Category Archives: Gospel

Embracing Jesus – Repentance and Joy

Repentance

I have been reading A Quest for Godliness by J. I. Packer.  In it, Packer lays out the faith of the Puritans and the way they conferred their beliefs to everyday living.  The things that the Puritans believed were not only abstract, “out there somewhere” ideas.  They were “on the ground”, in front of you, moment by moment beliefs.  Sure, a part of their theology was seemingly abstract and was very high intellectually.  But they didn’t stay there.  Their high-level thought led to high-level application.  One area I have been wrecked by reading on the Puritans is the area of personal holiness and repentance.

The Puritans have oft been charged as legalists, or, at least way too sensitive when it comes to sin.  We might ask them today why they are so uptight.  We may wonder why they are such fun-quenchers.  But I believe that they would respond with joy.  They would respond that holiness and repentance is joy for them.  And I think we can learn a great deal from the Puritans on this note.

Embracing Jesus – From Sin to Savior

I heard repentance described once as turning from our sin to our Savior.  Certainly, this is a simple (not easy) definition of repentance, but it is a great starting point.  Often, when we call people to believe in Jesus for salvation, we only emphasize that they must confess their sin and then believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord, and they will be saved.  I mean, doesn’t the bible teach this in 1 John 1:9, which says, “if we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ESV)?  Well, yes, this is true.  I don’t deny this.  But we must be careful that we are not calling men to “easy-believism”.  What’s that?  “Easy-believism” is simply telling someone that in order to be in heaven forever instead of hell, all they must do is say a simple prayer.  Sometimes, if we are really pressed, we will say something like “and you really have to mean it.  If you don’t mean it, it isn’t real.”

What is the difference?  The difference is eternity.  Not only does 1 John 1:9 call men to confess our sin, but it also tells us what happens when we truly come to Jesus for salvation: God will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.  This happens in two parts: 1. We are declared righteous at the moment of conversion.  We are clothed in the righteous perfection and holiness that is Jesus Christ.  2. We are called into a life of repentance and turning away from sin and forsaking our former selves and into a life embracing Jesus as better than our sin and into a life of pursuing holiness and righteousness in practice.  The first part is positional cleansing – we have been cleansed and forgiven!  The second part is practical cleansing – we continue to become clean and must continue to seek God’s forgiveness which will continue to make us more and more holy, that is, more and more into the image of Christ.

Can Someone be Saved and Not Repent?

No.  But what I don’t mean to say is that repentance saves a man.  God alone saves a man by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9).  But what I am saying is that repentance is the fruit of faith which necessarily proceeds after trust is place in Jesus Christ.  J. I. Packer, in A Quest for Godliness, says, “When faith has primed the pump of the human heart, repentance is the way of living that results.”  In other words, what will happen to a man when his heart is fully given over to the Lord Jesus in faith?  Repentance.  The man will no longer want his sin, but will want his savior!

Packer continues, “your souls will never be drawn from sin, or driven into a course of repentance, until God becomes your dread.”  What’s his point here?  Isn’t God loving toward His own people?  Yes.  However, it is the wrath of the father which keeps a child from doing what he has been commanded not to do.  Likewise, Packer’s point is that not only is the love of the Lord Jesus as Savior reason to repent, but so is the wrath of the Father reason to repent.  Both God’s wrath and His love ought to keep a man in a habitual pattern of repentance – turning from his sin to his savior.  It is a gracious thing to turn to the Savior out of love and devotion.  It is a gracious thing, also, to turn to the Savior out of dread, knowing that God’s wrath burns hot against sin.  Repentance, therefore, comes from both a loving and devoted heart to the Lord Jesus as well as from a dread of God’s red-hot wrath against sin.

The good news is that Jesus took the wrath of God for sin, so that, in the Lord Jesus, I am freed from the constant fear and dread of God’s wrath.  I am not freed from the fear of God’s wrath if I am in sin, even if I think I am a believer.  It is only when I am repenting into Jesus Christ’s bosom that I am completely freed from the fear of the wrath of the Father. Praise be to God!

Conclusion

In Luke 14:25-33,  Jesus explains to the large crowds following Him that there is a steep cost to pay in following Him.  In fact, that cost is a complete forsaking of one’s self and one’s rights and submitting to Christ and His commands.  Jesus says it like this, “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  When we are doing the task of sharing the gospel and making disciples, we need to not sugar coat what it means to come after Christ for salvation.  We ought to lift high Jesus as Savior, but also lift high Jesus as Lord.

Sometimes we think that in doing so, people will be turned off to Christ.  We think, “if they have to turn away from their sin, from what they love doing, then they will most certainly not turn to Christ.”  I would respond to say that if we have won them to Jesus as Savior, but not to Jesus as Lord, we have not won them to Jesus period.  And we ought to not look at repentance and obeying Jesus as Lord as a bad thing.  John says in 1 John 5:3, “for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome (ESV).”  Paul says this in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (DUNG!), in order that I may gain Christ (ESV, emphasis my own).”

Will you embrace Jesus?  Will you turn from your sin and embrace the Savior?  His commands are not burdensome, but they are life-sustaining and joy-giving.  Where does your joy come from? Repent and embrace Jesus Christ.

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Make Your Calling and Election Sure

Signs-coaching

2 Peter 1:10 says “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fail (English Standard Version).”  Self-reflection and introspection are often neglected in Christianity today.  Why?  Are we too busy?  Are we too prideful?  Do we have it already figured out?  Peter gets at something real quick in 2 Peter, and that is the fact that there are people who are professing to be Christian who are not really Christian.  Peter gives some quick, distinctively Christian qualities before v. 10.  He says in v. 5-7:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Peter says these qualities are the qualities of someone who can make sure he is truly called and elect by God unto salvation.  Peter really gets at the heart of the matter quick, because in the rest of 2 Peter, Peter is going to lay down the gauntlet.  You know Peter is serious when he opens the letter like this: “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…(2 Peter 1:1, ESV).”  What’s my point?  The point is that right off of the bat, Peter is separating people who actually have saving faith (to those who have obtained the same faith of the apostles, the faith in Jesus Christ) from those who only claim to have saving faith.  How does Peter separate them?  We have already seen the qualities Peter says are of those who have actually obtained saving faith in Jesus Christ:

  • Faith
  • Virtue (or excellence)
  • Knowledge (knowledge about who God is, since this is the highest form of knowledge)
  • Self-Control (which is really spirit-control, though true believer’s will have the power to be self-controlled)
  • Steadfastness (unwavering, unyielding trust and patience)
  • Godliness (holiness, because God is holy)
  • Brotherly Affection (love for the church, the brothers and sisters in Christ)
  • Love (general lovingness for God and for people)

But Peter doesn’t just give a check-off list for people to see whether or not they are actual believer’s in Jesus Christ.  He says for people to be diligent to make their calling and election certain.  This word diligent has an urgency behind it.  Peter wants people to be urgent, to not wait, to precisely and carefully self-examine themselves to see whether or not they are in the true faith.  I wrote a blog about what is meant by true faith, which can be read here.  Jude says something similar in Jude 3, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (ESV).”  Later, in 2 Peter 3:14, Peter again exhorts “therefore, beloved, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (ESV).”  Again, Peter says in 2 Peter 3:17, “You therefore, beloved, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (ESV).”

In 1 John, John writes of different tests which we can do to be confident of whether we are in the faith or not.  The other night during our Wednesday night youth group worship service, I read through some of these tests and made the point that these tests will either confirm for you that you are in the faith or will confirm for you that you don’t actually have saving faith.  One student remarked that the tests were “harsh”.  I responded in affirmation, affirming that indeed it is harsh and it is difficult.  In fact, I made mention that Jesus says it is “impossible”, at least for us on our own.  But with Christ, all of these things will come and will only serve to better confirm our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that we are saved by Him and in Him.

David writes of self-examination in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (ESV)”  Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”  And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (ESV)

These are but a few of the places in Scripture where we either see the writer doing self-examination or exhorting us to do self-examination, which is precisely what Peter is doing in 2 Peter 1:10.  Be diligent to self-examine yourself to make your calling and election as a believer in Jesus Christ certain.  The point is not to cause doubt.  The point is to cause security in the life of the believer!

But, each time self-examination is either being done or is exhorted to be done, there is always a hint of false faith.  So, why should we do self-examination according to Peter, Jude, John, David, and Jesus?  So that we will know that we are not following a false faith, a faith which will not save.  The false faith is tied into what we do, such as in the Matthew 7 passage where Jesus calls people who trust in what they do “workers of lawlessness.”  Peter’s point with the qualities in 2 Peter 1 is that the qualities only serve as evidence, or proof, of existing saving faith.  The qualities are qualities that are birthed out of a true faith that saves.

So, what is the true faith versus a false faith that doesn’t save?  True faith is only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  False faith can be identified in a number of different ways, but here are a few identifiers of false faith:

  • Belief in self-works for salvation (Matthew 7:21-23, Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • Hatred for the body of Christ (1 John 3:11-18)
  • Love for the world (1 John 2:15-17)
  • Disobedience towards God in habitual patterns (1 John 2:4, 1 John 3:9-10)
  • Denial of the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1-6)

These are only a few, but these are a good starting point.  Let’s turn the negative around and view this positively.  Let’s look at the true faith which is only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  What is meant by the person and work of Jesus Christ?

The person of Jesus Christ means that Jesus is the God-man, 100% God, 100% man, and He alone is mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).  But this isn’t all there is.  The person of Jesus Christ is also tied to the holiness and perfection, or the righteousness, of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15).  This means that Jesus is able to be our mediator because He is perfectly righteous.  He alone is worthy to open the scrolls in Revelation 5:5, when one of the elders says to John, “weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals. (ESV)”  John then says in v. 6 that He sees a “Lamb, standing, as though it had been slain (ESV).”  The slain Lamb is the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the One worthy to open the scroll.  Why? Because of His righteousness.  So, when a person comes to saving faith, they believe in Jesus because Jesus had no sin, and thus conquered sin and death via the resurrection.  Therefore, the convert believes he can have new life, or, as Jesus says in John 3, to be born again.  The convert may not recognize this in full, but in simple form, this is one aspect of the gospel, of saving faith, the person of Jesus.

The work of Jesus is directly and necessarily tied to the person of Jesus.  Why was Jesus able to conquer the grave?  Because sin had no hold on Him, He was perfectly holy and righteous and blameless.  So the saving person of Jesus means that we take on His righteousness, and the saving work of Jesus means that our sin debt is paid in full, and thus we are justified (it’s literally just as if I died – justified).  The work of Jesus is known as propitiation, which is a fancy word which means that the wrath of God is satisfied for sinners in Jesus.  The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross is enough to pay the price for sinners.

So, does it matter?  Does it matter what we lead people to believe about saving faith?  Does it matter what someone who wants to be saved believes?  Well, we certainly don’t think people need to affirm every doctrine, or even these doctrines in depth in order to be saved, else salvation would be tied to doctrine more than it actually is.  But, yes, it does matter what a person who wishes to be saved believes.  He at minimum must believe in the person (righteousness of Christ which gives me new birth) and work (propitiation, which pays the penalty for my sin) of Jesus Christ.  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.  But what about Jesus?  That He was a good man? No.  That He healed people? No.  That He loved people? No.  That He helped people?  No.  Believe that He alone is the righteous One, that in Him you are born again, and that by His work on the cross your sin is paid in full.  Those other things are important, and must be affirmed, but are not necessary for affirmation at the time of conversion.

What is all that? Simply, theology.  A person wishing to be saved must have a theological belief about Jesus in order to be saved.  The theological belief is the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is simple form of rich and deep doctrines such as imputed righteousness and propitiation.  It matters what we believe.  Peter, John, David, Jude, Jesus, and several others in the Bible agree.  We ought not dare disagree with them.  We need to re-evaluate sayings I have seen recently, such as “theology has a place, but is not primary”, or “we don’t need to be theological in order to be effective in winning people to Jesus”.  Yes.  We do need theology.  Without it, there can be no true faith.

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Preaching the Gospel – Words or Lifestyle?

keep calm and preach the gospel

A popular Christian saying I have heard in the last several years is in regards to preaching the gospel.  People say, “preach the gospel, if necessary use words”.  They usually ascribe this to St. Francis Assisi, which, is not actually true.  For further reading about the issue of quoting St. Francis, go here.  I believe that this quote is misleading.  One reason, as is said in the link above, is that it intimates that people who faithfully live out their faith are more faithful and better Christians than those who preach the gospel with words.  It also makes a distinction between the two that I don’t believe needs to be made.  There are cases of people who preach the gospel, but their lifestyles are completely opposite of their words, and in this case, I understand the idea behind this quote.  But I will make the case that true gospel living is gospel preaching.  I am preaching through the book of Acts in our youth group at church on Wednesday nights, and it is amazing that time and time again, the ministries we see the Apostles partaking in are primarily preaching and teaching ministries.  Not only in Acts, but the main thrust of Jesus ministry was also a preaching and teaching ministry.  I say “main thrust” only because I do not mean to say that all they did was preach and teach, and that the other things they did were not important.  I say “main thrust” because I believe the main ministry of the gospel is a preaching and teaching ministry, out of which flows other things, of which are important as well.

So then, how ought we preach the gospel?  With words?  With lifestyle?  I believe it starts with words, which is made evidence by our lifestyle.  So, yes, I am that guy saying “both and”.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus commissions His people and says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…(ESV)”  What does Jesus mean?  His people get Power which is distinct from other power, it is a borrowed power – a power which we receive when the Holy Spirit comes upon us.  In other words, Jesus says in Matthew 28 that all authority under heaven has been given to Him.  And how does He delineate His power to His people?  By giving us the Holy Spirit.  We now have the exact power Jesus meant when He said that He had all power.

But this power does something in Acts 1:8.  This power witnesses.  It is amazing to see time after time the LORD working through His apostles and establishing His church.  Oh that the Gospel would spread like that wild fire today through our witness!  The question, then, becomes how did they witness?  We just got done reading and studying through Acts 17, and I love verse 6 especially, when the angry Jews said of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, “These men who have turned the world upside down…” Oh that we would be people who turn the world upside down! So, again, how did they turn the world upside down?  By teaching and preaching.

Up until Acts 18, look at how often we see the Apostles teaching or preaching (WORDS!) the gospel:

  • Peter’s sermon at Pentecost – Acts 2:14-36
  • Peter commands repentance – Acts 2:38-39
  • The believers devote themselves to the teaching of the Word – Acts 2:42
  • Peter and John proclaim Jesus to a lame beggar – Acts 3:6
  • Peter addresses the crowd in Solomon’s Portico – Acts 3:12-26
  • Peter addresses the High Priest and the council after being arrested for preaching Jesus – Acts 4:8-12
  • The believers pray and afterward the place shakes with the power of the Holy Spirit – Acts 4:24-30
  • The apostles escape prison by an angel who broke them out, and afterward they return to the temple to teach – Acts 5:25
  • Again before the High Priest and the council, Peter preaches the gospel – Acts 5:27-32
  • The word of God increases and priests in Jerusalem are saved – Acts 6:7
  • Stephen, the deacon (THE DEACON!), preaches the gospel – Acts 7:1-53 (and the deacon preached a LOOONNNGGGGGG sermon, imagine that!)
  • Stephen, facing death, preaches the gospel again! – Acts 7:54-60
  • Philip proclaimed Jesus in Samaria – Acts 8:4-8
  • Peter comes and helps Philip, and also preaches the gospel to Simon the Magician – Acts 8:14-25
  • Philip preaches Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch – Acts 8:35 (Philip began talking, with the scripture!!!)
  • Saul (Paul), immediately after his conversion, begins preaching Jesus in the synagogues – Acts 9:20
  • Saul leaves Damascus and goes to Jerusalem, and continues preaching Jesus – Acts 9:28-30
  • Peter proclaims Jesus to Cornelius, a Centurion – Acts 10:1-34
  • Peter preaches to the gentiles – Acts 10:35-43
  • Barnabas and Paul preach Jesus for a whole year in Antioch – Acts 11:25-26
  • The word of God continues to increase – Acts 12:24
  • Barnabas and Paul preach the gospel in Seleucia and they go through the entire Island! – Acts 13:4-6
  • Paul preaches Jesus and a magician is healed and believes the gospel – Acts 13:9-12
  • Paul and Barnabas are asked to share a word, so Paul shares the gospel in Antioch Pisidia – Acts 13:13-41
  • They are invited back to speak again on the next Sabbath, so they do – Acts 13:42-52
  • Paul and Barnabas declare boldly the word of the LORD in Iconium and they become fugitives – Acts 14:1-7
  • Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel in Lystra, and Paul is almost stoned to death as a result – Acts 14:8-19
  • Paul flees to Derbe with Barnabas, and preaches the gospel the day after he is almost killed – Acts 14:20-23
  • They preach the word on their way back to Antioch Syria – Acts 14:25
  • They return to Antioch Syria, and they proclaim the gospel to the church – Acts 14:27
  • Paul and Barnabas remain in Antioch, after the Jerusalem Council, and continue to preach the gospel – Acts 15:35
  • Paul preaches the gospel and Lydia is converted in Philippi, thus began the Philippi church – Acts 16:11-15
  • Paul casts a demon out of a slave girl by proclaiming the name of Jesus – Acts 16:16-18
  • Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns (WORDS!), and the Philippian Jailer is converted – Acts 16:25-40
  • Paul and Silas and go to Thessalonica and reasoned with the Jews – Acts 17:1-6
  • Paul and Silas escape to Berea, and they preach the gospel to the Jews there – Acts 17:10-12
  • Paul goes to Athens and proclaims Jesus to the philosophers – Acts 17:16-34

And the book of Acts isn’t even over!  Certainly, they didn’t only preach the gospel, but don’t be fooled, that was their main objective.  Even when they did some needs-based ministry, it was always tied to the proclamation (WORDS) of the gospel.  Now, I think part of this saying to preach the gospel with our lifestyle, is the call for Christians to be holy.  Peter writes in 1 Peter 1 to “be holy in all of our conduct, because it is written, ‘be holy, because I am holy (says God).’ (my own interpretation)” So, when we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, yes, we ought to also have a holy lifestyle.  A life in which we are not hypocritically calling people to repent, while living in ongoing patterns of sin.  At some level, each preacher, each Christian, is going to be a hypocrite.  Every believer in Jesus Christ is going to sin, at least periodically.  We will, at times, be drawn away from the gospel and again believe the lies of Satan.  But the gospel doesn’t give license for sin, as Paul says in Romans 6:1ff.  The point of Romans 6 is that Jesus saves us so that we can obey Him and put to death sin in our lives, because, well, Jesus has already conquered sin!  It has no power over us.

So, when someone preaches the gospel, the proclamation is enhanced by a holy lifestyle.  I think of preachers who I know are holy men, that when they preach, the sermon is all the more powerful because I know these aren’t just empty words coming from them.  I also know preachers who, when they preach, are preaching only words, and their lives are not matching their proclamation.  But make no mistake – evangelism and witnessing and winning people to the Lord and missions is not done by living a holy life alone.  In fact, it isn’t even the holy life that is primary.  It is the gospel.  The words of the gospel and the sharing of them are what is required for believers.  All believers.  Not just the super-Apostles in the book of Acts.  Not just for the pastors.  But for you.  Where you work, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you go to school, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  Where you live, you are called to share and witness for Jesus.  With words and with your holy living.  Not one without the other, but certainly not without words.

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