Steve’s Thoughts

Where did justification by faith go?

I have become increasingly burdened over the last few years because it seems to me that many Christians – even the most evangelistic ones – fail to clearly herald that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. As my children are getting older, we have them enrolled in many Christian organizations for sports or other activities. One of the main reasons we have done so is to expose them to organizations that will preach the Gospel. I have started listening carefully and one pattern seems to be emerging; calls to be saved by believing the Gospel are rarely, if ever heard.

This was punctuated to me at one of our last “devotions” given at my son’s t-ball game. The coach spoke with the children about being good vs. being bad. The coach went on to proclaim that God wants us to be good. Then John 3:16 was quoted…well, almost quoted. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” I was anticipating the rest of the verse. But it never came. The silence was deafening and I longed to hear the words “that whosoever believes in Him will be saved”.

Perhaps the incident above was isolated. Sadly, it doesn’t seem isolated in my experience. In fact, it was the closest thing in the three different Christian sporting leagues that we have been in this year that I have heard to the Gospel. It almost made it…but one thing was left out.

While there are many reasons that we may come up with, there are a few things in particular upon my heart as I have studied the Scriptures. In June I hope to address some of these issues during our time of Bible study. Some of the issues that are upon my heart are:

  • There are many words and phrases in the Bible that most people take to refer to the Bible that I believe should be understood specifically as references to the Gospel. Therefore we often assume that Christians should continually be studying the Bible (which I certainly agree with), but we should be seeing the Church should be continually preaching the Gospel, even to our selves!
  • The idea of “flesh” in the Scriptures is often misunderstood. While it does refer to sinful desires, I believe it is very often to warn against self-effort (whether it be self-vindication, self-righteousness, or self-reliance). Therefore, our battle against the flesh is often separated from the essential work of faith, when in fact it should be exactly opposite.
  • The place of faith in the Christian life has been damaged by both the Easy-believism camp and also by the Lordship Salvation camp.
  • The terminology and methods employed by Christians today has replaced biblical teaching.  Instead of Justification by Faith, many churches basically teach Justification by Praying The Sinners Prayer After Me, or Justification by Inviting Jesus in Your Heart.
  • One of the greatest issues is that there is a grave misunderstanding of the relationship of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
  • Finally, I think we have lost faith in faith. This is not a modern issue. It is the reason that the Scriptures warn us over and over to guard against returning to a life of self-effort. We must be absolutely reliant upon the Spirit of God. Even self-control is not within our abilities…it is the fruit of the Spirit!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas that you believe are also responsible for the demise of heralding that we must believe in the Gospel of Christ – and Christ alone!

Acts 16:6-10

This morning, we will be looking at the direction of the Spirit upon Paul and his coworkers. Through my study of this passage, I have become convinced that one of the primary reasons our churches are so weak today – so distracted today – is because we do not understand that the Spirit of Jesus is directing the course of the Kingdom of God. Since our churches do not understand this, we are not praying correctly, we are not giving the effort we should, and we are not waking from the slumber of the vanity fair taking place in our midst. May God prevent us from going astray and lead us with the Macedonian call.

Edersheim on the Sermon on the Mount

The following quote about the Sermon on the Mount is from Alfred Edersheim’s book “The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah”.

“Its great subject is neither righteousness, nor yet the New Law (if such designation be proper in regard to what in no real sense is a law), but that which was innermost and uppermost in the mind of Christ – the Kingdom of God. Notably, the Sermon on the Mount contains not any detailed or systematic doctrinal, nor any ritual teaching, nor yet does it prescribe the form of any outward observances. This marks, at least negatively, a difference in principle from all other teaching. Christ came to found a Kingdom, not a School; to institute a fellowship, not to propound a system. To the first disciples all doctrinal teaching sprang out of fellowship with Him. They saw Him, and therefore believed; they believed, therefore learned the truths connected with Him, and springing out of Him. So to speak, the seed of truth which fell on their hearts was carried thither from the flower of His person and life …. It is Christ, then, as the King, who is here, flinging open the gates of His Kingdom. ” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdman; 1967) Vol. I, pp. 52.)

When We Need Help

Hebrews 4.16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

My friends, let me ask you to pray for me and pray for one another.  Will you beseech the Lord to help us confidently approach the throne of grace whenever we need help?  I am confident that in so doing, the Sovereign Lord will grant us mercy and grace that will abundantly supply our every need.

Sadly, I believe that in our weakness, we do not approach the throne of our Lord’s grace often.  It is strange – is it not?  It ought to be a place that we delight to go.  It ought to be first upon our desires.  Truly we need the Lord’s gracious help.

Please pray with me for this.

(This post is part of the Biblical Prayer Requests series.  Click here for an introduction to the series.)

Biblical Prayer Requests

This is an introduction to a new series of posts that I hope to update from time to time.  The purpose of these posts is to search the Scriptures to find biblical subjects that ought to be the object of the prayers of the saints.  My hope in these posts is to encourage each of us to be bold when we share our needs with one another in prayer and to be encouraged to honestly ask one another to pray for these pressing needs.

Often, when churches gather in prayer meetings or take requests from one another for prayers, we focus on needs of health, needs of finance, and needs of relationships.  These are certainly things that we ought to pray for in a Scriptural manner.  Our Lord told his disciples to ask for daily provision of physical things, such as our daily food. But it is very easy to focus mainly (or only) on requests for prayer from others for such things.

Our Lord also taught “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33).  We are encouraged by Jesus to seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and the physical needs are rather secondary in importance compared to this.

Now, please do not misunderstand me.  I am not saying that it is wrong, or even less spiritual, to request prayer for a loved one’s health or physical well-being.  We ought to share one anothers’ burdens for these things.

I just want to give encouragement to also be focused on expressing in prayer our desires to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  I think that in order to do so, we must be confronted with the fact that we need to change what we pray for, what we ask others to pray for, and the priority of praying for the spiritual needs of the Body of Christ.

I think one of the things to overcome is the simple tradition of the typical prayer request process.  It is very easy to go to almost any Church or prayer meeting and ask others to prayer for your relative who is sick.  It is even comfortable for many to ask others to prayer for a person’s salvation.  However, I have found that we do not have a good track record of speaking up during a time of prayer requests and expressing that you desire for all to pray for some of the manifold spiritual needs of yourself and the members of the Body of Christ.

A more serious issue may also be underlying our prayer requests.  Perhaps we are more concerned with physical needs than we are with our spiritual health.  Perhaps we are seeking first the things of this life and just hoping the things of the kingdom of God and His righteousness will just be added as we go our merry way.

Regardless of what is the root cause of the focus of our personal and corporate prayers, my hope is that through this series of posts, we will overcome the sin that easily entangles us and thirst for the Kingdom of God and boldly seek to pray in private, and with the saints for the things which bring honor and glory and dominion to the risen Lord Jesus. My hope is that we will learn and be convinced that we ought to search the Scriptures and pray together that God will help us seek the glory of God.

May God bless us with godly longings.  My His Spirit enable us and guide us to pray as we ought.

Click here to find posts in this series.

Frequency in Prayer

At our men’s fellowship last Sunday evening, we approached the throne of our risen Lord in prayer.  I am grateful to the Lord and to my brothers in Christ that we shared that time together.  The following is from Spurgeon’s sermon on Psalm 116.1, and I hope it stirs us on to seek these times more and more – as individuals and corporately in the Body of Christ.

Let us note again THE FREQUENCY OF HIS ANSWERS TO OUR FREQUENT PRAYERS.

If a beggar comes to your house, and you give him alms, you will be greatly annoyed if within a month he shall come again; and if you then discover that he has made it a rule to wait upon you monthly for a contribution, you will say to him, “I gave you something once, but I did not mean to establish it as a rule.” Suppose, however, that the beggar should be so impudent and impertinent that he should say, “But I intend sir to wait upon you every morning and every evening:” then you would say, “I intend to keep my gate locked that you shall not trouble me.” And suppose he should then look you in the face and add still more, “Sir, I intend waiting upon you every hour, nor can I promise that I won’t come to you sixty times in an hour; but I just vow and declare that as often as I want anything so often will I come to you: if I only have a wish I will come and tell it to you; the least thing and the greatest thing shall drive me to you; I will always be at the post of your door.” You would soon be tired of such importunity as that, and wish the beggar anywhere, rather than that he should come and tease you so.

Yet recollect, this is just what you have done to God, and he has never complained of you for doing it; but rather he has complained of you the other way. He has said, “Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob.” He has never murmured at the frequency of your prayers, but has complained that you have not come to him enough. Every morning when you have risen your cry has gone up to him; again with the family you have cried to the God of Jacob; at eventide you have gathered together and have prayed to him, and whenever ye have a trial, or a want, or a doubt, or a fear, ye have, if ye have done rightly, sped away swiftly to his throne and told him all.

Speak now, saint, has he once said to you “Get you gone, thou weariest me?” Has he ever said “Mine ear is heavy that it cannot hear, my arm is shortened that I cannot save?” Has he said, “Away with thee, I want not thus to be perpetually hearing thee? What is thy harsh grating voice, that I should always give mine ear to it? Am I not hearkening to the songs of angels, to the shouts of cherubim? Away with thee, tease me not. At certain seasons thou mayest come, on the Sabbath-day thou mayest pray, but I want not to hear thee in the week?”

No, no, he has sweetly embraced us every time, he has always bowed the heaven and come down to listen to our feeble cries; he has never denied a promise, never broken his word, even when we have pleaded a thousand times a day. Oh I will love the name of such a patient God as this, who bears with my prayers though they be as a cloud of hornets in the air.

Multifaceted

We have grown much over the past several years in our understanding of Christian fellowship and the importance of the corporate nature of the Body of Christ.  We have seen the biblical pattern and exhortations over and over as we study the Word of God.  Ultimately, we have seen the Spirit of God dwelling in our midst and enjoyed the warmth of Christian fellowship in the ever-growing Temple of our Lord.

I found this quote today from C.S. Lewis and it continues to unfold the glorious impact that we have on one another in the Body of Christ.  He writes:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Page 61)

Lewis is pointing out that we need to establish greater breadth in order to grow closer to one another.  If we limit our fellowship and friendships to the same small set of people in the same situations, our knowledge of one another will be quite limited.  But if we observe one another in connection with others, our knowledge of each other grows.  Our appreciation and love of one another ought to grow as well.

But be warned, you must be prepared.  The greater you know one another, the more you will realize that we are each far from perfect.  You may will see that we are not always as wise, as mature, and as self-controlled as we may appear.  You must be armed with patience, gentleness, and a Christ-like forgiveness so that we may bear with one another for the glory of Christ.  But though this work may not be easy, it is the will of God and the law of Christ.

Gal. 6:1-3 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Col 3:12-17 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

May God bless us with the richest of Christian fellowship.  May He grant us the willingness to grow near to one another, even if it reveals that we are not as strong and perfect as we would like others to think we are.