Should Christians Be Scared of Demons?

So many things affect the way we think about Satan and demons. Some people think differently according to their views on spiritual warfare and administration of spiritual gifts. If the apostolic gifts are still applicable to Christians today, many believe that this includes the ability to command the demonic forces. Others are swayed by their views of end times and particularly whether Satan is or not hindered in his operation until the return of Christ. Regardless of the issues that divide denominations and doctrines, there are some very simple reasons why anyone with saving faith in Jesus Christ should not be scared of demonic forces.

It is true that angels, whether faithful or fallen, have extraordinary powers and abilities. From the very first chapters of Genesis it seems that Satan had the ability to project speech through a snake in the Garden of Eden. Isaiah tells us that God used an angel to wipe out an entire Assyrian army surrounding Jerusalem in the time of Hezekiah. Daniel talks of men fearing in the presence of an angel they could not see and then it seems that a battle of the spiritual forces caused a three-week delay in an angel coming to give a message to Daniel. In Psalm 103:20 the angels are called mighty ones and in 2 Peter 2:11 Peter tells us that angels are greater in power and might than humans. Angels and demons are simply superior to humans in the categories of power and ability.

The one thing that the bible makes clear is that Christ is superior to all. Angels and demons obey the commands of Christ without question. If we are in Christ, we are not only in a greater power but in the greatest power. This really should be quite enough to settle any fear for any Christian, but there are some other basic facts that Christians can know.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:37-39 that nothing can separate Christians from the love of God. Within the list of things powerless to make such a separation are angels, rulers, powers and anything else in all of creation. Both Jude 6 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6 tell us that fallen angels are restrained (or chained). They are at least limited in what they are able to do. James 2:19 tells us that it is actually the demons who shudder with fear at their coming day of final judgment. Judges 9 and the whole book of Job show us that demons are only able to operate within the framework of the sovereign will of God.

The bottom line is that demons are completely subject to sovereign will of the almighty God and they fear and completely obey the commands of The Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 8:28-34). If this is the case, a Christian only need to remind themselves of one truth. God’s will is for Christians to grow in sanctification as we conform to the image of Christ. His will is for our good and he will never destroy or harm us. Also, in Romans 8:28-31 we read “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

No matter what any human or demon may do to us in this world, God is sovereign and uses all things, never for our ultimate harm, but only for our good. The answer to fearing demons is to trust Christ and give him all your allegiance no matter what. He is good. He cares. He only does good and is doing a work in us to make us like him. No demon can stop it. Nothing can stop his work in us or separate us from our sovereign God.

Why Does Jesus Keep Calling Himself the Son of Man?

There was no denying it. In writing an accurate account of the life of Christ, the gospel writers could not avoid Jesus’ favorite self-reference. He could have simply referred to himself in the first person by using the pronoun, “I.” But Jesus had a more profound statement to make. He often referred to himself in the third person by using the term, “Son of Man.” This reference is used 80 times in the gospels and 30 of them are in Matthew’s gospel alone.

The first time Matthew recounts Jesus’ use of this term is in Matthew 8:20. A Jewish Scribe steps out from the crowd to express a desire to follow Jesus wherever he is about to go. Jesus’ response is to say that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Is it possible that a Scribe, who should have intimate knowledge of this Old Testament term, Son of Man, would see the significance of its use on the lips of Christ? We would hope that he would at least think it through, but Matthew makes no mention of the Scribes reaction. Even the reader of Matthew’s gospel would be a little confused by this designation at its first reference.

As one continues to read the Gospel of Matthew, each use of this self-reference of Christ brings us a little close to the fuller revelation of it’s meaning. We start with a view of the overwhelming humility of the Son of Man who has less of a place to lay his head than birds and foxes. We also find that the Son of Man: has authority to forgive sins (9:6), eats and drinks as one of us (11:19), is Lord of the Sabbath (12:8), will be buried in the earth for three days (16:27), will be raised from the dead (17:9), will be delivered over (19:28), came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (20:28), and will bring final judgment and come in glory (12:40, 24:30).

By the time we get to Matthew’s 30th use of “Son of Man,” Jesus is standing before Caiaphas and the council of Scribes and Elders. The council was looking for a reason to be able to put Jesus to death. Jesus remained silent during their attempt to trap him, but there was a question that Jesus was prepared to answer directly. “But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.” (Matthew 26:63-65).

Jesus referenced himself as the Son of Man by making a direct reference to Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man comes in conquering victory to establish his eternal kingdom and is in authority with God in heaven. The council rightly interpreted this as Jesus placing himself on the same level as God.

The exercise of that authority was not the overthrow of an empire that the council was expecting. Jesus’ victory was to come through humility and suffering. The very same Son of Man explicitly announced to Caiaphas and the council was the Son of Man earlier described to a Scribe as one who has no place to lay his head.

The Scribe in Matthew 8 found no reason to accuse Jesus of blasphemy and tear his clothes at his self-reference to being the Son of Man. There was no thought that Jesus’ statement of humble homelessness had anything to do with a Messiah King coming on the clouds in glory and judgment.

Readers of Matthew get to read the whole gospel and have a bird’s eye view of everything that is associated with Jesus calling himself the Son of Man. We get to see that it is all connected as a progressive revelation of who the coming Son of Man, the Messiah, actually is. When we see it in its fuller perspective, we are able to go back and read Jesus’ conversation with the Scribe at Lake Galilee with wonder. Jesus is the Son of Man from Daniel 7, and he is the all-conquering victor and King of the eternal kingdom sitting at the right hand of the Father in equal authority as God. Yet….the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

The Messiah did not come in arrogance, pomp and pride. He came as a suffering servant and he came not to make a home of this world, but to save people out of it. This is our humble, victorious King. If he can give up a home in this world to conquer death and sin on our behalf, surely we can be willing to give up anything in this world to follow him.

Can God Get Bigger?

Surely it would seem that if God is the unlimited ever-present God, he cannot grow bigger. Why would I ask such a ridiculous question? I ask it because of the words Mary uses after she was told that she would give birth to the Savior. Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Luke 1:46.

In Greek, the word for magnify (megalunō) means to greatly increase or to make large or to expand. In essence, Mary is saying that her soul makes God bigger. While Mary says her soul makes God bigger, the Psalmist says “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-12).

There is no place we can go where God is not present. The presence of God is ‘omni’ – all/universal. God himself cannot grow bigger and therefore we must realize that magnifying God is not something we are doing to God. In reality, magnifying God is something that God is doing in us. Mary’s glorious response to the angel’s news is a declaration that her heart has grown bigger in her adoration of God. With this in mind we are invited to walk in Mary’s shoes.

Mary says that her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. This young virgin lived every day in a world ruined by sin. She had seen the violence and hatred of mankind and experienced the constant battle with sin in the human heart. Even as a young girl, Mary understood the reality of the curse. Now imagine getting news delivered in person by an angel of God that she, a virgin, would conceive and give birth to the Savior of the world. God had not forgotten his world, his people, or Mary. This message is not only the greatest message of hope that Mary would receive, but also is confirmed to be a reality in that God would bring hope in such a miraculous way. The reality of the miracle of a virgin’s conception erases all doubt that God will do all according to his promise. There is a God who does not forget us. There is a God who saves. There is a God whom I can call MY Savior and that God is able to do all things.

There is no insufficiency in God that he would need to grow. The limitless scope of his power, presence and knowledge will always be beyond the boundaries of human comprehension. As we glimpse more of his glory in his character and work, the adoration of his majesty grows in us.

This Christmas, we celebrate a virgin giving birth to the Savior of the world. We celebrate something we can only describe as a miracle. To many people, miracles are beyond belief and they reject the reality of the incarnation, and indeed, the Christian gospel. To us who have been illuminated to the truth of Christ, miracles are a source of wonder that point to certain hope for all eternity. Miracles like the virgin birth grow God in our hearts. The virgin birth and incarnation of Christ increases our adoration of God and we cry out with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” In that way, in us, God gets bigger!

Your Christmas Gift to the Gospel

Looking back over our last year, I can say that Hyde Park Baptist church has been blessed and the Lord has given me much cause for thankfulness in his goodness.

Here are some highlights:

- We have been blessed by going through the book of Matthew and especially the Sermon on the Mount.

- In our topical series we have learned about dealing with matters of conscience and have seen the beauty of the redemptive thread in our series, The Jesus of Genesis.

- We have worked our way through 44 chapters of Isaiah in Sunday School.

- We have discussed various practical topics on Wednesday nights including assurance of salvation, fear of man, and the love of God in our lives.

- Our counseling ministry is growing with two of our own training in biblical counseling. Many of our own fellowship, as well as some others from outside, have seen God’s grace and truth work in their lives work transforming power. We have seen marriages strengthened, anxiety conquered, doubt overcome, and sin defeated. Praise God.

- We have rejoiced in baptism and we have more coming in the beginning of 2019.

- We have seen some beautiful brothers and sisters join us and engage in our family.

- We have reached out to our community through various evangelistic events and have made ourselves more visible (especially on Sunday morning market days).

- We have dramatically increased the involvement of our men and ladies in discipleship and our men have now read a book each month for seven months. Readers are leaders.

- We have seen some change in style and process, but we have not lost love and unity.

- We have preached Christ, pleased Christ, and are becoming more like Christ.

Next year will see more members, baptisms, our nursery and children’s discipleship. God willing, we will also continue to seek further ministry opportunities to reach our family, friends, colleagues and community with the good news.

Brothers and Sisters, our ongoing efforts in gospel ministry need your help and as you consider the end of our financial year as well as our calendar year. Please consider giving some extra Christmas and end of year generosity to our local church. As a small church in a difficult area, our investment in the ministry of our Hyde Park Baptist Family is a ministry of eternal significance for all those who come into contact with us and walk through our doors.

And always remember… “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter, I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” 2 Corinthians 8:9-11

The Danger of Naming and Claiming

So often I hear the name of Jesus being used almost in the same way as magicians use abracadabra. The so-called ‘faith healer’ will walk up to a person in front of a crowd of spectators and say the magic words expecting there to be a miracle right in front of our eyes. Without any follow-up results from medical inspection, the crowd is mesmerized as the person throws their cane away. If I sound cynical, it is because in most instances with this kind of thing, I am. I am cynical because Benn Hinn is never found in a hospital until it is his own heart giving away. I am cynical because television hosts are willing to take people’s money and make promises without anyone even being able to check if the promises are fulfilled. The list goes on, but what makes me most cynical is that ‘name it and claim it healers’ are ignoring one of the most important biblical concepts that flavors Scripture. They are missing the absolute sovereignty of God that becomes evident in three little words, “if you will.”

When the leper came to Jesus in Matthew 8, he had no doubt of Jesus’ power. Perhaps, if I am generous, I might also afford the benefit of the doubt to faith healers that they sincerely believe that God’s power is great and that they are a vessel for it. The problem for me, apart from what has already been stated, is that so often it seems that these people place God under obligation. In the use of Jesus’ name, the claim is that you are healed – unless of course your faith is not strong enough. What these people completely overlook is a fact that the leper in front of Jesus, completely understood. Matthew tells us that the leper’s words to Jesus were, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” (8:2). The message we most often get from faith healers is that God can make you clean and if you don’t get healed you have a faith problem. The message we get from the leper who was actually healed, is that God can make you clean if he wills. Authentic healing and cleansing are a result of the will of God.

This tells us two important truths.

1. While God’s power is sometime manifest through human means, the presumption of naming and claiming bypasses the reality of God’s sovereign will.

2. While some people would cringe at a prayer using the words, “if you will,” the reality is that God’s free divine will is the ONLY way prayers are ever answered regardless of the actual answer.

Whether we are talking about healing, getting a new job, or even salvation, we are all lepers reliant on the sovereign will of God. Particularly when it comes to the matter of salvation, there are ongoing debates in the church about the actions of human and divine will. Preaching on this text, Charles Spurgeon made a profound statement. He said, “In the work of salvation, certain preachers are continually insisting upon the freedom of the human will; truly with these I raise no quarrel; but I would have them equally insist upon the freedom of the divine will.” What Spurgeon was noting was that we can say what we like about the freedom of human will, but ultimately the Divine will of the omnipotent God will have its way. He is God and we are not.

No, I am not part of the ‘Word of Faith’ or ‘Name It and Claim It’ movement. I am part of the “If you will” movement. My confidence for cleansing comes not in a human’s ability to harness or receive the power of God. My confidence is in the God who wills. Having confidence in the will of God also allows me to know that my confidence is in the God who knows best and will always do what is right no matter the result. Therefore, “Lord, if you will, you can……”

Why Do We Wear Clothes? (PG)

In America, it’s getting closer to winter and as we approach it, I am already freezing. I definitely have a good reason for wearing clothes right now. It’s cold outside, but what if we lived in the southern hemisphere where you might want to ditch every piece of clothing and jump in some cool water? Weather can’t be the only reason for clothing.

If you know anything about the bible, you are aware that Genesis 3 is the Bible’s first introduction of clothing. It starts with insufficient fig leaves being replaced by animal skins. Clothing in the bible has something to do with covering our shame that is depicted in nakedness. The biblical answer to why we have a need for clothes has something to do with the shame of sin. Ever since Genesis three, for the most part, human beings have worn clothes and it seems to be a matter of conscience to do so. We know there would be something wrong if a person walked through our local shopping mall in their birthday suit. In our country, at least for the time being, they would be arrested. Some people would stare in shock while others might quickly hide their eyes and hustle their kids to a position where they cannot see. Our actions show that we believe there is a shame attached to public nudity.

The bible also talks about our conscience in a way that helps us to understand that as we ignore God, we tend to train our consciences to accept shameful things as good or normal things. In our society there are many people who believe that same sex romantic relationships should be a normal and moral practice in society. Others believe that it is right and good for mothers to abort their babies. Others believe it is right and good to choose your gender on the basis of your feelings. In the same way, some cultures have accepted nudity has a natural part of life and many tribes in the world still live this way. In our western culture some people have set up their own community groups to celebrate their uncovered bodies. Since Genesis 3 we find that our consciences cannot be trusted outside the direction of God’s Word. In his letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” (1 Timothy 4:2).

For the most part, and particularly where the light of the gospel has had some influence, people wear clothes in an attempt to cover the shame of nakedness. This is something that our first parents realized the moment they became aware of their sin. Adam and Eve had no need to be ashamed of their nakedness because they were created as a couple in marriage union. Even so, when Adam and Eve saw their nakedness with eyes knowing both good and evil, their nakedness was a direct depiction of sin exposed. Instead of all the wonder that seemed to be promised by the serpent, they saw the tragedy of sin and were ashamed.

Bottom line, our sin needs a covering and it needs something better than we can provide. Every time we put on our clothes to go out in public, we should remind ourselves that we have lost the innocence of purity and are no longer in the garden. Our clothes cover our body but that is only a shadow of the truth we really need to understand. We need a covering for sin. We can thank God that right there in the garden in Genesis 3 he steps us toward our answer in the provision of coverings for our first parents.

Why Winning Matters

I always enjoyed watching my kids play sports. If they did something good, we would get that little pump of excitement and joy and cheer them on all the more. Of course, we had to be careful to be encouraging to everyone including the players on the other team. After all, the big statement at children’s sporting events is, “it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun.” I know that this is what all the parents and coaches say, but I also know that sport is a little futile if you are not playing to win. Why can’t we teach our kids to be kind and gracious in both victory and defeat? Why does sportsmanship have to contradict zeal for the win? Can’t we teach discipline and zeal right alongside grace and kindness?

Ultimately, when people don’t play with a win in mind, they play with a half-hearted passion and have less stamina to play through difficulty. Winning is not something that Christians often consider as part of our lives, but we should. Even in our eschatological differences, Christians should agree that victory is necessary for hope and encouragement in our life in this world. The whole book of Revelation is given to a persecuted church. It was written to encourage them to persevere in a difficult world as they look forward to participating in the victory already obtained by Christ. The difference for the Christian is that our victory with Christ has already been made certain in the cross and has sealed the conquest of the future and final day. We live today in victory for final victory.

In Revelation 12 John gives us a picture of a woman who battles with a great dragon as she gives birth to a male child. It is difficult not to recognize this child as Jesus. John writes, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” (Rev 12:5). This is a direct reference to Psalm 2:9 where the Psalmist looks to a Messiah who will defeat the earthly nations of the world and rule with all authority. Jesus was indeed born into a situation of conflict against a dragon who sought to destroy the seed of the woman.

John tells us that this child that was caught up to God’s throne defeated the ancient serpent and deceiver of the world and threw him down. This seems to say that Satan has already suffered his great defeat. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sin and death have been defeated and Christ has ascended to the throne of all rule and authority as the true King over all. We live in this victory, but we are still playing for the final whistle to blow.

Between now and ultimate victory there is no room for apathy. “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.” (Rev. 12:17). We are reminded by this verse that we are still in a real war in this world until Christ blows that final whistle. Without the previous verses showing us Jesus’ comprehensive victory through the cross, we would be discouraged about having to persevere in this world. It may seem to us that all is lost. When we acknowledge victory, it changes our view. We are playing now for a victory already won. Even while our enemy is a prowling lion, our focus on that victory gives us hope and will to persevere. We are playing with ultimate conquest in view. We play with strength, hope, vigor, and boldness. We don’t have to be afraid of the dragon’s tactics because the child has already thrown him down and we await our Captain’s return.

Without that acknowledgement of victory, there is no answer for fear or anxiety or for a desire to live up to the expectations of the Victor. There is no encouragement to persevere through hardship or persecution. But victory for the Christian is indeed a reality in Christ.

Wining matters. So, play hard and persevere in Jesus until he comes.

What Did One Temple Say to the Other Temple?

One day The Temple walked into the temple.

In John 2:13-17 we find the account of Jesus walking into the Jerusalem temple to have a rather lively encounter with the money-changers and those who were profiting by selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus, God incarnate, sees these activities and cleans house with zeal and authority. His actions fulfilled Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

This section of Scripture has caused many people to place all sorts of restrictions about what we can and cannot do in church buildings. Is this action really applicable to modern church buildings and anything sold in a church premises? If John 2:13-17 is all you read, you might be inclined to think so. If you read further, there is more to consider in vs. 18-22.

“So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Jesus brought authoritative judgment into the Jerusalem temple and then claimed that he himself was the temple. This was of course confusing to all who heard it. The Jews were thinking of the physical structure of Herod’s temple being rebuilt in three days and the disciples were clueless onlookers until they witnessed the resurrection.

Essentially Jesus was showing that he himself was the fulfillment of the physical structure and its function. The temple was a place for obtaining right relationship with God through sacrifice. It was a place where Israel would gather for worship. It was a place that depicted God’s dwelling presence with his people and a constant reminder of the need for holiness. The zeal Jesus displayed with the money-changers had everything to do with their contempt for sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. When Jesus refers to himself as the temple it has everything to do with sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. All of this was fully displayed in Christ through his death and victorious resurrection.

Jesus has replaced the function of the temple. He is the once and for all sacrifice, the presence of God with his people, the only access to worship the Father, and the justifier of repentant sinners. As soon as you read Jesus’ statement about his own body you realize that the people of God no longer worship through a location but a Person. Jesus, The Temple, not the church building, the temple.

When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples believed the Scriptures. Which Scriptures did they believe? One could argue that they believed Scriptures such as Psalm 16:8-11 that talk about the body not seeing corruption and being raised. Perhaps though the disciples realized that the physical temple had become a thing of the past because everything has been achieved by the once and for all Lamb of God. All of the Scriptures about the function of the temple had been completed in three short terrible and glorious days.

What did one Temple say to the other temple? “It is finished.”

Have You Forgotten Who You Look like?

As a kid I remember watching the classic film about Hans Christian Anderson. I enjoyed watching Danny Kaye sing and dance as he told stories to children and I can even remember the tunes today even though it has been years since I last watched it. One of the stories was about the ugly duckling who didn’t realize that it wasn’t so ugly after all. As it grew, the duckling realized that it was no duck at all, but as it looked into the still water found that it was an elegant swan. It was time for that swan to live out what it knows to be true.

Hans Christian Anderson might have been an early preacher of self-esteem doctrine, but there is still some reality to the message that we should not forget who we really are. The Apostle James says it another way to encourage Christians to live authentic lives that are consistent with our calling in Christ. I James 1:23-25 he says, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” If our identity is in Christ, we must not give it lip service. We are to not only hear the Word of God but to do it and show in our active lives that trusting Christ is how we live. James says this is like a reflection. We are to be like people who know who we are in a mirror so that we act that out in public. If we are God’s children, then the reflection of God must be evident in our words and thoughts and deeds.

I love that James uses the idea of reflection in his simile. In Christ, the reflection we see should be a reflection of our very identity. The identity of every Christian is that we are children of God in and through the Son of God. Our Father’s character should be a defining characteristic of who we are and how we act. The problem is that as we think about the consistency of our reflection, we realize that we are fallible human beings who have no possibility of a perfect representation of the pure, perfect, holy God. We just cannot live up to that.

This is why it is so wonderful that Jesus has accomplished all that we cannot and that his accomplishments are actually applied to us through faith. Does the bible tell us that Jesus has accomplished a perfect reflection of the pure, perfect, holy God? Yes, it does. Christ has done it in character, in words, in thought, in will, in action and in every way imaginable. We do not get any sense that Christ deviated even one percent from a perfect image of the Father. This is why the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is the, “…radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”(1:3).

Jesus has no identity crisis. As the perfect Son of God, he is the very nature of God and his exact representation is in every aspect including the power of God, the work of God, and the majesty of God. He never forgets who he is. He is always our Creator who became our Savior in perfect obedience to the Father. He is the exact imprint of God in every way. God has represented himself to us in His Son.

If you are struggling in reflecting the image of the one true holy God of the universe, take heart. Look to Christ and find both an accomplishment in your place and the perfect example for us to follow. When you look in the mirror and see the scratches and bumps and wrinkles and when you are reminded that you are a desperate sinner, remind yourself that when the Father looks at Christians, he sees through the lens of a perfect reflection of himself. He looks at Christ in our place.

We are ugly ducklings. All of us. But our faith is in the most beautiful Swan and his reflection is always stunning.

The Fellowship of The Light

No, it is not the fellowship of the ring. There are no secret messages that light up when you get closer to Mordor. There are no dwarves and elves to help us on our pursuit in victory over evil.

There is, however, a people who have been saved out of the despair of sin and from the eternal and righteous judgment of God. Those people are one people called the Church. We are a people who have accepted the apostolic witness of Christ and in the enlightenment of the Spirit of God have heard and believed the good news of Jesus. This is the good news that Jesus Christ has given himself for our sin to rescue us from this present evil age. Yes, there is a victory over evil, but it is not or ever will be our doing. It is Christ’s alone on our behalf.

In 1 John 5-7 we read something about this precious fellowship that we have with the apostles as the believing church. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

In the previous verses, John had told us that the apostles witnessed Jesus in a physically experiential way. They had touched Jesus and seen Jesus and heard him speak with their own eyes, ears and hands. John says that in the true revelation of Jesus Christ they have fellowship with the Father and the Son. They have a vertical relationship with God because of their faith in the one and only Messiah. In verses 5-7 we find that our fellowship as believers is directly connected to that of the apostles as we walk in the same truth in faithfulness in our life.

There is one characteristic about our Christian fellowship that we must all accept. It is a fellowship based on light. That light is God himself and in God there is no darkness at all. In the Scriptures it is very apparent that the entire world is in darkness due to the comprehensive power of sin. This darkness has no truth and this darkness has no holiness or hope. If we are those who love the world, we are those who love darkness. If we claim to believe upon the apostolic witness of Jesus, then we must trust that reconciliation with God in Christ brings us out of darkness into the light. We are no longer those who desire to walk in the darkness. We are no longer those who call darkness light.

Walking in the light of Christ and not in the darkness of the world confirms our claim of fellowship with one another. As we do so, we can look forward to the day when Jesus will finally cleanse us entirely of sin and the darkness will be eternally eradicated.

It is a beautiful thing to know that our Savior has already dealt with darkness. It is beautiful to see that our fellowship in Christ means that we don’t do it alone. Together, and in the continuation of the salvation that came to the apostles, we encourage and build each other up to continue to walk in the light and toward the eternal light that will never dim. Together we shine into a dark world.

Eagle's Wings: A Historical Reality

Perhaps you have watched a movie or TV show depicting a man crawling in his last moments through a hot, lifeless desert. As he climbs over one sand dune he sees countless more in front of him and the hopelessness of his situation is clear. He is going to die.

The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. They were rescued by God as he gave them exodus from slavery through the parting of the red sea and drowning their pursuers. He brought them through a desert wilderness where in any other circumstances they should have perished. Instead of perishing, they were able to move through the desert without their shoes wearing out. God guided them by cloud and fire and provided food for them to collect every day except for the day they could collect double for the Sabbath. After a long and arduous journey, they came before enemies who opposed their very existence. Without God, Israel would never have survived.

If you read the book of Exodus, all of the above information about Israel is presented as an historical event that was echoed for generations as God pronounced his faithfulness to his chosen people. Israel was carried by the Lord through the desert as God took his people out of exile through exodus and into the land of promise. In Exodus 19:4, God’s sovereign deliverance and protection is described using the imagery of an eagle. “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” The imagery of the eagle’s wings is a beautiful explanation of God’s sovereignty and providence in a period of history that would become a picture for God’s people in future times.

In Isaiah 40, God gives a rebellious Judah hope in the midst of his judgment. Isaiah is writing to Judah to give them comfort about God’s faithfulness in the future exile that they are going to experience at the hands of Babylon. As Isaiah brings God’s comfort to exiles, he reminds them that God is the omnipotent Creator of all and that the most powerful of human nations are simply like withering grass. Babylon is no threat to God and Judah should trust that their God will faithfully fulfill the covenant that they could never keep. In verse 31 God uses imagery that this people have heard before in the writings of Moses. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Those who trust God can know that he is a God who will bring them out of exile and sustain them again in a new exodus. The reason that the exiles can take comfort in this is because God is referring to something that he has previously accomplished in history as a real-life example. It is a reference that Judah remembers as an historical foundation of their very identity as God’s people.

In Revelation 12, John gives this image of an eagle once more. This time the book of Revelation is written to a church living in this evil world of persecution and problems and looking for hope awaiting the final consummation. The Apostle John talks of a woman who goes through the wilderness and gives birth to a boy who rules the nations with a rod of iron. This is the same statement we hear from Psalm 2:7-8 that is no doubt a reference to Jesus. Through God’s chosen people the promised child comes, and while the great dragon attempts to slay him, the child is caught up to God and to his throne (Rev 12:5). The woman is then is pursued by the dragon but is given the wings of an eagle to be sustained in the wilderness wandering of this world for an allotted period of time (Rev 12:14).

If we know our history, the imagery in Revelation 12 should give us great hope. We may feel like the persecution and problems in this world are too difficult to bear, but we should always remember that just like God had brought Israel out of Egypt and out of exile in Babylon, he will bring his people out of exile in this evil world and sustain us through the wilderness until he also brings us home. The reality of this imagery gives us hope not because these are beautiful pictures but because of the historical reality they depict. They depict God’s saving grace in choosing and protecting his children. Our exodus from this world comes through the cross of Christ, the Child born of a woman and hunted by the world. In Christ we have a faithful God who is bringing his people all the way home. The historical relevance of God’s saving grace and providence are the eagle’s wings that will carry us into his promise of a new creation. The historical reference of eagle’s wings tells us that when God saves, he faithfully saves to the uttermost.

The Bible: Not Science, but Not Disconnected from It.

As I grew up around the ministry of Answers in Genesis and worked in that ministry for many years, I was certainly impacted by the clear thinking this organization promoted when it comes to the subject of the bible and science. I know other creation apologetics organizations do similar and I am thankful for their contribution in serving God’s Church.

One of the common accusations made against biblical creationists (often known as young earth creationists) is directed toward how they treat the bible. You will hear statements such as, “The bible is not a science textbook.” This claim suggests that biblical creationists misinterpret scriptures by seeing them essentially as a scientific instruction manual rather than God’s revelation of himself. This is quite a distinct misrepresentation of biblical creationists. In all my years around creation apologetics ministries I have not met one biblical creationist who believes that the bible is a scientific instruction manual. What I have found is that biblical creationists (many are also PhD Scientists) believe the first eleven chapters of Genesis are historical narrative revealed by God and written through Moses to give an account of the history of the origins of all created things in the context of the entire history outlined in scripture. This means that the identification of biblical genres (particularly historical narrative), historical recording of genealogies in the Old and New Testaments, the use of biblical language and grammar in interpretation, and the consistency applied through all of scripture, point biblical creationists to a solid stance on a young earth originally created in a period of six normal days (and a day of rest). In short, they come to their position firstly through the historical recordings of the bible and not because they believe it to be a science textbook.

If the history of the bible had no connection to the real world in which we live, then it would be an absurd book. The commitment of our brothers and sisters in biblical creation ministries is one that comes from recognizing that faith is not blind. They believe that the historical narrative serves a very real purpose of telling us about what happened in this real world and in a real past. They believe that the real evidence we all see in this world should corroborate with the historical narrative of creation, fall, flood destruction, and animal and human diversity outlined in the text. The scientific observations they make show real and obvious connection to the historical narrative of the bible without having to incorrectly perceive the bible as a scientific textbook. In this way, the bible is not a science textbook, but the history cannot be, and is not, disconnected from scientific process and discovery. If it was, it would not be a real history. God created a real world and he recorded it in history. He put us in this real world with capacity to experience the physical realities of what he accurately revealed to us in the historical accounts of the bible. We have seen these physical realities in biology, astronomy, geology, anthropology and archeology.

This Sunday we commence a series called The Jesus of Genesis. We will be looking at the themes in scripture that run through the historical accounts that start in Genesis and lead to Jesus. Before we really get into this series, we must acknowledge that the themes of biblical history that run directly to Christ are themes that start, proceed, and finish in a real world with a real historical origin that is not disconnected to our central focus on Jesus who is our real historical Savior.

So yes, I am thankful that Answers in Genesis and other creation apologetics organizations seek to serve the church in showing how the historical account of creation connects to a real physical world in which we live. It might simply be one aspect of highlighting the importance and the authority of the bible, but it’s one that is often overlooked in its helpfulness in seeing both the spiritual and material unity of the biblical message. It helps us in knowing that the biblical themes that run to Jesus are not merely intellectual playgrounds for bible scholars but real historical lines that outline God’s purpose for us in Christ. They start in reality, they proceed in reality and they point to our future reality.

A Thank You Letter To My Church Family

A Thank You Letter to my Church Family

Dear Hyde Park Baptist Church Family,

We have recently taken 5 months working through our Savior’s Sermon on the Mount together. Last Sunday we heard five representatives from our church give testimony of how this sermon series has impacted their lives. I cannot help but think that our five brothers and sisters are simply a representation of our wider body.

As I thought about what each of them had to say, I realized how much you do really think through the teaching that is placed before you each Sunday. Many of you have indicated different aspects of the Sermon on the Mount that have touched your heart and challenged you to change for the glory of God.

As I have contemplated this in the past few days, I have done so with a joyful heart of gratitude to God for his kindness to us. It is not easy to hear some of the hard-hitting statements in Jesus’ sermon. Each of us have had to look at our own hearts before the holiness of our perfect Lord. Each of us have had to evaluate our lives against his unattainable standard. Each of us have had to come to grips with the fact that our only answer from this sermon is that we need a Savior. Well, we have one. Isn’t our Savior so magnificent beyond words?

Some of you have changed your attitudes in certain areas. Some of you have changed your behaviors. Some of you have simply changed your thinking, and some of you have taken certain heart issues more seriously. I hope all of us have found areas for repentance and renewed faith. All in all, your feedback from the testimonies of our brothers and sisters has given me so much more confidence that God’s Word is not bouncing but penetrating. So, this is the response of a grateful pastor.

My gratitude, and the gratitude of my fellow elders, is because in obedience you have allowed the word of God to penetrate your hearts through the renewal of your minds. Thank you for hearing and heeding the Word of God. I know you don’t need my gratitude. You didn’t listen and respond for my sake but because of the glory of our Savior and Lord. That in itself does make me thankful and I can’t help but express it.

In one of our last sermons we heard some corresponding verses from James 1:25, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” Please let us never abandon this promise in our church family. Let’s never only hear the Word of God but let’s both hear and obey it. Let us seek to please Christ by actually applying his beautiful revelation to our lives in true repentance and living faith. Let’s live together as doers who are blessed. Let’s make our desire as a body to honor our Lord. As we listen to our brother Robert preach this Sunday, let’s do it together yet again.

Thank you Church Family, I love you!

Who Is the Authentic Jesus?

As you read through the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, it’s not difficult to see that Jesus is talking to his disciples about what it means to be an authentic disciple. The beatitudes describe the beautiful attitudes of those who have truly placed their faith in Christ. Jesus preached about disciples who do not hide their light as they bring gospel saltiness to the world. Jesus also explained that his authentic disciple is less concerned about meticulous law-keeping than the state of their hearts from which obedience flows. Disciples are not focused on what is seen and acknowledged by men but are primarily concerned about their hearts before God in private. Disciples do not need from this world that can only cause anxiety but put all hope in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. Disciples acknowledge their own need for mercy and resist the hyper-critical, condemning attitude of the self-righteous. Disciples are able to recognize their own sin and live out active repentance before trying to fix other people. Disciples love their enemies and live out the golden rule of the way they treat others. Disciples go through the narrow gate. Disciples bears good fruit. Disciples make true claims, and the disciples build their lives on solid rock. Everything we read from Jesus’ amazing sermon helps us to understand his call on our lives when we claim to be his disciples.

As humans, we tend to read these words and think solely about what it means for us. While it is essentially true that this sermon is all about what it is to be an authentic disciple, it is impossible to read this sermon and not see the authentic Christ. Let us never forget that Jesus is preaching discipleship to his own disciples. Sitting around their Master on a hill, with a great crowd surrounding them, the disciples are hearing Jesus teach them what it means to follow him. After three years of living with Jesus in active ministry and then witnessing the resurrected Lord, the words from Jesus’ great sermon would surely ring in the ears of the disciples in an infinitely more powerful way. I can just imagine their post resurrection conversations about the Sermon on the Mount.

We might just hear statements that sound like this:

“When Jesus told us that we should be poor in spirit, we had no idea that it was actually HIS holiness that exposes our sin.”

“Yes, and do you remember when he was telling us that our righteousness needs to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees? Jesus’ righteousness actually did!”

“What about those things he told us about the law? When he said that he came to fulfill it, that was actually true. It’s impossible for us to fulfill his standards, but he did it all for us. Then he took our penalty for what we couldn’t do.”

“That statement about being perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect keeps echoing in my mind. You have to be God to keep that standard, and Jesus kept it”

“Remember how he told us not to look for rewards from men? He said that knowing that he was actually going to get crucified by men in order to be glorified by the Father.”

“When Jesus told us to love our neighbors, I had no idea that this was what he was doing to us all along and even going to his own death.”

“What about those closing remarks? If all these other things were not true about Jesus, his closing remarks would be arrogant delusions of grandeur. Who is Jesus to tell us that we have to go through his narrow gate unless he has authority to claim that he is the only way?”

“That’s true, and Jesus actually said that on the last day we will stand before him and call him Lord. He actually made the statement that he is the one judging who does and does not go into the eternal Kingdom. By what authority could he possibly determine anyone to be in the kingdom of heaven? He had to have all the authority of the everlasting God.”

“I don't know if any of you doubted that authority when we actually heard him preach. After his resurrection all my doubt has been removed.”

I think it would be a safe assumption that conversations like this between the disciples did actually happen. One of those disciples, Matthew, wrote us a gospel. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew penned the words of Jesus and then gave us a short summary of the type of conversations we just imagined. Instead of recording all the statements of the disciples and the crowd, Matthew simply finishes chapter 7 with these final words, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Matthew 7:28-29

Yes, this is the authentic Jesus.

The Lesson I Should Have Learned Earlier From My Father

So often we can describe the character traits and quirks of our parents and overlook that there are great lessons to be learned from the way they lived out their life. My father was organized and ready for anything. When we went on vacation, he would prepare the camping gear and make lists of what to take. He would ensure that everything was in working order and he planned for any kind of inclement weather.

It wasn’t this way just with camping. Dad was always early in case there was a problem with traffic or anything else that might cause an unexpected delay. He was a man who was always ready to leap into a task with confidence because his preparation afforded him that very confidence. Sometimes my father’s diligence in preparation was simply an annoyance to me. Why did we always have to be early? Why can’t we just load the camper on the day we leave?

It may have taken decades, but I now see that my father was a very wise man. Preparation is a mark of wisdom and this is a truth that is applicable in every sphere of life. When it comes to facing our ultimate day of judgment, preparation (being ready) sorts out the wise from the foolish.

In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus tells a parable about the wise and foolish virgins. Ten virgins went to meet the bridegroom, but the bridegroom was delayed. They all had lamps but only five virgins were wise enough to take oil with their lamps. When the bridegroom arrived, only five wise virgins were actually ready to meet him. The parable ends with the daunting prospect of the five foolish virgins obtaining no recognition from the bridegroom and being sent away.

Jesus uses this parable to make one big point. He is going to return and none of us know the time or the day that he will return. The time therefore to be prepared to meet Christ is now.

This is very similar to the illustration of the wise and foolish builder that Jesus uses with his disciples in the closing comments of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus makes a huge distinction between wisdom and foolishness in that only the wise man was truly prepared to weather the storm because he had enough sense to be serious about the right foundation. When we stand before Christ on judgment day, our seriousness about preparation will be evident. Did we heed his warnings about our need for a Savior? Did we heed his warnings about what true saving faith really is? Were we truly confessing Christ as Lord or was it just lip service? Those who are wise will be serious about our future judgment before Christ. We will be serious about that future time today and every day until his expected and yet unexpected return.

My Dad was a man who attempted to prepare for all matter of contingencies. Most of all, my Dad was a man who prepared for Christ. I witnessed his relationship with Jesus as he prayed in his favorite chair. I watched him preach the gospel and teach the Scriptures. I saw him appeal for our need to know Jesus before it was too late. I saw him arrive early to do all those things. I witnessed a wise man. A wise man (or woman) is a prepared man (or woman). It is someone who lives their life every day in faith by preparing to meet Jesus. That preparation should be seen in every aspect of our life. It took me too long to see the wisdom of preparation in my father. Let us not look over this lesson when it comes to standing before our Heavenly Father.

God's Terrifying Judgments Are His Kindness.

Often when we read of the judgment and condemnation of God, we shudder with fear at how the eternal wrath of an infinite being might be experienced. Throughout the Old Testament, God warned his sinful children of Israel that they would experience his great wrath because of their disobedience. As you read through Jeremiah, it is impossible to miss that God not only describes his terrifying judgment at the hands of other nations (particularly Babylon), there is also explicit description as to God’s true perception of those who are supposed to be His children. They are a faithless whoredom who have placed stone and wood above His own majesty. They have made their own gods and followed after the false gods of other nations. This has resulted in an unimaginable depravity of people who are supposed to reflect God’s glory.

God chose a young man by the name of Jeremiah to go to the people of Judah and warn them of their impending demise. His words are clear and brutally descriptive of their coming plight.

Jerermiah 7:33-34. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

When you read these verses, it may be difficult to acknowledge the kindness of God. From a human perspective we hear nothing but a horrific future and tragic demise. Reading these words has led many people to think about God as unloving or to consider that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different to the God of the New Testament. Not so!

Intertwined throughout the horrific judgments are statements that call Judah to repentance.

Jerermiah 7:3, 5, 23 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. ... 5 "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, ... 23 But this command I gave them: 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.' ...

Whenever we hear the prophets speaking judgment upon God’s disobedient people, we should not overlook that mixed in these warnings are calls to repent and obey and to put their trust in the one true God who has power to both judge and save. Judah did not heed these calls and as a result were taken into exile by Babylon who destroyed their cities. Even so, Judah could not sit in captivity and say that God was not just or kind. They had ample warning from a God who faithfully keeps his promises. In warnings of judgment, there is the kindness of God.

Jesus gave these same warnings to his disciples. In Matthew 7:21-23 he warned that many who call themselves Christians would one day stand before Him and find themselves condemned to eternal punishment. His warning to us as Christians today is that lip service is not the same as saving faith. His warning is a kindness for us to turn to him in urgency before we stand before him “on that day.”

Romans 11:22. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

Detecting a Wolf the Right Way.

Jesus told us to beware of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I have a reasonable knowledge of the people who attend my Church and even though I cannot see their hearts, I have confidence that there is not a wolf among us. Even so, Jesus told his disciples to “Beware” of wolves and gave them guidelines to recognize them (Matthew 7:15-20).

The description of false prophets being wolves in sheep’s clothing should help us to discern that false prophets often look and sound just like sheep. Often when evangelical Christians have thought of the description of false prophets, we have pictured the tele-evangelists who have fleeced millions of dollars out of people to buy their new personal jet. They are most definitely wolves, and they do use Christian rhetoric and biblical text as their tools. For most believers, the mega star wolves are easy to detect, but the fact that Jesus has to inform us of how to recognize them leads us to believe that they can be very subtle and not so easy to detect. Jesus says that we are to know them by their fruit. This is not restricted to what they say, but also how they live, their allegiance to Christ, their attitude of repentance, and their pursuit of holiness. Sheep should have fruit that reflects a regenerate nature. If a wolf can be that subtle, how can a church be on alert without raising suspicion and pointing fingers at every single action or statement that does not match up with the regenerate nature of a sheep? If we cannot take every sheep at face value, how do we live together without being everyone’s personal policeman? How do we acknowledge that sometimes even sheep sin, even grievously, in their pursuit of holiness?

The beautiful thing about God’s Word is that it is always authoritative in both truth for orthodoxy and orthopraxy. That is, we have Scripture for both the truth we uphold and the way we uphold it. This includes the way we live out being alert for wolves. Let’s think about some factors to consider.

1. While in Matthew 7:15 Jesus tells us to be alert for wolves, we should remember that Jesus has already told us not to be defined by a condemning spirit (Matthew 7:1). The grace of God we have received generally helps us to realize that we are not to walk around with a judgmental attitude. If we see a wolf like characteristic in someone, we will be careful to watch and listen more before we pounce.

2. Paul’s genuine love for the church at Corinth caused him to have a “divine jealousy” for them. He did not warn them of the “super apostles” from a desire to be right in exposing their error. His motivation was the love of the church. If we have this type of love for the church, we will act out of protection of something we hold dear rather than exposing something we simply know to be wrong. (2 Corinthians 11).

3. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul warns Timothy of some false teaching among them in Ephesus. In the instruction he tells Timothy not to be quarrelsome, but to make sure he can teach truth and correct with gentleness. Paul also says that God may give grace to help them see the error of their ways and lead them to repentance. If this actually happens, we are obviously not dealing with a wolf. (2 Tim 2:24-26).

4. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus tells his disciples how the church is to deal with sin and error by approaching a brother or sister one to one with a view to win them. We should see this as the goal of our approach. If someone might be won personally or even if it takes two or three witnesses, the goal of winning a brother or sister defuses the pride of correcting or judging for our own personal motives.

5. Love! In the beautiful love passage of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that we can have all the oratory gifts and even speak in the language of the angels but if we do not have love we are just a clanging gong. This means that even if we do detect a true wolf, we cannot expect that person to hear us if we just sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Without love, our words of correction will be useless.

6. Most of all, we should acknowledge that Jesus gives this command to his disciples. Throughout the New Testament, we see that the church as a body, particularly in its local context, is responsible for upholding doctrine and protecting purity under the headship of Christ. It is only in the local church context where correction and discipline can happen in a way that there is real concern for the soul and an ability to reinstate where repentance is a reality. The church has something that non-church ministries and blogging can never accomplish no matter how helpful and good they are. The local church is able to carry out good judgment in the active truth and love of inclusion and exclusion in the protection of purity.

Wolves are real, and Jesus says that they are seriously dangerous. We do have to beware and realize that there is a great history of churches being ravaged by wolves. From Roman Catholicism to Liberalism to prosperity doctrines, practices and propagation of heretical ideas have first formed in the minds and mouths of individuals in churches who looked and sounded just like us. We do have to beware. We do have to be on alert. In doing so, we apply a biblical balance of grace and the right motivation to please Christ and love his bride.

Choose Life!

Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

There were two distinct ways that God had put before his chosen people.  Be my people in obedience and faith and you will enjoy the possession of the land.  Be disobedient and faithless and you will know death and curse.  Anyone who knows the history of Israel realizes that Israel was a disobedient and unfaithful people.  They suffered exactly what God had promised and saw the devastation of death and exile from the land. 

The fact that God gave this command to “choose” one way over the other seems an uneasy consideration for some.  If we accept that there is a responsible choice to be made, are we denying the sovereignty of God in his electing grace? In the case of Old Testament Israel, one might attempt to argue that this people were already the elect of God.  It is true that God had chosen Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that this people was a product of his electing love, but it is also true that Israel as a national people of God was filled with both believers and unbelievers. The individual responsibility for each person to live in obedience to God’s covenant was an undeniable reality. While the call to Israel is a national call to choose life, it had to be enacted individually. To faithfully obey the command of God is an individual responsibility even if it is a corporate call. 

We who live in the New Covenant live in the reality of Jesus who is the only human being to have kept God’s covenant and he did so on our behalf.  We stand before the judge of the universe and we are all individually responsible for our sin and our acceptance of Jesus who has kept the covenant on our behalf. Jesus is our only way into the promised land.  He is our only gate to life.  Therefore, just as Moses said to wandering Israel, Jesus says to us, “Choose life.” 

Jesus used different words than Moses, but it is the same call and appeal to our responsibility before God.  Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. ” (Mt. 7:13). The appeal of Christ is for us to forsake all else to trust and obey him as our King. 

We know that in the wider teaching of Scripture that Jesus also tells us that all that the Father gives him will come.  He tells us that he already knows each of his sheep by name and that his lost sheep must be found. Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and that this is not of our doing. Yet, none of the Scriptures that emphasize the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation undermine his instruction that we are responsible before him and called to choose and enter the only way of life.  

Biblical balance is the only balance we can maintain.  The fact that humans cannot understand how to make human responsibility and God’s sovereignty meet does not mean that one must triumph over the other.  Every human being is responsible before the Lord.  The Lord saves by his electing love those who he has predestined and called. Human responsibility points us toward response.  We stand before the God of the universe and we must choose life and we must enter. This is an impossible task except for the grace of God, but it is not our responsibility to consider whether that grace has been applied to us.  It is our responsibility to enter.  It is our responsibility to repent and believe. In doing so we must thank God for his grace. 

Social Gospel or Social Imperative?

There are some statements in Scripture that we love to either put in the too hard basket or simply skip over because we deem them less important than others.  One of those statements is made by John the Baptist as he was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus.  

Luke gives us very detailed information about how John described what repentance looked like for the Jews that were watching him baptize and listening to him preach.  Luke reports in 3:8-14, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?"  And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise." Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation and be content with your wages."

While the Jewish elite were claiming their physical heritage in Abraham, John was reminding them that the true family of God is identified in the fruit of repentance in our life.  John then describes what that repentance looks like.  It is a love that treats people with dignity and respect and is interested in the needs of others and does not act unjustly.  This echoes the type of complaint that many of the Old Testament prophets had with Israel as they had dismissed the love of God and were treating the poor and needy in despicable ways.  Whether we want to admit it or not, John is saying that true repentance and faith is going to be reflected in the way we live out the love of God in our life toward others.  We have received mercy and we must show that mercy.  

Some people gloss over these words because many of us have been fearful of the appearance of a social gospel. However, this concern is easily accounted for if we just read some of the other statements that John had already made. A few verses earlier, Luke had already recorded John as saying that we need repentance for our sins, that his job was to make way for the coming Messiah “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' (Luke 3:3-6)" John (and Luke) were very concerned about salvation from sin and not just social welfare.  So, while we can be sensitive to the fact that some people have wrongly attributed social justice and welfare as the contributing factor to salvation, John and Luke have identified the social imperative as an outworking of true repentance and saving faith already obtained.  It is the outworking of that which reflects that we are already the true people of God. We love and have compassion like God has loved and has had compassion upon us. Justice and compassion are attributes of the heart of God that can be seen in the Old and New Testament.  They are attributes we must reflect as his sons and daughters.

In his book, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” Carl Henry wrote, “The social spirit of John’s preaching was not contrary to Jesus’ own message. Replying to the imprisoned forerunner’s inquiry concerning the Christ, Jesus endorses a particular expectation about the Messiah which the Baptist had doubtless gleaned from the Old Testament: “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matt. 11:4-5, Luke 7:22). In view of so central a passage, it is difficult to find room for a gospel cut loose entirely from non-spiritual needs. It is true that the New Testament repeatedly employs phrases like the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, and the dead receiving life, in the figurative sense of spiritual regeneration.  But that cannot be said for the lame walking, nor for the lepers being cleansed; furthermore, Luke definitely prefixes Jesus’ reply to John with the comment that “in the same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.” (7:21). There is no room here for a gospel that is indifferent to the needs of the total man nor of the global man.” 

So, let’s not skip over these verses that give us an uneasy conscience.  Yes, salvation is all of grace, only through faith and in Christ alone in his redeeming work of the cross. But that salvation that brings the dead heart into life is a salvation that reflects the life-giving love of the Father to all to whom we come into contact. For the Christian, loving our fellow man is not negotiable and neither is it cut off from the only saving message of the cross.  Uneasy? That’s ok, think it through. Those uneasy verses are still there. 

Do You Pass the Hyper-Critical Test?

Jesus talks to his disciples about their judgmental attitudes.  He tells them that the way they judge others will come back on them when they stand before him on judgment day. In Matthew 7 we read, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” This seems serious and something of which all Christians should take careful note.  

As you continue reading Matthew 7, it is obvious that the essence of Jesus’ concern is that we should be led in humility. We should have a priority concern about the way we approach making judgments just as much as the accuracy of the correction itself. The fact that Christ is more concerned about the log in our own eye compared to the speck in somebody else’s tells us that humility and approach is as important to him as accuracy. Hyper-critical people tend to focus much more on the accuracy of dogma than the approach.  They are more concerned with people being corrected and the truth being proclaimed than they are with how it comes across.  Jesus seems to be equally concerned with both dogmatic accuracy and approach. We see this clearly shown in many passages. 

1.    Matthew 7:3-5. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Jesus is clearly showing that it is right and good to approach a brother or sister about error or sin in their life.  He is also showing that it is only right and good if that approach has an air of humility with a desire to prioritize your own sin. When we only see ourselves in the right, we are blind guides to anyone we seek out. 

2.    Galatians 6:1-3. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Paul encourages the Galatians to restore brethren who they find in sin.  It is not simply a matter of telling them that the bible teaches that what they are doing is sinful, but Paul exhorts the Galatians to approach the situation with gentleness. If they ignore the approach that Paul is talking about, they will run the huge risk of falling into sin themselves.  They are not to simply correct dogma but to actually come alongside the sinning brother or sister and bear their burden as they seek to repent and obey their Savior. 

3.    2 Timothy 2:24-26. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
In his instruction to Timothy, Paul encourages him to keep away from quarrels, be kind, be patient, and use gentleness.  Of course, also within this text are the words, “teach” and “correct.”  If those words are separated from the approach, Timothy will be disobeying Paul’s command as an Apostle of Christ. 

Sometimes I have heard the objection from people that Paul was firm and hard-hitting when he needed to be.  This has often been used an excuse for our own lack of gentleness. The fact that we have a description of Paul’s words in apostolic authority to churches to deal with issues among them does not negate that Paul also tells the churches how to do it. Often when you read more carefully and fully, you find that Paul is gentler than these critics give him credit.  After all, he opened his toughest of all the letters by calling the Corinthians his brethren. They were in an obvious mess but his love in the first chapter simply leaps from the page. 

Criticism/correction is not wrong, but it can be.  These texts clearly show that correction is wrong when it is not accompanied with a humble attitude of gentleness and love even if the dogma is accurate. If we are concerned for the authority of the Scriptures, then correcting dogma is only one aspect of the realm of that authority.  If we camp on correction, we will be hyper-critical.  If we are serious about the authority of the Scriptures, we will also obey that authority when it comes to approach.  We can turn the hyper-critical attitude into one that sincerely loves the object of the correction and is willing to do the hard yards in walking with them in their journey. This is the only way we can truly claim biblical authority – if we are willing to submit to both its teaching on dogma and approach. 

Remember one other thing that Paul says. If we have all the rhetorical ability in the world and even able to speak with the tongues of angels, and do not have love, we are just a clanging gong. We are a loud noise that means nothing.  So instead of speaking out about everything and everyone that is wrong, how about exchanging a hyper-critical approach for a biblical one.  How about sitting down with the wrong-doer and loving them as you speak truth in a way that edifies. How about living out the full scope of the authority of Scripture.