Saturday, September 10, 2016

Nothing you do will make you Holy to God

Audio: 1 min. 37 sec.


Audio link for smartphones:  Audio Link

You know, as clear as these words are, if you have read them like I did much of my life, we will miss the point.

Now here's Paul's take, what he intends to say: 
I appeal to you brothers by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, Holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Now, I just read you exactly what the words say. I must tell you, deep into my adulthood, it's not what my ears heard. What did I hear? Despite what the words say, here's what I heard: 
I urge you therefore brothers, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, and then you'll be Holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. 
Is that what it says? That's not what it says, but isn't it what you often hear. You be a good living sacrifice, and then you'll be acceptable to God. 
You know, the word "Holy" should have been a cue. Nothing you are going to do is going to make you Holy to God. What makes you Holy to God? It's not your performance. We know our weaknesses. We know our sin. We know our failures. So how can we possibly be Holy to God? In view of God's mercy. There was one who provided for us what we could not provide for ourselves.

--Bryan Chapell



Saturday, May 7, 2016

What we give up, and what we secure


Dear E.,

Here are some thoughts on  two qualities of the christian life:

1. Giving up what needs to be given up.
2. Securing what needs to be secured.

First, regarding giving up what needs to be given up:

Yes, it is true. The one who trusts all to Jesus gives up himself, but not as an offering found in himself, as though coming up with a form of payment in order to receive something in return.  Rather, he surrenders all because, in Christ, he has come to the end of himself. His hands are now empty. If he is to find life, he must receive it as a gift - without money, and without price.

On an imperfect, human scale, consider the nature of your union with your future husband.  In joining yourself to him, you will vow to "forsake all others".  Allow this word, "forsake", to have its full weight.  You will renounce, abandon, relinquish, dispense with, disown, discard, give up, jettison, and do away with all that threatens to come between you and your beloved.  You will make this vow because you have come to the end of a previous way of life, to a life that now cherishes (and is bound to) someone "other".  This forsaking will not make it "hard" to love.  It is not a burden or "hardship" that you bring to the alter as the cost of holy matrimony.  It is the fruit of your love for your husband, a love ready to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. What you receive as a gift casts out fear. Without fear, lies lose their grip on you. And the truth sets you free - free to give up yourself.

You see, it is God's loving kindness that leads us to repentance, not the calculation of costs and benefits. I do not forsake in order to find.  Like the bride and groom, I forsake because of what I have found.  I forsake because I once was lost, but now AM found.

Make no mistake, your life "from this day forth" in Christ will be a life of repentance. Is this life of repentance, this life of forsaking, going to be a life of ease or self centered gain?  Of course not.  There is real hardship that lies in store. But your strength and assurance will lie, not in treating the hardship as payment for a reward, but in understanding hardship as the first part of a promise -- "In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." ... "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace." (Jn 16:33)  It is through His promises that you will look back and say, "His yoke is easy, and His burden light."


Second, regarding securing what needs to be secured:

Here I will be brief but no less urgent. I've already hinted at this most vital truth: We do not forsake in order to secure. So what does securing the promises of Jesus look like?

The marriage analogy may break down here, but I'll trust you to apply it to the one who first loved us, and made us alive while we were yet sinners with no strength to contribute and no merit to bring to the alter.

What will it take to secure the love of your husband?  Understand when I say that you will do NOTHING to secure his love. Securing his love will not depend on the quality of your sacrifice to him. The security of his love for you rests on a quality of who he is, not who you are.

For the bride, the "true faith" question, then, becomes this... Does she trust HIM that the promises he has made, (to love and provide for her always), are secure, apart from anything she can bring?

If faith is "hard", it is because, when faced with this standard, where the adequacy of our savior puts an end to any adequacy in us, we of ourselves can't even come up with a mustard-seed sized portion of this kind of trust. Faith of this nature is a gift from God.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Seeing the Gospel for what it is: Good News.


Audio: 2 min. 26 sec.

Audio link for smartphones:  Audio Link


When we speak of evangelism, what we're really talking about, you could say, is good-news-ism. Now, here's the funny thing to me. It's generally not difficult to tell somebody good news, right? So why is it, then, if Jesus is good news, why is it difficult for us to tell people about Jesus?  And the only reason for this is that I don't think that we're really seeing the gospel for what it is, that it is good news.

Evangelism is often equated with trying to get them to believe the way that you believe, to try to get them to do what you want them to do. It's trying to sell them something that they don't want, manipulating others, maybe even deceiving others into your way of thinking, your way of acting.

.  .  .

Our effectiveness in evangelism and ministry does not originate in our cleverness, our methods, our hard work, but in the one who calls us to this task. When you really come to know the gospel as good news, when it's no longer like, "ahh I've got to be a christian, I've got to be a good little boy or girl." And it's no longer this guilt trip sort of a thing. As a matter of fact you realize this isn't a guilt trip, this is the end of guilt, right? It's transformative, and you want to tell others about it.

But here's the problem.  The battle is always about being blinded to the natural beauty of the gospel, whether for yourselves, or the people that you're trying to tell that gospel to. And maybe this blindness is from your own perspective because of false ideas that you have of the gospel, or maybe it's because you're not in a church where the radical freeness of salvation of Christ, the absolute riches of Christ's grace, are being lavishly unpacked week after week.

Maybe that's it, and all you're hearing is just one more thing I've got to do, one more thing I've got to be. But this is good news. Jesus isn't trying to sell you anything.

Richard Halverson, he was the chaplain of the United States senate, he put it this way. He said... Evangelism is not salesmanship. It's not urging people, pressuring them, coercing them, overwhelming them, or subduing them. Evangelism is telling a message. Evangelism is reporting good news.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

By Faith Alone ... But?





------------------------------

"You may receive forgiveness -- if you have sufficiently forsaken sin." 
"You may know the message of grace -- if you have experienced a sufficient degree of conviction of sin."

. . . But this was to put the cart before the horse and turn the message of the gospel on its head.  For whenever we make the warrant to believe in Christ to any degree dependent upon our subjective condition, we distort it.  Repentance, turning from sin, and degrees of conviction of sin do not constitute the grounds on which Christ is offered to us.

Neither conviction nor the forsaking of sin constitutes the warrant for the gospel offer. Christ himself is the warrant, since he is able to save all who come to him.  He is offered without conditions. We are to go straight to him!  It is not necessary to have any money in order to be able to buy Christ.


-- Sinclair Ferguson

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters





Saturday, February 13, 2016

Faith's implications? Believing + "what must I do"?

I've heard it said that you can't have faith in Christ without accepting that faith has certain "implications".  There's believing, and then there is believing "in a saving way". There are implications in play, such that any sin, left unchecked, is an occasion for stumbling and falling away.

It sounds something like this:


Audio: 3 min. 35 sec.

Audio link for smartphones: Audio Link

This is the gospel in its most distilled and pure form ... Christ dies for our sins, Christ rises from the grave victorious. This is what has to be believed. This is the gospel of free grace, it's the offer God's making to the world. And it's received by faith alone.

But you have to understand ... it's received by faith, but it's not believed in a saving way merely by accepting that assertion as factually true. You can believe that Jesus said this, and you can believe that Jesus did this without believing in a saving way.

And this is what Jesus proceeds to flesh out. He shows the implications that must also be accepted. You know what I mean. You understand. Implications ... You enter into something, you accept all the implications that come with it. Implications are things that necessarily flow, they necessarily follow. Jesus is laboring to make things plain. He wants those implications to be in play as He calls them to faith because He knows there's no true faith without the embrace of true faith's implications.

So I'm wondering about you this morning. Are you embracing the implications of the faith that Christ calls you to? As a christian have you gotten confused to think that you can have faith in Christ without accepting faith's implications.

Jesus sat them down and He taught them about one of the necessary implications of faith ... it's an implication of lowliness. He said if you want to be first you have to be last, and you have to be the servant of all. Disciples, if they would believe, must become lowly, they must become humble, they must become servants.

Stumbling is appearing to embrace the path of life, only to fall off of it at some point. Stumbling is going to hell. He's showing us that unbelief stumbles. It might look like faith but it stumbles, and He says don't stumble. Do anything you have to do not to stumble.

Jesus put sacrifice (did you catch it) over against stumbling. Either sacrifice or stumble. What sacrifices are we talking about? Any sin, left unchecked, is an occasion for stumbling, for falling away.

Maybe your pet sin is drinking too much. You just ease into it and then you kind of glide over the line from a sanctified use to an unholy use of the substance. You start down that slippery slope. Is it a sin to have a hobby like golfing or hunting or playing cards? Of course it's not. Is it a sin to travel? No. But can pursuing those things as priorities temp you to stumble away from the pursuit of the kingdom as the only thing that matters? Yes it can. The last pet I'm going to point out is pet worries. You may have never considered that your pet worries can also provide the occasion to stumble away from the gospel. So long as you feed and care for a pet worry, you're engaging in a temptation to unbelief that's on the slippery slope of stumbling.


Two other perspectives to consider:


Audio: 3 min. 17 sec.

Audio link for smartphones: Audio Link

So the question of course is: If you were to die tonight, and you were to stand before God in His heaven, and He were to say to you, "Why should I let you in?" What would you say? Paul gives the answer...

"For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." And so the claim here is of a profound gift.

...It's almost as though this faith is the channel, or the canal, by which grace itself travels. The faith and the grace are the gift of God -- now think of what that means. It means I'm never going to stand before God and say, God, my faith is sufficient -- I have enough of it, or it's strong enough or it's adequate quality -- I've got enough of this faith thing.

Instead faith is entirely confidence in another. It's what pushes us away from any confidence in self. It's faith in what He provides, so that we begin to recognize, if this faith is the channel, that every trial, every disappointment, every confession of weakness, every acknowledgement of sin, is God's working in our lives, digging this canal in our hearts, saying "it's not you", "it's not you", "it's not you". So that ultimately in that emptiness of trust in us, we are ready for the freight that's going down the canal.

And the freight that's going down the canal is God's grace.  I have to provide for you what you cannot provide for yourself. Faith is not so much something we build in ourselves. It's an emptying of ourselves. It's ultimately saying there's nothing in me. I rely entirely upon God. In the historic christian statements, faith is receiving and resting upon Christ alone for our salvation.

It's not trust in my faith. It's not trust in my belief. You know, that's that trap. Do you understand that? That's the trap -- that we will forever go through our lives saying alright, do I have enough of this faith thing? Do I have sufficient quality or quantity of it? Instead of saying, no, listen, my faith is that God provides everything I need. I'm just collapsing upon Christ. I'm not looking to something in me.

So if you were to stand before God and His heaven, and He were to say to you, why should I let you in? What would you say? "God I'm just your workmanship. You made me right through Jesus. Nothing in me. Not my works, not my wisdom, not my strength. None of that. Not even the strength of my faith. I just rest on you."  And the wonder of that is that that is now the canal that the grace that is life travels on.



Audio: 1 min. 54 sec.

Audio link for smartphones:  Audio Link

We are very uncomfortable with the freeness of that gospel of grace. But unless you get that freeness, you'll never be able to understand the power the gospel.  You'll never be able to understand the power of love. 
The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying is the gospel. And the more that it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is absolutely, utterly counter-intuitive. You would think that the more the gospel came at you and said:

You better do these things. You better be a godly person. You better start obeying the law.

The more you would be motivated to do it. No. It's the exact opposite of that. The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying its force. The more gracious the gospel, the more a power for godliness it is in our life. In the gospel (he goes on), we so behold God, as we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners. And where our desire after Him is not chilled by the barrier of human guilt.

That very peculiararity, which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, that is, lawlessness ... You know, that idea where we can preach grace, we can preach the grace of the gospel, but you still need to tell people [that] they've got to be good people, or ... you won't be as good a christian as other christians if you're not (you know) living up to all these standards and keeping up with all these things. 
No, Absolutely not. You can't even begin to really obey the law until you have no fear of punishment from the law.



Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is Christ's death an "offer" of forgiveness? ... if conditions are met?

I've heard it said that Jesus came to die, but only those who deny themselves, and identify with Him in cross-bearing, are the ones who receive his salvation.

The gospel:  How unconditional should it be?


Audio: 2 min. 47 sec.  (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)


Audio link for smartphones: Audio Link

Who is this God with whom we have to do? And what manner of God is He? Is He a God who comes to sinners lost and broken, and brings to them conditions by which they may be saved? Or is He a God who deals with men on the basis of free, unmerited, unearned grace?

You see the Pharisees preached that men could be saved if they met conditions. And Jesus preached that He would save those who could meet no conditions. Jesus' message was, "oh every one who thirsts come to the waters". And he who has no money, come buy and eat, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Unconditional grace from an unconditional God.

You see, what had happened amongst these men, in the early decades of the 18th century, was this ... They had mastered the pattern by which grace works. They knew their confession of faith forwards and backwards and upside-down. And yet while they were familiar with the pattern by which grace works, and had mastered it, they had never really been mastered by the grace of God in the gospel, in their hearts.

Why is that so significant for us in the pastoral ministry? ... For this reason ... Because men who have only a conditional offer of the gospel will have only a conditional gospel. The man who has only a conditional gospel knows only conditional grace. And the man who knows only conditional grace knows only a conditional God. And the man who has only a conditional God will have a conditional ministry to his fellow man. And at the end of the day he will only be able to give his heart, and his life, and his time, and his devotion to his people on condition.

And he will love and master the truths of the great doctrines of grace, but until grace in God himself masters him, the grace that has mastered him will never flow from him to his people.

-- Sinclair Ferguson




Friday, January 15, 2016

The gospel is unconditional


Audio: 1 min. 15 sec.  (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)


Audio link for smartphones:  Audio Link


It has always been a danger in reformed thinking and preaching that we express the gospel in such a way that men have to merit grace by a degree of conviction experience. At the end of the day that is to make the offer of Christ conditional. When Christ bids all men to come and believe in Him freely and fully.

In His gracious providence God mightily uses conviction of sin in various ways and to various degrees to bring men and women to His Son. But He never bids us to go to preach conviction of sin as the warrant of faith.  He bids us go and freely offer Jesus Christ and all His sufficiency as the warranty of faith to any man to come and bow before Him as a suppliant penitent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Conviction of sin is never a condition for the free offer of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.


--Sinclair Ferguson


As [Paul] describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace.

What act could be more one-sidedly free and non-negotiated than one person raising another from the dead! This is the meaning of grace.

-- John Piper





Saturday, January 9, 2016

What was it that fueled our first love?

"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."
(Rev. 2:4)

What was it that fueled our first love?

If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril. 
Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically; we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence.  But no position, influence, or involvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love. 
Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for God. Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is in my heart
It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness without its power. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. 
How can we recover a new affection for Christ and his kingdom? What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin.  
Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God ... all filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste. 
The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace. 
And there is no right living that lasts without it.

-- Sinclair Ferguson
link to full essay



This preacher dovetails Ferguson's words so well on how the gospel fuels our ability to love:

Audio: 3 min. 45 sec.  (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)


Audio link for smartphones:  Audio Link

The law comes with the power of coercion, it comes with the power of fear, and of punishment. And it says essentiall this:

Do these things and you will live. So in other words, if you will: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you will live.

But never in a million years can mere external force, mere commandment, produce that. The gospel comes along different (gospel means good news), and it says not, do these things and live, but it comes along totally free, totally unilateral and says:

Done! ... Now you will be able to live.

[But] we are very uncomfortable with the freeness of that gospel of grace. But unless you get that freeness, you'll never be able to understand the power the gospel.  You'll never be able to understand the power of love.
I'm just reading [Chalmer's] here: The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying is the gospel. And the more that it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more that it will be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the christian life.

What he means by secret is that this is absolutely, utterly counter-intuitive. You would think that the more the gospel came at you and said:

You better do these things. You better be a godly person. You better start obeying the law.

The more you would be motivated to do it. [For] Chalmers, [he's] right on. He's right in line with Paul. He says, "No". It's the exact opposite of that. The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying its force. The more gracious the gospel, the more a power for godliness it is in our life. In the gospel (he goes on), we so behold God, as we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners. And where our desire after Him is not chilled into apathy by the barrier of human guilt. For this purpose the freer it is the better it is.

That very peculiararity, which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, that is, lawlessness ... You know, that idea where we can preach grace, we can preach the grace of the gospel, but you still need to tell people [that] they've got to be good people, or ... you won't be as good a christian as other christians if you're not (you know) living up to all these standards and keeping up with all these things. 
... and Chalmer's says, "No, Absolutely not". We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our hearts than to keep in our hearts the love of God. And there's no other way by which to keep our hearts in the love of God than by building ourselves on the gospel of grace.

You can't even begin to really obey the law until you have no fear of punishment from the law. Listen to John, in 1st John 4: By this love is perfected in us, so that we may confidence in the day of judgement.  Confidence in the day of judgement!?  What could be more terrifying than standing before all mighty God as the judge of the universe who knows, not only the things that you've done externally, but your thoughts?

[John] says: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in love. (And then he says). We love BECAUSE He first loved us. You see? There's the power of love.







Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Gospel is not a new way to win at the old game

There are those who are astonished at grace and those who are not.

Both would agree that we have continuing struggles with sin.
Both would agree that Jesus has died for our sins.

But the non-astonished seem to think that the important end-game, the goal of being Christian, is to be more successful at keeping the law. If there is grace, it is to produce this success under the law. And the presence and gift of the Holy Spirit is a means to this end. In the end, it's a new way to win at the old game.

On the other hand, astonishment dawns on us when we realize that the blood of Jesus has won the old game completely. Instead of saying that the blood of Christ is the beginning of our entry into righteous living, we say that we have been declared completely and eternally righteous.

Jim McNeely


Remember:

Link: Our being in Christ is the goal of the law
(Our being under the law is not the goal of Christ.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When is trusting in Christ alone, just not enough?


Audio: 1 min. 38 sec.  (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)




...That other voice, which says, "you know faith just isn't enough." Trusting in Christ alone, it's just not enough.  After all, how are you behaving?

And I'm so uncertain and insecure... that I have to do something to give myself some assurance that I'm at least trying to compensate for myself.

That's the trap, you see.  And that's what these other preachers were saying to the Galations...

You've got to demonstrate faithfulness in specific deeds and actions.  Faith alone is not enough.  Confidence and trust in what God has said about me is replaced by how I feel about myself and how I measure my own performance.

Now this is epidemic, and it always has been, in the church...

Are you sure you're living a christian life the way you should?  I mean your salvation's at stake here.  Are you sure that you're living a godly life in every way you ought to be, in what you think and what you say and what you do?  Are you sure?

Well I don't know, maybe I'm not.  Let me start looking inside myself ... And there you go.  You see, you've taken your eyes off of Christ, and now the focus is on me, and my performance ... And Paul got wind of this ... and ohh boy... Paul opens up the shot-gun, loads both barrels,  and blasts away at them.


- Pastor Mark Anderson