Agonizomai: November 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Four Sermons on Hell
It's not a nice subject and it is a doctrine that is always under attack in every generation - but hell is a reality that bears its share of being preached about. Below is the first in a four-part series on hell, delivered by Pastor Ted Donelly at the 1997 Family Conference at the Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane, NC.

The full sermon listing can be found and downloaded and/or listened to by following this link.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

God's Anger with the Wicked
Luke 6:32-35 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

As usual for me, I got into a spot of controversy with some brothers during a Wednesday Bible study. We were into Luke 6 where a version of the Sermon on the Mount was being given. In verse 35 of that chapter, we are exhorted to be like God - kind and loving to our enemies. But me, being me, I felt the need to balance this scripture with John 3:17-18 and Psalm 7:11 just to preserve the idea that, though God is indeed love, and that He is indeed merciful, He never ceases to be angry with sinners.

Some people love to employ the hackneyed phrase that "God loves sinners and hates their sin", as if sin was something that has existence apart from those who commit it - or as if people were not sinners by nature and because of their very essence. The real truth is that we are inseparable from what we are - out of which springs what we do. When God looks at us, the love He has is generated entirely from His own Being and not on account of what He perceives in us. We ourselves are altogether repulsive to Him. We are the unlovely - corrupt, already condemned (unless we are in Christ). There is nothing whatsoever in us to recommend us to God.

So God is not just angry with the wicked things we do, but with the wicked beings that we are, and that anger must ultimately be satisfied. Was it satisfied on your behalf when it was unleashed upon Christ, or does it still abide upon you now, and for all eternity unless you repent? Here's one attempt at explaining wrath...

I'm not so sure I agree with Mr. Eaton (above), or with Charles Hodge's commentary on Romans when God's wrath is stripped of its emotional content and presented as a sort of dispassionate, arm's length, cerebral thing. I appreciate the effort to balance God's love and His wrath, but the way to balance is never to let the extremes be muted for the sake of harmony. It is to recognize the extremes as being part of a whole that is larger than each individually. The richness is in the extremes properly balanced and not in the extremes dulled by denial.

In Rev 14:10 we are given the picture of the lake of fire where the devil and His angels and anyone who worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. Try as I might, I cannot regard this as some dispassionate expression of the theological qualities of God. This is a passionate hatred of sin and rebellion. It is a just wrath, untainted with sin but not devoid of emotion.

But we are not God. We are tainted by sin and dwelling in sinful flesh. So we cannot truly have righteous anger towards sinners. That is for God alone. We can express passionately God's wrath towards sinners as contained in His Word. And we can strive to be yielded as instruments of His mercy and love by including the whole counsel of God in our teaching, including His violent and unquenchable indignation at all sin and, by necessity, all those individual people who commit sin - which leaves nobody out, except those who are now safely in Christ.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
The Great Theme - Part 3
Alien Righteousness

Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."

It cannot be emphasized enough that it is the righteousness of God that is revealed through the gospel to those who believe. To those who do not believe, the gospel is like the parables that are not revealed to the crowds so that “hearing they might not hear…” Nobody can have even the faintest inkling of God’s purity, holiness and justice apart from faith in what He says of Himself in the Living and the written Word.

More than this, no Christian should ever misunderstand that it is always and ever God’s righteousness with which we have to do. We are not righteous. We cannot be righteous. We never own the righteousness in which we stand in Christ. We stand in His righteousness alone. It is imputed to us through faith, but it is not ours. There is none righteous but God. That is the point of the gospel, as we shall see.

Never think you have attained righteousness, but rather think of the Lord God Almighty expressing His righteousness in and through you, now and for eternity. This is why the gospel says, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” He who is righteous in his own right is dead already.

So, I wouldn’t recommend seeing Christianity as the means by which you can acquire righteousness in your own right. Such concepts have forever passed away for those in Christ. It is not Christ and us, or we and Christ together, acting as independent beings, one perfectly righteous and the other gradually getting there. No! Our righteousness is in Christ. We are betrothed to Him in the Spirit. As we abide in Him and He in us we abide in His righteousness.

This will dispel many wrong ideas and any false sense of self-esteem, self-worth, or self-anything else. That concept of self died with Christ, and now there is only Christ joined to us and we to Him. Two persons unified in Spirit. A whole catholic church body unified in Spirit. Christ and His bride.

So here is Paul’s great précis of the gospel. It is a glorious demonstration of the power and wisdom of God by which He has made sinners to be justified in His sight. This is seen and received through faith alone.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Last Enemy
"For the unbeliever, death is the end of all joys, whereas for the believer, death is the end of all griefs".

Matthew Henry

NOT the Enemy

To my American readers both at home and abroad - Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
The Great Theme - Part 2
The Necessity of Faith

Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."
The power of God in the gospel is effective only for those who believe. That does not mean that the gospel should be preached only to believers. Jesus commanded that the gospel be preached to every creature under heaven. We proclaim God’s fully trustworthy promise that whoever repents and believes the gospel will be saved. We never know who will believe because that knowledge rests with God. We trust, we pray, we preach the Word – all in obedience to the command of the very Lord Who saved us.

We hope that our preaching is the very means that God has ordained for the salvation of some souls – often very specific souls who are close to us. And, though only God can save, when we walk in the means which He has given us to bring the gospel message, we will discover that we are the will of God, yielded to what He purposed to do from eternity. Let us be foolish. Let us do what seems silly to the world, or what we expect may cause others to roll their eyes, snort or heap disdain upon us. They did this to Christ.

When we speak of the power in the gospel to save people, we simply mean that the gospel is spirit (spiritual truth) and is the means the Holy Spirit uses to bring them to a decision, to move them to walk down an aisle, to say a prayer of acceptance. But is that all the gospel does? Does it stop there? No! The gospel is for those that believe, and it is the power of God unto salvation for them, through the process of sanctification by the Spirit.

Remember that salvation, though we often speak of its various aspects separately, consists of all three of these things – justification, sanctification and glorification. In final glorification faith will be replaced by sight. But in the first two it is the power of God at work in those who believe (and keep on believing) the gospel. Therefore the whole gospel needs to be given to the church continually. And what is that gospel? It is the good news of Jesus Christ, foreshadowed in Genesis 3:15 and throughout the Old Testament, revealed in the gospels themselves and concluded in Revelation 22. In other words, the complete gospel is the whole of the Bible.

The phrase “from faith to faith” might mean from the OT faith to the NT faith, signifying that faith was always the means by which God saved. Or it might refer to the growth of faith through experiential obedience in the same sense that, “To him who has will more be given, and he will have in abundance, but from he that has not will be taken away even that which he has.” {Matthew 13:12}

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'm A Slow Reader
(and learner - but that's another story)

Yes, I'm still reading "Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)" by DeYoung and Kluck . I think I started back in June or July. But I got side tracked during my visit to the UK when I started reading a real page turner that my Dad gave to me called, "This Sceptered Isle 55BC-1901 (From the Roman Invasion to Queen Victoria)" by Christopher Lee. 650 pages of pure unadulterated mayhem, including blood, treachery, the repeal of the corn laws and antidisestablishmentarianism. You gotta be a Brit at heart to love the stuff.

Anyway, here's another quote from a Kevin DeYoung chapter entitled "Jesus: Bringer of Peace and Bearer of Wrath." Try fitting that into your emergent world view. And, yes (to my Mongolian-based reader(s)), I still think this is a book worth buying.

"There's a reason the bulk of every gospel deals with the last week of Jesus' life. Because they're Gospels! Absolutely, the gospel has ethical implications. Believing the gospel means learning to obey all that Jesus' commands (Matt 28:19-20). It is right and good for social action to be a partner of evangelism. But the gospel is not the summons to live a life that betters the world. The gospel message is a message about Jesus' life, death and resurrection. As I've heard John Piper say, we are meant to read the Gospels backwards. That's why Matthew announces in chapter 1, 'you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins' (Matt 1:21)"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
The Great Theme - Part 1
The Power of the Gospel

Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."

Paul, having greeted the Romans and given the context for his epistle to them, comes immediately to his summary of the gospel, before launching into a fuller explanation of it all.

The power to save and to effect changes in sinful people is not in people themselves, but in the gospel. It is the God-ordained means by which those who believe are saved. Not every one gets this. The world doesn’t, for God says this about the world:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. {1Co 1:18}
Many Christians get this when it comes to their personal salvation, but are somehow thrown completely off track when it comes to what the world needs. No one was ever saved apart from hearing the gospel, because that is how faith in Christ comes.
So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. {Romans 10:17}
Cornelius (Acts 10) – a Gentile, and a just man – though he was marked for salvation by God, still had to actually hear the gospel before he received Christ. As God was drawing him to Christ, God was also preparing the messenger through whom the Word of Life would come. Peter did not show up at Cornelius’ home and talk politics, social reform or to try to discover Cornelius’ “felt needs”. He gave him the gospel, as God had commanded him to do. (see Acts 10: 34-43 and verse 44 for the actual moment when, upon hearing the gospel, Cornelius received Christ) As a part of the delivery of the gospel, Peter said in verse 42:
…and He (Jesus) commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that He is the One ordained by God…
The power is in the gospel – not in the messenger, nor in the methods the messenger uses. Today many Christians, especially Christian leaders, have lost faith in the power of the gospel. They have substituted for trust in the power of the gospel mere methodologies calculated by their human reason to “set the mood”, to prepare the way or otherwise manipulate the circumstances.

Much more could be said about the historical rise of this way of thinking, and of its devastating effect upon the faith. This is neither the time nor the place. Suffice it to say that, when we preach the gospel to sinners, the power of God Almighty is brought to bear – not because we preach it, but because God said it is so. If that is not enough for us then what would be? Contrary to the preaching in liberal and postmodern pulpits, Christ never catered to any “felt need” in his hearers. He addressed their actual need, which was the need to repent of their sin. All of the sermons in Acts are clear in addressing the problem facing the hearers. The problem is sin. {Acts 2:23, 36; 3:19, 26; 7:51-53; 10:43; 13:40; 17:30-31}

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Free Hair Curling

O.K. So I like gentle preaching as I mentioned in this post. But I also like good old fashioned Southern Baptist, fire-in-the-belly preaching that cuts right to the heart. I need both. I would venture to say we all need both. I would even go so far as to say it is impossible to have a glimpse of the One True God apart from hearing both the kindness and severity of God. Some preachers can deliver both, but not many. That's why I listen to a broad spectrum of good preaching. Here, then, on the scale of Mexican jalapeno hotness, is a mild/medium "burner" that will slightly curl your hair... the really hot stuff may come next Sunday when your taste buds have accustomed somewhat.

The Discoveries of an Awakened Soul
Henry Mahan - Zebulon Baptist Church

Now go feel comfortable with your religion... [/smile}

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blog Update
It may seem to some as if we have been dawdling around forever in a sort of introductory phase without getting to the red meat of this early part of Romans. It's probably on account of this that subscriptions have dwindled a bit. O well! It is what it is. I could no more skip the beautiful evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of God's Apostle, as seen in the totally unself-conscious fruit displayed in his writing, than I could pass over the terrible truths about human nature that are coming up in the following posts. So put your hard hats on!

There are about 44 more posts to go that deal specifically with the first three chapters of Romans. This will take about 15 weeks and should bring us into early March, 2009.

After that there is likely going to be a study on 'Letters to Seven Churches' about the first three chapters of Revelation, followed by a smaller study of Malachi and then something massive on Hebrews.

At some point I will probably switch my template over from the old blogger to the new one. This will cause some disruption - most likely in the way things look rather than in whether or not things get posted. It might take me a while to get things right. Remember, "tribulation works patience", right?

Romans 1:16 - 2:1 - Summary Charts

You really do need the chart to follow the argument of Paul. Click on the picture for a larger on line view. Download the chart in MSWord format from here.

The following adjunct chart is designed to be overlaid on the prior chart. Cut out the inside of the cross shape and overlay it in front of the one above for a synopsis of what Christ did for His people on the cross.

Everything horizontal is God's gift to us; everything vertical beneath Christ is our contribution. Download this chart in MSWord format here.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 11
Duty and Worship (v. 13-15)

Romans 9:13-15 I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul knows that God has called him for a purpose – to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He is thereby obligated to do it…
For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. {1Corinthians 9:16-17}
It is a duty to God arising from God’s commission to Him. But if duty was all it was then the Christian life would be a joyless dirge, little removed from all the legalistic observances of the law. There is nothing wrong with duty, and we do indeed owe a duty to God to be obedient to our calling. More than this, we will be held accountable for how we discharge that duty.

But Paul understands more than mere duty. There is no holding back, no dragging of the heels, no half-heartedness, no resentment, no sense of imposition in Paul – he is eager to preach the gospel. He lives for it. He loves it. This is infinitely more than the joyless execution of a duty – it is a form of worship.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. {1Timothy 1:15-17}
This is what Christ had done for His saints. He has freed us from blind slavery to works, to mere observance, to slavish duty – and He has made us willing and joyful slaves of righteousness. We serve gladly, though we still serve. The burden is light.

Is the burden light for you? Is it pure joy to be found serving God? Or do you feel the weight, do you struggle against the martyr syndrome, against subliminal resentments? Are there murmurings? Do you derive perverse pleasure from grumbling while resentfully doing what you feel you must? Is there enthusiasm or dejection in your walk? Do you give in joyful liberality? Do you serve with glad lightness of heart? Do you teach with enthusiasm, preach with rejoicing conviction, exhort others with sincere and burning hope in the Lord?

Ask yourself if the Christian life is a mere duty or an expression of worship for you. Ask God to give you the grace to so press into Him until every fibre of your being wants to run to do His will with gladness and thanksgiving, so that your cup will run over, and others will sup from the overflow. Paul did.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brother Lawrence Speaks
No! - Not That One!
The first great calling of any congregation is not to build a larger building, to raise more money for missions, or even to evangelize its neighbourhood. The first great calling of any congregation is to be family. Nurtured by the warmth of Christ's love as this is expressed through brothers and sisters who care, God's people are "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God". And Christ, filling our lives, will then reach out through us to win not just our neighbourhood but the world.

Lawrence O. Richards - "The 365 Day Devotional Commentary" - Ephesians

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 10
Mutual Encouragement of the Saints (v. 12)

Romans 1:11-12 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–– 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Integral to the gospel is the doctrine of the body of Christ, into which every believer is placed with specific gifts to be exercised for the building up of the body in love. The Corinthian church from which this epistle to the Romans was written was, without doubt, the poorest example of the proper working of body ministry that we have been given. Thank the Lord again for this! Because their need for correction produced a record of right doctrine for the rest of us about the proper operation of the Spirit.

Early in Romans we see Paul practicing, or rather yearning to practice, mutual body ministry with the saints in Rome. Here is an Apostle of the Lord, an eyewitness of His resurrected glory, a man uniquely gifted and used of God throughout much of the known world of the time speaking not only of imparting some gift to the Roman saints, but fully aware that the Roman saints are there for his own upbuilding. For He knows that the Lord is the builder in all His saints, working through each of them to bless the others. Do we see this? Do we really see it? Do we understand and accept that Christ alone is the builder of His church, though we labour in the building of it?
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. {Psalm 127:1}

…upon this rock (Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Christ) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. {Matthew 16:18b}
Much of what is wrong in Western Christianity today is that we have forgotten this truth. We still pay lip service to it. But we have begun to treat the church like a business to which we attract clients who have “felt needs” that must be met. And we bring worldly means into the church, bowing down at the altar of mega-size madness, success in numbers, the herd mentality, pragmatism and humanism. We water down the truths of the gospel so that they will be appealing to the widest possible “market”. We think that God is depending upon us to build His church and we rush off into fleshly, misdirected and fruitless works governed by worldly methods. The Bible doesn’t teach that! God doesn’t need us at all – He deigns (grants, condescends) to include us in what He is doing, when we seek and obey Him, under the leading of His Spirit. Which of these is our attitude? Which of these do we do – as individuals and as a body of believers?

Christ taught this truth. Paul knew and taught this truth. It is the gospel we first received. It is the gospel that has been corrupted by new methods aimed at producing “predictable” results based on our fallen human thinking and our carnal methodologies. God does indeed use means to achieve His ends – and He may use any of the things in the world, including business methods, buildings, calculations, statistical analysis, wages, meetings, telecommunications, computers – things without number. Things that are neither good nor evil of themselves. They are neutral. But, being neutral, they can be used for good or evil. And it is only in Christ that we can be sure that we use these things for good.

So let us abide in Him. Let us trust Him to do what He purposes to do, which is to build His church. Let us give ourselves – that is, let us present our bodies a living sacrifice to Him for Him to use, to build up the saints, to minister to them, to disciple, to bring to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ all those brothers and sisters whom He has called out of the world. Let us do that part that He has given to us, remembering that not all are eyes or ears or legs, and by trusting God to work all things together through the diversity of saints that He has supplied to our local body.

In later chapters of Romans we shall come to examine the interactions between believers in the body. As with all parts of the Christian life it is both simple in concept and, due to our own missing the mark, elusive in practice

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Do You Have a Strange Mind?
Every now and then I like to post something a bit zany. It clears and refocuses the brain and keeps me mindful that I am a member of the human race, foibles and all. Besides, the Puritans were very suspicious of people who were constantly being "spiritual". Their experience taught them that such people often burned out because their "spirituality" was in the flesh and not actually in the Spirit at all. So here goes...

Do You Have a Strange Mind?

Cna yuo raed tihs? fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulatcly uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.

The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

[author unknown]

Monday, November 17, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 9
Praying in God’s Will (v. 9-10)

Romans 1:9-10 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.

Our Lord taught us to pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our life’s hope, aim and chiefest joy is that we be found doing the will of God. Christ did only what He saw the Father doing. He came to do only the Father’s will. He emptied Himself. In all things we, too, are to be seeking the will of God. We wish to see His will done in the same way it is done in heaven – instantly, gratefully, joyfully, unquestioningly, lovingly. Oh, how this body of death clings and draws down the new man to detract from the attainment of that purest of hopes!

But the Apostle Paul displays most unself-consciously his absolute commitment to the will of God. His prayers for the Roman church seek God’s will first, above his own desire to be with them sharing in Christ. Even this good and desirable aim is subjected to God’s will and timing. Is this true of us? Are we clinging to the promise of old that…
Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in thee. {Isaiah 26:3}
When we pray, though we plead and ask and seek – sometimes importunately – are we nevertheless ready to submit to God’s answer, whatever that may be? Paul was. He wanted to go to Rome and prayed God to bring it about, but accepted in his deepest being that it would not happen unless God willed it. Where is the room for disappointment to a heart thus submitted? Is God able to disappoint? Will He ever? Not ever. So if it does not come to pass despite our prayers we may keep on praying until God’s will is clear to us, but we shall have learned patience, submission and obedience in the meantime.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon of the Week Prologue
The "sermon" in the post immediately following is one that I wrote. I've never delivered it to a congregation because I'm not a pastor or an elder - nor have I been called to be such. Besides, at a little over 40 minutes, it's probably twice as long as the average congregant is used to in a lot of churches these days. [/smile]

By making it "sermon of the week" I'm not saying that it's notable - just that it is the sermon chosen by me this week. You can just listen along or read as you go. No pretty pictures with this one, though. Don't forget to download the outline. Enjoy.

Sermon of the Week
Lamech and Enoch

Here is a link to an outline document that will help you in following the sermon. And, in case you want to read along or just read instead of listening, here is a download link to the full written sermon in MSWord format

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Reynolds Wrap...
“The sovereignty of God does not override the want, the will, the tears, the cry of his children; but does, in the first instance, express itself through that very want — those tears and those strong desires. It is not that man changes God’s purpose, but that man verily and indeed discovers that purpose through his own earnest prayer.”

W. R. Reynolds

Friday, November 14, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 8
Gratitude Toward God (v. 8)

Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

Naturally, the first thing we shall come to when we apprehend God’s love for us – His grace in electing and calling us in His dear Son, of His paying the price for what we were and what we did – is an attitude of gratitude. How can we help ourselves? We sing with John Newton, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see!” – or with Horatio Spafford we exult, even in the midst of great personal tragedy, “It is well, it is well with my soul!”

Paul never ceased to give thanks. Thanksgiving is all over His epistles both by example and in exhortation to his hearers. All thanks is due to God. We render honour to whom honour is due etc. {Romans 13:7} – but our lifelong prevailing attitude for the gift of eternal life and all the graces of our sanctification, when we deserved and could not avoid eternal punishment, is thanksgiving towards God. We thank Him in all things and in all circumstances.

Lost a job? Thank God! Diagnosed with cancer? Thank God! Friend or a loved one died? Thank the Lord! Because there is not one thing that can enter the life of a saint that is not for his good, having passed through the all-knowing will of the Father Who loves us with an everlasting love. In His supreme power and all-knowing love He has already determined how to use even the corruption among which we live, and which still hangs on in us, to form us into the image of His Son. We hear the wisdom of God in Solomon saying to us…
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. {Proverbs 3:5-6}
Therefore be thankful in all things, like Paul. Don’t confuse the matter with feelings. It is “natural” to feel down, to be depressed, to know fear or grief. Gratitude has nothing to do with how you feel. Gratitude is the posture of the heart towards God in the midst of all circumstances – whether good or bad. We shall say with Paul…
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me; you were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. {Philippians 4:10-11}
Active thanksgiving leads to a grateful heart. You may never be grateful if you wait to feel that way. On the other hand, if you express thanks sincerely and humbly towards God in all things you may indeed come to feel grateful. Let us give a sacrifice of praise to God in the bad times, for I am persuaded that it is far more precious to God than our often feeble thanks when things are going well. Remember David, who at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” {2Samuel 24:24} Let that be the attitude of our heart, even though we actually have nothing that we did not first receive.

Paul displays a gladness of heart and uncomplicated gratitude towards God that God has been pleased to call some people in Rome. He is thankful that the effectualness of that call is displayed by the character and fruit of their lives of obedience, as told throughout the known world. Does Paul thank the Roman saints themselves? No! He encourages them by thanking God. He sets the example for them by thanking God. He shows none of that false sensitivity that would puff up the minds of the Roman saints by attributing anything of their witness to themselves. It is all of grace and all of Christ.

Do we give opportunity for others to stumble by failing to give the glory to God in all things? Do we subtly flatter others when we should glorify the God of grace at work in them? Why not thank God in their hearing? If they are truly His, will they not acknowledge His hand? Can we not openly say that we thank God that they are so honest, so hardworking, so helpful, so…whatever?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Even the Pope Agreed
'If anyone makes the assistance of grace [to believe the gospel] depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).'

Second Council of Orange 529AD

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 7
Peace with God (v. 7)

Romans 1:7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Paul says , “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he is speaking specifically to “all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints”. Peace with God is for the saints, not for the world. The wrath of God abides on the world of unbelievers. Those who have not believed are already under condemnation. {John 3:17-18, Ro 1:18-19}

For those in Christ there is love, joy and peace…this is the order that the fruit appears – for we love when we realize He loves us and we abide in His love; we enter into joy as we begin to understand that our eternal disposition in Christ was decided by God alone before the world began; and we have peace in our hearts as we begin to comprehend that God is not against us, but for us in all things, on account of His predetermined purpose from eternity.

This sort of peace the world cannot give. The world’s peace is fragile, temporary and dependent upon human fickleness. God’s peace depends only upon the eternal unchanging Almighty Himself, and upon the active faith in His ultimate expression of love that He gives to all those who are effectually called.

It is through believing in this faithfulness of God, believing that He loves us, that He will bring to completion in us the good work He started unto the day of Jesus Christ {Phil 1:6} – through absolute trust in the God of these facts and promises – that we work out our salvation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Effect of God's Love
"His (the child of God's) feet plucked from the horrible pit and planted on the Eternal Rock, his heart thrilled with an adoring gratitude, his soul conscious of a Divine love that will never forsake him and a Divine energy that in him and through him is working out eternal purposes of good, he is girded with invincible strength. In a nobler sense than Napoleon ever dreamed, he knows himself to be a 'man of destiny.' "

E.W. Smith - "The Creed of the Presbyterians"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 6
Belovedness in Christ (v. 7)

Romans 1:7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All who are called to be saints with the effectual call are beloved of God in a special way. Contrast the two scriptures…
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. {John 3:16-18}

There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. {Romans 3: 9-10 but citing Psalms 14: 1-3 and 53: 1-3}
They are both the Word of God. They are both true. Yet we can make assumptions that make them seem contradictory at first glance. The full explanation is that God sent His Son to a world that not only had universally rejected Him, but that He knew would continue to universally reject Him, if left to their own devices. The cross of Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the wisdom of God to those who are being saved. What makes the difference in a person’s mind? The scriptures say that it is God. He elects, he calls, He draws with the bands of love, so we are able to say with Jeremiah…
The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. {Jer 31:3}
Therefore “the Apostle whom Jesus loved” declares to us…
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. {1John 3:1}
It does not say that we asked, but that God gave, or bestowed upon us that degree of love that we are called His children. We certainly came to ask Him when we received Christ upon hearing the gospel. But our response, the Bible assures us, was entirely due to the mighty working of His Spirit. He prepared our hearts, He sent the messenger, He gave the Son, He issued forth the word by which came our faith and He opened our ears to hear it. Our acceptance inevitably flows from His actions as Almighty God and Sovereign Lord and Saviour, because He did all that was necessary for each one of His elect to be brought to saving faith.

This is why I feel so sad for those who thirst after the outwardly miraculous, rather than after the God whose every movement is itself a miracle. What greater miracle can there possibly be than when God saves a soul from corruption, hell, judgment and death? By any human standard it is impossible. Nobody, left to themselves, even wants to be saved because they love sin too much. The devil tempts and lies, the flesh corrupts and the world seduces in a dazzling mesmerization from which no human being can possibly hope to deliver himself. But God saves some. And each one that is saved has needed the kind of love that only God could express. A love that would not be denied. A love that loved until the end. A love that suffered all that we ought to have suffered at the hand of God’s omnipotent wrath. A love that wounded and grieved and, yes hurt God to the very depths of His own Being.

Let us not say that we love God as if we have “worked up” something out of ourselves that other poor wretches have not. That would be unbiblical, vain and proud. Let us rather marvel at the love of God…
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. {1Jo 4:10}

We love, because he first loved us. {1Jo 4:19}
Abiding in God’s love for us in Christ is what will produce much fruit. How? Because if we live in the full knowledge, acceptance and understanding of it, we are gloriously free from the world, the flesh, the devil, the power of sin and its sting. We shall exult with Paul in saying…
“If God be for us, who can be against us!” {Romans 8:31}

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sermon of the Week
Easy Believism and False Teachers
Now Here's a gifted saint who can speak to the causes, effects and consequences of false teachers in the church...

The Popularity Of False Teachers Explained
Lamar Martin - Grace Church of North Atlanta

Saturday, November 08, 2008

"A God without wrath, led men without sin, into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." - H. Richard Neibuhr

Friday, November 07, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 5
Faith and Obedience (v. 5-6)

Romans 1:5-6 ...Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ...

When we come to the subject of sanctification in later chapters, this topic will be greatly expanded upon. Like some haunting theme in the first movement of one of Beethoven’s symphonies, and which will be expanded, developed and resolved throughout the whole piece, we are given the first taste of the coming explanation of faith and obedience (v 5). One without the other is absolutely meaningless. We look at Christ Who had perfect faith and we see perfect obedience. He came not to do His own will but the will of the Father. Perfect obedience. This is the Christ we have received, if we are truly His, and His is the character we will display if we abide in Him. If we love Him we will keep His commandments. If we say we love Him and we do not do as he says we are liars and the truth (which is Christ) is not in us.
And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says "I know him" but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. {1John 2:3-6}
There is no point in beating around the bush. If you aren’t in Christ wouldn’t you like to know right up front so that you can get it put right? We must talk plainly, both inside and outside the church. We speak the truth in love. Speaking in love can mean being gentle, but it never means being equivocal or evasive. The purpose of faith is obedience. Why? Because when we obey God then His will is being done in us and we are vessels of the Living God Himself, given to accomplish His purposes, and invested with all the power of His Spirit, through faith.

But if we say we believe – that we have walked the aisle, prayed the prayer or committed our lives to Him - and yet we still walk as we did when we were pagans then we deceive ourselves. The purpose of faith is to bring about obedience and, by it, holiness. If there is no obedience we need to ask if we truly have saving faith. We need to face this as a people, as a church body and as individual saints.

The doctrine of sanctification (through the obedience of faith) has been all but lost in many of today’s churches – both the traditional and the charismatic churches. It has been replaced with a doctrine that contemplates only God’s love, that tacitly preaches a false security, happiness without holiness and regeneration without true repentance. We will attempt to recover the proper doctrine as Paul develops his gospel in later chapters.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Wages of a Fallen Will
"The greatest judgment which God Himself can, in this present life, inflict upon a man is, to leave him in the hand of his own boasted free-will." - Augustus Toplady

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Romans Chapter 1
Paul's Gospel, Paul's Testimony Part 4
Sovereign Grace (vv.5, 7)

Romans 1: 5, 7 ...Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations...7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We cannot delve into Romans properly unless we understand the meaning of “grace” – a word introduced by Paul early in the epistle. In the matter of justification, Grace is simply mercy shown to undeserving beings who have no desire nor any hope of making themselves right with God through their own efforts. ‘"Grace"… is an attitude on God’s part that proceeds entirely from within Himself, and that is conditioned in no way by anything in the objects of His favor.’ (ISBE)
Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago* {2Timothy 1: 8-9} (* literally “before the age of time”)
We use the word “grace” so much that it is easy to gloss over it and take it for granted. Let us be sure we understand it, because Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, chose this Greek word “charis” so that there could be no misunderstanding as to what was entailed. We are saved by grace alone. That is one of the cornerstones of Paul’s argument, rediscovered by the Reformers after it had been all but buried in dogma by an apostate church. Saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Some people today believe that we are saved by grace, but that we must still do something, such as “accept the free offer of salvation”. They are almost right. We must indeed accept the offer in order to be saved. But, as we shall see, we will not accept the offer unless God moves us to do so in the first place. Do we want to come before God claiming that we did something a brother did not – that we accepted Christ out of our own good sense, our reasonableness, our more sensitive nature, our more moral choice? You go ahead! As for me I will emulate Thomas Hooker.

Thomas Hooker was a great Puritan preacher in the Connecticut colony in the mid-1600’s. After a life of faithful service, he was upon his deathbed, surrounded by friends who sought to encourage and to comfort him. “Brother Thomas,” they said, “Be of good cheer, for you are going to receive your reward.” Thomas replied, “Friends, I am going to receive mercy.”

The more we let go of seeking any merit in our acceptance of Christ the more joy we shall have. It is counter-intuitive to the carnal vestiges of the human mind, for we desperately wish to be, of ourselves, the source of some contribution to our justification, no matter how miniscule – and we will even grasp at the credit for accepting a free, unmerited gift while we were in state of rebellion against the giver. I don’t believe that God leaves that for us. And I believe that He does not for a good purpose, which He states in Romans 8 and 9…
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. {Romans 8:29-30}

So it (election) depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy. {Romans 9:16}
…it is a question of glory and fulfillment. God’s glory and our fulfillment of the purpose for which we were both made and redeemed – that we glorify Him, even as we are glorified by Him and in Him.

These statements of Paul’s in this very epistle are the cornerstones of the doctrine of grace, for they properly make God the author of salvation from start to finish, and they make man entirely dependent upon God for any good whatsoever. By this all glory, without exception, is due to God and to no other.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mastering Sin
I find that those who appear most to have mastered sin are the ones acutely aware that they haven't.

Gleanings 10: 905