Monday, September 30, 2013

An Evangelism Strategy That Really Works

So, how are we going to win our town for Christ?  Which program should we consider?  Which direct mail campaign seems promising?  What community activity might we piggy-back on to share the Gospel?  These are the questions many churches spend a lot of time trying to answer as they consider how they might impact their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The problem with these kinds of questions however is that if all our evangelism turns out to be are programs and events we have missed the heart of what make up the core elements of evangelism which are loving Jesus, loving people, and loving life. 

Strategies, plans, programs, activities, and events are not wrong.  However, like the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, if we have the best of evangelistic strategies but do not have “love” we are simply making a lot of noise when we should be making a lot of disciples.  Strategies and programs work best when accompanied by and in fact motivated by love—for Christ, for people, and for life.

Enthusiasm for evangelism does not begin with evangelism.  Being told we must evangelize or being made to feel guilty about not evangelizing just leave us feeling empty and of course—guilty, but they do little to produce disciples.  You and I will never attract people to Jesus if we are not excited about Jesus.  Enthusiasm about and passion for Jesus creates interest in Jesus.  People who are in love with Jesus, whose passion is Jesus, and who love to talk about Jesus because He really matters to them will naturally be evangelistic.  They won’t be able to help themselves.

The second core element in evangelism is loving people.  When we really love people we will desire to love them to Jesus.  Loving people just enough to build a relationship with them but not enough to ever share Jesus with them is not true love.  True love desires to meet real needs in other people’s lives.  These needs we desire to meet will be physical, emotional, social, and if we really love them—spiritual. True love—biblical love does not merely bring a person bread to eat without also at some point share with him the Bread of Life.

Finally, the third essential core element in evangelism is loving life.  Christians who do not love life make very poor evangelists.  Believers who know their Bibles understand that God has given us life not only to live but to enjoy.  Certainly, some days and some seasons of life are harder and more difficult to enjoy than others but the believer who knows his Bible, trusts his God, and believes the promises of God has every reason to find joy in living even on the hard days.  And it is when we find that illusive joy on those days when the clouds seems their darkest that the unbeliever sits up and takes notice that we have a hope they don’t have. 

This love of life can also be discerned as an interest in life—as seeing all of life as God’s theater in which He is displaying His glory.  Believers who are not interested in life and not captivated by anything about life and thus cannot enter into other people’s lives don’t make very good evangelists.   Life is the bridge the Gospel uses to capture people’s attention.  Enthusiasm about life and God’s good gifts which He grants all of us, believer and unbeliever alike, enables us to connect around a common denominator with people who do not yet know that what they are enjoying is God’s gift. 

Perhaps, if we Christians did a better job at enjoying Jesus, people, and life we wouldn’t have to work so hard at evangelism.  We enjoy what we love and we are passionate about that which we love to enjoy.  If Jesus is Who we love and we enjoy Him so much we can’t help but share Him with the people we love enjoying life with—we may find evangelism happening and we never even handed out a tract.

2 Corinthian Series Message #13 "Standing On The Promises" 2 Corinthians 1:18-22

A poor man had wanted to go on a cruise all his life. As a youngster he had seen an advertisement for a luxury cruise, and ever since, he had dreamed of spending a week on a large ocean liner enjoying fresh sea air and relaxing in a luxurious environment.  He saved money for years, carefully counting his pennies, often sacrificing personal needs so he could stretch his resources as far as possible.  Finally he had enough to purchase a cruise ticket. He went to a travel agent, looked over the cruise brochures, picked out one that was especially attractive, and bought a ticket with the money he had saved so long. He was hardly able to believe he was about to realize his childhood dream.  But knowing he could not afford the kind of elegant food pictured in the brochure, the man planned to bring his own provisions for the week. Accustomed to moderation after years of frugal living, and with his entire savings going to pay for the cruise ticket, the man decided to bring along a week's supply of bread and peanut butter. That was all he could afford. 

The first few days of the cruise were thrilling. The man ate peanut butter sandwiches alone in his room each morning and spent the rest of his time relaxing in the sunlight and fresh air, delighted to be aboard the ship.  By midweek, however, the man was beginning to notice that he was the only person on board who was not eating luxurious meals. It seemed that every time he sat on the deck or rested in the lounge or stepped outside his cabin, he would see people lined up at the buffet  piling their plates high with all kinds of good food.  By the fifth day of the cruise, the man could take it no longer. The peanut butter sandwiches seemed stale and tasteless, he was desperately hungry, and even the fresh air and sunshine had lost their appeal.
Finally, he stopped a porter and exclaimed, "Tell me how I might get one of those meals! I'm dying for some decent food, and I'll do anything you say to earn it!"  "Why, sir, the food comes with the cruise!  You may eat as much as you like!"

And as ridiculous as this story may seem, it illustrates very well how we as believers in Jesus Christ oftentimes live out our Christian lives—oftentimes never fully realizing all the promises of God that are ours in Christ Jesus that come with being a follower of Christ.  So many of us live as spiritual beggars in spiritual poverty, when in reality we possess great and really wonderful promises and resources through our union with Christ.

Dr. Neil T. Anderson who specializes in Christian Biblical Counseling makes the staggering point that:

“Most of God’s people are spiritually stuck, running in place – expending a lot of energy but getting nowhere fast. Some are painfully aware of their struggles and yearn to be free from the guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, abuse and addictions that are suffocating their souls. Others are largely clueless … even complacent about their struggles … having accepted as normal a subnormal life in Christ, where faith is lived out on Sunday mornings but is largely irrelevant the rest of the week.”

Anderson then pinpoints the reason for this problem saying:

“Followers of Christ desperately need to understand who they are in Christ and make that . . . connection with God as their Father if they are to win the spiritual battles of and for their lives.”

Dr. Paul Tripp, another outstanding and very reputable Biblical counselor makes a similar observation.  Speaking for biblical counselors in general, he writes:

“We're convinced that many people live with a big gap in their understanding of what God has done for them.”

In other words, because of a lack of exposure to biblical truth they are not aware of the promises that God has made to them as people who have come to Him through His Son Jesus and therefore are not enjoying secure, confident, and spiritually powerful lives as Christians and thus cannot positively influence their world for Christ.

In essence, what these two excellent biblical counselors are saying is that we must know and fully grasp two essential biblical truths if we are to enjoy a spiritually vivacious, joyful and empowered life so as to rise above the temptations, negative circumstances, trials, heartaches, and sinful addictions that plague us all.  And these two truths that we must know, grasp, understand, embrace, and master are: 1) We must know and understand our new identity in Christ and 2) We must know, embrace, and believe the promises God has made to us.

You see, when believers live spiritually weak and spiritually anemic and powerless lives it is usually because they don’t know who they are in Christ and they don’t know the promises that are theirs in Christ.  And when you or I don’t understand our new identity in Christ and are not aware of God’s promises to us in Christ we are not really connecting with God as our Abba Father—our Heavenly Daddy or our Papa as Jesus referred to Him when He used the word “ABBA”.  When we do not see God the Father as our Heavenly Dad or Papa and do not see ourselves as His precious sons and daughters in whom He delights and cherishes we either end up not approaching Him at all or approach Him as a distant, cool, and even aloof Father that we are afraid of.  And when we see God and ourselves this way—especially when we are struggling with some issue in our lives—we become very insecure in our Faith and in how we perceive God to be perceiving us.

Therefore, what we have is a bunch of Christians running around who are insecure in their Faith because they are insecure in their relationship with God the Father because they don’t really understand how He sees them, feels about them, and wants to do for them.  Thus, it is essential to understand who you are in Christ and Who God is for you in granting and fulfilling very precious and special promises.  

And this is what Paul is talking about in our text for this morning which is 2 Corinthians 1:18-22.  As he is explaining to the Corinthian Church why he changed his mind and did not make the trip to visit them as he had originally planned, he interrupts himself and uses this teachable moment to tell them that God never changes His mind in regard to us!  Now, he is not saying that his decision to change his mind was wrong—he is simply using it as an occasion—as a teachable moment to make the point that whereas we will often change our minds as people—God never changes His mind as to how much He cherishes and delights in those who cherish His Son and He never ever fails to keep His promises to those who trust in Him.

Let's look at the passage in the New Living Translation because I think that translation captures the meaning and the feeling of Paul’s words much clearer than most.

"As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the one whom Silas,[a] Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.  It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us."

In verse 18, Paul makes the point that God is Faithful.  He actually renders it, “Faithful or True is God”.  This word order is making the point that the very definition of what it is to be faithful or true to one’s promises is God Himself.

Then In verse 19, Paul states that the proof that God always keeps His promises is that He sent Jesus Who is the final and ultimate proof that God’s promises to everyone who believes in Jesus are true and will be fulfilled.  You see, the Gospel promise seen throughout the whole Bible that God is willing to forgive and pardon any sinner who will come to Him through Jesus Christ is guaranteed and fulfilled in the fact that He did send Jesus to die on that cross so we could be forgiven and pardoned.  If all God the Father had done was promise forgiveness but not sent Jesus to secure it—no one could have been forgiven and thus saved from the just penalty of his or her sins.  God’s promise that people everywhere, no matter what they have done or how they have failed, can be reconciled to Him is guaranteed in Christ and in His work of securing salvation for everyone who believes.

Then in the first part of verse 20, Paul emphatically states that “all of God’s promises” to us who believe have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “YES”.  

That means that the person who comes to God through faith in Christ to be forgiven of his or her sins is totally and completely forgiven with no exceptions, conditions, ifs, ands, or buts whatsoever.

This means that the one who has come to God through faith in Christ is completely reconciled to God right now.

It means that the believer who is still struggling with sin is completely acceptable to God in Christ Jesus right now.

It means that the believer who has failed miserably is not condemned and has not lost his or her salvation.

It means we are overcomers and will finally experience victory over our sin.

It means that when we die we really will go immediately into the presence of the Lord and be with Him forever enjoying the fruit of our salvation.

It means we will reign with Christ over a restored and renewed earth having our original destiny restored to us.

It means we will be reunited with those loved ones who also having trusted in Christ have gone on to heaven before us.

It means that all the beauty, glory, and majesty of heaven will be ours to enjoy for all of eternity once this mortal life is over.

It means we actually will have conversations with angels and supernatural beings.

It means that there is a day coming when God makes all things new and gives us brand new glorified bodies free of sin, pain, illness, and all earthly struggles.

It means we will one day be with Jesus reveling in His glorious presence finding the joy, happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction that our hearts have always craved.

It means we will never face God’s deserved wrath for our sins ever but will enjoy God’s undeserved kindnesses for all of eternity.

Listen, I can’t emphasize this enough!  Every sinner who comes to God in Christ, with all his needs, finds God coming to him in Christ, with all his promises.

When a sinful person approaches The Most Holy God through CHRIST, seeking mercy and grace, what he or she hears is YES!

When he or she asks God do you love me?  What they hears is YES!

Will you forgive me?  YES!

Will you accept me?  YES! YES!

Will you help me change?  YES!

Will you give me power to serve you?  YES!

Will you keep me?  YES!

Will you bring me into your glory and let me see You?  YES!

 WOW!!!!!  What can you say to this?!

And then in the end of verse 20, Paul makes another very important point. He says that when we know these promises and hold onto them and believe them and are looking forward to them and signify this by saying “AMEN” as we pray—this glorifies God!  You see the word “Amen” comes from the Hebrew language where it was used as a strong affirmation of agreement.  So, when someone agreed with what you or someone else was saying they would say “Amen” to register their agreement.  The Koine Greek language of the New Testament picked up this word and its meaning from Hebrew and oftentimes actually uses the Greek word we translate AMEN to mean “Yes”. Thus, in the New Testament the word “Amen” can be translated as “YES” and should be when used in reference to how we should respond to what God has promised to do for us.  So, what Paul is getting at is that when we say "Yes" to God's promises--His "Yes"—we are in effect saying that we believe God and that we are holding onto His promises for dear life with complete confidence that because of our relationship with Christ—our union with Christ—God is for us and not against us!  We are, in fact saying, that all that God has promised to us and for us—He will do!

So the real question that we need to be asking ourselves as we consider this passage is this--Do we know what God has promised us in Christ and do we believe His promises.  If we don’t know what God has promised us—then we are like the passenger on the cruise ship I spoke about earlier who had no idea what was available to him on that cruise ship and as a result was not enjoying himself the way that he could have.  The same is true of us when we do not know what God has promised us or when we know but simply don’t believe God will fulfill His promises—We don’t find much enjoyment in God!
And as a result God is not glorified by us!

Notice the connection between the two halves of verse 20. The first half says, "For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding Yes!"  The second half says, “And through Christ, our Amen ascends to God for His glory.”  When we believe and confidently affirm our belief in God’s promises—in other words telling God that we actually believe Him—this glorifies Him.  Our believing God glorifies God.  When we believe that God really does love us the way that He says He loves us this brings Him glory—the same way you as a parent are glorified when your children believe you and trust you and are confident that what you have promised them you will do.

One great example of this whole concept of glorifying God by believing Him is found in Romans 4:18-21 in which Abraham believed God for the impossible and never wavered in his believe that God would provide him with a son even though his and Sarah's bodies were well past child-bearing age.  Verse 20 says that in waiting for the promise of God to be fulfilled in his life he grew strong in his faith.  Thus we see why God makes us wait.  It develops a stronger more mature faith.  The verse also makes the point that in not wavering in his belief of God's promise Abraham glorified God.  Thus, the way he glorified God and the way we glorify God is by believing God--by trusting Him to keep his promises.

When we do not believe God’s promises toward us—when we do not have confidence in His love, His acceptance, His forgiveness, and His grace toward us we actually dishonor Him and fail to glorify Him.  That is one reason why when Jesus was asked by the people what they needed to do to accomplish the works of God—He said in John 6:29,

“This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

In other words, the work of God is to believe in the promises of God as being completely fulfilled and confirmed in Jesus Christ.  

Finally in verses 21-22 of 2 Corinthians 1, Paul tells us that because of our new identity in Christ and God’s promises to us—we are absolutely secure in our position and relationship with Him.  Listen to these verses:

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Let me show you how the Trinity shows up in this passage.

God the Father is the One Who placed us in Christ and keeps us in Christ. (21a)  He is the One Who has anointed or chosen us (21b), the One Who set His seal of ownership upon us (22a), and the One Who dispatched His Spirit into our hearts (22b).

God the Son is the One Who died for us, rose for us, and forever lives for us so as to secure God’s promises on our behalf.

And God the Holy Spirit is the One Who having been dispatched by the Father to indwell us is the guarantee or the deposit, if you will, that what God has promised you—God will do in and for you (22c).

And when you really lock onto all of this and really see yourself as you really are in Christ Jesus and confidently believe the promises of God and take Him up on them—He is glorified.  But when you doubt God and especially God’s great love and delight in you as one who is trusting in Christ—you cannot glorify Him—because you do not feel secure in Him and thus cannot enjoy Him.  And no one can truly glorify God who does not enjoy God.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why We Need Revival

Churches often pray asking God to bring revival into their midst. Many take this to mean we are praying for the salvation of the lost and then following up our prayers with “revival meetings” featuring “revival preaching” so as to win the lost to Christ. The only problem with this understanding of revival is it is not biblical thus, it is not true.

Revival saves no one because unbelievers need more than reviving to be transformed from being spiritually dead to becoming spiritually alive. Unbelievers need to be “born again” if they are to be saved. This act of being born again is also referred to in Scripture as being “regenerated”. It is the secret act of God in which He imparts new spiritual life to the unbeliever so that he or she who was spiritually dead to God now desires Christ, salvation, and subsequently responds to the Gospel in repentance and faith. Regeneration is the granting of spiritual life where there was none before so that the unbeliever is now able to believe, wants to believe, and in fact, does believe.

Revival, on the other hand, is the life-changing process of believers recovering or rediscovering the Gospel truths so that the grace of God is truly experienced in their lives so as to free them to enjoy God and relax in their Faith as people who know they are unconditionally accepted by God in Christ. It is important to note that revival is plural in nature. That is, revival is a season in which a group or a body of believers experience personal Gospel renewal together so as to experience a new freshness, power, and vitality as believers who are enjoying God together and living life together as people with nothing to prove and so are able to be real and relaxed with one another. Revival then is not so much about salvation as it is about believers experiencing the joy of their salvation and doing so together.

Revival is necessary in every church for the simple reason that religion, which is nothing less than man’s attempts to please God with his own works and perceived righteousness, is the default mode of the human heart even if it has been converted by the Gospel. Christians are constantly being wooed from grace to religion and oftentimes succumb to the unbiblical view that whereas they were saved (accepted) by grace, they stay saved (accepted) by their performance as believers.

So, how does an individual believer know if he needs Gospel revival?  Furthermore, how does a church know if it is need of the same? One simple and easy way to begin this inquiry is to ask the question—Why do I obey the Bible? If you answer the question, I obey the Bible to be pleasing and acceptable to God, you are a candidate for revival. The reason why this is true is because the Gospel teaches believers are to obey God not to become pleasing or accepted by Him but because they are already pleasing and accepted by Him.

Other indicators that may reveal we are more religion-centered than Gospel-centered are: Is our spiritual motivation based on fear and insecurity or grateful joy? Do we obey God to be deserving of God’s blessings or do we obey Him because we simply delight in Him? When troubles come do we look for what we did wrong to deserve the trouble or do we accept the trial(s) as being for our spiritual growth and maturity? Do we primarily pray when in need and to control our circumstances or to enjoy fellowship with God? Are we doing more and enjoying less when it comes to church because we feel the need to perform for God and/or for others whom we feel are judging our level of spirituality?  Do we read and study the Scriptures to know and worship God or to know about and work for God? Are we confident that God loves us and delights in us apart from our spiritual achievements? When we sin do we feel we have lost God’s love and acceptance? And finally, do we find ourselves working harder to impress God or be impressed by God?

If we are honest, we will all find ourselves in constant and consistent need of Gospel revival because we are all more religion-centered than we realize. That is why we need to be preaching the Gospel to ourselves daily—the good news that Christ Jesus has fulfilled all of God’s righteous requirements and demands on our behalf as our substitute so that we can be, now and forever, as perfectly acceptable in God’s sight as Jesus Himself is. We need to constantly remind ourselves that in Christ we are as pleasing, as acceptable, as delightful, as righteous, as loved, and as secure before God the Father as God the Son is. We must be impressed with the Gospel so as to not live our lives to impress God but to be impressed by God.

Knowing, understanding, embracing, believing, and enjoying the Gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. It is what saves us and what sanctifies us. It is what brings revival to believers and their churches who have gotten off track and find themselves pursuing religion rather than Christ. Gospel-centeredness also helps churches who are on track stay on track.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Just Wondering?

So, this blog is fast approaching the 10,000 hit mark with most of those hits coming from the U.S., Russia, Germany, Cameroon, England, and even China.  With that in mind, I am just wondering who you all are?  I would love to find out.  So, if you are a regular reader or just popped in by accident shoot me a a quick hello sometime and let me know who you are and where you're from.  A simple response to any blog article you are reading would be great.  Thanks a bunch for reading!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Message #10 ~ 2 Corinthians 1:12 "Living In And By Grace"

A Roman slave named Androcles once escaped from his master and fled to the forest.  As he was wandering about he found a cave and entered inside to find shelter. To his horror, he came upon a roaring, growling, and quite angry lion that also appeared to Androcles to be in great pain. At first he turned to flee, but finding that the lion did not pursue him, he turned back and carefully inched closer to him.  As he came near, he saw that the lion’s paw was swollen and bleeding from a deeply imbedded thorn in the center of his paw. In spite of the lion’s growling and shaking of his mane, Androcles pulled out the thorn and bound up the paw of the lion, who was soon able to rise and gently lick the hand of Androcles.  But shortly afterwards both Androcles and the lion were captured, and the slave was sentenced to be thrown to the lion, after the lion was deprived of food for several days. The emperor and all his court came to see the spectacle. As soon as Androcles was led out into the middle of the arena the lion was let loose from his den, and rushed hungry, bounding, and roaring towards his victim. But as soon as he reached Androcles he recognized his friend, and fawned upon him, and licked his face like a friendly dog. The emperor, completely amazed, summoned Androcles, who told him the whole story. The emperor released both the lion and the slave—telling his royal court that the only thing that could turn a wounded, hurt, angry, mean, and wild lion into a tame, gentle, calm, and loving friend was love.

Love, indeed, is a powerful thing.  It can tame and soften the wildest and hardest of hearts…..but only if it is believed, embraced, and experienced. And the fact is, that there are many within the church right now, who although knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are still struggling with the wounds of their past which tends to make them act more like wild lions than gentle sheep. And the reason for the struggle is they simply have not begun to orient their lives around the Gospel and its good news of what Jesus has done for them. They are so fixated on what they think God expects of them and with earning His approval and with the insecurities that come from constantly feeling like they have to do more to experience His pleasure that they really do not understand Christ’s love for them and thus cannot enjoy it. They keep working harder, staying busier, doing more, all the while enjoying their Faith and the Lord less and thus, have become grouchy Christians—thinking that working for God is the same as worshipping God. 

Whether you serve God with joy or merely serve Him out of duty—whether you enjoy Him or endure Him has everything to do with what is motivating you. A sense of having to continually earn God’s favor, and make up for past failures turns ministry into misery, service into slavery, obedience into lifeless orthodoxy, enthusiasm for God into endurance of God, and delightful worship into dead works . On the other hand, the knowledge that you already have His favor and cannot lose it, that you are completely and comprehensibly acceptable to God, that you already have all of His approval, and that you have nothing to make up for in terms of your past and present sins—turns insecure, self-centered, overly critical, defensive, proud, hurting, wounded, and mean spirited believers into loving, kind, gentle, powerful spiritual warriors—who are also a joy to be around.

And that which makes the difference in what kind of believer you are is whether you know and understand the grace of God toward you and then live your life in and by this grace. You see, it is one thing to know, understand, and believe the Gospel of God’s Grace—but it is entirely another to experience it in such a way that it fundamentally changes us so that it becomes the source of our identity, strength, security, and joy.

You see, the grace of God toward us who believe is meant not only to be known and understood but also the very truth we orient our lives around.
That is what Paul did—that is how he lived his life in the world and in the church. And before we move out of 2 Corinthians 1:12, I want us to take another look at this verse and consider what it means to live our lives in and by the Gospel which he simply identifies as living in the grace of God. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 1:12.

Two weeks ago, we saw what Paul said about our conscience and this week we’ll see what he says about living our lives as believers in the world and in the church as those who are living in the realm of God’s grace and enjoying it. Let’s look at what he says in this verse. He makes the point that his conduct both in the world among unbelievers and with believers in the church in Corinth was the same. He didn’t live one way with believers and another way with unbelievers. And his conduct in both spheres was characterized by living his life for God so that everything he did was done with God’s glory and God’s best interests in mind. That is what the word the NASV translates as “holiness” and the ESV translates as “simplicity” and the NIV translates as “integrity” really is talking about—living your life selflessly for God and His glory—holding nothing back. It’s a hard word to define but that is the basic gist of it.

Paul is saying is that he lived his life for God and God alone with really no thought given to what mattered to him and this brought him joy—its what he lived for and was even willing to die for according to Philippians 1:21 where he says:  “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  And then he says that he lived his life in godly sincerity which simply means he was the real deal.  He wasn’t putting on an act or airs.  He really meant what he said—God was his life and his joy!  And then he tells us why he lived this way by first of all stating what he was not motivated by and then what he was motivated by.  He says, that he lived for God, served God, and did really hard things for God and essentially was willing to give up everything for God both among unbelievers and believers, NOT “in fleshly wisdom” BUT “in the grace of God”.  In others words he was not motivated to serve God and please God and live for God out of fleshly wisdom.

 So, what’s fleshly wisdom?

Fleshly wisdom is that wisdom that unbelievers use and live their lives by.
It is the world’s wisdom or the world’s way of seeing and living life. It is a wisdom that promotes and honors pride, personal achievement, self-reliance, a win at all costs attitude, a believe in yourself mentality, an “I’ll earn my own way type of independence” that is often manifested in a  religious, moralistic, I am responsible to earn God’s approval, works-based righteousness.  Paul makes mention of it in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 when he makes the point that people who operate by the wisdom of this world or “fleshly wisdom” as he describes it here--want to be able to stand before God and man and say—“I made it.  I was good enough.  I pleased God and He is so impressed with me that heaven will be honored to have me as a resident.”  And Paul makes the point in this passage in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 that no one will be saved by this kind of thinking and that God has ensured that in saving people—no one will be able to boast at all in their salvation.  And what Paul is saying in our passage here in 2 Corinthians is that this attitude of trying to impress God with our religion, our lives, our works, our service, and even our sacrifices has no bearing with Him.  It is the opposite of living in and by grace and it should never serve as our motivation as believers.

You see, Paul was NOT living his life for the Lord and desiring to honor Him by doing the things that pleased Him out of an attitude of fear or of having to earn or keep God’s approval, or attain to God’s standard, or measure up to other believers, or to be pleasing to God, or to remain acceptable to God.
Rather, in living for the Lord and giving his all for the Lord, Paul’s motivation and enablement was the grace of God.

Now what does that mean?

It means that he was not loving God and serving God and obeying God to get something from God or earn his acceptance with God or become more acceptable to God or feel more pleasing to God or become more important to God or to earn God’s approval or to keep God from bringing bad things into his life.  Rather, he was living for the Lord, serving the Lord, loving the Lord, and even sacrificing for the Lord because he knew he already was fully acceptable to God and completely pleasing to God, and as important to God as he could ever be, and altogether absolutely perfectly approved by God.

In other words, he lived a “grace-oriented” life in which he did not have to perform for God so as to earn God’s approval, acceptance, love, mercy and help.  Rather, he was able to relax in his Faith—knowing that as a believer in Christ he was as accepted by God and as acceptable to God and as approved by God and as pleasing to God as he would ever be regardless of what he did or did not do.  That is what it means to “live in and by grace”.  This is what it means to believe the Gospel as a believer!

The Gospel is not about what God wants us to do for Him!
It is about what God has done for us!

That’s why He is The Initiator, The Lover, The Worker, The Giver, The Blesser, The One Who Saves and we are the responders, the loved, the worked for, the receivers, the blessed, and the ones who are saved.

And so when we serve the Lord and give to the Lord and sacrifice for the Lord it is not to get or to be blessed it is because we have been blessed and have received and are continuing to receive from Him.  We don’t obey God to become accepted by Him—we obey Him because we already are accepted and loved and approved as much as we will ever be--completely—that’s grace—that’s the Gospel!

But we struggle with this because as Martin Luther wrote back in the 16th century—“Religion is the default mode of the human heart.”  You see, even though we know what the Gospel is and that we are saved by grace not our own works—we continually are pulled in the direction of thinking that our acceptance with God and our being pleasing to God is the result of our works.  And that is what “religion” is all about—man trying to approach, relate to, and find acceptability with God by his own merits and works.

Listen to this tyrade on “religion” from an Episcopalian priest named Robert Capon who, by-the-way, died this past Friday.

“What role [or room] have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.
Religion consists of all the things the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever finally succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade.  The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.”

Wow!  He hit the nail right on the head!

So, if you are basing your personal relationship with God and your acceptance with God and whether or not you are pleasing to God on your performance rather than upon His grace—you are practicing religion not Biblical Grace-oriented Christianity!  And if this kind of unbiblical “religious” thinking is not corrected by becoming Gospel-centered in our thinking it will make us radically insecure in how we think God feels toward us.

Thus, the need to live in and by grace.  But we can only do this if we understand and orient our lives around what God says is true about us in Christ. But keep in mind, we will never live by God’s grace and enjoy God’s grace and display God’s grace until we come to that point in our Christian experience where we accept the fact that we are perfectly accepted by God because of Christ. And so briefly let me tell you two things about yourself and how God sees you if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Number One—your identity before God has been completely changed.  Look at Galatians 2:20.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The personal pronoun “I” in this verse is referring to your personal identity and Paul says that if you are a believer in Christ—your personal identity which includes everything about you including your sin has been crucified with Christ.  This means that in God’s sight your identity as a sinner—as one who was hostile to God and in fact, the enemy of God and one who was condemned by God has been destroyed and no longer exists—it was crucified with Christ at the cross.  This is the doctrine we refer to as the believer’s “union with Christ.”

Thus, all of our sin and even our identity as a sinner no longer exists in God’s sight. Therefore, God is not holding any of our sins, past-present-or future against us because our personal identity as a sinner has no bearing with God. As a believer in Christ—your sin is no longer your identity. Your sinful mess was paid for and removed from you by God’s Messiah so that who you are now has nothing to do with who you were then! You have been given a NEW identity and that new identity is Christ. Your identity before God has absolutely nothing to do with you and your failures or your successes.  Rather your identity has everything to do with Christ.

That’s what the verse means when it says—“It is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me.”  God sees you and me as having Christ’s identity—as being Christ Himself in His Perfect Sinless Humanity.  Who Christ was and is in His perfect sinless humanity is who you are—that is your identity before God. That is how God sees you--He sees you as though you were Christ—such is the grace of God that Christ’s status, stature, and standing before God are now ours because we have been given His identity. And as a believer you gain all the benefits of Christ’s life, His reputation, His acceptance with God, His approval by God, and the very credit for His righteousness.  His life is your life in that His identity is now your identity because God sees you in union with Him.

Therefore, you right now are as acceptable to God in Christ Jesus as you will ever be. You are as approved by God as you will ever be.  You are as pleasing to God as you will ever be because you are as pleasing to God as Christ Himself is. Listen, it doesn’t get any better than this.  You are as pleasing to God right now in Christ Jesus as you will ever be and in fact there is no way you could be any more pleasing to God than you are right now!

Now, the second truth I want to leave you with that will help you to fight the insecurity of feeling as though you need to earn God’s favor and love is found in Ephesians 3:14-19God is telling us here that instead of worrying about how much we love Him—we should be concentrating on how much He loves us!  His concern is not how well we perform and how much we do for Him but how well we comprehend and experience his love for us!
He wants us to know that we are loved beyond comprehension and that nothing absolutely nothing can change that.

Therefore, you cannot do anything to become more loveable or pleasing or acceptable to God.  We do not serve God to become more pleasing to Him.  We do not obey Him to become more acceptable to Him.  We do not work for Him to be more pleasing to Him. Rather, we do these things because we are already accepted and as pleasing and as loved as we can possibly be.

In fact, Zephaniah 3:17 says concerning those whom the Lord has saved:

“The LORD our God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

And this applies to everyone who is in Christ Jesus.  There are no exceptions to the rule!

This is the battle of Faith for every believer—believing that regardless of what you feel about yourself, know about yourself, and find hideous about yourself—that in Christ Jesus—God delights in you and finds you perfectly pleasing and acceptable in His sight—because Christ is your new identity.

And recognizing and orienting your life around this truth is what it means to live in and by grace.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Message #9 "The Soul's Early Warning System" 2 Corinthians 1:12

In 1984 an Avianca jet crashed in Spain killing 181 people.  Investigators studying the accident made an eerie discovery.  The Black Box in the cockpit where they record the dialogue of the pilots and the controllers revealed that several minutes before the fatal impact, a shrill computerized synthesized voice from the plane's automatic warning system told the crew repeatedly in English, "Pull up, pull up, pull up."  The pilot inexplicably snapped back, "Shut up, Gringo," and switched the system off. Minutes later the plane smashed into the side of a mountain and everyone died.

That's a perfect example of how people treat the warning messages of their conscience. The conscience which every human being possesses is there by God's designed, built into the fabric of every human being as a moral warning system. And the reason I am talking about the conscience today is because our next passage in 2 Corinthians talks about the conscience—Paul’s conscience to be exact.  So turn there with me—to 2 Corinthians 1:12 and let’s read it.

Paul is in the very uncomfortable and undesirable position of having to defend himself and his ministry because some false teachers in Corinth were criticizing him and in fact bringing charges against his character, conduct, and teaching before the church.  But, before we go any farther, let me just say that if you are involved in ministry, especially in a leadership type of ministry, you need to understand that criticism is part of the job.

People are naturally critical and they especially enjoy criticizing those people and those ministries that are doing something that appears to be blessed by the Lord.  I learned along time ago that where there is light there are bugs.  So, the key is—if you are going to last in ministry—you have to stay long enough to outlast your critics.  But we’ll talk more about that another time. What I want you to see today is what Paul appeals to in defending himself from his critics—his own conscience and specifically, his confidence that he had not done anything wrong because he had a clear conscience about the accusations against him.  In essence, his defense is primarily that in all that he said and did in Corinth—He did not violate his conscience.

So, what is the conscience and how does it operate and why would Paul appeal to it as a first line of protection from pursuing wrongdoing as well as a defense of his life and ministry?  Well, as I said, the conscience is the God-designed warning system that is inside of us.  God really hard-wired the conscience into the very framework of the human soul where it resides so it can warn us to pull up before we make the choices that will cause us to crash and burn.  Like pain which warns you that you are hurting your body so you don't further hurt yourself and perhaps even kill yourself, the conscience warns you that you are damaging and perhaps even killing your soul.

Conscience has been defined as "that still, small voice that makes you feel smaller still," or, as one little boy put it, "It is that which feels bad when everything else feels good."  In essence, the conscience is the soul reflecting on your thoughts, actions, and reactions.  The Greek word Paul uses for conscience actually has the idea of “perception” in the sense that our conscience has a perception of everything you and I think, do, and say which it renders judgment upon and then either accuses or approves of us.  Paul makes this point in Romans 2:14-15:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.

So, according to this passage everyone has a conscience and his or her conscience is programed in accordance with that part of God’s Moral Law which is written or known in his heart.  Listen, the reason the unbeliever who has never heard the laws of God sees murder, stealing, lying, and other sinful activities as being wrong is because God hard-wired this information into his or her conscience.  And when a person violates God’s moral law which God has placed within his soul his conscience begins to accuse him.  If he obeys God’s moral law inscribed on his heart by God his conscience approves of his actions.

But note as well that the conscience also serves another purpose.  Look at verse 15 again.  Notice that the conscience “bears witness” in regard to the conscience.  It is like the “black box” in an airplane that records everything that is going  on board in that plane’s cockpit.  Similar to this, the conscience acts as a witness to everything a person thinks, says, does, and does not do.
And  look at verse 16 to see what the conscience and its recorded files are used for.  It “bears witness—either accusing or defending a person on the Day of  judgment when he stands before Christ at the Great White Throne in Revelation 20.  

In other words, the main witness to God’s charges against anyone is that person’s own conscience which acts as an on board recorder of everything he or she has ever done.  So, whereas, in Revelation 20:11-15, we are told God opens the books and judges according to a person’s deeds—the person’s own conscience acts as the main witness confirming that all that God has stated is true.

Now, it is not that God’s testimony has to be confirmed as true to be true—no way.  So why does God use the conscience to confirm His judgment?  Because God said that only on the testimony of two or more witnesses can a man be condemned.  Look at Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15.  So, in the end, at the judgment bar of God, the person standing before God literally condemns himself through his own conscience.

But what about the believer—will his conscience bear witness against him as well?

If the conscience of the unbeliever acts as an an on-board sort of “black box” that records everything the unbeliever does so as to confirm God’s charges against him at the Great White Throne Judgment—doesn’t it do the same in the believer’s life as well?  Well whereas, the conscience in the believer and the unbeliever operate the same way and does the same thing—the main difference is that God does not bring any charges against the believer.
Look at Romans 8:33-34.

And secondly, as far as our conscience recording all of our sins—it does!  It has too—that’s how it operates.  And that’s why the writer of Hebrews makes the point in Hebrews 10:22 that your heart—if you are a believer—has been sprinkled clean from your evil conscience.  The literal rendering of the phrase is “having our hearts sprinkled clean from a conscience of evil or filled with evil.

Thus, at salvation our hearts are cleansed from all the evil reports and accusations our conscience has been storing up against us. Thus, when we come before the Lord there is no evil report our conscience can bring against us for our life before salvation because it was cleansed when we embraced Christ as our Savior of all the accumulated records of evil it had against us.  But not only that.  The word “cleansed” is in the perfect tense in Greek which means it is talking about an action performed in the past which has continual ongoing ramifications.

Thus, not only was your heart and conscience cleansed at salvation of all your past sinful deeds—it was also cleansed of all your future evil deeds as well.  You see, when you became a Christian, Hebrews 9:14 says, "The blood of Christ cleansed your conscience."  So, at the point of your salvation, one of the things that happened in you was that the blood of Christ washed your conscience so that it no longer contains any records of sin committed by you—and never will.

Oh, you may still feel guilty from time to time over the sins in your past but that is a false guilt that you need to confront with the Word of God and the fact that He says your evil sinful deeds and thoughts have been deleted from the hard drive of your conscience.  To borrow the words of God Himself, "I've removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, buried them in the depths of the sea, and remember them no more."

So, what role does the conscience play in a believer’s life?

When you became a believer the Holy Spirit immediately indwelt you—came and took up residence in your life—and began the work of sanctification which is essentially making you like Christ.  And one of the things the Holy Spirit does is that He teaches the believer’s conscience most clearly what is right and wrong using the Word of God.

I think this is what the Bible may mean in 1 John 2:27 where we are told that since the Holy Spirit abides in us we have no need for anyone to teach us because the Holy Spirit teaches us about all things.  Well, Christians have always struggled with this verse because it seems to contradict other parts of the Bible that actually tells us God has given us teachers to help us grow in our faith.  Well, it very well may be that what John is referring to is the Holy Spirit being in us—abiding within us—so as to be teaching and confirming to our conscience that the teaching we are receiving is either right or wrong.
You see, the Bible informs our conscience of the truth and the Spirit then illuminates our minds to see the truth and then He enables our conscience to welcome and embrace that truth so that it transforms us from the inside out; and then we begin to develop godly and biblical deep-seated convictions that can guide and direct us.  So, every believer should  have as a goal—the spiritual and biblical training of his or her conscience through continual and consistent exposure to the Bible’s teaching.

Thus, being under the preaching of the Word of God, attending church, and studying your Bible is not a bunch of legalistic stuff you have to do to become acceptable to God.  It’s the stuff you do so as to live and operate at the highest level possible as a believer wanting to enjoy your relationship with the Lord and have a positive impact on others to do the same.

So again, our conscience, upon our being born again to new life in Christ, needs to be reprogramed if it is to function as a spiritual early warning system and guide to our souls.  If it is not reprogrammed it will not be of much help or use to us as believers who no longer exist as people living under the reign of sin but rather who now live under the reign of grace (Rom. 5-6).

A conscience that has not been reprogrammed properly and biblically after a person has come to saving faith in Christ will either be fixated on trying to lead the soul to earn its continued acceptance with God or lead the believer to feeling that since he is accepted by God he can live anyway he pleases.  In other words, the conscience of a new believer has to be reprogrammed and trained in “grace” by the Holy Spirit using the Gospel.  So, if you want to have a conscience that is Gospel-centered which allows you to enjoy your faith, your forgiveness of sins, your reconciliation with God, and your full and complete acceptance with God—you need to train it with the Gospel. 

Thus, the reason Paul devotes the 16 chapters of Romans a Book about the Gospel to believers!  The conscience has to be transformed by the renewing of the believer’s mind so that it will act as a trustworthy guide and warning system when it comes to living because it knows what is good and acceptable to the Lord because it has been taught that (Rom. 12:1-2).  Thus, the need to get new believers under the Word of God, to disciple them, and to ground them in the truth.

When you violate the Truth, your conscience will get your attention!  It will trigger feelings of shame, anguish regret, consternation, anxiety, and even disgrace when you are disobeying the Word.  Sometimes it will make you weep, make you fall on your face and plead with God for forgiveness.  And that's as it should be. That's a fully functioning conscience reacting to the full knowledge of God's truth as communicated to it by the Spirit of God.

On the other hand, when we know God's truth and obey it our conscience will commend us and bring us joy and confidence. It will affirm us.  It will grant us peace and gladness and contentment.  And if as a believer you have been giving yourself to the Word of God and pursuing Him you can trust your conscience as a spiritual early warning system.  It will tell you when your wrong and comfort you when you’re not.  That is what Paul is saying in our text in—2 Corinthians 1:12-14,

“For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world and especially toward you for we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand and I hope you will understand until the end, just as you also partially did understand us that we are your reason to be proud are you also are ours in the day of our Lord Jesus.”

The reason why Paul can be so sure and confident, which is what the word “proud” is really referring to in this verse, that he has not violated his conscience in regard to how he conducted himself in Corinth is because it was not bothering him or plaguing him.  It was affirming him in accordance with what it knew the Word of God taught and the Spirit of God confirmed so that he had a clear and confident conscience with no doubts as to his integrity.  Wow….those who are the most bold are those with clear and undefiled consciences!

Now, he is not saying he is perfect nor is he saying that he never made a mistake—what he is saying however is that when it came to his ministry and his motives for ministry and his methodology in ministry that he operated according to holiness, in godly sincerity, and from an orientation of grace and he has a clear conscience about all this.

But Paul was able to say what so few can say today—even though they are believers—that their conscience is completely clear on any given day and about any given thing.  Paul made it a priority to live his life in such a way so as to keep and maintain a clear conscience because he knew the power and the confidence that flowed from not doubting or condemning your own actions, reactions, and speech.  Listen to what he says in Acts 24:16“So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”

Such was the value of a clear conscience to him—it enabled him to have spiritual boldness and power before God and toward man!  And these two things—spiritual boldness and spiritual power are greatly lacking today in the church, in the family, and in our lives for the simple reason that many professing believers do not strive and work and live and talk and think in such a way as to maintain a clear and undefiled conscience.

If anything, our spiritual weakness and anemia toward unbelievers and in ministry is the result of playing with sins of the heart that our conscience is warning us from.  If anything, our lack of meaningful participation in any kind of ministry that challenges and stretches us beyond trusting in our own resources and strength and abilities is because we lack the boldness a confident and undefiled conscience can give us.

In fact, Paul makes the point in 1 Timothy 1:5 that love—the ability to truly love others is the result of a good conscience.  I mean how can you really be loving others, serving others, bolding proclaiming the Gospel, and pursuing hard things for God when you are putting all your efforts into trying to ignore or argue with your conscience? 

And the only way to appease the conscience and silence its screams to “pull up” before its too late is to change course—repent—confess—make things right and clear your conscience and start living powerfully and boldly again.

Let’s Pray!

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13