Psalm Nineteen (Part Eight)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

Some time ago, we had several posts on Psalm 19. We return to the concluding verses of that great psalm. Last time in this series, we considered the meaning of secret or hidden sins. Next or second, let us think about the danger of secret sins. They can be more harmful to the person committing them than open, known offenses. Why are secret sins dangerous?

  • Secret sins deprive a person of the help he might receive if his sins were known. When others know of our iniquities, they might call them to our attention, rebuke or correct us for them, or pray for our repentance. However, since such sins escape observation, we are cut off from a valuable means of grace. The sin is like an internal infection, growing in strength, unnoticed until it affects the whole person.
  • Secret sins work on the inner person of the heart, turning spiritual resources to the satisfaction of the sin when they might be far better employed in worship and knowing and fellowship with God.
  • Secret sins help heat the soul for more open sins. If a few coals are spread apart, they quickly cool off, but when gathered together, they stay warm. So secret sins warm the person toward the practice of open rebellion against God.
  • Secret sins help polish the hypocrisy of a person. The more he wants to hide his secret sins, the more skillful he becomes in presenting himself as something he is not.

Third, the person who truly knows the Lord recognizes his guilt for these sins. He senses his need for forgiveness, for inner cleansing, though no other human observes his guilt. The spiritual person wants a heart clean of offense before God. Ac 24:16. “This is a singular difference between pharisaical and real sanctity: that is curious to look abroad, but seeth nothing at home: so that Pharisee condemned the Publican, and saw nothing in himself worthy of blame; but this careful to look at home, and searcheth the secret corners, the very spirit of the mind” (Nathanael Hardy, quoted by Spurgeon, The Treasury of David). The spiritual person knows that God is holy, that God desires fellowship with him, yes, that the Spirit of God lives within. The direction of his soul is to love this Holy God, and not to offend him in anyway. Therefore, he knows that he needs forgiveness even for these hidden misdeeds.

The great point is that we must not dabble in secret sins. A verse that has been a help to me has been Romans 13:14. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (ESV). We should realize that in our Lord and Savior, we have real help, as the Spirit makes Christ present in our hearts. When we feel a temptation to dabble in secret greed, lust, fear, anger, or laziness, etc., Christ has more than sufficient power to help us resist temptation. We should not fret about the temptation, but by faith in Christ act against that temptation. It is good to start each day by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

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The Message of the Cross (Part Three)

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength NIV).

Here is the key issue. The message of the cross is the message of the Jesus Christ crucified (1:23).

Think of a striking contrast. If Christians would preach a certain type of Jesus, the world would be content to accept him, just as they politely accept other famous religious leaders. “Jesus the social worker” would be applauded for his efforts. “Jesus the morality teacher” would be remembered for suggesting a gentler way of life amid the world’s unceasing hatred. “Jesus the therapist” would be consulted when the headache or heartache refuse to go away. Fake “Jesuses” are easily accepted (2 Corinthians 11:4). Many years ago, Francis Schaeffer warned, “Increasingly over the last few years the word ‘Jesus’, separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care” (Escape From Reason, p. 79).

But people reject the Lord Jesus Christ who really lived among people. He is a stumbling block to the Jews. If they still have any concept of a coming Messiah, Jesus didn’t and doesn’t agree with what their ideas of what the Messiah should be. In contrast Jesus is foolishness to the Gentiles. They think, “Wow, he really suffered, that’s tragic; but how can a man dying on a cross do anything for me?”

When we proclaim Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross, then and only then are we telling God’s message—the good news.

Focus on the person of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Savior that people need. He is able to rescue them from the ruin and sorrow that comes from our sinful condition. The identity and character of Jesus are important. The question is not, “What good can the death of a man 2,000 years ago do for me?” Instead, the question is, “Who died on the cross and what did his death accomplish?” The answer is that the One who died is both Son of God and perfect man. His deity gives power to his work and his humanity makes him an acceptable substitute for us humans.

Focus on his saving work. Jesus became a curse for us (Galatians 3:10-13). Jesus satisfied God’s wrath that was against us (Romans 3:23-26). And so he reconciled us to God (Romans 5:6-11).

In the message of the cross, we can hear the great wisdom of God. Human wisdom deals only with the surface aspects of humanity’s problem. People approach humanity’s problems like throwing some asphalt in the pothole when the road needs rebuilt. But in Jesus Christ we can see how God in his wisdom provided a Rescuer who could truly solve mankind’s greatest problem at its deepest core.

The way of salvation is to change your mind about Christ and trust in him as your Savior. Why should you continue in your life the way that you are going? It is the way to destruction (1:18a, 19); it is a way that cannot possibly succeed (1:25). Do not waste your life. When you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and commit your eternal destiny to him, you will find God’s power for salvation. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ today.

Grace and peace, David

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The Message of the Cross (Part Two)

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (NIV).

When we consider the spiritual condition of the world, our mission can appear to be futile. But there is good news! The message of the cross is the message of salvation (1:18). Too often “salvation” is an empty word that is spoken as a password to be accepted as a Christian. Its meaning is neglected. Salvation means that a person has been rescued by God from sin, guilt, and their consequences. It tells us that our future is horrible, unless God himself delivers us.

The world does not mind hearing a message of limited change, even if it requires a small amount of religion. Most people will admit that they and their society “have a few problems”. They will even seek help when the problems start to cause pain. Think of the multitudes who run to therapy sessions or take legal drugs everyday. The patients are seldom told, “Don’t worry sweetheart; we’ll deal with your liver and kidney problems in a couple years. Oh, and by the way, these drugs treat physical symptoms and in no way, should be considered curative.” Most people will even admit that some small changes need to be made in their lives or in the way that society is operating. This is a “Band-Aid” approach.

But the message of the cross is intolerable to the world apart from God.

  • It is unbearable because it reveals the depth of the human problem. People are perishing! This speaks of what we are, and not merely what we are doing. Humanity is a perishing race. This speaks of the need for God to rescue those who are perishing. “What? Go to God for help? No way. I don’t want anybody telling me what to do, especially God.”
  • It is extremely painful, because it speaks of human responsibility. People do not like to hear that they are blameworthy. “It’s not my fault! It’s my parent’s fault or my siblings’ or my children’s or my teacher’s. But I didn’t do it!” They do not want to hear that they must answer to their Creator.
  • It is totally disgusting to them because it divides people into two categories: those who are right with God and those who are condemned. They do not like to hear that they are lost. They do not like to hear that God has found others by his grace.

However, the message of cross is God’s way of salvation. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

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The Message of the Cross (Part One)

1 Corinthians 1:18

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (NIV)

The twenty-first century is a great time to be a Christian! Though there are many challenges in a world that is increasingly anti-Christian, we have many opportunities to tell everywhere the good news of Jesus Christ. So, we should rejoice! But with the joy is the essential issue that the church must face in our time. What should the church be proclaiming in our age? Here the errors of the two previous centuries rise to trip us up. Many think the church should do anything but tell the good news.

  • Some wrongly view Christianity as a means of political revolution for oppressed people.
  • Some wrongly view Christianity as a tool to undo “social wrongs”, like poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, etc.
  • Some wrongly view Christianity as a crusade for morality.
  • Some wrongly assume that Christianity is a political movement to have an easy place to live.
  • Some wrongly think that Christianity should just shut up and go away or at least confine itself to “private” ceremonial matters, such as birth, marriage and death.

But what does God’s Word, the Bible, say that our message must be? It plainly says that the message of true Christianity is the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. God does not argue for our approval with this message nor does he say that people will like it. But he does clearly say, “This is what I want you to tell all people everywhere in every age of human history.”

The message of the cross is considered foolishness by the world (1:18). They logically, though incorrectly, reject the message of the cross as foolish because of their basic assumptions. The worldly person has a human-centered view of truth (1:22b, 20a).

  • They think that humans can and must verify anything and everything by human reason in order to be considered as true. Humanity becomes its own measuring stick. The problem is that humanity is too small and twisted to measure anything accurately.
  • They think that humanity can solve its own problems by its own wisdom. This truly is foolish. What of all the domestic violence and abuse? What of the growing dependency on drugs to cope with life’s problems? What of all the wars between people? What about the way that humanity is polluting its own world? If you stop and look at what is happening, you see how ridiculous and utterly laughable the idea that humanity can solve its own problems is. And I didn’t even mention our basic problem with our war with God!
  • The result is a very closed system from closed minds. Any message from God is deemed impossible by assumption. When people desire to suppress the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18), we should expect this situation. It should also show us that we need the power of God to break through their presupposition.

The worldly person has an experiential view of truth (1:22a; cf. Matthew 12:38-39; Mark 8:11-12; John 6:30). Their attitude is “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe!” Oh, really? Just what miracle do you think that God should do for those who mock him? What would you do to someone who was trying to humiliate you? And God has already done the greatest miracle of all, and you haven’t believed yet? Why should God do another for you to reject?

God sends us to people with these attitudes. What does he want us to tell them? Our mission is to tell them the message of the cross. They need to hear that the only way to be right with the true and living God rests on Christ and him crucified. We cannot make this appealing or acceptable to human wisdom. Yet it is this message that is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16). Are we convinced of the absolute, bottom-line truth of the message of the cross? If we are, then let us tell it to all people everywhere.

Grace and peace, David

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The Church at Prayer (Part Two)

Acts 4:29-31

And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly (CSB).

Our subject is the church at prayer, specifically during a time of crisis. The church is in a crisis time now across the world. Western churches are just beginning to wake up to the attacks from the spiritual forces of evil and evil people. The Lord Jesus taught his followers to be ready for such times. In the report of Peter and John to their church about the threats made against them, we see the first response that Christ’s church ought to give.

After humbling themselves before God and praising him for his sovereignty, they made specific requests (4:29-30). They prayed for the spiritual strengthening of the church. Notice that they did not ask for God to act against their enemies. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21), and we ought to leave God’s acts to his sovereign will. In a time of crisis, we need to make sure that our hearts are in tune with God’s interests and ready to serve him and others.

Their primary concern, as expressed in this prayer, was the kingdom of God. We need to focus on the cause of God rather than our own ease. This is difficult for a people who live in a culture that constantly lusts for personal pleasure. They knew that their mission was to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah. So, they asked accordingly. We do well when we stop to consider what God wants us to do in situations, before we get revved up in our own desires. To put it this way, they kept focused on the vision for a great witness. Prayer for God’s help is an essential part of effective witness. We cannot be bold apart from his almighty power.

They prayed for a continued work of God’s power. What? One miracle provoked such antagonism (Acts 3:6-11; 4:7) and they ask for another? But they were interested first of all in God’s honor. The contemporary church wants to make it easier for people to believe, and in its wimpy ways it has abandoned the honor of God as God. Not so the early church. We should seek more of what the Lord is able to do. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV; cf. Ephesians 3:20).

What was the result of their prayer (4:31)? God manifested his power by a physical phenomenon. He shook the room in which they met. This cannot be explained psychologically. This was a miracle, a direct act of Almighty God to assure the early church of his power. Those who want to rid the Bible of the supernatural often misread the text or deliberately change it. The God who made the world and who controls history can easily shake a building. “It is nothing else than a token of the presence of God” (Calvin).

God gave spiritual benefits. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s think through what is meant by the filling of the Spirit?

  • What is the primary new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit? The exaltation of Jesus Christ (John 16:14).
  • What is a Christian? He or she is a person who has experienced the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:8).
  • So then, what is it to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It is to have the glory of God in Christ as the greatest reality in the world! Acts 7:55-56.

The filling of the Spirit produced boldness in witness. This is one of the great needs of the church in our time. As the world presses against us with mockery, threats, and persecution, we need to press back with bold witness. Let’s focus on the glory of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit boldly tell all people of salvation and acceptance with God in him.

Grace and peace, David

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The Church at Prayer (Part One)

Acts 4:23-31

The setting of our text is the arrest of Peter and John. The religious leadership of Jerusalem made threats against them. The apostles reported this to the church. Notice that they shared their problems with other believers. “This is essential for the children of God—to encourage one another, and to join in godly fellowship so that under the banner of Christ they may vanquish the common enemy” (Calvin).

But experience tells us to add a caution. Some personal problems are not for public knowledge. The Bible does not encourage busybodies. Do not polarize between an excess zeal for sharing in your local church or small group and the violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

The church responded to the problem with corporate prayer. Individual prayer is surely important, and so is family prayer. But corporate prayer is an indispensable part of a gospel church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42 CSB).

What did the church do when they met to pray? They responded with meaningful worship (4:24-28). Again, we must be careful at this point. Their example is not a formula for how to pray. We pray in the Spirit as our hearts respond to his wonderfulness. Having said that, we ought to learn from their example, though we must not turn examples into forms or steps.  They were thinking of how the character of God related to their problem. Knowing the greatness of the Father in heaven, as little children they cried out in their distress.

  • The worshiped God as Creator (4:24) Consideration of God’s creative work involves meditation on his power (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). The One who can create is able to meet our most crucial needs.
  • The worshiped God as Revealer (4:25) The Old Testament speaks about Christ (Psalm 2:1-12). They listened to the word as God spoke regarding their problem. Since they were followers of Christ, opposition to them was opposition to Christ as well. (cf. 4:7, 17-18). The Scriptures are applicable to our needs. As we grow to understand our union with Christ, we come to realize what it means to approach God in Christ’s name.
  • The worshiped God as Controller (4:26-28). They recognized that a spiritual battle was being fought; that is, the then present situation of threats against the apostles was really opposition to Christ. We must not live as though there was no supernatural dimension to life. If we do so, we are living as natural men, rather than spiritual men. The disciples needed to learn in this area’ as in the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. John 6:5-6).

The church’s confidence is in God’s sovereignty. The Lord of all nations has set limits to what sinful people are allowed to do. We have recently experienced several tragic events in the mass murders of many people. It has looked like prayer is useless and that his people are left helpless. But God’s plan for his glory in Jesus Christ will be successfully accomplished. Atheists may mock on their Twitter accounts. Their callous lack of compassion is another matter, and their heartlessness toward grieving and suffering people has been exposed and will be dreadfully judged on the last day. But God’s will is the determinate factor, and his power always achieves what his will designs. Like the suffering early church, we also may confidently pray. Grieve over the fallen. Weep with those who weep. But it is time for the church to pray!

Grace and peace, David

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How and What We Tell Others (Part Three)

2 Corinthians 4:5-6

For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ (CSB).

The Reformers proclaimed the message of the Scriptures, the good news about salvation in Christ. We must also tell people this good news. The glory of the gospel is known in Jesus Christ as Lord (4:5-6).

The message preached transforms the way a person looks at life. Too many assume that setting forth a moral code is the way to change people. “Make a law and enforce it,” they sternly say. Now if that were true, we would not have any of the destruction caused by drug and alcohol abuse in this country. Nor would there be any sexual or domestic abuse. No my friend, unless you preach the Lord Jesus Christ, you are left with an empty, powerless moralism.

We must seek an acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is Lord. Here is the essence of Christian belief. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved ( Romans 10:9-10 NIV ; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:6-11). The crucified Christ has been exalted through his resurrection as Lord over all. God’s rule and salvation come through him. He is Lord; that is, Yahweh, and everyone is under his authority.

The message preached is made effective by God. Remember God’s action in the old creation. He said, “Light will shine” (Gen 1:3-4). God commanded and light suddenly appeared throughout the universe he created. And he made the light before he made the sun and the other stars. This is awesome power; it is might that is able to change the basic circumstances of all that is!

Now connect that with God’s action in the new creation. The same all-powerful, living God is responsible for spiritual light (cf. Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9). When God turns us to him, he floods our darkened hearts with his light. Then we can see! What do we see? We see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ! Our conversion is Christ-focused.

Has this happened to you? Do you understand that God is known through the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ? Or are you still trying to light little candles for yourself by human philosophy, sociology, psychology, religion or spirituality? Your only hope is found outside of your resources and in the power of the true and living God. I have good news for you today. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. If you know that Jesus Christ is Lord, go and tell others.

Grace and peace, David

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How and What We Tell Others (Part Two)

But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (CSB).

The Reformation is now five hundred years old, but we are thinking about its continuing significance in our time. We can only live in the time in which the Sovereign God has placed us. For us today, that means in the twenty-first century. Yet, we still face the continuing problems of humanity intent on suppressing the knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

The glory of the gospel is hidden to minds blinded by Satan (4:3-4). Although the glory of God is clearly revealed in this new covenant age, many do not see this glory. Why? At this point in our time, many are very eager to blame the church. “If the church were ________, then people would come.” And so they run off on a wild hunt to find something to attract the young, the hip, the influential, the wealthy, or the whatever. Paul avoids such traps and points his readers to the real reason. The problem is not in the message, but it is in the people apart from Jesus Christ.

Those who fail to see this glory are perishing. This fact should gain our attention! They are in the process of perishing right now. Ruin has seized them, and they are in danger of eternal destruction. We ought to understand the nature of their problem. It seems the longer that you walk with the Lord; it can be easy to forget how you used to think. What do the perishing see when they hear the gospel? They hear a message that is contrary to their world and life view. As Paul earlier wrote, to the Greeks the gospel is foolishness and to the Jews it is a stumbling-block (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The gospel offends everyone who desperately wants a message that says, “you are not that bad, you can help solve your problems, and you only need to know and follow a series of steps in our program.”

Those who fail to see this glory have their minds blinded. The agent of this blinding is Satan, who is here called the god of this age (cf. John 12:31).  The term “this age” in the New Testament Scriptures refers to the present course of evil, so “god” in this context does not refer to the true God. The true God is the King of the ages (1 Timothy 1:17). Though under the ultimate rule of the living God, Satan can cause all sorts of evil. The evil one can destroy the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5), masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), snatch away the gospel message (Mark 4:15), empower his servants to work miraculous signs (2 Thessalonians 2:9), give thorns in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), tempt (1 Corinthians 7:5), scheme (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11), trap (2 Timothy 2:26), and oppose the spread of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

The consequence of this blinding is that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. As Rolfe Barnard, a preacher down south of another generation, said, “Satan puts all his eggs in one basket.” This is all he needs to do to keep people from turning to Christ. “Don’t let them see the glory of Christ.” You must understand that Satan does not care if we talk about people’s “needs”, such as having a better family or education or job or community. He is quite happy to let us exchange the gospel of Christ for a message of personal success or politics or morality or improving the family or social justice. But he does not want them to know that Christ is the image of God. Why? Once you see that Christ is the image of God, then you are confronted with the Mighty Creator who rules over all and to whom all people are responsible, yet amazingly this real living God did not use his Godhead for his own advantage but humbled himself, died on the cross to save sinners like you and me, and then rose again, victorious over death, and ascended to heaven to reign over all as Lord forever. To Christ personal success is the cross, politics is the rule of God, morality is transformation into godliness, improving the family is joining God’s family, and social justice is each one denying oneself for the good of others. These things do not sell well to the proud.

When you tell others the good news to people, remember that you speak to people that have been spiritually blinded. Yet there is real hope, because we follow the Messiah, who is able to give sight to the blind. He does this by the Holy Spirit as we proclaim the gospel.

Grace and peace, David

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How and What We Tell Others (Part One)

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by an open display of the truth (CSB).

I write this post on the five hundredth anniversary of a great work of God in salvation that began about 1517 and spread across Europe and eventually to its pioneer villages in North America. It is called the Reformation, and it should remind us that God can do unexpected and remarkable things through people and events that seem most unlikely.

My concern in this post is not to talk about that time, but about God’s message in our time, the twenty-first century. The same God still works through the same good news that changed all history in the first century and the sixteenth century. All around the world in our century, the Lord is saving people. In this text, we hear one of Christ’s first spokesmen, a man called Paul, talk about what and how new covenant ministers preach and what God is able to do through that message. Let’s think about what is written for our benefit.

The glory of a gospel or new covenant ministry prompts perseverance and openness (4:1-2). Those who tell others the good news of Jesus Christ must face temptations to disabling discouragement. If anyone had an opportunity to give up, it was Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-29). However, Paul did not give in to discouragement. He explains this to his readers. The word “lose heart” can be translated “not despair”. It carries the idea of behaving badly by getting into such a condition. Despair is the spirit of our age, and people try desperately to escape it by pleasure of some sort. But gradually there is no pleasure that can overcome the damp, freezing chill of hopelessness. The Christian is to have no part with this attitude.

Believers in Christ have sufficient resources to overcome this temptation. The apostle mentions two: the character of new covenant ministry, which is surpassing, enduring, and transforming glory, and the mercy of God. You see, if we would not give up, we must remember what God is doing. He has placed us in a ministry that leads to glory. God’s eternal mercy is for us (cf. Psalm 23:6). Whatever happens, we must view our situation through gospel eyes. “Everything is going to be all right” when we are in forever-glory with the Lord Christ.

Those who tell others the good news must serve according to gospel principles. This influences our mode of ministry in three ways.

  • We renounce secret and shameful ways. The gospel has no room for ways that are underhanded and disgraceful, because the gospel’s very character is openness.
  • We do not use deception nor distort God’s word. Our walk (“use”) or way of life is not unscrupulous, cunning, or sly. We do not stoop to anything to accomplish our goals. Nor do we distort God’s Word. The great cry of our age is “tell people what they want to hear.” Christ’s faithful people will not do that. As unpleasant as it may be for speaker or listener, we must tell people what the Lord has said.
  • We set forth the truth to every conscience. The conscience refers to that faculty of the inner person that recognizes right and wrong moral norms and either accuses or excuses the person because of that norm. Certainly, a person can have wrong moral norms; such as supposing that it is all right to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage or assuming that “the one with the most toys wins”. But that is precisely the reason Paul aimed the truth at the conscience. It takes the truth that is in Jesus to produce godly norms in a human conscience.

The point is that the Reformation, like other awakenings and revival, points to the transformation of all, including those who tell others the good news of salvation by grace. We can thank God that the Reformers told people the true way to be right with God. Sadly, sometimes they did not tell the truth in a loving manner. Let us learn from them and tell the truth, but may we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

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Thoughts on the Reformation (Part Two)

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9 CSB).

Grace is one of the most joyful words of true Christianity. The truth of grace can set troubled hearts and weary minds free to sing and praise and laugh. When we understand the grace of the Holy God to sinners deserving of eternal wrath, we may indeed rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8).  God used his grace to restore joy to the church that was trapped in joyless performance of working for salvation.

I immediately here objectors saying, “Ah, you are wrong; the medieval church believed in grace. So, how can this emphasis on grace be a hallmark of Reformation Theology?” This is a good question, that I’ll answer in two ways.

First, the medieval church had become a religion. One of the characteristics of the religions of the nations is a system of works that provides certain rights and blessings from the god that is worshiped. The medieval church might have mentioned grace in its ritualistic services, but if the meaning of grace is not taught and understood, everything quickly degenerates to the performance of works required by the church. Though grace (unmerited favor for those who deserve wrath) is talked about, what people hear is “do good works, do good works, do good works, and then… maybe… God will be merciful to you.” It is no secret that the Reformation started among people that were long accustomed to performing works of penance for their sins and to pursuing indulgences by taking pilgrimages to shrines or by simply paying cold coins. People did not know the joyful truth that God freely forgives sins, because of the finished, saving work of Jesus Christ.

Second, grace had become a spiritual quantity that was dispensed by the church through her sacramental system. Their concept was that Jesus, Mary, and the saints had earned grace from God, and the church was able to give her faithful followers this grace when the faithful partook of the sacraments. Only after the Reformation were the sacraments officially codified as seven. But the way to receive grace was to go to church’s bishops and priests and participate in the required rituals. This is clearly the performance of good works.

The good news of our text from Ephesians is that we are saved by grace (we’ll talk about through faith in another post) and that all is God’s gift—not from works. God does not save (rescue from sin and its consequences) anyone by good works. Salvation is a gift from the overflowing love of God through Jesus Christ. We’ve earned death by our sins, but God delights to forgive sins and to give eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

This good news that people rediscovered from reading the Bible remains good news today. Through grace alone still tells us that God himself acts to save people who have rejected him, have refused to love him, and have rebelled against him, his truth, and his ways. It proclaims that God saves sinners. Has God saved you by his grace?

Grace and peace, David

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