This One Might Sting A Little

“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but fails to keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4)

The other day, a friend of mine shared an interesting quote with me. I’m not sure where it originated, but it read “Your life as a Christian should make non-believers question their disbelief in God.” I’ll admit, the quote was quite convicting as I know there have been many times in my life where my actions have failed to reflect my profession, times when instead of pushing people toward Christ, I perhaps turned them away from Him.

The Bible is quite clear about the appropriate response to God’s grace in salvation. The apostle Paul addressed it. Answering the question as to whether one should remain in sin so grace may abound, he said, “By no means. How can we who died to sin live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). The apostle Peter addressed it writing, “He [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). And the apostle John addressed it. In 1 John 2:3, he writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him [Jesus], if we keep his commandments”. He followed that up in the next verse writing that whoever claims to know Christ but doesn’t keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in them (1 John 2:4). In 1 John 3:9, he writes “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God”. In his commentary on this text, John MacArthur says “the apostle John presents two external tests that demonstrate salvation: doctrinal and moral. The doctrinal test consists of professing a proper view of Christ and sin, while the moral test consists of obedience and love.” Those genuinely born again, MacArthur says, display the habit of obedience. The apostle John even quoted Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Bottom line: The proof that we know and love God is not in our profession, but in our obedience.

Unfortunately, the whole idea of submission and obedience to the will of God has gotten lost in our culture today. There seems to be this thought that because Christ died for sin, we can live any way we please. Nowhere does the Bible teach that. Nowhere does it teach that forgiveness removes the obligation to obey the commands of God. Obedience isn’t what makes us right with God, but a heart transformed by the gospel shows itself in a changed life. The truth is, those touched by God’s grace have as their highest goal to obey Him. Sure, we slip and slide in our Christian walk, and yes, God’s grace is greater than our sin, but the cross isn’t a “permission slip” to sin more. Rather, it’s an act of love that should motivate us to humbly submit to God’s will. This is the heart of the believer. A profession without a pattern of obedience is a hollow testimony of true conversion. Let us never take for granted what Christ did on the cross. Instead, let it motivate us to honor Him in everything we do. Remember, others are watching. What is your life saying to them?

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When You’re Down, Look Up-Our God Is Faithful

“…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12)

How are we to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we’re going through trials, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) even when those circumstances are bad, and how are we to believe that just because we love God “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? I believe those are pretty good questions, but I also believe God has even better answers.

It is in the context of some sort of suffering that each of the passages above exist. Suffering is always a potential barrier to worship and to living out one’s faith. Ultimately, as Christians, we manage through these times by drawing strength from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reality of our lives lived in the flesh makes it easy see all that happens, whether good or bad, from only a human perspective. God’s perspective must be our goal. It’s easy to thank God for the good times just to turn around and blame Him for the bad times. Our perspective must be centered on His promises. God never promised difficult times wouldn’t come, but He absolutely promised to be with us when they do. We must trust and seek to know Him more each day.

In his devotion Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon likens the knowledge of Christ to climbing a mountain. He says at its base, because we can see only a little bit, the mountain appears to be only half as high as it really is. However, as we move up the mountain, we are able see more and more. Spurgeon concludes by talking about how at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12) and that “each experience had been like climbing a hill, each trial had been like ascending another summit, and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain from which he could see the whole panorama of the faithfulness and love of Him to whom he had committed his soul”.

We live in a fallen world and our view is sometimes cloudy. This makes it easy for the circumstances of life to bring us down. But when they do, look up and keep climbing, because our God is faithful.

Resolved

“Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank…” (Daniel 1:8)

The word “resolve” is a strong word. It means to be firmly determined to do or not to do something. It’s a word that suggests an attitude that says, “This is where I stand” or “I have decided”. More than any other verse, Daniel 1:8 symbolizes Daniel’s attitude and actions throughout his life.

            Daniel prophesied to the people of Israel who were exiled in Babylon. The book spans the entire seventy-year period of the Babylonian captivity (605-535 B.C.). Taken into captivity when he was fifteen, Daniel remained in Babylon for the rest of his life. The book of Daniel has several themes. The primary theme is God’s sovereignty, not only over the present circumstances for Israel in that day, but also for future events in history, some of which have come to pass, others which are still yet to come.

            Daniel was a model of character and faithfulness. God honored his faithfulness, giving him wisdom and insight which enabled him to become a trusted advisor to both the Babylonian and Persian Empires. So, what made Daniel different? What helped him to not only avoid the influence of a godless culture around him, but even thrive in it? And how can we thrive in a world progressively influenced by a culture opposed to the things of God?  

            Daniel proved to be a powerful influence in his day, but he knew the source of all power was God. Daniel had been transformed, both in his heart and in his mind. In everything, he sought to be obedient to God’s will. We would do well to follow his lead. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Daniel was practicing the principles of this verse even before the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write it.

            If we are going to live lives that are pleasing to God, we must cultivate our relationship with Him. We must seek Him in His Word and through prayer. If we want to make a difference, we must be different. We must think differently and we must live differently. Daniel was prepared to be used by God. His faithfulness in the midst of great challenge was a result of God’s work in Him. Daniel knew God. Do you know Him? Has He transformed your heart and mind? Are you seeking Him each day? Are you “resolved” to do His will?

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.

Pay Close Attention

“But the high places were not taken out of Israel. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days”          (2 Chronicles 15:17)

Very few proclaim truth more directly than Oswald Chambers. I was reminded of that this morning when a friend of mine shared a quote from him. The quote read, “You no more need a day off from spiritual concentration on matters in your life than your heart needs a day off from beating. As you cannot take a day off morally and remain moral, neither can you take a day off spiritually and remain spiritual. God wants you to be entirely His, and it requires paying close attention to keep yourself fit. It also takes a tremendous amount of time. Yet some of us expect to rise above all of our problems, going from one mountaintop experience to another, with only a few minutes effort.” The context from which this quote came was 2 Chronicles 15:17, where over time, King Asa refused to continue his early efforts in removing the high places (pagan places of worship) in the territory in which he reigned. As Chambers puts it “Asa was not completely obedient in the outward, visible areas of life but only in what he considered most important”.

The overall assessment of Asa’s reign was a good one, but there were times when he made decisions based on his own priorities and belief in what was right even though God had given different instructions. We often do the same thing. We make assessments based on our own priorities or belief in what is right even though God has told us differently. Life is not always lived on the top of the mountain. That’s why we must pay close attention to the deep things of God. We need to take the time to diligently study His Word so we can not only discern His will, but survive in the valleys.

Satan infiltrates through the smallest of cracks and then before we know it, he has a foothold in some area of our life. If we are to keep this from happening we must stay in tune with God. We must push aside those things that would distract us. We must let go of not just the bad things, but also the good things that because they’ve taken priority over God, they’ve become an idol.

God speaks to us through His Word and the Holy Spirit uses that to guide us in obedience to God’s will. Don’t get distracted. Instead, be sure and pay close attention.

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.”

As Christ Loved the Church

IMG_1078 (3)“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) 

Today, Karen and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. I first met Karen in high school. She was a junior and I was a senior. We dated for a few months before going our separate ways. Who would’ve known that 10 years later we would be married? I can say with certainty that at the point in which we were married, both personally and in marriage, I had a different set of priorities than I do now. It’s not that those priorities were necessarily bad. They just weren’t the best because they weren’t centered on a relationship with Christ. In fact, I didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ and for a long time my priorities remained elsewhere. It is impossible for a man to lead his family in the way God would have him when his own life is not centered on Jesus Christ. Thankfully, in God’s perfect timing and only by His grace, our marriage has a different center. My prayer is that it will always remain that way.

There’s no human covenant more important than the covenant of marriage. It is also a covenant in need of an extra measure of God’s grace. Outside of grace that comes in salvation, I don’t know where it’s needed more. This is true for several of reasons: First, marriage is constantly under attack because of what it pictures. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Secondly, marriage is made more difficult due to the closeness of the relationship. Is there anyone more uniquely qualified to point out your faults than your spouse? I doubt it! No matter where any of us may be in our walk with Christ, marriage is tough. It’s not tough because it’s marriage, it’s tough because marriage involves two imperfect people prone to sin. As humans, we often take God’s Word and remind others what they should be doing, all the while ignoring what God may be speaking to us about. I believe this tendency is even greater when it comes to our spouses. Husbands, God’s command is clear. Our wives needs, as He defines them are to be our goal. We are to love her sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. This command is not conditional on her response.

I know it’s impossible to love Karen, my bride, as Christ loves His. But that doesn’t lessen His expectation that I do so. Therefore, it shouldn’t lessen mine. This means I’m left to rely on God’s strength instead of my own, because in my own I will fail. I have failed. For any marriage to be as God designed it to be requires that our relationship with Him be the one we treasure most. A relationship with Christ has the power to change all others.

I’m thankful for God’s grace for my past failures in loving Karen as He would have me love her. I know I’ll need more grace along the way. I thank God for Karen. The years have gone fast. Like all marriages, ours has been far from perfect, but I am so thankful she’s my wife. After 25 years, she’s more beautiful than ever. I can’t imagine life without her and wouldn’t want to try. Happy anniversary sweetie! I love you!