Monday, August 20, 2018

Abundant Life

In John 10 Christ teaches about the Good Shepherd and His sheep. As you read through the passage please keep in mind that in His earthly ministry Christ was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24). That is why He instructed His apostles to “go not in the way of the Gentiles.” The psalmist called the Lord the “Shepherd of Israel” (Ps. 80:1). Nearly all references in the Bible that liken God’s people to sheep concern His earthly people, the nation of Israel.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (Jn. 10:10)

The celebrity preachers love to use this verse to support their prosperity gospel. They preach that Christ came not only to give us eternal life, but an abundant life of physical health and material wealth. They handle the word of God deceitfully (2 Cor. 4:2) because they try to steal the earthly promises of Israel. Plus, they don't give the whole truth. To enter the kingdom, the little flock of believing Israel first had to sell all and follow Christ through the valley of the shadow of death. They had to take up their cross and follow Him, but they will be greatly rewarded in the kingdom (Matt. 19:27-29). What Christ promises in v.10 is the fulfillment of prophecies like Ps. 23 and Isa. 61:4-7.

The church today is not required to sell all, but we should be cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7). We have not been given earthly promises, but we do have a great inheritance awaiting us in glory. We will reign eternally in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1), and we have the opportunity to receive eternal rewards for faithful service in this life. We do not have to wait for the rapture to enjoy an abundant life!

The apostle Paul said more about the abundant life than all other writers combined:
"abundantly" 8 times
"abundant" 9 times
"abound" 16 times
"abounded" 5 times
"abounding" 2 times
"aboundeth" 2 times
Total = 42 references

ABUND'ANT, a. Plentiful; in great quantity; fully sufficient; as an abundant supply. In scripture, abounding; having in great quantity; overflowing with. (Webster's 1828 Dictionary)

The apostle Paul talks about believers abounding in spiritual things. We are God’s heavenly people (Eph. 2:6; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:1-4). God has abounded toward us that we might abound in our walk with Him (Eph. 1:7-8; 3:20-21; Titus 3:4-7). What word better describes your Christian walk: barely or abundantly? Are we abounding more and more in our Christian walk (1 Thess. 4:1)?

The three major characteristics of the Christian life are faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor. 13:13). Paul mentions these three together many times in his epistles. We should abound in faith (Col. 2:6-7), hope (Rom. 15:13), and love (Phil. 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:12; 2 Thess. 1:3). There are other things we are to abound in, such as labor (1 Cor. 15:10, 58) and giving (2 Cor. 8:7; 9:8).

Christ has delivered us from the bondage of the law and religion. The grace life is an abundant life (Gal. 5:22-23)!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Practical Hyperdispensationalism

I am sure you are familiar with the term, “Hyper-dispensationalism.” It is a big word, but it is not difficult to understand. The Greek prefix, “hyper” means excessive and going beyond what is right and acceptable. Some prefer the Latin prefix, “ultra.” Dispensationalism is the divine method of Bible study (2 Tim. 2:15). It is the understanding that although God doesn’t change in His person, He does change in His dealings with man throughout the ages. Man is always prone to extremes, so it is certainly possible to go to unscriptural extremes and be guilty of wrongly dividing the word of truth.

Doctrinally speaking, the issue of when you believe this present dispensation began is typically one of the main ways people judge whether or not they think someone is a hyper-dispensationalist. The problem is that what may seem hyper in comparison to your traditional view may not be hyper at all in the word of God (1 Thess. 5:21). I believe that this present dispensation began with Paul’s salvation and ministry. Many dispensationalists, who hold to the more traditional view that it started on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), would accuse me of teaching hyper-dispensationalism.

What is a biblical dispensation? It is basically a dispensing of divine revelation that brings about significant changes in God’s dealings with man. How can a dispensation begin before the revelations that make it a distinct dispensation are dispensed (Col. 1:24-27)? We are living in the Dispensation of the Mystery which was planned by God before the world began but kept secret until He first revealed it through the apostle Paul. What took place in Acts 2 was according to PROPHECY. Furthermore, the gospel that we must believe in order to be baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ was first revealed to Paul. The apostle Peter was not preaching the gospel of the grace of God on the Day of Pentecost (compare Acts 2:38 with 1 Cor. 1:17)!

Doctrinal hyper-dispensationalism does exist, and it is a legitimate problem (e.g. the Acts 28 position). However, my purpose in this post is to warn you about the danger of falling into what we might call practical hyper-dispensationalism. It is possible to not be hyper in our doctrine, but to be hyper in how we act concerning our doctrine.

According to Phil. 4:5, Christians are to be known for their moderation. What is moderation? It is the avoidance of excess or extremes. It’s a good testimony to live a balanced Christian life. This is not easy because the flesh is ever prone to excess and extremes. Finding and maintaining the right balance in the Christian life is very important but it is also very difficult. Thankfully, “the Lord is at hand.” Some say this means that the coming of the Lord for us is imminent (3:20), while others say it means Christ is always near. Well, both are true! He lives in us and we can live a balanced Christian life through His strength. He is coming soon to glorify us into His image. We will never struggle again in that glorious day!

Extremism is not only the danger of being excessive in a bad thing for there is also the subtle danger of taking a good thing too far. Eating is good but eating to an extreme is bad. Consider this bit of practical wisdom from Proverbs: “Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.” (Prov. 25:16). We can apply this proverb to our spiritual diet. The word of God is our spiritual food. David said that the word of God is "sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

Now, please don't misunderstand me, we certainly need to be filled with the word of God (Col. 3:16)! But the word of God is not only to be taken in, it is also to be exercised out in our daily life (1 Tim. 4:6-7). We are to "work out" our own salvation (Phil. 2:12). Knowledge without charity puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1-3). Paul said that without charity we are nothing even if we understand all mysteries and have all knowledge (1 Cor. 13:2). We must not study the Bible just to gain knowledge. We must study the Bible to know God in a real relationship and serve Him according to His will.

We are guilty of practical hyper-dispensationalism when:

We neglect the scripture that is not written directly TO us 

Those of us who have come to understand that the apostle Paul was given the distinct revelations for this present dispensation need to be careful not to overemphasize his epistles to the point of neglecting the rest of scripture. Recognizing that Paul is the divinely appointed pattern and spokesman for this age is very important and we should emphasize the doctrines revealed through him for today. However, it is possible to take it too far. Romans through Philemon is indeed the word of God, but so is Genesis through Acts and Hebrews through Revelation.

We should follow Paul’s example in this matter. His epistles contain many quotes and allusions to the OT scripture. He said that the things which were written aforetime were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4) and admonition (1 Cor. 10:11). Someone might say, “Well, he said that in his Acts epistles.” In his last inspired epistle, he said that ALL scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). All dispensationalists at least give lip service to this fact. Even the most extreme dispensationalists would say we should study the whole Bible, but if in practice they rarely preach spiritual applications or teach doctrine other than dispensational truth, they are acting like a hyper-dispensationalist.

God preserved the whole Bible for a reason (Prov. 30:5; Matt. 4:4). Paul’s epistles are not the only place to find doctrine for this age (virgin birth, hell, God). There are spiritual applications for us throughout the whole Bible. Right division has helped me to enjoy the rest of the Bible more than ever before because now I understand it better. Paul said that we are not stablished without "the scriptures of the prophets" (Rom. 16:25-26)? Read and study the WHOLE Bible!

We cannot fellowship with those who do not see everything the way we do

There are some who glory in the truth of the ONE BODY but can’t seem to get along with anybody who doesn’t agree with them on every detail of how they understand dispensational truth. They treat Christians who are not as enlightened as they like they are second-class members of the Body of Christ. Isn’t it ironic that there are so many cliques and schisms in the “grace movement” (1 Cor. 1:10-13)? Those who lament the error of denominationalism are too often denominational in their attitude and conduct. The basis of our fellowship is clearly laid out in Eph. 4:1-6. 

I am certainly not saying we should be ecumenical. We should take a strong stand for truth, and there is a time to separate from apostates and heretics, but we should not break fellowship over things like whether or not you believe the twelve apostles are in the Body of Christ. Be careful not to develop a critical spirit towards all believers who don’t see everything the way you do (knit-picking everything you hear). By the way, the mainstream dispensationalists typically won’t fellowship with us, so they can also be guilty of practical hyper-dispensationalism.

We ignore the practical applications of the doctrine we profess to believe

Being “under grace” is not just a doctrinal statement: it is a spiritual reality that ought to change the way we live (Rom. 6:14-18; Titus 2:1, 11-15). After laying a doctrinal foundation, the apostle Paul always made practical applications to our daily walk. If you think that preaching biblical separation and exhorting the saints to live godly in this present world is legalism, then you are acting like a hyper-dispensationalist. I thank God for showing me the grace message, not because it freed me from the responsibility to live right, but that it taught me the right way to go about it! What did it do for Paul (1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 4:9)? 

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Distinctiveness of the Apostle Paul

In rightly dividing the word of truth, it is absolutely imperative that we rightly divide Paul’s ministry from that of the twelve apostles. Yet, mainstream and watered-down dispensationalists insist that there is no difference between the ministries of Peter and Paul and claim that it is "hyper-dispensationalism" to believe that there is. They have evidently never asked themselves the important question, “Why Paul?” If his apostleship, message, and ministry was the same as the twelve apostles, what was the point of Christ saving him in the manner he did, away from Jerusalem, and away from the twelve?

The twelve apostles had already been commissioned by Christ to go into all the world (Mk. 16:15). Well, they did not go, but Paul did! What brought about this change? It was the continued rejection of Christ by the leaders of Israel, their fall, and the revelation of the mystery.

In the kingdom commission, the apostles were told to begin at Jerusalem because, according to prophecy, the Gentiles are to be blessed through Israel, and Jerusalem will be the capitol city in the Kingdom Age. Due to the fact that the nation of Israel did not repent of killing their Messiah, there was no need for them to go to the nations. When Paul explained his ministry to the apostles in Jerusalem (in Acts 15, about 15 years after conversion), they agreed that he would go to the heathen with his gospel while they continued to go to the circumcision. The commission given to the twelve apostles was postponed but it will be fulfilled in the future tribulation period (Matt. 24:14).

Paul’s ministry was so different that some to this very day claim that he was a false apostle. Even lost people can see the difference between Peter and Paul! 

It is not an exaggeration to say that Paul’s conversion is one of the most significant events in the Bible:
1. It is more fully described and more often referred to than any other conversion
2. It is more fully described and more often referred to than any other personal experience in the Bible outside the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
3. The majority of three chapters in Acts are taken up with the account of it (9, 22, 26)
4. So aware was Paul himself of the significance of his conversion that he refers to it repeatedly in his epistles (1 Cor. 15; Gal. 1; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1). Paul was not an egomaniac (Eph. 3:8)! He wrote by inspiration of God! Clearly, the Lord has placed an emphasis on the distinct apostleship and ministry of Paul because he is the spokesman for the body of Christ to follow in this age.

Paul is distinct from the twelve apostles in his:

I. Conversion (1 Tim. 1:12-16)
The sudden and glorious appearance of Christ to Saul of Tarsus was totally off the prophetic script! He had blasphemed the Holy Ghost (Acts 7) and therefore could not be saved under the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 12:31-32). Everything was ripe and ready for God’s wrath to poured out (Acts 7:56), but instead He poured out exceeding abundant grace by saving the leader of the rebellion against Him and sending him out with the message of reconciliation that He might build one NEW man, the church which is His Body. Paul was the first one to hear and believe the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:11-12).

II. Apostleship (Gal. 1-2)
All of the apostles (sent ones) saw the Lord and were personally sent out by Him with a message and ministry (with "signs of an apostle"). Paul clearly distinguishes his apostleship from that of the twelve (Rom. 11:13; 1 Cor. 15:5). He was not even qualified to be one of the twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26), and there are many differences between his apostleship and theirs (I will list differences in a later lesson).

III. Message (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:1-13)
Paul received an abundance of revelations (2 Cor. 12:7) directly from the Lord. The gospel of the grace of God, the church which is the Body of Christ, the rapture, and many other things were revealed to him first. He was the first one to glory in the cross and preach it as GOOD NEWS. It is Paul alone who taught that we are justified by the faith OF Christ. It is Paul alone who says, “ye are not under the law, but under grace.”

IV. Commission
When we simply compare how Christ sent out the twelve apostles with how He sent out Paul, it should be obvious that they were not sent under the same commission.

1. Sent from Christ on earth vs. from heaven (Acts 22:19)
2. Begin in Jerusalem vs. depart from Jerusalem (Acts 22:21)
3. Gospel of the kingdom vs. gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24)
4. Go baptize vs. sent not to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17)
5. Teach the law vs. not under the law (Rom. 6:14)

V. Ministry
Having a different apostleship, message, and commission obviously means that Paul had a different ministry. He was "made a minister" to every creature with the gospel of the grace of God, and to the church which is the Body of Christ with the mystery (Col. 1:24-29). The apostle Paul never offered the kingdom to Israel (1 Thess. 2:14-16, one of his earliest epistles). He only went to the Jew first during the transition period of Acts while God was getting a remnant out of Israel before He officially set the nation aside in judicial blindness.

Are there some similarities between Peter and Paul? Yes, but for every similarity I can show you a significant difference. Why does this matter? We cannot follow the ministries of both Peter and Paul at the same time in light of the significant differences. Who are we to follow? We are to follow Paul because He is divinely appointed pattern and spokesman for this present Age of Grace (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9). This is the answer for all of the "isms" and "scisms" that abound in the professing church today. 

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