Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)
I will never forget watching Ben Stein interviewing atheist and scientist Richard Dawkins. At one point in the interview Stein asks Dawkins, “What if you died and suddenly found yourself standing before God and realizing that he does exist? What would you say to him?” Dawkins replied, “I would say to him, ‘Why did you go to such great lengths to conceal yourself?’” What an astounding response in light of the overwhelming evidence God has provided for us and the fact that God did come down and speak to us and reveal himself to humanity directly. As the author or Hebrews states, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,…” After thousands of years of God sending prophets to speak to his people and point them back to himself, to no avail, he sends his only begotten son to speak directly to humanity. And how do they respond to this? They crucify him. Thus, even when God has taken the direct approach, humans refuse to believe. This is because, as scripture testifies, the unbelieving mind is hostile toward God. It hates God and wants nothing to do with God (Rom 8:7-8). Nevertheless, for those of us who do believe, we can take great comfort in knowing that God has spoken directly to us through his Son, and his words are written down for us in the pages of holy scripture. God has not concealed himself, but has gone above and beyond to make himself clearly known so that he might be fully known.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
David was a man keenly familiar with suffering. Very few have suffered as much as David did. True, some of his suffering was the result of his own mistakes, but then that only makes the suffering that much worse. He was a man familiar with being hunted down and hated by someone he admired and supported (King Saul). He was familiar with the death of his own infant son. He was familiar with the unbelievable pain of having one son murder another of his sons. He was familiar with having a son betray him and then try and strip the throne away from him. Yet through it all David managed to write songs like Psalm 30 where he says, “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (v.4). How was David able to write such songs and sing such praises in the midst of so much suffering and pain in this world and in this life? The next two lines says it all. “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Whatever difficulty God is bringing us through, it is only for a moment. If you are one of God’s people, if you are trusting and resting alone in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for your eternal security and, therefore, are in covenant relationship with God, then “his favor is for a lifetime.” And all the trials and tribulations this world has to offer is only “for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” For those who are in Christ, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is always getting brighter and brighter. As Paul accurately wrote, someone else very familiar with suffering, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:10)
Being in ministry can at times be exhausting. Whether you are a pastor of a church, a Sunday school teacher, a ministry leader, a deacon, a church secretary, or the one who directs traffic in the parking lot at church week after week, there are those moments when we can become weary and begin to wonder if any of it even matters, when we begin to think this feels like a thankless job. We can begin to lose the motivation to keep going. The apostle Paul, of course, was no stranger to being exhausted and was no stranger to the trials and difficulties of ministry. Thus, we see him in 2 Timothy, very likely at the end of his life and at the end of his ministry, and he writes to young Timothy who is shepherding the church in Ephesus, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal” (2 Tim 2:8). Paul wants Timothy to stay focused on Jesus Christ and the gospel of Christ no matter what happens and no matter what happens to Paul, though he is bound in chains. But then he quickly adds, “But the word of God is not bound! Therefore, [because God’s word is not bound, cannot be constrained, cannot be prevented from fulfilling the purpose for which it is intended] I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Everything Paul does and has done and continues to do is “for the sake of the elect.” For God’s people, the bride of Christ. Because of Paul’s love for Christ, he loves Christ’s bride just as much and so is willing to “endure everything” for her, to suffer everything for her. There is the motivation to keep going in ministry. If you are in ministry, whether it be a large ministry or a small one, I encourage you as Paul did Timothy to stay focused on “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” and be willing to “endure everything for the sake of [his] elect.”
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. (Rom. 12:2)
Many Christians struggle with knowing God’s will for their lives. I have heard many Christians say they are praying for God to make clear to them what they should do. Do I move here or move there? Do I take this job or that job? Do I marry this person or not marry this person? And the list goes on and on and is endless. How can we know God’s will for our lives? In once sense, it’s not that difficult. But in another sense, it is that difficult. The key is understanding the words of Paul in Romans 12:1-2. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.” In these two verses Paul tells us what we should do in v.2, but tells us why we should do it in v.1. In v.1 he essentially says that in light of God’s mercies, the mercies he just outlined in chapter 1-11 regarding God’s amazing and sovereign grace in our lives, in light of all that, in light of all that God has done for us, we should “present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” But how do we do that and why? By not being ‘conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewal of our minds.’ It all starts with renewing our minds by immersing it in God’s word and engaging in corporate worship. But here’s the result—"that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.” Thus, the more we are transformed in the renewal of our minds, the more we learn to think like Christ, the more we will be able to discern God’s will for our lives.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matt. 21:9)
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. This is the day we traditionally celebrate the event of Christ riding into Jerusalem, five days before Passover. What is so interesting about this event is that here we have the crowd shouting and waving palm branches and laying down their cloaks so that the donkey Jesus is riding on could walk across them. The crowd is shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And yet, in just five short days that same crowd will be yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” How can this be? How is that possible? Verse 10 says it all, “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’” While they thought they knew who Jesus was, they really did not. What they knew about Jesus was that here was a man who had healed the sick, multiplied bread and fish, calmed a storm, and raised the dead back to life. Surely this would be the one who would overthrow the occupying Roman army and establish an independent Israel. What they did not know was that their king had come to them not to deliver them from political or military bondage, but to deliver them from the bondage of sin, Satan, and death. Jesus had come to bring them true freedom. Thus, on the one hand they knew who Jesus was—"Hosanna to the Son of David! —but on the other hand they did not know who Jesus was. In the end, they crucified Christ because, although he was the king they needed, he was not the king they wanted. Let us be careful not to do the same.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1)
There is this idea out there that someone can be saved and on their way to heaven and not live the Christian life. Since salvation is by faith alone then living a transformed life is simply unnecessary. Yet in Colossians chapter 3, Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (vv.1-3). Notice: “If then you have been raised with Christ…” If these things are true, if you have truly placed faith in Christ, if you have truly been given new life in Christ, then “seek the things that are above.” Then to be sure Paul is not misunderstood, he then goes on to say that those who have been raised with Christ should put to death their old way of life and their old way of thinking: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying (vv.5-10). And they should then “put on”—because if you take something off, then it only makes sense to put something on in its place—compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you, and love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (vv.12-14). From v.1 to v.17 of Colossians 3, scripture makes clear that to be raised with Christ means to put off the old self and to put on the new self.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8)
In the opening verses of the book of Galatians, Paul uses such strong language when rebuking the Galatian Christians because he understands what is at stake. When tinkering with the gospel, people’s lives hang in the balance. People’s eternal destiny is on the line. Paul feels so strongly about this that he says to the believers in Galatia, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9). Paul is literally calling down a curse upon anyone who would dare preach a gospel message other than the one true gospel. And what is that one true gospel? That salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any works or Law-keeping whatsoever. He makes this clear in Galatians 2:16 that a “person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,…because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Paul is so dogmatic about this point that he will later say that all who desire to or attempt to be justified before God based on Law-keeping “are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4). That is strong language! To attempt to add some work or some form of Law-keeping to faith is to be “severed from Christ.” This is because to think some sort of work is necessary on our part for salvation is to think that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was not enough. It is it to imply that something more needs to be added to what Christ has already done.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13)
One of the greatest dangers that has crept into evangelical churches is legalism. It is subtle but it is there. Where we see this most clearly is how often Christians say they don’t really need more theology or doctrine in the sermon. What they need are sermons on how to fix their marriage, how to fix their children or how to manage their time more wisely. They want more practical sermons and less theological sermons. In other words, what they want is more law. They want a list of do’s and don’ts, a list of check boxes to tick off as they go through life. But what they really need is more gospel because, as Paul tells us in Romans 3:10, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” All who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse because the Law can’t save us. The Law can’t fix us. The Law can’t put us back together. The only thing the Law can do is tell us we’re broken and point us toward a savior. Hence, Paul goes on to say, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (vv.13-14). But who is Abraham and what is this blessing Paul is speaking of? Without theology those questions cannot be answered. Thus, what we need is to know God more and to know him rightly. And what we need is to know more about this Jesus who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” What we need is more theology (the study of God, who he is and what he has done); we need more gospel, and we need less of the law.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
So often it can be easy to think our faith would be so much stronger had we lived during the time of the disciples, had we seen Jesus himself in person and witnessed all the miracles he performed. Yet seeing is not always believing, just look at Judas. He was there. He saw. He did not believe. Thus, Peter tells us we should not be envious of those who were with Jesus during his earthly ministry, those who saw him and touched him. In 2 Peter 1:17-18, Peter recounts how he was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and how he heard the voice of God the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” But then he quickly states that we, living in the 21st century, have something even more certain than that. We have “the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the Word of God is to be trusted more and is more reliable than our experiences or emotions. Experiences can be deceiving. Emotions can be misleading. But God’s word remains true and trustworthy and steadfast. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
What is prayer? Over the years I have heard so many different definitions of prayer, it is almost dizzying. Some of these definitions come dangerously close to heresy. I once had a Christian tell me that “prayer is bending the arm of God.” Wow! If I can bend God’s arm, why should I pray to him? And what if someone else with more faith than me is trying to bend God’s arm in the opposite direction? What then? With this kind of view of God and this kind of understanding of prayer, it would be easy to begin feeling sorry for God, imagining his poor arm twisted up like a pretzel from Christians bending it in every direction. And if it were true that Christians can bend the arm of God in whatever direction they desire so long as they have enough faith, then who really is God? Him or us? Who is really in control? No, prayer is not bending God’s arm. Then what is prayer? And what does John mean when he writes, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” The key is “if we ask anything according to his will…” Does that then mean that prayer is just a guessing game and has no real power? Not at all. It means that like Elijah who prayed for fire from heaven (1 Kng 18:37-38), and like the disciples who prayed for Peter’s release from prison and it happened (Acts 12:5-12), when we walk by the Spirit and when our minds have been so transformed by God’s word, we are able to discern God’s will, our prayers will instinctively be in line with God's will and thus will be answered (Rom 12:2; Gal 5:16). The more we are transformed into the image and character of Christ, the more our prayers will be answered.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)
What is it that makes God’s love for us so amazing? The amazingness of God’s love can only be appreciated when we understand it in light of our depravity and utter sinfulness. So often I hear people say that we may not be perfect, but God looks at the heart. Yes, but Jesus says in Matthew 5 that those who are unjustifiably angry with their neighbor commit murder in their hearts (vv.21-26). Those who lust after another person commit adultery in their hearts (vv.27-30). In other words, our hearts have committed sins our hands have not gotten around to yet. And then we are told that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9 NKJ). The idea that God sees into our hearts is not comforting, but frightening. It’s for this reason that John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Why would God send his son into the world to die on the cross for such wicked sinners as ourselves? It’s a mystery that only God knows. This is what makes God’s love so amazing, that he would love such unlovable creatures. Thus, in light of this we are encouraged that “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” If God is willing to love us, despite all our sins and flaws, should we not be willing to love each other and be forgiving and patient with one another? Of course we should.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
If God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresence (present everywhere at all times), then why do we live as though God cannot see or know what we are doing. When we engage in sin, we know God sees us. He is fully aware of our thoughts and the sinful desires of our hearts. We know this because our conscience tells us so. When we do evil, when we commit sin, our conscience (the laws of God written upon the hearts of men) accuses us before God (Rom 2:15-16). Yet so many try and suppress their conscience or they try and numb it though drugs or drink or more wild sinful living. Yet this kind of response toward a guilt-plagued conscience only makes matters worse by either driving us toward an early grave through unconscionable living or by driving us into a deep dark pit of despair. It’s the equivalent of trying to fix a leaky damn with bubble gum. It may work for a while, but eventually the crack will only get worse and then the damn will burst. For this reason God says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD…” Stop trying to fix your damaged conscience yourself. It will never work because the problem is not that you need to repair your behavior but that you need your damaged relationship with God repaired. Thus, God bids us to come to him and reason with him so that “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)
Continuing to talk and think about death and dying, Paul tells us that to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). However, to be with the Lord is not just to be in a better place or to just be in a happy place. Scripture tells us in Psalm 16:11 that “in your presence [God] there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Who would not want that? Once believers enter into the full presence and glory of God, they experience fullness of joy. They are bursting with joy, overwhelmed with joy and gladness and happiness. Being in the presence of Christ in heaven will be like being on a natural-feel-good-high forever! It will never end. It’s a natural spiritual high believers will never come down from. And as though that’s not enough, we are then told that we will experience “pleasures forevermore.” Now to be sure, Psalm 16 is not just talking about heaven but about the here and now. This is what Christians should experience here in this life, but often we don’t because of sin. Sin deadens our senses and does not enable us to fully experience God as we were meant to, as we were created to. But in heaven where there is no sin, we will experience “pleasures forevermore.” Think of the most pleasurable thing or activity you have ever experienced then multiply that by a thousand and then imagine that pleasure never ending--that is heaven! That is what believers have to look forward to the moment we transition from this life into the next. And it will never end. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing His praise than when we first begun.”
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9)
Recently a close friend of mine passed away and went to be with the Lord. As a result, I find myself thinking about the afterlife a little more often these days. Barring the return of Christ, death comes to all of us. It’s the one thing no one can escape or avoid. It’s one of the reasons people, even believers, fear it and are so frustrated and angered by it. Death leaves us feeling powerless and vulnerable. When death comes knocking, there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. But what we can do, as believers, is look beyond the grave. Scripture tells us that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Though the thought of dying can be difficult, especially for those who know they are dying—those dying slowly from a terminal disease—what makes it tolerable and prevents us from spiraling into a dark place is reminding ourselves of what awaits us beyond this life. We need to remind ourselves that the moment we transition from this life into the next we will be immediately immersed into the full unmitigated glory of God and experience more joy and bliss and peace than we ever thought imaginable, and that whatever we we think might miss out on in this world, the thought of not seeing our children grow up or not seeing our dreams and goals become reality, will be forgotten the moment we see Jesus face to face. This truth by no means erases the real struggle of facing death in this life, but should enable us to count as rubbish the things of this world in light of the surpassing worth of seeing Christ Jesus our Lord.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,... (Acts 17:24)
So often I have heard it said the reason God created all things and, in particular, created humans, is because God wanted someone to love him. He desired true love and so he created humans. However, in Acts 17, while addressing the Greek amphitheater, Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (vv.24-25). “As though he needed anything…”, Paul says. God does not need anything from anyone. God is self-sufficient, self-sustaining, all-powerful, and existed for all eternity in perfect harmonious unity within the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God was not lonely. He was not missing something. And he certainly did not need anything. Bottom line: God does not need me or you. God does not need any of us. This is actually a good thing because if God were dependent on us, then we could manipulate God into doing what we want him to do. But God is not dependent on us, rather we are dependent on him, as Paul says, “since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” We need God. He does not need us. Then why did God create humans? Read on. Paul goes on to say, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (vv.26-27). God desires for us to know him, to worship him, to glorify him.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)
David lived a difficult life. Some of it was caused by his own doing, by his own foolish choices, but much of it had to do with the fact that he spent a great deal of his life running from Saul, running from his own son, and battling foreign enemies, all of whom wanted him dead. He also suffered the loss of his own infant son. Making that worse was the fact that it was the result of his own sin. Nevertheless, despite all the turmoil David went through, he was able to pen Psalm 16, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” In other words, when speaking about the blessing he has in God, he uses the imagery of being able to choose the choicest portion of food and drink—“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup”—or being able to choose the best and most lush piece of farm land—“you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places”—that is, the boundary lines of his property have fallen in pleasant places—"indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” David recognizes that no matter what else is going on in life, no matter how difficult the circumstances, if all he has is God then his “lines have fallen for [him] in pleasant places; indeed, [he has] a beautiful inheritance.” He recognizes that by being in a covenantal saving relationship with God, he has more treasure and more blessing he could ever possibly deserve or imagine. Like Paul, David had learned the secret to being content. He had learned to find his joy and satisfaction in God (Phil 4:11-12).
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal. 5:13)
Throughout the book of Galatians, Paul makes the argument that all that Christ has done for us has set us free from the bondage of the Law, sin, and death. Because of what Christ has done for us, we no longer need to languish under the guilt and burden of the Law. We no longer have to fear death. We no longer have to be controlled by sin. Whereas once the Law of God condemned us for failing to keep it perfectly, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13). Paul makes emphatically clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Thus, not only should we not seek to earn our salvation through Law-keeping, but it is not possible to do so (5:3-4). Does that then mean we are free to live as we please? As Paul would say, “me genoito!” (May it never be!) Paul says we ought not to use our newfound freedom to live as we please or to live for ourselves, but rather “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (5:13). God redeemed us from the curse of the Law, he set us free from the bondage of sin and death, so that we would have the freedom and ability to serve one another. Sadly, however, church ministry has often been described as a football game where there are 22 men on the field, desperately in need of rest, being cheered on by 50,000 fans, desperately in need of exercise. If you are believer and you are a member of a church, I want to encourage you to look around and see who needs help. Step out of the stands and onto the field and see where you can serve. If you’re not sure, then talk to your pastor or one of your elders or one of your church’s deacons. Stop cheering on those who need help and be willing to carry the ball.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,... (1 Peter 4:10)
Many Christians struggle with knowing what their spiritual gift is or even if they have a gift. There are all sorts of books out there and tests designed to help you discover your gift. The problem this creates, however, is that many Christians do not bother trying to serve within the church because they believe they do not have any kind of gifting to be able to do so. Thus, only those who have a gift to contribute or one they can use should be serving within the church. However, Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:10-11, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Notice, however, that Peter assumes that every believer has received a spiritual gift of some kind: “As each has received a gift…” Every believer has received a gift from God. It may not be a miraculous or supernatural gift. It may not even be one of the spiritual gifts listed in scripture, but we have all been given some spiritual gift or talent or ability from God that we can and should use to serve the body of Christ. Again, notice Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…” Christians are commanded to use their gifts to serve one another. It is simply not biblical for believers to attend church simply to absorb the worship and the fellowship, to be blessed by the ministry of the church, and then not serve or bless the church in return. Jesus could not have been clearer when he said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:14-15). Christians are commanded to serve the Church.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)
What makes for a healthy church? There are so many books out there written on the subject of church planting and church growth, it can sometimes begin to seem that having a healthy church is complicated, that there really is no method or rhyme or reason to how church is supposed to be done. Thus, churches often try anything and do anything to attract and keep visitors, to keep their members happy and content, and to keep them coming back. However, the Bible offers an incredibly simple formula for having a healthy vibrant body of believers. In Acts 2:42 we read: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” There are four main ingredients to having a healthy biblical church—theology (the apostles’ teaching), fellowship, the sacraments (breaking of bread), and prayer. I say theology because notice it does not say they were focused just on God’s word, but on the apostles’ understanding and teaching of God’s word. It’s not enough that we know God’s word, but that we seek to understand and rightly apply God’s word—the doing of theology. The NT church devoted themselves to fellowshipping. Not just hanging out with each other but from v.45 we see that they were ministering to each other and serving one another. They regularly partook of the sacraments. The phrase “breaking bread” is the NT way of describing the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). And they devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed often and at every given opportunity. And with this simple formula, the church exploded across the Roman world and become the dominant religion by the third century. The NT church was not trying to grow. They were just trying to be biblical. And from that, God provided the growth.
But David remained at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1)
When we read about the tragic event surrounding the adulterous affair of David and Bathsheba, the way the story begins is very telling. “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” Notice: “the time when kings go out to battle…But David remained in Jerusalem.” Why was David not out leading the battles like all the other kings? Why did he send Joab instead? We may never know why, but one thing we do know is that David was not doing what he was supposed to be doing and he was not where he should have been. This leads to David walking around on the roof of his palace during the day when he sees Bathsheba bathing. His lust and covetousness kick in and then we are told that “David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.” David was in a place he should not have been, doing what he should not have been doing, at a time when he should not have been there. How often does this describe us when we fall into sin and temptation? It’s for this reason scripture says in Romans 12:2, “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.” And in Ephesians 5:15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time,…” We can avoid a great many sins and temptations and heartache when we engage our minds in the study of scripture, in the reading of theology, and engage our time and energy in ministering to the saints and reaching the lost. When we are in places where we should be, doing what we should be doing, at a time when we should be there, we won’t have time to fool with sin. David is a living illustration of that old adage: ‘An idle mind and idle hands are the devil’s playground.’
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)
It has been said that for a human to look around at the world and say to himself, “There is no God,” is like a flea saying to himself, “There is no dog.” We live on this amazing beautiful blue ball that is unlike anything else that has ever been discovered, we look at the amazing creatures in this world, like the Bombardier Beatle, the Bald Eagle or the Blue Whale, the human body with all its complexities and amazing abilities, inside DNA and we see written computer code which provides the instructions for building and sustaining human life, and we think to ourselves, ‘This is all just an accident, a freak of nature. Time plus random change equals all this amazingness.’ “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” What more evidence could God provide that he is there, and he is not silent? That people refuse to believe in the existence of God is not due to lack of evidence, but pride and arrogance. The Bible tells us that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). Yet many say they will refuse to believe in God unless he reveals himself to them personally and individually. This is like landing on another planet and finding statues, similar to the heads of Easter Island, and saying, “I refuse to believe these are the result of intelligent design unless their creator reveals himself to me.” How foolish.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)
The last piece of evidence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is self-control. But why? Why self-control and what kind of self-control is Paul talking about? When we hear that term we tend to think of controlling one’s temper. While certainly possessing and demonstrating self-control would include not losing one’s temper, is that all? I believe the scripture is speaking about exercising self-control in all things and in every area of one’s life. This is because most sins, if not every sin, are directly connected with and spring forth from the lack of self-control. The reason people curse is because they fail to control their tongue. The reason people get drunk is they cannot stop at just one. The reason people engage in gluttony is they cannot control their appetite. The reason people engage in pornography is because they cannot control their lust. The reason people cheat on their spouse is because they cannot control their sexual urges and/or they cannot control their covetous desires. This last one is what got Adam and Eve into trouble. Being tempted was not a sin. The loss of self-control and giving into that temptation was. When a person is born-again and is made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit, that person immediately begins to experience greater self-control in every area of his life. Not perfectly, but certainly there is a marked difference from their pre-conversion state. This is because, as scripture says, if you “walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). The Holy Sprit is always leading believers in the direction of holiness and giving them the strength to move in that direction. We simply need to follow his lead.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)
The only occurrence where Jesus offers a description of his own personality or character is in Matthew 11:29 where he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus describes himself as gentle and humble. In a previous post, I wrote about the humility of Christ and what that means, what that looked like for him, and what that should look like for us (The Mind of Christ), but here we need to understand what it means for Jesus to be gentle. When citing from Isaiah 42 to describe himself and the kind of ministry he would undertake, there he says, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope” (Matt. 12:19-21). He will not quarrel or cry aloud,…a bruised reed he will not break...a smoldering wick he will not quench. Jesus describes himself as not being quarrelsome and of not taking a battered reed that is on the verge of snapping and not breaking it, and not taking a smoldering wick that is on the verge of being snuffed out and not quenching it. In other words, both with his words and with his treatment, Jesus will be gentle with those who have been battered by life (a bruised reed) and with those who are on the verge of giving up on life (a smoldering wick). In his book, The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges correctly states, “Gentleness is illustrated by the way we would handle a carton of exquisite crystal glasses; it is the recognition that the human personality is valuable but fragile, and must be handled with care.” We should ever strive to be gentle with all people with our words and by our actions.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)
Faithfulness is the seventh piece of evidence of saving faith. In Hebrews 3:5 we are told that “Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant,…” That is, Moses was faithful to do all that God commanded him to do. Certainly, Moses was not perfect and did make mistakes, one of which prevented him from entering into the promised land, but at root Moses’ heart’s greatest desire was to please God and to be obedient to all that God had commanded him. Moses strove for and desired to be “faithful in all God’s house as a servant.” It is equally worth noting that when Paul describes the qualifications of a deacon, he says he is to be “faithful in all things” (1 Tim 3:11). I have often said that the qualifications Paul outlines for deacons are the qualifications every man should strive for. Whether or not a man desires to ever become a deacon in the church does not matter, the qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3 are really the qualifications of a godly man. Godly persons, men or women, are faithful in all that God commands them to do. They are faithful to keep their word. They are faithful to their spouse and to their marriage. They are faithful to their employers and to their government (to the extent they can be). They are faithful to their church and to the ministry area in which they serve, meaning they are dependable and reliable. Above all, they are faithful to God’s word and strive to live in obedience to it. Faithfulness in all things is an evidence of saving faith, of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
The sixth evidence of saving faith in the life of a believer is goodness. Here is a word that really needs to be defined and explained. This is because we live in a world where almost everyone is good. We are surrounded by good people on all sides (sarcasm intended). I say this because of the number of times I have asked an unbeliever where he thought he would go when he dies, to which he replies, “Heaven.” When I asked why he thinks that? He replies, “I’m a good person.” Never mind the fact that he just finished telling me he's been recently released from prison for drug charges or for committing a violent crime. Bottom line: most people in the world think they are “good people.” This is because for most people, good is a relative term. People define what it means to be good by comparing themselves to someone else. The drug trafficker just released from prison is a good person because he’s never murdered anyone, and so on and so forth. Thus, what does the Bible mean when it says goodness is an evidence of true saving faith? The Greek word, agathosune, carries the meaning of ‘a quality of moral excellence, uprightness, and as a quality of relationship with others, a willingness to give or share, to do good for others.’ Thus, Jerry Bridges in his wonderful little book, The Practice of Godliness, says, “Kindness and goodness are so closely related that they are often used interchangeably…Kindness is a sincere desire for the happiness of others; goodness is the activity calculated to advance that happiness…Goodness is kindness in action—words and deeds.” Thus, an evidence of saving faith is the desire and willingness to do good for others, a desire and willingness to strive to make the lives of others just a little easier.
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