Archive for the ‘Doctrine’ Category
The fountain of praise springing from my lips is dry
And my heart is filled with longing and grief
O that someone would help me find my wings to fly
When will I see your face and finally feel relief?
My soul aches to know you and experience sweet release
From all that this vile world provides in poisonous doses of pain
If I could but see your providential hand then I could be at peace
But I see neither hand nor power, and feel I shall never be the same.
My pulse quickens, my heart beats with uneasy rhythm,
While the doubts rise and the fears threaten to overtake
But I must cast my wild heart upon the only Sovereign who is risen
And trust The Lord who fears no one—for his name sake.
Where is my bread, where is my wine? They are hardly found
My tears flow unbidden down my cheeks staining the Script
These doubts, fears and heartaches upon my heals like a hound
Bellow and howl longing for my soul, and my steps had well nigh slipped.
Now in the pain, my heart sees a light shining though dim
while the darkness deepens and fear throbs through my pate.
How do I hear a melody though within my ears, I find no hymn?
How can this be though the burdens of soul are so great.
This Word I hear, it comes not from within my jaded heart
It speaks to me through pages stained with tears and blood
But I can hardly glimpse its truth and it threatens to depart
I must hear it, I must know it, it is the path that angel’s trod.
Wait, wait, it is stronger still, it comes from the Master’s tongue
I hear it clearly, its sound higher and nobler fills the space
It is louder now and I hear– though with my ear untrained to its song
A note so lofty, so merciful and perfect, O, Beloved! tis the tune of Grace.
Essential Truth about God—Justice
We humans desire justice. Even those with obvious marks of depravity understand the need for justice. Our entire legal system is predicated upon the notion that justice is not only desired it is attainable. Civilizations that place a high priority on justice will often be wealthier and happier. Two words related to justice used often today are fairness and equality. Although, there is a lot of socio-political baggage that accompanies those two words, in their purest form, we have an ingrained sense for pursuing fairness and equality. But why does this pursuit and sense of justice occupy such a central role in civilized society? God himself typifies pure justice and he chose to communicate that attribute upon us through creation in his image. We not only inherit depravity from our father Adam, but every human also inherits the communicable attributes of God. It is part of what makes us human and distinct from animals.
In Revelation 15:3, the song of the redeemed includes this line concerning God, “Just and true are your ways O King of the saints.” In 1 John 1:9, the author appeals to the faithfulness and justice of God as the basis for forgiveness and cleansing. In Psalm 89:14, we read that justice and judgment are the habitation of God’s throne, meaning that the foundation of God’s authoritative rule rests upon his justice, his righteousness. The Hebrew has two words that are sometimes translated justice, one also translates as righteous or right (which is the most common word), the other is judgment which refers more to the official concept of passing judgment on righteousness or wickedness. In the New Testament Greek language, the word justice is the same word as righteousness or rightness. To say that the Scripture teaches that God is just is an obvious understatement.
No true professing Christian would loudly proclaim that God is unfair, unrighteous or unjust; yet every Christian at some point has struggled and most likely continues to struggle with living out in faith the truth that God is truly just or righteous. This struggle with God’s justice is an internal one borne out of a seeming contradiction from what we have hid in our heart concerning God’s perfect justice and what we experience and observe in our normative circumstances. Clearly when we observe our lives and the circumstances of everyday life, we do not always see justice at work. This often causes us to think some variation of the following thought, “If God is just then why did that bad or terrible thing happen to [insert name of person]?” We struggle to reconcile the justice of God with the seeming injustice of our world in its fallen condition. But the emotional experiences and temporary observations do not infringe upon the characteristic of God. God is not just (or righteous) because he does what is right, but he does what is right because he is just. This is a slight contrast in that compound sentence and we must consider the ramifications of this. If we determine God is just because we observe just things, we will find ourselves depicting the perfections of God based upon our fallible senses. But if we simply take God at his Word and interpret our fallen world in light of God’s justice we will be safer from anti-Biblical judgments. We must be disciplined to look at everything around us and seek to make sense of our circumstances in light of God’s justice rather than to seek to makes sense of God based upon our circumstances.
If God is just, and the Scripture resolutely describes him as such, then this has lasting ramifications both in this life and the life come. First, it means that no unjust or unrighteous act can go unnoticed and even unpunished by God. For God to equivocate once in allowing an unrighteous deed to go without judgment (in this life or the life to come) would consequently mean he has no justice. Second, it means that what we often view as unjust (or unfair) may not be so. Since justice comes from God, he determines what is just or not. Third, it means that we not only need forgiveness for our unrighteousness (the just dying for the unjust) but we need to be people who love justice and seek it in our temporal human relationships. Fourth, the justice of God demands either severe punishment or severe mercy. To Be continued. . .
Essential Truth about God—Freedom-Cont.
In our last installment of the grace newsletter, we noted the freedom that God possesses as creator, sustainer and sovereign of the universe is revealed through the tiny first person being verb, “I am.” In choosing a name to reveal himself to the chosen covenant people, God chose to use a word that would simply explain his self-sufficient existence. The profound nature of God using the present tense being verb to adequately describe himself is boggling to our meager intellects. In this installment, we are going to think about one dynamic application of the freedom of God, the doctrine of election.
Basically, the doctrine of election means that God chooses those that he makes promises to. In the Old Testament, he chose individuals, families, nations, and even rulers to work in and through to demonstrate his glory, mercy, grace, and justice. Most apply the doctrine of election further than just God’s choice, speaking specifically of a theological concept that God chooses those who believe on him for eternal life. This idea of predestination, contrary to what some might think, did not begin with John Calvin and the reformers of the sixteenth century. The doctrine of election and predestination are clearly taught all through the Old Testament and in the New Testament by a variety of authors. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John are the most obvious New Testament authors that the Holy Spirit used to teach this truth.
The concept of election, that God chooses people, should be considered an undisputed fact of orthodox Christianity. How, when where, why, and who are questions that Bible students have been debating for years. We will never fully understand the doctrine of election or predestination, but to deny that the New Testament teaches such a doctrine is to ignore most of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament as well. Further still, to deny the doctrine of election, most notably by holding God’s will and choices captive to the dictates or desires of mankind is attacking the very concept that God is absolutely free. If God must act in some fashion because man has acted in some fashion is to obligate the Creator to the creation and thus declare that God is not truly free.
Jesus taught in John 6 that all who would come to him were given to him by the Father. He also said in the same context that no one comes to him in faith unless the Father draws him. Jesus then concludes his discourse by saying that the purpose of the Father drawing and then giving people to Jesus to believe on him is so that the eternal, perfect love between the Father and Son would be manifestly poured out upon those who believe. Theologians have debated the point at which the Father draws a person, when people receive faith, and if there are conditions of grace. But most orthodox theologians have affirmed that the freedom of God demands that God’s election is ultimately dependent upon the will of God, not the will of man.
It is my understanding from the Scripture, (notably from my most recent series through the book of Romans), that God mysteriously and providentially has chosen those that are his from eternity past. Not that they existed from eternity past in some pre-existent spiritual state, but that they were known by the God who resides outside of time. And in the fullness of time, God draws those that he has chosen and predestined to believe in him to that point of regeneration where he grants them the faith to believe in Jesus Christ as their only hope of mercy and salvation. Because God has done this merciful work, we respond in repentance and faith, resting fully in the work of Christ on our behalf. And since we are now called his church and since he began this good work in us (justification), he will perform it (sanctification) until he returns to glorify us (glorification). That the work of eternal life is a gift freely bestowed on those who believe is not contradictory to the doctrine of election. That we are responsible to repent and believe in the Christ of the Gospel is not counter to predestination. And that God would choose his church from the immoral mass of sinful, lawless rebels is not “unfair.” For as the free God, should he choose to save all or some of his fallen creation is nothing short of miraculous mercy.
Personal freedom is a right that we cherish as American citizens. We believe that we are given certain rights (originally stated in the founding days of our nation as the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of property), which no man can properly take from us. We also believe at American citizens that these rights come from God directly and are not given by any law of the land, but merely recognized by the law of the land. Furthermore, we recognize that our rights, our freedoms, may be interrupted or vacated by our violation of other’s rights and freedoms. When a person violates another’s right to life, he may very well be forfeiting his own right to life. All civilized societies understand this basic principle of humanity.
Yet in order for these rights to be given to creation, they must be sourced in the Creator. We understand that our rights belong to us, because they have been graciously granted by One who is not bound by the same rules as we are. A person cannot give away something that he does not possess. From an earthly perspective, we have these freedoms in America because they were bought with the blood of our national fathers and mothers. They possessed those rights through conflict and victory. Yet when we back up and get the bigger picture, we realize that there has never been a person from ordinary generation who has possessed true freedom inherently. Full and complete freedom with no anxiety or fear that one might lose their freedoms is not possible to those born into a world as “a creation.” We are always in danger of losing our political and social freedom in this world in which we live. Furthermore, we are always in danger of losing our “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And there is nothing we can do to guarantee those rights. For example, people do some amazing and extensive things to try to prolong the right to life, but no matter what men do, we all will one day lose that freedom of life.
Yet, we as Bible-believers understand that God is not bound by the same rules as we are. In order for his title as God to make sense, he must be like no other-we saw this in the last article about God’s holiness. God is not only distinct as the Holy One, he is unequivocally free as the self-existent One. It would difficult to say which passage of Scripture declares this, for the absolute freedom of God is interwoven throughout the entirety of the Bible, through both testaments. One passage of Scripture calls our attention to God’s freedom particularly, although many teach God’s freedom.
In Exodus 3, Moses, chosen by God to deliver the Israelites, encounters God’s holiness in a bush that burns and will not be consumed. It is at this time that Elohim introduces himself to Moses by his covenant name, Jehovah, translated LORD in our English translations. In verse 13, Moses is concerned that the Israelites will not listen to him, especially telling them that a bush sent him to them. God responds by saying that Moses should tell them that “I Am that I Am” sent Moses to them. The Hebrew being verb, “I am” is the same word as what we call Jehovah. This is significant because God was fulfilling to Moses an aspect of his covenant he made with Abraham centuries earlier. In giving his covenant name, God is in essence saying, “I am the self-existent, eternally present One who is free to command as I will.” I simply am “I AM.” “I am not bound to my creation, I am not bound to Abraham or to Israel, or to Moses. I am bound only to my own self, my own character, my own perfection. So I will fulfill my covenant with my people and deliver them from bondage because I can and I will. You tell them Moses, who I am… tell them “I Am!” God obligated himself not to a man or nation but to his own being, and thus he would fulfill his promise, because he chooses to be a God who fulfills his word. He is not capricious, he changes not, but he also is not bound by anyone or anything—He is Free—he is self-existent!
This is part one of a five part series written concerning essential truths concerning God. Obviously, these five truths do not capture the entire scope of God’s Divine nature, that is why we have the entire canon of Scripture. Yet these are five essential truths that will greatly impact how we understand and view God.
Essential Truth about God—Holiness
Many theologians believe that the holiness of God is the foundational attribute of God. This means that instead of saying God is holy and merciful, we ought to say, “God is holy in mercy.” Or instead of saying that God is holy and just, we should say, “God is holy in justice.” This might seem to be a mere semantic differentiation, yet it is important.
To understand properly the holiness of God, we need to study the Old Testament Scriptures where we first encounter God. The Hebrew word for holy is “qadosh.” This word means “separate, distinct, sanctified, hallowed.” In Isaiah 6:3, we are introduced to angelic servants in the courtroom of heaven, ever-present with God called Seraphim, or fiery ones. But even they must cover their feet with wings presumably as a reminder of their creature status, and they must cover their eyes with wings as a reminder that even they cannot look upon the glory of God and live. The praise that echoes in the chamber of heaven for eternity is “qadosh, quadosh, quadosh” Holy, Holy, Holy.
When Hebrew people wanted to show the greatness or the immense value of something, they would repeat it. Jesus did this often in the New Testament to show the importance of words that he spoke, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” Paul used this to pronounce cursing on those who would preach another gospel in Galatians 1. When Jesus was seeking to rebuke Martha for her service without worship, he called to her, “Martha, Martha.” Even when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he called himself “I Am that I Am.” He was not just “I Am” but he was “I Am, I Am”
Yet nowhere in Scripture aside from Isaiah 6:3 does God repeat one of his attributes three times. God is not just holy, He is not holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy!
So how does this affect us in our lives? Too often we reduce the holiness of God to mere sinlessness. Do not err, God is sinless, impeccable in desire; But when we reduce the definition of God’s holiness to only his sinlessness, we miss some of what it means that God is the three times holy God. God is holy in every way. This means that God is distinct, separate from all his creation in all ways and thoughts. The reason that God tells Isaiah in chapter 55 verse 9 that his (God’s) thoughts and ways are higher and greater than man’s thoughts and ways, is because God is not like man and man is not like God. We cannot think Divine thoughts unless God chooses to dwell within us because we have no capability to do so. There is none like God in heaven above or earth below. God is holy, holy, holy in his cogitations and determinations-he is distinct in his love, no one loves like God; he is distinct in his justice, no one executes justice like God; he is distinct in his mercy, no one shows mercy like God; and we can say that about every attribute of God. He is holy in all his attributes and activity.
When we understand that God is holy, holy, holy, we will fall before God and say like Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone.” The only sensible response to the knowledge of the holy is a deep sense of humility as demonstrated in Isaiah 6. In the OT, when something or someone was consecrated to the Lord, it became “holy unto the Lord” meaning that it now shared in God’s holiness and was to only ever be for a display of God’s distinct, separate glory. The priests were “holy unto the Lord,” sacrifices were “holy unto the Lord,” the tabernacle was “holy unto the Lord.” Beloved, we are called priests (Rev. 5:10), sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), and the temple (Eph. 2:21); therefore we are “holy unto the Lord” devoted fully to nothing but displaying God’s distinct, separate glory. God has touched us with his holiness via his indwelling Holy Spirit, we are “infused” with his holiness, how then ought we to serve Him as his Holy vessels?
The pursuit of our lives as saints must be for the exaltation and ardent glory of our Triune God. God in his absolute and powerful Divine will has chosen to exist in three persons, Although the mystery of those three separate persons existing as one God is a stretch for our minuscule brains to fathom, we find God in the Old and New Testaments revealing himself as three distinct persons, co-equal in power and might, co-eternal in existence, and co-glorified in purpose. Within the Divine Being we simply call God, God has determined to call himself Father and has assumed role of patriarchal lead in the Trinitarian model, he has also chosen to reveal himself as Son in the second person of his Triune being. Not Son in sense of age or power, but Son in sense of deferred relationship to the leadership of the Father. And God has chosen to reveal his third personage as Spirit, truly fully God, yet willing to submit himself to the authority of Father and glory of the Son, granting all recognition to Father and Son. While on earth, Holy Spirit sent from the Father empowered the humanity of Jesus, the Son revealed, and when Jesus, the Son left earth to join the Holy Father back in heaven, Holy Spirit was sent once again upon those who trusted in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to continue to give them the same guidance as he gave God the Son, Jesus while he was on earth. His guidance manifests itself in four specific ways. 1. He empowered apostles and their close-companions to write God’s will, that is Scripture. 2. He continues to illuminate those God-breathed Scripture by providing conviction, calling, and understanding to both believers (encouragement) and unbelievers (conviction). 3. He manifests himself as a mark of God’s favor upon those who trust Jesus, by manifesting his presence in sanctifying the saint. 4. He gifts the saint with abilities in order to be an encouragement and conviction to others. Certainly there are other ministries of the Holy Spirit, but they are found in some subset of these four. What is fascinating is the beautiful harmony and unity and even humility in God manifest in the inter-personal relationship of his three persons. The Son submits to the will of the Father, although being co-equal and co-eternal choosing to humble himself and be directed by the Holy Father in redeeming sinners. The Father himself shows remarkable humility in willingly exalting Jesus, the Son, the place of highest King in heaven and earth. And the Spirit submits to both Father and Son in being willing himself to do the bidding of the Father and to give all recognition to the Son for salvation of sinners. But then as well, the Son humbles himself before the Spirit in being willing to do only as the Spirit of God directs and leads while on earth. The Father is humbled before the Holy Spirit in surrendering creation and regeneration to the work of the Holy Spirit. Whenever I consider the Trinitarian concept of God, my brain cells feel like they are going to explode. Yet it is important to comprehend the absolute unity of humility seen in our three-in-one God. Any humility that we would express is because we as sinners, though fallen now, were created in the image of God. This means that humility is a work of creation that God understood fully well and expressed well by God himself (as is true of all good attributes). This also means that understanding and expressing humility and most notably willing and happy submission to God and others is only accomplished through the redeeming work of God and the ongoing sanctification as God gradually makes us holy. Submission and humility is not a work of man, because it comes not from man, but from God himself. Therefore, only redeemed people can ever express true humility, and only redeemed people who are growing in grace and holiness whose heart is fixed on the glory and perfection of God, in Christ through the Holy Spirit will have fruit of humility evident in their life. The point? Humility comes from God, not from circumstances, not from trials, not from ease, not from ardent effort on our part. Yet as our eyes are fixed on Christ in God, and as we are understanding and applying the Spirit empowered Scripture, we will be continually progressing downward in humility. The road of genuine humility begins with recognizing that we have no capability of humility without the supernatural work of a sovereign triune God (who himself models perfect humility) in redeeming and sanctifying us.
When we consider the divine process of sanctification, we often fail to realize the unique and necessary tension that the Scripture presents in walking in truth and obedience. Individuals and groups routinely find themselves pitting two necessary truths of the Christian life one against the other and taking sides in the issue. It has been said that ideas have consequences, and they do, most notably in the practical outworking of living the life of faith as a result of an idea.
One particular idea that has been a part of the thinking and teaching of evangelicalism (including all strains of evangelicalism, even fundamental strains) is that in order to progress in Christian growth, one must “try harder.” Trotting out Daniel as having “purposed in his heart,” this idea purports that the path to fidelity and purity lies in setting standards, goals and guidelines and making every effort to reach those standards. Faithfulness is attained by will-power and determination to serve God, to go to church, to read the Bible and to pray (and many more guidelines are needed in order to attain the necessary holiness). If one is struggling to be obedient in a walk of faith, then what is needed is more effort to read the Bible an hour a day and pray for thirty minutes. If lust seems to be working overtime in the mind, then the mind and eyes need to work overtime in spiritual disciplines–take a walk, breath deeply, pray a prayer over and over again, quote Scripture. . . just try harder and at some point, you will gain that spiritual victory and be able to live the victorious Christian life.
To the devoted disciple, some of this sounds good and well, but a lot of it just does not satisfy what we know is a walk of faith. It loudly smacks of a works-based sanctification and growth dependent upon my effort and will. Quickly to our mind rushes the text of Galatians where Paul is condemning the saints for being “bewitched” into thinking that grace saves, but works sanctifies. Therefore, there arises an idea that throws out the “try harder” mentality and embraces an idea that says, “Don’t try harder, just rest harder.” Verses that emphasize faith spring to the mind and then a familiar phrase we heard years ago seems to be the answer, “Just let go and let God.” So this idea suggests that the path to holiness and growth lies in doing nothing, just loving God and trusting that God is going to work it out. A person or group with this mentality shies away from Scripture that talks about action and work and emphasizes rest. You are having trouble with lust? Rest more in Jesus. Are you struggling to love your wife? Then rest more in Jesus. Habitual sin is beating you, it is because you are trying, stop trying and let God take over. Often those who are “trying hard” in sanctification are called legalists by the “rest more” side. And those who are not trying but “resting” are called antinomian by “try harder” side.
Having existed in an environment where “try harder” was commended more readily than “rest more,” I find myself attracted to the “rest more” side of things, but that is a mistake. It is a mistake because there are ideological tensions found in Scripture that God intended to remain taut. The union of God and man in Jesus’ one nature is one such tension. The responsibility of man to respond to God’s sovereign will is another. In the work of sanctification, there is a tension that we must be careful not to allow to slacken. Philippians 2:12 provides the most well-known discussion of this tension in Christian growth. The text tells us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” meaning to put into practice by working at the ramifications of justification in sanctification with the hope of glorification. This working includes fear and trembling, which is more than an emotional response but seems to include effort. The next phrase says, “For it is God who works in you both to do and to will of his good pleasure.” Here is the rest of the tension, God is working in you as you are working out his work of grace. We have many commands in Scripture to work and provide effort in sanctification. “Be holy as I am holy,” Peter references God as demanding. “Do good unto all men,” Paul says. James says that faith is characterized by work, and the author of Hebrews describes effort in resisting sin “unto blood.” Ephesians and Colossians say to “Put off the old and put on the new.” Probably the most obvious text that speaks of the effort needed and the work in sanctification is Romans 6. Many times in this text on sanctification, the command rings clearly to “put to death the deeds of the flesh.” But then we also find several Scriptures that teach us to rest in Christ and could seem to some to imply no work at all. “Faith is the victory” Paul says. Classic Ephesians emphasizes that salvation (all of it, including sanctification) is by grace through faith. Hebrews says, “Strive to enter into rest.” Jesus says, to “abide in me.”
I cannot pretend to understand the mystery of sanctification fully, but I do understand that God intends us to rest in him fully for our sanctification while at the same time exerting holy effort to walk in the Spirit through discipline and labor. A passage of Scripture that has helped me understand this tension better is Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Prior to Jesus speaking these words, he prayed to the Father thanking Him for hiding the mysteries of repentance and faith and the gospel from the worldly wise and arrogant, but has revealed them with childlike dependence and humility. He reaffirmed for everyone’s hearing that only the Father truly knows the Son and only the Son truly knows the Father, but also those whom the Son chooses to reveal to the Father. Jesus was expressing what he says in many different ways. The only way to know God the Father is through the Son and if the Son should make this possible to you, then you are most blessed having the opportunity to truly know God in a way that Jesus eternally knows him. Then comes the famous invitation to “Come unto me.” This helps us understand that the invitation is not a call to come and get your needs met, or to have your burdens lifted, or to have a better life. It is a call to come to know the Father. Jesus is saying, “If you want to know God, I am the way to know God, so come to me and I will give you rest.” Rest from what? Rest from your constant searching to know God, but your inability to know him because of your sinful nature and wicked heart. The call to salvation is ultimately a call to know God, therefore in giving this tremendously encouraging promise, Jesus says, “If you want to know God, come to me, I will provide rest for your weary souls. It will not be without pain and effort even on your part (take my yoke upon you), but that effort is not “trying harder” it is “learning of me.” The yoke and burden that Jesus promises to put upon all who come to him in order to know God is learning of him. This is a light and easy yoke, not because it is without effort, but because it is a delight and rest for the soul. This is what I believe to be the path to spiritual victory and the balance of the tension of effort and rest in sanctification. Make effort effort (do not forget that all effort is a gift of the grace of God anyways) to learn of Christ, to know God by knowing Jesus, and you will find rest for your soul. Practically, the idea is this, the grace and discipline we need, the effort we must exert is not one of primarily resisting sin, nor of trying to be righteous, nor of trying to rest more, but the “effort” (although I understand the reluctance to use this word) is in knowing God and delighting in his person and work so fully, that we are preoccupied with the perfection, beauty and worth of Christ. This will produce by God’s gracious willingness and Spirit a growing hatred for sin, a growing downward in humility and a growing appreciation and adoration and obedience in the commands and principles found in the revelation of God, the Bible. This is how the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and fleshly lusts, but making us so enamored with the person and work of God as fully revealed in the entirety of the Word of God, that we have no longing for another. This knowing God creates in us a hunger and thirst after righteousness. This knowing God demands our absolute allegiance and we willingly will present our bodies as living sacrifices if we truly understand who this God is. This does not mean that our flesh will go quietly into the night, but it does mean that we are no longer under the bondage of sin and self and that we can know God in a way that is only spiritually and supernaturally known.
The commands like “put to death the flesh” flow readily from a desire to bathe in the beauty and splendor of a holy, righteous, gracious, priestly, loving and perfect God. So today, are you loving God more than you are loving anything or anyone else? Are you struggling to obey God’s holy and perfect will? Bask in the beauty of Christ in the Word and commune with him. Make it your ambition to know God to walk in his presence, ask God for the grace to know him more. Overcome evil with ultimate good, and there is none better than God. This is simplistic, but I have discovered that I can trace all of my treasonous thoughts and rebellions since being regenerated to a failure to “learn of him.” When I am meditating upon the beauty of Christ, the glory of God, the perfections of his character, obedience flows, but when I am “trying harder” and making every effort to not sin by shear will, or trying to “rest more” by putting out of my mind the struggle and fight, I am losing and sinning. May God give us the grace, to understand this tension and in the midst of the struggle, to “learn of him.”
The title of this post did not originate with me. You have probably seen it or heard people say it as a twist on the popular children’s song “Jesus Loves Me, This I know.” I have no beef with the children’s song. Although some strong Calvinists feel that the popular song is not consistent with New Testament doctrine, and whereas I agree with Calvinist doctrine, I think some go too far in denying the fact that God does indeed love all mankind. God’s love like his anger is manifest in degrees and kind, much like our expressions of love and anger. The capacity to love and to be angry in degrees is a result of being created in the image of God. So I find no problem saying that God loves all mankind generally and compassionately, while still believing that God loves uniquely and particularly his chosen children, adopted as sons and co-heirs with Jesus Christ, his unique Son. I do not believe that John 3:16 means God loves the “elect” world. But rather that God loves the world–all the world; Jews, Gentiles, Germans, Nigerians, Americans, Japanese, etc. This love is expressed in sending his own unique Son to die for sinners in this world, because it is not his desire that any should perish. Christ’s atonement accomplished through is satisfactory and substitutionary death, however is only applied to those who are chosen or particularly called of God, and graced by God with repentance and faith. Those who believe are the elect of God, therefore all who believe can have confidence that God will forgive and free them from the slavery of sin and the condemnation of eternal death.
I digress a bit, yet the point of this post is to say that the children’s song, “Jesus Loves Me” is not wrong doctrinally and teaches a valid point found in the Scriptures concerning the love of God even for sinners (yes, children are sinners inheriting absolute depravity from their parents). The tune of “Jesus Loves Me” is very catchy, this is possibly why it resonates with children so well. They easily memorize simple tunes. Composing lyrics to this tune is not a difficult task. I propose adding some verses to this popular children’s tune, in an attempt to further the Biblical understanding of our children concerning salvation. Once someone gets on a roll, the number of verses that can fit this little tune are endless, but I have written a few suggestions. I am planning to teach these verses to our children and possibly the children of our church. Tell me what you think and feel free to add your own verses in the comment section (that applies to the two of you who read this blog.)
Jesus knows me, this I love
He has come from heaven above
Those he calls he surely saves
All because He’s the God of Grace.
Yes, Jesus knows me
Yes, Jesus calls me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Saved by grace alone
Jesus called men by the sea
They must followe was his plea
Jesus loved them he would give
Holy Spirit to in them live.
Jesus died for sinner’s need
Though in him no evil deed
I the sinner Christ the King
In my place, he’s my offering
Jesus rose triumphantly
Now he lives victoriously
Those who call upon his name
Never will be put to shame.
Now he lives to intercede
For my sin, he ever pleads
My own sin he takes away
He’s the truth the life the way.
Soon he’s coming back to claim
All his chosen ones to reign
Ever kneeling at his throne
Hallelujah, Heavens my home .
Good leaders, whether in the church, the family, education, government, or business have several qualities in common. Each of these areas of community must function differently and different gifts and skills accompany leadership in these places of service. Yet there are some basic truths concerning leadership that applies across the board in all these areas of life. Of course, the greatest kind of leader is one who is first a follower of Jesus Christ. All leaders would do well to head the words of the Apostle Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” This is the first and greatest obligation of any leader, “Does he submit himself to the authority of Christ and subsequently submit himself to the leadership God has placed over him?” But after that, I believe there are three aspects of good leadership that need to be better cultivated in my life as well as in the lives and service of all supposed leaders in every possible venue. Simply put, good leaders think deeply, act decisively and react humbly.
Good Leaders Think Deeply.
This is the first task of leadership to think clearly, deeply and sufficiently. This not only prepares the leader for what may or may not happen as they encourage others to follow, but it also prepares them for possible opposition, and gives them confidence (passing that on to those following) that they as a leader is competent to lead. In a parenting context, fathers need to think clearly (and I believe Biblically) about the negatives and positives that accompany any decisions, the loss and reward, what is to be gained and what is to be lost in certain choices and decisions, and how to implement certain ideas and actions. A father ought to think about the immediate ramifications of decisions as well as the long-term effects of decisions. A father needs to think more than his children and his wife about decisions, so that he is ready to lead when it is time to act. The same is true regarding church leadership. The pastor ought to “out-think” the entire congregation, staff, and/or deacons in proposals, ministry plans, staff decisions, and ministries or projects. This must not be confused with leadership by oppression or force or tyranny. It is not that the leader does not listen to those he is leading and even change his plans and decisions at times based on other’s counsel. In fact, thinking deeply requires at its most basic level listening intently to others. Receiving trusted counsel, bouncing ideas off of others, asking for input, prayer and continually searching the Scriptures and how other mature individuals understand the Scriptures (living or deceased) is all a part of thinking deeply. This thinking deeply is the opposite of running over people to accomplish plans, but considering everyone who will be impacted by a decision. It is considering, most importantly, what God thinks about a certain issue or decision. Of course most people in this age struggle to think deeply on account of all the distractions that infest our lives. This is why it is so important that godly leaders spend much time in solitude with the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and their God-entrenched thoughts. At the same time, it is necessary to know the people we are leading so that we can think deeply concerning how our decisions will both temporarily and eternally impact them. On a personal note as a pastor, any individual who desires to be a leader in the church must be willing to spend hours upon hours thinking, meditating, reading, listening, and learning. If he is not willing to do that, then he is not yet fit for leadership in the assembly.
Good Leaders Act Decisively
Do not be mistaken, this is not the same thing as stubborn or impetuous leadership. Remember that we have already explained that the first step is to think deeply. When a decisions must be made, whether difficult or not; and when the thinking has been largely done, because Scripture has been counseled, people have been considered, effects have been weighed and clarity seems to be opening; then a leader must act decisively, but not necessarily hastily. Mark Dever, an excellent teacher on pastoral leadership in the church, has often written that a serious mistake made by pastors is not in making wrong decisions, but in making right decisions as the wrong time. His illustration is driving 80 mph when the particular congregation’s speed limit is 35 mph. There is a distinction between acting decisively and acting hastily. Decisive action is knowing the right choice and timing (because the thinking, listening and instruction has been done) and then acting with confidence on that matter. This also does not mean that once a decision is made and further clarity emerges, that one cannot go back and alter their decision. But what it does mean is that men make choices based upon correct thinking and then speak and act with boldness in those choices. Our society, for some reason, has made decisive actions and propositional statements of truth into a weakness while elevating uncertainty and ambiguity as true leadership. What we need are leaders of integrity who will have thought long and hard and Biblically and then who will act decisively and prudently…unafraid to speak boldly for what they believe to be right. Men who will gently and patiently instruct and stand with authority of God’s Word are needed in our families and assemblies. This used to be called being a “man of action.” But now being a ”man of inaction” is considered humility. I disagree, there is no humility in being unwilling to study, think and then act with conviction and conscience. Which brings us to our third point of basic leadership principles.
Good Leaders React Humbly
There is no leader on the face of this earth (except Jesus, the God-man) who has not been required to admit that a decision he made was not the best (or worse, destructive) and to go back and re-examine the issue thinking through it all over again. That is what the term “react” implies – to act again. Two reasons we might need to “act again” is because we were wrong or someone else was wrong in their actions against us. In either case, if we as leaders are not willing to humbly react, either at our own wrongs or someone else’s wrongs, we are not leading well. Humility is a very simple concept, yet none of us do it well. Humility simply implies that I embrace my weakness and acknowledge to myself as well as others that I am not the end of all knowledge and answers. Reacting with humility is being willing to say with sincerity and freely, “I am wrong, you are right, will you forgive me?” Good leadership is not seen in the ability to maneuver oneself through mistakes never fully admitting guilt (so as to save face) while still retaining the confidence of the populous. It seems though that this is the definition of humility in modern politics. Good leadership is seen in a readiness, even an eagerness to admit wrong even when it may destroy future leadership opportunity. At times however, leaders will have thought deeply, acted decisively, been absolutely correct and still refused to be followed by those they are leading. What then, what do good leaders do when they are not wrong, but those following them are convinced they are in error? Good leaders take a page out of the greatest leaders handbook. Jesus Christ was always right, but at times everyone thought he was wrong. So what did he do? Well, he had a benefit we do not have, he saw into the heart of man. What Jesus did with his disciples is the best example we have as to how we should lead when others think we are wrong, but we know we are correct. Jesus kept teaching and leading. He did not give up. He was gentle and compassionate and patiently explained himself once again. Jesus should have only had to tell the disciples what he was going to do one time, but he explained it over and over to them; and then only after his death did they get it. Are we willing to lead like that? Are we willing to not live to see the fruit of our leadership? (Of course Jesus rising again and being God meant that he did see the fruit of his leadership, but all examples using Jesus break down, do they not?) A humble reaction comes when we submit our leadership, whether desired leadership or leadership thrust upon us, to be used for the glory of God and not for our advancement; humbly being willing to either admit wrong if we are wrong or to gently continue to teach and lead if we are right.
There is a lot more that could be said about leadership. I pray that God gives me grace in this life to be able to increase in these three basic areas for the glory of God. Leader, the closer we follow Jesus, gazing upon his glory and grace, the more we will be equipped to lead others how God desires us to lead.
Christianity is a relationship. Giving your life to Jesus is what it means to be a Christian. Making a decision for God is becoming a Christian. Being a faithful person means that I am a Christian. Being a Christian means I love God and others. Christianity is defined as believing in Jesus Christ, after all it’s his “name” in the term.
All of these concepts have found themselves spoken and believed in evangelical, “gospel” preaching churches. Many of these sentiments have validity in some fashion. Yes, it is true that Christianity includes having a relationship with God, but is it accurate to say that this is Christianity? Loving God and loving others is the chief mark of a Christian, but is this the definition of being a Christian? My opening statements could take this blog post in a number of different directions, but I desire to point out a term that has fallen upon hard times in evangelical and fundamental Christianity–conversion. Many do not like this word because it sounds like a relic from a time when worship services where conducted in cathedral like buildings with tall steeples and stain-glass windows. It is a term often thought not suited to our contemporary way of thinking in the church. Now, more than ever before, we need a true understanding of this very good and Biblical concept noted by the term “conversion.”
What is true Biblical conversion? A short definition is that it is God regenerating a sinner- change brought about by faith in Jesus Christ. But what actually happens when a sinner is converted, or better, what actually is spiritually and eternally obtained when a sinner is converted? This is a topic as large as the New Testament and arguably the entire cannon of Scripture, so please forgive me for condensing it down into a paragraph. The following understanding of conversion is taken from three years of intense study and preaching through the Letter to the Romans penned by the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit. More specifically, this understanding of “Biblical conversion” is compiled from the study of Romans chapter 3-8. It is a condensed definition and the entire paragraph below needs further explanation with various roads springing from it. But I digress, and you get the idea–this is not an absolutely thorough explanation of these chapters in Romans nor does this paragraph say everything it could say about conversion.
True conversion then is obtaining a legal standing of righteousness before God based upon Jesus Christ imputing (reckoning) my guilt upon himself, while simultaneously imputing his perfect righteousness upon me. This justification by God is secured for me by the satisfactory atonement paid by Christ in dying on my behalf, as I am unable to atone for my own sin. Jesus’ resurrection fulfills the payment of his atonement and secures my forgiveness and reconciliation toward God from my previously separated/sinful state of rebellion and enmity. But conversion does not just end with this legal standing, conversion (through the cross and resurrection of Christ) also obtains for me the death of my old self (my unregenerate “Adam” nature) and the creation of a new self within me. This new self is enabled by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit to freely resist sin and to serve God righteously. This is God’s process of making me righteous (sanctification). Since my new self is not connected to my old depravity, I am freed from the authority and bondage to rebellion and sin. And I am free to put to death the deeds of the flesh, living righteously in loving obedience to my new Lord, Jesus Christ.
This is what Romans teaches is obtained in conversion. If we studied this clearly, carefully and expanded upon this understanding of conversion, I believe we would be less likely to propagate false conversions as seems to happen a lot in church today. But the obvious question that follows, “How does one obtain this conversion?” By reformation? By faithfulness? Deciding upon this conversion? Raising one’s hand in a service? Bowing at an “altar”? Emotional outpouring of regret and hope for restoration? No, Paul says very clearly, that our conversion is not secured by any tear or any determination we can muster within. Our conversion is enacted by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in opening our hearts to the Gospel and granting us access to this conversion through penitent faith in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to secure our conversion. Sinners must respond to the Spirit of God putting their hope in Christ alone–this grace of faith is the means God provides for us to obtain conversion. If you are converted it is because God has graciously provided for you to respond to his grace through humble repentance believing his Gospel–You are converted because he has done all that must be done to secure eternal life, rest in the work of the Son, cease to rest in your own labors.