Saturday, August 30, 2008

For all have sinned

Rom. 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
This verse is a very well known verse in scripture, it is one of the most commonly used verse in evangelism, used to show people that they are indeed sinners. While this is very important, since there is no need of salvation if you have not sinned, we often fall short in explaining just what sin is. We live in a culture that thinks nothing of sin, a culture that uses sin in advertisements, entertainment, and even every day life. You can no longer walk into the grocery store, much less turn on the television without being assaulted by the sight, sound, and feeling of sin. Immodesty, sexual innuendo, blasphemy and pride, are just a few of the sins that are so blatantly portrayed all around us all the time. We live in a culture that is no longer shamed by sin, my generation as a rule has forgotten how to blush.
So when we say that all have sinned, people do not feel horrified by the thought that they have offended a holy God, but instead they feel vindicated that they are not the only ones that are sinning, in fact every one is. To say that you have sinned basically means that you have broken a law, and on the outset that doesn't sound to bad, until you understand that it is God's law that you have broken. Even then this doesn't phase many people because they don't understand who God is, but when you understand how infinite God's goodness and mercy and love and holiness is, it brings the idea of sin to a whole other level. If we sin against a king, our punishment needs to be relative to how worthy the king was and consequently how offensive our crime was. When we sin against a God that is infinitely worthy, that means that we are guilty of an infinite crime and therefore worthy of infinite punishment.
Secondly, the verse says that we have all come short of God's glory. Once again the common response is "Well of course I have I'm just a man and he is God". What needs to be explained is that in order to get into heaven we are required to meet God's standard of glory. So then we have two options, either we must become a god and live a perfect life or else we must get in on the repute of another who is worthy. This is why Jesus Christ had to live and die as he did, had he lived a sinless life and then simply ascended into heaven we couldn't get in because no payment would have been give for our sin. Had he lived anyway short of Godly perfection his death would have meant nothing. So this verse provides the necessary preamble to any evangelistic message, but it means nothing unless the people see sin as heinous as it is, and the dire consequences for coming short of God's glory.
Any sin is nothing short of spitting in God's face, there is no excuse in the fact that everyone does it, coming short of his glory is a automatic exemption from heaven. As the hymn says " Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace." If you turn to Jesus for salvation he cannot not only pay your sin debt, but he can restore you positionally to God's glory.

Eternal security

Rom. 8: 38, 39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In last week's column, I wrote about the importance of examining ourselves to make sure that we are indeed new creatures, saved and changed by the spirit of God. Because I am afraid that there are many out there that have a wrong idea about what salvation is, and are going about with a false security. As much as Satan would love to tell a lost man he is saved, the flip side to that coin, is that he also tries to convince saved men they are lost. While this does not do quite so much damage as the former, it is a very real and very dangerous threat to Christianity. If the devil can convince a lost man he is saved until he dies, that man will forever be in eternal torment; but if he can convince a saved man he is lost, it will have no consequence on the soul, but it will make that saved man a much less effective servant for the kingdom of God.
With that in mind let us take a look at our two text verses, Paul lists every physical and spiritual resource you can imagine and diffuses any possibility, of any of them having the power to "unsave" a man. There are many denominations and religions that will tell you that there are ways to lose your salvation, ranging from something as small as missing a church service, to as great as committing suicide. There are also debates as to how you can become saved once again, or even if it is possible to be saved again once you have lost it. It is the doctrine of salvation by grace alone that sets true Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. Every religion outside of true Christianity teaches that you have to either do something to gain your salvation or do something to keep it, both are heresies. Paul says that there is nothing that can separate those who have been saved from God's love, no deed of their own, no power of hell, no act of another, is more powerful than God. When anyone claims that salvation can be lost, they are in essence claiming that there is something stronger than God. I can tell you this, if God can't keep me saved there is no hope for me; because if God isn't strong enough to secure my salvation, I'm certainly not stronger than God. If the perfect blood of Jesus Christ is not enough to pay my sin debt, what can I give that is worth more?
Do not give place to the devil, when he comes at you with accusations of your sinfulness and tries to convince you that you are not good enough to deserve salvation. You can rest assured in the fact that he is right you are not good enough to deserve salvation, that is what makes grace, grace, that is what is meant when the scriptures say that salvation is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. Yes, we're saved unto good works, but not because of good works, we are saved because of God's love for us, and that is something that can never be changed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A new creature

II Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Isn't it amazing how almost every word we use for being saved carries with it the connotation of change. We say they have been converted, when you convert something (i.e. electricity) it goes in one end and comes out the other side something completely different. We say they have been regenerated, according to that means "to re-create, reconstitute, or make over, esp. in a better form or condition". We say they have been born again, once again implying that they are no longer the person they were under their first birth. All these terms are theologically accurate because there is indeed a change wrought in those that have believed, doesn't it sound almost ludicrous to suggest that God runs the universe and is sovereign in all matters including salvation, yet is incompetent to cleanse? Paul says that if any man is in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed, all things have become new. Note the lack of variables, it is not that all things should be new, or he ought to act like a new creature, or we hope the old things have passed away, it is definitive.
That would then beg the question, what if someone has gone through the motions that the preacher told them to go through, they said the prayer, they knelt at the alter, they asked Jesus to come into their heart, and yet there is nothing new about them, what about them? That is a very relevant question, because there are so many people (especially here in the buckle of the bible belt) that could apply that very question to themselves. The preacher told them that if they would just understand "the five truths God wants you to know" or some other neatly packaged ticket to heaven they would be saved. Yet for all that they have never felt remorse for sin, they do not enjoy being around other Christians, they would much rather read the daily news then the Bible. There has been no evidence of a changed heart over the past fifteen years or so, since they did what the preacher said to do to get out of hell and into heaven. Whenever they approach someone about it though, they are told that's just the Devil trying to make you doubt, don't worry about it, while that may be true, it may also be true that they are not truly converted and it is the Holy Spirit convicting them and drawing them to salvation. You, my dear reader, may even be one of these very people that find no sense in this verse because nothing has become new to you. I cannot tell you with absolute certainty whether you are lost or saved, because God has not given me the authority or knowledge to say such things. What I do know is that the scriptures say if you are in Christ, you are a new creature, and if your thoughts and actions have remained exactly the same as they always were, the only logical conclusion I can see is that you are not in Christ. Not that you lost your salvation, for we know once a soul is put in Jesus' hand it can never be removed, but that perhaps He was never in you to start with. Like I said I cannot see your soul, but I can see the outside which is a reflection of what's on the inside.
May God bless you as you search yourself and the scriptures, that you may either be assured of your salvation or be converted, not by following some prepackaged "Romans Road" or any other work, but by the moving of God and the drawing of his Holy Spirit.

Belief in Christ

Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Last week's column was on the critical issue of belief, however belief in and of itself means nothing unless you understand what it is that we are believing in. You can believe in George Washington, you can believe in a light switch to bring you light, we can even believe in our belief, but none of those things will save us. What is really critical is what we are believing in, if you have true belief, but it is in works to save you, then your belief means nothing, our belief must be in the Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, very few people who think they know who Jesus is, actually know the Jesus of the scriptures, they want to take Jesus on their own terms instead of going to the Bible to find out who it says He is. It is my desire to show you the Jesus of the Bible, (if such a thing is possible in such few words as I have at my disposal here.)
The first thing we need to address is just which Jesus we are talking about, Jesus was and still is a very common name among Jews. In Hebrew it is the same name as Joshua, and it is not enough for us to believe in just any of the many Jesus' of today or history. Peter specifies it when he says "that same Jesus", the Jesus that Peter is talking about is the one that was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as an innocent man, and raised himself the third day. If you disagree with any of those facts, you are not believing in "that same Jesus" that I am believing in, and that Peter was preaching, if you deny any of that about Jesus you are putting your trust in a Jesus that is never mentioned in scripture.
The second thing that Peter preached about this Jesus is that He was the Christ. It is not enough for you to believe in Jesus the good man, or in Jesus the prophet, or Jesus the miracle worker. Believing in the Jesus of the Bible means that you believe He was the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one of God, and in fact God Himself. The scriptures use the phrase "Jesus Christ" standing alone, without any other words describing Him, 93 times. How can anyone claim to believe in the Jesus of the Bible and yet deny the fact that He was the Christ? You can't, saving belief includes believing that He was and is the Christ.
The third and final description that Peter said was so intrinsically intertwined into who Jesus is that there is no salvation outside of it, is that this same Jesus is also Lord. This is a doctrine that is bucked by many and yet there can be no more escaping this fact then the truth that he is Christ, because the name Jesus is proceeded by the title "Lord" 115 times in the New Testament. To say that you believe in Jesus and yet refuse to submit to his authority as Lord, you would have to tear 115 verses out of the Bible. To believe in the Jesus of the Bible it is expedient that you believe that He is Lord, and if He is Lord then we need to be obeying His commandments, and that is where so many people get hung up. They want to believe that they have been saved from hell, but when the rubber meets the road they don't want it bad enough to except it on God's terms, they want to get it on their own terms. They want to be saved from hell but not from their sins, until God has brought you to a point where you are willing to believe on the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus of Peter, Paul, and Silas, then there can be no salvation.
Belief is the critical doctrine of Christendom, but it is all a bunch of rot if you are not believing in the right person, I would challenge you to examine your own life and see just who you have believed in. Was it the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you ever believed at all? Believe in the Jesus of the scriptures and be saved.

True belief

John 3:36 He that believeth on the son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him.
The doctrine of belief in Jesus is the single most important issue in all of Christendom. According to the gospel of John (as well as the rest of the scriptures) it is the only way that salvation can come, without belief the wrath of God abides on every person. If this is all so, than it is expedient for us to understand what it is to truly believe. Even in the New Testament, error was not only sneaking into the church but some of it was storming in. In order to lay down a clear and concise statement of what Christians should believe and how they should interpret difficult portions of scripture, christian leaders would gather together in councils and write a creed articulating a doctrine. One such doctrine that was being disputed was this issue of belief, what did it mean to believe in the Son? Is there a difference between believing in many secular things and believing in Christ? This is what was decided hundreds of years ago by these giants of the faith, and has been held by orthodox Christianity ever since.
The first kind of belief was given the Latin term notitia, notitia is the word that we derive our verb "to note" from. This type of belief means simply to understand what is being said, I say to you that a chair will hold you up, and you understand what a chair is, you understand what it means to sit, and you understand what it means to hold up. You notitia what I'm saying, you understand it. However, notitia is not saving belief, there are many atheists that notitia the gospel, they understand what is being said, but that does not save them.
The second kind of belief is another Latin word, assensus. You can probably tell that this is where we get our word "assent" from, it means that you agree that what I'm saying is true. To assensus the gospel means that you leave the realm of pure intellectualism and take a small step of faith. Not only do you understand what I mean when I say the chair will hold you up, but you actually agree that the chair has the ability to hold you up. Unfortunately, there are many filling the pews of our churches who assensus the gospel, but it means no more to them than the fact that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo. Assensus by itself is not saving belief either, I know a man that agrees with everything I say about the gospel, but will have nothing to do with it personally. By his own admission he is heading to hell, yet he refuses to believe in the gospel.
The last part of saving belief is known as fiducia, the English word fidelity springs from this term. This is the belief that is spoken of in John 3:36, while it is not possible to have it without the first two, it is the essential, final piece to saving belief. To fiducia the gospel it becomes personal, you actually sit in the chair that you have already said you believed would hold you up. A person that has this kind of belief in the gospel is eternally secure in Christ, there is no if, ands, or buts, for a person that fiducias the gospel. If you are trusting in anything else outside of Christ for your conversion, (i.e. baptism, church membership, good works, Communion) you do not fiducia the gospel. While all of those things are critical components for someone who is already saved, they have no bearing on your whether God saves you or not. I pray that your belief goes beyond that of notitia and assensus and that you have put complete fiducia in the Son, so that you may escape the wrath of God and have everlasting life.

The Lord is my shepherd

Psa. 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Probably one of the best known verses in scripture, this first verse of the twenty-third psalm has many truths in it that we do injustice to when we simply skim over the verse and don't take much time to meditate on it. First off we see who it is that is doing the shepherding, it is the Lord. What we need to remember is that "the Lord" is not God's name it is his title, when we say that the Lord is our shepherd we are in essence saying that we admit that God is the Lord of our life. It is not simply God as our Father, or Savior, although both of those are true descriptions of him, it is God as our King, Captain, and Lord. Secondly, David admits that God is his shepherd. While this statement probably causes us to conjure up images of a very feminine and European looking Jesus, carefully watching over some sheep in a green pastures; anyone that has ever had sheep or goats knows that those animals are rarely content to stay in that green pasture. It would almost seem as if they were bent on their own destruction, they are forever wandering close to cliffs and precipices and places that can mean nothing but danger. The shepherd has to lead them away from those places time and time again, always patient and loving. I am so much like those sheep so often, I wander into a place in my life that will lead me into nothing but trouble, and God in all his mercy and long suffering leads me back to the paths of safety. I think of the hymn "Come thou fount", I can always relate to the last verse where it says "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love". The christian life isn't always those peaceful green pastures, many times we ignore the shepherd's call and then expect him to bail us out when we fall over that cliff. Every time he leaves the ninety-nine to find the one that has gone astray. Admitting that the Lord is our shepherd means acknowledging that there will be times when we don't want to go where he wants to lead us, it is those times that we must remind ourselves that we are but sheep, and we can do nothing but listen to the shepherd's voice and follow where he leads. Because many time he will lead us through rocky canyons in order to bring us to the greenest pastures.
Lastly note that the psalmist says he will never want, that word want does not mean he will never desire anything, it means he will never be without the things he really needs. The New Testament tells us that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. The grass often looks greener on the other side of the fence, but the good shepherd always knows which grass is best for us. Sometimes what we think we need God knows we don't, and once again we have to learn to give in to the shepherd's will and rest in the fact that he will always give us what we need, which is often the opposite of what we want. The Lord is our shepherd, and we will never lack, but don't think that means he'll give you everything you want, when you want it. Imagine if sheep were simply given everything they ever wanted, it would ultimately lead to their demise. So we too, would destroy ourselves if left to our own devices.
Trust in the good shepherd, even when the hardest thing to do is trust, especially when the hardest thing to do is trust, and you will never lack.