1 Peter 2:9 (Part 4) – Purpose: proclaiming excellencies

INTRODUCTION. The first letter of Peter provides a sound foundation for the newly converted disciple of Jesus Christ to begin their journey with their Savior, and the heart of their conversion is captured powerfully in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Here Peter declares the disciple’s new identity, their new purpose, and their new people.

This post is about the new purpose the disciple has received as a result of their new identity. (Also see post #544 on June 16, 2022, about the disciple’s new identity.)

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

In the first chapter of 1 Peter, the apostle has already told us that we were redeemed from our futile way of life (1:18) by the precious blood of Christ (1:19) and that, by God’s great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope (1:3). As we have studied 2:9-10, we have learned about the four-fold identity that the disciples of Jesus received when they trusted Christ as Lord and Savior (see post #536 and #544). Now we are going to discover the purpose for this new identity. There is a purpose for God giving His people their new identity and there is a mission to which He has called us. We are called to proclaim.

CALLED TO PROCLAIM

The chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the people for God’s own possession is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is now being gathered from all the nations of the earth to receive the unfathomable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8) for the primary purpose of proclaiming the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

The church is called to proclaim the excellencies of God. The one true and living God whom we proclaim is a God of excellencies. He has displayed His own glory in a creation of astonishing beauty and complexity, where His excellence is manifest in an abundance of life. His excellence has been made known in the wonder of the gospel, such that His perfect holiness is not violated by the forgiveness of sinners. His excellence has been visibly seen when the Lord Jesus Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us. The church is called to proclaim these excellencies.

Ever since Adam sinned, all people have come into the world as lovers of darkness and haters of the light (John 3:19-20). We are born as blind and dead lovers of darkness and we would forever remain in that wretched condition, but the one true and living God, in His grace and mercy, calls His enemies out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And so the church, the gathered assembly of redeemed wretches, is called to proclaim to the nations the transforming power of the gospel, for in the gospel God calls people from darkness into light.

But the church’s most important proclamation is to tell the world about Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have a Savior and a Redeemer and a conquering King who is worthy of all our loudest praise. “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’” (Psalm 96:3, 10). In heaven now the voices of many angels say with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). But what myriad angels are saying in heaven the church is now to be proclaiming on earth.

In Acts, the church was facing a growing hostility to their message about the resurrection. So, in light of the threats, the church prayed that the Lord would “grant that Your bondservants may speak Your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). In that instance and in every instance until Jesus returns, the church is to proclaim the glories of Jesus with all boldness regardless of threats. “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction” (Hebrews 10:39). We have been chosen and called to proclaim Jesus’ name to those who are in darkness. For Jesus warns us that “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory” (Luke 9:26). Therefore, His church is to proclaim His excellencies.

APPLICATION

The true church is a chosen race and is a people who have been called to be holy so that we can proclaim His excellencies. Since that is the case; that is, since we have been chosen and called for the purpose of proclamation, each of us should evaluate how we are doing with our own proclamation. I offer several questions to help in our evaluation:

  • How do you intentionally seek opportunities for “proclamation” within your network of relationships? (season your speech with salt (Col. 4:6), let your light shine before men (Matt. 5:16), throw out baited hooks for fishing (Matt. 4:19))
  • What is your strategy for “proclaiming His excellencies” when an opportunity presents itself? In other words, have you considered how to move the conversation toward a gospel-related topic?
  • How can you increase the boldness of your “proclamation?” How can you prevent fear from producing disobedience?

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2022                   #550

Worshipers are Christ’s reward (Acts 20:28; Rev. 7:9)

INTRODUCTION. A meditation on Christ’s reward for perfectly accomplishing the work given to Him by the Father. Christ purchased a people, and they were purchased to worship Him.

One of the themes of the Bible is that Jesus came to accomplish the mission given to Him by the Father and having accomplished that mission Christ now has earned His reward.

SCRIPTURAL BACKGROUND

To begin this post, I wanted to present some Scriptures that support my opening statement.

‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.’ – Psalm 2:8.

In this psalm, the LORD promises the Son that He will give Him the nations and the ends of the earth. That certainly sounds like this may be a prophecy of a reward.

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You. – Psalm 22:27

This verse speaks of worship, but the main context of Psalm 22 is of a man who is suffering agony as he is being put to death in the presence of his enemies. We now know that this psalm contains explicit prophecies of Christ’s sufferings that were fulfilled by Him on the cross. The point is that, in this psalm, the suffering was rewarded by worship.

1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” – Psalm 110:1

We see the LORD (YHWH) is speaking to the Lord (Adonai). We now know that “the Lord” is Jesus and that this conversation took place after Jesus accomplished His work on the cross, was resurrected, and ascended back to heaven to be at the right hand of the Father (YHWH). The Father is telling the Son to wait until the time comes for Him to return to earth to receive His full reward.

Isaiah 53, a passage about the “suffering servant of the LORD,” serves as a remarkably detailed prophecy of Jesus’ life and crucifixion. Then, after telling of the servant’s suffering, we read that the LORD “will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong.” The picture is of one who suffers and then is rewarded because of his suffering.

In John 17:4, Jesus speaks of accomplishing the work He has been given to do by the Father. It is clear that “the work” Jesus was given was the work of redemption by His death on the cross. Then, in John 19:30, with His dying breath Jesus gives His cry of victory when He says, “It is finished.” Jesus accomplished His work of redemption and therefore is entitled to a reward.

In Acts 20:28, Paul charges the Ephesian elders to “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” The only possible interpretation of this verse is that Jesus is God and that, by His death on the cross, He has purchased (redeemed) the church, which is all those who will believe in His name. Again, we see that, by His death, Jesus merits a reward. We see almost the same thing in Ephesians 5:25 where Paul teaches that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” This expression means that Christ died for the church. He purchased her for Himself and He is entitled to the church’s worship.

Finally, in Revelation we read:

“You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9

Here the heavenly creatures are praising the ascended Jesus (the Lamb) because He has purchased a people with His blood. Then in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 7:9-10) we read:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” – Rev. 7:9-10

Here we see those whom Jesus (the Lamb) redeemed from every nation in heaven worshipping Jesus. Thus, we see that Jesus was rewarded for shedding His blood to purchase a people, and His reward is those people worshipping Him for all of eternity.

THE SCRIPTURE APPLIED

With these passages presented as background, we will now apply this teaching to the Lord Jesus, His work on the cross, and His merited reward.

Jesus was sent from heaven to earth by the Father to accomplish a mission, the mission of redemption. Jesus’ mission consisted in two parts: 1) live a sinless life of perfect holiness and righteousness, fulfilling and obeying the entire Law; and 2) die on the cross as an atoning sacrifice to pay for the sins of His people.

If Jesus accomplished His mission, the Father would raise Him from the dead as a visible sign that Jesus had accomplished His mission perfectly and then would give Jesus the Son His merited reward, which is an inheritance of a myriad of people from every tribe and tongue and nation worshipping Him for all of eternity.

In that sense, then, my personal salvation is not about me at all. Oh, it is true that I eternally benefit from God’s gracious work in rescuing me from judgment and in granting me eternal life through faith in Christ. But while I benefit from God’s saving work in my life, my eternal benefit of salvation is incidental to the purpose of my salvation. For God’s purpose in my salvation is for me to give unending praise to God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has finished His mission and, therefore, has earned His promised reward. Myriads of myriads of people were chosen by the Father before time began (Eph. 1:4) and were promised to the Son to be His worshipers on the condition that the Son perfectly accomplish the work that the Father had given Him to do, and that condition has been met. Therefore, all those worshipers who were promised to the Son must now be gathered into the church. The Father’s promise and the Son’s performance guarantee that every worshiper purchased by the Son (Acts 20:28; Rev. 5:9) will certainly be gathered in by the gospel call and will glorify and praise the Son forever and ever (Rev. 19:1-8).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, as those who have been chosen by the Father and purchased by the blood of the Son and made alive by the effectual call of the Holy Spirit, let us fulfill our intended purpose of giving glory to Jesus Christ. Now, while we live in this life, let us offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) as we witness to Jesus to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Then, in the new heaven and the new earth, we will praise Him forever with a loud voice saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

SDG                 rmb                 6/22/2022                   #546

Scattering seed and inviting to the feast

INTRODUCTION. A study of two parables of Jesus and how they teach us to be obedient in our proclamation of the gospel.

I have been spending time in Jesus’ parables lately and have seen in them many new applications that I had not seen before. In this post, I want to review two parables, the parable of the sower in Matt. 13:3-9 and the parable of the wedding feast in Matt. 22:2-14 and see how Jesus teaches us about our task of being His witnesses (Acts 1:8).

THE SOWER WENT OUT TO SOW

We will begin with the parable of the sower in Matt. 13:3-9. This is one of the best known of the parables and is also one of only a few parables that Jesus interprets for us. In Jesus’ interpretation in Matt. 13:18-23, we find that the seed that is scattered is “the word of the kingdom,” which we would understand to be the gospel. We also discover what each of the soils represents and why the seed is unfruitful. Finally, we see that the seed is certainly potent and that, in the good soil, it produces a hundredfold, or sixty fold, or thirty fold.

It seems obvious that this parable is about proclamation, about evangelism. The sower is the disciple of Jesus Christ. We had already stated that the seed is the gospel. The places where the seed is scattered is any place and every place that the sower (disciple) goes. But let me make some other observations about this parable and about the sower himself.

SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE SOWER

Matt. 13:3 says, “The sower went out to sow.” Having acquired a big bag of seed, the sower intentionally goes out into the world to sow that seed. The sower’s purpose and aim is sowing his seed.

Also notice that the sower’s task is very simple. Sow the seed. That’s it. Sowing is an unskilled task that can be done by anyone who has seed. There is nothing sophisticated or nuanced about sowing seed. Any obedient worker can fulfill the task.

Observe that even though most of the sower’s seed is wasted and proves unfruitful, Jesus makes no comment about the sower’s wastefulness. The sower recklessly and indiscriminately scatters seed wherever it might go and yet there is no rebuke or criticism given. This is because the sower’s task is to sow seed. He is not responsible for the results. Just so, the disciple of Jesus is to scatter the seed of the gospel extravagantly and generously wherever he goes, believing that the Lord is sovereign over the harvest and that He will direct the seed to the good soil.

Thus, for the sower, the measure of success is faithfulness to their appointed task of sowing seed, and not the quantity of the harvest. The Lord is sovereign over the harvest, but He has entrusted the scattering of the gospel seed to His disciples.

THE MESSAGE TO US. Putting this together, then, the disciple of Jesus (the sower) is called to intentionally go out into the world and indiscriminately and extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel anywhere and everywhere, recklessly sowing the seed, trusting that the Lord in His sovereignty will bring the harvest. (See also 2 Corinthians 9:6.)

INVITE THEM TO THE WEDDING FEAST!

Now we turn our attention to the parable of the wedding feast in Matt. 22:2-14. In this story, there is a king who wants to give a wedding feast for his beloved son. The king desires to have as many guests as possible at the feast, so he sends out his slaves to call those guests who had already been invited long ago, but those who had been invited refused to come. The king is enraged by the rudeness of his subjects and has them destroyed. Then he commands his slaves to go out into the main highways and invite anybody and everybody to his son’s wedding feast.

Although there are some important details to this story that teach us about the unbelief of the Jews and about the events of the end of the age, the main message of this parable is also about evangelism. Before we focused on the sower, but here we will concentrate on the slaves. The slaves represent disciples in the church. The king is God the Father and, of course, the son is the Lord Jesus. Thus the church has been sent out into the world to invite “as many as they find” to the wedding feast. The “wedding feast” represents the church with Jesus in heaven at the end of the age.

SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE SLAVES

The first thing I want to point out about this parable is that the slaves have been commanded by the king to invite people to the wedding feast. No other instructions have been given, no guidelines about who to choose or who to avoid. Therefore, the “slaves went out into the streets and gathered all they found” (22:10). They were indiscriminate about who they invited. If they found them, then they invited them. It did not matter whether they were evil or good. Whoever they found, they invited. That was their assignment from the king.

Notice also that this assignment was not complicated or difficult. There were no special skills or talents required to fulfill the assignment. No amazing spiritual gifts. Inviting people to the king’s feast was simple, an unskilled task that could be accomplished by anyone who would faithfully obey the king.

Finally, we see that, even though there are some false guests among those that are invited, the king does not rebuke or correct the slaves for inviting the wrong people. The king takes responsibility for the quality of those who are at the feast, while the slaves are responsible for the quantity. In other words, the measure of success for the king’s slaves was faithfulness to their appointed task of inviting guests, not the quality of the people invited.

THE MESSAGE TO US. Putting this together, then, the disciple of Jesus (“the slave of the king”) is called to intentionally go out into the world and indiscriminately invite as many as he can to “come to the wedding feast” (that is, call people to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior), trusting that the Lord in His sovereignty will inspect all the guests.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

What I have attempted to do in the interpretation of these two parables is to show that the Bible consistently calls the disciple of Jesus to the task of proclaiming Christ to the world indiscriminately and extravagantly so that many will hear the message and respond. These parables demonstrate that the disciple has been given the task of scattering the gospel recklessly and inviting to the feast extravagantly so that many will  come to faith in Jesus and to enjoy the final wedding feast.

We have been called to faith in Jesus so that, as His disciples, we can declare His glory among the nations (Psalm 96:3) and proclaim His excellencies who has called us into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

SDG                 rmb                 6/17/2022                   #543

Inauguration, identification, and commitment in Jesus’ baptism

INTRODUCTION. An examination of Matthew 3:13-17 with the goal of discovering why Jesus was baptized, then applying those ideas to the life of a believer/disciple.

When He was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23), Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Here is the account from the gospel of Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he *permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus was baptized. All four gospels unambiguously attest to this fact. But the question that must be answered is, “Why was Jesus baptized?”

WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?

Let’s explore this question. We can start by saying what is not the reason Jesus was baptized. John the Baptist was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). In Matthew 3:6 we read that John was baptizing people “in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Matt. 3:6). But since Jesus was sinless (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; etc.), He had no sins to confess, so He was not being baptized for repentance.

So, we are back at square one. “Why was Jesus baptized?”

MATTHEW 3:15

Jesus’ words in Matthew 3:15 seem to provide some helpful information. First, Jesus commands John to permit His baptism. In the Greek, this is an imperative, meaning Jesus is giving John a command. “Allow My baptism!” With this command, Jesus is telling John, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this, but I know why, and so I am commanding you to baptize Me and to trust Me about this.”

Notice also that John is to permit this baptism “at this time.” This phrase could also be translated from the Greek as “at the current time” or simply “now.” There is something about this particular time that is significant and that makes it “fitting” (or “proper”) for Jesus to be baptized at this specific time. This new information has changed our question to, “Why was Jesus baptized at this specific time?” As we consider the timing of this scene, we see that this is the time Jesus began His earthly ministry. And it is “fitting” (or “proper”) to mark the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry “in this way,” that is, with baptism.  

WHY JESUS WAS BAPTIZED AT THIS TIME

Putting these pieces together, then, we would say that it was appropriate and fitting to fulfill all righteousness for Jesus to mark the launch of His earthly ministry with baptism. To say this more simply, it was right (or righteous) for Jesus to mark the start of His earthly ministry with baptism. So, the answer to the question, “Why was Jesus baptized?” is that He was baptized to mark the start of His earthly ministry. But that is not the complete reason.

At His baptism, Jesus emerged from complete obscurity and was publicly identified as the Son of God when God the Father declared from heaven, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17). Prior to this event, Jesus had been an unknown carpenter in the backwater town of Nazareth, quietly living His days with His mother and brothers. Now, by His baptism, His days of quiet obscurity are forever ended and His anonymity is gone. Through His baptism, He is now identified as the Son of God. Thus, a second reason for His baptism was His identification as the Son of God.

But there was another reason for Jesus to be baptized, for at His baptism, Jesus committed Himself to the cross. After He emerged from the waters of baptism, there was no turning back, there would be no distractions, there was no other possible ending to the story. His baptism was the visual sign that Jesus was committed to His mission all the way to His death. As Jesus went down into the waters of baptism, He was picturing His own physical death on the cross and subsequent burial, and when He was raised up out of the water, He was picturing His own glorious resurrection. His baptism, then, was also about His commitment to be obedient till death (Philippians 2:8).

APPLICATION TO THE BELIEVER

We have seen that in His baptism, Jesus inaugurated His mission, He identified as the Son of God, and He committed to the cross. But Jesus’ baptism has even more significance than that.

When I was baptized, after my pastor requested from me a verbal testimony of my faith in Jesus Christ, he said these words before he plunged me under the water: “Based on your profession of faith, IN IMITATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST and in obedience to His divine command (Matthew 28:19), I baptize you, my brother in Christ, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Buried unto death in Christ (plunge into water), rise again to walk in newness of life (bring up out of the water).”

As believers, we worship a crucified Savior, but we also worship a baptized Savior. Jesus Christ was baptized, and He thus left His disciples an example of what we are to do when we make disciples, according to Matthew 28:19. And as Jesus was baptized as a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment, so the baptism of a disciple is also a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment.

In his public baptism, the disciple publicly inaugurates his discipleship and starts his lifelong walk with Jesus. Baptism is the fitting sign to mark the start of a disciple’s earthly journey with Jesus.

Also, in baptism the disciple publicly declares his faith in Jesus and vows to follow Jesus forever. His baptism publicly identifies him as a follower of Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the baptized disciple is always identified with the crucified and risen Savior.

Finally, in the disciple’s baptism he visually makes a commitment to follow Jesus until death, no matter the cost and no matter the consequences. To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21), and so as long as he draws breath, the disciple is a committed witness for Jesus Christ.

Thus, the disciple is baptized IN IMITATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.

SDG                 rmb                 6/10/2022                   #542

Can Paul’s compassion for the Jews save? (Romans 9:1-5)

INTRODUCTION. Considering Paul’s compassion for his fellow Israelites, does this influence God’s sovereign choice? Is Paul suggesting that Israel gets special treatment because they had been “God’s chosen people?” Evaluate compassion and duty in evangelism. How can we use these ideas to equip a congregation to proclaim Christ more effectively?

These are my notes and thoughts copied from the Study Guide for “Romans” by John MacArthur. These notes are from page 75 in the chapter on Romans 9-11.  

When talking about Paul’s earnest desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites, MacArthur writes, “Paul’s love and concern for his countrymen was such that he wished he could trade places with them, literally that he could go to hell so that they might be saved.” Then MacArthur asks a question about how we might increase our compassion for the lost.

My response to that question was, “I do not see evangelism as a matter of compassion but as a matter of duty and obligation.” (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 9:16-23; 1 Thess. 2:4)

Below that answer, I observed that “Here in Rom. 9:1-5, Paul expresses his compassion for his fellow Jews.” We can see Paul’s compassion for his fellows as admirable, and it certainly is admirable, but I do not think Paul wrote these emotional words in the inspired Scripture to highlight his own compassion. Rather, I think it is more likely that Paul told of his fervent desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites to show that not even apostolic compassion or deep longing for another person’s salvation can influence God’s sovereign choice in election. Despite Paul’s most impassioned pleas and his deepest longings for the salvation of his fellow Israelites (see also Romans 10:1), God is always fully sovereign over the salvation of every human being.

THOUGHTS ON COMPASSION AND DUTY

[NOTE: In this section, “proclaim the gospel” (or something similar) refers to the believer’s intentional attempt to encounter the unsaved and to bring up topics or ideas related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We might also call this “intentional evangelism.” The believer may be “scattering seeds” or he may be “reeling in a hooked fish,” but the gospel is in the believer’s mind and winning a lost soul to Christ is the ultimate aim of the effort. This is what I mean by “proclaiming the gospel.”]

So, let’s consider compassion. Compassion is good, but compassion is unreliable. My level of compassion ebbs and flows depending on my emotional level or my physical energy, and compassion varies widely from one individual to the next. In some, compassion may motivate to action, but in others, compassion, whether great or small, does not motivate. Notice, however, that in either case, compassion cannot save. Emotional feeling for the lost cannot save them. To be meaningful, compassion must compel us to proclaim the gospel to the lost, for it is the gospel that has the power to save (Romans 1:16). Compassion that remains divorced from action is simply a feeling.

Now consider duty. As a believer, it is my duty to be Christ’s witness (Acts 1:8), regardless of my level of compassion. It is simply a matter of responsibility, part of my “job description” as a worshiper of Jesus, whether I feel emotions about it or not. (Consider these verses: Matt. 4:19; 13:3; 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 9:15-23; 2 Cor. 5:20.)

Notice also that all Paul’s compassion and emotion for his fellow Israelites did not save a single soul and did not influence God’s sovereign choice in the slightest way. Romans 9:16 says, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.” Thus, the Scripture explicitly says that salvation depends on God’s mercy, not on man’s compassion.

“Compassion is subjective, but command is objective.” This statement is not meant to dismiss human compassion, but rather is intended to put the emphasis where it will produce results. So, I witness to the lost because of the commands of Jesus Christ and because of the clear teaching of the New Testament (objective), rather than waiting until I feel compassion about the perilous position of the unsaved. To paraphrase, “To obey is better than compassion, and to fulfill your duty than to have fervent emotion” (modification of 1 Sam. 15:22). Compassion has no power to rescue the lost, but preaching the gospel, regardless of how I feel, “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16).

PRACTICAL APPLICATION IN A LOCAL CONGREGATION

With these thoughts fresh in our mind, how can we work with our congregation to make them more active in their evangelism, in “proclaiming the gospel?” My suggestion would be to make the congregation more aware of their biblical duty of witnessing for the Lord Jesus. That is, review those verses in the New Testament which make it clear that it is every believer’s duty to be a witness for the Lord Jesus and to be an ambassador for Christ. This means that the believer does not seek to win the lost primarily because they feel compassion for them, although the believer certainly should have compassion for those who are perishing. The disciple of Jesus does not sow the seed of the gospel primarily because of the emotion they feel for those outside Christ, although we should feel emotion for those outside of Christ. The believer is an ambassador for Christ and a fisher of men and a sower of the gospel seed and a witness for Jesus and a proclaimer of the excellencies of our gracious Redeemer primarily because of the believer’s love for Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the more we understand about our responsibility and our duty to be witnesses and ambassadors of the Lord Jesus, the more we will be compelled to reach the lost. So the leadership of the church (pastors and elders) focuses their teaching energies on making the congregation aware of our duty to our Lord to proclaim the gospel.

But awareness of a duty without equipping to fulfill that duty only produces guilt and resentment. So, the pastors and elders must go beyond awareness and must also train the congregation how to fulfill their duty. The leadership should provide means and methods for “proclaiming the gospel” so that the congregation can discharge their duty. This means that the leadership of the church (or other members of the church) should make available regular and tangible proclamation vehicles.

“Regular” means that proclamation vehicles are regularly scheduled on the church calendar. “Regular” also means that these opportunities for proclamation are preceded by training to equip the participants so that their experience is edifying and successful.

“Tangible” means that the proclaiming activity gives the participant the sense that they meaningfully participated in a bona fide evangelism event. The goal is for participants to have the sense that they genuinely proclaimed the gospel and discharged their duty to their King.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2022                     #538

Cinnamon whiskey

INTRODUCTION. A reflection on the emptiness of external satisfactions.

I noticed the object as I walked toward the coffee shop. From my own ill-spent youth, I recognized the object and knew its use. An empty liquor bottle, “Cinnamon Whiskey” by name, had been tossed beside the shrubs, its contents drained in the vain hope that ingesting mild poison would produce good results. I imagined the drunk who consumed the whiskey and hoped it was not some seventeen year-old trying to find meaning in a liquor bottle, not someone like me who believed that joy and hope and peace and purpose came from the outside and went in. For if purpose and joy came from the outside and went in, surely my teen years would certainly have been joyful.

But the sad reality is that there is no joy or hope or peace or purpose available from anything outside you and me, for these must come from within us. So, cinnamon whiskey going from outside me to inside me cannot change my inner joylessness. The contents of a bottle poured down my throat cannot affect my inner ocean of hopelessness. It is a lie to think that anything external to me can fundamentally change me and turn my darkness into light and my chaos into peace.

But then the question becomes, “What or who CAN change me?” If within my heart and soul is a contamination that produces an existence without joy or hope or peace, and I am unable to change myself, should I not accept abject despair as the logical response? “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?”

The Bible answers this question with “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25). There is only one answer for all of man’s questions about joy or purpose, about hope and peace, and that one answer is Jesus Christ. When all the cinnamon whiskey bottles have been drained and tossed as useless upon the garbage heap of external satisfactions, Jesus Christ will remain as King of kings and as the only satisfaction for all of our deepest longings. Only Jesus Christ can give joy and hope and peace and purpose to satisfy man’s sin-sick soul. All of these and much more are given without measure to all those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior. “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Cor. 1:20).

So, as I glanced down at the cinnamon whiskey bottle under the shrubs, I remembered with shame and pain the wasted years of my own “whiskey bottles.” But then I rejoiced that one day, for me, there was a final bottle. One day thirty years ago I met Jesus Christ and bowed my knee to Him as my Lord and Savior. At that moment, my search was over. No longer did I seek satisfaction via whiskey bottles, via any external means, for Jesus had filled me with His joy and with the hope of the resurrection and with the peace that passes understanding and with the purpose of being His ambassador to the ends of the earth. Let Jesus Christ be praised!

SDG                 rmb                 5/30/2022                   #537

Pearls from the Word: Philippians 1:6

INTRODUCTION. A series of posts on my musings on selected verses from Philippians. This post is on Philippians 1:6.

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul from prison. But despite his circumstances, Paul writes to his beloved Philippians with joy, thanksgiving, confidence, and hope as he instructs them how to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Phil. 1:6

This verse gives strong encouragement to every believer in Jesus that he or she will continue to follow Christ all their days and will, on the last day, be perfected with a glorified body to live forever with the Lord. Yes, all that is here in this verse!

GOD BEGAN A GOOD WORK

In this verse, we read that Paul is confident because God has done an amazing work here in this church in Philippi. “He began a good work.” This “good work” can be restated as, “God has saved you. You were dead in your transgressions and separated from Christ, but then you heard the gospel and believed.” The “good work” that God began in you is the work of your salvation. You have been delivered from the domain of darkness. You have passed from death to life. By grace you have been saved. The “good work” that God began in you is that you have been born again and you are now a new creation in Christ. You have been justified by faith. So Paul’s confidence about God’s good work applies to every believer, to everyone in whom God began the work of salvation.

HE WILL PERFECT IT UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS

But Paul’s confidence is also this: If God indeed began a good work in you and you have become a born-again follower of Jesus, God has guaranteed that you will persevere in your faith until the end of your life and that finally, on the last day, when Jesus returns, you will receive your perfect glorified body for your eternity with the Lord in heaven.

The New Testament is consistent and clear: every single person who has believed in Jesus Christ will believe in Him to the end. This doctrine has been called “the perseverance of the saints” and is explicitly taught in the Scriptures, not only here in this verse, but also in passages like Romans 8:30, which says, “and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Justification is the beginning of our salvation and glorification is the end. Thus we can say with confidence that every person who has been justified by faith will certainly receive their glorified body on “the day of Christ Jesus.” The God who began the work of salvation by our justification will keep us until He perfects the work by our glorification.

BUT THERE’S MORE! And God also preserves us until the day of Christ Jesus. From the moment of our justification, the Lord is actively preserving us in the faith. We persevere because God is preserving us. As we journey through this world of sin, we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), but the real power is from “God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13). Since God the Father chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and since we have been redeemed by Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7), and since we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13), we can be confident of this very thing, that God will keep us until the day of Christ Jesus.

So, fellow believer, be confident of this very thing: God has saved you, and God will preserve you, and God will give you a perfect glorified body when Jesus returns.

SDG                 rmb                 5/24/2022                   #535

Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is a collection of thoughts on the absolute nature of being righteous and being unrighteous, and of the absolute nature of righteousness and unrighteousness. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees. This is the second post in this series.

A USEFUL ANALOGY: PHYSICALLY ALIVE OR DEAD

In my previous post about the righteous and about righteousness (#533, May 20, 2022), we have been talking about the fact that, in the Bible, when used to describe a person’s standing before God, “righteous” is an absolute term, having no degrees or relative achievement. It is a state of being in which you either are or you aren’t. A good analogy to “righteous or unrighteous” is “alive or dead.” In the spiritual realm, a person is either righteous or unrighteous, and in the physical realm, a person is either alive or dead. As there are no degrees of physically dead, so there are no degrees of spiritually unrighteous. As you cannot be “mostly dead” (with apologies to Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”), so you cannot be “mostly unrighteous.” Just as a person is either physically alive or physically dead, so every person is either spiritually righteous or spiritually unrighteous.

MOVEMENT FROM ONE ABSOLUTE STATE TO ANOTHER

But this analogy is also helpful in describing the movement over time from one absolute state to another. For in each pair of absolute conditions in this analogy, there can be movement from one state to another, the movement, if it occurs, is always in the same direction, and the destination state, once reached, becomes the permanent state. Let me explain what I mean.

THE PHYSICAL PAIR

We will begin by considering the pair, physically alive and physically dead. It is plain that physically alive is the beginning state. When a person is physically alive, that person is completely alive, but at some point in time, the person stops being physically alive and immediately becomes physically dead. At the person’s death they completely change states and move from 100% physically alive to 100% physically dead. Once the person has changed states and has reached the “destination state,” “dead” becomes the person’s permanent state. That is, the person will not move from physically dead to physically alive.

REVIEW. I have gone through this process slowly and deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible (and in this case, it is inevitable) to change states and to move from alive to dead,
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, a movement from alive to dead, and
  • the destination state of “dead” becomes the permanent state for that person. From that point on, the person is always physically dead.

THE SPIRITUAL PAIR

Having examined this movement in the absolute pair of physically alive and physically dead, we will now do a similar examination in the absolute pair of spiritually righteous and spiritually unrighteous. As we have already seen from the plain teaching of the Bible, being spiritually unrighteous is every person’s beginning state (Romans 3:10-18, 23). When a person is spiritually unrighteous, that person is completely unrighteous, and there is no righteousness in him. But because of the gospel, because God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that those who are unrighteous can believe on Jesus for salvation, it is possible for the person by faith to move from the state of absolutely unrighteous to the state of absolutely righteous. The gospel also teaches that once you have moved from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, “righteous” has become your eternal state. This is because when you place your faith in Jesus, God declares you, the unrighteous, to be righteous in His sight, and God’s declaration of your righteousness is an eternal declaration. The one whom God has declared to be spiritually righteous can never be spiritually unrighteous again.

REVIEW. Once again, I have gone through this process very deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible, through the gospel of Christ, to change states and to move from unrighteous to righteous
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, and
  • the destination state of “righteous” becomes the eternal state for that person. From that point on, the person is eternally declared righteous.

As we have considered this movement between absolute states, hopefully it has become clear why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for condemned sinners. Through the gospel, the one who is fully spiritually unrighteous in God’s sight and condemned by their sin is not hopelessly doomed to hell, although that is what they deserve. All other means of rescue fail utterly, but for the one who will repent of their sin and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, their faith is credited to them as righteousness. By trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, God declares that person as being righteous, and righteous they remain eternally.

SDG rmb 5/22/2022 #534

Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. The first of a short series of posts giving my thoughts on topics like the absolute nature of being righteous or unrighteous, how it is that one who is wholly unrighteous can become fully righteous in God’s sight, how to reconcile a declaration of God’s righteousness with unrighteous behavior, and others. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees.

I want to spend the next few posts considering the concept of righteousness and what it means to be righteous, but before we get too far into these critical topics, it would be good to establish some basic ideas.

“RIGHTEOUS” IS AN ABSOLUTE TERM

Every person who ever lives is either completely righteous or completely unrighteous. That is, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are terms which represent two states or two conditions that are mutually exclusive. You are either 100% righteous or you are 100% unrighteous, and there is nothing in between. “Righteous” and “unrighteous” are words like up or down, top or bottom, yes or no, right or left, on or off, positive or negative. These “either/or” words are called “absolute words” or “absolute terms” because they have no presence of degrees; it is either one or the other.

KEY CONCEPT: In the Bible, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are absolute terms. Every person is either righteous or they are unrighteous, and there is no third category.

This is a very important concept to understand because it nullifies many of the most common descriptions of our own moral condition, descriptions which are full of relative and vague terms. When people are asked about their own righteousness or about their condition before God, they will offer something like, “I think I’m a pretty good person.” Whatever that means, it leaves THE question unanswered: “Are you righteous before God? Yes or no.”

            But why spend time thinking about righteousness? And why is it important to know whether I am righteous or unrighteous in God’s sight? Righteousness a critical topic because it is essential for salvation. To enter heaven, you must be perfectly righteous in God’s sight, and yet we are all helplessly trapped in our unrighteousness and are, therefore, under the condemnation of God. We require perfect righteousness but possess perfect UNrighteousness and are without any available means of escaping from our unrighteous state. The question thus becomes, “How can anyone be righteous before God?” This would be impossible were it not for the gospel.

DECLARED RIGHTEOUS

Since there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1, 3; Romans 3:10ff; cf. Psalm 143:2; Jeremiah 5:1; etc.) and all are therefore unrighteous before a holy God, the Lord has graciously provided the gospel as a way to save sinners. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord will declare a person to be righteous on the basis of that person’s faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord’s declaration of their righteousness in time forever transfers that person into the kingdom of the righteous.

We have just stated the good news of the gospel that God will declare any person to be righteous if that person will place their faith in Jesus Christ. So, the Lord declares them righteous by their faith and, at that moment, their righteous eternal life in Christ begins. (Have you responded to the gospel? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ?)

This is the most important message that could ever be proclaimed, that by faith God will justify (declare righteous) the ungodly (Romans 4:5), and my writing could be complete right at this point. 

BUT NOT DECLARED UNRIGHTEOUS

But, as I continued to think about the unrighteous and God’s declaration of righteousness, I noticed another idea that caught my attention.

We have said that, by faith, God declares the unrighteous person to be righteous. On the other hand, the Lord does not declare a person to be unrighteous. Why is this so? If the Lord declares a person righteous based on their faith, why would the Lord not also declare a person to be unrighteous?

The main reason is that, since every person is, by nature and by action, unrighteous (John 3:17-18), a declaration from God about our unrighteousness is unnecessary. We have all fully merited our unrighteousness by our sins. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law of God given at Sinai clearly renders us all unrighteous and our unrighteousness is evident for all to see. The sad fact is that all of us are born in a state of unrighteousness and in that state, we remain (unless we place our faith in Jesus Christ) and in that state we will die. Then, on the last day, we will be judged by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16) and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Unless we have come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are absolutely unrighteous and stand fully condemned before God. God graciously warns us about our unrighteousness and our consequent condemnation not only in the pages of the Bible, but also by the inner voice of our conscience (Romans 2:14-15), in the power and the glory of God’s creation (Romans 1:19-20), in the reading of the Law, and in the proclamation of the gospel, so man is without excuse. In short, there is so much evidence of our inherent unrighteousness that a declaration from God is unnecessary.

But there is another, perhaps more important reason God does not declare the sinner to be unrighteous. Recall that when an unrighteous person initially and savingly places their faith in Jesus, God declares them to be righteous, and because of God’s declaration, that person is eternally righteous and will never be unrighteous again. The point is that God’s declaration creates a permanent state that cannot be changed. The person’s righteousness can never be lost.

Now, if God’s declaration of righteousness created an eternal state of righteousness, then God’s declaration of unrighteousness would likewise create an eternal state of unrighteousness which could never be changed and from which the unrighteous could never escape. If God declared the person to be unrighteous, that person would be eternally unrighteous because God’s declaration (or decree) establishes the final state. Therefore, to prevent an unrighteous person from being permanently and irredeemably fixed in an unrighteous state, God withholds His declaration of unrighteousness and instead issues warnings to the unrighteous person through the Law and by means of the conscience and through the proclamation of the gospel so that the unrighteous person will repent of their sins and will place their faith in Jesus. Then God will issue His decree that this unrighteous person has now been declared eternally righteous and is bound for heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2022                   #533

John 6:31-65 – Part 2: The Father draws him (6:41-44)

INTRODUCTION. An in-depth Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts. This section of the gospel of John is important for several reasons. In these verses, Jesus gives some of His clearest teaching about the sovereignty of God in salvation, from initial choosing to final glorification. Also, Jesus here instructs us about the timing of the resurrection, that it will occur on the last day. Thirdly, in this passage, Jesus teaches using different metaphors and analogies to explain what it means to believe in Him and so helps the reader have multiple readings of the same concepts. This second part of the study is a continuation of Post #523 on 4/29/2022 and will cover John 6:41-44.

In this short passage (John 6:41-44), Jesus continues His teaching about who He is. He is the bread of life that came down out of heaven sent by God the Father so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life and will be raised up on the last day. This is a bit much for these unbelieving Jews to grasp, so they grumble.

John 6:41-42. Since the Jews continued to believe that Jesus was a mere man, simply the human son of Joseph and Mary, they grumbled at the arrogance of His saying, “I have come down out of heaven.”

6:43-44. Jesus continues His previous teaching about God’s sovereignty in salvation and about the last day (6:44). Before going on to explain 6:44, however, I wanted to review what we  covered in John 6:35-40.

REVIEW

  • In the previous section (6:35-40), we were introduced to two key phrases: those who “come to Me” (6:35, 37 (2)) and those whom the Father has given to the Son (6:37, 39), and we saw that these two phrases describe exactly the same group of people.
  • From John 6:35, we also saw that those who “come to Jesus” are the same group of people who “believe in Jesus.”
  • We also recall that John 6:39 taught us that “all the Father has given to [the Son] (i.e., all those chosen in Christ before the world began; Ephesians 1:4), these the Son will “raise up on the last day.” That is, all those given by the Father to the Son before the foundation of the world will surely be resurrected (glorified) on the last day (see Romans 8:29-30; 1 John 3:1-2). In other words, we see that God ordained the beginning and the end of salvation, and everything in between. God the Father began salvation by giving the elect to the Son in eternity past, and the Son will end salvation by raising up all the elect on the last day.
  • Finally in 6:40, Jesus again states the connection between believing in Him and having eternal life (previously stated in John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24), and we see that everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life. So there is a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and having eternal life. And from this verse there is also a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and being raised up on the last day. So, everyone who believes in Jesus will be resurrected (glorified) on the last day. [NOTE: It is obvious from this passage that the resurrection occurs on The Last Day. Literally, on The Last Day.]
  • In John 6:40, Jesus also teaches us that eternal life is not the same thing as having a glorified body or even the same thing as being in heaven. Eternal life begins when a person believes in Jesus. This is clearly stated in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” But we know that Jesus will not raise up believers until The Last Day. Therefore, all believers will spend some time having eternal life in our fallen bodies, and all believers will spend eternity having eternal life in our glorified bodies, and most believers will spend some time having eternal life as disembodied souls in heaven awaiting the resurrection.

Having reviewed Jesus’ previous teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation and the certainty of the last day, we return to John 6:44 to discover what Jesus adds to His lesson.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44

6:44. Jesus introduces us to another necessary part of our salvation. We have learned that it is necessary for us to come to Jesus to be saved, but here we read that not all have the ability to come to Jesus. “No one can come to Me (unless).” In the original Greek, the verb translated “can” speaks of ability. A possible paraphrase of this verse might be, “Everyone is unable to come to Me (unless).” A man may want to fly through the air like a bird, but he is physically unable to do that. He cannot fly. Just so, Jesus is saying that you cannot come to Him unless the Father does something first. Also, as the verse reads in the text, it appears that the “rule” is that a person is unable to come to Jesus, and that the “unless” speaks of the exception to the rule. That is, most cannot, but a few can. But regardless of whether those that come are the exception or the rule, Jesus is definitely teaching that, unless the Father draws the unsaved person, that person cannot come to Jesus for salvation. In other words, that person’s eternal salvation depends entirely on the Father’s action.

The question that must follow is, “Whom does the Father draw?” Is His choice arbitrary, just a random selection? Or is it based on the goodness of the people who are drawn, that they are the ones who are more righteous and holier than the rest? But of course Jesus’ teaching already makes clear those whom the Father will draw. The Father will draw those whom He has given to the Son so that these can (are able to) come to Jesus, and these will believe in Him for eternal life. Those who are drawn to Him and who come to Him and who believe in Him, He will certainly not cast out (6:37c), but “I will raise Him up on the last day” (6:44).

SUMMARY SO FAR

This is a good point to stop and try to summarize what Jesus has taught so far in this passage. In eternity past, the Father has given some people to Son. In time, the Father draws those whom He has given to the Son, and those whom the Father draws will come to Jesus and will believe in Jesus. Those who believe in Jesus have eternal life and they will be raised up (resurrected, glorified) by Jesus on the last day.

SDG                 rmb                 5/12/2022                   #529