Salvation

Wishful Thinking? (Philippians 1:18-30)

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These lines penned from prison reveal a world-view so foreign to the secular humanistic world-view the current-day media is saturated with. Paul’s musings regarding his imprisonment and the prospect of dying as a captive can help us navigate thoughts concerning healing and or life and death itself.

Paul rejoiced that the Philippians were praying for him. More than this, he was confident that their prayers for him and the help of the Holy Spirit would result in him being delivered (Philippians 1:18b-19). But was this a vain hope, just wishful thinking?

Biblical Christianity is nothing like wishful thinking!  

I love how another hero of the faith is described by Paul in his letter to the Roman believers. Abraham faced the fact that his and his wife’s bodies were as good as dead (being about 100yrs old) and therefore not able to conceive a child. But in the face of the biological facts before him, Abraham chose to believe what God had promised him (that they would have a son) because he was ‘fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises’ (Romans 4:21).

Abraham and Sarah didn’t have a son because of wishful thinking, or the power of positive words, they had a son because they believed God’s word to them in spite of what the circumstances around them were shouting.

Similarly, Paul’s confidence about his being delivered from his Roman prison wasn’t wishful thinking or positivity but was rooted in a biblical world-view. Paul was confident that he would be delivered/saved (same underlying Greek word) from prison either in this life or in the next life.

We know this from the context of the rest of the passage (Philippians 1:18-30). Paul had not tied all his hope to this present life. Paul didn’t know whether his deliverance would be in this life or the next but what he was confident about was that Jesus would deliver/save him ultimately.

So he muses about whether he would rather be delivered from prison in this life or whether he would rather be delivered from prison by going through death into eternal life with Christ (Philippians 1:19-23). If he is delivered in this present life, he will live his whole life for Christ (vs21) and if he is delivered through death into eternal life, he will gain for then he will be with Christ in eternity which is far better than the present life (vs21&23).

The biblical perspective on display here in Paul regarding life and death is so contrasted to the secular humanistic perspective! During a global pandemic, people are being forced at present to face up to their mortality and that of those they love.  

What we believe about life, death & eternity directly impacts how we live in the present. If you believe that life simply ends in death, you will have neither a concern about life after death/eternal consequences and you will cling on to this life since it is all there is.

What is striking in this passage is that the apostle Paul is not clinging on to this life at all. But why? He is not suicidal or depressed; he is confident! So what is he confident of?

He knows that life doesn’t end in death; death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. He is confident that death will be swallowed up by victory & immortality, the perishable will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).  

And so he is confident that even if his imprisonment ends in death not release back to freedom in this life, that death will be his deliverance since death can only transition him, promote him into eternal life with Jesus Christ! And that is not wishful thinking for the apostle Paul; it is so real that if he allowed himself to think selfishly, his preference would be to be delivered from the prison he is in into life after death rather than back to freedom in the present day.

So how does this relate to life and death for us?

God wants you and me who have believed in Jesus to live with a rock-solid assurance and peace even in the face of a global pandemic that comes from knowing two things;

  1. God knows the day and the hour that He will end this present earthly life of ours. The day of our death is an appointment we can not be early or late for and one we cannot reschedule or delay. No amount of anti-ageing cream or anti-oxidants or gym sessions will prolong our lives one minute longer. God alone gives life, sustains life and ultimately ends our earthly lives on a day He determines (Job 12:10, Job 14:5 & Psalm 139:16). And so that makes us immortal until the day Jesus returns or calls me home to be with him.
  2. Life doesn’t end in death; rather, death is swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4) for the believer in Jesus. And so, death is not a termination of life but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. This is not wishful thinking; it is confident hope in Christ Jesus!

And how does this all relate to healing or lack thereof?

Just like Paul was confident that he would be delivered by Jesus, so too, we can declare boldly that every single believer in Jesus who is sick will be healed. What we don’t know is whether that healing will be in this life, extending and improving it in the present day or whether it will be in death and resurrection to a new glorious body fit for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). We know that in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more sickness, sadness, suffering, disease or death, no more tears and no more pain (Revelation 21:3-5) and so we know that ultimately every single believer in Jesus will be healed.

So although it is good to ask God for healing in the present, Jesus encouraged us to do so, and although God does heal people today (I have seen it), let’s be like Paul was regarding his deliverance from prison if it seems like God isn’t healing us or the person we have been praying for.

Paul’s biblical world-view produced such certainty and peace in him that from these lines penned from prison to the Philippians, he really didn’t seem bothered by whether his deliverance was in this life or in the next at the return of Jesus. What a liberating way to live, no fear of death, no wrestle with God over why God hasn’t done what we want him to do for us in delivering us from this or that…

Rather just settled confidence, peace and security that all flow from faith in Jesus which is immoveable (1 Corinthians 15:58). May you, may I navigate this present life and these perplexing and potentially worrisome times with the very same confidence and assurance we see in the apostle Paul in the lines of this letter penned from prison.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Sweet Assurance (Philippians 1:6)

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Since this is the first Global Pandemic I have ever lived through, I can’t make sweeping generalisations. But, from my observations thus far, Pandemics have a way of polarising people if you were to categorise them according to their reactions.

  • You get the nonchalant type, who’s in denial or is just ignorant
  • The paranoid person petrified even to make a phone call for fear that 5G might transmit the virus
  • The conspiracy theorists who seem to abound right now
  • The well-read, and so the wisely cautious person
  • People looking to make a quick buck off the whole thing
  • And, then, of course, there is always the nutjob with a smartphone willing to record themselves to share their nutty ideas with the whole world …

You get the idea! Sadly in Christian circles, we see all of these varieties and then some. As a pastor, I have been inundated with videos/articles sent to me from all the types of people listed above.  

The sender typically wants my read on what’s contained in the piece. And, it is no exaggeration to say that they have ranged from the sublimely insightful to the utterly ridiculous.

World shaking events like COVID19 and the ramifications emanating from the unprecedented strategies implored by national governments to try to contain the virus and mitigate the risk of loss of lives have unsettled many people. And Christians are not exempt from this all.

All of this has gotten me thinking a lot about assurance, and the unshakeable faith and confident security; I believe Jesus wants us, believers, to experience even in times like these.

Just the other day we were reading Mark 13 – an unsettling passage about the end times with people being led astray (vs5), a forewarning of false Christs (vs6), wars, earthquakes, famines(vs7-8), persecution of believers, being hated for being Christ-followers(vs11-13), something called the abomination of desolation and great tribulation (vs14-24) and the call of Jesus’ to be on guard and awake (vs23 & 37)…

I was struck by one of Jesus’ commands; “Do not be alarmed” (vs7)! It stood out like the first flower pushing up in a field after the veld has been burnt, almost out of place in the surrounding desolation. 

Jesus wanted His disciples, Jesus wants you and I who have trusted in Him not to be alarmed by even tumultuous events and experiences. Jesus wants us to be assured, at peace, secure. Jesus wants us to trust Him who not only made everything but is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17) 

John records similar last moments with Jesus and explodes this theme of what Jesus wanted the disciples to experience in greater detail in the first verses of chapter 14;

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus didn’t want the events of the days that would follow to unsettle His followers. He wanted them to contend for peace in their hearts and minds. Jesus wanted them not to let their hearts go to the place of anxiety and stress that they would go to if not restrained by faith.  

Jesus wanted His disciples to believe, to trust Him, to trust the Father’s goodness and power. Jesus wanted them to see the final picture; these disciples could be assured that they would dwell with Him for eternity in His the Father’s house. That future hope was something to believe because it could not be seen. However believing it would produce something in the disciples – assurance, peace & security in spite of tumultuous days that would follow.

Assurance for the believer in Jesus is a strong theme in the New Testament, and it is found in our passage for today’s reading (we are reading Philippians + some Psalms in August for our Bible Reading Plan).

I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul wanted the same thing for the Philippian believers that Jesus wanted for those first Christ-followers: assurance.

Yes, they might have faced tough circumstances, challenges to their faith, struggle and hardship, but God wanted them to be assured IN IT ALL.

That the God who initiated their faith would be the One who would bring it to completion as well, God doesn’t start our Jesus journey and then let us go to walk on our own like some parent teaching their child to walk hoping they will get the hang of it.  

No, rather God alone was both the author of their faith and would be the One to bring it to completion too (Hebrews 12:2). The confidence of these believers wasn’t to be in anything or anyone else other than their Saviour who both initiated and would complete their faith.

Friend if you know that have put your trust in Christ Jesus. If you know that you truly are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone then you can be and should be, God wants you to be the most assured person on the planet. You and I are utterly secure, having believed in Jesus, He will save us completely (Hebrews 7:25).

You are immortal until the Day Jesus returns or the Day He calls you home to be with Him. You need not fret or worry, trying to discern the times and work out what not even Jesus knew when He walked on earth (Mark 13:32)!

So do not be alarmed even in the middle of a Global Pandemic, don’t stress yourself with worry when Jesus’ command to you is not to be alarmed and not to let your heart be troubled. Jesus wants you to sleep secure, live at peace knowing whom You have trusted your life to – and not just this life, but eternal life to.

Speak to Him now in prayer. If you have already believed in Jesus, simply ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to cast off fear with His perfect love and peace. Know this, Jesus wants you to experience the incredible peace that comes from knowing whom it is you have entrusted your present and future eternal life to – so live in the good of the assurance He purchased for you.  

But, if you haven’t yet believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul, don’t feel any assurance or peace until you have believed in Him. So, call out to Him right now! We really do not know whether any day is our last day, and so as Matthew Henry resolved; live every day as if it was your last day.

And if you know friends who have not yet put their faith in Jesus – don’t delay speak to them share the love of God with them, appeal to them in love to believe in Jesus while they still can.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

The Cancer of Sin (Mark 9:42-50)

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With regard to sin, take drastic action! – Jesus  

When it comes to certain things in life, what is needed is decisive drastic action. Time wasted deliberating is counter-productive if not life-threatening.

A few years back, in quick succession, I had a lump on my back that my General Practitioner didn’t like the look of, and then one on my cheek that was reddish and would bleed with the slightest touch and didn’t respond to the non-invasive treatments prescribed.  

As you know, cancer is a horrible result of the curse that has devasted so many people’s lives and brought so much heartache. And because of this, cancer is not to be messed with and so in both instances with the advice from the Doctor’s involved it was easy to decide to undergo surgery to cut out what turned out to be cancerous tissue on both my back and face.  

Operations and surgery are not pleasant experiences, and my face and back will forever show the scars. But that is a small price to pay for a cancer-free body. No one in their right mind hearing that they had cancerous growth that can be removed surgically would say; ‘I’ll just see how it develops Doc…’

In my case, drastic action was necessary, temporarily painful invasive surgery was prescribed, but it was worth it 1000 times over. How many people have much more serious cancer in their body who would love to know that their cancer could be surgically removed.

In our passage today, Jesus is the great Surgeon. Jesus knows that sin is not something to be messed around with, not something to be treated lightly. Drastic intentional invasive action is needed for sin’s deadly progression to be halted.

Now let’s be clear, in Mark 9:42-50, Jesus is not advocating body mutilation as a solution for sin. Of all people, Jesus knows that the problem with sin is not external but rather a heart issue, a fallen humanity issue that can’t be fixed by us. Sin can’t be dealt with by removing external body parts!

Jesus knows this because, after all, this is why Jesus left heaven and came to earth. To do what we could not do ourselves, to take the drastic action that was needed to halt sin’s deadly progression in our lives.  

So what is Jesus teaching in Mark 9:42-50?

I think we can understand Jesus’ teaching on at least two levels.

  1. Jesus is teaching that sin is serious and that if one sees the seriousness of sin, then one will see that drastic action is entirely reasonable. Don’t play around with sin thinking you’ll be ok, thinking you’ll be the exception! So if you are a Christ-follower but you know of some sin or compromise that you have in your life right now – treat it like cancer.  Cut it out!  Delaying only worsens the prognosis and allows the sin to spread impacting more areas of your life and the lives of others. So where you know you have sin, take drastic action, stop, repent to God, change your life patterns, change your friends if you have to, change places you frequent, speak to a fellow Christ-follower and confess or speak to a leader in the church, but do it now, don’t delay.
  2. Know your limitations!  If you don’t know Jesus as your LORD and Saviour yet, know this – you can’t deal with sin on your own. That is why Jesus came, to live the life you and I could never hope to live and to die in our place for our sin and shame so that He could offer us forgiveness for our sins and redeem us from slavery to sin, Satan and ultimately death and hell. So put your trust in Jesus today, ask Him to forgive you of your sin and to exchange your shame and sin for His glorious love and forgiveness. In this passage, Jesus talks plainly, chillingly about hell. Hell is real, and hell is the only destination for those outside of true faith in Jesus Christ. Randy Alcorn said; “No man can get out of hell, but each man can keep out of it.” How? By acknowledging and repenting of the cancerous sin that is inside of us and asking Jesus to do what we could not do. Jesus took drastic action on our behalf; Jesus didn’t just have the cancer of sin cut out of Him; Jesus sacrificed His whole life to give you a sin-free eternal life. So put your trust in Him alone!

No one would turn to the Doctor who has just diagnosed them as having cancer and charge them of being unloving and harsh. With the terrible realities of a disease like cancer, honesty, facts & potential drastic solutions is the language of love.

Some would read this passage about the seriousness of sin and the reality of hell and baulk at Jesus’ words thinking; ‘I don’t like what Jesus said!’ But love speaks frankly about life-threatening situations, and this is what Jesus is doing here, loving us by speaking truthfully about the certainty of sins progression if left unchecked.

Thank You, Jesus, for loving us enough, to tell the truth about sin and hell and for loving us enough not just to diagnose our sin problem but to choose to take the drastic action you did to die in our place for our sin, for you to suffer so that we could be set free!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Thank you, Jesus.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Magnificient! (Colossians 2:11-15)

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How do you express or explain the wonders of the miracle of our salvation? Paul, in these verses, draws on five distinct word pictures in an attempt to make real to us the wonder of our salvation.

1. Circumcision (vs11)

Male circumcision was the mark of the covenant God had established between Himself and His people (see Genesis 17:10-14). It was the physical sign that this person was set apart for God, was part of God’s people.

Paul takes that whole concept of circumcision and applies it to believers in Jesus. Having believed we are spiritually circumcised, ‘cut off’ from the body of sin (Romans 6:6) that was ‘in-Adam’, and are now correctly described as being ‘in-Christ’ and free from the dominion of sin.

The moment of salvation cuts us off from our old life, our old habits, our old slavery to sin and so we are now free from sin and able to walk in obedience and love for Jesus. We don’t have to try to cut ourselves off from the old life of sin, we have been cut off from it by the finished work of Jesus. His victory is our victory and freedom. We now ought to consider that freedom and victory to be ours and live accordingly (Romans 6:9-11).

We who believe in Jesus and worship Jesus by the Spirit are God’s chosen people now, God’s circumcised ones (Philippians 3:3).

2. Baptism (vs12)

Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:3-6 both teach that when we believe in Jesus and are baptised as believers, we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection!

The symbol of baptism in water isn’t just a symbol, but somehow spiritually we are united with Jesus through baptism.

Our going under the water represents our unification with Jesus and His death, and our dying to sin and our old self so that the ‘body of sin might be brought to nothing’ (Romans 6:6).

Our coming up from the water represents our unification with Jesus in His resurrection and our being raised to new life through faith in Jesus (Colossians 2:12-13 & Romans 6:8-11).

Jesus’ death & resurrection remind us of our death to the old life of sin, satan’s control and fear of death and our new life (Colossians 2:13) and hope and freedom that was obtained for us by Jesus on the cross.

[Application point]: If you have not yet been baptised in water as a believer, note how the Apostle Paul has a high view of baptism as having not just symbolic but spiritual significance. I urge you to speak to your pastor about getting baptised in water if you have believed in Jesus.

3. A Record of Debt Notice (vs14)

The third word picture Paul uses is what was known as a ‘cheirographon’ in the Greco-Roman world of the day. This was a legal written note of indebtedness that someone would be given if they had a debt that was as yet unpaid.

Paul uses this metaphor to make clear that when we put our faith in Jesus the legal and moral debt that we owed to God, the debt we carried around with us as a ‘cheirographon’ – that debt was set aside in full.

We were duty-bound to pay that debt, but God set it aside when Jesus stepped in our place and said in effect; ‘I’ll pay for that in full!’ on the cross. When Jesus cried out on the cross in the moment of His death; ‘it is finished!’ (John 19:30) we can understand this to mean that He had paid the price for our freedom from debt in full. And because the price was paid in full, the debt is set aside (Colossians 2:14), the ‘cheirographon’ is annulled, and we are free! No more debt before a Holy God, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!

4. Crucifixion (vs14)

But what did God do with the ‘cheirographon’? In the time of Jesus and Paul, when someone was crucified, a note would be nailed to the cross to tell everyone what they were guilty of, being executed for.

We know that Pilate had a note nailed to Jesus’ cross that read; “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37). This is ironic since this was both the charge against Jesus – that He claimed to be God, and also the truth about Jesus that He was God! This note above Jesus’ head as He is dying for us on the cross reminds Paul of the ‘cheirographon’ that God was setting aside through Jesus’ dying in our place for our sin.

Paul then says, God took that ‘cheirographon’ and nailed it to the cross, this is how God could set aside our debt, Jesus paid for it on the cross in full!

5. Victory! (vs14-15)

The death and resurrection of Jesus was the most glorious victory. In Jesus’ time when a military victory had been won, the defeated king or military officials and their soldiers would be paraded in humiliation and defeat behind the victorious king in a victory parade.

This is the picture in mind for Paul when thinking of the cross of Christ and its impact on our lives as believers. The devil and his devilish host have been utterly triumphed over by Jesus death & resurrection; they have been humiliated and defeated, put to shame openly by Jesus’ magnificent once and for all victory!

What good news this is for us who have believed in Jesus. We are on the winning side for eternity; the battle is won, we know how the story ends. His victory is our victory. So live in the good of His victory and never cower in defeat before satan, sin or death.

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Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

 

God’s Mystery! (Colossians 2:1-5)

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[Mystery]: something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain…a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding. ‘Mystery’ is an important category for us who are so finite!

A few years ago, I resolved; ‘to be more in awe’. To be satisfied with being unable to explain everything and satisfied to embrace my limitations and the corresponding magnitude and magnificence of God and His ways.

There is a theme of mystery in the New Testament from the first to the last page. Need I to remind you of the incarnation, angelic visitations, a virgin birth, water into wine, dead people raised, people healed, demons banished, Jesus the God-man walking and talking to everyday people. The King of kings who came to die on a Roman cross as the atoning sacrifice & rise again three days later with a resurrection body and then ascending up into the clouds before His followers promising to send the Holy Spirit and one day return in glory! Mystery – embrace it, believer!

And then there is a mystery in the New Testament that has been revealed, the secret that has been finally told to everyone. God’s mystery, Jesus Christ! (Colossians 2:2)

Jesus is the mystery of God revealed. Paul is defending the church in Colossae from ‘mystery peddlers’, false teachers who were trying to peddle ‘secret teachings’, mysteries they claimed they had ‘special revelation’ about. Paul won’t have any of it. Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. Don’t waste your time with people who are more excited about some supposed new revelation, extra-knowledge they’ve gained that they want to share with you – Jesus Christ is God’s mystery revealed. In the past, God spoke in many ways, through many people & prophets but now;

“…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:2-4)

And what is the mystery which is Christ?

1. The Gospel of Christ: that in Jesus God has revealed a righteousness of God apart from the law (Romans 3:21) that for all who will believe in Jesus (Romans 3:22), Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:29-30). That those who believe are justified by God as a gift of grace (Romans 3:24), declared righteous before the Holy God because of the redemption from the slavery of sin, Satan and death that was made possible by the saving work of Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). This happened so that God could be both just and the justifier of anyone who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Such people are therefore entirely free from sin and given new life in Christ, given the privilege of becoming the children of God (John 1:12) with the certain hope of an eternity in a loving relationship with God. What a glorious mystery revealed!

2. Christ is the King of all kings: The mystery of Jesus is that Jesus is not just the Messiah for the Jewish people. But that Jesus the promised Messiah came to save all types of people, to be King of all who would believe in Him. God’s chosen people had a history of thousands of years cherishing their chosen status, the honour of being God’s covenant people, awaiting a Messiah who was coming to reign and rule for them. The mystery of the New Testament is that God’s Messiah, Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles alike. In Jesus God has made;

“…known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)

Therefore through faith in Christ “you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah-King.  Who has come and conquered the great enemies that stood against us and proclaimed the freedom of His kingdom rule and reign. He will come again for ALL who will believe in Him and reign with them forever and ever in a new heaven and a new earth. Magnificient marvellous mystery revealed.

3. Christ in us the hope of glory: A miracle happens when we put our faith in Jesus. We die to sin & we are made alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7-11), we are those who have been brought from death to life, but the life we now live is, in fact, the life of Christ in us (Galatians 2:20)! One of the most profound and prolific statements used in the New Testament is the phrase ‘in Christ’, which appears 90 times. The life of Jesus pulsating through every believer is the source of our new way of seeing the world, our new desires, identity, sense of belonging & purpose, our sanctification our assurance, our peace, our relationships and our hope for the future…

In Colossians, it says; “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27)

Do you want to grow as a believer? There is no secret knowledge you need to make progress. Because Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. The One; “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)

So make much of Jesus! Meditate on Jesus, worship Jesus, spend time with Jesus, love Jesus…  Doing so will result in your encouragement, in your being knit together in love with others who love Jesus (the church), will result in you growing in assurance and confidence in your walk with God and will cause you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of God (Colossians 2:2).  So make much of Jesus, God’s mystery revealed.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Family Resemblance: Love (1 John 4:7-12)

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In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.

Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).

The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!

The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.

True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.

I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!

True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.

And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!

Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.

So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.

Reflection

  • Who are you finding hard to love right now?  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle.  What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  And what ought you to do now?
  • Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others?  Be encouraged.  We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress.  Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.

Who is Jesus? (1 John 2:18-29)

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Jesus Christ is not just the hinge of history, separating all of history into before and after His birth. Who you understand Jesus Christ to be is what separates Christianity from every other faith.

The apostle John writing in 1 John 2:18-29 is fortifying the church from false teachings that were threatening to undermine the apostolic doctrines of the church regarding who Jesus was.  

John makes some quite clear statements that draw a line between what is Christian and what is ‘against God’ (antichrist).

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)

John, as usual, is making stark contrasts. Those he is writing to know ‘the truth’ (vs21) while the person who denies Jesus’ divinity is ‘the liar.’ Such a person is not just wrong but anti-God, against God.

John is saying that; “everything depends on what a person believes about Jesus Christ. If an individual does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ, God’s own Son, sent from the Father, then he is (literally) against Christ.” (David Jackman)

More than this, we see from vs23 that the Trinity is not divisible. The Father, the Son and the Spirit can not be separated, to deny the Son is to deny the Father and conversely accepting the Son causes one to be in a state of right relationship with the Father also! 

Who is Jesus Christ? This is essentially the BIG QUESTION that every person on the planet has to answer, and it is also the most important test, that sorts out all religious teaching we may hear.

John confirms that the teaching about Jesus from the very beginning has not changed (vs24-25). It will not change, does not need updating but believing in the Gospel truth about Jesus comes with an amazing promise – eternal life.

So, remain in Jesus. Stand firm against all notions that divert from the truth portrayed in the Gospels about Jesus. Remain, believing in Jesus Christ so that when He appears in glory, you’ll be excited to see Him and not shrinking back because you diverted from the truth (vs26-28).

In closing, the church wrestled with false teaching about who Jesus was for nearly three hundred years after this letter was written by John. Which is not surprising since the enemy must have tried everything in his power to derail God’s church.

Finally, in 451AD the Fathers of the church from the known world agreed on this long but important statement of faith/creed about who Jesus is for us as Christ Followers. This statement has never been updated and has never needed to be nor will it never need to be;

Chalcedonian Creed from the Council of Chalcedon 451

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

Chew on that for a while, marvel at Jesus and worship Him!

Third Day People (Hosea 6:1-11)

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Old Testament prophecies are a little like onions in that they often have layers of meaning. They meant something in that day to those people; they often prefigure Jesus the Messiah in some way, they often have direct application in our lives in the present and sometimes they have an as yet unfulfilled future relevance too.

Hosea 6:1-3 is one of those portions of OT prophecy that from our perspective in redemption history suddenly takes on a fuller meaning.  

“Come let us return to the LORD” – vs1

God’s repeated call to His people is that they would reach this point, that they would come to their senses and would return to the ONE who had covenanted to love them. Here the prophet includes himself and appeals to Israel to join him in returning to the LORD.

The good news of the Gospel is this – is it not? God has openly displayed His love for us; God has made it possible for us to have our sins forgiven so that we could return to Him and be reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Have you sinned? Confess your sin and then return to God through Jesus Christ, your Saviour King.

‘For he has torn us, that he may heal us…’ (vs1)

God has punished Israel’s sin, purifying Israel so that healing could come to them. God justly struck them down, but God will bind them up…

Israel was punished for their sin; they were struck down; some were killed; they were exiled.  

We too deserve the wrath of God against our sin, our compromise and rebellion against God. And yet God doesn’t strike us!

No. God allowed Jesus’ back to be torn by whips, ripped open by the rough wood of the cross. God allowed Jesus to be killed in our place for our sin. This all happened to Jesus so that it won’t happen to us, to those who put their trust in Jesus. Jesus was struck, we get bound up, healed by His finished work on Calvary.

“On the third day…” (vs2)

The prophet announced to Israel that although their sin was about to be punished, it would not last forever and they would be revived. Hosea and the people of his day could not have known what all was contained in these words of the prophet.

But we know the story. We know that Jesus died but ‘after two days’ (vs2), ‘on the third day’ (vs2) God raised Jesus up just like Hosea prophecied!

Jesus was struck for our iniquities, but He rose again victorious. Not even death could hold him down and because Jesus rose again from the dead we too who believe in Him have His resurrection life in us.

This all happened so that; ‘we may live before Him.’ (vs3). This is the Gospel, hidden in the pages of OT prophecy. Jesus took on Himself the punishment that was ours and rose again victorious on the third day SO THAT we might be forgiven of our sin, cleansed from all our unrighteousness and be reconciled back to right relationship with our Holy God.

We are a ‘third day people’. We have hope because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. It was foretold about 740yrs before Jesus Christ – this was God’s gracious plan all along.

‘Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD’ (vs3)

All that Jesus did for us is worth nothing unless we take hold of the opportunity God has given us and press on, press in to know the LORD.

Jesus has removed every obstacle, removed the sin that separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2); there is no reason why we ought to be far off from God. We can know Him.

But will we? Will we remain far off or will we press on to know God intimately, deeply?

About 28years ago, my Father in law was once asked by my friend who had recently given his life to Jesus on a youth camp; ‘Jeff, pray that I would know God better.’  

To this, Jeff replied; ‘I can’t pray that!’  

My friend (and I) were horrified at his seemingly unloving response. Then he said words that I have never forgotten; ‘I can’t pray that you would know God better, that’s up to you. But I can, and I will pray that you will WANT to know God better.’ And so he did, and now that friend leads one of the most significant churches in Cape Town South Africa.

Do you know Jesus? Let us press on to know the LORD! The more we know, the more we will love and worship Him.

The Tale of Two Hills (Psalm 24)

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The God of Psalm 24 is almighty (vs10), glorious (vs7), Holy (vs3) and He owns everything on the planet – because He made it all! (vs1)

So who can approach this God? Who can ascend His hill, or enter into His presence?

  • Only those who like Him are holy and pure (vs3).  
  • Only those of who have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ (vs4).  
  • Only those who have never been deceitful or lied to anyone (vs4)

But who can truly claim such things? Who could honestly claim that they have not done anything or even thought anything sinful or impure? No one can – not even one.

So no one then can ascend Almighty God’s hill.  Our sin has separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). No one can approach Him on their own merit.

But praise God, there was another hill that was ascended for us! Jesus, God Himself ascended Golgotha’s hill leading to his death on the cross on our behalf.  

And because Jesus ascended that hill for us, because Jesus was like us in every way and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and because Jesus gave His life as a ransom to pay the price for our sin in our place…

Because of that, because He ascended that hill for us now, we who have put our trust in Him can ascend the hill of Almighty God with confidence.

Our hands were not clean, and our hearts were not pure, but Jesus made us clean, spotless and pure by His substitutionary sacrifice for us, which took our sin away when we believed in Him.

So now, we can walk right into the holy of holies, stand at peace before the King of all the earth (Romans 5:1). Our hope is not in our righteousness but in His; we stand now secure as God’s children, those who belong in our Father’s presence – amazing grace!

It’s the tale of two hills. It’s the incredible story of our Saviour’s love for us.

God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)

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‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)

What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)

Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).

Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).

Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.

Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!

And why does Yahweh act in such a way?

“He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)

What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.

I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;

Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.

Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).

LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.

And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).

‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)

Confidence! (Philippians 1:1-11)

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What are you confident in? What are you relying on when it comes to faith and the continuation of that faith? Life is filled with unexpected complexity and challenge – so what anchors you and your faith?

Paul prayed for these Philippian believers, thanking God with great joy and certainty for their faith because he had great confidence that was anchored in God alone.

The early converts of this church were a successful businesswoman, a redeemed fortune teller & a converted jailer (see Acts 16 for the full story of this churches inception). This diverse bunch of newly saved ones must have faced many challenges to their faith. Challenges that came from both from within & from outside the church. 

To this group of believers in Jesus Paul could write;

“I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (vs6)

He wasn’t there to hold their hands! But he was confident that they would make genuine progress in spiritual growth. So what was Paul’s confidence anchored in?

1. That salvation is a work of God

No doubt Lydia, the Slave-girl & the Jailer could all remember the day that they put their faith in Jesus. But this is not Paul’s confidence; it is not that they ‘really’ believed. His confidence is that God started it all! Acts 16:14 says of Lydia’s salvation moment; “the LORD opened her heart”. God was at the bottom of it all as Charles Spurgeon said;

One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me; How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. 

How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?  Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” — Charles Spurgeon 

Friend, your faith is sure and secure only if God is at the bottom of it all.   

2. God will bring what He started to completion.

‘So my faith had a good start, but will I be able to keep it going?’ – I hear you wondering.  

Friend, Philippians 1:6 says that not only was God the originator of your faith in Him, more than that it is God Himself who will bring to completion what He started in you.

God doesn’t do half-jobs. God doesn’t get distracted or dejected because of slow progress. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this; “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 in NIV).

It would make no sense; it would not honour Jesus’ life, death & resurrection in our place for our sin for God to start and not bring to fullness our salvation. Friend, God is supremely invested in, God is behind not just the origination of your faith but the sustenance and progress of your faith. For some more verses on this theme check out: 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 & 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 & Colossians 1:21-22.

3. The Outcome and the Day are Guaranteed

There is a timeline when this completion will be fully realised. It is not today or tomorrow or in 1years time, but it is on THE DAY of Jesus Christ – the day Jesus returns in glory. 

Sometimes spiritual progress in our own lives or in the lives of those we love or lead can feel like three steps forward and two backwards! Don’t despair, don’t give in during the long dark nights when you feel like you have to hold on to what faith you still have.

There is a day coming. And you can be confident that God who inaugurated your faith will bring it to complete fullness by the time of the return of Jesus Christ. That day on which you will see Him face to face, and you will be transformed & raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-43 & 51-55).

If you have believed in Jesus, you can know with absolute certainty that you have believed because God is at work within your life, and you can rest assured that what God has started in you He Himself will continue until it is fully complete at the Day of Jesus Christ. Be secure, be full of praise and thanks!

Gospel Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility (Romans 10:12-21)

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Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility

I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;

Clarity

1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!

It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…

Certainty

2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).

What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?

Personal Reflection:

How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.

Confidence

Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).

Responsibility

People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.

So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.

Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin

The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.

May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.

Salvation: It’s believing not sincerity or morality that saves! (Romans 10:1-10)

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Sincerity is not enough for salvation. It is possible to be sincere and yet sincerely wrong. Paul desires & prays that religious Jewish people who are in fact lost, might be saved.

He knows that many of them are sincerely zealous and yet simultaneously spiritually ignorant of the true Gospel. Because of this ignorance of the right relationship that is possible by grace through faith in Jesus – such people try to attain their own righteousness through human effort and law-keeping, which will never lead them to salvation.

But Jesus is the end of the law (Romans 10:4), both in the sense that He has fulfilled the law and also that through Him, God has announced a righteousness that is apart from the law (Romans 3:21). Paul is passionate about the salvation of his fellow Jews, sincerely religious people, who sadly are putting their faith in the wrong thing – in their own righteousness, their own law-keeping ability, their own morality which Paul knows is futile and will not lead to salvation. Only faith in Jesus will.

Personal reflection:

Paul was living with an earnest and intense passion and longing that people would come to faith in Jesus Christ. This passion directed his life; it informed his decisions and ultimately led him to massive self-sacrifice. Is the Gospel and the salvation of those you know, those you are near to a directing passion in your life? Does the Gospel feature highly in your decision-making process and your priorities? Spend some time reflecting and speaking to God about this.

The Gospel is simply this;

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

  • Anyone (Romans 10:4) who confesses these things will be saved.
  • Anyone who confesses or acknowledges WHO JESUS really is – God
  • Because they’ve believed that to be true in their heart
  • Anyone who believes WHAT Jesus did in dying & rising again for them will be saved.
  • They will be justified, declared righteous before God!
  • On the basis of WHO they believed in (Jesus) & WHAT they believed Jesus did for them on the cross.

Sincere religious people do not go to heaven, sincere morally good people do not go to heaven – believers in Jesus do.