Christians Can Never Be Pacifists

This year my family stood in front of an American flag and promised to bear arms for this nation if we were ever called upon by the Government to do so. It is a basic expectation of an American citizen. I hope never to be in a position of being called to do so and especially never in a position where there may be a reasonable objection to do so if tyranny ever became a character trait of this country. I made this promise on the basis that the USA is not by trait a tyrannical power (some may disagree). When it comes to matters of war, Christians may or may not agree to participate in battle on the basis of their biblical conviction, but it is by biblical conviction that Christians must always be at war. The Christian must always be a soldier and always in a constant battle. We do not wage war against countries but against our own flesh. Even if we never fight for a country, we can never be pacifist with our flesh.

In Galatians, the most prominent theme seems to be the theme of freedom. In Galatians 5, Paul really concentrates on our freedom in Christ from the slavery of the law. He explains that we are free from the condemnation of the law, but this freedom is not a license for sin. If we give in to our fleshly desires, we are as much a slave to sin as to the law. This is why the cross is our only hope and our power found in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

The freedom Paul talks about in Galatians could be seen as a freedom to fight. Those who are slaves are under bondage from their masters, but the Christian, being freed from sin, is able to stand free against our old master. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have every resource to resist the desires of the flesh and live to please Christ. Every time we hear a description of this in the New Testament, it sounds like a war. We put our enemy to death. We resist the enemy that wages war against our soul. We know that our new desires in the Spirit are against and opposed to the desires of the flesh. In this world, this is freedom. For some this may not sound like freedom. War is difficult and every battle can be wearisome, but there is a greater reality. In Christ our victory is secured and we have a power within us that is greater than the power we are against. Freedom is no longer being under the dominion of sin and death and the evil passions of our flesh. Christ has broken us free from the chains of the flesh so that we can fight and know the victorious glory of living in the Spirit. It’s a war, a glorious war, a war worth waging. One day, every battle will be eclipsed by the final victory as the last enemy of death is finally defeated.

Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Galatians 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

But let’s never forget:

Galatians 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Are You as Confident About the Church as Paul?

I have often wondered why so many people are so quick to speak with great pessimism about the church. Perhaps some of you have just read this first sentence and thought to yourself that I must be blind and deaf. Is it possible that I have not seen once famous, conservative, evangelical pastors now denying the faith? Did I miss the television evangelists robbing thousands from unsuspecting viewers who need a miracle? Have I not considered churches that call themselves Christian denominations while they deny fundamental doctrines essential for salvation? No, I haven’t missed any of it. How can I possibly be confident about the church?

As is always my plea, I am careful to define the church. The church which is otherwise known as the Bride of Christ is the regenerate people of God who have come to faith in Christ alone through his all-sufficient work on the cross. Once we start defining the church on the basis of regeneration and the one true narrow way of salvation, the use of this word disqualifies some of those already mentioned. Of course, we would eliminate those already rejecting the essentials of the biblical gospel. When we see a church or believer toying with dangerous ideas that could take them into apostacy, how do we act? I think we can take the same approach as Paul. We can warn with confidence.

The Galatians were toying with the idea of a works-based salvation by adding law to grace. They were being led astray by the Jewish ideologies of the day. When we see this happening today, we often witness two extremes. On the one hand we witness a pointed finger of condemnation from those who are outraged that a Christian might detour. On the other hand, we witness a complacency from those who think that worldly ideas ultimately do no harm.  Neither is right and neither is a tactic we see from the Apostle Paul.  Paul may have been alarmed that the Galatians were moving in the wrong direction, but he was by no means condemning them as if non-believers.  Nor Was Paul complacent about a teaching that had potential to destroy the church. Contrary to both positions, Paul was diligent to warn his brothers and sisters in confidence that Christians would be corrected and stay the course of the gospel in Christ.

In Galatians 5 Paul gave the Galatians a serious warning not to put their confidence in anything other than Christ because in doing so they would lose Christ.  “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” (Galatians 5:2).  Paul also follows this statement up with the reason he is confident that they will heed the truth of the gospel. “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.” (Galatians 5:10).  If we don’t put these two statements together, it seems like Paul is a pessimist about the church, but Paul’s confidence is high.  Paul had already stated in his letter that they had received the Spirit and the inheritance of Christ as sons and daughters of Abraham. He had seen them come to Christ and believe solely upon Jesus Christ for their salvation. These fallible humans were now being persuaded by false teachers and needed a recalibration to the one true gospel of Christ. If what Paul had once seen in them was true, he had every reason to be confident.

Notice, however, that Paul’s confidence in the church is not simply in the church.  He is confident of them not ultimately taking the view of the Judaizers because his confidence is in the Lord. We may say that this is indication that Paul had no confidence whatsoever in the church but only in the Lord and in a sense this is true. The reason, however, that Paul has confidence in the Lord that they will not take another view is because they are in the Lord. Paul is confident in warning rather than condemning this church because Paul believes they are regenerate believers who will desire to align to the teaching of Christ above others. Paul knows how to define the church and he speaks accordingly. When we define the church as regenerate believers (this vastly decreases the population associated with that definition), you can speak optimistically “in the Lord.” They will stay the course on the apostolic gospel because Paul is confident that they are the church and the church is indwelt by Christ.

When we see sin and error in others, we are sometimes quick to immediately point fingers, accuse them of compromising, and even question their salvation.  This is not Paul’s “go to.” Paul warns in confidence to help the erring believer know the consequence of where he is headed. He even communicates his confidence in them because of Christ and believes that they will heed the truth of the gospel. The question is, are we like that? Do we warn with confidence or are we self-appointed accusers and judges? Warning with confidence is gentle, kind, and thinks the best.  Warning with confidence is living out love and this is one of the main characteristics of love.

1 Corinthians 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

When The Gospel Actually Affects Your Life

When Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian churches, there was no beating around the bush. In his opening remarks he moves straight to the point that they were being lured toward a false gospel. Of course, Paul is concerned that there is no salvation in a false gospel. When we read the letter of Galatians, we might think that Paul is only ever talking about matters of justification (being declared righteous by God through faith in Christ). It is certainly true that the great emphases and warnings of the letter are centered in the idea of justification, but Paul also shows how the one true gospel makes a difference in the way we live our life. The gospel is not just for justification, but also for sanctification.

Sometimes Paul’s statements about the sanctifying power of the gospel are explicit. Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Paul talks about beginning by the Spirit and being perfected by the Spirit (as opposed to the flesh). Paul does not want the Galatians to put their faith in their own works or the law to transform their lives. The law has no salvific or transformational power. That power belongs to the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Christ.

In other places Paul implies that the gospel will impact the way we live when we respond to the message of the cross in faith. In Galatians 5:5, Paul says, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” This statement implies that when we come to Christ in faith, our lives are impacted by a hope that eagerly awaits for righteousness. This must surely mean that in this life we have our eyes set on standing before God and being declared righteous. Our prize is the righteousness of Christ for all eternity. It is something we have now because Christ has given his righteousness to us through faith, but we also wait for the day of final declaration and perfection in glory for all eternity.

This has to say something about what is important in the message of the gospel. It is a message that focuses on our need for righteousness. This is the good news. The good news is that, in Christ, we are able to stand before God and be declared righteous when we have only unrighteousness in ourselves to give. The gospel is a message that helps us to understand that our greatest problem is our unrighteousness and our greatest need is a righteousness that needs to be given to us. It is an acknowledgement that we have some true comprehension of the sinfulness of our sin before the holy all-powerful God who we have sinned against. Through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, we have our debt paid and forgiven and we are clothed in his perfect righteousness in place of our sin. We live now in eager anticipation for the day when God will declare it in all finality.

How does a message like this impact your life? When the righteousness of Christ is your great need and treasure, we live now in anticipation of that final reward. Our heart says, “sin separates me from God, but Christ’s righteousness is my adoption paper into his family.” If I yearn for that righteousness as my great salvific need, I am going to live according to it, especially when the Holy Spirit is given to me as a guarantee of my eternal inheritance.

Unfortunately, the sinfulness of sin is often overlooked in gospel presentations. Many people present the benefit of the gospel as a ticket to heaven, or an insurance policy to stay out of hell. In both of these instances, if you believe you have your spot, who cares how you live? Why should that message impact your life now and give you any type of hope that has you eagerly awaiting righteousness? It is only the message of the sinfulness of our sin in the light of our awesome holy God that can humble us to the degree that we must exchange our unrighteousness for Christ’s righteousness. We never want to go back to pursuing unrighteousness again. We eagerly await the hope of righteousness and we live accordingly in anticipation of that day because of the greatest possible gift we have been given in our Savior.

The bottom line is, Paul’s statements such as “hope of righteousness,” are intentional. We need to think through them and ask what it means and why it’s so important. Where does it come from, and how does it impact my life? This is a gospel that affects your life!

The Difficulty with Preaching Gospel Freedom

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Sometimes when people hear passages like this, we want to put a million caveats around it. We want to make it known that Christ has not given us freedom to be unholy. We want people to understand that we are not free to live any way we want according to our sinful heart. We want people to know that we have not been given a free pass for lawlessness.

That’s all true, but we also want to take the spirit of the text that is being preached. Paul is writing a letter to a group of churches in Galatia who are being led astray on the gospel. They are not running toward lawlessness but are desiring to live by the law for both favor with God and growth as God’s people (justification and sanctification). The problem for Galatia is that they are seeking to be governed by something that can only show them how sinful they really are and place them under the bondage of living in condemnation. They are chasing a gospel without freedom – a gospel that is not a gospel.

Sometimes we need to understand this same reality and it doesn’t always mean that the emphasis of a disclaimer is helpful. Of course, we need to define what true freedom is. It is freedom from the curse of sin and slavery to this world. It is freedom to know the saving work of Christ in our life. It is freedom to rely on what has been done for us in comparison to the unachievable standard of what we must do. The problem is that sometimes it’s only the disclaimers that people remember. The disclaimers that emphasize, “We must not be lawless.” We love the disclaimers and want to hold on to them. But how does that help us when we are sitting under the accusation and condemnation of our own consciences?

Gospel freedom reminds us of who we are in Christ. We know that for freedom, Christ has set us free and for Jesus, it came at great cost. The penalty of our sin paid on the cross is something none of us can even imagine. Jesus became the curse of sin in our place so that we might be freed from condemnation we deserve. This freedom must be the ringing message in our hearts and minds. If we are in Christ, it does us no good to live in a disclaimer that says, “but you must still abide by the law.” If this is all we hear from our conscience, we will only ever live in condemnation and hopelessness. When we are struggling with sin and fighting to live according to God’s holiness, we must remind ourselves first and foremost of who we are. We are people who are in union with Christ because he has defeated sin on our behalf. Through Christ we have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The law in our conscience may want to condemn us but we must, every time, preach the gospel to ourselves so that we understand the forgiveness in the cross and our identity as a new creation in Christ. The more we preach the powerful message of gospel freedom, the more we live in it and look like Jesus. We must remind ourselves that while the law will convict us of sin, it can never save, and it can never transform. Our hope is as always in Gospel Freedom! Therefore, do not submit to the yoke of Slavery. The yoke of Christ is easy, and his burden is light!

Why Our Church is Patient with Sinners

Galatians 4:19 …..my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

The reason our church is patient with sinners is easy to answer. God has been long suffering with us. The Apostle Paul made it clear that we are to be “patient with them all.” (1 Thes. 5:14). Paul also made it clear in the way that he deals with sinful, erring churches in his letters, that this was his normal practice.

Even when the Galatian church was veering toward heresy, Paul was not willing to abandon them. He called them brothers and addressed them as his children. He said that he was “again” in the anguish of childbirth for them. He was committed to them until Christ was formed in them. This means he was willing to do all that it took to see them knowing and living in the truth and freedom of Christ.

The fact that Paul is patient doesn’t mean that he does not confront sin in the Galatian churches. Paul’s more loving and relational appeal to them doesn’t come until the fourth chapter of his letter after he had already comprehensively made it clear that the Galatians were going down a very dangerous road. They were being led from the gospel of justification through faith in Christ for the additions of works of the law. They were being tempted to turns their backs on the complete and final satisfaction of Christ’s work of redemption. The reality is that while Paul is quick to recognize error and point out this sinful trend, he is also patient to first explain it from every angle so that this church understands and actually sees what they are doing. He is intentional about telling them that, even through this letter, he is laboring for them that they might not lose the freedom they have been given in the cross.

One other very noticeable inference that Paul makes is that he truly believes that these Christians have come into salvation and have received the Spirit. In Galatians 3:3 he actually reminds them that they have begun by the Spirit (not by their own works) and have no reason to put their confidence in the flesh. The very fact that he says this means that Paul’s confidence in them is in the indwelling presence of God in their lives through Christ. They may be toying with dangerous and heretical ideas from Jewish false teachers, but Paul’s first reaction is not to question their salvation but to question the doctrine that is distracting them. He calls them to reject what is wrong. It would seem that Paul considers them able to be corrected and returned to what is wholly true. Paul’s confidence for this surely must be based on the Christ they claim and the Spirit who indwells them.

When I see Paul’s patience with these professing believers and his willingness to labor in anguish over them multiple times, I am often left wondering how that looks in our church when someone sins or is led astray by false ideas. Most of us are very aware of the Matthew 18 disciplinary process for churches. We all see that the Scriptures do not give us any space for tolerance of sin. We all surely agree that there are instances of immediate action required in circumstances of high-handed grievous sin in our midst. Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for not decisively dealing with the overt sexual sin of a man with his stepmother (1 Cor 5). Even when taking immediate action as required, surely the ongoing ramifications of sin and error in the hearts of Christians require patient discipling. We need instruction and biblical appeal, encouragement and guidance in repentance, and a desire for restoration through the gospel and the application of God’s truth. We need to work with receptive sinners relying on the Spirit to work in their lives.

While there are undoubtedly three identifiable steps in the Matthew 18 disciplinary process, Paul gives us an idea about the kind of patience and relational discipleship that happens between those steps. We are not a quick three-step church. We are a patient, appealing, instructing, and discipling three-step church. Our first step is not to say, “you are not a Christian,” but to warn and expect that through discipleship a Christian brother or sister will repent and abide in Christ.

I Was Walking down the Street and......WOW!

Sometimes I can read through scripture like I am walking down a street not really paying attention to the detail before me. I can be oblivious to anything that is happening around me and it takes something amazing to attract my attention. One of those amazing “somethings” in the first letter of John is what he says to us about the Father’s love.

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are….

John warned his readers of false teachers who will deceive you and distract you from abiding in Christ. Right in the middle of these warnings is 1 John 3:1. It’s stunning! It’s a verse that we must consider as our motivating factor to stay in the truth of God’s Word and prepare ourselves to stand before him when Christ returns. John starts by telling us to look at a particular kind of love that the Father has given us. We need to actually see it. John also says it is a kind of love that has been given. The perfect tense verb that John uses, “has been given,” specifies that this Father’s love is a kind of love that has been given in the past for ongoing possession in the present. It remains with us, and we should be intentional about seeing it.

In 1 John 1:1-4 we are told that John and the other apostolic witnesses saw, heard and even touched that which was from the beginning – before time began. They physically saw, heard and touched Jesus. God became man and brought with him the gift of life, eternal life. Now John tells us to see this for ourselves. In trusting Christ there is an eternal blessing that becomes a reality for us all. A reality that every Christian needs to see.

Jesus is the love that God has given us who brings us into God’s family. This is our motivating factor for remaining faithful to the end. Through Christ, the kind of love that the Father has given us is adoption. Look at it. See it. This is the kind of love that the Father has given us. We have become children of God. Don’t glance over it. Don’t read on. Just take it in. See it. Think on it.

You were in a warring family against God. Your old family and your old father, the Devil, were once in co-operation against the God of the universe. There is no picture to truly describe this division. Even in the great play, Romeo and Juliet, the Capulets and the Montagues are warring families of equal standing as humans against each other with wrong on both sides. This family division doesn’t even come close to the division between a sinful human creature and the omnipotent, holy Creator of all. It should be astonishing to us to think that this Creator would forgive us. Well, the astonishment infinitely intensifies when we consider that he also adopted us into his family. We are his children. We call him Father. This should ring in the relief of praise upon our lips for all eternity. I am now in God’s care. I am his child. I am in the family of the King of the Universe and will live on his estate in full access to his glory for all eternity.

So, look now at his love. He sent his only Son to be one of us, live with us, die for us, and rise for us. He did it so that he might adopt us as his own through repentance and faith in Jesus. God, who can speak the universe into existence, is the one I call Father. That’s worth abiding in. That’s worth living for. That’s worth everything. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are! Are you kidding me?? Children of GOD. Pinch yourself!

Social Critical Theory or Social Corrupted Theory?

Time after time I find the major problem with human theories, is humans. We tend to put a lot of confidence in human ability, goodness, and wisdom to understand and solve the problems of the world. One of the hotly contested issues in the church right now is the subject of social justice. When we talk about social justice, we are considering the just treatment of humans in society and how to deal rightly with societal ills. Especially when considering the subjects of race and gender, this debate has caused major divisions among conservative, American evangelicals.

In the current debate about social justice I have heard many scholars share opinions about how much we should engage with a human theory called (Social) Critical Theory. Critical theory seeks to govern equality through diversity in every sphere in the eradication of privilege or any perceived superiority. This means that equality in diversity must be procured geographically, economically, psychologically and even politically. If this is achieved in society, it brings equal opportunity and justice for all.

As stated earlier, the one problem with Critical Theory is humans. When justice is left up to humans, there is no true justice. Isaiah makes this point very clear.

Isaiah 59:4 No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.

Even when talking to people who have suffered the injustice of exile, God sees that human justice falls short on every account. Humans go to court to find justice according to their own definition of what that justice is. Nobody goes to the courts in an honest manner. What Isaiah means by this is that when we go to court to fight for our rights and justice, we do not go in acknowledgment of the justice that should be brought upon us. We seek justice dishonestly when we ignore that we are greater sinners against God than anyone else can ever be toward us. As a result, human justice can only be constructed of lies and begets mischief and sin. We ultimately desire justice apart from righteousness that can only come from God.

We have certainly seen this in our country in the major issues of our day. Christians have become unjust in the eyes of a community that desires equal rights for women to murder their babies or for marriage to go beyond the boundaries of one man for one woman. Human courts are deciding in favor of a justice without righteousness; a justice that breeds sin and mischief.

Isaiah then says, “They hatch adders' eggs; they weave the spider's web; he who eats their eggs dies, and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched. Their webs will not serve as clothing; men will not cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace. Therefore, justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.”(59:5-9)

The problem with social Critical Theory is that it misses the nature of the human heart. It misses the fact so often the equality in diversity that humans desire comes from selfish motivations that can only lead away from God’s righteousness. The answer to the social justice concerns of today’s society is not diversity quotas but regeneration through the gospel of Christ. We need new hearts. The world will never get justice right and Christians should never put their hope in it even being possible.

Does this mean that the church is powerless when it comes to social justice? No. We get to be the light and salt of the gospel in a dark world. Every Christian in every place has opportunity to show that the most level ground for everyone is at the foot of the cross. It is there where we are either lost for all eternity in rejection of Christ or adopted into the family of God with a full and eternal inheritance. The cross is the place of honest justice where we are all the chief of sinners. It is the place where true justice is declared and God’s wrath upon sin is poured out in the fury of his righteousness. It is the place where the price is paid in full for all those who will put their faith in Jesus Christ. It is the place where mercy reigns while justice is never ignored. There is no other place of justice like it.

Understanding the Plain Sense of the Text

I am truly delighted to be a part of a congregation that seem to be serious about understanding the Scripture. We say and believe that the bible is the word of God. We believe the claims that Scripture is God-breathed and inspired. We stand by the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility. We desire to seek to understand the plain sense of the text.

The problem is that sometimes we say this and ignore that the text we are reading happens within the scope of the wider narrative of the whole bible. There is one Author who has progressively revealed himself and his purpose through the written Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. As you read through the scriptures you find later authors under the inspiration of God quoting and alluding to previous authors to reveal more and more of the Divine narrative. The pinnacle of the Divine narrative is Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. This is why on the road to Emmaus Jesus taught his disciples about everything that was taught about him in the law, the writings (represented as the Psalms) and the prophets (Luke 24:44). He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (24:45). We then read something very significant in the next two verses. Luke 24:46-47 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. When Jesus says, “Thus it is written,” it is literally translated as “in this manner it is written,” or “it is written thusly.” The Scriptures have been written in a way that as you understand the progression of God’s narrative, it points to the death and resurrection of Christ as his name is spread across the world as a blessing to the nations.

As we read New Testament authors who are the apostolic witnesses (or directly with) of Christ, we often find them quoting Old Testament scriptures in a way that may not be immediately plain to us unless we understand these Scriptures in the light of their function of pointing to Christ in the redemptive thread of history. An example of this is where Paul is talking about a singular offspring in Galatians 3:16. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.” As we read Genesis 12-22 and find many references to God’s covenant promise to Abraham, we are often drawn to thinking about his physical seed through Isaac, Jacob and the people of Israel. We are drawn to a growing nation among the nations. We are drawn to a geographical border of land in the middle east. In Galatains 3:16-18 Paul expressly says that the blessing and inheritance promised to Abraham are for his one singular Offspring who is Christ. When we accept the plain reading of the text in Galatians 3, we must do so in the way Paul is expressing it. He is saying that whatever place the physical people, land and blessings might play in the covenant God has with Abraham, it is all ultimately for and fulfilled in Jesus. In the scope of redemptive history, we see that God was using the real events of history, with real nations, real places as types and shadows that would ultimately point to the greater and originally purposed fulfillment in Christ.

The plain reading of the text happens in the scope of the historical redemptive setting of a progressive revelation of the Divine Author. In other words, God has used the progression of real history to point to his ultimate focus of everything finding it’s yes and amen in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For any promise or inheritance or blessing to bypass Christ and the cross ultimately means that Paul’s focus on the singular Offspring is off base. We know it is not, because it is inspired by God who is the Divine Author of the entire bible.

For some of us this is a little difficult to understand and so let me simply give you one encouragement. The more you read the big narrative of the bible from beginning to end, the more you will see how every part of biblical history moves to find its fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus is truly the center and pinnacle of the whole Bible and history. To know the plain meaning of the text is to understand this point as we read our bibles. It is to see that the New Testament authors have taught us to see it this way as Christ has taught them. The Scriptures plainly point to Jesus.

Are Humans Really Cursed?

If you read the third chapter of Genesis, you might be tempted to say that humans are not cursed. After Adam and Eve betray God and eat of the forbidden fruit, God gives them an overview of the ramifications of their sin. Among the consequences of mankind’s sin, the serpent is cursed beyond all animals and the ground is cursed so that working it will be a painful toil. There is no explicit reference to the word “curse” in direct reference to Adam and Eve. Does this mean that Adam as the representative of humanity was not cursed? Can we really say that humans in sin are cursed? I believe we can.

The first time that we see the word “curse” used upon a human is in Genesis 4:11. When Cain had killed his brother Abel and committed the first murder, God said to Cain, “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brothers blood from your hand.” The ground declared Cain’s guilt and as a result he was under a curse because of his sin. Cain’s curse is that he would be a wanderer and under constant threat of someone taking his life for the murder of Abel.

In the Septuagint (the Greek language version of the Old Testament) this word for curse is katara. It means to place a word of judgment or imprecation upon someone/something. This seems to be the way it is used with Cain. A judgment is placed upon Cain and continually hangs over his head. Cain understands the nature of this judgment and tells God that it is too much for him to bear. With a curse comes the stigma of the curse and the shame of the judgment that remains upon sin. This same Greek word for curse is used in the New Testament when Paul talks about being under a curse if you rely on law keeping. Paul also uses this word in Galatians to say that Jesus became a curse for us. (Gal 3:10-14).

Paul makes a very clear point in Galatians. We are unable to save ourselves in any way. No human is able to meet God’s perfect standard and keep his law and all those who try are under a curse – judgment is declared and hanging over our heads until executed. We all fall short and are under a curse. It is clear from Scripture that humans can indeed be under a curse because Cain was and anyone who didn’t keep the law in Israel was (Deut 27-28). Paul also says anyone who falls short of God’s perfect standard is under a curse. Adam and Eve were created in that perfect standard and were the first humans to fall short of it by bringing original sin into the world. Paul says that the work of the cross removes the curse because Jesus became a curse for us, that is, for all who trust him (or the promise of him) from all time.

One possibility for why we may not find the word ‘curse’ used for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is because of the promise immediately given by God. Perhaps this might even suggest that Adam and Eve believed God’s promise of a seed to crush the serpent’s head and in his provision of a sacrifice to point to the blood being shed for the remission of sin. Jesus (the Seed) didn’t become a curse for the serpent or the ground, just for humans who believe in him. One thing is for sure. Sin has brought every human without exclusion under a curse. That includes Adam and Eve. None of us can remove it on our own merits, but Christ has done it for us.

Do You Have a Confident Faith?

The biggest problem with answering this question is the question itself. If faith isn’t confident, it’s not faith. In our culture, the way we have discussed faith is to undermine its very essence. So often we hear people say that they wished they had a faith as strong as another’s. When we hear statements like this, it is as if assurance and confidence can only be present with people who we deem to have the strongest of faith. By thinking this way, we are essentially saying that our faith is in our faith.

This is not the way that the biblical authors write about faith. One of the clearest descriptions of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This comment associates faith with assurance but it does not say that assurance is ultimately achieved when your faith is strong enough. You cannot have faith without having assurance. The words of assurance and conviction are never disconnected from faith.

Consider the example that the writer of Hebrews then gives.

Vs. 3. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God so that what was seen was not made out of things that are visible. We know that God’s word makes sense when we read that he created the universe because it is only logical that matter doesn’t make itself. Faith in our Creator makes sense whereas naturalism has no basis of logic. Our faith is assured not because of the strength of our faith but because we have a God of logic and power.

Vs. 4 By faith Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice to God. His sacrifice was made knowing that God alone could accept his sacrifice and therefore he made sure his sacrifice was acceptable. His hope in salvation was not in himself but to whom the sacrifice would be received. He did this in faith because his confidence was in God alone.

Vs. 5-6 Enoch’s faith is described as that which was evident in a life seeking to please God. The object of his faith was in the God in whom he lived to please. His confidence was in his self-existent God and the promise of his reward.

We could go on and see how each of the men of faith described in Hebrews 11 were defined as acting in accordance with their knowledge of God and the promise of his salvation. This also includes Noah who spent decades building an ark, and Abraham who moved away from his own people to become a father of a new people when he and his own wife were too old to have children.

In Hebrews 11:13 we read, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” They all died with the assurance of receiving a promise given from the God in whom they knew was all powerful and faithful. They knew that the eternal promise of God for his people was a reality. Their faith was in God and his promise. Their faith was not in their faith. They died in faith because they were persuaded that their God would keep his promise.

We find Paul explicitly discussing this with reference to Abraham. “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:20-21). Abraham’s faith was not in his faith but in the promise of God. His faith was defined in the way that he was fully convinced that God would keep his promise. Abraham’s assurance is not in his faith but in the God in whom he trusted.

If we desire to have a confident faith, we must remind ourselves of a fundamental reality. Our confidence is not in our faith but in the object of our faith. We have faith in the God of the universe who has promised to save all those who would put their trust in his Son, Jesus Christ. Assurance is not in your faith. Your faith is in the one in whom you can have full assurance.

Sanctification: All of God, All of Grace?

If you talk to any Christian who has a biblical understanding of the doctrine of salvation, they will tell you that a saved person is a regenerate person. To be regenerate means that we are given life. This is what God does in the elect when he illuminates us to the truth of the gospel and puts faith and life in a recalcitrant corpse. They might then go on to say that it is this new life that enables the believer to obey God’s truth and work in step with the Spirit as we grow in holiness. In this way they might say that justification (being made right with God through faith in Christ) is a work that is all of God and all of grace, but sanctification (growing in holiness) is a work of the regenerate believer in step with God.

We might immediately find reason to agree with this. After all, Peter wrote, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7). At first glance we might look at a verse like this and agree with the statement that sanctification is a work of the regenerate believer as he/she “supplement’s faith” in step with God using it to grow us in holiness. Does this supplementing of faith necessitate attributing the believer with a partnering achievement in resulting sanctification? Is it not possible that the very supplementing is only possible through faith in the complete reliance and power of the Spirit? Was there any cooperative effort outside the power of the Spirit working in tandem so that he might sanctify? Perhaps other Scriptures will shed light on this.

These are deep questions that theologians have argued about through the centuries. Two passages that stubbornly hold me captive on this matter are Galatians 3:3 and Philippians 2:12-13. In Philippians 2:12, Paul talks about a salvation that the Philippians clearly already possess. He talks about working out that salvation in fear and trembling. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Isolated from verse 13 we might again agree that the ongoing working out of our life as believers is a matter of our own effort. Verse 13 clarifies how this all happens. “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

In the Galatians passage, Paul’s main subject is justification by faith in Christ and not by works of the law. Even as Paul talks in the context of justification, he makes an extraordinary statement about our continuing life in the Spirit. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Paul was writing to a church who were being led astray by thoughts that they needed to add their own work of circumcision and law keeping to Christ in Justification. Even so, their ongoing confidence in the Christian life has nothing to do with their own ability. If this doesn’t at least point toward the process of sanctification I don’t know what does.

Why should we care about whether sanctification is God in tandem with the believer or the believer living by faith in the power of the Spirit? Isn’t it possible we all mean the same thing? Why is it worth chewing over? In both justification and sanctification, the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are equally present. For me, wording is important because it comes down to the issues of confidence and glory.

1. Paul seems to attribute confidence for both justification and sanctification to God in the same way. We are certainly called and responsible to repent and believe in Christ for Justification and yet we understand that we can only do so because of God’s grace alone. In this way we would all agree that justification is all of God and all of grace. In Sanctification there is again human responsibility to obey the imperatives of Scripture as we seek to grow in holiness. Surely we would also say that we cannot do so except by God and his grace. Why then are we not willing to say that sanctification is all of God and grace? Having begun by the Spirit are we now being perfected by the flesh? I think Paul is telling us that we cannot attribute human works in either situation. We rely completely on God for all including our ability to fulfill human responsibility. My confidence is in God alone in everything I think, say and do. At the very least this should make me more prayerful and reliant upon God and his word every day as I seek to live in Christ and in obedience to his word.

2. The second aspect is glory. There is never a situation where I can claim my own glory. We shut the door on this when it comes to justification, but should we not do the same for sanctification? Should we not again drop to our knees in utter praise both for God’s justifying grace and sanctifying grace in our life? He works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Regardless of the debate about sanctification, I believe all orthodox Christians would agree that when we stand before God, we won’t be thanking ourselves for anything. Thank God for his sanctifying work in our life. Thank God that he both gives us a new nature through faith in Christ and equips us to live according to that nature through faith in Christ. He is always active in our life. That’s a thought worthy of daily consciousness.

Is it Lawlessness to Give up the Law?

When it comes to the New Covenant, a major question so many of us have is what to do with the Old Covenant law. Some people have divided the law into categories (moral, civil, and ceremonial) in an attempt to show what continues and what doesn’t. While categories can be helpful in considering the functions of the Old Covenant law, we need to understand that the bible doesn’t propose such categories and often talks about the law as a whole. In Exodus 20:1 Moses gives what we have called the “Ten Commandments,” but they are simply introduced as the “words” of the Lord. In Exodus 21:1 a list of “rules” is given that extend to what many theologians would class in the categories of civil and ceremonial law. In Exodus 24:3-8 Moses talks about all the rules and laws that are in one book of the covenant – the law. These were all the codes that the people of Israel were to live by in faithfulness to their God. They were to be his people and he was to be their God and they were to do all that was in the book of the law.

In Galatians, Paul makes it very apparent that there is a major difference in the New Covenant. Jesus has fulfilled the law. He kept the standard that we could never keep. Paul then makes a very clear statement that if anyone is to seek to be right before God through law keeping, they need to keep the whole law (without distinction of categories) perfectly (Gal. 3:10,5:3). It is clear then that when Paul is saying that we are not justified by works of the law (Gal 2:16), he is clearly talking about the whole law. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we by right with God. And here in lies the question. What do we do about the law? Well, Paul goes on to say that we also no longer live by the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 2:20). This is possible because in the New Covenant it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. The law is dead, long live spirit filled living in the New Covenant.

Before you throw rotten tomatoes, I have a question for you. What is your understanding of what happens to us when we come to faith in Jesus? In Galatians 2:20, Paul makes an explicit statement about being crucified with Christ and then no longer living for himself. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In believing the gospel, I believe that I have been crucified with Christ and risen to new life with him and that he now lives in me. Jesus, who completely fulfilled the law (all of it), has taken it to the cross and risen to new life now giving us a New Covenant in his blood. The old has gone, the new has come. So, what about standards of holiness?

It’s not that life in Christ is lawless at all. The fact that Paul has to ask a similar question is further proof that the whole law of the Old Covenant written code is done. Paul asks if we are to sin because we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:15). The answer is “By no means!” How little do we value the indwelling presence of Christ in our life? Do we really think that that the Spirit of Christ within us gives us freedom to sin as and when we please? Do we really think that unless we keep a written code of commandments, we have no way to please God and live and stand rightly before him? Is the Holy Spirit impotent? Does he give us no concern for holiness?

In the New Testament there is not one aspect of God’s perfect character missing in New Covenant ethics. The fact that the ten commandments are fulfilled in Christ along with all the rest of the law does not mean that the ethics of those commands is abolished in the New Testament. Actually, they are often explained to their fuller ramifications in Christ. Hate amounts to murder. Lust amounts to adultery. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mat. 5:17). And yet, he abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances (Eph. 2:15). We live according to the Spirit of Christ, not according to the written statutes of a moral code (or civil, or ceremonial). If we are in Christ, there will be a manifest difference in us in our pursuit of holiness and in our love for his truth. We will live it in faith. We will pursue him in gratitude. We will have no confidence in law keeping. We will have every confidence in the Christ who died for us and loves us and lives us. His instruction will be our delight.

So, no, to die to the law is not to be lawless.

- Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

- Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

- Ephesians 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

- 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

- Galatians 4:6-7 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So, you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

- Ephesians 4:22-24 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Justification Changes Your Identity Forever

So often when we read the Apostle Paul, he is writing to Gentile churches who would be very aware that there are Jewish roots associated with this new way in Christ. Often Paul is dealing with Jewish false teachers that come among the Gentile churches and strive to revert the church back to the Old Covenant. I can only imagine the pressure on first century churches from the Roman empire on one side requiring worship of Caesar and the Jews on the other requiring adherence to Old Covenant laws. In between these two pressures are people who have come to know that Christ is the risen Lord who has died for their sin and that they can stand right before God through faith in Jesus.

You can pick just about any of Paul’s letters and see these pressures within his words of admonition, rebuke and encouragement to stand strong in the faith. We particularly see it in the book of Galatians where Paul even uses an account of rebuking Peter for withdrawing from gentile believers out of fear of pressure from Jews. In Galatians 2:15-16, Paul makes it clear that both he and Peter may have been born as Jews and not gentile sinners, but they know that their natural birth and previous practice of the law means nothing to them in obtaining right standing with God (justification). They are now identified in the same way as the rest of the Antioch Church, as Christians.

It would seem that losing Jewish identity was a difficult thing for many Christians. I can understand how cultural pressures would be a huge obstacle when taking on an identity that seems to be so counter cultural. To Jews who could not see that the law always pointed toward our need for God’s grace, the law was everything to them. The fact that Christians were proclaiming that righteousness does not come through law keeping struck at the very heart of many Jews perceived identity. So, in Galatians 2:15 when Paul says to Peter, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners,” he is actually using this statement as an example for his next sentence where he basically states that neither of these identities mean anything when you consider that justification is through faith in Christ alone.

As I was reading through the book of Ephesians, I was struck by the fact that Paul makes a similar statement to Ephesian Gentiles. “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” (Ephesians 4:17). How can Paul tell Gentiles not be Gentiles? Previously Paul had told these Ephesians to no longer be like children tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of doctrine (vs. 14). He also told them to put off their old self which belongs to their former way of life. In other words, Paul was saying that they should forget their former birth and practices as Gentiles because justification through faith in Christ has given them a new life. With this comes a new identity. This is the same sort of thing that he was saying to Peter in Galatians. “Peter, forget your birth and practice as a Jew, you have been justified not by works of the law but by faith in Christ Jesus. You have been given a new life in your identity in Christ.”

One thing we should all understand when it comes to justification is that we never stand before God with a righteousness that comes from any other source than Christ. The only identity that has eternal status in the court room of the Judge of all the universe is Christ. The only real identity questions that ever matter are whether you have been justified through faith in Christ or whether you remain under the eternal condemnation of your sin before God.

Galatians 3:26-28: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” And…. we could add many more identities to that list.

"Prosperity" Doesn't Have to Be a Dirty Word

So often I participate and hear in the warnings against prosperity doctrine. We find easy targets in the Copelands of the world who promise earthly prosperity as they make pleas for you to empty your wallets and max out your cards. At least, we perceive them that that way. But…do we ever consider that conservative evangelicals may have reacted to prosperity doctrine in a way that ignores that there is a true biblical prosperity?

While the prosperity teachers seem to place great burden upon people in teaching that they are not prospering because they are not giving, some evangelicals swing to the other end of the pendulum. We almost hear that prosperity has absolutely nothing to do with God’s purposes. Neither is true.

In Isaiah 53, Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant who will come and be despised and rejected and go silently like a lamb to the slaughter. By his stripes we are healed because he numbers himself with transgressors and suffers in their place. Because of this great Servant, Isaiah 55 brings even greater hope to exiles by telling them (us) what we can expect. "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1).

Through Isaiah, God calls us to come without any money and drink and eat in abundance without any cost. The prosperity that God promises to give is absolutely free. We can also argue that it is an eternal prosperity that is not subject to the temporary nature of earthly materialism. The water and food Isaiah talks about is the abundance of the eternal and providential God of the universe. It is an abundance that far outweighs the fleeting pleasures of this world. It is not given to them that give the most, but it is given to them who have nothing. It cannot be bought. The very heart of God is shown in that he appeals to us to come and enjoy his eternal provision knowing that we can bring nothing to the table to obtain it. That’s true prosperity.

How can it be that such an eternal prosperity could be ours? Who is paying for this great abundance? The answer is, the Suffering Servant has paid and has numbered himself among us and we now share in his conquering victory over death and sin. He has paid for our inheritance with his blood and he is the abundant owner of all things who has capacity to give infinitely.

We should never say that God is not a God of abundance and prosperity. Indeed, God is a God who desires to share the splendor of his glory with his children in his infinite generosity. This is our God who saves. We should also never reduce God’s infinite generosity to fleeting earthly pleasures that are only attainable on the basis of what we give. This is the bankruptcy of the prosperity gospel that promises finite indulgences in the place of infinite glorious abundance.

The prosperity gospel keeps people in slavery to accumulation while the one true gospel brings freedom for generosity. Because we know that God has already paid for and given his abundance to us without any possibility of contribution from us, we know that there is no need to hoard selfishly. We know that we already have inherited the whole earth and have infinite abundance in Christ. Our resources have been freed to express our gratitude to God and our desire to see others experience the same generosity we have. We are not slaves to giving in order to get. We are freed from getting in order to give.

We can therefore say to everyone in every economic phase of life, “Come and drink freely from the Spring of Living Water.” Or as Isaiah says it… “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7).

Reading The Bible Self-Righteously Loses Grace

If there is one thing that is tempting for all of us, it’s that we love putting ourselves in the place of the hero. It is so easy for us to consider that we are Christians, and then as we read the bible, we say that we must surely put ourselves on God’s side in every biblical account.

The problem with this is that we are ultimately saying that, “this is the way I would have acted.” The Scriptures constantly teach us that we only act in accordance with God’s truth and righteousness by his grace. When we acknowledge this, we start realizing two things. 1. Our biblical heroes were actually depraved sinners like us. And 2. Without the intervening grace of God in our lives, we too would not be the Israelites, but the Egyptians.

It’s so easy for us to forget that Abraham was an idolater, but God called him by grace into a glorious promise. Jacob was a sinful deceiver but was chosen by God’s grace over Esau. These are just two of the Old Testament patriarchs, and yet we could say such things about them all. As you start reading in Genesis, you very quickly learn that nobody is in the position of the hero except for God.

If God is the only hero in the bible (particularly Christ), then who are we to see any human take that mantle, particularly when we place ourselves in that position. Without God’s grace, we are Cain, not Abel. Without God’s grace, we are buried deep in flood waters while the ark floats above us. We are Abimelech. We are Egypt. We are the grumblers in the desert. We are Jericho. We are the Philistines. We are Jezebel. We are Ahab. We are Assyria and Babylon. We are Sanballat and Tobiah. We are Herod. We are the Pharisees throwing stones. We are the woman at the well. We are Ananias and Saphira. We are Pilate. We cry crucify him.

In Galatians 2, Paul recounts a time that he came to Antioch and opposed Peter for acting in contradiction to the gospel. Even in a situation where two apostles come head to head, we want to be Paul when we are actually Peter. Our prideful self-righteousness always places us in a position whereby we think we would be God pleasing heroes by our own works when in actual fact we are so often Christ denying hypocrites like Peter. Our self-righteous reading of Scripture places us in a position in which we lose sight of grace.

We need Jesus. He is the only hero.

Good Christian Leaders Submit to the Church: An Example From Paul.

When Paul was writing to the Galatians and defending his gospel and apostleship, he made sure that the Galatian church knew that he was no lone ranger. While he had independent attestation of his apostolic call and gospel, Paul was very concerned to stand before the other apostles in submission to them. Galatians 2:1-2 “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

After seeing that Paul had the same gospel and calling as them, Paul also tells us that they extended to him the “right hand of fellowship” and sent him and Barnabas out on mission to the Gentiles.

We need to take stock of this important scenario. The Apostle Paul who was so instrumental in establishing churches and the spread of the gospel to the gentiles went out on this mission in submission to and with the endorsement of the Jerusalem apostles. He was commissioned to the gentiles by Christ and while he couldn’t get any higher commissioning than this, Paul ensured that he would not do such mission in isolation of the other apostles. He was accepted, endorsed and sent with blessing in the unity of the gospel. Galatians 2:9 “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”

We live in a culture today that has a low view of submission and authority and a high view of individualism. Coupled with this, many Christians have been impacted by the speech of bloggers and Christian leaders who tend to speak lowly of the church. This has created an unhealthy environment of people isolating themselves from established local churches to do their own thing in their own home or start a church (or parachurch ministry) somewhere on their own initiative. This is not the biblical model and it has one huge flaw – accountability for the gospel.

When Paul and Barnabas were sent on mission by the Jerusalem apostles, they were sent out with checks and balances based on the one true gospel and a legitimate call of Christ. This was recognized and acted upon in a right hand of fellowship and a commission to go. Many may say that God’s Word is all they need. It is true that there is no higher authority than God and the truth in his word. Yet, while our direction ultimately comes from God, his word also teaches that accountability to those sending us ultimately keeps us on track and shows a credibility to be kept accountable to the gospel call.

You might not want that sort of accountability because perhaps you think you can do it better. Can you do it better than Paul? Basically, if it’s good for the apostle Paul, it’s good for us. There are no lone rangers in gospel ministry. Isolation is simply dangerous, especially in initiating a new ministry.

When people tell me that they are going to a new start up church, my question is always, “Who commissioned it?” If I don’t hear that the work has an accountability to a biblical gospel preaching church, I am immediately dubious both about their leadership and ability to hold fast to the gospel. Any leader that has not been willing to consistently come under the submission of other local church elders will unlikely be a leader that will tolerate any deviation from his own teaching and direction. He is a man who has put himself above the gospel and is unlikely a leader to follow. Paul’s submission and fellowship with the other apostles is a great model for accountability and support in the mission of the gospel.

Your Wayward Child Relies on Sovereign Grace

As a parent, I know what it is like to be burdened over the salvation of my children. I pray regularly for the children in my family and church whether children or adults. For anyone I know who is not a disciple of Christ, my hope continually comes from the doctrines of sovereign grace.

Before you stop reading please allow me to explain that I hold dearly to two coinciding truths. When it comes to salvation, humans are entirely responsible before God for their sin and to respond in faith to the good news of Jesus. Alongside this, I firmly hold to the fact that Scriptures consistently teach that salvation is a work of God and we are completely reliant upon God’s grace in Christ for the remission of our sin. While as a human I cannot reconcile human responsibility and sovereign grace, I am completely reliant on the manifold wisdom of God and bow to his glorious mystery. The reality of both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are best explained by simply reading chapters nine and ten of Romans side by side.

Sometimes in our theological differences we can become more agitated when we apply our own biases to the situations of those we love most. A father who vehemently disagrees with the doctrines of sovereign grace in salvation may find great agitation at the thought that his son or daughter may not be elect. Before I say anything further let me say that my response in this situation is not to come out with guns blazing and correct the theological biases of a heart broken father. I am deeply saddened by any child walking outside the grace of God and truly burdened to pray with every parent about the salvation of their child. I desperately desire opportunities to put the gospel before that child with much yearning for them to know Christ.

Did you notice that I said we must both pray, relying on God’s work, and proclaim as we appeal to the responsibility of this child? Whether we acknowledge it or not, in practice, both sides of the theological divide live out both truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility as we pray and proclaim.

Paul constantly appeals to the fact that any work of humans is meaningless in salvation. Our works only merit us an eternal hell. He consistently points to our need for God’s grace working regeneration in a cold dead heart to come to new life in Christ. A great example of all of this is in Titus 3:3-7. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

When you read statements like this from Paul, you never find human initiative in salvation. It is always a work of God - a work of grace. What you do find is immense reason to hope. When mankind is disobedient and slaves to our own will, God is all-powerful and his goodness and loving kindness are able to work miraculous regeneration in our life. He alone, through the power of the Spirit and the work of Christ on the cross justifies us by grace and adopts us into his family. Because God is a God who saves and has omnipotence over every human heart my hope is not in the fallible ability to reason in a child, but in the complete sovereign will of God in Christ.

If you are a parent who is crying in pain for the salvation of your child, I suppose I just want you to know that I want to appeal to the strongest possible hope for your child. I don’t want to hope in a less than omnipotent ability in humans but in the complete and sovereign saving power of God. Please know, I cannot possibly pray in hope relying on anything less than infinite power and wisdom to bring your child home. God and God alone is my hope for your child. I pray with you. I yearn with you for the Lord to save.

Are You Covered With God's Favor?

Favor is a word that every Christian should cherish. It is not a word to be taken with complacency. Favor is a reason to live through difficulty. Favor is a reason to live every moment of our day in gratitude. Favor means to be pleased or accepted.

When David was facing enemies on every side, his joy and hope was found in God’s favor. Even when his own son was trying to take the kingdom of Israel away from him, David’s plea to God was accompanied by his rest in God’s favor. “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:11-12)

It is so easy to brush over words as we read through the bible, but ‘favor’ is one word that I suggest cannot be easily overlooked. When God gives his favor, it is through no work of our own. That is what makes it so amazing. David, an adulterous murderer, was able to say that he was covered by God’s favor. He was able to place himself in the number of the righteous. How could that be other than the forgiveness of an ever-merciful God through his righteous judgment upon sin.

In the New Testament, a word that describes God’s favor so aptly is the word translated as “propitiation.” Propitiation is God’s favor given to us through the appeasement of his wrath poured out on Christ. God acts favorably because Christ has endured the infinitely Divine anger upon sin. The wrath that Jesus takes on our behalf is what we deserve for all eternity. Instead, because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, we, like David, are covered by God’s favor.

This is the most wonderful reason why we must defend the authentic message of the gospel. Without faith in Jesus Christ and his full payment on the cross for our sin, we have no way of knowing God’s eternal favor. This good news of Jesus is our entry into experiencing the God of the universe’s pleasure in us who were rebels against his will. What glorious news. We must uphold it with everything we have. We cannot be indifferent. To know what it is like to live in the favor of our almighty Creator, we must receive the good news of Jesus. We must know his sacrifice for us for this favor to be given. Then, we have only to live a life of complete gratitude in worship of our glorious God who has given us his favor that can never be taken.

Oh Lord, You cover us with your favor as with a shield.

What Is It to Be in This World and Not of It?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1:3-5). Paul explains that we are delivered from this present evil age/world.

So often Christians miss the importance of this little phrase. It is filled with so many considerations. This world is only present. It has an end date. It is destined for destruction. It is something that we need to be saved from.

One area of confusion for Christians is often around how we are to see ourselves as being saved out of this world and yet still live in it. This dilemma has caused so many differing opinions as to how we are to relate to this present world. Some people have seen it as our purpose to attempt to reform the world. Some others have seen our need to completely avoid this world. Some have seen the need to be at war with the world. I don’t think Paul really holds any of these positions. Paul knows that we must live and operate in this world.

We are still in the world.

In 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, Paul told the church in Corinth that they were not to associate with immoral people, but he specifically said that he was not talking about the immoral people of the world. Paul was making a very strong point that the church was to be seen as a reflection of God’s holiness and therefore the Corinthian church must not allow immorality to be common place among those who take the name of Christ. In saying this, Paul points out that we do still associate with immoral people in the world. This is something every Christian has to do. If we don’t, we have to say goodbye to the great commission.

It is not that we are to be at war with the world, or to avoid and disassociate from the world, but we are to engage with the world and shine out the holiness of God and proclaim the gospel of Christ. Jesus talks about this as being salt and light. We are to shine the holiness and hope of the gospel as a salty essence of Christ in the world. We are not to hide Christ or deny Christ in our words or practice. We must seek to remain salty for the sake of the gospel and bringing others to Christ.

While we are in this world, Paul also says that we need to be careful not to be conformed to it. If we are saved out of this world, we have been taken out of all the things that typify what we have been saved from. Paul says it this way in the first part of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world.” While we are in this world, it is our responsibility not to be dragged into the dominion of all that is not God honoring.

But we are not OF this world.

When Paul talks of us being rescued from this present evil age, he is saying that we belong to another age. We belong to another Kingdom. We are not of this world because we have been rescued from the dominating power of sin. We have been rescued from the rule of Satan. We have been rescued from bondage to everything in this world that denies God’s glory. And…. We have been rescued from the coming judgment that will place all unbelievers in the conscious torment of hell.

When we think about Paul’s statement of rescue in this overview of the gospel, we must see it in light of the whole statement that points to the purpose of God. This rescue is, “according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” It is to God’s glory through his eternal will that Jesus came to rescue us from this present evil world that is doomed for destruction. This now tells us something about our priority. When we look at this world, our priority is for us to go out with the message of Jesus to see people saved out of this present evil world to the glory of God. If Christians have a priority in the world that is different to this, we simply need a better understanding of the gospel. We are in this world but have been graciously saved out of it. Anyone left in this world/age will not know that same grace unless we live with them and tell them about their urgent need for Jesus.

Prayer Is Not Enough!

This sounds like an irresponsible statement at best. Christians rely so heavily on prayer. In fact, if there is one thing we need to grow in, it’s prayer. We don’t pray nearly enough. So why would we ever say that prayer isn’t enough? Well, simply because it isn’t. But….as a pastor of mine used to say, “Don’t hear what I am not saying.” I am not saying that prayer isn’t vitally important and an essential discipline of the Christian life. We desperately need to pray.

We pray because we are finite and fallible. We rely on God. We can never do anything without God, even take our next breath. The Christian realizes that God is in control of all things. King David sang and prayed in total acknowledgement that everything is under God’s control and we must rely completely on him. Psalm 103:19-22 “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!”

We often see all the truth of God’s sovereignty in the Scripture and are tempted to reduce our responsibility to prayer alone. Sometimes we overlook our need for repentance. Sometimes we overlook our need for obedience and trust. Our right expectations of God’s sovereignty cannot veto God’s right demand for our repentance, faith and obedience. So often God has given us answers in the Scriptures that are already the answers to our prayer. We therefore pray for God’s strength to transform our hearts and align our minds and actions to his will.

One of my favorite verses to consider this is the very famous verse of Romans 12:2. This verse talks about God’s will. How often do you pray that God would guide you in his will? This is a very common prayer for Christians. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This verse is filled with imperatives for us to obey.

1. Don’t be conformed to the world. First, is your thinking worldly rather than biblical?

2. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Have you believed God’s truth and committed to follow his truth rather than the lies of the world (or our own hearts)?

3. By testing. Have you put God’s truth into action?

4. You may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Have you then seen that no matter the result, God’s truth leads us into what is good, acceptable and perfect? Have you seen that our own way is the opposite?

Prayer is essential in all things. So is conforming to God’s truth and living that truth by faith. The Christian life is not passive and the expectation that God has for prayer is not passive either. Prayer is a weapon that helps us to trust and prayer is a weapon that is used while we live in trust. This is why we never see the New Testament authors telling us to pray and do nothing. Resting in God doesn’t mean apathy and passivity in our Christian walk. It means confident satisfaction in God’s sovereignty while we serve him with all our heart and mind and strength.

Pray. Please pray. And…. please repent, please obey, please trust.