Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Great Grace of God

The richness of the doctrines put forth in Ephesians is truly amazing.  These doctrines are a plentiful provision for hours of meditation and enjoyment.  It is always hard for me to read through the first three chapters without stopping and contemplating on one of the great truths that are included therein.

One of the things that makes this book so rich is how the the doctrines presented are interwoven with one another and support one another.  One of the doctrinal strands that runs through this book is the grace of God.  I am currently preaching through Romans and I have just finished with Romans 3:18, and if you are familiar with verses 9-18 of Romans 3,  you know that this section is God's testimony on the sin's absolute dominion over man and its result.  Man's utter sinfulness, his utter desperation because of his sin, his utter inability and complete lack of desire to come to God, and his utter unworthiness before God has been on my mind for the last few weeks.  With this backdrop in mind, as I was reading through chapter one of Ephesians one this week, the grace of God presented in the first few verses literally jumped off of the page at me.

What does man need from God, the God whom man has spurned, the God whom man has sinned against, the God whose holiness we will all be measured against and found so so lacking?  Man needs grace, not an idle grace, not a passive grace, not a benign grace, not an impotent grace, but an active all-encompassing, super-abounding, God-given and God-directed grace.  So as Paul dives into the deep end of the pool in laying out the doctrines of salvation in the first 3 chapters of this letter, he lays as the foundation of our salvation, the marvelous grace of God, and he wastes no time as he weaves grace in at the very beginning of this epistle.

Here is a short outline of grace in the first eight verses:

The Declaration of Grace vs 2
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

This is a familiar greeting from Paul and he uses it or something similar in every letter.  In fact, it is so familiar that we tend to gloss over what is being said.  Have you ever wondered why this greeting is being used, and used every time?  What is God saying to His church, His people, those that He has purchased through the sacrifice of His Son?  He is declaring that grace has been given to us, mercy has been extended to us, His favor has been bestowed on us.  It is a potent reminder of the wonderful gratuitous benevolence of God to us.

Paul gives us an explanation of what this grace to you means with his statement in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God."  When we also consider this verse along with Romans 3:24 "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."  we comprehend more fully just how gracious God is in His provision of salvation.  It is a gift, and through Paul's epistles He has declared it is from Me to you.

The Definition of Grace vs 3
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."

Through the years I have heard many definitions of grace, from what the word means int the Greek to man's attempt to define it.  I think this verse most completely sums up the essence of what grace is.  It is God's blessing us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Grace is God's blessing.  It is a spiritual blessing upon the heart and soul of man.  It has its origins and its climax in the heavenly places; and it is given and accomplished in and through Christ. There is an old song I learned in Sunday School and the chorus is, "Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings see what God has done."  The blessing of grace is a multitude of spiritual blessings too numerous to count, and they go on for all eternity as we see in Ephesians 2:7 "so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."  The phrase "mind-blowing" does not even come close to describing the riches of the blessing of His grace.

The Beginning of Grace vs 4
"just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world"

The grace of God did not come about as a result of the fall.  No, the grace of God has been operative since before the foundation of the world.  Before time and creation, God's grace was already being bestowed upon us in His choosing of us.  Before we were born we were already the recipients of His marvelous saving grace as He placed us in His eternal redemptive plan.

The Purpose of Grace vs 4
"...that we would be holy and blameless before Him."

We know that the will of God for us is to be holy as He is holy in all our behavior (I Peter 1:14-16). We also know that in our flesh, in our own strength, by our own ability we cannot keep that command.  It is by the grace of God that we are made adequate to be holy before Him. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).  There is always a greater supply of grace available than the sin that entangles us.  Paul shows us the reality of this in his prayers for the Ephesians in 1:18-21 and in 3:14-20.  There is abundant spiritual power and abundant spiritual resources through this grace in which we stand (Romans 5:2).

The Foundation of Grace vs 4b-5
"In love he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself"

The foundation of grace is the love of God.  The love of God for those whom He would call as His own, those whom He would adopt into His family, those to whom He would give His name. Because God is love, He is a God of grace.  Grace operates and flows out of the great love of God.  Paul says this very distinctly in Ephesians 2:4-5 "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)"

The Graciousness of Grace vs 5
"according to the kind intention of His will"

The Greek word for "kind intention" carries with it the idea of a benevolent purpose.  God's grace for us has as its end a benevolent purpose.  It is for our good, and our blessing, and our benefit that God bestows His grace upon us.  His grace for us is purposeful and deliberate, not random or whimsical.

The Result of Grace vs 6
"to the praise of the glory of His grace"

God's grace is indeed glorious, and should be praised.  Inherent in praise is the idea of thanksgiving. In our praise of Him we should indeed thank Him for His grace to us.  In consideration of all that His grace is and all that we have because of it, we should open our eyes to its glory and respond in praise.

The Cost of Grace vs 6
"which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved"

Grace is the unmerited favor of God.  We have done nothing to earn it, and our actions and attitudes toward God in our pagan state would not warrant it, so He freely bestowed it on us in Christ. We have grace because of what Christ has done on our behalf.  As I have mentioned in a previous post, we stand before God with no merits of our own, but with all the merits of Christ.

The Power of Grace vs 7
"In Him we have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace"

Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.  A line from a hymn that states well the power of grace.  Sin cannot overcome grace, grace is greater than all our sin.  Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).  We are forgiven our sins, not because of anything we have done, but because of all that God has done; and it is all of grace. God extends His grace to us in His forgiveness of all of our sins, having nailed them to the cross.

The Measure of Grace vs 7b-8
"according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us"

The riches of His grace is immeasurable. When we stand in grace, there is grace as far and as wide as we can see.  We cannot outlive it, we cannot exceed its reach, we cannot use it up, we cannot diminish it in any capacity.  For whatever we need grace is available.  For whenever the need grace is available.  There is no limit to the grace of God, and He has lavished it upon us.  He has generously given us all the full measure of His grace, and it is inexhaustible.

We need grace from God, in all of its aspects, in all of our life.  Let us marvel together at the great grace of God that has been given to us through Christ.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Standing Before God

It is not the adherence to a set of rules that secures
one's standing before God; but it is the position one
has in Christ that secures their standing before God.
As Christians we stand before God with no merits of our own,
but we stand before Him with all the merits of Christ.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Preaching Task

The preaching task may be the most daunting of all the tasks that God assigns in the church.  To be called to be mouthpiece of God to His people, to be charged with bringing His word (rightly,forthrightly, boldly, and without apology), to be held accountable for speaking the truth truthfully, to bear the responsibility of bringing the whole counsel of God (the popular and unpopular), to be commanded to preach in season and out of season, to be reminded that we are subject to a more severe judgment, and to bear the burden of this great and monumental task--are all beyond the strength of our merely mortal flesh and beyond the comprehension of our natural mind; and in those moments of honesty with ourselves and the Lord these responsibilities make us cry out as Paul, "Who is adequate for these things?"

Preaching is truly a supernatural task which is beyond the power and ability of the preacher.  In those moments of our sermon preparation each week, when our weakness is so apparent, there are some things to keep in the forefront of our mind.

1. Our gifting is from the Holy Spirit, our ministry is from the Lord, and effects are ordained by God. (I Corinthians 12:4-6) So our preaching is God given, God empowered, and God directed.

2. Our works are ordained beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).  Preaching is a God-called task and a God-given assignment. Our preaching ministry is not a separate call, but is part of the call of the Lord on our lives to follow Him; and in following Him we walk in the deeds He has ordained beforehand for us to do.

3.  Our gifts and calling are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). God has not changed His mind about His gifting and calling of those who are truly called to preach. We must all go through the rigors of the confirmation of His gifting and calling, just as Abraham went through the rigors of the proof of his faith. For those not weeded out, we stand in the knowledge of the veracity and legitimacy of our call.

4. Our adequacy, or sufficiency for you ESV people, for the task(s) of the ministry comes from God, not ourselves (II Corinthians 3:4-6). As Paul asks the question I quoted in the first paragraph. he answers it just a few verses later. No one in and of themselves is adequate for the task of preaching, but God makes those He has called and gifted adequate. We are not the source, but the means through whom God, the Source, works through; and it is God who makes us adequate for the deeds/ministry that He has prepared beforehand for us to do.

5. Our part in this is twofold:
    a. To abstain from wickedness and cleanse ourselves (confess our sins) so that we will be vessels of honor, sanctified, useful to our Master, and prepared for every good work (II Timothy 2:19-21).
    b. To be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. We are to be trustworthy with the ministry which the Lord has entrusted to us, not just for the day or the month, but for the length of the race; and having put our hand to the plow of the gospel ministry, to not look back, but keep pressing on. (I Corinthians 4:1-2)

In the end we will be judged and rewarded according to what we have done with what He has given us.  Let us be mindful of our call, confident in His provisions, and faithful to the end.  And may the Lord find great delight in using us all.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Key to Our Spiritual Service of Worship

In Romans 12:3 Paul gives an instruction and admonition to all Christians, and it is, "I say to everyone of you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but think so as to have sound judgment."  The context of this verse is our spiritual service of worship and what is required of us to so that we can present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.

What Paul is saying here is that in order for us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice we must not be conformed to this world, but be being continually transformed by the renewing of our mind; and in the renewing of our mind we should be at that point where we don't think too highly (and mistakenly) about ourselves; but should think soundly, truthfully, and forthrightly about ourselves.  In other words we should be brutally honest with ourselves about not just our strengths, but also about our weaknesses and inadequacies, and all of this primarily applies to our spiritual lives; and Paul says this because of the tendency in  us all to think too highly, maybe even unrealistically, about own own strengths and abilities.

The Bible is quite clear about our spiritual weakness.  In Romans 6:19 Paul talks about the weakness of our flesh.  In 7:14-25 he talks about his own spiritual struggles and inconsistencies.  In II Corinthians 2:17 he questions his adequacy for the gospel ministry.  In II Corinthians 1:8 he talks about being burdened beyond his strength and despairing of life. In II Corinthians 7:5-6 he talks about being fearful and depressed.   

In Hebrews 3:13 we are warned not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  In Hebrews 5:12-14 we see that there are those who are still infants in the faith, and have to be taught the basics all over again. In Hebrews 12:1 we are told we have encumbrances to our faith and are easily entangled with sin.

In Philippians 3:15-16 Paul encourages us to not fall back in our faith, but to keep living by the same standard we have obtained.

In Galatians and Colossians Paul admonishes and warns those churches about the deception of the false teachers whom they have allowed to come into their midst.

In our flesh, we are no different than those who have gone before. So what should we do to think rightly, soundly and truthfully about ourselves.  What are the weaknesses in our flesh, that we need to be aware of, so that instead of depending on ourselves or not being honest with ourselves we can go to God for his grace and his strength to present our bodies a living sacrifice?  In our walk it would help us to be aware of these things about ourselves:

*The ceiling of our own understanding.
*The frailty of our own power.
*The lack of our own capabilities.
*The failing of our own strength.
*The emptiness of our own pride.
*The stumbling block of our own sin.
* The hindrance of our own fears.
*The stammering of our own tongue.
*The inconsistency of our resolve.
*The misplacing of our affections.
*The misdirection of our goals.
*The fickleness of our hearts.
*The blindness of our foresight.
*The limits of our endurance.
*The failings of our own strength.
*The paltriness of our influence.
*The distraction of our attention.
*The deceitfulness of our riches.
*The inadequacy of our abilities.
*The poverty of our spirituality.

Yes, we are weak in our flesh, and in our own strength are incapable of bearing fruit for Christ, which is what Christ was telling the disciples in John 15:4-5.  But the good news here is that God has not left us mired in the muck or our own inadequacy, but quite the opposite. When we acknowledge our own weaknesses, inadequacies, fears, and doubts, and go to Him for His strength; we will find grace sufficient for every task, wisdom for every situation, strength for every endeavor, and His equipping for every good work, all supplied through Christ. (Hebrews 4:16, Philippians 4:13, II Corinthians 3:4-6, II Corinthians 12:9-10, I Corinthians 1:24-31, Galatians 2:20, I Corinthians 15:10, II Timothy 1:7)

It is when we judge ourselves rightly that we have the proper perspective regarding ourselves in relation to the life that the Lord has called us to live, and the deeds that He has for us to do. It is then that we have the right view of ourselves, and can go to the Lord and ask for His provision.

There is a saying that gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles, and it is this: "God will not give you more than you can handle."  This is a false statement as God is always giving us more than we can handle, as He wants us to realize and acknowledge that apart from Him we can accomplish nothing of spiritual value, and are spiritually powerless; but that with Him all things are possible.  This is the precursor of coming to the point of maturity that we do not think more highly of ourselves than we ought.

So, my friends, let us think rightly, soundly, truthfully about ourselves, and in doing so make ourselves fit to present ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice to God in all of our endeavors.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

God's Greatest Joy

One of my favorite parables is found in Luke 15:1-7, as I believe it shows the true heart of God.  In fact, this parable is located right before the parable of the prodigal son.  The parable of the prodigal son is meant to illustrate the great truth shown in verses 1-7.  Here are those verses in their entirety:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming
near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the
scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives 
sinners and eats with them." So He told them this parable 
saying, "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep
and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine
in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until
he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, 
rejoicing. Ans when he comes home, he calls together his 
friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, 
for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I tell you in the 
same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner 
who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who
need no repentance."

What these verses tell us is that God's greatest joy is when someone turns from their sin and turns to Him.  This great and wonderful truth is illustrated in the story of the prodigal son (vs 11-24) by the father who, from a distance, sees his lost son coming to him and runs to him in joy, embracing and kissing him, and holding a celebration for him.  

In a sense, this great joy of God should not surprise us, for because of His great love for us He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  However, so many of us labor under a couple of popular misconceptions of God that veil our eyes from this truth. 

Misconception #1.
God is a God of wrath, who is eager and waiting to punish you, strike you down, and send you to hell because of your sin. We always hear the line about not standing to close to someone in case God zaps them for doing something wrong. You see, even using that line, which almost all of us have used, shows that we do have a sense that punishment for wrongdoing is right, and must be carried out for there to be true justice.  Yes, if God is holy and righteous there must be and will be ultimate justice for any and all wrongdoing, but that doesn't mean that God just can't wait to get even or that He delights in some kind of barbaric punishment or that He chortles over the eternal damnation of anyone.

What the Bible tells us about God's heart and attitude toward men, all men, is just the opposite, not only do the parables mentioned above illustrate this truth, but here is what else the Bible (God speaking) reveals to us about it:

Ezekiel 18:23 "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord God, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live."
Ezekiel 18:32 "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord God. "Therefore, repent and live."
Ezekiel 33:11 "Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die?"
I Timothy 2:3b-4...God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
II Peter 3:9 The Lord is slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.

So what we see here in these verses is that it gives God pleasure, it brings God joy when someone, anyone, turns from their sinful ways and comes to Him for forgiveness.  

Misconception #2.
God is a benign God who is somewhat detached from this world, but loves us as we are, let's us set our own moral code and use our own guidelines for entering heaven (whatever our version of that may happen to be).  This misconception totally misconstrues what the real love of God is.  Let's see what the Bible tells us about this:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Ephesians 2:1-8 And you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in  Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no man may boast.

The real love of God is the love that moved God to have mercy and compassion on us by providing the means of forgiveness of our sins (the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross), and salvation (our acceptance by faith and its corresponding trust in the work that God has done on our behalf through Jesus Christ). If God loves us like we are then there would have been no need to send Christ as the sacrifice for our sins. 

The common thread that binds both of these misconceptions together is a faulty view of sin, not just sin in general, but our own sin in particular.  Both views really downplay the heinous nature of all sin and how egregious is sin, all sin, any sin, to God.  We all know what sin is, and we all know that we have sinned.  However, have we grasped how serious even one sin is? Again, let's take a look at what the Bible says.

Leviticus 11:44 "For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because God is holy, any sin and all sin, is an affront to His holiness and is worthy of death.  Because He is just, no sin can be overlooked.  Because He is righteous all sin(s) will receive a just judgment, a right recompense, and a proper punishment.

Because of His great love He has placed the sins of those who will come to Him in faith upon Christ, and Christ has born the punishment for those sins in our stead.

So, at the cross we see both the justice of God and the love of God on full display.

Because of God's understanding of the justice that awaits all who sin, because of God's love providing a way for the payment of the penalty due for every sin, God therefore takes great pleasure and has unbounding joy in the salvation of those who turn to Him.

Have you heard His voice calling you to come home to Him?  Will you answer that call and turn to Him?  Will you forsake all else for His salvation?  Will you trust in what He has done to save you from the right and just consequences of a life that is lived apart from Him?  Will you call your sin as that which it is and call out to the Lord for His forgiveness?  For when you do there will be great joy in heaven among all its hosts for the salvation of your soul; and the Father Himself, the God and Creator of all that is, will run to meet you.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Stop It, Enough Already, Man Up and Fess UP

I almost always keep quiet regarding Christian personalities and issues (unless it is false teaching), as it is too easy for it to turn into self-righteous character assassination or internet gossip.  However, I am out of patience with those who supported and promoted Mark Driscoll remaining silent, unrepentant, and unapologetic.

Too many pastors, young and older, were influenced by him.  Too many people were damaged and savaged by him.  The cause of Christ was wounded because of him, all while the warning signs were there and were not hidden; and those who supported him and promoted him have remained silent.

Unfortunately, we are now subjected to this puff piece interview of John Piper.  Yes, what John says in this interview is true, but it makes him look like the wise sage now that the carnage is over, while ignoring his association and promotion of Mark Driscoll.  This piece provides cover for him by letting him address, from a distance of time, what happened without calling him to take responsibility for his part in the victory against the church he says Satan has had in this situation.  It allows him to take the the "high, noble, and wise ground" as if he had nothing to do with it.  John Piper is one of the main reasons Mark Driscoll had a national following, and for John to continue avoiding the responsibility for his fomenting of Mark Driscoll's reputation is unconscionable.  For The Gospel Coalition to do the interview and air this piece is just as unconscionable.

John and The Gospel Coalition, for the sake of the church you say you love and its unity, come out boldly and admit your part in the Mark Driscoll debacle.  It would go a long way toward healing and the restoration of trust in your ministries and motives.

See the interview below by following the link below.

Saturday, August 01, 2015