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.