Thursday, August 22, 2013

God’s Purpose – 2 Tim 1:9

[God] Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. (NASU)
God Saved Us
That sounds quite straightforward. Not many Christians will argue with that. But that’s not the way many act. It is revealed in the words we use, “I came to Christ,” or “I accepted Christ.” Others claim that they have the ability to reject God after salvation or backslide into sin so deeply that they could lose their salvation. In this they claim that continued salvation depends on good work, doing the right things.
Paul addressed this in Galatians 2:17-3:9. In this passage he argues that anyone who seeks to continue to be justified by his works after salvation is nullifying the grace of God. If I try to continue to earn my salvation after I’m supposedly saved, then that brings into question whether I was truly saved in the first place. Did I respond to God’s call on my life because He called me or did I do my own work of faith? Am I, by my dependence on myself to stay in God’s grace, boasting that I came to Christ instead of depending entirely on God drawing me? I don’t think Paul was suggesting that his audience wasn’t really saved. I think he was trying to jolt them out of their self-dependency and back to complete reliance on God.
Not by Works
For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. (Rom 9:11 KJV)
I heard a person try to explain this by saying that God, in His omniscience, was able to see each person before birth and in fact before the creation of the world. He could see whether or not they would turn to Jesus for salvation and in knowing what they would do, called them for salvation. I agree with the first part, that God was able to see us before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). However the second statement doesn’t agree with Scripture. It is saying God has rewarded us for our works which we had not yet done. Romans 9:11 says that He chose us not based on what we would do but because it is His purpose.
When we make any claim to salvation by works, whether they are our potential before our birth, our actual good deeds, or some potential for goodness within ourselves, we are then boasting that there is something in us that deserves a reward of salvation. That’s not what God says. He says that everyone has sinned and is therefore deserving of punishment. In fact, He goes further in saying that we are slaves to sin (Rom 6:15-23). Without God’s intervention, we have no ability within ourselves to get out of that slavery. It isn’t until Jesus saves us that we are free from sin and able to do anything that God would call good works. Even the good works that we do after salvation are His plan (Eph 2:10).
Because we are slaves to sin, everything we do while a slave is sin. Just as everything an employee of a company invents while working for the company is patented and owned by the company, so everything we do while in bondage to Satan is the work of Satan (Isa 64:6, Eph 2:1-3). No wonder we can’t do anything to save ourselves.
His Purpose
The Lord has made everything for his own purposes, even the wicked for a day of disaster. (Prov 16:4 NLT)
So what is God’s purpose? Some say that God needed someone to love so He created the universe and placed man in it so that He could love us. That’s weird because, if He had a need, it means that God isn’t perfect. It could be rephrased to say that He wanted someone to love other than the perfect love that is within the Trinity. That sounds better, but is that what the Bible says? How does this jive with the rest of the verse that says He created some for the day of disaster? Where is God’s love in that?
But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth. (Ex 9:16 NKJV)
God made it clear that Pharaoh was brought to power for only one reason. It was to declare God’s name in all the earth. Another way to put it would be to say that the reason was to bring glory to God. God could have raised up a different person who would have willingly released Israel from bondage. However, that would not have accomplished bringing glory to His name. It would probably never have been noticed by any historians and it would not have brought about the clear foretelling of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins through the Passover.
You may say, along with many, that this is the way God worked in the Old Testament, but He doesn’t work that way anymore. Yet, Paul’s statements in Romans 9:11 shows that He hasn’t changed. To be even clearer, Paul quoted Exodus 9:16 in Rom 9:17 when he summed up his argument that salvation isn’t by works.
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Rom 9:22-24 NASB)
God’s purpose isn’t about looking for or creating someone to love. While He does love us, His purpose is higher than that. Without the Bible explaining these very hard concepts, there is no way we could know that revealing His glory is a higher purpose than revealing His love. How can that be? We value love so highly because Jesus demonstrated that on the cross. So God’s glory must be something that includes His love, holiness, righteousness, compassion, wrath, justice, faithfulness, and all His other attributes. It is impossible for us to understand. We can only read about it and acknowledge that we are not God and can never completely understand Him.
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen. (Rom 11:34-36 RSV)
We can have our theories and our studies about election, how God has called us, His purposes and motivation, but when it comes down to reality, we can’t understand the vastness of His mind. We can study the Bible and that gives us a partial glimpse into His glory. Since everything comes from Him and through Him, we can only see as much as He enables us. The sum of it all is that all the glory belongs to Him forever and that is His purpose in all creation.
In Jesus
Make no mistake in all this. We are partakers of His grace and His glory through Jesus. There is no other way. When Jesus returns and His glory is revealed, we will also appear with Him in that glory (Col 3:1-4). Now that is something that we can contemplate for a long time without coming close to understanding. Having just commented that His glory is something that we can’t understand, yet there will be a future day when we will appear in His glory.
So I ask those who think that there are other ways to God than through Jesus, where will you be when Jesus is revealed? You haven’t acknowledged that Jesus is God. Jesus said that He wouldn’t acknowledge you before His Father (Matt 10:33). You have not acknowledged that you need to turn to Jesus in repentance (Acts 5:31).
Who else has ever claimed to be able to forgive our sins (Mark 2:7, 10)? Has Buddha, Mohammad, any of the thousands of Hindu gods ever provided a way of salvation that depended not on our ability but on their own sacrifice? No, it is only Jesus who could purchase our salvation and that only by His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6 NASB)
What are you going to do? Believe in what Jesus said or the fantasies of the world.
From All Eternity
Before the ages began (ESV), before the beginning of time (NIV), from all eternity (NAS), before time began (NKJV), before the beginning of time (NLT), ages ago (RSV), before the world began (KJV), before times eternal (ASV), and before the times of the ages (YLT) are all different renditions of the Greek words pro chronos aionios. A literal translation would be, before time eternal. So that really helped didn’t it? For me, this is a fascinating concept that defies human logic. The first word is a word that requires us to have time. Without time how can we say anything occurred before or after something else? Time is critical to everything we say or do. Without it, nothing in our universe could exist. So how can there be something before time? The word eternal doesn’t help. Eternity in the past should go on just as long as eternity in the future. It should not have a starting point or an ending point. Can you see how this defies our logic?
So what does this mean? It means that God and Jesus have no beginning or end even though they describe themselves as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Is 41:4, Rev 1:8, 21:6, 22:13). When God revealed His name to Moses, He said it was I AM and Jehovah. The translation and meaning is that He is the self-existing one. Jesus used the same expression of I AM to reveal His deity (John 8:58). The only good definition of a god would be a being that needs nothing else to exist and has always existed by causing himself to exist. That defies human logic as well. God has said that there is only one who fits that description and that is Himself.
"You are My witnesses," says the Lord, "And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, And besides Me there is no savior.” (Isa 43:10-11 NKJV)
Our Savior is Jesus. But God says there is no other savior beside Him so He has identified Himself as God along with Jesus. Paul says that we received grace to be saved before time existed through Jesus Christ. He also says that we were chosen in Jesus before the foundations of the earth (Eph 1:4). It was God’s eternal purpose (Eph 3:11). He uses the exact same words in Titus 1:2 as he does here in 2 Tim 1:9 to say we were saved before time began. Peter also confirms Jesus’ eternality in 1 Peter 1:20 as he describes our salvation. The eternality of Jesus is the same as God the Father.
… and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. (Rev 17:8 KJV)
Just as God has chosen some to be in Christ Jesus before time began, He also chose some to be excluded from salvation.  Twice in the book of Revelation, it is stated that there are some who were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the earth (Rev 13:8, 17:8). In the same way that we can’t really understand what the universe without time could be, we can’t understand how God (who is good, loving, compassionate, and all those other attributes) could write some names in the book of life and exclude others. This is a huge stumbling block for some people.
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. (Joel 2:32 KJV)
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom 10:13 KJV)
However, the one thing that I do know is that in the Old Testament, God says that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. In the same breath, He says that they are a remnant and that they are the ones He has called. Paul quotes the first part of Joel to emphasize the need to call on the Lord and that you will receive the promise of salvation if you do.
The stumbling block is that many want to know the unfathomable mind of God before they will call upon Him. They charge Him with unfairness and injustice because He has tried to state things about eternity so that we could get a glimmer of understanding of His glory. They have judged God! Instead of looking at our own sins and God’s sinlessness, they elevate themselves above God and become a self-fulfilling prophecy by rejecting the only one that can save them from the just punishment of their sins.
The remedy for all eternity is to admit: we aren’t God, we can never fully comprehend Him or eternity, we need His forgiveness that comes only through Jesus Christ. Then we can call on Jesus to save us then rest assured that we are member of the whosoever.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fear or Timidity in Witnessing – 2 Tim 1:7-8

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don't be ashamed of me, either, even though I'm in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. (NLT)
Spirit of Fear and Timidity
What might have been Timothy’s greatest fear? When I look a these verses, it appears that he was afraid of witnessing. If he was like the rest of us, he didn’t have any problem talking about Jesus to a room full of Christians. But, when it came to talking to a non-Christian, whether that person was a stranger, neighbor, or even a relative, he was fearful. I recently took an evangelism class and this was the first subject discussed. What causes us to fear telling someone else about the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Paul was in prison for sharing the Gospel; he had been stoned and beaten multiple times (2 Cor 11:25). This is Timothy’s mentor; Timothy is called to be like him. On top of it, Paul tells Timothy (and us) that we need to be ready to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. I can’t blame Timothy for having a spirit of fear and timidity. Most of us who read this will never face this kind of harassment when we witness to others. However, many in the world are still suffering and dying for the Word.
The spirit of fear didn’t come from God. If it didn’t come from God then there are only two other options. Fear and timidity comes from our own sinful souls or it comes from Satan. I would venture to say that most often it is rooted deep inside our hearts.

What are some of those desires or idols of the heart that cause us to fear witnessing to others? An idol of the heart is anything that is more important to us than doing what Jesus wants. It could be threat of death in some parts of the world. That’s a tough one, but no matter where we live, we should have the same attitude as Paul.
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 ESV)
This is the primary attitude that we need to have about all aspects of our lives. Jesus emphasized this twice in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 10:39, 16:25). If we really want life then we need to be ready to give it up for Jesus. If we are more concerned with saving our bodies it shows that we idolize ourselves and believe that we are more important than Jesus. We may save our bodies but lose our souls forever.
We may fear that sharing the Gospel will affect our lifestyle. In Luke 17:26-33 Jesus told how people ignored Noah so they could continue in their lifestyle. He pointed to Sodom and even Lot’s wife as she looked back at what she left. Perhaps our fear (or excuses) for not sharing the Gospel comes from inconvenience. We may have to go out of our way or take some of our precious time to invest in the eternal lives of others. Where are the idols in this?
We often fear rejection. What if we share with people who then insult us or make fun of us? It’s just another idol of self showing up in another way when we make our feelings more important than obeying Jesus (Matt 28:19-20).
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt 5:11-12 KJV)
Do we really believe we will receive a reward in heaven if we are insulted when we witness? Do we believe we are blessed by God or do we mope in our rejection and think it’s all about us? Whenever we fail to obey God’s Word, it reveals that at our deepest heart level, we don’t believe something. If we did believe we would follow it.
I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. (Neh 6:12-13 NIV)
This is a good example of when Satan causes fear. In this case, he used people to keep God’s work from proceeding. Satan’s fear comes from the outside instead of the inside. It is designed to prey upon our weaknesses and stir up self-preservation or other weaknesses in our hearts. In Nehemiah’s case, he was attuned to God so that he perceived that the prophecy was false. Part of it was true, that people wanted him dead, but the solution to hide in the temple would have been sinful. Satan will use our fear to stop our work or to cause us to sin so that we will be discredited and that will also accomplish his goal.
Spirit of Power
But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, And of justice and might, To declare to Jacob his transgression And to Israel his sin. (Mic 3:8 NKJV)
A true spirit of power can only come from the Holy Spirit. Any other power is a pretender or our own self-confidence. A pretender is very dangerous because it could be like the spirit that was sent to deceive Ahab so that he would be lured to his death in battle (1 Kings 22:19-23). A pretender could also be the source behind those who Paul called fierce wolves (Acts 20:29). They could be people in our own congregations who twist the truth and draw people away (Acts 20:30).
An unfortunate spirit of power is our own self-confidence. There are many type A personalities who are very effective in preaching, teaching, and witnessing. However, when they are working in their own power they are simply good at what they do. Certainly, God can use them for His purposes but they are slow to give God the glory or don’t acknowledge His work. They train others to do the same thing as they build programs that put God into a formulated box. Even though the Gospel is spread, the unfortunate part is that their rewards are here instead of heaven. They have a form of godliness but deny His power (2 Tim 3:3). Eventually the rote programs become lifeless and people wonder why they don’t work anymore.
Another pretender is a spirit of power that focuses on our personal needs preaching a gospel of prosperity and well-being for anyone who follows Christ. The Spirit of the Lord gives power to convict of sin and point out transgressions. He is concerned with people’s well-being but in the context of justice and righteousness. Taking care of orphans, widows, and others who are disadvantaged rather than seeking comfort and peace for ourselves is the work we do along with keeping from being polluted by the sins of the world if we want to show God’s power in our lives (James 1:27).
And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:49 RSV)
Have you ever thought about being clothed with power from God? I’m not up on the latest super heroes, but isn’t Ironman clothed in some special suit that gives him all his abilities? How does that compare to being clothed with God’s power? We aren’t looking for power in the same way the world does. Instead we have power to defeat a subtle enemy. Our enemy takes people captive by sin. We have the power to demolish those fortresses and release the prisoners. We take captive our thoughts to make them obedient to Christ so that fear and timidity are no longer issues when we witness (2 Cor 10:3-5).
Are you in the battle like this or are you still more concerned with what people will say about you? Are you a good witness but you’re doing it like a good salesman because that’s your personality, not by God’s power? That can change when you rely on God’s power.
Spirit of Love
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:16-17 NASB)
We usually look at the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, to define love. However, what that chapter contains is summed up by John. John shows us in the actions of Jesus what love is and how to show it in the simplest way. Jesus is the perfect example of love. He didn’t put His own interest ahead of His own life. It is quite clear that when we are afraid or timid, then we are not thinking about the eternal life of those who don’t hear the Gospel. If we have a spirit of love, then we will want those people to know eternal life as well.
The world doesn’t understand why we share the Gospel. They tell us that we are being intolerant if we insist that Jesus is the only way to heaven. They may even accuse us of being verbal bullies. However, they will not be able to say anything against our demonstration of love when we share our material possessions with those in need. However, don’t expect them to understand God’s love if we don’t tell them why we are giving. Even the world takes care of others to some extent.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22 NIV)
A spirit of love doesn’t come automatically. Some say that all we need to do is love one another but they don’t explain that this kind of love, which denies self and puts other first, isn’t based on emotions. They think that it is something that you can work up inside yourself by your own determination. Peter shows that sincere love is a result of purification. Purification or sanctification is first of all a work of the Holy Spirit in us, but it is also accomplished by obedience to the truth that we learn. The spirit of love that is effective is one that has a foundation of faith. We learn how to add to our faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and then love (1 Peter 1:5-7). Love that doesn’t have this foundation is fickle. It is usually based on feelings and can easily disappear under pressure or when it doesn’t get its way. Paul even says that younger women need to be trained to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). This kind of love comes from knowledge. It is learned and produces discernment, purity and blamelessness (Phil 1:9-10).
The word for self-discipline Paul used is also translated as self-control or sound mind. Having a father who had to be institutionalized for a time concerned me that I might inherit the same problem. When I was a new Christian attending a conference, this verse was quoted using sound mind. I realized at that time, that I didn’t need to fear losing my mind in the way my dad did. It was a great relief.
However, there is a connection between a sound mind and self-control or self-disciple. Many Christians can’t claim to have a sound mind because they haven’t learned how to control themselves. Instead, they allow fears, lusts, desires of the world, and patterns of behavior that they’ve learned from the world to control and shape their thinking. The psychiatric community would say they have a mental disorder but most of the time it is really a sin problem.
We are familiar with Romans 12:2 that says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we want to have self-discipline, we can’t do it unless we transform our minds. At the heart of transformation is repentance, a complete change. We can’t make that kind of change without the Word of God. The transformation must be significant. The same word was used to describe Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:2). It is also used to describe our transformation from one degree of glory to another as we focus ourselves on the Lord and are daily in His presence as was Moses (2 Cor 3:13-18).
Can you imagine your life being transformed so that your face glowed like Moses or that your whole being is changed to be like Jesus when He was transfigured? We probably won’t see that completed until we see Jesus face to face but that is exactly what we can expect in our character when we allow God’s power to transform us and give us a spirit of self-control. This isn’t the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of self-control that the world advocates. This is otherworldly in that it is powered by God Himself living in us. We will eventually have our bodies transformed but now, we are working on our minds.
Have you ever been ashamed because someone you know or are related to did something wrong and ended up in jail? That may have been what Timothy was experiencing when Paul ended up on jail. Without a godly perspective, we could be ashamed that the Gospel causes divisions in families or causes people to do things that are against the law.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. (Matt 10:34-36 ESV)
We can’t second-guess what God will do when we present the Gospel. He is sovereign and He is in charge of peoples’ souls, not us. If we are afraid of the consequences of what may happen, then we are ashamed of the Gospel.
I once had the opportunity to share the Gospel with a couple while on a church visitation. I had two trainees along with me who were learning to witness. During the presentation, it became obvious that the wife was not interested in receiving Christ but the husband was and did accept Christ. Afterward, in the car, one of my trainees said that I had driven a wedge between the couple by leading the man to Christ. This trainee was ashamed of the Gospel if she believed that forfeiting eternal life was more important than any earthly relationship. She was unable to let God do His work by bringing the husband to be the spiritual leader of the house. In spite of the trainee’s fears, the couple stayed together and continued to attend church together.
We shouldn’t be ashamed of anyone who is actively sharing his or her faith either. What do you think of people who stand on the street corner with signs that say Jesus saves? Do you consider them crazy? Are you ashamed of them? Certainly there may be some who are distorting the Gospel or are being very unloving in their statements. Those things can’t be condoned. We shouldn’t be ashamed of those who are being bold while presenting the Gospel even if it is unorthodox by our standards. Paul was considered out of his mind for the way he shared the Gospel (Acts 26:24).
If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. (2 Cor 5:13 NIV)
The goal is to do what is necessary to bring people to Jesus. No, we are not to do anything sinful, which would not honor God. However we too often tend to expect people to come to Christ only by the way we did or by the traditional methods that our church uses.
Suffer for the Gospel
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9:22 KJV)
We like to say that we will be all things to everyone so that we can save them. That includes being a little crazy or silly at times. There are people who minister to racecar drivers, football teams, and others in high profile places. We may all want to have a ministry to the rich and famous, but who wants to suffer for the Gospel? We won’t all have to suffer for the Gospel but we should all be ready.
I’ve heard it said over and over again that we can’t know how we will respond to suffering and I’ve said over and over that we need to be prepared so we will respond in godly ways. Paul says the same. But we must remember that Paul said it is by God’s power that we can be ready. If we aren’t depending on God’s power in our lives to overcome fear, timidity, and a lack of self-control, then we will not be afraid to suffer for the Gospel.