Tag Archives: God

Pleading the Blood…What?!

Allow me a moment to rant – with apologies to my more charismatic friends.  I have heard the phrase “plead the blood of Jesus” numerous times throughout my life.  The last time I heard it, a couple of months ago, something snapped in my mind and I said to myself, “What does that even MEAN?!”  I’ve always heard it used in association with dealing with some demonic influence in someone’s life.  We “plead the Blood” to ensure that Satan is convinced that we mean business.  It’s like using the phrase as a “power-up” to our prayer.  It’s not enough that we pray in the power and authority of Jesus, no, we need to append “pleading the blood” to make sure we are heard.  It’s like the devil perks up when he hears that and says to himself, “Well I guess I have to go now since they are pleading the blood.”  Really?  I don’t think it works that way.

But perhaps I as being too harsh or had misunderstood the use of the phrase, so I went online to search various teachers and websites to get a better perspective.  It only got worse!  One site actually taught that we should plead the blood over our stuff – our cars, houses, credit cards and finances.  They went on to say that when we did that our stuff would be protected from anything bad.  Our houses would be protected from hurricanes or tornadoes; our cars protected from breakdowns; our finances protected from identity theft or bad credit.  And we had to make sure that we pled the blood at least monthly otherwise the protective nature of the blood would expire!  I was horrified!  But perhaps this was an extreme case so I searched on.

A couple of sites told us that “pleading the blood” was a legal term (whatever that means) that we could use in prayer to “insist” that God grant our requests.  In other words, He owes us because we plead the blood.  Really? “INSIST?”  We are going to demand that God act according to our wishes just because we use the magical phrase!  I don’t think I would dare.  Many sites presented the same idea in various ways, but all suggested that the blood was to be used as a bargaining chip.  Never mind asking that His will be done, or that His kingdom come, or that our prayers would bring Him glory, instead let’s make sure we claim our right to ask for whatever we want.

Many sites promoted the protective nature of the blood.  They appealed to the Old Testament story of the Passover, where the blood of the sacrificed lamb brushed on their doorposts protected the Israelites from the angel of death.  These teachers then take that to mean that the blood of Jesus – our Passover Lamb will protect us from bad things happening to us.  I think that misses the point of that story.  The blood was not meant to protect their stuff but to save them from literal, physical death.  It foreshadowed the saving nature of Jesus’ sacrifice to deliver us from eternal death.  Nowhere in the New Testament is the idea that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was meant to protect us in this life from bad things happening.  Nor are we ever instructed to “plead the blood” when we come before the Father in prayer.  Nor does the phrase even appear in the New Testament much less carry the seemingly magical powers ascribed to it.

OK, rant over.  I am truly, truly saddened (and angered) when I read these kinds of things.  I think it cheapens and misrepresents the power and glory of Christ’s death.  I think it reduces the splendor of Christ to a lucky charm.  I believe there is great power to radically transform lives when we properly understand the meaning of the Blood of Jesus.  But I don’t believe that “pleading the blood” is either necessary or biblical, at least, in the way it is commonly portrayed.  Over the next several weeks I will be looking at the New Testament teaching on “The Blood.  Let’s consider the wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice and stand in awe of its power to undo all the effects of sin and disarm the devil.  Only then can we rightly “plead the blood” in a way that honors Him.

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A Conversation

A young boy, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, climbs up on his father’s lap.  He leans his head on his father’s chest and listens quietly to his heartbeat.  After a few moments he lifts his head slightly.

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“I have an ouchie.  Wanna see my ouchie?”

“Sure.  Tell me about it.”

“Look. See. Can you make it better?”

“Of course I can.  You’ll see”

The father gently strokes his son’s hair and whispers something under his breath.

“Better?”

“Yeah, thanks”

The young boy leans his head back on his father’s chest and listens to his heartbeat.

“Daddy, I love you.”

“I love you too – very much.”

 

This is the conversation our Father wants to have with us – genuine and intimate.

This is prayer.

Galatians 3:1 – On Being Foolish

No one likes to be called foolish.  It can certainly hurt someone’s feeling, yet this is exactly what Paul calls the Galatian disciples.  Saying someone or something is “foolish” can simply be another way of saying “silly” or “dumb”, but perhaps  with a more negative connotation.  Dictionary.com defines it as: “resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered; unwise.”  However, I like the definition of the word given by William Hendriksen in his commentary on Galatians: “…the original indicates an attitude of heart as well as a quality of mind.  It refers not to bluntness but to a sinful neglect to use one’s mental power to the best advantage.  The Galatians…must be considered not necessarily dull but thoughtless, not ignorant but senseless, not stupid but foolish.” 1

This is what Paul says to the Galatians:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  (Gal 3:1-3)

What prompted Paul’s strong words?  His frustration that the Galatians weren’t thinking straight about the Gospel.  They were missing the whole point and were in danger of being sucked back into a works-based religion which leads nowhere.

This isn’t the only place in the New Testament where we are warned of the dangers of foolishness.

Luke 24:24-25 – Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”  And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (ESV)

Titus 3:3 – For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.  (NAS)

1 Tim 6:9 – But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. (NAS)

There seems to be a deliberateness to being foolish, an unwillingness to fully embrace what God has done or said.  So in Luke, Jesus chides the disciples for not believing what He had said about His resurrection or even the report of the women.  In our unsaved state, Paul lumps the idea of foolish with disobedient, deceived and enslaved.  All associated with a rejection of God’s grace.  And in Timothy, those who seek wealth as opposed to God fall into many foolish things.

So being foolish seems to me to be that heart condition which Hendriksen comments on, a sinful neglect of embracing the truth of the gospel and instead accepting the ideas of men.

The Galatians then were being foolish; they were deliberately rejecting the gospel of Christ that Paul proclaimed to them, the gospel that brought them freedom from one works-based religion – pagan idolatry – and returned to another works-based religion this time disguised as “obeying the law of Moses”.

Paul repeats the same charge of foolishness in verse 3.  Here he says it is foolish to begin in the Spirit but then switch to the flesh to continue our in own effort to grow as Christians.  There is that deliberate, foolish rejection of what Jesus has already done and accomplished.

In what ways are we foolish?  When do I say to myself, God’s can’t really mean that, can He?  It is too simple, too far-fetched, preposterous, improbable.  It can’t be that easy just to believe Him, so we create reasons for having to do something ourselves.  What can I do to make Him love me more?  Should I spend more time reading the Bible?  Should I go to church more often?  Should I give more money?  Should I get involved in every and any activity that my church sponsors?  Maybe, I should just beat myself up more for not being more perfect?  That would certainly show Him I’m serious.  All this is foolishness.  It is being too dull of heart and mind to simply rest in the truth He has given us.  It seems that we cannot fully accept the simplicity and completeness of what Jesus did.  So we must have to “do” something, right?  Isn’t that a symptom of our old flesh still rising up to be independent of God?  Isn’t that the remnants of our rebellious heart?  Isn’t that…foolishness?

As I studied this passage, I had to ask myself, “Where in my life am I still trying to accomplish God’s purpose in my own power?  How can I keep before my eyes Christ crucified and rest on Him fully?”  I found part of my answer in the words to an old hymn.

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

 

 

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 1 Hendriksen, W., Exposition of Galatians (New Testament Commentary), Grand Rapids, 1968

Galatians 2:11-14 – Confronting Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy!  It’s a common charge leveled at the church mostly from the outside, from the world.  It usually means that our outward behavior does not match our words or beliefs.  Sometimes the charge is true and justified, but sometimes it is a misunderstanding of what Christians believe.  Either way hypocrisy in the Church needs to be taken seriously and dealt with properly.  Would it surprise you to learn that the first charge of hypocrisy in the Church was made against Peter?  Yes, Peter the apostle, Saint Peter!  And the charge was made by none other than Paul.  Here is the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”  (Gal 2:11-14  ESV)

Here’s the basic story line.  Peter was visiting Paul in Antioch and he was easily eating and hanging out with the Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians there, but when a group of Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem show up Peter distances himself from the Gentiles.  Paul calls him out as being hypocritical.  Paul accuses Peter of not acting outwardly with the truth he knew inwardly.  You see for a first century Jew eating with Gentiles rendered you ceremonially unclean.  You were tainted and could not participate in the Temple sacrifices or rituals.  You were outside the Law of God.  They genuinely believed that associating with Gentiles was sinful and unacceptable to God.  Peter understood that Jewish laws and ceremony were not required for salvation.  But it was hard for him to set aside centuries of teaching, belief and practice and accept Gentiles as fully equal.  So Peter fell into that same mindset when the Jewish believers came from Jerusalem.

The issue was more important than simply bad behavior or a lapse in Peter’s judgment.  Paul uses this incident as a way to introduce justification by faith alone.  In Paul’s mind Peter’s behavior threatened the idea that Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish law.  If Peter was right in separating from the Gentile believers then he would have been agreeing with the false teachers that taught that the Gentiles were still unclean and unacceptable to God even though they trust in Christ for salvation, they had to submit to the Jewish Law.  If left to stand this would have undone everything Paul had taught and the Jerusalem Council affirmed (See Acts 15).

Paul’s argument is that Peter and other believers who followed him in his hypocrisy were compelling or forcing the Gentiles to live like Jews while they themselves were willing to live like Gentiles and exempting themselves from the Law.  This is what hurt the Gentiles the most.  They were enjoying the liberty in Christ and yet now they were being forced to come under the bondage of the Law.  It is no wonder that Paul reacted so forcefully.

Paul had to confront Peter publically because the issue had to be dealt with firmly and in the open in order for the entire church to be set on the right foundation.  It was critical to the ongoing health and unity of the church and the proclamation of the true gospel.  The foundation of the church was being threatened.

Today, we don’t worry whether we have to follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  But we do need to make sure that our conduct is “in step with the truth of the gospel”.  This is the essence of hypocrisy isn’t it?  When my actions are not in step with the gospel, I am being a hypocrite. This applies at all times and in all situations, whether public or private.  Is what I think and do in step with the gospel or have I deceived myself (and others)?  Does what I do or believe separate me from other, genuine believers?  Does it cause me to judge others?  Am I more concerned with outward conformity to set of man-expectations or with living in the truth of Jesus?  The danger in hypocrisy is in its power to deceive ourselves and others, thinking we are acting righteously, but, in fact, are being unrighteous, judgmental and sinful.  It is not only about not succumbing to peer-pressure but also understanding the impact it could have on the way our gospel message is transmitted and understood.  We have to act and think consistently with the truth of the gospel.

Is there a time when it is appropriate to separate from some other group that claims to be Christian?  I think so.  When that group is acting or teaching something that is not consistent with the gospel.  Which is why it is so important to have a crystal clear understanding of what the gospel is.  I think the question I would ask someone or some church is, “how is a person saved”?  And the only acceptable answer is through faith in Christ alone.  If there is an “and” or “but” added to that statement then it is not the truth of the gospel.  It is not a matter of practices, preferences in worship or style or liturgy.  It is whether any of those things are added to Christ to gain salvation.

Galatians 2:4 – Coming Attraction

You know how when you go to the movies they always show previews for movies yet to be released – coming attractions; little snippets of the movie that are designed to give you a glimpse of the full movie enough to whet your appetite?  Here as we get into chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches he gives just such a glimpse into a theme he will develop more fully later.  It’s a teaser into the possibilities of the Christian life and the purpose for Christ’s death and resurrection.  Intrigued aren’t you?

Let me first remind you of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter and put his comment into context.  Paul was concerned that the Galatian disciples had abandoned the truth of the gospel he had preached because certain false teachers had told them that to be “really” saved the Galatians had to practice all the Jewish Law also.  Paul writes this letter to re-emphasize the gospel and assure the churches in Galatia that the gospel he preached to them was true.  He also gives them a timeline of his interactions with Peter, John and the other apostles to show that he did not just parrot their message but received the gospel from Jesus Himself.  In the middle of this explanation Paul gives a “coming attraction.”

Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  (Gal 2:4, 5   ESV)

The key phrase – the coming attraction – is this: our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.”  According to Paul, inherent in the gospel is a freedom that Christians enjoy, a freedom that these false teachers were trying to rob, a freedom that Paul felt was important enough to fight for, a freedom that Christ won on the cross.

We usually think of Jesus’ death as gaining us salvation for eternal life in heaven “someday”.  But here Paul hints at something available to us right now, today – freedom.  But what does this mean?  Let me define the kind of freedom I think Paul is referring to here.  It is not the ability to do whatever we want or live however we want, but freedom, true Christian freedom, is “the unobstructed pursuit of God.”

Life, satan, sin, the world throw up all kinds of obstacles to our ability to pursue the kind of relationship with God that we long for.  It sometimes seems we have to slog through life just to get by, just to get a moment to pray or worship.  That is not how God intended our life to be.  When Jesus walked out of that tomb, He cleared the way of all the obstacles that impeded our ability to know and connect with God.  Here are Scriptures references that describe ways in which Jesus removed the obstacles to our pursuit of God.

Romans 8:31-35 describes the kind of life we can experience with Jesus.  A life free of accusation, want, aloneness and condemnation.  Instead we can experience a life of support and encouragement, supply and resources, connection with the Father who loves us, knowing that we will never experience any kind of emotional, spiritual, relational or physical abandonment.

In Romans 6:6-7 Paul talks about being free from being mastered by sin – having to do what it says.  By ourselves, we have no power or authority to say no to the demands of sin operating in our life.  We can’t escape and we can’t rebel and we can’t fight.  But Christ literally and actually took bolt cutters to those chains so that we could escape and no longer be under sin’s thumb.  Think of the story in Acts where an angel releases the imprisoned Peter from the chains that held him and opened the prison doors to allow Peter to walk free.  This is what Jesus has done.  We are able to walk free through our life.

Romans 8:2-3 refers to the “law” of sin and death – this would imply that sin and death have (or had) the power to dictate how you live, what you can and cannot do.  This “law” constrains the kind of life God meant us to live.  Jesus freed us from that law.  It’s like no longer being subject to the repressive laws of a dictatorial nation.  Instead we now live in a country ruled by the Spirit with His life-giving laws – not repression but liberation.

Hebrews 2:14-15 refers to the “fear of death.”  I have always thought that this referred to fear of physical death, and that may be true, but I think it can also refer to the emotional and relational death that the devil tries to impose upon people. Are we not freed from the devastation of fear of loneliness, anger, shame, guilt, depression, worthlessness, hopelessness, worry?  Jesus came to destroy those very works of the devil and allow us live free of the effects of fear.

There is more to learn about freedom in Christ later in Galatians.  For now if we accept the definition of freedom I gave earlier – unobstructed pursuit of God – then these verses tell me that to live unobstructed means being set free from:

  1. The overbearing domination of sin – I don’t have to do it. I can choose a different way.
  2. The repressive laws of sin and death – I don’t have to live with my head down fearful that I stepped over the line one too many times or that I just need to work harder.
  3. The fear of being stuck in this death spiral. There are literally no chains, no nets holding me down.  I walk away a free man.
  4. The hopelessness that my life can be different or better.
  5. The fear that I will always live broken and will die broken

This fear, death and sin is replaced with an assurance of the Father’s positive favor towards me.  In all things and in all circumstance and in all my blunders, I still experience His smile.  This is what Christ’s sacrifice– the true gospel – has made possible.

Galatians 1:15, 16 – God is not surprised

Do you ever think that God is surprised by events in your life or decisions you make?  Do you think He looks at you and says, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!”  It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?  But often times we actually believe that He is taken by surprise and that is quickly followed by, “There’s no way He could love me after I did that!”  And so we start to believe that God has given up on us.  Nothing could be further from the truth and this next passage in Galatians makes that clear.

First, remember Paul’s life story.  He was a strict, law-keeping Jew belonging to the sect of the Pharisees.  These folks were strict.  And Paul says about himself that he was even excelling at being a Pharisee.  Not only that but when an upstart group of Jews claimed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, he went after them with a vengeance.  He hunted them down and threw them in prison.  This was not the type of guy that you could argue into the Kingdom or think he would be a good candidate to lead the new Church.  When those first century Christians saw him coming they ran the other way.  Yet Paul makes this truly incredible statement about himself.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me… (Gal 1:15, 16   ESV)

There is something very important to see here.  God had called Paul and set him apart from before he was born, before Paul had said or done anything, but God waited until He was ready to reveal His Son to Paul.

God knew Paul.  He knew Paul would be a strident Pharisee.  He knew Paul would persecute His church and jail His followers.  He knew Paul had murderous intent.  He knew Paul would care more about tradition than truth.  And yet He called him and chose him for his mission to the Gentiles.  Not only that, God’s timing was God’s timing.  He was not caught off guard or waited too long nor was God shocked at the way Paul had turned out.  No, God acted when it pleased him.  It was not dependent on Paul’s “readiness” to know Jesus.  All this God had decided before Paul was even born!

It should be comforting to us to know that God’s plans for us are already laid out just waiting to be revealed at the right time – at God’s pleasure.  So do I think that maybe God is too slow? Yep.  Do I think that maybe my time is passing me by?  Yep.  Is that true?  Nope.  The same God who set Paul apart, has set me apart and has set you apart for His mission for us in this life.  When and how remains in His good pleasure.

I am learning to rest and be assured in God’s perfect timing in my life.  “When God was pleased He…” becomes my guiding principle here.  God knows my days, my weaknesses, my sin and He calls me and reveals Himself to me at the right time.  That is what He did in Paul’s life and I firmly believe that it is true for us too.  No surprises.

Grief Experienced

I had never experienced grief like that before.  Sure, I’ve been sad, but this was different.  This was a heart-wrenching grief that shook my core.  It was a wail in the spirit at a great loss.  It came in waves unexpected.  You see, last December my father passed away, and while it was not totally unexpected – he was 91 – it was still a shock.  I wept.  And now, so many months later, the grief now turned to sadness still overtakes me when I am least expecting it.

The day of the memorial service was a cloudy day with a light sprinkling rain.  As we left the church service and were heading to the graveside, some of the clouds parted slightly and the sun shone through for a few moments.  Perhaps a heavenly salute, perhaps just a coincidence, but in either case I thought about the grief our Heavenly Father experienced when He saw His Son dead.  It darkened the sky.  It shook the earth.  It convulsed the universe.  I can understand a little of that now.  And yes, even though He knew that Jesus would rise again, it doesn’t take away from the grief of the moment.  I knew that even as I wept for my father, Dad was experiencing joy unspeakable.  It didn’t help me at that moment.  The grief is still real and very present.

Wouldn’t it be interesting on this Good Friday to pause for a moment and simply acknowledge the Father’s experience on this day, His grief?  Perhaps we can just sit with Him and say, “I understand… a little,” and grieve together even while we look forward to resurrection.  He did that for me.