Monday, May 24, 2010

The Creed of Christ - 1 Peter 1:20-21

Audio here (click to stream, right-click to download) and on our podcast on iTunes.

This Sunday, all over the world, in many kinds of churches, Christians will stand together and do as they do every Sunday, affirming their faith together in the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed. Baptists are perhaps in the minority because by and large we do not do this. If you were to ask an authority on Baptist doctrine and practice why we do not do it, you will likely hear it said, “We Baptists are not a creedal people.” What we mean by that is that we believe that Scripture alone is the authoritative rule of faith and practice, and therefore humanly composed statements of doctrine should not be used to impose belief upon another’s conscience. Baptists have always defended the rights of people to believe what they want to believe, even the right to be wrong. But if one is going to be called a Christian, then there are certain truths that must be believed and never denied.

Occasionally one may hear someone say, “I have no creed.” The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, which means, “I believe.” Therefore, a person who says, “I have no creed,” is really saying, “I have no beliefs.” There is no one alive who can say that. We all have beliefs, and therefore we all have creeds. Some Christians have said, “I have no creed but Christ.” While that sounds very humble and pious, it is too simplistic. It says, accurately enough, that I believe only in Christ, but it does not say what a person believes about Christ. Muslims believe in Christ, but they believe that He was only a prophet, and that He did not die on the cross. Buddhists believe in Jesus, but they believe that He was only one of many enlightened teachers. Mormons believe in Jesus, but they believe that He was originally the brother of Lucifer, or Satan, and many other strange ideas about Him. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in Jesus, but they believe that He was created as the Archangel Michael and became Michael again following a spiritual, but not physical resurrection. All of these, and many others, believe in Jesus; they believe something about Jesus; but none of these believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus. So, we may say that we have no creed but Christ, but the question is what is our creed of Christ? What do we believe about Him?

In our passage today, Peter says that we are believers in God through Christ. And in these two verses we find a concise yet profound description of what we believe about Christ. Some scholars have suggested that verses 18-21 originally were part of an ancient Christian hymn or creed that Peter has inserted here as a quotation. While that is possible, it is far from certain. Yet the statement here about Christ is so profound and thorough that we can draw from it a creed of sorts as we articulate what we believe about the Lord Jesus Christ. This then is the creed of Christ.

I. We believe in the eternally preexistent Christ. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world.

There’s a humorous story that philosophers tell about the origins of the universe. One ancient philosopher asked another, “If Atlas holds up the world, what holds up Atlas?” The other responds, “Atlas stands on the back of a turtle.” The first philosopher then says, “But what does the turtle stand on?” And the answer is given, “Another turtle.” Not satisfied, the inquisitive philosopher says, “And what does that turtle stand on?” Exasperated, the other finally says, “My dear friend, it’s turtles all the way down!”

When we study the history of the world, we can be tempted to think that it’s just turtles all the way down. Something came before this, and something came before that, until the point where there was nothing at all. But we must come to that point where there was nothing at all. So then the question is, “How did something come from nothing?” And secular science offers no plausible explanation for this. Therefore, in their theories, matter, the stuff of the physical world, must be eternal in some form or another. Turtles all the way down, with there being no point in time when there were no turtles, if you will. The Bible tells a different story. According to Scripture, there was a time when this world, this universe, did not exist, but there has never been a time when there was just nothing. Prior to the physical order coming into existence, God existed. Therefore, the Bible opens with these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Someone once asked Augustine what God was doing before he made the world, and Augustine quickly quipped that God was preparing hell for the inquisitive. While it may have silenced the questioner, it did not answer the question. What was He doing in eternity past? He was participating in the perfect fellowship and harmony of Himself, as Father, Son, and Spirit. The Triune God we worship always existed as He is revealed in Scripture: One God in Three Persons –God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As Robert Leighton said so well several centuries ago, “Before there was time or place or any creature, God, the blessed Trinity, was completely happy in Himself.”

So, while we can point to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem as the point in time that Christ came into the world as a man, there was never a time when the Second Person of the Trinity did not exist. John puts it this way in the opening verses of his Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3, 14). When Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17, He spoke of the glory which He had with the Father before the world was.

There was an occasion, recorded for us in John 8, when Jesus was engaged in a debate with some Jewish leaders, and He said to them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” They understandably took exception to this and said, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” To this, Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” And the Bible says that they picked up stones to throw at Him (John 8:56-59). Now, why would they do that? Suppose someone said, “I was alive before Henry VIII.” Would you want to kill that person, or would you rather try to persuade that person to receive psychological attention? Stoning was not the prescribed punishment for insanity; it was the prescribed punishment for blasphemy. Those Jews understood that when Jesus said that “before Abraham was born, I AM,” He was making two specific claims. First, He was claiming the divine name, “I AM,” as His own; second, He was claiming the divine nature of eternal existence as His own. In other words, He was claiming to be God, and in their minds this was blasphemy.

Something similar happened later, recorded in John 10. On that occasion, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” And when He said this, once again, the Jewish people sought to stone Him. Jesus said, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” And the Jews said to Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:30-33).

These episodes from the life of Christ show us that Jesus claimed to be the eternal God, and that those claims were made clearly enough that those who heard Him knew what He meant and what the implications of His words were. It seems that our options are limited in how we respond to that. Like those who heard Him, we can disagree and affirm that it was right to kill Him for blasphemy; or we can dismiss Him altogether as a man who had lost all touch with reality; or we can believe Him. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord. There are no other options. And we believe that He is who said He is. We believe that He is God, the second person of the Trinity, equally and eternally coexistent with God the Father and God the Spirit. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world.

II. We believe in the incarnate Christ. He … has appeared in these last times.

In the middle of World War II, C. S. Lewis was invited to give a series of talks on BBC Radio to encourage and comfort citizens of Britain who lived in daily fear of becoming yet one more European nation occupied by Nazi Germany. Surprisingly, in his talks, Lewis made an explicit case for faith in Jesus Christ and called his listeners to trust in Him. Those talks were later published in book form as Mere Christianity. In one section, Lewis speaks to war-weary Englishmen and says, “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” The rightful king is Jesus, and He has landed in this enemy-occupied territory in disguise, becoming one of us in the miracle we refer to as the incarnation.

As we have already stated, orthodox Christian faith understands that Christ is fully God. But in the incarnation, He became fully man. He did not stop being God in order to become man. Theologians have often said it this way: “Remaining what He was, He became what He was not.” That is, He continued to be fully God, as He had always been, but became what He had not been before, fully human. He was not half-God and half-man. He is both fully God and fully man.

He appeared, Peter says. This one simple word encapsulates so much truth. Herein is contained His miraculous conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, His lowly birth in Bethlehem, His humble beginnings, about which Scripture is nearly silent, and His public ministry which began at His baptism and continued with Him traveling about teaching and performing miracles, remaining throughout His life completely without sin. In all of this, God was showing Himself to humanity through the person of Jesus Christ.

The New Testament is filled with narratives and theological descriptions of Christ’s incarnation and earthly ministry. Perhaps nowhere is it stated more eloquently than in Philippians 2:6-7, where Paul writes that “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul says He was “revealed in the flesh.” As we have already cited, John 1:14 says that this eternally preexistent Word which was with God and was God in the beginning, “became flesh and dwelt among us.”

In Galatians 4:4, we read, “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son.” Peter says here that it was “in these last times” that Christ appeared. Historians have marked off time by the developments of politics and technology, so that we have “the colonial times,” “the bronze age,” and “the internet age.” But God has marked off time in this way: the coming of Christ into the world is the beginning of “the last times.” Prior to this time, God had spoken to the world, the writer of Hebrews says, “in many portions and in many ways,” but he says that He “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1). All that came before Christ pointed forward to Christ. Now that He has appeared, God has spoken the final word. Luther said that these are the last times, “not because soon after … the last day would come, but because after this preaching of the Gospel of Christ, no other shall come, and there will be no better Gospel revealed and explained than that which is now explained and revealed. … No more preaching shall come into the world more glorious and more public than the Gospel; therefore it is the last.”

The New Testament writers use this phrase, “the last times,” and others like it to refer to all that occurs in the world between the incarnation of Christ and His future return. We do not know when that will occur. Jesus said plainly, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32). Jesus said, “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40). But be sure of this, we are now perhaps closer to the end than to the beginning, and every day is one more day closer. So we must take the person of Jesus Christ seriously, we must take the Gospel to heart personally, and we must take our task to reach the nations sincerely, for the day is drawing near when that will no longer be possible. When Christ appeared, when God became flesh in the incarnate Jesus Christ, we entered the final chapter of history.

We believe in the incarnate Christ, in whom God has come to dwell among us as a man, and who is going to come again at the end of all things.

III. We believe in the suffering and dying Christ. He … has appeared … for the sake of you.

In what sense has Christ appeared for us? In the Nicene Creed, which dates to the 300s AD and is the most widely used creed by Christians of all branches around the world today, we find the following statement, “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” Three times in that brief portion of the Creed we read, “for us,” “for our salvation,” “for our sake.” All that Christ endured in His incarnation, His earthly life and ministry, His suffering and death, was for us.

In the verses immediately preceding these, Peter describes how this is so. In verses 18-19, he describes the futile way of life we inherited from our forefathers, which includes the sin nature we were born with and are enslaved to. We are captive under sin until redemption comes. And in Christ, that redemption has come through the shedding of His precious blood. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sin, the lamb unblemished and spotless, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Paul’s great passage on the incarnation in Philippians 2 that we referred to earlier, he writes, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). In Hebrews 12:2, we read, “for the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame.” What was the joy that was set before Him? It was the joy of reconciling sinful human beings to their maker through His death. In His suffering and death, He received in Himself that which our sins deserve. He became our substitute, receiving the wrath of the holy Father God in His own person, that we might be forgiven and made righteous by faith in Him.

He didn’t have to do this. Think about all that Jesus suffered. He suffered scorn, rejection, mockery, brutality, and death, even the most torturous form of death humanity has ever known, that of crucifixion. Jesus said, “No one has taken [my life] away from Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down.” So we do not need to see Jesus as a helpless victim of all that took place leading up to and including His death. He did not have to do it. But He did it, why? He did it for us. He said in Luke 19:10 that He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost.” We are the lost; lost in our sins. Christ came to save us. How did He do this? He said in Mark 10:45 that He had come to give His live “as a ransom for many.” Taking our place in death, He paid the penalty that our sins deserve, as our substitute, with His blood, His very life, being poured out for us, for our sake, for our salvation.

We believe in the suffering and dying Christ.

IV. We believe in the risen and exalted Christ. God … raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory.

I am a huge sports fan, most people know that. I am huge, and I am a sports fan. I love watching games, I love attending games. I was at a Baltimore Orioles game many years ago, they were playing the Detroit Tigers. Now, the Baltimore Orioles, you understand, are not good. Not now, not then. And, the Tigers were winning by a lot of runs. So, in about the seventh inning, people started filing out of Camden Yard, but we decided to stay. By the ninth inning, you could count the people on one hand in our section; it was us, and a couple of drunk guys in front of us. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and it looked like the Orioles were a pitch away from losing badly. But things turned around. One run at a time the Orioles came back and tied it, and finally knocked in the winning run. What few of us were left there in the stadium were jumping up and down celebrating, and the drunk guy in front of me, who was now also shirtless, turned around to give me a big hug, and I was just praying that a picture of that embrace didn’t show up on the front page of the Baltimore Sun the next day.

What’s the point? Sometimes when things look like they are over, they aren’t really over. When Jesus died on the cross, it looked like it was over didn’t it? Now, He had said repeatedly that He would die and that He would rise from the dead, but no one really took it to heart. When His body was stretched out on that cross, bloody and broken, no one was saying, “Just wait, it’s not over yet, He’s going to come back.” Everyone thought it was all over. But it wasn’t. Human language is insufficient to describe the miracle that took place next. Peter gives it just a few words: “God … raised Him from the dead.” It wasn’t some spiritual, ethereal, disembodied resurrection that some have claimed – it was physical; it was bodily. He was raised with flesh and bones, He ate, people touched Him, He was physically risen from the dead. The tomb was empty and Christ presented Himself alive, Acts 1:3 says, “by many convincing proofs.”

Because Christ is risen from the dead, our sin, its penalty and its punishment have not only been satisfied, but have been conquered. Peter said in verse 3 of this chapter that the resurrection of Jesus makes it possible for us to be born again. In Romans 4:25, Paul says that He was raised for our justification, meaning that we can be made righteous before God because Christ is risen. And because Christ is risen, we have the promise repeated throughout the New Testament that we who believe in Him by faith will rise from death just as He did. Life will go on beyond the grave, and though for a season, it may be in a mysterious, disembodied form, as Paul talks about being “absent from the body,” but “present with the Lord,” it will culminate in the resurrection of our own bodies from the grave, transformed and glorified just as His was.

Jesus was not raised from death in the same way that some others were raised from death. Take Lazarus for example. He died, and Jesus raised him from the dead. Then guess what happened later? He died again. But Jesus was raised from death forever. For forty days, He appeared among His disciples, and then ascended into heaven. Peter says here that God “gave Him glory.” The glory that Jesus had before the world began, He returned to receive in heaven once again. And the writers of the New Testament tell us that He is alive in heaven today, seated at the right hand of the Father in the fulfillment of prophecy and in exalted glory. The writer of Hebrews compares Jesus to the priests of Israel in Hebrews 10, and he says there, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” The priest of the Old Testament’s job was never done. Every day, he stood there by the altar offering sacrifice after sacrifice, which could cover sin, but couldn’t take it away forever. But this is what He says about Christ in comparison: “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD” (Hebrews 10:11-14). The work of redemption, the work of atonement for sin, the work of the salvation of humanity was done, forever done in this one perfect sacrifice, and as a result, our High Priest Jesus could sit down. He sat down in the place of glory and honor, at the right hand of the Father. From there, He has poured out His Spirit upon His people; from there He intercedes for His people before the Father as our High Priest, pleading His nail-scarred wounds for our justification. And from there, He will rise to meet us when we pass from this life into eternal life. As Stephen was being stoned to death in Acts 7, the Bible says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” And as he died, he cried out to the exalted Christ, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:55-59).

We believe in the risen and exalted Christ.

This is our creed of Christ. We believe in the eternally preexistent Christ. We believe in the incarnate Christ. We believe in the suffering and dying Christ. And we believe in the risen and exalted Christ. Through Him, Peter says here, we are believers in God. It is vain to believe in God in any other way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” We have no other means of access to God, in faith, in worship, in prayer, or in eternal salvation but through this Christ in whom we believe. So, as Peter says, our faith and our hope are in God – this God who is Triune, the Father and the Son and the Spirit; this God who incarnated Himself in the person of Jesus; this God who accomplished our redemption through the suffering and death of Christ; this God who has raised the Lord Jesus from death and exalted Him and given Him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). This is our creed. I hope that it is your creed. It is the only creed we have. Do you believe it?

G. A. Studdert Kennedy, Anglican priest and chaplain during World War I, once said the following:

“If our creed is only a form, that may be our fault, not the creed's. You can bet on this--You don't really believe your creed until you want to say it standing at spiritual attention with the roll of drums in your ears, the light of love dazzling your eyes, and all the music of a splendid world crashing out a prelude to its truth. If your creed is dull, it is dead, or you are dead, and either one or the other of you must be made alive again. Either you must change your creed, or your creed must change you. That is the problem that faces us--are we to change the Christian creed, or is the Christian creed to change us? I'm betting on the creed every time.”

If Christ is our creed, and these are the divinely revealed truths about Him, then we can never change it. Rather, we must believe it, and believing it, we must allow this creed to change us as Christ works in us for His glory. We invite you today to examine your creed, your beliefs, particularly those about Christ. What do you believe? Do you believe He is fully God and fully man? Do you believe that He suffered and died for you and for your salvation? Do you believe that He is risen from the dead and exalted in glory? Do you believe He is coming again? This is what the Bible teaches about Him. If you believe this, I would challenge you to recommit yourself freshly to Him today to walk with Him, and live for Him, and allow Him to use your life completely for His glory. If you do not believe this, or if you have never believed this before today, I challenge you to consider these claims, and give your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior even this day.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Color of Church Conference

The Color of Church Conference
By: BSCNC Communications

The Color of Church conference will be held June 26 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Greensboro.

Rodney Woo, author of The Color of Church, is the featured speaker. Woo is half Anglo-American and half Chinese. He grew up in a predominately black neighborhood with black friends, attended a predominately black school and married Sasha, a Latino.

Woo's book establishes a biblical foundation for multicultural ministry and details the current landscape of multicultural ministry. His book also tells the story of how Wilcrest Baptist Church, which he has pastored for 18 years in Houston, Texas, became a multicultural congregation.

When Woo came to Wilcrest the church averaged 200 people on Sunday mornings and was 98 percent Anglo. Woo began teaching the congregation what it means to serve the nations. Now, the congregation of more than 450 is less than half Anglo and 44 different countries are represented.

Woo recently announced he is resigning as pastor of Wilcrest and is headed to Singapore to pastor International Baptist Church. Singapore is about 43 percent Buddhist and 15 percent Christian.

Ken Tan, multicultural team leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, invites all North Carolina Baptists to attend the conference and learn biblical principles for multicultural ministry, as well as ideas for working toward a more multicultural outreach. "The conference will help create a healthy awareness about the multicultural challenges we face in North Carolina and will help us learn how to respond to these challenges," he said.

Registration is $25. For more information call (800) 395-5102 ext. 5641. To register click here.

Note, registration includes a copy of the book and lunch.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review: Introverts in the Church


Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh. InterVarsity Press, 2009.

As I was preparing for ministry fifteen years ago, I can remember people asking "What kind of ministry do you feel called to?" I knew only a few things for certain as I answered that question: 1) God had given me a passion for His Word; 2) God had given me an ability, that others affirmed in me, for teaching and preaching; and 3) I was extremely uncomfortable in the center of attention, large crowds, and most social settings. Therefore, I concluded that I must be called to some kind of parachurch ministry because I would not be able to function as a pastor. Most pastors I knew were very outgoing and seemed to thrive on social interaction, whereas that kind of atmosphere only drained me. I believe that part of discerning God's calling on our lives is being sensitive to His providence in opening and closing doors. Over the years, I have sought several times to move into parachurch ministries or educational ministries, and each time God has closed the doors. At the same time, He has not only opened doors of pastoral ministry, but seemingly has pushed me through those doors kicking and screaming to the point that today I confess (albeit reluctantly) that pastoring a church is what God has called me to do. It often feels like the proverbial case of the square peg in the round hole, to my own frustration and undoubtedly to the frustration of those I serve. Still, we mustn't "kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14), and that means allowing the Lord to do in and through us what seems very unnatural for us to do in and of ourselves. I am grateful for Christians in the congregations I have served who were willing to live with their unmet expectations of me, even as I have had to learn to live with unmet expectations of them and of myself. But it has been a hard and difficult journey over twelve years and three pastorates, and if the Lord had not supplied what I lacked in my own nature, I could have easily walked away many times.

With this background understood, it is easy to see how grateful I was to lay hands on Adam S. McHugh's book Introverts in the Church. Having read much on personality types over the last several years, I did not quite know what to expect from this book. Much of what I have read either vilified the introverted personality and its accompanying spiritual preferences and practices, or else tried to carve out a small, monastic, niche for introverts like me. The message I seemed to hear from other books that dealt with introverted spirituality was either "Repent!" or "Just go sit in the corner and leave us alone!" Thankfully, Adam McHugh has brought a fresh voice into the conversation. This book has the potential to help and heal introverted Christians and church leaders and the churches in which they find themselves.

As an introvert himself, McHugh is able to write from "an insider's perspective" about some of the frustrations that introverts feel in Christian community. I resonated with the personal examples from his life and those whom he interviewed for this book. He writes on page 10, "I knew that ordained ministry required social skills and I wasn't sure I had them. Even when I was able to muster enough energy or warmth to connect with people, I was soon drained and exhausted, ready for a nap. My one hope for pastoral ministry was that my teaching and preaching abilities would mitigate my questionable social skills." Again, on page 28, he writes, "many introverts pay a high cost to be in ministry. They feel unable to meet the social expectations placed on them by their congregations, and they frequently lack adequate boundaries to enable them to find rest and to recharge their introverted batteries." When I read those words, I felt as if someone had slipped McHugh a copy of my own journal, for I have said the exact same thing on many occasions. As one who advocates the church being a place where individuals from vastly diverse backgrounds can come together as one body, I affirmed with a hearty "Amen!" as McHugh wrote, "When the church is led by introverts and extroverts who partner together, each contributing their strengths and offsetting the others' weaknesses, it is a testimony that the Holy Spirit is orchestrating the community, that it is not being run by the cult of personality" (p13-14).

In the book's opening chapter, McHugh describes the "extroverted" nature of the contemporary evangelical church and the history of how it came to be that way. While affirming the value of fellowship and relationship building in the church, he laments that "sometimes our value for community life can become a substitute for relationship with God. ... [F]or some churches spirituality is equated with sociability" (p20, emphasis his). This kind of atmosphere can alienate introverts who prefer deeper interactions with fewer people and the exercise of more quiet and private spiritual disciplines. McHugh provides some encouraging examples of introverted Christians in history, including Jonathan Edwards and the Desert Fathers.

In the second chapter, McHugh brings a much needed understanding to what introversion is. Rather than seeing it as an abberant psychological state or some misanthropic abnormality, he focuses on three characteristics of introverts. The first has to do with "energy source," as introverts are "energized by solitude" whereas extroverts are energized by social interaction (p36). The second involves "internal processing," as introverts "need to filter information and experiences" internally "in the workings of our own minds" (pp37-38). The third characteristic is "depth over breadth," wherein the introvert pursued deeper relationships with fewer people. These characteristics are expounded and supported by medical and biblical evidence. This chapter should go far in dispelling myths about introversion and aiding the understanding of self and others.

McHugh describes a course toward healing in the third chapter which involves journey inward toward self-acceptance, while also journeying outward beyond the realm of self-preoccupation and out of our comfort zones. This portion of the book was extremely helpful to me as it offered both comfort and confrontation. McHugh assures the introvert that nothing is wrong with his or her personality, but warns that it could go wrong if we do not challenge ourselves to move beyond our perceived limitations, or if we use our natural inclinations as an excuse for disobeying the clearly revealed mandates of God.

These three chapters form the foundation of all that follows. Beginning in chapter four and moving to the end of the book, McHugh applies the introverted life practically in the area of several spiritual disciplines. First he discusses an introverted spirituality that includes contemplation and solitude. He proposes a series of questions to aid one in developing a "schedule" that harmonizes with his or her personality. From this, he moves into a discussion of the introvert in the life of the Christian community in the church. This is a challenge for introverts who may want to disregard the biblical teachings on Christian fellowship, as well as a corrective for extroverts who misunderstand introverted tendencies in fellowship. The section practically deals with certain spiritual gifts that are common among introverts and how those may benefit the church as a whole.

Chapters six and seven deal with the issue of spiritual leadership. McHugh begins by setting forth the expectations in our society that the best leaders will always be extroverted. He challenges this assumption and provides biblical and historical examples of introverted spiritual leaders. He also challenges introverts who would shrink from leadership because of their natural inclinations and the influence of these popular ideas about extroverted leaders. He states, "Just because we lose energy doing soemthing does not necessarily indicate that we are not a good fit for it. I am convinced that calling, not personality type, is the determinative factor in the formation and longevity of a leader" (p137). He concludes these chapters on leadership with practical ways the introverted leader can care for himself in the midst of the demands and expecations of others and practical ways to lead others from our areas of strength and giftedness.

Chapter eight deals with "Introverted Evangelism." This was the portion of the book I most anticipated reading. As McHugh says, "In all circles, Christian and non-Christian alike, the word evangelism has incredible power to conjure negative images." Perhaps introverted Christians have the most negative images associated with evangelism, for we are led to think that being a faithful evangelist means that we are constantly sharing the Gospel with others, from our best friends to perfect strangers, and have a long list of "converts" to prove our faithfulness. Every introverted Christian will chuckle as we read, "Typical evangelism books always seem to locate airplanes as the most advantageous setting for evangelistic encounters" (p171). In a profoundly timely statement, McHugh says, "I do not think that introverts are ill-suited for evangelism; I think that our prevailing evangelistic methods are ill-suited for introverts" (p172). In the pages following, McHugh presents "a different model of evangelism that is a better fit for introverts. Instead of a salesman peddling our spiritual wares, I propose that we explore mystery together" (p172). Most refreshing and unique in this chapter, compared to much of what is written on evangelism elsehwere, is his final thought: "If introverts aren't persuaded that evangelism is an essential part of our discipleship, if they aren't convinced that they should wade into the extroverted waters of witness, or if they won't accept that there are introverted ways to share our faith, then perhaps they can be won over by one last claim: introverted seekers need introverted evangelists" (p184, emphasis his). The introverted Christian is thus encouraged to see himself as an agent God can use in reaching others who are wired like he is, who may not be able to be won to faith by an extroverted person who cannot relate to him.

In the book's final chapter, McHugh describes the elements of church life that are challenging for introverts, some signs of hope for the future, some pointers for introverts seeking a church, and some pointers for churches who would reach introverts. In the Epilogue, he revisits the idea of movement in two directions: internally in solitude and externally in fellowship. Thus, the book ends by calling us all into a balanced and biblical model of spiritual maturity that includes, but exceeds the boundaries of, our personality types.

On the whole, I found this book to be a great comfort and help. It comforts me to know that the frustrations I have felt as an introverted Christian and pastor are not unique to me. The old saying, "Misery loves company," may be hyperbole here, but it is always good to know that, like Elijah, we are not alone. The biblical and historical examples and testimonials that are shared in the book are greatly encouraging. The scientific, psychological, and sociological data are also helpful as we seek to understand ourselves as introverts. The book is also helpful in how it challenges us as introverts to get beyond ourselves. We need to understand ourselves, but not use our "wiring" as an excuse for disobedience and irresponsibility. The book does not coddle introverts, but comforts and confronts introverts. I would like to think that the book will also be read by many extroverts as well, helping them to understand their introverted brothers and sisters and adjust certain expectations accordingly.

I must also point out that the book is not without its shortcomings. They are not many, thankfully, and they are of the sort that come with the territory of dealing with subjects like this. The shortcomings I perceive all involve the inevitable generalizations and blanket statements and assumptions that are common in the discussions of personality types. "Personality types" are helpful categories in understanding people, but they are not exhaustive. People are individuals who are like and unlike others within their categories in specific ways. Just using the Myers-Briggs categories, introversion/extroversion is only one aspect of personality. Thus, using that framework alone, there are eight different "types" within "introversion." An introverted person who happens to be INTJ (as I am) will be different in many ways from someone who is ISFP (for example), perhaps even more different than compared to an extrovert who is ENTJ. So, we must be careful assuming that introverted spirituality is "one-size-fits-all" introverts. While McHugh recognizes this at several points in the book, there are other places where it seems that these variations within introversion are minimized or overlooked.

The section on introverted evangelism contains many of the book's stronger and weaker points side by side. While I would assume that all introverted Christians find personal evangelism challenging, I have also observed that very few extroverts are "comfortable" with the task. Some of what McHugh proposes as better alternatives for evangelism must be challenged by asking, "Better than what?" Certainly coming to the task as an evangelistic listener or spiritual director is better than not coming to the task at all. Using approaches that go beyond proclaiming and hearing only is better than using no approach at all. But still, even given introversion, there are explicit promises in Scripture that cannot be ignored. One of these is Romans 10:17, which says that "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." There must come a point in evangelistic interaction where the message is presented clearly and the hearer is challenged to believe the Gospel. This is challenging for introverts and extroverts alike, but we must remember that the power to be Christ's witness does not come from our personality, but from the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

Even with these shortcomings, Adam McHugh has given the church a precious gift in this book. We ought to all be grateful to him for this work and the potential blessings it may bring to the church as a whole. It is my hope that introverts will read it and find comfort and challenge, and that extroverts will read it and find understanding and compassion. I pray that God will use this book to foster acceptance and deeper fellowship among all of His people whom He has sovereignly created, called, and equipped for His glory.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Redeemed! 1 Peter 1:18-19

Audio is available here (click to stream, right-click to download) and on our podcast on iTunes.

On March 15, 1781 not too far from here, one of the bloodiest battles of America’s war for independence took place. We know it as the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Though the British troops would claim victory in the battle, the substantial losses they sustained here led to their ultimate defeat just a few months later in Yorktown. The battle was fought with such intensity and bravery that the British commanding General Cornwallis said, “I never saw such fighting since God made me. The Americans fought like demons.” The Americans were fighting for independence, and for at least one American soldier, that independence was something more than a national ideal. Sometime before this battle, William Kitchen had deserted the Colonial Army and rather than facing charges for desertion, he made use of a provision that allowed him to enlist a substitute to fight in his place. Kitchen purchased a slave by the name of Ned, who had taken on the surname of his master, Griffin, and enlisted him as his replacement. Kitchen promised Ned Griffin that if he would fight in his place, he would grant him his freedom at the end of his duty. But, when the war ended and Ned returned to Kitchen, he violated his promise and instead of granting Ned his freedom, he sold him to another slave-owner. In April of 1874, Ned Griffin petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly for his freedom on the basis of the promise he had received. The Assembly intervened and declared that Ned Griffin “shall forever hereafter be in every respect declared to be a freeman: and he shall be, and he is hereby enfranchised and forever delivered and discharged from the yoke of slavery.”

We don’t know much else about Ned Griffin except the few details that are preserved in State documents. Were it not for these few references, his heroic fight for freedom would be lost to history altogether. As it is, we do not know how he came to be a slave: was he brought to America as a slave, or was he born into slavery? We may never know. Regardless, we know that his life as a slave must have been filled with hard labor, difficult conditions, empty promises, and disappointments. And had someone else not intervened to set him free, Ned Griffin would have died in that bondage.

While we would never want to crudely compare our life circumstances to the hardships experienced by Ned Griffin, his physical circumstances depict the spiritual circumstances of all of humanity. We are born into the slavery of sin, and it is a life filled with hard and futile labor, difficult conditions, empty promises and much disappointment. And were it not for the gracious act of another who intervened on our behalf, we would die and perish in that bondage to sin.

The language that Peter uses in these two verses finds many parallels with the descriptions of slavery in the ancient world. In those days, a slave could be set free by the payment of a ransom, or price for redemption. And Peter says to us that we have been set free, ransomed, REDEEMED, thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ who paid the price for us. And in these verses and the surrounding context, Peter answers three questions concerning the aspects of our redemption. 1) We have been redeemed, but from what? 2) We have been redeemed, but by what? And 3) We have been redeemed, but for what? Or as I prefer to say, We have been redeemed, but so what? It is to these questions that we turn our attention now.

I. We have been redeemed, but from what? We have been redeemed from our former way of life. (v18)

It is a law of physics that objects in motion tend to stay in motion until they are acted upon by an outside force. We call this the law of inertia. You prove this law to be true every time you are riding a car and come to a sudden stop. Both you and the car are both moving forward at 60 miles per hour, and suddenly the car comes to a stop, but your body is still moving forward at 60 miles per hour. Your seatbelt and your own energy are the outside forces that stop your forward progress (hopefully) and prevent you from going through the windshield. This is not only true in the world of physics; it is also true spiritually. We are born in motion, moving away from God in sin. And we are going to keep moving in that direction of spiritual rebellion until we are acted upon by the outside force of God’s saving work. For those who are in Christ, God has brought that forward progress to a halt through His divine work of conviction, regeneration, justification, and sanctification and put us on a path that is moving toward Him in faith and obedience. He has redeemed us from our former way of life.

Peter says that you have been redeemed from a way of life that you inherited from your forefathers. The Greek word he uses here is a relatively common one in the ancient literature though it only occurs here in the New Testament. The Greek-speaking world used this term to refer to traditions conveyed from one generation to another. Typically, this is regarded as a positive influence in society. Jews and Gentiles alike venerated their traditions as the basis of a stable society. Indeed, in much of the world today, entire cultures are built on the values of inherited traditions. In many societies, the ancestors are worshiped as deities because of the high value placed on tradition. Disregard for heritage and tradition in those cultures merits the highest shame. In America, we do not go so far as to declare our ancestors deities, but there is a strong sense of doing what we think bygone generations would have us do. We have ways of thinking, ways of speaking, ways of acting, that we attribute to our heritage. Even in churches, things are done for no other reason than the tired reasoning that it is the way we have always done it.

Peter’s point here is that it does not matter if you came to Christ from a Jewish or Gentile background; both cultures were futile. It does not matter if you come from American culture, Chinese culture, or African cultures, our traditional systems are futile. The word means vain, meaningless, or empty. We don’t feel like our family traditions are meaningless do we? We find a rich sense of identity in this heritage and take pride in it. So in what way is it empty and meaningless? It is empty in the most important way possible! Peter is saying to us here that our cultural heritage is meaningless when it comes to making us right with God. In addition to our family traditions and our national history and our cultural heritage, we have all inherited from our forefathers going back to Adam a nature of sinfulness that separates us from God. What can your family tradition do to make you right with Him? How can your patriotic zeal remove your sin? How can the values of our culture make us holy? Following these things blindly may in fact only add to our guilt before God.

In the Old Testament, this idea of futility was applied to the worship of idols. The New International Version renders Jonah 2:8 this way: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Isaiah 44:9 says, “Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit.” And those who blindly and uncritically march along to the drumbeat of their family traditions, their national and cultural customs, their religious heritage, have elevated those things to the place of a worthless idol. This happens when we read something in the Bible and say, “Well, I don’t believe that, or I don’t think it applies to me, because my people have always thought this, or said this, or done this.” It happens when we justify our sin by offering up some cultural or inherited inclination as an excuse. And every time that happens, we elevate our meaningless traditions over the revealed truth of God and have become idolaters. Stand before God in judgment and offer that! He says, “What about your sin?” And you say, “Lord, I am an American, and this is our value system.” Or say, “Lord, this is how my people have been since my great-grandfather’s day.” Or say, “Lord, this is how the postmodern generation, or the builder generation, or my people group, looks at things.” Do you see how ridiculous that seems? How can those things remedy the disease of sin that infects us all?

And we must be warned, lest we think, “Oh this does not apply to me. I am from a church-going family. I have been a Christian since the day I was born! This is what my people do … my people are Christians and my people are church-people.” Friend, please receive this in love, but we must understand that no one is born a Christian. Everyone is born a sinner. Christianity cannot be inherited through DNA. This is why Jesus said that we must be BORN AGAIN. Our natural birth is not sufficient, there must be a new birth, a spiritual birth. Even church-going may be a strong family tradition, a highly esteemed cultural value and a part of the fabric of our society; but if there is no personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ, dare I say it, even church-involvement can be an idol that we trust to save us, and it will not.

Jesus Christ is our only hope of redemption. And Peter says here that He has redeemed us from or out of the futile way of life we inherited from our forefathers. No longer do we simply belong to our family tree. No longer do we belong to the tribe, or the culture, or the society, or the nation to which we were born. We have been redeemed from those things. They will not save us. They cannot rescue us from our slavery to sin. We must be redeemed, and Christ is our Redeemer. I have recently had to rethink how I talk about multiculturalism in the church. I think that Peter is saying to us here that church is not multicultural. We do not come into the family of God, bringing all of our own cultural tendencies and preferences with us. Those things are futile. Every human culture is fundamentally flawed and built on rebellion against God. The church should always be multiethnic – made up of men and women and children from every background imaginable, but it is monocultural. Christ is our culture. And this culture is not native to any of us. The Holy Spirit is calling us out through these words, bidding us to leave behind our earthly ties and enter into a new family, a new nation, and a new culture. The former things we inherited from our forefathers are meaningless and have no real spiritual value. They offer us no eternal hope. Christ is our only hope. He has redeemed us out of our individual backgrounds and brought us into the culture of Himself.

II. We have been redeemed, but by what? We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. (v18-19)

The very word redemption implies the payment of a price. It means “to purchase release by the payment of a ransom.” Perhaps you have seen some Hollywood thriller in which someone is kidnapped and held for ransom. There is a note pieced together with letters from various magazines and newspapers that says “This person will be set free if you pay the price.” I heard of a little boy once who so desperately wanted a bicycle for Christmas that he took the figure of Mary from his family’s nativity set, and left a pieced together note that said, “Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again, you better bring me that bicycle.” Here’s the thing, as we have already said, we are enslaved to sin. We are sinners both by nature and by choice and our only hope is that someone will come and redeem us, pay a ransom for us, to set us free. But who can do that? We can’t redeem ourselves, and if every human being is under the same bondage, then we cannot look to another person to redeem us. They have their own slavery to deal with. The fact is that if God doesn’t redeem us, then we have no hope. But He has, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ paid the ransom for our redemption from the slavery to sin into which we were born and have chosen to remain. At what cost? Do you remember when Jesus said in Mark 8:36-37, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” He seems to be implying here that the value of your soul is greater than the whole world. Can you put a price tag on it? One hundred dollars? One thousand dollars? One million dollars? Often times people with a guilty conscience will given generously to a charitable or religious organization as if their generosity might somehow assuage the guilt that plagues them. They are like Simon the Magician in Acts 8. When he saw the power of God at work through the Apostles, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But do you remember what Peter said to him? He said, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” Silver … perish … with you. The unredeemed soul and the silver will both perish. Notice the similarity here with what Peter says in verse 18: you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold.

God’s favor cannot be purchased with money. Would we who are enslaved to sin think that we could buy our redemption with money? We don’t have enough. There isn’t enough money in the world. Money is insufficient for the transaction. In Isaiah 52:3, the prophet was looking ahead to Israel’s captivity in Babylon, and the Lord said, “You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money.” So how will they be redeemed? How will we be redeemed from our sin? Just a few verses later the prophet said, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation.” And then he begins to unfold the plan of redemption that involves a Servant who will come and accomplish it through His suffering. Just a short number of verses after he says, “you will be redeemed without money,” he says that this Servant will bear our griefs, He will carry our sorrows, He will be pierced for our transgressions, He will be crushed for our iniquities, He will be chastised for our well-being, He will be scourged for our healing. The Lord will cause the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. And He says in Isaiah 53:10, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him.”

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. Death is the price that must be paid for sin. But our own death is not redemption; it is justice. It is what we deserve, and with death, eternal separation from God as a result of our rebellion against Him. Another human being cannot die for us, for he or she must deal with his or her own sin. But what if there was one who had no sin of his own to pay for? What if there was one whose life was infinitely and qualitatively greater than our own? That one could become our substitute in death, and his life, his blood could be poured out to redeem us from our bondage. And this is what Peter says: You have been redeemed with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Precious. This is how God views the blood that was shed for us. It was not ordinary or commonplace. It was not the blood of bulls, and of goats, and of lambs that were slaughtered by the multitudes in the Old Testament system. That blood was a shadow of the reality that was to come: the PRECIOUS blood of Christ. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. When John was given a vision of heaven, he saw humanity standing before the throne of God. What a terrifying picture to behold! Sinful people before the throne of an infinitely holy God! But suddenly John’s attention was turned to a Lamb, a Lamb that had been slain, standing between the throne and the people. This is the eternal picture of Jesus Christ, who came to stand between us and God as He laid down His life on the cross and shed His precious blood to redeem us from sin.

Only a handful of times in the New Testament, God the Father spoke audibly from Heaven. Each time, He said the same thing. He said of Jesus Christ – “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” This one, the Son of God, God incarnate in human form, is the only one who could ever fully please God. He was beloved of His Father. He was precious to Him. And it was His precious blood which was shed for us and for our redemption. What will a man give in exchange for his soul? We cannot afford the price. But God has paid a precious price for us … He has given the precious blood of Jesus to redeem us from sin. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. We are redeemed by His precious blood.

III. We are redeemed, but for what?

In other words, “We are redeemed, now so what?” In the surrounding context of these verses, there are several implications spelled out for those who have been redeemed by this precious blood. God has not redeemed us only to leave us in our previous miserable state. He has redeemed us that we might be holy (vv15-16). He has removed our unholiness and given us the holiness of Jesus in a marvelous exchange – our sin for His righteousness. And He indwells us in the person of the Holy Spirit to produce this holiness in us. We are redeemed to be holy.

We are redeemed also to be His. We inherited a futile way of life from our forefathers, but we have been redeemed from that way of life and placed into a new family. We now address God as our Father (v17). He has adopted us at great personal cost. We now belong to Him. Our first and only allegiance belongs now to Him. As Paul will say in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, you are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. You now belong to God through Jesus Christ and His precious blood. You no longer belong to your ancestors, your tribe, your nation, your culture or yourself. You now belong to Him. Therefore, we live for His glory. We do not live for the expectations of others; we no longer live for the maintenance and preservation of our traditions; we no longer live for the honor of our earthly heritage. We live for God in Christ. This impacts the choices we make, the priorities we have, and the allegiances of our lives. It impacts our way of thinking, our way of speaking, and our way of acting. You are not your own. You belong to God who has purchased you for Himself at a great and precious cost. He has redeemed you with the precious blood of Christ. Why would you return to the chains that once bound you?

Someone here today may still be bound. You may find yourself feeling enslaved to the expectations of others, or the claims of your past, or to the competing dictates of any number of voices in your life. They may even be internal – the desires, the inclinations and tendencies of your life that demand their own satisfaction. If Christ has set you free, the Bible says you are free indeed. Those things no longer have any rightful claim on you. The chains have been removed, and you are redeemed. Fix your eyes on your Savior, your Redeemer, your Lord, and recommit yourself to live in the glorious freedom He has purchased for you with His precious blood.

And others are still bound because they have not personally transacted this redemption with God. The price has been paid for you in Christ. The offer stands today. Look to Him from the chains of your sin and claim that redemption as your own. Turn your life over to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and be set free forever.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fear God - 1 Peter 1:17-19

Audio available here (click to stream, right-click to download) or on our podcast on iTunes.

When I was a kid one of my favorite games was Simon Says. You remember that game, where one person calls out commands like, “Simon says raise your right hand,” and all the children raise their right hands. Simon didn’t mince words. If Simon said raise your right hand, and you did anything other than raising your right hand, you were out. And if the leader said, “Raise your left hand,” without saying “Simon says,” and you did it anyway, you were out. Simon means what he says and he says what he means. And we all know to take Simon both seriously and literally in that game.

In the New Testament we meet this fellow named Simon who is also called Peter. And this Simon has written two letters in our Bible. And in these letters, there are a lot of things that Simon says for us to do. Of course, what Simon says is also what the Holy Spirit is saying through Simon’s letter, because all Scripture is inspired by God, and is the very Word of God. So it is more important for us to realize that these commands come from God, and come through the hand of Peter. Now, suppose we are playing a game of Simon Says. And suppose Simon says to raise your right hand. Everyone knows what he means right? And suppose we Simon says to put your right hand down. We’re all clear, right? Now suppose Simon says, “Fear God.” At this point, we begin to huddle up and whisper, “Fear God? Well surely Simon doesn’t mean fear God, with a real, literal kind of fear. He must mean something else.” Friends, Simon doesn’t mince words. He says what he means and he means what he says. And Simon says, or rather, the Lord says through Simon, that we are to conduct ourselves in fear during the time of our pilgrimage.

We will often hear or read that this word fear does not mean to fear God in a literal sense, but that it means to stand in awe of God, or to revere and respect God’s authority. I would agree that the command to fear God contains all of those elements, but that it also means what it says – we are to fear God. The Greek word that Peter uses here in verse 17 is the same word used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe the fear of God. It is a word you will recognize from its derivatives in English today: phobos. You know what it means to have a phobia. While some of our English translations have sought to soften the blow of this word, we have perhaps become too comfortably immune to the concept of the fear of God. While we affirm that the fear of God will evoke a sense of awe and reverent worship, we should not exclude the very real and literal sense of living with a godly fear of divine discipline for our sin.

Some would suggest that fear was the appropriate response to the God revealed in the Old Testament, while faith and love are the more fitting response to the God of the New Testament. We might quote verses such as Romans 8:15 which says, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’.” We are also aware of 1 John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” We may also quote 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (or fear), but of power and love and discipline.” And quoting these verses, we may feel justified to reject the notion that we still need to have fear of God under the New Covenant.

But two responses to those verses are in order. First, by examining the context of those passages, we will understand that they do not mean to disregard the fear of the Lord. Romans 8:15 and 1 John 4:18 have to do with the fear of final condemnation at the last judgment. The true Christian doesn’t need to fear being cast into hell because their sins have been atoned for by the blood of Christ. But this does not eliminate the need to fear violating the holiness of God. Hell is not God’s only means of discipline. Hell is for those who resist all other forms of divine discipline. And 2 Timothy 1:7 has more to do with being cowards in the face of others than with the fear of the Lord, so it really has nothing to do with the discussion.

Second, one of God’s key attributes is His unchangeable nature, or His immutability. God did not change between the final pages of Malachi and the first pages of Matthew. If He was to be feared then, He is still to be feared now. The attributes that evoked fear in the hearts of the Old Testament believers have not become vestigial in the person of God. His holiness, His justice, His wrath, and other terror-evoking attributes are still part of His perfect divine nature. The fuller revelation we have of God as a result of the coming of Christ, the completion of the New Testament, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, should give us a sharper focus into these attributes and make us more aware of the need to fear Him.

The New Testament is filled with exhortations and examples of people fearing the Lord, including this one in our text today. Throughout Christian history, there have been periods of time when one attribute of God was emphasized more than others, or one act of spiritual discipline was more in focus than others. In the Middle Ages, it seems that the wrath and justice of God were so emphasized over other divine attributes that many Christians saw no room for the grace of God. They rightly understood the need to fear Him, but they did not comprehend how much He loved them. A correction needed to be made, but perhaps we have overcorrected. Today, it seems that the grace and love of God are so emphasized, to the near-exclusion of His other attributes, that many Christians know little of the holiness, the justice, and the wrath of God. They rightly understand that they are loved, and blessed, and that they receive from God beyond what they deserve, but they do not understand that there is still a need to live with a healthy sense of fear for Him. What is needed in our day is a balanced understanding of what it means to live under God’s grace and love, while at the same time recognizing that we also live under His holiness and justice. So we respond to Him with faith, love, trust, hope, and yes, with fear.

This fear is not a fear of final condemnation for the Christian. Romans 8:1 is clear that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And this fear is not a paranoia, a distrust, or a dread of God that would drive us away from Him. Rather, the more we know Him, the closer we draw to Him, the more we fear falling away from Him, and the more this righteous fear begins to transform our lives in holiness. The 17th Century Presbyterian pastor Robert Lieghton wrote:

It is superfluous to insist on a definition of this passion of fear with the countless distinctions that philosophers and theologians have made. The fear that is commended here is, undoubtedly, a holy fear of offending God. This is not merely made up of assured hope of salvation along with faith, love, and spiritual joy, but is their inseparable companion. All divine graces are linked together, and they grow or die together. The more a Christian believes and loves and rejoices in God, the more reluctant he is to displease God. This fear is the right way to live—running away from sin and from temptations to sin, and resisting all temptation when it attacks. This is a guard for the soul that keeps a lookout for all enemies and anything that may disturb the soul. Thus inner peace is preserved, the assurance of faith and hope is unmolested, and joy remains untouched. But all this is in danger when a proper fear disappears, for then some great sin or other easily breaks in, puts everything into confusion, and makes it seem as if these graces do not exist.

So, now, having explained at some length what this fear of the Lord is, let us get into the text to discover why Simon Says (Simon Peter, that is), that our pilgrimage through this life is to be characterized by a fear of the Lord.

I. We fear the Lord because He is an impartial Judge (v17)

Imagine you find yourself in court being sued by another party for some offense. How would you feel if you were to discover that the judge in this case was the father of the person suing you? You would surely feel like you were not going to get a fair hearing, and if you lost the case you would likely say it was because the judge was not impartial. Now the other party wouldn’t complain about it one bit … he rather likes the idea that his father is judging the case and showing preferential treatment. So, when it comes to giving an account for how we live our lives, we may often think that we have an inroad that will help us. “Don’t worry, I know the judge; he’s my Father.” That may be how things work in some human courts, but not in God’s Courtroom. He may be our Heavenly Father, but still He is an impartial judge.

It is a wonderful truth that in spite of our sins, God has adopted us as His sons and daughters through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have been brought into His family. But this does not mean that we are now exempt from His divine discipline. Rather, it means that we should expect divine discipline. We should not expect that He will turn a blind eye toward our sin because He is our Father. Rather, because He is our Father, He will all the more discipline us. In our home, I am the disciplinarian. When my children disobey, I discipline them. And discipline is not necessarily equal to punishment. Punishment involves getting even; discipline involves getting better. It has to do with teaching and correcting. Sometimes I get frustrated when we are in a crowd and someone else’s child is misbehaving and they do not discipline their child. But it isn’t my job to discipline their child. It is my job to discipline my children. That comes with being their father.

The Bible tells us that God does not forsake the discipline of His children either. Hebrews 12 quotes Proverbs 3 in reminding us to “not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord … for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” The writer of Hebrews goes on to say there, “God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline … then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” And then he says, “We had earthy fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.”
That enlightening passage tells us that we should expect discipline from God, and that receiving it is the verification that we belong to Him as sons and daughters. But His discipline is not capricious. Unlike our earthy fathers, who disciplined us “as seemed best to them,” God’s discipline is “for our good,” and that good is that we may share in His holiness. So we must not think that just because we have an intimate relationship with God as our Father that we have a license to live any way we may desire. God will judge our conduct impartially, and will enact discipline when necessary to conform us according to His holiness. As Wayne Grudem writes, “Membership in God’s family, great privilege though it is, must not lead to the presumption that disobedience will pass unnoticed or undisciplined.” Rather, because He is our Father and our unjust judge, we must expect that He will both notice and discipline us when we sin. He will not tolerate in us, His children, that which He does not tolerate among His enemies.

Remember that it was to Christians that the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14:12 that “each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” It was to Christians that Paul gave the warning in 1 Corinthians 3 about the day when all of our deeds will be examined and tested by God. On that day, he said that some of our deeds will be found to be wood, hay, and straw, and will be consumed with fire, while other deeds will be found to be gold, silver, and precious stones, refined by that fire. So some, he says, will suffer loss on that day. All of life that was not lived for the glory of God will be burned up. But as a reassurance that the true believer in Christ will not face eternal condemnation in hell, Paul says, “but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15).

Because God is an impartial judge, He will discipline us and hold us accountable for what we say and do as members of His family. And for this reason, a godly sense of fear in our lives becomes a strong motivation for holy living.

II. We fear the Lord because He has redeemed us from sin at a great cost. (vv18-19)

The primary exhortation in this text is to conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay. This is qualified by two conditions. The first is the one we’ve already mentioned, “If you addres as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work.” The second condition is in verses 18-19. We conduct ourselves in a righteous fear of the Lord, knowing that we have been redeemed at a great cost.

The language of redemption speaks of purchasing something. The wording that Peter uses here was often used to describe the release of a person from slavery through the payment of a price for freedom. And this is one way of describing what God has done for us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We were born into slavery—slavery to sin. We inherited from our forefathers, Peter says, a futile way of life. Futile in this sense means “worthless, or meaningless.” We were born with an inclination to live for the satisfaction of our own desires. But our desires are warped by the sin nature we inherited, so that living for our desires runs contrary to living a life that pleases God. We are enslaved to sin from birth.

God has redeemed us from this way of living. He paid a purchase price, as it were, for our release from this slavery. But this payment was not made with perishable things. Often times, we collect food for area ministries, and we ask you to bring nonperishable items for those collections. We know that something perishable is something that will rot, decay, or spoil over time. So, when we think of perishable things, we think of milk, or bread, or meat. But Peter is thinking of something as perishable that we would tend to think of as imperishable. Peter is talking about silver and gold being perishable. Silver and gold, he says in effect, will rot, decay, and spoil eventually. Indeed, everything on this earth is going to at some point, if not before, then certainly in that day when Peter says in 2 Peter 3:10 that the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. On that day, even the most precious things that we think will last forever, things like gold and silver, will melt away. And if our redemption was accomplished by these means, it would vanish as well.

But Peter says that our redemption price was paid with something imperishable, something that will stand for all eternity. We were purchased, not with silver or gold, but with blood. And this is no ordinary blood. It is precious blood. It is a unique and special kind of blood. It is not the blood of a lamb, but it is as of a lamb unblemished and spotless. In the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, lambs and other animals were slaughtered as an offering for sin. This sacrifice depicted the penalty for sin being carried out upon an innocent substitute who bore the death and shed the blood on behalf of the guilty party. How many gallons of blood were shed in that way over the centuries? It is inestimable! But all those sacrifices were pointing the people forward to a day when a perfect sacrifice, a very unordinary sacrifice, a PRECIOUS sacrifice would occur. There would come a day when Jesus Christ would become the substitute for sinners and receive in Himself the penalty of our sins. His blood, His precious blood, was shed for us as He died in our place. This blood became the payment price for our redemption from slavery to sin.

It is interesting that there is a repetition of similar words in verses 17 and 18. In verse 17, the Greek word translated here as “conduct yourselves” is the verb form of the noun that is translated as “way of life” in verse 18. The word that is used refers to the whole direction of one’s life. Peter intends to say here that the whole direction of our lives was at one time moving according to the sinful patterns we all inherited from our forefathers. But because of the redemption that God has accomplished for us through the shed blood of Jesus, we have been loosed from the chains that bound us to that way of living. Now, the whole direction of our life is moving according to a reverent fear of this God who saved us. Formerly, we were living in rebellion against Him. Now we live under His Lordship. He has set us free from sin, so that, what?, we might continue to sin? No, He redeemed us out of that way of living, so that now we might be free to live in victory over sin, that now we might be free to live in obedience to Him, that now we might be free to live for His glory in His holiness. So to live with no fear of God at all in our lives is to treat lightly and to casually disregard this precious blood that was shed for us. Karen Jobes writes, “To continue to live in one’s useless former ways is implicitly to deny the value of Christ’s death.”

The shedding of Christ’s blood removes many fears. We who are in Christ no longer need to fear eternal condemnation, we need not fear death, we need not fear hell at all. If you are born-again through faith in Christ, life in this fallen world is as close to hell as you will ever get. But there is still the fear of the Lord that motivates us to live in the freedom and the holiness that He has redeemed us for. To live otherwise is to look upon this shed blood of Christ that God has called precious, and to say, “Hmm, that’s no big deal.” Oh no friends, this is a HUGE deal! In God’s holy justice, He would have every right to allow us to perish eternally, but in His holy and gracious love, He has redeemed us for Himself. He became one of us in the person of Christ, to live the life we cannot live for us, and to die the death that we deserve for us. He has conquered every power on earth that causes us to fear – sin, death, Satan, the grave, and hell. How then can we not have an even greater fear toward Him, who now holds us in His hand?

In Mark 4, we read a familiar story about the disciples being caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was sound asleep, and the panicking disciples awakened him, saying “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In their fear of the storm, they lost sight of the immensity of the love and care of Christ for them. But Jesus awoke, and rebuked the storm, saying, “Hush, be still!” and the sea became perfectly calm. But interestingly, Mark says that it was at this point that “they became very much afraid.” They understood what true fear is when they beheld the power and the glory of God in the person of Christ. If the storm was terrifying to them, how then shall they respond to One who is more powerful than the storm? Awe? Yes. Reverence? Yes. Worship? Yes. But these things are all part of a larger thing going on in our hearts and minds when we truly behold Christ for who He is. It is a holy fear of the Lord, knowing that this God, whom we can call Father, is also the one to whom we will give account and the one who has accomplished our redemption.

Here’s a simple little test you can use for self-examination in regard to our fear of the Lord. I want you right now to imagine, please don’t say it out loud, just imagine, your most secret sin. I don’t mean something you did 10 years ago, I mean present-tense, what is the one thing in your life right now that you are most ashamed of. Now, which causes more fear in your heart – the possibility that your best friend might find out about it, or the reality that God already knows about it? If it is the possibility that another person will discover it, then we have a greater fear of men than of God. It is time to change that. The secret things in our lives can be covered up to the eyes of men for a long time. But they are never hidden to God. And that reality, combined with the knowledge that He is a Father who disciplines His children, He is a judge who is impartial, and He is a Redeemer who paid a great price to set us free from sin, can only rightly be met with a righteous sense of the fear of the Lord.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Righteousness Not My Own - Philippians 3:9

Audio can be found here (click to stream, right click to download) and on our podcast on iTunes.

How long does it take to prepare a sermon? I would agree with Dr. Hershael York of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who says that every sermon he has preached has taken his whole life to prepare. He says that sermon preparation is like making wine: “The grapes may be newly crushed but they come from vines that are old.” At the Together for the Gospel conference I attended in Louisville a few weeks ago, Mark Dever said that he spends 30 hours a week in sermon preparation. Dr. Dever typically preaches longer than an hour, and has a rather large staff to help him shoulder the burden of the other demands of church ministry. I, on the other hand, do not have a large staff, and I know that you will not endure listening to a sermon of that length. Therefore, on average, I would say I spend 15-20 hours a week preparing the Sunday morning sermon. Now, there are times when the other demands of ministry do not allow 15-20 hours of preparation. Thankfully this is rare, but this week has been one of those cases. In addition to many other responsibilities that arose during the week, I was faced with preaching not one, but two funerals. Often, on those weeks when preparation time is short, God is gracious and affords me extra time I didn’t know I had, or brings a message to light from a shorter text that I can handle in shorter amount of time. Fewer times, I have to call in someone else to preach for me, and even more rarely, I will preach a message I have preached before. I can count on one hand the number of times I have done this. Today is one of those times.

On Wednesday, I prepared a funeral sermon for my neighbor, Mrs. Jane Porter, the 90-year-old godly wife of a Presbyterian Pastor. As I prepared to preach on the righteousness of Christ that we receive by faith, I looked over notes from a sermon I had preached here some four years or so ago when we were going through Philippians. As I did, the thought came to me that I really should preach that sermon again sometime. I began to sense that God might even be prompting me to do so. Then Wednesday evening, as I asked the congregation to pray for me, one church member said, “Why don’t you just preach an old sermon; we won’t remember it anyway.” So, I took that as a triple-validation that this message needs repeating. So we are revisiting a verse in Philippians that presents for us what I believe is the most important element of New Testament theology, encapsulated in a brief statement. And it actually dovetails together with what we have just studied in 1 Peter 1:13-16 quite well.

This single verse before us today, Philippians 3:9, deals with the doctrine of justification. The word “justification” is one of those theological words that you may stumble across every now and then (though I confess I wish it were more often). And many people are prone to just ignore those hard words without stopping to consider what they mean. We hear experts telling us that we need to avoid using terms like this in our preaching because people don’t understand them. I disagree. I think it is words like justification that form the foundation of our faith in Christ. So rather than avoiding them, I want to carefully explain them and apply them because I believe they are necessary for us to understand if we would grow in our faith.

So, let me give you a definition of justification. It involves three realities. 1) When a person is in Christ, his or her sins are removed because of Christ’s death. 2) He or she is pronounced not guilty before God. 3) And then the very righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed or transferred to him or her. So, because of justification, we who otherwise would stand before God covered in sins, stand instead covered by a righteousness that is not our own, but a perfect righteousness that was earned for us by the sinless life of Jesus Christ.

The doctrine of justification was the single-most important issue of the Protestant Reformation, and is itself the core of the Christian gospel. Martin Luther said, “Justification is the chief article of Christian doctrine. To him who understands how great its usefulness and majesty are, everything else will seem slight and turn to nothing.” This doctrine of justification is our only hope of standing before God and being found acceptable in His sight. The avoidance of this and similar subjects in preaching is likely the reason why churches in our nation are in the shape they are in: spiritually anemic, and filled with people who are nice, and good, but lost.

God’s Attributes

In order to understand God’s workings and decrees, we must first understand something about His nature. If I asked you to fill in the blank of this sentence what would you say: “God is ____________.” Undoubtedly, in the minds of many, the answer that comes to mind almost instantly is “Love.” Indeed, the Bible says this very thing in 1 John 4:8. However, there are two reasons why I think it is dangerous to fill that blank with the word “love” apart from a longer, more detailed explanation. First, it restricts God’s attributes to only love. God is love, but love is not His only attribute. To understand His love, we must see His love in relationship to His many other attributes. Second it risks elevating all that calls itself love to an platform of idolatry. God is love, but the concept of love is not our God. God is love, but not everything that claims to be love in our society is a true reflection of His love.

If you were to ask me to fill in that blank, “God is ______________,” I think the most appropriate single word to insert there is the word “HOLY.” What we mean by “holy” is that God is completely set apart for the magnification of His own glory, separate and unaffiliated with sin; He cannot bear the presence of sin. This is central to understanding God. His holiness is the key attribute that helps us to clarify and qualify all of His other attributes. He is Holy. He is Love, but His Love is Holy. He is a God of Wrath, but it is a Holy Wrath. He is Sovereign, but His Sovereignty is Holy. See holiness clarifies His divine attributes and prevents us from viewing them through the distorted lens of cultural misunderstandings of these terms. And this kind of holiness is what He has called us to as well. Throughout the Old and New Testaments there is the reverberated call of “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” We saw that very statement in the last passage of 1 Peter we studied together last Sunday.

When John sees heaven in Revelation, he says in 22:15 that outside are the dogs, and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolators, and everyone who loves and practices lying. Our temptation when we read that will be to say, “But I am not that bad.” Let me remind you of the words of James 2:10 – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” The Law of God is not merely a collection of various laws. It is a singular unit. Break it at one point and you have broken it all. And the Bible says that the wages of that sin is death, and leads to eternal separation from God.

Each and every one of us has disqualified himself or herself from God’s presence because of sin. It is not just the violation of some arbitrary rule that we are dealing with. It is the offense of an absolutely holy God. It has been said that there are no small sins because God is not small. Sin is a grave matter because of the magnitude of the holiness of God against which our sins are an assault.

Our Nature

You say, “How do you know all of us have sinned?” I do not claim to know the specific sins committed by each person, but I do know that we are all born with a sin nature that manifests itself in rebellious attitudes and actions from the first moment wherein we are capable of exercising our will. We are not called sinners because we sin. It’s the other way around. The fact is, each and every one of us sin because we are born sinners. So when we say that we are all sinners, we are not offering a statement of specific accusation, but rather we are offering a statement of explanation. Do you wonder why you do the things you do, or why others act toward you in the ways that they do? The explanation is that we all sin because we are all sinners. That is an undeniable fact that we find in Scripture and in experience. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin. He has a holy standard for us all. And none of us have met it.

How Good is Good Enough?

There is a popular but dangerously false belief that says “good people go to heaven.” The idea is that God is good, and heaven is good, and people who are good will go there to be with Him. Often times, this God is believed to go by many names. Therefore, it is assumed that all major, and possibly all minor, religions and spiritual practices provide a legitimate path to God and, therefore, to heaven, assuming that we are sincere in our belief and good in our behavior. So if I do good things, and don’t do bad things, then I will be a good person, and the good God will take me to good heaven.

In spite of its popularity, this idea about good people going to good heaven is dreadfully WRONG. The truth that God has revealed is altogether different. It says that “good” is not “good enough”. This idea of gaining heaven by our own goodness minimizes both the holiness of God and the severity of the sins we commit against Him. Paul says in the preceding verses that he was better than any other person he knew, blameless in the sight of all who knew him. But his goodness wasn’t good enough to impress God. So what does it take? Paul’s ambitions were not to just be a good person or even a better person. He desired to be found in Christ, for only in Christ do we find the righteousness that God requires.

The Righteousness God Accepts

In this singular verse, Philippians 3:9, Paul mentions five things about this righteousness.

1. The righteousness God requires is not my own. I cannot earn it. I don’t deserve it. I can’t work hard enough to obtain it. There are not enough good things I can do to lay claim to this righteousness. The righteousness of Russ Reaves will never be enough to be acceptable before God.

2. The righteousness God requires is not derived from the Law. And that is a good thing. If we could compile a list of all the positive and negative commandments of the Bible, how many do you think there would be? Jewish tradition asserts that there are 613 specific commandments in the Law. That figure is somewhat arbitrary, but still the list is vast, and we know for certain we have broken a good many of them. We would agree that the Ten Commandments are a summary of all of these requirements and prohibitions. Yet, even at just ten, who among us can say we have satisfied them all? I meet people who say they are going to go to heaven by keeping the 10 Commandments, but they can’t even name them. Given a Bible, they can’t even find them. If I was basing my eternal destiny on something I would at least want to know what it was.

Jesus condensed the list of commands even further to just two: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. He said that these 2 commands summarized the entire Law. But we can’t even keep these two commandments, can we? But Paul says here that the righteousness that God requires is not a completed checklist of law-keeping. In fact he says in Romans 3:20 that by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in God’s sight. That was not the purpose of the Law. The Law was never intended to save us. The Law was given to show us our sins, and our need of salvation. It is like a mirror. A mirror will show you that your hair is messed up, but the mirror will not fix your hair. So it is with the Law. It can’t make you righteous, but it can show you that you are unrighteous and in need of salvation.

3. The righteousness God requires is from God. If you don’t get it from yourself and you don’t get it from the Law, where do you get it? You get it from God. God offers to give it to us. What if I said to my daughter, who is 5 years old, we cannot go outside to play until you mow the yard. You would say, “That is an unfair demand – she is only 5. She can’t mow the yard” But, what if I mowed the yard, and said, “Salem, will you accept the work that I did in the yard as if it were your very own?” She would say, “Sure, let’s go!” I have imputed of transferred my yardwork to her. I have counted it as if she mowed the yard herself.

God has demanded that we meet a certain standard: We must be absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, righteous and holy. And we fail. We are prone to say, “God that is not fair. We can’t do it.” Even if we could decide today to live that way for the rest of our lives (which we can’t, but if we could), we would still have the sins of our past to deal with. But what if God, in His grace and mercy, said, “Listen, the righteousness that I must have, I will accomplish for you and impute it to you – I will give it to you freely as if it were your own.” And God has done this through the life of Jesus Christ. We are right to emphasize His death and resurrection, but we mustn’t overlook the sinless life that He lived. Without His sinless life, His sacrificial death would not be possible. He was qualified to die in our place because He had no sins of his own to die for. His sinless life satisfied the righteous and holy demands of God, and that accomplishment can be imputed to us. God offers this gift to us out of His mercy and grace. He offers to wrap us in the righteousness of Christ. And that is the meaning of the next point.

4. The righteousness that God requires is found in Christ alone. In the verses preceding verse 9, Paul says that everything that he once would have boasted of, he now considers to be worthless compared to being found in Christ. The word he uses is actually quite vulgar; we’ve cleaned it up a bit in some translations by using the word “dung.” But that is what Paul says all of his accomplishments amount to in the sight of God. And the same is true of us. I didn’t grow up in church. Some of you did. Praise God for that. But, hear me carefully, if your trust, and your hope, and your confidence is in your church-going heritage, or the spiritual stature of your parents or grandparents, then you are not saved. The only way to be saved is to be “in Christ.” Being “in church” or being “in a good family” is not going to do it. There must come a point when we personally accept Jesus Christ’s death as the payment for our sins, and surrender ourselves to His Lordship. Those who are “in Christ” are covered in the righteousness of Christ, and when they stand before the Lord, be it in prayer, in worship, or in judgment, God will deal with each one just as He deals with His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Colossians 3:3, Paul refers to our lives being hidden with Christ in God.

Now finally, …

5. The righteousness God requires is received by faith. It is not earned, attained, or manufactured. God gives it. And anyone who would wish to receive it must do so by faith. Paul says that this righteousness is through faith in Christ, and it is on the basis of faith. Faith is not a substitute for righteousness, as if God is grading on the curve. He doesn’t say, “Well, you don’t have righteousness, but I’ll take faith instead.” It is actually faith which receives the perfect righteousness of Christ from God. God is offering it to all who will receive it. We claim it as our own as we accept it by faith.

Faith is more than just intellectual agreement with all the claims of the Christian gospel. Faith is more than just historical acknowledgement whereby we say, “We believe in Jesus,” and by that, mean nothing more than saying, “I believe in George Washington.” Certainly it must include the intellectual and historical elements, but it must go farther. It is a personal response to God whereby an individual says, “I believe that Jesus Christ died in my place, for my sins, and that He rose from the dead, and that He will give me His righteousness.” And as an act of the will, that individual places his or her only hope, only trust before God, in the person of Jesus Christ. This decision to trust Him then affects the way that person lives. If their faith is genuine, the Spirit indwells, empowers and transforms them. If their faith is not genuine, there is no transformation. And upon placing my trust in Christ to save me, there is a confidence in knowing that when this life is over, I will be greeted at the portals of heaven by the open arms of God Himself who will welcome me to my eternal home as if I were His only begotten Son – because I am in Christ, and have been engulfed in His righteousness.

Imagine it like this. We have all seen a standard yellow pencil. It has two ends. One end is for erasing and the other end is for writing. In justification, God erases our sins through the death of Jesus Christ, and “writes,” if you will, the righteousness of the life of Christ onto our spiritual account.

Now I want to close with some specific points of application:

1) Most importantly right now, if you have never received the righteousness that God offers to us in Christ, the righteousness He requires, you can have it today. Look at the sins of your life, those things you have done and not done, and the inherent attitude of spiritual rebellion that resides in each of our hearts, and renounce them. Turn from them. This is what the Bible calls repentance. It is to say to God, “I no longer want to live in this.” And then accept by faith that Christ has died to remove those sins from you and offers to give you His righteousness in exchange for your sins. His death and His righteousness is our only hope. So turn from sin and place your complete trust in Him to save you.

2) Secondly, to those who are doubting. You might say, “Pastor, you are not supposed to make people doubt their salvation.” Well, I honestly think that deception is worse than doubt. And there are some who never doubted once, but who are deceived by false assurances, and thinking they are saved, they are really lost. And there are others who, through the journey of doubt, arrive at a destination of unshakable confidence. So I would say that every now and then, it might be beneficial for us to examine ourselves, as the Apostle Paul admonishes in 2 Corinthians 13:5, to see if we really are in Christ. If you are not certain today, you can nail it down by recommitting yourself to Christ by faith.

3) Third, I want to say to those who know that they have received this righteousness by faith in Christ, we must live it out. We make God look like a liar when we claim to have laid hold of His very righteousness but then we live with reckless abandon and unconcern for His holiness. So, may others see the righteousness that we claim to have, as we live our lives before their eyes.

4) Finally, this gift of God’s grace is so magnificent. Anyone who has truly received it will acknowledge that it surpasses everything in this world. So, we must respond to God in awestruck wonder at His grace of saving us. If this doesn’t draw you to worship with enthusiastic fervor, I imagine that you have yet to comprehend it. And, since this gift is so precious, we must give it away. I want to challenge you, if you have received this grace of God in Jesus Christ, share it with others. Tell them how Christ can remove their sins and make them righteous in God’s sight as well.