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.