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Archive for the ‘Work of the Holy Spirit’ Category

The Lie that was promulgated in the garden is persistent and pernicious. The enemy knows it is the most subtle way to destroy us, and it is persistent because it is part of our nature. “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) is a Lie with many iterations. It is the basis of all works salvation whether it be the religions of the world, the self-assured atheist, or the nominal, legalist Christian. Such an ominous enemy to our soul must be regularly and rigorously opposed. The remedy for me is focusing on the grace of God brought to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To that end, I asked my pastor recently if he had a book that would refresh my focus on grace. He loaned me the little book, “All of Grace” by C. H. Spurgeon. He leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of convincing the reader that God “justifieth the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

The persistence of the Lie most frequently resides here: “We stubbornly believe that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God” (p.14) But “God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatsoever in us.” (p.14) Our pride rises up against this thought, but salvation is for those who realize “He makes those just who are unjust. He forgives those who deserve no favor.” (p.14) Those who are closest by training to what is right and good can sometimes be the fartherest from salvation because they have become self-deceived into thinking that the rightness and goodness resides, even if only partially, in them. On the other hand, some who reject the very existence of God are equally self-deceived about their own goodness. For this reason, what Spurgeon says is profoundly true: “The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride. The Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.” (p.21) To those already broken by their sin, we preach the good news of God’s grace. To those self-assured of their own goodness, we convey the law so that they will come to a point of despair over their sin and grow in desire for a solution only found in the Gospel. Though the witness is a messenger of these things, the Holy Spirit through the Word of God is the means of this grace. “When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) and ” the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galations 3:24).

So why must I, who have long been in the grace of God, refocus on that grace? As I have already said, the Lie is persistent and pernicious. My old nature would have me believe that afterall there is some measure of works I must provide to be satisfactory to God. No, I must continue in “simple reliance upon Jesus” (p.89), cling to Him, turn constantly for a view of His goodness, love, and power, all given to me by His grace. Herein is joy and peace; hence is purpose and hope. The quicker and more deeply I can become totally convinced of the grace of God, the more readily I can love others and point them to that all sufficient grace.

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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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Last Sunday my pastor preached from Proverbs 6:16-19. He began by assuring us that the purpose of the passage, as well as his sermon, was not to condemn but to help. God points out our sin for the purpose of warning us so that we might come to Him for help. His second point was how far short we fall, yet how gracious God is. My heart was stirred by the sermon and I reflected on it later in the week, I put many of the pastor’s thoughts into the following poem. I hope that you find it admonishing, instructive, and encouraging.

His grace is spread abroad in us
By manifold and diverse ways

That cleanses us from deadly sins
To live for Him all of our days

To end six sins which God so hates
His character pure they offend
Even seven sins He abhors
By fierce judgment He shall attend

No more haughty eyes glaring pride
Now like the humble Savior be
Eyes that show compassion and love
That all might His grace and truth see

Enough of tongues that concoct lies
Denying and obscuring truth
God’s truth will set you free, He said
Renewing your years as in youth

Hands that shed innocent blood, stop
The Savior’s blood was shed for you
Now like the Master’s healing hands
Helping the poor and infirm, too

Hearts devise wicked plans to scheme
Transgress the righteousness of God
A heart of compassion put on
Equity more than just a nod

Feet run rapidly to evil
While rebellion rules in the heart
Submit to the Savior and live
In healing conflict do your part

False witnesses uttering lies
Gossip and slander destroy lives
Put away filthy, silly talk
Be instead one who for truth strives

One spreading strife among brothers
Strikes a note of profound discord
Seek unity with the brethren
Dwelling in peace with one accord

By God’s help we pursue these things
Bringing all glory to our Lord
Blessings come to ourselves and kin
Others encouragement afford

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Resolutions are like water off a ducks back. They bead up on the oily resistance of our habits and roll off of the feather weight of our existence. We really don’t have the ability to make change that counts for eternity. We may do that which is good, by common grace, for our neighbor or environment, but still wrongly intentioned.

So why even talk about resolutions or trying at all? The reason is The Enabler, the Holy Spirit, Who lives inside of those who have and habitually submit to Him.

Is this enabling just for the perfect and privileged? No, it is for all who feel a deep desire, ultimately given by the same Enabler, to make change.

And how is this enabling obtained and practiced? It starts with submission to the Son in salvation of the soul and continues in a renewing of that submission as life goes along. Jesus came to save sinners from rebellions and omissions past, present, and future, but He also came in order for those sinners to do what is right in God’s sight. As is says in Romans 8:3-4: For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

My resolve then for this coming year is not by my own puny strength which will fade or become puffed up with some level of success, but “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:4; check out verses 3-6).

How do I access that kind of power? Yesterday morning in church after hearing a sermon on how Christ is better than all other ways to God and enables us to live victoriously, I wanted to conclude the service with the following hymn by James Fillmore:

  1. I am resolved no longer to linger,
    Charmed by the world’s delight,
    Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
    These have allured my sight.

    • Refrain:
      I will hasten to Him,
      Hasten so glad and free;
      Jesus, greatest, highest,
      I will come to Thee.
  2. I am resolved to go to the Savior,
    Leaving my sin and strife;
    He is the true One, He is the just One,
    He hath the words of life.
  3. I am resolved to follow the Savior,
    Faithful and true each day;
    Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth,
    He is the living Way.
  4. I am resolved to enter the kingdom,
    Leaving the paths of sin;
    Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
    Still will I enter in.
  5. I am resolved, and who will go with me?
    Come, friends, without delay;
    Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,
    We’ll walk the heav’nly way.

I settled for singing one verse and refrain with two sisters from the choir. I hope it will set a tone for my life and theirs and yours in the coming year, that God’s power might wet our most stubborn, bad habits until they are washed away and fire our weak resolve into weighty ballast of the soul for God and His kingdom.

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My son and his wife hosted a Reformation 500th Anniversary Conference back in April. The website for the conference has history of the various states in Europe that were effected by the Reformation. They wrote and edited summaries of these histories. The website also has links to all of the conference speakers’ talks. Soon the site will have legible pictures of the 40 story boards (trifold boards) he and his wife made for the conference. All of these resources may be accessed at www.reformation500pa.com

Happy 500th and happy researching!

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Following after Jesus has its many rewards and challenges. The challenges all originate from our sin nature, and “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3) we really have no excuse. This enabling power given to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit helps us to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

God is at work in us for our sanctification, but He also commands us to be diligently about increasing our sanctification: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Because of the lie of Satan that induced the original sin of Adam, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), we now have a sin nature. As a result “death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (Romans 5:14), and there is still “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:18-19) To put it plainly, the lie of Satan was that you can do it on your own, that is, be good enough, be like God. Every religion is a way to work your way to heaven or attempt to please God. True Christianity is not this way, that is, works oriented, but grace oriented, because God has and is accomplishing all that is needed to please Him and secure for us a place in heaven. But we sinners by nature and by practice are hooked on the Lie and must throughout this lifetime be diligent to believe what God has said and done in and for us.

I love analogies and metaphors and thought of this situation today as I was describing a friend’s need to find a church where grace is preached. We should seek a church where truth is preached, the Gospel is preached, and the whole counsel of God is preached, right? Most definitely we should, but we are like an old pick-up truck that has a badly mis-aligned front end that constantly wants to steer us into the left ditch which we must persistently fight by holding the steering wheel to the right so that we may track straight. The mis-alignment is our works oriented sin nature; steering to the right is a constant placing of God’s grace before our eyes and in our thinking; the straight track is the narrow way that God is guiding us along toward Himself.

Or we are setting a course of the narrow way by turning the tiller of grace that has us tacking into the wind of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are always empowered by God, but He frequently accomplishes that through the effort of faith we put forth. This “steering” or “tack” is not a new level of works, but a clinging to God, the only source of life and godliness, joy and heaven.

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He said, “Do your best and let God take care of the rest.” I had heard this and similar phrases many times, but I went off on a mental tangent of evaluating it in the light of Scripture. I think that I understand the intent of the saying, namely that we have an active part to play in growing righteousness in our life and God completes what is lacking in us. Thus far I have no problem, but I think we may do better in our understanding and representation of the interplay of our effort and God’s empowerment. Toward a theology of effort and empowerment consider the following diagrams with their perspectives on the topic:

effort-empowerment-arrows

The arrows are somewhat self-explanatory, but I want to clarify them for my own benefit and yours. Though, as I said, the #1 was stated with right intentions, I believe that at face value it is really saying that I exert effort to the extent of my ability and then God kicks in for the rest. But the Scripture says,“for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), and “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We cannot even breathe apart from the grace He provides, but the “nothing” here seems to me to be ‘nothing of eternal significance’. As Paul teaches in I Corinthians 3:11-15, For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 

I think that #2 is closer to the right perspective. God wants us to be involved and tells us through Paul to work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13) Our part is working with God by faith that He provides all we need to obey Him. He is actually the one willing and working and He receives all the glory as only He should. We receive no glory for effort, seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (II Peter 1:3-4) The “magnificent promises” and “divine nature” afforded believers far exceed our efforts. For this reason I have the ‘me’ arrow inside the ‘God’ arrow. God is in, through, and around all that we do and amplifies it to a magnificent and divine level, “abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).The result is that “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11) and “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)

#3 is not only lazy but detracts from the glory of God by not proving His purpose and plan as revealed in such passages as Ephesians 2:10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” We are not to be idle. Our flesh will consume us the moment we stop clinging to God and moving forward in the strength He provides, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Conversely, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

#4 may seem like a statement of working with God, but I have seen consistently that the people who use this phrase are just trying to be good in their own right and have little concern for godliness or God’s glory. He intends and expects of those whom He is saving and the whole world as well that they acknowledge Him in all things: ““Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Revelation 14:7) 

Our hearts tend to be lazy when it comes to spiritual disciplines, but I believe that God has ordained that His will is frequently accomplished and His kingdom built by enabling the efforts He orchestrates within us (#5), as we said above from Philippians 2:12-13. So we work hard and bring God glory as you see Paul and the Thessalonians did: For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:9-12) It is right and proper that we should work hard at spiritual progress in the strength God provides in order that others might be drawn to God and God be glorified.

And with all of this effort, remember that God needs nothing from us and can accomplish His will without us whenever and however He pleases (#6). “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) But He has made us involved in so much of what He is doing, “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19) For  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

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