A Light to the World

In Matthew’s gospel, we are given an extended sermon by the Lord Jesus that has (for centuries I believe) been called ‘The Sermon on the Mount.’  A few years ago a friend of mine challenged me to try and memorize the whole thing – all three chapters!  

Well, I’m happy to say that I got chapter five done, after that…well, I gave up sad to say.  But one of the many things that stuck with me was Jesus’ instructions – his command – to be a light to the world.  To show the world what it is to be rightly related to Him, and to have the blessings of a relationship with Him.

This is what He said:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

God has always wanted His chosen people to show the world what it means to have a relationship with Him.  The same was also true in the Old Testament of Israel.

In Peter Gentry’s exposition of the Davidic Covenant, He refers back to the purposes of the covenant at Sinai and the parallels to Christ’s sermon are strong.  Here’s what Gentry has to say:

The divine purpose in the covenant established between God and Israel at Sinai is unfolded in Exodus 19:3-6. As a kingdom of priests, they will function to make the ways of God known to the nations and also to bring the nations into a right relationship with God. Since Israel is located geographically on the one and only communications link between the great superpowers of the ancient world (I believe Gentry means Babylon and Egypt), in this position she will show the nations how to have a right relationship to God, how to treat each other in a truly human way, and how to be faithful stewards of the earth’s resources. This is the meaning of Israel’s sonship.

This weekend, as you interact with friends and family and strangers over dinner, at the bus stop, at the cell phone store or wherever, I hope you remember that if you are a Christian you are a son or daughter of God. Others who know this ought to see in you something different – something of a changed heart accompanied by changed words and behavior.  Kindness motivated by and rooted in love is the light Christ has planted within every Christian – this weekend I pray you yield to its burning within.  Confess your sins; be reconciled to your fellow man and to God. And show love to others in joyful gratitude for all that you have in this life and the next.

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John 15:17-20 Citizenship Defines Battle Lines

Here are my notes on John 15:17-20.  The main thrust of this passage is a call to place our hearts in heaven, and to treat others in a way that reflects our priorities and heavenly citizenship.  Enjoy!

PJW

15:17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

In verse 17 Jesus caps off what some have referred to as “the Magna Carta of love.” He ends this section by once again reminding them of the new commandment – which is tied in with everything He has been saying about bearing fruit.

If we look back just a few chapters, we’ll remember that the first time Jesus spoke of this new command, it went like this:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

The principle aim of the new command is to conform the hearts of the disciples to match His own. Jesus is not interested in working from the outside in. He does not impose a moral law in order to show us our sinfulness and our need for Him, as with the Mosaic code. Rather He aims at the heart – to transform the very motives at the root of our actions in order to bring the Father glory.

The Spirit now dwells within us to help us do the impossible – love one another as Christ loved us.

15:18-20 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

The Battle Lines Have Already Been Drawn

Now that Jesus has told us what we are to do (obey His command to love one another thus bearing fruit), and how we are to do it (abiding in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit), He tells us what the result will be.  Sure, He’s already addressed the result within us (we’ll “bear much fruit”), but now He warns us that the world’s reaction will not be so sweet.

In all of this, He reminds them that the persecution isn’t happening because of a bad decision they made – they didn’t take the wrong path.  Instead He says that “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Jesus has chosen us to a life of persecution and hatred by the world.  The world will hate us, the world will persecute us, and the world will kill us.

The reason for this is that Jesus has been hated, persecuted, and we are now “in” Christ.  The benefit of being “in the vine” has been extensively looked at above, but now there are consequences.  MacArthur puts it this way, “The privileges that characterize the friends of Jesus Christ carry with them corresponding responsibilities.”  I hope you affirm with me that the consequences are far outweighed by the benefits of being “in” Christ.

It struck me that this is all part of a much larger picture. Remember, you have now become the spiritual seed of the last Adam (Gal. 3:29) which will defeat the seed of the Devil (Gen. 3:15b). For the seed of the woman is at enmity with the seed of Satan. The battle lines have been drawn, and since the fall the seed of Satan has always tried to kill the seed of the woman. Nevermore has the Devil smarted than when Jesus put him to open shame on the cross (Colossians 2:15).  That victory is but a foretaste of the victory He will one day usher in.

Doug Kelly puts it this way:

All the wars and struggles of this world history, and our little part in it, go back to the Holy enmity, the Holy War, between the seed of this first woman, and the seed of the evil one. The Bible is basically an unfolding of the map of this conflict.

This battle is vividly described in Revelation 12 where we read of the woman clothed with the sun who is pregnant and fleeing from the dragon.  Eventually her child would rule the world with a “rod of iron”, and this is certainly the case.  We know that Jesus reigns over all powers both seen and unseen.

Citizenship Defines Battle Lines

Lastly, all of this has to do with the fact that we are now no longer a part of the world, and so you aren’t going to be fighting for the world’s causes or interests anymore. It is an interesting perspective to meditate upon, is it not? You simply cannot go back across enemy lines.  You can’t be plugged back into the Matrix!  Once you’ve been born again, you can’t be “unborn” again spiritually. You are now in the camp of the Lord of Hosts.

Therefore, you must not desire to defect and once again live for the pleasures of the world as though you are not Christ’s. You must understand that you have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20) and you are not your own.  Neither do you belong anymore to this world – you are citizens of heaven. Consider the following passages:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20)

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Therefore we are no longer part of this world and need to stop acting as though we love it so much.  I preach to myself as much as to any other.  For I am like you – always fighting the love of the world for something that it much higher, and much better. We will face persecution, we will face trials – not to mention the battles of our own flesh!  But in all these things let us remember that we are “in Christ” and that is the safest place to be!

As Doug Kelly says (during a discussion on Revelation 12):

The only hope of ultimate security and victory for us as individuals is to identify by faith with the ascended one, the seed of the woman, who sits on that throne and is ever gracious to receive us, to forgive us, to love us and the keep us.

Do Not Love Your Enemy?

The implication of the world hating us is that we are in a battle that places us squarely in the camp of those opposed to the world’s desires.  Our desires are for the Lord and not for all that the world has to offer. There is a balance between love of His creation and a love for the things of this world that trumps all else.

Elsewhere Jesus calls us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), but here we learn that another kind of enemy – an enemy which we are called not to love in a manner of speaking. Perhaps a more accurate way of speaking is that we are not to love the world more than we love Christ – for Jesus loves His creation, and His creatures (John 3:16), and we are called to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31).  But what Jesus is saying here is different.  He is calling us not to love the world more than we love Him.  We are not to idolize the world and treasure it above Christ.

Think of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus later had to warn the church at Ephesus that they had lost their “first love” (Rev. 2:4) and I think it was because a love of the world had crept in and supplanted their love for Christ.  This is what He said:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:2-5)

Lastly, John makes this same truth abundantly clear in his first epistle:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Jesus has called us to place Him first in our lives and to cultivate a love for Him.  From this flow a love for others who are in the world, though it is opposed to a love for the world that supplants or supersedes a love for Christ.

Study Notes for 8-11-13: Those Whom He Loved

John Chapter 13

As we open up the 13th chapter of John we find ourselves just days prior to the Lord Jesus Christ’s passion.  “The public ministry of Jesus is over” (Morris), and the next five chapters include material that none of the other gospels have. These are called the “farewell discourses”, and there are four major truths I see over the course of these chapters that we need to be on the lookout for:

  1. We will see how Christians are to love others the way Jesus loves us, and is Himself loved by the Father.
  2. We will be able to do this loving by the help and power of the Holy Spirit – the anticipation of Spirit’s mission and power is central these upcoming chapters.
  3. The world will hate us and kill us, but we have no cause for fear on this account because Jesus has overcome the world and its power.
  4. Jesus is the only way to God the Father and is our intercessor.  It is by His intercession and His sovereign choice that you have been saved from utter ruin.

Now as to the immediate context, we find Jesus and His disciples preparing to eat a final meal together in the upper room.  There is much dispute as to whether or not this “last super” is a Passover Meal, or whether it is a meal earlier in the week (Tuesday) separate from the Passover. There are good arguments on both sides, and both sets of arguments seek to harmonize the account of John with the other gospel accounts; we’ll get into that some more later in the chapter.

Let us keep in mind that in His actions in chapter 13, Jesus is setting in motion a series of events that will forever change the world and the destiny of mankind.  No longer will men be enslaved to sin and fear and death. No longer will they wonder when the Messiah will come.  For He has come, and He has done all that is necessary for life – eternal life. His life, death, and resurrection have done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And so as we continue to read and learn about this final week of Jesus’ life, we watch, as the great exodus is about to begin…

13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

“Jesus Knew”

It is a great and unrealized comfort to our souls that we don’t “know” what is next in our lives. For even though we seem to spend a lot of time anxiously awaiting what is next. it is these roots of anxiety that Jesus urges us to puck up and cast away.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

I’ve taken a great deal of time to cite this passage, and to make this point because I want us to fully see that while we are often anxious for tomorrow, what we often don’t realize is that if we knew all that was to happen in our future days, our minds could likely not handle the anxiety and pressure that knowledge brought.

In a similar way, can you imagine what it would be like to know that you will die but not a harsh death? We all know that we’re going to die sometime, but what if you knew for certain that your death would be peaceful and easy and that it wouldn’t be from a car wreck or some devastating accident? Interestingly, the Bible gives us just such an example in the case of Abraham.  In Genesis 15 we find ourselves reading a text that is primarily concerned with the covenant between God and Abram, and its easy to miss this fascinating and amazing gift God gives his saint:

As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. (Genesis 15:15)

Most people are afraid of death, but the beauty of being a Christian is that you don’t have to fear death. So for Christians the sting of death has been taken away. But as I’ve heard R.C. Sproul mention off-handedly before, he doesn’t fear death, but he fears how he’s going to die.  That uncertainty can have a tendency to gnaw away at us, especially as we get older.  But for Abram even this was taken off the table. What an amazing gift it was too – to not only know where you would go after death, but that you would “go to your fathers in peace”, now that is a wonderful way to live life!

That being said, the Lord Jesus Christ had none of that.  J.C. Ryle says this:

Our ignorance of things before us is a great blessing. Our Lord saw the cross clearly before Him, and walked straight up to it. His death was not a surprise to Him, but a voluntary, foreknown thing.

He knew not only that He was going to die, but He knew it was going to be a painful and terrible death.  And that is why when we find the Bible telling us that He knew this, and yet spent His last days on earth in loving concern for those entrusted to Him, it ought to blow our minds. Can you image being so filled with love that even days away from your own gruesome death you could think of nothing else but to serve others?

Despite facing the gruesome awful reality of the cross, His love for those around Him, and the millions He would die to save, never wavered even for an instant.  This impeccable, implacable, overpowering love of Christ is what constantly leaves me in awe when I can’t even bring myself to love those closest to me in a godly manner. Jesus loved those who hated him. His mission was to take enemies of God and make them lovers of God. It’s enough to blow you away. The incomprehensibility of His love is enough to keep you writing and reading and praying and crying for a lifetime of lifetimes. He did what we’ll never fathom doing and He didn’t do it begrudgingly, but with a deep love and tenderness that only God could comprehend.

“In the Word”

The first thing to note about this phrase is that He knows where we are. We are in the “world.”  What does that mean?  It means that we are enduring trials, struggles, and persecution. But this knowledge and reality does not leave us cold or hopeless, for later Jesus promises this:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:32-33 ESV)

This is a great comfort to us. To know that He knows where we are, and what that means. It means that sometimes life really sucks! Yet, here was God, poured into a man’s flesh. He took on the flesh of a man, and could feel frustration and pain and hurt and sorrow. He knew what it was to be upset and angry. He felt the sting of disappointment, of rejection, of sadness and depression creeping at the gate. Yet despite all of this He triumphed over it, and because of that we know we can as well through His power – and that power comes from Him and His Spirit and will be a big part of what is discussed by Jesus over the next few chapters.

He Loved His Own

Secondly, it is worth noting here that Jesus’ mission was very specific – it was specific to those whom the Father had predestined to be saved from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1-2). And this group of people, theologians refer to as ‘the elect of God’, are those to whom John is referring when he says “his own.”

It is my personal view that for those who disagree with the doctrine of “definite” or “limited” atonement, the next 5 chapters present so many hurdles that theological gymnastics are required to acquit anyone proposing a variation of a “general” or “universal” atonement. We will see, for example, that in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer He prays for those who are His and not for those in the world:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. (John 17:9 ESV)

What is so comforting about this doctrine is the fact that Christ had a mission to save YOU from the foundation of the world. Look at just a few of the verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so we see that the phrase “the world” and “his own” combine in an idea that signals God’s peculiar love for His chosen people.  He is drawing people out of this world in order to fashion a new creation.  Listen to what D.A. Carson says on this point:

The ‘world’ is important in these chapters: it occurs forty times, primarily to draw a sharp contrast between Jesus’ ‘own’, his disciples, and the mass of lost humanity, the ‘world’ from which they were drawn and in which they must live until their final vindication. If God loves the world (3:16), it is in order to draw men and women out of it. Those so drawn out constitute a new entity, set over against the world: the world loves its ‘own’, Jesus loves his ‘own’ (15:19). The object of the love of God in Christ, in these chapters, is therefore not the lost world, but the newly forming people of God, the disciples of the Messiah, the nascent church, the community of the elect. Jesus had loved his own all along; he now showed them the full extent of His love.

Surely, with a plan that has been in place so long, He will not fail to finish this plan, and keep your salvation safe to the uttermost, and that leads us to the next part of what John says…

To the End

Here it does not only stipulate that Jesus loved His disciples, and those for whom He was about to die, but that He loved them up to the very end of His earthly life.  We see this also demonstrated when, hanging from the cross, He takes pains to ensure His mother Mary is taken care of in her old age.

In this we also see that everlasting, enduring love of Christ for all of those whom He has ever set His love upon. He loved his own “to the end.” And because of this, we can be assured that as Christ acted on earth so He will act in heaven and hereafter. For He doesn’t change, His purposes are everlasting. So it is that He will never give up on His own sheep, He will ensure that for those whom He has set His love upon there will never be a death like the one all others face.  Physical death for those elect of God is but a transition from life to life everlasting.

Listen to what Christ says earlier in chapter six:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [39] And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40 ESV)

 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

The Destiny of Judas

I want to note here something very sad, and perhaps even a little frightening. It doesn’t matter how close you are to Godly people, how much you attend church or serve your community. Until you have a supernaturally changed heart by the power of the Holy Spirit by the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you can and will fall, and ultimately you will end up in Hell. This is what happened to Judas Iscariot.  Listen to how J.C. Ryle put it:

He (John) shows us the uselessness of the highest privileges, unless we have a heart to value them and turn them to good account. Privileges alone without grace save nobody, and will only make hell deeper. He shows us the uselessness of mere head-knowledge. To know things with our brains, and be able to talk and preach and speak to others, is no proof that our own feet are in the way of peace. These are terrible lessons: but they are true.

It is a hard thing to think on, but the reality is that this man was a disciple of Jesus, he probably was sent out with the 72 when Christ sent his disciples out to preach the good news. He likely shared and preached in Jesus’ name. And we know that Jesus Himself showed Him love. But there is a difference, as we see here, between saving love and common gracious love. It is hard to illustrate this well without stepping on a minefield of inappropriate comparisons, but the one might think of the difference between how one loves a stranger (as we are called to do), and how one loves a spouse or child. This is a very specific kind of love that is infinitely more powerful between spouses than that which is set graciously upon a stranger (perhaps a poor man you are serving). So it is with Jesus, only to a much higher and more powerful degree. Christ has, in His eternal wisdom and plan, set His special specific love upon certain people. He has elected some to life, and some to eternal wrath; some to justice and some to mercy. He has raised some from spiritual death to spiritual life. I know not why He chooses to do this, or why He chooses some and not others, I know only small finite bits of data; all that He has revealed to us in Scripture.

I know not why this man Judas was chosen for wrath and justice, except that from all eternity it pleased God to choose him for a task other than that which He chose, say Peter, for. This same mystery is not ignored by the Biblical authors, but grappled with – especially in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:18-24 ESV)

And so we see here that not only was Judas not picked for eternal life with God, but he was sovereignly chosen as a “vessel of wrath”. Why? I think, even though this is hard/difficult for us to fathom, Paul even tells us that.  He says God desires to “show his wrath”, “make known his power”, and also “make know the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”  It all comes back to the fact that God is glorified in this. It is hard for us to understand it, but it magnified His power, His wrath, and His glory.  And so it is at moments like this that we need to close our mouths and accept that God is God and we are not, and praise Him for who He is, for that is His desire for us.

Study Notes 6-30-13: Death to the World and Joy in Christ

John 12:24-25

These four verses are packed with rich practical and theological truth, and I hope you get as much enjoyment from them as I did.

12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The Necessity of Christ’s Death

It is a sign of His condescension and His gracious self-revelation, that in the mystery of His plans, and the complexity of the moment Christ gives an agrarian example in explaining the necessity of His death. He gives us the “why” in anticipation of our asking the question. He foresees the ultimate triumph, and yet knows our own weaknesses and frailty of mind and graciously shares His mind with us. The example of the seed that dies in the earth and yields fruit is most certainly referring to Christ’s atoning death – a death that yielded life for many.

Jesus knew that in order for His people to be saved, they would need a perfect sacrifice. For without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission for sins (Heb. 9:22), and because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), we were under the sentence of death for those sins. We needed a sacrifice – a perfect sacrifice that would cover all of our sins for all time – one of infinite value. Christ came to be that sacrifice: To stand in our place as a substitutionary Savior. It was man who sinned and yet the sin was so great that no man could ever atone for it all. Enter Jesus, the God-man, who was perfect and sinless. He was a perfect man like Adam before Him, only He never sinned, and could therefore represent our race perfectly. Yet He was also God so that He could bear the weight of the burden of sin of millions upon millions of Christians – not simply those who were alive during the time of Jesus, but those who would later believe on His name (John 17): Jesus new that His death would produce life for millions upon millions of his chosen people.

Caiaphas accidentally states this fact at the end of chapters 11, “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should parish.” John further expanded the reach of the prophecy in 11:52 when he states in an editorial fashion, “not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

That one representative should be able to act on behalf of an entire people is deeply rooted in the federalism of Scripture, and the role of kingship. A king would act as the voice for his people. The original regent of God’s creation was Adam, and because he failed to obey God’s rules, his actions represented the race as a whole. Similarly Christ represented His people when he lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death for us on the cross, and then subsequently triumphed over death for us so that we might forever live with Him – not based on our own work, but on His meritorious work. Paul explains the doctrine of this in Romans 5:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21)

What is amazing to look at is the choice Jesus made at this moment in history. This was a moment so charged with expectation, so politically tumultuous, so ripe for revolution that if Jesus had followed the course of this world He could have incited a military coup against the Romans and the Jewish leadership (Carson), and ruled as king of Israel. Instead, He set in motion a revolution that far outstripped the expectations of any man or woman watching Him ride into Jerusalem that day. He ushered in a kingdom of life everlasting by a death that was only temporary. He took the road – not less traveled – but never traveled. He did what no human being could do – and frankly what no human being would choose to do (Rom. 5:7).

I am thankful that at this crucial time Jesus chose to die for me, a sinner:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The Imitation of Christ

Verse 25 says that those who love their lives will lose them, and this statement is clarified more by the one that follows it which says that “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”, which is to say that those who value their eternal soul more than the temporal things of this earth will save their souls.

Matthew records a similar statement in his gospel narrative as well, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

But what does it mean to love or hate the world? Leon Morris explains the words well:

The verb translated “lose” often means “destroy”. John means us to understand that loving the life is a self-defeating process. It destroys the very life it seeks to retain…Jesus is saying that anyone who loves this life is destroying it right now. “Hates”, of course, is not to be taken literally, but “hating the life” is the natural antithesis of loving is. It points to the attitude that sets no store by this life in itself. People whose priorities are right have such an attitude of love for the things of God that all the interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred.

This plainly means that while on earth we must not get wrapped up in the things of earth too deeply. I have to admit this is certainly easier said than done. First, there is the death by which we die to our sins by the power of God’s Spirit who breathes new life into us. But we can do nothing to affect this transformational reality of the new birth – that is the work of God. However, once born again, we must lay aside every hindrance and press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We must put to death those things that so easily entangle us.

This is what the author of Hebrews exhorts us to do:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Heb. 12:1)

This is also the antithesis of the thinking of this world. The world focuses on ‘Your Best Life Now’, saving for retirement, getting your kids into the best schools, and making sure you have the biggest house your budget can afford. I’m not saying that all of these things are a bad thing in and of themselves, but that more often than not we assign an energy level toward obtaining the temporal that we refuse to assign to working for what lasts, for the eternal treasures that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. And in so doing, we put off till tomorrow what we need to be doing today.

In a recent article entitled, ‘Faith and Repentance’, Sinclair Ferguson addresses the need to die to self:

Jesus’ parable of the sower is instructive here. In one type of soil, the seed sprouts quickly but dies suddenly. This represents “converts” who receive the word with joy—but with no sense of fallow ground being broken up by conviction of sin or any pain in turning from it (Mark 4:5–6, 16–17). On the other hand, a conversion that is only sorrow for sin without any joy in pardon will prove to have been only “worldly grief” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). In the end, it will come to nothing.

The principle here is simple, in order for us to faithfully follow Christ, we need to die to our selfish ambitions and seek that which is not of this world. A true convert will both die to oneself, and live to the Lord in joy. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the church at Colossae:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:1-6 ESV)

Here Paul shows a heavy emphasis on setting our minds on the things above, and putting to death the sinful passions of this world. The two are closely connected. There’s an old adage that says, in affect, ‘where your mind goes your feet will follow.’ Therefore let us focus on the things of heaven and of God and lay aside our infatuation with video games, movies, TV shows, hobbies and any other thing that has become a distraction from following Christ.

Some people balk at the idea that their favorite hobby is “an idol”, but let me ask you this: is it a distraction from the things of God? Do you spend more time watching movies or building model airplanes or playing video games than you do talking with your wife, or doing family worship, or spending time in the Word and in prayer? If you can answer in the affirmative, then I would urge you to cut out the worthless things, that you die to this world and its passions, and that you follow Christ.

I’m not trying to be a downer, but simply explain that the things of this life are not the supreme joy in this life. The root of our joy must be Christ, and the blessings He gives us must be seen as happy realities of His kindness toward us. But if we replace the temporary blessings with the root of those blessings, then we will fall into despondence when these things are stripped from us by evil people, natural disaster, or other uncontrollable circumstances, we will not be shaken as easily and will keep our testimony despite the difficulty.

Christ also realized the difficulty. He could have had an easier life. He had forever prior to this lived in amazing splendor – a magnificence that no king or billionaire on earth could even imagine. But He took all of this into consideration, and looked forward to a more permanent joy. We looked earlier at Hebrews 12:1, now let us look at the verse following it:

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

I know what you’re thinking, “That was Jesus! I’m not Jesus! This is easier said than done my friend!” And I would agree with you! Taking the doctrinal reality that Jesus is our joy, and realizing what that means for how we approach the more tangible reality that my house is getting small for a growing family, my car is breaks down, my neighborhood isn’t safe, and my paycheck prevents us from taking a much needed vacation, isn’t easy. This is hard work. But it’s worth it – if it was worth it for Jesus who had everything, it’s worth it for us who really have nothing very splendid at all.

These are things we all struggle with, and I struggle with particularly. Who doesn’t want a big house? Who doesn’t want a nice car? Who wouldn’t want to see their children succeed and their bank accounts full and their life less troubled by rough patches of sickness and disease. But because life is full of these things, we must grab hold of what is everlasting, and learn to have joy through both blessing and storm, or we will find ourselves shipwrecked and depressed and miss out on a life full of real tangible awesome joy – the fruit of the abundant life that Christ came to give us.

 

Fighting Anxiety with Prayer

It so happens that this time of year is especially stressful for me.  Being in politics comes with its benefits and opportunities to serve the Lord and one’s country, but it also entails a great deal of stress, which can lead to anxiety.  I make a distinction between the two terms because I feel that stress is best defined as the result of outside agencies pressing down upon a person’s life – these can’t always be avoided. Whereas anxiety is probably best defined as the nervous feeling we have inside as a result of the stress – and ultimately because we are weak and sinful creatures who battle “unbelief.”

I am not unique in feeling “anxious.”  The topic is so intrinsic to our fallen humanity that Christ spent a lot of time addressing it during His Sermon on the Mount.  But because it is a battle I have fought often, I am familiar with the weaponry one needs to successfully wage war against anxiety.  One of the major weapons is prayer – not simply small little prayers you send up during the day, but long, deep, gut-wrenching prayers that bring you to your knees.  As it happens, I’ve been reading a lot about prayer, and wanted to post some of the quotes and tips that I’ve come across in the past few days.  This is a combination of two sources, 1. Jerry Bridges’ chapter on Prayer in ‘The Transforming Power of the Gospel‘, and 2. John Calvin’s 4 rules of prayer that was posted on Ligonier’s blog earlier last week. I hope you find these excerpts helpful and encouraging!

Calvin’s 4 Rules of Prayer

For John Calvin, prayer cannot be accomplished without discipline. He writes, “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” He goes on to prescribe several rules to guide believers in offering effectual, fervent prayer.

1. The first rule is a heartfelt sense of reverence.

In prayer, we must be “disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God.” Our prayers should arise from “the bottom of our heart.” Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that “the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by God’s majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it.”

2. The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance.

We must “pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence,” maintaining “the disposition of a beggar.” Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with God’s will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request “with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him.”

3. The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God.

True prayer requires that “we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon,” trusting in God’s mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal, always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: “If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit,” we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in God’s presence.

4. The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope.

The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believers’ lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6,KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, “for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us.” Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such “confidence is necessary in true invocation… which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven.”

Overwhelming? Unattainable?

These rules may seem overwhelming—even unattainable—in the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. “No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due,” he writes. But God tolerates “even our stammering and pardons our ignorance,” allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in “a babbling manner.” In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a “lifting up of the spirit” and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will “change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Calvin concludes that “Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God.”

Jerry Bridges on Individual Prayer

“Biblical meditation simply means to prayerfully and carefully reflect on Scripture in order to determine what God is saying and the possible application of that Scripture to you.”

“…though we cannot transform ourselves, we can and must bring our minds under the continual influence of the Word of God. And as we do that, the Holy Spirit will use His Word to do His transforming work in us.”

“As we open our Bibles to read, we should do so with a prayer that God, through His Spirit, will meet with us in His Word.”

“We pray more about our needs, both temporal and spiritual (but probably more in the temporal area), than we do about God’s glory and will. Therefore, in our time with God, it is good to expand our horizons beyond ourselves and our families and consider the work of God worldwide.”

“Does your prayer during your time with God reflect this interest in His glory and will?”

“We know that we are both responsible and dependent, and prayer is, among other things, an expression of that dependence. It is an acknowledgement that we are helpless sin ourselves – that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to both do His own work and enable us to do the work we must do.”

“I also pray that I will be motivated to obey and serve Christ out of love and gratitude, not out of a sense of duty.”

“He will give us the desire and motivation to pray if we ask Him.”