Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Podcasts

For Christmas, we're handling the podcast a little differently than we normally do. We published three new Christmas poems in Primum Mobile Magazine this quarter, and we're uploading an audio version of those poems in this Advent season. The first one is up already, the second going up this weekend, and the final one before Christmas day. God willing, we'll head back into a book of the Bible this January and start teaching through it verse-by-verse.

In the meantime, check out the podcast.

To subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please click here. To listen to the podcast without iTunes, please follow this link.

God bless!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Threefold: King

Podcast feed: Subscribe This is a transcript of one of our recent podcasts. To subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please click here. To listen to the podcast without iTunes, please follow this link.

In the Old Testament, God ordained that three offices be established to instruct, to intercede for, and to protect His children. These are the roles of the prophet, priest, and king. In this series, we will look at how Jesus fulfills these three roles, and continues to do so to this day.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
-1 Corinthians 15:24-26

Welcome to the Christian Pilgrimage Podcast; I’m your host, Paul Lytle. As the Messiah, Jesus took upon Himself three Old Testament roles, and they are offices He holds even now. Francis Turretin tells us, “The threefold misery of men introduced by sin – ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage – required this conjunction of a threefold office.” The final of the Threefold Office is “King.”

We are looking at how God established three offices in the Old Testament to protect, warn, and intercede for the people. The prophet spoke on God’s behalf, telling the people what God required and what they had to do. The priest sacrificed on behalf of the people, seeking forgiveness for sin.

We have priests and prophets before Moses, but it is with Moses that these two offices are fully established as we would come to understand them. Moses was the first great prophet, and under his guidance, Aaron became the first high priest.

But the office of the king was not brought about until much later. For centuries, God was the king over the Jewish people. He wrote their laws and established their justice. It wasn’t until the time of Samuel that another king was crowned, and the people sought one then out of a lack of faith.

The elders came to Samuel and said, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). But Samuel wasn’t really very happy about this. He was God’s prophet, and God was their leader. But God told him, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them” (8:7-8).

I’m going about the discussion of this office a little differently than the other two for a purpose. I want us to see that when we say that Christ is King, it is a truth that has always been, and remains so today.

When Jesus ascended, He went to the right hand of the Father, and from there He rules as king. We mean a few different things when we speak of Jesus as king. In the first place, He is the head of the church. We see this too with our passage from 1 Samuel. Surely God here is sovereign over all things, and yet He has chosen a people for Himself, saved them from slavery to Egypt, and He is their King. In the same way, Jesus has saved a people for Himself in His death upon the Cross, freed them from slavery to sin, and He has a kingdom promised for those whom He has saved. This is the Church – the bride of Christ. Not everyone is part of this kingdom, but only those who have repented and have faith in Jesus. As Priest, He has interceded for those people who would believe upon Him, and it is those He has brought into His kingdom.

But it is not just over these few that Jesus ultimately rules. He is coming again, and this is what the Bible says about the Second Coming: “And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:14-16). He is coming, and His coming will put all of earth and heaven under His rule forever, and He will literally rule for all eternity.

And yet His kingdom is not wholly future, but is present as well. It is not, my friends, as though all of the earth, save perhaps the Church, is under the complete control of evil and will remain that way until the Second Coming. No, for Jesus is king even now, and He rules from the right hand of the Father on this very day. He “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22).

We see this also in the passage from 1 Samuel, if we are paying attention. You see, the people wanted a human king of their own, but it did not happen by their word, but by the word of God. Yes, it was an evil thing they desired – to be rid of God as their king. But they did not succeed here, for God had to allow it before it could happen. God did not lose control; He merely allowed someone to sit on the throne.

We must understand that God is sovereign. He is in utter control of all things. Perhaps it does not seem like it, for God does not make this control so very clear as it will be in after the Second Coming. He has not come to sit upon a throne before us all, though it is truly a throne upon which He sits. In His sovereignty He has allowed others to stand in places of power. He has allowed events to take place. He has even allowed evil, but never outside of His control, but always exactly as He wishes it to be by His good will. He does these things for His glory. For His glory He has allowed men to go astray. He will reveal His glory in His mercy toward some and His wrath against others. And yet not a molecule has escaped His control. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

The New Testament reveals that it is Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, who wields this power. It is He who is the head of the Church. It is He who will return in power and glory. It was through Him, even, that all of creation was made. And it is He who brings about the sovereign will of the Father.

Let us not tremble at this, unless, of course, we will not repent. This same God who will return in judgment also spoke to us, as a prophet, on how we may be saved. And more still, this same God, who saves a Church for Himself, has, as priest, made the sacrifice necessary for that Church to be saved. As king, He has rescued us from the bonds of sin and given us the freedom of His grace. He has paid it all, and He loses not one of whom the Father gives Him. If you will repent and believe on Him, you will find that He has paid your debt too.

We worship an incredible God. We worship a God who is a prophet – who speaks what we need to know for salvation and righteousness. We worship a God who is a priest – who takes our place in death and pays the punishment we deserve for our sin. And we worship a God who is a king – who has a real kingdom and real power, and is leading His children to an eternity of peace and communion with our Lord.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Threefold: Priest

Podcast feed: Subscribe This is a transcript of one of our recent podcasts. To subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please click here. To listen to the podcast without iTunes, please follow this link.

In the Old Testament, God ordained that three offices be established to instruct, to intercede for, and to protect His children. These are the roles of the prophet, priest, and king. In this series, we will look at how Jesus fulfills these three roles, and continues to do so to this day.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
-Hebrews 7:25-27

As the Messiah, Jesus took upon Himself three Old Testament roles, and they are offices He holds even now. Francis Turretin tells us, “The threefold misery of men introduced by sin – ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage – required this conjunction of a threefold office.” The second of the Threefold Office is “Priest.”

In the Old Testament, the Priest was called upon to be an intercessor between the people and God. They would pray for the people, bringing petitions from the people to God. They would teach the people, bring doctrine from God to the people. Critically, they would sacrifice on behalf of the people, bringing the blood offering from the people to God for the covering of sin.

Christians do not continue the practice of blood sacrifices. The reason for this is clear to any who read the Book of Hebrews – it is because our once-for-all sacrifice has already been made, and no further sacrifice is needed.

Of the three offices that Christ fills, this may be the most immediately obvious. Jesus is our high priest, and it is a role, the writer of the Hebrews tells us, that He holds forever. We have no need any longer for a high priest to stand between us and God, for Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25).

A quick word on why this is important. We looked last time at Jesus’ role as a prophet. As prophet, Jesus told us the will and words of God. He delivered, like the prophets before Him, the commands of God. And he warned us what would happen if we do not obey. Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone in the Bible. He wanted to be clear what would happen to the unrighteous.

The problem is that we aren’t righteous. We are all beset by sin, drowning in our evil actions, words, and thoughts. We sin by doing what we aren’t supposed to do and failing to do what we are supposed to do. We have failed to keep God’s holy law.

When we fail, we sin, and the rightful punishment of sin is death. The writer of the Hebrews tells us that “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). This is what those sacrifices of the Old Testament were about. It was a symbol of repentance of the people and the covering of their sins. This covering is called “propitiation,” which means “satisfying or covering.”

But the blood of goats cannot really take away the punishment we deserve because of sin. It is a symbol, but it does not save us in truth. God wrath is not propitiated because we kill a lamb.

That is why we needed Jesus to take this role as our high priest. Jesus was perfect, utterly without sin, and as such He did not deserve to die. He’s the only one who has ever lived that did not deserve to die. And yet He was tortured, beaten, nailed up to a cross, and baked in the sun until He was dead. And even then, just to be sure, the soldiers stabbed Him with a spear to prove He was dead.

The prophet Isaiah tells of Jesus, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6). Jesus took on our sin upon that Cross and put it to death. For those who would believe on Him, He has paid the debt that we could not pay.

Jesus not only makes the sacrifice for us, but He has BECOME the sacrifice for us. What the blood of goats and bulls could never do, His Blood has done. His death has propitiated the wrath of the Father and satisfied justice.

Now, the priests of the Old Testament had to do this over and over again. They never got to stop, for they were always sacrificing animals for the sins of the people. But Jesus paid it all in His own death. Those who repent and believe in Him will find that their sins were put to death on that very tree where our Savior died.

In three days our high priest rose from the dead, and even today does He make intercession on our behalf. He remains between us and the Father, an advocate on our behalf (1 John 2:1). When we sin, He stands on our behalf, and He also brings us to the Throne of Grace by the work of His righteousness, even though we have failed in our own.

The Old Testament high priest was the only one allowed to go into the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the Temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was. Only he was allowed, and only once a year, to approach God in that place. But when Jesus died on the Cross, the curtain that blocked off that area was torn in two, and the room was opened.

Because His Blood has cleansed us, we are now able to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Because of His work, our petitions will be heard, our repentance will be honored, and our faith will be counted to us as righteousness.

And let us not think of our high priest as someone cloistered off in a high temple, unaware of the struggles of life. No, Jesus took flesh and walked amongst us. He was tempted and tried. Again, Hebrews tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).

And so our high priest sympathizes with us, and He is ready for us with mercy and grace.

Let us heed the words and warnings of Jesus the prophet. Let us hear Him and understand, that we have all of us gone astray, and that we have failed to meet God’s holy standard. But also has He said, as prophet, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40). It is those people He has purchase by His Blood.

But what has He saved them to? A kingdom. We will look more at this next time, but we are not justified to be lost in a heavenly war over control. No, for Christ is also our King, the ruler of all the universe, and it is a realm He will never lose. It is that to which we have been saved, and we will reign with Him as coheirs to the kingdom for all time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Threefold: Prophet

Podcast feed: Subscribe This is a transcript of one of our recent podcasts. To subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please click here. To listen to the podcast without iTunes, please follow this link.

In the Old Testament, God ordained that three offices be established to instruct, to intercede for, and to protect His children. These are the roles of the prophet, priest, and king. In this series, we will look at how Jesus fulfills these three roles, and continues to do so to this day.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
-Hebrews 1:1-2

As the Messiah, Jesus took upon Himself three Old Testament roles, and they are offices He holds even now. Francis Turretin tells us, “The threefold misery of men introduced by sin – ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage – required this conjunction of a threefold office.” The first of the Threefold Office is “Prophet.”

“Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Such was John the Baptist’s frequent refrain as he spoke prophetically to the people of Judea. He stood in the wilderness as a prophet of God, divinely ordained to speak on behalf of God.

This has been the role of the prophet from the beginning. As a prophet, Moses spoke to Pharaoh on behalf of God, warning him to let the Hebrew people go. As a prophet, Isaiah spoke the words of the Lord to try to turn the Jews back to God. As a prophet, Jonah took the message to Nineveh. John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord in his prophetic office.

It has always been the role of the prophet to teach, to rebuke, and to warn. Moses taught us what God expects of us in the Law. The Apostle John warns us about the Second Coming of Christ, that we should be ready for Him. It is the ignorance of men, the darkness of unbelief, and the wrong ideas about God that the prophet seeks to remedy. Where we do not know, he teaches. Where we ignore, he rebukes. Where we sin, he warns.

The ultimate Prophet of Scriptures is Jesus Himself. We sometimes miss this, because a prophet points to God, and so Jesus’ words may sound slightly different to us sometimes. After all, He is God, and He therefore points to Himself.

And yet, He has come to teach, rebuke, and to warn. We see Him even using John the Baptist’s favorite phrase in
Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

The biblical prophet speaks on behalf of God. He is the mouthpiece of the Almighty, and whatever words he says in the name of God proves true. In fact, the Bible teaches that we can know a false prophet because he gets stuff wrong. God doesn’t get things wrong, and neither does His prophets. So it is when Jesus speaks to us. His counsel is righteous in all ways, His reproof just in every sense, and His warnings should be heeded.

He reminds us even of how He is of one mind with the Father – “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).

And if we doubt His role as a prophet, He even speaks of Himself as a prophet in Luke 13:33: “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

So prophet Jesus has come in this office to teach, rebuke, and warn. He teaches us of the nature of God and salvation. Like a prophet of old, He distributed blessings and woes according to what pleases and displeases God. To one group He will say, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8), but to another, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13). He gives us analogies of the kingdom of God to instruct. He teaches of sin and judgment. And He teaches of Himself as the way to life.

He rebukes one group for coming to Him for a miracle without believing in who He truly is. To merchants in the temple He rebukes with a whip. The scribes and Pharisees are His favorite target, for they wear their religion like a robe, but not in faith and love, but out of their own self-promotion. It is a warning that we should heed even today, for we often crave credit for our own righteousness. What Jesus would tell us is that we have none.

To all He warns of the wrath to come. “Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

The warning of judgment is a true one, for no true prophet, least of all Jesus, spoke falsely. The expectations that God has for us are true. There are many of us who have sought our own ways, but Jesus has told us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), and “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). By the words of a prophet we can be assured, that only through Jesus can we be saved.

Jesus continues in this role today. After He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, He sent His Spirit to be our guide. It is through this Spirit that He still teaches, rebukes, and warns. It is this same Spirit that inspired the writing of the Bible, and in this we have the Word of God. Just as John tells us that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, we have delivered to us the written Word of God to point and guide us in righteousness, to teach us about God, to banish our ignorance about spiritual matters, and to warn us of the wrath to come if we do not repent and believe.

But Jesus is more than just a prophet, pointing the way to righteousness, but He is also a priest, who has interceded on our behalf with the Father. We will look more at that next time, but we must see that God’s perfect standard cannot be met in this life. When Jesus tells us, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), He was giving us a command directly from God, but it is one that we cannot obey. We need more than a prophet, but also a priest, who can stand for us before God and secure grace for us. Likewise do we need a king who can take us into His paradise for all time.

God spoke through an earlier prophet, Ezekiel, these words. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26-28). It is this new heart that is only available through Jesus, because He alone could make atonement for our sins. Only He could pay the price for us for all the times we have failed in our holy duty to obey and worship God in all things. We are not perfect, yet He is. Once He has bought us with His Blood, He also keeps us until the last day and glorifies us in eternity. These are some of His actions as king, for in this way He has authority over us, even our very souls.

We will learn more of that next time, and it would be appropriate now to see Jesus as not just a prophet who would condemn our actions, but also a priest who would take the place of God’s children in the punishment of those actions, and also as a king with authority to keep us until the last day.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Podcast: 1 John: Keeping Away From Idols

Podcast feed: Subscribe This is a transcript of one of our recent podcasts. To subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please click here. To listen to the podcast without iTunes, please follow this link.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
-1 John 5:21

John’s final exhortation to his audience here might catch us a little off guard. He’s been talking for a long time about how Christians act, and the power of prayer, and finally the nature of sin. And then he gives this command to keep ourselves from idols.

And this may not resonate very strongly with the modern Westerner. We don’t see many idols around the streets here. In certain parts of the world, we would see idols on street corners, but not here. The closest we get here is seeing the statue of Buddha at the Chinese restaurant at lunch.

So the temptation for us is to just ignore this part. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever been tempted to bow down before a statue.

But the biblical definition of idolatry is a little bit more broad. Paul tells us in Romans 1:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
-Romans 1:22-25

What Paul is telling us is that we are all worshippers. Even the most ardent atheist is a worshipper of something. The question is this – are we worshipping the Creator or the creation? If we are worshipping God, the true God, then we have it right. If we are worshipping anything else, then we have it wrong.

It may be a statue. That figure is part of the creation, and is not worthy of worship. Maybe it’s a false idea about God, birthed out of the minds of men. That too is creation, not Creator. It’s idolatry. Maybe it’s money or sex or fame. All creation. Maybe it’s reputation. Creation.

Maybe it’s more sinister. Maybe it’s the figure you’ve always wanted but could never achieve. Maybe it’s the wife or kids. Maybe it’s getting ahead at work. Maybe it’s the approval of the parent who was always criticizing.

Whatever you are chasing after, that is what you are worshipping. You don’t have to bow before money to worship it. Just ask yourself – what occupies my thoughts, hopes, fears, and time? Is it God the Creator of all things, or is it creation? You may deny that you are worshipping, but whatever it is that controls your life is your god. If your driving passion is sex, then that is what you worship. If you would sacrifice anything for that car, then that is what you worship.

We can see this in church as well. My Roman Catholic friends will bow down and pray to Mary. They say they are not worshipping, but that is the definition of worship. No amount of denying it is going to change that fact. Other churches I have seen put a certain doctrine above all else. It may be a good doctrine, but it has been elevated above the level of a good thing and has become a god thing, so it is no longer good. It could be baptism, or the nature of communion, or a certain eschatology.

John Calvin tells us that our hearts are idol factories. Our hearts seek out things to worship and them make them into little gods. It is part of our fallen nature, that we chase after creation and forget the Creator, just like our first parents did when they ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Even Christians have to guard against this constantly, which is why John mentions it. If we are not on guard, helped by the Holy Spirit, then we will chase after the next thing that comes by. Go to any church near you, and really analyze what they are singing about. Are they singing about God, or themselves? Are they preaching about God, or some felt need in the congregation? If the answer is God, then they are the exception, it seems. Even the churches have turned away from God and to idols under the excuse of making church relevant. Relevancy is a nasty idol. It always wants more; it always demands something different, and it never delivers.

What do you worship? Think through your day. What or who was on your heart and mind? Where did your money go? For what did you sacrifice?

Calvin was right about us. We spend so much time chasing after creation rather than the Creator. We ignore the God who gave us life, breath, and everything, and worship some of those little trinkets that He created. This is a terrible sin and a horrible rebellious crime! Don’t pass this one over. God, by right, has claim over every area of our lives, and in rebellion we try to snatch it away from Him!

In mercy, when we confess and have faith, He is faithful to forgive us. In grace, He will give us eternal life, though we don’t deserve it. Let us look therefore to the Cross, to the place where God died for us. Jesus took upon Himself human form. He lived His life perfectly, never once making some part of creation His idol. And yet He died, taking the rightful punishment of sin upon Himself. This is the death that idolatry has earned. This is the death that should have been ours.

When we look upon the Cross, and we see such love and mercy, it is hard to worry too much about our little idols. When we see Jesus and what He has done on our behalf, it is hard to be anything but grateful and repentant. Let our eyes be focused there then. Let our eyes be turned to the one who deserves our worship, not all the stuff that does not. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Podcast: 1 John: We Are in Him

Podcast feed: Subscribe This is a transcript of one of our recent podcasts. To subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please click here. To listen to the podcast without iTunes, please follow this link.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
-1 John 5:18-20

Welcome to the Christian Pilgrimage Podcast; I’m your host, Paul Lytle.

So last time we talked about the sin that leads to death, and it may be our temptation to get a little freaked out when we hear things like, “There is a sin that leads to death.” Immediately, the thoughts that will probably jump to mind are, “Well, what is that sin? What if I accidently commit it? I’m just walking down the street and BOOM, I commit that sin and it’s too late? What if I have already committed it? Am I doomed to hell now? Is there anything I can do?”

It’s the natural reaction whenever we speak of a sin that will not be forgiven. But that’s exactly the opposite reaction that John intends for us, because he is writing the letter to encourage us. “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” (1 John 5:13). In other words, he is writing this letter to be encouraging!

And it’s the fault of teachers like me on why it isn’t. There is a very natural break in the text there between those verses and these verses, and so we split up our messages, just like I did. We put them a week apart, and that’s a week to dwell on the sin unto death without the relief herein. My apologies. Hopefully you’ve spent the week in repentance and prayer.

John tells us why true Christians should not be afraid of this sin. It’s because true Christians do not continue in sin. You have to continue in sin to be guilty of the sin that leads to death, because that sin is a continual rejection of the Gospel. Christians are protected from that. John tells us, “he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” Now, “he who was born of God” could refer to Jesus, because John has already told us “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Jesus is the only begotten of God. So John has already explained how we are protected in that way. But John has also spoken of how we are of God, adopted children, if we truly believe.

And that would make sense here too, based on everything that John has been telling us. So much of this letter speaks of the fruit of repentance. It talks about the love and righteousness that comes about in us if we are truly saved. It is not that this love saves us, but is the result of salvation.

John tells us first that we are all sinners. We do not deserve the life that God offers, but it is offered because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus bore the punishment we deserve for our sin. For those who will be saved, the Spirit of God prompts in them repentance, a turning away from sin. Over time, we become repulsed by our own wickedness, our selfishness, lust, and greed. We turn from our sin and toward God.

In faith we are justified, forgiven of that sin and granted eternal life in Jesus. We are given the Holy Spirit to indwell us, conforming us more into the image of Christ. So we begin to love more. We begin to desire to follow God and His commandments – not out of obligation, but out of love. God, to borrow the phrase from Ezekiel, takes away our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh.

Now tell me. If you have come to a knowledge of the wickedness and filthiness of your own sin; if you have come to realize that only by Jesus’ death on the Cross do you even have a chance; if you have come to know, by the power of the Spirit, the sweetness of the grace of God; and if you have come to turn from your sin and bow before God for mercy; if you have been given the indwelling of the Spirit to guide you; if you have begun to grow in love and righteousness – if all of these things are true, and they are true not just by our human efforts, but by the efforts and security of an infinite God, then how is it possible that you would turn, abandon all of that, and live the rest of your life refusing to repent?

Our own hearts will no longer allow such sin! We have been reborn in Christ! To walk away now is unimaginable, and impossible. John tells us that those who walk away from this never really knew it in the first place.

The knowledge that keeps us to this narrow path is not our own, but given by Jesus through the power of the Spirit. We know it as a part of our justification. It is part of that Grace that has been granted us. That is why we will not fall away into the sin unto death – because we are supernaturally secured. The world may belong to the evil one, but we belong to one far stronger, and He will not let go!

The understanding that the Son gives to us brings us to the Father and to truth. These are all wrapped into one – the way, the truth, and the life. These are the words Jesus said of Himself. Only through Him is there hope for eternal life, because He is that life. He is that truth, and we are in Him who is true, both the Father and the Son. How can we fall away?

Be assured of your salvation, my brothers and sisters. Be assured. The Spirit is at work in you, if you are in Christ, and will not let you go. If by the Spirit you no longer remain in sin, you are assured of your election. I do not say, “if you do not sin,” for we still sin. But if the Spirit is turning you from sin and toward God, then you can be confident in your salvation.

We can be confident not because of ourselves, but because of Him. “He is the true God and eternal life.” This passage interests me, because it is not clear whether this speaks of the Father or the Son. The ESV renders the subject “He,” but the Greek says “This.” Still, the “this” clearly refers to either Jesus or the Father. Jesus was the last to be mentioned, so perhaps Jesus is the true God and eternal life. Perhaps it is the Father, for the Father was prominent also in the previous sentence. The pronoun may be a little unclear, yet it is true either way. The previous sentence says that God the Father is the truth, but also did Jesus tell us of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

This is the true God, and no one member of the Trinity claims that distinction over the others. God the Father is true, as is the Son, as is the Spirit. If you are in the Son, then you are in the Father, and you have the Spirit indwelling. You are secured for eternity by their power and efforts. God the Father elected you, the Son bought you, and the Spirit leads you. You are His. Thus can you know that you have eternal life!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Podcast: 1 John: The Sin Unto Death

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If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
-1 John 5:16-18

Okay, we definitely have our work cut out for us today. This is one of the most difficult passages that John gives us in his epistles, one of those we are apt to scan right over when we are reading, and yet it has been placed in the Word of God for a reason, and we need to tackle it. So what is the sin that leads to death?

First, let’s do a little defining. John tells us that “all wrongdoing is sin.” Previously, he told us that “sin is lawlessness” (3:4). Sin is a word we use fairly often, but I’m not sure that everyone has a good understanding of it. A lot of times sin is dismissed. “Everyone sins,” people will say, brushing it off, as though it as small of a matter as going a couple of miles per hours faster than the speed limit.

Others think of sin as only the really big stuff, like murder or rape. Still others will acknowledge sin in society, like racism or sexism, but don’t really acknowledge personal sins. I heard one person on the radio today talking about sin as merely not living up to your full potential. God would be disappointed in you when you sin, but it’s not really a crime.

John teaches us the truth about sin – it is lawlessness. It is wrong doing. It is, in other words, rebellion against God’s perfect Law. Our sins offend God. He is perfect, worthy of praise, but when we sin, we mock His holy Law, we turn away from the greatest good in the universe, and we say that our way is better than the ordinances set down by a flawless God.

Paul tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and it is a death we all deserve, but it is not one that we have to endure, for “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is what Jesus was doing on that Cross – He was paying the debt, the death, that we owe for our sin. For those who repent and believe, we can still have eternal life, not by our own actions, because we cannot earn it, but by His.

So this is what John means when he tells us that there is sin that does not lead to death. We Christians sin. John has emphatically told us that before in this letter. We sin. But we are also forgiven, if we are children of God, because of Jesus’ action. He is our intercessor with the Father when we sin.

So if I fail today (and I probably will), but if I fail today, and I lie to someone on the street, then I will be forgiven. Pray for me, for God is the source of life, and I do not deserve that life, but He will grant it. If you come to a person in your church who is sinning, pray for that person, so there may be life.

So this is something we can understand, but what is the sin that leads to death?

For that, let’s get some context. Remember that John has already addressed people in the church who leave the church. He has said of those people, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (2:19). Remember also that he is writing this letter to assure Christians of their secure salvation, so this passage is not meant to make us afraid. He is intending for us to remember exactly who he is talking about – those who had heard the truth, professed Christ, but never knew Him, and so they left, thus proving that they were never a part of the true Church in the first place. And the most immediate context is the power of prayer, that Christians should go to God in prayer according to the will of God, and so by this he is showing how powerful that pray can be, even to bringing about forgiveness for all sorts of sin.

But there is one sin that will not be forgiven, and it lines up exactly with what John has been talking about with apostates – those who leave the church. This sin that will not be forgiven is spoken of also in Matthew 12:31: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” A lot of people have gone online to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit, thinking that is what this passage is talking about. It’s not. It’s the continual resistance to the call to repent. It’s the lifelong ignoring of the truth, the rebellion against God. At some point, He’s going to those who resist him over to their own sin. The sin that leads to death is the rebellion against the truth.

That is what those people did when they heard the truth in the church, listened, understood, but still left. They never had a saving faith in Jesus, and so they went about their own ways, embracing their own sins instead of God’s grace. If you resist God’s grace, my friends, then payment for your sin will be expected of you. The wages of sin is death.

It is not forbidden to pray for those who have willfully denied the truth of the Gospel their whole lives, but it is not encouraged. There is no life for those who will not repent. While there is breath in a man, let us pray that God gives him the gift of repentance and faith, but if the truth is always denied, and at last death takes him, he cannot be saved.

How do we know if someone in our congregations have not truly repented? Of course, we cannot know for sure. We cannot know a man’s heart. And yet there is a way to know if we are in the light or in the darkness. If we continue in our sin.

When we become Christians, the Spirit of God indwells us, and it is just the natural result of that indwelling that sin becomes harder and harder. When I first became a Christian, my life did not change all that much, but sin gradually became harder for me to commit. Those habitual sins started to become sour to me. I didn’t like them.

I still sin. I mess up constantly. But it is the continuing in sin that John is addressing. This may look different for you if you are a young Christian verses an older Christian. This looked different for me when I first started and was still pursuing a lot of my old crimes. But God is working on weaning you from sin. He is moving you closer to Himself and away from sin. So are you a Christian? Look at the sins in your life. Are you continuing in them? Are you becoming less content in your sin? Has there been a change?

The Spirit is going to convict you of those sins, and when we repent, that is we turn away from sin, we will be moved more toward righteousness.

And in that repentance, in faith, we will be forgiven. All wrongdoing is sin, and yet for the Christian, it will not lead to death. We have an advocate with the Father in Jesus Christ. Because of His atoning work on the Cross, He is stepping between us and the wrath we deserve.