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The Spirit and the Cross

We’re continuing our study through the book of Galatians.  Now that we’re in the final chapter, Paul is beginning to wrap up his teaching.

In this letter, he deals with the false teachers who said that you needed to come under the law in order to be saved. There were people trying to convince the church that Christ forgives your sin, but the law makes you acceptable to God.

Paul had an answer for these people that we need to take to heart in this generation.

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!  Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Galatians 6:11-12

If our focus is on the outward behaviors, then we’ll avoid the cross at all cost.  In spite of this, we still want God’s grace to work in our lives.  We want to see God’s blessing on our finances, health, jobs, and family.

At that point, our mind tells us that there must be something we can do to obtain God’s blessing.  So we put ourselves under all kinds of rules and regulations in order to earn the grace of God.

Here’s why that approach doesn’t work.  Under the law, you can live for yourself by invoking a string of technicalities.  It’s the same thing the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would do.  You simply tell yourself, “I’m okay.  I go to church, read the Bible, and live a good life.”

In reality, these people want to avoid the fear of the cross.  The word persecuted in the above verse comes from a root word that means to run away or retreat.  That tells me that these individuals are cowards who have decided not to embrace the cross.  Instead of running from it, we must live in its shadow.

Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:13-14

Instead of trying to avoid being worldly by our own willpower, we must embrace the cross.  Think about what Paul is saying here.  The world is nailed to a cross.  I’m nailed to another.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t get over to that other cross.  Neither can the world get to me.

That’s what we do to our flesh by invoking the power of the cross in our lives.  When we nail our flesh to the cross there’s a power that’s released to work God’s righteousness in us.  It’s not a struggle to keep pure, but reliance upon the Holy Spirit in us.

But we need to remember, we nail our flesh to the cross by the spiritual walk.  The more I pray in the spirit, the more my flesh is dealt with.

I can never crucify the flesh with its wants and desires by my will-power.  My flesh can’t change itself, no matter how good my intentions are.  It can only be accomplished by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

This is the path to all that God has for you.  I’m talking about healings, increase, miracles and the provision of God.  It’s everything you need for life and godliness.

It will only come in its fullness as we embrace the pattern laid down by the Lord.  We must follow the path of the cross by a walk in the spirit.  Allow the Lord to work His pattern of salvation in us.  It’s the way to freedom in Him.

Question: What would the church look like if we all embraced the path of the cross?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

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Are We There Yet?

Do you ever get impatient because things seem to take longer to accomplish than you expected?  I’ve found that to be especially true in my spiritual life.  Why is that?

In my last post, I finished my look at the Fruit of the Spirit.  Now we’ll move on to the rest of the book of Galatians.

In this letter, Paul says something that I think we never fully understand what he’s implying.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
Galatians 5:24

The Apostle Paul makes this statement or others like it, throughout his writings.  But do we understand what he’s telling us?

We read that our sinful nature (also called our old self or the flesh) has been crucified.  Because of that truth, some have said that their old nature is dead.  But that’s not entirely true.

The trouble is that being crucified is not the same as being killed.  Crucifixion is a long, slow, agonizingly painful process.  It’s not as simple as being shot in the head.

To say that our old self is crucified means that it’s still hanging on to life.  It still has hope that you’ll change your mind and take it down from the cross.

Another problem we find is that the flesh, even while it’s being crucified, never stops talking.  It continues to try and exert influence over your actions.  Dealing with the old nature is never a one-time decision.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Colossians 3:5

The phrase put to death in this verse literally means to deaden.  This speaks about the process of making something dead rather than death itself.  Dealing with our flesh is an ongoing project.  It’s not something you can accomplish overnight.

I only wish that there was one prayer I could recite and be done with it.  The truth is that it’s an ongoing battle that will-power or good intentions alone will never win.  Then where does the victory over the flesh come from?

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live…
Romans 8:13

This verse also talks about the process of putting something to death.  You can never kill the misdeeds of the flesh, but you can deaden them by the spirit.

Victory over the sinful nature can only be won in the spirit.  That’s one of the reasons that prayer in the spirit is so important.  The more time spent in God’s presence, the deader the influence of the flesh.

It’s unfortunate that so many people teach the will-power method.  They tell you to just choose not to do what the flesh wants.  You can usually tell who these people are.  The older they get, the more permanent the frown is on their face!

I, personally, want to be free from my sinful nature – but I want to walk in the joy of the Lord at the same time.  The answer is the walk of the spirit.  That’s why Paul sums it all up with the following statement.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:25

Cultivate your spiritual walk.  That’s the only way to beat the sinful nature.

Question: What’s your experience with the walk of the spirit controlling the flesh?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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Have You Seen the Red Flag?

There’s something interesting that happens when you’re watching football.  Have you ever noticed that everything stops when the announcer says, “There’s a flag on the field.”

That means that something happened that shouldn’t have.  Now we’re waiting to find out what happened…and what needs to be done about it.  Did you know that we have that same type of experience in our Christian walk?

Listen to how Paul explains it to the Galatian church.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21

Paul has just told the Galatians that if they cultivate their walk in the spirit, then the flesh will not be an issue.  Now he goes on to tell them that the work of the flesh shines its light through the following list.

Some of these things we classify as really bad.  Things like sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, drunkenness, and orgies.  But the interesting thing is the list of sins that we barely even think about as sin.  Paul sandwiches them right in the middle of all the “big” ones.  In God’s eyes, they’re all the same.

First of all, I want to talk about what this list is NOT.  This isn’t a checklist for judging whether someone’s a Christian or not.  The phrase, those who live like this, literally means those who perform these things repeatedly or habitually.  He’s not talking about a one-time failure.

Also, he’s not saying that Christians who live like this are not saved.  There’s a difference between our salvation and our inheritance.  We do not inherit salvation.  Salvation is our supernatural birth into God’s family.

Our inheritance is our reward for being a contributing member of the family.  As a matter of fact, if you believe he’s talking about losing your salvation here, then according to this list, most churches in America are unsaved.

If you’re habitually involved in one or more of these activities, then there’s something you’re not doing that you could receive a reward for.  The things on this list can rob you of your inheritance in Christ.  Paul makes it clear that you can be saved and yet have absolutely no rewards (1 Corinthians 2:10-15).

We need to understand what this list is really all about.  Paul says that it’s the shining light of the flesh.  These things are warning signals to us.  It should be like a flag the referee throws down on the field of our life.

These were not given so that I could judge you.  I have this list so that I can assess my own walk with the Lord.

My goal is to cultivate my walk in the spirit.  These behaviors are a sign that some area of my life is off track.  In my relationship with God, I need more interaction with the Holy Spirit.

So the bottom line is that Paul isn’t telling the Galatians a list of activities to keep away from.  He’s giving them a group of signals that will point them back to Christ.  They show our need for a deeper walk in the spirit.

Don’t get caught up in guilt and condemnation.  If you see these things appear, there’s a simple solution.  Go immediately before God and admit your fault in humility and repentance.  Receive His forgiveness.  Then use this experience to propel you forward into a deeper fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Question: How have you seen your life change as your relationship with the Lord grows?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 

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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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Walking in Faith, Hope & Love

In my last post we finished looking at the book of James, the first epistle given by the Holy Spirit to the church. During that time, a man named Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the believers.

After an encounter with Christ Himself, Saul became a Christian and his life was totally changed. He was eventually called to preach and became a missionary to the gentiles. The next revelation of God’s Word to the church was through this man, who changed his name to Paul.

On one of his journeys, Paul went to the city of Thessalonica and many were saved. (These events can be read in more detail in Acts 16-18.) Because of intense persecution, Paul had to leave quickly. This immediate exit caused him to be concerned about the health of the newly formed church.

Paul eventually traveled to Corinth, where he stayed for over a year. During that time, he sent Timothy to check-up on the church at Thessalonica. Timothy brought back a good report that the young believers were standing in the truth.

The letter of First Thessalonians was written to encourage this church, after Paul listened to Timothy’s report.

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-3

Paul opens the letter by remembering their faith, hope, and love. These are the three things that the Bible says will be with us eternally. Too often we think about them only in spiritual terms.

We sometimes get the idea that they’re just good feelings that Christians should enjoy. Some believers act like they’re wonderful gifts that should be tucked quietly away in our hearts.

NO WAY!!! According to Paul, faith, hope, and love are the sparks that ignite our ministry before God. There are three different things that happen in us as a result of their influence upon us.

First, faith produces our work. That word literally means your assignment. It’s the task that God has given you. As you go before God in faith, He gives you grace for the calling He’s placed upon your life. As I trust God more and more, I learn to follow His ways. Eventually I start to understand why He wanted me in His kingdom. Faith causes me to stand in my assignment.

Then comes love – it prompts us to labor. That word labor, means to use up your strength in performing a task. Without the love of God, we’ll never pour ourselves into the calling He’s placed upon us. We’re called to work with all of our strength. Without love, that will never happen.

Finally, hope inspires endurance. It’s easy to start out strong, but it’s how we finish that matters the most. Hope is the biblical word for expectation. If I do my part, then I can expect God to show up and do His part.

That’s what keeps me going even when I don’t feel like it. I know what God says in His Word. Because I place my expectation on Him, I can continue to live for the Lord. Hope gives you the endurance to persevere to the end.

Let faith, hope, and love give you more than just a warm feeling. Let them spur you on to accomplishing your destiny in the Lord’s Kingdom.

Question: How have you seen faith, hope and love at work in your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2017 in Faith, Ministry, Spiritual Walk

 

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Are You Religious?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word religious? Do you think about someone who goes to church, reads the Bible, and prays a lot? The Bible has a very different definition of what religious should be.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:26-27

The word religious in this passage comes from a Greek word that means ceremonial observances. That means that you do things out of tradition. So to understand it, we need to realize that this doesn’t apply to our spiritual walk with Christ.

Being spiritual is all about relationship, not religion. I come to Christ in prayer, in the church, and in the Scripture, not because it’s tradition or ceremony. I come to Him because I want to know Him better as a person.

The better I relate to Christ, the more growth I experience in my Christian walk. I do know that there are many Christians who treat their walk with God in a religious way. However, in my opinion, it’s much better to cultivate a relationship with Christ, then to simply follow religious observances.

What, then, does this Scripture want us to be religious about? I can see three things that we need to observe as a tradition in our lives.

First of all, we need to religiously control our tongues. James goes so far as to say that if you don’t control your tongue, you’re deceiving yourself as to your maturity. It doesn’t matter what else you do, it’s all worthless without bringing the tongue under control.

That’s because our mouth doesn’t speak on its own.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45

Control of the tongue is about controlling what you put into your heart. So if you’re not constantly filling your heart with the Word, your tongue will declare it publically.

The next part of good religion is to help those in distress. We don’t just live for ourselves. There’s a world of hurting people around us. Orphans, widows, single parents, and those in prison all need encouragement and help. There are many more than just those groups.

If we truly want to start a tradition, it should be one of helping others in their need. More than any other group, Christians should be the ones that help those no one else cares about. After all, that’s what Jesus did in His ministry.

The final part is to keep yourself from being polluted by the world. That’s a tough assignment. The Scripture literally says to keep from becoming spotted or stained by the world.

Every day, as we work and interact with those around us, the dirt from society is coming at us. If we’re not careful, we can start picking up some of the same attitudes. This will greatly hinder our walk with God.

We need to be in the pattern, the tradition, of going to God daily for repentance. As the Holy Spirit prompts us that we need to be cleaned of something, we need to be quick to respond. In that way we’ll be free of the stains of the world.

If you want to be religious about something, these are the things you should major on; and keep your walk with Christ as a growing relationship.

Question: What are the religious traditions in your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Ministry, Prayer, Spiritual Walk, The Church

 

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Why Scripture?

BibleIn my last article, I began posting about the Scripture. Do you know what it is and what it’s for? Let’s look at what Scripture says about itself.

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:19-21

Peter tells us that Scripture was given to bring light into our hearts. In the pages of the Bible is everything we need to accurately set the course for our lives. We don’t have to live stumbling around in the darkness.

Next, Peter says that there’s an overriding principle that we need to understand above all else. Nothing in Scripture is there all by itself. There’s an eternal purpose for everything that’s written.

It’s the Holy Spirit who gave it. No passage can be interpreted apart from the whole. We cannot take a verse or two and interpret them out of their context. I need to know their place in the chapter or the book that they’re in. Context is everything when I read Scripture.

Finally, we’re told that no Scripture came about by the will – the choice or determination – of man. That would never have worked. No matter how hard I tried, I could never even imagine what God’s plan is, or how to bring it about.

On the contrary, it could only come forth by a moving of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people who were completely sold out to Him. They allowed the Lord to carry them along.

Scripture, therefore, contains the words of those who, moved by the Spirit, were speaking what God wanted to be said, the way God wanted it said. God used their language and personalities to speak what was in His heart.

The Greek word for Scripture is the word graphe, which means writings. Our working definition for what Scripture is would be: The written record of God’s Word to people.

Since the dawn of Creation, God has sent His Word to many different people, in different places, at different times, during different situations and circumstances. I’m glad that God desired these Words to be written down for future generations to read. I’m grateful that I can hold them in my hands and study them.

In my next post, I’ll begin talking about why was it so important to God that this word be written down.

Questions: What does the Scripture mean to you? How has it impacted your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2016

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2016 in Scripture Series, Spiritual Walk, Word of God

 

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