Keep Christ First :: By Nathele Graham 

How often do we hear someone say, “I don’t go to church because there are too many hypocrites there?” That statement comes from a misunderstanding of what a Christian is. Simply put, a Christian is a sinner saved by grace. We are people who recognize our sin and are sorry for it, but aren’t yet perfect. We’ve repented and asked Christ to forgive us; and even though we aren’t perfect, we are forgiven.

“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

The fact that our past, present, and future sins have been nailed to the cross doesn’t give us a license to continue sinning. A change in your attitude should have happened the moment you realized you needed Christ for salvation and accepted His shed blood as your once-for-all sacrifice to take away your sin. Overcoming the sin in your life will take time to accomplish; and while living this side of Heaven, we will never reach perfection. Only the righteousness of Christ is our way to eternal life. While outsiders may see a congregation of hypocrites, God sees His children learning to obey. If we keep Him first in our thoughts, it will show in our lives.

In order to know how to make Godly choices, we need to study Scripture. Many Christians like to read the Bible through in a year. This isn’t a bad thing, but Bible reading and Bible study are two different things. Reading Scripture is like a race. You rush to get through it as fast as you can. On the other hand, when you take time to study, you’ll learn to know God better and see how to make choices that please Him.

Why was Noah “perfect in his generation” and saved through God’s judgment? King David is known as a man after God’s own heart, but was guilty of adultery and murder. What made him special? There are lessons to be learned from these men’s lives, and you won’t learn if you rush through Scripture. Take time to study, and you’ll learn that Noah’s blood wasn’t tainted by the fallen angels. You will need to look at the original language (Hebrew) to understand, but you will gain a clearer understanding of God.

Noah had kept himself and his family separated from the sin around him and obeyed God, not Satan. We also need to keep ourselves separated from the sin around us. David sinned, but when convicted of that sin, he was heartbroken and truly repentant before the Lord.

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:1-3). 

David wrote Psalm 51 when seeking God’s forgiveness. Many people today, including political leaders, see themselves as above the law. King David’s desire was to please God; and when he failed, he sought forgiveness. That’s an example of how we should feel when we see we have fallen into sin. As you study Scripture you’ll learn to see things from God’s point of view and apply it to your life.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When Paul wrote those words, there was only Old Testament Scripture. If you zip through the Bible in a year, you’ll probably rush through Leviticus. Christians aren’t under the Law; but by studying it, you’ll come to understand more about how God views sin and what Jesus accomplished for you on the cross. There is no longer a need for sacrificing animals to cover sin because Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice that takes sin away. Because of His perfect love, your sins are forgiven. Turn from the sin in your life and begin walking in the way of Christ. Old friends may call you a “goody two shoes,” but when you confess Christ with your lips and you live to please Him, you won’t be called a hypocrite.

Rites and rituals won’t bring salvation and are quite often done to make a show of holiness to other people. You’re only fooling yourself if you jump through religious hoops but don’t live to please God.

“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26).

We all come to Christ with an insurmountable pile of sins. Those sins are forgiven at the moment you first truly accept Christ’s sacrifice for salvation. You confess that you’re a sinner and know that you cannot save yourself…only His blood takes sin away. You repented. That means you changed your mind and you know that sin has separated you from God.

You are a new creation in Christ, and it’s time to start over. The sins you once thought you enjoyed have no place in your life and should become repugnant to you. You’ve been justified by the Blood of the Lamb, and it’s time to begin the sanctification process. You recognize the sin in your life and pray for strength to turn from it. It could be something as common as gossiping or using foul language. Our lips should praise our Lord, not use His name as a curse.

My husband had quite a vocabulary of “four letter words,” but the day he gave his life to Christ those words were gone. I was amazed and very thankful. Other things took a little longer, but he studied Scripture and prayed about his sin. He knew he couldn’t hold onto things like anger and serve Christ perfectly. His life was a testimony, and I take great comfort knowing that the day he died he was welcomed Home by Jesus. Not because Ron was perfect, but because Jesus is perfect.

Scripture lists many sins that shouldn’t be in a Christian’s life, but it also lists positive things that should be reflected in our life.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

It’s easy to mouth words and put on a show of being religious. That’s what causes people to call Christians “hypocrites.” You may be the first one to arrive on Sunday morning and sit in your special pew; but if that’s where you leave your “religion,” then you aren’t living your faith. We need to understand the difference.

James gives the example of caring for widows and orphans. Believe me; I know the problems faced by widowhood. There are many things my husband just did because he knew how. I’m neither physically nor financially able to make repairs to my home, but God always provides. Because I study Scripture, I know that I can trust Him in all things. If there’s a widow in your congregation, you might start living your faith by asking her if she needs help. Is there a young child whose father has died? He needs the example of Godly men to teach him and mentor him. We know that it’s by the grace of God that we are saved, and works don’t bring salvation, but our faith should motivate us to do good works.

“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). Good works done in the name of Jesus should be a natural result of living a Christian life.

Many Christians have a heart to serve God, and this shows in doing acts of kindness. Many of the kind acts are done for unsaved people. This is a good thing. It shows that Christians care enough to help the needy, and those acts of kindness may bring someone to salvation.

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). 

Study that verse. Notice that Paul says to help everyone but qualifies his words to add “especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” In doing good works, don’t forget the struggles that fellow Christians face. Elderly people may need a ride to a doctor’s appointment, or a widower may enjoy being invited to your home for dinner.

In the congregation I attend, there’s a man who had some severe health issues. This winter was very cold, and he needed wood to heat his home. Some members of the congregation made sure he had enough wood for the winter. What a blessing that was for the brother in need. There are probably many people in your own congregation who could use a helping hand. You’ll find that true pleasure comes from letting the love of Jesus flow through you to help others.

Jesus urged His followers to abide in Him. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Christians need to strive to live the way Christ showed us. The more we “practice what we preach,” the more joy will fill our lives. Instead of looking to the ways of the world to make us happy, try serving the Lord to find true contentment. When we live out our faith, our lives will bear fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23 & 25).

The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, but He is also our Guide. He will teach us to walk in the ways of our Lord. It isn’t always easy because we still have the fight between our sin nature and the ways of the Lord. We have to make choices. Don’t put yourself in the way of temptation; but when temptation does come along, pray.

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24).

Christ took your sins to the cross; now you need to crucify carnal lusts. That’s how the fruit of the Spirit will grow and flourish in your life.

We live in troubled times. As the end of time approaches, wickedness increases. We are constantly bombarded with people telling us that sin is acceptable; but with Scripture to guide us, we know God’s truth. His truth never changes. As you live each day, be sure you keep Christ first in your thoughts. Let His ways be your ways.

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

God bless you all,

Nathele Graham

twotug@embarqmail.com

www.straitandnarrowministry.com

ron@straitandnarrowministry.com

Ron and Nathele Graham’s previous commentaries archived at https://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html

All original scripture is “theopneustos,” God breathed.

If you’d like to be on my mailing list to receive the commentaries, just drop me an email and let me know.

Prayer and Faith :: By Nathele Graham

From the time it was first established, Christianity has been the target of violence. The early believers risked their lives when they accepted Christ for salvation. The risks they were willing to take in order to embrace truth drew them together in a way that most of us cannot understand today. They shared meals together and supported each other emotionally and financially. When one of them was martyred, they all felt the hurt. The men whom Christ had chosen to establish the Christian faith laid their lives on the line daily, and one by one they were martyred.

“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1-2).

Herod was an evil man, and killing was a way of life with him. When Herod saw that the Jewish leaders were pleased that James had been killed, he decided to keep the murders going. Peter was the next one to be arrested and scheduled to be martyred.

“And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people” (Acts 12:4).

This is one of those verses that the King James translation uses a wrong word. Peter was arrested during the Jewish celebration of Passover, not the pagan holiday of Easter. According to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “quaternion” is a set of four men occupied in the work of a guard, two soldiers being chained to the prisoner and two keeping watch; alternatively one of the four watched while the other three slept. The night was divided into four watches of three hours each; there would be one quaternion for each watch by day and by night. In Herod’s mind, Peter was as secure as possible.

It’s interesting how Peter reacted to his situation. We read many accounts of Peter’s rash personality, but it seems he had learned a lot over the years. It was Peter who saw Jesus walking on water and asked Jesus to bid him to come. Jesus complied, and Peter jumped out of the boat and walked on the water… until he took his eyes off Jesus. It was Peter who proclaimed “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” but then tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem and certain death.

This death was the reason Jesus had entered His creation. His shed blood was the only way to redeem us from our sin. Peter also swore he would defend Jesus against anyone who would arrest Him, but then hid in fear when Jesus was arrested, illegally tried, and crucified. In fact, that trial had also taken place during the time of Passover. Now Peter was facing death.

“And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison” (Acts 12:6).

Perhaps Peter had learned from Jesus how to face trials in life. Maybe Peter was ready to accept his own death because he knew that by leaving his mortal body he would enter into eternal life. Whatever his feelings that night, he slept peacefully.

Even though Peter seems at peace with his circumstances, there were others who were hoping he would be set free. “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

Prayer was all they could do. They couldn’t pay a fine to have Peter released, nor was there any legal channels they could follow to stop this murder. Had this group prayed for James? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other, but it could be that James’ death was a wakeup call for them.

Too often we ignore prayer until things get so bad that we decide to ask God for help. Prayer should be a daily activity in the life of a Christian. We have the privilege of going before God in the name of Jesus Christ and presenting our petitions to Him. Faith allows us to ask for healing, for salvation of a loved one, or any other desire of our heart. When our life reflects Jesus, then our desire is a godly desire and not a carnal lust. Prayer is our way to communicate with God, and faith opens the way. Faith also teaches us to present our petitions to God, but to accept His answer even when His will isn’t ours.

When you pray that a loved one be healed, it hurts if God chooses to take them Home. Remember that what we see as death is just the beginning of true life for a Christian. We know that all things can be used for God’s glory if we have the faith to accept it. In this case, James’ martyrdom may have served as the means by which the Christians in Jerusalem understood the need to pray.

The prayers of that group of believers were answered in the way that they had asked. “And behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands” (Acts 12:7).

Peter had enough experience in supernatural happenings that he didn’t stop to question. He had been there at the Transfiguration when Jesus shone with a bright light as Moses and Elijah talked with Him. Peter bumbled his way through that one by wanting to build tabernacles for them. Peter had seen Jesus after the resurrection and had been admonished to feed His sheep. That experience was probably the one that drew Peter into an unshakable faith and love for the Lord that was so strong that he was able to find peace on the night he faced death. Now, here was an angel telling him to get up, get dressed, and get going. Peter didn’t think twice, but followed directions.

“And he went out, and followed him and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision” (Acts 12:9).

Off they went past the guards, through the prison, and out into the street. When they were a safe distance away the angel departed. “And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews” (Acts 12:11). 

Peter realized that he wasn’t dreaming and he was a free man. Here’s something most Christians need to learn. You have also been delivered from certain death. It may not be Herod who is out to kill you, but Satan seeks souls to destroy. When you’ve been freed from the bondage of sin and death, leave it behind. If you’ve accepted Christ for salvation, then you need to start obeying God’s directions and turn away from the world. Surround yourself with fellow believers and pray for each other.

Now that he was free, Peter knew where to go. He went to his Christian friends. Oddly, these people had been praying, but their reaction to their prayers being answered is interesting. “And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate” (Acts 12:13-14).

This is the only place Rhoda is named. She was most likely a young servant, but she will forever be remembered for not letting Peter in. Even more amazing is the reaction of the group who had been praying for Peter. “And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel” (Acts 12:15).

Where was their faith? Were these people just mouthing words with no expectation of God answering their prayer? Many Christians today, and indeed many congregations, pray with no expectation of God answering prayer. Many times we feel as if our prayers “don’t go beyond the ceiling.” Is it that or are we just mouthing words with no faith?

“But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished” (Acts 12:16).

They had every reason to be astonished. Their prayers were answered in spite of their expectations.

It’s important to stay in contact with God through prayer. We thank Him for His blessings and we present Him with our wants, but we’re also to pray for people, even if they are our enemies. “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 6:28).

That’s not easy, but it’s an admonition from Jesus. If we pray for someone who comes against us, that prayer may not change them but it will soften your own heart, and an enemy may end up becoming a friend. When we sin, we need to repent and pray for forgiveness. “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23).

Peter spoke those words to a man who supposedly had accepted Christ and wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit for his own personal gain.

There are times when you just don’t have the words to express your need, but Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He will intercede. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

When health fails or troubles come along, pray. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13-14).

Talk with fellow Christians about your weaknesses and temptations. Then, pray with each other for strength to overcome. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

There are many more Scriptures which encourage prayer, and I urge you to study them. You can find many books written about prayer, but Scripture is God’s view; and that’s where your study should begin and end.

When you pray, have faith that God hears. When He answers, don’t be astonished, but be thankful no matter what His answer is.

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

God bless you all,

Nathele Graham

twotug@embarqmail.com

www.straitandnarrowministry.com

ron@straitandnarrowministry.com

Ron and Nathele Graham’s previous commentaries archived at https://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html

All original scripture is “theopneustos,” God breathed.

If you’d like to be on my mailing list to receive the commentaries, just drop me an email and let me know.