Made in the Image of God

Posted by colin on October 24, 2013 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

When God made human beings, His purpose was to make us in His image:

Genesis 1:26-27Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

In what way did God create us in His image? Some people point to the fact that human beings – unlike the other creatures – have reason, self-awareness, creativity; and therefore this reflects the image of God. This is true – but it is not the whole truth.

If we are to understand what His image looks like we have to ask what is God like? Fundamentally, God is love – and therefore to be the image of God means to love as God loves. God is not only love. He is also joy and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and goodness and self-control (Gal. 56:22-23). If we are to reflect the image of God then we must also reflect these characteristics.

We read in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

When God created Adam and Eve, He created them very good. They were not just good-looking, but they were created good. They were created to live in relationship with God, who is good. They walked together and talked together with God in the garden (cf. Amos 3:3). They lived in union and communion with God.

But were they perfect? If they had been perfect they would not have sinned. God is perfect. And God says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). That’s the standard! Were Adam and Eve perfect? No, they weren’t. They sinned! If they were perfect like their heavenly Father they would not have sinned, for God cannot sin (Titus 1:2).

They were tempted by Satan. In this they did not reflect the image of God either, for God cannot be tempted (James 1:13 – “... For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone”).

So, we see that Adam and Eve, while they were created in the image of God, did not yet fully reflect the image of God. They were still able to be tempted. They were still able to sin. God had determined that He would not complete the process of creating them in His image without their consent and participation. He wanted mankind to freely choose to live with Him in a relationship of love and obedience. In order to give them a choice, God set two trees before them. They could choose to eat of the tree of life and live in obedience to the will of God, or they could choose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and live their life independently of God – choosing for themselves how they would live.

In choosing the Tree of Knowledge Adam and Eve rejected the completion of their creation in the image of God and chose to do what was right in their own eyes. They chose to seek what they saw as best for themselves. They began to live the way of “get”, of selfishness and self-interest, the way of greed and competition. They rejected God’s way, the way of loving, giving, sharing, of sacrificing for the welfare of others. They marred and
disfigured the image of God in them.

There has only been one human being who has perfectly reflected the image of God. And that was Jesus Christ. He is the perfect image of God because He is God – God in human flesh. Jesus not only reveals to us who God is: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9); He also shows us our true humanity. He is what God intended us to be when He created us – to be the image of Himself. We are to be without sin – as Jesus was without sin. We are to resist temptation as Jesus resisted temptation. We are to lay down our lives for others – as Jesus laid down His life for us. We are to reflect the image of God by living the way of loving, sharing, giving. We are to be perfect as Jesus was perfect.

How can we do this? This is way beyond our human ability. No man or woman can perfect himself or herself. No matter how hard we might try we cannot transform ourselves into the image of God. Rather, it is God who seeks to conform us to the image of Christ (Gal. 4:19). Only the God who is holy can make us holy, and He does this by uniting us to His Son. Through our union with Jesus, God is at work conforming us to His image. As Paul writes:

I Corinthians 3:18And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

It is the Holy Spirit that is at work in each of us conforming us to the image of Jesus. It is God’s work and He will complete it. But He does not do it without our cooperation. He wants us to choose the Tree of Life, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to offer ourselves up to Him as living sacrifices, to say no to self and yes to Him.

We continually fall short of our high calling in Christ. But in spite of this, God is able to accomplish what He has set out to do. This is why we look to Him, and not to our efforts. There will come the day when we will stand before Him without spot, wrinkle or blemish.

Philippians 3:20-21 “... our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

We will be conformed to His image. The apostle John says the same thing:

I John 3:2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

And John goes on to say, “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (I John 3:3). If it is God’s desire and purpose to conform us to His image – if this is His focus in our lives – where is our focus? Is our goal to see God’s purposes fulfilled in us, or are we more focused on our own comfort and well-being. Are we more concerned about the things of God or the things of this world? We need to all strive to be more consciously aware of why we are here and what God is doing.

I Thessalonians 5:23-24May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Some Reflections on Being the Light of the World

Posted by colin on March 2, 2013 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

  • The first implication is that the world is in darkness. There is no other source of light other than the Christian (the “you” in the Greek is emphatic: i.e. you and no-one else).

  • We are the light of the world. We don’t have to “become” the light of the world. The issue is will we let our light shine? Or will we “put it under a bowl”?

  • Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), therefore the only way that we can be the light of the world is if we are living in union with Jesus. It is His light that shines through us into the world.

  • Individually we are like John the Baptist, a lamp (John 5:35). A lamp in those days was a small clay receptacle containing olive oil. We are that vessel of clay. The Holy Spirit in us is the oil that gives light to the world (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6-7)

  • let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven– the implication of this is that allowing our light to shine is primarily a matter of actively doing good works. This means reaching out to friends, neighbours, co-workers, strangers and even enemies, and performing acts of kindness. Matthew 25:35-36 mentions several kinds of good works that are pleasing to God.

  • Light is also associated with knowledge. Isaiah prophesies, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6; cf. Acts 13:47). If people are to receive the light of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, they have to hear the message of the gospel (see Romans 10:14-15 – the church has been commissioned to preach the gospel in all the world). It is a fallacy to think that because light does not make any sound, we do not need to share the gospel with others. This is stretching the metaphor beyond its intended meaning.

Theologians Reflect on the Sermon on the Mount

Posted by colin on under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

The following excerpts are the reflections of a few theologians on the significance of the Sermon on the Mount. They bring home to us the reality that we can only live the Sermon on the Mount if we have Christ living in us.

Is this, then, a counsel of despair? Does Jesus require more than anyone can perform, yet pronounce doom on all who fail? If we regard the sermon as only law (albeit a new law from a new mountain), the answer has to be, Yes. In that sense, however, every law is a counsel of despair. That is, every law demands of us more than we can understand or perform, yet by itself can neither make us over into better persons nor forgive us when we go wrong. This very predicament, however, and supremely the predicament of the Sermon on the Mount, is the starting point of Christianity. The Sermon offers a vast new realization of God’s will for man. When I measure myself beside it, I do always fall short. But what I cannot accomplish, God can! (cf. Matt. 19:25-26). Through Christ God intervenes to transform this human life, and to bring to humanity the awareness of his forgiveness. Nor is that mere theory or idle speculation. Generations of men, women and children have found in their own experience that Christ does bring with him a nobility of life and a gladness they had not otherwise known.” (Pierson Parker, Good News in Matthew, pg 57).

The Sermon on the Mount ends with a call to action. It is not enough to recognize Jesus as a new Moses or to acknowledge his teaching as a new Torah. The challenge is to respond to the words of the Messiah by walking the high and difficult road that he marks out for us. In essence, it is a summons to live as Jesus lived. … Should discouragement weigh us down along the way, let us remember that what Jesus demands of us he enables us to do. Apart from the grace he offers, this new way of living is unattainable – an ethical ideal that could never become real in the lives of his disciples.” (Curtis Mitch; “The Gospel of Matthew,” pg 122f).

The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenceless, preferring to suffer injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before us, we are already straying from the path. For he is himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and he alone, is our journey’s end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the strait gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road will increase our certainty. The way which the Son of God trod on earth, and the way which we too must tread as citizens of two worlds on the razor edge between this world and the kingdom of heaven, could hardly be a broad way.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pg 190f).

 

Some Reflections on Being the Salt of the Earth

Posted by colin on November 16, 2012 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matthew 5:13)

A.  Salt has two main purposes: it is used as a preservative (to preserve meat and fish) and as a seasoning (to improve flavour). The role of the Christian is the same:

  1. to act as a preservative in society: This we do when we refuse to take part in any underhanded or dishonest schemes, when we refuse to join in listening to offensive jokes, when we refuse to use inappropriate language. We act as a deterrent to the corruption in our society. People no longer swear in our presence because they have noticed we never swear. The presence of ten righteous people in Sodom would have preserved it from destruction (Gen. 18:33).
  2. to act as a seasoning: when we are willing to wait patiently in line, treat the cashier kindly, are polite in traffic, speak kindly and gently to someone who is being angry and unreasonable, greet our neighbour with a smile, perform an act of kindness, we are making the world a more pleasant place to live in.

B.  The efficacy of salt is not dependent on its being used in great quantities. Each grain of salt contributes to making a difference. This verse is speaking to us as individual Christians, not as a corporate body, the church.

C.  “You are the salt of the earth” – This is not something that we have to become. People know that we are Christians. The question is: what is their experience of Christianity through us? They either see that there is a difference in our lives or they do not.

D.  Salt expends itself in improving the flavour of food, or in preserving food from deterioration.

E.  “But if the salt loses its saltiness” – Salt is a very stable chemical compound. It does not “just” lose its saltiness, even if it has not been used for a long time. The only way that salt can lose its saltiness is if it becomes contaminated with other substances which interact with it. In the same way, Christians only lose their “saltiness” when they become contaminated by the society around them. If people fail to see anything different about us, we have lost our saltiness. We are no longer making a difference.

John Stott comments on this verse: “Christian saltiness is Christian character as depicted in the beatitudes, committed Christian discipleship exemplified in both deed and word. For effectiveness the Christian must retain his Christlikeness, as salt must retain its saltiness. If Christians become assimilated to non-Christians and contaminated by the impurities of the world, they lose their influence.” (John Stott, The Sermon on the Mount, pg 60).

The Deceitfulness of Sin

Posted by colin on September 2, 2011 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

We all know the scripture in Jeremiah which tells us that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We can all agree that this is true, but do we really believe it? If this statement is true then we should be far more suspicious of ourselves than we usually are. One area where our heart is likely to deceive us is in the area of sin. We all tend to have a much higher view of our own goodness than is deserved, and a much lower concern about our sinfulness than is warranted. This was brought home to me while reading a book entitled The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.

Lewis identifies a number of ways in which we tend to deceive ourselves regarding our spiritual condition:

  1. We tend to define our goodness in terms of one or two attributes. For example, we think we are good because we see ourselves as being kind, and forget about all the other virtues we should be practicing. Even in this one area we are likely to deceive ourselves. As Lewis writes, “The real trouble is that ‘kindness’ is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.” We comfort ourselves that our ‘heart is in the right place’ and that we have feelings of kindness towards our fellow-man, even though we have not actually performed a single act of kindness towards anyone. And, of course, there are all the other Christian virtues that we leave unexamined.

  2. We have bought into the prevailing attitudes of our society where sinful behaviour is not seen as evil and something to be ashamed of. Behaviour which the Bible labels as sin is seen as normal and natural. There is no need to feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment over our sins.

  3. We deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves with others. Because in our estimation others are worse, we see ourselves as “good” by comparison – in spite of our faults. Of course, in making this comparison, we are likely to use very different standards of measurement. We evaluate others with a critical eye with little room for extenuating circumstances, but are very generous in our self-assessment, allowing ourselves plenty of leeway.

  4. We judge ourselves by our outward actions, and not by our inner motivations. We think of ourselves based on our conduct in front of other people when we are on our best behaviour, and not on our inner thoughts and motives. We commend ourselves for our good deeds but fail to question the selfish motivation that may have been behind it.

  5. We pass off our besetting sins as temporary lapses and our occasional loving acts as our normal practice. C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “We imply, and often believe, that habitual vices are exceptional single acts, and make the opposite mistake about our virtues – like the bad tennis player who calls his normal form his “bad days” and mistakes his rare successes for his normal.”

  6. We quickly forget our sinfulness. Once again, C.S. Lewis: “We have the strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. I have heard others, and I have heard myself, recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood as if they were no concern of the present speaker’s, and even with laughter. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ…”

  7. We take refuge in the fact that all mankind is in the same boat. If everyone else is as bad as the Bible declares, then somehow our behaviour must be excusable, and so we minimize the sinfulness of our actions.

C.S. Lewis notes, as have many others, that the holier a person becomes, the more fully aware he is of his sinfulness before a holy God. Even the apostle Paul, who as a Pharisee considered himself to be above reproach, later in life called himself “the chief of sinners.” A realistic assessment of our true state is an essential prerequisite to our hungering and thirsting after true righteousness – the righteousness that is in Christ and is received as a free gift from God through faith.

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Why Theology?

Posted by colin on March 2, 2011 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

One of our members recently said to me, “It seems like the church is wanting us to all become theologians.” They were referring to our focus on Trinitarian Theology over the past few years. The implication of their comment was that they really weren’t a theologian and would prefer to see the church focus on more practical issues related to Christian living.

This is a very understandable and valid concern. After all, we shouldn’t be sitting in an ivory tower studying esoteric theological treatises, while neglecting others, and the world at large. But this is a false dichotomy. In fact, our theology should be what motivates the way we live our lives.

What is theology? It is simply the knowledge of who God is. So, in fact, we are already theologians. Each one of us has a concept of who God is. And our understanding of who God is and what He requires of us impacts the way we live our lives. This is why we should continually seek to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God. As our theology matures our relationship with God deepens and we better understand who we are and how we should live.

As Christians we are often so anxious to answer the “what?” and “how?” questions of the Christian life that we lose sight of the “who?” who is behind it all. We want to know what God requires of us and how to go about doing what He requires. What should I be doing with my life? What is the most effective way to pray? How should I be serving in the church? How can I improve my marriage? These are all valid questions, but before we can answer them, we need to ask the most fundamental question of all: “who is God?”

When we only ask “what?” and “how?”, we start thinking that God is only interested in the “what” and “how” as well. In other words, focusing only on these “practical” questions leads us into certain ideas about who God is – they affect our theology! We start to believe that God is only interested in our performance. This means that He does not really love us. In fact, He is rather disappointed with us because, as we know, our performance always falls short of His expectations. We see God as a demanding Judge, not as a loving Father. And we see ourselves as disobedient servants instead of adopted children.

This focus on doing is the legalistic approach to religion that we are all prone to. The message of the gospel is that we have already been reconciled to God through Jesus, and we are invited to enter into a personal relationship with the God of the universe. This means that growing in the knowledge of who He is should have primacy over everything else. We cannot love God if we don’t know who He is. How we live our lives flows out of our understanding of who God is, and who we are in relation to Him.

God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in Jesus Christ: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…” (Col. 2:9). Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. This is why we need to focus on who Jesus is. He is the only path to an understanding of who God is. God has revealed Himself to mankind in His Son. If we come to see and know Jesus, then we have come to see and know the Father (John 14:9).

This is why we need to be concerned about theology. Only a secure grasp of who God really is can give us a secure foundation for our lives. Our desire is to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of who Jesus is (II Peter 3:18). As we do, we will be drawn ever more deeply into that relationship with the Triune God which God intended us to have from before the foundation of the world. This is why we study theology.

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Sharing Your Faith

Posted by colin on January 12, 2011 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

  Dr Christopher Peppler, pastor of the Lonehills Community Church in Johannesburg South Africa, recently posted the following on his blog (http://truthisthewordblog.blogspot.com/). I found his comments very insightful and helpful. I hope you will too:

When my wife and I were sent out to help a small church plant in the northern suburbs of our city there were only about seventeen people in the congregation. One of the first tasks was to get out and reach the local community so I challenged the little band of disciples with this imperative. ‘But we don’t know how to evangelise,’ they complained, ‘Please teach us how.’

So, like any conscientious pastor, I set myself to developing an entire programme on personal evangelism. I read everything I could get hold of, I bought copies of all the well-known programmes and I attended a two day seminar on the subject. The result of all this was a course designed to comprehensively cover the topic and to give a huge amount of practical advice and how-to techniques. A dozen faithful souls sat through numerous sessions and the result was… nothing. No one went out to evangelise and no one got saved as a result. Sigh!

What I subsequently realised is that not everyone is called to be an evangelist but we are all called to be witnesses. Christianity is not a religious system that needs to be sold, but a relationship with Jesus that needs to be shared. If it were a system to be sold then we would need to be trained and equipped and incentivised. But it is not! What we need in order to witness is a real relationship with Jesus to witness about.

My response nowadays to requests for one-on-one evangelism training is pretty simple and goes something like this: ‘If you knew enough about repentance, belief in Christ Jesus and profession of faith to be saved, then you know enough to share.’ In truth, though, the only real incentive for sharing is a vital relationship with Jesus and His people. In times of revival many people experience a wonderful renewal of the vitality of their relationship with the Lord Jesus. From what I can gather from the historic reports, in revival times it is hard for people not to share their faith. So, revival brings with it a powerful wave of personal witness that results in multitudes being drawn into the Kingdom of God through the passionate witness of friends, family and acquaintances.

If my experience is that I haven’t shared my faith with anyone for some time, then this should drive me to my knees to pray, ‘Lord, revive me!’ “

Good news is hard to keep to oneself. If we find it difficult to share the gospel with others, perhaps it is because we have lost sight of how incredibly wonderful the good news of the gospel is.

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The Meaning of the Sacraments

Posted by colin on November 16, 2010 under From the pastor | Read the First Comment

Why has God given the church the sacraments of baptism and communion? Are they just some religious formalism that we have to go through or is there a real and meaningful purpose behind them? Too often we can allow the practice of baptism and the taking of communion to become a ritual we perform without any real understanding of their meaning or purpose. Some Christians even neglect these practices because they fail to see their significance or importance.

God has given us these rituals and has commanded us to observe them. In performing them we participate in the reality of what God is accomplishing in our lives. In them we have the truth of the gospel proclaimed to us in a deeply personal way.

In baptism God confirms to us the once-and-for-all event that takes place when we repent of sinning against Him and commit our lives to serving Jesus Christ. As we are buried in the waters of baptism and are raised up out of the water, the reality of our death to our old way of life and our resurrection to our new life in Christ is communicated and confirmed to us. We have been translated out of the darkness of this world into the light of the Kingdom of God. We are no longer a part of a human race (in Adam) that is cut off from God, but are now part of a new humanity, restored to the image of God, who will dwell with God and Christ for all eternity. Our lives have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. His life is now our life. Because He has been resurrected to eternal life, we too have eternal life. Our baptism is the reminder that this transaction has taken place. It is an accomplished fact. This is why baptism is a once-off event. We do not need to be baptized again and again. Christ’s sacrifice, offered once, has paid the full price and is sufficient to secure our salvation.

But after the initial euphoria of our baptism wears off, we find that there is a huge discrepancy between the reality of who we are in Christ and the way we are living our lives. We find ourselves sinning and failing to live up to the high standards of our calling. We can begin to doubt the reality of our salvation and wonder whether God has rejected us because of our many failures. Or, we wonder whether we were really converted in the first place. But God knew that our faith would be weak and that in our fallen state we would sin, doubt our salvation at times, and tend to drift away from the commitment we made at baptism. He therefore made provision for us to be reminded both of our commitment to Christ, and of His commitment to us.

God provided the Communion service, also known as the Lord’s Supper, as a way of reassuring us of His ongoing faithfulness to us in spite of our failures, and as a means for us to rededicate ourselves to the calling we have been given. This is why we take Communion repeatedly and regularly. It is an opportunity to be reminded of our continual and total dependence on God to provide the means of our salvation. We express our trust in Him that He will complete the work He has begun in us. As we partake of the bread and wine we are reminded of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice and of its ongoing work to accomplish our salvation.

This is why we are asked to examine ourselves prior to taking the Lord’s Supper. It helps us to realize that, as William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said: “All is of God; the only thing of my very own which I contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.” 1 Communion is an opportunity for us to repent of our sins and turn to God for forgiveness and renewal. It is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to God. We are reminded as we put forward empty hands to receive the bread and wine that we bring nothing to the table – we are looking to God to nourish and sustain us, and bring us safely into the reality of His Kingdom. The provision of the bread and wine is a reminder to us of God’s faithfulness to complete the work which He has begun in us.

We see this vividly illustrated in the lives of the apostles – the first Christians. These twelve disciples obeyed Jesus’ call to leave all and follow Him. They committed their lives to Him. They were baptized (John 3:22; 4:1) as an outward demonstration of the reality of their union with Him. They were now united to Him and together with Him formed the nucleus of the church, the new Israel of God. The church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). When Peter asked Christ what the reward of the apostles would be, “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

This was the reality that the apostles looked forward to: participation in the Kingdom of God, ruling and reigning with Christ. This glorious hope, however, was not sufficient to sustain them. They failed in their commitment to forsake all and follow Him. When Christ faced His hour of trial in the Garden of Gethsemane, instead of watching and praying with Him, they slept. When He was arrested, they fled. As He hung on the Cross, they stood afar off and looked on together with the rest of the crowd. Their hopes of a glorious future in the kingdom of God were dashed. They decided to return to their former occupations.

But their failure did not mean that Christ had abandoned them. He had known beforehand that they would forsake Him. He had even warned them of this: “Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ” ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’ ” (Matt. 26:31). And yet, knowing they would forsake Him and that He would have to face the Cross alone, on that very same night, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you” ” (Matt 26:26-27). He offered up His body and blood for them, reassuring them of His ongoing commitment to them in spite of their failures.

Peter had been the most vocal of the apostles, claiming that, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt. 26:33). His failure was the most visible and apparent as he went on to publicly deny knowing Christ three times that same night. And yet, after His resurrection, Jesus went out of His way to reassure Peter of His continuing love for him, and to call him back to faithfulness to the commission he had been given (John 21:15-17).

The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are a wonderful gift from God to confirm and nourish our faith. Our union with Christ is communicated to us in baptism as a once-and-for-all completed reality; and in the Lord’s Supper as a continuous ongoing reality. We have a reminder that we have been saved, and a reminder that we are in the process of being saved. The reality of our salvation will be consummated at our resurrection when we will see Christ as He is and be like Him (Phil. 3:20-21).

References:

  1. William Temple, quoted by Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 42.

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Living in the Will of God

Posted by colin on October 18, 2010 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

 How can we know what God’s will is? Is it even possible to know what God wants us to do in any given situation?

In one sense, God’s will is already known and is clearly spelled out for us in the Bible:

“… the Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NLT). We know that God has called us to show forth His love in our lives in works of service towards our fellowman and in sharing the good news of the gospel. But how do we translate this instruction into the practical actions of our every day lives? Out of all the people we come into contact with, whom should we be serving and how? When is the right time to speak up on the subject of the gospel, and when should we remain silent? The book of Proverbs advises us both to answer a fool according to his folly, and to not answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4-5). How can we know how to apply this advice in a particular situation?

The apostle Paul provides the answer in Romans 12:1-2: “And so, dear Christian friends, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.”

Paul is telling us that we can know God’s will – His good and pleasing and perfect will – if we offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice to God. This is not a one-time offering that we make. This is an ongoing commitment to surrender our lives to God, to continually say, “Not my will, but your will be done.” In every situation we face we seek to do that which will bring glory and honor to God, not to ourselves. The second point that Paul mentions is to allow our minds to be transformed. We commit ourselves to this process of transformation by studying God’s Word (Ephesians 5:26).

Jesus demonstrated this way of life in the way He lived. Speaking prophetically through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, Jesus said, “The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know what to say to all these weary ones. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I do not rebel or turn away” (Isaiah 50:4-5).

Jesus was totally committed to seeking and doing the Father’s will (John 6:38). Each day – morning by morning – He sought God’s will. Each day He submitted Himself to that will and acted on it. Too often, when we are prompted to do some act of kindness or to say something, we draw back in fear of what the other person’s reaction might be. Jesus, in His humanity, experienced these same misgivings, but He could say, “I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.”

We see an example of how Jesus put this into practice in the book of John. Jesus sat resting by a well near the village of Sychar in Samaria while His disciples went into town to buy provisions. While He was there a woman of Samaria came along to draw water from the well. The Jews did not have any dealings with the Samaritans, so Jesus could have chosen to ignore her in keeping with the custom of the day. Or He could have chosen not to speak to her for fear that someone might come along and be upset that a Jewish man was bothering a Samaritan woman. Or, He might have decided to remain silent out of fear for how the lone Samaritan woman might react when approached by a man in an isolated environment (it was the middle of the day and no one else was around).

In spite of all these reasons for not speaking to this total stranger, Jesus chose to engage her in conversation. The woman was shocked that a Jewish rabbi would speak to her (John 4:9). His disciples were equally shocked when they returned from the town (vs. 27). But Jesus was not concerned about their reactions. His concern was “to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (vs. 34). He engaged her in conversation and was able to share the good news of salvation with her. As a result of His obedience to the will of the Father, not only did this woman come to believe in Him, many people in that village became believers through her (vs. 41).

God has called us into this kind of relationship with Himself. He has invited us to come alongside Him and participate with Him in what He is doing in the world (I Corinthians 10:16). How are we going to respond? Are we going to step out in faith that God is leading us? Or, are we going to draw back in fear? If we are seeking His will and not our own, and are seeking to be conformed into His image, we can trust that He will fulfill His promise to make His will known to us. Of course, we will make mistakes from time to time, and say and do things that are not God’s will, but if we are earnestly seeking His will through prayer and Bible Study, and stepping out in faith to do what He leads us to do, the process of transformation can take place. We can begin to know more fully God’s good and pleasing and perfect will for our lives. And when we do make mistakes, we can take comfort in the fact that God is able to use even our mistakes for His glory.

This is the exciting, abundant life that God has called us to – a life lived in union with Him, participating with Him in the work that He is doing. Are we going to respond? Or, are we going to hold back?

“What? Me Suffer?”

Posted by colin on August 24, 2010 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

The Scriptures promise us that as Christians we will suffer. This is not a pleasant prospect. In fact, it is something that most of us would like to avoid. In some countries, however, it is unavoidable. Christians in various parts of the world face discrimination, the threat of jail, and even death for their beliefs.

But what about the rest of us? Particularly in the West, we don’t face much suffering for our beliefs. In fact, we tend to confuse the normal sufferings of this life with the particular sufferings that a Christian can expect to endure: things like the death of a loved one, a prolonged illness, a wayward son or daughter, the loss of a job, or even the sufferings we bring upon ourselves because of bad decisions. This type of suffering is part of the normal course of life. They are faced by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The suffering that we can expect to face as Christians is directly related to our profession of our faith. As Christians we can expect to suffer in at least two ways:

First, we can expect to suffer for our beliefs. Jesus warned His disciples: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). But, you might say, the world doesn’t hate me. Could that be because the world hasn’t realized that you don’t belong to it? Perhaps you are flying so low that you are below the world’s radar system; your conduct is no different from that of your colleagues in the world.

Jesus has called us to live lives that testify to Him (John 15:27). If people see Jesus in us, then some will take offence at us: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name…” (John 15:21-22).

The apostle Paul encourages the Philippians – and us – to “… conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, … I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you… For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:27-29).

This is not to say that we should try to bring persecution and suffering upon ourselves. It is not Christian to be obnoxious, self-righteous and condemning of others. We are called to be different. And when people notice that difference, we should not be surprised if we suffer as a result. Peter reminds us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (I Peter 4:12-13).

Secondly, we can expect to suffer because of the sufferings of others. As Christians, we have been called to live in communion with God and with one another. Because of this union, we share in the sufferings of God and of each other. Some theologians tell us that because of the impassibility of God, God does not suffer or experience emotions. However, the coming of Jesus, has revealed the true nature of God. And we see that God is a God who suffers.

When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus and saw the suffering of the people there, He wept (John 11:35). He was not weeping because of the death of his friend Lazarus – as the crowd thought (John 11:36). He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He was deeply moved by the sight of the suffering of the people around him: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Here we see the mind of God. He is not impervious to the sufferings of humanity. He is deeply moved by our suffering. If Jesus is moved by the suffering of others, and we are being conformed to his image, then it is appropriate that we too should be moved by the plight of others. This is what God calls on us to do: to share in the sufferings of others.

And this applies particularly to the church. Paul likens the church to the human body. We are all interlocked and interdependent. When one member of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. When one member of the church suffers, we all suffer (I Cor. 12:25-27). Notice this instruction in the book of Hebrews: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). We are called to identify ourselves with our brothers and sisters and share in their suffering.

There are millions of Christians who are daily facing situations of intense suffering. We ourselves may not be suffering for our faith, but we can share in their suffering, calling on God to intercede on their behalf.