Monday, December 31, 2012

God's New Year's Resolutions

Tis the time for “New Year's Resolutions.” While I'm not totally opposed to making New Year's resolutions, I would submit that there is no power in them at all. The power to change your life does not come from your personal resolve, but from God's resolve.

When we make New Year's resolutions, we often focus on ourselves, our determination, our discipline, and our personal efforts. But our focus should never be on ourselves, especially when it comes to personal change. Our focus should be on God and what He has done in Christ, is doing in Christ and will do in Christ. When we think on God's resolutions, our hearts are won to Him and then we lovingly, joyfully, and willingly resolve to change for His glory.

So this year, rather than making “New Year's resolutions” (especially ones not found in the Bible), I would encourage you to think on God's resolutions. Certainly God's resolutions are never limited to the New Year, and that's part of their beauty. God's resolutions originate in eternity, and they remain immutably constant in time. God's resolutions never need to be renewed because He brings every one of them to pass according to the times appointed in His eternal decree.

Let us simply look on Him and His works. Let us look away from ourselves, away from our sins, away from our faith, away from our love and good works, and instead set our eyes upon our God.

Consider just a few of God's eternal resolutions related to “newness.”

1. He resolved to forgive us. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. . . . I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isa 43:19, 25).

2. He resolved to create a new heavens and a new earth in which weeping will be no more. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress” (Isa 65:17-19).

3. He resolved to make an unbreakable new covenant, unlike the old covenant. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:31-34).

4. He resolved that His love and mercy will never come to an end, but that they are new every morning. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22-23).

5. He resolved to give His people one heart and a new spirit that walks in His commandments. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezek 11:19-20).

6. He resolved to make His people a new creation in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).

7. He resolved to end the division between Jews and Greeks (and all racial/ethnic divisions) and to make one new man in Christ. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph 2:14-16).

8. He resolved to open a new and living way to Himself through the shed blood of His Son. “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20). 

9. He resolved to make all things new. “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:5).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Which Comes First: Repentance or Faith?

Have you ever wondered whether faith or repentance comes first?  Do we believe and then repent?  Or do we repent and then believe?  How can we turn to Christ (repent), if we haven't first seen Him with the eyes of faith?  And, how can we see Him, unless we have turned toward Him?

The Puritan Anthony Burgess wisely answered this question by making a careful distinction.  He said that we have to distinguish between repentance taken "largely" and repentance taken "strictly."  

Largely speaking, repentance includes faith.  It is godly sorrow and turning from unbelief to belief, from lovelessness to love, and from disobedience to obedience.  Largely speaking, repentance can even be said to include the whole of salvation, a process not completed until the last day.  Largely, we may say "repent and believe."

But, strictly speaking, repentance is distinguished from faith.  When repentance is precisely defined, it may not be defined to include faith, since that would be to "confuse" (join together) repentance and faith and thus fail to distinguish systematically.  When speaking strictly of repentance, it always comes after faith.  First, we believe in Christ.  Second, and on the basis of faith in Christ, we have godly sorrow for our sin and turn from it.  Strictly speaking, we say, "Believe and repent."

See Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2013), 330-331.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Do You Have Close Friends in Christ?

Dear brothers and sisters at Morningview, though all of our MIT classes this coming quarter (January 6 - March 10) will be excellent, I wanted to encourage you to give special consideration to "Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands" which will use Paul Tripp's book by the same name.  It's about how God calls every believer to be an "instrument" in the sanctification of fellow believers.

Consider that Scripture requires us to know and fellowship (or share) with "one another" in the gospel.  Fellowship is about becoming a "means of grace" in the lives of one another.  A search on the words “one another” in the NT reveals much about Christian fellowship in the church.
John 15:12 love one another as I have loved you; Romans 12:10 Outdo one another in showing honor; Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another; Romans 14:13 let us not pass judgment on one another; Romans 15:7 welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you; Romans 15:14 instruct one another; Romans 16:16 Greet one another; 1 Corinthians 11:33 wait for one another; 1 Corinthians 12:25 care for one another; 2 Corinthians 13:11 Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you; Galatians 5:13 through love serve one another; Galatians 5:15-16 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh; Galatians 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another; Ephesians 4:2 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love; Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you; Colossians 3:9 Do not lie to one another; 1 Thessalonians 5:11 encourage one another and build one another up; 1 Thessalonians 5:15 always seek to do good to one another and to everyone; Hebrews 3:13 exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin; Hebrews 10:24-25 consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together; James 4:11 Do not speak evil against one another; James 5:9 Do not grumble against one another; James 5:16 confess your sins to one another and pray for one another; 1 Peter 4:8-9 keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling; 1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, and finally 1 Peter 5:5 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another. In order to fulfill these commands, we need to grow in our fellowship. 
There are a number of other reasons that close gospel fellowship is vital in the life of the local church:

1. Sanctification happens as we learn to live out the truths of God's Word in our relationships. Experiencing the love and grace of other Christians is one of the means by which God presses His Word into His people experientially. When our brothers and sisters "fill up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings" by loving us and serving us, we experience the gospel. Also, learning to believe the gospel and live in light of the gospel toward other redeemed sinners sanctifies us. Living in community forces us to deal with the sins of our brothers and sisters and with our own sins. It's not enough for the church to know the Word. We must lovingly live the Word toward one another.

2. One of the goals of faithful teaching and preaching is that folks learn to "pastor their own hearts" and so to pastor others. God's people are not to depend only on ordained pastors to apply God's Word to them. They need to learn how to apply the gospel to themselves and to others. The first place this needs to happen is within the home. Second to that, it should be happening in the local church.  The healthiest communities of faith are ones where its members understand how the streams of sin run in the human heart and know how to apply the gospel of Christ to one another for their mutual edification.

3. It's only when we truly know each other personally that we will do good to one another in covenant community. Outside of close personal relationships, it may be easy for us to "pretend" and "perform" the externals of Christianity. But it's only through close personal relationships in Christ that we can truly know one another's burdens, sorrows, sins, weaknesses, and so love, identify with, and so encourage each other to grow in Christ Jesus.

4. Close fellowship is absolutely vital for the church's formative discipline. Without it, I believe more cases of corrective discipline will arise. With true gospel fellowship, it's possible that cases of corrective discipline will diminish as we bear one another's burdens and learn to encourage each other more faithfully.

5. A culture of gospel fellowship directly confronts the idol of American individualism. Unlike Eastern cultures (and biblical culture), Americans tend to make too little time for relationships with people. Instead, Americans tend to focus on individualistic ends, including individual advancement and individual gratification. The way to get beyond this is not only to preach the Word, but to encourage one another to foster sincere relationships in the Word of Jesus Christ.

6. One of the greatest joys in the life of the believer is truly knowing other believers and being known by them. But building close Christian friendships means we have to make ourselves vulnerable as Christ was vulnerable on the cross.  It takes time and hard work, reflective of Christ's hard work during His earthly ministry.  But the blessing will certainly be well worth the effort.

Certainly, we can't all have close relationships with one another.  Close Christian fellowship can't be programmed or brought about by church administration.  Often such fellowship grows without much intentionality.  But we can and should be intentional about working to develop Christian friendships.

What about you?  Do you have close friends in Christ?  Are you living in fellowship with other brothers and sisters?  Are you working to build into the lives of others?

Let me encourage you to consider taking Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands in MIT this quarter.  Paul Tripp's book encourages churches to develop cultures of knowing one another in Christ for the sake of mutual sanctification. His book sets out the theology and methodology of true Christian fellowship and discipleship among believers.

Some people might say Paul Tripp's book teaches lay people how to "counsel" one another.  But I'm convinced that the term "counseling" isn't helpful or accurate.  What true "biblical counseling" really is and what Paul Tripp really does is teach Christians how to "fellowship" with and "disciple" one another in the gospel of Jesus Christ.