The Mark of a Believer.

battle

There are many attributes that Christians [should] have in common.  Scripture paints pictures for us about the love we have and are known by, but perhaps one of the more overlooked attributes of the believer is the internal struggle against sin.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

When we come to God for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ by grace, we are born Spiritually.  Jesus called this the “second birth”, and it is the moment when our eternal, Spiritual life begins.  This life will not taste death, even though our physical bodies will.  And this Spiritual life is the result of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within us and empowering us to grow in Holiness.

The entire purpose of the Law and the Old Covenant (Old Testament) is to reveal to us that we are incapable of keeping God’s commandments and honoring Him with our lives.  Thus He offers us forgiveness and salvation, and gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey and be holy.

But since we remain in our bodies and have not yet been freed completely from our sinful nature, our spirit and flesh are battling one another.  Paul says that the desire of the flesh are things that we please.  Sin feels good, it is alluring, it is pleasurable; at least in the moment.  And the only way we can refrain from doing those things – those very things we please, is to walk by the Spirit.

John Owen puts it simply:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

As long as we remain in our bodies, they will have temptations and desires that are sinful.  Unfortunately, that is just the way it is.  And Scripture tells us plainly that our flesh and Spirit will be at war with one another.  That means that we can simply test ourselves by examining the battle going on within ourselves.  Is the Spirit convicting you?  Does your heart feel like a battle ground sometimes?  Take heart!  This is perhaps the most affirming attribute of your Spiritual health possible.

If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then it means He does not reside within you – because none of us is perfect in our own nature.  If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then get on your face and ask God to forgive you for your sins and send you the Spirit.  If you have been quenching the Spirit for so long that you did at one point feel His conviction, but now no longer do, then get on your face and ask Him to reveal the sin in your life and those things that are distancing you from Him.  He will respond.  He will reveal it to you – if you are not already aware of the sin.

Many times we can grow frustrated with ourselves, for struggling with the same sin repeatedly, or for finding victory over one sin and suddenly finding ourselves in a new one.  But we should rather find this as an encouragement.  The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict us and sanctify us:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So let us take comfort in the conviction of the Spirit.  Let us live by the Spirit and therefore not give in to the desires of the flesh.  Let us lay ourselves continually on the altar and ask God to refine us, and then we can say with David that God’s correcting staff comforts us – because we know His presence by His chastising work in our lives, He is not leaving us to our own devices.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

– Ps 23.4

The Worship God Desires.

feed the hungry

Yesterday I asked the question, “Will God Receive My Worship?“, and reflected on one of the greatest passages of instruction about worship from the Bible.  God spoke through the prophet Isaiah condemning the Hebrew people for hypocritical and insincere worship even though they were “seeking God day by day”, they “delighted to know [God’s] ways”, they as a nation “had done righteousness and have not forsaken the ordinances of God”.  This was a people who looked squeaky clean on the outside – even on the national level.  They were letting God be their religious and political leader, they were seeking Him and obeying the black and white of the Law, and they were singing, worshiping and fasting.  They were intentionally not eating so as to make themselves uncomfortable in order to pursue God.

But God was displeased with their fast and their worship because their hearts did not drive them purely.  They were fasting and afflicting themselves, but at the same time they were “finding their desire” in their fast – either through praise of others or in some other pleasure besides food.  They were driving hard their workers and not being good employers.  They were fasting in order to make a point and to put others down.  Their heart harbored sin.

Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?

– Is 58.1-5

But God responds beautifully to this terrible situation.  In essence He says, “I want nothing to do with that fast, but here is the kind of fast that I will honor”.  God will not honor or receive the kind of worship that is from a heart that embraces any sin.  The heart behind the actions must be pure.  Our weekly living must mirror our Sunday praises.  Because our weekly living sheds light on our Sunday praises, and reveals the heart.

Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

– Is 58.7-12

Verse seven strikes me profoundly.  Here we see God explaining the fast that He desires of His people and the worship that He will receive is the one who fasts – that is, the one who afflicts himself by not eating – and instead takes that food and gives it to the hungry.  To bring the homeless into your house.  To clothe the naked.  Go without in order to give to those who do not have.

Notice that God is giving conditions.  The moment we hear the word “conditions” or and “if/than” clause, our skin bristles.  Our backs get stiff.  Because we know that our salvation is of God and there is nothing that we can do to earn it.  It has been said, however, to imagine these conditions not as a form of legalism, but as a prescription by a doctor.  If God is the great physician and if He is the one who brings healing to our bodies and souls, then we must listen when He prescribes “therapy” to build strength.  If we want to be well, we will do these things.  God, the one who gives us salvation freely, says that we must do these things in response to having been saved.  If we do not do these things, if we resist His instruction, then He is not our doctor.  We have not been saved.

God then gives an extensive list of the things that will merit His blessing in our worship and service.  He focuses on the needs of the poor and the oppressed.  Remember that He is speaking to well-established people who have employees, and He instructs them to give their food to the hungry, bring the homeless into their homes and clothe the naked.  To break the yoke of the oppressed.  Then He gets a little more personal and He says, “remove…the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness”.  When was the last time you had a wicked or accusatory thought against a brother at Church?  Have you pointed your finger at someone, even just in your own heart?  Have you spoken unkindly, untruthfully or slanderously against a brother?  That must be completely removed before we can worship God.

If we do all of these things, then God promises glorious blessings.

Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’

– Is 58.8-9

Is your church sick?  Are you dwindling?  Is your small group stagnant?  Is there a cloud over you?  Then do these things!  Change your heart.  Stop pointing fingers and speaking wickedly about one another and the world.  Rather, sacrifice your own comfort and use those blessings to meet the needs of the poor and afflicted.  Then your light will break forth and shine!  You will recover and you will have life.  And God will be right behind you.  He will “have your back”, if you will.  And most gloriously, when you cry out to God, He will answer and say, “I am here”.  If we continue in our selfish worship and if we continue to not meet the needs of the afflicted and at the same time speak evil of one another, if we make peace with any sin in our lives, when we cry out God will not respond.  He will not say “I am here”.  We will be alone.

Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

– Is 58.11-12

But if we make Him the Lord of our lives, if we submit to Him from our hearts, if we live peaceably with other Christians and if we band together to serve those in need, God will continually guide us and give strength to our bones.  We will be like a watered garden:  healthy, growing, producing fruit.  And not only a receiver of water, but like a spring of water!  This is what Jesus meant,

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

– John 7.38

The Holy Spirit will pour water and life into us, and our cups will fill up and then they will overflow such that this water flows out of us like a river.

And finally God concludes that when we do these things and worship Him in this way, we will raise up the age-old foundations and be called the repairer of the breach.  This promise was given specifically to Israel while they were in captivity and while they were living under the oppression of foreign kings, and God was promising to restore them to their land.  But we also know that He will honor true worship in the Church by under-girding her with His Truth.  The whims of liberalism and of wordliness will pass.  But the Truth and Word of God will remain forever, and He will uphold these foundations.  He will build His Church on it, and it will be praised.

So let us examine our hearts today.  God is not a God of confusion, and He makes perfectly clear His expectations and desires.  If we take the forms that He outlined without having been changed at the heart level, then our worship, fasting and praying will find it’s end at the roof over our heads.  We will cry out, and God will not respond.  If we want God to say, “I am here”, then we must put aside all sin from our hearts and we must afflict ourselves for the needs of others.  We must meet the needs around us, we must glorify God in the way that we speak about one another, and we must make much of Him by our caring for one another as more important than ourselves.  Are you dying to yourself today?

Does it really make you stronger [if it doesn’t kill you]?

stronger

When I was a child and a teenager, I had a concept of adulthood that assumed everyone who was a grown up physically was mature and responsible.  Children were characterized by their levels of youth-li-ness (terrible two’s, irresponsible adolescents, etc), and often times I would hear testimonies and accounts of people who had “finally grown up” or who, through a series of terrible circumstances, “had to grow up too soon”.  Being “grown up” meant, to me, being mature, responsible, having polished social skills, and good interpersonal relationship skills.  Somewhere along my path of maturation, however, I realized that not everyone is guaranteed to grow in every aspect.  Sometimes obnoxious children turn into obnoxious adults.  Sometimes irresponsible teens turn into irresponsible middle-aged people.  And sometimes the burden of life and mid-life crises turn what appeared to be responsible adults into fools or senile old people.

But while all of these things are glaringly true, we as a culture live by the motto,

“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

In essence we cheer ourselves through hardships and struggles by chanting the mantra that we will grow and be stronger because of our current life situation.  Have you found this to be true in your life?  If you step back and make an honest assessment of your most difficult moments, did you grow?  Or did you become hardened?  Did you mature?  Or did you set up walls to protect yourself from the world?  Did you press into God and the Church?  Or did you learn how to make it on your own because “people will always let you down”?

It has been said that the same boiling water that hardens an egg softens potatoes.  And we, as Christians, should be the potato.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

 – Rom 5.1-5

God has sovereignly and purposefully given us lives full of trials and tribulation so that our faith can be tested and through perseverance we can obtain good character and ultimately hope. We do not by nature enjoy and rejoice in trials, we want life to be smooth, easy and comfortable.  But God desires to make us people of deep and solid faith, and He does that by causing us to be more holy through the purification fire of suffering (James 1.2-4).

God also uses suffering and persecution to weed out false believers:

“The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.  Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 – Luke 8.5-8

The Gospel falls on all kinds of ears.  Some people do not respond at all – the birds eat the seed away before it can take any root.  Some people respond quickly and with joy, but as soon as persecution arises they die and wither away because they have no depth, no conviction, no hope.  Some people respond quickly and spring up, but when the temptations and pleasures of the world come around, they take over and their faith withers away.  They choose the world instead of God.  And the others hear the Gospel, believe it, and when trials come they persevere and die to themselves.  When the pleasures of sin tempt them, they turn away and choose the pleasures of God.  These are those who persevere and develop character and hope.  These are those who are softened by the boiling water.  These are those who are saved.

“To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 – 2 Thess 1.11-12

It is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2.13).  Trials and suffering will make us stronger in a worldly sense if we do not have the Holy Spirit at work within us:  we will rely less on people, be more independent, we will be hardened and calloused.  Strong like a rock.  But if the Holy Spirit is at work within us, we will gradually be softened by trials.  We will be humbled and die to ourselves.  We will put one another first and seek to serve one another and God.  When the Spirit is in us, He is doing the mighty work of making us worthy of our calling.  Not that we would deserve our calling of salvation, but that He is continually making us more holy and Christlike.  He is making us into what our calling demands of us.  He helps us set resolves for holiness and then empowers us to fulfill those desires, and that all to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Our trials do not develop perseverance, character and hope so that we can have a better reputation.  They do all of things to make much of and to glorify God.  If Jesus has paid the penalty for your sin, He will also fight your sinful nature within you and make you more like Him in the process.  He will not pay the penalty for your sins and leave you to act like the world.  He will transform us to be representative of the glorious calling to righteousness and holiness.

So what does that mean, practically?  Step back and look at your current trial or hardship.  How are you responding?  Are you pressing into God?  Or are you ignoring Him?  Are you putting your desires and emotions to the side and considering the other person involved?  Or are you harboring bitterness and anger?  Are you training yourself in “street smarts” for how to not be taken advantage of again?  Or are you asking God to show you how to bring Him glory by your loss?  Are you content in whatever life situation you are currently residing, giving glory to God and finding every opportunity to praise Him?

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

 – Phil 4.11-13

Let us be aware that trials and difficulty to not produce strength by their very nature.  Many people revert, become hardened, or simply choose to play the victim and never mature.  You must be an active participant and choose to grow through trials, and we do that by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to obey the Scriptures and to become more Christlike.  Be purposeful and intentional in your self-awareness and Spiritual growth.  Growing up physically does not mean that you will mature Spiritually.

A Testimony of Abiding Faith

Dear Brother –

I take a few moments of that time which I have devoted to the Lord, in writing a short epistle to you, His servant.  It is sweet to feel we are wholly the Lord’s, that He has received us and called us His.  This is religion, a relinquishment of the principle of self-ownership, and the adoption in full of the abiding sentiment, “I am not my own, I am bought with  a price.”  Since I last saw you I have been pressing forward, and yet there has been nothing remarkable in my experience, of which I can speak; indeed, I do not know that it is best to look for remarkable things; but strive to be holy, as God is holy, pressing right on toward the mark of the prize.  I do not feel myself qualified to instruct you:  I can only tell you the way in which I was led.  The Lord deals differently with different souls, and we ought not to attempt to copy the experience of others; yet there are certain things which must be attended to by every one who is seeking after a clean heart.

There must be a personal consecration of all to God; a covenant made with God that we will be wholly and forever His.  This I made intellectually, without any change in my feelings, with a heart full of hardness and darkness, unbelief and sin and insensibility.

I covenanted to be the Lord’s, and laid all upon the altar, a living sacrifice, to the best of my ability.  And after I rose from my knees I was conscious of no change in my feelings.  I was painfully conscious that there was no change.  But yet I was sure that I did, with all the sincerity and honesty of purpose of which I was capable, make an entire and eternal consecration of myself to God. I did not then consider the work as done by any means, but I engaged to abide in a state of entire devotion to God, a living perpetual sacrifice.  And now came the effort to do this.

I knew also that I must believe that God did accept me, and did come to dwell in my heart.  I was conscious I did not believe this and yet I desired to do so.  I read with much prayer John’s first epistle, and endeavored to assure my heart of God’s love to me as an individual.  I was sensible that my heart was full of evil.  I seemed to have no power to overcome pride, or to repel evil thoughts which I abhorred.  But Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, and it was clear that the sin in my heart was the work of the devil.  I was enabled, therefore, to believe that God was working in me to will and to do, while I was working out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

I was convinced of unbelief, that it made the faithful God a liar.  The Lord brought before me my besetting sins which had dominion over me, especially preaching myself instead of Christ, and indulging in self-complacent thoughts after preaching.  I was enable to make myself of no reputation, and to seek the honor which cometh from God only.  Satan struggled hard to beat me back from the Rock of Ages; but thanks to God, I finally hit upon the method of living by the moment, and then I found rest.

I felt shut up to a momentary dependence upon the grace of Christ.  I would not permit the adversary to trouble me about the past or future, for I each moment looked for the supply for that moment.  I agreed that I would be a child of Abraham, and walk by naked faith in the word of God, and not by inward feelings and emotions; I would seek to be a Bible Christian.  Since that time the Lord has given me  a steady victory over sins which before enslaved me.  I delight in the Lord and in His word.  I delight in my work as a minister; my fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  I am a babe in Christ; I know my progress has been small, compared with that made by many.  My feelings vary; but when I have feelings I praise God and trust in His word; and when I am empty and my feelings are gone, I do the same.  I have covenanted to walk by faith, and not by feelings.

The Lord, I think, is beginning to revive His work among my people.  “Praise the Lord!”  May the Lord fill you with all His fullness, and give you all the mind of Christ.  Oh, be faithful!  Walk before God and be perfect.  Preach the Word.  Be instant in season and out of season.  The Lord loves you.  He works with you.  Rest your soul fully upon that promise, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

Your fellow-soldier,

William Hill

Souvenirs of Hell

“If we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

– C. S. Lewis

The Gospel is good news.  The good news is that we can have abundant life here on Earth in fellowship with God through salvation by the blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and also have eternal life with Him after death.  The good news is that even though we are sinners, Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross and we can be forgiven because we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

But sometimes we get infatuated, distracted or inebriated with the world.  God gives us blessings, pleasures and joys here while in the world, but Scripture sternly warns us,

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

– 1 John 2.15-17

Jesus Himself said:

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

– Luke 14.26-33

What does Jesus mean that we have to hate our mother and father?  Or ourselves?  He means that if your love for your parents, your spouse or yourself is stronger than your love for Him, then you are not truly a Christian.  He means that if you are not willing to sacrifice your comfort, your relationships or your identity for the sake of Him, you are not truly a Christian.  He means that we must choose Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote one of my favorite books called “The Cost of Discipleship”.  In this book he examines what it means to take up your cross, to surrender everything, to not love the world, and to be fully satisfied in the Lord.  Augustine made a profound statement that is commonly quoted:

“He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.”

– Augustine of Hippo

He is the all satisfying creator who loves us and meets all of our physical, spiritual and emotional needs.  He may not meet them how we think they should be met, but He meets them how He knows we will best be drawn to Him.  Through His Word He has granted to us “everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1.3).  We cannot hold on to the things of the world.  We must die to ourselves, die to our flesh and live for Christ.  And only in that will we be satisfied!