by Roland W. Keith
“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).
When the time came for the Jews to go in and possess the Promised Land only two of the original generation were allowed to enter in— Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 14:29-30; 26:65). Due to the nation’s unbelief (failure to trust God), the Jews who came out of Egypt were not allowed to take possession of the land promised to them; even Moses and Aaron faltered in their belief, and were excluded from the land (Numbers 20:6-13, 24). Certainly, after all they had been through, the Jews, and their two leaders, knew that God existed. Their unbelief, then, was of another nature. They did not trust God because they had given into, or developed, a lack of moral (or mental) strength. In Aaron’s and Moses’ case they failed to obey God’s explicit instructions and sanctify Him before the people, demonstrating a failure in moral courage in obeying the Lord and leading His people. As for the people themselves, when faced with the prospect of defeating the nations in the land, their courage left them altogether and they rebelled against God (Numbers 14). Later, when told of God’s judgment against them, they sought to enter the land only to be defeated (Numbers 14:39-45).
When Moses passed the mantle of leadership to Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:1-8) he admonished him to have courage, saying “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” He repeated his need for courage (as quoted above), in the very next verse. With that courage Joshua was able to lead the Israelites into the land promised them, and to take possession of it. As Christians, we too need to heed Moses words of encouragement given to Joshua. We should not dread the world or its dark ruler, knowing that God is with us, and because of His presence and protection we are fully capable of defeating our enemy. We also know that in times of trial we can call on the Lord for instruction and strength, as the Psalmist wrote, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries… Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:11-12, 14)!
Many years later David would offer the same advice to His son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished” (I Chronicles 28:20).
Again, as Christians, we are wise to heed these words. God has given us a work to do in His house, His kingdom, and we will not fail, if we take our strength and courage from Him. As Paul told the Corinthians, we must “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13). In defining that courage, we must use it to emulate our Lord in all our actions, as Paul wrote the Philippians, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
If we want to avoid being excluded from the heavenly Promised Land awaiting us we must have the courage to enter in and take possession of it. This means we must be willing to stand up for Christ against His enemies without concern for the consequences in this life. We find a prime example of what our behavior should be in the account of the apostles before the Sanhedrin, recorded in Acts 5:27-33, 41:
"And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him." When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them… Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name."
Another great example of perseverance is that of Paul, in Acts 20:22-27:
"And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God."
Even in the face of imprisonment, persecution, and ultimately death, Paul refused to shrink back from the name of the Lord. How many of us will stand firm when persecution comes? We must if we want to please our King. We must stand firm, always willing to step in, shoulder-to-shoulder, to share in the burden, strengthening one another. When Paul was in chains, en-route to Rome, He was able to take courage from those who came to see him along the way (Acts 28:15-16).
In considering these examples we must understand that a day may be approaching when we will be called upon to suffer for the name of the Lord. As Jesus informed His apostles:
"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for My sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:16-27).
Here in the U.S. we may often read these accounts in the Bible as historically remote examples, but even today Christians around the world are being persecuted, and the tide is turning against us in this country. The day may be fast approaching when Paul’s words to Timothy come home to us: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (II Timothy 3:12-14). If such days do in fact come upon us let us take comfort in Peter’s words:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:3-9).
I pray that all Christians everywhere will stand tall and persevere in the face of persecution and that we will all share in the inexpressible joy that Peter wrote of on the day that our salvation is made sure.
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By Roland W. Keith
“And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:19-20).
Jesus Christ gave His life for you and me. He sacrificed Himself to establish a new covenant between God and man, and to achieve the forgiveness of sins for all men past, present, and future (Matthew 26:28). Some may ask, “But why did He need to die? What did that achieve?” To answer that question let us look back briefly into the Old Testament where we read, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (Leviticus 17:11). What is so important about a blood sacrifice? Why would God choose such a requirement, where one life was taken in place of another, to satisfy His need for justice?
The answers to these questions begin to fall into place when we understand that God’s plan to redeem man was tailor made for us. He is not asking us to live according to some heavenly set of rules that are beyond our ability to truly comprehend. Rules that we follow in blind obedience not knowing why. God's plan is based on basic human values that are universally, innately understood. All of us appreciate the value of life (at least most of us do), particularly human life. So much so that when we hear a story about one person losing his life in an effort to save another we call him a hero. The soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his companions, or the firefighter who runs into a burning building to save a child. We say they paid the ultimate price. The price of one life for another. Under the Law of Moses sin brought death, both physical and spiritual (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12). The only way to avoid spiritual death was for someone to save the sinner, in a manner that all men, in all times could understand. Therefore, God chose the ultimate form of human love and sacrifice as the redemptive act to impress upon man the seriousness of sin and its consequences. He required a life for a life.
Fortunately, for the Israelites He allowed them to substitute the life of an animal for their own lives. However, this was an imperfect substitute, and was temporary in nature. Their sins were not truly forgiven, but held in abeyance until the perfect sacrifice could be made. A human life for a human life. Except, not just any life would be a sufficient sacrifice to truly absolve all those sins held in suspense over the centuries, as well as provide redemption for all present and future sinners. Under the old Law animal sacrifices had to be without physical defect or blemish. The ultimate sacrifice that would satisfy God’s holy justice would have to be without spiritual defect or blemish. The sinless man. The perfect human life given for all sinful men. To accomplish that God sent His Son to into the world to take human form, and to willingly give His life for us.
Jesus once said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus considers us, His creation, to be His friends and desires us to come to Him for salvation. He gave His life so that we could have a life of eternal joy in heaven with Him. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).
Jesus’ blood sacrifice saves us from the wrath of God’s justice, reconciling us to Him as if we had never sinned. That is because Jesus’ blood washes our sins away, as John noted, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). This cleansing is not due us, but is extended to man by the grace of God as Paul informed the Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Not only does Jesus blood provide us with an avenue to forgiveness, but if we come to Him in repentance it purifies our conscience (Hebrews 9:14). This enables us to open our minds to God’s will, preparing us for our lives as His children and servants. It relieves the burden of sin in our lives, and helps us to understand that our justification comes from Christ, which in turns helps us in the pursuit of the Christian way. Make no mistake: we must choose to follow the path everyday, but we are emboldened to do so, knowing what Christ has done for us, and all that He will continue to do through us if we are willing to give our lives for His.
Peter wrote, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). Satan and sin are ever present, waiting to consume our lives. However, God understands the power of temptation in our lives, and through His Holy Word He has equipped us with all the weapons we need to overcome the works of the devil, by which he attempts to draw us away. Regarding the power of sin Paul equated it to being taken captive (Romans 7:23), and Peter, who seemed to have a similar view of the captive nature of sin wrote of being freed from its grip: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (I Peter 18-19). Jesus gave His life for us as a ransom. He paid the ultimate price to redeem us from the bondage of sin, and to set us at liberty to pursue a life in His kingdom, free from the eternal consequences of sin.
Welcome! For those who have come across these words, you are reading the inaugural edition of this blog. It is my hope that, over time, many others will not only find their way here, but will take the opportunity to engage with one another, sharing their understanding of the world and our place in it as servants of God. With that said, my first topic is a timely one considering the continued focus on Washington, after the election of President Trump. No other election within memory has so polarized our nation. As citizens of this great nation we should all be concerned about the direction our country is going in, and we should all exercise our civic duties. However, for those of us who are Christians, where do our responsibilities and loyalties begin and end? According to the Bible is there such a thing as separation of church and state? And, what does that entail? In I Samuel it is recorded:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, "Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations."
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the LORD.
And the LORD said to Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them" (I Samuel 8:4-9).
Until that time God had been sovereign over the nation of Israel. However, ever since Saul was appointed King, God has been out of the business of politics. For those peoples who had already turned their backs to Him He had ordained the institution of government to provide rule, and while His hand is still active in the affairs of men, there is a distinction between His everlasting dominion and the kingdoms of man (Daniel 2:20; 4:17; 4:34-37). This separation of earthly and heavenly realms was echoed by the words and actions of Jesus and His apostles in the New Testament.
When the Jews sought to place Jesus on the throne of Israel he withdrew from their attempts (John 6:15). Jesus had indeed come to establish a kingdom (Matthew 16:28; Mark 1:15), but it was not of this earth, as He explained to Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world" (John 18:36). Earlier in His ministry, when the Pharisees and Herodians had sought to trap Him in His Own words Jesus made this distinction between the heavenly and earthly authorities, when questioned:
And they came and said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For You are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?"
But, knowing their hypocrisy, He said to them, "Why put Me to the test? Bring Me a denarius and let Me look at it."
And they brought one. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's."
Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they marveled at him (Mark 12:14-17).
God the Father has given authority to man, via the institution of government, in the physical realm, and authority to Christ His Son, via the church, in the spiritual realm. As Christians we are subjects of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, but what about our loyalties to worldly rulers? To understand our proper view of our relationship to secular powers we need only look at the examples set by the apostle Paul. As a Roman citizen Paul took advantage of every protection the law afforded him when he deemed it necessary (Acts 16:37-40; 22:23-29), while acknowledging the State’s jurisdiction over him, stating:
I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.
Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, "To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go" (Acts 25:10-12).
In his treatise on government given to the Romans, Paul wrote:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1-7).
According to Paul’s words, Christians, like all other citizens, are bound by the laws of the land and subject to its rulers. While we are to be separate in attitude and behavior (II Corinthians 6:14-18), we are equal as citizens of our nation. In like manner, Peter wrote, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (I Peter 2:13-16). We are to be good citizens, not shunning the laws of the land, but setting the example for our fellow man. Moreover, we should go beyond mere obedience for the sake of conformity, and include government officials in our prayers— giving thanks for them, and praying for them, to their benefit, and our own (I Timothy 2:1-4). However, our loyalties should never be manifested in blind obedience. As Christ said, we must “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Peter and the apostles set the example in Acts 4:17-21:
“But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
As followers of Christ we are to be law-abiding citizens, but there is a line that God has drawn. If we must choose between obeying God or submitting to man, we must stand for God, no matter what the consequences. Paul, and the other apostles were imprisoned and beaten multiple times (Acts 5:40-41; II Corinthians 11:23-25), and eventually many, if not all of them were martyred for the sake of Christ. We must also be determined to do the will of God against all opposition. And, how are we to know when to stand for God, and when to conform to human authority? By knowing the will of God as given to us in His written word. So maybe some of us should spend less time watching CNN or Fox News, or scanning the latest Facebook entries, and a little more time searching God’s word for answers. Like someone once said, “The best citizen is an informed citizen.”
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.