Monday, December 30, 2013

The issue of grace.

Thoughts on grace.

Much has been said of late concerning the matter of grace as it appears in the New Testament. What do I believe to be the truth of this matter?

I am saved through faith because of the grace of God afforded me at Calvary by way of the vicarious sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, I could never be forgiven of my sin and returned into right relationship with God the Father by any good works I may have done, my salvation is totally dependent upon all that Jesus did on my behalf and my firm faith in that fact.

Now that I am born from above I now live by the power of the One who dwells within me, the Holy Spirit. I am unable, in my own natural strength, to live a life that honours God; but as I learn to rely on Him who dwells within to live through me, I can be seen to live a life that honours God. Having said that, I will often get in the way of the indwelling One through acts of selfishness and motives fired by fear, etc. When I see such taking place I have an Advocate with Father, Jesus Christ, who pleads my case for me. This inner conflict will be ongoing and is called "working out my salvation with fear and trembling", in the knowledge that my failings will not disqualify me from the love of God.

Grace means that all my wrong doing has already been forgiven. However, such a fact does not give me licence to live in any way that I please, I am still in service to my Lord and God who has purchased me at a price and, as such, I am no longer my own.

Grace means I am now a son in the house and no longer a slave. However, there are expectations of a son. I am called to live in a way that reflects the life of Him who lives within me. Such a life is one made possible by walking in the Spirit and not following the desires of the flesh. A life led by the Holy Spirit will be evidenced by the fruit produced in my life. That fruit is only possible by me (a branch) staying connected to the vine stock. My work here is to remain connected in the first place and, secondly, to remain open to the transforming (fruit producing) power of God. To fail in this regard would mean being eventually severed from the vine stock as an unfruitful branch. It is here that we must rely on the love of God, who is love Himself, to be judge as no man or woman can be such.

As a son in relationship with my heavenly Father I seek not to disappoint Him (I speak in human terms). Any healthy father and son relationship will be about bringing joy to each other. Should I fail my Father in any way it would be natural to feel remorse for my failure and the hurt it may cause my Father. However, my remorse is immediately healed by the fact that Love loves me and all I need to do is change my mind about my actions (repentance) and continue in my relationship with Him who loves me. In this relationship sin is the unexpected event, should sin become a way of life I have placed my relationship in jeopardy although my God will not cease to love me.

Through Jesus Christ grace has made it possible for me to be a living and active member of His Body, the Church, as it is manifested locally around the globe.This Body manifests wherever two or more disciples gather together in the Name of Jesus Christ. I am instructed not to forsake such gatherings as isolation will bring death eventually.

What about alcohol consumption and the Christian?  I include this here because someone is bound to ask a question around this subject. Using the New Testament as my base I only see one sort of alcohol mentioned - wine. Paul advised Timothy to drink a little wine as a medicine for his stomach ailments. Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding was a miracle to illustrate the superiority of what Christ would bring as opposed to the natural and passing pleasure of intoxication (think about Jesus' discussion with the Samaritan woman concerning living water) amongst other things. So, if one must consume alcohol, then a little wine is what the New Testament directly suggests and then only as a means of dealing with an iffy digestive system. This, I must stress, is merely my opinion.

Alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking are easy targets. Valid and legitimate targets, nonetheless. Having said that, we would do well to consider Christians and bad attitudes, less than gracious responses, gossip, lying and all of the rest of the not so easy to detect 'failings'. When we get into this fraught area we should be easily convinced of the necessity of grace and out dependence upon such a gracious gift.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Am I doing anything worthwhile?

So often we ask what are we actually doing for the Lord. What tangible service are we offering?

In considering this we need to be reminded that each of us, as individuals, fit into the overall (corporate) plan of God. Our lives represent one piece of God's overall intent.

While the accuser of the brethren has been cast down (Revelation 12:10), it is worthwhile remembering that the dragon still has a voice that can be heard from his place of bondage (Revelation 20:1-3).

Satan's motivation and method has not changed down the ages. As he accused Job before God (Job 1&2) he will attempt the same with us, albeit from his prison.

What is the basic thrust of satan's accusations? Nothing more or less than this: God’s children do not really love Him sincerely. If we look at our own lives intelligently and honestly most, if not all, trials seem designed to cause us to doubt God's love for us. In fact, the reverse is actually true. Satan's challenge to God concerning Job did not question God's commitment as that was beyond doubt even for satan (Job 1:9-11; 2:5).

When the trial is at its hottest, do we really love God and manifest that love through the trust we place in Him even when everything seems to point toward His abandonment of us? (cf. Matthew 27:46).

A question we need to ask is this: Is suffering, in whatever form, a consequence of our commitment to God, or is it an integral part of our service to God? In other words, does suffering form a part of our calling? (Romans 8:17; II Corinthians 1:5-8; Philippians 3:10).

If it is, then the ‘word of faith’ teachings are thrown once more into ever increasing doubt. Such teachings often held forth that suffering was a consequence of disobedience or a lack of faith.

When it comes to suffering among the Godly, we would do well to remember Job, Jeremiah and the so-called heroes of faith as listed in Hebrews 11, to mention but a few.

When we consider the account of Job we cannot fail to see that the battle is one that takes place in the heavenlies - satan attempting to face off against God. However, the practical means of the battle was Job's love for God (Job 1:9-11, 2:3-5).

If we understand this, it becomes clear what significant a role we play in the overall victory that is being won, day-by-day, in the heavenlies. Each time we maintain our stand of our love for God, even in the face of unchanging circumstances, we contribute directly to the victories of God in the heavenlies (Colossians 1:24).

Imagine all of time as a tapestry and each individual redeemed life is a thread in that fabric. Satan is attempting to have that tapestry irreversibly damaged by holes and broken threads ruining the completeness of God's plan. Every time he attacks his aim is to prove to God that His people do not love Him thus rendering His redemptive plan a waste of time and effort. Each time an individual believer rises up in the face of negative circumstances and affirms their love for and trust in God another stitch in the story is successfully completed (Joshua 23:8; Acts 11:23; I Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 10:39; I Peter 5:9; II Peter 3:17).

Each rip or unravelling gives satan cause to make the following statement: "There is a thing which no child of God can endure and still continue to trust God" (cf. Galatians 6:9).

What needs to be borne in mind is that each of us is an individual before God. Each of us has meaning as a person and we are not mere statistics. While we are not unique in our sufferings (I Corinthians 10:13a), each of us lives a life with a unique combination of experiences, both negative and positive. As such we are very distinctive threads (personal stories) in the great redemptive tapestry of time.

Our own combination of happenings is unique, except that Christ has experienced every possibility from the Garden to the Cross. He alone can sympathize with each of our weaknesses in a time of trial and suffering (Hebrews 2:14-18, 4:15).

A wonderful  discovery to make in the midst of all of this is that all of our finite, weak, imperfect human actions and reactions - those things we whisper to God  as well as the things we do - each matter very much to our heavenly Father (I Samuel 1:3-20).  We bring joy to our Father as we languish in a prison cell or lay in our hospital bed, for instance, and continue to trust Him in spite of the unchanging circumstances (Acts 16:25). In so doing, we bring defeat to the devil (remember the basis of his attacks: He challenges God to doubt our love for our heavenly Father).

As finite beings we may have no conscious knowledge of the most significant moment of our lives, the instance of our greatest contribution to the overall tapestry that tells the story of God's eternal victory (Hebrews 11:4, 31, 36-40 – N.B. “... having gained approval through their faith.”). Perhaps, at that moment, only God and satan may be the witnesses. It may be at that moment that our response to God is the one that wins at once a battle that could have left a terrible tear in the fabric of ‘His-story’ (Esther 4:13&14). 

When we view the overall tapestry at the close of time we will be witnesses to the fact of the totally full cup of proof that will show satan that there was not one single thing for which the grace of God had not been sufficient for someone, somewhere, at some time (cf. Colossians 1:24). The great combination of individual lives with each of their unique combination of circumstances will speak eloquently to that fact (I Corinthians 15:58). 

Peter had a significant place (among many others) in the battle which Jesus warned him of in John 21:18. N.B. God only tells us our own story, not that of another (John 21:22).

One of Paul's great contributions to the tapestry was marked by the sufficient grace of God for the achieving victory over his thorn the flesh (II Corinthians 12:7).

When Jeremiah was lowered into the mire his significant response in the face of growing and persistent despair that he came face-to-face with was at least one of his significant moments to deny satan a rip in the tapestry of time (Lamentations 3:24-26, 31-33, 35-38).

With all of this in mind Romans 16:20 becomes clearer in its overall significance.

So, it is not what we do for God in terms of acts of service, preaching, missionary work, sacrificial giving, etc. But it is how we live, day-by-day, in the ebb and flow of the circumstances and challenges of life where, more often than not, there is no human witness.

It is abundantly clear that we can never be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39). The real question is whether or not God can be denied our love for Him?

In conclusion, perhaps Isaiah 43:21 should be considered with Ephesians 3:14-21.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Inheritance founded upon relationship

One of the most astonishing truths of the New Testament is the fact that a man or a woman can have a real relationship with Jesus Christ as the living King and Lord of all. To be able to begin to grasp the gravity of that truth it is necessary to hear that declaration with the ears of Jesus’ first century followers.

Family-centredness (i.e. family at the centre) was a core value of all Mediterranean cultures as well as that of Palestine. The idea of the autonomy of the individual is a construct of the modern western world; an idea quite alien from our first century counterparts and quite absent from the cultures reflected in the Scriptures.

The Oriental idea of family was that of a little kingdom over which the father reigned supreme. Every grouping of human beings must have ‘a father’ who is the head of the group. In fact, he who initiates something is considered the father of that which is started or invented (cf. Genesis 4:20&21).

A father is nothing if he is not both a protector and a nourisher. As such, Joseph considered himself the father of pharaoh (Genesis 45:8). In this regard, it will be helpful to consider Abraham as the father of Israel and the father of the household of faith (Genesis 17:5; Romans 4:16; cf. Galatians 3:7-14).

In Old Testament times God was understood to be the Father of Israel (I Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 68:5; Isaiah 64:8). The concept of Father presumes, as progenitor, the existence of a family structure. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He commenced with addressing the Father as individually personal to each disciple (Matthew 6:9). He continued in this vein in Matthew 7:11.

Under the most extreme pressure, Jesus appealed to His Father as ‘Abba’, a most personal and intimate form of address and endearment equating to our modern term ‘daddy’ (Mark 14:36). Paul takes up this term of endearment to drive home his point in Romans 8:15 wherein he sets forth the most striking of facts. The ‘Fatherhood’ of God (wherein truly liberty resides) and its pursuant relationships is set against slavery (wherein freedom is alien) as a picture of our former lives outside of Christ.

Jesus spoke often and convincingly of His relationship with the Father as His only begotten Son (Matthew 11:27; John 3:18, 17:1; cf. Matthew 2:15, 3:17, 17:5).

Jesus is the first born among many brethren (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:18; cf. 3:1-4) and stands as the pre-eminent eldest Son. Those who freely put their trust in Jesus become Father’s adopted sons and thus a part of His family (Matthew 12:50). God’s purpose in this is to make us like His Son (Romans 8:29) and ultimately a great redeemed and glorified family that will reign and forever be pre-eminent.

Jesus said that the Father had placed all things in His hands (Matthew 28:18; Hebrews 1:2). In other words, God the Father had given Jesus His ‘inheritance’ (Mark 12:7). It is important to note that Jesus came into this inheritance because of His relationship with the Father. (Hebrews 9:17).

Once Jesus had been physically resurrected from the dead, He came into His inheritance (Hebrews 9:17; Daniel 7:13&14; cf. Isaiah 9:7) and shared it with His adopted family, i.e. the redeemed (Ephesians 1:10d-14; Colossians 1:12, 3:24; I Peter 1:4).

What is this inheritance?

We, as believers by free will, share the Divine sonship by adoption and therefore also Divine heirship (Romans 8:17). And like Isaac we are Abraham’s children, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). We follow in the footsteps of Abraham as heirs of the promise (Romans 4:13&14). This inheritance has been received because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ and has nothing to do with anything that we might have accomplished.

The object of the Christian inheritance consists in all that was prefigured by the land of Canaan, and more.
So, what do we inherit?

We inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:34; I Corinthians 6:9-11, 15:50-58; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; James 2:5).
We inherit the earth, i.e. ‘the land’ (Matthew 5:5; cf. Psalm 37:29).
We inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14).
We inherit a blessing (I Peter 3:9).
We inherit glory (Romans 8:17&18).
We inherit incorruption (I Corinthians 15:50).

Each of these promises (Hebrews 6:12) were not received in their fulfilment by the believers of the Old Testament (Hebrews 11:13, 39&40).

The letter to the Hebrews lays stress upon the New Covenant (testament). It is upon this covenant that the promised inheritance is based as it required the death of a (the) testator (Hebrews 9:15-17).

Is this inheritance in the present or the future?

The full (let the reader understand) consummation of all these blessings will only take place at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The inheritance, in its fullness, is reserved for us in heaven (I Peter 1:4). Our receiving it in its fullness is dependent upon us overcoming until He comes (Revelation 21:7).

The Holy Spirit confirms our status as heirs (Romans 8:16&17). Furthermore, He is given to us as a guarantee of our full inheritance (Ephesians 1:13b&14). He was sent to the Church after Jesus entered His own full inheritance at His ascension.

As the guarantee (down payment, if you will) of our inheritance, the Holy Spirit gives us a taste of that which is to come in terms of our experience of it. The inheritance exists and is reserved in heaven, i.e. already done and in existence (cf. Matthew 6:10). So, through prayer we can experience a portion of that which is reserved in heaven for us (cf. Matthew 6:20 – If one can deposit into, then it must be possible to withdraw from).

When Israel was held captive in Egypt there existed the promise of their possession in the Land of Canaan (Genesis 15:7, 13&14). It is only when their ‘saviour’ Moses led them through the Red Sea that they were in a position to gain full possession of that land (Exodus 12:40&41). In the same way, the Church, like Israel of old, sojourns in the world system of Egypt awaiting our Saviour to lead us through the veil of time and space (I Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11; I Corinthians 15:50-58) and into the full possession of the new heavens and the new earth (II Peter 3:10-13).