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Hearing Faith

I always thought that I was as far from legalistic as you could get.  What does the Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, have to say about the subject?  Be prepared; I think that the answer might change your whole outlook as well.

As I look at the church in America today, I can’t help comparing us to what I read in the book of Acts.  I’m also thinking about the stories I heard from my grandparent’s generation.  They came to the Lord in the wake of the Azusa Street revival.  When they were saved they saw miracles, healings, signs, and wonders.  What’s happened to us since then?

You may think as I did, “I’m not legalistic.”  But do we even know what legalism looks like?  Let’s find out what the Paul has to say about it.

You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
Galatians 3:1-2

The word translated foolish in the above verse literally means not thinking.  Paul is asking these Galatian Christians why they’re not thinking about what they’re doing.

The next line he writes literally means; who has fascinated you by false representations?  It’s obvious from the way he writes that these believers were not being convinced by the truth, but rather a clever counterfeit.  Paul reminds them of the fact that when they first believed, they clearly understood that Jesus Christ was crucified for them.

He then asks a simple question – how did you receive the Spirit?  The literal answer is that the Spirit was received by the hearing of faith, trusting in God to do the work.  This is an important truth.

Faith comes when you hear a Word from God.  Whether it’s in your prayer time, during a sermon, or while reading the Scripture – hearing from the Holy Spirit produces faith.  Paul was re-emphasizing to them that the law can’t save anyone.  The law only condemns.

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?  Have you suffered so much for nothing — if it really was for nothing?
Galatians 3:3-4

This is what we need to understand.  If, by all of our rules and self-discipline, we couldn’t even start the salvation process; what makes us think that we can complete it by our own strength?

Paul, however, continues along this line with another question and we have all but ignored its implications.

Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
Galatians 3:5

Paul literally asks how does God fully supply you with His Spirit and activate His miraculous power in you?  That’s the question of the hour.  It’s what the church desperately needs to learn and lay hold of.  It’s what the world is dying to see in operation.

I believe that it’s this truth that will usher in the end time harvest of souls before the coming of the Lord.  Paul’s answer is that the Spirit is given and His power is activated in you by the hearing of faith.  This is where the power of God resides.  It’s not a work of the law.  It only comes as I hear His voice and let it inspire faith in me.  This is the foundation for the miraculous.  God and I as co-workers.

He’s looking for someone who’ll listen for His voice.  It’s time for the church to enter that intimate place with the Lord.  Only then will we see the glory of God released through His people.

Question: What should your mindset be while hearing the Word preached or taught?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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Freedom for All

The Apostle Paul is a great example to us of a life lived apart from legalism.  His letter to the Galatians is a testament to how God works in us under the New Covenant.

We’ll continue to look at Paul’s story as he relates it to the church.  Remember, Galatians was written long before the book of Acts.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none of the other apostles — only James, the Lord’s brother.  I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.  Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.  I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they praised God because of me.
Galatians 1:18-24

Paul has a very interesting story.  He spent three years in solitude after his initial salvation experience.  He used that time to pray and learn to hear from the Holy Spirit.

He then compresses what happened next into a few short sentences.  We know from the book of Acts, that Paul went back to Tarsus, his home town; because there were many who didn’t trust that he had really come to Christ.

After being there a while, Barnabas came and convinced Paul to go to Antioch.  There was a Gentile church in that region that needed a strong teacher who was well versed in the Scripture.  So Paul made the journey and became a part of that work.

Years later, during a time of fasting and prayer, Paul and Barnabas felt the call of God to go around the Mediterranean Sea, preaching the Good News of Christ.  Because of their faithfulness, Gentile churches began springing up all over Asia Minor.  The Galatian churches were a part of his work.

Paul ran into problems in doing this.  There were some who felt that Christianity was still a part of Judaism.  They felt that for a Gentile to be saved, they needed to submit to the Law of Moses.  This included all of the food laws as well as circumcision.

Both Peter and Paul had separate revelations showing them that, under grace, the Law had been fulfilled.  Then the tension came to a head, and a meeting took place.

Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas.  I took Titus along also.  I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.  But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.  Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.  [This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.  We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Galatians 2:1-5

The Good News of the Gospel is that we’re not slaves.  We’ve been given freedom in Christ.  The revelation that Paul received is for all time.

It’s unfortunate that many have fallen back into the slavery mindset throughout the next generations.  I believe that it’s God’s desire to once again restore His freedom to us.

Please understand; I’m not talking about a freedom to live however we want.  Instead, it’s a freedom to serve God without being hindered by a man-made set of rules.

As we go through the book of Galatians over the next few weeks, Paul will explain in detail how to walk in this freedom.  Don’t miss a single installment.  It will help you to live on a whole new level in Christ.

Question: How does following a set of rules hinder your Christian walk?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017.

 
 

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No Man-Made Gospel

I’m continuing to look at Paul’s letter to the Galatian church.  It’s a letter of correction because they were beginning to fall into legalism.  He had to warn them that a gospel of legalism was no gospel at all.

He begins by telling them of his personal walk with God.

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12

Paul tells us that he did not preach a man-made gospel.  It was received from Jesus Christ by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

This is important for us to understand.  It’s the first time that Paul shares about his conversion to Christianity.  The book of Acts had not been written yet when Paul wrote this letter.  So he’s explaining the most important parts of his transformation.

Paul was a Pharisee.  He had to be trained for that role.  He went to a Jewish seminary.  He had huge portions of the Scripture memorized.

Yet, with all that training, he needed the revelation of Jesus Christ in order to preach the Gospel.  That tells me that the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus – has to be learned by the Spirit.  Paul makes it clear by describing what happened directly after his salvation.

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Galatians 1:13-17

I think that in our efforts to read through the Bible, we sometimes miss the little, important details.  The fact is that Paul preached a revealed Gospel rather than a taught Gospel.   But we say, “That was the Apostle Paul.  He was a special case.  He was writing most of the New Testament.”

In reality, Paul was human, just like us.  The difference was that he had already gone through the process of getting his theology from other people.  Now he wanted to operate by grace.

In telling us that he got his Gospel by revelation, he was not saying that Jesus Christ personally appeared to him in his room.  Jesus didn’t show up and audibly teach Paul the Gospel for three years.  That’s not the method the Lord uses under the New Covenant.

The key phrase in the above passage is when Paul says that God was pleased to reveal his Son in me.  The Lord was not revealed TO Paul, but IN Paul.  That’s what we need to grab hold of.

An understanding of the Scriptures concerning our salvation is a plus.  But in all honesty, our post-Christian generation couldn’t care less about what the Bible says.  It’s all about Christ revealed in us.

The true Gospel is not a list of memorized Bible verses.  It’s the story of how Jesus Christ broke into my world.  How He revealed Himself in my circumstances and changed my life.  The Gospel is not hearsay, but a valid testimony of what I’ve experienced.

That’s why we need to rely on the Holy Spirit.  Praise God for the New Testament Scripture that can teach us about God’s grace.  But we need the Spirit to make it relevant to those around us.

They don’t want to know about the Book you’re reading, they need to know about the Savior you met.

Question: How did Christ first reveal Himself in your situation?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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God Pleaser or Man Pleaser?

Who are you trying to please by your ministry?  That’s a question we all need to answer.  It determines your destiny in Christ.

I’m continuing my look at the book of Galatians.  It’s Paul’s letter combatting legalism.  He starts off by talking about his own walk with the Lord.  What was the Apostle’s motive toward the ministry?

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10

This verse deals with some key motivational attitudes.  What is it that you’re actively trying to accomplish in your ministry?  If your fulfillment isn’t coming from Christ, then there may be some course correction that’s needed.

The first important word in this verse is approval.  The phrase, trying to win the approval of men, means to convince men.

Are you trying to convince people that they need to serve God?  If you are, that’s the first sign of a man pleaser.  It’s not our job to convince people.

We’re called to hear from the Holy Spirit, then to speak the Word that we’ve heard.  It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to use the Word to convict and convince those listening.  This is something Paul was keenly aware of.

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5

The next important word is trying.  It means to desire and seek after.

Where are you seeking your validation from?  That may require some soul searching to truly answer the question.  Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re looking to man.

You preach the Word.  Many lives are touched and blessed by the message.  One person comes up to you after the service and tells you they didn’t agree with you.  Suddenly you feel like a failure and want to quit the ministry.  That’s a sign that you’re seeking in the wrong direction.

It’s nice when our ministry has a positive effect on those who receive it.  But that’s not always a requirement of the assignment we’ve been given.  I’m glad that Christ didn’t rely upon the response of the Pharisees to continue His plan to save us.

The final phrase I want to look at is to please men.  That literally means to get an emotional response from people.

Are you trying to stir people’s emotions?  Emotionalism and hype are the mainstays of the entertainment industry.  In case you didn’t already know this, the ministry of the Word is NOT a form of entertainment.

It’s so unfortunate that many churches build their services around the American entertainment model.  Please understand; I know that we have to present the message of Christ in a way that’s relevant to our society.  In that sense, there will always be a measure of professionalism.

We want the music, the flow of the service, and the time investment to be welcoming to those attending.  It’s the motivation that needs to be examined.  What’s the goal?

Am I choreographing the service so that at one point people will stand to their feet and cheer?  Am I out to bring tears to peoples’ eyes?

According to Paul, my ultimate goal is to serve Christ.  I firmly believe that if I do that well; then emotions will be stirred.  But instead of a passing excitement, their lives will be changed by the power of God.

Like the Apostle Paul, we need to have the attitude of a God pleaser.

Question: When have you had to choose between pleasing God or man?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2017 in Legalism, Ministry, The Church

 

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Are We Listening?

This is my last post which will look at the first of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.  In his conclusion, the apostle encourages them in their spiritual walk.  He gives a few exhortations that are just as applicable today.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-20

These verses literally say don’t quench, put out, the Spirit and don’t act like prophecy doesn’t exist.  I believe that this sentence gets at the heart of one of the biggest problems in the church today.  A large segment of the modern church totally ignores the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

When we bow our knee to Christ as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us.  But that’s not just for show.  He lives in us in order to lead and guide us into the Lord’s plan for our lives.

The Biblical term for ignoring the Holy Spirit’s work is godlessness.  To be godless doesn’t mean that you’re an atheist, or even unsaved.  Godlessness is living as if there’s no God, or as if God’s plan doesn’t really matter to you.

It’s so unfortunate that many believers try to figure out on their own how they want to live.  They come up with the plan of what they’ll do for God and what they’ll do for themselves.  They act as if God doesn’t speak to His people anymore.

Personally, I don’t know how anyone could live for Christ without spending time in His presence.  That’s where we truly learn to live life to the fullest.

Test everything.  Hold on to the good.  Avoid every kind of evil.  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
Brothers, pray for us.  Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.  I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-28

When you’re walking with the Holy Spirit, you can test, or literally approve, everything that comes your way.  Some things are for you to get involved in – the good, and others are not for you – the evil.

We get into trouble because of our skewed concept of good and evil.  We think that just because something isn’t intrinsically evil, then it’s okay for us to get involved in it.  I’ve had so many people ask me, “What’s wrong with…?”

The point isn’t whether something is right or wrong.  It’s all about whether or not it’s a part of God’s plan for your life.  That’s why time in the Lord’s presence, listening to His Spirit is so important.  There may be something that looks good, that God doesn’t want me to waste my time on.

On the other hand, just because something is not for me, doesn’t mean that it’s not in God’s plan for your life.  I can’t make you walk within the boundaries that God has set for my life.

Now please realize that in all this discussion I’m not talking about those things that the Bible calls sin.  Sin is sin, and it’s never God’s will for us to fall into it.

I’m talking about the normal day to day decisions of life.  God wants to be involved in all of our planning.  That includes our time, money, career, family and educational choices.  When we ignore God’s voice in these matters, we’re quenching the Spirit and treating prophecy with contempt.

The important thing to see is that Paul wanted this read to everyone, not just the leadership.  We all need to be listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice and following His leading.

Question: What’s the last instruction you’ve heard from the Holy Spirit?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2017 in Prayer, Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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Holiness – Walk or Position

In my last post I talked about how church leaders need to spend quality time in God’s presence. They need to hear a Word from God to pass on to their people.

Much of church teaching today has no effect on the people. I believe it’s because most church people know that it doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit, but from the training and study of the teacher. Of course a leader must train and study, but the goal should be to hear what God wants said at the meeting.

Now Paul is going to talk to them about a segment of the known will of God.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6

In my last post I explained why 1 Thessalonians was one of the foundational books. In this verse we see another “first”. This is the first time that the word sanctification or holiness appears. This is important to us.

Paul tells us that we should be sanctified – made holy – and uses an example of what it looks like. One of the signs is an avoidance of sexual immorality. The word Paul uses for this is the general term for any sexual sin.

I know that there are a lot of believers who like to deal with people about the sin. That’s not the right place to start. We should be stressing holiness. If we understood true holiness, then sin wouldn’t be an issue.

The problem of understanding stems from the fact that there are two forms that holiness takes. When we’re saved, God immediately declares us to be holy in Christ. We’re set apart to Him and are free to approach His throne whenever we want. This is called positional holiness.

Paul isn’t talking about positional holiness in this verse. Because he explains a sanctification that can be seen in your lifestyle, he’s talking about the walk of holiness.

One of the imbalances I see in the church these days is the overemphasis on the position of holiness. The Holy Spirit felt that it was important that the first mention of this principle in Scripture, be the walk of sanctification.

I believe that when an immature Christian hears about their positional sanctification, without hearing about the corresponding change of lifestyle, they become apathetic to the life-changing work of the Spirit of God.

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

This passage sums up what’s been said so far. Paul is talking about a lifestyle of holiness. We should expect to see our lives changed by the salvation of God at work in us.

If there’s no ongoing change in a person’s life, that’s evidence that they’re rejecting God. After all, when we’re saved, God places His Holy Spirit in us. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit to change us into the image of Christ.

We must allow the Holy Spirit within us to continue making us holy.

Question: How would you describe the difference between the position of holiness and the walk of holiness?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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Three Symptoms of a Lack of Power

Compared to the early church, we live in a generation that barely sees the power of God at work. As a result, we need to use other methods to promote God’s kingdom. Do you know what these powerless methods look like?

I believe that if God’s people would spend time with the Holy Spirit, and then obey what they hear, we would see society changed. Instead, we rely on human plans to try and do God’s work. It’s sad, but I think that we’ve simply gotten used to ministry without power.

A few posts ago I talked about how Paul’s view of the Gospel was a demonstration of the power of God. Now he explains what it’s not…

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.
1 Thessalonians 2:3

Without operating in the power of the Spirit, leaders must find other ways of getting people to serve God. Paul lists three of them here. I think you’ll be surprised at what he says to us.

The first word he uses is error, which means wandering. This word literally means to stray because you’ve left the right way and are now simply roaming around.

It’s very easy to leave the right path if I never seek God’s will to begin with. Ministries with this problem are always trying something new, because they saw it work somewhere else. They wander from new program to new program, hoping for something that works.

For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:25

The goal should be to seek the Lord’s will for my life, then walk in it. That will keep me from wandering around, hoping to someday stumble upon God’s plan for me.

The next issue is that of impure motives. The reason behind the ministry is as important as the ministry itself. There are some ministries that seem like their only goal is to exalt themselves.

We live in a society where many of the advertising and political campaigns are based upon negativity. It’s not about what I’m trying to do, but what you’re doing wrong. Unfortunately we’ve carried this kind of thinking into the church.

I believe that I should be able to do what God has called me to do without having to put down any other ministry. The fact is that making someone else look bad, doesn’t make me look any better.

The final issue Paul talked about was trickery. It’s believed that this Greek word means to set up a decoy or bait in hunting. It’s unfortunate that there are ministries that view believers as prey.

To make things worse, the decoy or bait they use, is the Scripture. Please understand me; I’m not saying that all televangelists are bad. Most of them are trying to do God’s will. But there are some who, I believe, only study the Bible in order to find a Scripture verse that will convince you to take money out of your wallet and put it into theirs.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 4:2

I truly believe that if I’m doing God’s will, then God will provide my needs. Yes, He will use people to give into my ministry. But I won’t need to make them feel guilty or use any other form of trickery or deceit.

We need to be looking at the fruit of the ministries that we want to support. We should only give into those works that are proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ.

Question: What do you think are the marks of a ministry of integrity?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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