Category: Imitation of Christ


Introduction

We’re all familiar with the concept of making New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes they’re taken seriously, but most people view resolutions as well-intentioned desires that will probably never be fulfilled for any significant amount of time. Even those who do take their resolutions seriously often become much less serious about this activity after they fail numerous times to achieve their goal.

I do think there is a theological reason behind this desire we have to start fresh. As the Scriptures teach, God’s fingerprint, as it were, is on all His creatures. That influence includes a conscience and an innate desire to “do better,” we might say. Because of sin, this God-given tendency to make improvement has been corrupted and it usually manifests itself in some misguided attempt.

Common resolutions seem to fall into one of two categories. The first category is that which relates to us on a personal level and the second is that which relates to us in terms of our relationships with others. Therefore, people will make a resolution as the New Year begins to take better care of themselves or break some detrimental habit. In the second instance, people will vow to give more attention to their essential responsibilities or to aspects of their lives that are creating problems for someone else.

Whatever the resolution might be, they all have one fatal flaw, and that fatal flaw is the fact that such resolutions originate in and depend upon human effort. If what we have determined to do will require real determination or a significant change of lifestyle, then we will quickly discover how difficult it will be to keep a resolution. Our fallen natures vigorously oppose any attempt to achieve true good.

My aim is to provide some Biblical guidance for the coming new year. As I do, I want to say that there is a Christian version of a resolution that, when enacted correctly, can be of great benefit to us. In Scripture, the most successful plans for the future—whether we are speaking of that individual, family, or even an entire nation—begin with the careful consideration of the past. It may be a previous experience or, in some cases, a command given by the Lord at some point in the past. The Word teaches us that part of the process of maturity for a Christian involves a measured concentration on things that have already been said or have already occurred.

As I read and thought about some of the stories in the Old Testament, I concluded that there are three primary categories in which this pattern of future planning based on the past may be observed. The first category that I would like to identify is what I will call monumental events. The Bible puts a lot of emphasis on those epic incidents in the history of God’s people. The emphasis is for the purpose of instruction long after the event itself has occurred.

Monumental Events

Without question, the most significant event in the history of the people of Israel was the Exodus from captivity in Egypt. After approximately 400 years, God spoke to Moses and informed him that He was about to deliver the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This would be in fulfillment of promises made to those patriarchs.

This led to the unprecedented display of the power of God as He tormented the Egyptians with one plague after another until they finally agreed to let the people go. The devastation and death in the land of Egypt was massive; and when Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army in pursuit of the fleeing Israelites, God once again intervened and they all perished in a remarkable manner.

Once they were beyond the reach of Egyptians, the people were given direction toward a particular land where God would settle them. We know the story, of course, and the sinful response of the people resulted in a 40 year long wandering in the desert until the generation that came out of Egypt was dead.

On a number of occasions during that lengthy period, the people were encouraged to obey by remembering their deliverance from captivity. Because the rescue from Egypt gave undeniable evidence of God’s regard for this people and how He was able and willing to use His power as He pleased, that event became a touchstone for every generation that lived thereafter. From the mouth of Moses and the prophets, the Israelites were constantly reminded of what God did in Egypt and the purpose of such frequent reminders was to instill courage and trust in the hearts of the people, especially when they were facing some new challenge or a superior foe.

Just after the Exodus, Moses made this declaration to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place.” (Ex. 13:3) When these people faced difficult circumstances in the future, when it seemed that they were going to perish, or when they were commanded to do something that they did not believe they could accomplish, they were to think back to this day on which the power of God was unleashed so that they, His chosen people, might go free. And by remembering this unique display, they would be encouraged and their faith in God would be strengthened.

Beginning in the book of Exodus and concluding in the book of Haggai, there are several dozen references to Israel’s deliverance from captivity in Egypt. For example, in Amos 4 we read:

9 “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. 10 “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

When the people heard of Egypt, they were to recall the awesome power demonstrated by God for their benefit. In this passage, He reminds them that in their recent history they had been subjected to various means of chastisement similar to what they know happened long ago. Ideally, the people would hear this reference and repent and realize that the power of God had been used for their deliverance and protection, and it could just as easily be used for their destruction if they continued in sin.

I’ve mentioned before that I was converted in October of 1975. Without going into all the details, let me say that I knew instantly that I had been born-again and nothing would ever be the same. That episode is my deliverance from Egypt. On countless occasions over years, I have recalled that experience in order to reorient my understanding of who I was and what God wanted from me. Many things have happened to me since that day, but nothing has approached the magnitude of that occurrence.

Not everyone, of course, has the kind of conversion experience I just described because they grow up in a Christian household and are taught to trust the Lord from the very beginning days of their lives. But I believe that as we walk with God during our lifetimes, we will have defining moments during which God tenderly instructs us, patiently comforts us, or mercifully delivers us in some manner.

You might remember a time of intense prayer that was unlike any other time in your life. You might remember a day when you sensed the loving ministry of the Holy Spirit while you were passing through some painful trial. And you have not forgotten that episode, whatever it was. Those experiences define us as believers and bring clarity to our perspective on how we should be living.

If you have had an experience like this or something similar, then I want to ask you how it has affected you since then. Again, it need not be something dramatic or life-altering. It may be that you observed some evidence of God’s activity in the life of a loved one or friend and it was profound enough that the memory remains with you. If there have been those times, have you allowed that defining moment, whatever it was, to remind you of the responsibility to live rightly before the Lord?

And today, as we are about to enter a new year, does that event (or perhaps several events that come to mind) have any bearing on what you hope to accomplish or on how you plan to conduct yourself in the next 12 months? By reflecting on these kinds of occurrences in our lives, we are made wiser—wiser about sin and about the deceitfulness of the flesh and about our own pride and certainly about how we are to use the time God has appointed for us.

If you make a New Year’s resolution this coming week, let it be grounded in those monumental events in your past. And, by the way, the events from which you should draw guidance may include destructive mistakes on your part or times when you fell into sin. Having been forgiven by God for some transgression and having been restored by His mercy; qualify as those monumental events that should forever affect the way you live on this earth.

Admirable Examples

The Bible is full of all kinds of examples, both good and bad. These examples make up the second category that I want to talk about. In this case, the example set by a single character, which brought God’s blessing on the nation, was ignored by those who came after him. I am referring to Gideon.

As much as any other man mentioned in Scripture, Gideon is an example of an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances according to what God determined should occur. Gideon demonstrated doubt, poor judgment, and fear at times, but an uncommon bravery and solid trust at others. We can learn from Gideon’s failures and his accomplishments. All in all, under Gideon’s leadership, the nation of Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace.

As Gideon’s life came to a close, we read this report:

Judges 8:33 Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. 34 Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; 35 nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel.

Obviously Gideon led the nation in such a way that there was general faithfulness before the Lord. But as this text says, once the restraint against disobedience was removed, which existed in the person of Gideon, the people quickly returned to idolatry and promptly forgot all the lessons that had been learned, or could have been learned, from the life of Gideon.

Gideon’s experience was not too complicated to understand. It was a matter of seeing God’s blessing upon that man when he was faithful and God’s hand of chastisement upon him when he was not. It was the simplest truth displayed throughout those 40 years and no one who seriously desired to walk rightly before God would have had any trouble learning valuable lessons from the life of Gideon.

But note the text once again: As soon as Gideon was dead, the people returned to idolatry, and “the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.” The word translated “remember” is the Hebrew term “zakar,” which means “to remember, to call to mind, to record.” When you examine the multitude of occurrences of this word in the Old Testament, it becomes apparent that in the Hebrew mind, “to remember” was an activity that involved more than simply producing a brief recollection of some event. To remember meant to recall something to mind, yes, but that recollection was for the purpose of instruction. Therefore, when the Jews were told to remember something, the meaning was that they were to take instruction in the present based upon a past experience.

Our text says that those living after the death of Gideon “did not remember the LORD their God.” This doesn’t mean that the people forgot there was a God. The writer means that the people ignored all that God had demonstrated toward them and for them in the past. He states that God had delivered the people from all their enemies repeatedly. That happened under the leadership of Gideon and should have been a powerful influence for good in the lives of Israelites even after Gideon was no longer on the scene.

After Gideon’s departure, men competed for the leadership of the nation. In one case, 70 men from the same family were murdered on the same day to provide for the advancement of one man to the throne. The peace of the past 40 years was replaced with political and moral chaos; murder, deceit, and disorder became the norm. All of this could have been prevented if the men of Israel had determined to follow the example of Gideon.

Becoming acquainted with genuinely godly people, that is, those whose lives are examples of faithfulness to God in every area, is not a common occurrence. Personally, I have met plenty of Christians worthy of respect, but few who could serve as a model for my entire life. Nevertheless, the lessons to be taken from those few examples are quite numerous and have served as guidelines, goals, and corrections throughout my life.

Unlike Israel, we do not want to miss such a valuable resource that God has placed in our lives. Therefore, I will ask: Have you been blessed to encounter someone whose example is worthy of imitation? Is there anyone in your life, past or present, whose walk with the Lord exemplifies what you desire for yourself? One characteristic that most of our examples will have in common will be the manner in which they react to difficult circumstances. It is during such times, that the example of others can provide us with the motivation and guidance that we need.

Think of the person or persons in your experience who fit this model and then ask yourself these questions: Am I sincerely striving to imitate that godly person? Am I able and willing to let those examples change my thinking and action? Does a life that is pleasing to God truly matter more to me then opportunities to express myself and go my own way? How do you plan to implement examples of godliness in your life the next 12 months? Where does your life need correction, the correction of a consistent and mature standard seen in the lives of those you admire most? Do you want to improve the manner in which you respond to a trial? What about love for the brethren in this congregation? Is that an area in need of reformation and, if so, has God put anyone in your life whose pattern may help you?

Let me emphasize that the most critical aspect of what I’m describing is not finding a godly person to imitate; the most critical aspect comes after identifying such a person. That is when you must determine whether you are willing to copy that person’s standard. Depending on the adjustment that needs to be made, you may have a significant struggle against your flesh. But if that change is necessary and if that change is what God commands and if that change is for your good and the good of others, then you simply must dedicate yourself to achieving that goal. And as we begin a new year, you have the perfect time to make this decision and formulate a plan by which it will be implemented.

Divine Character

We come now to the third and final resource upon which the people of God have depended when preparing for the future. This is the resource of God’s character. Since God’s character does not change, which means He is consistent in what He requires and how He responds to us, the better we know that character the better prepared we will be to analyze those areas in need of attention in our lives during this coming new year.

There are numerous examples in the Old Testament where God’s character is recalled and applied in a troubling situation. David does this frequently. In the Psalms, he often describes the threat of some enemy or some circumstance, but then reveals how he was delivered from fear and made bold when he meditated on some aspect of God’s character—it may have been God’s strength or God’s faithfulness or God’s mercy, but God’s character is that resource that completely changes David’s perspective and expectations.

It is not just in the Psalms, however, that we find such passages. Consider this statement found in Nehemiah 4:

“Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (v. 14)

The context of this exhortation is an alliance of Israel’s enemies who have conspired together to fight against Jerusalem and interrupt the process of rebuilding, which is under the authority of Nehemiah. It was imperative that the work of rebuilding continue, so Nehemiah was not willing to stop in order to deal with this threat exclusively. Instead, he took steps to guard against the coming assault while, at the same time, continuing the work of reconstructing the city wall. Many of the people, however, became fearful because of the size of the army poised to enter the city. Nehemiah realized that he had to do something to stabilize his people so that they would not abandon their work.

Consider what Nehemiah had to offer. He could not assure the people that he had a well-trained army himself ready to defend the city. He could not refer to negotiations that he believed would preserve peace. Nehemiah could not attempt to convince the people that this coming enemy would be merciful. What, therefore, did Nehemiah have at his disposal that would eliminate fear, encourage bravery, and motivate a relatively small number of men to continue the very work their enemy insisted they stop? He needed something that was absolutely trustworthy, something that had been seen in the past, and something he knew would be just as dependable now. The only thing that meets those criteria is the character of God.

Therefore, Nehemiah exhorts the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who was great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” Remember the Lord! That is Nehemiah’s solution to the threat posed by the alliance of his enemies. We have no chance on our own. We cannot make a successful stand. On our own, the city will be taken in the work of rebuilding will cease and we will surely die.

Israel did not have to give up or stop building. What the men did have to do, however, was exercise faith. They had to trust God. They had to look back at previous examples where God came to the aid of His people, even in the most dreadful circumstances, and delivered them. Then they had to realize that God’s character does not change and they are still His people and He will, therefore, fight for them now.

Notice what was at stake: family and houses, which are among the most precious items in life. The coming fight would be for their existence. And, as already stated, what is needed in such a circumstance is that which cannot fail and that which does not depend upon human ability or effort. The Divine character meets these qualifications. The people could be fearless because the Lord is “great and awesome.” He had demonstrated these aspects of His nature countless times in the history of this nation. This wasn’t the first time God’s people were outnumbered. This wasn’t the first time God’s people appeared to have no chance of survival.

There are many more passages like this one in which the character of God becomes the foundation on which His people rest in dangerous surroundings. This single text, however, sufficiently illustrates this third category related to making plans for the future. Just after making the statement in verse 14, Nehemiah reveals that the enemy became aware that God had frustrated their plans. Therefore, “all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work.”

The unchanging character God is, of course, the most reliable basis for our plans for the coming year. Other things, which may have been reliable in the past, may still fail, but God’s nature cannot fail and the love He has shown to you in the past when He delivered you from harsh circumstances or when He removed a burden causing much anguish in your life, is the same today as it has always been. Therefore, any plans you make for this coming year, any resolutions you adopt, any changes you desire to see in yourself, any defeat of sinful tendencies and establishment of righteous practices must, first and foremost, be grounded in the unchanging character of God.

No one here can say that they have no need of correction in any area of their lives. God has provided this opportunity for you to examine yourself and follow the instruction He has given. Decide what aspect of your life needs reformation and then draw strength from one of those important events from your past and focus upon the admirable example of someone you’ve known and, above all, ground your effort in the holy and unchanging character of God. This is how Christians prepare for the future.

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All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 2 Number 7

August 29, 2013

Dressing Appropriately

From Pastor Bordwine

 

But you did not learn Christ in this way . . .

(Ephesians 4:20)

As we know, the apostle Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament epistles. He was the premier theologian for the early Church. Paul explains some of the most complex and essential doctrines of the faith. At the same time, Paul used a number of concepts to help believers understand not just the doctrine, but the application of the doctrine.

One of the apostle’s most helpful explanations of how doctrine should affect the day-to-day life of the believer comes in connection with his teaching on the process of change that takes place in the life of the sinner who embraces the gospel and is, consequently, born-again by the Holy Spirit. In the context of the verse quoted above, Paul is urging his readers to give careful consideration to the character of their lives now that they have become part of the Body of Christ.

Paul describes the previous character of those now being addressed as Christ’s people. They walked, he writes, “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that [was] in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” (v. 18) In this spiritual state, Paul reminds them that they were callous and were given over to sensuality leading to “the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” (v. 19)

At this point, Paul writes: “But you did not learn Christ in this way . . .” He is emphasizing a critical fact, which is the inevitable spiritual change that takes place in the heart of a redeemed sinner. Those former traits had to give way to the Christ-like characteristics being developed in them by the Holy Spirit. They were being taught about truth, Paul goes on to say, as they participated in the new relationship they now had with Jesus, “just as truth is in Jesus.” (v. 21)

The apostle provides an extremely helpful image of this transition from life apart from Christ to life in and for Christ when he writes:

. . . 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Clothing is one of the most fundamental elements in our lives. The act of taking off one garment and putting on another is as common to our daily routines as anything else we do. We know that all clothing has a purpose and all clothing contributes to the image we project. Paul uses this universally familiar action to illustrate the crucial spiritual truth he is conveying.

The spiritual transition in which a born-again sinner gradually curtails former expressions of a fallen nature while increasingly manifesting the new characteristics of a regenerated nature is likened to the changing of garments. The wicked tendencies and displays of “the old self” are “laid aside” while the Christ-like inclinations and demonstrations of “the new self” are “put on.”

Paul continues and exhorts his readers regarding the “clothing” they should be putting on. Instead of falsehood, they should be “wearing” truth; instead of anger, self-control; instead of dishonesty, productivity; instead of destructive words, edifying speech; etc. (cf. vv. 25-32) A saving relationship with Christ will always give evidence of itself in our “appearance.”

The ongoing and inevitable change in character that Paul has been explaining is known as sanctification. Once we are born-again, the Holy Spirit begins remaking us in the image of the Savior. As we live out our days, we become more and more like Him in our desires and actions. Our spiritual “clothing” testifies to the reality of this continuing recreation.

Admittedly, I used the title of this devotional as a play on words, which is what Paul does as he helps believers understand the concept of sanctification. As one who has been regenerated, make sure that you are dressing appropriately.

 

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 33

September 20, 2012

Holy Fatigue

From Pastor Bordwine

 

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9)

Some aspects of our experience in this world involve life-long obligations. These commitments are specific and have well-defined goals. I’m going to use marriage to illustrate a couple of points.

To function properly and profitably, a marriage requires diligence and a measure of self-sacrifice. During the course of a marriage, there are times when the husband or wife experiences fatigue in regard to the duties of that relationship. A stable marriage, one that honors God, therefore, requires each party to persevere in doing what God, who ordained this institution, commands.

If the husband, for example, allows the challenges of his marriage to deter him from giving all that he should, then that relationship will suffer and deteriorate. He must always be on guard against mental and emotional exhaustion. The husband must keep in mind both the teaching of God concerning this relationship and the ultimate goal, which is to fill the role assigned to him with distinction. These same things, of course, could be said regarding the wife’s involvement.

My point is simple. Any relationship that involves life-long dedication is going to present many challenges and, to put it plainly, will wear us out from time to time. That is when our focus on the ultimate goal can be most helpful. With that goal in mind, we will find it easier to fight against complacency and frustration. We’ll also be motivated to take steps that prevent fatigue.

When we are born again, we enter into another life-long relationship, one that is the most important relationship we will ever know. We become children of God and that calling comes with specific directions and a well-defined goal. It is a calling that puts us in direct contention with the world in which we live, however. Moreover, we find that our own flesh is set against the accomplishment of the work that the Spirit is doing in us.

In summary, we are commanded to live contrary to our natures. Our goal is to become a reflection of Christ. But along the way, we must endure opposition. And this opposition is not the kind that comes only once in a while; this opposition is constant. Although it varies from day to day, obstructions to our pursuit of holiness are never completely absent. It should not be difficult for us to understand, therefore, that it is possible to grow weary in our attempts to please God.

It is not a case where we tire of loving God or tire of being loved by Him. It is a case of being involved in an unending battle that inevitably drains us of spiritual strength. In that state, we are in danger of taking our focus off the path of righteousness. We may find ourselves almost overwhelmed because we live in a world that actively seeks to prevent us from living as God commands. This hostility never disappears.

These facts are behind Paul’s exhortation quoted above: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Paul understood the struggles of the Christian life as well as any man could. He knew that God’s people have been given instructions and are expected to conform to God’s will in all things. Paul also knew, of course, that this assignment is not fulfilled with ease.

Notice that Paul defines our calling as “doing good.” We are in the process of doing good as our days come and go. As Christians, our very existence is characterized by that which God approves, that which Paul labels as “good.” We live for God’s glory. We live to prove the reality of the gospel. We live to show the sure victory of Christ over the adversary and all of his assets.

And notice also that the apostle teaches that, if we are faithful in living according to our calling, which is another way of saying we are “doing good,” we will realize a blessed end to our struggles. Perseverance through this fallen world is no small accomplishment. And when we do find ourselves growing weary, when the challenges leave us exhausted, and when the schemes of the wicked astonish us, there is an effective way to respond so that we are not overcome. We respond by reminding ourselves of this counsel from the apostle Paul.

The Christian life is not just the passage of years, it is the one opportunity we have to honor God and our Savior by resisting temptation, building up that which has fallen, encouraging those who have lost their way, speaking well of Christ, and giving ourselves to God as humble servants through which He accomplishes His holy will. It is true that the Christian life is filled with impediments, but it is in the overcoming of those hindrances that the grace of God shines through us.

The world comes against us, but we continue our journey. The world seeks to deplete our strength and undermine our determination. Nevertheless, even though we sometimes feel as if we have reached the end of our endurance, we do not give up. We may slow down, but we never stop. We may stumble under the burden, but we never fall. We may tire, but we never quit. This is holy fatigue and I think there is a particular beauty in it.

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 32

September 13, 2012

Empathy

From Pastor Bordwine

 

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

(Romans 12:15)

The apostle Paul addresses the concept of empathy on several occasions. For example in Second Corinthians 1, he relates how God had comforted him in his afflictions so that he might be able to extend comfort to others when they experienced affliction. The idea is that Paul would have a genuine empathy for anyone having to endure hardship. In the context of his remarks, Paul is thinking of those who would face persecution for the sake of the gospel. There are other passages, however, in which Paul appears to be speaking in a broader fashion.

In Romans 12, the apostle covers a number of issues and obligations for the edification of believers. Many of Paul’s commands in this chapter are easily applicable to life in general. One of the more interesting exhortations is the one quoted above: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” In essence, Paul teaches that we should take note of and respond to the various experiences of those around us.

When someone is joyful, it is easy for us to join in the celebration and experience a measure of gladness ourselves. Paul does not stop with empathetic joy, however. He also includes our duty to “weep with those who weep.” When someone experiences a tragedy or is passing through some circumstance that causes them much distress, it is possible for us to sympathize with that person. While we cannot experience the exact measure of their grief, we can still comfort them, pray for them, and sometimes do something to lessen the burden of grief.

On Tuesday, Christopher Stevens, our country’s ambassador to Libya, was murdered during a well-planned attack by Islamists. I did not know Mr. Stevens, but I certainly was moved by the report of what happened to him and several others who were filling roles designed to help liberate the very people who carried out this attack. To get to the point, let me say that I immediately felt great empathy for the friends and family of these Americans. The only thing that I could do, in terms of a response, was pray for those who had lost loved ones. And so I did ask God to comfort them and give them peace in their time of mourning.

As noted, praying was the only response I could give, but that doesn’t mean my reaction was insignificant. On the contrary, I think God is pleased any time His people are touched by the suffering of others in this world. I think He is also pleased when we call upon Him to bring relief to those who are grieving. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been on the receiving end of empathy. We have had people in our lives who came alongside us during a time of suffering and we were greatly comforted by this act and we definitely cherished their promises of intercession.

Empathy is, I believe, a godlike characteristic. This fact is established by the ministry of our Savior. Speaking of Christ, the writer of Hebrews states: “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”(Heb. 2:18) The temptation of Jesus was genuine and, as we know, He maintained fidelity to the will and word of His Father. He does understand, therefore, the nature of temptation and is able to serve us as our empathetic high priest. As I said, responding to the troubles of others with words of comfort or prayer amounts to the imitation of Christ in His relationship with us.

The family of Christopher Stevens is experiencing deep and prolonged agony; the same is true for the families of the others who were killed. It is unlikely that any of us have a personal connection to these families, but we can still be of help to them through our prayers in which we seek the grace of God so that they may be blessed and He may be glorified. There are a multitude of issues and questions related to this attack on our embassy, but our primary obligation, I would maintain, is what I just described. Remembering how you were helped by the empathy shown to you in the past, I would urge you to pray for the friends and families just mentioned.

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 31

September 6, 2012

Restoration

From Pastor Bordwine

 

 

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature;

the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

(2 Cor. 5:17)

Among the most popular television shows these days are those having to do with the restoration of old, worn-out products to a “like new” status. The process can be quite tedious, although most of the gritty details are left out of the final video presentation. Typically, the audience sees the “before” picture that shows how dilapidated the item is and how improbable it seems that it could ever be returned to an attractive and functioning condition. After letting us observe a few of the steps involved, such as finding rare parts and straightening bent metal, the show focuses on the finished product, which is always a surprising and pleasing contrast to the original.

The theme of restoration permeates Scripture. It is one of the primary aspects of the gospel, in fact. That which is ruined and offensive is rescued, recreated, and restored to a place of dignity. I’m referring, of course, to us—fallen men and women who were ruined and had no good or honorable purpose to serve except to be the objects of God’s righteous indignation. Although we came from the hand of God pure and capable of bringing glory to Him, disobedience rendered us useless; we became unable and even unwilling to honor our Creator and dedicated ourselves instead to self-promotion and self-preservation.

God would have been completely just had He left us in our state of sin and misery. In spite of His clear warning, our first parents ignored the commandment of their Maker and acted according to their own wisdom. The result was catastrophic. But then a love that we can barely comprehend was manifested toward us in the form of a Savior who was God in the flesh. The penalty of our sin fell upon Jesus, our Substitute. The Holy Spirit gave us new life and began to build us all over again, from the inside out, so to speak.

Any restoration requires at least two critical elements: knowledge of how the finished product should look and the skill to achieve that end result. When it comes to the human soul, only God, our omnipotent Designer, has both knowledge and skill. Salvation, therefore, is a restoration project in which a fallen, deformed, and corrupted creature is returned to a state of honor. This is the most amazing restoration of all and this is how the Bible describes what happens to the sinner who is called out of darkness into the light of redemption.

In the case of a sinner, the primary issue in need of attention is his history of transgressions. This is what stands between the creature and the Creator and this is why the wrath of God hangs over the head of the fallen individual. Therefore, God’s restoration of us includes a provision for taking away our guilt. As just mentioned, that provision is Jesus Christ. By dying in our place, He enabled our full restoration by the Holy Spirit.

As Paul indicates in the verse quoted above, what we were is replaced with what we are becoming. We are “new creatures,” he writes. Throughout our lives, we are engaged in the restoration project. Gradually, the Holy Spirit returns us to a state of purity and dedication to our original purpose, which is the glorification of God. Some days, you may feel as if the work on you has ceased or has been unproductive, but rest assured that, once begun, your restoration will be completed. This is the inevitable conclusion to the sacrifice of our wonderful Savior.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!

(Phil. 4:4)

Notice that Paul commands us to rejoice in all things and at all times. He does not say that we should be joyful as long as we are content and free from worry or as long as we are not facing challenges to our faith. As a matter fact, the apostle doesn’t even mention circumstances; he simply orders us to rejoice in the Lord always. It is as though he is telling us that we don’t have another option. You are a Christian, so you are filled with joy. You are in Christ, so your days are flooded with joy.

The word translated “rejoice” (chairo) refers to more than just the emotion of gladness. It refers to a quality of life. The term is sometimes translated as “thrive.” In such cases, the writer is saying that believers flourish with joy. Being joyful is not something we have to become, it is of the essence of what it means to be a Christian. This notion is perfectly understandable if you take the time to meditate on what it means to be born again and dwell on what God has given us now and prepared for us later as children in His household.

We may, indeed, face harsh conditions in this life or we may encounter significant opposition in our efforts to live according to the Word of God or we may have to overcome various obstacles that block the path on which God has placed us, but none of this destroys our joy. And none of these things can diminish our delight. We have been born-again as jubilant creatures.

Our contentment and sense of security do not depend on a life free of hardship. Our confidence and hopeful expectations for this life and the life to come do not require a pain-free existence or a journey on smooth and straight pathways. Because our identity and destiny are bound up in our Savior, we can remain confident of our safety regardless of what the adversary throws at us. And we can remain hopeful, believing that all of those tremendous promises that have been made to us as God’s people are as dependable as God Himself no matter what challenges we have to face.

And here is why: We are not defined by circumstances; we are defined by position. And our position is that of children of God who have been delivered from death and given eternal fellowship with God in His Son, who is our glorious Savior. We are saved and we are going to heaven even if all the inhabitants of darkness should turn against us. Christians are no longer subject to the tyranny of the devil or the wicked behavior of people. We can make our way through this world without fear or doubt because we have been seized and we are being held by a power greater than any power that might be found here on earth or even throughout the entire universe.

The difficulty you are facing and the worry you have in your heart today must be analyzed in reference to what we have as believers. We must not consider our trials apart from the truth of our standing before God in Christ. From that wonderful perspective, we can eagerly receive and respond to the apostle’s exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

(2 Corinthians 7:1)

In a recent sermon, I used the verse above as my primary text to encourage the congregation regarding our obligation to seek after holiness in order to honor the Lord. In the context of this verse, Paul speaks frankly to the Corinthians, telling them that they were no longer what they used to be, morally speaking. He also quotes a promise made by God that He would dwell in them and walk among them as their God and they would be His people. For this relationship to prosper, the recently born-again Corinthians had to rid themselves of the influence of the sinful nature and give increasing expression to the new life they had received in Christ Jesus.

I imagine that this must have been an overwhelming challenge to those who lived in the culture of the first century. Corinth was a major center for commerce. All of the negative influences that could be found throughout the Empire would be present in this city. Idolatry, for example, was universal; self-gratification was the primary concern of most people. The environment encouraged rebellion against the Law of God. In time, however, the gospel was preached and the Corinthians were regenerated by the Holy Spirit. They are told that they are called to be the opposite of what they had been all their lives.

Regardless of when in history the people of God exist, this command from the apostle is always paramount. The gospel changes us by giving us a new disposition, one that is oriented toward Christ and holiness. This orientation must be nurtured and guarded and I would suggest that there are three essential and highly effective elements involved in “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

First, we must fill our hearts with the truth of God given to us in the Bible. Bible reading, Bible study, listening to Biblical sermons, and reading Biblical literature are a few of the ways in which we can saturate our minds with the principles of righteousness. With the help of the Holy Spirit, these principles soon began to produce fruit. Another way in which to establish holiness in our hearts is through interaction with other Christians. These relationships produce an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth and the development of wisdom.

Second, we must battle against every influence of our previous nature. This requires us to avoid certain habits, perhaps, or particular places where we know temptation awaits. Relationships that will not contribute to our growth in Christ must be abandoned. Again, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will develop discernment as we become more sensitive to the contrast between the holy Word of God and the many potential transgressions that we encounter every day.

Third, we must pray. We must seek God’s help so that we can walk peacefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must ask God to identify those areas in our lives that are weak and need to be strengthened. We must call upon Him to reveal those subtle sinful tendencies that we might overlook.

What are you reading these days? Do you find gladness in a sermon that is true to the Word? How often do you pick up your Bible simply to read for a while? Are you being built up by Christian friends? Do you fortify yourself through prayer each day? Much grace is needed to live honorably before God in this fallen environment. It will never be easy, but it will always be our calling. Be assured that the mercy of God is abundant towards those who desire to honor Him through thankful and joyful obedience.

There are many negative consequences when Biblical doctrine is corrupted. One of those consequences has to do with terms found in Scripture. When a word that is associated with an important Biblical teaching is, instead, associated with heretical teaching, the word itself immediately raises a red flag when mentioned in other contexts. This creates a hindrance when orthodox teachers attempt to explain the Bible. Some of those listening may already have a preconceived notion about certain terms and are less likely to receive proper teaching without being affected by the flawed instruction previously heard.

In my recent experience, I have encountered this problem several times. Take the word “headship,” for example. The concept of headship is a vital teaching in the Bible. It is used to explain the nature of the relationship between Christ and the Church in which He is the chief authority, merciful guardian, and gracious provider. The word is also used to describe the nature of the relationship between a husband and wife, which is patterned after the relationship we have with the Savior. The husband is called to relate to his wife as Christ does to the Church. With Jesus as the supreme example of headship, this means that the husband will give of himself for the good of his wife. He will count her welfare as more important than his own and, demonstrating all of the loving attributes that the Church enjoys from our Head, will lead in a way that creates a strong and honorable marriage in the sight of God.

Unbiblical teaching, however, has caused “headship” to become a suspicious word in many circles. Some churches explain the idea of headship as if it grants a detached authority to husband. He is told that it is his responsibility to rule over his wife and to instruct her to follow him as one would follow a master. This distortion ruins a wonderful Biblical concept and, at the same time, introduces significant tension into a marriage. The wife inevitably begins to feel like an unappreciated servant rather than a beloved and secure companion.

To be clear, the husband does have authority in the marriage relationship, but it is defined by the example of the Savior, not by worldly examples of despots, tyrants, egomaniacs, and self-centered fools who want to take the phrase, “a man’s home is his castle,” literally. As I indicated, a husband should be looking to Christ constantly to learn how the head of a relationship is to conduct himself.

Another word that has been terribly abused in some Christian churches is “multi-generational.” In the Bible, this term refers to the process whereby one generation declares the greatness of God to the next. (cf. Judges 6:13; Psalm 44:1; 145:4; 2 Timothy 1:5) Testimony regarding the promises of God, His mighty deeds, and His love for His people is given in this manner down through the ages as history marches on.

But in some ministries, “multi-generational” has become a buzzword that is associated with a misleading assurance of salvation for the descendants of believers. The idea is that parents must raise their child according to a particular format, which supposedly comes from the Scriptures, in order to secure salvation for that child. This all depends, therefore, on the works of the present generation.

This viewpoint comes very close to teaching that God is obligated to save our children if we perform correctly as parents. Naturally, this approach causes parents to rely on their own efforts rather than the grace of God. It also makes external matters unreasonably important in the child’s relationship with God and the Church. This perspective gives a false confidence to parents and children alike and can become a modern-day expression of Phariseeism.

In my own ministry, I have seen eyebrows raised when I’ve used this word, “multi generational,” in a sermon or discussion. I often provide a disclaimer so that it is clear that I am not repeating the disturbing interpretation to which my listeners may have been subjected previously. Understood properly, of course, this concept is wonderfully encouraging to the people of God. It declares that God has provided for us and works for our good and keeps us as His own generation after generation. The present generation praises God in the hearing of the rising generation so that it, too, will know of the wisdom, power, and mercy of God. Multi-generationalism does not emphasize our works, as if we are attempting to earn a place in God’s family. On the contrary, this Biblical teaching emphasizes the amazing and abundant grace of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.

Other terms and doctrines, such as “patriarchy” and “Christian liberty,” could be cited as examples of this problem. The ones mentioned above, however, should be sufficient to inform us and put us on guard so that we prevent the corruption of the Bible’s teaching, if possible, or be prepared to correct it as God gives us opportunity.

“External knowledge of Christ is found to be only a false and dangerous make-believe, however eloquently and freely lip servants may talk about the gospel. The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. . . The philosophers rightly condemn and banish with disgrace from their company those who profess to know the art of life, but who are in reality vain babblers. With much better reason Christians ought to detest those who have the gospel on their lips, but not in their hearts.” (John Calvin Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life)

I once attended a meeting in which several characteristics could be observed. There was impatience, anger, deception, and unfriendliness. There were clearly two sides represented with one displaying undeniable contempt for the other. Not so long ago, most of those present would have shared at least cordial relationships. On this day, however, the climate was decidedly different.

This was not a meeting of stockholders and executives. It was not a meeting between protesters and police. This was a congregational meeting in a local church. One speaker after another came to the microphone to express opinions that seemed unnecessarily hostile, as if they were trying to preempt an attack from the other side, which never materialized. The one characteristic that was desperately needed, but cannot be included in the list I just provided, was charity.

The concept of charity is closely related to that of forgiveness. When I forgive someone for an offense, I am giving them something they did not necessarily deserve. Charity occurs when someone in need receives help for which they cannot pay or which they have not earned. Charity is an act of selfless kindness for the sake of being kind. It is not motivated by merit or the expectation of return.

Both forgiveness and charity have their origin in the nature of God who delivers us from the consequences of our sin even though we have done nothing (and could do nothing) to warrant such a response from Him. Likewise, charity is exhibited by God throughout our lives. He provides for us when we are in need; He has pity on us even when, due to our own actions, we find ourselves in a desperate situation. Charity, forgiveness, kindness, compassion—all of these attributes are grounded in the nature of God and they all represent God’s amazing grace toward sinners who are guilty.

Jesus sums up all of these qualities when He says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Show love as you have been shown love. Extend forgiveness as it has been extended to you. Be kind to one another as God has been kind to you. Abound in compassion as God’s compassion has abounded to you. The idea is not complicated. We are to mimic God’s treatment of us in our treatment of one another. If we are unwilling to live this way, we are saying that we are of greater importance than God (cf. the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matt. 18).

It’s a shameful display when believers exhibit bitterness, jealousy, and self-interest in their encounters with one another. There is no excuse for it. This is the kind of behavior seen in the world every day. We are called to do better by remembering what we have received.