Friday, October 26, 2007

The Grace of God: From Salvation to Suffering

Usually when the term “grace” is thrown around in Christian circles, we are primarily referring to the way in which God saves sinful men from death and hell and saves them unto Himself. I believe that this is one of the single greatest and most foundational things that must be understood about the Bible and Christ’s ministry. Furthermore, I believe that there are four different classes of grace (that I can think of now) that are God bestows on people for various reasons with various outcomes. This first one is saving grace that God only bestows on those people, the elect, who believe in Christ and the gospel for salvation.

The second means of grace is the general grace of God. Simply, this refers to the fact that God is patient as He endures the ongoing rebellion of humanity allowing billions of people life and breath that they only use to sin against Him. God is not obligated to give anyone any time on this earth at all. I think that Jonathon Edwards put it best when he said that it is by noting but the “mere pleasure of God” that allows wicked men, any man, to live to take one more breath.

“’There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.’ —By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.”1

The third type of grace, as I understand it, is that material blessing from God that He bestows upon people as He chooses. And more than that, He does so without regard as to whether the recipients love and cherish the Giver, or use the gift as a way to rebel against the Giver. So when God gives a reprobate or a believer health, a good job, a nice home, and other things, it is a display of God’s grace toward them. However, in the case of the reprobate, it is usually also a means of condemnation, because they end up loving the things and hating God more and more.

The final type of God’s grace is one that is virtually never seen as grace by reprobates, and Christians need to be reminded of the gracious nature of it as well at times. This is the grace of God in calamity or suffering. In these types of events, God’s grace is displayed in a number of ways. In calamity on a grand and global scale that doesn’t affect you personally (i.e. your home, livelihood, and family were not harmed), God’s grace is displayed in the most obvious way, both to the Christian and the reprobate, because this “didn’t happen to me,” but it could have. When tragedy strikes closer to home, whether that is in the death of a loved one or your own personal health crisis, this displays God’s grace in very different ways depending on that person’s standing before Christ.

If, as a born-again believer in Christ Jesus, I lose a child (as I have) or have a diagnosis come back from the doctor that is terminal, my final reaction should be one that longs to be free from sin and the agony of the repercussions of sin and desire to be with my Lord. This helps us to loosen our tentative hold on the things of the world and strive be faithful and steadfast in our running of the Christian race. These experiences are trying and painful, and I do not diminish that part, but the final cry of our hearts is that of Job when he cried out to God and said,
“Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

When the reprobate loses a child or a loved one, or when they receive a life altering diagnosis from their physician, God is actually being gracious to this person. He is not just being gracious because their life was spared, but in the case of the terminal disease or close call with death, but because their life was spared while giving them a definite reminder of their mortality. This begs the question in the lives of those who are lost, “What’s next?” God’s grace here is that he allows them both the time and the personal initiative to humble themselves before God and be responsive to the saving gospel.

It is a means of grace for anyone, especially the unbeliever, when they must face their own mortality. Because it is when someone experiences the beginning of another life, when someone experience the ending of another life, or when someone experience the hastening approach of the end of their own life, all of the worldly offerings seem to sour and the eternal things can come into sharper focus.

God is the one who draws the unbelieving sinner unto Himself. And if He does this, the unbeliever will be changed into a believer. But, even if God does not grant faith and repentance to the unbeliever, he is still condemned because of his own sin and hardening of his heart toward the kindness of God displayed to him in so many different forms of grace.

1 Jonathon Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741,

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Joy of the Believer’s Security in Christ Jesus

There are some passages in the Bible that are very comforting to read. Some of these passages after studying them cause my heart to sing with gladness and praise over and above the initial comfort that I received upon reading them. I experienced both the immediate comfort and later exceeding joy and gladness when studying one of the most memorable (rightly so) and glorious passages in the first chapter of Philippians, verse six.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

I truly believe that this statement is one that, if it is understood properly, can be a catalyst for true and lasting joy in the hearts of all believers. The basic meaning of Paul’s message here is fairly plain; God will complete His work of salvation that He Himself began in the individual believer’s life. This truth, what is commonly called “eternal security,” “the perseverance of the saints,” or “once saved always saved” is something that is at the core of the very gospel of Jesus Christ itself. It is not part of the “core” message of salvation because true believers desire to immerse themselves in an ongoing life of sin and still go to heaven. It is part of the “core” simply because the same reason that my salvation began is the same reason that my salvation and sanctification will continue and not fail. The truth is that we are saved by God’s grace, and it is only by the gracious sustaining work of God that we are kept.

The gospel is the good news. It is a message of salvation and hope for the sinner who is broken by his sin. And at the very heart of the gospel is the truth that man cannot do anything in order to save himself from the wretched position that he is in.

The gospel message begins with God. Before time began, before creation, God had chosen to give the Son a bride. And in the whole course of divine history, it was before any temporal thing ever occurred that He chose all of us who would believe (c.f. Titus 1:2) in a promise made by God to God (i.e. inter-Trinitarian promise). It is these same people who were predestined in the foreknowledge of God who will ultimately be granted faith and repentance, be justified, and be glorified (c.f. Rom 8:29-31). We know, love, and affirm the truth that we are saved by His grace alone. And as believers, we can have fellowship around this common confession of our own desperate need to be saved. Ephesians 2:8,9, Titus 3:5, and other places tell us that it is God who saves us based upon His grace and not upon the deeds that we do. We understand that all things that we do that could ever be put forward as “good deeds” are nothing but trash in God’s eyes.

If that weren’t bad enough, not only are our actions worthless (and only serve to add to our guilt) but we are called dead in our sins before God (Ephesians 2:1). God’s system of salvation is based solely on grace and doesn’t count our good works. Even if He did credit us for good works, we couldn’t do any because we’re dead in our sins. Show me a dead man who can get out of his coffin, clean himself up, get a job, and earn a living and I will show you how someone who is dead in sin can work to attain his salvation, even if it is only “in cooperation” with God. However, let’s just say that we were not dead and good works did count in our favor, we still wouldn’t want to do any (Genesis 6:5). Furthermore, even if we could actually do any good work and we wanted to do them, they would still be rejected as worthless because God is holy and does not accept our “good” deeds (c.f. Isaiah 64:6 & Titus 3:5)! That is the desperate condition of all people because we all need to be reconciled with God in order to avoid His wrath, but we have no real ability or lasting desire to be made right with God.

If our condition before God and our inability to do anything to change it, whether by changing our actions or our desires, was not bad enough, we are expressly sinning against a command He has given to all humanity when we don’t!
"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,” (Acts 17:30)
“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)

But again, as we have seen, the natural man can’t do that because he’s dead and he doesn’t want to! And it is here where the beauty of Philippians 1:6 comes in. It was God that began a good work in you. The Bible states emphatically that faith (see Jeremiah 32:40; Matthew 16:17; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) and repentance (Jeremiah 13:23; 2 Timothy 2:25; Acts 11:18) are gifts from God to the believer for salvation. The Scriptures are also clear that man is justified, made right with God and at peace with Him, on the basis of faith alone and apart from works or works of the Law. (cf. Romans 5:1, Philippians 3:9)

In other words, only those people who are given faith and repentance from God are able to then obey God’s command to repent and believe in Christ and be at peace with God.

The salvation of the elect was assured before anything was ever created. He did this for us. And if God did this for us, and there is nothing at all that we have done to deserve it more than other men and women who don’t believe the gospel. There is also nothing that we can do to void this saving work, because Christ will perfect it, He will complete it in us.

This awesome promise of God to save the believer, perfectly and finally, begs one to ask one simple, yet profoundly important, question of application: How do I know that I am saved? I don’t know a single Christian who hasn’t struggled with this issue at one time in their lives. Don’t be deceived, the Bible itself tells us to take spiritual inventory of our own lives to make certain that we are not lost.
Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; (2 Peter 1:10)
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

How? How do we do that? The first epistle of John lays out several scenarios that we can look at and see how we measure up. There is a clear distinction given between those who claim (falsely) to be believers and those who truly are born again. A really good place to start, although there are other good places too, is in the first few chapters of the book of 1 John.
5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 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.”

"4 The one who says, " I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 1:5-7; 2:4-6)

I think that these passages from John’s epistle are so clear so that we can have some sort of a tangible and heart-level guide by which to examine ourselves. One of the keys in understanding these passages clearly is contained in the verb “walk”. In verse six of chapter one, this verb is applied to both the one who has fellowship with God and the one who does not; one walks in the light and the other in darkness. John is not saying that if person claiming to be a Christian sins at all, then you are not a Christian, and he expressly states that at the end of chapter one, but what he is getting at is the overall and true life that is being lived. I would say that someone who puts on the “Christian” appearance to some degree but revels in their sin and shame when they are not around believers is a sign of someone who may be walking in the darkness. That is contrasted to someone who loves the Lord and sins daily. One of the differences between a sinning pretender and a sinning Christian, I would say, is the difference of Peter and Paul’s response to sin as opposed to Judas’ and the rich young ruler’s response.

After Peter repeatedly denied Christ, he heard the cock crow fulfilling Christ’s prophecy to him on the same night. But, after hearing the cock crow, Peter seemingly realizes the depths of his sin and went out to weep bitterly (cf. Matthew 26:75). His sorrow over his sin was not a momentary guilt that subsided when he went back to his old fishing ways, it was the sign of true repentance and sorrow over sin. Later when he perceived the risen Jesus on the shore, he didn’t wait for the boat to float in, he dove into the water in a rush to get to Christ to be reconciled (cf. John 21). Similarly, when Paul lays out his inner thoughts concerning his own sin, he confesses that he longs to do right, but instead he sins. His conclusion is the one of someone who truly hates the sin in their life, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) Both Peter and Paul sinned, and sinned grievously, either in the site of their human peers or in God’s sight, but they both had this inner longing to be restored that manifested itself in repentance and restoration.

Contrasting that, the rich young ruler felt the weight of the Savior’s pointing out his own sin, and although he wanted eternal life, he had no repentance and instead chose to leave and live in his sin away from the Savior. Judas had sorrow over some of what he’d done to Christ, but his sorrow was not one that brought him back to God. His sorrow turned his actions away from Christ and he sought to soothe his conscience through a scheme trying to make up for his error. His scheme was to pay back the blood money to the conspirators, but when he was rejected by them, his unrighteous remorse drove him to commit suicide. And so Judas’ eternal fate was at hand, and he fulfilled the words of Christ when He said, “but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)

The goal of this self-examination is not to find yourself to be sinless, because if we say that we have no sin, we make Christ a liar (1 John 1:10). The goal is also not simply to find that we have a degree of sorrow over our own personal sin and its consequences, because sorrow of sin could manifest itself into either something similar to Peter and Paul’s sorrow over sin, or the sorrow of Judas. Instead, I think a goal of this examination is to see our wretchedness as a personal affront to God and His holiness that births a sorrow over the offense that we have caused Him leading us to long for restoration to Christ and cause a change of actions in the repentance of the sin that caused God to be offended.

Both the reprobate and the Christian will sin until their dying day, both will have degrees of sorrow over the wrongs that they have done and the pain and damage they have caused, and both will attempt some sort of personal reform in order to avoid the pain and problems of the past. The difference doesn’t lie as much in the presence of sin, sorrow, or repentance, but the difference lies in the hating of sin, the cause for the sorrow, and the reason for the repentant heart.

The Christian sins but hates the sin and desires to have it killed in his very flesh. The reprobate sins and thoroughly enjoys the sin that is destroying him. The Christian has sorrow over the sin that he commits primarily because he understands that it is a supreme offense against God and that it necessitated the death of his Lord. The reprobate has sorrow over his sin insofar as he is inconvenienced or dissatisfied with some (or all) of the consequences. The Christian displays a growing repentance form his sin in order to honor Christ in his life and to be “living by that same standard to which we have attained” (Philippians 3:16). That is, Christians understand the transformation that has occurred based upon the grace of God and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer and we seek to have our life be conformed more and more to the standard set by our Lord. The reprobate simply changes his actions and, if he does change his actions, it is in order to avoid the negative repercussions that he has received before. This may not mean that the sins are ever actually given up, but it may lead to more extravagant attempts to cover up the presence of the ongoing sin.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Scriptures are for All People

For centuries, the hundreds of thousands who attended a Christian church were under the understanding, whether implicit or explicit in the way that the entrenched Roman institution ran things, that the Bible was for the clergy (or some of them) but not for the masses (no pun intended). As much as Roman Catholics or Roman Catholic historians may well dispute this assertion, from what I’ve read of history and understand about some of the reformation martyrs, I disagree with their assertions. all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:” (Philippians 1:1)

The word "saints," άγίοις (hagiois), means those who are holy, or those who are devoted or consecrated to God. The similar Hebrew word in the Old Testament was used to describe the priests, the tabernacle, the utensils used for temple service, the garments of the priests, and anything else that was specially “set apart” for the Lord. “The radical idea then, as applied to Christians, is, that "they are separated from other men, and other objects and pursuits, and consecrated to the service of God."1

It is also important to note that a saint is not a Christian who has attained a higher level temporal holiness than the average believer. Again, the Roman Catholic and other Eastern Orthodox Churches have perverted the truth that all believers are, in fact, saints in contrast to what the Bible says.
“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Peter 2:9)

This sickening elevating of various saints over and above other believers has led to the belief (among others) that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. Don’t be worried, though, according to the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia, he is also the patron saint of at least 10 different things which may include pregnant women, donkeys, and horses.2

One of the many real problems with this elevation and veneration of particular saints is that the diligent Catholic can or should pray to St. Anthony to help you find something that is lost. Why pray to a man when we can go right directly to God and seek His assistance? Further more, we are only to pray to God and to God alone. The Roman Catholic answer to this objection is that praying to St. Anthony would be like praying with your friend at church. It is fine to ask them to pray for you, so why not ask someone who is closer to God than you are? The answer to that objection is that you can pray and request the prayers of other believers, but not of those who are not currently living on the earth. Saul met with the witch of Endor and they used wicked and evil practices to contact Samuel, and this type of activity has always been an abomination before God.

So, in short, there are no classes of believers. There is no business class, first class, and chartered-private jet classes of passengers on their way to heaven. All believers have the same standing as saints before God. All believers have been imputed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ so that all believers might become the righteousness of God in Him. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21)

Furthermore, this letter is addressed to the saints, “including the overseers and deacons.” Paul’s letter was not only addressed to the various elders in Philippi, but it was addressed to all of the believers there. Why is this important? For centuries generations of the church attending masses were under the explicit understanding that they were not to read the Bible and that it was for the clergy alone. Wycliff, Tyndale, Luther, and others understood that the Bible was for all people and should be available in their own common language, and how were they received by the established religious system? All of these men were declared as heretics and persecuted based upon the doctrines that they found as explicit teachings in Scripture that were contrary to the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings. John Wycliff’s bones were dug up after his death and burned. William Tyndale was convicted of heresy and ordered to be burned at the stake. Mercifully, if murder can be merciful, Tyndale was strangled to death before his dead body was burned. Martin Luther was chased and a wanted man for most of his adult life.

The great and glorious truth of the fact that the Bible is for all believers is something to be fought for and, if necessary, to die for in order to preserve for future generations. Why? To answer this question, let me describe for you what the Bible is, what the Scriptures are, in its own words.
  • It is Pure – “Every word of God is pure, it is a shield to those who take refuge in it.” (Proverbs 30:5)
  • It is Truth – “Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth.” (John 17:17)
  • It is Living – “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
  • It is Divine Power – “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
  • It is Divine Revelation – “16 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.” (Romans 1:16-17)
  • It is of Divine Inspiration – “16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

  • It is a Light – “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105)

It is the culmination of the revelation of God to mankind for all time: thousands of years of progressive revelation written by dozens of human authors with one message pointing to one Man, the God Man Jesus Christ, for the glory of God the Father. It is also the means proclaiming the way of salvation for all who would believe. The Word of God has been delivered to the masses by means of the martyr’s blood, from Able through Rami Ayyad. Who is Rami Ayyad?
“Rami Ayyad (30), the manager of the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, was killed by unknown assailants on October 6. At approximately 4:30 p.m. Ayyad was abducted as he closed up The Teacher's Bookshop, which is owned by the Palestinian Bible Society. Shortly afterwards, his family received a telephone call from him saying that he had been kidnapped and that he would be returned home late that evening. The following day, Ayyad's body was found near the bookstore at approximately 6:25 a.m. He had been shot in the head and stabbed multiple times.

Ayyad is survived by a pregnant wife and two young sons.”3

Again, what is the Bible? It is the culmination of the revelation of God to mankind for all time: thousands of years of progressive revelation written by dozens of human authors with one message pointing to one Man, the God Man Jesus Christ, for the glory of God the Father. It is also the means proclaiming the way of salvation for all who would believe. The Word of God has been delivered to the masses by means of the martyr’s blood, from Able through Rami Ayyad. The message it contains, delivered to you and me, cost God’s own Son to endure mocking, humiliation, torture, and ultimately it cost Him His very life. And it costs you and me, a few mere dollars.

The end of this story for many individuals, if not most, in at least the Western church today is not so sweet or glorious at all. It was Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, who articulated the problem best when he said, “There is enough dust on some of your Bible's to write damnation with your fingers.”4 I understand if the unbelieving masses, who make no substantial claim to faith that would stand up to any investigation into their lives, never pick up a Bible to read it. It makes sense, these people are not saved and so it is foolishness to them! (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18) But how many people who attend Bible-believing churches are guilty of this same thing? How many haven’t cracked open a Bible, humbly searching and seeking the only source of Truth that we have, in days, weeks, or longer?

I’m not saying that it is always easy to read the Bible and study it for it’s depths of Truth. But the Bible is for us, and therefore we have the responsibility to be faithful and diligent to read and apply what God has graciously provided for us. One of my favorite modern evangelists, Ray Comfort, coined the phrase, “No Bible, no breakfast.” It is his way of making a covenant that he will not feed his body until he feeds his soul. I am not advocating a literalistic application of this saying for everyone, but I would say that we should make this kind of a resolution and intend to keep it every day. Whether we choose to not go to sleep, eat lunch, watch TV, or do anything else that we normally do on a daily basis without consuming the Word first, we must make consuming Scripture a priority.

One other reason why it is imperative that we read and know the Bible is that we are told so often in the Scriptures that man, in and of himself, is sinful, blind to God’s will, and able to be led astray from the truth. If our hearts are deceitful and wicked (cf. Jeremiah 17:9) and we’re able to be led astray, we need the Word to cut through all of that deceit and to show and judge our hearts true intentions and thoughts (Hebrews 4:12). Once our false understandings are exposed to the light, the Bible, through the power of the Holy Spirit’s working in us, can correct our understanding and cause our feelings and our thoughts to be more in line with God.

1 (from Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)


3 Voice of the Martyr’s

4 C.H. Spurgeon

Monday, October 15, 2007


Yesterday was a very exciting day for me. God granted me the privilege to preach my first sermon in my new series on Philippians at the same time as he has allowed me to have my first opportunity to preach during the Sunday morning worship service. The reason why I have chosen the book of Philippians, similar to the other books that I have taught through in Sunday school, is that I am not very familiar with the book of Philippians and the Truths that are held in its pages. So, teaching and preaching through this book will both be a great catalyst for my own learning and it will provide an opportunity for me to share what I am learning.

Also, I believe that it is best to not pick-and-choose topics or individual texts on somewhat of a random basis when preaching, but instead to work through the whole counsel of God. That way, it is much more likely that the preacher or teacher will have to deal with texts and truths that might be difficult, unpopular, and uncomfortable, but are nevertheless vital for our learning. Not that I am able to deal with all of the Scriptures and everything there, my skills and time in relation to exegesis and general Bible study as well as the available platform for teaching are somewhat limited. This causes me to not be able to go as slowly or as deeply as I would like to.

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 1:1)
The term “bond-servants” is used very often in the New Testament as a self descriptive statement of some of the Biblical authors. The Greek word translated as “bond-servants” is douloV (doulos), and it is a word that refers to common servants. One of the notable things about this designation of people in the first century is that a bond-servant is someone who is owned by another. A bond-servant can rightly be understood as a slave.

This reality creates a problem for modern understanding, especially in the United States, because whenever the term “slave” is used, our cultural history draws us back to the enslavement of black Africans in the United States, and the horror and heinous sin that this institution was. But in order to understand what it means to be “bond-servants of Christ Jesus” and the beautiful truth that this description helps to illustrate, we must be willing and able to look past our own pre-conceived ideas of slavery in our own time and look back to what it meant to Paul and the other writers of the New Testament when they attributed it to themselves. Paul, Peter, James, and Jude all use this word as a description of their relationship to Christ in the opening of their various epistles.

The hideous evil of treating someone as an animal and controlling their body, actions, and very life against that same person’s own will and desire (the very picture of slavery in America) was the American expression of the institution of slavery. However, the slavery of the Christian to the Lord Jesus Christ is a capturing of the believer’s will, affections, and desire so that his body, actions, and very life are single-mindedly focused on serving and loving his Master. In other words, man enslaves and commands the body but cannot capture the will; God’s grace enslaves the man’s will and, consequently, also commands his actions.

Christ’s work in salvation is so glorious, lovely, so profound and precious to the believer that his changed heart, will, and mind then freely bend the knee to Christ’s commands. Paul elaborates on this truth later in his discussion of his own precarious position in prison when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Furthermore, in the third chapter of this book, he gives more detailed reasons for why his mind and heart have been so drastically changed.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

To be a Christian is to be a slave to righteousness. Paul describes this slave relationship in his letter to the Romans where he says,
16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” (Romans 6:16-19)

Show me a member of our fellowship, or any fellowship, who claims the New-Birthright of a child of God (cf. 1 John 3:1-2,10) but is not and has not been growing in holiness and obedience to Jesus Christ, and I will show you someone whom I have deep concerns for. This is not concern that this person might be a “backslidden” believer nor that they are a “carnal” Christian, but it is a concern as to the reality and genuineness of their faith and whether or not this person is saved or whether they are unsaved, in their sins, and going to hell!

So, as I understand it, all Christians are truly bond-servants to Christ Jesus. Don’t mistake me – not all Christians are obedient to the same degree, some are more mature and others are less mature, but all are growing in maturity which is evident through their increased obedience and conformity to Christ. I am convinced, based on the testimony of Scripture, of the fact that all believers are in an ongoing process of sanctification (cf. 1 Thess 4:3, Rom 8:29-30). Sanctification is the process of growing in holiness, and I believe that the proof of this reality is growing obedience to God through conformity to the commands of His Word.
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Friday, October 12, 2007

Lord, Grant Repentance to the Sinner

Over the past decade (wow, I can actually use that length of time while talking about my adult life) I have struggled over the doctrinal issues surrounding Calvinism and Arminianism. Almost two years ago, though (at about the same time as the birth of my second son, Noah), I settled this issue. I am a firm believer in the doctrines of grace, more commonly called Calvinism. And it was from this foundational understanding of God’s work in the salvation of man that many different phrases, in discussion and prayer, have seeped into my daily lexicon. One such phrase has been, “May God grant you (whomever) grace and repentance.” God’s gift to the believer is faith (Ephesians 2:8,9) and grace is, by definition, a gifting form God. Working from that understanding, I extrapolated that any repentant heart and action must come from God’s initiating work. Could I have pointed to a Scripture that said this specifically in this way (i.e. you repented because God gave you repentance), not really, but any response to God done correctly by a sinful man must, in my understanding, have it’s root cause in God, not man. Praise be to God for today and John MacArthur’s radio broadcast because he referenced a Scripture, that up until now, I have missed.

“When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18)

Repentance is a gift, just like faith is a gift, that God’s working of salvation produces in the believer. Hallelujah! Salvation is all of God, and nothing of my own.

Friday, October 05, 2007

1 John – The Journey Begins

Last week I had the pleasure of teaching the T&T (3rd through 6th grade) Awana clubbers, and boy is it a pleasure to do that. Last year we went through the Ten Commandments for the entire 28 (or so) weeks of the club, and I think did a pretty thorough job of hammering home the reality of God’s standard against sin as well as opening a door for the kids to be able to see just how sinful they are. Well, this year I decided to move from lesson structure on Law and Gospel to Gospel and Growth. Sure, we’ll still include the use of God’s Law in His Word to bring about the knowledge of sin, but the focus this year is on the growth that follows conversion.

With that focus in mind, I have zeroed in on the first epistle of John to guide our lessons. Why? The way that I understand this book is that it was written “so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:4), but specifically so that our joy may be complete with the knowledge that we “have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) So last night we began our tour through First John using the contrasting statements to evaluate our lives.

Many people in western Christendom today, I believe, have been lulled into the false belief that if they prayed the sinner’s prayer as a child (or at one point in their lives) is almost a magical group of words that must be used to impart eternal life. I am very tired of modern protestant Christendom’s sinner’s prayer battle cry that seems to, so often, lack any real articulation or understanding of what the gospel teaches and demands about the evidence of a changed life…at least with what is communicated to the listener.

And if this is the atmosphere in Christian literature and culture, my fear is that we are raising up and influencing generations of children who will try Jesus, accept Him, pray the prayer, but never really get saved. And all the while they will have the “assurance” that they’re saved based solely upon the one point in time when they prayed the sinner’s prayer. I liken this protestant concept of salvation to the Roman Catholic (or other) concept of baptismal regeneration. Basically stated, in that theology one is born again based upon the fact that a person was baptized as (usually) an infant.

We Baptists tend to shake our heads and wonder how people can be so deceived to think that salvation comes through a ceremony of water baptism, and rightly so, but so many of our Baptist brethren don’t see the same type of error in the popular evangelical protestant theology of the day. I dare say that one can make an argument filled with more Scriptures directly referencing “baptism for the remission of sins” than an argument using Scriptures directly referencing “Ask Jesus into your heart”. As a matter of fact, I don’t know of one that says that this is what we are to do.

Now I have to say two things. First of all, all of the Scriptures that seem to be somewhat in favor of baptismal regeneration or a combination of faith and necessary baptism for salvation do not say that. The Bible is clear that man is saved by faith alone (see Romans 5:1 and Ephesians 2:8,9). Secondly, there is verse that jumps to mind regarding “ask Jesus into your heart,” and it has (for better or worse) been pushed to this level of recognition and used this way by Baptist, or Baptist friendly, preachers.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not done a fully thorough study of this section of Revelation, so my comments about the above verse will be more moderated for that reason. But, the way that this verse is applied many times by the preacher when he says, “Jesus stands at the door of your heart, and if you pray to accept Him, He will come in and you will be saved.” The problem is that “heart” is not even mentioned here, and the context of the statement in Revelation is dealing with the growingly apostate church of Laodicea. So whether this is a call for true believers to repent of their floundering ways or call unbelievers to salvation is, at this time, unclear to me. But in any case, for preachers to base modern day evangelistic language primarily on this verse is very reckless.

So now we come back to the first epistle from John. This book is loaded with passages that contrast someone who walks in the light with someone who walks in darkness. It is my intention and goal to work our way through this book in the Awana meetings. I hope and pray that the teaching of God’s word in this book will cause those children who have made professions of faith to examine themselves to ensure that they’re in the faith and (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:10).

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson