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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Have You Thought About Your Interior Life?

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Ephesians 4:21-23 "if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."

Introduction:

How often do you think of your "interior-life". What do I mean by the term: "interior-life"? The interior life is simply one's mental and spiritual status of their soul. As a human being, you are composite by nature. You are a physical, biological being - having senses, blood, bone, muscle and organs. In addition, you are also immaterial - possessing a personality endowed with freedom of the will (what the Bible refers to as "the soul") and the capacity to know God (i.e "made in God's image" or one's human "spirit"). 

We all are very aware of what we could call "the outer-life" - i.e the life we lead through our interactions with the world and other people. We try to look right, act right and maintain the correct social skills needed to operate in society. People know how to act a certain way and talk a particular way when in specific settings (church, school, work). The exterior-life is the focal point of our culture. The Bible uses this language of "inner-life" and "outer-life" to describe human beings. 

The Bible's usage of the terms "inner-man" and "outward-man"

Concerning the outer-life first, we read for example in 2 Corinthians 4:16 "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." The outer life or "outer-man" is in a state of progressing decay. Even for the Christian, one's physical frame is awaiting that glorious final step in overall salvation - namely the resurrection of the body (see 1 John 3:1-3). We tend to find that our "external life" or "outer-life" dominates our thinking while being unbelievers. When we are converted at saving faith, the Spirit's cooperative work of developing our inward-life can seem awkward and frustrating. We do all we can to preserve our ties to this world and the outward life, but take little thought to our inward life.

So what about the "inward-life" - i.e the soul and spirit? This second area is so often neglected. The interior life covers how we as a living soul are being influenced by either what goes on the deepest part of us (the "spirit") or in our outer-life. 

Again, the soul is the seat of human personality. You are not some so-called "ghost in a machine". Rather, your are a soul that receives information from your exterior life and at the same time you interact with whatever is going on the innermost part of you (i.e your spirit). Your brain, a physical organ, is not identical with your immaterial personality (endowed with faculties or functions of willing, feeling and thinking). Both you as a soul and your physical exterior life interact on a continual basis. The soul of a person is that person. 

The inward life is spoken of quite often in the Old and New Testaments, with two quick examples serving as major samples:

Proverbs 20:27 "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being."

Here we see reference to the "spirit of a man" functioning as a lamp or candle. This is where the Holy Spirit comes to live in New Testament salvation (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13). Now note another reference to the "inner-man" in the New Testament:

Ephesians 3:14-17 "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love."

Paul prayed for the interior life of his readers. 

The goal of the Spirit's work in the Christian life is that our soul would be more dominated by our interior life than the exterior life

The interior life of a Christian that is sold-out to Jesus is characterized by their soul (i.e personality, consisting of mind, emotions and will) being more dominated by the Holy Spirit in the human spirit than their exterior life. The Spirit of God is He-in-me. When my interior life is daily in fellowship with the Holy Spirit in my human spirit, my mind, emotions and will respond and interact accordingly. God has given us His book - the Bible, prayer and the local church as resources to which we can exercise our souls (i.e ourselves in our mind, emotions and will) to conform to that interior life governed by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 1 Timothy 4:13-16; Jude 1:20-23).

Undoubtedly, there will be the continual tug-of-war that the soul of the Christian finds themselves between the interior life and exterior life. The personality of the Christian is in process. There remains that principle of of the former way of doing things before conversion that clings to the soul. As we ever remain in this world: interacting with other people who are themselves influenced by the course of this world; as well as experience the daily warfare of the kingdom of darkness, we find the left-overs of sin functioning like iron-filings. Whenever the world, the flesh or the Devil draws near, that left-over principle of sin-within-us is attracted and wants to respond (see Paul's full discussion of this in Romans 7:14-25). 

For the Christian who is growing in Christ-likeness, the need to cultivate one's interior life is a must. The goal of the Spirit's work of sanctification is for our soul to be more influenced by what He is doing on the inside than by those influences that wage war on the outside. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Language Of "Putting-Off" And "Putting-On" For The Practical Christian Life

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Ephesians 4:21-24 "if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."

Introduction:

When I started running three years ago, I had to come to grips with getting rid of some old ways of thinking. For one thing, I learned that one cannot run for a long period of time in jeans, a long sleeved shirt and worn-out tennis shoes. Such articles of clothing do not lend well to improving in one's ability to run. I also had to learn how to change my diet, get my mind disciplined to accept certain pain levels (sore knees are common among runners). In short - I had to "put-off" the mindset and trappings of being a "non-runner" and transition into "putting-on" the clothing, mindset and lifestyle of a runner. 

The significance of "putting-off" the old life and "putting-on" the new life

When we read of the Christian life in the New Testament letters, we meet this language of "putting-off" and "putting-on". Christian conversion is a radical, life-altering change. Not only are we changed on the inside (2 Corinthians 5:17), but how we think and our conduct ought to follow such change. Notice some passages (like the opening text above) that speak of "putting-off" the former life and "putting-on" the new life in Christ.

1. Ephesians 4:25  "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."

2. Ephesians 4:31 "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."

3. Colossians 3:8-10 "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him."

4. Hebrews 12:1-2 "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

5. James 1:21-22 "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."

6. 1 Peter 2:1-2 "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation."

This language of "putting-off" and "putting-on" speaks of one's initial positional standing in justification at the beginning of salvation. At the moment of saving faith, God credits me with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In justification, I exchange the tattered robes of self-righteousness and moth-eaten trousers of unrighteousness for the seamless robe of Christ's righteousness, earned for me in His perfect life and substitutionary death (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Following one's salvation commitment, a process of experiential growth in practical righteousness begins to take place in what the Bible calls "sanctification" (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3). 

It is in the day-to-day Christian life that one is constantly exercising "putting-off" the leftovers of the principle of indwelling sin, the world and the influence of Satan's parasite kingdom. Old habits, old ways of thinking - in short - self, must die. 

Now, in putting off the old habits, thought patterns and ways of life, the Christian must "put-on" better and lasting replacements. This can only be done by regular meditation upon and investment of one's time in the Old and New Testament scriptures (see Colossians 3:16). Additional spiritual disciplines that encourage the "putting-off" and "putting-on" pattern are prayer (Luke 18:1-8) and church attendance (Hebrews 3:12-13; Hebrews 10:24-25). Putting on the Christian life on a daily basis is practically and pictorially represented by "putting on the whole armor of God" as spelled out by Paul in Ephesians 6:11-18. 

Just as in learning how to run properly, the process of changing one's mindset and body becomes a lifestyle and a delight. The struggles and temptations to go back to the way one used to eat, not run and dress are still there. However, the influence that such things used to wield in comparison to the growing impulse to do the necessary disciplines to keep on running diminish to a minimum over time. As long as one attends to a regular regiment in running, the impulse to run will only grow. The Christian life operates in a similar fashion. I think this is why Paul uses athletic imagery to compare the the Christian-life, as seen in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 "

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

Closing thoughts:

There is no rear-view mirror in the Christian life. We must look ahead and not look back, pining after "the way it used to be". Only by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who teaches the Christian and empowers them to "put-off" and "put-on" can such a process be regularly practiced. This pattern for the Christian life is not easy. At times, one can get frustrated at their apparent slow-progress or even occasional set-backs (I know I have experienced such things). Nevertheless, "putting-off" the old life and "putting-on" the new life is well-worth it. Thankfully, the Christian is not left to their own devices to figure it out. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit, His Word and the fellowship of the local church to urge us on to persistence.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

The New Testament Case For The Urgency Of Church Body-Life In The Christian Life


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Ephesians 4:11-13 "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

Healthy Christian growth is not optional for the Christian

Oddly enough, many Christians today seem satisfied with little or no progress in their Christian walk. The overall pattern and design of the Christian life is to grow onward and upward in the Lord. 

The Apostle Paul explains the need of healthy Christian growth. Romans 12:2 is but one example - "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." The Apostle Peter notes in 2 Peter 3:18 - "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." The verb translated "grow" in 2 Peter 3:18 is in the second person imperative plural, indicating that the command is directed at "persons", not just a singular "person". In other words, Peter is urging his audience a group of Christians, to grow in their relationship with Christ in the context of fellowship with one another. Peter also writes in 1 Peter 2:2 "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." The plurality of Christians in a local church setting is implied by the passages cited from both Paul and Peter's letters. 

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 4:12  "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." Think of each believer in a local church body as a strand of rope. What happens when all the strands are combined together? You have a much stronger spiritual cord! 

The Urgent Need For Maturing Christians, and God's Revealed Solution: The Local Church

The urgency for healthy Christian growth is not up for debate in the scriptures. The question is: what and how do Christians grow in their Christian lives? The premise of today's post is that healthy Christians make for healthy churches, and vice-versa. 

Church body-life is an essential component to healthy Christian growth

Within Ephesians 4 we find direct statements about the importance of church body-life for healthy Christianity in Ephesians 4:15-16 "but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." 

As we noted in the last post, the concept of the church as the body of Christ is the most often used imagery to describe the church in the New Testament. Jesus Himself utilizes the transference of His life to each Christian in regards to the "body" of He being the vine in John 15. Following His ascension into Heaven, the Apostles regularly employed the imagery of Christ's physical body as being the proper description of the church's relationship to Him. Such a description means that the idea of "lone ranger" Christianity is alien to the the Bible. Ample verses testify to the significance of church body-life to the Christian.

For example, Romans 12:5 "so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." Paul then goes into full exposition about this concept of church body-life in 1 Corinthians 12. We see for instance his remarks in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." 

Paul's statements convey one of the twin truths about the body of Christ in the New Testament - that it is composed of all true believers the world over. The other truth of course being that, on a more local level, each local church is composed of members who have been regenerated in saving faith, followed by believer's baptism into the local fold (see Acts 2:41 for example). 

Christ and His Church: A Beautiful Picture Of Body-Life

Within the book of Ephesians we find ample references to the local body of believers. For example, Ephesians 5:23-27 "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."

Since the very life of Jesus is conveyed through the body of the church, it stands to reason why we see commands to be connected to the ministry of the local church. Hebrews 3:12-13 reminds us - "Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Also Hebrews 10:24-25  "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." 


How pastoral ministry and church body-life work together to promote healthy Christian growth

The design of the Christian life requires Christians to be in fellowship with one another in the local church. God's people need to sit under the preaching of the Word if they expect to grow. For example, Hebrews 13:7 "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith." Also Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." As a final example of how pastoral ministry and church body-life work together to promote healthy Christianity, consider this clearest of examples, 1 Thessalonians 4:12-15 - "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why The Christian Needs Church Body-Life

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Ephesians 4:4-6 "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."

Introduction:

As a runner, I have to make sure my body is working properly. The effect on how I run is felt whenever aches and pains appear. A sore muscle or painful joint can cause missteps or slower times. One of the things I have learned about the human body is how certain parts of the body will compensate to cover for a weak or malfunctioning part. 

In running, reference is made to what is called "the kinetic chain", which runs from the base of the neck; down through the spine, across the back; arms and all the way through the chest; abdominal core; down through the legs and bottoms of the feet. All parts of this chain must be exercised to ensure pain-free running. Amazingly, if one has sore knees, it could be due to a strained muscle in the middle of the back. Why? Because the knees are having to take on extra work to compensate for that weakened muscle. 

The body-life analogy as applied to the church

Whenever the Apostle Paul uses the analogy of the human body to describe the church - the organic relationship between parts of a physical body captures what ought to be the spiritual interrelationships between Christians in a local church.  Elmer Towns writes about this Biblical analogy of the church as a body in his book: "Theology For Today", page 636:

"The picture of the body is the most used analogy of the church. The Bible represents Christ as the head, and the church as the body. The members of His body are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head (Eph. 4:15). In the husband-wife relationship, Christ is the head of the church, the Savior of the body (Eph. 5:23). Christ is to be placed first in all things because He is the head of the body, the church (Col. 1:18). Paul's sufferings for the Colossian Christians were done on behalf of Christ's body which is the church (Col. 1:24). Christ is also the source and supplier of all growth to the body (Col. 2:19). Christians are part of the body and part of one another." 

Towns goes onto describe other metaphors which are used to describe the church in the New Testament: body, building, bride, flock, garden, family and priesthood. All of these serve to highlight a particular function of the church under the purposes of God as He empowers it by His Spirit to point others to Jesus Christ in the Gospel.

The need for body-life in the life of the Christian

Ephesians 4:1-16 is one of several verses in the New Testament that stresses the importance of body-life. Why is church body-life (that is, the ministry of the local church as so composed of truly regenerate church members who have followed through with believer's baptism) so important?
Jesus was the first to tie together the organic unity of Christians unto Himself. In John 15:5 we read: "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." 

Jesus lays out the blueprints for His church in Matthew 18 and prays for her unity in John 17. To say the local church is important to Jesus is the greatest of understatements. Truly we know the church is important to Jesus, since He paid for her by His blood (Acts 20:28). 

When we consider Paul's statements about the importance of body-life in the Christian life, we can note three reasons from Ephesians 4:1-16, as seen in the brief outline below:

1. God calls all Christians to body-life. Ephesians 4:1-6. 

Three times in the opening verses of Ephesians 4:1-6 we find reference to body-life as being a "calling" (see 4:1 and twice in 4:4). When God calls us, that means it is not optional - its required! But notice secondly why church body-life is important...

2. God calls all Christians to minister in body-life. Ephesians 4:7-12

We find in this section of Ephesians 4:7-12 three types of ministries to which the Christian is called to do in the body of Christ:

a. Minister by the over-flow of His presence. Ephesians 4:7-10

b. Ministry of attendance to His word. Ephesians 4:11-12a

c. Minister to bless others. Ephesians 4:12b

This means then that there is no room for a "me, myself and I" attitude in the local church. Then notice a third reason why church body-life is important for the Christian....

3. God calls all Christians to mature by body-life. Ephesians 4:13-16

This particular part of Ephesians 4 details the ways in which Christ has designed the local church to mature us in our faith. Note how we are to mature by church body-life:

a. Maturity in our doctrine. Ephesians 4:13 cf 1 Timothy 4:13-16

b. Maturity in our discernment. Ephesians 4:14 cf 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and Heb 5:14

c. Maturity in our conduct. Ephesians 4:15

d. Maturity in our relating to one another. Ephesians 4:16.

Closing thoughts:

The point of church body-life is to help me mature in my faith by what I know, where I go, how I act and how I treat others. We've observed three reasons why the Christian needs church body-life:

1. God calls all Christians to church body-life

2. God calls all Christians to serve in church body-life

3. God calls all Christians to mature by church body-life 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

P2 - A Suggested Approach To Interpreting Romans 9 By Comparing Moses And Paul

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Romans 9:14-16 "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."

Romans 9:33 "just as it is written, 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.'"


Introduction:


In our last post, we began considering a suggested approach to the amazing chapter of Romans 9. Romans 9 is a mighty spiritual Himalaya mountain range. Like the physical Himalaya mountains, some of the summits and peaks have been climbed and accessed. Other summits remain inaccessible to even the most ablest of mountaineers. In Romans 9, we find the spiritual Himalaya being none other than God's mercy. Some verses in this chapter are easily accessed (such as Romans 9:33, which tells us that all who believe in Him won't be disappointed). Other verses in Romans 9 are rooted in the eternal character of God, inaccessible to the entirety of comprehension to even the most ablest commentators. This doesn't mean that Romans 9 cannot be understood. Just as we can marvel and appreciate and even make our journeys through the Himalayas, so too with Romans 9. With that said there are points where we have to admit that all glory goes to God and that there is no inherent contradictions nor incoherence when it comes to the divine revelation of His salvation. When the Lord declared to Moses that He has "mercy on whom he has mercy", He doesn't explain why He showed mercy to, say, Israel - other than the fact that He chose her in love (see Exodus 33; Deuteronomy 7:7-8). 

All we can and must do as students of scripture is marvel and bow our knees to the God of mercy for designing a salvation that He achieves and we receive by faith. There is no room for boasting or think any one of us is better than another person in Romans 9. All students of the Bible, regardless of their particular theological position, must acknowledge that God is to be credited for anyone responding freely to the well-meant, well-meant offer of the Gospel. 

Moreover, those who sadly die in their sins, despite persistent pleadings to believe, repent and be saved, can only blame themselves. Romans 9 won't let us proceed to long without feeling burdened for lost souls and praying for God's mercy to be shown and revealed to those unconverted persons near and dear to our hearts (see especially Romans 9:1-5).

In today's post, we continue from where we left off in the last post - drawing parallels between Moses and Paul. Since Paul quotes several Old Testament texts - including the narratives of Exodus written by Moses concerning God's hardening of Pharaoh and His Divine choice to redeem His people - all we aim to do is approach the summit of this mighty Himalaya of Romans 9. We thus far have considered the following:

1. Both Moses and Paul have missionary hearts (Exodus 32:32-33 and Romans 9:1-5)

2. Both Moses and Paul appeal to God's Divine Choice In The Redemption Of His People (Exodus 32:12-14; Romans 9:6-13)

Today we offer two other suggested ways of approaching Romans 9, with final thoughts and applications.



3. Both Moses and Paul center on God's incredible mercy in the saving of sinners

In Exodus 33, we find Moses praying further to God on behalf of the people. God was obligated to uphold His holy name. The people had blatantly disregarded His direct orders not to worship any idols, since God is the only true and living God. God told Moses in Exodus 33 that justice demanded that He destroy the people and not accompany them in their journeys. 

Justice said "yes" to carrying out deserved destruction on a people who stood to be judged. But Moses interceded and pleaded with God. Consequently, God's desire to show mercy, rather than wrath, resulted in God's mercy saying "no" and preserving those persons whom He had redeemed on account of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The result? God revealed His true intentions to save the people whom He redeemed. We see this played out in Exodus 33:15-19 - 

"Then he said to Him, 'If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?' 17 The Lord said to Moses, 'I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.' 18 Then Moses said, 'I pray You, show me Your glory!' 19 And He said, 'I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”'

God's justice needed to be carried out, but mercy said: "no". The result was God's true intention to withhold that which was deserved - judgment - by showing mercy. Amazingly, we find Paul quoting this text verbatim in Romans 9:14-15 "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." 

This focus on God's overwhelming merciful choice to save undeserving sinners redounds through Romans 9 (see Romans 9:18; 23) and is expressed by way of quoting other Old Testament prophets (Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 in Romans 9:25-26; Isaiah 1:9 in Romans 9:25-29 and Isaiah 28 in Romans 9:33). If we could offer four principles to consider in working through Romans 9, they might be the following:

a. God is fair or just (Romans 9:14) 

b. God is merciful (Romans 9:15-18) 

c. God doesn't send people to hell, since people who sadly die in their sins chose to persistently reject Jesus Christ and God's well-meant offer of salvation (Romans 9:19-24 and John 3:36)  

d. God’s Divine purpose according to His choice includes the appeal to the sinner's free-moral agency to believe, repent and be saved (Romans 9:33). 

4. Both Moses and Paul appeal to their audiences to respond to God's saving purposes (Exodus 34 and Romans 9:33). 

God gives the people a series of instruction in Exodus 34 to abstain from idolatry and to resolve in their commitment to follow Him as the true and living God. God's issuing of commands would require His grace to carry them out. The importance of an appropriate human response of saving faith in the context of God's saving grace is required for the application of salvation. 

Both God's Divine work of election and calling in salvation does not in anyway negate the responsibility people have to respond in saving faith. If for anything, the evangelistic thrust of both Exodus 32-34 and Romans 9 ought to put to rest any fears that sometime arise over the mistaken notion of a conflict between God's eternal intentions in the redemption of sinners and the personal responsibility people have to respond in repentance and faith. 

God grieves over any sinner who dies in their sins (Ezekiel 18:23) and would desire all men to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus Himself - God in human flesh - looked upon a young man with whom He was appealing to for repentance with a love and compassion in Mark 10:21. As far as we know, that young man to whom Jesus was talking to walked away - never tasting in the salvation that is found in Jesus as Messiah.  

Whenever we come to Romans 9, Paul makes mention of the importance of a response of faith to all that he has written. In Romans 9:33 we find these words in Paul's closing of this grand chapter - just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Truly we find in Romans 9 the persistent teachings on God's Divine working in salvation on the one hand and the human responsibility people have to receive salvation.  

Closing thoughts:

Today the attempt was made to offer a way of approach to Romans 9 by noting parallels between Moses and Paul. We observed four similarities that can aid us in navigating this incredible chapter:

1. Both Moses and Paul have missionary hearts 

2. Both Moses and Paul appeal to God's Divine Choice In The Redemption Of His People

3. Both Moses and Paul center on God's incredible mercy in the saving of sinners

4. Both Moses and Paul appeal to their audiences to respond to God's saving purposes 

As the Baptist Faith and Message notes in its respective, successive articles on salvation and God's purpose of grace: 

"Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer."

and then...

"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."

May all who approach Romans 9 do so with two attitudes: humility on the one hand and absolute awe of God's mercy on the other-hand. If we use those two attitudes as guard-rails in reading Romans 9, we should arrive in the right reading and application of its truths. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

P1 - A Suggested Approach To Interpreting Romans 9 By Comparing Moses And Paul

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Exodus 33:17-19 "The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”

Romans 9:14-16 "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."

Introduction:

Romans 9 has been rightly called by famed preacher of days gone by - W.A Criswell - as being the hardest passage in the Bible. Oceans of ink have been spilt in rightly interpreting Romans 9. The intent of today's post is to offer a way of approaching Romans 9 as an aid in interpreting it. There are remarkable parallels between the attitudes and emotions expressed by Paul and those we find expressed by Moses in the Old Testament. Such parallels have not escaped the notice of commentators. For example, James Fausset Brown in their Critical and Explanatory Commentary note about the parallels between Moses and Paul by referencing the famed commentator Charles Hodge's commentary on Romans:

"But our version gives the true import of the original; and if it be understood as the language rather of “strong and indistinct emotions than of definite ideas” [HODGE], expressing passionately how he felt his whole being swallowed up in the salvation of his people, the difficulty will vanish, and we shall be reminded of the similar idea so nobly expressed by Moses (Ex 32:32)."

In today's post, I want to explore these parallels to offer a pathway of approach to this extraordinary chapter. Just as mountain climbers scaling a mighty mountain, there must needs be a carefully laid out plan for approaching the mountain. So too in prayerfully approaching how one will navigate the mighty peaks of Romans 9. Hopefully, by noting the way in which Paul references Moses, one will see the value of considering more closely the other Old Testament references used by Paul throughout Romans 9. 

1. Both Moses and Paul have missionary hearts (Exodus 32:32-33 and Romans 9:1-5)

If one were to read Romans 9:1-5, there would be the immediate notice of the tone of a missionary's heart being broken for lost souls. Remarkably, we find near similar sentiments expressed by Moses in Exodus 32:31-32 following Israel's treacherous worship of the Golden calf: 

"Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” 

I like what the great Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe notes about Paul in Romans 9:1-5 - 

"Like Moses (Ex. 32:30–35), he was willing to be cursed and separated from Christ if it would mean the salvation of Israel. What a man this Paul was! He was willing to stay out of heaven for the sake of the saved (Phil. 1:22–24), and willing to go to hell for the sake of the lost."

2. Both Moses and Paul appeal to God's Divine Choice In The Redemption Of His People (Exodus 32:12-14; Romans 9:6-13)

Paul spends time in Romans 9:6-13 of reminding his readers of God's purposes of grace that operated in His choice of the patriarchs and the people of God. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael. He chose Jacob, rather than Esau. God's choice was not dependent upon anything foreseen or merited by one person over the other. Instead, such choices are rooted in the loving and merciful motives that are internal to God Himself. Whenever Moses pleaded to God to not destroy the Israelites following their idolatrous worship of the Golden Calf, we find him praying these words in Exodus 32:12-14

"Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people."

Moses appealed to God's Divine choices regarding the Patriarchs and Israel itself. The result? God showed mercy to a people not deserving such. Whenever we look at Paul's text in Romans 9, the lens of Divine election is used to highlight the incredible mercy of God in calling forth sinners unto salvation. Such activity on God's part does not contradict His inclusion of the sinner's free and genuine response to the Gospel. 

Both truths are held together as representing the Biblical Gospel. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ has connected to His Person one true Divine will and one true human will without contradiction, mixture, confusion nor blending - so it is with the salvation He has provided. We can affirm with Jonah 2:9 that salvation is of the Lord and we affirm with John 3:16 that none can be saved lest they believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

More in the next post..... 



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Preacher's Choice In Knowing What To Preach - Preaching Verse By Verse and Knowing The Status Of The Congregation

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1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia."

Introduction:

Whenever it comes to standing behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning, the preacher's goal is always to bring forth a word from God from the word of God. The last few posts have featured introductory suggestions for discerning the selection process for planning out the preaching of God's Word. Thus far we have noted four suggestions for determining the direction a man ought to pursue when preparing sermons:

1. Begin with prayer

2. Know relevant texts that can address a given topic on the preacher's heart

3. Anything gleaned from the preacher's reading of books, listening to podcasts or other sorts of media

4. Knowledge of contemporary events

Today's post is going to wrap-up the suggested list a man can take when trying to figure out the direction their preaching ought to take. In addition to the four above suggestions, we can offer two others:

The preacher ought to prefer preaching verse by verse or chapter by chapter expository preaching

There have been many books over the years that have advocated what is typically called "expository preaching". Expository preaching is not a style of preaching. Instead, expository preaching is the very heart of preaching - namely, "exposing" or "explaining the text" to the congregation for the purpose of exhortation and application by the power of the Holy Spirit. The gold standard of such preaching is the verse-by-verse expository sermon or what is technically called "continua scriptura" method. God revealed His word through the writing styles and personalities of the prophets and apostles. Each word they used and each line they wrote are by-products of Divine revelation. 

The beauty of expository preaching is that it takes the guess work out of what to preach next. An insightful reader in the last post had noted that the former suggestions had applied to so-called "topical preaching". I'll admit that in these posts, I'm attempting to cover the broad-swath of what is the practice of homiletics or Biblical preaching. If for anything, some of my suggestions intentionally apply to situations where a topical message or preaching series might be done, as well as those occasions where a preacher is going through a book of the Bible. 

If anything, a stand-along message or preaching from a Psalm can break up monotony and keep both the preacher and congregation apprised of what God's Word teaches in other places. Certainly taking a subject and bringing in other texts of scripture can be illuminating and enjoyable for the preaching and hearer both. 

It would seem to me that if a pastor were to offer a study diet of variety in his preaching repertoire, he may preach 25-30% topical messages; 60-75% verse by verse messages and 5% stand-alone sermons. Undoubtedly, verse by verse or chapter by chapter expository messages enable the congregation to be fed God's Word as it was revealed. 

The preacher ought to take into consideration what is happening in his congregation

A preacher not only needs to be a student of the Word and the student of the world around him, but he undoubtedly better be sure he is a student of his flock. As time passes, there ought to be a growing trust and rapport between the pastor and the congregation. Pastors worth their salt ought to prize home-visitations, phone-calls, texting of church members and one-to-one conversations as much as they prize time in their study. 

Whenever we read a passage like the opening set of verses in today's post, Paul knew what was going on at the church at Thessalonica. Their spiritual status was a factor in sculpting what he wrote. Whenever a prophet would give a Word from the Lord, that word was always timely in meeting the needs of the audience. Undoubtedly, sermons ought to be planned for the purpose of shaping the congregation. With that said, sermon preparation also entails being orientated on the basis of the audience at hand. A youth group may hear a slightly different message than say, a group of senior adults. Why? Both groups are going through different experiences and will hear different things - even though the preacher might be speaking from the identical same text. 

Now whenever you put all the people of a given church in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning, more factors enter into the picture. This is where the preacher must needs rely on the empowerment of the Spirit in the delivery of the message. I can't tell you how many times the sermon delivered ended up being different from how I had prepared it. The Holy Spirit knows who is going to be in attendance and what responses are going to occur before the conclusion of the message.  

If a pastor is not spending time with the people to whom he ministers or praying for them on a regular basis, he will never hear God properly on what to preach. Whenever one reads the seven letters written by the Apostle John in Revelation 2-3, seven times we read the refrain: "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches". To the degree I know the people in the church I pastor, it will be to that degree I have clarity on what God is wanting to say to them in the preaching of His word. As Proverbs 27:23 states - "Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds."

Closing thoughts

The last few posts have been dedicated to offering suggestions for determining the direction to go in preparing sermons. Over the last three posts we have offered six suggestions:

1. Begin with prayer 

2. Biblical texts he knows that can address whatever subject he has on his heart

3. Gleaning from whatever he has been reading

4. Discerning what God might be saying in the current events in the culture. 

5. Preaching sequentially through Bible verses, chapters or books. This can eliminate much of the guess-work in determining what to preach next

6. A growing understanding of the status of one's congregation can aid significantly in determining the spiritual dietary needs of the congregation

It is hoped that these suggestions can aid any preacher, especially those starting out in ministry, on what to preach next. As any pastor will tell you - next Sunday is just around the corner...will you be ready to come with a word from God?