THE CROSS

The Word of the Cross

The grace of God and the cross of Christ are inseparable. The cross is the power behind grace, the bank account necessary for God to cancel the debt of sin (I Cor. 1:18; Col. 2:14). These truths are commonly affirmed, however, are their implications commonly applied to our understandings of Christianity? Do these truths regularly make it to the “streets” or to the “marketplace of ideas”? How practical are we with the word of the cross?

While it is certainly true that an essential aspect of God’s character is “love” (I Jn. 4:8), equally true is the fact that He is just. His justice will, therefore, be served (Rom. 3:26). The combination of these two innate characteristics of the Father insists that grace cannot be cheap. The unearned nature of grace is, as with many other gifts, paid for in full before appropriated without cost. There can be no incongruity within the nature of God. No cross; no grace!

With regard to our salvation, sinful men and women have created a problem. How, therefore, could there be salvation without first having an accounting for this disturbance in God’s creation? A correction is needed. The scales of justice ultimately cannot be imbalanced; they must somehow maintain equilibrium.

Jesus dying on the cross is the balancing factor needed in a world dangerously tilting away from God. Jesus made right what otherwise could never have been brought to stability (I Pet. 1:17-19; Heb. 9:11-14, 10:4, 19-23).

This solution required the death of a perfectly sinless human being. The cross is tied to blood, totally innocent blood. This thought, however, has caused many to recoil at what they consider to be a “barbaric” concept. William Paul Young, author of The Shack, recently voiced this belief in an interview,

 He is the God who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son, so that His just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased. This God whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger — a God who is still all too familiar to many Christians — is a caricature of the true God. This God does not exist. (Shannon, Silence on Fire, p. 110, also see Manning who stated the very same thing in Above All, pp. 58-59)

The cross with all its so-called “barbarity” must be seen through God’s eyes to make sense. Men have rejected the cross because it does not fit their notions of justice. It does not fit because it is based on man’s limited understanding of the “sin problem” (I Cor. 1:18-2:2).

Consider the nature of the “sin problem” as seen from a biblical point of view. The biblical mix of ingredients must be complete before an adequate solution can be developed and understood. In such a view, the cross not only makes sense, it is indispensable. Consider the implications of the following Scriptures (I Jn. 4:8; Rom. 3:21-31; Gen. 3:1-7; Gen. 3:15; Job 9:30-35; Rom. 8:29; I Pet. 2:24; Psa. 22; Matt. 27:46; Matt. 26:39; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 5:9-14; Jn. 1:14).

1.         God is a God of love.

2.         God is a God of justice.

3.         Humans have rebelled against God.

4.         Humans are, therefore, part of the problem.

5.         Humans cannot, however, deliver themselves from their dilemma.

6.         Yet, humans must have participation since they are the cause of the problem.

7.         God, as the creator, must also be part of the solution since His nature would not allow Him to create humans

              knowing they would sin and yet give them no hope of salvation.

8.         Someone must serve as an adequate mediator for God and man to worktogether in a solution.

9.         Sin demands death.

10.       The Incarnation led to a worthy human/God sacrifice.

Many other Scriptures could be used to support the points listed above. Clearly, if we let the Bible speak for itself, the entirety of Scripture fits together perfectly to show a plan perfectly in harmony with all salient factors. No cross; no grace.

Now that God has acted to offer correction to an unbalanced creation, how are we to take advantage of the gift? To answer this question, we are taken to “the word of the cross” (I Cor. 1:18).

The word of the cross is good news—the gospel. The first sermon presenting the gospel is found in Acts 2:14-41. Its development shows the pattern for all subsequent presentations and responses.

1.         God developed and delivered the message to be preached.

2.         The message was in keeping with God’s intentions as revealed to the prophets.

3.         Jesus was preached.

4.         His resurrection validated God’s plan.

5.         Sinners were convicted by preaching and wanted to know how to find relief from their sins

6.         They were told to change their lives and be immersed into Christ for the remission of their sins

7.         Through their faithful obedience they would receive the long awaited “promise.”

The preaching of the cross reveals God’s plan and presents how sinners are to respond. The two aspects of the plan must then be well understood. The word of the cross is too important to misunderstand.

The word of the cross contains both essential primary and secondary components. The primary side of the equation is the part God has provided in a crucified, resurrected Savior. Without God’s plan being realized in Jesus, we would not need to speak any further about salvation (I Cor. 15:3; Heb. 9:28). No cross; no salvation.

The secondary elements of the plan involve our response. As sinners we are helpless to solve our problem (Rom. 3:23, 27a). This being the case, we must understand that the “law of Christ” with all its instructions cannot save us in the primary sense any more than could the “law of Moses” save a Jew. Neither the things Christians do nor the things Jews did to access a relationship with God have the power to bring about salvation by themselves (Gal. 3:21).

Our understanding the lack of efficacy found in secondary items standing alone is of greatest importance. The Jews serve as a stark reminder to us that trusting in our works is a damning error of judgment (Rom. 2:17-29; 9:30-33). Similarly, if Christians glory in their response to God rather than in the God who made possible the response, we too fall short (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). No cross; no salvation.

To illustrate, a window shade raised during the day can bring light to a dark room. The same shade raised during the night cannot allow sunlight to light the room. The necessity of the secondary act of raising the shade in daylight only worked because the primary factor of the sun was present. In a similar manner, all the commandment keeping in the world cannot make any contribution to our salvation if there is no cross. As Paul so powerfully put it, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

We must understand this clearly or we will misunderstand verses teaching that secondary matters of response save us. I Peter 3:21 is a classic example. This verse tells us “baptism now saves you.” The question here is not “if” but “how.” If baptism saves in a primary sense, we need no cross. However, the verse itself explains how baptism saves. It saves “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism occupies the place of the window shade in our earlier illustration. It accesses something only because something is there to access.

Examining this concept in reverse, let us have a look at Hebrews 10:4. In the primary sense, animal blood could not take sins from a Jew.  It could, however, allow access to forgiveness later to be realized in Christ (Lev. 4:20; Rom. 3:23-25). In much the same manner as baptism, animal sacrifices allowed access into God’s salvation, but neither baptism nor an animal sacrifice has the power to take away sins apart from the cross of Christ. No cross; no salvation.

Our discussion of primary and secondary aspects of salvation leads to a practical evaluation of our teaching and preaching. What is the proper proportion each aspect is due in our presentations? In recent times accusations have been made that grace has not been preached sufficiently. It has been said that we dwell more on our response than on God’s initiative. I don’t doubt that this has been true in some cases, but certainly not in all. Additionally, at times, when the above accusations have been leveled, the desired response calls for our preaching to unduly minimize the biblical place of obedience of faith (Rom.1:5; 16:26). Secondary matters of response are necessary.

A common reaction against those who accuse others of not preaching grace has been to cite examples of sermons preached in the past that dealt with grace. Impressive lists have been developed to “prove” we have preached grace in the “mainstream.” The fact is, we have all heard sermons and read articles that emphasized grace. There is, however, more to the story.

In both cases, could it be true that when a person in opposition goes “over the top” in their broadsides others dismiss their entire argument because they have gone too far with the point? I suspect there have been at least some cases when taking a realistic evaluation of our present practices has been torpedoed by extreme reactions to extreme positions.

Biblically speaking, there are times when more pressing lesser matters must rise to the top of our discussions due to the concerns of the moment (Jude 3). These are judgment calls. However, like Jude, we should get more delight in speaking of our common salvation than in condemning error. We do not want to become like the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-4).Conversely, we do not want to be like the church at Thyatira and allow open sin to go unopposed (Rev. 2:18-23).

There must be balance. A sense of proper proportion is not a small thing (Matt. 23:23-24). Leeway must be given in matters of judgment. Local autonomy is to be respected.

Life comes at us in unexpected ways that may well call for momentary disproportions in the subjects we speak or write about. Both primary and secondary matters of necessity must be preached! It is not always easy to know the best judgment to make when we face problems. Nevertheless, we must always keep this in mind, no cross; no salvation!

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THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

            Some subjects that are supposed to bring peace and comfort wind up being twisted into controversy. One such subject is grace. There is one extreme involving a hyper-grace predestination that informs God about the limits of His sovereignty. In this humans are but pawns in a predetermined game. I find this lacking in biblical reason and ultimately self-defeating. At the other end of the discussion is a checklist proudly paraded while grace becomes but a perfunctory whisper.  In this the attention comes to be focused on our actions rather than on God’s goodness. This, too, has no Scriptural support.

            I seriously suspect an unbiased Bible student would find neither of these extreme positions a fair representation of the complete discussion. Extremes are easy; they demand little thinking and require a closed mind. Unbiased searchers would find such prerequisites insulting and unsatisfying.

Consider the following combination of grace, faith and works as a balanced alternative to the extremes just mentioned. A seasonal illustration may help.

            Your shopping has finally located the much sought after gift. The gift, wrapping paper, tag, ribbon, and stickers have all been purchased. The gift is positioned under the tree until the day for unwrapping arrives. But, what if the gift remains unwrapped? The answer is simple; the gift cannot be enjoyed.

Now consider a variation of the story. All the details remain the same, but this time the gift is opened and enjoyed. Did the person who unwrapped the gift supply a penny of its cost? This also allows for an easy answer, no.

             Another illustration may also contribute to the point I wish to make. Blinds are opened in a dark room on a sunny day. The room is filled with light. The same blinds are opened at midnight. The room remains dark.

            In both illustrations, the work of enjoying either the present or the light did in no way purchase or create the thing enjoyed. Presents unopened are not enjoyed. Light blocked does not light a room. For that matter, opening the blinds if there is no light is useless. The sun gives the light, not the blinds.

            I suggest a balanced, biblical view allows for the gift of grace apart from any human merit while providing a place for human reception. Therefore, any work that seeks to earn salvation cannot succeed. Grace is a gift. However, a work of faith is to be understood in a different context. The positive, biblical context of works is merely receptive in nature, never deserving.

            Therefore, rather than seeing Romans 4 and James 2 in conflict or developing convoluted “harmonizations” may we not see them as expressing different aspects or contexts of the place of faith and works. The faith that saves puts no trust in the purchasing power of our works. The faith that does not act, however, is dead.

            Let us glory in grace, God’s incomprehensible gift! Let us also appreciate that the obedience of faith, though always flawed and never deserving, is nevertheless part of the conversation (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; I Jn. 1:7).

Will the Cycle Go Unbroken?

              It is said, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I do suspect sins of omission are a significant component of said road. We often have very noble intentions that we just never seem to accomplish. Time passes, passion for our goals slowly abates, and we forget until something jogs our memory.

            For some, however, the norm is defeated. For the few, good intentions become entries of exemplary progress on their journal of life. Why so few successes? Why does the cycle of business-as-usual so often go unbroken? What characterizes the exceptions to the rule?

            As acknowledged, sometimes, the whole lackluster trend of well-intended-neglect finds an exception. Every now and again people rise up to do truly extraordinary deeds (Neh. 2:18-20; 4:6). On occasion, a world slumbering in its cynicism gets a good case of the cold shivers as they see greatness. Once in a while, the unnoticed ho hum of normality actually changes into a cannot-be-missed wonderment (Acts 17:6).

            How can we be part of exceptional happenings? First, as we take time to reflect on the many good things we might pursue, let us recall God’s remembrances of our needs and offer gracious thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a great motivation for godly, personal expressions of service.

            Second, as we purpose to do good things that will bring praise to God, remember not to let good or better hinder us from accomplishing what is best. To be so hindered would be to squander an opportunity to achieve “exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). Great goals sought with God’s great power to bless our efforts can excite and motivate us to consistently move forward.

            God has placed wonderful potential in our hands. The good things we purpose may well become amazing, awe inspiring blessings for our good God. There is only one way to find out. In a world of unrealized intentions leading to a cycle of repeated disappointments, will the cycle be unbroken?

Jehoiakim and His Knife

“And it came to pass, when Jehudi had read three or four pages, the king cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth” (Jer. 36:23).

            King Jehoiakim sent for the scroll of Jeremiah.  When the scroll arrived, the King commanded it to be read. After only three or four pages had been covered, he took the scroll from the reader and with his knife he cut it to pieces and cast it into the fire. This revealed the attitude of the wicked king to God and his word.

            Down through the ages, others have opposed God and his revelation. Just as with Jehoiakim’s efforts, the message from God continues to survive all destructive efforts.  The Bible continues to reveal the “thoughts and intent of the heart.”  As long as the earth stands, the Word of God will be here to reveal truth. It will continue to probe the depths of the heart and, at times, bring inconvenient truths. “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my word shall not pass away (Matt. 24:33).

.           People today may not commonly use a knife or fire to destroy the Word, but their motives may be the same. When people fail to read and study the will of God the effect is as if they were cutting and burning the Bible. The Bible has no affect on their life and the person soon dies spiritually.  “Man cannot live by bread alone.”

            When a preacher will not preach the Word in completeness or teaches the “doctrines and commandments of men,” he, in effect, destroys the Word. When we fail to teach and live the whole council of God, we are cutting and burning the Bible. When anyone seeks to destroy God’s Word by denying the true nature of the Book, the cutting and burning continues.

            Today, we do not need to cut and burn the Bible to destroy it; we can simply leave it on a shelf or table to collect dust. In homes where a family does not allow the fullness of truth to hold sway, Scripture may as well be incinerated. Churches where the Bible is a mere pew ornament may as well take out knives and fire up a brazier

            We must exercise vigilance to prevent the full Gospel from becoming an incomplete, distorted, or disrespected relic of God’s great gift.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Catching Sight of God

            I grew up in the era of Ivory Soap. There were two unusual things about Ivory, it could float and it was 99 and 44/100 % pure. I realize that someone might well ask, “Pure what”? Or, as I often wondered, “What was the 56/100% all about”? Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly high level of purity did duly impress.

            Ivory Soap’s preponderance of purity is actually a very good illustration of the point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:8. The reason for this is that purity has much more to do with what is present than what is absent. Consider this, a heart may be largely free of impurity, and yet be empty and cold. Such a heart will not, however, remain unfilled. If pure attitudes and motives do not take up residence, an empty heart will soon be occupied with evil things (Lk. 11:24-26; Matt. 15:19). 

            In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus reveals His keen interest in matters of the heart. A good heart must back up our conduct if it is to be accepted by Jesus (Matt. 5:27-28). Words and deeds must be supported by a heart of integrity if they are to please the Christ (Matt. 5:33-37; 6:1).

            Purity of heart is about singleness of purpose. The pure heart is not an unsettled sea of conflicting desires; it is a place of peace dominated by united intentions. A singular spiritual focus sorts out a host of conflicting loyalties and drives the heart toward the service of but one master (Matt. 6:24). So attentive is the pure heart to the call of Christ, it consistently turns a deaf ear to all other voices (cf. Jn. 10:1-5; II Cor. 5:14-15).

            In its captivated focus, purity of heart has a strong link to holiness. To be holy is to be set apart from commonplace priorities and concerns; it is to be like God (Lev. 19:2; II Cor. 7:1). This positive, set-apart direction of the heart correctly attunes our sight through the focus of faith (II Cor. 5:7; Matt. 6:22-22-23). In this way we come to see as God sees. This corrected vision with its purity of sight allows us to see what otherwise cannot be seen (Jn. 1:18). The pure of heart are thus among a privileged few who catch a glimpse of the greatest un-seeable sight of all. The pure of heart have an uncluttered, singular look at God!

 

THE PROMISE OF GOD AND OUR HOPE

            The idea of the “Promise” runs powerfully through all eras of biblical history.  It is a unifying theme of the most fundamental sort. Without this theological binding of the Bible story via Promise, the irresistible force bringing the Old Covenant forward to meet the New Covenant would be absent. Promise is a theme that looms exceedingly large on the horizon of Scripture.

EARLY FORESHADOWING

            Implied in God’s words to Eve in Genesis 3:15, is the first hint we have of the Promise. It is a somewhat enigmatic statement mixing both human and divine elements of God’s great salvation plan. Deliverance would eventually be secured. Additionally, its satisfaction would in some way be through the special agency of a woman.

            The “rest of the story” dramatically completes its course in the Virgin Birth (Gal. 4:4) and in a derivative sense in the church (Rom. 16:20). However, the Virgin Birth and its relationship to the “Seed Promise,” great though it is, is not the more dedicated path Scripture follows. Abraham will be the key figure in God’s highlighting the significance of Promise.

GOD AND ABRAHAM

            The peg God which uses to anchor the idea of Promise is found in His dealings with Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3 is the staging area from which God moves forward with the importance of His promise. It is also at this point God expresses two basic elements to the Promise. First, He will build a great nation through Abraham. In support of this, either blessings or curses await those who deal with Abraham and those who are aligned with the Promise. The nation we will come to know as Israel will fulfill its role overseen by Jehovah’s mighty arm.

            Second, there was in the Promise a universal blessing. All people would benefit from the work God would affect through Abraham and his descendants. This is a point most of Abraham’s descendants would fail to appreciate. Israel was not the end of the plan grounded in the Promise; the holy nation that would occupy the Promised Land was the means to a much greater end (Gal. 3:17-29).

            The greater conclusion of the matter, however, would be accomplished many years in the future. The journey of the Promise through the years of Abraham and the great nation’s contributions would nevertheless provide an awesome display of God’s greatness.

THE JOURNEY FROM ABRAHAM TO ISRAEL

            From beginning to end, this journey is filled with God’s unceasing work  to secure the goal of His plan. Though many faithful men and women would participate in the journey, none were perfect. All could have potentially brought this vital enterprise to an abrupt halt, but God would not have it so.

            Almost as soon as God made His promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), we encounter a problem. Pharaoh, fooled by Abraham’s ruse, takes Sarah into his house (Gen. 12:10-12). Had not the Lord intervened—end of the story! The intervention of God, however, will be present at every twist and turn of His plan’s development.

            Another very interesting point on the journey comes from Genesis 15:1-21. Here, Abraham despairs over the absence of an heir from his own body. Under the customs prevailing at the time, Abraham’s chief servant, Eliezer, would be reckoned as his heir.

            God, however, assures Abraham he will have a son of his own flesh. The Lord again lets Abraham know that his descendant will be vast in number. On this occasion, God goes even further to assure Abraham that His promise can be trusted. God will quite literally cut a covenant with Abraham (cf. Jer. 34:18-20).

            There is something unique about this covenant procedure in Genesis 15. Normally, both parties entering the covenant agreement would walk between the pieces. In this case, however, Abraham was deliberately put to sleep and Jehovah, represented by smoke and fire, passed through the pieces alone (cf. Ex. 40:34-38). God’s promise to Abraham was further guaranteed by the covenant the Lord imposed upon Himself as He walked between the divided animal carcasses alone.

            There is, however, yet another assurance. The Hebrews writer references this when he speaks of God’s twofold guarantee of His promise (Heb. 6:9-20). Here, Genesis 22:17 is quoted as providing an “oath” to further seal the promise. This oath comes immediately following the “sacrifice” of Isaac, an act directly linked to the crucifixion of Jesus and tied to Abraham’s continuing faith (Heb. 11:17-19; Jas. 2:21-23—note the tie in to Gen. 15:6).

            Yet, amazingly, there is even more.  The inseparable, companion verse to Genesis 22:17 is verse 18. This is the verse where it is explicitly stated that in Abraham’s “seed” all the nations will be blessed. It is verse 18 Paul quotes in Galatians 3:16, one of the most powerful Promise passages in the entire Bible. The singular masculine pronoun of Genesis 22:17 thus gives the special singular meaning to “seed” even though elsewhere the singular form of seed almost always has a plural denotation referencing the entire nation of Israel (note Gen. 22:17b). Abraham’s seed of the Promise was no less than the Christ!

            Consider how God took His promise from Abraham to Isaac. He overcame the “Hagar Diversion,” opened the aged Sarah’s womb, renewed Abraham’s ability to father a child, protected the promise from going through Ishmael, interceded to once again thwart Abraham’s “she’s my sister” foolishness, and delivered Isaac from death (Gen. chapters15-22; Rom. 4:16-25).

            Nevertheless, the journey from Isaac to Jacob/Israel, short though it is, remains fraught with roadblocks to overcome before arriving at the place God intends. Rebekah’s womb must be opened, Jacob, the second born, must muddle through all manner of interesting twists, Sarah’s womb must be opened, and Joseph, though given firstborn status, will be superseded by his less noble brother Judah as the one through whom would come the Messiah (Gen. 26-50; I Chron. 5:2).

            How might we summarize the meaning of these things? The short of it is that when God makes a promise, He keeps it and He keeps it in His own intended way. Human weaknesses, plots, lies, improbable odds, unlikely twists and turns, etc. cannot derail the Lord’s Promise.

            The Promise made to Abraham concerning the salvation to be offered to all men and women was always secure because it was God who made the Promise. Additionally, as we touched upon earlier, the Promise is also secure because of Jesus, the ultimate one to whom the Promise was made (Gal. 3:16). The Promise was made by God the Father to God the Son—God to God. The Promise made possible by the life of Christ was, therefore, just as secure at the point of fulfillment as it had been at the point of inception. God never fails.

A DAVIDIC MOMENT

            There is a significant, additional element in the journey of the Promise to the Christ; David immerges as a major player in the unfolding drama of salvation. Israel had sought a king so they might be like the nations around them (I Sam. 8:4-9). This request is allowed by God and results in Israel’s first king, Saul. There is, however, an odd twist here. Genesis 49:10 had clearly declared Judah as the regal tribe—Saul was a Benjaminite. This seeming problem is easily resolved when we consider a few points from the general, surrounding context.

            The people wanted a king to suit their understandings of what a king should be like. What better choice to satisfy such thinking than an exceedingly handsome and exceptionally tall man linked to might and valor (I Sam. 9:1-2)?  The people’s choice award went to Saul. Only “certain worthless men” opposed the choice (I Sam. 10:27).

            Saul, as most know, was not a good king. His heart sided with the people rather than with God (I Sam. 15:1-23). Now it was God’s turn. When God made his choice we are not at all be surprised to see that His choice came from the tribe of Judah (I Sam. 16:1, note that Bethlehem was in Judah). We also should not be surprised to find that when God chose a king He did not look at “outward appearance,” but at “the heart” (I Sam. 16:6-7; cf. I Sam. 13:14). The most impressive looking brother, Eliab, did not have the right heart (I Sam. 16:6; 17:26-28).

            David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), would add a special feature to the development of God’s Promise to Abraham. As king over the great nation God brought into being, David would not simply be a man of significance for the nation, David would be the king who, along with his dynasty, would be of great significance to God’s universal Promise (Lk. 1:30-33; Acts 13:23). While the much shorter lived Northern Kingdom of Israel would have nine dynastic families, Judah would have but one—the house of David. It is, therefore, no wonder that God chose to highlight both Abraham and David in the highly Messianic genealogy of Matthew 1:1.

            Consider the Messianic stamp God placed on David’s dynasty in II Samuel 7:12-19. David’s son Solomon would serve as a type of Christ and his kingdom as a type of the Messianic Kingdom (cf. Acts 2:29-30).

            On the first Pentecost after the Resurrection of Jesus, God, having given Him all authority (Matt. 28:18; Dan. 7:13-14; I Cor. 15:20-28; Phil. 2:9-11; Eph. 1:19-23) sat Jesus at His right hand as king over the New Israel (Acts 2:29-36). The new King sent forth the Holy Spirit of the Promise and people were invited into the New Kingdom under the New Covenant (Gal. 3:14; Acts 2:33, 38b-39; Heb. 8:7-13). God made good on His promise. It was never in doubt!

THE PROMISE CONTINUES TO BE EFFECTIVE

            As referenced in Acts 2:38b-39, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is directly connected to the Promise. The fulfillment of the Promise was associated with the earliest preaching of the Gospel to the Jews (Acts 3:25). The Promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gen. 22:17-18; Gal. 3:16). Yet, though fulfilled, the significance of the Promise is not inactive today.

            The Promise is clearly and inseparably tied to our inheritance in Christ (Gal. 3:13-19; Rom. 4:13-16; 8:15-17; 9:8). The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is equally attached to both the Promise and our inheritance (Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 8:16-17; Gal. 3:14, 18-19; Rom. 4:13-16; Eph. 1:13-14; I Cor. 2:12; Gal. 4:4-7; Acts 20:32; 26:18). The Promise has been kept and its influence is truly amazing. We are children of the King of all creation (I Jn. 3:1). The “down-payment” or “earnest” or “pledge” of our inheritance became ours when we became Christians (Eph. 1:14; II Cor. 1:22). For the faithful Christian, the blessings of the Promise to Abraham are as sure as God and the finished work of His Son (II Cor. 18-22). They have been revealed by the Spirit Himself rather than by the mere words of men (I Cor. 2:10-12).

            Incredibly, the full greatness of the Promise has yet to be realized. Heaven will show what now can only be seen through analogies to our temporal world. The complete realization of the Promise is indescribable (I Jn. 3:2) The God who cannot lie, His Son who has paid the price, and the Spirit who has revealed what has been freely given to all unite to declare, “PROMISE KEPT”!

JESUS THE “SECRET” TO VICTORY

Transformed Into His Image

Part Two   

       As the crucified Christ draws people to be saved and added to the church (Acts 2:36-38, 47), so also does His crucifixion mold Christians into His image (Gal. 2:20; 6:15). Transformation, based on proper motivation, is the key.

Primary Source Material

      With the one sufficient motivation understood, the actual nature of the transformation must then be completely and clearly seen. Here the Gospels are again of greatest value. Christ is the true hub of the Bible. Though it has been said among us that Acts chapter two is the hub, surely the Christ is of more significance than is the beginning date of the church—no Jesus, no church. Before Jesus came, all Scripture looked forward to Him. In His Incarnation, the focus of the Bible fell uniquely upon Him. Since His Ascension, all revelation looks back to Him.

     By considering the incarnation of Jesus, we have a unique opportunity to see the only perfect life ever to have graced the planet.  Seeing such perfection in action takes us where merely hearing about right and wrong cannot go. As has been observed, seeing a sermon has a power that goes beyond hearing one. No one else could have said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). Let us, therefore, take the advice of Phillip to Nathaniel and “come and see.”

The Model for Our Transformation

       What do we see? What principles do we see dominating the life of Jesus? What drove Him to be the man that He was? What aspects of His life might be referenced to best portray the essence of the Man?

     The starting place for our discovery must be the starting place honored by Jesus—the Father. He lived in submission to the Father in all things (Jn. 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10; Matt. 26:39). In other words, He perfectly followed the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36-38). Without either compromise or apology, He was the Father’s man.

     This naturally leads to the next most important concern for Jesus, those created in the Father’s image (Lk. 19:10). He was sent by the God for this very purpose (Jn. 3:16-17). As with the Great Commandment, so with the Second that was “like it,” Jesus perfectly lived a life of service to mankind. He came not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:25-28).

     But what does it look like when the two most important commandments are perfectly kept? Indeed it is in the “in fleshing” of truth (Jn. 1:14) that we see what has never been seen before or since. He got it right. He was the one and only perfectly balanced human being to ever live. We need to see this man in action!

It Looked Like This

     He chose fishermen, one was impetuous to a fault (Matt. 16:22-23), two were “sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17; Lk. 9:54-55). He called a tax collector (Matt. 9:9) to serve with a zealot (Matt. 10:4). Yet, He turned away a man who kept the commandments “from his youth up” (Mk. 10:20), and told “the teacher of Israel” that he must be born again (Jn. 3:3-5, 10). His greatest complements were for a Roman centurion (Matt. 8:10), an “insignificant” foreign woman (Matt. 15:21-28), a poor, unnoticed widow (Mk. 12:41-44), and an “unclean” woman (Matt. 9:19-22). His most pointed rebukes, however, were reserved for the religious leaders (Matt. 23:1-39), and people of power (Matt. 11:8; Lk. 16:19-31).

     He cared for those who received no attention (Jn. 5:1-9). He took notice of the unnoticed (Lk. 21:1-4). He had compassion for the harassed and downtrodden (Matt. 9:36-38). In this wonderful man’s life He rewrote the book on how others, not self, are to be the focus of service (Matt. 20:28).

      He preached what most felt should have been left unsaid (Matt. 15:12). He cleared out corruption that others fearfully chose to ignore (Jn. 2:14-17; Matt. 21:12-13). His pointed rhetoric laid bare the hearts of those who sought to please self rather than the Father (Jn. 5:39-44). He went where he wasn’t supposed to go, talked to those His culture said He should ignore, and brought salvation to those who others condescendingly rejected (Jn. 4:3-42).

     He offered no compromises with regard to the truth (Matt. 5:17-20), always requiring a recognition of the true intent of every command of God (Matt. 5:21-48). He resorted to Scripture to resist Satan (Matt. 4:1-11), correct His detractors (Mk. 12:24-27), and nurture His disciples (Matt. 13:1-58). And yet, while maintaining an unwavering loyalty to God’s word, He showed us the inescapable place of mercy (Matt. 9:10-13; 12:1-8). He used truth to afflict the comfortable (Matt. 23:1-39), and to comfort the afflicted (Matt. 11:28-30). In His singular example of how justice and mercy were to work together, His forgiveness was never separate from repentance (Jn. 8:1-11).

   In these qualities of Jesus that we have just recalled, we see real life. His ministry was no mere cardboard, one-dimensional checklist isolated from the challenges and struggles of life in the flesh (Heb. 4:14-16). No, Jesus was real. He was: completely knowledgeable, yet no mere academician (Matt. 7:28-29); uncompromising, but not unfeeling (Jn. 11:35); God, yet man (Jn. 1:1, 14).

     Therefore, our transformation must also be real. In this radical change we are not speaking of just being able to quote Scripture (Jn. 5:39). Similarly, our goal must never be concerned merely with being right (Matt. 23:1-7). Our transformation must be a complete package (Matt. 5:48). It is incompleteness, we must see, that causes people to misunderstand the nature of God (Matt. 9:13; 12:7); it is Christ-centered completeness that awakens us to a knowledge of the Father (Jn. 14:7-9).

A Biblical Imperative

     This transformation to Christ-likeness is no small thing. The Bible, therefore, places the concept on center stage. Christ-likeness is imperative! It is an absolute necessity because there is no better way to attend to the business of God than to address it in the spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9).  Consider, therefore, the following evidence to the importance of conformity to the image of Jesus:

     Paul reveals to the Roman church how God had purposed that a time would come when men and women would be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). The Scriptures, he wrote to the Corinthians, presented the very mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16), and, with a daily introspective walk, would transform a believer into the image of the Lord (II Cor. 3:18).

     To the Galatians Paul told how he had died to self that he might live to Christ (Gal. 2:20). He further pointed out the need for the Galatian Christians to follow his example and form Christ in themselves (Gal. 4:19). The Ephesian church received no less an emphasis as they were told that Christ needed to be formed in their hearts through faith (Eph. 3:16-17). They were to grow up completely in all that had to do with the Christ (Eph. 4:15).

     The Philippian brothers and sisters were admonished to have the mind of Christ in them. The Colossians were informed that Christ in the heart of a Christian was their hope of glory (Col. 1:27). For that reason, Paul labored and strove to present every convert complete in Christ (Col. 1:28-29).

     Simon Peter was, as we would expect, of one spirit with Paul in this critical point of inner transformation. He challenged all Christians to set apart Jesus as the Lord of their hearts and thus be able to offer a proper defense of their faith (I Pet. 3:15). Consider the transformation we would witness in the church today if every Christian were personally committed to Simon’s instructions.

   Additionally, John’s words about walking in the light are surely to be understood as a walk of transformation (I Jn. 1:7), as James’ teaching on receiving the word implanted are to be understood by the Christ-like implications they require (Jas. 1:21). Yes, New Covenant reverberates with the theme of Christ-like transformation!

Applications for Our Day

     What are we to do with this pervasive, vital teaching on transformation? How do we come to be known for our Christ-likeness and for the inevitable evangelistic zeal it will produce? What are practical steps we can begin to take to insure that this teaching that is so close to God’s heart will come to be a priority in our hearts?

     Transformation must be preached and taught. What we do not know, we cannot do. What we do not hold up in our words and deeds as being important, we will not succeed in passing on to others. From pulpits, to Bible classrooms, to our homes, to our schools,  and work places, conformity to Jesus must be seen as our uncompromised imperative. What we write, how we write, and the importance we attach to acquainting the world with what we have to say, these things will need to be revitalized. Could a transformed people behave any other way?

     Factual knowledge will be required if we are to succeed. But facts that do not lead to a transformed heart are but words that have not attained their God-given purpose (Rom. 2:17-29). There must be a hierarchy here; Jesus is to be the end or goal of our teaching (cf. Acts 2:22-38). Love for Him must compel us to live as He directs (II Cor. 5:14-15). The Jews knew facts; they did not understand that the facts spoke of Jesus (Jn. 5:39-47). We can go to heaven without knowing the length of Og’s bed; we cannot enter there without knowing the Christ (Jn. 17:3).

     Transformation is a restoration thing. We who teach others, are we teaching ourselves (Rom. 2:21a)? Will we restore church government, the forms for New Testament worship, the steps of faith leading to Christ, and yet not restore the imperative of transformation? Will we go out from our church buildings motivated   love of Christ, with Jesus sanctified in our hearts, ready, willing, and able to make our case for the Christ? Or will we just go back to the house?