Our Drooling Cousin

Let’s be honest. Some of us are embarrassed by the gospel.

I don’t mean the report  that “belief in Jesus comforts me.” That doesn’t really embarrass us because we love talking about ourselves, and that little sort of report is all about us, because it is about what we did and the feeling we got.

I don’t mean the stories about how “believing in Jesus helped me stop… (taking drugs, yelling at my kids, drinking too much, looking at porn, picking my nose, etc.).” Personal testimonies don’t really embarrass us either, because even if we talk about the bad stuff we used to do, we also get to talk about how we are so much better now (and, by implication, better than other people).

I mean the real gospel–  the account of what Jesus did 2000 years ago by leaving Heaven, living a sinless life, dying on the cross in place of doomed sinners, and rising from the dead for their renewal of mind and (one day) body.

That message is not about us; it is about Him.

The real gospel is treated in some churches like the drooling cousin who can’t be seen a the dinner table for fear that he will offend the visitors. Oh, maybe those in the family know he is in the house somewhere, but we sure are not going to trot him out for everyone to see.

On Sunday, some churches  preach or teach good morality or good conduct. Some teach good feelings or love. Some preach on  happiness or some other good thing. They may have messages that make people feel good. They work to have good music. They strive to have a good Sunday school program. They have a great youth program or an outstanding seniors group. They have  an active singles group or a loving program for divorced people.

Indeed, all of those things can be good. But to the extent that they replace or displace the gospel, the church is showing its embarrassment. We hear or think of so-called explanations like…
“oh, that’s so old fashioned”
“oh, we believe it, so we don’t have to talk about it”
“oh, that won’t get anyone in church”
“oh, that isn’t relevant to people’s lives”
“oh, that doesn’t connect with people”
“oh, that sounds so intolerant, to say that there is only one gospel”

A pastor of one of the largest churches in the United States defended himself recently on the charge that he never talks about the gospel:

“Every week in our services we deal with people that are — have children that have cancer, people that have a husband or a wife that left them. We deal with the real issues of life. I talk about forgiveness and how to have faith when bad things happen and, you know, how to overcome and, you know, love your enemies and things like that. So when they say it’s ‘gospel lite’, I think, you know, we’re helping people where the rubber meets the road.”

In contrast to that, here is what Paul says

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

Paul says he is eager to preach this to those in Rome, even those who have already heard it. Then for the rest of the book of Romans, he tells us what the gospel is.

Now, when Paul tells this gospel, this “good message,” he starts with the bad that contrasts with the good.

In Romans 1:18-2:12 Paul lays out the bad news:
We are told that God’s wrath is coming, and is revealed from heaven.
We are told that all people are ungodly and unrighteous, which simply means that all people reject God and reject His idea of goodness.
We are told that God has shown His power and His nature to everyone in His creation, by the things He created.
We are told that all people rejected what they saw of God, failing to honor Him or thank Him.
We are told that all people grew in their self-deception and became more and more foolish.
We are told that people worshiped and honored all kinds of things, but not the true God.
We are told that God then let people grow increasingly disobedient and self-absorbed, engaging in all kinds of hideous behavior with their bodies.
We are told that God also let people grow increasingly thoughtless and selfish, justifying all kinds of hideous attitudes and ideas in their minds.
We are told that God will punish all of this evil, and that He is justified in doing so.
And, we are told that WE are storing up punishment for ourselves– punishment that will be revealed at God’s judgment.

But then, (in Romans 3:21-26) Paul tells us that the guiltlessness we all lack comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ.
We are told that being made good in God’s sight (righteousness) is a gift of God’s grace to all who believe in Jesus.

That gospel is the POWER of God. It saves us from God’s wrath and it saves us from purposeless lives. It saves us from being used by satan. It saves us from being given over to the lusts of flesh and debasing of our minds.

So, how do we overcome our shame in the gospel and the POWER OF GOD?

First, by believing it.
Second, by declaring it to one another over and over.
Third, by declaring it over and over to all those who need to hear it.

We must not forget that Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26)

 

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Plausible?

What does it take to fool you? If someone tells you a ridiculous story, you are unlikely to be deceived, right? But suppose someone tells you something that sort of makes sense, or that you are inclined to believe because you don’t know any better. Isn’t it possible that you might be fooled then?

If you are like me, you probably get all kinds of emails warning about things that seem plausible. Electronic postcards from Hallmark all contain viruses. Mobile phones can cause Shell gas stations to blow up. Deadly spiders from somewhere are lurking in the restrooms of Olive Garden restaurants. Mysterious men at gas stations hand business cards out that contain skin-penetrating memory-wiping drugs. Mobile phone numbers are all going to be listed in some gigantic phone book. Bill Gates will give you some of his money if you send enough emails to your friends. The government will take all religious broadcasts off TV and/or the internet.

Oops, did I say they sounded plausible?

Well, they didn’t sound plausible to me (they have all been confirmed as hoaxes), but they did sound plausible to the people sending them to me.

There is another hoax that sounds plausible to a lot of people. It is that  wisdom about spiritual things is found somewhere other than in Christ. Another version is that there is a secret to holiness that is something other than Christ. Yet another variant is that the knowledge of how to be pleasing God is found in someone or something other than Christ.

Paul, the snopes.com of his day, said (of Christ)

 in (Him) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (Colossians 2:3-4)

Back in the first century, some folks were going around making up stories that sounded as good as the cell phones making gas stations blowing up thing. They said that there were really good ways to be holy and to get on God’s good side by following rules and learning about the laws of Moses and getting circumcised and doing all sorts of things like that. And, apparently, if they threw in enough details like the names of famous people and places (Moses, Bill Gates, Olive Garden, or Jerusalem, for example) their stories made sense to a lot of people. Unfortunately, while the stories sounded plausible, they were hoaxes. Actually, another name for a “hoax” or a “plausible argument” is a “lie,” but Paul, like me, was too polite to just come right out and say that so bluntly,

But, Paul was concerned that people were being fooled (“deluded”) so he wanted to make it clear. There is no knowledge or wisdom of spiritual things apart from Christ. There is no way to holiness other than through Christ and faith in Him. There is so secret way to please God, except through knowing Christ, just like there is no way to get money by sending emails. As dramatic and appealing as the myths may be, they are just that.

So, delete the emails about the toxic spiders and the mysterious business cards. Ignore anything that anyone tells you about being holy or pleasing God if that message does not center squarely on Christ and what He has done for you and is now doing in you.

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Hidden Treasure

When you were a kid, did you ever wish you could discover hidden treasure? I remember when I was eight or nine, I helped a neighbor dig a big hole in his backyard because both of us believed that the previous owner of his house had buried something valuable there. All we found, after a week of digging, was his family’s sewer pipe. It was not really much of a treasure.

Lots of us, even as adults, toil and dig in the hope of finding some great treasure. Some strive for material wealth, and discover that material possessions are ultimately as disappointing as finding a sewer pipe at the bottom of a hole.

Some of us, knowing the snare of temporary riches, strive and toil for more eternal truths. We, thinking ourselves more mature, more adult, and more wise, don’t go for childish treasures. We embark on a quest for wisdom and knowledge. We spend years and fortunes to learn and explore, in hopes of finding the meaning of life, the ultimate answers, the real truth. Like children with a shovel, we sweat and dig, only to discover that the end of our quest for wisdom and knowledge is an empty hole with a sewer pipe at the bottom.

Wisdom and knowledge are true treasures. They are not temporary. They will not disappoint. The Bible says wisdom is better than jewels and knowledge is better than silver or gold. (see Proverbs 8:10-11)

But if this is true, why does our search for wisdom and knowledge often end in disappointment?

It is because we are looking for treasure in the wrong place.

In Colossians 2:3, the Apostle Paul gives us the treasure map for all those who are seeking true wisdom and knowledge. Speaking of Christ, he reminds us…

in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

All that we need to make us wise is in Christ. All that we need to know is in Christ. In Him, the very Incarnation of God, are hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. There is no secret, mysterious, special treasure of wisdom or knowledge that is to be found anywhere else. We can dig holes on the earth or on the surface of Mars, but none of the holes we dig, none of the striving we do, none of the sweat we expend will uncover any true wisdom and knowledge. All of that treasure is in Christ, and in Him alone.

Now, finally, that childhood desire to discover hidden treasure can  be satisfied, But it is not found by digging holes in our own backyard or even on other planets. It is not discovered by digging through books or taking classes or reading blogs or doing Google searcher. It is found ONLY by knowing Christ and learning from Him. In HIM, we CAN we find treasures that make our childhood dreams of treasure seem like faint shadows compared to the true riches we can now discover. All the treasures– ALL wisdom and knowledge– are discoverable… in Christ.

As He said Himself

The queen of the South… came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:42)

and

I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:15)

and

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)

Let us stir up that childlike desire in our hearts to find treasure. Let’s seek the true riches of wisdom and knowledge. But, let us dig to find them where they truly are– in the Person, life and work of Jesus Christ.

 

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Goals for Others

What goals do you have? We all have things we look forward to accomplishing. We have specific things we are working for, such as getting to work on time, getting a new job, getting an A in a class assignment, or sometimes even just getting through the day in one piece.

Goals are good. They keep our activities in perspective. They keep us on track.

Personal goals are fine, but we should also consider others in our goal-making. Christians should have desires and goals when we interact with others, so that what we do has some direction and purpose. As Christians, we are called by Christ to manifest the glory of God in all that we say and do. Jesus said “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) This means we do what brings God glory in our interactions with others, such as acts of kindness, displays of mercy, or telling others of God’s forgiveness in the Person of Jesus Christ.

But, while we may not normally think of it in such a way, we should also have particular goals in our interactions with other Christians. We should hope to stir up attitudes and qualities in our brothers and sisters in Christ. These goals on behalf of others, or hopes for others, should direct and give purpose to our interactions with others in our church, others in our Sunday school class, others in our families, or just other friends who are Christians.

Consider this: if I have no hope, desire, or goal FOR another person, I really am not thinking or considering the welfare of that person.

Instead, each of us in Christ is commanded to love others in Christ. That entails having a desire for the good and welfare of every other Christian we come in contact with. That also means we should think about how we could be used by God to help each brother or sister in Christ to achieve the goals that God has for that person.

OK, so we might buy into that idea, but what goals does God have for every Christian? What are the things that God wants to see achieved in each Christian in our church, Sunday school, family, or circle of friends?

In Colossians 2, the Apostle Paul gives us some examples. In verse 1, he explains that he has been struggling greatly for five goals in the lives of other Christians. Then, in Colossians 2:2, he says what his goals are for every Christian:

 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

In this verse, Paul lays out five goals, five things he hopes to see and works to bring about, in his interactions with other Christians.

First, is “that their hearts may be encouraged.” Discouragement and disappointment are rife in this life, but we, like Paul, can make it our goal to always bring encouragement and support to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can do that by reminding them of all Christ has done for them, and all that Christ continues to do through His Spirit living in them.

Second, is that they are “being knit together in love.” It is easy for us to become so wrapped up in ourselves and our own interests that division and selfishness become second nature, even in the church. We, like Paul, can direct our interactions with others so that love and unity in Christ are the results of what we say and do.

Paul then says he hopes that other Christians will reach all the riches of what they have in Christ. Then, he further specifies three things that those riches involve.

The third goal is to “reach all the riches of full assurance” in Christ. Doubt and faithlessness can creep into every Christian’s life. We, like Paul, can stir others up to remember and embrace the promises of God in Christ. We can point out God’s faithfulness in the past. By word and example, we can strengthen the faith of those who are wavering.

The fourth goal is to “reach all the riches… …of understanding.” Understanding is more than just having facts. It is fully incorporating it into what we think and how we act. A person can memorize that 2 + 2 = 4, but they understand it when they can grab two grapes in one hand and grab two grapes in the other and conclude that they have four grapes. We, like Paul, can help others understand Christ, and fully grasp who they are in Him. We can help them to see all of the implications and meaning of what Christ did for them on the cross. We can help them transfer the truth into living, by constantly showing its implications in Scripture and in our own lives.

The fifth goal is to “reach all the riches… …of the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” Many may think they know Christ, but they do not. Many others only know who He is superficially. We, like Paul, can teach and remind them what we have learned ourselves, from Scripture and from reliance upon Him. In love and with all patience, we can explain, expand, and expound for others things that they are confused or wrong about.

But, as we are used by God to show and remind our brothers and sisters about these things, we, like Paul, must remember that God Himself gives the light that becomes the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6).

If the Apostle Paul had these goals in his interactions with other Christians, we could certainly adopt one or more of them. We, like Paul, can look at our time and opportunities with others and hope to be used by God to bring these good works into our relationships. We, like Paul, will be aided by God, and will be able to say “For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.” (1 Corinthians 1:29)

 

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Investment Portfolio

As an economics professor, I get asked all the time for investment advice. Some ask me about gold. Others about stocks. Recently, everyone asks if they should invest in Facebook.

Do you know what I answer? There are just three things that will last forever: God, His Word, and the souls of people. That means that there are just three investments that we can make that we will never regret.

One is the time and effort that it takes to know God, through His Son Jesus. Another is the time and effort it takes to understand God’s revelation to us in His written word. The last is the time and effort it takes to help people come to know God and understand His revelation of Himself in Christ.

The apostle Paul knew that.

His priorities were based upon God, His word, and the spiritual maturity of believers in Christ. Those things made up his investment portfolio. He invested every penny (or denarius) he had in that nest-egg. He spent every waking hour enhancing that portfolio. He was so convinced of the return on those investments that he even poured his time and treasure into helping believers in Christ that he would never meet.

To the Christians in Colossae, whom he never met, he wrote (in Colossians 2:1)

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,

He agonized over the souls of the Colossians, the Laodiceans, the Hieropolitans, and many others who had come to faith in Christ, but whom he did not know personally. He knew that, by doing so, his effort would not be wasted. His investment would yield dividends that he might not see, but that he knew would be astounding.

He was engaged in a struggle for the faith of others. His desire was to see the bond of his work mature in their maturity in Christ. He struggled for others because he knew their gain, and his in Christ, would be secure from economic collapse, inflation, or depression. He invested in the people of the Kingdom of God, secure in knowing that rust could not tarnish and moth could not consume the treasure he put there.

All we who believe in Christ have a similar investment opportunity. We can help others grow in holiness as they grow in Christ. We can encourage them to know Christ more. We can exhort them to make Christ their true treasure. We can aid them to understand God’s written revelation of Himself. We can teach them how to rely upon Christ and His Word more and more. We can stir them up to love and good works. We can show them by our lives and example how not to grieve the Holy Spirit.

But often we don’t.

Why is that? Is it that we don’t care? Is it that the concerns of this world or the deceitfulness of worldly riches choke off the work of the word of God in our own lives? Instead of producing a great return on the investment we could be making by sharing the gospel with those we know and encouraging them to live by trust in Christ, are we focused on things that keep us from seeing a spiritual yield? Are we investing in the wrong place?

Paul was so confident in his investment strategy that he even invested in a “blind trust,” struggling for the enrichment in the faith of those he would never meet face to face. If he could do that, why can’t we find the time and resources to invest in helping to share the gospel of Christ’s death for sinners with those who have never heard it? Why can’t we invest in those Christian brothers and sisters in our own church, our own family, our own neighborhoods to help them grow in knowing Him and trusting in His word?

There is no other investment that will pay off as well. As Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

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Power Struggle

Ever since the Fall, life has been a struggle. That may come as a shock to some pampered teenagers, a few public employees, and many who live in the entitlement age. It is true nonetheless. We live in a world of scarcity. We are not promised limitless time on this earth. We are not promised ease.

We are promised that, in this world, we will have to work, toil and struggle to gain the things of the world. (See Genesis 3:19)

But those who have trusted in Jesus Christ are promised spiritual rest. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (see Matthew 11:28-30) Christ has already done everything necessary to save us from the burden of sin and the work required to be right with God. He has carried the burden of doing all the good works that God requires, and our faith in Him brings an end to our toil and struggle for God’s approval. (See Isaiah 53:4-6)

Now, we who believe in Christ are called to a different work, a different struggle. It is the work of knowing Him. It is the struggle to “take His yoke upon us, and learn from Him.” It is the labor of gaining all the “riches of the glory of… Christ in us.” (See Colossians 1:27).

This is a challenge. It is work. It takes the effort of men who are willing to proclaim to us the truth of the good news of Christ’s work, to remind us of what Christ has done, to teach us who we are in Christ. It is the work of people like the apostle Paul, who said, “Him we proclaim, warning (reminding) everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (See Colossians 1:28). It is the work of becoming mature in Christ and helping others to become mature in Christ.

This work is a toil. It is a struggle. It is a challenge. It is work for the learner and the teacher alike. And we are all called to do it, by Christ, who commands us to “learn from Him.”

In describing it, Paul says this (in Colossians 1:29):

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Notice a few things about what Paul says:

First, Paul describes it as “toil.” The word Paul uses comes from the same root as is translated in Rev. 21:4 as “pain.” Helping others to fully live in Christ and to fully allow Him to live in us is hard work, but it is the one work that is truly worth doing.

Second, Paul describes it as “struggling.” The sense Paul gives there is that it is like an athletic contest. It is a challenging competition. Other priorities would distract us from this work or might compete for our effort and attention, but this is the most important pursuit in life.

As Paul says in Philippians 3:12-15, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

But, the third and most wonderful thing Paul says is that the strength to carry on this work is not our own. The power and energy to carry out this effort is the very power of God. It is the energy of the same God who created the world that energizes us as we embark upon this struggle. It is the immense and incalculable power of God that works in us to carry it out, as we strive to do what He calls us to do.

If you are a Christian who wants to see the power of God working in you, Colossians 1:29 tells you how to unleash the power of God. He supplies His power to those who proclaim Christ, who remind others of the work of Christ, who teach about Christ, and who strive to bring others to mature reliance upon Christ. When you do these things, you have the promise that God will work in and through you. You have the promise of Christ that, since He is doing all the work, this toil will, paradoxically, bring rest for your soul.

If you want to see this power at work, and you sense that you still have a lot to learn about Christ, seek out someone in your church or family who has been through the struggle. Ask them if they would have to desire to help you learn more from Christ.

If you want to see this power at work, and you believe that you gained some experience in learning from Christ, seek out someone in your church or family who might need and desire to learn more from Christ. Ask them if they would be willing to learn more about Christ with you.

Then, embark on the struggle, and together see the power of God at work in you!

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Maturity

What is the path to maturity? How do we grow up?

Little children grow up and mature, if they are fed and cared for by their parents or guardians. The process just seems to occur naturally, as long as the necessary conditions, such as food, rest, and loving care, are provided.

What about maturity in Christ? How does the individual who has trusted in Jesus Christ for his or her salvation grow up?

The Apostle Paul devoted his life to the work of helping Christians grow up to maturity. Here is his summary of that work, in Colossians 1:28:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (ESV)

Paul says that his goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”  We know, from what Christ said Himself, that maturity in Christ means becoming like Christ. Jesus says in Luke 6:40 that “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” A maturing Christian will look more and more like Christ, and the consummation of that process is that a fully mature Christian will be like Christ.

That process was the work of Paul, and it is the work now of all the fellow servants of God who desire what Christ and Paul desired to bring about in Christ’s disciples.

But how is it accomplished?

Paul says that first and foremost, maturity happens by the proclamation of Christ. The truth about Christ, the facts about who He is and what He has done, is the food that Christians need to grow from little children into mature disciples. Paul saw that as crucial, not minor. The gospel is the nourishment of the saints. Without it, there will be no growth. Without daily feeding upon it, we will never grow up. We may come to regard it as routine and unexciting, but without that daily bread, our growth will be stunted. When Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” (see John 6:48) He went on to say that feeding upon Him, continually, was necessary for life in Him. (see John 6:56).

Paul goes on to say that maturity comes from driving the truth of Christ deep into the mind. The word translated in the ESV (following the King James Version) as “warning” means literally to “put in mind.” In other words, Paul is reiterating that he sees putting the truth of Christ into the minds of everyone as the means of bringing about maturity. A one-time declaration of Christ is not sufficient for Paul. Rather, his goal is to get the truth of Christ deeply into the hidden recesses of everyone’s consciousness. Every thought must be brought into conformity with who Christ is, what He has done, and what He is doing. Christ must not just be at the surface of our thinking, but He must permeate our thoughts.

Paul then reiterates that maturity comes from teaching. Here, Paul is not simply repeating himself. He is stating that the true task of teaching is not merely laying facts out before a person, but requires that the things being taught are actually learned. Until that has occurred, the job of teaching is not finished. True teaching never assumes that learning has taken place until the learner has made the things being taught truly his own. The things that are taught must be fully understood, and this takes the patience of a tutor who is willing to stay at the task until it is complete. Paul says that he teaches everyone, indicating that everyone always has more to learn about Christ to grow into His likeness.

Paul then says that what He proclaims to others, puts in their minds, and teaches, is “all wisdom.” That is, he intends everyone to completely grasp the whole truth of Christ. A child who is only fed one kind of food will not develop and grow properly. So, too, we children of God will not grow into the fullness of Christ unless we hear, embrace, and fully understand all the fullness of Christ’s work in us and for us.

As we look at Colossians 1:28, we must remember that Paul is not claiming that he, or any other instructor, is working on his own power, or is able to bring Christians to maturity by his own wisdom. In the very next verse, Paul acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is working in and through Paul. However, just as the Holy Spirit brings salvation through the proclamation of the gospel, He also brings maturity, Christ-likeness and holiness into the lives of we who trust in Christ through those who He uses to teach us.

The desire to hear, grasp, and understand the truths of Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Hearing, grasping, and understanding all there is to know of Christ are the means by which God’s Spirit brings us to maturity in Christ, through the efforts of those who love Christ and deliver His word to us.


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Perfected

Do you wish you were perfect?

Human nature and experience  make us think that having our errors pointed out and practicing over and over will make us perfect. This procedure works when we are little children learning to recite the alphabet. It works when we are college students trying to remember dates in history class.

It is utterly ineffective in producing actual holiness, goodness and Chris-likeness. The reason is that holiness is not learned, it is given. It is not developed, it is imbued. It is not a process, it is a gift. Even people who know that fall into the trap of forgetting it. We all do. Our fleshly thinking keeps coming back, even though we know that we are saved from the penalty and guilt of sin and wrongdoing by Christ and kept by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. We fall into the error of thinking that we will be made more perfect and gain victory over sin by that same process that got us through high school without flunking out (if we didn’t). We focus on the law of God and memorize the laws of God and meditate on the law of God, thinking and hoping that all of these things, which are fleshly activities, will perfect us spiritually. We begin in the Spirit of God but fall back into trying to perfect ourselves in the flesh (see Galatians 3:3).

The fleshly process of attaining a spiritual attribute simply does not work. We see that in passages like Hebrews 10:14. Think about this…

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Christ, by His completed work, has already perfected us. We may not see it fully, but it has already been accomplished. There are plenty of other passages of the New Testament that tell us that. For example, see Romans 8:29-30, which says

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30, ESV

Only by grasping that truth, that Christ has already done the work for us and in us, can we hope to see the process that IS going on in us. He has (in the past tense) perfected us for all time, and because of that there is a change in us that we can expect to see and delight in seeing.

We are being sanctified, (that is, we are being made holy) by God. This is an ongoing process in which we are being acted upon. We are the recipients of the changing work of God, we are not the ones doing the working. God is sanctifying us, we are not sanctifying ourselves. That is also the concept we find in Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28, ESV

He is reshaping and reforming our lives to reflect the holiness that is already there. He is doing it by “all things” which are working together to accomplish that purpose of God in us.

After Hebrews 10:14, the author of Hebrews continues his description of the work of God. It is God’s work, not ours. It is a work in which we are being acted upon, not a work we are doing. Here’s how he describes it:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” -Hebrews 10:15-17

We tend to read this passage (quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34) as if we have to put the laws in our own hearts and write them on our own minds. We tend to think of this like being back in high school or college, and act like we are studying for a test. We overlook that this is a promise of God to those who are already in His Kingdom by the work of His Son and His Spirit, not an invitation to take an entrance exam to get into the Kingdom.

If we forget this, and act as if we can make ourselves holy by some process of self-correction, we are simply setting ourselves up for frustration. We will tend to miss that thing we are urged to do under the New Covenant. As Paul says in Romans 8:24-25

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Worse, we will be prone to glorify ourselves when holiness grows in us, thinking that we were instrumental in the process. Instead of giving God all the praise for our victory over sin, we will credit ourselves. That is the temptation of legalism –the idolatry of self-made holiness.

Christ already passed all the exams and earned the degree for us. Not only that, but He got perfect grades that WE get credited with. Now we are to walk as those who have attained what He has given us, but even that we can only do with His help.

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The Gift of Glory

Can you keep a secret?

My wife and I are just so bad at keeping secrets from each other that we have given up. By that, I don’t mean to imply that keeping secrets is a good idea in marriage. Important things need to be discussed and aired in love. But, sometimes little surprises are more wonderful if they are unveiled in the right setting and at the correct time. Surprise Christmas presents, for example, are usually much better if the recipient does not get them until, well, Christmas. Unfortunately, the excitement usually gets the better of us. That’s why my wife usually gets her Christmas presents from me about a day after they are purchased. That’s why I have received many of my best Christmas presents from her shortly after Thanksgiving. While our delight in giving to each other is probably a good thing, we usually don’t have much to unwrap when the big day comes.

Fortunately, God has the patience and ability to make His grand and gracious gifts all the more glorious. The greatest and most marvelous gift of all He kept as a “mystery” for centuries, so that the glory of it and the wonder of it could be fully appreciated. Colossians 1:26-27 speaks of

 …the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

God’s plan was hidden for “ages and generations.” God is, and has been, in control of His revelation of Himself and His work. Even while He sent prophets to declare His works and His ultimate plan for salvation, He chose not to divulge every detail. As the Apostle Peter wrote,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (see 1 Peter 1:10-12)

God revealed to His prophets that He was preparing something truly marvelous. This incredible truth was not even experienced by the prophets He chose and spoke through. They would speak of it, but it would be for those who were yet to come. It was a gift so remarkable that even the angels longed to understand it, but could not.

God’s plan was revealed to His saints. God held off fully revealing His glorious and astounding gift until the intended recipients were able to receive it. After sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for their sins and purchase them as His own people, He revealed the gift to His saints, the people God chose, made holy, and set apart for Himself by the finished work of Christ. It seems that the greatness and glory of the gift could only be comprehended by those who received it. Indeed the glorious gift had to be possessed in order to understand its value.

God revealed the greatness of the gift to those who received it. This gift is one of riches, of exceptional abundance.

God revealed that the gift would be received by the Gentiles. That is, it is a gift that would be given to people of all nations. It would not just go to those who were Jews by birth, but to people of all tribes, tongues and countries.

God revealed that the secret gift would be glorious. That is, its worth would be greater than human imagination could comprehend, unless that comprehension was expanded by the gift itself.

What is that marvelous gift?

The gift of God is “Christ in you. ” Imagine that–Christ, the Anointed One of God, dwells within human beings. The Spirit sent by the Father through the Son, the Holy Spirit of God, inhabits the flesh of all those who believe in Christ. This truth is astounding, and would be unbelievable unless the Holy Spirit so changed people’s hearts and minds that they could grasp it.

This inhabitation of God’s Spirit in human beings is “THE hope of glory.” That is, without the Holy Spirit dwelling in men and women, they would have no hope. He is our only hope to live purposeful lives. He is our only hope for growing in holiness. He is our only hope to ever see the things of God, the things that truly have worth and value.

God, at the proper time, revealed the astounding truth that He would take sinful people like us out of our sin. More than that, He has revealed to us the unfathomable truth that He would choose to implant His Holy Spirit in us and give us the promise, the hope, the assurance, the certain expectation that as He lives in us, so we will and can live for Him.

We must not forget this truth. We must not diminish its importance. By the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, we are given the ability to grasp how great and marvelous that gift is. By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are given the hope of being transformed by the working of God’s Spirit, into the image of Christ. By the Holy Spirit, we can delight in knowing that “He who began a good work in us will continue it.” (see Phil. 1:6).

Let us not lose our zeal to praise both the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Giver of the Gift, for God is worthy of our praise. Let us not forget to live by the power that He is gracious in giving us to live lives of glory.

 

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Entrusted for Service

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as servants. While it would be great to HAVE a servant, like a butler or maid, most of us probably wouldn’t want to BE a servant ourselves. Having a servant clean up our messes and do stuff for us sounds a lot more desirable than being a servant who cleans up other people’s messes and does stuff for them. To most of us, being a servant would be the sort of a job that we would only take if we couldn’t find anything better to do, like work at the counter at McDonald’s.

In contrast to that attitude, the Apostle Paul was delighted to think of himself as a servant.

In Colossians 1:24-25, he says,

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

We have elsewhere examined Paul’s joy in suffering in verse 24, but let’s now look at his view of himself as a servant in Colossians 1:25.

Paul viewed himself as a servant of the body of Christ. In talking of the church, he describes himself by saying that he “became a minister” of the church. The word translated in many versions (ESV, for example) as “minister” is simply the word for “servant”.

Paul viewed being a servant as being like Christ. Christ, whom we are all to imitate as His disciples, became a servant as well. Jesus said of Himself, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (See Mark 10:45) Elsewhere, Paul said that Christ, “…made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (See Philippians 2:7) That is why Paul could relate his suffering on behalf of the church to Christ’s work. Paul saw his role as a servant as a continuation of the servanthood of Christ.

Paul viewed his being a servant as an assignment from God. Paul says he became a servant “according to the stewardship of God that was given to me.” The word “stewardship” refers to a position of trust given to a person who is considered trustworthy enough to act on behalf of his employer or master. God entrusted Paul with the duty to act as a servant to the church, and Paul saw that as a desirable privilege, not a burden.

Paul viewed his role as servant as an assignment to carry out a particular job. Paul says that he became a servant (minister) “to make the word of God fully known.” Paul was entrusted by God (given the stewardship) for the purpose of proclaiming God’s truth, the gospel. Paul said of himself, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (See I Corinthians 9:19) He also said, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (See I Corinthians 4:1)

While Paul is speaking of his own service, which he was assigned to carry out by God, he also reveals a principle that applies to all of us who are in Christ. We are all entrusted by God to serve the body of Christ, the church. We may each have been entrusted with different abilities and talents by God, but God gives us those abilities as gifts so that we will use them to serve others.

Peter reminds us, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (See I Peter 4:10)

So, what has God entrusted to us as our stewardship? How are we to serve? In what way are you being entrusted by God to be a servant? Romans 12:4-8 and 1 Peter 4: 11 give us some examples.

Are you entrusted with the gifts of proclaiming the word of God, or the oracles of God, to others in a way that they can apply them, as described in Romans 12: 6 and 1 Peter 4:11? Then serve the body of Christ in faith, as one who is speaking the truth of God.

Are you entrusted with the gifts to serve others in general ways, as described in Romans 12:7 and 1 Peter 4:11? Then serve the body of Christ by the strength that God supplies.

Are you entrusted with the gifts of exhorting others to greater faith and obedience? Then serve the body of Christ by diligently doing so.

Are you entrusted with the gifts to contribute to the needs of the poor and the church? Then serve the body of Christ by being generous.

Are you entrusted with the gifts to lead others? Then serve the body of Christ by leading with zeal.

Are you entrusted with the gifts to show mercy and compassion to others? Then serve the  body of Christ by doing acts of mercy with cheerfulness.

You see, all of us who are in Christ ARE servants. WE have each been given gifts as trusted servants of God to serve the body of Christ.

Unlike the world, we should view being servants as superior to being served. This is simply because our roles as servants are given to us by God for His glory, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (See 1 Peter 4:11)

If we are faithful with what we have been entrusted, and if we are faithful as servants, we are promised this by Christ:  “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” (See Luke 12:37)

 

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