Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Delicious Lie that Keeps us From Wisdom

As a pastor I often run into the frustration of working with people who are just like me. I do not mean they have the same personality, life experiences, education etc. I mean they do not often want to hear admonishment from other people. They do not want to learn from the sins and mistakes of others. They don't want to hear how they need to appropriate the clear biblical Word to their life situation. They don't want to hear they are traveling down the wrong path.
Why is this?

I realize that the heart of the issue is that they tell themselves the same delicious lie I speak into my own life. I tell myself a delicious lie that keeps me from wisdom. The people I shepherd and the people I meet on the highways and byways of life all tell themselves the same delicious lie. What is this delicious lie?

The delicious lie that melts in our mouths like the choicest morsels, that is more pleasing to our eye than the most beautiful sunset, that tickles our ear in a manner greater than the best of compliments, is the lie that we are not self-deceived. We hear someone tell us how our choices, decisions, behaviors, attitudes, and worldviews are leading us into various destructive consequences in life and we respond with, "but." "But your situation is different than mine. But your personality is different than mine. But your life experiences are different than mine. But your relationships are different than mine. But your ability to handle that situation is different than mine. But I know my own thoughts and intentions better than you do."

What is assumed is that we are a better judge of our own hearts than others are. We assume we are a better judge of our own intentions, abilities, and moral fortitude than others are. We do not believe "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9)." At least we do not believe our hearts are. We do not believe we are self-deceived. We do not believe someone else can speak into our lives and be correct unless their conclusions are the same as ours.

Therefore, we gather only those who tell us what our itching ears want to hear. We receive advice only from those who agree with the conclusion we have already come to. We accept the portions of the Bible that tell us what we already want to believe. In other words, we only really listen to what we are already telling ourselves because the ultimate self-deception is that truth really comes from within me and not from outside of me. The ultimate self-deception is that we have more wisdom than God and thus the most delicious lie of all is the self-deception that we are Him.

Original Sin

"The Devil is wildly optimistic if he thinks he can make human beings worse than they are."

Karl Kraus, quoted in Henri Blocher, Original Sin, page 11.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

7 Reasons There is No Condemnation for Christians!

As I have been preaching through Romans 8, I have been focused on following Paul's argument for how there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He lays out at least the following 7 supports (which I have modified from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones):

1. You are united to Christ and set free from the Law by the Spirit. Romans 8:2-4
2. You are indwelt by the Spirit who resurrected Christ and gives life to you. Romans 8:5-11
3. As those indwelt by the Spirit, you are adopted sons of God. God does not reject his children but makes them co-heirs with Christ. Romans 8:12-17
4. As adopted sons, indwelt by the Spirit, you have the guarantee that you will be resurrected and glorified. Romans 8:18-25
5. As those indwelt by the Spirit, we are helped by the Spirit during this difficult life. God does not leave us alone, but helps us even to pray appropriately. Romans 8:26-27
6. God's character is on the line in our certain justification. God chose us from the beginning and will complete his work. God will not cease being for us in Christ. Romans 8:28-34
7. God's love in inseparable and unconquerable. Romans 8:35-39

God in Our Image?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

As I was reading the paper a year ago, I came across an article about a new movie starring a black Jesus. In providing a rationale for a black Jesus, Jean Claude LaMarre, who stars in, wrote, directed and financed the film stated, “Black people in the country are the only race of people who worship a god outside their own image.” I was suddenly taken aback by the brazen nature of that statement. I was stunned that he would conclude that black people are the only race who worships a god outside their own image.

I found myself arguing with the article. I thought, “This just isn’t true! White people don’t worship a god in their own image.” I continued, “Doesn’t this guy understand that we are in God’s image and not the other way around?” I realized he just did not understand what being in the image of God meant, and I concluded that I had vanquished my imaginary opponent.
As I reflected on this man’s statement further, I concluded that he was at least partially correct. I realized that much of contemporary American Christianity does indeed worship a God in man’s image. While I knew his theology was poor, I also recognized that he unwittingly pointed out what may be one of the great theological errors of our day. We have remade God in our image. Rather than our being made in His image, we have reversed it so that He is altogether like us.
I have seen this trend of remaking God after our image grow in popularity among professing evangelical writers and speakers. What is most surprising is that the “God in our image” teaching has grown in such popularity that it is now being boldly professed as evangelical theology. In fact, some of the most popular books espousing this heresy are being pushed from pulpits across America and have rocketed to bestseller status. Last Spring, I was in attendance at a marriage retreat in which I heard this theology so clearly stated. The presenters were trying to ground their misguided psychological advice with some theological support. In the midst of their justification they stated the following, “We know God’s nature is part female and part male, because we are male and female.” I almost came out of my chair in indignation. I could not believe the reversal of roles I just saw take place. I remembered Deuteronomy 4:

“Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess. “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” Deuteronomy 4:12-19

Later in the same text, God declares that He is a jealous God. He does not want His glory given to any other. The Bible is clear that God is Spirit (John 4:24). He does not have gender. Someone might retort, “Don’t we have characteristics that are part of His image and thus isn’t okay to look at ourselves to find out about Him?” The answer to that question is, “NO!” We are made in His image. We cannot turn the paradigm on its head. We definitely reflect characteristics of God. However, it is to the self-revelation of God in Scripture that we turn in order to find out about Him. As we understand Him, we are then able to understand ourselves better. Furthermore, it is clear in Psalm 50:21 that God is not altogether like us, “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”

Let’s make sure we get the order of things correct. God is the Creator and we are His creatures. God is the Lord and we are His servants. God is perfectly holy and we are sinful. God is Spirit and we are embodied souls. God does not suffer from our limitations or our errors. God is perfect in all His attributes and works, needing nothing. We are fallen and desperately in need of divine assistance. God is the source of all things and we are part of the effects of His causation. We have no say in who He is, in what He does, or in how He reveals Himself. We should not forget how humiliating it was for the Son to take on himself a human nature. Paul says of this that Jesus “…made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7)

This remaking of God in our image is not confined to gender or race. We see it in character attributes as well. You repeatedly here the statements, “Well, my God is not…” or “My God would not…” or “I don’t believe in a God who…” You can fill in the blanks with a multitude of denials about the biblical witness of the character and works of God. People simply want a god after their own image. Why? We often want a God like us because we are then elevated. If God is like me, then I must be as intrinsically lovable as I believe I am. When Jesus died for me, He affirmed my worthiness. This is not the good news. Jesus did not die for me because I am lovable or as an affirmation of my intrinsic worthiness. When Jesus died for his people it was an affirmation of how loving God is, not how lovable I am.

It is the fact that God is not like us that makes the good news truly good. When we understand the gospel, we are set free from the sin of remaking God in our image. We are able to see that God is so much more glorious, majestic, and grand than any fallen creature. When we catch a glimpse of Him in His glory, we are finally able to look beyond ourselves because we are eclipsed by the vision of God revealed in the Bible.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Elder Training and Spiritual Gifts

As our elders study the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I am reminded of two outcomes we definitely want to avoid in elder training...

1. Heresy...

2. Stupidity...

Monday, February 16, 2009

No Condemnation, No Separation

Just as a reminder of the rock solid and absolutely certain hope we have in Christ when we are feeling like failures:

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."---Romans 8:1

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."---Romans 8:31-34

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."---Romans 8:38-39

Offending God...the Greatest Sin

What makes sin utterly sinful is that God is offended! John Piper offers several ways God is offended by our sin:

The glory of God is not honored.
The holiness of God is not reverenced.
The greatness of God is not admired.
The power of God is not praised.
The truth of God is not sought.
The wisdom of God is not esteemed.
The beauty of God is not treasured.
The goodness of God is not savored.
The faithfulness of God is not trusted.
The promises of God are not relied upon.
The commandments of God are not obeyed.
The justice of God is not respected.
The wrath of God is not feared.
The grace of God is not cherished.
The presence of God is not prized.
The person of God is not loved.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How to Pray for Deliverance from Temptation to Sin

9 truths we should recognize and pray in the area of temptation and tests:

1. We have a fundamental distrust of ourselves and we pray to God to not lead us into trials that Satan will use to bring us into sin. Matt. 6:13

2. We recognize we can’t stand against him alone and we pray for God to deliver us from evil! Matt. 6:13

3. We thank God for our trials recognizing they will make us more like Jesus. James 1:2-4

4. We ask God in faith for wisdom in the midst of trials, so that Satan cannot turn the trial into an occasion for sin. James 1:5

5. We trust the faithfulness of God amidst trials and temptation and pray he will show us the way of escape he promises to provide. 1 Cor. 10:13

6. We submit to God’s Word and ask him to help us to rightly apply it in all circumstances. James 4:7, Eph. 6:17, Matt. 4

7. We pray for one another to stand strong in temptation and never think we are unable to fall into the same sin our brother has. Gal. 6:1, Matt. 6:13

8. We pray for God’s will to be done in every circumstance and not our own, no matter the temptation to want our own way. Matt. 26:39

9. We thank God continually for the fact that Jesus was faithful under every trial and in every temptation. Heb. 4:15

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sharing our Father's Joy

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:4-7

I love being a dad. Everyday I have the privilege of coming home to two smiling faces who are filled with delight that daddy is home. One of the things I have noticed about my children is that when I am excited and full of joy, they love to share in it with me. I rue the day they will grow out of this delight in the joy of their father. I know that as they grow up our relationship will change and they will not delight in me, and what I delight in, with quite the same vigor. This is just part of what happens as our children mature (It is actually a desirable outcome, if we have helped them grow to set their affection on delighting in the Lord). The same is not supposed to be true of the children of God. We are not supposed to grow out of delighting in our heavenly Father, and what he delights in, as we become more spiritually mature.

As we grow in spiritual maturity, we come to delight in God, and what he delights in, even more. According to Jesus, God delights in saving his lost children. Jesus tells us that there is immense joy in heaven over the repentance of even one sinner. From even a short study of Luke 15, it is clear that the joy in heaven is synonymous with the joy of the Father. God rejoices in seeing the lost saved! Why is this true? Is God motivated by a deep concern for man or a zeal for his own glory? The answer to this question is, “yes.” God has chosen in his own eternal counsel to inextricably weave together the salvation of his people and the glory of his own name. He has chosen to exalt his own glory in the salvation of his people (see Ephesians 1:3-14, esp. v. 6, 12, 14).

God’s joy, and corresponding glory, in the salvation of his people should be our primary motivation for evangelism. We should proclaim the gospel so that men will come to faith in Christ, thus bringing joy and glory to the Lord. Someone might respond that we should be supremely motivated by obedience to the Great Commission, or by broken-heartedness over the lost spending an eternity in Hell. While I do not disagree that these are valid motivations for evangelism, I do not believe they are the supreme motivation. I would suggest that they are subordinate, yet corresponding motivations.

It seems clear that when we are committed to the joy of God, we will correspondingly be broken-hearted over the damnation of the lost. Why? God delights in the repentance of sinners, not in the damnation of them. Scripture never suggests that God damns men to eternal hell because he receives joy in doing so (The objection that Romans 9:22-23 teaches that God does indeed damn men to demonstrate his mercy to the elect, and thus be glorified, is not relevant here. I agree that God is glorified in showing his mercy to the elect by demonstrating his justice to the non-elect (even in eternal damnation). However, Romans 9:22-23 never suggests that God receives joy in damning the “vessels prepared for wrath,” nor that we should receive joy in it. Someone might argue that this is an implicit teaching in Romans 9:22-23, however, the Scripture explicitly declares that God receives no joy in the death of the wicked. We must interpret the implicit by explicit.). In fact, Scripture clearly states that God receives no joy in the death of the wicked, but rather he receives joy when they repent (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11). We, likewise, should not delight in the damnation of our neighbors. We should be broken-hearted over the fact that we are surrounded by thousands of people who are damned. I often walk through my neighborhood, grocery store, or other locales in my city without ever giving a thought to the fact that I am surrounded by people who are without God and hope in the world. I pray the Lord would give me a deep sorrow and compassion for the lost around me. A compassion that rejoices in seeing them saved.

We should also obey the Great Commission out of a desire to bring him joy. God commands us to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). As those who belong to Christ, we should obediently serve our Master. However, we should not serve him out of a belief that this somehow earns us merit with him, nor out of a heart that is just “slavishly obedient.” I am not suggesting that we are not slaves who should be continuously obedient. I am simply saying that it is impossible to truly obey God absent of rejoicing in him (It is also impossible to be truly obedient to God, and thus please Him, without faith (Romans 14:23, Hebrews 11:6). I would suggest that it is only a deep abiding Spirit-wrought faith in Christ, and the unseen benefits that are ours in Him, that can provide us the ability to rejoice always. This kind of continual rejoicing in the Lord is part of the fruit of salvation.). The Scripture commands us to rejoice in the Lord always (Psalm 32:11, Phil. 4:4, 1 Thess. 5:16). We see this truth at work in our own children.

When I command my children to pick up their toys, I expect them to do so with a joyful attitude. When they do it reluctantly and with a poor attitude, I express to them my dissatisfaction. I do this because obedience is not only about external works, but is also a matter of the heart. However, when my children obey me joyfully, I rejoice. Interestingly, they rejoice in my rejoicing over their obedience. Likewise, when we rejoice in obeying the Great Commission, we bring joy to the Father. We have the privilege of rejoicing in our Father’s joy!

So, how do we daily share in our Father’s joy? I want to provide you with two simple applications. First, we share in our Father’s joy through constant prayer for the salvation of the lost. We should pray for God to break our hearts for the lost. We should pray for God to help us open our mouths in speaking the gospel to the lost. We should pray for God to help us live so faithfully among the lost that they would be receptive to the gospel. Second, we share in our Father’s joy through continually living the gospel before and sharing the gospel with men. God has placed us each within a sphere of influence in this world. He has given us each different neighbors, vocations, hobbies etc. We have the great privilege of living the gospel before and teaching the gospel to these people. If we pray and live out of a true desire to share in our Father’s joy, our church will have no need for an “evangelism program.” What a blessing it will be if Sovereign Grace Church is known as a place that delights in the salvation of the lost, because it is a church that passionately longs to share in our Father’s joy!