Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bringing Forth Christ – Part 4 – Jacob

Yet again in the line of the patriarchs we are met with a barren wife, this time Rebekah, upon Isaac’s intercession she conceives (Gen. 25:21). In her womb were two sons who were unhappy womb-mates. This causes her to enquire the reason for this from God, which is given as there being two nations in her womb and two kinds of people would come forth from her. One would be stronger than the other, and the elder would serve the younger. There was a fighting and struggle against each other almost from their conception.
This casts somewhat of an interesting light on human character and how early it is formed. Infants are each born with a different personality and character traits and while subsequent events may develop it further apart from God’s grace people tend to be like themselves only more so as they progress through life. Esau was born first and was hairy at birth betokening his being a man’s man, rugged hunter and outdoorsman. Jacob reached out his hand and grabbed his brothers heel at this time foreshadowing his conniving nature, trying to get ahead by pulling another back or even tripping them up.
God chose Jacob the younger of the two to be the heir of the promise. At the time the reasons may not have been apparent, Esau and Jacob both had flawed characters, but God’s wisdom is always justified by its children. Jacob for all his problems wanted the birthright. Esau, in spite of what God had spoken, still had it by reason of birth order. However, Esau placed absolutely no value on it, being willing to sell it for a bowl of soup and then later showing no care in his choice of marriage. He serves as a solemn warning to believers not to be profane or fornicators like him (Heb. 12:15).
Esau was clearly not fit for the birthright, and he could blame no one but himself for selling it. Yet at this point Isaac was still going to give him the blessing. What follows in the life of Jacob is a very sad story for all concerned. God alone can judge who was the most wrong in all this mess. Isaac was ignoring what God had clearly spoke to his wife Rebekah concerning the sons and was being partial to Esau in spite of his bad marriage choices merely because he liked eating the wild game Esau would bring home. This was sowing to the flesh. The fruit of the spirit is sowed in the spirit and is produced by the spirit, but if we sow in the flesh in our relationships we will reap fleshly behavior in return. If we speak in human anger to someone we might produce anger in return, or bitterness or many other things, but we will not produce the fruit of the spirit. In this case Rebekah and Jacob thought the only way they could get the blessing was to deceive Isaac.
Rebekah and Jacob were right in that by every way of reckoning the blessing should have belonged to Jacob, but in the way they went about obtaining it they sowed seeds of sorrow for the rest of their lives. What they wanted was right, and had been promised by God, but they lacked sufficient faith to believe that what God promises He is also able to bring about without our own efforts, especially dishonest or unholy ones. The actual deceit is narrated in Gen. 27. Jacob broke many of what would later be given as the Ten Commandments that day. Even though given formally later some were already known at that time. He dishonored his father, he bore false witness, he stole (in the sense of taking something in an unlawful manner), he took God’s name in vain, and I would also say that there was an element of covetousness in these proceedings. However he obtained the blessing. God gave Jacob the blessing, despite his dishonest means of seeking it, but now He was going to work in him to make him worthy of receiving it. The life of Jacob shows the lengths to which God will go to work in the lives of his children so that they can be conformed into His image.
Jacob’s action unsurprisingly provoked anger and a desire for revenge on Esau’s part. This necessitated his leaving for Padan Aram where Rebekah was originally from. Quite possibly this was the last time he saw his mother alive. He slept at Bethel and there received a vision and promise from God confirming the blessing and covenant with him (Gen. 28). Jacob then makes a vow to God that if God will keep, protect and provide for him, then He will be his God and he would tithe to Him. This whole transaction shows something of the graciousness of God. God seeks out Jacob, not Jacob God. He seeks the erring one who yet does desire something of God’s promises. He reveals something of Himself and accepts an honest, yet somewhat selfish, vow on the part of Jacob and then proceeds to keep His end of the bargain. Indeed if it were not for God’s ability to accept any however faltering step towards Himself by mortal man, no one would ever be saved.
God then ensures that Jacob meets Rachel and Laban, his uncle. God often uses special tools to do a work in the lives of His people. Laban was a very special tool. An ordinary dishonest man with an avaricious streak in his nature could have done some work in Jacob who had these same qualities, but Laban had these qualities in abundance. It takes a more than ordinarily avaricious man to cheat his own sister’s son for his own gain. Furthermore he not only cheated him, but he apparently had no concern for how this double-dealing for his own gain would have on the happiness of his two daughters who he was now giving to his nephew. Even after Jacob became his son in law he had no concern that by changing his wages he was effectively robbing his own daughters and grandchildren. Laban was a very special tool God was using to deal with Jacob’s own deception. He was learning how much it hurts to be cheated and seeing the gravity of what he had done to Esau and Isaac. Though God used Laban to correct Jacob, yet He made sure that Jacob prospered in spite of all the wage changing that was going on. God was also using this circumstance to help Jacob go back and face his brother again. When all is in place for the next stage God speaks to Jacob to go back to the land of Canaan (Gen. 31:13).
The rest of the story shows God’s hand in a wonderful way. God intervenes to prevent Laban who was hopping mad from harming him. After an uneasy yet peaceful parting with Laban, Jacob is encouraged by seeing angels (Gen.32:1). He sends messengers ahead with gifts for Esau and learns that he is coming with 400 men to meet him. Clearly with that number the intent seems sinister. Jacob sends everyone and everything he has ahead of him across the brook and there when he is alone he wrestles with God. There his name is changed to Israel after he acknowledges who he really is. Forever after he limped, because of his hip. After this God turned Esau’s heart to welcome Jacob, Esau’s wrath praised God, but the remainder of it was restrained.
Jacob continued to suffer for his past deception, most notably through being deceived by his own children concerning Joseph. Yet, he had learned how to prevail with God. Jacob’s life shows one essential quality for having Christ fully formed in us, persevering and being willing to accept the fruit of our wrong choices and wrestling with God to receive a change in us.
At the very end of his life God showed him a little glimpse of how it could have been better. As he crossed his hands to bless the younger son of Joseph, Ephraim, instead of Manasseh, he saw that under the influence of the Spirit of Prophecy, Isaac would have given him what God had promised even without the deception. Much of Jacob’s life was filled with sorrow which was brought about by his trying to take matters into his own hands, we can learn from this. In the end though, he was called by a third name, Jeshurun, the upright one and polar opposite of his original name, Thank God He is the God of Jacob! Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bringing Forth Christ – Part 3 – Isaac

Isaac was the child of promise. He was the long awaited child of Abraham and Sarah who was born only after God’s miraculous enabling of a 100 year old man and 90 year old woman to have a child (Gen. 17:17). Ishmael was the product of the flesh, but Isaac was a product of the power of God. In the same way if we are born again we are children of the Spirit, not children of the flesh. Those who receive Christ and believe in Him receive power to become sons of God. It is impossible for the natural man to produce truly Christ-like behavior. Perhaps the natural man can mimic a few small features, but he produces only a caricatured Christ, not the Christ found in the Gospels and throughout the Bible. However through becoming a partaker of the divine nature, a believer can begin to grow in that nature and manifest the true character of Christ.
Besides his birth Isaac also shows us something in his meekness. In Genesis 26:18-25, Isaac moved away rather than fight over wells which his men had dug. In this he showed a small portion of the nature of the One who would leave the splendors of heaven for the sorrows of earth. He was rewarded for his twice leaving by obtaining at last a well that was not fought over and room on every side. Like Christ he did not fight but committed his cause to the Just Judge of All. The significance of these actions can be seen in that it was shortly after them that the Lord appeared to him and confirmed the covenant of Abraham with him (v.24-25). Meekness is an essential quality for us to have if we want to bring forth the character of Christ in our lives. May God grant that we all obtain it. Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bringing Forth Christ – Part 2 – Abraham

In Matthew’s genealogy the first one listed is Abraham. For Christ to come forth, He had to come from the line of Abraham to fulfill prophecy. Abraham is the father of the faithful, who have a like faith as he had (Rom. 4:11-12).

Abraham’s great trait was his faith. It was his faith and response to God’s voice that set him apart from his forbearers and further narrowed the promise made to the descendants of Shem to be to his descendants. He believed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness. This is the inescapable beginning of bringing forth Christ in a person, being born again by faith. It is having His righteousness imputed to us, not because of what we have done, but in spite of what we have done, because we believe on Him who justifies the ungodly.

In Abraham this faith grew. He was like the good ground in the parable of the sower. He heard the Word and rejoiced, and let it sink in. He endured whatever persecution must have arisen from his leaving Ur. He began to obey, imperfectly at first, but becoming more and more obedient. He left his father’s house and did not allow the riches he had to choke the Word. He and Sarah looked for a city whose builder and maker is God. Seeing that city he spent his whole life in tents in a land God promised him, but he owned no part of it except the tomb which he bought. He was willing to even lay Isaac on the altar, and received him back from God and God provided Himself a lamb. Abraham was both full of faith and faithful, and because of this in him all nations are blessed.

He had only a small idea of all God was actually doing in his life. Though he had a promise of many descendants, and Christ said that he rejoiced to see Christ’s day, yet he hardly could have seen everything that he was accomplishing. He didn’t know that from him would come men who would write the very Words of God. He didn’t know that he was becoming a father of not only a physical seed but also a spiritual one. He could have had no idea of how his life as recorded in Scripture would inspire those who would come later. Indeed we are part of his reward, and his life is not complete without those who come later (Heb. 11:39-40).

All of this goes to show how little we can see of all God has for us if we will whole-heartedly surrender to him in a life of faith. Amen.

Bringing Forth Christ – Part 1 – Introduction

For a few months now, I have had a thought going through my mind that I wanted to write about. The thought is concerning the genealogy of Christ and the ones who were chosen by God to be in the line of the promises. I would like to look briefly at the lives of some of these men and women and see if there are things we can learn from them, which will help us bring forth Christ in us, since it is God’s desire that Christ be brought forth in us and exhibited in us for the world to see (Gal. 4:19, Eph. 4:11-13).
I will not be looking at each of the people in the genealogy, but I will be looking at some of the obscure ones as well if I think there is something to be learned from what we are told of them in Scripture.
I believe this study to be important because when Christ comes again it is only to be glorified by His saints, but in His saints, and not only to be admired by His saints, but in His saints. 2 Thess. 1:10 says, “When He shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all those who believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that Day.” Christ desires to be glorified in us and for all to admire Christ in us when they see Him manifest in us. When men see our good works which we do as the light of the world they will glorify our Father.

So let us see if there are key traits we can learn to help us bring forth Christ in us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Is The State of a Backslider?

If a person has been a Christian for any length of time, he has probably known someone who has walked away from Christ. What is that person's state? I would like to examine 4 points of view briefly, showing why I believe some them to be untenable. Our criteria for judging these things should be Scripture, not only New Testament Scripture but also Old Testament Scripture. This method can be seen to be sound if you consider that Jude, to quote only one example, uses Cain, Balaam and Korah as examples in warning concerning apostates, and these can only be understood if their Old Testament background is understood.

The first view is what I would call the antinomian view. This view is that in essence no matter what a person does, or even if they later deny the faith they will still go to heaven if they have confessed Christ and only their rewards would be lost. This view is out and out heresy. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The key is in confessing and also as Proverbs 28:13 shows in forsaking them. There is no hint anywhere in Scripture that one merely announcing their sin to God with an unrepentant attitude will receive anything from God. If they receive His notice it would not be to their benefit.

I do wonder how someone from this camp would view the case of King Saul. Is it reasonable that one to whom God would not speak, not by dreams, nor Urim, nor prophet would gather him unto Himself to have fellowship after death, especially after he compounded his sin by enquiring from the devil? Would one who repeatedly disobeyed the Lord and expressed no regret except that the people might know of it be taken into heaven unrepentant? If so would the Lord’s prayer of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” have any meaning at all? Indeed more could be said on behalf of Judas, the son of perdition, than Saul. He had the greatest of crimes, yet he cast the very silver he had accrued back to try to atone for his guilt. When the guilt still pressed hard on him, he tried the only method of escape he could think of, doubtless thinking that he could not bear the guilt of his sin anymore in his mortal life. However he could not escape, anymore than any of us can. In eternity we will either see in its true light the enormity of our crimes against God to see them also washed away by the blood of Christ and be unable to do anything but praise Him for His great mercy, or we will see the enormity of our crimes against Him without hope of amendment and have unspeakable grief and anguish as well as external torment as we see what we have done finally hearing the voice of conscience which we strove so long to silence forever and ever.

The second view is the view of most Calvinists and some non-Calvinists. It holds that men like King Saul, Balaam and Judas were never truly saved. The problem with this view is that it requires one to turn a blind eye to the evidence. In the case of Balaam, why would God specifically warn a man who as some would say, was only a soothsayer and nothing more (Num. 28:8-12)? While there is a common grace and there are good gifts that God bestows upon all, whether His children or not, the privilege of asking His will and receiving a definite reply is not one of those. Indeed why would God be especially angry that one who was a stranger to Him and a child of wrath anyway should disobey Him and go in spite of the warnings? Clearly Balaam was a believer in some capacity and as such is used as a warning to believers in the New Testament.

In the case of Saul, what was the different heart that God gave him if not a moral work. To interpret it to mean merely fitting him for leadership is a bad case of reading your own conceptions into the text. If leadership of the people of God requires anything it requires a moral work in the heart, anything less is utterly useless for the work at hand (2 Sam. 23:3). Indeed if the work of giving him another heart is interpreted as merely fitting him to rule in order that God’s honor is not impugned, it fails on that count in that other than a few short deeds done in the beginning of his reign, Saul was clearly see to be unfit as a ruler. We will cover a little more on King Saul later.

Judas preached worked miracles and even drove out evil spirits with the rest of the twelve, which makes one ask how is it possible for one who has always been under the devil’s dominion and who has had no true work of grace in his heart to have the anointing of God upon him and to even cast out devils? Giving as much allowance as possible for human nature’s ability to deceive itself and deceive others, yet how far can unregenerate man ape the regeneration of God and how far can natural man pretend and even deceive himself as to the supernatural?

This is a problem that all honest Calvinists must face. A. B. Bruce faces this question in his book The Training of the Twelve without giving an answer other than a sort of plea to mystery. Here is an excerpt dealing with John 15:

The conception of a dead branch, applied to individuals as distinct from churches or the religious world viewed collectively, is not without difficulty. A dead branch on a tree was not always dead: it was produced by the vital force of the tree, and had some of the tree’s life in it. Does the analogy between natural and spiritual branches hold at this point? Not in any sense, as we believe, that would compromise the doctrine of perseverance in grace, nowhere taught more clearly than in the words of our Lord. At the same time, it cannot be denied that there is such a thing as abortive religious experience. There are blossoms on the tree of life which are blasted by spring frosts, green fruits which fall off ere they ripen, branches which become sickly and die. Jonathan Edwards, a high Calvinist, but also a candid, shrewd observer of facts, remarks: “I cannot say that the greater part of supposed converts give reason by their conversation to suppose that they are true converts. The proportion may perhaps be more truly represented by the proportion of the blossoms on a tree which abide and come to mature fruit, to the whole number of blossoms in spring.” The permanency of many spiritual blossoms is here denied, but the very denial implies an admission that they were blossoms.

That some branches should become unfruitful, and even die, while others flourish and bring forth fruit, is a great mystery, whose explanation lies deeper than theologians of the Arminian school are willing to admit. Yet, while this is true, the responsibility of man for his own spiritual character cannot be too earnestly insisted on. Though the Father, as the husbandman, wields the pruning-knife, the process of purging cannot be carried on without our consent and cooperation. For that process means practically the removal of moral hindrances to life and growth-the cares of life, the insidious influence of wealth, the lusts of the flesh, and the passions of the soul-evils which cannot be overcome unless our will and all our moral powers be brought to bear against them. Hence Jesus lays it upon His disciples as a duty to abide in Him, and have Him abiding in them, and resolves the whole matter at last, in plain terms, into keeping His commandments. If they diligently and faithfully do their part, the divine Husbandman, He assures them, will not fail to give them liberally all things needful for the most abundant fruitfulness. “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”

So if we admit that there must be something to backsliders religious life beyond mere human pretension, we are lead to the third point of view. This view is one which holds both to some sort of reality in these experiences and also to unconditional election. Augustine acknowledged and wondered why some received grace and yet did not receive the gift of perseverance. Calvin himself taught an evanescent grace, a grace which appeared genuine for all intents and purposes except it was only transitory (evanescent means vanishing). God’s purpose in giving this evanescent grace which appears identical in the beginning with true grace is to increase the condemnation of those who receive it. What they received did them no good, and could do them no good but it could do them harm.
This view acknowledges that the lives lived by these backsliders did manifest something supernatural that showed something of the grace of God. Thus it is very close to the fourth view, differing from it not in effect, since Scripture shows that backsliders do receive greater condemnation (2 Peter 2:21 as one example). The difference is what is God’s intent. In this lies the difference, between Calvinist and Arminian understanding of the atonement. We both acknowledge it to be limited in application but is it limited in intent? Does God give grace to backsliders only to increase their punishment, or is that the side effect of their rejecting it? Or does He give His grace for their good, but the misuse of it results in their punishment? When God said to Cain, “If you do well would you not be accepted?” was He mocking him, or was He willing to give His grace by which Cain could do well. The biggest problem I have with unconditional election is that where Moses heard the revealed will of God to destroy Israel he heard the secret will of God and saw a greater glory for Him in showing mercy (Num. 14:11-21), they see a greater glory for God in damning men in spite of God’s declaration of good will towards them in Jesus Christ.

The fourth view to which I would ascribe sees election as being based in foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2; Rom. 8:29). The elect are those who were chosen in Him (in other words chosen with reference to the being in Christ) and predestinated to being conformed to His image. The predestination refers to God laying out an ordered plan for the life of the believer which will fully form Christ in them if obeyed. In His foreknowledge God knows who will be in Christ, and who will remain in Christ. There are many warnings in Scripture that plainly state that we must remain in Christ and have His Word remain in us. “Therefore what you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you will abide in both the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24). Hebrews 2:3 warns us against neglect of our great salvation. Our salvation is great, and much of its greatness will only be appropriated as we press on. To neglect it is to risk losing it. Saul did not begin by openly rejecting God’s Word. He neglected it first partially and then continued in that way until he was rejected by God. God forseeing that he would be the sort of man he was gave him only 2 of 3 loaves in the opening sign he received with his call (1 Sam. 10:3). God knew that Saul would never receive the fullness of what God could do for him, because he would neglect it. Indeed God had already promised Israel such a king and though perhaps He could have chosen others who would have been more like David in His displeasure He gave them Saul, not forcing him to be something he was not, but in knowing him to be that thing.

Saul consistently showed little desire for the things of God even when he was used of God. Yet, his being used of God shows that there was more to him than a mere unregenerate sinner, hence his greater culpability. He was a backslider to the end, who could find no Israelite who had so little fear of God as to do his bidding in killing the priests, so he had to have a pagan Edomite do it.

David who had a horrible fall into sins almost as heinous as Saul’s came back to God. He was concerned with God’s honor and was willing to endure shame to be put right with God. When his sin was exposed he could only hang his head in shame, until he found Him who was his glory and the lifter of his head. God not only restored David, but before he died, he made it be known that David was not the same man he was before his fall. This is quite likely one reason why 1 Kings 1:1-4 is introduced into the sacred record. It shows us a different wiser David, a changed David, a David ready to meet his God when he dies.

If you are convicted as a backslider, who is neglecting the things of God, or you know someone who is walking away from God. Please consider this. The state of a backslider is not good, they are not saved. They can be restored though. Cry out to God, He can lift those who have fallen up, and restore them. God is a God who delights in mercy! Amen.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Importance of Loving the Truth

Truth is a very precious commodity, but often little valued. Christ, who was both absolutely truthful and the very embodiment of truth, said to Pilate, "To this end I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." It was Christ's refusal to prevaricate in deference to religious tradition or hide His relationship with the Father that cost Him His life. Pilate replied by saying, "What is truth?" Valuing only utility he and many who have followed him have sneered and ever do sneer at truth.

Paul warned that in the last days those who love unrighteousness not truth will be deluded and perish (2 Thess. 2:9-12). He also wrote that in the last times seducers would become worse and worse both in deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13). The very act of deceiving others and believing you are smarter than they are and can get away with it opens you up to being deceived yourself. Josef Stalin trusted no one with one notable exception, he had found a man very much like himself in Hitler, and somehow trusted him implicitly. So much so that he refused to believe that the Nazis were going to invade Russia, even though he had several good reports from his spies.

A few years ago I heard through soem missionaries I knew of how they had met President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. They said that while they were in his presence, he carried such a strong deception with him that it was hard to believe that he really was doing all that they knew from having lived there several years he was doing.

I had a similar experience once when there was a certain situation was going on in a church i was affiliated with. There were certain facts I knew, but yet one night I had dream and in this dream someone was defending the other side which I knew to be wrong. It was so convincing that when I woke up I could almost have believed against what I knew by eyesight and evidence and concurrent testimony of others was true. After some prayer the confusion past, but it did bear home to my heart how easy man can be deceived apart from God's enabling power.

The key is found in loving and obeying the truth. Another time I was at a crossraods in my life and had to make a very hard choice. It firstly required that I should know the truth about a certain situation. It was going to be a hard choice no matter what and initially I honestly did not at first want to know the truth. When I saw that in my heart, it scared me into asking God to show me the truth and also to help me to follow it (the most important part of the prayer). After that the choice became simple and most of the adverse consequences I feared came to nothing anyway.

From this experience and my own near deception because I almost didn't care about the truth. I came to a very frightful conclusion... That there will be believers who will see false prophets, and false teachers and even the antichrist himself and will follow them, not because they are deceived in one sense, but because even knowing that they are false they won't care.

The comfort in all of this is that while Christ warned of deception in Matthew 24:23-24, He also implied that the elect will not be deceived. Those who continue to hear His voice and let His Word sink deeply into their hearts will not fall away, though many believers may. Christ will keep us if we are willing to love and obey the truth. Amen.