When Love Grows Cold

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4)

We are creatures of habit. Day after day we go through our busy routines, knowing exactly what to do, but oftentimes having little passion as we do it. Routine can lead to complacency. This complacency is often demonstrated in our most important human relationships, where over time, the love, passion and commitment to that special someone ceases to exist. It is when peripheral issues are allowed to take precedence that relationships break down. Perhaps more common in our day for a whole host of reasons, complacency and a lack of commitment in our relationships need never be considered acceptable, or for that matter, even normal.       

            The people in the church at Ephesus had a problem with commitment, if not to each other, certainly to Jesus. The apostle John received and recorded the Revelation from its Divine author, Jesus Christ. While it was a revelation from Christ, it is also a revelation about Him. At the beginning of the book, we find seven letters written to seven different churches that existed in the first century, churches that are thought to also represent churches throughout the entire church age. Though not all the churches received both, a common pattern of these letters included things in which they were to be commended, as well as things deserving of rebuke. The church at Ephesus received both. They had a lot to be commended for; the work they did for the cause of Christ; their perseverance, spiritual discernment and their refusal to tolerate evil. But despite that, they had flaws, and these flaws mattered.

            Those to whom John was writing had abandoned the love they had for Christ in the beginning. Over time, their hearts had grown cold. Has yours? Do you still burn with the same passion for Christ you had in the beginning? Is your relationship with Him still your first priority? We’re not told exactly why what happened in the church at Ephesus happened, but we are to know that when our love for the Lord diminishes, our love for others diminishes as well. Although they knew their doctrine, the people in the church at Ephesus forgot that their Christian faith was first and foremost about a relationship with Christ, and with each other. We would do well to learn from their mistake.

            When our relationship with Jesus takes a back seat to anything, we can’t assume consequences won’t follow. They will. Our relationship with Christ affects every other relationship. It’s naïve to think we can be all God created us to be if He’s not our first priority. A right theology and a right relationship always go together. Commitment follows true love. A deliberate effort to guard our time with and commitment to the Lord is critical. Effort on our part is not being legalistic or so the Lord will love us more. It’s recognition of how much He has already loved us. It is so our worship would be true. Ultimately though, it’s that we would live for nothing short of what the Lord is due, His glory.

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Nothing But the Blood

“…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22)  

There are people and even some churches that would deny or downplay the necessity of a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. Scripture, however, is clear. “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Under the old covenant, repeated blood sacrifices were required to atone for sin. These sacrifices were never meant to permanently deal with sin, but only to point forward to the new and everlasting covenant mediated by Christ. “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). The blood of bulls and goats dealt only with external cleansing while the blood of Christ was meant to “purify our conscious from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). So, whereas the old covenant sacrifices were incapable of changing people’s hearts, the sacrifice of Christ could.

            Though the author of Hebrews is not known, the purpose for which he wrote is. A primary purpose of the book of Hebrews is that we might see the supremacy of Jesus above all things, greater than the angels and the Mosaic system; the truly great High Priest whose once for all sacrifice cleanses us from our sin. 

            In our day, there is an increasing tendency to deny the necessity of the cross for salvation. I suppose if we could, we might choose another way; a way that didn’t require the cross or a blood sacrifice, but instead a more palatable way, a way good enough for all to enter in. But it’s not our way to choose, only God’s. He is the author of salvation and as such, the manner in which redemption comes belongs only to Him. Salvation is in Christ alone. All of us need forgiveness for sin. If you have received it, it came only by the blood of Christ; if you haven’t, it’s the only way salvation will come. For us to accept anything less is less than Christian, and if it’s less than Christian, it’s not Christian at all. Don’t believe the world. Believe the Bible. Your salvation depends on it.

Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both theological and practical components to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid in full at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace everything He has for your life. Know that He is more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there is no one who loves you like He loves you.

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?

That Song Will Preach

“but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

One of the things I’ve always loved about Dan, our music minister at Hunter Street Baptist Church, is that as he prepares us to lead worship on Sunday mornings, I sense he’s more interested in our internalizing the truth of a song we’re singing than he is about how well we sing it. That’s not to say he’s not interested in us leading well and sounding good because he is. In fact, he’s taught us that how we prepare and lead brings glory to God. Sometimes at choir practice, Dan will take the lyrics of a song we’re working on and exposit its meaning and application for our lives. I love when he does that. At other times, perhaps pondering the lyrics of a song himself, you might hear him say, “Now that song will preach”. On this particular night he did the latter. Not that every song doesn’t or shouldn’t “preach”, but on this night and with this song it was especially so.

We had begun working on a song called And Can It Be. Though the song’s lyrics touch on many doctrines found in Scripture, more broadly, it’s about Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin that guarantees the eternal security of the believer. In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines the atonement as the work Christ did in His life and death to earn our salvation. Scripture points to two causes for the atonement: God’s love (John 3:16) and God’s justice (Romans 3:25). That God would sacrifice His Son for our sin, and that Christ would willingly be that sacrifice is an amazing truth. Grudem expresses well its application for believers, writing, “The New Testament emphasis on the completion and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for us assures us that there is no penalty for sin left for us to pay. The penalty has entirely been paid by Christ, and we should have no remaining fear of condemnation or punishment”.

I’m thankful for the emphasis Hunter Street puts on having a correct theology and for the many opportunities we as members have to grow in our knowledge of God and the doctrines found in Scripture. One of those ways has been to study through books such as Systematic Theology. Granted this book is deep and covers a lot of topics that’ll make your head spin, but God uses studies like these to help us grow in our faith. He used it to help me grow in mine. I still remember studying through this book with a group of men. I especially remember the night we studied through the chapter on the atonement and the impact it had on me. I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot in my past, and my present as well that makes me cringe. It’s easy to get trapped by our sin, believing that God can’t or won’t forgive us. Understanding the implications of the atonement helped to free me from that trap. God’s grace truly is greater than our sin. Knowing that Jesus hung on the cross as my substitute, that He willingly paid the penalty for my sin, that He bore the wrath of the Father, that His blood purchased my freedom, and that I will spend eternity with Him, blows my mind. If you’ve trusted in Christ, He’s done that for you as well. Praise God!

Correct theology helps us to live a life that brings glory to God, glory that He alone deserves. Let me encourage you to find a church that is committed to the truth of Scripture. I’m sure thankful for my church’s unwavering commitment to biblical truth. And I’m thankful for a music minister who also teaches and helps reinforce that truth in songs such as And Can It Be. What a great song. You should listen to it sometime, because let me just tell you, “That song will preach”.

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.

What God Does With Our Sin

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)

Addressing the issue of sin is a vital part of the gospel presentation. It might be an unwelcome issue to tread on sometimes, but it’s necessary. Sin is what separates us from God. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death”. Fortunately, the back half of that verse says, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. The grace God gives in salvation covers every sin. However, it is often the case that we want to believe differently, that somehow there’s some sin that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross didn’t cover. That is not the testimony of Scripture:

  • God throws our sin into the sea (Micah 7:19)
  • God treads our sin underfoot (Micah 7:19)
  • God throws our sin behind His back (Isaiah 38:17)
  • God blots out our sin (Isaiah 43:25)
  • God forgets our sin (Hebrews 8:12)
  • God removes our sin (Psalm 103:12)
  • God covers our sin (Romans 4:7-8)
  • God takes away our sin (John 1:29)
  • God cancels the debt of our sin (Colossians 2:13-14)
  • God washes our sin (Isaiah 1:18)
  • God forgives our sin (1 John 1:9)

The great message of the Bible is that on the cross, Jesus paid, not for just part of your sin, but for all of it. When He cried out from the cross “It is finished” He meant that it really was finished. Salvation rests on God’s grace alone. So respond today by resting in that grace. Live the freedom the cross provides knowing your sins have been paid in full!