Monday, December 28, 2009

Reigning in life

"Reigning in life is a matter of receiving grace. '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).
Notice it is by receiving grace - not by what we do for God, not by keeping laws, but only by receiving grace - that we reign and rule in life." (Rob Rufus)

Receiving grace is not about understanding the definition of the word "grace" - The grace of God is not a message, but in fact a person (Jesus Christ). Many resist this teaching of grace in the same way that the religious Pharisees resisted Jesus - they are deceived into occupying their thoughts with their own behaviour (as we all are when taking our eyes off of Christ), instead of renewing their minds with the gospel that says that Jesus Christ has already "behaved" on our behalf (this is what Romans 5:17 is referring to when speaking of the "gift of righteousness").

Centuries of "church" have emphasised self-determination and a slave mentality, when Jesus has already quenched the wrath of God, thereby making us sons and daughters and no longer slaves.

I urge you to read and absorb the powerful truth contained in Romans 5:17, and notice the very significant use of words such as "receive", "abundant", "God's...grace" and "GIFT of righteousness".

My father told me a story about a man in the army who accidently drove his truck over a bridge and into a river. His leg got wedged underwater, leaving him gasping for air not far beneath the surface. Others jumped in trying to help him - his friend even broke a piece of the exhaust off to allow this man to breath while they tried to loosen him. Unfortunately he died due to aggressively panicking for air, pushing everyone away who tried to come near him.

It's the same with God's grace. God has freely provided everything we need in order to abundantly reign in life (and not just survive), yet we begin to panic in the midst of difficult times, to the point that we can't see God's provision already made available, and we spend years begging Him for it, when simply knowing the truth and resting in it is all that's needed.

God revealed His love and goodness by extending grace through Jesus Christ - and it is sufficient!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Enter His Rest

What is this “rest”?

Firstly, One thing is clear, the blessing of God’s rest is available for us today, and is not a glimmering hope of future glory (Hebrews 4:1, 6, 9).

In the Old Testament we see other forms of rest promised and provided by God. The Israelites were invited to enter into God’s creative rest by not working on Saturdays and trusting that God would provide for them - In a world of subsistence living, this was unheard of. Yet as the Israelites expressed faith in God in this way, it was a testimony to the other nations that their God was real and powerful and faithful to his people.

But this wasn’t the only rest God offered Israel in the Old Testament. He also offered them the Promised Land and rest from their enemies. He said he would go before them and defeat their enemies so that they could live securely in the land he had given them. All they had to do was trust him and go into the land—and he would protect them so that they could settle in the land and live securely, but they forfeited this rest because they refused to trust God’s promise by going into the land. The subsequent generation did trust God, and following Joshua they entered this rest.

But even this wasn’t the ultimate rest that God offered his people. 400 years later, with the Israelites living securely in the land, David in Ps.95 speaks of yet another rest that God’s people could enter - Now Jesus the Messiah has come, and his rest of salvation is available to everyone who responds to His call.

How do we enter it?

Hebrews 4 tells us that the key to entering God’s rest is faith—unwaveringly believing in his promises and grace-filled nature (Hebrews 4: 2, 3). God has done all the work, and all of what He has accomplished is directly for our benefit.

Hebrews chapter 4 tells us what this faith looks like:

Vs.10-13 explains the NATURE of this faith, that it is not merely a sub-conscious opinion (that most Christians have, and only when things are going well), but rather, it's a conscious effort to abandon the “wisdom” of man and to actively search for the promises of God. Truly believing that He is good and 100% faithful to every single one of them, and to REST in His GOODNESS and FAITHFULNESS without wavering (no matter how difficult times may seem to get).

Vs.14-16 explains the OBJECT of this faith – a great Saviour (Jesus Christ) who sees our nakedness behind any covering, and sympathizes with us in our weakness. A Saviour Who intensely desires to give mercy and grace as we understand His Rest, and draw confidently to receive it!

Listen closely—this is the hardest part to get:

Faith involves both ceasing from your works and making every effort (Hebrews 4:10, 11). This sounds like a nonsensical paradox but this is not the case. There is a sense in which biblical faith involves both passivity and effort.

It requires passivity in the sense that you stop depending on your own resources and depend instead on God’s resources.

Yet it requires effort to choose to depend on God. We instinctively rely on our own efforts and resources instead of on God’s. This is the heart of what it means to be fallen. Faith is counter-intuitive. To walk by faith (as a fallen human being) is a deliberate choice that is usually against our feelings and “wisdom” - It was counter-intuitive for the Israelites to not work on Saturday when they didn’t have excess food. It was counter-intuitive for the Israelites to go into a land full of strong enemies.

So what, then, "persuades" us that we need to stop trusting our own resources and instead depend upon God and his provision?

The answer is God’s Word – which is LIVING AND ACTIVE (Hebrews 4:12, 13). When our hearts are soft and receptive to God's Word, our eyes open to see how desperately we need to depend upon his provision. His Word supernaturally reveals the discrepancy between what we have and what God wants us to have, and it creates a healthy “tension” that motivates us to close that gap by DEPENDING ON GOD.

To try and convince people that God’s Word changes lives is very difficult. This is because it is not an intellectual issue, but an experiential one – i.e. softened hearts (Heb 4:7) with the desire to listen (Heb 4:2) will enter His rest. God's Word is not just "information" available to download, but His Word actually "does stuff" within you because it's truly "Living and Active".

The miracle of salvation has been done already; it’s about listening, trusting and resting in Him.

This rest is constantly available to us—are we consciously laying hold of it?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More than just forgiveness!

"For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:10)

If your perception has been that calvary is only about the forgiveness of sins, afterwhich we as christians merely cower into an insecure leopard-crawl until we finally get to heaven, then you are about to receive some good news (and not from me, but from the Word Himself). Romans 5:10 indicates a distinction between us being reconciled through Christ's death, and access to a life of abundance through Christ's resurrection.

Throughout the Old Testament, the only thing necessary for the forgiveness of sins was a suitable sacrifice - all that was required was bloodshed. That is why scripture says, "when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Italics is mine)- His death/bloodshed was enough to reconcile sinful man to God.
However, more than forgiveness and reconciliation has been made available. This verse goes on to say that now having been reconciled (through His death), it's His resurrection (His life) that overcame death and thereby caused us not only to be forgiven through His blood, but ALSO able to walk in abundance, as overcomers and more than conquerors (boldly).

The first part of this verse refers to sinners ("enemies" of God), and proclaims reconciliation for them through Christ's death. The second part refers to those now reconciled (no longer "enemies" of God), and proclaims salvation ("saved") for them through Christ's life/resurrection.
The Greek word for "saved" here is Sodzo, and actually includes healing, deliverance, protection and to "do well". We tend to use the word "saved" to describe the "point in time" when we become a child of God, but, God's Word uses the Greek word "sodzo" to describe the whole realm of benefits we receive - past, present, and future.

The purpose of Christ (as seen here), is both reconciliation and abundant life, yet satan continues to deceive many believers to think that they "owe God" for forgiving them, while in fact God has so much more for us to walk on earth.

The awesome thing about this abundant life, is that we don't work for it, but rather access it freely by faith - through revelation of God's love for us, and an intimate relationship with our Father. How can we work for something that Jesus has already paid for?

The reason why many believers don't experience fullness of joy and true abundant life, is because they aren't personally walking with God, in a relationship that truly believes and understands how much God actually loves them, and wants to lavish His glorious riches upon His sons and daughters.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Grace misunderstood

Although many have suffered due to preaching the grace of God, It is actually sad how the preaching of the grace of God has become a contentious issue (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you have heaps of resources from the many persecutions Jesus and Paul faced, right through to current preaching of the power and effectiveness of God's grace, and His grace alone).

Everyone who considers themselves a Christian (a follower of Christ), cannot deny that God is a good and kind God who, through Jesus Christ His only Son, portrayed the ultimate act of kindness in order that we would become heirs of all His riches in glory - and joint heirs with Christ. If anyone denies this, then they are either not a Christian, or they may understand only enough to know that Jesus paid the price to forgive sins, but they forget that every spiritual blessing has been given to us in Christ, and that every promise of blessing and goodness made by God has been answered a resounding "Yes!" through Jesus Christ as well.

The problem is that many are professing to be Christian based on their own goodness towards God...what is that about? (Sorry about the sarcasm, but really!) - our own goodness, God says, is actually like filthy rags to Him, and that's wonderful because it takes all the pressure off of us.

Although becoming born again is a once-off decision to believe in the gospel of Christ and receive Him as personal Lord and Saviour, our transformation and access to His abundant riches in glory happens through the constant renewing of our mind.
Renewing it with what, you might ask. It's the constant reminder of God's goodness towards us through Jesus that we need, as opposed to the world that says "perform to succeed", and satan who constantly accuses us of how unworthy we are (which is true in our own strength, but in Christ we are as worthy as He is).

It is the kindness and goodness of God that leads one to repentance (Romans 2:4), and repentance does not mean self-adjustment of behaviour, but actually a complete change of mind from whatever theories and opinions we might have, to the actual goodness and kindness of God towards us that leads to repentance.

We are not urged to change our behaviour, we are encouraged to renew our minds, and out of this place the fruits of good works will flow.

So, the grace of God is not a "contentious" issue by nature, it's simply a misunderstood one. Because when understood and accepted, it will lead to repentance.

Do you agree with God?

"Can two walk together unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3)

God always wanted Israel to choose life and not death, yet their ignorance to His constant calls for them to follow and abide in Him, cost them many blessings - not because God planned it that way, but because they never properly understood that, more important than obeying the law, God wanted a very close and personal relationship with His children. (Deut 30:15-20)

From this we see that God's heart has never changed, only His covenant has changed:

The Old Covenant was characterised by constant cause and effect - Israel constantly faced God's wrath due to them not choosing life, but instead turning from God and worshipping other gods.

The New Covenant is characterised by ultimate cause and effect - Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price. Not due to the sins He had "caused", but for the sins of the world.

So to come back to "Amos 3:3" (Can two walk together unless they are agreed?). Well, it's best to look at this question in two parts, firstly,
  • What does it mean to "walk together"? Is it a mere association with, or is it in fact a purposeful and conscious decision to journey in the same direction as? And secondly,
  • Are you actually "agreeing" with God's perspective (i.e truth)? Is your thinking influenced by the Old Covenant, which emphasised constant performance of good works in order to be regarded as righteous and holy? Or is it the New Covenant, which emphasises the imputation of God's righteousness as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. The New Covenant also emphasises the total absence of God's wrath, and which proclaims constant and abundant grace extended through faith in Jesus Christ - grace which not only guarantees forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but which has also provided abundant life and fulness of joy here on earth for all who believe and rest in His unearned acceptance, favor and goodness (A mouthful...I know...and there's more!)
God sees us (those who are in Christ by faith) as righteous as Jesus Christ Himself. Yet we treat ourselves like sinners who daily need to do something to gain God's approval, or needing to "patch a few things up" in our lives before we can consider ourselves worthy.

Our acts of self-righteousness do not make us worthy recipients of abundant life. It is through faith, and constant reminder of the grace, love and goodness of God that we access all He has already purchased for us on Calvary.

Amos 3:3 - It's when we begin to "agree" with this truth (of God's grace and unearned favor), that we will indeed "walk" together with Him (and thereby experience the close and intimate relationship, along with all of it's blessings and joy, that God longs to lavish on His children - freely!).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The right kind of Righteousness

In a portion of scripture that richly portrays God's intentions and goodness, the prophet Isaiah particularly mentions (amongst many profound prophecies) that we will be established in righteousness (Isaiah 54:14) through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

With such spectacular confirmation, we find (in Romans 1:16-17) that many years later the apostle Paul tells his Roman recipients that this gospel ("Good News") of Jesus Christ, is the very power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.
He goes on to say that in this message (of the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and very purpose of Jesus Christ), the righteousness OF GOD is revealed from faith to faith - Isaiah had prophesied of a righteousness within which we would be established, Paul now declares that the gospel of Jesus Christ emphasises that it is by faith we are established in God's very own Righteousness, and not our own righteousness.

A little later (Romans 10:1-4) we find Paul mentioning how many people (even those who have a zeal for God), do not properly understand what was accomplished through Jesus. Based on this lack of knowledge (regardless of their zeal for God), they are effectively ignoring the free gift of God's righteousness, and are seeking to establish their own righteousness.
The law that required man to perform and present themselves holy and acceptable before God, was completely brought to an end in Christ to everyone who believes.

It almost seems blasphemous (if you don't know the gospel), but what God expects from us is to submit to His Righteousness by simply believing in Christ and personally owning and embracing what He has already accomplished on the cross.

Becoming a new creation in Christ is not determined by what you have to offer God, but actually by your faith and humility to freely receive what He has to offer you!

God's Grace...and only His sufficient.