Thursday, October 30, 2008
Now, I don't know about you but these mailings and the emails I get from panicky people who just know if the other guy wins, America will no longer exist as a God-fearing, righteous, haven for the unborn--really don't make me think twice. I simply throw them away the first chance I get or in the case of the emails warning of the all kinds of bad things happening to us on November 5, if the other guy wins--I just hit the delete button and send them into cyber-space. You see, the reason these communications don't send me into depression or cause me to have an anxiety attack or even rush out and buy a year's worth of oil is because whereas there are a great many voices out there including yours and my own--there is really only One Voter Whose vote counts and that is the Sovereign God of the Universe and in case you've forgotten that sovereignty encompasses American politics as well.
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be involved in the political process. I'm simply saying that we do not have the final voice in that process--God does. And whereas, we should vote intelligently and from a biblical world view perspective, it is also important to realize that the next president of the United States was already chosen a long time ago in a "Divine-conspiracy" if you will. I can't help but think that many Christians really are under the impression that God is wringing His anthropomorphic hands as He waits to see who we are going to vote into the most powerful office in the world so that He can figure out what he needs to do to keep up with us and our politics. (Does anyone really doubt that the effects of "Open Theism" have not had a negative impact upon the church and even politics?)
Am I concerned for the direction our country will take if the other guy wins--sure, but the fact is I've been concerned for the direction our country has taken for the last century and a half. You don't have to be old to know anything that far back--you just need to know how to read and then do so. Do I think this election will have an impact upon our country for generations to come? Sure do, but it won't be because of who is elected president as much as it will be because of who voted and why they voted the way they did. You see, this election is much more of a commentary on the voters than the candidates. I think there is more reason to be fearful of the millions of Americans who do nothing to strengthen our nation and live self-indulgent existences who are unwilling to suffer hardship for any cause bigger than themselves than I am of one man who, elected president, does something that may ruin it.
When voters vote for a man because he promises to make life easier for them--that tells me more about them than him. When voters cast their ballot for the guy who promises to take care of them from the cradle to the grave that tells me a whole lot more about their theology than what their candidate believes. When voters vote for a man who they think will keep them safe and secure from our enemies, I get a pretty good idea of what they think of Divine Sovereignty. When voters would rather fight abortion by simply going to a relatively safe voting booth once every four years rather than to the abortion clinic to protest even once a year or calling their elected representatives even once every couple of years, I'm not sure what I am seeing.
When all is said and done and the election is over and some people are having a party and others are bemoaning the future of our country regardless of who wins the White House, I hope that there is another group who while having voted their convictions, realize that the man in office, whether Republican or Democrat, is the man God voted into it for reasons that are His own. We may not like it and we may not like the man but just as we fulfilled our responsibility to vote, we must also fulfill our responsibility to submit to the authority of those God has placed over us. When that authority runs directly in the face of God's then we'll have another decision to make........but that is for another post.
But for now--by all means go out and vote and vote for the candidate of your choice and then go home thankful you live in a country where you can vote. Then later in the evening when you hear who has become the next President of the United States do something that will have an even greater and much more profound impact upon our nation than voting--pray. Pray for our new President, whomever he is, regardless of whether you voted for him or not.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Miriam Weinstein, the author of the book, The Surprising Power of Family Meals (Steer Forth Press, 2005) suggests that the "magic bullet" missed by so many families is the simple shared family meal. Weinstein, a filmmaker and journalist, has collected an impressive body of data in order to make her case that the institution of the shared family meal represents something of vital importance for human life. Even as the family meal is fast disappearing, Weinstein has issued an eloquent call for its recovery.
As she explains, the research indicates that a shared family meal leads to the strengthening of family bonds, the deepening of relationships, and higher levels of satisfaction and effectiveness among family members. According to Weinstein, the research shows that eating ordinary, average, everyday supper with your family is strongly linked to lower incidents of bad outcomes such as teenage drug and alcohol use, and to good qualities like emotional stability. It correlates with kindergartners being better prepared to learn to read and apparently even trumps, for them, getting read to. Regular family supper also helps keep your kids out of hospital because it discourages both obesity and eating disorders. It supports your staying more connected to your extended family, your ethnic heritage, your community of faith.
Weinstein is not ignorant about the complexities of modern family life. She does point back to a golden age of shared family meals in the past, but she acknowledges that families now find themselves drawn in too many directions all at once. In once sense this is the larger problem, and the eclipse of the family meal is only a symptom of what has gone badly wrong. In reality, families did not merely decide to stop eating together. The rhythms, complexities, and chaos of today's lifestyles simply produced a reality that made shared family meals almost impossible.
Any number of factors play a role in marginalizing shared family meals, but Weinstein points to some of the most easily identifiable among these factors. For parents, the issue is often work schedules and fatigue. As millions of mothers have moved into the workforce, the elaborate ritual of the nightly family meal has often given way to the urgency of getting family members fed as a necessity of human need--rather than as the focus of a shared event. For adults, evening hours are often filled with extended work, social commitments, and the practicalities of keeping life together in the midst of frenzied lifestyles. For kids, the problem areas are after-school sports, time with their friends, and/or time locked away in a bedroom with headphones on, consumed with themselves.
In essence, our modern culture has turned us into people who do more than frequent “drive-thru” lanes—we have become “drive-thru” people reproducing ourselves in “drive-thru” families.
Parents have forgotten that family meals fulfill more than the function of feeding the family. In years past, it was in the intimate sphere of the shared meal that children learned how to engage in conversation and how to enjoy the experience of hearing others talk. The family meal became the context for sharing the events of the day, for dealing with family crises, and for building the bonds that facilitate family intimacy. Parents taught children how to think about the issues of the day by making these a part of the conversation that was shared around the table. Gentle admonitions and direct correction taught children how to respect others while eating, instilling an understanding of the basic habits that encourage mutual respect and make civilization possible.
Interestingly enough, a 1996 study by the national Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University [CASA] intending to see what differentiated kids involved in substance abuse from those who were not, stated, "Kids who eat more family dinners do better than those who eat a few. Kids who share a few dinners weekly do better than the ones who have none at all."
So, if you are not in the habit of eating dinner together as a family or at least one meal a day as a family, perhaps this would be a good time to start. Oh, and is there a biblical basis for this? I think there is. I think that Hebrews 10:25 has more in mind than just the fellowship of the church. I think that when we neglect to take adequate time with our families and especially when we neglect to sit down together to share a family meal we are forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. In fact, we are beginning to look a lot like the world in terms of family life and this is probably why so many Christian kids are going the way of the world.
One more thing, if your family is just too busy to share a meal together—your family is too busy!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Than Those Who Did’t? (Pt. 1)
Have you ever been accused of thinking you were better than others because you were a Christian? My guess would be that most of us who are trying to live out our faith in Christ have been accused of thinking we are better than others who have not placed faith in Christ. This is especially if you have ever shared the Gospel with unbelievers it doesn’t take long before someone makes the claim that you think you are better than they are because you think they are going to go to hell for their sins when they die.
Christians are oftentimes accused of thinking they are better than others because we proclaim a very narrow Gospel that says accept Jesus Christ or else. Furthermore, Christians have always been accused of thinking they were better than others simply because they believed their sins were forgiven and thus they were confident that they were going to heaven. It is this very issue that Paul brings up in Romans 3:9.
After making his argument in Romans 3:1-8 that in spite of all they had going for them, even the most religious and God-fearing Jews will be condemned to hell for their sins—Paul then asks a great question that was just begging to be asked by someone. Here is the question Paul asks:
In light of the fact that the Jews, whom God had chosen to be His covenant people in the Old Testament and whom He had entrusted with His very Word, are going to be condemned to hell for their sins in the final day of judgment—are Christians then, who will not be condemned to hell for their sins on that day, better than the Jews or anyone else for that matter who will be condemned?
Paul then answers this question in the rest of verse 9 on down through verse 18. And as we deal with this question and Paul’s answer we will see the truth that:
No one, in and of themselves, is anymore worthy of eternal life than anyone else and that everyone who is given eternal life is given it on the basis of Christ’s merits and works—not their own.
So—with this introduction let’s read our text for today. Turn with me to Romans 3:9-18. And let’s deal first with Paul’s question in verse 9.
1. The Question (9)
“What then? Are we better than they?”
The “what then?” is referring us back to the conclusion Paul just stated at the end of verse 8, which was that the condemnation of the Jews whose sins were not forgiven by God in Christ was just and indeed fair. So, with that statement in mind, Paul now turns his attention to another group of people only referred to in our verse by the personal pronoun “we”. And he essentially asks, “In light of the fact that unbelieving Jews are going to be condemned and that their condemnation is just—are “we” any better than they?” Now, it would behoove us to figure out who the “we” is referring to. To do so, let’s follow the use of this pronoun backwards as well as forwards in our text to see who it is used of.
The first thing we see is in the verse itself. Paul uses the pronoun a second time in saying, “for “we” have already charged that both Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” Now here it is clear that whoever the “we” is, Paul belongs to them. He is one of them. And they have entered into his argument that all peoples, whether Jew or Gentile are condemned before God. If you start moving backwards into verse 8, you’ll see the “we” showing up and referring to those who with Paul are “slanderously reported and as some claim “we” say—‘Let us do evil that good may come.’ Now, this “we” is referring to Paul and those other people who were preaching the Gospel so correctly that the people who heard it thought they were preaching a “loose-living” brand of Christianity that emphasized God’s grace to an unrealistic level. And keep in mind if you are truly preaching the Gospel—this is exactly what people will think you are meaning—because in salvation God’s grace is exactly what we emphasize. But our point here is that the “we” is referring to Paul and his fellow Christians who were preaching the Gospel.
Now let’s look ahead of verse 9 and trace our little personal pronoun. It shows up in verses 19, in which Paul again includes himself seemingly with his readers as those who with him know that all the world is accountable to God. Then it shows up in verse 28, where again Paul includes himself with his readers as those who maintain and agree that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law. And if you keep tracing the pronoun “we” you’ll find it identifying who it is representing in Romans 5:1—those who have peace with God through our lord Jesus Christ who have been justified by faith.
In other words, the personal pronoun “we” that Paul uses in Romans 3:9 in his question—“Are we better than they?” is referring to Christians and thus the question can be rendered—
“Given the fact that the Jews will be condemned for their sins—were we who became Christians and thus are saved from the wrath of God, somehow intrinsically and by nature better than the Jews and everyone else who will be condemned?
Put another way—Were we who became Christians simply not as bad as those who do not become Christians and thus more savable than they, in and of ourselves? And before getting into his detailed answer of verses 10-18, Paul emphatically declares—“Not at all” or “No Way”.
Now it is important to understand that the word that we have rendered as “better” in the phrase “better than they” actually has the idea of “one’s basic nature being more acceptable” than someone else’s. So again, the question Paul is really driving at is simply this—Were those who have been justified by God so as to be saved from His wrath more acceptable to Him in their basic nature than those who are not justified and will be condemned to hell? And again as I already stated—Paul says emphatically “No Way!”
Then in the second part of verse 9 through verse 18, he tells us why this is not so by telling us that we who have been justified by God through faith in Christ were absolutely no different in our basic constitution or nature than the person who will be condemned for their sins. And Paul does this by using the Old Testament Scriptures to show us that we were just like them in what captivated us (9b) as well as in our character (10-11), our conduct (12), our conversation (13-14), our contempt for others (15-17), and our conceitedness (18).
2. The Answer (9b-18)
A. We were just like the condemned unbeliever in our captivation to and by sin. (9b)
The second part of verse 9 makes the point that all people in their unsaved and unconverted state are all “under” sin in the sense that sin is the ruling principle in their lives so that they are under sin’s power, authority, and control. Thus, there was a day when all of us who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ so that we have been set free from our bondage to sin and made into new creations in Christ were “under” the power, control, and authority of sin just as any unbeliever is today. We too, were just as captivated by sin and living a life apart from God and independent of God as any unbeliever is today. We too, were just as engrossed in pursuing our sinful lusts as any unbeliever is today. And we too were just as much an enemy of God because of our loyalty to our sin and our sinful passions as any unbeliever is today.
So—“NO”—we were not any better than the man or woman who is still in bondage to sin and unsaved and on their way to a Christless eternity in hell. And not only were we just as captivated by sin as any unbeliever, we will see in the next point that we were no different in our basic character either.
B. We were just like the condemned unbeliever in our character. (10-11)
Now whereas, most people will not argue with you regarding the general captivation man has with living his life apart from God and thus in sin—they will argue with you when you begin to tell them that there are absolutely no people in this world who are good enough to earn a place in heaven—and in fact—that from God’s perspective there simply is no such thing as a good and righteous person--Or that there is absolutely no one who has ever sought after God of their own accord. Thus, before making these very dogmatic and absolute statements—Paul very wisely appeals to the Scriptures to make his point regarding the spiritually bankrupt and morally destitute condition of all people without exception. He writes in the beginning of verse 10—“As it is written”. Thus, if you disagree with this assessment of the spiritual condition of all people without exception—your argument is with the Scriptures.
Verses 10-11 present three ways in which the Scriptures prove that those who are believers were no different and certainly no better in their basic nature and spiritually bankrupt character than those people who have not accepted Christ. In these two verses, Paul makes the point that all people in their fallen and unsaved nature lack the desire and the ability in their innermost nature and character to
• measure up to God’s standard of righteousness
• to understand God and spiritual truths
• to seek and pursue a relationship with God
For the time being, we will only have time to deal with the first of these points.
In our unsaved condition and character we were just like everyone else in that we did not and in fact could not measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. (10b)
The word “righteous” as used here is referring to man’s innermost being and what Paul is saying is that there is absolutely no one whose innermost character is righteous in the sense of being right before God. Certainly, it is not hard to appear “right” before other people but Paul’s point is that there is no one who can make the claim of being right as God is right and pure as God is pure and since God, not other people is the standard of what is righteous—there simply is no one whose innermost character is righteous.
In other words, if you are not as good as God—you are not acceptable to God and since no one—no not one—has ever been as good as God—all people, even those who become Christians were all in the same state—a state of being condemned before God.
So, in answer to the question—were we who became Christians and thus will not be condemned for our sins better or more righteous in God’s eyes than those who will be condemned for their sins—Paul states, loosely quoting from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53—that, other than Christ, there never has been even one righteous person—not even one. Thus, to argue that some were more righteous than others is an argument in futility because as far as God was and is concerned their simply are no comparisons to make as there simply is no such thing as a righteous person. And for this reason—we should never find ourselves becoming enamored and impressed with the testimonies of those people who have been saved from the very pit of hell as though they were any worse off than we were—as if it took more to save them than us. Again, “There is none righteous, NO-NOT-ONE!
So its not a question of being better—it’s a question of being perfect! How righteous does a person need to be to be found acceptable by God and thus allowed to enter heaven? The Bible teaches that you’d have to be as righteous as God if you are going to be allowed entrance into heaven.
Jesus Himself said it. Look at Matthew 5:20. Now, the Pharisees and the scribes spent their lives trying to be more righteous and better people than every one else.
The problem was that according to Romans 10:3, they did not subject themselves to God’s righteous standards but rather established their own. And thus Jesus’ statement that if you want to enter heaven your righteousness will have to exceed that of the Pharisees and Scribes who created their own standards of what was right and thus acceptable to God. Then Jesus, after giving several examples of how far short this man-made righteousness fell from God’s perfect righteousness, tells us that if we want to go to Heaven we will have to be perfect just as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Look at Matthew 5:48, if you don’t believe me.
So, if no one has this kind of righteousness how in the world does anyone get to Heaven? God gives it to those people who ask for it.
That’s right—you see, when you ran to Christ for refuge from your sins so as to be saved and embraced Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior—God not only forgave you all of your sins—He also gave you Christ’s righteousness—so that you are now, in God’s sight, as righteous as He is.
Look at Philippians 3:7-9. The only righteousness that can save you is the righteousness that God gives you on the basis of faith in Christ. Any kind of personal righteousness you think you have or that you think you can derive from keeping the Law is not good enough to get you into Heaven and thus keep you out of hell.
Now go to 2 Corinthians 5:21. While Jesus Christ was on the cross of Calvary—God the Father placed all of our sin upon Christ and judged it in Christ so that He could forgive us—since now our sin had been paid for.
But in addition to that, God applied all of Christ’s righteousness to our account so that not only were we forgiven of our sin—we were given the very righteousness of Christ so as to be just as righteous as God Himself—thus enabling God to accept us and allow us into Heaven.
Now go to Romans 9:30-33 to see how all this works. It is through faith in Christ.
Thus, to answer Paul’s question—the reason we are not condemned as Christians has nothing to do with us being any better than anyone else—but it does have everything to do with faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and personal Savior. So no, its not that we who are Christians were somehow better than those who did not become Christians. We were as condemned as anyone was—the only difference between us who are going to heaven and those who are not is that God forgave us for our sins and gave us the very righteousness of Christ when we by faith turned away from our sins to follow Christ as our Lord and Savior.
And of course, if there really was no difference between us who have come to Christ and those who have not in terms of any kind of righteousness on our part—where did the desire to come to Christ—which would be a righteous desire and in fact the most righteous of desires—come from? We’ll talk much more about this next week, but suffice it to say for the time being—sinners who are without any righteousness at all will have no desire to embrace the Gospel and come to Christ—without being given a heart to do so by God Himself.
You see, we have no power to do anything God requires of us apart from Christ and His cross, and that includes believing the gospel. As J.I. Packer once said, “Sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart." And how does anyone know if God has given them this new heart to believe the Gospel and trust in Christ for salvation—-will call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.
As we close let me remind you of the story our Lord told in Luke 18:9-14 about two men—one of whom went to heaven and the other who went to hell.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (ESV)
Both of these men were sinners but only one realized it.
Both of these men were completely unrighteous and unacceptable to God but only one realized it.
Both of these men called upon the Lord—one to brag about his righteousness and the other to be saved from his unrighteousness.
Both of these men prayed but only one got through to God—the one who because he realized he was a sinner and unable to measure up to God’s standard of righteousness and perfection begged for mercy.
This man went away justified and when he died went to heaven. The other went to hell.
Which man are you?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
What then are we to do about this? There is only one obvious conclusion. Seek Him! Seek Him! What can we do without Him? Seek Him! Seek Him always. But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him. Do you expect anything to happen, when you get up to preach in a pulpit? Or do you just say to yourself, 'Well, I have prepared my address, I am going to give them this address; some of them will appreciate it and some will not.?' Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone's life? Are you expecting someone to have a climactic experience? That is what preaching is meant to do. That is what you find in the Bible and subsequent history of the Church. Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the power comes, yield to Him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon in necessary. Let Him loose you, let Him manifest His power in you and through you. I am certain, as I have said several times before, that nothing but a return of this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything. This makes true preaching, and it is the greatest need of all today - never more so. Nothing can substitute for this. But, given this, you will have a people who will be anxious and ready to be taught and instructed, and led further and more deeply into 'the Truth as it is in Jesus'. This 'unction', this 'anointing', is the supreme thing. Seek it until you have it; be content with nothing less. Go on until you can say, 'And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power.' He is still able to do 'exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.'
From Preaching and Preachers p. 325, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.
Friday, October 24, 2008
In Christ and by that phrase I mean in a personal relationship with Christ in which you are completely identified with and in Him and His saving work on your behalf you are completely righteous, whether you feel righteous or not. In fact, the Bible teaches that if you are in Christ you possess a righteousness, not of your works derived from obedience to God’s law but rather a righteousness derived from God Himself through the person of Christ (Philippians 3:8-9).
This righteousness obtained from God is very interesting in that it is the very righteousness of God. This is exactly what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Paul writes: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Therefore, if you are in Christ through faith, you possess the very righteousness of God. In other words, in Christ and because of Christ, you are as righteous as God is right now. Now I know that this sounds radical and some of you are probably wondering if I haven’t gone a bit too far in making the claim that the true child of God, the person who is “in Christ” is as righteous as God is. But, isn’t this what Jesus said was required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated rather emphatically to his audience that unless their righteousness surpassed that of the scribes and Pharisees they would not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:20) Then in verses 21- 47 of Matthew 5, Jesus gave several examples of the Pharisee’s righteousness and showed the huge difference between theirs’ and God’s righteousness. And then in verse 48, He made His point by saying: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
If you missed His point—keep reading Jesus’ words until they sink in. Jesus, in no uncertain terms, told His audience and us by extension that the righteousness needed to enter Heaven is a much greater righteousness than man can produce as evidenced by the religious Pharisees. The righteousness required to get into Heaven is perfect righteousness—God’s righteousness. To be perfectly blunt and clear—you and I need to be as perfect (righteous) as God is if we plan on taking up residence in that celestial city some day. The good news of the gospel is that in Christ you not only possess perfect righteousness—you possess His righteousness. Thus, you are, in Christ, as righteous as God is Himself. And that’s why you’ll be able to go to Heaven when you die.
So, again, let me ask you, just how righteous are you today?
With all this in mind, I’d like to share a couple verses with you that while not providing an escape from your trials will help you to endure them. The passage is Psalm 84:11-12. Read it slowly and meditatively.
“For the LORD GOD is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You!”
If you trust in Him and your life is being lived for Him and His glory—then God is not withholding anything good from you. In other words, all that you have and are going through right now is His “good” being bestowed upon you. And whereas, this is difficult to believe depending on what it may be you are having to endure—you must. Your joy and your happiness depend upon trusting God that what you are going through is actually His best in and for your life right now. That is why verse 12 states emphatically, How blessed (joyous & happy) is the man who trusts in You.
Trials are not meant to steal your joy—they are meant to increase it as you come to experience God and His power at work in your situation in ways that you never could have or would have otherwise.
So whatever it is you are being called to bear up under—use the eyes of faith to see that what appears to be bad is really good. In fact, it is God’s best for you and your life right now. It is only as you accept this truth and trust Him that you will find the strength to endure life’s trials with joy unspeakable.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Several years ago, when I was a police officer in Albuquerque I received a call to go to a home in the Northeast part of Albuquerque to see if there were any signs that a baby had been born in the home recently because one of the hospitals in town was treating a teenage girl who appeared to have given birth in the last few hours.
After being given permission to enter the home by the teenage girl’s father—I went into the teenage girl’s room and found the dead baby in a small trash can beside the bed.
Of course, the case went to the District Attorney’s Office and for weeks they battled within the office on whether to take the teenage mother to trial for the death of her baby. But in the end, the D.A. made the decision not to prosecute the teenage mother in the best interests of all involved. You see, whereas, the State certainly had the right to prosecute the teenage girl—it did not have the will to do so and the girl went free.
Now not too long ago, you’ll remember the Duke University Lacrosse players who were accused and charged with rape. The District Attorney in that case, Michael Nifong, misused, misrepresented, and withheld the DNA evidence taken as evidence that would have proved the innocence of the Lacrosse player and decided to prosecute them any way. Eventually, the athletes who were charged had their charges dismissed and Nifong was disbarred and even spent a day in jail for his actions. His was a case of having the will to prosecute a case without the lawful and evidenciary right or authority to do so.
And whereas, human courts and thus, justice are always subject to the weaknesses and often times, bad judgment of those in charge—God’s court will have no such problems.
For God not only has the ultimate authority and thus the right to judge and condemn unforgiven sinners to hell—He has the will to do so as well. Furthermore, when all is said and done and those sinners who choose to bypass Jesus Christ and the salvation that is only available through Him find themselves in God’s courtroom at the end of the age their condemnation will be just for they will have received perfect justice in God’s court.
This is the point of the next section we are going to study in the Book of Romans. Turn with me to Romans 3:1-8. In this paragraph, Paul is making the point that since God has the right and the will to judge and condemn His own chosen people—the Jews for their sins—He will certainly have no qualms in judging and condemning Gentiles for their sins either. I mean, if He is willing to judge and condemn His chosen people the Jews—He will by no means excuse the sin of the Gentiles. Thus, Paul’s statement in Romans 3:9 that both Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin and thus under condemnation. He is also going to be making the point that God’s condemnation of sinners to hell is just and cannot be called into question by anyone.
Now, this passage is undoubtedly one of the hardest in all the Bible to understand. In fact, John Piper, whom I consider to be an expositor extraordinaire had this to say about these verses we are about to consider. “I found this passage to be about as hard a paragraph to deal with as any in this letter. The difficulty of following the train of thought in this paragraph is enormous.” Then my personal favorite preacher of all preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who took about 14 years to preach through Romans commented that this is one of the most difficult paragraphs not only in Romans, but also in the whole Bible. So, with this great encouragement—let’s dive in and see what we can do with it.
First—let’s identify the type of literature Paul is utilizing here in these 8 verses.
He is using the method of a diatribe, which was common among the philosophers of his day. In this method of writing, the author raises a series of objections to his own argument and then provides answers to these objections. In this case, Paul is also using a dialogue style of writing in which the objections to his argument are being raised by a fictitious and sarcastic objector who with Greek sarcasm raises three objections to Paul’s main argument that God has the right and the will to condemn His own chosen people—the Jews.
Before looking at the three objections in detail—we need to find and make note of Paul’s main argument in this passage and it is not hard to find—its at the very end of it in the last sentence of verse 8--“Their condemnation is just.” Whose condemnation is just we might want to ask. The answer is those whom Paul’s imaginary antagonist is raising as examples as to whom God does not have the right or the will to condemn. You also see this same main argument in Romans 3:6, where Paul in answering one of his antagonist’s questions makes the point that his objection cannot be true or how will God judge the world. In other words—if your point is true—how can God judge the world justly? It is also seen in Romans 3:4, in Paul’s use of a quote actually ascribed to King David in Psalm 51:4 where we read:
“Against You, You only have I sinned and
done what is evil in your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.”
The reason why Paul’s rendition differs slightly is because he is quoting the verse out of the Septuagint, which renders the verse as we have it in our English Bibles. The Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament translated the verse as though God were being judged by the public opinion of men who disagreed with God’s right to judge and condemn them because of their sin.
Nevertheless, whichever translation you use the point is the same—God not only can condemn His people for their sins and will condemn them—He is perfectly just in doing so.
Now with the main point in view—what are the objections? The first objection has to do with challenging God’s right to judge and consequently condemn His chosen people who have a religious heritage, history, and were in fact entrusted with the very words of God in the Old Testament (3:1-2). The second objection has to do with God’s right to judge and condemn His chosen people to whom God has made covenant promises to that must be fulfilled if God is to keep His Word (3:3-4). And the third objection has to do with God’s right to judge and condemn His chosen people for their sins when those very sins actually glorify God by revealing His righteousness as it is contrasted against those people’s unrighteousness (3:5-8a)
So, with all this in mind, let’s jump in and see how Paul answers these objections.
1. Even though God’s chosen people have the advantage of a religious heritage, history, and were given God’s very Word they will be judged for their sins and condemned and their condemnation will be just. (3:1-2)
The first question, Paul’s imaginary antagonist asks Paul is this: “If being a Jew with all the religious heritage and history that goes with being a Jew and having gone through the religious rite and ceremony of circumcision does not make a person OK with God—what advantage is there in being a Jew anyway? Now keep in mind, in this form of question and answer debate the antagonist is not asking his questions to learn God’s point of view. No, he in asking the question is trying to make his point and in this case the point he is trying to make is that there is just no way that God would judge His own chosen people and that if He did—He would not be just.
Now, Paul in answering this sarcastic question does not fall for the bait and try to defend God—he simply answers the question as though it were being asked by someone who really wanted to know what advantage there was in being a Jew. Paul will answer the antagonist’s point about God not having the will to condemn His chosen people and not being just if He did later, in verse 8. But before Paul does this—he answers the question by saying that the advantage to people of Jewish descent is that they were given the very Words of God—the very promises of God if you will. And then he stops as though that were the only advantage but if you have read through the Book of Romans you know that there are other advantages but he doesn’t give them until Romans 9.
The phrase “oracles of God” actually means “the very words of God” or “the very words that God Himself spoke”. And since these divine words communicated God’s divine promises regarding His Creation—the Jews were given and entrusted with God’s own personal promises concerning them and the rest of the world as well. Paul makes it very clear in the way he does not list the other advantages to being a Jew until Romans 9 that the greatest advantage to being a Jew is having been given God’s Word as well as the responsibility of protecting it and supplying it to others throughout the world. Yet, even though God gave them His Word and entrusted them with His Word—this great privilege and ministry responsibility could not keep them from being judged and condemned for their sins.
In other words—God sees no one as being so special and so gifted and so important to His plan that He will not deal with them and their sin. For the unbeliever, this means condemnation in hell. For the believer, it means God’s loving and firm discipline to put you back on track.
2. Even though God has made covenantal promises that are unconditional in nature to His chosen people that must be fulfilled they will still be judged for their sins and condemned and their condemnation will be just and will not impugn God’s promises in any way. (3:3-4)
The antagonist then says—“Well, let’s talk about God’s promises then. If some of God’s people are not faithful to obey His Word—and are then judged and condemned for their sins—won’t this jeopardize God’s ability to keep His promise to the Jews that they would receive a Kingdom and their Messiah in the future. I mean how can God continue to persist in keeping His promises that He made thousands of years ago to people who will not obey Him and who in fact rejected and crucified their Messiah? And the essence of Paul’s answer is that the failure of the Jews does not and cannot and will not affect the faithfulness of God in any way.
Yes, God did make certain unconditional covenantal promises to the Jews however, the failure of the Jews to receive them and appreciate them simply has no effect upon God and His faithfulness to do what He has promised to do. The NASV uses the phrase: “May it never be!” in verse 4. It is probably better rendered: “Unthinkable”; “Impossible”; or “By no means”. And this is a principle that we must grasp—“God’s unconditional promises do not depend upon the faithfulness of man.”
I mean, here you have this great nation—the nation of Israel to whom God has made great and wonderful promises and yet they continually pursued disobedience rather than obedience and went so far as to actually reject and kill the One Whom the fulfillment of their promises was to be found in—But in spite of all this—God is not going to reject His people the Jews.
Yes, He will punish and condemn those who persist in their rejection of His Son but He is going to raise up a remnant whom He will draw to Himself through Christ and will save and He will fulfill His promises in and to them. This is the great mistake, I think, with Covenantal Theology—which most Reformed people hold to and in fact most of my heros in the Faith hold to. They believe God’s unconditional promises will be fulfilled in us the church rather than in Israel because of Israel’s apostasy. And that kind of reasoning goes directly against the grain of what Paul is saying here as well as against the nature of God and God’s unconditional covenantal promises—which He always keeps regardless of what man does or does not do.
This is very comforting to me because it means that for the Christian like me who has a knack for unfaithfulness—God is still going to remain faithful to His promises to me and will finish the work He began in me (Phil. 1:6).
Look at 2 Timothy 2:11-13.
3. Even though the sins committed by God’s people have actually been used by God for His glory they will still be judged for those sins and condemned and their condemnation will be just. (3:5-8)
Finally, Paul’s imaginary antagonist makes his last point, which is—if the sins of God’s people don’t thwart or nullify His plans and promises in anyway so as to not diminish His glory because a God who can be thwarted by man cannot be very glorious—they then must glorify God. And if this true that our sin somehow glorifies God—why will God judge and condemn His people for these very sins, which are being used by Him for His glory? Another way of looking at it is—if God’s people’s sins show the stark contrast between their unholiness and God’s holiness so that God is made to look good by their looking so bad—why would God judge and condemn them when they are really making Him look good?
Note Paul’s response in v. 6. This argument cannot be true because if it were—How could God judge the world. But since God is going to judge His people for their sins even when their sins do indeed glorify Him in a negative sort of way by bringing attention to His holiness—this judgment must be just because God is holy and just. In fact, if you follow Paul’s argument to its final end you would see that if God did not punish all sin and condemn the unforgiven sinner for his or her sin, regardless of who they were—God would not and could not be ultimately glorified as God.
Listen—whereas God is glorified in everything including people’s sin because their sin reveals His righteousness—He is ultimately glorified in the way He deals with the sinner. In the sense of the sinner who rejects His forgiveness and the salvation that only is through Christ—God is glorified in the eternal punishment and condemnation of that sinner. However, in the case of the forgiven sinner who has trusted Christ for salvation God was and continually is glorified in that He punished and condemned our sin in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ who took our place on the Cross. And if indeed God is glorified in the punishing of the believer’s sin by punishing it and condemning it in Christ as He died on the Cross then God certainly has the right and the will to punish and condemn the sinner who refuses His salvation—thus as the end of verse 8 states--Therefore, their condemnation is just.
Now why all the fuss about God’s right and will to condemn His own chosen people for their sins? Because God wants us who are not Jews but rather Gentiles to get the point that if God has no trouble condemning His own chosen people to hell for their sins—He will certainly have no problem condemning those who are not His special and chosen people to hell for theirs as well.
You know, if I come to the point where I get disgusted with my lawn which I worked hard and long to grow and which I have invested countless gallons of water in and which I have mowed and picked weeds out of for years—and one day I just dig it all up and burn it—Do you think I’d even think twice about doing the same to the arid patch of sparse range grass that is in my back field?! That’s God’s point here. Its as though He were saying—If you don’t think I will judge you for your sins and then condemn you to hell and be just in doing it—look at what I did to my own chosen people the Jews.
Even more powerful than that—if God was willing to crush His own Son on the cross of Calvary for the sins of those who would believe in Him and be saved—do you really think He will not crush and condemn for all of eternity the sinner who refuses Christ Jesus?!
Now why is God making this point that He has the right and the will to condemn any of us to hell—because it is only as we see that we are lost that we will run to Him for the salvation He so freely offers in Christ Jesus. And if you have already run to Christ for salvation and perhaps have forgotten what could have been—maybe this passage will remind you and all the rest of us who have been saved by Christ what we were saved from.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The Heart of The Matter Is The Heart
I have shared with you before that one of the most troubling passages of Scripture that I know is Matthew 7:21-23. When I read this passage I genuinely become concerned for my salvation and I’ll tell you why—because these people who were involved in ministry and in effective ministry had deceived themselves into thinking that they were OK with God when they really weren’t. In fact, they were utterly amazed and surprised that they were going to hell according to verse 22. And what’s really interesting about their response to God as they are being sentenced to eternal damnation is that they resort to what they had done for God and were doing in terms of ministry as their final excuse and reason to not be condemned. Look at verse 22 again. But the problem with them was that they had placed false assurance of their acceptance with God in their deeds, their ministries, and in their success in ministry rather than in the fact that they knew God and He knew them. You see, knowing God and being known by God really has very little to do with how successful a preacher you are or how religious you are or how many times you’ve been to church. But it has a great deal to do with the condition of your heart and its orientation toward God.
The Apostle Paul commanded us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to test ourselves to see if we are really in the Faith and thus are saved or will be with those poor souls in Matthew 7 who thought they were saved and weren’t. And he makes the point that if Christ is in you it will be obvious unless of course He is not in you and thus you are not saved.
So, what is it we should be looking for to see if Christ is in us to make sure that we truly are OK with God? Well, let’s go to our text this morning, which is Romans 2:17-29 and we will see what we aren’t to be looking for and finally what we are to be looking for.
In Romans 2:17-29 we are going to see the Apostle Paul shatter the false security of seemingly religious people who think they are OK with God and have nothing to fear in the Judgment simply because of their religious heritage, their religious knowledge, and their religious traditions and ceremonies. And then once he is all done telling them that the only thing trusting in their spiritual heritage, spiritual understanding, and spiritual experiences will do is give them a false sense of spiritual security—he drives home the point that one’s security with God and one’s acceptance with God is a matter of the heart. So, let’s use what Paul has to say in this passage as the test guide to determine if we are truly OK with God or have been deceived and have a false sense of assurance that we are saved.
1. If all you have going for you is a religious and spiritual heritage you are not OK with God. (17a)
The Israelites of Jesus’ day took great pride in the name “Jew”. Whereas, in the Old Testament times they had been known as Hebrews because they spoke Hebrew and Israelites because of their connection with the land God had given them—the name they took the most pride in was that of being called a Jew. The word comes from Judah and means “one who is praised by God” It could also be expanded to mean “one who is accepted by God”. So, the Jewish person not only took great pride in the fact that he was a Jew and thus praised by God—he found great assurance in the title because in his mind it meant he was accepted by God as well—simply because he had been born a Jew.
Paul’s reason in raising this issue is to make the point that simply bearing the name “Jew” and being a “Jew” is not a guarantee that you are OK with God—let alone praised by Him or acceptable to Him. And this has great relevance for us today. There are countless millions of people who think that simply because they were born in a quote un quote Christian nation that they are OK with God. They think that being an American is synonymous with being a Christian. There are others who think that being born into and raised in a Christian home makes them a Christian and thus OK with God. Thousands believe that being a Catholic or a Baptist or a Methodist or a Presbyterian means they are OK with God. And Paul’s point is that regardless of what your religious or spiritual heritage is—it cannot make you right with God.
Listen no one here has become a hamburger simply because they spend hours in McDonalds.
And no one becomes a Christian by simply attending church.
2. If all you have going for you is your knowledge of God’s Word and ability to minister with it you are not OK with God. (17b-24)
Then Paul moves on to another false assurance of your acceptance with God and that is your relationship to His Word. Keep in mind and never forget that it is a relationship with Christ that saves you not a relationship with God’s Word. Now having said that, let me say that apart from the Bible you cannot have a relationship with God because faith comes by hearing the Word of God according to Romans 10:17. But it is not the Bible that saves you.
Look at John 5:39. You see the Jews problem was that they thought their love for and knowledge of the Scriptures would make them acceptable to God. But Jesus made it clear that the Scriptures can’t save anyone—their purpose is to point people to the One Who can save them—Jesus.
The Jews also believed that because of their relationship with the Scriptures that they were morally and spiritually superior to Gentiles and thus had the moral responsibility if you will of teaching them how to live like a Jew. (19-20) The problem was that even though they were experts in what the Word of God said and taught—they did not have the heart to obey it. (21-24)
Thus, they who taught people should not steal were stealing. They were also teaching that people should not commit adultery and yet they were doing the exact same thing.
They were hypocrites and Paul’s point in saying so is that their disobedience to the very Law they were teaching was the evidence that they did not have a heart for God that would obey His Word.
So, the fact that anyone has a high regard for the Bible and in fact quotes it from time to time and maybe even teaches it is no guarantee they’re saved. In fact, if they have no desire to obey it and are not growing in general obedience to the Word this is a sign they are not OK with God.
3. If all you have going for you is the fact that you have been involved in a special religious ceremony you are not OK with God. (25-28)
Circumcision was the outward sign of a spiritual reality. It was the sign that a person truly belonged to God and God’s people and thus should act like it. But the fact of the matter is that circumcision never saved anyone. Paul’s point in verse 25 is that the outward sign of circumcision has value only if there is a true spiritual reality behind it. In verses 26 & 27, he simply reiterates this point. Then in verse 28, he states that an external outward religious ritual or ceremony does not make anyone a Jew. Now remembering what the word “Jew” means—what Paul is insinuating is that external religious rituals and ceremonies do not make anyone acceptable to God.
So no matter what it is—external religious practices and special events won’t save you!
A Profession of Faith
Walking An Aisle
Prayer A Prayer
Joining A Church
In verse 29, Paul tells us that the only guarantee that any person can have that he or she is OK with God is a new heart that loves Him and is captivated by Him as its greatest treasure and pleasure in life. The only person who is OK with God is the one who has come to God through Jesus Christ for salvation from the wrath of God for his or her sins. And that which will characterize this person is a new heart given to them by God the Holy Spirit. And this new heart will desire God and pursue God as the ultimate object of its affections.
If God is not the ultimate object of your heart’s affections it is because you are not a true believer or you have allowed sin to replace your Christ as the object of your affections. Only the person whose heart is right with God and whose heart desires God and finds its joy in God will receive praise and commendation from God.
Our acceptance with God is always a matter of the heart. So, what we need to look for to see if we are in the Faith and thus OK with God and therefore ready to die is—
What do we honestly enjoy more than anything—our sin or God?
When you realize you have sinned is your heart truly broken so that you must run to God with your sin so as to confess it and be free of it so as to have fellowship with God restored again?
What do we honestly pursue more than anything—disobedience or disobedience?
What is the most passionate and most consistent desire of our heart—God or someone or something else?
What is our heart oriented toward—God or the world?
Right now at this very moment is it the desire of your heart to pursue Jesus Christ as your greatest treasure and pleasure in life?
As I said in the beginning of the message—its not hard to see if you are truly OK with God—just look at your heart.
Just over four hundred years ago, in late October, a young Augustinian monk, professor of theology and pastor in Whittenburg, Germany, in the fire of his zeal for Christian truth, nailed 95 thesis to the door of the Castle Church. He had left the study of law and entered the priesthood, seeking to be justified before God. His name was Martin Luther. As a result of studying the Scriptures, he discovered biblical truths that had long been covered and obscured by the ritual and rubble of Rome. One of the great truths then restored to the Church was justification by faith alone.
The issue before us today is not a denial of justification by faith alone, but rather a perversion of that doctrine. Present-day preaching often excludes the possibility of spurious (or non saving) faith; however, religious deception is the worst kind of deception because of it's eternal consequences. We must distinguish properly between justifying faith, and a spurious or counterfeit faith.
The Bible very clearly warns against spurious faith; therefore, I wish to direct attention to it's warnings and note some differences between spurious and true believers. I intend to cite biblical cases of spurious faith, showing that the Scriptures teach the existence of belief which is not saving faith. I propose also to to define true faith and give some biblical examples of that faith which savingly joins one to Jesus Christ for all eternity.
Spurious or Counterfeit Faith
The Bible teaches that there is spurious faith. In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of temporary faith. "They on the rock are they, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). These believers recieved the word with joy and believed for a season; but in the time of trial, they fell away. They lacked "root and fruit" and they did not continue.
Paul spoke of "Believing in vain" (Cor. 15:2). This is non-saving faith. Though it has many marks of true saving faith, the evidence of temporary faith soon appears. It lacks the following characteristics of saving faith: (1) continuance in trusting Christ, and in devotion to Him and His service; (2) desire to be useful in Christ's church; (3) attendance to Christian duty; (4) love of prayer and the Word of God and of assembling with God's people in worship; (5) devotion to loving the people of God as such; (6) progress in knowledge of self, sin, and the Savior; (7) progress in loving holiness and hating sin, with increased conviction of and humility concerning personal sinfulness.
A very vivid example of spurious faith is the case of Simon Magus. Of him it is written, "Then Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip" (Acts 8:13) as far as Paul had. Although Paul believed all the Scripture before his conversion, his faith was not saving faith. Note also Agrippa. "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe" (Acts 26:27). But this faith did not save him.
James speaks of dead faith (James 2:17, 26), the giving of mere mental assent to certain historical facts. He also speaks of devils' faith (James 2:19). This is a religious appropriation of these facts. The demons have a sound confession. They believe in the person ("Jesus, thou Son of God") and the power ("art thou come to torment us?") of Christ (Matt. 8:29).
It is indeed searching and solemn to discover how much the Bible speaks of unsaved people having faith in the Lord. Though it seems incredible, there are those willing to have Christ as their Savior, yet who are most reluctant to submit to Him as their Lord, to be at His command, and to be governed by His laws. But more shocking still, there are unregenerate persons who profess Christ as Lord, and yet are not in possession of saving faith. The scriptural proof of this assertion is found in Matthew 7:22, 23: "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" Here is a large class (many) who profess subjection to Christ as Lord, who do many mighty works in His name, and thus can even show you their faith by their works, and yet theirs is not saving faith. "Depart form Me," said Jesus.
It is impossible to say how far non-saving faith may go or how close it may resemble true saving faith. Saving faith has Christ as its object; so has spurious faith. "Many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men," (John 2:23, 24). Saving faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit; so also spurious faith has an apparent spirituality and may even partake to some degree of illuminating grace (Hebrews 6:4). Saving faith is a receiving of the Word of God so also is spurious faith. "But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately received it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles." (Matt. 13:20, 21). Saving faith will cause a man to prepare for the coming of the Lord; so will spurious faith. Both the foolish and the wise virgins had the lamp of profession--they all trimmed their lamps and said "Lord, Lord"--but half heard the answer, "I know you not" (Matt. 25:1-13). Saving faith is accompanied with joy; so is spurious faith. "they on the rock....receive the word with joy (Luke 8:13).
When we realize how far spurious faith can go in its counterfeits, we are prone to say, "All this is very unsettling and confusing." Yes, it is distressing! But, if we value our souls or care for the souls of others, we will not dismiss this subject lightly. Since the Bible teaches that there is a faith in Christ which does not save and that it is easy to be deceived, we must earnestly seek the help of the Spirit. The Spirit Himself cautions us at this very point, "A deceived heart has turned him aside" (Isa. 44:20). "The pride of your heart has deceived you" (Obad. 3). "Take heed that you are not deceived" (Luke 21:8).
Satan uses his cunning and power most tenaciously and successfully in convincing people that they have saving faith when they do not. He deceives more souls by this stratagem than by all other devices combined. How many Satan-blinded souls will read this and say, "It does not apply to me; I know that my faith is genuine." Satan dissuades many from heeding that most salutary exhortation: "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves" (Cor. 13:5). We will consider this text later.
Our Lord's parables show that He continually warned against self-deception. Spiritual houses often look the same until the storm of God's judgement comes (Matt. 7:24-27). Then it is revealed that one house is spurious (built on sand) and one is genuine (built on rock). Wheat and tares look so much alike that only the Lord Himself can separate them (Matt. 13:24-30).
Failure to recognize the Bible's teaching on counterfeit faith has led to other errors. The tendency is to treat spurious believers as saved but not consecrated or filled with the Spirit. The folly is often compounded by calling those who give no Bible evidence of saving faith carnal Christians, since they do not act like Christians. The solution to this unbiblical dilemma is sought in some kinds of second experience or second work of grace. Thus there is constant appeal to the carnal Christian, who in reality is a spurious believer, to finally surrender to Christ's lordship and be filled with (even baptized in) the Spirit.
The great theologians of the past recognized that the Bible distinguishes between spurious faith and saving faith. Charles Hodge speaks of historical or speculative faith, temporary faith and saving faith (Systematic Theology 3:67-68). James P. Boyce, one of the greatest Southern Baptist theologians and principal founder of their first seminary, speaks of implicit faith, historical faith, temporary or delusive faith, and saving faith (Abstract of Systematic Theology, pp. 389-94). With these great men of God, we hold tenaciously to that great hopeful and liberating truth of the Bible--justification by faith alone. But we also recognize that faith which is alone is not the faith which justifies.
True Saving Faith Described
Regeneration is inseparable from its effects, one of which is saving faith. Without regeneration it is morally and spiritually impossible to savingly believe in Christ. Except a man be born again, he cannot see, he cannot understand, he cannot come to Christ (John 3:3; 6:37, 44; 1 Cor. 2:14). Regeneration is the renewing of the heart and mind; and the renewed heart and mind must act according to their nature.
Regeneration is the act of God alone. But faith is not the act of God. It is not God who believes in Christ for salvation; it is the sinner. Although it is by God's grace alone that a person is able to believe, faith is an activity of the person alone. In saving faith we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. True, this is a strange, and to some extent, undefinable mixture. but this is precisely what the Bible teaches. This is God's way of salvation, expressing His supreme wisdom, power, and grace.
The Acting of True Saving Faith
True justifying faith is, in the Lord's deep wisdom and condescension, variously expressed in Scripture according to its different actings toward God and its outgoings after Him. True faith is sometimes spoken of as a desire for union with God in Christ--as a willing. And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev. 22:17). Scripture also speaks of looking to Him. "Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth" (Isa. 45:22; this text was used of God in Spurgeon's conversion). This may be the weakest act of faith. True faith is also expressed as hungering and thirsting after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6).
True faith sometimes goes out in the act of leaning on the Lord; the soul taking up Christ as a resting-stone because God has so offered Christ. Though He may be a stumbling-stone and a rock of offense to others, true faith is not ashamed of Him (Rom. 9:33). The acting of true faith is sometimes expressed in Scripture as <7, 18). Accordingly, faith's work here is to "Put on the Lord Jesus" (Rom. 13:14). To the soul that is hungry and thirsty for something that will everlastingly satisfy, Christ Jesus is "milk, water, the bread of life, and the true manna" (Isa. 55:1,2; John 6:48, 51). True faith will "go, buy, eat, and drink abundantly" (Isa. 55:1; John 6:53, 57). To the soul that is pursued for guilt and is not able to withstand the charge, Christ Jesus is the city of refuge. The poor guilty man exercises true faith by fleeing to Christ for refuge, laying hold on the hope set before him (Heb. 6:18).
In a word, whatever way Christ may benefit poor sinners, He declares Himself able to do. True faith desires Christ in whatever way He holds Himself out in the Scriptures. If He is held out as a Bridegroom, true faith goes out to Him as a bride. If he is held out as a Father (Isa. 9:6), true faith takes the place of a child. If He is held out as a Shepherd, true faith takes the place of a sheep. If He is set forth as Lord, true faith acknowledges Him to be the Sovereign. True faith desires Christ and aspires to be conformed to His image.
It is important to remember, in considering the actings of true saving faith, that every true believer does not manifest all these various actings and exercises of faith, for their condition does not require them. Not everyone in the New Testament is told to sell his possessions (Mark 10:21). Surely, not everyone dares say, "though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). Many would not have pursued Christ like the woman of Canaan (Matt. 15:22-28) but in discouragement would have given up.
There is, however, one thing common to all who possess true saving faith; that is, a heart-satisfaction with God's plan of salvation by Christ. When one is pleased with God's method of satisfying His justice through Christ's person and work and when the soul and heart embrace that plan, then one is believing unto salvation. Saving faith is not a difficult, mysterious, hardly attainable thing. We must first acknowledge it to be God's gift, above the power of flesh and blood. God must draw me to Christ. "No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him" (John 6:44). "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ....to believe on Him..." (Phil. 1:29).
Shall that which consists much in desire be judged a mysterious, difficult thing? If men have but a true appetite, they have a mark of true saving faith. They are "blessed that hunger after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6). If you desire, you are welcome (Rev. 22:17). Is it a matter of such intricacy and difficulty earnestly to look to the exalted Savior (Isa. 45:22)? Is it mysterious or difficult to receive that which is sincerely offered and declared to be mine if I will but accept it? "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Ps. 81:10). Such is justifying faith.
"It was the glory of our Protestant Reformation to discover again the purity of the evangel. The Reformers recognized that the essence of saving faith is to bring the sinner lost and dead in trespasses and sins into direct personal contact with the Saviour himself, contact which is nothing less than that of self-commitment to him in all the glory of his person and perfection of his work as he is freely and fully offered in the gospel" (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p.112). Here, Professor Murray gives us a superb definition of justifying and saving faith.
This is the faith of God's elect, and by it they are able to believe to the saving of their souls. This faith is the work of the Spirit in their hearts and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word. By this kind of faith, God's sheep hear his Word and believe to be true all that is revealed in the Scriptures. Where this faith is, there is a yielding of obedience to the commands, a trembling at the threatenings, and an embracing of the promises of God for this life and the life to come. The principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life. Justifying faith, therefore, includes knowledge, conviction, and trust.
Differences Between Spurious and True Faith
There is a hope that shall perish (Job 8:13, 14) and a hope that makes not ashamed (Rom. 5:5). Likewise, there is a faith which saves and a faith which damns. The need to distinguish between the two is vital on the contemporary church scene. "There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes. Yet is not washed from its filthiness" (Prov. 30:12). "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12). These searching passages have a very real application to our church membership today.
This brings us to our last consideration; that is, the differences between spurious faith and justifying faith, or false believers and true believers. There are many differences, but I point out four that separate the wheat from the chaff, the genuine from the counterfeit.
The first difference is that spurious believers want Christ, but not without exception. They want the grace of Christ, but not the government of Christ--like the prodigal son who wanted his father's goods but not his father's government. They desire the benefits of the cross without bowing to the implications of the crown. They want to go to heaven, but not by the narrow way that leads there. They desire the free gift of eternal life, but will not receive it with empty hands. Yes, they want Christ, but not without exception. They want Christ and their other lovers also. They want to be saved from the consequences of sin, but not from sin itself. But our Lord came to save from sin. This is clear from the very first chapter of the New Testament. "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is not just a hell insurance policy, but a Saviour from sin and its consequences.
True saving faith wants Christ without exception. This is illustrated by our Lord's parables in Matthew 13. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matt. 13:44). Again, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45, 46). The treasure and the pearl is Christ; and saving faith wants Him without exception.
The second difference between spurious believers and true believers is that true faith wants Christ as He is offered in the Scriptures; that is, the only Mediator between God and man (1Tim. 2:5). As Mediator, Christ has three offices: Prophet, Priest, and King of His church. First, as Priest, Christ procures pardon and peach by His sacrifice on the cross and maintains peace by His intercession. Second, as Prophet, Christ is wisdom--teacher and counselor in all things. Third, as anointed King, Christ rules and reigns over the true believer in all things and protects them from all their enemies.
Spurious believers want Christ only as a Priest to procure pardon and peace, but not as a Prophet to instruct them or as a King to rule over them. We are not saved, however, by one of the offices of Christ, but by Him. "He that has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12). If we have Him, we must have Him in all of His offices.
The third difference is that spurious believers never close with Christ and the inconveniences that follow. They want Christ but have never done what Jesus commanded--that is, counted the cost (Luke 14:25-33). &nb you nothing to become a Christian; but it may cost you everything to be a Christian.
The fourth difference between spurious and true believers is that the spurious believer's heart is not changed, and, therefore, his faith is not operative. Simon Magus believed, but his heart was not right in the sight of God (Acts 8:13, 21). True faith is operative, purifying the heart (Acts 15:8, 9).
We must distinguish properly between justifying faith and spurious faith. The consequences of remaining in deception are too enormous to neglect self-examination. There is a faith which will not save and men must be warned of its fatal consequences. We are justified by faith alone, but ture faith has distinguishing traits. That faith which is alone is not the kind of faith that justifies.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16, 17).
Faith & Obedience
We may try our faith by its obedience. This choice, excellent faith is an obedient faith; that is, true faith on the promise works obedience to the command. Abraham is famous for his obedience; no command, no matter how difficult, came amiss to him. But what was the spring that set Abraham's obedience going? "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed and he went out" (Heb. 11:8). As it is impossible to please God without faith, so it is impossible not to desire to please God with faith.
Faith is not lazy; it inclines the soul to work; it sends the creature not to bed, there to sleep away his time in ease, but into the field. The night of ignorance and unbelief is the creature's sleeping time; but when the Sun of Righteousness arises and it is day in the soul, then the creature rises and goes forth to his labor. The first words that break out of faith's lips are, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
"Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke18:8). How valuable faith must be, friends, if the Son of Man will seek for faith, and pass by everyone of those who have it not. Oh, how essential it is that we have the right faith! How necessary that our faith be the gift of God.
-John Booth, 1908
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
To the casual observer, John is simply making the point that if you love the world, you cannot love God at the same time. However, I think he is doing more than that. You see, if it is impossible to love God while you are in love with the world then the reciprocal truth would be that it is impossible to love the world while you are in love with God. Thus, John is doing more than stating a fact about the impossibility of loving both the world and God at the same time. He is, essentially, giving us the key to how we are to overcome the world’s encroachments into our lives. If we are in love with the Lord, that is, we love Him with all our heart, mind, and soul we will not be tempted to love the world and what inferior pleasures it offers us.
The battle, then for the Christian, is one of, to what degree do we love the Lord? To love Him with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul leaves very little room for which to love the world and its sinful allurements. Perhaps this is why it is the greatest commandment.
Now, lest you think that this is not such a hard thing to do. Keep in mind, that this is the battle of your life and for your life—to be so in love with the Lord, so satisfied with the Lord, so captivated by Him that sin’s “fruitless joys”, as Augustine referred to them, have no power over you. And it is essentially the battle of faith. What I mean by this is that the battle to love the Lord more than sin and the battle to prefer holiness to sin’s immediate gratification is a battle to believe the Word of God and its promises of an exceedingly far superior joy and happiness that is to be had and experienced through obedience and lost through disobedience. Thus, in the truest sense, in spite of how it seems, to sin is to lose the opportunity for pleasure.
So, where does one begin in his quest to prefer holiness to sin? In Romans 6:17, Paul, in commending the believers for an obedience from the heart made the point to thank God for it. Thus, the best place to start in preferring holiness is with God in that the believer turns to God in faith for faith and then to God’s Word for the promises that motivate us to obedience. As one has well said, “It takes God to love God.” In other words, “we love Him because He first loved us”. In practical terms, this means we cry out to God for the faith that will take Him at His Word and believe that He is by far our greatest treasure and pleasure in this life and the life to come. As Psalm 16:11 so aptly states about God, “In your presence is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
"God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but also by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it [God’s glory]delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that he might communicate and the creature receive his glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory doesn’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also his. . . delight in it."
Thus, God’s purpose in creating us was that we glorify Him by enjoying Him and His glory. This is exactly the same conclusion the framers of the almost 400year old Westminster Shorter Catechism came to in answering the question, What is the chief end of man? Their answer, which they searched the Scriptures to find was:
"The chief end of man is to glorify God
And enjoy Him forever."
John Piper, author of such books as Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, Future Grace, and Don’t Waste Your Life makes the argument that if you changed one little word in the Westminster Catechism’s answer you’d have the essence of worship and the purpose of man defined correctly. How would he change it to capture the essence of worship and the purpose of man?
"The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever."
Richard Baxter, a puritan pastor who died in 1691 captured this thought when he prayed, “May the Living God, who is the portion and rest of the saints, make these our carnal minds so spiritual, and our earthly hearts so heavenly, that loving Him, and delighting in Him, may be the work of our lives.”
By the way, this concept of enjoying God as the means by which God is ultimately glorified was not unique to those in the Reformed tradition. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and an Arminian, came to the same conclusion:
"One design you are to pursue to the end of time—the enjoyment of God in time and eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this . . . Let every affection, and thought, and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever you desire or fear, whatever you speak or shun,whatever you think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God—the sole end as well as the source of your being."
And these sentiments were exactly those of King David, in Psalm 27:4, which says:
"One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple."
In other words, David’s one desire in life, the one He asks God for is to enjoy the beauty of the Lord as He sees Him in and through the corporate worship at the Temple. Now obviously, David enjoyed God in private. As he wrote in Psalm 16:11, “. . . In your presence is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Thus, it was this fact that he enjoyed God in private worship that caused Him to enjoy God and thus glorify God in public worship.
All of our life is worship, whether in private or public, at work or in church, at home or away. Thus, all of our work and play has to do with enjoying God. As Sam Storms, author of the book, One Thing, writes:
You weren’t created to be a lawyer or school teacher or factory worker or football player. That’s what you do to make a living, but it’s not the reason for living. You were made to rejoice at the display of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. . . . You weren’t created for boredom or burnout or bondage to sexual lust or greed or ambition but for the incomparable pleasure and matchless joy that knowing Jesus alone can bring. Only then, in Him, will you encounter the life-changing, thirst-quenching, soul-satisfying delight that God, for His glory, created you to experience.
Well Sunday is only a few days away and if I am to enjoy worship then, I better start looking into my heart to see if I am really enjoying God and His glory today. It will make all the difference in the world on Sunday.
Well the good news is, I put all this behind me and did have some time in prayer but oh what a battle it was to keep my mind clear so as to talk with the Lord rather than myself. And in all honesty, a mile or two down the road, as I started to pray for and through the church I found myself struggling again with such distractions as our church’s finances, relational issues, personal needs and struggles I have been made aware of in our church family, and a variety of other interesting and not so interesting things to think about.
Finally, I finished my circuit and as I walked back in the door to sit down and write this I wondered about the value of my quote unquote “prayer walk”. As I considered whether I should just go right back out there and do it again only this time with a much more serious approach to dealing with all my distractions, it dawned on me that distractions are life. And since life is what we pray about—distractions may not really be distractions at all—they may be prayer requests in disguise. In fact, perhaps they are the very things God wants to talk about.
I’ve never found that talking to my wife was any more intimate and pleasurable because I came to her with a list and an agenda. Most of the time, what passes for good conversation between us is talking about all the distractions that interrupted our agenda and made scrap paper out of our lists. Well, after giving it some more thought I think prayer without distractions may not be prayer at all. Paul told us that we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and that we are to be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we are to let our requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6). How can we pray without ceasing and over everything and not include our distractions?
So, I didn’t go back out on the road to repray my prayers. I simply thanked the Lord for listening to me as I talked to Him and for listening in on me as I talked to myself. Then I committed all my distractions to Him.
I picked, out of my library, one of Francis Schaeffer’s books to read a couple days ago. Its one he wrote back in 1974 and one that I read in the early eighties. Opening it up again was like getting together with an old friend. It’s a book of sixteen sermons he preached in the chapel services of L`Abri Fellowship in
We sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, fall into the trap, as Christians, of believing there are little people and little places in God’s economy. However, as Schaeffer points out and as I have had to learn over the years, often the hard way, there are no little or big people or places in God’s work. There are only consecrated or unconsecrated people and places. You see, when God is our point of reference in life, and we are fully consecrated to Him then our abilities, talents, and service are quite significant regardless of whether our ministry is large or small. The idea that the size of one’s ministry or even the results of a ministry indicate spiritual success or significance is more a reflection of our western Americanized “big business” and market oriented culture than it is a reflection of biblical teaching. This should not be taken to mean that large ministries are not spiritual ones. It simply means that the size, perceived impact, and results of anyone’s ministry is not the ultimate final nor necessarily accurate barometer of whether that ministry is a success story to God.
You see, if you are fully consecrated to the Lord, in other words, fully His, you will be involved in significant and successful ministry. Your ministry is important not because of its results but because of your consecration and devotion to Christ. Thus, in Christ, there are no little people and because of that there are no little places.
With this in mind, I hope we will all see the importance of a life fully consecrated to God through Christ. One example from the Bible of God taking something that really was insignificant and making it significant was a simple piece of wood. Do you remember Moses’ rod? The story of Moses’ rod begins when God tells Moses to go and challenge the greatest power of his day—the nation of
To Moses, his shepherd’s staff was nothing special, just a piece of wood about four to six feet long used for some very simple and basic tasks, one of which was to prod unruly sheep. And now God was telling him to go to
You see, when we and our gifts, talents, abilities, and resources become God’s as we consecrate and devote ourselves to Him there is no limit to what He can do through us or with us. If God can use a stick, wholly consecrated to Him, what can he do with you and me when we are fully consecrated to Him? There really are no little people or little places in God’s Kingdom—only consecrated people being used by God to produce consecrated places.