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Thursday, April 30, 2015

God's greatness shown by the Holy Spirit empowers evangelism

Acts 1:8 "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Introduction:
Yesterday we began considering how God's greatness is the drawing power of the great commission. In all reality, God's greatness is the mission of the church. We labored yesterday to understand how God's greatness is revealed in the Son, Jesus Christ, and how He stated repeatedly in John's Gospel that if He be lifted up, He will draw all men unto Himself. Matthew Henry in his great commentary explains the importance of Jesus' words - "The great design of our Lord Jesus, which was to draw all men to him, not the Jews only, who had been long in profession as people near to God, but the Gentiles also, who had been afar off. For He was to be the desire of all nations (Haggai 2:7), and to Him must the gathering of the people be.  Henry later adds - "Observe how Christ is all in all in the conversion of the soul. First, It is Christ that draws: 'I will draw'. It is sometimes ascribed to the Father (John 6:44), but here to the Son, who is the arm of the Lord. He does not drive by force, but draws with cords of a man (Hosea 11:4; Jeremiah 31:3), draws as the loadstone (a magnetic stone). The soul is made willing, but it is in a day of power. Secondly, it is to Christ that we are drawn." Then Henry finally adds - "Christ was now going to heaven, and he would draw men's hearts to him thither." Hence it is God's greatness in Jesus Christ that is the power of the Gospel. (Romans 1:16) Today we conclude this short series of posts by noting how this same power of Deity is expressed through the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

The Greatness of God draws sinners to saving faith by the Holy Spirit
In the opening verse of today's post, it is made clear by Jesus that the church would not be able to achieve the great commission without the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is equal in authority, glory and power to the Father and the Son. (John 14:23; Acts 5:4-5; 1 Corinthians 3:16) When we speak of the greatness of God, we speak equally of how the One Divine essence that defines the Oneness of God is expressed equally and totally by each Person of the Godhead, with our focus here on the Holy Spirit.

Scripture asserts that the Spirit works in evangelism to point the way to the Greatness of God, since He as the Third Person of the Trinity shares in that same, undivided Divine essence with the Father and the Son. Without a doubt, the greatness of God through the Person of the Holy Spirit is credited in the scriptures for the success of the early church's evangelistic efforts. Acts 2:4-6 states - "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language." It quickly must be noted that the "tongues" spoken on the day of Pentecost was not some type of escatic speech or prayer language as advocated by groups today, but rather literal languages previously unlearned by the speakers. The Spirit gave them the ability to preach the Gospel to over a dozen nationalities. What was the message and thrust? Acts 2:11b explains - "we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” The Holy Spirit is the Person in the Godhead who chooses to shine the spotlight on the other Two Persons - the Father and the Son. His role is to get the sinner to go from being manward and inward to being transformed into someone by faith who focuses outward and Godward. 

The greatness of God was the draw proclaimed by the early church, all thanks of course to the power and Person of the Holy Spirit. Acts 16:14 indicates that the Lord (in this instance, the Person of the Holy Spirit) had opened up the heart of a woman to receive the goodnews of Jesus Christ, believe and be saved. Paul prays in Ephesians 1:16-18 - "do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." The Holy Spirit's work of continuing to make known the greatness of God to believers enables them to be motivated to make such Greatness known to others. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 about the Spirit's work in the scriptures - "For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."

Henceforth we cannot expect to proclaim the Gospel from the scriptures nor share how great God is in a convincing way apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit labors to make known the greatness of God revealed in Jesus Christ as His chief mission, we must therefore see it to be our chief aim. This is why God's greatness is the drawing power of the Great commission, because the Person of the Spirit labors through us and in the hearts of sinners to respond, believe and be saved. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

God's greatness shown through Jesus Christ establishes evangelism

John 12:32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself."

Introduction:
What makes the great commission so powerful? How is it that the church expects to influence unconverted people for Jesus' sake? What is the "draw" so to speak in our efforts to evangelize and do missions in our neighborhood, state, nation and our world? Is it technique? Is the ability to win converts to saving faith based upon our efforts, marketing strategies and ability to make our churches "seeker friendly"? The answer given by the modern day church would be in the affirmative. But what does Jesus teach us and how does the wider context of scripture answer such questions? Frankly, the only drawing power we have in the presentation of the Gospel is the greatness of God. Notice...

The greatness of God the Son draws sinners to be saved
Whenever we turn to the Gospel of John, the phrase "lifted up" appears on several occassions with reference to the accomplished work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is presented as God in human flesh (John 1:14), and thus is the Greatness of God revealed in full humanity and undiminished deity. Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry referred to his "lifting up" in John 3:14 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Jesus was predicting early on the manner in which He was going to be displayed as God's banner of salvation, God's ensign, for all to see. The famous verse of John 3:16 reveals that Jesus was sent, indicating His pre-existence. Moreover, John 3:16 reveals further that Jesus Christ is God's "only-begotten" Son, indicating His sharing in the same eternal nature as the Father who sent him. 

Other passages in John add further details to the greatness of God in Jesus Christ as being the drawing power of the mission given to the church. John 8:28 states - "So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me." Is not the goal of evangelism to know Jesus and make Him known? How do we do that? We elevate and exalt the greatness of God revealed in Jesus Christ. As He is lifted up before the eyes of the sinner, the promise is given: "then you will know that I am He". As the Spirit of God does His convincing work (John 16:8-12) and as the Father does His drawing work (John 6:44), the Son works with the Father and Spirit as One God drawing all kinds of people from every nation, tribe and tongue to the cross. We read in John 12:32-34 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. 34 The crowd then answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” Properly speaking, the "lifting up" of Jesus had to do with He on the cross being lifted up before the eyes of his enemies. As an event, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a once for all event. (1 Peter 3:18) However as one commentator notes: "The word 'all', which he employs, must be understood to refer to the children of God, who belong to his flock. Yet I agree with Chrysostom, who says that Christ used the universal term, all, because the church was to be gathered equally from among Gentiles and Jews, according to that saying, 'There shall be One Shepherd, and one sheepfold, (John 10:16)." The great commentator Adam Clarke notes in his commentary regarding John 12:32 - "After I shall have died and risen again, by the preaching of my word and influence of my Spirit, I shall attract and illuminate both Jews and Gentiles. It was one of the peculiar characteristics of the Messiah, that unto Him should be the gathering of the people be." Clarke quotes Isaiah 11:10 in support of this understanding - "Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse,
Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious." Without the greatness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, there is no personal draw available for missionaries and the church to convince sinner's of their greatest need - the Great God. Jesus has revealed Him perfectly (John 1:18), is God in human flesh (John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16) and is necessary for the gospel to work. After all, tethered to the great commission is Jesus' own self-declaration of His greatness and Divine authority in Matthew 28:18-20 - "
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The greatness of God in the Son is the drawing power of the great commission and the greatness of God in the third Person of the Trinity acts in the same manner, which will be our focus tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Greatness of Jesus Christ in the General Epistles

Hebrews 1:1-4 "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."

Introduction: A quick word on the general Epistles
Michael Harbin in his survey of the Bible entitled: "The Promise and the Blessing", notes - "As we approach the end fo the apostolic age, we note a change in the letters (That is the New Testament Epistles). Outside of James, the letters we have seen thus far were written to individual churches, that is, to all the believers in a given city. By contrast, the letters written in the sixties or later (60 A.D or later) were written either to larger geographical regions or to specific individuals."  Harbin later notes: "Those letters written to larger geographical regions are often called Catholic or General Epistles because they were written to believers in general, not to a specific individual or city."  Harbin's comments relate to the 8 books in our New Testaments we classify as the general epistles, namely: Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter. 1,2,3 John and Jude. These books are many times not read as often as the thirteen letters of Paul (Galatians-2 Timothy), which is to the Christian's detriment. Why? Because in exploring the general epistles, one can better understand for example the relationship of suffering to the Christian life or how the Old Testament and New Testament fit together. Today's post is about briefly considering the most important person and topic that could be pondered - Jesus Christ. What I aim to do in this post is list one text from each of the general letters of the New Testament that shows to us the greatness of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that this post edifies and encourages every reader.

1. Jesus Christ is Supreme - Book of Hebrews
Hebrews 1:1-4 "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they." The theme of "better" occurs over a dozen references in Hebrews, all pointing to how Jesus Christ is supreme above all things. 

2. Jesus Christ's authority - Book of James
James 5:7-9  "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door." Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28:18 that all power and authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth. He is the judge, having authority and Divine power. 

3. Jesus Christ's comings - 1 & 2 Peter
1 Peter 3:18 "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit."

2 Peter 3:9-10  "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in whichthe heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up."

4. Jesus Christ as Savior - 1,2,3 John
1 John 5:13 "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." Jesus as Savior provides assurance of salvation for everyone who responds by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone.

2 John 1:9 "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son." It is not enough to say one believes in a Jesus, but in the right Jesus. The Jesus that saves people from their sins is the One revealed in the Bible, the Word of God.

3 John 1:7 "For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles." The term "Name" is shorthand for everything that Jesus is and accomplished and is still doing today. Acts 4:12 reminds us that no other "name" is given under heaven to people whereby they can be saved. 

5. Jesus Christ is the God of mercy - Book of Jude
Jude 1:21 - "keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." Jesus Christ is "Lord", which is a title of Deity, and He is merciful, which reminds us of the fact He is the God of mercy. Jude closes out his book and our study of the greatness of Jesus Christ in the General Epistles with these words from Jude 1:24-25 - "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."

Monday, April 27, 2015

P4 How can I know that I'm a Christian - Christians long for Christ's return & love being led by the Holy Spirit

1 John 5:13 "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."

Introduction:
We have looked at five assurances or fruits that one can look for when evaluating the genuineness of saving faith in their lives. How can I know, that I know, that I know that I'm a Christian? Thus far we have seen that true Christians hate worldliness, love God's word, loves Jesus, God's people, obedience and prayer. Today we will conclude the assurances of salvation by noting that true Christians long for Christ's return and want to be led by the Holy Spirit.

True Christians long for Christ's return
1 John 3:1-3 states - "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."

It is no accident that the Christian's pre-occupation with Christ's return should grow over time, since satisfaction with the things of this world gradually pale, and longing to see Jesus should increase. It can seem at times we are more caught up in the here-and-now than in the sweet-by-and-by. Yet God's grace prompts us, reminds us, to long for His return. This is why God's love is the motivation. If we will but "see, behold" God the Father's love, we will then long for the second coming of Jesus.

True Christians want to be led by the Holy Spirit
As Christians, we will either be "self-led" or "Spirit-led". Ephesians 5:18 uses the language of "filling" to remind us of the repeated need for the Spirit's leading: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit". At salvation, the Christian gets all of the Holy Spirit they will ever need. From that point onward, the issue becomes: "how much of me does the Holy Spirit have?"

1 John 4:13 states - "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." The battle between "self" and "The Holy Spirit" is a daily affair. Will I let my emotions and my thinking guide me, or will I order my emotions and thoughts under God's word. The Holy Spirit living inside every Christian is "God in us", pointing to Jesus, who is "God with us", who bids us to love The Father, "God above us".

What happens if I cannot gain assurance of salvation?
My prayer is that as you look at your heart, that these various assurances will clarify for you whether or not you are truly a Christian. The basis of your salvation rests not in how you feel, but rather in God's written word - the Bible; and in God's Living word - Jesus Christ. Have you by faith trusted in Christ alone by faith alone? More importantly, are you right now, at this moment, relying upon Jesus Christ as your Savior, Lord and Treasure? If you cannot answer these questions in the affirmative, Romans 10:9-10 is the plainest verse I know for settling the issue: "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."


Sunday, April 26, 2015

P3 How do I know I'm a Christian? Christians love to pray, love obedience and to be with God's people

1 John 5:13 - "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."

Introduction:
Assurance of salvation is the Christian's level of confidence in knowing that they know that they know they are saved. In today's blog we continue by noting three additional fruits, or grace driven attitudes that should be evident in the person's life who claims Christ as their own. So far in this series we have noted the following ways one can assess their level of assurance of salvation:

1. Do they hate sin
2. Do they love closeness with God more than comforts in life
3. Do they love the word of God

Today we continue by noting three other things that true believers in Jesus Christ will typically love.

True Christians love to approach Christ in prayer
1 John 2:1 tells us: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous". What is an advocate? An advocate is someone who is willing to represent our concerns to one who can do something about it. Knowing that God can hear me, and knowing that I can hear God, can make prayer transform into something that I look forward to. Note what David states in Psalm 42:3: "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?" David could not wait to pray. True Christians will grow over time to appreciate Christ in prayer.

True Christians love to obey God
1 John 2:3 notes - "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." Do I find obeying the Lord a drudgery or a delight? Undoubtedly Christians experience up and down times in their Christian walk, where some days seem easier to obey God than others. Yet it is in the area of following the Lord's leading where I truly gain the confidence of assurance. For if I walk out the light God grants me in a given area of obedience, God pledges to grant me greater light to walk by (please compare 1 John 1:7-8). It has been well said by older saints that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone apart from works. However, following our committment of faith, we are being saved by a faith that is never alone. 1 John 5:3  plainly states: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."

True Christians love being with other Christians
1 John 2:10-11 makes this observation - "The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." The verbs underlined in this verse indicate a "continual, ongoing, persistent attitude". More often than not the Bible measures the genuineness of one's love for Christ by how much ongoing love they have for other Christians. Why? Because loving the brethren gives us practice for loving those who are not Christians. If anything, loving other Christians is the most basic level of expressing God's love to other people.

Unless hindered by circumstances out of one's control (such as illness or emergency), the Christian ought to make church attendance a priority. Grace-driven motives makes church attendance not a matter of a check-off list item, but rather an event whereby I reinforce my love for Jesus by being around other Christians. Hebrews 10:25 states - "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."

Come back tomorrow, dear reader, as we will look at further assurances of salvation described by 1 John. May the Lord bless you this Lord's day.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Saturday 4/25 P2 How do I know that I'm a Christian? Christians love closeness to God and love His word

1 John 5:13 "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."

Introduction:
Yesterday we noted that assurance of salvation refers to "knowing that I know that I know that I am a Christian". We also observed that a true believer in Jesus Christ is known by what he or she loves, and what he or she hates. We saw yesterday that a true Christian will hate sin. From this point onward, 1 John gives us affirmations of assurance based upon various things that the Christian loves. Truly if we say we love Jesus Christ, then it will be exhibited by loving the things that He loves. As we progress into 1 John, let me mention the key verse of the letter, 1 John 5:13 "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." What areas indicate, bear witness, give evidence that I truly am saved from the wrath to come, and have a true heart of faith in Jesus Christ? Below are a couple of key areas that a true child of God should see more and more love.

1. True Christians will ultimately love closeness to God above comfort in this life
1 John 1:7-9 states: "but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Positively speaking, to fear God means that I will make it my aim to not let anything get between me and my closeness with the Lord. John is especially fond of describing the believer's walk in terms of "walking" and "light". 

Here is a good diagnostic question to ask? Do I find the pattern of my life gravitating more towards those things which will build me up in my relationship with Christ, or do I go for those things that will gain me favor in the eyes of men?

As we noted yesterday, there will be those moments when the true Christian may choose the things of this world above the things of Christ. However, the true heart of faith cannot persist in such a state. That is why verse 9 is included, since a true believer will correct their course and ultimately strive towards the light. Their love for Jesus, ultimately, is greater than anything they could have towards the world.

2. True Christians have a growing love for His word
1 John 2:3 states - "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." Jesus says a similar statement in John 14:21 "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” The way I regard the written word of God is directly related to how I regard the living word Jesus Christ. Love for the scriptures is the response of a human heart that is open to and touched by the work of God's Divine Grace. When I find myself wavering in my love and passion for the word, I find the words of Psalm 119:18 helpful " Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law." We need God's grace to enable us to love the things He loves. A true believer, over time, will not only learn to love the scripture, but to live to love the scripture. Why? Because it is the written word of God that points the Christian to their first love, Jesus Christ.

More tomorrow...

Friday 4/24 P1 How do I know I'm a Christian? True Christians hate sin

1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
In today's blog, and over the next few days, we aim to explore specific statements from the New Testament book of 1 John that will answer the question: "How can I know, that I know, that I'm still a Christian?" Doubt is a form of unbelief about what God has done for us in the past, worry is a species of unbelief about God's ability in the present and fear is a type of unbelief regarding what God can do in the future. Many Christians walk around with troubling doubts, worries and fears about their salvation. Dr. Adrian Rogers notes: "
Yet many Christians don't know they're saved. They go around with their shoulders all bent over--drooping, wondering, and worrying. They remind me of question marks with their heads bent over, rather than exclamation points standing straight and tall and saying, "I know whom I have believed!"
Rather than being shouting Christians, they're doubting Christians. Rather than having a "know-so" salvation, they have a "hope-so" salvation." 
Thankfully, scripture gives us clear guidance on this matter.

The book of 1 John - blessed assurance
The book of 1 John has 105 verses with over 70 statements about assurance of salvation. In fact 1 John 5:13 is the key verse describing the purpose of the book: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." This little word "know" refers to certainty gained by observation and experience. The word "know" and it's synonyms are found some 25 times in John's short book. Thus assurance of salvation can be defined as: "I know, that I know, that I'm a Christian." As noted already, Christianity is not a " hope-so salvation" or "maybe salvation", rather the Bible's testimony for the true Christian is that they can have a "know-so salvation".

Assurance is demonstrated by what a Christian loves and hates. 1 John aims to help you know, have confidence, have certainty about your relationship with Jesus Christ. How does John reinforce that? By setting forth specific instances of things the true child of God loves, and those things that a true child of God hates. Below we will begin exploring these assurances of salvation by noting first what a true believer will hate. Look for these attitudes, expressions in your own life, and by faith and God's word test to see if you know, that you know that you're a Christian.

A True Christian Hates Sin 1 John 2:15-17
1 John 2:15-17 states: "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."

What in the world is "the world"?
The world in this verse is not in reference to the planet earth. Rather the term "world" describes the system of unbelief by which non-Christians operate. When a person is "worldy", they are adhering to the common held convictions shared in the unbelieving world that is in rebellion against God. 


It's one thing to be tempted and even at times go through seasons where we want to slip back to the former way of life before salvation. But the "love of the world" described here in 1 John 2:15-17 is a continual, on-going perisistence in a system of unbelief hostile to Christ.

Three components of "the world"
Note the three components of the world: lust of the flesh, the eyes and pride of life. If I persistently love what is seen above Christ whom I can't see, then I need to re-evaluate my profession of salvation. The flesh is a particular attitude that strives to embrace the world. Am I continually embracing that which is outside the known will of God? If so, I need to check whether or not I received Christ by faith in the first place. (2 Corinthians 13:5) What about the boastful pride of life? Am I more concerned with possessions than possessing Christ? Questions such as these help us test where we are at in our walk. Either I have come to possess Christ by faith, and thus will exhibit fruit that matches with what I profess; or I'll discover I am only professing Christ with my lips, and thus need to possess Him by faith.

Ultimately the true Christian cannot persist in worldliness
If I find myself caught up in the world, does that mean that I am not Christian? It all depends where I run to after I discover worldliness. If I keep running into the arms of the world, with no regrets, then I need to evaluate whether I'm merely a "professor" rather than a "possessor" of Christ. However, if come running to Christ, asking for forgiveness, acknowledging that I not merely did a bad thing, but offended God's very character in me, then I have just demonstrated evidence of true salvation.

Is there hope for Christians who dabble in worldliness?
1 John 1:9 states: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Notice the dual promise: "forgiveness" and "cleansing". 

Let me state this a plainly as possible: A true Christian cannot lose there salvation nor will a true Christian ultimately ever want to lose salvation. There will be those seasons in a Christian's life when they might very well fall for the enticements of this world. Ask the great apostle Peter, who doubted Christ three times. He clearly was worldly. But what does the scripture tell us in John 21? When Jesus came to Him, He in repentance told Jesus "yes Lord, you know that I love you" three times. Jesus restored Him, cleansed him from the affects of his denials, and Peter became the premier leader in the early church.

These ways of evaluating our heart are crucial to our Christian growth. Thankfully the scriptures, not our feelings, are the chief way we know whether or not we are Christians. Right after the passages describing the world, John states in 1 John 2:21 "I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth." As we draw assurance from the scriptures, our emotions and our thoughts will line up behind the scriptures, like little children behind a parent. For it is in the scriptures I meet and commune with the very Jesus I not only profess to know, but know that I know that I know.

More tomorrow....

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Richness of Fruitfulness in the Christian life - Preserved in salvation



John 14:23 "Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him."

Introduction:
God has called the Christian to a fruitful life that ought to be characterized by growing onward and upward in Him. This type of life is not guaranteed immunity from trouble (see John 16:33) nor seasons of challenge and trials (1 Peter 1:6-7). Nonetheless, the fruitful life is empowered by God to bear forth fruit in the midst of troubles, challenge and trials and learns to be a blessing to others. Frutifulness ought to be desired by all Christians, however it seems so often that we would rather settle and get by the skin of our teeth than bear forth fruit. Thankfully, the Father's task of bearing forth fruit has not been left entirely in our hands. By His Sovereign work and illuminating the Christian's will to desire spiritual growth, fruitful Christianity can turn out to be the type of life that is rich in joy and faith in the Lord. Today's post will be dedicated to unfolding the richness of fruitfulness in John 14:23-15:16. What is there about fruitful Christianity that makes it truly enriching? 

Fruitfulness is enriching because the Christian is preserved in their salvation
As Jesus continues on his his final remarks and teaching of his disciples in the Upper Room on the eve of his crucifixion, the topic with which He is concerned about unfolding is that of fruitfulness. Fruitful Christianity is enriching because of the fact that God has guaranteed the preservation of salvation. Notice three reinforcing thoughts that demonstrate the richness of being preserved in one's salvation.

1. God preserves us to be a home for His presence. John 14:23-25
 John 14:23 reads - "Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him." The word underlined "abode" is found in only one other place in the New Testament, John 14:2, and is translated by the phrase "dwelling places". John 14:2 reads - "In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you." The words underlined in both passages speaks of a "permanent dwelling place". Henceforth whenever the Father and Son take up residence inside the Christian by way of the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit, that work is permanent, preserving and persevering.

2. God preserves Christians by the Helper - the Holy Spirit
As Jesus is outlining His teaching on the fruitful Christian life, He is careful to bookend His discussion with this major truth about the preservation and perseverance of the Christian to the end. Popularly known as "eternal security", preservation of salvation speaks of God "preserving" all true believers to the end. Some Christian groups teach that it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation and have even appealed to Jesus' teaching here in John 14 and 15 as proof. Is that true? To attempt to prove their point, such teachers will appeal to passages such as John 15:2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." But is Jesus speaking about loss of salvation or is He teaching about someone who never had salvation?" The point of the wider context of fruitbearing in John 14:23-15:11 is summarized well by Dr. Wayne Grudem: "The point of the imagery is that those who bear fruit thereby give evidence that they are abiding in Christ. Those who do not (bear fruit) are not abiding in Christ." If Christ is in me, and I in him, then I will bear fruit. The argument of this blogger and the scripture is that the nature of Christ's abiding is a permanent one.

The Christian is not left alone to fend for themselves. Jesus teaches this point in John 14:26-27  "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." The Person of the Holy Spirit is God in us as Christians. Because of this Mighty "Helper", all true Christians are guaranteed preservation in their salvation. Other texts speak of the Holy Spirit sealing the Christian until the day of Christ's return. (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30)

To know that as a Christian that I am preserved in my salvation and will persevere to the end does not give license for sin, but rather a license to avoid it at all costs. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 states: "
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." The fact that God in the Person of the Holy Spirit is indwelling the Christian as a permanent resident is the clear teaching of John 14:23-31. So the believer's preservation of salvation is truly what makes fruitfulness rich. God preserves the Christian to be a home and His preservation of the Christian is due to the Helper, the Holy Spirit. Now let's consider one final thought...

God preserves the Christian to have a fruitful life to the end
As we noted a moment ago, the preservation of Christian salvation functions as book ends in this text. John 15:16 "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you." The underlined phrase in John 15:16 reinforces this first rich truth of fruitfulness in the Christian life - namely that no matter how tough seasons of life may go, the Christian will ultimately abide and remain due to the promise of their fruit remaining. God preserves every Christian to have a fruitful life to the end. Having something means you have received it at some beginning point and that it is your. With regards to how this works in the teaching of eternal preservation of salvation, Dr. Adrian Rogers notes: "Somebody once said, if you could have it and not know it, you could lose it and not miss it. But the truth is, if you have salvation, you know it; and if you have it and know it, you can never lose it."

When Jesus said He chose the disciples prior to their choosing him, that means then His choosing of them was the basis for their preservation. The Lord saw these disciples as completed and perfected already, even though they throughout the course of their lives were being pruned and going through process. Included in God's election or choosing of the Christian are the details of their bearing fruit and producing good works. Ephesians 2:8-9 is typically quoted as a standard biblical definition of salvation - "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." However, very few go on to the next verse, which speaks of the richness of fruitbearing and the eternal salvation of the believer. Notice Ephesians 2:10 - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." To demonstrate how Ephesians 2:10 shows the preservation of the believer's salvation as being related to fruitbearing to the end, consider the following logical argument:

God's knowledge of future events is 100% guaranteed

God planned good works for every Christian and knew already their future outcome

Hence, the guarantee of the Christian persevering to the end in fruitbearing is 100%. 

Closing thoughts
Today we considered the richness of fruitfulness in the Christian life as it relates to preservation in salvation. We noted three headings from John 14:23-30 that underscores how we know that Christians are preserved in their salvation.

1. God preserves Christians to be a home for his presence. John 14:23-25

2. God preserves by the Helper - the Holy Spirit. John 14:26-27

3. God preserves Christians to be fruitful to the end. John 14:28-30; 15:16

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

God's Greatness is central to evangelism


Romans 11:25-26a "For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved.....".

Introduction: A Father's great love towards two people who didn't deserve it 
I'll never forget the time I attempted to build a stool for my mother's birthday. My father was a carpenter and so I asked him how I needed to go about doing the project. After he explained to me a basic plan, I went to work. Sadly, I thought I knew better than my dad and so I chose my own plan and went about finding some scraps of wood and borrowing an old worn-out handsaw. As a young adolescent boy, it became immediately clear that my father's carpentering abilities had not been inherited in the genes. After about an hour into the project, I realized the stool was going to take longer than I had planned. My little sister came along trying to help, only to be met by a smug and overbearing big-brother telling her to go way. It did not take long until we got into a big argument. I called her names and thought I had finally taken care of any more attempts on her part to "help". My sister thought it would be wise to take the pieces of the project and throw them into the weeds. 

Now I'll admit, I totally deserved it! The problem now was we had the classic "two-wrongs don't make a right" scenario. Moreover, my dad had to hear the whining adolescent brother complaining about his sister and the little sister crying because of the hurtful things that had been said. The project was doomed. By the way we both had handled out disagreement, my dad could had said enough was enough and not be obligated whatsoever to intervene and complete a project that we obviously could not finish. 

But do you know, my dad not only intervened, he ended up building a far better stool for my mother and get this: after working with us to reconcile our differences, the day came for my mother to get the stool and my dad gave my sister and I both the credit. It was obvious he did the work and it was even more obvious that because of him and what he taught us in our relationship with him, everything got achieved, and then some. Neither my sister, and even moreso neither did I deserve that gracious intervention from my dad. I more than she had been overbearing, and in many ways her actions were provoked by mine. Nonetheless, my dad did not give up. 

Today's post is all about highlighting how God's greatness overcomes a great problem through His greatness. God's greatness is man's greatest need. Unless God's greatness in the glory of Jesus Christ is proclaimed as the prime motive and purpose of missions, the effort to evangelize will quickly run out of fuel and fervor. To see how God's greatness is so central to evangelism, we will consider three headings: A great problem, a greater solution and the greatest truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

The Great-problem: Humanity has rejected the Great God
Two groups of people, the Jews and the Gentiles, had separately rejected God and were at odds with one another. The greatness of Romans 11:1-32 is found in Romans 11:33-36. The Jews had been given everything they needed to achieve God's purposes, and they rejected Him in exchange for a plan of their own. Romans 9:4-6a states - "who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the templeservice and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, andfrom whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed." God didn't fail, nor His word, but rather the failure to respond to God's gracious calling lies with man. With that said, Paul raises and answers an important question in light of the Jews rejection of God and the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus Christ in Romans 11:1a  "I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!" The Gentiles are now being given the opportunity to hear the Gospel and respond to God's gracious offer of salvation. 

The Gentile nations had not exhibited any better track record than the Jewish people, and are really no more deserving of God's grace than Israel. The Gentiles are guilty of the unthinkable: exchanging and trading the Greatness of the God who made everything for lesser, created things. Romans 1:21-23 "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures." Both Jews and Gentiles have a great, insurrmountable problem of which is a result fo their own doing. Unless a greater solution is offered, there will be no hope nor answer. The book of Romans indicates that God justly hands over Gentiles (Romans 1:25-31) and Jews (Romans 11:21) to receive justice. This is the great problem - man's lostness, enmity with God and condemnation.

The Greater solution - the Greatness of the Gospel 
However the Book of Romans and the whole Bible tells us that God is not giving up. There is a great salvation. Romans 1:16-17 reminds us about the Gospel - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” One of the definitions I have heard about God's righteousness is that it is His greatness and glory put on display. The greatness of the Gospel is plainly stated in Hebrews 2:3 - "how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard." Now what makes this Gospel so great? Hebrews 2:4 reveals the source: "God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will." 

Because God is such a great God and because God has set his affection on a large number of people from every nation, including the Gentiles, salvation's plan is going to be achieved because God desires to reconcile people from every tribe and nation and tongue, Jews and Gentiles, who respond to the Holy Spirit's saving call to them to believe, repent and be saved.   

The Greatest truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ 
Whenever you read Romans 11:25-32, the essential message is two-fold: Israel has not been ultimately rejected but momentarily set aside by God and the Gentiles are being now given the opportunity to be called by the Spirit to respond to the message of the Gospel. Evangelism and missions makes no sense without God's greatness. 

Romans 11:25-32 is tethered to the great doxology of Romans 11:33-36, which spells out clearly how great God is. Romans 11:33-36 contains over 50 words, and yet those 50 or more words cover such vast stretches of eternity and time and glory. When we walk across the suspension bridge of Romans 11:33-36, we are looking as it were into the very heart and majesty of God Himself. If we had more time we would break down this amazing text. Suffice it to say, I know of no other text in the New Testament that captures what is meant by the greatness of God. God's greatness is not so-much captured by a well-articulated definition as it is an outpouring, awe-inspiring fountain of thanksgiving and worship (what we all a doxology). 

When Jesus gave His great commission in Matthew 28:18-20, He reminded His disciples of the fact that all power had been given to him on heaven and on earth. Why? Because He promised them that He would remain with His church until the time He returns. Jesus could not make such a promise unless He was the Great God revealed in human flesh. Titus 2:13 "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."

Closing thoughts
Missions/evangelism needs the Greatness of God. If God is not great, then the Gospel is not good news, since it claims to reconcile sinners who respond by grace through faith to this Great God. The Great problem and Greater solution both need the Great God. Whenever we take in God's greatness, the reasons typically given for not sharing the Gospel are defeated: fear of rejection, lack of confidence and ackwardness. God's greatness cannot be contained. Think about it: an entire universe was made just to declare the glorious greatness of our God. (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20) God's greatness is central to our evangelism because: A great problem, a greater solution and the greatness of God revealed in Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

God is great!



Introduction:
Today's post is all about considering the scriptures that refer to the One and only Living God by the title: "The Great God" or by references that speak of God as being "great". Why is God so great? By exploring the scope of scripture we will uncover key passages that refer to God as great and see why the God of the Bible is so great.

1. God is the Great Savior
The first time we see reference to God and the term "great" in the same verse is in Exodus 14:30-31 "Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses." When Israel saw their enemies defeated, they saw in one event not only an end to their slavery, but also God defeat what Pharoah represented: the array of gods and goddesses worshipped by the Egyptians, the wealth and power of that nation and four centuries of tyranny wiped away in one night! When we come to the New Testament, Jesus is deemed the Great God and Savior in Titus 2:13 "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Indeed God is great! God is the Great Savior! 

2. God is great because He is God
Sometimes the distinction is made between praise and worship, in that "praising God" has to do with what He does, whereas "worshipping God" deals moreso with the kind of God He is. Although pressing such a distinction can go to far, it nevertheless helps us in being reminded of the fact that God's greatness in Who He is in His being defines His greatness, followed by what He does. Deuteronomy 10:17 states: "For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward." (KJV) God is the "Great God" because He literally is the Only God in a class by Himself by virtue of His majestic being (God of gods), His majestic authority (Lord of lords) and that is mighty and to be feared (translated here in the KJV by the term "terrible"). God is depicted in Deuteronomy 10:17 as a God that is just and fair in his dealings with people (literally in the Hebrew "not preferring one person over another" or the KJV "regardeth not persons") and One who is not moved by bribes. God is clearly not like human beings in the sense He is not molded by circumstances nor capable of having His hand forced to bend to anyone's will. God is God. Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie,Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? God is great because He is, well, God." Malachi 3:6  “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed." Hebrews 13:8 states similarly -  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." The God of the Bible is great. He is great because He is the Great Savior and because He is God. 

3. God is great, worthy of worship.
What made the temple in the Old Testament so great? What makes our time at church and with one another so great? Ezra gives the answer in Ezra 5:8 "Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands." Nehemiah 8:6 records later on - And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground." God is Great, worthy of worship.

Worship and praise are the spill over of fervent love for God for all He is and what He has done. At first when we read Psalm 95:3, we may be tempted to think the Psalmist is contrasting God as the greatest among many - "For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." However as you read on into the Psalm, Yahweh is affirmed as having formed every square inch of creation, which by default makes all other would "god" nothing more than non-existent, non-living idols of men's imaginations. Consider Psalm 95:4-6  "In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. 5 The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. 6 O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker." Proverbs affirms this role of the Great God as the Creator having the right to render judgment in Proverbs 26:10 "The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors." 

God is great, worthy of worship. In our worship of God in His greatness, we affirm He alone is worthy, since He alone created the world, knows everything present and also knows the end from the beginning. Daniel 2:35 says about this Great God "Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure." Consider Daniel 4:35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand. Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’  

Any God that can do all these things and Be powerful enough, knowledgable enough and present enough in the past, present and future is more than worthy of our worship. God is Great. God is the Great Savior, great because He is God and worthy of worship. It would seem at this point we have reached the summit of this mountain of truth concerning the fact that "God is great". However what is the purpose of climbing any mountain? To see glories and wonders that can never be viewed on the ground. Only one more thought can complete today's study concerning why God is so great, namely...

4. God is greatly revealed in Jesus Christ
When we come to the New Testament, the Oneness, Greatness and Uniqueness of God in His being is still affirmed. Such a teaching of the Bible pertaining to God as being the only Great God is what we call "mono-theism". But now in the New Testament we find a second and equally important truth, namely the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Passages such as John 1:1 and Colossians 1:16 tell us that God in His Oneness of Being is also plural in His identity. The Old Testament hints at God's plurality of identity (i.e Genesis 1:26 "let us make man in our image and likeness") and the New Testament defines this plurality of identity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). This identity is not merely three names or modes or "masks" that God wears, but they are Three-Personalities and thus Three-Persons sharing in the One, undivided, eternal Divine nature. 

By affirming God as One God and Jesus the Son as God revealed in human flesh, the groundwork is laid for affirming the Trinity. Two New Testament scriptures use this title "Great God" to identify the Lord Jesus Christ. The first is one we looked at near the beginning of this post,  Titus 2:13 "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Hebrews 1:3 affirms the greatness of the Son that is stated in Titus 2:13 - "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exactrepresentation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." The second New Testament verse we'll consider features the last time we find "great" and "God" in the same verse, namely Revelation 19:17, wherein we see these words spoken by an angel in the context of Jesus' second coming - "And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God." When we take everything we learned from the Old Testament usage of this title "Great God" and apply it to Jesus Christ, we now see the full and complete picture as to why the Great God of the Bible is so great. 

Conclusion
By this point our minds and hearts ought to be stretched beyond their limits and conclude that the only proper response is not analysis, but worship. God is great! This one key thought is what I want us all to focus upon today. Why is God great? He is the Great Savior, He is God, He is worthy of worship and God is revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ. God is great!

Monday, April 20, 2015

An explosive prayer-life moving in the power of God


Romans 8:26-27 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Introduction:
There is perhaps nothing that illustrates power in the physical realm quite like a tractor pull. The roar of multiple engines and the strain of two enormous tires eating the ground to pull a sled weighing thousands of pounds causes my heart at least to leap out of its chest. Such displays of power are fun to watch. There is another phenomenon of power that every Christian has at their disposal that exceeds any tractor puller and yet is often neglected. Of what power do I speak? God's power in an explosive-prayer life of the Christian. 

What constitutes powerful Christianity and church-life is the powerful prayer lives of Christians who walk with God. Our own sense of self-importance has resulted in a bloated American church that looks more like the culture and less like a counter-culture centered around the belief in the Risen Christ and the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the Word of God and transformed lives. 

Romans 8:21-28 gives the list of ingredients necessary for having an explosive prayer life. As one writer once put it: "a man (and for that matter a woman) of God can never exceed in their public life the level to which they are with God in their private life." If we can take note of the principles Paul lays out here for praying with power, then we will have the Christian lives and churches that are also marked with the Spirit's power and enduement.

1. Pray with eagerness. Romans 8:21-25 
Romans 8:21-25 states: "that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22 For we know that the whole creationgroans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 Forin hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." Notice the underlined words in the text: "waiting eagerly" and "hope". Do we expect God to genuinely work when we pray? Are we expecting Him to act on our behalf. The tone of the Christian world and personal Christian living is often powerless due to the fact we don't believe God is powerful. We don't expect God will move on our behalf and are shocked to no end when we see Him move. We approach prayer with a "ho-hum" attitude, rather than seeing prayer as having a Personal conversation with the Omnipotent God that achieves all the purposes of His will. 

We have tamed our understanding of God and domesticated Him to operating on the same plane as we do. If God is powerful enough (and He is) to bring to a resolution the sin and decay of this creation through the redemptive efforts of His Son, surely he can act effectively on your behalf and mine. So to pray with power, we must pray with eagerness. This entails knowing that God is able to do whatsoever His will in His Word says he can and will do. But notice a second necessary element...

Pray with weakness. Romans 8:26 
Romans 8:26 states - "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." If there is one thing missing in our church world and Christianity as a whole in America it is the sense of dependency on God. We like to come off like we have it all together. Showing of strength, human ingenuity, professionalism, cleverness, no problems, personality and the like make for appealing to the crowds and attracting more people. However, does such an environment foster the type of atmosphere wherein the Spirit of God will show up in supernatural power? 

Consider again what we learn in prayer, and apply it in your Christian life or the church world: "His power is made perfect in weakness". Admitting that I don't have the answers. Acknowledging to God we need help with this or that. Coming to our heavenly father as a little wee child comes to their daddy with upheld arms, moistened eyes and quivering voice saying: "Daddy, please help me!" Would any decent father reject such a plea? Hardly! How much more our Heavenly Father will grant the co-equal, co-eternal Spirit in powerful aid to those crying out in prayer. 

Our strength lies in our weakness. Strength shown in weakness is a message so alien to our culture. Nonetheless, this is what is called for in praying with power, namely praying in our weakness and dependance upon God. As we already mentioned, we need to pray with eagerness. But notice the last ingredient for praying with power...

Praying with faith in God. Romans 8:27-28
Romans 8:27-28 "and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." In prayer the mind and the human spirit are linked together. The mind that has taken in the words of God from the Bible knows the will of God. The human spirit that is home to the Holy Spirit of God intuitively knows the will of God. Faith by its very definition in Hebrews 11:1 is the substance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not yet seen. 

Fear says: "Maybe". Faith says: "He can". Fear says: "I'm not sure". Faith says: "I know He will". Prayer crosses over that invisible boundary between human half-hearted prayers vs Spirit-wrought powerful intercession by what we can call "certainty" and "knowing that we know that we know". Romans 8:28 is an everest in the Christian's prayer life. You can take that one verse and pull it over every area of your Christian life and whatever is lacking in our local churches. Praying with power will lead to living with power, worshipping with power and preaching with power. 

Closing thoughts
We need the power and Person of God in our lives. May we pray with eagerness, weakness and faith. Those are the ingredients for having an explosive prayer life that moves forth in the power of God! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How Israel is relevant to the Christian



Romans 11:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Introduction:
Why should Christians be concerned about Israel? The Apostle Paul uses his burden for his fellow Jews and the Jewish nation as a springboard for consideration of God's plans for Israel and their salvation. Such plans are interlaced with the project God has at this current moment of calling forth specific people from every nation on earth to respond to the Gospel. Unless we understand the destiny of Israel as being interconnected to one of the main reasons why people are hearing the Gospel today, we will miss out on how Great God is in saving both Jews and Gentiles. How is Israel relevant to the Christian? Consider the following thoughts from Romans 11:25-36...

1. God's Greatness is shown because of Israel. Romans 11:25-27
Israel's persistent refusal as a people group to bow the knee to Jesus Christ is being used by God in His Sovereign plan to give space for Gentiles to hear the Gospel, respond to the Spirit's calling and to result in the salvation of large numbers of people from every people group. The proportion of Jewish people believing on Jesus as their Messiah will be relatively few, and that is in ways we cannot comprehend, part of God's design. The fault of any person, Jew or Gentile, for not believing, lies of course with that person. With that said, God's main focus in this current age is the salvation of many people from all nations. As only God can do, the temporary setting aside of Israel in this current age of grace, and the salvation of many Gentiles, will be used by God to make Israel jealous and prepared to look to Jesus as Savior and Lord at His second coming. Consider Romans 11:26-27 "and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” It is no mystery that in showing the great of God, the greatness of God in the Person of the Son would be close by in this passage. Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God, being "The Word made flesh" (John 1:14); God manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) and the soon coming Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). Israel's destiny in ultimately being saved is relevant because it points us to the Greatness of God. But now notice a second reason how Israel is relevant to the Christian...

2. The Gospel's Greatness is shown because of Israel. Romans 11:28-32
In Romans 11:28-32 we are given a set of binoculors through which we can gaze at the wonder of God's redemptive work. The amazing thing about binoculors is that through two eye pieces the viewer can get a closer perspective on otherwise far away objects. Each lens is designed for each eye. The way our eyes work are that each sees a portion of whatever is in front of our eyes for the sake of generating a three-dimensional view in our brains. If you take your finger and stretch out your arm and then close one eye, then another, you will witness your finger shift left, then right. Without this feature, we would lack the ability to have depth perception and things would look quite flat. Binoculors take advantage of this team work between our eyes and help magnify far-away objects so that we can see them as they really are. 

Paul is viewing Israel through two eyes pieces: the lens of the Gospel and the lens of Sovereign election. It appears through the lens of the Gospel that Israel is a total lost cause. She persists in her refusal of Jesus and her spiritual blindness and deafness to the Gospel is very evident. However, whenever we look through the second eye-piece, Sovereign election, the view is quite different. Israel is still God's chosen and elect people. Romans 11:29 states - "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." 

What Paul then does is view God's plan for Gentiles in this current age through both lenses to reveal a fully-three dimensional picture. Sovereign election and human responsibility in believing or refusing the Gospel are part of God's plan in saving both Jews and Gentiles. The greatness of the Gospel is that those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ can only give credit to One - God. Sadly, those who persist in unbelief can only blame one person - themselves. Romans 11:32 states - "For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all." All humanity is born into this world in unbelief - whether Jew or Gentile. God's judgment rightly falls on all men and quite frankly, He is under no obligation to save anyone. Israel is used to illustrate a small slice of the fact that despite having done nothing to commend God to her, God has so chosen to set a time and place whereby He will suddenly call individuals within the nation of Israel to respond, freely believe on Jesus and be saved at His appearing. Galatians 3:22 sheds further light by using similar wording to what we see in Romans 11:32, notice - "But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."

The binoculors of Romans 11:28-32 shows how God is using Israel in the accomplishment of the greatness of the Gospel. If we as Christians can grasp the relevance of Israel, we will better appreciate the greatness of God and the Gospel. But now notice one final reason how Israel is relevant to the Christian...

3. Greater worship occurs when we consider God's plan for Israel. Romans 11:33-36
In writing out this post today, this writer admits that at best, only the faint outline of the tremendous richness of Romans 11:25-32 can be grasped. How God uses Israel to make room for Gentiles to respond to the Gospel, and how He in turn uses Gentile response to set the stage for what will be Israel's future salvation is amazing and mind-blowing. I suspect this is why Paul wrote his sudden explosion of worship (a doxology) in Romans 11:33-36. God's greatness is not full appreciated until it results in worship. God's purposes in the Gospel are not fully treasured until worship of God has taken place. Worship is astonishing in that on the one hand, we know full-well the God whom we praise and yet on the otherhand, barely comprehend the God Whom we are exalting. 

To illustrate the point just made, what response do you find when witnessing a beautiful sunrise or sunset? or standing in front of the ocean for the first time? how about seeing a bride come down the isle or beholding the face of your newborn child or grandchild? a person understands what they are seeing and yet cannot claim they comprehend it all in its fulness. The mystery of a new life and beholding a person never before seen in this world is all at once a reality that occurs daily and yet has the sense of being made possible by Someone whose thoughts are higher than our own. Scientists can explain the sun's refracting light through the layers of Nitrogen and Oxygen in our atmosphere to produce the sunset, and yet they cannot capture the feeling of awe and transcendance that often accommpanies such phenomena. Beholding the ocean for the first time is far different than seeing a glass of water. The ocean's immensity swallows up the viewer and elicits forth words such as "awesome" and "amazing". 

What is the point? The point is this: worship of God can only come about when we have a true vision of God's greatness and His greatness in the greatness of the Gospel. Romans 11:36 stands as one of the greatest verses in the Bible: "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory for ever and ever, Amen." The destiny of Israel must ever be moreso in the forefront of our minds and hearts, since God uses it to enable us to worship Him all the more. We marvel at how He ever desires to show mercy to Israel, being reminded of the fact we had done nothing at all to solicit His mercy toward us. Psalm 122:6-9 gives us the best practical way to include Israel's destiny in our daily lives - Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:“May they prosper who love you. 7 “May peace be within your walls, And prosperity within your palaces.” 8 For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good."

Closing thoughts:
Today we looked at Romans 11:25-36 to discover how and why Israel is relevant to the Christian. In better understanding God's destiny for Israel, we discover the following benefits and thus the relevancy of Israel to our lives:

1. God's Greatness is shown because of Israel. Romans 11:25-27

2. The Gospel's Greatness is shown because of Israel. Romans 11:28-32

3. Greater worship occurs when we consider God's plan for Israel. Romans 11:33-36