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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Christmas In July And Romans 10:4

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Romans 10:4 "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

Introduction:

I've always thought it quite odd that commercials for Christmas shopping begin in July. It seems odd that in the heat of summer there are ads with snowmen, evergreen trees and the lights of Christmas. Of course, all diligent people who know the nature of Christmas shopping exercise prudence in starting to shop early. The stores know that what they advertise in July will prepare people for that big day - Christmas day. What may seem sort of out-of place and irrelevant in the summer will give way to a sigh of relief on the morning of December 25th. The ads, strange commercials and the like are a means to an end. 

Understanding the meaning of "Christ is the end of the law"

Whenever we consider the purpose of the Old Testament: with its rituals, law, Patriarchs, prophecies, promises and the nation of Israel - there is a sense in which all of those different elements are advertising for some big upcoming event and Person. The word for "end" used by Paul in Romans 10:4 speaks of a purpose, a fulfillment and a completion of a process. Jesus Christ is the intended subject and object of Old Testament expectation and Biblical salvation. 

Christ did not come to bring an end to the Law, but rather to show us what it looks like when it is being fully lived out and to complete the righteousness which it demanded. In a wider sense, Christ's incarnation, cross, resurrection and ascension fulfills and explains everything we find in the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44). Most English translations render the word as "end". Consider how various English translations render Romans 10:4

Romans 10:4 (NIV) "Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes."

Romans 10:4 (NLT) "For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God."

The word translated "end" or "culmination" or "already accomplished" is the Greek noun "telos", which we find in English words like "television" and "telescope". With a "television", I'm literally getting a broadcast of a full and complete event as it is unfolding in real-time. 

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With a telescope, I am "scoping out" the full and complete range of stars and planets that fall within my line of view.

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Such ideas describe how Christ was the fulfillment of God's revealed plan of salvation in the Old Testament. Take notice of some texts that aid us in understanding Romans 10:4 - 

John 8:56 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Hebrews 1:1-2  "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world."

1 Peter 1:10-11 "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow."

Like televisions and telescopes, the prophecies, promises and people of the Old Testament were televisions and telescopes through which people could see the "end" focus: Christ Jesus.

Without Jesus Christ, there is no salvation

What would had been the outcome if Jesus had not come, died on the cross nor raised from the dead? We would be forever looking for the culmination of God's promises and predictions which were made in the Old Testament. If God the Father and Son had not covenanted in eternity to supply the salvation necessary to redeem sinners; if the Son had not agreed to be incarnated as the man Jesus of Nazareth; if He in turn had not agreed to go to the cross and raise from the dead - all bets would be off. To say Jesus Christ is the "end" of righteousness means there is no more to be done. 

Much like the enthusiasm that accompanies Christmas morning, Christ's arrival and accomplishment brought with it joy and a sense of relief. The wait was over. Now it is the responsibility of every Christian to tell as many people as possible that He has come. Their efforts to try harder and do better are unnecessary. The gift of eternal life is just that - a gift. 

Dr. Adrians Rogers once summarized all other religions by noting that they could be summarized as "do-do-do-do". However, Christianity can be summed up with respect to the salvation offered and received upon saving faith: "d-o-n-e". So when you really think about it - maybe Christmas ads in July aren't so strange after-all. God used all of human history, the nation of Israel and 39 Old Testament books to prepare and put forth the only Savior that can save - Jesus Christ. Now it is a matter of receiving by grace through faith His incomparable gift! 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Problem With Man-Made Salvation - Romans 10:1-4

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Romans 10:1-4 "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

Introduction:

I'm a big coffee drinker. Years ago I began drinking coffee while working on night shift at a manufacturing plant. My recipe for the perfect cup of coffee included a little bit of milk, the coffee and a few teaspoons of sugar. One day when I had awoken from my sleep to get ready for the day, I made my typical cup of coffee. The night before had been particularly long. I was bleary eyed and not fully awake. I poured in the milk, the coffee and what I thought was sugar. When I began to sip and savor that coffee, I immediately was jarred awake and had to spit it out in the sink. Why? I had unwittingly substituted what I thought was sugar. In the sugar's place I had spooned in table salt! The perfect cup of coffee recipe was ruined. The coffee was unfit for human consumption and was worthy of a trip down the sink.

Do you realize when it comes to changing lives, people try the wrong recipe? Human beings are born with what we call "original sin", meaning that the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was transmitted down through every generation (see Genesis 3:1-14; Romans 5:11-21). This "original sin" has warped and ruined the human mind, will and emotions - resulting in man's inward curvature toward himself and away from God. Human beings know they are guilty and sinful, and thus try to manufacture their own version of salvation. 

In Romans 10:1-4, we find the Apostle Paul mourning over the spiritual condition of his fellow Jews. The nation of Israel alone had received God's Law, the revelation of the Old Testament and the promises (see Romans 9:1-5). Furthermore, from the humanity of the Jewish nation would derive the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Tragically, Israel in Paul's day had most of the ingredients needed for salvation, save one: a heart of faith. 

Man-made salvation is described by Paul in Romans 10:1-4 as having something, missing something, wanting something and rejecting something.

1. First, we find that man-made salvation does have one thing: Desire to worship. Now of course, the unbelieving heart won't worship the true and living God. Sadly, the Jews in Paul's day "had a zeal for God", but, not according to knowledge. They worshiped what they thought was in the right way. Instead, they had mixed together the truths of God as given to them in the Old Testament with centuries and layers of human tradition. When we don't worship in God's way (Jesus), we won't get to the true and living God. 

The result? The people were more zealous for the trappings of their religion and man-made system than the God of revelation. Nevertheless, the human propensity to worship stems from being made in His image, having eternity written on the heart (see Genesis 1:26-28; Ecclesiastes 3:11). Unless there is genuine salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, this impulse will be misguided and steer the person further and further away from God. 

2. In addition to having one thing, man-made salvation is missing one thing: saving knowledge of God. We read in Romans 10:2 "For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge." The Greek word used by Paul in Romans 10:2 speaks of a specific knowledge, a saving knowledge of God. To know about God, His oneness in being, His eternality, His invisible nature, and to even have a fear of God in His revealed attributes gets one in no better position than a fallen angel - a demon (see Romans 1:18-20; James 2:19). It is not enough to know about God. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing the true and living God and Jesus Christ, His Son, Whom He sent (see John 17:3).  

3. So man-made salvation has something, is missing something and thirdly wants something. Paul states in Romans 10:3 "For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." Righteousness refers to "rightness with God". Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, who weaved together garments of fig leaves to cover their fallen nakedness, human beings attempt to cover their fallen condition before God that knows all and sees all. Unless the righteous garment of Christ's perfect life and substitutionary death is received by outstretched arms of faith, fallen man will continue to seek after their own way of salvation. 

Anytime we try to manufacture our own spirituality or salvation, we by default are rejecting what God has already, freely and victoriously provided in Jesus Christ. 

4. So human attempts at salvation have a desire to worship (albeit anything but God), are missing a saving knowledge of God and seek to establish the standard of righteousness that will silence the condemnations of God's law and conscience. But now let's lastly consider what human attempts at salvation reject: Christ Himself. Paul writes in Romans 10:4 "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

What does Paul mean when he states that Christ is the "end" of the law? The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains:

"The Law did not and could not of itself provide righteousness before God for individuals (cf. Rom. 3:20; 7:7). But Christ fulfilled the Law (Matt. 5:17–18) by keeping it perfectly during His sinless life (cf. John 8:46) and then gave His life in payment for the penalty of sin and the broken Law (cf. Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:13–14). The Law then pointed to Him as the Source of the God-provided righteousness it could not supply (Gal. 3:24)." 

To give another illustration, think of the relationship between a map and a particular destination you may have in mind when traveling. The map is but the means to the destination. You may use a physical map or use a gps. The gps or map is not the destination, but instead is telling you how to get to the destination. The map or gps does not contain within itself the destination. Instead, the destination is external to the map or gps. Once you arrive at your destination, you don't keep staring at the map or fiddling with your gps for entertainment. What do you do? You get out of the car and begin to enjoy and explore your destination. 

Sadly, many people will try to find where they are going rather than heeding a map or gps. I don't know about you, but I on occassion will shut off the gps (maybe the little voice is annoying me or maybe I think I know better than it does). I get lost, frustrated and end up missing out. In like manner, the Law of God points me to the cross. Unless unbelieving man has "recalculated" as it were at the cross, he or she will continue driving in the wrong direction. 

Closing thoughts:

Having the wrong approach or wrong elements for salvation is much like getting lost or drinking a really bad cup of coffee. Unless we have Christ, we don't have salvation. Unless we receive Christ, we will persist in rejecting what God is offering to us. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Introducing The Mere Christian Approach To Communicating And Defending The Gospel

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Acts 11:23-26 "Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

Introduction: Defining Mere Christianity

Whenever one talks about communicating and defending the Christian worldview - which is the best approach? Furthermore, if one is attempting to communicate or defend Christianity - which Christian tradition or "brand" best represents the case for Christian theism? One twentieth century writer chose to do a series of radio broadcast that eventually became a book entitled: "Mere Christianity". That author, C.S Lewis, produced his series of lectures and the book, which, in his own words, summarizes the "mere Christianity" approach: 

"Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." 

In reading the introduction to Lewis' book, one discovers that his term "Mere Christianity" was borrowed from an earlier 17th century Christian pastor and theologian Richard Baxter. Baxter was a Puritan pastor who desired to communicate and defend the Christian faith in his context - 17th century Anglican England. Lewis saw in Baxter a potential method in which he could set forth the Christian faith in what was his post-war twentieth-century English setting.

Lewis then captures the essence of "Mere Christianity" in the following famous and helpful word-picture:

"I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires, chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in."

Such thoughts drive me to consider Lewis' contribution as a valid method for communicating and defending the Christian worldview today. We will first note the contents and argument of "Mere Christianity". We will then consider some leading Christian thinkers and institutions that have adopted the "Mere Christianity" approach as evidence for its enduring and effective appeal in reaching a non-Christian culture with the claims of Christianity. Then as a final set of thoughts, we will propose that this method is effective in taking up the task of communicating and defending the Gospel.

A Brief Summary Of C.S Lewis' "Mere Christianity"

In turning to C.S Lewis' work "Mere Christianity", a simple and straightforward strategy is laid out for what constitutes the communication and defense of the Christian faith. Lewis divides his overall work into "Books", with four such divisions covering the following main points:

Book 1: Right And Wrong As A Clue To The Meaning Of The Universe

Lewis' first major plank for presenting "Mere Christianity" centers on the assumption that our universe is not just a physical, but also a moral reality. Five main sections comprise this first leg of "Mere Christianity", spelling out Lewis' version of the moral argument for God's existence. 

Book 2: What Christians Believe

This second major plank of "Mere Christianity" centers on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The final and fifth section entitled: "The Practical Conclusion", summarizes what lies at the heart of the "Mere Christian" approach to the core of Christian doctrine. Lewis writes:

"The Perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man. Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in his conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures."

Book 3: Christian Behavior

This third major leg of Lewis' overall case for the Christian faith is the longest. Much like the Apostle James, Lewis finds the greatest evidence for the reality of the Christian faith to be found in how it changes those who are followers of Christ. The scope of the "Mere Christianity" approach to Christian apologetics and communication is seen in the number of topics covered by Lewis. For example, in Lewis' time, the popularization of Freud's psychoanalyisis was sweeping Europe and America. Such a movement was attempting to redefine humanity apart from God and to recast people in terms of their underlying drives. 

Lewis asserts that apart from God's existence and the reality of Jesus Christ - there can be no justification for morality, let alone Christianity. This heavy emphasis on the grounding of moral values and duties in God and the necessity of a changed life for those claiming Christianity is what makes "Mere Christianity" a perennially useful resource.

Book 4: Beyond Personality - Or First Steps In the Doctrine Of The Trinity

In Lewis' final installment of Mere Christianity, one finds a laying out of a Trinitarian concept of God - and the life-changing implications that follow. Lewis notes:

"I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God. Wrong ideas about what that life is will make it harder."

Centering around the Personability of God, Lewis develops his final section around demonstrating the reasonability and plausibility of God being Tri-personal. In establishing God as Personal, Lewis shows how commitment to this God, as decisively revealed in and by Jesus of Nazareth, makes Christianity both "easy" and "hard". 

In sum, the easiness of which Lewis speak points back to what was achieved by Christ on the sinner's behalf. Receiving all that Christ did and is by faith means that I don't have to jump through hoops to attain it. With that said, the "hard" part of Christianity comes with counting the cost and recognizing that following after Jesus isn't a call to be "a nice-person", but a "new person". Heeding the call to be a "new creature" means dying to self, the old habits and old ways of thinking and adopting daily by faith what Christ has set forth in the Bible. Lewis notes:

"It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call 'ourselves' out of the way and let Him takes us over, the more truly ourselves we become."

Mere Christianity then is not just an apologetic strategy, nor just another approach to communicating the Christian faith. Lewis' project aims not at just making converts - but disciples of Jesus Christ. 

The Mere Christian Approach As a Major Strategy For Communicating The Christian Faith in the 21st century

Since Lewis' book was published, major Christian ministries have adopted his approach. In reading a recent autobiography by Liberty University's Elmer Towns, indirect-appeal to this sort of approach explains the wide-variety of Christian students that enroll and graduate from Liberty. In terms of a more overt reliance upon Lewis' "Mere Christianity" method, one only need to look at one of the leading institutions on the forefront of Christian Apologetics and Christian Ministry - Houston Baptist University. Other examples of leading Christian ministries demonstrate how far-reaching Lewis' project as shaped a generation of Christian thinkers:

1. William Lane Craig, a Christian Philosopher and Theologian, founder of the ministry "Reasonable Faith"

2. J.P Moreland, a scholar and professor at Talbot School of Theology who has written numerous articles and books 

3. Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek and other leading Christian apologists regularly appeal to Lewis' work to one degree or another in their public debates, books and lectures 

Closing thoughts

Today we considered C.S Lewis' work "Mere Christianity" as a valid method for communicating and defending the Gospel. We were mainly concerned at laying out the basic contents and argument of the book, as well as understanding why this approach is worth adopting as a major method for communicating the Christian faith. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Ultrasound Of Divine Love In Salvation

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Psalm 139:13-16 "For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them."

Jeremiah 1:4-5  "Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Galatians 1:15-16b "But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles."

Introduction: Ultrasounds

We have four wonderful children. I can recall when I first saw each one while the doctors and nurses performed an ultra sound of my wife's womb. It is truly a remarkable moment when your child's image appears on that little tiny screen. In the latter weeks of the pregnancy, she and I could discern features that resembled each side of our respective families. As I would get those first images in my eye and mind, I can honestly tell you that love swelled up in my heart. 

That little one inside my wife's womb was ours. Even though I hadn't the chance yet to hold that little one, feel its fingers squeeze my own nor hear its cooing; nevertheless, I loved him or her. By the day of birth, the love was already there. It is fair to say that my experience of pre-loving and seeing my children's images on the ultrasound was a faint analogy of what the Bible calls "God's foreknowledge". 

In the above opening passages, we find reference to God having "foreknown" David, Jeremiah and the Apostle Paul. We see those first glimpses of Biblical "ultrasounds", as each man describes how God foreknew each of them before any days of life had begun. 

Certainly God had chosen to use them as His vessels of communication. God had already known about David, Jeremiah and Paul before they were born, before they were conceived - before time began. Today's post will aim to connect the Biblical teaching on God's "foreknowledge" to His particular love for particular people (like David, Jeremiah, Paul and other believers).

Biblical Ultrasound #1: David 

When we think of David for example, did God decide to set his affection upon David before David had even thought about loving God? Both the Old and New Testaments affirm that David was sought by God for the purpose that He might raise Him up to be a man after His own heart (see 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 7:46; 13:22). 

God already had David in the sonar screen of His omniscience. Sometimes reference is made to what is called God's "supercomprehension" - which means that God knows each of the creatures in ways that not even that creature could possibly know. God knew what each of His free-will creatures would do in particular places and times. 

As we already saw in Psalm 139, God had already marked out David's days. God foreknew David, which is to say, God fore-loved David. And yet, we also know too that David was a man that loved God and was clearly acquainted with what it meant to love God from an early age. David loved God because God had first loved him. God's foreknowledge of David did not preclude David's own free-moral agency from genuinely pursuing God. God's grace and Divine calling on David's life gave the context and the means for David's human responsibility to respond and freely follow. 

God's reasons for loving David are never stated beyond the fact that He loved and favored David. We know from reading David's life in 1 & 2 Samuel that some horrendous sins would be committed along the way. Yet, God ever loved him. Followers of Jesus Christ can also say the same thing about themselves. God's love for any of His people is not based upon what that person would or would not do, but rather what God wanted to do in that person's life to redeem them from darkness to life (see Romans 8:28-31).

God's covenant with David, which would bring about the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, was based upon God's covenant love for him (2 Samuel 7:13-16; Romans 1:3). God's fore-loving of David did not preclude nor negate any free-decisions David would make. As noted already, despite making some very terrible choices, David was still used by God and God's ultimate purposes for Him were still brought to pass. These realities can be also said of every person who has believed and repented of their sins throughout redemptive history (see 1 John 4:19).

Biblical Ultrasound #2: Jeremiah 

What of Jeremiah? What was God's thoughts toward him? The rest of Jeremiah 1:6-8 unfolds God's thoughts toward him: 

"Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, Because I am a youth. 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. 8 “Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord."

Or later on another book authored by Jeremiah, namely Lamentations 3:21-25

"This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him."

God never left Jeremiah's side. Jeremiah was chosen and foreknown by God before Jeremiah had been born, before time itself had began (see Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4-5). God's love toward Jeremiah was pre-eternal. Such love called and drew Jeremiah out of the mass of humanity. He gave Jeremiah a call, a purpose and a promise to ever be with him. Such comforting thoughts uphold salvation in both the Old and New Testaments. 

Biblical Ultrasound #3: Saul/Paul 

We then consider the Apostle Paul. Paul, introduced in the New Testament as Saul of Tarsus, was freely and knowingly persecuting Christians (see Acts 9; 22;24). There was nothing in Saul's (i.e Paul's) life that made him commendable or worthy of God's choice to save him and to call him as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:4-6). God's choice to love and show mercy to Paul was for the sake of His Son and loving character.  

Certainly Saul/Paul had done nothing to merit such love. He persecuted Christians and breathed out threats against Christ's people. God's grace broke in and Jesus made Himself known to Saul/Paul. 

In so far as God had foreknown and chosen Paul, it is nonetheless still true that Saul/Paul was responsive to Christ's call to him. In Galatians 2:20, we find Paul's will and God's will intertwined with one another in the living out of the Christian life:  "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

God's foreknowledge and purposes of grace include the free-moral agency of the persons upon whom such purposes come. Time and time again, Paul could only give credit to God as to why he responded to the Gospel, whilst blaming those who reject Christ as being responsible for their own condemnation (see Acts 13:46).

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 reminds us of God's purposes of grace in things like election and foreknowledge as being totally compatible with human responsibility: 

"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility."

Closing thoughts

Today we considered three examples of God's people whom were foreknown or fore-loved by God. Such a Divine initiative in vocation and salvation is God's eternal love directed towards His people before they ever existed or even before time began. Such pre-eternal love is person-specific, and includes the free-moral decisions of that person. God not only knows the ends of all things, but included means (such as human responsibility) in His decision to bring about our world populated by human free-moral agents. Why is it that any follower of Jesus Christ loves God? because God first loved them (Romans 8:29-31; 1 John 4:19). The great 19th century Baptist preacher C.H Spurgeon once noted:

"If there are some whom God will save, then I know also who they are, for He tells me they are such as repent of sin, confess it, forsake it and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Urging All Christians To Keep The Fire Of God Burning Brightly In Their Lives

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Leviticus 9:22-24 "Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces."

Introduction: The need to keep the fire burning

I was thinking upon the above passage of scripture regarding the beginnings of the priesthood in Old Testament Israel. Aaron, Moses' brother, was chosen by God to be the first high priest of Israel. His family and clan and tribe were the chosen portion of Israel that were set aside by God to represent His interests to the people. The Book of Leviticus represents the Israelite's first month or two of life following their Exodus from Egypt. We see the beginnings of their journeys and the start of a ministry. As God was finalizing all of the instructions to Aaron and his sons through Moses, the one feature of their calling and office as priests had to do with keeping the fire burning upon the altar (see Leviticus 6:13).

I can recall in my younger days as a beginning preacher gathering with older pastors at a retreat. One of the men began to sing an old hymn that went something like the following:

"Oh Lord, in my heart, keep the fire burning, burning, burning". 

The rest of the words I cannot recall, but I do remember the depth of walk that older pastor had, and the impression it left on my life. In my beginnings, I knew that if I was going to make it in ministry and daily Christian living, I needed to tend the flame of God burning in my soul by way of the Spirit-filled life.

We need not so much the "forms of Godliness" as we need the fire of God burning in those forms

Undoubtedly the preparation for the moment of the beginnings of Aaron's priesthood is recorded for us in Leviticus 9. The priesthood of Israel was a special office commissioned by God. Aaron and his sons had experienced the prescribed rituals of anointing and donning of garments. However, one thing was needed - "the fire of God". Lest the Spirit of God would come and kindle the altar, the priesthood would remain a ritual - and not a relationship with the covenant keeping God of Israel. 

The scene must had been truly an emotional one as the Jewish Levitical priesthood was getting underway. The people were present. Moses was there. Aaron and his sons were arrayed in their white garments. Then the fire came. The corporate spiritual life of a nation could now officially begin. They had experienced the deliverance by God from Egypt and were at the place God had called them. But until the fire of His presence kindled that altar, the ministry, the life of following God - could not commence nor continue. 

Matthew Henry, the great commentator of old wrote these words: "This fire did, as it were, take possession of the altar. The fire was thus kindled in God’s house, which was to continue as long as the house stood, as we read before, Lev. 6:13. This also was a figure of good things to come."

Henry later writes:

"The Spirit descended upon the apostles in fire (Acts 2:3), so ratifying their commission, as this spoken of here did the priests’. And the descent of this holy fire into our souls to kindle in them pious and devout affections towards God, and such a holy zeal as burns up the flesh and the lusts of it, is a certain token of God’s gracious acceptance of our persons and performances. That redounds to God’s glory which is the work of his own grace in us." 

Henry continues: "Hereby we know that we dwell in God, and God in us, because he hath thus given us of his Spirit, 1 John 4:13. Now henceforward, (1.) All their sacrifices and incense must be offered with this fire. Note, Nothing goes to God but what comes from him. We must have grace, that holy fire, from the God of grace, else we cannot serve him acceptably,Heb. 12:28. (2.) The priests must keep it burning with a constant supply of fuel, and the fuel must be wood, the cleanest of fuel. Thus those to whom God has given grace must take heed of quenching the Spirit."

Would the fire of God's Spirit burn brightly on the altar of our changed lives in Christ Jesus

Israel of the Old Testament was characterized by the heavenly fire of Yahweh. Such fire represented the Person of the Spirit of God attending with His people. God was the One that met Moses in the fiery bush and revealed His name as Yahweh (Exodus 3:14). Moses' calling could not commence without that confirmation of God's glorious presence. The beginnings of Aaron's ministry, the ministry of the tabernacle and the much later ministry of the temple built by Solomon had with them the coming of the heavenly fire. 

In the New Testament we see yet again the Holy Spirit descending upon His church. The church worldwide and on the local level is composed of all born-again people who are classified as a spiritual priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus had told his disciples to wait and tarry in Jerusalem until the Power from on High came down (see Acts 1:8). 

The one crucial difference between the Spirit's ministry in the Old Testament and today is that whilst He dwelt with and among the people in O.T Israel; He now permanently dwells in and through the church. Lest the Spirit comes, indwells at salvation and continues to lead and guide in sanctification - no spiritual life and service to God will commence or continue. The Spirit did come. 

When He comes into our hearts at salvation, simultaneously faith issues forth. True, genuine trust is issued froth by the sinner and they freely embrace Jesus Christ - resulting in their conversion. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour." Scripture describes this miracle as regeneration or the new birth (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3,23). 

Closing thoughts:

When a man preaches a sermon or a anyone serves God in any capacity, they can only do so by the Spirit's continuing work of gifting and empowerment in their post-conversion Christian walk (Ephesians 4:11-12). Today, I simply close with the thought that as Christians, we need to tend to the fire of God kindled in our human spirit by the Holy Spirit. Let's keep the fire burning and thus serve God with joy and gladness!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How The Spirit-Filled Life Leads Christians To Be Focused On The Heavenly Father

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Ephesians 5:1-2 "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."

Introduction:

The great 18th century preacher George Whitfield made a comment once about the ignorance so-many Christian people had in his day about the benefits of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What we writes seems so true in so much of the American church today:

"Nothing has rendered the cross of Christ of less effect; nothing has been a greater stumbling-block and rock of offense to weak minds, that a supposition, now current among us, that most of what is contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ, was designed for the Lord's first and immediate followers, and consequently calculated but for one or two hundred years."

Whitfield later adds:

"Many now read the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the same manner as Caesar's commentaries, or the Conquests of Alexander are read: as things rather intended to afford matter for speculation, than to be acted over again in and by us."

When it comes to the Spirit-filled life, we find the Spirit's main purpose in bringing about a more vibrant awareness and experience of God in the believer's soul. 

Jesus was in His ministry and life both Spirit-led and Father-focused

Whenever one studies the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, two immediate traits emerge. First and foremost, the Lord Jesus Christ, touching His humanity, was led by and filled with the Holy Spirit. The title "Christ" literally means "anointed one". In nearly 45 places we find references to Jesus mentioning, ministering and being empowered by the Holy Spirit. He not only lived by the Holy Spirit as a mark of His Messiahship, but more so to portray for us a true humanity empowered by the Holy Spirit - a heritage He has available to every Christian.

The second trait about the ministry and life of the Lord Jesus is how "Father-centered" He was in His thinking, emotions and decision making. We discover Jesus referring to the Heavenly Father nearly 70 times in the four Gospels. He called on Him in prayer, spent time with Him and never reckoned the timing of His decisions apart from the Father's will.

The Christian is called to be Spirit-filled and Father-focused

Is it possible for the Christian in their humanity to approximate this intense "Father-focused" lifestyle of Jesus Christ? Absolutely! Note the command urged upon every Christian in Ephesians 5:1, wherein we read: "be imitators of God". Wow! How can this be? Jesus states similarly in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:48 - "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." It is very clear that I in my humanity am called to carry-out this command. Yet, I by myself cannot do it alone. 

The Holy Spirit, Who is by very nature God, comes to indwell at salvation (1 Corinthians 3:16). This means then that by the Holy Spirit in me, I can imitate God in terms of His moral attributes (love, righteousness, holiness, goodness and all the rest). Theologians sometimes make a distinction between God's "incommunicable attributes" and "communicable attributes". The former are qualities not shared between God and other beings (such as omniscience, omnipresence). However, there are traits which God does share with people in a comparative sense (love, mercy, justice, etc.) 

In a Christian, these communicable attributes become empowered by the Holy Spirit, resulting in the Christian acting, thinking and expressing in their emotions an approximation of God's very presence. Much like sunlight shining through stained-glass windows, the Spirit's power expresses itself through those communicable attributes of the believer's human soul. The result? Read Ephesians 5:2 - "and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." 

Final Thoughts

As we become more focused on the Father, we come to imitate Jesus. Why? Because of the Holy Spirit's work in the Christian life.  The filling of the Holy Spirit is required if the Christian ever expects to be focused on the Heavenly Father.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What The Spirit-Filled Christian Life Looks Like

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Acts 11:22-24 "The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23 Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord."

Introduction: Rechargeable batteries and the Spirit-filled life

It is amazing how many batteries one can go through when raising young children.  Whenever the children were younger, they would come to my wife or me and inquire about batteries. We would make sure we had fresh ones - ready-to-go. Now-a-days, most in our family have various devices that need plugged in so as to get "recharged". The performance of electronic devices will degrade unless you plug them in for a periodic recharge. Having available power is important whether we are talking about children's toys, cell-phones or computers.

What ought to characterize the Christian throughout the remainder of their post-conversion life? The Spirit-filled life.

Just as in the illustration above, you and I as Christians - whether new to the faith or converted for years - continue to live life in this world. All Christians live life with the "batteries" of the Christian walk (commitment, obedience, love for God and others), needing  recharged.  God's people are not only called to live out a certain spiritual position or privilege, but also to walk forth in power. The Spirit-filled life can be likened to the repeated need to be recharged and influenced by the Spirit following one's conversion to saving faith. 

Meet a Spirit-filled man by the name of Barnabas

Acts 11:19-30 details the events the were still following from the persecution of Stephen the Martyr in Acts 7-8.  The early church in the Book of Acts had blossomed and grown despite the hardship and tribulations that she endured.  Acts 11:21 records a major development in regards to the progress of the church at Antioch - "And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord." These people were getting converted as a result of the Spirit's work through the preaching of the Gospel. But now with the people becoming new believers, what was going to be needed? How was this fledgling Christian movement in Antioch going to continue on from this point? Enter the man Barnabas and the key trait which he possessed - being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 11:24, quoted at the beginning of today's post, records how Barnabas "....was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."  In the remainder of time that we have I would like us to briefly consider what the rest of Acts 11 (particularly 11:23-25 and 30) has to teach us about the filling of the Spirit in regards to is characteristics.

Characteristics of the Spirit-filled life. Acts 11:23-25, 30

Notice the following characteristics of the Spirit-filled life:

1. Clear testimony  11:23a
2. Confident joy      11:23b
3. Consistent in Faith 11:24a
4. Kingdom fruit 11:24b
5. Counted reliable  11:30

Certainly there are other scriptures in the New Testament that bear out more examples and more traits. Barnabas is a great introduction to the Spirit-filled or Spirit-empowered life in terms of what it looks like, sounds like and acts like. Barnabas (whose name means "son of encouragement) was the type of Christian that was a joy to be around. The Spirit-filled Christian not only has enough "rechargable energy" for their own Christian walk but they operate in the "over-flow" of the Holy Spirit to the affecting of others.  

It is only apropos that in the very first place in the Bible that we find the term "Christian" that it should be attached to this idea of being "filled with the Holy Spirit." Just as the new birth or regenerative work of the Holy Spirit constitutes the epicenter of conversion; the filling or empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit occupies the center of the post-conversion Christian walk. 

The filling of the Spirit enables me to become in experience of my sanctification (i.e progressive Christian growth) whom God has legally declared me to be in justification in salvation. As we find Barnabas to be a grand example of this precious truth of the Spirit-filled life, may those who are Christians heed the admonition of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:18 - to be filled with the Holy Spirit.