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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Walking in Light of the Deity of Christ

In our look at the triune nature of God last evening, we focused on the truth that the Son is fully God.  After looking at the voluminous biblical evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ, it is truly amazing that anyone would question it.
But as this Wednesday night series is focused on the practical ways that our knowledge of God should affect the way we live (“Walking in the Excellencies of God”), it is crucial to consider not only that it is true that Christ is fully God, but how this truth should inform our living. 
The practical relevance of the deity of Christ is found in that it is an essential component of the gospel.  If Christ were born of man, not of the Holy Spirit, He would have been “in Adam” (1 Cor 15:22).  That’s a problem because “in Adam all die.”  Christ would have been born in the original sin of Adam, unable to become our new federal head.  Additionally, were Christ not God, He could not have provided an infinite payment for our infinite sin debt.  Only God could satisfy the wrath of God.  No finite man could satisfy the wrath of God for his own sins, let alone the sins of the world.  His deity provided for a perfect, single sacrifice for sins that put an end to any further need for propitiation (Heb 10:11-18).
So how does that matter to everyday life?  There are a number of ways.  I’d like to share just a few.  First, how many of us tend to go back into our past to reclaim former sins – and then beat ourselves up with them?  Many believers struggle with the continued guilt and shame of sins covered and forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ.  We must recognize that this constitutes practical unbelief in the full deity of Christ.  In other words, when we live in the shadow of forgiven sin, we are living as if Jesus Christ was only a man.  We are living as if His sacrifice was insufficient to pay for our sins, as if there is still payment to be made, payment that can only be made by us. 
Second, how many of us view our obedience as a means of gaining or retaining the Father’s favor?  Though we confess with our mouths a biblical, by-grace-through-faith view of the gospel, with our minds and our lives we confess a works-based view of a right standing before God.  Some believers fear that their performance determines God’s disposition toward them.  If they are obedient, He loves them.  If they are disobedient, His wrath is rekindled.  This, too, betrays a degraded view of Christ’s deity.  If Christ made an infinite payment for sin, which He could only do as God, there should be no question that He fully paid our sin debt, providing for our adoption by the Father.  Now, God relates to us as a loving Father, not a wrathful Judge.  To live differently is to practically deny that Jesus is fully God.  If we believe that Jesus is fully God, we should not try to earn the Father's favor OR reclaim the guilt of forgiven sins.
Third, how many of us live as if we lack the resources to respond rightly to the situations facing us on a daily basis?  We have family issues, work problems, health trouble, and a whole host of other difficulties on top of the Biblical call to walk in a manner consistent with the gospel.  Many of us live in habitual defeat, regarding these pressures as insurmountable obstacles.  This, also, represents a denial of, or at least a failure to purposefully remember that Christ is God.  How so? 
If Christ is fully God, then He is all-powerful, all-wise, and perfectly loving toward us.  This is greatly significant because it is His Spirit who lives inside of us (John 14:17)!  The power of Christ exists inside of us and is at work in us to empower us to live for Him (Eph 1:18-23; 3:20-21; 2 Pet 1:3-4).  When Paul wrote that he was content with weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest on him, he had in mind not the power of a mere man, but the power of Almighty God (2 Cor 12:9).   
When we believe that Christ is God and allow this to shape our thinking about ourselves and our circumstances, it can and should affect the way we live.  May the Lord help us to continue to press into the excellencies of God with a view toward how thinking rightly about Him will help us to live in ways that expose His glory.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Discovering the Absurdity of Our Idols

In our Wednesday night study (Walking in the Excellencies of God) last night we began to discuss the triune nature of God by exploring the voluminous testimony of Scripture that there is only one God.  The major implication of monotheism is that Yahweh alone is worthy of worship.  One way that the prophets drive this truth home is by exposing the absurdity of worshiping idols.
We’ve noted many times at Providence that though we may not worship literal, physical idols made by human hands as the Israelites did, we do have other objects of worship that should be considered idols.  We could say that anything that is more important to us than God is an idol.  So our idols could be almost anything including career, sex, material comforts, and entertainment.  We can even worship as idols things that are good things, like the safety of our children or a godly reputation. 
So how might we go about destroying our worship of these false gods?  Isaiah 44 and Jeremiah 10 provide us with a paradigm.  Let’s walk through one of these passages and see how it exposes the absurdity of idol worship and how we might use it to overcome our idols.
Isaiah begins by asserting that Yahweh is the only God:
6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. 7 Who is like me?
“Who is like me?”  The implied answer is, “no one!”  That is the question and implied answer that must be applied to our every idol.  Our idols must be compared to the One True God and exposed for all the ways that they fall short.  Let’s suppose that the idol we are dealing with is the praise of men (John 12:43).  That is, we want so badly for others to think highly of us that we’ll sin in order to attain it or we’ll sin if we don’t attain it.  As Isaiah does with idols of wood and metal in Isa 44, we must hold up the praise of men next to the magnificence of Almighty God so that the praise of men is shown to be nothing by comparison.
12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint.
Isaiah describes a man creating an iron idol.  Here the “creator” is the man, but this creator is a creator who gets hungry and thirsty and whose strength fails.  If the “creator” is this needy, how much more needy will be the idol which depends upon man for its existence?  Isaiah is exposing the absurdity of idolatry.  He continues by describing the making of an idol from wood:
14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!" 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"
What could be more ridiculous than using half of a tree to cook your food and making the other half into a god before which you fall down and worship?  The portion that became the god could just as well have been fuel for a fire!  Again, the prophet demonstrates the absurdity of worshiping idols.  He then provides a contrast by pointing to the greatness of Yahweh:
21 Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. 22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
The idols made by men are worthless.  They “do not profit” (v9); but Yahweh, by contrast, is all powerful.  The idols of Israel were formed by men; but Israel was formed by Yahweh.  The idols of Israel can do nothing but sit wherever they are placed; but Yahweh is a redeemer of souls. 
Every idol is going to have its own unique absurdity when compared to the One True God.  Our objective is to find that absurdity and magnify it by comparing it to the superiority of our God. 
In the case of the idol of the praise of men, we could prayerfully think through the essence of this false god.  A helpful picture for understanding this idol is found in John 12:42-43, where the Jews believed in Christ but refused to confess him for fear of the Pharisees.  They feared the displeasure of the Pharisees, which would lead to being put out of the synagogue, more than they feared the displeasure of God for rejecting Christ.  At its core, a desire for the praise of men is really the fear of man as opposed to the fear of God.  We seek man’s pleasure and fear man’s displeasure rather than seeking God’s pleasure and fearing God's displeasure.   We perceive that it will be more beneficial for us to have the pleasure of men than the pleasure of God.  Where is the absurdity?
Consider the power of man versus the power of God: The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psa 118:6)  Man is impotent in the face of the power of Yahweh.  There is nothing man can do to me against the will of God.  Why on earth would I seek the pleasure of man and fear the displeasure of man over against that of God?  It’s absurd.
Consider also the heart of man versus the heart of God.  The Scriptures teach that every intention of the thoughts of the heart of man are only evil continually (Gen 6:5).  Man’s heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer 17:9).  On the other hand, God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exo 34:6).  He demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).  Why then would I seek the favor of the fickle, evil heart of man over the gracious, forgiving, saving heart of God?  It’s absurd.
Consider also the wisdom of man versus the wisdom of God.  Men, professing to be wise, became fools in rejecting God (Rom 1:22).  The foolishness of God is wiser than men…(1 Cor 1:25).  Indeed, the wisdom of God is so vast it cannot be fathomed (Rom 11:33).  In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3).  So even if men had it within their power and inclination to do me good, they do not have the wisdom to carry it out in the best way possible.  God alone is good, powerful, and wise.  Why then would I desire the favor of men over the favor of God?  Why would I expect that man could do good for me in a way that God could or would not?  It’s absurd.
There are undoubtedly other ways in which worshiping the praise of men is absurd, but this demonstrates how one might go about thinking through such things using Isaiah 44 as a paradigm.  Having identified the absurdity, then we could meditate on this daily – both the absurdity of the idol and the superiority/magnificence of God, praying that God would help us grow to hate the idol and love Him.
I encourage you to take a look at Jeremiah 10 and think about how it also might help you discover the absurdity of idolatry and make war on false worship.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why I Don't Pray, Part 3

As we continue to consider common reasons for prayerlessness, think with me about one that may be less than obvious.  (You can read the first two articles in this series here and here.)  Sometimes we don’t pray because of the implicit belief that we are better able to handle our concerns than God is.  In other words, sometimes we don’t pray because we’re prideful.  Peter connects pride to prayerlessness in 1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
I’m inclined to believe that when Peter uses the phrase “casting all your anxieties on him,” he has prayer in mind because this language echoes so closely Paul’s phrasing from Phil 4:6, which does explicitly mention prayer: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
For Peter, the act of casting one’s anxieties or concerns upon the Lord is an act of humbling oneself.  There is a connection between trusting the Lord and humility.  In fact, the command in verse 6 to humble oneself is accomplished by casting one’s anxieties upon the Lord.
The text gives us a couple of reasons to trust the Lord, or to cast our anxieties upon Him.  First, God is powerful.  Peter writes, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…   This speaks of God’s ability to help us.  He spoke all things in to existence and upholds the existence of all things by the word of His power (Gen 1; Heb1:3).  Surely, dealing with our temporal concerns poses no strain on Almighty God.
Second, God cares for His children.  God has marshaled all His resources to accomplish His great purpose for us, our transformation into the likeness of His Son.  All of salvation history has proven His indomitable care for us.  As Paul notes in Romans 8:32, God’s grace toward us in Christ in the past proves that His loving disposition toward us is guaranteed in the future: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
When we put those two truths together – that God is all-powerful and that He cares for us – we find that He has both the ability and the inclination to work all things for our good, just as He has promised (Rom 8:28-30).  And this is why it is so incredibly prideful to remain prayerless, not casting our concerns upon Him.  When we do this, we are making the implicit statement that even though God is almighty and supremely loving toward us, we are better equipped to deal with the situation than He is.  Our prayerlessness simultaneously denies that He is powerful and caring and exalts us above Him.
When we are prayerless, we should first repent of our pride.  We should confess our implicit denial that He is powerful and loving.  We should ask forgiveness for thinking more highly of ourselves than of Him.  We should return to the Scriptures and remind ourselves of the Lord’s testimony about Himself -- the Word testifies repeatedly to the power and care of the Lord for us.  Finally, we should humble ourselves by praying and trusting Him with what concerns us.