Growing In Godliness Blog

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Born To Stand Out - Part 2

Friday, June 28, 2024

Born To Stand Out - Part 2

By Tom Rose

To gain further insight into the distinction of being Godly as portrayed in Psalm 1 and what it would 'look like' in real life, consider the true story of an early Christian.  It was the middle of the second century, during the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius. Christianity was illegal, and believers throughout the Roman Empire faced the threat of imprisonment, torture, or death. Persecution was especially intense in southern Europe, where Sanctus, a deacon from Vienna, had been arrested and brought to trial. This young man was repeatedly told to renounce the faith he professed, but his resolve was undeterred. No matter what question he was asked, he always gave the same unchanging answer. According to the ancient church historian, Eusebius, Sanctus "girded himself against [his accusers] with such firmness that he would not even tell his name, or the nation or city to which he belonged, or whether he was bond or free, but answered in the Roman tongue to all their questions, 'I am a Chistian.'" For Sanctus, his whole identity – including his name, citizenship, and social status – was found in Jesus Christ.

This same perspective was shared by countless others in the early church. It fueled their witness, strengthened their resolve, and confounded their opponents. At the moment when life itself was on the line, nothing else mattered besides seeing themselves as His servant. For these faithful persons, the name "Christian" was much more than a general religious designation. It was an entirely new way of thinking – one that had serious implications for how they lived – and ultimately how they died. The label underscored their love for the Savior along with a willingness to follow Him no matter the cost. It displayed the wholesale transformation God had produced in their hearts, and how they had died to their old way of life, having been born spiritually into the family of God.

The conclusion of this psalm as well as this article can be summed up by observing: when we call ourselves Christians, we proclaim to the world that everything about us, including our very self-identity, is found in Jesus Christ. We can choose to stand apart from the world, as "a people for God’s own possession" (1 Pet. 2:9). As people of God, we can deny ourselves in order to follow and obey Him. He is both our Savior and our Sovereign, and our lives should center on totally pleasing Him. Contrary to much current religious thinking, there are no relative or half-measures of a righteous life. Rather, the scriptures (including Ps. 1 :5-6) portray a judgment with no in between points. It will either be "God’s Way" or "No Way At All." One will either prosper or perish.

People frequently ask me why I work so hard on preparing my comments when presiding at the Lord’s Table. I always offer the same answer, "I want people not to observe out of habit or ritual, rather I want them to think about what they’re doing." Today millions of Christians live in a sentimental haze of vague piety. Their religion is a pleasant thing: divorced from the will, divorced from the intellect, and demanding little except lip service to a few platitudes. I suspect that Satan has called off his attempt to convert these people to agnosticism. It’s much safer, from Satan’s point of view, to vaccinate a man with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect him from the real disease!

Some Marks of the Maturing Christian

Friday, May 31, 2024

Some Marks of the Maturing Christian

By Tom Rose

We all know maturity when we see it in everyday life. Some examples would be: a painter efficiently trimming a window with no paint on the glass; a veteran teacher keeping track of individual student skills while instructing a room full of kids; and an experienced mother exuding patience and persistence calming a distraught child. Likewise, God expects all His believers to improve their life and walk as a Christian. Indeed, Paul reminds the Ephesian church that regardless of their role, they are "all to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect* man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). *[Perfect in this context means “fully developed.”]

In her column, the late Ann Landers described maturity as “the ability to do a job whether you’re supervised or not; finish a job once it’s started; carry money without spending it; and last, but not least, the ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.” The writer of the Hebrew letter expressed a similar thought when looking at the lack of spiritual progress among the brethren. "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:12-14).

First, maturity in Christ is a shift from reading the Word to believing and living it. God is not impressed with what we know. How could our feeble efforts to know impress Him who is Omniscience? Rather, it is the degree of our faith and devotion to Him. It is not what we eat, but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we read, but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that makes us Christians. This is the place God has chosen for us: to be obedient servants, and not all-knowing scholars.

Secondly, maturity in Christ is developing your faith beyond rules to relationships. Many Jews in the first century were a devotedly religious people, and their religious activity was “doctrinally sound.” Yet, because they did not know their God and did not seek to know Him, it was all meaningless. God wanted a people who wanted Him. Today, we need to emphasize Jesus as the center of a joyful, fulfilled life (see Gal.2:20).  We need to spend hours, days, and a lifetime of seeking to reach His head in prayer and devotion. To some, Christianity is an argument. To others, it is a performance. But, to those who truly want to find Him, it is the experience of a wonderful relationship with Jesus Christ.

Finally, maturity in Christ is integrating childlike qualities into our adult behavior. Children exhibit an openness when meeting a new person. In about five minutes, they relate like lifetime friends – honest, open, and real with each other. Because children don’t expect too much, they aren’t often disappointed. Eager, enthusiastic, energetic, and playful, they have the ability to make even the most mundane task incredibly exciting and special. Additionally, since children haven’t really learned the meaning of the word “failure,” they possess the desire to “go for it” most of the time. They take risks in life because they intuitively know that to risk is to learn and to grow. Moreover, children seem to realize that happiness is an attitude they create. Perhaps that’s why children often act silly or cheery and frequently make jokes. They know how to cultivate a sense of humor that keeps them chronically happy. Lastly, children are filled with unconditional love. Have you noticed how quickly they forget their anger and forgive others, letting go of grudges? Children accept you totally for your good points, and your not-so-good points. Most children are prepared to accept people as people, even if offended or hurt, as they will come back to forgive and love over and over again. Our Lord’s words, "Let the little children come to Me, ...for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mk. 10:14), reminds us of the importance of becoming like children.

In closing, consider that a standard piano keyboard has 88 keys. The same keys can be used to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto, No. 2 in C minor. It just depends upon the time and effort one takes to mature their skill at the piano. The same is true for a maturing child of God. Unfortunately, the religious convictions of many people are but thinly veiled rationalizations for their conduct, rather than a transforming influence upon it.” The aged and worn apostle Paul, taking stock of his own maturity, told the Philippians, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12-14).

Getting Back to the Basics of Being a Christian

Monday, January 23, 2023

Getting Back to the Basics of Being a Christian

By Gary Watson

As a teacher I long ago learned that youngsters cannot learn without knowing some basics such as reading, writing, math computation, etc.  Maybe we sometimes forget some basics of pleasing God.

I remember a little sentence which says that what it means to be a Christian is to know that without Christ, I am nothing.  Self examination should prompt us to evaluate whether our lives are something if we are pursuing what it means to please God.

If I am pleasing God, I will do what He wants me to do and be what he wants me to be.  Obviously, I do not deserve salvation for my meritorious works (Ephesians 2:8-10), but if I am trying to please God, I will do His works.

What will a faithful Christian do?  Here are a few suggestions for us to think about:

1). Spend time in the Word so that I will know what to follow and what not to follow.

  • Psalm 1:1-2:  1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

2). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Communicating with the Father through prayer has many beneficial blessings.  Here is one of many:

  • Matthew 26:41: Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

3). Meet often with Christians.  We should know that attendance alone is not a good work that merits salvation, but there are several reasons that we should meet with fellow Christians.

  • First, it is a command according to Hebrews 10:24-25:  24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
  • In addition to being a command, we also worship God and remember His Son’s death on the first day of the week.  Some might ask, “Well, how often should I assemble?”  That is a works focus rather than a spiritually minded focus.  If the doors are open and you are able, assemble.

4). Let my light shine.

  • Our influence on others should be apparent in our lives.  Here again, how we live does make a difference, for our manner of life should have an influence on others for the right reason.
  • Matt. 5:13-16:  13 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

5). Teach others

  • There are many ways we can teach others: verbal teaching of the Word to those who are willing to listen, inviting others to assemblies, and living a life pleasing to God are a few.

2 Timothy 2:1-2:  1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

6). Love the Brotherhood. 

  • 1 Peter 2:17:  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
  • The apostle John wants us to know this, as written in 1 John 3:14-18.
    14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
  • “There are some simple signs of affection, which - if genuine - are perfectly right and to be encouraged, but do not in themselves fulfill the full measure of brotherly love. To smile and greet your brethren with warmth, courtesy and hospitality. To shake someone's hand or give someone a hug. That kind of attention is certainly acceptable and can be of service in our relationships with each other.
    “But let's not entertain the idea that these gestures somehow complete our obligation. The apostle John is telling us of the extent of brotherly love. Verse 16 requires no spin; it is not written in apocalyptic language. ‘By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’ (1 John 3:16)
    “This is love for the brethren that finds ultimate expression in an act of sacrifice that is exemplified by THE SACRIFICE of all sacrifices. The question needs a lot of thought. I shake hands with my brethren; I greet Christians; I may give someone a hug and to the extent of my ability, I may write a check to help a brother in need. All of that is fine - but I'm not yet to the matter at hand. Would I give my life for the good of my brother in Christ? Let's be clear, John says we ought to! This is not about dying for buildings or even an idea! NO, this is giving yourself, your life, for your brother. That's what it means to love the brotherhood.” (By Warren E. Berkley from Expository Files 14.4; April 2007) 1.

7). Always use pure speech. 

  • God’s Word is full of admonitions about what we say and the way we say it.  James 3:10-12:  10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 1:19-21:  19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

  • Never holding a grudge is an integral part of pure speech and proper attitude.

Eph. 4:31-32:   31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

8). Follow Jesus' example.

  • 1 Peter 2: 21"   For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
  • “Jesus left us the perfect example. He is the perfect "writing copy" we must strive to reproduce in our own life. His sinless perfection is apparent from the couplet quoted from Isaiah 53:9    "Who committed no sin, Nor was guile found in his mouth." While Peter refers especially to Jesus' perfect example of patience in suffering, Isaiah spoke prophetically of the Lord's absolute freedom from sin, as other writers and the history of Jesus' life show. No other human ever lived without sin. Even the most righteous men are examples to others only as they follow Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1). Jesus lived above sin because he had perfect self-control and because he had a perfect consciousness of God, being fully committed to him in all things.” (Earl Kimbrough in Guardian of Truth XXXVIII, No. 22, p. 1, December 1, 1994)

9). Buy the truth.

  • God’s truth is so valuable that we should invest in it heavily.  We should live by God’s truth, study His truth, make application of His truth to our lives.

2 Thess. 2:10-12:   10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Proverbs 23:23:  Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

10). Not resent correction.

  • It is easy to become defensive when others ask us about our actions and words and offer correction.

Hebrews 12:5-11:   5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.  7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Let us strive to be Christians who please God.

Notes:

1.The section quoted in number 6 comes from Expository Files.  Following is a quote on using material from their site: “Feel free to upload EXPOSITORY FILES into local BBS networks. And, if you want your friends and associates to have a copy, regard this as freeware; load it onto a disk and pass it on.”

2.Scripture quotes are from the ESV.

 

Satan's Story

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Satan's Story

By Paul Earnhart

C.S. Lewis, in the preface to his little book, The Screwtape Letters, observed that there were two opposite errors about “devils” into which men could fall. One was to disbelieve in their existence and the other was to have an excessive interest in them. We believe that the wholesome desire to understand what the Bible says about Satan is not to stumble into either of these pitfalls. The following questions will helpfully guide our investigation: Who is Satan? Where did he originate? Why and when did he fall? We begin with the first.

Who or what is Satan? Is he a personal being or merely an idea? The Bible clearly indicates that Satan is a person with an identity, mind, and will of his own. Jesus and the devil confronted and spoke with each other in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 4:1-11). To question the personal nature of the devil is no more possible than to doubt the personal nature of God’s Son.

Yet, if the devil is personal, he is a spiritual rather than a physical being. In Ephesians 6:11-12, Paul urges Christians to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but… against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Mythical “Satans” abound, but there is no biblical evidence that the devil ever manifested himself as a bat-winged, cloven hoofed creature dressed in a red suit and armed with a pitchfork. Like Jesus, his personal appearance is never described, but his spirit and ideas are discussed at length. It is only in the symbolic visions of Revelation that Satan is seen as “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns” (Revelations 12:3, 9). In the same visions, Jesus is portrayed as a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6).

We turn now to the origin of the devil, when and how he came to be. That God created Satan seems clear since He created all things, whether visible or invisible, i.e., whether physical or spiritual (Colossians 1:16). But did He create him as he now is— the rebellious purveyor of all evil? The same question might be asked about men. Solomon says that there is not a righteous man upon the earth that does good and sins not (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Is this how God has made us— to live in hatred, selfishness, and rebellion? The testimony of Genesis is that when God had created the universe and man, He “saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). That it is not so now is evident and it is Solomon again who tells us why: “God made man upright but they have sought out many inventions…” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27), a moral creature with a will free to choose, and urged us to choose the good, the high, the holy. But all since Adam have opted instead for the evil and the impure. God could have created us as biological robots and there would have been no sin in the world, but there would have been no true people either, no love, no goodness, no compassion, no faithfulness— for all things are as surely the product of free will as sin is.

There are beings other than men in the universe who are creatures of free will. They are of a higher order (Hebrews 2:7), entirely spiritual (Ephesians 6:12) and entirely free. Of them Peter writes: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…” (2nd Peter 2:4; see also Jude 6). Some angels, then, like the whole of the human race, have become rebels against God. Could Satan be a fallen angel? Yes, it is possible, even probable, though it is nowhere explicitly stated in the Scripture. His original fall is never described for us. The reference to the fall of “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12 is speaking fo the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4), not the devil. Jesus’ statement in Luke 10:18 has reference to the defeat of Satan’s agents by the power of the Holy Spirit, and Revelation 12:9-11 is speaking of the downfall of Satan brought about by the redemptive blood of God’s Son.

Still, it is evident that at some point (before creation or after) Satan fell by rebellious pride into sin. In Job he not only accuses man of faithlessness, but charges God with stupidity (Job 1:7-11). He has nothing but contempt for both God and man and is our adversary (satan) and accuser (devil) at the very point where we may be reconciled to each other— in Christ and the cross. To prove man unworthy and and God foolish he tempts us to corrupt ourselves (1st Corinthians 7:5; 1st Thessalonians 3:5). In the pursuit of his purposes he has no scruples. Lies and deceit are his long suit (Genesis 3:4; John 8:44). He is consummately selfish. Unlike God, who wishes to bless and enlarge us, Satan desires only to devour us (1st Peter 5:8).

What is the lesson here? Do not take Satan lightly (Jude 9) for he is stronger than we are, but do not be intimidated by him either. He can be decisively routed by any heart which trusts absolutely in God’s power, wisdom, and grace (James 4:6-7; Romans 8:33-34; Revelation 12:10-11; Ephesians 6:10-17).

What Does God Want From Me?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What Does God Want From Me?

By Paul Earnhart                                                                                       

In his little book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge confided that his earliest memory was of walking down the road wearing someone else's hat and wondering who he was. In a real sense, the whole of humanity is walking down that same road, tormented by the same question.  The question is built in; the answer is not.

In order to be whole we need to know who we are and what is expected of us, but only God knows that.  Human beings, being creatures, cannot answer such questions.  American poet Theodore Roethke expresses in haunting words this profound human yearning:

            "I close my eyes to see,

            I bleed my bones their marrow to bestow

            Upon that God who knows what I would know.”

Denying the existence of God not only solves nothing but reduces us to utter meaninglessness.  Accepting by faith that God exists and wants us to seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and that God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) opens up all kinds of blessed possibilities.  It is wisdom to listen reverently and learn our duty well.

It is evident from the Bible's beginning that man, created in the image of God, was expected to honor his Creator with due reverence and worship Him in a divinely prescribed way.  Cain could tell you about that (Genesis 4:3-5).  Not everything goes.  The foundation of worship had to be faith and the proper expression of faith was obedience (Hebrews 11:4).  King Saul learned that lesson when he presumed to worship God in a way that violated His will.  Samuel's rebuke tells the story:  "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..." (1 Samuel 15:22).

The Old Testament prophets speak to our question often.  When Israel sought to placate God with the multitude of their sacrifices, Micah told them straight out that God wanted more - "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8).  To the hypocritical shallowness of their worship Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah say the same (Isa. 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Jer. 7:21-23).  Jesus echoes the prophets by His frequent quoting of Hosea:  "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7).  What Jesus and the prophets were saying was not that the sacrificial offerings of the law (Leviticus) were unnecessary but that God's desire was for far more than that.

What is the lesson here?  Do not try to turn God away from getting what He wants from us by offering the part for the whole -- even actions that God has clearly required -- frequent attendance at church assemblies (Heb. 10:24,25), regular eating of the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Acts 2:42), communal prayers and spiritual singing (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19,20) et. al.  All these are to lead to a higher purpose -- our transformation into the image of God's Son (Rom. 8:29).  What God wants is you and me, that which is expressed in the first and greatest commandment:  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:28-29).  In short, God wants all there is of us, given gladly and freely in the same measure that He has poured Himself out on us.

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