April, 2011

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Faith Of Our Fathers: Unity Produced By Christian Doctrine

Friday, April 15th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Faith Of Our Fathers

Originally published in Uplook magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2011.

Western nations celebrate different belief systems in order to accommodate the disparate races, cultures, and people-types that coexist within their borders. In everyday life, politically correct speech and philosophical relativism combine to make people studiously avoid discussing subjects that are the most important to them, thereby averting controversy. Likewise, conventional wisdom advises one to steer clear of discussions on politics, religion, or worldviews, for they almost certainly result in unpleasantness. By abstaining from discussions of strongly held views, the tenuous admixture of divergent groups mostly holds, at least providing the veneer of peace.

Christianity, on the other hand, demands confrontation and engagement in the rough and tumble issues of life. To become a Christian one must deal with the most depressing reality about oneself: one’s personal sin and guilt in the eyes of a holy God. Unity is achieved by leveling the field of human distinction. That is, all have sinned, all need the Saviour (Rom. 3:23.) People of every kindred, tribe, and tongue are redeemed by the same blood. They place their confidence in the same Lord. Unity comes not by looking to oneself and one’s personal characteristics; rather it stems from adherence to the same body of teachings, known in the New Testament as “the faith” (Eph. 4:5; for other usages of “faith” in this sense see Acts 6:7; 1 Tim. 1:2; 4:1, etc.) These doctrines are the substance of Christian belief, linking the saints to Christ their Head, as well as to one another (Eph. 4:13-15.)

Defining Faith

Of course, faith is a common word, occurring 244 times in the Greek New Testament.[i] Often it refers to belief, such as in God the Father or the Lord Jesus (e.g. Mt. 8:10; Rom. 3:28.) Other times it is used of “faithfulness” or “trustworthiness” (e.g. Rom. 3:3, NKJV.) While some expositors hold that it refers to the first type of faith, in the context of Ephesians 4 it makes more sense to take it in the second sense.[ii] As Ironside puts it: “This is not the faith by which we are saved, but the faith of the Christian Church, the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. It is the one standard of truth that God has given to be proclaimed in the world, it is that which the apostle calls the faith. Faith in Christ is confidence in Jesus, but the faith is the body of the Christian doctrine.”[iii] It is used in the New Testament approximately 28 times in this manner (some of the references are debatable as to which of the meanings of “faith” are in view.)

The Content Of The Faith

The teaching that comprises “the faith” is multifaceted and covers every aspect of life for time and eternity. Its doctrines begin with the truth that there is one God (1 Tim. 2:5), existing in three co-equally divine persons (Jn. 14-17, etc.) He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mt. 22:32), who inspired the Old Testament Scriptures, as well as the New Testament writings (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21; 3:15-16; Jn. 14:25; 16:12-14.) Jesus is God the Son, as well as the only impeccable and perfect man (1 Tim. 3:16.) The Father and the Spirit are also God (Jn. 14:16-17, 23; Mt. 28:19.)

The triune God works in complete harmony to work out His purposes in this age and in the one to come (Eph. 1:1-14.) For example, each member of the Trinity played an integral role in the saving work of the cross: the Father sent (Rom. 8:31-32), the Son shed His blood (Eph. 1:7), and was offered up by “the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14.) The Father and the Spirit marked out Jesus as the Son at His baptism (Mt. 3:16-17.) Similarly, each member of the Trinity is associated with the resurrection of Christ (Jn. 10:18; Acts 2:32; Rom. 1:4.)

In Christ Alone

The faith also includes the message of salvation by faith in Christ alone (Jn. 3:16; 5:24; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 15:1-10; Rom 3; Eph. 2:8-9, etc.) This saving work includes justification (being declared right by God), sanctification (being made holy by God, positionally and practically), and glorification with Christ in resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-57; Rom. 8:11, 17-25.) It frees the believer from the tyranny of sin and the doom of future eternal punishment in the lake of fire. It also assures him of the return of Christ to receive His own people unto Himself (Jn. 14:1-3; 1 Thes. 4) and eventually, to inaugurate His thousand year reign on earth (Rev. 19.) Finally, the faith teaches the ultimate triumph and manifestation of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Rev. 21-22.)

The faith assures the saints that they are part of the Church, the one body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23.) He is their head, and they are members together, having received spiritual gifts for the edification of the body and the glory of God (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12; Eph. 4.) The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) and a lampstand (Rev. 2-3) for testimony; “a spiritual temple” for worship (Eph. 2:21-22), “a vine” (Jn. 15) for bearing fruit unto God. In short, the church is designed by God to function for His glory primarily and the saints’ good secondarily.

On an individual level, Christians are saved for the purpose of knowing, serving, and pleasing God (Jn. 17:3; Php. 2:13-14.) They are to be witnesses to the lost (Mk. 16:15; 1 Pet. 3:15.) They are also taught to be diligent and trustworthy workers (Eph. 6:5-6.) What is more, believers are instructed to live by a holy ethic (e.g. Col. 3:5-21.) In the Christian life, God’s approval is what is sought above all else (2 Tim. 2:15.) The truths revealed in the faith demand that saints become living sacrifices for the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2.)

Unity Based On Truth

The unity of God’s people is centered in the Almighty’s person and will as revealed in the faith. It gives many practical instructions for believers in this age. The substance of the doctrines of the faith is perfectly revealed in the Old and New Testaments; therefore, the saints are to be “people of the Book.” Their sole manual for belief and practice must be the Bible. To add human traditions as authoritative is to jeopardize the practical cohesion of the Lord’s people.

Because the faith is constantly under attack by the world, the flesh, and the devil, Jude 3 exhorts Christians to “…earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” It is only as the church defends, loves, and obeys God’s truth that they will maintain true unity. False doctrine is a rapid highway to disunity (e.g. 1 Cor. 1.) The world has long sought a way to unite different races, cultures, and nations. However, only the unadulterated word of God will bind people with different histories and demographics together. As they are transformed by God’s powerful Word, individuals of varying backgrounds find oneness in their mutual identity in Christ.

 

 

 

 

 


[i]Maurice Robinson, Elzevir Textus Receptus (1624): With Morphology. Electronic ed. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2002.

[ii] It is true that there is only one type of faith that saves: confidence in God’s provision in Christ alone; that is a subjective usage of faith. The objective sense seems to fit better with the “one Lord” and “one baptism.” Many commentators, such as William Kelly agree; see Kelly, Lectures On The Epistle Of Paul, The Apostle, To The Ephesians; pp. 155-156; electronic ed. Galaxie Software, 2004 (Logos.)

[iii] H. A. Ironside, In the Heavenlies : Practical Expository Addresses on the Epistle to the Ephesians. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1937, p. 178; electronic ed. (Logos.)

Christ In A Celebrity Culture

Friday, April 8th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Christ In A Celebrity Culture

Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, ‘Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.’ For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.’ When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee. But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.” John 7:2-10

The modern world is obsessed with celebrity. Scores of newspapers and magazines are devoted to charting the movements and opinions of the rich, talented, and famous. Websites like youtube have become showcases for many internet exhibitionists, who are willing to do seemingly anything in order to gain Warhol’s proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. So-called “reality television” – surely, a misnomer if ever there was one – follows “ordinary” people through both mundane and ludicrous situations in the name of entertainment. Judging by the proliferation of these programs in many countries, there is an insatiable desire on the part of contemporary people to become famous – or even notorious, as long as it gets their name in lights.

From American Idol To Your Best Life Now

For lost men and women to zealously pursue fame is unsurprising, for they put themselves first and seek glory in this world, not realizing the better glory that Christ offers. Sadly, in many quarters professing Christians have been bitten by the celebrity bug. It is now commonplace to see churches staging publicity stunts to get themselves in the news (one recent example is Mr. Jones of Florida, who publicly burned a copy of the Muslim Koran – a foolish act with tragic and murderous consequences.)[i] Less grandiose, but still gravely in error, are the many preachers who permit a celebrity-status to be conferred on them. Many “Christian” organizations in the multimedia age have become publicity-generating engines for a thinly-veiled cult of personality that promotes the preacher, as much or more, than the blessed Lord Jesus.

At the beginning of John 7, the Lord Jesus’ half-brothers disbelieved in His divine claims, and seemed only to seek earthly glory and advantage trading on their brother’s notoriety. They viewed the Jewish national holiday the Feast of Tabernacles (also known in Hebrew as Succoth) as an opportunity for Jesus to “press the flesh,” much like a modern politician campaigning for office. To their way of thinking, His ministry would be furthered by utilizing every chance for public relations work. He rejected this notion, however, implying that they were of a different nature from Him and so could not be hated by the world (v. 7.) They were products of a fallen world and so thought in a worldly manner. He, by contrast, was from above – from the Father – and so conducted Himself by the principles of the age to come, which are synonymous with the perfect divine will. This led Him to bear witness to the world’s evil works, resulting in its hatred of Him.

Divine Time Versus Human Scheduling

The Lord Jesus was following a different timetable that defied fallen logic, and adhered to the Father’s purposes. Twice He told His half-brothers that His time had not yet come (the second time, saying “My time has not yet fully come,” cf. vv. 6 & 8.) He was drawing nearer to the time when He would go to the cross and accomplish the Father’s will regarding redemption. In John 17:1 He said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.” Rather than being a tragic accident of history, His crucifixion was something that Christ approached purposefully and was ordained before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:20.) He willingly laid down His life as a propitiatory sacrifice on the cross (Rom. 3:20-26.)

Intent on fulfilling His Father’s purposes, the Lord Jesus was not interested in publicity or the celebrity that it can bring, much less the “results” that might stem from it. If His work were merely about gathering a crowd, He could easily do that. Yet time and time again, the curious public proved fickle – many deserting the Lord Jesus when His teaching became too controversial for their taste (John 6:66.) Despite the multitudes that followed Him throughout His three and a half year earthly ministry, after His death and resurrection His open followers numbered not many more than one hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15.) Numbers fluctuated wildly at different times during biblical history; therefore, they are inaccurate markers of success. True success lies in obeying God’s will, as the Lord Jesus always did perfectly.

Christ’s example rebukes the vapid notions of prosperity of the contemporary fame-loving culture. He lived for His Father’s will, not for His own aggrandizement. His mission led to greater abandonment of human praise and comfort and culminated in the lonely death of the cross. Yet who can fathom the glory that the risen Lord Jesus received from the countless heavenly hosts as He entered into heaven and sat down on the Father’s right hand (1 Pet. 3:22.) He who eschewed earthly publicity for its own sake will forever enjoy the worship and acclaim of an innumerable multitude throughout all of the eternal ages to come.

 

 


[i] For a good recapitulation of the event with biblical criticism of it, see Al Mohler’s article, “What He Wanted All Along: The Real Scandal of Pastor Terry Jones,” found here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/04/08/what-he-wanted-all-along-the-real-scandal-of-pastor-terry-jones/ Accessed on 4/8/11.

Classic Expositions From The Past: “Come; Take; Learn” by Hamilton Smith

Monday, April 4th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD THE ARTICLE IN PDF., CLICK HERE:  Come, Take, Learn – H. Smith

“Come”; “Take”; “Learn”
Matthew 11: 25-30

There are certain passages in the Word of God that are especially endeared to the hearts of all
that love our Lord Jesus, inasmuch as they very definitely set forth the loveliness of Christ.
Among such portions we may well include the six closing verses of Matthew 11, for in these
verses we see the perfection of Christ shining out in one of the darkest moments of His earthly
pathway.
The passage opens with the words, “At that time.” We may well pause to enquire, what was
“that time”? The preceding chapters bring before us the Lord’s ministry in the midst of Israel. He
had presented Himself in all the glory of His Person as Emmanuel — God with us — cleansing
the leper with a touch, healing the centurion’s servant with a word, and commanding the demons
to depart (8). He had revealed the grace of His heart in forgiving sins, in sitting down to eat with
sinners, in raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, and in making the dumb to speak. He
had revealed the tender love of His heart by suffering in His spirit the sorrows that He took away
by His power, and had expressed His compassions for those who were scattered abroad as sheep
having no shepherd. He had shown the lowly grace of His heart by entering the humble home of
a fisherman, by preaching the gospel to the poor, and by becoming so poor that He had nowhere
to lay His head.
What response did the nation give to the One who expressed His grace by becoming poor in
order to show forth His love and power on behalf of sinful men in relieving them of every sorrow
and pressure, even of death itself?
Alas! Some besought Him to depart; others said “This man blasphemeth.” Again there were
those who laughed Him to scorn; others said He was a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. The
leaders said “He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.” They insulted Him, defamed
Him, and thus speaking and acting against Him, they fulfilled His own touching words, “They
have rewarded Me evil for good, and hatred for my love” (Ps. 109: 5). It thus becomes clear that
“that time” was the time of His utter rejection by the nation of Israel.
This then was the answer the nation gave to all His love and grace. But what answer did the
Lord give to all the insults and scorn that men heaped upon Him? Did He assert His sovereign
rights, and fall back upon His royal power by which He could have silenced every opposer and
crushed every foe? He had, indeed, warned the nation of the judgment that would overtake them,
but He utters no word of resentment, He uses no threats, He is not moved to any act of revenge.
In like spirit, a little later, in the last closing scenes, in the presence of false witnesses, “Jesus
held His peace.” Before Pilate, when accused by the chief priests, “He answered him to never a
word”; and yet again, before the mocking Herod, “He answered him nothing.”
If then He was silent, if He took no revenge upon His enemies, was it that He had no resource?
Far from it; but His resource was not to vilify His enemies and turn upon His foes, but to turn to
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the Father in prayer. As He can say, “For my love they are my adversaries; but I give myself
unto prayer” (Ps. 109: 4). So Peter can write of the Lord, in his Epistle, “Who when He was
reviled, reviled not again: when He suffered He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him
that judgeth righteously.” The answer then to all the insults men heaped upon Him is seen in the
threefold perfection that it called forth from the Lord.
First, “that time” brought to light His perfect and unshaken confidence in the Father’s love. He
finds His resource in turning in prayer to the Father — the One who loves Him, and who has all
power as the Lord of heaven and earth. No circumstances, however terrible, are allowed for one
moment to call in question the Father’s love, or the power of the Lord of heaven and earth. Nor
does the Lord turn to the Father, calling for revenge upon His enemies, but with thanks that, in
spite of all the hatred and opposition of men and devils, divine love and divine power are
carrying out the Father’s purposes. These counsels of love pass by those who by their wisdom
know not God, and proclaim the gospel to the poor who have no resources, and make known the
Father to the babes who make no pretension.
Moreover, a second great perfection comes to light. With perfect confidence in the Father’s love
and power, the Lord perfectly submits to the Father’s will. Thus He can say, “Even so Father: for
so it seemed good in Thy sight.” If carrying out the Father’s will entails the hatred and scorn of
men, He will submit. A little later, Peter, in his fleshly zeal, may draw a sword to resist those
who oppose His Master; but, the Lord, Himself, can say, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the
cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it”? (John 18: 11).
Furthermore, the sorrowful circumstances bring into prominence a third perfection of the Lord,
for He can say, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” In perfect meekness He gave way rather than
assert His rights, and in perfect lowliness He refused to exalt Himself. As He passed through this
world he ignored self in order to serve others in love.
Thus the darkest moment of His pathway becomes the occasion of bringing into display the
moral excellencies of Christ, as seen in His perfect confidence in the Father’s love; His perfect
submission to the Father’s will, and the meekness and lowliness of heart that could think of
everything, and everyone but self.
Thus, in a threefold way the loveliness of Christ shines forth. If, however, we are to profit by
Christ as our perfect pattern it will not be enough to admire His excellencies, we must also give
heed to His three exhortations: First, “Come unto Me”; Secondly, “Take my yoke,” and, Thirdly,
“Learn of Me.”
“Come unto Me.” Israel’s rejection of Christ cannot stay the grace of God: indeed, it becomes
the occasion for that grace to flow out to all, Jew and Gentile alike. Therefore the Lord can say,
“Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” However great the burden of sins we are
welcome to come, even as the woman who was a sinner found in the house of Simon, and as a
poor thief found when nailed on a cross. As another has written, it is as if the Lord said, “If you
are a poor woman, not fit to face any of your fellow creatures, come to Me; I will have you, trust
Me: if you are hanging on a cross for your crimes, you shall go up today with Me to paradise.
My blood is enough to put your crimes away: my heart is open to receive you.” Weary with our
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vain efforts to meet our condition, and burdened with our sins, how good to hear His words of
love, “Come unto Me,” and, in His presence, discover that He knows the worst about us, and yet
He loves us. Then to learn that loving us He has died for us, and that the holy God is so satisfied
with what Christ has done that He has raised Him from the dead and seated Him in the glory, and
that the one that believes in Him is justified from all things, and is as clear of the judgment that
his sins deserve as Christ, Himself, in the glory. Thus it is He brings peace to the conscience, and
we realise the truth of His words, “I will give you rest.”
“Take My yoke.” The yoke implies service taken up in submission to the will of another. With
our natural tendency to self-importance we may seek to be among the Lord’s people as those that
rule and exercise lordship, but He could say, “1 am among you as He that serveth.” Moreover, it
is not service according to our own wills, or doing what we think best; but service according to
His thoughts and in obedience to His will. It is not simply “a yoke” that we are asked to take, but
“His yoke.” Coming to Him as needy sinners He will give us rest; taking His yoke as believers
we shall find rest. Martha, who served the Lord according to her thoughts was distracted and
“cumbered about much serving.”
“Learn of Me.” If, then, our service is to be according to His will and pleasure we shall need to
remember the Lord’s third great exhortation, “Learn of Me.” This involves, not only that we
learn the service He would have us to take up, but that we learn His blessed character, so that we
not only do the right thing, but we do it in the right spirit. Therefore the Lord’s desire is first, that
we should take up His service in submitting to His yoke; secondly, that we should exhibit His
character as the One Who is “meek and lowly in heart.”
We can learn of one another; we can learn by the prayerful study of the word; but to learn of
Him implies that we are in His presence and keep His company. As the Lord could say a little
later, “If any man serve Me, let him follow Me” (John 12: 26). It is not, indeed, that He will give
us any fresh revelation beyond that which is made known to us in the word; but, in His presence
we learn the blessed reality of all that the word reveals. Paul can write to Timothy, “Consider
what 1 say: and the Lord will give thee understanding” (2 Tim. 2: 7). An Apostle may be used to
reveal the truth, but the Lord alone can give understanding of the truth revealed. It is good indeed
to have the doctrine set forth with all the authority of God’s written word; but good, also, when
the written word turns us to the living Word to see the truth set forth in all its perfection in HIM.
In His Person there is brought before us, in a way that must deeply affect us, all the moral
excellencies and spiritual graces that marked every step of His path of devoted service. We look
up to Him in the glory as our object and our hope, but we look back to His perfect pathway to
learn in Him the spirit that should mark His people as they pass through this world. In Him we
see our perfect example, for He was “meek and lowly in heart.” It is still possible, like Mary of
old, to sit at His feet and hear His word, and learning of Him we shall catch something of His
spirit and express something of His lovely character. It has been truly said, “There is so much
Christian service in the world which lacks true strength and beauty, because it stands too little
connected with the source of all service, with Christ Himself, and is too little founded on the
word of God. There are so many believers who like Martha, are busied about many things, but
alas! have neither the desire, nor quietness enough, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His
precious word. To spend an hour alone with the Lord would be to them far more difficult than to
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labour the whole day about all sorts of things. And whence comes this? It demands a far more
spiritual mind to tarry in His presence than to be occupied with service. In the latter even nature
can find some satisfaction, while in His presence it must be entirely set aside.”
Furthermore, if we learn of Him, we shall not only take up His service in His spirit, but, in the
presence of all the sorrows and trials of life, the desertions and disappointments, the insults and
malice we may have to meet, we shall act as He acted. We shall not allow any of these things to
call in question the Father’s love, but, like Christ, we shall make them the occasion of turning to
the Father in prayer, of confiding in the Father’s love, and submitting to the Father’s will. In the
spirit of meekness we shall be quiet in the presence of every insult. With the lowly mind we shall
refuse to exalt self and seek, rather, to ignore self while seeking to serve others in love. Thus
acting like the Master we shall find rest to our souls.
Then seek to please Him, whatsoever He bids thee,
Whether to do, to suffer, or be still;
‘Twill matter little by what path He leads us,
If in it all we sought to do His will.
Taken from: http://stempublishing.com/magazines/OSW/51-60/osw52e.html Accessed on
4/1/11.