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Archive for July, 2018

Persevering in Love

July 31st, 2018

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)

If I may be transparent, here is a scripture that I disobey regularly. I do not usually greet the various trials of life and ministry with “pure joy.” If I can even muster the slightest amount of neutrality on the matter, I tend to congratulate myself – and that all too enthusiastically, apparently, from this scripture. Here is a command I could work on, and perhaps you could too.

The word “consider” is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and it means to esteem something. The word was often used in the sense of esteeming something in a different light than it first appeared. Paul used it often in Philippians, such as when he said, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). So, here in James it is used in this sense, to “consider,” to “count,” to “esteem” trials and difficulties differently than they appear – in a positive light and not in a negative light.

This speaks of the power of faith, that out of an inner understanding sees circumstances in a different light. Our faith, for example, has taken the cross – which was an instrument of cruel torture and carried a stigma of a criminal’s death – and transformed it into the most endearing symbol of love and grace we can imagine. We do so because we know the scripture, that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). So, we can do something similar with our trials – see them differently than they appear to be.

A few other words, in addition to “consider,” could be clarified in these verses, because they are subject to be misunderstood. First, the word “trials,” peirasmos in Greek. It means an experience, a trial, or a test. It can be translated “temptations” as well, and can mean something negative or positive. It is the noun form of the verb that was used in James 1:13-14, that plainly says that the Lord does not tempt us with evil. That is, the Lord allows temptations to come, but He does not send them, nor does He place the evil thought of sin in our hearts. In fact, He always provides a way of escape out of temptation, according to 1 Corinthians 10:13.

This means that that which appears evil, even that which comes from the devil himself, in the hands of God can lead us to greater levels of maturity. Another word here is helpful to understand: “testing” or dokimion in Greek. It means that which can be proven by experience. An untried faith is a useless faith, and it is our trials that God allows into our lives that strengthen us and solidify our faith.

Sometimes we persevere through trials simply through the knowledge that these things are all temporary and will pass away eventually. Other times, we persevere in the sense that the Lord is using the trial to show us some weakness of our character, some area which needs more work. This word “perseverance,” hupomone in Greek, is a key word here. It literally means “to remain under,” and it is the opposite of the idea of throwing off responsibility and running away.

Perseverance is a general idea and takes different shapes in different circumstances. For example, Christ sent the apostles out to the various villages of Galilee and told them to look for the “son of peace,” that is, someone who would welcome them and be open to their message. If he was not there, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on. That was an example of perseverance in the sense of the calling and command of God. They persevered in that they left those unreceptive places and moved on to other more fruitful places for Christ. We persevere first in our obedience and devotion to Christ more than our attachment to a place and a people. A soldier goes where the command sends him, and the same is true of Christians.

Perseverance sees the promise and command of God more clearly and distinctly than the comforts or discomforts of this world. Have you learned to persevere? Have you learned to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant trials and temptations, and learned to consider them differently than they appear at first look? God will give us the grace to endure, withstand, bear up beneath, and persevere, and to do all of this in the good joy of the Holy Spirit.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties

Fallen From Grace?

July 27th, 2018

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4)

The phrase “fallen from grace” have given rise to many teachings that we may lose our salvation. It has become an idiom in English for that very idea. Can we fall from grace?

The right question to ask is what was Paul’s original intent in writing, what was he trying to say? I have known of many Christians who have latched onto this idea of losing one’s salvation and they have constructed elaborate theologies about the subject. Let me deal plainly with what the Bible teaches on this subject.

Paul’s point

Paul was saying that the two systems of thought of salvation by faith and salvation by works were mutually exclusive of one another, that these legalists had fallen off the argument of grace. The biblical teaching of justification through faith, on the basis of God’s grace in Christ, means that this is exclusively the only salvation God offers. Albert Barnes asserted that Paul was saying to those legalists in Galatia that to claim justification by works, by obedience to the Law, was to deny Christ. He wrote:

Christ is become of no effect unto you – You will derive no advantage from Christ. His work in regard to you is needless and vain. If you can be justified in any other way than by him, then of course you do not need him, and your adoption of the other mode is in fact a renunciation of him…  The two systems [Law and Grace] cannot be united. The adoption of the one is, in fact, a rejection of the other. Christ will be “a whole Saviour,” or none.

Earlier in this book of Galatians, Paul spoke clearly on this matter that the Law of God does not bring salvation, nor was it intended to. And, moreover, if it could then Christ’s death was pointless. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Gal. 2:21).

Obedience to the Law alone does not save us and cannot save us, neither can it help us be saved. Only through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection are we saved – only through grace, in other words – and God’s grace in Christ does not need any help from our side through our good works. It is not my good works plus Christ, nor is it Christ plus my good works, it is only Christ in whom I have believed. Faith is essential, and faith means that I acknowledge that I cannot save myself. I must depend fully on Christ.

The biblical images of salvation

When we look at the examples in the scripture for salvation we see that they are all strong and all emphasize a secure position in Christ. None of them suggest a tenuous one, one that we could lose or slip from. They all speak of security and of an unchanging reality in our salvation.

  • We are new creations in 2 Corinthians 5:17, and a creation of God cannot be uncreated.
  • We are adopted as sons and daughters in Ephesians 1:5: “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
  • We have already passed form death to life in the Savior’s teachings: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
  • We are living stones in Christ and a royal priesthood in Peter’s teachings: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
  • We are sealed by the Spirit and we are the inheritance of Christ which He has claimed through His blood: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14).
  • Like sheep we are held securely in the hands of the Son and the Father: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than allc ; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

We can go further in scripture, but repeatedly the scripture gives us assurances that once we have trusted in Christ our identify has been substantially changed. We are bought by Christ at the cost of His blood. We belong to Him. Remember that to those who claimed to be saved because they had preached and cast our demons, Christ’s response was “Depart from me I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). They were pretenders, not believers.

Dealing with sins after salvation

Yet Christians do sin after salvation. Does this mean that we need to be saved all over again? Can we lose our salvation for just any sin whatsoever? If so, then there is absolutely no assurance or security in salvation. If someone may trust in Christ and serve Him faithfully for his whole life but near the end have a second of doubt just before he dies, or say a few unkind words, or have a moment of lust or of pride, then he would still be eternally lost under this idea.

Furthermore, this was exactly the kind of thinking that Paul was confronting about those false teachers who were “fallen from grace.” To be saved, these people say, is by grace, but to remain saved is by works. And this is false teaching. The Bible says that when we come to Christ at our salvation, from that moment on God takes responsibility for our spiritual progress. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

To say that we remain saved through good works is like saying that we are saved, at least in part, by our good works. Let me say again, that the grace of God in Christ does not need any of our good works to help it save us. Christ alone is enough, provided we have trusted in Him.

So when we sin what must we do? We should confess our sins to Christ and seek His inner cleansing. We should follow 1 John 1:9-10 and confess our sins – not in order to go to heaven, for we are already going, but in order to have the joy of our salvation restored, in order that we may hear the voice of His Spirit again.

Eternal Security