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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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Short-Circuiting God’s Work

Today, many Christians are trying to win God’s blessings by striving to make themselves more worthy. In New Testament times there were some who thought circumcision and submitting to the Law of Moses would help get you closer to God. Paul wrote about these people in his letter to the Galatians.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
Galatians 5:1-2

Wow! Paul uses some powerful words in this passage. Christ will not benefit you at all if you strive to do the work in your ability. Nothing on the outside will avail you in trying to deserve the power of God.

As a matter of fact, it will have just the opposite effect. It will hinder your ability to flow in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Paul continues.

Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:3-4

We’re always looking for the quick fix. So, in order to get around the time needed to be intimate with God, we’d rather try different Old Testament acts, hoping that they’ll do the trick. People try tithing, food laws, vows, and other Old Covenant traditions thinking that somehow it will make them more worthy.

Unfortunately, by doing this one simple act, Christ, the Anointed One is rendered idle in your life. That’s what the literal Greek in this verse says. Paul states that you have gone off course from grace.

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
Galatians 5:5

The only way to walk in the power and righteousness of God is to wait in the Spirit. It’s only by intimacy with the Lord that we’ll gain this precious gift. It’s not going to manifest through your work and ability. It will only come about as God declares you worthy as a mature son.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there’s something wrong with tithing, eating healthy, reading the Bible, confessing the promises or going to church. These are a necessary part of our growth in the Lord. They’re also a normal part of a mature Christian’s life. What I’m saying is that if your sole purpose in doing these things is to make points toward receiving God’s power, then you’re going to be disappointed.

What I desire is to see the church reach its maturity in Christ. Only then will we see the manifestation of the power of God in our services. As long as we have the mentality of spiritual childhood, we’ll never experience it. Having to recite and claim the promises are a part of childhood.

It’s what children do in the natural. It’s the “are we there yet?” attitude. If we decide to go fishing on Saturday and I tell you I’ll be by to pick you up at 5:00 AM, you don’t keep calling me to remind me. I show up at your house at 5 and you’re ready and waiting. That’s what adults do (or should do).

My children don’t have to keep reminding me that it’s my responsibility as a parent to feed them. They know where the refrigerator is and they know they’re free to get something whenever they want.

It’s the same with God. Jesus, as a mature Son, did not have to keep reciting the promises to the Father. He knew that they’d activate when needed. Maturity lives above the promises. If only we could grasp the freedom and power of spiritual maturity. It would propel us into a more intimate relationship with the Lord.

Question: How does waiting on the Lord in the Spirit bring growth and maturity?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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The 5 Warning Signs of Legalism (Repost)

I’m continuing through the book of Galatians, studying Paul’s teaching on legalism.  Because many people have told me this post helped them in the past, I decided to include it in this series.  I hope this repost will be a blessing to you.

Many Christians are bound by legalism.  Are you one of them?  The trouble is that legalism can be very deceptive.  You can be caught up in it and never know it – unless you see the warning signs.  I hope this will be both a challenge and a blessing to you.

Elevating works over position.  Do you worry about what you can do to please God?  The correct answer is – nothing!!  It’s the blood of Christ that makes me acceptable to God.  Nothing I do can make Him love me any more or any less.  While works can affect my rewards and blessings, they’ll never change God’s love and acceptance of me if I’m in Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Seeing yourself more of a slave than a son. Yes, we do serve God and are expected to obey Him in all things. But the way we obey is as mature sons and daughters.  As spiritual children, we learn servanthood.  It’s the training ground for our growth in Christ.  The purpose of servanthood is so that we can walk in maturity.  The Lord desires sons and daughters to represent Him to the world.  (Galatians 4:1-7)

Relying more on your confession than God’s grace. I believe in the confession of Scripture.  Rehearsing and memorizing it is an important part of the believer’s life.  Just as important is the reason we do it.  The purpose of confessing God’s Word is to increase our faith in Him.  But ultimately, it’s not my confession, but the power of God that will bring about the changes that I need.  (II Peter 1:3)

Giving more time to studying Scripture than to intimacy with Christ.  Scripture study is very important – it’s one of my passions.  I couldn’t live without it.  But, spending quality time with the Lord is even more so.  Jesus rebuked the Scribes and the Pharisees for diligently studying the Scriptures, yet not going to the Christ that they pointed to.  It’s not enough just to know about Christ.  I need to have an intimate, personal knowledge of Him that only comes from time spent in His presence.  (John 5:39-40)

Being confident more in the comparison with others than abiding in Christ.  Comparison is a deadly trap.  The problem is that I can always find someone less committed than me. It gives me a false sense of security because I’m no worse than anyone else.  On the other hand, I can spend my days feeling worthless, because I look at others who are farther along than me in the faith.  I can’t base my self-evaluation on someone else’s life.  My goal is not to be better than you, but to be like Christ.  (II Corinthians 10:12)

Questions: Have you battled with legalism?  How have you overcome it?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Spiritual Walk

 

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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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Football Faith

I’ve been posting about the need for our faith and actions to line up together. That’s where we see God’s power at work in us. It’s time for God’s people to start living out their faith.

We believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That’s a great thing to trust in. But if you really believe it, then you’re going to let someone know that you feel that way.

I live in the Boston area. It’s no secret that the people around here believe that the New England Patriots are the greatest football team ever. Because of that, in the fall, on any given weekend, no matter where you go you’ll hear people talking about them. That’s what happens when you truly believe something. It affects how you act and speak.

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
James 2:24

We are saved because we trust in Christ. His blood was shed for our sins. But is believing enough? What does the Scripture say?

…that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Romans 10:9-10

There has to be both the faith and the actions working together. Believing alone won’t save you. There has to be a confession, out loud, from your own lips.

When the Holy Spirit works on your heart, He causes faith to arise in you. That’s actually what conviction is. It’s when you believe that something’s wrong with your life and there’s something you need to do to bring about a change.

When we come to Christ in repentance, we’re acting on what we believe. We need help, and the Lord is the only one who can give it to us.

But salvation is not the only area where faith and actions need to line up. Whenever we’re trusting God for something, we need to walk it out. Look at James’ example.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
James 2:25

This is in reference to Israel defeating Jericho in battle. Before the fight, Israel sent spies into the city. This account is told in the book of Joshua, chapter 2.

If you read that chapter, you find out that everybody in the city believed that the God of Israel was the true God. They believed that God was going to give the whole land to Israel. But of all the people in Jericho, only Rahab acted on what she believed.

She hid the spies on her roof. By protecting them she secured safety and protection for her family. Her faith and her actions worked together for her good. That’s why James concludes this section with this summation.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:26

We need to be a people who operate with a living faith. That means that it’s not just in our hearts. It’s a faith that people can see by our actions and hear from our lips.

Question: What’s an example of how your faith and actions have worked together?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2017 in Faith, Spiritual Walk

 

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The Sabbath Concept

Cross SunsetThe concept of resting in the Lord is very important. That’s why I’ve been talking about it for a number of posts.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
Hebrews 4:9-10

This is a key verse in our understanding of rest. The term Sabbath-rest is a very interesting one. It’s the Greek word Sabbatismos. This tense of the word Sabbath means the principle behind the Sabbath.

To put it in English terms the writer is talking about the concept of Sabbathism. So what this verse says is that carried over from the Old Covenant, into the New, is the principle if Sabbathism, not necessarily the observance of the Sabbath day itself. This is only referring to the concept behind it.

The reason is that anyone who enters God’s rest must do so exactly like God did. The believer must, by faith, settle down off of his own works. Think about this. God is still resting – but has He stopped acting? Absolutely not! The Lord continues to respond, yet He remains at rest.

This is the same for us. We know that the outcome has already been decided. We don’t know how God will bring it all about, only that He will. Therefore, we are not working to bring about a desired result.

Our only responsibility is to respond to God correctly. It’s this calling that’s the hard part of our walk with God. Israel was never able to attain to this.

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
Hebrews 3:19

Believe it or not, we’re actually talking about power. When the Scripture says that they were not able to enter this rest, it uses the Greek word dunamis. This verse literally says that they did not have the power to enter. It takes the power of God to enter this rest.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Hebrews 4:11

As I said, our response to God is the hard part. This verse makes that very clear. The Greek word that it uses means to be diligent, prompt, and quick. It’s going to require you to put forth some effort to enter God’s rest; it doesn’t just happen by accident.

Otherwise, as this passage warns, you will fall into the same pattern of apathy that hurt the Israelites. We will lose out because we get apathetic about the Lord’s rest. The writer now makes the reason for this abundantly clear.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

The key to this passage of Scripture is the first word, for. This verse contains the reason why we must make every effort to enter God’s rest that He has so graciously provided for His people. So often this verse is read as a “stand-alone” reference.

This was not written merely to give us some information about the Word of God. It’s the main reason why we must enter into the Lord’s rest.

In my next post I’ll finish this series by showing how the Word of God and resting in the Lord are related.

Question: How does trusting God’s Word cause you to rest in Him?

© Nick Zaccardi 2015

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Faith, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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5 Warning Signs of Legalism (Repost)

WarningThis is the fifth of six reposts of my most read articles. It was from 2012.

Many Christians are bound by legalism. Are you one of them? The trouble is that legalism can be very deceptive. You can be caught up in it and never know it – unless you see the warning signs. I hope this will be both a challenge and a blessing to you.

Elevating works over position. Do you worry about what you can do to please God? The correct answer is – nothing!! It’s the blood of Christ that makes me acceptable to God. Nothing I do can make Him love me any more or any less. While works can affect my rewards and blessings, they’ll never change God’s love and acceptance of me if I’m in Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

 Seeing yourself more of a slave than a son. Yes, we do serve God and are expected to obey Him in all things. But the way we obey is as mature sons and daughters. As spiritual children we learn servanthood. It’s the training ground for our growth in Christ. The purpose of servanthood is so that we can walk in maturity. The Lord desires sons and daughters to represent Him to the world. (Galatians 4:1-7)

Relying more on your confession than God’s grace. I believe in the confession of Scripture. Rehearsing and memorizing it is an important part of the believer’s life. Just as important is the reason we do it. The purpose of confessing God’s Word is to increase our faith in Him. But ultimately, it’s not my confession, but the power of God that will bring about the changes that I need. (II Peter 1:3)

Giving more time to studying Scripture than to intimacy with Christ. Scripture study is very important – it’s one of my passions. I couldn’t live without it. But, spending quality time with the Lord is even more so. Jesus rebuked the Scribes and the Pharisees for diligently studying the Scriptures, yet not going to the Messiah that they pointed to. It’s not enough just to know about Christ. I need to have an intimate, personal knowledge of Him that only comes from time spent in His presence. (John 5:39-40)

Being more confident in your comparison with others than abiding in Christ. Comparison is a deadly trap. The problem is that I can always find someone less committed than me. It gives me a false sense of security because I’m no worse than anyone else. On the other hand, I can spend my days feeling worthless, because I look at others who are farther along than me in the faith. I can’t base my self-evaluation on someone else’s life. My goal is not to be better than you, but to be like Christ. (II Corinthians 10:12)

Questions: Have you battled with legalism? How have you overcome it?

© Nick Zaccardi 2015

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Encouragement, Legalism, Spiritual Walk

 

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