The Letter Versus the Spirit

God’s Law has a purpose. It has a purpose for those who have not received Jesus as Savior and Lord. It reveals God’s perfect will for mankind. The problem is that no man is able to perfectly obey it. We all fall short and James makes it clear that if we offend in one point of the law, we have broken it all. There is no way that we can meet its demands perfectly. That leaves only judgment for failure, unless we come to Christ. If we do that, we discover that Jesus took the judgment due us, as our Substitute! He perfectly fulfilled the law in our place. What does this law have to say to those who have received salvation? It spells out the way God wants us to live and He provides the enabling for us to live out the “righteousness” of the law as we grow in grace and study and apply His word. The profound difference is in the motivation. Before we are born again, it is obey or else! After we are born again, we desire to keep the law because we love Him and are grateful to Him. As He leads us in obedience, we have a love for and appreciation of His Holy Law. A legal approach is the letter of the Law and compliance is an exercise in futility. When the Holy Spirit guides us into the Truth of God’s Word, He works in us is to fulfill the “righteousness” of the Law. That brings joy and blessing. In II Corinthians 3:6, Paul pointed out that His sufficiency for ministry was Christ and that his ministry was not of the “letter” but of the Spirit. This is how he put it: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” William R. Newell discovered the difference between the letter and the Spirit. In his hymn; “At Calvary,” the second stanza speaks of the “letter,” while the third stanza emphasizes the work of the “Spirit.” “By God’s Word at last my sin I learned; then I trembled at the law I’d spurned, till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary. Now I’ve given to Jesus everything, now I gladly own Him as my King, now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.” Selah! In our unsaved state, the Law makes impossible demands; once we are born again, God’s Spirit makes “the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus,” a great delight!    Ron

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Internal Impact

If we have been faithful in sharing the Word; if we are depending on the Holy Spirit to work, there will be results! Some of the results may be dramatic; other results will only be observed over a period of time. Paul became aware of some who questioned his ministry. In  confidence, because he knew he had been faithful and had relied upon the Holy Spirit, he responded to those in the Corinthian church who might be questioning: “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men” (II Corinthians 3:1-2). What an interesting response! If those with whom this letter had been shared were truly converted, they would know, by the internal impact in their own lives, that Paul’s ministry was authentic. In verse 3, Paul explains what that impact is: “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” In other words, look inside your own hearts! If God has changed you Spiritually, Paul’s ministry is validated and your own conversion is shown to be genuine. This is because only the Spirit of God, using the Word of God, can effect true inward Spiritual change. In Verses 4-6, Paul acknowledges his own inadequacy, giving God the credit for using him to accomplish His work. In the last half of Verse 6, Paul contrasts “the letter” and “the Spirit.” What’s that all about? Hopefully, we can think on that tomorrow; it is very significant! “Be Thou My Vision” is a hymn that expresses what hearts will experience, if the Holy Spirit has indeed impacted them internally: “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art – Thou my best thought, by day or by night; waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light. Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true word; I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord. Thou my great Father; Thine own may I be, Thou in me dwelling and I one with Thee. Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise; Thou mine inheritance, now and always; Thou and Thou only first in my heart, high King of Heaven, my treasure Thou art!” Selah! A heart that has been Spiritually changed will gradually share the experience articulated in this wonderful old hymn! Someone’s ministry has been shown to be truly a work of God!   Ron

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A Preacher Bares His Heart

After admonishing the Corinthian church to restore a disciplined member who had come to repentance, he moves on to some personal thoughts in Chapter 2. He mentions his opportunity in Verse 12: “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord.” As he continues in Verse 13, he admits to being troubled about Titus: “I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.” It is unclear if he used his opportunity and then went to seek Titus in Macedonia, or if he was only troubled and still preached and moved on to minister in Macedonia. One thing that we can be sure of is that if only briefly, he ministered! This is evident from his concluding thoughts in this chapter. This is how Paul put it: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” What he is telling this church applies to any Christian who is sharing God’s Word with others. First, despite difficulties, Jesus enables us to triumph and uses us to tell about Himself to any who will listen. That knowledge will bless some and condemn others. It is always that way! His Truth divides people! No matter how His Word is received; we don’t pull our punches. Isaac Watts hymn: “Begin, My tongue, Some Heavenly theme,” speaks to this: “Begin, my tongue, some heav’nly theme and speak some boundless thing: the mighty works or mightier name of our eternal King. Tell of His wondrous faithfulness and sound His pow’r abroad; sing the sweet promise of His grace, the love and Truth of God.” Selah! We are to uncompromisingly share the Truth, as from God. He sees us as we speak in Christ, in His power, by His authority, and we are to do it graciously and firmly.  Ron
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Dealing with a Sheep

Sheep are notorious for not doing what is expected of them. It’s one thing when dealing with an actual sheep; it’s quite another when we are dealing with one of God’s sheep. Keep in mind that some only appear to be sheep. Jesus explained in John 10:27-28  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Those who go on hearing and following Jesus are His sheep. Nevertheless, some genuine sheep do stray. We should say “good riddance!” to these, right? Wrong! Jesus’ account of the straying sheep should mold our attitude toward and concern for true sheep. They may have to suffer because of their straying. A shepherd trains, corrects and even hurts sometimes to train a wayward sheep to behave in a way that is for its ultimate good and safety. To discipline a person in a local church for wayward behavior should cause sadness. It should prompt loving concern and action. A strong effort to locate and restore the wandering sheep is a matter of highest priority. It is ludicrous to think that we should go to the straying sheep and play with it. The idea is to get the sheep back to health, safety and food. In II Corinthians 2:8 and 11, Paul speaks to this: “Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” Why? “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” Paul gives further advice in Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” This certainly should be attempted to head off the need of discipline. I believe it is also to be applied to one who has been disciplined. We can’t socialize with them, but we can lovingly and prayerfully reach out to them. Elizabeth C. Clephane, in her hymn: “The Ninety and Nine,” musically captures the concern of the Savior and what should be our concern: “Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine; are they not enough for Thee?” But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine has wandered away from Me, and although the road be rough and steep, I go to the desert to find My sheep, I go to the desert to find My sheep.” “Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way that mark out the mountain’s track?” “They were shed for one who had gone astray ere the Shepherd could bring him back.” “Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?” “They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn, they’re pierced tonight by many a thorn.” But all thro’ the mountains, thunder-riv’n, and up from the rocky steep, there arose a glad cry to the gate of heav’n, “Rejoice! I have found My sheep!” And the angels echoed around the throne, “Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own! Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!” Selah! Jesus paid an infinite price for His sheep; He wants them restored! (Some sheep die because of their straying)!   Ron

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Purity in the Local Church

What is a church’s responsibility toward sin in its midst? Do too few churches even know how to address it; as a matter of fact do they dare confront sin? What happens to a local church if a member is disciplined? Could it cause a split? Would it cause financial problems in the case of a person who gives substantially, if they were to stop giving because of being disciplined? Could tolerance toward sin account for a lack of power in our churches? Wouldn’t confrontation be judgmental? In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul admonished them to deal with a flagrant sin of immorality. He instructed them “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (I Corinthians 5:5) The correct way to implement this is a subject for another article. If a church decides to confront sin, there are some wrong ways to do it. One of those is to write the offender off. Apparently the offender that Paul told them to discipline came to repentance between the time of his first and second letters. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 2:6-7: “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” Implicit in church discipline is the responsibility to aim for restoration, if possible. We have an obligation to keep our churches pure by using discipline properly with love, sorrow and concern. Ralph E. Hudson in his hymn: “Do You See Them Coming, Brother?” musically describes Jesus’ intention for His bride:  “‘Tis a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the Lamb. ‘Tis a glorious Church, without spot of wrinkle, washed in the blood of the Lamb. The local church must apply the washing of water by the Word. Selah! Failure to maintain Spiritual purity in a local church prompts God’s response. This can cost a local church dearly!  Ron

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Internal Alarm System

A crook breaks into your home. He intends to steal from you; he doesn’t mind if he damages you. If you die, that’s fine with him. Your finger slips to a button and you quietly press it. Suddenly, an alarm goes off. In a brief time, police arrive and escort the crook to jail and confine him to a cell. That’s a great safety measure for your home. What about the home (the body) that the real you lives in? That home came equipped with an internal alarm system. The directions are found in the Bible. One of the directions has to do with using the button (prayer). This system will not protect you unless you follow the directions and use the button. If the system is not turned on or has been disabled, you will be harmed. This system has been named “conscience.” It is spiritually hi-tech. It can calm you, correct you, or condemn you. Treat it right and help is on the way; ignore it and you are a victim (of your own making). Paul, in II Corinthians1:12 wrote: “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” In Acts 24:16, Paul testified: ‘”And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” As a result of relying on God’s directions, he was calm, confident, teachable, free of condemnation and a testimony to the value of God’s internal alarm system. When Scripture alarms the conscience and we press the button of prayer, we can identify with the prayer of C. P. Jones in the hymn: “Deeper, Deeper:” “Deeper, deeper! blessed Holy Spirit, take me deeper still, till my life is wholly lost in Jesus and His perfect will.” Selah!  “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God” (I John 3:21).     Ron

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The Test, The Trial, The Triumph

Being in the midst of suffering, it seems like it will never end. However, Peter reminds us: “….now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” (From I Peter 1:6). In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul (who knew what it is to suffer) states: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Some Christians suffer only for a short time; others suffer much and long. In either situation, a short time or a long time is only “for a season” or “for a moment,” in the context of eternity. I understand that knowing this Truth doesn’t make suffering easier. It does, however, give us the eternal perspective. When we look back from Heaven, it will be recognized as a very short time. But, here and now, we have to go through it! Why? It is certainly to ascertain if our faith (our trust) is genuine. It may also be to witness to those watching us that His grace is sufficient. It also will strengthen our hearts and faith to know that He is with us all the way, helping us to “pass the test.” The firmness of our faith leads to a huge reward! What can we do to strengthen and increase the firmness of our faith right now, before the test and the trial? Prayer, hours in the Word of God, reading biographies of others who have gone through severe trials and testing and have triumphed. Even the right music can help us stand firm. One such hymn, “Jesus Is All I Need,” comes from the pen of James Rowe: “When I am burdened or weary and sad, Jesus is all I need. Never He fails to uplift and make glad. Jesus is all I need. When I am swept by the tempests of life, Jesus is all I need. Peace He imparts whatsoever the strife. Jesus is all I need. When through the valley He calls me to go, Jesus is all I’ll need. He will be with me to cheer me, I know. Jesus is all I’ll  need.  All that I need He will always be, all that I need till His face I see. All that I need thro’ eternity, Jesus is all I need.” Selah! Jude gives us a thought in Verse 20: “….building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.” That’s what we must do, if faith is to triumph in the fire! Start today (or continue) to use all the means God gives to strengthen and “steel” your faith. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ!”      Ron

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