Sunday, February 28, 2016

What is Worldliness?

Ephesians 2:1–3 (NKJV)
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

For these first three Sundays in Lent, we are addressing our three chief enemies as Christians: the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we are outside of Christ, these forces dominate our lives and compel us to sin. Consequently, God must act to deliver us from their hold. And it is this that He has done in Christ. Listen again to Paul’s words: And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh… The world, the flesh, and the devil are a deadly trio. So what is meant by “the world”?

Unfortunately many Christians throughout history have misconstrued this warning against “the world” as a repudiation of creation itself. Worldliness, in this view, is any attachment to the created order or physical things: marriage, food, beauty, drink, sexuality, technology, etc. To be “heavenly-minded”, therefore, to escape worldliness, is to reject created things. But this is to misconstrue Paul’s understanding of worldliness. After all, Paul reminds Timothy, that “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). The created order is not the problem.

So what is worldliness, then? “Worldliness is,” David Wells has written, “anything that makes righteousness look strange and sin look normal.” It is anything that makes righteousness look strange and sin look normal. The “world”, therefore, is not the created order or mere physicality; the “world” is the collection of assumptions, practices, and desires embraced by our broader community or culture that run contrary to the Word of God. It is the assortment of unbiblical values that strive to have preeminence over God’s values. It consists of ideas, institutions, and vocations that marginalize God and His law.

It is from this “world” that we have been delivered by God’s grace; and it is against this “world” that we are to do battle through the preaching of the Gospel. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds [institutions of the world], casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God [ideas of the world], bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” We are to do battle against “the world.”

But in order to do battle against the “world” out there, we must first do battle against the world “in here.” We must root out unbiblical manners of thinking and acting that characterize us individually and that characterize us as a congregation. We must strive to resemble not the kingdoms of this world but the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And one of the first characteristics of the kingdom of God is humility – a willingness to confess our worldliness. There are many who would come here today and be asked to kneel and confess their sin and worldliness and recoil. “That is strange,” they would say. But in God’s kingdom, kneeling to confess sin is not strange, it is normal. “Worldliness is anything that makes righteousness look strange [like kneeling to confess sin] and sin look normal.” So reminded of our calling to fight against the world, let us kneel and confess that we often fail to do so.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Apostate Children

Note, The gross misconduct of wicked children is the grief and shame of their godly parents. Children should be the joy of their parents; but wicked children are their trouble, sadden their hearts, break their spirits, and make them go mourning from day to day. Children should be an ornament to their parents; but wicked children are their reproach, and are as dead flies in the pot of ointment: but let such children know that, if they repent not, the grief they have caused to their parents, and the damage religion has sustained in its reputation through them, will come into the account and be reckoned for.

Matthew Henry (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 74). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Malevolence of the Devil

Mark 1:12–13 (NKJV)
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

1 Peter 5:8–9 (NKJV)
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

As Christians, God has called us to fight against three primary enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And since we find ourselves on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, continuing to anticipate our remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it is fitting that we look at the third member of this unholy triumvirate – the devil. Last week we considered the power of our flesh; today, the malevolence of the devil.

The devil was and is a created being, an angelic figure, who rebelled against God in the beginning. He was filled with pride and rebelled against the Good Creator, seeking to exalt himself rather than to exalt His Lawful Lord. In this rebellion other angels took part – and they are the demons whom our fathers worshiped in their idolatry. These demons often possessed hapless victims and drove them toward evil and to this day they feast on human suffering and misery. The devil is their leader and prowls about seeking whom he may devour, endeavoring to swallow us up in his own judgment.

It was against this malevolent being that our Lord Jesus waged war during His 40 days in the wilderness, an event that Lent recalls. Jesus did three things in the wilderness that we must remember.

First, Jesus fought against the devil. The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to enter into the lists. He did not go into the wilderness for an extended vacation but to contend with the Evil One. So we are called to imitate Him in this. We too are to “resist the devil” – are to be sober and vigilant; to be on our guard like good soldiers. Why? Because, like Jesus, we are at war with the devil who would like nothing more than to destroy us.

Second, Jesus fought using the Word of God as His weapon. The Word of God was for Jesus (even as for us) the Sword of the Spirit with which He manfully attacked the perversions of the wicked one. You see only occasionally does Satan show himself in lurid displays like demon possession; more commonly he seduces us through sin, temptation, compromise, and mediocrity. He is content to destroy people from behind the scenes. And he accomplishes this chiefly by undermining the integrity of God’s Word and causing us to doubt God’s reliability and goodness. “Has God really said…?” was not only the question he posed to Eve in the garden but also the question he poses to each of us in the moment of temptation. So what is the solution? How do we fight him? By clinging tenaciously and faithfully to the Word of God even as Jesus did. In Peter’s words, we are to “Resist him, steadfast in the faith…” To Satan’s question, “Hath God really said…?” we are to reply like Jesus, “Thus it is written…”

Finally, we must never forget that Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was but the prelude to the great contest between Jesus and the devil on the cross. The wilderness anticipated the cross even as Lent paves the way for Good Friday and Easter. On the cross, Satan believed he had achieved his greatest victory; in fact, however, it was his ultimate defeat. Paul writes that Jesus has taken away “the handwriting of requirements which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers [Satan and his minions], He made a public spectacle [a laughingstock] of them, triumphing over them in [the cross]” (Col 2:14-15). Hence, though Satan remains a bitter foe, we must never forget that he is a defeated foe. Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.

As we continue anticipating the coming arrival of Good Friday and Easter, therefore, let us (like our Lord Jesus) enter boldly into the lists and fight bravely against the wiles of the devil. And reminded of our call to fight, let us begin by confessing that far too often we have given way to our enemy. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Seriousness of Sin

1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 (NKJV)
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as [our fathers] also lusted… 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. As I mentioned in my newsletter this week, Lent is a period of preparation like the season of Advent. It is time to anticipate the arrival of Easter and the glorious good news of new life as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection. As the historic acclamation declares, Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ shall come again.

So let us consider in the next few weeks what focusing on Christ’s death and resurrection teaches us. First, Lent serves as a reminder of the true severity of our sin and the reason for Jesus’ death on the cross. While we often treat our sin with a breezy familiarity, Jesus’ death on the cross forces us to reckon with its true gravity and pervasiveness. We simply cannot save ourselves but stand ever in need of Christ – in need of His substitutionary death on the cross for forgiveness and in need of His resurrection power for obedience.

This week for my OT Bible reading I was in the book of Numbers. Because of their sin and unbelief, our fathers were doomed to wander 40 years in the wilderness. While wandering, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram compounded this sin by organizing a mass demonstration against Moses and Aaron. They complained that Moses wasn’t being sufficiently democratic; that they should be able to perform the same duties as the priests. “You take too much upon yourselves,” they complained, “for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Haven’t you ever heard of the priesthood of all believers, Moses? God didn’t look kindly on their protest and judged their rebellion, commanding the earth to swallow some of them alive and consuming others with fire.

One would think that our fathers’ response to God’s visible and powerful judgment would be contrition and repentance. But not so. “On the next day,” Moses writes, “all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord.’” Rather than acknowledging the real cause of the calamity that had struck them – their persistent and ingrained sin and rebellion against God – our fathers chose to blame Moses and Aaron. “The calamity that struck Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was your fault, Moses and Aaron! You are to blame!” Because of this renewed sin, God acted in judgment once again – plague began to make its way through the camp. So Moses urged Aaron as the high priest to enter into the camp and to burn incense, intervening between God and the sinful people. Aaron listened to Moses, God listened to Aaron, and the plague was stopped.

This story reminds us of two things – two things that Lent was crafted to highlight. First, it reminds us of the ingrained and serious nature of sin. As Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And this sin deserves the wrath and judgment of God for it is an attack on His Lordship and an affront to His holiness. Second, the story reminds us of the mercy which God has displayed in raising up a Great High Priest to stand between Him and His sinful people. Just as Aaron stood between God and Israel, interceding on Israel’s behalf, so Jesus stands between God and us, interceding on our behalf. Jesus stands between God and us, covering the guilt of our sin by His sacrifice and assuring us of God’s blessing rather than His curse. As we sing in the communion hymn:
“You who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great here [in the death of Christ] may view its nature rightly here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load, tis the Son the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”

And so reminded of the seriousness of our sin but also of the greatness of God’s mercy in Christ, let us confess our sins to the Lord – our sins and the sins of our people – and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Value of Discipline

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

Discipline should be a lively topic in our homes. As fathers and mothers we ought always to be reminding our children of the reasons for discipline. And as we explain these things, the text before us today should frequently be on our lips. “Now no chastening [discipline] seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Notice that the author of Hebrews tells us two things about discipline that we can pass on to our children but which we should also be passing on to ourselves. After all, first and foremost this passage concerns the way in which God disicplines us; only by analogy does it discuss an earthly father with his children. What then do we learn about discipline?

First, we learn that discipline is painful. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time it is administered. Its intention is to be painful. And so, you children out there, when your parents get out the rod to spank you or when they give you consequences for your sinful behavior or when they refuse to give you permission to do what you want – don’t expect this discipline to be enjoyable. Hebrews tells us that the whole purpose of the discipline is quite the opposite: it is supposed to be painful. For it is the pain that teaches us to avoid that pattern of behavior in the future; the pain that trains us and fashions us into mature men and women.

Most of us parents are adept at delivering this lesson to our children. But how often do we deliver this message to ourselves? Brothers and sisters, the discipline of the Lord does not seem pleasant at the time. When the Lord puts us through some trial or when the Lord disciplines us for violating His commandments, why is it that we expect things should be jolly? He is sharpening us; disciplining us; chastening us. We expect our children to know what those things mean; so why do we have such a hard time letting it soak in to our own consciousness? No discipline is enjoyable at the moment.

But this is not the only thing we learn about discipline. While discipline is painful, it is not intended to end in pain. The ultimate goal of the Lord’s discipline, as should be the goal of parental discipline, is the cultivation of the peaceful fruit of righteousness in our lives. Our Lord promises to use discipline to make us more lovely, mature, godly people. He is training us unto righteousness.

But note that this righteouness is not an automatic biproduct of discipline. If we are to see the fruit of righteousness in our lives then we must, in the words of our text, be trained by the discipline. In other words, we must take the discipline to heart and learn from it. We must not harden ourselves to the discpline; must not complain that we have been treated ill; must not kick against the goads. Rather we must bow the knee before our Lord and learn the lesson.

And so, children, how are you responding to the discipline of the Lord through your parents? Are you bowing the knee? Are you acknowledging the authorities that God has placed over you and submitting yourself to them? Does discipline produce in you the peaceful fruit of righteousness? Or is it instead producing anger, resentment, bitterness, complaining, grumbling, or depression? And what of us adults? How are we responding to the discipline of the Lord? Does discipline produce in us the peaceful fruit of righteousness? Or does it instead produce anger, resentment, bitterness, complaining, grumbling, or depression?

As we come into our Father’s presence this morning let us kneel and confess that often we have not received His discipline as we ought.