Friday, May 25, 2012

Zealous for good works, but not trusting in good works


In our Wednesday study of Paul’s letter to Titus, we have been struck by the consistent emphasis on the importance of good works, or godliness, in the life of the church.  The flow of thought in the letter repeatedly comes back to this theme. 
Paul begins by saying that his apostleship was for the purpose of imparting a knowledge of the truth “which accords with godliness” (1:1)  The first section of the body of the letter reveals that the elders of the church must be godly men (1:5-9).  These godly men are needed to silence and rebuke the ungodly people in the church (1:10-16).  Chapter 2 begins with the exhortation, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1).  Paul then prescribes what godliness looks like in the various groups of the church—older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves (2:2-10).  In 2:11-15, the apostle explains that the grace of God in Jesus Christ came to save people so that He might purify for himself a people for His own possession, “who are zealous for good works.” 
Chapter 3 continues the message with an exhortation to “be ready for every good work” (3:1-3).  In 3:8, Paul exhorts Titus to be diligent in teaching these things “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”  For good measure, he ends the letter with the echo, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works” (3:14).
Good works, good works, good works.  We get the message—the gospel is commended when those who proclaim it live godly lives.  But with all this emphasis on the importance of good works, a vital question arises.  How is it that we maintain a zeal for good works without good works becoming the main thing?  Or, how is it that we maintain a zeal for good works without beginning to trust in our good works?  The answer that Paul gives is the gospel.
Toward the end of the letter, when he has already made a very strong plea for good works, Paul brings us back to the gospel, reminding us of two things.  First, it is the work of the gospel in our lives that makes good works possible.  After recalling the former state of believers – “we were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures…” – he reminds us that the catalyst for radical change was the appearing of the “goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior” who saved us (3:3-5).  It is this truth that enables us to live the kind of godly lives to which we are now called.
Second, Paul reminds us that our salvation was in no way a result of our good works.  3:5 reads, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…  In 3:7 he writes that we were “justified by his grace.”  There was nothing in us that moved God to save us.  Rather, it was something in Him.  I love the passage in Deuteronomy 7 where the Lord reveals this truth to the people of Israel: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…”  Why did God love and choose us?  Because He loves us. 
Our standing before God is strictly because of His love for us and the redemption that we have in His Son…not because of works done by us.  Works are the result of salvation, not the cause of it.
So, God calls us to be zealous for good works, to love doing good.  We are to make every effort to be godly (2 Pet 1:5-7).  The way that we are able to keep this pursuit of godliness from leading us to trust in our good works is to keep it squarely in the context of the gospel.  God saved us by grace so that we might be zealous for good works so that He might be glorified in us.  
 Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Can we pray to the Son and the Spirit?


One thing that did not make it into Sunday’s message was the subject of which member(s) of the Trinity it is appropriate to pray to?  The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father in heaven…” Are we to pray only to God the Father or is it also okay to pray to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?
Not long ago, I heard a respected Bible teacher say that the dominant New Testament pattern is to pray to the Father in the name of the Son in the power of the Spirit.  This made sense as I did a quick mental review of New Testament theology.  In John 16:23, Jesus indicated that after His departure, the disciples would pray to the Father “in my name.”  Eph 5:20 also shows this pattern, exhorting us to give thanks “to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  If we were to look at all the prayers in the New Testament, we would find that it is usually the case that prayer is addressed to the Father. 
However, looking at all the prayers in the New Testament might give us a skewed view of this because the majority of the prayers in the New Testament were prayed by Jesus, who obviously would not pray to Himself.  A close look shows that there is evidence that it is appropriate to pray to the Son.  It is to Jesus that Stephen prayed in Acts 7:59, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Paul addresses a prayer to God the Son in 1 Cor 16:22, writing, “Our Lord, come!”  In the message on Sunday, I mentioned the prayer of the apostle John at the end of Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
This would indicate that it is acceptable to pray to either the Father or the Son.  But what about the Holy Spirit?  Well, we do not find any prayers in Scripture addressed to the Holy Spirit, but we also do not find any passage forbidding such prayers.  The Holy Spirit is a person, and He relates to us in a personal way as our “Helper”.  In John 14:16, Jesus tells the disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.  He goes on to note that His disciples “know” the Spirit and that the Spirit would teach them all things (John 14:17, 26).  Paul teaches that the Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are the children of God (Rom 8:16).  Because the Spirit relates to us in such personal ways, it would seem strange for it to be improper for us to talk to Him. 
So there is explicit material in the New Testament supporting communicating directly with the Son and no material forbidding speaking directly to the Holy Spirit.  For me personally, I would feel free to pray directly to either one.  That being said, because the predominant pattern in the New Testament is to address prayer to the Father, I think praying to the Father should be the main emphasis in our prayer life.  
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Balancing Our Walk and Our Talk


Those of us who have been studying the book of Titus on Wednesday nights have seen repeatedly the tie between sound doctrine and godliness.  Paul’s letter to Titus was occasioned by the presence of people in the churches of Crete who held to wrong doctrine and lived ungodly lives.  He writes of this crowd both that they were “teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” and that they were “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (1:11-12).  Because of these two things, Paul commanded Titus to rebuke them.  The first chapter ends with this assessment: They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.    
This concerned Paul primarily because it was discrediting the gospel.  These people claimed to be Christians, but their ungodly lifestyles dragged Christ’s name through the mud.  Their sinfulness indicated that this Christ was just like other gods, unable to change people. 
We have noted numerous times that one of the most common objections to the gospel today is the hypocrisy of Christians.  People claim to be Christians and they even share the gospel, but then they live ungodly lives just like the culture around them.  They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works.
The book of Titus shows that our walk needs to match our talk.  Paul teaches that sound doctrine accords with godliness (1:1) and godliness accords with sound doctrine (2:1).   There needs to be both a balance and a consistency between what we say and how we live.  We must understand that our witness to other people will be a combination of the things we say in sharing the gospel and the things we do in living our lives.  We cannot consider ourselves faithful witnesses if we neglect one of the two.  
Some people think that witnessing is all about the words we speak.  But those who concentrate on speaking the gospel to the exclusion of living the gospel in front of people miss the point that our actions sometimes speak louder than our words.  Jesus exhorts us in Matthew 5:16 to “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to you Father who is in heaven.”  Our actions can show people that our God is a God who does what we say He does.  We must be living a life that validates the gospel we speak. 
On the other hand, we must not think that living the gospel is sufficient.  We must also verbally share the truth with people.  The text of Titus presupposes that the gospel was being shared.  We must be opening our mouths and actually telling people the good news.  What good does it do for someone to see that I am a virtuous, godly person if I do not share with them the reason for my godly lifestyle?  Romans 10:17 teaches, “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.”  A faithful witness is someone who not only lives the truth, but who also opens his mouth to speak it.
Consider whether or not you lean one way or the other.  Do strive to live a godly life in the world without verbally sharing the gospel?  Or do you share the gospel without keeping watch on your lifestyle to make sure it commends the gospel?  It is never too late to balance the two.  If you have been reluctant to share the gospel, get started.  If you are concerned that you have destroyed your testimony by demonstrating ungodliness in front of unbelievers, seek help killing sin in your life so that those around you will notice the change and find your message more credible. 
We are the light of the world (Matt 5:14).  To shine as intended for God’s glory we must both share and live the gospel.  
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mohler on the Media and Same-Sex Marriage

I came across this insightful article by Albert Mohler about efforts in the media to normalize same-sex marriage.  Well worth the time to read it...

"Bigotry on the Ballot? No, Dishonesty in the Editorial"


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