Established!

Don’t you agree that Selwyn has packed a lot into today’s study?

First off, I love the Scripture verses selected by Selwyn [and, I’ve used the New Living Translation version, but had to insert the word ‘established’, as used by the Amplified Bible], 2 Corinthians 1:18-24: “As surely as God is faithful, my word to you does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate ‘Yes,’ he always does what he says.

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ (‘to establish us in Christ’). He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us.

Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth. The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke. But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.”

It’s remarkable don’t you think – that it is God Himself, who establishes us in Christ? 

If God has initiated this fantastic relationship, and places His own Spirit into our hearts – then, who can weaken this bond?  In a certain sense, Selwyn answers that question, in his conclusion: “Why is it, I am often asked, that so many Christians are tossed about emotionally when God says that we are established in Christ? Surely the answer is that though He unfailingly holds onto us, we do not hold onto Him.” Now, that’s food for thought and prayer, don’t you agree?

One other point made by Selwyn, is, I think, extremely important – because there is  a general lack of understanding of  the importance of our unity in Christ. This problem is clearly evident in many so-called Christian communities.

This issue is well presented by Selwyn: “There is only one place where we can be established and made firm – in Christ. If you try to stand firm in doctrine you will not succeed. If you try to stand firm in a favourite preacher you will not succeed. If you try to stand firm in a denomination you will not succeed. Try to stand firm in any of these and you will waver between contradictory opinions. Only in Christ can you stand firm.”

The problem arises when some minor doctrinal issue is erroneously seen as being a foundation for faith – for example, some believe that God’s creation can only be seen from a young earth, creationists point of view. The spiritual truth is that God created the heavens and the earth – how He did it – is NOT a significant issue. On the other hand, our unity in Christ is a significant issue; but to be able to discern the differences between such issues requires our honest prayer and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Any comments?

 

What would Jesus do?

I’ve always thought that the practice of asking yourself: ‘What would Jesus do if He were in my place?’  To be a good place to start when dealing with any spiritual issue.

Jesus, when He was on this earth, habitually – went off by Himself – to spent long hours in prayer, talking to His Father – about what to do – that is, He was constantly seeking God’s will. We should do the same –  spend long hours in prayer; yet, how many of us – actually do that, on a regular basis?

Selwyn uses 1 Corinthians 4:17; ‘He (Timothy) will remind you of my way in Christ Jesus … ‘, to illustrate the point that Paul’s ‘new’ life,  reflected ‘the ways of Jesus’.

There can hardly be a greater contrast, for us to learn from: Paul, before his conversion on the Damascus Road – was a fierce guardian of the Jewish religion and he was an expert in Jewish law. [Paul studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, the grandson (or great-grandson) of the famous Rabbi Hillel, who ideas formed the foundation of Rabbinic Judaism that grew to promience after the destruction of the Temple.]

I think to really grasp the magnitude of the change that occurred with Paul – it’s perhaps a good idea to go to the Book of Acts – where we first receive an insight into Paul – at the stoning of Stephen (a great story in itself).

Acts 6: 8-    (NIV): ” … Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue …  So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law… ‘. All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Stephen was asked  by the Sanhedrin if these charges are true, and he responds with an overview of the history of the Jewish nation – he ends his speech with these words (Acts 7:51-53):  ” … You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.

The Sanhedrin’s reaction to Stephen’s words are well known (Acts 7:54-60): “When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (renewed as Paul).

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Paul was watching the killing of a man – who shared some of the same qualities as Jesus. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and on the cross, He said (Luke 23:34),  ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’; and, a little time later (Luke 23:46) Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ 

Stephen could ‘see God’; whereas Paul (at the time of Stephen’s stoning), who knew more than most about Scripture – was blind; and could not see. Stephen walked in the ways of Jesus – whereas Paul could only persecute those who followed Jesus.

As Selwyn writes in today’s study – Paul is asking Timothy to remind people that Paul was changed by the grace of God. He has been changed to such a degree that Paul can now ‘see‘ Jesus (the scales have fallen off his eyes) – “Paul’s old life has gone, and now he has adopted a new way of dealing with things – the way of Christ. … Paul’s ways were now, in harmony with what he taught.”

I’ve spent some time going through this study – to make it very clear, that if you have given your life to Christ – then, your old life has gone, and through the power of the Holy Spirit – you can ‘see‘, the way towards God. You, have become a new creation, and you can no longer love this world – because you are now –  ‘in Christ’.  Like Paul, as a Christian your ways are in harmony with what Jesus taught.  You find it in your heart, the desire to ask God to forgive those who harm you; and, you are prepared to commit your spirit into God’s hands.

You can now, say – ‘my life demonstrates – the answer to the question’: “What would Jesus do?”

Does it?

Everything!

Selwyn continues to explore the verse we looked at yesterday: ‘in Christ you have been enriched in every way’ (1 Corinthians 1:5). He starts today’s study, by saying: “That means that everything Jesus touches He enriches, in this life as well as in the life hereafter. The spirit is enriched, the soul is enriched, the body is enriched.”

And, the best part for me, was Selwyn’s conclusion: “Our spirits, souls and bodies were made for Christ, and when we live in Him everything is enriched. Everything.”

I’ve added a few verses, to those set by Selwyn for reading and meditation, 2 Corinthians 9:5-15 (NIV), Paul is addressing the Corinthians in regard to the collection of money for the distressed Christians in Jerusalem: “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.  Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way (rich in every type of spiritual gift) so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

[I thought that a note in my NIV study bible, on the last verse (above), to be worth including here:“Indescribable gift: God’s own Son. God is the first giver; he first selflessly gives himself to us in the person of his Son, and all true Christian giving is our response of gratitude for this gift that is beyond description.”]

These days, I don’t talk much about Shayne McCusker’s conversion experience (March 1991); mainly, because many evangelical Christians are suspicious of personal experiences, pentecostal people make too much of them; and non-Christians cannot believe, and just get angry and think you are mentally ill.  🙂

However, one of the lasting impressions I have of that experience, is the feeling that ‘everything was perfect’, within the presence of my Lord, and my God.  My mind, body, and spirit briefly experienced what it is like to be without imperfections – when everything I am (as created by God), is seen in the light of Christ. It was a foretaste of what it will be like after I die; this experience completely removed, forever, any fear of death – from a spiritual perspective. Now, and then, of course – the physical pain that might be momentarily suffered – does cause some fleeting worries, at times. Still a frail human, this side of the grave.  🙂

Any comments?

Abiding in Christ

The scripture verses for today come from another of Paul’s letters, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 (NLT).

“Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before.

God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands (with the skills which God has given you), just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.”

It is clear from the above verses that God calls us to be holy – if, we don’t try to live a life that please God then we are rejecting God, and His gifts.

I agree with Selwyn, when he says: “Although I believe it is possible not to sin, it is going too far to say it is not possible, for a Christian, to sin.”

If we have a look, at Paul’s letter to the Romans – and follow his logic carefully; then, in Chapter 7 we read about those people who knows God’s commandments but depends on their own spiritual strength, not to sin, (7:21-25, NLT): I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

Reading a bit further on in Romans, 8:5-9: ”  … Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”

More than a few people, get confused by what Paul is writing about in this section of his letter to the Romans; and, part of this confusion is the artificial break in the structure of the letter, by inserting Chapters – these breaks were not in Paul’s original letter. Now, Paul at the time of writing this letter was ‘letting the Spirit control his mind’; once you accept this ‘assumption‘; then you will be able to see he is talking about the progression – from life lived under the influence of the sinful nature, towards a life which is controlled by God’s Spirit.

The degree of control depends on us – letting the Spirit guide us.  Paul’s reference to himself, and the tense of the words he used, are in part showing that everyone is subject to this struggle (including himself); yet, by letting the Spirit control his life – he is not controlled by his sinful nature. Likewise, we too – as God’s people have the Spirit of God living in us – and, if we allow God full control then we cannot be controlled by our sinful nature. Make sense?

In Romans 8:28, Pauls tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness’. Consequently, even in our weakness – we are helped; what we need to do is to hand over the driver’s seat to God – and He provides His strength for us to live a life pleasing to Him – without sin! Problems occur – when we take over the driver’s seat and steer our own course – to satisfy our own desires.

Selwyn conclusion helps clarify the main issue: “Sanctification is not achieved by human effort, but by divine enabling – by Christ working in us. … The experience of sanctification becomes meaningful only as it is related to Him. In Him it is a blessing; isolated from Him – and Church history confirms this – it becomes a bone of contention.”

[One of the main benefits of my conversion, is that I was 44 years old at the time. Therefore, I have a very good understanding of what it was like to be under the control of my sinful nature; and, then experiencing a new life – being controlled by God’s Spirit.  The second point is that over the last 19 years I’ve developed a much better understanding of sin; meaning, that I’m now, more aware of what sin is. Nineteen years ago I though, I was a good average person – now, I know that Shayne McCusker’s life –  has a very long way to go, in its transformation into Christ’s likeness  – and, the work of the Holy Spirit in my life –  is still, a very new work, in progress.]

A myriad-minded man

This issue (May/June 2010) of Every Day with Jesus, has the title ‘Living In Christ’.Over the next two months, Selwyn focuses on Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians; the key verse is (2 Corinthians 1:20), For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.

Mick Brooks (Consulting Editor) had this to say, in his ‘word of introduction’: ‘In this issue of Every Day with Jesus, Selwyn helps us explore what has been described by one scholar as the apostles Paul’s ‘magnificent obsession’. Selwyn does this by leading us through the two epistles to the Corinthian church, focusing on verses which contain a phrase which Paul seems so passionate about, almost to the point of obsession. The phrase in question is: “in Christ”.’

The question for us, today, is: do we share Paul’s obsession? As followers of Jesus – our answer should be ‘Yes’; but, do we answer with a shout of joy or an embarrassed whimper?

*** [As an explanation, for the late posts – recently, my local Christian bookshop closed down; and through my own fault, it has taken some time to obtain a hard-copy of this issue.]

The verses set for reading and meditation are 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 (NIV): “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes (write this letter). To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Selwyn makes the strong point that the phrase ‘those sanctified in Christ’,‘tells us where santification lies: it lies not in ourselves but in Christ.’Sanctification is the process in which the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ’s likeness; it is a process that sets us apart from the fallen world and frees us from the power of sin (Satan). It is a process that makes us holy -or, said another way – to be transformed into saints, members of God’s family. In Peter’s first letter we read (1 Peter 2:9): ” … you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

The point is that it is being ‘in Christ’, chosen by God – to be one of His family – is an act of His will. We don’t choose God – consequently, being moulded into a holy person –  is God’s work; we did nothing to deserve being called by name – to follow Him. [I don’t have any issues if you prefer to think that God enabled His people to choose, to respond to His call. 🙂  Our burdened ‘will’ – it is never free from social, cultural or genetic influences; is employed, in the nature of our response, to His call. ]

As Selwyn succinctly says: “In Christ – sanctification is a dynamic; outside of Him it is merely a doctrine.”

Any initial views on this issue’s topic?