Thursday, 9 August 2012

Israel - adding a third dimension

Well it's been two or three weeks since I posted.

Last Saturday 4th August Pam and I returned with 30+ others from a 10 day trip to Israel, and what a trip it was. I've known and heard people talk of the difference such a trip made to them but never really imagined it would have that impact - it really does!

It was a tremendous privilege to walk the land of the Bible, to observe and feel its dimensions, to observe and feel the history - the reality.

It was a tremendous privilege to walk where Jesus - God in the flesh - lived, walked, talked, healed, delivered, saved, died and rose again!

There was just sooo much! It was action packed all the way! When people have asked what was your favourite, rather like our team leader Steve, I find I have lots of favourites - in fact I started to write a list and I found it would be too long for a post! So many things brought the Bible, it's stories and teachings to life in a new way - it's like it added  a third dimension.

Probably the saddest things was to see and feel something of the division and tension in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and to see those for who Messiah came, still looking and longing for him.
The weirdest, laying on the Dead Sea and then putting your legs down in order to stand up and finding they just bounced up!

The most moving was to hear the testimonies of a Palestinian believer - how he came to Christ in prison, the trials he faces day by day, his vision for the gospel, and that of a converted Jew in Nazareth, how he had come to a saving knowledge of Messiah and how he was now seeking to make him known.

Another important aspect was the group we went with from various parts of the UK and the world, mostly unknown to one another but like a family by the end - sharing food, fellowship and fun truly helped to make it - and the collective memory at the airport as we waited for our flight certainly helped to fill the gaps in our memories and diaries!

HiStory is His story, the Bible tells us God is behind and in the story of planet earth, his great love for those he made in his image, and how he has a plan to redeem a people from every tribe, tongue and nation unto himself - a story of God's amazing grace to people who just don't deserve it!

The unfolding of that story took place in a very small corner of the earth, today it takes place on an international scale as Jesus continues to build his church as His Spirit moves across the nations of the earth and gets behind every barrier that man can raise whether of the mind and heart - or a very physical wall, to bring men and women to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

When the Christian life is not working

I’ve been continuing to think about different aspects of Christian life and growth.
On the evangelical spectrum, it can be all about the Word – just believe it, confess it, act on it and everything will be all right.
On the charismatic front, it can be all that we need is more of the Spirit – get filled, get anointed, and everything will be all right.
Well, you may have been there, I certainly have, and though both have there place, both can miss it, leading to disappointment and discouragement and even to departure from Christian life and the church.
You see each can miss the dynamic of our own interior lives, and end up with a super-spiritual and superficial Christian experience.
God in the business of saving us, isn’t simply interested in getting us to heaven, but transforming us here on earth, and no amount of believing the Word or anointing of the Spirit will do anything for us if we are not prepared for God to get on the inside of us, and deal with our interior lives.
For years I ignored my internal life, I believed the Word, I experienced the Spirit, I served, I ministered, but something wasn’t working, and the fault wasn’t God’s. Then I hit the wall. Got got my attention. I was a perfectionist. I was angry – it was suppressed. Most would never have known.
I slowly began to realise what was going on, and I didn’t like it, but I also began to realise that if I didn’t recognise and come to terms with my interior life, and allow God to deal with it, I was heading for a crash. For years I had lived as a kind of Christian ‘android,’ thinking and acting as a cool evangelical, knowing the power of God as a Spirit-filled Christian, but something was missing, something just wasn’t working.
Praise God that has changed, God is so gracious.
What about you, is your Christian life real and authentic and growing, or are you stagnated and frustrated and you don’t know why?
Have you ever checked your interior life?
Maybe the disappointment and pain you are experiencing is actually God wanting to get to you in order to change you -you’ve believed, you’ve prayed, you’ve been prayed for, you’ve sought more of the Spirit, but nothings changed – it’s time to let God speak and act through the disappointment and pain.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Saved Sinner or Saint - Part 3

Thinking further about whether we see ourselves as 'just sinners saved saved by grace or saints,' I've been thinking that another part of our problem is speed. Today there seems to be pressure to produce disciples overnight - as if knowledge and maturity is something that can just be taught in just a few lessons; but life is not like that.

In the natural realm growth takes time, and part of that growth is the knowledge of who we are. A child may well be born into a family with a given identity, but they don't immediately realise who they are. It is only as time goes by that that begins to sink in as they grow up into it.

Then again when people are born again/become Christians, we tend to want to get them involved in doing something, but there is a very real danger in doing before being. It buys into the world's way of thinking that our identity is found in our doing rather than our being.

The fact is we need to slow down... . .  .  .  .   .     .       .         .            speed kills - it kills the spiritual life.

The Bible talks about "waiting on the Lord" (some Psalms and Isaiah comes to mind), but it's interesting and concerning that some modern versions are now translating this as "trust in the Lord" - now that is a part of it, but waiting on God is more than that.

Too many of us are spiritual Martha's - we are too busy, we don't know how to stop, we don't know how to wait, and so we don't know who we really are because all that we are is wrapped in in what we are doing. Take that away, and we are lost.

Waiting on God involves stopping and spending time with Father, listening to him and learning about his love and care for us as his children - as it says, "Beloved, we are now the children of God..." - Mary had it right, she knew when to stop and how to stop.

Is your Christian life just too busy? Is it more about doing than delighting? More about rules than relationship? Getting things done than grace? Then stop, get into the Father's presence, go to the scriptures, search them, listen to the Father's voice, you'll be the better for it.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Sinner saved by grave or a saint? Part 2

Following on from last week here are some further thoughts…..

So if we are more than ‘sinners saved by grace’ why is it that we struggle with being called ‘saints’?

Here are three possible reasons:
  • We look the same – we have not been noticably transformed or are identifyably any different, we don’t suddenly have ‘halos’ or possess a ‘holy auror,’ or walk around 6 inches off the ground.
  • We don’t necessarily feel like it. We have some measure of a ‘born again’ experience. I say some measure, because for some it’s more dramatic than others, yet no less real – some can name a date, for others it happened over a period of time and they are not sure when they actually crossed the line; for some it was a dramatic experience, for others it wasn’t…..
  • We still find ourselves struggling with sin. I mean if I am a new creation why is that? Perhaps you think, what changed? Did anything change?
If we are to move forward it helps us to remember something of how life works in both the natural and the spiritual:
  • In some ways becoming a Christian is a bit like moving from one country to another and then becoming a citizen of that country. You may well take on the new identity but you you still have memories and thinking patterns that reflect your previous history or citizenship.
  • Then there is the matter of growth in knowledge and understanding.  A child doesn’t understand immediately who he or she is, but over a period of time learns who they are, and grows into it.
  • Then theres the not so small matter of experience. It’s not just knowledge and understanding but the working out of it through decision and action. Such decision making and action can confirm or work against our knowledge of who we are.
  • Lastly Christians are in a ‘war zone’ and the enemy will contest everything. Even as Satan confronted Jesus as to who he was, so he will confront those who believe in and seek to follow him.
Where are you  on the spectrum?

Have you crossed the line into the kingdom? If not I urge you to believe in him who lived and died that you might have a new identity, and know the power of the life to come.

Are you still a babe in Christ? It’s time to start growing – feed on him and his word; draw on the new life he has given you.

Are you taking responsibility for your decisions and their consequences? It’s time to start behaving as well as believing.

Are you caught in the battle, your shield is down and you’ve dropped your sword – it’s time to pick them up again and start fighting for your spiritual life.

Have you dropped out of the battalion – the local church – you need to get back into it, find your family and fellow soldiers.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Saved Sinner or Saint?

Following on from last week one of the outcomes of worm theology is to think of the Christian as ‘just a sinner saved by grace’.

There may be some truth to that statement but theres an awful lot of truth missing – enough to make it wrong. The scriptures repeatedly state in various ways that we are not what we were, that we are new creations, no longer in Adam but in Christ, in fact the letters are addressed not to ‘sinners saved by grace’ but to those who have become ‘saints by grace’! The problem is that in many of the older versions of the Bible many of the letters were addressed to those who were ‘called to be saints’, but the ‘to be’ was in italics which means that it wasn’t in the original.

Now whoever we are, we all live out of our perceived identity, and if we take this as our cue we will always be Romans 7 Christians, and Romans 8 will always be elusive. The flesh will always be the powerhouse of our lives and not the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. My observation as a pastor/minister was that people who thought like this lived this.

Are you a Christian listening to the lies of the enemy? There is a higher truth than your past truth, and it is God’s truth that in Jesus you are a new creation – ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven; you have a new identity as a child of God, you have the Spirit of God dwelling in you saying ‘Abba, Father.’ You have the power to live a different kind of life.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Predestined, called, justified and glorified?

I was preaching on Sunday on the subject “Salvation belongs to our God – Understanding the Process of Salvation” and I was struck in my preparation by the fact that Paul says we have not only been justified but we have also been glorified (Romans 8:30).

Now it’s strange that the rest of this verse we treat has being in the past or the present active tense – we’ve been predestined to be like Jesus; called; justified - and yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard a preacher say that we’ve been glorified, that’s usually something that’s going to happen when we die, when the ultimate transformation takes place, yet that is not what the text appears to say. Indeed Paul elsewhere talks about us being changed or transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18), so for Paul this has a very real and present application.

The reality is that something happened when we were born again, saved, became a Christian. Prior to Christ there was no glory in our lives. We were lost and dead in our tresspasses and sins, dominated by our passions, with the constant downward pull towards defeat and death. Our lives reflected darkness not light; bondage, not liberty etc..

But this gospel, this good news that Paul calls ”the glory of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4) changes all that! He breaks the power of cancelled sin. He translates us from darkness to light. He snaps the fetters and sets the captives free. He takes the rebel and makes him or her a priest and a king. He transforms the sinner into a saint.

Yes God not only justifies us, he glorifies us. He lifts us up and sets our feet on the eternal Rock of Jesus Christ our Lord, and exhibits us as trophies of his glorious grace. He takes sinners, redeems them and puts his Spirit in their hearts adopting them as his very own sons and daughters, with all the privileges that bestows!

Again Paul says “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1Corinthians 6: 11). Such they may well have been, but now they are radically different! The God of glory has met them and they have met him in Jesus Christ, and now they can never be defined by what they were – hallelujah!

It may be that you need to go and draw afresh from the well of salvation (Isaiah 12). To put on your beautiful garments and shake off the dust (Isaiah 52:1, 2) that has gathered on you or that the enemy keeps thowing back at you. To realise afresh that your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you, therefore you can arise (Isaiah 60:1), lift up your head and walk tall in this world.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Low view of man = high view of God?

Last week I attended a conference at which the speaker used the illustration of a see-saw to illustrate the idea that when we have a high view of man we correspondingly have a low view of God, and when we have a high view of God we correspondingly have a low view of man. I know what he’s trying to get at, but I think the pictures wrong.

If I can put it this way, having a high view of man doesn’t necessitate a low view of God, in fact quite the opposite. In fact I would go so far as to say that having a low view of man belongs to the evolutionary world not the theological one. The Bible seems to tell us that God himself has a ‘high view’ of man – he made him in his image, the pinnacle of his creation, with the ability to know and relate to him, and rule over or steward the earth.

Now some will say the Fall changed all that – my question is, did it? Even after the fall, humanity is not portrayed in some kind of ‘worm’ tone as in the words Isaac Watts wrote in 1885 “Would he devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?” Rather to paraphrase the Psalmist (8:3, 4) “After I’ve observed your creation of the universe, I mean wow! Then I see man and I’m staggered that you think of him – what is it about man that you think about him and care for him?” Now that to me is quite a ‘high view’ of man.

That doesn’t mean I deny the fallen state and the wrechedness of it (Romans 7:24). I just need to watch my theological categories.

Now the question is does it diminish my view of God? and my answer is no; in fact I magnify God all the more for the way he has created me/humanity. It staggers me even more that this God who made me in such a way, whom I have rebelled against, should take on our flesh, live here, be tempted in all points as we are, and give his life that we might once again be reconciled to him.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Faith & Works 3


Theres quite a bit of interest in this so I thought it would be good to follow on....

This is so important to get right. One of the areas where the devil seeks to cripple the Christian is in the area of faith and works. He'll suggest that not just faith. Its too good to be true. You need to try a bit just to be sure. Now you've blown it!

It can happen anywhere along the journey, even near the end. I've spoken to those who were close to death - yes even those who believed in the free grace of God - who've asked the question have I done enough? Am I good enough?

Once we get on that one it's a downward slope all the way - how much is good enough? How much do I need to do to be in, 0.1%, 2%, 50%?

The fact is we were never good enough, it was never about us being good enough, and we shall never be good enough, but there is One who is! If this is not the case then the gospel is not good news. If in any way some puny effort on my part is included, then there can be no assurance, no real joy or confident hope.

That is why we are exhorted to look away from ourselves to Jesus. It is his faithfulness that counts, not mine or yours. He has done the job and he has done it well.

Wesleys forgotten hymn says it well:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
'Forgive him, O forgive,' they cry,
'Nor let that ransomed sinner die!'

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And 'Father, Abba, Father,' cry.

Or as Augustus Toplady put it:

From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hath not the Father put to grief
His spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was charged on Thee?

Complete atonement Thou hast made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
Whate’er Thy people owed;
How then can wrath on me take place
If sheltered in Thy righteousness,
And sprinkled with Thy blood?

If Thou hast my discharge procured,
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine,
Payment God cannot twice demand—
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.

Turn then, my soul, unto thy rest!
The merits of thy great High Priest
Have bought thy liberty;
Trust in His efficacious blood,
Nor fear thy banishment from God,
Since Jesus died for thee!

No condemnation! He justifies the ungodly through faith in Jesus Christ! Hallelujah!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Faith and Works 2


To pick up from last week a much debated chapter is James 2, where the big question that has frequently loomed is ‘do we need works in order to be saved?’ Is it faith alone or is it faith and works? And if faith and works, how much faith, how much works, and what kind of works?

Some believe that James was counter-balancing Paul’s doctrine of free grace, but that can’t be the case as, one, James wrote before Paul, and two, it denies the unity of inspired Scripture, setting one part at odds with another.

When studying the Scriptures we need to watch out that we don’t bring our own preconceived ideas, prejudices and external data, into the text. For example words in Greek can have different shades of meaning, as in our own language, therefore we cannot simply use a lexicon (a kind of Greek dictionary) and say this is what it means, when in actual fact one writer might use a word in a different way to another.

Context is always the key, we must not isolate this passage from who James is talking to and why, or isolate it from the rest of what he is saying, otherwise we can make it say something quite different! This is how cults work the Scriptures to their own end and can make them say all sorts of things. 

We need to let James speak for himself, but first we need to rehearse and remind ourselves of the Good News, that way it will help us to hear what James is NOT saying, and what he IS saying.

John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him, should not perish but have eternal life.” Notice, believes, not works.

Acts 16:3 says, Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,..” Notice, believe not work.

Romans 3:24-28 provides us with a theological summary of the Gospel, saying that we, “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Notice the words, ‘grace’, ‘gift’, ‘received by faith’, ‘justified by faith apart from works’. You can’t get much clearer than that!

But probably no text of Holy Scripture tells it quite as well as Romans 4:5: “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,”

The old acrostic — Forsaking All I Trust Him is theologically perfectly accurate.

Ephesians 2:8,9 says,“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Romans 11:6 makes it abundantly clear when it says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

Now we recognise that the bible does speak of works regarding the Christian, but these are not saving works, or works done to make our salvation ‘more sure,’ they are simply the product and purpose of a new life. They are not the basis of salvation but the fruit of it. We have been saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10). At the same time we don’t do good works to prove we are saved, we do them because we are.  One of the biggest dangers for the Christian is doing works to prove we are.

William Barclay says “We are not saved by deeds; we are saved for deeds; these are the twin truths of the Christian life. And Paul’s whole emphasis is on the first truth, and James’s whole emphasis is on the second truth.”

R. T. Kendall has some very startling words, “What startles me is the number of people who insist that one must have works to show he is saved but who themselves have virtually nothing of the very works James has in mind! They wish to use James as a basis of “assurance by works” but not the kind of works James has in mind—caring for the poor. I have yet to meet the first person who holds (or preaches) that giving another “those things which are needful to the body” must follow faith to show that it is saving faith indeed. We prefer to be selective in our use of James.”

Two questions need to be asked, who is James addressing? And, why is he addressing them?

James is writing to Christians, to people who have a real faith.  All the way through this letter James recognises and affirms their faith.  In chapter 1:18 he spoke of them being ‘brought forth by the word of truth,’ a reference to the new birth.  In chapter 2:1 he talks about them ‘holding the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.’  He doesn’t for one moment suggest that their treatment of the poor and favouritism towards the rich suggested that they weren’t saved, and throughout he makes constant reference to them as ‘brothers and sisters’ ‘my brothers and sisters,’ ‘my beloved brothers and sisters.’

Because they were developing an inward, personal, self-serving Christianity.  They were backing off from life as God’s people in this present world resulting in immaturity and inconsistency.

There was inconsistency and immaturity in their,
  1. Private lives
  2. Fellowship together
  3. Witness
The CALL is to maturity, to lives that are consistent with the faith they profess.  We can say three things about their faith:
  1. Its real enough – James affirms their faith.
  2. In some way their faith is lacking.  There’s a missing dimension, not that they need more of it.
  3. They need to do something about it.
In order to understand what James is saying here it’s best to regard James 1:21-2:26 as a single large section in the development of his letter, with James 1:21 setting out the theme, and the rest building on and working it out.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (2:14).  

Hang on a minute you say, what about ‘save or saved’ aren’t they to do with salvation?
First, we need to ask what James means by ‘save’ here?  Saved from what?

Save comes from the Greek: Sozo and is a big word and can be interpreted as save, deliver, heal, protect, make whole, rescue from peril, keep alive.  “To save the soul” (=“life”) is to preserve the physical life from an untimely death due to sin. James uses the word ‘save’ five times in his letter in 1:21; 4;12; 5:15; 5:20 and here in 2: 14.  Remember context is key, and in the first four references it would appear to refer to some form of deliverance in the present, and not to eternal salvation from hell.

So what is James saying here? James has just made reference to the possibility of Christians transgressing the law of liberty (vs 9-13) and the question arises as to whether they can escape the consequences, and James’s answer is NO. Or to put it another way, can the fact that a man holds correct beliefs and is orthodox ‘save’ him from the deadly consequences of sin? Of course not!   If this had been a salvation issue we would have expected a clear definition of the Gospel but not so. In fact James goes on to illustrate his argument with a reference to the brother or sister who is poorly clothed and lacking in food (v.15).  So we could paraphrase the verse in this way “So of what advantage or benefit is it to anyone, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has holds the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ but does not have actions that correspond to  it? Can faith in Jesus save him from judgment, and its consequences?”(Note 2:12). That is present judgment and consequences.

What about ‘FAITH’?
First we should note that,That,’ is not in the original, but the translators have put it in as a qualifier in attempt to give what they believe is the sense.  But there is reference to only one kind of faith in this chapter, that is, true faith. The reference cannot be translated ‘that kind of faith’ as some versions do, as if it were another kind of faith to real faith, either ‘false’ faith or ‘spurious’ faith or ‘head’ faith as some writers would suggest.  It refers to ‘the’ faith, and we have already affirmed that anyone possessing the ‘faith’ is truly saved.

Note the last verse (v.26) “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” The body corresponds to faith, and the spirit to works. Where you have a body there is or has been life. So faith is there but its dead.

James concern is not whether they have faith, but the state of their faith, (vs 15,16,17 20,22, 26). Notice the references to ‘worthless’, ‘what good’, ‘dead’, and ‘useless’ in vs.1:26; 2:14,17,20 all saying much the same thing in different ways. The issue then is one of personal belief without corresponding actions, the uselessness of their faith apart from works not the absence or genuineness of faith because they are without works.

  1. The brother or sister who is poorly clothed and lacking in food – faith needs to be worked out in action
  2. Abraham – at this point he was already justified, this was an outworking of that.  His actions demonstrated his faith to the world.
  3. Rahab.  Again her actions demonstrated her faith to the world.
“If any of us fails to meet the needs of believers around us, then at that moment our faith is unprofitable, dead, and lifeless. We have failed to enliven our faith. Our orthodoxy has lost its vitality and has become cold and dead. The illustration does not concern the whole of one’s life. So, a believer whose spiritual life is dead (i.e., his faith is not combined with works) needs to get to work. The problem is not that he needs to believe something different. Notice that nowhere in his epistle does James call for faith in some other object. James is concerned that his readers need to look around them and start meeting needs.”
  • Witness: the number of young people who grow in faith when they have been on a mission.
Robert Wilkin (Editor , Grace Evangelical Society Journal) puts it, “Far from being an epistle of straw, James is an epistle of steel.  And James 2:14-26 is one of the most powerful passages in the entire Bible. It is a call to action. Get to work. Don’t just talk the talk; walk the walk. Look around you, find needs, and meet those needs. If you do, your life will be enriched now and forever. If you don’t, you are on a deadly course that leads to pain and ultimately to premature death.”

James B. Adamson says: “The force of the statement seems to be that faith is fulfilled, strengthened, and matured by exercise.” The Epistle of James, NIC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), p. 130.

Good works are not necessary to keep us from going to hell, faith in the finished work of Christ does that, however good works do keep us from coming under God’s disciplinary judgement, that could result in sickness, or premature death. (1 Corinthians 11: 28-32).

“Not only is the mature Christian patient and persevering in testing (James 1), but he also practices the truth. This is the theme of James 2. Immature people talk about their beliefs, but the mature person lives his faith. Hearing God’s Word (James 1:22-25) and talking about God’s Word can never substitute for doing God’s Word.” Warren Wiersbe.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Faith and Works

One of the big questions we often encounter in our Christian life is the one of faith and works – is believing in Jesus enough or is there something I should do? This isn’t a new one – it has dogged the church from the beginning, and ensnared many a Christian. It’s what we might call Jesus plus.
In the book of Galatians we find that the churches that Paul had started in Galatia were struggling with the same question as a result of false teachers. For them the question was, should Gentile Christians become Jews by submitting to certain external things like circumcision and the law in order to become full members of God’s family?

Paul started the churches in Galatia on his first missionary journey about 47-48AD, and writes this letter to them barely 1-2 years later out of great concern. Why? The churches in Galatia were in danger of losing the plot, and were turning to a different gospel (1:6). They were moving from Jesus only to Jesus plus. As a result they were getting bogged down in legalism, and the elementary principles of this world (4:9), and had lost the blessing they once knew (4:15). What’s more they claimed Paul had changed the message, and that it was incomplete!

Now Paul makes it quite clear in that there is no other gospel and that the gospel he shared with them was not man’s gospel (1:11), for he received it by revelation (1:12), and had explained it to them in all its glorious fullness (3:1).

Bewitched is not normally the way you would refer to Christians! But this is exactly what Paul does in Galatians 3:1, he says, “Who has bewitched you?” – who has put youunder a spell?

Jesus plus is just as much an issue today, and it is extremely bewitching. The devil doesn’t like the gospel of free grace – Jesus only. Today there is a lot emphasis on me and my faith. It constantly calls me up, to make a new commitment, to try again, try harder, when the reality is the Bible starts and finishes somewhere else – with Christ.

When the emphasis falls on me, on my faith and commitment, my holiness, my performance and perseverance we are headed the same way as the Galatians. Have you been bewitched? Led astray from the pure gospel? Lost your joy in believing? Lost your liberty?

We need to be reminded again and again, good works do not merit grace, neither do good works done from grace merit anything! It is all of grace!

Jesus plus creeps in in a variety of ways:

Jesus plus in salvation: some have used the illustration of a drowning person clinging desperately to a life belt and being hauled in as an illustration of being saved, and when they finally get him or her in the boat he or she is finally saved. That’s Jesus plus your strength to hold on. That’s faith and works. That is not a Bible picture. We are not trying to hang on to Jesus, he has got hold of us!

Jesus plus in worship: Some of our modern hymns and songs don’t help us, e.g. “I’m coming up the mountain Lord ….” Musing on this recently I found myself thinking, is this right? After all a mountain is not easy to climb, and anyway didn’t Jesus come down it for us? Another, “I really want to see you …” and so we try to see him, when in fact do we not behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as Paul says? We could go on, but the result is self effort, a striving to know God and get into his presence, to worship etc.. Jesus plus.

Jesus plus in Christian living/assurance: You may have heard of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which teaches that God’s people are eternally saved and will persevere to the end, but I have heard it preached and taught in such a way that it undermines the very gospel and the faith of the believer, and pushes them over into works. It’s borne out in the question I have heard more than once (from people who have believed in it), “have I done enough?” Which equals, Jesus plus. To which my answer has always been its not and never has been about what you have done, but what Jesus has done, has he done enough? And the Bible’s answer to that question is a resounding YES!
That kind of Christianity is more about striving than believing, more about getting than receiving, more about works than faith, more about me than Christ.

The perennial danger facing the Christian and therefore the church is mixing law and grace; works and faith. Galatians is all about that. Now there’s an even subtler version of it, faith in our faith – when we place all the emphasis on my faith we are in danger of turning that faith into a kind of work, and so it all becomes subjective (inward looking and feeling oriented) rather than objective (looking away from ourselves to another, and his word to us). Faith is not trying to believe, not trying to hang on in there – you either believe or you don’t.
• The Righteousness of the law = legal dutiful obedience = do and you shall live
• The Righteousness of the gospel = faith/faithfulness of another = believe and live!

Paul is his opening up of the gospel in Romans begins by saying that it is “from faith to/for faith.” (Rom. 1:17). What does he mean by that? He means that it starts somewhere else – with Jesus, it is from the faith of Jesus to ours. Now in most of our modern bibles that would not be obvious because they always translate it as if every reference is to our faith in him, and if we do that only one understanding is allowed.

Now the bible does speak of our faith for example:
“Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received BY FAITH.” (Romans 3:25)
“For we hold that one is justified BY FAITH apart from/without the works/deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28). See also: Romans 4:5; Gal. 3:26; Col. 1:4.

In the King James/Authorised Version and the NET Bible (a new translation) it also speaks of the faith of Jesus (I can’t deal with questions of translation here):
“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by THE FAITH/FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST, even we HAVE BELIEVED IN JESUS CHRIST, that we might be justified by THE
FAITH/FAITHFULLNESS OF CHRIST, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. … I live by the FAITH/FAITHFULNESS of the Son of God” (Gal. 2:15 16). See also in the KJV or on the NET Bible (online): Romans 3:21, 22; Gal. 3:22; Phil. 3:9; Ephesians 3:11, 12. I would encourage you to read all these verses in their context and notice the difference ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ makes.

What does this mean? Humanity was meant to live by faith in God, it has failed miserably. We call it the Fall. BUT God in his love has sent Jesus in flesh just like our own to live the life that we should have lived of faith/faithfulness before God. John Henry Newman captures it well in his hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the Height’:

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.
O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive, and should prevail;
and that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine:
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.
O generous love! that he who smote
in man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo.

Jesus lived out a life of faith in real flesh, the stuff we are made of – remember, “the unassumed is the unredeemed.” He assumes our flesh and so redeems not only our will, but thoughts and emotions – our whole estrangement and humanity! Hallelujah!

Day in and day out, month in and month out, year after year, Jesus was tempted and tried in every way but through faith in the Father overcame and offered to God the life that we should have lived and having done so gave him-self on our behalf, as an at-onement for our sins.

We find it expressed in these words from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer: “By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation, Good Lord, deliver us. By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the coming of the Holy Ghost, …”

Our faith then is a derived faith, it comes as a result of the faith/faithfulness of Jesus, and therefore our justification is conditioned upon Christ’s faith not on ours – our faith itself does not justify us, but Christ in whom we have placed our faith. It is therefore Christ-centred rather than believer-centred.

It’s not about techniques, rules, law keeping, disciplines etc. but a PERSON, Christ. The only victorious life there is and you need is Christ! We overcome by recognising and participating in his victory, not getting another one!

Marcus Barth in The Faith of The Messiah says, “The faith of Christ is the means, and the faith of men and women in Christ is the purpose and response.” Our faith then is a derived faith, derived from the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ – his faith-filled obedience. As the writer to the Hebrews says Jesus is the Author and Finisher of faith, or the Captain and Object of faith (Hebrews 12:1,2), and in the words of T. F. Torrance, “In the New Testament gospel Christ’s faith, his obedience, his knowledge are the foundation of my faith, obedience and knowledge, so that my faith, obedience and knowledge are objectively controlled by his.” T. F. Torrance, Incarnation. So “the life I/we now live in the flesh I/we live by the faith of the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us!” Galatians 2:20.

Here is peace and joy and liberty and relationship and power and hope!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

New Perspectives and Extra Biblical Material

Well lifes been busy….. spent a week away at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology doing my last module for my MTh, and been trying to catch up ever since!

This time it was Christology and Soteriology, with a look at the New Perspective(s) – yes, there now appears to be as many perspectives as theologians – especially as per James Dunn and N T Wright. We had some good lectures and discussions – there’s something about learning together.

One interesting exercise was going down to the library and looking at the growing use of extra Biblical resources in commentaries in the last ten years – a shocking eye opener, with some ranging up to 10 pages of references!

How encouraging to hear that its a move in the wrong direction (contra Dunn and Wright), and the Old Testament is to be our base and guide to understanding the New. To do otherwise is to suggest that in a hundred or so years time people could gather from the writings of the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and any other cult and suggest that their understanding of the Bible should help people of the day know what Christians really believed back then! No way!

So, be encouraged, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have access to the Dead Sea Scrolls or the numerous other bits of literature only available to academia. Your Bible is inspired by God and fully trustworthy. Get to know the Old Testament and how it is worked out in the New – what a book; what a message!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Free in Christ - Romans 8

For many Romans 8 is something they aim at, but rarely get there. To often their experience is Romans 7, the wretched man, but that is to fall short of the gospel. Romans 8 is meant to be the normal Christian life. Some years ago after living as a Romans 7 Christian I studied Romans afresh, and realised I had missed something.

Frequently the realm of Flesh and Spirit is seen as interior, and so an inner conflict is set up (and I had many of them), but Romans reveals it to be two realms, and we are either in one or the other. Here is a paraphrase I wrote of Romans 8 that seeks to bring it out.

8:1,2. So, the conclusion of it all is this: that there is now absolutely no condemnation whatsoever (and neither can there ever be), for those who are in union with Christ Jesus. For, the law of the Spirit of life which is in and through Christ Jesus has liberated you from the law of sin that always leads to failure, defeat and death.

3,4. For what the law could never do (enable us to be right with God, and live righteously because of our sinful flesh) God did Himself, and He did this by sending His own Son in flesh just like ours under the domain of sin, and for sin itself. He then past judgment on sin in the realm of the Flesh, and condemned it once and for all, thereby destroying it’s power, so that now, the righteous requirements of the law might be accomplished in us who walk no longer in the realm of the Flesh (lives lived without reference to God); but now walk in the realm of the Spirit (lives lived in reference to God).

5, 6. For, those who live their lives according to the realm of the Flesh, their thoughts and affections, in fact their whole perspective is shaped by and set on the things of ‘the Flesh,’ but those who live their lives according to the realm of the Spirit, their thoughts and affections indeed their whole perspective is shaped by and set on the things of ‘the Spirit.’ For, the whole inclination and outlook of the realm of the Flesh, is death, but, the whole inclination and outlook of the realm of the Spirit, is life and peace.

7 – 9. The reason is this: the inclination and outlook of the realm of the Flesh is hostile to God, for it is not subject to the law of God, and never can be. So then, those who live in the realm of the Flesh can never please God. But, as for you, you are no longer in the realm of the Flesh and under its power, but in the realm of the Spirit, managed and energised by Him, since the Spirit of God inhabits you. Now if someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they cannot possibly belong to Him.

10, 11. Now since Christ does reside in you, that means the body is dead because of sin, and yet you have life by the Spirit because of righteousness. Moreover since the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead resides in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to these mortal bodies because of His Spirit who dwells in you.

12 – 16. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors and have an obligation – but it is certainly not to the realm of the Flesh, to live in keeping with the Flesh. For if you live in keeping with the realm of the Flesh, you are obviously still in the realm of the Flesh, unchanged, fleshly, and you will die; but, if by the Spirit you put to death the practices of the body by saying no to sin and not giving in to it, you will live. For those who so live are being led by the Spirit of God and show themselves to be true sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of slavery that leads again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of full sonship that enables you to call out with confidence “Abba, Father.” For the Spirit Himself testifies to our spirit that we are children of God.

© R. Burgess 2001 revised 2012

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Communion - Four Key Words

Four Key Words
There are four key words to keep in mind when coming to the Lord’s Table; important words that will help us in our appreciation of it.

The first one is Covenant – “This is the new covenant established by my blood.” This is our first base – it’s God’s covenant, it’s about what he has done. The Old one couldn’t do the job because of our falleness, so God establishes a new one. The idea of a covenant then roots us in Christ’s performance NOT ours. This provides a balance to the experiential nature of Spirit-filled Christianity and represents the tension between the ages, the now and not yet of the kingdom – the sacrifice once and for all time and the full consummation of what that means in the future. God’s act in Jesus has changed the way God feels, i.e. the Passover, “When I see the blood I will Passover you.” If things are going well for you then we are reminded when we come to the table its because of what Jesus has done; if you are struggling when we come to the table then we are reminded that its not our performance but his that counts. In Israels households there were no doubt good sons and bad sons, but it was the blood of the lamb that would save each. The Communion Table levels us all.

The second Remember – “Do this in remembrance of me…” For the western mind this is no more than the recollecting of details and events with no present reality, but for the Hebrew/Jewish mind it was a remembering that engages with and relives the event. It was a reactivating of its significance, so that generations later it was their story. And in many ways it was, you see we live in an individualistic isolated world, they lived in family/community world. Their identity wasn’t in themselves it was in thier community and its history. So there great, great, great, great… grand parents story was their story, and they remebered and told in such a way. So it should be for us as we break the bread and drink the wine.

The third is Communion. The original word is translated variously in different versions and places in the Bible as communion, participation, sharing; 1 Cor. 10:17 “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
1. It is with Christ. This must be foremost, we commune with him.
2. It is with one another. Jesus died for the church, a body, his body. It expresses our unity. Sharing = a rejoicing in the common bond we have in Christ… This is where the scripture “Examine yourselves” comes in. This is not about introspection, but the fact we are part of the body, and is in regard to the body – our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to recognise it, honour it, and extend the same grace and mercy to it. It becomes then a meal that unites us and sustains us.

The fourth is Proclamation – “You proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.” – what an amazing line – we proclaim both death and life at the same time! Everytime we Break Bread, eat the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the reality of Christ – his life, his death, his ressurection,his coming again and in so doing we proclaim the power of the gospel to save all that will put their trust in him.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Communion - what is it? Part 2

To understand communion we need to look at where it came from. The scripture provides us with a very direct clue “As they were eating…” (Matthew 26:26). The question is what were they eating? And the answer is the Passover meal, something which Jesus said, “With desire (strong desire) I have desired to eat the Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15).

To find the real meaning then we need to go back to its origin in the Old testament in Exodus 12. In this chapter we come to the climax of the spiritual battle that was taking place. Every demonstration of God’s authority and power over the gods of Egypt had been resisted – Pharoah would not let God’s people go.

This last demonstration was going to involve the death of the firstborn in every Egyptian home – but there was a problem: God is holy and just. How could God be true to himself, and save some and yet judge others, after all his own people were sinners?

For justice to be done God instructed the selecting, keeping and slaughtering of a perfect lamb, and the eating of its flesh. This lamb was to take the eldest son’s place – to be his substitute. They were to take the blood and put it on the door posts and lintel because as God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” It was there for God, and for them. It changed first of all the way God felt about them, secondly, it would be the cause of the eldest son’s deliverence (I would encourage you to read/reread the story and put yourself in the eldest son’s place, consider what he and his family felt).

This was the “Lord’s Passover” and they were to keep it as a memorial feast to the Lord every year (12:14). This passover not only looked back, but it became part of the promise and anticipation of Messiah, the hoped for Deliverer.

Jesus said he strongly desired to eat this passover with them before he died.

Why? He wanted to invest it with new meaning, he wanted to transform it and give it new significance, and as he does so it becomes his story; he is the Passover Lamb, the fulfilment of Israel’s Story, the promised Messiah – as Paul was later to say, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

“All” says scripture “have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory,” and it is no easy thing for God to forgive sinners – he is utterly holy, and we have fallen completely short. I believe it was Carnegie Simpson who said,”Forgiveness to man is the plainest of duties, but to God it is the profoundest of problems.”

God cannot simply ignore our sin or turn a blind eye to it. God must be true to himself. The only thing God can do is to take our place, take on human flesh himself, be tempted in everyway as we are, then go to a cross as our substitute bearing our sin. He must bear our judgment, he must die our death. His death as John Owen put it would be the “death of death in the death of Christ.”

A Lamb who would be our substitute. Judgment. The shedding of blood. Passover!

This is the meaning that that Jesus invests the passover with. This was not the Last Supper, but the Last Passover!

More to come…. next time a key word….

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Communion - what is it?

Last week I preached a message on Communion. It was good to look at the subject again, I mean it begs a question, what place does it have in the experience of the Spirit-filled Christian/Church, after all, we seek and know the presence and power of God, why would we want to go through what appears to be a ritual?

Then again I think of being asked as a pastor by a Christian of many years, “What is meant to happen when we take communion? What am I meant to do?” I wonder how many others think the same?
As a boy I remember observing communion (or the Lord’s Supper as it was known) in the church I grew up in. The Christian adults at the end of the meeting once a month all got up and went to the front and had their own little meeting, while we children stayed quietly (and I mean quietly) in our seats… The Table was covered with a cloth, there was bread and wine, a reading, prayer. It was quiet, solemn, serious (not that quiet, solemn and serious is neccessarily wrong)… after that it was a mystery…

So what of it? What is it and what is meant to happen?

Real (Physical) Presence
Well there are those who think the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus once the priest has prayed – it’s now consecrated, holy, and when they take communion it’s at an altar where Christ is offered afresh.
For others the bread and wine don’t physically change but nevertheless there is a very real presence in and under the elements, much as a sponge dipped in water is a sponge with real water in it.
Spiritual Presence
Still others say, no, Real Presence is wrong, but there is a Spiritual Presence in the Bread and Wine, somehow Jesus is present in them, though not physically.
No Presence
And others reacting to both of the above say, no, there is no real physical or spiritual presence, they are only emblems, its just a means of remembering Jesus – his death and resurrection, and we shouldn’t be looking to experience anything.

Present at the Table
Now the fact that Jesus said ‘this is my body’ can mean no more than he intended it as a representation is revealed in the fact that he was sitting there in his body, and the bread he held was just bread – nothing had changed. Yes he was present to them and yes his desire is to be present to us. The drama was in the action. Jesus said elsewhere that when two or three are gathered in his name he is there among them. The same I think applies to communion, it’s a meal he invites us to partake of, its a table and not an altar – thats important as an altar separates and needs special people to officiate and offerings to be made, whereas tables put us all at the same level and are the place of fellowship. The presence then is not in the bread and wine but in the act itself when done in faith.

In a world where much of our worship can be about what we are doing, “I worship you,” “I give you my life,” “I trust in you…” (and theres a place for that) the communion table is solely about what he has done, and invites us to.

More to come…

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

What dreams have you got?

What dreams have you got?

God meant us to dream and we are not talking day dreaming here!  He spoke to people in the Bible through dreams. On the day of Pentecost when God poured out his Spirit on all flesh, Peter said the young would have visions and the old dreams - that's not visons for the future and dreams about the past. It refers to God speaking across the generations - with peole living longer, the average age in the UK for both sexes is now in the 80's, and we're healthier and stronger -  maybe its time whatever age you are to dream again in God, to listen for and hear God afresh.

The dreams and visions God gave people in the Bible were very often bigger than the individuals involved...... That's God's way! God always gives us dreams bigger than ourselves, otherwise they wouldn't be dreams, and they wouldn't require us to go out on a limb in God.

As we head into 2012, what are yours?

Are you just expecting more of the 'same old,' or are you looking for somehing to happen?

What are your dreams for....


Your marriage?

Your family?

Your education?

Your work?

Your church?

Your .......

Don't let this year be the same as last. Put your hand into the hand of God and walk into the future he has for you. Let him shape both you and it. You'll be surprised!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Missions & Culture

Well I’ve been away this week doing the fifth module of an MTh, this time it was Aspects of Modern Mission – Great stuff!

Now I grew up reading missionary stories, stories of men and women who gave up everything to go and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ in what were largely unknown places, sometimes it cost them their lives – I loved them and was inspired by them.

Today the story of missions is quite different, but nevertheless still as inspiring. The character of missions has changed, but the message hasn’t, what’s more it’s not only ‘over there’ it’s here, right on our doorstep.

The town I live in was predominately White English up until a few years ago – in fact I can remember going to Spring Harvest in the 1980′s (a big Christian event held over three weeks at Easter to accomodate the numbers), and hearing talk of a changing culture, pluralism etc and how we as Christians and the church should respond to it. Well, then it didn’t connect with me or the church I was in, my part of England was still very English indeed!

Today it’s very different, it’s fast becoming a town of many nations, and we are having to learn to do mission at home – to learn about and reach other cultures with the Good News of Jesus Christ, King and Saviour.

It also makes us reflect on our own culture – the early missionaries went to not only bring salvation but to ‘Christianise’ others, which tended to mean the imposition of a western colonial culture. Now we find ourselves asking in such a diverse world is there really one truly Christian culture? And with the world on our doorstep, how do we do reach so many people from different cultures? How do we build churches that are truly an expression of the manifold wisdom of God, a representation of the one new man in Jesus?

It’s easier to go the homogenous route, but that seems to deny the wisdom of God in the gospel, a gospel that not only breaks down the barriers between God and humanity, but all peoples.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

New Year Resolutions and All That

And so we are into 2012, resolutions have already been made….
and broken ….

It’s not that resolutions are necessarily wrong, some well known men and women of God down through history have made them, i.e. Jonathan Edwards of the USA.

A lot of people make resolutions only for them to last a few weeks, the reason being those resolutions are self-focused, they are about what I am going to do, and how I’m going to do it. It’s about my will, my resolve, and my strength to perform – in many ways it’s a works gospel: try harder, you might get there this time. Believe me I know I’ve been there.

Paul reached the point of complete desperation regarding his ability to perform, to get it right, to reach the standard. To paraprase him, “The good I have resolved and want to do, I can’t do it. In fact it’s worse than that, I find myself doing the very opposite – the things I hate.” It led him to the utter depths of human poverty and despair – to cry out: “who will deliver me from this body of death – this life that continually pulls me down into death?” Romans 7:24.

Maybe that’s where you are.

And what was his conclusion?

Notice he does not say “how can I do this,” “have you got a better program I can try,” he says, “who will deliver me?”

Did you notice that, “Who?” He’s given up on himself, he needs someone beyond himself to do it. And the answer he gives is Jesus.

Whether you believe Paul was a Christian or not at this point, the answer is the same. One of the things we need to remember – a very important thing – is that the gospel is not just for those who don’t know Christ, it’s also for those who do.

We need to continually be reminded of the gospel because the devil loves to get us away from Christ and into self, and that kind of Christianity is miserable indeed.

The gospel is Jesus plus nothing – absolutely, not my will, nor my effort. It’s about his faithfulness, how he has performed, and our being in him, and his life in us.

The writer to the Hebrews says there is a rest for the people of God, and the person who has entered that rest, has rested, or stopped from his own works (Hebrews 4:9,10).

That rest is Jesus – only, always.

So as we go into the New Year where are you looking in and feeling down, or away from yourself to Jesus the “author and finisher of our faith.” Believe me there is a world of a difference!