A “checklist” for measuring a disciple’s progress

I have been a disciple of Jesus Christ for more than thirty years. I met the Lord when a friend and I were climbing Half Dome in Yosemite National Park in September 1990. After my conversion, I was baptized upon profession of my faith in Jesus in April 1991 and began my walk as Jesus’ disciple. Since that time, I have been a student of discipleship, seeking to define and measure spiritual growth as the disciple of Christ matures and changes, as the disciple grows in Christlikeness.

Recently I have developed a “checklist” for assessing growth as a disciple and have put that checklist on my website so that others can access it. You can see that list at this link:

https://roysreflections.com/are-you-growing-in-christ-and-as-a-disciple-of-christ-a-disciples-spiritual-checkup/(opens in a new tab)

This checklist will be one of the tools that I am including in an upcoming book on the broader topic of Discipleship. That work will probably be completed sometime in 2023. RMB

SDG                 rmb                 6/8/2022                 #540

Saying goodbye

INTRODUCTION. Considering the sadness and inevitability of “goodbye.”

We waved goodbye the same way we had always waved goodbye, with Mom standing under the small wooden plaque that hung above the gate of her picket fence, “To God be the glory.” She was smiling and waving as we drove slowly past, with our windows down, smiling and waving as we yelled, “We love you,” out the window. There was a familiar ache in my chest as this woman who had loved me for fifty-seven years disappeared from the rearview mirror, knowing that she would again be alone in her small home, just her and the Lord and her thoughts. But we would come back soon and again spend time together and then again poignantly and painfully wave goodbye. We would see her again.

But we didn’t. Five days later my brother called to tell me that Mom had died. She was suddenly gone, beyond the reach of another hello. That last goodbye waving out of the car window was THE last goodbye.

GOODBYE AS THE HUMAN CONDITION

This is the nature of the human condition. Every hello is paired with its corresponding goodbye. If there is a first meeting, there will be a final meeting. A relationship begun is a relationship that will end. My mom greeted me on August 2, 1959, as her second son, still umbilically tied, was placed on her stomach. She remembered that beginning of our relationship, even treasuring the memory of the details, but I, of course, could not remember that beginning. Then, more than fifty-seven years later, after loving me for my entire lifetime, on May 12, 2017, my mom’s earthly relationship with me ended. I remember the end of our relationship, but she, of course, could not.

The older I get, the more experience I have with goodbye. This, too, is part of the human condition, for goodbyes never stop. They keep coming until our death, and no amount of practice makes them any easier.

This morning we said goodbye to dear friends who had visited us for the weekend. We hugged each other several times, wanting to delay the inevitable departure. We saw in each other’s eyes a loving affection for one another created by our love for Jesus Christ and the anticipation of separating weighed on our hearts. Then finally, begrudgingly, with a mixture of joy and sadness, we said goodbye, hoping there would be a future hello.

NO CURE FOR GOODBYE

There is no cure for goodbye in this world. Goodbye is a result of Adam’s sin in the Garden and a consequence of the fall of man. In a fallen world, there is sin and separation and death. Until there is a cure for sin and death, there is no answer for goodbye. As long as man is helpless before sin and death, man is hopeless before the pain of goodbye.

But now, for the follower of Jesus Christ, the power of goodbye has been forever broken. The good news is that, when a person says hello to Jesus and confesses Him as Lord (Romans 10:9), there will never be a goodbye. No one can snatch the believer out of Jesus’ hand (John 10:28). Jesus has promised to be with His disciples to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). God has promised to never leave His people, but rather to be with us forever (Joshua 1:5, 9; Hebrews 13:5). God is with us by His indwelling Holy Spirit from the moment of justification (Eph. 1:13; Col. 2:13) to the instant of our death, and at death we are at home with Him (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). So, with Jesus there is only hello. For His followers, King Jesus has conquered the kingdom of goodbye.

NOW GOODBYE IS ONLY TEMPORARY

But more than that, for believers in Jesus even our earthly “final goodbyes” are only temporary. We are not those who grieve like the rest who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). We worship the God of the living (Matt. 22:32), and, through faith in Jesus, we have been made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4; Col. 2:13). That means that even if we die physically, we will never die (John 11:25-26). So, while my mom’s physical death ended our earthly relationship and we will never again relate to one another as mother and son, in Christ we will forever relate to one another as worshipers of the Lord Jesus, together with a great multitude of worshipers which no one could count before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). Death and all goodbyes will be no more (Rev. 21:4) and we will be with Christ forever and ever.

SDG                 rmb                 6/6/2022                     #539

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

1 Peter 2:9 (Part 2) – Identity: chosen race, royal priesthood

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 disciple’s new identity as part of “a chosen race and a royal priesthood.” (See previous post #522 on April 27, 2022, about this same verse.)

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 the epistle, Peter 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), but now the apostle is going to tell us more about our new identity in Christ.

A CHOSEN RACE

The redeemed in Christ are, first, a chosen race. Peter declares that we believers have been chosen. But, for us to be chosen, of course, there must be someone who chose us. By whom were we chosen? The answer to that question was already provided at the beginning of the letter when Peter said we were “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1:1-2). So, God the Father chose us. When did He choose us? The apostle Paul tells us that “God the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Thus, God chose us in eternity past. And to what end did God the Father choose us in eternity past? He chose us “so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

This verse speaks of the great biblical truth of God’s election, that the Lord of the universe has chosen His people before the world began so that His redeemed people may proclaim His glory and may be witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). The people of God are a chosen race to proclaim His excellencies.

A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD

Not only are we a chosen race, but we believers are also a royal priesthood. Now, we should realize that, under the first covenant, which was governed by the Law given at Sinai in the Old Testament, it was impossible for there to be a royal priesthood. According to the Law, the tribe of Levi was the priestly tribe responsible for bringing the people’s sacrifices to God and bringing God near to the people. But the royal line of David came from the tribe of Judah. No priest was allowed to be king, and no king could become a priest. That was under the Law, the first covenant.

But now Christ has come and has ushered in the new covenant in His blood. The Levitical priesthood is gone and Jesus, the King of kings, is now our Great High Priest, so that those who have believed in Him for salvation have become a royal priesthood. We are brothers of King Jesus so we are part of the royal family of God. As the crippled Mephibosheth was allowed to eat at King David’s table as one of his sons (2 Samuel 9), so we eat as royalty at the table of King Jesus. As priests, we bring to God the sacrifices of praise and prayer and thanksgiving. We are given free access into His throne room (Hebrews 4:16) so that we can offer our requests before Him. We offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). Believers have been redeemed to be a royal priesthood so that we can proclaim the excellencies of our glorious King.

SUMMARY

The apostle addresses this epistle to aliens scattered throughout the regions of modern-day Turkey (1:1-2). If we were to meet these people, there would be little that was outwardly impressive about them. Truth be told, they were very ordinary folks, probably still rough around the edges from their former pagan lives and godless practices. “There were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” (1 Cor. 1:26). But now these ordinary aliens in Asia Minor had heard the gospel and had believed on Christ, and now they are no longer ordinary in God’s sight. Now they are a chosen race and a royal priesthood redeemed to proclaim the excellencies of God.

Next time, we will continue to examine their new identity.

SDG                 rmb                 5/27/2022                   #536

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

Providence, circumstances, and the gospel (Phil. 1:12-18)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study from Philippians 1:12-18 showing how God’s providence works through all our circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul from prison. 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).

As I was reading the section from Phil. 1:12-18, several ideas occurred to me related to God’s providence and the spread of the gospel, so I want to take a few minutes to consider these thoughts.

UNFAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES

Phil. 1:12. This verse begins the body of the letter. Paul announces that, in this one instance, his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” This by itself is fairly remarkable when we consider his circumstances. Paul has been taken out of his role of proclaiming the gospel “from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum” (Romans 15:19-20) and has been imprisoned with the praetorian guard, who would seem to be pretty “hard ground” for the gospel. Also, now that he is out of the spotlight as proclaimer of the gospel, lesser preachers have taken his place, and some of them are selfishly ambitious. So, these circumstances seem anything but favorable for the gospel.

NOT DEPENDENT ON PAUL

But we need to remember is that the progress of the gospel is not dependent on the apostle Paul. Yes, Paul is a chosen instrument of the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:15) and he is a man who is fully committed to the service of Christ (consider Phil. 1:21), but the greater progress of the gospel is guaranteed by God and so cannot be prevented by the adverse circumstances of anyone. The progress of the gospel is guaranteed by Jesus Himself (see Matthew 16:18 – “I will build My church”). Not only that, but the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), so the gospel’s greater progress does not depend on the gifts of the proclaimer. The power is in the message proclaimed, not in the one who proclaims. So, the progress of the gospel is not dependent on any human instrument, but is irresistible because God has determined that the gospel will progress until all the elect have been gathered in.

THIS ONE INSTANCE IMPLIES ALL

There is, however, another point to notice here. Paul announces that, in this one instance, his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” Next Paul describes to the Philippians how, in this one instance, God’s providence has brought about the spread of the gospel despite Paul’s “bad” circumstances. But from this one instance with Paul we can confidently extrapolate to all instances and all circumstances. That is, we can confidently assert that God, through His providence, is always causing the greater progress of the gospel. In our “good” circumstances and “bad,” when we can see His hand at work and when we cannot, God sovereignly causes all things to turn out for the greater progress of the gospel so that Christ will be glorified.

As we go into the rest of the passage, we see the details of how God used circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

Phil. 1:13. Because of his imprisonment, Paul has been taken out of the spotlight of boldly proclaiming the gospel to crowds and he no longer is “reasoning in the market place every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). Now he does not get to choose those to whom he will proclaim Christ, but he is limited to those to whom he is (probably) chained. Now Paul can only witness to the praetorian guard (1:13).

But let’s consider this for a moment. These men, who otherwise would never have known anything about Christ or the gospel, are now assigned to watch their prisoner, the chosen instrument of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul. And so these men, who would otherwise have perished, now hear an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ proclaim the gospel all day long. This is God’s providence as He arranges circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

Consider also that Paul needed to be faithful in this assignment. Paul was a bondservant of Christ and, as such, he did not get to choose his duties, but was required to do what the Master commanded. God’s providence had placed Paul in this prison at this time with these men and therefore Paul was to discharge his duties as an evangelist. Paul was faithful in this humble assignment because it was his Master’s assignment. The slave does the Master’s bidding without grumbling or complaining. APPLICATION: The believer is to be faithful to the Master whether He entrusts the believer with little or much.

Even though there is nothing in the text about this, it is interesting to speculate about the strategic significance of Paul’s evangelism among the praetorian guard. To me, it is not clear from this epistle where Paul is imprisoned. Most commentators opt for Rome, but I tend to think it was somewhere else, maybe in the governor’s palace in Caesarea. This could be supported by Acts 23-26 (see 23:35). Regardless of where Paul was imprisoned, he was closely acquainted with the elite soldiers of the praetorian guard and thus may have had access to officials. Could this have even allowed him to testify before kings or even before the emperor himself? If so, this would have been another instance of God’s providence.

Phil. 1:14. While Paul is fulfilling his assignment with the soldiers, “most of the brethren” are out “speaking the word of God without fear.” When Paul was on the scene, these brothers were content to let Paul preach. They sat back while Paul caught the heat. But now, with Paul at least temporarily taken off the field, these men have stepped into the void and begun to proclaim Christ.

Consider the effects of God’s providence here. New preachers are raised up to proclaim the gospel. These new preachers gain skills in proclaiming and they proclaim to new people. Once they have been raised up, perhaps they will continue to proclaim for years, maybe going far afield to new lands as they live for Christ. All this because Paul is providentially sidelined.

ENVY, STRIFE, AND SELFISH AMBITION

Phil. 1:15, 17. Here we encounter those preachers who “preach Christ out of envy and strife” (1:15) and who “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, thinking to cause [Paul] distress” (1:17). I am not sure exactly what was going on here, but it seems that there were some preachers who were jealous of Paul or who did not like him for some reason (maybe these were Jewish evangelists who did not like the fact that Paul did not make the Gentiles keep the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-22)), so when Paul was providentially taken out of the picture, they began to gain attention by preaching Christ, thinking that Paul would be “distressed” that they were stealing his preaching ministry.

But what actually occurs? Paul is delighted that they have stepped up into the breach. Paul was probably saying, “Finally! Let Christ be proclaimed by whoever will proclaim His name!” “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed. In this I rejoice” (1:18). More preachers means Christ will more loudly be proclaimed. Amen!

PURE GOSPEL, BUT WRONG MOTIVES

It is important to observe about these other preachers that they were not preaching error or heresy. Each time they are mentioned, their message appears to be true. They “speak the word of God” (1:14). They “are preaching Christ” (1:15). They “proclaim Christ.” Paul does not mention or even hint that their message is false, but rather that their motive for preaching is amiss. As I read this, I observe that their message is true, but their motive is impure. If their gospel had been false, Paul would not have stood for it for a moment (see Galatians 2:11-14) but would have exposed their error (see Galatians 1:7-10). But Paul ignores their personal attacks on him and, instead, celebrates the fact that there are more voices proclaiming Christ. “In this I rejoice” (1:18).

SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE

It is fascinating to see how the simple act of putting Paul in prison (God’s providence) produces so much progress for the gospel. Many would see the imprisonment of the apostle Paul right at the peak of his ministry as being a severe blow, but God, whose “sovereignty rules over all” (Psalm 103:19) and “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), has ordained that this “bad” circumstance would advance the gospel (consider Gen. 50:20). Paul evangelizes the praetorian guard while other preachers are raised up who speak the word of God, who are preaching Christ, and who proclaim Christ so that Christ is proclaimed.

SDG                 rmb                 5/18/2022                   #532

When I am discouraged, obedience is difficult

INTRODUCTION. Another post (see #530 on May 13, 2022) on the subject of discouragement and how the believer can and should fight to be free of this condition.

I have posted two articles recently on this idea of fighting discouragement. My purpose has been to help believers see that, of all people, we have the most reasons to be encouraged, and that discouragement should be a place where we spend very little time.

The first article (post #528 on May 11, 2022) was on changing our mental diet. The idea is that the main contributor to being a discouraged Christian is not being careful about your mental diet. Therefore, starve your mind of dwelling on discouraging thoughts. Do not allow your mind to eat any mental food that discourages, but rather train your mind to remain fixed on God’s goodness, on the blessings He has bestowed on you and promised you, and spend large amounts of time in God’s Word, the Bible.

The second article (post #530 on May 13) was about how many of the ideas that would lead to discouragement for the unbeliever should not affect the believer because of the promises given to the believer in the Bible.

In this article, my main idea will be to show that it is difficult for the discouraged Christian to be an obedient Christian. Now, this may sound strange at first. How would discouragement make me less obedient as a believer? What is the connection between obedience and encouragement? Well, consider the following situations.

  • The Scripture commands us in many places to be thankful and the believer has uncountable reasons to thank God no matter what the circumstances, but when you are discouraged, how can you be thankful to God? Are you going to thank God for the things that discourage you? No, you are not. So, the discouraged person is not a thankful person. But the believer knows that not being thankful is a sin. It is disobedient to not be thankful. The fact is that discouragement hinders or stops thankfulness, so discouragement must go! So, when you are discouraged, even for a moment, begin thanking God for all His goodness and provision to you. Soon you will not be discouraged!
  • Jesus Himself gives His disciples a “new commandment” in John 13:34, that we are to love one another. This is a direct command from the Lord Jesus. The believer is to focus on loving others and not focus on himself. But when a person is discouraged, they are usually focusing on self, not on others. Being self-centered and selfish is a sin (Phil. 2:3-4).  Instead of being focused on self and feeling sorry for yourself, immediately begin praying for someone you know and consider how you can do a better job of giving yourself away for others (2 Cor. 12:15).
  • The Bible gives us many commands to rejoice, but how can you obey those commands when you are discouraged? Rejoice always. (1 Thess. 5:16). Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1). Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice (Phil. 4:4). It is difficult to obey the command to rejoice if your heart is heavy and you are discouraged. On the other hand, it is hard to be discouraged if you are rejoicing in the Lord! Will you be obedient and rejoice, or will you be discouraged and disobedient? Sing! Rejoice! Praise the Lord!
  • The obedient believer is content in all circumstances (Phil. 4:12), and the believer’s contentment testifies to God’s generosity toward His children. But when the believer is discouraged, it is very easy also to be discontent. Your discouragement will poison your contentment and will often lead to grumbling about what God has not provided or to coveting what others have and you want. Discouragement endangers your contentment. So, deliver yourself from your discouraging thoughts and you will see contentment return. The Lord provides!
  • We have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). We are to be a “people for Christ’s own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). The believer is “to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed” (Titus 3:1), and “to be careful to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:8). Every believer has been created in Christ Jesus (born again, saved, converted, redeemed, etc.) to be a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and to accomplish the work God has given us to do (John 17:4). But when we are discouraged, we are not available for good works. The discouraged believer lacks the joy or the energy to accomplish the work they have been given to do. The discouraged believer is not a zealous believer. So, to engage in good deeds the believer must shed the clothes of discouragement and be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and press toward the goal (Phil. 3:14).
  • The believer is to let their light shine before men so that God is glorified (Matthew 5:16), but the discouraged believer has a dim, flickering light that does not shine before men. The encouraged believer shines forth a bold, pure light which attracts people to the light and hopefully to the Light of the world, but the discouraged believer’s light is not attractive. People are attracted by vigor and joy and life and light, and so the encouraged believer gives them a reason to draw near. On the other hand, the discouraged believer seems to feel the same heaviness the rest of the world feels, and so the world passes by. The obedient believer will let their light shine, and that means discouragement must go.
  • The believer is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Although this verse is worded as a declarative statement (i.e., a fact, not a command), it is certainly intended to be an expectation for all believers, and thus has the force of a command. The obedient believer is to proclaim God’s excellencies. But once again, we find that the discouraged believer has no voice for proclaiming the gospel and has no courage for telling of God’s excellencies. Thus, the discouraged believer is not able to obey the Lord’s command, and the primary reason they cannot obey is that they remain in a state of discouragement. Christian! Get rid of discouragement! Sing praises to the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord. Rejoice!

In conclusion, then, I offer these thoughts to encourage the discouraged to shake free of those thoughts and habits that are robbing you of the joy and vigor of the vibrant life in Christ. Change your diet to feast on the riches of Christ and the encouragement that every believer has in Him (Phil. 2:1). Give thanks! Rejoice! Proclaim! Give yourself away to others!

SDG                 rmb                 5/17/2022                   #531