The Forgotten Reason For Salvation

Holiness

Lately I’ve encountered a few unrelated comments about sanctification being God’s will for Christians. The Bible says as much. The first clause of 1 Thessalonians 4:3 reads, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

In context, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 relates to avoiding sexual immorality, and certainly that’s an important aspect of sanctification. But sanctification extends far beyond our sexual behavior, doesn’t it? The Lord calls His people to be holy in all areas of life, and He even supplies the grace we need to do so.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

Okay,  I realize I quote that passage frequently on this blog. It actually comes up in my prayer time every day as I confess my sins and pray for help in resisting temptation. This passage reminds me that God’s grace in saving me had a greater purpose than merely keeping me out of hell. The Lord gave me His saving grace so that He might purify me as His possession.

21st Century evangelicals have grown accustomed to viewing Christianity as a means to gratify themselves. I have fallen into that deceptive attitude more than once.  So naturally we rarely think about grace having the purpose of glorifying God. Holiness sounds fine in the lyrics of Contemporary Christian Music, but we don’t seriously think He saved us for the purpose of sanctifying us.

Maybe we’d better start thinking seriously.

God’s will isn’t nearly as much about our earthly comfort and happiness as it is about our sanctification.  Why? Because in our sanctification, we increasingly grow to reflect His character. We prepare for an eternity of giving Him the praise, honor and glory that rightfully belongs to Him.

Only as holy vessels, cleansed and purified from the pollutants of sin and worldliness, can we give the Lord the quality of worship that He deserves. He wills our sanctification so that we can properly and freely offer Him pure worship. Consequently, we must follow Him into sanctification, delighting to do His will.

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Forgetful Evangelicals And The Entitlement Mentality

Glory Of The CrossI believe evangelicals of the 21st Century have by and large lost the sense that God has saved us for His honor and glory. As we’ve incorporated Charismatic teaching and psychological principles into our weakened version of Christianity, we’ve accepted the mistaken idea that God exists to heal our bodies, expand our bank accounts, make our marriages satisfying and remove all temptation from us. We conveniently forget why He calls us to Him in the first place.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Anyone can distort the Bible into false promises of health, prosperity and your best life now, insisting that God wants us to be happy. But, even though the Lord is a good Father Who gives good gifts to His children, He doesn’t give those gifts to encourage self-indulgence. Just as He often blesses us, He also often disciplines us for the express purpose of leading us into holiness.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ~~Hebrews 12:7-11 (ESV)

We don’t generally gravitate to passages like this. From the Baby Boomers on, we increasingly view life as something designed to accommodate our desires and surround us with pleasure.

We’ve all seen angry rants on Facebook by people who deem their circumstances unfair and think their lives should be easier. Sadly, some of these rants come from professing Christians. Perhaps they’ve even come from you! And we allow ourselves to think that God tolerates our rants because our adverse circumstances offend Him as much as they offend us.

We forget, influenced by the entitlement mentality that saturates our culture, that God may actually decree our trials in order to address sin issues in us that hinder our growth towards holiness. Quite simply, we forget that God created us to glorify Him rather than to consume His blessings as if He owes us anything.

Listen, I write this post to myself as much as to anyone else. None of us particularly enjoys the Lord’s discipline, nor do we often hunger to be holy. We need constant reminding that God saved us, not for our personal fulfillment, but so that He could have a people who reflect His holiness.

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Saturday Sampler: March 25 — March 31

Starburst SamplerPremiere blogger Tim Challies explores the question, What Counts as a “Gospel Issue?” As much as I love animals, I thoroughly agree with his commonsense answer.

Funerals are difficult, but the Lord often uses them to teach us more about Himself. In Two Lessons from Two Radically Different Funerals, Jordan Standridge of The Cripplegate reflects on two funerals he recently attended.  He includes some sobering thoughts that, in my opinion, relate to the inadequacies of the social gospel.

Liam Goligher of Reformation 21 calls a spade a spade in his article, De-Conversion. Having watched a dear friend’s very public departure from the faith. I appreciate Goligher for his Biblical insights into this horrifying process. He adds advice for those who struggle with temptation to walk away from the truth.

You might want to read The Blessing of a Good Example by David Qaoud in Gospel Relevance as an encouragement to live in accordance with your Christian profession.

Anticipating tomorrow’s celebration of Christ’s resurrection, Greg Norwine contributes The Resurrection Creates Immovable, Unstoppable Christians to Unlocking the Bible. He approaches the subject from an angle I’ve never considered, making his teaching absolutely fascinating to read.

The Essential Importance of the Cross also looks forward to Resurrection Sunday. Leslie A writes this essay for Growing 4 Life in order to show how correct teaching about the cross helps us discern the many false teachings that swirl around us today. I appreciate Leslie for reinforcing the truth that Biblical discernment depends on understanding doctrine.

I admit my inept study of eschatology, though I think I’m improving. So Elizabeth Prata’s Why eschatology matters (and hopefully making a comeback) in The End Time encourages me to keep at it. I may never be dogmatic on every point, but I trust God’s Word to give me the amount of clarity I need.

Although I haven’t fully vetted Lori  Alexander’s blog, The Transformed Wife, her post Should We Rebuke the Devil? definitely deals with spiritual warfare from a Biblical standpoint. Praise the Lord for her contribution to this important discussion.

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Oh I Assure You, Christ’s Literal Resurrection Matters

Romans 10 9For reasons I really can’t recall, I decided I’d judged the Presbyterian church (PCUSA) that I’d grown up in a bit harshly since becoming a Christian. So on Easter Sunday 1975, I returned, hoping to settle back in and make it once again my church home. Its proximity to my house enabled me to drive my motorized wheelchair to services, thus eliminating the ongoing struggle to procure transportation.

Being PCUSA, the church tried to be innovative even as it retained a certain degree of liturgical order.  That Easter Sunday, for instance, the pastor and the seminary student who did his internship at the church staged a rehearsed debate in place of the sermon. The question up for debate: Was Christ’s resurrection literal or figurative?

I don’t remember the arguments on either side, nor can I tell you if either man bothered to substantiate their points with Scripture. But I most definitely remember the pastor walking front and center stage at the end to offer the ultimate conclusion that he wanted us to draw.

Whether the resurrection was literal or figurative, he informed us, didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Christ lived in our hearts.

The minute he gave the benediction, I spun my wheelchair around and headed home without speaking to anyone. I was far too angry to exchange pleasantries with people. The mishandling of God’s Word and the denigration of Christ’s resurrection infuriated me.

43 years later, it still infuriates me!

The literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. 1 Corinthians 15 details its critical importance to every believer.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. ~~1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ESV)

A figurative resurrection of Christ would mean that heaven is equally figurative, and thus following the Lord is, in the end, pretty much inconsequential. We might as well live according to our own desires if we can interpret the resurrection any way we see fit. I mean, what’s the point of forsaking sin and denying self if there’s no hope of eternal life with Christ?

Praise the Lord, He did rise physically from the dead, with a glorified body that His eleven disciples literally handled (Luke 24:36-43, 1 John 1:1). Each of those men, as well as countless men and women who believed their preaching, suffered persecution and often martyrdom for proclaiming the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Really, would anyone willingly face death for something figurative?

I don’t regret leaving that PCUSA church after that rehearsed debate in 1975. I only regret my cowardly failure to tell them why I withdrew my membership. I wish I’d had the intestinal fortitude to declare to them that the literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ matters very much. That their eternal position absolutely depended on whether or not they believed in it.

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A Fun Little Song With Truth We Can Celebrate

It was a fun little song. It amuses me that, 47 years later, I still  remember both the lyrics and the upbeat tune. Especially since I really didn’t understand exactly what it meant.

Being good Charismatics, we predictably sang this ditty almost every time someone decided to lay hands on me for healing. After all, we assured ourselves,  we were merely claiming God’s promise in Romans 8:11. In our understanding, that fragment of Scripture taught that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed physical healing in this present life.

But looking at this verse in context, we see an entirely different meaning, and a meaning that gives us a correct way to apply Christ’s resurrection to ourselves. Let’s read this verse in its immediate context first, and then we’ll talk about how it fits into the apostle Paul’s overall argument.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ~~Romans 8:1-11 (ESV)

Even here, we can plainly see that Paul is talking about personal holiness rather than physical healing. He contends that the same Holy Spirit Who affected Christ’s resurrection gives us Christ’s very righteousness, thereby empowering us to live in obedience to God’s law instead of following the dictates of our sinful inclinations.

You might wonder why Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead. To answer that question, we need to go back to Romans 6, where the apostle discusses our baptism as a way of identifying with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~~Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)

As the Spirit raised Christ literally, so He raises us figuratively in our present life to resist sin and to walk in righteousness. Going back to Romans 8:1-11, then, we understand that the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead gives us Christ’s life in order that we can live in Christ’s righteousness. Through the Lord’s resurrection, we have new lives, liberating us from the tyranny of sin.

Certainly His resurrection also carries the assurance of our physical resurrection at Christ’s return, as we’ll discuss in subsequent blog posts. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that the benefits of Christ’s resurrection are limited to their implications in our present life. But also appreciate the wonderful truth that His resurrection allows us to enjoy a new life, even now, that permits us to experience His righteousness.

That little song based on Romans 8:11 is still fun to sing. Its proper context makes it even more fun as we celebrate the victory over sin that we enjoy because the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us!

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The High Calling Of Discernment

Floating BalloonWhen people think of discernment ministry,  they usually think of calling out false teachers. And that’s certainly an important aspect of discernment. Jude’s epistle supports the task of identifying those who propagate false teaching, suggesting an urgency in doing so.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ~~Jude 3-4 (ESV)

And regretfully, the visible church in our century swarms with more false teachers than I can keep track of. So we most definitely need people who have the courage to name names when they see a popular teacher consistently spouting error.

That said, it increasingly bothers me that we’ve apparently diminished the concept of discernment to this one area. Contending for the faith definitely has a part in discernment ministry — a vital part, as a matter of fact. But if we limit the role of discernment ministry to merely pointing out false teachers, I believe we miss the grander scope of what it means to be discerning.

Discernment, in its broadest sense, encompasses the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. This distinction necessarily includes distinguishing between truth and error. Therefore, identifying false teachers is obviously part of the process, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for discernment as a whole.

To properly discern whether or not someone teaches falsely, we first need to know true doctrine. Reputable discernment bloggers like Elizabeth Prata, Michelle Lesley, Leslie A and Amy Spreeman can tell you who the false teachers are, and even demonstrate why they’re false teachers. But unless you have a firm grasp on sound doctrine, you’ll likely replace the teachers they identify with other false teachers who are just as dangerous.

Therefore, true discernment requires regular and careful intake of God’s Word.

I hear some of you groaning, wishing I wouldn’t bring up something as dry and academic as studying Biblical doctrine. Isn’t it more interesting to pick apart Beth Moore’s latest sermon?

Yes, I agree picking apart her sermons provides hours of entertainment, but again, we still need to land on truth after examining her half-truths and falsehoods. We need to know what God really means, and how He really desires us to respond to Him. In a nutshell, ladies, we need to know truth.

Furthermore, we need to know truth for its own sake, rather than simply so that we can refute false teachers. God is more concerned with our ability to worship and honor Him than with how many false teachers we can call out. His Word, more than anything else, teaches us how to love Him as He wishes to be loved. Discernment helps us understand how He wishes us to love Him properly.

Like every other spiritual discipline, discernment has the purpose of drawing us closer to the Lord. True discernment shows us how to live in ways that glorify Him. Yes, contending for the faith is one part of Biblical discernment, but I’d encourage you to remember the bigger picture. The Lord calls us to discernment for His glory. What a high calling!

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Don’t Use Discernment Ministry To Tear Apart God’s People

Discernment ScrollDiscernment ministry, particularly online ministry, has suffered increasing criticism in the last six or seven months. The scrutiny has intensified as a result of online squabbling between well-known discernment ministries on Twitter and Facebook.

To be sure, the bickering and anathematizing generates terrible confusion. I find myself scrambling to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Just when I think I have a handle on it, one of the good guys will link to one of the bad guys, or one of the bad guys will speak at a conference that the good guys host. So I’m left doubting my own discernment abilities, and wondering if I’ve misjudged people.

There are, certainly, individuals and ministries I definitely avoid. Other people within Reformed circles have no problem with these individuals and ministries. I’ve learned to disagree quietly, aware that I may be off-base in my assessments. Just because I participate in discernment blogging doesn’t mean my judgments are infallible. They’re most assuredly not!

And maybe other discernment bloggers and podcast hosts need to remember that occasionally they could make mistakes in calling out people. Obviously, there are blatantly false teachers like Beth Moore and Rick Warren; anyone can easily document their errors. But sometimes waters get murkier, and discernment bloggers end up labeling people as false teachers based on minor differences or incomplete research.

The individuals and ministries I avoid may or may not promote false teaching. So I’m learning to remain silent, or at least express my reservations very cautiously. In the past six months, I’ve come the conclusion that naming names should be done rarely, and only when someone definitely teaches false doctrine on a consistent basis.

I do realize that we must take care not to partner with those who embrace false teaching (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 and 2 John 10-11). But I question whether or not we take this principle a bit too far. You realize, for example, that John Piper has spoken at both The Shepherd’s Conference and Passion 2018. That being the case, should we write off John MacArthur because he gave a platform to someone who shared another platform with Beth Moore at Passion 2017?

I’ve asked a thorny question here. Sadly,  there are other thorny questions discernment ministries must struggle with if we play the guilt-by-association card too fastidiously. Sometimes we call someone a wolf in sheep’s clothing when they’re simply a little naive about who they affiliate with. Because discernment bloggers and podcast hosts can judge too harshly and/or too quickly at times, we need to remind ourselves of the apostle Paul’s counsel:

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. ~~Galatians 5:13-15 (ESV)

People make mistakes. People in discernment ministries make mistakes too. Discernment bloggers can too eagerly call out others who, in reality, may be solid teachers with a few blind spots.

Discernment ministry does greatly serve the body of Christ. In no way do I believe we should shut down discernment ministries in general. But I implore bloggers and podcasters to dial back the name calling and balance the critical rhetoric with sound teaching that enables readers and listeners to discern for themselves. Furthermore, let’s bear in mind that sometimes even solid teachers have areas of disagreement. Let’s use discernment ministry to build each other up, not tear each other apart.

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