Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What is the Great Commission?

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matt. 28:19, 20 (NIV)

Although there are four commands in the Great Commission, one is emphasized more than the others. We are told to go first. Making disciples of all nations is the key command. We are to be found baptizing them and teaching them everything the Lord has commanded. In other words, we are to stress the making disciples portion of the verse, but we are to be going, we are to be baptizing, and we are to be teaching. The stress here is laid upon the command to make disciples.
But what are we to make of this commission? I do note that Jesus made time to give this commission just to his eleven disciples. Thus, with twelve people (counting Jesus), the world was to be turned upside down. Most of this eleven were to suffer martyrdom for expressing their faith, but express it most wonderfully they did!

Before going into all the world, the disciples were bade to tarry in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is after the coming of the Holy Spirit that boldness was given to these men—under-educated though they were, and this boldness resulted in the gospel being plainly given to many multitudes who were visiting Jerusalem to observe the holy day of Pentecost. Thus, the Jews who heard the gospel, and believed, could now return to their other cities and begin sharing the message. Within a short time, Christianity became a world religion.

Peter, the one who had been frightened nearly out of his mind, and the one who denied his Lord, whom he had sworn never to deny, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and delivers the first sermon of a spirit filled body of believers. The result was that there were thousands of people who heard the message and believed.

It has been suggested that the book of Acts should be properly termed Acts of the Holy Spirit, and it is indeed a story of God building his church through his gifting of the Holy Spirit. I have done studies on the filling of the Holy Spirit, and nearly every time a believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, it is in an environment of proclamation. What might God be teaching us through this? I would think that if you expect to be filled with the Spirit often, then you ought to be found in an environment of proclamation. God does seem to honor the terms of the Great Commission with the direct filling of his Holy Spirit.

If you are at all like me, you probably recognize that I have given a pretty standard book definition of the Great Commission, and that should be a starting place to understand it. But after defining it, I realize there are lots of questions left to answer. The first question is concerning the duty on individuals to carry out the Great Commission, namely I am concerned about what I have to do. It is certainly true that the means of evangelism is through the witness of his poor vessels—of which I am one of the poorest. Does God really mean to use my lips to draw others to Christ? If so, suppose I do not do what I am supposed to do? Am I then sending people to hell who otherwise might not go? The scripture does indeed say that God intends to use the “foolishness of preaching”, and it also asks the question, how can they hear without a preacher? Here is where I read quotes like this and feel guilty for not doing more. “Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry? Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die? Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand? Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you DAMNED?”1

The answer to these concerns is perhaps not easily available—partly because I do feel we always should leave room for the Spirit to convict us of our need to be concerned over the lost. The verse before the Great Commission is predicated with a new fact, that Jesus has been given all power, and because of that power, he now charges us to go out into the world. Interestingly, this power, at least part of it is now endued upon we believers. “ But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our power is not in ourselves; rather it is to be vested in the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to do things we could not do in ourselves. Yes, God has chosen the foolishness of preaching, but he has also put his own very Spirit inside us, and wonder of wonders, we see the will of man and the sovereignty of God being blended together to make the perfect “milkshake” for the presentation of the gospel. No one has successfully explained how this sovereignty of God and the will of man works, but as the plan of God has unfolded, we have seen millions, and perhaps billions, of people reached through this blending.

What about the guilt? Let me answer as I feel, and have felt throughout my Christian life. I think it is altogether appropriate for me to feel some guilt. I need to be answerable to God for getting the message out to the lost around me, especially those whom God has made a part of my world. I need that guilt, that I might examine myself, and see, not whether I am talking about the gospel enough, but rather whether I am filled with the Spirit enough, that when opportunities are offered, I am ready to share through the power of his Spirit, not in my own power. The gospel message is quite often capable of doing far more damage, even to the point of pushing people away, when it is proclaimed in the power of men, rather than the power of the Spirit. “It is not altogether due to personal diffidence that true believers often find it difficult to speak to the unsaved about their need of Christ. There may be a restraint upon such service; for if the unsaved are not prepared by the Spirit, any attempt to force a decision may be a violation of the plan of God.”2 Walking carefully in the Spirit may be the only correct answer in sharing the gospel, and that I need to seek to do above all else.

Chafer regards intercessory prayer for the lost as being a primary tool to reach them effectively. “It is true, however, that intercessory prayer is the first and most important service. As has been stated, the divine order is to talk to God about men, until the door is definitely open to talk to men about God.”3 With this quote, I think we are forced back to the idea that true evangelism must come from “revived” hearts, and revived hearts, in turn, comes from effectual intercessory prayer, both for our sleepy hearts, and for those who are perishing without the message of salvation.

I have lived long enough to see revivals in my life. They do always seem to start with the fires of God put within the souls of two or three, who begin meeting together, offering effectual prayers, first to their brothers and sisters in Christ, that they might be awakened from their proverbial sleepiness, but also to their communities, that the word of God might be given voice and power. It begins with me, when I begin to realize the absolute high place God has lifted me to, as one of his sheep. The second step is in looking at the people whom God has placed in my life, and realizing their utter need without the gospel. That should motivate me to intercessory prayer—and God’s empowerment to preach the Great Commission faithfully. I know of no other way.

How might a church be given this burden? First, they should have a small battery of prayer warriors as I previously outlined. The spiritual kindling must be strategically laid if the fires of revival are to burn brightly. Any who attempt evangelism, must recognize the great need of the church is to awaken her from her sleepy state, that she may recognize both her solemn charge and her great power available through the Spirit.

1. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (p. 92). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 940-942). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 935-937). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What does Jesus mean when he says he has all authority?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Matthew 28:18 (NIV)

Who is this Jesus? Jesus may well be the hardest person to define in the world. He is at once God, and yet fully man. He is not two natures, but the natures are fully merged, neither at the price of the other. He has been described as fully God and fully man. The technical term, fitting only Christ in all the universe, is theanthropic. Chafer says, “If the hypostatic union of two diverse natures in Christ is subject to superficial gloss, it is rendered ineffectual at every point, the purpose of God is thwarted, men are still in their sins and doom, Christianity becomes only a refined paganism, and the world is without hope.”1

So that is the explanation, but you may ask, do I understand it? No! I do not understand, other than to say it is the very best definition presented from the Bible. There are other things in the Bible that I do not pretend to understand, such as the Trinity. My lack of understanding in no way diminishes the truth that is being taught. It simply is what it is.

Describing the authority of Jesus in any length is beyond the scope of this short answer, so I have selected but five characteristics about Jesus that I want to present, all characteristics showing the God of power. First, Jesus is proclaimed to be the Creator of all things. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). The Bible claims that Jesus was not only present during the creation that is taught to us by Moses, but also that he was the agent creating. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10). We use the phrase, ultimate irony, too often, and yet this is the ultimate irony, that the Creator of the universe should enter the world, and yet be unknown by that world. Colossians tells us a bit more about his creating power: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him (Col. 1:16). There is not anything in all of creation that was not created by the Son, and everything has also been created for him.

Secondly, Christ has power as the Sustainer of the world. The very next verse of Colossians tells us, “ And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). The word consist actually means to hold together, and when I read these words, I get the idea that it is Christ himself actively holding all things together. I think of his awesome power, holding all things together by his might, and that if he stopped that for a single instant, the very atoms of the universe might just dissolve.

Third, Christ is the Ruler of this entire universe. “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24, 25). He is bringing all things back under his subjection. We are told elsewhere in scripture that Satan is the prince of the power in the air, and that he is controlling much of the world now. But he has always had limits, and his defeat is sure, whereupon all things will be again subject to the rule of God the Father.

Fourth, he is the Resurrector. Spell Check does not seem to like that word, and I suspect the world does not either. Yet, he is the one who resurrects. “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25, 26). In one of the most dramatic chapters of the Bible, Ezekiel 37, God asks Ezekiel whether these “dry bones” can live. Ezekiel replies, “Thou knowest, Oh Lord!” Ezekiel then watches God resurrect and restore flesh on the dry bones. Jesus claims this power, and used it on Lazarus, calling, “Lazarus, come forth.” Some scholars feel that if he had not limited his call to Lazarus, we would have seen all the dead come forth. The Bible is clear, and teaches that man is made in the image of God, is not a temporal creature, and is meant to have eternal life. This life is restored by Jesus, where, it is taught, the sheep and the goats are separated, some to judgment and others to eternal life at the feet of Jesus.

Last, Jesus is presented to us as the Almighty God. John makes this clear, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). There are a great many cults who would try to deny these five characteristics of power present in Jesus, but they do so to their own detriment. The scripture is clear when Jesus declares that he that hath seen me hath seen the Father. At the end of chapter eight of John, Jesus makes the greatest of claims taking the very name of God, “I am.” The Jews who did not believe took that to be blasphemy, and tried to stone him right away. I think those cults who redefine Jesus to be what they want him to be, make the same mistake. They miss the Jesus so clearly presented in scripture, and thus they miss him altogether.

It is not an accident of history that this one man separates all men into two groups, one that anxiously awaits his coming, and one that denies his personhood. I do not think it an accident that we celebrate two Christmases each year—one that celebrates the advent of the Christ-child being sent to man, and the other who celebrates the good works of a funny man in a red suit. Some of us see him as he is, while others only seek to deny that which should be obvious to all. God has brought us to new life. And that life is in no one else except his Son. If you haven’t considered the claims of Christ, perhaps now would be a good time. What a wonder that God should come as a man, and be rejected by those whom he loves!

1. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 1, p. 385). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What does the Bible mean when it says our God is a consuming fire?

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Isaiah 6:5

How is it that we who claim to love God do not know him as a consuming fire? I am working my way through a biography of Keith Green, and it is not a small wonder to me to find Keith consumed with a hunger for the presence of God that broke through his weak training and doctrine. Keith had a long ways to go to find any orthodoxy, which is not hard for me to understand when I remember the mantra of the sixties and seventies was, “do your own thing.” Keith came to Christ from a background in Christian Science, was himself Jewish, and was part of the Jesus movement. The doctrine took a long time for him to get straightened out, but along the way he attracted many to Christ, just, I think, because he was so consumed by hunger to be filled with the very presence of God.

American Christians are a peculiar bunch; they are told about accepting Christ often in quite sterile terms, and in those terms they believe. I think it is not since the last great revival, in the late seventies and early eighties, that we really see new Christians captured in the holy presence of their God. I am not talking about emotional excess here—there is a great movement away from any emotion today. I am talking about a real meeting with the very God who would change our lives—and that is going to produce plenty of emotion. When I accepted Christ, I knew there was such a sharp change in me that nothing except the presence of a loving God could produce. Tears streamed down my face for hours, yet I was not in a crowd. I was alone, but for the first time his loving presence entered my life, and I knew that the most wonderful experience ever had just happened to me. I had come into the presence of the living God.

Moses saw the burning burn, yet the bush was not consumed. He turned aside at the wonder of it all, and in doing so, he came into the presence of God. It changed him forever! Why do we not see changes like this in every new believer? I am convinced it is our fault—we do not expect anything, and often become quite uncomfortable when someone we would lead to Christ expresses emotion. So we carefully prepare tracts that explain perfectly the doctrine, but we make no preparation for what might happen if the person should, God forbid, actually be overwhelmed by the spirit. We do not act like we even believe much has happened, yet the Bible says the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner finding his way back.

Last summer, I enjoyed reading through much of Jonathan Edwards. Early in his ministry, he came under fire from other churches for his practice of staying with new converts at the altar, and praying with them. It was not until the converts would feel the presence of God and his mercy that they were allowed to go home. Edwards spent much time defending his practice to other church leaders, who thought such expressions of emotion to be simply vulgar. There were many converts under his early ministry, and apparently a great revival happened among the community.

I ask the pointed question, why is it that we do not expect this for every believer? How is it that we can attempt to package the holy God in a tract, and expect the believer to walk away with a changed life? Thanks be to God that he does bring change about through our poor means of presentation. We are careful to be absolutely doctrinally correct, but we want all emotion to be utterly quenched. Why are we then surprised when the “new converts” do not show much change in their life? Tozer says it thus: “The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a Person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can. It is inherent in personality to be able to know other personalities, but full knowledge of one personality by another cannot be achieved in one encounter.”1

I am simply trying to point out the obvious here. It takes a bit of time for us to understand and be willing to interact with new acquaintances. Why in the world would we expect anything different for starting a new relationship with God? Ask the American new convert what he did today, and he might answer, “I went to the grocery, stopped off at the gas station, and accepted Christ at the end of the church service”. No wonder there is not a change in most lifestyles—it is too much of our common life to be thought of as different.
Think I am too far afield? Then let’s look at these verses: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1,2). This is not to be a second later experience for the Christian. It is to come with urging of the Spirit of God himself, at or near the point of conversion. It is to mark all Christians, but how little of it do we see today?

Our bodies should be presented as reasonable service. When we come to Christ, we should be in utter and complete awe at what he has done for us, and that should start a lifelong process of transforming us. Tozer had it pictured perfectly, “Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified.”2 That can hardly take place properly if our only knowledge of Christ is praying the sinner’s prayer. How much better it would be if every new believer could explore and pray to his newly-found God, and find out that he is, indeed, a consuming fire.

We tend to treat the decision for Christ as the smallest of things. Instead it is the largest of things and how willing we ought to be to talk and pray with the new convert, that they may have time to appreciate the wonder of what has happened. Conversion is a god-thing, but ought we not give God a bit of time to reveal his majesty? Modern life, I suspect, has always “been busier than it ever has before”, and Americans rush from one thing to another all of their lives, seldom stopping to consider the important things of life, because the urgent things of life are allowed to crowd them out. Says Tozer, “We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.”3

We all know those in our church who have met with the “Consuming Fire”. It is written all over their faces, and their behavior reflects the very person of God. Their time (how is it that they seem to have so much more time for God than I?) is filled with the joy of God, even as they seek to fill their hours serving him. How like them we want to be, and yet we never take the time to really reflect on what meeting God is like. I re-read Moody’s biography two summers ago, and was reminded about his vision of God. So captured was he by his loving God, that he began bringing hundreds of children into the Sunday School—before he even fully understood what salvation was all about. I am convinced that Moody was the great man he was, not because of his doctrinal understanding of God, but because he knew his God was a Consuming Fire. Wouldn’t we all be better off setting our lives aside in this new year, and hungering and thirsting for the very presence of the Holy God? I suspect we might find such a change that we would never go back. And perhaps we should even find God giving us more Moodys!

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 127-129). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

2. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 511-513). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

3. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 742-744). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What is unrepented sin?

Unrepented sin is sin which the believer, as opposed to the unbeliever, commits. What is does, and what must be done about it, and how God treats it will be the subject of this peace. Learning to walk with God is one of the new Christian’s first duties. The brand new believer finds that the Bible implicates him in sin, and he is soon shown the way of repentance, and receives forgiveness for all of his sins at the cross. It is important to understand the completeness of forgiveness—there remains nothing to be done, and in every sense of the word, it is finished forever. If there remained any element depending on the merit of mankind, forgiveness could never be given, but would be earned, a doctrine that the Bible does not teach.

Stepping into the new calling and the new life becomes a central focus of the newly saved. They tend to be overwhelmed with the sense of forgiveness, and to want to express gratitude to the God who has given them this. I know that my own new life, now a great many years ago, was filled with love for God that I did not know how to express, but which overflowed my life more or less continuously. I certainly did not understand many doctrines, as I had come from a non-Christian background, and did not remember much from my occasional (few and far between, I am afraid) Sunday School class. One of my first mistakes is one that I see repeated often in new-believers—I thought that I would be able to live a life pleasing to my new Master, provided I just put in the proper amount of effort. I put in lots of enthusiastic effort in my new endeavor, but it was not too long before I realized I was falling short. Redoubling my efforts availed nothing; fortunately by then I was beginning to understand doctrine.

Living in the flesh, even with dedication, remains no more than that. There are a few men that we can all look up to, for their deeds are truly wonderful and magnificent. But the Bible teaches that whatever is not of faith is sin. James, it is true, tells us that one should show his faith by his works, but the works are always supposed to start from the foundation of faith. I look at the example of saints like John Wesley, whose zeal and abandonment for God were almost without parallel. I look at D. L. Moody, who determined to be the one man, fully and wholly dedicated to God. As a new Christian, I had to learn to walk anew, in faith, and I can tell you that for a while I was walking in very small baby steps. I was not at all like Wesley or Moody. I had to learn the truth of Paul’s statement over and over again. “For what I do is not the good that I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:19).

It is to that struggle that I want to write about now. What can be done for sin that the believer commits? First of all, we need to know that Christ, when he came, he died for the sins of the whole world. Every sin is covered, as I stated above, but sins which are committed by the believer will break fellowship with God. Grieve not the Spirit, says the scripture, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption. What a fantastic—and morbid—thought that is—that I might grieve God himself by my behavior.

My eyes need to be on the cost of my salvation. God gave his son that I might live. It hurt! In the Bible, it is not an accident that God asked the three Patriarchs for their sons. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Isaac, in turn, lost Jacob, who feared for his life, running away from his brother Esau, and the Bible does not record his ever seeing his father, Isaac, again. Jacob spent years parted from his son, Joseph, being tricked by his own sons into believing a wild animal had taken his life. In all three generations, we have the father being pictured as being parted from his son. It cost God a lot to give his son. Though I believe the plan of God from eternity past was to give his only begotten son, yet it came at the greatest of costs. God the Father endured the separation of his son, and not only that, even took his wrath and poured it out upon his own son. There is more power exerted in the cross of Christ than was exerted in all of the heavenly creation. It took that much, that I might be saved.

In light of what he did in my behalf, should not I be constant in giving myself to him? How willing we ought to be, who have been redeemed from sure condemnation. But we are in mortal bodies after all, and though we await our redemption from sin, we still find ourselves totally unable to live a life pleasing to God. Except. For. One. Thing.

He has given to us that same Spirit that we are not to grieve. That spirit, given to us, that we who are so frail and sinful, might give ourselves to him, and be filled with the very power and holiness of God himself. If it were not true, it would be blasphemy to say such a thing—that God pours himself into each one of us, gifting us with his very nature. Yet it is the very thing that God has done, and what a wonder it is!

In my early years of walking with Christ, I came to dub the process of dealing with sin, “spiritual breathing”. It is, I think, my own term, and is not from the Bible, though I hope to show the principles are indeed from the Bible. When we sin, and we will and do each day, we have seen that we are already forgiven. When Paul reveals this great truth in Romans, that we should be free from the penalty of sin, he also teaches that we are not to take advantage of it, that we are not proving the glory of God by excelling in sin. Rather the opposite. We turn from sin, that we might show the world that Christ is in us.

But when we do sin, the scripture says, we have an advocate with God, even Jesus Christ, and we know we are his if we keep his commandments. When we fail, we already have the forgiveness of God, but John (1 John 1:9) says that when we fail, we must confess, or agree, with God. Always God is there with his forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but we need to agree with God that sin is sin, and we need to turn from it.

Thus, when I sin, I inhale—or take sin into my body, and when I confess—I exhale, or I confess with God my sins. It is something that needs practice and discipline—for spiritual breathing is not what our true nature wants to do. Scripture says, “In him dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily.” But the next verse, again, if it were not in the Bible, would probably again be thought blasphemy. “And you have been given fullness in Christ.” God himself has been placed within us. We live not in the weak vessels that we have not yet shed. No! Instead, we are to show the very God placed within us—his fullness dwells in us.

And we are called, not to live a sinless life, but rather to live a life dedicated to letting the Spirit mold and make us into the very image of Jesus Christ himself. Among other things we are to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And that is the victorious Christian life! To think that God himself would be in us, and to think that is what all Christians are called to! That confession should mark our way, every day. The spiritual Christian will seek to keep the lowest ledger possible, keeping his sin regularly confessed, just as though he were breathing. That is how unrepented sin is to be treated.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reflections on Christmas

I see the country wind up every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas with the same sort of drivel. The stores all engage in selling the latest and greatest whatever, and the trouble is, I do find myself heartily going along with them. I make expenditures greater than what I can afford to supply stuff to my children and grandchildren that they don’t really need, and all the time, I find the country urging me on—it’s Christmas.
Why do we do these things? I look back over my life, and I find that I am doing the same sort of things that Mom and Dad did. My life is a reflection of my Americanism, and not for the first time, I want to reject that. “Enough!” I shout. This year is going to be different—I say to myself every year, as I fall into the same trap. Christmas is such an exciting time for the kids, and when we had the patter of little feet in our house, it was absolutely wonderful to be awakened by cries of delight from our surprised ones. All of that is wonderful in its own way.
My dad strung lights in my early years, and as a Dad, I felt it my duty to go and do likewise. I bought so many Christmas lights one year that my house was the brightest one on the block, and if not quite up to Christmas Vacation standards, it still won first prize for my neighborhood. This year? No lights. Inside? No tree. Wrapped presents lay all around the house waiting for delivery, but we will wait in vain for the sound of small feet pattering in our house this season. My wife and I agreed; there did not seem to be much reason for going through all the decoration.
When I attended Biola, eons ago, there was a wise professor who happened to teach about giving during my first Christmas there. He said that one ought to give until it begins to hurt, and then give a bit more. I thought it a lovely idea, and have adopted it as a lifelong pursuit. Christmas is about giving—about God giving himself that man might live. The angel tells us, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” What remains with me after all these Christmases is That Gift, staring me in the face, becoming ever more important to me.
How many more Christmases shall I have before he returns? I do not know the answer to that, but I know his presence in my life, in the lives of my wife and daughter, testifies that he is returning, and soon. My sister-in-law echoed my thoughts exactly when she said, “Oh I have expected to see it in my lifetime!” I was saved by Christian friends who directed me to The Revelation, the first book of the Bible I ever read. I have lived in Christ since 1972, watching and waiting for his return.
But his second coming, visible, and known to the whole world, will be unlike the first coming, as a babe in the manger. What a precious thought it is to me when I think of God coming into the world, “that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The angel was right—I did not expect anything less—good news of great joy for all the people. I hope to see many in this coming year hear the gospel—that God himself entered the human race, and find out what a difference that babe in the manger made so long ago.
I try to imagine what the world might be like without his coming the first time. The world little knows, neither wants to acknowledge the vast difference that babe’s coming made so long ago. It did change the world forever, and radically, as God reconciled man to himself, drawing all men to himself. When I reflect on that, I know that this Christmas, even without all the glitter and the lights, will be the best one so far. Do I not have much to be thankful for?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What is unforgiven sin?

I think it necessary to make a sharp delineation here between the believer and the non-believer. God freely forgives sin once and forever when any person comes to believe God. “For God so loved the world, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but come to life everlasting (John 3:16). Believing God is always followed by recognition of sin, of need, and of repentance. But that same person, not believing, is condemned because he rejects the plan of God for his rescue—the only plan which is available to him. “But he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Thus, we have unforgiven sin, but only because of a man’s refusal to believe.

How is it that a gracious God should refuse to forgive sin? The proper answer is that he has not refused to forgive sin, but has granted all forgiveness because he poured out his justice on the Son, that all who believe might be freely forgiven. I think what most people think, when they bother thinking about the deep things of the soul at all, is that forgiveness is sort of a benign overlooking on the part of God, who weighs your sin most lightly and will fudge the scales a bit in your favor if you need it. Of course that is the opposite of what is really happening, and ought to remind us of our solemn duty to proclaim both the death and resurrection of the Lord.

The question is not as many people feel: why should God keep me out of his heaven? Rather the question is: How can a just and holy God possibly allow you into his heaven? It is precisely to address the latter question that God performed his judgment—upon himself—coming to the cross, and giving himself freely to the world, that “whosoever” might believe. Justice was served that mercy might follow, but there can be no mercy for those who walk away from the freely given gift of God. Hence, we are left with many people with unforgiven sin. What can a holy and just God do that he has not already done? Giving his own life that we might live was giving his all, and having given his all, there remains nothing left to be done. Nothing.

Recently a woman in our church testified of her coming to the Lord, but being stopped for a time by a silly notion in her head that she would face God on her own, rather than go to him for forgiveness. I think all our silly notions about getting past the judgment of God on our own must wither when we see the absolute standard of holiness; none of us could match that standard for a single hour, let alone a lifetime. He poured his judgment upon his Son, that he might also pour his mercy in unmeasured amounts for those who receive him. Facing God on our own merit will always have only one result: we fall under judgment, for there is no forgiveness for sin if we will not receive that which is so freely offered.

How many people do we know with unforgiven sin? If you are like me, probably lots. Forgiven sin is the greatest gift to mankind, and it comes through the greatest giver, Jesus the Messiah. Unforgiven sin is something that no one should face death and judgment with, and I wonder how many of us live and walk and talk to our family and friends with unforgiven sin and never bother to tell them of their need. I think it is because we so seriously undervalue the gift that we have been given.

The gospel has been defined as one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. But it is far more than that. We are now children of the king, and will one day rule with Christ on this very earth. How is it that so many of us forget that we were but beggars? All we want to remember now is that we are kids of the king, and forgetting our low estate, we disdain to even speak to others about the source of our bread. The Bible says, how shall they hear without a preacher? Yet, we ourselves have become hopelessly fat and lazy on the riches of Christ, and find it too tedious of a job to tell others about Christ.

Thankfully, there are many Christians seeking to tell others where to get bread. Not long ago I read again Chafer’s excellent book, True Evangelism. He states eloquently that the biggest need for successful evangelism begins with prayer. “It is true, however, that intercessory prayer is the first and most important service. As has been stated, the divine order is to talk to God about men, until the door is definitely open to talk to men about God.”1

The church today stands in sharp need of revival, and that must begin with prayer. Prayer for the lost ought to be at the center of our focus. We no longer seem to have that focus, the kind of focus that swept America in the 1970s that caused Time magazine to declare 1974 the year of the evangelical. I was saved in 1972, and consider myself part of that movement. Yet, even I need to be reminded of that great time, and recently I was reminded when reading a biography of Keith Green written by his wife, Melody Green. She describes a scene where, as a new believer, Keith goes to a friend and tells him about finding Jesus. The friend starts to reject the message, but Keith is so overwhelmed by his friend’s utter need, he bursts into tears. The tears make the difference and persuade the friend of the way to Christ.

Have you or I been so concerned for our lost friends that we have told them in tears about Christ? Have we done our job in praying for an utterly lost world? I thank my God that my pastor seems to carry these prayers and concerns with him even to Starbucks (where apparently he goes quite often), and his evangelical message is quite bold, and often received well. Others in the church are like that—they seem to carry Jesus with them wherever they go. Would that we were all like that—for the truth is that we are either forever lost or forever saved when we pass from this world. We are either forgiven or unforgiven, and perhaps we need to reflect more on what that means.

Leonard Ravenhill tells the story of Charlie Peace, a convicted murderer on his way to his hanging. The preacher who accompanied him on his last walk was uttering words about the awfulness of hell. Turning to the preacher, Charlie Peace said, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!"2

I submit that if we really reflect on forgiveness, and know our high estate, and also the low estate of our father, our mother, our children, or our neighbors who do not know that forgiveness, we would go more eagerly to those bloody knees. I fear our message has been blunted by our unbelief, and a blunt message who shall hear? Revival is called revival because we become newly awakened to old but timeless truths. The world plods onward to its destruction, but some may yet be rescued, if we but pray and sharpen our hunger and thirst, to see men as God sees them. Shouldn’t we, who were but beggars ourselves not so long ago, be busy talking to other beggars? Both revival and evangelism ought to start with prayer. With you. With me.

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 934-937). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
2. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (Kindle Locations 334-337). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What is the foolishness of preaching?

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
1 Cor. 1:21

How is it that the immortal God should clothe his revelation in mortality? Essentially that is the one question behind the “foolishness of preaching”, for it pleases God to save his frail beings through mere words spouting from the mouths of men. His wisdom chose the unlikely vehicle of preaching to save them that believe. And yet, the question draws us irretrievably back to another realization, that the coming of Christ is indeed God clothing himself in mortality, for in the biggest wonder of the ages, and all of creation, God has fully intended to reveal his wisdom through the tragic figure of his Son impaled upon the cross. God also has fully intended that the message of the Son’s victory over death should be proclaimed by mere mortal men. And, if you are like me, that is a precarious situation in which to find oneself. I find myself apprehensive of my own words, realizing that those words are words which people may or not find the gospel. What is this “foolishness of preaching”?

It was through the witnessing of the gospel that two friends were powered to challenge my world view, make me look at myself through God’s eyes, and come to him through the foolishness of preaching. I daresay you, if you have encountered God, have a similar story to tell and that would prove the foolishness of preaching is not at all what it would seem, because the very power of God is behind the weak words men would offer. From the Day of Pentecost onward, God has blessed his church through the outpouring of his Spirit when the gospel is preached.

It is at this point of “foolishness” that I would like to tarry for a bit, and explore what it may mean, but also what it does not mean. First, it does mean that the gospel, simply and plainly should be expressed, to the fullest bit of the preacher’s ability. Even while the preacher is preparing his message, he is to muster every bit of his creativity and persuasion, but all the while he is to know that results come from the quickening of the Holy Spirit, and no words themselves, apart from the Holy Spirit, would ever be adequate to move sinful man to confessing his dire need for a savior. I think the warning of Lewis to be applicable here: “He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. The proper motto is not ‘Be good, sweet maid and let who can be clever,’ but ‘Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.’”1 The worker of evangelism is required to lay all the cleverness he might muster at the Master’s feet, but all the while he is to know that it is God who must empower the presentation of the gospel.

Which leads me to explain what it does not mean. It does not mean that we check our brain at the door when presenting the gospel. Sometimes I see the gospel presented in such a light that it looks ridiculous and seems to draw no one. What is wrong with telling the gospel that way? I rejoice in the gospel being presented, but the apt and wise student of the gospel should look at his audience and tailor his message to them. Does that sound far-fetched? Look at the sermon that Paul preached to Mars Hill in Acts 17. Paul identifies an “unknown” god that the people of Athens were careful to worship, lest his anger be stirred, and it is to that unknown god that Paul identifies as being the Lord God. It was a simple platform for gospel presentation; Paul found something, the unknown god, by which he could start communication of the gospel and move his audience to the place where they were more apt to hear. Chafer reminds us, “No human power or argument is sufficient to enlighten a darkened soul concerning the necessary steps into the way of life. This is a part of the work assigned alone to the all-sufficient Spirit.”2 Even the mighty Paul, or perhaps I should say, especially the mighty Paul, depended on God to enlighten men.

Look at the example of Paul. He had been a Pharisee, meaning he had most likely memorized vast portions of the Old Testament. When he became newly born, or born again, he then had to retrench all of his learning, putting all things in scripture under the headship of his Lord, and he spent many years doing just that. No one could ask for a more highly trained evangelist. He was trained well in the “wisdom of the world” and we find him quite able to use that wisdom, that his words might bring the glorious gospel to hearts that might be unwilling to listen to him otherwise.

So the principle of using every bit of our “wisdom” to gain a chance to express the gospel to an unwilling audience is established, and there is a place for the wise to speak, and, I think, be heard. But there is also a place for the timid soul to speak, and by the evident nature of his very timidness be heard. I fall much more into this category, and I am able to tell you that my very reluctance to speak shows through with my stuttering and general ineptness of speaking, which sometimes will draw attention as people discern that I speak of something that is so meaningful to me that I cannot keep it bottled up; it spills all out, and, I am afraid, makes an intolerable mess. But whether we speak from the well trained avenue, or what I call the compelled manner, the Spirit of the Lord is able to take our feeble words, endue them with his Spirit, and bring the very Word of life to a lost soul. But it is never our words, as words, flowery or compelled stuttering, are what God makes of them. “No human power or argument is sufficient to enlighten a darkened soul concerning the necessary steps into the way of life. This is a part of the work assigned alone to the all-sufficient Spirit.”3

We know the Word will cause offense; it is a stumbling block to those who refuse belief. “There is probably nothing that offends the modern sensibility more than the affirmation that the Bible is true in a unique, exclusive, universal sense.”4 What a wonder it is that our weak vessels, with our sinful natures, and our frail testimonies, should be used by the Holy God to proclaim the words of life! And God uses us successfully to a hostile audience, which by its very nature, hates our message. Is it not utterly amazing? I wonder if this is not one of the highest places for the sovereignty of God to show forth. If God can use us, frail, timid, proud, and arrogant, to bring forth his light to a darkened and hostile world, can he not do anything?

What motivation that should be to us—those of us who carry on with this “foolishness of preaching”. God means to take us, as we are, but fill us with his Spirit, use us for his purposes, and sometimes, some of those purposes include the awakening of dead souls. We who were dead in trespass, who now can realize how utterly broken we are, bring the very Word of life to those who are still dead. Not to us, Lord, but unto thy name be all the glory! And so it is, wonder upon wonder, miracle upon miracle, unto God be all the glory and majesty forever. The foolishness of preaching.

1. Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 77-78). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 572-573). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 572-573). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
4. Pearcey, Nancy (2010-09-01). Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (p. 32). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

What is forgiven sin?

It is, or should be, obvious that Christ took on the penalty of all the sins of the world. “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The penalty is paid totally, and there is nothing that we can add or subtract to; God’s grace has been given to men and even the world dimly recognizes the all-important incarnation every Christmas season. But there arises an important question, at least in the discerning reader’s eye. It is obvious that the world continues as it always has, and things seem to be constantly going from bad to worse. Why is it that we do not see more change in the lives of these “forgiven” hordes?

The answer is simply that they are not forgiven until they begin believing God. God simply insists on one condition—that men begin believing God—that they believe Christ the son of God was sent to be their Savior. Creeds split over exactly what takes place in an individual when he receives Christ, as to how much of the individual’s will is involved. I would leave that argument to theologians, and stress rather what I think most would agree upon. I would show through the Scripture of the utter need of man to come to Christ, for come they must if they are to receive the work of Christ done in their behalf. “Christ’s death is sufficient for the whole world, but secured the redemption of the elect.”1 “In like manner these passages are characterized by such universal words as "all," "every man" and "the whole world." From this it must be believed that the death of Christ has already provided a great potential and provisional value for every guilty sinner, which is now awaiting his personal recognition.”2

However we are to define the elect, we must agree that all the elect must receive this forgiveness of sin. It is the only condition which God gives upon the sinner, and it is a sure thing that there is no other way to be saved other than believing God—that he sent his son into the world, that whosoever believes should not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus the problems of an sinful world have been solved in the death of Christ on the cross, except for those who refuse to believe.

What can be done for those who refuse to believe? As Chafer said, long ago, “If men go to perdition it will be because every possible mercy from God has been resisted.”3 I cannot conceive of a worse punishment than knowing that God has made a way to save your soul, that you have refused that provision, and that neither you nor a loving God can do anything to mediate your judgment. In society, people commonly believe God to be a merciful one, but they misunderstand his mercy, thinking that justice is a balance scale, and if their good works do not quite outweigh their bad works, God will somehow fudge the scale with his thumb. There is no merciful thumb of God; we have been weighed and found wanting, and there remains no salvation other than that which God has wrought. “One is either a justified covenant-keeper in Christ or a condemned covenant-breaker in Adam.”4 The choice cannot be put off, for in putting it off, is not one already making a choice?

We have indeed been weighed, our measure is taken, and the scripture declares none of us to be good, no not one! The importance of what God did through Christ on the cross cannot be overstated. The sins of the world were nailed to that cross in Christ, and forgiveness is offered to all, that those of us who are willing to look upon that cross, and believe God, will not experience unforgiveness; instead all is forgiven and their remains nothing left for us to do for our salvation but to be a receiver of his grace. “The conclusion from these revelations is that by the cross God has declared our sin, His own righteousness and His own unmeasured love. He has spoken to us through His Son. The reasonable requirement is that we believe that message. This is the only condition given in the Bible upon which one may enter into God's saving grace.”5

On the part of the new saint, confusion sometimes arises over their sin after the cross. I will hear them pray to God for forgiveness, asking God to do that which he has already done. It is never necessary for the believer to ask for forgiveness, for the Bible teaches that that forgiveness was totally given to us with our belief. In fact, Chafer has identified at least thirty-three distinct operations that happen to the believer when he believes God. One of those is God’s provision of complete forgiveness, where all of our sins, past, present, and future, have forever been judged in the condemnation of his son. Instead of asking for forgiveness, what the sinning saint is commanded to do is confess his sin. There is no additional penalty or time out or recompense that must be done at the time of confession, as some would teach. There is no repetition of formulaic prayer, neither any act of contrition or efficacious work that we must do to receive that forgiveness anew. Instead we confess our sin, agreeing with God that it indeed was sin, and we receive renewed fellowship with his Spirit.

There are certain sects of Christianity that teach that we must be saved all over again when we find ourselves in deep sin. But such false teachings seriously misunderstand the grace of God, who judged all sin upon the cross. If there were the least tincture of work to our salvation, if we had to do the smallest amount of work to insure the forgiveness of God, we would surely be in the most desperate of straits. I have found people who follow such errant doctrine have very limited understanding of their sin nature. Such people think their sin only comes seldom, and that somehow their own work will keep them secure against such future occurrences. They miss ever understanding the depth of the treachery of their own hearts, and they miss understanding the total wonderful picture of forgiveness that God has done for us in sending his son to die for us. It is simply his grace.

Unforgiven sin? For the believer, then, such a thing is unknown. For the unbeliever, relying on his own works? God is not able to forgive sin which is unpunished, and the unbeliever will face the penalty for all of his sins, unto the least and greatest sins. I can imagine no worse fate than to be as the rich man who died, and was tormented in the due penalty of his sin, and begged God to send someone back from the dead to tell the gospel, that his brothers might be saved. Jesus taught that not even then, when someone clearly defied death, and returned with the gospel, not even then, would people believe. There is no sacrifice left over for those who will not cast themselves on the free grace in believing what God has already freely done.

But even though the purchase on our part is through belief, and is thus free, we ought always to remember that it was by no means free to God. He purchased our redemption at the highest cost and with the greatest work he had ever done. He gave his all for us, and in giving his all, there is nothing more that conceivably could be done. Are we not valued by God most highly? Next time Satan would accuse you and try to make you feel worthless, remind him just how much God does value you. And, since he does value you and I so much, is it not time that we were about our Father’s business?

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
1 Cor. 6:20

1. Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-11). For Calvinism (Kindle Locations 72-73). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
2. Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 348-350). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
3. Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 426-427). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
4. Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-11). For Calvinism (Kindle Location 820). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
5. Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 323-325). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
6. In turning to the Scriptures to discover what it has pleased God to reveal of His saving work in the individual at the instant he believes, it will be found that there are at least thirty-three distinct positions into which such an one is instantly brought by the sufficient operation of the infinite God.
Lewis Sperry Chafer (2008-07-24). Salvation (Kindle Locations 588-590). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.