Tuesday, February 17, 2009

To Experience His Blessings!

Last Sunday I made a comment that has continued to percolate in my soul. I said, “God blesses those who have committed their lives to Him; He does not bless and then hope for commitment.”

One of the most pressing sources of struggle for most believers is that they do not see God working in their lives. They feel alone, abandoned, lost in their journey. They know that they are saved, they know that Christ has redeemed them, but they feel like they are merely waiting for heaven without enjoying the blessings of God today. Could it be that the reason that so many people feel this way is because we have lost sight of the truth of the statement that “God blesses those who have committed their lives to Him; He does not bless and then hope for commitment?”

Let me give you some scriptures:

Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Do you see what is happening in each of these texts? In each case Paul is talking about the work of God in his life; but he is acutely aware of the fact that he is experiencing God working in his life because he is committed to following hard after God.

You see I think that God is always working in our lives, but it is those who have committed themselves to following hard after Him who are aware that He is working in their lives – and that is the source of real joy and blessing!

Oh to be connected to our creator, to the lover of our souls. Oh to know what it is to walk intimately with Him and to lay our head on His chest and hear Him speak words of love over us!

He is always ready for such an encounter, in fact we are always in His lap - Acts 17:27-28a 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being…’

But to experience His presence we must begin the work that He is empowering us to do. We must commit ourselves to Him. Begin to walk in obedience to God, commit your life to Him – and discover the blessings of intimacy with the Almighty that are right at hand – He is already doing the work in you!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Battle for "Justification by Faith!" - Part 4

Okay what is faith? The scriptures do the best job of defining faith - Hebrews 11:1(NIV) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. So, faith is certainty in something that we do not see and have not experienced. But where does that kind of faith come from as it regards our trust in God? I mean isn’t the scripture clear that I will never place my trust in God because before Christ I only want to flee from God?:

Romans 3:11-12 (NIV)
11 there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

John 1:1-5 (NIV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (emphasis mine)

And here is maybe the most definitive passage for me:

John 3:18-21 (NIV)
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Okay let’s break this down so that we have a clearer understanding of faith:
1. If you believe (have faith) in Christ you are saved
2. If you do not believe (have faith) in Christ then you are condemned
3. We are all in darkness (see the Romans 3 passage above)
4. Darkness flees from light
5. So, we see that we are all without faith and therefore condemned

Okay let’s stop right there for a moment – from this passage (up until verse 20) we see that we are all without faith and therefore condemned – the verdict has been issued! So, how are any of us saved?

Well look again at verse 21: 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

We only come into the light to prove that what has been done in us has been done through God. In other words the only reason that I no longer flee from the light is because God has reached into my darkness and washed me with His light! Therefore my darkness has been driven out by God’s light! I did not choose to have that happen (remember the darkness always flees from the light) – no God decided to cast light into my heart and once He did I delighted to show what He had done in me because I am now redeemed!

So faith is not my gift to God in salvation as though I had partnered with Him in the redemption of my soul. No, faith is God’s gift to me as the vehicle that He uses to connect me with His righteousness so that I might be declared “Not Guilt!”

With this in mind let’s look at a passage that we studied before:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Why is boasting impossible, because it is God would saved me and it is God who gave me the faith to trust Him! My salvation is totally His gift, I only enjoy the gift I do not earn it!!!

Today let us rejoice in the fact that we are justified by God, that He has done the work and that we are merely the recipients of the greatest gift that has even been poured out on humanity! Let us be a people of worship!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Battle for "Justification by Faith!" - Part 3

Okay, let’s get back to our verse that we have been studying:

Romans 4:5 (NIV)
5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Yesterday we established that all of us are wicked, and were wicked when Christ revealed Himself to us and saved us. Today we are going to look at the important topic of works. In other words, “What part do I play in my justification?”

Notice that the passage says that our justification is by no work of our own - to the man who does not work. This statement is the follow-up to the point that Paul has just made in the preceding passage - Romans 4:4 (NIV) 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. It is clear that for justification to be a gift then we can have no part in its presence in our lives.

This truth is corroborated in Romans 6:23 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here we see that all that we can earn through our own efforts is death (eternal separation from the love of God). But that eternal life is a gift of God. (At this point we must remember our study from yesterday – all of us are wicked, in rebellion against God – therefore we are in sin and sin earns us death).

Paul will also tell us that - Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Here again we are told that our salvation is not brought about by any works of our own.

This truth is why there can be no boasting about our salvation – because we have no part in it. We are merely recipients, not partners in our salvation.

But doesn’t the passage say that we must trust God – isn’t that a work? Isn’t our trusting a result of our faith that we have placed in God so that I am a partner with Him in my salvation? Wouldn’t it be true that salvation must be a partnership – Christ giving Himself as the payment for my sin, and my trusting in that payment so that salvation is bestowed on my soul? The only problem with this statement is that it is a violation of the first parts of the verse – 1) We are wicked; 2) Our work would merely make our salvation an obligation, not a gift.

So, we must examine our understanding of faith to make sure that we have a proper view of the topic if we are to rightly understand this important doctrine. We will undertake this topic tomorrow.

Today delight in the fact that God did not require your partnership to save you, but is majestic and powerful enough to assure your salvation through the strength of His own hands – alone!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Battle for "Justification by Faith!" - Part 2

Okay let’s spend a little time looking at some of the passages from scripture that deal with the issue of justification by faith.

The verse that is probably the most comprehensive in all of scripture comes from Paul’s theological treatise to the Romans:

Romans 4:5 (NIV)
5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Let’s start with the obvious issue of the one being justified. The verse tells us that God justifies the wicked. Notice that it does not say that God justifies the righteous, or the morally good, or even the one who has sought after God. No, He justifies the wicked. The one in rebellion. The one who has spent his/her entire life hating God. The one who openly flees from the light of God (John 3:19-20 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.) No God is justifying those who do not want to be a part of the light.

Do, you know who these wicked people are? They are me and you. They are all of us! The scriptures are clear that all of us were wicked people before Christ invaded our lives (Ps 42:1-2; Romans 5:6-11; Colossians 1:21).

So for us to understand the doctrine of Justification by Faith we must understand that the ones being declared “Not Guilty” are absolutely worthy to be called “Guilty” and be condemned to an eternity of God’s wrath. Not only that, but we must acknowledge that we had no righteousness of our own that we could add to the equation to help bring about our pardon. In other words, we had no ability to say, “Though I might be guilty on some points at least I was righteous when I did this or that, so shouldn’t that count for something?” No we stand before God as absolutely guilty with no excuse or payment!

Tomorrow we will look further at this doctrine, but today let it wash over you that without Christ we would all stand before the sure judgment of God as guilty! Let this simple truth allow praise to spring from your lips as you contemplate the wonder of our salvation!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Battle for "Justification by Faith!" - Part 1

As you look over the landscape of Christian history there is one doctrine that has created more debate, more controversy, and more revolution than any other – it is the doctrine of “Justification by Faith.” This one little doctrine was the starting point of the Reformation. It was the central doctrine of Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon. It is on this little doctrine that we see the major fault-lines of debate in almost all Christian circles.

Martin Luther will describe its importance this way: “This doctrine is the head and cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.

John Calvin has this to say on the topic: “Wherever the knowledge of it (justification by faith) is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.

So, what does this simple doctrine mean? Justification means that we are justified before God through the vehicle of faith.

So, I would like to take a minute and break down the aspects of this doctrine:

First we need to understand the word Justification. Justification is a verdict delivered by God in a moment in which He declares that we are “NOT GUILTY” before Him! Justification is the theological term that declares that we are saved and will spend an eternity in heaven.

As orthodox Christians we believe that we are justified (declared not guilty) through faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross. But, from where does that faith come? Is faith my gift to God in salvation? Or is faith God’s gift to me in salvation? How strong does my faith have to be before it is strong enough to be saving (or justifying) faith? Does faith have to be focused on Christ alone or can I be saved by faith in some other savior as long as I am absolutely sincere in my faith in that savior? These are all questions that must be tackled if we are to embrace fully this simple yet powerful doctrine.

I am fearful of this becoming an academic exercise, but I do not want to avoid it merely because it is difficult and requires deep thinking. Over the next several days we are going to take a longer view of the doctrine of Justification by Faith and we are going to attempt to embrace it as the central doctrine of the journey of faith with Jesus Christ. We are going to head down some winding roads, but I believe that both the journey and the destination are glorious! See you back here tomorrow!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Totality of Sin - Part 2

After my last post there was one question that dominated the follow-up discussion, and I would like to touch on it this morning. I was asked, “If everything that we do before coming to Christ is sin, then does that mean that there are no righteous actions performed by those without Christ?” People rightly pointed to those times that God may be directing a non-believer to do some action and they proposed that this made it a righteous action.

My short response to this line of reasoning is that they are correct. It is correct to assume that an action directed by God can be righteous even if preformed by a non-believer. But where we get off-track is when we assume that these righteous acts are devoid of sin.

Let me illustrate my position with a story from the Old Testament. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers it was a sin on their part. But later we will see that God was directing their actions so that Joseph would be strategically placed in Egypt for the preservation of the Israelite people. Joseph will acknowledge the divine hand of God behind their actions when he proclaims, Genesis 50:20 (NIV) 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Was the work of the brothers righteous? Well if we believe that the direction of God makes an action righteous then we would have to say “yes.” But was it also sin? Absolutely! You see the action itself does not determine whether something is sin as much as the attitude of the heart. We can do things for the wrong reasons and have them be sin.

I come back to Paul’s incredible criteria for sin Romans 3:23 (NIV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Anything short of God’s glory is sin. This brings me back to my original point. I contend that only God works for His glory therefore only those who have Christ in their lives can work for God’s glory. I may be obedient to God yet not do it for His glory. I may do right things, but not for His glory. I may accomplish morally right outcomes, yet they were not attempted for His glory. As long as something was not done for the glory of God then it is sin, and it is impossible for those without Christ to be motivated by God’s glory so all actions before Christ are tainted by sin.

I do not say this to minimize the good that those without Christ can do in the world. But to assume that in some way they have escaped the reaches of sin with their goodness would be faulty.

So, why would we even want to contemplate the depth of sin? Because it thrusts us back into the discussion of the depth of God’s grace and power to transform us! When we see how completely sinful we were we are that much more thankful for the cleansing He brings! This truth above all others should drive us to worship, so let us be a people of worship today!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Totality of Sin

At our weekly Elder meetings we have a time where we discuss a theological issue. Last night during the course of our conversation I made the following claim, “EVERYTHING we do before we accept Christ is sin!” This statement brought about many thoughtful looks as the men considered the all-encompassing nature of the statement. So today I would like to take just a minute to detail why I believe this statement to be true.

In the book of Romans chapter 3 the Apostle Paul defines the parameters for sin: Romans 3:23 (NIV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In other words, everything that does not measure up to God’s glory is sin. So no matter how good my intentions or morally right my actions it is impossible for me to reach the level of God’s glory without God.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah will describe our attempts at righteousness this way - Isaiah 64:6a (NIV) 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… The Hebrew word that he uses for filthy is literally translated menstrual. In other words even our most righteous actions are disgusting when held against the backdrop of God’s glory.

Sin is the essence of our lives from the moment of our conception. The Psalmist will say it this way: Psalm 51:5 (NIV) 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

The Apostle Paul will summarize the absolute totality of sin and the inescapable hold that it had on his life before he accepted Christ in the often misinterpreted passage from Romans 7 (many have applied this passage to the way that believers continue to struggle with sin after salvation, but that is not the point that Paul is making in this text – he has been developing, throughout the book of Romans, that all of humanity is in sin – the Gentiles, the Jews, and even Paul was a slave to sin before Christ. It is while making this point regarding his life before surrendering to the Lord that Paul utters the following confession):
Romans 7:14-24 (NIV)
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Paul is confessing that before he came to accept Christ as his Savior that no matter what he did, no matter his intentions, it was always sin. This is why he will end the passage with the mournful exclamation, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Jesus will boil the entire argument down to its most simple element when He says, John 8:34 (NIV) 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. In these simple yet powerful words of Christ that we find the inescapable truth that before we surrender our lives to Him we are slaves to sin doing only that which sin prescribes.

But in the middle of this depravity, in the middle of our absolute rebellion against God we have an incredible hope – Jesus Christ! Let’s go back to the passage from Romans 7. Paul has just confessed that he was absolutely sinful and he asks the simple yet tragic question, Who will rescue me from this body of death? In the very next verse he gives us the answer - Romans 7:24-25a (NIV) 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! It is only Jesus who can rescue us from the totality of our sin; it is only Jesus who can bring ANY righteousness or sinlessness to our lives.

And the outcome of Jesus’ work is that I am freed from my slavery to sin and made a slave to righteousness - Romans 6:18 (NIV) 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Here Paul tells us that in the same way I was incapable of righteousness before my salvation; after Christ the default actions of my life are righteousness.

Our Worship Pastor, Wayne Bartley, is constantly making the statement that “Everything that we do in life, other than willful sin, is worship!” This sentiment is echoed in the words of the New Testament when Paul writes to the church in Corinth - 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV) 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Where before Christ I was unable to do anything that was not sin, after Christ even my eating and drinking is for His glory and is an act of worship! So complete is the transformation that Christ brings, so absolute is our conversion that we are now able to bring Him glory in even the most mundane of tasks!

Before Christ we were incapable of any good thing, any act that was not saturated in sin. But praise be to God that after Christ we are unleashed through His power and righteousness at work in us to bring Him glory at all times and in all ways. Let these truths well up in us as a foundation for worship!!!