Weekly Devotionals by Pastor Steve Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D.
October 6, 2013 – Difficult passages in the Word of God
There are certain passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend given our limited knowledge and understanding. We are the children of God by virtue of spiritual adoption, Eph. 1:4-6. We have the mind of Messiah, I Cor. 2:6-16, because of the “great exchange” brought about in us via the new birth, John 3:1-21. This new creation resides in an earthen vessel that also contains the carnal mind left over from the carnal person we used to be, II Cor. 4:7. Our physical bodies are under the curse of the law of sin and death, because of the Fall, Rom. 5:12-21. However, neither our physical bodies are evil, nor is the physical world itself inherently evil. That is a false teaching called gnosticism. Gnostics perverted the Word of God with Hellenistic (Greek) teachings derived from the works of Plato and Socrates.
Gnosticsim refers to diverse, religious movements in antiquity consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect god, the demiurge; this being is frequently identified with the Abrahamic God, and is contrasted with a superior entity, referred to by several terms including ‘Pleroma’ and ‘Godhead’. This false religion saw everything material (physcial) or natural as bad or evil and everything spiritual or invisible as good. Hence, the First Epistle of John 1:1-10 is not a formula for confession of sin as some form of spiritual soap, it was a gospel presentation confronting the false teaching of Gnosticsm. Compare these two verses:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us, I John 1:8-10 NASB
Understanding that the Apostle John is referring to our salvation as being “cleansed from all unrighteousness “and not the act of confession, is an important factor if we are to correctly understand John’s letter. John’s statement is akin to David’s claim:
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah, Psalm 32:1-5.
October 13, 2013 – How did confession become a retelling of our sins?
When you realize that biblical confession is agreeing with God that His Word is right and your behavior is wrong (not reflecting your true nature as a holy one), then you will not make the mistake of thinking that If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, I John 1:8 is referring to a spiritual bar of soap that can be whipped out when we transgress God’s Word. Part of the reason for this has do to with the fact that our intellect can be Protestant, but our conscience remains Catholic. For those who are from a Jewish background, we have Jewish mothers who taught us how to feel guilty. The Roman Catholics learned about this and turned it into a religious experience.
God knows what we are going to do, before we do. He knows the real reason why we do anything, even though we may fool ourselves, we cannot fool God. All of this indicates that confession or agreement with God that He is right and we are wrong is not a simply restatement of guilt, a retelling of the dirty deed(s). When we admit that our behavior is not reflecting our true nature; we should be asking God for more grace (unmerited favor resulting in supernatural power) to overcome these deeds of the flesh. We should be asking God for the gift of repentance, (make no mistake about this, the ability to permanently change our thinking from carnal to spiritual is also a gift of God’s grace, II Tim. 2:25; Acts 5:31; Ps. 80:19) so that our behaviors will again reflect our true nature.
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; II Tim. 2:25 KJV
Peter preached to the Sanhedrin concerning the Messiah:
Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins, Acts 5:31.
October 20, 2013 – The grand plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles
Among the themes of the Bible and verses of the Bible that are difficult to understand is the relationship that God has to His ancient covenant people and the Gentile nations that were once the enemies of God and God’s people. Because the ancient Jewish sages read certain prophecies concerning the Messiah being a light to the Gentiles, Is. 42:6-7, 49:6-7, the Jews in the days of Jesus never envisions the church, Jews and Gentiles who have been made one in Messiah, Eph. 2:14-22.
In an effort to explain this relationship, the Apostle Paul wrote to a predominantly Gentile body of believers at Rome. He said the following:
From the point of view of the Gospel (good news), they [the Jews, at present] are enemies [of God], which is for your advantage and benefit. But from the point of view of God's choice (of election, of divine selection), they are still the beloved (dear to Him) for the sake of their forefathers.
For God's gifts and His call are irrevocable. [He never withdraws them when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.] Just as you were once disobedient and rebellious toward God but now have obtained [His] mercy, through their disobedience, So they also now are being disobedient [when you are receiving mercy], that they in turn may one day, through the mercy you are enjoying, also receive mercy [that they may share the mercy which has been shown to you--through you as messengers of the Gospel to them]. For God has consigned (penned up) all men to disobedience, only that He may have mercy on them all [alike].
It is here that God great plan is revealed. Paul acknowledges God’s grand plan to give an opportunity to everyone, both Jews and Gentiles to come to the place of forgiveness and new life in Messiah.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unfathomable (inscrutable, unsearchable) are His judgments (His decisions)! And how untraceable (mysterious, undiscoverable) are His ways (His methods, His paths)!
For who has known the mind of the Lord and who has understood His thoughts, or who has [ever] been His counselor? Or who has first given God anything that he might be paid back or that he could claim a recompense? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. [For all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.] To Him be glory forever! Amen (so be it), Rom. 11:28-36 The Amplified Bible.
October 27, 2013 – The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart
Another difficult passage of the Bible is the section of Romans chapter nine that speaks about the sovereignty of God with regard to His mercy and grace. God proclaims His choice of Jacob over Esau before the children are born, Rom. 9:11-13. Similarly, the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to remind us of God’s words to Moses when he asked to see God’s glory, e.g. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion,” Rom. 9:14; Ex. 33:19.
In addition to this proclamation of the sovereignty of God with regard to His mercy and compassion is the truth that salvation is never a result of what we do, Eph. 2:8-10. The Apostle Paul then uses Pharaoh and the story of the Exodus as an example of His sovereignty in the affairs of men.
So then [God's gift] is not a question of human will and human effort, but of God's mercy. [It depends not on one's own willingness nor on his strenuous exertion as in running a race, but on God's having mercy on him.] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, I have raised you up for this very purpose of displaying My power in [dealing with] you, so that My name may be proclaimed the whole world over. So then He has mercy on whomever He wills (chooses) and He hardens (makes stubborn and unyielding the heart of) whomever He wills, Rom. 9: 16-18; Ex. 9:16 The Amplified Bible.
The mistake we make in our thinking when we read this and think to ourselves that Pharaoh’s fate was sealed. This is not true anymore than Nebuchadnezzar’s fate was sealed when he rebelled against the God of Israel and ordered Hananiah, Azariah and Misheal into the fiery furnace or Daniel (Haniel) into the lion’s den.
God’s Word clearly tells us that God is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance, II Pet. 3:9. And what of I Tim. 2:4 which tells us, For such [praying] is good and right, and [it is] pleasing and acceptable to God our Savior, Who wishes all men to be saved and [increasingly] to perceive and recognize and discern and know precisely and correctly the [divine] Truth.
So we should be aware of this truth when we look into the actual circumstances surrounding the story of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, Ex. 6-9. Before Moses goes to Pharaoh God tells him that He (God) will harden Pharaoh’s heart, Ex. 7:3-4. God knows the end from the beginning, so God knows that Pharaoh’s heart will resist God’s instructions. In fact, we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart “six times” before God finally hardens Pharaoh’s heart, (1) Aaron’s staff becomes a snake and swallows the Egyptian magician’s snakes, Ex. 7:13. (2) The Egyptian magicians counterfeit turning water into blood, Ex. 7:22. (3) The plague of the frogs, Ex. 8:14. (4) The plague of lice or gnats, Ex. 8:19. (5) The plague of flies, Ex. 8:32. (6) The livestock stricken, Ex. 9:7. (7) Finally, at this point, the plague of the festering boils, we are told that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, Ex. 9:12.
The amazing truth that God allowed Pharaoh to harden his own heart six times prior to finally taking the decision out of Pharaoh’s hands altogether is a testimony to God’s long-suffering. If He is so patient with the likes of Pharaoh, how much more will that be true for us, e.g., Cain, Job, Lot, Samson, King Saul, Jonah, you and me.