I love being the father of four boys. They all want to be like their daddy in their own ways. Andy who is seven years old, and my oldest, watches my every move. Particularly in the areas pertaining to how I take care of myself. I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater. Not because I want to be Mr. Olympia, or because I’ve been ordered by my doctor to follow a certain diet. I eat healthy because I want to take care of the temple God has given me, and because I’m one of those weird dudes that actually likes fruits and vegetables. So while Andy’s younger brothers delight in any and everything chocolate that they can find, Andy will always watch to see what daddy is eating before choosing his snack. If Im blending up a smoothie, he is my only child that will request that I make him one as well, even if it has spinach in it. Whether he truly enjoys my daily spinach smoothies, Im not sure. But regardless, he always has to have the same things I have for a meal, because he wants to be like his daddy.
Lincoln who is five years old and my middle child wants to be like his daddy in different ways. I drive a pretty old truck. It whines when its running, it leaks when its raining, and if you turn the steering wheel all the way to the right or turn the air conditioner up above notch number two, it will cut off. But other than this tiny issues, its a great truck. Needless to say, my truck is not as comfortable to ride in as my wife’s cozy mini van complete with a nifty DVD player that they kids can watch while traveling. But anytime our family goes somewhere and has to take both our vehicles, Lincoln always wants to ride with me. He loves my truck. And when we are together in the truck, he brags aloud how he and I are men for riding in the truck instead of the van. I know, and Lincoln knows that riding in mommies van would be more comfortable and entertaining for him. But he is happy to set aside those comforts in order to spend time with me. Because he wants to be like his daddy.
Abel and Luke are my two year old twin baby boys. Abel is my passive child. At night, while the other three boys are busy playing together in their rooms with toys, Abel refuses to join in with his brothers. Instead, Abel will come over to my recliner where I usually will sit, and curl up in my lap to watch an episode of Micky Mouse Clubhouse. He would have so much more fun running around the house with this brothers and playing with all of their toys. But at night, he wants to be where I am. Because he wants to be like his daddy.
Luke is no different. I have a hat. I know you may be thinking, “Everyone has hats.” But I have one of ‘those’ hats. A hat that much like my truck, is old and worn, but never the less its the one hat I love to wear. And whenever Luke sees me with my hat, he runs to his room and gets one of his older brothers baseball hats and proudly wears it on his little head….even if it does keep falling down into his eyes. I know constantly pushing those hats out of his eyes is a pain. It would be so much easier to just take the hat off, at least until his head grew enough to fill them out. But Luke is the happiest when he sees me wearing my hat, and when he is then also wearing his. Because just like all my sons, he wants to be like his daddy.
A son will naturally want to be like his father, regarding that the father is a loving father towards his children. That’s just our nature. We gravitate towards those who show affection towards us, and due to that affection, we admire them and want to be like them. That is why in the case of a loving father, his sons will look at him as their hero. 1 John chapter 3 describes God and our relationship with Him in much the same way. I only want to examine the first three verses of 1 John 3 in light of scripture…..
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”1 John 3:1.
The scriptures describe Christians or followers of Christ as “children of God.” He is our Heavenly Father, and He is a good, loving Father. In fact, regardless of how good your earthly father may have been to you and how much he may have showered you with love, God the Father’s love is indeed much greater than we could ever imagine. In fact, Matthew says it like this….
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11.
No matter how good we are, at our very core we are sinful creatures. We are evil in our thoughts and actions. John Calvin described this human commonality as total depravity. We are not sinners because we sin. Rather, we sin because we are sinners. Its our inherited nature passed down from our first parents, Adam and Even in their fall into sin described in Genesis. Therefore, even the best of human fathers has a depraved and sinful nature. If this were not true, then we would have no need for a savior, because we would possess the ability to save ourselves with our goodness. But that’s another blog for another day.
The scripture in Matthew points out that if a man who is good in the worlds eyes has the capacity to give love and good things to his sons, how much greater is the capacity for a Holy and perfect Heavenly Father who knows no evil to give good things to those whom He calls His children? Now look back at 1 John 3:1. “See what kind of love the Father has given?” That in spite of our sinful, rebellious nature, God the Father would choose to adopt us into His family and call us sons!
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:4.
Remember, we were not born into the family of God. As is pointed out in Genesis, we were born into sin. No one is born into God’s family. God in His great love and mercy, chooses to adopt some….
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13.
A child who is adopted into a family doesnt have the liberty of choosing their family. It is the parents who choose the child. One of the greatest mysteries of scripture is how God saves and calls men. It is a wildly popular yet unbiblical belief among many evangelicals that we as humans possess the ability within us to “decide” or “chose” Jesus to be our Father. This belief totally disregards literally hundreds of passages of scriptures that describe us as broken and unable to do anything but sin without Jesus. As CS Lewis said, we are like dirty children living in the getto, in desperate need of adoption into a good family. And if you are a person that clings to this false doctrine of human decision regarding God, look back at the verse above in John 1:12-13. It states among other things…..”we are God’s children, not born of human decision, but born of God!”
Even though we didn’t inherit the righteous nature of God, because of his great love toward us, we fight against our flesh and forsake the temptations to live like the world, because we as redeemed children of God have a greater desire to be like our daddy. We want more than anything to mimic and be like our Heavenly Father. And this Father/ son description is carried further as we continue examining 1 John 3…
1 John 3:1-2, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
I hear so many slams against people that are truly living for their Heavenly Father. Names like ‘Jesus Freak’, or ‘Bible Thumper’ are used by the world to label believers who are striving to be like their Father in Heaven. And as Christians, being called these names can be hurtful and down right frustrating. We as believers want unbelievers to understand why we are different. We want them to understand the joys of not giving in to the flesh and living in sin. We want to be accepted. But the world will never accept us, because the world never accepted Him. And this is especially true of a Christian who revels so much in the love of his Heavenly Father that they would rather walk in the footsteps of Christ instead of what is deemed popular and the norm in our current post modern culture.
Our goal as believers should never to be try and get the world to understand us. Because the reason the world doesn’t understand us, is because it doesn’t know Him. If someone makes fun of a Christian for being who they are in Christ, its not necessarily a slam against them to be taken personally. Because lets face it, humanity tends to make fun of things that they don’t understand, and things that deep down convict them. My goal as a Christian shouldn’t be to get my secular friends to know and understand Charlie. My goal should be to get them to know and understand Jesus. Because only when a person understands Jesus will they then understand Christianity. But look at the next part of the verse….
1 John 3:2, ” Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
What will will be has not yet appeared. The scripture speaks of the believer’s glorified state in eternity. We have no idea what that will be like. As sons of God, we will one day be like Jesus. But He who we will one day be like has not yet appeared to us in His eternal state. I personally cannot imagine life without sin. Life without conviction and daily need for repentance. The verse goes on to say that on that day we will be like our Heavenly Father….perfect, sinless, and eternal. And the reason for this is because finally then, we will be able to see God’s plan as he sees it. All the things we don’t understand about God will be made known. Just as a father teaches a son the reasoning behind why he does certain things when the boy reaches a certain point in life, so our Heavenly Father will make known many of the mysteries of His ways when we stand before Him in glory.
This verse is so much deeper than a quick first glance. We will one day understand, because we will view our lives on earth as Jesus has viewed them. The scriptures speak of tears being wiped away from our faces in Heaven by our Father. There is no doubt in my mind those will be great tears of regret shed abundantly by each and every child of God. Because for the first time, we will see things not in our worldly perspective, but through the eyes of the loving Father that we at times rebelled against. You’ve heard of children growing up and looking back at how rebellious they were to their parent in their youth, and upon gaining wisdom, apologizing to their parents for the pain they caused them. I believe when we meet Jesus face to face, it will be much the same way.
I know for a fact that when I stand before my Heavenly Father, I will not regret that I didn’t make more money in my earthly life. I will not regret that I didn’t sew more of my wild oats while I was young. My sole regret standing before the Father in eternity will be that I did not live more radically for Him while I had breath. I will greatly regret with tears streaming down my face that I did not pray more, serve more, and sacrifice more worldly comforts in exchange for being like my Heavenly Father. And for the first time, standing before King Jesus….face to face, my heart will be utterly pierced by the reality and the depth of love on Calvary. It is there before my Father that I believe I will just begin to wrap my mind around His sacrifice on the cross. The fact that He died for me, and was punished for my transgressions….because of His great love for His children. To close out, lets look at verse 3…..
“And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:3.
God uses certain terms to describe His children all throughout scripture. He uses words like spotless, blameless, and Holy. The word ‘Holy’ literally means to be different. The Hebrew definition means “to separate.” In the case of a Christian, it means to be separate from the world. So if a person is claiming to be a Christian, yet the willingly live an unholy lifestyle, meaning they continue sinning while knowing its wrong, then the correct conclusion would be that they are not truly Christians. Some would say that is judgmental and that we are not to judge. True. But we can inspect fruit (Matthew 7). And if God says that His children are Holy, it is only logical that a person living an unholy lifestyle doesn’t possess the traits of those that are identified as children of God!
Being Holy doesn’t mean that a Christian is called to be perfect. We are to desire to be like our Heavenly Father more than anything, but in our flesh we will fall short at times. But the difference is that a person who is not a child of God will be able to continue on in their sin. Even if they know its wrong, they will not be broken over it. Their self gratification will be far more important. But to a Christian, living like Jesus will be of First Importance! And when a Christian falls into sin, they will be broken hearted. Just as a toddler desires to walk, at times, the child will stumble. The child is heart broken over his fall and disappointed that he at times falls. But the Father of that child knows that the toddler’s one desire is to walk like daddy. And in love, the Father picks the child up, and encourages him to keep walking.
The scripture calls a Christian to strive to keep him or herself pure. Just as a person invited to a grand ball wouldn’t show up without looking their best, so we as believers have been invited to our Fathers wedding supper of the Lamb. Isaiah describes the supper as one that will have the best meats and wines. Zephaniah says that at this Feast, the Lord will no longer rebuke us, but instead, rejoice in song over His children. That is why in Romans 8, Paul says that there is no condemnation in Christ! In Jesus, we no longer stand condemned, but now justified in Him!
So what do you do when you know what is right in your mind, but your heart just won’t sink up with that? What do you do when you know there is sin in your life that has not been addressed, and your heart is torn between following Jesus and fulfilling the desires of the flesh? There is a phrase that is used over and over in the scriptures….”Wait on the Lord.”
Waiting on the Lord can be excruciatingly difficult. In fact in one of the most heart wrenching Psalms in the Bible, David is dealing with this issue and actually on the verge of fighting with himself.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God…”Psalm 42:5.
To put it in modern terms, David is saying to himself, “Why are you so downcast my soul? Why do you keep being drawn to these cheap sinful ways that never lead to joy?? Why do you keep falling into the same trap over and over!!!” And David then tells himself, “Put your hope in God!!!”Have you ever been in that place? Have you ever felt the disconnect between what that mind knows to be right and the wicked ways the heart continues to chase?
So what do you do when you experience these season of disconnect? For the child of God, you wait on the Lord while you press into Christ and His word ever harder, striving with all your might to surround yourself with Him and hunger to walk in obedience. And why would you deny your flesh? Why would you be still and just wait on the Lord? Because you are lost without your Father. And you know that He loves you.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”Isaiah 40:31.
We want to be like our Heavenly Father. And in times of trial, we press further into Him. We wait on the Lord. Because we know that for those that wait and hope in the Lord, He will renew their strength, and mount them up on wings like eagles. And there will come a day when they will not be faint under the pressures of sin, but walk in the footsteps of their daddy.
I loved attending college at the University of Alabama. The beauty of the campus and the great people there made my tenure at the University a joy to attend. But one of the biggest reasons I loved Alabama was for its prestige and tradition, particularly in the area of football. The University of Alabama is legendary when it comes to their domination on the grid iron. To date the school boasts of fifteen National titles, holding the record of championships in college football. Names like Paul “Bear” Bryant and Gene Stallings among others have led the Tide in many victories and cementing the school and themselves into an almost mythical status among the South Eastern Conference as well as the entire collegiate landscape.
I had played a bit of high school football. And upon moving to Tuscaloosa to go to school at U of A, I toyed with the idea of actually trying out for the football team. How neat it would have been to claim that I was on the Alabama Crimson Tide’s football team. So much glory and honor was shown towards the men that were on that team. So many privileges were given to those who were on the football team, not to mention the great respect one receive just by saying that they played football for Alabama. But being on the football team at Alabama was work. Hard work. While most college students enjoyed massive amounts of free time to themselves, the football players were obedient to the will of their coach so that the University would continue its legacy in college football.
Now I could have just said that I was on the football team. I could have told my classmates that I loved the team and that I was a team mate. But in reality, I wasnt on the team. And me simply professing that I was a football player would fool no one. I did not go to practices, I didnt go to the team workouts, and I didnt help the team win any of their National titles. I could have said I was a member of the team, but I had no championship rings to show for it. I reaped none of the good benefits that the real team members did from being true football player. Because I was not a football player.
Scripture states that, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” But what about those who do not love God? Most everyone says that they love God. But true love for God requires work. Just like those who are truly on a college football team must be obedience to the demands of their coach in order to receive glory, so must a Christian heed the commands of the Lord. In our world today, everyone says that they are a christian. Everyone wants that title, and the peace of mind that they will inherit the glories of God the Father as a result of their confession. But they live life on their terms. In football terminology, they dont attend the practices, they dont study the playbook, and they really have no true love for the coach. In their minds, they have convinced themselves that because they go to church occasionally and claim the title of Christian, that this alone makes them a true believer, And its a lie from Satan himself that is deceiving so many in our world today.
I heard a noted theologian once ask the question, “Have you ever wondered why we say that there is a stairway to Heaven and a Highway to Hell? Its because Hell has more travelers going that way, and it takes effort to climb the stairway.” Obedience and living a life committed to Jesus is not easy. Its not just reciting a few words and saying an oath or prayer. Its having a true love for our King Jesus Christ. So much so that you are willing to sacrifice and forsake the enticing ways of our evil world in exchange for the glory that He will receive and the promises of reward that are in the future of every believer.
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” 1 John 5:2-4.
If we are truly members of the body of Christ, we are obedient to the commands of God. And to be obedient and be victorious in the game, you must love the play book. How many professing “Christians” have a true love for the word of God? So much so that they hunger to know what pleases the heart of God? For many people in our world, the word of God is considered a burden. Sadly even for many professing believers this is true. They claim to love Jesus but consider His word burdensome and look for any excuse not to be in the word daily.
But did you notice what the verse in 1 John said? It said that His commands…His word…is not burdensome to them. Because they understand that His word brings life to that which was once dead! Do you claim to be a Christian? And if so, do you delight in the word of the Lord? Is obedience to the commands of God a burden to you? Or are they, as King David said in the Psalms, like honey on your lips?
I dont write this to condemn but rather prod every person that professes to be a Christian to examine themselves in light of scripture. Is your profession to be a Christian a true one, or are you like a college student who admires the football players, and because he wants the same glory they receive, will claim that he is a football player, but in reality is not even on the team?
This brings us full circle back to my question. Lets read the verse….
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.
So, do all things work together for the good of everyone? The scriptures say only for those who love God. But it goes even deeper than this. Not every person who says they are a Christian will have all things work out for good, because as we’ve seen through the example of a football player, not everyone who says that they are a Christian is actually a Christian according to scripture.
And the good that we so eagerly anticipate as believers is not speaking of a worldly prosperity. In fact, the greatest good that we could ever receive is spending eternity with God the Father! That is why Paul said that we should rejoice in suffering, because our earthly suffering will give way to Heavenly reward.
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5.
Are you truly on the team, or is it just a false claim? Do you love His word, and do you seek daily to see how you can press further into obedience to God? Examine your claim. Following Christ is the greatest sacrifice you will ever make. But it leads to the greatest love you will ever know. The coach is blowing the whistle. Its time to step onto the practice field. Are you on the team?
The battle of Little Bighorn occurred in 1876 in eastern Montana, and is commonly referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand”. The battle took place between the U.S. Cavalry and northern tribe Indians, including the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho. It took less than one hour for the Indians to overcome Custer and his army, killing General Custer in the process. The Battle of Little Bighorn has memorized students and has been the topic of great debate amongst historians for decades. The reason for these debates is that many myths seem to have taken the place of reality. Facts of the battle throughout the years have become blurred.
Details such as how many soldiers were actually killed, where Custer was killed, the size of the Indian brigade, and even what side of the river the battle took place. There are even famous paintings of the battle that continue to be heavily criticized and debated as to the accuracy portrayed by the artist within the canvas. Over time, people have embellished and over exaggerated the events or they have taken away depending on who you are talking with. Indian historians tend to paint Custer and his men in a cowardly light, saying that they eventually began to hide behind the bodies of their dead. Caucasian historians create a different picture, claiming that Custer and his men stood strong until the very end.
This is just on tiny part of our human experience. At times we will take hard facts and manipulate them ever so slightly so that the story bends towards our preference. And we can see this perversion of truth being exemplified weekly in many of our nations pulpits. Some pastors are very obvious with their distortion of the Gospel, leaning towards an extreme prosperity that anyone with basic biblical knowledge would be able to see through. But others tend to only bend the truth ever so slightly, as to make their audiences feel better. This is especially evident when pastors begin to try to explain things about God with absolute authority that God himself never fully revealed in scripture.
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29.
In the verse above, God is plainly telling us that there are some things that are secret. Things that were are not meant to know this side of Heaven. Things that we cannot have absolute answers to. So it is wrong of us to try to explain anything other than what God has given us. The Lord goes on to say that “..the things revealed belong to us.” Everything that God saw fit to reveal to us is included and bound in the Holy canon of scripture! Everything we need to concern ourselves with is within the pages of the Bible. Still, many teachers and preachers fall into the trap of trying to explain the unexplained to their congregations.
And most teachers dont do this with a mindset to out right pervert the scriptures. Most preachers do this to add an element of relief or ease to the minds of their listeners. You see, human nature doesnt like the unknown. We dont like things unresolved, particularly when its dealing with how God relates to us. We want all the answers and we want them now. In all reality, what we would like is to be able to put God in a tiny box so that we could manage him well, and all of his ways were known to us and everything God did was easy on our minds and worked out the way we deemed appropriate.
But our problem is that we cant put God in a box. CS Lewis described God as an untamable lion. In his epic novel, (and now movies) The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lion Aslan in the story is a mirror image of Christ. When speaking of Aslan (or Jesus), one of the characters asked another, “Is he safe?” To which the other character, Mr. Beaver, replied…“Who said anything about being safe? Course he isnt safe! But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you!”
We will never understand all of the ways of God. God fully explaining his ways to us would be like a human trying to explain himself to an ant. Our minds do not possess the capacity to absorb all of the things of eternity. And the unknown, particularly when it pertains to God, can be a scary thing. But regardless of the things that have not been revealed to us, we can always rest in one certainty. That as Mr. Beaver put it, he is not safe and you cant cage Him…but He is good.
We serve a righteous, good God whose depth of love for us we will never be able to comprehend. So in this truth we know that regardless of what we dont know or understand in the ways of God, His ways are always pure and more righteous than our ways and what we think is right within our fallen and depraved human minds.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9.
Job in his great time of suffering was bold (or dumb) enough to challenge God about why things were working out in ways Job did not agree with. Job was basically telling God that the Lord was wrong because God wasnt doing things like Job thought were right. He was basically calling God unfair. And I love the Lords response in Job chapters 42 and 43, wherein God just beraids Job verbally, asking Job if he were there when God created the universe, or nature, or asking Job if he can control the elements like God. In the same way, we have no right to question Gods ways, or to add or take away from them in order to ease the element of unknown. But we are to rest in knowing that Gods ways are always right.
One of the most twisted workings of God that we tend to add to or take away from fall under the headings of salvation. Especially when it deals with our children. We want to ascribe some sovereignty to ourselves and our kids pertaining to their salvation. Among many perversions of scripture, many churches have created this man made doctrine that we often label as, “the age of accountability.”
In this we say that children cannot be saved until they reach this age of accountability and possess the ability to rationalize the Gospel. The only problem is that the scriptures never say that a child nor an adult for that matter can reach an age where he or she can save themselves with a decision. Let me put it this way. I am a minister. My wife and I pray with our children and surround them with the things of God. My seven year old has more scriptures committed to heart than I did until I was in my late 20’s. But just because I am a minister and my kids go to church doesnt save them.
We cannot push or pressure our kids to make a decision for themselves that has nothing to do with us! My childs salvation is between him and the Lord. So as a parent, the best I can do is to surround my children with the kindling of the things of God and pray that one day, the Holy Spirit ignite that in their hearts. My wife and I dont pressure or prod our kids into walking and aisle and praying a prayer. Instead, every night, we pray over them. I pray for each of my boys and I ask God to open their eyes in His perfect timing….and save them. Because I cant do it. It is God who saves, not me.
As for this “age of accountability”, I think we have misinterpreted the doctrine. Yes, I believe there is an age where a child’s mind matures enough to distinguish between evil and the ways of the Lord. And I believe that an infant that experiences death goes on to be with the Lord.
“And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” Deuteronomy 1:39.
But I do not in any way think that their salvation hangs in waiting until the blooming of this age of reasoning within a child or in the childs decision. You see, the story has already been written. But dont take my word for it, let us look to what the Lord has revealed.
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” Isaiah 46:10.
King Nebuchadnezzar said it this way….
“His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” Daniel 4:-34-35.
Paul writes of God say the same thing to Moses like this…
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15.
And the Psalms put it this way…
“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord” Psalm 37:39.
The disciple whom Jesus loved said it like this…..
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13.
To sum it up, salvation is from the Lord and is a doing of the Lord. The verse above plainly states that a humans decision has nothing to do with salvation. It is not a result of a person or child chosing to grasp theological reasoning. God will accomplish His purposes, and He has long worked out our salvation long before we even thought of Him.
The Apostle Paul said it like this. When he wrote his letter to the Galatians, he reminded them of his former life in which he hated Christians and even killed them. Now we all know Pauls story beginning in Acts chapter 9. Paul didnt reach an age where it all made sense to him. And right in line with the verse above from John, Paul didnt all the sudden decide to follow Jesus. He was in the mind set to kill Christs followers. And what happened? Christ simply revealed himself.
When we point to scriptures that allude to Gods sovereign choice, those that oppose this doctrine have been known to say, “Well if salvation is Gods doing alone and not our choice, then are we not as robots controlled by God?” And the answer is no. You see, God doesnt flip a switch in those whom he wants saved and make them love him with some spell. All God has to do to save a lost man is to simply reveal himself. The revelation of Jesus Christ and who He is to man….when man first gazes upon His beauty and majesty and is pierced by what was done for him on Calvary, God is simply irresistable.
But Paul also said this to the Galatians…..
“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,” Galatians 1:15-16.
Did you catch that? Gods plan for Paul’s salvation wasnt tied to an age of accountability, but rather…..was sealed into Paul within his mother’s womb. What a testimony to the patience and mercy of God, that he would let us run from Him in rebellion, patiently waiting until the moment He would choose to reveal Himself….and call us by His grace. God had a plan for the life of Paul before he was even born! So do you think that Paul, once blinded by Jesus could have continued to deny Christ? No he couldnt. And here are two reasons why.
First of all, as already stated, God revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, and the beauty of the Lord Jesus was irresistible. Secondly, if you continue reading Paul’s salvation account in Acts 9, God calls to a Christian man named Ananias to go and pray over Paul. Ananias feared doing this because he had only know Paul as a killer of Christians, but here is what God said of Paul to ease the mind of Ananias…..
“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Acts 9:15.
The Lord called Paul his “chosen instrument.” Pauls salvation played into the plan of carrying salvation to the Gentiles. And God had this plan worked out from before creation! How sad would it be if God were at the mercy of man’s decision in order for His plans to succeed! God is not at our mercy, he is sovereign, and he is righteous in everything that he does!
The age of accountability did not play into the salvation of John the Baptist. Go read the account. John was actually saved in the womb of his mother Elizabeth!
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41.
Obviously, no matter if you believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation or not, it is pretty clear that John the Baptist had no power to deny the call of God in the womb!
Another example of this is found in Romans when Paul writes about the birth of Issac’s twins sons Jacob and Esau. As the story goes, Jacob grew up to be a man of God while Esau rebelled from God all of his days. Was this due to the boys making a choice at a young age?
“Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:11-13.
Note that Paul writes that even before the twins were born, before they had done anything good or bad, God had deemed salvation to one, Jacob and not the other. It was not the boys who grew up to choose or deny God, but rather the scripture point out that it was the sovereign choice of God that had been determined in the womb!
I once heard a man who didnt believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation say, “If you believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation, then why do you pray for God to save people, because according to you he will save them with or without your prayers!”
But this mans motives for praying for the lost could be challenged as well. If you are a person who doesnt believe in the sovereignty of God and believe that God has given man the freedom to chose or deny him, then in praying for God to save a person, you are actually praying for God to override the free will you defend and take on the sovereign nature in salvation that you say God doesnt possess!
God speaks in the scriptures very much on human responsiblity. We have the freedom of choice in working out our salvation. But not in salvation itself.
“God is calling His people unto Himself.” Micah 3:6-7.
Look at how Jesus describes the salvation process….
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27.
Who are His sheep?
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37.
The sheep are all of those since the beginning of time until the end that the Father has given to the Son. The verse doesnt say that “…those the Father gives me MIGHT come if they decide to.” It states an absolute….that they WILL come, and they will NEVER be driven away! Once salvation has come, regardless of our occasional stumbles, a Christian will persevere until the end in Christ. Why?
Because Phillipians 1:6 says that He (that is Jesus) who began a good work in you will finish it!! Once the Father has revealed Himself, you will NEVER be cast away. Salvation cannot be lost, it can only be given from through Jesus as a gift from the Father.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” Ephesians 2:8.
Again, there is an age of reason in a child wherein the become able to decifer the things of God from those of the world. But salvation is not in their choice. It is a gift from God the Father that is sealed in His adopted children from within the womb. We dont pray to God to get things from Him. We pray to God to commune with Him. We dont preach the Gospel to others in order that we might save them. We preach the Gospel to participate in the great honour of working side by side with our Father.
Missions is not the mindset of, “We need to go preach to these people or they may never get saved!” Rather, mission is God the Father looking at His redeemed children and saying, “Hey, Im going over to this part of the world, and Im going to bring people to salvation. You wanna come to work with your Father today?” And in God being seen as sovereign over salvation, we can rest in knowing that He will accomplish His plans of salvation, and we can do nothing in our own power without our Father. As a child of God, this reality of the grandeur of God should fill our hearts with a comfort and safety of how big our God is. And although at times we may not understand His ways, we do not add or take away from them, because there is no doubt that His ways are greater and more righteous than ours! Praise Him!
Parents, lead your children. Cover them in the knowledge of the Lord. And pray for them each night. Pray over them no matter how old they may be. And commit them to the Lord, and ask Him reveal His irresistible beauty to them in His perfect timing. Ask God to save them, and to begin a good work in them that He promises to carry to completion.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13.
One of the smartest decisions I made when I was young was to not throw out any of my toys. I packed them up and kept them, stored in the attic of my parents house. That was until we had kids. Then I once again pulled them out of the cardboard boxes that had been their home for years, and gave them to our boys. When I first brought the boxes down to them it was like Christmas morning. Who would have thought that toys from the 1980’s could still bring such joy to little boys.
Our twins who are two years old love balls. Footballs, basketballs, it really makes no difference to them, just as long as they can throw it and it has some bounce to it. They found a red bouncy ball that I had when I was a child and immediately fell in love with it. They would play with that ball for what seemed like hours. But I noticed that the ball was really flat and didnt have alot of bounce to it. But that didnt seem to bother the twins. In fact they didnt even seem to notice it at all. They had never known that ball to be restored full of air.
The ball was practically broken, but the twins didnt notice its brokenness, because it was all they had ever known.
So I decided to take the ball down to the gas station and restore it pumped full of air. And when I took it from the twins, they had a fit. They didnt want me to take the ball, even though I tried to convey that I was only taking it for a short time to fix it. When I returned from the gas station, the ball was full of air and bounce. And the boys loved it. As much as they liked the ball before I had fixed it, now they were almost giddy at the extreme bounce that it now had.
Our church just returned this week from a mission trip to Wisconsin. We were helping a church plant that has been started in the town of Muscoda. One of the things we did was to just walk around the town and talk to people about the new church and invite them to come and attend. We even had some opportunities to present the gospel to people we ran into on the streets. Sadly, most people we encountered had an attitude of indifference towards the gospel. Some even seemed offended because they were already attending another church. But even the people who claimed they already went to church looked more like the world with their language and mannerisms than a true Christian.
I told my wife upon returning that the trip was eye-opening for me. To see that it’s not just the community that I live in but predominately our entire nation that holds to this attitude of indifference towards the Gospel message. Our nation is no doubt that hardest mission field. In a foreign country, the natives are hungry for the message of Christ because they’ve never heard it. Its refreshing and new to them. But in our nation, the Gospel is not received well, because everyone thinks they already know it. Most Americans have bought into a broken Gospel from a young age. They’ve never heard the true one. And this broken gospel message is all they know.
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” Galatians 1:11.
The Apostle Paul addressed this issue with the churches of Galatia. They were believing in a perversion of the true Gospel message. And Paul says in verse 11 that he did not preach to them a man centered Gospel, but the true one. The biggest form of lostness is not atheism, but believing in a broken version of the Gospel. One that is man centered and not Christ centered. We have a tendency to take the scriptures and water them down or add to them so that they fit our preferences.
But the Gospel, plus or minus anything, is no Gospel at all.
The broken Gospel that our world typically is seen buying into today works itself out in two ways, and amazingly, Jesus addressed and warned us of these Gospel perversions over two thousand years ago. And he did it through the telling of what we have always called, “The Parable of The Prodigal Son.” Many books have been written specifically on this parable, the best Ive read being Dr. Timothy Keller’s “Prodigal God.”
Prodigal literally means to squander or to be wayward.
The story is told in Luke 15. And we have heard this parable so much throughout our lives that at times, we can miss Jesus intended meaning due to just taking it in at face value. But if we examine the story and the context in which the parable was told, it is clear that Jesus point was to expose in detail the dangers of believing in a broken Gospel.
Now most of us know the story. There is a father who has two sons. The younger son comes to the father and demands his share of his inheritance. This is unheard of, even by todays standards. You do not receive an inheritance unless the person you are receiving it from dies. Hence, the term inheritance. But this younger son is demanding to receive his share of his fathers possessions before the father dies. He is basically telling his father that he wished he were already dead.
The father upon hearing this had rights. He could have disowned the child, had him beaten, and in some cases it was legally acceptable to have him put to death. But this father lets his younger son go. This would have had the original listeners to this parable gasping, because this was not what one would have expected of the father.
The younger son wants the fathers things, but he doesnt want the father. He wants the wealth, the comfort, and all the benefits, but he doesnt want the father. The Father in the story represents God the Father. And some of us buy into the same broken gospel that the younger son bought into. We want the comforts of knowing we have eternal life, but we dont want God. We dont want to live by his rules, we want to live life on our terms. So to soothe our minds, we convince ourselves that because we go to church or because we’ve been baptised we are free to live life however we want because God is a forgiving God and he must forgive us. But thats not the true Gospel.
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews 10:26.
Hebrews couldnt make the point more clearly. Simply put, if you claim to know God but use his forgiving nature as an excuse to keep sinning, then you are not saved. You have bought into a broken gospel and not THE Gospel.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, we must remember that there are two sons in the story. We tend to make the story out to be about a son that goes wayward and comes back into the fold only to be forgiven by his father. But that’s only half the story. Jesus point in telling this parable was for us to compare and contrast the two sons, and to place ourselves into this story. Asking the question…which son are we?
As we know, the younger son takes his inheritance and squanders it on wild living and prostitutes. He ends up with nothing, living and working in a pig sty. The son remembers his father’s hired servants, who are not part of the family but are taken care of by the father. The younger son decides that he will go back to his father and ask only to be allowed as one of his hired men. The younger son has no intention of asking for his place back in the family. He wants to earn his way back.
But as the story goes, the father sees his younger son coming from far off and runs to him. One of the important things we miss when reading this story at face value is the cultural context. When Jesus said that the father ran to his wayward son from far off, the original listeners would have been astonished at hearing this.
A father and a patriarch would never run. That would mean pulling up their skirts and baring their legs. Women would run. Children would run. But not owners of estates. Not fathers. That was something that you just didnt do. But this father cared nothing about social barriers. This father ran to his wayward son. Before the son even got to the father, the father ran to meet him. And in the original Greek version of this story, it translates to say that the father fell on the sons neck.
Have you ever been so happy to see someone who you embraced them and buried you face in their neck? That is the picture being painted here of the father, and again, the father in the story is the representation of our Heavenly father. The wayward son came home, but it was the father who ran to him. And the father would hear nothing of the sons speech about being a hired hand. In fact, if you read the story in Luke 15, you’ll see that the father doesnt even acknowledge what the son said about wanting to work his way back. The father instead, immediately declares sonship on his son, and plans a great feast to celebrate the sons return.
It is the norm for most preachers to rush through the end part of the story, because they tend to focus on this one son, forgetting that Jesus intentionally placed two sons in the story. As the parable goes, the older son gets wind of this great feast being thrown. He asks his servant what is going on and is told that his younger brother has returned.
This infuriated the older son. Full of anger, he refused to go into the party. And again, we see the father leaving his party and comforts and going out to his older son. Pay attention to the subtleties in the story. It was the father who ran to his younger son. And it was the father who went out to his older son. We can never come to God the father, unless he first comes to us.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.
The older brother was angry. He says to the father, “Look….”. Notice that the older son didnt call him father, he first said , “Look.” He went on to basically say to his father, “I have always been obedient to you and done all that you asked of me, and this younger son comes back after wasting your money and you take him in and kill the fatted calf for him?”
The fatted calf was a delicacy in those days. Meat was rare due to its expense, but especially a fine meat like the fatted calf. Yet the father kills the fatted calf for his younger sons celebration. The older brother is furious about this, even saying to his father, “You’ve never even given me and my friends a goat to celebrate with!”
The older son represents another broken form of the gospel that we still buy into. It is that of legalism, or doing good works to get to Heaven. You see, the older brother had the same problem as the younger son. He loved the fathers things, but didnt love the father. He obeyed to get the fathers things, not simply because he loved the father. He boasted of his obedience and not his love.
If God were to ask you why he should let you into his Kingdom, and your first response was to list off all of your good deeds, all of the Sunday School classes you taught, all of the mission trips you went on, or how many times you read through your Bible in your lifetime, and then you claimed that due to your obedience, God owed it to you to let you into Heaven, it would be a tale tale sign that you never understood the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus would have been your role model, Jesus would have been your example, Jesus would have been your boss….but he wouldnt have been your savior.
In each son, we see that they are trying to save themselves. They are trying to be their own savior. One is doing it through rebellion and watering down obedience to the father, and the older son is doing this through his works. But Jesus shows us in the parable that both sons are lost. Both sons are believing in a false or broken Gospel. And both sons are separated from the father. But it is the younger son that enters the feast. So what does this feast represent?
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” Isaiah 25:6.
The feast is Heaven. The feast is the wedding supper of the Lamb, where all true believers will sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the presence of King Jesus. The younger son came home. And again, you can almost hear the original listeners gasp. It was the lover of prostitutes that was saved and the morally upright man who was lost? Unheard of! But again, go back to the context.
Jesus was speaking to two different groups of people when he told this parable. He was speaking to the tax collectors, who lived life on their own terms like the younger son, and he was speaking to the pharisees, who were very obedient to the law like the older brother. And this story was really directed at the pharisees. Because before Jesus told this parable, the pharisees saw Jesus speaking with the tax collectors and they said…
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Matthew 11:19.
Imagine the shock on their faces when Jesus told this parable. They were quite aware of the meaning of his story. And they were irate. Remember Jesus wasnt nailed to the cross for being a meek and mild guy. He was relentless with truth, even when it totally went against what was culturally acceptable. Have you settle for a broken, culturally acceptable form of false gospel, or do you truly know Christ?
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the story is that which is not spoken, but rather referred to. Prior to telling the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus told two more parables. The first was that of a lost sheep, and in the parable the good Shepard went out to find the sheep. The second parable was that of a lost coin, and the lady of the house searched until she found it. But in the parable of the prodigal son, no one goes out looking for the younger son. This didnt fit in line with the mold of the parables Jesus was telling.
And the reason was that Jesus wanted the listeners to ask themselves the question…”Who should have gone out to look for the younger son?” Back in this time period, it was the older son that would become leader of the family after the father passed. So it was seen that the older son had the responsiblity of holding the family together. He had that responsiblity. Were the older son a good older son, he would have gone looking for his wayward brother to bring him back home. But in the parable, the older brother did not. Why?
Because he was selfish. You see, when the younger son came home, all the older brother could see was his share of the inheritance diminishing. When the younger son once again became part of the family, he was also again privy to everything the father had. The older brother would have to split the fathers things with his wayward brother, and in the parable, the older brother would have nothing to do with his younger brother.
Sadly, the younger brother in the story had a pharisee for an older brother. But we do not. We need more than an elder brother who would go searching for us in the next town, but instead, we are in need of an elder brother who would come from Heaven to earth in search of us. The elder brother in the story despised the thought of having to give up any of his inheritance. But Jesus gave it all up, and the comforts of Heaven, in exchange for a persecuted life and death on a cross, so that you and I could come home back into the family of God. Salvation was pure grace to the younger brother, but the younger brothers salvation was costly to the older brother.
You see, Jesus is the true and greater elder brother. Jesus gave up everything…his inheritance that he had rightly earned with his obedience to the Father, so that we could return home. And because of his great sacrifice, our hearts should be so pierced that we are not rebellious and we do not obey to get things from him. We live an obedient life because we are so moved by what our true elder brother did for us, and that God the father ran to us when we were so far off, and fell on our necks.
That is the true Gospel. Sometimes we grow so used to the broken things in life that we forget that they were ever broken to begin with. Have you forgotten the true Gospel? Read Luke 15 and ask yourself which son are you? Is your idea of the Gospel of Christ works based or are you running from God to hold on to your sins? Both are easy to justify, but they’re not the Gospel. Salvation is found only in one, and that is through the mercy of our elder brother Jesus Christ, and the grace of God our Heavenly father.
I loved my grandmothers chocolate pudding growing up. Now you may think that all pudding is alike, but you’ve never tasted my grandmothers recipe. To put it as humble as I know how, its spectacular! She passed away years ago, and with her went her went her pudding recipe. I tried so many times to recreate grandmothers chocolate pudding on my own, but it was never like hers. Then one day I stumbled across her recipe in an old dresser drawer, and I saw that grandmother did things differently than most. Instead of chilling her pudding in the refrigerator, she cooked it in the oven and served it hot. All those years I had tried to make it and failed. But now that I have the recipe, I am able to share grandmothers spectacular pudding with the world.
I think sometimes many churches fall into the trap of doing mission work much like I did my grandmothers pudding. We try to create something spectacular without looking at the recipe. One of the greatest deceptions in the church today is how we go about doing missions. Most churches get their congregation excited with the notion of going to a far off land for a week or two. And our intentions are very good with the trip being centered around feeding the poor or sharing the gospel with natives. But many times, mission trips can be more about us having an experience than actually proclaiming the gospel.
It’s great to get a bunch of people together and go to a foreign country to do missions and minister to the natives of the land. But let me pose a question to you; What do you think happens to those natives when we leave after a week? Imagine that you knew nothing of the Gospel of Christ, and a team of missionaries flew in for a week. You sang songs with them and they taught you a few Bible stories, and then after a week, the missionaries who have been instructing you leave.
When we lived in Panama working as missionaries to the Guaymi people, I remember speaking to one of the local Panamanian Pastors. We would see teams of missionaries from the states come in sometimes to minister to certain Indian villages. I had mentioned to this pastor that I thought it was great that churches from the states came to Panama, to which he replied…
“Yes, but you must understand that Bible believing Christians are not the only missionaries that come to Panama. We have Jehovah’s Witness missionaries, Mormon missionaries, and many other false religions that come to spread their message to the Guaymi. The Guaymi people are more confused than ministered to.”
It was a wake up call as to how I would view missions from that day forward. Churches in America with good intentions do missions much like I did my grandmothers chocolate pudding for so many years…I tried to get results without following the recipe. We cannot expect people that are unfamilar to the Gospel to grasp it in a weeks time. There are many false teachers in the world. Take for example Paul’s letter the the Galatians. He had come and preached the gospel to them, and they had been very receptive. But when Paul left, confusion crept in the Galatian churches. False teachers of Judiasm came forth perverting the Gospel that Paul had preached, confusing and deceving the Galatians. That is why Paul continued to minister to them.
It’s not that we don’t have the recipe for successful missions, we just tend to overlook it. The Apostle Paul wrote the recipe for Christian missions. In fact, most of the New Testament is basically a blue print for how to spread the Gospel, especially the books of Acts and the epistles of Paul. Let me point some things out regarding Paul’s missionary journeys.
-When Paul made his first missionary visit to Corinth in order to preach the Gospel to them, he stays a year and a half (Acts 18:1, 5, 11).
-During Paul’s missionary journey to Ephesus, he stayed for 3 years (Acts 20:31).
-Paul eventually spends 2 years in his own hired house (Acts 28:30) as a prisoner in Rome from 61-63 AD. During this time he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. In about 62 AD, Paul wrote Ephesians before Timothy came to him (Ephesians 1:1) while in prison in Rome (Ephesians 3:1, 4:1, and 6:20). Also in about 62 AD, Paul wrote Philippians from prison (Philippians 1:7) in Rome (4:23) with Timothy (1:1). Paul wrote Colossians from prison (Colossians 4:18) in Rome in about 62 AD with Timothy (1:1) and fellow prisoner, Aristarchus (4:10). Paul, with Timothy, wrote Philemon from prison in 63 AD (Philemon 1:1).
-During Paul’s imprisonments when he could not minister to the churches that he had helped establish, he wrote these letters (the epistles in the Bible mentioned above) to encourage the people he continued to minister too, and he sent people such as Timothy and Titus to go minister in his absence.
These are just a few noted facts about Pauls missionary journeys. But in these few facts, we see a recipe for Biblical missions. Paul didnt travel to a foreign land, minister for a week, and then return home and hope the gospel he preached took root. Paul planned his missionary journeys, traveled to his destination, and didnt put a time limit on when he would leave. Paul continued ministering to the regions he was preaching for as long as it took to raise up leaders within the people of that region, and to establish churches.
And even after the churches were established, Paul never abandoned them. He continued to check on them as a mother would her own children. Paul encouraged the churches as often as he could with his presence, and in his absence, with letters and sending his ministers such as Timothy and Titus, to visit them.
To simplify the mission of missions, according to the recipe of Paul, here it is;
Missions is planting churches, and making disciples, and raising up leaders within the people group who can lead the church. Some people will argue that missions should be about tending to the poor. But honestly, if the focus is on planting churches and discipleship, then tending to the poor will be a natural result of our endeavors!
Since I’ve lived in Panama, lets use Panama as a modern-day example of how this would look if we followed Paul’s recipe. Panama is full of Guaymi villages scattered all throughout the region called Camarca’s. These people are very poor, and the villages are made up of literal bamboo huts. The need is tremendous. The goal would be to enter an individual village in hopes of planting a church, and begin preaching and teaching the Gospel to the natives.
Now obviously, we could not travel to Panama and spend years training and teaching. We would have to return home to our families. That is why the village we chose to minister to would have to be a long term concentrated effort for however long it took to plant the church and train leaders.
Also, multiple trips to Panama could get costly for a person to take many trips there per year. Thats why I would propose that huge groups dont go all at once. Rather, teams would be split up and sent at differing times throughout the year. Once the church in the camarca has been established and leaders are plugged in from within the village, then you move on to a different Camarca and that one becomes your area of concentration, all the while keeping contact with the recent church plants.
The best television shows in my opinion are usually the ones that are in black and white. The simplicity of entertainment without having to rely on gutter humor to get a laugh is just appealing to me. My absolute favorite television show is The Andy Griffith Show. When it comes to Andy Griffith trivia, I am a veteran! I would love to just hang around Barney Fife all day long. With his tender heart, he would be a great friend to have. In the show, Barney is great at his job as number two man in the Mayberry county police force. He is great as a follower. But Barney is a terrible leader. In fact, every time Barney has a chance to lead in Andy’s absence on the show, he never fails to mess things up. Barney Fife wants so badly to be respected and to be a man in every sense of the word. But although Deputy Fife is a good guy, the truth is that he is a coward, he is selfish in always wanting things to be done on his terms, and he is weak willed.
Pastor Jon Beck pointed out in a recent sermon that we have alot of Barney Fife’s in our world today. Men that will pound their chests and tout the reasons why they are men with strong words, but their actions betray them. They claim to be strong yet they are weak. They claim to be leaders, yet them trying to lead their families is akin to Deputy Fife trying to be sheriff. Its just chaotic. Our secular world defines manhood by so many trivial things. Sports, hunting, fast cars, are all bragging points for men. For some reason, we as men tend to think that in some way, being good or interested in these things validates us to men and makes us more appealing to women. Men today look more to the world for their example than to our God who set the example, Jesus Christ. And Ive yet to see anywhere in scripture where Jesus manhood or leadership was defined by his hunting skills or through his knowledge of sports statistics. Jesus was no Barney Fife. Jesus was the quintessential man. He is the prototype and the blue print for what it means to be a leader and a man. And I want to touch on just a few ways in which Christ exemplified true manhood.
Real Men Take Responsiblity
Real man take responsiblity for their family, they dont pass the blame. In the garden of Eden, we can see immediately that Adam was a bit of a Barney. As you recall, it was Eve who initially disobeyed Gods command and ate of the fruit that God forbid. Then she brought the fruit to her husband Adam, and he part took in eating as well. It was Eve who first sinned, and then it was Eve who convinced Adam to do the same. Men today will make jokes, saying things like, “If Eve hadn’t eaten that fruit, we wouldnt have the mess of a world we have today.” They are basically saying that the fall of man is the womans fault. Even Adam said this. After Adam and Eve had sinned, God approached him and basically asked what had happened. And Adam said this;
“The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Genesis 3:12.
“She made me do it! It was the womans fault not mine!” That was Adam’s defense. But again, notice in the Genesis account that God confronted Adam regarding the sin, not Eve. You see, when Eve ate of the fruit initially, Adam was no where around her. He had lost sight of his wife, and was not guarding her. As the leader, Eve was given to Adam as his responsiblity. He was to lead her, and to not let her wander into deception. There is no doubt that Eve would be held accountable for her sin. But it was Adam that would be held in higher account for Eve.
The call to manhood is a privilege but also a great responsiblity. How many marriages today have fallen apart because the man neglected to lead his wife spiritually and allowed her to drift off into the deceptions of the world. The secular man is quick to defend himself and cast blame.
“She just doesnt make ME happy.”
“Our bad relationship is HER fault.”
“She first ate the forbidden fruit, not me.”
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25-27.
The first element in being a REAL man is the word. The Bible tells us that God is love. Therefore, if we as men are not plugged directly into the only source of true love, then we can’t know real love, much less give it. Without Christ, we can only know the worlds version of love, which in all reality is no love at all. Rather, the worlds version of love is just a tolerance stating as long as I am happy, Ill love you.
Look at the examples of how we use the word love by our worlds standards.
We LOVE food…as long as it satisfies our hunger.
We LOVE our pets…until they pee on the carpet.
We LOVE our sports teams…until they have a losing record.
We LOVE our spouse…unless we become unhappy or something new comes along.
Our world has absolutely no idea what real love is. Worldly love is conditional. It is selfishly based on our needs, wants, and desires being met. Worldly love is all about us. But lets examine this.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8.
If we truly believe the Bible, then we know that the true definition of love is only found in God. Unlike worldly love, Gods love is unconditional. Gods love doesnt look to self, but to others, literally dying to self. Gods love doesnt count costs and pass blame, but takes responsiblity for things, even when the fault is not your own. How easy would it have been for God to look down on humanity and say, “Those humans have lived as adluterers, chasing after other loves and breaking my commandments. They were the ones in the wrong, so Ill have nothing to do with them. I will have no more relationship with them.”
But God did the opposite. Even though the fault was ours for our rebellion against God in our sins, it was Christ who took the responsiblity to bear our sins. He took the blame and punishment to the point of dying for us. Could Jesus have thrown his hands up and claimed that we didnt make him happy, therefore he wouldnt love us anymore? Absolutely he could have! Remember in the garden of Gethsemane when soldiers came to arrest Christ? Peter attacked one of the soldier to defend Jesus, and Jesus said this to Peter;
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:52-54.
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:28-33.
God doesnt call men to love their spouses and families like the world. We men of God are called to a higher responsiblity. We are called to love our wives, and to love our children like Jesus loves us. We are called to sacrifice for our wives and children like Jesus sacrificed for us. We are to be the peace makers in our families, EVEN WHEN WE ARE NOT TO BLAME….because Jesus made peace with us while we were still sinners…while we were still hurting Him with our rebellion.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
Paul goes on to say in the Ephesians verse above to state that this kind of love is a profound mystery to the world, but Paul says this mysterious kind of love can be described by seeing it in view of Christ and His church. That is the picture of real love. The example of REAL manhood is not Barney Fife, but Jesus Christ.
So I ask any man who may be reading this; are you a Barney Fife? Do you pride yourself on being a man but fail to lead your family? Are you more concerned with your kids being involved in twenty different sports and with their athletic achievements, or is their spiritual condition of the utmost importance? Do you spend time daily leading them in family worship and teach them the Word daily, or do you rely on the church to do this? The job of leading your kids spiritually is not the pastor nor the youth ministers job. The church is their for support. It is the head of the house, the man, that God has charged with instilling Godly knowledge into children.
As it pertains to your wife, do you look for flaws in her? Do you complain of her short comings and mock her falling into deception? Do you chastise her for her lack of Godliness? As the man just as it was with Adam, it will be you that is held accountable before God for the spiritual condition of your wife. Are you washing her daily with the water of Gods Word? The word ‘Christian’ literally is translated to mean, ‘little Jesus.’ Are you a Barney or an imitation of your Heavenly father? Our world has far to many Barney’s. And though Barney speaks a big game, in the end he all talk. Manhood is meant for men. Real men. The world is full of little boys with facial hair. But puberty doesnt make the man, Jesus Christ does.
If you have been a Barney, let this be a new day in the life of your family. Begin to set a time each night to huddle up your family and read from Gods word. Teach the scriptures to your children weekly, and explain to them the Gospel. If you yourself dont understand the Gospel, make it a priority to seek out your pastor and express to him your desire to be a real man and to lead your family. Submerse yourself in the scriptures. And bathe your wife in the word of God. Lead her, pray with her, and love her with a love that is virtually unknown to our fallen world. Its time to MAN-UP! Its time to take responsiblity and lead our families as men in light of eternity! What an awesome privilege we have in Christ!!
When you think of church, what is it that immediately comes to mind? Do you begin to think of a Sunday morning duty that must be checked off, watching the clock and counting down the seconds until the preacher finishes? Is it just something you do so that you can in some way justify calling yourself a Christian? Maybe thats not your idea of church at all. Maybe to you, church is the place of a majority of your weekly activity. Maybe you are involved in a multitude of ministries and functions within the body life of the church. Although intentions are good, church is more or less a place to submerge yourself in activities in hopes that your works in some way justify your claim to being a follower of Christ.
To some, church is a place of refuge. A place to have their personal needs met and to find escape from the painful circumstances of their lives. To others, the church is the reason they do not follow Christ, having been hurt at some point in their past by an harshly judgemental congregationalist or led astray with a false gospel by a preacher who was more of a wolf in sheep’s clothing than a true Shepard. It goes without saying that the church is not viewed by everyone in the same way. Through the years, the church has taken on many different identities. But Biblically, the true church of Jesus Christ only has one identity. Jesus gives us some character traits of what the church should look like in the book of Matthew.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16.
So much wisdom and direction is given here by Jesus as a blueprint to how his people…his church, are to be viewed. Jesus begins by stating that we as followers of Christ are to be the salt of the earth, and then asks the questions if salt loses its flavor how can that flavor be restored. True salt cannot lose its flavor. Salt is always salt, hence the salty flavor it carries.
I remember when I was a kid my parents sprinkling salt on their food. I was extremely picky and didnt branch out and try new things when it came to eating. I recall seeing my mom sprinkle salt on some vegetables while preparing my plate before dinner and I thought that by doing this, she had ruined a completely good meal! The green beans that I loved were now contaminated, or so I thought. Hesitantly I took a bite of the salt sprinkled green beans expecting to gag, and to my surprise I noticed that the salt had added so much more flavor to my meal!
To many ‘churches’ live bland spiritual lives, forgetting that they have been called to be salt, adding flavor to the world! We are to be different from the world. The church should be intriguing to the lost world. As they look at the church, maybe thinking that following Christ would ruin their meal of being fulfilled and happy, but once they try Jesus, realizing how very bland their life had been without him, and how great a joy knowing him brings to the soul!
Jesus further expounds on his exposition of what His church is to look like, saying that we are to be the light of the world, like a town built on a hill. That is to be a city that is set apart, that all the other pagan cities would look to as a light. Far to many churches today fall into the trap of feeling like they must relocate from being the town on the hill and move in with the pagan villages in the valley. They think that in order to contextualize the gospel and make it relevant, they must become less like Christ and more like the world. But if we begin to set the example that you can continue to look and act like the world while following Christ, we in turn water down the life blood of the gospel message making it no gospel at all. We are to be an uncompromising city on a hill. A beacon of light that cannot be put out by persecution or pressure to be more palatable and relevant to culture.
In these few verses in Matthew, Jesus just gave a description of what a healthy church should look like. But what does an unhealthy church look like? An unhealthy church is one marked by sermons the are very cliche. The preaching of the word in an unhealthy church is very moralistic and me-centered and are often described as ‘spiritual self help seminars.’ They preach on “what can Jesus do for me” instead of preaching “what Jesus has already done for me and because of that, what I now can do for Him.” The gospel is to be Christocentric in nature, not a man centered pep talk. It is to realize that Christ was and is the light of the world, and to be pierced to the heart by the price Jesus paid at Calvery so that we could have fellowship with Him! A healthy church is one where the gospel of Jesus Christ is radically proclaimed. There is no need to water down the word, because it is through the preaching of God’s word that God supernaturally invades hearts and begins to change them.
“Salvation comes from the Lord.” Jonah 2:9.
To often preachers think that they have to get people saved. But that is a task that a mere man is no more qualified to do than Ezekiel was to put together the dry bones in the desert all by himself. It was Ezekiels speaking the words of God to the bones that God ressurected those bones and brought life to them. Preachers are to preach boldly the word of God with a fire and passion faithfully, and God will bring what was once dead to life. Churches forget that the power of Christ doesnt lie in having a thousand different activities, but the power lies in preaching the word.
Another mark of a healthy church is a by product of expositioal preaching. It is personal evangelism. Unlike spiritual gifts, the chore of evanglisim was not given to certian individuals in the church, but to every person who is a true follower of Christ. Evangelism is simply speaking words. It is to proclaim the gospel in our communities, and to the people that God has providentally placed in our everyday lives. It is to share the news of Jesus Christ and his death, burial and ressurection to the masses. In the Exodus account, Moses argued with God when the Lord ordered him to go into Egypt and confront Pharoah, saying basically that he wasnt good at talking! But God didnt let Moses off the hook! He didnt excuse him from speaking the words of the Lord to the pagan Pharoah. In fact, God made Moses into arguably one of the greatest leaders in history, in spite of Moses fears and shortcomings.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that we are to persuade others, even pleading with them in our everyday lives in all things pertaining to the Gospel of Christ, because we know the importance of knowing Him.
“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” 2 Corinthians 5:11.
The great preacher of the mid 1800’s Charles Spurgeon said this of the church;
“Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us… All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!
As I have already said, the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers. The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.” -C.H. Spurgeon
Did you catch how Spurgeon began this quote? He started out by acknowledging that the church had flaws! He acknowledged that the church wasnt perfect! How often do we complain about others in the church and get chips on our shoulders because things are not going ‘our way?’ To many seekers will come to church expecting it to accomidate and cater to their every need. Their musical preference, their worship style, their accomidations. But all along, the gospel call is for the children of God to die to themselves and put others before themselves, even at the risk of suffering, a trait that was exemplified in the life of Paul. But despite the church being imperfect, Spurgeon calls the church, “…the dearest place on earth.”
So again I ask, what is the church to you? Is the church the dearest place on earth to you? Not because of what it gives you, but because of what Christ has already given. Is it a place you come to serve or a place you expect to be served. Is the church a place where you come with a list of mental demands that need to be met? If so, then I would venture to say that you have a history of church hopping. As Spurgeon said, “…the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers.” The church was never intended to be a country club. The church of Jesus Christ a launching pad to the mission of Christ. Dont ask what can God do for me through church. Ask within the church, how can you be that city of a hill? How can I make his name glorified? Church is not about us. Its about Him! As John the Baptist said, “He must become more as I become less.”
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19.
The Christian life is one of constant repentance. Constant, meaning everyday. The day we stop repenting is the day we stop growing in Christ. In fact, praying for God to reveal areas in our lives that are in need of change should be a daily prayer. Can I just share with you a truth that was revealed to me in my time with the Lord this morning? Brace yourself….here it is; We serve a very big God.
Sounds anticlimactic I know. The reality that God is a big God seems to be such an elementary statement. Yet so many professing believers are completely stunted in their spiritual growth because they seem to think that they, in all of their years in church, have God completely figured out, therefore repentance in their lives is void. The nominal Christian can fall prey to wanting to have all the answers for fear of looking foolish when asked a question about our big God. But sometimes, its ok to not have all the answers. Because it is in not knowing something about God that pushes us deeper in to pursing Godly wisdom. And once the wisdom that was once lacking in our lives is attained through seeking the Lord, it is not to be used a bragging right of Biblical knowledge, but to humble us into further repentance.
This has been true in my own life. Specifically in the area of prayer. I have come to see that there is a direct correlation between seeing the hand of God and the prayer life of a believer. I am burdened by the reality of how watered down prayer has become, specifically in our modern-day culture. Today we tend to view prayer in one of two ways. The first view of prayer is that of a daily check list. This way is generally used by a person who has good intentions to grow in God. But due to the hustle and bustle of life in our 21st century world, God like everything else must be penciled into our daily planner. Some will prayer in the morning while others at night. And there is nothing wrong with having a set time to pray. Any prayer is wonderful. But in viewing prayer in this way, we attempt to put our big God in a little manageable box. Although done with great intentions, this view of prayer limits us from experiencing the blessings of prayer at a much greater level.
The second view of prayer is much more common today and its the view that we mainly come to God in prayer when we are in need. It is to see God as a means to get what we want out of life. And just as the former view of prayer mentioned above, this can also be done with the best of intentions. In fact many churches today fall into this pattern of prayer, except in within the church, we corporately pray as a body for the needs of others more than our own needs. Prayer meetings in the church consist mostly of praying for illness and healing. And again, there is nothing wrong with this. We should pray for the well being of others. The problem comes when this view of prayer is the predominate one. The problem comes when we are praying more for ailing church members rather than the lost world. As one pastor put it, at times the church prays harder to keep the saints out of Heaven than to pull the lost out of Hell.
When it comes to prayer, it boils down to the fact that our eyes are so focused on getting what we want out of prayer. And what happens when these selfish prayers are not answered, particularly in the case of praying for someone who is not healed from an illness, maybe even resulting in death? We cannot fathom at times why God would not hear the prayers of the saints and not want to answer their prayers of deliverance. And so discouragement sets in, and faith is shaken. We begin to doubt the power of prayer. We begin to wonder if God really hears us. I used to think of prayer in this way. And in doing so, I only proved that I knew nothing about the purpose of prayer.
I thought I had a great prayer life, until I began examining the lives of greater men that have come before me. Prayer warriors in the fullest sense of the word. And when measured against them, my prayer life was almost pagan in form. Think of these two modern views of prayer I mentioned above, and then begin to read about the men of God throughout history. Charles Spurgeon was known for his great prayer life. One friend of his told the story once of he and Spurgeon taking a stroll in the woods and laughing about different things together. Spurgeon stopped along the path and told his friend, “Let us kneel in prayer right now and thank God for laughter.” And upon reading this, I immediately was shamed. How often do we pray to God in this way? To just stop and acknowledge Him as giver of all things! And to not always come before God with an agenda, but simply to praise him for the water that runs from our kitchen sink, and for the food that he (not the grocery store) himself has supplied so that we may be nourished.
In the mid 1800’s in Bristol, England, George Muller set out to raise up and fund a series of orphanages. He took in hundreds of needy children to support. Muller was also a pastor. And his prayer life was amazing. In pastoring his church, Muller never asked for a paycheck. He had a box put in the back of the church for the members to put offerings for his support. He never urged them to contribute, because he wanted his sole income to be provided by Gods hand. God never let him down. He operated the orphanages in the same manner. Never asking for donations or funding, he and his staff prayed to God to supply their needs. One month the orphanage was out of food. The children were hungry and it was time for their morning breakfast of bread and milk. Muller prayed for God to supply the needs of the morning. No sooner than he had finished praying, a man with a bread wagon entered the orphanage and said that the Lord had led him to give a donation of bread to the church. A few minutes later, a man driving a milk wagon had busted his wagon wheel right in front of the orphanage. His wagon was full of milk. Knowing that he would never be able to get the milk to his destination without it now spoiling, the milk man told Muller to make good use of all that he had in the wagon.
One of my favorite preachers today Paul Washer has told the story of the beginnings of his ministry, Heartcry. He said there were times when in trying to get the organization going, he and his staff couldn’t take a paycheck. But always through prayer, God provided for them. Because in all their prayers, they never prayed for their will, but always Gods.
You see, prayer is about communing with God. Prayer is about relationship with God. But prayer is not about getting what we want. Prayer is not an avenue in which we can boast of how faithful we have been and therefore, begin thinking that God owes it to us to answer our prayers. Prayer is not about our wants and desires, its about the will of God. It is so much more freeing when we learn this. Because we realize that chasing after our own wants never works out. But if we are in the center of Gods will for our lives, then no affliction can prevail in our lives. I am still growing in my prayer life and in constant need of repentance. But I have learned how to prayer. Rather, I should say Ive learned how I am most comfortable praying. It is in the bulk of my prayers, that I utter these words….
“Father, not my will but yours be done….” Its to begin to pray for things in this manner of example;
I prayer for healing, but if God be more glorified in some way in the sickness; Not my will but yours be done.
I pray for a new car, but if God be more glorified in my travels by foot, then let me walk all the days of my life with no car.
I pray for prosperity, but if God be more glorified in my poverty, then I will rejoice in what little I have.
And in all this, let me do this with a heart full of thanksgiving that even though I may not be fulfilling the desires of my flesh, I walk in the utmost safety, because I have put myself in the center of His will, not my own. Using the example of health, we should never pray for health so that we may live longer for ourselves, but we pray for health so that we may be a sharper tool to be used by the Master for bringing others to know his glory! If we are praying for a car, it should never be so that we can keep up the with Jones next door, but so that in his will, it can be used to aid us in bringing Him glory! In everything we do, in every prayer we pray, at the core should be a concern for the glory of God!
When we begin to seek the Lord, our wants start align with His will. If a person in truly walking with the Lord, that person will begin to carry the same burdens as his Heavenly Father. And the temporal wants of this dying world will begin to be viewed as trivial and fleeting. The disciples were in constant prayer. And they saw God do many great things. But there were also times that they were not delivered. They lived a poor life. And they died horrible deaths. John was boiled alive in a vat of oil and then shipped off to live a portion of his later years on a remote island. Peter was crucified upside down. Paul was beheaded. Spurgeon struggled with depression his whole life and then died. A person with a low view of prayer could say that God didn’t answer their prayers of deliverance. But they would only show their ignorance in the matter. Because the treasure and reward of the toils of these men was not placed in earthly comforts, but in a pearl of great price. They held tight to a hidden treasure in a field. Their treasure was found in Christ, and their reward was not on this earth but in Heaven.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”Matthew 13:44-46.
Regardless of the outcome of your prayers, it should always be a greater desire in your heart that God’s will triumph personal requests, because even though we may not get what we want, there is joy to know that the desire of our hearts seeks more for Gods will. Because we know that when we are tied to our Father, no danger can overtake us. Its sort of like those parents who put leashes around their young children s hands when going out in public. The kids may kick and scream when they cant go their way, but their way is not always the best. And as long as they are tied to their parents and walk in their footsteps, the child will not be lost. How is your prayer life today? Is God penciled into a box, giving him just a small portion of time? Or do you enter daily into an ongoing dialogue with him in which you pray constantly with out ceasing? (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Maybe its time like me, you repented of your prayer life. And if so that is nothing to be ashamed of, but something to rejoice in that God in his mercy, brings us into a greater knowledge of himself, thus placing our lives at the center of His will. For if he cares for the sparrows in the trees, then how much more will he care for his children who call upon his name, and walk in his ways?
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”Matthew 10:29-31.
It has been said that by the time a person reaches the age of eighteen, the foundation for their personality has been fully formed. And by their thirtieth birthday, there is little to no deviate from that persons basic personality traits. An individual’s temperament, their likes and dislikes, view points on how the world operates have fully been formulated and integrated by adulthood. The older we get, the more set in our ways become. Change becomes more difficult, and to some, down right terrifying. This fact alone is what makes salvation in Christ so amazing.
When a person comes to truly know the Lord Jesus, (and more than that, Jesus knows them) a radical change takes place. The scales of the old person that have been ingrained for years begin to supernaturally fall off, as a nature that had formerly been foreign to us overtake our soul.
You see, a man cannot change who he is by his own will. The great Puritan writer John Bunyan described this best in his infamous literary work, Pilgrims Progress. Bunyan wrote that an empty room is like a man’s heart. And the great amounts of dust on the floor of that room represent a man’s sin. The dusty floor is our hearts without Christ. The man can attempt to sweep the room with all his might, trying to clean it up on his own. But the dust, or sin, is merely stirred up, and in time will settle back down upon the floor. But the servant who brings clean water to the man’s room cleanses the filthy floor by washing the dust that the man could not get rid of himself permanently. The servant with the water is representative of Christ.
That is what makes the gospel of Christ such a supernatural work. Because it is not something we can do ourselves. We dont have the power to clean ourselves up from our black stains of sin. Sure, we may try at times, but outside of the atoning work of Christ on the cross and our faith being placed in Him, its only a matter of time before the sins we tried to sweep away settle back onto the floor of our hearts. We do not have access to the living water that washes away sins unless we are in relationship with the Messiah who came as our servant, ever ready to cleanse the dust of sin that we could not.
In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord tells of the supernatural work that He is going to do in the sinful nation of Israel, whom is at that time profaning his Holy name.
“I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.” Ezekiel 36:23.
The Lord God says that he is going to show the Holiness of his great name by doing something great that even the surrounding, pagan nations will look at the nation of Israel and marvel at the supernatural work that was done before their eyes. What will be done? Will God call-fire down from the sky or make the rivers run with blood? To accomplish this, the Lord does something even more amazing. The Lord does something that even the unbelieving nations cannot explain.
God takes the nation of Israel, who were known among other nations to be an evil, rebellious nation….and he will completely change their hearts. God will clean the floor that they could not. Look at the verse that follow and see how God describes this process of completely changing the heart of the nation of Israel.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:25-27.
Notice God doesnt say, “Ill sprinkle clean water, and I will pray that you stay clean.” The Lord says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you WILL be clean.” And God doesnt say, “I will put my Spirit in you, and hopefully it will change you enough so that you will follow in my ways.” That would make God appear weak and at the mercy of our will! God declares as an emphatic, concrete, absolute statement, “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” There is no wiggle room for maybe being changed. God says if he cleanses you, you WILL be changed! Because the old sin nature has been discarded and you no longer are the same, but now possess the righteous nature of another in the person and work of Christ.
If a person is not changed with a new nature, then as CS Lewis once said, it is highly probable that the salvation in which they boast is imaginary. Because as we see in Ezekiel, when the Lord saves a man, he rips out the old heart of stone and replaces it with a Heavenly heart of flesh. One that is sensitive to the will of the Father, and keenly aware at the rustling of approaching sin. This is without a doubt, a work that no man can accomplish. Although William Jensen Reynolds meant well when he penned the hymn ‘I Have Decided To Follow Jesus‘, he was theologically incorrect. God doesnt wait for mans invitation. The nation of Israel was not in search of salvation and satisfied to live in their sins. But God himself made the sovereign decision to change them. Because again, man cannot change himself.
“…there is no one who understand, there is no one who seeks God.” Romans 3:11.
No one seeks God without the drawing of the Holy Spirit. Because to seek God is no more in the nature of a man than flying is in the nature of a dog. That is why salvation is a supernatural work of God in man.
Yesterday I wrote on the change that must take place within a person in order to truly be saved. In the beginnings of Colossians chapter 3, the apostle Paul in great detail describes things that we must ‘put to death’ in order to change. It is to be a literally taking off of the old nature, so that the new nature may be put on in its exchange. But Paul goes further after he lists the vices that we must strip ourselves of for the glory of Christ. Paul rounds out his instruction with what must be now put on.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14.
Right away, we are again made aware that it was not our choice nor our doing in the process of changing our hearts. Those that are His are ‘God’s chosen people.‘ Here is the reason that I want this reality to be grasped. Because when we begin to realize that it was God who saved us from the sin that filled our hearts rather than of our own doing, gratitude and thankfulness and brokenness before the foot of the cross start to flood our very soul.
The prince of preachers Charles Haddon Spurgeon opened an orphanage in the mid to late 1800’s for boys. During this time, it was not uncommon for children to be cast out of families due to financial troubles, and to see these children living by themselves on the streets. Eating garbage, and sleeping in slums. These children had no future to look forward to. Many of them fell into a life of crime due to never knowing any different circumstances in their lives. But Spurgeon opened this orphanage and took a great many of them off the street, sometimes even against their own wishes. But in time, many of these boys grew into respectable young men under the influence of Spurgeon. And through this preaching, a great many more professed faith in Christ and went on to become exceptional preachers as well. Spurgeon did not wait for these children to invite him into their lives. He knew that they were lost and without a future. So he waited not for them, because they would have never come to him. He acted first out of love that he first had for them.
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19.
As the old sin nature of such things as anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk are cast aside through the God ordained process of regeneration. As a result, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are God-given fruits of a heart of flesh that take the place of the old personality traits. All of these being characteristics of Jesus. Because just as an earthly father passes on personality traits to his son, so it is when our Heavenly Father adopts a child into his family. Thus, upon Jesus taking away our sins, we in exchange take on the righteousness of our new Father in Christ.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Paul goes on to mention that we are to put on a forgiving nature. This is something that is a huge struggle in the flesh. We as a people hold grudges. And even when we say we forgive, we at times find it hard not to gossip behind our offender’s back. But again, when we put the death sentence of sin into perspective, and realize that it was us who should have hung on that cross, we see that Christ forgave the unforgivable sins of humanity to the point of death. How dare we even contemplate harboring unforgiveness towards, or gossiping about a person, when we have committed far worse crimes against the creator of the universe! How can we be so bold as to cast judgement upon others when we deserve divine judgement! As one of my favorite Casting Crowns songs says, “Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers.”
And above all, Paul says that in Christ, we are to take on the nature of love. Our world today has no clue what love is outside of Christ. Secular society associates love with tingly feelings and sex. That is why it apparently is so easy for our culture to profess love at the wedding altar and then claim to fall out of love when we dont get what we want.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8.
The implication of this verse could not be any clearer. If someone does not know Jesus…truly know him as Lord of their lives, then they cannot love or even know what love is. Our world does not know love. It is driven by selfish lusts and personal wants. And God will not bless this. In fact, His Holy wrath abides on these actions. In Romans chapter 1, Paul writes that the Lord gave people up to the lusts of their flesh. He gave them up to sexual immorality and a depraved mind. It was the Lord’s way of saying that if they wanted a life separated from God, then they could have it, and He would see them on judgement day. Gods passive wrath. In our world today, we see sexual immorality running rampant, and people with depraved minds committing the most heinous acts against other people and even the unborn. Our country is not under God’s blessing right now. Read Romans 1, and then turn on the news. You will have a hard time denying that we are now under God’s passive wrath as a nation.
So now is the time we pray for God to reenact his supernatural work of regeneration upon our nation. Just as God supernaturally changed the hearts of the nation of Israel, we need to be on our faces daily praying for revival. But it starts with you. Have your heart been broken to the point of knowing that you can’t save yourself? Have you cried out to God and feverantly asked for him to give you a new nature? What does the floor of your heart look like? You cant disperse the sinful dust, you can only displace it. But Jesus makes all things new. He changes hearts of stone to that of flesh. We cannot cling to our own works, but only to Christ crucified.
“Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.” -Augustus M. Toplady
I was the only kid in gym class that couldnt perform a single pull up. Eighth grade was hard enough without the embarrassment of being proven to be the weakest of the group. I was an active child, but very frail in stature. I was bothered for days over the incident, and I realized that I wanted to change. I knew in order to make become stronger, I would need to sacrifice some things. I would have to begin doing things differently. No more coming home from school and plopping down on the couch or playing video games until bed time. I realized that certain habits and routines, although enjoyable, were at the same time keeping me from growing stronger. In order to accomplish the goal of getting stronger, I had to put old habits to death.
I would have to take on a new nature.
I began working out instead of playing hours of Super Mario. My father had an old workout machine that I used. It wasnt long before I had gotten too strong, and he bought a weight set we placed in our basement. From that point forward I became a new creation. While other friends of mine would be outside playing after school, I would spend hours in our basement weight room. And this discipline continued on through out high school and college, and being healthy and fit is still a part of my personality that I carry with me to this day.
When I met my wife I was fresh out of college. I wasnt a bad kid by the worlds standards, but I had become rough around the edges due to the college lifestyle. Just a little over 21 years old, I would occasionally have a drink with buddies at a bar. On my second date with my wife, I took her out to eat and I ordered an alcoholic beverage. Halfway through the dinner, I realized that she was very uncomfortable. Finally, Lacy told me that she had seen alcohol ruin families, and would not be with a man who drank alcohol. She didnt tell me what to do, she just laid out her standards for what she looked for in a future mate. I wanted to be with Lacy. But in order to do this, I would have to sacrifice certain things. Even put them to death.
I would have to take on a new nature.
That night was the last drink I ever had. I put that party lifestyle to death, and it was not a burden. Because my wife was a greater treasure to me. I had no problem sacrificing alcohol in order to be with her. Because Lacy was worth it to me. And to this day, I have no desire in me to drink alcoholic beverages, because I dont need a buzz to relax me. Just spending time with my wife daily is more than enough satisfaction for me.
When we want something in life, naturally sacrifices have to be made in order to attain that which we strive towards. To attain the goal of being a great businessman, sacrifices have to be made in order to climb the ladder of success. To be a great athlete, comfort must be exchanged for daily hours of blood, sweat, and tears to condition your body. Even in the life of a soldier, leisure must be traded in for a very regiment lifestyle. And to sacrifice things when we have a goal is never a burden. Because that which we strive towards is seen as a greater treasure. Otherwise, we wouldnt be striving towards it.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.
The apostle Paul summed it up best by saying to achieve our goals, we must change. The old habits must die in order for the new creation in us to spring forth. But the goal in which Paul writes is the goal of Christlikeness.
In all areas of life this fact holds true; that in order to change, you must be willing to sacrifice. Yet when we look around our world, it seems that Christianity and becoming more like Christ is the most worthy goal we could seek, and it is the only goal that our nation assigns no change required in its pursuit. You see I can look back at the time before I began working out and share a testimony of how weak I was and the things I had to give up in order to get in shape. I can look back at dating my wife and give testimony of how I changed in my love for her. So shouldnt it hold true that in my walk with Christ, upon being asked how God’s grace has changed me, that I should light up with more excitement and zeal than any of my former pursuits, and begin to give testimony to how Christ radically changed my life?
To many people will claim to be follower of Christ with little to no sacrifice in their lives. Christ changed me in many ways, but one of the first ways I changed when I truly began to follow Christ was in the area of entertainment. My preferences changed. Radically. I could no longer stomach movies or television or music that would use the Lords name in vain. I could no longer justify it by saying, “Well its just entertainment and God knows I love him.” It was no longer a game to me, the treasure of Christ in whom I now sought was being profaned, and it began to disgust and even anger me. This new hatred of sin led to me getting rid of our monstrous DVD library because I saw where entertainment throughout my life had become an idol. It had become my God. Was it a sacrifice? You bet. Was it a burden to do this? Not in the least. Because I now viewed Christ as more of a treasure in my life than entertainment.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44.
To anyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord, I would have to ask them, “What treasure did you give up in exchange for Christ?” The parable in Matthew explains the sacrificial mindset. The man had treasures of his own. Things that he had stored up that were important to him in his life. But one day, he found this treasure hidden in field, and he realized that the value of the treasure far superseded the worth of all that he presently owned. The man sold all that he had once considered to be a treasure in his life so that he may have this new treasure. The man had to give up all that he had in order to gain something greater. Christ is that treasure. And if there is no sacrifice in your pursuit of God, then Christ is not your treasure
I tend to squirm when I hear an evangelist call people to come and accept Christ, claiming salvation is a simple process. Changing is not simple. Sacrificing involved effort. The Christian life is anything but simple. Any of the apostles could attest to this. Following Jesus cost many of them their jobs, friends, reputation, and even their earthly lives. Living for Christ is not easy. But it is worth it.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:8.
The most assured sign a believer can have in their life that they are indeed a new creation is change. It is to begin to hate the sin you once loved, and to love the righteousness of God that you once hated. It is to have a new spirit in you, which in all actuality is very accurate. Think about this for one moment. According to the scriptures, believers in Jesus are given a helper inside of them, God’s own spirit, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within a believer in Christ. So it is impossible to put forth enough effort to make yourself a new creation without the Holy Spirit. That is why salvation is a supernatural work of God. It is not something you can do yourself.
Following this logic, we must define the Holy Spirit. The word Holy actually means separate. So when we bow to the Lordship of Christ and confess him as Lord, a “separate” spirit comes to dwell in us. Separate from what? Well, God’s spirit is separate from evil. So if we claim to be saved in Christ, that means we should have the Holy (Separate) Spirit dwelling in us. Therefore, the desires of our hearts will naturally begin to change seeing that we are no longer driven by our sinful spirit, but now heavily influenced by the Holy Spirit inside of us! This literally makes it impossible to continue living in an habitual lifestyle of sin while claiming to be a Christian.
Christianity is not ‘fire insurance’ from the flames of Hell. Following Jesus isnt something you do just so you can escape Gods wrath. I joke alot with friends and tell them that I believe country music was part of the fall in the garden of Eden. I cant tell you how many country songs I have heard that tout lyrics about fighting, cussing, womanizing, drinking, but will round out the chorus with thankfulness that they are saved. I believe it was the great theologian Travis Tritt who sang, “Baptized in 100 proof, and saved by the blood of the lamb.” And because of such worldly influences, our society has turned Christianity into a pursuit that as the lyrics point out, you can continue willfully living in sin and be saved. And many are being deceived.
Christianity is a dying to self. Paul said this;
“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” 1 Corinthians 15:31.
The apostle Paul claimed he had to die daily! He is not speaking of physically perishing, but of dying to his sinful desires. For even though his eyes are on the prize, the lusts of the world fight for to draw our attention away from our treasure in Christ. We are called to die daily to our old self, to the self that we put off when we cast our burden at the foot of the cross. So what does this putting off of the old self look like?
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:5-10.
Paul lists what we would call major sins first. In order to follow Jesus, these must be put off. Not only put off, but the language used is ‘put to death.’ Sexual relations outside of husband and wife marriage is a practice that is rampant in our world today, even among people who will claim to be Christians. But Paul says that a person cannot simultaneously stay in the old self and be the new creation in Christ at the same time. You must choose one or the other, because sin and righteousness cannot go together.
He goes on to list impurity, which is taking perverting and misusing the good things God gives and making them defiled. For example, sex is a good thing. God invented it! But it was created to operate within the context of man and women united in marriage. Anything other than this is considered sinful and impure. Food is a good thing. But when we binge go to food as our comfort instead of Christ, then food has become sin and is therefore used in an impure manner.
Evil desires are mentioned next. We all would say a hearty ‘amen’ to not having evil desires, but honestly if our weekly thoughts could be displayed on a screen, not one of us would be free from shame. To be free from evil desires is to begin to hope for the best in others, even when they are against us. It is to filter everything through the lens of Christ.
Covetousness is mentioned next. That is to desire what is not yours to begin with. It is to not be satisfied with the breath and life God has bless one with and to begin to tell God that He is not enough. Paul finishes with idolatry, which is taking the good things God gives, and making them ultimate in your life over God. As one pastor said, it’s taking a good thing and putting it in place of God. Idols can be found simply by looking at your life, and pinpointing something that you would say you couldnt give up for Christ.
Paul goes on further to list what DA Carson deemed as everyday sins. Sins that we dont think twice about in our lives. They are just sort of acceptable. Anger, malice, wrath, slander, obscene talk, and lying. Why would the bar be raised to put such menial sins to death?
Think of a terrible sickness. The factors leading up to sickness can be many. Sometimes it is environment, lack of activity, poor diet, family genetics, bad health habits, or just laziness that can add up over time to produce sickness in a person. Individually, these things may not seem like a big deal. But over time, they add up and produce a sickness that can at times be fatal. It was the little things that added up to become a big thing.
Take any big sin. Murder, adultery, sexual immorality. No person simply wakes up one day and decides that they are going to do these things. Its the accumulation of the little things adding up. Stored up anger can lead to violence. Slander, coveting, or thinking bad thoughts about your spouse can lead to adultery. And lying only digs a deeper hole the soon is inescapable without consequences. These things must be put to death in order to seek the treasure of Christ. A person claiming to be a Christ follower while holding on to these idols only deceives themselves. If you continue reading in Colossians 3, Paul then tells us what we must put on once we have taken the old off. And I will address that portion of scripture tomorrow.
Do not simply believe yourself to be saved because you go to church or have been baptised. Examine yourself spiritually. For we know that baptism in itself is not salvation, but only an outward sign of an inward change. Can you look back at your life before Christ and see a change? What sacrifices did you make in exchange for pursuing Christ? Every worthy endeavor in our lives calls for change. Certain things in us must die in order to put on the new self. I saw a bumper sticker on a car that paraphrased this entire blog in four words;
No Change, No Christ
Know Change, Know Christ
If there is no change, no sacrifice, no putting off of the old self, then their can be no relationship with Christ. But if you have experienced change and are familiar with sacrificing old sins in exchange for Him, then you will know Christ. Because he has become that treasure that is more precious than anything this world has to offer.