Friday, February 3, 2012

Reforming The Church is living our lives by the doctrines of grace Part 2

John 17:4
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

These are the Words of Christ just before He goes to the cross. This is a prayer from God the Son to God the Father.

This is my favorite verse in my favorite Gospel in the NT. 
These are, in my opinion, the most important Words spoken by Christ during His earthly ministry in all of Scripture.

And there are two reasons I have for believing this. 
1) First of all, the fact that He speaks these words to His Father just before He goes to the cross is amazing to me. It is amazing because He has not yet done the final work He was sent by the Father to do, to die on the cross.
2) And that is the second thing that amazes me about this text. He uses the past tense verb of "having accomplished" the work. Yet on the cross we know that He says, "It is finished!" (John 19:30).

Jesus had not even gone to the cross yet, and still He says to the Father, "I glorified You on the earth (during His earthly ministry) having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do."

The question I find myself asking here is how can Jesus say that He has accomplished the work that the Father sent Him to do and yet He has not even physically died on the cross yet?

The answer I come to sends me into a glory-filled song of praise. 

We cannot simply read isolated verses and have an accurate view of their meaning. We must read all Scripture in the context in which God placed it. Therefore John 17:4 is in a chapter of the Bible where Jesus is praying to His Father about the very specific work that He sent Jesus to do. And when Jesus does that work, God the Father is glorified.

The question is, what is the work which God the Father sent God the Son to accomplish? The answer allows us to see how He can say here that He has both accomplished the work and yet still says on the cross, "It is finished."

I believe that work is expressed best in John 17:12
While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

Christ came to keep and guard those men which God the Father gave to Him. Look at how well He kept and guarded them.

"Not one of them perished."

And He only adds the "son of perdition" (the son of hell, Judas Iscariot) here because it was ordained for Christ to choose Judas to betray Him.

In other words, Christ kept all of those who were meant to be kept. He guarded all of those who were meant to be guarded. Not one person who God the Father elected for salvation perished under the watchful care of Jesus Christ. Not one.

In John 17:12 Jesus was only speaking about the eleven disciples, but those are not the only ones Christ was sent to keep and to guard and to pray for.

John 17:20 is proof of that fact:
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their Word;

Let me make something very clear here, "their word" is referring to the Word of God itself. The disciples were the first men commissioned by Christ to preach the true Gospel and many of them even wrote Scripture itself. Their Words were the Words that began the process of bringing salvation to men who would believe on Christ and be joined to the church.

Acts 2:41-43 is the first and most powerful example of that fact
So then, those who had received his word (the Word of God through the mouth of the Apostle Peter) were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Added to what? Added to the first local church there in Jerusalem.

Back to John 17. Christ not only prayed for those eleven disciples before He went to the cross, but He also prayed for all the rest of those who would be saved and follow Him. He was praying at that moment for all of the elect children of God around the world who would ever come to faith in Him.

They will have the same care over them as the disciples had - the care of Christ. The result of that care will be the same as the disciples: "Not one of them will perish."

Here is where we come to the greatest truth in all of Scripture and why I love the Word of Jesus in John 17:4 so much.

None of the elect will perish because He was sent by God the Father to die for them, to substitute His life for theirs beneath the wrath of God, and He would send the Word of God to them.

When they hear the Word of God their hearts will be regenerated, they will believe in Christ, repent of their sins, and spend their entire life serving Him in their local church.

This is the beauty of the Doctrines of Grace. They hinge on one glorious fact - substitutionary atonement. All who God the Father sent Christ to die for, will come to Him and all who come to Him, He will not cast out and they will never perish!

John 6:37-39
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out...this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

This is the foundation of the Doctrines of Grace...A completely victorious Savior...why would we not glory in Him? He will have victory as the one who accomplished everything the Father sent Him to accomplish...He already has.

All that is left now is for Him to return and claim His prize!

In my next post I will summarize what the rest of the Doctrines of Grace teach and how the church is reformed by them.

Reforming The Church is living our lives by the doctrines of grace, Part 1

A very wise pastor of over 30 years once told me, "There is a big difference between preaching reformed theology and actually reforming the church."

To that I gave a hardy amen. I have seen that difference up close and personal. People can live with their pastor preaching right doctrine. Many times they even invite it. They may question some of it or simply not understand all of it. 

But as long as their pastor is patient and willing to show his people that these doctrines are biblical, most of the time they will at least be willing to listen, even if they disagree.
2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

Most of the time people are willing to at least listen if all you ever do as a pastor is preach right doctrine; however the problem becomes when you try and take that right doctrine and place it in people's every day lives and challenge them to live by the Word of God.

That is when I find that most of the objections begin.

Some of you, who have been through splits and revolts in your own church due to doctrine (such as Calvinism) are questioning my sanity right now, thinking of all kinds of instances where people rose up in arms over doctrine they did not agree with. I understand that and it does happen. But I believe the doctrine itself is a small part of the issue for most people.

Most people only get upset when they start to understand what the doctrines demand of them personally.

But if you are listening to doctrine that does not demand anything of you personally then you are listening to there wrong doctrine!

Matthew 10:37-39 
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

That is what the Christ does and so that is what any doctrine that promotes Christ does. It pin points the areas in your life where you have placed your family or your comfort or anything in this life before Him and calls you to repent and follow Him!

I will give you a perfect example I have experienced in my own pastoral ministry:

There was a woman in my congregation who called me after listening to one of my sermons and she asked me, "Pastor, are you a Calvinist?" As a man who does not like to be labeled by a term that could or could not describe me based on the definition of Calvinism, I quickly responded by saying, "Well, that depends on what you mean by 'Calvinist.'"

And she rattled off mostly untrue statements about what Calvinism meant, mainly that men were mere puppets and that we did not believe in evangelism or holding people accountable in their walk with Christ. 

So I went over to her house the next day and spoke for several hours on what I did believe as a Calvinist or someone who holds to the Doctrines of Grace. 

While I was there I came to find out that what she was really upset about was not the doctrine itself but what the doctrine meant to her pride and to her family.

At one point she stopped me and said, "So what you are saying is that even though I have been a Christian for 30 years, that I have been wrong about how God saves people the whole time." 

And I responded by challenging her and saying, "Well, if you were, wouldn't you want to know? Doesn't the Bible tell us to examine everything we believe by the Word of God and not simply by what we have always been taught?"

She responded with the fact that she could not handle that. And then the conversation quickly spiraled out of control as her emotions took over. 

I found out that one of her sons was currently lost and living in the world and she was afraid that by believing that God had elect people that He sent His Son to die for that her lost son would not be included and she could not handle that either.

Which, by the way, is not a Calvinistic problem at all but a faith problem. I would argue that the God that Calvinism presents would actually give her a greater reason to hope in her Son's eventual salvation than any other doctrine or God could she could believe in. Why?

Because there is absolutely no sin or no amount of disbelief that her son could currently be living in that would keep an elect child of God from the regeneration that Christ purchased for him on the cross.

She must continue to simply pray for him and be a loving witness of the Gospel to him in the meantime. 

She was placing more faith in what he could do for his own salvation than what God has already done on the cross. And that is not faith. That is a stubborn pride filled desire to see her family members saved in her own way.

I have talked with countless people who come to the same conclusions about what they will or will not believe based on what it means for the salvation of their living or dead relatives.

One pastor I know started preaching correct doctrine and then applying that to leaving behind cults and false teaching. None of his people had any really problems with that until they started to see that following this would mean having to reject the Masonic lodge. And then war broke out in this pastor's church. Many of his deacons and prominent leaders were Masons and would rather forsake the church than their precious but heretical lodge.

People are fine with doctrine that sits on the page of Scripture but does not have to touch them in their homes where they live, and in their businesses where they work, and in their marriages and  parenting. Why? 

Because that is where doctrine calls for change. That is where doctrine invades the wrong in our lives and seeks to correct and change it and kill it and create the new and the right.

The whole point of knowing right doctrine is to allow it to conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

If we are not first willing to change, if we are not first willing to see the wrong ways we live in our homes or work in our businesses, then we are not willing to turn from these things and repent.

If the pastor keeps preaching that doctrine must change these things, then they not only question the change, but they question the doctrine. They tell the preacher to stop preaching so much on the these things that they have heard over and over again. 

Why? Because they are not offended by the doctrine but by the God with whom the doctrine brings them face to face. 

They do not love Him and they want to avoid Him.  But they find that in the kind of preaching that brings the doctrine so close to their lives that they cannot avoid Him.

This what it means to reform a church: to take the right doctrine and place it in their living room where they cannot avoid the one true and living God who is absolutely sovereign over all things, most importantly the salvation of His church.

Psalms 115:3
Our God is in the heavens and He does whatever He pleases

When a pastor decides that He must preach the God of the Bible, the people who sit under his ministry must face the God who is, instead of living in a world where they make Him up based on their fears or preferences.

They will either face Him in a humble admission that their lives are full of sin and pride, repent and allow Him to change their lives, or they will face Him in a prideful arrogance that says "I will only believe in Him if He is the God I always wanted."

2 Timothy 4:2-4
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

A WORD TO PASTORS: Pastors I encourage you to never stop preaching the God who is, because your people need a real God who deals with real sin in their lives. They may not like it, but not only were you not called to please them, but when God does open their eyes for the first time to see Him, they will run to Him and your church will quickly move from those who simply tolerate doctrine to those who love the God of Scripture.

My next post will be part 2 of what it means to "live our lives by the Doctrines of Grace" and I will lay out briefly what these doctrines mean and how they not only teach us who He is, but also how we might live in response to who He is.