Monday, April 24, 2006

The New Testament Review (3)

This is part 3 of 3 of chapter 7 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

The Great Commission Jesus Christ laid before us as He ascended into heaven is to go into the entire world preaching the Gospel and baptizing new believers into Him. We are to gently and respectfully tell others about the message of the Gospel. We are to serve others so they will see our good deeds and praise God. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we are to stand firm in the faith without being corrupted by this crooked society in which we live. We are to live like Christ lived, loving God the Father with all we are. After all, He made us!

How do we live like Christ? There has got to be more than asking, “What would Jesus do?” Indeed there is! The New Testament letters we just briefly reviewed provide detailed schematics for living like Christ in nearly every situation. It ultimately boils down to our priorities. In all we are, think, say, and do, God should come first. He should be worshipped and praised in, by, and with every moment of our lives. We should engage in Christian fellowship for support, learning with others to live like Christ and for Christ. We should read God’s Word to help us remain strong in faith. We should tell others what Christ is doing in our lives and what He can do in their lives. Perhaps most importantly, we should engage in prayer, conversing with God, talking to Him and listening for Him, constantly throughout each day of our lives. Prayer develops intimacy between us and God.

J.I. Packer mentions several critical aspects of prayer. Through prayer, we approach God in adoration and trust, acknowledge His almighty power with praise, admit sin and seek forgiveness, ask for daily needs to be met, argue with God for blessings, accept God’s will in our lives, and adhere to God’s will in faithfulness.

So then, we do good works, but not for merit, for what would we merit? [We would simply be doing our duty.] Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He Who ‘works in us both to will and do according to His good pleasure’ [Philippians 2:13] thus keeping in mind what is written: ‘When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do’’ [Luke 17:10]. Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works but it is by His grace that He crowns His gifts.

Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly, if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior. … While sinners are justified by faith alone apart from works, the Bible has no category for a Christian who is justified by faith alone and who is not also in the process of
being sanctified and performing good works, no matter however feeble and unrecognizable the attempt may be.

By following the plans for the Christian lifestyle written in the Bible, there is no doubt persecution is something we will encounter as Christians. Jesus said: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). Persecution, ridicule, scorn, and mockery are certain if we live as Jesus taught us to live, especially in the culture of our day. True Christians are the minority in this world, and as aforementioned, the world is continuing to worsen.

We can avoid persecution by hiding and living as secret Christians, denying that we know Jesus like Peter did when Christ was arrested, but that is not what we are supposed to do. Jesus said: “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Peter realized his error, repented, was forgiven; he became a dynamic, bold preacher, who proclaimed the Good News about Christ for many years until his death. There have been numerous times in my life when I did not speak up about Christ, and in a sense, that is the same as denying Him. I have been forgiven for those denials, and I hope I can stand firm in faith and represent my Lord with courage and strength.

Many people will ask the question, “Will we still go to heaven if we don’t do good things for God?” While, as long as the faith of the believer is genuine, the answer to that question is affirmative, it is the wrong question to ask. Neither good works, nor lack of good works saves anyone. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

An abundance of God’s grace is revealed in a person by that person’s true faith, which, in turn, is represented and displayed by good works. If a person has true faith, then that person is undergoing the process of sanctification, which enables good things to be done for God. C.S. Lewis said:

We really do not have the slightest notion of the tremendous thing Jesus Christ means to make of us. Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is
getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew
that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He
starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem
to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building
quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing
here, putting up an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You
thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but He is
building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself—The process will be
long, and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for.
The Bible says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). God is building His home in, with, and through us. True Christians will eventually want to grow and mature in their spiritual and physical lives, allowing God to make them more like Jesus Christ. Ultimately, we will not be perfected until we are in heaven, where, for the rest of eternity, there will be no more sin, no more evil, no more tears or gnashing of teeth, and no more pain and suffering.

We are not supposed to just wait for that day to come; instead, we are to allow the purification and sanctification process to begin here on earth. That process can begin by reading the Bible, praying continuously, worshipping God, enjoying relationships with other Christians, serving others, and telling others about the message of the Gospel, the Good News of what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ.

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