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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Gospel Thinking: Man is Doomed

(This is the fourth article in a series.  You can find the other articles here:  Part 1   Part 2   Part 3)
What does it mean to be gospel-minded?  It means to habitually allow the truths of the gospel to frame the perspective from which we view our circumstances.  In this series, we’ve been taking some of the basic truths of the gospel and considering how that particular truth could shape our thinking.
The truths that we’ve already considered are: God is holy, man is sinful, and God is wrathful.  Now we’re ready to move on to a fourth: Man is doomed. 
(I know that these first few truths don’t conjure happy-go-lucky emotions.  It may seem like thus far this series has been a bit dark.  Just remember two things.  First, the good part of the good news is just around the corner.  Second, these truths, while dark, are real and true and they can and should be used to help us think rightly about the world around us.
That man is doomed means simply that man is completely helpless to change his deadness in sin.  As we saw last time, God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness ultimately in the form of eternity in hell.  Since all people have sinned against God, hell is the justly deserved destination of all people. 
Whenever we’ve wronged someone in this life, we frequently try to “make it up to them.”  We attempt to work to regain that person’s affection, sympathy, support, forgiveness, etc.  Most religions of the world attempt to do this with God.  In these religious systems, good works lead to salvation, nirvana, paradise, or whatever. 
However, this will not work with the one true God.  A good deed cannot cover up a bad deed.  That bad deed, or sin, must be dealt with according to the justice of God.  Nothing slides.  So no amount of good works will improve a sinner’s station before God.  Even if this would work, it still would not address the root issue.
We’ve noted in recent weeks in our Sunday morning study of Philippians that man has a heart problem.  All sinful deeds spring from a sinful heart: 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 (Mark 7:21-22). 
The physical circumcision that marked Abraham’s descendants did not enable them to obey God.  Rather a change of the heart was needed, a change that could only be accomplished by God: But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear (Deut 29:4).  Man’s hell problem is compounded by his heart problem.  There is nothing he can do to change his sinful nature: Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil (Jer 13:23).
Again, keep in mind that these more difficult truths set us up for the really good news that God has provided salvation for sinners in Jesus Christ.  We’ll get to that shortly.  For now, how can the truth that man in himself is doomed help us to think rightly about everyday life?  Consider a couple of scenarios.
A believing couple has three adult children.  None of them show any interest in spiritual things.  The parents are tempted to overwhelm their children with the truth, bombarding them with books, articles, sermons, and heart-to-heart talks.  They remain in a state of semi-panic over the spiritual condition and ultimate destiny of their kids.  How can this component of the gospel help them to think rightly about the situation?  “Our kids are slaves to sin.  They need a change of heart that only God can bring about.  While we will continue to take advantage of opportunities to speak the gospel to them, our ultimate tool should be prayer that God will do what needs to be done.  Whatever happens, we will trust and worship Him.”
In a very different situation, a man has Muslim neighbors.  They are devoutly committed to this false religion.  Because of the violence perpetrated by Muslims here and abroad, sometimes he is tempted to regard them with indifference, and at other times with scorn.  How might the gospel help him to view this situation rightly?  “These people are doomed to hell.  They deserve it, but no more than I do.  Only the God of the Bible can help them and He only does that through the word of the gospel (Rom 10:17).  He may not change their hearts, but that is His business.  My responsibility is to tell them the grave predicament they are in before God.”
Have you been taking time to look at your circumstances through a gospel lens?  If not, you’re likely no more gospel-minded than before we started this series.  For that reason, you’re likely still engaging in unbiblical thinking about your life.  But you don’t have to stay that way!  It doesn’t take long.  Just set aside three minutes a day to look at one situation in your life from the perspective of the gospel truths covered so far.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly and radically your perspective can change.  Let’s press on together!
Next time, God is gracious. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Gospel Thinking: God is Wrathful

(This is the third article in a series.  You can find the first two articles here and here.)
Once again last Sunday, we were prompted to consider that as believers we are called to allow gospel truth to shape our thinking about our lives and circumstances.  It was another reminder to me how needful is this series of articles, in which we are discovering what it means to be gospel-minded, slowly looking at the bullet points of the gospel to see how each component can help us think rightly about the world around us.
Having previously covered the truths that God is holy and man is sinful, we are ready to move on to the next component of the gospel: God is wrathful.  This idea is not a popular one in our world.  People prefer to think of God as the gentle candy man in the sky who makes no demands and only wants to make us happy.  However, God’s holiness does make demands.  And our sinfulness indicates that without exception we all fail to meet those standards.  The wrath of God flows naturally from these first two truths of the gospel.
The principle of God’s wrath for sin is expressed in Romans 1:18: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  We like to rank sins in such a way that some sins are worse than other sins.  And while there is biblical support for some sins being more grievous than others, when it comes to ultimate consequences, all sin receives the wrath of God.  The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness.
A complementary truth is found in Romans 3:10-12: As it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."  More succinct is Romans 3:23: All have sinned…  Not a single person is free from the guilt of sin.  We all do it as naturally as we exhale.  And since all ungodliness receives the wrath of God, all people find themselves in the same predicament – they are objects of God’s wrath.
The wrath of God is described in the Bible the most frightening of terms.  God’s wrath against sinners is manifested in a literal, physical hell.  Hell is a place of utter darkness, unquenchable fire, and perpetual torment (Matt 5:29-30; Jude 7, 12; Rev14:11).  It is the just payment for all sin and the rightful destination of all sinners (Rom 6:23). 
So how might the doctrine of God’s wrath help us to think rightly about our own lives?  With the benefit of a couple examples, hopefully we’ll be able to tailor a response to our unique situations.
A man with a chronic illness is dejected about his constant suffering.  He is tempted toward self-pity.  He finds himself questioning God, “why me?”  The doctrine of God’s wrath for sin could shape his thinking in following way: “What I truly deserve is to suffer far worse than I could ever suffer in this life.  I deserve the wrath of God for all eternity, yet by God’s grace I’ve been spared that.  I’m so thankful that the greatest suffering I’ll ever know is in this temporary life.  My present suffering is achieving for me an eternal weight of glory far beyond compare.” (2 Cor 4:16-18)  
A woman laments injustice, as the man who victimized her young son has not been held accountable.  She is tempted to question God and to find some way to bring about justice on her own.  God’s wrath in the gospel could help to view this situation from an eternal perspective:  “No sin will go unpunished.  Though it seems there are lapses of justice in this life, there are none in the next.  I must leave this to the Lord, as He has said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’  No justice I could bring could compare to the justice that He will bring on the last.  I must also remember that I am a sinner, deserving of justice, but saved by His grace alone.”  
I challenge you to take your current circumstances or an issue that is on your mind, and consider how the truth of God’s wrath for sin might help you to view that issue from a gospel-centered perspective.  No one will develop a gospel-centered view of all things without intentionally making time to do this kind of reflection. 
May the Lord continue to use His truth to shape our minds as we think on these things!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Gospel Thinking: Man is Sinful

(This is the second article in a series about being gospel-minded.  If you missed the first article, you can read it here.)
In our study of Philippians, I have characterized a main theme of the letter as a call to be gospel-minded.  This series of articles is intended to explain what that means and how we can do it.  As a reminder, being gospel-minded means looking at the various areas of our lives or the various circumstances of our lives in light of the truths of the gospel.  So we are taking one component of the gospel per article to look at how that particular truth can be used to shape our thinking on a daily basis.
Last time we considered the starting point of the gospel, that is, that God is holy.  Now we come to the second truth: man is sinful.  This means more than that man is morally challenged or that he makes bad decisions sometimes.  Rather, that man is sinful means that Adam’s sin affected man in every aspect of his being so that we can say that man is depraved.  Man’s is fallen in his physical body, his mind, his will, his emotions – everything. 
His fallenness is so profound that Paul characterizes sinful man as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1).  Man is born spiritually dead, which means that he is unwilling and unable to submit to the law of God (Rom 8:7).  He cannot will himself to take a single step toward God.
There is a popular illustration used by some to convey the gospel call to sinners.  Lost humanity is like a sea of drowning people.  To each of these people, God throws a life preserver, the gospel invitation.  Everyone who reaches out and takes the life preserver is saved.
But many have noted a biblical problem with this analogy.  It does not go far enough in depicting man’s spiritual incapacity.  A more apt illustration would be lost sinners lying dead on the sea floor.  The dead sinner can no more reach for a life preserver than he can will himself back to life.  The Savior must dive to the bottom of the sea, take the sinner to the surface, and breathe life into his dead body.
The sinner is helpless in himself.  He is enslaved to sin.  But we should not take this to mean that the sinner sins against his own will.  Rather, we should conceive of his depravity as a delightful slavery.  He is not only unable to submit to God, but he is wholly unwilling to submit to God.  Had he the ability to turn to God, he would never want to.  Such is the depth of his depravity.
So how might this component of the gospel be used to shape our thinking?  Let’s consider a few examples. 
A woman has a loved one who is lost.  Although this loved one has heard the gospel, he has absolutely no interest in God or the things of God.  Understandably, the woman grieves for her friend and wants to do everything possible to ensure that he repents and believes.  She is driven to make him believe.  The truth of man’s depravity could shape her thinking about her friend in this way: “My friend is as incapable of changing his own heart as he is of changing the direction of the wind.  God alone can bring him to spiritual life.  My responsibility is two-fold: to continue sharing the gospel with him and to continue praying that God would do what only God can do.”
A man is watching the unfolding of the current election cycle and teeters on the edge of despair regarding the future of the country he loves.  He fears that if society does not return to “the old days,” the future will be bleak indeed.  The doctrine of depravity can help him to keep a biblical, eternal perspective on these things: “The real problem with this country and with the world at large is the problem of man’s sinfulness.  As long as man is depraved, I should not expect politicians to deliver heaven on earth.  The decline of the country is evidence of a spiritual problem that can only be addressed by the saving grace of God.  The answer is not to get the ‘right’ dead sinners in office, but to pray for revival so that many, many sinners will be regenerated for God’s glory.”
A teen is dealing with a serious illness that limits her ability to live a normal teen life.  She fights against depression and finds that most of the time it is a losing battle.  She tries to “look on the bright side,” but there doesn’t seem to be one.  The truth of the depravity of man can help her direct her thoughts to the Lord:  “My illness and every illness on earth is ultimately a result of the entrance of sin into the world.  All things decay because of sin.  To long for the kind of healing that this life affords is to long for a decaying kind of healing.  I should long for the healing that will only take place with the coming of Christ, the day of redemption when I will put on the imperishable body purchased for me by His blood.”
Again, your challenge is to take stock of the circumstances facing you and to try to look at them from the perspective of gospel truth.  Thus far, we have two truths in our bag – God is holy and man is sinful.  Looking at our lives in light of these will help us to orient our thinking toward God and help us to walk in faithfulness.  Next time we’ll consider a third – God is wrathful. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Gospel Thinking: God is Holy

As we’ve been studying Philippians, viewing our lives from a gospel perspective has been a prominent application.  As I prepared last Sunday’s sermon, it occurred to me that more instruction in this area would probably beneficial.  Sometimes a preacher can get into church-speak mode and forget that not everyone understands every term or phrase he uses.  So I’d like to do a series of posts devoted to an explanation of what is meant by being gospel-minded or thinking from a gospel perspective.  Further, I’d like to give a number of practical life examples to help you begin to be gospel-minded regarding your life and circumstances.
Thinking from a gospel perspective means looking at the various areas of our lives or the various circumstances of our lives in light of the truths of the gospel.  When I’m focused on being gospel-minded, I ask myself, “how should the truths of the gospel shape my thinking in this area?” 
To answer that question, we need to be aware of the theological components of the gospel so that we know what truths or tools we have to work with.  In the articles of this series, I’d like to give you the bullet points of the gospel that I use.  But please understand that many more truths could be added to this list.  These points are the bare bones place to start.
God is the holy Creator.  The gospel begins with God, not man and his sin.  Man and his sin are only rightly understood in the context of a holy Creator God.  That God is holy means that He is completely separate from His creation in terms of His moral perfection.  God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1John 1:5).  He is the Most Holy One.  In fact, the seraphim around His throne perpetually call to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" (Isa 6:3).
There are at least a couple of truths that flow from the truth that God is our holy Creator.  The first is that God has the right to do whatever He pleases.  God created all things (Gen 1:1; John1:3), therefore He owns all things (Psa 24:1-2), therefore He has the right to do whatever He pleases with all things (Psa 115:3).  A second truth is that God’s holiness is the standard for mankind.  Leviticus 19:2 commands, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.  This standard is reiterated by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:48: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  The moral commands of the law reflect His holy character.  So in our assessment of sin in ourselves and others, we should use His holiness as the standard, not the moral standards of men.
There are any number of ways that this truth of the gospel could be used to shape our thinking on a given issue.  Let me give you several examples that might help you apply this truth to your unique circumstances.
A believing man lives with a contentious spouse who pushes him to follow her lead in various matters.  He’s tempted to compromise in order to keep the peace.  The truth of God’s holiness could shape his thinking in several ways: (1) “God is the holy Creator and His standard alone should guide my role in my marriage.  He has called me to lovingly lead my wife, therefore I must do so.”  (2) “I cannot compare myself to other men who allow their wives to lead.  I must compare myself to the holy standard of God’s Word.”  (3) “God created me, therefore He owns me and has the right to guide me.  My wife did not create me, therefore her will cannot ultimately guide me.  I must love her sacrificially while obeying the Lord.”  (This pertains only to areas where a clear moral imperative applies.  But in areas of mere preference, he is free to prefer his wife.)
The parents of a teen are struggling to cope with his rebelliousness.  How might God’s holiness shape their thinking?  (1) “God is holy and morally perfect.  We can trust Him to do what is right with our son.”  (2) “God is creator of all things, including our son.  Therefore, God owns our son.  He has every right to do with him as He pleases.  And in whatever He does, He is good.” (3) “God’s holiness is the standard for our lives.  So of the many ways we could respond to our son, all those that violate His standard are off-limits.  We must be holy in our actions and attitudes toward our son.”
A woman is employed by a very difficult person.  She is tempted to slander him and to not submit to his authority.  God’s holiness could help her think rightly about the situation: (1) “Everyone else’s attitude and behavior toward the boss should have no influence over my attitude and behavior.  My standard is the holiness of God, therefore I must work for my employer as unto the Lord.”  (2)  “God is the holy creator of all things, therefore He has authority over all things.  So then, all authority is from Him, even the authority that my employer has over me.  To fail to submit to my boss is to fail to submit to God.”
I doubt there is a single issue facing any of us that could not be informed in some way by the truth of God’s holiness with its related truths that He can do what He pleases with His creation and His righteousness is the standard for mankind.  I encourage you to choose several different areas of your life and try to determine how God’s holiness can help you think rightly about them.  Next time we’ll consider the second bullet point of the gospel: man is sinful.