Category Archives: Bible Study

Sovereign Grace

I want to apologize for my recent lack of posts.  For those of you who regularly follow this blog, I am extremely grateful.  I know some of you have offered encouragement by saying how God is using His words posted here to make changes in your lives and I pray that He continues to do so and that I might in some way be used by God to continue to bring His Word.  Having said that, I’ve been busy recently with several projects, one of which is finishing up my first class in Seminary.  It’s been quite a time management adjustment and because of the amount of reading and writing required there, posts here have been sporadic.  Please pray for me as I’m finishing up the last two weeks there.  The final assignment for this class is a research paper/project.  For mine, I really feel like the Lord was leading me to develop a Bible Study based on the life of John the Baptist.  I don’t know how He plans to use it yet, but I wanted to share the first lesson that I’ve been working on and ask for any comments, recommendations, or criticisms.  This is NOT in final “Bible Study” format, but more so for the project submission, but the main ideas are the same.  Since it’s due this weekend, I’ll try to post each “lesson” as I finish them.  Thanks so much for reading.

John the Baptist: The Model Ministry

Sovereign Grace

John the Baptist’s life was the personification of God’s grace, from his prophesied ministry in Isaiah and Malachi to the very definition of his name, “The Lord is gracious.”  In beginning a study of his life, especially from the perspective of ministry, we must first examine the Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic forerunner to fully understand the impact of God’s sovereign grace on not only John’s life, but on our own as well.  In order for us to fully appreciate this impact, in this lesson we’ll briefly look at God’s grace in several supporting passages to establish this extremely important foundational truth.  Each of these elements of grace are not only applicable to John the Baptist, as we’ll learn in the subsequent lessons, but they are equally relevant to our lives.

Grace Saves

When we talk about God’s grace, we need to understand what grace is and why it is so fundamental to our spiritual lives.  In its true definition, grace is defined as unmerited favor.  But we must ask, where did this unmerited favor come from and just what kind of favor have we been given?  John states in his Gospel, “14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.'”) 16And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14-17 ESV There’s a lot in this passage to digest that not only answers those questions we posed earlier, but also introduces us to the ministry of John the Baptist.  In verse 14, the Apostle John lets us know when Jesus came from God the Father in heaven to earth in human flesh (incarnation) He came “full of grace and truth.”  Since Christ is filled with grace, we can surmise that He is grace embodied.  Skip ahead to verse 16 and we learn that from “His fullness”, meaning grace, “We have all received grace upon grace.”  Here we have the answer to our question where does grace come from, it comes from Jesus Christ.  It’s in verse 15 that we find reference given to John the Baptist and his recognition of the Jesus the Messiah, but more on that in a later lesson!

So what about our second question?  The Apostle Paul states in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV This passage clearly indicates that unmerited favor, or grace, provides salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers adds his thoughts on our passage from Ephesians, “The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept a gift is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom; I will dedicate my life to service I will do anything. But do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.” If we can summarize both of the answers to our questions posed in this lesson we get, Jesus = Grace and Grace = Salvation, therefore we can surmise that Jesus = Salvation.

Grace Justifies

A second characteristic of grace that we need in order to lay the foundation for beginning our study on John is the justification of grace.  In his study Bible, John MacArthur observes that justification is a legal or forensic term that comes from the Greek word for “righteous” and means “to declare righteous.” Concerning this justification, Romans 3:23-24 ESV says, “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Here the Apostle Paul is affirming to us that although every one of us has sinned we are justified by God’s grace as a gift through Jesus.  This is in accordance with what we learned about grace earlier that it is also a gift of grace from Jesus that saves.  From the legal perspective that John MacArthur was alluding we can look forward to the judgment of Christ that is forthcoming and know that our justification, or declaration of righteousness, saves us from the punishment of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God.

Grace Trains

Our third and final quality of grace recaps each of the previous two while establishing an additional truth all its own, that of the instruction that grace provides.  The Apostle Paul once again provides an example of grace as he writes in his letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-15 ESV In keeping with our other two descriptions of grace, this third example is no different in that it yet again points toward Jesus Christ.  In verse 11 we see that the “grace of God”, which is Jesus, has appeared bringing salvation just as we learned in the previous example.  Our particular focus in this passage draws us to verse 12, where we find that grace trains us by teaching us to avoid all things unholy such as worldly pleasures by living self-controlled and holy before God.

Summary

As we learned at the beginning of this lesson, John the Baptist’s life reflected the sovereign grace of God from before he was even born to the very name that God gave him.  Though salvation as we know it, including belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had not yet occurred, John was in fact saved from eternal death and separation from God by His grace.  It’s grace that set him apart.  In being called and set apart, he was justified or declared righteous.  In fact, as we’ll learn later he was even declared “great” by Jesus, which would have been an impossible declaration if he had been neither saved by grace, nor justified by grace.  Finally through God’s grace John was trained for his ministry.  In order to preach repentance he must be above reproach himself, lest he be deemed hypocritical, not merely before men, but before God.  Therefore, it was critical we establish the foundational truths of God’s grace because as we progress through the life of John and examine his model for ministry it will become exceedingly clear that the grace of God is the preeminent attribute necessary for a successful, God glorifying ministry.

Application

Are you able to recognize the presence of God’s grace in your life?  If not, perhaps you have yet to make that life changing decision to receive Christ as Savior.  Hebrews 4:16 ESV instructs, “16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Draw near to Christ and He will draw near to you.  Repent of your sins and receive Jesus as your Savior so that He may shower you with His Grace.

For those that are saved, as Christians we use the term grace frequently, but do we really understand the magnitude of it?  Grace not only saves, not only justifies, and not only trains us to live holy, but Grace is Jesus.  It is by Grace we have been saved and never have more truer words been spoken than that old familiar hymn, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

“None Greater”

How do you define greatness?  Who are your role models?  What does it take for someone to be a “hero” in your mind; their occupation, wealth, power?  It seems like our society, especially among the youth, is constantly migrating from famed star to athlete to performer to the next big name in search of someone we can look up to as a model of our life.  This list certainly isn’t limited to Hollywood entertainers or sports personalities; our “idols” can be anyone- pastors, authors, co-workers, family members.

The problem with placing any of these people on a pedestal is that they are fallible, mere humans, nothing more, each one just as depraved as we are.  Yet because of their platform they’re recognized as great examples of success and we, intentionally or not, give them a higher status in our lives and then become shocked when a fall inevitably occurs.

Despite the labels of greatness that we freely assign, the single greatest man in all of history was proclaimed such by none other than Jesus Christ and his platform transcends all time.  In Luke 7:28, Jesus declares that, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.”  Jesus is speaking of John the Baptist.  John was called into service for the Lord nearly 800 hundred years before his birth as foretold in the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi.  John’s ministry provides a model for all those who are called the children of God because of the recognition of his calling, his wholehearted desire to answer that call, the boldness with which he preached, his lifetime of obedience, and the ultimate sacrifice of his life.

Without question he was great because he was given the highest, most honorable position ever, preparing the way for the Messiah.  Think about this: it wasn’t anything that John earned, through no ability of his own, certainly no wealth as we know from his camel skin attire and meager meals of locust and honey.  He had no status in society, didn’t come from a noble family.  His father was a priest, but he was not priestly himself.  He lived isolated in the desert of Judea, alone, with nothing.  In fact, not only would he be called a failure by the modern definition of success, he would’ve been looked upon as a poor homeless man who was insolent toward government and religious figures because of their sins.  Yet here he was, declared in the womb by the angel Gabriel to be great.  Luke 1:15 states as the angel Gabriel is speaking to John’s father Zacharias, describing in great detail how he will be used by the Lord, he proclaims, “for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  This verse suggests that it didn’t matter what man thought about John.  He wasn’t to be measured for success based on the perception of society.

John’s greatness was defined by his character as Gabriel alludes to in the middle part of verse 15, “He is never to take wine or other fermented drink.”  Here we see that his outward behavior was to be different than others, not conformed to the world, so much so that the Bible provides evidence that people considered him a “demon” based on his abstaining behavior.  Matthew 11:18 At the end of Luke 1:15, Gabriel provides a second characteristic of John’s greatness, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.”  This attribute alludes to his internal character and allowed John to perform his mission of bringing back Israel to the “Lord their God” and turning the “hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” Luke 1:16-17

In John the Baptist we have a man that was declared “great” from the womb. His position was higher than anyone else’s in history, except of course that of Jesus Christ. His ministry was invaluable to preparing the way for the Savior.  Yet he deflected all praise and glory to God by constantly declaring that he was not the light, but merely a “voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'” John 1:23 As Jesus’ ministry began to increase, John declared that his own must decrease. John 3:30 He knew his role and did not try to share the spotlight, but despite this he was imprisoned and beheaded.

Considering of all this, his call, ministry, character, boldness, humility, willingness to die, Jesus followed up his comment on John’s greatness by declaring that “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John].” Luke 7:28 Why would He claim John’s greatness and then assert that all those in the Kingdom of God are greater?  The answer to this question provides the reason why we should not declare any of those people we mentioned earlier as role models or great heroes.  It’s simple, spiritual greatness is always superior to human greatness, because it transpires through no work of our own.  Our justification occurs through the redemptive saving grace of Jesus Christ. That’s what makes us great.  There’s no doubt John’s ministry was special, but when we accept Christ as Savior we are called from the womb of rebirth and we too are filled with the Holy Spirit to likewise pave the way for the Messiah by serving as witnesses to the world.

Have you experienced spiritual rebirth that will allow you greatness in the sight of the Lord?  Call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  Accept him as Lord and Savior of your life; believe and trust in Him and He will make you greater than greatest, that on the day you should stand before the Lord He might declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The Highest Form of Love

There are some interesting theologies being tossed around in the mainstream church these days.  That’s not to say there aren’t some excellent, Bible-based preachers and teachers, because I know there are.  But often, like leaven, these false ideologies are pervasive and rise quick throughout the entire body of believers.  There’s not anyone person that teaches this particular belief, but it is a common model for the “seeker sensitive” movement and it really detracts from the most amazing quality of God because it paints only half of the picture about His love, leaving out the most important, integral part in a Christians life.

God’s love is something I think a lot of us hear about, but do not truly understand.  Love is such a basic word in our language and we toss it around so frequently that too often its meaning get’s glossed over.  But when used in context with God there is no comparison because God’s love is the Highest Form of Love.  Like all of His other attributes, our finite minds cannot grasp this.  What we commonly hear are phrases to create a warm and fuzzy feeling in our hearts.  Don’t get me wrong, “Jesus loves you” should create in us a level of humbleness so great that we fall before His cross worshiping Him with everything we have.

But there’s more to His love, so much more that’s not frequently taught.  To even begin to understand the love of God, we have to look beyond what we want to feel from His love and look toward what we need to receive from His love.  Likely, the methods of those I mentioned earlier tickle our ears by teaching us to look at what we want from God’s love, essentially anything that will enhance our personal lives.  Christians, these concepts are weak and do no justice to God’s love.  Instead, what each of us needs to hear is that God disciplines those He loves.  This great aspect of God’s love has been left out because it’s less appealing or may not attract large numbers to a church because nobody wants to think of a God that hands out discipline.  The sensitive seeker would prefer to ignore repentance, ignore the guilt placed on us by the Holy Spirit, and completely disregard the chastisement of God.

That mentality waters down the love of God, to say nothing of the ramifications it has on ones Christian walk.  Hebrews 12:4-11 is such a great passage that speaks on God’s discipline towards those He loves:

 4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

How loved we should feel when we receive the discipline of God.  To know that He loves us so much, that when “all we like sheep have gone astray” the Good Shepherd uses His rod to correct us and bring us back into the fold.  Do not think it harsh dear Christian, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 What special attention the lamb that wanders receives when the Shepherd breaks its leg for its own corrective good. How cared for that sheep is that the Shepherd then carries that little lamb on His shoulders with such love.

Do not run from the Lord’s discipline Christian, embrace it.  When it comes cherish the disciplining love of the Lord, thankful for this special attention.  When He needs to use His rod to break your wandering legs, let it bring you broken before the cross so that like the lamb, Jesus will carry you too on His shoulders.  Oh to know the wonderful love of God, the Highest Form of Love.

Prayer:  Thank You Lord for Your discipline.  Thank You for loving us enough to chasten us.  Thank You that when we think we have it all figured out on our own, You correct us and break us, so that all of our dependence is on You.  Lord I pray for those running from your discipline.  I pray for those who push aside the guilt brought on by the Holy Spirit.  Awaken them to the power of Your love, that they may they welcome Your loving discipline that brings forth righteousness and peace.