God’s grace demonstrated in conscience (Romans 2:14-15)

INTRODUCTION: Yesterday we talked about the Law and about how this instrument that God gave us to diagnose the disease of our sin (see Romans 3:20 and Romans 7:7) was twisted into a ladder of performance whereby man could achieve his own righteousness by his own efforts. Today we are going to talk about another diagnostic tool that God has given to man to bring their sin up to the level of consciousness. Today we are going to talk about the conscience.

BACKGROUND

The main purpose of Romans 1:18-3:20 is to bring all readers to the unmistakable awareness that they are sinners under the wrath of God. Paul is acting as a prosecuting attorney to drive all people, Jew or Gentile, to the realization that they are under the Lord’s just condemnation for their sin. Paul’s main witness for the prosecution for establishing the sin of all people is the Law which God had given through Moses at Sinai. Even though the Law was given to the Jews and had remained unknown among the Gentiles (Romans 3:1-2), the Gentiles were still condemned by their own sin. Listen to Romans 2:12:

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. – Romans 2:12

This verse makes unambiguously clear that it is not the knowledge of your sin that condemns you, but it is the existence of your sin that brings you under God’s wrath. The Gentiles did not have the Law, and so the Law could not reveal to the Gentile his sin, but he would nevertheless perish in his unrepentant sin.

The issue is our sin. And the issue is always our sin. “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We must repent of our sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, or we will perish forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) as punishment for our sin. But for us to repent of our sin, we must be aware of our sin. And so, God in His grace has given us several means for becoming aware of our sin. He has given the Law, as we have already seen, but he has also given the conscience.

THE CONSCIENCE IN ROMANS 2:14-15

Paul speaks of the conscience in Romans 2:14-15, which is the essential biblical teaching on the conscience.

14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. – Romans 2:14-15

Paul starts by declaring that the Gentiles “do not have the Law.” This is what we have already been saying. The written Law was given to Israel and was unknown among the Gentiles. Does that mean that there was no way for the Law of God to be revealed to the Gentiles? No, because even though the Gentiles did not have access to the written Law, they all have a conscience that operates like the Law to reveal their sin to them. As the written Law was the diagnostic tool for showing the children of Israel their sin, so the conscience was the diagnostic tool for the Gentiles.

Let me explain what Paul is saying here in these two verses. Even though the Gentiles do not have access to the written Law and thus are not shown their sin by the written Law, God has graciously given to every Gentile a conscience which operates like a law within themselves (2:14). God has written His Law on every human heart (2:15), and when the Gentile sins, the conscience accuses him (2:15) that he has violated the Law, and when the Gentile accidentally or incidentally or intentionally obeys, the conscience defends him (2:15) as having done right. In this way, the conscience acts as a pseudo-Law to make the Gentile aware of their sin. Thus, the conscience is “a law within themselves” (2:14) for the Gentiles.

What we see, then, is that the conscience serves the same function as the Law in making the sinner aware of their sin, but the voice of the conscience is much softer than the voice of the Law and is also more easily muffled or silenced.

SUMMARY

We have seen that, as the written Law made sin known to the Jew, so the indwelling conscience, operating as a pseudo-Law, makes sin known to the Gentile. God has graciously given these means for revealing sin to every man so that no one needs to remain ignorant of his sin. Next time, we will continue this line of thought and see why the conscience also fails to restrain the Gentile from sin.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2021                 #462

The Law becomes a ladder to climb

The Lord gave the Law as a tool for diagnosing the deadly disease of sin. For the Jews, however, this diagnostic tool was converted into a system of works as a cure for their guilt. This will take some explaining, for the process of changing the Law from an instrument for revealing sin unto condemnation into a ladder of works righteousness up which a sinner could climb, is lengthy and intricate.

WHY WAS THE LAW GIVEN?

It must be understood at the outset that the Law was given at Sinai to reveal to all mankind their sin before the thrice holy God. “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “For I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. For I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” (Romans 7:7). It was an act of God’s grace to declare the Law so that sinful man would become aware of his sin, and then God’s kindness would lead the sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4). In other words, the Law was written to reveal to the sinner his sin and his consequent condemnation so that the sinner would cry out to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness. The Law was the diagnostic tool that showed man his sin, but faith in the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness was the cure for the sin.

HOW WAS THE LAW DISTORTED

But there was another way to respond to the condemnation from the Law, a response which was itself sinful and which nullified the intended purpose of the Law. In this wrong response, the priests and the scribes and the false prophets, and later on the Pharisees and the Sadducees, realized that obeying the Law was impossible, because the Law required perfect obedience. The Law as written gave no wiggle room, but rather demanded perfect obedience from birth to grave. If you failed to obey perfectly, the Law brought full condemnation. The priests and the scribes perceived this as a problem. The way they solved this problem was by changing the absolute obedience demanded by God’s Law into a relative obedience based on a set of man-made “works” that could be obeyed. Thus, the Jews modified the terms of the Law so that they could obtain their own righteousness through their obedience to the Law (Romans 10:1-3). The modified “Law” could be obeyed because it only required relative obedience. Instead of the perfect Law of God, which was graded as either perfect obedience or absolute failure, the modified “Law” accepted your “best effort” as good enough and then was graded on a curve. Thus, your own works achieved your right standing before God.

Now, consider for a moment what was lost by this emasculating of the perfect Law of God. As we compare these two versions of the Law, we will see how catastrophic this was for the Jews and how it rendered them almost beyond the reach of the gospel.

THE PURE LAW AS GIVEN AT SINAI

If the Law as given at Sinai were allowed to stand inviolate, then the hearer of the Law could realize their abject failure to keep the requirements of the Law and thus see their complete condemnation. Knowing their condemnation before the Holy One of Israel, the sinner could abandon all their own works and all their own efforts at achieving righteousness and could, instead, see the worthiness of Jesus and the glory of His death on the cross, and could cry out to Him for mercy as the only one who could save them from their sins. The sequence would be to hear the Law and thus to realize the greatness of my sin. Being convicted of my sin, I would seek God’s appointed means of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this way, I would find Jesus and would cry out to Him in faith and repentance. The cross of Christ has overwhelming power, for it is only at the cross that God’s justice and His mercy meet. It is only in Jesus that forgiveness is to be found. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

THE MODIFIED “LAW” AS MADE BY THE JEWS

On the other hand, the modified “Law” offers an entirely different scenario. In this case, the hearer is not convicted of their sin by the Law’s holy demands, but instead is alerted that their performance must improve. Instead of despairing of any and all personal merit, the hearer considers what works they need to perform to achieve their righteousness. Instead of the cross of Christ towering to infinite height as the only means of forgiveness in all of human history, the death of Christ is unnecessary and insignificant, since my sin can be covered by my own good works (Galatians 2:21). Instead of Christ being the one worthy of all praise as the only Savior, He is reduced to a pathetic martyr and a good teacher and nothing more.

SUMMARY

Therefore, the Lord graciously gave His perfect Law to reveal to us the cancer of our sin. Like an undiagnosed terminal cancer, unconfessed sin is killing every person and condemning them to eternal judgment under the wrath of God. But God has designed the Law to be a diagnostic tool that exposes sin and makes our iniquity known to us. The Law is the best instrument for diagnosing sin, but it is useless as a cure for sin. As a PET scan shows the existence and extent of cancer but is worthless for fighting cancer, so the Law reveals the existence and extent of sin but is worthless for fighting sin.

So, the Law and the cross of Christ work together to bring justification and forgiveness and righteousness. The Law reveals the sinner’s sin, and, by faith, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross cleanses the sinner of all guilt and condemnation and unrighteousness. Through faith and repentance, the sin the Law reveals is the sin that the Lord Jesus heals.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2021                 #461

Defense against the devil – Part 3

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible clearly reveals the devil and tells us about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In this third post in this series, we will continue our study about the devil and about how the disciple of Jesus can avoid becoming a victim of his devices.

A brief review of the last post is in order. We determined that, for the disciple of Jesus, there are definite limits on the devil’s threats. First, the Lord is the defender of every follower of Christ, so any activity of Satan must first be allowed by the Lord. The devil can do nothing unless it is allowed by our sovereign Lord. But beyond that, we also saw that the devil can bring material loss, physical distress, and even death on the disciple of Jesus, but that these events of suffering and testing are not to be received as a threat to the believer. That is, material and physical loss are of no spiritual consequence. The believer’s standing with the Lord and his eternal destiny are unaffected by these changes in circumstances.

Further, we saw that there is nothing that the devil can do to take away our salvation. Once the disciple passes from death to life (John 5:24) and is secure in Jesus’ hands (John 10:28) as a result of their faith in Jesus, the devil is powerless to threaten them with condemnation.

THE REAL THREAT

We did discover, however, that the devil is a very real threat in causing spiritual shipwreck. “Shipwreck” is the term we use to describe a disciple of Jesus who has ruined their testimony and who has squandered their usefulness to Christ because of their sin. This is the realm where the devil thrives. Satan spends most of his time scheming how to damage the testimonies and ruin the usefulness of the followers of Jesus by tempting them to sin. For this reason, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the devil and his “schemes.” The Lord allows the devil to “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), and careless disciples may be devoured.

DEFENSE STRATEGIES – PART 1

So, how does the disciple of Jesus defend themselves from the devil’s threat of shipwreck? I am going to suggest two main strategies.

In sports, the saying goes that, “the best defense is a good offense.” A modification of this idea will serve the disciple well in his battle against the devil. The strategy is this: Build the walls of your defenses so high and so thick that the enemy has great difficulty in breaking in. How do we build high, thick spiritual walls? The continual use of Christian disciplines will make you an unlikely target for the devil’s attacks. He will seek out easier prey.

HIGH, THICK WALLS

What are these disciplines? There is nothing novel about them. First, read and meditate on the Bible. There is no better defense against the devil than a well-worn Bible. A disciple who has a solid foundation in the Scriptures will prosper (Psalm 1:2-3). Also, times of prayer. Genuine, deep fellowship with other believers. Regular corporate worship. Times of thanksgiving. Praising the Lord. Proclaiming the gospel to others. Recording and reviewing times of His great faithfulness. Being careful to obey the commands of the Scriptures and avoid sin. The one who does these things will have thick walls indeed.

VULNERABILITY

But the devil also seeks those times when you are especially vulnerable to attack. Our adversary will wait a long time to spring his temptation trap, and he usually strikes when we are vulnerable. Paul says that we should not be ignorant of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11), and part of that is being aware when we are vulnerable to attack.

When are we more vulnerable? When we are tired. When you are physically or mentally more tired than normal, you are not as alert to attack. In seasons of extended effort where you feel depleted or exhausted, you will be more vulnerable.

In a season or period of stress, you can become vulnerable. Maybe your situation at work is difficult. Perhaps there are financial pressures. There could be relational stresses at home or in your extended family. If these go on for a while, they can wear you down and distract you from normal alertness. Then you are vulnerable.

Other situations are when you are discouraged or depressed for whatever reason, when you feel isolated or alone, or when you experience the letdown that comes right after a significant victory or accomplishment (remember Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19). The disciple of Jesus needs to be aware of these vulnerable situations so that they can avoid shipwreck.

DEFENSE STRATEGIES – PART 2

How, then, is the disciple to defend themselves?

  1. Make it a habit to always be on the alert for enemy attack (1 Peter 5:8; Eph. 6:10-13). Remember, we are in enemy territory and the devil’s goal is to render us useless for Christ.
  2. Develop the discipline to regularly evaluate your spiritual vulnerability. Are you tired, stressed, feeling alone and isolated, depressed or discouraged? Be aware of these things!
  3. In times of greater vulnerability, increase your alertness to spiritual attack and sharpen your readiness. Seek reinforcements from others in the body of Christ. Refuse to be shipwrecked or sidelined by the devil’s schemes.

            SDG                 rmb                 11/26/2021                 #460

Defense against the devil – Part 2

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible clearly reveals the devil and tells us about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In this post, we will continue our brief study about the devil and about how the disciple of Jesus can avoid becoming a victim of his devices.

THE LIMITS OF THE DEVIL’S THREATS

One of the reasons that some believers fear Satan is because they assume that he has vast powers which can be unleashed on the follower of Jesus at any moment. This view of the devil as an ever-present threat naturally creates anxiety and fear. “If the devil is that powerful, how can I defend myself against his attacks?”

This type of fear of the devil is sin because it displays an ignorance of what the Bible teaches about the head of the fallen angels, it manifests a lack of faith in the Lord and His promises, and it suggests that God is not powerful enough to defend His children.

AN EXERCISE TO DETERMINE THE DEVIL’S REAL THREAT

Let’s take a minute to see how the devil can and cannot threaten the disciple of Jesus. In this exercise, we will ask two questions for each potential threat. QUESTION #1 is, “Is this perceived threat even a possibility for the devil?” In other words, according to the Bible, is this something that the devil has the power to do? This is a question about ability. QUESTION #2 is, “Is this possible threat something that should bring fear to the disciple of Jesus?” This is a question that addresses the disciple’s response to a possible threat from the devil. QUESTION #1 deals with facts, and QUESTION #2 touches on faith.

Now, what potential threats are we going to consider? I will consider four. Threat #1 is material loss. Threat #2 is physical death. Threat #3 is eternal death. And Threat #4 is spiritual shipwreck. So, let’s begin.

Threat #1: The threat of Material Loss. QUESTION #1: Can the devil, either directly or indirectly, bring about material loss in the life of a disciple of Jesus? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ The clear proof of this is in the book of Job (chapter 1), where we see Satan bringing about the financial ruin of righteous Job. QUESTION #2: Should this possibility of material loss bring fear to the disciple of Jesus? No, it should not. When Satan has brought great material loss to Job, Job testifies that “the LORD gives, and the LORD takes away” (Job 1:21). Paul had lost all things for the sake of Christ (Phil. 3:8). According to Jesus, the cost of following Him is to lose your life (Matthew 16:25). The disciple must learn how to live in humble means and how to live in prosperity (Phil. 4:10-12). Therefore, if the devil is allowed to bring material loss into your life, the disciple of Jesus makes adjustments and continues to trust the Lord and obey His word. Score: Y/N

Threat #2: The threat of Physical Death. QUESTION #1: Can the devil, either directly or indirectly, bring about the physical death a disciple of Jesus? Again, the answer is ‘yes.’ We can again consider the book of Job, Chapter 2, when the LORD tells Satan that he must not take Job’s life. If the LORD restricts Satan in this instance, it must mean that Satan had the power to take Job’s life. But we also know from Revelation 11:7 that, at the end of the age, the beast will kill some of the saints, and the beast receives his authority from the dragon (Satan) (Rev. 13:2). We also know that, throughout the years since Christ commissioned His church, the devil has used persecution to kill many faithful saints. QUESTION #2: Should this threat of physical death cause the disciple to fear? The answer is an emphatic ‘no.’ For the disciple, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Hebrews 2:14-15 makes clear that, since Christ has died and risen again, the devil can no longer threaten the believer, even with the threat of death. “O death, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26), physical death is no longer a threat for the disciple of Jesus. Therefore, if the devil is allowed to threaten me with physical death, I will continue to trust Christ and praise His name. Score: Y/N

Threat #3: The threat of Eternal Death. QUESTION #1: Can the devil threaten me with eternal death? That is, do I, as a born-again, water-baptized, Spirit-filled, Bible believing follower of the Lord Jesus Christ need to worry that Satan may still be able to cause me to sin and thus join him in the lake of fire? No. Resoundingly, no. I have crossed from death to life (John 5:24) and the devil is powerless to do anything to change my eternal destiny. I WILL receive my resurrection body and WILL spend eternity in heaven. Since the answer to QUESTION #1 is ‘no,’ QUESTION #2 does not need to be asked. Satan has no power, so there is no reason to fear. Score: N/N

Threat #4: The threat of Spiritual Shipwreck. QUESTION #1: Does the devil have the ability to tempt me to sin and thus to make a “shipwreck” out of my life and out of my testimony, and ruin my usefulness for Jesus? Yes, he does have that power. In fact, knowing what he himself can and cannot do in regard to the saints, the devil spends most his time considering how to damage the testimonies and the usefulness of the followers of Jesus. So, this threat of spiritual shipwreck is very real. QUESTION #2: Should the threat of “spiritual shipwreck” cause the disciple of Jesus to fear? Yes, the disciple of Jesus should realize that the devil has the power to ruin their life and render them useless to the Master. This is the reason that the New Testament speaks so much about the devil and his “schemes.” The Lord allows the devil to “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), and disciples who are careless may be devoured. Score: Y/Y

The devil, then, can ruin your testimony for the Lord Jesus and render you useless for His service. This is his great threat. Next time we will talk about how to defend ourselves.            

SDG                 rmb                 11/24/2021                 #459

Defense against the devil – Part 1

INTRODUCTION: We first meet the devil in Genesis 3. There, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the father of lies (John 8:44) appears to our first parents as a talking serpent, creating doubt about the goodness of God and about the truth of His word, and eventually tempting Adam and Eve to disobey the LORD and to eat the forbidden fruit.

But even though he was cursed because of his wickedness in Eden (Gen. 3:14-15), the devil has continued to tempt people to sin throughout human history, even down to our day. The devil hates God and hates His Christ and so hates the followers of Christ. The devil hates believers and he hates the church, and his ambition is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

As God’s word to His people, the Bible is clear to reveal the devil and to talk about his schemes. In fact, the believer would be wise to become familiar with how the devil operates so that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).

In the next couple of posts, I will be talking about practical ways that the believer can defend themselves from the ploys and schemes of the devil.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

Here in Peter’s first epistle is one of the classic biblical texts describing the devil’s activity. First, the apostle makes a clarion call for the disciple to be alert. There is no excuse for slackness in your walk with Christ. The disciple is to be alert for the enemy’s attacks at all times. We are in enemy territory, and we must expect the enemy to attack. So, “be sober, be on the alert.”

Now, what is the enemy’s goal in his prowling? What is the devil hoping to achieve? The devil is seeking to render you useless for the Kingdom. Make no mistake about it. The devil seeks to ruin your life and to make a shipwreck of your testimony for Jesus. Therefore, make it a matter of spiritual discipline to always be on the alert for enemy attack.

Also, know this, that the devil will continue with his ambition of ruining your life until you are called home or are quickly changed. So, your alertness must be lifelong.

And the more useful you are to Christ and His kingdom, the more eager the devil will be for your shipwreck. So, if you sense that the spiritual attacks on you are frequent and intense, know that this may be because you are perceived as a threat to the devil’s plans. The devil does not waste his artillery on harmless targets.

THE DEVIL USES MEANS TO ACHIEVE HIS ENDS

Even though the devil can attack directly, he almost always works through means. Most commonly he issues his temptations though the “world” and the “flesh.” Our purpose here is not to give a complete theological description of these two areas, but to describe them briefly so that the disciple can be alert to their working in your life.

The “world” (“kosmos” in the Greek) is a label for the godless world systems that have been constructed by fallen man at the supervision of the devil that are anti-God and that appeal to sinful behaviors. These include economic and political systems, and cultures that operate without any reference to the living God and breed godlessness. The “world” creates the visible playground for pride and lust and greed and hatred and jealousy and envy and revenge and so on. The devil has planned and constructed these “world” systems to ensure the ongoing sin of the unrighteous and to tempt the righteous to give in to sin. Thus, the devil uses the means of the world to cause the shipwreck of believers.

The devil also works through the means of the “flesh.” The flesh is not the same thing as the human body. The LORD created the human body as the ideal vehicle for carrying a man or a woman from birth to death. Rather, the flesh is the indwelling desire lurking deep within every human that craves and delights in sin. The flesh loves sin. The flesh dwells in the human heart and constantly suggests sin to the subconscious so that the person will indulge in sinful thoughts and words and behaviors. Think of the flesh as the enemy inside the gates, tempting the disciple who loves righteousness to continue in wickedness and ungodliness. Paul talks about the war with the flesh in Romans 7:14-25 and in Galatians 5:13-24. The message here is that the devil uses the flesh in his efforts to shipwreck believers.

SUMMARY

Let’s review what we have covered today.

  • The disciple of Jesus needs to be on the alert for the attacks of the devil.
  • The devil’s attacks against the disciple are lifelong.
  • The more useful the disciple is, the more the devil seeks to derail them.
  • The devil’s goal is to shipwreck the disciple’s life by ruining their usefulness to the Kingdom and their testimony for Jesus.
  • The devil most typically works through the means of the “world” and the “flesh.”

In the next post we will talk about when we are most vulnerable to the devil’s schemes and what the devil can and cannot do to the disciple of Christ.            

SDG                 rmb                 11/23/2021                 #458

Eager to obey the voice of the Master

While I was walking in my neighborhood, I passed a man sitting on a bench in his yard. About ten feet away from the man was his dog, a German Shepherd. To the casual observer, the dog appeared to be doing nothing at all, but I sensed that the dog was actually waiting for a command from the man, his master. Although apparently relaxed, the German Shepherd had its ears cocked and tuned to any utterance from its master, ready at any instant to do whatever was commanded. As I thought about that, I realized that the dog is made for no other purpose than to obey a master. This German Shepherd has no goal in life and, by itself, no inherent reason for existence. But when the dog has a master who commands the dog for the master’s pleasure, then the dog has a purpose.

THE NEED FOR A MASTER

As I contemplated these things, I began to see that the life of every person is similar to life of a dog in this sense, that as the dog seeks a master to give its life meaning, so the human being is adrift in the world until he submits to God to direct his life. We have been created to serve our great God and to obey His commands.

MAN, THE HIGHEST CREATURE

Now, to some, this sounds preposterous and maybe a little insulting. Man is the highest of the creatures on the earth, the only one created in God’s image. Man has intellect and volition and is able to comprehend both the future and the past. Man has been able to accomplish phenomenal things in every conceivable field of endeavor. And all of that is remarkable and certainly sets man apart from the rest of the creation.

MAN, THE MORAL CREATURE

But the fundamental difference between human beings and the rest of the created order is not man’s intellect but is man’s morality. Man is the only creature that is morally aware, so that man is responsible to God for his moral judgments and his actions. He has been created by a holy God to obey His Creator’s commandments and to live in harmony with his holy God and to enjoy fellowship with Him forever. When a man submits to God as his Master, then that man has peace and purpose.

MAN, THE FALLEN CREATURE

Now, we know that most human beings do not submit to God as their Master. This is because man is a fallen creature and has rebelled against God. Man is born as a sinner and therefore refuses to submit to God. The natural man rejects God as his Master and instead chooses to do whatever he wants to do. In this sense, then, natural man is similar to the German Shepherd without a master. Both have a life without purpose.

REDEEMED MAN, THE BORN AGAIN CREATION

But there is good news! For even though man is born into this world as a sinner and as a rebel against God, he can be born again and can be made into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In the analogy with the German Shepherd, as the dog can find a master and be trained to obey him, so a human being can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and can obey Him as Master. The person who submits to and obeys Jesus Christ is a person who has found meaning and usefulness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

Here are some illustrations of how this analogy might work.

A dog who has submitted to a master and is well-trained does not evaluate the commands of the master. The dog simply obeys the master’s command as issued and leaves the reason for the command up to the master. In other words, the dog does not need to understand the reason for the command to obey it.

In the same way, the disciple of Jesus should not evaluate the commands of the Lord or delay obedience until they understand the reasons for the commands. They should be as Abraham when he was told to take Isaac to Moriah to sacrifice him there (Genesis 22:1). Abraham obeyed, even though he could not have understood why the LORD would give him such a command. The disciple of Jesus obeys by faith, even if they don’t understand.

As I have already argued, a dog’s life is relatively useless without a master to give it direction, but with a master who will train the dog, the dog can be very useful.

In the same way, a man is relatively useless until he is called to salvation. In fact, often without the Lord’s call a person’s life is destructive and negative and worse than useless. In Matthew 20:1-15, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the owner of the vineyard goes repeatedly to the marketplace where the workers are just standing around doing nothing. This is an illustration of our life before we know Jesus as Lord and Savior. No matter our labors before Christ, we are simply standing idle in the marketplace. But once we are figuratively hired and sent out to labor in the vineyard, then our lives are useful as we produce fruit for the Kingdom.

The dog who is properly trained by its master seeks only the approval of its master. It may be friendly to other people, but its primary motivation is to please its master.

In the same way, the disciple of Jesus who has submitted to Christ seeks the approval of Christ above all things. His primary aim is to hear from the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

The trained German Shepherd waits for its master’s commands. Remember the dog on the lawn beside its master. Even though apparently at rest, the dog was actually in focused anticipation for any command from its master.

In the same way, the disciple of Jesus eagerly reads the word of God so that he may know the commands of the Lord. The trained disciple seeks the Lord’s commands so that he may eagerly obey.

When the trained dog hears the voice of its master, it goes from dead still to obedient action in a moment. Just so, when the trained disciple discerns the voice of the Lord, he moves into action without hesitation.

A dog that has been properly trained will attempt to obey the master’s command, even if that obedience results in the dog’s death. For the dog with a master, obeying its master is more important than life itself.

Likewise, the disciple of Jesus joyfully obeys the Lord regardless of the circumstances. This is captured in the words of the apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

SDG                 rmb                 11/19/2021                 #457

James 5:16 (“Confess your sins”) and biblical accountability

Within the current world of evangelicalism, it is not uncommon for pastors and churches to talk about the idea of “accountability.” Probably the foundational biblical text used to justify “biblical accountability” is the well-known verse from the book of James:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16

In this post I want to explore James 5:16a, the bolded part of the verse above, and the related subject of biblical accountability, to develop a “theology of accountability” so that we can be faithful to the commission that the Lord Jesus gave His church in Matthew 28:19-20, to make disciples.

How can accountability help us make mature disciples?

Before we begin digging into the meaning of James 5:16a, however, we need to understand the correct context for this accountability, and we need to define what we mean by “biblical accountability.” My hunch is that, if you asked ten Christians what they mean by “accountability,” you would get nine or ten different answers. So, we will start with context and definition.

THE CONTEXT FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

First, the appropriate context for biblical accountability is a Discipleship Relationship. “What is that?” you ask. When I use the term, “Discipleship Relationship,” I mean a relationship between a Discipler (more mature believer) and a disciple (less mature believer) that has been established by mutual consent for a period of time which is primarily intended to produce spiritual growth in the disciple. In this arrangement, the Discipleship Relationship is the vehicle that is being used to further growth toward Christlikeness.

DEFINITION OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Next, we need to define what we mean by the word “Accountability.” As we are using the word, “Accountability” refers to a tool used in the context of a Discipleship Relationship whose main purpose is to help the disciple (less mature believer) see victory over a besetting sin. That is, one of the areas of spiritual growth in Discipleship is the area of victory over persistent or besetting sins. In this area of Discipleship, Accountability can be an effective tool for putting persistent sin to death (Colossians 3:5).

ACCOUNTABILITY AND JAMES 5:16

It is in the practice of Accountability that we will consider James 5:16. In this verse, James gives us specific actions to take and then gives us an implied promise of healing if we do.

James instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed. Here are two actions followed by a promise. One person confesses their sin to another person, expecting that, once the other person knows of the sin the first person has just confessed, the other person will immediately respond with prayer to the Lord for victory over the sin that has now been brought out into the light. James finishes this sentence with a promise, “that you may be healed.” Within a Discipleship Relationship, then, the disciple confesses a besetting sin to the trusted Discipler, bringing it out into the light. The disciple’s confession of sin elicits spontaneous prayer from the Discipler for the disciple and indicates that the Discipler has now joined the disciple in the fight against the disciple’s sin. There are now two warriors in the battle. Now both disciple and Discipler are firing the weapons of The Word and prayer at the hated sin. The confession of one warrior recruits a fresh soldier into the fray. And the promise is that the sin must yield. There is a promise that the sin confessed and assaulted with the weapons of spiritual warfare will be put to death. There will be victory.

So, we confess our sins to one another for three basic reasons:

  1. The confession brings the sin into the light as the disciple acknowledges the sinfulness of this sin and identifies this particular sin as the target of their mutual spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
  2. The effect of this confession is to multiply the assault against this enemy of our holiness by recruiting a new soldier and thus increasing the artillery against the sin.
  3. Allows more people to rejoice together when we see the Lord giving the victory. Thus, the Lord receives more glory (2 Cor. 1:11). (Listen carefully!)

ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONFESSION IN ACTION

What we see, then, is that the machinery of Accountability is triggered by a confession of sin within the context of a Discipleship Relationship. That confession moves the sin out of the darkness and into the light and into the line of fire of spiritual artillery from both Discipler and disciple. The spiritual weaponry of the sword of the Spirit (the Bible/the Word), of prayer, of repentance and of mutual encouragement are poured out on the detested sin until it is vanquished.

SDG                 rmb                 11/17/2021                 #456

Because of the covenant (Genesis 18 and 19) – Part 2

But because there was a covenant . . .

Post #452 on November 5 began a study of the LORD’s covenant with Abraham from Genesis 15-19. This post will continue that study as we look deeper into the covenant and its effects on the events surrounding the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19.

A REVIEW OF ABRAHAM’S COVENANT

Before we move on to Genesis 19, however, I want to review some of the key points we have already learned in our study and reveal their significance.

First, we saw that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Abraham expresses his faith in the LORD, and by his faith he is declared righteous.

Next, we see that, after Abraham expresses his faith, on the basis of a blood sacrifice, the LORD made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21).

Thus, by the end of Genesis 15, based on his faith, Abraham has received a covenant with the LORD that has been sealed by the blood of a sacrifice.

ABRAHAN’S COVENANT FORESHADOWS OUR NEW COVENANT

An examination of Abraham’s covenant reveals that it pictures for us the new covenant that believers have with the Lord Jesus Christ. For just as the LORD’s covenant with Abraham began when Abraham believed in the LORD, so our covenant of salvation begins when we believe in the Lord Jesus. Just as Abraham’s covenant with the LORD was sealed and ratified by blood sacrifice, so the new covenant is established on the basis of Christ’s shed blood on the cross. And just as Abraham was the passive recipient of the promises contained in his covenant with the LORD, so we, by faith, are the recipients of all the promises given in Christ. “For all the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in Him (Christ)” (2 Cor. 1:20).

So, because there is a new covenant . . .

. . . we who believe in Christ receive all the promises of God.

Reading on, in Genesis 17, the LORD appeared to Abraham (17:1) to establish the terms and conditions of the covenant that He had made with Abraham in Genesis 15:12-21. It is clear that the purpose of the LORD’s appearing to Abraham was to establish His covenant since the word “covenant” is used eleven times in this chapter. Abraham is commanded to circumcise all males in his household as a sign of the covenant between him and the LORD (17:11). Also, in Genesis 17:16, 19, and 21 the LORD promises Abraham that Sarah shall bear him a son. His son shall be named Isaac and he will be born “at this season next year” (17:21).

We have now caught up to where we were before with the previous post (#452) in Genesis 18. What can we say about the relationship between the LORD and Abraham?

Because there was a covenant . . .

. . . there is peace between Abraham and the LORD. Even though the LORD has come down to render judgment on Sodom, the LORD and Abraham enjoy a fellowship meal. Because the LORD has established His covenant with him, Abraham has no reason to fear. The “Judge of all the earth” (18:25) is standing before him, yet Abraham enjoys pleasant communion with the LORD and His angels.

In the same way, . . .

. . . because there is a new covenant . . .

. . . those who believe in Jesus “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). On the night that He was betrayed, Jesus gave His disciples the Lord’s Supper, which is a fellowship meal that those who follow Jesus enjoy together as we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:27). We know that there is coming a day when the Lord Jesus will come from heaven to judge the living and the dead, but we have no fear of that day because Jesus has paid for our sins on the cross and He has become a propitiation for our sins to forever quench the wrath of God against us. ‘There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So, because there is the new covenant, we do not fear the Judge, but eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:28).

There is a very serious reason why the LORD has come down to visit Abraham.

THE IMPENDING DESTRUCTION OF SODOM

The LORD has determined to destroy the city of Sodom because “their sin is exceedingly grave” (18:20). The two angels (19:1) have come down with the LORD for the purpose of destroying that wicked city. There is only one problem: Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is living in Sodom. If Sodom is destroyed, Lot will be destroyed along with the city. And now Abraham has a covenant with the LORD complete with fellowship and divine promises. How will the LORD’s covenant with Abraham affect this situation with Lot and the judgment of Sodom?

That will be the subject of our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 11/15/2021                 #455

For the Son of Man is coming (Matthew 16:27)

This is the final post in the short series, “A life spent for the King,” based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:24-27. The one who desires to come after Jesus must willingly take up his cross and follow Jesus (16:24; October 26). The one who would find meaning and peace and joy in life must lose his life for Jesus’ sake (16:25; October 31). Every person faces the choice of deciding they will live for this life, or they will live for eternity. What will you give in exchange for your soul? (16:26; November 5)

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” – Matthew 16:27

This verse is the fitting culmination of Jesus’ teaching, for He now reveals the reason for His implicit warnings and exhortations. Jesus offers salvation now because there is coming a day of recompense and judgment when there will be no place to hide. Soon Jesus will be crucified (Matt. 16:21) as an atoning sacrifice for sinners and His death will finish and accomplish His work of redemption (John 19:30; 17:4). Then He will be raised up on the third day and will ascend to heaven to await His triumphal return.

So, if you desire to be protected from “that day,” then deny yourself now, and take up your cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24). Learn today what it means to carry your cross so that you will not be forever judged on that day when the Son of Man comes.

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father.”

Make no mistake about it. The Son of Man is certainly coming on the Last Day in power and “in the glory of His Father” to judge all the unrighteous (Psalm 96:13). It is futile for you to try to save your own life (Matt. 16:25) because you do not have the power. If you try to save your life, you will certainly be consumed in the judgment. But if you surrender your life to Christ, then He will save you and you will find life indeed.

“For the Son of Man is going to come and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”

Yes, He is surely coming to judge the earth. He will tread out the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Rev. 19:15). Jesus will judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). And how can you be spared this terrifying judgment? For, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). The prophet Micah considered offering rams and rivers of oil, even his firstborn. “Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul” (Micah 6:7)? Elsewhere, the writer of Psalm 49 acknowledges that he knows of no suitable ransom for redemption. “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him. For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever.” Where then is the answer? What is a man to do on the day of judgment?

The apostle Peter proclaims that there is salvation in Jesus, and in Jesus alone.

“Jesus Christ the Nazarene He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:11-12

Peter declares the good news that on the Last Day, at the coming of the Son of Man, there are those who will be rescued. But that salvation must be put into effect now in this life. Therefore, Paul says, “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor. 6:1-2). The apostle is urging one and all to come to faith in Christ now.

Thus, Jesus tells us what it is to spend our life for the King. We will take up the cross that Christ gives us, and we will follow Him where He leads. We will give our life away for His sake. We will forfeit the treasures and pleasures of this world for the joys and riches of the Kingdom of heaven. And we will do this knowing that, when the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father with all His angels, He will repay us with all the riches of heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 11/12/2021                 #454

Work out your salvation – Part 1 (Philippians 2:12)

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12

SERIES INTRODUCTION: In preparation for a future book project, I have been spending time recently considering the twin ideas of “disciple” and “discipleship.” Over the next few weeks (or months?) I will be posting a series of articles on discipleship – what it is and how we bring the making of disciples into the life of the local church.

WHAT IS A DISCIPLE? WHAT IS DISCIPLESHIP?

What is a “Disciple?” What is “discipleship?” These are surely two of the foundational questions that must be answered before we can have an extensive discussion on discipleship, but these two questions are difficult to answer. Along these lines, some would suggest that discipleship is “an intentional, deliberate effort to do spiritual good in another believer’s life.” While this definition is accurate as far as it goes, in my opinion it is not sufficiently narrow. It does not adequately separate helpful activities of disciples of Jesus from those encounters designed to grow someone in Christlikeness.

What I mean is, with this definition, how do we distinguish ordinary encouragement, fellowship, praying with another believer, Bible studies, and the discussion of sermons or Christian books, from discipleship? Or are all these also discipleship? Are most of us actually deeply involved in discipling others without knowing it? And are the ones we are discipling likewise unaware that they are being discipled? I don’t think so. In my view, if some activity is intentional and deliberate, the participants must be aware of what they are doing. If discipleship is, indeed, a distinct Christian activity, then we need to be able to determine if we are or are not doing that activity.

A TIGHTER DEFINITION OF DISCIPLESHIP

While it is true that there should be spiritual encouragement and even edification and growth from unstructured Christian fellowship, I would suggest that the term “discipleship” necessitates intentionality and structure and energy (or “intensity”). Ordinary Christian fellowship and Christian living are not meant to hold the attention and concentration of believers long enough or intensely enough to affect significant change in believers.

NUCLEAR BOMB ANALOGY

I am not an expert in nuclear devices, but I have been told that, in a nuclear bomb, one slug of enriched uranium must be in very close proximity with another slug of enriched uranium for a definite period of time before the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion can take place. If the uranium slugs are not enriched enough, or if one sufficiently enriched uranium slug is not in close enough proximity with another sufficiently enriched uranium slug, or if the sufficiently enriched uranium slugs are not in close enough proximity for a long enough time, then the conditions are insufficient for a nuclear reaction. In other words, there is a potency requirement, and there is a proximity requirement, and there is a duration requirement, and if any one of these is missing, there is no nuclear explosion.

ENERGY, INTENTIONALITY, AND DURATION

Corresponding to this example, I would suggest that, for meaningful spiritual growth and transformation to take place in the life of a believer, there is an energy requirement, an intentionality requirement, and a duration requirement.

The energy requirement says that, for the disciple to be transformed, the disciple must enthusiastically desire to change and be motivated to change. The disciple must bring his own energy, he must bring his own “heat” to the encounter. Sustained zeal is a needed component of spiritual transformation.

The intentionality requirement means that there is a purpose for the encounter (the encounter is not random or haphazard) that creates movement toward a definite goal. Thus, there is an element of design in each encounter whose goal is to move the disciple toward greater Christlikeness in knowledge, in obedience, in holiness, or in usefulness.

The duration requirement acknowledges that transformation into greater Christlikeness requires spending significant time in that activity. Time must be expended, both in individual encounters (think sixty to ninety minutes rather than fifteen minutes) and in all the collective encounters over a lifetime. In discipleship, we adopt “the long view.” Having committed to the path, we likewise commit to spending the necessary time to follow the path to the end. This means that, while no single encounter is transformational by itself, each individual encounter is a necessary link in the transformational chain that is “producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Hopefully that gets us started into this exploration of discipleship. Next time, we will dig a little deeper and find out what activities make up discipleship encounters.

SDG                 rmb                 11/12/2021                 #453