Ask Mark a Question
Do you have questions about how to live in the power and freedom of true grace? Have you read verses that seem to contradict the message of grace? Have you read or heard people teach things that are confusing about how grace works? Apparent contradictions and confusing questions can have simple answers and Mark can help you find them.
While helping you, you can help people around the world who are troubled by the same questions. We are working to build a digital library to help people find answers to questions on living in New Covenant Grace.
Q: WHat is new covenant grace?
True New Covenant Grace is Christ living in and through us, changing us from the inside out...if we only believe it.
Q: WHAT is grace not?
Definitions matter. In our society "grace" has many definitions and meanings to different people depending on the context. But true, transforming New Covenant grace is NOT:
Q: How do i know if i am living in true grace?
The natural result of the branch being attached to the vine is fruit. Likewise, the natural result of living in the power grace is Christ living in and through us to make us more and more like Him.
This side of Heaven we will always have times when we fall short and need to return to drawing life from the vine instead of relying on our own effort. But when we live in true grace we are continually being changed to be more Christ-like.
John 15:1-5: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Q: What did jesus mean by "if you love me, keep my commandments?"
I wonder why Jesus spoke some "law oriented" verses in the NT. For example, John 14:15 "If you love me, keep my commandments." I assume the answer is Jesus was alive at that time or he was talking to his "law oriented" disciples or Paul was not there yet to start the Grace gospel. Can you help?
Thanks for helping other people who are wondering the same thing.
Your question about why Jesus made so many statements that seem to not only be reinforcing the Law, but raising the bar far higher than Moses did, is very common. In fact, it's one of the most asked questions in our pastors equipping seminars in nations around the world.
I realize you were writing from memory, but it's important to note that what Jesus actually said was, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." I point this out because, as we will see later, this is actually a promise rather than a demand. Think of it as a doctor saying, "If you will take your medicine, you will get well." It's all about cause and effect. So let's wade in.
Jesus Was Born Under the Law
First, we need to see that Jesus was deliberately "born under the Law."
Gal 4:4-6- "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." NIV
This helps us understand that some things Jesus taught were true "under the Law" and some things He taught were to prepare people for the coming of the New Covenant. It is popular to teach the "Sermon on the Mount," Matt. 5-6, as commandments we are supposed to keep if we are going to obey the Lord. But, most of those things are impossible unless we are empowered from within by the indwelling Spirit which only comes through the New Covenant.
It is clear that some things He taught were never meant to be taken as commands in the New Covenant. Things such as "If your eye offends you, cut it off...if your hand offends you, cut it off," were never practiced by the people who heard Jesus say them. We have no reference to any one-eyed or one-handed disciples. They understood what was metaphor, what was a command/demand/threat under the Law, and what was actually a promise to be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant.
Your reference to John 14:15- "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," is a prime example of how easy it is to interpret certain verses as commandments, demands or threats, when we should see them as promises that only the Holy Spirit can fulfill in and through us.
Problems with Communication
Much of human communication is nonverbal, coming through facial expressions, cadence and inflection of voice, and movement of the body, especially our hands. A simple example can be found in these seven words- "I didn't say I beat my dog." Because you can't hear me say each word, I will emphasize them with bold type and underlining each word. Say each sentence and emphasize the bold, underlined word.
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
"I didn't say I beat my dog."
Each sentence has the same words but each one means something very different. Our challenge is we weren't there to hear Jesus say these things. So we must pay close attention to the context, the words before and after, of each verse we read. This way we can get a much better understanding of what was intended, whether it was meant to be a command, demand, threat or a wonderful promise.
Threats, Demands or Promises?
So what did Jesus mean when He said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments"?
Did He mean, "If you love Me, you better keep My commandments"?
Or did He mean, "If you love Me, you prove it by keeping My commandments"?
Or did He mean,"If you love Me, I will measure it by how well you keep My commandments"?
Each of these interpretations sound like a command, demand or threat. But He actually gave this as a tremendous promise by meaning, "If you love Me, you will be empowered to keep My commandments."
And we can be certain this is what He meant by reading the larger context. If we read vs.15, and keep on reading, we see the promise of His empowerment that would come in the New Covenant-
John 14:15- "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." If we keep reading, we begin to understand that Jesus was actually introducing the heart of the New Covenant.
14:16-18- "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
From the context we can clearly see the promise of the New Covenant and how we will empowered from within. Let's fully Jesus' thinking from what He actually said-
"The Father will give you another helper...the Spirit of truth."
Who will help us? The Spirit of Christ. What will the Spirit do? He will lead us to truth and help us. Help us do what? Keep His commands.
"...you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."
The Spirit will no longer be "with" God's people as in the Old Covenant. But He will live IN us and empower us from within. This is the true New Covenant, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col 1:26-27
"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
Jesus will come and live in us by the Spirit.
Old Testament Promises Fulfilled
The New Covenant was promised throughout the writings of the Old Testament prophets, It is based on this most important promise- that God will put Himself, by His Spirit, inside us who believe. This most important promise is wrapped in understanding the difference between the simple concepts of "ON" and "IN." The Old Covenant was described as God's laws written "ON" stones. But the New Covenant is understood as the amazing promise that the Lawgiver will live "IN" people!
Jer 31:31-34: "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord, 'because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and (I) will remember their sins no more." NIV
--Notice all the times God says, "I Will." These are His New Covenant promises to us!
Ezek 11:19-20: "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God."
Ezek 36:26-28: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God."
--Take note of the result of His Spirit being put IN us. He will "move us" to follow His decrees. This is the important "cause and effect."
These verses in Jeremiah and Ezekiel are quoted repeatedly by the writers of the epistles; several times in the letter to the Hebrews, only. The apostles understood that in the New Covenant, the indwelling Spirit of Christ would empower believers to obey the Lord. They saw all the biblical injunctions to "obey His commandments," not as threat or demands, but as magnificent promises of what the Holy Spirit would empower believers to do.
2 Peter 1:4-5: "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." NASU
--What a magnificent promise, that we "may become partakers of the divine nature."
--Even Moses prophesied that after the Lord dispersed the tribes among all the nations, which happened three times by the end of Old Testament times, God would then do something within His people, something that would miraculously change the hearts of all believers.
Deut 30:6: "The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live." NIV
--This prophesies the internal work of the New Covenant.
--Isaiah prophesied again and again about the coming of the Messiah, the transformation He would bring and the miracle of the New Covenant.
Isa 54:9-10: "To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you." NIV
The New Covenant Cause and Effect
All of this biblical evidence points us to the miracle of the New Covenant. It's about cause and effect. He causes transformation and the effect shows up in us. All we are asked to do is believe He tells the truth in His "magnificent" promises.
And this is Good News, Really Good News!
Family & Relationships:
Q: how do i respond when people i love make bad choices?
It’s always a difficult thing when people we love make choices that we believe are not good for them. If we didn’t love them we wouldn’t care. Because we do love them, we are concerned and we hurt for them because we know the odds are they may reap bad results from their choices.
To worry means we are not sure of the outcome and we are concerned it will be bad. God does not “worry” because He knows everyone’s outcome, but He is certainly “grieved” at our destructive choices…because He does know the bad outcome and the pain we bring upon ourselves.
It is true that God loves us no matter what we do, but because He loves us He cannot bless our bad choices…that would not be love at all. As a parent you will not stop loving your kids but you cannot bless their disobedience. If one hits the other because they are angry, runs into traffic or touches the hot stove, you can’t support or bless that and neither can the Lord.
But remember, if a person has not committed themselves to the Lord and been born again, they are not children of God and sadly, they are on their own. God has created all people but He is Father only to those who have chosen Him. And because He loves us He gives us the choice to be His child. He does not force His love on us because that would not be love but control and violation. He will lovingly deal with everyone through circumstances to give them the opportunity to call out to Him. And the Word says whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Of course, other people are not our kids so we have no right to force our choices upon them unless they want to know what we think…it’s the same with God. What do we mean and what do they think we mean when we say we “support” them in what the have chosen to do? We don’t really want to “support” bad choices because that means we agree with something that we actually think will really hurt them.
If someone is just telling us what they are going to do (or have done) but they are not asking for advice, then the best we can do is say, “I love you and I want your life to go well. If this is what you feel is right for you then I am praying that it all works out well for you.”
We don’t want be critical or rejecting (since they are not asking for our input) and we want to try and keep the door open for them to come to us if they see they have made a bad mistake. They may never choose to see it but we don’t want to become their enemies.
The prodigal son and his father are the perfect example. The son made up his mind to leave and the father didn’t fight him but let him go. But the father didn’t keep blessing or helping him either. When the son finally saw the bad choice he had made, he went home and the father fully received him. Since the father was very wealthy, he no doubt heard regular news about how badly the son was doing but he did not go get him or send money to him or talk bad about him to his neighbors. He loved him by waiting for him to see his error and turn around.
So when someone we love is making choices we believe are wrong for them but they are not asking for our input, we stay kind to them but remain quiet until they ask. If we keep the relationship intact, they may very well turn to us for advice, especially if things go badly. Then we have an opportunity to point them to the Lord for their help.
Q: WHAT does it mean to "train up a child in the way he should go"?
Proverbs 22:6- “Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This proverb, so often taken out of context, has been heaping guilt and condemnation on generations of parents and I think it is time that it stops. If the choices of grown children were dictated by how well their parents raised them, then God would be the worst father of all. Just look at His kids and the choices we repeatedly make.
If parents are responsible for the bad choices their children make, why don’t we blame the heavenly Father for the choices His kids make? Because we know that we have free will; and we know that we each make our own choices, good or bad, and we don’t blame God for our bad choices. The Father is always seeking to teach and guide His children with wisdom, but He always gives them free choice.
From the tree placed right in the middle of the Garden of Eden, to every circumstance we are faced with in our lives, God does not seek to control our behavior by force of His power, but He seeks to teach and lead us by giving us choices. He then empowers us to follow through on our righteous choices and reap the reward. When we acknowledge our bad choices, He even redeems them.
Continue reading this topic here.
Q: do you have any thoughts on john mcarthur's book "strange Fire"?
"I'm looking at John McArthur's book Strange Fire. I haven't read it but wondering if you have any thoughts or review of this. John seems to be on topic concerning word of faith teaching and charismatic stuff relating to the prosperity teaching. Any thoughts would be great."
The book, "Strange Fire," is very sad. Certainly, there are many weird, "strange" things done by some charismatics that others have written about. But, McArthur's book takes the position that virtually all things claiming to be supernatural or "charismatic," are actually from the devil, and thus, detestable before the Lord. The title, "Strange Fire," comes from the Old Testament reference to Lev 10:1-2-
"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." KJV
Scholars debate the meaning of the Hebrew words for "strange fire," but, they all seem to agree it has to do with offering something of their own making, instead of what God had commanded; something evil, and perhaps, demonic. McArthur is a "cessationist," meaning he believes that virtually all miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12) ceased after the first century. He has taken this to mean that anything which doesn't fit within his cessationist beliefs must originate with the devil, not "of God."
McArthur's book is the foundation for the conference of the same name, which McArthur and some of his minister friends have been holding around the country over the past two years. They have picked out the most extreme views of some charismatics and then paint almost anything claiming to be supernatural as being "from the devil."
The Challenge for Charismatics:
I have sometimes referred to myself as a "reluctant charismatic." I am "charismatic" because I do, most definitely, believe in the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit active in the world today.
I am "reluctant" because of the extremes among some groups that seriously error by utilizing Old Testament ideas that were fully finished in Christ, an unscriptural emphasis on material "prosperity" that encourages greed, and an emotional manipulation that is dangerously soulish.
Most of these extremes are done by sincere people because of mistakenly mixing the two Covenants, establishing doctrine on a few verses taken completely out of context, and a general misreading of Scripture. Again, I believe most people are sincere in their desire to see the power of God set hurting people free.
I have had varying degrees of involvement in every "move of God," since the Jesus Movement of the late 60s-early 70s, through the latest "renewal/revival" wave, beginning in the early 90s and continuing today to some degree around the world. In all of these experiences, I fully believe God has been active, revealing His love and power, as hungry hearts sought Him.
As in every time of renewed spiritual hunger, there have been some unhealthy extremes and misguided efforts to "encounter God." But, it would be wise for us to be careful about passing judgment on things that do have degrees of precedent throughout the Scripture. It is in this that I believe people like John McArthur make a very serious mistake. When the Pharisees credited Beelzebub for the miracles they saw Jesus do, His response was extremely harsh; terrifying, actually. (Matt. 12:24-31)
I know that in every spiritual atmosphere, there are emotionally hurting people who are easily influenced by peer pressure and the perceived expectations of "group-think." However, far worse are the "leaders" who know this and use it to manipulate Scripture and make "merchandise" of these sincere, hurting people.
It's heartbreaking to see people who are searching for hope in their struggles fall prey to those who know how to capitalize on emotions, twist the Scripture and feed their own ego and greed. Sadly, this taints the public perception of all sincere leaders whose motive is solely to help hurting people experience the healing power of the true Gospel. It was true in Paul's day, as it is in ours.
2 Cor 2:17- "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit." NIV
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