Saturday, December 20, 2014

How can I tell the voice in my head from the voice of God? Part Two

A most difficult question. Last time I focused on a New Testament example and an Old Testament example of discerning God’s will, but I did not nearly cover the problems intrinsic behind the question. We who reflect much on the question will often think of those remarkable success stories of those who followed something the Spirit bade them to do, but we might also be reminded of those who have encountered unmitigated disaster in trying to follow what God seems to be directing them to do. Is there any way of discerning beforehand which it is to be?

I think there often is not, and I also think that is why a great many godly people are so careful with this area. It is an area in which the unwary have plunged, and to continue the metaphor, have often found themselves in strange and deep waters. How might that, at least, be avoided? First of all, as discussed last time, no biding from God should contradict what is plainly taught in the Scriptures. It is amazing to me to hear many times people who claim to have direction from God, but are going exactly opposite to the way they should be going. In Proverbs, it tells us that there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death. It ought to give us a lot of pause to think about the way that others seem to get so far off center, and especially when we look afresh upon our own lives. Paul tells us that each one of us ought “to examine” ourselves to see whether we really are in the faith, and Jesus reminds us that some, at least, will find themselves at the wedding feast of the Lamb without proper wedding clothes—and, surprised, they will be cast into the outer darkness. If we do not soberly examine ourselves, there will be another who will.

Does what you think God is telling you going to affect others? Will others need to see it as the will of God? Such questions should raise red flags of caution for the careful believer. I have found it helpful to let go and let God. If God has indeed impressed something on my mind, then I need to find some quiet way of obedience to what I feel called to, without disturbing others with a loud proclamation of God’s talking to me. Nothing seems to put off Christians quite so readily as those who claim to know God better than their fellow parishioners. Humility, a wonderful Christian virtue, is too often left far behind in pursuit of such faith ventures, and that alone ought to be enough of a danger signal to encourage restraint. With humility comes a great deal of waiting upon God to move. In the case of Moses, he committed murder trying to help his fellow Israelite, and it was not until he had left his vision of being a helper for Israel behind for forty years, that God at last used him. At eighty, when he should have been dead, then God chose to quicken him in ministry, and marvelously used him for yet another forty years. Humility and waiting often go together with a vision for God, because God often seems to gather all the glory to his name, lest we become vain and think we are doing well in our own power.

Early in my Christian life, I became deeply interested in being in the ministry as possibly an associate pastor, or a youth minister. I was also called to witness, but you, looking at my results would wonder at the calling, for hardly any responded. I deepened my prayer life, and asked God to use and make me to be the way he wanted me to be. But I still felt committed to follow the path to ministry, so while I was working on the farm, I was given the opportunity to preach at the very small local gospel mission. Carefully I placed my prayer to God, “God, if you desire me to pursue a ministry, then I ask that you give me one person who will hear the message and respond by accepting Christ.” Earnestly expecting and hoping for an answer was my focus, and when I at last stuttered my way through the message, and gave an invitation, I looked to the many men, and not one of them responded. Discouraged, I went home, and set about praying anew for God to show me his will. Unknown to me, our pastor had invited the chaplain of the same mission to speak that very Sunday. I made sure to speak to the man after the service, and to my surprise, he pulled me aside and told me that one man had waited until I left their service to make his decision. The chaplain did not know of my prayer, but said that he was just impressed that I ought to know.

What a marvel in God there is! My prayer was answered, not quite in the way I expected it to be, but in a way that demonstrated I should be trusting in him. As an outcome, my wife and I went back to college at Biola, where we saw many scores of people coming to Christ as God used us to proclaim his Son. I still had to wait, working on the farm, and wherever else I could, in humility, taking training from God until he was ready to use us. So, you see, I do think there is a valid place for the biding of the Spirit, but it usually seems to occur in a place which totally humbles us, and lifts up the name of our God.

Humility seemed to be something God was regularly teaching me, for I remember an earlier time when my wife and I were meeting together with several of other young people in a regular meeting. I had just been laid off, and my meager savings had rapidly run out. I became the more earnest in prayer as my savings dwindled, something that was going to occur lots of times in my student life, but it was God’s training ground for me, to teach me to depend totally upon his provision. I remember spreading out my bills before the Lord, and asking him to give me a job, or to take care of my bills somehow, when a fortuitous knock came at the door. Opening my door, I found one of my prayer friends, who explained that he had just been praying, and the Lord had impressed him so strongly that he had written out a check for the exact amount that I had been praying for. He asked if I had a need for the check that he had written, not sure whether it was going to prove out to be the word of the Lord, or not. Needless to say, I accepted the check, and gave glory to God. Did God speak to the young man? He certainly felt that it was so. And so did I.

Late in my life, I have tried to renew my writing, asking that God might use it to glorify his name. As I was praying one morning this past spring, it suddenly came to me that I was to write a book on the awakenings of America, and that as a sign that I was, I would be asked to preach once more. I am finishing up my blessed career in teaching, and long ago gave up on my preaching gift, deciding that if God wanted me to preach he would have to get someone to ask me. I was not going to seek out the opportunity, but rather let God work as he would. It had now been about twenty years since I was in the pulpit, and when those thoughts flitted through my head, I assumed it was my vanity, poking its ugly head up once more, and I remember scoffing twice at the thoughts. First I scoffed at the idea of writing on the awakenings. I had just recently become interested in them, chiefly through reading Jonathan Edwards’ account of the First Awakening. I was certainly not able to write a book on the subject. Second, I scoffed because I had long ago left my plea to God alone, and the very idea of anyone asking me to preach bordered on the edges of insanity. Or so I thought. That very evening, my pastor, without any prior discussion on the subject, came up to me and asked me to speak from the pulpit that summer.

Here is an interesting case to ponder a bit. Maybe I was a bit more like Zachariah (see part one) in doubting the message. Actually I would say I was not expecting that these were directions from the Lord at all, but time and chance proved that they were. I have nearly completed my book on the awakenings, and I find myself blessed beyond all of my expectations.

I have tried to illustrate the difficulty of telling the voice of God from my own inner voice. First, I gave an illustration of where I felt the strong promptings of God to do something—in this case to seek the ministry—where God seemed to be speaking to me. Second, I gave the case of God seeming to speak to another in direct answer to my prayers. Last, I showed that, even late in the Christian walk, there are times when I cannot tell the voice of the Spirit from my own inner voice. Time is sometimes the only tool that reveal whether something is of God or not.

But I can tell you that a walk of humility is necessary before him. If the word of the Lord is indeed coming to you, and you are marked in pride and vanity, then surely it is not the word of God at all. But if you deepen your humble life before him, I have long noticed that he will prove himself, and his word. It really is not my job to tell whether a random thought is from him or not. My job is obedience, walking before him, and seeking his glory in all of my life. I did tell you it was a most difficult question.

Our walk of faith is partly knowing partly seeing. When we look ahead we are a most fortunate people, looking toward the inheritance that God has left for us. The problem is that our present problems often cry out for deliverance, and our eyes are focused tightly on our present problems. The temptation to seize the problem and declare God’s solution for it, becomes too great to resist. And many a saint has fallen from following such a reckless course. It pleased God to suffer on the cross for mankind, that believing, we might be redeemed. It continues to marvel me that Jesus came to us in the flesh, in the role of the dutiful servant, not seeking his own inclinations, but rather seeking to give totally of himself. In his short walk upon this earth, he experienced all the childish behaviors, the foolish things that must have appeared to him as the most stupid of follies, yet he chose to suffer them. In short, he suffered fools. For he came into the world, scripture says, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. If our master was thus willing to endure scorn and pain for the sake of the world, how can we who be his servants expect anything less?

The victory in our walk with God lies not in the treasures of this world, but rather in looking ahead towards the end, and working everyday toward that end. The saint who looks to the present world to find satisfaction will neither find satisfaction nor long remain obedient. But the saint who looks ahead will find both satisfaction and delight in this world as he is obedient to the calling of God. Does God indeed speak to us? Undoubtedly he does, but the saint who would be holy will immerse himself in the word of God, which we know to be the very voice of God. There is no other way!

God fills our lives with his precious moments, and what a treasure it is when we find the Spirit leading us, and opening doors in our lives. I cherish those God-moments, as we all should, but the real and true lamppost that God gives us is in his word. Thy word, says the psalmist, is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path. Let all things in your life be measured with its timeless truths.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

How can I tell the voice in my head from the voice of God? Part One

Undoubtedly, this is one of the most difficult questions I have had to answer. On the one hand, there are many who would too readily acknowledge any voice as the voice of God, and their fruits are readily apparent to those of us watching. But on the other hand, there are many who do not acknowledge any voice of the Holy Spirit at all, believing that God speaks only through his Word. I believe that there is a middle ground, but it is not at all clear sometimes what we must do to verify the voice of God.

Sometimes it is very clear and easy to verify that we are not receiving the prompting of God. Anytime we are contradicting the word of God, we are not in the will of God. I have had people come to me and say, “I know divorce is wrong, but this woman I have found is the right one for me. I believe God would have me leave my wife for this, my true love.” Such a sentiment, no matter how dearly held, is always wrong, as it contradicts the known and stated will of God in the Bible. We are to take our wives, and esteem them as better than ourselves, following the very model of Christ in laying down our lives for them (Ephesians 5). Anything which would contradict the plain and stated will of God is of our own desires, and not at all of God. So much is easy.

But the rest of it is more difficult. Consider two examples from the Bible. Zechariah had a visit from an angel, telling him that he was to have a child, and that he was to name that child John, and that John would be great in the sight of the Lord. Zechariah was old, and so was his wife, and they considered themselves to be past the age of child-bearing, and so Zechariah was naturally skeptical of the angel. In one sense I can identify strongly with him because what he and his wife had longed for was being granted to him. But perhaps Zechariah has a vivid imagination, and was wondering if perhaps he was not imagining what he wanted so strongly. I find myself quite capable of imagining the things that I want to happen, and often am not sure of what is what when I so imagine. At any rate, Zechariah doubts, probably the same thing that I would do under similar circumstances.

But the doubting gets a rebuke from the angel, who tells Zechariah that now he will be mute until the day that the child is born because he doubted the vision. Incidentally, the prayer of Zechariah is answered, for he asked, “How shall I be sure of this?”, and the angel surely gave him surety in the rebuke. Finding that he was not able to speak must have been quite a reminder for nine long months as Zechariah mused on the vision of God that he was utterly unable to share with anyone, even his beloved. Perhaps Zechariah’s example teaches us that God will, in the unfolding of time, make his will apparent. But it remains somewhat confusing to me because I remember that Zechariah was rebuked, and thus the implication that he was supposed to believe God. God I am always ready to believe—the problem of myself, and the question I am trying to answer is that I am not always sure if it is myself or the voice of God. How do I tell the difference? One thing seems certain—in this case at least—if God is in it, it will surely come to pass.

Gideon provides the second example from the Bible. He is perhaps more well-known for not being certain of the will of God than for anything else. Remember that he prayed for God to give him a sign that it is really you that is talking to me. The angel of the Lord touches the sacrifice of Gideon and utterly burns it up. That should have been enough. At least, I think I would have been fairly convinced of the voice of God speaking to me, but Gideon was not satisfied. He famously prays, first for the dry fleece and wet dewy ground, and then for the wet fleece with the dry ground. Perhaps it is best to look closer at the circumstances Gideon faced to better understand his doubts.

God sends Gideon with the vision of the angel to save Israel, but Gideon finds that it is more difficult than he himself had foreseen. Following the orders of the angel, he desecrates his father’s altar to Baal. The people of the town, finding their desecrated altar, demanded the blood of Gideon for it, but Gideon’s father refused to surrender Gideon. Almost before Gideon realized it, the people of Baal rose up against the town and were threatening to destroy it. Gideon found himself at the center of a controversy, and the Israelites began to flood to his defense, and began to take up arms. It is only at this point that Gideon lacks faith, and asks for a greater sign.

If we are to understand Gideon at all, then we must surely look toward his new responsibilities. Now he was being asked to put his very country’s lives at risk, and he was being asked to be the leader of what might well be termed an insurrection. It was not just on Gideon anymore; rather it involved the lives and deaths of thousands of people. Gideon wanted to make sure that God was directing this, and instead of deprecating him for his lack of faith, I should probably esteem his regard for his fellow man most highly. Whatever the reason, God saw fit to answer the prayer of Gideon with both wet and dry fleece. Gideon has given many of us since those days confidence to come to God and pray that his will may be made known. I have many times prayed as Gideon, that God might give me a sign, that I might know the will of God. Many of those times God has answered, and I find myself ever so grateful for the example we have been given with Gideon.

Unlike Zechariah’s example where Zechariah’s belief or unbelief did not seem to affect a lot of others, Gideon’s belief did impact a whole people. I find it very persuasive that God, in using Gideon, distills his men to a mere three hundred men, and then the Lord does the impossible with just those men. Zechariah was also an impossible example, a man past his years of childbearing, and yet with the promise of God, finding himself able to father after all. This is an encouragement to me, to notice our God of the improbable, and the impossible, yet working through our frail natures.

Looking at the two examples from the Bible, I can see God gaining glory in each, and the men getting their answers though perhaps not in the way that they might have first conceived. Gideon found himself to be leading an army, successfully, but probably far beyond his original conception of destroying Baal’s altar. And Zechariah found himself not only a new father, but the father of one of the most important men of the generation, who was to proclaim the very coming of the Son to a perverse generation. Was that far beyond the first conception of just finally being a father? I think that Zechariah found the vision of the Lord to be considerably more bold than his own vision of finally being a father.

Thus, we can learn that God will have the glory, and in the end, all will know the will of God, even though we may doubt at the first. This should give us confidence that the will of God will prevail as we watch and wait on him. But I find that I have not at all answered the question clearly. I have established that in the long term God’s will will become apparent, but that may not be of much help for the believer wanting to know whether it is of God, or it is of himself. In part 2, I will try to give several real life examples that will be of some relief, though I stress that this question is really difficult, and that time may prove the best distillate of all.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Why does God discipline us?

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

There are many verses which tell us of the reason that God disciplines us, but I shall be working from Hebrews 12, a very important passage on the topic of discipline. There are at least five different reasons that God disciplines us, and many of them are illustrated in this great passage from Hebrews. There is some overlap in these verses, but I think, with other verses added, it can easily be seen that God has the best of intentions to using discipline for his church.

First, God disciplines us because we are his children. Hebrews 12:7 tells us, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” What a wonderful thing it is that God cares about us enough to discipline us! The wise father sees many things his young son cannot, and will guide the child through the hurts of this world, sometimes without the child understanding the why. My son-in-law removed the smart phone from his three year old son today, explaining that his grandparents were visiting and wanted to talk to him. He was teaching his son a moral value that there is no way a three-year-old will ever understand. Not until he is much more mature will he understand compassion and politeness, as right now it is altogether foreign to his selfish nature. My son-in-law simply understands more of what it takes to build character, and was willing to endure the tears shed to enforce a better way.

Our Father in heaven acts in a similar fashion. It is commonly said that a good minister speaking to his congregation lacks greatness until he has been broken before the cross. My wife and I will sometimes comment on such a speaker, “He will be great when he is broken before the cross”, meaning that hard times teach our souls in a fashion that cannot be otherwise reached. Therefore, it is logical that we welcome such times, perhaps not because of the pain of the discipline, but definitely because it is the path to become more like the creatures God would have us to be.

Of course, I think, and maybe you do also, about all the priests who would flay themselves with whips in public, believing that somehow they were becoming better servants of Christ for their self-inflicted pain. There is no evidence whatever that God would have us to do such acts; in fact, Matthew 6 teaches us that acts done in public already have their own reward, and there is no evidence that self-inflicted pain ever produces godliness. Instead, God teaches plainly if we are to pursue godliness that we are to forsake ourselves for the sake of Christ, and to unselfishly give of ourselves to others. Punishing ourselves in such a manner is an act of utter selfishness, since we are focused only upon our body, and neither looking to Christ, nor to the service of others. The admonition of Christ is to take up our cross and follow him. We are admonished rather to become the willing servants of others, even to the point of washing their feet, in our following Christ, not to beat our bodies to a bloody pulp to please God. How far off we get from the God who loves us! He disciplines us that we might be better sons, not that we should torture ourselves to delight him. Such a perverse idea of the nature of God is utterly foreign to scripture!

Second, discipline is for our growth, and it is taught in Hebrews 12:10, “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Just as an earthly father loves his child, and knows training his son will be of great good will sometimes do corrective behavior that the child cannot understand. Just as a rock lover will take the rough stone and begin the long work of polishing it, so the Lord takes us, and bit by bit chip and cut away at our personality until we are much more like what he wants. Not that we will ever attain, as the apostle reminds us, but we are pressing on, by faith looking toward him who has justified us, while as Paul reminds us, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

The apostle Paul must have had the ears of God. When he prayed I am sure God heard. Yet, the scripture says that Paul brought his unspoken affliction to the Lord three times, and not until the third time, did he receive an answer. Not at all the answer that he prayed for, but it was an answer that fully satisfied Paul. “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). I have seen many afflictions and diseases which the Lord has not chosen to heal, and I have seen men and women broken before the Lord because they cannot understand how a God whom they know to be so good, does not hear their prayer. I wish that I could impart to every such believer the fact that God is good, just as they think, and that faith (trust) is the only rational response. Psalm 103 tells us that he heals all our diseases and infirmities, but that is obviously looking forward to a time when God shall dwell with men, and not the present world, where we continually see evil and darkness at every turn.

Thirdly, notice the same verse, Hebrews 12:10, “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” We are not only told that discipline is for our good, but it is also for our holiness. God is purposing to make us like him, and though we will never enjoy the discipline, yet we can rejoice, like Paul, that the very power of Christ should rest upon us.
One of the harder lessons for new Christians has exactly to do with the fact that we see God more clearly than ever, we know his goodness, and we are often overwhelmed with his love. But we are trapped in a world that knows not Christ. Death and disease and famine are always lurking nearby, and we must work diligently to see that they do not come calling. Our jobs are less than ideal, to say the least, and we do not yet live in the better place that God has prepared for us. Keith Green points out somewhere that it took God but seven days to create the earth, but he has had over 2,000 years to prepare heaven for us. What glory it will be when we are changed into his image, and finally see what he has worked on so long to prepare for us.

The problem in now. Now we are buffeted and perplexed, torn on every side, and there is much, just as with the small child, that we cannot understand. But with the eyes of faith, we look assuredly toward the better place. It is often the only answer that I can give to those of my brothers and sisters who are grieving because of their loss. The Bible does promise that all things work together for good, and not at all that all things are good. There is a great distinction between the two. In a sense, we are sent into a hopeless battle, winning skirmishes, even while we are losing battles to the world, waiting for our Great Captain to appear, when all things shall finally start to be put forever right. So we are meant to look by faith to the victory, even while we learn the bitter taste of continual defeat in this world. Death reigns continually, but we know him who has overcome death. We are not able to make the world perfect, but we know the one who is able. On that day, he will laugh at all the plans of the wicked rulers and leaders of our world, for all their schemes will come to exactly nothing, and it will be as Narnia, when death itself begins to work backwards.

Fourth, we are disciplined so that God may prepare his bride. Hebrews 12:28 tells us of that time for which we are being prepared, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). We are a bride, being prepared for that time when all things will be judged. We are reminded in the parable of the virgins awaiting their master’s coming that we are to have oil in our lamps, and to be found ready at our groom’s coming. Revelation teaches this fact in 19:7 and 8, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Paul mentions elsewhere that if we do not produce good works that before the judgment seat of Christ those works which we did do will be burnt up, but we ourselves will be saved, yet as if by fire. Not a comfortable position to be in by any means, and it ought to be a situation which every living Christian seeks to avoid. As I survey the many Christians that I know who maintain what I would term a low threshold of obedience, I shudder at that coming and terrible judgment. Yet, God will make us his bride, and if we are not cleaning up our own lives with the good fruits of the Spirit, it is some comfort that one day he will do it, though it cost us dearly. May more of us lift up our eyes to the horizon and watch closely for his coming!

Last, the chief means of carrying the gospel is through his saints. It is not the only way. I can quite imagine a world without Christians, which will certainly one day soon happen if I am right about the Rapture, but the word of God would remain behind, a most powerful testimony which the Holy Spirit will bring to his elect. Nonetheless, in this age, it was the aim of Christ to build his church on the testimony of his disciples that he was, indeed, the long promised Messiah. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He disciplines us that we might learn compassion for others—for our brothers and sisters first, but also for the unsaved. By our compassion for each other, Jesus says that the world will recognize that we are his disciples.

In summation, there are at least five reasons why God disciplines us. He does it to establish that he is our father, he wants us to grow, he wants us to learn holiness, he is preparing his bride, and he is using us to testify to the world. The admonition of Hebrews bears repetition here, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). No wonder Paul found reason to rejoice in his weakness (many feel that Paul’s eyes had lost sight, but we are not sure for we are never specifically told). It was a necessary discipline of the Lord, and brought to his name glory. We may rest assured, that while we may not understand the discipline at the time, God has a purpose in it to work his glory.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can we know Christ more?

After experiencing Christ, what else is there? This question is one I think a great many new Christians have, but I am afraid there are a great many older Christians who have not found the answer. We have developed a salvation theology that seems to pervade our culture; anyone may believe and be saved. In several famous tracts, we place a picture of a train, with fact always leading feeling. Soul winners stress that it is not how you feel, but what you believe that makes all the difference.

The problem I think is so profound because such theology is true—salvation is by faith alone—as far as it goes. That is the fact. But the emotion, put in the little caboose at the end of the train seems to suggest its unimportance. Almost made irrelevant by today’s rationalistic society, we pride ourselves on walking the walk of faith as much as possible through the facts of the Word. All of this could make a wonderful beginning to the Christian life, but it is only a bare beginning. I cannot help but reflect that the little caboose for years contained the boss of the train, and told the train when and where to stop. I cannot help but observe, that for many people, their caboose of emotion is what drives most of their decisions, in hard times and in easy times.

The richness of God’s promises to the believer are often not sought for, or not sought for with the hunger that God would fill. We are satisfied with mediocrity, and we ignore the many promises of God that have to do with a deeper walk. Says Tozer, “The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted.”1

There is meant to be so much more to the Christian life! It does not at all end with your decision for Christ. Nay! Instead it begins, and if the Bible is to be believed, a journey with Christ our Savior that continues throughout eternity. One of the most wonderful things I found in reading about the First Great Awakening was that Jonathan Edwards consistently had seekers actually seeking, waiting upon the God of their salvation to reveal himself. Sometimes that waiting included all night stands, before the altar of God, before the sweet release of the Spirit was obtained. Discipleship, is of course, a lifelong pursuit. Paul tells us this in several places, but one important place is, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul is teaching us here the profoundly simple truth that it takes time to know the Lord, and be changed by him. Edwards knew that, and clinging to that simple truth, waited upon God to bring delightful changes. When we meet with God, how much better our initial experience might be if we were to wait upon him for an answer. Instead we often preclude any response that God might have by severely limiting the time that we spend to just the sinner’s prayer.

Lest you are wondering, I am not advocating for a charismatic experience of gifts here; I am advocating for the introduction to God to have more meaning for the new convert. I think we have simplified the process too much—if one prays certain formulaic words, then one must be saved. “We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him.”2 I know that time limits in our services are constrained, and everything frequently is limited to five or ten minutes of sharing the gospel, and then praying the sinner’s prayer. Such a way of leading someone to Christ would be a surprise to Paul, who spent his life knowing Christ in a deeper and deeper way, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10). Paul, at the end of his life, still was struggling to know his Savior better. That includes emotion as a valid means of knowing him. It is, after all, called the GOOD news, and good news as special as this ought to bring plenty of accompanying emotions. When we try to separate emotion from the process of accepting Christ, we are so foolish that we often believe we are helping the new convert. But tragically, we may be setting them off on a road never to find the knowable Christ beyond the salvation experience.

Perhaps I speak here from my own experience—I received Christ by myself, after hearing two friends explain the gospel for hours—and I wept for hours, both at the awesomeness of the God I had just discovered, and at the horrid turns I had taken to move away from him in my life. God showed me in a few seconds how he had been calling me and working in my life for many years, but he also showed me how at every turn I had rejected his message. Tears flowed from my eyes as I came to know his grace. I would that everyone would come to Christ in the same manner—to appreciate the wonderful love of an infinite God for a singular soul. There may be no better experience this side of heaven! But when we pray the sinner’s prayer with someone, are we giving God any opportunity to start a relationship?

Is God knowable? Is he more knowable by us today than yesterday? And to honestly know him, we need to spend time getting acquainted, just as we might when making a new friend. Tozer, in his day, did pray for revival, but it came not. For his part, he did not see the coming revival, but he knew his church was not ready for it. “We are beating the drum for revival and we are getting thousands of people to pray into the night for revival. But we might as well jump up and down on the altar of Baal, cut ourselves and cry, "Baal hear us, Baal hear us." We will not submit to diagnosis. We will not let God find out what is wrong with us. We will not let God know us through and through, and we will not listen to the man who tries to find out and minister to our needs.”3 It was, in every sense of the time, God who was ready for revival, even though many in his church were not. Edward Plowman, master of the history of the awakening, says, “I recall in the early days of the movement how Arthur Blessit all but wept into the telephone as he told of pastors turning away new converts he had sent. Ministers came right out and said they didn’t was blacks or hippies in their churches.”4

Indeed, many of his generation were praying for America to have revival, but they themselves were not at all ready for it. I realize their very prayers for the lost is the reason that God moved in such a mighty fashion. In a sense I owe my salvation to the men and women of the Fifties and the Sixties who were praying for revival. Chief among those who were praying I reckon was Tozer himself. In an irony only God can give, Tozer was both right and wrong. God brought the increase in spite of whether the church was ready or not. The Fourth Great Awakening came upon us, and in so many instances the staid churches were the very people who rejected it. Salvation for street people was the last thing they wanted to see, and many did their best to ignore the handiwork of God. In every awakening (except perhaps the Third) we find the established churches having a great deal of difficulty accepting the movement of the Spirit in their time.

Every awakening, without exception, had much emotion accompanying the decisions for Christ. This fact alone ought to wake us up to the reality that emotion can be a strong draw to the path of discipleship, that we may know Christ, and know him more fully unto the end of our days. Scripture is replete with urgings for us to take up the mantle of discipleship and find that wonderful and emotional bond that we ought to have with God, as a son might have to his father. Let me just name a couple. Hebrews 12:1 and 2 says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Our race is to be lifelong, and we should be drawing ever closer to the author and finisher of our faith. Another? Try Romans 12:1 and 2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The struggle is daily, the cost is taking up the cross and following him day by day. In our churches today, we can look to those with white hair and a stooped disposition, for they frequently model to us what a Christ-transfigured life ought to be like. And just maybe, if we join in prayer for revival, we might yet see an outpouring of the very Spirit of God once more, before the great Coming that we all anxiously await.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 182-184). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 174-175). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
3. A.W. Tozer. Reclaiming Christianity: A Call to Authentic Faith (p. 148). Kindle Edition.
4. Plowman, E. (1971). Meanwhile, back at the church. In The Jesus movement in America: Accounts of Christian revolutionaries in action (p. 122). Elgin, IL: David C. Cook.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why is it so important for the church to find unity?

The Scripture says that Moses was the most humble man in all the earth. Paul reminds us that he is the chief of sinners. There are some commentators who would discount these sayings, but I believe them to be true, at least in the sense of how Moses and Paul looked at themselves. Moses was humble, and Paul viewed himself of little account in comparison with that which he should be. I think that such an outlook of ourselves is critical to finding one’s place before God. There is a very real sense in which we are nothing, of no account, a bunch of zeroes before God.

In a quaint saying of unknown origin, some wise person pointed out that we are a zero, and a zero remains such until it gets behind the right one. The Right One being God, and at that point, a Christian begins to find value in his life that he knew not before. Extending the metaphor a bit, and it is only a metaphor, I notice that a zero behind a one is a ten; when we get behind God, the value of our life increases, perhaps even ten-fold. Thus thinking of this as a metaphor seems to help us understand that we gain meaning from our relationship with God; conversely we lose meaning as we walk away from our God.

But to extend it even a bit further, what happens when two zeros, or two Christians get behind the right one? Our power and fruits are multiplied, perhaps a hundredfold. When three get together? A thousand-fold result in fruits? Is that not what Jesus himself promised? “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). The metaphor now seems to show us at least part of what God promises.

In John 13:34 and 35, it says: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Our very testimony to a lost world, a world that God loves so very much, is dependent, not on maintaining a relationship to God, though that may be assumed, but rather on our relationships to each other. How we treat each other, how we act together before the world is a vital presentation of the very person of Jesus. The world will come to know Jesus through us, through our love for each other.

The love that one Christian feels toward another Christian can scarcely be described, yet I shall try. Perhaps it would be best to go back to the seventies. Yes, I was saved in what some are beginning to term the Fourth Great Awakening. Called out of total darkness into his marvelous light, I had much to learn, but one thing I did learn early—this calling had taken place in others, and we were all to be one family. I remember best the unfamiliar feeling of instant comradeship when meeting a new person who was a Christian. I remember, unparalleled in my experience up to that time, the wave of emotion that would almost overwhelm me as I realized that this person was a brother or a sister in the Lord, someone that I would be spending eternity with. Isn’t that the kind of everyday love that we should feel toward one another?

I believe that is one of the pillars of revival—that we must love one another and thus show the world that indeed we are changed by the power of God. In all the awakenings I have studied, people have minimized their differences of outlook on doctrine, and emphasized their unity of Christ. If the message of Christ is to again spread rapidly in America, it will be, in part, because Christians see the need to unite in Christ.
The lost world ought to be our primary aim, and the love that we show toward one another should be both deep and true. Our very testimony—that the world should know that we are his disciples depends upon it. I read a disturbing piece in a current Christian magazine today—the author’s thesis was that we ought, as Christians, be equally upset whether injustice is being worked on another group or whether it is being worked upon Christians. The basis of his article was correct—we surely should be upset whenever we see injustice, but the differences are profound. I believe part of the reason that we see such a horrific reaction to Christians being persecuted in far-off places is precisely because the average Christian realizes that these unfortunate folk are part of our family. If you son or daughter were involved in a crisis, or your mother or father, would it not become an immediate and deep problem for you? Praise God that most of us recognize immediately that family relationship, and it is a good thing, I think, that we tend to take it very personally when we read of our Christian brothers and sisters being persecuted. The author of the piece just went one step too far—personal is personal though it be remote because we recognize that we are a part of the same body. When part of that body is hurt, it is normal for the rest of the body to give it “undue attention” until things are made better.

Interestingly, Jesus did not say, as it might be thought he would, that we are known to be his disciples by our unselfish acts to the poor or the desperate or the needy. Many are the admonitions for us to be doing for them as our duty would require, but isn’t it interesting that Jesus says the world will know we are his disciples by our love toward one another? May the Lord knit our hearts and lives strongly together that the world may see and know that there is a Christ.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Are we to forgive others in order that we may be forgiven?

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Matthew 6:12

What a mess in Christendom this verse has caused! If we read further the dilemma becomes even bigger, for in verse 14 and 15 it says, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” People see it in its plain sense and that sense would tell us that God’s forgiveness of us is based on our forgiveness of others. Yet we know, beyond any doubt, that God asks one thing of us, faith, and that is the only condition of salvation. So how are we to understand this verse?

As they say, context is everything, and in this case, context does explain a great deal. This verse is taken from what is usually termed the Lord’s Prayer. As far as we know, the Lord himself never prayed this prayer. How could he who knew no sin ask for forgiveness? Instead, this prayer was what Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him to teach them as John also taught his disciples (Luke 11:1). It might be better termed John’s prayer, since evidently it was patterned after what John was teaching to his disciples. But this is a minor point; the major point is that we know from Matthew that these verses were from the Sermon on the Mount, one of the first sermons that Jesus was ever to preach.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is clearly offering himself as king to Israel, an offer that ultimately the nation was to reject. Jesus then turned to the highways and byways to offer himself to Gentiles. Even the term, Gentiles1, according to Easton, came to be a term of contempt. When Jesus was rejected as king, he went to the most contemptible people possible, at least in the eyes of many of the Jews. Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount must be looked at for what it is, a kingdom offer to the Jews, with the rules set up for such a kingdom. Most (over 90%) of these rules are repeated frequently in other places in the New Testament, and when they are, we can be confident of their direct application to us. But it is not so with this particular verse.

Evidently, part of the rules that Jesus was setting up for Israel was to show the importance of forgiveness. Indeed, we are told to extend forgiveness to others in many places in the New Testament, but never again is it made conditional on our salvation. I believe it is best understood as a rule to be given to Israel, had they accepted their King. Chafer says, “No objection could be raised against the declaration that 1 John 1:1-2:2 is the central passage in the Scriptures on household forgiveness, and it is far from accidental and of more than passing significance that in this context neither by precept, nor by example, nor by implication is asking constituted any part of the believer’s obligation when in need of forgiveness.”2

I am perplexed by those who might think we are to forgive before we can be forgiven. Such a concept is foreign to the Scripture! Instead, we are told to forgive others, “even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32). There is no denying that forgiveness of others is a vital part of the spiritual walk before God; there is every denial that our forgiveness is in any way connected to our merit—that is, that we have to forgive before we can be forgiven. A lack of forgiveness, especially to other Christians, causes no end of problems for our Christian house, and it is a sin that needs to be confessed when the believer.

But there is another sense in which it is the duty of the Christian to seek to forgive. I have seen hurt so grievous to Christians that that hurt dominates all of their thinking. The hurt is so deep that the Christian cannot walk through the day without many times thinking of their pain and suffering. Listening to their description of the pain and hurt of someone who has sinned against them, and I can see why they are so angry, and I often find myself wondering how they survived the ordeal at all. Precisely because the hurt is so deep and grievous, forgiveness must be given. Remember that Stephen, our first martyr, gave us the example as he was stoned to death, crying out to God, “Lord, lay not this charge against them.”

It is easy of course to say that one must forgive, and I can imagine the grieving saint objecting that he just doesn’t know how bad I was hurt. The Scripture is full of commands for us to follow that we have little strength to even begin to follow, but he has nonetheless given them. For example, who can really follow the command of our Lord to love one another as I have loved you? It is a command that we have no hope of following, if we were left to our own devices. It is only by the very power of God in us that we can follow it. But that is precisely the point: we have been given the Holy Spirit, so that God does in us what is not possible for us to do.

The Christian who would walk with his God can be severely impaired by previous sins of others; and forgiveness must be given, and not at all because of repentance on the part of the sinner. Often times I see old men and women, with their parents long deceased, but they are still harboring grudges and hurts, even while their parents are on the other side of the grave. Release has to happen in the lives of those who were hurt, and that is not possible without forgiveness. Thus, confession must be made as the Christian is made aware of his lack of forgiveness, and the very power of God must be allowed to do that which the person cannot. Chafer poses the problem beautifully: “How may a heart of compassion be secured at all? The answer is that all sin must be confessed and that a forgiving heart is then possible only through the enabling power of God.”3

But what of the Christian who will not go this far, perhaps lacking the faith to believe God will indeed help? Such a Christian is merely compounding sin upon sin, for is he not claiming that his problems, no matter how significant, are bigger than God can take care of? Such a Christian ought to question himself and not God. The Christian who will confess, and indeed, ask of God for the power to forgive, will find his life newly empowered through the Spirit.

1. Gentiles (Heb., usually in plural, goyim), meaning in general all nations except the Jews. In course of time, as the Jews began more and more to pride themselves on their peculiar privileges, it acquired unpleasant associations, and was used as a term of contempt.
In the New Testament the Greek word Hellenes, meaning literally Greek (as in Acts 16:1 Acts 16:3 ;18:17 ; Romans 1:14 ), generally denotes any non-Jewish nation.
These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain
2. Chafer, L. (1947). The Christian's Sin. In Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 339). Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press.
3. Chafer, L. (1947). The Christian's Sin. In Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 340). Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

What happens to a confessing Christian?

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

In my last writing, I showed the seven losses that happen to a Christian who continues in sin. Explicitly, the unregenerate is exempted of these losses, since he is not even in the family of God. Thus these losses are specifically aimed by the apostle John at those Christians with problems sinning, but John also gives us the most wonderful promise for restoration of the sinning Christian, and that is the subject of this piece.

Confession is the only way that the Christian is restored to fellowship with his Father. Many a Christian has foundered on this doctrine, believing that they must “beg” forgiveness of God for their sin. Such thinking actually insults the God of wonderful grace, and shows a basic misunderstanding of what Christ has done on the cross. Once we receive forgiveness, and that comes with our initial belief, we have been forgiven of all our sins, past, present, and future. There are some Christians, confused in their doctrine, who regularly practice asking forgiveness, and who believe that they have lost their salvation when they sin. Examination of their beliefs show that within their system is a confused morass of contradictory beliefs. Some sins are judged to be smaller sins, and their thinking is that God overlooks those somehow, but when it comes to bigger sins, these Christians believe that they must seek salvation again.

First, I note that God, being righteous, does not overlook sins. He cannot if he is maintain his righteousness. Instead, scripture indicates that he once for all poured out judgment on his Son, and that judgment is totally satisfactory for the remission of our sins. If there were any sin not covered by the cross, the believer would be in dire peril, and would never be able to satisfy a righteous God. God, in his wonderful grace, has totally and completely saved us, and this fact is not in any way altered by our disobedience.

Second, the Scripture gives us only one prescription for sin—to confess to God that sin is sin. If I were capable of losing what God has so freely given, I would have thrown it away long ago, for my heart is utterly corrupt, and bereft of any merit that would stand before God. Those who believe they can regularly lose their salvation neither understand the depth of the grace of God, nor the depth of their own sinfulness. But thanks be to God for his gracious provision in Christ!

Confession means to agree with God that your sin is sin. Implicit in the prescription of 1 John 1:9 (“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”) is the idea of repentance, or turning away from that which we know to be sin. The sovereign Father has already forgiven his children in the once for all sacrifice of his son. Those who would limit that sacrifice by excluding some sins from it are not, at the least, appreciating the grace of God.

Look at the verse again. The phrase, “to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” is there, The condition that John gives the Christian to follow is that only of confession—repentance can be assumed, for what kind of man could confess and have no repentance—but the promise of the phrase is unlimited in scope—to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Wonderful is the expression of new Christians, having fallen into sin, and wanting to make their way back to God, when the great truth of this verse soaks into them. I remember many conversations such as this, having them read the verse aloud:

I ask them, “How much unrighteousness has God cleansed you from?”

They usually do not see the point I am trying to make at first, so I press the question, “How much does it say God has cleansed you of?”

And then, if needed, I will press, “All what?”

They reply, usually with a very wide grin, “All unrighteousness.”

“But I am not done,” I reply. “If God has cleansed you of all unrighteousness, how righteous are you?”

As it says, we are made totally righteous in his sight. And when it dawns on the new Christian what acceptance from God means, the washing away of all the stain of sin, and forever being made to be a child of God, what joy spreads across their face. It is a shame that all too often we forget that first love, that deep joy of knowing forgiveness, and what a magnificent Light the Lord has shined upon us.

But I am not nearly through with this post, for John told us something else that it is very important for the Christian to know. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Chafer says this about our Advocate,

As Advocate He defends the believer when charged with actual sin. This He does while the believer is sinning and not sometime afterwards. The assurance is given that, if a Christian sins, he has an advocate with the Father. It might be supposed by some that the Advocate is begging the Father to be lenient toward the offender; but God cannot be lenient toward sin. Likewise, it might be supposed by some that the Advocate is making excuses for the one He defends; but there are no excuses. In like manner, it might be supposed that the Advocate is able to confuse the issue and make a case that would divert the natural course of justice; but that unworthy conception is answered in the very title which He gains as Advocate, which title is nowhere else applied to Him.1

And what is that title? According to the verse, he is called “the righteous”. In no manner could Jesus be called the righteous, if he were being devious, or trying to get justice off track. Instead, in every scene of sin, he reminds the court, and the Accuser, that for this sin He died. That taking that sin upon the cross, the Accuser has no grounds for his accusations—the penalty has been paid, and there remains no sin that has not been totally covered. Thus, we “have” an Advocate, and he presently advocates for us.
Thus we are made righteous, not in our own behavior, but in the reckoning of God. Not ever that we do not sin, but for the first time, since we are in Christ, we do not have to sin. When we do sin, we know that Christ is our Advocate, and we need not ever fear condemnation.

Realizing and making a point of this wonderful freedom, Paul elsewhere writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1 and 2). We are completely free. But we are bound by the love of our Father, and the price paid by our Advocate to live the life he has called us to. By the power of his Holy Spirit we can find a walk in this world that overcomes.

And when we do sin? Confession, says John, is the prescription that always will bring us back into fellowship with God.

1. Chafer, L. (1947). The Christian's Sin. In Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 344). Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

What happens to a sinning Christian?

These seven penalties of sin are drawn from Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p 334, The Christian’s Sin.

In reading Systematic Theology I was struck by these seven losses presented by Chafer from 1 John. I should be clear that these losses can and do happen to the Christian, but that God has provided a steadfast and faithful way for the Christian to return to fellowship—the subject of my next question. I was amazed to see so much in this tiny book on the subject of walking with God, and what happens when we choose not to do so. I should have long ago seen them, as my favorite gospel is John, and there is so much in John about the believer and his Savior. 1 John continues those themes, emphasizing our walk with our Savior, and it helps me to remember that John was the closest friend to our Savior, and there was nothing more important to John, in his very long life, than his walk with his best friend. John has lots to tell us about walking with him, and in him, even when his visible presence is not there. What a constant ache in John’s heart must have been there with the physical loss of his friend! John learned the great comforting closeness that we can have with our Savior through the Spirit, and in his latter years, he gives us precious gems to aid us in our walk with the Savior.

I think it important to establish that these losses happen only to the believers; the non-believer is lost in his sin and blind to his plight. There is no restoration for the non-believer, but if he should believe, then he finds “all things new”, and as John elsewhere refers to him, is considered “born again”. Rather, these losses are for the disobedient Christian, which I all too often see, when we decide to turn away from God, and begin walking our own way, sometimes with our folly lasting years.

Indeed, as I have written frequently elsewhere, we have been given the very presence of God to dwell in our bodies, and there is every opportunity given us through the Spirit and the Word to live a life marked by our walk with God. First John also tells us, later in the book (5:8-12), that there are three testimonies on earth about the faithfulness and love of God for us, the blood which was shed in our behalf, the Spirit which is given us, and the Word, which is written to guide us through life. These three bear witness in the world, and help our faith to stand against the forces of the world. But what of the believer who quenches the Spirit with continued and persistent sin? What of the believer who avails himself not of the Word? What remains to such a believer? He has lost use of two of the three tools that God gives him to find a successful walk. He must surely be buffeted on every side, even as he would stand in his faith. His own body betrays him, and he does not seek the light, nor turn towards it, because his load of sin has covered him in darkness.

The first loss presented by John is found in 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” Thus, we have loss of light. I have been thinking a bit about Adam and Eve, and their parallels to this portion of scripture. Both Adam and Eve lost the light when they partook of the forbidden fruit. They covered themselves, evidently ashamed of their bodies, and they hid from God. They thus began the human race’s walk in darkness, no longer appreciating the walk with God. The Christian, forgiven of all his sin, has the opportunity to walk again with God himself, to be in the light for the first time since Adam. But, we Christians are given to much folly, and if we so choose, we are allowed to turn away from our God back to the darkness that we formerly knew.

The second loss is from 1:4, “ And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” But for the sinning Christian, a lack of the deep joy that is the hallmark of the Christian who is walking with his God, that lack of joy, is gone. The sinful Christian, remaining in his sin, quenches the Spirit, and sometimes gets in such desperate straits, that he hardly remembers his sonship. The Psalmist says, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” (32, KJV) The intense and wonderful joy of the Holy Spirit is utterly taken away when we pursue our folly. Remember that Adam and Eve lost their joy when they were cast utterly out of the garden, and walking with God was no longer possible.

Where is the joy of our church goers? If your church is anything like mine, there is a definite group of people who serve and are marked outwardly with that joy. I do not have to be around them long at all before I realize that they have something I want more of—they have the very peace and presence of God himself. They are models to me, images, if you will, of the very Savior they are following, and, oh, how I wish I could be more like them. But there is a great body of believers that I do not see being used of the Lord that way. Our church, and your church too, will never have revival until we together come to recognize our joy in God, that Christ has given us freedom from condemnation forever, and that we will spend all eternity with the living and loving God. Once we truly know that, joy will abound in our obedient walk with him.

The third loss is evident in the latter part of verse three, “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” The question might come at this point asking if fellowship with God is really affected by our sin, but coupled with verse six, it is plain that our fellowship with God is shipwrecked with our persistent sin. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” The apostle John, with the full inspiration of the Holy Spirit, states that we are liars if it be that we walk in darkness and yet claim to have fellowship with him. As I already pointed out, when Adam and Eve sinned, their walk with God was forgotten. Don Francisco has a lovely song entitled, “Adam, Where Are You?” that beautifully depicts this loss of fellowship. Capturing the somber mood of the fall, Francisco would remind us of that horrible loss, a walk with the living God. One of the darkest pages of Christian history is found in the Christian leader who is caught in persistent and unrepentant sin. How can they possibly be teaching in any Godly fashion while in open sin? Many a leader has suffered irrecoverably from not keeping a short account of repentance before God.

The fourth loss is grievous—it is losing the sense of being loved by God. For me, one of the greatest daily experiences is the sense of God being in me, and my life working out for his purpose. I sense his love, except when I am in continuing sin. Then all sense of being personally loved by God is gone—I lose that sense of God being in me and with me. I know that he loves me still, but that awareness becomes more remote, and not on a personal level. This loss is told in 2:15 and 16, “ Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” A corollary is that one who is consumed by the lusts of the world also loses his recognition of the lostness of those who are around him. I think this happens because we are no longer looking at our world through our Father’s eyes; instead we are looking through our own selfish eyes, and we have not one whit of ability to appreciate what being lost is all about. Did not Adam and Eve show their loss by hiding from the only one who could, and eventually did redeem them?

The fifth loss of the believer is that of peace. According to 1 John 3:9, “ No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (NIV). Many Christians, infants, never grow because of lack of church habits, or lack of Bible teaching, but those who never grow seem always to be in a level of frustration that is unknown in the deep walk with God. Imagine the anguish of the righteous soul, made righteous by the Son, but living with the warfare of constant chosen sin. Peace? It does not seem likely. Their spirits are in constant battle with their flesh, but they have a difference from those who walk with God. They are choosing to stay in that which they know is wrong. Peace is not possible for the Christian continuing in his sin.

The sixth loss that comes from continued willful sin is that we lose confidence in prayer. In 3:21 and 22, it says, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” (NIV). If our hearts are condemning us, John reminds us that God is always greater than that condemnation. But while our hearts are condemning us—that is while we know we are in sin, then we cannot come to God expecting that he will answer. At those times, prayer will resound back to us as an echo, ringing again and again with its sounds, but we will have no confidence of God’s hearing us. This is a main reason why we often see great prayers start off with confession—it takes a clean heart to be assured of God’s attentive ear.

The final loss is grievous. It is found in 2:28, “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (NIV). If we do not continue in him, we are in sin. There are only two courses here. Though there are many shades of gray that we find in our world, it comes down to two choices, either we are choosing something sinful, or we are continuing in him. Chafer points out that we are to have boldness at the coming of Christ (1 John 4:17), if indeed we are continuing in Him, but where will our boldness be if we are ashamed of the way that we have been walking? At best, we will be like the prodigal son, returning to his father utterly ashamed of what he has done. There is an utter and complete contrast between the shame of sinning Christian and the confidence of the Christian walking with his God.

With all these losses listed in 1 John, the believer might tend to be downcast, especially if he is wise in understanding his own heart. He might well think that it is his due to suffer these losses on a continuing revolving pattern, but such is not the life that God has planned for us. John the Apostle, the friend of Jesus, the one among us, perhaps, who most wanted to maintain fellowship with his Lord, tells us of a sure way to mitigate, if not outright prevent, these losses from happening. In my next piece, I will be presenting the teaching of John about how the Christian is supposed to handle his sinful heart.

Summary of Losses due to sin:
1. 1 John 1:6 The believer is turned to darkness.
2. 1 John 1:4 The believer loses his joy.
3. 1 John 1:3, 6,7 The believer loses his fellowship with God.
4. 1 John 2:5, 15-17 The believer loses his sense of being loved by God.
5. 1 John 3:4-10 The believer loses his peace.
6. 1 John 3:19-22 The believer loses his confidence in prayer.
7. 1 John 2:28 The believer loses his confidence at the coming of Christ.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What is cheap grace? Part Three

I am rather perplexed at this subject of cheap grace. It has seemed to grow as I have tried to explain something that perplexes me deeply about our church today. There is a sense of deadness about our church today. I was saved in the Awakening of the Seventies, but the last thing I was aware of was that it was an Awakening—I just figured that was the way that God worked in the lives of believers all the time. It was not really until the late eighties that I began to notice that God did not appear, at least in America, to be working that way anymore. Recently I discovered a new work of Tozer, one that I had not seen before, and found to my surprise that he was describing something very similar to what I have been trying to express.

But before I explain it, I should clear up what I unequivocally believe. Part of our coming to Christ involves our decision to believe. Some Christians would dispute that it is real belief on our part; they might say that it is faith given by God that causes our belief, and I would have no argument with them. The point is that we are commanded to believe, the Bible appears to enjoin us to believe, and that response becomes the first part of what believers do to become Christians. It seems to be a moot point to discuss how much of God is involved in the actual step of belief; rather the commandment of the Bible, when explaining the gospel to the unsaved, is first for us to respond by believing. Whether God does all of the believing for us, or whether we are responsible for part of it seems a question best left to theologians to fight out. God is clear about his sovereignty in the Scriptures; it is a sovereignty that is both complete and total. But God is also clear about the need for man to respond with belief when he hears the gospel; it is Paul, the one whom most point to for his emphasis on the sovereignty of God, who also declares that he becomes all things to all men in order that he might win the more. It is John who reminds us that he who comes to God will in no wise be cast out. Man’s response is part of receiving the gospel, no matter where its ultimate source might be.

Thus, I have no problem in our dealing with a sinner by presenting the simple gospel and asking for a statement of belief, followed by something like the sinner’s prayer. My problem lies with the fact that often we seem to leave them at that point, before they have quite come to grips with what it means to be a Christian. Some seem to see the riches of what is offered them, and begin to walk in the new life, but some do not seem to change much. I fear that we have offered a rather cheap grace to these. I do wonder if we can take some steps to improve and deepen the initial offer of salvation that we might enable the sinner to see more of what takes place when he is saved. After all, as I have already pointed out, the Bible declares that all of heaven rejoices when one sinner repents, and I do feel the initiate ought not walk away without a sense of the deep love and grace and joy of God now that he is saved.

Let me walk you through with what Tozer has said, and perhaps that will better express what I would hope we as a church might improve. Tozer definitely had his mystical side, and I think perhaps he gives us a valid cautionary note. “Now, there is a secret in divine truth altogether hidden from the unprepared soul. This is where we stand in the terrible day in which we live. Christianity is not something you just reach up and grab. There must be a preparation of the mind, a preparation of the life and a preparation of the inner man before we can savingly believe in Jesus Christ.”1 This time of preparation is generally in the message of the gospel that is being presented, where we rely on a clear presentation as putting the person in the correct frame of thinking.

Next Tozer adds, “Now the theological rationalists say that your faith should stand not in the wisdom of man but in the Word of God. Paul didn't say that at all. He said your faith should stand in the power of God. That's quite a different thing.”2 I think Tozer is differentiating between the power of God, and the word of God, and I think there is a differentiation. The word of God ought to lead us to the power of God, but is it always so? When we leave someone with a decision for Christ, I at least, and I think many others, try to leave them with the impression that the very power of God has taken them at that point. I do like referring to Paul’s great statement in Romans 8 that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. Ever. Again, Tozer writes about that, “If a sinner goes to the altar and a worker with a marked New Testament argues him into the kingdom, the devil will meet him two blocks down the street and argue him out of it again. But if he has an inward illumination and he has that witness within because the Spirit answers to the blood, you can't argue with that man. He will say: 'But I know.' A man like that is not bigoted or arrogant, he is just sure.”3

And that is precisely the point. I would that we could carry every decision-maker to that point of knowing. I am not sure we get there with many. Having said that, the next part is to ask how shall we do better? I am not sure at all that I have an answer to this, but surely the answer does lie in giving the sinner a bit more time to get acquainted with his God. Jonathan Edwards surely consistently did that, giving his parishioners the time needed to really meet and get to know God.

It seems to me that with every awakening in America, there has been more time given for the sinner to know his God. Rather than relying solely on the Word of God, should we not also be seeking his power? But of course, that seems to draw us back to the awakening—we need revival, that the power of God should be made manifest, and that sinners should be both humbled and awestruck. It thus becomes somewhat circular. We are not in his power, and thus often are guilty of offering “cheap grace”, but how can we do otherwise except that we be in his power?

The word of God is always our pointer to God. But it is the power of God that saves to the uttermost those who come unto God through Jesus. Is it not time for use to be looking toward the power? Tozer seems to come to a similar realization, if I am interpreting him correctly. “My brethren, your faith can stand in the text and you can be as dead as the proverbial doornail, but when the power of God moves in on the text and sets the sacrifice on fire, then you have Christianity. We call that revival, but it's not revival at all. It is simply New Testament Christianity. It's what it ought to have been in the first place, but was not.”4

New Testament Christianity? Perhaps we need rather to state it as the ideal church—one that is set on fire for God. Perhaps our starting point then is in the question of Elisha, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”. Remember that Elijah prayed, and God sent lightning to burn the sacrifice in the sight of all Israel. Would it not be a great thing if God were to light a fire in the hearts of our newest Christians? I know that collective prayer from the church will move God once more to breathe into this country yet another awakening. But shall we see collective prayer? I fear not until some of us become convinced that grace is not cheap after all, and that our God is after all, a living fire to be prayed after and sought for as if nothing else mattered. For nothing else does matter, but it is not until we realize that that we shall begin to awaken. What shall awaken us?

1. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 119-122). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 126-128). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.
3. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 173-176). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.
4. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 134-137). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What is “cheap grace”? Part 2

If God were willing to sell His grace, we would accept it more quickly and gladly than when He offers it for nothing.
― Martin Luther

To be offered what God offers is nearly impossible to believe; indeed a great many people seem to find the offer itself insulting, as if it were too demeaning to their character. And they are absolutely right about that! Jesus somewhere teaches that he is not come to call the righteous, meaning that those who insist on maintaining their own righteousness have little need to answer a call to follow Jesus. Those who must maintain the fa├žade of self-righteousness will find no room in their hearts at all for a Savior who will make them righteous. No, if we are to approach God at all, it must be in recognition that he is the Holy One, the one who has shown righteousness to a wrathful world, and that we are in deepest need of imputed righteousness, for next to the Holy One our righteousness is but as a bloody napkin.

After part one of this question on cheap grace, it occurred to me that I have not quite dealt with it as Tozer did, and finding my answer wanting, I took this opportunity to enlarge my answer. Tozer is applying his definition of cheap grace more particularly to the general church than I did. Instead, I focused the first part of my answer on those in the church whom we might best consider as “falling away”. There is a sense in which part of what Tozer saw in the churches of his day is quite true for our day; our churches are filled with dead people who have never really found the inexhaustible riches in Christ that is theirs, if they will but walk with the Spirit.

Of course I think Tozer recognized that the church of his day (he died in 1963) was not at all ready for revival. He pointed to many things that the church ought to be doing, and was constantly praying and nudging the church to lay aside everything else and pick up the cross that is given us. I find myself lamenting the fact that Tozer missed seeing the revival that he and so many others prayed for so faithfully during the fifties and sixties. It was not until 1967 that the Spirit took ahold of unlikely prospects in the hippies of the streets, and was to change the whole nation yet once again, and that through ridiculous street urchins that came to be labeled “Jesus Freaks”. Make no mistake—none of that great awakening could have happened without God’s people praying for the dead in Christ to walk again. Each revival we see is built on nothing less than the lives of earnest Christians who have prayed and worked and sweated great drops of blood to see revival.

To review, Tozer defined cheap grace precisely thus, “We are busy these days proving to the world that they can have all the benefits of the Gospel without any inconvenience to their customary way of life. It's "all this, and heaven too."”1 Part of this is our fault as a church—in our efforts to offer the gospel we have stripped the gospel of all the encumbrances. We offer Christ as Starbucks might offer a flavored coffee, something to tantalize the taste buds, but never to change the life. In most of our churches Christ is offered as something we might decide for, and we seldom consider the God of salvation in the equation at all. Somehow when the new convert is offered Christ the idea that he is offering himself to God is not stressed. That is labeled discipleship and ought to be later, I have often heard. But what if later does not come? I believe that we can and ought to be doing better. A person who accepts Christ ought to come to the realization that Christ has accepted him. To be sure, if the Calvinist is right about anything at all, and he is right about quite a lot, he is surely right in pointing out that it is God who does the electing. It is not our decision at all. Instead it is a patient God who keeps convicting us of his righteousness and our sin. It is a loving God who gave himself for all, that all might be invited to enter into his plan of abundant life. It is an enduring God who is patiently waiting for us to realize the gift that he has given. Yes, we properly believe that faith is the price of salvation, but should not that faith have a focus? Why are we not waiting on God together with the new convert, that he might sense and be awestruck by the presence of the Holy One in his life?

It seems to me that our rapid handling of new converts generally has at least one of two bad outcomes. First, the new believer, not knowing any better, often tries to add to his salvation. Not seeing the complete grace of the Lord, he figures he better start “working for his keep” as the saying goes. Sometimes believers make mistakes in this area that linger for decades. We are saved to good works, but never to think that works merit salvation. A good deal of confusion might be settled were we just to wait on God to visit with his presence, that the convert might come to sense how completely holy God is, and how completely needy he himself is. Instead, we all too frequently pray the sinner’s prayer, and let the convert go his way, without him ever sensing the moment of what happens when a sinner is saved.

Second, if the new convert does not try to add to grace, he will often suffer from never fully realizing his matchless grace. After all, when we show such a short prayer with which to accept Christ, and spend so little time waiting upon the majestic God, what kind of message are we imparting? That accepting Christ might be comparable to that cup of flavored coffee? Something to enjoy for a few seconds, but then we need to get back with the duties of life? I am afraid our methods are not helping us to impart the utter seriousness of what happens when one converts. We are told that all the angels rejoice over even one sinner who repents, but where is the sense of that to the new convert? Somehow we need to seriously rethink what we are doing if we are to expect to see serious believers coming out of a new conversion. Those who criticize “decision theology” have a point; we are seriously leaving God out of the equation. We ought to be somehow allowing God to work, and not just assume that our prayer is instantly answered.

In the great awakenings of America, I have seen across the board a very serious treatment of new believers. In the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards made a habit of praying, often for hours, until the person being dealt with had a sense of God’s presence. Edwards knew that most of his parishioners were not saved, and he knew his God was loving. He sensed that the two needed time to interact. After all, to get acquainted with a new person we must have time for interaction. He saw that his parishioners got that time, that they might come to a realization that they are known even as they now know. In the Second Great Awakening, Finney incorporated new tools, not without controversy, but I think he was aiming at the same thing—to give the sinner and God time to meet and to make accord with one another. He put a bench right down in the front of where he was preaching.

It came to be called the anxious seat, where a seeker might come looking for God. Finney was also known for staying and praying until the peace of God was found. In the Third Great Awakening, my favorite, those who came to Christ did so frequently in the presence of people praying right with them; certainly they would press on in prayer until they received assurance.
We are like snake oil salesmen; we do not seem to really believe in our product. We are guilty of peddling cheap grace. Maybe the reason I find us so dead in our dealings with new converts is that I remember gaining so much from my own conversion. I was aware for the first time of the terrible darkness I had been walking in, and suddenly I was also aware of the Holy God, who not only gave himself for me, but was patiently nudging me along, trying to call me and awaken me to the greatest life one can ever know—a life committed to the One who committed himself to us.

In part three, I do want to write about the lack of vitality in so many corners of our church today. Perhaps our cheap grace has had a far more significant effect than we realize.

1. Tozer, A. W. (2014-06-14). Keys to the Deeper Life (Kindle Locations 82-83). Chariot eBooks. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What is cheap grace?

I encountered this term somewhere in Tozer recently, and though I have heard it before, I have not heard it often. Perhaps it would be best to present the definition Tozer gives: “We are busy these days proving to the world that they can have all the benefits of the Gospel without any inconvenience to their customary way of life. It's "all this, and heaven too."”1 Thus, cheap grace, as I understand it, is the attitude that a Christian is free to live anyway they want, and they will have heaven anyway. Is cheap grace even possible?

Well, according to one of the best, it is possible, at least in theory. “Forgiveness of sin and salvation are not synonymous terms. On the other hand, when sin has entered into the life of a Christian it becomes a question of sin and sin alone which is involved. The remaining features of his salvation are unchanged.”2 Thus, a Christian has complete freedom to sin, but he is called to better things. While Jesus came, as he said, that we might be free indeed, Paul called himself over and over a “slave” of Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul considered his new life in Christ to be such a marvelous wonder that he was willing to lay everything in his life at the feet of Christ.

This doctrine is nothing new; both Calvin and Luther held that salvation was through faith, but that faith, properly grown, was to produce fruit. Luther said it this way, “Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him.”3 The reformers did not believe that Christians were not to produce good works; rather they knew that these good works were to come out of a proper faith. And that is the problem that this question brings up: what happens when the faith is not properly secured?

First, I would like to affirm that I too agree that we are saved through faith, “and that not of ourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). I think it is apparent that the workman who is hired yet in the eleventh hour, and works but one hour, is yet to be included. My father received Christ, waiting until he was 86, and on his deathbed, and few, if any works were possible in that situation. Yet, he is as the workman hired in the last hour, and will receive his pay (salvation) from the owner of the vineyard.

But having said that we are saved by faith, faith, over time, should always produce good works. Looking around our churches, we can readily see many examples of people in which this is not true. What might have happened? I say might have happened, because I cannot see into the heart of people, and know whether or not they have found faith. But let me suggest a something to consider. Our Lord spoke of a parable of seeds being sown—some falling into hard ground and not germinating, others sprouting in stony places, and yet being withered in an untimely fashion by the hot sun. It is these seeds, the ones that are withered by the hot sun that I wish us to consider.

My mother accepted Christ at one of the earliest Graham crusades, and yet never found a beginning in a local church, and never found the food which is supposed to sustain our Christian living—the word of God. Perhaps she was one of those seeds which had the misfortune to germinate in stony ground, for certainly her Christian witness was very low—she held tightly to her decision and knowledge of God, but that knowledge remained shallow, and her Christian life was arrested for all of her life.

I think maybe all of us can think of such examples—that is, of Christians who do not ever seem to grow as they ought to. My heart weeps for my liberal Christian friends who claim to know Christ, but often live lifestyles contrary to their profession. Our lifestyle choices are what we are called out of, that we might live a new life in the presence of God, and through the strength of his Spirit. Instead, some of my brothers declare their freedom (which, if they be in Christ, is true), but then they depart from the very rules of the New Testament for living, and declare themselves approved of
God. Such claims we can never make!

Rather, we are sinners saved by grace, and we are saved for the plan of God. But the problem seems to be that we have brothers and sisters who (might) have taken the initial step of faith, but they never learned to regard the word of God in its proper light. Recently, I heard a brother in Christ declare that Jesus himself had never said a word against his chosen lifestyle. Even my brother in Christ, whom I dearly love, could not bring himself to say what he was so clearly implying. Christ must approve his lifestyle since he did not explicitly condemn it.

Such a statement is all the more sorrowful for me because it contains such an implicit poor understanding of who Jesus is. The Word of God. Jesus himself many times quotes both Moses and the prophets, and each time he does, he quotes them as the final authority, the ones who should settle all disputes. The Bible teaches us that Jesus, the great “I am”, was present with all writers of scripture, and that there is no point of contention ever with what they say, and what Jesus intends. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is “God-breathed” so that what is written is exactly that which God intended, and is wholly and completely in line with everything that Jesus said. Thus, it is no good declaring that Jesus never spoke on this sin or that sin; rather the condemnation of sin and sinful living is well covered by all the New Testament, and certainly by Paul in his treatment of the completeness of sin in Romans.

This past week my daughter posted a site which she had found where alleged married Christians were swapping mates. Such lifestyle choices are excluding godliness—always. When we choose to turn our back on the rules of the New Testament, which has repeated most of the Ten Commandments to us, it is not freedom from the Law which we are finding. Rather, we live lives which are destitute of the things of God, and we will produce very little fruit which remains. We are finding our “old man” wherever we can. The “old man” that was to be buried forever with Christ, that we might be raised to a new life in Christ. Instead, we take out our shovels, and we dig in the dead of night in the cemetery, trying to find our old corpses. When we are successful in resurrecting the corpse, we smother with all the attention and love we can muster, but in the end it is just a dead body, a zombie. We succeed, if success it can be called, in slaving ourselves anew to the master that has had us all along, and nothing has changed. We are slaves to the sin that Christ gave himself to free us from. We are indeed in “cheap grace.”

Of course, grace is never cheap. God put more of himself into your salvation than he did in fashioning all of creation, for he gave nothing less than himself. He can do no more. Can we not do better in living our lives in the freedom that he has given—freedom and the very power to live our lives in a godly fashion? Paul does indeed talk about the hapless Christian who finds all of his works burnt up at the judgment seat of Christ. I daresay that those who continue in their “cheap grace” will one day find it a most expensive grace indeed.

Paul tells us that we need to examine ourselves now, to see whether indeed, we are in the faith. It is imperative that we should do that now, lest we should be surprised, either to find ourselves not at all in the faith, or basing our faith on our own morals, rather than on the word of God. By all means, examine yourself to find whether or not you pass the test. Nothing less will suffice. And when you find yourself out of accord with the word of God, it is you who must change, and never the word. We should dare not mock the things God has told us—rather let us mock our own poor attitudes, and get busy submitting to that which He declares.

1. Tozer, A. W. (2014-06-14). Keys to the Deeper Life (Kindle Locations 82-83). Chariot eBooks. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, L. S. (1948). Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 327 Kregel Publications
3. Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty


The greatest of all things is the Word, but next to it is music, and perhaps even greater is music that sings the Word.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

What is the difference between the Jew and the Gentile?

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Romans 11:25

In my rather long time of being a Christian, I can remember once having a friend discover that his father was Jewish, and that fact seemed to alter my friend’s understanding of who he was before God. He seemed to think that God now favored him even more. Which, of course, raises a very interesting question: does God make a distinction between the Jew and the Gentile?

The short answer is that it depends on when we are looking at the Jew and the Gentile. During the time of Jesus, the Jew had the experience of being God’s chosen people for thousands of years. Their attitude of being chosen had to be repeatedly rebuked by Jesus, who famously said that God was able to make descendants of Abraham from even rocks (Matthew 3:9). Saul is the epitome of the proud Jew, working for God’s approval in every way, yet without the faith to save one to the uttermost. Remember that Jews were forbidden even to travel through Samaria, which directive Jesus broke for the sake of the Samaritans, still reminding them that “salvation is of the Jews.” What did Jesus mean when he said salvation is of the Jews?

The Bible assures the Jew at every turn that they have been chosen of God. Paul tells us of this yet again in Romans, “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (9:4,5). It was God’s plan all along to choose the Jews as a special and precious people. Here Paul reminds us that the Jewish forefathers received the covenants, the very glory of God himself, and even the covenant of the Law. What are these covenants, and what meaning, if any, do they have for the church today?

The space for this brief answer does not allow for a full development of what covenants are. Instead, I will try to briefly put some of the covenants out for us to look at. Most of us are somewhat familiar with the Mosaic Covenant, which is more easily known by the law. The Mosaic Covenant has a term—it was given until Christ came, who, we are told, was the fulfillment of the Law. Christians often are familiar with this covenant, perhaps because God replaced it with the Covenant of grace, the period which we are now in.

But perhaps we are not so familiar with the Abrahamic Covenant, a covenant from God, made to Abraham unconditionally that one day he will give the land of Israel to his descendants. Not so with the Palestinian covenant, for God made that covenant conditional on the support of Israel, that they should keep the law. There are whole passages throughout the Bible that make it very clear that God is not through with Israel yet, and that he fully intends to bring these covenants to pass. It is most important, I think, to note that God never intended the Palestinian Covenant to be kept; he knew fully well that the task he had given the Jewish people was impossible for them to keep, and that is made very evident from a study of Deuteronomy 29, where Moses accurately predicts their failure, “The Palestinian Covenant gives the conditions under which Israel entered the land of promise. It is important to see that the nation has never as yet taken the land under the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, nor has it ever possessed the whole land (cf. Ge 15.18, with Nu 34.1-12).”1

Thus it can be clearly seen that failure on the part of the Jews was clearly foreseen, and God provided them with a promise given generations before, to Abraham. That includes a promise of future restoration to Israel, and the Bible depicts a scenario where nations all over the world are subjects of this little insignificant nation, Israel. But to get back to the question, how are Jews and Gentiles different?

During this present age, in the Covenant of Grace, the wall between Jew and Gentile has been completely broken down. “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:9). All may approach God, but only in one way, and that is through the doorway of faith. Both Jew and Gentile are condemned as sinners, but to both Jew and Gentile is offered redemption through the price paid upon the cross—Christ coming and freely giving his life.

So, perhaps this question might be answered best in three different ways. Before the coming of Christ, God had separated the Jewish people alone, out of all of the world, and bestowed many of his promises upon them, some conditional promises, but many promises which were not. He arranged the long prophesied one who would bruise the head of the serpent to come through the Jewish people. The Jewish people were indeed the chosen people—a special designation that no other people have ever obtained.

But today, most of these Jews remain disdainful of his provision. So for today, the answer is quite different. There is no difference between Jew or Gentile; all are condemned equally as sinners in need of redemption, and Christ is the only possible place to get that redemption. In the sovereignty of God, we are told that a blindness is over the Jews, but it is only to last for a period of time. “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25). The partial blindness to the nation Israel has allowed the grace of God to be extended to all other peoples, and indeed we see the message of Christ carried throughout the world, being received in many unlikely corners.

In the future, however, the answer will be yet again different, and the Jew will become a people of privilege. “There is abundant prophecy announcing the fact that in the coming kingdom age the Jew will again and forevermore be divinely exalted above the Gentiles (Isa. 14:1,2; 60:12).”2 The very next verse, after the partial blindness of Israel is foretold, Paul exclaims, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (11:25). Zechariah adds to the words of Paul with this, “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (Zach. 14:16).

So I think my friend was wrong about thinking his Jewish heritage gave him benefit; rather it was his faith in Jesus which has garnered for him a place in the family of God. To be called “sons of God”! Can there be any greater heritage?

1. Scofield, Cyrus Ingerson (2011-10-05). Study Bible KJV - Scofield Reference Bible (Kindle Locations 10597-10599). FLT. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. P. 317). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.