Sanctification

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The Desperate Need For “Heart Control”

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015
Photo by KRK

Photo by KRK

 

The San Bernardino mass shooting touched off the usual debates about gun control, law enforcement, intelligence-gathering, and so on; nonetheless, the real issue lies unmentioned: something must be done about the wicked human heart. “Heart control” is more essential than gun control. No legislation, education, or other societal means of influence can cleanse man’s inner being from the lusts and hatred that afflict all of us to one degree or another. While it is true that few people become murderers, all of us repeatedly demonstrate unrighteous thought-lives and frequent manifestations of sinful words and actions. As the Lord Jesus Christ said: “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.[1]

Spiritual Cardiology

Only the Lord Jesus can heal such a dreadful heart condition. His word diagnoses us all with the same condition, declaring: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[2] We must be legally justified from God’s righteous sentence of judgment against us, as well as liberated from the tyranny of sin at work within us. By His sacrificial death and resurrection, Christ provides justification – the declaration of one’s righteous standing before God – and sanctification – a new holy position and lifestyle that separates us from this world, empowering us to love what God loves and hate what He hates.[3]

C.H. Spurgeon, one of the most eloquent Bible teachers of the nineteenth century, described it this way:

The saved may well adore their Lord for his conquests in them, since the arrows of their natural hatred are snapped, and the weapons of their rebellion broken. What victories has grace won in our evil hearts! How glorious is Jesus when the will is subdued, and sin dethroned! As for our remaining corruptions, they shall sustain an equally sure defeat, and every temptation, and doubt, and fear, shall be utterly destroyed. In the Salem of our peaceful hearts, the name of Jesus is great beyond compare: he has won our love, and he shall wear it.[4]

A Fresh Start For The Heart

The Lord Jesus taught a fundamental lesson to one of the most notable first-century Israelite theologians when He said: “You must be born again.”[5] Years of religious observance could not wash Nicodemus’ heart – or that of anyone else for that matter. Only by experiencing spiritual new birth through faith in the Son of God may one be cleansed from their sin. People do not need minor adjustments or incremental improvements. Only a complete reboot resulting in a new spiritual condition can solve the dilemma of our evil hearts. He makes this new start a reality, but it is only available to those who turn from their old lives of wickedness and receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.[6]

Short of this, sins large and small will continue to proliferate in the world and dominate the headlines, and individuals will be slaves to personal and public sins.[7] Someday it will end, of course. The Lord has fixed a day when He will return to put down evil and physically establish His kingdom on earth.[8] So the choice is clear for every one of us: receive Christ by faith and reign with Him; or reject His offer of the free gift of salvation and suffer the eternal punishment that our sins deserve in the Lake of Fire.[9]

 

[1] Mark 7:20-23.

[2] Romans 3:23.

[3] Romans 1:18-5:11 emphasizes the truth of justification from God’s just judgment; while Romans chapters 6-8 detail the believer’s positional and practical sanctification, as well as his eventual glorification with Christ (Rom. 8:17-39.)

[4] C.H. Spurgeon, “Dec. 3 p.m.,” in Morning and Evening: Daily Readings. New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.) [Italics original.]

[5] John 3:7.

[6] Read John 3 and Romans 3. These passages in The Bible may be read online here & here.

[7] John 8:34.

[8] Acts 17:30-31.

[9] Revelation 20:11-15.

Becoming A Spiritual Heavyweight

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Dicksee-Victory,_A_Knight_Being_Crowned_With_A_Laurel-Wreath *

The celebrated boxing champion, Muhammad Ali once said: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”[1] His words reminded me of the need for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to condition themselves for their Master’s future purposes. It is a well-known adage that in this age Christians are “training for reigning.” As 2 Timothy 2:12 says: “If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” The life of the saints must be characterized by self-discipline in accordance with God’s chastening work in and through us (Heb. 12:5-16.) To paraphrase Ali, “Suffer now and live in the age to come as one who is more than a conqueror” (Rom. 8:37.)

Hitting The Sanctification Gym

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul employs two athletic metaphors for the Christian pathway: 1. A runner  2. A boxer. These events were staples of the nearby Isthmian games. Both types of competitor needed strict preparation for their contests. Verse 25 uses the term “temperate,” which Mr. Vine defines as “…the rigid self-control practiced by athletes. Their training was over in ten months: ours is to last our lifetime, and, as with the athletes of old, the self-control is to affect all our circumstances.”[2] This assures one that the life of a believer entails Spirit-led self-control (Gal. 5:23.) Loose morality, laxity in thought-life, unjudged sin in one’s personal life, and especially negligence of walking with the Lord through prayerful reading of His Word leads to spiritual weakness and sets one up for a fall. Paul guarded himself by keeping close to the Lord, letting Him empower His servant for the contest of life in a fallen world.

Bloodsport & Its Lessons

Gordon Franz gives historical perspective on boxing in these words:

“The boxer wrapped his knuckles with leather straps. In the Roman competition, which the Isthmian games probably followed, the wrapping ‘incorporated lead, irons and even spikes’! The athletes boxed, sometimes up to four hours, until one competitor was knocked out. Or one boxer ‘signaled defeat by a raised index finger’ (Milavic 1992: 14). Boxing was serious and brutal competition. At times, the Christian life could be also (2 Tim. 3:12).”[3]

As verse 26 shows, Paul wanted to make every punch count. He was not merely “shadow boxing”; rather, he wanted to fight properly in keeping with the rules, while still waging a good combat (2 Tim. 4:7.)[4] His words were calculated to lift up His champion and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:1-5.)

Above all, Paul wanted to avoid disqualification (1 Cor. 9:27.) While some think this term exclusively relates to becoming reprobate and being lost eternally, it seems more likely that he is referring to loss of reward. First of all, the Scriptures nowhere teach the loss of salvation for a true believer. They do teach that pretenders – false professors that John Wesley called “almost Christians”[5] – may apostatize from their spurious and nominal identification with Christ (e.g. Judas Iscariot, John 6:70-71; compare Heb. 6:4-8.) Such people never truly possessed salvation through faith in Christ; they merely acted the part deluding themselves and (sometimes) others.[6] Yet the context of 1 Corinthians 9 is of service in the Gospel, not eternal destiny (e.g. vv. 12-23.) Rather than fearing damnation, Paul feared the loss of his life’s work: a personal testimony that undergirds the preaching of Christ. As Vine explains “disqualified” in this passage:

“…[H]ere it means disapproved, and so rejected from present testimony, with loss of future reward. Such a possibility should be so appalling and abhorrent to any servant of Christ, that he should follow the apostle’s example, which is here given, not simply as a record of his own life, but as a guide to us in all our circumstances. We need to remember also that the apostle is here speaking of the responsibility and joy of winning souls for Christ. To save others should be the pursuit of our lives. The conflict and its issues are so tremendous, that we should never forgo any means of spiritual strength.”[7]

Bringing Home The Gold

Instead of being awarded medals as in the modern Olympics, ancient competitors vied for the laurel wreath crown known as the Stephanos (“the victor’s crown” – the Greek word is translated “crown” in 1 Cor. 9:25.)[8] Paul was laboring to win “an imperishable” one. Rather than taking it easy in this life, he submitted to the disciplined training regimen of a pilgrim on his way to eternal glory. Likewise, all believers are called to train in the Lord’s school for future reward and kingdom service in His future Millennial and eternal kingdoms (see Rev. 20 & 21-22 respectively.) Keep training, dear saint! Run with the Lord Jesus, increase your spiritual stamina by submitting to His ways in your life, and develop your minds by immersing them in His Word (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:15; Col. 3:1-2, 5-17.)

*Image: Dicksee, “Victory – A Knight Being Crowned with a laurel wreath”

[1] Muhammad Ali, quoted on ESPN’s twitter feed, May 21, 2014.

[2] W. E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: 1 Corinthians. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996.)

[3] Gordon Franz, “Paul at Isthmia – Going for the Gold,” electronic ed. accessed on 5/21/14 here: http://www.lifeandland.org/2009/02/paul-at-isthmia-going-for-the-gold/

[4] “He is also like a boxer, but not a shadow one (orators who demonstrated their oratorical prowess before crowds, and not in actual debates were derided as shadow boxers).”Bruce Winter, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed., D. A. Carson et al., eds. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1176.

[5] John Wesley, “The Almost Christian,” Sermon #2; Preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741; Accessed here on 6/11/14: http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-2-The-Almost-Christian

[6] H.A. Ironside believed firmly in the eternal security of the saints; nevertheless, he thought Paul was referring to false professors in this passage: “The word ‘disapprove’ is also used for complete disapproval. You may be a church-member taking more or less part in so-called Christian work, but see to it that there is a real work of grace in your own soul, or the day may come when you will be utterly disapproved and you will find yourself outside the number of those who enter into the Father’s house in that day, not because you were once saved and are so no longer, but because your life has proved that you were never truly born of God.”

H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1938), 275–276.

[7] W. E. Vine, 1 Corinthians.

[8] William D. Mounce, “Crown,” in Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 148.

The School Of Adversity

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Adversity

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Philippians 1:12

Paul was probably the most effective Christian missionary in history. His dynamic evangelistic and Bible teaching ministry resulted in many conversions and the subsequent formation of several Asian and European churches. Far from robbing the apostle of his effectiveness his imprisonment actually led to the advancement of the gospel. First, Paul diligently witnessed to his captors who were taken from the ranks of the elite palace guard (Phil. 1:13; in this verse “palace” is literally Praetorium, i.e. the place of the powerful  royal bodyguards.) Second, the curtailment of his public preaching ministry, coupled with his resolute courage in the face of danger, motivated other Christians to begin proclaiming the good news of Christ in place of the incarcerated apostle.

Paul’s example leads one to ask oneself: Am I willing to suffer that the gospel may progress to lost souls? Do the problems of life open up avenues to glorify the Lord? Christians must pray to discern how they may use every occasion to witness to the lost, as well as grow in personal dependence on the Lord. A good friend once told me how terminal cancer opened doors for him to share the good news of Christ with many people that he otherwise would not have met. I can testify that my personal affliction of cerebral palsy has taught me much about the Lord’s powerful mercy, as well as providing numerous opportunities to share Christ with people who suffer physically. Praise God that He sovereignly uses the hard things of life to bless and save people!

Originally published on www.carryduff.org (The website of Carryduff Gospel Hall, Carryduff, Northern Ireland.)

Another gem from the past: “The True Grace of God Wherein We Stand” by J.N.D.

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: The True Grace of God wherein we stand

1 Peter 5: 12.

God is made known to us as the “God of all Grace,” and the position in which we are set is that of “tasting that He is gracious.” How hard it is for us to believe this, that the Lord is gracious. The natural feeling of our hearts is, “I know that thou art an austere man”; there is the want in all of us naturally of the understanding of the Grace of God.

There is sometimes the thought that grace implies God’s passing over sin, but no, grace supposes sin to be so horribly bad a thing that God cannot tolerate it: were it in the power of man, after being unrighteous and evil, to patch up his ways, and mend himself so as to stand before God, there would be no need of grace. The very fact of the Lord’s being gracious shows sin to be so evil a thing that, man being a sinner, his state is utterly ruined and hopeless, and nothing but free grace will do for him – can meet his need.

We must learn what God is to us, not by our own thoughts, but by what He has revealed Himself to be, and that is, “The God of all Grace.” The moment I understand that I am a sinful man, and yet that it was because the Lord knew the full extent of my sin, and what its hatefulness was, that He came to me, I understand what grace is. Faith makes me see that God is greater than my sin, and not that my sin is greater than God. . . . The Lord that I have known as laying down His life for me, is the same Lord I have to do with every day of my life, and all His dealings with me are on the same principles of grace. The great secret of growth is, the looking up to the Lord as gracious. How precious, how strengthening it is to know that Jesus is at this moment feeling and exercising the same love towards me as when He died on the cross for me.

This is a truth that should be used by us in the most common everyday circumstances of life. Suppose, for instance, I find an evil temper in myself, which I feel it difficult to overcome; let me bring it to Jesus as my Friend, virtue goes out of Him for my need. Faith should be ever thus in exercise against temptations, and not simply my own effort; my own effort against it will never be sufficient. The source of real strength is in the sense of the Lord’s being gracious. The natural man in us always disbelieves Christ as the only source of strength and of every blessing. Suppose my soul is out of communion, the natural heart says, “I must correct the cause of this before I can come to Christ,” but He is gracious; and knowing this, the way is to return to Him at once, just as we are, and then humble ourselves deeply before Him. It is only in Him and from Him that we shall find that which will restore our souls. Humbleness in His presence is the only real humbleness. If we own ourselves in His presence to be just what we are, we shall find that He will show us nothing but grace. . . .

It is Jesus who gives abiding rest to our souls, and not what our thoughts about ourselves may be. Faith never thinks about that which is in ourselves as its ground of rest; it receives, loves and apprehends what God has revealed, and what are God’s thoughts about Jesus, in whom is His rest. As knowing Jesus to be precious to our souls, our eyes and our hearts being occupied with Him, they will be effectually prevented from being taken up with the vanity and sin around; and this too will be our strength against the sin and corruption of our own hearts. Whatever I see in myself that is not in Him is sin, but then it is not thinking of my own sins, and my own vileness, and being occupied with them, that will humble me, but thinking of the Lord Jesus, dwelling upon the excellency in Him. It is well to be done with ourselves, and to be taken up with Jesus. We are entitled to forget ourselves, we are entitled to forget our sins, we are entitled to forget all but Jesus.

There is nothing so hard for our hearts as to abide in the sense of grace, to continue practically conscious that we are not under law but under grace; it is by grace that the heart is “established,” but then there is nothing more difficult for us really to comprehend than the fulness of grace, that “Grace of God wherein we stand,” and to walk in the power and consciousness of it. . . . It is only in the presence of God that we can know it, and there it is our privilege to be. The moment we get away from the presence of God, there will always be certain workings of our own thoughts within us, and our own thoughts can never reach up to the thoughts of God about us, to the “Grace of God.”

Anything that I had the smallest possible right to expect could not be pure, free grace – could not be the “Grace of God.” . . It is alone when in communion with Him that we are able to measure everything according to His grace. . . . It is impossible, when we are abiding in the sense of God’s presence, for anything, be what it may – even the state of the Church – to shake us, for we count on God, and then all things become a sphere and scene for the operation of His grace.

The having very simple thoughts of grace is the true source of our strength as Christians; and the abiding in the sense of grace, in the presence of God, is the secret of all holiness, peace, and quietness of spirit.

The “Grace of God” is so unlimited, so full, so perfect, that if we get for a moment out of the presence of God, we cannot have the true consciousness of it, we have no strength to apprehend it; and if we attempt to know it out of His presence, we shall only turn it to licentiousness. If we look at the simple fact of what grace is, it has no limits, no bounds. Be we what we may (and we cannot be worse than we are), in spite of all that, what God is towards us is LOVE. Neither our joy nor our peace is dependent on what we are to God, but on what He is to us, and this is grace.

Grace supposes all the sin and evil that is in us, and is the blessed revelation that, through Jesus, all this sin and evil has been put away. A single sin is more horrible to God than a thousand sins – nay, than all the sins in the world are to us; and yet, with the fullest consciousness of what we are, all that God is pleased to be towards us is LOVE.

In Rom. 7 the state described is that of a person quickened, but whose whole set of reasonings centre in himself . . . he stops short of grace, of the simple fact that, whatever be his state, let him be as bad as he may, GOD IS LOVE, and only love towards him. Instead of looking at God, it is all “I,” “I,” “I.” Faith looks at God, as He has revealed Himself in Grace. . . . Let me ask you, “Am I – or is my state the object of faith?” No. faith never makes what is in my heart its object, but God’s revelation of Himself in grace.

Grace has reference to what GOD is, and not to what we are, except indeed that the very greatness of our sins does but magnify the extent of the “Grace of God.” At the same time, we must remember that the object and necessary effect of grace is to bring our souls into communion with God – to sanctify us, by bringing the soul to know God, and to love Him; therefore the knowledge of grace is the true source of sanctification.

The triumph of grace is seen in this, that when man’s enmity had cast out Jesus from the earth, God’s love had brought in salvation by that very act – came in to atone for the sin of those who had rejected Him. In the view of the fullest development of man’s sin, faith sees the fullest development of God’s grace. . . . I have got away from grace if I have the slightest doubt or hesitation about God’s love. I shall then be saying, “I am unhappy because I am not what I should like to be”: that is not the question. The real question is, whether God is what we should like Him to be, whether Jesus is all we could wish. If the consciousness of what we are – of what we find in ourselves, has any other effect than, while it humbles us, to increase our adoration of what God is, we are off the ground of pure grace. . . . Is there distress and distrust in your minds? See if it be not because you are still saying “I,” “I,” and losing sight of God’s grace.

It is better to be thinking of what God is than of what we are. This looking at ourselves, at the bottom is really pride, a want of the thorough consciousness that we are good for nothing. Till we see this we never look quite away from self to God. . . . In looking to Christ, it is our privilege to forget ourselves. True humility does not so much consist in thinking badly of ourselves, as in not thinking of ourselves at all. I am too bad to be worth thinking about. What

I want is, to forget myself and to look to God, who is indeed worth all my thoughts. Is there need of being humbled about ourselves? We may be quite sure that will do it.

Beloved, if we can say as in Rom. 7, “In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing,” we have thought quite long enough about ourselves; let us then think about Him who thought about us with thoughts of good and not of evil, long before we had thought of ourselves at all. Let us see what His thoughts of grace about us are, and take up the words of faith, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

J.N. Darby, “The True Grace of God wherein we stand,” Similar to, perhaps extracted from, ‘Why do I groan?’ C.W. 12 Evangelical vol. 1, page 186, electronic ed.: http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/darby/New8_95/38True_Grace.html Accessed on 2/5/11.

Mirror, Mirror

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

“But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:18, ASV
Shakespeare famously described the theater in these words: “whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” (emphasis mine.)i The recently deceased Brazilian stage director, Augusto Boal once commented on this metaphor, saying: “I think that’s very nice. But I would like to have a mirror with some magic properties in which we could, if we don’t like the image that we have in front of us, would allow us to penetrate into the mirror and transform our image and then come back with our image transformed.”ii One can sympathize with his sentiments, for honest introspection reveals many flaws and destructive attitudes within one’s own heart. Man’s rebellion against his Creator has warped his personality and rendered him a slave to unbridled passions and perverseness. Sin scars people, and – if left unchecked – leaves an eternally calloused, distorted soul (Rev. 22:11.) To put the matter in scriptural phraseology, sin brings about death (James 1:15.)
A story about Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the British man-of-letters, demonstrates the human predicament. A newspaper of his day invited its readership to answer the question “What is wrong with the world?” He wrote the following: “Dear sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.”iii Literature’s mirror shows man to be his own worst enemy. This self-destructive tendency was described more recently by the disgraced former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer; speaking of his situation, he said: “… The human mind does, and permits people to do things that they rationally know are wrong, outrageous … We succumb to temptations that we know are wrong and foolish when we do it and then in hindsight we say, ‘How could I have?'”iv Men recognize their moral failings and vices, but they have no concept of anything that can permanently refashion the inner-man. Thankfully, God’s Word speaks of another mirror, and links it with the reality of transforming a sinner into the image of a perfect man.
Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?
2 Corinthians refers back to the story in Exodus of Moses drawing near to commune with the Lord, afterward returning to the people with a glowing face. Being in the presence of God – albeit not being able to look on Him as He actually is – illuminated Moses’ face. So that the Israelites would not see the glory ebb away from his countenance, that man of God veiled himself. In Christ, however, we are able to draw near with unveiled face, for the glory of the incarnate, risen Christ never fades. It does not pertain to that former, imperfect time in God’s dispensational dealings with Israel, but rather to the current age of grace.
The passage holds that the glory of the Lord is the secret to human transformation (2 Cor. 3:18.) The mirror spoken of in this text reveals Christ, rather than sinful man. Looking within oneself will only lead to despair, if it is not coupled with consideration of Christ’s person and work. As the nineteenth-century Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote: “For one look at
yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”v The key to the correction of human sinfulness and frailty lies in the sanctifying work of the Lord. One must look away from self to Christ.
“What Would Jesus Do?” He Would Transform Us By His Spirit
Some have the idea that following the example of the Lord’s earthly life is the key to moral transformation. Indeed, some verses do exhort us to imitate His blessed pathway as a man (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:21.) Nevertheless, the contemplation of the Lord Jesus far exceeds mere outward observation. It also entails the power of the Holy Spirit conforming us to Christ’s glorious image (Rom. 8:29; 12:2.) The scholars differ on the proper translation of the Greek word rendered “beholding as in a mirror” in verse 18 (katoptrizomai, Strong’s #2734.) Some translate it as “reflecting as a mirror” or something similar (Revised Version 1881; NRSV; ESVmg.) It is legitimate to translate the word either as “behold” or “reflect.” The question is, which word best fits this chapter? Since Paul is contrasting the age of Moses with the New Testament age, the main issue is beholding the glory of the Lord; thus “beholding” suits the context best.Of course it is also true that through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit believers reflect the glory of the Lord. As the fruit of the Spirit is produced in them, Christians will exude Christ-likeness & reproduce aspects of His moral glory here on earth. In the future, they will be transformed into glorious bodies, so that the outward & the inward agree in their reflection of Christ. Believers are not glorious in & of themselves. Rather, they are destined to reflect the glory of Christ, both morally & physically (1 Jn . 3:2.) Beholding the Lord presents the end of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work; He will conform the believer to the image of Christ.
In James 1:23 the metaphor of the mirror speaks of someone looking into the Word and not paying attention to what it reveals about himself. In 2 Corinthians 3, however, the manner of beholding is accentuated, rather than the object under consideration. As one commentator puts it: “Paul’s emphasis here is not so much on the reflective capabilities of the mirror as it is on the intimacy of it. A person can bring a mirror right up to his face and get an unobstructed view. Mirrors in Paul’s day were polished metal…and thus offered a far from perfect reflection. Though the vision is unobstructed and intimate, believers do not see a perfect representation of God’s glory now, but will one day (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12.)”vi
Humanity’s predicament has been solved by God’s sanctifying work. He is able to show man as he is, and then forgive, justify, cleanse, and transform him into Christ’s glorious image. This amazing transformation is effected solely by His grace and power. It is in beholding the Lord Jesus in the Word of God that the believer is transformed by His Spirit into that same lovely image. Indeed, no more beautiful sight can astonish the eyes of man’s understanding than the Altogether Lovely One, who loves us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20.)
i William Shakespeare, Hamlet 3.2.21-22;A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, Volume 3, Part 1: Hamlet, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1877), p. 228. Electronic edition: http://books.google.com/books?id=8t46h9efb-kC&printsec=frontcover&dq=editions:0HYPNnyipiLB8Skr#PPR1,M1
ii From a 2005 television interview, quoted in his New York Times obituary on nytimes.com, May 9, 2009.
Link:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/09/theater/09boal.html?scp=1&sq=augusto%20boal&st=cse
iii G.K. Chesterton, cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._K._Chesterton#cite_note-10
iv Jonathan Darman, “Spitzer in Exile,” Newsweek, April 27, 2009; electronic edition, p.2: http://www.newsweek.com/id/194590/page/2, accessed 6/08/09.
v Andrew A. Bonar, Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, 1883, p. 239. Electronic edition accessed at: http://books.google.com/books?id=i_cYAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=robert+murray+m%27cheyne&ei=BsoWSp2YKYW0NKmuxbYH#PPA239,M1
vi John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed. Nashville : Word Pub., 1997, c1997, S. 2 Co 3:18

To download the article in pdf., click on: Mirror, Mirror (Revised)

Passion & Purity in Thessalonica

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

In an unholy world the Christian gospel stands out for the dramatic change it makes in the lives of its adherents. Like the contemporary world, ancient Thessalonica was a depraved sink of iniquity, but the liberating glad tidings of Christ effected a great change in the lives of the first believers when it came there. Their experience, coupled with the testimonies of many other ancient and modern Christians, shows that the gospel is indeed “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). What is more, their conversion demonstrates the purity that stems from receiving the new life that the Lord gives to those who receive Him.
Situated along a major east-west route called the Via Egnatia, the seaport of Thessalonica had seen its share of peripatetic philosophers and clerics. There were many belief options in the city – none of them offering any certainty or transformation of life. Idolatry was pervasive in every part of the community with a plethora of temples to various deities, including Dionysius, Zeus, Artemis, and many other false gods. The veneration of these idols encouraged immorality and had no power to liberate the people from their lusts. As one commentator points out: “…a number of cults promoted a lifestyle that would have been viewed as immoral from a Christian perspective.”1 For example the adoration of Aphrodite entailed sexual immorality, and drunkenness was central to the worship of Dionysius. Just like today, there was much money to be made in selling spiritual lies to beguiled souls. That many of the Thessalonian believers had been won to Christ from this background is evidenced by the statement in 1 Thessalonians 1:9: “…ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”.
The Purity of the Message & Its Messengers
The motivation and methodology of the Christian missionaries set them apart from the religious peddlers of competing truth claims. Their arrival in Thessalonica followed intense persecution in Philippi, yet these intrepid preachers did not soft peddle the message. Instead, they fearlessly proclaimed the truth to whoever would listen. As Paul describes his preaching: “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile” (1 Thes. 2:3). In other words, the content of their proclamation was not false – it was a historically accurate account of the truth as revealed by the Lord Jesus. Nor did their preaching lead to impurity. Lastly, they were men of character, not deluded devotees of falsehood.
Preaching the gospel was hardly a lucrative or safe career. In fact, Paul affirms that no ulterior motives under girded their gospel. Unlike the pagan philosophers, they did not place monetary demands on the new converts; furthermore, they actually labored in tent-making to supply their own needs (v.9). Moreover, they were parental in their actions towards the new believers. Their approach was gentle, like a nursing mother with a small infant (v.7). Sagacity marked their exhortation, like a loving father advising his precious children (v.11). Their behavior was an exemplary instance of the love of Christ in action, characterized by purity. As another has written: “…Such a picture…warns all of the
followers of Christ against the temptation of avarice and ambition and inspires them to emulate the courage, the purity, the tenderness, the self-sacrifice, and the fidelity which the apostle claimed and which all who knew him could testify he had embodied in his life.”2
Purity is God’s Will for the Believer
Oftentimes believers ponder what the will of God for their lives might be. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 makes it clear that sanctification is one aspect of His will. Just as the gospel is pure, so it calls its recipients to purity of life and thought. It gives them the power to overcome sin and live for God. The epistle has several references to holiness, but in chapter four the spotlight is specifically turned on the sin of sexual immorality. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, sexual mores were libertine. All sorts of perversions were commonplace, and indiscriminate promiscuity between a man and a woman was regarded as natural. To not indulge one’s physical impulses was considered abnormal. As mentioned before, in Thessalonica the worship of many of the gods and goddesses involved ritual prostitution and abandoning oneself to the basest desires of the heart.
Of course, modern attitudes toward the use and abuse of the body are similar to the ancient views that Paul faced. Many people think nothing of sex outside of marriage. Pop culture glamorizes adultery and fornication in song, literature, and film. Modesty and chastity are viewed as hopelessly antiquated ideals, only followed by zealots and prudes. The restriction of sexual activity to marriage is considered unhealthy and strange.
In contrast to the prevailing mindset of both the ancient and modern worlds, Paul points out that the proper use of one’s body is determined by the believer’s relationship to God and His will (1 Thes. 4:1-6). The Lord Jesus said that the one who loves Him would keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15). Purity characterizes all of the Lord’s actions. His purpose in salvation is “…that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). In a parallel passage, Christians are told that their bodies are “members of Christ” and “bought with a price”, as well as being described as temples for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:13-20). In light of the great redemption that purchased them – in addition to their current standing in Christ – believers cannot use their bodies for illicit sexual pleasure. Christians are to use their bodies to please the Lord.
Purity is to characterize our relations with each other
Some scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians 4:4 is referring to the wives of the brothers when it uses the word “vessel” (especially when compared with 1 Pet. 3:7.) This is not certain, for the New Testament uses that word in a variety of senses, including one’s body (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:20-21). It is evident, however, that a Christian should not sin against his brother in the Lord by committing adultery or any other type of defraudation. Verse 6 makes this clear, saying: “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified”.
Purity must especially be the prevailing moral atmosphere within the Church of God, lived and breathed by those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. It must characterize their thoughts, words, and deeds; moreover, it should mark them out from the defiled world around them. Let each reader search within, and ask: Lord is my heart pure before you? Do I cherish any idols before You? Is some sin clouding my vision and communion with Christ? If so, we must repent, and set our affections on things above, asking the Lord to cleanse us from the defilement that surrounds us and give us a fresh appreciation of Christ (1 Jn. 1:9-2:2; Col. 3:1-10). Purity flows from knowing Christ, and allowing His Holy Spirit to produce His fruit within us. As believers walk with the Lord, His purity will transform them into His own morally beautiful image (1 Jn. 3:1-3).
1 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p.35.
2 Charles R. Erdman, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1935), p.41.

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