Beholding the Glory of Christ

This week in my Bible reading plan, I was struck by the repeated references to beholding the glory of God in Christ. I saw unbelievers like Pilate say, “Behold your King!” as he presented Jesus for crucifixion and I saw scenes where Moses beheld God’s glory on burning Mt. Sinai. I saw Zechariah prophesy of Christ’s coming, “Behold your King…how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” and I saw David praying, “our eyes look to the Lord our God.” But what stood out the most to me were Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where I read, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” All this language of beholding made me take a step back to see what Scripture teaches on this. I discovered 5 steps in the Bible’s argument on this, which may be helpful to you as well…

We were created to behold the glory of God

God says in Isaiah 43:7 that we were created for His glory. But what does it mean to behold God’s glory? It obviously means more than merely seeing it with our eyes. After all, Scripture says we’ll never fully see God’s glory because he is invisible and, “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16b). Jonathan Edwards says to behold God’s glory is to delight in Him above all else. He says this in his Miscellanies: “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in…[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it.” This was the condition Adam and Eve had in the garden. They enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God. Until that dreadful day when they broke fellowship with God and started beholding the glory of lesser things. This brings us to the next step in the argument…

Sin and Satan have blinded us to God’s glory

Jesus says that we are born spiritually blind because of our sin nature (Jn. 9:39-41). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan compounds this blindness by actively blinding unbelievers from beholding the light of God’s glory in the Gospel. So not only can they not see God’s glory, but Satan is working to ensure they don’t ever see it. Thankfully, this is where the bad news ends and the good news begins…

God by His Spirit gives us eyes to behold His glory on the cross

The only possible way for the blind to see is by the miraculous touch of the Great Physician. They can’t and don’t want to behold God as glorious until then. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20). So then, what needs to happen must be nothing short of Divine intervention. God must impart spiritual eyesight. But how does He do this? Through the preaching of the Gospel. This is precisely what Jesus sent the apostles…and us to do. Paul says Jesus sent him, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). But wait, I thought we already saw how Satan blinds them from seeing the Gospel when it is preached. Yes, but God in His grace, overcomes this blindness through the very Gospel that is preached. Paul says that what God does in the new birth is similar to what He did in creation: He says, “Let there be light” and He shines the Gospel into our darkened hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). So now that we see Christ’s glory and realize He alone is truly valuable, what do we do from here?

We grow more like Christ as we behold His glory in the Gospel

2 Corinthians 3:18, once again says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Becoming requires beholding. Beholding enables becoming. If we want to be more like Christ, we need to behold Christ more. The reason we sin is because we are beholding something else as glorious and not Christ. Paul David Tripp has pointed out, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” How do we do this? Bible study, prayer, fellowship, humility, meditating on the Gospel. All the various means of grace are avenues God created for us to better behold His glory in the Gospel. If we seek God’s glory in these we will grow in Christlikeness as we behold Him. So then what is next?

One day, we will eternally behold His glory

John Piper puts it this way in his book, God is the Gospel: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.” God, through the preaching of the Gospel, has broken into your blindness to give you a sight of His glory and He now calls you to to an eternity of beholding Him which begins now. If you now see the crucified and risen Jesus as the most satisfying and glorious One of all, then God has given you this. Keep beholding Him in your daily life and be urged on by the future Day when you will behold Christ fully and finally with new eyes. We’ll end with some words from a Sovereign Grace hymn entitled When We See Your Face. Let these words spur you on as you behold Christ in your daily life:

“We will see, we will know

Like we’ve never known before

We’ll be found, we’ll be home

We’ll be Yours forevermore.”

 

Advertisements

The Anxiety free life.

*Anxiety Disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54). – National Institute of Mental Health 

*Of those 40 million people, almost 7 million of them suffer from GAD, with 15 million suffering from social anxiety disorder, 14.8 million suffering from major depressive disorder, and 7.7 million affected by post-traumatic stress disorder- National institute for mental health.

Worries. Pain. Fear. Frustration. Doubt. Stress. Faithlessness. Exhaustion.

All of these words paint vivid pictures of the complexities associated with “anxiety.”

If you are reading this right now, then no doubt you have experienced your fair share of anxiety from time to time. You may have even rented a room in the “Distress District” as of late, due to your workload.

We often feel anxious about our finances: How can we make this month’s bills? How will I be able to fix my aging car if it breaks down? What if I lose my job? How will we put the kids through college? How can we meet our medical bills? How will we ever save enough for retirement? What if the economy fails?

We feel anxious about our health, especially as we grow older: What if I get cancer or Alzheimer’s? What if I’m disabled or have to go into a nursing home? If we’re younger, we may have these same anxieties concerning our aging parents.

We’re anxious about our children: Will they turn out okay? Will they avoid drugs and sexual immorality? Will they be safe in this crime-ridden world? Will they be able to get into college and then get a decent-paying job? Will they marry a godly person and have a happy home? What kind of world will their children have to live in?

The lists could go on and on. Maybe you’re getting anxious just reading this as I give different reasons for anxiety! Sometimes we can’t identify any specific reason for our anxiety, but it’s there, nagging away at our insides. If we don’t learn to deal with it properly, it can cause all sorts of health problems, which in turn feed our anxieties. Few of us are strangers to anxiety. It creeps in over big and little things, gnawing away at our insides.

Someone graphically described anxiety as “a thin stream of fear trickling the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other things are drained” – (Arthur Roche)

Anxiety in the Greek is the word mermina” which translates as “care or worry,” which comes from the Greek root word, merminao which literally means dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.”

There’s no wonder that worry and anxiety make us feel like we are literally falling apart.

Anxiety kills faith. Anxiety kills hope. Anxiety limits our devotion to God. Anxiety bogs down our prayer life. Anxiety places a wall between the factual, and the supernatural. Anxiety weakens. Anxiety distorts. Anxiety clouds. Anxiety is not from God. Anxiety is a swift attack on the mind, which then affects the heart, and ultimately affects the body. Anxiety must be understood, dealt with and removed in order to have deep and personal fellowship the Lord.  

I love how Dr. Tony Evans puts it: Worrying is interest paid before the trouble is due.

No one in scripture dealt with the reality of worry and anxiety more than the apostle Paul. He is arguably one of the most central figures in the growth of the early church, and an excellent example of how to proclaim the gospel with authority, conviction, passion, zeal and respect. Paul addresses the church in Phillipi while arrested after an incident we’ll read about in acts 16:20.

Acts 16:20-24

20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

Here we see Paul suffering at the hands of roman soldiers for what had happened a few verses earlier, driving a demon out of a girl who could for-see the future with demonic possession. Once the magistrates got word that this was taking place, they flogged both him and Silas and put them both in prison.

Paul had worries. I’m sure Paul felt a great deal of anxiety as a church planter, missionary and pastor.

Paul had much to worry about if he were to solely deal with the facts of his constant sufferings, but in the middle of a dark & dungy prison, Paul pens one of the most encouraging letters to believers. The letter to the Philippians. Paul uses what the enemy intended for evil and destruction to encourage believers to seek Christ’s joy in the midst of their most difficult times.

To those who follow Him, Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). He spoke those comforting words on the most difficult night He faced on this earth, the night before His crucifixion. Seven times in the New Testament our God is called either the God or Lord of peace. That peace can be the constant experience of every Christian, even in the midst of trials

I want to focus our attention to the passage in Philippians 4:4-13 and draw 4 simple points to live an anxiety free life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Rejoice in the LORD.

The word “rejoice” means to be conscious and glad for God’s grace. To take it a step further, it literally means to “Hail” or bow down to God as a means to surrender any contrary feeling and subject it to the overwhelming reality of Gods goodness. Experience his joy & goodness and anxiety won’t take much part in our thinking. Notice how paul begins his letter in the fourth chapter, in prison. He says in simple terms: “First of all, you need to rejoice. Start with a spirit of thanksgiving and acknowledge Gods goodness”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it clear that anxiety stems from a lack of faith and from a wrong focus on the things of this world instead of on the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:25-34, especially verses 30 & 33). If we excuse our anxieties by saying, “Well, it’s only human,” or, “Anybody would feel anxious in this situation,” we will not overcome it because we are not confronting the root cause of it, namely, our sin of not believing God and of not seeking first His kingdom and righteousness.

Pray constantly, and consistently. Phil. 4:6-7  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul says do not be anxious about anything. This shows us that the very act of worry and living in worry are sins! He’s not making a pledge here, or 5 steps to a better life. No. What he’s implying is that the key to even begin to rejoice in the Lord is found in the secret room of your prayer life.

Proverbs 15:8 says: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
  It literally pleases the Lord when we take part in continual prayer, it is our very fuel for the journey.  Fuel your spirit with constant communication with the Lord! Constant! The promise is that HIS peace will be with you! This means that when it comes to the matter of dealing with our anxiety, we must, at the outset, confront our motives for even wanting to have peace. If our reason for wanting to be free from anxiety is so that we can live a peaceful, pleasant life, our focus is self-centered and therefore wrong. There are many people who come to Christ because they are anxious and they want the peace He offers. But if they do not confront the fact that they are living to please themselves rather than God, they will simply settle into a self-centered life where they “use God” for their own peace and comfort. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35). The peace Christ offers is the by-product of enthroning Christ as Lord and living for His kingdom. Saints, we must pray constantly & consistently.

When Paul says to make our requests known “to God,” the Greek word means “face to face with God,” to come directly before Him. This means that when we pray, we must stop to remember that we are coming into the very presence of the holy God, where even the holy angels cover their faces and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3). Yes, He welcomes us into His presence as a father welcomes his children. Through our High Priest, the Lord Jesus, God invites us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). But we must remember that it is to the throne of the universe, to the Sovereign, Eternal God that we come.

This means, of course, that we must always examine our hearts and confess and forsake all sin when we come to God in prayer. The psalmist says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” my prayers (Ps. 66:18). But we also have the assurance that if we confess our sins, the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cleanse us (1 John 1:7, 9).

Meditate on The Word.  Phil. 4:8-9  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”  

The God of peace will be with us when we truly learn to meditate on his word. (Ps. 119:9-16) This is an ongoing issue in the church. We are hearers of the word, but not many of us are doers. The issue lies with our lack of meditation in the Word. I personally know many people who can spit out Bible verses left and right but live their lives in constant worry, fear and anxiety. Sound like an oxymoron? That’s because it is! The bible is not a book of useful historical information. You and I are not historians merely scrounging around the texts trying to fit geographical/ historical issues together. You and I should recognize the bible for what it is; the unique story of redemption where we are united to a Holy God through the finished work of Christ. It is in his word that we get the nourishment for our souls, how to pray to our loving Father, how to appreciate and worship our redeemer how to live in holiness and oneness with God, and how to live a life full of spiritual victory over the powers and principalities of the airs! If you are living in worry and defeat, the bible is here to remind you to STOP!

Remember whom you serve: .Phil.4:11-13  11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Note that this peace stands guard like a sentry over our inner person, our hearts (the comprehensive term for our whole person) and minds (specifically, our thoughts which threaten to trouble us) in Christ Jesus. We are in intimate, permanent union with Him, and to get to us, anxiety must go through Christ Jesus!

So what God promises isn’t just a quick fix, where prayer is a technique that will bring you calm until you get through the crisis. Paul is talking about an ongoing, deepening, intimate relationship with the God of peace, where you seek to please Him with all your thoughts, words, and deeds. In a time of trial, you draw near to the God of peace, you focus on His grace to you in Christ Jesus, you pour out your heart to Him, and the result is, His peace stands guard over your heart and mind. Remember whom you serve! Do you know God’s peace in the midst of situations that the world gets anxious about? If not, examine yourself: Is your faith in Him and your focus on His kingdom, rather than on selfish pursuits? Have you drawn near to God in reverent, specific, thankful prayer? You can put your full weight down on Him, and He will bear you up and give you His indescribable peace. It makes the flight so much more enjoyable!

Words from Jesus:

Matthew 6:27-34

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Hell-fire & Brimstone

Camel hair, wild honey, Hell-fire and brimstone…If you’re reading this post then you know exactly who I’m referencing; John the Baptist.

Pastor’s today, including me, could (and should) learn a lot from this wilderness preacher. Granted, his office and calling are different than ours given that his coming was prophesied of hundreds of years in advance, his conception was miraculous, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth but it is from his ministry and preaching that we can learn and grow.

One Hit Wonder

John had one message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). It’s not that this is the only line he preached but that this was the central message every time he addressed the crowds. This was John’s task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17). This was it…He had no other material; like Deep Blue Something singing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, John only had one tool in his tool-belt.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Offensive Preacher

We don’t really have much, by design, about exactly what John said when he preached but what we do have wouldn’t fit very well into the “Church Growth Model”, the “Seeker Sensitive Model”, or a “Felt Needs” emphasis. He didn’t mince words or try to be crafty, indirect, or politically correct. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come” (Lk. 3:7)? is not exactly the “Softly and Tenderly” approach we most often see today.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Pointed Preacher

John’s preaching was personal. He addressed not only specific people groups and occupations but specific sins that needed to go. John’s preaching was political. He addressed the rulers of his day and called them to repentance, publicly, for their specific sins (without fear of losing his 501c3). And John’s message was always pointed at holiness.

First, his preaching was pointed at the Holy One, himself, Jesus Christ. From “I am not worthy to untie” (Lk. 3:16) his sandals to “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). John was not concerned with how he was viewed in the public eye but that his hearers knew who the Christ was and that He alone could save them.

Second, his preaching was pointed at personal holiness as the evidence of regeneration. In short, if repentance from sin meant that your life would be marked by godliness, holiness, or Christ-likeness as we might say today, then if that was missing John warned clearly of the “unquenchable fire” that awaited you. Apart from a life marked by holiness, there was no evidence of salvation and it was not words that would convince John but your walk.

But did you notice that people flocked to John?

Our Pulpits Today

Why did people flock to John? Plainly, because they can have their ears tickled anywhere, and they actually do everywhere. Inherently, humanity knows we need to make right the wrongs, serve up justice, and that we’re going to be judged by God. People can have their ears tickled during TV commercials, what they need is to know the Truth; and we know it!

In spite of John’s singular message, as offensive as it was, and as unpopular as it was to those who were not concerned with living for YHWH, it was effective! It was effective! It was effective!

The message of the Gospel is a one hit wonder, it is an offensive message, it is personal, & it, always and only, points one to Christ with the assured result of holiness. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation…I think I’ve read that somewhere.

Our pulpits don’t need new and exciting, fresh and relevant, contemporary additions to draw in the new age. Our pulpits need the Gospel; unadulterated, unfiltered, strong, and without apology.

May we, pastors and laity alike, be found by God to be more like John, committed to the One who gave us the message and unconcerned with making the message palatable for those who need that same message that saved us!

Psalms for the Journey

In College I once had an Honor Seminar on the classics of Literature throughout time and culture. In one of these classes I was introduced to Bonaventure’s The Journey of the Mind to God first published in the 13th century. In this text we began to unpack the reality of the medieval churches fathers and the thoughts they had on experiencing God and experience God along Life’s journey. For Bonaventure he understood himself to be a sinner unworthy of God’s glory and grace first and foremost, and because he was a sinner he began first to see God in the world around him and in the mercy that was seen in his own life. Thus, from seeing the mercy of God on his own life he then move forward into creation and into all that was around him, which lead him to ponder greater things about who God was and what God was doing in this Journey and as such he came to a greater understanding of God. Over the course of seven quick chapters Bonaventure takes us on a journey from the world around us to the depths of Scripture, to God’s name, to God’s gracious gifts, to the reality of His love for his saints and most importantly for His Son. Alas this text is far from perfect but I wanted to begin with this quick thought for it reminded me of another great journey to knowing and experiencing God provided in the scriptures, specifically in the Psalter.

For the past few years the men of SonRise have been working through the book of Psalms and as we came back off summer break we once again reengaged in this text, specifically teaching through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). For many of you maybe you’ve never even realized that this book within a book was there. The Psalms were meticulously ordered, compiled, and placed in this beautiful hymnbook for us through the work of the Spirit and throughout the history of the faith to be an encouragement, a rebuke, and a challenge to be led deeper into the reality of knowing and worshiping God. So as we journeyed through the Psalms we came upon these 15 Psalms grouped together to lead us on a journey from exile to our Home Praise God.

So with that in mind I wanted to draw our attention to three specific ways these Psalms remind us of our journey home.

  1. It reminds us of our beginning

In Psalm 120 the author speaks of the yearning to be with the people of God. He speaks about his longing for the peace of God for all around him he is surrounded by words of war. He is surrounded by arrows and violence, but he knows that there is hope before him in God. Thus, the Psalms of Ascent begin with the yearning for the peace of God. It is a cry in a parched desert for water, and prayer that we quickly see realized as the page turns and we quickly come to the hills of Jerusalem in Psalm 121. Here we see that God lifts up our eyes and leads us to cry “where does my help come from” my help comes from; the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Here the opening two Psalms draw our attention to the reality of our salvation. They remind us that we were once far off in war and in misery surrounded by the flesh and yet when the Lord interceded he lifted up our eyes and we saw from where our help and comfort came from, it did not come from ourselves but it came from the Lord. We must never forget where our journey began. It began in the muck in the mire of sin, and was not are doing that drew us out of the pain that surrounded us, it was not our strength that drew forth our feet from the mud, it was Christ who pulled us out, it was the mercy of God that set us free. So to truly understand our journey to God we must begin by understanding that it is He who set us on the journey, it is He who made it possible, it is He who paved the way, for Paul reminds us in Ephesians that is he who prepared the works that we are to walk in. We are but the beneficiaries of his good gift, for it is He who lifted up our eyes in the desert lands to see his beauty.

  1. It reminds us of our present situation

The second reality these Psalms reveal to us is that it is not just the Lord who saved us, but it is the Lord who sustains us. The continuation of the Journey reminds us daily of the mercy of God as we cry to Him. We are reminded that are present state is not free from sin but that in our cries for Mercy he is merciful. The Lord will be gracious to us in our sin for it is only He who brings us victory over sin and death. It is He who protected us and guided us we have done nothing to earn or deserve such gifts. Therefore, when we see the mighty hand of God sustaining our lives we can say as Psalm 125 says “Those who trust the Lord are like Mount Zion which cannot be moved.” When we see the Lord for what He has done, and what He is doing our faith should be strengthened and reinforced knowing that it is He who has done great things and it is He who will continue to do great things on the journey home. So whether our present situation be joy or distress we know that God is good and will be glorified through it. So for those who are in joy they may sing the first stanza of Psalm 126 “the Lord has done great things,” and for you who mourn you may sing the second stanza “knowing that he who goes out weeping bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy bringing his sheaves with him.” For both situations we know that it is God who is building the house through joy and through suffering. He is building us into the image bearers of His Son.

  1. It reminds us of our future blessing

Lastly, the concluding sections remind us of our future blessing. Here we are reminded of the Lord’s steadfast covenant love for His people. Our “soul will wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.” Our souls will yearn for the Lord who has not marked our iniquities against us, but has given us grace in His Son, and in His Son a family. As the Psalms of Ascent wind to an end, they remind us of not only the blessings of the grace of God, but in the family he has brought us into; for we sing here of how majestic it is that brothers dwell in unity. We are reminded of the wonder and majesty of the church now assembled in part and yet in future assembled as one before the throne of God. Here it is brought to a dramatic conclusion as we enter into the beautiful picture of the saints lifting their hands to the holy place, singing the name of the Lord by day and by night for He has made heaven and earth, He drew us out of the desert and gave us a home, gave us a people, gave us a name, and he alone gave us true life. All of which we did not deserve. All of which is by His merciful hand and so from understanding our future blessing we are reminded of our broken beginning and the God who put it all in motion and sustains us until the end.

Reflections on ‘Knowing God’

This week brings our men’s study of “Knowing God” to a conclusion at New Testament Baptist Church. One year ago, we set out to explore a book heralded as one of the modern Christian classics. Some books are acclaimed in such a way as being a “must-read” only to prove boring, inconsequential, and lifeless. “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer rightfully belongs among the books that one should reread every year along with “Pilgrim’s Progress”, “Lectures to My Students”, and a few other classics. Our study of “Knowing God’ produced a deeper bond among us as brothers in Christ exploring great truths concerning theology proper examining the attributes and words of God. Why should you read this book either for the first time or tenth time? Consider the following reasons why “Knowing God” is such a treasure:

  1. Deep Theology Simplified: Packer does not shy away from handling complex truths and deep theology. For example, Packer spends time unpacking the immutability of God, the wrath of God, predestination, incarnation of Christ, and so forth. He handles these subjects in a reverent manner but also writes for the layman who has no seminary education. Packer rightfully makes an argument up front about why all of us should desire to know more theology. “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”[1] Not only does Packer bring the cookie jar off the shelf but he explains to you why it matters that he does so.
  2. Theology is Practical: All theology is practical. There is no way to get around it. Evangelicalism suffers tremendously today because many believers have no well-informed worldview flowing out of a biblically-based, historically-informed theology. When one is lacking in his or her understanding of who God is and what He is like, they set themselves on a path of sin. “To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshiper – the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination.”[2] Therefore, in order to live a life of joy and that is well-pleasing to God one must know God and this is only done by studying the theology of God found in Scripture.
  3. Reformed Theology for the Beginner: Only a couple of times does J.I. Packer use the terms Calvinist or Reformed to describe the position that he is taking. It is certainly not because he is ashamed of the labels. I commend Packers’ introductory essay in the reprint of John Owen’s Death of Death for a great summary of what Calvinism is. This is a book that introduces a person to classic Reformed theology without the buzzwords or phrases that cause many to stumble over the doctrines of grace. If someone can read chapter after chapter and say they agree with the truths contained in this book, then they are a Calvinist. Packer wonderfully brings forth the Bible over and over to show where he is finding the truths he does concerning grace, law, the gospel, and salvation. If you want to introduce someone to the riches of Calvinism, this is a book that does a wonderful job in many ways of setting forth those theological truths.
  4. Utilizing Other Resources: This might sound like an odd reason to read a book but, hear me out. One of the facets of “Knowing God” that we have enjoyed much in our men’s study is the various hymns that Packer incorporates in the chapter. Many times, Packer will end a chapter with a hymn that explains in a poetic way the theological truths he just unpacked. Some of the sweetest memories of our men’s study for me is hearing all of us read the stanzas in unison or taking turns reading. Packer also does not shy away from pointing you to other great men of the faith. Chapter 1 immediately opens with a paragraph from a sermon preached by C.H. Spurgeon. If a book opens with Spurgeon, then you know it will be a good one! I jest (somewhat) but Packer shows that he comes to these views not in isolation but with a great cloud of witnesses.

There are many more reasons why you should read J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God.” This is a brief article but one that I hope will cause you to make this a book you will pick up soon. What does it mean to know God? How would you answer that? Consider Packer’s words:

We must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.[3]

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 19.

[2] Ibid., 48.

[3] Ibid., 37.

Gospel Propositions = Self Deprecation = Hard Work

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind his readers that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man.

Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved.

Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us. But let’s ask a question…

What kind of personal impact did this gospel have on Paul? What kind of personal impact does Paul want this gospel to have on the Corinthians? And lastly, what kind of personal impact does God want this gospel to have on you today? The answer is a twofold impact in which self is dethroned and God in His grace takes center place. Some people, well intending, argue against the kind of self-deprecation in view in 1 Cor. 15:8-11 and think of it as something unhealthy. But I want to plead with you this morning to embrace it and to begin cultivating a holy self-deprecation yourself.

Paul knew himself, that he didn’t deserve the grace shown to him. In fact, he knew himself so well that he confessed everything good thing in his life was solely due to God’s grace. v10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” You need to be able to say this yourself, and you can’t truly say this as long as you believe that who you are or what you’ve done through work, effort, or ability is the reason why your life is the way it is.

This gospel is not a call to improve yourself, it’s a call to come to the end of yourself and become someone entirely new.

So reader, gain an appreciation for a holy self-deprecation, renounce all self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem! For grace to be central, self must be die, and you must rest in the work of Christ for you. Some would have you believe that this kind of grace heavy religion will only lead to laziness or licentious living. ‘If the gospel truly is all of grace, than we can just do whatever we desire…right?’ Wrong. v10 again, “By the grace of God I am what I am. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

A true understanding and embracing of God’s grace – that He gives us grace not because of who we are but because of who He is and despite who we are – this grace leads to a life overflowing with a passion to work hard for the kingdom. Paul renounces self, embraces grace, and works harder than anyone.

Do you?

Sure, some of you are busy. Some of your schedules are already filled to the brim, but I fear our schedules betray us, revealing our hearts true affections because busy as we may be, what kind of busy-ness devours us? Worldly endeavors, worldly lifestyles, worldly accomplishments. At the end of his life Paul said he felt like he had been poured out like a drink offering…while most of our lives are aimed at increasing comfort. Rest in gospel grace, yes, but if you’re not wearing out for the kingdom you haven’t got grace.

The Doctrines of Grace in Five Minutes

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few years ago at my former church and at the end of the study a man approached me and said that this was the first time he had heard the doctrines of grace taught in years. Unfortunately, his experience is not a unique one. Growing up and attending church my entire life I can’t recall a time that I was ever taught these truths. It wasn’t until I attended Bible College at Trinity College of Florida that I was introduced to the rich truths of the doctrines of grace. I believe a great deal of people attend church regularly and are never taught these amazing truths.

Allow me to briefly share the doctrines of grace with you.

We must start with God because He is where it all begins. God is sovereign in salvation. That is, salvation belongs to Him (Jonah 2:9) He controls it. The Bible makes it clear that God chose those whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). This election was not a result of any merit within us, but was solely by the grace of God (Romans 9:11-13).

If God were not to initiate a relationship with us we would never come to Him on our own (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we were dead in our sin and utterly unable to move toward God in our sinfulness (Ephesians 2:1). God had to remove our dead heart and give us a heart that beats for Him (Ezekiel 36:26) or else it would never happen. To come to a saving faith in Christ is all the work of God. He chooses, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies (Romans 8:30). By His amazing grace, and by His grace alone, sinners are made right with God.

This salvation is extended to many, but not all (Mark 10:45). Christ died for His elect (John 10:11). His blood does not cover universally the sin of all, or else all would be saved, but rather His blood covers only a particular people. These are God’s elect, given to the Son for salvation and they will respond in faith (John 6:37). Those who respond in genuine faith toward Christ will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

The doctrines of grace ultimately point us to a greater worship of God for what He has done for us through Christ.  We can take absolutely no credit for our salvation. It is completely the work of God on our behalf.  All glory to Him.  All praise is to Him.  All honor is for Him.

Lifestyle Evangelism?

 

Many professing Christians think godly living is all the evangelism others need from us. They misquote St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” In actuality St. Francis never said this. The sad reality is that many are quick to find spiritualized statements like this to justify their disobedience to Christ’s command. St. Francis of Assisi actually did comment on this issue though. His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, quoted him saying: “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.”

That seems more in line with God’s Word.

Scripture is clear that salvation is always connected to the preached Word. James says God, “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter says we are, “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable of the four souls, Jesus taught the impossibility of growth apart from sowing the seed of God’s Word (Mark 4). But the clearest Scripture on this is perhaps Paul’s argument in Romans 10. He states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17). Paul’s quadruple “How” question clearly is rhetorical. Paul is saying that without gospel proclamation there can be no justification.”

Godly living is vital, but is insufficient to save a soul from God’s just wrath against sin. Only faith in the message of the Gospel can save. The only hope for the lost is that the saved share the Gospel with them: his sinless life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. Those who try to avoid Gospel evangelism are trying to separate the inseparable. The very Greek word euangelion or Gospel is in our word evangelism. Tell people the only message that can save them, and don’t assume people understand it if you don’t share it with them.

The Good Samaritan

We have all either read or heard about the Good Samaritan.

It was a parable told by Jesus in response to a man hoping to be able to justify himself. This particular man was a lawyer who seemingly knew all the right answers, especially those regarding acquiring right relationship with God. In fact, when he asked the Lord what it would take to inherit eternal life, and Jesus turned the question on him, he responded with the correct answer. However, we find in Luke 10 that, in this man’s heart, he is trying to put the Lord to the test. The question that Jesus prompts him with in response is this, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” As is taught throughout Scripture, and as this man correctly answers, the whole Law can be summed up in this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.

Although he answered correctly and Jesus encouraged him to do just that in order to have life, the lawyer still sought to justify himself. Usually the heart behind seeking to be justified is to remove all guilt. This man wanted to be seen as innocent in the eyes of those who held power in their position. That is why this led to the man asking his next weighty question, “And who is my neighbor?”

This then brings us to the parable told by Jesus of the Good Samaritan.

Over the summer, I had the privilege to work at Pine Cove, a Christ-centered family camp that lasts for ten weeks. During one of our sessions leading up to the start of camp, at which point we would be asked to serve and love on 250 families, the director of the camp spoke on this parable in a way that I had never heard before. He was urging us to not find strength in ourselves to make it through the difficult days that would soon be ahead. It was such a beautiful reminder of the gospel and gave so much empowerment to “go and do likewise.”

As followers of Christ, we are called to love the Lord and love our neighbor as ourselves. Oftentimes, when we listen to a sermon on this passage, we are encouraged to be like the Good Samaritan who selflessly loves the man left for dead as opposed to those who were religious yet cold hearted. It’s so easy for us to want to place ourselves in the story as the hero. Take for instance the way that we often like to apply passages like 1 Samuel 17 to our lives. In this Scripture we find the well known story of David and Goliath. After reading this empowering passage, it is the role of David, who placed his faith in God and defeated the giant, that we like to identify with. However, David is being portrayed here as the Savior who accomplished what the army of Israelites could not. It is a foreshadowing of what Christ would come to earth to accomplish.

Here’s the beauty of it: instead of placing ourselves in the shoes of the Good Samaritan, imagining ourselves to be people who are more than willing to go above and beyond for those who are in need, we need to first place ourselves in the shoes of the man left on the side of the road.

One of the gospel truths is this: we love because He first loved us. We will never be able to effectively be a conduit of God’s grace, love, or forgiveness until we have first experienced it for ourselves. Therein lies the beauty of this parable, in it we see Christ and the love that he has for us, the length that he is willing to go, and we receive the instruction to go and do likewise. As

Jen Wilkin puts this concept in her book In His Image, “Withholding mercy from others reveals that we do not recognize what we ourselves have received.”

The Bible teaches us that we once were dead in our trespasses and sins, until God made us alive in Christ. That is why it is so important to first see ourselves in this parable as the man who was attacked and left for dead as he was traveling.

Completely hopeless.

That is when the Good Samaritan enters into the narrative.

Instead of walking by in avoidance, as those who had gone before him had done, he stops and has compassion on the sufferer. And not only does he stop to see what he can do to help in the moment, he goes to the extreme of taking responsibility for making sure that the man is restored to good health.

The Good Samaritan cares for and binds the wounds, places the man on his donkey, then takes him to an inn where he continued to care for the badly injured man. He then pays in full with his own money whatever the tab would cost for the man to stay at the inn and be well taken care of.

This is a picture of the gospel. When we have the eyes to see it, our hearts are moved to an even greater appreciation for the length Christ went to save us and the love that he has shown for us. Jesus came to earth as a man, knowing that we were helpless on our own, left for dead, he came with compassion. Meeting us where we were, he knelt down and bound up our wounds, taken upon himself the full weight of our sin. He cries out for us, “Paid in full.”

With hearts fully set on Christ, we then have the ability to go and do likewise as Jesus has beseeched us to do. As we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbor as ourself, we become in our own lives a reflection of the gospel.

The Response of Grateful Hearts

At Eldred Baptist Church, we preach expositionally and since we started a new series preaching through Luke/Acts that means we are currently finishing the birth narratives of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Since March of this year, our congregation has been engulfed in the revelation of the Sovereign’s Intervention in the lives of His creation with the purpose of lavishing us with His grace.

There have been several theme’s that God has woven through the first two chapters of Luke but one has been a constant and borne fruit unexpected in our little country church, the fruit of joy.

We saw it first in Luke’s purpose of writing to Theophilus (1:3, 4). Next, in Gabriel’s proclamation to Zechariah (1:13), then, subsequently, in Elizabeth’s response to her conception of the Baptist (1:25). Joy manifested itself again in the womb of Elizabeth as the yet unborn Baptist leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice, surely in response to the Spirit’s revelation of the presence of his Savior in utero (1:41 & 44). Joy, again, exudes from the young, teenage virgin in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-47). And in fulfillment of prophecy, Zechariah & Elizabeth’s family & friends rejoiced when the Lord blessed them with John (1:58) and Zechariah, now relieved of God’s curse from his disbelief overflows, blessing God from a joyful heart concerning the soon arrival of God’s Salvation and his newborn son’s involvement in the redemptive plan of God (1:64-79).

And all this joy comes before the Christ was born…

In chapter two, everyone, natural & supernatural beings alike, respond in joyful adoration of the arrival of God the Son; the angelic messenger to shepherds (2:10), the multitude of the heavenly hosts (2:14), the shepherds upon their arrival (2:16-20), Mary & Joseph (2:18-19), Simeon, Anna, and “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:25-38).

I don’t know if you’re keeping count or not but that’s twelve obvious, joy-filled responses to either the news of Christ’s Advent or the Advent of the Christ! Clearly, the response of those who are filled with gratefulness concerning the Christ is joy; unmistakable, uncontainable, unfiltered, joy. And shouldn’t it be?

I mentioned that this series has borne some unexpected fruit earlier. Let me explain.

This theme of God’s people responding in joy as He reveals Himself has become contagious. Launching from the opening line of Mary’s Magnificat, EBC has begun a monthly “Testimony of Praise” that is presented by covenanted member during the worship service on the second Sunday of each month. For three months now, a member has come forward to present a testimony of praise to God for who He is and what He’s been doing in & through their lives.

This has become a Sunday that I, as well as others, are enthusiastically looking forward to. We’ve heard of God’s graciousness in bringing reconciliation to a marriage after they both were saved. We’ve heard of His goodness in restoring brokenness in families separated by years of the scars left behind by sin, supernatural peace amidst trials and anxiousness, a trust in His promises because He is ever-faithful and unchanging, supernatural growth in holiness through ordinary means long neglected, a new-found hunger and thirst for more of God and more personal holiness, and so much more. Truly, my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior as I hear of His faithfulness in this covenanted community’s life. Praise God!

In God’s grace, through the exposition of His Word, He has revealed to this little church another ordinary mean of grace that is overflowing our already full hearts! Let me challenge you, Pastors/Elders, to disciple your congregation to fill in these blanks—“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has _______________  ____________  ______________…” and then ask them to share God’s praise with Christ’s Church; He is worthy!

Your people will be edified, your speaker will be sanctified, & God will be glorified!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).

Security for the Insecure

Security is a critical element in life. Unfortunately, it’s also very elusive. Recent world events, terrorist attacks, financial collapses and all of the woes that come from a fallen planet really demonstrate how insecure our world is.

On a personal level, perhaps you live in insecurity because you have been the victim of a crime such as robbery or rape. Maybe your spouse has threatened divorce and thus, you lack marital security. Your children may be struggling with physical or emotional ailments that have deprived you of security. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and your retirement has plummeted leaving you feeling hopelessly insecure. Reflecting on your life, you realize that you have little or no security in those areas where you crave it most.

Fortunately for the believer, in the single area that truly matters most—your relationship with God almighty—you can have ultimate security.

The Bible boldly declares that God offers believers His unconditional love, acceptance and security.

Yet many Christians still struggle with this notion. As a pastor, I hurt for those of you who cannot grasp the beauty of eternal security and that’s why I want you to know that God’s love for you is perfect and everlasting. I grew up in a Pentecostal home where I thought God to be a distant deity who was willing to smite me every time I listened to secular music or sat in a movie theatre. I truly resonated with Martin Luther when he came to the place where he admitted that he hated God for his holy requirement of perfection from us. “This word is too high and too hard that anyone should fulfill it,” But here’s the Biblical truth: The Lord yearns for you to have complete assurance and security in Him. Despite your imperfections.

This confidence is critical if you are to experience the Christian life the way God intended and worship Him the way He intended. Proper theology leads to proper doxology.

Romans 8 is regarded to be one of the best chapters in all the bible. Verses 31-39 may be the most comforting and encouraging verses in the Word. (In my opinion of course) These verses definitively declare thateternal security belongs to the Lord.

Paul offers three hopeful assurances: There is no opposition, there is no condemnation, and there is no separation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

There is no opposition: 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a]against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 

Friend, God is for you.

In the beginning portion of 8:31; Paul writes “What then shall we say to these things?” This is the first of seven questions in this passage. Throughout this passage, Paul’s goal is to exhaust any and every objection.

What things is Paul referring to here? If we go back a verse, it ends with “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. “

This is implicitly telling us that God’s very work is effectual in its processes. It’s not anything you and I can muster up to do, but it is the very working of God that we are even called to believe in Him. Since He gave us Jesus, (The Son) how will he not keep us until the day of redemption? Salvation is a very gift. Paul is making that case crystal clear here. HE graciously, gives us all things including persecution and death. ALL things are expected, because God uses ALL things for His glory. Now it makes sense when we read Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these thingswill be added to you.

In 8:32 Paul answers the question of 8:31 with a rhetorical question: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Paul argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has done the big thing, delivering up Jesus, will He not do the little thing?

For God to give up The Son to death and then abandon you on the highway to glorification would be like a rich man spending a vast sum on a car and then leaving it on the roadside because he couldn’t afford the gasoline to run it. How absurd! That is the idea behind Paul’s argument here. Since God gave up His Son to purchase and secure your eternal life, He will certainly give you whatever you need to live for Him now. But this phrase “all things” (panta) does not include Rolls-Royces, mansions, expensive jewelry, and elaborate wardrobes. The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel teaching is a false gospel which needs to be refuted immediately.

Paul’s assertion is designed to drive home the unshakable assurance that God will do whatever is necessary to guarantee your ultimate glorification.

And that there is good news for our souls!

There is no condemnation:   33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

The picture Paul paints here is one of a courtroom setting. He’s speaking in legal terms here. The imagery and thought process throughout is the idea that we are standing to be judged, but the accusations just don’t stick. It’s almost like having the perfect alibi during a courtroom questioning.

Let’s Look at the prophet Zachariah in chapter 3:1-4. This provides a great mental image:

Zechariah 3:1-4: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” 

Because of what Christ has accomplished in redemption, we no longer stand condemned. A proper name for our adversary satan should really be “the satan.” The Hebrew word satan means “the adversary, or the one who resists.” It is translated as “satan” eighteen times in the Old Testament, fourteen of those occurrences being in Job 1-2, the others in 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2. This gives us a good understanding on who it is we’re dealing with here.

But there’s something else I want you to focus on, it’s the word interceding. The Greek Paul used here for interceding is:en tyn chanei”  and it means “to light upon a person or a thing,

to go to, or meet a person, esp. for the purpose of conversation, consultation, or supplication. To pray, entreat, make intercession for any one”.

This helps us clearly see Christ’s intentional intercession on our behalf. He is for us, interceding that we would be freed from temptation and be sanctified in this life. He is on our side!

The Apostle John wanted to make this crystal clear in 1st john 2:1

1st John 2:1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

John here calls him our advocate. Again, speaking in legal terms. We are his “Elect” or his “chosen ones” handpicked for such a time as this to be conformed to the image of Christ! An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.”

This shows us that Christ is our advocate, supporting us, constantly recommending us, interceding on our behalf, praying that we stay the course and win this race with victory because of what he has done. And let me tell you, when the trinity is praying, these are effectual prayers! Read this slowly, Romans 8:26 says it like this: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Wow! This should bring comfort to the troubled soul. Paul writing to the Galatians in chapter 4:4-6 goes on to cement this truth;

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[a] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[b] Father.”

Don’t ever forget that!  It may be difficult to comprehend how this all works out, but this is the very means God uses to “keep us” saved and secure in him, its these beautifully complicated processes.

Jesus says in John 6:37-39: 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day. (glorification)

Then he says in John 3:18;   17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

My friends, there is no condemnation!

There is no separation35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The verb “separate” (chorizo) bookends this section (8:35, 39), confirming that there is no separation in your relationship with God. Paul begins with the question that is potentially the most critical question a Christian can ask:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35) Of course, the answer is: No one can separate us from the love of Christ.

However, you may say, “But I don’t feel like I love Christ all the time.” No, you misread 8:35; It’s not who is going to separate us from our love for Christ, but who is going to separate us from Christ’s love for us. 

I don’t know about you, but my love for Christ can fluctuate between hot and cold. If my salvation depends upon the fervency of my love for Christ, I would have already been cast into hell. Thankfully, my salvation does not depend upon my love for Christ; rather, it depends upon Christ’s love for me. His life, death, resurrection, and intercession have secured my eternal destiny. The only reason that I will spend eternity with God is because of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to quote Psalm 44:22 which reads: Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But I’ll quote a few verses beforehand to give you a better context.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22 Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

In other words, we can expect to be killed or destroyed by God if we turn to other gods and idols, but it says for your sake we are persecuted, we are hunted down to die, regarded as sheep to the slaughter!

God is more concerned with our sanctification, and our glorification, so yes we will face many troubles in this life, but what did Jesus say about that?

John 16:33 (ESV)

33 have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So the very threat of death is not really a threat to us, because it cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Persecution cannot do it. Famine can’t do it. Nakedness can’t do it. Peril, or sword can’t do it. Angels, ruler’s powers and principalities can’t do it! NOTHING means nothing in Greek, Latin, English, Spanish, Creole, Afrikaans, Dutch, and you get the gist.

Paul reaffirms this when he says in Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

God’s love for his children in Christ is secure, effectual and everlasting. Take heart my friend. The Lord has gone great lengths to demonstrate that those who are in Him have no opposition, no condemnation and no separation.

Live by these truths. He is for you and will make sure that you are sanctified daily with the ultimate goal of salvation in mind: To be conformed to the image of Christ. Always remember: The father chooses, The son saves, The spirit preserves.

He offers security for the insecure. 

You are in His hand.

Joy in the Ordinary

One of the greatest discoveries for me in learning about Reformed Theology came in discovering the concept of the ordinary means of grace. What exactly is that all about? The ordinary means of grace are a part of the warmth and joy that is found in Reformed Theology. Wrestling with the attributes of God, sovereign election, particular redemption, and covenant theology can be quite hard. Those deep theological matters cannot be reduced to a bumper-sticker with a catchy phrase or hashtag. The ordinary means of grace present another aspect of Reformed Theology: finding joy in that which is simple.

In the 2nd London Baptist Confession, Particular Baptists defined the ordinary means of grace this way: “The grace of faith, by which the elect are enabled to believe so that their souls are saved, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. Faith is ordinarily produced by the ministry of the Word. By this same ministry and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God, faith is increased and strengthened.”[1] Notice that they identify the ministry of the Word, the sacraments or ordinances, and prayer as the ordinary means by which our faith is strengthened and assurance deepens. Other ordinary means of grace that can be identified, especially in a corporate worship gathering, are singing and fellowship. Reformed Baptist pastor Richard Barcellos offers this definition on the ordinary means of grace: “The delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace – that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings – to needy souls on earth.”[2]

The beauty and richness of the ordinary means of grace comes shining forth when we consider how God uses the ordinary to bless us in an extraordinary way. Are we comprehending just how nourishing the proclamation of the Word is when the Bible is read, explained, and applied to our hearts? This is why Jesus told Simon Peter in John 21 to feed and nourish the flock of Christ. The ministry of the Word is not just the means of the Spirit’s effectual call and regenerating work among the unconverted; it is also the means by which the saints are nourished and strengthened. Growing up in a more fundamentalist Baptist background, the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper was so ingrained that understanding of Christ’s spiritual presence at the Table seemed almost Romish to me. However, as I have learned more, I have come to realize not just the historic Baptist view of the Supper as both a memorial and spiritual nourishment but that the Scriptures teach this as well. [3]

As one might deduce, the ordinary means of grace are connected to the fellowship and assembly of the local church. How magnificent is our Lord to remind us through these means of how we are a covenant people together in need of encouragement, strength, and reminders of who we are in Christ. I often tell people that if you believe Reformed Theology is found only in T-U-L-I-P then you are missing out on what the real meaning of doctrines of grace is. Reformed theology changes your outlook on everything. It changed my outlook on preaching as I come to more and more find rest and solace in the sovereignty of the Spirit in the Word. Reformed Theology’s teaching on the ordinary means of grace deepens my appreciation for the Christian Sabbath and gathering on the Lord’s Day. Every Scripture reading, prayer, hymn, ordinance, reading of creeds/confessions/catechisms, and time together fellowshipping over the Word are the channels by which the Spirit refreshes, matures, corrects, and settles my weary heart as a pilgrim. So, when you gather this coming Lord’s Day, do not think that simple worship means ineffective or backwards. Rather, meditate upon the extraordinary power of God unleashed in the ordinary means of grace!

 

[1] See: https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/chapter-14-saving-faith/

[2] See: https://founders.org/reviews/the-lords-supper-as-a-means-of-grace/

[3] See: https://vimeo.com/287451369 for a recent sermon I preached on this topic.

Living Faith is not Lazy

 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” Lk 13:24

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil. 2:12-13

Now these are some weighty passages that growing up in a reformed Baptist church the idea of holiness in relation to work was not something often spoken about. We would speak a lot on the grace of God and how overwhelming the grace of God was towards us. This informed us that there was nothing that we could do to earn our salvation, it is only Christ that set us free from sin and death, it is only Christ who gave us new life, it is only Christ who teaches us, and all of this is true and then some. We can not earn our salvation, but this teaching left a lingering question after salvation: “how then shall I now live.”   Texts like the two presented here that hit home in relation to living the Christian life. but being raised in a church were any talking of working out the salvation as deemed legalistic, it left little encouragement to change. Ultimately it became a sense that if God was going to change you he would otherwise rest on his grace in the midst of your sin. This is where I want to challenge us today as I myself have been challenged, we have been saved by Grace to walk in newness of life, by the Spirit for Holiness, but this does not take place through some spiritual osmosis while you sleep, it comes through self-discipline, confession, community, and growing in Faith. We agree that it is all by God’s grace and mercy we are saved we added nothing to it, and can do nothing of our own to spurn the loving grace of God, but with salvation is a call to live it our and these things are the evidences of a growing faith.

Self-Discipline:

So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul encourages the church to model his way of life. He didn’t receive the gift of God and then hang out in bars getting drunk hoping the Lord would use him. He didn’t continue in sinfulness hoping that one day this Jesus thing takes over. He was transformed and by being transformed he lived out the life, endeavoring all the more to be found in Him. He speaks often about disciplining himself in the faith, running the race and being prepared to see God. Do we take such an approach to our Christian lives? It’s humbling to read the words scattered throughout the New Testament that call us to such things, but they are there to remind us we serve a Holy God who has made us holy positionally before Him in Christ, but who also calls us to live out the life in the same holiness.

How else does one strive for Holiness than in faith in Christ and living out the faith. Think of it in terms like Paul does running a race, or exercising. If you want to get in better shape you don’t sit around the house eating Doritos and ice cream, waiting for the day it all comes together. You get up off your butt and do a sit up, may be just a few, then you discover weights, and planks, plyo and pilates, maybe you join a gym, you change the meals you eat…..You become disciplined in your endeavor.  The Christian faith requires us to take the life we live that seriously, and it is convicting and it should be. It should hit us between the eyes, not leading us to guilt that we fail, but to humility that we need God to work in us and through us. We trust the Lord and walk in Holiness.

Confession:

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Col 3:12-13

The Christian life is also not lived alone, it is lived together and an aspect of that togetherness is confession and forgiveness. As God’s Children we have been forgiven much, we have been forgiven the sins that have entangled us, do entangle us, and will entangle us. However, part of being forgiven involves the reality of confessing and walking in that forgiveness. The Lord called us to repent and believe, His apostles remind us that we must confess our faults before God and we were saved.  We are also reminded though that while we are saved and set free from sin, the roots go deep and evil remains surrounding us, so we must make a habit of identifying the evil that remains, confessing it to God and seeking the forgiveness of those we have wronged, and as though being wronged we must also be open with a hand of forgiveness, not just 7 times, but in to eternity, for God grace towards us is such in measure.

Community

 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph 2:19-22

Not only is growing in Holiness seen in self-discipline & confession, but in our lives as a community of faith. Christ’s church is not a lone ranger experience, it is a corporate one. We were not saved to be alone, but to be together. Our faith is lived out with others, for others, and for ourselves as we together grow in self-discipline and confession. Using the illustration of working out, we don’t do it alone, in the faith we have trainers and others besides us working, encouraging, falling, and getting back up. We work together, but what is even more important is the realization that this community is a family. We are brothers and sisters joined together by the blood of Christ under His Lordship and the Love of the Father. As a family we wish to see none of our brothers or sisters fall away, but be encouraged. We strive together for a true church strives as one, being built up by Christ into the temple which displays His majesty to the world. His majesty is a Holy Majesty and as such we are again to be Holy as He is Holy.

Growing in Faith

 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:5-7

The last avenue, when we think about striving and working out the faith, is in the reality of growing in our faith, Peter here encourages us to work hard at the faith and grow up in it. There is an element in his proposal for us all to take the faith seriously and to advance in it, through faith and work. Now again this is not salvation but the working out of that salvation, the striving after the Lord if you will. Peter warns us not to take the faith lightly but for those who are saved and being saved to make our lives living examples of the grace and mercy of God, putting off the things that have so entangled us and grow up in the faith, seeking to earnestly grow in the faith, means to earnestly endeavor in the faith.

Ultimately, we need not be afraid of the idea of working out our salvation, this is not legalism, its discipline and biblical. It’s a matter of Growing into who you already are, it’s seeing sin and putting it to death through prayer and action. It’s seeing deficiencies in your life and correcting them according to the word of God and the spirit of God. It’s making every effort to walking in Holiness through faithfulness, confession, prayer, and forgiveness in the community of God’s family

Why Must I Grow in Holiness?

Sanctification.

It is a big, five-syllable word that may not be used much, but remains vitally important. Most mornings while our three children are munching down their cereal, we listen to the New City Catechism in song form. This morning, the song was focused on answering the question, “What do justification and sanctification mean?” My six year old daughter said, “Sanctification? What’s that?” Sadly, many adults who have been raised in the church don’t know the answer either. Yet the doctrine of sanctification is so important and so monumentally vital to the Christian life that Scripture says we cannot see the Lord without it (Heb. 12:14).

So what is it? Sanctification refers to that gradual process of upward spiritual growth in the Christian’s life whereby we are conformed more and more to the image of our Savior. The process of sanctification begins at conversion and ends in final glorification when we die or Christ returns. While our justification is all a work of God in grace toward us, our sanctification involves our spiritual effort and the Spirit’s enabling and empowerment. But one question that seems to be on the minds of churchgoers in our generation is this: “Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? After all, aren’t we saved by faith alone in Christ alone?”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul addresses the importance of spiritual growth to a church in a similar scenario as ours. The believers in Thessalonica had been converted from idolatry and were living in a culture of rampant sexual promiscuity, to say the least. Cult prostitutes were even used in their temple worship. Various forms of sexual perversion were state-sanctioned activities to raise funds for government buildings and such. We may not be facing as much blatant sexual immorality in our society as the Thessalonian believers were in theirs, but I think it’s safe to say it is a big problem. There are now a variety of new snares Satan has devised to trip us up. By means of great technological advancements, nearly 80% of all Americans own a smartphone. These devices have instant access to visual, moving internet pornography and most people have no filter set up in place to guard them from it. Along with smartphones, we have laptops, smart TV’s, tablets, and such. Just recently my family was at my parents’ home while my dad was trying out his new Echo Dot. Within a few minutes, my children learned to call out the title of a song and expect it to play it for them on demand, only that it misunderstood them and played sexually explicit music for the next couple minutes. This is just one example of how pervasive the problem of sexual immorality is in our culture.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul answers some crucial questions for us about spiritual growth…

Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? Yes, it’s God’s will.

Paul says in verse 1 that we, “ought to…please God…more and more.” Spiritual stagnation is not only a waste of our potential, it is flat out dangerous. Obviously this does not mean we should expect to see some dramatic gains in our devotional lives each progressive week. If we could draw a line graph of our own lifelong spiritual progress, it would have a lot of ups and downs, yet there should be an upward slant to the whole thing. There should be a marked spiritual growth from who we were five years ago and who we are today. Not only that, but Paul also says, “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” Every high school students wants to know what God’s will is for their life and they listen for that still, small voice, but it is right here in black and white before us. God’s will for our lives is that we grow in holiness. Spoken negatively, it is not God’s will that our holiness be at a plateau.

What does this spiritual growth look like? At least sexual purity.

Paul uses an appositive statement to connect their sanctification with sexual purity. He says, “your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” In our pornographic society, this sexual purity is at least what it means to grow in Christlikeness and in holiness. One cannot say they are growing in holiness while they are indulging in any form of sexual immorality. Paul uses the word porneas, a broad word referring to any sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage. To be growing at all means we cannot sit complacent in any sin that perverts God’s good design in marriage. Holiness and honor should be words that characterize our sexual purity.

Why is our sexual purity that big of a deal? Because God called us out for this.

There are several answers to this question which Paul gives. One answer Paul gives is that the Gentiles who practice these things don’t know God and we do. Our knowledge of God sets us apart not only spiritually, but also sexually from the worldview of this age. Also, we are told to remember that God punishes all who love sin more than Him.  Finally, our sexual purity is a big deal because of the way God first called us. God did not come to call us to live as we were. You call a person because you want them to turn their attention away from what it is on so that it is then on you. When God calls sinners, He calls us to a whole new way of life. Jesus was known for saying to sinners, “Go and sin no more.”  Paul says to disregard the clear teaching of Scripture here is to disregard the very God who gives the Holy Spirit. None of us can ever hope to be holy without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

May our lives be marked by this growth in holiness as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit each day. It is only when our world sees Christ’s church as set apart and holy that they will know what a different Christ has made in us.

A New Podcast

So a few months ago Adam and I began a Podcast called A2. Each week we cover a specific topic, book or subject dealing with a wide range of issues and conversations that take place in the life of the church.

So why podcasting you might ask, well in short it is a quick and honest way to discuss the realities of the Christian faith and allow our church to hear our perspective on life and godliness.

We also felt this would be a way for those who may not have time to sit a read a blog like this to listen to the thoughts of their pastor and staff members on the christian life. We know this is not a new en devour but hope that you will find it as encouraging to listen to as it is for us to record.

Feel free to click here and listen to our Podcast.

You can also find it on the SonRise ITunes page here.