From teachings from Jesus, Paul and Peter to how God instructed the Israelites to remain separate from the other cultures around them, the Bible shows us in many ways that we are not meant to be a part of the world and culture around us.
The Israelites were commanded to completely destroy entire nations and when they failed to do so, they experienced the consequences of it.
Judges 2:1-3The angel of the Lord … said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 … they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’”
By allowing some of the nations to survive, the Israelites were eventually influenced by their false gods and beliefs, leading them to stray from following God and eventually to God temporarily taking the Promised Land away from them and exiling them for 70 years to Babylon. God wasn’t fooling around when He said He wants all of our attention.
1 John 2:15-17Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever”
Worldly things can be just about anything from money and sex to filling a tack room with more equipment than we’ll ever be able to use. All of it is temporary. Instead, John is reminding us that we need to pursue God, who, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, made a way for all of us to be able to repent and be forgiven of our sin so that through belief in Jesus, we could have an eternity in Heaven. Pursuing our own desires based on what the culture around us tells us we need or wants, takes our attention away from God.
One of the main reasons we stay apart from the world is so that our focus is on God.
Psalm 1:1-2Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
In the Psalm, we’re being told the person who follows God and not the non-believers around him is going to be the person who is better off and stresses the daily commitment we’re to put into following God. The Bible is full of teaching that points us toward obedience to God but the selfishness of the world around us can tempt us away from that.
We can be fully engaged in our rodeo sports while not being engaged with those who tempt us to sin. That can be as simple as not going to the bar after a show to as complicated as having to remove some people from our lives because they pull too hard on us to ignore our faith.
I find myself in awe moment by moment as I contemplate the consistent love of God. In fact, because God is immutable (he does not change; Malachi 3:6), in everything we know to be an attribute of God he is consistent. He is consistent because attributes, unlike characteristics or qualities, tell us who God is – not how he behaves (for instance, “God is love,”1 John 4:8,16). Neither the passing of time, the changing of circumstances, nor our own back and forth responses to God change him in any way; God is who he is apart from any outside influence…otherwise, he would not be God.
And the Apostle John was absolutely correct – God is love! In fact, if we accept that Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God (Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:1-3), then the way Jesus reveals God to us is of the utmost importance. And how did Jesus reveal God? As the loving Father! Jesus frequently referred to God as his Father, but he also encouraged his disciples to pray to our Father; that means as God is to Jesus, so he can be to his followers!
Many attempt to explain God primarily as the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of the universe, and indeed, he is! However, Jesus revealed God first and foremost as our loving Father! “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24, emphasis mine). Before God ever created, he was the eternal, immutable Father loving his Son. So much theology hangs on this fact. In fact, I’d say this needs to be the bedrock foundation for how you understand God – He is the eternal loving Father. To be eternally a Father means God has always had a Son, and so that Son must also be eternal, and if eternal, then also God! And since God is spirit, he gives all that he has to his Son; anointing the Son with his Holy Spirit is how the Father loves his Son. And if the Father’s love for his Son is eternal (and it is since the Father didn’t begin to love the Son but has always loved the Son), then the mode of that love (which is prior to any creative act) is also God; “God is love”!
Some of us in the cowboy culture didn’t grow up with the best fathers and it can make it hard to understand the full depth of what all of this means. It means something great for all of, us even if we were raised with the best father imaginable.
So, when we begin our understanding of God with the foundational attribute that God is a loving Father, all other Christian teaching can fit neatly together without contradiction and without downplaying God as some inwardly-focused sovereign who demands the obedience of his subjects. Above, we explained the reason God is Trinity. We can explain why a loving Father would create and give life to something other than himself. We can understand the mercy of a loving and holy Father on his wayward children. We can understand why the loving Father’s wrath against sin is severe because sin hurts his children and separates them from his love. We can even understand why a just and loving Father would separate rebellious, sinful children from the children whose desire is to live in submission to his kingdom.
God loves you, and if you are in Christ, he loves you with the same love Jesus has experienced for all of eternity. How wonderful! How beautiful! How amazing that the God who is all in all has set his affection on us! How can your heart not leap inside your chest at this great and wonderful truth!
Won’t you praise him with me today for his unspeakable love toward us? Won’t you join me in bringing the loving rule and reign of his Fatherly kingdom to our neighbors and to the earth? Hallelujah! God is love!
One of the greatest plagues of Western Christianity is that so many who profess the name of Christ remain in perpetual spiritual infancy, and that many “Christian infants” are not following Christ at all, but simply wanted the fire insurance that is promised to those who belong to Jesus.
That’s why so often, you see one of the few, or even only times, you see a cowboy or bull rider pray is behind the bucking chutes before competing in sports that can get him killed.
As a retired bull rider now pastoring a church, when I started with them, I made it clear that my ministry would be focused on leading our congregation to pursue a mature faith in Jesus Christ as true disciples. One of the deacons told me he felt like that was a bold (maybe risky) way to approach what was essentially a job interview – to begin by suggesting we’ve been lax in pursuing maturity, content to be comforted with bottled milk and pacifiers rather than to graduate to the strength-giving meat and potatoes of a deep and growing dependence on Jesus. But, what else can you expect from a guy who spent ten years of his life riding bulls?!
But hard questions are important. Are you growing in your faith? Do you even care if you aren’t? Have you become satisfied with a little bit of Bible knowledge and a little bit of doctrinal understanding?
Satisfied. That’s where the audience of Hebrews was.
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
These people had heard the message of true discipleship so many times without acting on it that their ears had become dull, and their hearts had become calloused to it. It was time for them to be shaken awake in hopes that the scales would fall from their eyes, and they would realize the great reward of knowing Jesus – a reward that they were forfeiting by their complacency.
1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:1-5)
Notice here that Peter suggests that those who don’t “grow up into salvation” have not truly “tasted that the Lord is good.” You see, salvation is achieved at a moment in time when we truly believe (known as justification) but it is proved over time (from the moment of our justification to the moment we are home with Jesus, called sanctification). If there is no sanctification – a constantly continuing work throughout our entire lives – there was no justification either; and if there was no justification, there is no salvation!
Are you being built up as a spiritual house with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Together, are you becoming a holy priesthood – those who lead others into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Are you offering spiritual sacrifices? Are you eager and zealous to know Jesus more deeply today than yesterday and to become more like him tomorrow than you are today? Many people get offended or become defensive and deny the evidence when these types of questions are asked. Please remember: the grace of Jesus has freed you from the need to do that! All your shortcomings are covered by the blood of Jesus, so in Christ, you are free to be brutally honest about where you are right now. And what’s even better is that same grace is what will continue the work of God in you – not your own efforts! And that grace can be released to do its work when you get honest with God. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Beloved, God’s work in you is not done yet, nor is it done in me. We are free to struggle with sin and failure, but we do not struggle to be free. And if indeed we have been set free, there is still growth ahead.
There are things we do in advance to prepare before getting on a bull or even being ready to get on our roping horse. We have to do these things or our next steps are guaranteed to fail or get us hurt.
2 Timothy 3:16-17All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Scripture is the same. This verse is where the idea comes from that the Bible is God’s living word, because it is God-breathed, meaning He gave life to it.
That alone should be enough to make us want to read our Bibles but then Paul tells us in his second letter to Timothy that the Bible prepares us for everything in advance. It teaches us what’s right and good, it can be used to give us correction when we’re wrong and it trains us to be more like Jesus. And, it prepares us for every good thing God has for us to do. Everything.
So basically, not just reading the Bible, but applying what we learn from it prepares us for what God has in store for us and prepares us to be used by God to help others learn from God’s living word.
Once we have a saving faith in Jesus and we’ve repented and asked for forgiveness of our sins, we’re still going to mess up and grace is there for when we do. God still loves and forgives us. We don’t have to do anything to earn His love, but just like there are things we have to do to succeed in the arena, God does have work prepared for us to do. Reading the Bible is what we need to do to prepare for what God wants us to do and to succeed in it.
Ephesians 2:10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Again, we can’t earn our salvation but once we’re saved, God didn’t mean for us to do nothing. We are His handiwork; He made us and through our relationship with Jesus, he wants us to do good things. He begins to help us become more like Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit in us and he created us to do good works. Works are the actions we take that God prepared for us to do. They can be anything from sharing the gospel with a traveling partner going down the road to using the skills God gave us to help fix the car of a neighbor or a single mom struggling financially just to make it.
He’s prepared work for us in advance and we need to take steps to be ready to do that work. Reading the Bible is the first step to understanding what good works are; living out what it teaches is the next.
There’s a lot of opinions out there today about virtually everything and it’s arguable that we’ve never seen ourselves this divided in our lifetime.
It used to be we could agree to disagree and still be friends. And there was that old, unwritten rule about not talking about religion and politics. Of course for Christians, we understand we’re called to do the opposite when it comes to ‘religion’ and are actually commanded by Jesus to tell others about him. That can still be done without starting an argument. But arguing is what we do these days. We circle the wagons around those who are like-minded with us. Like those exploring and settling the west, we treat every encounter with a stranger as a potential threat.
We no longer keep our opinion to ourselves when that might be the easiest way to keep the peace. We exercise our constitutional rights and freedoms to their fullest and understandably, we are prepared to defend our freedoms.
In Galatians, Paul talks about freedom too but he means something very different.
Galatians 5:13-15For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
The freedom Paul is referring to here is what is found in our saving faith in Jesus. When we’ve repented of our sin and asked to be forgiven in the full understanding that Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment meant for our sins, we are set free. God sees us as perfect and we are set free from the guilt and condemnation that comes from God those who have not heard or ignored the gospel, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Knowing we’re no longer going to be condemned for our sin, Paul warns us not to take advantage of that to pursue our own sinful desires, but instead, to help others. He reminds us of the command from Jesus to love others the way we would want to be loved.
But look how relevant these verses are to our culture 2,000 years later. There are certainly amazing exceptions to this but one look at the news or especially our social media and personal conversations, and it is easy to see we’re ignoring this advice.
What do others see in our words and actions that would show them how great life is when you’re set free from the judgment of your sin?
Instead, his final warning becomes even more relevant. A non-believer looking at us at any given moment right now is more likely to see what Paul is warning about: people biting and devouring each other.
It’s a graphic description when we actually think about it but it needs to be if it’s warning Paul wants people to take seriously. Paul was writing to a church facing divisions over false teaching that was creeping into the church body. For us, we’re divided over almost everything within and outside the church and as issues like cancel culture arise, we literally are destroying each other just as Paul warns will happen when we lose focus on what the gift and grace of our salvation truly is.