Life-Changing Grace

We stand in awe at the profound historical statement that the Holy Spirit made through the apostle Paul: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). This would be all the redemptive work of the Son of God from the incarnation to the crucifixion, and finally, the Son’s ascension to the right hand of God. This gospel journey of the Son of God is all for our sakes. When an individual understands this truly indescribable blessing of grace from God, he or she is caused to respond with dedicated thanksgiving. The word “abound” in the text assumes that something is done; something happens in our lives. This is more than a good feeling on Sunday morning. This is a living thanksgiving, a response to the gospel that causes transformed lives (See Rm 12:1,2). As will be noted later, this was an appropriate statement to be written to some of the Corinthian Christians who were not living up to the motivational power of the gospel.

• Discovering the nature of true Christianity: In order to prepare His immediate disciples for this life-changing motivational power that was soon to come after His ascension, and before sending them out on mission trips during His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt 10:8). Unfortunately, this statement of Jesus is commonly misunderstood. As a result of this misunderstanding, a “colonial churchianity” is often allowed to prevail among those who should be abounding in thanksgiving in response to the gospel. When the gospel was first preached to former colonial countries, many did not understand the implications of the 2 Corinthians 4:15 statement of Paul, as well as what Jesus said in being a generous giver. Subsequently, many of the first legally converted people simply carried on with their former colonial behavior.

What makes it difficult for some to understand Jesus’ statement to freely give as one has freely received is the colonial culture in which some find themselves. The colonial empires of the past freely gave to the nations of their empires, not realizing that they were creating a dependency culture within the culture of the nations of their empires. Citizens subsequently developed a culture of freely receiving, but never really learning how to freely give. When the first evangelists (missionaries) went to these colonial “possessions,” they often enabled the colonial practice of freely giving everything to the local folks. Unfortunately, they were somewhat weak in teaching the local folks that the heart of the gospel inspires one to abound in freely giving. Nevertheless, the local folks were very thankful for the free schools, free church buildings, free Bibles, free tracts and free books they were freely given. But because the local folks lived in a colonial culture of dependency, they often found it quite difficult to freely give to others locally in response to the free gift of God’s grace they had received. (We will later compare this colonial culture in the following chapter with the nature of the gospel culture of the Macedonian disciples.)

• Discovering that receiving assumes giving: So maybe it would help to insert interpretive comments in the context of Jesus’ statement to His disciples. We must read the Matthew 10:8 statement of Jesus in this way: “Freely you have received [something], freely give [something].” On the occasion of Matthew 10, Jesus gave His disciples a message to proclaim to the people to whom they were being sent. The message was that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mt 10:7). With the message that the kingdom was at hand, the messengers were also freely given the gifts of healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons (Mt 10:8).

On both of the occasions of sending out disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10, the disciples received something freely. They were subsequently to give freely from the blessings that they had freely received in order that others be blessed by their blessing. If we would apply the principle of “freely receiving-freely giving” to ourselves as disciples of Jesus, then freely receiving all things that have been given to us through the gospel of God’s grace assumes that we will freely give in a responsive thanksgiving for God’s grace. In this way our thanksgiving will abound to the benefit of others.

We must emphasize this point because this is the very heart of Christianity, and thus, the definition of Christian behavior. Because Jesus was incarnate in the flesh of man, He paid a great price for being in the physical presence of His disciples in order to freely give them something, that they in turn should freely give. He freely gave up heaven in the form of God in order to be in their presence in a state of poverty (See Ph 2:5-11). “Yet for your sakes He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Co 8:9). There was thus a price paid for their free gift of grace. The condition for their receiving freely was the great price of His incarnation. In order to freely give, Jesus’ disciples must likewise pay a great price of freely giving what they have freely received. This is grace abounding in action. Christians realized that they have been “justified freely by His grace” (Rm 3:24). They realize that they have received the Holy Spirit from God so that they “might know the things that are freely given to us by God” (1 Co 2:12).

• Discovering grace-oriented givers: This is the way grace abounds. This is Christianity in action. See if this is not true in the context of sending forth the early disciples that is recorded both in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. Jesus instructed on both occasions, “Carry no money bag, no wallet, no [extra] sandals” (Lk 10:4). “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two coats, nor sandals, nor staff, for the worker is worthy of his food” (Mt 10:9,10). Those messengers who were sent out by Jesus were not to rely on themselves. They were to present themselves as an opportunity for others to freely give. In this way, the messengers would be able to identify in the villages those who were inclined to freely receive, and thus, freely give.

This is quite amazing. The messengers were going into villages throughout Palestine to which neither Jesus nor themselves had previously gone. So when they proclaimed, as John the Baptist, that the time of regeneration had come and the sovereignty of God was soon to be revealed, those willing recipients of the message within the villages freely received the messengers into their homes and freely provided for them living quarters and food. We must not miss this point. Those who received the messengers, freely did so. They were thus qualifying themselves to also be messengers of the free grace of God. They freely received Jesus’ messengers, who freely gave themselves and a message of good news to the household. As the hosts freely received, they in turn freely gave to Jesus’ messengers (See the behavior of Gaius in 3 Jn 1-6).

This is what grace does, and this is what Jesus meant when He initially stated to His messengers, “Freely you receive, freely give.” Grace generates thanksgiving within the hearts of those who have freely received. This thanksgiving motivates the receivers to freely give something to others. As a price was paid by Jesus to freely give Himself on the cross, a price must also to be paid by the disciples of Jesus to freely pass on the gift of grace. If the recipients did not freely receive, then certainly they would not be motivated to freely pass on to others that which they freely received. If they did not freely pass on that which they had freely received, then they would be behaving contrary to the behavior of grace. They would not have truly understood the nature of the grace of God. And by not truly understanding, they disqualified themselves from receiving the precious message of the gospel. So Jesus instructed His “missionaries” in such situations to kick the dust off their feet and move on.

So what about those who do not discover the blessing of a grace-motivated life? If one does not fully understand the gospel of God’s grace, then he or she often becomes a religious leech who always wants to freely receive, but never freely give. So in sending out His disciples, Jesus cautioned them on this matter: “And whoever will not receive you [freely] or hear your words [freely], when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Mt 10:14). In fact, for those who do not join in the fellowship of thanksgiving in freely receiving and freely giving, Jesus pronounced, “It will be more tolerable for that land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Mt 10:15). These are indeed frightful words.

[To be continued in the next issue of Inscriptions.]

Pure Wisdom

Remember when the Holy Spirit through James revealed, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure” (Js 3:17). There is something about the wisdom that comes from God that instills pure thinking and motives because it originates from our Creator who is pure in all things. So we remember Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Now the purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart” (1 Tm 1:5; see 2 Tm 2:22). What better advice could an older man of God give to a young disciple? Paul continued by encouraging church leaders to hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (1 Tm 3:9). “Keep yourself pure,” he continued (1 Tm 5:22). The wisdom of Paul’s advice rests in the truth that “to the pure all things are pure” (Ti 1:15). It is this pure wisdom from God, therefore, that one keeps himself or herself pure of the ways of the world.

A truly wise person will first seek to keep his or her life pure. For this reason, and especially for a young person, one should make every effort to flee that which would endanger one’s moral purity (1 Tm 6:11). Therefore, Paul instructed, “Flee also youthful lusts. But pursue righteousness” (2 Tm 2:22). Our character for Christ will be revealed through our pure moral behavior. Those who have corrupted their behavior with the impurity of the ways of the world, will manifest the nature of a dysfunctional spiritual character. There can be no true and enduring happiness if we seek to live after that which is contrary to the moral purity that comes forth from our God.
The wisdom that is poured out from above is manifested in the life of the one who has enough sense not to endanger his or her reputation by hanging around youthful impurity. The wisdom from above, therefore, is smart to do that which is right. The wisdom that comes from above leads one to keep himself or herself from all immorality, and even those situations wherein one’s morals might be compromised, or even questioned. Characters for Christ, therefore, know how to flee.

The wisdom that originates from God is generated within the minds of those who have focused their thinking on the instructions that come from God. No disciple can be guarded from unhappiness without feasting on the pure word of God. As disciples of Jesus, we are simply incomplete unless our thinking is formed and controlled by the pure wisdom that comes to us through the word of God (See 2 Tm 3:16,17). When one allows himself or herself to be instructed by God through His word, then he or she is molding the mind into godly thinking (See Rm 12:2). By being instructed by the word of God, one becomes wise in determining what is the work of the flesh and what is the fruit of the Spirit (See Gl 5:19-23). Being able to make a decision between the flesh and Spirit comes only from God’s word. Correct decisions can be made, therefore, only when one has a correct moral standard by which to make decisions. We must never forget that the truly wise person is obsessed with the pure wisdom that originates with our Creator. It is for this reason that when societies lose the moral standard of God’s wisdom, they move away from God. No society that is agnostic or atheistic will ever maintain a constant moral standard, and thus never enjoy the peace that comes from God.

Gospel Restoration

Restoration must be generated from within a society by the constant and consistent preaching of the gospel. It is difficult to import restoration movements simply because the movement is often attached to some expatriate culture, or worse, some supposedly “foreign religion.” So for this reason, God destined the incarnation of His only begotten Son into the flesh of a Jewish man in a Jewish society and a local spot on planet earth—Palestine (Jn 1:14). The importation was directly from heaven, a fact with which there could be no argument, though most of the early Jews vehemently denied this. To them Jesus was just another self-appointed Rabbi from an obscure village called Nazareth. Nevertheless, the Jews could not deny that Jesus was of Jewish origin.

The incarnate Son of God was born a Jew, born in a Jewish barn, grew up as a Jewish carpenter in a small Jewish village, and preached and taught only within Jewish territory. He never made a “mission trip” outside Palestine. His mission trips were always confined to His own people, the Jews. He then died as a condemned Jew outside the capital city of the Jews—Jerusalem. He was all Jew, and thus, never sought to change His Jewish heritage that had been laid as the foundation for revelation of the gospel for fourteen hundred years before His coming into this world. And thus, the first “gospel restoration” that took place in history was first among the Jews, as stated by the apostle Paul: The gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [Gentiles]” (Rm 1:16).

When we read the Holy Spirit’s statement of Galatians 4:4, it is incumbent on us to think more historically about the meaning, rather than the fulfillment of prophecy. So when the Holy Spirit said, “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a [Jewish] woman, born under law” our understanding of the statement goes beyond fulfillment of prophecy. Prophecies were fulfilled because the religious, social and political times were right.

The “birth” in the fullness of time was not inconsequential. That Jesus came into this world was certainly in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But the statement of Galatians 4:4 does not infer that we should consider the “fullness of the time” with the same meaning of a similar statement that is commonly made throughout the gospel records: “That it might be fulfilled . . .” (See Mt 1:22; 2:15,17,23; 4:14; 5:18; 8:17; 12:17). These statements of the gospel records refer exclusively to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in reference to Jesus. But the Galatians 4:4 statement emphasis is on “the time,” not the fulfillment time of prophecy. Galatians 4:4 focuses on the fact that it was the right time in history for the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Redeemer into the society of the Jews in Palestine. It was indeed a time of fulfillment, but we believe that something more was in the mind of the Holy Spirit when He made the statement of Galatians 4:4. (If we understand Galatians 4:4 correctly, then we will be looking around the world for similar peoples who are religiously, socially and politically receptive to the preaching of the gospel and a restoration to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.)

The “fullness of the time” referred to the religious, social and political circumstances that prevailed at the time the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of the Redeemer. Because the religious, social and political environment was suitable for the coming of the Messiah into the world, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John thus revealed “that it might be fulfilled” in reference to all the Old Testament prophecies that directed the minds of the Jews toward the coming of the Messiah and Savior of the world (Lk 24:44). Their minds had been prepared for the refreshing times to come from the presence of the Lord (At 3:19).

The preceding meaning of Galatians 4:4-7 was in the mind of the angel who delivered to the shepherds the following message concerning the birth of Jesus: “I bring you good tidings [gospel news] of great joy that will be to all the people. For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ [Messiah] the Lord” (Lk 2:10,11). It is interesting that the angel did not wait until the second day in order to make this first gospel proclamation. On the contrary, this first announcement of the birth of the Redeemer was far more important than to tarry around for twenty-four hours until it was made. It was urgent that a gospel announcement of the incarnational entry of the Son of God into this world be made. The religious, social and political environment in which the shepherds lived, as well as all the Jews, demanded that the announcement urgently be made the very same day the birth event of the incarnation took place. The times were in their fullness in order that the Messiah and Savior of the world be announced and received. The time of refreshing had appeared from the very presence of the Lord, and thus, it was time for restoration.

It is important to understand the “times” in which the Son of God came. The Holy Spirit turns on the light bulb of understanding by what He had Paul inscribe in Galatians 4:7. The Son of God came “to redeem those who were under law” (Gl 4:4). The word “law” in this text does not carry with it the article “the” in the Greek text. Therefore, reference was to any law, especially legal religious rites and rituals under which we often bring ourselves into bondage, whether Jews or idolatrous Gentiles. This is true because the mission of the Christ was to be a Redeemer. He would bring into freedom those who had brought themselves into the bondage of self-righteous law-keeping. Since the redeemed—that is us—could not redeem themselves through any self-sanctify works of law, or meritorious obedience to any law, whether the Sinai law or some man-made law, they could find redemptive power only in the sacrificial offering of the crucified Redeemer. But in specific reference to the Jews, who would represent all religionists throughout history, they had bound upon themselves all sorts of religious rites and rituals that brought them into bondage (See Mk 7:1-9). Their bondage was so severe that the Jewish religionists of Jesus’ day were doing as Jesus said of them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own [religious] traditions” (Mk 7:9). When this spiritual condition prevails within a society, then it is time to call for a restoration in order that refreshing times might come from the presence of the Lord (See At 3:19). The only way to generate such refreshing times is to preach the gospel message that a Redeemer has appeared on earth in order to release us from our own self-imposed bondage.

The Redeemer of Galatians 4:5, therefore, came in a time when the Jews had rejected the law of God in order to enslave themselves in the bondage of their own religious legal traditions. We must never forget, therefore, that in our obedience to the freedom-giving nature of the gospel, we are being redeemed from our own misguided self-justification through an attempted perfect keeping of either law or self-imposed religious rites and rituals. And thus in our response to the gospel, we “are no longer a bondservant” to our own manufactured religiosity (Gl 4:7). For this reason we cry out “Abba, Father” in thanksgiving that we are saved by the gospel of God’s grace, not by any self-imposed religious rites and rituals that we might meritoriously impose on ourselves (2 Co 4:15). Glory HALLELUJAH!

[To be continued.]

Handbook Distribution

Two container shipments of over 270,000 Encyclopedic Study Guide Handbooks have now arrived in Nigeria (pop. 215,000,000). Two distribution centers are being set up in order to distribute the Handbooks nationwide. The two national distributors are the following:

LAGOS: Sekeme Ekaiko:
ABUJA: Onyeike Uchechukwu:

This distribution is EXCLUSIVELY for the nation of Nigeria. If a Bible school or church would like to partner in the distribution of the Handbooks to all religious groups and Bible schools within Nigeria, then they must contact directly either brothers Ekaiko or Uchechukwu for information concerning conditions for distribution. (These two national distributors will also readily receive any contributions because of the tremendous expense of importing the Handbooks into Nigeria from South Africa.)

Please help in the distribution: Please share this notice with anyone who might be interested in helping brothers Ekaiko and Uchechukwu in this distribution effort to reach the nation of Nigeria. As an evangelistic outreach, all of us are trying to get the Handbooks as a Bible study road map for all religious groups. As a textbook for Bible schools, we seek to distribute the Handbooks to all Bible schools of all religious groups throughout the entire nation of Nigeria.