Tag Archives: Gospel

The Practice of Sinning

 

In the first letter by the Apostle John to the saints in Asia, likely a circular letter to include the church at Ephesus, it has been well noted that he provides a series of tests or checks and balances for the Christian life.  The centrality of these tests are: knowledge of God, growth in obedience, and love for others.  In chapter 3, we see obedience approached from the negative side with an exhortation to avoid the “practice of sinning” in order to affirm the genuineness of faith.  Note the passage below:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:4-10

Here we may observe the Apostle making 4 crystal clear assertions regarding those who make a practice of sinning, the first of which will be addressed in this post, and is the observation that those who make a practice of sinning are practicing lawlessness found in verses 4-5.  We might say that practice is to give oneself over to repetitive or habitual action.  This does not have in mind sinning in general, which we all do (1 John 1:8), rather it is a reference to the ongoing patterns or practice of sin.  In other words, the life that is marked or defined by the downward spiral of sin.

Additionally, we read that all sin, not simply that committed habitually, is equated with the breaking of  God’s holy law.  Generally speaking this is God’s moral law, the requirements of which were written on the hearts of men from Adam onward (Rom. 2:14; conscience), summarized and codified in the 10 Commandments at Sinai, and written on the hearts of all those who through the blood of Christ have been redeemed and brought into the New Covenant by repentance and faith (Jer. 31:33, Ezek. 36:26-27, Heb. 8:10).

Inherently within this statement is the assertion that the Christian life is to be one marked by obedience.  It has oft been assumed, in error, that the law and subsequent obedience to it, are to be eschewed from the life of a believer.  As is evident from this and many other passages in the New Testament, the law clearly has a place in the life of a believer, lest we fall into the error of antinomianismhttp://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/XXVIII/28p1-11.htm

We would do well to remember the words of our Lord, “If you love me, keep my commandments” John 14:5.  Our Apostle draws upon the language from his gospel in this very epistle when he writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 2:3-4.  Furthermore, as we alluded earlier, one of the great promises of the New Covenant is God writing His law on the hearts of those who have been redeemed by the shed blood of Christ.  We may conclude that the importance of obedience to God’s law in the life of the believer is paramount and to walk contrary to it is sin, namely lawlessness.

This first exhortation is supported by two clauses, one a reaffirmation that sin is lawlessness to help drive home the point and two that Christ, who is sinless, appeared to take away sin.  This statement is meant to contrast Christ with sin and subsequently sin with believers. It is meant to offer a sober alert to the reader that where sin exists, it is contrary to Christ because 1. He is sinless and 2. He died to take away sins.  Therefore stop sinning, more on that later.

Far too often we are given to light thoughts of sin and are often ignorant of the sinful patterns of behavior that flare up in our lives from time to time.  In our passage above, the exhortation is clear:  the practice of sinning is contrary to the life of a believer because it is contrary to God’s holy law, and subsequently to God Himself.  It is contrary to the life of Christ and should be contrary to the life of a believer who is united to Him.  And finally, it is the reason for which Christ died.

Thanks be to God that by His mercy He sent His holy Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the law on behalf of all those who would repent of their sins and believe in Him.  Christ, the only sinless One, the only One who upheld the law on every point has through His obedience credited, or we might say imputed, the righteousness that He earned to the account of those who have trusted in Him.  As we have seen, the law still has a place in the life of a believer as a rule and guide, but it is no longer a heavy yoke on the neck.  It is not a means to life, i.e. it is not a means to either justification or sanctification, each of which come only through Christ our Savior, but instead should be a delight (Romans 2:22, et.al.)

 

*Antinomian image credit: http://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/XXVIII/28p1-11.htm  Note: reference to this source does not imply endorsement.

The Power of Christ in Conversion

 

1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2

The above account from the book of Acts details the murderous actions of a man named Saul against 1st Century Christians, known as followers of the Way (likely derived from Jesus’ statement in John 14:6). The author of Acts, Luke, writes that Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”. We need only be reminded of Luke’s account a couple chapters earlier of the stoning of Stephen where we were first introduced to this man named Saul, 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Acts 7:58

At the beginning of the next chapter we read more insight into the intentions of this man named Saul against the church of Jesus Christ, 1And Saul approved of his [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Acts 8:1-3

Let’s look again at verse 3, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Certainly we can picture this scene and it’s not a pretty one. It’s unlikely that dragging men and women off to prison is meant to convey a peaceful tone. It seems appropriate to assume there was a struggle; perhaps the people crying out for mercy to God and their captors; children seeing their father beaten and perhaps their mother being dragged out of her home by her hair all at the hands of a man named Saul. Though unwritten in the biblical account, it doesn’t seem inconsistent to imagine the details of the horrific events. Would it be too different than what is happening in the Middle East to Christians today? It seems safe to say that similarities would likely abound and it’s brutal portrait. The vacuous term “hate crime” would have been fitting to describe the actions of Saul against the Christians, for he genuinely hated them and the Man they represented. This is the background of Saul and the landscape of Jerusalem at the time we enter into our passage from Acts 9.

With that in mind, notice what we read next,

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Acts 9:3-6

Saul was on his way to Damascus, likely to continue ravaging and persecuting Christians when he is interrupted on the road by a blinding light and a voice from heaven saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” What courage and hope this offers believers who are being persecuted today. Our Lord is neither blind nor ignorant of the actions of wicked men who would savagely beat, kill, discredit, shame, ostracize, etc. those who are followers of His. He is fully sovereign over these events and intimately aware of the details, even to the counting the number of hairs on the head of the persecuted. As it relates to Saul, He knows the brutal persecution that has come at his hands and our Lord confronts him with the question why are you persecuting Me? Again, the comfort that believers can take in knowing that the temporary suffering that we endure in this world is felt by our Lord. He takes it as personal persecution. The evil actions of men against Christians are nothing less than evil actions against the Lord Jesus Christ.

Given the level of brutal persecution that Saul has inflicted upon the early church, one might expect that his day of reckoning has arrived. Finally the cries for justice would be met by the sovereign and just right hand of the Lord God Almighty, right? Thankfully, God’s idea of justice and our idea of justice are rarely equivalent. Instead of pouring out vengeance upon Saul for his vile actions against Christ’s church he tells Saul to “rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do”.

Saul’s companions then lead the blind man into the city where he waits for three days, neither eating nor drinking. As we read through the section of the passage we find our Lord’s plan continuing to unveil by involving a man named Ananias,

And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

This same Saul who just days earlier was brutally ravaging men and women who were followers of Christ is now left humbled and broken at the mercy of God and we read of him praying, waiting on the Lord; quite a turn of events in just a short time period. Saul’s reputation was not limited to just the Christians in Jerusalem whom he had accosted; Ananias is in Damascus and is fully aware of the wake of carnage that Saul has left behind, so much so that he offers objection to the command of our Lord, 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” For Ananias, to approach Saul meant sure death. His objection, as though our Lord was ignorant to the deeds of Saul, was out of self-preservation. How patient and kind is our Lord in dealing gently with the fearful Ananias and offering him words of encouragement about His plan, 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Now wait a second. Is this justice for those who have been brutally ravaged, ripped from their families and homes, even murdered at the hands of this man Saul? Doesn’t he deserve to pay for his crimes against humanity? We like to hear verse 16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” because it sounds like a just retribution for the crimes of atrocity that Saul has committed. But when we read of verse 15, “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” we’d prefer to object. The objection is not limited to the world, whose eyes are blinded to reality of redemption and reconciliation in Christ, but also from professing Christians who too often fail to realize the power of conversion, the meaning of spiritual life from the dead, and the working of grace at the merciful hand of God in their own lives. Obviously this is a general statement and certainly not the sentiment of all believers, but if we are honest with ourselves typically our first cry is one for justice against the sinner not mercy.

Concluding our account of Saul’s conversion we read of Ananias’ commissioning of him, 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.” Acts 9:17-19

Continuing on with Paul’s immediate response to his conversion:

“For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. 23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.” Acts 9:19-25

Saul, called Paul in Acts 13:9, immediately responded to his conversion by proclaiming the name of Christ and affirming His deity as the Son of God. The very actions and statements that he once condemned as blasphemous and sought to ravage the church of Christ as a result of, he was now affirming himself. In fact, his proclamation of Christ led to his own persecution and plots of death (vs. 23). The power of Christ in the conversion of Paul turned him from one vehemently opposed to the message of the Gospel, one who ravaged the church, was complicit in the murder of Christians, and dragged men and women from their homes into prisons, into arguably the boldest witness for the Gospel that the world has ever known.

When we read of this within the context of Acts, we understand that this man named Saul has a conversion experience like no other on the Road to Damascus. We know how mightily Saul/Paul was used by the Lord in spreading His name and establishing His church. However, we disconnect this passage from our own real world experiences and fail to see the power of conversion in the lives of sinners today. Those who may have been murderers like Paul, or child abusers, or sex offenders, or the worst that society has to offer who have been miraculously converted to Christ through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit; raised from death unto life; and useful for the Master’s good work (2 Timothy 2:21). Paul was that guy. He readily admits his sin in his letter to young Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost” 1 Timothy 1:15 and openly confesses the person that he was in persecuting the church Acts 22:3-5; Philippians 3:6. But he is intimately aware of the power of Christ in his life in converting him from wretched, murderous sinner to a glorious saint. Romans 1:16; Philippians 3:8-11

Amazing Grace!

Let us not fail to understand the power of Christ in the conversion of sinners. Let us not be guilty of snubbing our noses at the mass murderer serving a life sentence who has been turned to Christ and now leads a Bible study in prison proclaiming the Gospel to the worst of society. Let us not fail to recognize the power of God’s grace in the lives of others. Last of all, let us not fail to recognize that God did not save us because we were good or not as bad as others. We too were dead in trespasses and sins, guilty of blasphemy and rebellion against a holy God and guilty of violating His holy standard. But God…who had mercy on us (Ephesians 2:4)…so too can have mercy on whomever He wills (Romans 9:18), even those whom society deems as a lost cause or too bad, and such were some of you (1 Corinthians 6:11). This is the power of Christ in conversion.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

Image Credit: La conversion de Saint Paul by Luca Giordano (1690), Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy.

The Danger of Drifting

 

After extolling the supremacy of Christ in the first chapter of Hebrews, the author enters into an interlude of exhortation in verses 1-4 of chapter 2 on the dangers of drifting and neglect of the message which they (we) have heard. The practical nature of this exhortation cannot be limited to the original audience of Hebrews, but must by necessity extend to us, as believers, today just as his message concerning Christ must by necessity stir our hearts towards affections for Him.

Beginning in 2:1, we see the warning that follows on the heels of the majesty of Christ

1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  

In the passage quoted above we have what is often referred to as an imperative statement. Biblically, the imperative most often follows the indicative. This simply means that Scripture often indicates for us a truth, here concerning Christ, His person, and work and then proceeds to give a command based on that truth. In Hebrews 2:1 the command is to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard”. In the immediate context, what has been heard refers to all that has just been said in Hebrews chapter 1. In the broader context of Scripture, it refers to the entirety of the Gospel message that holds Christ the center. The truths about who Christ is, namely that He is the eternal Son of God, the Exalted King, His supremacy over the angels (vs. 1:5-14), His purification for sins and His sitting down at the right hand of the majesty on high. That Christ, the exclusive message about Him and His work, along with all that follows in the remainder of chapter 2, requires us to pay much closer attention. A similar warning is also given in Luke 8:18 as Jesus concludes the parable of the soils whose primary focus is on rightly hearing the word of God, Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

Interestingly, the exhortations of Hebrews have often been controversial as to whom they may be speaking, believers or unbelievers.  In this case, it is clear that the author includes himself in the warning as he states “we” three times in the first verse, two more times in verse 3 and uses us in that verse as well.  It’s clear that his intention is to arouse those true believers who may be sleeping for the purpose of motivating them.  Those found with disingenuous faith will succumb to the results of the warning and drift.

This term carries with the idea of a ship that has sailed past its port and it is emblematic of the Christian life. Our lives are not to be thought of as a pontoon on a placid lake, instead we are actively engaged in a faith-based, Spirit-fueled effort to row in the swift stream of life. Drifting therefore does not take us closer to our destination, but instead leaves us further away. In fact, the argument could be made that the one who drifts is not even aware of the incremental movement, until he or she has drifted quite some distance away.

How then can we avoid drifting and ensure that we are paying closer attention to the message of Christ that we have heard? John Owen offers 5 practical solutions centered around diligent attention to the word of the gospel:

  1. Esteem the Gospel in your thoughts. “Constant high thoughts then of the necessity, worth, glory, and excellency of the gospel, as on other accounts, so especially on account of the author of it, and the grace dispensed in it, is the first step in that diligent heeding of it, which is required of us. Want of this was that which ruined many of the Hebrews to whom the apostle wrote. And without it we shall never keep our faith firm unto the end.”
  2. Diligent study of the Word. “Silver and treasure are not gathered by every lazy passenger on the surface of the earth; they must dig, seek, and search who intend to be made partakers of them, and they do so accordingly; and so must we do for these treasures of heavenly wisdom.”
  3. Mix the Word with faith. “To hear and not believe, is in spiritual life, what to see meat, and not to eat, is in the natural; it will please the fancy, but will never nourish the soul.”
  4. Labor to conform your heart and life to the express Word. “When the heart of the hearer is quickened, enlivened, spirited with gospel truths, and by them is molded and fashioned into their likeness, and expresseth that likeness in its fruits, or in a conversation becoming the gospel, then is the word attended unto in a right manner. This will secure the word a station in our hearts, and give it a permanent abode in us.”
  5. Be watchful. “Watchfulness against all opposition that is made either against the truth or power of the word in us, belongs also unto this duty. And as these oppositions are many, so ought this watchfulness to be great and diligent.”

May it never be said of us that “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear” but instead may Christ count us among his mother and brothers, “But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

As the argument progresses to verse 2, the intensity picks up as the author reinforces the statement he has just made by providing an argument from lesser to greater using the judgment for disobedience of the angels message (the lesser) and the judgment for those who neglect the Gospel (the greater coming up in verse 3), “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution”.

The reference to angels here serves to reflect back to the entirety of chapter 1 where the superiority of Christ over the angels was established. Additionally, we gain a little insight into why the questions of Christ’s authority over the angels came up to begin with. Given Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, it would appear that the role of angels in the establishment of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai was at least a belief held by some. Within our context of Hebrews, it becomes apparent that this is the case as the author will unfold his collective argument of the superiority of Christ over the entirety of the Old Covenant.

The fact that the message declared by angels was reliable, was transgressed, and warranted a just retribution cannot be overlooked. As the argument from lesser to greater progresses the message declared by the Lord is even more reliable (this doesn’t mean the old was untruthful; this is simply an added degree; greater validity if you will) and the punishment for transgression of His message will be more severe. “How shall we escape” then becomes rhetorical because none can escape the punishment handed out by neglecting the message of Christ.

This message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel, has been attested to by 1) The Lord Himself 2) Those who heard, believed, and subsequently proclaimed and by 3) God through various signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit.  The message therefore carries with it Trinitarian validation.  Can there be any wonder then why the author of Hebrews exhorts his listeners/readers and us on the dangers of drifting?  How can we hear such a message about Christ, testified to by the 3 Persons of the Trinity, given to men who proclaimed it and had their message validated by divine works, and expect to escape a great and just retribution for neglecting it?  Answer: There is no escape, therefore don’t neglect what you’ve heard.

The call is clear and the message should not be muted for Christians.  Yes, there is perseverance/preservation of the saints, but the warning here is very real.  There is a danger in drifting, a just retribution, therefore, don’t neglect the message of Christ that you have heard.

*Image Credit – www.dallasnews.com