Thursday, June 26, 2014

God Created in Man's Image

I have to start today with a little disclaimer. The reason for the disclaimer is that we Christians have a bad tendency to pick our "favorite" sins to stand against. I will be referring to a particular sin below, however, it is simply a real-life example which I will use to get to the point of this blog. Please do not latch on to that particular sin or the topic that is my launching point. Don't miss what is really being said here:

I was on Facebook this week and a friend who is a leader in a church posed this question:
"Would you permit people, living the homosexual lifestyle, to volunteer in your church?" What ensued this question was a litany of responses and reactions. I was truly disheartened by many of the responses, not because of the topic stated, but because of the attitude toward sin and God's Word. Let me give a few quotes from that interaction:

No. And while we're at it we should forbid volunteers who eat shellfish, gossip, work on Sunday, have been divorced, give in to greed, are quick to anger, don't unconditionally love the least of society, or otherwise fall short of God. Oh, wait.....

 Absolutely. They are people. We are to love ALL of our neighbors. To not allow them because of their lifestyle is judging them based not on their abilities but on their sexuality. Is it really any different than having someone volunteer that lives with a sexual partner before marriage? People do that all the time and are still allowed to volunteer. Jesus loves us all and does not judge. Why should we?

Instead of building social barriers, we as Christ-followers should be the ones who remove these barriers. The Apostle Paul himself explained in Galatians 3:26-29, that Christ has removed all the stigmas of social stratus. Anytime we deny someone access to the foot of the cross, we communicate that we are better than them, more deserving of his grace. This is an untruth. The early church dealt with this issue in a different form. Early church members would look down on women and slaves. Jesus countered this lie with his behavior every day. So should we.

In this sample of responses is the evidence of  how humanistic many Christians have become in the way we approach the issue of sin.  First of all,  sin is justified in the statement that all people are sinners and therefore we all would be disqualified if this standard was upheld. What is missing in this logic is that there is a difference between being a sinner and living in sin. Grace does not allow us to go on in sin, it cleanses us from it. We are to hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable. That means I am to be held accountable as well if I am in sin.  God did not send Christ to die so we can keep on sinning, He sent Him to die to pull us out of sin. We trample the blood of Jesus with our humanistic, bleeding heart justification of sin. God's standard has not changed.

Secondly, sin is trivialized when one points at others doing the wrong thing and conclude then another wrong action or attitude is okay. For example, in the second quote above, "People do that all the time and are still allowed to volunteer". The old adage "Two wrongs don't make a right" is still true. We cannot justify our wrong by someone else's wrong. Nor do we condemn someone else's wrong. We are permitted to judge, but only according to Scriptures and only to the extent that we do so to help bring our brothers and sisters back to fellowship with God, all the while watching ourselves lest we to fall (Galatians 6:1).

Thirdly, sin is spiritualized by stating that to deny someone the right to volunteer because of sin is equivalent to denying "access to the foot of the cross." This is untrue because, if they are working in the church, they ought to be  believers. This means they should have already accessed the cross. Also, no one is saying that if they are lost and in sin that they cannot come to the church to hear and see the gospel message.

Fourthly, sin is magnified when Scripture is used to justify it. In doing this sin is raised to equality with the divine. In the final quote above, Scripture is used to say sin is okay because it is a natural part of life. The truth is that sin is a "natural" part of life. We are all born into sin. It is in our nature (Ephesians 2:3). However, it is not in God's nature and the cross did not change His stand on sin. Rather, it solidifies it and makes sin even more grievous when we claim the blood of Christ and then turn and trample on it:
 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries . Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine , I will repay ." And again, "T he L ord will judge H is people ." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31, NAS)
 Let me clarify: I am not free of sin, nor can I condemn someone for their sin. I also recognize that God is not only Just as much as He is not only Love. Scripture says that God does not desire for any to perish (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 1Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). I take no superior stand on these things. My point is that Scripture is our foundation and we must use it as it is written and it must always agree with itself. It is not possible for the Bible to call sin "sin" in one context and it not be sin in another. Also, our feelings do not enter into the equation. The Bible says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick ; Who can understand it." (Jeremiah 17:9, NAS) Our hearts will deceive us if we allow them to be our standard.

Here's the bottom line, as well as the reason for my title: We cannot pick and choose our sins and Scriptures based on what makes us more comfortable or what makes the most sense to us. The standard is God's Word. His Word is true and when we argue with His Word we are wrong every time. When we try to make sin fit into the Christian life, we are guilty of breaking God's second commandment: we are making graven images. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments the first time, the Israelites made a golden calf and said it was the God that had delivered them out of Egypt. They were recognizing the right God, but they were worshipping Him the wrong way. They limited Him and made Him more comfortable to live with. They formed Him into an image that was not so scary and mysterious.  We cannot form God into our image, He made us in His.   In Christ we are daily being made a better reflection of His glory as we allow His Word and His Spirit to sanctify us. But to do that, we need to study, obey and remain faithful to the truth of His Word.

 In Psalm 50:21 God says, "These things you have done and I kept silence ; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes." Let's not be guilty of reforming God. Let's do our best to live according to His Word and quickly repent when we have fallen. Let us be an accurate reflection of the God who redeems sinners. Let's remember we are sinners when issuing the call to repentance, understanding that it is only grace that has saved us. Let's give God the glory that suits His holiness!

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Friday, June 20, 2014

It’s Time to Repent (2 Chronicles 7:14)

*This article was originally published in the Contact Newsletter of First Baptist Church of Mabank in July 2009.

14 If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (NAS)

It is the people of God who can truly shape a nation. Many look
to great leaders or powerful governments to shape a nation.
But most likely, leaders and governments will not restore a nation
once it is on the downward slide. While leaders and governments
can influence a nation, there is no group of people who can determine
the coming years of a nation like God’s people.

If we want to see  our nation change, political activism is not the answer for believers.  Our vote, while being important, is not the answer.  Our prayers alone are not the answer.  If we want to see our nation change and be more godly, first we must change.  Sin can no longer be the norm for God’s people.  We must aspire to holiness.

Secondly, if we want to see our nation change, we must become more determined than ever to put the gospel into the hands and minds of the lost and allow God to perform a heart-change in our land. We can no longer sit back and say that we are witnessing by our actions.  God’s word demands that we use our voices as well as our lives. Pray to God for boldness to share His gospel and He will give it to you (Acts 4:29 & 31) and let’s change our nation through our obedience and God’s power!

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Christians Are Forward-Thinking People

I have been reading a book by O.S. Hawkins entitled More Good News for Great Days. It is a book he offers on his website as a free resource. It is a collection of some of his sermons for special days of the year. The first one, obviously, is a New Year's Day message. One of his points in the message inspired me to discuss the topic a little more at length. In this message he is expositing Joshua chapter 3. He is referring to the Israelites as "cross over people" because in this passage they are getting ready to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. On pages 19 and 20 he addresses the point that cross over people possess a determination to "Be Futuristic". His comments awakened that reality in me. My thoughts began to flood with the truth that the times we get in the biggest trouble as believers are when we are either living in the past or living for today.

The whole premise of our ministry as followers of Christ is to look forward to the future: to the coming return of Christ. Our great desire is to be delivered from the hardships of this physical life and swept into the eternal rest. However, our sinful nature is one that likes to look back. The Israelites spent 400 years in Egypt and most of that time they were slaves who suffered a tremendous amount of oppression. However, when they were delivered by God, their continuous longing was to return to that which was familiar. They preferred to go back and suffer for the rest of their lives rather than endure a short time of difficulty and hardship for a long-term blessing. Sound familiar at all?

We tend to look at the difficulties Christians face when they live the "separated" (sanctified) life and we look at the "fun" people are having when they live however they want and we start contemplating whether or not self-denial is really worth all that we were told it was. "Why wait for pleasure when we can get it now?" However, here is what Paul has to say about it in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,  "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparisonwhile we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

We must remain focused on the prize that awaits those who endure (Matthew 24:13). We cannot look back because when Israel looked back, they lost hope and then they rebelled against God.  This means you don't need to look back with longing or regret for your past life of selfishness and sin. We believers need to do three things in order to be forward-thinkers:

1.  We Must Eagerly Watch. We must live with great anticipation of the coming of Christ. This keeps our hope up. (Romans 8:23-25, 1 Corinthians 1:7, Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 9:28)

2.  We Must Enduringly Wait. When things get tough, and they will, hang on to the first point above. Consider the greater things God has in store. Don't lose hope, don't be shaken by circumstances and keep working. This keeps our head up. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

3.  We Must Earnestly Work. God has privileged us to be part of His plan. Ultimately, it is not about us. It is about giving God glory. However, God loves the world so much that He desires none to perish. So once you are a believer, everything about you dies.  The mission is to lead others to God for their salvation which magnifies God's goodness. This keeps our hand up. (Philippians 3:13, Luke 9:62)

We must keep our eyes forward on the future. It is the lost person that dwells on the past and the present. On a very cursory review of scripture, it appears that most if not all references to "today" are aimed at calling the lost to immediate repentance. Once the decision has been made to follow Christ, it's all about the future. We already know that what happened in the past is behind us and is only a distraction if we place our focus there. Believer, be a forward-thinker. Hang in there and call as many as you can to the great and glorious future!

I am interested in your comments. Leave some below for me.

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Friday, June 6, 2014

Is Striving for Holiness Legalistic?

I am posting a "bonus blog" this week. If you receive our church newsletter, you will have already seen this. However, I thought it relates well to yesterday's blog:

Recently on Facebook I posted: “God’s grace is not a reduction of His holiness, it is a fulfillment of it. We fell short and couldn’t afford the cost so Jesus paid our fine. Our gratitude for this ought to be reflected in holy living. Doesn’t mean we can be perfect, but God is worth the try rather than submitting to our own nature.”

I wanted to take a  few moments to expound upon this thought. 1 Peter 1:13-16 says, 
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior ; 16 because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."

If you notice in verse 13, the focus in on grace. As a matter of fact, we are told to “fix our hope  completely on the grace…” (emphasis mine). Our hope for salvation is found ONLY in the grace that has been provided through the blood of Jesus Christ which He shed on the cross. We often cling to this grace (as we should, rather, all the time). But we often cling to grace to the exclusion of obedience.

 Notice verse 14, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts…” (emphasis mine). So first we have grace as our focus for hope, but we have obedience as the action that is the result of the gratitude for the grace we receive.  This gift of grace is a HUGE gift with immeasurable value. If we are not careful, we can be guilty of treating God’s grace with contempt and little value: 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace ?  (Hebrews 10:28-29)

 You see, it is already a big offense to God that we broke His law when we sinned against Him before we knew better. It is an even bigger offense when we sin willingly and claim that it’s okay because it is covered by the blood of Christ.

The reason this is important to God is because He has not changed. He has always been and always will be holy. He sent Christ because we were not holy and He wanted to make us holy and acceptable (Romans 12:1-2).  So, striving to live a holy life is not being legalistic. It is an attempt to be pleasing to God. Not because it benefits us, but because it declares His worth.

So let’s make our lives a living declaration of the worth and glory of God. Let’s reflect His holiness by striving daily to be holy as He is holy so the world might be drawn to Him.

For God’s Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Guarding Your Mind

Last Thursday my family and I had the opportunity to go to a movie preview offered by City on a Hill Productions along with Kyle Idleman.  The movie is entitled The Song and is a modern-day retelling of the life of King Solomon.

Now before I get too far, let me say that I am not giving a review of the movie below, but using our attendance and our response to this event to provoke serious thought. My family and I have very strict standards regarding what we watch on television or in movies. Not just the kids, but all of us. We figure that if it isn't good for the kids, it isn't good for us. So, as you can imagine there is a lot that we cannot watch.  One of the standards that we hold is that we will not watch anything that even insinuates immorality. For example, if there is a show that clearly indicates that an unmarried couple has had sexual relations, even if it is not shown, we do not watch it.

The premise is that if an activity that God calls sin is portrayed, then we do not need to feed it into our minds. Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."*  God calls us not to put unholy things in our mind. Jesus called lust adultery (Matt. 5:28) and hate murder (Matt. 5:21-22). God sets a high standard for how we are to think because He knows that is where sin begins.

Back to the movie: We knew what the life of Solomon was like. We knew he had many women, so we had already begun to contemplate what we should do if that was portrayed in the movie. At the beginning they portray David's sin with Bathsheba. Nothing is shown, but it is clearly indicated... we stayed. We continued to watch through at least half or more of the movie before Solomon fell prey to temptation. Again, nothing was shown, but the message was clear. At this point we decided to leave. 

The discussion on the way home was  a contemplation of our decision. Were we being "legalistic"? After all, this is a retelling of a true biblical account. I would teach or preach on it. Our conviction was that it was a little different because it added images to the story-telling that perhaps people don't need in this age in which we are inundated with sexual imagery. So, another question we pondered was: Is it okay to push the envelope in producing a movie in order to get the gospel to people who are lost?

The truth of the matter is that we don't know how the movie ended. We don't know if the gospel was presented clearly at the end. We know that "religion" and "religious songs" were mentioned several times throughout the part we saw. So, I don't write this to impose my convictions on anyone, but I do pose a challenge: If you are a follower of Christ, what do you use as your standard to decide what is fed into your mind? It is easy to justify that it doesn't effect you. I know, I used to use that line myself. But even after years of maintaining our current conviction, I still periodically find images I saw two to three decades ago pop into my mind. No warning, no planning, no effort on my part, they just appear.

As you contemplate this question, here is one more passage (though there are many more in scripture): Psalm 101:2-4 says, "I will give heed to the blameless way. When will You come to me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.  I will set no worthless thing before my eyes ; I hate the work of those who fall away ; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil."

In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard makes this profound statement, "The ruined life is not to be enhanced but replaced". We are not seeking to improve our lives so we can be "good" people, but we seek to have our lives changed or replaced so we can give God glory out of hearts of gratitude. What we put in will come out and will effect the image of God.

Feel free to leave your comments below. I would love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

*Unless otherwise noted, all Bible references are from  New American Standard Bible Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California.  All rights reserved.