Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Contending for the Faith

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 3-4 NIV)
Jude urges his readers to “contend for the faith,” and the issue that raises his concern is so important that he has set aside what he initially intended to write to them about. He has learned that there are ungodly people who have slipped in among them, who “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”

This is not merely a theological issue. It is a moral one, with theological implications. J. B. Phillip’s translation puts it this way: “They have no real reverence for God, and they abuse his grace as an opportunity for immorality. They will not recognize the only master, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

They are “ungodly,” which means that they have no regard and no respect for God, and it shows in how they live. It is not so much that they have denied the sovereign Lordship of Jesus as a matter of doctrine, but they have denied it by their practice. The life they live gives the lie to the faith they profess. They have taken the grace of God, by which we are saved, and have used it as a license to sin.

There is a connection between what a person believes and how he lives. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ leads to a life of obedience to Him. Those who trust in Him, follow Him. But a faith that does not connect to how one lives is not a faith worth having.

Contending for “the faith,” for Jude, was not merely a matter of embracing the correct doctrines but had just as much to do with how “the faith” gets lived out. These ungodly ones were false not only because of their doctrine but also because of their immorality. The two go together, because what a person actually believes affects how he lives, and how he lives reflects what he actually believes — regardless of what he might profess to believe.

These were false teachers Jude was warning about, dreamers spouting theological nonsense, who not only indulged in sexual immorality but scoffed at divine authority and the reality of evil entities (v. 8). They were as faithless as Cain, as greedy as Balaam and as rebellious as Korah (v. 11). They were completely selfish and lacking in love. Jude says of them:
These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm--shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted — twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (v.12 NIV)
It is against these, then, that Jude urges his readers to contend for the faith. For the faith is not simply a body of doctrine, it is a way of life that affirms the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ in all things.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Learning Jesus, Learning Love

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8)

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
Correct theology is important. And yet, according to Jesus, it is by our love for one another that all will know that we are His disciples. In 1 John 4:8, we read that God is love. Theology is something that is about God, but love is something that God is. If we do not have love for one another, I wonder how correct our theology actually is. John puts it bluntly: “He who does not love does not know God.”

Truth is important, and, indeed, Jesus said that He is the truth. This shows us that truth is not merely propositional but personal — that is, it is revealed to us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Theology, as we usually speak of it, is propositional. In that respect, then, correct theology (propositions about Jesus) is not necessarily the same thing as the Truth (Jesus Himself), just as a map is not the terrain it represents.

Love, however, is not merely a proposition about Jesus. Love is what Jesus is. And it is when we love one another that we demonstrate that we have not merely learned about Jesus but have learned Jesus Himself. For when we love one another, we are displaying who Jesus is in a way that correct theology never can.

Theology is not God and God is not theology. A man may know correct doctrine about God, but that does not mean that he thereby knows God Himself. But love is personal and relational. Jesus is the “Word” that John spoke about. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). However, Jesus the Word is not just a word about God. To know Jesus is to know God Himself, for Jesus is the expression of God in human form. Jesus said that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9). But we cannot say anything like that about propositional theology or correct doctrine.

The Lord Jesus is the expression, not of propositions about God, but of God Himself, who is love. To whatever extent we encounter love, then, we encounter God through Jesus Christ. And to whatever extent we express love, we express God through Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Good Works Are God Works

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We are neither saved by good works nor kept by good works. But the salvation that is by grace through faith in Ephesians 2:8-9 is a salvation that results in good works in Ephesians 2:10. However, those good works are not our good works but God’s, for we are His workmanship.

When we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, though, we do not become robots, operating automatically or by remote control. No, we become born again, and we now have the life of Christ in us, the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, God Himself at work in us. This new life we have in Christ is responsive to God because it comes from Him. And God is at work in us not only empowering us to do His good pleasure but also creating in us the desire, the will, to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). So the good works that God does in and through us, and which result from salvation by grace through faith, are not a violation of our human will and desire. They are a manifestation of the salvation we receive when we come to Christ in faith.

This means that the change of behavior we experience as believers is not a result of our own works but of God’s. So we need not worry about how much change would satisfy God. For God will always be satisfied with the work He does in us, and He will do whatever work needs to be done in us. And the good work He has begun in us, He will bring all the way through to completion (Philippians 1:6).

This also means that perseverance is not a result of what we do but, rather, a result of what God does in us. Those who have begun in the new birth continue in the new birth. Those who have begun in eternal life continue in eternal life. And those who have begun by grace through faith continue by grace through faith. Because it is God’s doing, not ours.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in discussion with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. For your edification, inspiration and/or amusement — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • Faith is not primarily about a proposition but about a person, because truth is not primarily a proposition. Truth is a person. Jesus said, “I am … the Truth.” So faith in God is not merely a belief about God but a personal relationship with God. It is for the sake of this relationship Jesus has come into the world, for He is not only the truth but the way and the life as well (John 14:6).
  • People act on the basis of what they believe. Watch how they act and you will know what they believe. We reveal what we truly believe by what we consistently do.
  • Sometimes we hang on in faith. Sometimes we let go in faith.
  • The lifestyle of prayer is a habit of devotion, always in communication with God and fully consecrated to Him. It is a persistent attentiveness to God, a life that holds on to faith and hope, regardless of the circumstances. It is a peaceful life of joy, knowing that God hears and will answer.
  • Prayer is not just words directed to God, but being mindful of God, being present to God and waiting before God.
  • Often we do not know what to pray. Pray anyway.
  • I think we often have more faith in our interpretations and understandings and articulations about Christ than we have in Christ Himself.
  • All the words in the Bible taken together do not exhaust the revelation of God we have in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.
  • James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Paul said that faith expresses itself through love (Galatians 5:6). So then, faith without love is dead.
  • When our love is lacking, so is our faith.
  • Through Jesus Christ, we not only enter into eternal life, we enter into eternal love.
  • God is love, and love does not withhold what is good from those who are loved. God has given us the greatest thing — His Beloved Son. And in Him we have every good thing.
  • God is love. Grace is the love of God reaching out. Glory is the revelation of God's love reaching out.
  • The cross of Christ and the kingdom of God are not in competition anymore than means are in competition with their ends. The cross is the means and the kingdom is the end for which Jesus went to the cross. All of it is the gospel.
  • Tears speak when words cannot.
  • Live today today. Don't try to relive yesterday or pre-live tomorrow.