I deeply desire to be a believer who “thinks, meditates, and rolls His Word over and over in my mind.” So I was surprised when I first realized that nowhere in the New Testament is the Church referred to as God’s Army…never. We are called the Body, family, His building, Church, Bride, etc. But never His army. The angels are called His army but not us. He is the Lord of hosts (angelic armies). The battle that eternally matters has been won. Jesus declared “It is finish” and embarrassed our adversary by complete defeat through His death and resurrection. The Eph 6 reference to armor talks about our “struggle” against spiritual powers but it concludes with the purpose of our armor “…so you can stand.” Stand, not fight. Each piece of armor refers to what we must believe about Him and what He has done for and in us. When Paul wrote that the “weapons of our warfare are not carnal” for the “pulling down strongholds”, the context shows he is referring to wrong beliefs built in our minds by our adversary. Paul uses the metaphor of a soldier to show how committed we should be and how others should give so some can “go.” Reading Acts, we know he was regularly “run out of town” when riots broke out but he never referred to it as a failure or “the devil won.” I find it very interesting that when Paul said satan “hindered, blocked our way,” he didn’t fight but just went on rejoicing! 1 Thessalonians 2:18-20 TNIV  “For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.” Now imagine how we might react to that situation. It certainly “sounds” like the devil won. But the next verse shows that it simply didn’t matter to Paul because he lived in rest believing that God would make it all work together for his good. Here’s the next verse-  “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” And Why Does This Matter?I suggest that the more we see ourselves as God’s army, the more we fall prey to a “works mentality.” We feel we must fight and then we view victory and failure through the lens of immediate circumstances. We begin to “lean to our own understanding” about the purpose for suffering and trials. We start viewing suffering as direct attacks of the enemy and somehow a failure on our part. But James and Peter said we should rejoice in suffering and trials, not fight anything. Then we starting looking at Old Testament verses to explain our view of warfare. War was real for them because they were setting up a literal nation and because Jesus had not yet “disarmed” all spiritual enemies. Col 2:15 should be our foundational belief. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” 1 Peter 3:21-22 TNIV  “… It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand —with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” We are called to a life (not a day) of Sabbath rest, not warfare.I want to grow in my understanding of the Sabbath-Rest referred to in Heb 4:1- “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” Hebrews 4:9-10 TNIV  “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his.” The war is in our minds where we must constantly be renewed so we believe the right things. Jesus gave us a promise about the life He wants to give us- Matthew 11:28-30 TNIV  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light .” Let’s pursue joy in trials, peace in suffering and the eternal reward of enjoying His complete victory! How? By fixing our eyes on Him, all He has done and all His Spirit of grace is doing inside of us right now! “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Heb 12:2 This is not intended to be criticism of anyone but simply something to think about. Mark
Is It a Mistake To Apply New Covenant Principles to Civil Government?
This is a very important question in our current political/religious climate. Nearly everyone I know feels this current political season is one of the strangest we have ever experienced. I believe the New Testament clearly gives us answers from a time when the government the early believers lived under, Rome, was extremely hostile to them. Firstly – The New Testament contains no teaching about how a civil government should conduct itself. Jesus and the apostles taught about the Kingdom of God; not about civil kingdoms. The New Covenant Kingdom of God cannot be governed by any man made laws because the King lives and rules within the heart of each “citizen” and there is no land or territory to rule over outside of the human heart. One day the whole earth will be His literal territory and He will literally rule it. We cannot apply the teachings of Jesus to how a civil government should act in this present age, since we know Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Are there right principles in the New Testament that would be good for all people to live by? Yes, but the principles only truly work when individual hearts are ruled by the King. If you doubt that, just look at how often the Body of Christ is broken, fighting and divided against itself because we do not allow the King to rule within us now. It is hard for me to imagine the Church governing the nations of this world right now when we can’t even get along with each other, yet. The apostles only addressed civil government by saying, “Honor the king, Honor Caesar, honor all men with gentleness and respect”. And though they were often mistreated, persecuted and many were “legally” killed, they trusted God to take care of them under any form of earthly, civil government. Secondly – How we should act as citizens living under any earthly government is clear- “Render to Caesar what is due him”. In saying this, Jesus saw there was a clear difference in civil governments and the internal Kingdom of God, which is designed to flourish under any type of civil government. As I travel around the world training leaders in Asia, Africa and South America, I am constantly reminded that most of the world (and most of God’s people) lives under hostile, corrupt governments. Or at the very least, these governments are inept and self-serving. But the Kingdom of God and its citizens are equipped to flourish under any form of civil government. Paul tells us in Rom 13:1-7- “Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due.” NLT Paul understood the role of civil government and how a citizen of the Kingdom of God should relate to it. He exercised his lawful right as a free born Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar when he was beaten unlawfully; he did not turn the other cheek. Clearly, he knew of Jesus’ teaching but had a very different interpretation of it than some seem to have today. Some have taught that Paul was wrong to object to his unlawful beating and that is why he was imprisoned out of the will of God and his ministry cut short. That is a very poor, and dangerous, reading of the Scripture. Paul made it clear over and over that his chains were the work of God’s will and that they were for the “furtherance of the gospel”. And he never felt God let him down by not getting his freedom. Nor did he ever pray that God would curse Nero for jailing him. He certainly could have cursed Nero or called for the judgment of God against this mentally deranged, demon-possessed Caesar who despised believers and delighted in finding new ways to make them suffer (lions, crosses and human torches come to mind here). Rather, he gave thanks for every situation because he knew that God was the ultimate authority who was in complete control of his destiny. Thirdly – When the law went against clearly defined instructions from God, the apostles disobeyed the law, obeyed God…AND…took the painful, and sometimes deadly, consequences without cursings or threats. They trusted God in all situations without anger or revenge. Jesus did use His power to stop the Pharisees from hurting or killing Him on several occasions because it was “not yet His time”. When it was the Father’s time, He surrendered His life and allowed them the ultimate power, without anger or revenge, but instead He said, “Father, forgive them”. But this was for what they did to Him, in God’s timing; not what they did to others, wrongfully. He had choice words of judgment for the rulers when they took advantage of others, wrongfully. The Old Testament teachings gave instruction on how a civil government should rule itself because Israel was an actual earthly government with a geographical area and borders to rule. Although we must remember that God’s desire was to be their King, He did bless them when they demanded a king and, also, allowed them to reap some bad things from their choice. However, He led them to have an army and defend themselves. He led them to make and keep agreements with other “pagan” nations. Even when it came to war. They were a literal earthly nation. The Kingdom of God is not a literal earthly nation. Not yet. Lastly – As citizens of an earthly “kingdom”, we have legal civil rights and obligations. But, we must exercise them with humility of heart and love for all, knowing we are “pilgrims and strangers” on this earth. And we must not mistakenly try to apply the values of the New Covenant to any literal nation. A nation in this fallen world cannot simply “turn the other cheek” or win over our enemies with “love.” America is not now nor has it ever been a “Christian nation.” There is no such thing as an earthly nation that is ruled by Christ. It is a nation that has had much Christian influence and I am deeply grateful to have been born here. But there is no such thing as a Christian nation. When He returns, He will restore paradise on earth and it will be a “Christian universe” because He will be all in all and God over all! I grieve over the unholy mixture of politics and Christianity when it seeks to do what only He can do at His return. At the same time, I do believe that humanly righteous, just values exalt any nation and make life better for all. I believe abortion is wrong for any nation because it devalues life and is destructive to any people, regardless of whether they believe the Bible or not. But, I was also brokenhearted when the abortion doctor was murdered under the horrible guise that the killer was “doing God’s will.” If that were true, the first century would have been awash with Christians killing lots of people who treated them horribly. The apostle Paul would have continued his role as a killer. It would have just been against the Romans instead of the Christians he killed before his conversion. I believe capital punishment is humanly just, not because it is “Christian,” but because civil nations must protect their people in the best way humans can. Though human justice will always be far less than perfect, in Old Testament Israel, it was based on just the testimony of two or three people. We have far better ways to ascertain the truth about a crime today. Until the Kingdom fully comes and divine righteousness reigns, civil governments must strive to do the best humans can do. I have twice been the foreman on juries in criminal and civil court cases and took my role as a citizen very seriously. I knew we could not do our job perfectly, but we had to do it the best we could. I was relieved when I heard Bin Laden was dead. I didn’t “rejoice” that a human being was dead but I was glad that human justice came to one who had years of opportunity to respond to the call of God on his heart, rejected it, and caused such horrible injustice to so many around the world. How can we know that he had ample opportunity to respond to the call of God? Because Romans 1 says all of creation declares the reality of the one true God and anyone who responds to the message of God’s reality in creation will find God responding to him with greater revelation of Himself, through the light of Christ. God has never been restricted to human help in revealing Himself to any who sought Him, thank God! And God is the one who is ultimately in control of life and death. As Christians, we should pray and vote with the best information we can get. And remember, we are not electing a pastor, an apostle or a national “father”; but a civil leader of a civil government in a fallen world.
“Christians Aren’t Perfect…Just Forgiven.” What a Terrible Thought!
You’ve likely seen it on bumper stickers and throughout social media: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”. I’ve heard it in sermons and read it in books, “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just sinners saved by grace”. The truth, the awesome truth is…this is simply NOT TRUE! These statements may sound nice or somehow comforting when we struggle with our obvious lack of perfection. However, the sentiment is wrong, and a terrible way for any believer to think! And we should all be very grateful this kind of thinking is wrong because it strips the heart and soul out of true Christianity; it nullifies the mystery and miracle of the New Covenant. This kind of thinking turns the Kingdom of God into weak words when the apostle Paul declared, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20 NIV) Why Is This a Problem?Absolutely, we are forgiven. And thank God we are. God has always given a way for sincere seekers to be forgiven. The Old Covenant offered many ways to sacrifice and receive forgiveness. But the people had to make the same sacrifice again every year because, though they were forgiven, they were not changed. Certainly, Christians are not anywhere near perfect. And we won’t be perfect until we pass through this life and see Him face to face. “We are already God’s children, and we can’t even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when He comes we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is.” (1 John 3:2-3 NLT) So What’s Wrong With, “Christians Aren’t Perfect…Just Forgiven”?The most dangerous word in this statement is the seemingly harmless word, “just”. To be just forgiven was exactly the dilemma with the Old Covenant. It was just forgiveness without transformation; just freedom without the power to stay free. But the New Covenant is about so much more than just forgiveness! Christians are NOT just forgiven.
They are just filled with “the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.” (Rom. 8:11)
Believers are just filled with “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)
We are just filled with “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Christians live the miracle of “it is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me!” (Gal. 2:21)
The true New Covenant is all about the great miracle – the miracle of transformation. This transformation is the result of Christ Himself, by His Spirit, living inside us, growing His image and nature in us from the inside out! You Can’t “Join” This GroupTrue Christianity is the only major world religion that you cannot “join”. You can become a Muslim by adhering to the laws of the Quran. You can become a Buddhist by learning and working to travel the 8-fold path to Nirvana. You can convert to Judaism by learning the Law of Moses and joining a synagogue. But you cannot join Christianity by simply signing up. You cannot become a Christian by memorizing the Sermon on the Mount, or agreeing to a list of church doctrines, or doing your best to obey the “words written in red.” (The words of Jesus) You can only become a Christian by experiencing a miracle; the miracle of transformation by new birth. And you can only experience this miracle, this miraculous new birth, by inviting the Holy Spirit to come and live in you, making you a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV) And the new birth is just the beginning! This on-going miracle of metamorphose (transformation) will keep growing until it culminates in us becoming fully like Him finally and forever!