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Posts Tagged ‘Romans 3’

They’re often the nicest people – cheerful and kind, unreservedly helpful to friend and stranger alike.  They’re the ones you want for neighbors and the ones you’re glad to see on a Monday morning at work.  You may even wish you were like them in many ways.  They might follow natural disasters to help in the aftermath; they might build homes or serve medically in impoverished nations; they may sponsor a number of children in deepest Africa.  They would lay down their lives for their spouse and children.  If they attend church, they may be found teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, or working on the kitchen, lawn, or maintenance crews.  Indeed, they check “Christian” on their census form, believing their good works speak for themselves.  But, as you attempt to talk with them deeply of spiritual matters, there is some vague uncertainty which niggles at you.  You wonder if they’ve just been around enough to be able to talk the talk or if they walk the walk out of mere humanitarian duty instead of a regenerated heart.

 

I’m following a delightful video series from Ligonier Ministries by Derek Thomas on The Pilgrim’s Progress.  This classic piece of literature, once eclipsed in sales only by the Bible, has been set on dusty top shelves and only a few 21st century Christians have read it.  I only read it for the first time a couple years ago and am sorry it was not a part of my literature reading from an early age.

 

There are so many fine (and not fine) characters which the loving pastor, John Bunyan, wrote into his 17th century allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress (parts I and II) which personifies the pleasures and pitfalls along a Christian pilgrim’s journey to our heavenly home (the Celestial City, as Bunyan writes).

 

Through his travels, Christian, the protagonist of The Pilgrim’s Progress, part I, meets two such travelers who evidence that vague lack that indeed niggles away at Christian and makes him burdened in spirit for them.  One is the man, Ignorance, and the other is Talkative.

 

Ignorance believes that Christ plus works will be his plea when he stands before God’s throne on the last day.  Because of Christ’s death, Ignorance believes that his own obedience is now an acceptable sacrifice unto salvation.  Our friend, Christian, emphatically corrects him: “Thou believes with a fantastical faith for this is no where described in the Word” (p113).

 

Christian declares to Ignorance God’s Word: “There is none righteous, there is none that do good” (Romans 3:10-12) and that “every imagination of the heart of man is only evil, and that continually” (Genesis 6:5). To this Ignorance replies, “I will never believe that my heart is thus bad” and here is Ignorance’s problem (p112).

 

He is under the modern delusion that he may choose Christ and salvation by his own will and on his own terms.  He does not conceive the extent to which he is an enemy to God and spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to move an iota toward God in this fallen state.  Christian’s traveling companion attempts to set him straight:  “Christ is so hid in God from the natural [understandings of all men], that He cannot by any man be savingly known, unless God the Father reveals him to them.”  It must be [brought about] by the exceeding greatness of His mighty power” (pp. 114-115).

 

Ignorance, at no time, has been under a conviction of his sins before God and so he does not fear that his state is dangerous.  The “naturally ignorant” do not understand “that such convictions [are for one’s good] and therefore they desperately seek to stifle them and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts” (p.115).

 

Ignorance does not understand that the fear of the Lord begins by a saving conviction of one’s sins.  It is this conviction which “drives the soul to lay fast of Christ for salvation” and continues in the soul a “great reverence of God, his Word, and ways; keeping it tender and making it afraid to turn from them to the right hand or to the left – to anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the Enemy (i.e. Satan) to speak reproachfully” (p. 116).

 

The last we see of Ignorance, Christian is unsuccessfully pleading with him:  “Be awakened then, see thine own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness… thou shalt be delivered from condemnation” (p. 115).

 

Well, Ignorance, will thou yet foolish be,

To slight good Counsel, ten times given thee?

And if thou yet refuses it, thou shalt know

Ere long, the evil of thy doing so.

Remember, man in time – stoop!  Do not fear!

Good Counsel, taken well, saves.  Therefore, hear!

But if thou yet shall slight it, thou will be

The loser, Ignorant, I’ll warrant thee. (p. 115).

 

But there is another who masquerades as a fellow traveler to the Celestial City.  Sadly, like Ignorance, on the day of harvest, he too will be separated from the wheat, perhaps to his own surprise (Matthew 13:29-30).  This wanderer is not willfully ignorant, but is instead, insincerely Talkative.

 

Talkative walks with Christian and his friend, Faithful, through several pages of our book and wields many pious words and speeches, often seemingly in agreement with the two travelers.  Faithful is willing to take Talkative at his word and claim him as a fellow pilgrim, but Christian is not so sure.

 

“Religion has no place in his heart or house or conversation; all he has, lies in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise with it” (p. 62).  “He talks of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new-birth; but he knows only to talk of them…  He is a saint abroad, and a devil at home” (p. 63).  For Talkative, “saying and doing are two things” (p. 63).

 

We know this person.  They can speak about biblical truths and they know all the right words.  It’s not uncommon for them to speak of answered prayer and the help they receive from their faith or from God (general), but there is something missing.  They rarely use the name of Jesus out loud or marvel at his goodness or saving grace in their lives.  And there is little evidence they’ve grieved over there personal sins which caused Christ to endure the wrath of the Father on their behalf.  When Faithful begins to see Talkative for who his is, he explains that when the grace of God is in the heart, “it shows itself by inclining the soul to abhor its sin.”

 

Here, Derek Thomas is helpful in exposing what is lacking in these Talkative ones:

“It is not enough to say that sin does bad things or that there are consequences for bad behavior.  You have to hate that sin.  You have to turn away from that sin and walk toward Jesus.

“A man may cry out against sin… but one must not simply cry out against sin (or I might add, cluck our tongues at the evil in the world), but we must abhor sin. People will readily decry the ungodliness of the world, but does our friend do the utmost to see it in his own heart, to decry its residence there, and to determinedly rid himself of it?”

 

Faithful rightly declares, “Great knowledge may be obtained in the mysteries of the Gospel and yet no work of grace in the soul.  Yea, if a man has all knowledge, he may yet be nothing and so, consequently, be no child of God” (p. 65).  “A work of grace in the soul,” Faithful continues, “gives [one] conviction of sin… This sight and sense of things works in him sorrow and shame for sin… and the absolute necessity of [settling with the Savior] for life… hungering and thirsting after Him” (p. 66).

 

Talkative bristles at being caught in his charade.  He does as many do who are so exposed – he tries to divert the blame to Faithful.  He accuses him of being judgmental and peevish and “not fit to be [talked] with” (p. 67) and so bids him farewell.  Christian, observing the whole exchange, says to Faithful, “I told you how it would happen – your words and his lusts could not agree.  He had rather leave your company, than reform his life… The loss is no man’s, but his own.”

 

How Talkative at first lifts up his plumes!

How bravely does he speak!  How he presumes

To drive down all before him!  But so soon

As Faithful talks of heart-work, like the moon

That’s past the full, into the wain he goes.

And so will all, but he that heart-work knows (p. 68).

 

In the end we see that both Ignorance and Talkative desire “a God without wrath [Who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through… a Christ without a cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr).

 

As Talkative walks away, Faithful recalls Ezekiel’s charge to be a watchman.5 He settles the matter in his own mind, “I have dealt plainly with him and so am clear of his blood if he perishes” (p. 67).  This is our sober charge as well – to be faithful ourselves in the proclaiming of truth.  In the end, Faithful clings to one hope:  “I am glad we had this little discourse with him.  It may happen that he will think of it again.”  And this is our sober hope as well.

 

 

All dialogue is quoted from The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Cynthia Wall, W.W. Norton, 2009, pp. 62-68, 112–116.

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“The Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
“Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

(John 4)

Fields White with Harvest

If you live in the upper Midwest as we do, you can’t help but accept the coming and going of the four seasons.  This is not the same as welcoming each season (although that would be a good discipline to work on), but we look around us and must accept, like it or not, that a new season is on our door step and will be fully upon us very soon.  We may not always like that by the end of July/first of August the grains have turned golden in the summer sun and are ready for harvest.  If we have trained ourselves, we may recognize God’s grace to mankind in the season’s altering.

Our dear Pastor Scott led us through some surprisingly uncharted territory this past Sunday morning as he taught through the familiar story of the woman at the well from John 4 and challenged us to see it anew.  Thus, we entered the church service which followed with such meditations as v.23 “the Father is seeking such people” and v. 35 “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

Then, who should be filling pulpit today but one of the many home-grown missionaries our church supports, Aaron Robinson.  He and his wife were working in campus ministry in Toulouse, France, but Aaron has recently been named the Director of Cru’s France ministry, Agape France.  It was one of those Sundays when God seemingly shouts through all voices, “Don’t miss this; sit up and take notice!”

For his text, Aaron used a passage in Luke where Jesus is sending his disciples out to minister in the neighboring towns and cities.  If Pastor Scott’s discussion caused us to consider the who and when of kingdom harvesting, Aaron’s message caused us understand better the how of harvesting.

But first, Aaron began with a challenge to complacency:

“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).  We have this small thing called “our life” which will be gone before we know it; yet, what are we told will endure?  God, his Word, and the souls of men.  Aaron addressed his message to all, no matter where our fields might be – in long-term foreign missions or nearer home.  In a sort of Don’t Waste Your Life perspective, Aaron offered the following.

“Six Principles for Harvesting as Lambs Among Wolves”

Luke 10:1-12, 16

Harvesting Principle #1 – Jesus sends his disciples to where He himself is going.

v. 1 “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”

In his modern classic, Experiencing God 1, Henry Blackaby looks to such passages as Romans 3:10-11 (“… there is no who one seeks God”) and John 6:44 (“No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent me draws him’) to impress on the reader that “no one is going to seek God on his own initiative.  No one will ask after spiritual matters unless God is at work in his life.”  He advises, “When you see someone seeking God or asking about spiritual matters, you are seeing God at work” (p.26).  The theme of his book is: Watch to see where God is working and join him there.

Harvesting Principle #2 – There’s a big harvest, but the laborers are few.

v. 2a  “And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that the world will remain ripe until we’re ready.  But our own lives are a mist, vanishing after a little time as, too, are the lives of those of the harvest.  What’s more, there is most certainly a day appointed by the Father when history will be rolled up and after that, the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Harvesting Principle #3 – Pray!

v. 2b “Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

This God-sized mission pushes us to pray; in fact, no great work of God is done without prayer.  “When we work, we work; but when we pray, God works.”  In the process of praying, our hearts begin to change.

Harvesting Principle #4 – You may be the answer to your own prayers.

v. 3 “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Jesus knows the battle is fierce.  Notice he does not say, “I’m sending you like bears before wolves.”  Instead he declares, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”  This is a difficult charge, but consider that, just maybe, God would have his sheep call upon their Shepherd for their daily strength.

Harvesting Principle #5 – God will direct you and provide what you need.

vv. 4-12 “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

What God calls you to, he equips you for.  May “our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep… equip you with everything good that you may do his will…”  (Heb. 13:20-21)

Harvesting Principle #6 – Expect mixed reactions.

v. 16 – “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

It is easy to believe that people are reacting to us personally.  It is a discipline to remind ourselves that they are reacting to God and his message.  We cannot control the response of others; we can only control our obedience to God’s call.

In closing, it is helpful as we go out into our world, our spheres of influence, that the Father is seeking people to worship him – it is his will to be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  Pastor John Piper puts it this way: Missions exist because worship doesn’t.  Wherever worship of the one true, triune God is lacking (whether it be a whole nation or people group or in your neighbor or co-worker’s home), we are called to missions.

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see
that the fields are white for harvest.”

– – – – –

1Blackaby Henry, &. King Claude. Experiencing God. USA: Southern Baptist Convention, 1990. Print.

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