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Category Archives: Legalism

The Peaceful Church

This will be my final post from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church.  He leaves them with some parting admonishments.

And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
2 Thessalonians 3:13

This is especially important.  We must not get discouraged from doing the right things.  That’s because living right never ends.

We sometimes get discouraged because we find ourselves doing the same thing day after day.  That’s because it’s hard to see the cumulative effects of our lives.

It’s like watching a tree grow.  We think it looks the same every day.  Then someone visits who has not been there in years.  They exclaim, “Wow! That tree sure has grown tall.”

If we’re willing to continue doing what we know to do, then God will bring the harvest.  But we need to press in despite the weariness.

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

On the other hand, there will be those who, over time, start to ignore the exhortations of Scripture.  We can’t allow our association with them to cause their attitudes to rub off on us.

Remember, they’re not our enemies.  They’re brothers and sisters in Christ.  We live an ordered life and hope it challenges them.  And, if we’re in a relationship with them where they will listen to our advice, we can point them back to the truth.

It’s all about restoration.  It’s not us trying to prove that we’re more spiritual or superior in holiness.  We want God’s best for them.  We want them to experience all of the blessings that Christ purchased for them.

That’s the spirit with which Paul closes his letter.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters.  This is how I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
2 Thessalonians 3:16-18

This should be our overarching attitude.  It’s the desire for peace among believers.  We know that the world will never experience it apart from Christ.  But for the church, that should be the distinguishing mark of the Holy Spirit in us.

Notice that Paul didn’t say, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with those who obey this letter.”  On the contrary; his goal is to see God’s grace at work in all who profess Christ.

That should be the attitude of all believers.

Question: How have you encouraged others to live by the Word of God?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

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Posted by on November 23, 2018 in Faith, Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Church

 

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There’s No Convincing a Hard Heart

As we continue our study of the Gospel of Mark, we come to a point where Jesus is met by some Pharisees.  They start to discuss theology with Him.  But they have an ulterior purpose.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus.  To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.
Mark 8:11-12

The Pharisees were the spiritual authorities in Israel.  They were the ones who the people looked up to for guidance and counsel.

In the natural, you could say that there was a lot riding on this meeting.  If the Pharisees accepted Jesus as their Messiah, then the people would follow.  If they rejected Him, it would be harder for the people to be convinced.

On the surface, it seemed pretty innocent.  A group of spiritual leaders looking for more information upon which to base their decision.  That’s not what’s happening here.

We’re dealing with a group of self-righteous leaders, who don’t want to lose their power base.  The appearance of the Messiah would make them step down a rung on the ladder of authority.  It was in their best interest to find a reason to reject Christ.

Of course, that’s always the reasoning of the self-righteous.  They put up a smoke-screen of seeming to want to accept you.

“Show us a sign from Heaven, so that we can follow you.”

This isn’t how self-righteousness works.  In my experience, self-righteous people are looking for signs that you’re not truly a believer.

“You can’t possibly be a strong Christian.  I saw you dance and drink the champagne toast at the wedding.”

These Pharisees had already concluded that Jesus wasn’t on their level.  After all, He heals on the Sabbath.  He doesn’t even make His disciples perform the religious rituals, like fasting and hour-long ceremonial hand washings.

How do you convince someone whose mind is already made up?  It requires supernatural wisdom.

He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign?  I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.”  Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.
Mark 8:12-13

This is the key to walking in the wisdom of God.  The original Greek version of this verse specifically says that the Lord groaned deeply in His spirit.  Most people don’t realize that Jesus had a rich prayer life in the spirit.  For a more detailed look at this, click here.

This is why we need to cultivate our spiritual prayer language.  It’s how we tap into the mind of Christ.  It’s the channel for the wisdom of God to flow through us.

We think that we always need to defend ourselves.  We get into arguments trying to convince people that we’re right.  The truth is, even though we’re right, God’s wisdom might be to simply not answer them and walk away.

That’s what the Holy Spirit led Jesus to do in this instance.  The Pharisees had already made up their minds about Him.  Nothing He did would change them.

This is a reason we need to pray regularly in the spirit.  We must be prepared to face the challenges ahead.  It doesn’t matter if it’s people who are challenging us or the enemy’s kingdom.  It’s the wisdom of God that will ultimately bring the victory.

Question: When have you received supernatural wisdom as a result of your prayers?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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The Heart of the Matter

Many people worry about how others see them.  They want to make sure that they’re doing and saying the right things.  They want to be acceptable in their particular circle of friends.

In my last post, we saw that you can’t just go through the motions of worship if you want to please God.  It has to come from the inside.  The Lord explained it to the crowd that had gathered around Him.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.  Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”
Mark 7:14-15

That concept was totally foreign to the Jewish people.  They were taught that there were things that could make you unclean simply by touching them.

But that gives you a false sense of security.  If you haven’t touched any unclean things, you were okay.  Along with that, if you’ve observed all the prescribed ceremonies, then you were spiritually strong.

Jesus saw things from a different perspective.

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.  “Are you so dull?” he asked.  “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?  For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.”  (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)
Mark 7:17-19

Jesus makes it clear.  It’s what we put into our hearts that determines where our life is headed.  When we eat or drink something, the usable parts are digested and distributed in the body.  The waste products are expelled.

The heart, on the other hand, is the storehouse of our being.  What we place in there may last a long time.  Then, when we least expect it, those things in our heart my spill out.

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'”
Mark 7:20-23

We need to understand what Christ is teaching us here.  You can’t just decide not to sin anymore.  As someone who grew up in church, I can tell you from first-hand experience that this doesn’t work.  I’ve personally made this decision many times throughout my life.

That’s because sin is not birthed in your mind.  It’s an overflow of what you’ve been storing in your heart.

If you want to stop sinning, then you need to spend time in the Lord’s presence.  That’s where our hearts are purified.  It’s all about the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit in us.  Because in the same way that sin in our hearts will eventually manifest itself, righteousness will do the same thing.

Let the Spirit put God’s desires, direction, and passions on the inside of you.  Then, when your heart starts to spill over, it’s the fruit of the Spirit that people will see.

Question: How have you seen God’s Word overflow from your heart when you didn’t expect it?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2018 in Legalism, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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Denying the Holy Spirit

In my last post, we saw that Jesus’ family was concerned that He was overworking Himself, while the Pharisees were accusing Him of being demon-possessed.  Being led by the Holy Spirit doesn’t always follow the logical path.  How did the Lord respond?

So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.”
Mark 3:23-26

The first thing that Jesus does is to point out how utterly illogical the Pharisee’s accusation is.  What possible reason would Satan have to drive out his own kingdom?

This is especially true since it was Jesus who would be getting the credit for it.  Their argument made no sense; it just exposed how jealous they were of Christ’s ministry.

The Lord goes on to explain exactly what He was doing through these miracles.

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.
Mark 3:27

The fact is that Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work.  Israel had been downtrodden, conquered, and oppressed for so many years that most of the Jews had lost hope.  Through His miracles, the Lord was showing them that God still loved them.

Christ was single-handedly pushing back the darkness of the enemy.  He was taking back what rightfully belonged to the kingdom of God.  He was proof that the enemy can never stop the Spirit of God.

But the next statement the Lord makes has caused quite a bit of confusion.

“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.  But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”
Mark 3:28-30

One problem is that we lose sight of His first statement.  It is clearly spoken.  All the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven.  By the way, the word blasphemy simply means a hurtful statement made against someone.

According to Jesus, there’s nothing that can’t be forgiven.  However, His second statement reveals some very dangerous ground.  The literal Greek reads that the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit does not hold forgiveness, but is ensnared in perpetual sin.

The first thing I see is that to speak hurtfully against the Holy Spirit, you must already know that it’s the Holy Spirit you’re speaking against.  The Pharisees were not just making a mistake about what was happening.

They knew that the Spirit of God was at work.  They knew that it was the Holy Spirit who was setting free those who were being oppressed by the devil.  They were trying to exalt themselves by discrediting Jesus by means of theology.

Jesus is telling them that the trap of this behavior is that you’re denying the only One through whom you can receive forgiveness.  It’s not that they couldn’t be forgiven, as much as it was that they didn’t want forgiveness.

By denying the Holy Spirit’s work, they’re speaking against the very One who could save them.  That’s a condition that can entrap you into an everlasting sin.

Question: How grateful are you for the Lord’s forgiveness?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2018 in Legalism, Ministry, Power of God, The Gospel

 

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Religion on the Attack

In my last post, we looked at how Jesus confronted the attack of religion against His ministry.  Today we’ll see another aspect of that battle.

Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
Mark 3:1-2

I always read this account with amazement.  I can’t fathom the thinking process of the Pharisees.

I understand that they were starting to be annoyed by Jesus’ ministry.  I even understand how they were looking for a way to discredit Him.  But to use healing as the vehicle, doesn’t make sense to me.

In my last post, I talked about the traditions that the Pharisees had to bring more detail to the definition of work.  They had a lot of man-made rules concerning healing.  It’s the work of a doctor to heal so no work of healing could be performed on the Sabbath.

For instance, it was illegal to drink wine on the Sabbath, if you had a toothache.  That’s because if the alcohol in the wine deadened the pain in your tooth, it would be considered healing.

That’s all well and good for a doctor.  But there’s a huge flaw in their argument when they apply it to the Messiah.

Jesus didn’t work to bring about a cure in the natural sense.  He was able to flow in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus’ ministry, it was God who healed the sick.

Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”  But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Mark 3:3-6

It’s obvious from the above details that the healing was supernatural.  Jesus did absolutely no work to accomplish it.

That tells me that religion is blind to everything but its own ends.  It claims that it’s trying to serve God.  The actual truth is that religion is bent on proving its own superiority over anyone else.

They claim that by keeping the Sabbath pure from work, they’re following God’s will.  God, on the other hand, healed this man; proving that He had no problem with healing on the Sabbath.  Religion actually has the audacity to say that they’re more holy than God!

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking even creeps into the church.  Paul describes it this way…

…having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.
2 Timothy 3:5

Religion couldn’t care less about the power of God in operation.  It’s the form that’s more important.  How you look and what others think about you.  Powerlessness is okay, as long as people think that we have a more superior walk of “righteousness”.

Unfortunately, it’s merely a form of self-righteousness.  It doesn’t impress God, and it doesn’t help those around us.

Our goal should be a spiritual walk.  Spending time in the spirit, listening for the voice of the Father, then, obeying what we hear.  That’s the example that Jesus leaves us with.

Question: Why do so many choose form over power?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2018 in Healing, Legalism, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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Religion – Keeping Up Appearances

I’ve come to the conclusion that God hates religion.  What do I mean by that?  To most people, when they think about the word religion, they mean a set of rules by which you live your spiritual life.

Christianity was never meant to be a religion.  God wants a personal relationship with His people through Jesus Christ.  We see a great example of this in the life of Christ as recorded by Mark.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Mark 2:23-24

In order to understand what’s happening in this verse, I first have to explain some Old Testament facts.  The Law of Moses provided for the needs of travelers as they were going from place to place.  It allowed them to pick grain from any nearby field and eat it as they walked along.

So Jesus and the disciples weren’t stealing anybody’s grain.  God’s Word made it clear that the edges of a field were for the travelers, widows, and orphans.  It was a part of God’s provision for those in need.

Then why did the Pharisees have such a problem with what they were doing?  It all revolved around their religious interpretation of the Law.  According to the Ten Commandments, no work was to be done on the Sabbath Day.  It was to be a day of rest and worship.

Here’s where religion becomes an evil tyrant.  The Law of Moses said to not work on the Sabbath, but it never defined what exactly constituted work.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law took it upon themselves to help God out.  Since the Lord obviously forgot to explain it, they went ahead and detailed out what exactly was forbidden on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees had lists of “illegal activities” for the Sabbath.  For instance: you could pick up a chair and move it across the room.  But you couldn’t drag it because that would make a line in the dirt (furrowing) which was work.

The fact that the disciples were picking grain – harvesting – was not allowed on the Sabbath.  That wasn’t God’s law, but man’s religious interpretation of it.

It’s interesting that the word they use, unlawful, is a word that means not right.  However, this word implies that what they were doing was not right by appearance.  It didn’t look right.  With religion, it’s all about appearance.  It’s how you look on the outside.

Jesus had an answer for them.

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.  And he also gave some to his companions.”
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:25-28

The Lord uses the example of David.  The Law said that the bread in the Holy Place belonged to the priest.  He could do what he wanted with it.  It just didn’t look right for David and his men to eat it.  But the priest was ministering to someone in need.

The underlying principle is that the Sabbath was created for us to enjoy.  It was to give us a time of rest and refreshment in the presence of God.  It wasn’t made so that we could have one more religious rule.

Our God is a God of relationship.  A good relationship can never be based on a list of do’s and don’ts.  Religion is a form of slavery.  A relationship with Jesus Christ brings freedom and abundant life.

Question: How have you experienced the tyranny of religion?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2018 in Encouragement, Legalism, The Gospel

 

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Attitudes of Pharisees

In my last post, we saw that Jesus proved, in a very powerful way, that He could remove sin in all of its forms.  As we continue in the Gospel of Mark, this ministry of Christ becomes clearer.

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.  A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.  As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.  “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
Mark 2:13-14

In this passage, we see the Lord calling a new disciple – Levi.  I believe that this was his given name.  Later on, he’s called Matthew.  That’s probably the name Jesus gave to him.  It means the gift of God.

Remember, Jesus did this with a few of His disciples.  The Lord called Simon, Peter.  James and John became the sons of thunder.

But there’s an interesting point to this.  Both the name Levi and Matthew were strongly Levitical names.  That probably means that Levi was from the tribe of Levi.  He should have been training for the priesthood.  Instead, he was collecting taxes for the Roman conquerors.

Jesus had been teaching in the area.  Undoubtedly, Levi listened to Him and it spoke to his heart.  There’s no other reason why he would leave his lucrative position immediately when the Lord called.

Levi threw a dinner party to introduce Jesus to his friends and co-workers.  The Pharisees who were watching weren’t too happy about it.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
Mark 2:15-16

You have to understand the thinking of that day.  Levi was seen as a Jew, taking money from his own people, and giving it to Caesar.  They viewed him much the same way as we would view a drug dealer today.

Not only that, but he has the same type of friends that a drug dealer would have.  Prostitutes, loan sharks, and the like.  All the people that the upstanding Pharisees would look down on as the dregs of their society.

Why would Jesus, a prophet who obviously operated in the power of God, ever associate with such rabble?

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:17

Jesus has just proven Himself to be a remover of sin.  If your ministry is to remove sin, then your place is in the middle of great sin.  Jesus knew that He was sent to save these people.  The Pharisees may have written them off, but Jesus saw them as loved by God.

I always find it offensive when I hear a Christian remark that someone deserves hell.

“When they die, they’re gonna get what they have coming.”

That must break the Lord’s heart.  He died for everyone.  Not just the people we like.

We need to watch our attitudes about those without Christ.  The fact is that we all deserve hell – but I don’t want anyone to go there.

Even the most perverted, murderous, evil person on earth should be given the chance to hear about the life-changing work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  We should be representing Christ and His attitudes in our generation.

Question: Why is it so easy to pick up the same attitudes as the Pharisees?

© 2017 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2017 in Legalism, Ministry, The Gospel

 

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