Overfamiliar with Grace? Unfamiliar with Grace!

When we are overly familiar with grace it may be that we are actually unfamiliar with grace. I started reading Carl Trueman’s book “Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God” and the first couple of pages stirred all sorts of thoughts on this often overly familiar subject of grace. This blog post and refection was actually occasioned by what Trueman writes on the first page of his book. In his opening few sentences he notes that:

“The language of grace so permeates the Bible and all traditions of Christian theology that to claim that salvation is by grace alone is, in itself, to claim very little at all. It does not distinguish Augustine from Pelagius, Thomas Aquinas from Gabriel Biel, Martin Luther from Desiderius Erasmus, or William Perkins from James Ariminius. What distinguishes them is how grace is understood.” – Carl TruemanIMG_20190329_161141_504

GRACE IS TO BE FOUND ONLY IN CHRIST!

This seems like the most obvious and basic statement to make on the subject of grace. Yet it is important to make it and explain it because it is a reality, and a seriously alarming one, that we can find people – even Christians – talk about grace without reference to Jesus and His substitutionary atoning work. It is also necessary to affirm very clearly that grace is to be found only in and through Jesus’ perfect person and atoning work because it is easy to imagine someone believing that grace is merely an appeal to God’s “softer side” to overlook sin on the grounds of our genuineness and sincerity.

It is here that Carl Trueman is helpful when he writes that many find themselves thinking wrongly about grace as “simply a divine sentiment, a decision or a tendency in God to overlook sin as an overindulgent parent might when dealing with a naughty child. Grace seemed to be nothing more than God turning a blind eye to human rebellion. The danger of such a view, apart from the obvious minimizing and nullifying Christ’s preciousness is, in Trueman’s words: “It [is] as if grace were a free pass to do whatever one chooses.

It is these concerns that must give us a fresh appreciation for the truth that grace is to be found only in Christ. We do not locate grace in the non-existent leniency of God towards sin. This is firstly idolatrous as we are imagining a god that is not the God of the Bible because the God of the Bible is by no means lenient toward sin or sinners. It is wishful thinking at best and hell-bound deceptiveness at worst to think that grace is God’s leniency toward sin. God is holy and just and therefore is inflexible in His judgments on sin.

For this reason God sent Jesus Christ, His eternal Son, to become a man and to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death. So that all those who believe on Him receive His obedience credit to their spiritually bankrupt account and have all their transgressions judged in His atoning death on their behalf. The Scriptures says “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we can become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). There is therefore no talk of grace apart from Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for sinners.

We do not locate grace in our sincerity and repentance. We do not locate grace in God’s supposed leniency toward sin. We must understand grace in light of the perfect person and precious blood of Jesus Christ. This is why for the apostle Paul grace is a person, the Person of Jesus Christ: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men…” (Titus 2:11).grace

When we think about God’s grace towards us we are thinking about God’s kindness in giving us His Son to be our savior (Matt 1:21, John 3:16). When we think about God’s grace towards us we are thinking about God’s free offer of pardon only on the grounds of Jesus vicarious death for us. When we think about God’s grace towards us we are thinking about God’s promise to renew and restore us who trust in Jesus alone.

When God gives us grace, He does so on the grounds that He has regarded His Son as if He was us (sinners worthy of judgment) and He has regarded us who trust in Jesus as if we were Him (perfectly righteous and obedient). So when we think grace, always think Christ.

 

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A Lesson From a Fisherman

Some time ago I was at the beach early the morning praying and reading. As I was watching the waters move briskly and peacefully my eye caught a couple of fishermen. I observed them very closely for a couple of minutes.

They‘d pulled up next to me earlier while I was busy reading and they started preparing themselves. They got their fishing rod out and a few other items. They got dressed into their fishing suit (?) and made their way toward the shore. I watched the one walk into the water with his rod and with the bait prepared he cast his rod into the deep. What happened next blew me away.

No they didn’t catch anything!

But after his rod was cast into the sea he placed it into a fishing rod holder pressed into the sand on the shore and guess what? He sat down and waited! Yes he sat down and waited. These fishermen patiently and unperturbed sat there on the shore waiting peacefully with expectancy. What blew me away is not what they caught but what caught my attention: the patient and peaceful wait for the catch! I’m sure the greater joy of fishing is to catch a fish but these men demonstrated that the waiting part is by no means a kill joy.

55465062_472485120240299_710528306771918848_n
I took this picture that morning.

“Oh! That God would give me such eagerness and readiness to wait on Him”.

I was immediately reminded that we are called to adopt a similar disposition towards God. Faith is often best seen not when we are busy working but when we are patiently waiting. If fishermen are that eager to wait for a mere (and sometimes meagerly) fish, how much more eager should we not be waiting on the living God!

The nature of the water, the bait on the rod and the experience accumulated over the years all promises that their wait will surely be worth it. Similarly, and even more significantly the faithfulness of our immutable God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow, ought to give us even more confidence that waiting on His promises will prove eternally rewarding!

We may not have what we desire right now. We may not be what we hoped to be right now. We may not receive what we’ve asked for right now. And we may not experience all the blessings that are ours in Christ right now. However, we must understand that waiting is an important discipline in the Christian life. Waiting is by no means a wasting of our time but it is a spiritual discipline God call us to as part of our discipleship and as a demonstration of our faith and trust!

So that like Jacob we too can pray: “For your salvation I wait, O Lord” (Gen. 49:18). Like the Psalmist we too can address our hearts: “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Ps. 27:14). Like the Apostle Paul we can be strengthened in the knowledge that:“…our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).

 

 

CHRISTMAS IN BIBLICAL PICTURES

chirstmas pic

Images or pictures are helpful in giving us understanding or helping us remember. Christmas is one of the most picturesque days. When we think of Christmas we cannot help to think of various images and a range of familiar pictures typically associated with Christmas – especially in secular culture and Christmas movies. Pictures such as reindeers, a red suited Santa Clause or Father Christmas, elves, beautifully decorative lights, family, food, gifts, or vacations.

The problem with these pictures though is that they are not in any way descriptive of what Christmas is actually about. For that we have to go to the nativity account recorded in the Bible. There we find equally vivid, striking and colorful pictures. The story of Christ’s birth recorded in the Bible evoke some of the most captivating and memorable pictures. These pictures help us tell and remember the Christmas story in it’s true significance.

Initially I identified 9 images that were significant in the nativity accounts; however, I ended up only looking at 6. The three I decided to leave out: 1) the image of the Child (which speaks to Christ humanity) 2) the image of Babies (specifically babies being killed by Herod, which pictures the hostility with which Christ was received) and 3) the image of Shepherds (who pictures for us the witness to and of the gospel message proclaimed). So, with that said here are 6 images in the nativity account that helps us understand and tell the Christmas well!

1. ANGELS

One of the first and more striking images in the nativity account is the almost omnipresence of angels. Everywhere you turn in the story of Christ’s birth you see angels. An angel appears in the temple to the priest Zacharias (Luke 1:8-11). An angel appears later in Nazareth to a virgin named Mary (Luke 1:26-27). An angel appears yet later to shepherds in the field (Luke 2:9) and suddenly after this angel gave his message to the shepherds, we are told a multitude of heavenly host appear praising God (Luke 2:12).

Not only do we see ordinary angels (if we can call any angel ‘ordinary’) but we also see really important angels like Gabriel. When an angel appeared to Zacharias to announce the forerunner to Christ, namely John the Baptist’s birth, it was not merely any angel but one of the only two angels named in the Bible – the angel Gabriel (the other being Michael). We then see Gabriel appear again, when according to the Scriptures, he is “sent from God…to a virgin” (Luke 1:26-27) whose name was Mary.

Angels are God’s ministers (Psalm 104:4), sent as God’s messengers. Their presence witnesses to the significance of the occasion. It is therefore fitting at the most significant point in human history, when God was about to become a man and dwell among man, that we see the heightened presence of angels. We may think of John the Baptist as the only forerunner to Christ but we would be mistaken as angels themselves come to prepare the way of their Lord. We only have to look at the scene in the field with the shepherds:

13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” – Luke 2:8–14 (NASB95)

What’s fascinating in this account is the appearance of “a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying Glory to God in the Highest”. What the angels are doing here is fulfilling a direct act of obedience in worshipping the Child, just born, as the Son of God:

And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says,“And let all the angels of God worship Him.” – Hebrews 1:6 (NASB95)     

The arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is marked by the worship of, not some angels, but “LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM”. Every angel is commanded and joins in the worship of the Son of God. We see clearly that an outstanding image in the Christmas story according to the Bible is the image of angels. Angels picture for us the divine significance of the occasion, namely the incarnation of the Son of God, and the proper response to the occasion, namely the unreserved worship of God in flesh. With this insight in mind grasp these few powerful lines penned by Charles Wesley:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.” 
 

2.VIRGIN

The most astonishing aspect of Christ’s birth has to be that He was born of a virgin. God dispatched the angel Gabriel to a virgin by the name of Mary to announce to her that she, without the involvement of a man, will conceive in her womb and bear a son (Luke 1:3). The picture of the virgin puts into our minds the image of a young innocent girl chosen and highly favored by God to become the mother of the Savior of all men – including the Savior of her own soul (Luke 1:47)!

The truth of the virgin birth is not only a New Testament phenomenon but is attested to by the Old Testament. Isaiah the prophet received the word that “…the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah received this prophecy about 700 years before the angel visited Mary in Nazareth. The truth and image of a virgin therefore reminds us of the prophetic fulfillment of Christ’s birth and thereby the veracity of God’s word – that it never fails!

In addition to this, we also note in the image of the virgin the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth. The angel informed Mary that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). That a virgin conceived was an act of God’s power and this was significant as it secured the holiness and sinlessness of the child.

When we are born into this world it normally takes two sinners to conceive – a man and a woman both with sinful natures. This sinful nature then gets passed onto us and this has been the sad and cursed reality of mankind ever since the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve. However, Jesus Christ is not conceived as we are and the Scriptures very plainly state that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of the Most High will overshadow her and “for that reason” says Gabriel, “the holy (hagios) Child shall be called the Son of God”. The virgin birth then secures the sinlessness of the Lord Jesus Christ as He was – in the words of the Apostles’ Creed – “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”. The image of the virgin [birth] pictures the miraculous birth and sinlessness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He would come as the sinless Savior and only as such can He truly save!  Charles Wesley again helps us reflect on this truth:

Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

3.MANGER

The manger is probably the dominant image when thinking of the actual birth of Jesus. Though the nature of Jesus’ birth and the purpose for which He was born is of eternal significance, when reading the account of his birth one wouldn’t be blamed for wanting more to be said. This is something that has always been fascination: the matter-of-fact nature in which the birth of Christ is recorded. It is just recorded without any special significance whatsoever.

Matthew writes, “…she gave birth to a Son, and he called his name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25). Luke writes, “and she gave birth to her first born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths…” (Luke 2:7). The account of the actual birth of Jesus is described in the most ordinary terms. One would have expected something more. I would’ve expected something like:

“and she gave birth to her first born Son and at that time the earth shook and the mountains trembled while only the place of his birth remained still and while angels flew over the area Jesus was born and a chorus of voices could be heard singing outside “Away in a manger”.

However, what we have is the story really going in the opposite direction. Instead of a big build up to some spectacular birth we have the most ordinary of births and instead of an increase in prestige around this birth we see a move in a much more humble direction. The most interesting aspect of Jesus’ birth is probably the fact that he was born in a manger. Luke tells us that there was no place for Mary in the inn but instead she had to give birth in a feeding through for animals. The Lord of glory comes in great humility.

That is really is the message that the picture of the manger communicates. The apostle Paul writes and says: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The manger is testament to the poverty in which the Son of God came to earth. Let this Christmas remind us, especially that humble image of the manger that while we may have many nice things, many fancy things, many expensive things, and many valuable things – Christmas is really about us moving in the other direction, the direction of humility, lowliness, self-denial and sacrificial love. Martin Luther wrote:

Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head

4.MAGI

There are many interesting characters playing important roles in the nativity account but none more mysterious and almost out of place than the wise men from the east also known as the magi. Magi is a term used for astrologers and these men were in actually fact following a star. They are Gentile astrologers as the Scriptures inform us and they were from the east (Matthew 2:1). They also appear clueless about Old Testament prophecy concerning the birth place of Christ.

Now there are few things about them that are not as clear and obvious. For starters, contrary to popular belief the Scripture nowhere tells us that they were three. This number is possibly deduced from the fact that they brought three gifts.

However, what is very clear is who they were looking for and what they were there to do. Matthew tells us that they were asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews”. They were clearly looking for and expecting to find a king at the end of their star-guided search. It’s also worth noting the royal or kingly context of Matthew’s account for immediately after they asked about the King of the Jews, we read “When Herod the king hear this…” Matthew in moment has the Magi asking about the whereabouts of the King of the Jews and the next moment the scene opens on Herod the king.

This becomes even more obvious when they eventually found the place Jesus was born. We are told that they rejoiced and fell to the ground and worshipped Him (Matthew 2:10-11). They then presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts are said to be gifts fit for a king. What then becomes abundantly clear is that the magi picture for us the royalty of the Lord Jesus. Born in Bethlehem was not only the Savior of the world but also the King of kings. May the image of the magi remind us that our Savior is King and we belong to Him and are called His own possession.  I’m sure you can excuse the presumption of this Christmas carol in calling them three wise men and appreciate the truth it sums up so well:

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

5.TABERNACLE

The image of the tabernacle in the nativity account may come as a surprise to many. However, if we are willing to be a little brave and venture beyond Matthew and Luke and if we would then take that risk and be as daring to regard sections in John’s prologue as part of the nativity account we may not be that surprised after all. We often don’t consider John’s gospel to tell us anything about the birth of Christ. The fourth gospel is just so different from the other three and yet if we read it carefully we will see that in actual fact John does address the birth of Jesus.

Well not in those words, but John very clearly writes, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The word became flesh when the Son became man and the Son became man when he was conceived in the womb of Mary and born in the manger outside the inn in Bethlehem. In other words, when we think of the word becoming flesh we cannot miss the part of His birth!

John writes, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us”. That word “dwelt” can also be translated as “tabernacle” and this is a deliberate effort to encourage us to cast our minds back to the Old Testament when God “tabernacled” with His people in various ways. However, here God would come to earth fully man to personally dwell with man. God thus draws near to us in the closest manner and one could even say this is the closest God has been to man since He walked with Adam in the garden. In Jesus, God tabernacles with man not in a structure built but in body assumed.

As much as our focused is (rightfully) drawn toward the accounts of Christ’s birth in Matthew and Luke, let us not forget that the Bible testifies to Christ incarnation, birth and coming to earth regularly and here in John 1:14 we see one very clear instance. What happened at Christmas? What are we celebrating at Christmas? How about we let John (instead of Matthew or Luke) answer those questions for us. His answer would be: we are celebrating at Christmas the reality that the word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us. Thus tabernacle is a perfectly acceptable image for Christ and the image of tabernacle pictures for us the reality that God came near in grace, kindness and truth to save and redeem us completely.

Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn

 6.CROSS

Without a shadow of a doubt, the cross looms large over the entire nativity account. We can even say the cross looms large over the entire life of Jesus. As blunt as it may seem to say this, the little baby Jesus lay wrapped in cloths is born to die on a merciless Roman cross. Thus He came from heaven to earth to die as the Nicene creed affirms:

For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from heaven:

While there is no specific reference to the cross in the nativity account there is explicit reference to the work Jesus was to finish on the cross. It was clearly communicated by the angel that, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). This culminates on that fateful Good Friday on a hill outside of Jerusalem where Jesus would hang on a cross and there endure the just anger and wrath of God for the sins of all those who would believe.

Therefore, Christmas isn’t about giving us a reason to smile or be happy or to give away gifts or even to be with family, or to feel good about ourselves. Christmas is about the Son of God being born of a virgin, fully man and fully God, living a perfect life in obedience to the law and dying a sacrificial death on the cross so that all those who would believe would be saved! The cross looms large over the birth of Christ and it pictures for us the mission He came to  accomplish on earth. The image of the cross pictures the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re truly blessed at Christmas time to have hymns and carols that sum up these great truth with such rich lyrics:

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and lamb are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through
The cross be borne for me, for you
Hail, hail the Word made flesh
The Babe, the Son of Mary

 Conclusion

While I’m confident there are more images of significance in the nativity account these six serve us well in providing meaning and understanding of the birth of Christ:

  1. the image of the angels pictures the significance of the incarnation
  2. the image of the virgin pictures the miraculous nature of the incarnation
  3. the image of the manger pictures the utter humility and condescension of the incarnation
  4. the image of the magi pictures the royal significance of the incarnation
  5. the image of the tabernacle pictures God in flesh drawing near with grace and truth
  6. the image of the cross which looms large over the birth of Christ pictures the gracious message and completed mission of the incarnation.

Here’s Charles Wesley one more time:

Mild, He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of Earth,
Born to give them second

WHAT DOES “SOLUS CHRISTUS” MEAN?

(This is an outline of a sermon I preached on the subject “Solus Christus’

Main Text: 2 Corinthians 5:21

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”Solus-Christus-1024x341

  1. CHRIST ALONE OUR SAVIOUR
  • Christ alone could make atonement for sin
    • Christ’ death for man’s sins

Paul is quite clear that Christ was made to be our sin-bearer and this necessarily qualifies Jesus and Jesus alone to be our only Saviour. He paid the penalty of our sin and the peace we now enjoy (Is. 53:5), through faith in Christ, with God is as result of our judgment that Jesus took on Himself.

  • Christ alone could make propitiation for sin
    • Christ’s death to satisfy God’s justice)

Paul says that “God [the Father} made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us”, in other words, the cross was God the Father’s doing. It was the Father’s will that the Son be made a sin-bearer because the Father who is holy also wills to forgive. However, there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22) to satisfy the justice and righteousness of God (Rom. 3:21-25). Therefore Jesus’ death was a penalty paid for man’s sin to a holy God.

  • Christ alone earned the merits upon which we now rest
    • Christ’s death the basis new life

In light of Christ’s penal substitutionary atoning death, we cannot rely on our own goodness, or our own righteous deeds to be saved and made right with God. We cannot rely on religious authorities, religious experiences or religious practices to be be right with God. No tradition, church, or priest can save us. Christ alone – through His perfect life and substitutionary death – has earned for us the merits to please God. We trust Him and Him ALONE!

 

  1. CHRIST ALONE OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS
  • Christ alone fulfilled the law for us
    • Christ was obedient for us

When Jesus was to be baptized there was clear concern from John the baptist as he knew Jesus’ true nature as well as his own depraved nature. However, the Scripture tells us that this was done so that all righteous requirements according to the law could be done (Matthew 3:15). There where Adam failed in perfect obedience, the Son would come and live a live perfectly obedient in the flesh – for us (Rom. 5:15-21). In living this perfect life and obeying the law completely, Jesus acted on our part – so that perfect obedience of the law for salvation and righteousness would not be required from us but would be gracious given to us by Jesus.

  • Christ alone is righteousness for us
    • Christ imputes His righteous to us

In this passage Paul has a clear concern for the subject of “righteousness”. It is not enough that the penalty for our sins have been paid, but after our sins have been dealt with we are still in need of a perfect righteousness to stand before a thrice holy God. Jesus alone provides for us this perfect or alien righteousness – His righteousness. We are told that “in Him we become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

  • Christ alone mediates peace with God for us
    • Christ ends our enmity with God

Now that God has made Jesus our sin-bearer and through faith in Him declared us righteous the hostility and enmity that sin caused with God have ceased. We are now at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) as God has given us one mediator and only one, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:4)

 

  1. CHRIST ALONE OUR HIGH PRIEST
  • Christ alone intercedes for the saints
    • Christ death and life testifies for us before God

The passage (2 Cor. 5:21) speaks explicitly of Christ dealing with our sin and providing us a righteousness. However, it also implicitly demonstrates Jesus mediatorial role as our high priest. God has given Christ (“he made him, who knew no sin to be sin for us”) to perform services and sacrifices on our part (perfect law-doer, substitutionary sin-bearer, gracious righteousness-giver). After Jesus was raised from the dead, he ascended into heaven and is seated at God’s right hand where He intercedes for us (Heb. 4:14; 7:25). He isn’t so much verbally praying for us as his perfect life in the flesh and his substitutionary death on the cross speaks for us before God.

  • Christ alone rules over the saints
    • Christ is head of the church

He was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God far above all rule, authority and power and He has been appointed in this lofty and exalted state as head of the church (Eph. 1:20-22). He rules His church. Jesus is not only the Saviour of our souls but also the Captain of our souls.

  • Christ alone glorifies the saints
    • Christ will make all things new

 Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble, but we must take heart and be courageous because He has overcome this world (John 16:33). He has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:3) and will return for us. Christ and Christ Alone will usher in a new heaven and a new earth – a place where there will be no more pain, suffering, tears or trouble (Rev. 21:1,4). This is our hope, at the end He will consummate and perfect and make all things new (Rev. 21:5). This is too great a task for it to be accomplished through human effort, religious tradition, clerical mediation, or an other system of works.

  • Christ and Christ Alone is our Saviour who saves to the uttermost.
  • Christ and Christ Alone is our righteousness, in whom we are declared perfectly righteous before the trice holy God.
  • Christ and Christ alone is our faithful high priest who oversees our lives in this fallen world until he ushers in the new world in which He dwells with us as only God can dwell with man.

So, we confess with the reformers SOLUS CHRISTUS!

Temptation show us what is in us

After his opening remarks to his readers, which I looked at in the last post, Owen begins his treatise on temptation by discussing the general and special nature of temptation. General temptation, says Owen, is more like trials and special temptation is more like the temptation to sin. Owen makes a point that I found extremely helpful in dealing with temptation to sin. Speaking of God’s providential aim behind trials and temptations he writes:owne 2

“He doth it to show unto man what is in him,—that is, the man himself; and that either as to his grace or to his corruption. He sends his instruments of trial into the bowels and the inmost parts of the soul, and lets man see what is in him, of what metal he is constituted.”

What a thought to ponder when faced with temptations of various kinds: This temptation has come to show me what is in me. Understanding God’s aim in trials and even through temptations can be a defense aiding us to endure trials and to resist temptations.

Now, naturally there is corruption in us (Romans 3:9-20) but when we are called to faith in Christ, the Spirit comes and indwells us and begins a work of renewing us from the inside out. It may perhaps be helpful to think about temptations as more than regular and frequent “term tests” to evaluate our progression in this renewing process. When we take a term test, the test is based on the scope of work covered during that term. The aim is to determine whether we have learned the work well and understand it as we ought to.

So we study, prepare and sit down to take the test, during that moment when it’s only you and a blank piece of paper, in a funny way, that blank piece paper will determine what is in you concerning the work you know and understand. Often the blank paper is an apt reflection of what is in many students when they take a test. The “term test” we could say reveals what is in us – as it relates to the work we know! In a similar way,  temptations comes to test and determine how much progress we’ve made in “working out our salvation” (Phil. 2:13) i.e. what is in us .

It is often easy (although not without expensive consequences) to experience a temptation to sin and convince ourselves that we can give into the temptation and find grace and mercy from God. However, what such carnal reasoning misses is that temptation is not only intended to reveal what is clearly there in God, namely grace and mercy, but it is also there to reveal what is in us. As Owen says, “either as to his grace or his corruption”. Speaking of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles whom God tried to reveal his pride Owen writes: “He knew not that he had such a proud heart, so apt to be lifted up, as he appeared to have, until God tried him, and so let out his filth, and poured it out before his face.”

There is an incentive to resist temptation when we know that we are being tested to determine what is in us. We must therefore by God’s grace be eager to demonstrate in the face of temptation that what is in us is more of our renewed redeemed nature than our old sinful nature.

 

Take Temptation Serious, before it Takes you Seriously

I’ve been reading John Owen’s fairly brief discourse entitled: “Of Temptation: the Nature and Power of it; the Danger of Entering into it; and the Means of Preventing that Danger” and found myself highlighting almost every page.  As I’ve been reflecting on these precious truths, I felt compelled to share some what Owen has to say on the subject of temptation. So, I want to share some of his quotes and provide context and commentary.

owen

 

Owen begins his treaties on temptation by addressing the reader. He demonstrates the seriousness with which he regards the subject of temptation, so much so, that he has determined to set himself up as a student of temptation as it touches his own life and as it touches the lives of others. He writes,

I have had advantages to make of the ways and walkings of others,—their beginnings, progresses, and endings, their risings and falls, in profession and conversation, in darkness and light,—have left such a constant sense and impression of the power and danger of temptations upon my mind and spirit, that, without other pleas and pretences, I cannot but own a serious call unto men to beware, with a discovery of some of the most eminent ways and means of the prevalency of present temptations, to have been, in my own judgement, in this season needful.

What’s fascinating in what Owen says here is that he is not primarily interested in envying the “risings” of others or judging the “falls” of others but Owen rather regards “the walking of others” as an advantage and a blessing which has “left such a constant sense and impression of the power an danger of temptation upon [his] mind and spirit”. What he sees in others (darkness or light, risings or falls) causes him to look at himself firstly, and then call on others to beware. This is exactly what Scripture exhorts us to do:

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. – Galatians 6:1

Owen speaks out against those who do not treat temptation with the sobriety and seriousness they ought to and who fails to see the threat it poses to their soul. He calls them “men overborne by security in the mouth of destruction”  (he draws this from Proverbs 23:34 “And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast”).In classic Owen-esque we could say: take temptation serious, before it takes your seriously.   This reminds me of Paul’s warning:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:12

In fact Owen’s entire discourse on temptation is based on our Lord’s exhortation to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane:

“Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41 (NASB95)

Owen expresses serious concern for those unconcerned about the seriousness of “entering into temptation”. He writes:

“he that understands not that there is an “hour of temptation” come upon the world, to “try them that dwell upon the earth,” is doubtless either himself at present captivated under the power of some woful lust, corruption, or temptation, or is indeed stark blind, and knows not at all what it is to serve God in temptations.”owne 2

Owen begins his book by calling on us to see the seriousness of temptation and it is an appropriately call we will do well to listen to today. I hope to share some more of Owen on temptation along with some of my own reflections.

I trust this start to Owen’s words and these brief reflections would leave such a constant sense and impression of the power and danger of temptations upon your mind and spirit. The aim is that this would make you flee to the throne of grace where Christ is, our great and faithful high priest who Himself was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin – and thus sympathizes with our weaknesses – and there in Him find strength to stand, resist, and overcome in the face of temptations.

 

 

 

Discernment Ministries and the Making of Deficient Disciples

INTRODUCTION

Discernment is the spiritual discipline and practice of ably distinguishing between truth

Discernment

and error. Christians are called to not merely accept everything they hear from God’s Word as God’s Word but distinguish between what is actually God’s Word and what are really misrepresentations of God’s Word. Discernment, in short, is the ability to distinguish between truth and error – it is to be like the Bereans of Acts 17 who responded to Paul’s ministry discerningly. We read about them:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. – Acts 17:11

This is not to be confused with judgmental-ism or hypocritical-ism both of which lack the humility and fruitfulness of true biblical discernment. The Scriptures provide us with another helpful description of discernment when the Apostle Paul calls on the believers in Thessalonica to “examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every from of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21). Discernment ministries arose mostly out of the ever growing presence and spread of error among Christians. So to be clear most discernment ministries came about out of noble intentions and biblical fidelity. Many Christian have been warned and thus spared the abuse they may have suffered under false teaching as a result of some really solid work from many discernment ministries.

In my own experience, about 15 to 20 years ago, discernment was not a widely practiced discipline or welcomed practice among Christians. However, today discernment has become trendy and discernment ministries have become fashionable. Just a quick look at Facebook or twitter and you will see the many pages and accounts dedicated either to “defending the gospel” or “protecting the truth” or “custodians of sound doctrine” etc.

I must say I become weary when I hear of this or that person having appointed themselves a defender or protector or custodian of the gospel. When I see some

defenders

prominent pastor quoted and somewhere on the poster is “defender of truth” or something similar, I wonder not only to what biblical authority that person/s behind that discernment ministry answers to but also what biblical and theological tradition they subscribe to and standard they hold others to.

One of my biggest concerns is the unspoken assumption that to be discerning is to be “biblical” – i.e. well orientated and proficient in sound doctrine. Now, let me be clear and say that to be biblical in this sense include being discerning but practicing discernment doesn’t’ necessary mean one is well-orientated and proficient in sound doctrine – especially if it is the type of discernment that is only defined by what it is against. And this is the sad reality today that many discernment ministries are only defined by what they are against and they therefore tend to only tell Christians what they are supposed to be against.

The problem with this is illustrated on social media when a Christian, sincerely wanting to be faithful and sound, shares a particular post about some aberrant doctrine but the very next post he promotes some ministry or music team with as bad if not worse theology. You’ll get someone sharing discernment ministry memes that speaks out against Catholicism but the next post he quotes lyrics by a music group whose doctrine of God would stand ashamed when held up against the classical theism and theology proper of Roman Catholic scholars. Practicing discernment that only leads you to know the few things you are supposed to be against betrays a depleted and deficient state of biblical literacy that makes the whole discernment exercise counter-productive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not tolerating the errors of Catholicism or any error for that matter. I’m merely pointing out the theological inconsistency created by discernment ministries who care only for what they are against. The big problem we end up having is sincere Christians who genuinely desire to be biblically faithful and sound become deficient disciples because they just know about the theological pet peeves of some discernment ministry they should be against and haven’t really developed a healthy and sound biblical framework from which to engage not only error but all of Christian life.

In the midst of this trendy and fashionable state of the discernment movement what is required is firstly a clear understanding of true discipleship and an eagerness to belong to a healthy church where there’s faithful preaching of the whole counsel of God and a commitment to grow spiritually in all our grace’s and not merely selectively against that which is deemed unacceptable. It is true that we must be discerning and it is true that as Christian we need help in developing our discernment. However I’m convinced that the Scripture presents us with a better way to cultivate biblical discernment than what many discernment ministries today seem to offer.

  1. BIBLICAL DISCIPLESHIP IS A BETTER APPROACH TO CULTIVATING DISCERNMENT

If you are serious about not being deceived by error and if you are serious about knowing the truth and if you are eager to heed the exhortation to “examine everything carefully” and to “hold fast to what is good” and “abstain from every form of evil”, then I encourage you to pursue biblical discipleship. Discipleship is not only interested in knowing what teachings to avoid and what teachings to oppose, biblical discipleship according to Jesus is to know and obey everything he commanded.

The risen Lord commissioned his disciples to make disciples. We read our Lord’s commission in Matthew’s gospel:

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–20

In verse 20 we find the heart of biblical discipleship: We must – by implication – first be exposed to and instructed in “all that I commanded you”. Jesus does not only want to us to know what we must be against and he does not only want us to know what we must be for. Instead we ought to know everything he commanded. In fact it is not even knowledge of what Jesus commanded that is emphasized here but obedience to everything Jesus commanded, that is the heart of biblical discipleship. When we pursue biblical discipleship we will necessarily also learn about discernment and when we learning and practicing all of God’s Word we will be preparing ourselves to rightly discern and distinguish truth from error. So then, biblical discipleship as seen in Matthew 28:19-20 i.e. giving oneself in learning and obedience to all of God’s Word, is a better approach to cultivate discernment than following discernment ministries that only tell you what you must be against.

  1. FAITHFUL PREACHING IS A BETTER INSTRUMENT TO CULTIVATE DISCERNMENT

Something that should bother us when we see these memes designed by discernment ministries and we see many Christians making use of their “material” is, where do these folk attend church, what do they actual believe – beyond what they are against – and are they faithfully submitting to authority? Following on from that concern, what should also bother us is if we are more dependent on these ministries to cultivate discernment in us than the preaching of our own pastor in the fellowship of our own local church. In other words if you are not being taught – as part of your pastor’s preaching and your church’s practice – the truth and warned against error and you have to follow a discernment ministry for that then you should be concern about the ministry you are receiving at your church. In giving the qualification of a Pastor as well as the job description he must give himself to, Paul writes:

Titus 1:9 (NASB95)

9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

Your pastor must hold fast the faithful word. Hereby Paul means that a elder or Pastor must be competent in doctrine and know the Scriptures. Doctrinal and biblical fitness is crucial for discharging his ministry which is made up of “exhorting in sound doctrine” and “refuting those who contradict”. If you belong to a healthy church your Pastors and elders will be biblically competent and will be exhorting you in sound doctrine as well as correcting error and this ministry of theirs will cultivate in you a heart for discernment. Discernment is best taught in the local church through the ministry of the word of God by the local pastor – in exhorting in sound doctrine and refuting error – than through liking a discernment ministries Facebook page and following its memes. Regularly listening to faithful preaching in a healthy local church is a much better instrument to cultivate discernment that merely parroting everything a discernment ministry says.

  1. SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS A BETTER PRACTICE TO CULTIVATE DISCERNMENT

I wonder how much we can truly grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17) if we are only doing theology in the negative i.e. only knowing the few things we must be against. Again the better practice would be to give ourselves to growing up well rounded and mature. We know from everyday life that healthy growth requires a healthy diet. Only knowing what foods to avoid and never learning what foods to eat will be sure path to malnutrition if not starvation. This of course means that despite knowing the foods we must avoid we will still not grow because we are not taking in the foods we should.

We have this exhortation concerning spiritual growth:

like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 1 Peter 2:2

Notice how Peter’s exhortation here necessitates practicing discernment. To “long for the pure milk of the word” requires knowing the difference between that which is pure and that which is not and so we see the importance of discernment. However, notice that it is not necessarily in knowing the impure milk that will cause us to grow – but in longing for and drinking up the pure milk of the word that will bring about growth. So true spiritual growth necessarily produces discerning believers as we thus seek to grow in respect to our salvation and not merely in respect to what we must be against. In pursuing spiritual growth as stated here by Peter we inevitably become discerning and this is a much healthier way to become discerning.

Conclusion

I’m by no means saying that all discernment ministries are unhelpful and counter-productive. There are good discernment ministries who function under biblical authority and in the context of the local church and seek to not merely be defined by what they are against but seek to promote sound doctrine in general. We can learn from them and we should. However, in an effort to promote discernment, there is no substitute for a healthy local church serious about our Lord’s commission to make disciples who know and obey all of God’s Word, and whose ministers exhort in sound doctrine and refute error and where the members are called to long for the pure milk of the word so that they can grow not only in respect to discernment but in respect to salvation. This is the place in which discernment is best cultivated!

LOOKING TO JESUS IN THE FACE OF VIOLENCE

INTRODUCTION

Graphic1

This week in Lavender Hill, not unlike any other week, the painful reminder that we’re

living in a fallen world where reckless and violent men wreak havoc on communities, were brought to the fore of our attention again. When God saves us He does not remove us to some utopia spiritual community where we live out our lives until He comes for us again. Instead, God saves us and calls us to live faithfully in a fallen world – even a community such a Lavender Hill.

This does not mean we are naturally prepare to live in volatile and hostile contexts nor does it mean that we never have questions or that we never wonder why God continues to allow such things to occur. Another painful reality is that the violence affects believers as much as unbelievers – some directly and others indirectly. The brief point I hope to make here is that despite the violence we see all around us we must – through it all  – look to Jesus and learn from Him, who suffered great violence at the hands of sinful men, how we can overcome and triumph over the forces of violence plaguing our communities.

There could not have been a more violent act of injustice in the history of the world than the cold and cruel crucifixion of Jesus and therefore we as believers are not left without a gospel witness in the midst of the most grotesque violence. Many of us live in violent surroundings that often directly or indirectly affect us and we rightly regard this predicament as unjust.

As Christians we are not without one who is able to sympathize with us because He also shared in the suffering of violence inflicted by sinful men. The cross is where violence was enacted against the Son of God by unholy men and yet despite such cosmic injustice, Jesus triumphed over violence, evil, sin and even death.

We who are subjected to the effects of violence can look to Him who also suffered violently and learn how to triumph in Christ over the forces of violence. We can learn from Jesus who triumphed over the violence suffered at the cross so that we can triumph over the violence suffered in our communities. Here are a few lesson we learn when we look to Jesus’ handling of the violence He suffered.

1. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE MUST CAUSE US TO ENTRUST OURSELVES TO GOD

What is the point of faith when all we see around us is violence? It’s easy to adopt such a view – especially if we believe the myth that faith must always bring comfort. This may quickly cause us to wonder whether the violence around us may not be defeating our faith. While we cannot be blamed for asking such a question we can be encourage that the answer is in looking to Jesus and how He triumphed over the forces of violence at the cross.  We learn from Jesus that violence does not defeat our faith because:

1.1. In the face of violence Jesus did not give up on the Father but He gave Himself over to the Father.

One of Jesus’ from the cross is “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The Apostle Peter comments on the violence Jesus suffered on his way to the cross, he writes “…while reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). After enduring the horror, humility and agony of the cross – despite all the beatings, scourging, and being nailed to the cross at the hands of ungodly men Jesus committed Himself to His Father.

From a human vantage point it is easy to see how the fleshly temptation to give up on God especially after enduring such agony and even at one time feeling utterly forsaken by God, however, none of these things caused Jesus to distrust His Father.

We can learn from Jesus that when violence presses all around us we must not give in to the temptation to give up on God but instead commit ourselves even more firmly to God in confessing our dependence and trust in His goodness and love for us. Jesus entrusted himself to Him who judges righteously and right there in those words we find a great incentive for trusting God while suffering the effects of violence, namely, God judges righteously.

Those gang members and drug lords who reign in terror over communities and oversee all sorts of wickedness must know that God judges righteously. The fear that grip our hearts because of their malevolence must be allayed with the truth of who God is and what He is able to do, as Jesus said, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (– Luke 12:4-5)

1.2. In the face of violence Jesus did not become violent.

Peter writes“…while reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).Here is a lesson for us that though we are the ones suffering under the violence – because of Jesus and similar to Jesus – we can be grateful that we’re not the violent ones ourselves.

Matthew Henry, the famed Bible teacher, once related an account of him being robbed and Henry came away from that unfortunate event more grateful than sorrowful. His gratitude he notes was because though he was robbed He did not do the robbing. So too, though we are suffering the effects of violence and the despair and trauma of unsafe streets, we can be grateful that we are not the ones responsible for the violence nor are we the ones throwing our lives away and taking the lives of others. This too must encourage us all the more to entrust ourselves to our God because not only does He keep us amidst the terror and violence He keeps us from being violent and a terror to others.

1.3. In the face of violence Jesus endured joyfully in light of the glory of the resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection from a violent death suffered fuels our faith and without the resurrection of Jesus the violence He suffered was meaningless and the violence we suffer is meaningless (1 Cor. 15:14-19). But because of the resurrection we can have hope for a new world without violence and so we too can now joyfully endure that which is busy passing away knowing the hope of the resurrection. Because Jesus died and rose again our faith is never defeated come hell or high water!

The chorus writer capturers this powerfully when he penned these profound words:

Because He lives                                                                
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
Every fear is gone
I know He holds my life my future in His hands

2. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE MUST BE MET WITH FERVENCY IN PRAYER

The effects of violence and the hurting and killing of innocent people and the despair it brings to communities may lead many to murmur and complain.  However, the church – the community of faith – responds differently. As believers we must learn to create a habit of prayer to address the culture of violence. It is often said that prayer is the least we can do, however, prayer is not the least we can do it is among the greatest of responses we can give in light of any situation.

When Jesus prepared to face to the violence of crucifixion and even the hostile arrest that led to his crucifixion he committed himself to prayer. We remember that Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane and prayed until he perspired drops of blood (Luke 22:44). In light of the violence you may be facing in your community what has your prayer time been like? Have you been praying fervently for your community and for the violence in your community?

2.1. Violent times require prayer that is filled with fervency and passion

Never have a man faced such a volatile death and met it with such fervent prayer as in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only do we see Jesus’ fervency and zeal in prayer when he sweet drops of blood in the garden but the writer of Hebrews tell us that, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.” (Hebrews 5:7).

Brothers and sisters, are we praying? No really, are we praying? We should be praying. We should be praying fervently. We should be offering up both prayers and supplication with loud cries and tears to the One able to save our communities. We must not only rush to post about the violence on Facebook. We must not only be quick to share the most recent incident of a shooting on WhatsApp. We must also be eager and quick to turn to God and plead with Him for grace, for mercy, for safety and for salvation!

2.2. Violent times require prayer that is made from a humble disposition

Luke tells us that when Jesus arrived in Gethsemane right before the violence He would suffer at the hands of sinful men, “he knelt down and began to pray” (Luke 22:40-41). Notice the humility with which the Son of God came to His Father when He drew near in prayer. We can learn from that and we should humble our hearts before God in exactly the same way. The point is that amidst the violence, the crime, and the killings that traumatizes our communities, we are not entitled before God and we cannot make demands of God.

We can only come to Him and ask Him to be merciful and gracious. Let us assume the disposition of humility, the practice of prayer and the heart of faith knowing God does all things well. Like our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself in prayers prior to enduring great violence let us not become angry with God but remain humble before God.

2.3. Violent times require prayer that seeks God’s will above anything else

We know the content of Jesus’ prayer that night in the garden. It was a simple and yet profound prayer especially for someone in His position. Jesus prayed “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will, but Yours be done”. What a powerful prayer for someone awaiting to be forcefully arrested, beaten, mocked, scourged, humiliated and nailed to a piece of wood. Violent times require prayers that seek God’s will above anything else. Despite what we may think we know, God always knows better and it’s best we ask His will to take priority over our wishes.

3. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE CANNOT DIMINISH THE GREATNESS AND POWER OF GOD.

Jesus never lost sight of the greatness and power of God who could have at any time intervened and complete destroyed those who acted violently toward Him.  Jesus famously said, “…do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels. How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54). The violence Jesus suffered on the night he was arrested and the day He was sentenced to be crucified could have been stopped and Jesus knew that.

God has the power stop evil at any time. However, in the mystery of His will and sovereignty works, He permits certain measures of evil and wickedness to rise up – without it impugning His holy name – in order for His good and benevolent purposes to be accomplished. In other words, if He did not permit those sinful religious leaders to act out their deviously wicked plan against Jesus and crucify Him, where would we have been today?

We must reassess what we believe when we stutter in responding biblically to evil. We must affirm God is omnipotent – which means He has all power to perform His will and can stop evil at any time. We must affirm that God is perfectly good and does not do evil, nor is He tempted by evil. We must also affirm that we do not always know everything about how God works and we do not have carte blanch access to everything God intends.

God can stop the violence in Lavender Hill. God does not have evil plans for the people of Lavender Hill but only just and gracious plans depending on whether they believe Him or reject Him. We do not know why God does not stop the violence immediately and we do not know what God is working through the violence in Lavender Hill.

Here are a few more reasons why violence does not diminish the greatness of God is:

3.1. God is greater than violence and evil

Qualitatively, ontologically, and inherently God is better than evil, wickedness and violence. As a choice of the better options – God is always to be preferred instead of violence. Therefore, violence and wickedness which is qualitatively and ontologically infinitely lesser than God, cannot diminish the greatness of God. Amidst Jesus’ violent and cruel treatment of the cross he remained the spotless Lamb of God. Despite him suffering injustice and his blood spilled violently, his blood is still spoken of as precious. Evil and violence cannot diminish the greatness of God and we must never lose sight of that even if all we can see is gang violence.

3.2. Violence does not deter God from working good

The greatest good was worked through the greatest of injustice and violence to ever befall upon a man. This is what happened when God worked about our salvation through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. We must know this, the violence in Jerusalem did not deter the plans of heaven and likewise the violence in Lavender Hill does not deter the plans of heaven. The Apostle Paul affirmed clearly that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

3.3. In the end God will put an end to violence once and for all

Though evil may still be an unfortunate reality in our lives and in this world – God will end it. The book of Revelation tells us that God will overthrow wickedness and put an end to evil once and for all (Revelation 17-19). We have this great promise that God will make all things new. Let us take comfort in these words:

and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” – Revelation 21:4-5

CONCLUSION

Our faith as believers can be aptly summed up as “looking to Jesus” in fact this is exactly what we are exhorted to do (Hebrews 12:3).  By looking to Jesus we learn how we can overcome violence because He suffered violence and triumphed over it. By looking to Jesus amidst the violence around us we can be encourage that He is not bound from working good despite what’s happening in our community. And by looking to Jesus when violence in our streets swell up we have hope that He is coming to end violence, sin, suffering, pain and all evil. Behold, I am making all things new, says the Lord!

As we wait for Him to make all things new our heart must be encouraged that because of Christ we are indestructible and we overcome:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –

(Romans 8:37–39)

 

 

GRAVITY OF SIN, GRACE OF CHRIST

The musician and singer, John Mayer sings a song called, “Gravity”, in which he laments its hold on him. He sings:

Gravity is working against me

And gravity wants to bring me down

Some have speculated that he’s singing about the brevity of life, with specific focus on his mortality, comparing it to gravity. This is especially probable when we consider later on in the song he sings:

Oh gravity, stay… away from me

Oh gravity has taken better men than me (how can that be?)

The song then mostly likely likens our mortality to the powerful and unstoppable force of gravity. We often do not think too much about the reality and power of the natural force of gravity and yet it has a constant and powerful effect on us – and it can be no other way. That which has such a profound and regular effect on us is often given little thought. Naturally this is true of the force of gravity, spiritually it is also true of the reality of sin.

To continue the thought of things comparable to the force of gravity, it is so easy to lose sight of the reality and power of sin even though it has an even stronger effect on our souls than the force of gravity has on our bodies. As John Owen writes, “There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on, and it will be so whilst we live in this world”.  It’s so easy to underestimate not only the reality of sin but especially the power of sin. This means we cannot even rely on ourselves to help us be vigilant and watchful against sin.

I’ve been particularly helped by John Owen’s “Mortification of Sin” and a brief reflection by a young Jonathan Edwards to be alert to the power of sin but even more alert to the power of Christ’s saving grace. In the book, Jonathan Edwards: America’s Genius, the author Christian George relates a reflection Edwards had as a child. Jonathan Edwards was wildly fascinated with nature and all things outdoor, the observation of gravity grabbed Edwards’ attention.gravity balls

Edwards thought to himself, if gravity exists outside of me and keeps me anchored to the earth, perhaps it (or something similar) also exists inside of me. Reading Romans 3:12 “and there is no one who knows good, not even one”, Jonathan Edwards pondered this passage ‘if there is no one who does good then there must be a common force inside of all people that keeps us from doing good – a gravity of sin’. This is such a helpful analogy of sin when we appreciate the unstoppable nature of gravity and its power and pull on our bodies. Though Edwards never thought of sin like this before, he felt it to be true and I presume so do many of us.

When we are tempted to become angry, we are being pulled by the gravity of sin that seeks to weigh our souls down. . When we are consumed by laziness, it is the gravity of sin that pulls us away from God-honouring productivity towards self-loathing nothingness. When we are focused on God and His glory, it is the gravity of sin that comes with unwelcoming and untimely distractions to pull us from these godly reflections to settle our minds on something infinitely less – something trivial and vain! When we are being tempted in all ways, it is the gravity of sin that pulls us down toward the emptiness of self-gratification and God-dishonouring thoughts and actions. The force of the gravity of sin acts powerfully in us to bring down and settle our hearts and minds on the temporary, the earthly, the carnal and the fleeting.

Consider Paul’s own personal wrestle with sin as a believer he relates in Romans 7

Screenshot_20180515-120726

What can stop the natural force of gravity from pulling our bodies down toward the earth? I find it helpful to think of sin in the terms of gravity-like-power and pull that, not unlike the natural force of gravity, has an effect on all of us.

This makes me realize that sin is not to be taken lightly or to be thought of as something I can manage or control – we cannot manage our sin. We cannot negotiate with it, or seek to exercise it with caution or with care (whatever that may look like). As Owen states: “Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind”. In other words sin, similar to the force of gravity, does not work half-heartedly, but is always determine to complete draw down and pull away!

Not only is the thought of sin as gravity acting upon our souls helpful in appreciating the strength, pull and power of sin but it is helpful to appreciate the strength of Christ to break the power of this gravity-like-sinful -disposition of ours!  Christ is more powerful in grace to pull us to Himself than the gravity of sin to pull us away from Him. This means just like we cannot stop our bodies from being pulled by the earth’s gravity so too we cannot by ourselves stop our hearts from being pulled away from God by the gravity of sin. But what we cannot do, God did. What is impossible with us is possible for God (Luke 18:27).

And so we have a perfect Saviour, one perfect unblemished and sinless, one upon whom the power and pull of gravity [of sin] has no effect and in fact effectively powerless, one tempted in every way yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He is able to save to the uttermost i.e. completely, those who draw near to God through Him (Heb. 7:25). He sets the sinner free (John 8:36). He rescues from sin’s dominion of darkness (Col. 1:13). He forgives sin (Luke 7:48). He cleanses from sin (1 John 1:9). And in the powerful words penned by Charles Wesley: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood avails for me”. When the gravity of sin pulls only He can pull us away, pull us up, pull us out of and pull us toward Himself!

So when John Mayer sings about our mortality, “Gravity is working against me, And gravity wants to bring me down”, Jonathan Edwards says “Yes, it’s also seen in the universal pull on our souls that sin has”. But the gospel proclaims that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Ruined sinners to reclaim… Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

 

 

PARENTING: A LIFE ALTERING ADJUSTMENT.

[Another guest post by my wife, Grace]

In my last post I wrote about my experience as a first time mom and I was so overwhelmed by the feedback I received but even more overwhelmed by the support from my husband who encouraged me to actually write the initial post. After my first post, I told my husband how much his support and him spurring me on meant to me. It is such a wonderful feeling when your husband can recognise something you enjoy and then gently push you to pursue it. At least for me, that warms my heart.

This though made me a bit embarrassingly aware of something in my own experience I can so easily minimize, and that is, that it is not just us women who are first time moms, but hello, there’s a man (!!!!), your husband (!!!!) and mine who are also first time dads. And oh dear, isn’t that something to write about… IMG-20170617-WA0004

After Matthew’s birth, my husband and I, even after having read several books and received wise counsel from experienced parents, were still hopelessly unprepared for the actual experience of raising a baby. I promise, I was the most organized and all-together-mommy-to-be but when Matt came, I wasn’t even sure whether or not I could trust my judgment on the right temperature for his bottle or his bath. I didn’t trust a thermometer (that’s how nutty I was).

In any case, I was happy that I had a partner who was with me on the ride to “perfect” parenting.  But I must admit, hubby gave me many funny and memorable moments in the earlier months, that goes to show the real and tremendous adjustments we had to make or become used to now that we were parents. To parent well requires selfless and life altering adjustments to ones life (and you really don’t have a choice in this).

Now you have to understand our situation before Matthew came to appreciate the significant adjustments we had to make. We were married for 5 years and in that 5 years of blissful marriage we had the luxury and comfort of just having time for ourselves. But BOY when our boy came everything changed (and rightfully so). I get that your life has to somehow change for the most part but once this change touches on the sacred cow of sleep we knew it was going to be one hectic journey! Becoming a parent you soon realize that your own sleep time doesn’t belong to you anymore. Shame, my heart went out to daddy-dearest as I watched him come to terms with this “new dawn”. I remember waking up throughout the night so that Matthew could have his feed and daddy-dearest providing some ‘interesting’ moments.

So we soon fell into an evening routine. During the night one-month old Matt becomes restless and starts to moan for a bottle. I wake Riaan to get the bottle ready so that I could feed him. Then I’d pass Matt over to Riaan so he could pass winds by daddy. This is when the show began, but oddly enough it wasn’t Matthew putting on a show, but daddy (LOL!). I shared our experiences with my family and I got hubby’s permission so he doesn’t mind me embarrassing him for the greater good. Let me explain:

It was the first night of Riaan’s struggle to adjust to the broken-sleep-patterns that would become part of our new lives. It was about 2am the morning and time for Matthew’s feed. I woke Riaan up and urged him to get the bottle warmed and ready for Matthew to be fed. Riaan jumped from the bed and hastily made his way to the kitchen. At this point I’m fully awake and patiently waiting for the bottle. Riaan comes back to the bedroom with no bottle in his hand. Instead with his eyes closed he makes his way to the bed sits down and eats a sucker – YES AN ICE COLD SUCKER! At 2 am in the morning when a bottle should be fetched he eats the sucker.

I turned to him and asked him what’s he doing and it seems it was only then that he actually really woke up and the look on his face led me to believe he had NO IDEA or answer to my question. He was actually still asleep! Yes for some reason, woken up by my request, he got up and made his way to the kitchen and instead of preparing a bottle he helped himself to a sucker while fast asleep, mind you! I know having your sleep broken up at 2am sucks…but did he seriouslyemoji need to demonstrate how much it sucked (lol)

 

 

The second night Matt wakes up the same time, early hours of the morning for his feed. I wake Riaan and he goes to the kitchen and returns with a plate in his hand giving it to me. At this point I’m convinced he is sleep walking, so I raised my voice and repeat that I need to feed Matt and that he should get me the bottle! He then goes back into the kitchen and returns to the room handing me THE SAME PLATE WITH A CUP ON TOP OF IT. Oh man, I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream but I certainly started realizing the struggle to adjust was real! We still laugh out loud when we think of those early months and how far we’ve come in this short journey!

There are a few other nights with some other (more embarrassing) incidents but because I love him and he is after-all the father of my baby, I will spare him the embarrassment, plus I think the point is made. You are never ready for the kind of adjustments you are required to make when you become fist-time parents and these adjustment are non-negotiable and every parent goes through it (so we’re not alone).

It’s interesting that we often only talk about the changes and adjustments the mother must make and while that is true my experience with this brave dad makes me also want to acknowledge that dads have to make a significant adjustment to their lives too.IMG_20170902_183417_085

So, what carries us through such inconvenient adjustments? Well, I guess, for us it’s not just about strategizing, planning and being real hard on ourselves but it’s more an internal motivation. Before the practical and actual life adjustment, must come the internal heart adjustment. Adjusting to parenting require a selfless attitude! This Christian virtue of “selflessness” is perfectly modeled by our Saviour Jesus Christ. My husband always reminds me that parenting affords us the opportunity to obey Philippians 2:3-5

“…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”

He says that if we are going to be good parents we need to heed the instructions of Philippians 2 carefully, and consider our children above ourselves, and look out not for our own interests (even that sweet uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep) but the interests of our children – who need both are consideration and care. Parenting requires serious life adjustments and God reminds us of the Christ-like virtue of selflessness to help us make these sacrificial and necessary adjustments for the well-being, care and happiness of our little babies! Parenting begins with an attitude of selflessness!