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Lay Hold on Eternal Life

Lay Hold on Eternal Life

by Rick Shrader

It may seem unusual to most people to talk frankly about death. But as seniors, this should be the first thing we have settled in our minds. why should we not want to go to heaven? Augustine put it this way, “For sooner or later every man must die, and we groan, and pray, and travail in pain, and cry to God, that we may die a little later.  How much more ought we to cry to him that we may come to that place where we shall never die!”1 The most important testimony for a Christian is that there is an eternal life after this one, and for the believer, that eternal life is in heaven. Death just happens to be the gateway from this place to that place.

As we draw nearer to the end of this life our physical appearance takes on the trappings of that journey but that is just the necessary changing of clothes. “Not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:4). Death is the last statement we have to make while wearing our older clothes. Here are five facts about death for the Christian.

  1. Death is inevitable. It is “appointed” to us by God because of sin (Heb 9:27). “As in Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22). Since we know it is coming, shouldn’t we be prepared for the event? Not just in salvation of the soul, but in the making of the journey. “The time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim 4:6) and so we should be packed and ready.
  2. Death is instantaneous. Jesus said “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (Jn 11:25). It is the dying process that takes time. The valley of the shadow of death may take years for some or it may come quickly for others but death itself is but a moment. As soon as we are absent from the body we are present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).
  3. Death is enviable. “To die is gain,” “to depart and be with Christ is far better” (Phil 1:21,23). Spurgeon said, “O worker for God, death cannot touch thy sacred mission! Be thou content to die if the truth shall live the better because thou diest.”2 Doug McLachlan recently wrote, “Death for the believer in Christ is no longer the grim ogre it once was” and likened it to a bee without a sting, a “stingless scorpion” (1 Cor 15:55).3 If death transfers us to heaven with such confidence of what awaits, why should we dread the crossing? I don’t minimize the painful process some must experience but in such cases death is the relief designed by God.
  4. Death is a memorial. Peter said, “Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease” (2 Pet 1:15). Jesus prayed to the Father, “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (Jn 17:13). At your funeral no eyes will be wider and more attentive than your children and grandchildren. The confidence you display at the time of death will stay with them the rest of their lives.
  5. Death is a stewardship. When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear, it is a testimony that the Lord is your Shepherd and you want or need nothing else. Someone said, “The last days are the best witnesses for a man. Blessed shall he be that so lived that he was desired, and so died that he was missed.”4 Paul said, “Nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Let’s show this world that what we believed and preached is true and will sustain us in our last moments on earth. As we have daily died with Christ, let us finally die with Him. Let’s die because we are going to heaven not merely because we are leaving this world.

Notes:

  1. St. Augustine, “Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer,” Hazeltine, Mayo W. Ed. Orations from Homer to McKinley ( New York:  P.F. Collier & Son, 1902) 1189.
  2. C.H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. I (Pasadena: Pilgrim Publications, 1992) 4.
  3. Douglas McLachlan, Thirsting for Authenticity (St. Michael, MN: Reference Point Pub., 2017) 357.
  4. Robert Harris in Paxton Hood’s, Isaac Watts His Life and Hymns (Belfast: Ambassador, 2001) 257.

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21st Century Seniors

21st Century Seniors

by Rick Shrader

Baby Boomers (those born 1946-1964) became “seniors” in the year 2011. According to the Pew Research Center, Baby Boomers at this time in their lives are still 29% of the work force compared to 21% of the Silent Generation at the same time, and only 19% of the Great Generation. Though we are also retiring at a fast pace (28.6 million in 2020-high due to covid), we have stayed active longer than any generation born in the 20th century. Also, because 76% of Boomers identify themselves as Christian, we have stayed in church longer than any current generations.

I was born in 1950. I’ve always been glad for that even year because it has made it easy to figure how old I am! I will be 71 this year and am still pastoring full-time. I will attend my 50th Bible college class reunion and will see many of my classmates still either working in ministry or very involved. Health situations or other circumstances may have altered activity for some, but we Boomers are a hard lot to keep down.  However, of the generation before us, the “Silent” generation (born 1928-1945), 84% still consider themselves Christian and, by my observation, are still some of the most faithful attenders to the church services.

Now, I’ll be realistic, our hair has turned white or fallen out, and we wear a lot hardware just to keep up daily functions, and our doctors seem to look a lot like our grandkids.  I had a hard time accepting Medicare at 65 and then being forced to take Social Security at 70, I thought, this is for old people. My wife and I updated our living trust because the people who were supposed to take our kids if something happened to us, died years ago, and now no one wants to take responsibility for four middle-aged adults and their families. When I turned 65, I changed my life’s verse from Eph. 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might,” to Mark 8:18, “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?”

Since we are the seniors of the 21st century, do we take our God-given responsibility seriously? Psalm 71 is titled in my study Bible, “A Prayer for the Aged.” Verse 18 reads, “Now also, when I am old and gray headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.”  I have to ask if we are ready and able to meet that challenge? Psalm 78:4 reads, “We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done . . . That the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children” (vs. 6).

As the family declines in our time, so does the influence that should be passed on from generation to generation. Our children have faced unprecedented obstacles in their lives and are now trying to raise children in even more dire circumstances. Our government, our schools, and even many churches, have become adversaries rather than adjuncts to the family. So it falls to our generation, to the grandfathers and grandmothers to be strong and pass on the faith which was once delivered to the saints. We can do this by being faithful to what we know, what we value, and what we worship. We’re not popular anymore nor do we need to be. We need to be godly and people of prayer and good counsel. If this is your desire, I hope you will continue to read this monthly column and join me in praying for one another and the generation to come.

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Seven Daily Prayers for Our Country

Seven Daily Prayers for Our Country

by Admin

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7 Daily Prayers for our Country

             We know and believe that God is sovereign and providential in all of His creation. We do not fear the future because we know He is working out His plan for His glory. We also believe our prayers matter and that the omniscient God hears and answers according to His will.

1. For BelieversActs 12:5  Peter was therefore kept in prison but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.  Pray for Christians who are in places of danger, authority; in school, and in the service.

2. For Leaders1 Tim. 2:2 For kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  Pray for leaders in government, in law enforcement, on judicial benches.

3. For Gospel MinistryCol 4:3  Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.  Pray for open doors, evangelism and missions, and for church services.

4. For Judgment2 Thes. 1:6  Seeing it is a righteous thing for God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you.  Pray for God to deal decisively with immorality, unbelief, persecutors, and violent people.

5. For God’s WillJames 4:15  Instead you ought to say, if the Lord wills we shall live and do this or that.  Pray for God’s providence to lead His people, His churches, His gospel ministries, and for blessing in the coming days.

6. For LibertyActs 24:23  He commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty.  Pray that God would allow His people to worship, to speak the gospel, to assemble peaceably, and to live out their faith by their conscience.

7. For AmericaPsa. 33.12  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.  Pray that God would keep America a godly and righteous nation; that America would uphold its Constitution, would extend religious freedom, would support Israel, and would remain the greatest force for good in the world.

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Merry Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

by Rick Shrader

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The secularization of our society over the last twenty five years is nothing short of amazing.  I remember vividly traveling to Russia during Christmas of 1991 with my father-in-law and brother-in-law.  The old Soviet Union had fallen and that country was trying to pull itself out of a communist economy that had failed miserably.  The biggest change was the legalization of religion back into government, schools, and the public place.  We were invited to come into the government schools and present the Christmas message.  The churches could again worship openly with freedom.  To them it was truly a merry Christmas.

At the same time America was outlawing nativity scenes on public or government property.  Schools were banning anything having to do with religion, at least the Christian religion.  The display of the ten commandments was beginning to be an issue though no one was yet pulling down statues or monuments.  It was the first gulf war that infused some patriotism back into America and with it a little reprieve from atheistic activism.

In those days traveling back and forth between Russia and America showed an ironic contrast between freedom and oppression.  Perhaps it takes seventy years of oppression for a people to realize how precious religious freedom is.  Yet now, in America, we take for granted the secularization of Christmas.  We hear Christmas songs but they are not religious songs or songs about the birth of God’s Son.  We see decorations but they are Santa Clauses and reindeer and Christmas trees.  The biggest moment in the season becomes the lighting of the tree and drinking eggnog.

Christians don’t mind the “extra-curricular” things.  We could have or not have the trees, the lights, the presents, or even the silliness of Santa Claus.  What Christians can’t do without is the truth of what happened two thousand years ago in Mary’s womb and in Bethlehem’s manger.  We also enjoy other holidays related to our country: its independence, its presidents, its war heroes, or Labor Day or Thanksgiving.  But what history has labeled “Christmas” and “Easter” represent two religious facts that Christians will never give up regardless of how their particular country allows them to be remembered.

The fall of the former Soviet Union showed that a nation cannot survive without a recognition of God.  When secularization of a nation devolves into chaos and selfishness, only a belief in man’s Creator will pull it back up.  But in this area of truth, Christianity alone puts all the pieces of the puzzle together.  “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  This is why all human societies must have some rule of law.  But it is not just that humans have some flaws that need correcting, humans have sinned before a holy God and stand in jeopardy of eternal punishment unless that sin is forgiven by God.  Why do we say that and how do we know it?  God has graciously told us so in His Word, the Bible.  It has proven itself to be the one infallible book from God.

So what did God do about this situation?  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  This is the most well-beloved verse in the Bible because it tells us that God loved us enough to let His Son die for us and to invite us to believe in Christ for eternal life.  But that same chapter in John also tells us, “And this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (vs. 19).  Yet John 1:12 has said, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”  The greatest Christmas gift was the gift of His own Son so that we might escape eternal judgment for our sins.

We must dig a little deeper into our understanding of the Bible in order to set the Christmas message straight.  Jesus wasn’t merely a good man who set a good example of giving and sacrifice so that we would be able to go out and do the same.  The secularists call a “Christmas miracle” something that takes place because people do good things or give nice gifts or help helpless people.  These are right things for people to do for each other but they are not the miracle of Christmas.  No, a substitution had to take place.  Someone would have to do what mankind could not.

The Bible teaches that man does not have the ability within him to do anything good enough to merit God’s forgiving grace.  “For by grace are ye saved though faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any many should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  Since this is true, there is not a person born of human parents who can save himself much less save others.  There was only one way left for humans to have forgiveness of their sin, that is, for God to become a man Himself and take the sinner’s place.  This is what happened at that first Christmas.

It is often in the later verses of Christmas carols where the real truth of Christmas is explained.  Charles Wesley penned this miracle so well when he wrote,

 

 

It was by becoming a man, or incarnation, that God could Himself take our place as a worthy Substitute and live and die for us.  The reason the angels sang and the heavens rang was because this miracle took place.  But the irony is that the miracle had to be done in a natural manner.  That is, Jesus had to really become a man yet remain really God.  Sin had to be atoned for by a perfect man, but the only perfect man would also have to be God in flesh.  “Hail the incarnate Deity!”  This was the only hope for humans left, the only way for us to be rescued from a sinner’s hell.  No celebration of any religious fervor can equal the joy brought to the world at that glorious moment.

Consider carefully how God accomplished this miracle.  “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” (Isa. 7:14).  “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4).  Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 2:35).  God became a man at the moment of Mary’s virginal conception.  That was divine incarnation, something that had never happened before and will never happen again.  The birth which happened nine months later in Bethlehem was part of the natural process that humans go through.  The conception in Mary’s womb was the miracle, not the birth in Bethlehem’s manger.

The Christmas story is the most simple, plain, touching drama in all of literature.  From this point on the God-man Jesus would live every natural experience that humans live and He would do it without sin.  “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22).  Joseph and Mary would suffer through one of the most difficult birth circumstances, escape the wrath of a jealous king, travel back home to take up a simple carpenter’s trade, and raise a unique son as well as give birth to other natural born sons and daughters (Matt. 13:55).

This natural life that Jesus the God-man lived would be both natural and miraculous.  He suffered, cried, hungered, felt sorrow and joy, popularity and opposition, love and hatred.  He showed that He was completely human and yet displayed miraculous power showing that He was completely divine.  These miracles proved to the Jews that He was their Messiah and that their time of refreshing had come.  But they did not believe Him.

Perhaps the most unique thing about Jesus’ life was the claim that He often made that He was God’s Son, the Messiah, the Incarnation of God in the flesh.  “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).  “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).  As many have noted, no one talks like this unless one of two things is true.  Either He was delusional or He was truly God.  You can’t have it both ways.  This is what all humans have had to decide.  Is He the One Who came from heaven to take my place and carry my  sins to the cross, to die for me and resurrect so that I may also live forever, or is He a fraud and a deceiver.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”1  Alister McGrath added, “In the [Apostle’s] creed, stating that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ amounts to saying that Jesus is God. . . . If Jesus were just another human being, a creature like the rest of us, the New Testament writers would be guilty of worshiping a creature!”2

Then came the death.  “He came unto his own and his own received him not” (John 1:12).  “Crucify him . . . We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  How sad was the Jewish unbelief when their own Scriptures declare, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).  Yes, Jesus bore the sins of the whole world upon Himself.  “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).  Faith is accepting Him as your substitute in His death.

Jesus died but He rose again, bodily from the grave, and ascended back into heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand.  Death had no power over a righteous Man, and His resurrection showed that God had accepted His sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  What is the gospel, the “good news”?  “How that Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Because of Christmas, the way is opened for us to escape eternal judgment and to live forever in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, here is the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s Son.  “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).  You may receive Him now as your Savior if you believe Who He is and what He has done for you.  Christmas, in its most basic truth, is not a time of giving but a time of receiving.  It all started two thousand years ago when God broke into our natural world by miraculous birth and became one of us.  So it is true,  “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

O holy Child of Bethlehem!

Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in,

Be born in us today!

 

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Emmanuel!

 

Notes:

  1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960) 56.
  2. Alister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostle’s Creed (Downer’s Grove, IVP, 1997) 41.

 

 

Walking With God in Death

Walking With God in Death

by Rick Shrader

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We end our series about walking with God where it should end, considering the time of our death.  I don’t know why the topic should seem morbid to us, all of us will die and the only thing that can change that is the rapture of the church at the end of the age.  That is my first hope but the last thing I plan for.  We all have to live our lives like Paul, “That I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24).

It’s the fall of the year and God’s beauty and handiwork are on display all around.  Just as the year will cycle through its four seasons as God has commanded, so our life will cycle through its seasons.  I like that our house faces West so that in the morning I can sit on the back porch and look east at the sunrise with all of its splendor.  Spring and Summer offer good weather and sitting out is easy and comfortable.  But from my vantage the leaves on the trees east of our back yard block much of the view “when the morning guilds the sky.”  Now the leaves are falling and winter is coming quickly.  It is colder and more uncomfortable to sit outside yet soon the Eastern sky will be unblocked and the sunrise more glorious because the leaves are fallen.  I have found the seasons of life to be the same.  In my youth there were many necessary cares that blocked the view of the skies, but now in the Fall and coming Winter of my life I am anticipating and already enjoying the clearer view.

I have found that most older believers don’t fret or regret the younger years nor do they begrudge the youth theirs.  They know that “though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).  Most older believers enter these years, the most physically challenging of their lives, with courage, joy, humor, and strength.  For most of us, our mentors are gone on ahead and the hand that used to pull us forward is not there.  We are still pulling on the hands behind us, but our eyes are ahead of us and our growing joy awaits us.

I think I speak for many when I say that I want to walk with God to the very finish line, to “press toward the mark” (Phil. 3:14) and hear a glad “well done.”  In my wonderful years at Bethel Baptist Church in Ft. Collins, CO, Twila had been the only secretary of the church since its beginning in 1958.  She had that job for forty years until she retired.  But sadly, the same year she retired she was found with cancer that quickly took her life.  I’ll always remember when she looked at me from her bed and said, “I want to do this well.”  I can confidently say that most senior saints desire to do the same.

It has been my privilege to perform well over a hundred funerals throughout my ministry.  I’m sure that in heaven we’ll both laugh and rejoice at the funerals we attended and maybe even at our own.  But more than anything else, and much should be said at a loved one’s passing, funerals teach us the reality of life both now and forever.  “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecc. 7:4).  I have seen more lost people face the reality of death and judgment at funerals than anywhere I have preached the gospel.  It is a great testimony when positive words about faith and heaven can be given at the end of one’s Christian life.

Of course, no one can speak of death first hand but having been around it a lot, here are a few ways in which I have witnessed that we can walk with God in the closing years of our lives.

Know the inevitability of death

We know that God has said it is appointed unto us “to die” (Heb. 9:27).  This was promised to Adam and Eve when they sinned and it was passed on (as was their sin) to all of their posterity.  Every cemetery bears witness to that fact.  Psalm 90 is the only psalm with Moses’ name on it and it is a psalm about death.  He saw a lot of it in the last forty years of his life.  “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.”  But Moses didn’t end there.  He also said, “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psa. 90:10, 12).  Death is the last debt we owe to sin and we must pay it, but let us do it with Christian strength and conviction.

C.S. Lewis wrote a lot during the war years and encouraged his fellow Brits to stay positive.  He wrote, “But there is no question of death or life for any of us, only a question of this death or of that—of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later.  What does war do to death?  It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be changed.”1   There are times when death seems more frequent but it is not.  “There is a democracy about death.  It comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes.”2

It is a sad thing to perform a funeral for a lost person.  There is no hope nor comfort of the Spirit.  Death is accepted by all but with fear and not with joy.  How different for the believer and family!  “We sorrow not even as others which have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13).

Overcome the fear of death

Inevitability ought not to produce fear.  God has made provision for His saints.  The resurrected Jesus said,  “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:18).  Jesus became a man and died for us, “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).

Augustine said, “For sooner or later every man must die, and we groan, and pray, and travail in pain, and cry to God, that we may die a little later.  How much more ought we to cry to him that we may come to that place where we shall never die.”3  In our beloved current church, Charlie was a great Christian man who died of cancer.  On his deathbed while Mary his wife sat beside him, he asked, “Honey, how does a man die?”  She said, “Well, I guess you just ask God to take you.”  Charlie folded his hands over his chest, said a silent prayer, and went to sleep.  Charlie woke up but not on this side of glory but the other.  How confident the believer can be at the time of death.  As Watts wrote, “When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies, I’ll bit farewell to every fear and wipe my weeping eyes.”

Know God walks the valley with you

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).  Notice the truths in this verse.  “Though.”  It is not an if or a maybe but a certainty.  “I walk.”  We can’t run or stop but must walk at the normal speed.  God will determine the end, not us.  “Through.”  It is a valley with an open end, not a boxed canyon.  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa. 30:5).  “The valley.”  It is narrow and confining and our perspective is small.  It is not a joy to be in the valley but it is a valley with a mountain on both sides.  “Of the shadow.”  A shadow is not the real thing.  The mountain that casts the shadow is heaven itself.  “Of death.”  Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).  “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.”  When God walks with you through this valley, fear and doubt melt away.

Philip Doddridge wrote, “I acknowledge, O Lord, the justice of that sentence by which I am expiring; and own thy wisdom and goodness in appointing my journey through this gloomy vale which is now before me.  Help me to turn it into the happy occasion of honoring thee, and adorning my profession!  And I will bless the pangs by which thou art glorified, and this mortal and sinful part of my nature dissolved. . . let me close the scene nobly.”4

Stay positive and productive

Saying with Paul that we will press toward the mark at the end of our lives is easier said than done.  If we are not diligent in the later years we will become what we don’t want to be, negative, sour, and critical.  It’s not the gray hair or the aging body that makes a senior unattractive, it is the letting down of the guard when we need it most.

I ran some track when I was in high school.  I was never very good but for some reason the coach made me run the hardest race of all—the quarter mile.  That is one full circle around the track.  I say the hardest because you basically have to run full speed for about as long as you can before you collapse.  You start out well, running with energy and strength, but when you come around that last turn and head for the finish line, as they say, the old bear climbs on your back.  You can see the finish but you don’t think you can make it there.  Somehow you have to keep pushing until you cross the line.  And you would like to be the first one!

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).  The writer of Hebrews also told us that Jesus is the Author and the Finisher of our faith (12:2).  He is the starting line and the finishing line.  In the quarter mile, the starting line is also the finishing line.  If we keep our eyes on Him as we come around the last turn, we’ll have the strength to make it all the way to the right pace.  Spurgeon said, “O Lord, let them not die without hope, and may thy believing people learn to pass away without even tasting the bitterness of death.  May they enter into rest, each one walking in his own uprightness.”5

Face physical challenges well

As we come closer to the end of our days we naturally have more and more physical challenges.  The outward man is perishing though the inward man is being renewed day by day.  That is, it’s not that the soul leaves the body as much as the body deserts the soul!  The soul cannot be “absent from the body” (2 Cor. 5:8) until the body “returns to dust” (Ecc. 12:7) and the soul can “fly away” (Psa. 90:10).  This is why the soul is “willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8) but cannot go until the body finally quits.

And the body is dying!  “It is sown in corruption . . . In dishonor . . . It is sown a natural body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).  The seed has to be put into the ground and die for resurrection to take place.  This is not necessarily bad.  William Law wrote, “The greatness of those things which follow death makes all that goes before it sink into nothing.”6

I remember reading about Vance Havner speaking to college students when he was in his later years.  After he described the busy schedule that he was still keeping, a student said, “If I did all of that I would die,” to which Havner replied, “who said you can’t die?”  Paul said, why do you weep and break my heart, “for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13.  That is the Christian spirit when facing the challenges of the difficult years.

Leave a legacy after death

“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13).  As I grow older and look back over my life and then forward to the time I have left, I realize that most of what I will do in the future depends on what I have done in the past.  First my children and grandchildren, then all of those whom I have had the privilege of pastoring, these all will spread out the influence I will have in this world after I am gone.  I trust that more will be done by these than I have ever done in my short life.

This makes me adjust my priority as I get closer to finishing my course.  They will do the work, not I.  They will multiply the work and extend it far beyond the time I have.  Their work will be theirs but it will also be mine, just as my work is mine but also my predecessors.  One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase.  Paul put it this way, “Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid” (1 Tim. 5:25).  An old woodsman’s saying is, a tree is best measured when it is cut down.

Doddridge also said, “Well then, let me beseech you to learn how you should live, by reflecting how you would die, and what course you would wish to look back upon, when you are just quitting this world, and entering upon another.”7  Unfortunately I cannot go back and change something that was not the best.  I can only reconcile it with God and explain it to those I love.  Someone asks, “will your children live out what you have taught them?”  I can only answer by seeing how they are raising their own children.  “As arrows in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate” (Psa. 127:4-5).  And as John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

Look forward to life after death

The most encouraging thing I have read lately is old Richard Baxter’s, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest.  It is a treasure of encouragement for the believer to look forward, not backward, at the end of his or her life.  He wrote, “I am going to the place that I daily conversed in; to the place from whence I tasted such frequent delights; to that God whom I have met in my meditations so often.  My heart hath been in heaven before now, and hath often tasted its reviving sweetness; and if my eyes were so enlightened and my spirits so refreshed when I had but a taste, what will it be when I shall feed on it freely.”8

How often we have preached on and studied about heaven?  How often have we, in our prophetic studies, contemplated the millennial joys that we will receive for a thousand years on this earth?  How often have we studied Revelation 21 and 22 and wondered about the New Jerusalem our eternal home?  And how often have we studied both the earthly life and the heavenly life of our Lord Jesus Christ and have testified of our longing to see Him?  Well, those times are coming, and soon!  Why should we try so hard to prevent it?  We should rather rejoice that our salvation is nearer than when we believed.

Paul said it best in the last chapter of his last epistle while waiting for martyrdom.  “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).  And Peter said that we have been born again “unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  Wherein ye greatly rejoice.” (1 Pet. 1:4-5)

And so . . .

We can certainly walk with God in time of death.  In fact, this is the time of our greatest faith and our greatest witness.  I have heard many saints of God on their deathbed say, “I am so ready to go.”  I have stood over many caskets and heard people say, “He is better off now.  The pain and suffering is over, he is happier than we are.”  Well, do we really believe those things?  I know we do and I encourage all of us to practice it ourselves.

I would be amiss if I did not end this article, and also this series, with an encouragement to know Christ.  Perhaps you have read this looking for hope at the end of your life.  Look to Jesus, the One Who loved you and gave Himself for you.  He will save you from your sins and give you eternal life in heaven.  Ask Him to be your Savior today.  Then you will say with Simeon when he saw the baby Jesus, “Now let they servant depart in peace . . . For my eyes have seen thy Salvation” (Lk. 2:29-30).

Notes:

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: MacMillan, 1980) 31.
  2. John Donne, quoted in Just As I Am (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997) 464.
  3. Augustine, “Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer,” Orations (New York: Collier, 1902) 1189.
  4. Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (U. of MI. reprint, nd)  319.
  5. C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Prayers (UK: Christian Focus, 2002) 114.
  6. William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Phil: Westminster Press, 1948) 28.
  7. Doddridge, 207.
  8. Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Boston: American Tract Soc., nd) 318.

 

 

Walking With God in Judgment

Walking With God in Judgment

by Rick Shrader

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“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.  For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 11:13-14).

The words judge and judgment and their cognates appear well over five hundred times in any current Bible translation.  There is no doubt that judgment is a central part of God’s dealings with mankind in their current sinful situation.  The writer of Hebrews proclaimed that God has appointed that human beings will die (in itself a judgment) but that after that they will be judged (Heb. 9:27).  The Psalmist wrote, “The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.  Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins” (Psa. 7:8-9).

The believer should welcome God’s judgment.  First, as I will explain shortly, because our sin has been judged in Christ’s substitutionary atonement which has been applied to all who believe.  “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  But also because, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6).  God’s judgment and correction of us as believers is designed to make us better and to conform us to the image of His Son.  This is nothing less than a progressive sanctification applied to the believer in this life by the Lord.  Wayne Grudem begins that section of his theology with this description,

But now we come to a part of the application of redemption that is a progressive work that continues throughout our earthly lives.  It is also a work in which God and man cooperate, each playing distinct roles.  This part of the application of redemption is called sanctification: Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more  and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.1

This progressive work which God continues throughout our lives is a process of judgment and correction.  God sees my sins and faults and His righteous omniscience immediately judges them to be wrong and enacts a course of correction.  As a believer possessing the Holy Spirit, I realize this and yield to the Spirit’s leading, and do so quickly to avoid needed chastisement.  By this process I am made better and, at least in some very small way, made more like Christ and am more prepared for life in His presence.

Theologians often make a distinction in the types of judgment.  Rolland McCune says,  “There are fundamentally two kinds of divine judgment in Scripture: temporal and final.  Temporal judgments serve a present purpose . . . Final judgments serve an eternal purpose.”2

Temporal Judgment

Temporal judgments are those which God brings upon people, nations, and even the world within the present time and space.  1) This judgment is brought upon individuals such as when God judged Cain for his murder of Abel or when He judged Pharaoh for his refusal to let Israel leave Egypt.   Paul wrote, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7-8).

2) This judgment is brought upon nations throughout history.  This is especially true of those nations that persecuted and harassed Israel, “for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of God’s eye” (Zech. 2:8).  Assyria and Babylon especially came under this judgment from God.  Zechariah also prophesied (Zech. 1:18-21), in the vision of the four horns and the four carpenters, that God used one nation as a horn upon another and then used that same nation as a carpenter upon another nation.  Job said, “He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again” (Job 12:23).  Nations such as America are not exempt from God’s judgment for sins of atheism, fornication, gender perversion, and murder of millions of defenseless unborn children.  3) Temporal judgment is also brought upon the world.  The great catastrophes of history are testimony to this:  the fall, the Noahic flood, the tower of Babel, the destruction of Jerusalem.  In the end of this age God will judge the world in one of the greatest of all temporal judgments, the great tribulation period.

The greatest temporal judgment to ever take place, however, was on the cross of Calvary.  There judgment was made for our sins and also to bring judgment on our accuser.  Herman Hoyt put it this way,

The cross involved a threefold judgment:  1) of sin, by imputation to Christ (Rom 8:3); 2) of believers, by identification with Christ (2 Cor 5:14, Gal 2:20); and 3) of the world and its prince by implication (Jn 12:31-33).”  Therefore sin is taken away, the world and Satan are completely doomed, and the believer is no longer under condemnation.  “The cross thus stands as the supreme exhibition and harbinger of all final judgment, for it reveals the righteous judgment of God (Rom 3:25) and it separates men into two classes (Jn 3:14-18).3

Temporal judgments also come into a Christian’s life for various reasons.  1) For sins of the flesh.  Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27, NKJV).  To “bring it into subjection” (from doulagōgeō) means to lead about into slavery.  Our body has many members that, if wrongly used, can bring God’s judgment on us in our lives.  2) For sins of motivation.  To lust after a woman is the same as adultery (Matt. 5:32); to covet another’s possessions is the same as idolatry (Eph. 5:5); and to hate a brother is the same as murder (1 John 3:15).  Paul admonished the Corinthians, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31).  3) For disobedience to the Word of God.  The Bible is God’s direct revelation to us of His will.  “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).  4) For sins against our brethren.  “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (Jas. 5:9).  5) For sins against whole churches.  The seven churches in Revelation had to understand that they would be under the immediate judgment of God if they did not amend their ways.  To the church at Ephesus He said,  “Remember therefore from whence thou are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5).

How does God proceed in His temporal judgment upon believers?  First, the Holy Spirit Who indwells us uses the Word of God to bear His message upon our hearts.  Second, our conscience, if trained correctly by God’s Word, condemns us when we are out of God’s will.  Third, God uses authorities in our lives to confront and correct us.  This may be parents, teachers and coaches, civil authorities, or even friends and other acquaintances.  Fourth, God uses providences of His own making to stop us, inform us, and to change our direction.

Final Judgment

Final judgment is the easiest for us to understand because we are  often taught that judgment is coming after this life.  1) God will judge Satan and angels.  “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).  2) God will judge all the lost at the White Throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).  “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (vs. 15).  “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psa. 9:17).

3) There is also a final judgment for believers, i.e., a judgment beyond the temporal time of our lives, one that takes place after our rapture or resurrection.  “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10).  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).  The participants of this judgment include all believers from the age of grace, or the whole church of Jesus Christ.  The time and place of this judgment is immediately after the rapture  when the church is in heaven.  The crowns that believers receive at this judgment are already being cast before the throne in Rev. 4:10, at the very beginning of the tribulation period.  This is not a judgment for sin, for that has been forever judged on the cross, but rather it is a judgment of our works as Christians.  Ryrie explains,

The nature of the believer’s works will be examined in this judgment to distinguish worthy works from worthless ones.  These works are the deeds done by the believer during his Christian life.  All will be reviewed and examined.  Some will pass the test because they were good; others will fail because they were worthless.  Both good and bad motives will be exposed; then every believer will receive his due praise from God.  What grace!4

The Bema Seat is not merely for the sake of passing out crowns and robes and then turning them back in.  They represent reward beyond that specific time.  McCune says,

The crowns of believers may be literal, but they may also signify something far greater.  It is virtually inconceivable that the reward for a life of sacrificial service and faithful obedience to God will be a few pounds of metal.  The crowns represent varying degrees of blessedness or position in God’s kingdom.5

Concerning our positions in the kingdom, McCune also says, “In the parable of the minas/pounds (Luke 19:12-27), while not speaking directly of the judgment seat of Christ, it, nevertheless, implies that heavenly rewards are framed in terms of responsibilities or of capacities to rule cities in the kingdom of God.”6  The final judgment for believers, therefore, is a wonderful event in which we will be finally prepared for our life in the kingdom and eternity.  “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).

Self Judgment

Again, Paul told the church at Corinth, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31).  This area that I call self judgment is properly placed within temporal judgments, but I have kept it until last because it becomes our most immediate responsibility.  The list could be expanded to include many areas of our Christian lives, but I give seven for our present consideration.

1) Judgment on our mental life.  “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-6).  The thoughts of our mind control the actions of our lives.  If we don’t think right we won’t do right.  In order to serve God we must constantly judge our own thinking and offer our thoughts as captives to Him.

2) Judgment on our physical life.  “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13).  The Bible is full of commands concerning the believer’s actions.  The body that we live in is our space, and we have no other.  My stewardship centers on this space and what I do with it.  After Paul had admonished the Roman believers to “know” and “reckon,” he then admonishes them to “yield” and not to “yield” themselves to the good and the bad influences in life.  This is what Grudem (in the earlier quote) called a work in which God and man cooperate.  We must stand in judgment on our own physical lives.

3) Judgment on our church life.  “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)  And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:23-25).  The purpose for life in the local church is to exhort and be exhorted by brothers and sisters in Christ while we all assemble together and learn God’s Word.  We cannot do this if we don’t assemble, nor if we simply entertain ourselves, nor if we become distracted by busyness in extra-curricular activities.  This is an area where churches can be very anemic but one in which we must push ourselves to do in a Biblical way.

4) Judgment on our devotional life.  We are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Co. 3:16), to enter into our closet and pray (Matt. 6:6), to “meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).  Though it is a day of easy access to Bible texts, devotional ideas, and daily meditational thoughts, we seem to actually spend less time in devotions.  It is true that many people have to find ways to save time and accomplish things on the go, but we must remember that there is no more important thing than time with God.  Morning, noon, or night affords us some time when we can meet with our Lord.

5) Judgment on our evangelistic life.  “And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).  This is an area where we have to judge ourselves constantly.  It is, admittedly, one of the most difficult things we do.  It is not necessarily our nature to interject ourselves into others’ business.  Yet we must remember that the gospel IS our business, and they are part of that business!  It is not easy to persuade someone in the things of God, especially in a time or place that is growing hostile to the gospel.  Compassion and fear are good Biblical motivators that we must use.

6) Judgment on our family life.  “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.  Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:18-21).  The family is the foundation for civilization and culture.  As believers we know what the family should look like and how the family should conduct itself.  We must not let the unsaved culture dictate what a Christian family is.  A Christian family is a marriage between a man and a woman who together bear and raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  This Biblical ideal will become more and more difficult as time goes on but we must constantly evaluate how we are doing.

7) Judgment on our life’s life.  I mean by this, are we giving our very lives to the Lord as we ought?  Moses concluded his only Psalm with this plea, “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psa. 90:17).  No one can really evaluate your life except you and God.  You know whether you have followed His will and whether you are walking in His commandments.  “The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him” (Prov. 20:7).

And so . . .

Remember the words of old Richard Baxter (1615-1691) who encouraged his readers to use soliloquy.

By soliloquy, or a pleading the case with thyself, thou must in thy meditation quicken thy own heart.  Enter into a serious debate with it.  Plead with it in the most moving and effecting language, and urge it with the most powerful and weighty arguments.  It is what holy men of God have practiced in all ages.  Thus David, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul; and why art thou disquieted within me? . . . It is a preaching to one’s self; for as every good master or father of a family is a good preacher to his own family, so every good Christian is a good preacher to his own soul.7

Notes:

  1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 746.
  2. Rolland McCune, Systematic Theology, vol. III (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010) 409.
  3. Herman Hoyt, The End Times (Chicago: Moody Books, 1978) 217.
  4. Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987) 512.
  5. McCune, 415.
  6. p. 414.
  7. Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Boston: American Tract Society, nd.) 351.

 

 

The Meekness of Wisdom

The Meekness of Wisdom

by Rick Shrader

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“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?  Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13)

 

Who wants to violate the first characteristic of meekness and write about it?  Who wants to appear to be like the one who brags about being humble?  Yet meekness and humility are crucial Biblical subjects in which we all fall woefully short.  We better at least be thinking about them.

Every time I read James, I stop at 3:13 and think about “the meekness of wisdom,” and wonder what that looks like.  I think of certain men and women I have known who seemed to display this Christian characteristic but still wonder how they came to it.  I could list their names but I know they wouldn’t care if I did or didn’t.  Of course, the greatest example of meekness is the Savior Himself.  “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Paul addressed the Corinthian church, “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1).

Besides the perfect example of Christ, meekness is the subject of one of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5), a quotation from Psa. 37:11.  Meekness is one of the fruits of the Spirit as well as an oft commanded Christian characteristic, “showing meekness unto all men” (Tit. 3:2); “a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:4).

James chapter three deals primarily with the tongue and the problem we all have with controlling it.  “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (vs. 8).  He shows our hypocrisy in using our tongue to bless God and then curse men who are made in His image.  God isn’t so inconsistent, James says, in His created world.  He doesn’t have one tree bear two kinds of fruit, nor a fountain produce both fresh water and bitter.  But immediately after that comparison He asks who the wise man is who has the meekness of wisdom.

The human tongue today is anything but meek.  We are far beyond an ethos of quietness and gentleness.  Maybe there was a time when, following James’ advice, we thought we should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” because “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (1:19-20).  I’m not sure how parents today can raise a meek child.  Everything they hear and imitate is forward and brash from the clothes they wear to the frown on their faces to the vulgarity that comes out of their mouths.  Can we blame them?  Every show they watch, every video game they play, every athlete they imitate, every singer they mimic, every star they idolize, even every commercial that appeals to their little sinful natures, all teach them anything but meekness.

Do we grow out of this youthful narcissism?  Not hardly.  This “post-everything” culture has left civility far behind.  One cannot escape the crudeness, the brashness, the immodesty, the lawlessness, the forwardness that is this generation.  The portrait of our culture really is the commercial.  Whether on TV or online or on your smart phone, the commercial is designed by the brightest, most technologically advanced, most researched people on earth, to sell you something.  I call the commercial “the obvious lie.”  Nothing can be that good or that bad.  The hamburger in the picture is nothing like the one they serve me at the counter.  But the image is everything.  “This is the car you’d like to be seen in” is the unspoken message.  Just imagine a commercial designed around meekness of wisdom!  “We know that everyone thinks this is cool but don’t be as stupid as they are.”

So what does the meekness of wisdom look like?  Will we know it when we see it?  We won’t see it in popular programs or successful sitcoms.  Nor will it be found in popular music, televised sports, political campaigns, or in online advertising.  Sadly, it may seldom appear in Christian programing and, if we would all be honest, neither in our own lives and attitudes.  The lack of meekness is a direct attribute of our sinful nature, that selfish bent which still resides in us.  We know in our heads that real meekness comes from the Spirit of God Who forms the life of Christ in us, but living the fruit of the Spirit is a constant war which goes on within our hearts.

What meekness is not

James calls real wisdom “the wisdom that is from above” (3:17) but says, “if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (3:14-16).  “Devilish,” of course, means “demonic.”  There is one devil and he has a host of demons who have complete “doctrines” (1 Tim. 3:1) on how to seduce believers.  Fighting seems to be a big part of their game plan and Peter says that fleshly lusts “war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

James, after describing that wisdom which is from above, continues his description of the wisdom from below.  “From whence come wars and fightings among you?  Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?  Ye lust, and have not: ye kill and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not because he ask not” (4:1-2).  This war is going on in our “members.”  These are the parts of our unredeemed bodies that are susceptible to the lusts of the flesh.  Paul describes this battle that rages within us of yielding our members to righteousness or unrighteousness (Rom. 6:12-17).

James says that we lose our power in prayer when we are losing this battle with the flesh (4:2-3). Peter described how the husband is supposed to dwell with his wife according to knowledge so that his prayers are not hindered with God (1 Pet. 3:7).  James called those who succumb to this lower wisdom “adulterers and adulteresses”  and says that if such a state makes us want to be friends of the world, it would also make us an “enemy of God” (4:4).  Therefore, the lack of true meekness and wisdom is a serious condition that believers must avoid.

What meekness is

James did not leave us with theory only.  He tells us how to live out the meekness found in true wisdom.  John Newton, the former slave trader turned pastor, writer, hymnist, who also knew how to sail a vessel, not just to talk about it, said,

The tongue of the truly learned, that can speak a word in season to them that are weary, is not acquired like Greek and Latin by reading great books—but by self-knowledge and soul exercises.  To learn navigation by the fireside will never make a man an expert mariner.  He must do his business in great waters.  And practice will bring him into many situations of which general theory could give him no conception.1

So James also gives us four ways to display the meekness of wisdom in our lives.

1. Purity. The description of the “wisdom from above” (3:17) begins where most lists of godliness begin, with purity and virtue (see 2 Pet. 1:5). This is because our great Example is Jesus Christ Himself Who was a lamb “without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19), “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22).  This spotless lamb mentioned throughout the book of Revelation (though also having “wrath”) is contrasted with the “beast” who knows no meekness.  Where would we be if Jesus had not been as “a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers” (Isa. 53:7)?  His meekness secured our salvation through His submission to the cross.

In James’ list, “purity” precedes “peaceable” and peaceable precedes “gentle.”  The reason for envy and strife, is a lack of gentleness, which comes from a lack of peaceableness, which comes from a lack of purity.  This meekness of wisdom should look gentle and peaceable, but that look is deceiving if there is not purity underneath.  I picture this as a river that flows gently along creating a peaceful  atmosphere all around.  The psalmist used the picture of the millennial city of God, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” followed by the well-known verse, “be still and know that I am God” (Psa. 46:4, 10).  The hymn writer used this image also,

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,

Over all victorious in its bright increase; (vs 1)

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,

Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there. (vs 2)

The meekness of wisdom is first pure and then peaceable.  The fighting and wars that often characterize the believer’s life do not come from this source.  They come from the wars within our members and between our brothers and sisters that attack our very souls.

2. Humility. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. . . Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (4:6, 10).  Peter has a similar admonition, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).  The Psalmist wrote, “The LORD lifteth up the meek” (147:6).  John the Baptist knew that in order for Jesus to increase, he himself must decrease (John 3:30).

The Bible records in a parenthesis, “(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth)”  (Num. 12:3).  Surely God had exalted and greatly used this humble man.  The great missionary Hudson Taylor once said, “God chose me because I was weak enough.  God does not do His great works by large committees.  He trains somebody to be quiet enough and little enough and then He uses him.”2  The believer is wrong-headed who desires to be great in order to be important among men.  History shows that great men only desired to be godly and humble, and then God used them in great ways.  Meekness is not a tool but an end in itself.

3) Control of the tongue.  This whole section in James began with his lecture about the tongue.  A man should not even strive to be a teacher if he cannot control the tongue by which he would make his living (3:1).  “For in many things we offend all.  If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (3:2).  An obvious example of a lack of meek wisdom is the double use of the tongue.  “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God” (3:9).  Cursing is the sign of a person with limited vocabulary and no wisdom.  Such a person cannot control the rest of his body either.  A single woman should never marry such a man because this “double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (1:8).  “There is no worse pride than that which claims humility when it does not possess it.”3

Peter was very conscious of our ability to defend our faith.  The defense of our faith, however, does not come with an uncontrolled tongue.  “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Paul admonished Timothy that, “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient; in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

It seems evident that modern man has lost this sense of quiet strength manifested in meekness, especially the meekness of our tongue.  Generations ago, Philip Doddridge, wrote, “Examine also, whether you advance in humility.  This is a silent, but most excellent grace; and they who are most eminent in it, are dearest to God, and most fit for the communications of his presence to them.”4  Are our communications laced with the meekness of wisdom?  Or are our words careless and selfish?  Meekness controls the tongue.

4) Following God’s will.  James ends this section on the meekness of wisdom with a unique soliloquy at the end of chapter four.  “Go to now, ye who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain” (4:13).  But James interrupts the boast by saying, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that” (4:15).

The will of God is squarely tied to the Word of God and the Word of God requires meekness to accept and follow.  James has already said, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (1:21, NKJ).  If something is obviously not Biblical then it is definitely not God’s will.  The Holy Spirit Who wrote the Word will not, indeed could not, direct you contrary to what He has written.  George Mueller  once said,

I never remember a period that I ever sincerely and patiently sought to know the will of God by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of the Word of God, but I have been always directed rightly.  But if honesty of heart and uprightness before God were lacking, or if I did not patiently wait upon God for instruction, or if I preferred the counsel of my fellow men to the declarations of the Word of the living God, I made great mistakes.5

It makes perfect sense that true wisdom, especially the meekness of wisdom, is essentially tied to God’s Word.  The omniscient God cannot reveal anything that is not absolutely right and true.  If we are thinking in accord with that Word, then our thoughts and words must be true, wise, and meek.  This takes meekness because our thoughts may not initially be in accord to His Word and therefore we have to adjust and admit that wisdom is not ours but God’s.

How many of us have made a life-changing decision and then later realized that the decision was not wise?  Someone said that we spend half our lives trying to make right decisions and the other half trying to make decisions right.  However, admitting to God that we were wrong takes meekness coupled with the right wisdom from God.  James calls this the meekness of wisdom because understanding God’s wisdom (and who can know it apart from His Word?) demands conformity to it on our part.  It is not our nature to accept our error graciously and therefore it asks of us great meekness.

And so . . .

Some things take a life-time to accomplish and with many of those one life-time is not enough.  Life in the New Jerusalem will be wonderful partly because, “there shall be no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).  The joys of heaven can only be fully appreciated when our old nature is completely gone and corruption has put on incorruption and mortality has put on immortality.  When that time comes, in some mysterious way, we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2) and our meekness and humility will be as natural as our new condition.

Until then the commandments of God are our stewardship and the meekness of wisdom our responsibility.  The old nature which we possess is contrary to that kind of wisdom and it takes constant struggle on our part to be successful.  A.W. Tozer had a good reminder:

If you are too big for a little place, you are too little for a big place. . . Humility pleases God wherever it is found, and the humble man will have God for his friend and helper always.  Only the humble man is completely sane, for he is the only one who sees clearly his own size and limitations.6

“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?  Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”

Notes:

  1. John Newton, 365 Days With John Newton, entry: September 16.
  2. Quoted by William Petersen (Ed.) C.S. Lewis had a Wife; Catherine Marshall had a Husband, (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1985) 69.
  3. C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978) Psa. 131, p. 87.
  4. Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of the Soul Religion in the Soul (U. of MI reprint, nd) 272.
  5. Quoted by Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God (Nashville: Broadman & Homan, 1998) 111.
  6. A.W. Tozer, This World: Playground or Battleground? (Camp Hill: Wing Spread Publishers, 1989) p. 36.

 

 

The Greater Virtues

The Greater Virtues

by Rick Shrader

It is the selfish part of our human nature to place our energies on the showy but lesser virtues rather than upon the more difficult and greater virtues.  Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23).  The lost world is steeped in fornication, violence, and profanity.  The believer may feel good about himself that he does not do these obvious things, but having not committed adultery or killed or stolen or cursed, the believer neglects to go on to the weightier matters of virtue.

The New Testament lists of virtues and vices begin with the prerequisite of faith.  Paul, in Galatians 5, sharply contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.  John, in 1 John 1, divides those who are under the cleansing blood of Christ from those who are not.  Peter, in 2 Peter 1, insists that you can only add virtue to true faith.  In fact, Peter tells us that we have all things that pertain to life and godliness because we have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:4).

The unsaved world is given over to fornication and violence because these are the greatest temptations to our sinful nature and they have no defense against them.  Though even a lost man or woman can display human virtues, they generally gravitate to the baser things of the flesh and leave the weightier matters of civility and virtue undone.  The unregenerate soul has little to no defense against sin.

To the believer in Jesus Christ, it is a matter of serious immaturity to wallow in fornication, violence, and vulgarities and not proceed further to the better yet more difficult virtues of judgment, mercy, and faith.  Peter says that we must first “add” purity to faith and then add other virtues in similar order (2 Pet. 1:5).  James said that the wisdom from above is “first pure” (Jas. 3:17).  Paul reminded the Corinthians that they could not grow in knowledge because they had not first dealt with their carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-3).  Peter says that when we have added virtue to faith, then we can add knowledge to virtue, and then temperance to knowledge.  Temperance is usually translated self-control.  After this there comes patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

As a pastor, over the years I have watched believers stall out at the step of temperance or self-control (egkratos, “self-governance”).  We all start out our Christian life with our sins forgiven and being filled with the Spirit.  We begin to add the knowledge of God’s Word and we attempt to do the things we read but soon become discouraged at our lack of ability to do them consistently.  At this point, rather than adding patience (the ability to bear under the load) to self-control, believers fall prey to sin, cycle back to the first things, and try again.  The same scenario happens again and again and going on to the greater virtues becomes a revolving door to more defeat.

As we have seen in Romans 6, the believer still has a sinful nature and still lives in the “body of sin.”  Therefore the believer can also wallow in the baser sins of fornication, violence, and vulgarity.  These kinds of things are immediately satisfying to the flesh like sugary dessert to the palate.  The tragedy is that they keep us from going on to the maturity and joy of the deeper virtues of life.  We have seen too many moral failures among leaders, all of which do great damage to the cause of Christ.  We should have out-grown the sins of our youth.  Paul admonished young Timothy to be an example of the believer in purity (1 Tim. 4:12, 5:2) and to exercise himself rather unto godliness (4:7).  We should go on to the greater virtues and not leave these basic matters of morality undone.  This is surely one of the blessings of old age, but even senior saints can miss out on the blessings of the greater virtues.  We need this spiritual growth in youth and elders alike in this permissive generation.

The greater virtues then are not the showy things that others see.  We can, after all, busy ourselves with serving to be seen of men; with social action that pleases the world; or with great swelling words of wisdom that attract a crowd.  We can even be proud of ourselves that we have not killed anyone lately, robbed a bank this year, or committed adultery while married.  “These things ought ye to have done!”  But what about those inward virtues that are even more difficult to manage:  pride, meekness, a quiet and gentle spirit, patience, civility?  These are also things which we must bring into subjection and for which we use our members as instruments of righteous.  These are the things that are often lacking in our Christian life.

Those early choices in life

It is almost impossible for a young man or woman to foresee how the early choices in life will determine most of the rest of life.  The family teaching and conviction will greatly determine the college one chooses.  The college one chooses will probably provide the mate one chooses for life.  This life’s mate will then determine family relations, your children and how you raise them, and even your children’s children.  These choices will in turn determine your church life and your adult convictions and choices about worldly and cultural things.  It will be these relationships that one must rely upon in the older and needful years of one’s life.  Who could know these things early in life?

My mother used to say that it is a shame we don’t have the wisdom of later years during those younger years when we teach our children.  But she also admitted that she wouldn’t trade the strength of those early years even for the wisdom of the later years (and vica versa!).  But the Bible has a great solution to this dilemma.  Listen to your elders!  “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: for they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck” (Prov. 1:8-9).  “He taught me also, and said unto me, let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments and live” (Prov. 4:4).  This is a virtue that is being lost in our current culture.

A humble spirit

God said through Isaiah, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).  Pride is the most profound effect of sin upon the human soul.  The sinner finds himself without God’s leading and protection and prides himself as the master of his universe.  The believer must also guard against this sin because we still have this independent streak within.  “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.  Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud” (Prov. 16:18-19).

A humble spirit is not a resignation to failure.  It is to rely on God and not on ourselves, to realize that He is the Owner and King of our lives.  “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7).  “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Lk. 14:11).

The patience of Job

“Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (Jas. 5:11).  In the New Testament, patience either expresses the ability to remain under a burden (hupomenē) or to take the long look (makrothumia).

We all have burdens to bear in life and some have much greater burdens than others.  “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (Jas. 1:4).  Sometimes we are persecuted for our faith and we are admonished to “take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Pet. 2:20).  We all wait for the coming of the Lord to deliver us from this present evil world, “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (Jas. 5:8).

When we were young we wanted to grow up sooner; when we were in school we wanted to finish and get on with our lives; when we were single we wanted to be married; when we were in the lowest position at work we wanted to be the boss; when we became the boss we wanted to retire.  Though the Lord wants us to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1), we are not very good at it.  How much better and more useable our life would be if we were patient.

A temperance movement

As we have seen, we are to add to our Biblical knowledge temperance.  This seems like an old word referring to that movement where marching women protested alcohol.  It is something like that.  The word means to be self-governed and the NKJV always translates it “self-control” except in 1 Cor. 9:25 where the athlete is said to be “temperate in all things.”  Neither is it a common word, appearing only in the New Testament three times as “temperance” and three times as “temperate.”  We see that Paul reasoned or witnessed to  king Agrippa about temperance (Acts 24:25); temperance is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23); and, along with a long list of virtues such as holy, good, and just, we are also to be temperate.

It would do us well to initiate a little temperance in our everyday lives.  Americans are very fortunate to have the life-style we enjoy.  But for the most part we are opulent compared to the rest of the world and to history.  We spend a lot of money on things we don’t need; we eat a lot that we really shouldn’t; we entertain ourselves in ways that are questionable; we even hoard our wealth rather than distribute to the necessity of the saints.  It’s not that God is a killjoy and doesn’t want us to enjoy the world He’s given us.  But it is rather that we are here for a purpose; we are stewards of things that really belong to Him; and the greatest joys in life are more often the simple things that are already within our reach.  Paul instructed the Philippians that whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report, “if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Minding our manners

In England when you step off the train you will see a sign at your feet that says, “Mind the gap” which means that you are to pay attention to the space between the train and the platform.  Someone long ago said that the only thing keeping a nation from either totalitarianism or anarchy was manners—the ability to govern ourselves according to the moral law.  Most of us were taught common manners when we were children:  saying please and thank you, yes ma’am and yes sir, opening the door for a lady, not speaking out of turn, etc.

When the Bible says that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33), it uses the word ethos.  That is defined today as “The character or attitude peculiar to a specific culture or group” (American Heritage Dictionary).  The NKJV has “habits,” and the ESV has “morals.”  Perhaps Paul’s description of the attitude of Moses is best, “And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness” (Acts 13:18).  Sometimes we feel like that in our own American culture.

Sometimes the Bible speaks negatively of the “manners” (or more common, “manner”) of the heathen nations around His people Israel (e.g. Lev. 20:23).  What are our manners like?  Do we adopt an ethos of the lost people around us?  Have our communications corrupted our good manners?  What about our talking, social networking, self-expressions, and even modesty?  These are virtues too.

Looking in the mirror

When you look in the mirror every morning, what do you see?  Do you see a lot of things you don’t like and wish you could change, or do you see someone made in God’s image and someone for whom Jesus died?  We have already seen that the things related to our sinful nature need to be worked on and changed for the good, and with God’s help we can do that.  But here I am talking about the way you are; the person you are; the DNA you were given at conception.  These are things in your life that you cannot change and must accept.

It is a terrible thing today for people to refuse to accept their gender or their personhood.  This is to reject God as Creator and to reject the image of God, the Imago Dei, in their very souls.  Rather we should see our physical existence, our very life, as a gift from God which He treasures very much.  After all, He will one day resurrect all physical bodies and fit them for eternal life.

“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18).  “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written” (Psa. 137:14-16).

I must not complain to God for the way I am made.  He has made me, and each of us, a special vessel to be used by His own sovereign hand.  He has given me gifts and abilities that only I possess.  He has placed me in a unique time and place, among people and culture that I am made to minister.  I may be a clay vessel, but I am His clay vessel.  “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?”  (Psa. 8:3-4).

The faithful steward

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).  Faithfulness, then, is the capstone of our greater virtues.  God requires it of us because He Himself is faithful by His very nature and we are to be like Him.  Jeremiah saw the destruction of Jerusalem and yet could say, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).  David said, “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds” (Psa. 36:5).

The Proverbs describe the godly man as “a faithful ambassador” (13:17), “a faithful witness” (14:5), a faithful man” (20:6, 28:20), and “a faithful messenger” (25:13).  Paul often described his fellow laborers as “faithful in the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:17), a “faithful minister” (Eph. 6:21, Col. 1:7, 4:7), and “faithful brethren” (Col. 1:2).  When we are faithful we are displaying the very characteristic of God.  Even if we fail in this, “yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

Faithfulness to God’s house is a command of the Lord (Heb. 10:25;  1 Thes. 5:27) as well as to the ordinances of His house.  We may also be faithful in our service to the needy. But faithfulness also reaches to those unseen actions that are so easily left undone.  Our prayer life and Bible study are the life-blood of our Christian walk and yet unfaithfulness to these leaves us spiritually anemic.  Opening our mouths and speaking the gospel to the lost can be omitted for weeks, months, or even years.  Faithfulness is a characteristic the Christian has because God is faithful.

And so . . .

The greater virtues are the harder ones, those no one sees but you and God.  The question is, are they real in your life?  Francis Schaeffer was a well-known apologist who wrote many books and did much speaking.  He died in 1984 but his wife Edith lived for twelve more years.  L.G. Parkhurst wrote a biography of the Schaeffers and said of Edith, “Edith prays that as a Christian she will be like solid wood all the way through, and not like pressed wood with veneer on top hiding what is underneath.”1

It is easy to be a veneered Christian, showing the easier virtues on top of our lives, but it is harder to be a solid Christian all the way through.  It is harder because it is not showy and no one else ever sees whether it is real or not.  But I remind us all again of Isaiah’s words, “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite one” (Isa. 57:15).

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD?  Or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart . . . This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face”  (Psa. 24:3-4, 6).

Notes:

  1. L.G. Parkhurst, Jr., Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996) 13.

 

 

Our Sanctification, Part 2, A Reset

Our Sanctification, Part 2, A Reset

by Rick Shrader

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In part 1 we explored the subject of sanctification in its various aspects including the failures of legalism and license.  We also asked the questions, Why do we have to continually fight against sin?  How is the power of sin removed from us?  Do we ever get to a place where we have victory over sin?  How is this a matter of pleasing God?  Are we to just buckle down and work as hard as we can whether we like it or not, or are we to just let go and let God do it all?  Neither of these options will answer the questions we have.  Sanctification is hard work but it is joyful work.  God will surely help us, complete His work in us, and will also be a partner with us in our walk.

In part 2 I want to “reset” our perspective on sanctification.  Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun and that is true in this field as in any other.  I don’t claim to have come up with some new formula whereby we all can walk with absolute victory in our Christian life.  I have spent the last year reading authors (many of them again) from almost every point of view on sanctification.  I must admit that I have enjoyed almost all of them and have been encouraged from both sides of the theological (albeit evangelical) spectrum.  But I also realize when the slope begins to get a little slippery and I understand how the Christian who is struggling with sin can become discouraged at trying to find a biblical and sensible solution to his problem.

My aim therefore will be to try to find that biblical (and practical) center for which I think all Christian authors are striving.  For myself, I have always enjoyed the Christian walk.  I was saved at eleven years old and started living seriously for the Lord in my High School years.  I went off to Bible College at eighteen and seminary after that.  I was a youth pastor, an associate pastor, a Bible College teacher, and then have been a pastor since 1985.  I have loved every church I have been in, large or small, and in all of this my life has remained pretty conservative and separated by almost anyone’s measure and, frankly, I love it.  I love my personal time early in the mornings and evenings.  I love my small local church where great people sing out hymns with untrained but joyful voices and talk forever after the services.  Even as a pastor I still teach a class of singles and love it.  But I also love the older saints and learn from them how to approach daunting struggles in life.  I just love Christianity.  I don’t think of it as a drudgery because there are commands to keep.  Neither am I afraid that the liberty I have in Christ will drop me off a deep end somewhere.  I want to live a God-honoring older life and I’m also looking forward to seeing heaven.

Romans 6 – walking in Spirit

All of us who believe in salvation by grace alone, and therefore in eternal security also, sympathize with all of those who try to explain justification and sanctification in Romans 5 and 6.  Most authors reiterate our standing in Christ as Paul describes it here.  In salvation we died with Christ in His death and have been raised with Him in His resurrection.  Our old man, the life that we had before, is now gone.  We are no longer under the ownership or dominion of that life or the master of that realm, the devil himself.  Paul says, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6).  John Murray described it this way,

“If we view sin as a realm or sphere, then the believer no longer lives in that realm or sphere.  And just as it is true with reference to life in the sphere of this world that the person who has died ‘passed away, and lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found’ (Psa. 37:36), so it is with the sphere of sin; the believer is no longer there because he has died to sin . . . The believer died to sin once and he has been translated to another realm.”1

The idea of being transferred by salvation to a new realm of existence is a common and good analogy.  Some may simply call it “positional truth,” or the doctrine of our “union with Christ.”  DeYoung uses the analogy of an athlete leaving one team and being drafted by another team because of no real talent of his own, and now he wears a new jersey.2  Jerry Bridges says, “But now through our union with Christ in His death to sin, we have been delivered out of the realm of sin and placed in the kingdom and realm of righteousness.”3  So we should “know” that our justification is the basis for everything else, especially for our sanctification.

Romans 6 – walking in the body

But we still sin!  Why?  Paul makes it very plain:  though we are saved and secure, we have a “mortal body” (vs. 12), a “body of sin” (vs. 6).  This part of us will remain unredeemed until resurrection.  The good news is that, “our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed (lit. ‘rendered inoperative’), that henceforth we should not serve sin” (vs. 6).  This means that “death has no more dominion over [us]” (vs. 9).  We have a new Master and we don’t have to listen to the old one.  Our old master still wants to “reign” (vs.12) over us but he has no authority.

In the slave world of the Roman Empire one might see this often.  A slave is sold to a new master but the old master walks by and says, “shine my boots.”  The slave, who doesn’t belong to him anymore, begins to kneel down and shine his boots.  But the new master says, “stop, you don’t belong to him any longer and you don’t have to obey his commands.”  In a similar way Paul says to the new believer, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness” (vs. 13).  Our “members” are the parts of our body that are still susceptible to sin.  When Paul also says, “Likewise reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin,” (vs. 11) I think the best way to translate “reckon” into our vernacular is to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Handley Moule portrayed it best in his old way, “Cancelled does not mean annihilated.  The body still exists, and sin exists, and desires exist.  It is for you, O man in Christ, to say to the enemy, defeated yet present, ‘thou shalt not reign; I veto thee in the name of my King.’”4  So Romans 6 has taught us that though we are secure in Christ, we still live in real flesh and we are susceptible to its demands.  Yet our union with Christ has set us free from its ownership and dominion.  It is in this sense that “He that is dead is freed from sin” (vs. 7).

Those Biblical commands

There is a tendency today to divide the “indicatives” in Scripture from the “imperatives.”  What is meant is that our justification, our position in Christ, is usually described in Scripture with the present tense indicative—it is something that is a fact and is true every minute of every day.  Commands, however, are usually in the imperative mode—they are something that we are commanded to do.  It has become fashionable to encourage sinning believers to stop trying so hard to keep commandments.  After all, doesn’t that take human effort to try to please God, and isn’t pleasing God with human effort legalism at best?  Wouldn’t it be better to focus on what Christ has already done?  Doing that will cause us to do right without all that ugly, judgmental, legalistic human effort.

Of course, today’s culture loves such talk.  But it is built on a half truth at best.  Yes, there is no ability to keep imperatives without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Yes, Christians can focus too much on who we are (a “look at me” mentality) and not enough on Who Christ is.  But, no, you can’t please God without obeying His commands.  Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15); “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (John 14:21); “That as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more . . . For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus” (1 Thes. 4:1-3).

In refuting this very error, DeYoung points out the irony of insisting on the indicatives to the exclusion of the imperatives itself becomes an imperative!  “Stop doing the one and start doing the other!”5  Commandments in Scripture are not just the Mosaic law.  Anything God has said is truth and anything He says for us to do is a commandment, even the gospel, faith, and loving one another.  John says in his epistle, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).  The life of Christ itself is a commandment to us.

My encouragement would be to stop thinking of commandments as something to dread and begin loving God’s commandments.  What is the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, all about?  In one statement—I love God’s law!  “Oh how I love thy law!  It is my meditation all the day” (119:97).  When we consider that the believer today has the New Testament, what about its precepts is there not to love?  Even the negative commands that are difficult and cost us dearly to keep are only the loving discipline from our Lord.

Exercise is no fun—at first.  Diet is certainly no fun—at first.  After a while however they become easier and even enjoyable.  We are to exercise ourselves unto godliness because it brings the blessing of this life and the life to come (1 Tim. 4:7).  It is the “peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11).

There’s nothing wrong with work

I doubt that any Christin would deny that God created us to work.  The garden of Eden is the prototype of God-ordained work.  Idleness was never God’s intention for human beings.  We are made in His image and He is our example.  Psalm 111 is a Psalm extolling the work of God, “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein . . . His work is honorable and glorious . . . He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered” (Psa. 111:2-4).  Winston Churchill was one human being who loved his work.  He wrote, “It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.  Broadly speaking, human beings may be divided into three classes; those who are toiled to death, those who are worried to death; and those who are bored to death.”6

I think too many Christians are bored to death with working and keeping God’s commandments.  Why should we be?  If we are created to work, and the commandments of God are the greatest type of work, shouldn’t we be the happiest people in the world when we are doing what He has commanded us to do?  Philip Doddridge, in his great work, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, wrote, “I am persuaded much of the credit and comfort of Christianity is lost in consequence of its professors fixing their aims too low, and not conceiving of their high and holy calling in so elevated and sublime a view as the religion would require, and the word of God would direct.”7  To keep the commandments of God requires that we set our aims high and love the greatest work a person could be doing.

Work requires tools, and God has “given us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).  Have you noticed that people skilled in a certain occupation always have the best tools for the job?  A sharp blade, a socket that fits, a device that is powerful, a machine that is precise, these all make work fast, well done, and enjoyable.  We who are doing the work of God also have the best possible tools for the job.  We have Jesus Christ as the great Example of divine work; we have the Holy Spirit Who works from within us; we have the Word of God with its sharp two-edged precision; we have the local church with encouragement and instruction; and we have a whole tool box of other sources of help as well.

There is another tool that the Psalmist often used and which many older writers encouraged.  Richard Baxter called it Soliloquy, He wrote,

“By soliloquy, or a pleading the case with thyself, thou must in thy meditation quicken thy own heart.  Enter into a serious debate with it.  Plead with it in the most moving and effecting language, and urge it with the most powerful and weighty arguments.  It is what holy men of God have practiced in all ages.  Thus David, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul; and why art thou disquieted within me? . . . It is a preaching to one’s self; for as every good master or father of a family is a good preacher to his own family, so every good Christian is a good preacher to his own soul.”8

As children we used to sing, “Be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little mouth what you say, (etc., etc.), for the Father up above is looking down in love.”  We were learning a soliloquy.  We were encouraging ourselves in the commands of God.  This is what Paul was doing in Romans 7, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So then with the mind I serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”  Then Paul concluded, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:24-25; 8:1).

With good work to do and with good tools to use, there is no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy keeping God’s commandments.  We know that we should not be self-centered in our work but there is no reason for us to be either.  Knowing that all our effort is made possible because of our Lord Jesus Christ, let’s be vessels unto honor and sanctified, ready for the Master’s use.

Let’s realize who we are and enjoy it

“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1).  Doing the work of God, i.e., keeping His commandments, means that we are employees of the greatest business in the world.  Whether that would be preaching the gospel or abstaining from all appearance of evil, loving the brethren or visiting the widows in affliction, we are workers together with God!  Why do some look at keeping God’s commandments as drudgery?  We are the most privileged people in the world to be doing the King’s business.  Listen to some great saints who understood the wonderful privilege of working for God:

C.H. Spurgeon:  “Does this not make a man outstanding?  Have you never stood in awe of your own self?  Have you thought enough about how this poor body is sanctified, dedicated, and elevated into a sacred condition by being set apart as a temple of the Holy Spirit?”9

Eric Sauer:  “Enriched in Christ, the practical realization of these riches is now our duty.  This is at once our task and privilege.  The redeemed must live as redeemed.  Bearers of salvation must walk as saved.  They who possess heaven must be heavenly-minded.”10

Jonathan Edwards:  “Christian holiness is above all the heathen virtue, of a more bright and pure nature, more serene, calm, peaceful, and delightsome.  What a sweet calmness, what a calm ecstasy, does it bring to the soul!  Of what a meek and humble nature is true holiness; how peaceful and quiet.  How it changes the soul, and makes it more pure, more bright, and more excellent than other beings.”11

Matthew Henry:  “That a holy, heavenly life, spent in the service of God and communion with him, is the most pleasant and comfortable life any one can live in this world.”12

And So . . .

Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let’s lay aside the weight and look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

 

A Charge to Keep I Have

Charles Wesley

 

A charge to keep I have—

A God to glorify,

Who gave His Son my soul to save

And fit it for the sky.

 

To serve the present age,

My calling to fulfill—

O may it all my powers engage

To do my Master’s will!

 

Arm me with jealous care,

As in Thy sight to live;

And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare

A strict account to give!

 

Help me to watch and pray,

And on Thyself rely;

And let me ne’er my trust betray,

But press to realms on high.

 

Notes:

  1. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968) 213.
  2. Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012) 104.
  3. Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (CO, Springs: Nav Press, 1996) 54.
  4. Handley Moule, The Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1982) 168.
  5. DeYoung, 55.
  6. Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime (Delray: Levenger Press, 2002) 3.
  7. Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (U. of MI library reprint) 201.
  8. Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest (Boston: American Tract Society, nd) 351.
  9. Charles Spurgeon, Holy Spirit Power (New Kinsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1996) 121.
  10. Eric Sauer, From Eternity to Eternity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) 62.
  11. Randall Pederson, Day by Day with Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005) 76.
  12. Allan Harman, A Biography of Matthew Henry (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2012) 131.

 

 

Our Sanctification, Part 1

Our Sanctification, Part 1

by Rick Shrader

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No series on walking with God would be complete without some explanation of the Biblical doctrine of sanctification.  The Biblical word comes from the same root word as “holiness” and “saints.”  It basically means to be set apart.  Although sanctification has been discussed and debated as long as the church has been around, there is still much disagreement over its various aspects.  Yet there is a larger problem with the doctrine today.  Kevin DeYoung, in his book, The Hole in Our Holiness, says, “The hole in our holiness is that we don’t really care much about it.  Passionate exhortation to pursue gospel-driven holiness is barely heard in most of our churches.”1  He adds, “There are a hundred good things you may be called to pursue as a Christian.  All I’m saying is that, according to the Bible, holiness, for every single Christian, should be right at the top of that list.”2

DeYoung is correct, of course, because sanctification is very much a Biblical word and doctrine.  Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).  Paul wrote, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thes. 4:3).  Peter wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Pet. 3:15).  The writer of Hebrews wrote, “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one” (Heb. 2:11).  And Jude opened his epistle with, “to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called” (Jude 1).

The Bible sets sanctification in at least three different perspectives (which I will explain more fully later) that have to do with the security of our salvation, the ongoing struggle against sin, and our future complete holiness when we are resurrected.  Sanctification must also be understood in the light of our justification, that is, that we are secure in Christ entirely because of His death and resurrection.  Whereas we were dead in our sins, now as believers, we have Christ in us and it is only through Him that we have the power to live a victorious Christian life.  In fact, our life is actually His life in us.  “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

As with any Biblical doctrine that has been taught and practiced in the church for the last two thousand years, there are variations of views as to how this works in us, and there are extremes on the right and left.  Most have characterized these extremes as legalism and license and most of us have been accused of being one or the other or both.  I have often characterized these two extremes like this:  legalism happens when we place too much justification in our sanctification.  License happens when we place too much sanctification in our justification.  When we practice sanctification we are not in any way adding to our justification which is entirely by the grace of God.  But because we are justified by God’s grace and secure in Christ, this does not mean that we do not struggle against sin and strive to live holy lives.  The consensus of theological history is that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone without any work of our own.  But once we are justified, because we still have a body of flesh and an old nature in Adam, we still sin though not to any detriment to our salvation.

Though legalism will always exist in various forms, license has become more dangerous in our fast-paced world.  In 1985 Erwin Lutzer, then pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, wrote a book titled, How in the World can I be Holy?  Responding to the changing morality of that time he wrote, “Even among non-Christians a generation ago, there was more agreement regarding right and wrong, or, at least, between what was considered right and wrong.  Today, many of these views are being questioned and even rejected. . . . Someone has observed that time is the great sanctifier.  The ‘sin’ of today becomes acceptable tomorrow.”3  This is why the doctrine of sanctification must be constantly taught.

An overview

It is not my purpose in this article to become too detailed in the history or even current thought of this doctrine.4  Traditionally sanctification has been seen in three modes or aspects.5  The past aspect of sanctification is the mode in which we are positionally, or judicially, sanctified in Christ Jesus.  Notice all the past tenses in reference to sanctification in 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 6:11; Acts 20:32, 26:18.  It is often noted that this saved us from the penalty of sin.  The present aspect is the mode in which we are being sanctified in this life: “Sanctified and meet for the Master’s use” (2 Tim. 2:21).  This is the removal of the power of sin.  The future aspect will happen when we are resurrected and live eternally in God’s presence:  “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 5:23).  Then we will be removed from the presence of sin.

The current discussion is regarding the present aspect of sanctification in the believer.  Why do we have to continually fight against sin?  How is the power of sin removed from us?  Do we ever get to a place where we have victory over sin?  How is this a matter of pleasing God?  At this point it is good to remember four additional facts about our present sanctification.

Sanctification is basically separation since the root meaning is to be set apart.  McCune writes, “Simply, soteriological sanctification means to be separated from sin and set apart unto God.  While there is a positional aspect to the doctrine, in the practical Christian experience sanctification is the progressive outworking of the spiritual life received in regeneration as it transforms the believer into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).”6  Jesus did no sin living in this world and the believer is instructed to become more like Him.

The second fact is also included in McCune’s quotation, that is, that present sanctification is progressive.  We grow more and more like Christ as we go through our Christian experience.  The One Who “began a good work” in us will perform it “until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).  The third fact is not unlike the second, that is, that sanctification is ongoing.  Not only do we continue to grow more like Christ, we will not arrive at such in this life but will continue that growth until the day we die.  Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12).

The fourth fact about our sanctification is that it is a joint venture.  This is important because the two extremes of legalism and license both deny it.  Legalism makes sanctification (or acceptance with God and therefore really our salvation) depend primarily on oneself and our ability to perform well.  License makes it depend totally on God, claiming that any human effort is legalism.  But present sanctification involves our work for Christ after we are saved.  This is not work for salvation but because of it.  Wayne Grudem says, “It is also a work in which God and man cooperate, each playing distinct roles.  This part of the application of redemption is called sanctification.”7  Charles Ryrie says, “The human and divine are joined in the matter of walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).  The life that does not fulfill the lusts of the flesh is the life that walks by means of the Spirit, and yet it is I who am commanded to walk by means of the Spirit.”8  These truths are crucial to remember as we endeavor to walk with God in sanctification.

The failure of legalism

We ought to be careful with the use of the word legalism.  It has become far too easy to label anything we don’t like with this term.  In a very basic way legalism is that teaching that salvation must be obtained by the inclusion of some effort by man.  Most commonly this is seen in the Jews who insisted that keeping the law of Moses, or part of it such as circumcision, was necessary for salvation (Acts 15:1, 5).  Paul always adamantly denied this saying that we are saved by faith alone (Gal. 2:16).  There are still legalists of this sort around today who include human works for salvation whether that be baptism, speaking in tongues, sacraments of the church, or just plain being good.

Though I would rather reserve the term legalism for any works-type salvation, it is used these days in other ways as well.  One way is to think that though we are saved we are not totally “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6) without good works.  This is a fine point but it must be remembered that the believer is always accepted and secure in Christ even when we sin.  Even though we do strive in our good works as Christians, it is not to earn acceptance with God but to be more like Christ with a thankful attitude for what He has already done for us.

Another and more common (yet far lesser) form of legalism is to place extra-biblical requirements on Christians for their sanctification.  Given that there is room for disagreement in Biblical application, this often takes place.  The Roman church might insist that its members not eat certain foods at certain times.  The charismatics may insist that one must seek a second blessing evidenced by speaking in tongues.  Conservatives may insist on rules that can be punished by the church.  At this point there may be disagreement among us.  Many things in our day were not mentioned in the Bible such as movie going or smoking or specific dress codes, or use of specific Bible translations.  Other things are obviously implied in the Bible such as drinking and drugs, immodesty, or cursing.  One person may abstain from them all (of which I think most are wise) and another person may do some of these.  We can disagree as to whether we should or should not do them, but this is not legalism until we say they must be done (or avoided) to gain favor with God.  A local church has the right to ask its members to handle these in any way the congregation wants for its by-laws or covenant.  No one is forced to be a member of a local church but when we do voluntarily join, we are agreeing to the documents that were there before us.  Honesty says we should keep them.  In addition, a local church has the mechanism to change the documents if they so choose.

The Bible does say that we should “please” God (Col 1:10; 1 Thes. 4:1; 1 Jn 3:22).  This is different than the term “gaining favor” with God.  As a believer I cannot increase the “favor” that is bestowed upon me in Jesus Christ.  My salvation is complete in Him and I am “accepted in the Beloved” regardless of what I do.  But I can do things that do not please God as my Father and for which I should immediately ask forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9).  I draw the line on “legalism” at this point.  Those who practice license use “legalism” as an indictment on anyone who has a rule of conduct.  The presence of rules is not legalism.  The New Testament is full of commandments which are God’s rules.

The failure of license

License, or antinomianism, is just that, the absence of law.  This happens when (as I have said) one’s sanctification is totally wrapped up in justification.  That is, a person’s position in Christ is seen in a way that there really is no sin for the believer because it is already forgiven in Christ.  All effort or striving for the believer becomes a form of legalism.  This is a distortion, of course, because justification ought to produce sanctification not eliminate it.  DeYoung writes,

“Legalism is a problem in the church, but so is antinomianism.  Granted, I don’t hear anyone saying, ‘let’s continue in sin that grace may abound’ (see Rom. 6:1).  That’s the worst form of antinomianism.  But strictly speaking, antinomianism simply means no-law, and some Christians have very little place for the law in their pursuit of holiness.”9

Erwin Lutzer compares legalism with antinomianism and writes,

“Since no rules—including the moral law—can produce spirituality, some Christians conclude that it is unnecessary to be subject to any restrictions.  This attitude is often found among those who have been delivered from excessive legalism.  They finally realize that spirituality does not come by the law, so they have a ‘liberated syndrome’ which makes them disdain all restrictions. . . So when they (the supposedly liberated Christians) finally see that spirituality is produced by submission to the Holy Spirit, they misuse their new freedom.”10

When Paul concluded Romans chapter 5 on justification, it was logical that some Jewish legalists would object to salvation by faith alone without the law.  Wouldn’t this produce a freedom to sin?  Chapter 6 begins with that very objection, “What shall we say then?  Shall we sin that grace may abound?”  And Paul answers, “God forbid” (Rom. 6:1-2a).  No, justification will not produce antinomianism.  Shedd writes, “St. Paul teaches, with great cogency and earnestness, that trust in Christ’s atoning blood is incompatible with self-indulgence and increasing depravity.  The two things are heterogeneous, and cannot exist together.”11  And yet, though Paul destroys the thought in the rest of the chapter, the danger for that very thing is always there.  There were those at Corinth who had already insisted to Paul, “All things are lawful unto me” (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23).  This is true only in the narrowest sense that we are not saved by law nor are we kept by law.  But it is not true in the antinomian sense that the believer is free to live however he or she wants.  Myron Houghton writes, “While grace in the form of Gospel does not make demands, grace as guidelines for managing a believer’s life does make them.”12  The believer is “not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21, NKJV).

The New Testament epistles constantly remind the reader that justification by faith alone does not open the door to license.  “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).  “Not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16).  “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4).  The danger has always been there.

Many progressive thinkers today blame legalism more than license for antinomianism.  Tullian Tchividjian says, “We find it harder to see that it’s just as wrong to worship morality, like everybody in the church seems to be doing.”13  Yet his own progressive view could not keep him from moral sin in his life.  Demas, who traveled with Paul and was taught by him, forsook Paul, “Having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10).

There have been spiritual and moral failures on both sides of the sanctification debate.  Whenever this happens it hurts the testimony of Christ before the world because they don’t make any distinctions among Christians.  It should always grieve us when a brother or sister falls into outright sin and the snare of the devil.  However, I believe that license leaves the Christian much more susceptible to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:15) than does legalism simply because it is by nature a letting down of one’s spiritual guard.  Solomon asked, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27).  In what I think is the saddest passage in the Bible, Solomon failed to follow his own advice, “But Solomon loved many strange women . . . and he had seven hundred wives and princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.  And it came to pass when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not right with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:1-4).

The old nature that still remains in us will naturally gravitate to lasciviousness not to holiness.  The “self” would rather have looseness than strictness because the flesh “wars against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11) and “every man is drawn away of his own lust and enticed” (James 1:14).  Only the grace of God understood in a proper way can direct us.

A reset

In the next issue we will take a second look at sanctification and propose a conservative reset that resists both extremes of the debate.

Notes:

  1. Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012) 10.
  2. Ibid., 20.
  3. Erwin Lutzer, How in the World Can I be Holy? (Chicago: Moody press, 1985) 15.
  4. For further reading on current issues I recommend Gary Gilley’s recent articles at Think on These Things Ministries (TOTTministries.org).
  5. See Rolland McCune’s Systematic Theology, vol. III (Detroit: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010) for a good review of these three modes.
  6. McCune, 57.
  7. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 746.
  8. Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973) 65.
  9. DeYoung, 54.
  10. Lutzer, 101-102.
  11. William G.T. Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans ( Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1978) 145.
  12. Myron Houghton, Law & Grace ( Schaumburg: Regular Baptist Press, 2011) 120.
  13. Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2011) 47.