The Power of the Gospel

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV).

The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to redeem the souls of men and women everywhere. Paul experiences this gospel power on the Damascus road. After his conversion, he spends the rest of his days living and proclaiming the gospel message. He undergoes beatings, floggings, shipwrecks, insults, and the sentence of death all for the sake of Christ and his gospel (2 Cor. 1:8-10 & 2 Cor. 6:4-10; ESV). When Paul writes that he’s not ashamed of the gospel in Romans 1:16a, he means what he says and he says what he means.

When Christ followers embrace the gospel unashamedly, then they become like salt of the earth. Through Paul’s writings like Romans, believers have God-breathed words of comfort, exhortation and empowerment. Now, here’s a little something about salt. It’s a multi-purpose ingredient, especially in the 1st Century. Salt was used as a seasoning, as a preservative, as a disinfectant, as a unit of exchange, and most importantly, as a key ingredient for the temple offerings as a sign of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham.

The next time you hear a sermon on salt of the earth, or study it, or discuss it, be ready to ask a few soul-searching questions. Here are several to stir the proverbial pot: 1.) Do you season your relationships and circumstances for Christ and his gospel? 2.) Do you seek to preserve your relationships and circumstances for Christ and his gospel? 3.) Are you attentive toward removing anything in your life that’s unclean for the sake of Christ and his gospel? 4.) Do you recognize that Christ bought you for his sake and his gospel? and finally, 5.) Are you displaying Christ and his gospel in your life as a sign to others?

When churches house Christ-centered and gospel-centered believers, we serve as lighthouses in our respective communities, towns, cities, regions, and nations. Lighthouses warn ships about the dangerous breakers and shallow seas. They also provide hope for ships at sea, which have been away from land for weeks, months, or years. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2a, ESV). Like the apostle Paul, Jesus sends out his laborers into the world with his gospel message, the good news of the kingdom. It’s Christ’s gospel, and he entrusts it to us until he returns.

“A word now upon the Spirit’s application of the Word unto the heart, and our task is completed. This is described in such a verse as, ‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance’ (1 Thess. 1:5). That is very much more than having the mind informed or the emotions stirred, and something radically different from being deeply impressed by the preacher’s oratory, earnestness, etc. It is for the preaching of the Gospel to be accompanied by the supernatural operation of the Spirit, and the efficacious grace of God, so that souls are Divinely quickened, convicted, converted, delivered from the dominion of sin and Satan. When the Word is applied by the Spirit to a person, it acts like the entrance of a two-edged sword into his inner man, piercing, wounding, slaying his self-complacency and self-righteousness—as in the case of Saul of Tarsus (Rom. 7:9,10). This is the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’ (1 Cor. 2:4), whereby He gives proof of the Truth by the effects produced in the individual to which it is sayingly applied, so that he has ‘much assurance’—i.e. he knows it is God’s Word because of the radical and permanent change wrought in him.

“Now the child of God is in daily need of this gracious working of the Holy Spirit: to make the Word work “effectually” (1 Thess. 2:13) within his soul and truly regulate his life, so that he can thankfully acknowledge, ‘I will never forget Thy precepts: for with them Thou hast quickened me’ (Ps. 119:93). For that quickening it is his duty and privilege to pray (verses 25, 37, 40, 88, 107, 149, etc.). It is a fervent request that he may be ‘renewed day by day’ in the inner man (2 Cor. 4:16), that he may be ‘strengthened with might by His Spirit’ (Eph. 3:16), that he may be revived and animated to go in the path of God’s commandments (Ps. 119:35). It is an earnest petition that his heart may be awed by a continual sense of God’s majesty, and melted by a realization of His goodness, so that he may see light in God’s light, recognizing the evil in things forbidden and the blessedness of the things enjoined. ‘Quicken Thou me’ is a prayer for vitalizing grace, that he may be taught to profit (Isa. 48:17), for the increasing of his faith, the strengthening of his expectations, the firing of his zeal. It is equivalent to ‘draw me, we will run after Thee’ ” (Song 1:4) (Pink, Arthur W., A Study in Dispensationalism, Chapter 5).

The late Arthur W. Pink had been a prolific writer for most of his life.  His books, articles, and sermons have been reprinted by several publishing houses as demand for his work increases.  The quote comes from his book A Study in Dispensationalism, which explores the weaknesses with the classical brand of dispensationalism.  For that reason, Pink’s work comes off dated; however, the truth concerning the application of God’s word by the Holy Spirit remains appropriate for all generations.  

The Holy Spirit and the Word

“If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend our knowledge, so that even these we must leave to God. For it is fitting that He should excel all [in knowledge]” (Against Heresies, Book II: Chapter 28, paragraph 2).

St. Irenaeus of Lyons on the Perfection of Scripture

Live Life to the Fullest

“Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:8-10, ESV).

What thoughts or emotions come to mind when hearing the words, “live life to the fullest?” Here are some possibilities: guilt, shame, despair, joy, panic, happiness, thrilling, spontaneous, adventurous, and ambivalent or decision paralysis (I made up that one). There are many more to add, but I think you get the point. All of those words represent honest responses to hearing the words, “live life to the fullest.” In my own life, I remember rejecting those words out of unbelief because of the consequences of others’ actions and my own. This faith journey with Christ requires that I face who I am in the light of his word and his Spirit.

On some level, I don’t know always recognize what hinders me from living life to the fullest. There are thinking and behavioral patterns, which spring up over time until they appear normal. There is no life apart from those set patterns. The radical call of the gospel is to surrender these established patterns of being and doing for Christ’s ways. Our Lord’s words in Matthew 11:29-30 ring true at this moment, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” When I come to Christ, I give him my burdens, whatever they may be, in exchange for his easy yoke and light burden. This results in my soul resting in Christ, which enables me to live life to the fullest.

Now, those words in Matthew 11 tie in nicely with God’s words to Solomon in the very first sentence to the above quoted passage: “Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head” (Ecclesiastes 9:8, ESV). Christ’s words in Matthew 11 demonstrate that he wants to take my all of my burdens. There’s no need to run around like a chicken with my head cut off in striving to earn my keep before him. This exchange sanctifies me. I’m becoming more like him. When Solomon writes, “let your garments be always white. let not oil be lacking on your head,” he’s alluding to sanctification in the believer’s life. Solomon didn’t exactly use the word sanctification, but the concept is clear.

Sanctification is a technical term, which speaks to the process of the believer growing in holiness. The only reason that sanctification even occurs in me is because of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Back to God’s words through Solomon, the white garments speak to the purification of the believer’s daily actions. The oil on the head refers to the believer’s anointing in the Holy Spirit, who performs the sanctifying work. Put these words in Ecclesiastes together with Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:29-30, and it becomes clear that I have a tiny role to play in this process. The Spirit and the word show me the patterns of being and doing that turn my garments from white to gray or brown or black or any color other than white. Once the Spirit reveals these sinful patterns of being and doing, then I have a choice to exchange them for his easy yoke.

After I make this exchange, then rest comes to my soul. There is deep peace, and I’m able to live life to the fullest. Christ lightens my burden in order to run faster, longer, and freer for him. It’s easier to climb trees, to swim, or simply to do anything without carrying a heavy load all the time. This is why Solomon writes for husbands to love their wives with everything in them (Ecclesiastes 9:9, ESV). Don’t hold back. If something does hold me back, then deal with it. Life is short, and one day it will end. This is also Solomon’s reason for exhorting his audience to pursue endeavors with everything they’ve got (Ecclesiastes 9:10, ESV). The word is Go for it. Do you have a desire to write fiction? Go for it. Do you want to build a home with someone? Go for it, give it all you have in Christ. To use a sports metaphor, leave it all on the field. Live life to the fullest in Christ by the power of the Spirit.

Debating within the Church

Justin Taylor has a blog on The Gospel Coalition called Between Two Worlds. Last Thursday, he posted a video of a debate between Wayne Grudem and Ian Hamilton, which took place in 2010. Both men debate the issue of whether or not the spiritual gift of prophecy continues today. Grudem represents the continuationist view and Ian Hamilton the cessationist position.

In light of last week’s Strange Fire conference and the blogosphere fallout, I love how this video shows two men of God lovingly and passionately discussing their respective positions. Both men realize that each one stands upon God’s inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient word. Neither Grudem nor Hamilton resorts to inflammatory rhetoric, straw men arguments or subtle personal attacks. Each man upholds the dignity of the other while speaking the truth in love. Grudem and Hamilton stand in stark contrast to last week’s firestorm of controversy surrounding the Strange Fire conference.

Cessationism is the view that the spiritual gifts of prophecy, healing, and tongues ceased with either the death of the last apostle or the completion of the canon of scripture. Continuationism believes that prophecy, tongues, and healing continue throughout the church age.

Here’s the link:
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2013/10/17/debating-the-continuation-of-new-testament-prophecy

Desiring a more measured response

Saturday draws to a close, but the remains of the week still resonate. What am I referring to you ask? Dr. John MacArthur spearheaded a conference called Strange Fire, which sought to shed light on the doctrinal error within the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement and its leaders. Over the years, Dr. MacArthur has been vocal in his dismay over the excesses and abuses of biblical doctrine and practice associated with the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the church. To be clear, Dr. MacArthur is not alone in his views; however, he’s one of the most articulate and revered pastor-scholars in the US and the world. His words carry immense weight within the Evangelical community as demonstrated by the following published books: The Charismatics and Charismatic Chaos.

The Strange Fire Conference occurred over three days starting this past Wednesday, October 16 and ending on Friday, October 18, 2013. It was hosted by Grace Community Church, which is the community that Dr. MacArthur shepherds. Grace Community is also the home of the radio ministry Grace to You. The following websites are good starters for acclimating oneself to the content and rhetoric of the Strange Fire Conference: http://www.challies.com and http://www.thecrippleagte.com.

I’m the first to admit that there are excesses within the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the church. In fact, Oneness Pentecostalism grew out of the Azusa Street revival in 1914. This aberrant stream denies the Orthodox teaching of the trinity or the triune God. When John Wimber founded the Vineyard Movement in the early 70s, he pursued a middle of the road position between the Pentecostal expression and the other Evangelical camps who denied the present-day manifestations of the spiritual gifts. Some say Wimber failed at this endeavor while others believed that he succeeded. Vineyard pastor, Rich Nathan, coined a term called Empowered Evangelicals in order to characterize the adherents to the Third Wave Charismatic movement.

There remain rough edges in the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the church. I think we should expect those edges. The key has to do with addressing such teaching in love. Are the leaders, teachers, and followers of the Pentecostal and Charismatic wing of the church straying from the key text of 1 Corintians 12-14? In this case, the burden of proof rests with the one bringing the accusation, namely Dr. MacArthur. I’m sure there are helpful critiques about the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, which could benefit its leaders. Still, the whole issue between those espousing Dr. MacArthur’s view about the gifts ceasing or their continuation has to do with 1 Cor 12-14. What do those chapters teach about the spiritual gifts?

Personally, I think the key section is 1 Cor 13:8-12 where Paul talks about the spiritual gifts ceasing. In the eighth verse, Paul writes that “love never ends,” but that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away. The word for love here in the Greek is agape, which comes from God and is eternal. Paul contrasts love with the gifts of knowledge and prophesy, which are partial or incomplete (1 Cor 12:9). These spiritual gifts only serve a specific purpose during the present, church age; consequently, they will pass away when the “perfect comes,” which alludes to the Second Coming of Christ (1 Cor 12:10). To develop this even further, the apostle Paul uses an analogy of a child’s ways passing away as he becomes a man. For Paul, believers in Christ are like children as they operate in the spiritual gifts until Christ returns, which brings the believer into full maturity (1 Cor 12:11-12). This section of scripture makes it perfectly clear that the spiritual gifts cease only at the Second Advent of the Messiah.

I write this post as a call to Christ followers everywhere to examine the scriptures with the Holy Spirit. In the midst of prayerful study, the hope is that believers will be able to speak the truth in love regardless of where one lands with respect to the spiritual gifts. Each person is to be convinced in his or her own mind. I leave you with this benediction: “In essentials – unity; in non-essentials – liberty; in all things – charity.”

Making Jesus Tolerant

“There are times when it seems to me that in our misinterpretation of Jesus as gentle and pitiful and tolerant, we have imagined that all we have to do to make a man [or woman] a Christian is to sing him [or her] some sweet, soft nothing, set to dance music” (G. Campbell Morgan circa 1929).

When surveying through the four gospels, the twenty-third chapter of Matthew contains some of Jesus’s harshest words directed toward the religious leaders of his day. Jesus the Messiah rains down upon them seven woes, which contain stark metaphors such as blind guides, brood of vipers, and whitewashed tombs. Clearly, Jesus exudes zero tolerance for the hypocrisy of the religious leaders in his day; however, this is vastly different than the point being conveyed by G. Campbell Morgan’s quote.

In the fourteenth chapter of Luke, the good doctor records Jesus’s words on discipleship: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:26-30, ESV).

From Luke’s passage, Jesus expresses a high status bar for following him. He doesn’t address the subject of discipleship like the religious leaders. For example, there isn’t any accompanying list of dos and don’ts. Jesus doesn’t say, “Your robes must be of a certain cloth and color and length.” Neither does he say, “if you’ve arrived spiritually, then you can follow me.” Instead, Jesus emphasizes to his audience that following him means to put him first. Christ is at the center of the disciple’s life. My life and the corresponding needs, wants, and attachments are secondary. Anything that I’d lay claim to must be despised for his sake, which echoes the apostle Paul’s words: “…whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7, ESV).

Jesus gave his life in order to conquer sin and death, which entered into this world because of tolerance toward falsehood. The enemy’s goal had been to steal, kill, and destroy Adam and Eve and all of God’s creation. What adds wonder to Christ’s work of redemption is that his choice had been made in eternity past. Ephesians 1 catalogues the glorious redemptive plan, which occurred in the conference room of heaven before the foundation of the world. God the Father desired and purposed to redeem the elect in Christ, through Christ, by Christ and for Christ. God the Son agreed to carry out the Father’s plan in his life while God the Holy Spirit agreed to bring the redemptive work of Christ to life within the redeemed.

The price of redemption wasn’t cheap. It cost Jesus everything; therefore, any teaching that lessens what Christ did necessarily lessens who Christ is and his gospel. Avoiding the notion that Christ calls us to carry our cross only paves the way for deception and feelings of betrayal. Does this mean that Jesus calls me or us to die? It’s possible as his people. We follow him. He doesn’t follow us. Abel and Enoch are two faithful believers whose lives demonstrate two sides of the same coin. Abel lost his life due to his faith, but Enoch didn’t see death. Scripture holds out both men as examples for Christ’s disciples in Hebrews 11.

There is victory, healing, blessing, and joy in Christ; however, there is also persecution, suffering, defeat, and sorrow. Despite those possible outcomes, the ultimate truth is that at the consummation of all things, those in Christ will shine like the stars in our Father’s kingdom. Our redemption has us on a trajectory, which far exceeds any joy or blessing or sorrow experienced during this present age. We are Christ’s disciples, his ambassadors, who walk this earth proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. The message won’t always be received warmly, but that’s to be expected. Besides, our hope isn’t in our effectiveness in proclaiming the good news. Our hope rests in Christ and his coming, which ushers in the age to come.