Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What is the Gospel? (4)

This is the last part of the answer on what is the gospel. 
See No 1 here
No. 2 here and 
No. 3 here
In this article I seek to show you the biblical response to the gospel for a sinner to be saved - Faith in Christ, and repentance of sins to God.

1.     THE RESPONSE IN FAITH AND REPENTANCE

The question remains:  How do I enter into this eternal life?  The answer is: through faith.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved (Acts 16:31). Paul’s message in Ephesus demanded repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). 
The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word.
Faith includes three elements: 
  • knowledge, 
  • belief and 
  • trust. 

Our faith is based on the knowledge given to us in God’s Word. When we come to understand what God says about Himself, our condition, and His provision in Christ, we unreservedly believe that truth by embracing Jesus Christ through faith. 
We must tremble at the Word of God and believe all it says about our need and God’s provision. Only the Word of God can truly diagnose our need - sin. Only the Bible can truly explain the good news of the provision of the Saviour, Christ. However, you must remember that intellectual assent to God’s Word and conviction of sin is not enough, we must go on to trust in that Word  by running to Jesus in repentance and faith. We take refuge in Christ and find rest for our souls. We rest in the promise that we have forgiveness through the atoning death of Christ our Savior.
True faith includes repentance, which is a complete turning away from our sinful ways and thoughts. We turn around, as it were, and forsake our sins and seek to please God with our whole heart and life. 
The saving repentance is an evangelical grace whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, does, by faith in Christ, humble himself to it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self abhorrency, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavor, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things. 
In repentance a man repents of his particular and known sins personally, with the understanding that there is no sin so small that it deserves damnation, yet there is no sin so great that it is greater than the grace of God in Christ.
We draw near to God through Christ with sincerity of heart, genuine faith, and assurance. Faith that is not accompanied by repentance is not true faith. The Holy Spirit helps us to repent and believe Jesus by regenerating the hitherto rebellious hearts and subduing them under the authority of Christ. It is through faith and repentance that we are saved. In other words, this is how we are made spiritually alive and come into fellowship with God. This is eternal life. The new birth results in a new desire to learn and obey God’s Word and a new hatred for that which is sinful and worldly.
When we repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we receive a new heart with new desires. The Holy Spirit now indwells us and we are made the temple of the living God. The Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies us (makes us holy), producing in us love, joy, and peace. He makes to be fruitful as seen in patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
It is through the Holy Spirit that God assures us of salvation, enables us to understand the Bible, guides us, and keeps us. The Holy Spirit works in us as we meditate on the Word of God and call upon the Lord in prayer. As we read the Bible, meditating on it and seeking to obey its commands, we receive comfort, strength, encouragement, conviction of sin, and wisdom. As we daily call upon the Lord for all that we need, He hears us and grants our requests according to His promises.
If we sin, we must careful to quickly confess before God and He is faithful to forgive us for Christ’s sake. As we walk according to His Word we abide in Christ, and as we abide in Christ we receive assurance from the Holy Spirit.
After hearing the gospel, and the sinner has responded by faith and repentance, the visible indication of this wonderful heart transformation is to 
(1) be baptized; 
(2) become a part of a local church where:
  • the Bible is taught faithfully
  • there is biblical leadership
  • there is genuine membership
  • there is biblical administration of the ordinances of the baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and 
  • there is an informed and solemn exercise of church discipline; and 

(3) testify to others of our salvation. Every true disciple of Christ will not want to go to heaven alone. Rather he will seek to draw others to the same fountain of life to draw from the wellsprings of eternal redemption in Christ.
In witnessing you speak of these Four things – the infinite holiness of God, the universal sinfulness of man, the powerful salvation in Christ which is received by faith and repentance. These must never be absent in the gospel witness.
 Don't go beyond what is written by demanding more than this. Do not ask a repenting sinner to come forward or to lift up his hand, or to move an inch. Rather call a penitent sinner to repent of his sins to God and to believe in Jesus Christ alone.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What is the Gospel?

This is the third part of the answer on what is the gospel. See No 1 here and No. 2 here. In this article I seek to show you that Christ alone is the only God-appointed Saviour of sinners. It is only wise to not only know Him, but also believe Him!

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THE POWERFUL REDEMPTION OF CHRIST
In view of man’s helpless condition in sin, God in His love and mercy provided salvation with His own arm. That provision is Christ. Christ is the only way of salvation because He is God’s appointed way. Christ was sent by God to bring salvation. He fulfilled many of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament – prophecies regarding his lineage, the place of His birth, the time and circumstances of His triumphal entry, His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and many others. He will fulfill the remainder of the Messianic prophecies at His Second Coming. Christ is the Son of God. He is truly God, the second Person of the Trinity, existing from all eternity. Jesus claimed to be God, proved He was God by His miracles, received worship, and was declared to be God by His Apostles.
In the fullness of time the eternal Son of God took on human flesh in time and became the Son of Man in order to take upon Himself the sin of mankind. He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, and laid down His life at the cross for the sins of the world. His atoning work on the cross is the essence of His salvation for sinners.
Christ died for our sins. The Bible uses the following words to explain the death of Christ:
(1) Sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26, 10:12).  He fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices; for example, He is the true Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), and Hebrews 9:25-26 compares His sacrifice with the temple priestly sacrifices (in Leviticus 16).  Most of the sacrifices were because of the offerer had sinned and was asking God for forgiveness.  The animal was killed instead of the sinner.  So Christ was a sacrifice “in our place”, “for” us (John 10:11, 15:13, Romans 5:6,8, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15,21, Galatians 1:4, 2:20, Hebrews 10:12, 1 Peter 2:21, 3:18).
(2) Blood (Romans 3:25, 5:9, 1 Corinthians 11:25, Ephesians 1:7, 2:13, Colossians 1:20, Hebrews 9:14, 10:19, 13:12,20, 1 Peter 1:2,19, 1 John 1:7, Revelation 1:5, 5:9, 12:11).  The blood of animal sacrifices was poured out around the alter (Leviticus 1:5, 3:2, 4:7) to show that it was dead. 
The “blood of Christ” means that Christ died as a sacrifice, not that there is something special about the blood in His body.  His blood was just like ours.
(3) Obedience (Romans 5:19, Philippians 2:8).  He came from the Father to do His will, and He perfectly obeyed (Hebrews 5:8-9).  As one without blemish He could die for us (Hebrews 7:26-27), just as the animals were to be without “spot or blemish” (1 Peter 1:19).
(4)Propitiation (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10).  God’s wrath is upon sinners, but Christ has suffered the punishment sinners deserve, and so God’s wrath is removed from them.  As an illustration, in traditional religion the elders would seek to turn away the supposed wrath of God in times of drought and disease by offering a certain sacrifice. 
(1) Ransom (Matthew 20:28, 1 Timothy 2:6, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 1:18-19).  A ransom is a price paid for release.  We are released from our bondage to redemption because Christ gave His life as a sacrifice for us.
(2) Redemption (1 Corinthians 6:20, Galatians 3:13, 4:5).  The word ransom emphasizes the price that was paid; redemption emphasizes that the price paid brings release.  When we say that Christ is our Redeemer, we mean that by His death we are set free to serve God!
(3) Reconciliation (Romans 5:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 2:20-22).  God Himself has removed all obstacles to our fellowship with Him through the death of Christ, so that we are now at peace with God.
Note:  Propitiating God, dying for our sins, redeeming us by a ransom price, and reconciling us to God, are all things that Christ accomplished by His death.  Nothing needs to be added.  Do not miss the assurance in Romans 5:1-2,9-11, 8:33-34!  Christ’s death is powerful.
Christ’s death was substitutionary – We deserved eternal damnation, eternal death. But God intervened in Christ, who took upon Himself the penalty due for our sins, by dying on the Cross. His burial proved that He actually died. But His resurrection from the dead, three days later, proved that God accepted His death as payment for the sins of His people and demonstrated His victory over death on our behalf. Christ was our substitute, just as the sacrificial lamb, innocent and without blemish, was the substitute of the offerer in the Old Testament.
Christ death was effective and powerful to save to the uttermost. When Jesus died on the Cross He satisfied the just demands of the Law of God on our behalf, becoming a curse for us. His propitiation perfectly appeased the wrath of God that burned against us. God imputed our sin to Christ, as if He had sinned. He laid on Him the iniquity of us all. And God imputed the righteousness of Christ to us, as if we had never sinned. On the basis of this heavenly transaction, God declares us righteous. This is called justification.
This justification is based wholly on the righteousness of Christ, not on our works, and is received by faith. If we believe on Christ, our sins are no longer imputed to us, they have been forgiven, washed away, removed from us forever. Therefore we have been reconciled to God and have peace with God through Christ. Only sin separates man from God, but in Christ we are brought near to God. Christ purchased us from the bondage of our sin and has made us His own. We once were slaves to sin, but now we are slaves to righteousness in Christ. We were once dead in sins and trespasses, but now we are alive in Christ.

FOR WHOM DID CHRIST DIE?
Christ the Mediator:
“By His perfect obedience to God’s law, and by a once-for-all offering up of Himself to God as a sacrifice …, the Lord Jesus has fully satisfied all the claims of divine justice. He has brought about reconciliation, … for all those given to Him by His Father” (Sect.5 of the Baptist Confession of Faith)
The Confession states that Christ died for the elect, for those given to Him by the Father (John 6:37-39, 17:24).  Many people think this means that Christ’s death was not able to save everyone.  But the real question is, “What was God’s purpose in giving His Son to die?” 
According to the following verses, for whom did Christ die?
Isaiah 53:11, Matthew 20:28, 26:28     many
John 11:52                                                 children of God;
Ephesians 5:25                                          the church;
Hebrews 2:16                                            Offspring of Abraham
Hebrews 2:17                                            his brothers
If Christ died for the purpose of saving everyone, then why is not everyone saved?  If His death was a ransom for all, then why is not everyone ransomed?  If Christ died for everyone, and everyone is not saved, it means that Christ’s death is not sufficient to secure the salvation of anyone.  It would then depend on Christ’s death plus something else in man, such as faith. Such a thought is blasphemous as it shows that His death is not sufficient or powerful enough.
There are a few verses that appear to teach Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 1 Timothy 2:6).  Others verses use the word world and supposedly teach that Christ died for everyone (John 1:29, 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 1 John 2:2).  Note that “all” can mean all types of men without distinction (1 Timothy 2:1), or many people (Matthew 3:5-6).  “World” can mean Gentile as well as Jew (John 1:29, 4:42), sinners as opposed to God’s people (John 17:9).
Therefore,
(1) Let us have full confidence in Christ and His work to save us completely.  Spurgeon likens Christ’s work to a bridge.  One bridge is wide enough for everyone to go on it but it only goes half way across the river.  The other bridge is narrower but it goes all the way across to glory! Which one is more effective?
(2) The Bible never presents the gospel as “Christ died for you.”  Rather we must present Christ as a Person who, by His finished work, is fully to be trusted to save any sinner who comes to Him in faith and repentance. 
Because I would like to deal with John 3;16 as the passage for 2015 Christmas, may I leave this matter at this point. Ask me about John 3:16 next week!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What is the Gospel?

This is the second part of the answer to the question, What is the Gospel? In this article the Biblical diagnosis of the terminal disease of all men is given - SIN! The condition of sinner is that HE IS ABSOLUTELY HELPLESS! A Biblical understanding of the problem of sin is the second truth leading to a true understanding of the gospel.

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(Gen. 1:26-30; 2:15-25; Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 Jn. 3:4)
Man was created by God and for God. How did God create Man? God created man, male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures. Man, just like all other creation was created very good, sinless… God made man upright (Ecc. 7:29). God created man in His own image, with the capacity to reason, choose, feel, communicate, build, and appreciate beauty. He created man for the purpose of ruling over all the living creatures on the earth in order to glorify God. All of these characteristics of man are a revelation of what God is like.
He created man as male and female for the purpose of revealing and illustrating His love for and relationship with His people. He also created man male and female for the purposes of progressing or carrying on with His creation (procreation).
Because man is made in the image of God, he is morally responsible before God. Since God is our Creator, we owe Him perfect allegiance. Every thought, desire, word and deed must be out of true devotion to Him and for His eternal glory. That is why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The way to glorify God is by a life of worship – shown in perfect love of obedience and submission to God both in word and in deed, thought and action, will and desire. The worship is offered both privately and publically. This is shown in thanksgiving, praise and adoration and submission to the Lord God as Sovereign benefactor.
Man then is the highest of all God’s creation and it is for this reason he was created as the last of all creation. As God’s image-bearer, God has entrusted all His creation to man that he may nurture and enjoy it. Through this, man ought to see God as the greatest designer, Creator and Sustainer of all creation so as to bring the highest glory to Him as the representational creation of God on earth. See the blessings man has freely received from God:
1)  God – They enjoyed the closest fellowship with God. No man has known as close fellowship with God than Adam and Eve as we see in chapter 2 of Genesis
2)  Property - the garden of Aden, with everything in it! Man was given the whole earth to be his property! This means that Adam and Eve had all the riches of the earth – all the land and exploit all the minerals such as gold, precious stones, diamond, oil etc.! All the animals from horses to donkeys, cows to goats to camels, sheep, chicken, fish! All the vegetation – trees like pine, cedar, wheat, rice, maize, tea, sugarcane, beans, fruits like pineapples, mangoes, apples etc. – both cash crops and food crops were all theirs! The rivers and seas and land were theirs! They were to do with all these wealth as they wished as long as they yield glory to the Lord… what could have been a better deal?
3)  Health and prosperity – There was no sickness or pain before the fall. There were no weeds before the fall. No thorns and thistles. No sweat. No loss! And we hope for the renewed earth with these!
4)  Food – Man was to eat of every tree in the garden. There was nothing that he could not fully enjoy. But he was expected to look, touch, climb and do anything else but eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil! This was not a prohibition in order to punish – it was a prohibition in order to help him see that his allegiance was to God not to the wealth God gave him. He was not to eat because God had told him not to!
YET MAN THREW ALL THESE AWAY BY LISTENING TO THE DEVIL! This is the greatest catastrophe that has ever befallen man… listening to the evil one instead of listening to God. Obeying the devil and disobeying God. Following the bidding of Satan and turning his back to God! What a loss it was! What a disaster and calamity for all men because with this single disobedience he fell and brought down with him all his descendants. And with this fall came death just has God had said.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because of all sinned… For if many died through one man’s trespass…  For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation… For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man,… Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation of all men… For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…so that sin reigned in death… (Romans 5:12, 15, 16b, 17, 18, 19)
It is both spiritual death, but also physical death. Those without Christ suffer both but those in Christ suffer only the physical death.

It is so important to understand what the Bible teaches about sin.  If we do not understand a disease, we cannot know how to treat it! For this reason we have to take diagnostic tests before medication. One of the definitions of sin in the Bible is: “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).  But sin is not only the actions and speech it is also the thoughts that we have that are against God’s law. It includes every part of our being including our thoughts, motives, desires, appetites and emotions as well as actions. In other words, all are totally depraved, sin has affected every aspect of human being. Sin is not just in the hands or eyes – it is firmed embedded in our hearts until we are saved. We were born into this life spiritually dead to God, thinking only of our own desires and our own glory. We were born this way, because of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Everyone born of Adam and Eve has a totally sinful DNA.
Note what Jesus teaches as to where all these sinful things come from: “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, …” (Matthew 15:19).  The “heart” is our inner self out of which all will comes.  There is something wrong with our heart.  Jeremiah says of the heart that it “is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (17:9).  Paul writes of the Gentiles that they have no understanding and are ignorant “due to the hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18).  So sin is a condition, a character, an attitude, man’s nature.  Jesus likens the heart to a treasure box (Matthew 12:35).  How a person lives depends on the character of his heart.  Men and women not only do acts of sin, they are sinners by nature (see Ephesians 2:3).
We all know that we fall far short of our moral obligation to God. Because Adam brought us down by his own disobedience we sin because it is our nature – our desires and will are sinful, our thoughts and actions are evil, our words and affections are as sinful. Consider Romans 3:10-18:
…as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
From this passage, we see that sin has not only affected everyone of the members and faculties of our bodies – will, actions, throats, tongues, lips, mouths, feet, knowledge (mind), but it has also affected all left no exception! Everyone is sinful – sin is universal! There is not a single human being who has not sinned.
To show us our failure, God gave us the Law, including the Ten Commandments. The Law is like a mirror showing us our moral corruption. Our moral failure is called sinFor all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). All have missed the mark of the standard of God in His law. All without exception are sinners. Only Jesus Christ has been an exception of the corruption of sin and its effects. The Bible teaches that He was tempted as we are yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
When we die, we shall stand before the perfectly righteous, holy, and all-knowing Judge and give an account for every thought, word and deed. Because we are sinners, we are under the wrath of God and face, not only physical death, but also eternal death, complete separation from God and all His blessings, in Hell, described as the Lake of Fire. We can do nothing to change our condition. We cannot change our own hearts or do anything acceptable in God’s sight. Even our ‘good works’ are like filthy rags before God.
A biblical understanding of man and sin is absolutely important for at least three reasons:
1)    Our understanding of salvation depends upon it.  Are we saved because we choose Christ, or because God first chooses us?  The Bible is so clear that we are totally dependent upon God.  What must God first do if anyone is to come to Christ according to John 6:44? Draw us to Christ. What must first take place if anyone is to produce spiritual fruit according to John 3:5? Be born of water and Spirit. Like Lazarus, stone dead in the tomb, we must first be made alive, before we can do anything spiritual.  Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and to Him all praise is due!
2)    Our method of evangelism or presentation of the gospel is controlled by it.  Man-made methods such as special music, altar calls and testimonies of well-known people have produced many false converts.  Because of total depravity and inability salvation begins with God’s work of the new birth, not entertainment!  God uses the preaching of the gospel to urge men to believe and repent.  We must tell sinners the truth as clearly and forcefully as we can, trusting that God will open the heart to give heed (Acts 16:14).
3)    It will lead us into the practice of both godly humility because we are totally unworthy, and joyful praise because God has graciously done what we could never do.  In our Christian lives sin becomes enemy number one that we take seriously in order to put it to death (Romans 8:13).


Monday, December 14, 2015

What is the gospel?

This is a four part series seeking to show four very important elements of the gospel. I will seek to show you each on of this integral elements that, if one is repudiated, the rest fail to hold what remains as the gospel.

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All of you would say that you are not ashamed of the gospel. But do you know what it is? It is my hope to educate you on the content and substance of the gospel in the next few minutes. So what is the Gospel?
The word gospel means good news. This the one word that faithfully summarizes the message of the Bible and it is the power of God that we  must not be ashamed of at any time. May I unpack what exactly is the gospel and what it is all about:
The Gospel, though simple to understand, does require a comprehension and acceptance of what the Bible teaches first, about a Holy God, who is sovereign in creation, providence and salvation; and His judgement against sin. Secondly, it is man and sin, Thirdly and most importantly is Christ and His redemption, and it must be received in a manner that does not minimize or obliterate the human responsibility of (fourthly) repentance toward God and faith in Christ. Without a basic understanding of these four, the gospel can neither be grasped, embraced or believed, nor can it’s saving and redeeming power be experienced by sinners. If these tenets are blurred, God’s glory in salvation would be marred. We shall consider each one of them in the next four days:

1.     THE INFINITE HOLINESS OF GOD (Gen. 1; Ps. 93, 103, 139; Isa. 45; Jer. 10; 1 Jn. 1:5; Eph. 1:3-4; Rom. 9:6-24).
We do not need to speculate, wonder or hypothesize about who God is or what God is like. He has truly revealed Himself in the Bible – His nature, character, works, and plan are all explained to us in His written Word. God is the Creator of all things. He is the true and living God, the one and only God who exists from all eternity in three Persons:
·         Father,
·         Son and
·         Holy Spirit.
He is not a true God he who is presented as not triune because this is the Way God has revealed Himself from all eternity. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-wise, transcending time and space.
He is perfectly just, holy, and good. He is loving, merciful and gracious towards His creatures. He hates all that is evil with a perfect hatred and loves all that is good with a perfect love. He is infinitely higher than man in His nature, character, and thoughts. He does not answer to man nor does He owe man anything. He is utterly independent of His creation, yet He is intimately involved in the movement of every molecule, every atom, everything and controls them so that there is not a single stray molecule before Him. In one word GOD IS SOVEREIGN!
God is sovereign over His creation – all the creatures and all their actions! God brings about His purposes to pass regardless of man’s will or efforts. God accomplishes all His purposes and none can be thwarted even by the devil (Job 42:2). All things are for His glory. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).
God is also sovereign in salvation -  In the eternity past, before God put in place the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4), He elected or chose or predestined some people for salvation, out of His mere good pleasure in order to show the richness of His grace.
Romans 9:6-24 is the most detailed passage about the sovereignty of God in election.  Paul is answering the objection that salvation is not certain because so many of God’s people, the Jews, refused to believe in Christ.  The passage teaches that it was God’s purpose to save some and not all.  One of his examples is Jacob and Esau.  God chose to love Jacob before either child was born, so His choice was not because of (their) works, but because He already had a purpose of election (v.11).  This calling to salvation does not depend upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy (v.16). 
The doctrine of election not only fits in with God’s sovereignty, but also with the fact that because of sin man is totally unable to do anything to save himself.  Unless God saves, all men will continue in their sins and go to hell.  We are like a drowning man totally dependent upon another to choose to rescue us from certain death. Therefore, the sinner being enslaved to sin (as we shall shortly see in point 2. Below), is not able to make any choice, rather God who is sovereign makes the choice to save sinners.
“Predestination” is another word that is used, and it emphasizes the purpose (or goal) for which God has chosen us (see Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:5).  “Foreknowledge” is a word used to emphasize that it is God who first enters into a close relationship with men with the purpose of saving them from their utter helplessness of sin (Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:2).
There are those who wrongfully suppose that election destroys human responsibility.  This is not true, as the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty in election, and man’s responsibility to believe and be saved (this is not the same as free-will).  Throughout the Bible God addresses men as fully responsible for their own actions, yet they are unable to do anything spiritually good by their own efforts (for example, Jeremiah 13:23).  An evil man unable to do any good (Matthew 12:34). 
The doctrine of election is very practical, and is not only for special students of the Bible but all, so that the gospel presented is the gospel of God and not of men. These are the practical benefits of understanding the gospel in terms of the sovereignty of God in salvation:
·         It brings praise to God.  What does Paul do to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as he thinks about being chosen? he blessed Him (Ephesians 1:3).  What does Paul do to God because He chose the Thessalonians? Thanked Him (2 Thessalonians 2:13).  If I am chosen by God, it is by grace (Romans 11:5), and not because I have done anything to deserve it (Romans 11:6).  If the only reason I am saved is because of God’s eternal choice then I must eternally praise Him.
·         It gives assurance to the Christian.  What three other blessings does God guarantee to the one He has predestinated? Called, justified and glorified  (Romans 8:30).  If I am saved because of God’s gracious choice, there is nothing that can make God change His mind.  This is how I can be sure that in my life God works everything for my good (Romans 8:28). 
·         It makes us sinners humble.  The key of the door of salvation is in God’s hand and not in mine!  It is impossible to know the Father unless the Son reveals Him (Matthew 11:27).  I can do nothing to save myself; I deserve nothing but condemnation.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The secret of facing plenty and need


I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians. 4:10-13.
We live at a time when a teaching called prosperity gospel, or word of faith or health and wealth gospel is gaining followers by the day. Their basic tenet is that a Christian, who is a child of the King (GOD), must not suffer lack or poverty, ill-health or sickness. He must always be healthy and wealthy. According to them the Christian message of the good news is that Christ died so that you may be well in health and in possession. This emphasis on material and health prosperity is being preached in different congregations cutting through all denominations! But is this is the message of the Bible? You have heard it preached here so many times, by too many people, that I wonder if this is an uphill task to venture to deal with it in less than an hour.
Yet I must show you from the Bible that this is an unbiblical message, which by the subject that you have given me, ‘ups and downs’, you acknowledge that there are times of ups and times of downs. The life gives us both bitter and sweet, light and darkness, day and night, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, valleys and hills/mountains. It is important to know that this the way God displays both his manifold wisdom and glory. We must realize that this message of health and wealth is foreign to the Scriptures. Neither did the Lord Jesus Christ preach it, nor condone it. Neither did any of the Apostles preach it nor condone it – and so we must not. Rather we are to receive God’s providence with thanksgiving.
I could have spoken of the ups and downs of our Saviour, Christ and could have taken Hebrews 2:15 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. But I thought that some of you may say that we are different from Jesus, since He was and is God-Man in one person. Just remember that, Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Heb 2:17. The Lord Jesus Christ, went through what we have and more. We would be wise to listen to Him, for of poverty He said, so categorically, “… you will always have the poor with you.”
But I before us is Apostle Paul speaking of his own experience of ups and downs, as a believer and an apostle, with the authority of His Master, the Lord Christ. He gives a very personal and candid experience – I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound, in any and every circumstance – in plenty and hunger, in abundance and need… I have known a secret of facing all these different circumstances. This is the secret I would like us to unlock by the grace of God from this passage.
1.     Do you know how to be brought low, and how to abound in Christ?
When Paul says, “I know” it is not some subjective knowledge – it is informed by the Word of God, the truth, so that one perceives and is assured. In this word is confidence based on a settled opinion informed by the Word of God. It is the same Word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 1:12 – I know whom I have believed!
Thankfully in these words is stability and maturity of facing the ups and downs of this unpredictable life, in a fallen world of sin. We can only gain the necessary Christian stability and consistency that is so much necessary in Christian living only when we are taught of God in the scriptures. There is no doubt that there are times of being brought low, by sin, by life experiences such poverty, health, things simply not working out, people failing you, etc.
However, our stability is not in naming it and claiming it for this is utter folly. Rather, the secret is in the promises of God in His word – depend on what God has promised, not on your preferences. Your spiritual life is not dependent on positive confession – it is dependent on the grace of God as revealed in His Word.
After all, the Lord has said that He is keen to work out all things for the good of those who love Him, those that He has called according to His eternal purposes. Not a single promise in His purposes will miscarry. This knowledge gives a believer stability to know how to be brought up or down, yet abounding in Christ and in His everlasting love.
Earlier on in this book of Philippians Paul says, For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.  Php. 1:29, 30. The call to be a Christian by believing in Christ, is also a call to deny oneself and take up his cross and follow Christ. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Mat 16:24-25. Undoubtedly suffering as part of the believer’s package of the things they share with Christ (see. Philippians 3:10).
There are times when we suffer spiritual darkness and wander around in wilderness like the children of Israel. There are times when you don’t feel like praying. There are other times when you don’t feel like coming to the church. Some other times you do don’t enjoy brotherly fellowship, the Word of God. If feels like you are in the valley of the shadow of death. But there are times when you enjoy the sweet hour of prayer. You relish the bread of life, the Word of God and you cherish the Christian fellowship. How do you deal with all these changes as a Christian?
But many do not know what to abound means – it is to be in Christ. When you believe in Christ, you stop living for yourself, you stop trusting in yourself, you stop depending on yourself and you stop being earthly-minded to being heavenly-minded. Since you have been raised with Christ, you seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Because you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God, so that when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. You do this by killing every sin that wage war against your mortal bodies sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. This war is a real one and if you are not watchful you will be brought down by these terrible sins. If it brings you down, you would suffer being down. This is the most horrifying experience for a Christian – the guilt of sin.
Yet you may abound by putting on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:12-17.
This may appear too easy – but this is very difficult for a body that has known sin all its life. Bearing our cross is the most difficult of Christian living. Yet this is at the heart of the Christian faith. Christ died for sin once and we died with Him so that we may live in the newness of life. The struggle with sin – killing it to death is very difficult. The list of what is to be put to death in Colossians, begins with sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires etc. May I seek to show you how this sin is mortified. Do you struggle with lustful thoughts? Pornography and some of you may even have fallen to the actual sin of fornication. You know what guilt, shame and discomfort comes with sexual sins.
To fall into sexual sin is to be brought very low. The Lord has told us to flee from it. Do not waste time where there is potential for sexual sin, because your weak body will soon be overwhelmed. For example, when you ladies accept to meet with a gentleman in a private study in your hostels, or just the two of you at night, in a car, then what do you expect? Flee from sexual immorality (1Cor. 6:18). If you are struggling to deal with this sin in your life, and you are not making as much progress, just remember that the Lord as given us the assurance of His help. When we are faithfully killing sin, the Lord helps us.
The second antidote to sexual sin is marriage – you are all old enough to marry and be married! For the Bible says, But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband… But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1Cor. 7:2.9. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2Tim. 2:22. I counsel you then to start thinking of marriage – it is not a far-fetched idea.
Suffering lack is to be brought low. As I speak here, I know that that some of you are not sure what you shall eat. Your project is giving you headache because of the financial constraints. This can give occasion for discouragement and being brought low. Financial challenges is just another life reality. In fact, the context of this letter is to appreciate the financial gifts that the Philippian church had sent to Paul. You see this as you read on in this chapter - I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Php. 4:10-11. Paul suffered not just the anguish of bringing the gospel, but the challenge of going on in lack and poverty. But in his statement here, there is no complaint, just stating the reality in contentment. He has learnt the secret of receiving God’s providence with both hands.
2.     What is the secret of facing all these different circumstances?
The secret is Christ - I can do all things through him who strengthens me (v.13). Undoubtedly Christ strengthens us. Unless one is in Christ, in this world, when in the flesh – who is the enemy within, the defeat is inevitable. From the flesh we are constantly faced with sin, the war that we wage against our mortal bodies is a real conflict. Yet the world has so many attractions to the body. But do not love the world or what the world promises, the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and the pride in possessions. But these are not from the Father but is from the world. But remember that this world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
More than the flesh and the world, is the devil who is constantly attacking Christians in order to bring them down. Only when you are in Christ will you know the victory, For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5. If the secret is Christ, then we are to show our dependence on Him by being fervent in faith and in prayer. You pray because the Lord promised to listen. And you pray to display your faith and dependence on God, our heavenly Father. So when you don’t feel like praying these two reasons should be factored in order to encourage prayer.
Christ suffered for our sake so that we might not bear the wrath and punishment of God for His suffering was a vicarious or substitutionary suffering. His death was a sacrifice to atone for our sins. Those who believe in Christ have this hope. Christ became poor for our sake, so that through His poverty we might receive the richness of God – for in Him we are made the children of God (John 1:12-13). Therefore your hope is in Christ, not in yourself or in relatives or friends.
The secret is contentment – I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (v.11). Whether in being brought low, or in abounding, whether in plenty or hunger, abundance or need, Paul has learnt a secret of facing any and every circumstance, being in Christ – it is the joy of Christian contentment that keeps going strong. I highly recommend a book called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Boroughs (A Puritan Preacher). This book is free on line (http://www.preachtheword.com/bookstore/contentment.pdf)
Contentment begins with humility. Paul has already cited the example of Christ in embracing humility for the sake of God’s people. He exhorts us to have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Php. 2:5-8. Embrace God’s providence without complaining like our Lord.
It is on the basis of Christ-like humility that one will not be trapped in selfish ambitions, which are borne out of conceit, and high view of oneself, giving birth to materialism of our day. Rather we are to count others more significant than ourselves and not look only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Php. 2:3-4). It is for this reason he wrote to Timothy,
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 1Tim. 6:6-11.
In all the ups and downs of Christian living, do not lose your first confidence in Christ as spelt out in His Word. Do not trust in chariots, or the arm of flesh, or your wisdom. In the long run these do not hold hope for your Christian stability in the storms of this life – only Christ does. His Word is our firm foundation. His promises are the cables that keep us sailing. Do not through overboard the confidence we have in Christ.

May you know to abound in His grace in whatever situation, to be content even when you are brought low, and know how to abound. Grace to you so that in any and every circumstance, you may learn the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need