Moral Excellence

 

 

Apostles-all-have-beardsNow for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, …”   (II Peter 1: 5)

Virtue or moral excellence is the manifestation of the “energy” of the Holy Spirit working in us, in response to our faith in Jesus Christ. Our response to this “energy” is to have “energy” in the outliving of our faith which will manifest itself as “change” in our behavior, resulting in increased moral excellence.

Now stop and read the first paragraph again before going on. Do you see this in your life?

Change” takes “energy” or power.  From whence does it come? Listen to what is on record and is just as true today as when it left Peter’s writing instrument 2000 years ago.  “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge  of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these, He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”  (II Peter 1: 3-4) He has given us “everything” we need for life and godliness through the true knowledge of God, which is found in scripture, and precious magnificent promises that are found in scripture also. Why did He do this? So His born again children could be partakers of His divine nature, which has been implanted in them,  escaping the corruption that is in the world through lust or passionate cravings.

“Change” always takes “energy” or power.  Our precious Lord Jesus told the disciples before His death,  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:8)  He sent His Spirit to come along side of us and to help us successfully live the victorious Christian life.  He, the Holy Spirit of God, is constantly releasing His energy so we will desire the sweet will of God and, then as we say “yes” and move our will to obey, He releases His power to make the change a reality.

Peter begins this exhortation of II Peter, by asking that sanctifying grace and sanctifying  peace be multiplied in the sphere of and by the full knowledge of our God, even Jesus, the Lord.  Listen to Wuest’s explanation of this knowledge:

“The particular word for knowledge here, epignosis, speaks of experiential knowledge, that is knowledge gained by experience. This knowledge of Jesus Christ possessed by the believer therefore, is not a mere intellectual knowledge of the facts concerning Him acquired by a study of the Gospels, for instance, but a heart experience of what and who He is, gained by such a study, including a personal association with Him, by means of the Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is a person with Person knowledge through intimate fellowship.”

He has not left us as orphans.  He is wanting to fellowship with us. Reflect on that for a moment. Out of this fellowship will flow two things: 1. sanctifying grace, the work of the Holy Spirit in the yielded believer producing Jesus’ personality traits.  2. Also out of this fellowship will flow sanctifying  peace, the tranquility of heart which is the result of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our life.

May His “energy” be evident in your life.  May you be increasing in all the fruit of the Spirit as you fellowship with your Lord and Savior Jesus.

Carl

 

The Refiner’s Fire (Part 3)

smelter

Note: This, the last in three posts concerning The Refiner’s Fire. If you missed the first two posts, please scroll down to the end of this post, to read first two.  Thank you.

“And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.” 

In the last post we showed that each born again believer is a priest to God, The Father through Jesus Christ (I Peter 2:5) and that the “sons of Levi” are actually a type of us and that we, as believer-priests, now offer sacrifices on the altar of our dedicated, consecrated heart.

Since every believer is a priest to God The Father through Jesus Christ, this purifying and refining process applies to you and me. The Lord Jesus is going to purify and refine us so that we offer to God unblemished sacrifices which is our reasonable service, since we are recipients of His many mercies.

Just as the smelter would scoop the impurities off the hot liquid, looking for a clear reflection of his face in the purified gold or sliver,  so the Savior is looking for the reflection of His face in our hearts, the real you and me. A reflection of Him in the “hidden man”. The characteristics of His Personality.

Another scripture states this a little differently. Speaking of the Lord Jesus it says:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”  (Ephesians 5: 25-27)

Instead of the using the metaphor of a smelter, the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul states that Jesus is going to sanctify or set apart the believers from the world, to Himself, by washing them with the Word.  In other words, as the believer obeys the commandments of God, they will purify their souls (mind, will and emotions) becoming holy (more Christ like) and blameless (practicing righteousness).  Peter said in I Peter 1:22 “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls…”. 



In respect to this purifying and refining, this is why in James 1:2 it says “Consider it all joy,…when you encounter various trials…” because they are refining and purifying events, with the goal of making us more like Jesus and providing proof of our faith. Satan may mean to use the trial for our destruction but, by us remaining faithful during the trial, Jesus will redeem it for our good.   James 1:3 explains the good: “…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  

The end result of various trials is to make us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  “…perfect” means mature.  Ephesians 4:13 says, the goal of the operation of the Holy Spirit gifts within the church is: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”  Trials, whether disciplinarian (Hebrew 12: 5-11) or adversarial (I Peter 1:6), mature us into more Christ likeness by stopping us from practicing sin and replacing it with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Ignatius [Bishop of Antioch, martyr; first century believer] said it this way:

“None of these escape your notice, if you are maturing in faith and love towards Jesus Christ. For these are the beginning and end of life: faith is the beginning and love is the end, and the two, when they exist in unity, are Godlike. Everything else that contributes to moral beauty follow from them.”

The “…complete, lacking in nothing”, does not refer to worldly things like money, cars, food, shelter, etc. but refers to not lacking in the characteristics of Jesus’ personality in our lives.  The Apostle John refers to this as being perfected in love. Some of these characteristics are listed in Galatians 5:22:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”.  The fruit of God the Holy Spirit.  Three more can be added from II Peter 1: “moral excellence”, “knowledge“, and “perseverance”.  “…humility of mind…” would be another. This is what the Father desires for His children.  Christ likeness.  To be more like His Son.

Colossians 3:1-2 tells us

“If you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above where Christ is…” “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”

What are these “things” we are to keep seeking for? A mansion in Heaven? A cloud to sit on? A throne like James and John sought for? No! I am not certain what all “things” entails, but I know they include Jesus’ personality traits because our life is hidden in Him.  He is our life.
Therefore, the Lord Jesus is the smelter and the washer in our born again lives, with the end result being, we can offer spiritual sacrifices to God the Father through Him that are unblemished and righteous. This is only possible because we are alive from the dead and He loves us enough to purify and cleanse us so we can “share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). This is the sanctification process in our lives.  Psalms 149: 4 says:

“For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” 

In closing let me say this about trials.  There are disciplinary trials that come from our heavenly Father who disciplines each child for their good so they can share in His holiness (Hebrew 12:4-11). There are adversarial trials which come from the world and Satan.  The world hates Christians. The world is controlled by Satan; therefore, we should expect adversarial trials to come.  Jesus said they would come.  As a born again child of God, we are pilgrims in the earth heading toward our new, heavenly home. (See Hebrews 13) We need to “gird our minds for action and keep sober in spirit..” as Peter said and expect trials.  It helps me to know that Jesus is my smelter and washer and that whatever comes my way He is using it for my ultimate good.

Remember, our brother and sisters in other countries whose trials include imprisonment and even death.

So let us rejoice NOW and ALWAYS in our Great Savior and God, Jesus Christ, and thank Him for His watch care over us. Because of this refining and purifying, the Word says that we will be so joyful one day that, “you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).

Thank you for your time.

Let us be paying close attention to ourselves,
Carl

The Refiner’s Fire (Part 2)

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“And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.”

The question to answer today is: Who are the “sons of Levi” that the Lord is going to refine and purify in Malachi.
When the Lord Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, God, The Father, abrogated (formally ended) the temple sacrifices.  He did not accept or require them anymore. Jesus’ death on the cross settled the sin question once and for all.  God evidently also did away with the Levital priesthood and established another priesthood with the Lord Jesus as the High Priest (Hebrew 4:14).  I Peter 2:5  says “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.  All born again believers are members of a “holy priesthood”, not a defiled priesthood as in Malachi, and are believer-priests to God through Jesus Christ.  The spiritual house is the mystical Body of Christ that includes all born again believers on earth.
Therefore, I am of the opinion that we born again believers are the “sons of Levi” referred to in Malachi 3:3 since the refining and purifying takes place after the Lord comes to His temple suddenly and in 70 AD the Roman general Titus destroyed the temple including the sacrificial altar.
The purpose of this new priesthood is to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  Just as the Old Testament priests walked up the incline to the brazen altar and laid the animal sacrifice on the altar to be consumed by fire,  we New Testament believer-priests “offer up” our spiritual sacrifices upon the altar of our consecrated, dedicated heart.  The spiritual sacrifices are the activities of the human spirit energized by the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul throws light on this truth in Romans 12:1 when he says  “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”  How do you make your human body a living and holy sacrifice?  Listen to what our brother Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople – 349-407 AD) wrote:
“How can the body become a sacrifice? Let the eye look on no evil, and it is a sacrifice. Let the tongue utter nothing base, and it is an offering. Let the hand work no sin, and it is a holocaust.” (Holocaust is a sacrifice totally consumed by fire.) “But more, this suffices not, but besides we must actively exert ourselves for good; the hand gives alms, the mouth blessing them that curse us, the ear ever at leisure for listening to God.”

Another example of spiritual sacrifices is given in The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. He tells the true story of Russian pastor Dmitri who was imprisoned by the government for teaching  the Bible. For seventeen years he would rise every morning and offer a sacrifice of praise by singing his “HeartSong” to Jesus as the other inmates cursed and jeered at him. The next discipline that helped him to survive the isolation from the Body of Christ and torture was that whenever he found a scrap of paper, later in his cell with a stub of a pencil or a piece of charcoal he had saved, as tiny as possible, he would write every Bible verse,  scriptural story and song he could remember.  When finished he would put it on a damp pillar in his cell as a “praise offering to God”.  Of course, when discovered by the authorities, they would read it and beat him severely and threaten him with death.

In conclusion, I am of the opinion that the “sons of Levi” are us, the believer-priest. Secondly, we have looked at three examples of how we can offer sacrifices. One by obeying the commandments of God, another by doing good words (Ephesians 2:10) and another by praising or giving thanks to God (Hebrews 13: 15-16). The Body of Christ is now the holy priesthood. The actual “sons of Levi” as a functioning priest class,  do not exists anymore.  They had to be born again just like you and I (Acts 6: 7).  The believer-priest now  offer up spiritual sacrifices  on the altar of their dedicated heart.  May we today offer up spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God.  We can make the Creator of the universe smile.

The next post will discuss this refining process and the purpose of it.  Hope to see you then. Thank you for your time.

Lets Pay Close Attention To Ourselves For The Purpose of Holiness (I Timothy 4:16)

Carl

P.S. Pastor Dmitri was eventually released but not before the  prison population was singing his HeartSong in the morning with him. His witness had prevailed!

The Refiners Fire (Part 1)

Old smelter

 

And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.”  Malachi 3:3
Malachi is God’s  last recorded message to the nation of Israel until the New Testament period 400 years later. He  corrected the backsliden priests of Israel who despised His name and, among other things, offered blemished animals upon the altar.  They wearied Him with their words in that they said, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them” (2:17) They also said, “So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up, but they also test God and escape.” (3:15). He told them “…I am not pleased with you…” (1:10).  What a fearful sentence to hear from holy God.
In chapter 3, He transitions into the New Testament era. He states that He is sending “My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me”.  This was John The Baptist, preaching “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)  He then says, “And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple;”.  This is the Messiah they were looking for but did not recognize; the Lord Jesus.  And when the Lord comes, “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver,…”.  Since they were defiled by evil practices,  He would have to bring them to repentance and change their hearts “so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. 

Today, may we be just the opposite of these wicked priest.  In Hebrews 13: 15 we are instructed to offer up a sacrifice of praise (thanksgiving) to our God and that He is pleased with such sacrifices.  Let us verbalize our thanks today for all the blessings God has bestowed on us.

This background information is setting up the next post concerning who the “sons of Levi” are and how this Old Testament prophecy applies today.

Thank you for your patience and time.  Hope to see you tomorrow.

Carl

 

 

Isolation

This is another MD Anderson scene that brought a spiritual truth to my mind. 

Isolation. 

One of Satan’s favorite schemes. Take the coal out of the fire and put it to the side by itself and what happens? It goes out. No fire. The same is true of the Christian. Take him/her out of church and isolate them from other believers and their spiritual zeal will diminish or go out entirely. He that wanders from the sheep fold becomes easy prey.

 The church is the Body of Christ and Jesus is the Head. He instituted the local church as a place for His children to be taught truth and be built up spiritually to carry on His work in the earth until He returns.  Through the writer of the Book of Hebrews, the Lord says:

[25] not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

One of the many benefits of obeying this command and assembling together in church, is the encouragement we give and receive from one another.  We need courage to face our daily battles and challenges that we might not feel isolated and slip into fear.

He also warned that there would be tares, false Christians, in the visible church. Not all church goers that claim the Name of Jesus are born again believers.  There are also Christians who are walking in the flesh (controlled by indwelling sinful nature). Satan uses both, to say things or do things in congregations that ultimately hurt or injure hearts of others and make them never darken the doors of church again.  If you currently are, or have been a member of a church, you may possibly be able to identify with this.  

There are those, through no fault of their own, who are unable to attend church due to jobs, illness or disabilities.  In those cases the church can reach out to them and bridge the gap with visits, internet, prayer and other means.

Let it suffice to say, DON’T ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE ISOLATED FROM THE BODY OF CHRIST.  If you know someone who is isolated,  reach out to them and encourage them to get back into a church where there is fellowship in the Lord, the Word of God is preached and people are encouraged to read the Bible themselves.  If you know an isolated shut-in maybe the Lord is showing you a place to pour out the grace He has bestowed on you.

Thank you for your time.

Let’s Pay Close Attention To Ourselves.

Carl

Good Advice

While recently at MD Anderson in Houston I noticed that the signage in some departments held a message applicable to Christians.  This one was in a patient’s room and the normal meaning is obvious.  The spiritual message is:

Call (for the Helper), Don’t Fall (into Satan’s snare). Stay safe (in the Grace of God). Call for help (when under attack).

The Lord Jesus, after He went into Heaven, sent the mighty Spirit of God to be the believer’s Helper, Comforter, Teacher and Sanctifier.  Each born-again believer is sealed in Christ Jesus with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).  Jesus knew we would need a Helper.  Sometimes The Helper in us is all we need to overcome sin and the devil.  At other times we may need the prayer, advice or encouragement from the Helper in a brother or sister in-Christ.  Avail yourself of the Holy Spirit’s assistance if you need it.

Remember:  Call. Don’t Fall. Stay Safe. Call for help.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  Jesus (John 16:7)

And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…”. (Acts 2:2-4)

….but be filled with the Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18)

May it be so for all of us!

Carl

Soul Purification: Hypocrisy vs True Love 

“Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls…”  (I Peter 1:22 NASB)

“….just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5: 25-27 NASB)

The second verse talks about the church in all her glory, “having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing”.  A “spot” or “wrinkle” used metaphorically in scripture means a moral blemish.  The church Jesus is coming back for will have  no moral blemish; i.e. the sinful nature of these people will not have dominion over them; therefore, they are NOT habitually walking in sin.  We will have more to say about spots, wrinkles, stains, etc. in a later post.

Today’s “spot” or moral blemish is hypocrisy. 

In the book of I Peter, Peter is addressing this habitual sin in the believers.  There were two reasons for it.  First, from Peter’s letter it is intimated that some in the church had returned to their old associates who they loved and therefore they did not love their fellow believers but they acted like they did. Secondly, in the early church you had a membership made up of everyone from slaves to the very rich. As you can imagine it was an odd social/economic/status mix of people and nationalities. People who did not have a lot in common except for the Lord Jesus and did not socially mix.  Maybe like the church you go to now.  In both cases, the church members where faking their brotherly love for each other; therefore, being hypocrites.  The word was used of an actor on Greek stage; someone speaking from “under a screen or mask”, concealing his real identity.  When used in the New Testament it refers to “one who assumes the mannerisms, speech, and character of someone else, thus hiding his true identity” (Wuest).  They did not really love one another so they put on a fake face and mannerisms and acted like they did. 

But when the Lord looked at them He saw a spiritual garment with a “spot” or moral blemish on it and the “spot” was hypocrisy.

In I Peter 1:22 Peter is noting that they had repented of this sin and, as a result of their change in behavior, he says they had purified their souls from this sin by obeying the the word (“obedience to the truth”) and truly showing “brotherly love” for one another. “Brotherly love” here is the Greek word phile which is “a love called out of one’s heart by the pleasure one takes in the person loved”. “It is an affection or fondness, a purely HUMAN attachment for another, and perfectly legitimate”. (Wuest) 

 In the second half of verse 22, God through Peter exhorts His children to go even further than brotherly love and to “fervently love one another from the heart,…” The word for love here is agape.  Agape is different from phile in that it means ” an reciprocal love that springs from your hearts because of the estimation of the preciousness of the brethren, and which is DIVINELY sacrificial in its essence”.  It is the love of John 3:16.  And note that God thru Peter says “from the heart” or from the true “you”. No hypocrisy.  In our true inner man, the real us, we love our fellow Christian with agape love. We agape our Christian brother not only because we take pleasure in him (phile), but because he is precious to God and, therefore, we love him with a love that is willing to sacrifice one’s self for the benefit of the brother.  A blend of the phile and agape.

You see the same progression from brother love to agape love in II Peter 1:5-7 and is a natural progression in the Christian life.

If it stays brotherly love only it could degenerate into an attachment to another that becomes very selfish and smothering. If the two loves are blended it becomes a heavenly love that blesses both parties and the body of Christ. And pleases Jesus Christ. 

The Expanded Translation says:

“Wherefore, having purified your souls by means of your obedience to the truth, resulting in not an assumed but a genuine affection and fondness for the brethren, an affection and fondness that springs from the hearts by reason of the pleasure you take in them; from your heart love each other with an intense reciprocal love that springs from your hearts because of your estimation of the preciousness of the brethren, and which is divinely self-sacrificial in its essence,…”

In closing, I confess that I had to repent of hypocrisy.  After studying this, I was convicted that I was like these Christians Peter was writing to. Not showing true phile love and, surely not showing agape love for all my brethren.  A few, yes; all, no. And from what I have seen in the visible church since I was a child, this message is sorely needed for the church.   May the Lord show you what is truly in your heart. 

The question becomes how to have such heavenly love for one another.  I quote Wuest: 

“The answer is simple. This love is produced in the heart of the saint who is definitely subjected to the control of the Holy Spirit. This love is one of His fruits (Gal. 5:22). Thus God exhorts the saints to love one another with a divine love, and then produces that love in their hearts as they trust Him to do that for them and by the action of their free will choose to be loving and exert themselves to act in a loving way towards their brethren.”

This truth about hypocrisy and true love is a crucial piece of our growth as Christians AND practicing apape love brings assurance of our salvation.  II Peter 1: 8-10 says:

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance in to the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. ” [emphasis mine]

The qualities referred to here are in II Peter 1: 5-7:

“Now for this very reason” (becoming partakers of the divine nature, verse 4) “also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self control, and in your self-control, perseverance; and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness” (phile) “and in your brotherly kindness, love”  (agape). [emphasis and inserts mine]

All of these qualities lead us to agape love in the progression of our Christian growth.  Hypocrisy is an anomaly (sin) and has no place in our growth to more Christ likeness. 

If this applies to you, like it did me, repent and begin to practice agape love and wash your soul with the pure water of obedience and remove this “spot” from your garment.
“…and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men,…”…so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (I Thessalonians 3:12-13)

Carl