salvation

A Great Salvation (Hebrews 2:1-9)

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[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fNWTZZwgbs[/embed] Last week, we talked about the purpose of Hebrews as revealed in Hebrews 1: to elevate Jesus as superior to anything else.

"The Son, who is the radianceof God’s glory and the exact expression/image of His nature, sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins."

This leads us into this week’s passage.

"That is why we ought to pay even closer attention to the voice that has been speaking so that we will never drift away from it. For if the words of instruction and inspiration brought by heaven’s messengers were valid, and if we live in a universe where sin and disobedience receive their just rewards, then how will we escape destruction if we ignore (neglect) this great salvation?"[1]

Notice this was written to believers. The salvation in this particular passage isn’t about that initial act of surrender. It’s about neglecting the salvation we have been given. Initially we thought it was great, but now it’s kind of, “meh.” It’s cool that we are saved and all, but we don’t remember that we were saved from destruction, or that we ‘are beings saved’ (1 Corinthians 1:18) in an ongoing process of sanctification."[2]

"We heard this great salvation first from our Lord Jesus, then from those who passed on His teaching. God also testifies to this truth by signs and wonders and miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit lighting on those He chooses."

The writer started this section by saying we dare not ignore this great salvation that is given to us. Now he offers a little bit of an aside, almost a footnote, about how his readers knew this message of salvation was true: 1) Jesus taught it, 2) the disciples and apostles have passed it on, and 3) God confirmed it with miracles acting as signs that point toward God as the author of the message.

Notice the role of everything miraculous mentioned in this section: It was given or done as God willed to testify to the truth of salvation. Some have called these “inaugural miracles” or “inaugural gifts.” God made sure the reality of the supernatural world was clear, and it all pointed toward God, the author of this great salvation (John 2:23). Think of the story of the lame man (Matthew 9; Mark 2) to whom Jesus said, “I can forgive your sins.” His audience didn’t believe he could do that, so Jesus said, “So that you might believe…” and healed the man’s lameness.

In other words, there was a visible validation from God so that claims of invisible power and realities were confirmed.Last week we talked about how it was easy it was for the audience of Hebrews to become distracted by angels and focus on their glory of the messenger rather than the glory of the One who made them and sent them. Same with miracle-working. Miracles are always meant to be signs pointing toward the one who makes miracles possible; any time the person doing the miracle or the event itself overshadows the glory of God, it’s a problem. So…

  • Don’t neglect your great salvation.

  • That message of salvation is legit – it came from trustworthy sources, and God has affirmed it through miraculous signs.

Now, back to angels for a little bit, because we didn’t get enough in Chapter 1.

"Now clearly God didn’t set up the heavenly messengers to bring the final word or to rule over the world that is coming. In one place the Scriptures say:[3]“What is man that you are mindful of him,[4]or the son of man, that you care for him?,  You made him for a little while lower than the angels, you crowned him with glory and honor,  putting everything in subjection under his feet.” When God placed everything under the son of man, He didn’t leave out anything. Maybe we don’t see all that happening yet;  but what we do see is Jesus, born a little lower than the heavenly messengers, who is now crowned with glory and honor because He willingly suffered and died. And He did that so that through God’s grace, He might taste death on behalf of everyone."[5]

 This gives us answer to the question at the beginning of this section: “How will we escape destruction if we ignore this great salvation?”  The answer? “[Jesus] willingly suffered and died. And He did that so that through God’s grace, He might taste death on behalf of everyone.”

That is our great salvation.  And yet, we tend to drift.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy2PfoSu08I[/embed]

“That is why we ought to pay even closer attention to the voice that has been speaking [about this great salvation] so that we will never drift away from it.”

This imagery was used in literature to describe a lot of things:a ship whose anchor does not hold, an arrow slipping from the quiver, snow melting and sliding, a ring slipping off a finger, water leaking from a poorly constructed vessel.

Drifting happens easily. It’s not a verb that requires much work to accomplish. When we tube the Boardman, I drift. I just sit there and get floated from one place to another, banging into banks and dodging branches along the way. I don't have to do anything to drift. This is how we neglect our salvation: we drift in the currents of the world.

  • How do I get lost on a trip? Just drive with no worries about direction.

  • How do let my garden become a lawn? Do nothing.

  • How do I get out of shape? Do nothing.

  • How do I become more ignorant vs. more knowledgeable? Do nothing.

  • How hard would Braden have to work to get his college scholarship revoked? He wouldn’t. He could just do nothing.

It’s easy to drift – but it’s dangerous. If all the boats on the water drifted, they would run into each other or eventually crash into land. God forbid a storm arises. A drifting boat is in deep, deep trouble. I once heard a phrase: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” And that’s usually not where you want to be.

“Pay even closer attention” (give heed) is bringing a ship to land (these verses were heavy on nautical images). How do we do this? I’m sure there are a number of approaches you can take, but I am going to focus this morning on observing godly disciplines." You can find spiritual disciplines discussed in a variety of ways; [7]I have chosen this helpful breakdown from Nathan Hale.[6]

I don’t offer these as a legalistic requirement. I offer these as a way of showing how Christians throughout the centuries have ordered their lives so that they do not neglect their great salvation.

  • Prayer – communicating with God ( 6:9)

  • Meditation – focusing on God and his will ( 4:8)

  • Fasting – a reminder of the source of all nourishment (Luke 5:35)

  • Study – careful attention the reality that God reveals to us, especially through Holy Scripture (Luke 2:46)

  • Simplicity – seeking God’s Kingdom first ( 6:33)

  • Submission – placing God’s will above one’s own (Luke 22:42)

  • Solitude – withdrawing from the world to spend time with God ( 14:23)

  • Service – supportive action toward others (Mark 10:45)

  • Confession – acknowledging one’s sin with and to others in the community of faith(James 5:16)

  • Guidance – giving and receiving direction from others along the journey with Jesus (Acts 15:8)

  • Celebration – taking joy is what God has done (1 Cor 5:8)

  • Worship – giving God glory through attitudes and actions, and words (1 Cor. 14:26)

But at the end of the day, these are not our salvation. They are tools God has given us to help us be focused so that we don’t neglect the amazing grace that has been given us.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9UdI0CXbm0[/embed]

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[1]“The salvation mentioned here is the whole system of Christianity, with all the privileges it confers; properly called a salvation, because, by bringing such an abundance of heavenly light into the world, it saves or delivers [us] from the kingdom of darkness, ignorance, error, superstition, and idolatry; and provides all the requisite means to free [us] from the power, guilt, and contamination of sin.” (Adam Clarke)

[2]This language of ignoring or neglecting is also found in the parable in Matthew 22 when people disregarded their invitation to a marriage supper. They did not give it the weight it deserved and failed to take advantage of the opportunity offered to them.

[3]Interesting note from Adam Clarke’s commentary: “It was common thus to express the testimony of any of the inspired writers… thus saith a certain scripture….Thus even the heathens were accustomed to quote high authorities; so Plato… ‘as a certain person saith’, meaning Heraclitus…It is such a mode of quotation as we sometimes use when we speak of a very eminent person who is well known… The mode of quotation therefore implies, not ignorance, but reverence.”

[4]“That God should remember in the way of mercy these wretched beings, is great condescension; that he should visit them, manifest himself to them, yea, even dwell among them, and at last assume their nature, and give up his life to ransom them from the bitter pains of eternal death, is mercy and love indescribable and eternal.”– Adam Clarke

[5]It was a custom in ancient times to take off criminals by making them drink a cup of poison. Socrates was adjudged to drink a cup of the juice of hemlock, by order of the Athenian magistrate… The reference in the text seems to point out the whole human race as being accused, tried, found guilty, and condemned, each having his own poisoned cup to drink; and Jesus, the wonderful Jesus, takes the cup out of the hand of each, and cheerfully and with alacrity drinks off the dregs! Thus having drunk every man's poisoned cup, he tasted that death which they must have endured, had not their cup been drunk by another. Is not this the cup to which he refers,  Matthew 26:39; : O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me? But without his drinking it, the salvation of the world would have been impossible; and therefore he cheerfully drank it in the place of every human soul, and thus made atonement for the sin of the whole world: and this he did, by the grace, mercy, or infinite goodness of God. Jesus Christ, incarnated, crucified, dying, rising, ascending to heaven, and becoming our Mediator at God's right hand, is the full proof of God's infinite love to the human race.” (Adam Clark)

[6]This list is from “The 12 Spiritual Disciplines: Essential Tools for Spiritual Growth.”

http://nathanrhale.com/the-12-spiritual-disciplines-an-overview/

[7]“What Are Spiritual Disciplines?” https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-spiritual-disciplines

“Not Ashamed To Call Us Family” (Hebrews 2: 10-18)

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It only makes sense that God, by whom and for whom everything exists, would choose to bring many of us to His side by using suffering to perfect Jesus, the founder of our faith, the pioneer of our salvation. As I will show you, it’s important that the One who brings us to God (the Sanctifier) and those who are brought to God (the sanctified) become one (or become of one nature – ‘partakers of flesh and blood’), since we are all from one Father.

 This is why Jesus was not ashamed to call us His family (brothers and sisters), saying, in the words of the psalmist, “I will speak Your Name to My brothers and sisters when I praise You in the midst of the community.”And in the words of Isaiah, “I will put my trust in the Eternal One.” And again, “Look, here I am with the children God has given Me.”

Since we, the children, are all creatures of flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood, so that by dying He could destroy the one who held power over death—the devil—  and destroy the fear of death that has always held people captive.

So notice—His concern here is not for the welfare of the heavenly messengers, but for the children of Abraham. He had to become as human as His sisters and brothers so that when the time came, He could become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, called to reconcile a sinful people. Since He has also been tested by suffering, He can help us when we are tested. I’m going to use this passage for two weeks, because there is a lot to unpack her. First, the claim that suffering perfected Jesus, and the implications for us. Second, the claim that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sister. This week, we are starting with the family issue.

Jesus was not ashamed to call us family. I’m going to come back to this later to look at how powerful this is, but first I want to look at the three quotes that follow, because they seem kind of odd. The bottom line: they are all tapping into Old Testament scriptures that simultaneously claim that Jesus is the Messiah, and that we are now family spiritually.

 “I will speak Your Name to My brothers and sisters when I praise You in the midst of the community.”

The author is citing Psalm 22:22. David was essentially telling God that once he delivers him, David will sing God's praises. The writer of Hebrews attributes that to Jesus. Now, in the middle of the congregation, Jesus sings God's praises and points to him as the deliverer of his brethren. That “deliverance from suffering” that David wanted? Jesus actually gave it to us.

The writer added that because we are flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood. He had to become as human as his sisters and brothers to be the High Priest we need. [1]

Notice that in this quote Jesus simply declares God’s ‘name’: that is, he displays God’s nature and character, and he speaks that to his brothers and sisters.One commentator I read used the imagery of the temple to describe what is happening here:

  • The outer court is the equivalent to the miracles God does. It’s part of the temple, but it’s only introductory. There are much deeper things to come. They might declare God’s presence,but not God’s
  • The holy place is the moral attributes of God’s righteousness and purity. This is the space where the name of God – the character and nature of God – begins to be understood .
  • Behind the veil in the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies is the Mercy Seat, the ultimate expression of which is Jesus, whose incarnation and sacrifice perfectly and completely show the love and mercy of God. (Maclaren’s Expositions)

“I will put my trust in the Eternal One.” This trust is best defined as “obedience as a result of God’s persuasion.”[2]This is a verse about attitude. Jesus is both the object of our faith because He is God, and he is the perfect examplefor our faith; that is, what it looks like for us to live out our faith. This is why Jesus is“…the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)

This ‘firstborn’ language carries with it the idea of preeminence and importance, “the highest of those born” (Psalm 89:27), but it also suggest he is the one to whom the rest of us look to know what to do and who to be.

“Look, here I am with the children God has given Me.” If you are a child of God, God gave that privilege to you. We don’t force our way or earn our way into his family. God adopts us because of His love and grace.

Though the writer of Hebrews does not finish the verse from Isaiah, I suspect his audience finished in their heads – “for signs and wonders in Israel.” What does that mean? Well, is it not a wonder that God chooses us, dead in our sins, to be His children? And is it not a wonder that his glory is displayed through the work He does in us? As one person told me last week, “I am God’s trophy.” They weren’t bragging about how awesome they were; they were just acknowledging that God’s great salvation had done a miraculous and glorious work in their life.

“He is not ashamed to call us His family.” We will read this idea later in Hebrews also: “They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16)

There are other places where Jesus talks about his followers as family:

  • “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:49-50)
  • (After the resurrection) “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17)

I think it’s worth the time to let the profoundness of this claim sink in with the help of some great theological giants on whose shoulders we stand:

“Considering him in the holiness of his Deity, and them in the filthiness of sin, he might have been ashamed of such a brotherhood; but by his effectual word he adopted them into a state of childship and heirship to God with himself; and in the flesh to give them that glory, that they might be one with God, as he and the Father are one (Matthew Poole’s Commentary) 

“He has so become partaker of our nature that now we are one family, and he is not ashamed to call us brothers. Am I addressing any who are ashamed of Christ, or who are ashamed of God's poor people, and who would not like to be known to be members of a poor church? Ah! how you ought to despise yourselves for having any such pride in your hearts, for Christ is not ashamed to call his people brethren! Oh, what wondrous condescension!”   (Charles Spurgeon)

They are poor, they are despised, they are persecuted; what is worse, they are imperfect and faulty, often sorrowful, cast down, condemning themselves, groaning at the mercy-seat; yet “he is not ashamed to call them brothers.” There is such a unity between the believer, be he in what sorrow he may, and the Christ, be he in what glory he may, that he is never ashamed to own the close relationship between them.”  (Charles Spurgeon)

There are a lot of things it could mean that Jesus was not ashamed (from Strong’s Concordance, 1870. Epaischunomai).However, perhaps the best way to understand this has to do with the language of condescension,of God coming down to our level and becoming one of us. When we talk with little kids, one of the best ways is to kneel – to come down to their level. That is what God did for His children.

Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of  a servant, and was found in the likeness of humankind, and humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:7)

  • Chapter One of Hebrews was all about how superior God is to us, the angels and everything else, so it seems like he would want nothing to do with us.
  • The Greeks and the Romans could not imagine that gods would want this, except to ravage and use us. And yet, Jesus wants to be with us as brothers and sisters. He stoops to save us and make sure we are adopted into His family.
  • Jesus was that bridge between God’s transcendence and his immanence. There is no concern that we will somehow soil God by His contact with the unclean. He is beyond us in every way, and yet, he is here. It is not below his dignity to save us.

Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, to call us family, to come down to our level and claim his relationship to us. I tried to find songs about Jesus not being ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters, and every song I found was about how we are not to be ashamed of Jesus. That’s true, but the foundation for that unashamedness on our part is because we have a remarkable God. And one of the things that makes God so remarkable is that God is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.

When Sheila and I were dating, I loved to fake banging my nose on doors that I walked through. It got so bad that when we went to the mall she would go through the entrance about 10-15 behind me, like “Who is that guy? What a moron.” And once we moved past that awkward moment, we were good again. Until the next door.

That’s obviously trivial. I thought it was hilarious. And Vincent is making me proud by starting to carry on that tradition. But what about more serious things?

What have I done that make is so people don’t want to be near me? They don’t want to condescend to be with me because the dirt of my life threatens to make them dirty too.

What have you done? What have others done to you?

We put people into categories, don’t we? Those of whom we are ashamed. Those we think will make us dirty if we are too close. Those we don’t want to publicly claim as either family or spiritual family. Dare I say there are people in our life of whom we think, “I just can’t go down to their level?”

Is it not amazing beyond belief that our savior and brother, Jesus, was not ashamed to come down to our level and call us – us, even us– his brothers and sisters.

I was thinking of the parable of the Two Brothers this week (or the Parable of The Faithful Father). When the Prodigal son left home, he humiliated his father and his family. When he lived a life of what to the Jewish community would have been unthinkable uncleanness and sin, he humiliated them. And yet when he stumbled home, smelling of pigs and sin, his father ran to him. His father broke all kinds of standard protocol for looking honorable and humbled himself as he ran to his son.

Not ashamed to condescend to love His son. How is that possible?

I know we can struggle a lot with feeling of inadequacy, with feelings of not living up to God’s expectations. We feel weak, inadequate, and stupid. Our life feels like one big mess. If you are a follower of Christ, know this: Jesus was not ashamed to condescend, to come down to your level and claim you as one of His own.

I remember a coach once telling me of one of my boys – and I am paraphrasing - “He is being an idiot.“ And I knew that, but he was MY idiot. I was not and am not ashamed to claim all of them, even in the midst of their imperfections. I love them. What price would I not pay for their good – and I’m a deeply flawed father, not the perfect Savior of the world.

Does that mean Jesus overlooks sin? No. Does that mean He is never angry, or the Holy Spirit is never grieved? No. God has shown that He has no problem holding his children accountable. He will prune what needs to be pruned, because He loves us.

Jesus was not ashamed to come down and claim his brothers and sisters He has saved, even in the midst of their imperfections.

Tony Campolo used to tell a story about something he witnessed at an airport. A mother and baby got off an airplane, and it must have been quite a ride. The baby was covered with vomit. The father didn’t hesitate. He ran up and smothered his child with hugs.

Jesus is not ashamed to save and claim his family.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6akq4DvTuog[/embed]

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[1]Augustine once wrote: "God makes of sons of men sons of God, because God hath made of the Son of God the Son of man."

[2]From Strongs’s Concordance, https://biblehub.com/greek/3982.htm

The Training Field Of Grace (Titus 2:11-15)

We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people. Grace arrives with its own training instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy. Watch for His return; expect the blessed hope we all will share when our great God and Savior, Jesus the Anointed, appears again. He gave His body for our sakes and will not only break us free from the chains of wickedness, but He will also prepare a community  (a peculiar people, a treasure) uncorrupted by the world that He would call His own—people who are zealously passionate about doing good works. So, Titus, tell them all these things. Encourage and teach them with all authority—and rebuke them with the same.

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I want to talk today about grace.[1] The classic biblical definition is ‘unmerited favor’ – God has given us favor not because we are good, but because God is good.  

  • We are saved or justified by grace (Romans 3), which is why we can’t boast in our own righteousness.
  • Our spiritual gifts are determined by the grace He gives us (Romans 12)
  • Grace is how God’s power is seen in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12)
  • Our faith is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2)

But we also hear interesting language about how we can grow in grace.

  • Luke 2:52 says that Jesus increased in wisdom , stature, and favor with God and man. ‘Favor’, though, is charis, the word most commonly used in the New Testament for ‘grace.’ Jesus increased in grace – which is not how we normally think of grace.
  • Paul talks a lot about the unmerited favor God gives – then notes in Romans 15 that duties come with it (proclaiming the gospel)
  • Grace can even be set aside (Galatians 2:20-21).

So while we receive grace, we are not meant to be passive recipients.  We have been given a gift that we must steward. Let's revisit this passage to see how this unfolds.

"We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people. Grace arrives with its own training instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy."

The first work of grace is salvation. It cannot be earned or bought; it must be given by God, who has offered this gift to all people. But there is an ongoing work of grace in our life that continues to do something spiritually profound in us.

“God’s saving grace is a training grace which makes man’s life sound in every respect.” (Concordia Self-study Commentary)

“Grace has a discipline. We generally think of law when we talk about schoolmasters and discipline; but grace itself has a discipline and a wonderful training power too. The manifestation of grace is preparing us for the manifestation of glory. What the law could not do, grace is doing…. As soon as we come under the conscious enjoyment of the free grace of God, we find it to be a holy rule, a fatherly government, a heavenly training.” (From Spurgeon's sermon Two Appearings & the Discipline of Grace)

Spurgeon observed that the discipline of grace had three results —denyinglivinglooking.

DENYING

Grace trains us to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1John 2:15). “Be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2), because the “friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). We are admonished to run away from anything that leads us away from God; to abandon the lusts and passions of this world. This is not about rejecting popular cultural trends that are morally neutral. You can love baseball and apple pie and even U of M football and not be in sinful conformity to the Spirit of the Age in the United States.

This has to do with our spiritual allegiance. What do we love? Who do we worship? What gets our ultimate allegiance?  To what do we give our bodies as a living sacrifice???

We cannot be a holy people – separate, distinct, called out – without there being some kind of separation from the worldview of the earthly kingdoms around us. 1 John 2:16 puts ‘everything in the world’ in three categories: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

  • The lust of the flesh: bodily pleasures such as sex, food, drink, entertainment. This is the over-indulgence, misuse, and perhaps addiction to God-given physical gratifications. It’s a relentless catering to our appetites, living as if we are nothing more than animals driven by instinct and programming.
  • The lust of the eyes: envy and greed for things that are not bad in themselves but which we don’t have and we covet: money, things, homes, vacations, cars, clothing – dare I say even spouses? It’s a relentless unhappiness with what we have while craving what others have. This is different from admiring beauty or success, or seeing things around us that inspire us to do or achieve more. This has to do with lustful attitudes of the heart.
  • The pride of life: an unquenchable thirst for popularity and applause and a prideful display of success. Some translations say “the pride of the age” – craving and flaunting that which people associate with success.  This isn’t about legitimate satisfaction in our accomplishments or the gratification of being recognized. It’s the flaunting of ourselves, the relentless self-promotion because of how amazing we think we are. It’s easy to point at the rich kids of Instagram and think, “Stop showing off”; it’s harder to look at ourselves and offer the same critique.

Grace has training instructions: run away from these things because they will lead you away from God. But Paul does not simply tell us what to reject; he tells us what to embrace.

LIVING

Our life: self-controlled (sensible).

This is restraint over our thoughts and actions. If we are growing in grace – if God is at work in us – we will be in the training process of becoming more self-controlled. God’s grace enables us to govern ourselves in ways we could not before and that we could not do without Him. This does not mean we will be perfect. It does mean that one sign God’s grace is real and active in us is that the trajectory of our life is characterized by self-controlled living.

  • Not responding with knee-jerk anger like we once did
  • Learning how to think two or three times about that defensive comment we were about to post on Facebook
  • Counting to ten before responding to our kid who pushes our buttons
  • Not wasting time watching TV when we should be honoring other responsibilities in your life.
  • Not being controlled by our appetites (food, drink, sex, money, pleasure)

The grace of God enables us to grow in self-control.

Our relationship to others: righteousness

This is conformity to the will of God (Matthew 13:17; 23:29; Matthew 27:4, 19, 24) and the teachings of Jesus ( Matthew 5:17-20 ). It is doing something God commanded as an act of worshipful obedience for His glory.

We are righteous when we are in a right relation with God through the salvation that He offers through his grace. Since Jesus has made us righteousness – that is, placed us in right relationship with God through his death -  it is our duty and privilege to live righteously – that is, live as those who are in right relationship with God (more on this next week).

Our relationship with God: godly

This simply means to be fully devoted to God.

"Ungodliness refers to lack of reverence for, devotion to, and worship of the true God … Unrighteousness… focuses on its result. Sin first attacks God’s majesty and then His law. Men do not act righteously because they are not rightly related to God, who is the only measure and source of righteousness. Ungodliness unavoidably leads to unrighteousness. Because men’s relation to God is wrong, their relation to their fellow men is wrong. Men treat other men the way they do because they treat God the way they do. Man’s enmity with his fellow man originates with his being at enmity with God. (John MacArthur)

This is why we can’t settle for sin management or self-help, or think that we can ultimately solve our deepest problems apart from God. Why do we argue, really? Why do we judge, really? How do we account for our inhumanity to others? We are at odds with God, and until that is fixed, everything else will be a bandage on a wound that will never heal. It may be a helpful bandage; it may stop the relational bleeding, but it will never solve the problem.

LOOKING

"Watch for His return; expect the blessed hope we all will share when our great God and Savior, Jesus the Anointed, appears again."

There seems to be two parts to this: first, never losing hope in the midst of the hardship of this life because we know what God has promised for those who love Him in the life to come.

Second, never forgetting to keep our spiritual house in order. To use imagery from the Bible, we are God’s servants entrusted with stewarding the world. Just because the master has not yet returned, we aren’t excused for letting the lamps die out (Matthew 25) or squandering his money (Matthew 25) or letting his house become cluttered. It keeps us on our toes: the master is returning, and the house must be in order (1 Peter 4:17). How do we do that? Theologian A W Pink notes:

“My head may be filled with prophecy… I may think and say that I am “looking for that blessed Hope” but, unless Divine grace is teaching me to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” then I am deceiving myself. Make no mistake upon that point. To be truly “looking for that blessed hope” is a spiritual attitude: it is the longing of those whose hearts are right with God.”

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I’m going to add one more to Spurgeon’s list: Communing, or building community.

He gave His body for our sakes and will not only break us free from the chains of wickedness, but He will also prepare a community  (a peculiar people, a treasure) uncorrupted by the world that He would call His own—people who are zealously passionate about doing good works.

Envision a church community passionate about doing good work – not out of self-righteous attempt to earn salvation or impress others, but as a response to God’s grace. Jesus has placed us in right standing with God; how can we do anything less than honor him with our life through our obedience? This a what a community uncorrupted by the world looks like:

  • Self-controlled instead of giving in to the lust of the flesh. Committed to learning what it means to respond carefully and wisely; to make choices that honor the pleasure God has placed in the world without giving in to sinful self-indulgence.
  • Content instead of giving in to the lust of the eyes. Committed to applauding the success of others without anger and jealousy; thanking God for the blessing He has given rather than thinking of all the potential blessings He has not. Enjoying our success with humility.
  • Humble rather than full of the pride of life. Committed to rejecting the desire to be applauded and seen and instead faithfully doing what God calls us to do even if no one notices.
  • Alert for Christ’s return, which means we are always house-cleaning our own house first, then helping others where it’s appropriate while never forgetting the future hope that awaits us.
  •  Zealously passionate for good works.  Actively looking for every opportunity to pass on what the grace of God has given to us.

This is the kind of community that Christ would call his own – and dare I say, a community that gives us a taste of heaven.

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[1] http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/grace.html

 

Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared  the world ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense; some would say it meant the world was prepared or completed,). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.

This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair. 

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way. God said, “You can have all these things, but there is one thing here that I don’t want you to have.  You don’t need to know why, it’s just not good for you. There are some things that will make life worse.” 

But of course, Adam and Eve focused on that one thing they couldn’t have in the midst of all they could.  And being people with free will – the means and the capacity to do what they choose – they did what any of us would have done.

They chose their own way, and immediately the world began to break apart in what we call The Fall.  God said to them, “What have you done? (Literally, “Why did you make/craft this?”)  Now they have to live in a world in which the blessing of God is distorted; now they have to live in a world that they broke.

Now, a life that was supposed to be characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now, there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight. It really doesn’t get any better as you read the Old Testament. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8). A modern writer put it this way:

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it…it aches.” (Bernard Levin, British columnist)

We know the source of the problem: sin.

For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have made the same choice they did. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. We default to sin.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty.[1] The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty:

  1. hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
  2. Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)
  4. chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)
  5. pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)
  6. avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)
  7. adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard
  8. Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

Eskimo and Inuit cultures have around 50 words for snow. [2] There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise. 

We look around at all the atrocities around us and think, “How can this be? Why do people fly planes into building, and wipe out entire tribes?  Why do people abuse other people?  Why do so many people exploit others sexually and financially? Why are people mean?

Is it poverty?  Then economic wealth should fix everything.

Lack of education?  Then we can throw more money at our schools and all will be well.

Lack of information? Free internet for all.

Corrupt political parties?  We can elect a new president and resolve the problem.

Greedy corporation and people?  We can picket and boycott.

But have any of those responses ever offered a long-term, lasting solution to the problem? No. The problem lies in sinful human hearts.  Or as G.K. Chesterton famously said when asked what the problem with the world was: “I am.”

It is important to humbly embrace this harsh fact of the world.

  • I embrace behaviors and make lifestyle choices that destroy me and hurt those around me. Others do the same to me, but at the end of the day I make my own choices.
  • I decide my way is better than God’s way.
  • I say mean things, and lose my temper, and gossip, and lie, and cheat, and feel jealous when other people succeed, and wish the world revolved around me, and view people as things, and treat things better than I treat people?

We don’t fail our spouses, or badly raise our children, or hurt our friends because we can’t get Dr. Phil on our cable. Our core lack of inner peace is not because our health care provider does not give us enough coverage, or Big Oil makes a lot of money, or the stock market is out of our control, or politics is corrupt, or fake news is fake.

This sickness is within us. We must own up to this or whatever diagnosis and treatment we choose will not make us well.

But this is where the story makes an important turn. It does not have to be this way. God is not stumped by the human capacity to undermine ourselves. God did not forsake Adam and Eve  - he covered them and promised them an ultimate victory over the very thing that tempted them. We fall, and there are consequences to that fall, but God does not forsake us. 

Like God covered up the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve and showed them the role of sacrifice as a means of redemption, Jesus covers up our shame, our spiritual nakedness, and offers us Himself as the means to triumph over the power and destructiveness of sin.

“People who believe in me, though they are dead, they can still live.” - Jesus, in John 11:25

“When the Son has made you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36) Literally: “When Jesus has set you free from the restrictions of sin, you will be truly free to live.”

So sin is a problem, but there is a solution. The only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ.

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

We are meant to be free from the wages and power of sin. We are meant to be free to pursue shalom once again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is proof that we who are dead can be raised to new life spiritually in this life and physically for eternity.

So freedom - yay! – but let’s not forget the cost.

We observe Memorial Day to honor those who gave their life so that others could live. It’s what we mean when we say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We must never forget to honor a Savior who gave his life so we could live and be free.

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. 

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair.

 

[1]  (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”)

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/there-really-are-50-eskimo-words-for-snow/2013/01/14/e0e3f4e0-59a0-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html?utm_term=.a0cbcb729310

 

Trustworthy Sayings (1 Timothy 1: 8-17)

Last week we talked about the importance of a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith that comes from sound doctrine. We also noted there are those who wander from this, who bring arguments and confusion rather than welcoming in the Kingdom of God as expressed by the presence of the church on earth. Paul continues by showing a contrast between a life that rejects the reign of Christ and a life that embraces it, and why embracing Jesus brings life.

You and I know the law is good (if used in the right way), and we also know the law was not designed for law-abiding people but for lawbreakers and criminals, the ungodly and sin-filled, the unholy and worldly, the father killers and mother killers, the murderers, the sexually immoral and homosexuals, slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone else who acts against the sound doctrine (“teaching as it extends to a necessary lifestyle”)[1] laid out in the glorious, holy, and pure good news of the blessed God that has been entrusted to me. (8-11)

First, Paul establishes the standard: God’s law reveals God’s will for the world. We want our hearts to align with God’s so that we love what God loves; we want our consciences to be clear by then doing what God wants us to do. There is a ‘necessary lifestyle’ that is supposed to follow if we commit ourselves to Jesus – not because it saves us, but because it expresses our commitment to the one who has saved us.

We talked last week about how part of the problem in Timothy’s church was that the Judaizers were teaching that keeping the Law would save people. But that’s not the way the law was meant to be used. It was meant to be a schoolmaster, a teacher, showing the way that pleases God. God has revealed His will so that we know if our actions are pleasing to Him, and if what we are doing is promoting or undermining life in the Kingdom of God.

But even the best lawkeeping cannot save us, so Paul immediately moves into the necessity of the intervention of Jesus in our life.

I thank our Lord Jesus the Anointed who empowers me, because He saw me as faithful and appointed me to this ministry despite the fact that at one time I was slandering the things of God, persecuting and attacking His people. (12-13)

 The verb means to "treat or use others despitefully," "to outrage and insult" them. The full phrase says he sinned against God, himself and others – and, ironically, he did it while keeping the Law (at least as it was understood by the Pharisees). Those in the Jewish community would have seen him as the ultimate law keeper, and yet he was one of the worst. Keeping the Law is not enough, especially if it's a flawed human understanding of what God’s Law really says.

He was still merciful to me because I acted in ignorance apart from faith. But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed. Here’s a statement worthy of trust: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all.  (14-15)

There were a number of hymns of catechetical teaching in the early Church. This appears to be one: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But then Paul adds to it: “I am the worst of them all.”

He talks about his new life in other places (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20), but nothing can alter the fact that Paul was the man that did all these things and is capable of doing them again without the presence of God in his life.

You’ve heard the phrase, “That’s gonna leave a mark?” Sin leaves a mark. I will bear the scar of my shoulder surgery. No matter how healthy I get, I am the man with a repaired shoulder. It doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me. Paul bore the scars of his sin even as those scars revealed the kind of healing only God can give.

The apostle Paul never forgot his former sins and the grace of God that transformed him. The story of Paul’s conversion is repeated multiple times in the New Testament (Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal. 1 & 2; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1).  And as Paul himself tells it, his awareness of his sinfulness actually escalates:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9 - “I am the least of the apostles.”
  • Ephesians 3:8, written later – “I am the very least of all saints.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15, written later still, and after probably about 25 years of walking with God -  “I am the chief of all sinners.”

He does not say, “I was the chief of sinners.” He says, “I am the chief.”  He does not single out the sins that previously defined him. He does not say, “I am the chief of persecutors.” He is not wallowing in a past that haunts him. This is more of a general realization.

“The sign of growing perfection is the growing consciousness of imperfection.... The more you become like Christ the more you will find out your unlikeness to Him.” – Alexander Maclaren

“When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  C.S. Lewis

Paul doesn't kill Christians anymore, but he is more aware than ever of his constant need for God’s mercy.  The closer people walk with God, the more they are aware of the depths of their sinful nature, which in turn drives them to a deeper appreciation of the grace of God.

But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life.  (16)

Notice: the main reason Paul was given mercy was not so that he could be awesome. It was so he would have a testimony for the Kingdom of God. Christians can see in Christ's dealings with Paul the pattern which they can expect for themselves. (The word translated “who would believe” is literally “who are about to believe.”)

Any testimony that points to the saved instead of the Savior misses the point. Paul didn’t want Timothy to think about Paul; Paul wanted Timothy to think about Jesus.

God saves us not because we are awesome, but because he is awesome. We give our testimony so that others gain hope: if God is patient and loving with them, God will be patient and loving with me.  No case is too hard for God. He delights in hard cases. If Paul can be saved, you can be saved. [2]

Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. While WE were sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a tendency in Christian circles to put certain kinds of testimonies on a pedestal. I know why we do that – it is meant to find a “chief of sinners” whose life gives us hope (if God can save them, He can save me). I wonder if, at times, we kind of slip down in our chairs and think, “I will never give my testimony. I am just too ordinary…my sins are not that exciting…no one will be in awe when I am done talking.”

Don’t ever think that God can’t use your life to show the glory of his patience and love. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation.

May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever. Amen. (17)

Paul’s acknowledgment of who he is does not push him into a dark corner of shame and despair. It brings out worship, as if the only way we can appreciate the beauty and grace of God’s forgiveness is by continuously seeing the ugliness of who we are without God.

The “gospel” we hear preached in our day is often a positive message that will help you achieve your full potential or feel good about yourself, succeed financially, or solve your problems.

That’s not the heart of the gospel. Biblical principles will help you in practical ways, but that’s not the good news. The Gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. If you think you’re a basically good person, you are not going to fully understand why Christ came to save you. If you think you have few faults and shortcomings, you will not understand what it means that Christ came to save you.

In Luke 7 we read a story about the connection between honest acknowledgment of who we are and deep response to Christ.  Jesus contrasts the casual and even disrespectful way that one of the Pharisees treats him and the way a local prostitute responds to him. She knew she was in desperate need of Christ and needed an ocean of forgiveness. The Pharisee thought he was tight with God and barely needed any.  What does Jesus say? “Those who are forgiven little love little. Those who have been forgiven much love much.” 

In other words, grace flows from us to the degree that we recognize the grace that has flowed into us.

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you don’t care about other people, or you lack empathy or kindness, or you feel lukewarm in your faith? If so, you may not need to work on feeling kinder or more passionate. You probably are forgetting how much you have been forgiven, how much God loves you, how much he has given you grace when you were a mess.

To remember how much we have been forgiven is the surest way to fill our hearts with gratitude. Paul says, “May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever.”

Look at the God he praises: eternal, not limited like us; immortal, not mortal like us; Spirit, not bound in flesh like us. In other words, only a God can save me – more specifically, only this God, revealed in Christ, can take the disaster of a man and make something beautiful.

I often hear the longing expressed that it’s hard to have a heart of worship.  A heart of worship cannot be taught. It cannot be forced or orchestrated. You can go to the biggest conference with the biggest band and the most emotional preacher and the coolest arts and have a great emotional response to all that’s going on around you. That’s an experience of a particular kind of worship, but I don’t think that’s the heart of worship.

We see hear in Paul’s letter to Timothy where the heart of worship begins: a recognition the wretched, broken life that we bring to the table – followed by an awareness of an indescribably powerful and holy God who loves us anyway, who offers us enough grace and forgiveness to cover any amount of sin and damage we have accumulated. That’s when the overflow of our hearts becomes the worship of our lives as we humbly take the grace we have been offered and pass it on to those around us.

That’s a statement about life in the Kingdom of God that is worthy of our faith and trust.

Questions to Consider

  1. I suspect we tend to gravitate toward either seeing ourselves as either “chief of sinners” or “saints in Christ.” How do we balance these two realities in a spiritually healthy way?
  2. Is Paul suggesting we need a past full of really obvious, significant sin in order to understand God’s grace? What is a part of your life that can show others the tremendous depth and power of God’s forgiveness?
  3. Check out the entire story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. Do you see a connection in your own life between your expressions of empathy and grace for others and how aware you are of your need for forgiveness?

 

“Unless you have been down into the depths of your own heart, and seen the evil that is there, you will not care for the redeeming Christ, nor will you grasp Him as a do those who know that there is nothing between them and ruin except God’s strong hand… Unless we feel the common evil, and estimate by the intensity of its working in ourselves how sad are its ravages in others, our kindness to others will be as half-hearted as our love to God…. Those who know the plague in their own heart, and how Christ has redeemed them, will go, with the pity of Christ in their heart, to help to redeem others.”
- Alexander Macleran

We may say, “I am a thief,” or, “I am a liar,” meaning that I have committed these sins, they weigh upon my shoulders, they are the splinters of my self-hewn cross... We say so in shame. But we do not thereby express an ultimate or God-ordained identity. Quite the contrary. We mean, “This is what I am in a disordered sense, because of what I have done, and because of the evil that I am still fearfully tempted to do.”  Or we might put it this way: “This is the fashion in which the image of God has been deformed in me, so that I am not myself, and my face, my very identity, is sludged up with sin.” - Hutchens and Esolen, “Identity Thievery,” Touchstone

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[1] http://biblehub.com/greek/1319.htm

[2] A side note about testimonies: Paul is writing this to Timothy, who knew Paul’s story. Paul is trying to show Timothy the proper kind of humility he needs to have. I think Timothy is supposed to take up this mantra: “I, Timothy, am the chief of sinners. If anyone is in desperate need of God’s grace, it’s me.” Yet Timothy did none of the obviously bad things Paul did.

 

Shine As Lights (Philippians 2:12-16)

Therefore, my beloved, obey as you have always done, not only when I am with you, but even more so when I can’t be. Continue to work out your salvation with great fear and trembling, because God is energizing you, enabling you to desire and do what always pleases Him. Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other,[1] so you may become innocent (unmixed or pure) and blameless (above reproach); you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation[2]. Then you will shine like stars across the land as you hold to (or hold forth) the word of life.

 I remember DC Talk singing, “I want to be in the light as you are in the light – I want to shine like the stars in the heavens.” Who doesn’t? Wouldn’t it be awesome to illuminate the spiritual darkness in the world with the light of our life as Jesus shines through?

You might be thinking, “There is no way I can do this. Do you even know my personality? My past? My situation right now?” Well, Paul says that if certain things characterized the lives of the Christians in Phiippi, they would “shine like lights” in their generation (or nation, in some commentaries). As we have seen throughout this book, Paul will not leave us wondering. He tells us how to shine for Christ.

We need to back up first and talk about “working out our salvation.”

Paul does not mean that the Christians at Philippi must work to earn their salvation. That is a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Paul’s uses an image that is also found in the writings of a Greek named Strabo, a contemporary of Jesus. Strabo said the Romans ‘worked out’ the great silver mines of Spain, getting all they could from the depths of the mines.

Paul seems to be saying that Christians must ‘mine’ the riches of salvation’ – not casually or flippantly, but with a sense of what’s at stake. "Fear and trembling” doesn’t mean terrified – it’s the same phrase Paul uses to describe how the church in Corinth received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:25) and how Paul himself approached the Corinthian church when he preached Christ (1 Corinthians 2:3). It seems to have something to do with taking it seriously, with recognizing that magnitude of the task.[3]

So on the one hand, we put sweat equity into our walk with God. God offers a depth of spiritual riches in His Kingdom, but we have to shoulder a pick axe and go after it. On the other hand, God’s grace – which began with the gift of salvation - continues with the gift of His Holy Spirit that “energizes us, enabling us to desire and do what pleases God.” There is an interesting tension here between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. D.A. Carson has noted,

The text does not say, “Work to acquire your salvation, for God has done his bit and now it is all up to you.” Nor does it say, “You may already have your salvation, but now perseverance in it depends entirely on you.” Still less does it say,“Let go and let God. Just relax. The Spirit will carry you.” Rather, Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, precisely because God is working in us both to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Adam Clarke puts it this way:

“God neither wills for man, nor works in man's stead, but he furnishes him with power to do both; he is therefore accountable to God for these powers. They cannot do God's work, they cannot produce in themselves a power to will and to do; and God will not do their work, he will not work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”

This is both a challenge and an encouragement. The challenge is not to fall into the trap of complacency or laziness, sitting back and waiting for a miracle to mature you in Christ. Maturity requires mining. There will be aching backs and callouses. If I pray, “God, make me a more godly man,” I can take comfort in the idea that God is willing that desire in me and will help me do what it takes to accomplish that goal – but I better put on my spiritual work clothes and buy some heavy-duty detergent, because this might take some time and it might get messy. Character and maturity are neither accidental not magical; they are the fruits of purposeful pursuit.[4]

That’s the challenge. The encouragement is that we are not stuck with merely our own self-motivation. God is working in us ‘to will and to do’. If you think, “I can never do this on my own,” take heart. You don’t have to. He built the mine, gives you the tools, and He sets his Holy Spirit in you to give you a desire and an ability you do not have on your own. If God asks you to do it, He will help you do it.

* * * * * * * * * *

So what is this spiritual mining, the ‘working out of salvation’ that God helps us want to do and then actually do? Once again, the context of Philippians gives us the specific way Paul means it (at least in the context of the Philippian church). Philippians 1 ended with an admonition to live lives worthy of the Gospel message, specifically standing firmly together for Christ in the face of opposition.

"27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[e] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have."

Philippians 2 begin this way (and note the connecting word):

 Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’"

So let’s follow the progression:

  • Live lives worthy of the Gospel message, standing firmly together for Christ in the face of opposition.
  • Therefore – because this will be hard – be united with Christ, living in Spirit-empowered unity characterized by the kind of tenderness, compassion, love and humility that Christ modeled. God was glorified by the life of Jesus; God will be glorified as His people follow in the pattern set by Jesus.

Now the next step:

"Therefore, my beloved, obey as you have always done, not only when I am with you, but even more so when I can’t be. Continue to work out your salvation with great fear and trembling, because God is energizing you, enabling you to desire and do what always pleases Him."

It is in our obedience in this fashion, that we continue to mine the rich depths of the salvation God has so graciously given us, and in so doing you will continue to do what always pleases him. If you wonder if your life pleases God, here’s how you can tell: do you stand for the Gospel, and do you work –with God’s help – to model the life of Christ in your relationships with others for the glory of God? That’s “working out your salvation” in this context, and this always pleases God.

NOW we see what it means to shine like lights.

"Do all things (all this obedience) without complaining or bickering with each other,[5] so you may become innocent (unmixed or pure) and blameless (above reproach); you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation[6]. Then you will shine like stars across the land as you hold to (or hold forth) the word of life.[7]"

So how do we summarize this? How can we have the privilege of “shining like stars” in America and in Traverse City as we hold to and preach the word of life? Here’s the process:

  • We unite boldly around a gospel message (speak and stand for the truth of the person and work of Christ);
  • We imitate Christ by living together determinedly by the power of the Holy Spirit (encourage, comfort, celebrate, and love) so that God will be exalted;
  • In this obedicence, we will become a spiritual light in a dark world as we continue to “mine’ this richness in our salvation with God’s help and for His glory.

There are times in the Bible where miracles pointed toward God (I’m thinking of the lame man in Matthew 9 who was healed so the crowd would know that Jesus could forgive sins).

There are times when conversions pointed toward the power and glory of God (Paul is a great example – see Acts 9).

There are times when speeches pointed toward Christ (all through the book of Acts).

There are times when acts of service pointed toward Jesus (the early church radically cared for the poor, the sick, and the unwanted).[8]

There are times when worship pointed toward Jesus (the woman in Luke 7 who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears).

In this case, Paul says to the Christians in Philippi, “Take a bold stand for Christ, and follow His example by living as humble, obedient servants of God. This always pleases God, and you dig into your faith in this way, you will illuminate the world with the light of the glory of Jesus.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[1] See Numbers 14:27, and other verses in the OT referring to the Israelites

[2] Deuteronomy 32:5

[3] For more info, look up “phobos” in Strong’s Concordance and see the other references associated with Philippians 2:12.

[4] “The Pursuit of Christian Character.” https://bible.org/seriespage/3-pursuit-christian-character-2-peter-15-7

[5] Numbers 14:27, and other verses in the OT referring to the Israelites

[6] Dueteronomy 32:5

[7] Verse 15 is most likely a quote from Daniel 12:3 “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

[8] Here is just one example of many: “Among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.” Athenagoras of Athens (133-190), excerpt from A Plea for the Christians

Sin and Salvation (Pillars of Faith Series)

From our statement of faith:

Sin: We believe that we sin when we disobey the commands of God’s inspired Word and reject His authority. All of us have sinned and are therefore, in our natural state, lost and separated from God. We believe men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 2:26). However, by a voluntary act of the will, Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6). As a result, mankind began to die spiritually (Romans 5:12-19). Sin separated humankind from God (Ephesians 2:11-18) and left us in a fallen or sinful condition (Romans 3:23; Genesis 1:26,27; Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12-19).

Salvation: We believe that God the Father showed His love for all people by sending His Son to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. (Luke 18:27; John 3:16,17; Romans 11:33; 1 Peter 1:16; 1 John 4:7-10; Revelation 4:8.) We believe Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins warranted, and His resurrection grants us the life we could not attain - both of these being necessary to reconcile us to right-standing before God.” (Matthew 16:16,17 and 25:31-46; Mark 14:61,62; Luke 1:34,35 and 2:7; John 1:1 and 1:14 and 5:22-30 and 10:30 and 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22-24.)  It is not through our efforts (Acts 4:12 John 3:3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 2:8; 
Titus 2:11; Titus 3:5-7)When we admit our sin, confess that Jesus is Lord, and repent, we become a new creation and are gradually transformed into the image of Christ (Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

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God made the world good.

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared it ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, harmony, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair.

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). They choose their own way, and immediately the world begins to break apart. “And so sin entered the world, and death by sin.” Now a life characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight (and the New Testament writers say we will repeat those days). After the Flood, it’s not too long before people are building a tower to God to make a name for themselves. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8).

We know the source of the problem: sin.

It’s deeply embedded in all of us from the moment we are born. For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have done the same. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. “So sin entered the world, and death by sin; so death has passed on to all people, for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Contrary to those who think we are born good or innocent, the Bible insists that we are not only born sinful, we default to sin. It’s our natural programming.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty. (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”) The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty. 

1)   hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)

2)   Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)

3)   Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)

4)   chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)

5)   pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)

6)   avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)

7)   adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard

8)   Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

You've heard how people in very snowy countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland) have 300 different words for types of snow? There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise.  

Why is sin so pervasive? Because we want to rule ourselves. We want to do life on our own terms: like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God, deciding what’s right and wrong. We want to worship and obey a god of our choosing. If we don’t live for God, we will live for something else that will function in God’s place. We will worship things other than God. We will order our life in the service of things other than God that we think will bring us happiness and fulfillment if we can just do them right or better.

  • Sex/Sexuality
  • Jobs/Vocation
  • Toys/money/things
  • Children and Family
  • Reputation (what you are know for)
  • Comfort/Pleasure
  • Intelligence
  • Talent
  • Political or Social Causes
  • Appearance (personal and social)
  • Self-control/orderliness

 You may be looking at this list and thinking there is a pretty clear hierarchy here. Someone who lives to be really smart is obviously a better person than someone who lives to greedily accumulate stuff. A self-controlled person is clearly better than someone who lives for their own personal comfort or just pursues any pleasure they can find, right? Basically, you may be looking at this list, seeing one that applies to you, and finding ways to convince yourself it’s better than the others.

 It’s not, and here’s why.

We begin to ‘lean on’ these things to bring us peace, or happiness, or hope. Instead of ordering our life around Jesus, we turn to one of these things and just try to do them more and better so that that broken shalom within us and around us will heal. We tend to think in this in terms of the scandalous sins, but the Bible doesn’t. Paul wrote in Romans 14:23 that any action that does not have its foundation in faith is sin.

We begin to build our identity on these things. We don’t turn to Jesus to find the value, worth and dignity we have as image bearers of God (or children of God if we have committed our life to Christ). We look to these other things, and we begin to identify ourselves by them. All sin leads to us building a false foundation for who we are and why we matter. Any of these can become that thing that we rely on to give us value, worth, dignity and even hope.  Without actually saying it, we think doing these things just right will save us from the groaning of this broken world in us and around us. And when we begin to put that much pressure on these things…

 We become enslaved to these things, and we enslave those around us to our cause. We become zealots on behalf of our own sinful cause.

  • We overparent. We smother our kids because they bear the terrible weight of our worth, and we judge those around us whose kids aren’t as outwardly put together as ours.
  • We pursue as many partners as we can to continually validate our desirability; we pressure those we are with to complete us; and lash out at anyone who criticizes.
  • We spend inordinate amounts of time making money, or looking good, or studying so we can justify our existence. Anyone who gets in our way pays the price, and we look down on those who aren’t as focused and driven as we are.
  • We are consumed by keeping every aspect of our life in our control on our terms. Any disruption receives our scorn or wrath, and we just assume people who aren’t as controlling of their circumstances (“as purposeful and put together”?)are either dumb, lazy or bad.

Do you see the destructiveness of this sinful pattern? How even small things lead us here? Because we have given our lives to a false savior – and that’s idolatry. That’s a breaking of the First Commandment. All sin begins in idolatry - which is why all sin deserves an equal judgment.

In maybe the worst kind of idolatry, we turn to religious works – keeping the rules, always doing more to feel closer to God or earn God’s favor, showing others how important we are by the crucial things we all do, desperately trying to get rid of the bleak, relentless, gnawing emptiness. And we aren’t worshiping God at all but ourselves. That kind of religious grandstanding is “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), the most ritually unclean thing you could imagine in Jewish culture.

 There is a solution. 

 That fact that we can be saved from our sinfulness is the heart of the gospel, the "good news." And the only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ. 

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

Because of Christ, we are saved from hell, the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you. 

Justice must be served because God is just;  and to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of Christ, we are being saved from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. We will see all those idols for what they are, and we will increasingly see Jesus for who he is. God will work in us (in a process we call sanctification) so that we lean on him; we build a real foundation of value worth, and dignity (our identity) in how Christ sees us, not how we or other see us.  

One day, we will be saved from the PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. 

“But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

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 So why a cross?

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. No one just forgives as if it is nothing. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

 “God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

 

Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”

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  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.