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You've got to have biblical authority to engage in a religious practice for it to be acceptable to God.

This view has long been entertained by many of our brethren. It is an Old Covenant view, not a New Covenant one. Under the Old Covenant the people were themselves "far from" the Lord. Their hearts were not new, and they were a "disobedient and gainsaying people" (Isa 29:13; Rom 10:1). That is why their approach to God was so detailed, with the threat of death held over the one approaching the Lord (Ex 28:34-35; 30:20-21; Lev 10:6-9; 8:35; 16:2,13). This is involved in the "fear of death" that dominated the people under the Old Covenant (Heb 2:15). Some view saints, through strong faith, rose above this dominating fear -- but there were precious few of them (i.e., Moses, David, etc.).

At the peak of Israel's experience, when they were given the Law, they were strictly charged not to come close to the holy mount, lest they "be surely put to death" (Ex 19:12). The most elevated person in the camp -- the high priest -- could only stand in the presence of the Lord once a year (Ex 30:10; Lev 16:34) -- and even then, he was standing amidst types and shadows. Even when the priests carried the ark of the covenant, the people had to have a space of 1,000 yards between them and the ark (Josh 3:4). The people could NOT come close to God.

In Christ Jesus people are really reconciled to God (Col 1:21). They become real sons of God, and ought to be so recognized (1 John 3:1). They are not held at a distance from the Lord as those under the Law, who were commanded NOT to come near to the Lord. Those in Christ have a better hope by which they draw near to God (Heb 7:19). They are urged to "draw near" (Heb 10:22), coming boldly to the throne of all grace (Heb 4:16). Jesus promises He will not turn away the soul who comes to Him (John 6:37). All of this is antithetical to an external procedural approach.

In Christ, it is the person himself who is accepted (Eph 1:6). Christ has "received US to the glory of God" (Rom 15:7). That reception is possible because sin has really been put away (Heb 9:26), the person is a "new creation in Christ Jesus" (2 Cor 5:17), and has received both a new heart and a new spirit, as God has promised (Ezek 36:26).

Now, in Christ Jesus, the notion of a "religious practice" has been made obsolete. Now it is "whatever you do" that is to be done "to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Now, "whatever you do in word of deed" is done in the name of the Lord Jesus, while giving thanks to God through Jesus (Col 3:17). You will search in vain for an external procedural approach to God. Whatever is offered to God in faith, with a true heart, with a clear conscience, and by those whose bodies have been washed with the sanctifying waters of baptism, is acceptable to God (Heb 10:22). When we present our bodies a living sacrifice to God, which is only reasonable, it is "acceptable to God" (Rom 12:1). All of this has a direct bearing upon what is called "religious practice."

God has declared what moves Him to accept the individual -- and it is NOT fulfilling a practice that He has commanded: "he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb 11:6). You will search in vain for a solitary example of anyone who ever came to God in faith whose "practice" was rejected. It might have been a woman pouring precious ointment on the head of Jesus, or another woman washing His feet with her tears, or a woman touching the hem of His garment, or a blind man calling out for mercy. None of those approaches were commanded. None of them had been established by precedent. Yet, in each case, the person and their deed was accepted. It might have been a syrophenician woman pleading for her daughter, or a widow putting everything she had into the Temple treasury. It might be Barnabas selling a piece of land and putting the money at the Apostle's feet, or four men letting a palsied down through a roof to the feet of Jesus. None of them thought of an acceptable practice. They were moved by their faith and a genuine heart.

There is no such thing as an acceptable practice that is not motivated by faith and love, or one that is so motivated that is unacceptable. When Jesus said "come unto Me" (Matt 11:28; John 7:37), He specified no "religious practice."

If you are looking for the "safest course" of action in matters relating to coming before the Lord, offering something to Him, and doing something in His name, the Word of God leaves no question about it. It must be done in faith (Rom 14:23), with a true heart, in full assurance, and a cleansed conscience (Heb 10:22), and with the dominating intent to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). Such a frame of spirit will produce a keen sensitivity about what we do. Where that mindset is missing, everything the person does it wrong, and nothing is right -- even "the plowing of the wicked" (Prov 21:4). To put it another way, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled" (Tit 1:15).

How does ethelothreskia ("will worship"), defined in Louw and Nida as "religion thought up by oneself" fit into your approach. Clearly a religious practice that is ethelothreskia is not acceptable (Col 2:23) regardless of how deeply an adherent believe and wholeheartedly they pursue it.

First, the Colossian text makes clear the subject is fleshly disciplines that have originated with men: i.e., "touch not, taste not, handle not" (verse 21). These are the "bodily exercise," or "discipline," of First Timothy 4:8. They are also related to "the commandments and doctrines of men" (verse 22), and have to do with regimentation that is apart from faith. The activity being addressed is one that seeks to approach or serve God without a new heart, and independently of faith and the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. This approach has an appearance of wisdom, yet does not come to grips with issues of the heart. Verse 23 powerfully points out they "are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (NASB). The NIV reads, "they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." The idea is that they cannot take away the appetite for sin, or assist the individual in crucifying the flesh (which is what those who are in Christ DO--Gal 5:24), mortifying the deeds of the body (Col 3:5), or denying ungodliness and worldly lusts (Tit 2:11-12).

The "will worship," or self-imposed and arbitrary worship, is not unacceptable because it is an improper procedure. Rather, it is because it is "of NO VALUE in checking the indulgence of the flesh" (RSV). Such worship is not motivated by faith, because it leaves the individual too close to sin, and the lust that weds men to it. This is the "form of godliness that denies the power thereof," of Second Timothy 3:5. It leaves the person morally and spiritually unchanged, which is a gigantic contradiction of the very concept of salvation.

If the difficulties caused by sin could be solved by procedure and human discipline, then Israel would have been morally and spiritually perfect. They even had a God-imposed disciple -- a holy, good, and just law (Rom 7:12). However, it was "weak through the flesh," or "weakened by the sinful nature" (Rom 8:3). It required more of man than he was capable of doing. Those who took the Law seriously, were thus led to Christ by seeing the hopelessness of an approach to God that relied upon human discipline instead of faith (Gal 3:24).

"Will worship," therefore, is man's substitute for coming to God through Christ and by faith. The word "ethelothreskia" emphasizes volunteering something that has not been stimulated by faith. Paul's immediate use of it was "worship of angels" (Col 2:18). The point in "will worship" is not believing, but mere external discipline. It is very close, if not identical, to the idea of heartless ceremony and ritual.

I must say there is, in my judgment, very much of this kind of approach to God among our brethren. There is often a penchant for precise procedure, and religious regimen that is wholly apart from faith in God, the love of the truth, and a hope that is anchored in heaven. I often hear people on this very list speak of some of the worst forms of sin being in the church, even among preachers and leaders. That is not to mention lukewarmness, a lack of appetite for the truth, and other similar matters. Where these conditions exist among professed believers, the circumstances of Colossians 2:23 exist. Some forms of religion, or "will worship," have been embraced that "have no effect when it comes to conquering a person's evil thoughts and desires" (NLT). If that assessment is true, their religion has been pointless.

I realize this is a serious observation, and I do not intend to be condemning or heartless in making it. However, it is time for those who wear the name of Jesus to come to grips with powerless religion. The salvation that is "in Christ Jesus" is said to be "with eternal glory" (2 Tim 2:10). Unless men choose to embrace the imagination that we are brought to glory on automatic pilot, it is clear that a fundamental change takes place in those who are baptized into Christ. "Will worship" is going through a religious routine independently of that change.

How would you respond to the impression that you are saying, "If you really believe it is all right, and believe that with your whole heart, then it is all right."?

First, the word "believe" is never used in this manner in Scripture. The word from which "believe" comes, as I am sure you know, is "pisteuo." It is used at least 250 times in the New Testament Scriptures. The word includes the idea of commitment or entrusting ones self to. This is the word used in John 2:24, where it is said Jesus did not "commit Himself" to those following Him, for He knew all too well the nature of men.

One of the very few places people are said to "believe" something that is wrong is Second Thessalonians 2:10-11. That, of course, is no ordinary text. It declares a Divine judgment on those who did not "receive the love of the truth." God "sent them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie." James also referred to the demons as believing "there is one God" -- which was true. In the case of the demons, they believed there is one God because they had seen and been judged by Him. I do not believe there are any uses of the word "believe" as is common among men: "I really believe thus and so is right."

The Scriptures use faith and believing in a unique way. Those who are persuaded of something that is not true, or is not acceptable, are NOT said to have merely believed something, but to have been deceived, or to have a "persuasion" that did not come from God (Gal 5:8).

When the Word of God uses "faith," "believed," or some other form of the word, it is referring to the faith that has been received from God. There are sundry expressions that underscore this. We are said to have "obtained like precious faith" (2 Pet 1:1). The NASB reads, "who have received a faith of the same kind as ours," which faith has come "through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ." Those who believe are said to have "believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). Paul confirmed this in his words to Timothy, "the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 1:14). Philippians 1:29 affirms "it has been granted on the behalf of Christ" for us to believe. Ephesians 5:23 speaks of "love with faith" as coming "from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The means through which faith comes is the Gospel of Christ -- but faith does "come" (Rom 10:17; Gal 3:25).

It is this faith that sanctifies what we offer to the Lord -- not a human assessment. I do understand what you are saying about people who do things that are unacceptable, thinking they are right. But there is a vast difference between thinking something is right, and having faith in God.

Without being cumbersome, allow me to offer one additional thought on this matter. This is in keeping with the observation that God is not served by mere routine, but through faith. You are no doubt familiar with the fourteenth chapter of Romans. There, a reference is made to someone who thought eating meat was wrong. Such a person is described as being "weak in the faith" (14:1). For someone who sees the matter clearly, there might be a tendency to despise such a person. After all, Jesus purified all foods during His earthly ministry (Mark 7:19). God declared to Peter that meats had been cleansed (Acts 10:15). Paul affirmed God had created meats to be "to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Tim 4:3), and that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim 4:4-5). How could someone conclude it was sinful to eat meat?

In spite of the wrong judgment of this vegetarian, it is affirmed "God has received him" (verse 3). The point of the text is not a mere dietary practice. This was, as you mentioned, "a religious practice." The person was presenting this conduct to the Lord, fully persuaded his evaluation was proper. "He who eats, eats TO THE LORD, for he gives God thanks; and he who does NOT eat, TO THE LORD he does NOT eat, and gives God thanks" (verse 6). In this instance, two different things were practiced, yet both men were received by God -- and were admonished to receive one another.

I do understand that some will see this as an open door, allowing all manner of corruption to enter. If that notion is true, the Holy Spirit would not have moved Paul to speak in such a straightforward manner. The point is that God works with those whose hearts are tender. He will, as Proverbs 3:5-6 affirms, direct their paths. As they keep a pure heart and subject themselves to God's Word, the matter will clear up for them, just as surely as a proper view of the Gentiles did for Peter. Paul would say it this way, "if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained" (Phil 3:15-16).

NO one will ever become weak because they believe God. Nor, indeed, will anyone ever please God who chooses to live apart from believing, trusting in some procedure, form, or discipline to offset their appetite for sin and lack of love for God and His truth.

Once we are born again, can we really be unborn? For example, my son was born my son, not by anything he did, but as a result of a union between my wife and myself.  No matter what he may do wrong in life, he is still my son.  In the same way, the believer is born of God, not by any action of their own, but by grace through the salvation of Jesus Christ.

Everything we have from God, including our status as sons, is held by faith. "For ye are all the children of God by faith in
Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:26). What is more, the Lord never takes faith for granted. Faith must be "kept" (1 Tim 4:7), and the "good fight of faith" fought -- i.e., a fight to maintain that faith (1 Tim 6:12). We must "earnestly contend" for the very faith that has been delivered to us (Jude 1:3).

At the point faith is "denied" (1 Tim 5:8), "left" (1 Tim 4:1), or "cast off" (1 Tim 5:12) all of the benefits faith obtains are  no longer in our grasp. It is possible for someone to believe "for a while," coming short of the ultimate goal (Elk 8:13). That is precisely why such solemn warnings are consistently issued to professed believers who are retreating from God rather than continuing to draw near to Him (Heb 10:38-39).

Presently we have tasted the "first fruits of the Spirit," not the fullness of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus "with eternal glory" (Rom 8:23; 2 Tim 2:10). Imagining those first fruits are the same as having the fullness of what God has reserved for us, is like the Israelelutes imagining because they had a large bunch of grapes from the land of Canaan it guaranteed they would get the land. It simply was not so, and the record of those Israelites has been written to thwart such foolish reasoning among those who profess the name of Jesus (Num 13:23-14:12).

God has never pledged He would save someone who is not believing. Gdo has nowhere suggested that believing is a condition that
automatically continues, or cannot be terminated.

The argument that says once a person is my son he can never lose that status is NEVER made by God. In fact, there are examples in
Scripture of those who were genuine sons in the flesh, yet did not obtain the blessing. Cain was a real son of Adam, but was cursed by God. Ishmael was a real son of Abraham, but was cast out. Esau was a real son of Isaac, but was disinherited.

If we are going to talk about the security of the believer, we had best talk about it in the way God does. Roaming about in a philosophical forest is a waste of time, and causes confusion, not clarity. God promises those who believe will not be ashamed. He does NOT say those who believe will always believe.

Does God ever not hear our prayers?

There are prayers God does NOT hear. God has spoken on this matter.

"And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood" (Isa 1:15). Here, the issue was not what was prayed, but the hypocritical condition of the people who uttered the prayers. Their condition was a willing one, where they lived at a distance from the Lord, and therefore God refused to hear their prayers.

"Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee" (Jeer 7:16). "Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble" (Jeer 11:14). "When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them" (Jeer 14:12).

In the above case, Jeremiah was told not to pray for a people with whom God had become intolerant. They were the people mentioned in the previous paragraph -- Israel. God would not hear any prayer for them because they had crossed over the line of His patience. This refusal, however, applied only to a generation of the Israelites, and was not intended to be permanent. Hundreds of years later, it was all right when Paul prayed for them continually (Rom 10:1).

There are also prayers that are not answered because they are off base -- they simply are not for the right things. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3).

When the heart is right, the prayer will be heard. Thus it is written, "He hears the cry of the afflicted" (Job 34:28), "He hears the prayer of the righteous" (Prov 15:29), "if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will, him He hearth" (John 9:31), "if we ask any thing according to His will, He hearth us" (1 John 5:14), and "The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry" (Spa 45:15).

If God does not answer our prayer, is that the same as when He chooses nto hear them?

That depends upon what you mean by "does not answer our prayer." If that means we do not receive what we asked for, how often have we prayed for about matter? Have we "prayed without ceasing" about it (1 Theses 5:17)? Some matters must be prayed for over and over, while the Lord "bears long" with us. That is precisely the point of our Lord's parables of the importunate widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). Paul had to ask the Lord about his thorn three times before he received an answer (2 Cor 12:7-10). There were also the two blind men of Jericho, who kept on calling upon Jesus for mercy until He responded to them (Matt 20:30-34), and the woman of Canaan, who kept on asking for mercy until she received it (Matt 15:22-28). Any of these people might have concluded after the first, second, or third time, that Jesus was not hearing them, and they were out of order. But faith compelled them to keep asking.

Additionally, we are encouraged in everything 'by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." God does not promise we will always receive what we requested. But He does promise, "And the peace of God, which passed all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:6=7). The granting of peace that stabilized both heart and mind is an answer, even though what was specifically requested might not have been granted.

As you can see, brother Ted, your questions cannot be answered by a simple "Yes" or "No." However, when your prayers come from a pure heart, and out of a genuine desire to please and serve the Lord, He will hear and respond to them. Your responsibility is to live close enough to the Lord to be able to tell what His response it.

I know that we have ended an Age. The Church Age has ended and what is the work of the Lord in this Age? I know that we are to focus on the return of the Lord and preparing ourselves to be clean and understanding all that the work of the cross has obtained for us. Your messages are dealing with all these things.

First, the term "church age" is found nowhere in the Scriptures. It is a term that has grown out of human understanding, not Divine revelation. Apart from the presence of 'the church," there is no purpose for the world. "THE CHURCH" is what God's work is all about. Jesus "loved the THE CHURCH, and gave Himself for it" (Eph 5:25). "THE CHURCH" is what Jesus is building (Matt 16:17). Jesus has been given to "THE CHURCH" as Head over all things (Eph 1:22). God has revealed that He is now, through THE CHURCH, showing heavenly principalities and powers His "manifold wisdom" (Eph 3:10). God is brought glory "through THE CHURCH throughout all ages, world without end" (Eph 3:21). Christ's body is "THE CHURCH" (Eph 1:22-23). THE CHURCH" is the exclusive custodian of the truth of God; i.e., "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim 3:15).

The Scriptures do speak of a time that is drawing to an end. It is called "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24), and "the fullness of the Gentiles," or the time when "the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom 11"25 (NIV ). That is the time of which you speak. It is the time of the Gentile dominance of the church. But the church does not conclude when the times of the Gentiles is terminated. Rather, that is a time when the leadership will change to the Jews, who will turn again to the Lord.

The agenda for the church has not changed from the day of its beginning until now -- nor will it ever change in this world. At its core, that agenda is to fellowship with both the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3), walk in the light (1 John 1:7), live by faith (Heb 10:38-39), and look for the appearing of their Lord (Tit 2:13). It involves drawing near to the Lord (Heb 10:22), and perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord (2 Cor 7:1). There is no generation when these priorities has or will change. Paul summarized the stance of the church in these words, "ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven" (1 Theses 1:9-10). That has not, and will not, change.

I have heard that this is to be the Age of the Holy Spirit, the past age was of the Son of God, and before that God the Father. Certainly this is an age of Maturity in Christ.

The notion of the ages of God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is purely human philosophy. Nothing in the word of God remotely suggests such a thing. In fact, God has gone out of His way to tell us the government has been placed upon the shoulder of His exalted Son, and will never come to an end (Isa 9:7). God's final word comes to the world through the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2). The Spirit does not have an age of His own, but is ever "the spirit of Christ," speaking of Him, and recalling to the minds of holy men what He has said (John 14:26). Jesus also declared the Spirit would not speak of Himself, but of Christ (John 16;13).

Maturity in Christ has always been the focus of God's work -- from the very beginning (Eph 4:11-18).

Is the Church to overcome the evil that is manifesting all over this earth? I have been part of the Charismatic movement and I know the gifts are real, but the carnal could not let the Holy Spirit have control.

There is no such thing as a valid church that does not overcome the world. The church that is overcome is a false church, not a real one. And it is true that the time for such bogus religion is drawing to a close. Faith always overcomes the world, and is never defeated. Thus it is written, "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5). Defeat comes because of a lack of faith, and faith is what makes one a member of the real church (Gal 3:26).

Without God's love and the surrender of ourselves to the Lord, it is true that men "cannot begin to address the evil around us according to God's plan and purposes." But that is not the half of the story. Without the love of God and the surrender of self, people are not in Christ. Such have not been born again, do not live by faith, are not walking in the spirit, and are actually the enemies of God. They are not the real church at all, for "friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4).

God DOES speak of a time when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14). That is not a time when such marvelous knowledge will begin, but when it will spread throughout the world. Our job is to possess such wonderful knowledge now, for salvation is designed to bring this knowledge to us. In so doing, we will be prepared for whatever is next on the Divine agenda.

One of the seniors in high school at our school has taken a liking to being difficult . . . she feels it's her place in life to test everyone's faith. . . she assumes that if you go up to some Joe on the street and start quoting the Bible, they'll be saved within the month . . . She thinks she needs to test our congregation, and she assumes that by saying, "I Corinthians 11:2 says" will lead someone to Christ. I'm lost. Please shed some light on our situation.

First, we are not told to test everyone we meet, or test all congregations. God has not called us to be spiritual policemen and judges of other people. Jesus told the church at Ephesus they "tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false." But in the process, He had something against them: "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." He told them to repent, or He would take their church away (Rev 2:1-5). It is not that what they did was bad. it is that is was not the best. Their judgment of others actually allowed them to grow cold toward he Lord himself. That is one of the inevitable results of being judgmental.

It is not wrong to test everything. In fact, God says, "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Theses 5:21). That testing is not for the purpose of condemning or irritating others, but in order to keep ourselves pure. It is also right to measure what is taught by the Word of God. The Scriptures says of people from Berea, "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). Their examination, however, was not driven by a suspicion that what they heard was wrong, but because the message they heard was good, and they searched the Scriptures to confirm it was the truth.

When it comes to testing, here is the word of the Lord. "Examine YOURSELVES to see whether you are in the faith; test YOURSELVES. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, YOU fail the test?" (2 Cor 13:5). The important thing is for us to know ourselves, not everyone about us. Scriptures that confirm this include Psalm 17:3; 26:2; 119:59; 139:23-24; 1 Corinthians 11:31-32; Galatians 6:4 and Hebrews 12:15.

Personal testing is left in the hands of God and the individual -- not those about us.

When it comes to judging fellow Christians, God's word says, "Therefore let us STOP passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way" (Romans 14:13). If your friend thinks things depend upon her assessment, God says to her, "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Rom 14:4).

If she has strong convictions about something, and others do not see it her way, then here is God's word to her. "So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves" (Rom 14:22).

You yourself must be careful not to judge this girl as you suspect she may be judging you. It is possible for her heart to be good, but her ways to be crude because of her lack of understanding and love for the people she is speaking to. When she says something good, receive it. When it is not good, reject it. it is really just that simple.

Brother, I have struggled for years to discern the place of a Christian in regard to America. Should we get involved in politics? Should we get involved in trying to keep America from being overrun by Immigrants? Should we prepare for the coming social/economic disasters? Long term food and weapon storage? I believe in the Pre-millenial rapture of Christians but also in the worsening conditions in America. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated

The word of God gives us some general guidelines about the relationship we have to government, or national matters. First, we are to be noted for being obedient to those who are in authority. "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves" (Rom 13:1-2). "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men" (Tit 3:1-2). "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Pet 2:13-14).

If the government should require something of us that is in conflict with the will of God, we are to remember "we ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Thus Daniel refused to obey the king's commandment to cease to pray to God (Dan 6:12), and Shadrach. Meshach, and Abednigo refused to obey the king's demand that they bow down before an idol (Dan 3:18).

Second, we are to pray for those who are in authority, with the objective being able to lead a quiet and peaceable life in a godly and honest manner. "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Third, we should pray for the peace of the place where we live. This principle was given to Israel when they were carried away into captivity. Away from their home land, and under oppression, the Lord told them, "And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace" (Jeer 29:7). This blends well with the passage in First Timothy that is cited above.

As to other purely national interests such as how to deal with immigrants -- this is not the work of those in Christ Jesus. Nations, as well as individuals, are to be noted for hospitality, not hostility, toward those who are from other areas. Jerusalem received the wise men from the East when Jesus was born (Matt 2:1-7). Egypt received Jacob, his sons, and their households when there was a famine in Israel (Exodus 1:5). Egypt also received Joseph, Mary, and the holy child Jesus when they were fleeing from Herod (Matt 2:13-15).

Following the interpretation of his dreams, Pharaoh welcomed young Joseph to Egypt, making him the second ruler of the land (Gen 41:43-44). Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus, and Darius honored Jewish Daniel in their empires (Dan 3:48; 5:29; 6:28). God instructed Israel to welcome the stranger into their land, not vexing or troubling them (Ex 22:21; 23:9).

Concerning preparing for coming social and economic disasters, we are to commit our lives to God, praying He will not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matt 6:13). Long term food and weapon storage are not products of faith, but are spawned by fears caused when preachers give us their interpretation of certain texts of Scripture. God gave us no such directive. Jesus said, "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Elk 21:28). Rather than preparing for possible calamity by food and weapon acquisition, we are to do so by preparing our souls. Therefore our Lord said, "In your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19).

It is helpful to remember that while we are citizens of America, that is not our primary citizenship. Those in Christ are fundamentally "citizens of heaven" (Phil 3:20). You will find that as your care increases concerning national interests, Jesus will begin to recede into the background of your thinking. I suggest that you not allow such things to become a distraction to you, but rather ask the Lord to give you insight, peace, and a strong hope in the midst of these concerns. He will answer your prayer.

AN EFFORT TO JUSTIFY SODOMY (Brother Blakely's answer to a message sent to brother Ben Alexander, with whom he shares in ministry.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?

First, the "pleasing aroma" of the sacrifice made under the Law was not owing to the pleasantness of burning flesh to God. Those sacrifices were a shadow of the greater sacrifice of Christ, which was "better," as declared in Hebrews 9:23. That sacrifice was greater and better because, as Scripture puts it, Jesus "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). The relation of those ancient sacrifices to the greater sacrifice of Christ – the substance of their shadow – is what made them pleasing to God (Heb 10:1).

Second, as an end of themselves, those sacrifices were never pleasing to God. Living nearly 800 years before Jesus, David knew this. The truth was later confirmed following Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God. David said, "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require" (Psalm 40:6). And again, "For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart; These, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:16-17). This circumstance is clarified in the tenth chapter of Hebrews. Those ancient sacrifices were not pleasing to God because they did not and could not take away sin. "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect" (Hebrews 10:1). The Spirit goes on to declare, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).

Thus, the coming of Jesus into the world is said to be for the purpose of taking away the sin of the world. In order to do this, a body was prepared for Him – a body to offer to God as a thorough and lasting sweet aroma. "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come; In the volume of the book it is written of Me; To do Your will, O God.’ Previously saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the law)" (Hebrews 10:5-8).

Because Jesus has put sin away, sacrifices have ceased to be offered, for the purpose God desired has now been realized. Thus it is written, "For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins" (Hebrews 10:2). Jesus has made "one offering" forever, thus obviating the need for blood sacrifices (Hebrews 10:14).

If you are actually burning a bull to the Lord (which I doubt that you are), you are, by that very act, denying the effectiveness and pleasingness of the sacrifice of Christ. In such a case, rather than the sacrifice being a sweet aroma to God, it is an abomination, for you are continuing to do what he has said never really pleased Him – all the while denying the sacrifice of His Son, which did please Him. As it is written, "Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet_smelling aroma" (Ephesians 5:2).

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

Under the Law, or First Covenant, certain laws were given because of the hardness of men’s hearts (Matthew 19:8), and not because of any sense of moral propriety. In the text you sited, a father sold his daughter because of poverty, and in order to be the wife of another, as verses 8-10 clearly indicate. Under Christ, where the human nature is changed (2 Corinthians 3:18), and accord with God is realized (1 Corinthians 1:9; 6:17; 2 Peter 1:4), the view of a father toward his family is clear. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). If you do, in fact, have a desire to sell your daughter, you do not need advice, but a new heart. You are following a law made for those of a hard heart, whom God described as "a disobedient and contrary people" (Deuteronomy 9:13; Romans 10:21). The law to which you referred was not a provision for human desire, but a law to keep hard-hearted people from being more inconsiderate than they already were.

I also know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Your assessment of Leviticus 15 is not altogether correct. The point of a man being brought into that text did not involve "contact," but lying with her" (verse 24). If you are cavorting about asking women concerning their "menstrual uncleanness" for that purpose, you are a whoremonger. The issue in that case is not the woman, but your own corrupt desires. Jesus said looking upon a woman with lustful intentions made the man an adulterer (Matthew 5:28), which excludes a person from the kingdom of God, and sets one up for Divine judgment (1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4). Again, I doubt the seriousness of your statement.

Now I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

The Sabbath Day commandment was not focused upon inactivity, but upon a day given to the Lord: "the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death." It was bound upon the Israelites because of their hardheartedness. They would never have remembered the lord if they were not forced to do so. That was the reason for the commandment. Those, on the other hand, who believe on Christ" enter into rest,’ – a higher sabbath that was typified by the seventh day (Hebrews 4:1-10). Such a person lives in a constant awareness of God, and thus is not forced to observe the Sabbath with the threat of death held over his head.

If you are really concerned about your neighbor refusing to observe one day above another, as you indicate you believe, God has a word for you on the subject. "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Romans 14:5-6). Again, your neighbor, if he is a Christian, has an obligation to ignore your insistence that he keep the Sabbath day. "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17).

A friend of mine also feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 10:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

The law of clean and unclean meats has been lifted by Jesus Himself. It also was a ceremonial law, designed to instruct hardhearted people that there is such a thing as clean and clean, or righteousness and unrighteousness. Addressing this very issue Jesus said, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" (Mark 7:18-19). Again, nearly ten years after Pentecost, God gave Peter a special object lesson to indicate the Gentiles were qualified to hear the Gospel of Christ. He did this by likening them to formerly unclean meats, then affirming that neither meats nor Gentiles were any longer unclean. Of those formerly unclean means, which Peter still was not eating, God said, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10:15). Paul told the Corinthians to eat whatever they bought in the meat market (1 Corinthians 10:25). Later he said abstaining from meats was a sign of apostasy, not godliness (1 Timothy 4:3). Again, I question your seriousness on this matter.

And Lev.20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

First, Leviticus 20:20 deals with a man sleeping with his aunt. What you intended to write was Leviticus 21:20. The Levitical priesthood was a temporary one, and was intended to foreshadow the greater priesthood of Christ Jesus. As with every aspect of the Old Covenant, it dealt with physical, or fleshly, matters, for it was a fleshly covenant. In approaching a special altar, built of untooled stones, no priest with a blemish was allowed. "'For any man who has a defect shall not approach: a man blind or lame, who has a marred face or any limb too long, a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or is a hunchback or a dwarf, or a man who has a defect in his eye, or eczema or scab, or is a eunuch" (Leviticus 21:18-20).

Now, in Christ Jesus, the Levitical priesthood and altar of Leviticus 21 no longer exist. Those in Christ "have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" (Hebrews 13:10). Rather than approaching an altar of stone, they come to the Living God Himself. In coming, the blemishes that are not allowed are within, not without. Therefore it is written, "let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:22).

As I have already said, I doubt the sincerity of your questions. I suspect they are an acerbic and sarcastic way of justifying homosexuality. If the Levitical law no longer applies in the matters you sited, you probably reason it no longer applies in its forbidding of sodomy. Again, your reference was incorrect. You mentioned Leviticus 18:12, which dealt with uncovering the nakedness of your own sister. The text you intended is Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination."

Of course, this is not the only mentioning of this abomination. This is the sin committed by Sodom when the men of the city said to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them" (Gen 19:5). The same kind of thing occurred with certain wicked men in Bethlehem of Judea: "they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him" (Judges 19:22). The nature of this sin is vividly described in the first chapter of Romans, where it is affirmed to be the result of Divine abandonment. "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (Romans 1:26-28).

On choosing Matthias. "They appointed these two before they prayed. God gave no input in this electing process nor did He take any part in the "lot" process. God's actual choice was later revealed in chapter nine as Saul of Tarsus who later was known as the Apostle Paul. Thus, we have twelve apostles."

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this passage. The view that Paul is the twelfth Apostle is quite common. Yet, I cannot agree with it. I am also quick to say this is not a point of contention with me, nor is it worthy of dividing brethren. I will simply share with you why I have rejected this idea.

1. You mentioned the early disciples appointed Matthias and Barsabas before they prayed. This is not so. All of them had been continuing "in one accord in prayer and supplication," with the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brethren (Acts 1:14).

2. It was during this extended time of prayer (since Christ's ascension) that Peter stood up and gave, what I believe to be, an inspired assessment of the situation (1:15-23). He was able to perfectly correlate the circumstances with Scripture, in every single point deferring to the Word.

3. Nothing in Peter's words suggested the matter was purely from the flesh, or done in their own energy. The spirit and language of the text seem to forbid viewing it as a work of the flesh.

4. This account was written by inspiration several years after it occurred. The Holy Spirit saw fit to say, "the lot fell upon Matthias," perfectly depicting the statement of Solomon in (Prov 16:33 KJV), and indicating a clear answer to the request they made of God: "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD."

5. They cast their lots after they prayed for God to make known His choice (1:24-25).

6. The Holy Spirit chose to summarize the whole event by saying, "and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (1:26). There is no hint in the text that this was a mere tradition among these people.

7. When the day of Pentecost same, Peter "stood up with the eleven," delivering his stirring announcement of the day of salvation (Acts 2:14). If the twelfth Apostle was Paul, Peter would have stood up with the ten.

8. When the first deacons were chosen, Luke says "the twelve" gathered the people together to instruct them on how to address the matter of the neglected widows (Acts 6:2). If Paul was the twelfth Apostle, the eleven would have called the people together.

9. Paul himself states that following His resurrection, Jesus was "seen of the twelve" (1 Cor 15:5) -- and that was a long time before he was converted and made an Apostle.

10. The twelve Apostles were sent to the Jews, while Paul's concentration was on the Gentiles. Jesus told them this would be the case, declaring the "twelve" would sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28) -- something He did not say to Paul. Paul recognized Peter was the leader of the twelve, saying they were to go to the circumcision, while he went to the uncircumcision (Gal 2:7-8).

11. If, as you suggest, God "gave no input in this electing process nor did He take any part in the "lot" process," I would have to conclude the following.

a. Even though the Apostles and those with them "continued with one accord in prayer (1:14), it was all, in vain.
b. The extensive assessment that Peter gave of the situation, expounding Scripture, and declaring why Judas fell, and the necessity of filling the office vacated by his absence (1:15-22), together with affirming the qualifications for filling that office, is nothing more than Peter speaking in the flesh.
c. Even though they had agreed in prayer ("in one accord"), the promise of Jesus concerning such agreement was voided (Matt 18:19).
d. Their prayer, asking the Lord to show whom He had chosen, was not answered. This would be even though Jesus taught them, "Every that asketh receiveth" (Matt 7:3), and that if they asked anything in His name He would do it (John 14:13-14).
e. If God did not reveal to them what they asked, then those believers actually sought to impose their wills upon God.
f. Even though the Scriptures clearly said the bishopric vacated by Judas was to be filled (Spa 109:8; Acts 1:20), that office would have remained vacant for nearly ten years, until Saul of Tarsus was called into the Apostleship.
g. Thus, if God was not in the choosing of Matthias at all, the "eleven" had managed to lapse into the flesh after spending forty glorious days with the risen Christ, and the rest of the time in united and focused prayer. They carefully considered the case before them with the Word of God dominating their thoughts. In prayer, they asked the Lord to reveal to them the one He had chosen. Yet, in this unquestionably spiritual atmosphere of unity, a love for the truth, honoring the Scripture, and laying their case before the Lord, God was NOT in the matter? This seems to me to contradict everything Jesus taught them about seeking the will of God, honoring His Word, and praying.

For these and other reasons, I see Paul as a special Apostle, born out of due time (1 Cor 15:8) -- the Apostle of the Gentiles. I also understand Luke to have been most precise in writing this account. If God was not in the events of Acts 1:13-26, He completely omitted any explanation that confirmed that supposition.









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