Does God Change His Mind About What He Expects Of Us?

Has God changed His mind about what He expects from people? Some think He has, or should. It’s the 21st century, they say. Those notions of morality are old-fashioned and need an update. Others think the change already happened and God doesn’t expect anything from you under the new covenant. You’re saved by grace and that’s it; no action required.

Neither of these ideas accurately reflects the picture God gives us in scripture. And while the idea of God brushing some rules under the rug can be a nice one if you plan to break those rules, it sets up a chilling precedent. Do you really want to serve a God who will change what’s expected of you or how He defines morality? If we can’t count on God to stay self-consistent we can’t trust Him and we’d have no hope to anchor our souls. Honestly, I find the idea of a God who changes the rules far more upsetting than that of a God who consistently expects certain things of His people.

God Wants You To Live

Thankfully, God reveals Himself in the Bible as reliable and consistent. That doesn’t mean He’s always predictable — He’s far too much for our minds to put Him in neat little boxes. But He will always act according to His character, keep His promises, and uphold His laws. Read more

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Breastplate of Righteousness

When we’re going into spiritual warfare, we need spiritual armor. As we talked about in last week’s post on the Girdle of Truth, God is the one who gives us this armor. He doesn’t invite us to do battle and then leave us defenseless.

take up the full armor of God, in order that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. Stand therefore, girding your waist with truth, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness. (Eph. 6:13-14, LEB)

The second piece of our armor is a breastplate of righteousness. In a physical soldier’s armor, this is the part of the armor that protects the front and back of the torso. It’s keeping your spine, internal organs, and especially your heart and lungs safe.

Breastplate of Righteousness | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Thomas Quine, CC BY via Flickr

Keeping Your Heart

For us, righteousness serves much the same protective function. In a broad sense, the word dikaiosune (G1343) means being in a “condition acceptable to God.” It also refers to “the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved by God” (Thayer’s Dictionary). Righteousness involves the condition of your heart and state of your character.

Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever! (Deut. 5:29, WEB)

God has always been interested in wining His people’s hearts. That desire is at the core of Him asking us to follow Him in righteousness, which is why Jesus didn’t destroy the Law when He came. Rather, He revealed the full expression and intent behind God’s law — that we might develop His character and become like Him (Matt. 5:17-20, 48).

Armor God Wears

Speaking of becoming like God, the Breastplate of Righteousness is a piece of armor that He actually wears.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head. He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a mantle. (Is. 59:17, WEB)

The breastplate we’re talking about isn’t just something God gives us to wear. It’s also something that He wears Himself. This is truly armor of God what He’s sharing with us. Read more

Too Proud To Follow God

I’ll bet none of us would just come out and say, “I know better than God” or “God’s wrong and I’m right.” We recognize that as arrogant, inaccurate, and fool-hardy. But far too often, we act like that’s what we think even if we’re not saying or even consciously thinking those words. We come up with reasons why we don’t have to keep His commands, or decide we have a better idea for how to obey than what’s instructed in scripture. We try to come figure out what being Christian means to us rather than seeking what it means to God.

The stories of Israel’s first two kings perfectly illustrate the different ways we humans can approach following God. Saul did what was right in his own eyes while pretending to follow God, and God wasn’t impressed. He took the kingdom away from Saul and his family to set up David, someone who would truly follow after God’s heart and listen to His commands.

click to read article, "Too Proud To Follow God" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Saul’s Prideful Disobedience

God chose Saul out of all the people, just as He later would David. It wasn’t His intention that Saul fail. But just two years into his reign, Saul found himself facing an army so terrifying his own troops ran and hid in caves. He waited seven days for Samuel the priest to come and offer sacrifice to God, but Samuel didn’t show.

That’s when Saul committed a sin that cost him the kingdom (1 Sam. 13). He made the decision to offer the sacrifice himself, showing a presumptuous disregard for God’s instructions. When Samuel showed up, Saul had all sorts of arguments to justify his actions but they didn’t change the fact that he’d ignored God’s will. Read more

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian?

Is there anything we have to do in order to be a Christian? Some will tell you the answer is “no” — that salvation is a free gift and once you accept it you’re a Christian and there’s nothing else you need to do. Others will say “yes” — that you’re not a Christian unless you keep God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ.

The truth is that God offers salvation freely, but you have to accept the gift on God’s terms. Those terms are called covenants — agreements that involve two parties binding themselves together with oaths. On the spiritual level, God initiates covenants, establishes the terms and promises, and binds Himself to the covenant oaths. These covenants are unfailing and sure, regardless of human action. We can choose whether or not to walk in covenant with God, but the covenant, and associated consequences for sin, stand whichever you decide.

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Choose Covenant

“I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today,” Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 29:14-15. Not entering into covenant with God does not mean you’re getting out of consequences for sin — it means you’re choosing a path of death (Deut. 29:18-28).
Read more

Who Receives The Holy Spirit?

This blog post is, like my last posts, inspired by something I heard while keeping the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) this year. In this case, though, it was something I disagreed with. During a Bible study, the study leader said that ordained ministers receive an “extra measure” of the Holy Spirit. That teaching is an old one, but is it correct? I wasn’t sure. Another thing that didn’t sit right with me was several speakers calling groups other than those like ours “nominal Christianity.”

I talked these two points over with several friends at our Feast site, and was relieved to find I wasn’t the only one bothered by them or suspicious that they didn’t have a solid scriptural basis. So the question is, who does God give His Spirit to, and how much do they get? and does it vary depending on the individual’s role in the church, or what church they attend?

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

(For a quick over-view of my beliefs about what the Holy Spirit is, click here)

Those Who Believe

God has been giving His Spirit to believers apparently from the very beginning. David prayed, “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11), and Peter said “the Spirit of Christ” was in the Old Testament prophets (1Pet. 1:10-11). The Spirit wasn’t readily available, though, until after Christ’s sacrifice and ascension — “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

The disciples received the Holy Spirit dramatically at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. As part of his sermon that day, Peter told others what they had to do in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

This simple formula gives the Holy Spirit after baptism and repentance in the name of Jesus Christ to everyone who God decides to call. There were exceptions to this order — namely the gentiles who were given the Spirit before baptism in Acts 10 — but the Holy Spirit is only given to those who 1) believe in Jesus and 2) are called by God.

The Called, Who Ask

The first requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit is being called by God since we can’t get to Jesus without that calling (John 6:44). Who receives a calling is entirely up to God. It is a gift of grace that cannot be earned (Gal. 1:15; Rom. 9:11), which is given “according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I do think, however, that someone can ask for a calling. The Father is actively seeking those who will worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and Jesus tells us that if we ask, seek, and knock persistently, God will respond (Matt. 7:7).

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.comThen you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:12-13)

God choses who to call, but He does respond to sincere seeking of Him. If someone hears the gospel preached and wants to learn more, God will see that. We’re not called because of our works, but God does call those who will do good works, obey Him (Acts 5:32), and commit to becoming holy (2 Thes. 1:11; 1 Thes. 2:12; 4:7).

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)

Committed, Prayed-for Believers

Once God calls us, He gives us to Christ (John 6:65; 17:11). Jesus is the only one who can provide salvation (Acts 4:12), and that’s why the converts in Acts were all “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:16; 19:5). With the exception of the Gentiles mentioned earlier (who God used to show He was opening up salvation to non-Jews), the Spirit is given after baptism. We have two examples of disciples being baptized, but not receiving the Spirit until an apostle prayed and laid hands on them. This happened in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6), and in Samaria.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet it had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

There aren’t really apostles today, but the principle, I think, stands. God typically gives the Holy Spirit to someone after they’ve made a commitment through baptism, and after a more mature believer who already has the Holy Spirit prays and lays hands on them.

Those Who Use It

On the question of whether some people get more Holy Spirit than others, I’ve only found two scriptures that talk about how much Spirit an individual is given. In 2 Kings 2, Elisha asked for, and is given, “a double portion” of “the spirit of Elijah” (2 Kings 2:9-12, 15). Then in the New Testament, John the Baptist explains that Jesus received an unlimited supply of the Holy Spirit.

 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (John 3:34-35)

You could extrapolate from this that people other than Jesus are given the Spirit “by measure” (i.e. “a limited portion,” Strong’s G3358). It makes sense that we would all have less Holy Spirit than Jesus because we are infinitely less worthy. But I can’t find scriptures that clearly support the idea you’ll find in some churches that ordained leaders are given an “extra measure” of the spirit compared to other believers.

On the contrary, we find several scriptures that remind us God is not a respecter of persons. He opened salvation to the Gentiles because “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). He wants us to treat people fairly “knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Eph. 6:9, see also James 2:1-9). He will judge everyone righteously by looking at “each one’s work” “without partiality” (1Pet. 1:17).

God doesn’t show partiality in how He distributes the Spirit, but we can affect how much Spirit is available to us by whether or not we use it well.

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

“Stir up” is from anazopureo, and means “to kindle” or “re-enkindle,” as in reference to a fire (Strong’s G329). It’s the opposite of sbennumi, which means “to extinguish a fire” (Strongs G4570). Sbennumi is translated “quench” in 1 Thes. 5:19’s command, “Do not quench the Spirit.”

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God gives the Spirit to whomever He wants. These are people who seek a relationship with Him, who ask for His Spirit, and who believe in Jesus Christ. Once given the Spirit, our actions determine how well we can use it. We can either stir up the Spirit we’re given so it burns brighter, or suppress it till it flickers and dies in us. That’s our choice. The closer we draw to God, the more powerful His presence will be in us. That’s what determines who gets the Holy Spirit and how much they can use — the individual believer’s relationship with God. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ordained, and where you go to church only matters in so far that you’re attending a church which preaches God’s truth. What matters most is that you’re following God the way He commands.

Good and Bad Fruits

As Christians, we’re asked to find a balance between being too judgmental and an “anything goes” mentality. We must not condemn others, but neither should we ignore sin. We have to exercise discernment, “judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24), and make decisions about right and wrong in our own lives, and in the lives of people we choose to associate with.

When we’re deciding that teachers to listen to, which groups to fellowship with, and who to count as our closest friends, God gives us guidelines for making decisions.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

A parallel scripture in Luke 6:43-45 shows this principle applies to people in general, not just leaders. It also applies to us. Before we can recognize good and bad fruits in other people, we have examine ourselves. We must remove the plank from our own eye before we can clearly see the speck in our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). This is especially important as we approach the Passover season, traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28-31).

Bad Fruits

When we’re trying to discern good and bad fruits, what should we be looking for? The Bible outlines many good and bad traits that individuals may have, but today let’s focus on a list given in Galatians. We’re very familiar with the fruits of the spirit, but leading up to that there is also a list of undesirable traits and actions.

 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Credit:  oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr

This is serious stuff. Those who have these “bad fruits” in their lives will not be welcomed in God’s kingdom. It’s easy to just read over lists like these, pick out a few traits that seem particularly bad, then pat ourselves on the back because we’re not practicing witchcraft or murdering people. But let’s take a closer look. We need to be able to recognize these sort of bad fruits in church congregations, in leaders, and in ourselves.

Does a church congregation overlook sexual sins among its members or ignore them in society? Is that teacher impure in his deeds? Am I allowing an absence of restraint to characterize my life? Does this church group put anything before God on their priority list? Do they teach that it’s okay to dabble in the occult?

Is a minister acting out of hostility or hatred? Am I stirring up debates and contentions? Are we jealous of others, or easily made indignant? Are the people in that congregation known for their anger? Does their leader encourage strife and divisions, or teach things contrary to sound doctrine? Do we envy each other, or hate someone so much that we’ve wished them dead? Am I lacking self-control and moderation, or engaging in riotous conduct?

Christ made it clear in His sermon on the mount that the laws of God are still in effect, and operating on a spiritual plane. Even a longing to sin is a sin (Matt. 5:17-30). We need to be on guard against bad fruits showing up in our lives, as well as being wary of associating with a church or following a minister who is producing bad fruit. God expects better from us than that.

Good Fruits

God expects us to bear good fruits for His glory, and to associate with other Christians who are also bearing good fruits. We do this by developing a strong relationship with Him and with Jesus Christ.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)

Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr

If an individual or church group has a strong relationship with Jesus and the Father, it is made visible in the kind of fruits that show up in their lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Let’s ask ourselves the same kinds of questions about this list. Is that church congregation characterized by active goodwill and godly love towards all? Is this minister filled with joy and gladness, and encouraging that in his brethren? Do I “live peaceably with all men”? (Rom. 12:18).

Do the people of our church congregation show self-restraint before acting, and choose to suffer long rather than taking vengeance? Does this teacher have a “grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would be harsh and austere”? (Zodhiates, G5544). Can God look at me and say that I am actively practicing goodness?

Is this church group defined by their faithfulness to the Word of Truth? Is that minister a humble man who calmly accepts God’s will in His life? Do I have self-control that lets me moderate my desires? If we can answer these questions with a “yes,” then we can be assured that our churches, our leaders, and we ourselves are bearing “good fruit.”

Examine Yourself

We’re less than three weeks away from Passover, and whether or not you observe it as part of your Christian walk this is a good season to take a close look at ourselves and what kinds of fruits we’re producing. When John the Baptist was preaching, he warned the Pharisees about how important it was to produce good instead of bad fruits

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:8-10)

A sense of complacency will not get you in to the kingdom of God. Jesus told the Jews near the end of His ministry, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matt. 21:43) We don’t want that to happen us us as individuals. We must abide in Christ and bring forth good fruits while getting rid of bad fruits in our lives.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:24-26)

That’s the concluding thought at the end of the “works of the flesh” and “fruits of the spirit” lists. We belong to Jesus – there should be no room in our lives for evil fruits. We have to battle against that fleshly, rotten side and truly walk in the spirit as we follow Jesus