“He Breaks the Power of Cancelled Sin & Sets the Prisoner Free” – Wesleyan Self-Examination

Although, we will never be entirely free from sin until Christ returns that does not mean that we should not seek after a growth in Gospel holiness and ruthlessly put to death the old nature.  For this reason I have uploaded the following devotion and whilst you might not agree with everything it is a useful tool in Christian discipleship.

“The questions have their origin in the spiritual accountability group started by Wesley when he was a student at Oxford — a group that detractors called “The Holy Club.” The first list appeared about 1729 or 1730 in the preface to Wesley’s second Oxford Diary. Similar questions appeared in his 1733 A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week. As late as 1781, Wesley published a list of questions like this in the Arminian Magazine.” [1]

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Do I pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
  3. Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the tax collectors?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

[1] http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/selfexam.htm

Who’s in Charge, Anyway? [A Reflective Essay]

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A number of weeks ago, during the “Power and the Powers” lecture, I was involved in a rather heated discussion on the concept of the sovereignty of God.  Many things were discussed but the two main points that kept recurring were the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  Due to time restraints, the discussion ended more promptly than I would have wished, however, the reason why the conversation went on as long as it did is that the classmate with whom I was “discussing” was unable to hold these truths in dialectical tension.  Therefore, within this essay, I will seek do exactly this.  The reader must be warned, however, that this is no easy task and therefore, like all the great truths of Scripture, the reader is asked to understand this truth as an unfathomable mystery.

 

1. The Sovereignty of God

When discussing the sovereignty of God the Shorter Catechism says:

“The decrees of God are His eternal plan based on the purpose of His will, by which, for His own glory, He has foreordained everything that happens.”[1]

 

Immediately, the reader may be baulking at this whole idea and be filled with a plethora of tragic circumstances and situations, real or imagined, in which he/she is categorically unable to see the hand of God.  This innate response in many places a wedge between the goodness of God and the providential sovereignty of God, a wedge that is neither helpful nor biblical.  No!  If God is sovereign but not good then He is all-powerful but not merciful but if He is good but not sovereign then He is power-less but merciful.  The reader must never be forced into accepting either one of these positions and therefore must hold these truths in tension.

God is both good and sovereign so His relationship to good and evil must be one that is “asymmetrical.  Doctrinally this is known as compatibilism and in its most rudimentary terms means that God is the author of all that is good and, for our good and His glory, permits all that is evil.[2]  This does not mean that God does not hate evil, and that the Church, individually and corporately, must not work against all forms of evil but it does mean that we worship a God who is all-powerful, mericful and can use evil for redemptive ends even if He is not the author of that evil.  In short, this is the God of the Bible.

Scripture clearly teaches that God is in control of creation (Joshua 10:13), Satan (Job 1:9-12), demons (Matthew 8:28-32), salvation (Ephesians 1:4), empires (Daniel 2:29-45), healing (2 Kings 5:14), sickness (John 9:3), life and death (2 Kings 20:1-6).  This gives us confidence because the believer can rest assured that nothing can happen that has not first passed through the counsel of a loving God.  “Oh!” say my detractors, “if God exercises such control over all things then you must relegate man to an agent that is acted upon and so cannot be held responsible for either good or evil.”  While this abominable doctrine may be held by hyper-Calvinists I would be keen to distance myself from it and show that it must be wedded in paradoxical union to the doctrine of the responsibility of man if it is to be truly biblical.

 

2. The Responsibility of Man

Before I begin to look at this, I must state categorically that even though I believe and teach human responsibility, I do not believe or teach that man has free will.  A W Pink puts it aptly when he says:

“Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children.  The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has free will.”[3]

Man is bound by the flesh, the world and the devil and may exercise some freedom of will within the midst of his servitude but cannot ever be seen as free.  The believer, however, is bound to Christ and so is free in Him but still subject to His example, led by His spirit and ultimately can only act within the parameters of His will.  Nonetheless, this does not mean that man is not responsible.

This can clearly be seen throughout scripture.  There is Pharaoh whose heart was “hardened” sometimes by God and sometimes by himself, given over to judgment because of the part which he played.[4]  Then there is David who is tested by Satan, under the permission of God, because of his sin, being inflicted with judgment of the severest nature.[5]  Not to mention the man who played the chief role in betraying Jesus.  A man, who helped Christ fulfil his mission (Luke 9:21-22), was filled with demonic power, given ‘permission’ by Jesus (John 13:27) but was still held responsible (Mark 14:21).  My point is that if there was ever a person who might be able to feign responsibility it would have been this one and therefore we can only be left with one conclusion:  That is that man will be held responsible in this life and in the life to come.

Now again this must be balanced with the concept of corporate responsibility, the fall and the role of suffering in the life of the believer but nonetheless it is a fundamental truth that must be constantly reiterated.[6]  Without this truth, man is depreciated to nothing more than a pawn within a cosmic game of chess.

 

Conclusion

While there is no doubt that this topic has been inadequately dealt with, it is my hope that an understanding of the sovereignty of God will invoke an iron-like confidence in the believer, while the doctrine of human responsibility might endear a grace-based humility and passion for holiness.  For me personally it has invoked awe and wonder and has brought about a desire for a life-long understanding of these truths and their practical application for my life and for the purpose of mission.  Something that I will reflect on for the rest of my earthly life.

 

Bibliography

Carson D A, 2006, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil Second Edition: IVP, Ebbw Vale

Kelly D & Rollinson P, 1986, The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg

Pink A W, 1961, The Sovereignty of God: Banner of Truth Trust, Guildford

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[1] Kelly & Rollinson, 1986, p.6 (Q7)

[2]“God stands behind good and evil in somewhat different ways; that is, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically.  To put it bluntly, God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of his sovereignty, yet evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to secondary agents, to secondary causes.  On the other hand, God stands behind good in such a way that it not only takes place within the bounds of his sovereignty, but it is always chargeable to him, and only derivatively to secondary agents.” Carson, 2006, p.189

[3] Pink, 1961, p.92

[4] Compare Exodus 7:13 & 8:15

[5] Compare 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1

[6] For more information on the role of suffering in the life of the believer please study the life of Job, Jesus and the Apostles.

Supper at Simon’s House [Luke 7:36-8:3]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Like many cultures around the world, though not Western culture, Jewish culture is built around the concept of honour and shame.  This means that the way someone feels inwardly is often linked to the way in which they are perceived and treated outwardly.  In our narrative, a Pharisee, named Simon, invites Jesus into his home to publicly shame Him.[1]  The commentator Hendriksen writes:

“The Master exposes before everybody the shabby treatment he had received from his host.  The latter had omitted all the customary evidences of hospitality, all the amenities to which, as everyone knew, an honoured and invited guest was entitled…The reception had been cold, patronising, and discourteous. ”[2]

 Nonetheless, it is as a result of this failed shaming that we are able to extrapolate some essential theological truths.  To do this we must look at the three main characters that are involved.

 

1. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar [v36-38, 8:1-3]

Firstly, we have an unnamed woman who is referred to as “a sinner” and while it is not explicitly stated the consensus of scholarly opinion would identify her as a prostitute.  This unnamed woman sees the public snub of Jesus by Simon the Pharisee and begins to wash his feet with her tears, dry them with her hair and anoints his feet with costly oil which we learn later comes from the gratitude she feels from having been forgiven. [3]

Application: According to the Jews, the feet were considered the filthiest part of the human body, a woman’s hair was not to be shown to anyone but her husband and the perfume in alabaster jars was expensive and could only be used once (they had narrow necks which had to be snapped).  From this, we are able to understand something of what was expended at this meal.  Luke goes on to show that costly worship is normative for the Christian [8:1-3].  This week examine the cost of your own worship. If it is not becoming progressively more costly, you must ask yourself why.  Maybe I could challenge you to give a one-off generous donation to the rebuilding of the Philippines, rid yourself of self-consciousness in public worship or challenge you to live missionally.

 

2. The Pharisee with a Bad Attitude [v39]

The second person at the meal is Simon the Pharisee.  He is scandalised by what is going on because he knew “who and what manner of woman” this was.

Application: We too can be like Simon, feeling good about ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.  However, the Bible says: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” Phil 2:3.  Therefore, I would like to challenge you to measure your goodness against Christ and not others.  If you do this, you will come to see that we are constantly indebted to His grace and constantly in need of His power; hopefully this will develop the gratitude to God and humility in front of men that was sadly lacking in Simon.

 

3. The Saviour who Forgives [v40-50]

Jesus goes on to tell Simon a parable in which “a certain creditor” forgives “two debtors,” one who owed fifty days wages and one who owed five hundred.   He uses the parable to show that one’s response is in direct proportion to one’s perceived need.  Is He teaching, then, that all men are actually or potentially saved?

Calvinists and Arminians often debate whether Christ purchased a limited atonement or an unlimited atonement.  As a “Cal-Minian” I would say that the atonement is unlimited and everyone in the history of mankind was actually forgiven at the cross [John 1:29, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 4:10, 1 John 2:2].   Nevertheless, the atonement is also limited because it only becomes efficacious and salvific for the elect, that is those, by God’s grace, who have accepted it [Matthew 1:21, John 6:37-40, 10:15, Ephesians 1:4, Revelation 5:9].

Application: What have you done with the forgiveness of God?  If you have truly accepted it then there should be a growing personal relationship with God [Matthew 28:20], a hunger for doctrinal truth [John 16:13], an assurance of salvation [Romans 8:38-39] and lifestyle change [Titus 3:8].  This does not mean that there are not exceptions to this [Luke 23:39-43] and nor does it mean that we are saved by our own merit.  We are saved by grace through faith and for works [Ephesians 2:8-10].  Anything other than this is not the Gospel and hence I would like to challenge you, to wholeheartedly place your whole life into the hands of Christ.


[1] During a meal the well-off would leave the doors open so others could participate in the conversation or wait for leftovers.

[2] “New Testament Commentary: Luke” by William Hendriksen p. 408

[3] Many confuse this account with the one found in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8 but a close examination shows that they took place in a different location, by a different woman and for a different reason.

Forgiving the Unforgivable [Luke 6:27-36]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

 

“There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains.”  William Cowper

 

Of all Jesus’ teachings the imperative to “love our enemies” is probably the most famous and the most difficult.  Nonetheless in light of the forgiveness we have received we must also forgive.  To do that, however, we must try to understand from the text the distinction between Kingdom love and worldly love.

 

1. Kingdom Love is Spiritual Love

Whilst there is so much more that can be said of the text, “I say to you who hear,” which begins this passage shows us that Kingdom love is spiritual love.  Please hear me; I am not saying that it is devoid of any practical application but I am saying that in order to “hear” or understand it, let alone practise it, we must be born-again and must be walking in accordance to God’s Spirit.

Application: Whether you are to forgive whole groups of people, certain individuals or even yourself you must understand that the power to do this rests wholly with God.  Read this passage a number of times and ask God for the power to both “hear” and to act.  This whole concept that true forgiveness comes from emotion or from an act of the will is destructive, impossible and unbiblical.

 

2. Worldly Love is Self-Interested Love

Worldly love, however, is a love that is empowered not by God but by man and is merely shared amongst those people whom we like or those people from whom we seek to receive something in return.  “For even sinners love those who love them.” 

 Application: This week why not do something good  to those who hold animosity towards you.  Please be wise and do not do it in a way to gain the moral high ground but purely because “when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10).  Practically, this might mean taking in your neighbour’s rubbish bin, giving due credit to a certain colleague at work, trying to understand things from another persons perspective or being sensitive to someone else’s beliefs (i.e. not eating bacon in front of a seventh day Adventist or not participating in orange marches particularly if they pass through Catholic areas).

 

3. Kingdom Love is God’s Love

In the ancient world many trades were passed on generationally from father to son.  Therefore the love spoken of within this passage is none other than God’s love “for He is kind to the unthankful and (the) evil.”  We are seen, therefore, as apprentices  and co-labourers in His great work.

Application: Now you might be thinking that the person/s or group that you have in mind are completely undeserving of any good.  I would agree but I would also assume that you are not deserving of any good either,  and therefore even if the good that you seek to do is not received in a loving spirit, then I would exhort you to share it universally (not just to those who have offended you but to all) and untiringly, so that all might see that you are a son of the most high God.

 

Conclusion

“Christ’s injunctions are not to be applied mechanically, formally, or in foolish blindness which loses sight of the true purposes of love.  Love is to foster no crime in others or to expose our loved ones to disaster or perhaps death…Christ never told me not to restrain the murderer’s hand, not to check the thief and robber, not to oppose the tyrant, or to foster shiftlessness, dishonesty, and greed by my gifts.”  Lenski

Therefore let us not be fools; nonetheless let us not also be those that use over-caution as an excuse not to forgive the unforgivable in ourselves and in others.

 

*Our infinite God has chosen to limit Himself by using finite men therefore the sermon and the study notes should be received in a spirit of humility for that was the spirit in which they have been given. It is therefore our prayer that by the power of the Spirit’s illumination they might be used for the glorification of God and the transformation of your life*

[the audio from the 1st clip and the video from the 2nd where put together and shown before the sermon]

 

A Gay Mayor, An Evangelical Pastor and the Welfare of a City

This week I came across this fantastic video produced by Tim Keller and co as part of the Center Church studies. It really got me thinking!

In a post modern age where the Chrsitian Worldview is alien to our culture how can we be a blessing to our communities?

Sam Adams, former mayor of Portland said:

“You can’t choose how the mainstream portrays you, but I was desperate and impressed with how evangelicals offered to help.”

In a British context, how can we partner with our local councils, MP’s and Community Police to be a blessing and to work for the common good?

Portland Case Study: Kevin Palau and Sam Adams from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

H/T: Gospel Coalition

What can we Learn from Fifty Shades of Grey…

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This post originally appeared on Kieran’s old blog in October 2012

Ok, so I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, nor do I plan to. However I have read enough reviews and heard enough comments about the book to get the gist of the story line. The book is being affectionately labelled as ‘mommy porn’  and it is indeed pornography in the truest sense of the word, ‘Pornography’ literally meaning writing about sexual immorality. Martin Saunders who heads up Youth Work magazine summarises the story:

Here it is, then: 21-year-old virgin Anastasia Steele meets charismatic billionaire Christian Grey, and falls for him. He’s not just stunningly handsome and rich, he’s also trying to save the world and stop famine. What a hero! Well, except that, thanks to an abusive childhood, he has a severely twisted sexual appetite. Despite this, Ana is drawn into his world, and into his arms, via lots of gasping and swooning – and begins a long-lasting liaison with him. He’s not really capable of a healthy relationship, however, so instead introduces Ana to a world of controlled violence, submission and, of course, lots of (very badly written) sex. Within a few short weeks, Ana goes from repressed virgin to sexual deviant, and despite – or perhaps because of – the violence, falls deeply in love.

But why is this book so successful? Why are so many people reading it?  Why is it one of the fastest selling books at the moment? At the New Christian Media Conference that I attended last Saturday Vicky Walker spoke about what we can learn from 50 shades.  It was a very interesting talk and it highlighted some very important issues surrounding the success of the of the books. So why are so many people reading it? FOMO! Fear Of Missing Out. One of the main reasons that people are reading this series of books is down to peer pressure. People are afraid that they are missing out. Its being talked about in the staff rooms, the twittersphere, the coffee house and Facebook. People just don’t like to feel left out, do they? Now I am by no means saying that that is a good reason to read it. But I do think that this is an important factor in the incredible success of the book. Sex Sells Of course we know that sex sells. It always has done. No doubt that is one of the leading factors of the success of this book. However Martin Saunders closes his article with a very powerful comment:

 …why has Fifty Shades, a poorly written sex story by an unknown author, become the publishing phenomenon of the year? How come, in an age where gender equality is finally looking achievable, millions of women are turning to a book that seems to suggest that, deep down, they actually want to be oppressed after all?

How should Christians respond to 50 shades? Often our response as Christians is to make a noise. Complain. Grumble. Moan. But perhaps that’s not the correct response… As Christians we should be known for what we are for rather than what we are against. Let me be clear, I am not saying,  that we should not be discouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ from reading these books. As Christians we need to be fleeing from sin. However instead we should be modelling, relationships, marriage, singleness and sexuality to the world. As the church we have a responsibility to be speaking to the world about what sexuality should look like. Christians should not be blushing behind the pews. But instead, speaking up about sexuality and the redemptive power of Christ.  As Christians we should be leading the way in the discussion not hiding away from it.

“When it comes to sex, the Bible provides a far more fulfilling framework than EL James’ sadistic anti-hero.”