Friday, January 28, 2011

Grace Upon Grace Upon Grace

There are no lack of theories as to why the Christian church in America has lost the war for the culture. Ray Comfort believes it is a failure to preach the law before the gospel, Ken Ham believes it is because a literal view of Genesis has been rejected, Voddie Baucham points towards the lack of godly parenting, James Dobson believes it’s because the family is forsaken, Paris Reidhead preached it was because humanism had infiltrated, others would say it’s a lack of love, still others a lack of relevance, some would cite a failure to take care of the poor, some a lack of evangelism and others a lack of discipleship, perhaps too much involvement in idle politics and perhaps too little involvement of politics where it counts… All of these, in one manner or another, are true failings of the church over the past two centuries.

I would disagree with all, though, and state that the culture was lost precisely because battles are itemized instead of looked at as the whole. The Apostle Paul called what we should be preaching, the, “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and in doing so announced that he was absolved of any wrongdoing in the discipleship of the church at Ephesus. Can the church in America wash its hands of the blood of the souls that will perish in the land? Have the perishing heard that their soul is in danger from an offended and holy God? Do they know that salvation is available only by his grace? Or do they just know that the church has a few pet projects that occasionally cause a few bumps in the road towards the progress of utopia? Is the sword of God's wrath going to fall on them as they are mostly unaware?

Paul continues his thought by warning of ravenous wolves which will come in, not sparing the flock. These are here, they are rampant, they are, to name a few, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Richard Foster, and a few hundred others. Some of these receive amnesty in their chewing on the flock because they are nestled under denominational titles or because they graduated from respected universities or they are friends with people we used to like; but they are wolves, they do not spare the flock. The next time you are watching television and Joel Osteen comes on, look at his audience, not physically as prosperous Americans, but look at them spiritually as goats with their heads ripped off, their hooves torn from their legs, their bodies flayed wide; these wolves do not spare the flock.

Now what does this have to do with grace? Paul continues the thought,

now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. -Acts 20:32
A word of grace, a message from God when we deserved none, an unexpected and unwarranted means of reconciliation; pause on this for a moment. While every intention of our hearts and inclination of our imaginations was only evil continually, while we were alienated from God, hostile in mind, waging war on his kingdom, he sent us a peace treaty in the form of the Word Incarnate, the Son of God who though he was God in every way put on flesh, humbled himself as a servant, and died in the place of his church. He has purchased this church at so great a cost to himself (Acts 20:28); he is living and Lord at this very moment (Acts 20:21). This word is given to the church by which to build up the individual and the body, the scriptures are
able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:15-17
Salvation comes by grace, through faith, and this faith comes by hearing (Ephesians 2:8, Romans 10:17). It is here where the church has failed in engaging the culture. Paul says he preached the whole counsel of God; much of what God states is quite violent, only a cursory look through the Old and New Testaments is needed to see that, for time’s sake look at Genesis 7, Deuteronomy 27, Isaiah 63, Jeremiah 15, Luke 16:19-31, this is only a taste of the whole counsel of scripture. God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11), his anger is fierce (Lamentations 4, esp v.11), he is a just judge and he will do right (Genesis 18:25). This is not a God who is merely angry for no reason, he has been provoked by sin after sin after sin, for mankind has waged war with Heaven and has secured his own perdition.

That may seem like an unnecessary paragraph above when speaking of grace, but is it? What are you saved from if it is not an angry God? Why do you need grace if you are able to come to God on your own terms? Alistair Begg said it better than I can,
Unless you have a real wrath, a real anger, the biblical concepts of long-suffering, of mercy, and of grace, are robbed of their meaning.
Unless the whole counsel of God is preached, then grace is no longer amazing. Once it becomes merited, once it becomes attainable, once it becomes possible by anything other than the sovereign working of the power of Almighty God, then it ceases to be grace and hope is lost. Grace is not just the existence of mercy, it is not just the absence of judgment, it is so much greater and more amazing, it is God the Father looking at me and seeing the life of Christ, it is the Son willingly absorbing the wrath of God which I had amassed, it is a heartbeat in a silent and sealed tomb, a mission accomplished by a pierced and perfect God and man. It is the saint standing in the presence of God only because God has decreed it, as the hymn states, “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” It is a starving beggar fed on the Bread of Life, the vagrant in a desert of despair given Living Water, the naked sinner clothed in the righteousness of God and invited to the wedding feast, the antisocial found and befriended by the King of the Universe, and the lame and imprisoned healed to walk freely in the light of the gospel. This is amazing grace.

This is the whole counsel of God. Some of these things are hard to hear, many have turned away from salvation because this is not a God they could ever worship willingly, and this is true, because this God is God, and will not share his glory with anyone else.

Paul accepts this fact, that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18), and that if the gospel is veiled, it is only veiled to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3), nevertheless, he continues to preach in hopes that some may be saved (1 Corinthians 9:22), sharing in the blessing of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:23). Paul concludes his speech in Acts 20 with, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Within the context this is surely an all encompassing statement, it includes money, time, possessions, clothing, and the teaching of the whole counsel of God. It is reminiscent of Christ counting the sinner as worth more than himself (Philippians 2:3-13), and Paul preaching the gospel free of charge (2 Corinthians 11:7). As a minister of this gospel I have tested this statement and found it truer than I could ever have imagined. It was Leonard Ravenhill who said,
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been tried, found difficult, and rejected.
All of the above are difficult, but if the Christian truly trusts that God is a faithful God, he must continue to run the race, striving for holiness, striving in ministry, and keeping the commands of God. Paul said that God is, “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20) So then, it is not a lack of equipping which keeps the church from doing its duty; it must be something else. This all comes back to the failure of Christianity within the American culture; there is no single problem, the church and the Christian are beset on every side by enemies, even enemies within the church, and instead of standing their ground, the church has slunk into corners of pet projects while the flock is ravaged around them. The church has ignored a war being waged around them, covering its eyes to the bloodshed which will be held to their account (read Ezekiel 33), pretending that grace is being nice to people, and being complicit to the murder of souls through a false piety.

It is stated twice in scripture, once in Isaiah 52:7 and quoted in Romans 10:15, that,
beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
This is the duty of the church, to declare the message of the cross, where justice was met and grace was borne, where salvation from the wrath of God was accomplished, and the joy of a Risen King was secured. This Jesus, whom was crucified, always lives to make intercession for his saints.

So let me say this as clearly as I can: If you don’t regularly share your faith, you’re missing out on one of the greatest blessings a person can receive. If you are not preaching the whole counsel of God, you are in great error and may be leading sheep to the slaughter. I charge you before God and Christ Jesus, preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

Let me conclude with a personal story. This past New Years as I preached to fluid crowds I was challenged to preach as many sermonettes as I possibly could so as to not repeat myself but also to ensure that the gospel was presented every thirty seconds or so. It is a daunting task and one which I’ve certainly improved in over the past years. I expect over fifteen minutes a thousand people heard the saving name of Jesus Christ preached with boldness and grace.

One of the great blessings I received through this endeavor was preaching Romans 8:1, that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” At full volume, at full enthusiasm, this one little verse spoke powerfully to myself, and hopefully to my hearers. It reminded me that outside of Christ there is great condemnation, great animosity between God and men, a judgment to come in which none can stand apart from Christ. I was impacted by the grace of God that he would use an earthen vessel such as I to preach this message of reconciliation, this whole counsel of God, this word of grace. That while God could have and should have left us to die in our sins, to crush us as his enemies, his Son became flesh, lived a perfect life, and was crushed in our place. He saves to the uttermost those who draw near to him, where sin increases his grace increases all the more; there is grace upon grace upon grace upon grace for the rescued saint, you can not exhaust his grace. The only man who never deserved condemnation was condemned in our place so that we might sit with no condemnation in his place on the throne of grace next to the God of grace (Revelation 3:21).

Beloved, if you are preaching anything less, I pray God that he would set your affections on Heaven, that you would live for his glory, empowered by his grace, consumed with his love, and that you would not substitute your definition of grace for his.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved. – John Newton

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Engaging the Culture, an Allegory

A quote which has greatly impacted me, though one which I could not corroborate to the attributed missionary, beautifully sums up how the Christian ought to engage the culture of the world. It states:

Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us neither be dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers, nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead, where the battle rages, let us find ourselves. Run towards the roar of the lion! Run towards the roar of battle! That is where Christ’s most glorious victories shall be won.

– Boniface, Missionary to the Germanic tribes AD672-754

Whoever wrote this, whether it truly be Wynfred, or another, genuinely shows a knowledge of the scriptures. Just at first glance I see alluded to Ephesians 6, John 10, Zechariah 10, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Isaiah 56:10, Psalm 18:29-30, Judges 14:6, and 1 Samuel 17:34-36.

But, above all I see David rushing headlong at the behemoth that was Goliath, slingshot in hand, trust firmly in providence, letting loose with a weapon which would have received ridicule from Goliath had he not been mortally wounded by it, and the great giant fell, finished off by the triumphant swipe of his own sword in the hands of the victor (1 Samuel 17). It is a magnificent shadow for Christ defeating death and Satan. But what it also is, as the writer of the above quote shows, a call to engaging the culture.

It cannot be denied that Christianity has utterly failed in the United States; the murder of babies is sanctioned by law, homosexuality is legislated as right, the abomination of divorce is dwarfed by the sin of fornication, blasphemy is so common that the idlest of sentences begin with the name of God, and above all the church is either on par or leads the nation in these sins. Evangelism is scorned and tolerance is lauded, alcoholism is rampant and suicide common-place, greed and lust have won the day.

The world system is a giant on the battlefield for souls, he is undefeatable, a mocker, a scoffer, proud, arrogant, abusive, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, brutal, a lover of evil, a hater of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, a lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God. He defies the army of God standing before him, knowing that his presence is enough to cause them to faint for fear; their dismay evident to all.

Now, dear Christian, I assume you are expecting me to tell you that you are David, capable of slaying this enemy with a single smooth stone? No, your Victor has come and has won the war, through the seeming foolishness of a cross he has gone to battle for your soul, with abandon for his own self and counting you as worth more than he, though he himself was, and is, and ever will be the infinite God, he has rushed to the fight. He has substituted himself for your cowardice and hopelessness, he has born the reproach, and he has felled the enemy. With a glorious resurrection he has beheaded once for all that great enemy death. Take heart, he has overcome the world.

Dear Christian, the war is won, the enemy is routed, his camp is yours to plunder, but lesser battles remain. The Apostle Paul said,
I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…Christ we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. - Colossians 1:24,28
The work of securing salvation is complete, an empty cross and empty tomb stand as testaments to his victory. But if we do not press on to make a complete end to sin, it will revive and slay those most dear to us. David slew Goliath, yes, but a devious Philistine army would return sooner than later to again ravage Israel (1 Samuel 17:51-53).

We therefore must take the advice of the above missionary’s quote, rush to the battle. Fill up what is yet lacking, a proclamation of Christ to see sin eradicated and souls won. Take up the Sword of the Spirit and do damage to the enemy.

It is with great sadness that I know that the church in America has utterly failed in this capacity. Philistia has regrouped and have come against the church with force, sparing none, men we once counted brothers have defected and taken up arms in support of the Adversary. It is expected that eight out of ten of our children will soon be wearing Philistine garb and brandishing weapons against their own families, not by conscription, but by choice.

Men in the church, arise from your slumber, awake, and Christ will shine on you. Adjust your helmet of salvation, secure your breastplate of righteousness, tighten your belt of truth, tie tightly the laces on your sandals of peace, pick up your impregnable shield of faith, and arm your self with the full counsel of scripture. Make WAR on the kingdom of darkness, tolerate not a single iniquity, give no quarter to little transgressions, take no prisoners of the attractive sins, make a complete end to the enemy and pursue it into the darkness.

Finding captives of the Destroyer behind enemy lines, loose their bonds with the truth that Christ is risen, give them living water to quench their thirst, bread of life to break their starvation, heal them with the blood of a pieced Saviour, clothe them in the righteousness of their King. Train them to rescue others.

But, should you watch the defeated enemy flee from the comfort of your own sins, caring not that souls are soon to perish at their hands…then I pray God that the enemy will descend so quickly and violently upon you that you escape with only your life in your hands, your land ransacked, the souls of your people slain, and a disgrace which would weigh so heavily upon you that you despair for life itself.

We have become comfortable in our sins, we have forgotten that sin is deadly, we have given up the fight, we watch sinners burn in the fire who easily could have been snatched in pity from the flames, and to add insult to injury, we justify ourselves in our sins and pretend there is no problem.

Let us find ourselves where the battle rages, for there Christ’s greatest victories will be won.
We cannot play at preaching, we preach for eternity.

– Charles Spurgeon