Tag Archives: holiness

Our Greatest Need

26 Jul

The missing element in many American churches today is a real and deep understanding that being a Christian means following Jesus. Christianity is about time and eternity. We have boiled down the essence of Christianity to having right doctrine or having some past decision for Christ to lean on or having life enhancement to make my earthly journey more comfortable or happy or purposeful. So I can fail to pay my taxes as long as I hold to the doctrines of grace. Or I can treat my family like trash because I trusted Jesus when I was 11 and so I’m going to heaven. Or I can commit adultery because my spouse is inattentive because after all, God wants me to be happy, right? These false approaches are entirely out of step with the New Testament, where Jesus tells us, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Now to be sure, we can’t keep the commandments of Jesus apart from the power of Jesus. A living relationship with Jesus is essential and that relationship is understood and defined through sound doctrine, a biblical understanding of the gospel and it does have as a by-product a security and joy of heart that is a great blessing.  Jesus says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Most Christians know the basics of the gospel. They know God sent Jesus to die in our place, to bring forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. Most know that we are saved by grace, not works. But there are certain truths which flow from the gospel that we have diminished our ignored and most of these have to do with our present lives. This ignorance of the present power of the gospel and the ensuing failure to walk in that power is the explanation for much of the hypocrisy and weakness in the American Church* today.

So by all means, let us recapture good gospel doctrine. Doctrine like adoption. We are part of God’s family now through the work of Jesus. We are sons and daughters of God. We have a secure place to grow in the family of God. God calls all His people to gather together with other believers for encouragement and worship and equipping. The doctrine of adoption forms a solid foundation for the local church. We are not a loose association of individuals. We are family. Let us recapture the doctrine of grace-empowered obedience. We are so allergic to anything that smacks of rule-keeping or legalism that we have moved to the other side and give everyone a license to do anything in the name of Christian liberty. By all means, many matters of preference are matters of Christian liberty and provide us opportunities to love and serve one another and to get along in spite of differences. But many other matters are matters of Christian obedience. Jesus commands us to seek first the kingdom of God, to serve one another, to love one another, to give generously, to endure persecution faithfully, to pray and not give up, to abide in Him, to not lust and covet, to not be ruled by the cares of this world or the deceitfulness of wealth. Dozens of other commands come just from the teachings of Jesus, not to mention other Scripture. So what do we do with those commands? If we ignore them and do our own thing we dishonor God, put ourselves on a destructive path and become a terrible witness for the kingdom. If we cry “legalism” or “works-righteousness” at this point we deny the voice of Jesus, because He tells us in the gospels alone dozens of things we ought to do. We sometimes criticize those who call themselves “Red Letter Christians,” who pay attention primarily to the words of Jesus and minimize other parts of Scripture. But are we not in danger of making the opposite mistake in the name of grace? Might we not be guilty of minimizing the commandments of Jesus in a misguided effort to uphold grace.

Here is the bottom line . . . in the Bible, grace changes us. Those Jesus saves are never left the same. Sanctification may be a messy, slow, frustrating process (mostly due to our stubborn hearts) but it is a reality. The one who began the work will see it through. So if you profess faith in Christ but see no growth in obedience to Him, no growing depth of love for Him, no progress in faithfulness, then all your sound doctrine and all your past experience and all your expectation of blessing should really be replaced by repentance and faith.

While it is undeniable that there is significant gospel ignorance in our culture, it is more true I think that we suffer more from a lack of gospel living than from a lack of gospel information. There is a connection of course and there is a sense in which many people do not thrive because they do not really understand how the gospel is to affect every day life. But many of us, I think, understand these things. We just don’t want to live by them. We are happier in our minds being our own Lord. But no man can serve two masters. And I wonder, if we have lived our lives being our own Lord here, what makes us think we will want to bow the knee to God when we pass into eternity? If we don’t really want to live under His authority here, why in the world would we want to live under His authority there? If heaven is going to be like Thanksgiving dinner with family members you barely talk to and hardly know, is it really going to be heaven?

It is interesting that in John’s gospel, both love and belief are linked to obedience (John 3:36; John 14:15). So obedience is not opposed to loving and trusting Jesus, it is an expression of love and trust. Don’t buy the lie that it is legalism to follow your Lord. And don’t buy the lie that you’re OK as long as you have right doctrine. And especially don’t buy the lie that God exists to make you the center of the universe and to give you what you want without hardship. Trust the Lord to work the full implications of the gospel into your life, so that while you are not perfect, you are being perfected and you are walking in the strength of a life lived by faith in Jesus Christ.


*I dislike the phrase “the American Church” because it is so broad and too general but I can’t really think of an alternative term so take it here with the reservation that I am not saying every single church or every single Christian is characterized by these things.


Behold Your God — Week Six, Day Three

5 Jul

Christ is the ground, the strength and the goal of holiness. Holiness must always be rooted in Him to be real and to be pleasing to God.

How do we root our lives in Christ? By faith. Just as we came to know Christ through faith, so we grow in holiness by faith. Faith involves trusting in Christ’s righteousness for our salvation and growth in holiness. In practice, this trust involves looking to Jesus and looking away from sin.

Looking to Jesus means we continue to remember who He is and what He is done, we remember what He has done for us, and we trust Him to continue His good work in us. We walk with Him in prayer and the Word and seek to share Him with others. To look away from sin is to turn away from the things John mentions in 1 John . . . the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. These desires can distract us, discourage us and ultimately destroy us. So we put on Christ and put off sin (see Colossians 3).

So today, are you seeking to walk in holiness? Are you sensitive to your sin and ready to confess it and forsake it? Are you walking with Jesus and trusting His power to change you? Are you more excited about Jesus than the gifts God has given you in this life?

Behold Your God — Week Six Introduction

2 Jul

The focus in this week’s study will be the call to personal holiness. It is critically important not to run off the rails here. Where many people go wrong is in thinking justification is by faith but sanctification is by works. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us otherwise . . . “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” Paul’s letter to Titus tells us much the same in chapter 2 . . . “For the grace of God has appeared . . . training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.” So the principle of faith, of trusting in Christ, is not only necessary for our justification, it is also necessary for our sanctification. So when we talk about personal holiness it is important to never separate the call to holiness from the spiritual power God gives, otherwise, we have turned sanctification into works righteousness.

Sunday Evening Bible Study — Romans 6:20-23 — “The Payoff and the Gift”

15 Jan

The Bible is a bottom-line book. It often points to the results of different courses of life. We, on the other hand, often don’t look down the line to the results of our actions. We are driven by emotion or impulse. This is one reason why America has so much credit card debt and so much divorce and so much addiction. We don’t look down the line and see either the good of walking in right ways or the destruction of choosing our own ways.
I believe the Bible talks about results so often because we need to be reminded that to walk with God is worth it. In spite of the very real sorrows we face. In spite of our own failings, our own sins, our consistent falling short. In spite of the things we see happen to other people that break our hearts. In spite of all this, it is worth it. God often points to the long-term blessings of knowing Him because He knows that life will often lead us to believe that it is not so. And on the other hand, the Bible often warns against the uselessness of sin because God knows we will often be drawn to sin, thinking it will be a good long term solution for our sorrows.
Tonight we come to a short but significant passage. If you get this and walk in it every day, you will set yourself up for a God-glorifying, joyful and useful life. Let’s look at the end of chapter 6 together.
Now as we go back to chapter 6, we remember that Paul has been taking about sin as a slave master and Jesus and the one who has removed the authority of sin over our lives through His death. As verse 15 tells us, we have been brought out from under service to sin and are now slaves to righteousness. This example of slavery was imperfect. For we are not only slaves, but also beloved sons and daughters, so Paul even told us in verse 19 that he was speaking in human terms to help us understand what was happening.
Now in this final part of chapter 6, Paul will summarize and point to the results of living under sin versus living under the authority of Christ.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
This for in verse 20 relates to that last line of verse 19. Paul reminds us that we once presented the members of our bodies as slaves to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, but now we are commanded to present our members to righteousness leading to sanctification. In other words, walk in light of the change that has come to you through union with Christ.
So what Paul is going to do in verses 21 and 22 is to provide further reason for presenting our members to righteousness by showing how futile sin really is in our lives. We see that by his first words, “when you were slaves of sin.” Now he is talking to Christians here, telling them that they had been slaves of sin. One of the interesting things in this passage is the Greek verb tenses. There are many verb tenses in Greek. In English we have mainly past, present and future tense but Greek has many more. The most common Greek tenses are present and aorist. Aorist is the tense of simple action. It is recording that something happened but without real regard to time. Some Greek scholars call it the vanilla tense. But a less common tense is called the imperfect. The imperfect tense points to continual action in the past. Now what is interesting when we come to this passage is that the verbs here, when talking about sin, are imperfect tense, but when talking about our present life as believers, they are all aorist tense. Now that is interesting because it seems to point to the idea that our past lives were our own doing while we have been brought into our present life by the work of God and that is what we will see clearly when we get to verse 23.
When this passage says we were free from righteousness, it means we were under the power of sin and therefore not able to please God. Isn’t it said that apart from Christ there is a real freedom and people feel that, but it is a freedom to be apart from righteousness. The freedom of doing your own thing feels like freedom to many people but in the end it leads to death. Now the thing for us as Christians, the heart of the battle, is for us to remember this truth. This is what Paul wants to hammer home in the last verses of chapter 6. He wants us to remember the payoff of sin so that we will not walk back into its slavery but will continue to wholeheartedly serve Jesus. So he reminds us in verse 21 . . .
21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
When Paul says “what fruit were you getting” he is looking at the payoff. What were the results of this life of sin? Notice the phrase “at that time.” Many people live as though sin is really the best way to live in the present time but for eternity it is bad, so they pray a prayer to cover heaven and then live for themselves under slavery to sin. They would never say it, but they look at it as a way of having their cake and eating it too. The problem is, it is not a cake, it is a mud pie. Even worse, it is a cow patty. Even worse, it is a deadly poison, killing us in this life and bringing to our souls eternal death. So we need to remember this. The life of sin holds nothing for us in the present besides a truck load of shame.
I think our tendency at times as Christians can be to look at people apart from Christ and envy them and wonder why it seems that they prosper even as they have no shame. There are people who have tremendous mental gifts who invest their lives in tearing down the things of God and standing against the Scriptures. The movie stars in their nice houses seem to be having such a good time and their lives seem so problem free. But this verse tells us that appearances are deceiving. The end of these things is death and being in the midst of them is not so nice either.
I thought there was a psalm that was particularly fitting for this passage in Romans, so I wanted to read it to you. It is a psalm of Asaph, psalm 73 . . .
1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

Now as we get to verse 22, we see the contrast between the death-giving way of slavery to sin and the life-giving way of slavery to God. Look at verse 22 . . .

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
The verbs here, have been set free and have become slaves of God are both aorist, they are pointing to the finished work of Christ. Through His death and resurrection we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God. So the fruit is very different. Not shame, not regret, but holiness. Not death, but eternal life. So there is an immediate benefit of Christlikeness and there is the ultimate of being with Christ forever. The tense of the verb “leads to sanctification” here is present tense. So the focus here is on the present benefits of the work of God on our behalf.
Now by way of application we can talk for just a minute about the connection between sanctification and eternal life. We have been saying all along that sanctification is a part of salvation. Salvation is past, present and future. So the conclusion we draw from this truth and from verse 22 is that if there is no change in my life, if I am only living in slavery to sin, I have reason to believe that I may not be saved. In other words, if the present aspect of salvation is not happening in my life, the future aspect will not be there either. This is why James said faith without works is dead, not because good works lead to salvation but because good works result from real salvation. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7 that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is really saved. This is why John quotes Jesus saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Good fruit points to a good root. This is why the author of Hebrews said in chapter 12 that without holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” If there is no fruit or if it is all bad fruit, you are trusting in the wrong thing to be saved. This is a critical message for our churches. There are all sorts of unsaved people in churches. How do I know that? Fruit. There is so much rotten fruit. A lack of hunger for the Word of God. No desire to sing praises to God. No apparent life of prayer. Very little sharing of our faith. Little service of others. Rampant sin. Worldliness in our entertainment choices. Worldliness in our dress. Worldliness in our leering looks and our internet habits. Sin in broken marriages, broken relationships in the church, lack of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of things that lead to death. Now we can bemoan this, we can go around trying to figure out who is saved and who is not. But I don’t think that is very helpful. By all means, test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. But more than anything, what we need to do is live in light of who we are as believers. Just like there was a faithful remnant in Israel, there is often a church within a church. And what we want to do is not run around judging everybody so much as to be the people of God. And what I pray for is this: may your tribe increase. May the percentage of the faithful increase over the years and may the percentage of the apathetic, the unengaged, the fruitless diminish year after year. But I pray they don’t diminish by leaving but by drawing near to God in sincere faith. This is my prayer, that we would each embrace by faith the world-shaking gospel we have in Jesus Christ. He is not a tie clip, he is not an accessory to make things a little more comfortable. He changes everything. The danger is focusing on whether everybody else is there. We shouldn’t spend too much time taking everybody else’s temperature. But when you see that spark of hunger and life in a person, love them, get to know them, encourage them, be there for them.
Enough soapbox. Let’s finish tonight with one of the golden verses of the Bible. Present yourselves as slaves to righteousness. Why?
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now remember back to Romans 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
So here is the payoff. Sin will pay you off. It will give you death. I read up on this word wages quite a bit. Some people think it refers to the provisions soldiers got for their supplies and their needs, kind of like a stipend, that which sustained them in their work. Others point to evidence that this word was used with reference to money that slaves could earn for various work, and sometimes could even collect to purchase their freedom. In either case, to me it doesn’t matter. Because the point here is that what sin pays is death. For all our allegiance to it, in the end it gives us death. Notice here that the big contrast is between wages and the gift. Our wages for sin are what we deserve for our lives of sin: we deserve death.
But notice the gift. The gift is eternal life. The future of life with God is his gift. We earn death when we live in sin but when we live in holiness you do not earn eternal life. It is still a gift, far greater than we could imagine, far more than we ever deserve. Eternal life is based not on our work but is based on the work of Christ.
Matthew Henry says, “for he does not say, the wages of good deeds, “but the gift of God;” to show, that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. And so there was a superiority for this cause also, in that He did not free them only, or change their condition for a better, but that He did it without any labor or trouble upon their part: and that He not only freed them, but also gave them much more than before, and that through His Son.”
So remember the gift. Better than anything you’ll ever get under the tree. And remember that it is all through Jesus Christ

For All My Friends Who Are Pastors or Sunday School Teachers: Remember This Today and Be Encouraged . . .

4 Nov

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. 

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. 

Titus 2:11-15

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