“Keep fighting the good fight of faith”

One of the struggles Christians face occasionally is to ‘keep fighting’ the fight of faith when things seem so cyclic and pointless.  Sometimes it is not only non-Christians who ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4ff), occasionally Christians do as well, although probably not loud enough for anyone to hear.

The reason we continue the fight the good fight of faith is based squarely on the promises that are contained in God’s Word.   Just because things seem to just keep reoccurring does not mean that God does not exist.  Indeed, unbelief does not mean that God does not exist! Note Peter’s answer in 3v5, “People deliberately overlook the fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God…” (cf Romans 1:18). Please note, Peter didn’t appeal to some scientific proof that God exists and created all things, he appeals to God’s Word, of if you will, to the Genesis account.

One of the great promises contained in God’s Word which is central to the continuing fight of faith is the completed work of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life of all who would believe.   Ultimately, Jesus is the answer for without Him, we have every reason to be downcast.  Yes, we have a few years here on earth to enjoy each other’s company.  Yes, we have families that we love and love us.  Yes, we may even have a great job and career.  We may even be blessed to be part of a great church family.   But if that is all we can hope for in this life, although reason enough for thanks, it would leave us rather empty when our days come to an end on this earth.

Thankfully, God’s Word teaches that because of God’s great electing love to us in Jesus Christ and His completed work of salvation, this life is not the end.   The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus also, for the joy set before Him (to be seated at the right hand of His Father in heaven), endured the cross (Heb 12:2).  Likewise, we too, have a glorious future, but it can only be meaningful if we keep our eyes on Jesus and continue to hold fast to His infallible word.

But there are also other encouragements given in God’s word to keep us fighting the good fight of faith.  We have God’s Holy Spirit within us, reminding us of our secure position in Christ and with our heavenly Father (Rom 8).  We have the means of grace available to us, including the sacraments and prayer through which we can enter the throne room of grace (Heb 4:14ff).

And finally, we have the fellowship of the saints, such an important encouragement when one is inclined to stop fighting the good fight of faith.  Is it any wonder that the writer of Hebrews encourages the early Christians not to neglect meeting together, as was the habit of some, but even more as they see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:25)?  “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:20-21). JZ

“I will never, never drive them away” (2)

One of the most difficult things for Christians to get their heads around is that their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour is all a work of grace.  The saying “there are no free lunches” is generally true for life as we know it, however, when it comes to our forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, it is all free for us to receive with thankfulness, for the ultimate cost was borne by our Saviour Jesus Christ.  We need to understand this fundamental teaching of Scripture for it is vital for our thankfulness and assurance.   Without it, everything else we believe the Bible teaches will be skewed.

Now it may surprise you, that many Christians cannot come to terms with this teaching and continue to put the ‘cart before the horse.’   Some continue to say that they chose to become a Christian at a given point in time.  Even this past week I read a message where the author states that it is only when we repent and show real sorrow for our sin and come to grips with it that Jesus will have compassion for you and will forgive you.

With respect to the author, Scripture teaches the opposite.  Dead people cannot show sorrow for their sin (Eph 2:1ff).   God did not send His Son into this world because we were so sorry for our sin but because He loved this world including us, despite our sin (Jn 3:16, cf Gen 3:15).  Paul tells the Roman Christians that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, more than that, while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:8ff).   Of course, this does not mean God loves our sin or that we are sinners, on the contrary, He hates sin and that is why He sent His Son to deal with the sin that separates us from Him, for He is Holy and cannot live with sin.

So, how do we come to have faith alone in Christ alone?  By the power of the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father and the Son, who quickens us to life or if you will, to regenerate us from dead people to being alive in Christ (Eph 2:4ff).  The gracious Holy Spirit does that work by making us aware of our sin and need for a Saviour.  The Holy Spirit’s work is not based on anything we have done or any commendable virtue in us nor anything foreseen in us.  The Holy Spirit’s is obeying the Father’s will to bring us from ‘dead people walking’ to being alive in Christ because, God in His love and mercy, chose us to be saved by Christ before time even began (Eph 1:4ff).  It’s only then we begin to repent and show godly sorrow for our sin, and not before!  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:10, 19).

This understanding of our undeserved salvation is also the reason why we respond in thankfulness and now begin to do the works God has placed before us to do, for His glory.  And it is also the reason we can have the assurance of salvation, for as Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never (never) drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:37-38).  Surely there is only one thing left to say, “Praise God for His wonderful, electing love to us.  To Him be all the glory!”  JZ

“I will never, never drive them away”

This Sunday, we have the privilege of having two young people profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.   Make no mistake, this is a real blessing, for a power has been working in the hearts of these two young people that no one can really fathom.

The Holy Spirit has convicted these two young people to profess their faith publicly before the Lord’s people that they trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.  The Holy Spirit, using God’s Word, along with the witness of their parents and other family members, including the church family, has so moved their wills and changed their hearts that they have now reached a point of publicly acknowledging Jesus as Lord of their lives!   That is a great reason for rejoicing and for which to give thanks to the Lord.

Now someone may ask, “How do we know that their profession of faith is credible and genuine and not something that is done because the family or other influential person has brought pressure to bear on them?”  Well, other than the usual checks and balances we use, (i.e: elders examining them, their life and conduct, their love for the Lord and His word), we cannot be sure.  However, why would we even cast doubt on their profession?  In today’s western societies, the norm is not to profess one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but to walk away from it and the church.

No, if their profession of faith is genuine (and only the Lord can really know), then we can be assured, they have been saved in Christ from before time began (Eph 1:4ff).  Furthermore, we can be sure that God will complete the good work He has begun in them (Phil 1:6).  It is not possible for them to be lost to the devil!  Yes, there may be periods of time when their love for the Lord may wane a little.  There may even a season where it seems they have walked away from the Lord, being rather disobedient in life and conduct.  However, if their profession of faith is genuine, they cannot fall from God’s gracious hands and He will in His good time cause them to repent and turn back to Him.  We do not fall in and out of God’s gracious hands – that is not possible.  Once saved, forever safe!

So, what do we say to those who seemingly have walked away from the faith?  We keep praying for them!  We keep reminding them of the promises they made before the Lord and His people as the opportunity presents itself.  We lovingly appeal to them, even with tears if necessary, to return to the fold.

Today, we give thanks for the Lord’s gracious work in the hearts of these two young people.  May we as God’s family surround them with much love and encouragement and may the Lord use them and us for the glory of his name and the extension of His kingdom.  JZ

“The beauty of heeding the Lord’s call.”

One of the clear teachings of Scripture alone is that our coming to faith alone in Christ alone for our salvation is all by grace alone.  Yet it is this very teaching that causes some confusion in people’s minds about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in the process of salvation.  Some are quick to say that God is unfair in choosing some to be saved in Christ and not others.  Others suggest that since it is all up to God’s choosing anyhow, why worry about it.   If there is nothing we can do, let’s just sit back and let God do his work, if He so wills.

Usually, when I teach on this difficult doctrine I try to highlight both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility by asking people to imagine a closed door through which we must enter.  Throughout Scripture we have this constant refrain, call, appeal if you will, for God’s people to choose life, not death (Deut 30:11-20), serve God, not idols (Josh 24:15), turn, repent and live and not die (Eze 33:10-11), repeated calls in the NT for repentance and belief in Jesus Christ; knock and it will be opened etc (Mat 7:7ff), choose rest in Christ rather than slavery (Mat 11:28ff), eternal life rather than eternal punishment (Jn 3:16), life rather than death (Jn 5:24), a call to reconciled unto God (2 Cor 5:20), to mention a few.  In all these texts, there is an implied responsibility for us to respond.

Now imagine all these texts and many more are on the one side of this closed door, graciously placed there by the Holy Spirit to call us through the door.  When we enter through the door and close it behind us, we see only one text, (Eph 1:4-6) “For the Father chose me, a sinner in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, the Father predestined me to be adopted as his child through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” [emphasis added].

Now some people feel a little uncomfortable with this analogy, for it seems that you are making the decision to go through the door.  In a way that is true but then again, you didn’t place those wonderful texts on the door, calling you to enter through.  That remains the gracious work of the Holy Spirit bringing God’s Word to bear on your heart.   And even if people do initially think they have had a part to play in entering through the door, does it really matter?  It may take such a person another five years or longer to realise that all of it was God’s wonderful grace working through the power of His word and Spirit, that brought them through the door, all to God’s glory alone.

And it is only after God has caused us to enter through the door that we can begin to experience the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ and our salvation in Him and not before.  And it is only because we know the beauty of Christ that we continue to implore people to embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour.   And it is only after we have been drawn through the door, we can sing with the saints, “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew; He moved my soul, to seek Him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You. it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You.”    JZ

 

The dangerous game of saying ‘no’ to God.”

Have you ever thought about the fact that it is only the pinnacle of God’s creation who can actually ‘no’ to God?  It is true that all creation groans under the weight of sin, but it is only human beings who can disobey and say ‘no’ to God.

It is a foolish thing to say ‘no’ to God as Jonah also experienced when he was asked to go to the city of Nineveh.  However, it is not only foolish, it is downright dangerous to say ‘no’ to God, for you may not be given too many opportunities to say ‘yes’ to God.  God’s patience with the wicked, although long-suffering, is not limitless as was experienced in the days of Noah.  Furthermore, there is evidence in Scripture to suggest that if you keep saying ‘no’ to God, He may withdraw His grace and allow your heart to be hardened against Him because of your disobedience.

In Exodus 7:3 we see God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and in Ch 8:15, 19, 32, Pharaoh hardening his own heart towards God.  When people continually reject God and His gracious offer to embrace His Son as Saviour and Lord, then there may come a time when the opportunity to obey and embrace the offer of salvation is withdrawn and people will no longer be able to accept and obey.

According to trained children workers, this hardening is similar to what happens to children who have been neglected by their parents.  Some parents have never taught their children the true meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or the way of obedience and hence some children do not know what they are or are not allowed to do.  As a result, they do not take authority seriously until the police insist that ‘no’ means ‘No’.  Sadly, trained children workers must often admit that such children are no longer teachable.  They are hardened.

People who continually refuse to obey God and embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour are playing a dangerous game.   While at the beginning they will not believe, in the end they may not be able to believe.  The writer to Hebrews regular appeals to his readers, “Today, if you hear His voice do not hardened your heart as you did in the rebellion.”  According to Scripture, there is a connection to unbelief, disobedience and a hardened heart.

Now before we become judge and executioner, it is only God who knows the process of hardening.  It is not up to us to declare that someone has reached the point of no return.  In fact, our responsibility is to continue to reach out to the lost with the gospel, even towards those whose membership of the church has lapsed through whatever means.  Our first step towards those who are outside of Christ’s kingdom is not condemnation, but a positive, loving, winsome approach with the good news of embracing Christ as Saviour.  While doing so, all the time praying that the Holy Spirit would soften their hearts and wills towards the gospel and that they would no longer keep playing the dangerous game of saying ‘no’ and disobeying the good offer of the gospel.  JZ

 

“The danger of neglect”

We live in a society that is increasingly becoming more ambivalent towards Christianity.  Yes, I realise there are some who are becoming hostile towards those who embrace Christianity, but generally, that is not the case. We still live in a society where we enjoy the freedom of religion and Christians have the freedom to gather together for worship.   We also live in a society where most people have heard about Christianity and what it teaches.  They may not know the details of the Christian faith, but most would know that Jesus is the central character around which Christianity revolves.

It’s precisely at this junction which leaves people in our society and in our families in danger of an eternity without Christ and hence without hope.  It’s not so much that these people reject Christ outright, which of course is terrible, but more so because they neglect Christ.

Hebrews 2:1-3, encourages the readers to pay much closer attention to what they have heard from the Apostles about the last Word Jesus Christ, and not to drift away from it.  In the OT, under God’s law, ever transgression or disobedience received a just retribution.  In the NT, with the coming of Christ, there is a far greater responsibility to be obedient and we will not escape retribution if we neglect such a great salvation.

Andrew Kuyvenhoven makes the following comment in his Daylight devotional, “The majority of those who are not saved will be lost ‘simply’ because they have not paid attention to the gospel of the Son of God. They have not openly rejected God’s last and loving word, but they have shamefully neglected it. More people perish by disregarding the gospel than by opposing God’s Word.”

It’s a rather scary thought that work colleagues and those perhaps we commute to work with every day, and even some loved ones will not be lost because they rejected the gospel, but simply because they have neglected it.  These people have heard the good news of Jesus Christ, perhaps even sat in churches hearing it explained in detail, but have neglected it.

Many modern cars have a warning bell when the fuel level becomes low.  Usually, drivers and those who don’t wish to push do not deliberately reject the warning bell, but many have ended up pushing because they have neglected the warning bell.   Jesus Christ is the last word to sinners that they need to repent and believe to be saved into the kingdom.  Sinners can choose to reject it but not many do for everyone wants to go to heaven.  However, many of those same people neglect the last word and they do so at their own peril.

Most analogies come unstuck if you push them too far and the car one is no different.  If we run out of fuel in our car due to our neglect, we could push or thumb a ride and get some fuel and tip it in and be on our way again.   Interestingly, neither the writer to Hebrews nor Scripture answers the question, “Who will escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”  Perhaps the answer is too horrifying.  So, let’s be in prayer that our neighbours, friends, family members will not continue to neglect the great salvation and even more as we see the Day drawing nearer.   JZ

“The work continues…”

Many years ago, someone asked me whether Christ has finished his work.  My short reply at the time was, “Yes. Of course, Christ has finished his work, after all, He said, “It is finished.”   In hindsight, I wish someone would ask me that question again, for the answer I gave then, although not incorrect, was not really a complete answer.

Paul in Romans 15:18 says he will not venture to speak of anything except that which Christ has worked in him to win people for Christ by preaching and life (emphasis added).  Paul when speaking about the work of Christ through Him to win others for Christ is referring to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, sent out from the Father and the Son, to win people unto salvation.  So, in that sense, the Father’s work, nor the Son’s work, nor the Holy Spirit’s work is ever complete.

Notice also then that Christ’s work did not finish at His ascension but His work continues through us.  We are the tools, the instruments that He uses to reach the lost for Christ.  Yes, He uses His word, but even that needs to be proclaimed and explained by His willing instruments.  That is also how Paul brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.  And the tools He uses to win people into His kingdom are not just Pastors/ministers and elders, but all Christians, both male and female.

As much as I am reluctant to encourage ‘belly-button’ gazing, occasionally it is a worthwhile exercise.  The question is not whether the Father in heaven is still working.  He is.  The question is not whether Christ is alive.  He is.  The question is not whether He has completed His work of salvation.  He has! (Jn 19:28ff).  The question is whether we are available for His use?

Now I know we are all busy but I suggest our willingness to be used by our Saviour is where gospel missions begin.  Yes, God can use whatever means He wishes to win people for Himself into the Kingdom, but usually, He uses Christians.  And missions include all sorts of activities; assisting the needy, Christian politics, Christian education, Christian training seminars, Christian parenting, sending and supporting missionaries, translating the Scriptures and many more.  All of them, Christ working in us by His Spirit to the glory of the Father.

Finally, because it is the work of Christ by His Holy Spirit through us, no boasting is allowed, except that which Christ has accomplished through us, weak vessels that we are.  So, without any further fanfare, let’s just quietly get on with the ministry He has put before us, to His glory.  JZ

“Being Priestly”

This past week we attended the Vine Project at the RTC Melbourne campus. Colin Marshall presented a one-day course on how to set up structures that may help in assisting churches in making disciples and hence fulfilling the Great Commission.  He mentioned four ‘P’s, “Preaching, prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, people – engaging all of God’s people, and patiently persevering” and four ‘E’s, “engaging, evangelising, establishing and equipping.”  One church who has started the Vine Project anticipates that it would be a twenty-one-year project.  They have changed the name of their small bible study groups to ‘gospel’ groups so that the people attending are continually reminded of their purpose.  Colin’s presentation was a timely reminder that churches need to be involved in reaching the lost for Christ. In some ways, Colin’s presentation was like the CRCA’s four-fold-task, set down by Synod some years ago, which also has to reach the lost in mind.

Thankfully, the ‘making of disciples’ is happening to some extent in our fellowship.  Yes, it could always be better but that is true of every aspect of ministry.  One of the things that perhaps slows our progress with the ‘P’s and ‘E’s and the four-fold-task is the reluctance to embrace another ‘P’, namely the “priesthood of all believers.”  Paul reminds us that because of Christ’s once and for all time sacrifice, we have now become “living sacrifices” offering ourselves to the service of our Lord and King (Romans 12:1ff).

It seems we are pretty good at the ‘living’ part, but not always that good at being ‘sacrificial’ which Scripture calls on us to be.  The role of being ‘priestly’ (serving sacrificially) is often left up to so few in so many churches.  It has become the habit of some to just expect the elders, deacons or even the care-group to do the ‘priestly’ tasks.  Sometimes, people will call the minister and ask him to do the ‘priestly’ task when someone is in spiritual or physical need.  Of course, the elders, deacons, care-group nor the minister mind being asked to help serve someone in need.  But hang on a minute, where has the ‘priesthood of all believers’ just disappeared to?

Just imagine, if each of us just set one hour aside a fortnight to be ‘priestly’ towards a fellow Christian or unbeliever.  Be ‘priestly’ and visit someone who needs some encouragement or prayer.  Be ‘priestly’ and offer a young couple to babysit for one night so that they can go out as a couple and enjoy dinner together.  Be ‘priestly’ and get together with a few other young people and offer to cut the lawns for someone who is struggling.  Be ‘priestly’ and go visit someone who is all alone and ask how you could serve them? Yes, it may take some ‘sacrifice’ on your part and it may even cost a dollar or two but that is what “living sacrifices” are called to do.

What does this have to do with the Vine Project?  I dare say if Christians were a little more “priestly” it would have a positive impact on the spiritual and physical welfare of a Christian fellowship and our society. It may be used by God to ‘make disciples’ yes, may it be, even for our neighbours.   JZ

Office Bearer Elections

One of the recurring refrains we hear at Church Council and Classis meetings is the difficulty to find willing and suitable office bearers.  One of the reasons why so few are willing to serve is the memory of past expectations that were placed upon them as individuals and their families.  When I served as an elder, my fellow elder and I had about thirty home visits a year to do.  Added to that were the fortnightly Session meetings, Bible Study nights, the occasional extra ‘emergency’ visits, hospital visits, Classis meetings, as well as the insistence that elders be at worship twice every Sunday.  And then from time to time we had to deal with criticism, sometimes justified and at other times unjustified.  And if that wasn’t quite enough, I still had to run a dairy farm, provide for my family and be a husband and father to my children.  Just remembering all this makes me feel tired all over again.

When I dared to challenge the ‘system’ I was quickly reminded that it was the Lord’s work and He would look after us.   I never doubted that it was the Lord’s work and that He would look after us but I have never been convinced that this model was the best way for caring for God’s people nor was it a good model for the elder’s family.  Far too many children have grown up resenting the church for dad was ‘always’ away from home.  That is never a good model even when it is the ‘Lord’s work.

In many ways, I appreciate the ‘new’ model of eldership that is coming into the churches.  Today, elders are encouraged to be part of a ‘home-group’ and mingle and interact with their ‘list’ after worship services.  They are encouraged to invite individuals or families around for coffee or dinner or even bring them dinner and to use these occasions to mutually encourage each other in the Lord.  Sometimes fellowship dinners just for their list are held, which is another great way to mutually care for each other.   And of course, when necessary, a more formal home visit is still an option.

Of course, the requirements for becoming an elder haven’t changed.  The apostle Paul in 1 Tim 3:1ff says that those who set their hearts on becoming an elder desire a noble task but then goes on to list some qualifications which involve their character, families and reputation.  An elder must be above reproach and not be known as a drunk or lover of money.  He must manage his family well.  He is not to be a recent convert.  Our CRCA Church Order, Article 23, gives some further guidance as elders do their work.

Thankfully, as office bearers we don’t have to nor can we do any of this in our own strength.  Those who serve in the office of elder or in any other ministry for that matter, quickly realise that we have many short comings and at best can only strive to be the servants that Scripture calls us to be. And so, guided by Scripture, appreciating our own great salvation, we humbly lean on the Holy Spirit, praying that He will give us much strength and wisdom as we seek to lead God’s people to be more Christ–like, all the while knowing that there is also forgiveness when we fall short.

As you vote for the new office bearers today, please remember to pray for those who labour amongst you. Pray that the Chief Shepherd will equip them for the task.   Pray that they may be able to protect God’s people from the wolves that seek to spook them all too easily.  And please remember that they keep watch over you as men who must give an account. It is our prayer that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to us. JZ

“Easter effects…”

 

Easter is behind us again for another year and life seems to go on as usual.  But before we race off to the next Church Calendar event, the Ascension, it’s good to just pause and consider the full impact of Easter. Surely what was accomplished at Calvary is more than just a weekend of eating chocolate Easter bunnies and other family celebrations for Christians.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:11, that Christians must consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.   There is never a time when we should diminish the beauty of being alive to God in Christ Jesus.   That is one of the great effects of Easter.   At one time, we were dead to God in our sins and trespasses but now, because of the Holy Spirit’s quickening power, we are alive to God, all because of what Jesus accomplished at Calvary.  So, thanks be to God for the new life we have in Christ and may we live in the joy of it every day of our lives.

However, there is a danger that because we are now alive in Christ we may become dismissive of what Paul mentions first, namely that we are now dead to sin.   That is also an important effect of Easter.  Although we live in the age of grace, may we never be accused of peddling cheap grace.   Paul strongly condemns such an approach to Christ’s saving work (Rom 6:1-2).  Andrew Kuyvenhoven suggests that when people become ‘careless and profane’ it only occurs when churches are peddling cheap grace.  It will never happen if churches preach the gospel.  The ‘careless and profane’ behaviour occurs when teachers and preachers are selling and people are buying grace without Christ. In other words, the gift without the giver.

Scripture teaches that in Adam, all have sinned.  There is none righteous, not even one.  All have turned away, there is no one who does good (Rom 3:9ff).   Scripture also teaches that those who are saved by Christ are no longer ‘Adam-people’ but ‘Christ-people.’  It’s no longer sin that has dominion over us for we now live in the power of the Holy Spirit and are in Christ.  We are now baptised into Christ.  Christ died and so did we.  Christ rose and so did we!  It’s no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me!

So, don’t just let Easter come and go.  Let us allow what Christ has achieved for us at Calvary to govern our lives.  Let us exercise the precious gift of faith we have received by no longer grieving the Holy Spirit in carelessly sinning, but by His power striving to now live for God, being made alive in Christ.  JZ