Friday, May 30, 2008

Take No Prisoners

And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children.--Deuteronomy 3:6 (ESV)

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were ordered to wipe out its inhabitants. I believe we can interpret most passages about entering Canaan allegorically--that is, the Israelites represent the Church and Canaan represents Heaven. (There are some limitations to this, but I think we can usually make this connection.)

So how can we apply this somewhat morally troubling verse to the New Covenant? In fact, how can this be right in the first place? Killing children seems more like an act of Nazi Germany than an act of God's chosen people. But God is wiser and more just than we are. He knew that little Ammonite boys grew up to be big Ammonite men and big problems for the people of Israel. Plus, the Canaanites were abominations to the Lord--even the smallest of them.

We need to treat sin the same way the Israelites treated the Canaanites. Sin is always an abomination to the Lord and a danger to our souls (no matter how small it seems). As such, we need to kill it (Romans 8:13). But we shouldn't pick and choose which sins to kill and which to keep. We shouldn't forsake lust and yet allow gossip to remain in our hearts. We shouldn't keep "pet sins" which seem harmless and pleasurable--they are in fact soul-killing iniquities.

In Romans 8:13 Paul writes, "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live." We need to apply this verse to all sins, no matter how much we love their pleasures or how small their dangers seem.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sanctification: a Synergistic Process

Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle.--Deuteronomy 2:24 (ESV)

Deuteronomy 2 tells the story of the Israelites' wanderings through the wilderness for forty years. One of the main themes of the chapter is God's sovereignty over kingdoms, conquests, and wars. When the Lord commanded the Israelites to attack the Amorites in Heshbon, He promised to give them victory. But, interestingly enough, He also commanded them to fight. The Israelites' battle was the means God used to defeat the Amorites. He could have smitten them as He did the Assyrians years later (2 Chronicles 32). But He chose to use the Israelites' faith-testing effort to accomplish His plan.

The same principle guides our sanctification. God is the Agent of sanctification in our souls. He puts new desires in our hearts (Ezekiel 11:19; Jeremiah 31:33); He protects us from temptation (Matthew 6:13); He gives us strength to resist the temptations which do afflict us (1 Corinthians 10:13)--He sanctifies us (Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 21:8; John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).

But, this sanctification is a synergistic process. God commands us to actively pursue the sanctification which He is working in us. Look at 2 Corinthians 7:1, "let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." Let us cleanse ourselves. Time and time again throughout the Bible, God commands us to sanctify ourselves--for example, to adopt a new practice or to forsake a sinful habit.

How do we make sense of this? It's a mystery of God. I think one could study Philippians 2:12-13 for years and still not comprehend how both our actions and God's are necessary for our sanctification. The good thing is that we don't need to fully understand this mystery to enjoy its rewards. We know that God will sanctify us. We can trust that He is working in our hearts right now. But we also know that He has commanded us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). So we approach each day with (1) faith that God will change us and (2) vigilance to work hard for our sanctification.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Open Wide!

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.--Psalms 81:10 (ESV)

Why do we do devotions? Why do we read our Bibles, pray, go to church, and sometimes even fast? The Bible says that we are not saved by these duties, so what's the point of doing them?

The point is: Spiritual disciplines are "opening our mouth" in God's direction. Duties like meditating on Scripture and fasting are means which God uses to give us joy. He promises in this psalm that when we look to Him for satisfaction, He will fill our hungry souls and satisfy us with "honey from the rock" (verse 16).

The exciting promise in this verse is "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." No matter how wide we open your mouths, he will always more than satisfy us. No matter how much we read our Bible, there will always be more truth to ignite our hearts. No matter how much we pray, we cannot exhaust God's blessings. In fact, the greatest hindrance to our happiness and satisfaction is not our circumstances but our own laziness in spiritual disciplines.

Look at your spiritual duties not as a way to earn God's favor but as a way to open our mouths toward God for joy--He will satisfy you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Pardoned Sinner

Over at the Desiring God blog, Jon Bloom has a great article on the pardoned adulteress of John 8.

But God the Son simply said, “Neither do I condemn you.”

How could he possibly say that? If God violates his own commandment, we have a huge problem. Is God unjust?

Absolutely not. God fully intended for this sin of adultery to be punished to the full extent of his law. But she would not bear her punishment. She would go free. This young teacher would be punished for her.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Challies on Pink's Seven Sayings

Over at, Tim Challies has been summarizing and discussing A.W. Pink's classic The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. Reading this post not only made me want to read the book, it edified my soul. I especially loved this point: “A man must come to the end of himself before he can come to God.”

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Good Works and the Gospel, Part 3

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves 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 Savior 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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.--Titus 3:1-8 (ESV)

Titus 3 opens with a list of ethical commands. Paul sums this up in the phrase "devote themselves to good works." But why should we do this? What motivation does Paul give for doing good works? In the last two posts, we saw that good works are not our means of salvation nor even the means of deserving salvation. So, why should we do them?

The answer is: the Gospel. The very truth which says good works can't save us also drives us to good works. Titus 2:11-14 says, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."

How does the Gospel bring about good works? By giving us a reason to love God. 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because He first loved us." I for one cannot meditate on the Cross and on Jesus' sacrifice for my sin without being emotionally affected. This affection drives me to hate sin and love good works. I can't help but think, "I owe Jesus. I want to do His commands. I want to be His servant because He has saved me with such grace." Romans 8:12 says, "So then, brothers, we are debtors." Doing good works is paying God back. Though we can never truly pay Him back, we love to do good works because it brings glory to Him who loved us.

So, though our good works are not effective in our salvation, they are the result of our salvation and our offering to the God whom we love for His salvation.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Good Works and the Gospel, Part 2

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior 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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.--Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)

We are saved through washing, not through works.

In Titus 3:4-7, Paul tells the story of the Gospel. God showed His kindness and goodness, He washed us with His Spirit, and He justified us--so that we might have eternal life. Note one thing, though. He didn't save us through good works. The Gospel is not, "God gives us power to do good works and through his sanctifying grace, we are saved." In fact, Paul doesn't even use the word works at all in this passage. Instead, he uses words like "washing" and "regeneration" and "renewal."

The most interesting word here (I think) is regeneration. It comes from the Latin regenerare, meaning "create again." When we are saved, God re-creates us. God does not create evil beings. Therefore, regenerated people are not guilty. When Paul says we're washed with regeneration and renewal, it means we are like Adam and Eve before they sinned. We are sinless, pure, innocent.

So, good works are not the means of salvation of the Gospel story.

National Day of Prayer

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.--Matthew 1:22
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.--Mark 11:24
Be constant in prayer.--Romans 12:12
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.--Col. 4:2
Pray without ceasing.--1 Thess. 5:17
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.--1 Tim. 2:1

National Day of Prayer is upon us again. While we should praying "without ceasing," a day set aside for prayer is a blessing to Christians--a reminder of the importance of prayer.