Tag Archives: Position

Prayers & Principles Background Assumptions

Background Assumptions.  It is important to articulate some assumptions that are made because these will form a foundation upon which we will build in the subsequent discussions.  First, we must answer the question, why did God create the heavens and earth?  The answer is that God created for His glory2.  This is not because God is lacking in any way or that He needs anything from His creation (Acts 17:25); this is because He is Creator and a creation that is glorifying to Him is a natural outflow of who He is3.  Secondly, let us answer the question what is God like?  God is sovereign over all things and has no equal or challenger of any significance; God is good, love, merciful, gracious, patient, holy, peace love, righteous, just, jealous, and wrathful towards all evil4.  Thirdly, what is the purpose of man?  Man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) to reflect the attributes of God to creation, to relate with God and others, and to reign over creation5 with the purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever6.  Our representatives, Adam & Eve, chose to rebel against God by jettisoning His sovereign authority over them; this was then evidenced by the act of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which God had specifically forbidden.  This was not a minor infraction, but was an act of grand treason!  Before this rebellion, life functioned harmoniously and in rhythm, like that of a spectacular symphony.  But that is no longer the case.  The consequences of sin are catastrophic:  death (Genesis 2:17), difficulty in child-rearing (Genesis 3:16), distorted roles in marriages (Genesis 3:16), creation opposing man’s efforts to cultivate it (Genesis 3:17-20) and the creation itself is broken (Romans 8:20).  And these effects will not be eradicated until Jesus returns and makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  The fall of man did not surprise God or catch him off guard.  He is sovereign and the scriptures tell us that Jesus existed before the foundation of the world and that God’s plan always was to atone for the sins of his people through the death of Jesus.7  The cross was not plan “B” because plan “A” failed.  So this requires us to answer the last, and perhaps the most difficult, question:  “did God allow the fall to better display his glory and grace?”  If God is sovereign Creator that rules and reigns with absolute authority, then we are compelled to answer ‘yes.‘  God knew before He formed the world that man would stray and had already provided an acceptable sacrifice to reconcile us back to Himself.  God never initiates or is the author of sin, but He does use it to accomplish His sovereign purposes and will – this is visibly seen in the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-46).  If God has the power to stop it, and does not then we must conclude that He permitted it for His greater glory and purposes.  If we probe this question a little further, by daring to ask why would God allow this, what greater purpose could it possibly serve?  Is God’s mercy and grace more apparent to Adam and Eve in the garden or to us in the person of Jesus Christ?  It becomes obvious that the boundless love, mercy and grace of God is more completely displayed in adopting us than it was in Adam and Eve.  We are a depraved, rebellious, hard hearted, idolatrous people who want nothing to do with God, and yet He loves us and chases us down and extends forgiveness and grace by living the life that we could not live, dying the death that we could not die to pay the penalty that we could not pay.  So in short, God’s glory is much more revealed in His grace extended to fallen and rebellious humanity than it ever would have been had we never rebelled.8

NOTES:
1Webster defines a culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture.  A culture is formed out of what is valued, what is important.
2Isaiah 43:7:  “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made”, and “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1 ESV).  As time, as we know it, is brought to an end God will receive the worship that is rightly His:   “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”” (Revelation 4:11 ESV).  David proclaims “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” (Psalms 8:1 ESV) and Ephesians 1:11-12 tells us “that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12 ESV).  God created for His glory because it was a natural outflow of the character and nature of who God is.  One can hardly glance at the stars on a quiet night or take in the Swiss Alps or the Pacific ocean or the Grand Canyon without worship welling up in his soul.  When we take in so much of creation we want to proclaim with Jeremiah that “it is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:12 ESV)!  More information on this available at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory
3For a more in depth discussion on this, see The Character and Nature of the Created Order by Bruce Henry.
4For a more in depth discussion on this, see The Character and Nature of God by Bruce Henry.
5Brian Hedges’ book, Christ Formed in You:  The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change, is very helpful in developing these ideas of reflecting, relating and reigning.  (Kindle edition, location 260-334)
6The Westminster Shorter Catechism, AD 1647; 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 11:36, Psalm 73:25-28.
7“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20 ESV); “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 ESV); “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV); “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 13:8 ESV)
8“For since the Son of God was made man in order to restore us, who were already lost, from our miserable over throw, how could that be foreseen which would never have happened unless man had sinned?”  “God created man flexible; and not only permitted, but willed that he should be tempted. For he both adapted the tongue of the serpent beyond the ordinary use of nature, to the devil’s purpose, just as if any one should furnish another with a sword and armor; and then, though the unhappy event was foreknown by him, he did not apply the remedy, which he had the power to do. On the other hand, when we come to speak of man, he will be found to have sinned voluntarily, and to have departed from God, his Maker, by a movement of the mind not less free than perverse.”  “For his grace is more abundantly poured forth, through Christ, upon the world, than it was imparted to Adam in the beginning.”  John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete) on Genesis (trans. John King; Accordance electronic ed. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), n.p.

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The Gospel Propels Us to Live Missionally

“When God’s grace is working on us and in us, it will also work itself out through us.  The internal renewal of our minds and hearts creates an external propulsion that moves us out in love and service to others.”  page 67

“It is also the answer to your failure to love others, engage the culture, and live missionally.  If the gospel is renewing you internally, it will also be propelling you externally.” page 68

“But that sense of ‘should’ has no motivational power.  It was law, not gospel.  It could show me what I ought to be doing, but it could not change my heart so that I actually wanted to do it.” page 68-69

“Was joyless, mechanical obedience really honoring to Jesus?  Did God intend his commands to feel like drudgery?  When faced with this dilemma, most people settle for either legalism (obey even though you don’t feel like it) or license (don’t obey at all).  But neither of these is gospel!  The gospel of God’s grace is the fuel for mission, and when we run low on that fuel, our love and service to others grinds to a halt”  page 69

“It means that mission is not duty (something we ‘should do’) but a natural overflow of the gospel’s work inside of us.  If you aren’t motivated to love, serve and speak the gospel to people, the answer isn’t ‘just do it,’ the answer is to examine your heart, repent of sin, and discern where your unbelief is short-circuiting the natural outward movement of the gospel.  As the gospel renews your heart, it will also renew your desire to move out in faith into relationships and opportunities God places in your path.” page 69

-From The Gospel-Centered Life by World Harvest Mission.  Download a free sample of chapter 1 here

The Gospel Grid

“The apostle Peter teaches that a lack of ongoing transformation in our lives comes from forgetting what God has done for us in the gospel (2 Peter 1:3-9). If we are to grow into maturity in Christ, we must deepen and enlarge our understanding of the gospel as God’s appointed means for personal and communal transformation.”

[The gospel] “is not just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation.  It is not simply deliverance from sin’s penalty, but release from sins power.  The gospel is what makes us right with God (justification) and it is also what frees us to delight in God (sanctification).  The gospel changes everything!”

“The more I grow in my Christian life, the more I grow in my awareness of God’s holiness and of my flesh and sinfulness.” … “But my awareness of both is growing.  I am increasingly seeing God as he actually is (Isaiah 55:8-9) and myself as I actually am (Jeremiah 7:9-10).” … “As my understanding of my sin and of God’s holiness grows, something else grows:  my appreciation and love for Jesus.” … “The cross looms larger and more central in my life as I rejoice in the Savior who died upon it.”

“Because of the indwelling sin that remains in me, I have an ongoing tendency to minimize the gospel or ‘shrink the cross.’ This happens when I either (a) minimize God’s perfect holiness, thinking of him as something less than his Word declares him to be, or (b) elevate my own righteousness, thinking of myself as better than I actually am.  The cross becomes smaller and Christ’s importance in my life is diminished.

We need to identify, admit, and feel the depth of our brokenness and sinfulness.

“Our hope is not in our own goodness, nor in the vain expectation that God will compromise his standards and ‘grade on a curve.’  Rather, we rest in Jesus as our perfect Redeemer – the One who is ‘our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30).”

-Exerted from The Gospel-Centered Life by World Harvest Mission, pages 8-10.  Download a sample of chapter 1 here

Men need Majesty

Yesterday, I briefly posted a quote from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion which said “men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”  Calvin wrote this after reflecting upon the godly men in scriptures:  “Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God.”  Let us look at a few passages that show the response of men when they are duly confronted with the presence of the Almighty:

  • Isaiah was likely the most holy man of his day, and he was reduced to speechlessness when he was in the presence of the Lord:  ““Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV).
  • Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1 ESV).  He was convinced that if he could gain an audience with God he would be able to “argue with him, and [I] would be acquitted forever by my judge.” (Job 23:7 ESV).  God ultimately answers Job’s plea in chapter 38 as He begins to unfold for Job (and us) his might, sovereignty and infinite-ness for the next 5 chapters.  Job attempts to stop God in chapter 40 by saying, ““behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further”” (Job 40:4–5 ESV), but God continues unpacking His sovereign infinite-ness.  Once Job had experienced being the presence of God, he rightly reckons himself to be finite, limited in perspective and insignificant:  “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”” (Job 42:5–6 ESV).
  • Even the Israelites, who had experienced first hand the miraculous delivery at the hand of God from Egyptian slavery, were fearful of being in the presence of God. “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”” (Exodus 20:18–19 ESV)

It is unfortunate that much of what we are taught and consume in the modern evangelical church is man centered and attempts to build us up; it is Christianized self esteem.  This is not the historical understanding that holy men from the past had, nor is it the picture that we see in the scriptures.  What we need most is to be racked with the infinite might and majesty of the eternal, sovereign Creator so as to be put in our place.  He is sovereign, infinite and eternal, we are limited, finite and tiny.  When we are confronted with the majesty of God, we are rendered speechless and understand our right position in the universe.  And when we understand that the universe and scriptures are not about us, but God, there is great joy and freedom.  And ultimately profound worship emerges as we marinate on the fact that the eternal, mighty, holy God would be mindful of us, insignificant worms.  Instead of digesting a steady stream of how to texts (be a better husband, be a better father, break free from pornography, etc), try spending time mining out the majesty of God and many of your struggles will begin to loose influence in your life.

Grace Driven Effort (part 2)

Yesterday, we began talking about killing sin (mortification) in our lives.  If we are honest, this is topic rarely discussed in Christian circles and most never really experience any significant level of victory over recurrent, ongoing sins in their lives.  There is no doubt that the scriptures call us to kill (mortify) sin in our lives – and to take radical steps in this pursuit.  Matthew 5:29 reminds us of the seriousness with which Jesus views sin and the radical steps we should be willing to eradicate it from our lives.  Yesterday, we summarized points 1-4 from Ralph Erskine’s article entitled The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification.  Today, we will look at points 5-8 in an attempt to replace “us driven effort” with “grace driven effort.”

5.  The motives are different.  Ultimately, the Christian empowered by “grace driven effort” will not serve sin, because sin has been put to death and he now lives to God (Romans 6:6).  Conversely, “us driven effort” runs from sin not because he is alive to God, but so he can live.  “Grace driven effort” kills sin because the love of God overwhelms him, “us driven effort” attempts to kill sin so that God will love him and find him acceptable.  One knows that God accepts him, the other is trying with all of his effort to earn God’s acceptance.  “Us driven effort” relies on us, our discipline and hard work as the foundation for killing sin, thus placing our hope in trust in us rather than in God.

6.  The nature is different.  “Grace driven effort” seeks to not just subdue and weaken sin, but to completely destroy and eradicate it from our being because sin is contrary to our nature.  When we employ “us driven effort,” we are OK to live with sin as long as it is beaten into submission and rarely rears its ugly head on the surface of our lives.  One violently attacks sin while the other makes pacts to let it have dominion in unseen areas of our lives.  “Us driven effort” manages surface level sins and is shocked when the lion that has been keeping on a leash devours them.

7.  The extent to which war is waged against sin is different.  “Grace driven effort” sees and beholds God as supreme, holy and sovereign and every fiber of our being hates sin and never approves of it.  “Grace driven effort” sustains us in the lifelong fight against sin and the goal to be holy as God is holy.  In “us driven effort,” we may hate sin and its affects with part of our being, but there are levels of our heart that are OK to live with sin, as long as they are not “bad” sins like adultery, murder, alcoholism, abuse, etc.  In “us driven effort,” we make a pact with our sin, allowing the “lesser” ones to remain so long as the “surface” level sins are not seen; there is no energy for the long lasting war with sin, victory is short and not sustained.  “Grace driven effort” is never at peace with sin, it violently attacks sin.

8.  Their success is different.  Make no mistake, our battle with sin is one that we will fight until we die, or Jesus returns.  Then we will be set from from sin and its affects.  “Grace driven effort” recognizes that some battles will be lost, but there are gains being made in the over all war“Grace driven effort” sees progress in the putting to death of the corrupt nature that dwells within, not just the surface manifestations of that corrupt nature.  “Us driven effort,” on the other hand, never really progresses much in the war against sin because the goal is to manage sin and its consequences instead of ripping it out by its root.  In “us driven effort,” one sin is often times replaced by another.  The Pharisees employed “us driven effort” in their attempt to mortify sin.  They looked good on the surface, successfully managing “external sin,” but their pride and self-righteousness had supplanted their “external sins.”  The later sins were more dangerous than the former because it blinded them to their need for a savior because they had found “success” on their own.  They really weren’t that bad.

In the end, “us driven effort,” reduces our reliance on God and dulls our sensitivity to sin.  When this is our primary mode of operation in our Christian life, we think that we don’t really have that much sin in our lives.  We aren’t really that bad or that depraved, just read the paper or watch the news if you want to see the really depraved people in the world!  We have made such great strides in cleaning ourselves up on the outside and putting to death the sins that everybody sees along with their uncomfortable consequences.  But, the reality is that we have most likely merely replaced these with more blinding and subtle sins like pride, self-discipline and self-righteousness.  In “us driven effort,” we are the focus, we have to make it happen, we are the ones that have the power to overcome.  That sounds a lot like what transpired many years ago in the Garden with Adam and Eve – they forsook the sovereign Creator’s command and provision for their own; they knew better.  “Grace driven effort” places us in a position before God that recognizes our complete inability and begs God to work.  The litmus test for which means you deploy is in answering the question, “who gets the glory?”  In “us driven effort,” the glory is ours because we were disciplined and hardworking enough; in “grace driven effort,” the glory is God’s because He is the deliverer.

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Grace Driven Effort (part 1)

Grace Driven Effort (part 1)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
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 3:1–3:10 ESV)

There is no doubt that the scriptures call us to kill (mortify) sin in our lives – and to take radical steps in this pursuit.  Matthew 5:29 reminds us of the seriousness with which Jesus views sin and the radical steps we should be willing to take in order to eradicate it from our lives.  The problem often times is how we go about this.  We normally view the spiritual disciplines as the primary means by which we kill sin in our lives.  Common advice is to pray more, read one’s bible more and get some accountability.  But, if we are honest, we know that these are powerless, in and of themselves, to victoriously kill sin in our lives.  They may help us manage sinful behaviors, but they won’t kill sin at its source.  What we need is not more us driven effort, but rather grace driven effort.  Grace driven effort requires a significant shift in our thinking and theology.

A 17th century Scottish Presbyterian minister named Ralph Erskine wrote a great article entitled The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification which is very helpful in helping us to abandoning us driven effort and replacing it with grace driven effort.  In this article, Mr. Erskine compares us driven effort versus grace driven effort.  I have summarized his thoughts on his first four points below (we will look at the last four tomorrow).

1.  Grace driven effort is fueled by gospel principles, such as the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13), Faith in Christ (Acts 15:9), and the constraining love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14).  Us driven effort is often times fueled by the approval of others, self-righteousness, fear of judgement (temporal or eternal), our own conscience, the example of others, and frequently the power of sin itself.  The last one is all too common in our modern evangelical experience; we use “lesser” sins to battle “greater” sins.  For example the man who struggles greatly with pornography or alcoholism, exerts his own self-righteous discipline to suppress the “greater” sin.  So self-righteousness now wars against lust; sin is wrestling against sin and sin is never killed, just managed and replaced by a more “acceptable” one.

2.  The weapons which are engaged are different.  Grace driven effort fights with the gospel truths such as the blood of Christ, the word of God, the promises as children, and the source of our righteousness in the death & resurrection of Jesus (Galatians 3:1-3, 6:14).  Us driven effort focuses, instead, on the law to beat sin.  This is manifest in our lives when we make vows and resolutions to overcome our sin, these become the strength that we depend upon to deliver us.  But Paul reminds us that “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14 ESV).  Our best efforts will never kill sin in our lives because our best efforts are rooted in law which is powerless to redeem and restore – the law only reveals our sin, but it will never deliver.  That is the point in Jesus, grace redeems and restores.  The law is useful in diagnosing the disease (like an X-Ray or MRI), but it will never cure the disease – only grace can cure.

3.  The sins they attempt to kill are different.  Us driven effort focuses especially on “external” sins like pornography, alcohol, profanity, and gossip to a lesser degree.  This is because us driven effort relies upon us to kill these so we deploy the only weapon we have on our own to defeat these sins:  sin.  We become disciplined, and dependent on our best efforts to win the war so we use sin to fight sin in an effort to manage our behavior.  Grace driven effort fights these sins, but also asks much deeper heart level questions in an attempt to determine the root causes of idolatry that exist from which these sins spring.  Grace driven effort is driven to bruise the head of the serpent and longs with Paul for deliverance (“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV)).  Grace driven effort persistently reminds us of God’s great ability and our utter inability.

4. The motive for killing sin is different.  Us driven effort is motivated by the consequences of sin in our lives.  Things like being found out, damage to our reputation, natural consequences like marriages being damaged, divorce and a host of other uncomfortable consequences.  Comfort, reputation and self will are in focus when we employ us driven effort.  Grace driven effort is different; it realizes that sin dishonors God, opposes Jesus, grieves the Spirit that dwells within and separates us from God.  Us driven effort avoids sin and attempts to kill it because it hurts us and causes discomfort, not because it offends the Creator and tarnishes the image of God that Jesus came to restore.

Colossians 3:1-10 is dripping with grace driven effort.  Follow the rhythm of this passage.  It starts with a conditional statement that the balance of the passage is built upon.  The conditional statement is if you are a Christian then you have been raised with Christ (see Romans 6:1-11) and are to set your mind on eternal things, not temporary things.  The text then reminds us that we have died (to sin and its dominion over our lives) and are alive to God and to the things of God and that we will appear with him in glory.  The text then tells us that in light of the truths that preceded it we are to put to death the sin in our lives.  Don’t miss that – the fuel for killing sin is found in what God has done for us and our right standing relationship with Him.  You will never successfully beat sin in your life if you are not wowed by the fact that the Creator of the universe loved you, pursued you and brought you into a relationship with Him of His own doing and choice.  Being wowed by this increasingly drives our affections toward God and eternal things as lesser (albeit often time good) things hold less appeal in our lives.

Grace Driven Effort (part 2)

Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)

Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) by Casting Crowns (itunes)
Songwriters: John Mark Hall; Michael Jr Bleecker

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a Virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He

Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

Living He loved me, dying He saved me
And buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming, oh, glorious day, oh, glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He

Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

‘Cause living He loved me, dying He saved me
And buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming, oh, glorious day, oh, glorious day

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He’s ascended, my Lord evermore

Death could not hold Him
The grave could not keep Him from rising again

Living He loved me, dying He saved me
And buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming, oh, glorious day, oh, glorious day
Glorious day

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my beloved one bringing
My Savior Jesus is mine

Living He loved me, dying He saved me
And buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming, oh, glorious day, oh, glorious day
Glorious day, oh, glorious day

God is our soverign Authority and our greatest Treasure

There is a grounding effect that happens in our lives as we understand our place in the universe before the holy God.  God is not only our sovereign Authority, but also our greatest Treasure; if He is only our sovereign Authority then our faith will be oppressive and marked by duty & obligation.  If you see Him as both, your faith will be marked by delight and joy; the latter is the picture the bible paints of authentic faith.