The Future Is As Bright As The Promises Of God

Archive for July, 2014

Created For Good Works

“For by grace have you been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB)
If it is true that we are saved by grace, chosen, adopted, blessed by God, not because of what we have done but in spite of what we have done, then why not do anything we please? Why should people take all the trouble to be good if God is going to save them, forgive them, love them anyway?
That question is not explicitly raised in these verses from Ephesians, but it is at least implicit in what Paul says about the love and grace of God.
If the whole story of being a Christian were told in Ephesians 2:8-9, we might well assume that Christians are those who merely hear God’s word of grace in Jesus Christ and then simply sit back and enjoy it. But Paul continues from his opening declaration, “By grace you have been saved…not as a result of works.”
We are saved by God, not for smug, conceited self-righteousness. In fact, God’s grace undercuts any cause for self-righteousness or boasting, as Paul says. We are saved “for good works” (2:10).
We don’t love the poor, feed the hungry, work for justice, pray, give in order to be loved by God. We do these good works because we are loved by God.
I think of it through this analogy. A young man is married to a young woman. He thinks to himself, “I must work had to earn her trust; I must be caring, faithful, and kind so that she will love me.” But the longer the man is married, the more he learns that true marriage is not that way at all. He realizes that he is yoked to one who has given herself totally to him, without conditions, “for better or worse, for richer, for poorer.” He is overwhelmed by her trust of him, deeply humbled that anyone should love him so much, believe in him so deeply.
He finds, to his surprise, that he is a caring, faithful, and kind person. Her love has transformed him. His fidelity to her is not some achievement of his, not something which he tries hard to accomplish. His fidelity is simply his grateful, spontaneous response to her love.
Do you see this as a parallel of our relationship to God? We are God’s “workmanship”, people who have been recreated by God’s love. We who have been the grateful recipients of His good works become those who do good works. Our lives and deeds are but a response, a sort of hymn of thanksgiving, to what God has done to us and for us.

“Who Will Bring A Charge Against God’s Elect?”

“…If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” Romans 8:31-34 (NASB)
“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” Since God is God He is holy, just, and righteous. Can He condemn us? Would He want to condemn us? “It is God who justifies.” God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son and allowed Him to taste death for us, allowed Him to bear our sins in His own body on the cross in order to redeem us. The same God has provided victory, grace, and strength to travel life’s journey. Since God is God, He cannot and He will not bring a charge against one of His born again children.
Would Christ bring a charge against one whom He has saved? Would He condemn one who has trusted in His shed blood and finished work? No. It was Christ who loved us enough to die for us and who even now sits at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us. Christ lives–not to condemn us, but to stand in our place before God the Father.
Can the Holy Spirit bring a charge against God’s elect? No. It is the Spirit who leads us into paths of right living. He abides within our heart to direct us, to assure us, to lead us around the pitfalls of Satan. It is the third Person of the Trinity who seals us until the day of redemption; and although it is possible for the believer to grieve the Spirit, He would not accuse or condemn us.
Can sin condemn us? No–the spotless Son of God was made to be sin for us, and we are justified through His shed blood. When we are in Him, truly born again, we are just as just as Jesus is just; and when God looks upon us He does not see our sin: He sees the blood of Jesus that covers the believer (2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:6,7).
Can Satan condemn us? No–although he would like to! He accuses the brethren (Rev. 12:10), but he cannot condemn us. He is a conquered foe and he knows it. Jesus stood face to face with him and defeated him. He overcame the world, the flesh, the devil, death, hell, and the grave; therefore Satan cannot bring a charge against God’s elect.
Can the Law condemn us? No; because Jesus fulfilled every jot and tittle of the Law and we stand in Him before God as perfect Law-keepers.
Can death condemn us when we come to the end of life’s journey? No. Jesus took a body, and in that body He tasted death for every man. He removed the sting of death for the Christian. He died– but it was not possible that death should hold Him. He rose again–and because He lives, we live.
There is no one in heaven, in earth, or under the earth who can bring a charge against God’s elect.

Pressing On

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NASB)
In a way it is a bit surprising to hear one so wise and experienced in the faith as Paul admit that he had not yet arrived so far as his relationship to Christ was concerned. Paul says he still has some growing to do.
This is refreshing since religious people so often act as if they have already arrived. We sometimes imply that we know everything and have no growing to do. We project the image of the mature Christian as someone who is fixed, closed, and finished.
Sometimes our professed maturity and sureness may not be as mature as we would like it to appear. Psychologists tell us that the so-called true believer who appears to be rock hard in his or her faith may be in fact engaging in a cover-up of troubling inner questions and insecurities.
Children often have an excessive need to be right because they feel that they are so often wrong. Fanatic believers who are always trying to shout everyone else down may, in reality, be desperately trying to convince themselves. For such people Christianity becomes a hard and fast set of rules, a set of proper opinions which must be adhered to. Doubters must be cast out. No questions. The Christian life becomes a closed club for those who are in the know, and don’t ask questions or change their minds. How different in this view of faith from that which Paul expresses. He says that he himself is pressing on, and he urges the Philippians to do the same.
We are a nation of people who expect everything instantly, in a moment, with no risks or costs or pain. We want to be changed, done over, made perfect now. Who wants to wait for God to make us perfect? Who wants to wait to grow up?
So we reduce Christianity to some simplistic package that you can accomplish quickly and without effort. We thus imply that the Christian life is something petty and inconsequential.
Paul knows better. He knows that, when one is dealing with Christ Himself, there are great expectations, great risks, great changes required which may take a great deal of time and effort.
Therefore Paul tells us to join him in pressing on toward “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Beloved Children Of God

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” 1 John 2:1-6 (NASB)
Christian good works flow from a Christian’s identity. You only get apples from an apple tree. You can’t pick apples from a thorn bush! Our being precedes our doing.
Sometimes people say, “Well, we may be members of different denominations, but we are all working to go to the same place.” But Christians are not those who are working hard to get somewhere or to make the grade with God; we are those who have arrived! We are not nobodies earnestly trying to become somebodies. We are royalty, God’s own beloved children.
We don’t have to spend our lives trying to prove our love for God because in Jesus God had proved His love for us. This makes all the difference.
So our good deeds are done because we are God’s children, not in order to be God’s children. We are simply trying to live in accordance with who we are.
“Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). We are surprised to find that, day by day, in our attempt to live the Christian life, to simply be whom we are called to be, we become as we have been called–beloved children of God.
We are those who are given a hope and, because of that hope, live lives which are determined by it. It is a hope which does not let us go, even in–especially in–our sin. Even when we betrayed Him, He did not cease calling us His children.

Is Jesus Your Kind Of Christ?

“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66-69 (NASB)
Some persons have a fixed notion of what the Messiah, the Christ, ought to be. He has to conform to that idea or they will not have Him. The five thousand whom Jesus fed expected a Christ who would deliver them physically from the humiliation of political bondage to Rome. Some of Jesus’ works had led them to believe that He could gain that freedom for them. A new Moses, He could feed them with bread from heaven and do other marvelous things for them. If Jesus would be that kind of Christ, they would gladly have Him.
But we read that “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” How did that come about? Jesus simply refused to be their kind of Christ. He offered Himself to them as “the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:14). He said other things that were strange to their ways of thinking, and it was all too much for them to take.
Have we set the terms on which we will have Jesus? Have we said to ourselves, “If Jesus does thus and so for me, I’ll follow Him”? Often what we do today is not to reject Jesus outright, but to distort His mission and message so as to get rid of Him less painfully. Perhaps we gladly accept the idea of His Saviorhood and reject His Lordship over all of life, or we gladly accept the idea of His demanding Lordship and ignore His gracious Saviorhood. Or we may do other things that minimize His real mission.
Most of us who have met Jesus would be reluctant to give Him up. He has an eternal fascination. But we may be confused and frustrated as to who and what He is and what He expects of us. Among the five thousand who heard Jesus and were fed by Him were many who forsook Him temporarily and later came back to Him to be faithful disciples. A loud minority can work havoc among a confused majority or can confuse a majority and take advantage of it. Looking for leadership, the majority often takes the ideas of a vocal minority too seriously. Suppose a few leaders had openly accepted Jesus’ teaching. Would most of the people gone along with them? We don’t know, of course. But it is quite likely. Years ago, a famous preacher presented a sermon on the theme, “The Hope of the World (Is) in Its Minorities.” But ignorant, prejudiced, selfish minorities can cause great mischief–as can majorities when confused in value judgments.
Who stirred up the crowd that wanted to make Jesus King? Who cause the confusion? Could it have been Jesus’ own disciples? They were slow to understand His teaching and His plans. Mark tells us that Jesus made His disciples go to the other side of the lake. Was it because the disciples themselves had added to the popular misunderstanding about the Messiah and about Jesus in particular? It is certainly true that sometimes Jesus’ truest friends make it difficult for others to believe in Him and take Him for what He actually is. Some potential disciples, therefore, have to wait for the air to clear a bit before they are ready to commit themselves to Jesus.
It must have been appalling when many went away from Jesus disappointed. Doubtless Jesus felt the pain of it and the disciples shared Jesus’ pain. Was this the way to win a world to God?
The disciples could have parted company with Jesus then. The situation was right. They were free. “You do not want to go away also, do you” Jesus asked.
Jesus does not force us to follow Him or to continue to follow Him. The best religion is free, spontaneous response to the promise and challenge of God’s love. The community has to compel its citizens to conform to certain forms of behavior. It does this through laws, courts, and certain judgments. However, every true Christian is a Christian by his own choice. God has given us the freedom to walk out–anytime. But Simon Peter replied to Jesus’ question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
As far as the disciples were concerned, all escape routes were closed. The disciple, of course, could walk away from Jesus physically; they could join the departing crowd physically. Nothing could prevent that. But psychologically and spiritually they could not leave. They were too closely bound to Him by love and conviction to ever leave Him. Staying with Jesus was their hearts’ deepest desire. In Him they had discovered the depths of reality; eternal life, the experience of God.
How can we explain it when a man stands with a minority–or even alone–on some vital issue? Or doggedly goes on believing in God when others around him are losing their faith one by one? Or faces crushing tragedy without giving up? The answer is very simple: Jesus Christ has given them something–an illuminating experience of God–that brings meaning to life. Because of what Jesus has done, there is something to live for, and even die for. Simon Peter would no doubt have a hard time explaining all his reasons for continuing with Jesus, but he put his finger on the basic, the most important reason: none can measure up to Jesus Christ in answering our deepest needs, especially our need for God.

God’s Promises

God didn’t promise days without pain,
laughter without sorrow or sun without rain.
But God did promise strength for the day,
comfort for the tears and a light for the way.
And for all who believe in His kingdom of love,
He answers their faith
with peace from above.

Living The New Life

“But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Galatians 2:17-21 (NASB)
As one draws near to Christ, his sinfulness becomes more apparent to himself. “Is Christ then a minister of sin?” Paul’s answer is the strongest possible negative, “May it never be!” [“God forbid” (KJV)]. To suggest it is almost irreverent. As a mirror shows a man that his face is dirty, so Christ reveals to a man his sin. To break the mirror does not clean the man’s face. To deny Christ does not cleanse a man’s sins. Just as there is provision for cleansing one’s face, so Christ offers cleansing for one’s sins. The mirror has rendered the man a service in revealing his dirty face; Christ renders the sinner a service in convicting him of his need for salvation.
The Jews believed that when Paul ceased to observe the requirements of the Mosaic Law, he became a transgressor. He turned the argument about and said that since Christ had justified him from all his sins, he would be a transgressor only if he should continue to try to work out his salvation by deeds of righteousness and ceremonies.
When one realizes that he cannot save himself and casts himself upon the mercy of God, he finds that God is more gracious than he expected Him to be. God forgives him of all his sins (Rom. 8:1), adopts him as His own son (John 1:12), and gives to him eternal life (John 3:16). If an earthly judge should pardon a criminal who has confessed freely, the judge would be considered incompetent.
Is it just for the holy God to forgive sinners? Those who object to salvation by grace on the basis that it is unfair to let a sinner go free without suffering the just penalty of his sins, overlook the fact that whenever God justifies a man (forgives his sins and proclaims him in right relationship with Himself), God also regenerates him. He changes his whole moral disposition so that he now loves what Christ loves and hates what Christ hates. He is born from above (John 3:7), a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). The saved man is free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law. The new man he has become is one in whose heart Christ abides to give guidance and direction. He will not be as good as Jesus Christ, but he will sincerely want to be. Dedication to the will of God is a sure sign that one is justified. If one lacks this dedication, he needs to quit trying to save himself by works and to cast himself in humble faith in Jesus Crist upon the mercy of God.
If the keeping of the Law could have saved, there would have been no purpose in Christ’s death. The necessity for His death is proof that there was no other way. Anyone who ever has or ever will be saved will be saved by the grace of God, and not because he has earned the right by his own goodness. God’s grace is in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); nor is any other needed. Salvation by some other way would make unnecessary the grace of God.

Practice What You Preach

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14 (NASB)
Inside a barber shop is a man getting a haircut. Leaning against the wall outside is the sign he has been carrying around on the street: “The world will end today.” You have to wonder if the man is serious about what he is preaching.
This probably sounds like possible subject matter for a cartoon. Surely no one would actually do this. But how about the preacher who uses Scripture and charts to predict an immediate date for Christ’s return while at the same time putting funds into a retirement plan for the future? What is lacking in both illustrations is consistency. “Practice what you preach” surely applies.
Christians need to ask themselves how well do we practice what we preach regarding the second coming. We say we believe that Christ will return one day to judge the world. Have we done everything we need to do to be ready to stand before the Judge? We say we want to live forever in the presence of God. But are we preparing now for that kind of existence by saying no to our sinful habits, by spending as much time as we can in personal devotion and corporate worship, and by actively participating in Christian service? We need to do more than just talk and sing about the return of Christ. We need to live in a way that shows that we are serious about our hope for the future.
The grace of God obligates us to live a godly lifestyle, not in order to earn our salvation, but because we are compelled to express our gratitude in this way. A heart truly changed by God’s grace will reflect that change by denying ungodliness, that is, saying no to any temptation to do something that violates God’s standards.
Paul also warns against the influence of worldly lusts. And John writes in his first epistle, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves 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 boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” Though we live in this present world, we are called to live differently.
Our gratitude for what God has done to provide for our forgiveness and salvation should motivate us. We also have a wonderful hope that encourages faithfulness and obedience: Jesus has promised that He will return. Certainly Christians who are looking forward to Jesus’ return, and who consider themselves citizens of His eternal kingdom, have a desire to honor their Lord by following Him and learning to live “sensibly, righteously and godly.” To learn such in this present world means we will be prepared for the next, where righteousness and godliness will be the rule.

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