Thursday, August 30, 2012

Made Clean in Christ

To the pure, all things are pure; 
but to those who are defiled and 
unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both
their mind and their conscience are
defiled.  They profess to know God,
but by their deeds they deny Him,
being detestable and disobedient and
worthless for any good deed.
Titus 1:15-16

What makes people worthless (unfit, unqualified, incapable, examined and rejected as useless) for any good deed?  Is it because they are detestable or disobedient?  No, because these are the by-products of the real issue.  Is it because they profess to know God, but deny Him through their deeds?  No, again, this hypocrisy is but a by-product of the root cause.  Is it because their mind and conscience are defiled?  Once again, no, as these are the result of their real condition.  Well, then, what is the root cause that renders one unfit for any good deed?  It is the one fact, the ultimate condition of their being...they are unbelieving...unbelieving in the Gospel, unbelieving in Christ as their sin-bearing substitute, unbelieving in the work of Christ, unbelieving in the person of Christ, unbelieving in the necessity of Christ, unbelieving in the awfulness of their own sinfulness and wickedness, unbelieving in their own personal defilement and its stench before God, unbelieving in God's own holiness and its demands upon them.  

What then does this mean in regards to unredeemed and unbelieving man's place before God?  It means that no matter what he does, it is not good.  It cannot be good.  It will never be good.  Why?  Because man's unbelief has defiled him and rendered him incapable of doing anything good; and, in fact, according to Titus 1:15 everything he touches becomes impure.  Well, what if they are fighting aids in Africa?  Impure!  Okay, what about feeding the hungry and clothing the poor?  Impure!  What if they are doing something to stop the sex-trafficking of young girls? Impure!  What about the person who donates a kidney or bone marrow?  Impure!  Surely, if they give their life to save another that would be good enough?  Sorry, still impure!  Why, you ask?  Because God has said so (Isaiah 64:6...and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.). Because God Himself is the standard (Matthew are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect). Because He alone is good (Luke  18:19...Why do you call Me good?  No one is good, but God alone.) Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  

What then makes the believer pure, so pure, in fact, that all things are pure to him?  He is baptized into Christ, and Christ's righteousness has now become his (Romans 6:3-4).  Yes, he now has the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, and he is seen as righteous, just as Christ is righteous (II Corinthians 5:21, I Corinthians 1:30). He has been washed and made pure by Christ (John 13:8,15:3, Ephesians 5:26, Hebrews  10:22, I John 1:7).  This is the reality of being united with Christ.  We are now capable of performing good works (Titus 2-3, James 2), whereas before, nothing we did was good because we were incapable of doing anything good.

Once again we see the wonderful and magnificent benevolence, the gracious favor of God to those who come to Him in faith.  We are now able to please Him, to perform works appropriate to Him, and these works will follow us when we come back to rule and reign with Christ (Revelation 19:7-8).

So, my friends, are you depending on your own good works to save you?  Are you hanging your eternal destiny on what you have determined as meritorious?  Have you determined for yourself what is good? If so, how good is good enough?  How many deeds will it take?  Where is the bar of righteousness set?  How will you know if you have hit the mark?  Don't be blinded by your own self-righteousness.  Obtain the righteousness of Christ, the only Righteous One, by placing your faith on what He has done in your stead, by placing your faith in Him instead of yourself, by confessing that you are a sinner who can never be not just good enough, but good at all in the eyes of God.  Come to God acknowledging your own defilement, and ask Him to cleanse you and give to you the righteousness of His Son, which He will gladly do.

If you have already done this.  If you have already been made clean in Christ.  Then take this time to praise Him and thank Him for the Holy Spirit who indwells you and the righteousness He has placed you into.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Giving to the Lord

Giving to the Lord is an act of love,
not an act of duty.  When He has captured 
your heart, the money will follow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rejoice this Day

Rejoice this day!  Rejoice and be glad, 
rejoice and let your heart exult in your
salvation.  Give thanks to the Lord for
the greatness of His mercy to you.

Rejoice this day!  Rejoice in the eternal
love with which you have been loved, and 
in which you will be loved for all time.  Be 
thankful with a heart full of gratitude for His
bestowal of His great love upon you.

Rejoice this day!  Rejoice that your name
is graven upon His hand, and written in 
His book, never to be forgotten.  Give 
thanks that you are kept by the 
power of God. 

Rejoice this day!  Rejoice in the reality
of His indwelling presence.  Rejoice 
in the reality of His power at work
in your inner man.  Rejoice that sin
no longer has its way with you.  Give
Him thanks for sharing His holiness 
with you.

Rejoice this day!  Rejoice that He
is conforming you to the image of
His Son.  Rejoice that you are being
made complete in Him.  Give thanks
that the old self becomes less, and 
the new self becomes greater.

Rejoice this day!  Rejoice in the hope
laid up for you in heaven.  Rejoice in
the imperishable, undefiled and unfading
inheritance reserved in heaven for you. 
Give thanks to the Lord for preparing a 
place for you, and the reality of His
coming back for you to take you
to Himself forever.

Rejoice this day!  O, yes, rejoice this 
day for all the Lord has done for you.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Is it Us or God?---Enabled by the Spirit

By by the grace of God I am what I am,
and His grace toward me did not prove
vain; but I labored even more than all of them,
yet, not I, but the grace of God with me.
I Corinthians 15:10

...sinners are moved from death to life, from passivity to activity, as they are enabled by the Spirit to participate in Christ.  The new life of the Spirit in sanctification is received as a gift.  But it activates our capacities.  As we see in Jesus Christ, true humanity (in harmony with God) is active humanity--actively obedient to the Father, active in loving God and neighbor.  While Christians receive participation in Christ as a gift, the result of this reception is an enlivening of our capacities by the Spirit.  As Calvin says in the Bondage and Liberation of the Will, God does not "cause" faith or action in us without our assent. Yet "assent is properly called ours, but not in such a way that it should be understood to derive from us."  Declaring that God deserves the credit for the fruit of the preaching of the gospel, Calvin warns that "this is not because in doing everything by the power of his own Spirit [God] excludes the ministry of his servants, but so as to secure for himself the entire praise for the action, just as the effectiveness derives from him alone, and whatever labour people do without him is empty and barren."  Thus, communion with the Spirit is what makes our faith and action our own.  Stated differently, God does use our will , our mind, our ministry, and our efforts to preach the gospel and to live faithful Christian lives.  But wherever there is fruit, the credit should not be divided between God and us.  When we pray and the prayer is answered, we should not congratulate ourselves for praying with wisdom and diligence.  No.  In all things, we should give praise to God, because even sanctification is a gift, first and foremost, that we receive from God.

At this point, in seeing not only justification but also sanctification as a gift received in union with Christ, we are at the heart of the issue on an experiential level for Christians.  If sanctification is a matter of me drawing deeply on my self to do good things for God, then my own holiness--and my own effort--becomes an end in itself, and preaching should focus on Christ only to the extent that he is a moral exemplar who goads us to work harder.  Why?  Because in this way of thinking, since Christ's justifying work is done, it is up to us to achieve our sanctification.

J. Todd Billings
Union with Christ
Page 46

Monday, August 13, 2012

Our Great Purpose

We are to exalt his name because it is the great purpose of our beings.  For this we have been created.  As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it in the first answer:  'Man's chief end
is to glorify God...". God has made us to praise, worship, and honour him--to recognize and declare all that we know and can learn about him.  By his Spirit we are to bring ourselves into line with him and his glory--so that, ever more fully, his name will be exalted in the world and heaven will come down to earth more and more......

......We, God's people, are the only beings whom he rescues from hell.  He makes us his children, transforms us into holiness and brings us to heaven, all by the person and work of his Son.  Our redemption displays so much about God--Father, Son, and Spirit.  In no one and nowhere else in the universe can such reality be displayed--'things into which angels long to look' (I Pet. 1:12).  What a wonder it is and will be for us alone to tell this story for all eternity!  Here is why, on earth and in heaven, we are to exalt his name together.  

Edward Donnelly
Let Us Exalt His Name Together
Banner of Truth
August/September 2012
Page 35

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism = Another Gospel

Post cards, I am sure you get many of them, not so much from friends on vacation, but those which advertise the latest and greatest.  They are a good marketing tool, and a relatively inexpensive one.  And they are a marketing tool which many churches are using as a promotional piece.  I am sure, if you live in the United States, that you have received many over the span of the last decade.  Well, one of our church members gave me a post card he had received in the mail from an area church, which was promoting its up and coming sermon series.  He looked at me with a grin that was anticipating the response he knew was coming.

I did not disappoint him, but at the same time my heart was saddened by the latest iteration of what has come to be labeled as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, MTD for short.  It has become the religious philosophy, the religious viewpoint of our age, and unfortunately several of the churches in our area have knowingly or unknowingly succumbed to it.  MTD as a religious philosophy has also attached itself to a religious methodology that has become prevalent here in our country.  In their drive to be appealing to the masses, the Willow Creek, seeker sensitive, Purpose Driven adherents have assimilated this view of church and religion into their methodology.

This sermon series being promoted by a local church is a great example of how this philosophy has infiltrated the church.  Here is what the postcard said:

Life in the Permian Basin is a little crazy right now.
With unemployment low and the price of oil high,
opportunity is everywhere, but with that opportunity
comes new challenges.  Managing the balance of work,
relationships, finances, and recreation can be difficult 
at times.  But how should our faith influence our normal, 
but crazy everyday life?  Join us for "Babylon, Bucks,
Babes, and Brewskies,"  a new sermon series beginning
August 5.

Pretty catchy, eh, as each B word is the heading of that week's sermon?  You can come learn how to deal with, and find balance in, our crazy life here in the Permian Basin.  Besides being catchy and cool, it sounds as if it will be problem solving, help giving, encouraging, comforting, and anything but convicting or confronting.  You know, I wouldn't be quite as upset if this just wasn't so prevalent in our area.  Here are recent sermons/series from two other major churches in our area:

1. A four week series on God in the movies.
2. How to handle stress, and being too busy.

And these are the sermon topics for the last few months at these churches.  We have had other post cards from these and other churches over the last few years with similar topics.  Honestly, this is not new, as Robert Schuller (Self Esteem, the New Reformation), Emerson Fosdick, and Norman Vincent Peale espoused this philosophy during the last century.  We can also see elements of it during the Down-Grade controversy in England during the time of Charles Spurgeon. However, it has now become mainstream, and is the dominant philosophy/methodology in the religious life of our country, and its adherents know no denominational or tradition boundary.  What has bothered me is the blindness that so many who say they hold to the authority and inerrancy of the Sciptures have in this area.  Yes, even many of the young, restless, and reformed group are caught up in this as well. 

This philosophy exalts man and lowers God.  It deemphasizes salvation and marginalizes the gospel.  It eliminates sin from the church's vocabulary.  It's emphasis is on happiness not holiness with the goal of personal betterment, not sanctification; in other words become a better you instead becoming more like Christ (which would automatically make you a better you, right?)  The church service is designed to comfort you, not confront you; to entertain you, not train you; to make you feel better about yourself, not feel bad about your sin.  

MTD is nothing more than a refined legalism, with each individual determining his own set of rules.  It redefines good to whatever each person determines is good.   It bears the slogan, "Deeds not Creeds" proudly.  It is a subtle form of self righteousness.  It is narcissism with the veneer of religion, and plays to the exaltation of self, instead of the exaltation of God.  It is all about what God can do and should do for the individual instead of the individual's responsibility to God.  It is truly the religion of self as humility, thankfulness, and gratitude are foreign concepts.

Of course this is a different gospel.  It is the gospel of self-improvement, self gratification, self-awareness, the gospel of anything that makes the self feel better....about its self.  And we know from the Scripture that a different gospel is no gospel of all.  This gospel of self does not save, it damns.  It doesn't lead you to Christ, but leads you away from Him.  It truly is the broadest of the broad paths that lead to destruction. 

Our Savior, the Savior of the gospel, was self-emptying, self-denying, and self-sacrificing; and He has called us to do the same, and has said that these are what we must do to be a true disciple. 

My friends, be on guard against the leaven of self, perhaps the most pernicious of all the leaven.  Listen to Michael Horton as he gives us insight into this philosophy and how it is spread.

Michael Horton gives a good thumbnail sketch of MTD in this short interview.

And he gives a more detailed presentation here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

God's Design for Church Leadership

In Ecclesiastes 4:12 we learn that a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart or easily broken.  It is interesting to note how many times we see this principle applied in the Scriptures.  One of the applications of this principle is in the requirements for the elders given in Titus 1:5-9.

In verses 6-7 we see he is to be a man of moral integrity.  These verses are governed by the term above reproach, which means not that he is sinless, but that he is held blameless from the charge of moral impurity.  What is stressed in these verses is in what the man of God is not.

In verse 8 we see he is to be a man of spiritual integrity.  What is stressed here is what the man of God is, with the word devout governing the verse.  Devout means to be pious, clean, and pure.  It also denotes devotion and loyalty to the Lord, and emphasizes that he lives his life in conformity with the word of God.

In verse 9 we see that he is a man of biblical and doctrinal integrity.  What is stressed here is his biblical and doctrinal fidelity, which is demonstrated by what he holds to.  His teaching and preaching are always in conformity with the body of doctrine given in the Scriptures. He does not deviate from the faith once for all delivered to the saints; and just as he is a one woman man, he is also a one word, one doctrine, one faith, and one Lord man.  He is a man of unwavering devotion to the faith that is contained and presented in the Scriptures and he will not teach anything that contradicts it.

Also of note in these verses are the three words describing the role of a church leader:

First is elder, which denotes dignity, maturity, and leadership.  This word gives us a picture of his role and the  gravitas of the office.  It says this person is to be looked to for leadership, and his persona should be able to bear the weight of the mantle of leadership.  Implicit in this word is the earned respect and trust of the people he leads.

Secondly, we see the term overseer.  The word means superintendent, magistrate, or watchman; and gives us a picture of the authority and function of the office.  This person is to be able to watch over, guide, and direct the church.  This word shows us that the church leader is responsible for the protection and direction of the church.

Thirdly, we see the term God's steward.  The word steward means house manager, one who manages the affairs of another, who is in charge of another's property, including slaves; and he is usually a slave himself.  This term gives us the understanding of the responsibility and accountability of the office.  This man is responsible to God for the household of God, as the church is not his property but God's.  It is the Lord's church, the people of God whom God has called out to be His possession.  This means that the church leader is accountable to God for the well being, the spiritual prosperity, of God's property.

As leadership goes, so goes the church, which is why the Lord gives Titus these guidelines for the men who would be the leaders in the church. The church is only as strong as its leadership, and when leadership fails, or leads poorly then the church is weakened and the flock is left unguarded or misguided. It then becomes vulnerable and is at risk for being defenseless and directionless.  .

In the three elements of integrity we see a strength and quality of character combined with commitment to the Lord and commitment to His word as given in the Scriptures.  The combination of these qualities of integrity affirm and strengthen each other and make the church leader strong in resisting the attack of the enemy , who seeks to devour him.  When possessing these strands of integrity the church leader will lead ethically, will lead spiritually, and will lead biblically.  This is the type of man people will want to follow, who will be trusted to follow, and will be safe in following.

In the three terms for church leader given here we see the strength of balance.  These descriptive terms define role, function, authority, and accountability, with each of them governing the other two.  They not only define the role of church leader, but in defining the role give it its parameters and boundaries.  An understanding of his role, function, authority, and accountability keeps the church leader from misusing or abusing his office; and it also gives the church a benchmark from which to evaluate and measure his ministry; and will give them the knowledge to keep themselves from being taken advantage of or abused.

Yes, a cord of three strands is not easily broken!  How wise is our God in His design for the leadership of the church.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The True Christian

The True Christian understands that his good works
are but the product of the grace of God in his life.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The True Christian

The true Christian understands that it is God's glory
to save sinners of every stripe:  from the social 
sophisticate to the social misfit, from upper class
 to no class, from the well-known to the unknown,
from the prince to the pauper.  It is His glory to save,
and to save all whom He saves.  The true Christian  
understands that is God's glory to save those who  
 are not just like him. 

It's Sunday

It's Sunday!
Are you honoring God by your praise?
Are you honoring God in your prayers?
Are you honoring God through your preaching?
Is honoring the Lord your first and greatest priority in your church service?
If not, then why have you gathered together?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The True Christian

The true Christian understands that he has been
united with Christ; and that once united with Christ
he can never be separated, torn, or carried away from Him.

Friday, August 03, 2012

The True Christian

The true Christian looks not at anything he has done,
or can do for his salvation, but looks to what Christ
has done for him.  He looks not at his deeds, but looks
to Christ's deeds.  He looks not at his righteousness,
but looks to Christ's righteousness.  He looks not to 
his own way, but looks to Christ as the way.  He looks 
not to anything else, but looks to Christ and Christ alone.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The True Christian

The true Christian understands that he is saved
not because he is good, but because God is good.