Monday, October 29, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 28, 2012

In a few days we will remember the Reformation, which occurred primarily in Europe in the 16th century.  At the heart of the Reformation was a desire to reclaim "the truth of the gospel".  So in that same vein I would like to explore this same "truth" in light of what the apostle Paul says in Galatians 2 and Ephesians 2.

(Read Galatians 2:1-21 and Ephesians 2:1-22)

Twice in Galatians 2, Paul mentions "the truth of the gospel" and in both instances he describes actions he took in order to protect it against false teaching and unChristian practice.  In verse 5, he refuses to give into the false teachers "so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you", and in verse 14 he rebukes Peter and Barnabas because he "saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel".

So what is the truth of the gospel which Paul is protecting?

Certainly it is the truth that salvation comes from God by grace through faith in Jesus (His life, death, and resurrection) for us.  But I think there is more.

When we read Ephesians 2, we see the same thing.  In verses 8-9, Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."
Clearly this is the truth of the gospel, but there is more.

If we read verses 11-18, the more becomes readily apparent.  Paul is not simply talking about reconciliation between God and human beings, but also reconciliation between human beings and human beings as the truth of the gospel.  Listen to how he develops this thought in verses 14-18:

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." 

In Jesus, we are one (both Jews and Gentiles).  And in Jesus we "both have access to the Father by one Spirit."  So the "truth of the gospel" goes beyond just personal salvation but to the greater truth that God is reconciling "all things" to Himself in Christ (see Colossians 1:19-20).  

So what do you think?  Is there more to "the truth of the gospel" than what we usually emphasize?
If so, what is it?  Why do you think we have not emphasized it?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 21, 2012

(Read Luke 18:9-14)

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector has always spoken directly to my heart.  You see, I am a recovering Pharisee.  I am one of those who tends to "look down on everybody else".  So I have to ask myself, "Am I confident in my own righteousness, or does my confidence come from somewhere else?"

This is not really an easy question to answer.  It is rather difficult to discern my own heart and seek to discover where my real confidence lies.  I pray that my confidence is found in Jesus alone, but I cannot always be sure.

But here's the good news: whether I am confident in Jesus alone, or whether some semblance of confidence in my own righteousness still exists, I know that I belong to Christ, and His finished work on my behalf is enough even to cover my own tendency towards self-righteousness!  To God be the glory!  Great things He has done!

But how can I say that?  Well, let's look at another scripture.  This is one I find gives me incredible comfort when I feel I am falling back into my pharisaical tendencies.

(Read II Timothy 2:11-13)

"Here is a trustworthy saying, ... if we are faithless, He will remain faithful ..." 

That small verse from God's enduring, eternal, living word gives me great hope.  It is all about what God has done and not what I have done!  Jesus saves!  Hallelujah!  Praise God!

So in response to Jesus' words,"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted", this is my prayer: "Lord, help me to humble myself so that you can lift me up.

What about you?  Do you tend to be more like the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?  Where then do you find your confidence?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 14, 2012

Are we seeking to please people or God?

The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 1:10, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God?"  He writes this in context of his defense of his apostleship (authority in being sent by Jesus) and a re-proclamation of his gospel (given to him by revelation from Jesus - see Galatians 1:12).

Since we are in the midst of an election season in America, now might be a good time to take stock on this question.  We must search our own hearts and consider: "Are we seeking to please people or God?"

(Read John 12:20-50)

Jesus is the eternal Son of God who took on flesh.  He is God in human form.  In these verses, He describes Himself as "the light" (see verses 35-36, 46) and instructs us, "Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."

Following this admonition, the gospel writer John, refers us to the failure of some to believe in Jesus (v. 37).  He quotes the prophet Isaiah and shows that people's unbelief actually fulfills these prophecies.
Then John turns his attention to Jewish leaders who did believe in Jesus, but "would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God."

Is that us?  Do we refuse to confess our faith because of fear?  Do we love praise from people more than praise from God?

These are not easy questions, and they do not yield easy answers.  Sometimes fear causes us to conform to the group's consensus because it is easier than "going against the grain".  And this happens on both sides of the aisle.  In conservative circles, there is pressure to conform to the consensus regarding what is perceived as liberal agendas.  And in liberal circles, there is often equal pressure to conform to the consensus regarding what is perceived as conservative agendas.  But what if God is calling us to say something that needs to be said, or to confess something that needs to be confessed?

No conservative and no liberal is completely right in everything they say.  Each of us needs to be able to hear challenges from the other side.  The Holy Spirit often places us in situations to give testimony to Jesus and His glory, and like the Jewish leaders in John's gospel we are called to speak up.

So what about us?  Will we be willing to speak up?  Will we put our trust in the light so that we may become sons of light?  Or do we love praise from people more than praise from God?  What are some of your thoughts?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 7, 2012

Last week I ended by asking the question, "If we are being conformed to the likeness of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, then why do we not see more evidence of it in our lives?"  So that is where I would like to begin this week.

(Read Philippians 2:1-18)

The apostle Paul begins with a description of all we possess in Christ (see verse 1) before instructing us on what it means to live in Christ (see verses 2-4).  So it is in scripture that the indicative (what is) always precedes the imperative (what should be).

And we continue to see this pattern developed throughout the rest of this chapter.

Our life in Christ is patterned after the Christ's own life, where he "made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (read slave)", "humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross."  Then this same Jesus who humbled Himself has been "exalted" by God and given "the name that is above every name".  It is the trajectory of Jesus' own life which the pattern for our own.

But if this is true, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit, then why do we not see more evidence of it in our lives today?

Paul identifies the problem as well as the solution very succinctly in verses 12-13.  "Therefore my dear friends .... continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

The problem is found in our refusal to neglect our own responsibility in being conformed to Jesus' likeness.  Unfortunately, we do not commit ourselves to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling", and that is why we see limited evidence of Christ's life in us.

However, the problem also points to the solution.  If we are willing to commit ourselves to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling", God will continue to "work" in us "to will and to act according to His good purpose."  In short, God will always do His part, so we must be also be willing to do ours.

So what is our part?  How can we "work out our salvation with fear and trembling"?

I think the secret is found in following the pattern of Jesus' own earthly life.  It begins with making ourselves "nothing", "taking the very nature of a servant", "humbling ourselves", and "becoming obedient to God" in everything.  To state it very simply, working out our own salvation begins with recognizing God (WHO He is) and His authority over our lives.  As we choose to submit to Him, He will work in us to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

In submission to God through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit's power we will increasingly be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

So how is God asking you to humble yourself and submit to Him this week?  Can you hear His voice? Are you willing to obey?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Going Deeper - September 30, 2012

What does it mean to be a "new creation"?  (See 2 Corinthians 5:17 - "If anyone is in Christ he/she is a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.")  Are those words literal or merely figurative?

(Read also Romans 8:28-39; esp. 28-30)

"For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son ..."  

God's purpose for you and I is that we would be conformed to the likeness (image) of His Son.  That is why He predestined us, called us, and justified us.  His purpose in all of it was that we "be conformed to the likeness of His Son".  This purpose holds out bright hope for tomorrow (see verses 31-39), but also hope for today.

So in what way is God conforming us to the likeness of His Son today?

I think it is helpful here to distinguish between what theologians call the "broad image of God" and the "narrow image of God".   The "broad image of God" is the result of creation.  All human beings are created in the image of God.  However, the "narrow image of God" is something only believers in Jesus receive through the Holy Spirit's work.  

The "narrow image of God" relates to God's character; His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, His heart, etc.  These things are sometimes called God's "communicable attributes".  These "communicable attributes" define the way we are being conformed to the likeness of God's Son in accordance with God's purpose.

The Bible actually uses lots of different metaphors to describe this purpose: "born again", "new creation", "new heart (heart of flesh vs. heart of stone)", etc.  But all of them mean the same thing.  They are speaking of the reality that the Holy Spirit (third person of the triune God) comes to live in everyone who places true faith in Jesus and that the Holy Spirit is at work in us to make us completely new!  Therefore, these words are not merely figurative, they are very literal.  Each metaphor is a means to describe the mystery of sanctification (the process by which God is making us new/holy).

If that is true, then why do we not see more evidence of it in our lives?

That will have to be a question for another day.  For now, I invite you to reflect on what has been written (in God's word and in my blog), and to share your own thoughts about why we do not see more evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives.   I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts ...