Friday, June 28, 2013

John Calvin is the man

I just read Banner of Truth's gift version of A Guide to Christian Living by John Calvin. It is an excerpt of Book 3 of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Reading Calvin is such a blessing. He is very pastorally practical, theologically astute and very readable. I highly recommend this little book and much larger doses of Calvin. It is no secret why nearly every commentator worth their salt, has liberal doses of Calvin quotes.

Eschatological Hope

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to His works.
When men are rewarded for their works, the ones who take up the cross of Jesus are rewarded for His work.
Those who would not take up the cross of Christ are rewarded for their own works which are never equal to the purchase of their soul.

Heavenly Math

Matthew 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
One man’s soul is more valuable than all the riches of the world. This is the math of Jesus. How is your math? We do not have the temptation to hazard our soul for the riches of the world. Few Christians are in a position to hazard their soul for great wealth or fame or power. But we do have these temptations in small ways. We see that many Christians do not do their math aright. They hazard their souls at a much smaller price, for the sake of position in the corporate world, or power in politics, or for the alluring sentient pleasures purchased with riches. 
Do a thought experiment. What aspects of your faith in Christ do you hold back or even hide in order to advance your career, be seen as sophisticated in the corporate or political or academic world? How do you spend your riches on pleasure instead of in denying yourself and taking up your cross?
The flesh is not opposed to physicality. The flesh is that part of us which denies the Lord and takes up our way over His. His way includes times of refreshing and the Lord blesses us in body as well as Spirit. So, rest and pleasures are part of His gift to us. But when they become idols, then we are to utterly repudiate them for the sake of Christ.

Deny Yourself

"All the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ must deny themselves. It is the fundamental law of admission into Christ’s school, and the first and great lesson to be learned in this school, to deny ourselves; it is both the strait gate, and the narrow way; it is necessary in order to our learning all the other good lessons that are there taught. We must deny ourselves absolutely, we must not admire our own shadow, nor gratify our own humour; we must not lean to our own understanding, nor seek our own things, nor be our own end. We must deny ourselves comparatively; we must deny ourselves for Christ, and his will and glory, and the service of his interest in the world; we must deny ourselves for our brethren, and for their good; and we must deny ourselves for ourselves, deny the appetites of the body for the benefit of the soul." Matthew Henry

Life in Christ

This is the final sermon on the fruit of the Spirit. Recall what we have studied. The fruit of the Spirit is love, love of God and love of neighbor, joy in the Holy Spirit, peace that passes understanding in the midst of trouble, patience as we wait upon the Lord, kindness, for the Lord’s kindness leads us to repentance, goodness, doing that which is good as we are lead by the Holy Spirit, faithfulness, having faith and being faithful,  gentleness, a counterpart to kindness and is always a better way to lead than harshness.
         Today, we come to the pinnacle of the Fruit of the Spirit; temperance or self-control. Self-control is the ability to do that which is good and right, neither swaying to the left or the right, neither going overboard or falling short. Self-control is the ability to master both the body and the mind. Of course, this seems impossible and there is a sense in which that is true. Self-control outside of Spirit control is impossible. In our fallen form, we simply are not able to do that which is right.
         The only answer is to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we are empowered by God to obey God. And when we are filled with His Spirit and through this means are enabled to submit to His will, we realize that He is the One who gets the glory. We are thankful to be filled with His Spirit. We are thankful to be freed from sin, shame and guilt. We are thankful to be cleansed and justified. But we realize that none of it is of our making. The Lord attended to us merely out of His kindness and the only thing we can do is worship Him with a thankful heart.
         Having been filled with His Spirit, the Lord then calls us to walk by that Spirit. That is what we have been discussing as we make our way through the fruit of the Spirit. You do not produce this fruit in order to receive God’s blessing. The fruit of the Spirit is the result of God’s blessing you with His Spirit.
         But there most certainly is a sense in which our progress in the faith is our own. Once the Lord has filled us with His Spirit, He expects us to walk in this newness of life, grow up in grace and be productive fruit bearers. The ultimate fruit is that fruit which reveals a consistently obedient Christian, one who governs actions, thoughts and words. This person is very nearly perfect, in the sense that they are a mature Christian. That is the fruit of self-control.
         I want to make a qualification before I move on to my main point. Although I am speaking about growing up in Christ and producing the mature work of the Spirit, I am not talking about perfectionism. We do not have to perform perfectly to please God. What we have to be is ‘in Christ.’ Being ‘in Christ’ is the perfection that the Father is seeking and is the focus we are aiming at today.
         Furthermore, I do not believe that you can reach a sinless state in this life. No matter how mature you grow in Christ,  you will still have the war of the flesh snapping at your ankles. You may get some relief from particular nagging or troublesome sins. You may grow kinder and gentler as you age and mature. You may gain control over your tongue and even to some degree your judgmental and self-deceiving thoughts. However, as you do so, it becomes apparent to you just how holy God is and just how far short you fall. You may actually sin less, if we are taking a daily sin count, but your awareness of your natural sinfulness increases. This is not bad, at all. If you are growing up in Christ, then what is happening is that as you grow in the Lord, your awareness of your need for Jesus and His Holy Spirit is also increasing. While others may interpret this as you growing closer to the Lord and perhaps even some perfectionistic expectation, you, yourself, are becoming more and more aware of your need to cling to Jesus every moment. This does not make you more insecure. It makes your security more sure because you are becoming more and more aware that your only security is in Jesus, in Christ, in His Spirit.
         I want to make a segue from speaking this way into our topic today. The title of the sermon is Take Up Your Cross but the subject of the sermon is Self-Control. And I have mentioned many times that we were working our way UP to self-control as the telos of the fruit of the Spirit. Aiming at this high goal, we get near the peak and realize that there is simply no route to take the summit. We are stranded at the threshold of success.
         What are we to do? The answer is to go back to basics. I do not want to overload you with ways to practically be self-controlled. We are all different and the Lord has called us to different tasks, different lives even. The one common life that we have is the life we share ‘in Christ’. This is absolutely fundamental but we need to fully understand what the Father has called us to, being in Christ, if we are to live a full life in the Lord.

Glory in the Cross

Jesus took up His cross and the result was our salvation. When you take up your cross the result is your salvation. Our cross is His. In it you are fully absolved from all your sins. The Lord Jesus paid the price for them and both you and your sins have been nailed to the cross in Christ.
         When you take up your cross you fully identify with Jesus and embrace His way which is always the way of suffering unto death and then life after death and then life after life after death, which we call the Resurrection.
         We need to see both the glory and the joy in taking up our cross. Jesus said, Father, take this cup from me. But He also said, Not my will but Thy will be done. And in that Holy Spirit, He went to the cross willingly for the joy that was set before Him on the other side. So, let us freely embrace the cross and the joy that is set before us in the glory to come.

Take Up Your Cross

The title of the sermon today is Take Up Your Cross. We sometimes view this sort of admonition as embracing misery. That is not what I mean or is it the thrust of Scripture. The Scripture calls us to joy at the same time that it calls us to take up our cross. How can this be? How can there be joy in the presence of such a daunting vision as the cross?
         Two things to keep in mind. One, is the joy that hope brings. Jesus saw the glory on the other side of the cross, the salvation of His people and the Resurrection, and He rejoiced to go to the cross. So, while you are taking up your cross, look forward.
         The second thing may be more to the point in present sufferings. Taking up the cross means a willingness to do the Lord’s will, whatsoever comes to pass. We are not our own. We are His. This may seem hard but that is only because it is impossible. The only way we can fully submit to the Lord’s will in all things is to fully submit ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Lord says that His yoke is not burdensome. As we take up our cross we realize that it is the Lord’s cross and He is able and willing to bear our load.
         So, let us confess any grumblings, embrace the Lord’s will and look with joy for the glory on the other side of sufferings.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Severed Sins

One of the purposes of confession and repentance is getting current. We want to press forward but pressing forward is hard to do when we are caught in the past, whether in the grip of real sins, or in the grip of the failure to grasp forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
         So, the first thing we must do is heed the Spirit’s leading in conviction of our own sins so that we can recognize them and turn from them. But having done this, we need to fully embrace the glory of forgiveness in Jesus so that we can press forward without the burdensome weight of our sins. Forgiveness from Jesus severs those sins so that we are free from the weight of guilt and shame.
         We need to be honest before the Lord because, like the Prodigal Father, He is eagerly awaiting our return to Him so that He can clothe us in the finest of apparel, prepare a sumptuous meal for us and seat us at His table for wine and mirth, feasting and fellowship, overwhelming joy in Jesus Christ.

Already in Heaven

As I mentioned last week, it is important for us to focus on the things we have received in Jesus ALREADY instead of focusing on the shortcomings of the NOT YET. But we can also look forward to the additional blessings that we will possess in the future when the shortcomings will be completely filled up in Resurrection. So, we glory now but we do so with an eager anticipation and hope of something even more glorious.
As we look around at our fellow saints, we should have the present sense of being in Heaven. 

How can this be? It seems like just another day at church, not heaven. 

But the greatness of heaven is the collected saints of God around His throne, without sin and without death, forever basking in the glory of God. And here we are, the gathered saints, gathered around the throne of God, without fear of condemnation, celebrating the death of Jesus who gave the deathblow to death. This may not be heaven, proper, but it is a foretaste of heaven and should whet our appetites for the greater glory that is to come and that we already possess in part here and now.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Psalm Power

Whenever the Psalter is abandoned an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian Church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.

In the ancient Church, it was not unusual to memorize the 'entire David'. In one of the eastern churches, this was a pre-requisite for pastoral office.

Dietrich Bonhoffer- Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible.

Prayer Book

It makes good sense, then, that the Psalter is often bound together in a single volume with the New Testament. It is the prayer of the Christian Church. It belongs to the Lord's Prayer.

Dietrich Bonhoffer- Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Already New Creation

We are here in the New Creation. We are new. We have that already but we are not yet fully new, we are not perfect and so we have an acute sense of our need for continued grace and mercy. We are perhaps more aware of the NOT YET part of our condition than the ALREADY part. But at the Lord's Table we should focus on the ALREADY. 

Jesus has already died for our sins. Jesus has already arisen from the dead and we have risen with Him. Jesus has already ascended to the right hand of the Father and we are already seated with Him in the heavenlies. The Father is already well pleased with His glorified Son and in Him, He is well pleased with us. The Spirit is already among and in God’s people. And all of this is already declared and promised to you here today, you who are new creatures in the new creation in Jesus Christ.

Confession Comfort

The great benefit of confessing and repenting of sins is receiving the assurance of God’s forgiveness so that we can stand before Him without fear, shame, or guilt. Obviously, for those who refuse to confess, they do not receive this peace. They are uncomfortable in the Father’s presence and the only way that they can keep coming into the Father’s presence, without confession, is to be self-deceived that they are, in fact, not sinners needing to repent. And their last state is worse than the first.
         But for God’s saints, confession and repentance, while hard, are the path to peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. May God grant us His favor to see ourselves as we really are and having seen that hard truth, quickly humbling ourselves before Him. That difficult confession leads to all the benefits of goodness in Jesus; forgiveness, peace, joy, resurrection, hope, and glory. We are going to glory, so let us all lay aside and leave behind the sin which so easily entangles, and grasp hold of forgiveness joy in Jesus Christ.

Pentecost Holiness

May 26, 2013


Last week we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit in power at Pentecost. Our emphasis of application was on the convicting and renewing work of the Holy Spirit. It is imperative that each one of us know the work of the Spirit in our lives, from the least of us to the greatest. And this is the promise of the Spirit, that He comes to you and to your children and to all that are far off and to their children, to the very ends of the Earth.

And when He does come upon us, then He changes us into the holy people of God that do His bidding in the world. Sometimes we do not feel like the holy people of God, especially if we are not looking at the collective group but viewing this holiness from an individual perspective.

But how can we know that God is at work among us as a people? We have to examine the fruit. And how do we know that God is at work among us as individuals? Again, we have to examine the fruit. And when we do this, we have to be the right kind of fruit inspectors. Our goal is to grow up into maturity and perfection but if the banana is a bit green, it is still a banana. If the banana has a couple of bruises and blemishes, it is still a banana. The presence of defects does not make false fruit. An over critical examiner or an over tender conscience may tend to declare that which is truly the fruit of the Spirit as no fruit at all.

As the people of God, there are some proofs that God is among us, namely the worship, love and fellowship of the saints. As individuals, there is the fruit of the Spirit, which are essentially the same fruits.

As we walk through this today, I do not want overly tender consciences to declare immature fruit or defective fruit as no fruit. We must examine ourselves honestly to see if we are in Christ, but having found ourselves in Christ, then we must not listen to the voices that accuse and condemn us.

One of those voices says that you are not good enough. There are good people who are growing in Christ around you and you just do not measure up. To that voice, you simply say, “So, what. It’s true, I am not good enough.” That is why Jesus had to die on the cross, because you do not measure up. But in Jesus Christ, the Father is satisfied and you must claim Jesus as the one who measured up for you. If you keep claiming Jesus, even when you are accused, then you know that the Spirit is at work in you.

The devil’s job is that of accuser. He constantly accuses the brethren. You are not good enough. You still sin too much. Jesus’s work is not enough for the likes of you. But even the fact of your awareness of these accusations is proof that the Spirit is at work in your midst. The devil is a false accuser and desires to bring doubt and discouragement into the lives of the saints. But resist the devil and he will flee from you.

And in all of these doubts, our answer is to always go back to Jesus. We admit our failings, cling to Christ and are comforted in His Holy Spirit. As long as you do this, no accusation formed against you will ever be heard. You are justified, fully absolved by the merit and blood of Jesus.

So, now what?

At Pentecost, the Spirit was forming the Holy people of God. He had always done this. When He called out Abram and made him a nation, when Jacob and his seventy went down to Egypt. When Moses brought God’s people out of Egypt. When Joshua laid claim to the Promised Land, when the exiles were a people in Babylon, when the people returned to the land as the people of God. In all of these formations of God’s people, the Holy Spirit was at work. And while it is true that there were always some Gentiles attached to the people of God, there had never been an international formation of the people of God until Pentecost. From this day forth, the people of God took on a new meaning and a new identity. No longer was it the ethnic or national people of God. God’s nation is not bound by borders or languages. It extends to the ends of the Earth and includes all peoples, tribes and tongues.

And they all speak the language of worship of the One true God through Jesus and exhibit love for one another across all national and ethnic divisions. Gal. 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And this is the work of God’s Holy Spirit among His people.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Spirit With Us

The Holy Spirit is God’s presence with us. As the Spirit dwells with us, we have full assurance that the Father dwells with us and that He loves us. The Holy Spirit is also the presence of Jesus on the Earth. Jesus promised that He would be with us always, even to the end of the age and then He sent His Holy Spirit to us in power at Pentecost.
         So, we are here now, in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. He is moving in our midst, convicting, comforting, counseling, assuring, saving, healing, teaching, preserving, loving, sharing. Namely, He is God with us being everything that a Savior must be. He is leading us in the way of righteousness and true holiness and He is the One who cleanses us and presents us before the Father as joint-heirs with Jesus. Take heart, the Spirit is with us. Be at peace.

Holy and Righteous Saints

Life in the Spirit is necessarily a life of holiness and righteous. This is true because our God is holy and righteous and the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, is God. So, our life must be one characterized by holiness. This might cause us to squirm because we know our own thoughts, our words and our actions. And we see that some of these thoughts, words and actions are not holy or righteous. We still struggle against sin and find the way of holiness difficult. That is okay. Being holy and righteous is difficult. In fact, outside of God’s Holy Spirit, it is completely impossible.
At least three things should be apparent in the lives of the holy people of God. One, we desire holiness.  That desire is given to us by His Holy Spirit. Two, we are convicted of our sins. That conviction is also the work of the Holy Spirit. And three, we repent of our sins, turning away from them and turning to Jesus. This, too, is the work of God’s Holy Spirit.
         So, this call to be holy as God is holy is not a call to perfectionism. However, it is a call to walk in the newness of God’s Spirit, with godly desires. It is a call to feel remorse for your sins and to turn away from them. If this is happening, then you can rest assured that you are one of God’s holy and righteous saints.
If you do not desire holiness, if you are not convicted of your sins, if you cannot find a place of repentance, the ability to turn away from your sins, then I pray that you turn your life over to Jesus, asking God to regenerate you to new life in Christ.