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Posts Tagged ‘godliness’

Good works, anyone?

We recognize that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are central and essential to our salvation. Were Christ not made sin in our stead, the wrath of God would justly come upon us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Were Christ not resurrected, we would remain in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17). The resurrection reveals that the death of Christ was sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath.

The death of Christ, though, not only affects our standing with God. It also affects our living in the world. In Titus 2:14, Paul makes this declaration: “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” [ESV].

Paul writes that Christ “gave himself for us,” revealing that his death was “voluntary, exhaustive, and substitutionary,” as D. Edmond Hiebert points out. Christ’s death was voluntary in that he lay down his life (John 10:18), exhaustive in that he gave of himself completely (John 6:51), and substitutionary in that he died in the place of believers (Galatians 1:4). Christ came to earth “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Paul presents a two-fold purpose for the death of Christ in Titus 2:14. The first purpose is negative: “to redeem us from all lawlessness.” Sinners are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), being in rebellion to the law of God. Christ has delivered those who believe in him from that slavery, having freed them to be able to live unto righteousness. Stephen Charnock [1628-1680] maintains, “All our works before repentance are dead works (Hebrews 6:1). And these works have no true beauty in them, with whatsoever gloss they may appear to a natural eye. A dead body may have something of the features and beauty of a living, but it is but the beauty of a carcass, not of a man. . . . Since man, therefore, is spiritually dead, he cannot perform a living service. As a natural death causes incapacitate for natural actions, so a spiritual death must incapacitate for spiritual actions.”

Paul writes to Titus that the second purpose for the death of Christ is positive: “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Those who are redeemed have been freed from the guilt of sin and are thereby the unique people of Christ. Concerning the Greek word which is translated as his own possession in the ESV, William Barclay writes, “It means reserved for; and it was specially used for that part of the spoils of a battle or a campaign which the king who had conquered set apart specially for himself. Through the work of Jesus Christ, the Christian becomes fit to be the special possession of God.” God has saved us primarily for his purpose, not for our pleasure.

As “his own possession,” Christians do not grudgingly perform good works out of a sense of obligation or coercion; they zealously perform good works because they are now God’s own possession. Peter understood this distinctive relationship between Christ and believers and between belief and good works: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Likewise, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

It is not that we lead godly lives because we are supposed to do so and we grudgingly comply. We have been liberated by the death of Christ from the power of sin and are now able to do what before we could not have done. As followers of our crucified and resurrected Lord, may our lives be characterized as being “zealous for good works.”

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This video by Paul Washer accurately, yet sadly, reveals what goes on in far too many, if not the majority, of churches in the United States. Washer is right in saying that there are godly people in such churches who want to learn truth and lead godly lives. Many of these people remain in carnal churches in hope of turning things around. Rarely does that happen. Should true believers remain in carnal churches?

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At its most basic level, life is lived according to what gives one the most pleasure. Credit card companies certainly realize this. I once received within a credit card statement three perforated checks on a sheet with the heading “It’s Nice to Have Options.”

Isn’t it nice to know that your credit card company is so concerned about your happiness? On the page with the perforated checks, just waiting for my use, I am assured that “your account makes things possible!” By the way, why do they always use exclamation marks? I guess I’m supposed to be excited. I’m encouraged to “imagine the plans you’ve been dreaming about coming true,” such as “vacation getaway, home improvements, consolidate debt, pay college tuition, a new deck and grill.” Actually, I’ve been dreaming about cleaning the top of my desk, but I guess they can’t help with that.

Now, I’m not opposed to a vacation getaway (really!), making home improvements, paying college tuition (we’ve done a bit of that), or a new deck and grill. It’s just that those things are not worth borrowing money from my credit card company that has to repaid over months or years at exorbitant rates of interest.They don’t provide enough joy for the monthly pain of payments.

Does that mean that we Christians are a bunch of spoil sports who have no fun? Unfortunately, biblical Christianity is often portrayed as doom and gloom, woe is me, behind every silver lining is a dark cloud. That portrayal, of course, is a mischaracterization. True Christians are the happiest folks on earth. Why? They recognize that their sins had separated them from God. They are amazed that God the Son condescended to become robed with mortal flesh, fulfill the law’s demands, and die upon the cross in the place of believing sinners, taking upon himself their sin and granting to them his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Laura Miller reminds us that our greatest joy is derived not from what money, whether our own or borrowed, will purchase. For the Christian, life must have eternal meaning, and that meaning is found in the eternal, triune God. She notes that “the Westminster Divines [1647] charted the whole of the Shorter Catechism on this question of life’s meaning, beginning with the first principle expounded: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.’ The remainder of the catechism serves as the apologetic [defense] for this answer: The whole of life is found only in God and His Word. These are our boundaries, the recipe for a culture bound to God. If we are in search of a purpose, a meaning for life, that will last longer than the glitter of the latest trinket to catch our eye or the most recent achievement to puff us up, then there is much we have in common with Peter at that moment when he resigned himself to following his Savior—and naught else” (Laura E. Miller, “Life is a Beach,” Tabletalk, vol. 19, no. 11).

Finding one’s greatest joy in God is the secret to contentment, the reason that Paul could write, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).

What is your great joy? Possessions, prestige, accomplishments? Waiting for MasterCard to buy you some happiness? Miller provides this insight: “John Piper notes that ‘God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.’ When we put away the lures and lusts of this life, and cling—even tenuously—to the culture of God defined by His Word, we are able to experience ultimate enjoyment and God is ultimately glorified. . . . ‘If anyone desires to come after Me,’ Christ said, ‘let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’ (Matt. 16:24). There is no room for self-definition in these words, only self-denial and redefinition in the image of God, where we are made to enjoy and glorify Him.”

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More books claiming to contain the secret for helping churches grow and influence their communities are written annually than any pastor has time to scan, much less peruse. I sometimes wonder if we pastors and other church leaders too often look to the latest writing of a church-growth guru than we seek to understand what the Bible itself says about the church.

In the short epistle to Titus, the apostle Paul delineates how the church can successfully fulfill its divine role. He points not to programs and activities but to people and beliefs. He realizes that leaders must be faithful, doctrine must be pure, and living must be godly before methods and projects can be effective.
Paul writes to Titus that it is vital that churches have pastors who meet godly criteria (1:5-9). They must exhibit blamelessness in their family relationships by being morally pure men who lead their homes in a faithful manner. They must demonstrate blamelessness in their relationships toward others by not being self-willed, quick-tempered, given to alcoholic beverages, violent, or greedy for money. Instead, they must be hospitable, promoters of good causes and good people, sober-minded, just, holy, and self-controlled. They must illustrate blamelessness in doctrine by being devoted to God’s Word.

Believers must also recognize the characteristics of false leaders and expose them for what they are (1:10-16). Those who claim to come in the name of Christ and yet are insubordinate, subversive, greedy, disreputable, unsound, defiled, and hypocritical reveal that they are not true men of God.

Christians comprising the local church must behave properly as the people of God in their relationships with each other (2:1-10). Regardless of age, gender, or social status, they must lead godly lives, motivated to do so because of God’s grace, the Lord’s soon return, and his sacrificial death (2:11-15).

They are also to fulfill their role in society as good citizens (3:1-8). They must willingly submit to the laws of the state, unless those laws contradict the laws of God. Christians must treat their fellow citizens with courtesy, honesty, and respect, realizing that at one time they themselves were without Christ, living contrary to God’s will. When believers reflect upon the grace of God in their salvation, they are able to give evidence of that grace in their relationships with their fellow citizens.

The church must be careful, however, to present one voice to the listening world (3:9-11). Those within the church who are guilty of spreading false doctrine and divisive talk must be totally avoided. They are not to be debated; they are to be rejected.

Finally, godly leaders are to recognize some significant principles about their roles within the church (3:12-15). They must realize they are replaceable, must give needed support to faithful ministries, must provide proper leadership by their encouragement and example, and must demonstrate appropriate affection to other believers.

If we endeavor to fulfill God’s role for us as a church, we will follow the lessons learned from Paul’s letter to Titus. These instructions are not to be shunned because they were delivered to another culture during another era. They transcend the centuries of time, the boundaries of geography, the impressions of culture, and the superficiality of yet another method.

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November’s free audio download from Christian Audio is Desiring God by John Piper. In a cultural Christianity that too often sees God as a means to an end, we need to understand that God is the end, and in him alone is true joy.

Insert NOV2009 into the coupon code in order to receive the book free. Enjoy!

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Gene Robinson, homosexual activist and Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, has been tapped to offer a prayer at a Lincoln Memorial inauguration event for president-elect Barack Obama. According to the Associated Press, Robinson said that he would not be using the Bible or offering a Christian prayer.

Concerning the Bible, Robinson said, “While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans.” It seems that the “holiness” and “sacredness” of the text of the Scriptures excludes the stark warnings in both the Old Testament and New Testament which roundly condemn the practice of homosexuality.

Not surprisingly, Robinson will be offering a generic prayer: “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.”

Such a position initially strikes me as sheer nonsense. You would think that a professing Christian who prays would be offering his prayer to the God whom Christians worship.

Then again, perhaps it makes perfect sense for Robinson to be offering a generic prayer to a generic god. Only a Christian would be offering a prayer to the triune God of the Bible. And whatever Gene Robinson is, for all his theological degrees and ecclesiastical position, the one thing he is not is a Christian.

While none of us is without sin, one cannot explicitly condone that which the Scriptures explicitly condemn and be a true follower of the God of that sacred writing. To sin and then confess that one is wrong and seek forgiveness is one thing. To practice an activity which the Bible condemns and yet claim that that practice is not a sin but is an activity blessed by God is certainly another. Words from Lord Jesus himself should cause all of us to examine our lives: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23 [ESV]).

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The word “discipline” doesn’t create a great deal of joy when it is offered. Kynette and I have close friends in Kentucky who have a son named Jacob. A couple of years ago, Jacob was on a “I hate discipline” kick. “‘Discipline’ is a dirty word,” he would moan. His moaning would evoke my truthful teasing: “‘Discipline’ is a lovely word; it is a beautiful word. We need discipline.”

Fallen nature is generally not in love with the idea of discipline, especially self-discipline. We may not mind, indeed, we may even applaud, the disciplining of others. We can probably wax eloquent on the need for others to exercise self-discipline in areas of their lives. After all, we all know somebody who needs to back away from the table a little sooner, who needs to stay out of the mall or viewing the Home Shopping Network channel on TV, who needs to work more (or perhaps work less), or who needs to do more or less in some area in which they’re not measuring up to our standards.

Really, aren’t we really being quite spiritual in desiring others to be more self-disciplined?

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.

Yes, “discipline” is a beautiful word for others, but we’re really like our young friend Jacob when it comes to discipline in our own lives. We desire comfort, pleasure, and taking it easy. “‘Discipline’ is a dirty word,” we moan.

Political candidates appeal to this “discipline is a dirty word” mindset when they run for legislative office. Americans have become a self-satisfied and soft people who disdain the practice of self-discipline and responsibility. Did people take out a mortgage that they’re unable to pay? Not to worry—the government will take care of you. Did a woman have sexual intimacy outside of marriage and now finds herself having conceived a child? No problem—our nation has legislated unborn baby killing on demand (if my words sound too harsh to delicate ears, consider how harsh the saline solution is to the unborn child).

Unfortunately, professing Christians fare little better when it comes to the concept of discipline. We want a Christianity which really requires little of us that contradicts our inclinations. We’re all for reading our Bibles, praying, evangelism, corporate Bible study and worship—when we’re inclined to do it. We wonder why our progress in the faith is so slow and why our thinking is so worldly.

The problem is that our inclinations are controlled by our flesh, and we know that our flesh does not yearn for the things of God. Our inclination is to turn on the television or pick up a novel. Our inclination is to sleep in on Sunday morning, or at least sleep during the sermon.

The Bible, though, puts a heavy emphasis upon discipline, especially the discipline of ourselves. Paul understood this well and recognized the necessity of self-discipline in his own life: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27, ESV). Our Lord insisted that self-discipline is the necessary mindset for his disciples: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23, ESV).

Far from being a “dirty” word, discipline is a necessity. It is a necessity to be Christ’s disciple; it is a necessity if we are to grow in godliness.

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