Worthiness: Ours Or His?

Rich In Mercy

The logic goes that Jesus died for us because He saw something in us worth saving.  That perspective certainly sounds reasonable, and I’d venture to say that every one of us would love to believe it. Doesn’t it thrill you to think that the Lord saw something special and valuable in you? That you were worth saving?

Once again,  however, this interpretation of Christ’s death subtly shifts attention from Christ’s mercy and grace to us. It neglects the wretched condition of our souls by insinuating that we actually deserved God’s notice.  In fact, it pretty much implies that He had an obligation to save us. Could we even say that He is lucky to have such magnificent people in His kingdom?

As much as the idea that we possess something of intrinsic value appeals to us, nothing in the Bible supports it. On the contrary, God’s Word repeatedly emphasizes our unworthiness as a backdrop to His wondrous grace.Let me take you back to Ephesians 2:1-10 for a moment.

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)

Verses 1-3 paint a particularly nasty picture of us, don’t  they? By  nature, it says, we were children of wrath. What value could a child of wrath, dead in sin and ruled by fleshly passions, possibly have? Why would a holy God have any compelling reason for shedding His innocent blood for any of us?

Verses 4-7 answer that question. The Lord lavished His salvation on us in order to display the riches of His grace and kindness. Our salvation points, not to any imaginary worth on our part, but to His generosity in saving such undeserving sinners.

The purpose of our salvation, then, is to showcase the Lord’s character. What a wonderful God He is to extend that degree of compassion on worthless sinners who merit nothing but His wrath. Although nothing about us commends us to Him, Jesus willingly went to the cross to accept the Father’s wrath — wrath that we deserved! His atoning sacrifice highlights His graciousness and compassion, revealing what a loving God He is!

He is the worthy one, not any of us. Worship (which means the ascribing of worth) goes totally to Him. How utterly magnificent that He would choose to love vile creatures like us! The more we understand that we had no value in and of ourselves, the more we want to worship Him for His inexplicable mercy and grace.

Verse 10 completes the beautiful picture of God’s grace in saving us, declaring that He regenerates us into His workmanship. Though we have no worth of our own, Christ gives us His worth, graciously using us as His agents of good works. At this mercy, we can only praise Him.

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When Discernment Blocks Devotion

Discernment Cross

The apostle John, in the book of Revelation, begins with letters from the Lord to seven churches in Asia Minor. He addressed the church in Ephesus first.  As someone interested in discernment ministry, I believe this particular letter especially challenges me, so I decided to blog about it in hopes of benefiting any of you who share my interest in this field.

I’ll quote the whole letter in order to provide proper context.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ ~~Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV)

At first glance, this church sounds like a discernment blogger’s dream! They definitely didn’t tolerate false teachers, and bore persecution with an enviable steadfastness. They cared passionately about truth and devoted themselves to contending for the faith. Surely such zeal for God’s truth deserves abundant praise and admiration!

And the Lord indeed did praise them for their commitment to His truth. Yet He also called them to repentance, threatening to shutdown their church unless they did so.

In their zeal for truth, the Ephesians had forgotten to love Him.

Discernment ministry had become an idol, distracting them from Him. Oh sure, they worked tirelessly to uphold His name, but they focused so intently on defending truth and refuting false doctrine that they inadvertently lost their sense of awe and wonder over Christ Himself.  They forgot Him!

Of course, that pitfall could happen with any ministry. I’ve gotten so busy with various church activities that I’ve neglected to delight myself in the Lord for His own sake. Perhaps most Christians have. This sin isn’t unique to discernment ministry.

That said, John did write this letter to the Ephesians in the specific context of standing against false teachers, indicating that those of us who engage in discernment ministry need to exercise greater vigilance. We can assure ourselves that we contend for His faith precisely because we love Jesus, and in many cases that’s quite true. In many other cases, however, we’ve fallen in love with discernment ministry for its own sake, just as the Ephesians did.

Reading Revelation 2:1-7 has caused me to examine my heart on this matter. Frankly, I squirmed more than a little as I read it. I pray for God’s grace to keep my heart fixed exclusively on Him. That way, whatever discernment He graciously gives me will cause me to love Him all the more.

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Creation Inspires This Our Hymn Of Grateful Praise

When I lived in Marin County, California, I loved the wheelchair accessible trail at the summit of Mount Tamalpias. My friend Valerie took me up there for one last wheelchair hike in July of 2002, just before I moved to the Greater Boston Area to marry John.

I still remember thrilling as we looked down at a hawk in flight, as well as admiring the summer flowers and grasses that cascaded down the mountainside below us. As we savored the beauty, Valerie mused, “I don’t see how anyone can deny that God created all of this.” I had to agree. Mount Tamalpias always left me awed by God’s variety in His creation. I guess that’s why I loved it so.

Those wonderful memories of Mount Tam flood back as I listen to the simple hymn that I’m posting today. God’s creation indeed causes me to praise the Lord for making such a splendid universe. Even more, it inspires me to adore Him.

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Alleluia — The Only Reasonable Thing To Say!

I doubt anyone is surprised that I’ve selected the most popular Easter hymn to feature this week. I’m quite sure other bloggers who post Sunday hymns will also post this one. I’m equally quite sure that you sang it in church this morning.

But please don’t let the familiarity of this hymn dull you to its glorious message. God means for us to see Christ’s resurrection as a joyous promise that, at His return, He will raise our bodies to live eternally with Him. For this reason, Alleluia can be our only response, and we can’t possibly say it enough!

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Saturday Sampler: March 18 — March 24

Three BunniesIf I comment on Even more than the watchmen of the night! by Elizabeth Prata in The End Time, I’d surely spoil it for you. But if you take time to read it, I promise that you’ll be glad you did.

Writing for Ligonier, W. Robert Godfrey examines The Word-less “Church” that permeates the evangelical landscape these days. Ignoring God’s Word has grave consequences that churches must recognize in order to responsibly honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

Unlocking the Bible features Pastor Tim’s Bible Q&A: What Should I Do If I Am Doubting the Goodness of God? Sometimes my sin causes me to question my salvation, and so Pastor Tim’s points offer the assurance I need.

Even though John Chester writes When Preaching Wears a Mask for pastors, I believe his thoughts can help all of us be discerning about the preaching we sit under. You’ll find this post on the Parking Space 23 blog.

“The issue of inerrancy is an issue of the integrity of God” according to Eric Davis of The Cripplegate. His article, How True is the Bible? — Inerrancy examines the trustworthiness of Scripture as the expression of God’s character. Yes, it’s a lengthy piece, but its length underscores the critical importance of the topic.

Yes! Emphatically YES! Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women hits the nail on the head with Throwback Thursday ~ The Daily Wonder of Easter. We need committed pastors, not creative ones. Thank you, Michelle, for reprising this essential essay.

Writing for Southern Equip (a blog produced by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Thomas Schreiner discusses Faith that moves mountains: What Jesus didn’t mean. He provides an excellent example of understanding Scripture in its correct context, as well as extricating familiar verses from popular misinterpretations.

Don’t miss Your Testimony Is Not The Gospel by the late R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier blog. His observations in this matter clarify what we should emphasize in our evangelistic efforts.

Normally I don’t link to anything posted prior to the dates listed in a Sampler title bar, and I can’t remember ever linking to a podcast. Andy Olson’s February 17 episode of Echo Zoe Radio, Costi Hinn: Defining Deception, causes me to make exceptions on both counts. Costi once ministered with his uncle, Benny Hinn, but has since become a cessationist. His testimony will absolutely fascinate you.

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If We Love Those In Heaven

Spotlight on God

This past Wednesday I introduced the topic of whether or not our deceased loved ones look down on us from heaven. This topic touches everyone; we’ve all lost at least one special person, and consequently we feel the powerful desire to cling to the relationship. We crave assurance that that person still loves us. That we matter to them.

Please understand that I really do understand that craving. When my friend Bob succumbed to his battle with AIDS, I found myself believing that he watched me from heaven, perhaps even more attentive to me in death than he’d been in life. In a sense, his death allowed me to feel closer to him. In my mind, he was now always with  me, focusing his love on me.

Dear sisters, do you see my self-centered attitude here? I wanted Bob’s attention to center on me rather than on the Lord.  I disregarded the truth that he now beholds Christ in all His glory — a wondrous sight that will consume him (and me) for all eternity!

As mortals still locked in sinful bodies, we tend to forget Christ’s preeminence in His creation. I realize I quote Colossians 1:15-20 often, but this passage has so profoundly transformed my understanding of heaven that I want to again draw your attention to it.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

Although Paul didn’t write Colossians 1:15-20 specifically in reference to heaven, the concept of Christ’s centrality in His creation should clue us in to the fact that creation revolves exclusively around Him. That being the case, it seems to me that heaven strips away everything that distracts from Him. Therefore, those in heaven with Him must be consumed with adoration of Him.

Doesn’t it seem selfish, then, to expect our loved ones in heaven to divide their attention between the Lord and us? Wouldn’t we want them to delight wholly in Him, completely liberated from all other concerns?

And do we seriously want to compete with the Lord for their attention?

I challenge you to think carefully about that last question. As harsh as it sounds, I believe it brings us to the heart of the matter. In repenting of my fantasies about Bob watching over me from heaven, I’ve had to confront my tendency to rival the Lord for Bob’s attention. Not a pretty admission, but a true one.

We continue to love those who go to heaven ahead of us, as well we should. But let’s love them enough to rejoice that they behold the beautiful face of the Savior. And let’s love our Savior enough to rejoice that our loved ones can worship Him without distraction. One day, we will join them in that glorious devotion to Christ.

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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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