Friday, April 12, 2013

Five Things You Should Know About the Bible BEFORE You Study It – Part Three

The Gospel Message of salvation through Jesus Christ is the big picture of what God is doing. This message is something that we should not only know about and believe in order to enjoy effective Bible study-but it is also the essential foundation upon which our knowledge of God grows. If you have not yet been introduced to that message, or if you are unsure of what the walk of the believer is all about, or if you know the gospel but have questions about what some of the parts of it really mean, here is an unabridged presentation of the Gospel, using verses from the Old and New Testaments, presented in a way that includes information I wish I had known when I was just beginning my journey. I hope it helps in your search for truth, Beloved.

The first thing to know is that God has always had a plan.

In the beginning God created the earth, animals, plants and man. He created everything and He called it good. Adam and Eve were created in a perfect state of holiness, in God’s image,so it was only natural that they could enjoy fellowship with Him. That has always been His plan.

God set up parameters to help man understand that in life, there are divisions-good and evil, holy andcommon, clean and unclean. Obedience to God’s parameters would have kept them holy. Disobedience, he told them, would defile them and bring death – so obedience and disobedience, He taught, have consequences.

Brought on by temptation and a lack of trust in God, Adam and Eve broke God’s commandment and ‘sin’ entered the world. What they didn’t know then was the nature of sin, how it was like Pandora’s box, a contagious, nightmarish spiritual disease. Now in a state of imperfection and unholiness, what began as holy became defiled by that sin, and Adam and Even became separated from God in their defiled state.

The Bible says that Adam and Eve became aware that they were ‘naked’ and felt ‘shame.’ They were no longercovered by God’s holiness. They covered themselves with fig leaves, but God took an animal and killed it, and made skins for them to cover themselves with. God taught, from the very first couple’s sin, that there us nothing we can do to cover our own sin, to make things right. In order to atone, or cover, sins, blood is required. A God-appointed substitute could take the punishment that man deserved. This was the very first animal sacrificed in order to cover man’s sin. This would not be the last time.

Because of the contagious nature of sin, their children and grandchildren and all descendants even now you and me are born into the world not in God’s image, but in this spiritually sick state. We are separated from God because we have what is called a ‘sin nature.’ We a born separated from God, and separation from Him leads to death.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
Isaiah 59:2

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
 to see if there are any who understand,
 who seek after God.
 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
 there is none who does good,
not even one.
Psalm 14:2-3

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.Romans 3:23

For the wages of sin is death…
Romans 6:23

In the generations after Adam and Eve, God continued his pattern of separating and dividing. He chose the Hebrew people to be his special holy people, just like Adam and Eve had been once. Just like in the garden of Eden, these people were given parameters, what we now call the Law of Moses. The people entered into a covenant with God, understanding that, just as before, there were consequences for obedience and disobedience.

Though once it had been justone rule – do not eat of that tree – now the law of holiness contained much more-613 commands! God has progressively revealed more and more about sin and holiness to His people as time has marched forward. Part of the law of God now included a way to come near to God, since man was now born into a fallen, sinful state, and these prescribed methods are called the purity rituals and the sacrificial system. The law received by Hebrews also contained standards and expectations God has for how His people should treat Him and one another, and practices for what to do if one of these rules is broken.

The sacrificial system was very complex, but in a very general way it worked much like the days of Adam and Eve. An animal was brought forth by the sinful person and sacrificed to God; the blood of the animal covered the sin of the person; the animal suffered the punishment earned bythe sinful person. So, since people were sinful and not perfect, the Hebrews were in a constant state of fluctuation from holiness to defiled and back again. Sacrifices were needed every single day.

But there was one thing that could not be atoned for: intentional sin. If one of God’s holy people knowingly and willfully sinned, there was no going back. They were cast out of God’spresence. They had to live nearly perfect lives in order to maintain arelationship with God.

Just like Adam and Eve, the Hebrews, though they were a holy people, broke God’s laws on purpose. They willfully disobeyed because they were temped and did not trust God. And the same consequence that applied to Adam and Eve applied also to the Hebrews. They had to face the consequences of disobedience, which was that they became separated from God as a result of their broken covenant.

Now not able to enjoy God’s promised protection because they broke their covenant, large empires conquered Israel, the land of His holy people. Scattered and disbursed throughout other nations, seemingly hopeless, God was not finished with them. His plan has always been to live in fellowship with mankind. So He appointed prophets togive them a message of hope. He would restore Israel. He would send a messenger, a messiah, who would bring them once again to their holy state. He would make a new covenant with them:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout,Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt,the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven willset up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to anotherpeople. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
Daniel 2:44

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God,and they shall be my people.
And they shall teach no more every man hisneighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall allknow me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: forI will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Many years passed. Empires rose and fell. From the Assyrian to Babylonian to Persian to the Greek tofinally the Roman empires, power changed hands many times. During the Roman period, after silence from God for nearly 400 years, the prophecies about the messiah suddenly began to come to pass. God sent His messiah to restore Israel at this time. A virgin named Mary discovered that she had miraculously conceived a child. Afraid and confused, God sent an angel to comfort the woman, telling her that her child was the son of God, that promised messenger and messiah, the one who would restore hope to mankind. This child’s name would be Jesus.

Jesus was born and grew and learned quickly. All the days of His life, He lived according to the Law that God had given to the Hebrews. He became a great teacher, He healed people who were sick, and He offered them eternal hope and life. He took on a group of disciples and began to teach them about the Kingdom of God. Those who were being healed and taught by Jesus believed who he was. Those who experienced Jesus were changed, were made whole, and had hope. Jesus offered hope in a revolutionary way because He invited everyone to enjoy forgiveness andfellowship with God.

However, not everyone believed that Jesus was who He said He was. He did not look like the man whoIsrael was expecting and He did not behave the way they thought He would behave. Rather than a great and powerful king, Jesus came as a servant, as a poor man,as one who offered forgiveness, restoration and eternal life but not in the way they thought it would come.  He spent time with people that were sinful and sick. This caused much confusion and anger with Israel. Many devout priests and teachers did not believe that Jesus was this promised Messiah. They felt he was a trouble maker and wanted him gone so that he would not confuse people. Ultimately a group of people plotted to have Jesus killed. They accused him of heresy because He said He was the son of God, the King of the Jews.

But Jesus had been preparingHis followers for this moment. During His time with them, He had told them that He came to fulfill the Law that had been given by God, to embody it and express it in its fullness. He warned them that He would be arrested, betrayed, and killed. He had come to fulfill the Law by offering His own life as a sacrifice, his blood atoning for the sins of mankind.

But He reassured them that though He would not always be with them, though He would die, He would be raised up from the dead on the third day after His death.  He also promised them that a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would join those who believe after His death. This Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of mankind would be the sign of the New Covenant that God had promised so many centuries before.

For I willtake you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and willbring you into your own land.
Then will Isprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness,and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
A new heartalso will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will takeaway the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I willput my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shallkeep my judgments, and do them.
And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave toyour fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

These things were very difficult for the friends of Jesus to understand. They could not comprehend why He had to die and wanted to defend and protect Him. But Jesus told them that these things must happen so that He could fulfill His mission. Through His death, if people believed in Him and followed after Him, they could be restored to fellowship with God. He was the fulfillment, the best expression of the purpose of the sacrificial system, because He was the God-sent, perfect Lamb who could lay down His life to atone for sins, once and for all. And that is exactly what He did.

Jesus was arrested, tortured, crucified and buried in a borrowed tomb. He died a shameful and painful death.The family, friends and disciples of Jesus were so saddened. They had given up their ways of life and followed Him. Now it seemed like it was over. But after three days, the body of Jesus was discovered to be missing. Angels visited someof His followers, telling them He had risen from the grave. In the days that followed, He appeared to His followers at different times. Jesus, they discovered, was alive! This meant that everything that He had taught them had been true. He really was the son of God. Belief in Him as the messiah, following Him, declaring Him to be the atoning sacrifice for our sinful ways was the key to restoration with God! And those who are declared holy in this life will enjoy fellowship with God after our time on this earth is over in His eternal kingdom of Heaven.

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world that He gave His one andonly Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Have you struggled in your life with trying to understand your purpose? Do you feel an emptiness that relationships, hobbies, change, nothing seems to be able to satiate? If you are not enjoying true fellowship with the God who created you for that purpose, then you can never know true joy and security. Until you know Him, you will never find what you are looking for.  He wants to be able to declare you one of His holy people. He sent His son, Jesus, to die as a sacrifice for all mankind, so that if you only believe that He was who He said He was and proclaim Him as your Savior, His blood will atone foryou, and God will declare you what you were always meant to be: holy, and His.

To receive this gift is about belief and trust in God and Jesus. But we are also instructed to tell others, to share what He has done for us with those in our lives.

If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:9

Once we place our hope and faith in Christ, we are a new creation, according to the Bible. That old sin nature that we inherited from our ancestors is gone, we are cured from our spiritual sickness! We have been raised to walk in newness of life, and our lives should now reflect Christ’s life, one of obedience and holiness as defined by God. Once He has forgiven us of our sin,the Bible says we should no longer continue in sin. We should obey God’s Word, our way of living and our motivation should be to show our gratitude for our free gift, to glorify God and live a life worthy of being called His holy people.

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin,because he is born of God.
1 John 3:9

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, thatgrace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live anylonger therein?"
Romans 6:1-2

But where do we start? If you feel overwhelmed, be comforted in the fact that the process of learning to live life as a believer is life-long. If you begin with reading the Bible, this will help you to learn about who He is and what He expects. Just as Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples, He has been promised Him to you as well. As you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will help you to understand what the scriptures mean. He will convict you and guide you and comfort you as you learn how to walk according to the faith. You will need to read the Bible every single day, and also learn what the Bible says about how to pray to God. Prayer is very important. We must continue to confess and repent of our sin as the Holy Spirit makes us aware of it. We must continue to thank Him, to talk to Him. Your faith is a relationship, and the more time you spend with the Lord, the deeper your relationship will grow.

God has always had a plan. It was for you, Beloved, to find Him and to know Him. I hope you will open your heart to Him, that you might find a peace and a joy and the comfort of knowing your purpose in this life and your inheritance of eternal life to come in the next one. you can understand the full joy of effective Bible study, reading it as it was meant to be read: as a redeemed child of God.


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