More than ‘Sola Fide’- Self-Examination and Assurance in 2 Corinthians 13.5

August 6, 2009

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13.5)

One wonders if Paul were speaking to us for the first time today, if many American evangelicals would decry him as being outside the bounds of the gospel message?

“Examine yourselves”?  ”Unless you fail to meet the test”?  What type of work’s righteousness is this?

Or even worse, say they test themselves by trying to recall the date they prayed a special prayer.

Of course I’m saved.  I know when I asked Jesus into my life down to the second.  Look!  Here’s my spiritual birth certificate!

Alas, how can we judge Paul wrong when he says this?  Or elsewhere, when he tells us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12b)?  Or when Peter instructs us to “make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1.10)?

Let us not abuse the blessed truth of sola fide, justification by faith alone, by making that the final word in our journey with Christ.  For surely, justification is by faith alone, but salvation in total exhibits so much more, as in it God plans to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8.29-30).

Should we be satisfied by our hope that the prayer we prayed was the right one?  That the confession we repeated was earnest enough?  There is no doubt that God will sustain all those who truly come to him (cf. John 6.37, 40, 10.26-29, Romans 8.30), but is that all we should rest on?  Without assurance one is left every day to sweat under the future possibility of the fires of hell.  You just don’t know.  Peace comes by examining yourself and finding the evidences of a living faith flowing from your life (cf. Galatians 2.20, James 2.17).

Sovereign Means Free- Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 9.8

August 4, 2009

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9.8)

Have something unfortunate happen to you or some event arise which causes you anxiety and the sure repose you will receive from your Christian friends is a hearty, “God will provide.”  This sounds good, but in a day of abundant Christian mythology, one must always check: Does the Bible really say this?  The good news is, yes, indeed it does.

Now, let’s be careful how much we read into the text however.  Here we are told, “God is able to make all grace abound to you . . . ”  Able, not constrained or forced or committed.  It may be the case that though he is able, for some reason or another he may not be willing.  Take for instance what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12.7-9,

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

No where are we to assume that God was unable to do this thing Paul asked of him, it just so happened that God had a greater purpose in not doing it.  This is God’s prerogative and we as finite thinkers contain no right to judge negatively should God in his sovereignty choose not to do anything.

Similarly, he is “able to make all grace abound to you.”  What is ‘grace’?  We don’t initially know.  Grace may be material.  It may be wealth or possessions.  But it may also be favorable circumstances, fortuitous prohibitions, or any of another among a cadre of options.  Again, God is not under compulsion to provide what we think is appropriate.

God never lacks the ability to provide anything, but his refusal to sometimes exercise that ability or to exercise it in a way other than we expect is part of what it means for God to be sovereign.

Proof of Authenticity- Validating the Faith in 2 Corinthians 6.3-4

July 31, 2009

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” (2 Corinthians 6.3-4a)

One of the toughest challenges in Christian apologetics is proving the truth and reliability of our message.  Men may agree that what we say is in line with Scripture, but then dismiss Scripture as being false and so leave us with nothing.  However, the power of a faithful Christian witness can defend us against this.

I am not talking about a witness in the popular evangelical way.  In this way it is just another word we have coopted to mean yelling a cold, lifeless, ineffectual spiel at someone.  No.  By witness we should mean a life lived.  It is not the evangelist who is witnessing; it is the lost who are witnessing him!  They witness how what he does backs up what he says.  They witness a breathing example of the message being fulfilled.  Paul stakes the whole call upon his faithful witness, knowing that the commendation of his life will only give that much more evidence for the gospel that in 2 Corinthians 6.2 he claims is so urgent.

A Wizard with Words – Placing 2 Corinthians 5.11 within Context

July 28, 2009

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5.11a)

This is a difficult verse which is often used by those of a non-Calvinist mindset to justify highly produced and/or overly dramatic “gospel calls” from the pulpit.  And taken without context one may seek to have as much liberty with the idea of ‘persuasion’ as seems right to a man.  However, approached in context, or at least with an eye to what has been said before, this liberty must be restrained.

Recall that in 2 Corinthians 2.17 Paul remarks,

For we are not like so many, peddlers of God’s word . . .

Therefore, though in chapter 5 he admits “persuad[ing] others,” this must be properly balanced by his earlier statement.  The key to this is what remains in 2 verse 17,

. . . but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

So, three things:

First, they speak “as men of sincerity.”  Their persuasion is not a show; it is a desperate plea from an earnest heart which lives to fulfill the Great Commission and see Christ glorified in the salvation of the lost.

Second, they speak “in the sight of God.”  Since it is knowledge of “the fear of the Lord” that motivates their persuading, so is it the knowledge of standing in the presence of God that motivates their restraint.  At no time should our actions attempt to steal away God’s glory– for that is the definition of sin– but even more in the presence of God should our concern be in honoring him appropriately.

Finally, they speak “in Christ.”  Though it is Paul who speaks we must not forget that he is the same man who wrote, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2.20).  Thus, when he speaks, Christ comes out.  And when it is Christ the focus cannot be upon glorifying Paul or utilizing Paul’s power in conversion.  No.  The focus must surely be upon glorifying the cross and the great salvation which Christ earned there.

Persuasion must always be tempered with these thoughts, esle the preacher will rest too highly on his own presumed ability to “win souls” and fall into gross evangelistic sin.

Darkness . . . – A Reflection on 2 Corinthians 4.3-6, part 1

July 23, 2009

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4.3-4)

I believe that this verse speaks well together with Hebrews 11.6,

And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

God can only be pleased by the faith of those who believe in and seek him, and no one can do this who is “blind” to the gospel.  No one may reject the light of the gospel and serve God simultaneously, for those to whom the “gospel is veiled” are one who are perishing.

Similarly, this agrees with Ephesians 2.1-3,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Here we see that “the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” is the same as “the prince of the power of the air” that those “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” follow.  This is a hard word, but its reality makes the truth to be found in verse 6 of 2 Corinthians 4 all the more glorious!

Salesmen for Jesus? – Questions Arising from 2 Corinthians 2.17

July 21, 2009

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2.17)

Let it never be said that I am a “peddler of God’s word.”  What an awful thought, that God’s word could be to me as some means of gain or as some gimmick to promote a human agenda!

Are there yet ways that I could be a peddler while still desiring to see men saved?  What of my theology of salvation?  Am I a peddler if I use persuasive means to “get decisions”?

Where is it that I stop and God starts?  Is that not right from the beginning?  If I am “speak[ing] in Christ,” then at no time is my dependence upon my own skills or means.  yet clearly methodology matters.  Peter spoke differently between Acts 2 and Acts 11.  So did Paul from Acts 13 to Acts 17.  How do I discern what is and is not appropriate?

How do I not become a peddler?

Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Paul’s Instruction

June 15, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

After spending a post looking to the apostle Paul’s testimony for any evidences of The Sinner’s Prayer being used in conversion, we now will look at the words he gives in instruction to see if this shows up something.

Similar to our look at Peter, a great deal can be gleaned from how Paul handles preaching and how he calls the nonbelievers that he speaks to into response.  As The Bridge to Life tract and other evangelical resources direct us to repeat a prayer in response, Paul also has his own directives of response to the gospel.  The first time we see this explicitly is in Acts 13.38-39 where Paul instructs the crowd at Pisidean Antioch on how to receive the salvation of which he proclaims:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Belief.  Simple belief is all Paul asks for from the people.  Paul says, “Believe and you are freed.”  There is no direction to pray a prayer, and there is certainly no direction that this salvation comes through asking for Christ to grant it.  It is there.  Believe and it will be applied.

Of course, Paul’s instruction on response only gets clearer as we look further into his journeys.  The next place I would want us to look is probably the most transparent statement of our necessary response in Paul, and on par with Peter’s declaration to the Jerusalem crowd (Acts 2.38) and Jesus’ response to Nicodemus (John 3.14ff).  It comes from Acts 16 and is the well-known story of the conversion of the Philippians jailer.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (vv.25-34)

We look here at the whole story, but our focus of course is upon vv.30-31.  The Philippian jailer comes and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” and once again the ball is in the apostle’s court.  Will he tell him to pray a prayer? to “name it and claim it”?  No.  All we get in reply from Paul is the same tired refrain we have seen all along: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”  That’s all.  That’s all!

Lastly, leaving Acts, let’s stop by what is likely the best known statement on how to be saved in Scripture outside of the gospels.  It is Romans 10.9-10.  Here we find Paul teaching the Roman Christians, contrasting the new idea of righteousness based on faith with the old one of righteousness based on the law and he sums it all up for them in this:

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Confess with your mouth, believe in your heart.  This is about as close as we have got to a teaching on The Sinner’s Prayer yet.  Finally we see the New Testament teaching something said as a proper response to the gospel.  But alas, whereas The Sinner’s Prayer says to pray laying claim upon Jesus’ promise, requesting that he be Lord, Paul tells these would-be Christians that there salvation comes from declaring Christ as Lord which is rightly accompanied by faith in the gospel (which alone is what provides the justification necessary for redemption).  So, even though there is speaking involved, the essence of what’s to be said is totally different and there is no more evidence for The Sinner’s Prayer here than we find anywhere else.

At this point we have done a fairly thorough analysis of Christ’s servants in the early church and what they taight on how to respond to the gospel in a saving way.  Now, to close things out, we must turn to the greatest teacher on how to be saved, our Lord Christ Jesus himself– which we shall begin doing tomorrow.

Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Paul’s Testimony

June 12, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

Yesterday we looked at the instruction given by Peter in the book of Acts as it pertains to the receiving of salvation and found no Scriptural evidence for the use of The Sinner’s Prayer as a means to laying hold of Jesus’ promise so that one might gain forgiveness of his sins or the redemption of his soul.  Today we will look at what Paul has to bring to the discussion.

Unlike with Peter who it is hard to pin down quite when he was saved, the book of Acts gives us a clear telling of Paul’s conversion from sinner damned by God to saint redeemed in Christ.  Picking it up in Acts 9, we find the unbelieving Saul wandering down the Damascus road on his way to persecute himself some Christians, when all of a sudden “a light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell to the ground (v.3ff).  At this point the risen Christ begins to speak to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (v.4), to which Saul replies, “Who are you, Lord?” (v.5).  Jesus then instructs Paul what to do, where to go, and Saul, now blinded, responds in obedience to this direction.

From here the Lord goes to a disciple named Ananias and instructs him to go to Saul and restore his vision so that he may go forth from there to perform as Christ’s “chosen instrument . . . to carry [his] name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (v.15).  So Ananias does this, coming to Saul and saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (v.17).

Now, if at any place we might find evidence for using The Sinner’s Prayer, this seems like it would be it, but alas, nothing!  Ananias could easily have said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  So now, if you will just follow me in this simple prayer you to can have eternal life.”   But he doesn’t.  Instead what we read is that following Ananias’ words, “immediately something like scales fell from [Saul's] eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized” (v.18).  Thus, Saul is now counted among the redeemed, and not a Sinner’s Prayer in sight.

This is not all however, as the remainder of the book of Acts provides us with two more accounts of Paul’s conversion, in chapters 22 and 26, each time as a part of Paul’s testimony while presenting the gospel message.  Do either of these allude to him needing to pray a special prayer for redemption?  Not at all.  In fact, the language Paul uses comes down even more heavily in favor of my own reformed convictions about soteriology.  Acts 22.14-16 gives a second telling of Ananias’ instruction to Paul, saying, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”  Wow!  There is not even a call to response here, it’s just, “God chose to save you.  You are now saved.  Get in the water!”  Then in chapter 26 we once more hear from Paul, this time recalling Christ’s words to him as, “Rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you” (v.16).  Again, no call to response, no “if you prayer this prayer sincerely then I will appoint you.”  Christ comes in, has a purpose in saving Paul, and its’ done.  Now, of course Paul responds in obedience through faith (cf. 26.19ff), but never do we hear of a prayer or of claiming any promise for himself as being the means of Paul’s being granted eternal life.

So, analyzing the testimony concerning Paul’s conversion as it is presented in Acts 9, 22, and 26, we still have not found any evidence supporting the use of The Sinner’s Prayer for gaining entrance into God’s heavenly kingdom.  The next place we will look is through Paul’s teachings in the epistles of the New Testament.

Itchy Ears Burn Like Hell- God’s Word Addresses Man’s Desire for Heresy

May 4, 2009

Two days ago I really got the bug for talking about this idea of Christian universalism when thinking about what a God who is unconditionally loving looks like to our culture.  This then continued with the illustration of a man who preaches on “wine and strong drink” from Micah 2.11.  Today I still feel burdened to ring the bell of warning here and so will give a New Testament passage which addresses the issue to look at what it has to add to the mix for us.  I do this because I’m not sure just how seriously people out there are taking this rising threat.  I’ve done the reading, I’ve participated in the online discussion, I’ve seen it come up and be defended in full force.  The threat of an evangelical pulpit declaring a God who ultimately saves all regardless of faith is not some slippery slope consideration; it is, if not already a reality, one that is barreling down upon us fast, so we better be prepared.

That said, the passage I would like to highlight is 2 Timothy 4.3-4, which says,

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Paul is warning his protege Timothy of the burgeoning threat of popular demand for all sorts of heresy and half-truth.  Looking at it compared with Micah 2.11 I’m amazed that the two are not cross-referenced in the study Bible, as they seem to be speaking to the same issue of sin just on opposite sides of the cross of Christ.

But where the Micah verse is inside of a larger segment of prophecy and condemnation, pulling the 2 Timothy passage back into its context of 2 Timothy 4.1-5 we receive direction on how to defend against such a threat:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Paul chose to flank this warning with strong words about Scripture and the job of the Bible teacher as evangelist.  He “charges” Timothy to be equipped with God’s word, which is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4.12) in his fight to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” the people.

This strategy of course holds true for us still today.  In fact, as I mentioned on Saturday, the reason why such things as Christian universalism have been able to grow is because we have weakened in our proclamation of the truth (of which I will talk more about tomorrow).  We cannot hope to continue on with wobbly armed, soft bellied pulpits hoping to coddle along our people and not expect to see the number of heresies on the rise.  A preacher who is not ready to “endure [the] suffering” of a diminished image among the world in order to “do the work of an evangelist” has no place in our church today.  I speak these words tongue-in-cheek, as I know the temptation to waiver is sure to rise up against me as well someday, but even if it does that does not negate the call of Scripture so clearly delivered in 2 Timothy.

Christian universalism, the belief that God ultimately saves everyone regardless of faith confession, surely is a scratch to itching ears.  It is the job of true Bible teachers to make those who feel this itch aware that the burning sensation they have is nothing else but the fires of hell beckoning for their souls.

To Be Free of the Flesh, part 4- Applying the Final Resurrection Practically Today

April 23, 2009

Over the course of the last three posts we have been developing a perspective on the final resurrection, particularly as it focuses on the resurrection of believers.  We have argued that Scripture makes the case for a resurrection of the dead, and exchange of the living, from mortal physical bodies into immortal physical “resurrection bodies,” which for the believer will reign forever glorified and without sin in the holy presence of God.  We showed that God has at least two clear purposes in this; first, that the body and spirit be not separate but together as was original created; and second, that our physical bodies may dwell forever in a physical city which descends from the new heaven as the total fulfillment of the Promised Land from the time of Abraham forward.  

All of this is great to look at and reveals so much of God’s wonderful plan of salvation to us, that since his first calling of Abraham (and even before) God has had a plan to return us to an actual place of tabernacle with him on the Earth.  However, as much as God’s glory can be proclaimed through it, there seems to be something missing if we are unable to make a practical application of it in our daily lives.  My biggest issues with the eschatalogical madness of many contemporary evangelicals is that it is such a fruitless venture, producing books and charts and making little underinformed housewives paranoid about every news report mentioning Israel, but at the end of the day contributing nothing of value to the body of Christ.  As Thom Schreiner says in his commentary on 1 Peter, “Nowhere does the New Testament encourage the setting of dates or of any other kinds of charts. Eschatology is invariably used to encourage believers to live in a godly way” (p.210-211).  This is the sentiment that I see Paul expressing as well when he addresses the Thessalonian church about their fear over those who died before the parousia (1 Thessalonians 4.13-5.11), straightening out their theology and yet leaving them with the practical instruction to “encourage on another with these words” and to not worry about the actually timetable since “concerning the times and the seasons . . . [they] have no need to have anything written to [them]” (4.18-5.1).  Very little of what is taught concerning eschataology seems encouraging to me.  Instead it comes off more as dire warnings about nothing and egocentric pinings that we must be living near the day of his coming since things are soooo bad in our world today.  Therefore, if what I have said about the final resurrection has no capacity to encourage than we should leave off from it right now and move onto thoughts of more edifying ideas.

But alas, there does exist a practical application of the final resurrection to us in our daily lives.  And no, this is not the usual cop-out reason either, that one day we will have “perfect” bodies that will not contain the diabilities and aches and age of our current frame.  (I am told that I discount this layer of it because I am young, and I do understand the legitimacy of this idea, I just doubt its biblical importance.)  No, more than receiving a body that is physically perfect and free of flaw, what we will receive is a body that is morally perfect and free of flaw.  What do I mean?  I mean exactly what Paul tells us in Romans 7.21-24,

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

“Who will deliever me from this body of death?”  Who will keep me from following the temptations of my flesh over and above the desires of the new heart Christ has created in me?  Anyone who has continued to struggle with specific sins after becoming a believer in Christ can understand what’s being said here.  Our heart of flesh wants to follow the laws which God has written upon it (cf. Ezekiel 11.19-20) but the sinfulness of our physical bodies, containing the root of sin that they inherited as an heir of Adam (Romans 5.12ff), leads us away from God’s laws and back into the course of the world in which we once walked unaware (Ephesians 2.1-3).  This is the frustration of indwelling sin.  I see it frequently in myself and in the people I serve with and disciple and counsel throughout the church.  

Who will deliver me from this body of death?  That is God’s promise in the final resurrection for believers.  Not only will our glorified resurrection bodies be perfect from a physiological and anatomical sense, but they will be perfect in a righteousness sense.  There will be no more sin enslaving our members, drawing us away from God’s loving call of obedience.  As it says in Revelation 21, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away . . .  nothing unclean will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (vv.4, 27).  These things are all the result of sin and thus display the passing away of sin from the body.  All things will be restored, especially the sinlessness of all creation that God endowed it with in the beginning.  

This is hope.  This is practical.  I know and you know that those days of frustration at not being able to fully kill off that sin pattern that has haunted our lives from before regeneration til today will one day be gone.  We will no longer struggle with keeping pure thoughts or speaking honoring words or practicing righteous living, for the temptation of the flesh will be alleviated and we will be dressed in flesh that is not warring against us.  That is a reason to praise the God who has promised us of a final resurrection into glory.  That is the promise that we will one day be free from the flesh!