Friday, July 22, 2011

That You May Know...

"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. "(1Jn 5:13 ESV)

Many people struggle with doubts as to their personal salvation.  I have struggled with them myself.  Assurance of our salvation is a necessary foundation for our growth as Christians.  One of the problems that can come with doubting one's salvation is timidity in  our good works.  If I am not sure I am saved, then I won't be bold in doing good works, as I will not be sure if my good works really are good works(done in Christ, by the righteousness He gives), works that are pleasing to God.  Doubt impedes our growth in  virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love(2 Pet 1:5-8).  Not growing in these areas does not necessarily mean that we are not saved.  According to Peter, if one of us is not growing in these things "he is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins."(vs.9) We want to grow in these qualities because they "keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge our Lord Jesus Christ."- vs.8
"A believer who lacks an assured hope will spend much of his time in inward searchings of heart about his own state. Like a nervous, hypochondriacal person, he will be full of his own ailments, his own doubtings and questionings, his own conflicts and corruptions. In short, you will often find he is so taken up with this internal warfare that he has little leisure for other things, little time to work for God.

Now a believer, who has, like Paul, an assured hope, is free from these harassing distractions. He does not vex his soul with doubts about his own pardon and acceptance. He looks at the everlasting covenant sealed with blood, at the finished work and never-broken word of his Lord and Saviour, and therefore counts his salvation a settled thing. And thus he is able to give an undivided attention to the work of the Lord, and so in the long run to do more." -J. C. Ryle

 Assurance of our salvation does not give us salvation, rather it frees us up to work out our salvation.  To act on our salvation with full vigor rather than with timidity and half-heartedness.  

Starting Point:  Who Am I? - Establishing our identity

"We are commanded to cultivate assurance, not take it for granted." - John Macarthur

We know that we cannot lose our salvation, we are secure in Christ.  But this does not mean that we will be assured of our salvation by our just sitting back and doing nothing.  Laziness is more likely to produce doubts in a true Christian than confidence before God.  One of the ways to cultivate assurance is to do good works.  One thing, at all events, we may depend upon,-there is an inseparable connection between diligence and assurance. “Give diligence,” says Peter, “to make your calling and election sure.” (2 Peter i. 10.) “We desire,” says Paul, “that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” (Heb. vi. 11.) “The soul of the diligent,” says Solomon, “shall be made fat.” (Prov. xiii. 4.) There is much truth in the old maxim of the Puritans: “Faith of adherence comes by hearing, but faith of assurance comes not without doing.”-Ryle 

Motivation for good works comes from knowing our state before God in Christ as new creations.  This struggle that we're having to keep focused on what we ought and to do the right, is not, as some people think, a struggle between two natures, the old me (the one that desires sin) and the new me.  This is not the reality.  God tells us through His word that the old 'us' is dead:  "We know that our old self was crucified with him(Christ) in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. "(Rom 6:6-7 ESV) The war that we experience within us is not a war between our two selves, it is a war between our true self and the remnants of the DEAD old man, our flesh.  We are to consider ourselves "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (Rom 6:11-14 ESV)We are 'new creations':" Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. "(2Co 5:17 ESV) We have been created anew with a new purpose: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10 ESV) If we do not understand, if we are not fulfilling, our purpose ,we are not going to be at ease; nor will we, or rather ought we to be, comfortable about our salvation.    Inactivity in a Christian causes doubts, stunts spiritual growth.   This is because we are not being our self, our true self as revealed in Scripture; we are not doing what we were made for, we are not 'fulfilling our destiny' in the truest sense.

Cultivating Assurance

Assurance concerns the realization that a person has eternal life.  But security is a true fact whether or not an individual has assurance of that or not."  - Charles Ryrie

When I fulfill my purpose by doing good works, adding to my faith virtue, knowledge, self control…etc.(2Peter 1:5-7) I will be cultivating assurance of my salvation, and I will not stumble, "For this reason, rather, brothers [and sisters], be eager [or, diligent] to be making certain His calling and choice [or, election] of you, for these [things] doing, you shall by no means stumble at any time. For in this way, the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you."(2Pe 1:10-11 ALT) Now, again, this does not mean that our good works are what saves us, as they are not.  Good works are a result of our salvation.  Our working good works contributes towards our assurance of our salvation, not our salvation itself.  Our good works are result of God's working in us, seeing these manifestations of God's working come out of assures us of our salvation.  "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (Php 2:12 ESV) This is not my own works out of my own strength, rather it is working out(by God's work) what God is working in me. out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Php 2:12-13 ESV)  Work out what is being worked in you.

I've been reading 1st John recently, and was amazed at how I hadn't noticed before that John is writing about working on your assurance of salvation.  "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. "(1Jn 5:13 ESV) How do I know that I have eternal life?  How do I know I've passed from life to death?  How do I know that I truly know God? Let's take a look at some of John's answers to these questions:

How do I cultivate assurance?  How do I know that I have come to know God?  By my keeping His commandments:  "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.  By this we may know that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." (1Jn 2:3-6) Remember, we are doing good works from the standpoint of salvation, not for our salvation.  We work because we're saved not to be saved.  As James says, "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20)  I want to perceive the activity of the faith given to me by God to build assurance. 

How do I know that I have passed out of death into life, that I have been born of God? By my loving my brothers in Christ.  "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death." (1Jn 3:14 ESV)Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1Jn 4:5-9)So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. (1Jn 4:16-17 ESV) Our keeping God's commandments is how God's love is manifested:  "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world --our faith."  (1st John 5:2-5)

"We must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.  This is how we will know we belong to the truth and will convince our conscience in His presence, even if our conscience condemns us…." - 1st John 1:19-21 We know that we have eternal life, that we have God's love, if we love one another, the way… goes back to the keeping God's commandments so that we may know that we have come to know Him.  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (Joh 15:12 ESV)So, what is love? Love is not merely having warm feelings towards someone.  Love is seen by action, by works.  Christ shows us what true love is:  " By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers."(1Jn 3:16 ESV)  We are to love as He loved(s)"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Joh 13:34-35 ESV) Our love towards other people is our laying down our lives for them, as Christ laid down His life for us.  This does not merely mean that we are ready to die for them physically.  It is more than that, it is that we are laying down our actual lives for them, our time, our energy, our skills, being more concerned about their comfort than our own, their happiness than our own, suffering when they suffer, rejoicing when they rejoice, prodding them to do the right.  We would rather us be hurt than them, we look  at their offenses towards us as opportunities to love them.  We seek to bear with their weaknesses, rather restrict our freedoms than offend them by expressing our liberty in practical things(like what we eat, wear or what type of music we listen to) .  Biblical love is not "simply an emotion but an act of sacrificial service.  It's not only an attitude; it's an action.  Love always does something.  The words used to describe love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 are all verbs.  Love is an act of service that you do, which flows out of a heart of humility.  Biblical love meets people's needs……Who is your neighbor?  Anyone who has a need you are able to meet.  Then who are you to love?  Anyone who has a need.  How do you love him?  Meet his need, even if you don't feel an emotional attachment or an attraction for him. - John Macarthur-  exercising selfless, sacrificial love, one might say Altruism, agape love, is a result of God's love for us.  We foster assurance by seeing the love of God coming out of us, towards Himself and other people.  We love Him because He first loved us, we love other people because of His love.  

We'll look at more of the practical aspects of this cultivating of assurance by good works(and what those good works are) in the next post. 

The pictures in this post were taken by my sister Becky.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hitler's Cross by Erwin Lutzer

Why did Valkyrie and so many other plans to assassinate Hitler fail?  Was it because Satan had the upper hand over God? Was God powerless to stop it?  "When Mr. Clinton was elected president in 1992, I heard a Christian preacher say, 'God had nothing to do with the election of this president, the people made the choice!'  I found that statement incredible for several reasons.  First, I wonder what that teacher would have said if a president had been elected who was distinctively Christian and consciously committed to ruling with biblical principles.  Would he have said that that president had been raised up by God for this hour of American history?  To put it differently: Is God only involved when righteous leaders are installed and uninvolved when a leader is something less than distinctively Christian, or even evil?"  Of course, the answer to this is that God is always involved, otherwise He is not God.  This is something I like about Lutzer's book Hitler's Cross.  He reminds us that Hitler's ascension to power was not an accident, was not outside of God's power.  Lutzer reminds us of Romans 13: "...there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God."   Satan himself is not outside the realm of God's sovereignty, every move he makes is in perfect harmony with God's plan.  To quote Lutzer, Satan will always prove to be an "eternal loser".  It's the same with Hitler, Hitler could not make a move without God's allowing him to do so.  Speaking of God's sovereignty in even evil things that take place, the author comments:"Some prefer to call it His 'permissive will,' but it is His will nevertheless.  He directs all things to their appointed end." Lutzer comments: "Those Christians in Nazi Germany who believed that evil was triumphing because God was too weak to stem the tide could find no hope in their distress."  Lutzer also points out that Hitler seemed to be one of Satan's candidates for being the Antichrist.  Hitler  "boasted that just as Christ's birth had changed the calendar so his victory over the Jews would be the beginning of a new age.  'What Christ began,' he said, 'I will complete.'  In a speech just days after becoming chancellor, he parodied the Lord's prayer, promising that under him a new 'kingdom would come on earth and that his would be 'the power and the glory.  Amen.' …..."When he predicted that the Third Reich would last a thousand years, it was a typical instance of how Satan often overreaches; he cannot predict the future with accuracy because he cannot control it."

It was fascinating to me what the Nazis did to try to gain over the professing Christians in Germany.   At first  Hitler tried to pass himself off as a good Catholic, and even worked against some of his colleagues who were trying destroy the church too soon.  Much of Germany was religious at the time, the Lutheran church was connected with the state, obeying one's ruler and his rules was very much a matter of course, even a matter of religion.  This seems to have been one of the professing Christians excuses for why they did not go against Nazi ideals.  Instead of wiping out the church, the plan was to infiltrate Christianity,  politicize it (more than it already was), change it's doctrines bit by bit until true Christianity vanished altogether.  The Aryan Paragraph required Christian Jews to worship separately from Christian Aryans, Pastors were eventually required to swear an oath to Hitler, Nazis even planned that Hitler's Mein Kampf would take the place of the Bible in the churches.   The official church in Germany  became the 'Reich church' .

Reich Bishop Ludwig Muller
Lutzer points out that there were Christians who were against and who worked against the Nazification of Christianity, even at the cost of being sent to consecration camps and thence death.  Refusing to take the oath of loyalty to as the head of the Pastors, they declared that  God's word was their authority, and they also declaring that Jews and Christians are one in Christ, therefore there should be no racial discrimination in the church of God. By separating themselves from the official church(now the Reich church) and the so called 'German Christians' they were not apostatizing from the church, rather they were declaring the political Reich church apostate. These were Christians who had already been practicing dying to self in lesser things "If we can't be loyal to Christ in the small decisions, how can we expect to be loyal when our faith might cost us something very precious? Only when we see value in the lesser sacrifice will we be willing to be faithful in the greater one."  Some of these Christians went so far as to join the attempts to assassinate Hitler and set up a new government. 

Lutzer sees that there are parallels between what led to Germanys being Nazified and things in America today.   After world war I the Germans had a short lived Republic, they gave up this Republic for a dictator because the economy under the Republic was very bad.  Under Hitler's regime "Workers now had job security, a health service, cheap holiday schemes; if freedom meant starvation, then slavery was preferable."  They gave up freedom for temporary safety.  Which is something that America may be headed toward if we do not hold to our constitution.  Lutzer makes us think, what will we do if things become like they were in Nazi Germany, what are we doing now?  What decisions are we making now in our Christian life, what do we truly hold as valuable? 

I'll end with one of my favorite quotes from Lutzer's book:"Conscientious objectors have for centuries disobeyed the state, believing that no Christian can participate in killing, even in a time of war.  Every Christian must draw that line in accordance with his or her own convictions.  But if we say that we will always obey the state, the state becomes our God.  We can render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's only when we have rendered every thing we have to God."