Christianity 201

May 14, 2017

Contending for the Faith

by Russell Young

Believers are not called to a relaxed, passive life. They are called to fight, to contend for the faith. Jude wrote, “I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 NIV) To contend literally means, ‘to compete for a prize, and figuratively means, ‘to contend against an adversary.’

Jude was encouraging believers to contend with “godless men, who change the grace of our God into license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4 NIV) That is, he was encouraging them to fight against those who misrepresented God’s grace allowing believers to feel free to engage in immoral acts. Giving this freedom was the result of allowing them to deny, reject, or disavow the sovereignty and lordship of Christ. Christ never lived, tolerated, or taught the allowance of immorality but condemned it. There are many today who preach Christ as saviour and reject the need to honour his sovereignty and lordship in their lives. Jude presented his admonition to contend for the faith to those who are “kept by Jesus Christ”, to believers.

The church has not done well at contending for the faith since the grace of God has been promoted as being a gifting that pardons all godless behavior that arises from the believer’s “doing” or practices, which results in freedom from judgment even for defiance of the Lord’s (Holy Spirit’s) right to their lives. The widely-promoted definition of God’s “sovereign grace,” as meaning ‘pre-creation election,’ has eliminated the need to recognize the practical lordship or sovereignty of Christ in the “believer’s” daily life; thus, it maintains that he or she will not suffer harm for any immoral behavior or unrighteousness of heart. Such teaching automatically gives license for ungodliness. However, Paul taught that God’s righteous requirements were accomplished through obedience to the Holy Spirit. “[H]e condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV)

The church has not contended for the faith, but has endorsed the freedom derived from definitions of “belief” and “grace” that have given “licence” for immorality. Such allowance has been given to build numbers in the kingdom of God and to dispense with the need for personal righteousness. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16:16 NIV) It must be appreciated that no one can “force” or crowd himself into the kingdom. Entry comes through Christ alone as revealed in the truths of his Word; no one can enter without having satisfied the “righteous requirements” of the Law…not one “stroke” can be left out.

Why has the church not contended for the faith? The message that God’s “sovereign grace” has met a person’s needs is both appealing to teach and to receive. It seems, as well, that as people flocked to press their way into the kingdom, or were attempting to be pressed in by evangelists, proclamations of such hope became popular and its presenters were to some extent idolized and copied. Their gospel, even though not that of Christ, has become accepted.

Why have the students of God’s Word not raised a hew and cry about neglect of the need for repentance and the development of righteousness and holiness? Those who love the Lord and his gospel need to listen to Jude and make their voices known. Long-accepted teaching that licences the “believer” to fearlessly neglect the Lord’s sovereignty in life and that gives licence to ungodliness needs to be re-examined and rejected.

Paul taught that in the last days people would have a “form of godliness but denying its power,” and cautioned them to have nothing to do with them. (2 Tim 3:5 NIV) The “power” is the Holy Spirit (Christ in you) and his power for achieving a sanctified life is often ignored and its necessity denied. Paul also cautioned Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:3 NIV) Has this time come? In these, Paul also proclaims the failure of the church to contend for the faith.

The LORD prophesied concerning the end times through Isaiah, “The earth mourns and dries up, and the crops waste away and wither. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left alive.” (Isa 24:4─6 NIV) God will bring his wrath on humankind in the last days, not because they have rejected his “grace,” but because the earth’s people will have rejected his government…his laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. His prophesy should not be taken as referring to the non-confessing people but to all people. By the end a great deal of teaching from “learned” men and women will have set aside the need to satisfy God’s laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. The licence of which Jude spoke will have been fully realized. If God’s requirements are not made know, those who are seeking him will miss the mark.

The Lord said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Matthew records this admonition as follows: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13─14 NIV) If an “effort” is required, its reality must be made known and not left hidden behind the curtain of God’s grace.

Believers must appreciate that their time on earth needs to be given to “contending for the faith” and the building of the kingdom of God. Judgment will befall those who neglect the service to which they have been called and for which they have been gifted. (1 Cor 3:14) That “contending” needs to be with those who have not heard the gospel, with those who have heard a misrepresented version of the gospel, and with those who are actively misrepresenting the gospel.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

February 26, 2017

The Continuing Sanctification of the Believer

by Russell Young

The Word of God speaks of the need for believers to be continually sanctified. Those who will dwell in his presence must be holy. (Heb 12:14) Although the believer was cleansed of all sin through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness at the time of confession of faith, Paul spoke of the need for him or her to be “kept” blameless. In his benediction to the Thessalonians he wrote: “May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV)

Since all people are prone to sin, a person’s sanctification must be maintained. The writer of Hebrews has recorded that “Since that time (when he offered himself as a sacrifice) he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:13─14 NIV) Accordingly, a process has been revealed as necessary since he refers to those “who are being made holy” as being perfect forever. Perfection has a condition attached.

The Lord spoke of the necessity of continued cleansing when he washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:8) and told Peter that unless he washed his feet, Peter would have no part with him even though he had had a bath; had been cleansed all over. Christ often spoke of the need for obedience which is part of the sanctification process. (Mt 7:21, Rev 22:14 KJV, Mt 28:20, Lk 11:28, Jn 8:51, Phil 2:12, 2Thess 1:8, 1 Jn 2:5) Sanctification is the absence of sin and “being kept blameless” is achieved through righteous living and through fulfilment of the law. John wrote: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jn 3:4 NIV) A few verses later John wrote that “No one who lives in [Christ] keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV) All of this is to say that personal and eternal sanctification will not be achieved by Christ without the confessor’s ongoing involvement. It is thorough voluntary submission to Christ that identifies the confessor as a believer, and through which eternal salvation is achieved.

A great misconception has invaded some of the church–that Christ will unilaterally sanctify the confessor. A person’s failure to humble him/herself through obedience will ultimately result in eternal separation from the presence of their God and Creator.

Paul wrote to the Philippians “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2 12─16 NIV) Paul taught that the law–God’s standard of righteousness–was accomplished by the Spirit. “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) That is, God’s righteous standards are to be achieved through the way a person lives.

God, the Spirit, can sanctify the believer “through and through” and can keep a person’s spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of the Lord provided that one is willing to be led, willing to be obedient, but being sanctified requires submission to the Lord, the one who accomplished it for himself and who is prepared to accomplish it for the believer. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey-whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness.” (Rom 6:16 NIV)

Popular Christian music readily praises God for all that he has done and for the redemption that Christ has accomplished through his sacrificial offering; however, the Lord’s continued work in the believer must also be appreciated by those who look forward to his coming and to their continued sanctification. His ministry in partnership with the believer has not been completed but is ongoing and essential for one’s eternal salvation. The Holy Spirit was given for that very purpose and he must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) The thought continues to persist that Christ has done all that is required. He continues to enlighten, to lead and to empower the believer for victory but the victory over sin must still be fought if a person’s sanctification is to be completed.

July 24, 2016

Sanctification by the Blood and Sanctification by the Spirit

•••by Russell Young

A person’s understanding of sanctification and its application is significant when it comes to his or her knowing the truths of the Word of God and in understanding the doctrine of salvation.  Sanctification is revealed as coming by the Spirit, by the blood of the covenant, by the truth, and by the Word.

sanctificationThe Greek word hagiazo which has been translated as sanctification means “to sanctify, to consecrate, or devote a person or thing to a particular, especially to a sacred, use in service to God.”  The Greek hagiasmos, also translated as sanctification, is “intended to express a state or attitude of voluntary consecration to God, a continued act of consecration; or a state of choice as distinct from a mere act of choice, an abiding act or state of choice, a standing and controlling preference of mind, a continuous committal of the will to the highest well-being of God and of the universe.” (Charles Finney, Lecture LVIII) Accordingly, a person is sanctified or consecrated to God by the blood of Christ when he makes a confession of faith and proclaims the Lordship of Christ.  However, continued consecration must be realized through a person’s abiding attitude to God as revealed through his or her practices.

The believer cannot be sanctified or consecrated to God and seek his or her own interests.  Sanctification following confession of faith necessitates death to self, a voluntary state of devotion to the Lord’s purposes.  “Sanctification is nothing more nor less than entire obedience, for the time being, to the moral law.” (Finney) It is the attitude or abiding in a sanctified state of consecration to God that requires the Spirit and his ministry.  Although a person might be set aside in part for building the kingdom, he may yet not be cleansed (transformed) in heart and mind for that purpose or to dwell in the kingdom.

Paul taught that he had been chosen “to be a minister of Christ Jesus so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16, NIV) He was not addressing sanctification by the blood of Christ, although that is essential. Accordingly, his teaching addressed the need for a person to have the attitude or the will to walk righteously so that he or she would become an offering acceptable to God “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”  To Titus and to the Thessalonians Paul revealed that salvation came through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13, NIV) To Titus he wrote: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) The Holy Spirit provides renewal (transformation) through the indwelling presence (Col 1:27) of the Spirit of Christ as he washes away the darkness that pervades the believer’s heart and mind.

Vessels that are unclean, including people, cannot be used for noble kingdom purposes.  It is necessary for the believer to live righteously and to be transformed through the sanctifying work of the Spirit if he or she is to be used for noble purposes by God.  Paul wrote to Timothy: “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.  If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Tim 2:20-21, NIV)

Neither is sanctification a singular event as by the blood of Christ as some accept.  Its state must be maintained or kept. (1 Thess 5:23) The writer of Hebrews recorded that those who deliberately keep on sinning are treating “as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them.” (Heb 10:29, NIV) The “blood of the covenant” is the shed blood of Christ that brought the Old Covenant to a close and allowed the believer right to the New Covenant.  It purified him or her and set them aside for use in God’s service. (Eph 2:10) The blood of the covenant sanctified the believer concerning the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) The sinner had been dead in his trespasses and sins and has been given new life for service to God. This is sanctification through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, through his willingness to take on himself all of the sins of the world.  The believer’s sins were washed away and he was left pure. Sanctification by the Spirit is to follow.

The Lord spoke to His disciples concerning the need for continued cleaning.  Before His crucifixion, He washed His disciples’ feet.  Peter had objected to act of what he perceived as being humiliating to his Lord and told Him, “You shall never wash my feet.”  The Lord responded, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  Peter then wanted to be washed all over.  The Lord again addressed him: “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” (Jn 13:10, NIV) Although many take this as representing a person’s need to be humble in service, the issue is really one of spiritual cleansing or of sanctification.  The disciples had been sanctified or as He has stated, have had a “bath.”  However, throughout the day their feet had become dirty.  In a spiritual sense, throughout the day they had been dirtied by sin.  He needed to cleanse them of this if they were to have any part of Him.  The “bath” is “the sanctification of the blood” while the washing of the feet (one’s daily sins- sanctification by the Spirit) still needed to be done.

When the writer of Hebrews related, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”, he is stating those who deliberately continue to sin are showing disregard for Christ and His sanctifying ministry for the believer, both on the cross and following.  The Spirit of grace is insulted when a person has failed to honor the Lord’s ministry in his or her life.

Sanctification by the Word and by the truth refer to the same issue. (Jn 17:17) God has revealed his gospel and the truths that he expects to be honored concerning his law and through his covenants.

The Spirit, if followed (“obeyed”-Heb 5:9) will accomplish the righteous requirements of God’s moral law (Rom 8:4) and leave the one who is believing sanctified, holy in his sight, and suitable for his Kingdom.

 

February 28, 2016

Do You Know the Gospel of Christ? (Part 1)

Today we have the first of a two-part, back-to-back look at a subject that Russell Young is very passionate about. Subscribers will receive the second part on Monday. Read this slowly and carefully, some of this may seem new to you.

•••by Russell Young

It is surprising how many “believers” and even pastors do not know the gospel of Christ or are unable to articulate it. The consequence of this is very serious.

The gospel rests in the revelation of an eternal hope through the presence of Christ “in” the believer. Paul wrote: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery [that “which had been kept hidden for ages and generations” v. 26], which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27, NIV) The gospel or good news which manifests God’s glorious riches, the “mystery” that has been kept hidden, is Christ “in” the believer which is his hope of glory.

This great mystery was revealed following the crucifixion of our Saviour. “Christ in you” is the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV. See also Ephesians 2:22)

The Spirit is necessary for one’s eternal salvation. Paul wrote to Titus (3:5-6) and to the Thessalonians (2:13) that God chose them to be saved “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” It is not recorded anywhere in the Word of God that eternal salvation comes through the sacrificial offering of Christ on the cross. Christ’s ministry on the cross redeemed the believer from the consequences of his “past sins” and from the jurisdiction of the Old Covenant, completing it for him. He was then placed under the New Covenant, the covenant of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6), and he has been made “competent” to satisfy it through Christ in him.

The believer’s eternal hope is not based solely on his being pardoned for past sins, but is based on the sanctifying ministry of Christ in the believer following one’s confession of faith and following his confession of the lordship of Christ. (Romans 10:9-10) In another place Paul also made known the necessity of the life of Christ lived in and through the believer: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him… For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life.” (Romans 5:9-10, NIV)

Christ must be allowed to live His life through the believer; His presence in one is not sufficient to achieve one’s hope. The Spirit may be quenched, denied, or thwarted. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8: 11, NIV)

John wrote: “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him [Christ] must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6) This requirement is often dismissed out of hand. After all, who can walk as Jesus did? However, this is part of the gospel and John has said that the believer “must” do this if he is to be found living in Christ. The writer of Hebrews has stated that eternal salvation comes through “obedience.” (5:9) (This is the ONLY passage in the entire Word of God that contains the phrase “eternal salvation.”) Most challenging of all is John’s proclamation: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6) How is this writing to be understood? The answer is that mortal man cannot live as Christ did, but the Lord living in him can. He accomplished the sinless life in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary, and He can do it in the body of the believer. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience [moral consciousness] from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14) That is why Paul wrote that “Christ in you” was your hope of glory. This is the “good news.” The victory has NOT been won for the believer by Christ; that must yet happen. The victory that Christ won was for Himself and gave Him the keys to hell and death. (gave Him authority over/put Him in control of hell and death.)

To further develop these truths, we are reminded that Christ came to fulfill the law; not to abolish it. He came to fulfill it through living His life personally and specifically in the body of each believer, if permitted. (God does not over-rule the will of man.) Paul wrote: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4, NIV)

Paul also taught that it was those who are led by the Spirit who are not under the law (Galatians 5:18, and those who are led by the Spirit who are sons of God. (Romans 8:14) The Spirit’s leading comes through conviction of one’s conscience. The Spirit enlightens, leads and empowers for righteousness leading to holiness and eternal life. (Romans 6:19, 22)

The Lord has revealed the need for one to die to self and to the interests of the flesh (One’s baptism testifies to this.) and to live in obedience to the Spirit. Although there is much to be said on the need for obedience and transformation, and the need to “overcome” (Revelation 21:7), a singular passage might assert these truths: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV)

The Lord has given the believer all that he needs for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) but he must appropriate that provision; he is to live as Christ lived, and as Christ will live through him, if obeyed. The believer is told “to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and to make “every effort” to enter through the narrow door because many will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:24)

Judgment awaits the disobedient and rebellious, starting with the household of God. (1 Peter 4:17) Those who are slaves to sin will have “no permanent place” in the family. (John 8:35, NIV) “He will punish those who do not know [see/appreciate] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2Thessaslonians 1:8, NIV)

This is the gospel: Christ offered Himself a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem the believer from his past sins and from the Old Covenant so that He might live righteously through the repentant believer and fit him for the Kingdom of God.…“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

August 9, 2015

The True Lord’s Prayers — Part Two

This is the second of three parts of an original C201 devotional study.

We said yesterday that we would look at some instances of Jesus offering prayer on our behalf. Probably the best example of this is in the extended section of his life and ministry found only in the Gospel of John, the section that begins at the conclusion of what we call “The Last Supper” in John 13, taking place in and around the Garden of Gethsemane. The entirety of chapter 17 is probably most deserving of the title “The Lord’s Prayer.”

I believe that some of this clearly falls into the category of something meant to be overheard. The IVP Commentary notes:

This chapter contains the most extensive and profound prayer of Jesus we have. When Jesus prayed at Lazarus’s tomb he made it clear that he had no need of expressing prayer because he is one with God in his whole life, the union true prayer expresses. Nevertheless, he prayed for the benefit of those present (11:41-42), and the same is true here as well (17:13).

Although it’s out of the chronological order, we’ll look at the example of Lazarus tomorrow.

We don’t know how John recorded all this; the standard stereotype at this point of the narrative is of The Twelve (minus Judas) having a hard time staying awake.

Big Picture

In the first few verses, Jesus reviews the “master plan” that we looked at yesterday.

NLT John 17:1 After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

I’ve omitted verse 9 here for the moment, the passage continues:

10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11a Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name;… 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Then jumping a few verses:

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me.  23a I am in them and you are in me…

And finally:

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

Specific Petitions

Now I want to gather up the other parts of this text; the sections clearly prayed on our behalf:

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you…

11b …now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are…

15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me…

23b … May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

I could have fine-tuned this a little more, but I hope you see the distinction between the internal focus of the Father and Son commiserating over the master plan that is drawing to a conclusion, and the outward focus of Jesus praying for his disciples and us; also the interweaving of both types of prayer.

If you want to know what is God’s will for the capital-C Church, read the last section of his prayer again; this spells it out very clearly. If you haven’t already done so, make a point of committing verse 21 to memory.

March 9, 2015

Discernment Versus Judgmentalism

One short article, and an excerpt from a longer one:

What is the difference between discernment and being judgmental?

 It is important to understand the difference between being judgmental and discerning truth from error. In Matt. 7:1, the Lord said, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Then, in verses 2-5 he warns against trying to correct others without first correcting what is wrong in our own lives. If we deal honestly deal with our own hearts, etc., then we have the responsibility to help others. But there is also a warning in verse 6. He said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (vs. 6). How can we know that someone, in their spiritual condition, is like a dog or a pig (i.e., someone who is incapable of appreciating the truth—apathetic, cold, indifferent), unless you judge, discern their character or their spiritual condition?

This passage does not teach that judgments should never be made. In fact, Matthew 7:5 specifically speaks of removing the speck from your brother’s eye. But the Lord’s point is that no one is qualified nor able to do that if they are habitually critical or condemnatory of the specks in someone else’s eye when they themselves have a plank—a hyperbole for effect—in their own eye. Such are not truly interested in righteousness, only in playing spiritual king of the mountain.

So, as in selecting elders and deacons for office (1 Tim. 3), judgment is sometimes needed, but those making the distinctions (krino„, judge, means “to distinguish” and thus “to decide”) must first be certain of their own lives and their motives. We need to ask questions like, Am I doing this to show how much I know? Am I trying to play spiritual king of the mountain? Do I think I am better than they are because I know something they do not know? These are some of the logs that we must remove from our own eyes (hearts). We are not judging people when we discern behavior or beliefs that are clearly unbiblical. For an excellent passage on having a judgmental spirit versus a discerning spirit, read Paul’s teaching on the problem of doubtful or questionable things in Romans 14.

Furthermore when seeking to help others, we must exercise care to discern their spiritual appetites and do what would be appreciated and beneficial. We need to test the waters, so to speak. Ask a question in a non-threatening way to see if they might be open to discussion. “Would you be interested in what the Bible has to say about astrology?” We do this because one should never entrust holy things (what is sacred) to unholy people (dogs; cf. “dogs” in Phil. 3:2) or throw … pearls to pigs. Dogs and pigs were despised in those days. This is one of the reasons the Lord spoke in parables. He did so to hide truth from the indifferent and to reveal it to those who were hungry and prepared.

Finally, remember that the ultimate issue is not seeking to get people to change their behavior, but come to know and believe in Christ. This includes biblical repentance, but in a salvation context, that means recognizing their sinful condition and need and turning from their sources of trust (religion, human will power, cultism, astrology, etc.) to trust in Jesus and His death for their sin. It does not mean cleaning up their lives and then trusting in Christ. Only Christ can change lives in a way that is significant.

For this one complete, you need to click the header below; this is just a representative sample of three general paragraphs, but the article distinguishes between judging non-believers versus judging fellow-Christians:

Does the Bible Tell Christians to Judge Not?

…As Christians, we should be living godly lives so that we can first concentrate on our own repentance of sin. Sanctification is a lifelong process of being transformed every day into the image of Christ. Without this, we have no place in helping another brother or sister. What Christ teaches His believers in Matthew 7 is that if we ourselves are not personally repenting of our sins, we are in no place to tell others how sinful they are acting. But the Bible does tell us to preach the gospel—and part of the gospel message is that people are sinners in need of salvation…

…Are we being loving if we allow our fellow brethren to remain in error and even deceive others? Of course not. Loving others requires that we graciously correct them when they fall into error (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 1:11; Galatians 6:1). Those who err do not necessarily know they are in error; they are possibly  deceived or ignorant. So we gently and carefully correct the error in regard to teaching, no matter what the situation. After all, this is one of the responsibilities of the church: to teach sound doctrine and correct erroneous teaching (2 Timothy 2:25, 3:16; Titus 2:1). For example, we have to use discernment (judging between right and wrong) if we are to obey verses like 1 Corinthians 5:11–13; 6:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:20; and Titus 3:9, just to name a few…

…Those people who call for tolerance and quote “judge not” out of context are not using sound thinking. Their call for tolerance is impossible because as Christians, we are called to judge righteously, and judging between right and wrong is something we do every day—and it should be a part of biblical discernment in every believer’s thinking. But it is God’s Word that makes the judgment on morality and truth, not our own opinions or theories…


Every once in awhile we encounter articles that won’t fit here due to length, but which we think C201 readers might have some interest. Today we have two for you:

  • From Genesis 3’s garden narrative to being “clothed with the righteousness of Christ” this article covers (no pun intended) it all. Check out A Biblical Theology of Clothing.
  • Who did Jesus have in mind in Matthew 25, when he spoke of “the least of these?” This article focuses on how scholars view this passage, and it is a different result than what we pick up from casual reading. Check out What You Probably Don’t Know About ‘The Least of These.’

March 5, 2015

Have You Lost Your First Love?

A link to this was added as an update to Sunday’s post, but I felt it worth giving full attention to it today. Randy Davis is another author we linked to in the past at Thinking Out Loud. Click the title below to read this at source and look at other articles.

Have You Lost Your First Love?

This is a followup on my sermon from Revelation 2:1-7 titled What’s Love Got to do with It? The theme was, have you lost your first love when it comes to your relationship to Christ?

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5 ESV)

These questions may serve as a diagnostic help as we probe our own hearts and ask this question, have I lost my first love in regard to following Christ as my Lord and Savior? All Christians should take stock of their lives from time to time. We need a spiritual checkup to see if we are spiritually health. These questions are certainly not exhaustive. I’m sure the reader can think of others that need to be asked. However, maybe these will help you and me think about our lives before Christ and ask that question, have I lost my first love?

  1. Have you stopped praying daily?
  2. When you do pray is it out of duty?
  3. When you pray, do you take time to think about God and wait on his reply?
  4. Does your faith influence the way you live your public life?
  5. When you make important decisions, do you consider what Scripture says? Do you pray about it?
  6. Do you use the phrase, “I prayed about it” as an excuse to do what you want to do?
  7. Do you read the Bible often?
  8. When you read Scripture, do you read with understanding?
  9. When you read Scripture, do you find surprising ideas that you have not seen before?
  10. Do you find it hard to go to church?
  11. Do you see “Church”as something you are a part of or something that you just attend?
  12. Do you spend a lot of time being critical of others at church?
  13. Is church attendance something you do when there is nothing else to do?
  14. Do you let hobbies, personal interests, sports, and other lesser matters keep you out of church?
  15. Do you feel close to other church members?
  16. Do you fellowship with church members and consider them your closest friends?
  17. Do you understand that church membership means a close spiritual bond between each other?
  18. Do you feel accountable to your fellow church members?
  19. Do you not attend church because you don’t like someone there?
  20. Do you do the work of the church?
  21. Do you volunteer or do you have to be asked and begged to take a position in the church?
  22. Do you think it is someone else’s responsibility to teach, serve on committees, chaperone at children and youth functions, etc.?
  23. Does your love for God cause you to tithe and give generously to the church?
  24. Do you think that a few dollars every now and then is all that is needed to serve God?
  25. Do you share your faith with others?
  26. Do others know you are a Christian by your behavior, your language, your attitudes?
  27. Do you believe that Christians should carry out a mission endeavor whenever possible?
  28. Would you refuse to go on a mission trip if it were offered to you?
  29. Do you give consideration to the poor and their needs?
  30. Are you put off by someone’s poverty, race, heritage, etc.? Would you refuse to minister to them or to fellowship with them?
  31. Given the chance to witness to someone about Christ, will you refuse?
  32. Do the two great commands, to love God and to love your neighbor, impact the way you live?
  33. As a Christian, do you think there should be limits to things you want or do you think you should buy whatever your heart desires?
  34. Are you proud or are you humble in the way you live and treat others?
  35. Do you think that worldly practices are fine for a Christian to practice?

February 19, 2015

A Vessel for Honorable Use

Today we want to introduce you to servantsofgrace.org and if you click the title below, you’ll not only get the article, but links to a large number of quality articles just like it. In today’s reading Zach Barnhart looks at four distinctive marks of holiness we can apply to our own spiritual diagnostics test.

Holiness: Becoming a Vessel For Honor

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

The discussion of holiness in Christian circles is inescapable. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and thousands of articles and blog posts on it. The word “holy” appears in the Bible over 600 times. This conversation is not only inevitable, but can often be burdensome to believers trying to live the Christian life.

HolinessIt’s easy to talk about holiness and feel utterly disheveled. Oftentimes it’s because we, as heirs of grace need to acquire an honest view of the difficult process of sanctification. In order to discover this, God’s people need to understand their sin nature. We do this by understanding that Satan hasn’t left God’s people alone. Not to mention, it’s growing seemingly more difficult to live a holy life in a pleasure-driven, tolerance-demanding, all-things-go culture. Holiness, in short, is hard. Take heart and find Paul’s encouraging spirit in these words in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. Only then will you not feel bogged down, but motivated by His grace. Christians should not feel stripped of their armor, but equipped with it. Paul writes Timothy from a heart of encouragement, calling him “my beloved child” (2 Tim. 1:2). He encourages Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace” of Christ (2:1), reminding him “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power” (1:7). Paul aims to encourage both Timothy and you.

In 2 Timothy 2:20, Paul begins an illustration: in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver…” Just as a house holds various kinds of vessels, so the Church has many different members and gifts. Some vessels are gold, others are silver. Both are precious metals, with some more refined (gold) than others (silver). These precious metals are all a sight worth displaying in the home; they are treasures we love. But there are also vessels of wood and clay.” Wood and clay are certainly inferior to any gold or silver. A necklace made of wood is of fractional value when compared to a necklace of pure gold. These are “vessels of dishonor,” referring to the hypocrites, or those who stand in moral or doctrinal error in the Church. The Church will be full of not only vessels of honor (running towards holiness), but vessels of dishonor (running from holiness).

As believers, we have to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?” Sometimes it’s difficult to interpret the data of our own spiritual diagnostics test. What are the signs and indicators? How can believers tell if they are moving in the right direction? How does the Christian become a vessel of gold and silver, and avoid becoming like wood and clay? Thankfully, here Paul has provided four distinctive marks of a Christian who is running the race of holiness.

He will be a vessel for honorable use”
The first mark of spiritual holiness is that we embrace our transformation. What is a vessel after all? A vessel is best used when first emptied, then filled. All are born incapable of achieving righteousness by their own strength (Isa. 64:6, Rom. 3:10-12). Any chance we have, then, of being counted righteous before God is to be completely emptied of ourselves, and, in the new birth of regeneration, being transformed into new life, a life “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Only the power and grace of Jesus can accomplish this feat, and when He does, He fills His people with His spirit “for honorable use.” Whether filled to the brim or down to the last drip, God is filling His people with His Spirit, for His use, for His glory. The end result of this is His people embracing true transformation.

Set apart as holy”
One of the main differences between a gold or silver vessel as opposed to a wood or clay vessel is the physical appearance of the vessels. A vessel of gold shines; it illuminates when a light is shined on it, and it is more eye-catching than other elements. Similarly, we must also reflect the King to an unseeing world. Scripture shows the importance of being set apart. Christians must evaluate themselves and ask, “Am I living a life that walks the walk and talks the talk?” We don’t ask out of unhealthy piety or competition, but rather to determine what our life is reflecting to a lost world. When the light shines on us, do we reflect it back, as gold and silver? Or do we, like wood and clay, look dull, dark, and unfazed by the light? To live in holiness is to live a life of non-conformity (Rom. 12:2), putting on the new self (Col. 3:10), walking in wisdom (Col. 4:5), “for we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

“useful to the master of the house”
A third distinctive mark of our holiness is when we serve a purpose for the Kingdom of God. I recently heard the illustration from a friend on how we must approach our duty as the Church like a battleship, not a cruise ship. Cruise ships are consumer-driven. People eat at will, soak up the sun, etc. No one is there to be working or sacrificing. But on a battleship, everyone works. Everyone has a purpose and desire to be useful, because there is a fight to be fought. People don’t go to a battleship to be served – they go to be useful. We cannot approach God and His Word and His Church as an opportunity to merely be filled, but as an opportunity to be useful (1 Cor. 4:1, Gal. 5:13). Christians must accept the call, and put their hands to work for Christ’s Kingdom.

“ready for every good work”
The fourth mark of holiness Paul outlines is when we prepare for battle. There is a level of desire and preparation that we should have in wanting to be a vessel of honor. I am not suggesting that preparedness affects God’s control in situations or opinion of us. I think what Paul is saying is, “Do not tarry. Be on guard.” When preparing to become vessels for honor, our battle sword doesn’t need to be sharpened, because it already is. There’s no need to go rummaging around for our armor, because we’re already wearing it.

You and I are not worthy to receive righteous on our own. But let this truth fill you with deep longing for the power of Christ. Don’t let the scorching sun of holiness wither you; let it root you. Be a radiant, cultivated picture-in-progress of the Spirit’s working power. Be encouraged. Your journey in holiness is designed to give you Kingdom purpose, and passion for it. It helps you shine reflections of Him to a dark world. It helps you be eager to fight in Jesus name.

In summation: Embrace your transformation. Reflect the King. Serve a purpose. Prepare for battle.

December 30, 2014

Distinguishing Between Transformation and Sanctification

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We just got one of those annual reports WordPress sends out to let you know all the yearly stats on what you’re posting online.  This year, the 3rd most popular article here was Is Heaven and the New Jerusalem One and the Same, which also got an unusually large number of comments.  At the time in 2011, we noted that the author, Tom Smith, is very much influenced by the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee. We decided to pay a return visit (the blog is now at a new address) where we found today’s post. Click the title below to read at source; there were a number of other articles — including a couple about man’s spirit — that were on the short list for inclusion here, so there’s much to see at the blog, which is now named Holding to Truth in Love.

What’s the Difference between Sanctification and Transformation?

What are sanctification and transformation?  What’s the difference between these two aspects of God’s saving work? And how can you experience sanctification and transformation in your daily Christian life?By considering these questions you will be equipped with the truth of God’s Word and better able to experience and grow in your Christian life.

First, we need to see the meaning of sanctification and transformation and realize the relationship or distinction between them. Second, we need to learn how to progressively experience God’s sanctifying and transforming work in our daily life.

Sanctification and Transformation in the Bible

What is sanctification?

In the original Greek, the word for “sanctification” (hagiasmos) comes from the same root word as for “holy” (hagios).  “Holy” means separated, set apart.  So to sanctify a person is to make them holy and sanctification to God is the practical effect and the resulting state produced from being sanctified.

God Himself is holy and He wants His people to be holy. First Peter 1:15-16 says,

“But according to the Holy One who called you, you yourselves also be holy in all you manner of life; because it is written, “You shall be holy because I am holy.”

Holiness is what God is. It’s His nature. So the more we contact God and enjoy Him the holier we are.

God’s sanctifying work begins with a change in our position, our being separated unto Him. Then  it progresses to a change in our disposition, our being saturated with the Him.

So sanctification involves both an outward change in our position and an inward change in our disposition.

As believers in Christ, God has such a complete salvation planned for us. His salvation is carried out in the sphere of the Spirit’s sanctification. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says,

“But we ought to thank God always concerning you, beloved of the Lord because God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”

Footnote 3 on this verse in the Recovery Version points out that the sanctification of the Spirit consists of three steps:

 1. The Spirit’s seeking us and convicting us before we are saved—1 Pet 1:2; Luke 15:8-10.

Before we were saved, our heart was turned away from God. But then His Spirit came to brood over us.

This aspect of sanctification is like the woman in the parable of the ten coins who lit a lamp and swept the house to find her lost coin. It is in this way that the Holy Spirit came to seek us, to brood over us, so that we might turn our heart to God.

The Spirit used God’s Word to shine in our hearts (Psalm 119:105, 130) and to enlighten us within so that we might realize our pitiful condition, repent, and return to God. This was God’s seeking sanctification.

To respond to His seeking it’s good to pray,

 “Oh Father, forgive me. I’ve wandered far away from You. I turn my heart back to You right now. I need You and come to You.”

Here’s a hymn that captures the sentiment of this point.

2. The Spirit’s sanctifying us positionally and dispositionally at the time we are saved—Heb. 13:121 Cor. 6:11.

Then when we believed into Christ, we experienced a further sanctifying through Christ’s blood. By Christ’s redeeming blood we were separated unto God for His purpose. Hebrews 13:12 says,

“Therefore also Jesus, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”

Through faith and baptism, our position was fully changed. We were delivered out of  Satan’s kingdom–the authority of darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom–the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (Col. 1:13).

Also, at that moment, an inward, dispositional sanctifying began within us. Our spirit was sanctified through regeneration. That is, we were reborn, or born again, with God’s divine life and nature.  John 3:6 says,

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

We may call this divine birth God’s regenerating sanctification.

3. The Spirit’s dispositional sanctifying as we pursue to grow in God’s life—Rom. 6:19, 22.

But that’s not the end. God’s Spirit does not stop with regenerating our spirit. He progressively spreads out from our spirit into all the parts of our soul. Here is where transformation comes in.

As believers, we should not be content simply to be born again or regenerated. We need to pursue the sanctification of our soul. This is God’s transforming sanctification.

Transformation is the greater part of our daily experience of God’s sanctifying work. It is the aspect of sanctification that we should continually participate in throughout our entire Christian life.

 What is transformation?

W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, points out that the word “transform” in the original Greek is metamorphoo, which literally means to change into another form and morphe  here “lays stress on the inward change.”

Romans 12:2a says,

“And do not be fashioned according to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind…”

 Footnote 3 on this verse in the Recovery Version gives a further development to this understanding of transformation:

 “Transformation is the inward, metabolic process in which God works to spread His divine life and nature throughout every part of our being, particularly our soul, bringing Christ and His riches into our being as our new element and causing our old, natural element to be gradually discharged. As a result we will be transformed into His image (2 Cor. 3:18)…”

For a further appreciation of transformation, you may want to read this post on the Amazing Process of Transformation Revealed in the Bible.

So what is the difference between sanctification and transformation?

Transformation is the third aspect of the Spirit’s sanctifying work mentioned above. It’s the dispositional aspect of sanctification that we experience daily as we grow in Christ’s life.

Footnote 2 on Romans 6:19 points out,

Sanctification…involves not only a change in position, that is, a separation from a common, worldly position to a position for God, as illustrated in Matt. 23:17, 19 and in 1 Tim. 4:3-5; it involves also a transformation in disposition, that is, a transformation from the natural disposition to a spiritual one by Christ as the life-giving Spirit saturating all the inward parts of our being with God’s nature of holiness, as mentioned in [Rom.] 12:2 and 2 Cor. 3:18.

So for a believer to “be sanctified” does not automatically mean that they are “being transformed.” They may only be separated unto God by the redeeming blood of Jesus. But if a believer is “being transformed” they are definitely “being sanctified”—especially in their soul.

Sanctification and transformation

How can we experience sanctification and transformation right now?

As believers, the Lord is continually working to sanctify us—both outwardly and inwardly. Here are two ways that we can cooperate with God to be experience sanctification and transformation in our daily life.

Negatively, the Holy Spirit may bother us when we do things that are contrary to God’s holy nature. That is, when we sin, pursue the pleasures of the world or of the flesh, the Spirit will let us know that He is grieved by our actions.

At such times we need to pray to confess and deal with the Lord  concerning what is contrary to His holiness. When we repent, confess, and deal with the Lord according to His touching we are further sanctified.

Positively, we need to pursue fellowship with the Lord through prayer and God’s Word. By having living contact with the Holy Spirit in our spirit and with the Holy Word in the Bible we experience a further dispositional sanctification and transformation bringing in more of God’s element to renew our mind and our entire soul.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul said,

“But we all with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting like a mirror, the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory even as from the Lord Spirit.”

By setting aside time with the Lord each day to turn our heart to Him, behold Him, and fellowship with Him, He will gradually transform us into His image. In this way, the Spirit will spread God’s holy nature into all our inward parts to sanctify us.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for showing me Your desire to not only redeem and regenerate me, but to sanctify and transform me. Lord, touch me deeply concerning my need to be sanctified–both separated unto You and saturated with Your holy nature. Daily transform me with Your life and nature into Your image so that I can express You and  have a share in fulfilling Your purpose.”


References and Further Resources:

December 28, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part Two

Yesterday and today, we’re running back-to-back expositions from Jesus’ teaching in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Fruit that Remains

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Continuing a bit in John 15 because I love it so…

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (v.4)

A branch isn’t a branch if it isn’t abiding. It’s a dead stick. The nature of a branch is that is is a living, producing thing. The word “abide” is used more than any other word in this passage. The very nature of the word implies a consistent, constant action. A branch isn’t sometimes connected to the Vine, it either is or isn’t. Abiding allows the branch to draw all the nutrients it needs from the Vine, and over time the result is fruit.

Christ tells us to abide, not to bear fruit. He takes on the responsibility for the fruit – it is a natural result of an abiding branch! Trying to make it on our own is like a branch striving to develop grapes, it just isn’t natural. Our whole job is to respond to His ability to do it. Hebrews 4:11 tells us to “make every effort to enter into that rest.” Jesus is telling us, “relax, I’ve got this!” We never need to worry about the fruit our lives produce, we need to abide and let it happen. He wants fruit that remains. The word talks of fruits of the spirit, fruits of righteousness and holiness as examples of this. How amazing that our entire job is just to make sure we have entered into His rest, through our abiding. What a great way to live!

Here are some more things we learned about life in the vineyard;

  • Vineyards aren’t natural. There are things in nature that flower and bear fruit naturally, without our help, but a vineyard isn’t one of them! A well organized, productive vineyard is one of the most unnatural things that could ever exist. Left to itself, will bear virtually no fruit and go totally wild. Grapevines put their energy into making leaves, not fruit. They need much guidance and care in order to produce. Too many leaves block the sun and air. Our lives can become very “leafy” if we’re not careful. From the outside, things look green and flourishing, but underneath, we aren’t experiencing any real fruit. We aren’t commanded to go forth and be leafy – our job is to bear fruit! All the extra stuff has to be taken away if we are to have quality fruit.
  • A struggling vine makes the best wine. Natural instinct would be to take the very best care of the vines, water them and tend to them so they grow strong. In reality, a vine that feels thirsty once in awhile sends it’s roots deeper in search of water and grows stronger. A vine can be very dry in a drought year and produce very little. But because it’s forced to go deeper, the next years harvest is better than ever. Artificially watering whenever dryness comes leads to lazy roots that don’t ever get strong. Vines that struggle learn to go deeper. When drought comes, it’s not a problem. It may look dry on the outside, but deep down it is secure! God is more concerned with our growth than our comfort.
  • Fruit Is Different. Vines mature with time, and so does fruit. The kind of fruit produced depends on many things, and no vine will turn out the same. Thats the great thing about our Vinedresser. He knows when we need straightening out, watered, directed, cut back, etc. Soils are different. Climates are different. But if we abide, the end result is healthy fruit that He is proud to put His name on. One of our biggest mistakes is to compare our fruit with others. We forget the Vinedresser is customizing each one of us. He takes great pride in the vineyard as a whole, but He loves the individual branches and knows just what each one needs.

ABIDE. It simply means to remain, stay, dwell, and hold on. It’s a fact that the healthiest grapes are the ones that grow closest to the vine.

Fruitfulness glorifies God. His will is done when we abide and allow Him to work on us. We have a Vinedresser that is concerned with every aspect of our growth and maturity.

I’m so thankful He lets us develop deep roots that strengthen us.

I’m thankful He doesn’t allow us to go wild and leafy.

That we would enjoy the special place we are planted and bear the exact kind of fruit the Vinedresser has in mind!

December 27, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part One

Vine and BranchesToday and tomorrow we’re running back-to-back expositions of a familiar passage in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Welcome The Vinedresser

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. John 15:1-4

Years ago when we lived in Germany, one of our favorite things to do was to go spend time at the vineyards on the Rhine. Watching the vines change and grow as the seasons came and went was fascinating. Barren branches of winter gave way to leafy shoots in the spring. The summer brought ever growing fruit, which lead into the harvest of the fall. The whole process was amazing. We always joked that in some other life we’d own a beautiful vineyard and just hang out with the grapes all day.

This passage in John is a favorite of mine. Although most of my life I didn’t really understand it. After spending time in the vineyards and reading up on how good wine is made, I realized there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The process and science behind the scenes is fascinating. As I learned more, this passage became more personal and more meaningful.

Before anything else, Jesus establishes the relationship in the vineyard. Christ the Vine points us to God the Husbandman. We must remember we are branches – planted by Him in a specific place, cared for by Him and protected by Him.

He then addresses branches that aren’t bearing fruit. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (v.2). This verse has been taken totally out of context by most believers because of the wording. We think if we aren’t bearing fruit or performing, we’ve struck out. God is going to toss us out of His vineyard. But God the Vinedresser does not just throw out His branches! Jesus is speaking here to believers. We don’t get tossed aside. Where our translations say “takes away”, the real meaning of the words is “lifts up”. When vines trail on the ground and get covered in dirt, they can’t bear fruit. He doesn’t throw us out, He lifts us up out of the dirt!

Now for the branches that are bearing fruit: “and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” If we read this out of context, it seems like either way we are in trouble! We assume pruning/purging to be a painful, punishing process. We are bearing fruit, doing all right when all of the sudden we get whacked and lose half our leaves. We think when tragedy strikes we must be under God’s pruning knife. But here again, we have the meaning wrong. The word “prune/purge” doesn’t imply our Vinedresser runs around willy-nilly whacking at us poor branches. It actually means “to clean or cleanse us”. In a real vineyard, this is an important thing. Leaves and branches must be kept clean from insects and parasites that would kill it. That changes everything! It makes even more sense when you read the next verse:

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (v.3) The WORD has made us clean! We see in 2 Timothy chapter 3 that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 16-17). So it is through God’s WORD that we are corrected, lifted up, and instructed.

God’s type of pruning, like in a real vineyard, leads to mature vines. There is a process to it and thought put into it. The Word is His pruning knife. His Word is clear that He doesn’t need to use affliction to get us to bear fruit. Too often we embrace afflictions as His work in our lives when they are not. Those things can and should drive us to Him and they can teach us. But He has a BETTER way. Through His Word. He lifts us up, shakes us off and cleanses us so we may bear fruit.

As branches, our only job is to rely on the Vinedresser to do His work so we may bear fruit.  Before anything else, Jesus assures us that we are taken care of. He assures us that we are loved and made clean. When we understand that “taking away and pruning” are actually “lifting up and cleansing”, it changes everything! It should make us welcome the Vinedresser into our lives. We can be open to His work because He knows exactly what He is doing!

August 23, 2013

Sanctification: The Potter and the Clay

” … that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:26)

Today’s article is much longer and you MUST (!) click through to read it in full at BibleKnowledge.com so please don’t just read this outline; but if time is tight right now, you might want to scan what’s below and then highlight a section for consideration.
Potter-and-clay
The potter and the clay image isn’t actually quoted in the article; the author assumes you know it comes from Jeremiah 18:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

and again in Romans 9:

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”  21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

The former passage seems to speak of nations and kingdoms, the second might be used to speak of election or predestination. Still, Biblical commentators over the years have embraced the image of the potter in reference to God working out his perfect will and our sanctification in each of us.

(As I was preparing this, my wife pointed out that the popular verse — also in Jeremiah — “For I know the plans I have for you…” (29:11) is spoken to Israel as a nation; but “we are an individualistic society, and we figure if it’s there it must apply to me…  to an extent if it applies to the nation it does apply to the individuals that make up that nation, but the context is plural.)

Back to the actual reading for today — which you might want to bookmark and read on a day you have extra time — here are the ten points:

1. God Needs the Word in Us Before He Can Start the Sanctification Process

2. You Have to Be Properly “Centered” in Jesus Christ

3. Sanctification is a Slow, Steady, and Progressive Process

4. God’s Hand Will Personally Mold, Shape, and Transform You

5. Let God Develop You to Your Fullest Potential in This Life

6. God Knows Exactly What He Wants to Do With Your Life

7. Do Not Stretch Beyond the Boundary Lines That God Has Set Up For Your Life

8. God’s Eyes and Attention Are Always on You

9. God Will Always Be Doing Major Pruning in Your Life

10. Let God Mold You Into the Specific Person He Wants You to Become in Him

Previously at C201:  We’ve looked at the potter and the clay here and here. There’s also a 3-minute video here.

Related music: Have Thine Own Way (traditional hymn)

May 18, 2013

The Root of Sanctification is Internal, Not External Change

Today, something from an awesome blog find that I think we’ll be visiting again!  Dave Dunham is a Baptist pastor in Michigan who writes at Pastor Dave Online. This article is the first of three parts (so far) which are equally beneficial; the links to part two and three are at the bottom.  This was originally titled: The Power of the Gospel for Real Change: Reflections on the Process of Sanctification from Colossians 2:20-3:5 (Part 1)

How do people change? There are a myriad of ideas about what change looks like, and lots of proposed solutions are offered to what ails us. But as a Christian any solution I offer to others, or any that I claim for myself, must be rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the real center of all true, lasting change for humanity. But what does this mean: gospel-centered change? Paul gives us a picture of this kind of change in Colossians 2:20-3:5. By studying this passage we can learn how the gospel applied to our struggles can affect real change.

In the letter to the Colossians Paul is writing to a church beleaguered by false teachers who are promoting a sort of mystical Jewish/Christian amalgamation over and against the gospel.  So Paul urges them to remember the preeminence of Christ, resist the empty philosophies of others, and pursue the example of Jesus. The specific passage we are looking at discusses how to “put on the new self.” It states:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

To understand how this passage instructs us on true, gospel-centered, change let’s break it down.

Paul begins by warning us that self-discipline, in and of itself, is not enough. The Colossians had lists of things not to avoid, regulations and rules that were designed to keep the world at a distance. “Don’t handle,” “don’t taste,” “don’t touch.” They would say. The developed their own form of legalism to make themselves pure. But legalism can never achieve real growth in godliness. Following a list of rules, apart from the gospel of grace, leads naturally either to arrogance or depression.

If you succeed in keeping all the rules you become an arrogant jerk. You’re proud of your accomplishments and you pat yourself on the back. You compare others to your own standard of “godliness” and condemn those who don’t match your level. After all, you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, why wouldn’t you expect everyone else to do the same. But, of course, we can never attain true purity this way.

As the reality of our imperfection manifests itself to us we become depressed. Legalism tends to produce depressed and ashamed Christians who are constantly frustrated and downcast because, after all, no one is perfect and they can’t keep the rules. So we are constantly aware of the slightest failing and sure that God must hate us for it. Rule keeping, and self-restraint alone, are not the pathway to our transformation.

That is not to say that self-discipline is not important. It is very important. And Jesus gives us rules to follow. But self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), not merely something we conjure up of our own will. Self-discipline apart from the gospel and apart from the Spirit of God leads to legalism, not to change.  I like how J. Alasdair Groves summarizes Paul’s point:

Paul’s point is simple: you are not going to overcome your sin by beating yourself into shape and keeping the outside world at arm’s length. Trying harder and being your own drill sergeant has “no value in restraining sensual indulgences.” You’ll feel better for a while if you establish a list of rules, an exercise regimen, and a plan to do more school work so you won’t have much time to be tempted. But it will never be enough. Rules (in and of themselves) simply cannot stop the flesh, and the world (and the devil). Looking to rules or your own effort to change is insufficient and opposed to how God works to redeem us. (“Exposing the Lies of Pornography and Counseling the Men Who Believe Them” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 27.1. p. 20)

Paul says that such things have an “appearance of wisdom,” that’s why so many legalists still exist. But ultimately this approach to transformation is “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” We want real change not merely an exchange of “indulgences.” Legalism tends to help us abandon one sin only to pick up another (like arrogance and pride, or judging others to name two examples). Real change must go deeper than our external behaviors. Real change must get at the heart, and that’s where the gospel takes us.

If you want real change you have to address more than our behaviors. That is why “solutions” that only ever address external behavior don’t affect lasting or real change.  The gospel doesn’t ignore our external behavior, but it treats us as whole people (spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational, etc.). Next week we’ll unpack some more of what Paul says about real change to the Colossians, but spend some time this week reflecting on the failure of rule keeping, and ask God to help you address more than just your actions. Pray and ask him to expose your heart, in order that you might find real transformation.

Continue reading other parts of this series:

March 16, 2012

The Two Worlds Within

To be a Christian is to be following Christ in a world that is dominantly following other standards, other passions, other rules of engagement.  But there are actually several different aspects to this.

The first has to do with time. Have you ever gone ‘state straddling?’ That’s where you stand with one foot in one state and one in another. There are parts of the Canada/US border where you can actually do ‘country straddling,’ with one foot in the USA and one in its northern neighbor (or more correctly in this case, neighbour with a ‘u.’) As believers, we straddle a fence between two realms.

The first Venn diagram I ever saw that talked about the Christian living in two worlds depicted the intersection of ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come.’ We live in that intersection, as part of earthly kingdoms, and part of a kingdom yet to be realized. Fully grasping this is fundamental to understanding salvation in terms like, ‘We were saved, we are saved, we will be saved.’ Such is the complexity and fullness of all Christ accomplished at the cross.

But there is also the dynamic of place. In this world, we are to be called out and set apart to live in the middle of a world that follows different marching orders. There are two forces wrestling for control of each and every one of us, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.

We’re called to be in this situation, but not of it. We’re called to live in a world where all type of influence may come into us, but where what comes out of us is what matters. We’re called to be affected by all kinds of external stimuli, but to respond uniquely and unexpectedly as strangers and aliens by going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the coat off our back, etc.

But there is a third intersection which takes place entirely within. It has nothing about it that would register externally. There is no behavioral component where person ‘X’ is seen struggling with wanting to do right but finding himself/herself doing wrong. It is completely unseen.

It’s the stuff that today’s scripture quotation (in the graphic above) from Philippians 2 refers to. We were created with ego. That’s it. Pure and simple. We were created with a survivalist instinct that runs completely contrary to the idea of  preferring others. In the NIV, the verse reads,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…  (vs. 3)

This type of behavior is not natural. It must be labored at, worked out with fear and trembling. But even then, it can only be fully attained if there is a model for us to follow, to imitate. If someone has gone before and shown us by example that it is possible to live in this time and this place under a law of love.

This third type of internal struggle is for many the most difficult at all. You may live in a mostly Christian culture — even if it’s nominal — where your Christian beliefs are widely held. You may live in a situation that is somewhat devoid of persecution compared to other parts of the world. But I guarantee you that you do not escape the conflict between your egotistical nature and the type of servanthood that the New Testament teaches.

The greatest battlefield we face as Christ-followers is often the battlefield within.


Today’s reading directly alludes to a number of Bible passages without listing references. For homework, see if you can identify the texts underlying what’s written in the paragraphs above. (You can use the comments section to post scriptures suggested in what you read today.)


Today’s graphic was found at the website of Liam Byrnes formerly in England, now serving in Southern Africa with All Nations helping people in poverty. I tried to figure out which translation was used in the graphic but never did. He and his wife also have a ministry blog.

I tried to find a graphic for the first type of Venn diagram online, but couldn’t, so I created one below:

 

December 18, 2011

Personal Year-End Inventory

I thought we’d check in with another one of our blogrolled authors, Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith.  Given the topic, she must have seen us coming!  This challenge appeared on her blog under the title Year-End Stock-Taking.

With twenty-eight relocations under my belt, it seems that I’ve spent much of my life filing. Every move requires reorganizing. Yet with my mind set, even the changes of seasons seem to motivate me to change my environment, or reassess what I’m doing. I look at what I have and ask if this or that is necessary or do I give it away?

At times I’ve fallen into ‘change for change’s sake’ or a useless busy work like moving furniture rather than doing something more important. However, most of the changes have been profitable in some way. Sometimes rearranging equals greater convenience. Sometimes decluttering clears my head along with my house.

This morning I’m challenged again to do some assessment. While this comes easily at the end of the year (or the beginning of a new month, or week, or even every morning), this time it is from God’s Word.

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. (Proverbs 27:23)

Spurgeon has some good things to say about this verse. He points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)

Those who are alert know that every believer struggles against an enemy who introduces false ideas into our heads. He also tries to stir up strife between the people of God, or sow doubt of the love of God into our hearts. He is diligent in trying to keep us from being joyful and fruitful in our Christian lives.

Besides checking for garbage from Satan, stock-taking can also clear out the excess and recorder all that should be in place. While this is seldom an enjoyable task, it is not intended to uproot our security in Christ, but any fleshy security in ourselves. We do it, not to disturb our peace with God, but to clear out any false peace of complacency and the laxness that so easily works its way into daily life.

*********

Lord, I’ve often seen how the state of my life, whether organized or in total disarray, is a reflection of the state of my soul. These words from Your Word easily motivate me to tidy up my home and computer files. They are more difficult to apply to the way I care for people or my own soul. Both can so easily become messy and without purpose. Help me to know well the condition of everything that You have put under my care. Show me the best way to give attention to anything that is not as it should be. I know that physically moving from one place to another helps to declutter, but obeying You in this does not require that I move to another place. Instead, You ask me to simply get moving.

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