Saturday, February 18, 2017

Purified By the Word

1Pe 1:22  Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
1Pe 1:23  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
1Pe 1:24  for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,
1Pe 1:25  but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

I find the emphasis on the Word of God and Truth in this passage interesting.  Usually when we think of regeneration and sanctification we emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in both of these concepts and rightly so.  But the above passage only mentions the use of the Word or Truth in both being born again, 23, and in continued sanctification, which I believe is being inferred in vs. 22 as well as the whole context.  But this got me to thinking about how the Word of God is involved in both of these two things; the new birth and the pursuit of holiness. 

When it comes to being born again I have always tended to think of it primarily as the Holy Spirit giving me new life, which it is, but basically relegated the use of the Word to a secondary role.  Almost like we are to proclaim the gospel as if it were a magical incantation and then step back and see if the Holy Spirit is going to convert the person.  That is a bit of an overstatement but as I have studied this text out I have come to appreciate the use of Truth more than perhaps I have in the past.

To explain further, I believe that the reason the Holy Spirit opens our minds or gives us a new heart is not just an end in itself but that we might understand and believe God’s Truth.  The problem fallen man has had from the beginning is that we believe Satan and our sinful hearts and this world rather than the Lord.  So when the Holy Spirit regenerates us it is so that we can and will believe the gospel that says there is only One who is righteous so trust in him if you want to be right with God.  So the Word is indispensable in the process of the new birth because there would be no reason to have a new heart if we didn’t have Truth and Light to believe rather than the lie and darkness that has controlled us up until conversion.

Just as in the Garden, Adam and Eve decided to buy into what the Serpent was selling and were cast out of the presence of God; so being saved is being brought back into a right relationship with God so that we believe that he alone is the source of all truth and we live in light of that truth.  And so the truth of the gospel is what causes our newly regenerated heart to turn from the deception of sin to the truth of the cross of Christ.  The Spirit uses the Word to get us to trust in Christ for justification.

While we are passive in regeneration, we are not passive in conversion.  Notice vs. 22 and 23 above, 1Pe 1:22  Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart1Pe 1:23  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.  We have purified our souls (active) by obeying the truth but in vs. 23 we have been born again (passive) as the Holy Spirit must give us life before we can do spiritually living acts like repent and believe.

That brings us to the use of the Word in the process of sanctification.  I think the best way to get this is the way Peter is using it in light of sanctification.  In other words, while the Holy Spirit uses the Word to convert us, in the same way he uses the Word to further clean us or to sanctify us.  Remember that the point was started in vs. 22, continue to purify your souls in the same way you have already been purified.  Just as the gospel is used to purify our souls with the aid of the Spirit, so the Word continues to purify our lives.

What does the Word of God have that can purify or clean us?  In both cases it is truth.  It is knowing where the world is headed and that you have been saved by Christ and wanting to hear from your Savior, etc.  In other words, it is knowing and believing truth and identifying and rejecting what is false.  Why does the world reject the gospel and stay away from churches that proclaim the Truth?  Because they believe Satan and not the Word.  The Spirit has given us ears to hear and hearts to obey.

Jesus said, “The Truth shall set you free”.  He could have said the Holy Spirit, God, Me but we need to see this as well.  What sends you to the doctor?  It is someone telling you that he can fix your problem.  See how the Word is what the Holy Spirit uses to “fix” us.  It isn’t mystical; it is knowledge.  We clean our lives because we know where this world is headed, we know that sin only will destroy us and so we believe our Savior and we love our Lord and so do what he tells us because we trust him.  People who say they love Jesus but don’t care what he says are hypocrites.  People who say they can worship God at home or on the lake and don’t have to go to church are deceived because they aren’t learning truth; they are listening to their deceitful hearts.  We must actively engage in studying the Word and believing what we read and living in light of it.  In this we honor the Lord because we believe that he is telling us the truth.  “If you love me, keep my commandments”.  That is more than just a command to follow rules; it is a call to center our lives around his words to us. 

All this helps us understand what vss. 24-25 above have to do with the context.  The lies of Satan and this world are destined to end in destruction.  Cultural moral climates and PC correctness will come and go but Truth is Truth and will always be true.  We can bank our souls on the Word of God because that is the only reality and by definition can never change or be untrue.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Are We Preparing to Pass the Test?

2Co 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Rom 2:6  He will render to each one according to his works:
Rom 2:7  to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
Rom 2:8  but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
1Pe 1:17  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.

The teachings of the Final Judgment in the Scriptures are not simple but a few fundamental things are necessary to know.  For saints our ultimate judgment will be whether we have been united to Christ.  Either we are justified or not.  For the lost this is also true.  If they are not saved they will be cast into the Lake of Fire. 

But the way we lived also has much to do with our judgment.  For the lost, their works will determine their suffering in the Lake of Fire.  For the saved our works have a two-fold purpose.  Our good works will be proof that we have been united to Christ so that if we did not bear fruit it will show that we were never saved to begin with; if we did bear fruit we will hear the much anticipated statement, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master”.  Our works will also determine our reward and experience in eternity, although there is not much description of what this will look like in the Bible as seen in 2 Cor. 5:10 above.

The passage in 1 Peter above also uses the judgment as a means to motivate us in the way we live while on earth.  I have used preparing for a college exam as a means to illustrate how we are motivated for the day we stand face to face with our Lord.  I remember those that would goof off most of the semester and then go into panic mode just before the exam and study all night and usually do unsatisfactory work.  We might say they waited until the end to live as they should have been living the entire semester.  But there were those of us who tried to keep up with our assignments and reading so that we were ready to be tested because we had been obeying what the professors told us to do and when to do it and we did so not just to make a good grade but because we had an interest in what we were studying.

Peter in the above passage is telling us to begin to prepare to give an answer for the way we lived by living holy lives because without such holiness no man will see the Lord.  But I want to carry the illustration just a little further.  There are two ways to be motivated for the final exam.  The first group basically is motivated by fear as they realize they aren’t ready and so go into panic mode.  The second group we might say is motivated by a love for the subject.  We see it all the time with students who go to school because their parents make them or to party for a few years but have no real desire to learn. Then there are those who have a goal in mind and want to learn a particular subject, get a degree and go into that profession.

In other words, we might ask the question, “Why did you go to school to start with?”  Let’s say you went to school to learn the Bible because you wanted to preach.  If you are part of the first group then one would have to wonder why you didn’t find the study of the subject and doing the assignments interesting.  Why weren’t you motivated to do what you went to school to learn about?  You entered into college to study so why aren’t you motivated to study what you claimed to be interested in?  The second group is more consistent with their professed desire to preach because they throw themselves into the subject.  Would we not tend to think that the first group really has not been called to preach while the second group gives evidence that they have been called?

So let’s carry this over into the Christian life.  What are we to think of those that supposedly enter into the kingdom but have no real desire to serve in the kingdom nor do they have a desire to know the King and listen to what he has to say?  It seems all they want to do is party and be the king themselves. 

If we have entered “school” as disciples of Christ, then we did so because we know that in us dwells no good thing and that we know nothing of value apart from what our Teacher teaches us.  He is also our Savior as well as our Lord; he and his kingdom are our new calling and if we don’t really prepare for graduation then we need to examine ourselves as to whether we are really in the kingdom or not.  

If I can bring this back to motivation; we might ask ourselves what is motivating us for the Day of Reckoning?  Is it fear because we really haven’t been preparing to meet the Lord?  Or do we love the “subject” so much that we have been preparing all along?  The problem with trying to cram for the finals is that it shows you don’t have a love for the subject; that you don’t have a new heart.  We can’t cram for the judgment in the Christian life, if we haven’t been preparing then we won’t pass the test.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Are We Saved Through Faith Alone?

Gen 45:4  So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
Gen 45:9  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.
Gen 45:13  You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here."
Gen 45:14  Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
Gen 45:15  And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

Act 3:19  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.
Act 17:30  The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

One thing you can’t help notice in the account of Joseph is the amount of space used to tell us about the elaborate effort Joseph used to see if his brother’s had changed from earlier when they hated him and sold him into slavery.  I mentioned this a couple of articles ago but want to expand on it here and show at least one reason why I think such emphasis is placed on the restoration of love and fellowship between Joseph and his brothers.

Let me point out from the start that the account of Joseph from beginning to end is recorded in part to illustrate Jesus and his work in saving a people from death.  We can’t help but see his brothers depicting the Jews of Jesus’ day as well as all mankind as is pointed out in Joh 1:10-11  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

And so his brothers represent fallen man who hate God and so hate the Son of God.  When Joseph came to his brothers in the field back in Gen. 37, they rejected him and sold him into slavery.  Yet as it turns out this would eventually be their salvation as the exalted “Brother” by his work becomes the only one who can save them from certain starvation and death.

This brings us to our text above.  When his brothers come down to buy food Joseph could have merely said, “You are forgiven; all is forgotten; everything is wonderful.  Come to Egypt and I will take care of you.”  But everything wouldn’t have been wonderful because if his brothers did not have a change of heart then there would not be any fellowship only continued estrangement.  If they were not brought to repentance of their sin against Joseph how could they have any decent relationship with him?  So Joseph put them through a series of tests to bring them to repentance, culminating in the incident of accusing Benjamin of stealing Joseph’s silver cup.  Until their attitude towards Joseph changes, they will not be brought into his kingdom and could not enjoy his presence.

This is precisely why the condition of salvation is not just believing in or trusting in Jesus but also repentance.  God saves us to bring us into a right relationship with himself so that we might know him and honor him as we should as well as appreciate and enjoy him.  Rom. 5:10 said that we were enemies of God but that through the cross we have been reconciled to God.  When the Holy Spirit converts a sinner he lays down his rebellion and submits to the Lord and loves him with all his heart, body and soul.  There are no exceptions- repentance and faith- not just repentance and not just faith, but both.  Now it can be argued that saving faith involves repentance and I would agree.  But there are those that say that if we require repentance and godliness then we are adding to faith.

“Easy-Beliefism”, which is the teaching that all a sinner has to do is believe that Jesus died for them to be saved, misses this point entirely.  They say that one can remain in rebellion and still be saved; that it is okay to “accept” Jesus as your Savior but you don’t have to accept him as your Lord.  This kind of “faith” doesn’t need a change of nature because it leaves one intact in his sinful nature.  And, of course, this works well with Arminian theology that thinks that everyone has the ability to trust in Jesus on their own.  And if you don’t need to repent then that makes perfect sense.  If I can be saved by merely believing some facts but I don’t have to have a change of heart from being a God hater to a God lover than we have lowered the bar of salvation so low that even Hitler could have been “saved” without repentance evidently.  The two verses from Acts quoted above show that we are not saved only through faith but also through repentance; both a work of the Holy Spirit on the elect.

But my point is that this is an extremely man-centered view of redemption.  It is one in which God doesn’t care if our attitude changes towards him or if we become worshippers of him; he only cares that he fills Heaven with bodies.  He doesn’t want us to go to Hell but he doesn’t seem to care too much whether we are freed from sin. 

This flies in the face of everything the Bible says about who God is.  He does all things for his own glory, including creating man, letting him fall into sin so that he could redeem him.  I will just quote one passage on this, Rom 9:22  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, Rom 9:23  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

Joseph was not interested in a relationship with his brothers in which they still hated him; one in which he gave them everything and they gave him nothingNotice how his glory was part of the message in Gen 45:9  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. Gen 45:13  You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here."  If God is the only true glory and all other glories are derived from him then the greatest thing he can do for us is to allow us to stand in his presence and “drink” it in; to enter into the fellowship of the Trinity.  Joh 17:24  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

I think this is the main reason why Heaven is so often depicted in movies and TVs and even in sermons many times as a place where all we do is continue to enjoy ourselves as we did on earth but you never see God there.  It is the “happy hunting grounds, the perfect golf course, or fishing hole, etc.”  If anything, God is depicted as some mean judge that everyone is afraid of.  When God means nothing to us down here, then the thought of Heaven being first of all the place where we shall see God isn’t all that attractive.  

Man was created to love, serve and worship God and he saves us to that end.  Any “Gospel” that doesn’t require a change of heart is centered around man and not God.  It says that man’s salvation from Hell is more important than God receiving the honor he is due.  There is no salvation without “conversion”, repentance and a change of nature from rebel to worshipper.