Tag Archives: sin

War of the Soul: Introduction

In the Beginning, There Was War

Our great country was born in war and, throughout its history, war has shaped this nation. Ever since our birth we have been fighting wars for various reasons, and it has framed our government and expanded our borders. It has united us as citizens but also divided us in dissent and grief. Through the course of our existence as a nation, we have faced an enemy that we felt obligated to fight. From battling the British tyranny in the American Revolution to our current war on terrorism, we have always faced a war with a great enemy.

It true of war that you face an enemy, and to conquer it, you must have the right economic and social resources. This is an ideal image to describe the daily war that takes place in the Christian life. For Christians, there is a war going on. It is real, it is deadly, and it is costly. According to the Bible, there are three enemies that we face: Satan, the world, and our sin nature. All of which are waging an ongoing, costly, deadly war against us.

1. Satan is our enemy. Since creation, Satan has been at war with the people of God. Peter tells us to be watchful, as soldiers, on guard against him: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Contrary to many images circulating on the internet, Satan is not in an equal war against God with his soldiers, with ourselves caught in the middle. Satan is in a war against us, and he prowls around like a hungry lion, seeking someone weak, who isn’t keeping watch. He wars against us by tempting us to sin, deceiving us, and sometimes inflicting us.

2. The world is our enemy. The worldviews, desires, and influence of the world is at war against us also. The world’s ideas, desires and influence are against God and against Christians. You can see this evident more today than ever before in the history of the world. Today, the basic tenets of the Christian worldview are considered as hate-crime or arrogance. James tells us that we are to keep ourselves from being influenced by the world and associating with its worldviews and desires: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Because we are different, because we are God’s people, we suffer persecution and rejection from the world because we are “not of this world” (John 17:16).

3. Our sin nature is our enemy. Satan is powerful and the world can exert a strong influence on us, but no enemy is as powerful as ourselves. The 90’s rock band Lit had it right they said, “It’s no surprise to me that I am my own worst enemy.” The Bible does warn us strongly about keeping guard against Satan and the world, as the Scriptures above testify. But no warning is as strong as the warning against our own sin nature: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). No other passage of Scripture is as stark in its warning. The passions of our flesh wage war against the most valuable thing we possess: our souls. 

We are all fighting a war of desire to do what God wants, and to do what we want and commit sin. In this series, we will see what we are fighting, why we are fighting, and how to battle what we are fighting. The outline of the series is as follows:

1. The Battle Within (1 Peter 2:11-12)

2. Sin’s Greatest Weapon (James 1:12-15)

3. Empowered to Fight (Gal. 5:16-18)

 

Those Jesus Never Knew (Matt. 7:21-23)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 12th day of October 2014: 

John Giles, Convict

Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay was home to the former federal prison of Alcatraz. This prison was in operation from the mid-1930s until the mid-1960s as our nation’s leading federal prison. It housed only the most dangerous criminals like Al Capone, George R. “Machine Gun” Kelly, and many others. Alcatraz was considered an inescapable prison—though 6 inmates attempting escape were never located. Prison records recorded them as drowned in the bay. Others dispute that claim saying they made it to freedom.

The US Army used to send laundry to Alcatraz to be washed. John Giles was an inmate who worked at the loading dock where the laundry was delivered. He was sneaky—piece by piece, he was able to steal over time a complete army uniform. Then on July 31, 1945, he merely dressed in the uniform and walked aboard an army boat, pretending to be an army officer. However, the boat was not headed for San Francisco as Giles expected, as he stepped off the boat on Angel Island, where Fort McDowell was, which was a major processing location for troops during WWII. He was arrested immediately.

He may have fooled the officers on the boat for awhile, but he couldn’t pull of the impersonation forever. He may have worn the uniform of an army officer, but on the inside he was still John Giles—criminal, convict.

One of the most sobering truths in all of Scripture is that not everyone who professes to be a Christian is truly a Christian. That there are some people wearing Christian uniforms on the outside, but are in reality unregenerate, unsaved sinners on the inside. They may fool people for a time, but they will not fool the Lord who knows His own. This theme runs throughout all of Scripture, but in Matthew’s gospel (which we are looking at today), there are some very powerful descriptions:

John the Baptist to the face of the Pharisees and Sadducees:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).

A winnowing fork was a tool used to separate wheat from chaff, by throwing it into the air so the heavier grain/wheat can fall back on the ground . . . And the chaff which would only be on the surface, would be separated from the wheat and the farmers would gather the wheat into their barns, but burn the chaff because it was useless. One day Jesus Christ is going to clear out His threshing floor. He is going to gather into His arms the saved, the elect of God, but there are going to be those who were only on the surface but appeared to be part of the wheat—and they are the unbelievers and according to 2 Thess. 1:9, . ..“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Jesus in the parable of the weeds:

“He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:37-42).

What do you do with weeds in a garden? You take them out because they don’t belong—they contribute nothing, they are of no value to the rest of the garden, they may grow together, but the fruits and vegetables are the real thing. Back in 13:30, Jesus said that both grow together. There are those who profess faith in Christ, appear to be Christians but because they never had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and were truly justified by faith—they will not go to heaven, but to hell forever, and they will be surprised to find that out. These are those described by Matthew as those Jesus never knew, and we are going to look at this text together this morning.

The Text: Matthew 7:21-23, ESV

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

I. They Professed Him (v. 21)

The first thing to notice is Jesus’ introduction to this passage where He talks about the profession of these people: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus points out a limitation on those who say to Him, “Lord, Lord.” In Jesus’ time, “Lord, Lord” would have been a title of immense respect (like “revered teacher”). There may be those who say “Lord, Lord,” who proclaim His name, who highly respect Him, that will enter the kingdom of heaven—but according to Jesus, “Not everyone who says to [Him], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He tells His audience that there is a restriction from heaven, to some who use that title.

But Jesus’ point is not in the use or misuse of His name/title. Indeed, we are to respect His name and boldly proclaim it; the foremost problem is not the use of the title, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but the fact that the people Jesus is describing leave it at just that—it is only a profession of His name. The problem is claiming His name (as they do three times), but not living His way. They simply say in contrast to those who do the will of God (v. 21b). According to Jesus, these who simply profess faith “will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This means they are not going to be born again through profession of faith, and they will be denied entrance into God’s heaven because they never truly believed—it was only a profession; it wasn’t transformation. It becomes clear as you study this passage, that these people were never truly saved; These are not Christians who lost their salvation—that’s an impossibility.

The important thing to notice is the contrast Jesus makes between those who “say” and those who “do” here in v. 21. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In contrast to the one who professes faith, Jesus says that the only person that will enter “the kingdom of heaven” is “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

If doing the will “of [the] Father” is what was lacking in those who professed faith, and it is required of those who go to heaven, then what does Jesus mean by doing God’s will? I believe Jesus’ meaning here is two-fold, but inseparable:

A. It is God’s Will for You to be Saved.

Jesus is talking about salvation in this passage. Salvation is needed to go to heaven, after we die. And while not everyone will receive salvation because of rejection of God, it is still God’s desire for all to be saved:

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

B. It is God’s Will for You to Do God’s Will.

But inseparable from salvation, if we are truly saved, our changed lives will be the sure result. Following salvation should be the desire to do God’s will and carry out His commands. Paul writes,

“ . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), but in that same text says “it is God who works in you . . .”

A changed life, and living by God’s will is the outworking that we have truly been saved.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3)

Sanctification involves growing in the faith, being delivered daily from the presence of sin. It is God’s will for us to continue in the faith (Col. 1:23), and our lives had better show evidence of our repentance and faith, or we never had repentance and faith.

Doing God’s will involves living by His principles, obeying His commandments, serving Him faithfully. Something doesn’t make sense when our actions deny our beliefs.

Thomas Linacre was physician to King Henry VII and Henry VIII of England. Late in his life, Thomas studied to be a priest and was given a copy of the four Gospels to read for the first time. Thomas lived through the darkest of the church’s dark hours under the rule of Pope Alexander 6th, who shamed Christianity with his murder, corruption, incest, and bribery. Reading the Gospels for himself, Thomas was amazed and troubled: “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.”

Our lives must demonstrate true belief in Christ—or we do not have true belief.

Does your life reflect what you say you believe? Your behavior is a reflection of what you truly believe. If it doesn’t there’s a problem—either you’re not saved, or you’re not being obedient to Christ. If you’re not saved, you can be—by repenting of your sins and turning to Jesus; placing total faith in His finished work on your behalf. If you’re not being obedient to Christ and doing God’s will—God can give you the strength to. You just need to surrender completely to Him. Whatever is stopping you from living out the faith you say you believe—it will be worth it when you get it out of the way so you can fully surrender to God.

II. They Defend Themselves (v. 22)

Not only did they profess Christ, but the second thing to notice here is how they defend themselves: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” (7:22).

A. “The Day of the LORD.”

Jesus says, “On that day.” What day? He is talking about the Day of the Lord, when all will stand before God in final judgment, where He will separate the wheat from the chaff—and will gather into Him His church, and the unsaved will depart into everlasting fire . . . where He will separate the weeds from the good seeds, where He will separate the believers from the non-believers.

The Old Testament referenced it:

“Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:13).

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:17-18).

Also, Jesus and the New Testament writers warn of it:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).

So Jesus is creating the setting for what He’s talking about here. “On that day” of judgment where He will reign as judge (Acts 17:31), He says, “ . . many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”

Jesus doesn’t say that this is a select “few” who will say to this to Him, but “many.” How do they defend themselves? “Lord, Lord, did we not . . .” You can hear the tone of surprise in their voices—“Did you see what we did Lord? Did you forget? Did we not . . .” They are still saying the same thing as while they were on the earth (‘Lord, Lord’)—that means nothing has changed. They have not been born again, they are still sinners in need of a Savior.

The very fact that they defend themselves is an indicator that they are not saved. Because with Jesus, He’s all the defense you need. He took your case to the cross and settled it. On the Day of Judgment, all you’ll be able to say is “By grace I was brought to faith!” So then, this demonstrates that they were depending on something of their own merit, which they say: “did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” They list off three things to defend themselves. There’s no doubt that they did these things, even Satan and his followers can perform miracles. Even Judas cast out devils in Mark 3:14-15, and he appeared to be a disciple, but it was shown that he was not. They even claim authority behind their deeds: “in your name” is mentioned three times.

But Jesus isn’t denying that they did indeed do these things—the paramount problem was that these sinners are trusting fully in their own merit—they are defending themselves by pointing to their works. And notice the high standard of their works—I can’t remember the last time I prophesied can you? I can’t remember any time I ever cast out a demon, can you? Those things are things that most people don’t even do or try to do in their lifetimes. But I think that’s Jesus’ point here: It doesn’t matter how great your works are, how high they are—they will not even get you near the presence of God. What if you plant a church on a foreign mission field? Nope. What if you lead thousands to Christ? Nope. What if you give up all you have and serve the poor? Nope.

B. Why Works Won’t Work

Why wasn’t their works enough (they did “mighty works”)? Why aren’t works enough?

1. It’s not the way God saves. (Jesus reveals later the chief problem was “I never knew you.”) It’s not the way God saves, so don’t try to get in that way! The only work you need is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross: “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent” (John 6:29). Jesus also tells His hearers in the Sermon on the Mount, that they must have a righteousness that is greater than outside-righteousness: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). We need His righteousness, and true heart transformation. If you’re going to be saved—it must be God’s way, the only way.

2. Good works cannot justify. We have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23), this demands holy punishment and wrath (Rom. 1:18; 6:23). Good deeds cannot satisfy the wrath and demands of a holy God. Only a perfect substitute can propitiate God’s wrath, and justify us in God’s sight. This substitute was Christ. His perfect work in becoming sin for us, and giving us His righteousness in exchange is enough (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul writes, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). Again, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21). And again, “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” (Eph. 2:8-9).

3. The spiritual state of man. The current threat that is causing fear among peoples of the world is the spread of the fatal virus, Ebola. The latest report on the death toll of Ebola is 4,033.¹  But there is a worse spiritual Ebola that has claimed more lives than any other disease in the world. That disease is sin. The Bible says that we are “dead in sins” (Eph. 2:1). If you remain spiritually dead throughout this life, even if good works are done, but nothing changes about your spiritual deadness—then you will go through the second death and be thrown into the lake of fire. We must be born again (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). God must do a supernatural work in you—replacing your heart with a new one, giving you a desire for Him, and breathing into you spiritual life.

I’ve heard many well-meaning evangelists and preachers use this illustration before: “Salvation happens like this: You are struggling at the top of an ocean, wanting to be rescued, and then God throws you a lifesaver and you grab onto it.” But that is a fatal misrepresentation! You have already sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and drowned to death—and God must reach down, pull you out of the water, perform spiritual CPR on you and breathe new life into you. You were dead in sins. You cannot be saved by works because you’re still in a state of spiritual deadness.

On January 1985, there was a large, unmarked and unclaimed suitcase discovered at the customs office at the Los Angeles International Airport. When U. S. Customs agents opened the suitcase, they found the curled-up body of an unidentified young woman. She had been dead for a few days, and as the investigation continued, it was learned that she was the wife of a young Iranian man living in the US. She was unable to obtain a visa to enter the US and join her husband so she took matters into her own hands and tried to smuggle herself into the country. The officials were surprised that an attempt like this could ever succeed. She tried to get in, but it was not only foolish, but fatal.

And if, by good works, we try to get in to heaven our own way, it will prove not only foolish but fatal—with unquenchable fire waiting at the doorstep of our eternity. As a Christian, rest in the cross, your case is settled. Depend on Christ—that gives you true freedom (Gal. 5:1); because you fail too often to depend on your own “goodness” (which is no goodness at all; Rom. 7:18; 14:23). If you are a non-believer, you need to make things right with God—works will never get you to Him. Depend completely on Christ.

III. Jesus’ Dreadful Declaration (v. 23)

These false believers professed Christ, on the Day of Judgment they defend themselves, and then in response to their confession, Jesus confesses something to them: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (v. 23).

Jesus reveals to them what the fundamental problem was: “I never knew you.” Wait a minute. Doesn’t God know everything? Of course He does. He’s omniscient. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here comes from the Greek word for “know.” It’s ginosko, and it’s used here to describe an intimate knowledge—a relationship knowledge—similar to the intimacy between a husband and wife. . . And Jesus is saying that’s what their problem was—there was never a personal relationship. They never knew Jesus as their Savior, so He never knew them as His child—God knows who are His: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”” (2 Tim. 2:19).

They were committed to the power Jesus represented and the status they thought they had, but they had never allowed the will of God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to control their actions.

Jesus also says to them, “depart from me.” These are the words no one wants to hear from Christ—but by this time, at the day of judgment—it’s too late. This is the final destination of those who are not truly saved—eternal departure from the presence of God. The tragic part about it is not that they are surprised about this judgment, the tragic part is not that they cannot see their Christian friends in heaven, the tragic part is not even that they cannot go to heaven—the tragic part is that they will be separated from God forever.

Jesus tells them their fundamental problem, they never knew Him in a personal relationship. He tells them to get away from Him. Third, He calls them “workers of lawlessness.” They thought they were workers of righteousness by their deeds, but in reality they were workers of lawlessness because their deeds apart from spiritual transformation are of no value, and God takes no delight in them if inner faith is missing. Outward acts of righteousness without inner faith is an abomination to the Lord. In Isaiah this is depicted vividly: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me . . .” (Isaiah 1:13).

These who simply profess faith are those described by Jesus in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” They are those who enter through the wide and broad gate that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14); They are those who bear bad fruit (Matt. 7:15-20); They are those who built their house on the sand because they didn’t heed the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). They are those described by Paul, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). They are those who need Christ to save them through a personal relationship. Is that you today? Do you know Jesus? There’s a difference between knowing about Him and knowing Him. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, He wants to forgive your sin—just repent and trust the Savior.

Conclusion: Charles Waterman

We’ve seen today that there are those who simply profess faith, but will be surprised to find that their works were not enough for salvation—they will on the Day of Judgment finally be separated from God’s eternal presence. The good news is that God saves those who come to Him in repentance and faith—there is hope! God knows your past, He knows what you’ve done, and He is willing to forgive if you’re willing to come to Him. Is God drawing you to come to Him?

From a home with one brother and one sister, Charles Waterman’s urge was to see the country. This took him to hitchhiking on the railroad to California. He was influenced by the worldly crowd and gave himself to become an alcoholic. Even as such, he worked his way up to become an engineer on the steam locomotive. He married Anna, who had a Christian background and did what she could to keep the testimony before him. Anna was discouraged at the path her husband followed because it was causing him to miss work on some of his hangovers. So she asked a lady in her town in California to meet with her and help her pray for Charles to be saved. His wild life went on for three or more years and one night he became frightened while under the influence and when he finally arrived at home, he told Anna he wanted to be saved. She immediately called her friend who came over to their home and they led him to the Lord. He begged the Lord for forgiveness and to clean up his life, which the Lord did.

The happiness that followed caused Anna to write the song Yes, I Know! with these words:

“Come, ye sinners, lost and hopeless,

Jesus’ blood can make you free;

For He saved the worst among you,

When He saved a wretch like me.

And I know, yes, I know

Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.” ²

Do you know Christ today? Are you depending on your own goodness and works? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Come to Christ, and He will not turn you away.


 

1. NBC News, Ebola Death Toll Rises to 4,033
2. Hymntime, Yes, I Know! 

The Biblical Command Not to Love

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church the 27th day of July, 2014:

Familiarity

We are familiar with many commands in the Bible that tell us to love. We know all too well the passage where Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about the greatest commandment: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-39). We know 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Let all that you do be done in love.” And there are many other commands in the Bible to love others, to love God, to love the things of God . . . But have you ever considered that there may be a command in the Bible not to love? Well, there is, and we find it in John’s first epistle, the second chapter. We are very familiar with the biblical commands to love, but not as much with the biblical command not to love. It is a fatal spiritual tragedy if we ignore the biblical command not to love and as soon as we start obeying the command not to love, we will be loving God more, and loving others.

The Text: 1 John 2:15-17, ESV

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Exhortation: Do Not Love the World (v. 15a)

The first thing John tells his readers is “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” That is the only command in this text. The rest of the passage is John’s argument for why they shouldn’t love the world. So what does John mean by “do not love the world or the things in the world?” First of all, John isn’t talking about not loving the people of the world. To understand what he means, it’s important to define what the word “love” here means.

If you’ve studied the Bible for long, you know that the New Testament was not originally written in English. It was written in Greek. This presents some difficulty for readers today because the same English word may not be the same Greek word. There are actually many terms used for the word “love” in our English Bibles, and they don’t all mean the same thing. The word for “love” here is agapate. It means “to delight in.” Often times in the New Testament, it carries a negative sense to it. Let me show you.

This same Greek word is used by Jesus when He describes the hypocritical behavior of the Pharisees, listen for it: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you (agapate) love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (Luke 11:43). They loved the adoration and pride of place, seen by the people as the religious rulers of that day. This was not a love for God, but loving to be worshipped by the people. John himself also uses this Greek word in his own gospel: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people (agapate) loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). The people of the world, John writes, loved and delighted in the world because their works were evil.

So here in our text, the word “love” is negative. It is not the same word for love that John has been talking about when he says that we ought to “love our brothers” (2:10). This love that John is saying his readers ought not to have is a love that is focused on self-pleasure and self-gratification. He is talking about the sinful attractions of the world, and John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” By him saying, “Do not love the things of the world,” he gives us more insight into what he means here. Do not love worldly pleasures, do not love the attitudes and values and attractions that are opposed to God!

What John means by “things in the world” is described in v. 16, which we will look at. People will do crazy things for what they love. Love for the world is to be avoided by the Christian.

The 1st Reason: Love for the World is Incompatible with Love for God (v. 15b)

So John commands against loving the world. But why? Why would it be a problem to love the world? John gives four reasons. The first reason John says not to love the world is because love for the world is incompatible with love for God (v. 15). Do not love the world because you cannot love God at the same time. He presents a possibility here and says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” If it is true that there is anyone among you who does love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. If that’s a possibility to happen, who would be the one John is describing as the one who could love the world? It’s the person who doesn’t have the love of the Father in him.

What does John mean by “the love of the Father?” It does not mean God’s love for the believer—God is going to love you whether you love the world or not—He’s going to love you no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done: His love endures forever. What John does mean here is “your love for God.” He must mean that because he isn’t talking about God’s love for the world at all in this passage. He is talking to believers (like you and me) who were susceptible to falling in-love with the world, when they should be falling in love with God. If Christians could not love the world, then John wouldn’t have written this letter. He was writing to people just like us—they loved their brothers and sisters—they loved fellowship with one another, and fellowship with God. But they, just like anyone, can easily fall into the death trap of loving the world that promises us nothing!

Love for God is incompatible with love for the world; James writes an interesting statement about that truth: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). James says that if you love the world, you put yourself over here in the category of the God-haters who are His enemies. Loving God and loving the world is like fire and water—they don’t mix. Either you’ve allowed the world to water down you love for God, or you love for God is so fiery hot that it has evaporated the love for the world. Don’t you be deceived into thinking that you can fully love God and love the world at the same time, but that is not true according to v. 15: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Love for the world will push out love for God, or love for God will push out love for the world.

If your love for God has grown cold, then you have allowed other temporary things to creep in and choke your love for God. You have been allowing yourself to eat the crums at the floor of the world instead of feasting at the table of our God who gives spiritual satisfaction to all who seek Him.

The 2nd Reason: All That is in the World is From the World (v. 16)

John has commanded the believers against loving the world and says that the first reason they should not love the world is because love for the world and love for God is incompatible. The second reason, John writes, why we should not love the world is because all that is in the world is not from God, but is from the world (v. 16). John is explaining here why love for God and love for the world is incompatible. So what’s to be said about the good we see in the world? The trees, rocks, lakes, family, children and relationships? Is that what John is talking about? No, John defines what he means by “all that is in the world” in v. 16. He names three things that build on each other:

A. “the desires of the flesh”

First, John says that the “desires of the flesh” are of the world and not from God. Let’s talk about that word “desire” for a moment. The Greek word for “desire” here is epithymia. It is used 38 times in the New Testament and only three times is it used in a positive way. This word, like love that we talked about, is used mainly in a negative way. Here are some Scriptures that demonstrate its usage:

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil (epithymia) desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own (epithymia) desire. Then (epithymia) desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

“By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful (epithymia) desire” (2 Peter 1:4).

John doesn’t say that there is anything wrong with desire, but the “desires of the flesh,” that is from the world! He literally means that desires that come from the flesh. It is the whole of sinful man; in his rebellion. The flesh is our enemy! We have been born with a sin nature that is naturally rebellious against God—that gives us no excuse for running from God and having desires for other things besides God . . . But more so as a believer, we have no excuse for giving in to the sinful cravings of our flesh! We’ve been made new, we’ve got the Holy Spirit of Almighty God to give us the strength to resist sin and be obedient to the Lord, we need to heed the Bible when it says to “Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” as in Galatians 5:24.

Your desires rule you. Did you know that you cannot even make a choice without a desire? You must first have a desire before you can ever even make a choice for something. And when it comes to the moment of decision, whatever you desire most is what you are going to choose. I’ve been trying to eat healthy for a few weeks now, and so when I go to town for lunch, I desire to eat a good salad. Well, when I get to the restaurant and I glance at the menu and see a bacon cheeseburger staring at me, begging me to eat it, my desires change. I have a conflict in me: I desire to eat healthy, but I also desire to eat the cheeseburger. If I choose a salad, ultimately my desire to eat healthy was stronger than my desire to eat a bacon cheeseburger. If I choose a bacon cheeseburger, then my desire to indulge was stronger than my desire to eat healthy. If I choose not to eat at all, my desire to not eat salad or the cheeseburger was stronger than my desire to eat.

We are desiring people by nature. That’s why it is so important to have a stronger desire for God than for the world! Because if you are desiring God, then the things you do will be influenced by that desire for God. The problem is, when we were born with our sin nature, we naturally desire sin and evil over God: “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” (Rom. 1:22-23). I don’t know about you, but I’ve got the Lord, and that’s enough! I don’t need that sin that promises me nothing but sorrow, pain, and hurt. We need to fight sin and our evil desires of the flesh and replace those desires with desires for wholehearted worship and adoration and white-hot passion for God.

B. “the desires of the eyes”

It is important that John names this next in his list. Why? Because what you desire with your eyes is what you will desire with your flesh. The sinful cravings of the flesh are activated by what people see. The eyes are often the source of desire. And John tells his readers that the “desires of the eyes” are from the world, they do not originate with God. Jesus has much to say about the eyes:

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matt. 18:9).

What Jesus means here is not to be taken literal—please there was an early church theologian named Origen who castrated himself because of this verse. Jesus means here that we need to take whatever measure necessary to eradicate the sinful desires in our lives.

Another penetrating statement about this from Jesus is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23).

We need to get filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep ourselves under control when it comes to our eyes. We need to identify with the Psalmist David when he says, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me” (Psalm 101:3). The “desires of the eyes” are from the world.

C. “pride of life”

Pride is the chief sin—Pride lifts you up far above others and makes you think that you are even above God. John means here that the “pride of life” is boasting and arrogance. It is being puffed up in pride because of what you have on the earth. It expresses a sense of human self-sufficiency and independence from God. When you look at all that you have, Pride says, “Look what I did! I did this!” Against this, Paul writes, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 3:7) So to boasting Paul says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31). Pride is rooted in every sin that we commit. Pride is saying to God’s face when we sin, “I do not need You to be satisfied; I do not need You at all! I will find meaning and satisfaction in things of the world.” Proverbs 16:5 says, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.”

John has named three things that make up “all that is in the world.” The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. Are you desiring God or desiring the world? Surrender your sinful desires to God, give Him all the room He needs to work—but be willing to get rid of those sinful desires. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).

The 3rd Reason: The World is Passing Away (v. 17a)

John has exhorted the believers against loving the world and has given two reasons why not to love the world. Don’t love the world because love for God and love for the world is incompatible. Don’t love the world because all that is in the world is not from the Father, but is from the world: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of life. But further, the third reason why we should not love the world is because the world is passing away along with those desires which entice us: “And the world is passing away along with its desires” (v. 17a). John writes to his readers that it would be foolish to love the world, because it doesn’t last—it is passing away. Not only that, it is passing away along with its desires. The world is passing away and its days are numbered. All that is against God and His grace is passing away. There is no future in worldliness. There are two ways in which the world is passing away:

A. Temporary by Nature:  What it offers is temporary—it is not eternal; it does not last. Solomon has some wisdom from Ecclesiastes concerning this: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Eccl. 5:10). Solomon is establishing a very important truth: Sin never satisfies. Sin will always tell you need more and more of it to be satisfied, that you will not be satisfied until you have it. But that is a lie! The author of Hebrews writes that the pleasures of sin are fleeting (11:25). Sin will never be enough—only God is enough. Further, Peter writes, “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable (impossible to be satisfied) for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” (2 Pet. 2:14, emphasis mine).

B. Consummation: It will one day be gone, but made new. The Bible says that we are awaiting a new heavens and new earth. Again from Ecclesiastes, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Eccl. 3:20). Everything in this world that is material and contrary to God, will one day waste away. Back in 1987, Kansas released a song titled, “Dust in the Wind.” Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren wrote this after reading a book of Native American poetry. The line that caught his attention was “For All We Are Is Dust In The Wind.” This got him thinking about the true value of material things and the meaning of success. The band was doing well and making money, but Kerry realized that in the end, he would eventually die just like everyone else. No matter our possessions or accomplishments, we all end up back in the ground.

Do not be fooled into living for the moment. “Do not conform to the ways of this world” says Paul in Romans 12. Let us work and think and plan and desire all to exalt God and to make Him known—let us do those things which really matter: worshipping God and making His name known where it is not exalted. This world will one day pass away with everything in it.

The 4th Reason: Whoever Does God’s Will Abides Forever (v. 17b)

John has given three reasons so far as to why we ought not love the world. The fourth reason is found in the latter part of v. 17: ” . . . but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” In contrast to the person who loves the world, the Christian who does God’s will shall abide forever. This is the climax of John’s argument for why not to love the world. I don’t know about you, but this is who I want to be: “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Who is the one who would do the “will of God?” Well, in this context, John is talking about salvation because he says that whoever does God’s will “abides forever.”

John writes much about abiding forever in his gospel:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

“And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).

So who is it that will overcome the world? Who will be able to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh? Who will be able to overcoming loving the world? John asks the same question in 1 John 5:5, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Friends, if you a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ—if He has made you a new person, you will abide forever. You have the power accessible to you to overcome loving the world and loving the desires of the world. You know what the difference is between you loving the world and someone who doesn’t know Christ as their Savior? John answers that question: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19).

John Presents the Biblical Command Not to Love

John gives the biblical command not to love. If you are loving the things of the world, God can change your desires. Confess it to Him, repent, allow Him to work in you—fall inlove with Him by getting to know Him through the Bible. John tells us that everything in the world is not from God, but from the world. If you have problems with these desires that John named, get things right with God, and through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will overcome them. Overcoming our desires is not just something we ought to do, or something we need to do—it’s something we can do through Christ who strengthens us. John reminds us that this world is passing away, but whoever does God’s will abides forever. What John presents for us in this text, my friends, is the biblical command not to love.

Colossians: Christ’s Sufficient Reconciliation (Col. 1:20-23)

The following message was delivered  May 4, 2014 at New Hope Baptist Church in Ballard County, KY:

Our Position as Believers: Reconciled

Our position as believers is truly remarkable. There are many terms that describe our position as believers in relation to God and in relation to man as well. The Bible says that we are justified (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:24; Titus 3:7), forgiven (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; 1 John 1:9), adopted (Gal. 4:5-7; Eph. 1:5), and redeemed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). While there are many other descriptions, one of the greatest of those terms to describe who we are in Christ is reconciliation. That’s what Paul’s theme is in our text. The way Paul uses the term in Colossians pictures a thorough, full, and complete reconciliation. Let’s read it together.

The Text: Colossians 1:20-23, ESV

“20 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

God’s Plan of Reconciliation

Let’s look first at v. 20: “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” You may have noticed that our starting place in today’s text is a bit awkward. The reason for starting in v. 20 is because of the language-change. You see that Paul has changed his language from v. 19 in speaking about Christ’s preeminence to v. 20 talking about reconciliation and the first thing he tells his readers about is God’s plan of reconciliation.

Paul writes that “through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God] all things.” That’s a very heavy statement. All things? Paul says here quite clearly that through Jesus Christ, God’s plan is to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven. But why would “all things” need to be reconciled to God? If God’s plan is to reconcile all things to Himself, then there must be some type of separation involved, creating the need for reconciliation. For separation is the opposite of reconciliation. What created that need? Well, you remember the creation story in Genesis, don’t you? Do you remember what God said concerning His creation? “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). About light, day, the moon, sun, stars, plants and animals, you read that God said that it was good. But when God looked and saw everything altogether that He had made, including man, He saw that it was very good.

But what happens two chapters later? The Fall. This is where sin enters the world. When evil and sin entered the world, God’s good creation was marred. It was defiled. Sin destroyed perfect harmony between creatures, and sin affected the entire creation. Paul describes this vividly in Romans 8: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (v. 20), creation, Paul says, is in “bondage to corruption” (v. 21), and, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 22). We live on a cursed earth in a cursed universe all because of sin.

Now what is to be said of the beauty that we still see in creation? What about the rocks, trees, fish and lakes? This beauty is owing to God’s common grace. That is, God has still continued to allow creation to display forth beauty and greatness even though it is subjected to futility and corruption. There’s a reason animals kill each other. There’s a reason plants and animals die. There’s a reason that creation is not in exact harmony: sin.

But as you know, the Bible gives us the wonderful promises that God will again restore creation. He will recreate and “God will make friends with creation again” (1). Tremendous, dramatic, glorious changes will take place in that time. Paul says again in Romans 8 that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). God and the creation will be reconciled—the curse of Genesis 3 will be removed. Finally, “after all is said and done,” there will be a new heaven and a new earth:

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:2).

God will make everything new and will reconcile all things to Himself. That’s the aim Paul is taking here when he says, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (1:20a).

A Word About Universalism

Now some have seen this as a path into the heresy known as universalism. This teaching holds that it doesn’t matter what happens in this life, one day everyone who has ever lived will be saved—God has no real wrath against sinners and one day everyone will be reunited with Him forever and there is no such thing as hell or the lake of fire. That’s a lie straight from the pits of hell and you’d be surprised, utterly surprised, at the number of professing Christians who hold to this view of God and eternity. But those who hold to this view say that this text indicates that even fallen angels and unbelieving sinners will be reconciled to God. Paul cannot mean here that there will be ultimate salvation of everyone. Not everyone is going to be saved—we know that. That’s one thing Jesus taught: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). And Christ will one day say to unbelievers, “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and then in v. 46 of that chapter, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There are no second chances for those who go out into eternity without Christ. It’s against the Scriptures and everything that the Christian faith stands for if you identify with something like universalism. So where do unbelievers and fallen angels fall into this category of reconciliation? They will be reconciled to God in the sense of getting their final judgment. Only in the sense of submitting to Him for final sentencing:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

This all happens through Jesus Christ—this is the extent of the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ; this is God’s plan of reconciliation—“to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:20).

The Opposite of Reconciliation

It is God’s grand, glorious plan to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus, but now Paul focuses on his readers in a special way. Before Paul talks about God’s central purpose in reconciliation—reconciling men and women to God, he reminds them of their state of being before reconciliation. He describes the opposite of reconciliation: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (v. 21).

Paul focuses on his readers here. “And you who once were. . .” Paul is talking about something that these readers were, not something that they are now. And he describes the Colossians’ pre-Christian state in a three-fold way:

1. Position: “you . . . once were alienated” (1:21b).

The Bible actually talks about aliens more than you think. When you think of aliens, however, you probably picture the little green guys trying to abduct humans for research. Or possibly more relevant, illegal aliens, are those who come over to our country illegally. But why do we call the fictional green characters aliens, and why do we call illegal immigrants aliens? Because they are strangers. Aliens would be strangers because they’re not from our planet. Immigrants because they are not from our country. And when it comes to Paul’s readers, this is their position apart from God: strangers. To be alienated is to be cut off from God, a stranger to God, a non-participant in the things of God.

Speaking of those who do not know Christ, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). Sin is what separates us from God. Sin is what alienates us from God and creates that need for reconciliation back to our Creator. God is holy and we are not—and that is a problem for us. The Scriptures attest about Him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV), “The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:16), “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4, ESV). God is holy and our depraved position apart from Him is alienation/separation. And if nothing’s done about it, it will lead to eternal separation one of these days in the lake of fire where, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). The reason that it is an eternal hell is because sin is an offense against an eternal God. Our position depraved and apart from the saving grace of God is one of damnation: we were once alienated.

2. Intellect/Thinking: “you . . . once were . . . hostile in mind” (1:21c).

Not only alienated, but the Colossians had also been hostile in mind. This literally means that they had a hateful attitude towards God. According to Paul here in this verse, even our intellect is infected by sin. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The Scripture teaches that the unbeliever’s mind is even corrupt and affected by sin. It doesn’t mean he cannot think, it doesn’t mean that he cannot be philosophical, it doesn’t mean that he has no logic—but it does mean that his mind is corrupted by sin and will not willingly submit to God or the things of God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Our mode of thinking was entirely against God.

There’s an interesting passage in the New Testament about this truth. It’s in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Paul says here that their minds are blinded. Wait a minute. I thought being blind meant that you couldn’t see? That’s the point here. Satan so darkens the minds of unbelievers that they cannot see the light of the gospel—they are blinded; even by their own minds. So don’t be under the impression that you can win people over with philosophy, or even theological discussion. You cannot save a single soul. Only God can regenerate a sinner who is that depraved. Only God can transform a man.

3. Actions/Deeds: “you . . . once were . . . doing evil deeds” (1:21d).

Not only were they alienated from God, and their minds hostile to Him, but they were doing evil deeds. If they are already so depraved that they are separated from God and hostile in their thinking, then it would follow that their actions would result in “doing evil deeds.” Jesus confirms this fact: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Everything man does in His rebellion against God is sin: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

Indeed, we are in an extremely depraved condition apart from Christ. Your predicament, if you are an unbeliever, is very heavy. We are not as sinful as we could be—God by His common grace restrains some evil in the world. But the Scripture teaches that everything about us, our minds, hearts, and wills are all inclined and bent towards evil and that every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. The New Testament is replete with passages about who we are before Christ:

“Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents” (Rom. 1:30, KJV)

“Dead in trespasses and sins,” “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3).

“We were enemies” (Rom. 5:10).

“as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12).

That’s the magnificent thing about salvation. God doesn’t just leave us in our depraved condition. He’d be just and right in doing so. God is not obligated to give grace to anyone—that’s why it’s called grace. It’s undeserved. God reserves the right to give grace to whoever He pleases—He doesn’t have to give grace to any sinner. But thank God He gives grace! God did a great thing on our behalf.

Why is this important to know? Why does the Bible place so much emphasis on our condition before Christ? Well, you will not appreciate your present salvation without remembering your past condition—you will not fully be grateful for your present relationship with God without remembering your past separation from God. If someone has a cold and they take some Mucinex to take care of it, do they normally rejoice, and hop up and down because they no longer have a cold? Not normally, unless they are just a happy person (and probably had too much Mucinex!). But if someone has had a terrible, life-threatening cancer and they receive treatment and beat the cancer. . . Oh there is rejoicing alright. They are very, very thankful. It works the same way in the Christian life. If you do not realize the depth of your sinful condition before Christ, then you will not even begin to realize how great a miracle your salvation actually was!

Too many believers treat their position before Christ like a fake threat. Like they were not in any real danger. It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (2).

They say, “Nobody is perfect.” While that’s true, that’s not even scratching the surface of what you were before Christ. Read what the Scripture says about who you were before Christ, because when you recognize who you really were before God transformed you, then you will so much more appreciate your salvation now. Paul even says in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that at one time you were without Christ . . . having no hope, and without God in the world.”

How often do you ponder what your life was like before Christ? How often are you brought to tears of joy before the presence of Almighty God for saving you from such a depraved position? How often do you allow these things to grip you?

The Means of Reconciliation

Paul never tells us who we were before Christ, without also telling us who we are now in Christ (or what God has done for us to transform us). He never tells us to remember what we are now without remembering what we once were. So Paul has talked about the Colossians’ depraved sinful state and the complete opposite of reconciliation. Now he talks about the means of reconciliation: “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (v. 22a).

If we have a need for reconciliation to God then how is that accomplished? Paul says, “He has now [this is present tense] reconciled in His body of flesh by His death.” This is talking about Jesus. Jesus Christ is the one who has brought us to God. All the members of the Trinity work actively in your salvation. The Father initiates your salvation, He plans it. The Son accomplishes your salvation on the cross. The Spirit applies your salvation through regeneration. Now, Christ did a lot of things while He was here on this earth, but the main reason He came was to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are reconciled to God through His death. Your reconciliation to God is owing completely to the death of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t because you were good enough, it wasn’t because you did or said the right things, it was because Jesus died for you! “You contribute nothing to your salvation, except the sin that made it necessary”—Jonathan Edwards.

Are you reconciled today? Are you reconciled to God through Christ?

The Aim of Reconciliation

Paul has talked about God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation and now he talks about the aim of reconciliation: “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22b).

In contrast with their three-fold depravity, Paul describes the three-fold aim of Christ’s reconciliation work on behalf of the Colossian believers:

1. “in order to present you holy” (1:22b)
2. “in order to present you . . . blameless” (1:22c)
3. “in order to present you . . . above reproach” (1:22d).

The Evidence of Reconciliation

Paul has described God’s plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation, the aim of that reconciliation, and now he concludes this section by speaking on the evidence of that reconciliation. “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23a).

Paul says here that “continuing in the faith” is evidence that you have been reconciled: “Christ reconciled you in order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him . . . if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast.”

Paul is not saying here that “continuing in the faith” is necessary to your salvation because you are lacking something that Christ didn’t do. It’s necessary in order to prove your salvation, but not necessary because Christ isn’t enough. Christ is mighty to save, He saves to the uttermost, He is able to reconcile fully, completely, and thoroughly—salvation was not just made “possible” for you at the cross—but it was made actual for you at the cross. Christ actually accomplished, bought, and secured your salvation.

So, “continuing in the faith” is the necessary response and the “out-working” of a life that’s been reconciled to God. And the Scripture teaches that if your life does not show evidence of being reconciled to God, then you are not reconciled to God and you are still “alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds,” and you are not saved.

One of the most sobering truths of the Bible is that not all who profess to be Christians are in fact saved. Christ warned us about it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). And John writes in his epistle, “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” (1 John 2:19).

No, you can never “lose” your salvation, but there will be a great falling away of those who were never truly saved. Look at Hebrews 6:

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of god and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6).

Paul says here in Colossians that if we continue in the faith, we continue to be faithful to Him, continue to serve Him and love Him, if we remain steadfast and stable that it shows forth evidence of our present reconciliation with God.

Are you continuing in the faith? Does your life show evidence that you have been reconciled to God? Can you think of some ways in which God has shown His grace in your life? If not, then heed the words of 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”

The Ministry of Reconciliation

In addition to Paul talking about the evidence of reconciliation, he speaks briefly in this section about the ministry of reconciliation. He writes, “[this gospel] which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (v. 23b).

Paul was made a minister of the gospel. We are all ministers of reconciliation. We are to tell others about Jesus Christ like Paul did. There’s a great passage of Scripture about that:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

We owe people the gospel’s message this side of hell. The proper response to such a great gospel is joyfully sharing it with others. So who are you ministering to? Who has God placed in your life that you need to minister to? “You may be the only Bible people are reading.”—Billy Graham

Conclusion

We’ve seen today: God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation (1:20). Our state before Christ, the opposite of reconciliation (1:21). Christ’s present, real reconciliation work on the cross (1:22). The aim of Christ’s reconciling work (1:22). The evidence of Christ’s reconciling work (1:23). And how we are all made ministers of that gospel (1:23). Where is God stirring in your heart today? In the commands we found in the Scriptures, which are you not obeying? The gospel gives you the power to carry out those commands in obedience, so what are you waiting for? I pray we will be obedient to God and heed the truths gleaned from Colossians concerning this great position we have as believers: reconciled. 


1. John MacArthur, Colossians/Philemon (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1992), 58.
2. Adapted from John Piper, Remember That You Were Hopeless (Desiring God, 1981).

 

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Gives in to Temptation?

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Gives in to Temptation?

Everyone one of us sin (Rom. 3:23) and are born with a nature inclined to sin (Eph. 2:1-3). So we naturally choose sin over good, more specifically, idols over God: “And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols. . .” (Rom. 1:23 NLT). If you are a believer, you will still continue to sin even after you are saved. However, this is not an excuse to continue living in sin: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2, emphasis mine). In fact, if you continue to sin without remorse, guilt or sorrow, then God is not disciplining you and you are not a child of God: “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). The Scriptures teach very clearly that you cannot live in unrepentant sin and be saved (1 John 1:6), but the Scriptures also teach that struggling daily with sin is a real problem for real Christians (Romans 7).

Now before Christ, we were completely slaves to sin (John 8:34; Rom. 6:20), but now that we are saved, we have the freedom to serve Christ (Gal. 5:1). The difference is that before we were saved we were slaves to our sinful nature, but now we can choose to live for Christ (Gal. 2:20). Still, however, a problem that all Christians face is temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). Satan presents the opportunity before us to sin, and often times we take that opportunity. When we give in to temptation, we sin against God. In 2 Samuel 11, we find the story of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the tragic events which followed. David gave in to temptation and committed a horrible, heinous, hurtful sin, yet he was a child of God. He was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), and yet he committed awful, terrible, horrible sin. What we see is this: if a person is bound to sin, he is bound to suffer. Sin always brings consequences; even for the believer.

We are completely and totally made accepted in God’s sight based on the justifying work of Christ (Gal. 2:16). And there is nothing you can ever do to make God love you more. Nothing. There is also nothing you have done that makes God love you any less. Nothing. But when we give in to temptation and sin against our Father, our fellowship with Him is hindered. For example, if a son does something wrong to his father—falling short of his expectations or rules—the son has hindered his fellowship with his father. He remains the son of his father, but the relationship suffers. Their fellowship will be hindered until the son admits to his father that he has done wrong. It works the same way with God; our fellowship with Him is hindered until we confess our sin (1 John 1:9). When we confess our sin to God, the fellowship is restored. This is relational forgiveness and we need to seek it when we give in to temptation.

Confession of sin will help to keep us from the discipline of the Lord. If we fail to confess sin, the discipline of the Lord is sure to come until we do confess it. As stated previously, we are totally justified in God’s sight (our sins are forgiven at salvation), but our daily fellowship with God needs to stay in good standing (relational forgiveness). Proper fellowship with God cannot happen with unconfessed sin in our lives. Therefore, we need to confess our sins to God as soon as we are aware that we have sinned, in order to maintain close fellowship with God.

Jonah: On the Run

Jonah: On the Run (1:1-3)

Introduction

The book of Jonah contains only fifty-eight verses, but those few verses include a storm at sea, the conversion of sailors, a miraculous rescue, a song of praise, the repentance of Israel’s archenemy, and an intensely honest dialogue between the Lord and Israel’s most reluctant prophet.

The author, who is most likely Jonah, sets the tone in this passage to focus on God and Jonah.

The Text

“1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.”

Jonah’s Call

In the first verse, the author begins this story by saying that “the word of the LORD came to Jonah. . .” (v. 1). This phrase is used when God speaks directly to someone who is asked to participate in God’s mission in a special way. God spoke personally to Jonah. Often times, we look down on him because he ran from God. Despite that, God loved him and favored him. If God didn’t favor Jonah, He wouldn’t have spoken to him in such a personal way.

In the Bible, a person’s name was the description of their character. This is true for the many names given to God in the Bible, and also for the various people in the Scriptures. Take Genesis 25 for example, where we read about the birth of Jacob: “Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob” (25:26). So his name means, “he takes by the heel” or “he cheats.” With that in mind, what is the meaning of the name “Jonah?”

His name means “dove.” Do you recall what Noah did with the dove? Of course you do. It’s found in one of the most beloved Bible stories. In Genesis 8:10-11, Noah sends out a dove from the ark and it returns with the branch of an olive tree, symbolizing peace and compassion. Similarly, God sent out Jonah to be a symbol of peace to the Ninevites. God wanted to rescue the Ninevites from destruction and judgment by His wrath so that they could have peace, forgiveness and mercy.

Furthermore, the Old Testament describes doves as birds who moan and lament (Isaiah 38:14; 59:11). And Jonah moans and cries in chapter 4. Leviticus describes doves as birds of sacrifice, similarly Jonah sacrifices himself to save the sailors in chapter 1. Lastly, in Psalm 55, the psalmist longs to be like a dove to flee from the terrors of death. Jonah also, flees like a dove in chapter 1 from the terror of Nineveh. That’s not why he flees, but he does flee from that.

A Symbol of Peace

As indicated by our text, God sent Jonah to be a messenger of peace to the wicked Ninevites. God desired to rescue them from destruction. We are to be symbols and messengers of peace in our world today. The Bible gives us certain commands concerning peace: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), and in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). And Paul in Romans 12:18, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (NLT).

So we are commanded to be symbols of peace in our world today, and even more, to follow the example of Jesus. He is the very embodiment of peace. Paul describes Jesus in an unusual way: “He himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14a), unusual because, nowhere else in the New Testament is Christ portrayed this way—as the very embodiment of peace. We Christians today should follow Christ’s example of peace. In fact, we should follow the example of Jesus in everything. Jesus is our perfect example of obedience to the Father, even to the point of death (Philippians 2:8).

Getting Away

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (v. 2). This statement is of course from God. This is that word of the Lord that came to Jonah. God tells Jonah to “call out against” the Ninevites. To call them to repent and seek God. Why? “For their evil has come up before me.” Their evil has been done in plain sight of God. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, and they were Israel’s worst enemy and a source of harm and violence to the ancient world. They were especially known for their brutal and grisly treatment of their enemies. Jonah, being an Israelite, was not interested in taking part in the redemption of this particular enemy. He wasn’t interested in going there and giving them any chance to repent and turn from their ways—they were one of Israel’s enemies.

So what did Jonah do in response to God’s call? “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them into Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD” (v. 3). He flees to Tarshish. He goes down to Joppa and finds a ship going to Tarishish. He pays the fare (the cost to ride) and goes with the crew. The author, who is most likely Jonah, tells this story in a remarkable way. The details mentioned in this passage help you to feel like you are actually going on this trip with Jonah, wondering what will happen next. Something worth noting is the repeated phrase, “away from the presence of the LORD,” which occurs twice in this verse. The various authors of the Bible will often times use repetition to help illustrate an important point. In this case, to help us understand what Jonah was fleeing from: the presence of the Lord. He was fleeing from God’s presence. He runs to Tarshish to avoid two places associated with God’s word: the temple, and Nineveh. Jonah was a prophet, so he would often hear the word of God read in the temple, and he knew if he went to Nineveh, then he would have to preach the word. So he heads to Tarshish, hoping to get away from God’s voice. He knows God is everywhere (1:9), but he thinks that going to Tarshish will drown out God’s voice.

Naturally Running From God

Jonah’s running from God is a great example of a larger theme taught in the Bible—we naturally run from God. We do not naturally run after God or seek Him. “10 as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12, emphasis mine). We are born haters of God and lovers of darkness. “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). There is nothing good in us and nothing in us that desires God or naturally delights in Him. Even after we are believers, we continue to struggle with sin daily (Rom. 7:22-26).

But the glorious flip-side of it is this: Though we are on a pursuit away from God, He is running after us, because of His great love. In fact, God has been running after you since before you were born—before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God even loved you before time began and God is pursuing you like He pursued Jonah. And that pursuit from God is our only hope.

Why Did Jonah Run?

Jonah is certainly rebelling against God by running from God’s call on his life. He does get to a low point. His running was a refusal to obey God’s call to “go to Nineveh,” but it was more than that. To see the whole picture, we need to ask ‘Why did Jonah run from God?’ Many scholars have given a number of creative answers to this question:

1) Jonah ran because the Ninevites were not Jews. The text does not indicate that Jonah was racist against the Ninevites. This conclusion is weak, even though the Ninevites were Israel’s cruel enemies.

2) Jonah ran because he did not want to be known as a false prophet. God says in Deuteronomy, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken” (18:22). As you know, when Jonah preached, the people repented and the judgment was avoided. But would that make Jonah a false prophet? No. God says in Jeremiah 18:7-8, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it” (emphasis mine).

3) Jonah ran because he feared death at the hands of the cruel Ninevites. This conclusion is also weak because Jonah wasn’t afraid to die (1:15). He readily offered himself to be tossed overboard to save the sailors.

The true reason Jonah ran was this: He knew that if he preached judgment, there would be a possibility of forgiveness if they turned from their ways. He knew God was like that: “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2). And he didn’t agree. Jonah thought God was making a mistake and a dangerous theological move by offering forgiveness to these wicked Ninevites. Jonah didn’t agree with the way God was going to deal with the Ninevites. Jonah couldn’t swallow (pun intended) the truth that God is both judging and forgiving. Full of both grace and truth. Wrath and compassion.

Taking the Gospel to Haters

Jonah was called to take the message of repentance to his enemies. In the New Testament, we find out that Jesus actually brought the gospel to His enemies (Romans 5:10). You and I. Now, you are called to take the gospel to your enemies. To those who hate you. Jesus, again in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Peter in his first epistle, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9).

Think about who your greatest enemy is. Maybe someone at work who always gives you a hard time. Maybe someone at your school who always rejects you. Maybe a parent who you cannot please. Maybe a cousin or someone in your neighbor hood. Think about the person who gives you the hardest time. That person needs the gospel. You need to take the gospel to them. That’s a risky mission. It might mean inviting them to eat lunch with you. It might mean buying them a Coke after school. It might mean resisting their constant attacks. It might mean doing more work around the house. It might mean talking with them on a personal level.

You may say, “They won’t care. They won’t care about Jesus or the gospel.” You’re right. All who are unsaved do not give the least rip about the gospel. It is foolishness to them (1 Cor. 1:18). But we have the promise that God can save anyone. God must enlighten someone to the worth of the gospel. When He does, all they can do is run to God. There is not another possibility. You can’t be enlightened to the worth of God through the gospel and then make a choice to go the other way (Hebrews 6:4-6). It is impossible. It’s a miracle of God. He enlightens you, grants you faith and repentance and He gives you spiritual life, all in one moment. So don’t believe that God can’t save someone because they count the gospel as worthlessness.

A prime example of this is the conversion story of Paul. He hated the Christian church. He persecuted and killed Christians. He watched Stephen, one of the most courageous believers who ever lived, be stoned to death. And the Bible says that Paul “approved of his execution,” or was pleased (Acts 8:1). Paul was saved soon after this and now look at what God did through him. The gospel spread throughout the entire Mediterranean world because of Paul’s efforts. And half of our New Testament consists of Paul’s writings.

We have enemies like Jonah and we are called to take the message of the gospel to them whether or not we believe they deserve it.

You’ve Got Questions: How Am I Really a Sinner?

You’ve Got Questions: How Am I Really a Sinner?

This question is vital because if you do not realize that you are a sinner, then you will not recognize your need for a Savior. If you don’t first understand the serious consequences of being an unsaved sinner, then you will never see the worth and value of what Jesus did on the cross.

Sin Defined

First of all, what is “sin?” In short, sin is a word that describes anything that fails to meet God’s standard of perfection. The Scriptures make it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is not just murder, rape, or robbery. Sin is failing to do the things we should and doing those things that we should not. Failing to do the things we should are called sins of omission, and doing those things that we should not are called sins of commission. In other words, when the Scriptures say “You shall not” and you do, that is a sin of commission. Equally, when the Scriptures say “You shall” and you do not, that is a sin of omission. Again, sin is failing to do what is required of us, and doing those things which God has prohibited.

Summarized, sin is the barrier between you and a satisfying relationship with God. Just as light and dark cannot exist together, neither can God and sin. Furthermore, sin is a barrier between us and other people. You need only to read the newspaper or listen to a news report to see how true this really is. We live in a time when terrorism abounds and when the world as we know it can be instantly obliterated by nuclear aggression. Finally, sin is the deprivation of good. As such, sin is characterized by a lack of something rather than being something in itself. As noted above, sin is a break in relationship to God and others rather than being an ontological substance. David Horton brings this concept to light and he is worth quoting at length:

“Evil is not a substance but a corruption of the good substances God made. Evil is like rust to a car or rot to a tree. It is a lack in good things, but it is not a thing in itself. Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth holes in a garment. It exists only in another but not in itself. . . To say that evil is not a thing, but a lack in things, is not to claim that it is not real. Evil is a real lack in good things, as the blind person know only too well. Evil is not a real substance, but it is a real privation in good substances. It is not an actual entity but a real corruption in an actual entity” (The Portable Seminary, David Horton. p. 360).

The Fall

God made this world and all that is in it: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. … God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:1, 27). He created human beings to be like Him and to have unhindered fellowship with Him, and when His work of creation was finished he saw that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Although the first people God created, Adam and Eve, had complete freedom to live in friendship and trust with him, they chose to rebel (Gen. 3:1–7). Because God designed that Adam would represent the entire human race, his sin was catastrophic not only for him but for us: “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Our fellowship with God was broken. Instead of enjoying His holy pleasure, we instead face His righteous wrath. Through this sin, we all died spiritually (see Rom. 3:1–20; Eph. 2:1–10) and the entire world was affected. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). And we all individually sin against God in our own lives: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

He Who Sins

If someone lies, what do you call him? A liar. If someone steals he is a thief. It concludes that the one who commits something is categorized from the act he committed. If someone sins, he is a sinner. But who has sinned? As quoted above, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Everyone is a sinner. The Bible says that we are sinners in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (emphasis mine).