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“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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A person God turned around many times.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

That practical word, “How” Part II

“How should man be just with God?” (Job 9:2). How can I escape the trap that has taken the whole world? What are the steps to Christ, the method for getting me to salvation? What must I do to be saved without manipulating God or deceiving myself?

It would help to work backward on this lesson on applied Christianity. Let’s start with the point of conversion, since that is the start of salvation. What is our part in the joint effort to save us? There is a work that we do and must do because God cannot do it for us.

Now, hang on to your doctrinal hats, because this first step that leads to conversion is not a popular one, neither has it ever been the norm. But, it is major and utterly essential. It causes the slaying of self that will characterize the Christian life at the point of conversion and ever afterward. That step is repentance. “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.” (Ps. 51:8). “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” (Ps. 51:17). Nothing happens in the Christian life without the heart and self-will broken. No victory over vice. No fruits of the Spirit. No love, joy, peace; no long-suffering or gentleness or forgiveness toward others. And certainly no forgiveness from God or confirmation from Him in us by giving us His messenger of peace. From the words of the Stone Himself, “Whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever It shall fall, It will grind him to powder.” (Matt. 21:44).

Repentance, falling on the Stone and being broken, must happen or we will come to the end of life, and die in our sins. “The kingdom of God shall be … given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” (Matt. 21:43).

Oh, but who wants to repent of all that is within him?! Who wants to sorrow for his sins? Which rebel enjoys confessing to God wrongs done to others, and faults that embarrass self and make him accountable to everyone in the human family and to God? Who enjoys vomiting? Who wants to vomit up all of the things that they have done wrong (because that is what repentance is)? Nobody! All the toxic past is not pleasant to bring up in our naturally prideful heart. But, all that is within the guilty, shamed heart must come out. Otherwise, we are forced to continue to hold our toxic, shameful past in our conscience. And otherwise, we will never have the exciting testimony of the converted Samaritan woman, “Come, see a Man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29).

Not only is repentance uncomfortable to our pride-filled morality, but repentance seems a hopeless impossibility to the unconverted mind, never before having repented. Can the rebellious heart say, “I’m sorry!” if it doesn’t feel sorry? Can the decided rebel convince God that he or she is sorry? And, who can make himself feel sorry? Nobody. That is why the unconverted need a step to take before they can repent. They need help to repent.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt when we see people sorrowing over hurting someone that their repentance and confession are a beautiful sight. Isn’t it a beautiful thing when we see an abuser repent and reconcile with the person he has hurt? Fictional movies and books are created for us to imagine this; but, how much better to witness it in real life? Old enemies now friends! Old barriers thrown aside! Long-time coldness and alienation evaporated in an instant! Miracle of miracles! Hurry, give me some of that blessing! “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9)! Repentance between man and his brother brings heaven to earth, making this cold world of sin a paradise in which to dwell until God’s redemption of His purchased possession.

And better still, for all who are involved in the reconciliation between a man and his Redeemer even greater accolades come. “Strangers [who you have aided in their redemption to God] shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the [alienated from heaven] shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.” (Isa. 61:5,6). Everything is better when wounds are healed. The flowers are more colorful, the sun is brighter, the air fresher! Repentance and reconciliation are the gifts that keep on giving! Eternal life! Abundant life without end!

Therefore, if we see that repentance and reconciliation are good, but we can’t manufacture it, then we need something to make us sorry for hurting another and to lead us to a new life. We need the second to the last step before conversion.

We need conviction of sin. “When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:8).

But, oh! Who wants to be convicted of sin?! Nobody! Who wants to be corrected, reproved, told they aren’t good enough? No one! Are we beginning to see why the path to eternity is so rarely trodden and the narrow gate to life is so restricting? Because of pride multitudes will not enter into the requirements for real life. Only those who keep their eyes on the blessed by-products of conversion will ever take the necessary steps that lead to it.

At this point, let us remember that there is a counterfeit repentance that leads to death. There is a repentance that needs to be repented of. Only true repentance leads to the abundant life. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2Cor. 7:10). What is the world-wide trap concerning repentance? It is a self-generated repentance. Disingenuous repentance is a repentance coughed up from a heart that is not really sorry for its sins. And it does not lead to the blessing of God.

What can make a heart truly sorry, deeply sorry for its sins? Only divine conviction of those sins, only God revealing to us our condition as He sees us. We must see for ourselves that we are exceedingly sinful. We must be disgusted with ourselves, smothered in guilt. We must weep over mistakes that are so huge and foolish and permanently damaging to others that they make us want to bury our heads in the sand. We must admit to ourselves that we are rotten and wretched to the core, conceived in sin and “shapen in iniquity” (Ps. 51:5), and worthy of eternal damnation.

But, oh! Who wants to admit to all that from the bottom of his heart?! Again, nobody wants to! “THOU ART [A MURDERER AND ADULTERER AND PEEPING TOM  AND STALKER AND PREDATOR].” (2Sam. 12:7)!! That is what the Lord told David, and that is what He sees in us. Who wants to see himself as morally repugnant and morally bankrupt? Who wants to feel infinite condemnation and eternal rejection? No one! Who wants to feel like he is eternally cut off from God?

Every world religion teaches the world’s populations to circumvent this issue. But, the religions do nothing except put a band-aid on the cancers that come out of separation from our Creator Father. Yet, even though no one wants conviction and condemnation of sin, it is a must if we will be converted and saved. Once again, do we see why so scarcely few enter into life? Do we see why the world wonders after the beast and worships him? The beast offers side-tracks and counterfeits for conviction of sin, godly repentance, and conversion. And the sin-loving people love to have it so. Therefore, the beast’s ability to keep everyone convinced in self-sufficiency and hard-heartedness is inescapable for the self-sufficient world.

We must be convicted of sin before we can overcome the devil. But HOW can I be convicted of sin? I don’t love vomiting up my ugly past; I don’t love being told what I’ve done wrong. I don’t love conviction of sin; so can I convict myself of my own sins? No, one of sin’s most notorious characteristic is that it protects itself from accusations and guilt. Pride fuels sin and pride refuses to be punished and corrected. Nobody can tell pride what to do. Never ever! Because pride never did anything wrong! It has always been infallible, always immaculate. It is beyond questioning. It is infinitely wise and pure, even wiser and more pure than God Himself. Pride is the mother over God. Don’t touch pride or it will destroy you. It says, “I sit a queen … and shall see no sorrow.” (Rev. 18:7).
We cannot touch our own pride, but Jesus has given us the tool that will lay pride to rest. That tool is the holy Bible. Here is the third to last step that we must take toward conversion. It is the first of the three last steps we must do to be saved; and it is where our labor and warfare must begin. We must expose ourselves to the Law’s infinitely high standard.

“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (Ps. 119:11).

“The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). The word of God cuts both ways, yet it heals both ways too. The Spirit of truth that lives in the living word of God is the same Comforter that will abide with us forever (see John 14:16,17). But, its wonderful comfort cannot come out of the Word until we are slain by the truth of His mouth. The balm of Gilead can do nothing toward the recovery of our hearts until we have seen ourselves as God sees us—not only sinful, but so exceedingly sinful that we are apparently unpardonable. Nothing else will drive us to need an escape from sin’s guilt and power over us, which comes from our only Help in trouble, the only Saviour from sin. We need to hear the gavel of the Judge bring home our conviction; we need the hammer of His Law.

“Is not My word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29).

“Now we know that what things soever the Law saith, it saith to them who are under the Law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom. 3:19).

Everyone needs to be made guilty before God. Only “by the Law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20). We cannot receive the promised Spirit and its gift of faith without pride first being minisculized and buried before the Almighty. “What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself.” Testimonies to Ministers, p. 456.

Paul made clearer the work of the Bible in humbling us and preparing us for repentance. “Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24).

The Schoolmaster who lets His immutable Law represent Himself reveals our hopeless cases because of our life of sin. He scourges every son who He is about to give eternal life. “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” (Heb. 12:6).

After the Schoolmaster is done with us, under fearful conviction of which we can never convince ourselves, we flee to the One who we know has been reaching out to us since the beginning of time. We find Him at the cross, our beautiful Burden-bearer suspended between God and humanity. We see Him limply hanging under God’s destruction of our sins. We see God satisfied, then able and willing to forgive the whole world of their sins. In all of God’s affliction upon our conscience, we see God and His Son afflicted infinitely more that our afflictions. Opening the Bible and looking into it so that its light reveals our faulty character is hard work.

Yet, as hard for us to bear as our conviction is, but it is not the final judgment that Jesus suffered for us. It is far from damnation. Rather, we see the full cost for our sins paid by Christ upon whom fell God’s full condemnation of our sin. We see the severity of God upon Jesus and the goodness of God toward us. We see God’s necessary justice and mercy against our pride and wickedness. We see His loving involvement in our case. And our proud heart is finally able and willing to break and repent.

Even though Satan has always made politically incorrect this third to the last step before conversion, exposing ourselves to the Law is the answer to all our woes. It is anxiety-ridden humanity’s panacea. Being decimated by the conviction from the great Judge of all the earth, and seeing our Substitute take the infinite thunders and wrath of God for us, is the key to kicking the devil out of our lives. Omnipotent truth and repentance kicks him out of our hearts and minds, out of our doctrines that have become human traditions, out of our physical bodies and our churches. Wrestling with the Law, surrendering to its claims, and going to the Refuge in Jesus with our excruciating conscience creates the desperate faith in Him that causes our justification. Then we are humbled and worthy of Jesus to lift us up. We become mighty sons of the Almighty. Being dead to sin under the heavy hand of God is the beginning of life in Jesus. The dead old man is circumcised from our heart, so that the new soul can live for God.

Our only words were, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer Thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4,5). “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6).

Humbled and quiet, we are born again, regenerated and justified. Our mouth is stopped of all self-justifications and blame upon others for our sinning. We can say nothing more about our circumstances; all our recriminations against God cease. We cannot blame anyone else but ourselves. We are made righteous by surrender. We are righteous through God’s act of justifying us; that is, His proclaiming that we never were guilty. Satan will call God’s pronouncement upon us a bold-faced lie, a re-writing of our history. But, who cares what the accuser says. “It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. 8:33,34). By His gift of our humbled surrender to His sizing up our life of blasphemy and dishonor, the highest authority in heaven and earth judges us to have always been righteous. And this makes the devil all red in the face, with steam coming out of his ears.

After we have gone to hear the Law and we surrender to the judgment of God, then flows out deep repentance to God and in flows the promise of His Spirit. Jesus is our Friend from whom we will never leave. Certainty of salvation is full and free. Like Jacob after his surrender and repentance, the world is bright with promise. “And as [Jacob] passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.” (Gen. 32:31).

After conversion, the battle scars from Satan’s exiting our soul don’t really bother us. In fact, nothing on earth really bothers us any more. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” (2Cor. 4:7). Like Job, once we are humbled, repentant, converted, and justified, we live happily ever after in happily rendered humility and repentance. “And the LORD turned the captivity of Job…. So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.” (Job 42:10,12).

We may be “troubled on every side, yet not distressed”. We may be “perplexed, but not in despair”, persecuted by man, but not forsaken by God. We may be “cast down, but not destroyed”, “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” (2Cor. 4:8-10).

This heart righteousness is Bible wisdom. God’s gift of humiliation and Christ’s intercession restored in us the mind of Christ. We are open to His Spirit. God’s humbling “wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.” (Prov. 8:11). “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (1Cor. 1:30).

Now we are able to keep the Law, the Bible, the high standards of the Spirit of Prophecy. And through Jesus the Law becomes our great love and our exaltation among men. “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut. 4:5,6).

Now, justified and received again into the kingdom of God, we can command our will to obey righteousness, and our body and mouth and eyes and feet, follow suit.

“For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin….
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:5,6,11-14).

“But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?
Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living.
The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me.
It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof.
It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire.
The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies.
The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued with pure gold.
Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding?
Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air.
Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears.

God understandeth the way thereof, and He knoweth the place thereof.” (Job 28:12-23).

Friday, April 28, 2017

That practical word, “How”

I would be, dear Savior, wholly Thine;
Teach me how, teach me how;
I would do Thy will, O Lord, not mine;
Help me, help me now.
Refrain
Wholly Thine, wholly Thine,
Wholly Thine, this is my vow;
Wholly Thine, wholly Thine,
Wholly Thine, O Lord, just now.

Teach me how. Practical godliness. Have you ever heard of the phrase? It used to be thrown around in Adventism when we were a movement. The words, “Practical godliness” are akin to the phrase, “the science of salvation”.

We have often looked at practical godliness as the way a Christian should live. And the Christian life is part of the definition of practical godliness. But if we don’t have the whole definition, then living like a Christian ends up in works-oriented religion and even humanism, or as some have termed it, a social gospel, a religious social-reform movement. This is what the purpose-driven life is all about. But, an earthly oriented  purpose driving me instead of reconciliation with God driving me always ends up in driving down a dead end. Jesus was not there.

“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so…. They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (Jer. 5:31,6:14).

Do we have peace with God? Is our hurt, “the chastisement of our peace” (Isa. 53:3), healed? Isn’t peace with God and the love of the truth the true indicator of whether or not God is with us? “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” (Heb. 10:36). The promise is the Spirit of grace, “the very God of peace” (Isa. 53:3).

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27).

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1).

It’s this peace that Satan fears most. When a person has peace with God, and when Oh how he loves His Law (!), then he becomes one of the sons of God, a son of thunder, and he breaks down the gates of hell and sets the captives free. But how can we have that peace with God?

“How should man be just with God? If he will contend with Him, He cannot answer him one of a thousand.” (Job 9:2,3). Jesus doesn’t have to answer anyone. But He loves to answer all who have been humbled by conviction of their sins. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly; but the proud He knoweth afar off.” (Ps. 138:6).

“How?” How to be saved? What must I do to be saved? How can I be just before God? How can I have a right standing before the Most High? Why don’t I have constant communion and peace with God? Why doesn’t He answer my prayers? These were the questions that plagued Job and the second Saul. But, they didn’t plague the first Saul. With the first Saul, his relation to God was not up for question by him. It was kingly business as usual. “Unpardonable sin? No worry, I’ve got it covered. The good Lord would never do that to me!”

“And Saul asked counsel of God, Shall I go down after the Philistines? wilt Thou deliver them into the hand of Israel? But He answered him not that day.… And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul.” (1Sam. 14:37,52).

But, what about me? Could I be doomed with that king poisoned by the forces of darkness?

“And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” (1Sam. 28:6).

That was a scary situation. No word of the Lord because the Lord had left the king. The king was no longer the specially privileged, holy leader who had been appointed by the Lord. Rather he was only a common sinner now.

“And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided Me a king among his sons.” (1Sam. 16:1).

Why did Jesus not answer Saul? Because He had rejected him. But, why would Jesus be that way? Didn’t He promise that “him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37)? But, was Saul coming to Jesus? Obviously not.

Remember that there was the caveat, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me.” Saul wasn’t coming to the Father. This we will see in the next post.

Saul wasn’t coming to God first, therefore He wasn’t coming to Jesus any more, and therefore all that Jesus could do was make it painfully apparent that His rejection of Saul had taken place. What did Saul do to recapture his salvation? Would he admit that he wasn’t right with God somehow? Would the self-sufficient, politely proud king come to terms with the chastisement of his peace and crumble into a thousand humbled pieces before God and His Son? No, he wouldn’t. Did he cry out to Jesus with all his soul like blind Bartimaeus did?

“And [Bartimaeus] cried, saying, Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” (Luke 18:38,39).

No, Saul accepted the painful silence, as stressed out and in anxiety as he was. Do we do the same? Why should we endure such misery when we could be healed? Because of sin, pride. We don’t like the connotation and conclusion that comes with the silence from heaven. Like hormones coursing through our bodies, self-sufficiency courses through our sinful wills.

“Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” (Rom. 7:20,21). For some reason, the second Saul’s thought process went the other way from the first Saul. The second Saul concluded that the problem wasn’t with God, but with himself. He saw himself full of sin, and this led to his repentance.

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Now we are getting very practical. Repentance is the first step in practical godliness. There really needs to be a class in Adventist schools at every grade level called, Practical godliness 101. It might also be called, Applied Lab for Salvation. It would spare us a world of grief and much wasted time in the Christian life. It would also make us wiser than the world.

There are steps that we must take before we can be stepping into the holy footprints of Jesus. And until we take those early steps we will never come to conversion, but will be cut off from Jesus. Until we take those steps we remain under the dominion of Satan.

So let’s get practical. Peter describes a train of steps that happen after conversion.

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.” (2Pet. 1:5-7).

Notice that all of this follows faith. So, if a person doesn’t have a faith relationship with God through Jesus at conversion then all of Peter’s ladder will not lead to greater salvation. Yet, many have missed conversion and peace with God, and have endeavored to keep all of the above “commandments”. But, if faith has not been born in the heart, then keeping the commandments do not lead to everlasting life.

But, what about Jesus’ words, “I know that [the Father’s] commandment is life everlasting” (John 12:50)? His Father’s commandments were life to Jesus because He was right with God. This is not disputed. From day one of His incarnation into Mary Jesus was right with God. And that is how He could keep His Father’s commandment. That is how He could be justified by His works and receive eternal life from His obedience. For every moment of Jesus’ existence, “the Spirit [was] life because of righteousness.” (Rom. 8:10) (And let us remember that eternal life was the Hebrew way of quantifying abundant life—by using time, i.e. eternal.) Therefore, as abundant life starts when Jesus can commune with our hearts, likewise eternal life starts today for all who have fallen on the Stone and whose hearts and self-wills have been broken.

All the good works in the world cannot save the soul who, like Saul, will not do the first works that lead to conversion. Only by being just before God, in right standing with Him, can our works be acceptable to the great Judge. For Saul, the heart was missing. The soul was dead. Therefore, his works were dead. Works without faith is dead. Or, as Morris Venden called it, it is “fighting the battle where the battle isn’t”. Our battle must be in the first works that lead us to repentance and restoration to the God of righteousness. Righteousness must come from faith. And when we have open communion with God through Christ, and we have His Spirit, then our works are life-giving. We can add works to our faith, starting with virtue. Only open communion with God through Jesus can cause the Christian life to be a life-giving, health-giving adventure. But, oh, the many long, empty lives suffered who have tried to climb Peter’s vertical ladder without help from above! That is certainly fighting the wrong battle.

Multitudes have been battling their dungeons and dragons in the dark, assuming that God is with them and in their works, but reaping His chastisement of their peace and having no certainty of salvation. Surely Satan will burn for a long time for getting people wrapped up in the futile effort to be moral before God, imagining to have peace with Him, without first being converted in the heart! The world has been “shut up unto the faith.” (Gal. 3:23). But, we must also remember the human component in this formula for being lost: “My people love to have it so.” (Jer. 5:31). Self-sufficiency is pleasurable and satisfying to the sin-filled heart. And Satan does everything he can to keep us self-preserving, keeping us from appearing weak in the eyes of others (and so, very far away from repentance), self-protected from any ridicule and character assassination as a weakling until our hearts are permanently covered with a thick wall of self-sufficiency and misery. The devil know that when we are weak then we are strong.

More on the How in the next post.