Giving Permission To The King

Cinderella's  ClosetThroughout the bulk of my Christian life, I’ve heard the following sentiments:

“God is a Gentleman; He won’t violate your will.”

“Give the Lord permission to work in your life.”

“You need to get out of the way in order for God to work.”

“Let go and let God.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard these same ideas, and maybe you’ve even said them. They sound very reasonable, and even a bit spiritual. Many celebrity evangelicals routinely teach them, urging us to partner with God as if He’s helplessly wringing His hands as He waits for us to participate in whatever He’s doing.

Now, I understand that the Lord chooses to work through human beings much of the time. He calls Christians to obedience, especially in regard to proclaiming the Gospel to all creation. The same letter of Paul that declares God’s sovereignty in determining who should be numbered in the elect (Romans 9:6-26) also pronounces His decree that the elect should come to faith by means of evangelism (Romans 10:13-17). In that sense, He indeed uses our obedience as the means of accomplishing His purposes.

But we make a grave mistake if we assume that a lack of cooperation on our part in any way hinders or prevents the Lord from carrying out His will. In truth, He has all power. Nothing any of us does, even at our highest points of rebellion, can possibly block Him from doing exactly what He wills.

From the time Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, men and women have tried to claim control over God. We cherish the notion that we somehow allow Him to have His way in saving us and then in working in our lives. Proudly, we believe He stands immobilized, waiting patiently until we grant Him permission to move.

Look again at Romans 9.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? ~~Romans 9:19:24 (ESV)

Who do we think we are? Do we seriously believe the sovereignty of God depends on our will or behavior? Does the King of kings and Lord of lords bow in subjection to us? Scripture certainly never portrays Him as such a dependent weakling, nor does it suggest that He gives us authority over His dealings in our lives.

We need to repent of our arrogant attitudes. Let’s stop flattering ourselves that anything God does hinges on our attitudes or actions. If sovereignty really belongs to Him (and it does), then He will do anything He wants to do with or without our permission.

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Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Broken Heart CrossIf you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.

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Saturday Sampler: June 25 – July 1

Polygon Flowers SamplerAlas! After 500 years, the Roman Catholic Church still resists the Protestant Reformation. Tom of excatholic4christ gives chilling evidence of this fact by writing Coming soon to a Protestant church near you: the “Ecumenical Rite of Mass”. In this piece, he explains some of the reasons why Protestants mustn’t participate in such activities.

Social media certainly has a grip on teenagers and young adults. If you have teenaged kids, perhaps you worry about their infatuation with Facebook, Snap Chat and text messages. Although your concerns definitely have great validity, Kristen Hatton, in a post for The Gospel Coalition Blog, suggests that Social Media Isn’t Your Teens’ Biggest Problem.

In What does a true revival look like? Part 1, The End Time‘s Elizabeth Prata takes us back to the Great Awakening to show how God worked to bring people to repentance.

Yes! Mary Liebert of The Verity Fellowship reminds us that Exposition Is For Women, Too. This message simply can’t be overstated, especially when so many women’s Bible Study groups focus on emotions and girl talk. Ladies, God makes His Word as available to us as He makes it to men.

In his article for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Jay Harrison exposes The Hypocrisy of Phariseephobia. I have noticed the same phenomenon, but Jay’s personal struggles with homosexuality give him greater credibility in calling out this sin. His thoughts should inspire all of us to repentance.

Eric Davis, in a truly exceptional post for The Cripplegate, absolutely nails a major problem with psychology. Fictitious Forgiveness: Why We Cannot Forgive Ourselves brings out a number of ways that the myth of self-forgiveness clashes with Biblical Christianity. The Lord used almost all of Davis’ points to convict me of my arrogance in this area.

I hope you won’t miss Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches by Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life. Her observations are challenging, and most of us certainly need those challenges. I definitely do!

For an interesting angle on judging, take a look at Peter Stayton’s essay, Why I Need My Friends to Judge Me, on his blog One Degree to Another. I won’t spoil it by hinting at how he approaches the subject other than to say I’ve never seen it quite this way before.

Should I Feel God’s Presence in My Life? asks R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier blog. As a former Charismatic, I greatly appreciate this little glimpse into Sproul’s life, as well as the resulting wisdom.

Allen Cagle, blogging at Parking Space 23, probably writes Receiving Criticism primarily to his fellow pastors, but all Christians can benefit from the Scriptural principles he presents. As the Internet sets us up for hostile attacks from those who disagree with us,  these principles can help us handle criticism in godly ways.

 
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Why High Self-Esteem Threatens Your Eternity

Faint CrossIn one respect, I don’t want to write yet another essay on why Christians should avoid psychology. Any regular reader of my blog knows quite well that I believe mixing psychology with a form of Christianity necessarily compromises the Gospel. Can I really add to everything I’ve been saying these past two years?

Listening to John MacArthur’s Grace To You radio broadcasts this week made me think that I actually do have more to say on this topic. MacArthur spent an entire broadcast comparing psychology’s emphasis on improving self-esteem with Christ’s demand that His followers deny themselves.

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~~Luke 9:23-25 (ESV)

Psychological therapy, for the most part, seeks to make us feel better about ourselves and more in control of our lives. Even when we do actually identify a pattern of thought or behavior as sin, Christian psychology encourages us to diffuse our guilt by trying to figure out the root causes of our struggles. Often, counselors guide us to blame our parents for our sinful habits (I saw this practice a lot during my time in ex-gay ministry). The realization that someone else is responsible for our sin makes us feel better about ourselves, thereby boosting our self-esteem.

Nifty little system, huh?

Except for the fact that high self-esteem  blocks us from accepting our abject sinfulness and our consequent need for a Savior. Oh, it’s fine to give lip-service to the idea that He somehow saves us from hell, but as our self-esteem grows, we find it hard to believe that we really deserve eternal damnation. We even convince ourselves that Jesus saved us because He saw something in us worth saving.

But the Lord explicitly says that going after Him requires self-denial. One aspect of self-denial is admitting our worthless conditions apart from Him. Ephesians 2:1-10 shows us that our salvation points exclusively to God’s grace toward us despite our wretchedness.

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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel emphasizes our wretchedness and the Lord’s incredible grace toward us. Psychology blunts His grace by dulling our understanding that we are actually sinners, completely unable to escape the judgment of hell. High self-esteem lowers or appreciation of His wonderful mercy in giving us the faith to receive salvation.

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Saturday Sampler: June 4 — June 10

Bertucci Sampler
Sampler plate at Bertucci’s

Clint Archer posts Running for the  Reward: Comrades Marathon and the Bema Seat in The Cripplegate. Sometimes we Christians forget that rewards await us when we finish this life.

Reprising a column that she originally wrote in 2011, Marsha West of Berean Research chronicles the Purpose Driven dismantling of Christianity as  a testament to the many corrosive influences on the 21st Century church. Her comments on psychology particularly interested me.  In addition, she unmasks the resurgence of Gnosticism among evangelicals and explores Rick Warren’s affiliation with Robert Schuller.

Sometimes we ignore seemingly inconsequential sins, assuming the Lord also overlooks them. Tim Challies directs our attention to one such sin (grumbling about fellow Christians) in The King Is Within Earshot.

People commonly object to the doctrine of election because they infer that, if God elects some to heaven, He conversely elects others to hell. In The Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson writes Reprobation: Does God elect people to hell? as a way to demonstrate the logical fallacies of this argument. After you’ve read this piece, however, I strongly suggest that you read Reprobation Rejoinder by Mike Riccardi, also in The Cripplegate.

I’ve been disturbed, for the past few years, about the common perceptions professing Christians have regarding heaven. So it encourages me to read Heaven: The Biblical Version by Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day. I feel less alone in my understanding of what the Bible teaches on the subject.

Denny Burk provides a sobering reminder that American Christians have already begun to face persecution. His article, Watch Bernie Sanders tell  a Christian that his faith disqualifies him from office, reminds me that we can no longer expect to be embraced by our culture. But Jesus repeatedly warned us that the world would reject us, so we really shouldn’t be surprised.

If you want to read something both fun and educational, look at The Mischievous Protestant’s Guide to Catholic Rome by Tim Challies. Now, why do you suppose my art history professor at Dominican University of California  (a school started by Catholic nuns) never mentioned the items in this piece.

In her essay for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Kendra Dahl shares The Lesson That Saved My Marriage to help us adjust our expectations of our husbands. I definitely needed to read her wisdom this week!

 

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Perspectives In Titus: Of Employees And Slaves

Titus 9 & 10Slavery is difficult to talk about, particularly for Americans who continue to live with shameful memories of our nation’s cruelty to black slaves. So I approach this weeks passage with a degree of reticence, not wanting to offend anyone.

At the same time, I don’t want to get sidetracked from our study with a lengthy discussion on the differences between 1st Century slavery in the Roman Empire and the early American institution of slavery. Nor do I want to spend time and blog space exploring possible reasons that Paul neither condemned nor condoned slavery in his culture. This study has been going slowly enough without that rabbit trail.

So, dear ladies, let’s read the first ten verses of Titus 2  before we zero in on verses 9 and 10, just to keep the context fresh in our minds.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.  ~~Titus 2:1-10 (ESV)

The best way to apply Titus 2:9-10 is to substitute the word “employees” for “bondservants,” even though its not an exact parallel. Employees are the modern-day equivalents to bondservants. At least, they should have that sort of attitude. Strictly speaking, the Greek word describes someone subservient to another. For that reason  Paul describes himself as a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, although modern-day employees serve their employers voluntarily, they ought to have the humility of a bondservant.

Bondservants, says Paul in verse 9, should submit to their own masters. He has made similar pleas in Ephesians 6:5-6, Colossians 3:22 and 1 Timothy 6:1. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown assert that, because Christian slaves enjoyed spiritual equality with their Christian masters (Galatians 3:28), they might forget their rank on the social  level.

Submission means to recognize someone’s authority over us. In that sense it is voluntary; it involves our attitude toward that person.

Notice that Paul specifies submission to their own masters rather than to masters of other bondservants. A minor point, perhaps, but it would protect slaves from being taken advantage of by the public at large.

Paul continues by explaining what submission should look like. First, they must please their masters. Instead of performing tasks grudgingly, doing the bare minimum, they should try to work in ways that delight their masters. Barnes cautions that this pleasing does not includes submitting to anything that contradicts God’s Law.

Part of working this way necessitates that they avoid arguing and backtalk. This clause may even extend, as one commentator suggests, to the servant advancing his own opinions.  I’m not sure I completely agree with that point (and I’m an employer over my PCAs), but the idea here is that bondservants act in attitudes of submission.

Additionally, verse 10 tells us, bondservants must not pilfer from their masters. The idea here is that bondservants should not use the property of their masters for personal benefit.  Such pilfering could take the form of secretly taking money or material goods, but it might also mean taking time for themselves when they should be attending to business.

In contrast to pilfering, bondservants must show themselves trustworthy.  They should take care of the property and responsibilities entrusted to them. MacArthur states that the phrase, “showing all good faith,” indicates loyalty.

In summary, Paul commands this submission for one purpose. Like the other four groups he’s addressed throughout this chapter, he calls bondservants to behave in ways that are in line with the Gospel. As he puts it, their attitudes and actions must adorn the Gospel. The Cretans would scrutinize Christians, looking for signs of hypocrisy, which made it crucial that even bondservants show lives of integrity. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown conclude by writing, “Even slaves, low as is their status, should not think the influence of their example a matter of no consequence to religion.”

 

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Perspectives In Titus: Teaching Young Men

Titus 2 6 thru 8

Titus 2:6-8 seems like an inappropriate text for a women’s blog. I’d argue that, although the passage indeed specifically focuses on young men, women certainly can learn from the principles it lays down.

I’ll quote the passage in the context of the verses leading up to it, just to keep everything in proper perspective:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. ~~Titus 2:1-8 (ESV)

Paul has been showing Titus how to minister to various groups that make up a local church, explaining how each group best  demonstrates Christian behavior. For the past two weeks we’ve concentrated on the instructions aimed at older and younger women, but now verse 6 of the text moves our attention to young men.

In contrast to Paul’s instruction that Titus delegate the training of young women to more mature ladies, Paul charges Titus to directly work with young men. As we’ll see momentarily, Titus is specifically told to urge these young men to exercise self-control. Presumably, that term would include controlling sexual lusts (see 2 Timothy 2:22).

Paul’s word “likewise” refers back to the previous three groups.  Paul emphasizes self-control as a contrast to the self-indulgence that marked the Cretan lifestyle. This command, however, especially challenges young adults, who aren’t accustomed to restraining themselves. Fleeing  youthful passions, particularly while living in an environment like Crete, would demonstrate God’s power to transform young men.

Just as young men like Titus would be asking for trouble in counseling young women regarding sexual purity, so he would be the most appropriate person to mentor young men in maintaining self-control in respect to their sexual purity.

Verse 7 slightly shifts the focus from young men in general to one particular young man: Titus himself. Why? My personal opinion is because, since he is a young man at the time of this epistle, Titus could serve as a practical example of how young men ought to   conduct themselves.

The context of this verse leads us to  think that Titus was still a young man at the time Paul wrote this letter, and therefore Titus had to model proper behavior for young men to emulate. Consequently, he was to set an example of performing good works.

He would set this example largely through his conduct as a minister of the Gospel. In his ministry of teaching, Titus would need, first of all, to show integrity. Since Paul elaborates on how to show integrity in the next verse, let’s merely say here that his teaching must be free of any corruption.

By “dignity,” Paul means that Titus should teach in a manner that commands respect. Not only must his doctrine be grounded in truth, but he must deliver it in reverence and seriousness to underscore its importance as the very Word of God. Again, Paul expands on this idea in verse 8, but I want to quickly mention that it makes me think of present-day pastors who resort to gimmicks and theatrics to capture the attention of their “audience” rather than treating the pulpit with dignity.

Verse 8 continues Paul’s instruction to Titus by urging him toward sound speech. In his teaching, Titus would need to speak doctrinally sound words that no one could find fault with. By doing   so, he would silence his critics, proving that their arguments were ridiculous.

Sound speech needed to characterize Titus’ public and private conversations.  This point both reiterates and emphasizes the call to integrity in the previous verse. Barnes comments:

Such as cannot be shown to be weak, or unsound; such that no one could find fault with it, or such as an adversary could not take hold of and blame. This direction would imply purity and seriousness of language, solidity of argument, and truth in the doctrines which he maintained.

Barnes is not alone in his observation; The Believers Bible Commentary adds that sound speech “should  be free from side-issues, doctrinal novelties, fads, crudities, and the like.” As I mentioned earlier, many 21st pastors apparently disregard this call to sobriety in the ministry of God’s Word. Yet Titus, and by extension all representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, bear a responsibility to be faithful to God’s Word.

Paul insists on Titus exhibiting sound speech because of the opponents to the Gospel. He probably thought about the Judaizers in particular, who would be eager to discredit both Titus and Paul. He wanted Titus to ensure that no one could charge them with practicing evil (see 1 Peter 2:11-12).

As Christian women, we can learn from Paul’s instructions to Titus. Even though we don’t teach in mixed congregations, we do teach other women. Therefore, like Titus, we must model integrity, dignity and sound speech that silences the opponents of the Lord Jesus Christ. We represent Him, and consequently our deportment should reflect that fact.

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