Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Failing to Glorify God in Our Fight Against Sin

This might seem like an odd concept, but it is entirely possible to hijack God's glory in our "fight" against sin.  I stumbled upon this thought by the Puritan Thomas Brooks in his book Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices.  There, Brooks spoke about the different ways in which the saved and the unsaved struggle against sin.  
"A saint conflicts against sin universally, the least as well as the greatest; the most profitable and the most pleasing sin, as well as against those that are less pleasing and profitable.  He will combat with all, though he cannot conquer one as he should, and as he would.  He knows that all sin strikes at God's glory, as well as at his soul's comfort and peace...Oh! but now the conflict that is in the wicked is partial; they frown upon one sin and smile upon another; they strike at some sins yet stroke others; they thrust some out of doors but keep others close in their bosoms; as you may see in Jehu, Herod, Judas, Simon Magus, and Demas.  Wicked men strike at gross sins, such as are not only against the law of God, but against the laws of nature and nations, but make nothing of less sins; as vain thoughts, idle words, sinful motions, and petty oaths.  They fight against those sins that fight against their honor, profits, and pleasures, but make truce with those that are as right hands and as right eyes to them."
The difference between these two approaches to sin can be discovered in how each party defines sin.  The world defines sin (if it does at all) in a very man-centered way.  Sin is inhibiting some one else's choice, or doing something that causes shame, or judgment or pain to another human being.  But that is to miss what God says about sin.  "For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they because futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:21) God does not define sin merely as a particular action, such as lying, stealing, or adultery.  Those are the fruit of sin.  Not the root of sin.  The root of sin goes much deeper than the sound wave that carries a lie or the hand that conceals it's theft. The root of sin goes deeper than homosexuality considered in itself, or socialism considered in itself, or failing to show mercy considered in itself.   

The root of sin is this: failing to value God above all other things. 

Sin is always a God-ward directed thing.  The reason why the unsaved fail to glorify God in avoiding sin, is because they do only in reference to themselves. They are not doing it because God is their highest treasure.  They are doing it because they want to avoid the pain that that sin will bring.  God has attached certain consequences to certain sins, and these consequences are what deter the wicked, not the glory of God.   Thomas Brooks continues to lay out the motivations behind the saint and the sinner:
"The conflict that is in a saint, against sin, is maintained by several arguments: by arguments drawn from the love of God, the honor of God, the sweetness and communion with God...from the blood of Christ, the glory of Christ, the eye of Christ, the kisses of Christ, and the intercession of Christ...from the earnest of the Spirit, the seal of the Spirit, the witness of the Spirit, the comforts of the Spirit.  Oh! but the conflict that is in wicked men is from low, carnal, and legal arguments, drawn form the eye, ear, or hand of the creature, or drawn from shame, hell, and curses of the law"
God is not aiming at the mere absence of sin in our lives.  He's aiming at His glory in how we fight sin. Not merely the absence of pain, or the avoiding of unpleasant consequences.  That is to gut the glory out of sin fighting.  God wants us to be motivated because of the love of His Fatherly heart, the sacrifice of His precious Son, and the grace of His indwelling Spirit.  He wants us to fight sin, because we value Him more than we value our sin.  
Now don't get me wrong, I'm thankful that God in His wisdom restrains evil men even through their wrong motivations.  But let us not fail to grasp the application aimed at our own hearts.  Why do we fight against sin?  Is it so that others won't think poorly of us?  Is it because we know we will feel guilty?  Or is it because we are are so compelled by the love of God, that we don't want to dishonor His grace?  In the former we maybe avoiding the sin, but we are also missing the glory.  In the later, we are avoiding the sin, and displaying the greatness of our God. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Imputation: Our Only Hope For Heaven

Impute  /imˈpyo͞ot/  verb  -  to reckon to one what does not belong to him

Much debate throughout the history of the church orbits around this one word: imputation.  The doctrine of imputation asserts that at salvation, when you or I as a sinner trusts Jesus Christ alone for salvation, all our our sin is reckoned—imputed—to His account, and His righteousness is reckoned—imputed—unto our account.  So that in the same act, Jesus on the cross became the greatest sinner by imputation, and we became the righteousness of Christ by imputation. 2 Cor. 5:21 "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." As saved sinners we stand before God Almighty not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on the merits of Jesus Christ alone.  This imputation is not infusion.  Infused righteousness is the Roman Catholic doctrine that acknowledges that righteousness is given to the believer as a gift from God.  A gracious gift even.  However, that righteousness only inheres in the believer to the extent that they maintain it and cooperate with it. The problem with this, is that it confuses justification—the judicial act of having our sins forgiven and being declared righteous by faith alone, with sanctification—the progressive act where we are renewed in the whole man dying unto sin and living unto righteousness.  These are two distinct things, and to combine them together is to lose all hope of ever seeing our Heavenly Father's face.  There is no gospel (good news) if imputation is not a reality

If eternal life with God is in the balance, waiting to see if I cooperate with His righteousness in order to be accepted in the beloved, I am ruined.  That is not hyperbole. There is absolutely no hope for my soul if ultimate salvation depends on my my contribution of righteousness As the Psalmist has said "Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you."  Psalm 143:2  Our God is not a God who will accept the smallest degree of unrighteousness.  Anything less than perfect righteousness is spiritual pollution and that is exactly what we possess "All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment."  Isaiah 64:6  This is part of the gospel that many of us modern Christians fail to see. God requires absolute perfection in order for us to be received into His heaven.  The standard is not softened simply because we cannot achieve that perfection.  God does not grade on the curve.  If He were to bend the eternal law of righteousness and receive into His family persons who were polluted, He would be denying His own glory.  God cannot be good at the same time while calling evil good.  He must judge righteously or else He is not righteous.  

This is why the cross is so central to Christianity, and more specifically imputation.  If Jesus didn't die for all of my sins, I will be judged for the remaining ones.  This is bad news.   James tells us that the smallest sin is a violation of the whole law (James 2:10).  So if Jesus didn't pay for every single sin, it is as if He didn't pay for any.  Likewise if Jesus' righteousness is not imputed to my account completely, so that the Father sees His merits when He looks at me, I will be an abomination to His glory.  I have hidden faults in all my best deeds. My most spiritual moments have dark closets and undisclosed motives and insincere intentions actively working through them.  Should God accept those?  Should God be so easily pleased that I simply put forth my best effort and call it good after that? Brothers and sisters, that is the Mormon gospel.  That is the gospel of Islam, the gospel of Rome, the gospel of this world.  If God were to accept that type of righteousness, He is not God.  Any god who doesn't require the defendants in his courtroom to be acquitted completely and to be declared absolutely righteous is a god who is not worthy of worship.  That god despises his own worth-ship so how could he be worthy of our worship?  The doctrine of imputation then is not just our only hope for heaven, it is the only hope for God to remain God.  Not only do we lose the gospel if we shed imputation, we lose the glory of God.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Temptation in Pastoral Ministry

"Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king.  Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably."  1 Kings 22:13
These are the words that the messenger spoke to Micaiah, the prophet of the LORD, as he fetched him to appear before the king.  All the other prophets were saying the same thing 'Go up oh king, and the Lord will give you success.'  In this account, king Ahab was seeking counsel on whether or not he should go up and fight against the king of Aram. Four hundred 'prophets' were giving him identical counsel, and even invoking the name of the Lord in doing so.  When this messenger came to fetch Micaiah, he told him which way the wind was blowing: "Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king.  Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably."   As the story continues, Micaiah refuses to be blown about by the wind of the so-called prophets and he tells the king that certain judgment is coming if he goes to battle.  The king doesn't listen, and his blood is washed out of the bottom of his chariot near the pool of Samaria the next day.  

This story is recapitulated over and again down to this very day (although admittedly the details are different).  There is a wave of 'prophets' claiming that the Lord is speaking to them, and telling us to take some action, to try some new scheme, to test out some new method.   Whether it be the 'prophets' of the papacy in the 16th century, or the 'prophets' of the social gospel in our times.  The pressure is always on the 'prophet' behind the pulpit to tow the line.  'Come on, this is what all these other 'godly' men are doing, let your words be like their words.'  Now don't get me wrong, there is wisdom in the multitude of counselors-Proverbs 15:22. God has not left his church with out a witness. There is a remnant of Godly men whose voices very often are in agreement.  However in this account of Micaiah, there were four hundred men who spoke in the name of the LORD, and all of them were deceived.   All of them were more motivated to speak what the king wanted to hear rather than what the KING wanted them to say. This is always the temptation in pastoral ministry.  We can crown our congregants and begin to speak in ways that we know will please them, as opposed to speaking in a way that we know will please HIM.  Paul tells us there there is a whole group of prophets who do this very thing.   "...the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3  Mark this beloved: these teachers will deceive in the name of the Lord.  Joel Osteen speaks in the name of the Lord.  Social gospel proponents speak in the name of the Lord.  Prosperity gospel preachers speak in the name of the Lord.  Legalists speak in the name of the Lord.  Liberals speak in the name of the Lord.  

What is the antidote for this mass confusion?  How do we know whether or not we are listening to Micaiah or to one of the four hundred?  The answer is so simple that we can despise it: the Scripture.  We must become people who not only own a Bible, but actually read it, meditate on it, pray through it, be convicted by it, and be transformed because of it.  We have the greatest weapon against those four hundred false prophets, and it can never be defeated.  The question is, do we use it?  It's so frustrating to watch those super hero movies where the hero chooses not to use His super power at some decisive moment and as a result the enemy gains a foothold.  We see that and scoff at the lack of wisdom the hero displayed, realizing that more evil was perpetuated because of it.  How much more so is this true in reality?  We have the greatest weapon against the kingdom of darkness in the Scriptures.  He knows this, and so he sends his messengers against us to speak in the name of the Lord.  How do we combat this?  By testing what they say against what God says--2 Thes. 5:21.  Even the Holy Spirit tells us to test Him, because not all spirits are from God--1 John 4:1  We must become people who know and love and treasure God's Word.  We must become people like Charles Spurgeon who if you pricked him anywhere, he would bleed bibline.  His very soul was intoxicated with God's Word, and as a result He stood against the four hundred prophets of his day who were all speaking what the 'king' wanted to hear.  Can anyone recall the names of those false prophets?  No. These are the men that history forgets-Ecc. 9:5.  Just like the false prophets of Micaiah's day.  Just like the false prophets of our day.  They may strut around with all their pomp and their following, but they will go to the grave and not be remembered.  

So here is the challenge for all of us:  Will we listen to the the messenger sent to Micaiah? Will we be blown about by the wind of the majority?  Will have itchy ears and scratchy pulpits?  Or will we listen to the messenger sent from His Word, and say "thus says the Lord" no matter what it costs us?