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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

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Theology

Why I Hate The Term “Once Saved, Always Saved”

Words have meaning.

I know that seems like a “duh” statement, but really, words carry with them ideas. Words strung together into sentences convey ideas – powerful ideas. And sometimes what words are meant to convey becomes unclear in transmission – we call this a “misunderstanding”. Statements that are true when understood in the right context can be dangerous untruths if understood in the wrong context. Take for instance the statement “God is love”. A true statement, but it can be understood wrongly if we insert the wrong definition of “love”.

Sometimes a statement is so likely to be misunderstood that it is better to say that same thing in a different way.

The term “once saved, always saved” is one of those statements.

When understood in the right context it is a true statement, but if out of context it becomes misleading and dangerous.

The problem with understanding the statement “once saved, always saved” lies in what a person understands it means to be be “saved”. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that the preaching of the cross is the power of God to “us who are being saved”. Not who were saved, but who are being saved. This is crucial to note.

Paul in Romans 8 presents the golden thread of redemption that begins with the predetermination and foreknowledge of God and ends in completion -“glorification”- in God’s presence. It begins when God speaks his creating word and shines the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” into our hearts, which begins a process where we “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”, this process takes a massive leap forward when we put off this mortal frame with its remaining sin and we see his glory clearly, in that moment “we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is” (II Cor. 4:6; 3:18; 1 Jn. 3:2). This is what we call glorification. This is the end goal of salvation. This is what it means to be saved.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

(Romans 8:29-30 ESV)

Glorification is that point when we see him and become like him – glorification is when the conformation into the image of the Son is completed. The work we call “sanctification” that we experience in this life – the work of the Holy Spirit – is in fact as sort of guarantee that what God has begun at justification he will complete – it is a foretaste of glorification. This is why someone who is not changing “from one degree of glory to the next” in this life should have little confidence that they are “being saved” (II Cor. 3:18; I Cor. 1:18) The immense amount of remaining sin and work to be done in the lives of Christians at any stage of life is why the preaching of the cross remains always from year one to year ninety, the power of God to “us who are being saved”.

Our assurance of salvation is not found in a white-fisted grip on the statement “once saved, always saved” but is found in the fruit of the golden chain which assures us that what God started he will bring to completion. Progress, however slow it may be, gives hope that the job will get done.

I hate the term “once saved, always saved” because it portrays justification as the end goal of redemption. It wrongly identifies justification, that precious and necessary point where by faith in Christ we are declared righteous, as the sum of salvation.

This statement in question is in one sense true, once justified you are always justified but being saved is about more than justification. All of God’s elect are justified, but that is not all that they are.

The chain cannot be broken, therefore, a person has no reason to believe they are justified if they are not showing evidence of moving toward glorification. This is why we are told to examine ourselves to see if we be in the faith (II Cor. 13:5). Our trust is not in a decision, a prayer, or in a moment we look to when we were “justified” but our trust is in the God who finishes what he started.

I hate the term “once saved, always saved” because it muddies the reality of redemption, which is to conform fallen image bearers of God back into faithful reflections of his glory.

So what should we say instead?

One could say “once elect, always elect”. This would be a true statement, but would not be helpful to us who do not know the hidden counsel of God, because the proof of election is found in endurance (Mk. 13:13).

I prefer the old-fashioned term “perseverance of the saints” also referred sometimes to as the “preservation of the saints”.

What this term means is that all whom God elects he preserves in faith so that they persevere by faith in him, beholding his glory, repenting of sin, trusting in Christ, and thereby being transformed into his image.

From God’s perspective our salvation is as good as done, in this case – “once saved, always saved”. But from our perspective this is deceptive, because we can by our sin and rebellion come to the place where it does not look like we are “being saved”. And this might be because we are not being saved! For John makes clear that “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning”(1 Jn. 3:9). Sin in the life of a believer should lead to creaturely fear and child-like sorrow. Many that thought they were saved “went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 Jn. 2:19)

I hate the term once saved always saved because I fear it has damned many, causing them to rest in their iniquity by leading them to misunderstand the purpose of salvation – what it means to be saved.

Preachers need to proclaim boldly the sovereignty of God in preserving his own while making it clear that he preserves in perseverance to the end. Right preaching of the “perseverance of the saints” should lead those persisting in sin to cry out with proper fear to God for mercy and should lift them from the pit of despair and open their eyes to view the soul-transforming glory of Christ. It should also lead those with only the slightest progress, overwhelmed by their indwelling sin, to be filled with hopeful expectation of the work that will be completed.

I hate the term “once saved, always saved”, but I find great joy in the reality that by the grace and power of God all of his children will reach the end where they will be as the song says,“saved to sin no more” – once saved, always saved.

“I Was Meant To Do This”

“I was meant to do this”.

I admit that over the past few summers my lunchtime entertainment has been watching the television show America’s Got Talent. One of the things I have observed after seeing hundreds of hopefuls perform is a recurring sentiment, the claim that “I was meant to do this.”

This reveals something interesting to me about people. That is that most people at the end of the day do not have any problem with an impersonal, sovereign force. Fate, if you will. People talk about existing for a purpose when their worldview would affirm that they really have no purpose. They deny the existence of God or at least they deny the idea of a God who is sovereign and “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Yet, when they reach their goals they are eager to attribute their success to some deterministic “meaning” for their life.

Despite this almost innate openness to the idea of fate, even many so-called Christians reject and are downright offended by a God who determines their destiny. But if not God then what? A materialistic universe has no plan to execute. So tell me, if you were meant to do something, then who meant it? If you believe there is a God who has “a plan for your life”, then how will he bring it about? Who formed you with your skills and talents?

What this shows us is that when people speak of how unthinkable the idea is that God is sovereign over everything, their problem isn’t with determinism, but with the person behind it. People have no problem with the idea of something setting the course of their lives. People make determinism out to be the big issue, but it isn’t the big issue. They aren’t troubled with the logic of how free choice interacts with “destiny” when they step on the stage or when their fate hands them their dreams. The problem they have is not an impersonal, determining force – but a personal one. A being that chooses their destiny for them – and not always the destiny they want.

The problem people have with a divine sovereign is because “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21 ESV) People embrace the idea of fate, but put God as the power behind the fate and they deny it. This is because in our sin we do not “honor him as God”, instead we bring him down to our level. And who wants an equal determining their destiny? A friend can’t even tell me what to do!

There is a selfishness behind this that is clear. For when people’s dreams come true they say “I was meant to do this” or “I feel this is why I am on earth.” But when our dreams crash and burn we turn to the God we ignore and ask “why?” or we simply say “This isn’t how life was supposed to go.” So in our sin and self-idolatry what we want is an impersonal force choosing a brilliant destiny for us where we are successful and happy – where we are a god. We want a universe that serves us as god, rather than seeing ourselves as part of a universe that was made to serve God.

Christians do this as well. I meet so many Christians who despise “Calvinism” and by that they mean the idea of total sovereignty, yet when facing the unknown they take comfort that God “has a plan” for them. But when things go bad they don’t respond with “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” instead they either ask, “God, why would you let this happen?” or if they are more spiritual, yet want to retain their best-buddy view of God they say, “The devil did this”.

A charge sometimes brought against the total sovereignty of God by Christians is that this belief leads to passiveness in our Christian lives. In response to that charge it should be noted that even those that deny God and are pursuing their “destiny” actually use their belief in an impersonal, sovereign force as an impetus to pursue their dreams. They pursue their dream because they believe it is their destiny to reach their goal.  Likewise, as a Christian my destiny is to be conformed into the image of Christ, that is the goal. The knowledge of that, if I have a new heart, should be a sufficient impetus to pursue what I was “meant to do”. To labor to the end that I would reach my destiny! If that logic works with wanna’be pop-stars, why not with us as well who have the promises of God to boot?

I know this is a very scattered post, so let me condense my point. People don’t have a problem with sovereignty, they have a problem with a sovereign God. Why? Because if they want a God at all, they want one whose plans to coincide with theirs. Today our rejection of God’s sovereignty is a manifestation of our rebellion, as it was for Adam and Eve in the garden when they despised the idea of a God who would choose their destiny for them. It is my desire that many would come to see the folly of their logic, that I would see my own, and that we would honor God as the sovereign God that he is and embrace the destiny he has chosen as good and right, even if understanding it is beyond us.

The Novelty of Good Intentions

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, (Philippians 1:15-18 ESV)

As time passes I am more and more convinced that God does not need my skills, my eloquence, my cultural insight, and apparently not even my good intentions for his Word to be effective. As I have considered the God in Scripture and his Gospel, it has become apparent to me that what we proclaim, not skillfully spun, but plainly spoken, will always have its intended result. Those men that God has used as his mouthpieces in Scripture certainly were convinced of this – as was the Word-made-flesh himself.

When one carefully considers Paul, he finds someone who I would argue eschewed pragmatism. He had one method – “preach Christ”. Paul’s ministry flowed out of his theology. He knew that where the word was supposed to have its saving effect it would and where it was meant to harden it would. His confidence was not in eloquence or reason – but was in the Spirit working through the word. Even Paul himself, a doctor of the Scriptures, had rejected Christ even though he beheld with blind eyes for years his image in the law and prophets. Nothing was going to cause Paul to see the truth of the Gospel and embrace it except for a work of the Holy Spirit. And so it was.

This simple confidence that Paul had in the message which he proclaimed can be seen with shocking clarity in Philippians 1:15-18. Paul applauded the proclamation of the Gospel even by those that did it with wrong motives. He wasn’t begrudgingly thankful that the word was getting out, but he rejoiced! Why? Because he was completely confident that the power of the message was found in its source and not in its delivery. Such was Paul’s confidence in the simple proclamation of the Gospel that it did not matter to him who proclaimed it or why they did, as long as it was proclaimed. For he knew that it is the word falling on deaf ears and dead hearts that the Spirit of God uses to awaken sinners to life – if he so pleases.

The encouragement here is plentiful:

First it should encourage us as Christians – and especially as pastors – to be humbled, recognizing that the power for effective ministry does not rest in us but in the message we proclaim, if in fact we proclaim the Gospel that Paul preached.

Second, we should also rejoice when the Gospel is preached, even if the personality of the one preaching it is abrasive or in some way obnoxious. We should rejoice that the fragrance of Christ is spread, even if it is from a crude vessel. There are preachers I can barely stand to listen to, but they proclaim the Gospel and by it many are saved. I should rejoice.

Third, abandon hope in pragmatism and cultural intelligence. Focus instead on the purity of the message you proclaim. For if God does not even need your good intentions to exalt Christ and save sinners, he certainly doesn’t need your good ideas, however well-intentioned they may be.

Know the message of the Gospel. And desire that it be preached. More than you desire fruit or freedom or approval, desire that the Gospel be preached.

 

 

My Feeble Exegesis: II Corinthians 1:12-24,2:1-4

His Unchanging Plans & Purposes

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge— just as you did partially acknowledge us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:12-24 ESV)

   Have you ever had a situation where someone said that they were going to do something with you, only for them to bail or delay at the last moment? I am sure you have and maybe for you this is not a big deal. It is for me. I struggle with having grace for people who are regularly late or backing out on what they say they are going to do. I have often viewed being late or constant changing of plans as vacillation at best with perhaps a tinge of dishonesty. It would seem in the passage that we are faced with today that there were some in Corinth that felt or would feel this way towards Paul as they received this second letter from him.
To understand these feelings it is important to have some background of Paul’s plans in regards to the Corinthians. At the close of his somewhat less than pleasant at times first letter that he wrote to the church in Corinth, he puts forth his desire for his future journey, in 16:5-7 “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go . For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits”. I highlight this last part because I will refer to it later. But the point now is that the Corinthians fully expected this visit from Paul, but instead they receive another parchment and the situation was only made worse by the fact that Paul had his share of detractors in Corinth, it would seem, as he spends much time in II Corinthians defending his apostleship.
We see that Paul knew that some were accusing him of vacillating or being inconsistent and they were likely using this to only strengthen their stiff arm of him, holding him and his teaching to some extent at arms length. However, rather than addressing this directly after the greeting, Paul waits and builds because he wants them to know a thing or two before he brings it up. We see this by the “for” and “because” that follow verse 11. He is building up to his defense, which is not ultimately a defense of himself, but of the message that he preached.
With an interesting connection to his stated purpose for coming in 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul tells them, in his obvious absence, that they should help them “by prayer”. Knowing myself, I can only imagine that at this point the detractors and critics of Paul’s authenticity and sincerity were thinking “Why should we do that? Why should we trust the “apostle” on the other side of this letter so much that we would labor in prayer that God would bless him and Silvanus and Timothy… if that is even their names! Get real!” At this point Paul inserts a “For” into the passage where he proceeds to give evidence to what he knows they will at least partially acknowledge about him and his companions, that is their conduct towards them. Paul’s boast, or “confidence” as the Holman Bible puts it, is that they have a clear conscience in regards to their conduct. Paul’s defense is that they “behaved in the World with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely (especially) so towards (the Corinthian church).” Paul’s desire is that the Corinthian believers would stop and take stock of these claims and come to admit fully that they are indeed true in order that they may have mutual boasting on the day of the Lord Jesus, that is that would be able to both affirm and rejoice in these evidences of God’s grace in each other in eternity.
Paul has a clear purpose in directing them to reflect on his “purity and God-given sincerity” and the fact that they had always operated not in “fleshly wisdom, but by God’s grace”(HCSB). With his testimony of a clear conscience laid before them, along with his confidence that they will acknowledge these things to be true, he tells them what his purpose for wanting to come to them was in the first place. He says “I wanted to come to you first so that you might have a second experience of grace”. Now there has been some debate on what is meant by this “second experience of grace”. I will not join that debate at this time, but simply defer to the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this, which is that Paul wished for them a “double-benefit” by his coming to them. Whatever this benefit or grace was, it was meant for the good and joy of the church. It is important to note two things at this point: The purpose of Paul’s plan in coming to them was they they would receive a benefit and Paul’s testimony of having purity and sincerity towards them at all times, not operating in his wisdom but in God’s grace.
Now Paul brings up the “elephant in the room”, which was the fact that he said in his last letter that he planned to come to them and now he had changed his plans. This seeming deviation threatened to tarnish his credibility, which is why he gives the testimony of his conscience, and not his only but of his companions as well, before addressing the issue. He ask what some of them already were thinking “Was I vacillating (being inconsistent) when I wanted to do this (come to them first)?” Now he connects this to his former testimony which he is certain the would concure with by asking “Do I make plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “no, no” at the same time?” He has already testified that he and his companions had always operated toward them by God’s grace and not with worldly wisdom.
I find it interesting that at this point he does not simply end it all by directly invoking the sovereignty of God, which he could have done, for we have already seen in the last letter that he conditioned all of his plans with the words “if the Lord permits”. He could have rightly stated that the Lord simply did not permit it, end of story. God had done this before in the book of Acts, that is halted them from entering certain places in which they intended to go.This is however, not the argument that the inspired Apostle takes, not directly. Instead, he appeals to the steadfast faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ, how that all of the promises of God are “yes” in Him. Paul was very careful here that this perceived inconsistency would not cause them to suppose any such inconsistency in their message which they had proclaimed. We see here the jeoulosy of Paul for the message that he preached. Paul has already made his defense for himself, Timothy, and Silvanus, but now  he wants it to be supremely clear that there is no inconsistency in Christ, that in fact not only are all of the promises of God “yes” in Christ, but he also has sealed them together and established them with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that God will make good on all of his promises.
Paul’s argument is this: “we have not planned according to the flesh but according to God’s grace. So though it seems to you that we are inconsistant in changing our plans, it was not, for we have walked in God-given sincerity towards you in the grace of God, such that our word to you is a “yes” and an “Amen to God for his glory”.” So how was this change of plans a “Yes”? How was it in agreement with what they had determined to do? To understand this we must remember what Paul said their purpose was in coming to them. It was not to “shoot the wind”, to drink some iced tea and talk some circus maximus with a little systematic theology thrown in, but in order that the church in Corinth might receive a “double benefit”. The “Yes” was behind this purpose in coming to them, a purpose which still held true.
The problem then was not that Paul and his compadres were vacillating, but that as we see starting in verse 23, they would have been unable to fulfill their purpose in coming if they had done so when they originally determined to. Paul says that “…it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith (have control of), but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” There were apparently still unresolved issues in regards to the sin that was addressed in the first letter to Corinth and if Paul had come when he intended he would not have been able to bestow the blessing that he wished on them. The opposite would have been the case for he would have needed to bring something that would only cause pain. Thus it was neccesary for Paul to write this letter instead, in order that the church would be able to put things in order so that when Paul came he would be able to come with the intent and purpose for which he planned to come. For he says “I wrote this very thing so that when I came I wouldn’t have pain from those who ought to cause me joy, because I am confident about all of you that my joy may be yours” 2:3 (HCSB).
So we see that though Paul’s plans changed, his purpose never did. In fact, it could have been vacillation if he had come according to plan but changed the reason for his visit upon arriving. Thus, this is in keeping with God who always works out his purposes, even in the midst of circumstances that seem suspect to us. When our lives don’t go according to plan, we can always trust that the purposes of God are fixed and true and that in Christ his promises toward us are always “Yes” and he will do what he must according to the council of his will to bring those promises/purposes about for us. We have the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee of this.
We should find great comfort then from this passage in our everyday lives, that we serve a God who is not inconsistent. Even if suffering and hardship befall us today in such a way that makes the promises of God look inconsistent, we can be certain that his word is good and does not change. Even when what we plan does not work out, His plans are never frustrated. To the eyes of the Corinthians this change in plans seemed like a deviation it what was promised when in fact it was in keeping with the end goal/purpose of the plan. It would appear that Paul was zig-zagging on his path to fulfill his plans for them and we view life this way often. It is then that we must remember that what we see as a path that zigs and zags, is actually a straight line in the eyes of our Sovereign God who is ever at work for the good of His children. Read the Old Testament with this in mind sometime. Amidst God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Issac, amidst Joseph being sold into slavery, amidst God’s people wandering in the desert, amidst invasions and exiles, amidst a Messiah’s birth in a stable and a flight to Egypt, it would seem in the moment there was inconsitency, deviation from a promise, a covenant. But there was no deviation nor will there ever be. All of the promises of God have found and will continue to find their “Yes” in Christ. May we trust him and never doubt that he fulfills all of his purposes towards us according to his inscrutable plan.

                                          “…acccording to the purpose of Him who works all

                                            things according to the counsel of His will” Eph 1:11

Cyclical Futility

A couple of months ago when I first heard the outrage over an article published in The Journal of Medical Ethics, defending the possibility of “post-birth abortion” (infanticide) I was taken aback and disgusted, though not surprised. Since the days of Voltaire and Locke, “The Enlightenment”, there has come into being a humanistic philosophy that we as a human race are ever improving. The people that boast in how far mankind has come in its pursuit of common goodwill and equality are pleased to show in the record of history how the western world has forsaken the slave trade, ended the traditionalist repression of women, desegregated society, and so forth. This historical record appears to them as a sign of the progress of the human race and the innate goodness within man that need only to be taped into by overcoming ignorance and prejudice.

However, if we view history through the lens of Scripture we find how deep, clear, and startling the Bible’s truth is in interpreting history. In Romans 8:20 we find out that since the fall of man “the creation was subject to futility”. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” Roman 1:21. When we understand this the light comes on and the facade of human progress fades into futility. It is a cyclical futility, for with each step forward that man believes in his darkened, debased mind that he is taking he is really remaining in the same place. Man believes he is improving, but instead he exchanges one dark deed and practice for another that is acceptable by his sin-driven, futility-bound society. So to take it back to the original reference we see that the same progressive mankind that has forsaken the evil of slavery has in fact exchanged it for the evil of abortion, which is infanticide. This is not the first time this has happened and it is why understanding the scriptures sheds so much light on our history and our present state as a fallen human race.

Understanding this is key to having a proper world-view and a proper view of history, but it is not all-together bleak. Because though this explains our now and our past as mankind, it does not apply to the ultimate future that God has ordained. We know this because that passage in Romans 8 goes on to tell us that God subjected creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Cyclical futility is the state that mankind finds itself in now, but the definitive work of breaking that chain has been accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection. So we place all of our hope for ourselves and mankind in him; not in humanistic social reform, not in politics, not in any concept of innate goodness of man, but in Jesus Christ our God and his glorious Gospel.

My Feeble Exegesis: II Corinthians 1:11

Petition That Aims At Praise

II Corinthians 1:11

“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our

Behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many”.

  Paul explains in the verses prior to this that they (Paul & Timothy) endure deadly peril based on the hope which they have that they will ultimately be delivered in the resurrection, for they relied not on themselves “but on God who raises the dead”. Then in verse eleven Paul allows the church to participate in their endurance by entreating, even commanding them, to help them by prayer. I could use this as a chance to write about the corporate role of the church in the perseverance of the individual saint, but instead I would like to inspect what this passage speaks about prayer.

As there seems to be three successive parts to the idea set forth in verse 11, I would like to inspect them in the order that they appear.

  •     1.  “You also must help us by prayer….” With this simple command Paul speaks to the power of prayer in respect to their ministry and endurance. Paul set the example for this time and again as he lifted up the saints with whom he interacted. Take for a couple of examples, Colossians 1:9 “…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,….”, 1 Thessalonians 1:2 “We give thanks to God for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers….”. Paul believed that the prayers of the church in Corinth would help them and bless them in their ministry. He is not relying on the people or the prayers themselves for his hope and supply of strength but is testifying that God is trustworthy in such a way that if they would pray God would act in the granting of a blessing. He is pointing them to his supply for endurance and entreating them to believe that God is that good Father that Jesus Christ testified of, one who does not grow weary like an unrighteous judge, but will “give justice speedily” “to his elect who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7). Paul gives no “maybe” or “perhaps” in this passage, but displays unwavering confidence in a God who answers the prayers of his children.  One might say to never underestimate prayer but I believe it would be better to say to never underestimate the God who hears the prayer. Be diligent to pray for your brothers and sisters and especially your leaders as they will give an account for your souls and are often assailed in their labor for the Gospel. Be active in the endurance of each other, O Church! Help by prayer to the One who is the source of all help. Trust in his faithfulness and believe his word.
  •    2.  “…so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us….” It is interesting that Paul expects that the ultimate result of the help by prayer will be thanksgiving toward God. This displays the God-exalting and God-dependent mind that Paul had when writing this passage under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The end of our prayers in not the blessing, which would seem to be the end, but the praise of God. One would think that when you make a request to God it is like when you order something and then receive it a week later in the mail. In that example the receiving of the item is the end, but this is not what Paul has in mind. Paul wants to be helped in order that God would be praised through thanksgiving! We find here an amazing truth about how we go about prayers of supplication and intercession in regards to the posture of our heart when we consider what the end goal of that prayer is. As we search our motives we should always check to see that our prayers of petition, supplication, and intercession flow from the desire that God would be worshiped in thanksgiving.
  •    3. “…the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” It is Paul’s desire that this should be a corporate exercise in prayer. If the prayers of many leads to praise and thanksgiving for blessings granted, then no one person will be able to rob an ounce of glory from the Supplier of the blessing who hears their prayers. This is not to diminish the role of individual prayer, but to remind us that our time in the closet of prayer are being collected in bowls like incense (Rev 5:8) to be poured out before the throne and that we may not be alone in our petitions and thus should not take any credit. Many pray and many gives thanks so that the only one who receives praise is the Father who hears and pours out his blessing.

I hope that this verse can help us to pray with confidence for others, believing that our Father hears and acts according to his will which is ever for the good of his elect and that we would pray in order that God may be praised and thanked and that we would never seek our own praise and thanks as we labor on our knees but declare, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…” Psalm 115:1  

Resolved ~ Salvation: Beholding the Glory of God in Christ

Reflections on the Life & Writings of Edwards

  In reading the thoughts that transpired in Edwards’ heart and mind as he was converted as a young adult I find myself pleased with the confirmation of what I have experienced, what others have testified to, and what God’s word teaches about what happens to us when we are truly born again. Mainly, that when someone is truly saved by the grace of Christ there is a common and necessary shift that occurs that impacts us on a spiritual and intellectual level. Those that have truly perceived the nature of their salvation have become aware of certain and distinct glories of God that are hidden from those that are perishing and are yet in the dominion of darkness with a veil imposed by Satan and a futile, darkened nature inherited from Adam.

   What I am speaking of is not an instant apprehension of all spiritual mysteries or any sort of immediate perfection, but of an immediate exaltation in the heart and mind of God and his Gospel. This is a posture of the soul towards God that is present in the elect, those for whom Christ pled to the Father “that they may behold my glory”, from the moment of new birth. In fact, unless this fundamental shift, awakening, or enlightening occurs no one may be saved. From the dawning of the first morning of the “new creation” there is a continual growing and forming but it all stems from the event in which the Creator declared “Let there be light”. Thus the creation of the universe by the Almighty stands as an allegory of the Gospel.

   If person has not been enlightened or made alive in Christ yet he claims to be a Christian he will in two fashions approach the Gospel. The one will see the Gospel and the obedience that God expects of his children and he will work very hard to fulfill the demands of the law and thus have the appearance of one who has been sanctified. He will accept these acts of human sovereignty and will-power as a proof of his right standing and will speak false peace into his darkened heart while disbelieving the state of his soul and the nature of the Gospel. The other is perhaps more dangerous and the most prevalent in this day. This one will see the call to only believe, to say a prayer, to go to church and thus know he is saved. There is no vexation in his soul over his sin for all is of grace in his mind and he believes that God accepts who he is. After all (I speak facetiously) he has said a prayer and now God must save him. His view of God is low, perhaps even blasphemously so, and he believes that the center of the Gospel is himself. Both have read the Word and both have come to darkened conclusions of what is being said.

    The shift that occurs when one goes from darkness to light, from death to life is one that occurs when God looks into the inky void of a darkened, lifeless heart and says, “Let there be light!” (II Cor 4:6). As light breaks into the darkness and a young, tender creation begins he is unable to make any boast in his own effort or intelligence. Now the question is of what does this burst of light and this new breath make the child of God aware? What shift occurs that allows someone to come to faith in Christ and to be sanctified, that is conformed into the image of Christ? II Corinthians 4:6 teaches us that what we are made to see is the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. It is in considering this that we find the distinction between those that are dead and those that have been made alive. So now we will consider with the help of Edwards’ testimony what happens when we behold “the glory of God in the face of Christ”.

1.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us aware of our sin and depravity

   Many assume the Gospel and are never saved because they never come to a place where they weep like Peter or plead like the Philippian jailer “what must I do to be saved?” Many a so-called saint cannot identify with the great Apostle Paul when he declares “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” If we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ the result is the same as Isaiah who when God displayed his glory to him in the temple he declared “Woe is me! For I am lost!”. Isaiah did not need a seminary lecture on depravity to become devastatingly aware of his sinfulness; he only needed to get a glimpse of the glory of God. Those that have had their eyes opened have beheld the glory of God by the Holy Spirit through the word of Christ.

2.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ causes us to see magnitude of God’s mercy in Christ to satisfy his just wrath towards us

   The same aspect of having our eyes opened that causes us to see our depravity causes us to begin to comprehend the magnitude of God’s mercy. I say “begin” because we see through a glass darkly now and only in eternity when we behold perfectly God’s glory will we understand the incalculable magnitude of what God accomplished in the cross. As we are made to sense the majesty and holiness of God and to behold it in the narrative of Scripture we come full circle to the cross. This is where we behold the “Gospel of the glory of Christ”. We see at this time the graciousness of our adoption and election which was “to the praise of his (Christ’s) glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). In this we avoid presuming upon God’s grace but learn to live in humble amazement of God’s mercy towards us.

3.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ is the means of our sanctification

   As we behold the glory of God we begin to reflect that glory from one degree of glory to the next (II Cor 3:18). It is by this that sanctification is realized in our lives without descending into the Christ-belittling swamp of legalism and dead works. It is impossible not to persevere in holiness once one has been enlightened. In fact the effect of this beholding is of such magnitude that if one were to turn away in a final state of apostasy once being enlightened it would be impossible to again turn that person to repentance so reprobate they would have to be (Heb 6:4).

   Finally, our sanctification is part of our glorification. Romans teaches us that those whom God called “he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” Rom 8:30. Our sanctification is part of our glorification, because God alone is glorious then we must become like him. The apex of our glorification will be when we see Christ for “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2). This becoming like Christ starts now as we reflect what we behold of him in the Gospel and it will be complete when we behold him fully after the resurrection. We are being sanctified by degrees as we behold with unveiled face the glory of God in the Gospel (II Cor 3:18).

  The next aspect of beholding the glory of God in Christ is also part of our glorification via sanctification. Christ declared that the road is narrow and so sanctification would be joyless were it not for this next aspect which is that….

4.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us see Christ as more beautiful and valuable than anything in this life

    This practical effect of beholding the glory of God in the Gospel is what separates obedience from legalism. This is perhaps one of the greatest proofs of our salvation in this life while we are yet in these corrupt bodies and yet it is the very thing that should set us apart from the world.

    This is one of the intangibles about those that have been called. In spite of our struggles and our battle with sin we press on because we know not with our minds but with our entire being that there is nothing more valuable than Jesus Christ. Those that have beheld the glory of God in Christ do not recoil when they hear hard truths from God’s word or are called to leave comfort for the sake of the Gospel. If they have beheld Christ as more beautiful than anything then they have no problem with him having the preeminent place in all things. When their young ears hear the Gospel preached in a way that glorifies God their hearts soar within them. These are the ones that uphold scripture even if it calls them to a life of suffering. How few I have met who have experienced this! It is a silent gravity within that points you to Christ again and again as the source of all joy. This is what Edwards experienced when he was saved and he puts it well:

I began to have new kind of apprehension and ideas of Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. I had an inward sweet sense of these things…. My mind was greatly engaged… reading and meditating on Christ; and the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation of free grace in him” (Works 16)

And he had:

A real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the Gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends it and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy… but there is a sense of the loveliness of God’s holiness. There is not only speculative judging that God is gracious, but a sense of how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute.” (Works 17)

5.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us long for heaven

   Finally in this short writing is the fact that those that have beheld the glory of God in Christ long to behold it more fully, namely face-to-face. Those that are beholding the glory of Christ feel less and less attached to their life here and more focused on things that are eternal, which also plays a role in their sanctification. The Puritan preacher, John Owen, in his work The Glory of Christ says, “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight in heaven who does not, in some measure, behold it by faith in this world…. Many will say with confidence that they desire to be with Christ and behold his glory. But when asked, they can give no reason for this desire, except that it would be better than going to hell…. So it is only as we behold the glory of Christ by faith here in this world that our hearts will be drawn more and more to Christ and to the full enjoyment of the sight of his glory hereafter.”

   Paul had beheld the glory of Christ and this is why he could truly say that it is far better to depart and be with Christ (Phil 1:23). If that is not our ultimate desire then we should tremble and ponder if we have ever had our eyes enlightened. Is what we think we have seen really that beautiful priceless pearl which is the glory of God?

   I have been encouraged greatly to meditate on these things. It causes an unsurpassed joy and excitement to well up in me. I am poor, needy and so full of sin and self, but I have seen something that is worth everything! I have not seen it in my own wisdom or intelligence but because God according to his glorious mercy looked into the inky blackness of my heart and said “Let there be light!” Now all that I know, amidst my brokenness, is that all I want is to see more of him!

My Feeble Exegesis: The Comfort We Are Comforted By

II Corinthians 1:3-10

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
    For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”

   God is the God of all comfort just as he is the Father of mercies manifest in Christ which was discussed in the last exposition. Just as the death of Christ on the cross was the apex of God’s mercy and the perfect demonstration of a mercy that agreed with God’s character so the resurrected Christ is the perfect manifestation of God’s eternal comfort amidst and following suffering.

  The distinction between this comfort and the comfort of a nice mattress  or easy-chair is that this comfort comes in the midst of suffering and brings relief (vs 4) which is not an immediate escape from suffering (vs 5) but a sure hope that as Christ endured suffering “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2) so also we may be comforted with the hope set before us (vs 9).

  The comfort that we are comforted by amidst our affliction is not an escape from that affliction, but a comfort to endure it (vs 6). Sharing in and not escaping from the same sufferings that Christ suffered (scorn, rejection, torture, and even death) we can have confidence that we will also share in Christ’s comfort, which is our resurrection from the dead and eternal bliss in the presence of His glory. Christ is the source of our comfort because he is proof that God raises the dead (vs 9). Christ is the first-fruits of those that sleep and Paul points out that if Christ is only dead and not risen that we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19, 20).

   Those of us that are in Christ should not expect to share in this comfort without also sharing in his affliction (vs 5). Also, just as the comfort with which we are comforted is not for us to hoard so also our suffering is not for ourselves (vs 4, 6). Our affliction comforts others as they behold and hear of our comfort, which is ultimately our confidence that God raises the dead and will deliver us. This comfort is experienced as we patiently endure suffering. Affliction and comfort go hand in hand. Without the affliction Christ endured there would be no comfort, without the affliction of the Apostles there would have been no comfort conveyed to others throughout the world. The invitation to comfort is an invitation to suffering. It is only by picking up our cross that we may experience resurrection, it is only by losing our life that it may be save it. We do not seek out suffering as the legalistic monastics of old did, for this would defeat the purpose. Just as Christ took on flesh and suffered and was afflicted so that we may be comforted, we comfort others in the same fashion. Our lives as comforted ones should be marked by sharing in the afflictions of Christ so that others may be comforted in their affliction. This is the rondoesque pattern of Christ’s church, suffering but being comforted in order that we may comfort others who are suffering.

   Let us not be afraid to experience the comfort of Christ knowing that it is born of affliction. We dare not think that God has called us to stay held up in a fortress of our own fabrication that we think to be the comfort of God, but let us go outside the gates in order that others may be comforted. May we set our hope and confidence in the God of all comfort, that is that God raises us from the dead (vs 9). Because Christ who was so greatly afflicted is being comforted, so we may hope in the same! Praise be to God for His Son who was the original one to be afflicted in order the we may be comforted and comforted so that we may have a sure comfort that touches us even now in the midst of our affliction.

My Feeble Exegesis: II Corinthians 1:3 ~ Christ: God’s Merciful Offspring

Christ: God’s Merciful Offspring

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort”

  What does it mean for God to be the “Father of mercies…”? There are perhaps manifold facets of this expression, but I think it does us good to examine what it means to be a father, especially in the divine sense. The inspired Apostle could have easily said “the God of mercy” but he does not. The Holy Spirit moved on Paul to call God the Father of mercies putting  God in a special category as he relates to the mercies that he shows to mankind. To examine this passage I would like to observe three things: (1) What does it mean to be  the father of something? (2) If mercies are offspring then how do they relate to their Father? (3) God’s mercy in the flesh.

What does it mean to be the Father of something?

  In a natural sense to be the father of something is to be the source of the seed from which the progeny is formed. The source of a continuous line of descendants that form a family. A father is a source of identity and provision, but ultimately a father is the source of existence.

If mercies are the offspring of God, the how do they relate to their Father?

  The offspring of God will never be something alien to his nature or contradictory or at odds with the other aspects of his nature. The mercies of God can only work in concert with and not against his eternal existence as a God who is holy and just. The offspring of God will be a reflection of his nature and be imprinted with facets of all of his divine attributes. Mercies that would be in rebellion to their father or the opposite who their Father has revealed himself to be would prove to be bastardly. In order for the mercies to be the offspring of God then they must agree with who God has revealed himself to be. They will bear his image.

God’s mercy in flesh

   The problem we then have with God being the Father of mercies to man is that man is by default deserving of wrath, rather than mercy (Romans 1:18; 3:9-18,23). If God is the Father of mercies to fallen man, then those mercies must reflect his nature, essence, and being. If God’s mercy is sheer mercy at odds with his justice then it proves itself not to be progeny of God because it does not display the unbroken DNA of God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. If God sacrificed the attribute of his justice in order to display mercy he would be unrighteousness. His merciful offspring must contain the stamp of all of his divine being with all of its manifold attributes.

  The good news is that God did that. It would seem that it is no accident that side by side are these two statements in the passage we are examining “…the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies….”. Christ the son of God is the son of mercy. In Christ is the sum of all of the mercies that God has shown to man. In Christ God’s mercy is justified, showing the ways of God to be inscrutable and above reproach. For Christ according to Hebrews 1 is the “exact imprint of his (God’s) nature”. Christ is very God of very God. The incarnation and sacrificial, propitiating work of Christ was the only way that God could rightly be the Father of mercies to a fallen mankind. In sending Christ, his offspring, to die for the salvation of man, he showed a mercy that was consistent with his justice and mercy. The only mercy that God could display and remain true to his nature was one that met the demands of his justice and holiness. Christ is God’s merciful offspring. All of the mercies of God are summed in this epitome of God’s nature, Jesus, who lived a perfect life and died a death to meet the demands of death that the law had placed on Adam’s race. The cross is the place where the mercy of God and the justice of God were perfectly displayed to their fullest measure.

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