Declare Him

Much of what passes for evangelism today is nothing more than a call to self-enhancement. Instead of proclaiming Christ and him crucified, we proclaim ourselves and how good our lives are as Christians. We must have the courage to label this false evangelism. Here is a necessary word from Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

What many are tending to do today is this. They say, ‘Take up Christianity. It will pay you. I am a witness to it.’ So a short address is given, and people are then called upon to testify. Why are people expected to want to accept Christianity? Because it works. It does this or that. It promises happiness. It gives you peace and joy. I suggest that this is false evangelism.

Our one business is to preach the Lord Jesus Christ, the final Authority. We are told to declare Him, and that men and women are to come face to face with Him. The cults can give you ‘results’. Christian Science can tell you that if you do this and that you will sleep well at night, you will stop worrying, you will feel healthier, and you will lose your aches and pains. All the cults can do that sort of thing. We are not to do that. We are to declare Him, and to bring people face to face with Him. That was his own method.

(Quote from Authority)

The Necessary Word: Ephesians 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.

Exegesis

In his usual style (See Gal. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; etc), Paul begins his letter with an affectionate greeting. This particular letter was written to the churches of Ephesus and was meant to be read aloud in the hearing of the people.

What it means to be an apostle

Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” An apostle is simply one who bears witness. So, in the case of Paul and the other apostles, this simply meant bearing witness to Jesus Christ. They were to proclaim his person and work.

But that’s not the whole story; if it were, we’d all be apostles. The apostles were more than messengers, they were messengers called according to the will of God, specially equipped and imbued with authority.

Practically, this meant that what they said would be revered as the Word of God. Like the prophets of old, they spoke with authority, bearing witness to the message of the gospel through mighty acts (Heb. 2:3-4). These men were the foundational layers, preaching the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit where it had never been heard. And at the forefront of the missionary endeavors of the early church we have Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.

True sainthood

The word “saint” has fallen on hard times. Largely due to its misuse by the Roman Catholic church over the centuries, many Protestants avoid the title altogether. Others adopt a pseudo-Catholic understanding of the title and apply it to the Christian A-Team. Both stances, though common, are unbiblical. So, what’s it going to take for us to recover a biblical understanding of the word?

For starters, we need to stop being afraid of the title. It’s biblical, and a perfectly healthy way to refer to oneself as a Christian. Has it been misunderstood? Yes, but that shouldn’t keep us from using it. And second, we must be rid of any idea of sainthood that’s reserved for “super-Christians”.

Here is the biblical view on sainthood: all Christians are saints. It’s not a higher rank reserved for the elite. It’s the identity of everyone who has been united to Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a constant reminder that we have been made right with God by the alien righteousness of Christ.

The Rub

  • Ephesians is a letter, and letters are written in a redemptive-historical context. Keep this in mind as you read and study. Knowing the context is one of your primary defenses against eisegesis.
  • As an apostle, Paul wrote this letter with “thus says the Lord” authority. Read it carefully, meditate on it, and submit to it.
  • If you are in Christ you are a saint, made righteous in him, never to be separated from the presence and love of God.

 

Churchless Christianity

In Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized ReligionKevin DeYoung provides a witty Mad Lib to express the convictions of those who want churchless Christianity:

The institutional church is so (pejorative adjective). When I go to church I feel completely (negative emotion). The leadership is totally (adjective you would use to describe Richard Nixon) and the people are (noun that starts with un-). The services are (adjective you might use to describe going to the dentist), the music is (adjective you would use to describe singing on Barney), and the whole congregation is (choose among: “passive,” “comatose,” “hypocritical,” or “Rush Limbaugh Republicans”). The whole thing makes me (medical term).

I had no choice but to leave the church. My relationship with (spiritual noun) is better than ever. Now I meet regularly with my (relational noun, pl.) and talk about (noun that could be the focus of a liberal arts degree) and Jesus. We really care for each other. Sometimes we even (choose among: “pray for each other,” “feed the homeless together,” or “share power tools”). This is church like it was meant to be. After all, (insert: “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of you,” or “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” or “we don’t have to go to church, we are the church”). I’m not saying everyone needs to do what I’ve done, but if you are tired of (compound phrase that begins with “institutional” or ends with “as-we-know-it”), I invite you to join the (noun with political overtones) and experience (spiritual noun) like you never will by sitting in a (choose among the following architectural put-downs: “wooden pew,” “steepled graveyard,” “stained-glassed mausoleum,” or “glorified concert hall”) week after week. When will the (biblical noun) start being the (same biblical noun)?

What Your Flesh Doesn’t Want You to Know: The Vital Role of the Word in Mortification

1. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know how important reading and hearing the Word is to mortification. If you have been led astray by the misconception that the Word contributes nothing to the war against your flesh, you’re exactly where it wants you. As long as you view the Word of God as an optional part of the Christian life, your flesh can rest easy knowing that you’ve neglected one of the primary weapons God has given you to mortify it with. The Word is the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17b); it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16b); but your flesh can’t have you coming to grips with that.

2. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know how the Word reveals sin. When we open the Scriptures, we are confronted with the perfect requirements of the law of God. We see the beautiful and holy character of our God, and it shines a spotlight into the wicked depths of our hearts. Our most well hidden sins are exposed by the Word. When we see God as he has revealed himself to us, the appropriate response is to cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5)! But half of your flesh’s battle revolves around making sure you don’t see how sinful you actually are. Its battle plan would fall apart if you recognize your hopeless condition. After all, one of the worst things that could happen to your flesh is for you to realize you need a Savior.

3. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know what the Word says about God’s attitude toward sin. It’s impossible to seriously read the Word and come away thinking that sin is no big deal. From Genesis to Revelation we see that sin is an abomination that has thrown creation into chaos. Sin in its very nature is rebellion against God. As R.C. Sproul puts it, sin is cosmic treason against the King of the universe. And God doesn’t brush sin under a rug, hoping that it will disappear. No, our God hates sin and must pour out his wrath upon all unrighteousness. But the flesh doesn’t want you meditating on the holiness and wrath of God. It wants you to think God takes sin lightly, seizing every opportunity it gets to lead you to view God as an omnipotent Santa Claus who exists for your pleasure. Your flesh knows that if you understand how seriously God takes sin, you will begin to as well-and it can’t let that happen.

4. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know the message of the gospel that flows through the veins of the living Word. Throughout the Word we are presented with the grand story of redemption. Before time began, God planned and promised within himself to save his rebellious people. Right after the Fall, he promised to crush the head of the Serpent through the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). And it is this promise that unfolds as we flip from page to page in the Scriptures, culminating in the work of Christ on the cross. Here is the beautiful news we find in the Word: We are totally depraved sinners, and God sent his Son to suffer his wrath in the place of totally depraved sinners. If you are in Christ, all of your sin has been dealt with on the cross, and your salvation is secure. You are a new creation, made alive to live for the glory of God! But this news is like ipecac for your flesh. The gospel makes it nauseous, and worse, angry. It hates the good news, and will do anything to keep you from remembering it. Listen to who you are because of what Christ has done for you: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:6-7). Such good news is the worst news your flesh will ever hear. This is why your flesh delights in assaulting your thoughts. One of its chief goals is to make you forget who you are in Christ.

5. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that the Word equips you to mortify it. The Word reveals the schemes of your flesh, casting them into the light. It shows your flesh to be a foe conquered by the work of your Savior on the cross. God has not left you alone to mortify your flesh. He has given you the Spirit, and he has shown you how you are to walk as new creation. The gospel crushes pride, arrogance, and selfishness, bringing you to see the grace and mercy of God. All of these things are weapons your flesh can’t tolerate. You have been given everything you need to kill the enemy within you. Now, does that mean it will give up? Well, no, it will never give up. But remember this: It doesn’t want you to read the Word. The last thing it wants you to do this year is to seek God in his Word, submitting to his rightful rule and reign over your life. If you want to make your flesh happy, put your Bible on a shelf and forget about it-let it collect an inch of dust. I, however, advise you to ignore its pleas for complacency. Don’t underestimate the importance of the Word in your battle against sin. Open it, read it, submit to it, and let your affections be stirred for our God and Savior who alone is worthy of worship.

What Your Flesh Doesn’t Want to Know: It’s Nature and Schemes

1. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know of it’s existence. It will do anything to gain the element of surprise. Utterly perverse and depraved, it slithers about in secrecy. This gives it room to do all of its dastardly planning while leaving you in the dark, unprepared and unaware.

2. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know of its persistence. It’s always at work, seeking to entice your desires, bending your affections inward. But it wants you to ignore this and skip along on your merry way. Your resistance is a nuisance, and it well tempt you daily to relax and give it full reign over your heart. Drift into a lackadaisical state, and you’re right where your flesh wants you. “Sit back,” it whispers, “everything will be fine.”

3. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that it hates you, God, and anything that stirs your affections for him. In its very nature, your flesh is at enmity with God. It hates him, and desires above all to dishonor him and send you chasing after idols. But, it’s in your flesh’s best interest to keep this truth to itself. To inform you of its desires would be suicidal. As long as you see it as an unlikable roommate, its plans to remain hidden. The last thing it wants is for you to see it as an enemy against the glory of God and your enjoyment of him.

4. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know the folly of trying to make peace with it. As Paul writes, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17; see also Rom. 7:21-23). One of the best presents you could give to your flesh is ignorance to this truth. It wants you to give up the war and write up a peace treaty, oblivious to the reality that you’re setting yourself up for a stab in the back. As a child of God, your flesh will never leave you alone until the day you die. But everyday it will work to keep you from remembering that.

5. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that it will hit you in the valleys and on the mountain tops of your spiritual walk. Your flesh has a knack for finding opportunities to attack you. When you’re down it will torture you, dragging you into the depths of despair. But it takes advantage of your “spiritual highs” as well. It will plant seeds of pride, arrogance, and legalism right when you think nothing could go wrong. If you thirst for God, it will do anything to get you to start looking down on others instead of walking alongside them. But, again, for you to know this would ruin your flesh’s fun.

6. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know it can be mortified. Your flesh is a formidable foe, but it has a not so hidden secret: it’s mortally wounded. Christ has conquered it on the cross and set you free from the chains it once bound you in. But that’s the last thing your flesh wants you to remember. It wants you to cower in its presence, drained of all hope. You have been given everything you need in Christ to mortify your flesh, and that only makes it angrier.

What Your Flesh Doesn’t Want You to Know: Your Identity in Christ

Our flesh is persistent. In its very nature it’s at enmity with God. This isn’t a mild dislike, it’s a vicious, seething hatred. Writing of his personal struggle with sin, Paul says, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23). Don’t miss the force of what Paul wrote. The enemy within us never lets up from barraging us with temptations and working to entice our desires. It will do anything to squash our desire to glorify and enjoy God. And all too often we concede. We get frustrated and upset, allowing our flesh to walk all over us doing a victory dance.

But let’s be careful to not give our enemy too much credit. It’s a persistent, deadly, and cunning foe; but we haven’t been left to ourselves. We are the people of Jesus Christ, and he has sealed victory over our sin on the cross. Once we were slaves to sin, but Christ has set us free, destroying the chains we could never escape on our own. A little earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:6-7). And not only have we died to sin, we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11b). This new life God has given us in Christ is life in the Spirit, by whom we mortify our flesh (Rom. 8:13).

So, what does all this mean? To begin with, the flesh is a conquered foe. It hates God, and it hates you, but its end is oblivion. Don’t underestimate it; it will do anything to lead you to sin. But also don’t forget who your Savior is; he has valiantly triumphed, dealing the death blow to sin and shattering the chains of your flesh. Also, you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. Because you’ve been made alive, you can now love God and others, doing his will joyfully and not out of compulsion. Your relationship to your flesh has been radically changed. It no longer can claim you as its slave, for you are a child of God. And lastly, by the Spirit you can mortify your flesh. You aren’t defenseless anymore. God has given you everything you need to kill your enemy and trump over its snares.

This is the glorious news of who you are because of what God has done for you, and your flesh doesn’t like it one bit. Though conquered, it continues its course, attempting to deceive us and lead us into sin. So, over the next few posts, we are going to look at several different ways our flesh worms about to protect itself from mortification. Knowing the trickery of our enemy better equips us to evade its attacks and put it to death by the Spirit.

The Folly of the Cross

Here is a poem/song based on 1 Corinthians 1:27-2:5.

God you came to save your people;
The wicked and unclean.
You chose the weak to shame the strong;
The lowly, poor, and meek.

Lord you leave us with no grounds,
To boast of what we’ve done.
But boast we will in Christ our King,
Your perfect obedient Son.

Jesus is our righteousness,
Who brings the far off near.
Once rebels and idolaters,
Now children of the King.

All my days I’ll preach good news,
The folly of the cross.
Christ became a curse for us,
Endured the wrath of God.

Father break the hardest hearts,
Rouse those dead in sin.
Our faith is in your work alone,
The cross of Christ our Lord.