Power to Cleanse: Understanding the Fully-Orbed Gospel

The Evangelical church has always stood firmly on the rock that we are justified by the grace of God through faith, and not our righteous deeds. Good works are never the basis on which God declares us “not guilty” in His court. Martin Luther called this idea of justification by faith alone, “The doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” Because of my union with Christ by faith, there is no one who can condemn me! God has declared me righteous in His sight, and I will never taste death. There is incredible beauty in this free gift of God in Christ that transcends what we mortals can understand.

But this is only half of the story, and my fear is that it is often the only part of the story we tell in the modern church. Paul gives us a solemn warning in 1 Corinthians 6, and we would do well to remember it. He says, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is not talking about how we are declared righteous in the sight of God. Abstaining from sexual immorality, thievery, and drunkenness has never saved anyone and never will. Our good works can never stand up to scrutiny when elucidated by the flame of God’s holiness. But Paul’s warning is something we should take very seriously. He even prefaces it by telling us not to be deceived, signaling that many will try to explain away the truths in this passage.

The reality Paul is pointing us towards is very simple. God’s grace is beautiful not only because it makes Christians clean in His sight, but truly clean as well. In contrast to the Pharisees who seemed externally righteous but were filthy inside, our Father makes us righteous. God’s Spirit gives His people new hearts that hunger and thirst after true righteousness. Our minds are renewed and our thinking becomes more and more like His. Every Christian is being progressively made new – conformed more and more to who Jesus is.

The Apostle’s warning should be taken at face value. If a person lives a life characterized by persistent unrepentant sin, he should fear for his salvation. The faith that God gives makes a person fundamentally a new creation. If someone is not bearing fruit, then He should fear that his faith is not real. These are hard truths, but they need to be said. There is no cheap grace in the Christian life. The grace that God gives transforms.

The Lord Jesus Christ commands us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily in following Him, and he meant it. Robert Murray M’Cheyne wisely counseled that “If you bear the cross, it will bear you.” There is no such thing as a carnal Christian. If we do not deny ourselves, we will find on the last day that we have never been borne by the Cross of Christ.

While there is fear and terror here, we also find solace and beauty. The true disciple of Jesus Christ is broken by the reality of his remaining sin. More than anything else we long to be freed from the sin which so easily entangles. I am tempted at times to despair over the darkness in the world, but even more by the darkness in myself. To a person like me, this is a precious and comforting truth. Not only am I right in God’s eyes, but He is at work in me even now to make me more and more like Jesus.

How glorious is it that God Himself is faithfully working by His Spirit to defeat my sin? The rotting flesh that drives me to despair is being scraped away. God has found me in a ditch, but He did not leave me there. I am loved apart from my works, and God is now at work to make me lovely. All praise and glory be to Him.

We need to return to the fully orbed gospel. It is an essential truth that we are made right in the sight of God solely by faith – and we should never compromise that message. It is a horrible thing to imagine we could stand justified in our merits before the righteousness of the living God. But let us never forget that the faith God gives is powerful, vibrant, and living.

It is more than enough to clean us.

A Living Sacrifice

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that everything – object, animal, person, or plant – has telos. Telos is the ultimate purpose or end of an object’s existence. For example, a knife’s telos is to cut. The purpose and telos of an acorn is to someday grow into a tree. Aristotle believed that the key to understanding ethics was discovering the telos of humanity. While the famous Greek ultimately concluded that contemplation was the true end of man, Christianity has a different story to tell. How does the Pagan idea of telos help us understand the truths in the Word of God?

God’s purpose in creating was to display His glorious, powerful, loving, and holy character. All throughout the Scriptures we are told of God’s passion for His glory, but Paul’s letter to the Romans most clearly lays out the purpose of God in Creating the world.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”  

(Romans 11:36)

Not only are all things made and sustained by God, but the world is to Him as well. The testimony of Scripture is that the telos of the whole universe, including humanity, is to worship and glorify God. Knives are made to cut, acorns to grow into trees, and people to bring glory to God.

This all sounds very well, but what does it mean practically for us to glorify God? What does it mean to worship Him? It is common-place in churches to have a “worship team” help lead singing during the service. This is often a really helpful thing – I have no problem with people using their gifts to lead music in church! But I do worry that we in the church often think this is the full extent of worship. The Biblical record is very different. Immediately after Paul finishes his passionate praise of God as the Creator, Sustainer, and Object of the universe, he tells us,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

   (Romans 12:1)

The Holy Spirit is continually conforming the Christian’s heart to the heart of God, as we die to sin and grow in union with our Lord. The cry of our soul must always be, “To him be glory forever!”. Worship isn’t something we do on Sunday when the music starts – worship is done with our whole life.

Jesus did not suffer rejection and pain solely to save us from hell. The redemption accomplished by the cross and the resurrection is so much bigger than that. Not only are we legally declared righteous in the sight of a spotless and holy God, but we are by His Spirit being restored to a place where we can once again fulfill our telos. The reality that our whole life is to be lived as worship is why the Spirit elsewhere inspired Paul to write,

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

 (1 Corinthians 10:31)

There is no part of our self that can be isolated from the call of Christ. We cannot compartmentalize our life into religious and secular segments. Everything is His! We have no rights. We have nothing of our own, because we serve a Master who is the supreme Lord over every aspect of life. Think of the price of our ransom! Think of the price He paid! How can we withhold service from the King who bought us with His blood?

Adam and Eve were told that the price of sin was death. Not at the end of a long and fulfilling life, but immediate death. Sin is an act of treason against the only true Good in the universe. It is jettisoning the telos of our existence, and working against our very purpose. The fact that our all holy God didn’t wipe out humanity immediately is an amazing act of grace! We are desperately fallen. And our God is full of grace beyond our understanding.

It may seem challenging to focus every aspect of our being on the person of Christ, but ultimately He is the only one who satisfies. We were created to serve Him, and as Christians we are being molded back into that purpose. The more we fulfill our telos, the greater the joy we find. Not because we will achieve “success” as the world defines it, but because we were created for Him, and can only find fulfillment in Him. Therefore brothers and sisters, let us joyfully acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus over every crevice, nook, and cranny of our lives. Let us pray that God would give us the strength to honor Him in all that we do. We were ransomed from death, let us live as we were made to live.  How can you be more intentional about glorifying God in all of life?

Sola Deo Gloria.

Halloween for a Christian?

So today is Halloween!!! This is a day that has always been full of thoughtful consideration for me in years past so this time I have decided to write out in full my views on the subject. Let me note the following is mainly my own personal journey but the conclusion that I have reached is the same as the other members that post here in ProclaimingHisGlory.

I grew up in a family that not only didn’t celebrate Halloween, but genuinely thought it was wrong to and harmful for children to participate in. A lot of this was from our local church and the mindset that was enforced by my parents always stuck with me. Now please don’t get me wrong, I love and respect my parents and how they came to their position. From their perspective they were trying to keep their kids as safe as possible and set apart from worldly practices. I appreciate their protection and guidance in my early years and  how it has shaped who I am today. The reason for this post though is because over time I have come to change my mind on Halloween and I wanted to share the progression of how this happened.

Halloween to me was always a very dark day. The whole idea of trick or treating and dressing up as spooky characters just seemed to be explictly giving permission to the way the world celebrated it. Whatever happened to being “transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Rom 12:2) and dwelling on “whatever is pure and lovely” (Phil 4:8)? While I understood many of my Christian friends who would participate in all of the usual activities didn’t do so with the intention of acting like the world, I always asked myself the question aren’t we supposed to look differently? Ever since I have had a pretty strong emotional and spiritual rejection of Halloween. Even the smallest dressing up, like a baby or a crayon, just seemed like an excuse to cover up or “lighten” the obvious fact that your just trying to join in on the same fun as the world instead of not conforming to the patterns of the world.

The strange thing is, even though I still spiritually and emotionally feel that way, intellectually I’m just not convinced anymore. There were a few reasons that hit me while I was reading about other’s views on Halloween that seemed to make sense.

One is how I  think its a double standard when I respond to other Christians who don’t celebrate Chrismas because of its pagan roots and yet I turn around and look down on Christians who celebrate Halloween because of its pagan roots. What I often point out to those that reject Christmas for those reasons is that its a genetic fallacy when a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context. Some historians think that the wedding ring was originally a sign of bondage that showed the wives were to be held captive by their husbands in ancient societies. Does that mean everyone should throw out their wedding rings now because we don’t reject that? No of course not. Christmas, I often say, is an example of Christians taking a day to purposefully celebrate our saviors birth. That is how we view it despite whatever its original historical purpose may have been.

The thing is, I never thought of that with regards to Halloween. If those that point out the pagan roots of Christmas are correct, and they have done a lot of historical research so I’m pretty certain they are, many of the things that are “traditional” to do on Christmas, like putting up a tree, recognizing it on December 25th etc are just as pagan and occult as some of the supposed horrible Halloween origins. The reason we do it on Christmas is because A. Most don’t know about them. and B. we don’t use those things for the same purpose now. Why can’t the same be the case with Halloween?

Well isn’t that an example of a Christian compromising on his spiritual convictions because he just wants to participate in a worldly holiday for fun and candy? Possibly, but it doesn’t have to be. Now I’m coming to think its a matter of conscience and Christian liberty. Like I said before, for those friends of mine who have studied the origin of Christmas they honestly feel like they can’t in good conscience celebrate the day because they feel like they would be giving support to what they have learned.

I, on the other hand, always grew up thinking the point of the Christmas tree was supposed to point to Christ because of the Star on the top. Our family would even have a manager set and Jesus wouldn’t come out until Christmas day! Each child in our family only got three gifts from our parents because the wise men only gave three gifts. I mean hey we even had a birthday cinnamon role for Jesus before we opened presents! I look back now and see the symbolism and realize just how different our family was, but growing up that was just the way things were so I considered it normal.  Why can’t there be the same redeeming quality about Halloween? I doubt I will ever come to see it the way I can with Christmas because my early childhood was filled with sadness and even confusion over all the christian friends I had that would celebrate it for no other reason then to get candy but perhaps there is some way to redeem Halloween and use it to Proclaim His Glory. 

I read a blog today that pointed out how Christians today show more fear of paganism when they hide in their homes and do everything they can NOT to celebrate Halloween, instead of recognizing that Jesus has already won the day! Today is a day HE has made! We should rejoice and be glad in it. We show confidence in the finished work of Christ and his power over death when we go forth and boldly preaching the Gospel on this night perhaps even while trick or treating. I mean what better time to show zero fear over death or demonic activities? You give me candy and I will give you a Gospel track. Or you give me candy, and I’ll pray for you.

Finally, consider 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. In this passage Paul says “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Ultimately, I see Halloween as a matter of Christian liberty. We need to follow our conscience and I will say for myself I don’t think I will ever be able to dress up, but nor will I look down on those that do. Paul continues “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.”

This is particularly interesting because the meat could have in fact been offered in some pagan ritual and was later being sold at the market. Yet Paul says this is not for the Christian to question nor is it important to worry about, what we need to remember is “For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”. He goes on to say “If someone says to you “This has been offered in sacrifice” then do not eat it for the sake of the one who informed you and for the sake of conscience- I do not mean your conscience but his.” This is important as well because we need to note that the reason Paul is saying don’t eat it isn’t because the meat is bad in someway. Its because it may affect the attitude of another who doesn’t follow the same freedom in Christ that they have. In verse 30 we see “If I partake with thankfulness why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This needs to be the focus of whatever it is you do tonight. Whether its trick or treating, harvest festing, or staying home with your lights off and your door locked so as not to attract the neighbors make sure the glory of God is your focus. Especially on a night with as much activity as this.

In the spirit of Reformation Day I’ll rest my case with Martin Luther: “”The best way to drive out the Devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”

-praisethekingofglory

The Gospel According to Ezekiel

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Have you ever thought about just how amazing it is that the Bible tells one unified story of glory? It truly is a testimony to the work of God that authors coming from such diverse backgrounds, periods of history, and cultural upbringings would produce a message that points, ultimately, towards one realization. The Gospel. Now its commonly recognized in preaching and evangelism to point to the numerous passages in the NT, specifically Romans, when sharing this powerful message because of its clarity on directness. While this is true and definitely beneficial I must say in my recent studies I have been amazed at seeing the near parallel passages in multiple places throughout the OT!

I just finished going through Ezekiel and I must say my expectations of lengthy passages on confusing prophecies were completely destroyed by the clear presentation of the Gospel! In Ezekiel we can find specifically God’s view of sin, God’s standard of punishment for sin, His view of a righteous man, and how mercy can be obtained!

Ezekiel 18:4 says “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.”  Is this not just a clear precursor for Paul’s declaration in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”?

Ezekiel 18:9 says “[he who] walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD.” Who else could possibly fulfill this standard other then Christ?  Romans 3:21-22 explains “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Ezekiel 36:26-27 says “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” Is this not another beautiful picture of the same regeneration that a believer experiences in receiving the Holy Spirit? Romans 8:11 explains “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

As I shared just a few of the many examples I found in the book of Ezekiel I am amazed at how much NT Gospel is laid out plainly in the OT. The words of a wise Puritan, Thomas Adams come to mind. He wrote: “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus.”

-praisethekingofglory