Friday, November 14, 2014

Image Bearers are Enemies not Children

There is an idea that every person in the world is a child of God.  I believe the longing behind the thought is a good one.  All of us desire to be a child of the One whose image we are created in.  The thought of being a child of God brings comfort and rest to the souls of human beings.  The logical thought is being a child means God loves me just the way I am therefore God and I are on good terms.  But when we open God's Word, the Bible, we see the reality of our relationship with God.  It's not as pretty as the ideas we may have in our heads'.  

I believe it is important to make the distinction between the two types of people described in the Bible. First there is the natural man.  This is every single human being whether right now or at one time in the past.  The natural man is the man born into this world.  Period.  What does the Bible say about every human being?  Paul, in Romans 1-3, is making his argument to both Jews and Gentiles about their condition before God apart from Christ.  Paul starts in Romans 1:16 saying, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."  Both Jews and Gentiles (this throws every person ever into the mix) need the gospel which is the power of God for salvation.  We all need rescue.  Why do we need to be rescued?  Paul lays it all out in the first three chapters of Romans.  "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen" (Romans 1:25).  All of us decided possessions and/or humanity are better to worship rather than the God who created them.  

In examining our own hearts we must confess we have all loved other things more than God.  Jesus tells us, "You shall love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment" (Matthew 22:36-37).  When we read these words from Jesus it should take us back further to the book of Exodus where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  The first three commands all have to do with Jesus summary statement in Matthew.  God spoke to Moses saying, "You shall have no other gods before me...You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth...You shall not take the name of The Lord your God in vain" (Ex. 20:3-6).  The natural man does not seek to love The Lord the way Scriptures tells us to love him.  

How did we get in this condition?  It started back in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve were given a beautiful garden to enjoy and work.  God gave them this beautiful garden with only one command, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:16).  Every tree in the garden of Eden was "pleasent to the sight and good for food" (2:9).  They were free to enjoy anything in the garden but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Easy, right?  But think about your own heart when you're in a nice neighborhood with beautiful lawns and there is the one house where the owner has the infamous "Stay off the lawn" sign.  Before the sign you had no desire to walk through someones lawn but what is the natural thought when you see the sign?  Most of the time we want to walk through the lawn with the sign.  That sinful desire is an inheritance of sin through our original parents Adam and Eve.  

Genesis 3 begins by telling us about the serpent, "Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that The Lord God had made" (3:1).  The serpent begins his attack on Adam and Eve in the garden trying to persuade them to eat of the tree God had commanded them not to eat.  The serpent, Satan, twists God's words, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'(Gen. 3:1).  Satan is asking, "Is God so mean that he would not allow you to eat from every tree?" The reality is God had given them freedom to eat from any tree in the garden and the one they were commanded not to eat from is for their own protection.  God knows that if they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they will die.  The serprent wants them to think God is holding back something good from them when in reality God never withholds a good thing.  James tells us, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is not variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).  Satan will do whatever he can to convince us otherwise.

When Eve responds to the serpent saying they were commanded not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they will die, the serpent assures her, "You will not surely die" (Gen. 3:4).  This statement makes complete sense coming from the mouth of Satan.  In John 8, Jesus says of Satan, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (44).  Satan only knows how to lie but how many times do we buy into his lies thinking God is withholding something good from us?  Eve is assured by the liar himself that they surely will not die.  The serpent continues his lie by telling her, "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5).  Satan is now accusing God of lying to Adam and Eve.  God apparently did not tell them the whole truth.  He only told them they would die not that they would be like him if they ate.  To be like God is the striving of every man from this moment in the garden.  God has given us his commands and we believe our thoughts and ideas are greater than God's.  He gives his commands in the Scriptures and we beleive we know what will bring us better joy and satisfaction.  We have been buying into Satan's schemes ever since the fall.  

The Bible tells us Eve "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes (the very thing God had told them earlier) and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate" (Gen. 3:6).  Adam and Eve bought the lie.  Paul tells us the effects of Adam and Eve's disobedience in Romans 5, "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned...one trespass led to condemnation for all men" (Rom. 5:12, 18).  Later Paul will tell us "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).  The fall in Genesis 3 brought sin and death into the world just as God had told Adam and Eve.  God showed them mercy by not giving them physical death but the consequences of their sin brought spiritual death and serparation.  

After Adam and Eve sin notice how the relationship between the two of them changed as did the relationship between them and God.  Genesis 2:25 says, "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed."  This is what is said about Adam and Eve before the fall.  There was no shame.  Once they bought the lie from the serpent and ate the fruit the Bible says, "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths" (Gen. 3:7).  Before the fall they were naked and not ashamed but now they know they are naked and ashamed of being naked.  What changed?  Sin.  Sin had now entered into the world.  When Adam and Eve hear the sound of God "walking in the garden" (Gen. 3:8) they hide themselves for his presence.  When God calls out to them asking where they are, they respond saying we "heard the sound of you in the garden, and were afraid, because we were naked, and hid" (Gen. 3:10).  Before eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve never hid from God.  In fact they enjoyed fellowship with God.  After their disobedience they are trying to hide from God.  The relationship has been damaged.  Adam and Eve begin to blame one another for their own sin they have committed.  They play the "he said, she said" game.  Their relationship is broken with one another but more importantly their relationship with God is broken.  They are eventually driven out of the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22-24).

Being reminded of how sin entered the world is helpful and very important.  The story of Adam and Eve is not some fairy tale with a broken ending but a real historical event that took place.  This event effected the whole human race.  No one can avoid the reality of sin because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  It also helps remind us that all sin is a big deal.  Our thinking has been skewd when we begin to think only about the "big sins" like murder, adultery or stealing.  The whole of humanity was brought under God condemnation by the eating of a piece of fruit.  Have you considered that before?  Our relationship with God is a broken relationship because Adam and Eve ate the fruit.  Sin is the breaking of God's commands therefore not giving him honor and glory.  We need to see that all sin is disgusting to a holy God.  

God's holiness is at the foundation of all his attributes.  Most people think that God's love is the foundation of all his attributes but the Bible only repeats one attribute of God in a threefold repetition.  This repetition was a way to intensify a truth.  God is absolutely pure and separate from his creation.  When sinners get a glimpse of God's holiness the response is not casual but rather trembling and awe.  When Isaiah has a vision of the throne room of God, we read of the angels calling out to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Is. 6:3).  While the angels were calling out the foundations began to shake and the house was filled with smoke (Is. 6:4).  Isaiah did not see this scene and walk away unchanged but rather responded saying, "Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Is. 6:5)!  God's holiness lays the foundation for his attributes of love, mercy, grace, justice and so on.  I've seen many people have a hard time reconciling God's love with his justice when they say the foundation of his attributes is his love.  When his holiness is laid as the foundation it is easy to see how God is just in punishing sinners and how is love exceeds our comprehension in rescuing sinners.  

God is not only holy but he also demands that we be holy.  Most people will admit they have done wrong or sinned or broken some of the Ten Commandments but most people also believe they are good at the core.  They play the compare game with one another.  Understanding God's holiness helps us see God hates sin.  Period.  He doesn't just hate the sin of the person you find worse then your sin.  He hates your sin and my sin.  All sin must be dealt with at some point.  We will all give an account before God for sin.  And if heaven is your aim you need to understand God, the Judge, will not allow anyone unclean into his holy city.  "Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false" (Rev. 21:27).  Based on God's holiness and our sinfulness this excludes all of us from entering God's heaven.  We need to understand that none of us deserve to enter this city to dwell with the holy Creator.  God demands perfection therefore all of us are out.  Jesus, on the sermon on the mount, said, "You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  Left to our own doing we have no hope.  Good people don't make it to the holy city, only perfect people.  

It is also important to understand that we, as sinners, are not even good people.  This idea stems from a puffed up view of ourselves.  When we believe we are good people it does nothing but prove our arrogance.  God has given us the Bible to help us know him and know ourselves.  We know because of the fall all of us are by nature sinners.  "The wages of sin is death" and all of us will die.  We cannot escape this reality.  Sadly many people do not realize their real condition before God.  Romans 1 tells us that in "their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth" (Rom. 1:18).  They suppress the truth about God therefore suppressing the truth about who they are as sinners.  Paul goes on to tells us, "God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (1:28).  What are those things Paul?  What are the things that ought not to be done?  "They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.  They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Rom. 1:29-32).  In case it is still not clear Paul goes on to quote from the Old Testament, "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...There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 2:10-12, 18).  We are not naturally good people in the eyes of holy God.  We may make ourselves into good people by the comparison test but when we weigh our goodness against God's standard we see clearly "no one does good."  Naturally we are not God seekers (Rom. 2:11) but God haters (Rom. 1:30).  

When Paul goes on to talk about the work of God reconciling sinners he speaks about the former condition of the believer.  Reconcilation implies a sense of hostility between two parties.  When Paul talks about the work of God in the believers life he uses the "while we" language for us and the "yet" language for God:

Romans 5:6 - "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."

Romans 5:8 - "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Romans 5:10 - "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son."

Most people are okay admitting weakness or even recognizing they are sinners but I think the struggle comes when Paul continues the progression calling us enemies.  The language of reconcilation makes complete sense when we understand there was a hostility between us and our Creator that started back in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  Paul uses this language in Ephsians 2 when he says peace is found in Jesus Christ (14) and he came to "reconcile us both (Jews and Greeks) to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility" (16).  In Colossians we read, "And you, who once were alientaed and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death...He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (1:21, 13).  This is who the church consist of.  The church is made of former weak, enemies of God who were hostile toward him yet through the cross of Jesus Christ, God reconciled sinners through Christ bringing peace.  Left in our natural condition our status is one of being God's enemy.  No peace, no reconcilation means the wall of hostility is still present.

Then where did the idea that people are naturally children of God begin?  Sadly this idea stems from a cut and paste bible.  A cut and paste bible cuts out a portion of Scripture in order to paste it on the ears of the people so they are satisfied with the preachers words rather then actually knowing the truth.  As we established earlier from Genesis 1 we are all created in the image of God but not all are children of God.  The language in Scripture has to do with becoming children of God not naturally being children of God.  In the gospel of John it says, "[Jesus] came to his own, and his own people (the Jews) did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:11-13).  Jesus says the children of God are those who believe in him and when they believe in him he gives them the right to become children of God.  These children of God are not born of the flesh but of God.  It is a supernatural transformation where a sinner is born again or made new.  Jesus talks about this transformation when the Pharisee Nicodemus approaches him.  Jesus tells him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:5-8).  The Spirit is the Holy Spirit the third person of the Trinity who works in the lives of those created in the image of God and supernaturally transforms them into his children.  

Paul talks about this same transformation in the book of Romans.  "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by who we cry, 'Abba! Father!'  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:14-17).  Notice this Spirit of adoption as sons is something we receive by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit illumines our minds through the Scriptures to see the reality of our sinfulness and God's salvation found in Christ.  God set the standard at perfection which all of us failed to acheive yet "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do" (Rom. 8:3).  What did he do?  How did he provide a way for us to acheive the standard?  "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4).  Trusting in Christ is the way God's standard is met.  This is how sinners are adopted into God's kingdom.

Another reference to being children of God is found in Romans 9.  Verse 8 says, "This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring."  What promise?  We need to go back to Genesis to see what's going on here in Romans 9.  God made a promises to Abraham that his offspring would be as many as the stars in the skies.  God told Abraham, "'Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.' Then [God] said to him, 'So shall  your offspring be.'  And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:5-6).  Abraham eventually gets concerned because him and his wife are old and are unable to bear children.  He and his wife, Sarah, decide to take matters into their own hands.  Sarah tells Abraham to take one of her servants, Hagar, as a wife so they can have a child.  Hagar conceives bearing Abraham a son named Ishmeal.  Rather then trusting The Lord and his promise, Abraham and Sarah sin.  God is faithful to his promise and Abraham and Sarah conceive.  "Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac" (Gen. 21:3).  God's promise was fulfilled in Isaac not Ishmeal.  God tells Abraham "through Isaac shall your offspring be named" (Gen. 21:12).  This promise is a continuing promise and not just a promise that Abraham and Sarah would bear many physical children.  This promise is a promise of many spiritual offspring who will believe in Christ and it will be counted to them as righteous.  There will be many children of God born through faith in Jesus Christ.  

The last references we will look at come from 1 John.  First John is a great book to use to examine your heart to see whether you love Christ or not.  It is a book written to show us what a believer in Christ will look like after being saved.  It is important to understand this theme of the book because apart from Christ this sort of life is impossible to live out.  First John 3:1 says, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."  This is where knowing the context of a book is very important.  It is easy to rip this sentence out of the context and tell people we are all children of God.  But if we continue through the rest of this section or even the next part of the verse it is clear John is talking about believers in Christ as opposed to everyone in the world.  "The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him" (3:1).  John is making a clear distinction between those pursuing a worldly lifestyle and those who are following Christ.  He continues making the distinction by saying, "Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning...No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (3:8-9).  Then he states plainly, "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother" (3:10).  Those who have been called or as John 1:12 says, "Given the right to become" children of God will follow after Christ's commands and love others who follow Christ.  

John continues the theme of showing who are God's children and who are not his children all throughout the book.  In 1 John 5 he uses the phrase children of God again.  "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (5:1-5)?  In this last chapter of 1 John, John wants to be clear that the obedience he has been talking about throughout the book can only come through saving faith in Christ.  Notice he starts by saying "everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God."  Only those who are trusting in Jesus Christ atoning work through his life, death and resurrection are born of God.  They are God's children.  The obedience to Christ John and the other authors in the Bible talk about is not a religious ritual trying to earn God's love and favor but rather are a result of seeing God's love for us.  In 1 John 4:19 John says, "We love because he first loved us."  We don't obey hoping God will love us in return.  We love because we recognize that we were once sinners, God's enemies, children of wrath destined for the lake of fire but God in his mercy came to die as our substitute and through faith in Christ we are reconciled to God.  Once our eyes are opened to the truth of God's saving grace it is easy to see why John says "his commandment are not burdensome."  Since he loves us so much he sent his Son to die for our sins isn't it logical to see his commands are for our good?  Why would God lovingly satisfy our biggest need then not satisfy the smaller ones?  He created us therefore he must know what would bring us the greatest joy.  His commandments are meant to bring us joy not be a burden.  The only way to see this reality is through Christ.  

Not all are children of God but the amazing part is that God, in his love, would chose to make any sinner one of his children.  We don't deserve it and he certainly didn't have to do chose any.  When we think God had to save people because he created them then we just don't understand his grace.  Grace is a gift.  It is unmerited favor.  It is getting what we don't deserve.  What every human being deserves, because of our hostility to God, is eternal separation from God.  As LeCrae Moore puts it, "If we fought for our rights, we'd be in hell tonight."  The moment we think we do not deserve hell is the moment we think we have lived up to God's standard.  But only one man has ever lived up to the standard.  The God-man, Jesus Christ, came to save his people from their sin (Matt. 1:21).  He came to fulfill the perfect standard.  He came to live the life we could not live.  Then he died the death we deserved to die as our substitute (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).  Three days later he rose defeating sin and death for those who will repent of their sin and trust him for salvation (1 Corinthians 15; Romans 10:9-11).  You cannot achieve God's standard apart from Christ.  You need his perfect righteousness because the Bible is clear that our righteousness is like a "polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6).  Will you come to the Savior?  

Grace upon grace,
JRL











Saturday, November 8, 2014

The danger of being lulled to sleep by comfort

Many people have all been blessed with many material possessions in America and many have been blessed to be raised in a home where we are brought to church on Sunday mornings.  But this can be a detrament to our ugency to "go and make disciples" in the world.  If we understood the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man we would respond with the ugency Jesus speaks about in the gospels and we would sacrifice everything, including our pride, to make sure Christ is known.  When the value of knowing Christ surpasses the value of self then we will obey Christ and go make disciples.  

Paul is a great example of someone willing to surrender his live for the sake of the gospel.  His heart was fueled by the surpassing value of Christ.  In Philippians 3 he writes, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (3:8).  Maybe you argue, "But Paul did live in America with all it's comforts."  That's true.  If you are ever tempted to think that way let me show how deadly being an American can be.  We have much to be grateful for in America but it is a dangerous place for Christians called to die to self.

Paul in Acts 20 says, "And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisionment and afflictions await me.  But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from The Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (22-24).  Paul went knowing "imprisionment and affliction" awaited him.  These were not ideas but realities.  Imprisionment and afflictions will await him.  I wonder if the comforts of America and the self-esteem message peached daily has sucked the self deniel message of Christ out of us?  Many times I've seen in my own life the unwillingness to surrender to Christ's commands wondering what others will think of me if I speak of him.  We have been allured away from the message of Christ by the love of ease and comfort.  Paul mind set was simple: "To live is Christ, to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21)

What we see many times in the life of the church is what Deitrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace.  Cheap grace is "grace without a price; grace without cost!"  It is intellectual assent of grace.  To have our sins justified while continuing to live the life of one not justified. Grace that forgives but doesn't change the sinner.  It is a "denial of the living Word of God."  Cheap grace has no joyful obedience to Christ.  
On the other side of the grace coin is costly grace.  Bonhoeffer says, "Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.  

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'You were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us...costly grace is the only pure grace, which really forgives sins and gives freedom to the sinner."

May we not be lured to sleep by our comforts and pursue cheap grace.  May we be followers of Christ who count the cost of living a life worthy of the gospel.

Grace upon grace,
JRL