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The Ten Commandments: The Great Command

June 8, 2014

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”(Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

The Greatest Map

The whole law of God is a map for us. In this series we’ve seen that even the Ten Commandments are really about heart-level obedience. But the Greatest Command is the greatest map. Map to what? Map to joy. Map to true happiness. Map to fullest human experience. The map to what my soul was made to find true satisfaction in. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures evermore.” Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “for the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame.” Commands get a bum rap; we think they are leading us to sadness. God’s commands lead us to joy because God’s commands lead us to him!

“The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” (Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, p. 62) Think about that. What does it tell us about a man if the biggest and most important thing in his life was his stamp collection? Or what do you think when you hear about the woman who left her whole estate to her dog? Or what about the guy who is buried with his Harley? “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” So we see love for country in the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings this week and we honor it. We see love for spouse and child as noble and right. But the greatest love the human soul can have is to know and love his Creator. To love God. For this love to be the defining love of his whole life and for all of life to revolve around it. All the heart. All the soul. All the mind.

What if God loves us enough to command what he knows will give us the greatest joy? My daughter turned one on Friday. She doesn’t understand much but she understands “no.” She wants to touch an outlet, and we say, “No!” She wants to pull the TV down on herself, and we say, “No.” We tell her we love her over and over again. I don’t think she understands our love talk because at this point, all she seems to understand is “no.”

The Ten Commandments can feel to us like all God is saying is “no.” Don’t do this. Don’t do that. All we hear is “no” because to our sin nature, that’s all it feels like.

Just like with our daughter, behind God’s “no” is God’s love. Behind every command not to bow to idols, not to take the life of an image bearer, not to covet stuff, is the love of God to us. Behind God’s “yes” is God’s love. Out of his love for us also comes his command to love him. To love God and live for God expands the soul and heart and mind. It creates an “inner relish” for God that is the summit of human experience. God knows this because he made us this way. All the commands say it but the Great Command says it most clearly—God is the only worthy object of our heart, soul, and mind.

So ask yourself, if my soul is measured by the object of its love, who or what is that ultimate love?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Tenth Command: Covet Christ!

June 1, 2014

Covetousness or Contentment?

Each command tells us about the character of God and has a positive command with it. How about the tenth? What does no coveting tell us about God? It tells us that God alone satisfies the human heart. God alone provides what we need. God is sovereign over our lives and our circumstances. God is good in what he provides for us and what he provides for others. If I have something, it is because of the goodness of God. If I don’t have something, God also deems that good. The tenth command is about the sufficiency of God as soul-satisfier and the final judge of what is good for me. All of that is another way of saying that the tenth command is a command to covet God and God alone.

You might say, Wait, what? Are you saying it’s wrong to strive to improve my lot, wrong to improve my car, wrong to improve my savings account, wrong to improve my health? No. God is for human flourishing. 1 Timothy 4:4 says, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

  • The tenth command is about freeing us from the materialistic mindset
  • Freeing us from identity in things
  • Freeing us from thinking he who dies with the most toys wins
  • Freeing us from the lustful accumulation of this world
  • Freeing us from the kind of misdirected, obsessive, and pathological life pictured tragically in Gollum and the ring of power in The Lord of the Rings…his precious

If there is one command that is needed in American materialism, it is the command to covet God. We must never think that having anything but him will satisfy the longings of our hearts. What can satisfy? What can provide my soul with peace and contentment? God alone through his Son Jesus. When I realize that God gave me his own Son as a sacrifice for my sin and redemption for my guilt, now there is no circumstance that I cannot be content in because in every circumstance I have Jesus. This is Paul’s argument in Philippians:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:11-13)

People quote verse 13 and apply it to anything and everything. No. This has to do with contentment. Paul was familiar with seasons of abundance and seasons of want; times of plenty and times of hunger. Yet there is a secret he had learned. Are you in a time of want? A time of hurt? A time of trial? Or have you lost something or someone very dear to you? You long for peace and contentment. As Christians, there is a secret. Do you know it?

If we are looking to our circumstances for contentment, we will never find it. Our circumstances are always changing, and in a broken world, ultimately disappointing. There are some circumstances that can never be changed. I’ll never have contentment in those IF I derive peace from circumstances. But Paul’s contentment wasn’t in his circumstances.

Contentment does not come from changing my circumstances to meet my desires, but rather changing my desires to meet my circumstances.

How can the Christian do this?

My circumstances are controlled by a sovereign God who loves me.

Do I believe God is in control or not? If he is, then the things I deem unchangeable and undesirable are here for reasons I may not understand but can trust God in. How do I know he loves me? He gave me Jesus.

In every circumstance, whether desirable or not, Christ is the source of my strength and satisfaction.

That is Philippians 4:13. But what does it mean? It goes back to Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul treasured having Christ so much that even death was gain to him because in death he gained Christ. This is so hard for us because this world and this life have such a hold on us. But Christ assures us of eternal life and that we should live to be rich there.

I can battle coveting what I don’t have or what others do have by treasuring above all else what I have in Christ.

Do you think about your final days on earth or even your deathbed? There will be no more houses to buy. Hobbies to live for. Money to make. Degrees to earn. Possessions to accumulate. All there is ahead is eternity. What do we step into eternity with? Not a house. Not a spouse. Not an ox. Not a donkey. That’s true for Warren Buffet and the homeless man on the street. Death reveals the true value of all these things we covet so dearly. What is their value? Nothing really. So how can the Christian die happy? If in my life I coveted Christ, then I can step into eternity with anticipation because in death I finally get what I have longed for—personal presence with Jesus and eternal life in paradise with God.

Dear friends, the things in this world are not evil in themselves but we make them evil when we covet them and mistakenly place our hope for happiness in them. It is better to covet God. Better to covet Christ. Better to covet the godliness of godly saints. Better to covet commendation from Christ as a good and faithful servant. This is how we fulfill the tenth command: enjoy the freedom it provides to live in this world without loving it and to be rich in eternity as our spiritual longings are fulfilled in Christ.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Ninth Command: Truth-speaking in Love

May 18, 2014

Encouragement, admonishment/confrontation, forgiveness, affirmation, praise, and thanksgiving

These are all graces that smooth out relationships and help us get through the inevitable tough spots. Some people are so good at this. You get around them and when you are done talking with them, you feel uplifted somehow. They may not talk about you but even their talk about themselves is so gospel-gracious that you sense both their humility and their genuine interest in you. This can be faked, but when it is genuine, somehow you know it.

Please also note that admonishment and confrontation is on here. Speaking the truth in love means sometimes we must talk about conflict or sin or failure. This means confronting lies and false doctrine in the church. Jesus describes in Matthew 18 this kind of loving confrontation. These are not as pleasant but they can be most helpful to others. So we aren’t talking about superficial happy talk that sounds like a cocktail party but is devoid of truth. Truth has teeth to it and we shouldn’t resent brothers and sisters who confront us in love to help us.

We would all be so blessed if we consciously and intentionally sought to bless others with our words. I have personally challenged myself in the area of affirmation. When I see gifting or spiritual growth, I need to say it; affirm it. I don’t do it nearly enough. I want to improve. How about you? Do any of these stir your heart to action?

140517_18_pic2 GeeseMy old pastor would often use this as an illustration of what it should be like to be in a healthy church. Apparently they have done studies about the honking of geese. You know when geese are flying around because they make an awful racket. There is so much honking. Did you know studies suggest they are actually encouraging each other with their honking? You are a good flyer! That’s an amazing formation! You can make it! Honk! Honk!

What kind of noise is heard around your church? Have you honked at anyone lately? Affirmed them? Encouraged them? Admonished them with grace somehow?

The power of life and death is in the tongue. When that tongue flows from a heart of gospel truth, motivated by God’s love, what a powerful blessing it can be. Gossip isn’t honking. Mr. Goose told me that Mrs. Goose once….Lying isn’t honking. Bragging isn’t honking. Gospel truth in the heart means I speak the truth with my mouth for the good and joy of everyone in the community of believers.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Ninth Command: Truth is Sacred

May 11, 2014

The Gospel: Transforming Liars into Truth-speakers

How do we fulfill the ninth command?

My parents came up with a very devious way to teach their children the need to tell the truth. In the DeWitt house growing up if any of us lied, my parents would say, “Oh that lie made your tongue dirty. We need to wash it.” So in we would go to the bathroom and out came the bar of soap. And some of you know where this is going because you grew up with parents that hated you as well. They would take the bar of soap and rub it on my tongue with some water. Yes, Pastor Steve had his mouth washed out with soap. To this day, I remember that taste. It is one of the nastiest tastes there is.

While that was a pretty good deterrent, it was no solution to the problem. Why? The problem was not the tongue, but the heart. For me to obey the ninth command, I needed to have my heart washed out with soap. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45 NLT)

My tongue was merely saying what my heart was thinking. To truly be clean, I would need the spiritual soap to get down there. That’s why all the jails and courts and punishments and warnings will not redeem one liar into a truth-speaker. Somehow we have to get the truth in our hearts. If the truth is in our hearts, then truth will be on our tongues.

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5 ESV) This is God’s soap. The ninth command condemns us and it can’t make us truth-speakers and it certainly can’t save us. “We must know the truth if we are to live the truth.”(John Murray, Principles of Conduct, p. 130.) How do we get the truth in our hearts so that our communication can be truth-speaking?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6) “I am the way the truth and the life.” What is he talking about? A way to get your heart cleansed. A way to get your sins forgiven. Jesus said elsewhere, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) How do we get the truth that cleanses and saves into our hearts?

This is going to sound impossibly simple. We believe. This believing requires a radical turning from sin in what the Bible calls repentance. Essentially, I choose to believe the truth about Jesus, which brings the truth of Jesus into my heart and soul. There, like soap, Jesus scrubs my heart with gospel truth. Truths like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) Truths like, “I am the life.” (John 14:6) Truths like, “Come to me, all who are labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) THE truth that He is Son of God, Savior of the world, my prophet, priest, and king. When the truth is in me, now the truth can flow from me in my words and actions which don’t rely on deceit or flattery but on faith in God. I am now free to speak the truth in love. When truth has my heart, truth has my tongue too.

The gospel does what the ninth command cannot do—turns liars into people who delight in the truth and who speak it too. What a freedom!

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Additional quotations taken from Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Eighth Command: From Taker to Giver

May 4, 2014

Transformed Heart: Generous Giving to Meet Others’ Physical and Eternal Needs

Transformation doesn’t happen when the thief stops stealing; transformation happens when the thief becomes generous. There are many people with the same greed as anyone in the Lake County Jail, but they try to satisfy it legally. Rather than being greedy thieves they are greedy watchmakers, shoemakers, and clockmakers. They don’t go to jail and they may prosper greatly. Yet is that what God is looking to do in us? Make us rich? For what? So that we can be non-stealing hard working materialists? No. Remember that God’s goal is to conform us to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29 ESV). The Spirit’s goal is to break us from our love of this world and our desire to find meaning in the accumulation of things (materialism) and to transform us into generous givers like Jesus.

Since preaching is one of the means by which God changes us, faithful preachers must talk about the motives behind our materialism or they are not faithful preachers.

“When people ask us what the difference is, we simply respond that Christians give. I think many times what happens is that we teach stinginess by default. We are so afraid to talk about money and touch on issues of giving that we’ve taught people they can be deeply spiritual and not be generous. In many ways we have communicated that how we deal with money is irrelevant to our spiritual lives.” (Erwin McManus, Unstoppable Force, p. 220.)

McManus is touching on something is plainly true. Our perspective and practice with money and possessions shows the true spiritual condition of our hearts. This can be positively displayed in our personal freedom to give what we have to God and others, or negatively as our stinginess reveals a spiritual emptiness and someone who really doesn’t get the gospel. Either way, money reveals character.

Paul is not saying, “Thieves, quit stealing, give to others, and go to heaven.” The thief on the cross didn’t do any of those, yet is in heaven. Salvation is by faith alone. This is the flaw in the famous Les Miserables. Jean Valjean seeks redemption for his past life as a thief by showing kindness to the orphaned daughter of a former employee. The musical implies that this saves you, but to be saved you have to sing all your words. My wife loves it so I’ll stop further critique.

There will be many honest businessmen who gave philanthropically who end up in hell. The rich young ruler in Mark 10 is an example of an apparently honest rich dude who was very moral but unsaved. True gospel transformation of the thief or materialist is when he works for what he has and gives generously for Jesus’ sake. It is gospel motivated. It’s not giving to change public policy or lobby congress or get my name on the building. It is motivated by love and a wonder for all that God has given me freely in Jesus.

A positive example of this would be Zacchaeus. He was an example of someone making a fortune legally but unethically. He was the senior executive for the Roman IRS. It was within his right to overcharge or extort; the Romans didn’t care as long as they got their taxes. Tax collectors were so famously corrupt that to be a tax collector was viewed as being the worst sinner in town. Zacchaeus was very rich and very short. If you know the story, he met Jesus. Jesus went to his house. The effect of Jesus’ teaching and presence on Zacchaeus was so radical that he says,

“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)

Tax collectors were takers; perhaps the most notorious takers in history. Zacchaeus went from an unethical taker to a generous giver. You could read this very wrongly. He paid restitution, therefore he is saved. No. The whole Bible insists that salvation cannot be earned, bought, or merited by anything we do. Yet what occurred in Zacchaeus’ heart? The presence of Jesus changed his heart and with that change of heart came generosity of spirit and money.

That is what Paul is emphasizing. Thieves and materialists can be saved by Jesus. He changes their hearts, and with that heart change comes another change. They orient away from taking from others and turn toward giving to others.

“Three attitudes we can take toward possessions. The first says, What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it. That is the attitude of the thief. The second says, What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it.” Since we are selfish by nature, this is the attitude that most people have most of the time. The third attitude – the godly attitude says, What’s mine is God’s; I’ll share it.”(Jerry Bridges as quoted by Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone, p. 176)

Take a moment and think of the most generous Christian you know. I’ll guess you don’t know much about their money or how they handle it, but you do see something special in them. There is a magnanimous spirit about them. They welcome you into their lives. They are hospitable with their attention. You sense they care about you. They listen. They ask about your life, hurts, and challenges. They are likely this way because they don’t view their things or time as ultimately theirs. These are gifts from God for them to steward. If you were to look behind the scenes of their finances, you would find quiet but faithful, generous giving to God and to others. They are likely hard workers and great employees. They are wise with what God provides to them. They don’t waste much. They can’t. They don’t view it as theirs in the first place. This allows them to feel free to give away to meet other peoples’ temporal needs. Their greatest joy is to use and give what they have to address peoples’ eternal needs.

Dr. Wilbur Williams & Pastor Steve

Dr. Wilbur Williams & Pastor Steve

Have you ever had a close-up on someone like this? I have. Fifteen years ago I was blessed to begin a friendship with Dr. Wilbur Williams. For over 45 years he has been Professor of Old Testament at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is an archaeologist and has led over 150 tours of Israel. I have done five or so of them with him myself. Wilbur is in his 80s. He has taught over 17,000 students and continues a full teaching load to this day. He has taken a salary each year from IWU of $1. He takes no salary for the Israel trips and has personally paid for legions of students to tour Israel. He has won professor of the year at IWU so many times they might as well just permanently mount the trophy in his office.

These are all things that you can read online. I have been blessed to know him personally. I don’t know why he likes me but for some reason he does. In my single years, I would write him a question and he would answer at length with godly advice about dating and women and marriage. He has 500 students a year and yet he would write to this lonely, single pastor. Here’s an example of his generosity: a few years ago we put together a “Steps of Paul” trip. We advertised it but there were some issues with the trip. I don’t remember all the details. But the short of it is, he led the tour for us without compensation, he personally paid for his wife to go, and told me the only reason he did this two-week tour was because he loved me.

When Jennifer and I got married, he spoke at our wedding and then jumped into a car and drove eight hours to a banquet held in his honor. He had this crazy day because he didn’t want to miss our wedding. I could go on and on. One I have to mention is his kindness to his wife Ardelia. Ardelia suffers from Alzheimer’s. I have watched the incredible patience of Dr. Williams caring for her. He has told me, “I never want her to feel bad about forgetting anything.” That’s something a new husband can learn from.

Few, if any in my life, have more modeled generosity to me than Dr. Williams. But if you were to ask him about it, he would deflect praise. He would talk about the Lord’s goodness. Thousands of students and pastors and an entire university hold him in the highest regard. He has lived the generous life. I would trust him with every penny I have. He is not a taker. He is a giver and he is blessed. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

I used to talk and joke publicly about being Dutch and lightheartedly embrace the stereotype of Dutch stinginess. A few years ago I purposed not to do that anymore. I don’t want to be known by perception or reality as being cheap. I want my life to be generous. Generous like Dr. Williams. And even more, generous like my Savior Jesus…

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself bybecoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

This gospel that we love and treasure is generosity toward us, and working through us, that gospel will be generous toward others.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Eighth Command: The Generous Life

April 27, 2014

The Generosity of God Seen in Salvation

“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15 ESV)

The generosity of God is most evident to us in salvation:

  • “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
  • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:4-8)

Both of these emphasize the generosity of God to us through Jesus. The gospel is the exact opposite of stealing. Not only does God not steal, he gives to the undeserving. Jesus gave by emptying himself of the glorious privileges that were his as God. This includes his humiliation in becoming human. Not only did God become one of us, but he gave his very life for us. Romans 8:32 says, “[God] did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.”

The picture at Golgotha is so very poignant to the eighth command. There were three crucified on crosses. The one in the middle was Jesus. What crime had those on this right and left committed? They were thieves. We don’t know what they took but they must have defrauded in a substantial way to be sentenced to death for doing so. On the right, was a thief; a taker. On the left was a thief; a taker. In the middle is the one who created everything and owns everything, yet on the middle cross is the greatest giver of all time. Two takers and one giver.

This is love. Hate robs and steals. Love is not simply the absence of taking but the presence of self-giving. Remember, every negative command has a corresponding positive one. When is a thief no longer a thief? “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NIV)

When is a thief no longer a thief? Not simply when he doesn’t shoplift or cheat on his taxes but when the taker becomes a giver. Not only does he stop taking what others have, but he isn’t selfish with what he does have. In this we reflect the very character of God, not as a taker but as a giver.

We are all thieves and robbers. We rob God of his glory every day. We take. We scheme. We rob God of his right as our Creator to rule our lives. We live for money and things and lie and cheat to get them. We steal from him in some way every day. Yet in the midst of our stealing from him, he gives grace to us. He gives and he gives and he gives. Thieves can be saved if they will believe and turn from their sin. Exhibit A is the thief on the cross:

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

The eighth command, like all the others, condemns us. But thieves can be saved by the lavish generosity of our self-giving God in Christ, if you will believe. Beware: God turns takers into givers.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Additional Scripture quotations taken from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© 2014 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

A Gospel for Everyone

April 20, 2014

“Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” (Acts 10:22 ESV)

Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman army—the occupying army—in Caesarea, the Hawaii of Israel. While he was “well spoken of by the whole nation of Israel” (Acts 10:22), he was also a Gentile. To this point in history, the gospel has only gone to Jews and those of Jewish descent (Samaritans). No one without Jewish descent has become a Christian and it’s not on anyone’s radar that God might want to save the Gentiles too. Cornelius was completely the wrong kind of man for God to love, much less save. Then something happens.

God gave the Apostle Peter a vision that helped Peter consider that maybe God loves more people than the Jews. Long story short: by God’s direction Cornelius summons Peter to come to Caesarea. Peter comes and enters Cornelius’ house. There he finds a house filled with people who are prepared to hear his message. Peter is bewildered but realizes that God is not a racist or simply a non-racist, but a lover of all people. So he tells them about Jesus.

If Cornelius COULD be saved, so can you

Peter had God’s love in a racial box. You had to be Jewish to be saved. I don’t think Peter thought God was a racist, but there is a big difference between being a non-racist and loving everyone. Think of God’s love. Certainly God loves us, right? Even people like me? God’s on our side. God prefers us. Then God rocks Peter’s world by saving an Italian, Roman, Gentile Soldier. In this he says, I love Italians too. I love Romans too. I love those you might regard as your enemies too. I want to save them too. God doesn’t have boxes.

Think of all the questions God WON’T ask at the final judgment: Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What side of town did you live on? What’s your skin color? What is your ethnicity? What did you do for a living? Did you make much money? Were you well known? Were you influential? Did people admire you?

Those things don’t matter to God. There are no cultural, racial, economic, or social restrictions to God’s love or salvation. He’s not a respecter of persons. My mentor’s dad was a pastor in Indianapolis many years ago. He told me the story that one Sunday, possibly on Easter, before the service an usher came rushing up to him and said, “Pastor, the Governor of Indiana is here and the church is full. What should we do?” His response was classic. He said, “Tell him to find a seat like everyone else.”

In God’s eyes, there are no governors, no celebrities, no special people. There are just sinners and the only celebrity in the church is Jesus. So if God chooses to save a Gentile member of the invading army of the land he promised to Abraham, then God can and will save you the same way he did Cornelius, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

If Cornelius NEEDED to be saved, so do we

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts 10:1-2)

You may say, but wait, he was a religious and good man; he was a good candidate to be saved. Actually, it’s very hard for Cornelius types to be saved. They are good people after all. They are better than most. They are moral. Kind. They are show-up-for-Easter-service type people. Is it possible to be a Cornelius and not be saved? What does this tell us if not that Cornelius type people still need the gospel? We are not saved by works but by Jesus and faith in him.

I’m such a good person, I don’t need Jesus. Are you a better person than Cornelius? Do your enemies admire your goodness? Are you known throughout the country for your piety and spirituality? Cornelius doesn’t stop Peter and say, “Well, do you realize who I am?” You may be a good person, but you’re not better than Cornelius.

Yet Cornelius realized that as good as he was, he wasn’t good enough. Cornelius needed a Savior. When it gets to the bottom line about Easter, isn’t that really it? Peter explains the action step: “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43) This is the gospel for everyone and a salvation for all who will believe.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

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