Why did God give the Law to the Israelites?

No Israelite was ever saved by keeping the law of Moses. No obedience could make them righteous before God. (Romans 3:20) Since the law could not save, why did God give the law to Israel? Speculations abound about the purpose for the law, but speculation is not necessary. The Bible gives several specific reasons why the law was given.

God told the Israelites the law was to protect them from idolatry. (Deuteronomy 4:9-14) The nations in Canaan and the nations surrounding Canaan worshiped many false gods. The law served to remind Israel their God is the only true God. The law reminded them of the mighty miracles God performed when He delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the promised land. The law was given so Israel would only worship Jehovah and so Israel would remain confident in Him. (Psalm 78:5-7)

The law was given to set the Israelites apart from the Canaanites and other pagan nations. The Israelites were set apart from all the rest of the world by God. Through the keeping of the law the Israelites secured their position as a “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” to the Lord. (Exodus 19:6) This unique status was reflected in their keeping of the law. Because God is holy, He gave the law to His people to teach them to be holy as well. (Leviticus 20:7-8) Because Israel was set apart for God the law was given to keep them set apart.

God gave the law to convict men of sin. (Romans 3:19; Galatians 3:22) The law makes clear that no man can meet the standard of God’s of perfect righteousness. Because of the law no person has any excuse before God. Everyone is guilty. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

The conviction of the law goes hand in hand with the Christ oriented purpose of the law. The law was given as a teacher to drive people to Jesus. (Galatians 3:25) By showing the impossibility of perfect obedience, the law points sinners to the only One who can make the unrighteous righteous. The law does not save, but the law points humanity to the salvation that is only possible by faith in Jesus. This has been the law’s purpose since it was first given. Before Jesus was born the law pointed men to the promised Christ. The many sacrifices of the law were a constant reminder to the Israelites that death is the wages of sin and a constant reminder of the promise of God to send a deliverer who would suffer the wages of sin in their place.

The law was a wonderful gift given to the Israelites. Those who believed God could say, with David, “Oh how I love thy law.” The restrictions and requirements seem severe to modern readers, yet each command was given by God for a good purpose.

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Can we pray to Jesus?

Who do you address when you pray? Do you address God? The Father? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? All three at the same time? Some religious groups teach that Christians should not pray to Jesus. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Most of the prayers in the Bible are addressed to God the Father. Because of the Lord’s prayer and the many Biblical examples of prayer to God the Father, some churches have taught that prayer must always be addressed to the Father. The Bible clearly teaches the Christian to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, but what about praying directly to Jesus?

This may seem like splitting hairs, but evaluating prayer habits is profitable. If the Bible teaches anything the proper way to pray, then Christians should desire to know and follow the instruction of Scripture.

Because God is a Trinity, there is a sense in which all prayer is addressed to the Father, the Son and the Spirit. However, because God is a Trinity there is a significant sense in which prayer is addressed specifically to one member of the Godhead. Christians cannot say that because of Trinity it does not matter which Divine person we address in prayer. The Christian must approach God in the way He prescribes. God never allowed people to approach Him any way they desired. From the very beginning God defined the way in which man must come to Him. Entering into the presence of God must always be in accord with the specific instructions laid out by God.

Does the New Testament teach the Christian to pray to Jesus? Yes, it does. In the New Testament the majority of uses of the title “Lord” are in reference to Jesus. Acts 2:36 says, “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In those places where a prayer is addressed to “the Lord” it is likely that prayer is addressed specifically to Jesus, God the Son. The New Testament contains several specific examples of prayer to Jesus. When Paul prayed to the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, the context of 2 Corinthians 12 makes clear that Paul was praying to Jesus. When Stephen was being stoned to death he prayed, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59) In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul speaks of Christians as those who, “call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Bible ends with a prayer to Jesus. “Even so come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) Prayer to Jesus is modeled in the Bible. Prayer to Jesus is right and proper.

However, a disclaimer is necessary. The majority of prayers in the Bible are to the Father. Some are to Jesus. None are to the Spirit. Thus, the old formula, “Praying to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit” should be the pattern of Christian prayer. If the believers prayer is shaped by the Bible, then the Bible’s emphasis in prayer will also be the Christian’s emphasis in prayer.

Why should I read the Bible?

It is that time again, time to make a list of New Year’s resolutions that you will keep for a few weeks and then slowly forget about. While there are many good resolutions to be made, one worth the Christian’s consideration- and keeping- is the resolution to read the Bible more in 2018.

Some Christians have been reading the Bible religiously (pun intended) for years (the author knows of one Christian lady who has read through the Bible every year for over 45 years). Some have never read the entire Bible. Some read the Bible one time and thought once was enough. The Bible is not always easy to read. Some parts are difficult to understand, some are very foreign and some are troubling. Despite these difficulties reading the Bible is worth the time and effort.

Scripture does not command the Christian to read it at least once a year. The Bible does not command a specific reading schedule, but what the Bible says about itself should motivate Christians to want to read it. Saving faith comes through the hearing of the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and the child of God has been born again through the ministry of the Word (1 Peter 1:23). The Bible was written for our edification and instruction (Romans 15:4), for our spiritual growth (1 Peter 2:2), for our teaching, correction, rebuke and training (2 Timothy 3:16) and for our equipping in good works (2 Timothy 3:17).

The Bible commands the Christian to mediate on it (Psalm 1:2), to allow it to abide within (John 15:7) and to be doers of it (James 1:22). The Bible is to be read, explained and applied in the church (1 Timothy 4:13). The Bible praises those who know it and study it (Acts 17:11). The book of 1 Peter says that those who have been born again will hunger for the Word of God. The natural desire of the child of God is to want to read His Word.

The Christian should regularly read the Bible. While a Bible reading plan is helpful to guard against only reading the easy or more enjoyable parts it is not necessary. What is necessary is the regular reading of the Word. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The If the believer is to profit from the Word, if he is to grow in maturity and if he is going to be equipped for every good work, then reading the Bible is the least he should be doing.

The Word of God is eternal (1 Peter 1:25). Scripture is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) The Word of God will never fail (Matthew 5:18). The Bible is perfect, holy, just and brings great profit to the reader. It gives warning, wisdom, salvation, rejoicing and understanding. It is true and righteous. To the child of God the Bible is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. (Psalm 19:7-10) The question is not why you should read the Bible. For the Christian the real question is, why would you not read the Bible?

Here are some plans to help you get started.

What was the star of Bethlehem?

In the gospel of Matthew the Bible tells of the wise men who came to Jerusalem following a star from the east. Most nativity scenes today show a bright star shining over the stable. The star is mentioned by the wise men, “We have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) Later, after the wise men left Jerusalem for Bethlehem, the Bible says, “The star which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” (Matthew 2:9) Matthew 2 indicates the wise men saw the star at least a year before they arrived in Jerusalem.

The identity of this mysterious celestial object has given rise to many speculations. The most popular suggestions are that the star of Bethlehem was a comet, a miraculous light or a conjunction of stars and constellations that indicated to the astronomically astute magi that a great king was born in Palestine. What was the star the wise men followed?

One idea involves some sort of conjunction of constellations with stars or planets. The speculation is that a particular star crossed into a constellation like Leo (the Lion) indicating the arrival of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The problems with this are several. Most important, the Bible never gives the Christian, or anyone else, authority to interpret the constellations as messengers of supernatural events. The Bible contains no positive examples of this kind of astrology. The star of Bethlehem could not have been a star, planet or supernova in astrological conjunction. The wise men followed the star from the east. The appearance of a major star in the western sky might have been in the right position to lead the men from the east to Palestine, but after their detour to Jerusalem the star led them to a specific house in Bethlehem. In Bethlehem the star stayed above a single house. What constellation, star, planet or supernova can do that?

A comet is a more plausible suggestion, though it still seems unlikely. Some comets do remain visible for the length of time required for the wise men to follow it to Palestine. However, comets do not hover in one spot. Nor do they have the ability to point out a single house. The star led the wise men and then remained over the house where Jesus lived.

The most likely explanation is that this was a miraculous point of light given by God to guide the magi. This star was another miraculous manifestation from God telling men that the promised Savior was born. However, the Biblical information is limited and no conclusion about the nature of the star can be held with any high degree of certainty. More important than the identity of the star is the identity of the one pointed to by the star. The baby worshiped by the wise men was the promised Savior sent by God the Father to redeem men. He is Jesus, God the Son and God the Savior, worshiped by wise men throughout history.

What is the universal church?

A church is a gathering of believers, the assembly of Christians in one place under Biblical authority for Biblical purposes. Millions of churches gather together all across the world. Most communities in America are home to many different churches. Though there are millions of local churches in the world, all true churches are part of one single church. Every Christian is a member of the body of Christ and a part of the universal church. Often this idea is expressed in a statement like, “We are all part of the church.”

Hebrews 12:22-23 is the clearest text about the universal church, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” The universal church is the assembly of all those whose names are written in heaven in the Lamb’s book of life.

Other Bible passages point to a universal church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised to build His church. His promise is can not be the promise of building a single church in Jerusalem or Palestine. The promise of Jesus is of a universal that cannot be overthrown. His church consists of many local churches scattered across the world and stretching through history. In Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22 Paul says that Jesus is the head of the body, the church. Colossians and Ephesians are clearly referring to the authority of Jesus over the entire church everywhere at all times. The church universal is under the governance of Jesus.

No church or denomination can claim to be the universal church. The universal church is not the conglomeration of all churches and denominations, or is it made up of all people who belong to a church. Many who are members of churches on earth are not part of the universal church. Instead, the universal church is the entire population of all genuine believers who have lived, are living and will live. All the redeemed make up the universal church and only the redeemed are members of the universal church.

The universal church will not be gathered in one place until eternity when all the saved will be assembled together in the presence of God. The universal church is a reality which can not yet be experienced. In the meantime, Christians recognize that they have a connection in Christ with all believers past, present and future. All genuine Christians alive today share a great fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ and as members together of the body of Christ.

The universal church includes all believers now living. The universal church is the future assembly of all Christians who ever lived. The universal church is the entire body of Christ, seen now only in part but one day will be seen in full.

Do church shootings prove that prayer does not work?

The calls for increased gun control were repeated in the days following the mass murder at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Various individuals on Twitter drew the ire of Christians by asserting that more was needed than prayer. Things were said like, “If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn’t people at a church service be safe? Please make gun laws.” “They were praying when it happened. They don’t need our prayers. They need us to address gun violence”

Aside from the failure to realize that one can pray and address the causes and solutions to mass shootings these kinds of statements reveal a deeper misunderstanding of prayer. Wil Wheaton, known to Star Trek fans as Wesley Crusher, drew much hostility when he tweeted, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Does the failure of prayer to protect a church from a murderous maniac prove that prayer does not work?

The failure of prayer to stop tragedy from occurring shows that what is commonly understood as prayer does not work. In America prayer is viewed as a means of getting protection, healing, provision, security or guidance. God is seen as the celestial Santa Clause who gives the devout what they want when they ask Him. The God of most Americans answers prayers like the Jesus in the country song, “Jesus take the wheel.” When the car starts to slide off the road just ask Jesus to take control and He’ll keep you from harm.

The God of the Bible promises to answer prayer but He never promises to keep Christians from harm, suffering, difficulty or tragedy. God promises to answer prayer if it meets certain criteria. The prayers God answers are those that are in accord with the character and purpose of Jesus and are prayed by a child of God through the mediation of Jesus. God does not promise to answer the prayers of the unsaved nor will he hear prayers offered to saints, relatives, spirits or dead people. (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). God only answers prayers prayed in Jesus name and prayers that are according to His will. God will answer those prayers that are seeking His will and that are in keeping with the eternal purposes of God. (1 John 5:14-15)

God never promised to protect His children from every bad thing that could happen. God promised the opposite. “No man should be moved these afflictions, for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” (1 Thesalonians 2:3) God is not working to protect His people from all bad situations. God is working through bad circumstances to perfect Christians. Biblical prayer claims the promises of God. God promises to make His children like Jesus and He uses every trouble to fulfill that promise in those who love Him.

Prayer is not a magic formula to make life better. Prayer does not protect from all bad circumstances. Prayer is a bowing of the person’s will before the perfect will of God. Prayer asks for Divine favor and trust God’s goodness in all things. God works through prayer to perfect His people.

Happy Thanksgiving

Every year America sets aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day to give thanks to God. On that day many gather together with friends and family to express their thankfulness for the many blessings recieved during the previous year.

The pattern of Thanksgiving in the United States was set by the pilgrim fathers. They endured great hardship, suffered much loss of life and faced many difficulties. Yet they did not fail to pour out thanks to God for His provision. They model obedience to the command, “Giving thanks always for all things.” (Ephesians 5:20)

Christians today are still required by God to give thanks in the midst of difficult and sorrowful times. Many may consider their lives right now and say, “What do I have to give thanks for?” Some may look at the challenges facing the nation and wonder what cause America has for thanksgiving. With a little thought it soon becomes apparent that we have many things for which to be thankful. We have more than the daily provision of all needs and an of abundance physical blessings. (Philippians 4:19; James 1:17) We live in relative peace. Grocery stores overflow with an extravagant assortment of food. We have homes and warmth. We have our choice of clothing. We have a vehicle to quickly transport us long distances, often more than one. Many have a wide variety of toys and entertainment. We have the ability to read, count and think. We have the freedom to speak, assemble, pray, worship, protest and give thanks however we desire. We have much for which to be thankful.

Christians have the ultimate cause for thanksgiving. Every sin has been forgiven. Guilt and condemnation under the wrath of God has been removed. Our iniquities have been taken away by Christ and we are made righteous in Him. No matter how bad your life is, if you are a Christian, your rotten life is temporary, is still far better than the eternal suffering of hell you deserve and it will be replaced with eternal joy. Give thanks for your salvation!

The wonderful salvation of the Christian is abundant cause for rejoicing, but it is not the only reason to give thanks. Christians can give thanks because of the great promise that the abundant grace of God will be continually at work them. His grace abounds far more than sin (Romans 5:20) but also far more than need. (Ephesians 3:20) The grace of God is sufficient for all times and seasons. The grace of God is always working to do far beyond what we ask or even imagine. We can give thanks because God’s abundant grace is still overflowing.

The Bible also reveals a vast array of blessings and promises from God which are the Christian’s daily benefits. (Psalm 103:2) Your bank account may be empty and your future health may be doubtful, but God’s abundance is not diminished. For that we should always give thanks. Give thanks to God because He gives you many physical benefits and He gives you an infinite treatsure of spiritual blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit?”

In certain Christian circles being filled with the Holy Spirit is a very important step in a person’s spiritual development. Though not all churches define “Spirit filled” in the same way, all Christians are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. “And be not drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be ye filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)

Being filled with the Spirit cannot mean certain things. Filling with the Spirit is not the same as having the Holy Spirit. Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit at salvation. (Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 5:5) The Holy Spirit is the seal of the believer’s salvation, securing the Christian unto heaven. (Ephesians 1:13-14) Those who do not have the Spirit are not saved. (Romans 8:9)

The filling of the Spirit is not the baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” The baptism of the Spirit takes place at salvation when the Holy Spirit places the believer into the body of Christ, the universal church.

The filling of the Spirit is a not a second work of God that happens to the Christian after salvation through which the Christian receives extra power, more grace or special gifting. The New Testament does not teach that the Christian is to expect a later, special moving of the Spirit.

The filling of the Spirit is explained by Colossians 3, the parallel passage to Ephesians 5. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you with all wisdom.” The filling of the Spirit is the same as the Word of Christ dwelling in you richly. When the Word of God fills the heart and rules the life then it is dwelling richly within the person. Likewise, being Spirit filled is being ruled by the Word. The filling of the Spirit is a yielding control of the life to the Spirit of God. It is being under the direction of the Spirit of God. The direction of the Spirit is found in the Word of God. Being filled with the Spirit ought to be the normal pattern of the Christian life.

Ephesians 5:18 contrasts being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit. He that is full of wine is under the influence of alcohol. His behavior and attitudes are changed because of the alcohol. Likewise, the Spirit filled Christian’s actions and attitudes will be radically changed because of the control of the Spirit. The Spirit filled Christian will sing for the edification of others and the praise of God. He will give thanks to the Lord. He will submit to others. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

The filling of the Spirit is the supernatural power of God to obey the Word of God. The filling of the Spirit is not a measure of having more of the Spirit, but the measure of the Christian’s increasing obedience to the Spirit’s working by the Word of God.

What is “evil”?

President George W. Bush gained a lot of media attention when he called certain countries an “axis of evil”. Though the word doesn’t seem to get a lot of press coverage today, evil still exists. Anyone with a bit of familiarity with current events knows the existence of evil. We all know evil when we see it, but what does the Bible say about evil?

In normal use today the term “evil” is usually reserved for things that are really bad. Cheating on taxes is bad, but most people would not call it evil. Genocide is not just bad or wrong, it is evil. Though most rational people acknowledge the existence of evil, not everyone is agreed on the nature of evil. Some describe evil as an outside force working in this world. Satan is believed to be nothing more than the personification of evil. The Bible describes Satan as evil but never mentions evil apart from an act or an individual. Evil in the Bible is not an impersonal force. Evil is not an outside agency working upon people and events of the world.

Evil describes beings and actions. Angels are evil. People are evil. Deeds are evil. That which is evil is diseased and corrupted. It is infected, rotten and malignant. Evil is a corruption of what should be. Evil is not passive. Evil implies a willful, intentional action. Evil is not like a man being tripped. Evil is active in turning from the right path to follow a forbidden one. Evil is a moral description of a being’s or a deed’s corruption or sinfulness.

The Bible most often uses the word evil to describe something that is morally corrupt, but there are times when evil is used to describe something that is afflicted or destroyed. When God punished Jerusalem for her idolatry it is said He brought evil upon the city. God did not sin against Jerusalem. He brought destruction, sorrow and misery to the city as judgment for its sin. Evil describes events have bring ruin and calamity. They are evil in consequence though not evil in morality.

The presence of evil is a constant reminder that humans are moral creatures. People have a conscience and know the difference between right and wrong. The existence of evil is a testimony to the fact that things are not as they should be. The problem of evil points men and to women to God who will eradicate evil.

Though most people do not think of themselves as evil (the latest gunman probably did not think of himself as evil), all are evil. Everyone is corrupted by sin. No one is as God designed humans. All have turned from the proper path to follow their own corrupted desires. Evil is a reality, but not just in the world out there. Evil is a reality in the hearts of every person. Every heart has been corrupted by the rottenness of sin. This is why man needs a Savior. The wonderful news of the gospel is that through Jesus evil men are forgiven of their sin and made righteous. Evil exists, but God’s grace is much greater than the worst of evils.

Does the Bible say anything about Vampires?

Vampires have become a favorite monster for modern Americans. Bram Stoker’s creation gripped minds and reshaped our culture. The vampire made its film debut in 1921 and has appeared on the screen dozens of times since then. Bela Lugosi, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Wesley Snipes and many other movie stars have played vampires on the big screen. Abraham Lincoln even sidelined as a vampire hunter. Hundreds of books and short stories have been written about vampires. Twilight has been just one of the many books, television shows and movies to make a killing off vampires. Vampires are everywhere. Does the Bible say anything about them?

The vampire as we know it is a creation of the 19th century imagination. The Bible does not mention Dracula or vampirism. Maybe the closest direct reference might be found in the Old Testament command to the Israelites forbidding drinking, or eating, the blood of any creature. While the Old Testament command does not necessarily apply to Christians today (New Testament Christianity allows for the eating of blood sausage, if you want), the Bible views blood as something special. The command against eating bloody meat was “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11)

The Bible recognizes the importance of blood to life and it stresses the importance of blood for forgiveness. The sacrificial system given by God to Israel showed every day the necessity of blood for forgiveness. The book of Hebrews says, “Without shedding of blood is no forgiveness.” Jesus’ death on the cross brings forgiveness through His blood that was shed. At the last supper Jesus reminded the disciples of His blood that would be shed for their forgiveness. The Lord’s Supper is a continual reminder of the blood of Jesus. Blood is a big deal in the Bible. Perhaps this is one reason the stories of undead men and women who live on the blood of their victims so stir the minds of mankind.

Though the Bible does not directly address vampires, it does address major themes that are found regularly in vampire stories. Murder, immorality and the demonic are appear often in vampire tales. Many vampire mythologies attribute the vampire’s power to the devil. These things are all negatively addressed in Scripture. Many vampire stories portray these and other wicked practices in a positive light. While most people realize vampire stories are nothing more than fantasy, filling the mind with fantasy that exalts evil is dangerous for the Christian. Ephesians 5 forbids Christians entertaining themselves with the glorification of wicked behavior, “But fornication, and all uncleanness . . . let it not once be named among you.”

One important principle to remember when considering the latest vampire novel or blockbuster vampire flick is found in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”