Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Army of God

Do we wear the armor of God to fight or only defend? Much of the armor of God is defensive. The truth shields us from falsehood. Righteousness keeps us from falling into lasciviousness. The gospel gives us a clean conscious before the Lord. Faith gives us the ability to stand fast in the face of overwhelming odds. Salvation is assurance of God’s kindness to us.

Having laid this foundation of defensive works, the Lord then gives us the instrument of conquest. Our defensive weapons keep us from retreating but our goal is not merely to stand fast but to march out and defeat the enemies of God. For this endeavor we need the mighty sword of the Lord, the Word of God. We must fight according to His Word. We do this by embracing all that He has said and exhorting Him to fight on our behalf through the mighty offensive weapon of prayer. When we do this, we are empowered to believe that the gospel really does conquer every foe.

In 2Chronicles 20 we get the great story of Jehoshaphat defeating Ammon and Moab. These are ancient enemies that remain a thorn in the side of Israel down to the return of the captivity. They are too strong for Judah to fight and Jehoshaphat calls upon God to fight for him. This was better than his father did, who called for Syria to protect him. But God heeds Jehoshaphat. God is his refuge and shield. Jehoshaphat employs the offensive weapon of prayer in this fight, particularly in singing. When Israel began to sing before the Lord, God defeated Ammon and Moab.

We must remember that our praise of God as we pray and sing to Him and before Him is the chief element in defeating His and our foes. We cannot win the battle in our own strength. So we must call upon Him to win for us. We must come to see the glory in this truth so that we realize that what we do on the Lord’s day is not some irrelevant and personal event. We call upon our God to be faithful to His covenant with us, to His promise to subdue the earth under the feet of Christ and to advance His gospel over the face of the entire earth. When we do this, God rises up and fights. When we sing psalms to the Lord, we are fighting. It is not merely preparation to fight. It is warfare. So, engage the enemy. Praise God.

Eph 6:10-20 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

2 Chron 20:19-22 And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites, and of the children of the Korhites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with a loud voice on high. And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever. And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father

It is interesting how the Lord’s Prayer begins. We might expect the prayer to begin, “Dear Lord” or simply “Father in Heaven” but it does not begin that way. It begins with “Our”. This is a prayer that we pray together or in a representative fashion. Granted, it is the model prayer and ought to be used that way. It was the answer for how to pray, so we should use this model in our own private prayers as well. However, the Lord taught us how to pray. He told us to pray in this manner and then began the prayer in the first person plural.

This must be reconciled with what immediately precedes this instruction. The Pharisees prayed in public in order to receive the approbation of men. Men were impressed by their prayers and Jesus tells us that they had their reward, namely, the esteem of men. He warns them not to pray like that. He teaches them to seek the favor of God in privacy and God will reward them openly. We make the mistake of assuming this privacy is seclusion, aloneness. He does not say that. In fact, by the prayer that He gives, He makes it impossible. We are to pray together in secret.

This does not rule out individual private prayer. This should be an important part of our daily routine. At the same time, it points to our need to gather as praying groups. This would include family prayer, prayer groups, bible studies and prayer at the Lord’s Service of public worship. The preeminent problem with the Pharisees is not that they prayed in public but how they prayed. Their prayer was for men rather than for God. May we learn to pray before our Father in heaven and seek His favor here on earth. This will keep us from ostentatious display so that we might receive our reward from heaven and not from men.

In Mathew 6 and Luke 11, the Lord gives some practical teaching on what things to pray for and how to pray.

We ought to pray in faith, believing. God knows our needs before we pray them. He has already promised to provide our daily needs of food, clothing and shelter. However, He still enjoins us to ask for these things. However, we should not ask without faith. In Matthew, the Lord tells us to pray these things but without any care for what we will wear or eat.

We ought to pray persistently. The Lord will answer if we continue to pray in His will. Part of the purpose of prayer is to figure this out. Some things are clearly the Lord’s will and we know this from the Scripture’s themselves. It is God’s will for the gospel to overspread the earth. It is God’s will to feed His saints daily. It is God’s will for the saints to forgive those who have wronged them. We must pray these things until they happen.

We ought not to pray frivolously. The Lord knows what we need before we ask. Our prayers should not be a frantic reaction of our present circumstances. They should be a calm response to the favor of God. We don’t spend our time pleading for basic necessities and personal pleasures. The Lord knows what we need along these lines. It is enough to simply acknowledge that they come from the Lord and ask Him to provide. Give us this day our daily bread.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Heidelberg Exhortations-Lord's Day 5

The Second Part - Of Man's Deliverance

Q. 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favour? A. God will have his justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.

Q. 13. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction? A. By no means; but on the contrary we daily increase our debt.

Q. 14.Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us? A. None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man has committed; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.

Q. 15.What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for? A. For one who is very man, and perfectly righteous; and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is also very God.

Dear Christians, you can see that apart from Christ we are in a miserable condition. We have offended God and incurred an unpayable debt. There is no mere man that we can seek as a benefactor. All the gold in California or the diamonds in Africa could not satisfy the debt. God cannot be bought off the way an unrighteous judge can be bought off. He is merciful but also just. His justice must be satisfied. The debt must be paid. And yet it cannot. What can we do? Of course, the answer is our refrain in Christianity. We turn to Christ. He is our all. In Him, our debt is satisfied. He paid the price for all those who receive Him. We can never have assurance in our deeds, especially if we think those deeds have earned the favor of God. They are always lacking and usually presented to Him with questionable motives. But in Christ, we are assured of perfect pardon.

No mere man could save us from the punishment we deserve. But Christ is no mere man. He is fully God and fully man. We do not pretend to comprehend this mystery but we receive it by faith. Our God paid the debt against Himself through the subsitutionary death of God the Son, Jesus Christ. Believe this; live this; receive this; lay hold of Christ by faith and your debt is paid in full.

Loving the Saints-Part VII

We should not neglect our duties in witnessing to the truth of Christ, His death, burial and resurrection. But we must also realize that it is not when we are doing those things that we are being good Christians. Good Christians change diapers, cook dinner, read to the children, hammer nails, balance books, teach children and mow the lawn to the glory of God.

If we were more comfortable with the biblical idea of a holy calling being whatever the Lord has called us to, we would be strengthened to do it much better. Many Christians treat work merely as a means of sharing the gospel. They don’t see the work they do as a declaration of the gospel. They want to get their work done so that they can get on to the Lord’s work. This is a great mistake. Furthermore, we would not feel so compelled to be so busy in the frenetic culture of the modern church that we forget to focus on the primary duties that the Lord has given us. If you are performing your primary callings well, the duties of a faithful Christian, of work, of a spouse and of a parent and still have some energy and talent left over, then by all means serve the church in some capacity. However, if this is not the case, the addition of more duties done halfway is no benefit to Christ’s kingdom. Let us seek to do a few things well that we might be deep and abiding Christians at church, home, and work. Then we can expect the Church to return to her proper depth. Then we will be able to once again dive and swim in the safety that is Mother Church.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1 John 3:18-19

Friday, August 06, 2004

Heidelberg Exhortations-Lord's Day 4

Q. 9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform? A. Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own wilful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

Q. 10. Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished? A. By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he has declared, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them."

Q. 11. Is not God then also merciful? A. God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

In the creation man was free to choose life and resist sin. Similarly, in the recreation God has granted us freedom to walk after the Spirit. Our bodies have not been fully made new. That will not happen until the resurrection. Consequently, we have remaining sin in our bodies that wage war with our renewed inner man. This battle is evidence of a man made new. But don’t be deceived. To wage war with sin is not the same as giving in to sin. Sin still lingers in our flesh but God has made a way of escape for us who are in Christ. There is no longer excuse for sin. We are not slaves of sin but rather slaves of righteousness. No sin will go unpunished. Either, God has punished Christ in your stead or He will punish you for refusing so great a salvation.

God is indeed merciful but for those who reject His mercy He is also wrathful to the uttermost. Do not be deceived brothers and sisters. God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow. If you sow to the flesh you will reap the fruit and rewards of the flesh. If you sow to the Spirit then you will put to death the deeds of the flesh and be made alive by and to the Spirit to do the deeds of the Spirit.

We do not rightly see our own sin. We think everlasting punishment is far too harsh. Leave it to man to make light of his own behavior. The reason is that we do not comprehend the majesty, glory and holiness of God. If we did, we would begin to understand why our earthly sins require an eternal punishment. They cannot be paid for by us, ever. Until we see this, we will not have the need for the perfect Christ, who takes away all of our sins for all time. You are separate from God and nothing that you can do will bring you any closer to him. Pergatory is a myth created by men who imagine some goodness in themselves. You must rely upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ or you will be left eternally to pay a debt that you can never pay. You must embrace grace in Christ and forsake your own merits. This is the mercy of God.

Loving the Saints Part VI

One of the problems in the modern church is that it is wide but shallow. We may rejoice in its width but if you want to dive into the life of the church, the shallowness is a huge detriment. It would be better for swimming if the river were narrower and much deeper. Part of this problem is because a misunderstanding about calling. One of the doctrines that the reformers revived was the doctrine of calling. Each man’s work, whatever it is, is holy service to the Lord. It is not just the work of the clergy, the priestly class, or the preacher that is holy. Every man’s work is holy to the Lord.

This has important ramifications in the life and work of the church. Much of the biblical instruction to believers is centered around doing mundane tasks to the glory of God. Whatever you do, do to the glory of God. Let wives be workers at home. Slaves, honor your masters. Bosses, pay your workers on time. There is no hint in scripture that everyone needs to be sharing the four spiritual laws or leading their neighbor to Christ in order to be doing the ‘work of the Lord’. All work done self-consciously as a Christian is work for the Lord.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1 John 3:18-19

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Heidelberg Exhortations-Lord's Day 3

Q. 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse? A. By no means; but God created man good, and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him.

Q. 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature? A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Q. 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? A. Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

This is the first part of understanding the difficult but sweet doctrines of Reformed Theology. This question directly states the doctrine of Total Depravity. However, that doctrine is not the sticking point for most people. The sticking point with most Arminians is the issue of L in TULIP, Limited Atonement. They imagine that Christ died for every last man, woman and child, IF only that every last man would simply turn his will to the Lord’s. The problem with this is that the Scriptures say that men are dead in their sins and have no way to make themselves alive. Now, a dead man cannot respond to the Lord. Lazarus was just such a man. He was dead in the tomb. He was not able to respond to the Lord and come forth until Jesus spoke to him and commanded him to live. This is the truth of the state we are in. Because of Adam's sin and our sins, we have fallen from that initial estate of freedom into an estate of sin, misery, slavery, and death. We cannot be righteous, happy, free or even alive unless the Lord intervenes and grants light where there is darkness and life where there is death.

What does this have to do with Limited Atonement? Namely, that the Lord is not under any obligation to call life to any such sinners. His passing over some in no way damages His justice. Justice is having us passed over. We deserve nothing less than to be left in our sins. But God’s grace does not come to us by our merit. It is His mercy that reaches down to men who are not worthy of that mercy. For this reason, the doctrine of Limited Atonement would better be called Particular Atonement. Christ’s mercy is given to those whom He particularly loves. He grants them life so that they can come out of the tomb. He makes them alive so that they can live. He regenerates them so that they can respond to Him in obedience. The amazing thing is not that some are passed over and left in their sins. The amazing thing is that any of us are regenerated. And what is more amazing yet is that number of the elect will be one that is incalculable. This is the free gift of the Father in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Glory be to God. May we simply rejoice in God’s goodness to us, embrace it and come out of the tomb to new life.