The Pursuit of Holiness

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2010 by Todd M.

A few years ago, a movie came out called “The Pursuit of Happyness”. The premise of that movie was all about a man seeking after success and the American Dream. Will Smith’s character struggled, and fought, and sacrificed much, all to gain what the world deems as “true happiness”. As I watched that movie, it was easy to get wrapped up into this plot and into this character and exalt this man for all he was willing to do for the sake of happiness and success. After all, it didn’t come easy; he indeed had to pursue it, but  nothing got in the way of his pursuit and his dreams. It was a heart-warming, inspiring, and motivating way to give people confidence to never let anything stand in the way of their true desires. And yet as I watched, I couldn’t help think about 1 John 2:17, “The world and its desires pass away, but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

My study has brought me to Hebrews chapter 12. The lessons I’ve gleaned from this Hebrews study have been many (focusing on Christ, running for the prize, strengthening the hope of my eternal security found in the power and promise of God, walking by faith, and now pursuing after holiness).

The holiness referenced here in verse 12, “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” is not the holiness that we receive when we’re born again into Christ. That holiness is apart from any doing on our own; Christ alone paid it all with His death on the cross. When He stated “It is accomplished” on the cross; it indeed was. God’s righteous demand for citizenship in Heaven and His wrath for the sins of mankind were satisfied once and for all, so that those who come to Christ and trust in Him as Lord and Savior will find reconciliation with God forever. And yes, apart from that holiness, we also will never see the Lord.

However, the aim of the writer of Hebrews has always been on maturing our faith, not reaffirming it. The holiness he is referring to in this chapter is practical holiness. And this isn’t a new theme in this book. He’s already stated in previous chapters, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”, and “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” He wants us to take the knowledge we’ve ALREADY been given, and now use it to run the race that we’re currently in. Let me see if I can explain myself further to make sense of this.

Righteousness; we couldn’t attain it on our own. Holiness; we couldn’t achieve it on our own. God knew this. So, His standard for perfection must be thrown out of the window if we don’t have Christ. Ah, but we DO have Christ. And therefore, God’s standard is wholly met. No more righteousness or holiness can be attained to satisfy God’s standard. Jesus Christ is our righteous/holy sacrifice, not our merits or doings on this earth. Those merits and doings are stained with sin; Christ is not. So it begs the question, where could practical holiness fit in the equation? If Christ is our holiness before God, why and how should a Christian live holy while on this earth? That is a very broad question I fear, but maybe I can lay it out for you the way it makes sense to me.

Because of Christ, those who trust in Him are declared holy. Are we holy? Absolutely not. But Christ is and we’re associated with Him. God’s promise is that we’ll receive the holiness of Christ and our sins will no longer be held against us. So now that we are associated with Christ, we should live like we are holy; or live like Christ. Not for the reason of gaining holiness (we have it already through Christ), but because we now have the freedom and the power to; and because holy living pleases God. Do we gain anything extra by living holy? No, we get what is promised to us through Christ; a pardon for our sins and an eternity with God forever in Paradise. So why do it? Well this question shouldn’t need an answer honestly, but I know I had to answer it in my own life.

The reason it shouldn’t need an answer is pretty simple, and it’s 2-fold; (1) we should want to, and (2) we will. Why should Christians want to live holy? It’s the only way we can bring honor, glory and thankfulness to our great God for all He’s done for us. If we’re struggling for a desire to do that, we need to search deep and see if we truly have a relationship with God through Christ. The desire to please God comes with Christ. If we don’t have a desire to please God, we don’t have Christ; plain and simple. Christ desired to please and serve God with His entire life and death on earth. To say that we have Christ and yet don’t have a desire to please and serve God is an arrogant lie.

The 2nd reason we should live holy is because we don’t have the choice not to. So many passages from God’s Word point to this truth. Good trees bear good fruit, faith without works is dead, we reap what we sow, and the passage I already referred to in Hebrews 6, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” We HAVE come to share in Christ, not we WILL come to share in Christ. Notice the verb tense in that passage. It’s not saying that our works on earth will eventually earn us eternal life. We already know that it is found in Christ alone. But look at the rest of that verse; “IF we hold firmly till the end.” It means if we endure, if we bear fruit, if we pursue after holiness, we will have proved that we were true children of God’s through Christ. Should the opposite be the case, if we don’t endure through trials, if we don’t bear fruit and if we don’t pursue after holiness, it’s not that we had Christ’s righteousness and lost it; it’s that we never had it. I hope that makes sense. It took me a while to wrap my mind around it. But it perfectly lines up with Hebrews, and it perfectly lines up with the rest of God’s Word. Test it.

So even though we have received righteousness and holiness through Christ, we still must pursue it in our lives. In one of my earlier posts, I talked about the fastest runner in the world still having to compete in the races to receive the reward. It’s the same concept. If we don’t pursue after holiness, we were never in the race to begin with and we will never receive the reward at the end. Now, don’t confuse the facts. We will never attain perfect earthly holiness like Christ. We have a sin nature, Christ did not. But that shouldn’t stop us from going after Christ-likeness. And thanks be to God and the writer of Hebrews for highlighting the fact that once we’re saved, we’re always saved. We can never lose a relationship with God through Christ, that’s God promise and God’s oath according to Hebrews 6:16-20, Matthew 18:12-14, Romans 8:38-39 and Philippians 1:6. (look them up)

So how do we live holy lives? Get to know Christ. If we want to live like Christ, and hopefully we do for the sake of pleasing God, we must have a deep understanding of how Jesus lived while on earth. How did He love? How did He pray? How did He submit to God’s will? How did He seek the lost? How did He resist the devil? How did He endure suffering? These answers are the key to holy living. And we must search the Scriptures to find them. If we do not, we may desire holiness, we may even long for it, but we will never live the lives we were called to live. As the moon has no light of it’s own, it only reflects the glory of the sun, so we have no light of our own, we can only reflect the glory of Christ. It’s not found in rules and regulations, it’s not found in understanding doctrines and theologies, it’s not found in church attendance and song singing, it’s certainly not found in our own strength; it’s only found in Christ.

We also must HATE sin. God hates it, Christ hates it, we must follow suit. If we try to add holiness on while continuing to sin, we simply don’t understand God’s stance on sin. He punished Christ for it on the cross and He will punish forever in Hell those who choose to reject Christ as Lord and Savior. Sin must go to make room for holiness. The more sin we shed, the more room we make for holiness. And then once we shed the sins and weights that are holding us down, we must pursue holiness, it will not come after us.

As the great Charles Spurgeon so eloquently stated, “You will not gain holiness by standing still. Nobody ever grew holy without consenting, desiring, and agonizing to be holy. Sin will grow without sowing, but holiness needs cultivation. Follow it; it will not run after you. You must pursue it with determination, with eagerness, with perseverance, as a hunter pursues his prey. Run after holiness. It will often seem to run away from you, so you must pursue it, and capture it.Make it your deepest desire, because it’s God deepest desire for us (paired with walking by faith).

I am leaving you with some choice passages from God’s Word which relate so perfectly with this topic. Hopefully you’ll be able to see how they relate to what I’ve been saying.

Ephesians 1:4, “For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

1 Peter 1:13-15, ” But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

2 Timothy 1:8b-9, “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…”

Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

2 Peter 3:11-12a, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”

Pursue holiness; it’s the proof of every Christian.

Scripture Apart From the Love of God and Christ

Posted in Uncategorized on April 18, 2010 by Todd M.

How Scripture might look if God’s and Christ’s love was taken out of it…

“For God despised the world, that He refused to give up His one and only Son, that even those who believe in Him, will perish for their sins and spend an eternity in Hell.” –John 3:16

“For the wages of sin is death, and the punishment of God will be eternal damnation for every sinner that ever lived.” Romans 3:23

“Jesus answered, I am the way the truth and the life, but no one will ever come to the Father through Me.” – John 14:6

“For it is by wrath that you have been cursed, through sin – completely by yourself, it is the punishment of God – by detestable works of man, so that man is without excuse.” –Ephesians 2:8-9

“He (Christ), Himself refused to bear our sins in His body on the cross, so that we will live to sin and die in our sin; we will never be healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24

“That even if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that He could save you, you will still be cursed.” – Romans 10:9

“Even if we confess our sins, He is just and will punish us for those sins and condemn us forever for all our unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

“To all who attempt to receive Him, and believe in His name, will still earn the right to be punished forever in the lake of fire.” John 1:12

“Therefore, sinners, I want you to know that Jesus refused to die and forgiveness of sins is impossible.” Acts 12:38

“Therefore, since no one can have a relationship with Christ, all remain dead souls, the new life will never come, and the old will always remain.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God despised you and refused to forgive you or save you.” – Colossians 2:13

“For God appointed us to suffer wrath and to never receive salvation through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:9

“For the grace of God that could have brought us salvation will never appear.” Titus 2:11

“Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, because of your sin, no one will ever see the Kingdom of God.’” – John 3:3

Now read the REAL truth found in those verses!

Christ vs. The Law

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30, 2010 by Todd M.

This topic is a weighty one for me, mostly due to the fact that the better part of my life was spent serving the wrong team. I made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ when I was 5 years old and trusted in Him for salvation for the penalty of my sins. I can recall that day even as I write this, and remember the joy I gained from the hope that was in me even at a young age. However, sadly Christianity became very different over the course of my life. And it wasn’t until the age of 25, that I started to regain that joy I had when I was just a young boy. This post isn’t to highlight my life to any degree, it’s simply to show the work God has done in me and the passion He’s given me to write about this topic.

Somewhere in the race of Christianity, myself being a prime example, it seemed I was falling off the tracks. I don’t think any true Christian would struggle to explain the message of the gospel to anyone. To trust it for salvation, we must have a clear understanding of it. However, for me, it seems my mind and my heart hadn’t had a meeting in quite a while. My mind could reproduce the truth, and yet my heart was beating in a different fashion.

Let’s pause here to first take time to consider Christ and the message of the gospel. Let’s see the wonderful truths in God’s Word…

Step one of the gospel is admission. Admitting we’re sinners. There is no step two unless that hurdle is crossed. In Romans 3:23, it says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And who would need salvation unless there was an admission of sin? If we’re not sinners, who needs Christ? Ah, but we are indeed sinners; great sinners! And sin must be dealt with. Anyone who says that God is too loving to judge the sin of mankind has apparently never read the Word of God. On the day God has appointed it, every sinner will stand before God – Himself, and God will judge sinners severely and permanently in the place designed for Satan and his followers; Hell. Hell is not a punch line or a curse word, it’s an actual place of torment for those who didn’t live by God’s perfect standard of holiness. However, this is where the greatest truth in the history of time takes shape. There’s salvation available! God grants sinners the chance to admit their sin, repent of it, and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. As long as we remain on this earth, that opportunity is available. It doesn’t matter the magnitude or longevity of the sin, God forgives all who come to Christ. But we must come; and we must come with a genuine, repentant heart. We must have complete faith that Christ is the Lord, and that He can and will save us if we fully trust Him. And if we do, we are saved and saved forever, held to God by the power of God for all of eternity. We will never have to pay for our own sins, judgment will never touch us, and much greater than that, we will be in the presence of God forever and ever!

Ah, but one day, just like the gate on Noah’s ark, the opportunity to enter will cease and door will be shut, and it will be shut forever. And then nothing will be left but the rain of judgment for those who didn’t get to God through His gate – found only in His Son, Jesus Christ.

That is the gospel. It is more truth than any truth we’ve ever witnessed. God grants pardon to sinners through the death and resurrection of His perfect, spotless sacrifice. Jesus is the only One who could satisfy the wrath of God’s judgment on sin. Jesus was the only One who ever fully met God’s required standard of perfect holiness. Therefore, “For God so loved the world, that He GAVE His one and only Son, what whoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.” THAT is love! What amazing grace! Undeserving sinners like myself, who place their trust in Christ will not only NOT receive the penalty due to them, but are granted eternal life in God’s paradise where we will reign with God forever and ever. If we haven’t grabbed onto the magnitude of that truth, today is the day. Either to accept it for the first time, or begin to appreciate it with joy and humble thanksgiving.

And because of Christ’s complete humble obedience to the will of God and His sacrifice for sinners, God has exalted Christ to the highest possible position. Hebrews 1:3-4 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs.” Christ could not possibly have been given a higher exaltation. He is seated next to God! God has put everything underneath Christ.

So according to the Word of God, the only way to have a relationship with God and to please God is through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s crystal clear; or at least it should be.

Now enter the law…

Now the law isn’t the foe I think of when I picture the Christian battle. Satan is the one who normally comes to my mind. Well, don’t worry, we’ll get to him. However, the reason the law has become such a mighty foe in our lives is because it appears to be a friend. The law is buddy/buddy with Christians, or so it seems. No one speaks about the dangers of the law, no one prays that the law wouldn’t snatch their attention and focus off of Christ; in fact, the law, seems to be the perfect recipe for living the Christian life. How come? Can we find scripture to back us up in that thinking? I would think so. But the answer is dramatically opposite. The Bible never calls the law evil, but it does say plenty in regards to it.

Let’s begin in Romans 3:20; it’s so blunt. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Wait, through the law we become conscious of sin? I never heard that in a Sunday school lesson. I thought the law was helping me achieve something. It appears in this verse, however, that it basically works as a mirror into the filthy pits of my heart. Well, there must be two laws then. That’s not the law I grew up with. The law I grew up with was doing much for me. The law I knew was indeed declaring me righteous. It told me to go to church, it told me to read my Bible, it told me to stop making fun of my brother and stop hitting my sister, it told me what to watch/what not to watch, it told me what to say, listen to, obey and even when to pray. “The law making me conscious of sin?” Okay, well maybe this verse is isolated or I just misread it.

Let’s look at Galatians 5 for some assistance. Verse 4 says, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Whoa, Paul buddy, ease up there. Did you just hear yourself? Alienated from Christ? That doesn’t make any sense. Again, the law that I knew was teaching me how to please Christ, wasn’t it? It indeed was justifying me. It had to be. I did so much because the of the law. The 10 commandments is where it’s at. If you’re anybody in Christianity, you’re living by the 10 commandments. Why are these verses telling me that the law can’t do anything for me? Is it possible these are true and I’ve been living wrong my entire life?

Let’s get some context here from the very beginning of sin, AKA – “the fall of man”…

When Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, the standard of the law was shattered. What standard is that? God’s standard; perfection. God could not create imperfect beings and He could not accept any sacrifice less than absolute perfection.  And now man brought sin into the world. Sin equals imperfection. Sin is everything that God is not. God is holy and righteous and just and good, and sin is evil.  So God’s standard could no longer be met. Living by the law to absolute perfection was now impossible. Sin made sure of it. So, since then, the law has only had one main job; to show us we’re imperfect. Sure the 10 commandments were great. What a great peek into the mind of God. How wonderful it would be if myself and all humans everywhere could live by the 10 commandments perfectly! What glory and praise we could bring to God. However, such is not the case.

As we all ready looked at, Christ is the only way to be saved and the only way to get to God. Again, I don’t see any true Christian debating that for a second. However, why did Galatians tell me that if I’m trying to be justified by the law, that I’ve been alienated from Christ? Why would God give me the law then? All my life I heard how good the law was. Do this, don’t do that, it was a great system. I thought that’s how God wanted it. But if we go back to Romans 3:20, Paul again tells us that the only job of the law was to make us conscious of sin. Interesting. In fact if we keep reading in Romans 3, verse 28 says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law?” Wow, okay. So what that seems to be saying is, as long as we have faith in Christ, we don’t have to abide by the law? Could that be true? That sounds a lot like heresy to me.

What does this mean? We now serve Christ! This is a good thing! Why would we ever go back to the chains of death that the law offered us? We have been set free! Christ has paid it all! Even though we’re still sinners, God no longer looks at us that way. He now looks at us as having the righteousness of Christ. Unbelievable!

So for the God of all creation to exalt His Son, Jesus Christ to the highest possible position and then for the sinners that Christ died for to attempt to take Him off His throne by attempting to serve the law instead is the saddest and most pathetic thing imaginable. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Colossians 2:20-23, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” In other words, it’s not only sad and pathetic, it’s a mockery to God and Christ!

Why would Christians ever struggle with this? I think we need to highlight two main reasons. First of all, it’s tangible righteousness. When I go to church, and when I read my Bible, and when I pray, and when I tithe, and when I witness, and when I serve,  then I’M the one who did the work, and I can receive the glory for it. But when I do it purely because I desire to love CHRIST for all He’s done for me, then HE receives the glory and that’s called worship. The aforementioned list of things are not wrong at all; in fact those can be great avenues to serve Christ, but if that is the way I measure my righteousness before God, then I am sorely mistaken and I have just tread underfoot the name of Christ. There is no bigger shame imaginable.

And reason two, and I told you we’d get to him, is Satan! Satan is the deceiver, he loves to take away from the glory of Christ. But I don’t often consider Satan using the law as his weapon of choice. When I think of Satan’s tools, I think of sin. Well, Satan tempts me with lust, and greed, and pride, and hatefulness, and apathy, but never would he use something  good as his tool to take away from the glory of Christ. Be cautious Todd, because you may have underestimated your opponent. Satan is not over the top and flashy. Satan is subtle. Many times Satan CAN use outright sin to get people’s eyes off of Christ, but for the Christian who desires to see the name of Christ lifted up, he will often use the subtle tactics that are necessary to get even the focused ones away from where they should be. And what more perfect way than the law? Satan must be one crafty enemy if he can take what should be a mirror to our sinful hearts and make it our spiritual barometer before God.

Well, maybe you’re like me. Maybe you grew up going to church, maybe you grew up in a Christian family with parents in the ministry, maybe you went to a Christian college, and were taught theologies and doctrines and all the trivia of the Bible. Maybe you think this topic isn’t a danger to you. Oh be careful Christian! Allow me to test you quickly. Have you ever had someone ask you how you were doing spiritually, and you immediately thought about how many times or hours you spent in Bible study and prayer that week? That’s the law. Why would that thought ever enter our brains instead of “How am I loving my Lord and Savior?” Because Satan deceived us and made us think that we could please God by adhering to a list of mandates and spiritual chores. “Well, it was a good week, I spent 5 days in Bible study in my “devotions” (sad that the word devotion is now 20 minutes of Bible study and prayer instead of a life long commitment to an actual person). Or perhaps, “It wasn’t a good week at all. I rarely prayed, I didn’t make time to read the Bible and I had lustful thoughts.” We know we’ve gotten off track when Christ doesn’t even come up in conversation when we’re asked about spiritual matters. People, we have been duped! Satan is winning! Christ is who we serve, not a grocery list of do’s and don’ts.  If God were to ask us the same question day by day, He would not check our church attendance, or place a star next to our Bible reading time. He would purely pry open our hearts to see if we had sincere love and devotion to Christ that day and if we lived in humble service to Him. The same way we come to God for salvation is the exact same way we please Him every day; Jesus Christ.

But so often I’d rather send my spiritual resume to God; as if He would smile on my attempt to please Him with an imperfect approach to His standard of holiness. And the Apostle Paul wanted us to make real sure that we got that point in our heads when he stated so humbly in Philippians 3:3-11, “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Christian, whenever we think that we can offer God a resume, recall these words of Paul. If the Apostle Paul had all of that to offer God and still considered it a pile of manure compared to knowing and loving Christ, then we should understand that our attempts to do so is beyond futile.

The only two ingredients that God desires from every Christian is faith and love towards His Son, Jesus Christ. If those two things are present in our daily routines, that is a sacrifice acceptable to God; nothing less. Let’s go back to Paul in Colossians 2:6-7, where he says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” What righteous poetry! Paul says it there himself. We were rooted in Christ for salvation – continue to build on Him! Love Christ, thank Christ, serve Christ, trust Christ, get to know Christ, worship Christ, emulate your life after Christ’s! God set it up that way since the beginning of time. Let our love of Christ be our righteous barometer.

Consider it this way, if we find no joy in Christianity, then we’re doing it wrong. Because the one who has Christ and who is loving Christ, will always produce joy. It’s a promise from God. Will it always be easy? No. Will it cause for sacrifice and work? Absolutely. But will it satisfy? Oh yes indeed! Like a cool drink of water on a hot day.

My sister asked me this when discussing this topic with me, and it made sense to me. What are those things in life you do purely because you enjoy doing them? For me it’s sports. I don’t have to summon up the love to watch and play sports. It’s just there. I don’t have to remind myself to be a fan of sports, I do it without thinking. In fact, when other things come into conflict with sports, they often lose out. Why? Because I love sports. It’s natural for me.

So, what is it for you? The same should be said of our relationship with Christ, only to a MUCH higher degree. If we’re struggling to find love for Christ, or to do things for Christ, or to spend time with Christ, we either need to genuinely accept Him for the first time as our Lord and Savior, or we need to consider again what He’s done for us.

What judgment would be waiting for me because of my sin if I didn’t have Christ? Where would I physically be today if it wasn’t for the love of Christ? What fear of death would be chaining my heart if I didn’t have the certainty of salvation due to the love of Christ? We need to reconsider what love must exist for God to become a man, to be rejected by His own people, to be beaten with rods, to be spit at, to be blasphemed, to have a crown of thorns to be shoved into his skull, to have nails pounded through His hands and feet and to be hung on a cross to die, purely to satisfy God’s wrath for our sins. Love so amazing that our minds can’t fully comprehend it.

So what is our response? Live to the standard of the law or live to love Christ? Let me leave you with even more words of the Apostle Paul, found in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Let that be our fuel as long as God allows us time on this earth. There is nothing left to do but love Christ and strive to attain crowns to be able to lay at His feet when we meet Him face to face.

Run Faith, Run!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 16, 2010 by Todd M.

Being a big sports fan, I appreciate when the Apostle Paul and other Biblical writers use sports analogies to help make sense out of the Word of God. They didn’t have all the variety of sports that we do today, but they definitely had races. I bring that into discussion because of the racing metaphors in the Bible that are used to depict the Christian life. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul states “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” I love this passage because Paul uses a clear picture of athletics that would make sense to anyone. If a runner wants to, not only finish a race, but to win it, he must train and train rigorously. If he chooses not to train, even the fastest runner in the world puts himself in a very big danger of, not only not winning the race, but coming up short of the finish line. And if his deepest desire, like most athletes, is to win the prize, he indeed does train. He sacrifices, he denies himself of pleasures, desires and comforts. He works and strains and punishes his body to get the edge up on the competition because he wants that prize. That is exactly the idea of the Christian life. Faith BEGINS at salvation. When a person recognizes their sin and their need for a Savior, and they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, their faith enters the race. I believe sadly, however that many Christians believe that is where faith begins and ends; that somehow salvation is the end of the story and that once we accept Christ, we can go back exactly to the way we were living before salvation. Well the passage in 1 Corinthians says the complete opposite. Paul says that salvation and the Christian life will cost a person much sacrifice and much training. Now we do need to be careful here, because Paul is certainly not teaching a salvation by works at all. In fact, Paul himself says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

It can appear, without study, that somehow these two passages contradict each other. One moment Paul is telling us to beat our bodies for the sake of the prize of salvation, and then tells us that our salvation is purely a gift from God. That in fact, we have absolutely nothing to boast about because we did nothing, except receive it (because even faith itself is a gift from God). So what’s going on here, is Paul changing his story? Not at all. We have to look at the Bible as completely working together, for this to make sense to us. Salvation is indeed by grace through faith alone. No matter how much a person strives to get to God by doing good, they will fall horribly, horribly short of His standard of perfection. Christ had to be our perfect sacrifice and die in our place, for God to consider His wrath for sin, satisfied. So Ephesians 2:8-9 is 100% accurate when it says that we have been saved by faith, and that faith came from God. So then,what does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians when he says that he punishes his body for the sake of attaining the prize of salvation? Well, let me see if I can use a modern day illustration to make sense out of this divine paradox. I’m sure we all have at least heard of Usain Bolt, the Olympic sprinter from Jamaica, who set world records in the Olympic games in Beijing. So let’s use him as an example here. And let’s look forward to the future a little bit to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. As far as I know, Usain Bolt will be competing, and will be the heavily favored sprinter in every race he competes in. He currently holds the title as “World’s Fastest Man”. However, does that mean that since Usain Bolt is so fast and so heavily favored that there is no need for him to even run in the races? Could we just give him all of the gold medals now and save us some time? No, that would be foolish, and frankly an insult to the other competitors. You see, even though Usain Bolt is the odds-on favorite to win every race he will compete in; he still must run. In fact, he must finish every race just like all of the other competitors. Or, let’s say for the sake of the argument that Usain Bolt did begin running the race, and jumped out to a tremendous lead over all of the other runners. If half-way through or even 2 steps before the finish line, Usain Bolt was to stop and walk off the track, guess how many medals he would win….absolutely zero. Why? Because what it takes to win the race is to finish, and to finish first. Usain Bolt just might be the fastest man alive, but if he chooses not to run, or not to finish the race, all of his talents will be worth nothing in the end because he will attain zero medals.

Now let’s bring this back to Christianity. Salvation is the invitation to the race. Before we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God doesn’t count anyone even worthy of running in His race, because in His sovereign will He knows that every competitor will fall horribly short of His finish line; pure holiness. In fact perfect righteousness  is a prerequisite to the race. Unless a person is washed clean of their sins, they can never, ever get to God. And the way that happens is though Jesus Christ alone. John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to them, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one gets to the Father except through me.”

So once we have faith that Christ can indeed save us, God allows us to enter the race; the Christian life. Some people may accept Christ when they’re 5 years old and have an entire lifetime to run the race. Others may accept Christ when they’re 80 years old and have only moments to run the Christian race. The point is however, that if we have Christ, we will run; and run with the goal of winning. Now again, that doesn’t mean that only one person will receive salvation and eternal paradise forever in Heaven with God, but it does mean that we should take the Christian race very seriously. That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

Let’s take this even further, because Paul is not giving recommendations here in 1 Corinthians 9. I want us to look at a few other passages from Scripture, that give clear warning, that indeed not running with this focus and urgency will actually disqualify us and prove that no relationship with Christ actually exists. Let’s look at Hebrews 3:12-24, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” This passage tells us that in fact, turning away from God for good at any point in the race, will prove we were never in the race to begin with. Why? Because of this verse in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” According to Paul here, if God indeed grants faith to someone in Jesus Christ, He will ALWAYS continue that work to completion. Unlike us, God doesn’t do anything halfway. When God starts a work, He always has the means, the faithfulness, the love and the will to complete it. The reason many so-called  “Christians” fall away is that God is not the one who is doing the work. Just like the passage in Hebrews says, if anyone has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God, it means no true relationship, nor true faith ever existed. We were the ones trying to do the work instead of God. Maybe we even “asked God into our hearts” when we were younger, or “said the sinner’s prayer”, or only had head knowledge of Jesus Christ without ever devoting ourselves to Him. Whatever it was, if it doesn’t endure to the end, it will fail us and we will be left with nothing but disqualification from Heaven; and a fiery judgment awaiting us.

You see, belief in God is not enough. Belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is not enough. According to James 2:19. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Even Satan himself believes in God. He knows for a fact that God is the only God of the universe, and he knows for a fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and came to save sinners. But we all know that Satan and his demons are not saved. There must be more than just head knowledge. That is where the Lordship of Jesus Christ comes into play. When we truly accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we must admit to God that we’re sinners, we must know that Christ can and wants to save us from that sin, we must accept Him as the only way to God,  and we must repent of our sins and former lifestyle to make Jesus Christ, Lord of our lives. That means we understand the terms of agreement. If we try and custom make our faith to only salvation, as we’ve been discussing, that faith will fail us in the end. We will eventually turn away from God and He will turn away from us forever. The terms of agreement are cut and dry in the Word of God. Let’s look at another text that will help us. Luke 13:24-27 says, Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ “ Wow, Christ is not mincing words here! He plainly tells us to strive to enter now! Waiting is not an option; you may run out of time. Seeking is not an option; but STRIVING.  Salvation is an extremely serious thing. Strive to enter now! Accept Christ now and turn from your sins while you still can. If we think that we can take a lackadaisical approach to Christianity, we are in for a rude awakening. You can clearly see the distinction here in this passage from Luke. The people who are left out start to plead with Christ and show Him their “works resume.” “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” Or we knew all about you and we went to church and we said a prayer when we were younger. Christ then clearly says, “I do not know you, depart from Me all you workers of evil.” You see, there is so much more to the Christian life than just answers to Bible trivia questions; there has to be a relationship. And according to the Word of God, that relationship is making Jesus Christ our Lord. We don’t get to choose what we want to obey, we don’t get to decide how often we spend time with Christ,  and we certainly don’t get to keep our past sinful lifestyles and desires. When we make Christ our Savior and Lord, it must be genuine and it must be on His terms. Anything less will leave us outside of the gate of Heaven knocking and pleading.

There are so many more passages and parables that we could look to on this topic, but I will single out only three more. The first one is found in Colossians 1:21-23. And it states, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in your mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Paul, once again clearly states that if indeed we have been transformed because of Christ, we will continue and not fall away from what we once believed and accepted. Falling away would be proof positive that we never actually trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. Do not attempt to think that Paul is making a case that we can ever lose our salvation once we’ve accepted it. He is saying that if we do not continue in the faith, if we do not continue to run, if we do not continue to grow and mature in Christ, then we NEVER accepted Christ to begin with. And if we DO continue, then it is Christ doing it through us. But like we said, even though Christ has promised to complete the work He started in us, and had promised us victory through Him when He returns for us, we still must run! Recall the analogy of Usain Bolt. For him to lay in bed all day, for him to eat anything he desires, for him NOT to run in the race would mean that he will never receive the crown he longs for. The same goes for Christians. If you have received Christ….run towards Him! Run as if death were chasing you. Strive to enter through the narrow gate while you still can!

How exactly do we do that? Let’s look at Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” The recipe for successful faith is “looking to Jesus”. Lay aside the sin, lay aside the weights, lay aside the distractions, lay aside anything and everything that is holding you back and look to Jesus! Focus your whole being on Him. And then run! According to this passage, we are not alone. Christ is not only with us every step of the way, He is our forerunner because He already endured the cross. He didn’t give up halfway, He didn’t call it quits when they beat Him and mocked Him and blasphemed Him. If Christ didn’t endure to His death, we’d all be on our way to Hell. We would have absolutely no chance to ever get to God. And in the end, God would unleash His wrath on us for our own sins, and we’d be permanently separated from God forever. Ah, but Christ did endure! Christ did suffer! Christ did run! Christ did finish! And because He did, God raised Him from the dead and Christ now sits at the right hand of God forever. And because Christ was our forerunner, if we look to Him with all of our attention and focus, and if we run to Him with nothing holding us back, we too will finish the race and we too will reign with God forever.

And to wrap things up, let’s look how the Apostle Paul finished his life right before he died. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” What did Paul get for all his efforts? The crown of God’s promise; eternal salvation and righteousness. Was it easy? No. Was it painstaking? Yes. Was he able to serve himself and all his desires? No. Was it well worth it? Oh yes indeed, because Paul is now with his Savior, Lord and God forever and ever.

So what lesson do we gain from all of this?

Lay aside the deceitfulness of sin, the distractions of this world, look to Jesus and run, faith run!

The Fragility of our Tent – The Stability of our Building – the Strength of our Desire

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 11, 2009 by Todd M.

My post today comes from one of my absolute favorite chapters in the entire Bible; 2 Corinthians 5. More specifically the first 11 verses. The Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth for the 2nd time, and in chapter 5 he is very candid with them as he has been throughout both of his letters to this wayward church. In verse 1, Paul contrasts the temporary status of our earthly bodies and time on this earth, with the eternal status of our heavenly inheritance. He uses a metaphor to help it make sense to us. “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  He compares our earthly bodies to tents. And that makes a lot of sense, because Paul was a tent maker. That was his trade. He was first and foremost defined by Christ, but he provided for himself by making tents. So what better metaphor to explain his point than what Paul did for many hours a week. And if any of us have ever been camping, we know what Paul is talking about here. I, or Paul don’t have to tell anyone that tents are fragile, even the good ones. It doesn’t take much to make them collapse. One big gust of wind, one branch from a tree, and the entire structure can come falling down. That’s what Paul is comparing our earthly lives to. How come? Is he just using hyperbole to make a point, or are our bodies really that fragile? I was just at a funeral the other day. My wife’s grandfather just passed away at the age of 81 from cancer. I looked at his body in the casket and thought about this passage. All I was looking at was a man’s tent; his earthly shell. It wasn’t him, his Spirit was in Heaven with Christ. And it got me thinking…a couple months ago this man was healthy. The cancer had attacked his body with force and quickness and in a matter of a couple months, he passed away. Well the man was 81 years old, he had lived a good long life. However, it made me think of the fragility of our lives. What’s to say that couldn’t be in that casket, or you? What is keeping us from getting cancer, being in a car-wreck, having a heart-attack? If you understand the human life to any degree, you know that it’s here one moment and gone the next. I’m sure every one of us have experienced death at some point in our lives. And according to Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” We all have an appointment with death. It’s coming. It may be closer than we think. Should that cause us to worry? Not unless you’re an unbeliever. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation from your sins, you have every right to worry, because you will have to pay for your own sins someday when you stand before God in judgment. And according to Romans, the penalty for our sins is eternal death in the lake of fire. But that can be taken care of today. We can call upon the name of Christ, admit we’re a sinner, repent of our sins and turn to Him, and accept His free gift of salvation through faith. If death were to come upon us suddenly today, if we’ve made that decision, we know for a fact that we will not have to pay for our sins but spend an eternity in Heaven with Christ. What a hope! But the Word of God promises that everyone will pass away. It may be when we’re 81, it may be when we’re 21, we have no way of knowing. So we had better prepare as if it were a certainty; because it is.

Now let’s look at the 2nd part of verse 1 which talks about our Heavenly inheritance through Christ, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Paul now compares our Heavenly inheritance to a building. Again, I don’t have to tell anyone how stable a building is in contrast to a tent. Even the buildings in Paul’s day were vastly more stable than any tent that is sold in today’s market. And that is what eternity is to every believer. Just as fragile as a tent is and as guaranteed as death is to every human being, we have something much more secure and stable waiting for us. For any of you that may have ever wanted to go camping so bad when you were young that you decided to talk your parents into setting your tent up in the back yard, you for sure can picture this in your mind. Imagine being in that tent, roasting marshmallows over a candle, telling ghost-stories, sitting on rocks that protrude through the tent floor and having a great time; until a storm comes. It starts off as a drizzle and then proceeds to get ugly. The wind picks up, the rain starts to pound and suddenly you’re not having that much fun in that tent anymore. In fact you’re worried about the strength of it holding up under such pressure. But then you remember you’re house, that building just on the other side of the lawn. Oh how sweet that feeling is to look over and see it standing there so secure and safe. So you pack up everything in the tent you don’t want to get ruined and you head towards the safety of that building that you call home. Well what a perfect glimpse of Heaven and Earth. Our earthly bodies are extremely weak and fragile and once a storm hits us, it may be the last time we reside in that tent. But if we’re believers in Christ, how sweet the assurance of that Heavenly building that awaits us. It’s created by God, provided by God and protected by God. Nothing will ever rock or shake the foundation of that building. It is the most secure thing we could ever imagine. According to 1 Peter 1:4-5, Heaven is referred to as “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” That building we have waiting for us is built on the foundation of faith through Jesus Christ. It’s like a house built on cement; firm and secure.

So what? So our earthly bodies are as fragile as tents and our heavenly inheritance is as secure as a building. What should that do for us? How should that cause us to react? Well let’s keep looking at 2 Corinthians 5. In verse 7 it says, “For we walk by faith and not by sight.” And then in verses 9-10 it says, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to the Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Paul makes sure he gives us plenty of things that those 2 previous facts should cause us to do. The head knowledge that our earthly bodies are fragile and temporal, and that our heavenly inheritance is secure and eternal isn’t good enough. It MUST strengthen our desire for Christ.

The only reason we have the hope that we do is because it was purchased for us with a very expensive cost; the death of Christ on the cross for the sins of mankind. If we trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, we must continue in the work that was started and make Him Lord of our lives as well as our Savior. If we don’t, we act as if His death was in vain. And we know it wasn’t. So what does it mean to make Him Lord of our lives? Exactly what it says in 2 Corinthians 5. That we make it our aim to be well pleasing to Him. That is why we were created, that is why we breathe, that is why we have any time remaining on this earth. If we choose not to live for Christ after accepting the free gift of salvation, we are a people to be pitied. You see when God created the world and created man, He did it for one specific purpose; to bring glory to Himself. However because of sin, that plan was temporarily thwarted. But insert Jesus Christ. Christ’s death not only purchased our souls out of eternal damnation, it also allows us to once again have a relationship with God and to be able to accomplish the one distinct purpose we were created for; to bring glory to God. Unbelievers cannot claim that. Sin is still blocking access to God, and no one without access and no one with the stain of sin is of any worth to God. The only thing that allows us to be able to please God, is the sacrifice of His perfect and holy Son on the cross so that His creatures could once again bring a stain-free, unblemished sacrifice to God. Thank you Christ!! And those acts that we do to please Christ, after we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, will last for all eternity.

Let me end this post with an analogy to help us consider this passage. Let’s say that our house is on fire and we are in the house at the time.  (according to verse 1 of 2 Corinthians 5, that is exactly the case. Our tents are dissolving.) So we smell the fire, maybe even see the fire down the hall and what do we do? We get out! Right? Well a wise person does. But a person who lives in contrary to this passage does nothing of the sort. They remain in the house until the fire gets to their room, in fact they get nice and comfortable as if they have no idea that at some point the fire will reach them. What would we call such a person? A fool! A person that knows that the house is burning will do whatever they must to get out; even if that means they jump out of a window, because the result would be much worse staying in the house. But let’s take it to an even more foolish level, because many Christians do. Not only do we NOT leave the house and instead get nice and comfortable, but we begin to move more and more possessions into that burning house. Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? Well, many people (even Christians) live in such a manner. They can hear the Word of God on this topic, know in their heads that their tents are fragile, that their house is on fire and that at some point death will occur. But instead of getting out of the house (salvation in Christ) and instead of moving all their possessions into a more secure location (acts of service to please God through Christ), they remain in the dissolving tent with all their earthly possessions that are about to burn and they start moving more and more into the house. That is the definition of a fool.

We MUST act as if we know our tents will be destroyed, we MUST trust in Christ for salvation and have an eternal building waiting for us, and we MUST move all our possessions from the tent into the building. How do we do that? Live for Christ and not for us. Everything we do that isn’t for Christ, will dissolve like our tents. But everything we do for Christ, will be moved by God into that secure building where they will last forever and ever with our heavenly bodies and our Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.