Power of Knowledge

You have doubtless heard the expression “Knowledge is Power.” In educational circles, it’s a popular mantra. We college professor types have to recite it because, frankly, it drums up business. When people want power, we tell them the way to get it is through increased knowledge, and sure enough, OUR purchasing power increases.

Cynicism aside, there is a connection between knowledge and power. In fact, the Bible says that for those who know God through Jesus Christ, greater knowledge of Him is tied to His power.

In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul says he is praying for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. He then says that this knowledge will produce spiritual wisdom and understanding. He goes on to say that this knowledge will then create, in those who receive it, the ability to please God, which will lead to even greater knowledge of God.

So far, that sounds like this knowledge of God’s will that comes from God is pretty powerful already. It enables us to do something that we could not otherwise do– please God in our actions and deeds. It also has the power to produce even more knowledge of God.

Then, in Colossians 1:11, Paul goes on to tell the Colossians that he is praying for something more. The wording strongly implies (especially in the original Greek) that this is tied back to the knowledge of God’s will that he is praying God to give them:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (ESV)

It makes sense that strength and power that come from God must follow and accompany a God-given knowledge of his will. If God gave His power to those who did not know His will or to those who had no desire to do it, He would be working against His own purposes.

Those who don’t know God’s will should not expect Him to give them strength. Those who don’t wish to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord should not expect to see His power.

But, for those of us who have been given knowledge of God’s will, God gives strength “with all power, according to His glorious might.” Imagine how tremendous that is! The strength is not limited and barely sufficient. It is all — all that is needed. The source of it is not constrained or restricted. It is according to God’s glorious might. It is the power of God, who created the universe and sustains it second to second.

That power is the power that you and I can  know, see, experience, and be strengthened with if we are granted to know His will and desire to do it. We won’t be on our own, and won’t have to rely on our own strength and ability. Will will have His.

To what end will He give this strengthening to us? It is so that we can do His will in endurance and patience with joy.

Why will we need His strengthening for endurance? Because if we are seeking to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord, we will certainly encounter difficulties, resistance, trials and suffering for the Lord and for the sake of His will. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him even through all that.

Why will we need His strengthening for patience? Because if we are seeking to be fully pleasing to God, we will need to wait for Him to bring about His will in His time, not seeking instant relief or vengeance when we are wronged or misunderstood. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him even through all that.

Why will we need His strengthening for joy? Because if we are bearing fruit in every good work, we will need to glorify Him by delighting in Him and His will constantly. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him always, with joy.

Knowledge of the will of God, that comes from God, is powerful, but God gives it with the power to do His will. Doing His will is beyond our ability, but it is not beyond His. If we know His will, and desire to do it, we will need to seek and rely upon His power, and find the joy of having the endurance and patience that only He can supply.

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Do By Learning

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.”

This is the principle behind much, if not all, of what we learn to do. We make attempts at what we wish to do, and learn from the mistakes we make. We try to put ourselves in learning situations in which the results of our mistakes will be minimized, such as when a new driver learns to drive by actually driving in an empty parking lot. But, what we wish to do we practice, for “practice makes perfect.” If it at first, we don’t succeed, we try, try, again. That is how we learn to do.

This principle actually operates upon and relies upon human imperfection, which makes some sense, because “everyone makes mistakes.” But notice, our faults and failings are given permission, even power, to bring about learning, as successive errors lead to gradual increases in knowledge and ability.

The “learn by doing” principle does produce results. It’s how some long-time bachelors who live alone become pretty good cooks. It’s how some folks who were not planning to become parents actually get pretty good at it. It’s how all of the plumbing fixtures in my house have been installed by the owner– three or four times each.

For those who want to do things that are pleasing to God, a completely opposite principle must operate. There has to be something else. If we try to learn how to please God by “trial and error” or “learning from our mistakes,” errors and mistakes are just going to to result in a tragic multiplication of failure. Mistakes and failures in efforts to please God are simply called “sin.” The result of the “learn by doing” approach to holiness is not a gradual increase in our knowledge or ability to please Him, but an inexorable increase in sin and a greater accumulation of His wrath.

God replaced the human principle of “learn by doing” when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world.

First, by perfectly doing everything  that was required for a God-pleasing life, Jesus initiated the new principle by making no mistakes from which He had to learn.

Then, by dying on the cross for the faults, failings, and sins of us imperfect humans who err and fail to please God, Jesus took the wrath for human imperfection and failing upon Himself, giving sin and human imperfection no more power.

Finally, He fully implemented the new principle by which sinful and mistake-prone believers in Him might come to do what is pleasing to God as He did.

What is that new principle? It is that by knowing Him, we might learn to please God not by a series of errors and corrections, but by God Himself filling us with the wisdom and understanding required to please Him.

In Colossians 1:9-10, the Apostle Paul elaborates the new principle at work in those who know Jesus and are operating under the new principle:

And so, from the day we heard [of your faith], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (ESV)

Paul says that he is praying to God, asking Him to fill his readers, as believers in Jesus Christ, with the knowledge of His will.
He knows that the knowledge of God’s will is not something that is “learned by doing,” but is instead imparted and implanted by the work of God. This knowledge is not partial or incremental. It does not come in gradual trial and error, as human wisdom and knowledge come. Rather, Paul says that they come from a filling by God.

Paul says that the wisdom and understanding needed is “spiritual,” which makes them different from other learning.
He knows that such spiritual wisdom and understanding come only when the God teaches (see John 6:45), and when the Holy Spirit fills those who trust Christ, guiding them into the truth (see John 16:13).

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will enable those who are filled to “walk in a manner worthy of of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.”
He knows that spiritual wisdom and understanding produce practical ability and actual “walking.” They cause “doing.” What is more, they do not produce mistakes or errors, but produce deeds and actions that are “fully pleasing to Him,” just as the deeds and actions of Jesus were.

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will cause us to produce “fruit in every good work.” 
He knows that every kind or sort of good action or behavior that might be done will be done as a result of this spiritual wisdom and understanding. Whether the “good work” is expressing genuine faith, exhibiting selfless love, resisting temptation to sin, helping the needy, encouraging the weak, or some other good work we might consider, that act is the fruit of this wisdom and knowledge. Only this wisdom and knowledge can produce such actions or “works.”

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will multiply and will increase.
He knows that the wisdom and knowledge of God grow, by the continual increased filling of the Holy Spirit of God. There is no need for stagnation. The wisdom and knowledge that start as a small seed will grow, expand, develop and mature.

Learning holiness is not like learning to drive. The ability to please God is not something we can learn by trial and error.  In holiness, practicing over and over what we are able to do on our own will not make us perfect. We cannot teach ourselves how to please God.

In holiness, we must desire and pray for the filling of God that alone will give us spiritual wisdom and knowledge. Then, and only then can we hope to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.”

We will not be completely filled in one second. Paul says that the knowledge of God will increase, which means it is not instantaneously complete. But, we must not lose sight of the truth that God and God alone is the source of the knowledge of God needed to please Him.

To be holy, we must learn from God. Only then, and only by that kind of learning, we can do those things pleasing to God. We cannot “learn by doing,” but must “do by (first) learning” …from God.

 

 

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News or Do’s

Do you remember how you reacted to the last big news story you heard? Do you remember your reaction to the news of the capture of Saddam Hussein? Do you remember your reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden? Do you remember how you reacted to the news of the attacks on 9/11?

Many people change their lives in reaction to news of a major event. For example, after 9/11, many of us became more patriotic. Others joined the military.  But, what happened on 9/11 actually occurred whether it made a person more patriotic or not. It happened whether a person joined the military or not. It is the truth.

We react to news, and that causes confusion. Very often, we mentally and emotionally combine facts with our reaction to them. The fact and the reaction may be so intertwined that they become inseparable.

Over time, the confluence of news and response has crept into Christian thinking. Indeed, some Christians, if not most, seem to have a confusion between the gospel and  our response to the gospel.

Jesus said to “repent and believe in the gospel” (in Mark 1:15) but some of us tend to act like Jesus said “repent and believe IS the gospel.” The gospel is the thing we repent because of and the thing we must believe. “Repent” and “believe” are verbs. The “gospel” is a noun. Just seeing it that way might make the distinction clearer.
Our response to the gospel is to repent and believe, but “repent and believe” is NOT the gospel. We must be careful not to confuse the gospel with the response we are called to make to it.

The gospel is the good news that Christ died and saved sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15). It is not about us in any way, except as the objects of the salvation He purchased by His death on the cross and His taking upon Himself the wrath due to sinners.

In the Apostle Peter’s words, in Acts 2:22-24, 32-36 (ESV) this is the gospel:

Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Then, after delivering the news, Peter tells his listeners what they need to do to respond to the news, in Acts 2:38-39:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (ESV)

Repentance and faith are reactions to the gospel of what God did in Christ. We must not combine the response that sinners make to the gospel with the gospel itself.

Why?

Because then the gospel becomes relative. It becomes about a sinner’s response rather than God’s salvation for sinners. If we mix up the truth of the good news with the reaction of people to it, we are likely to be focused on the reaction that we are hoping to see. We tell the story of what Christ did as if the only thing that matters is the hearer’s reaction. We bury the lead. We lose the truth in attempts to evoke a reaction, and may even find ourselves adding bells and whistles and chrome plating and free prizes in an effort to “close the deal,” rather than “speaking the truth in love.”

Like Christ, like Peter, like Paul, we are to call people everywhere to respond to the truth with repentance and faith, but we must be clear that the news is separate from what we call people to do with it. If we don’t recognize the distinction, we water down the truth and end up preaching a different gospel, one that pleases men rather than God.

If we are careful to stick to the gospel truth, then we can be sure that any reaction that comes is a genuine reaction to the gospel. The repentance and faith that come will not spring up because of our lofty words of wisdom or our own craftiness. They will be the work of the Spirit of Truth. Those who respond will be able to say with James:

“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” -James 1:18 (ESV)

 

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Whose Idea Was This?

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made? We all make them.

I have made some colossal ones. I’m not talking about sin (although, of course, I do that too). I am talking about rash decisions made in haste. In the past, I’ve turned down really great job or career opportunities to pursue really lousy ones. I’ve ignored people that I should have cared about, and cared about people that I should have ignored. I’ve gotten into really stupid debt. I even once bought a polyester leisure suit!

I’ve found myself in all kinds of situations and asked, “how did I wind up HERE, with THIS?” I have looked back often and thought, “If only I knew then what I know now, I would not have gotten into this.”

But, you know what the biggest mistake has been? Thinking that any one of my mistakes was not part of God’s design.

Our feeble minds sometimes forget that God is really, fully in control. Sin warps our view of everything. We view our lives as a series of events that we control. That itself is a mistake.

It is a mistake because, as Ephesians 1:11 says, God works all things according to the counsel of His will. (ESV)

Many people get married and later think that they have made a mistake. Studies show that about one-fourth of people who stay married regret their marriage, and (of course) that is not counting those who get divorced. Many marriages turn unhappy for one or both spouses. The “for better or worse,” ends up seeming to be for worse. One marriage partner or another is quite likely to think that he or she has made a tragic mistake.

Jesus encountered some of those people. Here is what he told them in Matthew 19:4-8 (ESV)

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Of course, the context of their question to the Lord was divorce, but notice what Jesus answers:
God has brought that man and that woman together!
We might think that we met our spouse through random events, or because of the match-making of a friend, or because of some computer web site. We may think that our marriage was merely our own idea. These are all mistakes.
God brought us together. No less power or authority is responsible.

That man or that woman to whom we are married was brought into our lives and made our spouse by God.

His purpose for that may have been to increase our joy , happiness, and pleasure. It may have been for our reproof, rebuke, or instruction. There is not a single verse in the Bible that guarantees that a married couple will live “happily ever after.” In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7:28 there is the promise that “those who marry will have worldly troubles.”

Nonetheless, it was His purpose and design that brought that particular person into our life, and His purpose and design is to keep him or her in our life.

If we acknowledge that, we can begin to live for the purpose and in the design that God intended. It may be hard. It may be the hardest thing we do in our entire life. In fact, no one of us can fully do it by ourselves on our own power. But if we are in Christ, we have the promise that God  will never leave us nor forsake us.

Do you know one prominent place where that promise can be found?

It is at the end of this passage in Hebrews 13:4-5 (ESV):

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

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The Fruitful Blessing

Do you ever wonder what the blessing of God looks like?

We can sometimes overlook the true blessing of God, because we think it comes in some brilliant flash of light, or with peals of thunder and bolts of lightening. We might be lead by TV preachers to believe that the blessing of God manifests itself in only miraculous cures from disease or the spectacular acquisition of unimaginable wealth.

In reality, the blessing of God comes with few Hollywood-type visual effects. What is more, God’s blessing is manifested in things we might be prone to think of as “natural.” In reality, God’s blessing is His granting of abilities to do things or produce things that are impossible apart from His divine activity in and through His creatures.

In Creation, God blessed plants and animals with the ability to reproduce. (see Gen. 1:11, Gen. 1:24-25) He blessed the animals of the sea and air with the words “be fruitful, and multiply” (in Gen. 1:22). He blessed Mankind with similar words (in Gen. 1:28). He repeated the blessing to Noah and his sons after the flood (see Gen. 9:1, 9:7), and to Abraham when He called him (in Gen. 17:6).

Plums, puppies, and people don’t just happen. They are not the result alone of creatures “doing what comes naturally.” They are all the direct result of the blessing of God.

While we might think that the ability to produce (or reproduce) is “natural,” fruitfulness itself is the blessing of God. Whenever it is seen, He is at work (see Gen. 17:20, Gen. 28:3, Gen. 35:11, Gen. 41:52, Lev. 26:9, Deut. 7:13, Deut. 28:11).

This is true of physical fruitfulness, and it is likewise true of spiritual fruitfulness. While the ability to hear and understand the words of God might be mistaken as natural, they too are the evidence of God’s blessing and His work.

When Jesus taught the parable of the soils to His disciples, He explained that the gospel produces fruit only if it is spread on good soil (see Matt. 13:23, Mark 4:20, Luke 8:15), that is, if it is given to those who are blessed by God to be fruitful. Where the gospel does not bear fruit, the result is tragic (see Luke 13:6-9, Matt. 7:19, Matt. 3:10, John 15:2).

In Colossians 1, Paul speaks of the faith, love, and hope that God has produced in the believers at Colossae. Then, in verses 5 and 6, he says,

 Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, (Col. 1:5b-6, ESV)

Paul had already told them that he was grateful to God for their faith and love, and for the certainty of their hope (in Col. 1:3-5). Now, he tells them that their faith, love, and hope are the fruit of the gospel. When it came to them, God blessed them, making them into the “good soil” that Jesus talked about in His parable. Paul also says that the gospel is producing similar fruit, by the blessing and work of God, in the whole world.

Paul says that the faith, love and hope seen in the Colossians have developed in them “since the day you heard it (the gospel) and understood the grace of God in truth.” In this verse, Paul is stirring up in the Colossians (and in us) an appreciation for the truth that they have been blessed by God to do something that they otherwise could not have done.

If we, like them, have come to hear the gospel of Christ’s redemption, we are blessed by God. If we like them, have come to understand the wonderful working of God’s grace, we are blessed by God. If we have the fruit of that gospel, to even the least degree, and know the faith, the love, and the hope that the gospel implants, then that fruit is entirely due to the blessing of God.

Hollywood may try to convince us that, unless we hear the thunder and see the lightning, God has not worked, but that is simply a lie. If we find ourselves underestimating the miracle of truly hearing the gospel and actually understanding the work of His grace, we have fallen prey to the “father of all lies.”

Faith in Christ, and the genuine love and true hope that result, are the blessing of God. Do we really need anything more to give Him glory and praise and thanks?

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Your Hope in Heaven

As a college professor (as well as a pastor), I see discouragement all the time. Now. some Presidential candidates don’t seem to ever get discouraged (for example, Ron Paul). But, we all hit the doldrums of our faith, when the wind of eagerness seems to have left our sailcloth, and the gentle breezes of mundane life move us so slowly towards our goal that we wonder if we are on course or not.

The Apostle Paul, familiar with the discouragement of others, knew that times come for all travelers when progress seems frustratingly slow. Rather than seeing these occasions as the norm, he knew that remembering the goal, and Who was in charge of the journey, brings us from weariness to endurance.

After telling the Colossians that he has thanked God for their faith and love (see Col. 1:3-4), which are evidence of the certainty of their course, Paul reminds them that he is also grateful…

…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, -Col. 1:5, ESV

The hope of all believers is already a certainty. The prize which every Christian yearns for and strives for is already laid up,waiting. It is reserved for us like a sumptuous wedding banquet that has already been prepared for the newlyweds. It is like a luxuriously-appointed hotel suite that has already been prepared for an eagerly-awaited but world-weary guest.

The security of that prize is that it is held in Heaven, where rust cannot corrupt it and time cannot diminish it. The Holder of that promise is the Landlord of Heaven itself. It is more secure than the safest bank vault on earth. The One who keeps it for us will never lose it, or forget those to whom it is promised.

The deed to this treasured hope is the gospel. It is the surest truth and the surest promise ever made. It is “THE word of truth,” bound by the very Word of God Himself.

His own words ring clearly and distinctly in the quiet moments of discouragement, disappointment, or stagnation:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? -John 14:2, ESV

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.-John 6:37-39, ESV

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. -John 10:27-29, ESV

When our progress seems slow or when the wind moving us along seems to wane, we need to remember that our earthly progress is not our proper focus.

The One who has promised our destination should be our focus. The One who has already laid up our certain hope  should be our focus.

Nothing, not even the slow progress which may be the fault of our own folly or despair, will keep us from His will to bring us safely to the hope He has laid up for us, in His time.

Ours is to endure, and glorify Him by the hope we have, by His grace, in His sure promise.

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Struggling with Holiness

No human being is capable of being truly holy, that is pleasing to God, on his or her own power.

If this does not seem obvious from our own experience, then we either have a low opinion of God’s holiness, or a very selective memory.

Our lives are littered with sins gross and petty. We regularly spout  falsehoods, from careless exaggerations to the little white lies that we excuse as kindnesses. We engage in all sorts of hatred, from our anger at the guy who cuts us off in traffic to our rage at elected officials and thoughtless bosses. We live mired in covetousness, feeling entitled to everything from respect and praise to the rewards and honors we see others get but think should have come to us.

Of course, we could examine our adulteries (lusts), idolatries (false priorities), and other sins, but this is already leaving us (OK, me) wishing for a worse memory rather than a better one.

Christ has died for all those sins, and we have God’s forgiveness for them in Him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:23-24, ESV)

But, how do we grow to live less and less in that pattern of sin from which we were saved? Can the evil in us be made holy?

Christ had the answer, when He said,

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:13)

Notice, Jesus started that declaration by stating that His listeners (His disciples) were evil! Jesus was not one to mince words. We are evil. We must start by recognizing that as our situation.

Jesus then states that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

Why is that a solution for evil?

Simply put: He is called the Holy Spirit because He is Holy. If we seek Him, and ask the Father to grant His presence and control in our lives more and more, we will be made holy.

We do not possess that holiness in ourselves, apart from Him. We cannot fully yield to His holiness in us apart from His continual work in us.

But, as we have the desire to ask the Father to grant the Holy Spirit greater sway and control in our lives, even those of us who, in Jesus’s words “are evil” will see that the heavenly Father will give Him to us.

WE are evil, but God graciously gives us the Holy Spirit to transform us into the holy creatures He sees when He looks upon those for whom Christ died.

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Gospel-Centered Resolve

God is completely sovereign. His grace, working through the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, is sufficient to both save us from sin and “sanctify” us (make us holy).

God gets all the glory for anything we do that is good or pleasing to Him.

Some people will disagree with much of that. Others, who might somewhat agree with it would want to add something.

Both groups might raise some of the following questions. “Don’t we work with God to live holy lives?” “Are we simply passive in sanctification?” “Are you saying we just wait for God to do everything for us and in us while we just live eat, drink and be merry?”

These questions expose a fundamental issue about the power of the gospel. This issue is being stirred up by a Tsunami of books on restoring the concept of the gospel as the means of sanctification. These books have been attacked for putting forward the proposition that salvation and sanctification are totally the gracious work of God in us, through the completed work of Christ for us.

The concern of many critics is that if we go around proclaiming that both our salvation and our sanctification are gracious gifts of a sovereign God, people might start to conclude that our choices about our behavior, attitudes, and lifestyles are irrelevant. Christians might decide not to resist sin or strive for obedience to God, since God is the only one who can keep us from sin or cause us to obey. If God is controlling it all, we might as well not resolve to yell at our kids less, tell our spouse that we love them more, act more patient in traffic, or even lay off the Doritos.

The concern is very much like that which was leveled at the Reformers.

Such criticisms of what might be called “gospel-centered sanctification” miss the fundamental fact that sanctification, from start to finish, is God’s work. They also miss that those who see it as such do indeed understand that God does that work through a process that includes creating a resolve to strive for a more holy life.

That is the clear message behind Scripture such as 2 Thes. 1:11:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. (ESV)

The gospel is not only that God saves us from sin, but that He works to salvage us from living fruitless and futile lives. He does that in part by using the gospel to plant into our sinful and indifferent hearts fresh desires for greater Christ-likeness. His power and indwelling Spirit then enables the fulfillment of those desires.
Now, resolve to be a more patient driver, OK? Or at least stop eating those Doritos.

 

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Gifts from the Father

In Colossians 1:3-4, Paul writes:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,  since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints…(ESV)

This simple phrase of greeting is rife with significance. We might miss it at first, but Paul expresses an understanding that God the Father has been at work and is at work in the lives of those who believe in Christ.

Notice, Paul gives thanks to God for two things in particular.

First, he is grateful to God for the faith that believers have in Christ Jesus. Faith in Christ is a gracious gift from God. If it were not so, why give thanks for it?

Jesus had already made that clear when He proclaimed to those who did not believe in Him:

“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” -John 5:37-38, ESV

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” -John 6:29, ESV

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” -John 6:37, ESV

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—” -John 6:44-45, ESV

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” -John 6:65, ESV

In explaining further, Jesus says something even more perplexing:

But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. -John 8:45,ESV

That is, even the truth is not believed because it is the truth, and no one has the power to believe the truth unless God grants the ability to perceive the truth.

Unless God the Father has acted, no belief in Christ is possible. Again, Jesus says that unbelievers continue in unbelief because the Father has not made them part of the “flock” of sheep that follow Christ:

…but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. -John 10:26-29, ESV

Second, Paul is grateful to the Father that the believers to whom he is writing have evidence of genuine faith. That evidence of faith is their love for all the saints. The fruit of faith (here, love) is also a gracious gift of God.

This love is what Jesus prayed the Father would grant to His disciples in John 17:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….
…O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. -John 17:10-21, 25-26, ESV

It is for this fruit of faith that Paul prayed:

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you  -I Thessalonians 3:12, ESV

Indeed, love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. It is evidence of God’s gracious work.
We are made holy, sanctified for God, by the sovereign and gracious work of God. We must cling to this truth, even as we seek to live lives pleasing to God, for it is God who works in each of us both to will and to do His pleasure. -Philippians 2:13, ESV

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Is Christ Really Most Important?

Speaking of Christ, Colossians 1:18 says

Col. 1:18 And  he is the head of the body, the church. He is  the beginning,  the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (ESV)

(For more details on this verse, see HisWordMySword)

The context of this is that Christ is the Creator of all things (Col. 1:16). Not only that, but all things were made FOR Him. Thus, Christ has the right to everything in all of creation. He is the owner of all the things that we see around us. He is the owner of us. He is the owner of our time. He is the rightful owner of my car. He is the rightful owner of our houses. He is the rightful owner of your computer.

We belong to Him, because He made us for Himself. We belong to Him and everything that we have also belongs to Him.

And, the purpose for which He made everything was, as the verse above says, so that in everything (without exception) He would be preeminent (the first in importance and priority).

This truth is not something we naturally know. The ability to understand this is given by Him, through His Holy Spirit.

But understanding this is only the beginning. Once we grasp this truth, we need to apply it, with the gracious help of His Spirit. How can we do that?

The answer is simple, but difficult.

We need to begin to ask, about everything we do, “Am I doing this because Christ is my first priority?” For example, when I am spending “my” time watching some YouTube video, I need to reflect on the question “Am I spending the time God has given me doing this because Christ is my priority?” When I spend $10 on lunch, I need to ask “am I spending the $10 God has given me in this way because Christ is my priority?” When I say something to my wife, I need to ask “am I about to say this because Christ is the greatest priority in my life?”

To be sure, we are still not perfect, and we will still catch ourselves doing all kinds of things that do not reflect the truth that Christ is our priority. But, by the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit, as we ask these sorts of  questions time and again, He will use them to redirect our actions, more and more, until our actions do demonstrate that in all things Christ is preeminent.

 

 

 

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