Monday, January 28, 2008
Suppose two guys were to stage a debate. We'll call them Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber.
Here's the debate. Bob says that the tomato is the most nutritious bread you can eat. Larry says, no, the cucumber is the most nutritious bread you can eat.
The debate rages on, and Bob the Tomato pulls out all kinds of evidence. Magazine articles, books, medical studies, scientific inquiries, and case studies, all designed to indicate that the tomato is the most nutritious bread you can eat.
Not to be outdone, Larry the Cucumber has his own sources, which he claims show the cucumber is the most nutritious bread you can eat.
Okay, enough of this silliness. Do you see something ridiculous in this scenario, aside from a tomato and a cucumber debating? Something even more ridiculous than comparing apples and oranges?
Of course. Bob and Larry are arguing which is the most nutritious bread, while they are neglecting the obvious – that neither tomatoes nor cucumbers are “bread” at all. While arguing the merits of nutrition, they are missing the fact that they are dealing with two different classes of food, vegetables and bread.
You may be saying, “Terry, what in the world does this have to do with discipleship and salvation?”
The Lordship Salvation Debate
Well, you may be aware of an ongoing debate in churches and seminaries and dens and living rooms, for many years. It's called the Lordship Salvation debate. And the two debaters we will call Lordship Guy and Free-Grace Guy.
And the debate goes something like this:
Free-Grace Guy says, “Salvation is entirely by grace alone through faith alone, that is, faith in Jesus' work on the cross.
“He paid for our sins, and if you believe that, and therefore believe that Jesus is your Savior, and that He died on the cross for your sins, and rose again from the dead, you are saved.
“And you are saved forever, even if you never exhibit any fruit in your life, or even if you turn back away from Jesus, and deny Him, and live a life of complete sin. You're still saved forever.”
Lordship Guy says, “Hold on a minute there, brother, if indeed you are a brother at all with that ridiculous theology. It's not enough to just believe in Jesus as Savior, and believe that He died for your sins and rose again. You must also believe in Him as Lord, and that means that you must do what Jesus said in many places in the Gospels.
"To start with you must 'deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him', Matthew 16:24.
"You must be His disciple, like He said when He said to 'go therefore and make disciples of all the nations', Matthew 28:19. He didn't just say 'go and get decisions for Christ', He said 'make disciples', and we're not worthy to be His disciples unless we obey and follow Him. We need to 'give all that we are for all that He is'. We need to be like the merchant who sold everything he had to buy the Pearl of Great Price, which is the Kingdom of God, which is salvation.”
Okay, the debaters are squared off, and frankly the average person in the pew, so to speak, can, I believe, be pretty easily convinced of either argument.
Free-Grace Guy sounds like he's really honoring the principle of Grace, and doesn't the Bible say we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast? Sounds good to me.
But doesn't Lordship Guy sound right when he says that following Jesus as a disciple is really what it's about? After all, wouldn't we be trampling on God's Grace if we just took it and lived however we wanted? That's not salvation is it?
The Bob and Larry Problem: Free-Grace Guy
Free-Grace Guy and Lordship guy are arguing about bread, when the correct argument is about tomatoes and cucumbers.
Here's what I mean.
Free-Grace Guy is missing a key point of Scripture:
He doesn't really realize the point that Jesus is making when He tells Nicodemus in John Chapter 3, “Unless a man is born again, He cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus is making the point which is expanded on the Epistles, that man is born dead in his sins and trespasses, and remains dead in his sins and trespasses until he is born again, or regenerated. And when he is dead in his sins and trespasses, he can't even “see” the Kingdom of God, let alone believe in its King.
In other words, as Rom. 3:11 puts it, there is no one who seeks God. That is, no one who isn't born again. They can't seek God. They are utterly corrupted by the sinful nature that they inherited from Adam. There is no good in them. They are enemies of Christ (Rom. 5:10). How could they possibly believe in Jesus Christ, when they are spiritually dead enemies of Him?
And the biblical answer is that they can't.
And so the wind of the Holy Spirit of God must “blow” where He wills, and give new life to, we say regenerate, a person. Through the preaching of the Word, the Gospel, that person is now born again. He is given a new heart, a new spirit. And the Holy Spirit comes into his spirit to dwell, and he is a new creation, a new creature.
And now he not only believes in Jesus Christ, he can't NOT believe in Jesus Christ. That's what we mean by Irresistible Grace. Not that God brings us kicking and screaming to Christ, but that He silently changes our heart, gives us a new spirit, a new nature, and with that new heart we simply believe in Jesus.
As Savior, yes, and as Lord.
Were there any works involved in that? Of course not.
But understand this important point: there will be works, good works, to follow. Because a new heart will always bring new works. God is now indwelling that person with His Spirit, and He is at work in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure”, as Paul told the Philippians.
And so Free-Grace Guy, while he is correct that our salvation is entirely by Grace, not of works, he is nevertheless incorrect to think that a truly born-again person could continue in a life entirely of sin, with no fruit in his life, and even leave Christ. Impossible. We have not merely been forgiven, we have been changed.
The Bob and Larry Problem: Lordship Guy
Again, Lordship Guy, Like Free-Grace Guy, is arguing about bread, when the correct argument is about tomatoes and cucumbers.
Here's what I mean:
Lordship Guy means well, sometimes. He speaks, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, against “cheap grace”. He is appalled by people who say they are Christians, but live like the world. He is appalled by the idea that one can “accept Christ” as Savior and then lead a life of debauchery and unbelief, and still call himself a Christian.
And I can sympathize with Lordship Guy. If we love the Lord, we want people to be disciples and deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow Him, don't we? We want people to walk in obedience to Christ, because He deserves it, and He is glorified by His followers, well, following Him.
And after all, aren't the Gospels filled with discipleship commands and requirements? Aren't the parables of Jesus filled with allegories and symbols of our obedience to Him as Lord? I mean, aren't the Gospels called the Gospels because they contain the Gospel?
Ah, now we get down to a big part of the problem.
Invariably, Lordship Guy attempts to understand the New Covenant of our salvation from the Gospel narratives, which historically record events and sayings that occur before the New Covenant was even ratified and explained.
We need to understand that when Jesus walked the earth, He did so under the Law. That is, He was born and lived as an Israelite under the awful burden of the Mosaic Law. And, of course, He was the only one who ever lived perfectly under that Law. The only one who never sinned, never violated the Law, in spirit or letter. He perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses, the Law of God.
And while under that Law, He taught us a lot of precious truth. About right and wrong, about the heart of God, about what it means to live under the Lordship of Christ in the Kingdom of God. About how the Kingdom of God is a spiritual Kingdom, and about how a disciple, a learner and follower, of His should think and live. About the beginnings of the Good News, the Gospel, namely the Good News that the King was now here. The Messiah had come.
Okay, the disciples didn't really "get it", until later after His death and resurrection. But at least He opened the curtains somewhat and announced that it was indeed Good News that He had arrived.
However, it wasn't until the end of His life, and His resurrection, that the New Covenant was instituted.
And therefore, it wasn't until after His death and resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, that a more complete understanding of the Gospel was to be articulated by the Apostles.
And that's why it is a mistake to try to expound on the theology of salvation, soteriology we call it, from the four Gospels.
And that's why Lordship Guy has missed some important truths.
Lordship Guy has missed the same simple truth that Free-Grace Guy has missed. Except that he's missed it from a different direction. One missed this truth from the East side of the road while he was heading North. The other missed this truth from the West side of the road while he was heading South.
Here's the truth Lordship Guy missed: The New Birth is a package deal. When God regenerates a person, “borns them again”, to put it crudely, they are a New Creation, a New Creature. Under the preaching of the Word, the Gospel, this new creature now believes in Jesus Christ, both as Savior, and as Lord.
He doesn't need to “give all that he is for all that Christ is”, he doesn't need to “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ”, HE DOESN'T NEED TO DO ANYTHING to be saved, declared righteous (justified), sealed forever, forgiven of all his sins, past, present and future, and to receive every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
He doesn't need to do anything. He doesn't need to embark on a journey of discipleship and Lordship. He doesn't need to do anything. Not of works, lest any man should boast.
But...and here's where Free-Grace Guy and Lordship Guy need to bend the knee to the Word of God, but...the new believer, the true believer who is born again, this new creation, will be a disciple.
Saved to the uttermost by Grace alone, through faith alone, totally apart from the slightest of works, he will, because of the new heart given him, and the indwelling Spirit of Christ, follow Christ.
That's the glory of the New Covenant, in which God promised He would “cause” us to walk in His statutes, which He has written on our hearts and minds (Ezekiel 36:27; 2 Cor. 3:3).
While Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber ramble on and on, debating about bread, they have clouded the real issue of nutrition.
And while Free-Grace Guy and Lordship Guy have rambled on and on, debating about the “Steps to Salvation”, they have clouded the real issue of the New Birth.
An Important Statement
Now I want to close with an important statement. Some who hear this will categorically reject it, but I challenge you to search the Scriptures to see if it's true. Here's the statement:
Until you understand the simple biblical fact that regeneration, being born again, comes BEFORE faith, and makes a New Creation that can't help but believe in Christ, completely by Grace, with no works, no “giving all you have”, no “selling all and buying” required for salvation, you cannot understand these things.
You will either fall into the ditch on the right, called Free-Grace Salvation, or the ditch on the left, called Lordship Salvation. May God reveal to many the sublime beauty of the sovereign work He has done in us, His new creation, causing us to walk in His ways.
As He lives His Life through us, we will be His disciples, denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Him. Discipleship is a beautiful thing. In our heart of hearts, we desire to follow Him. He is worth following as our Lord and Savior, the Alpha and Omega, the Creator of the Universe He has blessed us with, Immanuel, God with Us, our Redeemer, and our Friend. Being a disciple of His is a beautiful privilege.
But remember that the salvation freely came first by grace alone.
Discipleship isn't salvation.
Friday, January 25, 2008
The picture above is of the sculpture Struggle of Two Natures In Man by George Gray Barnard. It represents a common view that man has two natures, a "good" one and a "bad" one.
Many have taught that this is true of every person, "born again", or not.
Others who are Bible believers think that Christians once had only a "bad" nature, but after being "born again" now have both a new (good) nature plus their old (bad) nature.
But is this true?
Nowhere in Scripture is it indicated that we have two natures. Your "nature" is your very "being", your "essence" or "essential self". This is expressed in Scripture as our "spirit", and we don't have two of those.
Biblically, we had ONE nature when we were unregenerate. It was an enemy to Christ, and loved sin.
When we are born again, we still have ONE nature. But it's New (2 Cor. 5:17).
We don't get a second nature to live alongside our now-schizoid "sinful nature". We are "regenerated", given a new nature (new "man"). The old nature (old "man") has been crucified -- "dead" for those in Rio Linda.
We still have the "flesh" to contend with, which while admittedly mysterious, is much more physical than usually thought of by those who incorrectly think we still have a "sin nature".
This flesh might be compared to an old computer program, with its habitual thought/behavior patterns still warring with our new spirit (our new nature).
Thanks to modern science, we know that our brains are quite literally physical/chemical/cellular "river patterns", which can be physically stimulated to cause things to happen in our minds. Things like remembering a birthday party from age 3, or "feeling" exhilaration as we remember going down a roller coaster, or thinking murderous thoughts as we probe some cell of a long-lost memory of injustice.
Thus our minds need to be "renewed" to establish new habit patterns of thought, which align with Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
But the flesh is not our "sin nature" because it is not our nature at all. In it (in our "members") dwells this thing called "sin", but Paul was careful in Rom. 7 to say that while "sin" dwelt in his members, his flesh, the sin was not him ("I find it's no longer *I* that do it, but sin which is within me.")
The New International Version (NIV) has done a great disservice to the Church by translating "flesh" (sarx) as "sinful nature" in Romans 7. It's an interpretational mistake which furthers the error of our having two natures.
The English Standard Version (ESV) made the same mistake in the earliest translations, but the translators became convinced that this was wrong, and have since corrected it to read "flesh".
I write on this subject only because I think biblical Anthropology is very important. It makes the difference between the believer who thinks it's "natural" for him to sin, and the one who thinks it is *against* his nature to sin (the latter is the correct one).
If we correctly think that it is *against* our nature to sin ("Consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ" - Rom. 6:11), we have a greater understanding in seeking to walk by the Spirit (the Holy Spirit, as well as our new spirit in which He dwells), and not by the flesh.
Paul in Romans 7 is clearly speaking of a believer walking by the flesh, with sin residing in his flesh. Who will deliver him from this BODY of death (see how physical that is?)? The answer is Christ, as He indwells Paul's spirit (nature) and lives His Life out through Paul.
We can all identify with "doing what we don't want to do" sometimes. But can't we also identify with "doing what we DO want to do" sometimes, as He works in us "both to will and to do for His good pleasure"?
All things beings equal, when we KNOW we are changed, we have more of a tendency to ACT like we're changed.
Monday, January 21, 2008
You probably know what Gospel tracts are. Gospel tracts are usually small little pamphlets or booklets which are handed out to people or left behind for people to pick up, so that they can read about the Good News of Jesus Christ.
If you use Gospel tracts, or if you have read many Gospel tracts, you know that most Gospel tracts end with some kind of sample prayer or “decision” that the reader is encouraged to pray or decide. And the decision or prayer is often put in the context of, “Okay, what do I do if I want to accept Christ?”
And the answer usually starts out biblically with something like, “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So far, so good.
But then you will invariably find some so-called explanation of Repentance which goes like this: “Repentance means to turn from your sins.” This is even explained further sometimes as a “180-degree about face. You were going one direction, and now you completely turn your life around and head 180 degrees in the other direction.”
And that's where most tracts, in my experience 90 to 95% of tracts, and many sermons, depart from Scripture.
Repentance is not “turning from your sins”. Repentance is simply a change of mind.
I remember as a kid, when we were first exploring the primitive concepts of logic and common sense, we had a little logical trick question we used to ask. We could often fool the kids with this simple question, but what really gave us pleasure was fooling the adults, which was about as easy as fooling the kids.
Here's the simple question with its scenario: “There were three frogs on a log, and one decided to jump off. Now how many frogs are on the log?”
If I had asked you that question when I was a kid, and you answered, “Two”, I would have chuckled with delight and gently mocked you because you didn't listen carefully and logically to the question. If one frog DECIDED to jump off, at that moment in time, there were still three frogs on the log, because DECIDING to jump off is not in fact jumping off.
Did the frog eventually jump off? Of course, because he had decided to. But the "decision" is not the "jumping". Get it?
In the same logical, common-sense way, repentance is not “turning from your sins”. Repentance is simply a change of mind.
Before going further with the concept of repentance, I want to take a little side road, and say a few words about logic itself. Often logic is seen as something the atheists use against Christianity. Logic is ridiculed by Christians sometimes because logic is used by anti-Christian thinkers, and so these Christians reject logic and say something like, “I don't care how logical your argument is, it goes against the Word of God, and so it's wrong.”
Now that attitude toward the Word of God itself is good and commendable. We should have that attitude of sola scriptura, scripture alone, as our final authority. But that doesn't mean that we should throw out logic.
God is the Father of logic. God is the Father of right reasoning. We should exert our God-given reason or logic in making conclusions. However, unlike the atheist or pagan, our logic, our logical arguments, must be based ultimately on the truth of the Scriptures.
So don't disparage logic, or refuse to think logically, just because the pagans use logic. They have different foundations, different premises, than you do, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ and His Word. Use those premises, those truths, from the Word of God, and then make your logical conclusions, and you will be on the right track.
O.K., back to our point about repentance. We said repentance is not “turning from your sins”. Repentance is simply a change of mind.
I want to look at four reasons why this is true, and why it's important:
The Greek Word For Repentance
1. First we have the simple linguistic meaning of the Greek word which we translate “repentance” or “repent”. The word translated “repent” is metanoeo. The noun form is metanoia. And it comes from two Greek words meaning “change” and “mind”.
Now I will admit immediately that this simple linguistic explanation is not enough. And the reason that it's not enough all by itself is that sometimes a simple Greek word has taken on more meaning than its basic original meaning.
We have this in English, too, and I assume in every human language. If you say, “That car of mine is a lemon”, you can't be committed to some mental asylum as if you thought your car was really a small yellow citrus fruit. Why? Because although the simple original meaning of lemon is the citrus fruit, it has taken on an additional meaning of a defective car that keeps breaking down.
And so, in looking at the word “repentance”, we have to ask if it has biblically taken on a meaning other than "changing one's mind". We'll deal with that question in reason number 3, but first we have to admit something else.
We have to admit that if there is no biblical reason to give “repentance” a meaning other than its basic original meaning of “changing the mind”, then we have to accept that it simply means “to change the mind”.
In other words, always take a word at its basic original meaning, unless there is good reason to do otherwise. And with that rule in place, I think we will see clearly that “repentance” simply means “to change the mind”, NOT “to turn from your sins”.
2. The second reason why this is true and important is this: to say that “repentance” is “turning from your sins”, is blatant Legalism, even if taught by well-meaning teachers, preachers, and gospel tracts.
Now if you pointed this out to one of these teachers or preachers, they would, of course, immediately deny that they were teaching Legalism. But think this through.
I believe it is impossible to convey the idea of “turning from your sins” without conveying the idea of “doing” something, or “not doing” something. To put it another way, you can't logically speak of “turning from your sins”, without referencing some kind of obedience. That is, obedience to some Law of God, or some biblical command to “do” or “not do” something.
Now, let me take another little side road, and talk about the New Birth.
Jesus told Nicodemus that unless a man is "born again", or what the theologians call “regenerated”, he can't “see” the Kingdom of God. The implication is that if he can't even “see” the Kingdom of God, he sure can't believe in the King.
Scripture teaches that he is dead in his sins and trespasses, and can't do a thing about it, because he is an enemy of God. And until the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where He wills, and gives New Life (the New Birth) to someone, they're going to stay dead in their sins and their trespasses. Lost and headed for Hell.
But the Bible teaches that before the foundation of the world, God has chosen to save His people. And He does this through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ, His death on the cross to pay for our sins, His burial and His resurrection from the dead. And that through believing in this Jesus Christ, we are saved.
That's what John 3:16 means when it says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
That's the Gospel. But the important thing about this Gospel, the critical thing that makes it different than false gospels, is that it is completely by Grace. In other words, the salvation is completely a free gift from beginning to end. “Not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Eph. 2:8,9)
Now if I “turn from my sins”, I've got something to boast about. I've DONE something that I can boast about, haven't I?
But that's not the Gospel. And that's why “repentance” can't be “turning from your sins”. It's simply a change of mind.
But what is it a “change of mind” about? Two things basically.
First, our sins. We used to be FOR them, now we're AGAINST them. We used to think they were O.K. Now we see them as evil and rebellious against a holy and just and good God.
But the second thing we change our mind about is Jesus Christ Himself. We used to not believe in Him in any way, or maybe thought He was just a “good teacher”, or whatever. But now we believe in Him as our Lord and our Savior. We “see” the Kingdom of God. We “see” His rightful place as our Master, and we “see” that through His work on the Cross, we have forgiveness of our sins.
We "repent" or change our minds about our “dead works” (Heb. 6:1), and believe in Jesus Christ.
And this is why this subject is so important. Because if we preach the Gospel as requiring people to “turn from their sins”, we are confusing the Grace of God with the works of people. We are giving them something to DO, instead of something to BELIEVE, and salvation comes from BELIEVING.
How Much Turning From Sins Is Enough?
3. The third reason for the truth and importance that repentance isn't “turning from your sins” is closely related to the second on Legalism.
It simply asks the question, “How much turning from your sins is enough?”
Is it completely turning from all your sins forever? Then no one qualifies, do they?
Is it just turning from sins somewhat for a little while? That's not much of a repentance, is it?
This brings the same kind of confusion brought by those who confuse salvation with discipleship. They say things like, “Give your life to Christ and He will save you”, or “Give all that you are for all that He is”. That's not the Gospel. It prompts the same type of confusing question. “How much do I 'give' Him? How much is enough? Did I give Him ALL of my life?” And on and on the legalistic confusion.
See, that's the problem with Legalism. It's never enough. It's like the leech of Proverbs 30:15 that says, “give, give”, but it's never enough. How much Performance is enough? How much obedience is enough to secure the love and favor and forgiveness of God?
And of course the answer is that you can never have enough obedience, or enough “turning from sins” to earn God's love and favor. His love and favor had better be by Grace, or we are all in trouble. But of course it is by Grace, thank God.
Thank God that repentance, like faith, is a gift of God through the New Birth. Thank God that He sovereignly blows the wind of His Spirit and regenerates us, and then we “see”, and we repent, we change our minds. We once were blind, but now we “see”.
We are new creatures, but we still are sometimes deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil, and walk by the flesh instead of walking by the Spirit, and we sin. Thank God those sins are paid for and forgiven, and He leads us back to change our minds again. We should never stop changing our minds back to the truth. Back to the Word of God and the truth of the Gospel of Grace.
The Catch-22 of Repentance As “Changing the Mind”
4. The fourth reason for the truth and importance that repentance isn't “turning from your sins”, is that “turning from your sins” will only result in more sinning. But “changing your mind” will result in less sinning.
Here's what I mean by that.
Remember our little frog friends, on the log? When one of the frogs decided to jump off of the log, even though he had not jumped off yet, we were confident that he would jump off, right?
Why? Because that's what he had decided to do. The decision was his "repentance", we might say. And his jumping off was the reasonable result of his repentance.
Likewise, when a person repents (changes their mind) about their sins, and about Jesus Christ, just as sure as the frog jumps off of the log, the new believer will have a changed life.
The Bible says he will have “fruit” in his life, the result of the Holy Spirit indwelling his new heart (Col. 1:27; Gal. 5:22,23), and the Life of Christ living through Him (Gal. 2:20), and God working in Him both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
The so-called Free Grace theology that says a person can repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but then turn from the Lord, and embrace his sins again, and never come back to Christ, never have any “fruit” in his life, but still be "saved" in the end, is a serious error.
Why? Because the New Birth brings a New Creation, and the New Creation, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and producing a “change of mind” (repentance), will bring a changed life. It will bring “fruit”.
So, in conclusion, where does salvation come from?
Well, it's a free gift brought by the New Birth, which results in our changing our minds about our sins and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who paid for our sins on the Cross, and said, “It is finished”, and died and rose again from the dead.
In other words, it's by Grace, not by the works of “turning from our sins”.
Monday, January 14, 2008
If you're in war, the last thing you want to do is surrender to your enemy. Surrender means defeat, humiliation, and loss. Of course, if your enemy surrenders to you, this is considered good.
But I speak of another kind of surrender.
Not the surrender to an enemy, but the surrender to a Friend. Not the surrender of defeat and humiliation and loss, but the surrender that leads to gaining that which could never be gained otherwise.
The word "surrender" never appears in the Scriptures in this context.
Yet we know by inference that it is one of the most important concepts to the Christian life.
It's expressed in such passages as 2 Corinthians 12:9...
..."My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
or Luke 22:42...
"...not My will, but Yours, be done."
Surrender is that state in which we recognize our own weakness and limitations before God, and rest in Him, rely on Him, lean on Him, and surrender to His will.
Surrender is seemingly never total. It's an ongoing process. But to the degree we are surrendered to God's will, to the degree that we are dependent on Him, to the degree that we are surrendered to His sovereignty, it's to that degree that we are able to walk by the Spirit.
And sometimes surrender is a three-steps-forward and two-steps-back deal, which can be frustrating. Surrender can be the result of our being broken in some way. And we often can work with this brokenness, or we can fight it.
But the Catch-22 is, that the more we can rest in, and cooperate with, and accept the process, the better the process goes along.
Conversely, the more we are frustrated and annoyed at the process, or even fight it, the bumpier the process goes along. This is called "kicking at the goads", a reference to stubborn oxen kicking against the sticks used to prod them along.
Jesus has promised that His yoke for us is easy, and His burden for us is light. We may not feel that way sometimes, but it helps to remember it, and it certainly doesn't make it easier and lighter if we fight it.
Two things that hinder us from being surrendered:
1. Not recognizing the hand of God in our trials, as a means of breaking and shaping us.
Joseph, in Genesis 50:20, recognized that God had meant Joseph's awful trials "for good", even though his brothers had meant it "for evil". We would be wise to recognize our own trials and life situations as God's means to break and shape us.
I still remember a sermon I heard over 25 years ago, at a little Baptist church in Dallas, Texas. I remember it was a blue church. The walls were blue, the pews were blue, I think even the choir robes were blue. Anyway the guest preacher for that day was a guy named Jack Taylor, and he said something I never forgot.
He is a Southern fella, and so he said God "fixes fixes to fix us" (Yankee translation: God brings things into our life to mold and shape and break us. I'm qualified to translate, because I've been in Tennessee now since 1986).
Anyway, he said this profound thing that I've never forgotten:
"If God fixes a fix to fix you, and you fix the fix instead of it fixing you, then God will have to fix another fix to fix you."
One ol' boy preacher I heard recently understands that (or at least his wife does). He laughed because some trial happened to them, and his wife said, "I wish you'd have learned that from the Lord last time, honey, so we wouldn't have to go through it again."
The "fixing" that we need is to be "surrendered". Surrendered to the Lord. The Good Surrender.
2. The second thing that hinders us from being broken is self-centeredness.
We want our own will, not His. We want things to go the way we want them to go. We are angered when our will is crossed. We will seek to escape or dodge the trial in our life, instead of letting it shape us. We want what we want, and we will jolly well do whatever it takes to "make it happen".
When we see this in others, we are repulsed. It sickens us to see this, whether it's a child throwing a temper tantrum in Wal-Mart, or an adult thinking only of themselves in a conversation.
We see its evil so clearly in others, yet sometimes we despise it in others only because of our own self-centeredness. Sort of, "How DARE you think you are the center of the Universe! Don't you know that *I* am the center of the Universe? What about ME?!!?" Of course we don't say this. We only think it.
There is no direct remedy for this self-centered, self-indulgent, self-ish, self-aggrandizing attitude, except the work of brokenness itself. Of course there are indirect means, primarily the Word of God and prayer.
And so we see a circle of brokenness. The more we are broken, the more we can be broken, so the more we're broken, and so the more we can be broken.
We may want to keep this in mind before we make foolish vows to the Lord. For example, I heard a song on the radio that went like this:
"The Cross demands allegience. I'll give nothing less than all!"
Really?!!?? "Nothing less than all!!??" Get real. There's some breaking to be done, isn't there?
Unless you're Jesus Christ, you'd be wiser to stick with Keith Green's musical thought,
"Just keep doing your best, pray that it's blessed, and He'll take care of the rest...He's gonna do it...He'll take care of the rest."
The Part of Prayer In Brokenness and Surrender
Few things are as important to our brokenness as prayer. All kinds of prayer.
--Petition (asking for things)
--Intercession (praying for others)
--Adoration (speaking lovingly to God about His wonders, attributes, goodnesses, etc.)
--Confession (telling Him what He already knows about our sins)
--Thanksgiving (is there any end to the list of blessings, not the least of which is His forgiveness of those sins we just confessed?)
--Praying the Scriptures (using verse-by-verse passages to prompt our praying,
reinforcing our understanding of the mind of our Lord)
--Meditation (technically not prayer, but great to do in the same time-frame context, meditating for example on His attributes, His love, His Word).
This kind of prayer takes time, but how rich and blessed it is. As the saying goes, Prayer Changes Things, but just as importantly Prayer Changes Us.
If we pray with our brokenness and surrender in mind, we will be a long way toward truly "loving God and enjoying Him forever".
The following are some evidences of surrender. They are worth thinking about, one by one, not for the purpose of being discouraged because we fall short, but for the purpose of humbling ourselves before the Lord, that He may lift us up.
Dealing with issues of surrender should never distract us from our wonderful Savior, and should never cause us to try to earn His love and favor by our Performance. He loves us unconditionally. He loves us because He chose to love us, even while we were His enemies.
Nothing can separate us from His love, including our lack of surrender!
And while that wonderful thought alone might help us desire brokenness and surrender to Him, I repeat that His love and favor for us are not dependent on that love and surrender.
Having said that, here are some evidences of surrender:
1. All our “rights” surrendered. Of course we have been blessed with promises in the Scriptures that we might call “rights”, such as the “right” to approach the throne of God in prayer, the right to be filled with the Spirit and fellowship with Jesus. But the very idea of thinking of these as “rights” instead of precious “privileges” should be a red flag indicating a lack of humble surrender in our minds.
2. Willingness to be rejected. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” should be our attitude.
3. Transparent - willing to share weakness.
4. Vulnerable - willing to share failures.
5. A sense of total inadequacy in self strength - 2 Cor. 3:5, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God..."
6. A sense of adequacy in Christ through His strength - Phil. 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 2 Cor. 3:6, "...who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
7. Trusting God whatever - resting even with external turmoil.
8. Obedience out of a love motive because I want to, not because I have to.
9. Recognizing the power in weakness.
10. Willing to be weak.
11. Willing to fail.
12. A readiness to let others receive credit.
13. Genuine humility. Not “I am nothing, just a worm”, but, “Everything that I have has been given to me by the Lord.” I can only boast in Him.
14. Placing value upon those who have little or no value to yourself.
15. A readiness to affirm or build up others. It's a well-known cliché that we often put others down only to make ourselves look better. Surrender does away with that. We can be a Barnabas, an encourager to others.
17. Willing to not be in control.
18. Willing to be misunderstood.
Dying To Self
Another phrase for "surrender" is "dying to self". I wrote the following in my Bible in 1985. I regret I don't remember who to give credit to, but it has been a great blessing to me over these many years:
WHEN you are forgotten, or neglected, or purposely provoked, and you don't sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ – that's dying to self.
WHEN your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence – that's dying to self.
WHEN you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any impunctuality, any annoyance; when you stand face-to-face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility – and endure it as Jesus endured – that's dying to self.
WHEN you are content with any food, any offering, any climate, any people, any raiment, any interruption – that's dying to self.
WHEN you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good words, when you are uncomfortable with commendations, when you can truly love to be unknown – that's dying to self.
WHEN you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances – that's dying to self.
WHEN you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart – that's dying to self.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Evelyn Zoe Tian is a young girl in Singapore whose simple blog I have followed and enjoyed. She has a beautiful heart for the Lord and has written a beautiful poem which is more profound than first meets the eye:
Read slowly, absorb, repeat, enjoy.
Read slowly, absorb, repeat, enjoy.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Thousands of sermons are written and spoken every year with the basic theme that you, as a Christian, are unworthy.
You are unworthy of your salvation, you are unworthy of God's grace and mercy, you are even unworthy of the blessings that you have in everyday life. Your family, your house or apartment, your car, your dog or cat.
You are so unworthy as to be a worm and a slug on the face of the earth. Why if it wasn't for God and His love for you ol' worms, you would have nothing. Nothing. And if it wasn't for God and His love for you, you would be thrown into the Lake of Fire without hesitation.
You are so unworthy you make a bird heading South for the Winter more worthy than you. At least the bird faithfully obeys God at all times. Can you imagine a bird having an instinct from God in his little bird brain to go South, and he thinks, “No, I'm going to do what I want, God. I'm going North for the Winter.”? Ridiculous.
You, on the other hand talk and act such foolishness all your life. You were born that way. God says obey your parents, and what do you do? Right. And that's just the beginning of sorrows. Your life is spent in virtually total rebellion against God, until you're born again, and even then you succumb to the lies of the world and the flesh and the devil sometimes and God says, “Fly South”, and you fly North.
You are so unworthy that you don't deserve anything from God. But God is loving and merciful and He drags you out of the miry pit and puts your feet on the rock, and you go to heaven someday. But not because you're worthy, you worm.
Now that about sums up a common message preached, doesn't it?
Here's my question. Is it true? Is it true that we are unworthy? That we don't deserve anything from God?
Well, yes, it's true, as a matter of fact.
Oh, we're fearfully and wonderfully made. But that's not the issue. Every fearful and wonderful bone in our body was put there by God himself. 1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
So even our gifts and abilities and wonderful attributes – the very fact that we were created in the image of God – that's nothing to boast about. We didn't earn it, we didn't deserve it, we weren't worthy to receive it, and we still aren't worthy.
So is there anything wrong with that message that's preached in Bible-believing churches all over the world every week? Is there anything wrong with preachers pounding into the heads of their congregations how unworthy they are?
I mean, they mean well, don't they? It's often put in the context of how great God is, isn't it? And God is great isn't He? And merciful and loving and righteous and omnipotent and sovereign? And you'll sometimes hear it put this way: We must have a high view of God, and a low view of man.
And there is a sense in which all of that is true. You won't find anything in the Scripture that says that we are worthy of the goodness of God. Only He is worthy, the Bible says. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. He alone is worthy, we sing. And that's true.
Then is anything wrong with that message preached?
I believe the answer is “Yes”.
I believe there are two things wrong with that message. I'll call it the Unworthy Worm Message.
1. It's only part of the truth.
2. It is misleading because it neglects another even greater truth.
The greater truth that is neglected is simply this:
God Has Given Us Worth
God in His sovereignty has deemed that we are worth something to Him. In fact he has deemed that we are worth a LOT to Him. He has deemed us worth so much that God the Father has given us to God the Son as a gift, as a Bride, and as a reward for His death on the Cross.
Have you ever stopped to think about where the worth of something comes from?
When my parents were born, the United States was under what was called the Gold Standard. That meant that paper money, dollar bills, were not only paper, but actually were backed up by actual gold, held in reserve somewhere. The paper, which otherwise would have been worthless in it's own right, was actually worth some gold.
That system was abandoned in 1933, but when I was a kid, we still had what were called Silver Certificates. They were dollar bills that were actually backed up by silver. Theoretically, you could trade those bills for actual silver, though I never met anyone who bothered to do that.
But now the United States, like virtually every other nation, has what is called "fiat currency". In other words, we just deem or declare by "fiat" that a dollar bill is “worth” a dollar. And a twenty-dollar bill is worth twenty of those so-called dollar bills, and so on.
But why are they worth anything? Why did even the gold and silver have worth? Why do we say a diamond is worth such and such an amount of money? And why do we say dirt is worthless? Wait, potting soil is worth something. Why?
At it's foundation, things are “worth” whatever they are deemed or declared to be “worth” by those who deem or declare them to be “worth” something. Isn't that true? And that “worth” can vary drastically.
Today you might think a bar of gold bullion is worth a lot more than a bottle of water and a sandwich. But two days from now, stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert without food and water, you'd take the Corned Beef and the Dasani water, wouldn't you? All of a sudden it became “worth” a lot more than the gold.
O.K., back to God and us.
God has chosen to give “worth” to us, for reasons ultimately known only to Him, or for no reason at all.
And I'll take the bold stand that being “worth” something to God, is infinitely better than being “worthy”.
Because God is infinitely above us, and infinitely wiser than us, and infinitely greater than we are, and infinitely more righteous than we could have ever been, and infinitely more powerful than us, our “worthiness” could never have attained to much under the very best of circumstances. And Lord knows, we didn't grow up under the very best of circumstances. We grew up with the nature of Adam, which we inherited.
Our own worthiness, like our own righteousness, is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
But God did something amazing. Something that we can barely comprehend now, but which we will praise Him for long after this earth is burned up. Long after we debate worth vs. worthy. Long after we strain our eyes looking into a glass darkly, trying to figure out “Why?” We call it eternity, and we will praise Him and sing “Worthy is the Lamb” for eternity.
Long after we stop asking why the Lord saw fit to save us worms, we will praise Him because He gave us worth. He declared us worth something. Through no work or striving or earning or intrinsic value of our own, He nevertheless deemed us a suitable gift for His Son.
O.K., He has some serious work to do on us. Like uncut diamonds, we are rough and don't look so good. But inside, He has made us a New Creation, and He knows what He values, and He's perfectly willing to grind and sever and chip and polish until what's left is only what He values. And He is working all things together for good, and He is the one that declares what is good, isn't He?
Will we spend eternity congratulating ourselves for being worth so much? Of course not. It's all of grace, all of God.
The Eight-Cow Wife
Patricia McGerr sailed to the island of Kiniwata in the Pacific over 40 years ago. She tells the story of a man they called Johnny Lingo.
People kept mentioning this Johnny Lingo, and they seemed to admire him, but they always had a sort of mocking smile or laugh when they mentioned him. Patricia finally asked why the mocking smiles.
It seems that five months before, Johnny Lingo had come to Kiniwata and found a wife named Sarita. And the joke was that he had paid Sarita's father eight cows for her.
Listen as Patricia McGerr tells the rest of the story.
I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.
"Good Lord!" I said. "Eight cows!" She must have beauty that takes your breath away.
"She's not ugly," he conceded, and smiled a little. "But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she'd be left on his hands."
"But then he got eight cows for her? Isn't that extraordinary?"
"Never been paid before."
"Yet you call his wife plain?"
"I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow."
"Well," I said, "I guess there's just no accounting for love."
"True enough," agreed the man. "And that's why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the islands' sharpest trader was bested by dull old Sam Karoo."
"No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny'd pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, `Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.'"
"Eight cows," I murmured. "I'd like to meet this Johnny Lingo."
I wanted fish. I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny's house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians. And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me with grace to his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, "You come here from Kiniwata?"
"They speak of me there?"
"They say there's nothing that you can't help me get."
He smiled gently. "My wife is from Kiniwata."
"Yes, I know."
"They speak of her?"
"What do they say?"
"Why, just....." The question caught me off balance.
"They told me you were married at festival time."
"Nothing more?" The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.
"They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows."
I paused. "They wonder why."
"They ask that?" His eyes lighted with pleasure. "Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?"
"And in Nurabandi everyone knows it too. His chest expanded with satisfaction. "Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."
So that's the answer, I thought: vanity.
And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right.
I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me.
"You admire her?" he murmured.
"She ... she's glorious. But she's not Sarita from Kiniwata," I said.
"There's only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata."
"She doesn't. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo."
"You think eight cows were too many?" A smile slid over his lips.
"No. But how can she be so different?"
"Do you ever think," he asked, "what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita."
"Then you did this just to make your wife happy?"
"I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any woman in the islands."
"Then you wanted--"
"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman."
"But--" I was close to understanding.
"But," he finished softly, "I wanted an eight-cow wife."
You know what Jesus paid for His Bride, for you. A price infinitely greater than eight cows. I thought you'd want to know the worth that He places on His Bride.
Sarita wasn't “worthy” of the eight cows. But Johnny Lingo deemed her “worth” the eight cows, and it transformed her. May your worth to Jesus Christ be a transforming influence on you as your mind is renewed by this truth.