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Saturday, January 20, 2018

An Introductory Set Of Meditations and Applications On The Doctrine Of The Trinity

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Matthew 6:9 “Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy."

Introduction:

Whenever we begin to think about God, we can three fundamental concepts: God's being, God's person hood and God's identity. These three inter-related ideas comprise an introductory reflection on the doctrine of the Trinity. In the opening text of today's post, we find Jesus instructing us on the proper way to pray. The appropriate beginning point for prayer and thought about the Christian God is God as Father. If we can grasp how God the Father gives us access to the being, personhood and identity of God - then the doctrine of the Trinity will follow.

A suggested way of beginning to think about the Trinity by starting with the Father

Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, has written quite a bit on the doctrine of God and reflection on the doctrine of the Trinity. For Swinburne, beginning with God the Father helps in tracing out one's meditation and think on the Trinity. What are his practical suggestions?

First, we begin by observing the various properties assigned to the being of God (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, holiness, love and so forth). Next, we note that the Father is endowed with properties associated with personhood (intellect, emotions and will). Then finally, we have the proper identity of God as Father. 

The identity of this Person as "Father" entails a relationship with another Divine Person sharing the same properties of being while have His own distinct identity. This second Person in relationship with the Father is deemed by scripture as "the Son". According to Swinburne, in order for God to be the greatest conceivable being, He as Father would need to give of Himself to another (the Son) and be willing to have the Son be loved equally and maximally by another Divine Person that shares in the same properties of Deity - namely the Holy Spirit. 

In describing the Trinity, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias notes how Christianity is the only movement that has love coming before life. That is to say, before there was a universe populated by created life, there was the One God existing as the three Persons of the Trinity expressing eternal love to one another.  

Scripture and the historic Nicene Creed begin reflection upon the being, personhood and identity of God by way of the Father

As I think upon God's being, Personality and Identity - I find the Father, in eternal relationship to the Son, eternally pleased in the Holy Spirit's adoration of the Son. Such Divine pleasure spills over into God's call to sinners in the Gospel. Such a thought inclines me to embrace how the Bible talks of God as One in being and three in identity. A few New Testament passages and the opening of the ancient Nicene Creed confirm these observations.

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:6 writes: 

"Yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him." 

Paul is stating two foundational doctrines that comprise the doctrine of the trinity: monotheism (belief in one God) and the deity of the Son. Clearly the Deity, Personhood and identity of the Father is unquestioned. Attributing the same properties of being to the Son while distinguishing the Son's Personhood and identity from that of the Father gets us a step closer to a full-orbed Trinitarian concept of God.

The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:3 

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." 

Here we see the Father in relationship to the Son as it pertains to the Son in His total humanity. If we take into account how both apostles begin with God the Father, we can also trace out the Son's dual nature as sharing in the Divine nature with the Father while having uniquely assumed unto His own Person total humanity in His incarnation. It must be recalled that the Son, not the Father, was incarnated in becoming the man Jesus of Nazareth. The Son ever remained God - since as God He cannot cease being such. By way of His incarnation as the man Jesus Christ, we see in history and scripture God incarnate, Immanuel, the Word made flesh (Matthew 1:21-23; John 1:1,14; 1 Timothy 3:16). 

The Nicene Creed begins its beautiful affirmation of the Trinity with the following statement:


"I believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible."


By starting with the Father, we have the being of God, personhood (the Father) and thus identity. Unlike Western Christendom, which begins with the unity of God and branches out to consider each person of the Trinity; the Eastern Orthodox Christian model of the Trinity prefers starting with the Father. This approach gets us more quickly to the notions we asserted at the beginning of this post: God's being, personhood and identity as introductory avenues into meditating on the Trinity.

Applications

As we close out this post today, it is so vital to correctly understand what we mean when we talk about God. God is Perfect in His being. God's perfection of being means He is, in the words of Anselm of Canterbury of the 11th century, the "Greatest Conceivable Being, apart from which none greater can be conceived". By establishing the fact that God is at least One, true personality, we avoid pagan concepts of deity as impersonal. 21st century secular forms of spirituality either conceive of spirituality as collapsed into the human psyche or portray a universal force devoid of personality. A robust Trinitarian Christian concept of God can ably handle the aggressive atheism and secularism of our day.

As we come to terms with God as Father, we next arrive at thinking of God as a being in a loving, eternally trusting community of Persons (Father, Son, Spirit). This can aid Christians in becoming more God-focused.  The Father urges us to consider His Son, since the Spirit, sent to the church in the Son's name, points believers to focus their worship on the Son (John 14:16-17,23; 16:12-15). These practical considerations can result whenever we give our minds and hearts in more consistent devotion to the Trinity. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How God Takes Failure And Makes Us Useful - A Short Study On Mark

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2 Timothy 4:11 "Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service."

Introduction:

"Failure" is a word no one in American culture likes to consider. The American way of life is designed to avoid failure as much as possible. It is very easy in the minds of many to "write-off" people that, in their eyes, are "failures". Interestingly enough, the Old and New Testaments record many examples of people used by God that were "epic-failures". This is God's intended pattern. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:20-21:

"Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."

Have you ever felt like a failure? I have. Do you wonder whether or not God can use failures in such a way as to advance His Kingdom? If we're honest, we all have failed and have asked such questions. In today's post we will look at a biographical sketch of the author of the second Gospel in our New Testaments - known simply as "Mark". We will discover how it is that God takes failure and makes the follower of Jesus useful for His glory.


Mark - an unlikely and insignificant figure
Mark's story, like his mentor the Apostle Peter, is a remarkable story of failure and and redemption.  We first meet Mark in Mark 14:51 as an anonymous young man fleeing from the Garden of Gethsemane following Jesus' arrest. Mark's downplaying of himself in his own Gospel gives us insight into a character molded by the turning lathe of humility. 

The only thing we can gather at this point concerns the one statement of the young man as "following Him". How close Mark was following Jesus and disciples is not divulged. 

The testimony of church history tells us how God would end up using Mark. An early church father, Papias of Hierapolis, notes how Mark was an "associate" of the Apostle Peter. Per Papias' testimony in a collection of his writings called "Fragments of Papias":

"Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements."

Mark would record what he heard as the Apostle Peter preached a series of sermons on the life of Jesus to an eager Roman audience. Mark's transcriptions would end up being the Gospel of Mark. That gives us the end result of Mark's life. But how did Mark become useful for God in the manner recorded above?   

Mark: An Initial Success


We must go back some thirty years into the younger years of Mark. John was his first name, although his surname "Mark" ended up being the primary way he was addressed. In Acts 12:12 we see Mark's house being used as a meeting place of the early church. The people were gathered to pray for the release of the Apostle Peter from prison. Per Luke's record in Acts 12, Peter was released by an angel. As he made his way out of the prison, he awoke as it were from a dream or in what he thought was a vision (see Acts 12:10-11). Peter's instinct was to go to Mark's home, where the early church was gathered in prayer on his behalf. As the profile for Mark builds, we find him to be a man that could be trusted.


There is no doubt that Mark became an important component in the life of the early church. Many today would call Mark a "success". However, God often chooses "failures" over "successes" to do His kingdom work. In order for Mark to be used greatly by God and to write the second Gospel bearing his name, he would have to experience failure.

Mark: A man that failed


Mark's ascendancy within the Apostolic circles of the early church came to an abrupt halt when he deserts Paul in Acts 13. Acts 13:13 recounts the event: 


"Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem." 

In Acts 15:38-39 Paul refuses to have Mark accompany him on his missionary journeys:

"But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus."

This turn of events followed from the failure of Mark recorded in Acts 13:13.  Barnabas chooses to take Mark under his wing as a protege. Consequently, with Mark's mentoring received from the Apostle Peter, Barnabas would be used by God to "rebuild" a fallen and failed Mark. 

One of things we learn from failure is that the aftermath can result either in us giving up entirely or learning lessons that rebuild character. Whenever God places people across the path of someone that has failed, the end result can be a more useful person to do God's bidding. Mark had enjoyed success. Now, he failed miserably. Despite such setbacks, Mark was being rebuilt by God through the combined efforts of Barnabas and Peter. God had a purpose in mind with young Mark.

Mark: A Man Useful For God 

It is years later in Colossians 4:10 and later again in 2 Timothy 4:11 that we learn of Paul and Mark having not only been reconciled, but somehow Mark being deemed as "useful".  2 Timothy 4:11 reads: 

"Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service."

We've already noted how church history tells the story of Mark penning his Gospel under Divine inspiration as he listened to the Apostle Peter preaching in Rome. Mark is a supreme trophy of God's grace. God molded Mark to be an aid to the Apostle Peter. In short - Mark became useful for God as a trophy of grace (see all about trophies of grace in Ephesians 3:10). Truly every local church should be God's trophy case full of trophy's of grace who owe their existence and success to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Closing thoughts

God uses failures. We looked today at Mark, the author of the same said Gospel bearing his authorship. As we journeyed through his story, we noted how God took Mark, an initial success, and permitted him to fail. The failure of Mark was used by God to bring in mentors like Barnabas and Peter to shape him into a useful vessel for His service. 

Mark needed rebuilt after his failure. God orchestrated such a rebuilding project - resulting in a man equipped to write one of the 27 books of the New Testament. Four words: success, failure, rebuild and useful. This represents a process we find again and again in scripture and throughout church history. Will you and I submit to God's process? Will we allow Him to take our failures, rebuild what was torn apart and make us useful enough to be used by Him to bless many people? I pray that we will. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Heeding The Call To Christian Humility - 1 Peter 3:1-21

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1 Peter 3:10 "To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing."

Introduction:

Whenever one talks about "God's calling", reference is made to the urgency He places upon our hearts to follow His leading. Salvation is the most important calling, issued forth to sinners (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-21; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:1). The Christian life following from salvation is a call to walk in a manner worthy of such a calling (see Ephesians 4:1). The calling of God to Christian living is a calling to bear forth spiritual virtues - i.e. "the fruit of the Spirit" (see Galatians 5:22; 2 Peter 1:3-11). One such virtue that brings the believer closest to the character and Person of Christ is that of humility. In today's post we want to explore Peter's exposition on the call to humility in 1 Peter 3:1-21. 

Distinguishing Between Obedience And Humility

Whenever we think about the words "obedience" and "humility", what comes to mind? Obedience is associated with "duty", "allegiance" or "doing what has to be done". Obedience carries with it the sense of moral obligation. Hence, it is every person's moral obligation to heed the Gospel. Whenever one responds in saving faith, they are taking upon themselves a response to the urgency of their souls: believe, repent and be saved from the wrath to come (see Romans 5:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). 

Oftentimes in the Christian life, obedience is that initial step in exercising one's faith in God. In obedience, I know what I "have-to-do". Duty ties my faith to the commands of scripture. 1 John 5:3 states - "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." Therefore we could say that obedience deals in the realm of "have-to's".

Humility differs in kind from obedience. Unlike its cousin obedience, humility emphasizes voluntary action on the part of the one exercising humility. Humility is where I go from "having-to" to "wanting-to". In as much as Jesus did indeed obey the Father in coming to earth as God-incarnate (see Hebrews 10:1-5), His mission was not based only on obedience. The Savior of men did what He did willingly. Jesus acted out of desire - not bare obligation. Humility is where I yield to another out of voluntary desire. 

The truly humble child of God has crossed the threshold of obedience. They recognize God's commanding authority in their life. Humility is desiring to carry out in relationship and submission to others what one has learnt in obedience. Only when one obeys God can they then act in humility.

The Call To Humility In 1 Peter 3

We find Peter continuing on his exhortations to humility in 1 Peter 3:1 that he first wrote about in 1 Peter 2:13-20. The call to humility is urged in the following realms of human experience:

a. Citizenship.      1 Peter 2:13-17
b. Employment.    1 Peter 2:18-20
c. Marriage.          1 Peter 3:1-7
d. Church-life.      1 Peter 3:8-12
e. Suffering.        1 Peter 3:13-18

These areas of humility give a clear picture of what Christ-like humility ought to be. For the Christian in the culture, humility entails remaining faithful to God regardless of the character of governing authorities (see Romans 13). Slave/master relationships correspond to employer/employees arrangements today. How a Christian humbly conducts themselves can speak volumes in a workplace (see Ephesians 6:5-9). 

Church-life that is characterized with mutual humility among the membership testifies to a watching world the mindset of Christ (see Philippians 2:1-5). 

Then we find humility weighing quite heavily in how one faces suffering and its ultimate expression - martyrdom (see 2 Timothy 4:6-8). 

So what about humility within the marriage relationship? Particularly, what does Peter mean (note underlined word) when he states in 1 Peter 3:5-7 "For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered."

In what sense is Peter referring to the wife being "weaker"? The form of the underlying Greek noun that translates "weaker" is a comparative term. The only other time this particular form of the noun occurs is in 1 Corinthians 12:22. In that text, the Apostle Paul describes the spiritual gifts operating in Christ's church as parts of a physical body. He describes how parts of the body that are not as physically strong retaining their importance from how they are supported by others. If one reads carefully the context of 1 Corinthians 12, physically weaker parts of the body do not imply diminished importance. Although a person's eye is physically weaker than one's arm, yet, if the eye is damaged - the averse affects are worse than injury done to an arm. 

The sentiments expressed by Paul can aid us in understanding Peter's words. Although most husbands are physically stronger than their wives, as commentator Robert Leighton notes: the choice of term used here by the apostle is intentional to remind the husband that he too is weak. There is nothing at all to glean here about the wife being morally, spiritually or intellectually inferior to the husband. If for anything, wives often excel their husbands in moral, spiritual and intellectual areas. Any Christian husband worth his salt ought to recognize that his life is greatly improved because of his wife. Her humility or submission is voluntary. If both spouses are Christian people, both are on equal par with respect to being fellow heirs of life.  

Christian marriage ultimately pictures what we find to be the case between Christ and the church (see Ephesians 5:22-33). Although the church is to humble herself under the Lord Jesus Christ, yet, Christ has in His incarnation chosen to present unto Himself a chosen group of people that have equal access to all the blessings of God as "joint-heirs" in Christ (see Romans 8:17). Christian Husbands and wives too, though different, are of equal value in God's sight morally and spiritually.

The call to humility takes all of these various areas of life and places them between the bookends of 1 Peter 2:21-25 and 1 Peter 3:18-21 (the texts that feature Christ, His character and His work). Christ is the beginning and end of humility (see Philippians 2:5-11). 

Heeding the call to humility takes my "have-to's" and turns them into "want-to's"

Peter reinforces his exhortation on humility with 1 Peter 3:8-17. Peter's quotation of Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 3:10-12 gives us a source for better applying this section on the call to humility. Psalm 34 is all about the blessings that come with humbling oneself under God's guidance and wisdom. Psalm 34:8 in particular speaks of how "blessed is the one that takes refuge in Him". When my "have-to's" have been transformed into the "want-to's" of humility, I will "taste and see that the Lord is good" (see Psalm 34:8). The humble-minded believer finds courage to yield to God in the face of opposition once they have "set Christ apart in their hearts, ready to give an answer" (1 Peter 3:15). 

Closing thoughts

As we go down the homestretch of 1 Peter 3, we arrive at 1 Peter 3:18-21. Without a doubt the statements made about Christ are both rich and challenging to interpret. One detail worth mentioning centers on God working in the life of Noah. Noah is featured as a man that humbled himself under God's mighty hand whilst the Spirit of Christ worked through his pleadings to his generation to believe, repent and be saved from pending wrath. The take-away here is that the humility that is most effective is that of Christ's humility working through a heart that has humbled itself to Him. Noah did that - and we ought to as well. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tips On Praying According To The Will Of God

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Matthew 6:10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven."

Introduction:

There is only one subject Jesus' disciples requested him to teach: prayer. Think about all of the lessons they could had requested: "Lord, teach us three steps to casting out a demon" or "Lord, show us how to find a coin in a fish's mouth" (see miracle in Matthew 17:27). As Jesus taught them this model prayer (found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11), the one trait of effective prayer taught by Jesus had to do with praying by the will of God. 

What is God's will, why it matters in prayer

God’s will is His divine intention by which He plans and executes. God achieves the general and specific ends of His will through the means of creatures, events and prayer. Prayer is included by God in His will. The will of God acts as the rudder of prayer. Jesus urges us to pray according to the will of God. As the late Dr. Adrian Rogers notes in his book: "What Every Christian Ought To Know":

"Let's think about the will of God for your life. Your great desire ought to be to know the will of God. Your great delight will be to do His will. Your great danger is to refuse His will. Nothing is right for you if it is not His will."

Let’s note some important distinctions of God’s will that can aid us to greater effectiveness in prayer. 

1. God's Ultimate Will. 

For starters, whenever we contemplate Jesus' instructions on "thy will be done" in Matthew 6:10, this deals with God's ultimate or Sovereign will. I picture God's overall, ultimate will like an umbrella. All things in heaven and on earth unfold under His overall purposes and plans. Great passages such as Psalm 115:3; Daniel 4:35; Romans 11:36 and Ephesians 1:11 define this all surpassing, all encompassing breadth, depth and height of God's will. We could say that God's ultimate will includes and upholds prayer.

2. God's Unrevealed will

So what then lies underneath the "umbrella" of God's ultimate will? Passages such as Deuteronomy 29:29; Matt. 24:36; Mark 6:48; Phil. 4:6-7 describe what is called "God's unrevealed will". God's unrevealed will is simply what God has not made known, and which is known only to Himself. This is where I learn to trust God. In prayer, I realize that I don't know everything, which is why one comes to God in the first place.

3. God's permissive will

The next division subsumed under God's ultimate will is what theologians call God's "permissive will". Passages such as Genesis 50:20; Deuteronomy 8:15-17; Acts 14:16; James 4:15 feature God's will of permission. Dr. Adrian Rogers describes God's permissive will accordingly:

"God in His sovereignty has granted to man a free will that he may disobey God". 

The permission of God in matters pertaining to free moral agents isn't a bare "whatever goes, goes". God tolerates details He may or may not condone to work forth His will in His creatures. In the realm of prayer, God's permissive will tests me in my obedience & waiting upon Him.

4. God's revealed will

The third great sub-section of God's ultimate will is what is referred to as God's "revealed will". Simply put, God's revealed will involves the words of the Old and New Testaments. Passages such as Deuteronomy 29:29; Amos 3:7; Romans 15:4 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 describe God's intentions of making known His will to His people. What God has made known in His Word for our benefit, obedience and fellowship with Him is what we mean by the term "revealed will". This represents the area of responsibility that I ought to know, obey and apply. Whenever one combines verses of the Bible with their prayer-life, clarity results. 

Closing thoughts:

We looked today at important distinctions in God's will. Jesus instructed His disciples and us to pray: "thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". We know that God's delights to guide His people by His will and desires for them to pray by it (see Psalm 32:8; Psalm 37:23). We considered several distinctions in God's will that can aid in thinking more forthrightly about praying by the will of God. Might we apply what we learned to our prayer lives for His glory and honor. 
   

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Heeding The Call To Follow The Lord - A Meditation Upon 1 Peter 2:21-25

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1 Peter 2:21 "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls."

Introduction:

Whenever a person senses the calling of God upon their life - things are never the same ever again. Whenever God's calling (in salvation or area of service) comes, urgency ties together the circumstances, people and one's own interior state of heart. Whenever God places His Divine urgency upon your life to act - we call such an urgency: “God’s calling”. 

Such a description befits the description of Christian salvation and the life that follows from it. The call to  the Christian life includes activities and attitudes that cannot be done apart from Jesus Christ. In this post, we will consider how trusting God and entrusting oneself to Him are central to heeding the call to follow Him. 

Called to follow Jesus. 1 Peter 2:21-25

Peter's first epistle has incredible theological statements about Jesus Christ sprinkled throughout its contents (see 1 Peter 1:18; 2:21-25; 3:18-21; 4:1 and 5:4). We read in 1 Peter 2:21 of how the Christian life is a calling to follow in the steps of Jesus. I'm certain Peter never forgot the first time Jesus came to Him and commanded: "follow me" (see Matthew 4:19; John 1:41-43). 1 Peter 2:21-25 summarizes how Jesus provided an example of following the will of the Father by both trusting and entrusting Himself to His authority. As we observe Jesus' willingness to follow, we in turn can see the need to follow Him.

a. Trusting God begins the journey of heeding the call to follow. 1 Peter 2:21

When we begin to follow God, we begin by trust. One of the simplest definitions of faith is that of trust. The 11th century theologian Anselm of Canterbury describes the Christian-life as being about - "faith seeking understanding". Whenever a person trusts God - they do so without possessing a comprehensive understanding of where they're heading or the consequences. Much like the little child in the backseat on a trip, we travel through this life. The Gospel calls sinners to looking to the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 17:3). 1 John 2:5-6 reminds us: "but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked."

b. Entrusting one's soul to God represents continuation of heeding the call to follow. 1 Peter 2:22-25

We read in 1 Peter 2:22-24 "who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." Whenever we heed the call to follow the Lord in the Christian life, we must not only take that first step of trust - but also continue to "entrust" our lives to Him. The Greek verb translated "entrust" is the same word used elsewhere in the New Testament that speaks of something being "handed over" to the care of others (see 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:1-3). Jesus literally "handed-over" the reins of his life to the Father. This daily, moment-by-moment resolve involves deciding between "trusting God" versus "trusting oneself". Jesus alone did this perfectly. 

Each time we exercise trust in God, we are building a track record of "entrusting God". The idea of "entrusting one's soul" is equivalent to the idea of "faithfulness". Much like the odometer in a car that measures how many miles the car has been driven, "faithfulness" or "entrusting" describes how long and often one has said "I trust God" rather than "I trust myself more than God".  

Peter closes this section by noting in 1 Peter 2:25 "For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." This describes what ought to be the current state of the Christian. We are ever turning, looking and giving our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. Such thoughts reminds us of Psalm 23 or Psalm 121, which both describe the believer as a sheep looking to the Great Shepherd of their souls. Would we heed the call the follow Jesus by trusting and entrusting our souls to Him. 






Friday, January 5, 2018

Looking At A Christianity That Is Built To Last - 1 Peter 2:1-20

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1 Peter 2:1-4 "Therefore, ridding yourselves of all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn infants long for the unadulterated spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have tasted that the Lord is kind, 4 to whom you are drawing near, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God."

Introduction:

My dad was a carpenter by trade. Whenever he built anything, it was built to last. His skills as a carpenter came in handy when he began working for a large brick and stone company. They were building a series of buildings that required bricks cut to fit into large circular windows. The particular brick cutters that worked for the company left the job. My dad stepped up to help out and ended up being the new brick cutter. One day our family took a ride to view one of the finished buildings. I was amazed by the perfect circular windows and passage ways that were made by my father. He told me he would sometimes take broken bricks and cut them to be included in those beautiful structures. To this day, years later, those buildings are testimonies of his handiwork. They were built to last. 

In today’s post we are exploring the Christian’s spiritual identity as part of a spiritual temple built upon Jesus Christ – the Precious Cornerstone. Jesus is building a spiritual temple, composed of every believer that is a living stone. By centering upon Jesus Christ, you will discover how the Christian life is “built to last”. 

The Apostle Peter was called by Jesus to follow him. Originally named "Simon", Jesus would change his name to "Petros" - meaning "rock". There is no doubt in my mind that Peter identifies himself as included in the words of exhortation he has written by his secretary or amanuensis - Silvanus (see 1 Peter 5:12). The theme of this first letter or epistle is "stand firm in the grace of God" (see 1 Peter 5:12). Therefore, we want to know what it looks like as Christians stand firm as a spiritual temple, built upon the Chief Cornerstone - Jesus Christ - as He builds them to endure for His sake. Let's consider the foundation, walls and curb appeal of the project Jesus has undertaken.

1. Foundation: The New Birth. 1 Peter 2:1-3

The last post we did in 1 Peter dealt particular with God's divinely given second chance - i.e the new birth (http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2018/01/god-given-second-chance-1-peter-11-25.html ). We learnt in that post:

a. the new birth done by God

b. brought about by Spirit, word, faith 

c. this new birth results in a life that can live for God. 

Without the word of God, no heavenly fire of salvation can be kindled in the human soul (see Jeremiah 23:29). Without the air of the Person of the Spirit, no flame of spiritual life can come forth in the heart (see John 3:8). Without the fuel of faith, the word of God and the Holy Spirit will not burn as an enduring flame in the human spirit touched by grace (see Hebrews 4:2). 

Peter's reflections on the new birth as the foundation for a faith that is "built to last" continues onward into this second chapter. In 1 Peter 2:1-3 we find a conditional statement, beginning at verse 3: "if you have tasted that the Lord is kind" (Lexham English Bible). 

The way we know we have not only tasted of saving grace, but consumed such, is by how we regard His word and obedience.  The foundation of the New birth is a firm foundation because of the fact it is brought about by the Spirit and the Word. Getting into one’s Bible and it into you is not optional when it comes to cultivating God’s presence, withstanding ongoing doubts, fighting sin and growing in faith. 

As Peter points out in these first few verses of 1 Peter 2, craving God's word is likened unto an infant that craves milk. If one finds their newborn child not wanting to eat, there is cause for concern. A baby that has no interest in eating is not well. Many would regard such a state of affairs as unnatural to what it means to be an infant - namely the capacity to eat, eat and eat! A born-again child of God cannot expect to grow nor expect to enjoy the awareness of one's assurance in salvation apart from regular intake of God's Word. Thus, to understand how the Christian life is "built-to-last", we must first consider the foundation of the new birth with respect to the Word of God. 

2. The Walls: Shaped by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5-8

A sound structure must have a good foundation. With the foundation of the new birth in place - we next consider the walls of the project Christ is doing in the building of His people. The apostle Peter expounds further on this score by citing key Old Testament texts that highlight Jesus as our precious cornerstone. The following headings convey Peter's central message in 1 Peter 2:5-8.

a. Delight in Jesus strengthens you. 

Peter's first quotation of Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Peter 2:6 hearkens back to a time in Israel's history wherein she had lost all hope. The Lord's word to the people in eighth century b.c. Jerusalem was to not to abandon their hope in Him. All is not lost! Sadly, the Southern Kingdom of Judah would over the remainder of her history follow in the train of her Northern Kingdom counterpart – resulting in the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem beginning in 605 b.c. Peter’s word to his readers and to us is to not lose hope – but to look to that Precious Cornerstone – the Lord Jesus Christ.

The second Old Testament quotation is that of Psalm 118:22 in 1 Peter 2:7. Whenever one studies the context of Psalm 118, the author of that psalm is praising Yahweh for delivering him from certain trouble. The Psalm is filled with hope and renewed faith in the face of adversity. We know from the background of Peter’s audience in the first century that they were facing increasing difficulties. (see for instance 1 Peter 1:6-7; 3:13; 4:12) 

By recalling Psalm 118, Peter could show how the same God that answered cries of distress in the Psalmist’s time could do the same for the readers of his first epistle. Thus Peter is reinforcing his overall message to look to Christ as that Precious Cornerstone. Not only is Jesus the believer’s source of hope, He is also precious. 

b. Doubting Jesus will hurt you. 

The third quotation by Peter deals with the negative consequences of rejecting Jesus as the Precious cornerstone. 

Sadly, the Southern Kingdom of Judah would over the remainder of her history follow in the train of her Northern Kingdom counterpart – resulting in the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem beginning in 605 b.c. Peter’s word to his readers and to us is to not lose hope – but to look to that Precious Cornerstone – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter's quotation from Isaiah 8 in 1 Peter 2:8 carries the message that God always has a faithful remnant in every age.  The sense on gathers from Isaiah 8 is that the inhabitants of the Jerusalem were seeing their fellow Jews to the North given in and give up to the threats and pressures of opposing forces. Despite deserving the consequences themselves, God still held out His message of hope and salvation to them. So we see then that the strength of God's building project of salvation lasts due to the Lord Jesus Christ. What then makes the Christian's life appealing to a watching world?

3. Curb Appeal: Changed Lives. 1 Peter 2:9-20

Whenever we study any of the New Testament epistles, we find the authors dealing with Christian identity or "gospel indicatives" and commands to carry forth that identity or "gospel imperatives". Gospel indicatives are so named because they explain "who I am and whose I am" or my status as an adopted child of God. Gospel imperatives are so designated due to the expectations and commands urged upon the believer to live their lives in light of their newly-given identity in Christ. The Apostle Peter gives forth the following "gospel indicatives" and "gospel imperatives" to raise the bar for attracting a watching world to the Christian faith.

a. Gospel Indicatives: Christians are a holy priest hood.  2:9-10. 

b. Gospel Imperatives: Christians are to function as a holy priesthood 

i. Abstain from worldly lusts 2:11 

ii. Guard (Integrity) 2:12 

iii. Submit to authorities (unless violating Christian convictions) 2:13 & Acts 5:29 

iv. Live (freely for God) 2:16 

v. Exercise (godliness in your relationships) 2:17 

vi. Persevere to the end 2:18-20

These six sets of imperatives or commands contribute to the overall "curb-appeal" of the Christian life. Just as the owner of a home clips their hedges, mows the lawn and applies paint to increase the visual appearance or "curb appeal" of their home to others, the Christian's claims about the reality of Jesus Christ find validity insofar as they take to heart their identity in Jesus. James 1:26-27 reminds us: 

"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Closing thoughts:

The sort of Christianity that the world is in need of is the type that manifests the working of Christ by the way the "living stones" of His spiritual temple live their lives. This is the sort of project Jesus is making - one that is "built-to-last". 

Monday, January 1, 2018

God-given Second Chance - 1 Peter 1:1-25

Image result for january bible study 2018
1 Peter 1:3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

Introduction:

Happy New Year 2018! Every year the Southern Baptist Convention encourages churches to take up the study of a particular book of the Bible. For January 2018, Peter's first letter will be the focus, with a suggested theme of: "Living As Strangers In A Secular World". I find Peter's words to be apropos for our 21st century world. Peter’s purpose in writing his first letter was to urge his readers and us to stand firm in God’s grace. (1 Peter 5:12) 1 Peter 5:12 reads accordingly: "Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!" If Christ-followers are going to live effective lives as strangers in a secular world, on what basis do they do this task? How does one begin standing firm? By being “born-again”. 

To be born again means receiving by faith a "God-given" second chance

Another way of describing the "new-birth" could be “the God-given second chance”. In grasping the significance of this truth, you can have the assurance you’ll need to stand firm for God. What can we note about the importance of being “born-again”?

1. Born-again to a living hope. 1 Peter 1:1-9

The truth of the New Birth is found throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments. (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 3:1-8; Titus 3:4-5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3,23). John 3:3 points us to the urgency of this truth by quoting Jesus Himself:

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

Not only can one not "see" or "enter into salvation" apart from the new birth, no one can be saved from the pending wrath of God. The Apostle Paul writes in Titus 3:5 

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” 

Whenever we see such uniformity of testimony on doctrinal truths like the New Birth, we know we have struck upon a fundamental truth of scripture. The Apostle James notes in James 1:18 

"In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures."

No doubt the Apostle Peter underscored the priority of the New Birth in providing what was needed to "stand firm" in the grace of God. In the opening verses of Peter's first letter, we can note the following guarantees granted by the new birth in saving faith:

a. Guaranteed beginning. 1 Peter 1:1-6 (sin’s penalty is removed)

b. Guaranteed process.    1 Peter 1:7-8 (sin’s power is relinquished)

c. Guaranteed finish. 1 Peter 1:9 
(sin’s presence will be rid of in heaven)

For Peter, salvation is conceived of in three ways. There is "salvation past", which is to say, salvation in its beginning (i.e regeneration, justification). Such salvation is viewed as "salvation past" for the Christian. This is where it all starts. No doubt Peter prefaces the doctrine of regeneration with God's purposes of grace in foreknowledge and election in 1 Peter 1:1-2. Such working by God establishes the eternal salvation which He begins when dealing with sinners and their need to respond to the Gospel. As the Baptist Faith and Message reminds us about regeneration:

"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."

Then there is "salvation present" which involves the believer's progressive, onward and upward growth in sanctification. This progressive work is a cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and the Christian. 

Then there is "salvation future" or "glorification". This is where we find the soul of the Christian purified from all sin at death and the promise of the resurrection of the body given at Christ's return. (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). All of these observations serve to underscore the mighty hope made accessible to the sinner at saving grace by faith in the new birth.

2. Born-again by the Word & Spirit. 1 Pet 1:10-12; 1:23-25

The hymn by Daniel Whittle: "I know whom I have believed" is a beloved song celebrating the wonder of Christian salvation. In the hymn we find two stanzas that ponder over how the Holy Spirit uses the word of God in His work of salvation:

"I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

"I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him."

Such lyrics, based off of 2 Timothy 1:12, find their clarification in what Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:10-12 and 1 Peter 1:23-25. If we were to summarize what we find in Peter's exposition in these verses, we could note the following:

a. Spirit is the agent of our salvation. 1 Peter 1:10-12

b. The scripture is the tool of our conversion. 1 Pet 1:23-25

Without a doubt, faith is included in this important point of the Spirit's use of the scriptures in salvation. (see 1 Peter 1:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). The doors of grace have doorknobs of faith which we must voluntarily turn if we expect such to swing open for our entryway into God's heavenly kingdom. (see John 3:1-8) As the Apostle Peter writes on about the role of the New Birth in enabling the believer to stand firm in the grace of God, we also find there is a purpose for which the new birth takes place. 

3. Born-again to live for God. 1 Peter 1:13-22

As echoed throughout the remainder of sacred scripture (Ephesians 2:10; James 2), faith without works is dead. Not only does the new birth grant spiritual life, but also the desire to live such a life. God gives the sinner a second chance in saving faith to live a life that honors Him. We can note the following three observations from Peter's exposition on how the new birth leads to a life devoted to God:

a. Live holy lives (we ought to want good works). 1 Peter 1:13-15

b. Live preparing for eternity (crave heaven). 1 Peter 1:17-21

c. Live to love with God’s love 1:22. 

The third point is particularly convicting, since we discover that not only does the new birth entail one living for God, but also learning how to live with others in such a way as to love them as God loves them. The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:20 "If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."

Closing thoughts

Today we explored what Peter meant when he wrote about being "born again to a living hope" or what we deemed a "God-given second chance". The new birth enables the Christian to carry-out the main point of Peter's first letter, namely "to stand firm in the grace of God". (see 1 Peter 5:12) The new birth in saving faith results in three profound realities:

1. Born again to a living hope
2. Born again by the Spirit and Word
3. Born again to live for God