Saturday, February 6, 2021

What It Means to be In the World But Not Of It

What It Means to be In the World But Not Of It

The words are simple in themselves but it still seems hard for any Christians to understand how their daily lives should be “in the world but not of it.” They have heard the phrase so often and on face value it seems simple. But how does it apply in practice? Many seem genuinely confused by the constant dilemma between engaging with the world and fleeing from it. They have a calling to follow in this world in which they can glorify God and this means they cannot retreat from life. They need to be distinctively salt and light. Although the words are simple it is difficult and so some want to limit its impact. They try to reinterpret it or define only specific things as “of the world.” The phrase belongs to Christ and in using it He shows us we have to imitate Him in applying it (John 17:14). Let us find out how.

Much could be and needs to be said about how to apply this truth but first of all we need  to have a better grasp of its meaning. We need to have a deeper sense of the spiritual principle being revealed in these words before we start putting them into practice. There is an attitude here that we need to embrace before we can start thinking about what it means in the details of life. Anthony Burgess helps us understand what this phrase means in the following updated extract.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Victimhood is Not the Answer

Everyone faces hardship of one kind or another. Victimhood does not promote anything. It is destructive. It keeps people focused on finding fault and blaming others. We can look at the glass half-empty or half-full. Many people have taken advantage of living in a free society and yes, they have faced many hardships, but they have not been deterred and have not focused blame on those of another race, or made other excuses. They got to work, they persevered, they found a way and they succeeded. We live in a sinful world in which people do not love one another as they ought to. Change hearts and you'll change ways people treat each other. Jesus Christ is the answer. Turn to Him, believe in Him and you'll be forgiven. Your heart will be changed, you'll become a new creation, and you'll become part of the body of Christ, in which there is neither Jew or Gentile, male or female, black or white. Then, out of love, you will begin to think of the needs of others ahead of yourself. You will live a life of meaning and purpose, for the glory of God. Jesus is the answer. Do you know Him? Oh, and there will be a final exam, called the "day of judgment." "For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Better examine and judge ourselves and stop judging and blaming others. Humble yourself, turn from your sin, trust in Jesus Christ and then you'll be a blessing to everyone around you, especially as you share the good news of the gospel. Jesus alone is our peace.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Second Helvitic Confession - Of the Providence of God

ALL THINGS ARE GOVERNED BY THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. We believe that all things in heaven and on earth, and in all creatures, are preserved and governed by the providence of this wise, eternal and almighty God. For David testifies and says: "The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?" (Ps. 113:4 ff.). Again: "Thou searchest out...all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether" (Ps. 139:3). Paul also testifies and declares: "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), and "from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). "The Lord said, 'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will' " (Matt. 10:29). By speaking thus he wanted to show that what men regard as of least value is governed by God's omnipotence. For he who is the truth says that the birds of the air are fed by him and lilies of the field are clothed by him; he also says that the hairs of our head are numbered (Matt. 6:26 ff.). Nevertheless, we do not spurn as useless the means by which divine providence works, but we teach that we are to adapt ourselves to them in so far as they are recommended to us in the Word of God. For God, who has appointed to everything its end, has ordained the beginning and the means by which it reaches its goal.

Pleasing God in Our Worship

Dr. Robert Godfrey is President Emeritus of Westminster Seminary California.  He has written an excellent overview of what our worship ought to be about, titled Pleasing God in Our Worship.  In this article he asks what is acceptable worship?
Hebrews 12:28 "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe."
"Too often today when people speak of acceptable worship they mean worship that is acceptable to themselves or perhaps acceptable especially to the unchurched. While worship must communicate clearly to the gathered congregation, the Bible insists that worship must above all be acceptable to God. And we must always remember that we can only know what is acceptable to God by a careful study of his Word." (Robert Godfrey)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ten Marks of a Grace Alone Church

10 Marks of a Grace-Alone Church

Grace is a vital doctrine, not simply for the church’s theological confession but also for the church’s theological practice.

To be able to point Christians to a sovereign God who has revealed himself as gracious in Christ is perhaps the single most important thing that a pastor can do. When the problems of this fallen world close in on us, as they inevitably will, there can be a tendency to see our sin or... Continue Reading

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Jesus With Thy Church Abide

This coming Lord's Day we will sing Hymn 348, "Jesus, with Thy Church Abide." Here is the full version, with all stanzas. It is a great prayer to pray for the church you are part of and for the church at large on earth.
Jesus, with Thy Church abide,
Be her Savior, Lord, and Guide,
While on earth her faith is tried:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May her voice be ever clear,
Warning of a judgment near,
Telling of a Savior dear:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Keep her life and doctrine pure,
Help her, patient, to endure,
Trusting in Thy promise sure:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

All her fettered powers release
Bid our strife and envy cease,
Grant the heav'nly gift of peace:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she one in doctrine be,
One in truth and charity,
Winning all to faith in Thee:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she guide the poor and blind,
Seek the lost until she find,
And the broken hearted bind:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May her priests Thy people feed,
Shepherds of the flock indeed,
Ready, where Thou call'st, to lead:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Judge her not for work undone,
Judge her not for fields unwon,
Bless her works in Thee begun:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

All that she has lost, restore,
May her strength and zeal be more
Than in brightest days of yore:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Raise her to her calling high,
Let the nations far and nigh
Hear Thy heralds' warning cry:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May her lamp of truth be bright,
Bid hear bear aloft its light
Through the realms of heathen night:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she holy triumphs win,
Overthrow the hosts of sin,
Gather all the nations in,
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she thus all glorious be,
Spotless and from wrinkle free,
Pure and bright, and worthy Thee:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Reconciled to God

1Corinthians 5:17-21
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,
19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

When you think about it, life comes down to our relationships. Our relationship with family members is very important. We don't always get along very well with each other in the family though we realize how important it is to do so. Work relationships are also important. Companies work at improving "employee relations." Good relationships at work make the job more enjoyable and also increase productivity. Having good relationships with your neighbors is pretty important. But what about our relationship to God? Surely having a good relationship with your Creator would be a good thing and necessary to one's well-being, right? If so, we need to ask what it takes to have a good or a right relationship with God?

The passage we are looking at this morning gives us some vital and helpful information for having a right relationship to God. The average person today is woefully ignorant of these things. This morning we will look at four truths that will show us the way to have a right relationship with the Maker and Sustainer of the universe. First,

I. We Were Created by God to Enjoy Communion With God
The first verse in the Bible says, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. On day six God made man. Genesis 1:27 says, So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God created man in His own image that we might live in communion with himself. Being made in His image we were given a mind to think God's thoughts after Him. We were given a conscience with God's law written there, that we might know how to please and glorify God. We were given a capacity to know God and to love Him. Man was created with the ability to speak to God and to hear Him speak and understand Him.

The Lord God also entered into a covenant of life with Adam and gave Adam and Eve free will. They were holy and sinless as created. They had pure and holy desires. They were perfectly happy in the Garden where God would come and speak with them. They were blessed with wholesome work, that of tending the Garden. They brought glory to God in exercising dominion over creation. God also gave them the Sabbath Day for rest. God blessed them by instituting marriage and establishing the family. Adam and Eve, as originally created, were in a right relationship with their Creator. It was a good relationship, a holy relationship, which resulted in peace and joy for Adam and Eve. They were at peace with God and at peace with each other. There were no barriers, no obstacles to their relationships. We can only dream of the bliss that was enjoyed by Adam and Eve during that time of man's innocence. We can only imagine how perfectly happy they were, enjoying God as they were created to do, without sin and with uninterrupted fellowship with the Lord. However, something happened to that perfect relationship with God. That leads us to the second point:

II. Our Sin Has Separated Us From God
Phillip Henry, who was Matthew Henry's father, wrote that, "When God made man at first there was perfect love and amity between them–God at peace with man; man at peace with God. They had sweet fellowship and converse one with another, walking together in the garden. But when Adam sinned, then, immediately, the quarrel began. Eating the forbidden fruit broke the peace, and ever since there hath been a quarrel." In Genesis chapter three we read about the fall of man. Adam and Eve both disobeyed God's commandment. They gave in to the temptation of the Serpent and immediately there was a breach in their relationship with God. They suddenly felt ashamed that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves to try and cover their shame.

They were alienated from God as Genesis 3:8 says, And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. They hid from God, who had been their friend. They didn't want to see Him. They were guilty and knew it. God had said that if they ate from the tree He commanded them not to eat of, that they would die. Well, they did die spirituality at that very moment. Their souls had been in union and communion with God. Then they were separated from Him. Isaiah 59:2 says, But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.

Man hides from God and God also hides his face from man. It is a mutual quarrel. There is enmity on both sides. Since the fall, man by nature does not love God, does not want to know God, does not want to be near God. God, on His part, is against them on account of their sin. Ephesians 2:3 says that all men are children of wrath. Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. This quarrel between man and God only widens over time. Daily we add sin upon sin. Sins of omission and commission. God's wrath is building and growing with each sin. Romans 2:5 says, But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. God has every right to be angry with us and to cast us away from His presence forever.

Sin is far worse a thing than men think it is. The Bible calls our sin a debt. We are indebted to the God who made us and has blessed us. We owe everything to Him and yet we give Him nothing. We have amassed a great amount of debt and we are unable to pay it. Our sins are also called "trespasses" in the Bible. We have trespassed God's commands. We have gone astray and have crossed boundaries that have been forbidden to cross. Men today seem to delight in crossing new boundaries every day. They flaunt their perversions and laugh at God's laws. And haven't we all laughed at sin and thought it was a fun thing to disobey? Again, Phillip Henry writes, "We must look upon sin as a treason, high treason, against the crown and dignity of the God of heaven: an affront to his majesty. It defies, despises, denies him." With Pharaoh we say, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?"

Again, sin is like a wall that stands between the sinner and God. That wall of sin consists in the corruption of our hearts and our stubborn will to go our own way. That wall is the heart of stone we have by nature that will not turn away from sin and refuses to turn back to God. That wall between us consists also in God's holiness who is too pure to look upon evil. He cannot allow sin into His holy presence. He hates it with all His being and has promised to punish it with everlasting burnings. Exodus 34:7 says that God will "by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation." Clearly, sin has ruined the relationship we were created to have with God. And yet even within the heart of sinful men there is a yearning for what they do not have. As Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." We know that something is missing in our lives. Do you feel it? That something is a right relationship with the God who made us. That leads us to the next truth to think about.

III. God Seeks to Reconcile Sinners to Himself
In verse 18 we are introduced to a word that brings hope to the sinner's ear. That word is "reconciliation." Verse 18 says, Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. What does this word "reconciled" or "reconciliation" mean? "Reconciliation is the restoration of loving fellowship after estrangement."1 It is the bringing together of those who were enemies so that they are now friends. In all non-Christian religious thought it is only man who must take steps to do the work of reconciliation. But in Christianity God is the author of reconciliation. Verse 19 says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. God takes the initiative and He does the reconciling. The NT Dictionary of Theology states that, "Human action, including even repentance and confession of sins, is not a work of man to bring about and initiate reconciliation, to which God reacts. Rather, it is the reaction of man to the work of God and as such necessary and demanded."

In other words, by the time we hear the message of reconciliation, it is a finished work. It has been effected by the work of Jesus Christ. Verse 19 indicates that part of that work of reconciliation is "not imputing their trespasses to them." Sin is the barrier that must be removed before our relationship with God can become whole again. The guilt of sin is a wall that until satisfaction is made for it, God cannot be friends with us. This wall could only be broken down by Christ dying. All our own righteousness, penances, pilgrimages, promises or works are of no effect and cannot repair the breach. Sometimes when two friends are at odds, one person will send gifts to the other hoping to build goodwill and a change of heart. Man tends to think that this will work with God also. So we go through religious exercises and duties and deeds thinking that God will take these into consideration and be willing to accept us.

However, God is perfectly righteous. In order to be friends with God, we must have a perfect righteousness. Sinful man tends to think that God grades on the curve and that as long as we try our best, God will accept us. The general thought among people is that it doesn't matter so much what you believe as long as you try your best to live an upright life and sincerely practice your religion, then surely you'll be accepted by God. That's what comes across at most funeral services isn't it? "Ole John was a good man. He wasn't perfect, but He did a lot for people. If anybody ever needed help he was there to do whatever he could. He hardly ever missed church and he was a loving father. If anybody makes it to heaven, surely John will be there."

Such thoughts ignore the barrier of sin. It ignores that Scripture refers to our righteousness as "filthy rags." John Calvin said, "Beware, then, of placing even the smallest drop of your confidence on any thing apart from the gospel." The only righteousness that will reconcile us to God is the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 21 says, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." This is the only way sinful people can be reconciled to God. Christ had to become sin for us - not a sinner, but He had to take the sinner's place and endure the wrath of God that was due to us. Christ had to assume our sin in order that we might assume His righteousness. Commentator C.K. Barrett says, "Since transgressions were no longer counted against men the way was open for reconciliation; nothing remained but for men to take it."

That leads us to the final truth to consider:
IV. God Requires Repentance and Faith for Us to be Reconciled to Him
Reconciliation is a gift of God that was purchased by Christ on our behalf. And yet that message of reconciliation must be proclaimed, heard and responded to for it to be actually effected in our lives. The apostle Paul declared to the Corinthians in v. 20, "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God."
Reconciliation is incomplete until it is accepted by both sides. Just because Christ died and rose again does not automatically make you reconciled to God. The barrier of God's wrath against sin has been removed but another sinful barrier remains to be removed in us. We are sinful and corrupt and do not want to be reconciled to God! We despise Him and don't want to get near Him.

We are enslaved to sin and our wills are in bondage. God must not only remove the guilt of sin by the cross but must remove the stubborn heart of stone by the work of His Spirit. In Ezekiel 36:26, referring to the New Covenant, God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." This is what Paul is getting at in verse 17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." We must have a new heart, a new birth in order to make us willing to come to God and be reconciled. When God opens our hearts and gives us a new heart, then we are enabled to repent of our sins and receive Christ by faith. Then the reconciliation is complete.

Then, as Romans 5:1 says, "having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." To be reconciled to God is to have peace with God. Do you have peace with God this morning? Are you right with Him? Is there something between you and the Lord this morning? Then, as Paul urged the Corinthians, I would urge each of us this morning, "Be reconciled to God!" God has set aside His enmity and offers peace to you this morning. The terms of peace on His side have been met by His Son on the cross. On our side we must repent of our sins and turn to Christ, receiving the gift of reconciliation by faith. Each and every day we sin and when we do we must turn back to be reconciled to God. As believers, this reconciliation is as family members. Our sin does not place us outside the family of God, but it does break our fellowship with God.

Calvin said, "As we daily sin, so we must, by a daily remission, be received by God into His favor." Colin Brown writes that, "The appeal to 'be reconciled to God' is addressed to the church. The church, no less than the world, needs to enter into this reconciliation and live it out." Ephesians says that "He is our peace." Since He is our peace, then we ought to take care to keep the peace between us and the Lord. As soon as we are aware of sinning then let us confess it to the Lord and repent of it. Only then will we be fit to be "ambassadors for Christ." The Lord wants to use those who are assured that they are reconciled to God by the grace of the Lord Jesus to have the ministry of reconciliation and to proclaim that "word of reconciliation" which is the gospel.

Do you need to be reconciled to God? He is more than willing to forgive your sins and to be reconciled. If you desire this reconciled relationship with God, then I would urge you to get alone with the Lord and read over 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2. Read over this passage and ask the Lord to show you your sin. Ask Him to show you your need of Christ. Then pray that God will reveal Christ to you and His way of salvation. That way of salvation is that you must be born again, you must repent of all your sins and you must surrender your soul in faith to God, receiving and resting in the Lord Jesus and his death and resurrection. May God grant you repentance and faith as you seek Him in this urgent and important matter - the salvation of your eternal soul.

1Reformation Study Bible notes, p. 1879.