Going to Extrem(iti)es

June 30, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Posted in Galatians | 5 Comments
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I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

Galatians 5:12

This is extreme language (about as extreme as it gets, at least in the New Testament). It shows how serious the Lord is about this circumcision issue. It’s as if the Apostle Paul told the Judaizers, “If you are so fixated on circumcision – if you enjoy circumcision so much – you should just go all the way. Stop “cutting around,” and, well, just “cut off.” The King James translation preserves the pun – the play on words. Paul is indicating that if the Judaizers would just go ahead and completely mutilate themselves, they wouldn’t be in any condition to bother him and preachers of the true Gospel any more.

There is a deeper issue here, though. People who are so zealous for rule-keeping are often trying to divert attention from their own fixation. They are not only teaching falsely – that keeping rules means greater spirituality – but they know their own lack of spirituality and their own perversion, and they believe that, by pointing at everyone else, the guilt and suspicion they feel will be deflected away from them. The wicked flee when no man pursueth, and the hypocritical accuse others even when no one suspects them.

Now, we go into a section of Galatians where it’s as if Paul knows that the Judaizers are going to argue (and surely they had been already) that, if people walk in liberty, if they are set free from God’s law, then what’s going to stop them from sinning freely?

In a sense, it’s the same old argument: “Grace? Grace? What’s going to keep us in line after we’ve been forgiven for all our sins?” The proponents of this argument act as though they have forgotten that we are called by God unto salvation. They sound like they think that God was just annoyed that there were some people who had to be judged, so He waved His hand, and said, “Fine, I’ll let you off the hook. I’ll stop being God for a minute. There, you’re free. Now go do whatever you want and leave Me alone.” Such a doctrine would be heresy.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

Liberty frees us from the bondage of the flesh – not the existence of the flesh. The “calling” of salvation is a calling to liberty. It’s a “setting-free” from the unconquerable power that sin has over an unbeliever. Christians are set free from the position of sinners: those that must answer for their own guilt.

Christians are also set free from the eternal pain of sin, as well as the judicial guilt of sin. They are set free from the penalty of sin, which is the punishment for sin: the specific retribution of God against sinners for sinning against Him!

Here is freedom: Jesus came and fulfilled (not destroyed in the natural sense) the Law for us. Now He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, comes to live in us, and He causes, us, too, to obey the Law. This is not the bondage of the Law, not the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law – the Truth of the Law.

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Galatians 5:14

When the Lord Becomes Your Song

June 27, 2014 at 10:26 am | Posted in Exodus | 7 Comments
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Exodus 15 features a song about what God did in the great miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army, and this is not the only song in the Bible that mentions this event. Psalm 136 tells us how the Israelites in later years felt about it, and how we’re supposed to think about it.

Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Exodus 15:1-2

This may be the first part of the Book of Exodus to have actually been written down, since it was probably written contemporaneously with the event itself. It is one thing to sing songs about the Lord. It is another thing for Him to be your song. “Your song” is what excites your imagination. It’s what you can’t help exalting. Your life will change when your “song” is not the new Playstation 3 or the new season of “The Bachelor” or whatever your hobby is or politics or the stock market or even your kids or your spouse. When the Lord becomes the thing you can’t help singing about, and you realize that you are not really singing “about” Him, but that He is your song – your joy.

The Book of Exodus is written in the genre of historical narrative. It is factual and summarizing, going into detail only when it furthers the theme. It is dramatic, but the drama is not embellished or fictionalized. However, here in Chapter 15 the genre shifts to “poetic” and much of the language is anthropomorphic. Anthro (from which we get the word “anthropology”) means “man” or “human beings.” Morphic means “form.” In anthropomorphism the subject is portrayed in “human form” even though it’s not really a human being.

For example:

Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.

Exodus 15:6

And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

Exodus 15:8

The Holy Spirit is not telling us here that the Lord literally used His right hand as opposed to His left hand, or that He even used a physical hand to dash the Egyptians to pieces. Nor is He telling us that God held up the separated walls of water during the Red Sea crossing with a holy sneeze. This is poetic language used for worship, beauty, metaphor, memorization, and lyrical brilliance.

Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.

Exodus 15:13

This is an Old Testament type and shadow of what Christ would do in a greater reality. God sees His people in bondage (Egypt), delivers them (Exodus), separates them (Red Sea) from the power of their enemy (Pharaoh), binds them to Himself with a covenant (Mt. Sinai), and then leads them and actually brings them to Canaan and ultimately Jerusalem, His earthly holy habitation.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

John 14:2-3

Jesus sees His people (as yet still lost sinners) in bondage (to the power of sin and Satan), and delivers them (by the Cross and – experientially for us – by faith when we are saved). He separates us from the power of our enemies (Satan and sin no longer are our masters). He binds us to Himself with a covenant (the New Covenant of everlasting life) and He brings us and goes with us and guides us (by the Holy Spirit) to His holy habitation (Heaven).

Catechism Question 8

June 25, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Children's Bible Catechism | 2 Comments
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Question 8: What is the punishment for sin?
Answer: The punishment for sin is death.
Prove it.

Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

Ezekiel 18:4

If this is true (and it is!) then why don’t we die the very first time we sin? God in His grace and mercy does not immediately kill everyone who sins, although that would be just.

How can the sinner’s punishment be eternal if death is the end? Just as the gift of God for those who trust in Christ is eternal life, so the punishment for sinners who die apart from Christ is eternal death, which means the soul consciously existing in torment forever, experiencing the eternal wrath of God.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:23

God has woven into the curse of sin a natural progression toward death, although He is free to intervene in the process and rescue sinners.

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

James 1:15

Where Is Jesus in the Bible? (lesson 1)

June 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Posted in Biblical Teaching | 6 Comments
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If I were to ask you to tell me a good place in the Bible to find out about Jesus, what would you say? The first four books of the New Testament are probably what come to mind. “The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” would probably be a common answer. But let’s see what Jesus Himself had to say:

And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

Luke 24:13-15

This happened right after Jesus’s Resurrection.

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:27

One of the first things Jesus wanted to do after His Resurrection was have a Bible study. He showed these two disciples on the road to Emmaus all the places in the Bible where He could be found, going all the way from Genesis through the end of the Old Testament.

Then Jesus went to show His closest disciples that He had come back from the grave.

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

Luke 24:44-45

This is very important because the Bible is very important. As a Christian you are responsible for not just reading the Bible, but for understanding the Bible.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus’s day, and they did not like Jesus – in part because He told the truth, and the Truth was that He was the Son of God, and that, because He was the Son of God, they would have to submit to Him. So they were always trying to get Him to do something to prove He really was from God, thinking that, when He failed, they could disprove Him. Here’s what Jesus said to them:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

John 5:39

It was as if He said to them, “You are supposed to be the Bible teachers! And you don’t even know what (Who) the Bible is about?!”

I said earlier that you are responsible for understanding the Bible, and that should concern you, because it’s not always easy to understand. In some places it’s almost like a code. Here’s a simple code to illustrate the point:

I w2nt 2ll the 2l2rms in 2tl2nt2.

You can probably figure it out, but if you were stumped, you would need the “key” to understand the code, so I would give you the key: 2=A. And that makes it simple!

So where is Jesus in the Bible? Remember, at the time that Jesus said these things that we have read in Luke and John, there was no Luke and John, or anything else in the Bible after Malachi. But to the question, “Where is Jesus in the Bible?” the answer is, “Everywhere!”

We will look at some specific examples in lesson 2.

Why We’re so Difficult

June 18, 2014 at 10:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.

Proverbs 13:10

Contention is fussing and fighting. It’s squabbling and not getting along. It usually breeds things like gossip and revenge and unforgiveness and pettiness and loss of friendships and a bad testimony and wasting time. It complicates our lives in areas where they should be simple. Instead of helping us to love and serve others, it forces us to try to one-up them, or to show them that we don’t have to put up with something from them, or to manipulate them, or to try to get the last word, or to break off friendships and relationships, and to waste and end opportunities to glorify God in those relationships.

From where does contention come? From pride, of course. The “only” in Proverbs 13:10 can be read in two ways:

(1) Contention only comes by pride in the sense that it doesn’t come from anything else. Pride is the ultimate cause or source of all contention.

(2) “Only” a little bit of pride will bring contention. In other words, the least little influence of pride makes a big stink.

Your friendship is going good, and all of a sudden you perceive yourself as being slighted. “So what?” you ask. Then you think, “What do I mean ‘so what?’ This is me we’re talking about. I don’t have to take that. Nobody does that to me.” And – boom! – you’ve got contention where there used to be peace and blessings and love and friendship.

Here is the contrast (which is a common device in Proverbs): “But…” with the well-advised there is wisdom – meaning that it’s smart to not be contentious. So how do we short-circuit the pride that brings it? By being well-advised. By taking advice from the Bible (the best) or from someone who is well-versed (pun intended) in Biblical knowledge (second best).

This also works in a two-fold way:

(1) The Bible will destroy your pride.

(2) The mere act of seeking advice is humbling and therefore pride-crippling, because it means admitting you need help from someone else.

When we get that stinging feeling which comes from our perception that someone has hurt our pride, we have options. We can do what we were taught to do in the past, but this is usually a mistake. We can do whatever just seems best in our own minds, but this is almost always a bad idea. We can just do what everyone else (the world) is doing, but that is really the worst thing we could do. Or we can be teachable and humble and get ourselves well-advised before we decide how we’re going to think, act, and treat that other person when they go off-script and don’t treat us how we think we deserve to be treated.

Let’s be wise, not contentious. Let’s be humble, not proud.

(By the way, I can’t technically prove it, but I personally believe that James 3:13 – 4:10 is a New Testament exposition of Proverbs 13:10.)

Opportunities / Obstacles

June 16, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Two Sides to Every Comfort | 4 Comments
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Opportunities

Opportunities are a great comfort. Many of us would like to get get a call from someone who says, “Hey, I’ve a got this great opportunity for you!” (Unless it turns out to be Amway.) Advertisers use the enticement, “Stayed tuned for an exciting opportunity!” America has even been called “the land of opportunity.” Opportunities are openings or events where, if you take advantage of a situation, you can really benefit.

God comforts us by giving opportunities. He gave you the opportunity to trust Him and be saved; the opportunity to obey Him in baptism; the opportunity to join a great church; the opportunity for free Bible instruction on Sunday mornings (we call it Sunday School at my church). Life is full of wonderful opportunities given to us by God.

The Bible says that no temptation has taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful in that – with every temptation – He has made a way to escape – an opportunity to do what’s right – so that you may be able to bear it and to get the victory over the temptation. That’s very comforting!

But there is a flip side to opportunity:

Obstacles

You’ve probably been there: You get stuck in a traffic jam. You’ve got three choices. You can turn around and go back. You can cheat and drive on the shoulder to the next exit. Or you can wait. I don’t have any advice for you when it comes to traffic jams (the older I get, the more I just decide to stay home), but I do have some advice concerning spiritual obstacles: Wait on the Lord.

The good [man] is perished out of the earth: and [there is] none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.

Micah 7:2

Micah prophesied in a time when nobody was doing what was right. It seemed like everything was working against God’s people. Everywhere they turned, there were obstacles.

That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge [asketh] for a reward; and the great [man], he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up.

Micah 7:3

Sometimes this is how it seems to us. We look to the government for help, but we meet an obstacle. We don’t qualify or we’re left waiting on hold. We go to court, but we find out the law isn’t just. We appeal to wealthy or influential individuals, but they are unwilling to help.

The best of them [is] as a brier: the most upright [is sharper] than a thorn hedge: the day of thy watchmen [and] thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity.

Micah 7:4

We remind ourselves that God will make sure the wicked get what they deserve, and we turn to our close friends.

Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom.

Micah 7:5

But even they are no help.

For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies [are] the men of his own house.

Micah 7:6

Even your family tuns out to be unreliable! So what do you do? Do you say, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Do you cheat? Go around the obstacles unlawfully? Do you go back? Give up? Do you say, “This can’t be the opportunity I thought God was giving me, because it has turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle?” No.

Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.

Micah 7:7

Instead, you wait on the Lord to turn your obstacle into an opportunity. If we are willing to wait upon the Lord, obstacles make great opportunities. When you are prosperous and healthy and well-loved by men, people in general don’t give God glory for that. They think you’re lucky or smart or strong. So, how are we going to give God glory? We are going to praise Him in our obstacles, and treat them like opportunities.

“I know God will deliver me when I’m poor, when I’m sick, when I’ve been betrayed.” That’s what we tell people when they ask us why or how we can be so happy just waiting. Then:

Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD [shall be] a light unto me.

Micah 7:8

New lights don’t shine bright in already-existing light. New lights shine bright in the darkness. Now when you are delivered, the heathen and the pagans will know Who gets the credit.

Beware the Fearful Force

June 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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There was a time when God’s people enjoyed blessings and favor in the land which God promised them. They had plenty to eat and plenty to drink. They worked hard, but they enjoyed periods of leisure as well. This all came to an end, though, when they forgot the God Who loved them. They rebelled against His Word and His laws. They threw in their lot with pagan nations, and they committed abomination with false idols. The result was plague, famine, captivity, deprivation, hardship, thirst, and work with no rest.

Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.

Lamentations 5:5

God does not enjoy seeing His people in bondage. He does not take pleasure in seeing the wicked with their “foot on the neck” of His beloved children. Nor does He want them to work like slaves for their idols.

This is a sobering reminder for Christians today. How many hours per week do you work? And for what are you working? Toys? Luxuries? Prominence among your neighbors? Let us be careful not to enslave ourselves to this world’s system. We all feel a certain amount of pressure to “keep us with the Joneses” and to make sure our children have all the fancy things their friends have, but worshiping mammon in place of God only leads to forced labor and persecution.

Our Part with God

June 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Posted in Galatians | 2 Comments
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Galatians Chapter 3 contains some of the strongest writing in the whole Bible. It has the logic and language of a brilliant lawyer who is arguing for his own life. It combines the truth about what happened to Jesus and the readers’ own experiences with Old Testament Scripture, and then combines the two together in a masterful closing argument.

Experience

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Galatians 3:1

The Greek word translated as “foolish” is the word for a barbaric fool, and it would be similar in our day to calling someone an illiterate blockhead. When Paul says “who has bewitched you?” he is asking them, “Who waved a shiny little trinket before your eyes, and led you over a cliff? Who led you into this ridiculous state by tricking you? The fact of Jesus’s crucifixion was placarded (“evidently set forth”) before your very eyes! Why do you think He had to die like that if there’s still something you can do to save yourself?”

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Galatians 3:2

As we read this today, we need to ask ourselves the same question. In your own experience, how did you receive the Holy Spirit? Did you receive Him by being sprinkled with water? By paying money? By joining an organization? By keeping rules? By jerking or twitching or rolling on the floor or barking like a dog? No! It was by the hearing of faith! You heard the truth, and you believed the truth, and you received the Holy Spirit! What makes you think you are going to become more spiritual, or more “complete” by working? Or by keeping rules? Or by following the traditions of men? Foolish! The Apostle tells them that they’ve been suffering for nothing, if that’s what they were suffering for!

Scripture

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.

Galatians 3:6-7

The Gospel came from God; it came through the Jews; but it was intended for all men, or else God was lying.

Recap: The Galatians’ experience was that they were saved, and received the Spirit, through faith. The Scriptures – God Himself – said it was through faith. Therefore:

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Galatians 3:22

No one is righteous by birth, by nature, or by deed, but anyone can believe.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Romans 3:24

The purpose of the Old Testament Law was to teach people that they were lost. The purpose of the whole Bible is to point people to Jesus Christ. Not so we can start working for Him. Rather, so He can start working in us.

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26

Apart from Christ, we have no part with God. We are utterly alienated – not related by birth or adoption. But in Christ, we have a part with God – and not a distant, academic part – we are His children! We are servants, yes, but more than just servants. We are friends, yes, but more than just friends. Children. Beloved. Sons and Daughters of the Most High God.

Children serve their parents, and that is right, but when children disobey, they are still children by birth of those same parents.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Your nationality, social status, gender, or skin color do not matter a whit to God in the sense of your justification. If you are truly a Christian, you stand before God on the same level as Queen Esther, Billy Graham, and the Apostle Paul. God is a loving Father, and He has more than enough love for every one of His children.

Two Miracles: A Parted Sea and a Hardened Heart

June 6, 2014 at 10:52 am | Posted in Exodus | 8 Comments
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The parting of the Red Sea is one of the most awe-inspiring events in the Bible. It is a miracle that confounds Bible skeptics. Some scholars claim that, because the word translated as “red” can also mean “reed sea,” the place where the Israelites crossed was shallow enough for them to walk across without any supernatural “parting.” The Egyptian chariots, they go on to surmise, attempted to follow through this swampy muck, but got stuck in the mud, allowing the Hebrews to escape.

I once heard a joke where a little boy learned about the parting of the Red Sea in Sunday School from his very liberal, skeptical Sunday School teacher. After church, when his dad asked him what he had learned that day, the little boy replied that they had learned about the awesome miraculous power of God, Who who brought the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage by leading them through a stretch of six-inch-deep water. “What’s so miraculous about that?” asked the dad. His son replied, “What’s so amazing and miraculous is that God drowned the whole Egyptian army in six inches of water!” (See Exodus 14:28-30 below.)

As faithful Christians, we believe the literal truth of the Bible when it reports on miraculous events, but I can also honestly tell you that there are many serious Bible scholars and historians and archaeologists that are fully convinced based on the evidence that there is ample support for the literal Biblical account of the parting of the Red Sea.

And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so. And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?

Exodus 14:4-5

After all that Pharaoh and the Egyptians had suffered because of the refusal to release the Egyptians, only the extreme hardening of Pharaoh’s heart could explain his obstinate and outrageous change of mind. When they asked the question “why have we done this?” meaning “why did we let them go?” if I had been a servant in Pharaoh’s court I guess I probably would have been executed or banished for doing my Arnold Horshack impression.

“Oooh, pick me, pick me! We let them go because of the bloody Nile River, and the frogs, flies, locusts, boils, hail, darkness, and death! REMEMBER??!! I know exactly why we let Israel go from serving us!”

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians. And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

Exodus 14:21-31

Catechism Question 7

June 4, 2014 at 11:40 am | Posted in Children's Bible Catechism | 4 Comments
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Question 7: What is sin?
Answer: Sin is violating God’s law.
Prove it.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

I John 3:4

“Trans” means across. Sinning is going across the boundaries of God’s law with ag”gression.” Two broad categories of sin are sins of “omission” and sins of “commission,” which are, respectively, any lack of conformity to, or transgression (violation) of, the law of God. In other words, both doing bad, and failing to do good, are sin.

Other verses to consider:

And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.

Leviticus 5:17

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

James 4:17

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