But You Were Washed

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11) 

When it comes to some things, our culture desires to have its way. We think that as society changes, God’s standards change with it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul dealt with many issues causing division in the church, issues that at their core were rooted in a theological misunderstanding of God’s grace. Many in the church had been saved from their sin but were falling back into their old habits of the past. And Paul, as he did throughout his ministry, found it necessary to warn against this when it happened.

The word antinomianism comes from two Greek words, anti, meaning “against” and nomos, meaning “law”. It’s the idea that Christians are freed from the moral law by virtue of grace as set forth in the gospel. Many mistook Paul’s teaching of grace to mean they could live however they pleased. Paul never taught that because God never intended that. Grace received always shows itself with a heart that desires to conform to God’s will.

After addressing several issues causing division in the church, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul’s point in this verse is that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. He’s calling them to repentance. It’s also worth noting that Paul doesn’t make a distinction between specific sins? We sometimes do. God never does. As Christians, we sin, but we hate it and in our struggle against it we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us resist and overcome it.

There are things of this world that are incompatible with God’s standards, things that if we persist in indicate a lack of belief, testifying to the lack of our having a personal relationship with Christ. But as direct as God’s Word is about what perpetual sin testifies to and where it leads, God’s Word is really a story of grace, the grace of a Father who not only gave His Son for our sin, but who also stands ready to restore us to fellowship when we fail. Restoration always follows repentance. Paul reminds those in the church of their need to repent, but as he concludes the thought of this passage, he also reminds them of who they were before Christ and who they are now in Him. The gospel offers great hope!

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” You see, before Christ we were spiritually dead. The people in the Corinthian church had been brought from death to life (regeneration). They had been set apart to God for His use (sanctification). They had been declared not guilty before God (justified). They had been saved from all of the sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9. God’s power over sin isn’t limited to only certain sins. He has power over all of them. There’s great hope in that truth. God is also the definer of what is and is not sin. He has spoken clearly. So, as our culture moves, God doesn’t, therefore, we shouldn’t move either. Let us never celebrate sin. Instead, with the Holy Spirit’s help, let us fight against our flesh to bring glory to God.

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I Have Decided

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38)

I love music, all kinds of music. I especially love knowing the story behind songs because it gives me a fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for that particular song. In their book Living Among Lions, David and Jason Benham tell the story behind the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. If the title sounds familiar it might be because there’s a popular Christian song entitled Christ is Enough that borrows a portion of its lyrics from I Have Decided…. We sing this song at church and I listen to it often on iTunes. I’ve always appreciated the lyrics of this song, but until reading the Benham brothers book, I had never heard the story behind them.

The story behind I Have Decided to Follow Jesus began with a family of four who lived in the Indian province of Assam. They had professed faith in Christ and were subsequently baptized by a Welsh missionary in the 1880’s. As one might imagine, their profession brought about intense persecution. The leaders in their village arrested the family, demanding the father renounce Christ. He refused their demand saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” His two children were then killed right in front of him. He still refused to renounce Jesus saying, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” Then they killed his wife. Still no renunciation. “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus” was his response. The village leaders then killed him. According to the Welsh missionary, when he returned to the village some time later, revival had broken out and he came to find out that those who had murdered the family had themselves come to faith in Christ. He passed this story along to a prominent Indian evangelist named Sandhu Sundar who then made this man’s dying words into a great hymn.

Scripture leaves no doubt as to where our allegiance as believers must lie−with Jesus. Jesus’ own words make that abundantly clear (Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 16:24-28). At first glance, the level of commitment these verses communicate might seem a bit unrealistic, but not only is it not unrealistic, this level of commitment is what’s expected. Our love and commitment to Christ must be unrivaled. Everything must take its place behind Jesus. And when it does, persecution may, and most likely will come. As disciples, we must be willing to count the cost. It’s not that we wish for the persecution, and it’s not that it will be anyway near as intense as this family underwent. It’s that in whatever form it comes, and however intense it may be, we focus on Christ and His promise to be with us in the midst of it. It was the Holy Spirit alone that enabled this father to not renounce Christ. It will be the Holy Spirit that will see you through whatever persecution results from your commitment to Christ as well.

So, are you willing to count the cost? Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you resolved to not turn back? If not, grab hold of Jesus. If you have, just hang on. Trust that He is always with you, that His promises are true, that He is enough, and that yes, His grace is always sufficient. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.”

More Than A Baby

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)

The prophets predicted it: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14); “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Jesus fulfilled it: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11); “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

On Christmas we celebrate the deity of Jesus. We celebrate that “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). We celebrate that what God promised, He fulfilled in Jesus Christ—the incarnate Word, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1, 14). Jesus never ceased to be God, but rather, He took on humanity. He is fully God and fully man.

As Christians, we not only celebrate that Jesus came, but also that He lived a perfect life, died for our sin, was raised for our justification and is coming again. On Christmas and every day, we celebrate Immanuel, “God with us”.

No Hope, Without God…But Now

“But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13)                                                                                                                                                  

In April, I began reading Ephesians. My plan has been to read the whole book every day for the month. The idea came from a friend who told me about an article written by John MacArthur on the topic of how to read the Bible for a deeper level of understanding. As I’ve been reading, Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:12-13 has been particularly meaningful. What the apostle is teaching in these verses is the unity and peace that exists in Christ. In context, he is teaching that the Jews and Gentiles are no longer two distinct groups, but are one “new man” in Christ. This is a pretty amazing considering the social and spiritual disadvantages the Gentiles had relative to the Jews. You see, the Gentiles weren’t part of the covenant community. They weren’t given a divine promise. They didn’t even recognize the true God. So, in fact, they were without hope and without God. But you know what, so were we.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a casual approach to reading God’s Word. It’s like we treat it as if it’s part of our “to do” list as opposed to an opportunity to meet with our heavenly Father. I believe this is particularly the case if we’ve studied the book or passage before. We assume there’s nothing more to be gained from it. It is true that a verse says and means only one thing, and it’s true that it says and means the same thing every time we read it. But it is equally true that the Holy Spirit is capable of taking God’s Word and impressing it upon our hearts in different ways at different times. That’s what’s happened as I’ve been reading through Ephesians this month. I’ve read Ephesians many times, but what has really struck me this time is that the Gentiles story is my story. And it’s also your story. All of us were without hope and without God. The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But then God intervened, and because of His mercy and grace, even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Christ’s substitutionary death was not only for the Jew, but also for the Gentiles. It was for us as well. Christ’s death for us is the greatest expression of love ever known. It brought near those who were once far off. I believe the “But now” in each of our lives means even more when we realize our desperate condition apart from Christ. How can we truly appreciate grace if we’re oblivious to the degree with which we need it? God doesn’t love us because we’re lovable. He chooses to love us simply out of His own free will. The cross is the proof. Let us respond by loving Him in return.

Anchor Deep

“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. ” (Ephesians 4:14)

We should never think the work of ministry is only for those who do it vocationally. That’s not found in Scripture. We are all “ministers” with a role and responsibility to spread the gospel. The reason Paul says God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers was that they would equip the saints (all Christians) for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

There is a purpose for equipping of believers. Ultimately, that purpose is that we would bring God glory. This happens as we live out His will in our lives. God’s glory should always be our primary goal. But growing in maturity also helps us navigate through a challenging world. We need a filter through which to see the world, an anchor to keep us from being tossed about by false teaching.

Our world promotes many non-biblical ideas. Some may even sound good on the surface, but in the end just get us off course. Paul explains in Ephesians 4:14 that spiritual maturity is important because it keeps us from being like a ship without an anchor as wave’s crash in and the wind blows around us. It helps us to better be able to choose right instead of wrong and less likely to follow where we shouldn’t. So, make sure to anchor deep that you may more fully discern the will of God. Search His will in His Word. Doing so will benefit you as you navigate in a crazy and confused world. Most importantly, it will bring God the glory He deserves.

The Will of the Lord

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17)

No one sought to do the will of God the Father more than Jesus, God the Son. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38). Even as He met the moment of the cross, the purpose for which He came and agonized over separation from His heavenly Father, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will. “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Romans 12:2 says we are not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may “discern the will of God”. Though the Bible tells of people who patterned obedience to God’s will, only one did it perfectly, Jesus Christ. He was obedient all the way to the cross.

God’s “hidden will” are those things He has chosen not to reveal. His “revealed will” are those things He has chosen to reveal in order to provide us a roadmap for our lives. If as Scripture says we were predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, why should we think our wills are not to be conformed to God’s. We shouldn’t. Paul teaches that we are to walk as children of the light…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:9-10). Jesus’ perfect obedience to the will of the Father doesn’t make our submission to God’s will unimportant. It’s the only proper response to His grace. And because God’s will is found in His Word, we are to search for it there. And as best we can, enabled by the Holy Spirit, we should seek to understand it because to do otherwise would be foolish.

Grieving with Hope

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Sometimes the testimonies of God’s grace are overwhelming. To see others worship God in the midst of their pain is amazing. Suffering of any kind is a harsh reality of life. Suffering that leads to death is an even harsher reality. I think the Bible speaks so much about suffering because of its prominence in our world. No one is immune to suffering and when it happens it’s easy to ask why. Why does a young child die? Why does death occur so suddenly that there’s no time for goodbye? Or why does a lifelong of suffering have to precede death? For that matter, why does death occur at all? Scripture helps us to know that death is not normal, but is a consequence of The Fall. But Scripture also helps us to know that for those who are in Christ, death ultimately brings life.

The emphasis of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is that although grief is a completely normal reaction to death, Christians grieve with the hope of knowing that one day a reunion with their loved ones will follow. The people in the church at Thessalonica were concerned that their loved ones who had already died would miss out on the Lord’s return. Paul taught them and is also teaching us about the proper perspective and response to death. This teaching should never be taken to mean Christians are not to grieve.

It’s a privilege to be able to see people live out their faith in difficult times. To watch them trusting in God’s promise that He works all thing together for good, to believe the truth that suffering can’t compare to glory, and to testify that there is a peace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Romans 8:28, Romans 8:18, Philippians 4:7). Wow! To say it’s a privilege is not to say we wouldn’t have preferred them not suffer loss and have to grieve at all. It is only to say it’s a privilege in the sense of seeing the Holy Spirit do in and for them what only He can do.

One of the primary roles of the church is to strengthen the body of Christ. This happens when we’re taught God’s Word, but I think sometimes even more so when we witness it lived out. It happens when we see those who are suffering because of their loss, clinging to God and His Word, proclaiming not only that He is great, but that He is good, even in spite of the fact that so much of what has happened may tell them differently. This is the Spirit’s work. It is something those apart from Christ cannot know. I believe the Spirit of God uses these people to show others of us where we may be lacking in our own faith; while at the same time providing encouragement by storing up their testimonies in our hearts should our paths ever take a similar route.

God is so gracious. He is good all the time. Dig deep in His Word to know Him more. Don’t face the harshness of this world and the reality of suffering and death without Him at your side. Seek the peace and hope that He alone provides. One day death will come for all of us, but for those who have placed their hope in Christ; it’s really just the beginning.