The Helmet of Salvation (Part One)

20150101_151010Ephesians 6:17

Helmets. I see them constantly on my walks around Valley Forge Park. They are worn by men and women, girls and boys. Why do I see so many sporting such unfashionable headgear? Why are bicycle riders required to wear helmets? That’s right—to protect their heads. In the same way the helmet is probably the most important part of the armor. A soldier might be able to survive and continue to fight with wounds to other parts of the body, but most wounds to the head are either fatal or crippling. “The Roman soldier’s helmet… was usually made of a tough metal like bronze or iron. ‘An inside lining of felt or sponge made the weight bearable. Nothing short of an axe or hammer could pierce a heavy helmet, and in some cases a hinged vizor added frontal protection.’ Helmets were decorative as well as protective, and some had magnificent plumes or crests” (Stott).

Here Paul compares salvation to a helmet. Why is salvation in general such an important part of the armor of God? How can this helmet offer such protection? It might help if we consider the three “tenses” of salvation. Every true follower of the Lord Jesus can say, “I was saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved.

Today, we will consider four past blessings of salvation. The first is election. For reasons known only to God, he decided to save a people from the wreck and ruin of human sin. God could have justly passed by all humanity, allowing all of us to perish, as he did the angels that rebelled against him. But to magnify the fame of his name, God chose to save some from the guilt and pollution of sin. This election was of people in relation to Christ from before the creation of the world without any regard for anything they might do (Ephesians 1:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 8:33; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29; James 2:5). Everyone who follows Christ should gain confidence from the Bible’s teaching of election. God wanted us to be his people, and we need to hear this when the enemy or our doubts cause us to wonder about that. Before the first seraph ever cried out, “Holy, holy, holy!” God had chosen us to salvation in Christ.

The second blessing is redemption. Jesus Christ died on the cross and shed his blood as the ransom price, and so he redeemed us to carry out God’s eternal purpose. In every way the Lord Jesus Christ has the honor of saving us (Ephesians 1:7). His redemption set us free from the penalty and curse of sin, from our slavery to sin, and from bondage to the law. He has bought us and now we are his bondservants. See 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Redemption teaches us our liberty in Christ (Galatians 5:1). When the enemy attempts to fill you with false information that you are in slavery, assert your freedom in Christ!

The third blessing speaks of the application of redemption: regeneration (the new birth from above) and effectual calling. Securely bound in the darkness of sin and dead in sin, God made us alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). When the Spirit of God made alive spiritually, we received the gifts of repentance (a change of mind) and faith, by which we turn from the pursuit of sin and trust in the Lord Jesus alone for salvation. A battlefield becomes filled with corpses, and the evil one may tempt you to think that you will share that fate. But do not give in to such thoughts. The great promise of salvation is that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The fourth blessing is justification. Having believed, we are declared right with God ­(Romans 5:1). We have already talked about Christ as our righteousness in the article about the breastplate. Again the great goal is confidence for all followers of Jesus. We are on God’s side and fully accepted by him! He has saved us, and we have a new relationship with the living God. More on this relationship next time, God willing.

Grace and peace, David

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The Shield of Faith (Part Two)

DSCN0440 (2)Ephesians 6:16

A challenge to faith comes from the flaming arrows of the evil one. Every Christian faces an evil opponent, who is totally given over to sin and attacks without any thought of mercy. He is called Satan or the devil. We need to understand that evil or sin or rebellion against God is not something that simply happens. It is committed by persons, whether angels or humans. The spiritual forces of evil, Satan and the demons, are evil personal beings that enjoy attacking and destroying humans. They especially hate God and his people. When by grace we join God’s side, the powers of evil go to war against us. Our problem is not merely our own sin and the sins of other people. Alongside what humans may do, there are the powers of darkness—personal intelligent beings of spiritual ability that seek ways to ruin us. “We must get rid of the notion of abstract evil: there is no such thing” (Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier, p. 300).

Satan and the other evil ones attack us with “flaming arrows”. What are these flaming arrows? I think we can group them into five categories:

  • Horrible thoughts, such as ideas or imaginations about what is unholy, blasphemous, skeptical or malicious – The mark of a Christian is love (John 13:34-35). Yet have you ever become angry toward someone and then suddenly felt the urge, quite contrary toward your usual goodwill toward that person, to hurt him or her? You have been hit with a flaming arrow of malice. In Bunyan’s The Holy War, he pictures the evil one attacking Mansoul with a handpicked army of doubters, with each division led by a cruel commander.
  • Pride and selfish ambition – how contrary both are to doing everything for the glory of God! Pride is never far from any of us, since sin tries to overthrow God as rule of our lives in any way possible.
  • Discontent, lust and greed – all these seek to divert us from God (cf. Matthew 6:33). They whisper that there are other ways to satisfaction apart from what the Lord has graciously given us.
  • False guilt feelings – they come to disrupt our fellowship with God. We might not have actually committed any sin, but the spiritual forces of evil like us to think that we have. This is why we must know the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Doubt and despair – the aim is to reduce us to inactivity and uselessness. Expect to be tempted to doubt election, calling, justification, adoption into God’s family, God’s love, grace, mercy and kindness, the events of the gospel, and even the existence of God himself.

We must be ready for these attacks, because they will come. They might be very severe. Let us remember the enemy’s objective is to keep us from declaring God’s praises and enjoying life with him.

Faith has victory over these attacks. We read a great promise: “with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”. What Paul says here through an illustration is stated directly by John (1 John 5:4) and by Peter (1 Peter 5:8-9). The Lord is encouraging us to be confident in him. The Spirit does not minimize the problem, but he maximizes the all-sufficient resource that we have in Christ. Christian, you will be hit hard, even very hard. But do not despair or run. Stand firm. The shield of faith is impenetrable when used properly.

How does faith act as our shield that extinguishes the flaming arrows? “The answer is that faith never points to itself, it always points to its object” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 305). The object of true faith is the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). Satan has already tried his most desperate schemes on him and has met with complete failure. The all-powerful Lord easily overmatches the adversary at every point. Here we must again stress strongly that true faith is never faith in one’s faith, which is only self-confidence by another name. Instead, it is active reliance on the Lord. How did Abraham overcome in the face of impossibilities? He had faith in God (Romans 4:18-21). He relied on the promise of God that God was his shield and his very great reward (Genesis 15:1). You and I will go forward in that same spirit of faith (Romans 8:31-39)! Lord, give us grace to take the shield of faith today and always.

Grace and peace, David

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The Lord Is Risen

IMG_3598Luke 24:36-49

No one saw the Lord Jesus rise from the dead. You will search the Bible in vain for an account of what it looked like when he broke the power of death. The Bible leaves the event itself shrouded in mystery. Yet this does not mean that the resurrection of Jesus is not a historical event, as some so-called “scholars” have claimed. Anything that really happens is historical, whether or not somebody saw it happen. You can have your lights turned on by a timer in your house; that is an event of history, even if you’re not there to see it happen. But you become a witness that they were turned on when you see them on when you arrive home. In the same way, though the Bible does not give us an eyewitness report of our Lord’s resurrection, it does record many testimonies of those who saw him after he rose from the dead. Let us look at an eyewitness report.

Jesus gave many convincing proofs that he truly has risen from the dead (Acts 1:1-2). The apostles were in great need of evidence. They were not expecting to see Christ alive. This is the uniform testimony of the Gospels. No one said, “It’s the third day; let’s go out and look at the empty tomb!” They had problems believing what their eyes saw. Granted, they were startled by his sudden appearance (24:37). However, the text emphasizes that it was more than the surprise of the event. They had doubts about what was happening (24:38; cf. Matthew 28:17; John 20:25). The disciples were not gullible; they were not grasping for the least possible evidence. What they later preached was not the product of wishful thinking. Read the apostles’ viewpoint as stated by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).

Jesus met their need. He gave proof of his material existence (24:39). He appealed to their sensual experience – “look, touch, see”. Jesus proved that he was not a ghost or an illusion. The Lord gave proof of his humanity (24:40-43). He was “constructed” like a man. He had “flesh and bones”. He could eat like a human can. The Lord Jesus gave proof of his identity (24:39-40). He really was the same Jesus they had known (John 20:24-28). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Have you trusted your life to the Lord of life, who showed himself alive with many convincing proofs?

Jesus instructed them in the Scriptures. The Lord is not content to have us live according to our own experience or our own wisdom. People are to live according to the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). What was written in the Scriptures was about Christ and his saving work (24:44, 46). The Scriptures are primarily about the Lord Jesus Christ and what he did, does and will do to save his chosen people. This should ignite our hearts to study and learn the Bible. This past week, there was a discussion on sports talk radio about the need for motivation to win. When a ball team is motivated, they can win games. When Christians become motivated by Jesus Christ, watch out! God is going to do great things through them. This should also guide our interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures. They are not law-structured or Israel-structured, but Christ-structured.

Therefore, our proclamation of the Bible’s message must be clearly and decidedly evangelical (good news saturated). If we are not proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work, we are not telling the Biblical message. The content of the gospel (good news) must be preached (24:46; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 1:1-4,16-17). Repentance (a change of mind) and forgiveness of sins must be preached in Christ’s name (24:47). Notice how these two actions are linked. People must have a change of mind about their sins. (Sin is rejection of God as God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways.) Do you see sin as an offense against God? Do you agree with God that sin is wrong? Do you understand that sin ruins people? We are to take the message of Christ and salvation from sin to all nations.

Those who hear need illumination to comprehend (24:45).We are dependent on the Spirit of God for this act of grace (2 Corinthians 3:14). Christians have this (2 Corinthians 3:16). Christ has the power to work directly on the human mind (Acts 16:14). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life opened your heart so that you know from the Scriptures that he is risen indeed?

Jesus told them about Pentecost and the new age that was about to begin. The risen Messiah would send the Holy Spirit (24:49). The Spirit would come since Jesus would no longer be physically present with his followers (24:44; cf. John 14:25-27; 16:7). Every follower of Jesus ought to value the preciousness of the gift of the Spirit. All of us are to obey Christ’s orders (24:49). The apostles were to start with a brief period of waiting, and then go out with the message. We are to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life given you his Holy Spirit, so that you are able to be his witness? Bow before the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ; trust in him today and have eternal life! Then what should we do? Let’s go and tell others this good news. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Grace and peace, David

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An Awesome Question

IMG_0903Mark 15:34

Charles Wesley wrote the following words of a famous hymn: “’Tis mystery all! Th’ Immortal dies! Who can explore His strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine!” And to know the full wonder of the cross is beyond our human abilities also. Who can comprehend the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on the cross? Even if we cannot understand, we may at least worship. As Wesley continued: “’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more.” Yes, we on earth should adore, for it was for sinners like you and me that the Christ suffered, bled and died.

In this article we will consider one of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross. Of the seven, one is a statement, another is a word of pardon, two are exclamations, and two are prayers to his Father in heaven. But the one written in our text for tonight is an awesome question, an inquiry into the holy wisdom of God: “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (Which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)’” [All quotes are from the NIV.]

Let us seek to understand the question. By understanding, I mean understanding in the sense of gaining the full Biblical significance of the words. We cannot comprehend fully, for there is mystery here. God has not revealed its depths to us. We should notice how Jesus spoke these words. He “cried out in a loud voice.” Surely we should catch some of the intensity of the moment. The words reveal both extremity of his pain, and the earnestness of his spirit. In other words, these words reveal something of the “suffering of his soul” (Isaiah 53:11). It is to this we now turn.

The question itself has three parts. First, is the repeated “my God”. This is the cry of the suffering one calling on his God (Psalm 22:1). Christ Jesus retained his confidence in the Father. Even when at his lowest, he still called on the Holy One as his God. How this precisely relates to his being “forsaken” is a question not answered by the Scriptures, and thus beyond our ability to answer. There is mystery here. Second is the horrible word “forsaken.” What does this mean? Two texts shed more light on this event. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Whatever he suffered includes the stark reality of becoming “a curse for us.” He bore the curse of God that we deserved. Think for a moment about the fearful nature of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. The horror of this curse, we followers of Christ cannot know; and glory to God, because of the Lord Jesus, we never will! When he suffered he redeemed us from the curse of the law. This cry of anguish shows something of its meaning for the Redeemer. Surely he took up our infirmities, and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:4,10). Think deeply on the words “stricken, smitten, afflicted, crush and cause him to suffer.” Whatever these words mean, they tell us of the turning aside of the wrath of God. In Christ’s death, God’s wrath was satisfied, and his holy righteousness honored. We should all exclaim, “Thank you, Lord Jesus!”

Third is the pronoun “Me.” Who said these words? They were said by the One in whom the Father had eternally delighted. Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2). Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world (John 17:24). The One of whom the Father had always approved said these words. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

A poem by E.B. Browning says: Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken. It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!” It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation, that, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation. [My emphasis]

The Holy Spirit in the Bible answers the Son’s question. With all reverence, we should know the answer of God’s word to the Son’s inquiry. First, it was the purpose of God. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23).  Two concerns are included in God’s purpose: the glory of God’s name. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Rm 11:36); and the salvation of God’s people, The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble (Psalm 37:39). Why was Christ forsaken? It was the purpose of God.

Why did God determine to act this way? It was because of the love of God. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). Both of these texts tell of his immeasurable love to guilty, ungodly rebels. Why was Christ forsaken? It was the love of God for his people.

But why did a loving Father deliver his beloved Son over to the death of the cross? Why did he not merely forgive the sins of his people by an act of will, without sending his dearly loved Son to death on Calvary? The justice of God required this event. Christ was bearing our sins. So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28). He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24). God’s wrath against sin had to be satisfied. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26). Why was Christ forsaken? It was God satisfying his own justice.

Was Christ in agreement with this purpose of God? Did he die willingly for his people? Yes, the Lord Christ loved his church, his sheep. And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:2, 25). See also John 10:14-18. Why was Christ forsaken? It was because Jesus loved us and wanted to save us!

So then, since Christ was forsaken of God, let us think about the value of our salvation. We were rescued at great cost, the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Son of God. Since Christ was forsaken of God, his chosen people can be sure they will never be forsaken. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Grace and peace, David

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The Shield of Faith (Part One)

IMG_0457Ephesians 6:16

The fourth stanza of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” opens with the words, “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply” (Trinity Hymnal, revised edition, #94). Is this not the common experience of every follower of Christ? We have trials, and we receive grace. Has the following ever happened to you? You have just woken up in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Then suddenly, evil thoughts have come to you, perhaps even blasphemous or filthy thoughts. You were not thinking about such things. You just woke up, but there they are—horrible thoughts floating around in your mind! And then you might think, “How can I possibly be a Christian and think such things?” My brother or sister in Christ, if that has ever happened to you, do not think it something strange or unusual. A flaming arrow of the evil one has hit you. But what should we do? How can you and I counter that kind of attack? How can we live in the face of such pitiless assaults? The Holy Spirit through the apostle presents us with his way of spiritual warfare. Let us think on God’s word together.

Faith is crucial in spiritual warfare. An ancient soldier without his shield was in deadly danger. The word used for shield in this verse is not the one for the little shield that was also carried by the soldier, but for the large shield that the soldier could hide behind. When carried by many soldiers together, they could form a wall. The shield was often put together in such a way as to make it resistant to attacks by flaming arrows, which were used to wreak havoc and destruction on enemy forces, like later generations would use an artillery barrage or missile attacks.

Faith is the believer’s shield. Faith has three elements: knowledge of the good news (gospel), assent to the good news, and trust or dependence on the good news. The good news points us to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of real saving faith. We do not have faith in faith, but faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16). Like the other parts of the armor of God, genuine faith in Christ is a gift of God (Acts 13:48; 16:14; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14). Faith leads us away from self-reliance or dependence on money, things, and other people to trust in Christ alone.

Faith has a crucial place in the believer’s life. At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit presents the ability and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as Savior and God’s promises of eternal life to all who will believe. By the gift of faith, we trust in Jesus the Lord, and entering into union with Christ, we are saved. From that moment on as we trust in the Lord, the Spirit of God strengthens our faith, enabling us to make use of Christ’s fullness as our prophet, priest and king and to participate in every grace and blessing in Christ.  We are able to draw strength for him. At the same time the Holy Spirit produces his fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) in us to develop resistance to the fiery darts. As faith unites us to the Savior, so faith receives from the Lord all that we need for our daily walk. We must actively depend on Christ to receive what we need to live for God’s glory and to enjoy the Lord. We must rely on him when we face the attacks of the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Grace and peace, David

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The Armor of God: The Shoes of the Gospel

DSCN3842Ephesians 6:15

Some facts never change, even in a time of high tech warfare. Air and naval power may be the deciding factors in modern military campaigns, but when all is said and done, the victors still have to hold the conquered territory with their infantry. Even today the infantry must still to some degree get around on its feet, and that requires good shoes. In battle they definitely need good shoes. Part of the legend of the battle of Gettysburg, which may or may not be true, is that at least part of the Confederate army went to the village because they were looking for shoes. And in the movie Gettysburg, there is the scene that shows Confederate soldiers marching barefoot, which was true. Our Lord Jesus Christ does not send his followers out to battle barefooted. The next part of the spiritual protection concerns having our feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Let us consider together the importance of this part of the armor of God.

Soldiers need to have their feet protected. Think about conditions that require correct coverings for their feet: the weather, the terrain, and other problems like exposure to filth, insects and disease. But proper footwear offers a great advantage—readiness. When you put on a good pair of walking or running shoes, they put a “spring” into your steps. Do you know the feeling? Even a guy with bad knees can feel like he wants to run! The shoes of the soldier “‘equipped him for long marches and a solid stance… They prevented his feet from sliding’” (Barth quoted by Stott). The good news of peace with God produces assurance of God’s favor and a cheerful readiness for the Christian in the face of the darkest foe. Without this blessing, we would tend to stumble and slide in doubt and despair in the midst of spiritual conflict.

Every follower of Christ needs the readiness that the shoes of the gospel of peace provide. Proper shoes must be formed out of the correct materials. Hiking shoes and dress shoes are not made out of the same materials and with the same design. Both must be made in conformity with their purposes. In the same way, God makes armor for the Christian out of materials suited for his purpose.

God’s purpose is our holiness in order to glorify his name (Ephesians 1:3-6; Romans 8:29; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:3ff; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 3:3). Since that is so, let us think about the materials that are used to form either “religious shoes” or “gospel shoes”. Why should we think about this? We need to because some suppose that they are wearing “gospel shoes” when they are only wearing “religious shoes”, and so they aren’t equipped for spiritual warfare.

Religion based on human opinion assumes that peace is formed out of actions like ritual and morality and spiritual feelings. For example, some think that attending church and doing worship provides them with the “shoes” they need. Others assume they are well equipped by keeping a short list of commands or standards. (Many think of holiness as keeping the Ten Commandments.) For now, let us think briefly about reliance on spiritual feelings. Some suppose that feelings of a flippant confidence or a happy light-heartedness are the same as boldness and joy. But the former spring from the events of religious “success”, while the latter come through union with Jesus Christ. Think of the “Christian cool” saying of “praise the Lord anyhow!” or the irreverence that at times characterizes how people speak of the Lord. While God wants his people to see him sitting on a throne of grace, some would do well to remember that it is still a throne! In reaction to “Christian cool”, some promote solemnity and gloom and quietness, as if such emotions were holiness personified. A hollowed out sound of “let us worship the Lord” is supposed to be a mark of spiritual maturity, while it may only be a sign of those playing at holiness.  Proper religious emotions do not come from attempting to produce anything. Instead, they are the response of the soul to God’s reality and God’s gospel actions in our lives: love, sorrow, joy, calmness, confidence, and etc. will all be present. That kind of response glorifies God.

True Christianity is based on God’s purpose of grace and Christ knows that God’s peace comes from God’s great love for his people and his zeal to uphold righteousness. And it knows that both of these find a happy meeting place in the cross. Since this is so, the true worshipper knows that he or she has been “rooted and established in love” (Eph 3:17), and the hearts of people who are firm in Christ delight to trace their peace back to God’s love for them in Christ. This glorifies God. Also the true worshipper views the cross as the highest expression of God’s holiness, because there the brightness of God’s glorious holiness is most clearly seen. What was required to satisfy the righteousness of God? Only the substitutionary death of the spotless Lamb of God could pay our penalty and bring us peace (Romans 3:24-26; 5:1, 10). When by faith we lay hold of the Father’s gift of love in his Son, we will find that the Lord of peace will give us peace at all times and in every way (2 Thessalonians 3:16). What is your experience of God’s peace? Think of what this is saying to us! If we put on the shoes of the gospel of peace, we will have peace in the midst of conflict. This glorifies God.

God’s order in putting our shoes together is important to attain his end. If you have ever had a part in manufacturing or building anything, you know that order is important. One summer I had a job as a “placer” in a factory that made electric motors. The wires in the armature had to be placed on the com in a certain order. If the right order was not followed, the motor would not operate. True holy and godly living is impossible without the basis of the peace of the gospel for a couple reasons. First of all, godliness consists of a loving approach to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can you love God if you are at war with him? Second, unless you know that God accepts you by grace, you will always be trying to earn your way into his favor. Third, the Spirit of holiness does not live in the hearts of the unforgiven, and only he has the power to produce holiness and godliness in us. “The divine order then is first pardon, then holiness; first peace with God, and then conformity to the image of that God with whom we have been brought to peace… Reconciliation is indispensable to resemblance; personal friendship must begin a holy life” (Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness, p. 34).

Peace with God is the immediate possession of the believer at the time of salvation. It is not the fruit of a long course of successful spiritual warfare, but a direct blessing of saving grace. Anything else turns the gift of God into a work. It is this peace that must rule in our hearts and in every gathering of Christ followers (Colossians 3:15). Christ’s people will make progress in spiritual conflict as a body when we together put to death the acts of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), and when we experience the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in our gospel partnerships. May we fully know this blessing of peace!

Grace and peace, David

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Communication: Talking Like Jesus (Part Two)

IMG_0254Ephesians 4:20-32

When we speak like Jesus, we will be pursuing the proper goal or purpose of building up others.

Gospel-focused communication will be spiritually constructive. This agrees with the purpose of discipleship, that is, of teaching disciples (Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 12:7). God wants us to build up the body of believers. Talking like Jesus in constructive speech is part of your function in the spiritual body of Christ. The head (Christ) is sending out beneficial messages to each of his members, and we are to spread those beneficial messages to other members. This means we seek the improvement of the people of a local assembly (church) by the way we speak and what we speak. No sane contractor would seek to harm the building he was under contract to construct. Yet how many Christians pull others down by gossip, slander, cutting comments, or a simple lack of gentleness or compassion? And how few deliberately intend to help others improve spiritually, which is the point at hand? Building up one another rarely happens in a quick conversation on a Sunday morning. Such words can be constructive, but they are limited by time. Every Christian needs to be in a small group.

Constructive speech aims to build up, especially where the brother or sister in Christ has a need. What are some needs that we all have from time to time?

  • Rebuke (Galatians 2:14; Titus 1:13b)
  • Instruction (Acts 18:26)
  • Encouragement (Acts 11:23)

When we speak like Jesus, we will keep our words within some wise guidelines. The entire life of Jesus shows his use of wise words at all times. Will the way I am about to talk build up this person like Jesus does, or will it provoke sinful attitudes or responses? Here are some examples:

  • Is my communication sexually suggestive? Sex is a normal part of life. God created it! But improper words can arouse desires that should not be. Talk about sexual matters wisely.
  • Is my communication inducing the other person to anger? The point is to use some common sense to avoid words that are pushing the other person’s buttons.
  • Is my communication causing fear or doubts?  Don’t spread despair amid the general gloom! TV newscasters are paid to spread doom and gloom, but wise words lead people to confident expectation (hope) in God.

What benefits does this conversation intend to seek in the heart and life my brother or sister in Christ? Have I thought this through before I speak? Actually what good will it do? To talk about some subjects with some people is an exercise in futility, because they do not what to listen or change. Consider Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 7:6). Can I turn this conversation in a spiritually profitable direction? Some cannot be, or it is not the time nor the place. We must use discernment; this requires skill. To what degree does this conversation display “true righteousness and holiness” (4:24)?  Jesus our Lord used his words to teach about God the Father and to make us think with an eternal perspective. How are your words doing that?

Grace and peace, David

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Communication: Talking Like Jesus (Part One)

IMG_0304 (1)Ephesians 4:20-32

A few years ago, it was rather popular for Christian youth to be wearing clothes and trinkets with the initials “WWJD”, meaning “What would Jesus do?” Like most modern fads, it was short-lived. Hopefully, it at least was used by God to get some people to think seriously about how authentic their relationship to Jesus actually was. “How can you call yourself a follower of Christ, if you fail to follow him?” is always a legitimate question.

When we focus on communicating like Jesus, it would be very easy to construct whatever model of “talking like Jesus” one desired by a selective citation of a few texts from the Gospels. Join that defective method with a couple emotionally charged illustrations, and you have a ready made heresy. For example, we could turn to Matthew 15 and paint an anti-religious establishment Jesus. That would sound very appealing to “they like Jesus but not the church so we worship in nature” crowd. Or we could read the last part of Luke 8 to emphasize the compassionate speech of Jesus. That approach would endear us to those who want a therapeutic Jesus. Or John 6 would be an excellent introduction to Jesus the theologian, valiantly standing for truth as the crowds walk away. The folks in the institutional, confessional church model like that one. Or perhaps we should open our Bibles to Mark 13 to hear the prophetic Jesus, since in troubled times people want to hear of escape from the turmoil of life. Many escapist Christians love to hear about prophecy above all other things. But then what would we do with Matthew 23? Oh, have you never read it? Should we model our speech after the way he speaks there: “woe to you”? The “angry Jesus clearing out the temple” model appeals to people angry about how their preferred view of culture is being ruined.

My point is that we must always be cautious when we approach the subject of talking or acting like Jesus. Are we hearing only part of what the Spirit has revealed about Christ that is being presented as the whole of what Jesus is and what we should be? The text before us presents a model of communication for talking like Jesus. However, let us remember that it is not all of what an authentic Christ-focused model is. In order to communicate like Jesus, we must draw from his full story, and not merely our preferred passages. Obviously, this could be material for a book. With the preceding caution in mind, let’s consider this idea. To speak like Jesus means to speak in a constructive manner.

When we speak like Jesus, we will rid our conversation of words that are destructive. As a general principle, we will seek to eliminate “unwholesome” talk (Ephesians 4:29). The Lord Jesus never engaged in unwholesome words. The apostle chose a colorful word. Consider a couple literal usages in the New Testament Scriptures. It is used of “spoiled fish” (Matthew 13:48) and of “decayed trees” or “rotten fruit” (Matthew 12:33). From the immediate context in Ephesians, we can find specific examples of unwholesome talk: falsehood (4:25), bitterness (4:31), shouting (4:31), slander (4:31), foolish talk (5:4), and impure or coarse jokes (5:4). A helpful exercise might be to journal the type of words that you use during a week. Write examples of unwholesome words on a sheet of paper, and then put check marks next to them when you know that you have used such words. The goal is a simple reality check for you. Or in your small group (you are in a small group, right?) discuss the subject of unwholesome words together. In what area does most of the group struggle? How can you help each other?

According to this text, we must take charge of eliminating unwholesome talk from the way we talk. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” is about as blunt and directive a command as any in the Bible. We must accept the Holy Spirit’s authority to order us to speak like Jesus. This is not a suggestion, if you want to be “nice”. It is of the essence of new covenant life. We should not minimize these sins of the tongue. “I say that when there is any loose and filthy talk, or talk tending to give liberty to evil, it is just as if speech was being used to poison men’s souls” (Calvin).

There is a better way. Maximize what Christ can do in you by the Holy Spirit. How does this happen? Use wholesome words to strengthen others. Since all followers of Christ are members of his spiritual body, we have an opportunity with the help of the Holy Spirit to be part of significant changes in the lives of others. Effective communication can be very powerful. The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:23-24 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

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Communication: A New Starting Point (Part Two)

IMG_0296Colossians 3:16-17

We might suppose that having a good, beneficial conversation with people that we desire to talk with would be relatively easy, and especially that talking with a brother or sister in Jesus Christ would be the easiest thing in the world. Surely, we’re not talking with a stranger or an enemy, are we? We all know from painful experience that having profitable, God-honoring conversations often prove to be troublesome events. But let us walk with the Lord of glory in his beautiful ways.

Communication starts with the word of Christ. The message of Christ must find a home in our hearts. The “word of Christ” is best understood as the “message that comes from Christ”; namely, what the Lord Christ communicates to us in the God-breathed scriptures. Our hearts are to be the place where his message lives. What does this mean? When you live in a home, you control and make use of the resources available in that home. Clearly, when Christ’s word lives in our heart, it is controlling the “cellphones” and the “tablets” and the “computers” by which those in the home are able to communicate with others. Is Christ’s message controlling the content and the manner of what we say? What did Christ say to others? How did he say it? To answer those questions is a starting point. Please read and reread the Four Gospels!

Christ’s message must live richly in us. What does this mean?

  • Pay close attention to it. In regard to communication, we should listen to the kind of words that Christ wants us to speak and the way in which we should speak them to one another.
  • Submit to the authority of Christ’s word to direct our speaking. This is a conscious decision of faith. Since we believe in his supremacy, we listen to how he directs us to talk with people.
  • Assimilate his lessons. Establish new patterns that agree with what he is teaching you. This is part of being a learner (disciple) of Jesus. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit in doing this.
  • Develop plans for dealing with communication problems. For example, if you know that a certain person or situation presents an opportunity to speak in a way that is not like Christ, then you should prepare to speak in a godly manner. Prayer is necessary.

The message of Christ must structure our speech. I’ll mention two ways. First, since Christ is God’s wisdom, his word leads us to speak wisely. Am I listening to this person, or am I just waiting for a chance to speak? Is this the right time to speak? What needs do I perceive in this person as we converse? Am I trying to assert control or to develop a relationship? Second, it leads us to speak constructively (teaching and instructing). We should frame our words so that the other person is blessed with the knowledge of the Lord.

Communication starts with the glory of the Lord Jesus. We must practice “Christ-structured” or “gospel-formed” communication. Ask yourself, “What on earth is my mouth here for?” We live in a time in which the basic creed is self-satisfaction and self-expression. This heavily influences the way we communicate. People ponder, “How can I get my point across? How can I verbally manipulate others to do it my way?” People try many sinful methods to maneuver people with their words, like flattery, sweet-talk, half-truths, harangue, loudness, anger, obscenity, nagging, slander and gossip. The Lord calls us to speak with a different purpose: to communicate his worth and to express his love.

We must seek ways to express the Lord’s significance. Remember the guiding principle of “for the sake of his name”. We must be intent on making known that God’s reign takes place through the Person, work, word and power of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ! We are to lift up the fame of his name. Christ’s name is what draws followers of Jesus together; it unites a gospel community. We do this by giving thanks for concrete, practical matters in which Christ has made a change in us. We want others to enter into the joy of having the Lord at work in our lives. “Christ is remaking me, and I want you to experience this joy, too!” The point is: If you are new in Christ, you should speak like someone who is new in Christ.

Grace and peace, David

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Communication: A New Starting Point (Part One)

FifteenFiveColossians 3:16-17

We live in a paradoxical time. We have access to an unparalleled amount of information at speeds beyond the imagination of anyone living before 1980. Yet, in spite of all this information, we are losing the ability to communicate with one another. One evidence of this is the divorce rate. A staggering amount of marriages end within ten years. A constant problem in failing or failed marriages is the lack of ability to communicate. When talking with couples that are married or who want to be married, the mentor puts communication high on the priority list of items to work through with the couple. As we approach this important area of life, I think it is important to avoid a new legalism; you know something like “Ten Steps to Great Communication!” Let’s seek a new starting point.

Communication starts with who you are. For the follower of Christ, this means that we are new people in Christ, God’s adult sons and daughters. We cannot change the way the ungodly communicate. A basic principle operates in every human. Our words come out of our hearts (the inner person). See Matthew 12:33-37; Luke 6:45. Destructive words come from destructive hearts (Matthew 15:19); this is the way of life for people who do not follow Christ (Romans 3:13-14). To tell an ungodly person how to reform their way of talk is to provide a temporary, inadequate fix.

We used to live in a house with ongoing water leaks. Once we discovered a leak in our house, as a ceiling tile fell to the floor. The proper procedure was to repair the leak. We did not go out and buy a new ceiling tile, put it in place, without fixing the leak, and then say, “Our problem is solved!”

Those who follow Christ have experienced a radical change. We are no longer what we were, but we are new in Christ. The old inner person has been put off, and a new inner person has been put on (Colossians 3:9-10). As you carefully read the text, you will see that the new inner person is not perfect but is experiencing continual renewal. As J.I. Packer said, it is like we live in a house that is being renovated, and sometimes we have to deal with the dust and trash of renovation. But it is this radical change and ongoing renewal that gives us a new starting point. If you believe in Christ, you are new in Christ. Now live like the new person you are, not the like the old person you used to be. By faith live in conformity with your new life that you have through union with Christ. Our problems come when we don’t live by faith in Christ and try to deal with life in a fleshly manner. A new pattern of life happens as we keep in step with the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:19-26). The Spirit acts within us to renew us according to Christ (Colossians 3:8-9). A married couple who knows Christ can say to each other, “Honey, the Lord has fixed the leaks in our hearts! Now he will help us clean up the mess and redecorate!” The first step in communication change is to know the Ascended Christ by faith and then to act by the Spirit in conformity with him.

Grace and peace, David

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