Monday, October 29, 2012

The Christian and Politics - What should a Christian Do?

Many people have called this election the most critical election in our lifetimes. They could be right. And if they are right, we need to be informed, active, and especially on our knees. As Christians, we cannot sit on the sidelines. We cannot remain silent. We must be playing our part.

Why? Because Jesus called us to be salt and light. That is how He expects us to function in this world.

In Matthew 5:13-14, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . you are the light of the world.” Salt preserves, and light shows the way. We must be the preservative of this rotting society, and we must show people the right way; not just the right way to Jesus, but the right way to live morally.

And it’s especially important in this critical election - an election between, not just two men, but between two world views, two directions for this country.

But who thinks this election is so critical? How about Billy Graham? Billy Graham has been perhaps the biggest name in Christianity for sixty, seventy years, or more worldwide? Yet, all through the eras of the “Religious Right” and the “Moral Majority,” Billy sat it out, never talking about politics. His priority was clear – Jesus first. Like Paul, he “preached Christ crucified.” That was his sole focus.

Paul made this claim in 1st Corinthians 2:2, where he said: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” That’s what Billy Graham did. Billy just preached Christ. That was the foremost priority.

According to Billy,
“Over the years, I have tried to avoid getting involved in partisan politics. . . As an evangelist, my calling has been to preach the Gospel to as many people as possible, and I have always wanted to avoid putting up any unnecessary barriers.”
But this year is different. Recently, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association took out ads in the Wall Street Journal featuring Billy’s pronouncement on this year’s election. We’ve included those in the bulletin at our church over the past two weeks.

Let me quote one of them:
“On November 6th, the day before my 94th birthday, our nation will hold one of the most critical elections in my lifetime. We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the Biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedom. The Bible speaks clearly on these critical issues. Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.”
Signed: Billy Graham.

Well said, Billy – “We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake.”

Now, certainly, there are those who will claim Billy Graham has hurt his witness for the Gospel by making a blatant political statement in the weeks prior to a presidential election, but they are wrong. And this is why they are wrong: The pulpit is exactly the right place to proclaim Biblical truth, and truth does have political ramifications so the Bible does have something to say about political decisions. Billy Graham has rightly added his influential voice reminding us what is really at stake in this election.

A second ad by Billy stated this:
“The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren, and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on Biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who support the sanctity of life and support the Biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for Biblical values this November 6th, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.”
Now, here’s a question: Why is Billy Graham getting political on us? I believe the real answer is, he isn’t. I believe he’s staying Biblical. Every one of the issues he brought up is a moral issue addressed by the Bible. These issues have been there in the Bible long before America was founded. And pastors, in their prophetic role, have always addressed these issues. It’s the pastor’s job.

It’s not that Billy has invaded the realm of politics, but politics has expanded into the realm of morality, and that is the realm we are to preach about. They are the ones who, in 1973, found an unwritten, hidden right to choice in our constitution at the expense of the clearly stated right to life. And they imposed abortion rights judicially. They are the ones who have been pushing and pushing to redefine marriage any way they can. And they are the ones who refuse to defend DOMA in court and teach “Suzie has Two Mommies” in schools to our kids. Now they want to force us to pay for abortions, and even their contraceptives through our tax dollars.
It’s not us on the offense, we’re on the defense.

As Heidi Harris wrote, “Let me get this straight: You want me ‘out of your bedroom,’ but you want me to stock you nightstand?” Do you see? We’re just trying to hold ground, trying to keep our country from sliding into that moral abyss.

Billy Graham has always stood for right and truth. His beliefs catapulted him into the midst of the civil rights issue in years past. When he noticed that his crusades were segregated, he took steps to rectify it. In 1953, he tore rope barriers down that the organizers had erected to keep the races apart in the audience. In 1957, he invited the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to join him at the pulpit in New York City. When King was arrested in Birmingham in 1963, Billy Graham posted bail for him.

Billy Graham hasn’t changed, politics has. Politics has invaded the realm or morality, and the church can’t remain silent. The church must not remain silent

Who else is talking politics this year? John MacArthur is. John is one of my heroes and role models as an expository preacher. He is notorious for his opinion that politics should take a distant back seat to the Gospel message. It’s not our role to get involved, he’s said. But this year, he has come out forcefully from his pulpit in Biblical condemnation. I’d like to read to you some of what he had to say, with a bit of commentary on it:

Quoting MacArthur:
“This is a new day in our country. Parties which used to differ on economics now differ dramatically on issues that invade the realm of God’s law and morality.”
Amen, John. Just what we said: addressing issues of moral law is the job of the pastor.

Continuing to quote from MacArthur:
“[One party platform] advocates a homosexual marriage which is an oxymoron, an utter impossibility and a gross violation of the law of God. And then, to add to that, the murder of abortion, and then a platform originally leaving God out. All of that is Romans 1 [which] says God will judge, God has judged throughout human history, nations that have experienced sexual freedom. Romans chapter 1 lays out clearly the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against those who advocate sexual freedom, sexual conduct outside of marriage. And that’s an indication of the demise of a nation.”
Let me read you the passage from which he’s quoting: Romans 1:24 says,
“Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves”
Then Romans 1:26-27 says,
“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”
One last verse:
Romans 1:32 –
“Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”
That doesn’t sound like God would be in favor of a party whose platform includes same-sex marriage, does it?

MacArthur continued:
“Romans 1 says that God will also judge nations. . . nations that advocate homosexual behavior, men with men, women with women, doing what is unnatural. They are also haters of God – leaving God out, advocating abortion, advocating homosexuality, advocating free sexual conduct and governmental provided condemns so that everybody can do what they want. This is literally creating a platform out of what God hates.”
MacArthur also addressed the role of government:
“Since the Bible says that the role of government is to punish evil doers and protect the good, you better have somebody in power who understands what is good and what is evil. And if you think homosexuality, abortion, sexual freedom, hating God are not evil, then you better go back and check your Bible again.”
This is what Romans 13:3-4 says:
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
Government should promote and protect the good while prosecuting the evil, not the other way around.

MacArthur concludes:
“It’s about whether this society exists in the future at all, as we know it. The land is so defiled, God will spew it out. First He abandons it, and then he destroys it.”
Do you see? This is how critical this election is. Will our state and nation embrace what God hates, or will we stand with God?

But, how should we think about politics? As Christians, we can debate a lot of different issues. There’s no such thing as the “Christian” position on tax policy and the economy, or the place of unions, or the size of a welfare check – how safe our safety net should be, or how big should our military be. You can’t go to Bible chapter and verse to make your case, so there will always be solid Christians on both sides of the issues.

The Christian voting block has never been monolithic.
But there are three issues that should be non-negotiable for any Christian - life, sex, and marriage. Where the Bible speaks clearly, we must stand firmly. We must not budge on the need to protect the unborn, or on the sanctity of sex within marriage - and that means protecting traditional, Biblical marriage from this current onslaught. Of course, vote NO on Question 1 if you are a Maine resident.

Rick Warren, of Purpose Driven Life fame stated it this way,
“If you call yourself a Christian, you need to line up with what God says is the original intent of all three things.”
When you go to the polls to vote (and there is no excuse for neglecting that privilege and duty), you need to make your decisions based on the Bible. Why? Because it is the source of truth. So many people vote based entirely on what they see in 60 second ads that interrupt their favorite TV shows. “Hey, that guy sounds good. I saw his ad.” Now, that’s a dumb way to vote.

Haven’t you heard the old joke? How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving. Now, that’s an exaggeration, of course, and there are lots of honest politicians. But you can’t believe everything you hear, especially in a 60 second ad. So check it out from a variety of sources. If you haven’t researched that candidate’s world view, haven’t read their party’s platform, you are simply ignorant of where they stand. You aren’t voting from knowledge, you are voting from ignorance. Ignorant people really ought to stay away from the polls. They are doing the country a disservice. They need to get informed. Not everybody should vote.

But how do you decide how to vote? Tony Evans, the famous black pastor from Dallas, Texas, says to do this: It’s really quite simple, take a piece of paper and make four columns, then place the issue on the first column that concerns you. Place the positions of each of the two respective candidates on the next two columns. Finally place the Biblical position on the third. He says you then vote for the candidate that best lines up with Scripture. That makes sense.

Here are some more thoughts on that subject: Michal Farris, constitutional lawyer and founder of Patrick Henry College, says this: “
First, and most importantly, I am a Christian. I need to do my best to understand God’s standards from the Word of God, I reject the idea that God’s Word has nothing to say about voting. Proverbs 3:6 says, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.’”
God’s Word and His Spirit will give you guidance if you pray and ask for wisdom.

But, what about when we don’t like either candidate? Or if, as Christians, we find neither candidate to be lined up with our beliefs? How can we choose the “lesser of two evils?” I mean, in this election we have a choice between a Mormon and a who-knows-what.

Mitt Romney is a member of a cult truly out of Christianity’s mainstream that follows Joseph Smith who claimed to have received an appendix to the Bible from the angel Moroni that reinterprets the understanding of God and Jesus. Even their former president, Gordon B. Hinckley, stated, “The traditional Christ” of other churches “is not the Christ of whom I speak.” Yet, they do stress hard work, family values, and moral living. and they put out some nice looking commercials.

That choice is contrasted with a President who, although he claims to be a Christian, advocates decidedly non Christian values, and sides more frequently with Islam. He seems to be a combination of Black Liberation Theology, espoused by his American hating pastor, Jeremiah Wright; and Christian syncretism, that picks and chooses what they want from all the various religions. As part of the Trinity United Church of Christ, he was part of the most liberal denomination in America - the first to ordain open homosexuals as pastors, and in 2005, they came out in support of same-sex marriage.

In his book, The Audacity of Hope, our president wrote, “When I read the Bible, I do so with the belief that it is not a static text but the Living Word and that I must continually be open to new revelations.” This explains his evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage. So, his beliefs aren’t anything like ours either. And on the issues that matter to us, he is not only in opposition, but working hard to counteract our positions.

But unorthodox religious views aren’t new. Presidents John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft were Unitarians. Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were Quakers. And John Fitzgerald Kennedy created a terrific stir by being the first Roman Catholic.

How do we reconcile either candidate? First, since we are all fallen human beings, there will never be a perfect candidate - Jesus isn’t running. And the rest are just like us, flawed human beings. But we aren’t choosing a pastor, we’re choosing a president. They don’t have to line up perfectly with our doctrine to be the better candidate, but they shouldn’t be alien to our deeply held positions.
And, remember, since we are in the decided minority as Christians, we have to take the best we can get. Which one best exemplifies character, competence, and truthfulness? As the old saying goes, “It’s better to be ruled by an honest Turk than a corrupt Christian.”

Also, ask yourself which candidate is least antagonistic to our core beliefs, and which candidate seems more likely to listen to our concerns? He is the one who should have our support.

Quoting Mike Farris again:
“If one is clearly an enemy of our deeply cherished values, and the other is, (on average) open to listening to us and working with us – this is not merely the lesser of two people in the same category.”
In other words, someone who is not an enemy to our values is better than one who most assuredly is.

But what issues are most important? When asked that, Tony Evans said this:
“I will always start with the right to life, because all other rights start with your ability to live. Secondly, I will always go to the importance of the family, and that civil government should support family government. Then I will go to the church, because as many historians have concluded, a democratic republic can only work in a moral atmosphere. And if people cannot self govern, you have to engage civil government to do the governance for them. That’s why the church becomes the dominant influence in the culture, and that includes government.”
Some people think that we, as Christians, ought to stay out of the political discourse, but why? We have the truth. Everyone else feels free to spout out their worldview. Why should we cower silently in our churches like a bunch of cowards when the righteous are bold as a lion. We ought to be more afraid of God’s disfavor than people’s disfavor.

Rick Warren stated: “Most Christians clam up and shut up because they are afraid to even stand up.” Don’t let that be said about you

Remember, what does Paul call us? 2nd Corinthians 5:20 says,
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
We are to represent Christ before the world. That is our mandate. It’s not primarily the pastor’s job, but yours. You are Christ’s ambassador and you represent heaven before the courts of men. You present God’s position in the forums of men.

Marvin Olasky of World Magazine wrote this:
“Just as liberals think that if government doesn’t do something, it won’t get done, so some Christians think if the pastors don’t head the parade, Christian values will be ignored – but that’s a lazy layman’s excuse. Pastors function well as reporters, spotlighting problems and teaching us their solution through Christ. God calls others to politics. A century ago, Abraham Kuyper famously declared that every inch of this world is Christ’s. So is every minute, and if we don’t from Monday through Saturday form groups with our neighbors to apply what we learn on Sunday, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Absolutely, it is up to each of you. Who should we blame for the demise of the culture? If we are the salt and light, but haven’t preserved and guided the culture with the Word of God, the fault is ours.

We, as a nation vote in a couple of days. Make sure you aren’t one of those who stay home from the polls. True, there are 50 million Americans who won’t be able to vote this election, and I’m not talking about illegal immigrants. They are the fifty million unborn babies slaughtered in the womb since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. But had Christians played a larger part in the decades leading up to that decision, maybe a different Supreme Court would have been in place - one less inclined to make up new rights, and ignore the clear language about the Right to Life enshrined in both our Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution, but most of all, in Scripture. Because of the negligence of a generation of voters, fifty million babies lost their right to life, and consequently, their right to vote. Don’t you be part of the continued destruction of this country.

This election is critical VOTE!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Love Shed Abroad.

In the last post, we talked about the shocking statement of Jesus in Luke 9:23, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, daily, and follow me.” But does Jesus really demand our death? No, not necessarily, not in the sense that He wants us to all die as martyrs. But, Yes! He wants each of our lives in exchange for His own life. Then He will live through us.

And the result? Jesus will love through us. Romans 5:5 says, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

The slant I want you to see is clear in the Old King James which translates the verse like this: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Think of it this way: Your life is like a cup. The Holy Spirit pours love into your life in abundance, so much so, your cup runneth over. Where does all that love go? It is “shed abroad” to those you meet.

You can’t help obey the command of 1st John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” A truly surrendered life will be a life that loves because Christ will love people through you. Agape love will flow from you to all those around you. And that, claims John, is proof of our salvation. 1st John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.”

My friend, no sacrifice is too great where love is concerned. And Christ gave us our example by dying for us. The cross is the greatest proof of His love and the greatest example of love. It is not unreasonable for Him to expect that same kind of sacrifice from us.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Sacrifice of Love

Nobody that understands the cross doubts God love. That was the topic of the last post. But the topic today is the forgotten part of 1st John 3:16 – “. . . And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Ah, most of us know and love John 3:16, but most of us would rather forget 1st John 3:16. But if we do that, we miss out on life’s greatest blessing - the blessing of showing love to others. It’s wonderful to experience God’s love, but it’s even more wonderful to participate with Christ as He shares love; to be the instrument by which Christ’s love.

This really does turn the natural laws on their head. The first law of physical life is self preservation, but the first law of spiritual life is self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is required even to the point of giving up our dearest possession – our very lives.

To illustrate, I’d like you to turn to a hymn in our hymnbook that expresses this kind of self-sacrifice – When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” It goes like this:
“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”

And the final stanza reads:
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Amen! How true!

That kind of sacrifice will be our attitude when we truly understand the cross. It will break our hearts. Nothing we could ever do for God would be enough, could ever be enough. To respond to God’s love by loving others could be our only response. 1st John 4:19 says: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

To what extent do we love? 1st John 3:16 tells us, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This is simple cause and effect. Because Christ loved us that much, we naturally would want to reciprocate. And since we show love to Christ by loving those He loves, we love each other. And, we love to the point of laying down our own lives for one another.

That is the essence of being a follower of Jesus Christ - total, unreserved surrender to Christ. Luke 9:23 says: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” The call, the invitation, is to come, to follow Christ. That invitation is open to all. But the condition (the “if”) is this: “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

At the foot of the cross, there is no room for self-will. We come to God as utterly broken people. We have nothing to offer Him – we are empty handed. We stand naked and alone and totally condemned for our sins before the only one who can save us, who can heal our lost spirits, who can mend our brokenness. And what does He ask for? That we deny ourselves.

Deny, in Greek, means to utterly forsake. Luke 9:24 continues: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” “Well, Pastor, Jesus isn’t talking about actual death here, is He?” Oh, yes! He said, “Take up your cross” didn’t He? And He didn’t mean, wear a lapel pin, or put a bumper sticker on your car. I don’t think they had them back in Jesus day.

Back then, they didn’t look at the cross as a pretty piece of jewelry, but an ugly instrument of death. The cross symbolized extremes of both excruciating pain, heartless cruelty, and, above all, death!

And Jesus knew He was going to the cross. Repeatedly, He had told His disciples, like just a few verses back in Luke 9:22, that He was going to the cross. He said: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

The cross was common in that day. Just a few years earlier, a man name Judas had led a bunch of zealots in revolt against Rome. In response, the Roman General Varus took immediate action, and he ordered over 2,000 crucifixions to teach the upstart Jews a lesson. Crosses lined the roads of Galilee from one end to the other, each bearing a writhing man in excruciating pain, each man dying a long and merciless death. Each of the apostles, with the possible exception of John himself, was also martyred.

Certainly, the apostles knew what Jesus talked about. It was obvious – the cross meant death. Jesus asks us to abandon ourselves to Him with no reservations, with no consideration of the cost - not even of life itself.

But, in giving up, we gain. When we give our lives over to Jesus, we receive His life in return. He lives in and through us. Galatians 2:20 assures us: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Christ gave His life for you. It is only reasonable that you, in return, give your life to Him.
And by doing so, you gain Christ’s life, lived out inside you, through you. What more could you want?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

No Greater Love

Back in John 13:35, we found another test of love. Jesus said: “By this (by love) all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our love for one another can be used by the world to evaluate our salvation.

But, what kind of love is Jesus talking about? That’s pretty clear from John 13:34 – it’s Christ’s own love for you. John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” So how did Jesus love you?

Was it with eros love, the erotic love that dominates our movies? Nope! That kind of love is never used in the New Testament. This isn’t lust driven, based on how physically attractive the one loved is. That’s not how Christ loved us.

Nor is it phileo love – brotherly love motivated by strong emotional feelings. The kind of love bonds us into friendships. But Christ’s love isn’t based on the pleasing character of the one loved either.

Rather, this is agape love – the love that characterizes God. But, what is agape love? Agape love is sacrificial love. It is a love that gives and gives and gives, even though it might never receive anything in return. It’s a love that’s not motivated by the loveliness of the one loved, or how pleasing they are, but it loves in spite of it. It is a love that loves because we choose to love. We aren’t carried along by our eyes or our emotions. It’s not falling in love at first sight. Often, agape love acts in spite of our eyes and emotions.

Agape love is a volitional love. We will to act in loving ways regardless of how we feel.
This is how we can love humans that are deformed and far less than perfect physically. And this is how we can love people who are cantankerous and obnoxious. We choose to love.

That’s the kind of love that God both demands from us, and the kind of love that the world judges our salvation by whether it is present or absent in us. And God can demand that kind of love from us because that’s the kind of love God showed toward us

Christ, of course, set the example. Did you know that there is hardly a verse in the New Testament that speaks of God’s love that doesn’t also speak of the cross of Calvary? The cross is the proof, and the greatest example of God’s love.

The example of that is right here in 1st John 3:16, which says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” How do we know what love is? Because Christ lay down His life for us. That’s the greatest example there ever could be.

And who did Jesus die for? Some worthy, respectable, beautiful person? No! Not on your life! He died for you. He made that ultimate, extreme sacrifice for someone like you.

Just so you don’t miss the point, here’s what Romans 5:6-10 says:
“For when we were still without strength (we were totally unable to save ourselves), in due time Christ died for the ungodly (That’s what we were, ungodly – we were without God). For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die (That’s how we humans usually operate – we sacrifice only for those who are worthy). But God (God is different) demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners (Still doing our own thing, still violating all God’s laws), Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies (Not even neutral, but set against God and His will) we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

That’s not very complimentary of us, but it’s true. Christ died for us while we were very unlovable, very much set against God. But He chose to love us, nonetheless, and proved it by dying for us.

Paul’s testimony is recorded in Galatians 2:20. He says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Can you say that same thing? Do you know that Christ loves you and died for you?

1st John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The word, Propitiation, means to satisfy God’s holy wrath against sin. God poured that wrath out against His own dear Son rather than require we be punished for our sin. That is how much He loved us.
And of course there is John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Do you see? Every time we talk about God’s love, it is always in connection with Christ’s sacrifice. God loved us so much, He gave, and what He gave was His own Son. What sacrifice could be greater? What love could be greater? Can you imagine someone rejecting that great a love? Yet, so many do - I hope it’s not any of you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Evidence of Salvation

We’ve already looked at the test in 1st John 3:10 which shows how we can measure the validity of our salvation. It shows us how we can tell who is saved and who isn’t
The verse again: 1st John 3:10 – “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”

We can tell who is saved and who isn’t by whether or not that person practices righteousness. But then John throws in this last phrase – “nor is he who does not love his brother.” Ah, love, we’ve spiraled back around to love again. Remember, the outline of the book of First John resembles a corkscrew? So we are again, talking about love, and using it as a test; and John says, “You can tell who is a Christian by their love.”

That makes sense. You can tell who is a child of God by who bears a resemblance to God, by who acts like God, by who carries the family resemblance as a child of God. And what is the most important characteristics of God? Love! 1st John 4:8 says, “God is love.”

Not only is it a characteristic of God, it is a command to us. 1st John 3:11says, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
That’s right! We are supposed to love one another.

Not only is this commanded of us, it is the criteria that God permits the world to judge us by. In the Gospel of John we see these words of Jesus: John 13:34-35 – These are the words of Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How do we love? Like Jesus loved us. He is our example.

Isn’t that scary? God gives the world the right to judge our faith (our internal salvation) by our love for one another (our external actions).

How can this be? How can God base these tests of our salvation all on our external actions? It’s very simple: Salvation is supposed to transform our lives. The new birth yields fruit within us so you can tell by our actions whether we’ve been saved or not.
That Holy Spirit that comes in and lives in the life of every believer never leaves us unchanged.

Now, the reverse is apostasy. Our actions, our works, never lead to the new birth, but new birth always leads to works, to a changed life. Do you follow this?

Maybe this will help. Ephesians 2:8-10 really show us clearly the pattern. It says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

The means of our salvation is grace, and the source of that is God. Salvation comes to our lives by faith. It isn’t by our work, or we could brag about it. But the purpose of our salvation? That purpose is work. That’s why God created us and saved us: He has work planned for us to do. He planned it for us even before we were saved. And our salvation, which is God’s work in us, always bears fruit. We will accomplish what God has planned for us or the Holy Spirit has failed at His task of bearing fruit within us.

But, that’s the paradox that so many miss. We can’t be saved by our works; that only comes by God’s grace applied to us through faith. But the purpose of our salvation, from God’s perspective, is that we work for Him. That’s the progression. And it only works in one way. Works do not work to save us, but salvation always results in works.

Therefore, works can give evidence of salvation. People can’t ever see our internal faith, but they can see our external action. And they can use those external evidences to make their conclusion about whether we are saved or not. That’s why, back in John 13:35, Jesus could say: “By this (by love) all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Taking the Spirit's Hand

The Spirit of Christ is in every believer. Romans 8:9-10 says, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” That’s one of the defining traits of a believer. Almost by definition, a Christian is one who is indwelt by the Spirit of God.

But what does all this have to do with gaining victory over sin in our lives? The answer comes from our obedience to the Spirit. Romans 8:5 teaches, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”

I think we can get a good idea of what this means if we look at it in the Old King James, which says:
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.”

If you mind your mamma, you obey her. “My land, that young’un just don’t mind me at all when I tell him what to do.” “Son, you mind me now, you here?”

The key really is not to worry about mastering the flesh, but the key is obeying the Spirit. The flesh is un-reconcile-able, and it won’t ever behave itself. But your flesh is pretty helpless without your cooperation. So, instead of cooperating with the flesh’s dastardly desires, you obey the Spirit. Like your flesh, the Holy Spirit is always within you too. And the Spirit of God will never lead you into sin.

Romans 8:13-14 tells us that, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

Following the flesh will only lead you to destruction. Following the Spirit leads to life. In that verse, the word, led, in Greek is a beautiful word. It is ago, and it means this, from a Greek dictionary: To lead by laying hold of, and in this way to bring to the point of destination; to lead by accompanying to or into any place. Wow! Isn’t that awesome? It conveys the idea of a gentleman offering his strong arm to escort a lady along, like a father leading his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. It says, “I am taking you, I am leading you, I am going through this with you.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us.

That idea is expressed in: Psalm 73:24 (reading from the old King James), “Thou dost hold my right hand; thou dost guide me with counsel.” Praise God, we are not left alone. The Holy Spirit is continually with a believer, leading him by the hand, providing continual guidance through life. All we have to do is follow. We no longer have to follow the flesh into all kinds of trouble and degradation. We can now follow the Holy Spirit who leads us to a righteous life.

But, like a gentleman, the Holy Spirit offers His arm for us to take. He doesn’t grab us by the hair and drag us along caveman style. He offers us his arm, then waits for us to take it. God’s job is to offer the Spirit to lead us and guide us. Our job is to obey, or, should we say, to follow.

Now listen to this: Ephesians 5:1 says: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.” This shows us the relationship that we are in when we follow. We are God’s “dear children.” Should there be any fear of following Him? Of failing? No! Of course not! No more than your toddler son should be afraid of taking your hand and following you.

When a parent helps their baby take his first steps, that parent takes the baby by the hand to lead him. If the baby stumbles and falls, the parent doesn’t smack him up side the head or scold him for being so clumsy. The parent simply helps the baby back up and again patiently takes his hand. This is what God does – the concerned, hovering parent. We need to reach out our hands to His and be willing to be led.

This is expressed well in Psalm 139:7-10
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me. Praise God!

What a comfort that should be to us. The God who knows us intimately, and love us anyway, has promised to always be there to lead us and guide us. What is there to fear?

But where will the Spirit of God guide us? He’ll guide us into all truth. John 16:13 says, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” Where is the truth found? Truth is found in the Word of God. Why is this important? Well, if the problem is our need to stop practicing sin, the answers are found in God’s Word.

Here are some examples:
Psalm 119:9 says, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.”

Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

1st Peter 1:22 says, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth.”

Well, how does this all work? How does the Spirit of God lead us to line up with the truth? Well, maybe I can explain it this way: One time I visited the Panama Canal. Part of the Canal traveled through Gatun Lake, which was really a damned up river, and it was a treacherous lake for ship travel. The ships had to zigzag to avoid the numerous sand bars so as not to run aground. The way they figured this out was ingenious. Each zig (or zag, as the case may be) was marked by a series of three signs, All each of the signs had on them was a single vertical line. When a ship got to the point where it needed to make the turn, those vertical lines lined up perfectly and you could safely make the turn.
If they didn’t line up, you were off course, and in grave danger of running aground, just as you are in grave danger when your life doesn’t line up with the Word of God. You are heading for a shipwreck in your life.

Well, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to guide you to the place where your life and the Word are exactly lined up. The Holy Spirit does that with the will of God and your lives too. He wants your lives in perfect line with God’s Word and God’s will. And what is your part? Obedience – surrender to God’s will. You reach out your hand to take the Spirit’s arm let him lead you.

Unfortunately, too many girls actually prefer the wild side of life. They prefer to follow the rough crowd, the lawless boys, into all kinds of trouble. But how much better would they be to shun that wild crowd and instead take the arm of a gentleman who would truly protect them from trouble and lead them away from it?

Unfortunately, way too many of us also really prefer the excitement of the illicit pleasures of the flesh.
So we avoid the gaze of the Holy Spirit, and we ignore his outstretched arm preferring to follow the lust of our flesh.

Well, our part is to obey. Donald Grey Barnhouse claimed that “90% of knowing the will of God consists of being willing to do the will of God before we know what it is.” That makes a lot of sense. It’s the difference between obeying willingly or grudgingly.

You can understand this: Have you ever gone up to someone and asked, “Hey, buddy, can you do me a favor?” And they respond, “I don’t know, it depends on what is it?” So you respond, “Oh, never mind if that’s the way you feel.” It bugs you that they wouldn’t want to do you a favor. “Just forget I ever asked,” And you walk off in a huff.

Well, how do think God feels when you say, “I don’t know if I want to do God’s will. What if He asks me to do something I don’t want to do?” Come on! What are you afraid of? God is a gentleman. He’s your daddy! He loves you. Why would you not want to take His arm and have Him lead you?

So, let me ask you: What is your response when God offers you His arm? Do you have to ask, “Where are we going?” before you take it? Or do you say, “Yes, Father, wherever you lead me.” Now, which would be the right response?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Seed Within

We ended the last post by saying that Christ came to win the victory over sin. Yet, the battle over sin in our lives goes on - day after day, moment by moment - as we struggle to live like a Christian should. So what gives? Is there victory or not? Is there an answer to this battle that rages within us over sin, or are we left to live in defeat?

The answer is found tucked away here in 1st John 3:9-10, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

That’s kind of a good news/bad news situation The good news is this: God, at our new birth, gives us a new spirit – a new nature. That nature is immortal, it’s eternal, and it cannot sin! Praise God for that good news.

But the bad news is that the old nature still resides inside us too. Oh, it’s condemned, it’s crucified, and it’s dead; but still very much alive and sinful. And it is with us 24 hours a day. It’s like carrying around a 200 pound stinking, rotting corpse all day long. It kind of gets in the way. But in the middle of this sin, God, if we trust Him, implants a beautiful new life.

We can see this in Ephesians 2:1-2. It emphatically declares: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”

Do you see? Into the midst of this sinful old nature, God implants a new nature. The old only wants to sin, but the new only wants to please God. And the natural result? Warfare - as the two natures collide within us.

The Gnostics John battled claimed (Somewhat rightly) that only the body sinned, and not the spirit. But they felt that let them off the hook – it took away their responsibility. “It wasn’t me that sinned, it was my body. I didn’t do it. I’m just an innocent bystander.”
We can somewhat agree with the Gnostics if we agreed on the definition of terms because truly, only the flesh/ the old nature sins, while the new nature never does. But we can’t agree that the flesh is synonymous with the body. Of course not, the body is neutral. The body can be used for either good or evil. Your mouth can preach the Gospel and spread encouragement, or it can slander and gossip. Your hand can punch someone or pat them on the back in encouragement.

But, the way your body is used is up to you. That’s what it says in Romans 6:12–14, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Who has control? You do! Amen! Praise God! You control what your hands and feet and mouth, etc, do. We’re under grace, and we don’t have to sin. But a method to that is found in Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” You don’t feed the flesh, or give it any opportunity. You don’t pack it a sack lunch so that it has provisions for the fight against you. Starve it.

Ah, but why do we have such a hard time doing that? Even the greatest apostle of all, the apostle Paul, had a hard time. We’re not alone in this. In Romans 7:15, we see Paul’s testimony. See if this isn’t just like what you’ve experienced in your Christian life. Paul writes, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”

What is he expressing? Frustration, anguish over his inability to get rid of sin. And the culprit? The flesh! Romans 7:17-20 continues with Paul saying, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” The flesh, that old nature, is the culprit

What is life in the flesh like? Romans 7:24 tells us, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” What is the answer? Romans 7:25, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus, alone, can give us victory.

But how? Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

Ah, that’s the same answer as we find in 1st John 3:9, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” We who are believers don’t practice sin because God’s seed remains in us. That seed is the Holy Spirit. And to the extent that we walk according to the Spirit, we are free from sin.

We’ll talk about this more next time.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Victory Over Sin

The emphasis of 1st John has been to give us assurance. John wants to give us a practical ways to prove we are saved. Remember the purpose verse? First John 5:13 says “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

So to give us that assurance, John gives us a series of practical tests – fine and dandy. But, sometimes, the tests hit kind of close to home. Why? Because we are left in that gray area, that no-man’s land in between - neither lining up with what John says a Christian acts like, nor being as bad as John says an unbeliever is. We are just kind of in the middle, inconclusively in the middle.
That’s the way it was with the last test we looked at: First John 3:6-8, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

Oh, Oh! That’s scary! That hits way too close to home. Thankfully, we were given an out as we delved into the tenses of the verbs. The correct tense shows the test to be the practice of sin, not the absolute absence of sin. A believer can’t practice sin, not and have assurance. Sin can’t be the defining characteristic of a believer’s life, not if his claim to salvation is to be believed. You have no valid claim to salvation if you live a life of sin.

But, that still leaves me uncomfortable, doesn’t it you? We’ve sort-of sanitized our lives. We have no glaringly awful sins left in us like murder or bank robbery. We’re generally honest and upright citizens. Most of us Christians are like the old ditty: “We don’t drink, and we don’t chew, and we don’t run with girls that do.” And yet, we’re ashamed to admit that we do still practice sin. I do, don’t you?

Our lives still are filled with those “not-so-bad” sins (at least we think they aren’t) - sins like envy, or laziness, or bitterness, or a loose tongue – “Hey, everybody does it, right?” - certainly nothing that would get us thrown into jail over. But still, these kinds of sin are an all too common occurrence in our lives.

In John’s day, the Gnostic heretics he battled came to the same conclusion about the predominance of sin in us. But their conclusion was, “Don’t worry about sin.” John’s conclusion, on the other hand, was, “Don’t sin!” First John 2:1 says, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” And, therein lies the battle. Previously, we saw John’s conclusion that Jesus won the ultimate battle against sin. He came to achieve Victory! First John 3:8 told us, “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” And He did

Yet, the battle over sin in our lives goes on - day after day, moment by moment - as we struggle to live like a Christian should. So what gives? Is there victory or not? Is there an answer to this battle that rages within us over sin, or are we left to live in defeat? We will find the answer in the next post.