The Pastor’s Pen

Lincoln writes to encourage and build up God’s people with God’s Word.

Grace that Grows

In the apostle Peter’s closing doxology of his second letter, he reminds us of a necessary pattern of Christian life that is easily forgotten. Peter personally knew the power of Jesus’ saving grace that patiently persevered through his life. For Peter, grace was never a ‘one shot for life’ deal. No, he knew that just as Jesus continuously applied grace in his life, so he needed to ensure the growth of that grace which would provide ongoing assurance of his faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

For the believer, God’s grace has no ‘expiry’ or ‘use by’ dates. Peter, like us, could never say he’d changed enough, and the Holy Spirit could stop His transforming work of sanctification for greater Christlikeness. Similarly, I’m sure Peter would never say there’s no more ways to be explored for God’s grace to flow through him into others. Grace can never be left alone if we wish to be the channel through which it pours into other’s lives.

Therefore, Peter signs off with the exhortation to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:18). The continuous flow of Jesus’ sourced grace is recognised and experienced as the believer continues to grow and mature in their knowledge of Him. More specifically, Peter implies that we should never give up developing our understanding of Jesus as our Lord, as our Saviour from sin, and as our Christ (Messiah King).

There is an inescapable connection between Jesus’ grace and our knowledge of Him. They are inseparable. One cannot be neglected without the other suffering equal loss. Peter is not referring to an intellectual accumulation of facts about Jesus, as if we were writing an encyclopaedia. He is speaking of knowledge that is more thoroughly understood and equally more thoroughly experienced in the expressions of grace in our appreciation and outward giving of it. Jesus’ grace in an ongoing way is intrinsically intertwined with our daily exploration of the knowledge of Him. 

Peter doesn’t leave us hanging in an endless cycle of pursuit here. No, he points to the God intended destination of grace and knowledge, which is the day of eternity. Our earthly walk has purpose, it has a goal, and that goal is fixed in a future location called heaven, in the eternal presence of God. The child of God cannot grow in grace without growing in real world knowledge of Christ. The combined result will be increasing joyful anticipation of reaching God’s destination.

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write a similar exhortation in Colossians 3:16-17. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

All this goes to say; to him be the glory. Although we often pray for Jesus to be glorified, I suspect we pray this with little thought to how God would answer it. Here, Peter provides a condensed explanation of how God glorifies Christ. It’s through intentional growth for the open declaration of Jesus’ grace, of Jesus’ truth, and hope for Jesus’ heavenly destination. As Paul says, these realities can only be mined from the written Word of God and fertilised by the controlling presence of the Holy Spirt. By God’s grace, may this be true in each of our lives.

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Suffering – an instrument of God

Two thirds of the way through his letter to the church of Galatia, the apostle Paul reminds the believers of the circumstances through which he first met them. Now, years later, Paul writes; I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6). Sadly, a major shift in the beliefs of the church had occurred because of false brothers secretly brought in to the assembly of Christians with infectious error (Galatians 2:4).

Consequently, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is serious, it’s bluntly to the point as he addresses real compromise and error. Mixed into all the distorted issues that Paul addressed, was the matter of his validity as an apostle, as the messenger of the gospel to Galatia. Because Paul did not come up to the superficial standards of the erroneous ‘super apostles’ (2Co 11:5; 12:11), some were calling everything about Paul into question. So, Paul reminds the Galatians of the God ordained circumstances that brought him into their lives initially, and how they responded to him. It was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first (Galatians 4:13).

Paul had become so sick on his first missionary journey that he diverted to Galatia for a period of recovery. For God to bring the gospel to that area, there was to be no miracle of healing for Paul. Seriously sick with an illness that we are uncertain of, Paul admits that his condition was a trial to them (Gal 4:14a). Yet, overcoming any possible prejudice against him, Paul says they did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus (Gal 4:14b). So compassionate were they, that Paul says if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me (Gal 4:15b). Whatever the illness, it must have severely dimmed Paul’s eyesight, which, for a scholarly man like Paul, would have been debilitating.

Despite violent public rejection, persecutions, and serious physical illness, Paul continued to preach the gospel of Jesus, and a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed (Acts 14:1). Had there been no persecution, no debilitating sickness, and no prolonged suffering for Paul, the church would never have been birthed in that area. Through the inscrutable grace of God, which defies the sensibility of sinful mankind, salvation was enabled in many lives, carried by the gospel enabled vehicle of Paul’s suffering.

At another time, Paul explained to the Corinthians, having asked God three times to remove the thorn in his flesh; God replied No! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” was the Lord’s response (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was not a masochist, and yes, he would have preferred suffering to be removed, as do we. But Paul quickly realised the wisdom of God in using His people through the small to great struggles of life to deliver His life giving grace to others.

Our lives, like those in biblical history, are often empowered through suffering to glorify God in ways we never imagined possible. Unsought opportunities for sharing the gospel, living the love of Christ before others, speaking encouragement into struggling believers, or for teaching the truth of God’s Word, are usually provided throughout our suffering. As always, we need to recognise these opportunities for what they are, a grace gift from God waiting to be explored for His glory, and for the blessing of others and ourselves.

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The Goodness of God

Old Testament Moses was no better than anyone else, yet Yahweh desired intimacy in their relationship which Moses didn’t qualify for. As is always the case, the Lord’s loving kindness overrode Moses’ disqualification, and God interacted with Moses in the most spectacular ways. Sinful Moses could not reveal anything about himself to God that God was not already familiar with, but God could reveal Himself to Moses in ways never thought possible.

Exodus chapter 33 records the amazing discussion between Yahweh and Moses, when the LORD said, you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name. To which Moses replied, Please show me your glory? (Exodus 33:17-18). Theirs was to be a uniquely close relationship mutually enjoyed. But how was God to show Moses His glory in a way that Moses could survive?

As the Lord prepared Moses, He explained, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’ (Yahweh). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (Exodus 33:19). Notice the sequence, everything of Yahweh would be encapsulated in His goodness. Out of goodness would flow every attribute of the Lord. As the name ‘The LORD’ (Yahweh) was to be proclaimed, Moses would witness brilliant attribute upon attribute of Yahweh’s multi-faceted goodness.

Equally important in the Lord’s revelation of Himself, was for Moses to know with absolute certainty that I will be gracious, and I will show mercy. The accumulative manifestation of God’s glorious goodness would be seen through the diverse expressions of His intentional grace and mercy. Moses needed this, as he was called to lead a rebellious and stiff-necked people (Exodus 33:3) who would never qualify to receive anything good from God apart from divine grace and mercy.

And so it happened. Yahweh preserved Moses’ life by placing him in a crack within a rock face and  covering him with His hand. Moses viewed Yahweh’s back as He passed by proclaiming His name. All of Yahweh’s goodness was revealed, all His grace and mercy were exposed.

As breathtaking as Moses’ experience was, the greatest manifestation of God’s goodness is seen in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Paul explains in Titus 3:3-5, that Christians  were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour (Jesus) appeared, 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.

The entirety of Yahweh’s goodness is experienced through salvation. The gospel is God’s loving conduit through which believing sinners are protected from judgement and transitioned from the state of being a dead enemy (Rom 5:10; Eph 2:1; Php 3:18) under the wrath of God to being forgiven (Col 2:13). They are cleansed (Ac 15:9), adopted into the beloved (Rom 8:15; Eph 1:6), gifted eternal life (Jn 3:16), indwelt by the sealing Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13), and gifted with Christ’s righteousness (1Co 1:30). Such is the extreme nature of God’s goodness in action for unqualified sinners.

May we today, give our heart’s attention to worshipping the Lord for His awe-inspiring goodness. May the Lord give us opportunities to share the gospel of our good God with someone ready to receive  the  mercy only found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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God’s Beloved

It goes without saying that for most of us, there is nothing on this earth more precious than the people we love. And within that group of people, there exists those we love above all others, and we rightly refer to them as our “beloved.” So it is with God. Although God loves the world (John 3:16), there exists those especially loved ones who are most precious to Yahweh.

Towering above all others, is the divine relationship between God the Father and His Son Jesus. Of whom the Father spoke on the day John the Baptist baptized Jesus saying, this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). Even though Jesus was rejected by men… in the sight of God He is chosen and precious (1 Peter 2:4).

However, when considering the Lord’s love for earthly nations, Israel remains the greatest example of the security that exists for those whom Yahweh has attached His love to as His beloved. Despite repeated idolatry, rejection of their Messiah, and dismissing God’s discipline, the Lord remains true to His covenant promises for Israel. Psalm 89:28, 33-34 says it all; My steadfast love I will keep for him (Israel) forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. But I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. So, when Paul asks in Romans 11:1, has God rejected his people (Israel)? The emphatic answer is immediately returned, By no means! God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew… (Romans 11:2).

Yet within humanity, there exists a grouping of people who uniquely have God’s love eternally focused on and attached to them. It’s those whom Jude, Jesus’ younger brother spoke of in Jude 1:1, …those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ. It is those who were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19). These people, God has delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). We call these people Christians because they believe in and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 1:6, Paul calls Jesus’ believers the Beloved.

Therefore, Paul calls us to be imitators of God, as beloved children (Ephesians 5:1). Being in such a highly privileged position comes through God’s grace and carries earthly responsibility. As always, those things God calls us to be, He also graciously enables us to be. He provides multiple tools for accomplishing this, including putting on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Ensure no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit… and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8). Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). As God’s chosen people, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… forgive one another… as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love… (Colossians 3:12-15).

I encourage you to implement God’s tools to accomplish God’s will in your life. May He be glorified as we give expression to our appreciation of being His beloved from hearts filled with gratitude and love.

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Christ’s Glorious Gospel

Unaided by the Holy Spirit, the world cannot grasp the eternal significance of knowing Almighty God through His Son Jesus Christ. It seems such an absurd notion to them, mortals in a relationship with the invisible Creator God. Surely, the world would argue, to claim a real relationship with a God who lives separate from His creation is foolishness at the highest level.

The world wrongly assumes God to be like them, reasoning as they reason, and operating as they operate. But no! God reveals Himself to be uniquely holy and different to mankind. As Solomon prayed, O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath… (1 Kings 8:23. Cf. Isaiah 55:8-9). Plus, Yahweh declares Himself to be separated from the sin which mankind loves so passionately (Habakkuk 1:13). When forced to consider God, proud humanity simply does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God” (Psalm 10:4. Cf. Psalm 14:1).

Therefore, the apostle Paul explains that a person needs to become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God (1 Corinthians 3:18-19). When God chose us for salvation, God chose what is foolish in the world… God chose what is weak in the world… God chose what is low and despised in the world. That’s us. Before salvation, we were the foolish, the weak, the low, and the despised.

But now, because of God, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:27-30). On the Cross, Jesus became all the things God required of us, but we were incapable of. Think of this for a moment. On our behalf, Jesus became wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. The very things we sinners thought of as foolish and inconsequential, Jesus became as our substitute.

This is why Paul delivered to the Corinthians that which was of first importance, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Peter turns up the volume by adding, Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

This is the gospel which the world energetically rejects. But it is, none the less, the only gospel which brings sinners’ forgiveness and acceptance before Holy God. This is why God declares that salvation depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (Romans 9:16). Paul amplifies this truth to the Ephesians, by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God… (Ephesians 2:8). Following Pentecost, Peter boldly declared to the Jewish leaders, there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

At the very least, these truths magnify Christ’s Glorious Gospel. Indeed, Christ is beyond compare! In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). All glory and praise to God. May the Lord flood our souls with worshipful thoughts and words today. Let others hear of the hope that exists in Jesus Christ. Let those who are timid in faith hear of the available strength in Christ through our words, in the tone of our voice, and see it in our smiles today.

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