Wednesday, April 16, 2014

God's Work in Us the Key to Victory

Yesterday, (See article here.) in discussing the last section of Romans 6, I said, “If God has given you the gift of eternal life by regenerating your spirit, he has also given you a new heart, a new spirit, his Holy Spirit and the motivation to live for him (Ezekiel 36:26-27).”

Here's what that passage says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

There's a parallel passage in Jeremiah 31:33-34 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

The New Covenant promised to Israel included the grace and internal motivation needed to follow God. His law would be in their minds and hearts. God would cause them to walk in his ways. The motivation to do right would flow naturally from a changed inside. This New Covenant was initiated by Jesus when he offered himself as the sacrifice of the New Covenant (See Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; Hebrews 8:8, 8:13, 9:15, 12:24). Some day it will be fulfilled in its entirety with all Israel but for now it is revealed in the new birth as that takes place in Jews and Gentiles alike around the world from every tribe and nation.

The point that I'm trying to make today as a follow-up of yesterday's discussion is that the warnings at the end of Romans 6 are real. Yielding to sin leads to further disobedience and ultimately death. Whereas yielding to obedience leads to further righteousness and that leads to eternal life. This should not be thought of as though I can just legalistically obey a certain set of regulations and end up in heaven. We are not saved by works but by faith in Christ. But believing in Christ and trusting him for salvation changes us. We become new creatures, old things have passed away, and all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). The grace that God gives us teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously and godly lives (Titus 2:12). If we don't know or don't care to live righteous and godly lives, we don't have the grace of God at work in us. We are told that God disciplines every son he receives. The purpose of that discipline is holiness (Hebrews 12:10), not the holiness of Christ that we receive positionally, but practical outworking of holiness in our living. The writer of Hebrews tells us that without such holiness we won't see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). But it is a holiness that is generated by God at work in us as we live in faithful obedience. It is God who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure as we work out our salvation in our lives (Phil 2:13).

So it's important that we understand this. Two extremes need to be avoided. The one extreme is that we receive the gift of righteousness from God. He forgives our sins and now we can live however we want and it doesn't matter. We're secure. We'll get in and so all is well. The other extreme is to say, God will be examining our works and they better measure up or we won't get in. We begin to assume that we can earn our justification by our efforts. That is denied countless times in Scripture. If we would put ourselves under the illusion that we can work our way in by our deeds, we put ourselves under a curse because we must do everything perfectly to get in (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10).

We need to live our lives based on the truth that God graciously forgives us of our sins and at the same time, gently works in us to conform us to the image of his Son. God disciplines us as a father. His goal is to draw us back into his arms in loving obedience. His promises of reward and warnings against sin are both meant to draw us to fellowship with himself. A human father does this imperfectly. Our heavenly father knows exactly what it takes and he will be successful (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Victory in Christ Revisited - Romans 6

A few weeks ago I wrote several blog articles about what I called Victory in Christ. This was a series on Romans 6-8. Since then I have done a lot of thinking about the topic and have given considerable thought to Romans 7 especially and how it fits in considering the struggle all of us face as Christians in our efforts to live a life that is pleasing to God and is victorious.

In preparation for a deeper look at Romans 7, here are the main truths that I believe Romans 5-6 are teaching us.

First, Adam's sin was imputed to all of us and thus we are guilty from the moment we're born. Actual sin was not imputed to people when there was no law against those sins and thus God tells us that the law was added so that sin would increase (Romans 5:20), and so that sin might become exceedingly sinful (Romans 7:13).

Second, where sin increased, grace increased more (Romans 5:20). We should look at grace not only as God's gracious forgiveness of our sin, but the motivation and strength to do right (Titus 2:11, 12; 2 Cor 9:8; 2 Cor 8:7; 2 Cor 12:9). So as sin increases, God gives more grace to be able to fight it and overcome victoriously. His grace never lags behind.

But that raises the question as to whether we should sin more so that there will be more grace. The answer, of course, is “no”. It's interesting then that Paul appeals to what we should know and that what we know should help us. We should know that we have been united with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Since we've been united with Christ, we died with him on the cross and we were raised with him and are seated with him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5-6). Since this is so, our old man was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be rendered inoperative. We are therefore no longer slaves of sin because we have been freed from it (Romans 6:5-11). Sin's right to rule us has ceased. In light of these truths, we are to count ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God because we are united with Christ. We are to see ourselves as having died already and as living on the resurrection side. The bottom line of this section then is that we should not offer ourselves as weapons to sin, but we should present ourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead.

Next we discover that we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14), and this results in the understanding that sin shall not have dominion over us. (He's going to explain how sin and law interact in Chapter 7.) This is a promise not a command. But should we sin, since we are not under law but under grace? Paul's argument here beginning at verse 15 is very strong. He says, “Don't you know?” Again he brings up the importance of knowing something. What is it that we are to know? Besides knowing that we are united with Christ, we should know that when we yield ourselves to obey someone, we are in effect a slave of the one who we obey. Regardless of how the law applies, we are defacto slaves if we obey someone else's every command. Even though sin doesn't have legal dominion over us and its power over us has been broken, if we yield to it, we are as good as slaves even if perhaps we are not legally slaves. So he gives two scenarios. We can either yield ourselves to sin which leads to death or we can yield ourselves to obedience which leads to righteousness (Romans 6:16-23). These two masters have two completely opposite results. Yielding to sin leads to further lawlessness and wickedness and ultimately death. Yielding to obedience leads to righteousness, then to holiness (v. 19), which leads ultimately to eternal life (v.22). He summarizes this truth in the familiar verse 23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Does this mean that ultimately salvation is based on our works? If I give in to obedience and to greater righteousness I ultimately work my way to the end which is eternal life? I don't think so because in verse 23 as in many other places of Scripture we learn that eternal life is a gift of God. But what I think this is telling us is that the entire path is a gift of God. The entire gift of salvation includes the desire and motivation to please God. I think this is a warning to those who would claim that they have eternal life and yet live on the disobedience leads to further disobedience leads to death path. You can't follow that path and expect to end up with eternal life. If God has given you the gift of eternal life by regenerating your spirit, he has also given you a new heart, a new spirit, his Holy Spirit and the motivation to live for him (Ezekiel 36:26-27). A Christian will spend less and less time on the death path because he knows it doesn't fit who he is in Christ.

See next post here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Memorization Monday - Romans 5:8

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Christ died for us while we were sinners. Sometimes we think that we deserve the love of God. Somehow we were a worthy prize for God to gain by coming here to die. Actually, the reverse is the case. God, desiring to show love to unworthy people, paid the ultimate price. God's glory is demonstrated by his rescue of sinners. It is a glory we could not know in any other way.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hymn of the Week - He Will Hold Me Fast

He Will Hold Me Fast
Vv. 1-2 Ada Habershon (1861-1918)
Alt. Words (vv. 1-2) and Verse 3: Matt Merker

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast.
 

I could never keep my hold,
Through life's fearful path
For my love is often cold,
He must hold me fast.

Refrain
He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight,
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in His holy sight,
He will hold me fast.

He'll not let my soul be lost;
His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost,
He will hold me fast.

Refrain

For my life He bled and died,
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied;
He will hold me fast.

Raised with Him to endless life;
He will hold me fast;
'til our faith is turned to sight
when He comes at last!

Refrain

Monday, April 07, 2014

Memorization Monday - Ephesians 2:8,9

Eph 2:8-9 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.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Importance of Unified Praying with Others

I've been focusing on prayer a lot in recent weeks both in preparation for sharing thoughts in our church prayer meeting service and in personal preparation for a stronger prayer life. One of the things I've been impressed with in the New Testament is the emphasis on corporate prayer, prayer as a group. Along with that the Bible stresses the need to be of one accord or like-minded.

First consider this promise: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:19 While this verse deals primarily with the issue of discipline in the church, it shows both the importance of praying with others and the importance of agreement.

In Acts 2:42 we're told that the followers of Jesus “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” There was a steadfastness, a consistency, a sticking to it pattern regarding prayer in the local assembly. We have a similar passage in Acts 1:14, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” In this passage we see both the idea of continuing and the idea of being of one accord, one mind. They were in agreement as to what they were praying for.

On another occasion, after having been released from arrest, Peter and John returned to their fellow Christians and reported all that had taken place. In response the people “raised their voice to God with one accord and said: 'Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them....'” The prayer continues with praise of who God is, a review of events that led to this moment and then a prayer for boldness. In response to their prayer the place was shaken with the power of the Holy Spirit and they went out and spoke with boldness. Their prayer had been answered. It's interesting to note that they spontaneously prayed and they prayed with one accord.

All through the New Testament Christians are exhorted to be of one mind and of one accord. Just think of the power that such unity would bring if it was displayed this way in each local church. God promised that if you pray in agreement, “it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

I think each one of us needs to ask ourselves a couple of questions. Do I believe in prayer? Do I demonstrate that by having a consistent personal prayer life? But we need to go further. Do I regularly and consistently meet with other Christians in my assembly and pray with them? And if I do, is our praying of one mind toward the furthering of God's will on earth as it is in heaven?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Memorization Monday - Ephesians 2:6-7

Eph 2:1-7 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. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

God sees us as having died with Christ and being raised with him. Then this passage goes even farther to say that we have been seated with him in heavenly places. Several truths flow from this that we don't have time to go into here, but it means that we have died to sin and we have died to the law through Christ. That puts us on entirely new ground for living a victorious Christian life. In the last part of this passage we see the whole plan of God summarized -- God is going to demonstrate for ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace. God wants everyone to know how good and how gracious he is and our salvation is the best means to demonstrate that.