Sanctification

There are some Christians who teach that saints are totally depraved, with no difference in our being than before we were redeemed. Some of these seem genuinely concerned that we do not hold to infusion of grace into our flesh; and that is a legitimate concern.

It’s not our flesh that has been made new by our new life in Christ. It’s our soul that has been made alive. The soul of the unregenerate is dead – unable to move his flesh in a way pleasing to God. The saint has a soul that is alive to God, with the Spirit of God willing and making him able to do things that ARE pleasing to God (Phil 2:13). This is what I think we are taught in various places, including Romans 12:1-2 (HCSB) Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Note this: the way we avoid being conformed to this age is by being transformed by the renewing of our minds. The soul of the saint has been translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His glorious light (Col 1:13) and we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6). Obviously this is not speaking about our physical being, but our spiritual being.

It should also be obvious that our mind, which is part and parcel of our soul, controls our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We are not told that our flesh gets better with time, but we are told to control our thoughts, words, and deeds; we are not to walk as reprobates do, but as children of God:

Ephesians 5:6-11 (HCSB) Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. Therefore, do not become their partners. For you were once darkness, but now ⌊you are⌋ light in the Lord. Walk as children of light— for the fruit of the light ⌊results⌋ in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Did you notice: a command to walk as children of light, which will bear fruit of that light which will reveal itself in goodness, righteousness, and truth – which means we can discern what’s pleasing to the Lord. Why would He give us such discernment if we have NO ability to influence our thoughts, words, and deeds? Why tell us NOT to take part in works of darkness if we are depraved and unable to say no to sin?

None of us will be without sin while we inhabit these bodies of death; but none who have been born from above by the Spirit of God are without a Helper who wills and equips us to do that which is pleasing to Him. We have an Intercessor who will make a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13) so that sin will not have dominion over us, but allow us to run away from it, as Joseph did so long ago. This is the consistent teaching of Scripture.

Romans 6:16-23 (HCSB) Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?  But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to, and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.  I am using a human analogy because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to moral impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification.  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness. So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the end is eternal life!  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That transforming renewal of our minds works its way out in our patterns of what we think, what we speak, and what we do. We have been liberated from sin and enslaved to God, which results in sanctification – the end of which is eternal life. Sort of sounds like sanctification is one of those essential things God works in us that we cannot do without.

2 Corinthians 7:1 (HCSB) Therefore, dear friends, since we have such promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, completing our sanctification in the fear of God (see also 1 Peter 2:11).

We work at completing this sanctification by cleansing ourselves from impurities of the flesh and our fleshly desires. We should not think we can cleanse ourselves by our effort and we should not think God will sanctify us no matter what we do; both are ditches we need to avoid. It’s analogous to being so afraid of works righteousness that we do not tell people to repent and believe or being convinced we can save sinners by our clever words. Both are wrong thinking.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (HCSB) For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit.

Here is a very specific area of sanctification – sexual purity. Ouch! But look what we’re told: God wills our sanctification so we will know and be able to control our bodies in an honorable way. How anyone can say we are no different from unregenerate people confounds me. There is no teaching of perfectionism, but there is clear teaching that we are to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus so we won’t be led astray by lawless people (2 Pet 3:17 & 18).

Read the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Tim 3 and see sanctified life described in action terms: sensible, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, not quarrelsome or greedy. No different from depraved reprobates?

2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 (HCSB) But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

We are chosen by God for salvation through sanctification. Not that we are sanctified and then saved, but that just as repentance and faith are separate but inseparable, so is salvation and sanctification. And this sanctification is the work of Spirit through the Word of Truth. And we finish this passage with the exhortation to behave rightly and think rightly, as taught by the apostolic records in Scripture. The Christian’s life IS DIFFERENT than the unregenerate’s life.

I have come to the conclusion that while justification (salvation, redemption) is monergistic, sanctification (perseverance, preservation) is not. But it’s not synergistic, either. That term conveys the notion that both elements or parties are required for the process to function. Even a casual read through the Bible will reveal the fact that God bids us to obey (Galatians 6:9) and enables to do so (Hebrews 13:20 & 21), He commands us to press on for the prize that will not tarnish and sustains us in the doing (Hebrews 12:1 & 2), and reminds us that apart from Him we do nothing (John 15:5). This is the essence of Augustine’s famous prayer that ignited the controversy with Pelagius: “God, command what you will, grant what you command.” The Christian will want to obey God and trust Him to bring it to completion. Yet He also works to conform us to His Son when we rebel and are not careful to walk as children of the light (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; Hebrews 12:3-11; James 1:2-4 & 12). Brothers, this should not be the case, we should not kick the goads; but it is comforting (and convicting) to embrace a God Who is not dependent on us!

So I conclude that God can work to sanctify us without our active participation, yet we cannot work towards growing in likeness to Christ without His active participation (John 15:5). We take 100% responsibility for the sin in our lives, we give God 100% of the credit for the good thoughts, words, and deeds we do. His Spirit in us works so that we pray effectively (Romans 8:26), without Him we can do nothing.

Sanctification. If it’s not part of your life, you need to examine yourself to see if you be in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).

Consistent Inconsistency – Part 5 – Children & Church

Let us consider another inconsistency, but let me first warn the reader that it may cause some real heart searching, especially if you have children.

The scene is the same just about every week. Families struggle to get up on Sunday morning. Many have not bothered to prepare their hearts throughout the previous week, and especially the Saturday night before. This quickly becomes obvious as the rest of the morning progresses.

Breakfast is rushed and the parents are shouting at the kids to “Hurry or we will be late to church.” With a final flurry of activity, everybody runs out and jumps in the appropriate vehicle. On the way, the driver is pushing past the speed limit and hoping that a policeman is not sitting over the next hill with a radar gun. In the back, the children begin to bicker and then fight. The parents both threaten to stop the car to take care of the problem that does little to straighten out the children. The little ones are mostly immune to the threats because they have already figured out long ago that the parents don’t really mean what they say.

Every now and then, a word of wisdom may grace the conversation. One of the parents will remind their offspring that “we all need to settle down as we are going to worship the Lord.”

Arriving at their chosen place of worship a few minutes late, the parents send their children off to a little classroom. In the room, they only manage to get through 45 minutes due to the seemingly endless supply of snacks and juice. During the class, they may receive a pithy little lesson which may come complete with puppets and pages to color.

Stated otherwise, this means: Continue reading

Consistent Inconsistency – Part 2

There are issues or practices that exist in many evangelical churches. Many are valid, while others are merely the status quo. This means the existing state of affairs. When I pastored in England, there was a saying that summed this up quite nicely. “We have been doing this since the year dot.” Making this statement referenced the reality that nobody knew how or when an issue or practice started, but it has always been that way. Therefore, we have no plans on changing what we are doing.

In the last article, we addressed three items in particular 1) the KJV-only position, 2) the rapture, and 3) The role of supporting missions.

My post is not written with a desire is to belittle a specific person who holds to a KJV-only or rapture position, nor even undermine the role of missions in a local church. My concern is to point out the inconsistencies of holding to a particular position or belief if it is not based solely on Scripture. In fact, I have friends and family who hold to both of these positions and seem to have no issue with the way that churches support missions.

My concern is the lack of fellowship and the vitriol that exists between those who claim the name of Christ. Again, before anybody questions my doctrinal position, I want to add that I have NEVER wavered on the foundational truths of Scripture. What I have changed is where I stand on positions that are not 100% clear. Some of my beliefs have been subjective at best, while others have been refined and clarified through the years.

Through the years, I have learned that some of my convictions are actually nothing more than preferences. I often heard a conviction is something a person would be willing to die for, but a preference does not hold the same value. Sadly though, I have seen many preferences become a “hill to die on” instead of remaining a preference.

But are preferences really as important as some make them out to be? Let me give a follow up example. The use of the KJV is a preference, and not a conviction. If a person were to threaten a person who holds to a KJV-only with harm if they did not read or teach one service from another version, there would be no hesitation at all. They would use the other version. That is another level of inconsistency.

Anytime the status quo changes, one of two things tends to happen. 1) People tend to ask questions and search for the truth, or 2) people get angry and upset. When they get upset, they then tend to abandon all reason. As humans, we do not like to be wrong. To find out we have been wrong in an area requires having humility before God. Yet, some are not willing to be taught.

However, there is another level to the inconsistencies found in many churches. As a pastor, the role of the shepherd is to help guide the sheep. He is tasked with the solemn responsibility of using the time afforded him to minister the Word of God. This teaching is to be such that it helps the hearers strive to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ today than they were last week.

In addition, pastors are to encourage the listener to be followers of Christ, NOT followers of the latest fads or trends in Christian circles. Pastors are NOT called to be little dictators, but to point only to Christ. As the apostle Paul stated so well in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

During my 50 years of life, I have heard “sermons” preached about long hair on men, women wearing trousers, the dangers of Christian Contemporary Music, and a myriad of other preferences. These were a waste of time and only serve to show the lack of preparation time that was spent before the Lord in order to preach the truth. Pastors who do this are failing in their calling.

Pastors and elders, if our goal every week is to stand in the pulpit and harp on preferences, we are demeaning our calling. Time is short and we must be good stewards of our time.

Consider this – Every week consists of 168 hours, and if the average listener comes to a service but once a week, that means that as ministers or teachers of God’s Holy Word that we only have but 30-60 minutes to point them to Christ. To do otherwise is to be inconsistent with the duties of a shepherd.

Do we fully understand this? If people ask those in fellowship what your church believes, the answer they are prepared to give is telling on the sad demise of Biblical truth being preached and taught throughout much of western Christianity.

Many times, the situation would sound like this.

Speaker 1 – “What do you believe?”

Speaker 2 – “Well, I believe what my church believes.”

Speaker 1 – “Tell me what your church believes then.”

Speaker 2 – “My church believes what my pastor believes.”

Speaker 1 – “Please tell me, what does your pastor believe?”

Speaker 2 – “Oh that’s easy, my pastor believes what I believe!”

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” This is the Biblical standard. 

Is there any wonder why people are so willing to hop from one church to another? Maybe it is because too many pastors are interested in building personal kingdoms and keeping them staffed then they are in preparing hearts for eternity!

Pastors, elders, teachers, and churches, please consider these things –

  1. This world is NOT our home. We are only strangers passing through from that which is temporal and will fade away to that land where eternity reigns.
  2. EVERY believer is to be accountable to one another. This means that pastors and teachers are to be held to God’s standard, not self-made standards. If a pastor or teacher is teaching from the book of Second Preferences or the book of Third Do-it-my-way-or-the-highway, then they have failed.
  3. Pastors and teachers – You are NOT called to build your own kingdom. It is the kingdom of Christ. He is the One Who died for sins. He is the One Who keeps His people secure. He is the One Who justifies the sinner, redeems them, and sets their feet on the Solid Rock. He is the Bridegroom Who is coming again for those who are true believers. “Well done!” is not something we will ever hear if Christ is NOT only prominent but preeminent in every aspect of our ministry.
  4. As a family, if you are choosing to listen to teaching that does not rest solely on the pages of Scripture, then you are NOT leading your family in the way of truth. You are doing nothing more than taking them to a buffet full of nothing but junk food and expecting your family to grow healthy in the ways of Christ. It will not happen. One day you will wake up and may find that your children do not care for church or the things of God. Why should they think any differently when all they may have seen was hypocrisy and inconsistencies that do not line up with the same Scripture that we, as parents, claimed to be the ONLY rule of faith and practice?

More thoughts to come –

Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the church at Colossae

You can listen to this sermon here.

He (Christ Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. This is the thesis statement, the core truth of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. A study of this epistle will reveal Jesus as the answer to life. 

Nearly every New Testament letter from Paul was written to combat heresy in one or more local churches; Ephesians is the exception. While Colossians doesn’t specify what heresy had infected that church, one can almost hear the whispers, “Jesus is not enough.” Many think an early form of Gnosticism was emerging. What makes this epistle so vital for life in the church in this age, until Christ returns, is the glorious picture of our Lord Jesus is painted in words by the apostle. It is instructive for us to see the evil distractions from the gospel the enemy put into the church in Paul’s day, but it is essential for life and godliness that we grasp the gospel and the person of Christ as held forth in Scripture. In this short letter, the lord Jesus is presented as our life – quite a contrast to our drab routine; something that ought to bring renewed life to weary saints.

This introduction follows the commentary by John Kitchens and covers 5 questions we should answer:

  1. Who wrote this letter?
  2. To whom was it written?
  3. What were the circumstances?
  4. Why did Paul write it?
  5. What does this letter teach us?
  6. This first topic is important but not vital. We who believe in the inspiration of Scripture know the dual-authorship of the Bible and know God is the Author of what His people wrote. Yet knowing the human author helps us when we can learn about him through other passages. This is particularly helpful in rightly understanding Proverbs, for example.

Nobody questioned Paul’s authorship of this epistle until a few 19th century scholars offered up an alternative. The first two verses seem pretty clear to us: Colossians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. But some smart people, as men see them, said the vocabulary, theology, and style of writing is too different from Paul’s other letters; that Paul works against Gnosticism which was not fully developed until the 2nd century. None of these objections stand up in light of a basic understanding of the Bible. Liberals seem to have it as their goal to cause us to doubt the Word of God.

  1. Written to the saints in Colossae, a town that had been prominent but was now bypassed by the major highway that had driven its commerce; not unlike Gowen or Hartshorne – both of which were prosperous in the mid-20th century as goal mining and defense electronics provided a large bounty of gainful employment. The region Colossae is in was also severely affected by an earthquake, and commerce went with the new highway to Laodicea and Hierapolis. We see in 2:1 that, at the time of this epistle, Paul had not been to Colossae or Laodicea: For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face. What kindness of God, to have this apostle write to these people in a small neglected town he had never met, yet loved in Christ having been told of the work the Lord had been doing in their midst.

Most likely, Epaphrus had established this church, as we read in 4:12-13 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Paul’s confidence was not in his personal work, but in the work done through him and others by the Spirit of God.

One thought occurred to me –apostles were foundational to the New Covenant church (see Eph 2:20) yet most of them wrote no Scripture and are not mentioned much by those who did. Men who labor in obscurity, in man’s perspective, always are in view of our heavenly Father. Our service to one another is pleasing in His sight, even if we are not famous among men; as it is His Spirit that wills and equips us to do so. Let us never drift away from seeking God’s approval in favor of man’s.

  1. The circumstances surrounding this letter are two-fold: temporal and spiritual. Paul was in prison, we see this in chapter 4 where Paul describes himself as in bonds (twice) and a fellow prisoner with Aristarchus. We know Paul was in prison in Caesarea for two years (see Acts 24:24-27) but we do not see him having an open, on-going evangelical ministry. There is no record of Paul being in prison in Ephesus. Yet while in confinement in Rome, we read of a vibrant ministry, wherein he likely wrote this epistle and the letters to Philippi, Ephesus, and Philemon. Acts 28:30-31 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. As I mentioned Wed evening, I think this circumstance is illustrative of the current status of Satan – where the angel cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season (Revelation 20:3). Locked up, but having an active influence through many of his minions.

The spiritual circumstances are more interesting and relevant to us. Like many of the first century churches, Colossae was a mixture of Gentile and Jewish saints. This is why he emphasized the new man in Christ, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:10-11) Neither group had a problem accepting people like themselves, but each group needed reminders by a brother that each of them had been individually bought and re-created (spiritually) by Christ Jesus; that cultural and ethnic identities that divide people of the world have no place in the church, the body of Christ.

Each of the groups that comprised the church in Colossae brought some of their spiritual baggage from their previous lives into this new creation. We see this in the concern shown in 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. And verse 18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. This lack of learning does not refer to base ignorance – Peter and John caused the council to marvel. The unlearned description was affixed to these fishermen because they spoke in the manner of the common man, rather than in the highly polished rhetoric that was common in public speakers in that day – such as Paul met at Mars Hill in Acts 17. I think this philosophy and vain deceit mentioned here refers to this same manner of puffed-up speaking, which Paul spoke against in his first letter to Corinth. The traditions of men no doubt refers to what we see in Matthew 15:1-2 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. These practices appeal to our human desire to follow rules and be well thought of but they are dangerous if imposed as necessary for being reconciled to God.

  1. This brings us to the reason Paul wrote this letter: doctrine impacts life, for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7). When saints believe wrongly on essential doctrines, our lives profane the savior and we lead others astray, serving as stumbling blocks instead of faithful servants.

There are three categories of error addressed in this epistle:

  1. Legalism, seen in 2:16-17
  2. False spirituality, seen in 2:18-19
  3. Asceticism, seen in 2:20-23

The corrective plan from Paul is not complex – have a right view of the Savior and of self. If our view of God is too low, our view of man will be too high. These three seriously wrong doctrines will fall of their own weight with a proper understanding of how sinful man is reconciled to holy God. And while we see warnings of error in this letter, the consistent theme woven throughout is to rightly comprehend the Lord Jesus and to daily fix our mind’s eye on Him.

  1. That, then, is what this letter teaches us – the same thing Paul was teaching the saints in the small backwater town of Colossae: Christ is enough; His grace is sufficient; we are safe in the strong tower of our God and King.

Listen to how Christ Jesus is described in this letter: He is called “Christ” (which means anointed one) 18 times; He is Christ Jesus the Lord; God’s beloved Son; the mystery of God; in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; He is the image of the invisible God; the creator and sustainer of all things; the head of the church; in Him the fullness of God dwells; Jesus is the soil in which we rooted and built up in; He is the substance and fulfillment of all of God’s promises and purposes which were portrayed in the ancient Jewish religion. Christ sits at the right hand of God, indicating the completion of His work; He is our refuge and our life; He is our goal and pattern for life; our teacher and our wisdom; He is our inheritance. He is our master, having freed us from the domain of master sin.

Kitchens says, “He is the origin of all creation (He is before all things); the sphere of all creation (by Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities); the agent of creation (all things have been created … by Him); the goal of all creation (all things have been created … for Him); and the sustainer of all creation (in Him all things hold together). Indeed, He is the King of all creation (the firstborn of all creation).” Do you get the idea that Paul considered an accurate picture of Christ as vital to the health of the church? When we see the comprehensive nature of our Lord’s supremacy, it is hard to take in, and – perhaps – a little more understandable when people have too low a view of Him. But a right view of God is essential to a proper view of self – as Isaiah shows us when he saw Him on the throne. In summing up the glorious unity the saints have, Paul said Christ is all and in all – all that we have as children of God is found in Jesus; and by His Spirit, He dwells in every one of us.

This union we have with Christ Jesus is the core of our standing before God. We who are in Christ have died with Him (Colossians 3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.); we were buried with Him (Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism); and made alive with Him (Colossians 2:12 wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.). And He is our life (Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.) This is guaranteed and made possible by His Spirit Who lives within us.

We have a new identity, in Christ Jesus. We have a new presence, Christ in us. We will walk and live, more and more, to grow in grace and knowledge of Him Who gave Himself for us. We don’t need programs and fancy facilities. We have God’s great and precious promises, all of which are summed up in the Lord Jesus Christ Who gave Himself as a ransom for helpless sinners. Find rest in Christ Jesus; find peace with God, now and forever, in Christ Jesus. Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. That’s the gospel truth. It’s all we have; and that’s all poor sinners need. And it’s always good for the souls of the saints!

God’s Fulfilled Promise

In anticipation of the Christmas season, we’ve reviewed the biblical account for why Jesus had to come as a man to save us and how it was all in accord with God’s promise. We are by nature in desperate need of a savior, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12); Christ Jesus is the only One Who can save us, reconcile helpless sinners to God – He is our peace!

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;

And the government will rest on His shoulders;

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”(Isaiah 9:6)

The incarnation of all God is was born to us as one of us.

Jesus was not born into a vacuum, with no connection to the people or culture into which He came as man. That passage from Isaiah 9 tells us Israel had been looking for their promised Messiah for a long, long time. The faithful prophets reminded the nation of promises made when Adam rebelled (Gen 3:15) and when Abraham was called (Gen 12, 15, & 17); and their sordid track record of disobedience and punishment for breaking the covenant given them on Mt Sinai gave them plenty of cause to be anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of that promised seed. Malachi had told them YHWH would send a messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah. He would come suddenly into His temple, bringing the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah.

But Malachi also warned unbelieving Israel of the judgement that would come “against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner. They do not fear Me, says the LORD of Hosts. (Malachi 3:5) But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. (Malachi 3:2) This warning was of judgment was balanced with the promise, which for Israel, was contingent on their faithful obedience to their Old Covenant. “Remember the instruction of Moses My servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:4-6)

More than 400 years had transpired since the last prophet had spoken to Israel – most of them had grown comfortable in their empty religion and did not recognize their Messiah when He came. They had forgotten the warnings of judgment and curses for disobedience. Their complacency caused them to not recognize the prophet we know as John. They had lapsed into the fatal conclusion that their flawed attempts at law-keeping coupled with their fleshly connection to Abraham would bring them peace with God. But we read in Romans 3, Galatians 2, Acts 13 that no flesh can be justified – made right with God – by the law, even though the law and the prophets bear witness the righteousness of God that is through faith in Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:21-22). The promised Messiah would redeem Israel – just not the same Israel the Jews thought nor by the method they thought.

Gal 4:4 tells us Jesus was born under the Law of Moses to redeem those who were under the Law. The Law-giver became the Law-keeper to redeem Law-breakers. The genealogy given us in Matthew takes great pain to show that, according to the flesh, Jesus came from Abraham and David. Being connected to Abraham connected Jesus to the salvation of Jews and Gentiles – all the nations of the world. Being connected to David connects Jesus to the throne that will never be overthrown, which we see in Luke 1:32-33 as the angel of the Lord told Mary Who her child was: He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:  And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Yet most of the Jews living in the time Jesus walked the earth knew Him not, other than as Joseph’s son. The comfort they had under the boot of Roman rule reminds me of that experience they had as slaves to Pharaoh. When Moses led them out to freedom, towards the promised land, they left the certainty of slavery for the uncertainty of liberty; and they berated Moses for leading them out. Now, under Roman rule, they would demand Jesus be crucified rather than be led out of slavery for liberty; desiring the fleeting comforts under Rome to the eternal liberty found only in the promised seed.

What does this mean to us who are not Jewish? We are what they called Gentiles. Read the gospels and see how national Israel looked down on Gentiles as less than dogs. Yet when one Jewish priest who had been faithfully waiting and looking for the promised Messiah laid his aged eyes on the baby Joseph and Mary had brought to the temple to be circumcised according to the law of Moses, Simeon broke out in song:

Luke 2:29-32 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Born as a Jew under the Law of that nation, to save those in bondage to that heavy burden. But, as promised to father Abraham, He also came as a blessing to many nations (Gen 12:1-3), the father to many nations (Gen 17:1-7), with descendants as numerous as the stars (Gen 15:5). Paul was appointed as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) and Peter was given a divine revelation (Acts 10:11) that Gentiles were not unclean but were to be evangelized. And in Acts 13:47 he tells the Jews and Gentiles, Acts 13:47, quoting from Isaiah 42 &49 that this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

Jesus, the promised seed, the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God that takes away sin – not just from Jewish sinners, but from sinners throughout the world. This is Who was born to a virgin in the town of Bethlehem so long ago. This the child Who learned obedience to His earthly parents so no charge of law-breaking could be laid at His feet. This is the Man Who drank the cup of wrath due us so we could be sons and daughters of God.

He did not come to this earth, humiliating Himself to take our form upon Himself, so that we would have our best life now. His mission was not to be adored as a baby each year, forgotten in the rush of presents and lavish meals and the crush of family and friends. He was not crushed so we could live unto ourselves as if that was our highest purpose.

Jesus came to earth as a human being for one reason – to reconcile helpless sinners to holy God and restore creation to a glory surpassing what it had when God spoke it into existence. All to bring glory to the name that is above all names and submit all things whether thrones or principalities under His feet.

When we gather this day and tomorrow with friends and family, will your excitement be only and all about the gifts, the looks on the children’s faces, your favorite food, the black sheep of the family? While all those were given for our benefit and are good if received with thanksgiving (even the black sheep), none of them nor all of them are why Jesus came.

If you celebrate the birth of Christ, make the day all about Him. Make sure your friends and family hear from you why He came and what His reason was.

Jesus, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11)

Merry Christmas just doesn’t seem to do justice to the incarnation of God the Son. This phrase is on the lips of untold numbers of people who do not know Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. If this season doesn’t bring joy to your soul because you haven’t been converted from a natural sinner to a supernatural child of God, His Word for you this day is to believe on the Lord Jesus. Jesus came to save sinners and has done all that is required for each lost sheep to be fully restored to fellowship with Creator God.

Christ’s richest blessings are bestowed on all the children of God. Jesus came to bring life – the abundant life that being reconciled to almighty God brings to those who love Him. He has gone to prepare a place for us and He is coming back to take us there. If these great and very precious promises from the faithful witness do not get you excited about telling others how they can be called friends of God, something more than “merry Christmas” is needed. And in Christ, we have all we need. The pearl of great price has been revealed, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed. Herald this news as you gather with family and friends, be a peace-maker the likes of which Santa cannot be.

God’s Faithful Promise

You can listen to this sermon here.

In anticipation of the Christmas season, last week we reviewed the biblical account for why Jesus had to come as a man to save us. We are by nature in desperate need of a savior, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12); Christ Jesus is the only One Who can save us, reconcile helpless sinners to God – He is our peace!

Today, we review the biblical account of God’s faithful promise to provide this savior.

Several decades back, a Christian para-church organization took the nation by storm. Promise Keepers filled football stadiums with hundreds of thousands of men, listening to preaching and singing hymns. Many of those who went wanted to be better men, men who would keep their promises to lead their families rightly and walk in obedience to God. And for several years, many men were redeemed, revived, and reconciled. But the leaders of this ministry were found to be much less than their public facades portrayed. The founder confessed that he was a miserable failure and his right hand man drifted into gross theological error. And many critics and men who benefited from this ministry turned aside and followed them no more.

We read in the Scriptures that God is not like man, that He should lie (Numbers 23:19); so a promise made by God is something more sure than any promise man can make. God warns man that it’s better for us not to make a promise or vow than to make one and not keep it (Eccl 5:5 & 6). The gap between the two – creature and Creator – in keeping promises is as great as the gap between us in character. Our confidence must therefore be in God and Christ Jesus (He is the faithful witness – Rev 1:5), for they are faithful and rock-solid, while we are weak and fickle. With this reminder, let us see the awesome power of the One Who can make a promise and is certain to keep it.

The birth of Jesus and His work of redemption was not a reaction to the creature’s faithlessness. We see this in 1 Peter 1:20 & 21 – He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the times for you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. The Fall was not unplanned; the redemption found in Christ was not a reaction. Since man’s fall was inevitable, due to our weak frame, God determined before the world was created that the Son would redeem sinners and bring many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). The main reason creation exists is to glorify the Creator. Again we turn to Peter – If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11) The first phrase shows us how the man who preaches must not speak as a mere man with an opinion, but as a man who stands in fear of God to proclaim and preach the Word of God. Next we see that all who serve in any capacity are to do so recognizing it is God who gives such gifts. Lastly we see the reason – that in all things, preaching and serving, God will be glorified. And this glory is possible because we are in Christ Jesus. The oracles of God tell us Jesus is the focus of Scripture (Luke 24:27), promised to us before the world began (Titus 1:2).

Man’s Fallen Condition

This is the sermon I preached this morning. Will see if the saints at Cambria embrace the truth.

Christmas is coming. People who know Jesus and those who merely know the name will be making much of Dec 25th, although their reasons differ widely. The person and cross of Christ continues to divide history and implies there’s a problem. 

We hear evidence of it every time a police siren howls. The priceless sacrifice of the Son of God makes no sense if there’s no need. The question we must address is, what is the problem that requires this act? Humanists and politicians will tell you that man is intrinsically good – all he needs is a good education and good examples. The politicians need to say this because it makes people feel good about themselves and it creates demands for their services – education and public service announcements. Humanists are the unrighteous people Paul wrote about in Romans 1 who suppress their knowledge of the truth by their unrighteousness. The Bible tells us what the problem is – man has rebelled against Holy God and is by nature at war with God (Rom 5:10) and spiritually dead (Eph 2:1), hurtling towards physical death (Rom 6:23).

We see this played out in front of us on the TV news all the time. Someone does something outright horrible and none of their family or neighbors could accept the news. It’s the same virtually every time. The murderers amongst us seem so normal. The mother whose adult son is arrested cannot admit he would do such a thing. Yet every day these normal sons and daughters demonstrate the Word of God to be true – man is, by nature, hostile towards God and sinfully wicked in his fleshly desires.

The Apostle summed this up for the fine folks in Corinth: For as by a man came deathin Adam all die (1 Corinthians 15:21-22) and Rome: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned … death reigned from Adam to Moses … many died through one man’s trespass … the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation …because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one manone trespass led to condemnation for all menby the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… (Romans 5:12-19).

You can listen to this sermon here.