Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Who we are - part 3

Another way to view this battle going on within us is to look at what Scripture calls "sanctification." Sanctification has to do with being set apart from the world unto God's service.

Sometimes sanctification is confusing because passages in the Bible which talk of it seem to contradict one another, with some speaking of sanctification as being already accomplished, and others saying it is still in process of being completed.

For example Heb. 10:10 says, “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This is finished work. This is but one example; others are 1 Cor 1:30, 2 Thes 2:13, and Heb 10:14.  But then in 1 Thes 5:23 Paul writes, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” Here sanctification is still uncompleted.  Other verses that speak of it in this way are Rom 6:19, 2 Cor 13:11 and 1 Thes 4:3-7.

These seeming contradictions disappear when we see that the first verses refer to our position before God. We are positionally sanctified — set apart for God’s eternal purpose and perfect in God’s sight — because we are in Christ.  It is a finished work.  And the second verses refer to our life here on earth, called our practical walk. We should be wholly set apart for God’s use and live perfectly before Him; however, because our sin natures are still within us, this will never fully happen while we're on this earth.

Nevertheless, Scripture stresses the pursuit of practical sanctification. Interestingly, it first points to all the things that God has done for us and who we are now through the death and resurrection of His Son.  It is only after this that Scripture pleads for a life lived in harmony with this exalted position (Rom 12:1; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:1; Col 2:6). This should be an example to all preachers.  Those who teach that we should be living a certain way without first stressing who we are in Christ, are merely preaching works (Gal 1:6; 2:15-21; 3:1-3; 5:1).

It is to be concluded, then, that positional sanctification is not a second work of grace to be pursued after salvation.  Rather, it takes place at the moment of salvation. If we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we have been set apart once for all — we are God’s sanctified ones (1 Cor 1:30).

Practical sanctification, however, is an ongoing process which involves a human response. It is the will of God that we pursue it. Will we choose to do so?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Who we are - part 2

Since our position before God is perfect in every detail, does this mean we are living perfect lives now?  No, we know that isn't true.  So we're perfect but we're not perfect?  Yes, because now we have two natures instead of one — an old, totally corrupt nature AND a new, perfect nature — and they are waging a war within us (Rom 7:14-25; Gal 5:17).

The old nature in the believer is the "desires of the flesh." It is called "the flesh," "the old self," "the natural person," "the the mind that is set on the flesh." And just as "those who are in the flesh cannot please God," (Rom 8:8), so are those things which we as believers do in the flesh cannot please God. "The flesh" is totally depraved. God calls it "sinful flesh" (Rom 8:3), warns that it looks for "opportunity" to do wrong (Gal 5:13), and says that "the works of the flesh" are all bad (Gal 5: 19-21).

When we receive Christ, our old nature is not cleaned up (Rom 6:6; 8:10; Col 3:3).  Rather, God considers it dead and instantly gives us a new creation (Jn 3:6; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:1-6; 4:20-24).

From that moment on our "new self" and "old self" aggressively compete for possession of our mind, emotions, and body. Spiritual growth is needed to strengthen our "new self" in this war, and there is no growth without Bible study and prayer (Rom 8:26-27; 10:17; Eph 1:16-18; Phil 4: 6-7; Col 3:16; 4:2; 2 Tim 2:15; 2 Thes 1:11-12; Heb 4:12). A relationship with a local assembly of believers is also essential to growth, so that we may "…encourage one another and build up one another..." (1 Thes 5:8-14).

It's important to understand that struggling with our old nature is a lost cause. It’s like wrestling with a chimney sweep — you just get dirty. The only way to victory in this battle is not in fighting, but in recognizing that the battle has already been won, that He died our death so that we may now bury our old self and forget him (put off "the old self") and focus all our attention on Jesus Christ and our new life in Him (put on the "new self").  I think Stam says it well:

"'The flesh,' even as it remains in the believer after salvation, is that which was generated by a fallen begetter. It is the old Adamic nature. It is sinful in itself. It cannot be improved. It cannot be changed. 'That which is born [begotten] of the flesh is flesh,' said our Lord (John 3:6), and it is as impossible to improve the 'old man' in the believer as it was to make him acceptable to God in the first place. The 'old man' was condemned and dealt with judicially at the Cross. Never once is the believer instructed to try to do anything with him or to make anything of him, but always to 'reckon' him 'dead indeed' (Rom. 6:11), and to 'put him off' (Col. 3:8-10).

After describing this battle within us all (Rom 7), Paul comes to a conclusion in Rom 8:1 and bursts out in praise, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."  So although our walk may be one of confusion, our position in Christ is one of peace — we are complete in Him (Col 2:10)!

To me, the following poem describes this battle rather well:

Two natures beat within my breast.
One is foul, the other blest.
The one I love; the one I hate.
The one I feed will dominate.
(Author unknown)

A day is coming when we will no longer have to deal with our old, dead natures. Only our new natures — which are already perfect in every way — will go home to be with the Lord.  What a glorious day that will be!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Who we are

New creations (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15)
Complete in Him (Col 2:9-10)
In possession of every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3) – (“One could say that he will live for the Lord in order to be blessed, but since we have already been blessed with all spiritual blessings, no amount of good works can add to that fact.” – Charles C. Ryrie in The Grace of God)
Heirs of heaven (1 Pet 1:4)
Adopted as full grown sons (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:1-7)
Chosen in Christ or set aside before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4; 2 Thes 2:13)
Born of God (Jn 1:12-13; 3:6-7; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:23; 1 Jn 5:1)
Saved by grace, through faith, entirely apart from works (Rom 4:4-5; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5)
Made acceptable in the Beloved One (Eph 1:6-7)
Forgiven of our sins (Eph 1:7-8; Heb 1:3; 1 Jn 1:9)
Justified by the finished work of Christ (Acts 13:38-39; Rom 3:24; 5:8-9; 8:33-34; 1 Pet 2:24; 2 Cor 5:21) – (Justification is more than the forgiveness of sins. It is to be in Jesus Christ, clothed in His righteousness; standing before God as though we had never sinned.)
Kept by the power of God (Rom 8:29-31; 1 Pet 1:5; Jude 1, 24)
Can never be separated from the love of Christ and of God (Jn 13:1; Rom 8:31-39)
Have received everlasting life (Jn 3:36; 6:47; Rom 6:23; Rom 11:29)
Will never perish (Jn 3:16; 6:37; 10:28)
Have a standing before God in grace (Rom 5:1-2; 6:14)
Have a standing before God in Christ (2 Cor 5:16-17; Eph 1:6; 2:10)
“Perfected forever” by “one offering” (Heb 10:10, 14; 13:12)
Already seated in the heavenlies in Christ (Eph 1:3; 2:6; Col 3:1-2)
A member of the Body of Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12, 27; Eph 1:22-23; 5:30-32; Col 1:18)
Built into the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:19-22)
Taken out of the realm where Satan holds sway and placed in the realm of the Son of God (Col 1:13; Jn 17:11, 14)
Reconciled to God (Rom 5:10; Eph 2:12)
Brought near to God (Eph 2:13)
Heirs of God (Gal 4:7; Col 1:12; Eph 1:18)
Temples of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Tim 1:14)
Given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of this inheritance unto the day of redemption (Eph 1:6, 13; 4:30; 2 Cor 1:20-22)
Objects of God’s unfailing care (Rom 5:8-10)
Objects of His never failing love (Rom 8:38-39)

This is who we are — our position before God — no matter how long we have been saved, how little or how much we know the Bible, or how “spiritual” (1 Cor 3:12-15) we may be.  Our position before God is all of God and all is through Jesus Christ — we contribute not a bit to it. We only believe. And since faith is dependence upon God, this does not add to what God has done (Rom 4:5).

Also, all of  the characteristics of our position before God listed above, except for the unfailing care and love of God, are a finished work (Heb 10:10-14) — not something in the process of being completed.  And this position has been sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption of the body (Eph 4:30).  The seal denotes a finished transaction (Jer 32:10), security, and an unalterable position (Dan 6:17; Rev 20:3).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Dead Church

A new Pastor in a small Illinois town spent the first four days making personal visits to each of the members, inviting them to come to his first services.

The following Sunday the church was all but empty. So the Pastor placed a notice in the local newspapers, stating that because the church was dead, it was everyone's duty to give it a decent Christian burial. The funeral would be held the following Sunday afternoon, the notice said.

Morbidly curious, a large crowd turned out for the "funeral." In front of the pulpit they saw a closed coffin smothered in flowers. After the Pastor delivered the eulogy, he opened the coffin and invited his congregation to come forward and pay their final respects to their dead church.

Filled with curiosity as to what would represent the corpse of a "dead church," all the people eagerly lined up to look in the coffin. Each "mourner" peeped into the coffin then quickly turned away with a guilty, sheepish look.

In the coffin, tilted at an angle, was a large mirror.

Friday, January 25, 2013

High A's :(

This past week I've been practicing several pieces from Mozart's Requiem for a classical concert at our church on March 2nd.  Originally, my director had in mind that I would sing the alto line, which was fine with me.  I enjoy singing alto as well as second soprano.  However, it ends up he needs me to sing second soprano.

That's all well and good, but classical pieces don't generally have second soprano lines, only soprano lines.  And many times the soprano lines, if performed in the original key, are quite high. 

So I'm in the soup.  I have the Latin words and the soprano line pretty much down now, but there are several places where I'm supposed to sing a high A.  Being a second soprano, I've had very little practice doing this, though.

I've been doing vocal scale exercises this week, hoping they will extend my range. And really, the high A doesn't sound all that bad when I briefly pop up to it.  Sustaining it, though, is a different story.  It can only be described as a screech.

The question is, if I keep practising the Mozart pieces AND vocal scales, will I learn to sustain a beautiful-sounding high A by March 2nd?  Or is it a lost cause.  I'm beginning to think that high A's aren't really meant to be sung by me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Are you sure?

I have to confess I have a real problem with the notion today that believers must persevere until the end in order to prove that they're saved.  In other words, we must look at how we're living and what works we're doing to see if we're really one of the elect.  I'm hearing this more and more frequently, too, particularly from the popular speakers of today.

One well-known speaker says this in one of his books: "One thing, however, is certain.  There is clearly a link between our assurance and our sanctification." And yet he goes on to say that one can be "certain of his salvation."  Still further on he says this about those who have fallen away: "The first possibility is that their profession was not genuine in the first place"... "The second possible explanation of those who make a profession of faith, give outward evidence of conversion, and then repudiate the faith, is that they are true believers who have fallen into serious and radical apostasy, but who will repent of their sin and be restored before they die.  If they persist in apostasy until death, then theirs is a full and final fall from grace, which is evidence that they were not genuine believers in the first place."  So they were true believers who persisted in apostasy until death so they weren't really true believers?  So our salvation isn't sure?  But who are we to judge anyway?  Can we see the heart?  No, but God can.  And He looks to see if we've placed our faith in His Son's death and resurrection, not at our works or whether or not we've sinned. It seems to me this author is just setting us all up to judge one another.

And the thing is, if our assurance is based even in small part on our practical sanctification, then absolute certainty is impossible — because we all still sin.  Say, for example, you yell at your kids first thing in the morning.  Well there goes your assurance.  You get it back after you pray and confess, but then you think some unkind thoughts about your impossible neighbor before lunch and lose your assurance again.  And so it goes all day long and you've doubted your salvation again and again.  So how many days like that would it take to convince you that security is merely wishful thinking?

But never fear. Even Paul, in Rom 7:14-25, tells us that he frequently did the very things he didn't want to do. We all do.  Because we all still have our old sin natures, there's a battle raging within each one of us. But does Paul wonder if he is truly saved? No! In the very next two verses he breaks out with, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord ... there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 7:25-8:1).

Still many Christians today believe that true believers persevere and false professors don't. They say that both may believe the same things in their minds, but the only way to find out if you're truly saved is by seeing if you persevere.  Of course, you can't be sure you will persevere until you die because you might die before you confess your latest sin and then you haven't persevered until the end. "Oh come on," you might say, "that's just being nit picky. If you've persevered right up to the end but then fall short, you're still good to go." But who says? Are there degrees of persevering? If so, then who gets to decide the cutoffs? Seems to me the best you can do is look at your works and see if they look like the type of works the Spirit does. But that certainly isn't fool-proof either because false professors do some good works that look like the real thing, too. So how can anybody really know? The plain fact is, when we take our focus off Christ and what He's done and put it on ourselves and what we do, assurance is tentative at best.

I think this author summarizes the problem with this way of thinking rather well: "The bottom line in ... [this type of thinking] ... is that the subjective elements (the works we do and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit) are the real grounds of assurance.  The objective promises of God only apply to me if Christ died for me, and He only died for me if I am elect and I can only know if I am elect by subjective means."

So the question that comes to my mind is this:  Why would anyone look to their imperfect walk for assurance instead of to the firm promises of God?  Many point to 2 Cor 13:5: "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?"  But let's not forget that context is king!  This verse does not tell us to look at our works for confirmation of our election.  Paul is continuing the subject of his credentials as a true apostle.  He begins this subject in 2 Cor12:11 and continues it through the end of the book.  In 2 Cor 13:5 Paul overwhelms the Corinthian believers by pointing out that if he is a reprobate apostle, then they are reprobate Christians because they are all his converts. He challenges them to examine themselves as to whether they are really Christians or not.  Of course they would promptly reply that they were, and so their confidence about themselves would admit and establish Paul's claim to be a true apostle. Now think back and compare this with 1 Cor 4:3-4 where Paul says he does not even examine himself: "But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord." Now it makes sense.

Over and over Scripture tells us that if we place our faith in Christ, we're saved, period (e.g., Rom 4:5; Eph 2:8-9; Gal 2:16-21; 3:1-3, 26-27). It's never about any works we do, either before or after we trust Christ. It's always and only about what Christ has done. So let's take our focus off ourselves and put it back where it belongs — on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pithy sayings - 7

Life is pain, princess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.

To tell you my thoughts is to locate myself in a category. To tell you about my feelings is to tell you about me.

Order is the shape upon which beauty depends.

"I don't think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that remains." (Anne Frank)

When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. As a result his crew was well motivated.

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

I want to know the thoughts of God. Everything else is just details.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Clown Ministers

Reasons churches don't ask clown ministers to return:

1. They force people to smile during the 8 am service.

2. It's hard to say with dignity, "The sermon today will be given by Brother Umpa-Doody."

3. Whoopee cushions inevitably appear under pew cushions.

4. Sermons take a lot longer when they are in pantomime.

5. Many denominations do not recognize seltzer water baptism.

6. Dribble glasses are used during the communion service.

7. They have to pay janitors extra to get all of the silly string off the ceiling.

8. The kids pop their balloons during closing prayer.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Is weak faith enough to save?

Yes, weak faith is enough to save because the most important thing about faith is not faith at all, but the object of our faith — Jesus Christ!  My pastor tells a story about three people on an airplane which illustrates this point very well.

“In the seat by the aisle is a businessman who flies all the time. In the seat in the middle is a student flying on her own for the first time. In the seat by the window is an old lady who has never flown before, and is already vowing that she will never fly again.

As the plane taxis to the runway, the businessman takes out his paper, the student in the middle is slightly on edge, and the old lady is holding onto the seat white-knuckled with fear.

When the lunch is served, the businessman eats the lot, the student eats about half, and the old lady can’t watch. She has her nose in the barf bag. Here’s the amazing thing: All three of them arrive in exactly the same place at precisely the same time, though their flights were enjoyed (or not enjoyed) in varying degrees.

Why? It’s not your degree of confidence, but the trustworthiness of the plane that will get you there.”

In like manner, our arrival in heaven does not depend on the degree of confidence we have in Christ, but on the Christ in whom we have placed our faith. Therefore, if we are in Christ, our destination is secure. Weak faith will get us there just as surely as strong faith, because it is Christ who saves us, not our faith.

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).

Friday, January 4, 2013

Acts 13 - We need only believe.

Paul and Barnabas had seated themselves in the large synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. But they were soon recognized. "After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them saying, 'Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.'" 

These details are important because as Moses, in giving the Law, had declared God’s moral standards, the prophets had for centuries challenged the people to obey the Law and warned them of the consequences of breaking its commands. So passages from the Law and the prophets were generally read in the synagogues, and the religious leaders would then encourage the people to listen to the prophets and obey the Law.
Paul responded to the invitation to speak to the people gathered there. But rather than merely encouraging his hearers to keep the Law, he proclaimed Christ, who in love had died for all lawbreakers, closing with these words:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).

How we need this message today! We may forever encourage one another to keep the Law, but who of us hasn't already broken it? Instead, we should thank God that He is a loving Savior as well as a just Judge, and that as God the Son, He paid for our sins Himself at Calvary so that we might be "justified by His grace" (Titus 3:7; Gal 3:13a). We need only believe.

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31a).