Being a faithful believer in the God of the Bible is a blessing, but also a large responsibility.
Everyone talks about how loyal and faithful he is, but just try to find someone who really is! A righteous man walks in simple integrity; happily guided are his children after him.
The wisdom of God is filled with admonitions of righteousness: doing what’s right according to his Word. In Hebrew culture, a tzaddik, a righteous one, is a person to be admired as an example to follow.
In these few verses from the Proverbs, we learn a bit about human nature, and the benefits of being faithful to God. We can see how most people are typically busy extolling their own virtues, while those who live in uncomplicated sincerity provide positive examples for their own children after them.
Integrity is considered a form of simplicity in that it is also considered completeness. Something that is complete has no additional parts added to it; it is whole and unified, hence, simple. In Hebraic thought, Yahweh is considered simple in the uncomplicated sense since he is one: “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This oneness or unity of God is a result of his completeness; there is nothing that could be added to his character or being that would somehow make him more God.
To walk in completeness is to live in such a way that mimics (in a positive way) the simplicity and righteousness of the character and being of God. Yeshua encourages believers to live in this very way when he famously says, “Be perfect (i.e., complete or whole}, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48).
The walk of the believer is their halachah, their manner of living. It is their customary course of action in any given situation. When those actions are based in simple integrity, they are creating positive examples for their children who can then be guided in the straight way behind them. This would be analogous to parents being likened to a snow plow clearing a road, and their children are in cars behind them following in the clear path through the snow that the parents have made. In doing so, the children are happy or blessed as the way has been made clear for them.
Being a faithful believer in the God of the Bible is a blessing, but also a large responsibility. As bearers of God’s image in this world, we should always be aware of how our actions influence others. Our goal should be to always live in such a way that God will be honored and further glory be brought to his Name by our righteous actions as we strive to continually live in simple integrity according to his Word.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at email@example.com.
We have the ability, through faith in Messiah, to gain the privilege of being reconciled with our Maker when we realize that our lives are not in alignment with his purposes.
Let wicked people abandon their ways. Let evil people abandon their thoughts. Let them return to the LORD, and he will show compassion to them. Let them return to our God, because he will freely forgive them.
People have a need to be forgiven. Whether it’s from wrongs they have committed with other individuals or whether it’s for seemingly irreconcilable errors committed in life, humans will typically reach a point within their lives where forgiveness becomes a real need. It may not be something obvious to others or sometimes even themselves, but the need exists and persists until a crisis point is reached. Once that happens, something must be done to meet this need.
In the passage today, Isaiah outlines three things necessary to accomplish this with God when we feel our life has drifted from its moorings.
First, we must abandon our wicked ways that are contrary to his efforts. The cycles and patterns of destructive behavior have to be changed with a commitment to move beyond them.
This can be accomplished through the second aspect of abandoning our evil thoughts. This is not an injunction to mindless obedience, but a directive to change our habits of thinking that are keeping us trapped in the loop of non-productive or harmful behaviors. Nothing changes until our thought patterns are revised.
The third aspect is what Isaiah describes as returning to God. While this admonition was originally spoken to those in Israel who were familiar with God but had rejected him, the same encouragement exists for us who are seeking for a measure of spiritual peace that comes from the Creator of all things. Isaiah confirms this in the context of this passage when he writes:
Open your ears, and come to me! Listen so that you may live! I will make an everlasting promise to you- the blessings I promised to David. I made him a witness to people, a leader and a commander for people. You will summon a nation that you don’t know, and a nation that doesn’t know you will run to you because of the LORD your God, because of the Holy One of Israel. He has honored you.
Isaiah alludes to the fact that foreign nations would be drawn to the God of Israel because of the example of God’s faithfulness with David, and with his people. What was future to Isaiah is the present age we are living in. Because of the faithfulness of David’s “son,” Yeshua the Messiah, we have the ability, through faith in him, to gain the privilege of being reconciled with our Maker when we realize that our lives are not in alignment with his purposes.
…he gave the right to become God’s children to everyone who believed in him. These people didn’t become God’s children in a physical way-from a human impulse or from a husband’s desire to have a child. They were born from God.
Seek the LORD while he may be found. Call on him while he is near.
He is near even today and able to accept and forgive all who come to him with sincere motives and a willingness to abandon their past ways and past thinking. That need for forgiveness can be met today.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The narrow path of Yeshua is less like a wilderness hike and more of a challenging slot canyon adventure.
In this episode we will be exploring the topic of vigilance necessary in a believer’s life to follow the narrow path that leads to a small entranceway of life.
Yeshua stated it this way: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
This narrow path analogy runs deep in religious circles. There is a general recognition of the unique nature of this path in the believers’ quest for life; it is narrow and rarely traveled compared to the broad way that leads to destruction, as Yeshua says.
The images usually used to convey this concept have to do with a narrow footpath, perhaps through a wilderness or along a mountain ridge. The idea typically put forth is that it is a path in out of the way places, away from the wider conveyances of the general population, just as a hiking path differs from an interstate highway. They are completely different ways of getting from point A to point B, and they take travelers to two different destinations.
All of this is not untrue in the context of the passage at hand, but if we dig a little deeper into some of the words Yeshua used to express this concept, we may come away with a slightly different and more profound understanding.
Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers Narrow is the way.–Literally, pressed, or hemmed in between walls or rocks, like the pathway in a mountain gorge.
This narrowness is defined by obstacles that are standing nearby, preventing movement in either direction but forward. It is also expressed as a way that is “compressed,” there is affliction and tribulation associated with this way.
To summarize this type of understanding, in the Core of the Bible paraphrase I have restated it this way: “There is a constricted entryway into life which has many obstacles standing about it. Labor fervently to stay on the difficult path that leads through the cramped passage to life along with the few others who also perceive its value and find it.” In my view, this description sharpens some of the terms in our English versions like “small gate”and “narrow path.”
A typical understanding of this verse might leave one with the picture of a small, one-person garden gate that must be entered after walking along a beautiful, winding, narrow path through meadows and forests. The sun has been shining, the birds have been singing, and beautiful flowers line the sides of the path. The way has been relatively flat and we have rarely had to exert ourselves in our protected way.
However, I would like to propose a slightly different picture, a fictional parable designed to illustrate the narrow path that Yeshua speaks of.
The way of life is to traverse the desolate high plateau of Arizona or Colorado through a narrow slot canyon which twists and turns in confusing patterns. You are never able to see more than 100 feet in front of you, and confusing side-canyons are passed from time to time. It’s where rockfalls tumble in front of you and must be climbed over; where poisonous reptiles lurk in sun-warmed hand-holds while you are consistently scraping through passages only wide enough to pass through sideways, sucking in your stomach and putting your arms out flat to ensure you have clearance to get through.
Finally, after braving the obstructions and challenges of the slot canyon, the destination is not a single-person garden gate at the end of the meadow path, but a weathered and heavy door that opens to an indiscriminate rough cave opening at the end of the canyon. To enter the darkness of the cave, you have to get down on your already-scraped and bruised knees as you move into a cramped passageway with loose rubble strewn in the way.
Ahead, the darkness gives way to some dim light peering around the bend ahead. Sweating due to the exertion of the journey, and repeatedly hitting your head on unseen obstacles hanging from the cramped cave passage, you reach forward with a dirt-stained arm to push through the rubble of the partially blocked passageway ahead to see where the light is coming from.
Okay, so this slot canyon analogy expands quite a bit on the narrow path contained in the imagery used by Yeshua. I think you might notice a slight difference between this depiction here and how that concept is typically presented.
But that’s the point. We have to look at things differently because it really isn’t all sunshine and roses and mountain meadows on the path to life.
ou see, believers have chosen a difficult option when it comes to a life path. One cannot just fall into the Kingdom of God by accidentally stumbling into it; it requires grit, intentionality, and determination to pursue the things of God.
It’s not just a sunny walk on a garden path (although it can be at times), but it’s more typically a perilous journey around obstacles and through constricted passageways, all the while wondering if you’ve heard God correctly. Then a confirmation appears on the way ahead, but only far enough to get you to the next corner or the next obstacle, and then you must continue pushing on.
Testing happens at every corner, but testing is for the purpose of strengthening. Strengthening provides stability of footing and the opportunity to grasp the hands of others whom you may encounter inside this narrow canyon and help them on the way.
Vigilance on this path means being intentional, listening for God’s direction. It includes being strengthened through testing, and looking beyond yourself to the needs of others along the way. This is the path of the disciple of Yeshua, the narrow path of vigilance that leads to the constricted entrance of life.
However, in learning about the path, it is necessary to discuss why one would even seek such a path in the first place. If someone is to go through all of the struggle and hardship mentioned previously, then it makes sense that they should have a clear understanding of the goal. Yeshua says “the way is narrow that leads to life.” What is this life he mentions?
First of all, the type of life mentioned here must be some other sort of life than just raw existence somewhere. We know he can’t just be speaking here of life as existence, because someone who is striving for a goal is already physically alive.
Looking at some perspectives from over the centuries since Yeshua spoke those words, we find different ways of viewing this concept of life.
Matthew Poole, a British theologian in the 1600’s, states what is likely a very common understanding of this passage when he writes:
The sum of what our Saviour here saith is this: There are but two ultimate ends of all men, eternal destruction and eternal life. The course that leadeth to destruction is like a broad way that is obvious to all, and many walk in that. That course of life and actions which will bring a man to heaven is strait [not straight, but as in a narrow, restricted passageway], unpleasing to flesh and blood, not at all gratifying men’s sensitive appetites, and narrow, (the Greek is, afflicted), a way wherein men will meet with many crosses and temptations; and there are but a few will find it.
John Gill, also a British theologian living a generation after Poole, in his Exposition of the Bible states a similar view:
which leadeth unto life: unto eternal life: it certainly leads thither; it never fails of bringing persons to it; believers in Christ, all that walk in Christ the way, though they are said to be “scarcely” saved, by reason of their afflictions and trials they meet with in their way to the kingdom; yet they are, and shall be certainly saved: they shall be safely brought to glory; which will be an abundant recompense for all the troubles and sorrows that have attended them in their journey.
I find it interesting that those who equate the kingdom of God with some ethereal after-life existence will typically align the term “life” with “eternal life,” as in, unending after-life as a reward for faithfulness during this temporary existence.
However, various commentators over the centuries have described this idea of “life” that Yeshua expresses here in different ways than just eternity. Some have thought of this life as more of a description of an ideal than just a state of existence.
The Expositor’s Greek Testament states it this way:
The right way… is described as narrow and contracted, and as leading to life.—, a pregnant word, true life, worth living, in which men realise the end of their being—the antithesis of [destruction].
That leadeth unto life. Observe, Christ does not say, “life eternal.” He only cares to emphasize the thought of life in the fullest nature of life – life as “the fulfilment of the highest idea of being: perfect truth in perfect action”
Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
Which leadeth unto life.–Noteworthy as the first passage in our Lord’s recorded teaching in which the word “life” appears as summing up all the blessedness of the kingdom. The idea is developed as we advance; the life becomes “eternal,” and finally we are taught that the eternal life consists in the true and perfect knowledge of God and Christ (John 17:2-3).
We will explore John 17 further in a little bit.
Matthew Henry straddles both the concepts of this present life and eternity when he writes:
And yet this way should invite us all; it leads to life: to present comfort in the favour of God, which is the life of the soul; to eternal bliss, the hope of which at the end of our way, should make all the difficulties of the road easy to us.
Throughout Yeshua’s teaching, he always spoke of the kingdom as being near or “at hand.” In my view, the life of the kingdom should not be relegated solely to some after-life existence or some future worldwide paradise. Life and kingdom are a reality now, as we live obediently and faithfully in our present existence.
By contrast, the way of destruction that is broad and contains many travelers is then a life without knowing God, without knowing Yeshua. That life leads to destruction or loss because the things done in that life have no lasting value.
Some other Jewish writings from the time of the New Testament state the plight of the wicked from their perspective as they realize the error of being on the wrong road:
Wisdom 5:6 So it was we who strayed from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness did not shine on us, and the sun did not rise upon us. 7 We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction, and we journeyed through trackless deserts, but the way of the Lord we have not known. 8 What has our arrogance profited us? And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?
That’s a sad commentary on a life that is recognized as having been wasted. If we were to view those on the wide road of destruction as lost from the narrow path, and not just on some inevitable conveyer belt to damnation, we might be more inclined to reach out to them to at least show them the option of the way of life, the way of the kingdom, and to exemplify its standards. They may not be attracted to it because of the challenges it presents, but some will.
GK Chesterton is quoted as saying, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
But even though this may be the case, we should never give up hope for others to also be drawn to this Way. Some will instinctively know it is the right way to go, regardless of the challenges. After all, we are here, and learning from each other how to move further down the canyon, and identifying which side-canyons and areas to avoid. It is possible for others to come off of the way of destruction as many of us had when we saw the alternative potential of the, albeit more challenging, way of life.
Earlier, I had mentioned in a portion of the Ellicott commentary how I liked his bringing of John 17:3 into the discussion at hand, as that verse captures this view of life that I also hold as my own:
John 17:3- And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Eternal life is knowing God and recognizing Yeshua as sent from God. This life that is stated as eternal here is expressed through the Greek word aionios. While it certainly conveys the idea of enduring, perpetual and everlasting (what we would consider eternal), it also implies that which has always been and will always be. It is typically translated as age, as in distinguishing one era of time from another.
If this eternal life is “life of the age,” what is the age that Yeshua is speaking about here? I believe he is speaking of what, to Yeshua’s listeners, would have been considered a “new” age to them; an age of life available through faith in Messiah, an age that would never end. I believe we are continuing to live in that age today.
The path of that life is narrow, constricted, and full of hardship and travail. Yet it is one that results in true life: knowledge of the only true God and his Messiah Yeshua. That is a life worth striving for.
If we are to conclude our fictional parable of journeying through the constricted passageway to life, the description might proceed as a milestone is reached, making our way toward the faint light ahead:
The final obstructions of rock tumble down a slope ahead of you as you push through the cramped passageway into a lighted cavern beyond, which opens up into a hidden paradise. A waterfall empties into a vast lake of clear, cool water. Sunlight from above, hurtful to eyes which had strained through the darkness, streams abundantly over all , nourishing the fruit trees and berry bushes lining the shores of the lake.
Tumbling headlong down the slope, you stumble wearily to the refreshing waters and drench yourself at the shore, cupping the running water coming from the waterfall and drinking liberally. You and your companions take pleasure in having reached this place of rest and refreshment along the way. The knowledge of this place reassures you that you are on the right path. On the opposite end of the lake, another canyon beckons toward the continuing journey.
The way of life is a way of vigilance, of watching for obstructions and challenges, and it is a way of grit, determination, and effort. But the reward is a knowledge of our Creator and his Messiah that enhances our every step in the here and now. He provides the refreshment and strength we need to complete the journey.
As we seek to follow Yeshua, we are drawn not only to him, but to each other. And if we have this perspective of reassurance and reward, we can hold one another up and help each other on the way.
Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Vigilance is a challenging way of living, of keeping an eye out for the dangers around you while intently listening for God’s direction and constantly scanning and looking for the continuation of the narrow way to life.
We need to keep in mind that vigilance is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, holiness, trust, forgiveness and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.
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The vigilance for righteousness that God expects of us is real and unwavering.
One of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman to his brothers. He did this right in front of Moses and the whole community of Israel while they were crying at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of the priest Aaron, saw this. So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man.
The type of vigilance required for maintaining righteousness is extreme and rarely practiced. Yeshua spoke of it in hyperbolic terminology, that even if your eye or hand causes you to sin, you should be prepared to gouge it out or chop it off.
In the example of Phinehas, a priest in Aaron’s line at the time of the wandering in the desert, he demonstrated this commitment to righteousness in an extreme way that he is famously remembered for to this day.
The men of Israel had become complacent in their commitment to Yahweh. They began to succumb to the idolatry of the local Midianite population as they were being seduced by the women of Moab.
While Israel was staying at Shittim, the men began to have sex with Moabite women who invited the people to the sacrifices offered to their gods. The people ate the meat from the sacrifices and worshiped these gods. Since the Israelites joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor, the LORD became angry with Israel.
Due to this rampant idolatry, God sent a plague among the general population that was killing thousands of people. He revealed to Moses and the leaders what must be done to put things right.
The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people, and execute them in broad daylight in the LORD’s presence. This will turn the LORD’s anger away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must kill the men who have joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor.”
There were no compromises, no discussions, no negotiations; those who had sinned in idolatry had to be removed from the population of Israel. The offenders had become so brazen in their sinfulness that they proceeded in their practices, even as Moses and the assembly leaders were seeking God’s direction and favor.
Upon seeing this, Phinehas instantly jumped into action in obedience to God’s command. He didn’t hesitate or wait for a committee to decide on the right timing; he simply got up, grabbed a spear, and followed the offenders into their tent.
So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man. He drove the spear through the man and into the woman’s body. Because of this, the plague that the Israelites were experiencing stopped.
Phinehas is remembered because he unhesitatingly did a difficult thing that God required, and in so doing, saved the rest of the assembly. In his vigilance for righteousness, he saw the iniquity and took immediate action.
This story is a metaphor for us today. The example is extreme because God wants to make sure we understand how serious it is for us to remain in blatant disobedience to his purposes.
In like fashion to the men of Israel, we can be easily seduced by the surrounding idolatry of our day and age. The culture and technology we are immersed in provide ample opportunities for us to be led away, seduced as by Midianite women, from our commitment to the one true God.
It is only when those disobedient thoughts and actions are decisively put to death that we can be restored to wholeness with God. Yeshua used the example of gouging out eyes and chopping off hands (Matt. 5:29-30). Paul writes about it this way:
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.
The same vigilance and determination of Phinehas for the righteousness of his people needs to be evidenced in us today for our own standing in God’s presence. The only way we can be truly set apart for God’s purposes is by brutally putting to death, gouging out, chopping off, and stabbing a spear through the heart of those things in our lives that offend God.
This is the determination needed to remain on God’s path. This is the vigilance it takes to be a child of God. Be a Phinehas, not waiting, but taking immediate and decisive action on the habits and practices in your life that are offensive to God.
When we carry God’s Name, our words and actions should match his.
You do not take up the Name of your God YHWH for a vain thing, for YHWH does not acquit him who takes up His Name for a vain thing.
Those who belong to the kingdom of God should be honoring the Name, or character, of God with their thoughts, speech, and conduct. This is appropriate and expected kingdom behavior.
This verse has classically been used throughout generations for the purpose of not abusing or misusing the revealed Name of God, in the sense of using it as a curse word, or speaking it casually in conversation outside of an appropriate worship setting.
But that misses the intent of what God is attempting to teach us here, and throughout the Bible. The real sense of the passage is less about misusing God’s name carelessly, and more about our character in claiming to be believers or followers of him.
To “take God’s name in vain” is not expressly to use it flippantly (although that certainly in included). To “take” his Name is to take up, or carry his Name as identifying who we are, or rather, whose we are.
For example, when a wife has historically taken the name of her husband, she has identified with the honor of his family line. In the same sense, when someone comes to the knowledge of God and wants to be his follower, then they take his Name, identifying with his character. As God’s children, we carry his Name and his character in this world.
The admonition here is not to abuse God’s Name, but it’s about when we are identifying as belonging to him, we do not dishonor or defame his Name or character by our careless conduct. This could be paraphrased as “You shall not take my Name lightly or for no purpose.”
Our desire to follow his ways should not be rooted in our own selfish ambition or schemes. We should not join the kingdom impetuously, without any real thought for the responsibility we bear. Instead, we should be sincere in our desires to live for him and to bring honor and glory to his Name. When we carry his Name, our actions and our words should match his.
Yeshua demonstrated this so completely that it was impossible to distinguish between him and his Father.
John 5:19 – So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
John 7:16 – So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.
John 12:49 – For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment–what to say and what to speak.
John 14:8-9 – Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
When we consider following the Messiah, we are accepting that he was sent from the Father, and carried the Name of God so completely that he was essentially indistinguishable from the Father. If we are to become more and more like Messiah, then this same characteristic should be evident in our lives. When people see or hear us, they should be seeing what the Father would want to do or say in that situation.
Does this sound like a heavy responsibility? Of course, which is why we should not take his name lightly or for no purpose. We are admonished by Yeshua to count the cost of kingdom living (Luke 14:25-33), but in so doing, to accept it willingly and gladly .
How do we participate in God’s kingdom and discover God’s will?
In this episode we will be exploring the nature of the kingdom of God, and what we are able to discover about God’s will. We will be looking at how Yeshua explains those who participate in the kingdom, and also what the biblical writers have to say about accomplishing God’s will in the kingdom.
Now, you may be aware I have a previous episode where some of these kingdom ideas are discussed, looking at the kingdom of God thematically through the Bible. If you haven’t yet listened to that, it’s the second Core of the Bible episode titled simply The Kingdom, so be sure to check that out if you would like some further background on the topic today.
The kingdom of God is a topic that is debated among various groups regarding what it is, who it belongs to, and how will it be manifested over time.
Our highlighted verse this week contains some vital instruction from Yeshua that can help to settle some of those questions. More importantly, he provides clarity as to who would be, and who wouldn’t be, participating in this kingdom:
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
You see, just claiming to be a disciple doesn’t make you a member of God’s kingdom. Anybody can claim to be something, but how are they truly determined to be what it is they are claiming to be?
Yeshua instructs us that it is the doing of the will of God that reveals who the real disciples are. This is the same principle he has expressed in other places such as Luke 6:
Luke 6:43-44 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit.
While this admonition is contextually based in how to spot a false teacher, it still bears weight as a general maxim. It is our actions which show what we really believe, not just what we think or say.
To corroborate this general teaching, here are a few other verses that speak of the same principle:
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but it is the doers of the law who will be declared righteous.
And he said to him, 'Why do you call me good? no one 'is' good except One -- God; but if you desire to enter into the life, keep the commands.'
1 John 2:4
He who professes to know Him, and yet does not obey His commands, is a liar, and the truth has no place in his heart.
Entering into the kingdom of heaven is possible only by consistently doing the will of the Father in heaven, not by merely claiming to be a disciple. This is how we demonstrate what we believe.
I happen to be a fan of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies starring Christian Bale as Batman. The writing and dialogue is challenging and can be morally confrontational in many different areas. In one pivotal and climactic scene, when the Batman character in full costume has helped save some individuals from harm, the female lead, wanting to know who to thank for their rescue asks him, “At least tell me your name.” He responds with a line she had previously chastised him with: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
Christopher Nolan here is not inventing some new philosophy; he is simply tapping into a moral and philosophical truth that is timeless in its simplicity and plainness. People can say they believe anything, but the truth of what they actually believe as a practical outworking of that professed faith is demonstrated by what they actually do. We know this simply as “actions speak louder than words.”
This is the principle expressed most clearly in a very famous passage from the book of James, which speaks about our actions revealing our faith:
James 2:14-18 What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it does not result in action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
The Psalmist was also a proponent of the active nature of our believing faith, imploring God that his actions would match the righteous principles of God.
Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth. Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. Ps 86:11
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness. Ps 143:10
Through passages like these, I hope it is becoming apparent that the kingdom doesn’t have an entrance gate, or a ceremony that one must pass through in order to participate in it. Being attentive to, practicing, and obeying God’s instruction IS the kingdom.
To illustrate this further, this can also be shown by looking at examples of who is depicted as NOT participating in the kingdom: those who are sinful, disobedient and willfully defiant.
In the book of Revelation, the writer expresses many truths symbolically and with reference to many other poetic and apocalyptic writings in the Hebrew scriptures. One of those symbols is a reference to Zion or the New Jerusalem. In his depiction he illustrates who is “in” the city and who is “outside of” the city:
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by its gates. But outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Rev 22:14-15
The tree of life, the new Jerusalem, the kingdom: these are all symbols of doing God’s will, being obedient to his instruction, his torah. Those who are not obedient to the will of God (i.e., the sorcerers, sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters, etc.) are not participants in the tree of life, the new Jerusalem, and the kingdom.
Alphonsus de Ligouri was a spiritual writer and theologian living in the 1700’s in Catholic Italy. He has been quoted as writing:
The man who follows his own will independently of God's, is guilty of a kind of idolatry. Instead of adoring God's will, he, in a certain sense, adores his own.
And isn’t this true? If we are not accomplishing God’s will, then we are seeking to accomplish our own, which can place us with the idolaters outside of God’s kingdom.
The kingdom is not defined by where you are (Jerusalem) or who you are (which denomination or descent you belong to), but WHAT YOU DO. This is why it is NEAR at all times; we always have a choice to obey God.
You see, the kingdom is being defined throughout the Bible as any place where God’s will is done. It is metaphorically idealized as a tree of life, or a city with open gates, but these are just metaphors for the reality of the actualization of God’s will in our life. God desires we accomplish his will from the heart, and if we are truly living out his will, then that’s where God’s kingdom really resides: in our hearts, and in our actions.
This is why Yeshua can say:
Matt. 7:21 ...he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter [the kingdom].”
The very definition by Yeshua of the kingdom IS the doing of God’s will on earth
may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Matt. 6:10
That’s the kingdom.
So now, you might be thinking, “If participating in the kingdom involves actively knowing and doing God’s will, the question then becomes, what is the will of God?” Let’s take a closer look at understanding what God’s will is.
Now that we have established that the kingdom is the doing of God’s will, that naturally leads us to ask, “What is God’s will?”
The short answer is the will of God is his word. As we live and conform our lives more and more to his word, we are accomplishing his will for us.
The longer answer is that we can actually make a practical list of characteristics from biblical writers who were describing what living according to God’s will looks like:
1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7-12- God's will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. ... God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. But we don't need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more. Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then outsiders will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
In this passage we are taught that God’s will is to avoid sexual sins, to live a life that is set apart from the sinful lives of others. We are to love each other, mind our own business, keep busy by working hard to support ourselves. In so doing, we can also gain respect of others and independence. This sounds very familiar from our former discussion, as we are demonstrating our faith to others through what we do.
1 Peter 3:17 - Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is God's will, than to suffer for doing wrong!
1 Peter 4:19 - So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.
Sometimes, it might be God’s will that we suffer, even if we are doing good things. This is one of the reasons we need to maintain a close relationship with him through his word and prayer at all times, so that we can endure when needed and to be encouraged through these times. This allows us to persevere and to continue to do what is right in all aspects of our lives.
1 Peter 4:2-3 ESV - so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Nations want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.
Again, we can learn what God’s will is by learning what it ISN’T: sensuality, fleshly passions, drunkenness, idolatry, etc. As our lives conform more and more to the ideal that God expects, these aberrations become less and less prevalent in our lives.
1 Peter 2:15 - 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.
It is God’s will that we do good. Doing good means our actions should back up what we say and believe. In so doing, we will be silencing our detractors who would only capitalize on our hypocrisy if we lived in an inconsistent fashion.
Micah 6:8 - 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
We are encouraged to be just, merciful, and humble in all of our dealings with others. This requires careful attention and wisdom.
Ephesians 5:15-20 - 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here we are encouraged to live wisely, and to make the most of every opportunity presented to us. We are not get drunk on wine, but instead to be filled with the Spirit of God. Singing and making music from the heart are lyrical ways of expressing thanks to God for everything he has provided us.
Closely linked to this admonition is Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians:
1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV - In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
This famous passage teaches us that God’s will is for us to be thankful, to be demonstrating thankfulness in all aspects of our lives.
One of my favorite examples of what God’s will is, or the “works” that God expects we should be doing is:
John 6:28-29 KJV - Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.
Luke 9:23 23 Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."
To be a follower of Yeshua, which is the work that God would have us do, is to deny ourselves, and to take up our own cross, that is, to bear that symbol of continual self-sacrifice before him in all things.
Hebrews 13:21 - May this God of peace prepare you to do every good thing for his will. May he work in us through Jesus Christ to do what is pleasing to him. Glory belongs to Jesus Christ forever. Amen.
God’s will is us doing what is pleasing to him. How do we know what is pleasing to him? By remaining in his word on a regular basis, and allowing his word and his Spirit through his word, to transform us:
Romans 12:1-2 1And so, dear brothers and sisters,a I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.b 2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Hebrews 10:36 - 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
And what has God promised? Yeshua states it plainly:
For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
To be an obedient believer is to be a brother or sister to Yeshua; a true child of God who is exhibiting the characteristics our Father here on earth.
John 1:12 However, he gave the right to become God's children to everyone who believed in him. 13 These people didn't become God's children in a physical way-from a human impulse or from a husband's desire [to have a child]. They were born from God.
I John 3:1 See how much the Father has loved us! His love is so great that we are called God's children--and so, in fact, we are.
It is the doing of God’s will that provides entrance to this kingdom of obedience, where we are living in obedience to God among other brothers and sisters with the same goals and objectives. It is not the hope of entering some mystical realm at some future point in an incomprehensible future. God’s kingdom is here and now.
All of these verses simply show us that, if we’re honest with ourselves and we know our Bible, we already know what God’s will is for us. We just need to overcome any reluctance that may be inhibiting us from carrying it out.
When we are being faithful to God’s word, and doing his work in this world, we have entered his kingdom and are demonstrating ourselves to be his children. Additionally, we are lighting the way for others to join, also. As we faithfully serve him now, the evidence of God’s kingdom continues to touch and transform the lives of others. By choosing to live in the kingdom through our righteous actions and faithful example, we are expanding the reach and influence of heaven on earth.
Well, as always, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. The kingdom of God is the active doing of God’s will, and his will is expressed all throughout the Bible.
We need to keep in mind that the Kingdom of God is the overarching concept that is integral within the teachings of Yeshua. Within the kingdom are exhibited the core of the Bible qualities of integrity, vigilance, holiness, trust, forgiveness, and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.
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A child of God is one whose actions in life will mimic those of their Father.
And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.
In a former essay, we have looked at the importance of being kind to our enemies, or those who may act in adversarial ways towards us.
But in this passage lies another aspect of being compassionate that may get overlooked because of our general unfamiliarity with the culture that this teaching arises out of.
In today’s American culture, we typically view “alms” or giving to the needy as something that is a straight donation to their welfare, a practice that we should certainly continue. However, in the middle Eastern culture of the Bible, “alms” was actually a form of a loan to the less fortunate, typically for friends or associates who had fallen on hard times. This was how the community could look out for one another’s needs in practical ways.
Since banks as we know them today did not exist, there were only a few means for someone who had fallen on hard times to extricate themselves from their circumstances.
One way to repay someone was to become their slave until the debt was repaid. This was a form of indentured servitude, a commitment to the benefactor to recoup their investment. This was widely practiced and is mentioned all throughout the Bible (and, unfortunately, usually misunderstood as the brutal, savage slavery that we typically associate with that word).
But another method of redeeming oneself was to ask friends, family and acquaintances for a loan to get by until they could repay. This is what is usually being described when this concept of “alms” is being presented to us in the biblical texts.
If we understand this principle, then the verse above from Yeshua’s teaching takes on new perspective on several levels. He is here commanding his followers to give these “loans” freely, even with the understanding that they are likely not to be repaid. There should not be a measurement of hard feelings if the indebted friend cannot pay, because God has demonstrated a similar mercy to us as believers.
Additionally, the disciple should be willing to lend also to their enemies, not just friends and acquaintances. This is a drastic diversion even from the cultural practice of the day, and highlights the extent of compassion believers should be demonstrating at all times. It is one thing to forgive a friend or acquaintance of a debt, but to lend in the same fashion to an adversary? This would be a truly unorthodox and radical admonition to his followers.
It is such a revolutionary and profound concept that it still shakes us to the core to this day, two thousand years later. True compassion is like that; it is profound, challenging, and requires real commitment and, many times, heart-wrenching, white-knuckled, gut-twisting sacrifice. This is the type of genuine life transformation believers are called to.
Are you up to the challenge of what it really means to be a follower of the Messiah and demonstrate true compassion?
God expects us to honor our adversaries, thankfully he has also provided us the ability to do so.
David asked Saul, “Why do you listen to rumors that I am trying to harm you? Today you saw how the LORD handed you over to me in the cave. Although I was told to kill you, I spared you, saying, ‘I will not raise my hand against Your Majesty because you are the LORD’s anointed.’ My master, look at this! The border of your robe is in my hand! Since I cut off the border of your robe and didn’t kill you, you should know and be able to see I mean no harm or rebellion. I haven’t sinned against you, but you are trying to ambush me in order to take my life. May the LORD decide between you and me. May the LORD take revenge on you for what you did to me. However, I will not lay a hand on you. It’s like people used to say long ago, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ But I will not lay a hand on you.
1 Samuel 24:9-13
The story of Saul and David encompasses many facets of spiritual instruction within the lore of Israel. In this instance, David and his men are being pursued by a jealous Saul, then present King of Israel, because Saul thinks David is heading a rebellion to overthrow him. The pursuit comes to a climax when Saul unknowingly enters a cave into which David and his men are already hiding. David even gets close enough to cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
This incident highlights Yeshua’s teaching that we should not harm our enemies, paraphrased below.
Never retaliate; instead, offer to go above and beyond for those oppressing you.
David could have been justified in taking vengeance on his enemy who was quite literally pursuing him to kill him. However, in our day and culture, those who may be adversarial to us are rarely out to physically kill us. They may speak badly about us in an unjustifiable way; they may actively try to work against our objectives; they may use us for their own personal ends; but they are rarely out to actually take our lives.
If David could be so forgiving and honorable in a justifiable situation with a sworn enemy when his life was in danger, shouldn’t that give us hope that we can, and should, have the ability to overcome the advances of our adversaries?
David mentions a saying that was prevalent in his culture and his time, “Wickedness comes from wicked people.” Yeshua substantiated that perspective even in his teachings, a millennium after the events of David took place:
“A good tree doesn’t produce rotten fruit, and a rotten tree doesn’t produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its fruit. You don’t pick figs from thorny plants or grapes from a thornbush. Good people do the good that is in them. But evil people do the evil that is in them. The things people say come from inside them.
Even though this may be the case, Yeshua also encourages us to take a very specific stance with those who may be displaying the wickedness that comes from inside of them:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to oppose an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to him as well. If someone wants to sue you in order to take your shirt, let him have your coat too. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to everyone who asks you for something. Don’t turn anyone away who wants to borrow something from you.
If we are to be considered followers of Yeshua, then we need to abide by the principles he endorses, or rather, requires, of those who would claim to be his. These types of non-retaliatory actions require a very special form of forgiveness that can typically only be displayed as we rely on the Spirit of God providing us the strength to do so.
It is impossible to do what God’s standards demand because of the weakness our human nature has. But by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh, in our corrupt nature. Therefore, we, who do not live by our corrupt nature but by our spiritual nature, are [now] able to meet God’s standards. Those who live by the corrupt nature have the corrupt nature’s attitude. But those who live by the spiritual nature have the spiritual nature’s attitude. The corrupt nature’s attitude leads to death. But the spiritual nature’s attitude leads to life and peace. This is so because the corrupt nature has a hostile attitude toward God. It refuses to place itself under the authority of God’s standards because it can’t. Those who are under the control of the corrupt nature can’t please God. But if God’s Spirit lives in you, you are under the control of your spiritual nature, not your corrupt nature.
As believers, God has provided us the resources needed to carry out his expectations that we overcome our adversaries through forgiveness and kind actions. It’s time for us to do so.
Turn your ear, and listen to the words of the wise. Apply your heart to my teaching. For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. I teach you today, even you, that your trust may be in Yahweh.
The writer of the Proverbs provides us with understanding regarding the nature of true wisdom. True wisdom causes us to trust in God. However, it only accomplishes its goal as we apply and review it regularly to where it is a ready resource for us to draw from.
The process begins with our ears; we must hear the words of the wise. In our modern culture, we take for granted that we have the Bible readily available in written form. Yet these truths were historically conveyed to each generation orally, as literacy was not nearly as widespread as it is today.
To hear the words of the wise also implies a nearness of relationship as these truths were conveyed person to person. To hear the words of wisdom, one had to be in the company of the wise. In so doing, the learner would be exposed to not only the teaching, but the lifestyle of the sages. They would be teaching not just with a lesson, but their lives.
The next aspect of creating trust in God comes when the wisdom is applied in the most inward recesses of our being: in our hearts. To apply the wisdom is to place or station it in this place so it will remain sure and steadfast, and become part of our deepest make-up, our constitution.
As this wisdom is established in our hearts, it progresses to become fixed upon our lips; we can recite and manifest the knowledge we have gained in daily practice. Yeshua confirms this aspect of our inmost being when he teaches, “Out of the overflow (or abundance) of the heart, the mouth speaks,” (Matthew 12:34). His immediate context was demonstrating how evil in the heart is expressed, but the writer of this proverb shows how the positive, the good, and the useful will also spill from the mouths of those who have placed good in their hearts.
Finally, when we listen, apply, and regularly recite this wisdom, our lives will be demonstrating a real trust in God. Biblically, trust is not just a feeling or an inward state of mind, it is an active outworking of revealed truth which has been assimilated into the heart. This type of “living trust” is what shines into the darkness of this world to draw others to God and his wisdom.
As believers we are set apart from the world when we consider the majesty of the one true God.
Give to Yahweh the glory his name deserves. Worship Yahweh in [his] holy splendor.
Within this psalm is a description of God’s awe-inspiring power displayed in the majestic outworking of his Creation. He is extolled in the demonstration of the power of a mighty storm, in which echoes of the all-consuming Flood of Noah are hinted at.
Our own holiness, or separation from the world, is derived from our perspective and meditation of God as the Creator of all. Amidst a people who have no recognition of any God, or who are self-absorbed in the creations of their own making, believers stand apart in our honoring of the one true God of the universe. In so doing, we ourselves become set apart.
We must recognize that our holiness is derived from his holiness and majesty. If we lose sight of who he is, we become less set apart. Conversely, as we honor him and ascribe to him the glory that his name deserves, then we are elevated into a position of strength and purpose that rises far above our mundane existence.
But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”