Thursday, June 27, 2013

Examining Our Prayers

Jas 4:2  Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Jas 4:3  Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Sometimes those of us who correctly stress the sovereignty of God can fall into a trap of thinking, at least subconsciously perhaps, that the means to God’s decreed ends are not all that important.  Hyper-Calvinism tends to think like this by assuming that just because the Lord has elected some unto salvation, it doesn’t matter whether we take the gospel to them or even if they believe; they must be saved regardless.  But this is unbiblical thinking since the same God also decreed the means in which he saves which is through repentance of sins and faith in the finished work of Christ. 

The same can be said of the means by which God often works in our lives which is through the prayers of the saints.  To simply not pray or be lax in praying because you assume that God’s will is going to be done regardless misses the point of why we are to pray.  There are some things to keep in mind here:

1. While God has determined all things from the beginning to the end and none shall stay his hand, he has graciously chosen to bring about much of his purposes by allowing us to share in his work by praying for them to come about.  Another way we put this is that he has chosen the means to the end just as surely as he has chosen the ends themselves. 

2. God loves to respond to our asking and our caring and our pleading.  He does not respond lovingly to apathy.  The reason for this should be obvious.  He is too glorious and his work too important and wise for us to be apathetic towards him or what he is doing.  Apathy in prayer means we don’t consider his work to be overly important and there is no burning desire to see his will done.  One cannot show love with apathy.  God is glorified by our coming to him because there is no one else to go to and because we have a heartfelt desire to see his will done.  The lack of prayer demonstrates little love for the things of God and he is not going to bless coolness in our love for him. 

I can prove this biblically from Ezekiel 36.  After promising that he will establish a new covenant by giving us new hearts and his Spirit will indwell us and no hint that there are any conditions left for us to fulfill, he then makes an interesting statement in vs. 37,  "Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock.”.  It is going to happen as sure as there is a Sun in the sky but it won’t happen without us asking for it. 

Let me make one more application from this.  If the blessings of the Lord towards us come in part through our faithful prayers it might do us good to examine how we pray and what we pray for.  Examine your prayers for the church, for your children, for the lost, for your marriage, etc.  Do these look pretty cold and uninterested when compared to your finances or health or material desires?  Are we more passionate in our prayers for temporal things than we are for our spiritual needs and the work of God?  And perhaps when we start putting it all together it is no surprise at some of the things going on in our lives.  Let’s show the Lord that his glory is our greatest desire and see what he will do.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When Trying to be Like Jesus is Sinful!

Rom 10:13  For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

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.

I have been reading Tim Keller’s book, “A Reason For God”.  I thought he made a point interesting enough and important enough to relate it on my blog site.  So while I generally try to only blog thoughts mostly original with me, much of what I am about to say I owe to his book as I think he offers a fresh way to compare true Christianity with all false religions.

Any faithful preacher is quick to relate that there are only two religions and there has always only been two; grace or works.  Either one tries to do something to earn God’s favor or as the Bible teaches, we trust in what Christ has done and not our own works.  It is also no secret than many have tried to twist Christianity into a system of works for salvation rather than the gift of God in Christ Jesus.  The Roman Catholic Church would be perhaps the prime example of this but certainly not the only one. 

Many in modern times have tried to do away with the need of the cross altogether as an atonement for sin or tried to make it just an example of God’s love.  To them the important thing is to follow Christ’s examples and teachings instead of seeing the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin received by faith.  One can only think like this if one has no idea of how holy God is, what sin is and how sinful man is.  In this scheme of things Christ’s value is not in his righteousness given to us as a gift but in that he has set an example for us to follow.  In other words what Christ did was give us a law to follow and if we do our best, and in reality nowhere near our best, God will say, “All is forgiven, come on up to Heaven”.  Once again it is just another system of law.

So what is going on here is that the Gospel has been twisted into just another false religion of human origin.  In this system it then becomes possible to avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping biblical rules as much as by breaking them!  In both cases one has completely missed out from taking advantage of what Christ actually did on the cross and so remains in one’s sins. 

Another way of saying this is that there are two ways to sin and be self-righteous, by doing evil things or by trying to be righteous to earn God’s favor.  Both actions are sinful because both disobey the command by God to believe solely in the finished work of Jesus Christ for your justification.  To attempt to merit God’s favor and thus take some of the credit for your salvation is as much as a sin as murder.  Thus one can be a sinner as much by trying to keep God’s laws as he is by breaking God’s laws.

Let me finish by quoting from Flannery O’Connor, “The best way to avoid Christ is to avoid sin.  If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you, then ironically, you may be looking to Jesus as a teacher, model, and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior.  You are trusting in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God.  You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus.”

Ironically this is a rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I trust no one reading my blog has confused the saving power of Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross with trying to follow his example.  One is Good News, the other anything but.  It is not good news it is the worst possible news.  To offer up your sin laden works instead of the righteousness of Christ will only offend God and make matters worse.

Better news is that once God saves us through faith by grace, he imparts a new nature so that we can do good but for all the right reasons.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Convinced But Not Converted

Mat 27:41  So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, Mat 27:42  "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.

It is funny how even Christians can think a lot like those who stood around and mocked Christ as he was being crucified.  They assume that believing in Christ is as simple as being convinced that he was who he said he was.  But no one has ever been saved by being convinced that there is a God or that Jesus died for them or that they are sinners, etc.  All are saved by the proclamation of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit to give them a heart to believe, repent and trust in Christ.

If Jesus had come down off the cross in response to their mocking I think we can assume that they would have had a change of mind, but not a change of heart.  Now they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and most if not all did not even have a change of mind, so it is no guarantee.  But it is very probable that some there would have been convinced that he was indeed the Messiah.  The problem is that they still would have remained lost in their sins.  The same could be said if God appeared in Heaven and said, “Here I Am!”.  This is what many say must happen for them to be convinced.  Without doubt all who saw that would be convinced that God exists; so what? 

The one thing missing from convincing someone that there is a God is a changed heart.  They might believe in him and they might fear him; many in false religions do right now.  But their hearts have not been changed to love God above all else and to trust in him alone for their needed righteousness.  They might try to obey him either in fear or in some sort of self-righteous attempt to please him and earn his favor but without love all obedience is so much religious activity as 1 Cor. 13 tells us.

True righteousness is to love the Lord so much that everything we do is so that he might receive all the glory.  Obviously we are a long way from that and will only be fully righteous in glory.  But this also helps us understand the righteousness of Jesus that we need in order to be justified before God. 

Jesus is completely unlike any religious leader that has ever been.  They can only point to some way of salvation.  But Jesus never pointed to anything other than himself.  There is no system to follow because Christ is the system although he isn’t a system but a person.  And we need to understand that Jesus didn’t merely follow the Law while he was on earth as if it was a system he had to follow in order to be righteous.  He didn’t get up each morning, read the Law and then make sure he obeyed it.  He couldn’t help but live the Law because he perfectly loved the Father and could only do what pleased the Father.  This is true holiness, not trying to obey but a perfect love that can’t help but please him in everything. 

This is the holiness that we will only fully get in glory.  Even though we have been given a heart to obey, we love ourselves too much to even begin to live like Jesus did.  But one day we will love the Lord with a perfect love and be perfectly happy and fulfilled in delighting in God alone.  This is the message of the Bible; that through Christ we can be restored to what God intended us to be. 

Salvation is being given this new nature, not being convinced by strong arguments and compelling evidence that God exists.  I am all for using strong arguments and evidence to show the skeptic that they are not thinking rightly, but at the end of the day the church’s commission is to preach the gospel because it alone is the way the power of God is used in the conversion of the lost.  It alone is how the Holy Spirit turns a rebel into a lover of God.  Even if Jesus comes off the cross, they might be convinced but they will not be converted.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Christian Liberty

Rom 8:2  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Gal 5:1  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Gal 5:13  For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Gal 5:14  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

The meaning of Christian liberty and how it relates to OT Law and obedience to Christ has been debated ever since Christ started the church.  While I image there will never be a full consensus on all the particulars, the subject is treated fairly often in the NT and is important for a Christian to have a general idea of what Christian liberty means.  So let me add my two cents worth.

I see the topic covering three main areas.  First of all we are free from the condemnation of the Law through faith in Christ alone.  The OT proves that man cannot obey God because of the fall and is therefore in a state of enmity with God and condemned and is powerless in himself to do anything about it.  The Good News is that Christ has kept the law for us and so we are free from the futile work of trying to please God on our own.

Secondly, we are free from the Mosaic Law with all its restrictions because most of them were types and shadows that are fulfilled in Christ.  Paul says more than once that all things are ours but goes on to say that they are ours to serve the Lord with not fleshly desires.  So we are no longer under the restrictions of the Mosaic Law as a system of living because there is a better way, “a new and living way”, that serves the Lord better.  Briefly this new way can be summed up as follows.

The third and perhaps most important thing to consider especially for a Christian wanting to know how to serve the Lord is that one must always keep before him that Christian freedom means that he has been freed from the dominion of sin so that he can serve Christ.  We have not been freed from sin’s dominion so that we can continue to sin (read Romans 6); that would ruin the very reason God saves us to begin with.

Let me illustrate this kind of freedom in a way I find helpful.  Because my sins are forgiven in Christ and he has promised that they will never be held against me and I will enjoy the Lord forever and nothing can change this, I am free in the following ways:

I am free not to retaliate but to love instead when someone does me wrong, treats me unfairly, steals from me or abuses me in any number of ways.  I am free to do this because God has promised to make all things right.  He has promised to give me infinitely more than anyone can take away from me in this life.  Therefore I can let such things pass just like I wouldn’t care if someone stole a rock from me when I have a warehouse full of gold.

I am free from having to be addicted to the things of this life that please the flesh but hurt me and dishonor the Lord because I have Christ which satisfies much more and much longer than anything this world has to offer. 

I am free not to get angry when things don’t go the way I would like because God has promised me that it is all going to work out for my ultimate good, so be patient. 

I am free to give you whatever I have if you need it because my God shall supply all my needs in Christ Jesus my Lord. 

I am free to be patient in suffering because joy comes in the morning and because God has promised that I shall be made a better child of God through these difficulties.

For these same reasons I can be free from worry, free from depression and despair, and free from having the miserable relationships with others that those who live only for themselves are destined to have. 

You get the idea; we have been freed from all the misery of sin’s dominion so that we can use all things to enjoy Christ and enjoy one another and enjoy true life.  If we think of Christian liberty like this the rest will take care of itself. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Are We Givers or Users?

Mat 26:69  Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." Mat 26:70  But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you mean." Mat 26:71  And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." Mat 26:72  And again he denied it with an oath: "I do not know the man." Mat 26:73  After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you." Mat 26:74  Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately the rooster crowed.

While thinking about some of the reasons that might have caused Peter to deny the Lord I thought of one that we all probably can identify with.  There are a couple of obvious ones like when he argues with Jesus about whether he would deny him or not.  We all emulate Peter here as well when we don’t take the Word seriously and think we can live by our own wisdom rather than the Lord’s.  He also is confident in his flesh when he says that although the rest of the disciples might deny him, he never will.  Self-confidence will always result in trusting the flesh rather than Christ.

But the one that I found the most intriguing I infer from the text.  One way to be able to withstand compromise when others pressure you to dishonor the Lord comes in the way we look at the lost around us.  In this case Peter is afraid of what being identified with Christ might mean to his physical safety.  To admit to being a follower of Christ might mean he will end up standing up before Pilate and the High Priest like Jesus was and eventually end up on a cross. 

So Peter is looking at these girls and bystanders as people that can do something for him or something to him.  It is hard not to compromise when we see people as something we use for our own gain or security or pleasure.  Why would a pastor compromise in his preaching other than he is worried for his position and salary more than the souls of his flock?  When we live with the mindset of not offending the lost because of what they might do to us or think of us there is no way we will end up being faithful to the Lord at least much of the time.

Instead, Peter should have been looking at that girl as a soul who, if she dies without Christ, will end up in a Christless eternity.  He should have looked at these people in the sense of what he could do for them, not what they could do for him.  It is going to be much harder to deny the Lord if we remember that in so doing we are withholding the only hope they have.

This love and burden for others is also what enables us to treat people as they should be treated.  How do we know that the man in Cleveland who kept those girls all those years is not a Christian?  Because a Christian would be firstly concerned for the souls of those women who were held in bondage.  We would have been praying for their souls not seeking to use them in any way we wanted.  Christians are those who are burdened for the eternal good of others, not those who see everyone for what they can give me.

This is why Paul says what he says in 1 Cor. 6.  1Co 6:9  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 1Co 6:10  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1Co 6:11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  

Of course, we don’t live this way perfectly.  One reason Paul says this is because there were some in the Corinthian church that were using others.  But a saint cannot be described as a user more than a giver unless there is something seriously wrong with his heart.  Remembering that we are sinners saved by grace will help us view others with compassion and not greed and help us maintain a good profession in front of others because our goal is to be used for their good, not to use them for some temporal pleasure.