy to me, but it is work as well. Sometimes I do not want to do it. God has instructed me to write this blog. It is an assignment I enjoy but it is also work. Sometimes I would rather not do it. Prayer is fellowship with the Lord and we should want to fellowship with him. Nevertheless, every Christian knows that there are types of and times of prayer that are work. We may not want to do it but we have to do it.

This can be said of anything we do in our Christian walk. Sometimes we want to go to church but there are days when we would like to do anything but go. Sometimes we want to praise or worship and sometimes we offer the sacrifice of praise. To say that there should be no work associated with our Christianity is naïve and wrong. When we do not understand the point of the work, we will never accomplish what God wants us to by our labor.

The point of our labor is to enter the rest. We pray, study, meditate and do works of service to calm the storms of life and build an abode where we rest in the knowledge that God is for us and no one can stand against us. (Romans 8:31) We do not labor to earn God’s acceptance. We labor to rest in his approval.

There is another word we must look at in relation to this. That word is trust. We must abandon ourselves to trusting God. We will look at this idea tomorrow.

The Rest of Faith: God’s Voice and God’s Ways

Hebrews 4:9-11 (NKJV) 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

In our study of favor, this week we are looking at the rest of faith described in Hebrews chapter 4. Entering this rest is key to walking in the favor God wants to give us with people and circumstances. Yesterday we began looking at the idea that we enter the rest when we cease from our own works. The first word translated rest in this section of scripture means a “Sabbath keeping.” The Sabbath was given to man as a time to stop the normal labor of life and focus on the Lord. This is what we do when we enter the rest of faith.

There are three areas that Deuteronomy tells us are necessary if we are going to cease from our own works and enter in to what he desires for us. The first we studied yesterday, that is keeping the Lords commandments. The Ten Commandments are a revelation of God’s nature. We are free from the dictates of the Mosaic Law, but not from the Ten Commandments.

Today I want to touch on two other things the book of Deuteronomy stresses concerning maintaining and walking in our relationship with the Lord. First, Moses tells us again and again that we must obey God’s voice.

Deuteronomy 28:2 (NKJV) 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:

What could be more relational than obeying the voice of the Lord? Once again we see that these are things that are not a matter of law. When my children were small they knew my voice. All I had to do most of the time was speak to them sternly and they would stop what they were doing and listen to what I had to say. They knew that my voice represented my will. Even today, when all six of them are grown, they know my voice and will respond to it.

God wants us to do the same where his voice is concerned. However, to obey his voice we must learn how to hear his voice. We do so in two ways. First, we read and meditate on his Word. The written Word of God is the voice of God. It is how he speaks. It represents his opinion on any topic. When we know his Word, we will be able to recognize his voice.

Second, we must take the time to hear him. God does not want to have to break into your day and get your attention. He expects you and I to give him our attention. If we want to hear his voice we are going to have to cultivate some quiet time with him. That is not to say he will never call to us in order to get our attention. He certainly will. However, if we never take the time to hear him on purpose we will usually miss his call when it comes.

One thing that the devil will tell the believer is that he or she cannot hear God. He will say that you are too carnal or too immature. He will try to convince you that you are incapable of hearing God’s voice. You may well be too carnal and that can keep you from hearing God but that does not mean your cannot hear him. You were designed to hear him and if you examine your life in the Lord, you will find many times when you did hear from the Lord. Do not “buy into” the lie of the devil. You can hear the Lord’s voice.

When you do hear him, you need to obey him. Many times in my life I seemed to have difficulty hearing the Lord. Usually the problem is that I did not do the last thing he told me to do. God is can get maddeningly quiet when we do not do what he asks of us. If you do not seemed to be hearing the Lord’s voice, ask yourself if there is something he has spoken to you that you have yet to do. Do that thing and you will hear God speaking again.

The final thing Moses tells the children of Israel they must do in order to walk in the blessing, or favor, of their relationship with the Lord is walk in his ways.

Deuteronomy 28:9 (NKJV) The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.

Once again we hear those who would say that this statement is about the Law and we are not under the Law. In the weeks to come we will look at this thinking extensively in light of the Grace of God. However, I do not believe that walking in God’s ways is in any way part of the law or contrary to Grace. If I am in a close relationship with someone I must cultivate a lifestyle that is in tune with their lifestyle. Once again using the example of my children, they grew up in a preacher’s home. There were things we did not do and places we did not go. They were in relationship with me and that required that they walk in my ways.

There were certain TV shows we did not watch. There were certain movies they were not allowed to go to. They were not allowed to listen to secular music in our home. When they chose to do any of those things when they were outside of my presence, they knew they were choosing not to walk in my ways. They did not do that very often. When they did they knew that the “way” home required they get back in tune with my ways.

In our house we went to church. We went every time the doors were open. Nothing else had higher priority in terms of activities. In our house we lived according to the Word of God. We were not perfect but our children understood the principles. These and many other things were part of walking in the ways of Kiefer home. There were times when those ways chaffed against the will of our children but they knew that the benefits of our relationship was far more important than anything the flesh might want that went against the ways of our family.

Now four of our children have families of their own and two are living as adults. They still walk in the ways they were taught as children. There are some modifications that have occurred as they married and molded with their spouses but, primarily, they teach their families the ways they learned as in our home. Our relationship with them is stronger than ever as we all walk in the same “ways” we applied together as a family.

That is exactly what Moses is talking about in Deuteronomy. When we walk in God’s ways we have the benefits of relationship with him. One of those benefits will be favor when we need it. How do we know his ways? We know his ways by studying and obeying his Word. We start with his commandments but his ways are much broader than that. His ways do not just involve what we should and should not do. They involve how we live life. They involve how we treat others. They involve choices that we must make that reflect the choices we can see that God and his people have always made.

There was a book that spawned a whole campaign some years ago. It asked the question, “What would Jesus do?” That is a good way to begin to walk in God’s ways. If Jesus would do it, it is a reflection of God’s ways. If Jesus would not do it, neither should you. Even if the thing may not be sin, if you cannot imagine Jesus acting in a given way, neither should you.

Obeying God’s voice and walking in his ways will lead you to the rest that faith should be in your life. It will also lead you to the favor God wants for you in 2013.

The Rest of Faith: Keeping God’s Commandments

Hebrews 4:9-11 (NKJV) 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

(I returned last week from a wonderful conference in Northern Ireland at Carrickfegus Community Church in Carrickfergus Northern Ireland. What a blessing Pastors Trevor and Sandy Clark were to us there.)

I believe the Lord has spoken to my heart that 2013 is to be a year of great favor for the people of God. In the natural, it would seem that the church is at a low point of respect and acceptance especially here in the United States. Nevertheless, in the midst of this condition I am convinced God will give us favor.

Historically this has always been the case. In Exodus 3 we saw that God promised to spoil the Egyptians by giving the Hebrew women favor with the Egyptian women. In Acts 2 we see that God gave the church favor and the result was that souls were added to the church daily. In both cases the ruling powers were anything but favorable toward the people of God. God still moved to give them favor where it was needed.

If we are going to see this favor manifested in our own lives we must believe for it. Everything in the kingdom of God works by faith. Favor is no different. We can hear the words that God is giving favor but if we do not choose to believe them actively it will do us no good. We have seen that faith follows certain characteristics such as integrity, hard work and strength. We must add faith to this list.

As I was praying about where to go next in our study of favor, the Lord seemed to place this phrase on my heart, “the rest of faith.” We have studied faith and will continue to study it extensively in this space. I believe faith is one of the foundational elements of our walk with God. Hebrews 11:6 tells us we cannot please God without it. Romans 14:23 tells us that anything which does not proceed from faith is sin. We walk by faith, we live by faith and by faith we are saved. Faith is very important to the believer.

I believe that in order to walk in favor we must find the rest of faith that is spoken of in Hebrews 4. We see from this verse that there remains a rest to the people of God. This verse is speaking of the journey we have been studying in one form or another for 2 and ½ years. The people of Israel were promised a “rest” in the land of Canaan. In verse 8 of this chapter the writer tells us that the children of Israel never entered into the fullness of what God was talking about. Verse 6 says that someone must enter this rest. In Hebrews 4 we are told how.

I believe it is important to remember that God calls this a rest. He does not call it a work. We will see that there is a work for us to do, but the goal is to come to a rest. What is the nature of this rest? There are two Greek words translated rest in this section. The first means a “Sabbath keeping.” The purpose of the Sabbath was that man would take one day in seven and spend it with the Lord. He was to stop doing his normal work and concentrate on God.

The rest of faith spoken of here is the same in nature. We enter his rest when we stop doing our own works. What works are we to do? We are to do the works that flow from relationship with him. We are to rest in that relationship and let what we do flow from that. This dovetails with what we have found in the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy is a book of relationship. It is the final address of Moses to the people of Israel. Where Leviticus focuses on the minutia of the Law, Deuteronomy focuses more on the working out of the relationship that the Law is meant to maintain, that is Israel’s covenant with God.

In Deuteronomy we see three things spoken of over and over again. Israel is told by God to “keep my commandments, obey my voice and walk in my ways.” These are statements of relationship not law. Any relationship has commandments. These are things that we must do to keep that relationship. I raised six children and they all understood that there were some rules, commandments, in our house. These were things you did not break or there would be consequences.

The purpose of the rules in my house was not just to satisfy some whim of my flesh. They were designed to protect, train and guide my children. They were there to keep them safe in relationship with me. They were there to teach them how to be productive people when they went out into the world. If my children broke the rules of my house, the consequences were designed to teach them the importance of certain things that would help them in life and keep them in relationship with me. The door of relationship never closed. The rules were there to see to that.

The Commandments of God, there are 10 primary ones, and the Law of Moses are not the same thing. The Law is a system by which Israel could maintain relationship with God when the Commandments were broken. We are not subject to the Law of Moses because Jesus fulfilled it. He has become the one sacrifice for all that is sufficient for every sin. If we break a commandment we can call on Jesus’ sacrifice and receive forgiveness. That does not mean we are free to break the commandments. The commandments of God serve the same function that the rules in my house served.

God gave us Ten Commandments so that we could understand his nature. When we understand his nature, we are able to walk in relationship with him. The Commandments give us parameters within which we are protected from the devil. Their purpose is not meant to constrain us in a negative way. They are meant to instruct us in things that will cause us to be successful in life and in our relationship with the Lord.

When we cease from trying to do right in our own eyes and simply accept the commandments of God as the ultimate right we begin to enter the Sabbath rest of God. In keeping his commandments without question we stop striving to understand what God wants from us. We flow into that knowledge by understanding his nature. There is plenty of room inside the parameters of God’s commandments for anything we might want or need to do.

Take a close look at your relationship to the commandments of God. Are you keeping them or are you trying to find a more modern substitute. Stop striving against the flesh. Enter the rest of faith in the commandments of God. You will see that life will begin to flow more smoothly than ever before and you will enjoy a depth of relationship with God and protection from the enemy that you will find in no other place.