Christ Died to Freely Give Us a New Kind of Law

The following piece is taken from a Lord’s Supper talk. I plan to do a book on Lord’s Supper talks soon….

In these Lord’s Supper talks, we sometimes look at what the death of Christ accomplished from a fresh angle. Among many other notable achievements, Christ died to freely give us a new kind of law:

  • “Law of Christ” – Gal. 6:2
  • “Law of Faith” (as opp. to a “law of works) – Rom. 3:28
  • “the Perfect Law, the Law of Liberty” – Ja. 1:25

The one unique thing about this law is that there is built-in provision for human failure. There is grace. There is mercy. There is forgiveness built into the system. So freely is this forgiveness granted that the apostle Paul goes so far as to say in Rom. 6, not once but twice, that we are “not under law but under grace” (v. 14, 15).

Now some people mistakenly conclude that this component makes it too easy to make rebels out of us, that forgiveness makes violating God’s law too convenient. Sin whenever you want, and get forgiveness like cash out of an ATM. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Quite to the contrary, the standards are now even higher:

  • Rom. 6:1-2 – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
  • Rom. 6:14 – “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (I.e. precisely because we are “not under law but under grace,” we aspire to a much higher standard than someone driven by “legalistic” motivations).
  • Mt. 5:48 – “You therefore must be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Built-in mercy means that we are able to look at a New Law through New Eyes. Instead of viewing the “law of Christ” as an alien force that shackles us against our will, we fully embrace it, from the inside out:

  • Lk. 6:36 – “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
  • Mt. 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
  • Gal. 6:2 – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
  • James 2:12-13 – “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

It’s called a “law of liberty,” because it frees us up to do the right thing for all the right reasons, with the highest possible motivation – to show mercy, because we need mercy. You see, the blood of Christ shed on the cross not only washes away our sins but gives us the motivational fuel to be the best that we can be in serving God and in serving the needs of other people.

Jesus died to redeem a people for himself… to give them a new law… and a new heart in obeying that law.

Mike Wilson 

Dealing with “Gray Area” Issues

I’m going to assume, for the purposes of this article, that there are moral issues or questions that fall into what some would call “the gray area.” That is, they are neither “black” (explicitly sinful) or “white” (explicitly righteous). Drinking alcohol, short of drunkenness is a common example. Smoking, watching certain movies or reading certain novels that may contain questionable themes or language, dancing and gambling (for fun) are other examples of  so-called “gray area” issues.

For the record, I am not conceding that these are, in fact, “gray area” issues. There are  biblical principles that, arguably, would justify regarding these issues as unrighteous, in themselves. However, for purposes of this article, let’s suppose that these activities are not addressed specifically and acknowledge that some Christians believe they are at liberty to engage in them.

My purpose is to look at these issues from a different perspective. But before I get to that, think about this: the Bible never uses the term “gray area” and never suggests that there is some mystical middle road that we can walk down, between good and evil. In fact, when it comes to moral decisions, the Bible is remarkably black and white.

For example, Jesus tells us that if our right eye offends us (makes us stumble), “tear it out and throw it away” (Mt. 5:29). His hyperbolic command leaves the distinct impression that Jesus doesn’t fiddle around with the middle ground and doesn’t expect his followers to. Instead, if we even find ourselves close to something that can lead to sin, we should take extreme action to avoid it, so we don’t end up in hell. His warning mirrors the thought in Pr. 6:27, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?”

The apostles echo Christ. Paul tells us that we present our members to one thing or another, with no middle thing. Listen,

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. Romans 6:12-13

I don’t see a middle place where we can “present our members,” do you? He seems to say that if something even smells like sin, hold your nose and run.

The apostle John joins the chorus. In I John, he speaks of light and darkness (no “lightish” or “darkish”) and talks about practicing sin or practicing righteousness. There is no suggestion that there is a happy place in the middle (see I John 3:4-10).

So even if we concede that some moral issues are on the margins, not obviously sinful in themselves, serious disciples make a habit of asking themselves a question. The question is not whether it is sinful, but whether it is righteous.

That’s a different perspective. It assumes that we practice sin or we practice righteousness, but not both at the same time. I may conclude that something is not technically sinful, but the more important question is this: can I, with a straight face, call this action righteous? For instance, is smoking cigarettes “righteous”? You be the judge.

How do we determine whether something is righteous or sinful — even if we believe that the action itself is morally neutral? Here are some things to consider:

1. Does this activity have dominion over me?

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. I Corinthians 6:12

We’ve got to be honest with ourselves; nearly everything, even things that are morally neutral, have the potential to dominate our thoughts and hold us captive. Is it possible for a love for food to cause one to practice sin? Absolutely, if it dominates one’s thoughts. How about smoking cigarettes? A whole cottage industry has been created for the purpose of helping people break the dominion of nicotine.

2. Can I do this with a clear conscience? 

…some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. I Corinthians 8:7

A conscience can be defiled if we practice something while entertaining doubt about whether it is right or not. Paul speaks to this in Romans 14:23,

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

It is incumbent upon us to be completely sure of what we choose to do. If we decide to take a drink of alcohol, watch a movie with bad language or sexual scenes, or go to a dance, we’d better be able to do it with a perfectly clear conscience. We put our souls at risk when we dabble in things that are questionable in our own conscience.

3. What does engaging in this activity say about my level of maturity?

I’ve met Christians that can quote I Timothy 5:23 (“drink a little wine for your stomach’s sake”) but could not define justification, or explain faith or grace without relying on pat answers. Many of these brethren think they have reached a higher level of spirituality, because they have grown beyond “silly rules.” Yet, if you define maturity as the Bible defines it, these are the most immature Christians you’ll ever meet. They are more concerned about being different — not from the world but from other Christians — than being righteous!

Yet, how is it “mature” to dabble in things that are, at best, dubious? The writer of Hebrews said,

…for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:13-14

Would you consider someone a mature driver who always drives as close to the edge of a cliff as possible, just to prove he can? Likewise, do mature Christians make a career of finding that moral rim of the world drive, and get as close as they can to it? Wouldn’t  you expect a mature Christians to ask, “is this righteous?” instead of “is this sin”?

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. I Corinthians 14:20

4. What is the impact of my action on others? 

Some, who call themselves Christians, claim to love others, but do they? John says,

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. I John 2:10

John is saying that if I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, I will do nothing, knowingly, that might cause them to “stumble” (sin). If I practice some “gray area” activity without regard to how it affects my brother, that may be proof of hatred for that brother. And that is tantamount to murder!

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
I John 3:11-15

Think about it. Paul told Titus that the older women should train the younger women (Titus 2:4). If an older woman dresses immodestly, she may be training younger women, by example and influence, to dress immodestly (see I Timothy 2:9-10). But isn’t the real question not whether it passes the “modesty” test (as culturally defined) but whether that attire is “righteous”?

There is another possible consequence. Dressing immodestly  may tempt a man to look at the woman with less than righteous intent, and commit sin (Mt. 5:28). The man has no excuse, but is it loving to knowingly put a stumbling block in the path of that brother? Why risk it?

How about those who think they have liberty to drink alcohol as long as they don’t get intoxicated? Forget, for a moment, that the standard for who is intoxicated (e.g., when one’s physical and mental faculties are impaired) is becoming lower in many states (in California, it is .08% — .04% for commercial drivers). What if a new Christian sees you take a drink and is emboldened by that to drink, but he has a genetic proclivity to alcoholism? Are you totally innocent if that happens? Is it worth the risk? Since we don’t know who does and who doesn’t have that tendency, what is the right thing to do?

And that’s the real test for all of us. If we are sincere in our commitment to God and to righteousness, we will ask the right question whenever there is doubt about any moral decision. We will ask not “is this sinful?” but “is this righteous?” And, if there is any doubt, we will not engage in that activity because,

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous…  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning I John 3:7, 9


Famous Last Words

When Sir Isaac Newton died, he said, “I don’t know what I may seem to the world. But as to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Leonardo da Vinci, the genius behind the Mona Lisa, said, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Humphrey Bogart told his wife, Lauren Bacall, on her way out of the house to pick up their children, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” It’s not quite the line from Casablanca, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but pretty close.

As he was dying, Alfred Hitchcock said, “One never knows the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes.”

Sir Winston Churchill’s last words were, “I’m bored with it all.”

And according to Steve Jobs’ sister Mona, the Apple founder’s last words were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

In the Bible, we read of some heroes with very different “last words.”

Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Paul (nearing the end of his life): “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Jesus: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and, “It is finished.”

What will your last words be?

— Mike Wilson

“Anything Goes”

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose.
Anything goes.

These are lyrics from a song. Lady Gaga? No. They were written by Cole Porter in 1953, a mere 64 years ago. Those were the days of morally benign TV shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy,” so the lyrics were either reflecting a certain segment of society or Porter was a prophet.

There were some movies and novels pushing the morality envelope, no doubt about it. “Lolita” was written in 1951 and “Catcher in the Rye” in 1955, and, in 1957, the movie “Peyton Place” was on the big screen. Rotten Tomatoes calls it a “toned-down” version of the notorious best seller by the same name.

So, things were not pure as the driven snow, morality-wise, in the 50s. But look where we’ve come since then. Lady Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl 51 on Sunday (2/5/17) was lauded by conservatives (and panned by liberals) because she made no overt Trump-slamming comments, which are becoming so commonplace today, especially in celebrity circles.

I didn’t watch the half-time show. Yet, I read that Lady Gaga did trumpet her “born this way” message, giving a shout-out to the LGBTQ culture, as one might expect. That doesn’t seem to bother our conservative friends as much as it used to. Imagine someone doing that in the first Super Bowl in 1967.

When it comes to gay this or that, that ship has sailed; most Americans see nothing wrong with same gender sexual expression, or even switching one’s gender if one so desires. Yet, Bible-honoring Christians are the exception — or should be. One cannot seriously believe the Bible is God’s word and accept the notion that same-sex “marriage,” cohabitation, or any of the host of other sexual sins is within God’s will. Nothing could be more clear that sexual immorality — defined as any kind of sexual expression outside of a lawful marriage — is sin and will bring condemnation to those who refuse to repent.

While we strenuously disagree with Catholic theology and doctrine, we have felt that they were our allies in the social fight against sexual immorality. In fact, orthodox Catholicism forbids divorce for any reason, ignoring the “exception clause” in Matthew 19:9 that most Christians accept.

However, Catholic leadership has taken what appears to be a radical turn toward accommodation with the culture. Pope Francis’ interpretation of Chapter VII of Amoris Laetitia has caused a ruckus, to say the least. Here’s the section that Francis has confirmed, that is causing all the uproar:

“When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible…it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence…In other, more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the aforementioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment. If one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability, particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”

What that means, in plain English, is that adultery and remarriage, for whatever reason, are no longer a hindrance to membership in the Catholic community. Here is one Catholic writer’s comments on Francis’s affirmation:

“Not a mistranslation, not taken out of context, not ambiguous, not possible to be reconciled with traditional Church teaching. You wanted clarity, right?

“This is a battle for the very survival of the Church. Priests will be faced with forced sacrilege in the name of false mercy. The Body of Christ will be commingled with mortal sin by command of His Bride.

“What will it be like when the Eucharist is profaned in every hour of every day, all over the world?”

The writer follows this with quotes some apocalyptic passages from Matthew and Daniel — in other words, in his opinion, “the end is near.” See

Another Catholic writer, on Vox Cantoris, calling the Pope by his last name, Berogoglio, instead of referring to him as the pope, says, “This is modernism and this is heresy. It only takes a drop to poison a litre of water. If you drink it, you will still die.” He goes on:

“Catholics have been betrayed by Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict, the previous pontiff], a coward who abandoned us. A father who abandoned his children. The man that has taken his place is not a spiritual father, he is the equivalent of the evil stepfather who manipulates and abuses his children.

“No more excuses from any that Amoris Laetitia must be interpreted in the light of Tradition. No! Amoris Laetitia must be denounced along with the Pope who promulgated it. Enough of the excuses.

“You bishops and cardinals are cowards. You will be held account for not confronting this Bishop of Rome to his face!”

OK, then. There is upheaval and division in the Roman Catholic Church. Some would say the circle is complete — total accommodation to the secular world, compromise with Satan.

But the Catholic Church does not speak for me or other Christians I know. It certainly doesn’t change anything the Bible says; never has, never will. Perhaps this controversy will wake Catholics up to see the fallacy of papal “infallibility.”

To use the writer’s metaphor above, the Pope doesn’t have a drop of “poison” that can possibly foul the water of truth. The Bible is the only source of truth and guidance and “let God be true though every man is a liar” (Romans 3:4).

It seems so simple. Just stick to God’s word, “speak as the very utterances of God” (I Peter 4:11) and leave it at that. Perhaps all of this discord will cause a level of discontent among our Catholic friends, relatives and neighbors that will create an opportunity for us to impress upon them this simple truth.

A 15th Century Lollard on Instrumental Music

The so-called Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe’s teaching and dissenters from the established Roman Catholic Church in England in the 1400s. They are known to have opposed the excesses of the clergy, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and various other beliefs and practices associated with Catholic liturgy. It is sometimes said that they opposed church music, but upon closer examination, it appears that their objections were focused on the Latin lyrics, which most common people did not understand. (Translating the Bible into English was a major concern for Wycliffe). Although less well known, at least some of them also opposed instrumental music in worship.

In 1407, there was a famous trial in which Bishop Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, questions the Lollard, William Thorpe. The following exchange comes from John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (the more complete work that was eventually abridged into the famous Book of Martyrs). The spelling is somewhat difficult (even if I have changed a few letters around to make it easier to read), but the reward will be worth your effort to work through it. This is from Foxe’s 1583 edition, Book 5, p. 560.


These poore mens goods and their livelode, these runners about, offer to riche priestes which have mekill more livelode then they neede. And thus those goods they wast wilfully, & spend them unjustly against Gods bidding upon straungers, with which, they should helpe and relieve, after Gods wil, their poore nedy neighbors at home: yea & over this folly, oft times divers men and women, of these runners thus madly hether and thither into pilgrimage: borow hereto, other mens goodes, yea and sometime they steale mens goods hereto, and they pay them never again. Also sir, I know wel that when divers men and women wil go thus after their owne wills, and fyndinge out one pilgrimage: they will ordeyne wyth them before, to have with them both men and women, that can wel sing wanton songs, and some other pilgrimes, wil have with them bagge pipes: so that every town that they come through, what with the noyse of their singing, and with the sound of their piping, and with the jangling of their Caunterbury bels, and with the barkyng out of dogges after them, that they make more noyce, then if the king came there away, with all his clarions, & many other minstrels. And if these men and women be a month out in their pilgrimage, many of them shall be an halfe yeare after, great janglers, tale tellers, and lyers.

Archbishop Arundel

And the Archbishop said to me: Leud losel (= “lewd good-for-nothing”), thou seest not farre enough in this matter, for thou considerest not the great travaile of pilgrims: therfore, thou blamest that thing that is praysable. I say to thee, that it is right wel done, that pilgrimes have with them both singers and also pipers: that when one of them that goeth barefoote, striketh his toe upon a stone, and hurteth him sore, & maketh him to blede: it is well done that he or his felow begin then a song, or els take out of his bosom a bagpipe, for to drive away with suche mirth, the hurt of his fellow. For which such solace, the travayle and wearynes of pilgrymes, is lightly, and merily borne out.


And I sayd: sir, St. Paule teacheth men to weepe with them that weepe.

Archbishop Arundel

Aud the Archbishop said, what janglest thou against mens devotion? Whatsoever thou or such other say, I say that the pilgrimage that now is used, is to them that do it, a praysable and a good meane to come the rather to grace.  But I hold thee unable to know this grace, for thou enforcest thee to let (i.e. forbid) the devotion of the people: since by authoritie of holye scripture, men may lefully have & use such solace as thou reprovest. For David in his last Psalme, techeth men to have divers instruments of musike for to praise therwith God.


And I saide: sir, by the sentence of divers Doctours expounding the psalmes of Dauid: that musike and minstrelsie that David & other saints of the olde lawe spake of, ought now nother to be taken nor used by the letter, but these instruments with their musike ought to be interpreted ghostly (i.e spiritually):  For al those figures are called vertues and grace, with which vertues men should please God, & praise hys name. For S. Paul sayth: al such things befell to them in figure. Therfore sir, I understand, that the letter of this psalme of David and of such other Psalmes and sentences doth slay them that take them now litterally. This sentence as I understand sir, Christ approveth himselfe; putting out the minstrels, or that he would quicken the dead damsell.

Archbishop Arundel

And the Archbishop said to me, Leud losel, is it not lefull to us to have Organes, in the church for to worship therewithall God?


And I sayd, yes sir, by mans ordinance: But by the ordinance of God, a good sermon to the peoples understanding were mekil more pleasant to God.

Archbishop Arundel

And the Archbishop said, that Organes and good delectable songs, quickened & sharpened more mens wits then should any sermon.


But I saide: sir, lusty men & worldly lovers, delite and covet & travail to have al their wittes quickened & sharpened with divers sensible solace: But al the faythful lovers and followers of Christ, have al their delite to heare Gods word, and to understand it truely, and to worke therafter faithfully and continually. For no doubt, to dread to offend God, and to love to please him in all things quickeneth and sharpeneth all the wittes of Christs chosen people: and ableth them so to grace, that they joy greatly to withdrawe their eares and al their wits and members, from al worldly delite and from all fleshly solace. For St. Jerome (as I thinke) sayth, No body may joy with this world & raigne with Christ.

Mike Wilson

Pondering the Greatness of God: Observations on What Ezekiel Saw

The book of the prophet Ezekiel opens with a wild vision! He sees the majesty of God on the plains of Babylon (Ez. 1). Modern sci-fi special effects have stunted our imagination, but I want you to try to picture in your mind’s eye the ultimate multimedia experience. Four living creatures, later called “cherubim” (10:1), appear, each with four faces and four wings. The four outstretched wings vibrate powerfully. The creatures evidently form a square, joined together by their wing tips, and each one faces outward with a human face. The effect of this symmetrical pattern is that from whatever angle Ezekiel gazes, he evidently sees a different face on each creature, with all four creatures visible at the same time. The one nearest would be a man, the one on the left an ox, the one on the right a lion, and the one in the rear an eagle. Burning fire is in their midst, out of which burst forth flashes of lightning. There are four wheels, one next to each creature, and a wheel within each wheel, as in a gyroscope. The rims are full of eyes.

Above them is an expanse, like awe-inspiring crystal. Above the expanse is what looks like a bright blue throne. God is on the throne, with a human appearance, but with gleaming metal like fire from the waist up. Also, there is a circle of brightness like a rainbow all around him. When his voice speaks, everything stands still, and the living creatures let down their wings. Then something dramatic happens! God speaks to Ezekiel for the very first time (1:28).

That’s the God we serve – great, awesome, holy, and almighty! The book of Ezekiel uses a “recognition formula” repeatedly: “then they will know that I am the LORD.” But a cursory look at the book shows that this recognition of the one true and living God will extend even to Gentile nations (Ez. 25-32). The moral dilemma raised in Ezekiel is that God is left with no alternative but to punish the sin of Israel and bring them into captivity, but in doing so, God brings his own name into disgrace among pagan nations.

Consequently, he must do something dramatic in the years that follow for the sake of his own reputation – the honor of his name among all the nations of the world. Through a series of mind-altering visions, Ezekiel sees a glorious future in which God vindicates his glory, reestablishes his people, sends a Savior-King, and gives his people “a new heart” and puts “a new spirit” in them (36:26-27). Finally, there is an acute awareness of God’s presence among his people. The last words of the book give the new Zion a fitting name: “the LORD is there” (48:35).

The study of such grand revelations is not for spiritual novices. In a Bible class, I confessed to my Ezekiel students that this book was an enigma to me for years, and in some ways, it continues to be. However, the more I make an all-out attempt to understand it, while meditating on its mind-blowing contents, the greater my sense of reward as certain difficult passages finally yield their meaning. Some portions of scripture are just that way. It’s as if God is presenting a few challenges for us to see how deep we’ll dig, but for those who continue to excavate, gold awaits them. I’m also reminded that many people serve a “god” who is not worthy of such an effort, so their spiritual thoughts are severely stunted, along with their lazy handling of the Bible. How big is your “God”? The next time you bow in prayer, you might think of this awesome throne scene described in the first chapter of Ezekiel.

Mike Wilson

A “Political” Letter to a Friend

As a gospel preacher and Christian, I have tried to stay clear of politics and focus on “kingdom” work. As another presidential election draws near, I had a recent conversation with a dear friend. It was frustrating, so I followed it up with this letter. These are my personal views. I certainly think that Christians have room for differing viewpoints, especially in a crazy political year like this. But here goes….

Dear ___________,
Maybe we shouldn’t have discussed it. When all is said and done, I believe that  a) Hillary Clinton will win the election; b) America is and has been in serious decline for some time; c) Americans are for the most part spiritually and morally degenerate, which blinds them to the impending judgment God will execute against this nation; d) voting in and of itself accomplishes very little when powerful forces are bent on the country going the wrong direction anyway; e) the thrust of our energies needs to be spiritual, not political; and f) ultimately God is in control, and we should pray for his will to be done. So the areas we have in common are far greater than the differences expressed last night. 
I also believe that an ego-centric, bombastic rascal like Trump would never have been in the running if he weren’t able to tap into the frustrations of millions of people regarding the direction the country is going. No Christian should endorse some of the ridiculous things he has said or done, just as no Christian should endorse the blatantly immoral and ungodly things Clinton has said and done. 
I have long refrained from political posturing, as it doesn’t serve the bigger picture of what I’m trying to do as a Christian and as a preacher. As I get older, however, I have become increasingly frustrated that many Christians don’t see the bigger picture of the forces at play in “public policy” and popular culture. For example: 
1. One of these two presidential candidates is pro-abortion (even late-term); the other is at least verbally against. 
2. One has publicly stated that people of faith need to subjugate their moral views to accommodate changing societal norms and basically endorse the LGBT agenda; the other has pledged to defend the conscience of Christians (and preachers) in public life against these assaults. 
3. One has pledged to nominate Supreme Court judges who will advance an ungodly, liberal agenda which will become increasingly intolerant of everything Christians hold near and dear; the other has pledged to nominate “strict constructionists” who will stay true to the Constitution. 
In terms of the direction our country is going, I believe those three issues mean more to me as a believer than any other social issues currently being politicized. They influence righteousness and godliness (or lack thereof) in the public square more than any other pressing matters of our time. They will shape the country we bequeath to my kids and grandkids. If a Christian doesn’t want to participate in the political process on grounds of conscience, I’m fine with that, but if a Christian enters the voting booth and pulls the lever for Satan on those three issues (when there is a choice), then all the talk about “depending on God” becomes very hollow. In my mind, all of our actions should be consistent with our faith. 
The “powers that be” are pulling out all the stops to control the media coverage and get their candidate elected. Although I am not “for Trump,” I am astounded at the lopsidedness of the mainstream press coverage. One person’s “sins” (sometimes real, sometimes contrived) make daily headlines, while the other candidate’s sins (and damaging public policy positions) are almost totally ignored. I believe that, in the end, the country will get what it deserves. 
A few years from now, when the entire system crashes, or when good people are increasingly criminalized for merely acting out their faith, will God hold us guiltless when we saw the freight train coming and did nothing to stop it? Pray? Yes! Speak up for godliness and righteousness? Yes! Expose and actively oppose the tactics of the enemy, even when others are brainwashed and blind to the enemy’s “agenda”? Yes! In my mind, we must do all of these things. 
I love you, ___________. 

My Bible Study Last Night

Our old friend Hsin-Yi, a convert several years ago who moved back to Taiwan, urged her Taiwanese friend Vivian to check out the Santa Clara church after moving to California. Vivian then invited Han, whom she met in an English class, to come to church with her. Han is a graduate student here for one year until she goes back home to Beijing. Vivian’s interest seems to have waned, but Han is interested in the truth of God as much as any honest seeker I’ve come across in some time. She has something of a Buddhist background, but a professor in China urged her to learn more about Jesus. For the last several weeks, she’s attended church assemblies at Santa Clara regularly, and we’ve now had three private studies, with the help of Andrea and Adela.

Last night, Han asked why people in Jesus’ day were able to see him while the rest of us are disadvantaged in this regard. Why couldn’t Jesus be personally accessible to all of us? I told her it was a good question. I started by going through a timeline of Biblical history, culminating in Jesus and the New Covenant. We discussed the revealing of God’s plan in cumulative stages, until God revealed himself on our level in the person of Jesus, as God in human flesh. In order to become “one of us,” there would have to be something very “human” about him, even if he was ultimately divine. While on earth, he would take on potential human frailty and death.

We talked about most people even in the first century having the same disadvantage we have. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9). We looked at the case of “doubting Thomas” in John 20, and Jesus’ statement, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). You can probably guess where I was going with all of this (cf. Jn. 20:30-31).

I gave her a quick survey of the “evidence” for faith in Jesus:  amazing predictive prophecies fulfilled in stunning detail, miracles proving his supernatural origin, eyewitness testimony, etc. We talked about the credibility of the designated witnesses – their honesty, integrity, willingness to die rather than recant, etc. I emphasized that God didn’t want just anyone in this role. The case for Jesus must be rock-solid if it is true:

“As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:36-4).

I tried to emphasize that this is not a fairy tale, myth, or legend – and that God has taken great pains to give us proof. Finally, I drove the point home that if Christianity is true, then all the other “world religions” are false (Acts 4:12; Jn. 14:6), and that if one of them is true, then the New Testament is false.

Toward the end of the study, however, the conversation took off in a different direction. Han confessed that she knew very little about proofs for the faith. One thing had made a deep impression on her. When she came into the church environment, she was struck by the friendliness, faith, and holiness of the people. There was something in their yearning for and nearness to God that was missing in her own life, and for that reason alone she was predisposed to want to believe.

We talked about the impact of the Bible and a genuine relationship with God in the life of a Christian. God changes such a person for the better and produces the fruit of the Spirit. We discussed the two great commands of loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind; and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Han observed that to love God, for all that he does for us, is far easier. She said it is not so easy to love other human beings. I expressed my agreement.

We ended on a good note and a prayer. From everything I can detect about her, I believe Han is one of those people with a “good and honest heart.” If God grants her time and opportunity, in the not-too-distant future, I think she’ll be one of us… a “Christian.” Pray for her.

Mike Wilson

Symbolism or Substance? Musings on the Colin Kaepernick Affair

We just spent a whole quarter in one of our classes at the Folsom church discussing the importance of seeking to understand what people are saying and how they are acting before we react to them. We cited Paul’s words in Titus 3:2, “…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

We also emphasized Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Then Colin Kaepernick, one of the 49ers’ quarterbacks, decides not to stand during the National Anthem. Let’s just say the reaction to this act of defiance from Christians was rapid and predictable.

I hasten to admit that my first reaction was identical to many of the things said by those who went public on social media. It was as knee-jerk as theirs. I’ll also say that I couldn’t disagree with his action more. I felt it was childish and unbecoming for a man who is making millions of dollars playing a game in a country that makes it possible. Not only that, there is no evidence that Mr. Kaepernick has used his riches to help alleviate the suffering of those he was protesting for. It reminds me of the video I saw of a black man asking a very good question during the flooding in Louisiana: “Where are the Black Lives Matter boats?” There were none to be found. (For the record, Colin Kaepernick came out ad day or two later and said he was giving a million dollars to “various organizations.” So, if he makes the team this year, that leaves him only $13 million this year to get by on).

See that? A little cynicism crept in there. It’s hard to avoid when people do things that irritate us. Yet, there’s that other verse — remember? “Love is not irritated” (I Cor. 13:5). Sometimes, truth is irritating, isn’t it?

I don’t agree with Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the National Anthem. But I do agree that he has a right not to, even if it bothers me.

But, then I ask, “why does it bother me?”

That’s a good question. His sitting there during the playing of our national song has no effect on me. None at all. It doesn’t affect my ability to stand when it’s played or my personal sense of patriotism.

So why should it bother me? Is it because so many fought and gave their lives under that flag? But does his not standing affect our appreciation for what others have done?

It may indicate that Colin Kaepernick doesn’t appreciate it, but how many really do? If we appreciate what others have done so much, why do we spend Memorial Day eating hot dogs or going sightseeing, sometimes without any thought of honoring those have died? If someone videoed all if our actions on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, would we come off any better than Colin Kaepernick? What I’m asking is: are we consistent?

The issue is that what Kaepernick did is just symbolism over substance; it’s meaningless. But that cuts two ways. When we put our hands over our hearts while someone is singing the National Anthem or while we pledge allegiance to the flag — is there any substance there? Are we concentrating on the words of the song or just admiring (or critiquing) the person singing it? Do we really “pledge allegiance” to the flag when we repeat the words?

Are we being consistent when we criticize others who seem to be less patriotic than we are? That is, are our acts of patriotism only symbolic or do they have substance?

(I imagine I’m really annoying you right now but that’s OK; I’m annoying myself).

Hitting closer to home, this symbolism over substance mentality can spill over into our worship. A few years ago, we visited a church in Florida and they sang “I Stand in Awe.” On cue, when they got to the the chorus (“I stand, I stand in awe of you”), the members in this large church got up from their pews and stood. Except, some didn’t; many of the college kids didn’t stand, including the student we were there to visit. I didn’t stand, either. The song is not about physically standing up. I can even argue that it detracts from the meaning of the song if you stand up. It’s like requiring everyone to stand when we sing “Standing on the Promises.” You can’t physically stand on God’s promises.

All that is just symbolism over substance, and sometimes, even the “symbol” is obscure. When our service to God is primarily for show — symbolism over substance — we are not pleasing God. God wants action; he wants fruit. In John 15:8, Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

In Matthew 23:6-8, Jesus criticized those who make religion a hollow, symbolic show:  “…and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”

Paul also requires profitable, not just intellectual or symbolic, living, in Titus 3:8-9,

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

Notice, Paul says that good works are “profitable,” while controversies and arguments about the law are, at best, symbolic. They serve no useful purpose.

James says, “be doers of the word, not hearers only deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). “Hearers only” are those who symbolically serve a symbolic God for symbolic reasons; they don’t actually live for God; they do not put God’s word into practice, they just talk about God. As someone once said, “if there were two doors with signs above them, ‘Heaven’ and ‘A Lecture About Heaven,’ too many Christians would enter the second door.”

We might say that while God’s “anthem” is being played — an anthem that should cause them to rise to action — some sit on the pew, unmoved by it all. Why? Their commitment to Christ is a fiction, symbolism over substance.

Our reaction to things that happen in our culture betray our true spiritual condition. Some Christians get “up in arms” about abortion or same-sex marriage, but have never done anything but get mad about it. Their “righteous indignation” is merely symbolic.

In fact, some Christians who rail against same-sex marriage, are in horrible marriages themselves and some even get divorced. Their view of marriage is symbolic, not substantive.

Some Christians who wring their hands over all the abortions have never contributed a dime to pro-life causes or even spoken out publicly against it. It’s just a symbolic. No substance.

Some Christians can give you book, chapter and verse for why instrumental music is not authorized in the assembly, but couldn’t tell you the words to the songs that they sang in an assembly an hour before. Symbolism over substance.

Needless to say, the Lord’s Supper can become a symbol instead of a substantive reminder of what Christ has done for us. Paul scolded the Corinthians because they fell into that trap (I Cor. 11:17-34).

Merely symbolic actions are rarely useful in life, yet they are common. But Actions still speak louder than words. Hear James again (James 2:14-16), “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

This reminds me to ask: who have I actually helped lately? Or is my life about symbolism over substance?


We may rightly criticize politicians and celebrities who make symbolic gestures but don’t donate a dime of their millions to the cause. But don’t stop there. Remember Jesus’ analogy of the speck and the log (Mt. 7:3-5)? Let’s ask ourselves: is our commitment to Christ symbolic or is it real? Because, heaven and hell are real places, not symbolic. Keep that in mind.

A World Raging Against God’s Anointed

Psalm 2

Psalm 1 deals with the Word; Psalm 2 with the world (human society). In a sense, both Psalms are a vestibule or gateway into the Psalter as a whole. Ps. 1 focuses on our inner spiritual life and personal destiny; Ps. 2 on the whole purpose of God in history and the destiny of the nations.

Some commentators identify Ps. 2 as a coronation psalm for the enthronement ceremony of a newly appointed Davidic king. In this view, the transition from one king to another is the occasion of tribal revolt (vv. 1-3), followed by the restoration of order (vv. 7-12).

This view misses the prophetic significance of the psalm.

  • It is “the nations” in revolt, not merely local tribes
  • The King, the Anointed One, also called the begotten Son, is ruling on Zion (2, 6, 7, 12)
  • “It is inconceivable that such notions were entertained in any directly personal way concerning the line of monarchs who followed in Judah. We have here, therefore, either the most blatant flattery the world has ever heard, or else the expression of a great ideal,” (F. F. Bruce, The New Bible Dictionary, p. 814) – a prophetic promise.
  • The psalm is cited in the New Testament and applied to Christ:
    • By the Jerusalem Christians (Acts 4:25-28)
    • By Paul (Acts 13:33)
    • By the Hebrew writer (Heb. 1:5)
    • In the Book of Revelation (Rev. 2:26-27)

In keeping with ideas presented above, the Israelites may have applied these words in some way to the Davidic monarchy, but the literal and highest realization of the words can only fit our Savior.

1. “Why do the nation’s rage?” 2:1-3

We are pummeled by honest questions in the Psalms, including the “why” that introduces the thought here. There is an initial astonishment at the senseless rejection of God and His anointed one. Verse 1 describes humanity seething in revolt and tumult. Verse 2 identifies the combatants: “the kings of the earth” and “the rulers” versus “the LORD and His Anointed.” “Messiah” is derived from the Hebrew word for “Anointed.” God had a plan in sending Jesus (Acts 4:25-28, esp. v. 28), but mankind was obtuse in crucifying Him (I Cor. 2:8). Verse 3 reveals the motive: men want unrestricted freedom from God’s rule and God’s ruler.

2. “He who sits in the heavens laughs” – 2:4-6

The divine response is twofold:

  • He derides them for their foolishness (v. 4); and
  • He furiously directs their attention to His appointed King (vv. 5-6).

Being seated is a sign of God’s authority (v. 4). An uproar on earth doesn’t dismay or alarm Him – cf. Isaiah 40:15, 17, 22-24. His laugh is not the laughter of aloofness but the laughter which recognizes the absurdity of rebellion against His authority. As we face frightening news, we must realize who is in charge: not an environmental disaster, a nuclear warhead, or a terrorist nightmare, but God! God is in control, and His appointed King is on the throne.

3. “I will tell of the decree” – 2:7-9

In these verses, the anointed King speaks in the first person, telling us about the divine decree concerning His destiny: “The LORD (YHWH) said to me…”

“You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” These words are cited in connection with:

  • Jesus’ baptism (Mt. 3:17)
  • Jesus’ transfiguration (Mt. 17:5; II Peter 1:17)
  • Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 13:33; cf. Rom. 1:4)

Verse 8 includes the extent of the Messiah’s rule: “the nations” and “the ends of the earth.” He is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). He has “all authority… in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). His gospel is aimed at all people, on every continent – “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Verse 9 reveals something about the manner of the Savior’s rule over the nations – cited in Rev. 2:26-27; 12:5; 19:15. It is a rule of absolute authority.

4. “Now therefore, O Kings, be wise…” – 2:10-12

Verse 10 is a call for wisdom and a warning: Stop the rebellion! Submit to the King! Verse 11 is a summons to worship. There are two components:

  • “Serve the LORD with fear” – with reverential awe
  • “And rejoice with trembling” – a mixture of joy and reverence

Verse 12 says, “Kiss the Son” – the Greek for “worship” means “come toward to kiss.” Notice the “wrath” of the Son as He exercises His rule over the nations. It is better to “take refuge in Him” than to suffer His fury. One commentator calls this an “evangelistic” psalm, adding that “it beats with a missionary heart.”

There is something of an inverted structure to this psalm:

  • The peoples in revolt – 1
    • Against the LORD and his Anointed – 2
      • Earthly kings taking counsel among themselves – 3
        • Derision against the nations – 4
          • Reining in the nations – 5
            • “I have set my King on Zion” – 6
            • “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” – 7
          • Reigning over the nations – 8
        • Breaking the nations – 9
      • Earthly kings taking counsel from God – 10
    • Serving the LORD and his Anointed – 11
  • The peoples taking refuge – 12

Mike Wilson