Friday, July 14, 2006

Embracing Christ

Note: Here's another post from my previous blog. I'm not quite sure that I would agree with all that Piper has written in Future Grace, but the portions that I quote here were certainly "food for thought" for my life. This was originally posted on the Dec. 23, 2005.

Embracing Christ

Thoughts of the gospel flood my mind frequently. Granted, I'm not thinking about Christ's death, burial, and resurrection during every second of each day, but I am consistently and daily amazed by His acts of grace. However, as John Piper's excellent work Future Grace points out, true saving faith is a faith in "future grace."

I'm really not sure if I can summarize the thrust of his book very well in a brief way, but the main gist of it is that we live by faith in the promises of God and what He is for us and will be in the future. Piper tears down the belief that the Christian life is to be lived simply out of gratitude. For one, that is not mentioned as the ongoing motive for faithfulness throughout Scripture. Plus, if we live our lives forever trying to "payback" God for His grace, it sort of nullifies grace. Then, we're just trying to keep our salvation through works. Instead, looking to God through faith is what keeps us faithful. In this way, salvation is not just belief in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross. It is trusting in Him, and "the focus of my trust is what God promised to do for me in the future" (p. 6). After being converted and born again by the Holy Spirit, we live our lives by trusting in Christ, and this trust is displayed in complete embrace of His promises. Here is where the talk of "embracing Christ" comes in.

In chapter 15, "A Taste of Spiritual Beauty," Piper opens with a sobering series of questions: "Is it possible to believe the promises of God about the security of the saints, and yet be lost? If faith in future grace means believing the promises of God, how is it that those promises could be believed and yet the 'believer' not be saved?" He then quotes Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus asserts that not everyone who has called on Him will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Part of the issue here is one of facts and experience, or as one of Piper's headings assert, "The basis of believing determines the experience of believing." Mere mental assent alone will never save anyone. I know people who live the lives of total pagans and show no evidence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, yet they will loudly proclaim, "I believe in Jesus Christ and in the gospel." However, "being persuaded that Christ and his promises are factual is not by itself saving faith" (p. 200).

The difference comes in the "experience of believing." We often make the mistake of asserting that belief in the gospel is equal to believing whole-heartedly that a certain man will be able to traverse the mighty Niagara Falls on a tightrope. It is quite another to come when he beckons and climb upon his back for the ride across. Piper quotes Charles Hodge as he asserts that true, actual saving faith "is a faith which rests upon the manifestation by the Holy Spirit of the excellence, beauty, and suitableness of the truth...It arises from a spiritual apprehension of the truth, or from the testimony of the Spirit with and by the truth in our hearts" (p. 201). Hodge then moves on, according to Piper's citation, to discuss Luke 10:21, where Jesus speaks of having hidden spiritual truth from the wise only to lavish it upon those that are as babes. Piper explains: "In other words, the truth about Jesus and his ministry and the kingdom of God was seen externally by some; but to 'the babes' God revealed it. This revelation enable that spiritual apprehension and taste which moves the heart to embrace and savor the reality, not just think that it is true" (p. 201).

Aye, there's the rub..."that spiritual apprehension and taste which moves the heart to embrace and savor the reality, not just think that it is true." This is the road to which I came back in February. Through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, I saw the beauty of the gospel of Christ, not just the facts. In fact, I don't know if I mentioned this in my testimony, but as I was praying to beg God for His salvation, I remember looking at my theological library and telling God, "I'll give it up if I have to. I'll quite Boyce College if that's what You require and move down to Georgia to work in a carpet mill the rest of my life." I knew fully well that were I to receive Christ it would obviously jeopardize my experience prior to then. For the truth of the matter was, and rightfully so, that once I surrendered my life to Christ I knew He would have the reigns of my decisions. What if He actually didn't want me in the ministry anymore and, after coming to saving faith, one of my first acts of obedience (after baptism) would be to move back home. Granted, I love my parents, but I did not want to move back home, I did not want to surrender the degree that I had worked so hard toward attaining, I did not want to give up the bulk of theological books that I had amassed, and I most certainly didn't want to surrender the education that for which I've work so hard.

However...At that moment, embracing Christ meant more to me than all those hopes and dreams. I knew that if I didn't have Him that I was utterly and totally lost and forsaken. I knew that my life was about to be turned upside down, and that scared me. But it was not as scary as pondering the thought of living without Him. It was at that moment that the walls came crashing down. There wasn't a flood of tears, but after the initial praying, there came a flood of peace. I don't know how else to describe except to say that the sin that I was carrying fell at my feet. I watched "Secondhand Lions" today with my dad, and one of the men told a story of fighting Arabian soldiers in a shiek's dungeon with money bags attached. The boy, after having listened to his great uncle tell of fighting with hundreds of pounds of coins attached, remarked that it was impossible to fight the soldiers. So, the man revised the story some and admitted that he had a little help from his brother as well. In my own case, I was seeking to live a life that was Christian-ish with bags of sin bearing down on me like a fierce wind to the sails of a boat. I was a slave to that sin, and it took me where it wanted me to go. I was seeking to fight the wiles of the devil with only my sin, and I was failing. Were it not for Christ, Satan would have eventually slain me, and I would be crying up from the pit of hell for relief from my damnation, only to endure an eternity of punishment, which is what I deserved. Instead, Christ invaded my heart, and I saw Him as altogether lovely and worthy, and I laid down those bags of sin so that I might fully embrace Him with both arms.

To continue this thought of embracing I turn to the last few pages of the chapter. Piper maintains that there are two things "necessary for saving faith to emerge" (p. 202):

1. "One is to use our preception and our mind to hear and see and understand and validate a testimony to the truth of Christ."

2. "The other is that we must apprehend and embrace the spiritual beauty and worth of Christ through the illumination of the Holy Spirit."

Basically, when you embrace Christ you put all of your faith and hope into Him. You forsake your life of sin and turn your life to Christ (repentance). The FAITH evangelism strategy describes sin as turning from something (sin and self) and turning to someone (Jesus Christ). It is the point in which you decide that you're trusting in Christ and you forsake the life of sin that you've lived up until this point. Instead, your sights are set on Jesus. As Jesus reminded us in His discourse to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21, we must look to Christ as the Old Testament Israelites looked to the bronze serpent and were healed. Jesus Christ was lifted up in the same manner that He might draw men to Himself and save those that put their faith in Him and fix their eyes upon Him to live their lives for Him.

As Piper writes here and elsewhere, he summarizes faith as "being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus" (p. 206), or "Another way to sat it would be that, in all the acts of saving faith, the Holy Spirit enables us not just to perceive and affirm factual truth, but also to apprehend and embrace spiritual beauty. It is the 'embracing of spiritual beauty' that is the essential core of saving faith. This is what I mean by 'being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.' Spiritual beauty is the beauty of God diffused in all his works and words. Embracing this, or delighting in it, or being satisfied with it, is the heart of saving faith" (p. 206).

Such a kind of faith will continue. In fact, those who seem to abandon the faith were never really of it to begin with. Gazing upon Christ will leave the believer forever longing for Him. In fact, the most miserable person is a backsliding believer who longs to embrace Christ but lets their sin block renewal with Him. Like the erring husband who seeks the embrace of his lover, only to find himself to proud to admit to her that he was wrong. Eventually, his love and desire for her (and her loving forbearance and kind patience) will cause him to reconcile. Much in the same way, the true believer will embrace Christ. Those that forsake the faith only show their lack of ever having had it; they were merely spiritual flirts, of which Christ was the latest fling. They then move swiftly onto physical love, alcohol, lies, acceptance, or a myriad of other "gods" with whom they seek to satisfy the long in their soul for embrace.

Let me beg you, if you have not already, embrace Christ by grace through faith. Believe that He lived a sinless life in your place, died in the cross in your place, and rose again that you may too rise if you put your trust in Him. Repent! Cry out to Him for forgiveness, and He will save you and cleanse you from your sin.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me!

Reading & Spiritual Growth

I came across an interesting article about reading good books devotionally posted on Reformation Theology. Pastor John Samson writes about his answer to someone questioning him about how to get their spiritual life back on track. I commend the article to you: "How are you doing spiritually?"

It made me think. I had never considered that when Paul asked for books and parchments near the end of his life, the books were probably other religious writings and not actual books of the Bible. This definitely made me think, and that's one think I definitely need to do more often!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Quiet Time Tyranny

It seems that honest posts about "quiet times" or "morning devotions" are hard to come by in the blogosphere, but Tim Challies has thrown his ring into the hat with his most recent post, "The Tyranny of the Quiet Time." He very honestly admits his own struggles while exhorting Christians not to view our "quiet time" as a performance to merit God's favor. However, Challies admits that this is often the case. I've commented on this fact recently, and I was thrilled to read this most recent post. I leave you with a couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite:

Perhaps you, like me, have too often turned quiet time into a performance. If we perform well for God, we enter our day filled with confidence that God will bless us, and that He will have to bless us. We feel that our performance has earned us the right to have a day filled with His presence, filled with blessings, and filled with confidence. And, of course, when we turn in a poor performance, we feel that God is in heaven booing us and heaving proverbial rotten vegetables in the form of removing His presence and, in the words of a friend, "dishing out bummers."

Quiet time becomes tyrannical when we understand it as a performance. Bridges provides a pearl of wisdom. "Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace." Whether we are having a good day or a bad day, the basis of our relationship with is not our performance, for even our best efforts are but filthy rags, but grace. Grace does not just save us and then leave us alone. No, grace saves us and then sustains us and equips us and motivates us. We are saved by grace and we then live by grace. Whether in the midst of a good day or bad, God does not base His relationship with us on performance, but on whether or not we are trusting in His Son.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Spiritual Observations from CSI: Miami

Note: As part of my ongoing effort to occasionally post special entries from my previous blog, I thought I would post this one that was originally posted on December 5th of 2005 and previously entitled, "When You've Done Enough." It was basically a reaction to some horrible spiritual advice given by a priest on "CSI: Miami." I have also added links to the scripture references as well.

I do realize this post is quite long, and m it ay go unread. Then again, the Lord may providentially bring someone to this site so that they may come face-to-face with their need of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and that by reading the scriptures that I cite, they'll turn to Christ for salvation. That is my prayer!

When You've Done Enough

I just heard something very disturbing. Granted, it wasn't the sound of tires screeching before a car crash with the knowledge that the the occupants of the car just died. In fact, it was a lot more disturbing than that. It came out of a Roman Catholic priest's mouth on tonight's episode of CSI: Miami.

While in confession, Horatio was describing some past deed that he is attempting to make penance. Instead of offering him hope and forgiveness found by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection and the forgiveness that He alone offers, the priest tells him "When you've done enough, Horatio, you'll know." Scary words, indeed!

The priest, and probably Horatio himself, believes that Horatio's right-standing with God is based partly upon Horatio's attempt to measure up to God's righteousness. This sense of righteousness is the exact opposite of what God says in His Word. Paul writes in Romans 9, verse 16: "So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (NKJV).

According to this verse, our salvation is not based on our choosing or our striving. Basically, it can be said this way: God is the Doer in salvation. We do nothing to merit it. Instead, God saves by grace, and we accept the gift of salvation only by grace through the faith that He gives us. God is the One who initiates salvation through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44; 16:8-11). It's not as if a person rises in the morning and flippantly says to himself, "you know, I think I feel like becoming a Christian today...Heaven sounds like a pretty good deal. Why not?" This is not the attitude of a person that God has been convicting of sin and truly dealing with. As I remember my grandfather reminding me, the attitude of saving faith is the attitude of the man that simply knew he was a sinner and called out, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." My grandfather rightly saw this as one of the best summaries of an attitude of one with saving faith.

Remember that I made the decision to say a prayer when I was 7. However, salvation didn't come because I decided I wanted to say a few words of a prayer. God hadn't been dealing with me. This was a man-centered attempt at salvation, and it wasn't genuine. Instead, conversion came about during February of this year when I was truly miserable and convicted of my sin. Salvation will not come to a person who doesn't acknowledge their sin. As my great aunt Linda would tell me, "The Spirit's gotta deal with the person first." All I know is that at age 7, I had little awareness of my sin or that I had grieved a holy God. It took God convicting me over months and months about a year ago (one might even say He had been convicting me for years) before I would respond to Him in faith.

Saul did not choose the exact moment for the blinding light to change his life, and the disciples did not ask Christ to say, "Follow me." In the same way, I did not tell Jesus Christ, "Say to me, 'Come, follow me,' (Matt. 11:28-30)," which was the passage the Spirit used to convert me. Instead, He was the One who chose that moment, in the midst of my theological studies, to convert me, and once He called, I just couldn't say no. I knew I was doomed without Him, and I saw that I could never live without Him. It was like finding a treasure chest buried in a cow pasture. There's no way I would leave it behind, because it is so valuable. It was in this way that I finally saw Jesus Christ. The blinders were off, and I responded to Him. I responded to His invitation, and salvation (although it is ultimately a work of God) always requires a response from the individual. There are some who would say that salvation requires no response from the individual, and they are dead wrong and will be responsible for leading many to destruction. Instead, the Bible says that we must repent of our sin, which means forsaking what we have done and decide that we want to live for Christ. It is basically agreeing with God about our sin: it is wrong and harmful and we choose to leave it behind.

This truth is the reason why Romans 1 is so scary. Sometimes, God calls off the pursuit of rescuing the lost sinner. The bloodhounds for the lost are sent packing and the evangelists with their flashlights of grace are sent home. When men are turned over to a reprobate mind, it means that God has given up on them. When God gives up on a man, there's absolutely no hope. However, man chooses to be in this state by continually rejecting the Savior, and it's a reminder to those that are lost to be aware that there may be a point of no return, so to speak.

With some people, God gets to the point of saying, "Fine, if all you want to do is sin and reject me, have at it." It's a sad state, but it's a reality for many people. However, if there is remorse and conviction, there's hope. The person who is worried that he may be in this state of hopelessness is probably being dealt with by the Spirit at that moment. God never rejects those who come to Him by grace through faith.

And for that, I'm eternally grateful.

So, today, if you've been striving to please God with a good life, just hoping that you'll make yourself "saveable," there's no hope. The hope is in Jesus Christ. Quit trying to please God with your church attendance and your Bible reading and your prayers. I did all of that for years, and it just damned me further. God desires for you to seek Jesus. Acknowledge that you're a sinner and in need of a Savior (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation (Eph. 2:8-9) based on His life, death, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-4, ff.), and pray to God, confessing that you give your life to Him because you want Him to be the Lord of your life (Rom. 10:9-13). If you call on the name of the Lord, He will save you (Rom. 10:13).

And that has nothing to do with anything you have done or can do. At that point, you basically say that you want what Christ has done. See, when you come to saving faith, God considers Christ's sinless life, death, and resurrection as the payment for you. After becoming a Christian, He looks down and sees you clothed in the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ. In short, He sees, "Debt Paid" written all over you. It's all about Jesus and His righteousness!

However, you must respond by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!

I end with the words of the apostle Paul, who has just concluded writing of the truths of salvation in chapters 1-11 of the book of Romans. After writing of God's glorious work in salvation, it's almost like he just breaks forth in words of just sheer awe and praise for God:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

(Rom. 11:33-36, ESV)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Church's Feminization

Mark Driscoll's comment about megachurches often being feminized reminded me of a lecture that Dr. Randy Stinson gave this past spring semester entitled, "The Feminization of the Church: Detecting and Correcting It." I thought he did a good job of dealing with the issues involved, and he even admitted that this is an area in which it is hard to be objective.

I noticed tonight that The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has the MP3 file uploaded to the seminary's audio resources section of the website. Click here to download that lecture directly from the seminary, and feel free to give me your feedback in the comments section of this entry.

Complimentary "Ouch!"

The folks over at the Reformation21 blog have posted Mark Driscoll's response to a question on megachurches that he answered in a recent interview with Christnity Today: "Men Are from Mars Hill."

Click here to read Driscoll's take on megachurches, and let me know your take on what he has to say.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

One Big Bubble

Okay, I must admit that this post has little to no relevance at all, except that I just wanted to have some fun in taking a pic. I think it's a nice headshot, don't you?

Seriously though, this it what happens when undergraduate Bible students are on summer break. Instead of pontificating on the New Perspective on Paul or delving into a large volume of B.B. Warfield's works, we tend to do silly things, like blow huge bubbles, take pictures of them, and upload them to the internet. For what it's worth, I hope you had least got a laugh out of it.

Of course, I was thinking of what it would be like for my favorite evangelical scholars and teachers wrote articles on the subject of bubble-blowing. Here are my silly little suggestions:

  • "Bubble-Blowing and the Glory of God: Being Satisfied in Christ Through Bubble-Blowing" (John Piper)
  • "Bubble-Blowing and Postmodernism: The Bubble of Truth vs. The Spirit of the Age" (Dr. R. Albert Mohler)
  • "The Invisible Bubble: The Providence of God in Bubble-Blowing" (R.C. Sproul)
  • "Charismatic Bubbles: A Call for Order in Bubble-Blowing" (John MacArthur)

Okay...That's about all of the creativity that I have for this evening...

If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to see them! If you have some other funny suggestions, leave them in the comments section on this entry for the rest of us to enjoy. Happy blogging!