Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How Deep The Love?

It's been said, and rightly so I believe, that the Church is unique in that you have to admit just how bad you are before you can get in. And as true as that is, it's just as true that a very large portion of believers (the Church) still think they need to be "good enough" for God's love to be effective in their life. There is a bondage that believers find themselves in when they focus on God's justice apart from His mercy, and His plan. God is completely just. So when we sin, when we do wrong things, when it truly is "all our fault" what should we expect of Him? What is He like in these situations? The question is; How deep into your evil heart can God's love get?

Oh, it's a fundamental question. And one that rightly preoccupies many a man face down in prayer and supplication. Come on admit it. You've been on your face (or maybe on your knees?) asking for mercy because of something you know you caused. When you're there are you truly expecting mercy or is there some part of your heart that believes God would show His true character by crushing you... or letting you suffer the consequences of what you did? Come on be honest, I can't hear what you're thinking. I've been there. Face down and saying something like "Father God, I know it's my fault but will you rescue me again?"

It's an interesting question that "will you" isn't it? The very question answers our prayer. We're instructed to pray with expectation are we not? When teaching about praying for wisdom for trials the Apostle James tells us what we can "expect" if we don't pray with faith, and that is simply - nothing. As I type this I realize, this is a tough teaching. I know how tough it is, I've just learned it myself. So what kind of "expectation" can we have when the problem we're facing is truly "all our fault"?

God will glorify Himself. That is our purpose in the world. It is God's purpose for History. He will do this in every situation. God is glorified when He gets all the credit, when what He has said happens. As He says in Isaiah 46:9-11 that He declares the end from the beginning. It's how He identifies Himself. This is a fundamental characteristic and identifier of God. God says we can identify false prophets, or prophets who are not from God by the fact that what they say is not true, does not come to pass. Deut 13 Deut 18:21-22 OK before I go too far off track I'll try to make sense of this paragraph. God has said a number of things about His glory, redemption and His plans for believers. And if what He has said is not true then He Himself would by His own definition be a false prophet. Since God can not lie, and therefore can not be a false prophet it follows that what God says is true and that would include what He has said about His plans for believers.

Let's get back to the beginning and then put the situations we find ourselves in, in perspective. When a person is saved they "repent" or judge themselves guilty and unworthy and God holy and completely worthy. We transfer trust from ourselves to Christ. In effect we admit we're evil. And then we trust that Christ really did die for all of our sins. That He truly paid the full price for us. Grace, or unmeritted favor, is shown by Holy, Just, and Righteous God towards the evil unworthy sinner and the sinner is instantly justified, is reborn and becomes a child of God. It's an amazing thing that every Christian depends on.

And then we do something wrong. We really mess up. Maybe intentionally. What then? Was God's grace only good enough for salvation and now we have to pay the price for the rest of our sins? I hope not. Because the payment required for sin is simply death. But on the other hand, once a person is saved do they get a free ride? Can they simply "get away with" anything and everything? Or is there a third option revealed in Scripture. I'm sure you're all smart enough to figure out I'm going to go for the "third option" so I'll save you any further build up.

God is just. But our Eternal Life depends on the fact that Christ died for our sins on the Cross. There is nothing more to be "paid" or "made up for" by those who trust Him. His stated plan for us is this - to conform us to the image of Christ. It is a worthy and fundamental study for any Christian to find out what the Character of Christ is. Not only because He is God and our Savior but because it is this state of Character that God is working each of us toward. But the Lord Himself gives a really good description in Mat 11:27-30 This is God's ultimate purpose for every believer. To bring them to the point that they look just like Christ Jesus. Perfection will not happen in this life but will be fully realized when we stand face to face with God. This is God's stated purpose and since His glory rides on the truthfulness of His Word we know that He is going to make what He has declared, actually happen.

And this becomes practical in the life of a believer who's failed in some regard, either big or small, because God's purpose is not to punish the believer for sin. His purpose is to make the believer more like His Son Jesus Christ. He gets glory when He does this. When we are rescued from our sin, our screw ups and even our intentional misbehavior it is God showing Himself faithful. Our part in this is to humble ourselves. Mat 18:4 Mat 23:12

Think about the Glory of God. If someone is good, does God show His power by setting that person in a high position? Or does God get glory when the most unexpected person is cleaned up, changed, and put in a position he or she could never have reached on their own? James explains this thought in James 1:9-10

The Lord explains what the person with failure is to be like Himself in Luke 18:9-14

9And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:

10"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

11"The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

12'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'

13"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

14"I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Let's say a Christian gets a speeding ticket because they were really speeding. Is God's justice served by the Christian paying that ticket? Nope. God's justice was served at the Cross. So does that mean that God won't make a Christian pay a speeding ticket then? Nope. The truth is that paying the ticket doesn't satisfy God. We are saved by faith. It is God's purpose that we are purified, we become more like Jesus. That's the reason why God came to die for our sins.

So when a Christian has messed up and it's his or her own fault can they pray to God to be saved from the consequences? Yes. We can pray that God's real purpose for us is fulfilled. We can humble ourselves before Him. We can go before the Mercy Seat and pray for the mercy that was purchased for us at the Cross. We know God's heart for our lives. And knowing that gives us a sure foundation to base our prayers on. It might be that it's going to take paying that speeding ticket for us to be humbled. It's going to be different in every situation. But God's purpose is that we are humbled, not destroyed or punished. His purpose is that we would be purified to be more like Christ so that we can be "zealous for good works." And He gets the credit, or the glory, for those good works when the only way we could have done them is by His power.

So if you're in a situation that is you're own fault, you've just realized you're part of the club. That's the problem that Humanity faces. We truly have all sinned, or fallen short of the Glory of God. You are not unique.

You know God's purpose, and if God was willing to die for this purpose you know He's serious about it. So while you're praying for a way out of paying for your ticket you MUST get serious about God's purpose too. And you must have faith that God really did die for all your sins. That His love goes to the deepest, darkest portions of your heart. That it brings light to these dark caverns that harbor the evil that leads us into sin even after we are saved. Go before God in confidence that will do what He has said He will do. Confess your sin before Him, and whoever else He tells you to confess it to if anyone at all. Know that this confession is part of God's plan of humility in your life and that through it He forgives AND cleanses all unrighteousness. Look carefully His plan is not just to forgive, it is to cleanse us of these things. Walking or living in this kind of openness and humility is called "walking in the light." It is having your heart exposed, to yourself, to God and to your brothers and sisters in Christ. This will not only keep you out of trouble it will foster the character of Christ in you that is God's purpose for our lives.

And if God's purpose is being fulfilled without you having to suffer the consequences for sin then it is completely reasonable for the Child of God to pray for rescue with expectation that he or she really will be rescued. In all things God's purpose is to make us more like His Son, not to punish us. To hammer this home, if God's purpose after we screw up is to punish us by paying a speeding ticket (or whatever) then He's lied about what the "wages of sin" actually is. And He's lied about Who died for our sins, and what that accomplished. Need I remind you that God cannot lie?

So Christian, stop praying against the consequences of sin and start praying in accordance with God's purpose. In that you can be confident that no matter what happens God is working out His plan to bring you closer to the very image of Christ. And if God is working such a great plan out in your life could you possibly have reason to fear?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Those who do, and those who don't.

Of late, I and some of my close brethren in the Lord have been accused of holding a “laundry list” of stumbling blocks before the feet of the unconverted and thereby preaching a false gospel. We've been accused of negating the Lord's beckoning of the lost sinner to come and freely drink of the Living Water for Eternal Life. These are serious accusations, and if they prove true then my brethren and I are in grave danger, even more grave than the poor souls who would therefor have been led astray by our preaching and proclamation.

The Gospel we preach is this; That God Himself came in the form of a flesh and blood man lived a perfect life and willingly died on the Cross as He was prophecized, and qualified to do on our behalf for our sins. And that He was actually dead and was buried, and that from the dead He was resurrected to life and seen by some 500 people in the flesh. A lost sinner must believe this and cast his own trust on Christ Jesus Who did these things as his only hope for salvation, which is repentant faith.

We also preach that the confidence of salvation comes from trusting that Christ did this and the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the new Christian's own spirit. We affirm that repentant faith may or may result in many actions, intents and/or changes but that these results are not themselves repentance.

Our accusers tell us that a person can be saved by believing that Jesus is qualified to give them Eternal Life, so the call preached (as far as I can discern) is “Believe on Jesus for Eternal Life”. Our accusers are on record in many places stating that the person can be saved while denying or not knowing they are sinners, while denying and/or not knowing that Jesus is The Christ God Himself, and while denying and not knowing about Christ's resurrection.

If I have misrepresented our accusers stance and preaching then let it be assumed I am arguing against the stance and preaching that I have just described. I have found that our accusers often write in “double-speak” and in terminology which sounds like Christianity but is not based in the Scriptures.

In Mark 16 Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself provides what we have come to call “The Great Commission.” And in it the Lord tells us the two results the Gospel will have.

Mark 16:14-18 NKJV

14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The Great Commission starts with a rebuke to those who did not believe He had been resurrected. That strikes me. The importance of belief in the Resurrection is set out first. And that makes sense to me but I'll get to that. The Lord says “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” He tells them to preach the Gospel. And then He declares the two states of man in this age. The person who believes will be saved. The person who does not believe will be condemned.

Does this condemnation happen only through denial? No John 3:18 tells us this “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Oh precious truth, the Gospel saves a person out of condemnation because those who believe it are not condemned but those who do not are condemned already.

In a parallel passage to “The Great Commission” we read in Luke 24:45-48

45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things.

“And you are witnesses of these things.” What things? Christ's death and resurrection, and repentance and remission of sins. These are the things we are to witness to the world.

When did the Lord first tell about the Gospel of Grace? Mat 16:21 “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” They had already been sent out with the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is the “Good News of the Kingdom”. Israel's coming Kingdom was there and available to them, they simply needed to repent and say “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the LORD!” but they did not repent, and instead of recognizing Jesus as Messiah the Prince they had Him killed. They did not recognize God for Who He Is. We must take Israel's missteps and use them as warnings for ourselves and those we minister to.

The Lord sent the Disciples out with the Gospel of His Death and Resurrection, which I and others often term “The Gospel of Grace” or “The Gospel of the Risen Lord” or even just “The Gospel of Christ.” The Lord says in Mark 16 that those who believe this Gospel will be saved, and those who do not will not be. But what exactly IS this Gospel. What is the “content” or “laundry list” of “doctrines” or “items” that need to be believed to be saved.

The Apostle Paul tells us with great clarity in 1 Cor 15. He begins his teaching to saved Christians with the statement that “I declare to you the Gospel by which you are saved.” Some have stated that this is Paul declaring “how” Christians are saved and not the content of what must be believed. While it surely is news of what happened in order for us to be saved, the Lord's own words tell us that we do need to believe it for salvation to happen. In closing the Apostle shows that all those sent out from God preach the same message saying “Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

So we have the full content of the Gospel that must be believed for a person to be saved in 1 Cor 15:1-11.

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

At this point the preacher can make it very complicated explaining the whys behind each verse of this section or he can follow the example of Paul in all his dealings and know the audience.

The Gospel can be preached as I recounted near the start of this subject or it can get as deep as discussing how all of Creation is under the Curse to die for sin and so that any “created being” who dies is actually dying for their own sin and so could not possibly die for anyone else's sin. This requires that the Christ actually be God. This sort of information is not “required” by the Gospel but there are people who will demand the Gospel be explained to them in full detail. The amazing thing about the Gospel is that it does make sense, it is fully defensible.

There are many examples in the New Testament of people asking what they must do to be saved. The answer is always “Believe on Jesus Christ.” or some variant of. Belief is always the requirement. It is the content of that belief that is important. The Lord Himself defined it, the Apostle Paul defined it, and what's more the Apostle Paul proclaimed under Holy Inspiration that all the Apostles preached this very same Gospel. If “Believe on Jesus for Eternal Life” is the proper Scriptural salvation message and if believing “for” Eternal Life is what saves and not believing “on” the Christ then the salvation message was never preached until recently and so the Early Church must have been filled with false converts. May it never be said to be so!

Finally, does this Gospel that Paul and the Apostles preached in accord with the Lord Jesus Christ's command put a stumbling block in the path of the lost one seeking to drink freely of the Living Water? The Lord Himself said in John 6:53-58

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

In John 3:1-18 Nicodemus asked the Lord how to be saved, Jesus gave him the Gospel. He showed the man how he must see his sin nailed to the tree as the Israelites had to when Moses lifted up the snake (curse for sin) up on the stick.

It costs a man nothing to judge himself, appraise Christ and His work on the Cross and then rightfully transfer his trust from himself to Christ. It is no stumbling block at all except for those who would hold to their pride instead of drinking what is truly free.