Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Fruit of Joy

Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

One of our distinctives as a congregation is what we have labeled Sunny Calvinism. What do we mean by the label? Just this – Calvinism, rightly understood, is nothing but the declaration, as Spurgeon once said, that salvation is of the Lord.

Salvation – the glorious glad tidings that though we rebelled against our Creator and brought upon ourselves and all creation ruin and destruction, God acted to deliver us from our folly and rescue all creation from the darkness of death. He sent His Son to bear the punishment for our sin; He raised up His Son victorious over the grave; He gave His Son, as the Exalted Ruler over all creation, the right to pour out the Spirit and renew the face of the earth. What we could not do, weak as we were, God did.

But there’s more. After all, for all these glorious things to apply to us individually something more must happen. God doesn’t just set up some mechanism of salvation and then say to us – OK, put the coin in the slot and pull the lever and make it work. No! Salvation – the renewal of all creation and the renewal of each of us individually – is of the Lord. Each of us by nature is a child of wrath, devoted to the service of other gods, selfish, self-centered, worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. We are, as Paul announces, dead in our trespasses and sins – unable to rescue ourselves from our folly, unwilling to turn from our sin and embrace Christ. Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection to the right hand of God – neither would benefit us if not for the illumination of the Spirit. God must make us willing to turn from our sin and turn to Jesus. So if you are in Jesus, if you believe in Him and rest on Him for forgiveness and newness of life, then God has done this for you. Though you were stubbornly set against God by nature, by grace He has given you new life.

So what ought to be our response? Joy! Rejoicing! Delight! Sunny Calvinism. The fruit of the Spirit is joy. God has rescued us; God has done that which we were not able to do for ourselves; so how can we be anything but joyful?

And not only this – not only has God rescued and redeemed us – we know that our Sovereign Lo rd governs all things and holds us and all things in His hands. Whatever the Lord pleases he does – in heaven and on earth, in the seas and in all deeps. He is sovereign. Salvation is of the Lord – the One who holds us in His hand and whose purposes none can thwart. God is on our side, not one hair falls from our head apart from our Father determination - so ought we not to be joyful?

But often rather than reflecting such joy – joy that we have been redeemed, joy that God has us right where He has us for some good purpose – we grumble, complain, grow sour, live anxiously. So let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Our God and Father,

You have been good and kind. Not only did you Create us in your own image but you Redeemed us through sending Your Son as the propitiation for our sins. You give us Your Spirit that we might believe in you, love you, cherish you, worship you. Yet we have responded to your grace with fear, anxiety, worry, grumbling, complaint rather than with joy and thankfulness. Forgive us and bring forth the fruit of joy in our lives. Through Christ our Lord,


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Fruit of Love

Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

In listing the various fruits of the Spirit, Paul begins appropriately with love. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest of the commandments, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is the greatest virtue, the virtue which gives to other actions their worth.

Paul writes in 1 Cor 13:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NKJV)

Paul reminds us that neither remarkable spiritual experiences, nor religious achievements, nor doctrinal exactitude, nor intellectual brilliance, nor even great faith are of any value absent love. Love gives to these actions and experiences their worth; absent love they are absent virtue.

So what does it mean to love? Paul explains:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, NKJV)

Paul looked to Christ and in the face of Christ beheld love on display -  a love that considered not its own interest but gave itself in the interest of others. And it is this love that Paul describes; this love that He holds out for us. The fruit of the Spirit is love – a love for God and love for neighbor.

The Apostle John warned the Church in Ephesus that she had lost her first love, had become cold and indifferent to the Lord and Master whom she claimed to serve. So what of us? Are we driven by love? Consumed by love? Overcome with love for God and for neighbor? If not then we, like the Ephesians, need to remember from whence we have fallen and do the first works. So let us kneel and confess that we are often loveless people.

Our God and Father,

You have loved us with an everlasting love and underneath are the everlasting arms. You have cared for us and cherished us; you have watched over and protected us. You have provided food for our sustenance; clothes for our covering; homes for our shelter; family for our warmth; church for our growth. Yet too often we respond to your love with indifference and coldness. Forgive us, O Lord, and renew within us a right spirit: grant us a passionate love for you and for our neighbor, through Christ our Lord,


Friday, June 15, 2012

Calvin on the Necessity of Corporate Worship

"Many are led either by pride, dislike, or rivalry to the conviction that they can profit enough from private reading and meditation; hence they despise public assemblies and deem preaching superfluous. But, since they do their utmost to sever or break the sacred bond of unity, no one escapes the just penalty of this unholy separation without bewitching himself with pestilent errors and foulest delusions. In order, then, that pure simplicity of faith may flourish among us, let us not be reluctant to use this exercise of religion which God, by ordaining it, has shown us to be necessary and highly approved." John Calvin, Institues of the Christian Religion, IV.1.v.

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

This morning we begin a series of exhortations on the fruit of the Spirit. And today Paul reminds us that the virtues that we long to possess as the people of God and that, even as fallen human beings, we often admire and treasure are the fruit of God’s Spirit. He is the One who must grow these virtues in our midst. Because of our rebellion against God in our father Adam, we all are disposed to twist and corrupt the good gifts which God has freely given to us. We twist craftsmanship and artistry and we make an idol to worship; we twist sexuality and passion and we indulge in lust and fornication; we twist wisdom and ability and we become proud and arrogant.

It was precisely because of this rebellion against God, this inability on our own to produce the virtues that please God and that create true community, that Christ came and gave His life for us. He came to rescue us from our sinfulness by His death and to empower us to live righteously by His resurrection. By the resurrection He received authority to pour out the Spirit of God on the people of God. And it is this very Spirit who delivers us from the works of the flesh: hatred, sorrow, strife, impatience, meanness, evil, unfaithfulness, harshness, and impulsiveness. And what do these things look like fleshed out? Paul tells us:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19–21, NKJV)

This is where we are as fallen human beings; this is the rut in which our sinful nature falls again and again; this is where Satan would delight to lead us. And this is a condition from which we cannot rescue ourselves. We are sinners and sin is what we do. But thanks be to God that Jesus gave His life to accomplish our forgiveness and rose from the dead so that He might pour out His Spirit upon us, the Spirit who redeems us from our fallen nature and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to God. That which we could not do, weak as we were in the flesh, God did by sending His own Son.

Knowing, therefore, that we could not save ourselves and that it is Christ who saved us and who continues to empower us, by His Spirit, to live lives that please the Father, how foolish is it of us to begin thinking and acting as though it is by our own strength that we will please God? By reminding us that these virtues are the fruit of the Spirit, Paul insists that the only way we will be transformed as human beings from sinners into saints is by trusting in Christ and relying upon Him to transform us by the power of His Spirit. It is through Christ that we were forgiven of our sins against God; through Christ that we were set right with God; even so it is through Christ working in us by His Spirit that we will be sanctified, made new creatures who love and practice virtue. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

So listen brethren to the Word of God: rest on Christ; receive His grace; rely on His mercy; be filled with His Spirit; be renewed by His resurrection power; be blessed by His grace. And only having first received then give in turn. Reminded that this is the only way we can please God, let us kneel and confess that we often try to reverse the order. We will have a time of silent confession after which I will pray on behalf of the congregation.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Trinity Sunday

John 4:21-24 (NKJV)
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

On Trinity Sunday for the last few years we have considered the words that Jesus speaks in this text and the way that they help us understand the Trinity. Unfortunately, this text is frequently misinterpreted. It is imagined that Jesus is contrasting the external, formal worship of the OT period with the heartfelt, internal worship of the New. At one time people worshiped externally, now all worship is “in spirit and truth” – that is, heartfelt and genuine.

The difficulty faced by this approach is not the insistence that worship must be heartfelt and genuine. That is most certainly true. The difficulty is that this was no less true in the OT than in the New. David declares in the psalter, “Sacrifice and burnt offering you did not desire, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Heartfelt, genuine worship was to characterize the OT no less than the New.

What then is the change Jesus is anticipating in His words to the Samaritan woman? There are actually two changes. First, Jesus insists that the corporate worship of the people of God would be decentralized. Remember that in the OT God’s people had a central sanctuary located at Jerusalem. Three times a year every male had to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Mount Zion, and worship at the central sanctuary, offering sacrifices, feasting with God’s people, honoring the Lord. The Samaritans, for their part, refused to acknowledge the centrality of Jerusalem but likewise had a central sanctuary at Mount Gerizim. Here the Samaritans had their collective feasts. The woman asks Jesus – You’re a prophet; so which is it? Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim? Jesus responds, “Neither! In the Christian era, during My reign, God’s people are not required to gather for corporate worship at a central sanctuary – whether in Gerizim or Jerusalem or Rome. Rather, wherever the people of God gather together in My Name and lift My Name on high, there is Mount Zion, there is the City of God, there is the central sanctuary.” In other words, Jerusalem in Israel is no longer the center of God’s dealings with man; the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Church is the center.

Second, Jesus informs us that not only would corporate worship be decentralized, it would be explicitly Trinitarian. When Jesus rose from the dead and sent forth His Spirit, the worship of God’s people was forever transformed. It became explicitly Trinitarian – worshiping the Father in Spirit – the very Spirit whom Jesus promised would come and lead His people into all righteousness – and in Truth – the very Truth who took on human flesh and declared to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday the Church has historically emphasized the Triune nature of God. It is this that Jesus does in our text. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is not an exhortation to heartfelt, genuine worship – that exhortation had been given throughout the OT. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is to worship the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it was this transformation that Jesus anticipated and announced to the Samaritan woman. “The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.”

So what does this mean for us? It means that this morning as we gather together to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, as we gather to worship the Triune God, we are approaching the central sanctuary of God, the place where God dwells. Mount Zion is His dwelling place and it is this place to which we draw near every time we gather to worship the Lord together. Hebrews tells us, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven…” (Heb 12:22-23) And, like Isaiah, who entered into the presence of God in the Temple, the first thing that should strike us is our own unworthiness – in ourselves, we are not worthy to be here. And so let us kneel and seek His forgiveness through Christ.