Friday, October 05, 2018

Elusive Righteousness

Elusive Righteousness
 
The Word elusive means: difficult to find, catch, or achieve; difficult to remember or recall; to elude capture, perception, comprehension, or memory; difficult to define or describe; be difficult to detect or grasp by the mind.  We use this word to describe something that may seem within grasp, but yet we can never reach it.  It could be used for that promotion or raise you never get.  In some organizations, a specific landmark amount of members is never reached.  It can be used for a fugitive or criminal that is hard to catch.  It is also used for a particular animal that is hard to hunt or fish.
 
There is a metaphor used in an old Spanish love song that I think illustrates this point well.  To tell the lover his or her love will always be unrequited, the singer makes this statement,
 
"The sea and the sky look equally blue
and in the distance, they seem to meet and unite,
better remember that the sky is always sky
that never, never will the sea reach."
 
The point is obvious, "As the sky is elusive to the sea, so am I to you."
 
God's ways are higher than ours.  God says through Isaiah "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).  In the above metaphor, we are the sea, and the Lord is the sky.  We will never reach God.  That is why God sent His Son to reach us.  So anything from God is unattainable for us unless it is through Jesus.  That is why Paul says that "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).  The word justified means to be made righteous; this means that man is made righteous by faith and not by attempting to obey the law in his strength.  Paul is saying that your effort to obey the law on your own will be futile and therefore you will never be righteous.  Righteousness will be elusive in your strength.  The more you try, the harder it gets to reach it. 
 
But, Paul makes it clear that being justified by faith does not make the law void, on the contrary, it exalts the law (Romans 3:31).  Then He uses Abraham as an example of how justification by faith works.  Paul says of Abraham,
 
Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Romans 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
 
Abraham was no exception in regards to how to become righteous.  It was not on his strength, but by faith.  He believed God's Word and this believing the Word was counted to Him as righteousness.  Ellen White says that Righteousness is obedience to the law (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367); this means that when Abraham believed God's word, it was counted unto Him as obedience to the law.  It was faith that made Abraham a doer of the Law.  And, so it is with us. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

A Daily Dose of Grace

A Daily Dose of Grace

In the United States, many of the States - if not all – have programs to screen newborns for some metabolic and genetic diseases.  Those that show possible presence of disease are referred to specialists for further testing and treatment, should they be diagnosed.  This is important because once the symptoms for these diseases appear, they cannot be reversed.  For some of the most popular diseases, part of the treatment is avoiding certain kinds of foods or lifestyle practices.  For example, for PKU, a condition in which the baby cannot metabolize phenylalanine; they lack the enzyme to process it, so they avoid phenylalanine.  Ever seen can with artificial sweetener with a warning, "Phenylketonuerics: this product contains phenylalanine."  In another popular disease, Galactosemia, the baby lacks the enzyme to metabolize the lactose in dairy products.  The treatment, for the most part, is to avoid milk produced by animals, dairy products, and other foods with lactose.

One disease, Biotinidase Disease, is different.  While the main reason for its existence is also the lack of an enzyme – Biotinidase, the issue is not that the baby cannot metabolize biotin, but that the baby cannot metabolize foods that will supply biotin to the body.  The body needs biotin to in turn metabolize lipids and other fats.  The lack of biotin can produce developmental issues (even death in rare cases).  So, if the point of this disease is not the inability to metabolize foods to more basic and healthy components, what is the treatment?  The body needs biotin, and when it cannot produce it, you need to supply it yourself.  The treatment is an intake of a daily dose of biotin (typically shots).  It should be enough biotin so that the body can function normally as if it had no lack.  This daily dose will help the patient live a pretty healthy life.  To equip means to supply.  By supplying biotin, the patient is fit to digest food properly.  And, in so doing, the patients can live healthy lives. 

So, imagine someone with Biotinidase disease that will not take the biotin shots.  They will develop symptoms.  They will try alleviating or ridding themselves of the symptoms.  In the beginning, some relief may be found, but in the long run, it will be no avail.  The symptoms will fully develop.  Now, imagine a Biotinidase disease patient that believes that his or her problem is another disease, such as Galactosemia.  He or she avoids foods with lactose, but the body still needs biotin.  Others may believe they have PKU, so they avoid anything with phenylalanine, but the body still needs biotin.  Maybe they were misdiagnosed, were not diagnosed at all, or were told a lie about it.  They will still suffer from Biotinidase disease.  They lack biotin.  The disease will progress, and the symptoms develop unless the biotin is supplied to the body. 

In principle, our Sin problem is similar to Biotinidase disease.  We all have it.  Paul says in Romans,

Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Romans 3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

We do not have ways of producing inside of us what we need to rid ourselves of Sin.  So, the cure must be supplied.   We need a daily dose of God's grace.  This is what Christ has done.  We read in Romans,

Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

So, only Jesus can supply it.  And He has provided grace to every man, "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7).  (A measure of faith is also given to every man – Romans 12:3).  And, it is by faith that we accept it (Romans 5:2).  You can try to ignore the problem or even misdiagnose it; you are still a sinner in need of grace. 

Remember, we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).  So, what is grace?  The dictionary defines it as a. the free and unmerited favor of God shown towards man, and b. The divine assistance and power given to man in spiritual rebirth and sanctification.  Strong's Concordance defines it as the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.  Both definitions agree that beyond just unmerited favor, or undeserved mercy – which implies that it is a gift - grace is a power or influence from God given to man to transform man into His likeness.  Paul elaborates on this concept in Ephesians 2: 1 – 5 and 8,

Ephesians 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Ephesians 2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
Ephesians 2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Ephesians 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

It is grace that provides the right "spiritual nutrients" to rid us of Sin and fill us with the Love of God.  Ellen White says,

"We are naturally inclined to desire our own way and will, but when the transforming grace of Christ takes hold upon our hearts the inquiry of our souls is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" When the Spirit of God works within us, we are led to will and to do of the Lord's good pleasure, and there is obedience in heart and action...." (That I May Know Him, p. 150).

The question is: will we by faith accept the grace of God?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Remission

Remission

Throughout my life, I have met several individuals who have had cancer. Some of them had surgery, chemo and radiation, while others utilized natural methods or treatments to get rid of the cancerous tissue. On more than one occasion, the cocktailing of treatments was successful. Despite this however, the physician never stated that the patient was cured. Instead, the pronouncement was that the patient was in remission. Upon hearing this medical phrase, I was initially quite puzzled, and wondered what it meant. What I later discovered was that this idea of remission from disease could give us a window into how God deals with Sin. Let us talk briefly about cancer and remission in its medical context, and afterward, we will make the parallels between Sin, cancer, being in remission and its spiritual application.

Cancer refers to a class of diseases. Therefore, it is unlikely that there will ever be a single "cure for cancer" any more than there will be a single treatment for all infectious diseases. Treatments for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and monoclonal antibody therapy. There are also natural homeopathic methods as well. The choice of treatment depends upon the location and grade of the tumor, the stage of the disease, as well as the general state of the patient (performance status). There are challenges inherent in some of the treatments that can limit their effectiveness. For example, the effectiveness of chemotherapy is often limited by toxicity to other tissues in the body. Radiation can also damage healthy tissue which can cause other medical issues. Simply stated, complete removal of the cancer without damage to the rest of the body is the goal of treatment. Sometimes this can be accomplished by surgery, but the propensity of tumors to invade adjacent tissues or to spread to distant sites by microscopic metastasis often limits its effectiveness.

This is why physicians say that cancer is in remission and not that a patient no longer has cancer. Remission is a temporary end to the medical signs in all tests, scans, physical exams, and symptoms of an incurable disease. It is the state of absence of disease activity although cancer still may be in the body and may manifest again in the future.

Sin, this side of eternity, is like cancer in that it can be treated, but it does not disappear. As long as we live on this earth, those who live by faith can stop committing Sin; however, their sinful nature is still alive. As long as we live on this Earth, Sin is always a threat. Just as cancer can show its ugly face when and where you least expect it, so can Sin when not held in check. It is always present and always fighting for the mastery. However, as long as we subject ourselves to the treatment of Jesus by His Holy Spirit, Sin will be in remission. This 'remission' is what Peter spoke of in Acts 10:43,

"To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of Sins."

 There is a similar expression in John 3:16, "…that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The tense of the verb 'believeth' in the Greek is in the continual present tense. Consequently, the passage should read as such, "whosoever continually believes in Him.…" The Greek word here for 'believe' is the same as 'faith'. Thus, the meaning is rendered, "whosoever continually has faith – believes, trusts, and has confidence in…" Therefore, we can see that the remission of Sin comes through believing as does righteousness. Genesis 15:6 has this to say of righteousness and faith in regards to Abraham,

"And he believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness."

Furthermore, the Spirit of Prophecy says that "The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain righteousness is through faith" (Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 367). So, now we see that there is a relationship between remission of Sin, "not perishing, having everlasting life," and being righteous. Believing causes all three. This simply means that those who are righteous by continually believing, experience remission of Sin, and eventually receive incorrupt and immortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:53).

In addition, the word righteous is a synonym for just. Therefore, the expression justification by faith means made righteous by continually believing. Paul reminded the Galatians,

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16).

Genuine justification by faith always produces law keeping Christians. Since the law is summed up by, and (fulfilled) in Agape-Love (Romans 10:13), justification by faith always produces people that love God above all things and their neighbor as themselves (Galatians 5:14).

The Lord longs to have a people who completely reflect His character. He has been waiting so long for us. Let's not prolong His agony. Now is the time, today is the day to allow His treatment for Sin to be effective in each of us and let Sin be declared 'in remission'. This will prove our Lord to be good, merciful, just, and victorious.

~Raul Diaz


Friday, August 10, 2018

A Lesson Learned From A Foreigner

A Lesson Learned From A Foreigner

In Matthew 15:21 - 28 a story is told of a Syro-Phoenician woman who pleads to Jesus for a miracle. The story reads as follows,

Matthew 15:21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
Matthew 15:22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
Matthew 15:23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
Matthew 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Matthew 15:25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
Matthew 15:26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.
Matthew 15:27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.
Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

When we look at this account closely, this is what we see. Jesus initial silent treatment to this Canaanite woman was intentional. It was not to mistreat the woman, but, to teach the disciples and us a few lessons. It seemed the Disciples response was one of disdain. It was pretty much like, "get rid of her." After the disciples speak out to Christ, Jesus speaks to the woman. His answer to the woman can seem very rude. However, it was in line with His intention of teaching the lesson to His disciples. What things did this event show us all?

1. Jesus' love crossed gender lines. The disciples needed to learn that God did not see females as inferior to males. God created them and in Jesus God was redeeming them also. He listened to the woman and answered her prayer.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

2. Jesus' love crossed ethnic/racial/national lines. Again, the disciples needed to learn that God does not favor one group over the other. If the disciples were to go out into the world with the gospel, they had to leave their bigotry, nationalism, prejudices and discriminative attitudes behind. Only Jesus can do this. Tolerating is not enough, you must agape others.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Colossians 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

3. Faith can be found in anyone who believes regardless of their background. 

Romans 10:11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Romans 10:12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

4. God will test your Faith. It will seem to you that He is ignoring you. He will seem to pay no heed to your petition. However, those who have faith will keep asking, until God replies. That is what Paul did about his infirmity.

2 Corinthians 12:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

5. The Canaanite woman admitted to submitting herself to Christ as a puppy to its master. Dogs have two distinct qualities about them that most owners like. They are loyal to and dependent on their master. Are we loyal to God and dependent on Him? Puppies follow their master everywhere, as sheep follow their shepherd. 

John 10:3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
John 10:4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

This passage perhaps gives us the perfect image of discipleship. A disciple is as a puppy sitting at his Master's feet and feeding off the crumbs that fall from the Master's table.