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Thursday, March 24, 2016

He Called Them Brothers

It is a wonder and a mystery all that was taking place as Jesus hung on the cross on that first Good Friday.  God’s righteousness and wrath intersected there.  He demonstrated both His great hatred for sin and His great love with which He loved us.  On the cross, God put forth Christ as a propitiation for sin so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The Scriptures also tell us the many wonderful things accomplished by the resurrection.  Christ’s being raised from the dead secured our regeneration (1 Pet 1:3).  It also accomplished our justification (Rom 4:23-25).  Our sanctification (Rom 6:4) and glorification (1 Cor 15:20) also find their genesis in the Lord’s resurrection.
Yet another blessing of the resurrection is depicted in John’s Gospel.  It is not spelled out explicitly, but it is there if we pay close attention to how the Lord interacts with His disciples over the course of the narrative. 
Initially, the Lord calls the twelve His “disciples.”  For example, in ch13 He says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Likewise, in ch15, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
But later in ch15, He changes their status, so to speak: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
By virtue of Christ’s revealing Himself to them, the disciples became the Lord’s friends.  What an amazing thing to be called the friend of the Son of God.  And yet, there was a relationship with Christ beyond friendship that was accomplished in the Lord’s resurrection.  We see this in His encounter with Mary Magdalene on Resurrection Sunday:
…she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:14-17)
You see, our adoption, too, was secured by the Lord’s resurrection.  The empty tomb signals that believers are brothers and sisters of Christ and sons and daughters of God.  And not only that, by virtue of our connection to Jesus, we are brothers and sisters of one another.  We were formerly enemies of God (Rom 5:10), but in Christ we have been brought near so that we are now members of the household of the household of God (Eph 2:19), and we call Him Father (Gal 4:6).
Being adopted by the Father has unfathomable benefits.  We have been made fellows heirs with Christ of all the blessings in the heavenly places (Rom 8:17; Gal 4:7; Eph 1:3).  All of this is because Christ died for us and was raised.  Here is yet another reason to praise God as we consider the gospel during this Easter weekend.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Two Components of Shining as Lights

On Sunday, we considered the call to do all things without grumbling or disputing so that we might shine as lights in the world.  When we think about shining as lights in the world, we need to keep in mind that there are two components to this.  First there is a verbal component.  We verbally spread the good news of all that God has done in Christ to transform hateful sinners into loving saints.  In Matthew 28:18-20, the Lord Jesus commanded us to make disciples.  This simply cannot be done without our verbally sharing the gospel.  As Paul writes in Romans 10:17, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.  For, how shall they believe in Him of whom they have never heard? (Rom 10:14)
If we expect to be faithful lights in the world, we cannot do so while keeping our mouths closed when it comes to the gospel.  It’s easy in a culture like ours to focus on “lifestyle evangelism,” in which we take the time to build relationships with the lost for the purpose of eventually sharing the gospel.  But many times, we build those relationships and never get around to actually speaking of the hope that lives within us.  We must remember that the people with whom we are building relationships cannot be saved by a gospel they have never heard.
The second component of living as lights in the world is the lifestyle component.  We must live transformed lives.  We must live differently than the world around us.  As we’ve noted so frequently in our study of Philippians, the gospel claims to transform people.  Therefore, if we have believed the gospel, we should live transformed lives.  Transformed lives advertise the truthfulness of the good news we proclaim.
Just as we should not expect to lead people to the Lord without sharing the gospel, we also should not expect to lead people to the Lord by sharing the gospel while living ungodly lives.  If we claim that the gospel transforms individuals into the image of Christ, but we are not growing into that image ourselves, people will not believe our message.
These two components work together to shine light in the world.  The verbal component gives the content of the good news.  The lifestyle component gives evidence of the veracity of the good news.  Remove either component and there is no light.
What effect does light have on those in darkness?  They are drawn to it.  Perhaps mesmerized by it.  Like a lighthouse, it draws them to the shore.  It draws them to salvation.  Jesus said in John 8:12, I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.  He is the light and all who come to Him have the light. 
And according to Matt 5:14-16, those who have the light become the light themselves:   "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 
A person who speaks the gospel and who lives a lifestyle that is consistent with the gospel will be a light that is hard to ignore.  Is there one of the two components – verbal or lifestyle – which you have been neglecting?  If so, what needs to change in order to walk in greater faithfulness with Him?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

When Killing Sin, Go to the Heart

In Sunday's message, we noted that both man and God have a role in the process of sanctification – we are called to obey knowing that God is working in us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13). We pursue holiness as God works within us to make us holy. It is a daily battle of the heart to die to self and to live for God.

We've seen many times in the past that sin is a matter of the heart.  This is likely not new information for most of us.  However, it bears revisiting, especially after a message like the one on Sunday.  When we here a call to strive for obedience, it is very easy to automatically focus on behavior modification, in which we simply try to stop doing the things we shouldn’t and start doing the things we should. This is dangerous because it fails to address the issues at the heart of the matter. Jesus said in Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

If I am sinning in the area of gluttony or anger, I can stop those behaviors and still have the same corrupt heart inside me that may manifest itself later in these same sins or in completely different sins down the road. God is not satisfied for us to just have clean hands – He wants us to have clean hearts as well (Jas 4:8).

We need to understand that all sinful behavior comes from our hearts. My heart has intense desires and when those desires become greater than my desire to please God, sin results. James 1:14-15 says, But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. We tend to associate temptation with factors outside of ourselves – other people, circumstances, the devil, and even God. But this verse from James points out that it is our own desire that lures and entices us to sin. It is that desire in my heart that gives birth to sin. That is why I can’t truly deal with the problem without dealing with my heart.

Every sin has an inward desire at its root. When I address sin in my life, the question I need to ask and answer is, “what did I want (desire) that enticed me to sin?” Sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. It requires that I look at the issue through the lens of Scripture, while praying for discernment.

That root desire in my heart doesn’t even have to be an inherently sinful desire in order to result in sin. The key is that at the point of sin, that desire, whether inherently sinful or not, was more important to me than my desire to please and glorify God. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:9, So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. And in Colossians 3:17 we read, And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. The highest aim of our lives should be to please and glorify God. All else should be subordinated to that. Otherwise, we have ceased to worship Him with our lives and instead have worshiped that idol of the heart, the desire that lured us into sin.

You see, any desire - even a desire for a good thing - can become sinful if it supersedes the desire to please and glorify God.  There is always an idol of the heart at the root of sin. The objective is to find out what that idol or desire is, and deal with it. Do we want to stop the sinful behavior? Certainly. But if we fail to address the idol of the heart – the real heart of the matter – we are simply treating symptoms, not killing sin.

What issues are you dealing with in your life right now? Poor stewardship of your time? Lustful thoughts? Impatience with your children? Anger toward your spouse? Whatever it is, spend some time trying to answer the questions, “what is it that I want that is luring me into sin? What desire is more important to me than pleasing God?” You must know the answer before you can truly deal with the sin.