Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Do Not Turn to a Gospel that Cannot Save

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” –Galatians 1:6

In my experience, my greatest growth in Christ-likeness has come from honest encounters. Friends who labored in loving me, getting to know me, and over time developed a Christian love willing to even confront me. I have grown in being a good friend when I am confronted with Scripture where I have not been a good friend. Same in my role as a husband, a dad, a pastor.

Paul was such a godly, trusted man who had labored with the church in Galatia (Acts16:6, Acts 18:23). Paul knew the Christians of the church of the Galatians. This is why he could pen, “I am astonished.” He had spent time “strengthening the disciples” in Galatia (Acts 18:23), so he was confident they knew the gospel of the grace of Christ. In his letter of confrontation, he begins by saying just how astonished he was they would desert the preaching of the grace of Christ in favor of a false gospel.

Abandoning the grace of Christ for false versions of Christianity which cannot save is much of the pastor’s concern, and Paul’s concern led to direct confrontation. There are no other gospels (vs 7), and we Christians should be so confident in the gospel preached to us that even if Paul or an angel told us otherwise, we would quickly disregard them and hold to grace (vs 8).

Apparently, some Judaizers told the church that a real Christian must be circumcised and hold to Jewish dietary laws, but to add this to the gospel of grace severs one from Christ and has “fallen away from grace” (5:6). Paul desires to raise those fallen back to grace. He blesses with grace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:3, 6:18).

The threat to the church in Galatia, and any local church, is another gospel which promises a higher spiritual life apart from the gospel of grace. How can I be perfectly right in the eyes of God to achieve the higher spiritual life and receive His blessings? This question is answered by false gospel preachers by changing grace from being free to being won by things we do. In Galatia, the Judaizers even used the Bible to teach that.

The Judaizers sought to boast in the markings of circumcision in the flesh of Gentile Christians who would fall prey to their boastings. What they wanted in their boastings was a tolerance from Gentile Christians who were taught a gospel of grace rather than an idea of being justified by works of the Law of Moses. Otherwise, if these Gentile Christians held to grace in Christ rather than be severed from Him, they would face “persecution” (6:12).

Paul reminds us that those preaching justification by works themselves do not keep the Law (6:13), but impose high standards on others simply to boast. Self-righteousness and boasting go hand-in-hand with false gospel preachers.

The local church is strengthened only in the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ. Paul’s efforts to “strengthening the disciples” should be imitated by the church. Her pastors and teachers should boast only in their weakness (II Corinthians12:9) and in the cross of Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14). The pulpits and Bible studies must be places where Christians are reminded we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In the cross of Christ, the Father by His own choosing blesses with His favor which cannot be earned and freely justifies sinners and blesses we who deserve the death penalty with life. Everlasting life as if we lived the life Jesus lives. From our salvation of God’s free grace, we now live solely in grace; that is, solely by what Jesus Christ has earned for us giving us fellowship with God and one another (I John1:3).

Christian, be encouraged. Jesus saves sinners. Not our works or following along any powerful words of spiritual guides who promise higher spiritual life apart from the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The power to obey the commands of Christ are rendered no longer burdensome when the same power of the Holy Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in you (Romans 8:11).

Heavenly Father, we as a church rejoice in Your unmerited favor for us in Christ Jesus. Protect us from false gospels which allure us into the devil’s traps of earning and boasting in our doings rather than rejoicing in the works of Jesus Christ. Remind us regularly of Your gospel of free grace, that You justify sinners by grace alone received by faith alone in Christ alone. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Born-Again to Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” -I John 4:7

Belief in the Son of God leads to loving one another as Christians. Genuine faith loves the church whom God loves because God is love (4:7-8). Anyone born again by God actively loves God’s people and repents when confronted by God’s Word when failing to love. This is what John argues for in his first letter.

It is a theme played over and over again in the New Testament. Our faith leads to good works. What are these good works? The commands of Christ. In His Great Commission, our Lord tells us to make and baptize disciples, “teaching them to observe all I commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). What has our Lord commanded us? To love one another (John 13:34).

John tells us God is the source of love and love is His nature. This love of God has been revealed to us by sending us His Son Jesus (I John 4:9). God sent us His Son not because we loved Him but because He loved us (4:10). And we are certain of His love for us because He laid down His life for us (I John 3:16).

The love that God is and does by sending His Son who laid down His life for us is the love we ought to love one another with. John warns us, “Anyone who does not love does not know God” (4:8). Such a person is like Cain (I John 3:12) and be found murderers with the same hatred in our hearts (3:15). Our Lord taught us to not only love those who love us, but our enemies and people who hurt us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Love opens your heart to the needs of others (I John 3:17-18). As Paul commands, love carries others burdens in obedience to Christ’s commands (Galatians 6:2). Genuine love hates evil while holding to good (Romans 12:9). Love sets the mind to the excellencies of Christ above, having put off sin and put on compassionate, loving hearts being kind, humble, and patient with our dealings with others (Colossians 3:1-12). Love bears burdens of others and is quick to forgive (3:13-14).

Ephesians 4:2 reiterates that our faith puts on love and love’s obedience is displayed in our relationships by being humble, gentle, patient, and load bearing.

Consider Hosea and Gomer, a prophet of God and a prostitute turned unfaithful wife. This tells us a great deal of the patient, load-bearing love of God who first loved us, sought after us when we were not seeking (Romans 3:10–12), proving His love having sent to us His Son Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans5:8). God’s great love for us made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians2:4-5).

The good news for those with faith in Christ is the assurance His love for us is inseparable (Romans 8:38–39). God has proven His love for us, we ought to love one another (I John 4:11).

Consider those you have not reached out to in a while. Be intentional in finding ways to serve others in the love of Christ. Pray for opportunities to serve and display Christ’s love for you. In our love for one another we are promised that we see displayed the presence of our invisible God in and with us (4:12).

Heavenly Father, our souls rejoice in Your great love, displayed in sending Your Son Jesus Christ that we may be reconciled to our forgiving God who loved us first that we may love one another. Give us opportunities to serve one another and display Your love poured into our hearts born-again by Your Spirit. We praise You, our God of love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, February 5, 2024

A Delight to Know God

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” –Psalm 111:2

Every work of God is a great work worthy of study. From distant planets to standing still at the extraordinary beauty of a mountain landscape, even the gradual sanctification of a sinner’s heart, are all great works of God. The one who loves God studies His works with their minds and delights with pleasure in their hearts.

Psalm37 welcomes us to delight ourselves in God and in turn He will give you what delights our hearts. We are to love God and find delight in getting to know Him. Repentance is often simply referred to as a turning, but the turn is in delights. Delight not in the evils of the world, but turn and delight yourself in the Lord. Who God is and the great works He performs is the delight of our souls and the drive of the study of our mind.

Think of I Peter 2, where Peter contends that Christ who was rejected by this world is the stone rejected by the builders and has become the Cornerstone, is whom we Christians proclaim the excellencies of (I Peter 2:9). Study with delight in the Lord of what these “excellencies” of Christ are! The deep needs and longings of the human heart are not only satisfied in Christ, but our cups run over! Christ is the treasure of abundance of delight!

I stood on a mountaintop in Ilam, Nepal, and suddenly the vast, beautiful landscape made me feel so small. To paraphrase Psalm 8, “When I study the heavens, the great work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars, who am I that God is mindful of me?” There is indeed delight in my soul when I study the great works of God.

God is great and His works are great. We are invited to think deeply, to study His Word, with hearts filled with abundant delight. For the great pleasure of beholding His great works is awarded another pleasure: God answers our requests to grant us the desires of our heart. The request to have a heart committed to the Lord with delight is granted.

This means we are to delight in what God delights in. God delights in showing mercy to pardon sin and forgive transgression (Micah 7:18). We are to delight in showing mercy. The Christian’s goal in life is to give pleasure to God (IICorinthians 5:9). We sing to God with joy because God takes pleasure in His people (Psalms 149:4-5). We take pleasure singing to God and singing with the church gathered whom God delights in.

As Augustine stated, “Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure. Where your treasure is, there is your heart. Where your heart is, there is your happiness.” We are invited to be happy in Jesus, to study happily the great works of Jesus.

Psalm16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Eternal pleasures are with God, and the path to eternal pleasures is guided by our Good Shepherd who leads us into fellowship with God through His shed blood. Oh, to take pleasure in God! To proclaim such excellencies! To glorify and enjoy God forever! What delightful duty we enjoy to study His great works and proclaim Christ’s excellencies our minds are delightfully held captive to!

Heavenly Father, grant us the joy and knowing and studying Your great works. May the great work of grace in Christ Jesus be the joyful subject we study deeply and proclaim the excellencies of to a dark, perishing world. Fill our hearts with delight in You and Your Word. We ask Your mercies and the reward of delight in You all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, January 1, 2024

A New Year's Habit

“Let us not forsake meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” –Hebrews 10:25

The time of changing our calendars is upon us, and it is customary to make goals or resolutions for the New Year. What is your goal? Is your desire to lose weight, to make the habit of going to the gym, make the habit reading more and less screen time, to learn a new skill? Is your habit, from the desire of your heart, to go to church?

The Book of Hebrews deals with the human problem of making it a habit to skip church. Higher priorities can be stressed in our lives, placing Christ’s command to gather and be a living part of the local church community as secondary. We could be busy like Martha with things that seem so important, looking down at Mary who surrendered the busyness for the good portion of learning at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42).

This verse warns not to forsake the gathering, which means to abandon the church gathered. We can make a habit of it, and before long we see the merciful benefits of gathering at church as simply not as important as other things. We lose out on being encouraged in the faith and encouraging others. And the great warning is, we find ourselves ill-prepared for the approaching Day of the Lord.

First, there is the old habit of pride. To think I can get along just fine in life without the encouragement of Christ in His church gathered. I don’t need His church just as I don’t need Him. Besides, like Martha, we can say, “there is too much to do in the kitchen.” It isn’t that things which make us busy isn’t important, but that gathering for church to hear God’s Word, to be encouraged, and to encourage others is the “one thing” that is necessary (Luke 10:42).

Second, we can fall prey to the temptation that we are not needed in the church anyways. I can easily let my social anxieties or feelings to be an indicator of whether or not something is worth me being there. However, as a pastor, I cannot count on two hands how many saints I have held hands with as they slowly slipped into death, or what our Savior calls, “only sleeping” (Matthew 9:24). I don’t say much, but I know my mere presence with them in a heart of care for them was the type of fellowship in the bond of peace the Spirit makes us willing and eager to be there for.

We are, as Spirit-filled Christians, commanded to be eager to maintain the bond of peace the Spirit blesses the church gatherings in. Our eagerness fails in our rebellion to this command, seeking out worldly busyness in exchange for that blessed bond of peace in the gathering. To disobey our Lord in a grace habit of gathering in church regularly is a desire to divide that bond of peace.

As a dad and pastor, I want to encourage you to make the habit this year to make church gatherings a priority. I know many distractions come, many pressures pull, but like Mary, I pray your heart sees the good portion of being gathered to worship Christ. For you and your family’s sake. Believe it or not, the church needs to hear babies cry and see parents with their children, even in their struggles. And you need them.

Our Lord did not make worship gatherings to be a place of personal preference, but of worship. Yet, He intends to bless us. He made church gatherings to be a place to encourage our faith and to encourage others in our pursuit to love one another. All this to prepare each other for that eternal Day of the church gathered with Christ forever.

When we get to that eternal Day, all the earth’s busyness and accolades will vanish in the preeminent glory of the presence of Christ. On that Day, we will not look back on our life wishing ourselves too busy for church, wishing to spend more time at work than with family, regretting any moment in church over earthly busyness. No, we will see why Mary chose the good portion of being with Jesus rather than busyness. Beloved, make church attendance a primary habit this year for your benefit and the benefit of others.

Heavenly Father, stir in us a desire for a habit to go to church. Give us wisdom to pursue others in need of encouragement; give us humility to seek encouragement from others in church. Prepare us for the Day of the Lord in our church gatherings in our longing for that eternal Day. How we long for that Day. How long, O Lord? Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Sign of the Manger

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” –Luke 2:12

The night started like any other night for the shepherds. They had shepherded the flock to a good pasture outside the small village of Bethlehem. Perhaps they had just finished a snack from their scrip and sat on the ground as comfortably as possible for the long night of watching their flock.

God had taken human flesh in the womb of Mary, and the long-awaited Messiah was born this day in the City of David. The city of Bethlehem. The city of the shepherd boy who became king of Israel. These shepherds heard the heavenly host give them a sign. The infant Messiah will be found wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a stone feeding trough.

These shepherds would be all too familiar with outdoor stone troughs for feeding livestock, but jarred to see “this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15) as the King would be swaddled and lying in a manger! Yet, Mary laid the infant Messiah in the manger because “there was no room for them in the lodging place” (Luke2:7). Why was Mary in Bethlehem? The mighty ruler of the world, Caesar Augustus, decreed a census (Luke 2:1). God’s mighty King of the world was swaddled, lying in a manger outside.

God took on flesh in Christ. He “was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” but became a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). This is the mind of His united church who humbly count others more significant than themselves, looking after one another’s interests in love (Philippians 2:2-4).

The shepherds returned to their flock on what appears an ordinary night, but they returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke2:20). They had not seen an earthly royal scene. No palace, not even indoors! No gold or royal garments, just the night sky and swaddling cloths. They rejoiced in God for the sign was just as they had been told.

Reader, the gospel of Jesus Christ is just as we are told in Scripture. He became like us in every way to suffer as the sacrificial lamb and made atonement as the faithful high priest to destroy the devil’s power of death and death’s fear in our short lifetime of slavery (Hebrews 2:14-18). Christ nailed the believer’s record of death and triumphantly disarmed the devil of his power of death and accusation on His cross (Colossians 2:14-15).

Christmas is a yearly reminder of “this thing that has happened” that, like the shepherds, we may go on our ordinary lives glorifying and praising God for fulfilling His promise in His Word sending Christ into the world to save His children. This is good news to believe for yourself, dear reader. To be freed from death and the power of death, to be reconciled to God to enjoy Him forever, all through Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, we glorify and praise You for sending Christ Jesus Your Son into the world to save sinners, that You were pleased to crush Him and give us life. Grant to us, Your church, to have the same mind in Christ. All glory and praise to the name of our God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

John Newton: The King of Kings is our Friend

18th Century minister John Newton, the former slave trader, author of Cardiphonia, deeply thought about the Christian's future. In exposition of Revelation 19:16, "On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords," Newton compared the Christian's earthly dishonor to the coming glory guaranteed by Christ who is King of kings and the Christian's friend.

"How great is the dignity and privilege of true believers! Is the man congratulated or envied whom the king delights to honor? Believers are more frequently despised than envied in this world. But they may congratulate one another. The King of kings is their Friend. They have honors and pleasures which the world knows nothing of. Their titles are high, they are the "sons and the daughters of the Lord Almighty," (II Corinthians 6:18). Their possessions are great, for "all things are theirs" (I Corinthians 3:21). They are assured of what is best for them in this life, and of life eternal hereafter. They are now nearly related to the King of kings, and shall ere long be acknowledged and owned by him, before assembled worlds. They who now account the proud happy, will be astonished and confounded when they shall see the righteous, whom they once undervalued, 'shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of God.'"

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Joy in Capturing Souls

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” –Proverbs 11:30

I was recently in a grocery store examining hot sauces for the best sauce with the lowest sodium. A stranger approached me in my peripheral without my notice. “Mister,” said the elderly man, “can I give you something?” His right hand outstretched toward me as I held my angle toward the hot sauces. In his hand was a gospel tract. I took the tract and looked him in the eyes. He was smiling as he asked me, “Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

Social taboos did not stop him from telling a complete stranger about Jesus. The encounter led my mind to think about the depths of love a Christian has for Christ who should be worshiped by all people, and the depths of love for lost sinners to tell even strangers of Jesus.

This Holy Spirit inspired Proverb tells us that the Christian is a fruit-bearer, not only as a personal blessing, but in the capturing of souls. Souls on the path to death captured by the wise Christian unashamed of the gospel as the power of God to save sinners (Romans 1:16).

The wise fruit-bearing Christian “brings back a sinner from his wandering” and saves “his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). This fruit-bearing is wisdom of love that covers the transgressions of others in the soul-capturing efforts, not stirring divisions in hatred (Proverbs 10:12). Such soul-winners are upright in heart, wise in fruit-bearing.

This elderly stranger had an affection for Christ and for me in the simplicity of handing me a tract and asking me about my relationship with my Lord. An affection that exceeded any social fears or politeness to keep to himself. What an honorable quality.

Christian, you are called by the Father, equipped by the Holy Spirit and His Word, and commissioned by Christ Jesus to be a capturer of souls. For the salvation of lost souls into eternal joy, and for the gladness to our Savior’s heart, be a soul-winner. Spurgeon puts it best:

“What would you give to cause a thrill of pleasure in the heart of the Well-beloved? Recollect the grief you cost Him, and the pangs that shot through Him that He might deliver you from your sin and its consequences; do you not long to make Him glad? When you bring others to His feet, you give Him joy, and no small joy either. Is not that a wonderful text,—'There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth'?” (TheSoul-Winner).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us give our Savior joy and do the work of an evangelist. Let us spend ourselves to the saving of souls. May the pains and griefs of a dying world stir our hearts to tell them the good news carried by beautiful feet. Let us love Christ and our neighbors to speak in the name of Jesus to others.

Heavenly Father, increase our love for our Savior and compassion for the lost. Make us wise in Your holy Scripture; make us fishers of men. Make us capturers of souls, bringing the lost to the feet of our Savior. Grant to us the words to say we ought and boldness to speak them. All to glorify the great name of our mighty working God of grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.