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The Mark of the Beast (short version)

I recently wrote an article on Revelation’s mark of the beast.  I received a lot of good feedback.  Part of the feedback reminded me of how difficult it is to digest this complicated and often mysterious subject.  So, I thought it would be helpful if there were a shorter version of the article—something like a summary or overview.

1.  The “mark” in Revelation.
The words “mark of the beast,” “mark,” or “marked” only occurs in in Revelation (Rev.13:16, 17; 14:9, 11; Rev.16:2; 19:20; 20:4).

2.  The “mark” distinguishes between Christ’s people and Satan’s people.
The mark will have literal applications, but the core meaning of the mark is spiritual.  Specifically, the mark distinguishes between those that worship Christ from those that worship Satan.

3.  Satan deceives people into worshiping him using the THREE components of the world’s system.
These three components are:
(1) Government/politics
(2) Economics/finances
(3) Religion/ideologies

These three components are inescapably intertwined as they join together promising to bring “PROSPERITY” and “UNITY” and “PEACE”, but it never comes.  Yet, unbelievers repeatedly look to these as their Savior(s) in place of Jesus Christ.

4.  The multiple fulfillments of the mark are growing increasingly unified and worldwide.
The closer we get to Christ’s Second Coming, the more intertwined these three components will become, not only in individual nations but in the relationships between nations of the world.

5.  No one can say “the final Anti-Christ” has arrived until after Christ’s Second Coming.
Jesus says clearly, “no man knows the day or the hour (Matt.24:36; 25:13; Mk.13:32; 1 Thess.5:1-2) of His Return.  This means, no one can identify the final Anti-Christ and the final earthly system either.

6.  Christians cannot be deceived into receiving the mark.
Unbelievers, will worship Satan willingly; but because they are deceived, they won’t think of how they’re living their lives as worship of him. Taking the mark of the beast will be such a strong delusion that “if possible, even the elect” would be led astray (Matt.24:24).  But thanks to God, it is NOT something a Christian can do accidentally or out of ignorance. In fact, Christians will be given an identifying mark of their own from God Himself (Rev.7:3; 14:1). This is good news to all who have put their faith in Christ alone for deliverance from their sins.

Christ is All,

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“Amen” Has Nothing to Do with Your Gender. . . Or Does It?

The English word “amen” comes from the ancient Hebrew word ןמֵֽאָ. The word means truly or certainty. The word was used in the Old Testament to affirm God’s Word as true. In the New Testament, the Greek transliterates it as ἀμήν. Both the Hebrew and Greek words are transliterated into the English language as amen. Transliterated means English speakers tried to replicate the original sound of the Hebrew and Greek as closely as possible.

All this to say, the word “men” in the word amen has nothing to do with gender issues. Then again, perhaps it has everything to do with them because amen is an interjection declaring that whatever God has said is true and certain. One thing God has made clear in His Word is that He has created all human beings as male or female, man or woman, he or she, him or her.

Genesis 1:27–So created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Matthew 19:4–He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.”

I pray that those twisting God’s Word to conform to their sinful “opinions” about gender will repent and put their trust in Jesus Christ so that they might begin to say “AMEN” to what God has said in His Word.

Christ Is All,

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The Mark of the Beast

What a joyful topic!  But it’s a biblical topic and therefore a necessary one to address.  I believe this is especially true right now.  As a pastor, I’ve already had people asking about the mark of the beast in relation to the strange times we are experiencing.  I’ve seen articles posted (some sub-biblical at best).   I’ve personally been asked if the COVID-19 vaccine is the taking of the mark of the beast.  My short answer is, “No.”  My medium answer is, “No, it’s much more ‘invasive’ than any such thing as a vaccine.  My long answer is more detailed. . . .

Occurrences of the “Mark” in Revelation
The phrase, “mark of the beast,” itself is only used two times in Scripture (Rev.16:2; 19:20).  But the word mark or marked occurs another 5 times (Rev.13:16, 17; 14:9, 11; 20:4).  The idea of the mark in these texts is related to barring people from buying or selling “unless he has the mark” (Rev.13:17a).  The mark itself is said to be “the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Rev.13:17b).  And then we read that the beast’s name “is the number of a man, and his number 666” (Rev.13:18b).

Marked as Satan Worshipers
Is the mark a literal or a spiritual mark or both?  I believe the Bible is clear that it’s not simply a literal mark in a person’s flesh or some other literal fulfillment such as an identification card, bar code, QR code, computer chip, the contents of a vaccine, or any such thing.  While I believe the mark will be applied in very literal ways related to identification methods, the main meaning of the mark is spiritual.  I conclude this from all the Revelation texts that connect the mark to WORSHIP.  Look at the basic train of thought in Revelation 12-13.

(1)  Great Dragon—The Dragon rules as the dark “lord” of this world who wants nothing less than to be worshiped (Rev.12:1-17; 13:4)

(2)  First Beast/Sea Beast—The ten-horned, seven-headed beast serves the Dragon by deceiving people into worshiping him, which is actually worship of the Dragon (Rev.13:1-10)

(3)  Second Beast/Earth Beast—The two-horned, lamb beast serves the Dragon by deceiving people into worshiping the Earth Beast, which is actually worship of the Dragon (Rev.13:11-18).

But how do we go about interpreting these terrifying creatures exactly?

The Anti-Trinity
Most of us are familiar with the name and concept of the Anti-Christ.  The word “antichrist” (ἀντίχριστος) is used four times in the New Testament, each time by the Apostle John (1 Jn.2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 7).  The Greek preposition “anti-“ (ἀντί) on the front end of “Christ” (χριστος) has the primary meaning, instead of or in place of.  The final last days Anti-Christ will set himself to be worshiped by all peoples (2 Thess.2:1-12).  In the meantime, John says in this “last hour” in which we are living “that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn.2:18; emphasis added).  John goes on to say that the antichrists/Anti-Christ are the ones who deny “Jesus is the Christ?” (1 Jn.2:22) and  do “not confess Jesus” as come in the flesh (1 Jn.4:2-3; 2 Jn. 7).

Put all this together, and the idea of the Anti-Christ coming instead of or in place of Jesus Christ, defines the Anti-Christ as the wicked opposite of Christ who attempts to replace Christ as if he’s the “equivalent” of Christ.

But did you know Revelation alludes to a full-blown Anti-Trinity—Anti-Father, Anti-Christ, and Anti-Spirit.  The Great Dragon, Sea Beast, and Earth Beast make up this wicked Anti-Trinity.  Look at the basic breakdown below:

Great Dragon  =  Satan  =  Anti-Father
We know the Great Dragon is symbolic of Satan because the text clearly tells us so (Rev.12:9; 20:2).  And we know the perennial desire of Satan is to be God (Isa.14:14; Eze.28:2; cf. Gen.3:4-5; 2 Thess.2:4)

Sea Beast  =  Godless Governments  =  Anti-Christ
Godless Governments is an umbrella phrase for the nations (both individual nations and alliances between nations), economic institutions, educational institutions, scientific institutions, etc.  I believe the Sea Beast is symbolic of Godless Governments and the Anti-Christ for several reasons:

(1)  The Sea Beast is seen “rising out of the sea” (Rev.13:1).  The “sea” is used frequently in the Bible to represent the nations of the world and/or the peoples that make up the nations (cf. Eze.26:3; Dan.7:2-3).  This imagery is reaffirmed by Daniel in particular (Dan.7:2-3).

(2)  The Sea Beast has a “mortal wound” that seems to be “healed” (Rev.13:3-4, 14).  This recalls Christ who received a mortal wound at the cross but was resurrected on the third day.

(3)  The Sea Beast is given the Dragon’s authority, especially the authority to wage war against God’s people (Rev.13:5-8).  This is the same power the pagan nations exercised against God’s people as recorded in Daniel’s prophecy (Dan.7-8). 

Earth Beast  =  Wicked Religious Leaders  =  Anti-Spirit

Wicked Religious Leaders is an umbrella phrase for the religions, religious institutions, and religious leaders of the world.  I believe the Second Beast is symbolic of wicked religious leaders and the Anti-Spirit for several reasons:

(1)  The Earth Beast is seen “rising out of the earth”, which is the domain of men and the material out of which men have been created.

(2)  The Earth Beast causes all unbelievers to be “marked on the right hand or the forehead” (Rev.13:16); and the mark “is the number of man” (Rev.13:18).

(3)  The Earth Beast is called the “false prophet” later in Revelation (Rev.16:13; 19:20; 20:10).

(4)  The Earth Beast leads/commands unbelievers to worship the Sea Beast and the Dragon (Rev.13:12-14), which is the wicked imitation of the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of Christ’s Church.

The Dragon, Sea Beast, and Earth Beast is Satan’s attempt at forming a tri-unity.  Each “person” in this unholy trinity forms an indivisible, intertwined relationship similar to the Holy Trinity.  Praise be to God, Satan’s efforts have failed, are failing, and will fail to accomplish this fully.

Multiple-Fulfillments of the Mark
It is reasonable to conclude that the Roman Empire of the first century (and then again throughout many centuries) fulfills the symbolism of the Sea and Earth Beasts.

It is also reasonable to conclude that the Sea and Earth Beasts continue to find fulfillment everywhere in the world where politics and religion mix.  When I say “religion”, don’t just think of Christianity or other world religions.  Think also of schools, universities, scientific and economic institutions, etc. (many of which have either informally or even formally declared, “God is dead,” meaning education/science is superior to genuine theology).  The influence of the Sea and Earth Beasts is undeniable in governments throughout the world, including the United States of America.

Again, it’s reasonable to conclude that a final, future fulfillment of the Sea and Earth Beasts is yet to come.  The only way we will ever know if current persons/nations are the final, future fulfillment prior to Christ’s Second Coming is when we see Jesus Christ actually return.  In other words, until Jesus comes back, we can’t say what’s going on is the VERY END of it all because “no man knows the day or the hour (Matt.24:36; 25:13; Mk.13:32; 1 Thess.5:1-2) of Christ’s Return.

False Beliefs that Lead to False Worship
The “mark of the beast” is summed up as an issue of false beliefs/thinking invented by the nations, preached by false prophets to the people, leading the world into false beliefs and false worship.  Unbelievers look to the godless nations and false religions/churches to “save” them, not realizing they’re actually worshiping Satan “instead of” (ἀντί) God.

Therefore, taking the mark of the beast is not something a person can do accidentally or out of ignorance.  Yet, even unbelievers will be ignorant of the fact they’re being deceived.  It will be such a strong delusion that “if possible, even the elect” would be led astray (Matt.24:24).  But taking the mark of the beast is an intentional decision.  The bottom line is denying Christ, which means denying God’s Word by listening to godless governments and wicked religious leaders.  In our world today, it seems it come to us mostly in the form of 24-hour news media.  It also comes through the internet, especially social media.  The point is that we must beware of loving this life—this world’s government, culture, religion, traditions, money, comfort, and pleasures—more than Jesus Christ.

Is the Covid vaccine the mark of the beast?  No, not in and of itself.  But because it is promoted by godless governments and wicked religious/ scientific leaders, we must question anything and everything they promote.  For example, they are preaching that it’s “SAFE”.  But safe for whom?  What they leave out of their preaching is that the initial version of the vaccine has been manufactured using tissue harvested from murdered human babies (as several other vaccinations have for years now).

All this to say, I won’t be receiving the vaccine.  I don’t believe it’s advisable for other Christians to receive it either.  Develop a vaccine without tissue from murdered humans in it, and I will reconsider the situation.  But even then, I would be hesitant for two reasons: 1) The “rush” to develop the drug is problematic; and 2) The less than 1% morbidity rate seems to make a “rushed” drug at best an overreaction.

In any case, fellow Christ-followers, let’s be vigilant against all godless government and wicked religious leaders that would have us doubt, disbelieve, and deny Jesus Christ–even those (especially those) that have the audacity to say they are His followers too.

Christ is All,

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Christmas Light in Our Darkness

Some of our scariest experiences often have something to do with darkness.  As a young boy, I was afraid of walking down the darkened hall to my darkened room at bedtime.  This fear wasn’t helped by stormy nights.  Across the road from our house was a field; and in that field was a dead tree with gnarly branches.  When the lightning flashed, I could see the silhouette of that creepy tree backlit with a blaze of blue.

Being alone or lost intensifies our fears of the darkness.  But did you know there’s something scarier— being in the dark and not knowing it?  This is the world’s spiritual condition.  They live lives as lost and lonely souls—ignorant of their own spiritual blindness.  Scariest of all are those that profess to be followers of God but aren’t.  Many of the people of Israel are prime examples of this, especially after their civil war and the resulting broken Kingdom into North and South. But God has a Word for His people in Isaiah 9.

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.  In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (Isa.9:1a).  Zebulun and Naphtali were two tribes on the northern border.  They will be the first to feel the fury of the invading Assyrian war machine.

As a result, Israel will experience gloom and anguish.  The word “gloom” can also be translated darkness.  Notice it’s God who will thrust them into this gloom (v.1a) and with good reason.  According to chapter 8, they had become willing participants in pagan worship, consulting mediums and necromancers—paying money to witch doctors to speak to the dead when they could’ve simply consulted the Word of the Living God and His prophets free of charge.

This is not unlike some professing Christians today who pay the salaries of modern-day mediums—charlatan preachers that preach a form of dead secular psychology and sociology.  All the while, simple gospel-preachers of God’s Living Word are available, many willing to work other jobs if necessary so that the sheep are fed.

The good news is that God is too good to let us continue in our sin.  So, He ordains gloom and anguish to humble us and then holds out a promise of deliverance for those who listen.  “But in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Isa.9:1b).  The sea mentioned here has gone by many names, but you’ll remember it best as the Sea of Galilee that plays such a big part of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Isaiah is declaring that the Assyrian oppression will come to an end one day.  But verse 2 declares deliverance from a darker power.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (v.2).  The darkness is figurative of Israel’s spiritual condition.  Sin has devastating effects, but God dispels the darkness by shining His light into the hearts of His people.

This promise of salvation isn’t limited to believing Jews. Here’s a great opportunity to learn how to interpret prophecy.  Most prophecies have both a near and a far fulfillment.  The near fulfillment for Zebulon and Naphtali is that the oppression from the Assyrians will come to an end. But the language of verse 1 should also spark memories of a far fulfillment, the ultimate fulfillment.  Do you remember the angel’s announcement to Mary?

Luke 1:26-27—In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

Jesus Christ is the light of salvation. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Nazareth.  And after returning from exile in Egypt, Joseph settled his little family in Nazareth (Matt.2:19-23).  Nazareth was a little town within the borders of Zebulun.  And for much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He lived in the town of Capernaum located in the borders of Naphtali. In fact, after telling us that Jesus moved to Capernaum (Matt.4:12-16), Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 and declares that the prophecy is fulfilled.  And the first thing we hear Jesus preach after this quotation is a command for people to turn from the darkness to God’s gospel light!

Matthew 4:17—From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus did most of this preaching in “Galilee of the nations,” not mighty Jerusalem, because He came to save, unite, and rule over the entire Kingdom, the full number of Israel made up of all “who are called, both Jews and Gentiles” (1 Cor.1:24a).

Jesus Christ is God in human flesh.  There is no more basic doctrine than the deity of Christ, yet there’s no more offensive doctrine to many.  But there’s no other sensible way to interpret verses like Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa.9:6a).  This reaffirms that the far fulfillment of the prophecy is found in none other than Jesus.  Isaiah goes further and gives us detailed names of this coming Son that demonstrate He’s more than a man.  “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa.9:6b).

Jesus Christ is the only rightful Savior and King.  “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever-more.” (Isa.9:7a).  Like the tiny mustard seed, Christ’s Kingdom has been inaugurated, beginning small but progressing in growth for two thousand years now.  It’s not yet fully grown because His Kingdom is yet to be consummated at His Second Coming.

But Jesus is already governing the cosmos despite appearances to the contrary.  He’s ruling in the hearts of His people now.  His government and peace increase with every soul saved.  He is seated on David’s throne as King of His people, the Church.  He is establishing and upholding us with His justice and righteousness.  And it’s “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” that “will do this” (Isa.9:7b).

God is good to give us the same message He gave Israel and Judah—judgment is coming but salvation is available for those who repent and believe God’s Word.  Therefore, this world’s greatest threat is not politics and politicians, stock market crashes, shortages of goods, or viruses [and the list could go on and on].  The greatest threat is God’s judgment.  I beg you, turn to Christ your God and Creator.  He is the Light in our darkness.

Blessings in the Lord,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Mortality Reality behind COVID-19

Afraid to die.  That about sums it up.  People are afraid to die.  And it appears we Americans are especially afraid.  This has been evidenced in many ways during this time of COVID-19, including the following:

1) Frantic hoarding of basic commodities
2) Persistent numbing of the self through various media technologies and vices
3) Flat-out denial of the reality of death
4) Overreactions in some of the precautionary efforts

Don’t misunderstand.  I agree that disease can be serious, and we should take appropriate precautions.  But we should also take care not to overreact and do more harm than good.  When it comes to the topic of death and dying, the flight or fight instinct kicks into hyperdrive, and it becomes more difficult to remain balanced.

May I share some good news with you?  You don’t have to be afraid to die.  But before you can arrive at this place of fearlessness, you must first face the fact of your mortality.  So, turn off Netflix, put away Facebook, and set aside that glass of wine long enough to let your mortality-reality set in:

I’m going to die, and you are going to die.  Everyone is going to die.  Coronavirus has not changed this reality in either direction.  It’s as true now as it was the day you were born.

Why are we going to die?  Well, it depends on who you ask?  If you ask the secular humanist, he would say it’s just part of the physical reality of our evolutionary life-cycle.  How sad!  Is that really the best explanation of reality?  People are just a pile of mobile flesh and bones?

This view falls short on many counts, not the least of which includes our complexity of emotions and deep sense of justice.  For example, we don’t arrest, prosecute, and imprison lions and wolves for killing their prey; but we do carry out justice for humans murdering other humans.  Why?  Because of a deep sense of human value and complex emotions founded upon justice (right vs. wrong).

Enter the biblical view of death.  Death is not simply the end to a biological life cycle.  Death is the consequence of our disobedience to the Ultimate Holy Lawgiver.  His name is Yahweh, the one and only God, the LORD of this universe that He created.  The reason we feel a deep sense of justice is because God has set His laws on our hearts.

The bad news is you and I have broken God’s laws again and again and again.  Our disobedience is called sin.  And God doesn’t hide our mortality-reality from us.  He tells us straight up, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom.6:23).  That’s eternal death, a forever conscious punishment that we deserve in Hell.  No earthly disease can hold a candle to the torments of this judgment.  What good would it be to survive COVID-19 only to die of some other cause and land yourself in eternal judgment?  This is the mortality-reality behind COVID-19.

The good news is you and I don’t have to go to Hell because God is not only a just God but a merciful and loving God too.  God loved the world by giving “his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn.3:16).  This good news is called the gospel—that Jesus died for our sins and was raised to life on the third day, victorious over sin and death!

But this good news is still bad news if you turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to it.  If you refuse to repent of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone, you will remain in your sins and death will swallow you up for all eternity.  But if you repent of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone, you will be swallowed up by new spiritual life in Christ that begins now and lasts for all eternity.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Christians still fear the dying process and may fear death itself from time to time, but consistently and persistently our fear of death has been turned to faith in the One who conquered the grave.

In Christ Alone,
Jeremy Vanatta

(*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version)

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The fundamental issue the gospel addresses is man’s sinful autonomy.  Everywhere we look in this world we see humans declaring themselves “strong enough”, “tough enough”, “resilient enough”, and “self-reliant”.  And we Christians must admit that too often the person staring back at us from the mirror is guilty of the same.

Recently, devastating tornadoes tore through Tennessee only a few miles from my home.  In the aftermath of the storms, we witnessed both the best and the worst of humanity.  First-responders and neighbors sacrificed to help those who had been battered by the winds.  But scammers and cheats came out of the woodwork too.

Unfortunately, the more subtle travesty of “hometown hashtags” began popping up everywhere you looked.  By “hometown hashtags” I mean people posting a hashtag followed by their city name and the word strong, such as  #_________Strong  (you fill in the blank).

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing much of the same.  We expect the world that lives independently of God to declare such things, but this should not be the Christian’s banner cry.  For followers of Christ, only one hashtag will do,  #TheLordIsOurStrength

Four weeks ago, at Grace Life Baptist Church, we began our study of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-20 where Paul begins the section with these words.

Ephesians 6:10—Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

We learned from this verse that Paul’s “be strong” is a verb in the present tense, passive voice, and imperative mood.  For all you non-grammar nerds, that simply means that Christians are commanded (imperative mood) to continually (present tense) be strengthened by (passive voice) the Lord.

The Lord is our source of strength in the spiritual battles we face.  Why would we think strength to face physical challenges and suffering would require anything less?  As we noted in our study, spiritual battles are spiritual but the effects of the battle will be experienced physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In this way, no one is #Strong.  God alone is!  And when a person comes to rely solely on the Lord Jesus through faith alone in Him, only  #TheLordIsOurStrength  makes any sense.  And this brings a whole new attitude on our part toward the many threats of suffering and death in our world like that of COVID-19.  Our thinking and attitudes will begin to sound more like Romans 14:8-9.

Romans 14:8-9—For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

The question is not, “Are you going to die?”  And the question is not, “Are you going to die in such and such a manner?”  The question is, “Are you ready to meet God in judgment?”  For “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb.9:27).  Our sin deserves the punishment of eternal death, but Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of all who call on His name for forgiveness.

Therefore, the answer to the question, “Are you ready to meet God in judgment?”, doesn’t have to be “no”.  It can be “yes” if you believe on Christ.  “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb.9:28).  “Waiting for him” means the Christian waits on Christ in faith expressed in faithfulness in place of unbelief and disobedience.

Christ the Lord was and is strong on your behalf.  He alone is strong enough!  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) from God’s eternal judgment and granted eternal life.

In Christ Alone,
Jeremy Vanatta

(*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version)

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God of the Macro and the Micro Worlds

“Who is God and what is He like?”  The answer to these questions will become the foundation on which you build your view of everything.  For example, it determines your views on family, religion, government, and money.  It determines your views on personal and community health too.

Health is always a hot topic, but it’s especially so in view of the COVID-19 pandemic our world is experiencing.  The question, “Who is God and what is He like?”  remains the fundamental question all humanity should be asking whether they realize it or not.

We can’t explore the fullness of God’s identity and character in a short article, but we can certainly summarize the basics in an effort to encourage people of the world to find their salvation in Him.

God Is the Creator of the Universe
Put away your “But what about” and “I don’t believe in God” arguments for 2 minutes and consider two thoughts:

1) The complexity and immensity of the universe requires a Sovereign Designer and the First Cause of all effects.

2) The desire for morality and justice among all human societies requires a Holy Lawgiver.

These two thoughts shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly.  If God is indeed the Creator of all and Holy Lawgiver, this means He’s the Creator of the macro and micro stuff to whom we will be held morally accountable.

Macro Is All the “Big” Stuff
God created the earth and its vast beauty, all the planets, the countless solar systems, and untold billions of stars filling untold billions of galaxies (Gen.1:1-31; Ps.33:6).  The universe is complex and huge!

Micro Is All the “Small” Stuff
God created all the “tiny” stuff too (Gen.1:1-31).  Think of all the tiny particles of sand and dust on the earth.  Think of all the particles of space dust throughout the universe.  Think of all the protons, electrons, neutrons, and even the smallest things we know of thus far, subatomic particles.  Ironically, all the “big” stuff is made up of the “small” stuff.

And then there’s the living creatures.  He created humans and animals, which are tiny compared to most things in the universe.  Even smaller, He created the insects; smaller yet, the earth worms and parasites; smallest of all (that we know about!) the bacteria and viruses.

COVID-19 is part of God’s Creation
No matter how you stack it, coronavirus is one of many microscopic lifeforms created by God.  The question we naturally ask usually goes something like this: “What is God up to in ordaining (or “allowing” if you prefer) this virus to spread, killing some and disrupting the lives of all?”  This is no easy question, but let’s try to answer it as simply as possible.

1)  All suffering and death is the result of man’s sin against God.
Adam and Eve sinned against God, and they immediately experienced spiritual death (Gen.3:1-19).  Spiritual death is the severing of man’s relationship with God and puts man under God’s righteous wrath.  All people since Adam have inherited Adam’s sin nature, meaning we are natural born sinners (Rom.5:12-14; 1 Cor.15:20-22).  Yes, all acts of sin are by our choice; but all our acts of sin are also the result of our inner sin-nature that wants what it wants when it wants it whether it’s right or wrong to want it (Matt.5:21-30; 15:10-20; Rom.1:24-32).

2)  Suffering and death are God’s gracious warnings to prepare us to meet Him in eternity.
In the case of a dangerous viral infection like COVID-19, God is “speaking” loud and clear: “If a virus can do this to ‘self-reliant’ humanity, how much more helpless is humanity before Me, your all-powerful Creator.”  Human suffering and death are God’s gracious opportunity for us to repent of our sin and come back to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ because suffering and death on this earth are nothing compared to the eternal Hell we will face for living in personal rebellion against our Holy Creator.

3)  The only proper response to the reality of suffering and death is repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whether Christians or not, people tend to respond to suffering and death with one of two errors.  One, “Those suffering and dying deserved what they got, but not me or the people I love.”  Two, “No one deserves to suffer and die.”

But Jesus gives us the only accurate understanding of the truth about suffering and death in Luke 13.

Luke 13:1-5—There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (ESV)

As in the case of Pilate, some suffering and death is the result of wicked men (Lk.13:1-2).  As in the case of the Siloam Tower, some suffering and death is the result of “natural” disasters (Lk.13:4).  In both cases, there’s only one right interpretation of and response to such events by ALL people—Repentance.  Jesus is clear, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk.13:3, 5).

Don’t hear this language of repent as all negative.  It’s actually positive because God loves you and me enough to warn us about the consequences of our sin and is giving us an opportunity to believe on Jesus.  And you’ll know you’ve become a believer when you have a love for Jesus that includes a love for obeying His Word (the Bible) with an obedience that’s by God’s grace through faith (Eph.2:8-10).

So, whether you’re a Christian or not, let’s all examine our lives and repent of sin and trust Jesus Christ fully.  Only then can we face this life’s suffering and death with hope and peace.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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When the Floor Falls In

We were living in my uncle’s rental house that he was so graciously allowing us to use rent free for a time.  Things at the church I had been pastoring hadn’t ended well, and my wife and I found ourselves in the most difficult spiritual and financial season of our marriage.  In hope of sparing both the church and my family as much pain as possible, I chose to resign my position in June 2010 after the Deacon Board gave me the ultimatum, resign or be voted out by the church.

Two years later in September 2012 right before we moved out of the rental house, something seemingly symbolic happened.  We were packing up boxes one evening when three-quarters of our bedroom floor fell in!  It was an old farmhouse, and the termites finally got the best of the floor joists.  I couldn’t help but think of how the “floors” of my ministry had “fallen in” just two years prior.

Resigning from a church you shepherd because of schism is one of the most painful experiences of ministry.  I have known several pastor friends and read about many more who have gone through it, and now I had experienced myself.  But I can say, God uses such pain for glorious things.  Most of these come from my personal experience, but the principles apply to many circumstances.

     1.  Personal Sanctification: At that time, I feared man more than God to the point that I sometimes worried about getting “fired” or having to resign if I were to speak out on all my convictions.  Now, I’m a bolder and better pastor, a better husband, and a better father because of God’s sanctifying grace.  Now my theology of the Church (ecclesiology) is more sound and clear.

     2.  Repentance:  A part of my personal sanctification is repentance.  I don’t write this article out of bitterness but out of the realization that I could have been a more personable and loving pastor to that local church of God.

     3.  Wisdom for Others:  I have a story to share that can be of encouragement and help to other pastors who are in calloused or otherwise difficult churches.  For example, I learned that just because a small group of influential people says the majority of the church wants you gone, it’s not necessarily true.  Since 2010, I have heard from other pastors that experienced this same thing.

Add to this, I have a story to share with churches as to how to go about addressing major differences they have with a pastor.  I actually agree with the deacons of the church I was pastoring that it was probably best that I leave.  That’s a big part of why I resigned.  The issue was the way they went about the process.  (To be clear, the schism was over particular theological points and not any unrepentant or disqualifying sin on my part).

Here are a few words of wisdom for a church having issues with her pastor:

     1.  Be sure to address disagreements, sins, or perceived sins privately.  Jesus commands us in Matthew 18 to address one another privately before getting multiple people involved.  Give the pastor the respect of a proper hearing in private.  This will help clear up any misunderstandings that might be leading you toward the wrong conclusion.  When you give that hearing, be clear about the perceived problem.

2.  Be sure to involve all witnesses that are accusing a pastor of sin.  Beware of entertaining “hearsay” or “secondhand” accusations.  Don’t pass along accusations from others by saying things like, “There’s a family in the Church that said that you said. . . ”  Instead, simply say something like, “There’s a family in the Church that believes you have said . . .  I suggested that they talk to you about it.  Perhaps you should go ahead and reach out to them.”  This is approach is a much better way to guard against gossip, slander, and miscommunication.

     3.  Be sure there are no “secret” meetings of select leaders.  Whether an Elder Board or a Deacon Board, there should never be secret meetings held for the purpose of amassing “evidence” against any leader in the Church.

     4.  Be sure to follow the guidelines outlined in your church’s by-laws.  Some churches fail to realize that the by-laws are a legally binding document.

     5.  Don’t use threats to intimidate a pastor.   Avoid threats like “resign or we’ll vote you out” or declarations like “everybody wants you to leave”.

     6.  Realize it usually takes many months for a pastor to move into a new pastorate.  It took 18 months in my case.  In the meantime, your pastor will likely loose his family’s health insurance, and because church’s don’t pay into the unemployment system, there are no unemployment benefits to lean on.

In the end, resigning or being fired from a church as a pastor because of schism is bitter-sweet.  It’s bitter knowing I could have been a better pastor to that flock.  It’s bitter knowing that the church could have done a better job of handling the situation.  It’s bitter being separated from people with whom you had grown close.

But, it’s sweet to know God gave me an opportunity to repent and grow in spiritual maturity.  It’s sweet knowing my intentions to preach the gospel, see people saved, and disciple men were true, though I fell way short of what I could have been.  My intention in pastoring that flock was true.  It’s also sweet to know that the church I pastored has the opportunity for repentance and growing in spiritual maturity too.  And this is a cause of praising God for His patience and grace demonstrated in His glorious providence!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Fasting according to Jesus

Sad to say, most Christians have neglected the discipline of fasting. There are probably a thousand little reasons this is the case, but there appears to be three big reasons:

Ignorance: Few sermons are preached on it.  Few Bible studies address it.  Therefore, few Christians know what it is and why it is important. Fear: Perhaps some Christians fear being called a “weirdo” or being associated with a religious group outside their own.  Many, however, seem to fear failure Hedonism: Hedonism is basically a love for pleasure that is rooted in sinful desires.  Hedonism is the opposite of fasting.  It is self-gratifying rather than self-denying.

One Bible teacher, Donald Whitney, has said, “Christians in a gluttonous, denial-less, self-indulgent society may struggle to accept and to begin the practice of fasting. Few Disciplines go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of culture as this one.”

The most basic truth of all about fasting is that Jesus expects us to fast.

Matthew 6:16-18—“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

     Jesus clearly taught use about the legitimacy of godly fasting.  Not only did Jesus Himself fast (Matt.4:2), but in verses 16 and 17, He says, “When you fast,” two times.  Therefore, the expectation is that Christians are to fast.  Jesus goes on to affirm this even more plainly later in Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 9:14-15— Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

     What is biblical fasting?  Fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from a basic need or some other desirable pleasure.  The point of fasting is to withhold something from the body and the mind that will be sorely missed, especially things that are fundamental to life.  Food and certain drinks are the most commonly withheld items because they are extremely needful, extremely craved after on a daily basis, and extremely missed when withheld.  There are few greater tests of mankind’s character than taking away food and fluids

     What kind of fasts are there?  The Bible teaches at least eight different kinds of fasts:

Normal fast: Abstaining from all food but not water (Mt.4:2) Partial fast: Limitation of the diet but not abstention of all food (Dan.1:12) Absolute fast: Abstaining from all food and fluids (Ezra 10:6; Esth.4:16; Acts 9:9) Supernatural fast: Moses on Mt. Sinai (Deut.9:9) and Elijah’s journey to Horeb (1Kgs.19:8) Private fast: Not publicized (Mt.6:16-18) Congregational fast: A group of God’s people fast together (Joel 2:15-16; Acts13:2) Regular fast: Scheduled on specific days (Lev.16:29-31; Lk.18:12) Occasional fast: Observed on special occasions that arise (Mt.9:15)

What’s the point of fasting?  When we fast, we are saying that we need and desire God more than whatever we are fasting from.  If it is food, we are saying we hunger more for God than bread.  If it is coffee, we are saying we thirst more for God than any pleasure caffeine can bring.  Fasting helps us to remember our relationship with Jesus more throughout the day.  Every hunger pang and every frustrated desire reminds us that Jesus is better.  The result of genuine fasting is greater victories over the flesh.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Fasting helps to discipline the self-indulgent and slothful will which is so reluctant to serve the Lord, and it helps to humiliate and chasten the flesh.”  Do ever feel like you will never win the battle of overeating, losing your temper, or giving in to internet pornography?  Fast and pray, and see what the Holy Spirit will do in your life.

With this foundation built, Jesus warns us not to fast in a way that glorifies man (vv.16-17).  Apparently, people in Jesus’ day used fasting as an opportunity to really put on a show.  They would put on a gloomy face.  The word translated “gloomy” can also be rendered as “sad” or “dark.”  Many interpreters believe  Jesus may be alluding to how some people were even using makeup to change their appearance.  At the least, they were making themselves look miserable.  In verse 16, Jesus confirms this when He says, “for they disfigure their faces so that they may be seen by others.”   The word translated “disfigure” in this context is related to cleanliness, which makes sense because Jesus tells us in verse 17 to wash up when we fast.  In that culture, the daily routine of anointing your head with oil and washing your face constituted the bulk of personal hygiene.

What does this mean?  It means whatever personal hygiene you practice when not fasting is the same personal hygiene you should practice when fasting.  It means, while fasting, we should get up, wash our bodies, wash our hair, shave, put on deodorant, put on clean clothes, and do whatever else that we normally do.

If we fast for the wrong reasons, the consequences are serious.  One consequence is that Jesus calls such people “hypocrites.”  As we have already learned, a “hypocrite” refers to a person that pretends to be one thing but in reality is someone completely different.  Of course, we all must admit we all have some hypocrite in ourselves.  But we must understand that Jesus is using the word here of people who know they are hypocrites and they don’t care.

A second consequence is that such hypocrites “have received their reward” (v.16b).  Now don’t pass over that too quickly.  For a Christian, this means that fasting to be seen of men causes a loss of reward but not of eternal life itself.  For a non-Christian, however, fasting to be seen of men means the only reward they will ever receive is man’s applause and a one-way ticket to hell.

On the other hand, fasting that glorifies God is righteousness (vv.17-18).  Christians are to fast in a way that it brings God all the glory, all the credit.  When we fast, we are to go about our daily routine as if we are not fasting at all, especially regarding our personal hygiene.  Jesus says that secret fasting is the best kind of fasting because it’s strictly between you and God (v.18a).  Obviously, there will be a few people in our lives who might have to know about our fasting—wives, children, close fellow employees.  But for the most part, fasting is something we can do without many people knowing at all.

And what is the result of this kind of fasting?  Jesus says, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v.18b).  Man’s applause and approving words will no longer be of any concern of yours so long as God gets the glory!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Wisdom of a Church Covenant

In a world  often confused about personal accountability, some churches have seen fit to abolish what has been a historic mainstay, namely the Church Covenant.  At Grace Life Baptist Church, we recently renewed our covenant commitment as a church family, and we discussed why having and holding onto such a covenant is wise.  We defined a biblical covenant this way: A covenant is a God-initiated agreement between He and His people, established with mutual obligations for His glory and their joy

Before I offer you 4  reasons for having a church covenant, let me make one clarifying note. I must admit there’s no biblical command prescribing that a local church have a church covenant.  Therefore, a church should never present a covenant as anything more than a descriptive document of what the Bible teaches about living the Christian life in relation to Christ and a local body of His disciples.

With that said, there are biblical principles in Scripture that make a church covenant wise.

1)  A covenant summarizes what it means to be in fellowship with Christ and His Church.  The Bible is our only authority in matters of doctrine and practice; but the Bible is a big book and a summary statement is helpful, especially for new believers.  Our church covenant is a reasonable way to define God’s expectations of us in the New Covenant.

2)  A covenant clarifies accountability.  Without mutual accountability, you don’t have a church because you won’t have unity of faith and practice—everyone would just do whatever’s right in their own eyes.  Without accountability, sheep and elders won’t get along—both will vie for control.  Using our covenant, we can hold each other accountable while still allowing for lots of grace, patience, and understanding toward each other.

3)  A covenant protects the Church from wolves.  Our covenant is threatening to potential new members that are just church-hopping, trouble-makers because they’re less likely to join a church that tells them up front what is expected.  It warns them of the consequences of not walking in humility before Christ and His people.  Our covenant threatens to expose wolves for who they really are.

4)  A covenant limits personal preference.  You may prefer 1,001 things, but most of your preferences are irrelevant to the gospel.  Perhaps you prefer dressing up for church or dressing down.  Or you prefer 20-minute sermons instead of 40-minute ones.  The list could go on.  Your preferences are important, but important doesn’t equal biblical or helpful.

For example, the trending craze todayis having churches for specialty groups like hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, or bikers, etc.  Are these preferences important?  Yes, it’s a part of who these people are.  But none of these is the defining mark of what it means to be a Christian committed to a local church.

The defining mark of the Church is the gospel.  At Grace Life, we advertise our purpose as Proclaiming God’s Glory in Christ because that’s at the heart of the gospel.  God’s glory is best magnified when the Church is like a prism refracting and reflecting all the colors of the spectrum—the hipsters, homeschoolers, cowboys, bikers, and on it could go.  May the Lord continue to build His Church with a beautiful array of people.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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The Gospel Call to Pharisees

Our fourth sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life helps us to see Jesus’ warning, yet tender call, to the Pharisees who are the proverbial elder sons standing outside the father’s house refusing to come into the party.

The Gospel Call to Pharisees
Luke 15:1-2, 25-32

When we study the Bible as a church and as individual Christians, it’s essential that we examine a passage within its context.  When we’ve completed our study of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it’s my hope that we’ll know with full awareness how important the surrounding context is to interpreting God’s Word with precision.  Luke’s introduction to the Prodigal Son parable gives us all the context we need to accomplish this.

Luke 15:1-2— Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees and scribes are furious that Jesus is receiving sinners and eating with them!  Therefore, the purpose of the Prodigal Son Parable is to give a proper response to their griping.  With this emphasis in mind, let’s look again at the fascinating main characters and images Jesus incorporates.  These characters and images are illustrations and metaphors that symbolize deeper, spiritual meanings.  We shouldn’t go to extremes and try to spiritualize every part of a parable but only the most important ones that push us toward the main point.

1)  Father:  The father represents God the Father.  And Jesus, as the Son of God, came to represent the character and purpose of God the Father (so by extension, Jesus could be said to be the father figure in the story).

2)  Younger Son:  The younger son represents rebellious sinners like the tax collectors and sinners mentioned in verse 1.  By extension, he represents all human sinners because we’ve all rebelled against God our Father.

3)  Elder Son:  The elder son represents the Pharisees and scribes mentioned in verse 2.  They were the religious elite among the Jews that considered themselves moral and righteous.  By extension, the elder son represents all human sinners because we’ve all pretended to love God the Father just to make ourselves appear righteous.

4)  Robe, Ring, Shoes, and Fattened Calf (vv.22-23):  The gifts the father gives to the younger son represent God’s salvation of lost sinners.  They are pictures of restoration to a right relation-ship with God and reception into His family.  We don’t want to go too far with this, but each gift likely symbolizes various facets of salvation.  The robe is a picture of our filthy sin-rags being replaced with Christ’s righteousness.  The ring symbolizes our new status as sons and daughters in God’s family.  The shoes speak of our new relationship with God in which we now walk with Him.  The fattened calf points to God the Father’s sacrifice for us as He slaughtered Jesus on the cross like a calf.

As we’ve concluded, the Pharisees are the self-righteous elder brothers that hate to see undeserving, riff-raff sinners repent and welcomed into God’s family.  Therefore, this parable is especially for people like most of us here—we’ve been believers for a while, and it’s easy to slip into a coldhearted attitude toward unbelievers.  Let’s put a label on the elder son’s self-righteous attitude.  Legal-ism: the belief system that says we can become righteous and earn salvation through our good works.

1.  Legalism is based on a slave-master relationship to God (v.29).  We see this in the elder son’s three complaints to the father: “ ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I have never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends’ ” (v.29).  That’s not how a son who loves his father talks to his father.  That’s slave talk.  God doesn’t need slaves to serve Him.  He’s not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts.17:25).

2.  Legalism craves recognition (v.29).  The elder son demanded his father acknowledge and appreciate him for his many years of service and obedience.  This same craving for recognition is what motivated the Pharisees.

Matthew 23:5a—“They [the Pharisees] do all their deeds to be seen by others. . .”

Craving for attention is still around today.  It’s present when you want others to see and hear about all you’re doing for the Lord in the Church, or when you complain that no one is paying you enough attention or is saying “thank you” for your “service”.

3.  Legalism harbors disgust toward sinners rather than consistent compassion.  You know you’re being an self-righteous jerk when you’re more concerned about the sin of others than your own sin.  Our disgust over other people’s sins will manifest itself in bitter words, angry outbursts, gossip, slander, and blame shifting.  The reason legalists do these things is they’re trying to earn salvation through good works.  They’re trying to make their own sin look tiny by overacting to the sin of others.

Some examples of this that stand out in the Bible include: 1) Adam blaming Eve;  2) Jonah’s anger at God for showing mercy to the Ninevites; and  3) Esau’s frothing anger toward Jacob.  The similarities between these Old Testament people and the two prodigal sons is no coincidence.  Jesus knows that the Pharisees know the Old Testament inside-out.  So, undoubtedly the Pharisees would make the connections, especially with Esau and Jacob.

4.  Legalism turns personal convictions into God’s standard for others. The elder son was right to consider the younger son’s sin to be sin, but he was wrong to withhold forgiveness from his younger brother who repentantly and humbly came home to the father.  The elder son’s personal conviction was that such sin and sinners were beyond forgiveness and restoration.  He then took this personal conviction and called it God’s law.

Too often we too are prone to elevate a personal conviction to equivalent status with God’s Word, and then we feel justified in condemning others for disobedience to our personal conviction.  This is where most of the muck hits the fan in the local church.  Most disunity will not be directly over core Bible doctrine but how we apply to living it out together, which inevitably will affect core doctrine.

Here are 10 statements that will arise on occasion that can begin as a small ripple but end up a tsunami if we don’t stay grounded in Scripture.  Each one usually begins with “I think” or “I believe”.

“I believe we should sing the old hymns from hymn books.” “I believe we should sing new songs projected on a screen.” “I believe we should use the King James Bible.” “I believe we should boycott Disney movies.” “I believe we shouldn’t have body piercings or tattoos.” “I believe church members should stay away from alcohol.” “I believe we should campaign for Republican candidates.” “I believe people should participate in more church activities.” “I believe we should have more things for the children.”

The problem with such statements is there is no scriptural basis for any of them.  They’re all based on personal opinions, and once you draw a line on personal opinions, you’ll have to draw more lines to keep you farther and farther away from your line.  Let me show you what I mean by using three of these same examples again:

1)  What most people mean by “old hymns” are hymns written in the 1700-1900s?  What about the hymns from 1400-1600s or the centuries before that?  Your line can be moved.

2)  You want to boycott Disney movies?  What about the other major companies that Disney owns—Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, Pixar, ABC, The History Channel, and ESPN?  Your line can be moved.

3) You don’t believe in body piercings?  Ladies, what about the 1 or 2 holes you have in your ear?  Is there a real difference in righteousness between 1 or 2 piercings in the ear versus 1 or 2 in the lip or 5 or 10 scattered around?  Your line can be moved.

We all have some personal convictions that we abide by in our walk with the Lord that are not equivalent with God’s Word.  And we cannot use any of them as a measure of someone else’s right standing with God.  Here is where the wisdom of organizing Christian belief and practice into three categories can be helpful for protecting us from self-righteousness toward other sinners.  The three categories are primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrine.

Primary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible in which there is no room for disagreement without departing from Christianity altogether.  Examples include: salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ alone apart from works of the law; Jesus is the eternal Son of God, without sin, He died in our place on the cross, and was raised from the dead; Heaven and Hell are for real—repentant believers go to Heaven for eternity and unrepentant unbelievers go to Hell for eternity.  Primary doctrine is essential to being a Christian.

Secondary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible rooted in primary doctrine but leaving room for some disagreement among Christians without departing from Christianity.  Examples of include: baptism of believers versus baptism of babies; pretribulation return of Jesus versus a posttribulation return; a plurality of pastors versus having a singular pastor. Secondary doctrine is non-essential to salvation.

Tertiary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible that may or may not be rooted in primary and secondary doctrine but are completely open for disagreement because they are non-essential to being a Christian.  Examples include: men’s facial hair, length of skirts for women, partaking in secular entertainments, controlled use of alcohol, and eating pork and catfish.  How we understand these issues is important, but they’re not essential to salvation itself.  The only way these become a salvation issue is if your reason for believing what you believe comes from a prodigal heart: a heart of rebellion or a heart of legalism.

5.  Legalism can twist freedom in Christ into a law.  Here is where things get interesting.  Did you know that being anti-legalistic can itself be a form of legalism?  If you get angry at other people because you believe they’re acting like self-righteous hypocrites, then how are your behaviors and attitudes any better than the self-righteous elder brother?  Beware of your reaction to sin and sinners being a default anger.  God’s grace softens our hearts, and our new default reaction will be compassion.

There’s enough room in God’s family for rebellious younger sons and self-righteous elder sons.  The Father runs to the rebels and brings them home; and the Father goes outside the house to the self-righteous and invites them inside!  There’s enough gospel for us all.  So, who are you begrudging in our church?  Won’t you repent of your anger today?



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The Other Prodigal Son

Our third sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life focuses on the oft-overlooked elder son and the self-righteousness with which he reacts to the father’s compassion for the younger son.  You can also download the audio version of this sermon at or find us on Sermon Audio.

The Other Prodigal Son
Luke 15:25-32

What happens when God pushes us out of our comfort zone as individual Christians and as a church family?  A man dressed in rags, wreaking of sweat and alcohol walks in and sits down next to you during the service, or maybe a wealthy lady comes in that’s a known advocate for abortion.  A person with different skin color come forward for baptism, or maybe a known criminal just released from prison shows up.

These may seem like farfetched or unreasonable situations, but are they really?  Isn’t the story of the prodigal son meant to awaken our thoughts to the incredible reality that Christ died for every kind of sinner?  The Pharisees and scribes are mad at Jesus for “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (vv.1-2).  But really, they’re mad that reprobates are repenting of their sin.  Jesus gives three parables as a witness.  All three have the same outline: something is lost, then found, followed by a celebration.

We’ve followed the prodigal on his descent into sin as he left home and pursued a lifestyle of wastefulness resulting in devasta-tion and destruction.  This is what it looks like to be lost.  But then we get to see what it looks like to be found by God.  God turns the prodigal around, demonstrated through the prodigal’s repentance.  We learned two aspects of repentance: repentance is a gift of God’s mercy and grace; and repentance is more than admitting you’ve done wrong—it’s a change of mind that leads to a changed way of living.

The prodigal returns home, and the father’s waiting; his posture toward him is predetermined mercy and grace before the son was even able to finish his words of repentance, even before the son had returned “to himself”.  And the father responds with joy!  This is the picture of what God the Father is really like: He predestines our repentance according to His sovereign grace, and He rejoices “over one sinner who repents” (v.7, 10).  Therefore, we ought to be happy too win sinners come home.

So, all is well again in the prodigal’s family.  The sinning son has come home.  And everyone is happy—or are they?

Luke 15:25-32—“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

At the beginning of the parable, you’re thinking this is a classic case of good versus evil, the good brother and the bad brother.  The bad brother despises his father by demanding the inheritance and abandoning his dad.  The good brother stays home working for his dad, never demanding anything, and always “respecting” his authority.

Most often, preachers emphasize the sinfulness of the younger son—and reasonably so because his sins are blatant rebellion.  And then they tack on a few superficial words about the elder son’s anger, often saying something like, “You can’t really blame him”.  And if we’re honest, we can see how the elder son would appear to be more of a sinner than a saint.  He has served his father faithfully many years.  But, if we play off the elder son’s anger this way, we’ve missed the whole reason for Jesus telling this story.

In the context of the parable, it’s obvious that the elder brother is anything but good.  In fact, Jesus uses the elder son to show us the malignant, black heart underneath the skin of sin.  Sin is more than surface behavior like we see from the younger brother.  Sin runs deep, and the elder brother’s sin is just as prevalent and malevolent.

Be assured, both sons are prodigals.  The younger pursued happiness through open rebellion and self-discovery.  The older pursued happiness through the appearance of outward moralism.  But both sons love themselves more than the father.  Therefore, both are self-righteousness.  Today, we’ll be identifying the elder brother’s core characteristics of self-righteousness.  This is important so that we can examine our own testimony as followers of Christ to be sure that our lives look more like the repentant prodigal and not his moralistic but unrepentant older brother.

     1.  Anger is the disposition of moralistic prodigals (vv.25-28). The older son had been working in his father’s field, and “he heard music and dancing” as “he drew near to the house” (v.25).  He asks a hired servant about it ( v.26).  The servant “said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound’ ” (v.27).  A lost brother has come home alive, not in a body bag!  This is reason to celebrate!  Instead, “he was angry and refused to go in” (v.28a).

The elder brother’s refusal to go in to the party is every bit as offensive as the younger brother’s refusal to stay at home with the father.  Both are an affront to the father’s goodness and authority.  Both are a means of shaming the father.  What is the elder brother so angry about?

     2.  God’s grace angers moralistic prodigals (vv.28-30).  Listen to the oozing bitterness and seething anger from the lips of the elder son: “His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ ” (vv.28a-30).

The elder brother uses the word “never” to make himself look more mistreated.  And especially important, he brings up the “fattened calf”.  Jesus mentions the calf three times in the parable, so it must be important.  It was rare for families to eat meat in that day.  And the fattened calf was the most luxurious of all luxuries if you had one.  You would slaughter one only for the most important reasons, perhaps weddings or the birth of a baby.

The elder brother is basically blubbering, “It’s not fair!”  I agree.  It’s not fair.  But grace is never fair, at least not in the way most people use that word.  Grace is grace, it’s unmerited, unearnable, and unattainable through our best efforts.  Grace is God’s prerogative.  Only God’s vote matters.  The moralistic prodigal is angered by God’s grace.

Anger is a serious sin.  It’s not always expressed in flyoff the handle fits of rage.  Anger most often comes in the form of simple complaints that we disguise as hurt feelings or frustrations.  Anger itself is sinful, but the root underneath is even deadlier.  Little of our anger is righteous because most of it is centered on ourselves; and self-centeredness is by its very nature dissatisfaction with God and His grace.  Have you noticed we love God’s grace when we’re the ones receiving it, but when it comes to others we deem unwor-thy of His grace, how quickly resentment emerges?  Why does the elder brother hate God’s grace toward his younger brother?

     3.  Moralistic prodigals believe they have earned a right standing with God (vv.29-30).  There’s plenty of evidence from the elder son’s tirade against his father that proves he believes he has earned his place with the father.  Three phrases in particular stand out: (1) “Look, these many years I have served you” (v.29a); (2) “I have never disobeyed your command” (v.29b); (3) “You never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (v.29c).

Each argument is about quantity and quality, and moralistic prodigals still use these types of justifications in the Church today.  Some trust in the quantity of years they’ve been a part of the Church or the quantity of hours they’ve served in the Church or (most frequent of all) the quantity of money they’ve invested in the Church.  Be careful about declaring, “I support the Church with my offerings.”  If someone thinks the offering money they give is theirs, then they have a serious misunderstanding of God’s grace.

Moralistic prodigals not only trust in the quantity of their service but also the quality of their service.  Most don’t think they’re sinless, but they do think themselves sinless enough to be accepted by God.  And they certainly think themselves less sinful than other Christians.

     4.  Moralistic prodigals see themselves as morally superior to other sinners (v.30).  Notice how snootily the elder son talks about his brother.  “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (v.30).  The elder son refuses even to acknowledge the younger son as his brother; and he refuses to acknowledge the property the younger son squandered was his to squander.  All the while, the elder son fails to see the seriousness of his own sin, and in doing so, he fails to see the goodness of God, which is the gravest sin of all.

     5.  Moralistic prodigals see themselves as morally superior to God Himself (vv.31-32).  “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v.31).  The father’s reminder that “you are always with me” stands in contrast to the elder son’s claims to being mistreated.  The father is the greatest treasure both sons have; and when you have the father, you have everything the father has.  Therefore, the elder son has experienced no loss at all; and by complaining to the father, he is accusing the father of sinning.

In the same way, beware of an angry, complaining spirit about God’s grace toward sinners you believe are unworthy of forgiveness.  Your anger is ultimately an accusation that God has sinned against you.  Rather, remember that when we have God the Father, we have it all.  And when prodigal sinners get saved, we have nothing to feel threatened about.  Instead, we must have the same attitude of the father toward his prodigal sons.  “ ‘It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found’ ” (v.32).  What self-righteousness do we need to repent of today?



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Repentant Sinners and a Joyful Father

Our second sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life zooms in on the nature of sin and the character of God the Father who loves to see sinners come home.

Repentant Sinners and a Joyful Father
Luke 15:13-24

We began the prodigal son parable by looking at the context and seeing that the Pharisees and scribes are offended that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus responds to their grip-ing by giving them three parables.  All three have the same basic outline: something is lost, then found, followed by a celebration.

The prodigal son is the more detailed and intimate of the three parables.  The prodigal’s sin is evident as he demands his inheri-tance, leaves home, and pursues a lifestyle of wastefulness resulting in devastation and destruction.  This is what it looks like to be lost.

Luke 15:13-24—Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The prodigal has hit bottom.  He’s penniless and abandoned.  But it’s at the bottom that he realizes there’s something far worse than pigs and poverty—the prodigal has abandoned his father.  “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17).

“ ‘But when he came to himself’ ” (v.17a).  That’s a colorful way of describing repentance.  Repentance is one of the missing links for most people that think they’re a Christian but really aren’t.  So, it’s important that we know what it is.

   1.  Repentance is returning to “yourself” (v.17). Sin is senseless, and sin mars the image of God in which we’ve been created.  Repentance is a return to your senses, to yourself (not to selfishness).

   2.  Repentance is confessing the foolishness of your sin (v.17).  “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b).  The pro-digal was once elevated above his father’s servants, but he renounced his privileged position as son to pursue “independence”.  The repentant person recognizes the stupidity of exchanging God as their greatest treasure for cheap reproductions.

   3.  Repentance is turning from sin to God (v.18).  “ ‘I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” ’ ” (v.18).  It’s pivotal to your salvation that you understand that true repentance isn’t merely saying, “Dear Jesus, I am sinner.  Come into my heart and save me.”  The prodigal demonstrates that words of true repentance will be followed by actions of true repentance.

True repentance is turning away from living life your way and toward living life God’s way.  True repentance includes a hatred for your sin and a love for the Father and a love for obeying Him.  True repentance is a lifestyle.  Martin Luther writes, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt.4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

   4.  Repentance is a sovereign gift of God’s mercy and grace (vv.19-23). “ ‘ “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” ’ ” (v.19).  This is the consistent testimony of the true convert.  Christians know they’re “unworthy to be called” sons and daughters of God.  Therefore, they’re con-tent with serving in the humblest positions in the Church with or without recognition as long as they can be in good relations with God the Father.

Jesus says the prodigal “arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v.20).  Typically, father’s in that culture didn’t run like this.  It was undignified.  And fathers didn’t forgive such sins of a son in that culture.  It was disgraceful.  But this father is different.  He runs to the son and slobbers him with kisses.

This is an illustration of what our Father God is really like.  He isn’t the angry deity that unbelievers imagine.  God is angry with sinners every day and there is an eternal judgment for persistent rebels, but God doesn’t need anger management classes.  He’s slow to anger and quick to show mercy, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here right now.

This is why I can’t overstress the weight of the phrase “while he was still a long way off” (v.20a) because it highlights the supernatural reality of repentance.  Jesus is making the point that the father already had a predetermined plan to extend mercy and grace to the son prior to his actual repentance.  Mercy is receiving undeserved forgiveness from God.  Grace is receiving undeserved life and righteousness from God through Jesus Christ.  The idea that God the Father plans to forgive and save specific sinners even before they repent corresponds with what we read in Isaiah.

Isaiah 65:24—“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

Therefore, repentance is not self-induced regret but a miracle performed by God according to His sovereign mercy and grace. Two passages make this especially clear.

Acts 11:15-18—As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

2 Timothy 2:24-25—And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Because repentance ultimately depends on God, repentance is always relational in nature—meaning we relationally turn to God through faith in Jesus, and we live out our faith relationally with a local church family.

Repentance is seeing traces of God’s mercy and grace in everything, even the hard things.  For example, who brought the famine to the far country?  God.  What would have happened had God not ordained that famine?  The prodigal might have found a way to be prosperous again and die in his prosperity—or else he would have died of malnutrition.  As John Calvin said, God’s ordained miseries are His “invitation” to repent and find life.

   5.  Repentance produces full restoration to God (vv.21-24). “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’ ” (v.21).  Only people with this humble attitude can be fully restored because the idea of God’s grace either makes you mad or makes you glad because His grace gives undeserving sinners eternal blessing in place of eternal damnation.

Notice what full restoration looks like for the prodigal.  “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate’ ” (vv.22-23).  The robe, ring, and shoes are all precious pictures of how God’s salvation restores our status as sons and daughters.  At the cross, Jesus exchanged our filthy rags, ring-less finger, and bare feet with His royal robe, ring, and shoes of sonship that sets us apart from the world.

If these images weren’t powerful enough, we get the strongest of all. “ ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’ ” (v.24a).  Sin is so devastating and destructive that it leaves us spiritually dead.  But God’s mercy and grace are so powerful that He raises us up to spiritual life.  We were lost in our sin and couldn’t find our way out—worse yet, we didn’t want out.  We loved our lives of sin every bit as much as the prodigal loved his.  But God intervened, breathed eternal life into our souls, and gave us the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

   6.  Repentance is a cause of celebration (v.24).  “And they began to celebrate” (v.24b).  This is both our last point and basically the introduction for the next sermon.  When lost sinners confess Christ as Lord, follow Him in baptism, and become a faithful member of His Church, we ought to be happy.  Serving up the fattened calf back in verse 23 shows us just how overjoyed the father is.

Celebration over sinners come home will be different for each of us.  For some it means clapping or shouting.  For others it may be quiet tears or simple smiles.  But nothing should excite or motivate us more than seeing a lost sinner found!  Have you lost your joy over sinners coming home?  Perhaps you’re the one still lost in your prodigal sinning?  Won’t you repent and come home to God?

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The Enslaving Devastations of Sin

At Grace Life Baptist Church we have recently begun a short sermon series on The Parable of the Prodigal Son.  I write this post for the benefit of Grace Life, but my prayer is that the sermon will be used to encourage a wider audience.  You can also download the audio version of this sermon at or find us on Sermon Audio

The Enslaving Devastations of Sin
Luke 15:1-16

Jesus is the master storyteller, and His parables create compelling images in our minds.  The goal of the parables in the Bible is to use ordinary people, activities, and topics to illustrate deeper, spiritual truths to those who have hears to ear.  Jesus’ sheep hear His voice in the parables, but goats either can’t hear His voice or else stop up their ears so they can’t.

Two of Jesus’ parables stand out in the memories of most: the Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.  Before we get to the prodigal son story, we need to understand why Jesus told it in the first place.  Examining the context is one of the first steps when studying Scripture.

Luke 15:1-2— Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

What’s this scene about?  Tax collectors and sinners are “drawing near to hear” Jesus, and the Jewish religious leaders (the Pharisees and scribes) are grumbling about it (cf. 5:27-32; 7:39; 19:7), and some would say with good reason.  The tax collectors of that day were subcontracted by the Roman government.  They put in bids for how much they would charge to collect taxes for the Romans.  If they got the job, they collected the taxes plus a percentage for themselves.  The practice itself isn’t wrong.  The problem was the lack of regulations on how much they could collect, and tax collectors were known for massive corruption.

The classification of sinners in verse 1 is a broad category.  In the Parable of the Great Banquet in the previous chapter, Luke gives a more specific rundown of what kind of sinners we’re talking about.

Luke 14:21—“So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servants, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ ”

Jesus is eating with the outcasts of His day: tax collectors, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame (and prostitutes were often mentioned in the Gospels too).  Although economics had something to do with the disdain the Jews had for these kinds of people, it was mostly about perceived moral superiority.

The Jews were right to consider the lifestyles of the outcasts as immoral, and they were right to neither condone nor participate in their sins.  But they were wrong to shun them completely.  Of course, some take Jesus’ practice too far and use it as an excuse to party with the heathen.  Jesus was simply eating food with them as an opportunity to teach them the way of salvation.

Jesus answers the Pharisees and scribes’ grumbly question with three parables: the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, and the Lost Son.  Let’s read about the lost sheep and coins first.

Luke 15:3-10—So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

These first two parables are nearly identical.  The major difference is what’s lost—a sheep versus coins.  So the basics of the parables are threefold: something’s lost, then found, and then a celebration follows.  Jesus uses the familiarity of sheep and coins to illustrate the deeper spiritual truths that God (along with all the angels) rejoices when a lost sinner is found.

In fact, look how happy God is: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v.7).  “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v.10).  Does Jesus mean there are people who are righteous and don’t have any sin to repent of?  Of course not!  He’s saying there are people who think they don’t need to repent because they think they are righteous.

The illustration of lost sheep and coins introduces the longer and more intimate parable of the lost son.

Luke 15:11-16—And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless liv-ing. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

To help us digest this simple yet elaborate parable we’re going to break down our study into three segments; and today’s segment is mainly about the characteristics of sin that are evident in the prodigal son and serve as examples and warnings to all of us.

   1.  Sin is pride and rebellion (vv.12-13).  Whatever else may be going on in the prodigal’s mind, pride is at the heart of his motivations.  He comes to his father and says, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me” (v.12).  Notice how demanding he is.  He seems to think he deserves the inheritance from his father, but really what does he deserve?  Nothing.  The son’s pride is evidence that he loves the daddy’s riches but not his daddy.

Yet, the father grants his son’s depraved demand and “divides his property between them” (v.12), that is between the two sons though the father would continue to hold legal rights over the inhe-ritance until he died.  Based on Deuteronomy 21:17, the older son was to receive a “double portion” of the inheritance—that works out to two-thirds for the older son and one-third for the younger.

Pride always produces some form of rebellion that has a hatred for authority.  We know the prodigal wants to be “free” from the authority of his father because of his prompt action after receiving his inheritance.  “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country” (v.13a).

   2.  Sin is devotion to depravity (v.13).  Notice again, the prodigal “took a journey into a far country” (v.13).  Sin always takes you farther from home than you expect and makes you stay longer than you ever wanted.  Teenagers and young adults, please beware of chasing the wind like the prodigal did.  In our society, you’ve been taught that you’re “missing out” if you don’t sow some wild oats while you can.  In reality, you may find yourself missing out on going to Heaven if you walk away from God even for one frolic with sin.  In God’s kindness, He lovingly warns us not to chase after youthful lusts.

Ecclesiastes 12:1— Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”.

   3.  Sin is wastefulness and foolishness (v.13).  While in the far country, Jesus says the prodigal “squandered his property in reckless living” (v.13).  The word “reckless” in verse 13 was translated in the Latin Bible as wasteful, and it’s from this Latin word we get the word prodigal.  The prodigal son is the wasteful son, and he certainly lived up to this name!

Sin is such a total waste of your life that we can only call it foolishness.  Sin is foolish in many ways and for many reasons.  For one, it’s deceptive.  It always feels liberating at first, like you’re “discovering” yourself; but sin only leaves you feeling empty and depressed.  It’s like snorting cocaine or popping pills.  The euphoric feelings are real, and the feelings are good until the drugs dissipate and lay you low, hungry for another high.  Sudden-ly, your supposed freedom turns to bondage and you look foolish.

Sin is so deceptive that lost people don’t even know they’re lost.  Lost sheep and lost coins don’t know they’re lost, and lost sons don’t either.  Ironically, the farther we run away from God the farther we ran from ourselves, from our true identity as created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with Him.

   4.  Sin is devastating and destructive (vv.14-16).  After the money is gone and a severe famine strikes in the far country, the prodigal begins “to be in need” (v.14).  In reality, he had always been in need, he just didn’t know it.  “So he went and hired himself out” to a pig farmer (v.15).  For a Jew, nothing worse could be imagined—living in a Gentile country, working for a pig farmer.  It was so bad that the prodigal “was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (v.16).

The prodigal has hit the bottom.  He’s penniless and abandoned by everyone including his so-called party friends.  The prodigal stands to remind us that no one’s fit to govern their own soul.  He’s a picture of what we look like apart from God’s mercy in Christ.

But it’s at the bottom that the prodigal realizes there’s something much worse than pigs and poverty.  “But when he came to himself” (v.17a).  That’s a vivid way of describing repentance, which will be our focus next week.  The prodigal realizes that he has abandoned his father.  He says, “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b).  The prodigal remembers the goodness of his father.

In the same way, sinners like us enslaved to their sin need to be freed and reconciled to God the Father.  How?  By repenting of our love for sin and trusting in Jesus who died in our place on the cross.

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Two Shall Become One

Having just preached on one of Jesus’ more controversial teachings, I wanted to make my manuscript available to the faithful believers at Southside Baptist Church so that it may be of help to them–and hopefully it will be of help to others as well.  Ironically, this is around the 15th anniversary of a seminary paper I wrote on this same topic while in a New Testament Survey class under one of my father’s in the faith, Dr. Ken Easley.

May the Lord be pleased to expand our understanding of His glory and our need of Him!

Two Shall become One (Mark.10:1-12)

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Self-Induced Faith

There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to the word “faith”.  Most of it creeps in over time as people become increasingly removed from the biblical concept.  Of course, some use the Bible to justify their self-revelatory versions of “faith”.  And everyone but atheists (whose “faith” is in “nothing-ness”) seem to have some kind of “faith,” usually affectionately termed “my faith”.

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Southside Baptist’s Website

I’m very excited and thankful for the launching of Southside Baptist Church’s website.  It still needs a little work, but for the most part it’s ready to go.  I encourage you to look it over.  We pray it will be blessing to many!  If we can be of any help to you in your walk with Jesus, please let us know.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Santa Would Make a Horrible god

Have you ever really thought about it that way: that Santa would make a horrible god?  He would.  Receiving good things from Santa requires you to be “nice” rather than “naughty”, “good” rather than “bad”.  In some ways, that is similar to the true God of Christianity.  God does reward the righteous.

But what is Santa’s definition, or standard, of “good”?  If the definition of good is when a person’s “good” deeds outweigh his bad, then I guess Santa then must make distinctions between those whose “good” deeds are at 51% versus those at 63%, 75%, and 81%, etc.  Shouldn’t those with more “goodness” get more “good” things?  And I guess, all those who fall below the 51% mark get nothing.  Those that come in at 49% get the same nothing as those who are only 1% “good”.

What a horrible god Santa would make.  I imagine many a million kids on Christmas morning discover that apparently they’re not “good” enough, that they just didn’t measure up to Santa’s standard of righteousness.  And what hope do they have?  None, because Santa would make a horrible god.  They have no way of knowing what 51% looks like.  Worse yet, why would anyone think that 51% good is good enough, or even 99% for that matter?  Is a glass of water with only 1% pig manure “good” enough.  This is why we need Jesus so desperately.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to just make it possible for us to be righteous.  Jesus came into the world to be our righteousness through His perfectly obedient life, His perfect substitutionary death on the cross, and His perfect victory over sin and death.  All who put their faith in Jesus as there only hope, turning from their sin and turning to Him, will receive His imputed righteousness.  The gift of Heaven is not based on being naughty or nice; it’s based on the perfection of Christ on our behalf and distributed according to the riches of God’s grace and mercy in accordance with His sovereign purpose.  May God be gracious to us and our children as we teach them to treasure Jesus this Christmas.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Antinomianism: Still Extant and Slippery

I am recently finishing up an interesting book I wanted to recommend to those interested in the topic of Antinomianism.  Mark Jones has written an excellent historical and theological analysis of the subject in his book “Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?”

The most significant take away of the book is how the Antinomian view of sanctification claims a high Christology in regards to God’s grace and justification by faith alone yet falls desperately short of the Christo-centric approach to which they claim to hold.

Read it for yourself, and be challenged by its conclusion that justification by faith alone in no way does away with the reality of a grace-fueled sanctification of a faith that works hard to kill indwelling sin and obey God.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Man-Centered Methods in Parenting

As discussed in the previous article Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart, parenting is no easy task because we are not just dealing with our children that sin.  We are also dealing with our own sinful hearts.  In order to discipline our children biblically, we must be aware of the ways in which our sinful pride manifests itself in our parenting.  At the end of the day, our sin is pride and can be rightly described as very much man-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Here are what seem to be the primary manifestations of prideful discipline in parenting.

1.  Anger: Unrighteous anger is probably the greatest obstacle to godly parenting.  I would also include the use of threats in this category because of their close relationship.  In just one outburst of sinful anger, we can destroy days or weeks of godly parenting.  Anger is a man-centered method of parenting because it puts the focus on fear of the parent rather than fear of God.  Using anger as a parenting method usually only leads to bitterness in the hearts of both child and parent.  Sinful anger is very critical, demanding, harsh, and the child will struggle to see any real love in dad or mom.  There is such a thing as righteous anger, but parents must be prudent.

2.  Humiliation: Humiliation in parenting is when the parent plays on the child’s emotions in order to induce “feelings” of repentance in the child.  The problem with the use of humiliation is that it produces only a worldly sorrow rather than a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).  Further, it only serves to debase the child and produce bitterness in them.  Remembering the Golden Rule is crucial for avoiding the humiliation of our children in the process of disciplining (Matt. 7:12).

2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,  whereas worldly grief produces death.

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

3.  Delayed Obedience:  Another common mistake that Christian parents make is in substituting the requirement of biblical obedience for a lesser form of obedience that is delayed.  We would never want our children to be delayed in their obedience about crossing a street, touching a hot stove, or snorting cocaine because the damage will already have been done.  The same is true with all issues of obedience.  While grace should abound toward the child, parents must insist that their children do what they say, when they say it, with an attitude of respect.  Delayed obedience is really just a more subtle form of making threats.

4.  Bribery:  The use of bribery in parenting is the attempt of the parent to change a child’s behavior through the use of enticement.  The problem with this man-centered method is that the parent is appealing to the child’s sin-nature.  In effect, the child’s selfishness is being fertilized.  They are being taught to obey for the sake of getting something they want and not simply for the joy of knowing that they have done what is right.  Here we must make a difference between bribery and reward.  Bribery is always negative because of its aim to entice.  Rewards, however, can be a good way of showing grace and appreciation to a child.  Normally, rewards should not be pre-announced to the child but should be a kind of surprising-grace.

Undoubtedly, there are other man-centered methods of discipline in parenting, but these should help Christians recognize the more prominent ones.  By God’s grace, may we discipline our children in a Christ-like way.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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