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Living for Jesus in an Un-Christian World: A Study of the Epistle of Jude (Principle #4)

 

 

 

24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

The woman sitting next to me at the concert was about 80 years old with upswept silver hair. Her whole manner indicated a background of genteel breeding and taste. As the concert progressed it was obvious that she was caught up in the performance. Her rapture built until, after a particularly moving number, she could restrain herself no longer. Tapping me on the knee, she implored, “Oh, do shout `BRAVO’ for me!” (W.P. Hovey, Jr. in Readers’ Digest)

With an economy of words, Jude has written to a group of believers under attack. Although he originally wanted to discuss the joys of our common salvation, he (led by the Spirit of God) issues instead not just a survival strategy, but a battle plan to help the believers confront false teaching. (vv. 1-4)

If the gospel is true, it deserves our best efforts at defending it. If it has indeed changed our lives, we would be without excuse if we did not fight earnestly for the good news about Jesus for the sake of others.In an environment which perverts God’s grace and denigrates God’s Son, Jude does not encourage these believers to huddle together, sing hymns to one another, and allow the world to go to hell. He uses his knowledge of biblical history to speak of the God who both delivers and destroys, who hates unbelief, and who bring His sternest judgment upon those who stand against Him. Unbelief is spiritual mutiny — and God will not hold guiltless those who so rebel. (vv. 5-19)

But the battle plan is not just defensive. The believer is to go on the offense, especially regarding his own life. (vv. 20-23) He is to grow deeply in the truths of God by putting into practice the implications of his most holy faith and by reaching out to those who are presently outside the family of God.

The atmosphere in which these three principles are to be applied is found in verses 24-25. We are to live our lives as a hymn to the One who has saved us! Daily doxology (praise) is be rendered up to this mighty Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.

His Two Abilities
We learn in verse 24 that Christ is able to perform two actions on behalf of the believer:

(1) He is able “to keep you from stumbling . . .” The theme of God’s keeping power was mentioned in the first verse of this epistle as Jude addressed his audience: “To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” The normal Christian involves a confidence in God’s keeping power.

Chuck Swindoll put it this way: “I may tremble on the Rock, but the Rock never trembles under me! And that inner assurance not only relieves my fear, it allows me to carry on with much greater efficiency. And rather than causing me to be indifferent and irresponsible, it inspires me to direct all my energies toward those things that please and glorify the name of my heavenly Father . . . eternally protected because He has me in His all-powerful hand.” (Eternal Security)

(2) He is able “to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy . . .” Christ is looking forward to making that presentation as we learn in Ephesians 5. There we are told, “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

In this Ephesians text He is going to present her (you!) to himself (2 Cor. 11:2) as a radiant church.Please notice that the church will be “without fault” and He will make His presentation “with great joy.”

I’m afraid that many Christians, although they acknowledge that God loves them, are not all that sure that God likes them very much. I appreciate the preacher who said to his congregation, “Never doubt His affection for you. He’s crazy about you!”

What He Deserves
What does the Lord deserve from us? Our uninhibited adoration. He is the only God — and He is worthy of all the glory, majesty, power and authority. Do we bring Him any of these things?I think the answer is a qualified “yes.” Although the Lord is the All-Sufficient One, and His perfections can never be improved, Scripture indicates that we can bring Him glory (Ps. 86:9- “All the nations . . . will bring glory to your name”; Rev. 15:4- “Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”).

When are we to ascribe glory, majesty, power and authority to God? This great little epistle ends by saying, “before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Living for Jesus in an Un-Christian World: A Study of the Epistle of Jude (Principle #3)

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” (C.S. Lewis)

Be Responsible
In light of all that Jude has said about these false teachers and their destructive ideas, he shifts his focus in verses 20-23 to the believers themselves. Although he seems to have criticized the leaders for not noticing these negative elements sneaking into their assemblies, he now directs his attention to the believer’s primary responsibility: his own Christian growth.

Although there is room for some disagreement, it appears that Jude is saying in verses 20 and 21, “By building yourselves up in your most holy faith and by (or while) praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love . . .” The main verb is “keep yourselves in God’s love.” How does one do that?
We know that we can’t force God to love us. And He has promised that His love for us is everlasting (Ps. 107:1). Perhaps Jude is saying that we show our love for God by taking responsibility for our own growth (in our most holy faith) and by cooperating with (praying in) the Holy Spirit and His ministries in our lives.

We are prone to blame others for our own poor choices, aren’t we? Barry Beck of the New York Rangers, one who started a brawl during the NHL’s 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs, said, “We have only one person to blame, and that’s each other.”

We build ourselves up in our most holy faith. Here is a second use of the term “faith” in Jude that refers to the content of truth God has given us. You would expect a theologian to say that doctrine is important, but Jude agrees with me! We need to know what we believe — and we need to grow in our beliefs.
Notice, please, that we are to build “ourselves” up. Personal discipleship is not the primary responsibility of your pastor, your spouse, or your mother. It is yours. Plain and simple.

If you are not building yourself up in your most holy faith, you are not growing. You are not getting prepared to deal with the false teachers of your culture. You will become a victim of self-feeding shepherds, unstable and rainless clouds, twice dead fruit trees, shameful wild waves of the sea, and condemned stars which have no stability. And you might find yourself participating in the Lord’s Supper with such “blemishes.”

“Praying in the Holy Spirit” here probably does not refer to the spiritual gift known as tongues (speaking languages one has not learned). The expression “pray in the Spirit” is used by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 where he writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (v. 18) Jude uses the expression “praying in the Holy Spirit.” If we may interpret Jude’s expression by what Paul says, it seems likely that Jude is referring to serious prayer in the life of the individual believer.

When is the believer “praying in the Holy Spirit”? May I suggest that when I express my utter dependence upon Him to guide me, to put His divine finger on what needs to change in my life, and to specify how I might become more like God’s Son, that is praying in the Spirit. I am cooperating with His ministry of conforming me to the image of the Lord Jesus in my thoughts and behaviors.

When am I to show my love for God as I am building up myself in my most holy faith and as I am praying in the Holy Spirit? While I am waiting for the Lord Jesus to come back! Believers in Christ are in a waiting mode. He has promised to return for us (see John 14). In the meanwhile, we are to be growing into His image more and more.

One of my all-time favorite passages is Titus 2 where we read —
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope— the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2)

We are a waiting people. We are waiting for “the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Be Reaching Out
Jude emphasizes not only personal spiritual growth, but challenges these believers to reach out beyond themselves to those who need to be saved. He says in verses 22-23- 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

A major aspect of the growing deeply in the Christian faith is a longing to reach others with the gospel. If that is not a priority in my life, there is something seriously wrong with my life in Him. If He has saved me, the most logical response is to seek to win others. Hungry beggars who have been given bread should look for other hungry beggars to feed.

These two verses (vv. 22-23) suggest that lost people will fall into a couple of categories. And knowing their category might help in being more effective in reaching out to them.

There are those who doubt. Doubt has been given a bad rep among religious people. I agree with Os Guinness in his book Doubt (first published under the title In Two Minds) that doubt in itself is not sin. Doubt can either lead to sinful unbelief or confident faith, once the evidence has been examined.

“Doubting Thomas,” I often tell my Greek students, should be renamed “Adamantly Unbelieving Thomas” because he did not express doubt in Christ being risen from the dead, but unbelief. He said in the strongest way possible to his friends who were giving him eyewitness testimony of Christ’s resurrection, “I will by no means believe unless I see . . .” (John 20:25). That’s not doubt — that’s adamant unbelief. And Jude’s advice in reaching those who doubt? Show mercy! Allow them to ask their questions. Give them freedom to look at the evidence instead of trying to push them into faith.

There are also those who need to be snatched from the fire (v. 23). Perhaps Jude is referring to those close to death who have little time to reflect upon Christianity’s claims. A more direct approach with them might be what is required.

Our sharing of the gospel with others is not to be emotionless. We ought to have a certain fear (maybe indicating that we pray with all our might that they will not turn away from the Savior) and a certain hatred (there is a godly anger at what sinhas done in the life of that lost one) (v. 23). At any rate, we look for opportunities to speak of our Savior, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us in our “methods.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the following story from the Readers’ Digest. “When I was 12,” writes Sylvester Madison, “my best friend and I broke a window playing baseball. We looked around to see if anyone had seen us. No one was in sight except my younger brother. We went over and offered him a piece of candy not to tell. He refused it. `I’ll give you my baseball,’ I said. `No.’ `Then what about my baseball and my new glove?’ my friend added. `No!’ `Well, what do you want?’ `I wanna tell.’”

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Living for Jesus in an Un-Christian World: A Study of the Epistle of Jude (Principle #2)


5 Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
8 In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. 9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them.
11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.
12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.
17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

A number of years ago lightning struck the English church of the liberal bishop David Jenkins, a man who had publicly denied the Virgin Birth and the deity of Christ. Some conservative Christians rejoiced in what appeared at the time to be an act of God’s judgment against unbelief. Philip Yancey asks, however, “Why should David Jenkins provoke divine wrath when the outright blasphemer Bertrand Russell lived unpunished into cranky old age? If God consistently sent lightning bolts in response to bad doctrine, our plant would sparkle nightly like a Christmas tree.” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God)

The Nature of God
We learn in this section that the God who delivers is also a God who destroys! We all love a delivering God. We struggle with the very idea of a God who can destroy people, especially His people (v. 5). We have forgotten that “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). We skip over verses that tell us that our God is “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). We euphemize God’s threats of judgment (Ezek. 18:4, 20 – the soul that sins shall die; Jn. 3:36- the wrath of God abides on him) in the Bible, sometimes contrasting the God of mercy in the New Testament with the God of wrath in the Old Testament (an old liberal fallacy, by the way). We swallow without thinking the universalists’ error that God’s primary attribute is love — and He, therefore, is incapable of executing His wrath on the wicked, and especially on His own people! But we are wrong. The God who delivers is also the God who can destroy!

Three Historical Examples
Jude gives three illustrations of God’s judgment in verses 5-7. He brought destruction upon His own people in the wilderness and in the Promised Land. He also brought judgment upon a category of angels “who abandoned their positions of authority” (v. 6). Much speculation has surrounded this example Jude uses of AWOL angels, but his point must not be missed: they are “kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the Great Day.”

The third example of God’s judgment Jude gives is that of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7). Their story is told in Genesis 19. Although many who support a pro-homosexual lifestyle have worked hard to deny that God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah was for their sin of homosexuality, such efforts fail in light of the biblical text itself. They “serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” because of their “sexual immorality and perversion.”

Historical Ignorance
These present false teachers, who have caused Jude to write his battle plan for these believers, have not paid attention to God’s acts of judgment in history. Instead, these dream-driven heretics pollute themselves, abuse celestial beings, and slander what they don’t understand (vv. 8-10). Although we know very little about the dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil about Moses’ body, he serves as an example of careful respect for spiritual beings. These false teachers show no such respect.

Jude moves from his example in the angelic world to three this-world illustrations of rebellion against God’s authority:

(1) the way of Cain – We read of Cain’s jealousy and killing of his brother Abel in Genesis 4.

(2) The Balaam story is a fascinating one found in Numbers 22. There is much more here than a man’s conversation with his donkey, for Balaam’s greed led to his rebellion against the Lord.

(3) Korah’s rebellion (against Moses and Aaron) is recorded in Numbers 16. The Lord desires “to consume them in a moment” (v. 21). The congregation is told to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram “lest you be consumed in all their sins” (v. 26). Moses predicts that the earth would open its mouth and swallow them up because “these men have rejected the Lord.” (v. 30). The earth indeed opened up, swallowed them down alive, then closed over them. But the Israelites rebelled against Moses and a plague killed 14,700 of God’s people the next day (v. 49)!

Wow! Jude pulls no punches when he rails against these contemporary false teachers! They have so polluted God’s truth that they deserve the very ground they stand on to open up and swallow them alive!

Malignant Metaphors
Jude then uses six strong metaphors to describe the effects these false teachers are having upon God’s people:
They are blemishes at the Christian love feasts, eating with these believers without hesitation.
They are shepherds who feed only themselves.
They are unstable clouds who provide no rain.
They are unfruitful trees twice dead.
They are wild waves foaming up their shame.
They are wandering stars awaiting God’s judgment.

Although much could be said about each of these metaphors, Jude is making the point that these false teachers are unashamedly mixing in with God’s people, making promises they cannot keep, shamelessly producing no fruit, and, therefore, merit the blackest darkness of God’s judgment!

However, these false teachers did not take God by surprise. Enoch predicted their judgment (v. 14) and the apostles foretold the coming of ungodly scoffers in the last times (v. 18). The negative effects of these grumblers and faultfinders divide God’s people, for they do not have the Spirit (v. 19).

How interesting that Jude the former scoffer who became a servant of Jesus Christ warns these believers about those who seek to confuse and disrupt God’s people!

The Ugliness of Unbelief
If the principle in verses 5-19 is that we should speak clearly of God’s judgment against unbelief, why is unbelief so bad? Many in our culture define “belief” as a person’s “opinion,” and “we certainly don’t persecute people for their opinions, do we?!”

Certainly some beliefs are mere opinions. “I believe the Cubs will win the World Series this year.” But what if I said to you, “I don’t believe you when you claim you did not steal $20 from me”? Am I merely expressing an opinion? Or am I not making a statement about your character, about whether you can be trusted, about your honesty? If my statement is only a statement of my opinion, then why do I feel a need to ask for your forgiveness when I find my twenty-dollar bill in my car?

Unbelief in the Bible is cosmic treachery, spiritual rebellion. It is essentially I-am-God-ism! It is disrespect of God’s person, a challenge to His integrity, an attempt to de-throne His rule.

When someone in effect says, “I will not affirm reality as God describes it! I will not speak the truth as God gives it! I will not submit to His will!”, these statements are not mere opinions. They are preparations for God’s judgment, as surely as Cain’s murderous action, Balaam’s greed, and Korah’s insurrection!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Living for Jesus in an Un-Christian World: A Study of the Epistle of Jude (Principle #1)

1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

John R.W. Stott tells about the seventeenth-century Jesuits in China who, in order not to upset the social sensitivities of the Chinese, excluded the crucifixion and certain other details from the Gospel. Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper responded to their decision by remarking: “We do not learn that they made many lasting converts by the unobjectionable residue of the story.” (John R.W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence)

How critical is the gospel of Jesus Christ? We learn in verse 1 that the gospel moved Jude from the category of a scoffer (see John 7) to the category of a servant. Jude and the other half-brothers of Jesus challenged the Lord in John 7. During the Feast of Tabernacles they told Him to “leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Then John adds, “5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”

Life must have been rough growing up with a perfect brother, don’t you think? The other male children of Joseph and Mary (“his own brothers”) had not yet placed their faith in Jesus as God the Son come to redeem the world. So they mockingly advised Him: “You need to show who you are! Your disciples need to see the works you do. If you want to be a public figure, then do what a public figure does — go public! Go, show yourself to the world!” Obviously such advice was given from unbelieving hearts, as John tells us.

Only the gospel can turn a scoffer like Jude into a “servant of Jesus Christ.”

The gospel also changes the lives of those who have been called, loved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ (v. 1). What a wonderful triad for the believer: called, loved, and kept! (This idea of being “kept” is also referred to at the end of Jude’s letter when he refers to the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling,” v. 24).

How else does the gospel change lives? Let’s not skip over Jude’s salutation (greeting) in verse 2: “Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.” We all need God’s mercy, His peace, His love in our lives. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ makes us aware of our desperate need to be sheltered from His judgment (His mercy), brought into a harmonious relationship with Him (peace), and assured of His affection for us (love). And Jude recognizes that these three gifts are not given in one solitary moment. We need these three blessings “in abundance.”

Imagine living for a moment outside God’s mercy. Try to survive without a sense that Christ has brought down that barrier of enmity between you and God. Pretend for a few minutes that God didn’t love you. What an awful life that would be!

A Dramatic Change
But Jude doesn’t just dwell on the blessings we enjoy as servants of Jesus Christ. He has become acutely aware of the challenge these believers are facing, and so he writes his epistle.

He says that he was eager to write about “our common salvation” (v. 3). Perhaps his original letter was going to be something like the epistle of Philippians, a message of joy in their common salvation. But a compulsion overcame Jude — and he changed the purpose and the content of his letter! Here we have a little glimpse into the process of God the Holy Spirit guiding a writer of Scripture to write what God wanted written! Hearing about the false teachers who were plaguing these Christians, Jude changes the purpose and content of his letter from that of a happy discussion of our common salvation to a battle plan for believers.

He felt compelled to urge these Jesus-followers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (v. 3). Please notice two truths about this verse:
First, they were to contend for “the faith.” here “the faith” does not refer to their confidence or their personal trust in God (we might say, “Just have faith”), but rather to the content of truth God has given to His people (“the faith”).

Second, there is a finality to this “faith.” Occasionally I get to teach New Testament Greek in our seminary, and the expression here in verse 3 is: “contend for the once-for-all-entrusted-to-God’s-holy-people faith.” All those words are adjectives modifying the noun “faith.” The clear implication is that this faith will not be edited, abridged, modified, altered, or otherwise changed. It is fixed, secure, permanent, final. There will be no “Gospel 2.0.” “This is it,” Jude says. “Now, fight for it!”

A number of years ago my wife and I attended a “Walk Through the New Testament” seminar. The young man leading the seminar was from New Jersey. One section of the seminar was learning the themes of the New Testament epistles. When he got to the epistle of Jude, he had us repeat after him, “Fight for duh fadth!” Yes, we are to fight for duh fadth!

Most of the rest of this one-chapter epistle deals with these false teachers. Please notice that they had somehow slipped in among God’s people, but they had not bypassed God’s notice. Their condemnation “was written about long ago” (v. 4). Although these believers were not adequately prepared to recognize this danger, God was not taken by surprise.

Their Two-Fold Heresy
These false teachers plaguing Jude’s audience are described not only as “ungodly,” but as those who commit two serious theological sins:
(1) They pervert God’s grace into a license for immorality, and
They deny Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Apostle Paul asks the Romans in his epistle, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6). These false teachers would answer quite differently. They would say, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? YES! YES! That will give God more opportunity to forgive your sins!” These false teachers “pervert” God’s grace.

(2) They also commit a serious error about the Person of the Lord Jesus. They “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” This is the central mistake of all cults — denying the true identity of God the Son.

You may have heard the story of the liberal pastor who was brought up before his church council heresy charges. He was accused of denying the deity of Christ. When asked how he responded to the charge, he reportedly said, “Deny the deity of Christ? Deny the deity of Christ?! Gentlemen, I haven’t denied the deity of any of us!”

Many deny the deity of Christ today. The late Chuck Colson rightly stated, “The battle is raging today all around, but many are perishing because we Christians have failed to engage the enemy at the point of attack. We not only flinch; for the most part we are not even looking in the right direction.” (Who Speaks for God?)

In The World According to God, Greg Johnson writes: “Today it’s not unthinkable that an Evangelical scholar might say something like this: ‘For me personally, from my limited perspective, I think it would appear to me, if I’m not mistaken about this, that there’s one primary Savior in the Bible, at least according to my faith tradition, within my circle of meaning, assuming a pre-modern metanarrative in a faith-based discourse, as we tend to do, I think.’ Johnson responds: “WEASEL! There’s a difference between being aware of your limitations and being a coward. We used to say, ‘Jesus is the only Savior.’ It’s a clear, concise statement, powerful in its simplicity. Besides, GOD says so!”

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Living for Jesus in an Un-Christian World: A Study of the Epistle of Jude (Introduction)

Friends: This is a study I wrote and preached a few years ago. Comments welcome!

Although we could multiply such negative descriptors of our world, we must first acknowledge that there is much good in this universe that God has made, and we are invited (and commanded) to enjoy His physical blessings with thanksgiving (I Tim. 6). However, we find ourselves in a progressively unchristian or post-christian or even anti-Christian environment. The Supreme Court decision on June 26, 2015, legitimating same-sex marriages, also forbids all states from banning such unions. But isn’t homosexual behavior an “abomination” to the Lord?

The 1973 Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision, one which has cost the lives of an estimated fifty-five million children made in the image of God, continues to rock the Christian world — and we have been unable to do anything to have that ruling overturned. As the third most populous country in the world with 321 million people, the United States, one might argue, has systematically executed almost 1/6 of its citizens.

What are the believer’s options in living for Jesus in such an un-Christian world? There appear to be only four possible choices that a Christian can make:

CONFORMITY: The believer in Jesus can choose to not rock the boat, to become exactly like the world around him, holding the same ethical values as his culture, and live a relatively conflict-free life in comfort. The world will then see no discernible differences between believers and unbelievers, but will also have no reason to persecute those who claim to be Jesus-followers. They will be seen as people who have nothing better to do on Sundays than attend half-empty churches, sing ancient songs to each other, and occasionally enjoy a pot-luck meal together. The Christian can choose to conform.
ESCAPE: This is the believer who doesn’t rock the boat, but sails it into the sunset, leaving this broken world in its wake. This Christian “dwells in heavenly places with Jesus,” although his body has pretty much remained behind on planet earth. He or she essentially exits this world, bails out of his or her earthly citizenship, clumps himself with other heavenly-minded holy ones, and, for all practical purposes, lets the rest of the world go to hell in a hand basket. Among the more committed of this viewpoint are those who have already purchased their ascension robes, stopped making their mortgage payments, ripped their children out of their schools, and are waiting on some high hill for the rapture (the snatching up of the saints when Jesus returns).

DOMINION: This believer weaponizes his boat (literally or figuratively) and begins a new chapter of the Crusades. The last thing this believer wants to do is turn over the world to unbelievers! This Jesus-follower intends to take over earth for Christ, perhaps not militarily, but certainly governmentally and morally. He wishes to bring back the laws of Deuteronomy (stoning rebellious teenagers is one of the more attractive ones) and impose them on his culture. He longs to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and is defended philosophically by such groups as theonomists and dominion theologians.

INFLUENCE: This Jesus-follower uses his boat to rescue those who are drowning (and who want to be rescued). None of the previous options have biblical warrant. With respect to option #1, we are not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the Word of God (Rom. 12:1-2). Jesus Himself cleared ruled out an escapist mentality when He prayed in John 17:

11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. . . . 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (Jn. 17)

Jesus made it clear that this world is not His kingdom, otherwise His followers would fight (Jn. 18:36). The believer is not to engage himself in a conspiracy to take over this world for Jesus. This world is not our home, but we must do more than simply pass through it.

In terms of influence, Jesus gives His followers two images that clearly delineate their role in this world. In Matthew 5 He says, 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Salty Saints
Believers in Jesus are to serve as salt in their culture. Salt in the ancient world was not used primarily to season food, but to preserve it. In a pre-refrigeration time, meat could easily spoil.

Salt was such an important symbol in the early church that when someone was baptized, a pinch of salt was placed on the new believer’s tongue. Purified in Christ, we are called to be a purifying agent in the world.

Someone has said, “If there’s rottenness in the world, the blame should be placed where it belongs; not on the world that’s rotting, but on the church which isn’t salting it enough to stop it from going bad.” Theologian Donald Bloesch makes the critical point that “We are not called to be the honey of the world but the salt of the earth. Salt stings on an open wound, but it also saves one from gangrene.” (Theological Notebook)

It is interesting that Jesus never said that He was the salt of the earth. He did say of His followers: 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Mt. 5:13). How sad that the church appears to be metaphorically trampled underfoot, even when it hasn’t knowingly functioned as salt in its culture.

Illuminating Disciples
The second image Jesus uses of the believer is that of light. Jesus said of Himself in John 8- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (v. 12). One chapter later Jesus says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (Jn. 9:5).

The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus is no longer “in the world.” His disciples are now “the light of the world.” How illuminating are we?

Light illumines the darkness. Someone has said, “If there’s darkness, the blame should be attached where it belongs; not to the world that is dark but to the church which is failing to provide the light.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, who was very ill as a child, recorded a childhood incident in his diary. He was seated by a window at nightfall, watching a lamplighter light the street lights below. His nurse came into the room and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m watching a man make holes in the darkness.”

Jesus clearly said, 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5)

The Christian’s job is not to meet in musty church basements eating tired casseroles, and having no impact on this dark world. We should not be hidden! Light is meant to be elevated so that its one purpose — illumination — can be maximized. We live in a culture whose citizens desperately need to be given light.

Here in Matthew 5 the believer is challenged to “let your light shine before others.” Why? For what purpose? So that “they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Not only are we lousy at good-deed-doing, but we shy away from the “before others” part. The purpose of our good deeds is to glorify our Father in heaven. But first we need to attract the attention of others to us! They need to “see” our good deeds.

Part of light’s responsibility is to expose the deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11). Paul admonishes the believers to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Rom. 13:12).

So, the believer in Jesus has no justification to conform to the world, to escape the world, or to exercise dominion over the world. But he has every reason to be salt and light, to preserve the good and to expose the bad, in our world. How’s it going, Christian?

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Hands-Free Christian Living?

This commercial features a hands-free luxury truck.  Makes we wonder — how many of us try to live hands-free Christian lives? Any comments?

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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A Spiritually Healthy Family (A Study of the Epistle to Titus) (Part 3 of 5)

I am looking forward to Family Camp at Camp Elim in Woodland Park, Colorado, on May 25-27. I get to preach five messages — and I’ve chosen the theme of the spiritually-healthy family (from the epistle of Titus).

Let’s read carefully the second chapter of Titus:
We have already seen that the spiritually healthy family cares deeply about the local church and that, secondly, it recognizes false teaching in its many forms and opposes it (1:10-16).

Let’s notice thirdly in this chapter that —

The spiritually healthy family —

III. Appreciates and Applies the Clear Instructions of God’s Word (2:1-10)

God’s Word is very specific in speaking to specific groups:

A. The Older Men (vv. 1-2)

Notice the qualities that “older men” are to work on: to be temperate; worthy of respect; self-controlled; and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

B. The Older Women (vv. 3-5)

Who’s going to admit that they belong in the category of “older women”? Personal qualities: They are to be reverent, not slanderers or addicted to much wine. Teaching responsibilities: to teach what is good, urging the younger women to love their husbands and children.

C. The Younger Women (vv. 4-5)

The “younger women” are to focus on family obligations and personal qualities (self-controlled, pure, busy at home, kind, subject to their husbands). Note the reason for the good conduct of the younger women.

D. The Young Men (vv. 6-8)

Note that self-control is the first quality of “the young men.” They are to be examples in doing what is good, in showing integrity in their teaching. They are to be marked by seriousness and soundness of speech. Note the reason for these qualities (v. 8).

E. The Slaves (vv. 9-10)

The last category are “slaves.” Here’s a good article responding to the charge that the Bible supports slavery. God’s Word regulates one’s “ownership” of slaves, recognizing that the gospel will eventually lead to freedom for slave and master! Obedience, a desire to please, and honesty are all qualities of those who are in the category of “slaves.” Note the why of these commands to slaves.

(We will continue this five-part series over the next few days)

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2019 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Keys to Living Out the Christian Life! (A Study of Galatians 2:19-21) Part 5

How in the world do I live out my Christian life?  What principles does God’s Word give me to make significant strides in following Jesus?  We are camping on Galatians 2:19-21 to see what “keys” are there that can help us.

We have seen the first key in verse 19 that I must have a proper relationship to the law. The law brings death and I have died to it. The second key is that the old me is dead! We read in verse 20- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.” The third key that impacts me here is this: There is a NEW ME who is to live by faith! (v. 20). I have not ceased to exist. But now I can live a new life by faith in the Son of God.  The fourth key that I see in this passage is: I have been paid for! Please notice the expression in verse 20- “the Son of God . . . who loved me and gave himself for me.” Theologians refer to this as the doctrine of substitutionary atonement! [We get paid by the big words].

The last key that I notice in this passage is found in verse 21- “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.”  The principle I see here is I can never pay back God for my salvation — nor should I try to!  Salvation is a free gift of the grace of God in giving Jesus for my sins.  Gifts are to be received — and given thanks for.  But never paid for by the recipient!

I suspect that many believers live out their lives trying to repay God.  And that’s not the Christian life!  In perhaps their best-intentioned response to the grace of God, they nullify it.  They live as if righteousness could be gained through the law.  And the awful conclusion to that perspective is . . . Christ died for nothing!

Motivation is everything, and the reason I should live for the Lord is a grateful heart that wants to show my appreciation every day for His saving me.  My best good deeds are not good enough to pay for my sins.  But Jesus did for me what I could never do for myself.  Payback or praise?  It’s my choice.  And yours.

 

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2018 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Keys to Living Out the Christian Life! (A Study of Galatians 2:19-21) Part 4

Here in Galatians 2:19-21 we learn a number of truths that will help us navigate this thing called the Christian life.  These “keys” are not automatic or easy.  But they are essential IF I am to live out my new life in Jesus.  Let’s look at our text once more:

What have we seen so far?  We’ve seen that the first key in verse 19 is that I must have a proper relationship to the law. The law brings death and I have died to it. The second key is that the old me is dead! We read in verse 20- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.”  The third key that impacts me here is this: There is a NEW ME who is to live by faith! (v. 20). I have not ceased to exist.  But now I can live a new life by faith in the Son of God.

There is a fourth key that I see in this passage and it is this:  I have been paid for!  Please notice the expression in verse 20- “the Son of God . . . who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Theologians refer to this as the doctrine of substitutionary atonement!  [We get paid by the big words].

Notice two truths in this expression “He gave Himself for me”:  First, He gave Himself.  Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (Jn. 10:18).  Jesus voluntarily sacrificed Himself for me.  Notice also that the verse says “He gave Himself for me.”  Jesus’ death on the cross was intensely personal and specific.  It is hard to believe — but we must — that the Second Person of the Trinity had me in mind when He went to Calvary!

If this is indeed true — His death was voluntary and it was for me — how could I ever doubt His love for me?  How could I ever look at my life as insignificant?  How is it that I can choose at any one moment to live for myself, instead of for Him?

But we do, don’t we?  Today’s challenge: Focus today on Jesus’ giving of Himself for you.  Thank Him for His sacrifice.  And ask Him not how you can repay Him (an impossibility), but how you can moment by moment live for His glory.  Today. (to be continued)

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2018 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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Keys to Living Out the Christian Life! (A Study of Galatians 2:19-21) Part 3

Principles, not keys, to victory in the Christian life might be a better way to describe what we are studying for the next few days.  The truths that I see in Galatians 2:19-21 will help the believer in Jesus understand some aspects of living for Him.

Here is our text:

We’ve seen the first key in verse 19 that I must have a proper relationship to the law. The second key that we’ve noticed is that the old me is dead! We read in verse 20- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.”

The third key that impacts me here is this:  There is a NEW ME who is to live by faith! (v. 20).  There was a movement years ago called “the Victorious Christian Life” movement.  Some in that movement suggested that Christ now lives His life through us — and we are to be passive channels through whom He lives.  There is certainly some truth to that perspective, but understood wrongly (I believe) can lead to static, passive Christians who don’t take responsibility for their lives.  This kind of Let Go and Let God mentality runs counter to such challenges as Peter’s when he writes, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Pe. 1).

There is a NEW ME who is to strategically and aggressively live out what it means to be a new creature in Christ!  This is not sanctification by the flesh (which Paul addresses throughout the book of Galatians), but an active dependence on God the Holy Spirit to help us follow hard after God.

Today’s challenge: Are you ready to count your NEW SELF ALIVE today? What additives do you need to focus on in your life in obedience to Peter’s challenge in 2 Peter 1? (to be continued)

[For those who are interested, the Victorious Christian Life Movement (sometimes called the Keswick Movement) is evaluated here.  A primary source critiquing it is found here.]

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2018 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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