Category Archives: Book Thoughts

By All Means, Let Grace be Grace!

Hopefully you read the post from earlier this week and were challenged by the truths to turn back to God, repent of your sins, and begin living for Him.  Maybe even God has been working on you and you’ve felt Him chasing after you.  Hebrews 12:5-6 NKJV says, “…My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”  It’s out of love that He pursues you and wants you back.  Don’t be discouraged, or continue to evade God, surrender to Him.  With that said, how then do we follow up on a message like backsliding, where we placed emphasis on producing fruit in our lives as evident of a true conversion and salvation in Christ?  We back that message up the same way that the Bible does by teaching that these works and “fruits” are meaningless if they are done from the flesh and not the Spirit.  No amount of works or fruit is going to get you anywhere, much less heaven, unless the Holy Spirit is working in your life to produce this fruit.  There is no such thing as “works salvation” or justification by faith + works.  There is grace and by all means, let grace be grace!

The Apostle Paul, writing about the divine sovereignty of God to bring those whom He’s called to salvation, says this in Romans 11:6 ESV regarding grace, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”  If we attempt to earn or work our way to salvation then it takes away the grace of God, resulting in grace no longer being grace.  Grace is a gift and by its definition is unmerited favor.  That means nothing you’ve done or could ever hope to do will earn you grace.  In this same manner, nothing can be done to pay back grace.  We can’t say, well God gave me grace, I’m a Christian, now I’m going to pay Him back by doing more and more.  Romans 3:23-24 ESV says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  It is a gift, through Christ Jesus, given through our faith.

What if our justification, or salvation came from works, meaning the more we did or felt we earned or deserved the more saved we are?  How would that look?  First it would be an absolute mess because who would determine the number of works that would need to be done in order to reach salvation?  What kind?  How would sin get addressed?  The more we would do the greater our sense of pride would well up inside and say, “Look at me!  I’m so great, I did all of this!  I helped all of these people, gave this amount of money, worked for this charity, I earned my salvation, I deserve to go to heaven.”  Well Paul specifically addresses this in Romans 3:27-28, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  There is no boasting with grace because it wasn’t yours to give and it’s not yours to get, apart from the redemptive work of Jesus.  God pours out grace on us when we believe, through faith, that He sent His son to die on the cross for our sins.  One final exhortation from the Apostle, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16 ESV

Apart from grace in our lives, we are not saved.  Without it we can do nothing.  We are at the sole mercy of God, but that’s what makes grace so amazing and marvelous.  We don’t deserve it, but if we trust Christ as Savior, He gives it to us anyway, and that’s when the Holy Spirit begins working in our lives to produce the fruits of the Spirit we read about in Galatians 5:22-23 ESV, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

Trust Christ as Savior, let the Spirit do the work in you and through you and by all means, let Grace be Grace!

Marvelous Grace

Verse 1

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Chorus

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Verse 2

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,

Threaten the soul with infinite loss;

Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,

Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Chorus

Verse 3

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.

What can avail to wash it away?

Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,

Brighter than snow you may be today.

Chorus

Verse 4

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,

Freely bestowed on all who believe!

You that are longing to see His face,

Will you this moment His grace receive?

Chorus

LESSON IV – John the Baptist Prepares the Way with Boldness of the Gospel

If there is one thing that defines John the Baptist’s ministry it’s his boldness.  Like the Apostle Paul who came after him and the prophet Elijah who came before him, John wasn’t ashamed or afraid of the Gospel.  All of the attributes that we’ve discussed so far, his external self-denying character, his internal Holy Spirit filled character, his scriptural wisdom, and his recognition of Christ’s supreme authority combine together to form a ministerial blueprint that could not be more evident.  John prepared the way for Jesus by preaching a bold, dynamic, penetrating Gospel urging all those who would listen to repent, while confronting their sins head-on, and detailing the future judgment of Christ as the consequences for sins.

Repent

If we briefly look at the benediction given by Zechariah at the birth of his son, we see him beginning to prophesy about the coming efforts of John.  Picking up in verse 76, 76 ” And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; 79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:76-79 In his role of preparing the Way, John’s primary objective was to preach the “knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”  How can the people possibly be forgiven of their sins?  John the Apostle provides the answer in his first epistle, “9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9 This is exactly what John the Baptist is preaching in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Repentance is essential to salvation and John’s entire message revolves around this, in fact his baptismal ministry symbolizes a public repentance of sins.  We read of this very action in Luke 3:3, “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

In Luke 3:7-9 we get an example of John boldly preaching repentance as he confronts the Pharisees and Sadducees in calling to them, “7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.'” Here not only is he telling them that they’ve been warned once before of the coming judgment against those who have not repented, but he hammers home his repentance message yet again, while telling them that they cannot simply rely on their heritage for eternal security.  This likely came as a shock to not only the religious leaders but to the crowds of Jews who heard him speak with the authority of the Holy Spirit.

Confront Sin

In keeping with his message of repentance, John challenges those who are unable to recognize sin in their lives by pointing out those behaviors which now need to be abandoned.  In Luke 3:12-14 we see his encounter with the tax collectors as he instructs them too, “12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ 13 And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.'”  But John doesn’t stop there, in Luke 3:18-20 we read, “18 And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20 also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.”  John rebuked Herod, the king because of an improper, incestuous relationship with his brother’s wife, likewise pointing out all the other disgusting, immoral, reprobate sins that he had committed.  However, this rebuke would cost John his freedom and ultimately his life.

Judgment: The Consequences of Sin

            John’s final point of his messages had an eschatological theme as he pointed toward the impending judgment on all those who refused to repent and turn to the Messiah.  In Matthew 3:12 during one of John’s sermons, we read of his discourse on the coming judgment of Jesus, “12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Clearly John understood the grave eternal consequences that faced those who refused to repent and he presented that message so that all who heard might understand how serious this matter is.

Summary

            John’s ministerial message was quite different than a lot of the “post-modern” soft gospel styles that we hear so much of today.  John preached effectively on the repentance of sins and the importance of living a life in accordance with that repentance, starting with a public display of baptism.  As he was confronted by those who were either unwilling to repent or unknowing of what sins they had committed, John boldly corrected, admonished, and rebuked, even when it involved king Herod.

Application

            John the Baptist’s ministry was bold and penetrating, but he spoke the truth and did so fearlessly.  To effectively reach non-believers a ministry requires a bold approach, capable of emphasizing the importance of repentance and the confrontation of sin directly.  This may or may not be something that comes natural, so not only does this take physical work, it also takes spiritual work by God to develop boldness and eliminate the fears that inhibit it.

LESSON III – Answering the call: John’s Preparation for Service

In Lesson I we discussed how John’s call was predetermined by God as an essential component in preparing the way for Jesus and His ministry.  In the previous Lesson, we learned how God bestowed His faithfulness and grace upon John’s parents by blessing them with a long awaited child that would turn the children of Israel back to God.  Now it’s time to dig into John’s ministry and see how he provides three prerequisites for a God-glorifying ministry.  Would he have what it takes to perform such a monumental task as the one God laid before him?  Well, if we go back to our text that we read in Lesson II, Luke describes the angel Gabriel’s pronouncement about John’s character.  We pick up in Luke 1:15, “15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”  As John MacArthur points out, we get insight into John’s future character, both internally and externally.  On the exterior he will live a life of self-denial not partaking in wine (fruit of the vine) or strong drink (alcohol), while on the inside he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  It’s on these two points we’ll begin our discussion.

Righteousness

The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy writes, “9who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”2 II Timothy 1:9 John the Baptist was called to a “holy calling” as Paul phrases it and as such, he could not conform to world or her sinful standards, lest he be deemed hypocritical.  This isn’t to say that John wasn’t without sin, because as Romans 3:23 reminds us, “all have sinned.”  Everyone except Jesus has been born into sin, it’s hereditary.  Just as Paul points out in Romans 5:12, “12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”2  But clearly John was called to be special, set aside for the glory of God even before birth.  It seems evident that this is the reason we read of his social seclusion, which was at the heart of his self-denial, in Luke 1:80, “80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.”  There is a reason why John remained in the wilderness until his ministry was to begin.  As we’ve established, John was able to fulfill prophecy by declaring he was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”, but the wilderness was also where his spiritual growth took place.  He was able to avoid the many temptations that face each of us on a daily basis, by denying himself even the simplest pleasures of life.  Perhaps God even used this time of seclusion to not only train him, but to protect him from those who would no doubt enjoy seeing the downfall of a man declared for greatness before birth.

There is an interesting parallel we can draw here between John and the initial ministry of Paul.  The first two verses of this passage we’re already familiar with, but pay special attention to verse 17, “15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” Galatians 1:15-17 Interesting isn’t it?  Paul did not immediately begin proclaiming the Gospel as it was revealed to him through Jesus Christ, instead he went to Arabia for three years (Galatians 1:18).  As pointed out in John MacArthur’s study Bible, this area was Nabatean Arabia, a wilderness desert, stretching East of Damascus.  Paul too was sent to the desert to be trained by God and prepared for his ministry.  It’s as though this time alone, by both men, was used as a sanctifying time to be instructed by God.  John’s seclusion and ultimate self-denial from a worldly lifestyle included not only abstinence of wine and strong drink, but any semblance of a nice home, fancy clothing, or fine dining.  As Matthew 3:4 ESV states, “4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  What we are seeing with John is a complete and total dependence on God for all of his needs.  There’s nothing to get in the way of his spiritual education.  A Biblical parallel to John’s attire can be found in II Kings 1:8 “8 So they answered him, ‘A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.'” Remember back to Lesson I when we discussed Malachi’s prophecy of an “Elijah-like” figure?  Here we find a direct correlation between the two regarding their clothing.

Biblical Wisdom

As we pointed out earlier, not only was John’s character rock solid and above reproach on the outside, but his character was spiritually complete on the inside.  We already know that John was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb and as our text in this Lesson points out he grew in the Spirit as he got older.  So we have to believe that his time spent in the desert prior to his ministry was for the purpose of establishing truths within him.  Let’s face it, how difficult would it be to stand up and preach the Gospel boldly if you weren’t an expert in what you were teaching.  Simply put, one would be blown around like “a reed in the wind” from the various challengers to the Gospel. (Matthew 11:7)  John needed to be scripturally solid in order to communicate effectively as a witness for the coming Messiah.  It’s not likely John carried a copy of the scriptures with him as he went baptizing throughout Judea, so when he quotes Isaiah, as recorded in Matthew 3:2-3 “2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'”  then we have to believe that this knowledge has become ingrained within him.  Not only did John grow in scriptural wisdom, but he advanced in his understanding of Jesus Messiah.  If he is going to bear witness about Christ, then he must be able to understand the fallible, fallen nature of man due to sin, he obviously had to have a full comprehension for the necessity of repentance, and most importantly he needed to recognize and submit to the authority of Jesus.

Submission to the Authority of Jesus

Clearly John’s instructional time also filled him with knowledge of the One whom he was preparing for, Jesus Christ.  He had to fully understand what God’s plan would be in sending His Son to die for the sins of the world.  In the Apostle John’s Gospel we get an introduction to the purpose and ministry of John the Baptist, from a different perspective, “6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” John 1:6-8  In this passage, not only do we get a firsthand account of the providence of God in sending John, but we see that his purpose was not to be light, but to reflect the light.  John’s role was to deflect all attention and glory from himself to Jesus and he was absolutely, 100% on board with that idea.

There are four clear indicators of John’s recognition of the authority of Jesus as he prepared the way for Him.  As we read in John 1:15, “15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'”  John was establishing early on that he wasn’t the promised Messiah, but instead makes it evident to the crowds listening to him preach that Jesus is higher than him because Jesus was before him.  If we think about what John is saying here, he is actually declaring the supremacy of Christ by pointing out His eternality.  The second signal provided by John is found in his statement from Mark 1:7, “7 And he preached, saying, ‘There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.'”  Again we see the example of John submitting to Jesus Christ.  There are not many more demeaning tasks than stooping down to take off someone’s shoes, especially in ancient Jewish days when sandals were worn and feet were extremely dirty, but John is saying that he’s not even worthy to do that.  He is trying to get his point across to all those who will listen that they might understand just how majestic the Messiah is.   “11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Matthew 3:11 Here John is pointing out the fact that Jesus is God, capable of pouring out the Holy Spirit on those who believe in Him.  We find the fourth and final example of John’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ authority in Matthew 3:13-14, “13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?'”  Just before the culmination of John’s ministry with the baptism of Jesus, we see him humbly objecting to this act and stating that instead Jesus should be the one baptizing him.  In each of these examples John submits himself to Jesus, immediately recognizing and making known the supremacy of Christ that all glory may be given to the Messiah.

Summary

In answering God’s call to prepare the way for Jesus, John obediently and dutifully followed the will of God for his life.  Although, as we learned from the proclamation of Gabriel, John was set aside and filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, he still had to be molded into the vessel that God could use for His purpose.  In doing this, John isolated himself from the world, not to avoid the world, but instead to be instructed and trained to confront the world about her sins and turn the hearts of Israel back to God.  In his seclusion, John abstained from the many pleasures and luxuries that the world offers such as strong drink, nice clothing, rich meals, or even a home.  His ministry, even his life, was totally and wholly dependent on God.  His lifestyle of self-denial framed his outward character for all to see how different he was, but his internal character was equally as impressive as he became filled with the Holy Spirit and taught to have a solid foundation in the scriptures.  His righteous living, combined with his biblical wisdom paled in comparison to his submission to the authority of Jesus.  John understood the fact the Jesus was the Son of God and that His mission to save the world from her sins was established with divine authority.

Application

John’s ministry provides the essential elements required for serving God.  These examples illustrate that answering God’s call to service involves sacrificing to live righteously, wisdom to understand the Bible for effectively preaching/teaching the Gospel, and a total submission to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.  What things in your own life are impeding your ability to live a righteous, God-glorifying life?  Have you neglected reading and studying the Word of God?  It’s imperative that this be the foundation of your life, not only for those planning on serving in a ministry capacity but for everyone.  Finally, Jesus has the ultimate authority over everything in our lives, but we don’t often recognize or appreciate that.  Think about the humble, submissive attitude of John the Baptist and how you can apply that in your own life.