Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Work in Progress that Will be Completed

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
~1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

In the closing of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives them several instructions on how they should live. He provides advice on how they should treat their elders (vv 12-13) as well as each other (vv 14-15). He also commands three things they ought to do in direction to God; Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks (vv 16-18). Notice that these three are categorized as God's will for the believer. So, for those who struggle with what God's will is for you, here is part of your answer. If you are not following these three commands, you will not be where you need to be to hear His guidance for personal areas of where God may be directing you. The last couple of instructions call for examination, holding on to the good, and staying away from evil (vv 19-22).

These are all clear commands for the believer. In fact, 15 of the verbs used in this passage are in the imperative form in Greek, indicating them being used as a command. These instructions pertain to the believer's sanctification. This is the fancy term used to describe the process of the believer progressing towards holiness. It is the process those who are have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are currently involved. In Justification the sinner is declared righteous by the means of their faith in Christ. In Sanctification the sinner is progressively made righteous and in his final Glorification, the believer is presented righteous by Christ before God's throne. Sanctification serves as the bridge God uses to bring the sinner whom He now views as being as righteous as Christ to be perfect in glory where he will no longer be able to sin. Thus, we are a work in progress yet to be completed.

Right after giving this list of instructions, Paul then prays that God would sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v 23). Although he had just given exhortations of what one should do as part of their seeking to live a holy life for God's glory, he asked for God to do the work to aid in the believer's progress. This coupling of an exhortation followed by a promise of God providing and enabling the believer to live it out is common through out Scripture. One of the clearest pictures of this in in Philippians 2:12-13. In v. 12, Paul commands to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Then he gives the reason that we are able to follow this command: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). Therefore, we work only because and on the basis of God's work within us. Paul must have realized that apart from God's grace, we would not be able to heed these admonishments given and progress forward. The truth that these are not easy tasks can be seen in the lack of them being performed and in specifically how we struggle to live them out daily. We need God's daily doses of grace to help us live for Him to bring Him glory. Augustine realized this when he stated in his Confessions, Command what thou wilt, but give what thou command. Thankfully, our sanctification is not in our own hands but God's. Paul held a similar hope for the church of Philippi, For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

This work of God to sanctify entirely led Paul to describe Him as faithful because not only does He bring one to salvation (Paul's typical use of the verb for to call) but He will complete the work He began the day they became born again (He also will bring it to pass). The it refers back to the sanctifying just previously mentioned. Jesus Himself promised that of those who are saved, He will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). In the unbreakable "Golden Chain of Redemption" in Romans 8:29-30, Paul describes those who have been foreknown by God, predestined, called, justified as also glorified which is a future state. Glorified is in the past tense, indicating that in God's mind it has basically already occurred because He fully intends to complete the work He started. The author of Hebrews even describes Jesus in His role of divine priest as For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Perfected is in the past tense while the participle for to sanctify is present tense. This indicates that Christ through His death completes (another possible translation for the Greek verb teliow, defined as "complete, finish, accomplish, bring to its goal, perfect") the one who is currently in the process of being sanctified. Also, the verb is passive, pointing to God as the one who ultimately does the sanctifying of the believer. The passive form of a Greek verb indicates that the subject of the verb receives the action instead of performing it as the active form would signify. God will ensure that the believer will come to the completion of his sanctification in glory. Other Scriptures reveal that He does this through means such as suffering (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:3-9), discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11), and possibly warnings not to stray from the faith (Hebrews 6:4-8).

This should be a major encouragement for us. We are not left in our Christian walk alone. God is with us and will guard, protect, and bring us to glory as we strive forward to serve Him. God does not just pick us up on the side of the road, dead and dirty due to our sins, then give us life and wash us just to hand us a Bible as a roadmap and drop us off on the side of the road saying "I hope to see you in glory." Instead, He not only picks us up off the side of the road but will drive us all the way to glory. So, let us move forward and struggle to live for the glory of God and praise Him for His enablement to do so as well as trusting that He will complete the work He has begun and continues to do in our lives. Praise God that while we are currently a "work in progress," we will be complete due to God's power and grace! May we rely fully and solely on Him to live for Him!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lessons From 9/11

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
~Luke 13:1-5

Today thousands in the nation take time out of their busy schedules to commemorate and remember those who lost their lives in the horrible tragedy which occurred the morning of this day eight years ago. Many of us remember how that day changed the way we thought about the country, our loved ones, and even our lives. Many still are struggling with what they have seen, or with those they have lost in the tragedy. Some lives may never be the same again. While not belittling the victims of the tragedy, I want to look at what those who are still living can learn from this event.

The days following the 9/11 attacks brought several questions. Several of these questions concerned God and His role in the event. People struggled with trying to grasp any reasons God may have allowed or permitted this to happen. Some wondered if the people who went for what they thought would have been a normal day at work deserved to play the victims of such a horrible scenario.

Clearly God was in control of that day and is still in control of our world today. Scripture tells us that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Through Amos God communicates, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? (Amos 3:6) and Jesus says that a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from your Father (Matthew 10:29). Even Satan himself is under the sovereignty of God. Jesus acknowledged to Peter that Satan could not test the disciples' faith without God's allowance. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat (Luke 22:31). Likewise, Satan could not tamper with Job without God's permission and He set clear boundaries where Satan would not be able to trend. In the first meeting with Satan, God agreed to let him test Job but would not allow him to put forth your hand on him (Job 1:12) and the second time God gave Job into his control but would not permit him to kill His righteous servant. Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life (Job 2:6). This is a very comforting truth. Our lives may seem like they are spirling out of control, but the truth is that we are still in God's hands and He is working to bring things to His ultimate purpose. You may be down at your lowest, but we have hope that God IS in control and causing all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even in the worst of times, we have comfort knowing there is a loving and good God in control who has a purpose in the suffering. God was there that day on 9/11 and, even amist the sorrow, several testimonies to His goodness have been proclaimed. His sovereign hand never left the situation!

The second major question the World Trade Center attacks spawned is one which is a common response to every huge natural disaster or catastrophe: "What did this group do to deserve this?" This was seen after the tsunami in India as well as New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Jesus was asked a similar question about 2000 years ago. While speaking to a large crowd, a group informs Jesus about an atrocity which Pilate had committed. The exact situation is unknown to us today but we can infer that it had something to do with a slaughter of Jews during their sacrifices. Not only was this a terrible occurrence, but it took place during worship which made it even more horrendous. Jesus realized right away the question that they had concerning this issue. They thought that this plight was the result of them being greater sinners than all others. However, Jesus sought to turn their perspective completely around.

Instead of agreeing with their assumption, Jesus took the focus off the victims and placed it on the questioners. The reason this group was slaughtered was not because they were greater sinners. The ones who were killed were no more sinners than the ones commenting concerning them. (Note: This does not necessarily mean that the events God permits to occur are punishment for specific sins. John 9 makes it clear that, while a result of the curse of sin, not all infirmities and incidents are due to specific sins.) Those who died in the tsunami, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and with Hurricane Katrina were no more sinners than those of you reading this note as well as the one writing it. We deserved the same! I will never forget a powerful sermon my pastor preached right after the tsunami a few years ago. He told us that the question is not "why them?" but should be "why not us?" We didn't deserve God's mercy to not have the tsunami happen in America, or to not have been in the Pentagon or World Trade Center on that day, as well as having the hurricane wreck havoc on the NorthEast or MidWest. As Scripture tells us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We get so used to God's mercy we have problems when He shows us His wrath.

Jesus actually warns the crowd of an even greater fate, much worse than what happened with Pilate and the later example of the falling of the tower of Siloam. Unless they repent of their sins, they will perish (Luke 13:3,5). This is Jesus' urgent plea to those who are lost in sin. Repentance means a turning from sin. It is the flip side of faith. One turns from sin in repentance and then turns toward Christ by placing their faith in Him. The likewise may refer to the sudden and unexpected death of those in the Temple and at Siloam. Those who went to the Temple that day to offer their sacrifices did not realize that they would not be returning home. The possibility of the tower falling on the group in Siloam probably never occurred to them. Likewise, if the crowd does not turn from their sins and turn to Christ they will suddenly and unexpectedly (to them) experience the punishment for their sins. The author of Hebrews tells us that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

No one is guaranteed of their next heartbeat or breath. If we should learn something from modern headlines, it is that death is no respecter of age. If you have not turned from your sins and placed your faith in the Lord Jesus, then Jesus' plea for repentance is for you. Like those in the Temple and at Siloam, you do not know when the day will come and it will be too late. Many who left for work that morning of 9/11 did not know that they would not leave the building. Several wives did not know that they would not see their husbands again. I am not attempting to scare anyone, I just want to point out reality. For us who are Christians, this is a reminder that life is too short to waste! Let us give out Jesus' plea to those who need to hear it in our families, schools, and at our places of employment!

Praying for those involved with the attacks in any way as well as us who can learn from God's mercy,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!