The Upside Down Life #8 – Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst, Pt B

Hunger & Thirst For God’s Righteousness (Not Yours)

I. INTRO

Today we have something very important to consider.  If you’ve been around for the last year – or most of the last year, hopefully you have noticed that I have been harping about the gospel.

We’ve been saying that the Bible is NOT a disconnected set of stories each with a lesson on how to live our lives — but the Bible contains ONE single story – with three layers:

  • The first layer of every sub-story tells us what’s wrong with the human race and the world.
  • The second layer tells us what God has done to make it right.
  • And the third layer tells us how it will all end.

Good Bible exegesis (or analysis, or interpretation) will always look for these three layers in every sub-story of the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation.  Some are more specific to a particular layer, but the Bible only has one story.  If we SEE that the Bible begins to really come alive…

Over the course of the last year we have been considering what amounts to three aspects of God’s grace – we could describe them as past grace, present grace, and future grace.

  • Past grace is what the Bible calls JUSTIFICATION.
  • Present grace is what the Bible calls SANCTIFICATION.
  • Future grace is what the Bible calls GLORIFICATION.

So, we could say the believing Christian has been justified by grace, is being sanctified by grace, and will be glorified by grace.  Our past, our present, and our future are all wrapped-up in God’s grace.

We are justified, sanctified, and glorified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

We have spent most of the last year preaching and teaching about present grace the grace for sanctification, believing that most of us “get” grace for salvation but not grace for sanctification.

In my preparing for this message/sermon today I have come to believe that not only have we had a faulty belief (or understanding) of present grace (sanctification), but that we may also have a faulty belief about past grace – or justification.

Let me throw a pop-quiz at you – and then I’ll pray and we’ll jump into the sermon for today: Does God want you to try and be good?

At the risk of making some of you mad I will say – if your answer is “yes” there’s a good chance you’re still stuck in moralism. (Moralism is the anti-gospel, relegating change to will power and behavior modification techniques.)

If your answer is a genuine, heartfelt “no” then you may be on your way to understanding sanctifying grace – and what we will be talking about today – God’s imputed righteousness.

With that said I’d like to pray for our time together this morning and then we’ll begin…Eph 1:18-20:

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.”  Amen

We’ll begin with a review and then move toward a greater understanding of God’s Righteousness.

Our series is The Upside Down Life and we are taking our time moving through the introduction of what theologians believe is the greatest, most profound sermon ever given – The Sermon On the Mount, which is found in Matthew chapters 5-7.  (It’s really just an overview.)

Jesus opens the sermon with 8 distinctive markings of the Christian and the Christian life – that we have come to describe as the Beatitudes.

There is a stanza in the famous Robert Frost poem titled The Road Not Taken that helps us to understand what Jesus was saying.  While I don’t think this is what Frost had in mind, it DOES help us to reflect on our lives…

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Why would we take the road less traveled? Is the Christian life a hard road?  Yes, because in this inaugural sermon Jesus jumps below the surface and into the question of motive – why we do what we do.

To walk this road is to encounter Truth (with a capital T).  It’s the Truth about God – for God IS Truth.  AND it’s the truth about us.

Now the good news is – the gospel tells us that Jesus Christ has made a way, a road for us to walk along — with Him.  And the Beatitudes describe this less traveled way…

The road begins with admitting our spiritual poverty.  To truly/honestly acknowledge and admit our spiritual poverty leads us into a place of mourning and repentance, which, in-turn, renders in us a meekness wherein we become humble learners (or true disciples).  And as humble learners a holy craving, or longing erupts in us to know and be known by God.

Matthew 5:6 declares: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (The Beatitudes – and the SOTM ARE a road less traveled…

Here’s how King David said it in Psalm 42:1-2: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When can I go and meet with God?” (NIV)

The series is titled The Upside Down Life because the gospel-way is so counter-intuitive to the human condition – we are hard-wired in our fallen nature toward self-determination and legalism.

Last week Gene began to break down for us what it means to hunger and thirst for God – he said, first and foremost, that righteousness is not a product but a Person.

Gene likened the first three Beatitudes to a spiritual rototilling of the soul.

Gene likened a hunger and thirst for righteousness to a consuming desire for Jesus – as we become aware of hunger pangs for heaven.

Humility opens the door to holiness and happiness.

Gene encouraged us to re/discover our great Evangelical tradition of deeper encounters…

  • John WesleyHoliness not as achieving sinless perfection but as having one’s heart fully fixed on God. (His “heart was strangely warmed.”)
  • Bernard of Clairvaux – “To Thee our inmost spirit cries…[for that] which only Thou canst fill…”
  • Blaise Pascal’s “Night of Fire” in 1654 – 2 hours of “Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.”
  • D. L. Moody’s experience with God: “…I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”

And I would add Sarah Edwards (d. 1758), wife of Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, to Gene’s list.  She had such an encounter with God such that she felt her soul “being filled to all the fullness of God.” As her husband was to describe it, God had filled Sarah with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).  Most of us have wrongly determined that that kind of joy is reserved for heaven.  It’s not.  There are both a momentary and a residential joy that are available to us – no matter what our circumstances are.

Today, I’d like to zero in on the word righteousness in Matt 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they shall be satisfied.”

Here’s the BIG IDEA: The doctrine of righteousness is a part of the larger doctrine of justification (or, grace for the past).

Think of justification as one coin with two sides…

  • One side is God’s MERCY and FORGIVENESS.
  • One the other side is IMPUTED (credit) RIGHTEOUSNESS and GRACE (for sanctification).

If you’ve been going to church for a while now – you’ve probably heard a definition for justification that goes something like this:  Justification means “just as if I’d never sinned.”

Now that’s a nice play on words but it’s woefully shallow and certainly an incomplete definition.  Because it only deals with one side of the coin.

Let’s see if we can understand a little better this essential concept of imputed righteousness…

II. BODY

What is righteousness?  Righteousness is a validating performance record that opens doors (Tim Keller).

  • Job? Resume…
  • Grad school? Academic record Grades…

We tend to believe it’s the same with God – that we are to, somehow, build a resume of a moral performance record to make it into heaven.

Jesus comes along, and with the other NT writers, tells us about an absolutely unheard of spirituality, an unimaginable approach to God. Where God provides us with an unblemished record—absolutely free of charge. Not just a good record, or even a great record – but a divine righteousness – a perfect record that comes to us as a gift! 

When we have this it’s the end of our personal struggle for validation, for worth, or worthiness, and acceptability.

Apart from the Christian gospel there is no other religion or belief system that offers anything like this. 

The gospel is God developing a perfect righteousness and He offers it to us – and by THAT righteousness alone we are accepted. 

Roms 3:21: But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

Free Justification – Forgiveness AND Imputed Righteousness are essential to understanding the gospel.  Tim Keller likens it to the table in a grand banquet room…  Free Justification IS the table.  No table, no dinner…

Why is free justification so important?  Because it affects our assurance of salvation.

We begin to understand Free Justification as we consider the difference between IMPARTED righteousness and IMPUTED righteousness.  I’ll give you a brief overview of both and what IMPUTED righteousness accomplishes and then we’ll pick it up again next week…

Many churches – including the Catholic Church teach IMPARTED righteousness.

This actually can be defined as THE single issue that brought about the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther saw this afresh in his study of the first five chapters of the book of Romans.

So, what IS Imparted Righteousness?

  • The word, “impart” means to “to give.” We could also describe it as  “infused” righteousness.
  • Imparted righteousness thus declares that Christ’s righteousness is given to, or infused within – so that the believer actually becomes righteous.  (This is NOT what the bible teaches.)

Paul is not writing that we are transformed into people who possess righteousness, but rather that we have been united to Christ

And because of our union with Him (the emphasis of Romans 5), we have that which He possesses, that is, we have HIS righteousness.

Imputed Righteousness – The word “impute” means “ascribe” or “credit.” Imputed righteousness carries the theological weight of being “counted” or “considered” or “reckoned” righteous.

Within the first 12 verses of Romans 4 (this is where Martin Luther saw this) you will notice the number of times the word “credited” (in both the NIV and NASV Bibles) is used.  This word distinguishes the means of faith by which both Abraham and all other believers are justified before God.

Paul is not writing that we are transformed into people who possess righteousness, but rather that we have been united to Christ (i.e., the 30 “in Him” passages of Paul’s letters), that “in Him” — because of our union with Him (the emphasis of Romans 5), we have that which He possesses, that is, righteousness.

III. CONCLUSION — What imputed righteousness accomplishes:

  1. In God’s eyes Jesus’ perfect record is imputed to us.
  2. We are treated as if we had lived the perfect life that Jesus lived.
  3. We are given the love that Jesus deserved (through His obedience).
  4. We have the same access to the Father that Jesus did.
  5. The best news is that all of this comes not from us doing anything (i.e., works) at all, but simply by faith.

The Upside Down Life #4 – Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

I. Intro

Matthew 5:4; Hebrews 12:14-17

Today we will continue in our series The Upside Down Life, looking at the first 16 verses of Matt 5.  Today we will do some review work and unpack a few concepts in Matt 5 and then we will move into Heb 12.

(Review) Both Gene and Chris did an excellent job defining the words “blessed” (and what it means to be “poor.”)  Those notes are available here on the blog…

Review “poor in spirit”

  • Two weeks ago Chris said being “poor in spirit” is seeing our desperate need for God.
  • And then last week Gene said some pretty heavy things…
    • He said that as a church we are to be thankful that SBF has been privileged to go through all the struggles we have. God must be thrilled that there is somebody here who is broken and hungry for more… (Heavy words…a perfect message to begin our week-long fast as a church).
    • Gene went on to say SBF has lost pastors, people, programs, reputation, visible success, and a downward trend in the bank account…  [God comforts the afflicted – and afflicts the comfortable]
    • Your church is flat broke, you do not have it all together, you do not have it all figured out, and you cannot muscle, or buy, your way out of this one.
    • Blessed are those bankrupt in spirit, because they are entering the eternal reserves of the reservoirs of the God of true riches.
    • As a church we’ve been taken out to the woodshed…we’ve been spanked. Are you glad yet?  [I have a tremendous amount of respect for those of you who have stayed.]

Where do we go from “bankrupt in spirit”?  We mourn…

Today, we will look at 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”

Once we see and acknowledge our deep spiritual poverty, it gives way to a deep and utter repentance.  (There’s a difference between repentance and “relentance.”)

There is a transforming grief, or repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, and suffering that grips our world.  (“Meanwhile we groan.”)

I’ve titled the message this morning, The Unlikely Route To Joy (borrowed from a chapter heading in Dan Allender’s’ book Wounded Heart).

  • In order to become rich, we need to acknowledge and own our poverty.
  • And in order to know “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8) we must mourn.  This is the essence of living the upside down life (or counterintuitive).

I would like us to refer to mourning as a lifestyle of repentance.

For those of us who have read Pete Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, we remember that the 3rd principle of the EHC is to live in brokenness and vulnerability.

This means living and leading out of our failure and pain, questions and struggles…[1]

This is how Paul led.  In 2 Cor 12 – Paul speaks of being caught-up to the third heaven – and then he shares about his thorn in the flesh“a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

Dr. Dan Allender – “An about face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender… Repentance involves the response of humble hunger, bold movement, and wild celebration when faced with the reality of our fallen state and the grace of God…It is a shift in perspective as to where life is found…It is melting into the warm arms of God, received when it would be so understandable to be spurned.” (Wounded Heart)

**Mourning, or lifestyle repentance, is living WITH our failures, but not UNDER them.

II. BODY

With that said please turn to Hebrews 12…

If we had to boil down the book of Hebrews to a one-word description, the word would be perseverance. It is written specifically for a group of Christians who were about to quit.

Vs. 14-17 are full of some very specific admonitions to help us with engaging in a lifestyle of repentance…

14Pursue peace with all [people], and the sanctification without which no one will see [to perceive, to know, to become acquainted with by experience] the Lord.

15See to it [Looking diligently – episkapao] that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled [stained];

16that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

17For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance [NIV – he could bring about no change of mind], though he sought for it with tears.

This is a heavy passage: Esau found no place for repentance – even though he sought for it with tears.  (What are we supposed to do with this text?)

This passage offers us some insight into the reasons for Esau’s inability to come to a place of true repentance – and I believe it will help us to consider some possible issues that may be keeping us from fully knowing the privilege of repentance.

Listed in this passage are (at least) 6 admonitions that will move us toward embracing a lifestyle of true repentance…

1.  Pursue peace with all people.

Pursue: to run swiftly [NIV –  Make every effort]

Peace: from a primary verb eirēnē (harmonized relationships)

“If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”  Matthew 5:23,24 (NAS)

Roms 12:18 – “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

(In a few weeks we’ll be talking about Mat 5:9 – Peacemaker vs. peacekeeper.)

I once flew from Reno, NV to Tulsa, OK and then rented a car and drove 3 hours just to ask someone’s forgiveness after reading this passage and taking it to heart.

2.  Pursue sanctification.

Sanctification: hallowed [NIV – Make every effort… to be holy] The Lord’s Prayer (Mat 6) hagiasmos (Heb 12 – noun), hagiazō (Mat 6 – verb)

We have positional sanctification and progressive sanctification

The Gospel Is for Believers.  We Christians need to hear the gospel all of our lives because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God but on remembering what Christ did for us.  (That is what communion is all about…)

**Esau was rejected by God because he steadfastly refused to serve the purpose of God and instead served his lust for the immediate and the tangible.

3.  Pursue grace.

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” (v.15)

Grace: All that God is lavishly poured into you. If God has acted lavishly toward you, could you not be lavish to others?  Or yourself??

Jerry Bridges, in his masterpiece says, “The idea portrayed here is analogous to the ocean waves crashing upon the beach. One wave has hardly disappeared before another arrives.[2]

Pursue the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

“See to it that…no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”  (v.15)

Notice the word, “many.”

Like a small root that grows into a great tree, bitterness springs up in our hearts and overshadows even our deepest relationships.

A “bitter root” comes when we allow disappointment or expectations to grow into resentment, or when we nurse grudges over past hurts.

Eph 4:15: But speaking the truth in love we are to grow up…” In my view this passage speaks to the epitome of what it means to be spiritually and emotionally healthy

5.  Pursue purity.

“See to it that…there be no immoral…person like Esau.” (v.16)

pornos – male prostitute.  Again, Esau steadfastly refused to humble himself to serve the purpose of God.  Instead he served his lust for the immediate and the tangible.

6.  Pursue God.

Instead of being godless (or, “unhallowed, profane” – Vine’s]

Esau found no place for repentance (metanoia), though he sought for it with tears.

We usually associate tears with repentance.  And it’s true that tears very often accompany true repentance.  But here we have the instance of Esau crying for repentance but not finding it.  Why?  Esau was in “relentance,” not true repentance.

III.CONCLUSION

“Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”   Acts 3:19 (NAS)

Nothing will cause a renewed soul to hate sin so much as a realization of God’s grace; nothing will move him to mourn so genuinely over his sins as a sense of Christ’s dying love. It is that which breaks his heart: the realization that there is so much in him that is opposed to Christ. But a life of holiness is a life of faith (the heart turning daily to Christ), and the fruits of faith are genuine repentance, true humility, praising God for His infinite patience and mercy, pantings after conformity to Christ.  —The Doctrine of Sanctification by A.W. Pink.


[1] EHC: 110.

[2] Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace.

Fasting As A Form of Worship

The leaders at Southside Bible Fellowship are calling for a church-wide fast from (Monday) March 26th through our Concert of Prayer (4-6pm) on Sunday April 1st.  Directly after our Concert of Prayer we will collectively break our fast with a meal of soup and bread.  Please keep reading to consider your options…

“I humbled my soul with fasting”  (Psalm 35:13b)

In Psalm 35 King David is crying out in agonized intercession to be rescued from his enemies. Part of David’s prayer is that he has bowed-down his soul with fasting.  It is widely accepted that our soul consists of our intellect, will, and emotions.  According to Matthew 6, Isaiah 58, and Psalm 35 the overall objective of fasting is to humble our soul (or to cause our intellect, will, and emotions to bow down) so that the desires and the purposes of God can become more prominent!  When we deny our appetites and soulish longings and turn to the Lord through worship, Christian meditation, supplication, and intercession there is a supernatural grace released upon us to see God’s heart and will.  The idea is to set aside regular times during a fast in order to seek the Lord and cry out for His kingdom to increase and for His will to be done – IN us and THROUGH us.

Matthew 6 describes and instructs us in three primary spiritual disciplines.  The chapter opens by encouraging us not to practice our “acts of righteousness” publicly; and if we do, we shall have no reward from our Father in heaven.  The three spiritual disciplines are giving, prayer (we are to pray secretly, sincerely, and specifically), and fasting.

Isaiah 58 is probably the best and most concise instruction on the spiritual discipline of fasting in the Bible.  Verse six lists the four reasons for fasting:  “To loosen the bonds of wickedness,”  “To undo the bands of the yoke,”  “To let the oppressed go free,” and to “break every yoke.”  Verses 8-14 contain some amazing promises concerning the fruits, or benefits, of fasting.

A simple definition for fasting would be voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings for spiritual reasons.  The Bible speaks of it not as an option but as an expected and regularly practiced spiritual discipline.  The following are some of the purposes for fasting; these also convey some of the benefits of fasting:

1.   Fasting will sharpen our focus in prayer.  (After we get beyond the initial discomfort caused by our various addictions such as coffee, sugar, etc.)

2.   Fasting will cause us to be more sensitive to God’s guidance in our lives.

3.   Fasting is a sign of humble repentance and expressing to God our desire to be responsively obedient to His will and direction for our lives – both individually and as a church.

4.   It was common in biblical times to fast when the need for protection and/or deliverance was great.  An excellent example is when Queen Esther called for her people to fast with her when she appealed to the king to spare the Jews (see Esther 4:16).

5.   As David articulated in Psalm 35, fasting can be an expression of simple humility before God.

6.   Fasting, or the servant-leaders calling for a fast, can be the result of God’s people seeing a need and expressing their concern.  When Nehemiah heard about the great distress, reproach, and the broken down walls in Jerusalem the Bible tells us that he sat down and wept and mourned for days, and then fasted and prayed until the Lord revealed His plans (see Nehemiah 1:3-4).

7.   When Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness after His baptism He was strengthened spiritually against the strong temptations of Satan.  In fact, in Luke 4:14 it says that, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit(emphasis added).

8.   Fasting can be simply an act of worship and adoration with no other purpose than to ascribe glory and honor to God.

There are many different ways to fast.  We can fast food and just drink water or juice, we can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (this has been called a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17), we can choose not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates, we can fast one or two meals a day, we can fast from sun-up to sun-down.  Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).  We can fast television or the internet and pray instead!  Before we fast it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate.

We are in a season of transition at Southside Bible Fellowship. There are several excellent reasons for us to embark on a corporate fast:  Over the last 2-3 years there has been relational tearing and woundedness. We want to fast and ask God to show us how to specifically engage in the ministry of reconciliation with those who have been hurt. We want to identify and “own” our past dysfunctions as a church — and repent and forsake them. We want to fast and ask God to once again visit us with salvations.  We want to fast for a fresh understanding of what it means to delight in God – as well as what it means for God to delight in us.  In addition, prayerfully consider any supplemental personal and family needs so that you will fast with a strong sense of God’s heart – asking for His “kingdom to come and His will to be done” IN you and THROUGH you.  May the Lord strengthen you and encourage you through a mighty demonstration of His power and might!!

The Upside Down Life (#1) – An Indepth Look At Matthew 5:1-16

The Way In Is the Way On.  An Overview of the Beatitudes…

I. INTRO

I have been serving here at SBF for 11 months now – and I can tell you that everything we have been studying up to this point has been preparing us for the study we are about to embark on…

We will take our time and work through the first 16 verses of Mathew 5.  These are also the first 16 verses of the most famous sermon of all time – The Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), which consist of chapters 5-7.  They are all red-letter verses, in other words these are the words of Jesus.

Here’s what John Stott the late pastor, author, and missiologist has said about the SOTM:

“The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do.”[1]

Now, reading the SOTM only takes about 10 minutes so it’s widely thought that Matthew is giving us the “Cliff Notes” version (i.e., highlights).

We need to make some theological distinctions as we lean into the Beatitudes and the SOTM…

Some of the theological roots of SBF include what’s known as a dispensational[2] view of the Bible.

Dispensationalists and most of the rest of Evangelicalism would differ on the interpretation and application of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM).

Classical dispensationalism would argue that the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are not gospel but pertain to life in the millennial kingdom after to the second coming of Christ.[3] (If you have a Scofield Study Bible – that would emphasize the classical view of dispensationalism.)

It should be noted that there are more moderate views of dispensationalism.  If you have a Ryrie Study Bible – he’s a more moderate dispensationalist.  Yet he would still believe that primary fulfillment of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are in the millennial kingdom.[4] (Popular contemporary dispensationalists include John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll.  I have also heard that John MacArthur has become more moderate in his dispensationalism, but I don’t have first hand knowledge of that.  Charles Swindoll would also be considered a more moderate dispensationalist.)

The basic evangelical approach is to recognize that the kingdom of God has come in the person and work of Jesus. (Mk 1:15: “kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel). This “kingdom now” theological perspective teaches that Jesus established the kingdom of God (KOG) at His first coming and will consummate the KOG at His second coming – and we live in the age (or dispensation) between the two.  One theologian, George Ladd, has said we live in the presence of the future – between the already and the not yet.[5]

So, how will this affect our study of the Beatitudes?  I believe the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) ARE for today – and that they are the means to allowing the gospel to be worked into our lives – and then through our lives to others.

Here’s how I would say it: “The Gospel is not advice, it is news.”  (Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness, Crossway 2011: 188.)  It is the ultimate Good News.  I would suggest to you that Sunday Services are not primarily the place to give advice… Gospel-centered (or Christ centered) change (i.e., sanctification) is rooted first and foremost in remembrance. We are to remind one another primarily of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.

We cannot commend what we do not cherish.  -John Piper

And the essence of Christian maturity is when the Gospel – or, what Christ has done — gets worked IN – and then THROUGH our lives – which is what I’d like to spend our remaining time considering – and this will be the main intent of our series.

Today we will take a look at the Beatitudes.  Allow me to offer a few introductory thoughts.

II. BODY

Contained in the Beatitudes are eight qualities that characterize the life of Jesus Christ, and therefore, through conversion, they begin to characterize our life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls us to follow him, surrender to Him, and to depend upon His strength and power.

The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning “blessed.”

More specifically the word means exalted joy, or true happiness. (Joy is not always exuberant, but can also be described as calm delight in even the most adverse circumstances.  Joy fueled Paul’s contentmentPhil 4:11.)

With the beatitudes, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive.  (This is why, at face value, it’s harder to be a Christian than Jewish…)

What made Jesus a threat to everyone and the reason He was eventually killed was that in His encounters with people (particularly the religious leaders), He exposes what they were on the inside.  Some people find it liberating – others hate it.  (Mat 23:27: hypocrites and whitewashed tombs.)

The Beatitudes, I have come to see, is our surrendered response to the Gospel.  I see the Beatitudes as a step-by-step spiritual formation process that moves us toward spiritual depth and maturity.  This becomes cyclical as we grow deeper and deeper in our faith.  The Beatitudes become the outworking of the Gospel IN and THROUGH our lives.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit…

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Petersen – MSG)

Another translation renders this verse, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP)

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?  A desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for God’s mercy and grace to come and refresh the soul.  In a word, it is DESPERATION.

Prodigal Sons (Lk 15:11-32) The younger prodigal came to the end of himself (v.17) and though he had no idea of the Father’s love, made his way home.

In the recovery movement this would be similar to steps 1 & 2:

  • Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

2. Blessed are those who mourn…

I have a river of sin in my life – with 3 primary tributaries…

  1. Original sin (Adam & Eve traded the presence of God for the knowledge of God – and that’s been our core tendency ever since…).
  2. Family of origin issues. (We all have negative traits and generational sin patterns that we bring into our Christian experience.  Are you in touch with yours?)
  3. My own dumb choices.

As we are honest about the sin that has infected us there will be a transforming grief and accompanying repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, lust, and suffering that grips our world.

I want to own my sin everyday.[6]

This is where the upside down life comes into play.  The Beatitudes are counterintuitive (paradox: seeming contradiction).  We go down to go up; death precedes resurrection; we get to joy by traveling through grief.  Our soul wants to find a way around grief, but God says, “No, you must travel through grief – and the good news is, He says, “I’ll go with you and we will do it in My strength and power.”

The way of the Gospel is a death and resurrection cycle…

**The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine.

3. Blessed are the meek…

Rick Warren would say, “Meekness is not weakness, but the power of your potential under Christ’s control.”  The concept of meekness describes a horse that has been broken.  We can either surrender to Christ and invite His breaking, or remain the undisciplined and wild stallion.

Grieving over sin and suffering grows meekness in us and delivers us into a humble learning posture (disciple means learner).

4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Spiritual hunger and thirst is the growing desire to be empty of those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates a deep longing for wholeness in our lives.

5. Blessed are the merciful…

Mercy is entering into another persons feelings – attempting to see things from another person’s perspective – all with understanding AND acceptance…just like Jesus has done for us.

As we receive God’s mercy we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.

6. Blessed are the pure in heart… Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

Did you know that your virginity CAN be restored?

2 Cor 11:2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

7. Blessed are the peacemakers…

Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness.  Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.

Our Western concept of peace needs to be considered in the light of the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM — and means more than our limited understanding of peace (i.e., the lack of conflict).

Biblical SHALOM means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts are fruitfully employed — all under the arc of God’s love. Shalom is the way things ought to be.

Neal Plantinga – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight.”

I will also say there is a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.

To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost.  Peacekeeping creates a false peace.  Many of us live out our lives with this false peace and say nothing or do nothing to change it—in churches, homes, work places, marriages.

Examples:

  • Someone makes inappropriate sexual comments to you at work.  You know its not accidental because its repetitive and degrading.  But you keep your mouth shut because you know they’ll threaten your job or make you miserable if you say anything.
  • A family member makes a scene at a family gathering.  It embarrasses you, the rest of the family, but you say nothing.  You keep the peace because to go there would unearth a lot of stuff that you just aren’t willing to deal with.
  • Your spouse makes insulting remarks to you or humiliates you publicly through critical tone of voice.  It grates on you.  But you keep silent because you want to keep the peace.

8. Blessed are the persecuted… Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it (usually it’s “religious,” moralistic people!).

III. CONCLUSION

Without the knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the Cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform.  But without the knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us – or move us to deny and repress it.

By walking the way of the Beatitudes we hold our depravity and the Cross in a healthy and dynamic tension that will lead to transformation and renewal.


[1] The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, InterVarsity Press, 1978:15.

[2] Dispensationalism is a theological system that teaches biblical history is best understood in light of a number of successive administrations (dispensations) of God’s dealings with humankind. It maintains fundamental distinctions between God’s plans for national Israel and for the New Testament Church, and emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church prior to Christ’s Second Coming.

[3] As one dispensationalist put it, “this Sermon cannot be taken in its plain import and be applied to Christians universally…It has been tried in spots, but…it has always been like planting a beautiful flower in stony ground or in a dry and withering atmosphere” (I. M. Haldeman, The Kingdom of God, p. 149).

[4] The moderate dispensationalist [still] views the primary fulfillment of the Sermon and the full following of its laws as applicable to the Messianic kingdom” (Dispensationalism Today, 107-08).

[5] A good primer on this alternative to dispensationalism view would be the “The Gospel of the Kingdom” by George Ladd.

[6] “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:1-2 (ESV)

The Church Gathered and the Church Scattered

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled[1] [to settle accounts – as in a bank statement] us to Himself through Christ [who paid our debt – the cross is where God’s justice and God’s mercy kiss] and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word [logos, or doctrine] of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors [diplomats, emissaries, representatives] for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us [sometimes the best way to “preach” to someone is to listen to them]; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [THAT is the gospel – Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. We don’t live in our own strength – we live IN Him – or His strength].

Did you know that there are currently 38,000 Pro-test-ant[2] denominations?  Catholics have multiple orders (Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, etc.), but have managed to stay under the umbrella of Rome.

I. INTRO

I’d like to speak with you today about the Church GATHERED and the Church SCATTERED.  First, the nerdy Stuff…

  • Ecclesia (Latin) Greek – κκλησί, meaning “congregation” or “church.” The literal translation is “called out ones.”
  • Ecclesiology – Refers to the theological study of the Christian Church.

1. Who is the Church? (Not What…?) It is the body of all believing, or confessing, Christians.  SBF is a unique expression of the larger Body of Christ.

2. What is the authority of the Church?

  • Jesus is the head of the body, the Church (Col 1:18)
  • Jesus is the Senior Pastor. 1 Peter 5:4 identifies Jesus as the “Chief Shepherd.” [A church in transition shouldn’t get a pastor until they don’t really need one.]
  • The Bible is our highest and final authority. Sola Scriptura, not solo Scriptura.

3. What is the relationship between a believer and the Church? As believers we are to submit ourselves to Jesus – the Head and Chief Shepherd of the Church.  There are three overlapping commitments that make up a healthy and vibrant church experience:

  • Celebration (Worship)
  • Congregation (Identity needs met) Acts 2:42-47

42 “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

  • Cell (Intimacy and accountability needs met)

James 5:16: Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”

4. How should the Church be governed?

8 Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH,
HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES,
AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”  9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers [also add elders and deacons], 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,

5. What does the Church do?  The church exists in two modes:

  • We gather for worship.
  • We scatter for mission.

II. BODY

We will now take a deeper look at what it means to gather for worship and scatter for mission

  • Gather for worship
  • Requires purposeful participation — moving from passive observation to active participation.

(Our identity) Eph 1: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself…”

Even before He made the world God chose you and adopted you, it gave Him great pleasure, God loved, chose, and adopted you.  You are His unique and special possession.

This is what we need to see: Coming is not an event; it is the fulfillment of God’s prehistoric (pre-history) desire.  God created Adam and Eve – it was good.  God wanted to be with people… (Some of you don’t even want to be with people J)

OT – they built a Tabernacle because God wanted to meet with His people.

It’s not our desire – it’s God’s desire – made possible by the blood of Jesus.  Church is not primarily about us – it’s primarily about God.

**We gather to, for, and around Jesus.

Our being here is all about Him – and sometimes competes with our expectations, needs, and desires.

Jesus is the head, the goal, chief shepherd – He’s the Sr. Pastor. He owns and loves the Church. He’s the object our worship, our preaching, and our mission.

The church is all about Him.  It’s not about music or the preaching – although, hopefully they are both focused on worshiping Jesus.

The music and the sermon are BOTH acts of worship (difference between a lecture and a sermon… “if people are taking notes at the end of a sermon it might not BE a sermon…”

If your Christianity is just about going to church then you don’t have Christianity, you have “Churchianity.”

Exalting only Jesus – giving all of our attention to Jesus

Sometimes it’s a sacrifice of praise (Hebs)

Our destination is always Jesus – give ourselves and assume a posture of personal humility, worship, and prayer.

Christ is present and available.

Ps 116:  1 I love the LORD because he hears my voice
and my prayer for mercy.
2 Because he bends down to listen,
I will pray as long as I have breath!
3 Death wrapped its ropes around me;
the terrors of the grave overtook me.
I saw only trouble and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“Please, LORD, save me!”
5 How kind the LORD is! How good he is!
So merciful, this God of ours!
6 The LORD protects those of childlike faith;
I was facing death, and he saved me.
7 Let my soul be at rest again,
for the LORD has been good to me.
8 He has saved me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
9 And so I walk in the LORD’s presence
as I live here on earth!
10 I believed in you, so I said,
“I am deeply troubled, LORD.”
11 In my anxiety I cried out to you,
“These people are all liars!”
12 What can I offer the LORD
for all he has done for me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and praise the LORD’s name for saving me.
14 I will keep my promises to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.

15 The LORD cares deeply
when his loved ones die.
16 O LORD, I am your servant;
yes, I am your servant, born into your household;
you have freed me from my chains.
17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people—
19 in the house of the LORD
in the heart of Jerusalem.

Praise the LORD!

Scatter for mission

The term “missional church” may be a new term for you.  Here is the main idea:  We serve a missionary God, who crossed the ultimate cultural contexts to become one of us.  Jn 1:14 (MSG) The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.

The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Holy Spirit – and the Holy Spirit sends us.

Attractional model vs. a missional model.  In the end we want both.

What we are seeking to accomplish here at SBF can be defined as a “missional reorientation.”

At a very deep level we are redefining success:  It’s not about the 3 B’s (building, budget, and butts); it’s about how many people are we training and sending to be missionaries in their unique spheres of relationships.

Mat 28:18-20: 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Three things:

  1. All authority has been given to Jesus – and He is with us/you always. Our responsibility is basically twofold: a) stack kindling and b) splash (preach).  (D.L. Moody – At any moment we ought to be willing to preach, pray, or die.)
  2. “Go therefore” (Go ye) is the mission of the church.  Are we a “come ye” church, or a “go ye” church?
  3. Make disciples.  I’d like you to view every single person in your various spheres of relationship as a disciple…

[1] To “change or exchange” – it is God moving from hostility to friendship. Reconciliation is what God accomplishes, exercising His grace towards sinful humankind because of the sacrificial death of Christ in propitiatory [or appeasing] sacrifice under the judgment due to sin.

[2] The quotation “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act III, scene II. The phrase has come to mean that one can “insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying.”

A Generous Life #5 (of 6) 2 Cor 9:1-7

Reciprocity Reconstructed – 2 Cor 9:1-7

 I. INTRO

Where are we headed today?  The BIG IDEA is reciprocity reconstructed.

I would like to begin, however, with a review of our foundational verse in this series – and in this section (chapters 7-8): 2 Cor 8:9.

Then we’ll define, deconstruct and then reconstruct this concept of reciprocity – and then use that concept to help us unpack the three key verses in our passage today (primarily vs. 6,7, & 8).

Part of the teaching today will be a critique of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, sometimes referred to as Health & Wealth or Name It And Claim It.  Sadly, this message has seeped into the Evangelical landscape of North American Christianity.  And what’s even sadder is that it is being exported to third-world countries through infected missionaries and ministries.  But more about that in a few minutes…

Let’s begin by going back to our foundational verse for this series: 2 Cor 8:9, which identifies Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived…

2 Cor 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

This is a rich (no pun intended :)) theological statement, which anchors this section on practical Christian stewardship. It identifies the ultimate example of (self) giving – how and why Jesus so fully and completely gave Himself (Christology).

This verse invites us to ask and answer three questions:

1. How rich was He?  No one ever started so rich as the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ps 50:12b: “For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”

2. How poor did He become? No one ever became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 5:21: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

3. How rich do we become? No one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Eph 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” [no need for a second blessing]

Our “riches” in Christ include: Justification, forgiveness, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, partakers of the divine nature, new heart, new will, new creation, imperishable inheritance — the inheritance is Him.  We’ve been invited into the Trinitarian dance…

OK, with Paul’s lesson of Christology, let’s consider Reciprocity Reconstructed.  What does reciprocity mean? (Definition, Deconstruction, Reconstruction)

Definition: rec·i·proc·i·ty [res-uh-pros-i-tee] noun

A reciprocal state or relation.

Reciprocation; or mutual exchange.

Deconstruction: The word reciprocity has been adulterated by the (so called) Prosperity Gospel movement (i.e., “word of faith,” “positive confession,” “health & wealth gospel,” etc.) claims the Bible teaches financial (& physical) blessing is the will of God for Christians. Their doctrine teaches that:

  • Faith,
  • Positive speech, and
  • Donations to Christian ministries

Will always increase material wealth and physical health.  At the root of this “false” doctrine is their belief that God’s promise of dominion to Israel applies to Christians today.

Paul clearly warns against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warns against ministries who stir up – and teach the desire to be rich.

1 Timothy 6:9-10: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Reconstruction: The reciprocity of the gospel exchanges my sin for Christ’s righteousness. Martin Luther calls it, “the great exchange”…

Luther says, “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.”

So, the Health & Wealth folks have cheapened the concept of reciprocity – and made it about materialism.  Kind of an Americanized brand of Christianity…

II. BODY – now let’s take these concepts and move into our passage for today…I’ll give a cursory view of the first five verses and then we’ll unpack vs. 6,7, & 8.

The ministry of giving in Corinth – 9:1-5:

  • Paul’s reminding them of their initial commitment to give – vv. 1-2.  Paul’s comment that the Corinthians’ initial zeal to give stirred up “most” (v.2) of the Macedonians is a healthy dose of realism.
  • In other words, not all the believers in Macedonia gave generously with joy in the midst of their poverty and affliction (cf. 8:1-5).
  • In vs. 3-5 we see Paul’s purpose in sending Titus –
    • Paul’s initial excitement has been somewhat tempered. Titus has come from Corinth with the discouraging report that the collection has, basically, been put “on the back burner.”
    • Paul expresses some disappointment here these verses.  Paul views stewardship and living out the generosity of Jesus as an important component of discipleship.  Paul had hoped they were farther along.
  • He is also attempting to prolong the friendly competition between the Macedonians and the Corinthians.

Verses 6-11 help us to understand and apply the principle of reciprocity in Christian giving…

In v.6 we encounter the illustration of “sowing” and “reaping”

Now I’m not a farmer (I could kill an artificial plant!), but in farming, what may initially appear to be a loss (“sowing”) – in due time, it will produce a gain (“reaping”). As one sows, so one reaps.

So, we need to ask what determines whether a gift is “sparing” or “bountiful”?  It is not determined by the quantity, but by:

  • The means of the giver (we learned from chapter 8 that giving is to be in proportion to our wealth (cf. 8:3,11,12; 1 Cor. 16:2); and
  • The heart (mind/mood) of the giver (it is possible to give a lot of money, but still be sowing “sparingly” (cf. 8:1-5; 9:5b).

In v.7 we encounter the pattern for generous stewardship. There are six parameters:

  1. Universal (“Let each one…”)
  2. Personal (“just as s/he has purposed in his heart”). Many commentators say that if Paul had believed that we should begin our giving with a tithe, he would have reiterated that here.
  3. Choice/Resolve (“as he has purposed;” this verb proaireomai, found only here in the NT, means: to choose deliberately or to make up your own mind about something.)  In the end only you and God will know if you are sowing sparingly or bountifully.
  4. “Not Grudgingly,” or, without regret. Lit., “not out of sorrow;” i.e., giving and then grieving over the fact that money is gone; thinking of all the things you could have purchased with the money.
  5.  “Not Under Compulsion. No force – psychological, guilt-driven, or otherwise.
  6. Cheerful. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is hilaron, from which we get out English word “hilarious.”  What does it mean to be a cheerful, or hilarious, giver?  It means that we find our joy, our delight, our pleasure in the generosity of Jesus Christ and we give out of a worshipful, joyful heart – as we remember what Jesus Christ has done.  Is it an act of faith?  Yes.  We sow and we wait…

III. CONCLUSION

What if the cheerfulness of responsive obedient giving is not there?

I’ll suggest three things[1]:

  1. Don’t say it doesn’t matter how you feel. Confess the sin of joylessness (yes, joylessness is a sin). Acknowledge the coldness of your heart.  (Money might be one of your root idols!)
  2. Pray earnestly that God would give to you, or restore, the joy of responsive obedience.
  3. Go ahead and do the outward dimension of your responsive obedience in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.

Paul envisions us joyfully and bountifully sowing in the light of God’s faithfulness — that we might give as a response to His joyful sacrifice and righteousness. (Heb 12:2: “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross.”)


[1] Adapted from John Piper, Desiring God: 248-249.

Book Review: Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn

by Joe Plemon on July 15, 2011

Managing God’s Money, Randy Alcorn’s most recent book, is a life changer.

I say this because the book has been a catalyst in initiating conversations with my wife that we never would have had otherwise. We already knew that everything belongs to God. We already understood the principles of being property managers for God. We were even tithers, and we felt good about it. But things are now different; instead of smugly believing that God is surely proud of us for how we manage his money, we are now investigating ways to go beyond a tithe, to dedicate all of our assets to His glory and to intentionally invite some trepidation into our financial lives by giving away much of the nest egg we have accumulated.

I believe the power of this book is Randy’s ability to move us from doctrine to practice. It is one thing to give mental assent to a truth, but a wholly different thing to openly seek just how it should be applied to one’s life. Money issues, being money issues, are much easier for most of us to assign to our subconscious, but Managing God’s Money forces confrontation, moving these issues from the head to the heart. As one would expect, Alcorn leads with scripture, using it extensively to give the reader God’s take on His money.

What do I like best about the book? Tough question. I read it with a yellow highlighter at my side, and was amazed that I didn’t run it dry. But let me share just a few portions that were life changing for me:

Am I the rich fool from Luke 12: 16-22?

It is easy to read this parable and discuss how this rich fool had his priorities scrambled, all the while being glad that we are not rich like him. However, as Alcorn points out, all Americans, by world standards, are indeed rich. He contrasts this man with the poor widow who gave her last two coins to the Lord, then throws us this zinger:

Let’s be honest – if asked, wouldn’t many of us congratulate the rich fool for his entrepreneurial enterprise and warn the poor woman to hold on to what little money she had?” See what I mean?

Heaven and finances

Many of us are foggy minded about storing treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) because we are foggy minded about heaven. The section “Our Stewardship in Eternity’s Light” opened my eyes to the realities of heaven and therefore motivated me to store more treasures in my eternal home. Another life changer.

Tithing

True confession: I have read so much about tithing that I had little expectation of learning anything new on the topic. Was I ever wrong! My problem is that I had read what others thought about tithing without actually reading what the Bible has to say. Alcorn explains the Old Testament teachings and clearly rebuts two camps of Christian thought: that the tithe is the pinnacle of giving and that tithing should not be practiced under the New Covenant. As a result, my wife and I have already decided to 1) immediately increase our giving and 2) formulate a plan to make graduated increases in the future. Yet another life changer – one that we are both excited about.

Future reference

This is a book that I will be using over and over again, both for my own personal references and also as a springboard for future blog posts. I loved the way Managing God’s Money is organized, and even though it does not include an index, the Table of Contents is so well structured that I will be able to easily find whatever topic I am seeking.

I rate Managing God’s Money as a 5 on a scale of 5. But I offer one warning: it will destroy those stained glass beliefs that you hold so dear.

Like I said, it is a life changer.

Eternal Perspective Ministries provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. Managing God’s Money is available from your local Christian bookstore and from online retailers, as well as from Eternal Perspective Ministries (www.epm.org), a nonprofit ministry founded by author Randy Alcorn.

A Generous Life #2 (of 6) 2 Cor 8:1-7

I. INTRO

The title of our series – A Generous Life – is what’s referred to in literature as a double entendre, which means it can be understood in two ways. (Often one meaning of a double entendre is innocent and the other is risqué.  In the case of our series title both meanings are scandalously grace-filled – but neither is risqué .)

  1. The first way to understand it is what we spoke about last week – The life of Jesus was the most generous life ever lived. In his unpublished essay on the Trinity, Jonathon Edwards writes, “God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection.”[1] Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, left this “cocoon” of infinite perfection and with humility and generosity condescended into human history. And Philippians 2 tells us that, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (vs. 6-8).
  2. The second way to understand our series title is that you and I have access to a holy capacity to live a generous life.  We see this in 2 Cor 8:1,“the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.” It was not born out of their own strength or power – it was God blessing and enabling them (and us) to become outrageously generous.

Today we will begin to work through 10 Principles of Generosity that are found in these two chapters.  (Found in last weeks notes here on the Southside blog – and in the study guides, which are also available for download here on at the blogsite, or there are hardcopies in the lobby.)  We will work through two principles per Sunday for the next five weeks.  (Gene will be here next week.)

Before we get to todays principles, I’d like to provide a little bit of background:

First of all, notice the geography…

Macedonia is to the north of Corinth.

A commentator describes Macedonia as, “a splendid tract of land, centered on the plains of the gulf of Thessalonica…Running up the great river valleys into the Balkan Mountains, it was famous for its timber and precious metals. The churches of Macedonia had been planted by Paul on his second missionary journey.[2]

I think it’s important to notice that Paul is seeking to motivate the Corinthians through a  bit of competition. In the south, Macedonia was referred to as the “barbaric North” and the Greeks and Macedonians had a lengthy history of political rivalry.

And Paul was probably writing 2 Corinthians from Macedonia.

Corinth was a prosperous double-ported Roman outpost and colony of approximately 200,000 people that sat on a narrow strip of land (isthmus) between the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea (within the larger Mediterranean Sea).

Corinth was cosmopolitan in nature, and not unexpectedly, Corinth became notorious for luxurious and debauched living.  Some commentators liken it to San Francisco during the California gold-rush days.

We know from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that they were a pretty carnal church.  They took the grace of God for granted, tolerating immorality in their midst and some were also getting drunk at their gatherings.  One commentator states the Corinthians were, “undisciplined extremists…setting a poor example for their pagan neighbors. They also did not take kindly to [Paul’s] authority.”[3]

What we have in Corinth is a young church that was not yet disciplined – financially or otherwise, and Paul is seeking to teach them by showing them the example of the Macedonian churches. Churches that were so exemplary in their financial stewardship and generosity, that they are mentioned four times in the New Testament as exemplary churches.  They represented the kind of church that we here at SBF aspire to be.

Both the Macedonian churches and the church at Corinth were struggling under an economic recession that’s not totally unlike the one we are experiencing.  But the Macedonians were suffering far more painfully than those who lived in Corinth. The economic downturn hit them, apparently, much harder.

II. BODY

So in chapters 8-9 Paul has 10 principles for them. We’ll look at the first two today. 

Money is one of the ways that we show that we belong to Jesus and understand His life and message.  Throughout the course of the Gospels Jesus talks about money approximately 25% of the time.  In Mathew 6:21 and Luke 12:34, He says that where our treasure is, our heart is.  In other words, our hearts are reflected in our finances.  And Paul is saying that generosity reveals the grace of God.

So, the principles that we will look at today are:

  1. Generosity is a work of Gods grace. (2 Cor 8:1-6)
  2. Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 8:7)

Let’s look at them one at a time…

1.  “Generosity is a work of Gods grace.” (2 Cor 8:1-6)

1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.

I observed an equation in verse two.  It’s counter intuitive…

A great ordeal of affliction + abundance of joy + deep poverty = liberality.

This leads me to a hypothesis (or proposition):  Any circumstance that includes great affliction and deep poverty, wherein we place our joy and comfort in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, will result in liberality.

If we place our joy and comfort in the god of money, and that god was crucified through an economic downturn, and showed few signs of resurrection, we have no reason for joy and generous liberality.  

If, however, our God is Jesus, then, our source of joy and generous liberality is still alive and well. Where there’s root, there’s fruit…

John Piper sums up the spiritual dynamics of this text by saying: Grace comes down, Joy rises up, and Generosity flows out.

This brings us to our second principle of generosity…

2.  Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 1:7)

7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

First of all, this verse is a summary (or synopsis) of 1 Corinthians – with a loving admonishment to share the grace God has given, or imparted, to them (“see that you abound”).

“When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints…it is an extension of their joy in God…They are denying themselvesbut the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy.[4]

Three important points:

  1. Grace initiates all giving that glorifies God, otherwise we would take pride and praise for our support of others.
  2. This grace alone is the root of genuine joy. Otherwise joy is misplaced and dissipates when circumstances turn bad.
  3. Grace-given joy is always other-oriented.  When our giving germinates in the soil of grace, it blooms in generous bounty to those in need. Such is the nature of true love.

What we find in our study of stewardship and generosity is that the seed-bed, the foundation of it all is grace.

The grace of God, first and foremost, is the power of God’s Holy Spirit that converts the soul. It is the activity, the moving, of God whereby God saves and justifies us through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17).

Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.

Grace, then, is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations and accomplish things that defy rational explanation.

Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering saints to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers.

If we attempt to live generous lives out of our own soul or self will, we cut off the very grace that was given through Jesus.  “Soul grace” (we’ll call it) actually denies the deity of Jesus.

III. CONCLUSION

There is a prosperity gospel that is preached in many churches throughout North America.  (It’s particularly said because this Americanized version of the gospel is being exported around the world.)  Those who claim that God wants His people to be materially rich have missed the whole point of the gospel.  Having said that, I believe there’s one area that they don’t go far enough in…

Their mantra is that, “we give to get – and we can never out-give God.”  Is there truth in that?  [Yes.]

What the gospel tells us, however, is that giving to get does not go far enough.  We are to give to get, to give again – and again, and again…

GRACE GIVING (Version 2)

(This is our initial attempt to generate a formal statement regarding SBF’s stance on the stewardship of finances.  Please read it and make any comments or ask any questions that would help you to better understand what the Bible teaches us about money.)

So what’s the deal with “tithing”? The word tithe simply means “one-tenth.” Under the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to give in such a way that it amounted to a little over 23% of their income. The first was 10% of all of their possessions (Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:20–21), which was given to the Levites for Temple Ministry. A second was taken from whatever produce was left after the first tithe was given. Jewish interpreters consider this to be a second giving requirement for feasts and sacrifices (Deut. 12:17–18; Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21). Finally, another tithe was given once every three years to support the poor (Deut. 14:28–29). On top of these giving mandates were the voluntary freewill offerings given out of their own will and desire above and beyond their normal giving (Ex. 35:29; Lev. 22:23; Ezra 3:5).

When it comes to the New Testament teaching on giving, we begin with the understanding that the Mosaic Law no longer binds us (Rom. 6:14). This leads us to the question, “Should we still give according to the Old Testament system, or are we able to give less – or even more?”

Concerning this, Paul wrote, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6–8).

As Christians who are no longer under the Law, we give because of the grace that God has given us. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul commends the believers in Macedonia for what is often referred to as “grace giving.” Paul describes the qualities of this benevolence as being generous (2 Cor. 8:2), willful (2 Cor. 8:3), directed by God (2 Cor. 8:5), shared (2 Cor. 8:6), active (2 Cor. 8:7), and motivated by love (2 Cor. 8:8). This kind of giving should not be done out of a “legalistic” mentality, but as the Lord leads you to give (2 Cor. 8:8).

It may be concluded that the Old Testament tithing system set a standard for giving, and that while we are no longer required under the Law to give, we are under grace—and our giving is to reflect this. We are not under compulsion to give; rather, we are to give cheerfully and prayerfully as God leads us. New Testament teaching places our giving in the category of an aspect of worship unto the Lord, which is why churches (usually) receive these tithes and offerings as a part of our corporate worship gatherings on Sundays. Additionally, many churches also make the option available to give privately via online debit cards, as that is now how many people handle their “crops.”


[1] An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity.

[2] Edwin A. Judge:1982.

[4] Desiring God: 104.

1 John 5:14-21 (#14) Finale!

I.  INTRO

We’re landing the plane today in our 1 John series – His Light, Our Delight

A week ago Wed I was on a plane from DC to Manchester.  Before we took off the Captain came on and told us the flight was going to be bumpy – and it was…

As we close out 1 John (and as we prepare our hearts for Christmas) I would like to begin our study today be reminding us of the human condition…And I should warn you that it may get a bit turbulent as we prepare to land the plane.

Last June reTURN/CRM conducted a diagnostic here at SBF.  (A 1-page version is available in the lobby.)  Well, Scripture has also conducted a diagnostic of the human heart and I would like to let the Word of God speak to us this morning regarding what has gone wrong with humanity.  It takes a humble courage to embrace the truth about ourselves…

Here is my thesis: We simply cannot fix what’s wrong with us.  With all of our advances in science, technology, and clinical therapies the human heart remains as Jeremiah said 17:9: “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

  • Ps 14:3 – They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
    There is no one who does good, not even one.
  • Prov 20:9 – Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”?
  • Rom 3:9-12 — What then? Are we [Jews] better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,  “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”  All of us have one singular thing in common…our base commonality is that we are sinners incapable of righteousness.
  • Rom 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  • Eph 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…”

The NT authors invite us to bear in mind that God’s commands for us to be holy and love our neighbor, etc. are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability and to remind us of our continual dependence on the grace of God to do in us and through us what we cannot do (accomplish) on our own.

Before we move into our text for this morning I am going to say something very difficult to you.  I will say it because I love you and I want to be able to say at the end of my time here that, I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

The core issue with you and me is not that we sometimes DO the wrong things, the problem is we were born with something very wrong inside of us.  We are born in a corrupted state of being.  We were born with a sin infection.

If your default mode is that you’re basically a good person who occasionally does bad things then you have not understood the Bible – or the Gospel.

The greatest hindrance to your joy and happiness is you.  (Merry Christmas!)

Here is what I want to say as we move into our text for this morning:  There is good news…The gateway for ever increasing joy for you and for me is an understanding that surly we were brought forth into a state of inequity that surely we have a bent toward rebellion.  Our joy and delight begin with embracing our depravity.  The way to a sure hope is to embrace hopelessness…it seems counter-intuitive to us.  Another way to say it is – the unlikely route to joy is repentance (Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart).

Eph 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our [sin], made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

Whether from the pen of Moses, Paul, or other biblical authors, “But God” appears in various forms hundreds of times in the Bible. To understand these two words as they are used in Scripture is to understand the gospel. James Montgomery Boice wrote, “May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” “But God” marks God’s relentless, merciful interventions in human history. It teaches us that God does not wait for us to bring ourselves to him, but that he acts first to bring about our good. Without the “But God” statements in the Bible, the world would be completely lost in sin and under judgment.

God’s response to our rebellion is nothing short of spectacular, which takes us into our passage for today…

II.  BODY

There are three main points in these final eight verses.  In our remaining time, I’d like to go back and walk through them, viewing them in the light of the biblical truth – that we were brought forth in a state of rebellion and iniquity – and our only hope is God’s mercy and grace, which transforms us from the inside out.

1.  Verses 14-17 – God loves (or longs) to give us what we pray for

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

So, the big picture assertion, or promise here is that God loves, or longs to provide what we pray for.  John is saying that if we know that He hears us, then we know we have the answer (assurance).  But did you notice a couple of elephants hanging around in those verses?

The elephants are found in verses 14 & 16: (v.14) IF we ask anything according to His will… and v. 16: There is a sin leading to death

Elephant #1 – V. 14 — This can be a troubling qualification because Scripture doesn’t speak a lot to the problem of unanswered prayer, though it does give us at least three clues, which I want to pass on to you…

  • 1 Peter 3:7 teaches that strained interpersonal relationships, especially between husband and wife, hinder prayer:  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
  • James 4:3 teaches that prayers aimed at merely enhancing our own private pleasure will go unheardYou ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
  • 1 John 3:22 implies that if we are actively, willfully disobedient to God’s commandments, our prayers won’t be answered“and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (The first work of obedience is to listen.)

Elephant #2 – V. 16 – There is a sin leading to death.” This verse has provoked widespread discussion.

This is where the Catholics affirm their concept of mortal[1] vs. venial sins.

However, it seems clear that the one who sins unto death is not a Christian (although s/he my think they are).  Here is what most scholars believe is the most likely interpretation: This is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

It is the deliberate, open-eyed rejection of known truth. Ascribing the mighty works of Jesus to the devil.  (John may have been referencing Christopher Hitchens types of their day…)

The Pharisees committed this sin.  And there are those whom John refers to earlier in 1 John as antichrists would also fall into this category.  They were children of the devil, not children of God (3:19).  Such sin, Jesus said would never be forgiven – in this life, or in the life to come.

  • Mark 3:29“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
  • Mat 12:31-32“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” 

2.  Three Affirmations (“We knows”) John Stott calls them three clear, candid, bold, dogmatic certainties — which summarize the truths that have been shared in the earlier parts of the letter.

  • 1st Affirmation – (v. 18) – We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
    • The phrase “born of God” literally means “begotten” and indicates a new birth.
    • New birth results in new behavior.  John Stott writes, “Sin and the child of God are incompatible.  They may occasionally meet; [but] they cannot live together in harmony.”[2] (Besetting sins?)
    • If we have Christ, we have the power for deliverance from sin.
    • This is what we are praying when we say in the Lord’s Prayer: “deliver us from evil” (Mat 6:13b).
  • 2nd Affirmation – (v. 19) – We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
    • God remains the source of our spiritual life and being.
    • We should not attribute to the “evil one” too much power.  The word “lies” indicates that the “whole world” is but unconsciously asleep in the embrace of Satan.
    • John draws a very clear and dogmatic line here: We are either 1) awake and “of God” (or in God), or 2) we are slumbering in the arms of Satan.  There is no third category.
  • 3rd Affirmation – (v. 20) – We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
    • This final affirmation is the most fundamental.  Both redemption and revelation belong to God.
    • The gospel is not concerned merely with the truth that God has given us certain things, but that He has come. (“O come, O come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel…”)
    • And notice that the Christian is in Christ — sharing His very life.
    • John has told us that Jesus is light (1:5), He is love (4:8), and he is concluding his epistle by saying that Jesus is the only true source of life itself (see also Jn 5:26).

3.  The Concluding ExhortationGuard [NIV, KJ: keep] yourself from idols (5:21).

At first glance this concluding, or final, exhortation might seem a bit odd…

(And the NIV & KJ translations also make it a bit confusing[3]…There is a “keeping” (v.18) accomplished by Christ – and there is a “guarding” that we are responsible for.  The NIV & KJ translate the words the same, but they are different…)

  • Keeping (tēreō) – Expresses watchful care and is suggestive of present possession.  As in, Jesus Christ will – and is keeping us.
  • Guarding (phylassō) – A helpful synonym for this v.21 word may be: beware.  So, the NASB translation is a little clearer here.  “Guard yourselves, or beware, of idols.”  In other words, have a working knowledge or understanding (with accountability) of the areas where you attempt find comfort and joy in ways other than Jesus Christ.
  • So, God keeps – and our responsibility, through sanctifying grace, is to be on guard, or to beware of idolatry creeping into our lives.  In Christ we are empowered to find our joy, our comfort, our delight in Him.

One of the best definitions for idolatry is when we “make good things ultimate things” (Keller, Counterfeit Gods).  Another excellent descriptor is from Jerry Bridges book  Bookends of the Christian Life where he describes idols as our “functional saviors.”

Sometimes our surface sins are only symptoms of a deeper problem. Underneath every external sin is a heart idol—a false god that has eclipsed the true God in our thoughts or affections.  Some scholars would say we don’t really have a sin problem, we have a worship problem.  In this context all sin is idolatry.  And every time we choose sin we have chosen to find our comfort, joy, or delight in something (or someone) other than God.

III.  CONCLUSION

To sum-up: in our His Light, Our Delight study John leans in to an associated group of churches undergoing conflict to (re-) mold their concept of God and life within the church. By carefully describing salvation and its fruit in a Christian’s life, John brilliantly defines what a Christian is by clarifying the borders of our faith with the elements of light, truth, and love.  John, an eyewitness to the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus –  as well as His most intimate earthly friend, enables us to discern where we are in our lives and carefully sets our focus on where we could and can be as we press in to wholeheartedly love God and one another.

A baseline for truth is seeking to understand the clearest concept of God, Jesus Christ, and humanity.  Love is the way we imitate Christ in sacrificially relating to one other.  His light is the reflection of holiness stemming from Christ dwelling in us through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit – causing us to delight in what He has done.  We wouldn’t want a Christianity without these three elements as John has defined them.  It would no longer be what Jesus Christ taught and revealed to us.  Because of this, we are exhorted to surrender to God’s transforming love and to love one another in ways that are consistent with how Jesus Christ revealed Himself to us.


[1] From a Catholic perception a mortal sin is a grave sin that ruptures our link to God’s saving grace.

[2] Stott, John. The Letters of John, Tyndale NT Commentaries Vol. 19, IVP Accademic 1964 & 1988: 192.

[3] We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

1 John 5:6-13 (#13)

I.  INTRO – Assurance of Eternal Life

Review:

Where we are as a church – and where we’re headed.  We’ll start at 30,000 feet and then land in our 1 John passage for today.

As a church we are “rebooting” theologically.  What does that mean?

First of all, it does NOT mean we are changing our doctrinal statement.

What it DOES mean is that we intend to be Christ-centered, or gospel-centered, in all our preaching and teaching.[1]  There are two basic reasons for this:

  1. Not only is the gospel of Jesus Christ necessary for our salvation, but the gospel is also essential for our growth (or sanctification) in Christ.[2]
  2. (How does that happen?) A Christ-centered, or gospel-centered approach will focus more on what Christ has done, than on what we should do.

We believe that the Westminster Assembly got it right in 1646 with the Westminster Shorter Confession of Faith when they determined the “chief end of [humankind] is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Or, as John Piper has said, “to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.”

Where we’re headed (See the bulletin insert):

3 Summits scheduled 6-weeks apart to reaffirm values, mission, and vision in preparation for calling a permanent pastor.

The first one is Sat, Jan 14th from 9am-1pm.  A working lunch and childcare will be provided.

If you’re 13+, we’d like for you to be there.  Sign-ups start today.

Sign-up sheet – or email Beth in the office.

**The more we accomplish in the next 6-7 months, the higher caliber pastor we will attract to SBF.

Next week in the bulletin we will provide you with a calendar of the significant events for Jan-Jun of 2012.  This will include:

  1. The 3 Summits
  2. At least 3 Concerts of Prayer where we will gather as a congregation – both to learn more about prayer and to pray.  These will also include extended times of worship.
  3. And regular Sunday morning updates to keep everyone informed on what is happening (twice a month).

In Sept we embarked on a study of 1 John.  Today marks our 13th week.

Why study 1st John?  As we have been saying – the gospel of John was written that we might believe while 1 John we written that we might know.

Assurance is the key theme of 1 John.  There are two parts to this assurance:

1.  The first is an objective assurance that Jesus (and Christianity) are true.  Jesus claimed to be God.

  • Jn 14:9 – Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
  • Jn 10:33 – We’re stoning you “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
  • Mark 14:61b-62   [61b] – “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’  [62] ‘I am,’ said Jesus.”
  •  Luke 22:66-70  [66] – “At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them…[70] They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’  He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’”
  • In 1 John 1:1 he reminds his readers that he was an eye-witness of Jesus – he beheld Him with his eyes and touched Him with his hands and refers to Jesus as “the Word of Life.”
  • Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was telling the truth (trillema).  John is asserting in this letter that Jesus and Christianity are true (objective assurance).

2.  The second aspect of assurance John is speaking to is the subjective assurance of our own standing in Christ.

To use John’s language of what it means to be a Christian…

  • To have been born of God
  • To know God
  • To live in God
  • To enjoy an intimate personal communion with Him – which John says, is eternal life.

On Thur we sent out an eNEWS that quoted 19th century British theologian and pastor J.C. Ryle, who said:

Another way to describe assurance is assured hope.

  • A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy an assured hope.
  • To believe and have a glimmering hope of acceptance is one thing, to have delight and joy and peace in our believing — and to abound in hope, is quite another!
  • S/He that has faith does well.  But s/he that has assurance does far better — sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more.[3]

Last week (Gene) taught from 1 Jn 4:17-5:5 and made three excellent points:

  1. (vs. 4:17-18) Being perfected in love is a process.
  2. (vs. 4:19-21) People are in your life for a purpose (i.e., conflict can be redemptive).
  3. (vs. 5:1-5) Passion for God’s presence prepares the heart to obey.

Today we will look at the most difficult passage in 1 John – 5:6-13…

II.  BODY

John draws some very clear lines in this passage (as he has throughout the letter): v.12 – “S/He who has the Son has the life; s/he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” John is saying that it is infinitely important for us to know if we have the Son. (We would do well to remember Ryle’s point: A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy assurance.)

Then in v.13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” (2-fold assurance)

There are two words I’d like to look at more closely today from v.13, asking the questions, 1) What does it mean to believe? And 2) What does it mean to know?

1.  What does it mean to believe?

  • The Greek word is the verb pisteuō (from the same root as the word for faith) and occurs about 250 times in the NT. Matthew uses the word 10 times, Mark 10, Luke 9, John’s Gospel 99 times – and 9 times in 1 John.
  • Now I have both bad news and good news for you…
    • The bad news is that not all belief is saving belief.
    • Look with me at John 2:23-25: Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
    • There is evidently a belief that does not save us.
    • James 2:19 – …the demons also believe…
    • Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5).
    • This is the kind of examination that John is referring to in 1 John 5:12-13.

In 1859 a French tightrope walker named Charles Blondin, became the first person to cross 160 feet above Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  He walked several times – back and forth. The large crowd gathered and a buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the riverbank. The crowd “Oooohed!” and “Aaaaahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across one dangerous step after another.  One trip across he was blindfolded and pushing a wheel-barrow. Upon reaching the other side, it’s said that the crowd’s applause was louder than the roar of the falls! Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd enthusiastically shouted, “Yes, yes, yes. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!” “Okay,” said Blondin, “Who will get in the wheelbarrow??”  No-one did!

    • To merely give intellectual assent does NOT save us.
  • So, what’s the good news?  The good news is that there is a belief that does save.
    • To “believe” means the active acceptance of the message about Jesus.
    • This means there is a surrender, or active ongoing submission to Jesus…
    • This is the kind of belief, or faith, that 1 Jn 5:5 is speaking about: “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (He who gets in the wheelbarrow.)

2.  What does it mean to know? (1 Jn 5:13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”)

  • The Greek word is echō.  It speaks of a joining – like a marriage.
  • This question takes us back to 1 Jn 5:7-8: “For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
  • These are the verses that have confounded biblical scholars… Theologians refer to this verse as the “Johannine Comma.” And most commentators agree that it is some form of Trinitarian reference.  Matthew Henry, the 18th century devotional commentator, simply refers to this verse as, “a trinity of heavenly witnesses.”

Let’s consider each one:

  1. The (Holy) Spirit testifies.
  • Turn to Roms 8.  This chapter is about life in the power of the HS.
  • Let’s begin in v.15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
  • Here’s a test/quiz to see if you know…
    • What grip does fear have on your life?
    • When you suffer, do you turn TO God, or AWAY from God?  Do you turn TO God’s people, or turn AWAY from God’s people?
    • Prov 18:1 – “S/He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.”

2.  What is the “water and the blood”?

  • Some scholars think the water is a reference to the birth of Jesus and the blood is a reference to His death on the cross.
  • Look at John 19:34-35: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he [John] who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”
    • Jesus suffered from hypovolemic shock (low blood volume) during his beatings – and when he fell while carrying the cross…
    • This hypovolemic shock causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs.
  • Others have speculated that the water and blood are references to the sacraments of baptism and communion.

III.  CONCLUSION

  1. What’s the bottom line?  Is your belief a saving belief?  Have you gotten in the wheelbarrow?  This is the objective response that John is looking for.
  2. To use Paul’s language from Romans 8:15-16, is there a “spirit of adoption” resident in your heart?  Has, “the Spirit Himself testified with your spirit that you are a child of God”?  This is the subjective response that John is looking for.

This is how the gospel works for our sanctification…We are well aware of our depravity AND we have a growing witness and testimony of our Heavenly Father’s sovereign call ON our lives and transforming presence IN our lives.


[1] Someone has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

[2] Justification (declared righteousness) and Sanctification (growing in righteousness), the process of sanctification must flow out of the reality of justification.

[3] Adapted from the essay Faith and Assurance by J. C. Ryle.