Thursday, November 15, 2018

Are We Justified By Faith?

Rom 4:2  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Rom 4:3  For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
Rom 4:4  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
Rom 4:5  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

When it comes to understanding the above passage one’s theology makes all the difference.  On the surface it seems pretty clear that we are not saved by any work we can do through faith.  Since this is the main point then it cannot be teaching us that faith is a work that we can do in order to be saved.  Yet there are a vast number or Christians who believe this very thing. 

This is mostly seen in the concept that God has provided a means of salvation and all that is needed to finish the job is for us to agree with it by faith.  But if all men are born with the ability to believe then how is this not a work?  Does not the very term ability necessitate something we have to aid in our salvation? 

The idea is that since none are righteous and can obey God’s Law then he has lowered the bar just low enough so that everyone has the ability to get in.  Faith becomes the one thing that we all can “do”.  But this is still a work and the above passage is saying that this is not an option.

Our theology helps here as we know that the Bible teaches that salvation is a work of God in which he enables us to believe thus faith is not a work but a means by which the Lord justifies us in such a way that we cannot boast that we did anything, even believe, in order to be saved.  Yes, we trusted in the work of Christ but only because God regenerated us and gave us the power to do so.

Another reason we know that faith is not the one thing that God will accept in order to save us is because faith does not equal our transgressions.  The Muslim god for instance will forgive sin if certain prayers are made.  But in essence this is to forgive sin without it ever being paid for.  Prayers don’t make up for transgressing a Holy God nor does believing.  Sin must be paid for which is why Jesus had to die.

Now you might be thinking, “Well there you have it.  Faith doesn’t equal our sin; Jesus also had to die for them.  But Paul tells us in Galatians that if we add anything to Christ we miss the gospel entirely.  In Galatians they were adding circumcision; in the case of the Church of Christ they add baptism; in the case of most Arminianism they add “faith”.  The idea is that God has done everything needed for salvation except one thing is left for us to “add to Christ’s work”.  That is we must add our faith to it.  In the end it boils down to a work that we can do that the lost will not do. 

Because of this it is good and necessary to understand that we are justified not on the basis of faith but through faith.  We are saved by grace, through faith.  Our salvation is all a gift of God but he enables us to believe when he gives us the new birth as the mechanism in which he justifies us.  We can take no credit.  I will leave you with these verses which I believe say the same thing, Php 1:29  For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.  Act 13:48  And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.  2Ti 2:25  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Steadfast in the Everyday Things

Rom 5:3  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I recently preached on being steadfast.  Biblically the idea is to remain under a trial in a faithful, Christ-honoring way.  Often when we think of enduring trials we think of the big ones like persecution or when the doctor tells us we have terminal cancer, etc.  And while these are certainly times in which we are to be steadfast and endure to the end; it is perhaps just as important, if not more so, that we are careful to be Christlike and faithful in the everyday trials and disappointments of life since these are by far what we will encounter most often.

I think it is a good sign that we are maturing in Christ when we are able to handle the everyday disappointments and dull routines of life in a way that we are able to maintain our joy, peace and love while underneath them.  One instance that crossed my mind was what we term as mid-life crisis.  As a rule we have these because life isn’t turning out the way we expected or wanted.  Often this is seen because our spouse isn’t fulfilling our needs the way we want them to be fulfilled.  So we look for something or someone to take their place.  Of course, this is not being steadfast by being content with Christ but it is to live life primarily in a selfish mindset. 

I wonder how many men have had a “midlife crisis” because they came to the realization that they are not fulfilling their wives needs?  Probably the answer is no one ever!  We are way too selfish to think in such a way it seems. It just shows why we find it difficult to hold up when things don’t go our way; because we only are concerned for our way and not Christ and certainly not our neighbor’s and family’s good.  We reduce life to our little world and with nothing greater to live for how on earth can we endure with joy and contentment?

Another reason why it is so important to be steadfast in the everyday routines of life is that this gives us unlimited opportunities to honor the Lord and gain reward.  The times of persecution and life-changing trials are limited for all of us but faithfulness when people are short with you and unfair, when you are stuck in traffic or have to deal with a boss who shows favoritism, etc. happens so often that these are by far the most abundant ways to show this world how much you love Christ. 

If we miss this- that we must be steadfast in the little things- then we will excuse our bad temper and ill-treatment of our loved ones; if we think trials are only the big things and don’t realize that most of our trials are the everyday pain, disappointments, dealing with the ungodly pride in your life when those around you don’t bow to your every whim, then we will be defeated before we even get started.  We can please our Lord every day hundreds of times by placing our hope in him and being full of joy when the elderly lady won’t move out of the way on the road and we praise God that we can drive a car instead of blessing her out because she is going to make us 30 seconds later than we would have been.  Don’t downplay the little things or we will be unprepared for the bigger things and probably explains why we don’t do well at either many times.

I want to get better at being satisfied and joyful while those without Christ grow more and more bitter and sour.  It is sad when we see the same rage and bitterness in our society infiltrating the church influencing how we interact with each other.  I want to have the same attitude that those early Christians did who suffered much more than I ever will; Heb 10:32  But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, Heb 10:33  sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. Heb 10:34  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Heb 10:35  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. Heb 10:36  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.  Heb 10:37  For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay.

Notice that they didn’t just miserably endure pain and disappointment; they did so joyfully and compassionately.  They didn’t use their problems to stop them ministering to others and so they had great reward waiting for them because Christ is just about to come back for all of us either at death or his Second Coming and so compared to eternity, our reward is just around the corner.  Let’s take heart and serve while it is day!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Uselessness of Scheming

Gen 12:11  When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, "I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, Gen 12:12  and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Gen 12:13  Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake."

The account of Abram going to Egypt during the famine and lying about Sarah being his sister and not his wife teaches us of what happens when we start to rely on our wisdom to live life rather than obeying what God says in his Word.  This is seen in several ways in this passage such as Abram leaving Bethel which is called the House of God.  It was the place where Abram made an altar and worshipped God and while there he called upon the Lord which basically means he was seeking to know God’s will; he was listening to and following the Lord.

But he leaves the place of fellowship with God and starts scheming on his own.  He is not recorded as making another altar or speaking to the Lord until 13:4 where he returns to Bethel and starts to call upon the name of the Lord again.  So I think we can assume that  in between these two periods we are seeing Abram as he is living according to his own wisdom. 

As I was studying this account a thought occurred to me as to why such a course of action will fail every time.  By course of action I mean trying to take care of problems by human reason without first being guided by God’s revelation to us.  We might say that Abram was scheming.  He developed a rather elaborate ruse that he thought would feed his family, save his life and technically he was not lying since Sarah was his half-sister.  Scheming is certainly something I can identify with.  I often make careful, if not elaborate, plans when faced with problems.  On the surface there is not necessarily anything wrong with this as God has given us capacities of reason along with experience to figure out how to overcome problems in life.  Surely this is the mother of invention for instance.

The problem comes when we don’t allow ourselves to be first guided by what God has said in his Word and we aren’t seeking his help in prayer.  And so we scheme using our own wisdom but without a very important ingredient which makes all the difference.  Abram’s scheme might have worked except that Pharaoh didn’t play along.  And this is where all of our plans are doomed for failure if we act apart from the will of God.  Abram couldn’t control Pharaoh’s mind, will and actions but the Sovereign God of all can! 

And this is why using his wisdom will always work and why trying to live on our own wisdom can never work.  We cannot control anything other than ourselves and we can’t do that very well.  The success of every plan we make ultimately depends on whether people, events, weather, machines, animals, etc. will cooperate and we have no real control over any of those things.  But God controls all things after the counsel of his eternal decrees so every plan he has determined must come to pass.

Apparently it was God’s will for Abram to weather the famine in Canaan, not Egypt.  He could feed Abram and his flocks as easily during a famine as he could any in the most fertile valley on Earth.  Simply put he is sovereign and we are not.  Abram’s first sin was to assume God couldn’t take care of him and needed his help.  His next sin was to try on his own.

Often we can’t even control our own thoughts and bodies for our own good let alone anyone or anything else.   Let’s leave the “scheming” to the Lord and let us trust his wisdom because we have been promised that it will all work good for us in the end, Rom 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.

Friday, October 12, 2018

One Way the Gospel Conforms Us to Christ

2Pe 1:3  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 2Pe 1:4  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

The above passage reminds us that all saints have all the power they need to serve the Lord by the indwelling Spirit and they have all the information they need in the Bible overall and in the promises of what they have in Christ Jesus in particular.  There is a lot of things that we could say about this subject but allow me to give some examples of how the truth of God's Word and the application of the Gospel can be used in all that pertains to life and godliness.

On the one hand when we sin it exposes that our love for the Lord is not as it should be.  On the other hand it also shows that we are not living in light of the truths of the Word.  So if I find it difficult to be nice and speak kindly to others then I need to ask what is wrong with my understanding of the gospel that makes me think I can act like this?  If I find it difficult to trust in God and not my bank account and give like I should, what have I forgotten about the goodness and power of God that makes me think I have to put this world before the Kingdom of God?  If I am being tempted to live for pleasure or power and success more than living to show forth Christ to others and deny self, where have I been deluded by sin so that I think this will end well for me?  So as soon as I lose sight of the gospel I will become barren or ineffective.

Sin deceives us and Satan is the father of lies.  His job is to get us to think wrongly.  We tend to think of Satan attacking us through overt temptations, and he certainly does this; but I believe primarily he tries to get us to think wrongly about the truth, to believe our sinful hearts and the world around us rather than God.  Once this happens we will easily fall to temptation.  So above all it is imperative that we know God's Word and that we believe and trust it so that it directs our thinking.

The Holy Spirit's work isn't so much to help us understand the Bible.  It is for the most part understandable.  Even many lost people understand what it is saying.  The difference is that they don't believe what it says.  The Holy Spirit helps us see the wisdom and to trust it above our deceitful hearts.  If we are regenerated then we are able to rest on these precious promises and live in light of eternity and not for the moment.

Once we understand this we begin to see the importance of Bible study and being under the ministry of the local church.  It isn't difficult to recognize someone who does not hold God's Word as very important in their lives and it would be a good exercise for each of us to determine if we are students of the Word.  If we are not, then the Holy Spirit has little to work with in conforming us to the image of Christ.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Indicatives and Imperatives

Php 3:12  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 
Gal_5:1  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Col 3:1  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Col 3:2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  Col 3:3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

The subject of indicatives and imperatives and their use in the Bible might be familiar with us but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them from time to time.  Simply put, an indicative is a statement of truth, the reality of something that already is.  An imperative is a command to do something or in this case to act on the indicative statement.  The above passages give examples of this.  Since God has done something for us and in us then act on this.  In the Philippians verse the indicative follows the imperative in the verse but Paul is saying I press on because of what Christ has already done.  Paul doesn’t teach us to behave out of duty but always by being what we already are in Christ.

This is important because all false religions and especially false Christian cults get the Bible’s order backwards.  The Bible teaches us that God has first acted; he has done something for us and effected a change in us (This is the truth) and this is to affect the way we live (That is the command). All false religions which are basically religions of good works to earn acceptance from God or through human effort attain Nirvana or some sort of happiness get the order wrong.  They give a command and then say that this will bring about the desired effect.  So do something that pleases God and he will do something for you.  Whereas the Bible teaches that God has done something for us so we are to live in light of that truth out of thankfulness and love.

So we cannot downplay what is going on here.  The most obvious example in Scripture is the book of Romans.  In the first 11 chapters there is not a command given to us; there are no imperative statements.  Paul spends the first half of the book explaining what God has done in saving us and who we are as a result.  It isn’t until we get to chapter 12 that we get our first imperative command to act on the truths of chapters 1-11.  Rom 12:1  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Rom 12:2  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This is important not just because if you get the order wrongly you will end up trying to work your way to merit God’s favor, but it can also save a Christian from a legalistic, miserable life.  For many Christians there is the idea that if I behave God will bless me (meaning: give me goodies or not do something bad to me) and if I do wrong then God is going to punish me somehow or if I sin badly enough he will even let me fall from grace entirely.  And so they live in a system of works anyway, not grace.  It’s the idea that God is ready to give us stuff or take it away all depending on how well we obey the rules.  This is miserable because none of us can live up to such an arrangement and it puts us at the center of our lives; life is about reward and punishment, not being satisfied and fulfilled in God for who he is and what he has done for me.

When Joel Osteen tells us if we will live a certain way and God will give us successful lives he is actually placing us under a miserable system in which we are doomed to fail.  Or when a preacher tells us we better not sin or God is going to hammer us with some awful thing so we better behave, he isn’t preaching grace but works.  He is saying to live rightly but for the wrong reason.

Paul tells us that in Christ all the promises are yes and amen.  We already have every good spiritual blessing and position; we are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  God isn’t going to take that away. We are told to live in light of what he has already done for us.  He has already given us our best possible life in Christ so enjoy it in the pursuit of loving God with all our heart.

I am not denying that there are benefits for living for the Lord and that when we continue in sin God will chasten us to rid us of that sinful pattern.  But in Christ we have been made God’s children. We have peace with him and perfect security.  God isn’t standing over us with a paddle waiting for us to mess up. He is teaching us what a wonderful Father he is and telling us that to find pleasure in anything else will not bring happiness only pain.  In one sense he doesn’t have to punish us when we sin because the fruit of sin is punishment in itself.

So we have been given all sorts of commands on how to live for the Lord, but it isn’t to get a blessing. It is because we have already been blessed that is to motivate us.  One mindset is law; the other is grace.  One rests in God’s work; the other trusts in our works.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

Gen 7:17  The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. Gen 7:18  The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. Gen 7:19  And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. Gen 7:20  The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. Gen 7:21  And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Gen 7:22  Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.

The biblical flood is a case study in the coming of the Lord and the judgment that will occur at that time.  In fact, one purpose of the flood is to teach us that this day is coming since God has already judged the world once. 

There are also some interesting parallels that emphasize this.  Just as Noah’s flood was historical so will the next general judgment be as well.  Jesus and Peter both referred back to Noah’s flood as an historical event and we learn in Paul’s preaching that God, “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Next both are universal; that is, no one will escape the judgment of sin.  Either you will suffer for your sins or you will find escape in Jesus who has given himself as an offering for sin.  The text above makes it clear that no land was left for man to climb to so he could avoid death.  In Hebrews 9 we learn that no person will escape standing before the Lord, Heb 9:27  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, Heb 9:28  so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Finally, it will be sudden; without warning.  Although God gave ample warning of the coming flood (judgment), one day he shut the door and sent the rain and no one could enter the ark at that point.  1Co 15:51  Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 1Co 15:52  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  We are also told that today is the day of salvation, but once Christ comes back that day is over forever.

The important thing in all this is to see that there was only one means of surviving the flood and that was by entering the Ark which is a type of Jesus Christ who alone was able to turn away God’s wrath against sin in his body on the tree.  As I was thinking about this I thought of how we are told that the water covered the highest mountain.  From the beginning mankind has invented ways to work their way to God.  But the problem is that there is no work good enough, no mountain high enough, that will save us from the guilt of sin. 

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Law was given on a mountain.  A Law that could not save sinners because it demands perfect righteousness so it can only condemn humanity.  Of course this hasn’t stop us from climbing Mt. Sinai anyway thinking that God has set the bar low enough for sinners to merit salvation.  Many have tried to “be good” enough to atone for their sin only to find that when they reach the top God’s holiness is much higher than their feeble efforts and they are consumed; they drown in God’s righteous judgment.  Even Mt. Sinai isn’t high enough.

Only the Ark, only Christ, could bear us up high enough to escape the guilt and penalty of sin and here is just one place where God has revealed his perfect salvation.  God will glorify himself, not by accepting our sin ladened works as a suitable payment for sin but only by offering himself as the perfect Lamb so that he receives all the glory.  As Genesis 22 says so well in a kind of play on words in the KJV, Gen 22:8  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.  And truly he did two thousand years ago he provided himself as the only ark of safety, the only suitable substitute in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Our Spiritual Disabilities

Rom 3:10  as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; Rom 3:11  no one understands; no one seeks for God. Rom 3:12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." Rom 3:13  "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." Rom 3:14  "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." Rom 3:15  "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Rom 3:16  in their paths are ruin and misery, Rom 3:17  and the way of peace they have not known." Rom 3:18  "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Our world was not made for people with disabilities or real low IQs.  This is why we label them as special needs people and make ramps and devices that will help them get along in a world where one needs good arms, legs, minds, etc. to be able to function at full potential.  God made this world for people who can stand and reach and carry and think through problems and when we lose some of these abilities life becomes more difficult and in many cases impossible without help.  Such deformities and diseases are a result of sin and the curse.  And because sin affects our minds and bodies adversely we do things for those in need so they can get along in life.

As I was thinking about this reality the thought occurred to me that it might do us well to remember that we are all born with disabilities and are “deformed” in a spiritual sense.  We are all born spiritually and morally broken and it is not just our duty but it is imperative that we give ourselves special care by adhering to the Word of God.  It is only as we are recreated in Christ that we can begin to overcome the disabling effects of sin that makes it impossible to live life as the Lord intended. 

Too often we forget this because our sinfulness looks normal when compared to others.  When everyone is blind, crippled and “crazy” then it seems no one is.  Since everyone is born depraved we tend to think that sinning is normal and don’t see it for what it is.  So we think of ourselves as in a better condition than we are because our sin doesn’t look out of place; it looks like we are getting along pretty well in this fallen world because we have forgotten that the real “normal” is to be holy as God is holy. 

But it is easy to prove that all humans are “handicapped” when they come into this world.  Just look at the way we fight and steal and brag and ignore each other; look at all the unrest in society because sin makes it very difficult to love our neighbor as ourself.  The inability for us to find peace and joy and fulfillment only proves that there is a serious defect that we are all born with and this can’t be fixed apart from the Gospel.

The truth of the matter is that we are all born with disabilities that will destroy us without the grace of God to intervene.  When we see someone with a life-threatening disability that needs special and decisive action we need to be reminded that this is all of us spiritually and we need to take it even more seriously than physical deformities because our spiritual condition will lead us to Hell unless we are “cured” by the cross of Christ.

As it turns out the Lord has given us helps so that we can overcome our spiritual “disabilities”.  First of all he gives us a new nature at conversion so that we start loving God more than ourselves rather than the disability of loving ourselves more than everything else.  He has given us his Word to teach us how to live properly.  We might compare it somewhat to physical therapy.  It is only by constant use that our bodies can function properly and it is only by being saturated with the Word of God that anyone can get a handle on what life is all about.  In conjunction with the Word is the local church where God has ordained that most of our learning take place.  And then there is the fellowship of the saints where we get strength and support for serving the Lord as well. 

The problem I have found over the years is that our priorities are all out of whack.  When we see someone with a physical need we will do whatever it takes to try and help them overcome their disability.  They stand out from the norm and it is obvious they need help.  But because our spiritual needs aren’t as easy to spot since everyone has the same spiritual disabilities and so we think that sin and its destructive effects are normal, we have little concern for them and we get used to our spiritual “limp” or near-sightedness or weakness. 

But we need to take our spiritual needs with even more seriousness than we do our physical weakness.  Jesus said for us not to fear those that can kill the body but instead fear the one who can destroy your soul as well as your body.  We need to use the graces God gave us to grow strong in Christ and work for eternity and not worry so much about keeping this body alive for a few years.  Even Paul said that bodily exercise only profits a little, 1Ti_4:8  for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 

It might be good for us to stop comparing ourselves to those around us and instead compare ourselves to Christ so that we can see how “deformed” we are and how much help we need so that we might grow in grace.  And we need to realize that we are born with a zero spiritual IQ and grow in the knowledge of Christ so we can live effective and “normal” lives for the Lord.