June 2021

Grace that delivers

The Pastor's PenLurking beneath the surface of unrest is an insidious disease preventing any hope of world peace being achieved by its own means. Social reforms fail, judicial reforms are ineffective, and political rhetoric simply lack the moral and spiritual teeth to achieve what is so desperately needed. Increasingly, injustice plays out, evil is tolerated, conflict is excused, and wrongdoing is accommodated by worldly systems. Peace, which most people desire, continues to elude mankind.

Paul springboards his letter to the Galatians with a bold and victorious greeting that sums up humanity’s greatest need and God’s comprehensive solution to that need. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Galatians 1:3-5). This greeting is almost a letter of its own and could equally serve as a meaningful doxology.

As is so typical of Paul’s writings, mankind’s singular point of access to God is through His grace. Grace is the only door, opening to the only path leading to peace with God. What’s more, God’s gracious peace is only accessible through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. At this point the inquisitive mind may ask, “but how is this possible?” The answer begins, as always, with God who exercised His will in sending His Son to earth. He did not do this to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).

God’s purpose was for Jesus’ earthly destination to be death on a Cross. Jesus gave himself to this task knowing that the full weight of His Father’s judgement for our sin would target Him on the cross. Jesus’ unearned condemnation for our sin was according to the will of our God. Jesus was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, (Isaiah 53:5) and with his wounds we are healed of the deadly disease of sin. This is what sinful humanity is called to believe. Belief in this gospel truth of Jesus Christ is God’s only solution to deliver us from the present evil age.

Paul proclaims that glory forever and ever is assigned to God for doing such an undeserved and uninvited act of grace toward humanity. We believe in Jesus’ power to forgive sin primarily for the glory of God. In the obedience of belief, we receive the eternal blessing of forgiveness and eternal life. Upon belief in Jesus Chirst as our substitute on the cross, we receive the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12). Upon belief in Jesus, we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).

God’s grace through Jesus Christ delivers us from the power of sin which inescapably produces eternal death. God’s grace, therefore, enables spiritual rebirth and adoption to God through belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sin. Just as God was specific in the giving of Jesus, so we need to be specific in our belief in Jesus. Consequently, Jesus words remain true, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27). May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

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A humble work ethic for God

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Activities are synonymous with breathing. If we live, we do things. Even when stationary or sleeping, we do things with our thoughts. Christians are called, then spiritually rebirthed, for an activity which requires determined work. It is appropriate work because Christ lived, died, resurrected, and ascended for the very same work.

Jesus prayed before His crucifixion; I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world… (John 17:6). Jesus’ Father had provided Him with people to whom He was to reveal His Father. Jesus was not on a lone mission for His own purposes. Exposing the world to His own divine identity was not Jesus’ primary mission. Making the glorious character of God the Father known and evidenced through His life WAS Jesus’ primary purpose.

Accordingly, Jesus began His high priestly prayer with the words glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you (John 17:1). Even though Jesus was worthy of glory, His humility purposed to glorify His Father first and foremost. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do (John 17:4). Here, Jesus describes glorifying His Father as work. This is true for us also. Against the resistance of the world and our own fleshly inclinations, we labour for the supreme purpose of glorifying God. It involves considerable effort, sacrifice, and perseverance with actions.

So, how do we saved sinners glorify God? Matthew 5:14-16 provides some insights. Jesus explains, you are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. This is a God centred life ethic that unashamedly lives and functions to give expression to God’s character that can be seen by others.

Believers do good works and give glory to your Father through both simple and complex activities. From the mondain to the exciting things in life, we purpose to expose those around us to God, and often without speaking a word. From friendship with the lonely, feeding the hungry, teaching to read, talking through the complexities of life with the downcast, to proclaiming the good news of the gospel, these are all glorifying works. Missionary efforts, discipling others, preaching God’s Word, caring for orphans, loving the unlovable, and even praying for and blessing those who curse you (Luke 6:28), these all spread the glory of God as those who cannot be hidden.

A humble work ethic for God recognises that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, we lean into the task with dependence upon the Holy Spirit for motivation, determination, and energy. We fill our minds with the Word of God’s (Jn 17:17; Col 3:16) truth which enables us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship… (Romans 12:1-2).

Like Paul, we forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). We resolve not to be dictated to by previous and reoccurring pains or wrongs. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit… whom you have from God. You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

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Humility and others

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Others are unavoidable. For better or for worse, others are integral to life through relationships and activities requiring engagement in numerous ways and with differing levels of commitment. Christians especially need others! Obviously, the most significant other is Jesus Christ, and it is Jesus who determines the priority of the others in your life. Therefore, the New Testament has many exhortations in relation to “one another.”

Humility and others
Sadly, when others hurt us, the wounds can go deep, and healing can be slow. Trust is crushed, and in a weird twist of human sinfulness, we often become guilty of the painful things we hate the most. Nevertheless, Hebrews 10:23-25 explains why others in your local Church are so important, and especially during those times of deepest pain. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Christians who meet are an expression of God oriented faith, hope, and expectation of Christ’s return, because togetherness is of God.

Therefore, in our meeting together, regardless of format or location, we should give thought to how we  encourage one another to honour God through our fellowship. It takes only a little thought to humbly show love and goodness to others. Take note though, sin will entice you to withdraw from God’s appointed others while Christ exhorts you to lean into those others to experience His resources of grace through them. Humility does not look for perfection in others, but for opportunities to serve, and to be as Christ to others (2Co 5:20).

It’s ironic, often those who neglect Christian others, can become quick to complain, gossip, slander, and falsely accuse those who are more faithful than themselves. This is Satan’s work and brings much shame to the testimony of the Church and Christ.

Even with these unpleasant realities, the Holy Spirit continues to dispense His gifts, not for the building up of self, but for the common good of others (1Co 12:4-7). Hebrews 13:16 exhorts us not to neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Your enemy will tell you that you don’t possess enough to share, and you cannot financially afford to share. But he is a liar. Believers have many resources in Christ to share which are unrelated to money. And it is humility that compels the loving desire to share kindness and faith, to share compassion and forgiveness, and to share the riches of God’s Word sacrificially, because this pleases God.

Make no mistake, whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire… (Proverbs 18:1) and is working in opposition to God. Selfishness withdraws, choosing to ignore that we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Romans 12:5). While technology is great for distant fellowship, person on person togetherness surpasses technology every time. God has designed us for face-to-face togetherness. Encouragement is so much richer when done in person, and it is humility that looks to create those times of closeness.

As we know so well from Paul’s words in Philippians 2:3, Christ inspired believers are not motivated by selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than themselves. Christ’s humility becomes our humility. Because Christ’s humility is other minded, God gets the glory, others get the blessing, and we get the assurance of faith.

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Humility flavoured by Christ

Humility is such a sweet quality, and most of us enjoy being in the presence of it. It has the unmatched ability to grow relationships to be agreeable and harmonious. Uniquely, humility looks not only to his/her own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
Humility flavoured by Christ

The Lord displays enormous humility which He also values in His people. Psalm 25:9 says the Lord leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. For some of us, this takes a long time as the Lord employs the repetitive and sanctifying lessons of life to slowly realign our priorities and values to reflect His.

New Testament humility speaks of a person’s lowliness of mind which is not weak, nor is it depressing. Rather, humility expresses inner strength which is under control and places self second to others. For the Christian, this begins with placing self under the example and lordship of Jesus Christ as our character template.

In Matthew 20:27-28, Jesus explained to His disciples, whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus’ example is both invigorating and challenging. Surely, He was entitled as the anointed Christ, the Son of God, to be served. But no, Christ did not exalt himself… (Hebrews 5:5). Jesus came not for personal aggrandisement, nor to fulfil His own will but the will of him who sent Him (John 6:38). Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) was Paul’s conclusion. Jesus was, and remains, the serving Saviour who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

But for we sinners, we naturally resist thinking of ourselves as slaves. This requires relinquishing personal rights and entitlements for the benefit and advancement of Christ and others. Recognising our struggle with this motivates us to bow in dependence upon the Lord working out His humility within us. This unnatural and selfless attitude of humility begins with Christ. He invites us to take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart… (Matthew 11:29).

Christian humility flows from Christ’s humility, and it flows through Holy Spirit replication of Jesus’ character (2Co 3:18). The Lord announced in Isaiah 57:15 …I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. As believers place themselves under the Lord, He assigns His presence to them for the purpose of spiritual revival and ongoing heart development.

Whereas worldly humility, sooner or later, seeks something for self. It may simply be recognition, vindication, or reward of some kind, but self will surface and pursue gratification. This is NOT the attitude of those who believe in Christ as Lord. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Therefore, James exhorts us to humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10 NIV), which is the essence of Isaiah’s words.

It is a privilege to live and worship under the Lord’s supremacy, knowing that He is active in that self-humiliation process. I encourage you to seek the Lord’s ongoing character development beginning with humility, for with the humble is wisdom (Proverbs 11:2).

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You must be born again – Nicodemus

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Nicodemus was a Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1), and a member of the Sanhedrin ruling council (John 7:50–51). Nicodemus was a common Greek name, and it means “victor over the people.” He was Israel’s leading teacher, they listened when he spoke. Here is Nicodemus sneaking around at night to get a secret audience with Jesus. He had no sooner got in the door and politely greeted Jesus, when He was confronted by the most alarming words he had ever heard. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
You must be born again – Nicodemus
Immediately Jesus takes Nicodemus to his greatest need which he did not want to talk about. Nicodemus, you are not able to enter God’s Kingdom! This Jewish leader would have been proud of his religious qualifications. But no amount of Jewish or religious law keeping could qualify him for eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

That evening Nicodemus learned he had wasted his entire life on false religion. Nicodemus understood the impossibility of Jesus’s words. John 3:4, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Obviously not, it simply cannot happen. Neither can a person enter God’s Kingdom because of personal merit.

Jesus’ point is this, salvation, entry into God’s Kingdom is entirely the work of God. We offer nothing, we earn nothing, and we cannot persuade God to give us entry. This was NOT good news for self-righteous Nicodemus. Jesus continued, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).

Nicodemus, like us, was born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Like us, he was not capable of belief because he was so dead that he did not realise there was a life to be had – he was DEAD! Rebirth is totally the act of God the Holy Spirit. God gifts the dead sinner with eternal life. He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit… (Titus 3:5).

God supernaturally takes the dead sinner and regenerates them. He gives them spiritual rebirth from death to eternal life, washing them clean of sin (1 Corinthians 6:11), and spiritually makes a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Nicodemus was wealthy, powerful, popular, and respected. He could pray and he had memorised much of the Old Testament. But Nicodemus was walking DEAD! He could not call heaven down, he could not release heavenly blessing, he could not name or claim anything from God. Only Jesus Christ, God’s anointed Son could give Him life, this was the truth Nicodemus needed to believe.

Sometime later Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea remove Jesus’ body from the Cross and laid Him in the tomb (John 19:39-42). Most likely, Nicodemus believed in Jesus and was born again, discovering the truth of Jesus’s teaching. To all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13). Nicodemus calls from the past, have you been born again?

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