May 302013
 

Grace and conscienceHave you ever wondered why Christians can be so different from each other? We all use the same manual but the way we live and the way we do things can often be worlds apart. We differ in many ways but none more so than by the way we ‘do’ church. Some people insist on going to church in a 3 piece suit, while others are happy in a pair of shorts and a vest top. Some think that you should only sing along to an organ while others are happy to worship to heavy rock, rap, hip-hop etc.

So which is right? Should we all be “formal and respectful” or should we be ‘free’ and do whatever we like (as long it’s not spoken against specifically in the bible).

This is not a new dilemma; in fact Paul addresses a very similar issue in the bible. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul talks about people who were happy to eat meat used in idol sacrifice, condemning (or at least looking down on) those whose conscience wouldn’t allow them to do so. The people who ate the meat would say “now we are under grace we can do whatever we like, our consciences are totally clear!”

The trouble was, the people who didn’t want to eat that same meat did not have the same clear conscience.

Paul didn’t say to those with a weak conscience “come on now, don’t listen to your conscience; you are free now, here, have a steak!” No, he actually tells them to be careful how they exercise their freedom.

This was obviously something that Paul felt strongly about because he also raises the same subject in Romans 14:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:1-6)

A key verse comes later in the chapter:  “So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” (Romans 12:12)

What I love about God’s kingdom is its enormous diversity. Every culture does things differently and God deals with us in unique ways. The key thing is to follow your conscience. God gives us a conscience for a purpose and it is absolutely vital that we keep it intact; if we ‘sear’ our consciences we can get into real trouble.

“…..holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19)

The first question to ask yourself is, “is my conscience clear in all that I do?” If the answer is yes, then the next questions that follow close behind are “am I looking down on people because I consider myself freer than they are?”, or “am I judging someone because they live out their Christianity in a different way to me?”. If the answer to either of these two questions is ‘yes’ then you are tending towards pride.

There are of course certain fundamentals to the Christian faith that we should hold onto tightly, even confronting people (lovingly) who are obviously sinning. But there are many grey areas that Christians can disagree on and it is very dangerous to think that we have all the answers.

Let’s have an open heart to learn from all our brothers and sisters who live out their Christianity differently to us. God seems to love having lots of different flavours and colours to make up His glorious church and His plan is that whatever we do, we do it all with love.

 May 30, 2013  Posted by at 3:23 pm God's family, Grace, The Church No Responses »
May 232013
 

serviceGrace doesn’t only provide for our salvation and forgiveness of sins; it releases us to serve God and His people with grace gifts that have been provided for us.

Grace doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing; it should motivate us to great works that please our saviour; as I stated in last week’s blog, never because we “ought to” but rather out of a desire to please Him.

Now we are followers of Jesus our calling is to serve Him.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul”. (Deuteronomy 10:12)

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”. (1 Peter 4:10)

Every one of us has received gifts to fulfil the tasks that God has given us. These gifts are received by grace and they are acted upon with grace. It is an absolute privilege to participate in the building up of God’s church and to contribute towards the knowledge of His good name throughout the earth.

It is important to note that the gifts we receive are not rewards. They are not given as a result of reaching a certain level of maturity in our christian walk. Just as grace is given freely, so are these gifts given to us freely.

The apostle Paul was not afraid of hard work but his hard work was only accomplished through grace.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

An important question to ask from this passage is “how can God’s grace be without effect?” Or put another way “how can our response to His grace frustrate the work of His grace in our lives?”

I believe there are a number of ways this can happen:

(1) Grace is ineffective when we don’t believe it.

Doubt can be a major problem in accomplishing what God has given us to do. For example, God chose Moses who came up with a load of excuses about how unqualified he was (and God got quite angry); God called Gideon who was doubtful, saying he was the least in his tribe. Thankfully both Moses and Gideon pushed through and received God’s blessing, but it is possible to disqualify yourself through lack of faith. If God says you can do it, don’t argue; His promises are true and faithful.

(2) We can overdo grace and lean into licence.

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16)

Don’t have an attitude which says “it doesn’t really matter, I can just do what I like….”

(3) Legalism

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21)

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)

It is very easy to slip into legalism, but if we do we will become ineffective.

(4) Laziness

Hard work is no enemy of grace. The apostle Paul did not seem to mind speaking about his hard work (see previous verse quoted-1 Corinthians 15:10).

Keep going! If grace is central, you will be able to persevere. Life can get really hard at times and serving Jesus can be quite a struggle. As we have already seen, Paul was working tremendously hard, and on top of that he had a “thorn in the flesh” to contend with, but that didn’t stop him:

“…But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Also in 2 Corinthians 4:16 it says

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

If you are beginning to lose heart I pray these last few posts will really help you to keep going. Don’t forget, His burdens are light (Matthew 11:30) and He only wants you to keep doing what He has given you to do, not what you feel you ought to be doing.

 May 23, 2013  Posted by at 7:59 pm Grace, Reward No Responses »
Apr 302013
 

Conscience cleansedGrace not only frees us from sin and guilt but also frees us from the bondage of religious formality

“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14)

We can assume dead works are ‘high church’ religious observances – what we sometimes refer to as ‘smells and bells’. We may become rather smug, thinking how free we are. But ‘dead works’ actually means a lot more than this.

As the term suggests, ‘dead works’ are deeds we do which have no life in them, done simply by going through the motions without exercising any faith. We can do all manner of church activities out of habit, or maybe out of a sense of duty because we feel we ought to.

Another example of dead works is ‘presumption’; we simply assume that God is with us. An example of this is in the Old Testament: shortly after the Israelites won a famous battle where the walls of Jericho fell, they assumed they could go to battle against the city of Ai with just a few thousand men in order to give everyone else a rest. However, they failed to consult God first and discovered He was angry with them because of sin in the camp. This story can be found in Joshua 7.

The obvious question to ask is “did God tell you to do it?”. It may seem to be a noble task you are about to undertake, but has God asked you to do it? He has a specific plan for each one of us. This does not mean that we wait for a definite ‘go ahead’ for everything that we set out to do, but it does mean we should pray about our plans. God will clearly guide us if He doesn’t want us to proceed.

In 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul talks about being able to speak in tongues, having great prophetic gifts, and giving everything we have to the poor. But if we don’t have love then these are all dead works too.

If we are at all unsure of our acceptance in Christ, we can quite easily fall into a works righteousness pattern, attempting to impress God or other people. But as we have seen over the past few weeks, grace makes us completely free from having to earn any credit at all. A lovely little verse to hold onto (amongst many others) is this:

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5)

How amazing is that? We don’t work, we trust God, and it is credited to us as righteousness. As I have mentioned before, the more we read God’s word, the more this truth will become a part of us and set us free.

These thoughts have been taken from Terry Virgo’s fantastic book ‘God’s lavish grace’ which I heartily recommend. You can order the book by clicking on the links on the left.

 April 30, 2013  Posted by at 10:08 pm Grace, Righteousness, Salvation 5 Responses »
Apr 172013
 

Free gift of righteousnessAs we saw last week in Romans 5:17 we reign in life, not only through God’s abundant grace but also through His free gift of righteousness.

We can enjoy God’s grace fully when we become absolutely assured that He has made us righteous. We are not ‘being made righteous’; we are fully, completely and utterly righteous right now. Again, not through our own works but because through His sovereign grace, God has made it so.

As people prior to conversion become aware of their sin, they may try to improve themselves through ‘good works’. Until one day they hear the glorious gospel; that all they have to do is repent, turn and come to God just as they are. However, even before they have finished giving their lives to Christ, the person leading them through the ‘sinners’ prayer’ can start adding a list of things they really should be doing (bible reading, prayer, witnessing etc). Many churches can be found doing this and it is often due to a misunderstanding between “justification” and “sanctification”.

Justification and Sanctification

It is vital we know the difference between justification and sanctification.

Justification is our standing before God. When we become Christians He declares us righteous. We cannot add to it or take anything away from it. It is summed up in one of my favourite verses: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Sanctification is the ongoing process which makes us holy. It is the gradual change that happens through our Christian walk which changes us “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This happens as we spend time with God and other Christians, but it never affects our justification. Some of us are sanctified quicker or slower than others but we are all justified the same, hallelujah!!

In Adam or In Christ?

The apostle Paul’s favourite title for a Christian is someone who is ‘In Christ’.

Before we became Christians we were all ‘In Adam’.

The bible talks about various people in the bible being ‘types’ of Christ. For example, Jonah was in the belly of a fish for 3 days; Jesus was in the tomb for 3 days. Adam is a type of Christ in that what he did had an affect on the whole human race. Because he sinned, we are all considered sinners because we are considered to be ‘in Adam’.

We are saved now because we are ‘in Christ’. He died and rose again so that whoever believes in Him will be saved. We have died to the old life and have now been raised with Christ. We have now been ‘born again’. (John 3:3)

When you were ‘in Adam’, whatever good works you did were never enough to ‘get you out’ of Adam. You can’t ‘get out’ that way. Now you are ‘in Christ’ you can’t ‘get out’ of Christ by sinning.

That’s right – nothing you can do can take you out of Christ because it wasn’t your efforts that ‘got you in’ in the first place. It was all by God’s grace.

Bu that’s scandalous! Yes it is and it begs the question “shouldn’t we keep on sinning then so that God’s grace looks even better?”. This is the question we will look at next week. But this week let us simply enjoy the magnificent freedom of God’s grace!

This blog is a summary from a chapter in Terry Virgo’s wonderful book “God’s lavish grace” you can order a copy by clicking on the links on the left hand side

 April 17, 2013  Posted by at 10:01 pm Grace, Justification, Righteousness, Salvation, Sanctification 2 Responses »
Apr 102013
 

Reigning in lifeI have been greatly influenced by the teaching of Terry Virgo on the whole subject of Grace. I remember first hearing Terry speak about it at a John Wimber conference in the 1980’s, then reading Terry Virgo’s subsequent best selling book ‘God’s lavish grace’.

Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I thought I would summarise a few chapters from that book over the next few weeks to help us as we continue through the wonderful subject of Grace. If you have read the book, I’m sure it will not do you any harm to revisit it again, but if you haven’t I highly recommend it and have provided a link on the left sidebar so you can order it from Amazon. (If you do click on the link and buy it I will receive a small commission!).

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17)

The promise to ‘reign in life’ is a wonderful promise for the Christian. This and other such verses which tell us that we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) and that Christ leads us in triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14) should leave us wonderfully exhilarated. However in reality these can actually leave us feeling deflated and condemned.

Our mindset can easily be that everything we have is earned. We know from the above verses that we should ‘reign in life’ and so after hearing a particularly stirring sermon or while making new year resolutions, we determine that we will do better. We will set the alarm clock an hour earlier, pray more, study more and witness to more people. Then after a few days we find we are already a chapter or two behind on our reading plan, we start falling asleep through our prayer times and to be honest it’s all a bit dry. We get dejected and feel thoroughly rotten until the next time we hear a challenging sermon and go through the whole cycle again.

Is this your experience?

Go back and read Romans 5:17 again. We reign in life by receiving God’s grace, not through earning it. If we try to earn it we have got it all wrong. It’s because of your standing in Jesus that you reign in life. It’s about your position, not your performance.

Romans chapter 7 gives the example of being married to the law. The law is a horrible husband to be married to. He is a dominating husband, not lifting a finger to help, pointing out your failings and inadequacies and is annoyingly always right. He is also impotent and so cannot breathe life into these dead laws. And on top of everything else, he will never die!

But the great news in Romans 7:4 is not that the law has died but that WE have died to the law. In his book, Terry gives a great illustration of a soldier who has just been discharged from the army, walking across the parade ground in his civilian clothes he completely ignores the sergeant major barking commands for him to get in line. That is now our attitude to the works of the law. They are still perfect, but we are released from them.

Rather than impotence we can now bear fruit for God. Jesus said:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. “(John 15:4-5)

We need to get this inside of us; the realisation of this truth will revolutionise our lives. I will finish with Galatians 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

 April 10, 2013  Posted by at 9:10 pm Grace, Salvation No Responses »
Mar 212013
 

Law and grace 2Last week we began looking at the subject of Law and Grace. We discussed “legalism”, this being a symptom of trying to obtain God’s favour by doing things in order to gain salvation; an attempt to maintain and keep salvation; or a platform for us to look down on others who do not match our supposedly high standards.

Christianity Unique

Christianity is unique in that it is a religion of ‘Grace’. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not emphasise what we have to do for God but rather focuses on what He has already done for us.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

Grace is: “Something for nothing, for those who don’t deserve anything”.

So what is the purpose of the law then? This is covered in great detail in the book of Romans. Let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:7-14:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

Personally I find I have to read through passages like these quite a number of times and quite slowly, in order to understand what the passage is saying. To help explain further lets look at 3 things that the law does:

(1) The law reveals sin

Each of us live to our own standards of right and wrong. I might do something that you consider sinful but I am OK about, it depends what your own particular conscience allows. By contrast, God’s law provides us with absolute standards about what is acceptable and what is not. The law is like a straight plumb line which we measure our lives against. It reveals just how crooked our lives have become.

(2) The law provokes sin

We generally don’t like being told what to do. We are disobedient and think we know best. We are generally happy with the idea of a loving God who just wants to be nice to everybody, but when we encounter a Holy God telling us there are things we should and shouldn’t do, we tend to rebel. This simply proves how sinful our hearts really are. The law actually provokes us to rebel.

(3) The law leads us to Christ

The law frustrates and condemns us because we are just not good enough to keep it in our own strength. The law should cause us to cry out for mercy when we try but fail to keep it. It leads us to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We realise that if we are going to be saved at all it can only be by grace.

Christ’s death not only loosed us from our sin but also loosed us from the law. When we became Christians we died to sin (as demonstrated in baptism) and we also died to the law, therefore releasing us from its hold.

Isn’t it fantastic? Next time we will discover more about God’s wonderful grace. Until then have a great week.

 March 21, 2013  Posted by at 11:18 pm Grace No Responses »
Mar 142013
 

Law and graceEver since writing my recent review of the film ‘Les Miserables’ here, I have wanted to explore the themes of law and grace which were so evident throughout the film. I will be covering this subject in some detail over the coming weeks and I hope you will find it interesting.

According to the dictionary, one of the definitions of religion is: “The practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.”

The general idea is that by following a certain way, doing and believing certain things, you can get right with God. Religion is about living a good life and observing certain do’s and don’ts, try your hardest and you might be alright.

This way of living is very uncertain but to a greater or lesser degree this is the way of 99% of the world’s religions. You never have an assurance of salvation but can only hope that everything will be ok. This uncertainty can drive people to extreme religious observance, as did the Pharisees Jesus encountered. They were so religious that they memorised the whole of the first 5 books of the bible (Pentateuch) and went to extremes of tithing so that even their kitchen condiments were tithed (Matthew 23:23). The Pharisees loved the law, the problem was that they added to it.

Legalism

Next week we are going to look at the purpose of the law (the Pharisees missed the point altogether!). But for now we shall look at “legalism”, the way people try to keep the law.

In Christianity, legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law. This can often take 3 forms: Keeping the law to obtain salvation; keeping the law to maintain salvation; judging others by looking down on them.

(1) Keeping the law to obtain salvation

We will see later that it is simply not possible to keep the law to a high enough standard in order to be saved. We may find ourselves doing really really well at keeping the law, but the bible says that if we fail at just one point we are guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). The bible also says that if we were able to keep the whole law then Christ would have died needlessly (Galatians 2:21).

(2) Keeping the law to maintain salvation

This is very common and one which is easy for all of us to fall into. We fully appreciate all that Jesus has done for us but feel we must add to it in order to keep our salvation. When we think about this we start to realise how arrogant this way of thinking is.

We are justified by faith alone, not by faith and works. The bible is very strong on this. In Galatians 3:10 it says “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” And Jesus further hammers it home in Matthew 7:22-23 where he says ““Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

(3) Looking down on others

The third kind of legalism, where a Christian keeps certain laws and regards with contempt other Christians who do not keep his standard of holiness, is a frequent problem in the church.  It is of course clear that certain situations need to be judged carefully and lovingly where obvious sins are committed (murder, fornication, lying, stealing etc) but this is not the same as judging others in debatable areas which are not clear from the bible. We need to be very careful and this is where legalism is more difficult to define.

Romans 14:1-12 says that we are not to judge our brothers on debatable issues.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5).  As long as our freedom does not violate the Scriptures, then everything should be okay.

 March 14, 2013  Posted by at 8:34 pm Grace, Salvation No Responses »
Jan 172013
 

Les miserablesLiz and I had the opportunity to go to the cinema together last week (quite a rare occurrence) as she was keen to see Les Miserables. As a Christian I thought it had a really interesting story which I would like to share with you, but don’t worry-I’m not going to give away the plot! I was quite intrigued by it; I knew the stage show was a musical but I hadn’t realised that the film was too. It came as quite a shock for me to see Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Maximus Decimus (Russell Crowe) having a sing-off in the opening scene. I half expected the claws to come out!

I’m really not a fan of musicals. To me it seems so unnatural for people to suddenly burst into song in every situation they find themselves in. I was determined however to embrace the film come what may and I’m glad I did. You soon get used to the singing and actually appreciate how cleverly it is all put together, with people singing different parts simultaneously yet all in harmony with each other.

What struck me most about this film was the very obvious investigation into the conflict between legalism and grace and how different people react and respond in different ways. The story briefly is about a criminal who experiences extraordinary grace (probably the part of the film I found most emotional). He experiences this grace on a personal level and he then takes every opportunity to extend that grace to others. Legalism is shown in the person of a policeman who cannot accept that a person can change and is determined that the law be fulfilled to the letter.

The film is also an exploration into injustice; one of the main characters had been condemned to 19 years hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving relative, whilst another character is victimised by work colleagues to such an extent that she loses her job and is forced into prostitution. Injustice is a constant theme in many Hollywood films; it psychologically causes a stirring of a sort of righteous indignation which in turn creates an emotional attachment to the characters, (hence the shares in Kleenex rocketing over the last few weeks-I suspect the reason the film was so loud was to the muffle the sound of sobbing!)

This would be an excellent film to take your non Christian friends to see as it creates a fantastic opportunity to discuss with them the grace that God extends to us through Jesus Christ.

I would love to know what you thought of the film; please drop a comment in the box below.

 January 17, 2013  Posted by at 10:26 pm Grace, The gospel 4 Responses »
Apr 182012
 

marathon13As it’s the London marathon on Sunday I thought I would send out my notes from the first preach I ever gave a few years ago at my church. It was on the day of the Hastings Half marathon and I wanted to remind all those watching the race that all Christians are in a race, whether you are a sporty person or not. It is based on the passage in Hebrews 12 v 1

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

(1) Encouragement

Let’s look at the first part of the verse; “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” so what does that mean?

When we see the word ‘Therefore’ it means that a lot has been said before. We are in the middle of a point the writer is making. In Hebrews 11 the writer has been talking about faith. He goes through a list of the great men and women of faith who have gone before. These people have run their races and have proved that God is faithful and reliable. They are encouraging us through their example and perseverance.

It’s great to receive encouragement and you can see in a race how the runners are encouraged by a lot of people cheering for them.

In Hebrews 10:24-25 it says; “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

There are a number of ways we can give encouragement through our church community; Continue reading »

 April 18, 2012  Posted by at 6:32 pm Uncategorized 1 Response »