January 26, 2007

Jesus knows all the Fords

Be content to wade through the waters betwixt you and glory with [Jesus], holding his hand fast, for he knoweth all the fords.

Samuel Rutherford
Letters, Page 68

January 23, 2007

God, Sin, Christ, Response

The gospel of Jesus Christ is really a very simple thing. There is a God in heaven who made us, loves us, owns us. He deserves the highest love and honor in return. But none of us gives it. “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks” (Romans 1.21). This is called sin. And all sin is punishable by death. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loves us” made a way for sinners (who deserve death) to be rescued, and given eternal life. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial death, and rise again - all on behalf of sinners (see John 3.16). Because Jesus has lived and died for us, we may go free. But only those who repent of their sins and believe on Jesus will benefit from God’s great plan. God requires a response—repentance and faith.

That is the gospel, in its simple form—God, sin, Christ, response. No gospel presentation is complete without these four elements. But only these four elements are necessary to give people the simple message that gives life - backed up, of course, with supporting verses from Scripture.

It’s not a lot to remember. It’s not all that complicated to explain (although we can and must understand these things better and better as we grow in our faith). But the basic gospel is just that—basic, simple, easy to remember, and easy to explain.

But can I ask you a question: When is the last time you sat down with someone and really explained these things? I know that many of us have opportunities here and there to speak with friends and neighbors about our church, or about how good God has been to us, or about what the Bible says about this issue or that. But when is the last time you actually sat down with someone and walked them through God, sin, Christ, response?

I realize that not every conversation will lead to a full explanation of the gospel. I realize, too, that sometimes we get it to people and bits and pieces over a period of time, or in the course of our day-to-day routines. But I also realize that some of us never really get down to the business of sharing the message of God, sin, Christ, response with lost people. We (myself included) get in ruts where we are timid about using the name Jesus, timid to speak about sin, timid about the exclusivity of the claims of Jesus. So we talk about ‘God’ and ‘the Lord’ and ‘forgiveness’ and ‘grace’ without ever explaining fully why we so desperately need them, or through whom we may receive them—Jesus! Some of us very sparingly use that name!

So can I issue you a challenge? Can I urge you to stop floating around the surface of the gospel and really get to the meat of it (God, sin, Christ, response)? Can I challenge you to pray that God would give you the clear opportunity to explain this simple message with at least one person in the next week? Go ahead and pray now! And can I urge you, when God answers that prayer, not to be ashamed of the gospel, as I so often am?

Finally, can I remind you of these convicting words of the apostle Paul (emphases mine): “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? .... So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10.14, 17)!

January 15, 2007

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

This Sunday is Sanctity of Life Sunday in our church. It is a day set aside to lament over the millions of babies whose lives have been prematurely cut off in our land over the last decades. It is a day to be reminded of the biblical arguments against abortion. It is a day to make fresh resolves to rescue the unborn of our city, our state, our country, and the nations from the cruel fate of abortion.

So let me give you one biblical argument for protecting the unborn, then move to some encouragements to resolve to take part in the rescue of these children and their oftentimes confused and devastated parents…

Why should we cry out against abortion? You know all the biblical arguments concerning the beginning of life (see Psalm 139) and the sanctity of life (see Genesis 2 and Genesis 9). These are the most important passages on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. But what about the gospel argument for protecting the unborn? One of the atrocities of abortion is that we cut children off without ever having given them the opportunity to hear of and come to know Jesus! Isn’t this contrary to the spirit of Jesus words in Mark 10.14 “Permit the children to come to Me and do not hinder them”? We cannot bring children to Jesus if we do not fight for their lives from the moment of conception. So “permit the children to come” to Jesus by joining in the rescue of the unborn! And how can you join in?

Pray on behalf of the unborn.
Pray that…

*God might cause young women world-wide to find and accept abortion alternatives
*God would reverse ‘one-child policies’ like those in China which lead to many abortions
*God might prevent the passage of further pro-choice laws in our land
*Unwed mothers might find hope and healing from their parents and churches rather than heavy-handed condemnation…and be encouraged to confess their sin and find forgiveness in Christ, rather than hiding it through abortion

Consider adoption.
Adoption provides a hopeful alternative to parents who are considering abortion. What a wonderful way to be a part of the solution…adopt a baby for Jesus!

Use your right to vote wisely.
For the glory of God, do not let abortion be a secondary issue when you vote.

Support PregnancyCare of Cincinnati (or your local Christian Crisis Pregnancy Center).
Maybe your church gives money to the local pregnancy care center. But they need volunteers and individual financial partners, too! Every dollar spent and hour volunteered may redound to the glory of God by preserving a precious life!

Be Pro-Life in your home.
Lovingly do what you must to ensure that your children and grandchildren never consider having an abortion. Teach them to value human life…so that “the generation to come might know [the Lord Jesus], even the children yet to be born” (Psalm 78.6)!

January 9, 2007

The Man who Wills

Recently, several folks at PRBC have asked questions regarding the place of the human will in God’s plan of salvation. Good questions, all. So I’ve decided to sit down and try and write out (very briefly) what I believe the Bible teaches about our wills. To begin, let me issue two disclaimers…

1. This question is not one on which Christians should fight or divide. Wonderful, godly believers may be found on both sides of the issue. The gospel is always about Jesus first! Proper understanding of these things will, however, enrich our faith.

2. Though I will argue below that mankind does not possess a totally free will, I am not arguing that one need not choose Jesus. The necessity for a decision of faith is one of the clearest teachings of the Bible. The question I am trying to answer is not whether we must believe, but why we believe.

Got it? OK then. What does the Bible say about the role mankind’s will in God’s plan of salvation? All italics are mine.

Romans 9.16—Salvation “does not depend on the man who wills, or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” John 6.44.—“No one may come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.” James 1.18—“In the exercise of His [God’s] will, He brought us forth by the word of truth.” John 1.12-13—As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…who were born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

That seems pretty clear doesn’t it? Salvation is not according to man’s will, but God’s. So what does the Bible teach about man’s will? Well, let me give you a few more verses. Ephesians 2.1--“You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Dead—incapable of doing anything spiritually worthwhile. Romans 5.6—“We were…helpless.” That doesn’t sound like somebody who has the inate ability to choose God does it? 2 Timothy 2.26—we were “held captive by [the devil] to do his will. “Dead”… "helpless”… "captive.” That doesn’t sound like a group of folks who have the innate ability to come to God does it? It sounds like a group of people who are incapable and even unwilling to come to God! After all, it is our sins that make us dead (Ephesians 2.1)! So if God left the decision of salvation up to the free will of man, no one would be saved because no one would ever choose Jesus! Yet the Bible makes it clear that we must choose Jesus.

So how in the world can a helpless, spiritually dead person ever choose Jesus and enter the kingdom of God? Jesus answers in John 3—“You must be born again”! Listen to John 3.3—“unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And how do we enter the kingdom of God? John 3.16—by “believ[ing] in Him [Jesus].” Do you follow the logic there? We enter God’s kingdom by choosing to believe in Jesus (3.16). But in order to see, choose, and enter, we must have been born again (3.3). It is only when we have been born again—or “made alive” (Ephesians 2.4)—that we are given the gift of faith (Ephesians 2.8)! It is only when we have been born again that our wills are made free and we are able to choose to “believe in Him”! So salvation is not a mere human decision. Salvation is a supernatural work of God!

And who was ever born of his own will? No one (John 1.13)! So it is true that salvation really “does not depend on the man who wills…but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9.16). And why did God design it this way? “So that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2.9)—unless they are boasting about Jesus! And that is the goal of the gospel—not that we would congratulate ourselves for a decision well-made…but that we would boast in Jesus for saving us in spite of ourselves!

January 4, 2007

Burning Coals on their Heads?

In Romans 12.20, Paul says something that is quite amazing: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Now what’s so dumbfounding is not the part about giving your enemy something to eat or drink…but the idea that, in so doing, you will dump a pile of red-hot charcoal bricks on his head! That idea may, in fact, appeal to something in our sinful natures. ‘This guy really hurt me, and I really want to get him back. So if I’ll just pile up kindness on him, then God will really let him have it!’

Do you think that is what Paul—and God speaking through Him—has in mind in Romans 12.20? That by feigning that we don’t really want revenge, we could actually get it in a round about way? For years, that is how I interpreted this verse—but always with the question: ‘Why would God say this?’ It sounds so un-God-like.

I’m not quite sure I understand even still…but this past week, I think God may have given me a breakthrough in understanding Romans 12.20. This past week, something happened that appealed to the revengeful, “heap burning coals on his head” part of my sinful human nature. Something happened where, in my flesh, it might not have felt so bad to see God really let someone have it for what they had done. And Romans 12.20 came to mind—but it came with that nagging question: ‘Does God really want me, by being kind to this person, to actually have a motive of revenge?’

The overwhelming answer was NO! God wants me (and you) to be kind to those who oppose us “if perhaps God might grant them repentance” (2 Timothy 2.25). ‘So how does that square with Romans 12.20?’ I thought to myself. Then, all of the sudden, a lightbulb went on! 2 Timothy 2.25 and Romans 12.20 are talking about the same thing!

What kind of person is most likely to repent? The person who most intensely feels the reality of God’s impending judgment. The person who senses the fires of hell nipping at his heels. The person on whom God turns up the temperature of guilt. The person, as it were, who has had a pile of red-hot coals heaped on his head!

That’s it! God doesn’t want me to be kind to my enemy so that I can, through the back door, get revenge for his wrongdoing. God wants me to be kind to my enemy so that my kindness, in the light of his evil, will turn up the heat of guilt in his soul! That, I believe is what Paul may be getting at in Romans 12.20! We pile burning coals on our enemy’s head for his eternal good! And we show kindness so that, in our kindness, our enemy may see a portrait of that overwhelming kindness that Jesus showed in going to the cross for us sinners who despised Him!

So bag up a heaping helping of the kindness of Jesus…and see if God doesn’t turn up the heat that brings about repentance!