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Turning Back to God

July 26th, 2016

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out… (Acts 3:19)

Today let me share some biblical principles about conversion and spiritual renewal. These apply both to a lost person becoming a Christian and to a saved person being spiritually renewed. Christians need to be renewed from time to time. We need periodically “times of refreshing” from the Lord (Acts 3:20). Some Christians are involved in doing things that they know are wrong, and they need to repent and return to God. Some have gradually drifted away and have become cold in their hearts. They are on the edge of some serious unholy actions, but at this stage they are simply less excited about their salvation than before.

Conversion means change. In order to be saved or renewed we must repent of our sins, and repentance means more than mere sorrow for having sinned. It means more than wishing we had not been caught. It involves shame but it is more than shame alone. It means to stop going in the wrong direction and to start going in the right direction.

When we speak of conversion we mean something deep within our hearts has happened. God has given a witness to us through his Word. His Word makes us “wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 3:15), and without a clear and relevant message from God we cannot be converted (Rom. 10:17).

The Spirit also is active in the process of conversion. He convicts the human heart of our need of forgiveness, and of the offer of new life in Christ. He impresses upon us the urgency of the matter to where a person, who had given no thought to God or righteousness or his own sins, is suddenly convicted and knows in his heart of hearts that he must repent then and there (John 16:8-11).

We must also have someone to break the chains that Satan has put on our hearts. Satan is a deceiver, so this is mostly done through preaching the truth about Christ, yet there must be some means that comes from outside of ourselves that prevents him from stealing the Word from our hearts before it can take root (Matt 13:19).

But beyond the work of God there is a mysterious part that we must play ourselves. We are commanded to turn, to be converted. Though we cannot turn without the message from God and without the Spirit of God, there is still something that we are called to do. We must willfully choose to reject sin and to choose Christ.

Some people use the expression, “Let go and let God!” But I believe this statement misrepresents scripture and suggests that God will just hypnotize us when he wants us to get right with him. The Bible, however, calls us to specific action, to turn from sin and turn to Christ. It does not tell us to merely wait until the mood strikes, but to respond immediately to the call of God to draw near him.

Augustus H. Strong, in his classic Systematic Theology wrote:

Conversion is that voluntary change in the mind of the sinner, in which he turns, on the one hand, from sin, and on the other hand, to Christ. The former or negative element in conversion, namely, the turning from sin, we (call) repentance. The latter or positive element in conversion, namely, the turning to Christ, we (call) faith… Conversion is the human side or aspect of that fundamental spiritual change which, as viewed from the divine side, we call regeneration. It is simply man’s turning. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 829

The scriptures recognize our part in this matter of conversion just as they recognize God’s part. God turns us to himself. For examples, we read: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation…” (Psalm 84:4), and, “Bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God” (Jeremiah 31:18). And there are many other scriptures we could call on for evidence of God’s work in our salvation.

We also read that people are encouraged and exhorted to turn to God as well. For examples, “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my Spirit to you” (Prov. 1:23), and, “Turn to him from whom people have deeply revolted, O children of Israel” (Isaiah 31:6).

God is the Author of a new heart and a new spirit, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psa. 51:10). But people are commanded also to make for themselves a new heart and a new spirit, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

The point is that we should not just sit and wait for God to do what he has clearly commanded us to do. We cannot repent without God’s enlightenment and conviction in our hearts. But we are commanded to then do the work of repentance and conversion ourselves, as he enables us.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double minded. Be afflicted, mourn and weep, let you laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:7-10

Daily Devotions, Spiritual Recovery , , ,

Hold No Grudge

May 26th, 2016

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Holding a grudge against others (Groll zu hegen) damages our relationship with God. The only way to live in the fullness of the Spirit is to release any anger or bitterness toward others into the hands of God.

In the wisdom of God two large images are used in the Bible for Christ and the Holy Spirit. For Christ the image is the lamb of God, and for the Spirit the image is the dove. The Spirit came upon Christ at his baptism by John, and that followed the pronouncement by John, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Dove came upon the Lamb, and both are timid creatures in nature - illustrations of peace and gentleness. The Spirit of God comes to indwell us when we trust in Christ - when we take the Lamb of God slain for our sins, the Dove of God seals us in him.

And in our daily life, the filling of the Spirit depends on letting the lamb-like gentleness of Christ rule our hearts. When we become unforgiving, lion-like in vengeance and retaliation, the Spirit cannot fill us with himself. We will find ourselves working against God, trying to mettle in his unique business of perfecting vengeance. Our business is to overcome evil with goodness. Unforgiveness and the holding of grudges in our hearts embitters our spirits until we lash out at others whether they deserve it or not. Unforgiveness has terrible aim, and it is as likely to wound a friend as it is an enemy - quite often more likely.

Christ was not this way. Forgiveness was his mission because grace and love were his nature.

He was also the spotless Lamb. Not only did nothing escape His lips, but there was nothing in His heart but love for those who had sent Him to the Cross. There was no resentment towards them, no grudges, no bitterness. Even as they were putting the nails through His hands, He was murmuring, “I forgive you,” and He asked His Father to forgive them too. He was willing to suffer it in meekness for us. But what resentment and bitterness have not we had in our hearts - toward this one and that one, and over so much less than what they did to Jesus. Each reaction left a stain on our hearts, and the Dove had to fly away because we were not willing to bear it and forgive it for Jesus’ sake. (Roy Hession)

We cannot measure up to Christ’s standard of love for others without the filling of the Spirit, but God does require us to “as far as it depends on [us]” to “live peaceably with all.” This means leaving the people who have offended us in the hands of God. If we become lamb-like in spirit, humble, forgiving, gentle, the Dove of God will fill us with himself. He will increase our gentleness and forgiveness toward others.

We must first accept him as our substitute Lamb for our sins, and to come before him in confession of our sins, in our helplessness and hopelessness and find the help and hope that he offers. He is our Lamb, who was slain for our sins and in him alone do we find forgiveness. We must also come to him in the awareness and conviction of whom we have not forgiven, against whom we hold grudges, and confess these to him. We must surrender these individuals to him, and desire to seek to overcome evil with good.

We cannot truly forgive like Christ until Christ fills us with his Spirit, so all that God requires is confession and faith in him. Then, when we meet his conditions, when we see in ourselves nothing good to accomplish his will, when we see in him the means to accomplish all of these things, we may boldly ask for the filling of His Spirit, which he is prepared to do in our hearts.

Spiritual Recovery, The Deeper Christian Life , , ,