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The Power of the Cross: 158th Edition, November 22, 2020


Mike Cleveland
 

The Power of the Cross: 158th Edition, November 22nd, 2020


Greetings friends,

 

Welcome, new subscribers! This weekly newsletter shares short gospel teachings and testimonies from Setting Captives Free students. We hope you will find it helpful and encouraging.

 

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Announcement

 

A new course, Fruit of the Spirit, written by Setting Captives Free Board Member Bill Miller is now available online at https://settingcaptivesfree.com/course/fos. This course is rich and full of the gospel, and comes complete with videos of Bill teaching the material in his local church. We highly recommend this course if you are looking for a gospel-saturated study of the fruit of the Spirit! 

 

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Spanish Version

 

 

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Teaching

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7).

One of the conditions that we experience when enslaved to sin is a hardened heart. This hardness of heart comes through the deceitfulness of sin. "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13). 

A hardened heart leads us into willful, ongoing sin, refusal to listen to calls to repent, persistent and deliberate pushing past previous limits. As our hearts become increasingly harder, compromise becomes easier. We keep doing what we know is wrong and doing it without concern for any possible outcome or care for those against whom we are sinning. 

Just as it takes only a little friction and pressure on a hand or foot, repeated over and over, to develop a callous, so it takes just a little sinning, repeated over and over, to create a calloused heart.

Notice what Jesus says about hard hearts:

"For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them'" (Matthew 13:15). 

Jesus taught that those who have a hard heart are:

  1. Spiritually hard of Hearing. "They hardly hear with their ears." Hard hearts prevent the reception of biblical truth, as people with hard hearts pay little attention to God and His Word.
  2. Willfully resistant to God. "they have closed their eyes." They resist the light of the gospel and shut out the truth that would turn them from sin to God.
  3. Unrepentant. "...understand with their hearts and turn." Those with hardened hearts will not turn from sin to the Lord. They persist and continue looking at the object of their desire, refusing to turn away from it.
  4. Unable to find healing. "Otherwise...I would heal them." Because spiritual healing for our hearts flows from the cross of Jesus (Isaiah 53:5), people who stop up their ears to the gospel and shut their eyes to the message of the cross cannot find the remedy to their sin-sickness. Like a patient with heart failure who refuses a heart transplant, people in bondage to sin refuse the gracious work of the Spirit, who seeks to show them the cross as their full cure from sin, and so they cannot find healing.

When dealing with habitual sin, it is easy to focus on the sin and the sinner, but the real concern should be the hearts of all involved. Those with hardened hearts resist the gospel of Jesus Christ for themselves and those sinning against them. They say things like, "Oh yeah, I already know the gospel, but I need something that can really help me." Or "Why are you telling me the gospel? It's my spouse that is sinning; they need hard-hitting, tough-love correction!" 

When the gospel is presented, most people will respond in one of two ways:

First reaction: they are smitten in their hearts with amazement at the love of God for them, that He would go so far, hurt so bad, suffer so much, and die to save them and set them free. Their awe turns into worship, and, as they embrace the cross wholeheartedly, they begin to walk out their lives in new-found freedom. The gospel of Jesus Christ has become the power of God to them, both for salvation and for transformation.

Second reaction: they stop up their ears to the message, close their eyes to the truth, turn away, refuse to listen to it any longer, and attempt to find freedom through other methods from the world or through Christianized worldly wisdom. Or they might initially be receptive but then become distracted, latching onto doctrinal or denominational distinctives related to end-times events, Bible versions, etc., majoring on the minors so much that they cannot benefit from the power of the cross.

The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. The same gospel that saves and transforms the lives of some hardens the hearts of others. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). 

Warning

In our text, Hebrews 4:7, we receive a warning: "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart." This warning immediately follows the instruction on how to rest in Christ by hearing the gospel of Christ (Hebrews 4:1-6). So, we should understand the caution is that we not harden our hearts to the gospel.

"Today!" Friend, there is a specific time for the preaching and receiving of the gospel, and that time is now - today! You may not have tomorrow. "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' (Luke 12:20). The warning is to hear the gospel "Today" and respond to it, for we do not know what may happen tomorrow. "Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:13-14).

Notice too how Hebrews 4:7 says, "If you hear His voice." God has spoken to us through the life Jesus lived, and the death Jesus died. We learn this in Hebrews 1:1-2, "In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe."  Do you hear God's voice today as He speaks to you through His Son?

God has spoken to us by the blood Jesus shed to forgive our sins and put them to death. If you have trouble hearing the voice of God, then go to the cross, for at the cross, God speaks with a megaphone! He calls you to look and receive forgiveness of sins and new life. The blood of Jesus speaks to you of complete forgiveness for your every wrong, full atonement for your every sin, complete reconciliation with your Father. Yes, the blood of Jesus speaks to you today! "...to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24). 

"Do not harden your hearts"  We must not refuse Jesus who speaks, nor turn a deaf ear to Him who died for you. "We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him." (Hebrews 2:1-3). Do not stop up your ears to the message that has the power to transform you and those you love. Do not close your eyes to the suffering, bleeding, and dying Lamb who has taken all your sins to the cross and the grave. 

The call here is to listen to the message of the cross and put faith in it. Pay careful attention to the gospel message. We should examine each wound that Jesus received for our healing, look at all His scars, search out the suffering in both His body and His soul! For when we do, we will conclude that Jesus has loved us and died for us, that He has completely forgiven all who put faith in Him and atoned for our every wrong. 

Hymn writer Issac Watts said it well when he wrote:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Summary

If you have felt that your heart is hard, that you can barely hear God’s Word, that you are not turning from sin but persisting in it, then through reading this newsletter, you have heard the very message that will soften your hard heart and turn you from sin. The gospel message that Jesus has loved you and given Himself for you as an atoning sacrifice on the cross. Your sin did not repel Him, but rather it was a magnet that drew Him to you to remove sin from you. 

Jesus is calling you to turn and look at His cross and see your salvation and transformation hanging on a tree, bleeding to death out of love, and suffering to heal you from your sin-sickness. Receive this message of the cross today, friend, and watch how your heart becomes joyfully broken and fully mended, and then filled with the love of God and the joy of your salvation!

If you are one who is hearing this message today and rejoicing in how far Jesus went for you, please reply to this email and share your joy with us! In response, we will send you a free PDF copy of our newest book, “The Power of the Cross,” which is a compilation of months of newsletters, including the full teaching and testimonies that we publish weekly. 

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Testimonies

Ruth writes, "The last 30 days in the A United Front course were tough, but also enriching. I have learned a lot and realized that I am dependent on Jesus and His love for me, not my feelings and thoughts.

 

My Savior loves me, and He proved it by His death and resurrection, which makes all the difference. I hope this truth will continue to transform my thoughts, feelings, and life even more than it already has.

 

I still experience bad days, but I am learning to deal with them better by looking to our Savior at the cross instead of my circumstances.

 

It was also a good time for our marriage, even if we still have to work on it. But the closer we  - my husband and I - get to Jesus/God, the closer we draw together as spouses as well.

 

I highly recommend this course. I first thought this study would only help me understand what had happened in my marriage, and maybe why and how to deal with it better. But it is so much more. It refocused me on the cross instead of my feelings - and this is worth a lot."


Sue writes, "Since starting the Weight Loss Bootcamp course, I've been spending so much time in the Word and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and speak to me, as well as being prepared for the battles as I daily war against my flesh.

 

I can hardly believe the changes I've experienced. 
  1. I have completed my commitment to finish this course.
  2. I enrolled in a daily Bible reading plan (Horner)
  3. I started to read through a hymn book for a daily devotional. (1st section is about Jesus' death and resurrection)
  4.  I spend more time in prayer.
  5.  I listen to the Psalms audibly as I go to sleep, making it easy to go to sleep.
  6. I began intermittent fasting daily (I don't eat between 6 pm to 10 am) and complete a whole day fast (liquids only) at least once a week. My meal portions are small. I stop when I'm full.

 

I found this study to be easy. I feel like God just provided me with the will and strength to do this. I have had very few temptations - even the snacks at work don't tempt me. But I am aware that there will be temptations in the future, and this class has prepared me to battle them—all for His glory.

 

I'm actually in the middle of organizing and publishing my Italian family's cookbook, which resulted in me spending a lot of time thinking about food. But even all those delicious recipes barely affected me. I still love to cook, but now I have a small portion instead of my usual two servings and getting stuffed.

 

I have not gotten on a scale once in the past 30 days. It was hard to see the scale daily and not get on it as I have done daily for years. But I know seeing the numbers go down on the scale is not the bonus of this class; instead, it was the time spent in God's Word and applying it to my life and living a life no longer enslaved but finally free.

 

I recommend this study about becoming free from being enslaved to the sin of overeating."


Alexander writes, The principles of washing at the Cross, walking by the Spirit, and warring against the flesh are amazing. They have given me additional categories to think about my Christian faith.

 

I have experienced freedom for the first time in my Christian walk. My sin got to the point where it was dominating my life, but the grace of God and the kindness of my wife enabled me to begin to walk in freedom. I am far from perfect, but now I continually wash at the Cross and seek to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am warring against my flesh daily and seek to continue to walk in holiness. Thank you for this course.

 

I recommend the Purity courses at Setting Captives Free; they will help you walk closer with Christ and walk in the freedom that God promises.

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Friend, if you find you agree with the mission of Setting Captives Free, to see the gospel of Jesus Christ change hearts and lives, would you please consider helping us to continue reaching people with the gospel? Please pray for us, and also consider setting up a monthly tax-deductible donation of any amount. www.settingcaptivesfree.com/donate. Thank you in advance.
 
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Sincerely,

Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free