Friday, April 30, 2010

Run, Don't Walk

“I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32).  To run the way of God’s commandments, as opposed to walking, requires an enlarged heart.  Only God can do this.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, ask God, plead with God, to enlarge your heart!  By running is meant obeying God’s commands with zeal, readiness, and persistence.  This obedience is not undertaken reluctantly, but with delight.  Its foundation is an ever increasing desire to obey the Lord.  This requires a heart that is greatly motivated, and has found compelling reasons to firmly resolve to obey.  But Christians cannot enlarge their own hearts.  Their fixed purpose to obey must be made with an acknowledgment of their own insufficiency.  Believers do not rely on their resolution, but on God’s grace to run in the way of His commands.  Thomas Manton said that Christians are running in the way God intended when they make this their business, when they are earnestly pursuing the “enjoyment of God and Christ in the way of obedience.”  This running is necessary, it is what God has called us to.  All of the Puritan writers emphasized that true happiness lies in the enjoyment of God.  God enlarges our hearts in obedience that we might experience more of Him.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Enlarged Heart

“I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32).  The latter part of the verse implies that God will give strength or help.  On the basis of that blessing, Christians should make a firm resolution to obey God.  The entire verse teaches us that before we can have a serious, habitual inclination to obey, there must be a powerful work of God on our hearts.  This is necessary for every Christian who desires to keep God’s law.  This verse is one way the Old Testament expresses the great truth that genuine liberty is found only in Jesus Christ (John 8:32).  This enlargement of heart is true freedom.  Whatever our condition may be in the world, no matter what else we possess, without this freedom, we are slaves!  To be under the dominion of God’s grace is the greatest liberty a person can ever experience.  Only God’s grace can enable us to be and to do what God designed us to be and do.  The true hindrances to human freedom are not in anything external, but in the inclination to sin found in every human heart.  In Romans 7:24, Paul declares that the liberty he longs for is freedom from the indwelling sin:  “Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?”  Paul had endured an immense amount of physical pain and suffering in his life.  He had been imprisoned, which entails the complete loss of personal autonomy.  Yet, he considers that bondage to sin is the most wretched slavery imaginable.  To not have a heart enlarged by God to obey Him is a wretched condition!  Sin constricts the human heart to an endless repetition of thoughts and activities that cannot possibly give the heart what it desires.   

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Peaceful Fruit of Affliction

Hebrews 12:5-11 Is one of the most important passages in Holy Scripture for understanding the nature and effects of affliction.  I have mentioned this passage several times before, but I do not apologize for calling it to you attention again.  The extraordinary importance of its subject makes repetition a blessing.  Every Puritan preacher I have read on these verses has given me valuable insights, particularly John Owen.  Recently a sermon by Stephen Charnock deepened my appreciation again.  I will mention just one thing I learned.  Beyond the pain of the affliction is the gracious result, the goal God intended in sending the difficulty the first place.  Hebrews 5:11 tells us that this is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  James 1:4 describes the result of trials as being “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Now those phrases may not really connect with you, but if you take them apart, and examine carefully what is promised in these verses, you will see that they refer to what we want most in life—to be happy.  Afflictions open eyes that have been blinded by sin to see what truly gives happiness; they open the door to filling up every corner of our hearts, so that we are complete, lacking in nothing.  Fruitfulness conveys the idea of accomplishing all that honors God.  The peace of heart that accompanies fulfilling the will of God signifies a heart that is at rest, satisfied, and complete.  Think of it!  Affliction is designed to give us what we really want, and to enable us to appreciate it when we have it. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Walk Before Me

“I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1).  Thomas Manton discerned the fundamental importance of what is taught in this verse, “In those few words which God spoke to Abraham, all godliness is comprehended.”  The Christian is to live every moment in the knowledge that God’s eye is always upon him, and in the confidence that He is sufficient to meet his every need.  Living always with an awareness God’s presence has profound effects on all our thoughts and actions.  What God is telling us in this command to Abraham is that the heart attitude needed to be godly comes with the realization that God is always with us.  This is true, whether we believe it or not.  But the impact of believing that we live every moment in God’s presence will not be hidden.  Manton emphasized that walking in the sight of God implies at least two things: seeing Him as the one who directs our lives by His sovereign providence, and acknowledging Him as the judge who will have the final say on our eternal destiny.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Stephen Charnock was another great Puritan preacher.  The following thoughts were stimulated when I read a sermon of Charnock’s entitled A Discourse of Mercy Received.  One of the verses Charnock referred to in his sermon was Psalm 77:11, which reads: “I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old.”  We should continually remember the merciful things God has done for us throughout our lives, with admiration and gratitude.  We should observe His undeserved mercies, not only as works, but as wonders.  Thinking back over past mercies, as well as new ones, should fill us with new astonishments.  Paul never looked back upon God’s mercies in his conversion without fresh admiration.  1 Timothy 1:12-13, written near the end of his life, is a typical doxology: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.  And yet I was shown mercy.”  God’s mercy overcame all!  The great apostle never tired of expressing his gratitude for past mercies, and his statements always reflect genuine feeling.  I always find them thrilling to read, and I always leave them longing to have a  such heart.  The incredible mercy of God, says Charnock, should not find a Christian for a minute without a thankful heart.  Charnock contends that admiration of God is an important part of the believer’s relationship to Him.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Zeal is a high degree of love; the cause of holy zeal is love for God.  The highest degree and the measure of our love for God is zeal for His glory. The meaning of zeal expanded for me while reading Thomas Manton’s classic work on Psalm 119.  Thinking of zeal as a higher degree of love  really helped my understanding of it.  Zeal manifests itself by grief and anger.  Whether zeal is righteous or unrighteous depends on what provokes it.  Zeal that is only interested in avenging personal injuries is unrighteous.  Righteous zeal is provoked by violations of God’s law.  The person who sincerely loves God will be grieved and angry when His holy law is broken.  What a person loves, he wants others to respect, and is grieved when it is dishonored.  The glory of God should be esteemed according to its true value.   The degree of zeal that is fitting to the genuine worth of God’s glory is beyond human calculation.  The Bible expresses this degree of holy zeal in an interesting way—zeal for God “has consumed me” (Psalm 119:139); “zeal for Your house has consumed me” (Psalm 69:9).  The verse in Psalm 69 is quoted in John 2:17 in reference to the righteous anger of our Lord when he violently drove the greedy moneychangers out of the temple.  The main thought is that the feelings involved are raised to such a level that our whole being is “consumed.”  To be righteous, zeal must be directed towards a good object.  Everybody is eaten up with one kind of zeal or another.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Guard Your Hearts

One of the most invaluable consequences of having “the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension” is that it “shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  The fact that God’s peace must provide protection for our hearts and minds, implies that they are vulnerable in some way without it.  A mind that is not well-ordered, that cannot control its thoughts, and a heart that cannot direct its feelings, are wide-open to many harmful influences.  The experience of this protective peace is not limited by any circumstances.  This is one of the glorious things that makes Christianity utterly unique. Every condition can be useful and a blessing to the godly.  That is what the great promise of Romans 8:28 comes to.  By faith we know that God is not limited in working things together for the good of His chosen ones.  Concerning affliction, and the Lord’s sovereign management of it, Thomas Manton said “Our wise and faithful God would not bring it upon us if he did not know how to make a good use of it.”  The peace of God guards our hearts as we dwell on encouraging and uplifting thoughts like that (Philippians 4:8).    

Friday, April 23, 2010

Troubled Hearts and Faith

The Bible does not leave us in doubt as to the cure for fear, anxiety and sorrow.  From cover to cover it teaches us that the cause of all our fears and troubles of heart is a lack of faith.  What an extraordinary conclusion!  All fears and troubles without exception?  The answer of Scripture is an unequivocal “yes.”  The connection between fear and unbelief is stated expressly by our Lord in Matthew 14, when Peter was walking upon the water to Christ.  All was well until Peter’s attention was drawn away from the Lord to the wind.  At that point, the disciple became afraid and began to sink.  If asked to explain why he was suddenly overcome with fear, Peter would have answered that the howling wind was the cause (verse 30).  But Jesus pinpointed the real problem when he said to Peter “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (verse 31).  Fear can only be overcome by faith.  This is one of the glories of the Christian faith, that people can overcome their deepest fears and insecurities by learning to trust in God.  There is no conquering the terrors and fears of this life, until faith gives our hearts something greater to be feared and loved.  When the eyes of our hearts are opened by faith, we see that God is the only worthy object of the our  reverence and trust.  The result is that the things of this world appear as nothing compared to our Lord, joy and encouragement are experienced in obeying God’s law, and we no longer fear what people can do to us. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Troubled Hearts

“Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” John 14:27).  In these very familiar verses our Lord commands us not to allow our hearts to be troubled by worry, grief or sorrow.  That is one command no one would argue with!  We only make our present circumstances more difficult to bear when we compound them with anxiety and fear.  “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you” states the command in a different way, and enforces it with a promise {Psalm 55:22).  Thomas Manton put it this way, “It is not only our privilege that we may, but our duty that we must, disburden ourselves of these distrustful fears and cares and sorrows.”  A privilege is an advantage or favor granted as a special benefit.  Christians certainly are privileged to be able to carry every burden to God in prayer.  Our duty is what we are morally obligated to do.  It is a ceaseless wonder that all our Lord commands us to do is in our best interest.  He never commands anything that will be harmful.  Now, in order to cast all of our anxiety upon the Lord, we must be assured that He sincerely cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  Manton affirmed that God “is more solicitous for your well-being than you can be yourselves.”   Jesus cared for His disciples that would remain on earth after He ascended into heaven, and provided for all their needs by promising to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).  More on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Peace of Heart and Mind

What gives a person peace of mind?  I think most people, including many who profess to believe the Bible, would answer that the circumstances a person is in goes a long way in determining tranquility of mind.  However, what we find in God’s word points us in a different direction.  “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).  This verse is representative of the biblical claim that peace of heart and mind results from loving things that are above the ordinary.  God and His law are glorious, and a heart set on them soars above the ordinary things of life.  It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that peace of heart is not dependent on the absence of adversity, conflict, or any other external condition.  We have peace when our affections (our feelings and desires) are calm and under our control, and are fixed upon worthy and noble objects.  A very remarkable passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians teaches that the cure for anxiety is the peace of God which is the result of prayer.  Anxious thoughts are overcome when we set our minds on things that are true, honorable, pure, etc (Philippians 4:6-8).  In the very process of prayer, our fears are replaced by thoughts that are the fruit of trust in God.  What is so remarkable here is that the ingredients of peace have nothing to do with outward circumstances!  That truth can free us from so many burdens!  It is the great distinction between the peace which God gives and that of the world.  The world’s peace is unstable and fleeting, depending on the uncertainty of present conditions and the changeable feelings of people.  The peace of God is not contingent upon good health, financial prosperity, or any other external condition.  God gives great peace to those who love His law.  Therefore, every believer can experience this marvelous peace “which surpasses all comprehension.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Implications for Evangelism

If the salvation of believers is not in doubt, why does Paul tell Timothy what he must do to make sure of his own salvation, and that of others (1 Timothy 4:15-16)?  This question sums up what we have been considering for the past week. It has serious implications for evangelism.  Is it biblical to tell a person who has just made a profession of faith that assurance of their new found faith should never be doubted or questioned?  This is standard practice with many contemporary methods of evangelism.  But would not a different attitude be more in keeping with the biblical passages we have been looking at?  We saw in 1 Timothy 4 that salvation is assured only when we persevere in obedience to what the gospel teaches us.  Would not the decision to place faith in Christ as Savior be taken more seriously if the full biblical consequences of His Lordship were presented?  Would not those who profess faith in Christ be more circumspect about living as God requires, if they were taught that holiness is essential?  Does not the Scriptural teaching that “we shall know them by their fruits” require the passage of some time before the fruit can be known?  As I have stated previously, I think the recovery of this biblical truth is the greatest need of the Christian church today.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

All Things For the Gospel—2

The more I studied the relationship between assurance of salvation and the necessity of continuing in holiness, the more verses I discovered that speak directly to this subject.  The fact that the texts are so numerous makes the widespread ignorance of them so harmful.  1 Timothy 4 opened up with new meaning for me when I read Paul’s clearly stated purpose for the various exhortations he gives Timothy (1 Timothy 4:16).  The apostle gives Timothy a wide range of instructions, which he was to faithfully teach others.  The special emphasis of the last half of chapter 4 is the importance that is placed on teaching, so that the believers will be solidly grounded in truth.  Paul clears away a potential problem in verse 12.  Timothy might be insecure as a pastor because he was so young, and the people might not take his teaching seriously for the same reason.  If Timothy proves to be a good example of what he teaches, there will be no problem concerning his authority.  In verse 14 Paul refers to a specific spiritual gift that was given to Timothy when he was publicly recognized as a pastor.  Many theologians contend this was a special gift of teaching, to equip Timothy to fufill the teaching duties of a pastor.  Regardless, Paul is not content to leave it there.  He emphatically drives home the crucial importance of teaching God’s word in the next two verses: “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:15-16).  Wait a minute!  If the salvation of believers is not in doubt, why does Paul tell Timothy what he must do to make sure of his own salvation, and that of others?  This question is so important!  How we answer it is one of the most crucial issues facing the church today. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

All Things For the Gospel

Another passage we must consider is 1 Corinthians 9:23-27.  When you consider this familiar passage with an open mind, what it says will stop you dead in your tracks, demanding carefull scrutiny.  Paul sums up the context which frames these verses when he says, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow-partaker of it” (verse 23).  Note very carefully the reason he does all things for the gospel.  It is not in order to keep on being an apostle.  Paul is not concerned that God might take his ministry from him.  Some attempt to avoid the clear teaching of this passage by claiming that the disqualification Paul refers to (in verse 27) is concerned only with his status as a divinely-appointed apostle commissioned by God to proclaim the gospel.  But what he actually writes is that he does all things for the gospel so that other people might be saved, and that he himself might share with them in its blessings.  Does he really mean what he says here?  That his own participation and enjoyment of eternal life is contingent in some way on his faithful proclamation of the gospel?  We must deal honestly with such provocative passages, for they abound in Scripture.  Paul then uses the familiar illustrations of a race and a boxing match.  The prize that the believer is running to win is “imperishable.”  The reference is clearly to eternal salvation.  Paul preaches the gospel to save others (verse 22), and he wants to share the same blessing (verse 23).  The adversary in the boxing match is his own body, and more particulalrly the sinful desires that express themselves through our bodies.  Paul fights to master every sinful desire, that he might not be disqualified from running the race, that is, from attaining eternal life.  With that statement, he seems to be stepping over the line into salvation by works again!

God must have good reasons for letting these verses stand in a way that appears to invite controversy.  A sincere believer cannot fail to attain salvation.  Yet Paul writes as if his salvation would be in peril if he didn’t continue holding to the gospel by suppressing indwelling sin.  So why are these warnings so common in the Bible?  Part of the answer is that God prevents genuine Christians from being disqualified by giving them grace to heed these warnings.   

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fight the Good Fight—2

Now to 1 Timothy 6.  We need to see and acknowledge exactly we find in these verses, without any theological prejudice.  In verses 7-10 Paul warns us that loving material things is very dangerous.  The love of money can easily become the ruling desire of our lives.  The apostle warns of those who have “wandered away from the faith” in verse 10.  This is very sobering, especially in our time of immense prosperity.  Material things are not evil in themselves; it is the love of them that is so deadly.  It is when this love captures the heart, and drives out any desire for God, that eternal life is at peril.  Those who proclaim the “health and wealth” gospel must cut many verses from their Bibles.  We must take Paul’s warning seriously.  Loving material things destroys the heart’s desire to respond to God; it makes saving faith impossible.  Loving the world is so tempting that Paul exhorts Timothy to “flee from these things” (verse 11).  The apostle expands on that in the following verse.  Fleeing destructive desires requires us to “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (verse 12).  Look at how these thoughts connect.  In order to take hold of eternal life, the believer must fight.  But if we love the world, we will not flee its destructive influences.  The result is wandering away from the faith and failing to take hold of eternal life.  Wealthy Christians especially must not ignore this or take it lightly.  Too much is at stake.  Paul continues his instruction on how to fight the good fight by solemnly charging Timothy to be diligent to obey God’s commands until Jesus Christ returns.  We must continue to pursue holiness all the days of our lives (verses 13-14).  The importance of this is seen in the way the apostle formally charges Timothy “in the presence of God, who gives life to all things and of Christ Jesus.”  Paul’s unique reference to our Lord’s testimony before Pontius Pilate carries great significance.  I think the point is that nothing should keep us from obeying God, no matter how costly or painful to us.  The passage comes full circle in verses 17-19, in which the emphasis returns to those who “are rich in this present world.”  And again they are warned that in order to “take hold of that which is life indeed” their wealth must be at God’s disposal.  Paul concludes with yet another reference to those who have “gone astray from the faith” (verse 21), and a plea to Timothy to guard himself from the worldly ideas that could pull him in the same destructive direction.    

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fight the Good Fight

God’s word is perfect.  One part of the Bible will never contradict another part.  The Holy Scripture does affirm different truths that on the surface, to our finite reasoning, may appear to contradict one another.  For  example, the Bible teaches that God has sovereignly ordained all that comes to pass, even the sinful actions of individuals; and yet at the same time it holds that people are free agents and responsible for their actions.  The humble believer will accept both of these teachings, on the authority of God’s word. The mystery of how they can both be true, without contradicting each other, must be left with God.  The Bible teaches many things that are beyond the limited capacity of human reasoning. We have to deal with this same kind of mystery when we consider the biblical teaching of the believer’s assurance.  Scripture unquestionably maintains that once a person sincerely accepts the offer of the gospel, the resulting state of salvation can never be lost.  At the same time, God’s word also clearly reveals that in order to reach the kingdom of God, and attain the goal of salvation, the believer must continue in a life of holiness and self-denial.  The Bible categorically and unmistakably teaches from that the Christian must pursue “that holiness without which no one will see the Lord,” in order to obtain eternal life (Hebrews 12:14).  But too often this truth has been the subject of neglect, or outright denial.  When we are not able to deal with the mystery involved, what usually happens is that the doctrine of assurance just cancels out the need for holiness.  That type of response leaves us with a mutilated Bible.  All that it teaches is there by God’s design and is perfectly fitted to accomplish what He intends.  With that said, we will now be able to look at 1 Timothy 6, as remarkable and thought-provoking a passage as exists in all of God’s word.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Take Hold of Eternal Life

Take Hold of Eternal Life

The first verses I want to look at are Paul’s exhortations to Timothy to “Fight the good fight.”  I have read these passages many times in the nearly forty years I have been a believer, but when I read them again last Monday, they shook me to the core!  It was as if I was reading them for the first time.  To just take in what is on the page, without filtering it through a preconceived theological framework, opened my eyes as never before to the absolutely stunning message these verses contain!  Taking what the apostle actually says seriously just shatters superficial conceptions of attaining eternal life.  To tell someone that salvation involves nothing more on their part than “accepting Christ” seems inadequate to express all that we find in Scripture on this subject.

What the great apostle sets forth in his letters to Timothy is worthy of the most careful scrutiny.  We will begin with 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.”  Paul pictures his journey to heaven in this life as a boxing match and a race, both very active and strenuous contests.  The crown is achieved only by those who continue on to the end.  Some have tried to evade the obvious meaning intended here by arguing that the “crown of righteousness” is not salvation itself, but rewards given only to Christians who excel in faithful service.  What is said of this crown here and in other verses we will consider show that eternal life itself is the reward.  But of course, that is the sticking point in many Christians’ minds—that eternal life is not only called a free gift, but in some sense a reward.  The force and meaning of Paul’s teaching will be multiplied when we go on to 1 Timothy 6:12.  The apostle exhorts Timothy here to “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”  The entire context from verse 9 to verse 21 is relevant to our discussion, but today I will focus only on verse 12.  Just look at what Paul writes!  There is no question here about rewards for service.  Timothy is to take hold of eternal life.  This involves vigorous struggle.  Something more than passively accepting a gift is necessary to take hold of eternal life. This is similar to the apostle’s remark in Philippians 3 that he is pressing on in life to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of him.  The Lord took hold of Paul’s life on the Damascus Road, just as He as He takes hold of all believers, when they are called by the gospel to eternal life.  Tomorrow the entire chapter of 1 Timothy 6 must have our attention.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Goal of Life—5

I want to conclude by discussing a few more verses that are relevant to the present subject.  These New Testament passages have often been misunderstood as either teaching salvation by works or, more commonly, as referring to rewards for Christian service.  It is worth noting that God has seen fit to allow these verses to stand as they are written, when He could have inspired the New Testament authors to state them with such clarity that controversy would have been impossible.  We can rest assured that in His infinite wisdom, the Lord has made the revelation of Himself in Scripture to be perfect.  In dealing with other subjects we find that God has allowed the same thing.  Romans 6:1 is a well-known example.  The gospel has been presented in the New Testament in such a way that the objection referred to in Romans 6:1 has a certain plausability.  This does not mean that the Lord has made the Bible obscure.  Rather, it means that God has reserved the most profound understanding of His word for those who earnestly endeavor to search for its wisdom.  He has given each of us an intellect for a good purpose—to aid us in knowing Him.  The Bible rewards hard thinking.  Searching the scriptures for wisdom is compared to mining gold.  If we do not clearly understand these precious passages, we will lose the immense comfort and encouragement they were written to provide us.  The truth under consideration here has too often suffered the same fate that others have.  When two different biblical teachings appear to contradict each other, one teaching is sacrificed to maintain the other.  Many have dealt with the biblical teaching of God’s sovereignty over the free actions of people in this way.  Usually God’s sovereignty is denied or limited.  But if the Bible clearly affirms both teachings, we must hold to both, honestly acknowledging the tension that is beyond our human reason to resolve, and being content to leave the mystery of it to God.  Tomorrow we will consider the extraordinary statements of Paul on this subject in his letters to Timothy. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Goal of Life—4

The gospels record our Lord Jesus Christ as teaching exaltly the same thing Paul does in Philippians 3, only in other words.  Luke 9:23-26 is one of several passages which deal with this subject: “”If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”  As with the words of Paul, some Christians have not known quite what to do with what the Lord says in this passage and the others like it.  Christ demands all from those who would follow Him as His disciple.  Such demands can be perplexing because they appear to be teaching salvation by good works.  As a result, theologians have tried to get around the obvious meaning of Christ’s statements in two ways.  First, being a disciple is distinguished with being a born-again Christian.  Christ’s requirements therefore do not apply to all believers, only to those who want to go on in the spiritual life by becoming a disciple.  The claim is that these passages have nothing to do with being saved, but with growing in spiritual maturity by following the Lord as His disciple.  But the Bible knows nothing of a two-stage Christianity.  There is not a shred of evidence to support dividing the body of Christ into two levels: basic believers, who remain inferior members of the Church, and disciples.  These verses are clearly not concerned with rewards for Christian service when they refer to “losing your life,” and “saving it.”

The second way these statements are dealt with is by robbing them of their relevance to Christians today.  I have seen many books by prominent theologians that relegate these controversial passages to an Old Testament context.  So these verses do not apply to believers in the New Testament era.  In the Old Testament, God dealt with people in a different way, so the claim goes.  Many dispensationalists contend that people in the Old Testament were saved in a different way as well.  There was much more of an emphasis on works.  The statements of Christ were spoken in a time of transition.  His demand that disciples must save their lives by losing them for Him, and other like statements, reflect the lingering Old Testament mind-set.  Only with the writings of the apostle Paul do we finally and fully cast off the vestiges of legalism.  Such evasions of the truth are as faulty in their conception as they are difficult to understand.

The Lord’s statements on discipleship are describing the basic heart attitude of the saved sinner.  Salvation by faith creates in the new child of God a heart to follow the loving Father and the Lord Jesus wherever they lead.  We are not saved on the basis of our following Christ, but salvation sets us on the narrow road of following Him as a trusting disciple, willing to forfeit all for Him.  This squares exactly with Paul’s attitude, that he was pressing on to reach the prize, and willing to lose all to attain it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Goal of Life—3

I think that the past two entries of Saturday and Sunday, April 10 and 11, are the most important of the over 175 I have written.  I find that rereading important pages in the notebooks I keep on everything I read is rewarding beyond measure.  I would ask you to thoughtfully consider again, or for those who have not read them,  to consider for the first time, what I wrote the past two days.

Upon reflection, I believe some will benefit if I elaborate a little on why I regard my most recent meditations so important.  I have been a Christian for nearly forty years, and in my experience the way in which many modern evangelicals talk about salvation just does not reflect what we see in the New Testament.  Christians today tend to regard being saved as a totally one-time affair, which is completed the moment they “accept Christ.”  The new Christian does not need to do anything else but “believe.”  Salvation is potrayed as a complete package from the start.  Now that you have it, you can return to your normal way of life.  You are free to pursue whatever you want.  Whether you chose to follow Christ or not, heaven is assured for you.  If you have sincerely believed, it does not matter what you do in the future—your salvation will never be revoked.  It leaves the new convert with the idea that they do not need to modify any behavior that is inconsistent with Christ’s commands, because salvation is not attained by our good works.  Some theologians have gone so far as to say that once a person has made a profession of faith, any sin can be committed—even renouncing belief in Christ—without any effect on their eternal state.  This is to promote a concept of faith that does not square with the Bible.  Saving faith includes repentance, which is the renunciation and rejection of the sin that makes you subject to God’s condemnation.  And the saving transaction between the individual and God includes regeneration, in which God gives the one who is “born again” a new heart that now loves God and righteousness.  A conception of salvation that leaves a person unchanged, without a radical alteration in their attitude to sin and the world, is not Christianity.  Jesus pictured it as entering a narrow gate onto an equally narrow, well-defined pathway.  The pathway which “by any means possible (we) attain to the resurrection of the dead” will for some be a long journey of much hard labor for God, for others a rough road of much suffering, and for others a short walk to martyrdom.  We will not find “sinless perfection” on this pathway, that will finally be ours only in heaven.  But if we are not on the narrow pathway, neither are we on the way to heaven. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Goal of Life—2

Paul’s goal was “to attain to the resurrection.”  This does not mean just getting to heaven.  He wanted to attain the complete freedom from sin and the moral perfection in soul and body that will be ours when we are resurrected.  The apostle says that he did all things for the sake of that happiness which the resurrection will introduce us into.  He resolved to be anything, to do anything, and to suffer anything, if he might possess eternal happiness with his Lord! 

I cannot do better than again quote Manton: “Paul did rest satisfied with the hopes of eternal life, and that perfect holiness and felicity he should then enjoy, as a sufficient recompense for all his losses and labours, disgraces abd troubles.  So the state of glory is compared to the present life; here is misery, there is happiness; here is sin, there is holiness; here shame, there glory; here labour, there rest; here the cross, there the crown; here the conflict, there the full and absolute conquest; here the work, there the reward; here absence from God, there fore ever present with him; here weakness, there prefection; then all good is perfected, and all evil shall cease.”  The resurrection should be the overarching aim of the whole course of our lives.  We should count it well with us, and that we will be recompensed enough for whatever we suffer now, if we attain to the happiness of that blessed state.   

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Goal of Life

Paul gives us the goal of his life in Philippians 3:11: “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”  He would tell young people to desire more than eighty years of making money and having fun.  He would tell older people that retirement to the sea shore and the health to enjoy it for a few years is nothing.  What the apostle wanted more than anything else, and “by any means possible” was to have a part in the resurrection.  Paul meant exactly what he said, and was willing to lose everything of value to have it.  He presses on in life, he tells us, to reach his goal—the resurrection from the dead.  In my experience, many evangelicals have turned this goal into some kind of desire for spiritual maturity in this life.  I think they do that because if Paul is referring to the resurrection, his language appears to be on the road to teaching salvation by works.  Paul has given the church its greatest anthems of assurance of salvation by faith in Christ alone.  Yet here in Philippians, and in many places elsewhere in his letters, Paul states in the most emphatic way that he actively pursues the heavenly prize with all of the endurance and energy he can muster.  Thomas Manton put it this way: “However assured believers may be of their salvation, until their race is ended, they cannot look upon themselves as quite out of danger.”  This is a doctrinal balance that modern evangelicals must come to grips with.  In fact, I would not hesitate to say that recovering the biblical emphasis of this truth is the greatest need of Christianity today.  In Philippians 3:15, Paul says that God will help us to understand these things.  If verses like these are not properly understood, some of the most wonderful parts of the New Testament will be a puzzle.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Personal Experience of Christ—2

The knowledge of Christ that is obtained by personal experience is the only foundation for satisfying assurance and an unassailable conviction that the gospel is not only true, but that it applies to me and you.  When we experience the tangible rewards of obedience to the gospel, we have an argument that powerfully engages our hearts to press on in the Christian life.  When we believe, God gives us the Holy Spirit and “sweet foretastes of life eternal,” not only to assure us of the reality of our future hope, but also as the “first fruits,” to show us how good it will be.   Without experiential knowledge of Christ, there is no assurance of salvation.  No one can carry on the spiritual life of faith with any sincerity and delight, without genuinely knowing the Lord Jesus in a personal way.  The believer’s relationship with Him is not an empty pretence.  1 Corinthians 4:20 tells us that “the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power.”  Christianity doesn’t stand on empty discourses, pat phrases, or overused slogans.  We see its effect in the power it has to change the hearts of people.  The teaching that is from God changes, not just the outward actions, but the innermost desires of people who know in themselves they are helpless sinners.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Personal Experience of Christ

For a few more days I want to continue looking at Paul’s great statement in Philippians 3 about the surpassing value of experiencing a genuine relationship with Christ.  The true spirit and heart of Christianity is considering all things to be rubbish compared with knowing Jesus Christ.  We see in verse 10 that a relationship with Christ involves knowing “the power of His resurrection” and “being conformed to His death” in some way.  How do we experience these things in our lives?  We experience the power of His death when we have victory over sin, putting sin to death.  We know something of resurrection power when the Spirit of God works in us a new life that step by step makes us like Christ.  Paul’s example tells us that this blessing is to be regarded as precious above all things.

The knowledge that is ours by faith is often in the Bible properly expressed by sight.  We see and understand new things by faith.  The knowledge that we obtain by experience goes beyond that of faith.  Taste perfectly expresses experiential knowledge.  When we taste the goodness of God and feel His power in our lives, then we have experiential knowledge of Christ.  We have proof of the great value of knowing our Lord in this way by the fruits of it.  The evidence of its reality is seen in what it does in our lives.  A person who has burned a finger needs no other evidence to be convinced that fire is hot.  Even so, when God’s promises are verified in our own experience, nothing will convince us that they are not true.  Those who have felt the power of the Spirit inclining their hearts to God, have unshakable evidence for the things they believe.  It is evidence that mere intellectual assent can never produce.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

All for Christ

In Philippians 3:10 the apostle Paul tells us that as a result of being saved by Christ he now has an overwhelming desire to know Him.  The things Paul had valued the most in life he now  considers rubbish in order that he “may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  What an interesting way of describing his new relationship with the Lord!  Do we think of knowing our Savior in this way?  To do so we need to first understand exactly what the apostle is referring to in this verse.  For instance, what does Paul mean when he says that he wants to know “the fellowship of His (Christ’s) sufferings?”  Certainly this tells us that sufferings are going to be a major part of a Christian’s relationship with the Lord.  The knowledge that Paul refers to here is knowledge that is gained by experience in life.  So the apostle wants more than an intellectual understanding of suffering in relation to Christ.

To encounter sufferings as our God intends for us, to go through them in a way that brings honor and glory to Him, we must have new life in Christ and be excited about the hope of future glory with Him.  This hope is the only thing that can give a person the unique Christian perspective on suffering.  The result is patience and endurance.  The Bible has a great deal to teach us on these things.  To continually explore, discover, and experience the reality that suffering for Christ can bring us comfort and joy, is more valuable than anything the world can give.  This is one aspect of his relationship to Christ that Paul cherished.  (More tomorrow) 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Nothing Less Than Filled

Sometimes we become so familiar with certain verses that we easily miss the most simple ,and yet most profound, things they teach us.  That is one reason reading good Christian literature from other time periods is so valuable.  They often give us a fresh perspective and let us see things with a new  pair of eyes.  I have mentioned again and again the debt I owe to the great Puritan teachers of the 17th century.

Paul’s well known exhortation in Ephesians 5:18 to “not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” is an example.  Thomas Manton opened my eyes to one of the most obvious, but easily missed, instructions in this verse.  We are commanded here to be filled with the Spirit.  The Christian is not to be satisfied with a small amount of the Holy Spirit’s influence, but to have all of the Spirit’s fruit in abundance.  The life of the believer should overflow with love, joy, peace, and all of the other godly virtues which can only result from the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.      

Monday, April 5, 2010

Prayer Never in Vain

James 5:16 is one of the greatest promises in Scripture that seeking God in prayer is never in vain: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”  The word “effective” conveys the idea that true prayer must be earnest and fervent.  That does not come naturally to human nature.  In order to pray in a manner acceptable to God is no easy thing.  We must use much diligence to prepare and stir up our hearts to the duty of prayer.  David tells us how he prepared his heart: “To you O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Psalm 25:1).  Our affections must be lifted up above the ordinary concerns of life, to fervently desire to be in God’s presence.  The best preparation for that is filling our hearts with His promises.  Our faith is weak, we will not persevere in prayer without much labor.  The Bible compares effective prayer with wrestling.  We must also be assured that prayer is not in vain.  This is the means God has appointed for receiving the greatest blessings.  Just consider what the Scripture ascribes to faith and prayer!  Prayer seeks wonderful blessings from the throne of grace, and faith receives them.  The example of Elijah follows in James 5:17-18.  The point is that if Elijah, a man with the same weak nature we all have, obtained such great answers to his prayers, so may we.  There may be less of the miraculous in our answers, but there will be as much of grace.                     

Sunday, April 4, 2010

More Precious Than Gold

1 Peter 1:6-7 is a magnificent statement of the value of tested, genuine faith.  Peter tells us that trials test our faith in the same way that gold is refined and proved genuine by fire.  This passage reveals that saving faith is more precious than the most pure gold in the world.  Thomas Manton summed up the driving force of these verses very well, “If sore trials discover (reveal) the reality of grace, better undergo them than be without them; and we should esteem and prize these seasons of exercising and trying grace more than times of the quickest and greatest gain in the world.  A little comfort in a trial should make up (for) all the pain, shame, and loss that attended it.”  What a fine, concluding thought Manton gives us.  The spiritual blessing that results from our being tested will abundantly recompense us for whatever worldly benefits we lose in suffering.  This was a great encouragement to me yesterday, when I was in a great deal of pain.             

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Taking God’s Work Out of His Hands

In Matthew 7 we find our Lord’s teaching that anxiety over all the things we need in life is needless, and far from doing us any good, is harmful.  Jesus affirms that His followers are very precious to God, and will be provided for.  He concludes by saying that since our heavenly Father knows and has promised to give us all that we need, “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 5:34).  Worry and fear about the future only makes our present condition more difficult to bear, and is very dishonoring to God.  Thomas Manton really hit the nail on the head when he said that fears about the future, “Oppress, and so both overwhelm ourselves and take God’s work out of His hands.”  Fear proclaims to others that we really do not believe God will provide for us as He has promised.  The whole burden for the future is on our shoulders.  From cover to cover the Bible teaches that worry and fear are the bitter fruit of unbelief.  The cure for anxiety is faith, the heart of which is dependence on God as the all-sufficient source of all that we need.  I’ll give Manton the final word, “It is not only our privilege that we may, but our duty that we must, disburden ourselves of theses distrustful fears and cares and sorrows.”   

Friday, April 2, 2010

Do You Pass the Test?

What Paul says about himself in 2 Corinthians 13:6 is, to me, one of the most shocking statements in the New Testament.  He expresses his hope that the believers in Corinth will realize that he does not fail the test of the previous verse.  Could there be any doubt that Paul was saved?  Yet he phrases his assertion of confidence as if there might be some question of it.  This great apostle hopes they will realize that he passes the test.  There is no swaggering or boasting in his statement.  Modern Christians are often instructed to take salvation for granted after they have “prayed the prayer.”  They therefore don’t question its reality and rarely, if ever, take the command in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to heart.  Paul wasn’t playing a game.  While he knew for certain he would get to heaven, and expressed that in the most glowing statements of assurance found in the Bible, still the danger of possible failure never left him.  I think evangelicalism desperately needs to recapture this kind of “on guard” humility. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Examine Your Faith

2 Corinthians 13:5: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”  It has been my observation that this verse, and the subject it raises, are seldom taught on or even mentioned today.  I think many Christians neglect spiritual self-examination because they have been told they should never question their salvation.  Some even go so far as to make it a sin to question your faith, once you have made a profession of it.  To do so is to question what God has done for you and can only result in needless doubts and fears.  But the kind of self-examination required of us here is not meant to create doubts, but to expose weakness and prevent self-deception.  It is wrong to question God’s love and His promise of eternal life.  But to examine whether or not we have exercised saving faith is another matter.  This is necessary to keep us from being deceived, and the most terrible deception of all is that concerning our eternal state.  It is the only way to distinguish between genuine faith and presumption.  We must honestly ask ourselves whether or not our lives display the fruits of faith.