In 2 Corinthians 8.7 the Apostle Paul challenges us to grow in the grace of generosity through giving:

“But as you excel in everything -in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.”

Within his textbook, Biblical Ethics, Robertson McQuilkin, formerly President and then President Emeritus of Columbia International University, likens personal giving patterns to personal maturation stages, as a metaphorical expression of spiritual maturity.   McQuilken says the Bible teaches us that our giving patterns are “Jesus’ material yardstick for measuring spiritual maturity”.

In sum, here is the “yardstick”:

  • Infancy: Non-giving
  • Kindergarten: Impulse Giving
  • Elementary: Legalistic Giving
  • Secondary: Honest Managership
  • Higher: Love Giving
  • Graduate: Faith Giving

The Conversation (Brooklyn Art Project)

Here is a challenging perspective and good instruction from Leon Brown, church planter and pastor at Crown & Joy Presbyterian Church in South Richmond, Virginia:

“I fear that one of the reasons we don’t know how to engage non-Christians to talk about Jesus is because we’ve forgotten how to have regular conversations. If the conversation is not about the Bible, a child’s education, church, other forms of ministry, or the occasional sporting event, we don’t have a paradigm for much else. If this is you, here’s a remedy. Spend more time in public places and listen to the discussions that are occurring around you. You’ll begin to notice what’s important to people. Grow in your understanding of those things. Even consider how the word of God speaks to those situations. After some time, it’ll be easier to have ‘common grace’ conversations, and you’ll be prepared to share the word in a natural manner, as the scriptures speak to many, many things.”

Preaching Gospel to Self

Paul, in Colossians 2.6, instructs us: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”  Simple words, but powerfully practical when unpacked.

How did we “receive” Jesus?  By faith and repentance – of by repentance and faith.  We are not quite sure which comes first, but perhaps that does not matter.  It may be that the order is different with different people. What matters is that genuine conversion involves both of these elements: Repentance of our sin and all our desire and attempts to save ourselves through our good behavior; Faith in the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done on our behalf, and what is offered to us in him.

If these are the two elements by which we received Jesus, then according to the Apostle’s instruction these are the two elements that should be characteristic of our day-to-day life in Jesus.  The old Puritan Thomas Watson once wisely noted: “Faith and repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.”  In other words, faith and repentance are not only the instruments by which the journey of salvation is initiated, these are the practices by which we travel.  These are the ingredients of spiritual growth leading to maturity.

The chart above reflects both faith and repentance, and provides a tool to help us be able to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.

It reminds us that when recognize sin in our lives our response should not be to simply resolve to stop it, but we need to discern it’s source.  In other words, the sin we see, the sin which shows itself in our behavior, has deeper roots and causes.  So, like an explorer commissioned to trace the a great river to discover it’s tributaries and it’s origin, we are called upon to discover what “root sins” are tributaries of our behavior, and ultimately what “idols” are the original source.  Once discovered – or even while in the process of discovery – “putting sin to death” requires that we confess it and repent of it.  All of it – the sinful behaviors, the attitudes that lead to it, and the idols that source it.  Growth in grace is greater than mere moral reform.  Growth in grace is a work of the Spirit upon the heart which eventually and inevitably leads to a change in behavior.

Yet growth in grace does not come by confession and repentance alone.  Such may lead to behavior change, if we feel guilty enough and desire to change. But that is not growth in grace.  Growth in grace requires that we believe what grace gives; that we ponder what is true, and good, and beautiful: chiefly among such things is the gospel, the good news of what God promises – and does – when we trust  in Jesus.  (Philippians 4.8)   Reminded of the truths of the gospel our hearts change; they turn toward God, causing us to hunger to grow to be more like him, and enabling us to rely on his promise that what he began he will complete.  (Philippians 1.6)

This is the spiritual discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves.

Spiritual Chrysalis

January 26, 2015

Chrysalis

In preparation for  this past Sunday message from Galatians, I again marveled at the insight and passion of Martin Luther concerning our Union with Christ:

“So far as justification is concerned, Christ and I must be so closely attached that He lives in me and I in Him. What a marvelous way of speaking!

Because He lives in me, whatever grace, righteousness, life, peace, and salvation there is in me is all Christ’s; nevertheless, it is mine as well, by the cementing and attachment that are through faith, by which we become as one body in the Spirit.

Since Christ lives in me, grace, righteousness, life, and eternal salvation must be present with Him; and the Law, sin, and death must be absent. Indeed, the Law must be crucified, devoured, and abolished by the Law—and sin by sin, death by death, the devil by the devil.

In this way Paul seeks to withdraw us completely from ourselves, from the Law, and from works, and to transplant us into Christ and faith in Christ, so that in the area of justification we look only at grace, and separate it far from the Law and from works, which belong far away…

But faith must be taught correctly, namely, that by it you are so cemented to Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached to Him forever and declares: ‘I am as Christ.’

And Christ, in turn, says: ‘I am as that sinner who is attached to Me, and I to him. For by faith we are joined together into one flesh and one bone.’

Thus Ephesians 5.30 says: ‘We are members of the body of Christ, of His flesh and of His bones,’ in such a way that this faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife.”

~ from Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4

Three Sail

Discipleship requires at least three things or its not true discipleship:

1. Gospel centered
2. Empowerment by the Spirit
3. Authentic Community

5 Obedience Killing Lies

January 20, 2015

Colorful Confusion

No doubt in my mind, it is one of the more difficult aspects of living in line with the gospel. Is it about grace, or is it about obedience?  If I say “both” – which I do – then how does this not add a requirement of works to the gospel requirement of faith alone for our justification/salvation?  If I say obedience is not necessary to our salvation – which I also say – then are we not very close to the precipice of anti-nomianism (lawlessness)?  No wonder people scratch their heads, and then revert back to patterns learned or to personal instinct – both of which are often wrong.

To avoid confusion, I answered “Yes” to both grace and obedience for a reason.  Let me clarify.

I must say that our obedience is not necessary to our salvation, because we are incapable of perfect obedience – and perfect obedience is what the Law demands.  To add any measure of obedience to our justification would be to minimize the law and deny the gospel at the same time.  Christ became like us, and lived in perfect obedience to his Father, and then died in our place, because we are not and cannot be perfectly obedient.  And it we are not perfectly obedient, we are not obedient.  But by faith, we are counted as righteous – credited with Jesus’ righteousness as if it were our very own.  But part of what we must believe, as part of that faith is that we are disobedient.  In a real sense the admission of being disobedient is requisite to be saved. How then could we say that obedience is required for salvation?

On the other hand, God does demand obedience – and he is worthy of our total obedience.  But two things occur here, in some ways simultaneously.  First, the demand for what we do not and cannot do highlights our brokenness and our dependence upon grace – the grace of a savior.  The demand, coupled with our lack of obedience, drives us to either despair or to the cross. Those driven to the cross find, not condemnation, but forgiveness and love, through unmerited grace extended to us by God, because of Jesus.  This breaking, because we become aware of our disobedience, is a necessary step toward healing and wholeness.  But second, God’s demands are not a mere bait and switch. When he commands obedience, he means it.  Inability it no excuse.  He commands because obedience not only pleases him, we find that his ways are the ways the work, that lead us to the greatest joy.  In short, we find in both obedience and our failures to obey that God’s commands are really a tremendous gift of his love.

While I hope the reader will see the dichotomy – the two distinct tracks – I also hope all will be able to see how these two tracks work together.  Obedience cannot be required for salvation, because it denies both our reality and the necessity of the gospel.  But in walking with God, obedience is expected – though we fail, and are reminded of our continual need of grace – but it is expected, demanded, because through obedience we are able to bring joy to both God and ourselves.  Failure, or disobedience as a Christian does not cause the forfeiture of our salvation; but as Job discovered, we can forfeit the grace of joy that would otherwise be ours – and rob God of the joy that we would give to him.  But if that drives us back to the cross, we find grace anew, and we are renewed in faith, strength, to experience the joy that comes through gospel-prompted obedience.

Because this can be such a dizzying subject, I was appreciative when I recently read a short piece by Brad Watson, titled 5 Obedience Killing Lies.  Watson rightly notes:

Our ability to quit and become sidetracked is great.

I believe we get sidetracked by the confusion of the place of obedience, as well as by many other things that creep into our consciousness that hinder our pursuit of obedience.  Watson focuses on the more practical issues, rather than the confusion of the relationship of Law vs. Grace.  As he says in his article:

Our hearts are constantly being attacked by lies that keep us from persevering in faith. These five lies are particularly successful. They are deceptive and effective in killing our conviction to follow Jesus and trust in his work.

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Hurt People Hurt People

January 15, 2015

There is an old expression that has long stuck in my mind: “Hurt people, hurt people.”  In other words, those who are hurting often lash out in some way and hurt others around them; and those who lash out are often themselves hurting on the inside.  Sometimes the offending individual is self-aware, but often the hurt person who is hurting others is neither conscious of their own pain nor of how they are effecting others. It is a viscious cycle.

In this video, Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte area, and former Indianapolis Colt & Carolina Panther Defensive Back, touches on this very issue. The gospel addresses this issue, freeing the one who has been hurt from hurting others, and freeing those who are being hurt to understand and forgive.