The Thought Lives of Believers and the Building up of The Body

In his final remarks to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul said this:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Phil 4:8

Perhaps more than any other passage in scripture, this verse has meant more to me personally in guiding my thought life. It tells me what the overall ‘character’ of my thought life should be, regardless of the situation I am in, as well as how I should ‘direct’ my thought life when my fleshly mind wants to do otherwise.

I’ve found it quite easy at times to dwell on perceived and actual wrongs that have come our way to the extent that I’ve become personally discouraged and bitter; become angry toward the ‘perpetrator’ and asked God to let me be the instrument of His vengeance.

The above passage tells me to think about, focus on good things. This does not mean that I should just let wrongs go and not seek ‘justice’ for those wronged. There is a system of Biblical church discipline for such matters as well as a civil court system, both ordained of God for the purpose of ‘righting wrongs’.

I believe there is great danger, both personally and for the body of Christ, when we begin to focus on the wrong and not on what good for the Glory of God can be accomplished in hard situations. As believers, we are to be about the building up of the body of Christ. We have given gifts just for that purpose – to build up the body of Christ.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” – Ephesians 4:11-12

We are instructed concerning ‘gifts of the Spirit’ in 1 Corinthians 12; that they are for the ‘common good’ :

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Whatever we think about offices in the church and spiritual gifts, Paul makes it very clear in both passages that they are given and empowered by the Holy Spirit to equally important members of the church who occupy different offices and perform different functions in the body, a;working together to build up the body.

What has this t do with our thought lives? I’m so glad you asked!

I’ve never become bitter about a wrong done (to myself or others) without my thinking being the first step toward wanting to be an instrument of God’s vengeance upon persons guilty of wrong. All I have to do is focus on the evil wrongdoing and the want to have that wrong righted. And I must say that it’s not too difficult to find passages of scripture to support my desire, although I need to take them out of the context of God’s redemptive plan and/or read into them (eisegete) God’s permission for my sinful emotions and even a ‘holy crusade’ for justice.

On the other hand, while there might have been great wrong done, if I focus, as Paul teaches us, on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, and whatever is worthy of praise I can avoid falling off of a path leading to restoration and redemption, which is God’s ideal; and leave the ‘justice’ element to appropriately applied church discipline and whatever God ordained civil court system is in place, and ultimately to God himself.

In short, regarding the church, the very Bride of Christ, I can either be a ‘body builder’ or a ‘wrecking ball’. Which one am I? When there are wrongs done or ‘sin in the camp’, how do I respond? I could ignore it and keep my head stuck in the sand, pretending it isn’t happening. I could decide to hunt down the criminals, expose them to the world as both judge and jury, or I could pray that God take care of the justice and be an agent or reconciliation and redemption.

The question is, am I a ‘body builder’ or ‘wrecking ball’? Dear Christian, which one are you?

Food for thought early on a Sunday morning.

Christian Values Cannot Save Anyone

Tuesday, September 11, 2012, Al Mohler

A recent letter to columnist Carolyn Hax of The Washington Post seemed straightforward enough. “I am a stay-at-home mother of four who has tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with,” the woman writes. “Therefore I was shocked when my oldest daughter, ‘Emily,’ suddenly announced she had ‘given up believing in God’ and decided to ‘come out’ as an atheist.”

The idea of a 16-year-old atheist in the house would be enough to alarm any Christian parent, and rightly so. The thought that a secular advice columnist for The Washington Post might be the source of help seems very odd, but desperation can surely lead a parent to seek help almost anywhere.

You usually get what you expect from an advice columnist like this — therapeutic counsel based in a secular worldview and a deep commitment to personal autonomy. Carolyn Hax responds to this mother with an admonition to respect the integrity of her daughter’s declaration of non-belief. She adds, “Parents can and should teach their beliefs and values, but when a would-be disciple stops believing, it’s not a ‘decision’ or ‘choice’ to ‘reject’ church or family or tradition or virtue or whatever else has hitched a cultural ride with faith.”

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That is patent nonsense, of course. Declarations of adolescent unbelief often are exactly what Hax argues they are not: rejections of “church or family or tradition or virtue.” Hax does offer some legitimate insights, suggesting that honesty is to be preferred to dishonesty and that such adolescent statements are often indications of a phase of intellectual questioning or just trying on a personality for style.

Hax then tells this distraught mother that she “didn’t throw out what my childhood, including my church, taught me; I still apply what I believe in. I just apply it to a secular life.” In other words, Hax asserts that she maintains many of the values she learned as a child in church, and simply applies these values now to a secular life.

“How can I help my daughter see that she is making a serious mistake with her life if she chooses to reject her God and her faith?,” the mother asks. Hax tells the mother to accept the daughter’s atheism and get over her “disappointment that she isn’t turning out just as you envisioned.”

What else would you expect a secular columnist who operates from a secular worldview to say?

The real problem does not lie with Carolyn Hax’s answer, however, but with the mother’s question. The problem appears at the onset, when the mother states that she has “tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with.”

Christian values are the problem. Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values. Christian values cannot save anyone and never will. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Christian value, and a comfortability with Christian values can blind sinners to their need for the gospel.

This one sentence may not accurately communicate this mother’s understanding, but it appears to be perfectly consistent with the larger context of her question and the source of the advice she sought.

Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of “values” is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism — what the Germans called Kulturprotestantismus. This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.

The language of values is all that remains when the substance of belief disappears. Tragically, many churches seem to perpetuate their existence by values, long after they abandon the faith.

We should not pray for Christian morality to disappear or for Christian values to evaporate. We should not pray to live in Sodom or in Vanity Fair. But a culture marked even by Christian values is in desperate need of evangelism, and that evangelism requires the knowledge that Christian values and the gospel of Jesus Christ are not the same thing.

I pray that this young woman and her mother find common hope and confidence in the salvation that comes only through Christ — not by Christian values. Otherwise, we are facing far more than a young woman “making a serious mistake with her life.” We are talking about what matters for eternity. Christian values cannot save anyone.

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Sanctification: Whose Work Is It?

By Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Ministries

The Bible commonly uses the term sanctify (The same Greek word is behind the words sanctification, saint, holy) to mean set apart from sin to God, to be holy. A Christian’s sanctification has three aspects: past (positional justification), present (progressive sanctification), and future (perfect glorification). We know that justification and glorification are by God’s grace through faith, not our effort or works. Can we say the same about our present experience of sanctification?

Sanctification is by grace.

Sanctification (we will use the word to mean present progressive sanctification) is by grace because the God who justified us also provides everything we need on the way to our final glorification (Rom. 8:29-32). The three persons of the Godhead all play an active role in our sanctification: The Father (John 17:17; 1 Thes. 5:23), the Son (Eph. 5:26; 1 John 1:7); and the Spirit (Rom. 15:16; 2 Cor. 3:18). God also uses various means for our sanctification such as His Word, His Spirit, the church, trials, and various other experiences. The power of His Holy Spirit that gives us new birth at justification is the same power that sanctifies us through the life of the risen Christ.

Sanctification involves our cooperative response to God’s grace.

Since God supplies the power, sanctification is by grace, but it is not automatic. If it were, it would seem that all Christians would grow at the same rate and none could be held accountable for stagnation or lack of growth. But we know that all Christians do not grow at the same rate or progress to the same degree of holiness. We also know that the Judgment Seat of Christ holds Christians accountable for how they use their lives (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:9-10), which indicates different degrees of progress in sanctification.

That is why many Bible passages put the onus on the Christian to grow spiritually (eg. Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Peter 3:18). However, the Bible clearly indicates that the Christian must cooperate with God.

1 Corinthians 15:10. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Philippians 2:12-13. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Colossians 1:29. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

2 Peter 1:3-4 with 5-6. …His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises …But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control…

An illustration may help understand the cooperation required. For a baby girl to grow, parents must feed her. But it is also true that for a baby girl to grow, she must eat. Both of these statements are true, because a baby’s growth is a cooperative effort.

Sanctification is facilitated through faith.

God’s grace in sanctification is available in the form of every resource we need to grow in Christ. But like eternal salvation, these gracious resources must be accessed through faith.

Romans 5:1-2. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand …

Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Faith claims and appropriates the power and promises of God that bring spiritual growth.

Conclusion

Every Christian is sanctified by grace from the moment of justification, through present sanctification, to the final state of glorification. But the progress of our present sanctification may vary depending on our faith that accesses the grace God has made available to us in Christ. Sanctification is God’s desire for us (1 Thes. 4:3; Heb. 12:14; 1 Peter 1:14-15), but it is not an automatic act of God, nor is it merely from human effort. Christians are sanctified by God’s grace accessed through faith.


About GraceLife Ministries and Dr. Charlie Bing.

GraceLife Ministries began in 1997 to provide consistent and clear grace-oriented teaching, preaching, and literature resources. Founder and Director Charlie Bing earned his Th.M. and Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary. He pastored Burleson Bible Church in Texas for 19 years before transitioning to GraceLife full-time in 2005. He has served as Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies for LeTourneau University since 1992 and as President of the Free Grace Alliance since 2006. He is active as a speaker for churches and conferences in the United States and abroad and has published a number of books and articles on the gospel, salvation, evangelism, and discipleship.

To learn more about GraceLife ministries visit the ‘About Us’ page on the Web.

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An Open Letter To Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian

There seems to be a fear out there that the preaching of radical grace produces serial killers. Or, to put it in more theological terms, too much emphasis on the indicatives of the gospel leads to antinomianism (a lawless version of Christianity that believes the directives and commands of God don’t matter). My problem with this fear is that I’ve never actually met anyone who has been truly gripped by God’s amazing grace in the gospel who then doesn’t care about obeying him. As I have said before: antinomianism happens not when we think too much of grace. Just the opposite, actually. Antinomianism happens when we think too little of grace.

Wondering whether this common fear is valid, my dear friend Elyse Fitzpatrick (in C.S. Lewis fashion) writes an open letter to Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian–a person she’s heard about for years but never met–asking him to please step forward and identify himself.

Enjoy…

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Dear Mr. Antinomian,

Forgive me for writing to you in such an open forum but I’ve been trying to meet you for years and we just never seem to connect. While it’s true that I live in a little corner of the States and while it’s true that I am, well, a woman, I did assume that I would meet you at some point in my decades old counseling practice. But alas, neither you nor any of your (must be) thousands of brothers and sisters have ever shown up for my help…So again, please do pardon my writing in such a public manner but, you see, I’ve got a few things to say to you and I think it’s time I got them off my chest.

I wonder if you know how hard you’re making it for those of us who love to brag about the gospel. You say that you love the gospel and grace too, but I wonder how that can be possible since it’s been continuously reported to me that you live like such a slug. I’ve even heard that you are lazy and don’t work at obeying God at all…Rather you sit around munching on cigars and Twinkies, brewing beer and watching porn on your computer. Mr. A, really! Can this be true?

So many of my friends and acquaintances are simply up in arms about the way you act and they tell me it’s because you talk too much about grace. They suggest (and I’m almost tempted to agree) that what you need is more and more rules to live by. In fact, I’m very tempted to tell you that you need to get up off your lazy chair, pour your beer down the drain, turn off your computer and get about the business of the Kingdom.

I admit that I’m absolutely flummoxed, though, which is why I’m writing as I am. You puzzle me. How can you think about all that Christ has done for you, about your Father’s steadfast, immeasurable, extravagantly generous love and still live the way you do? Have you never considered the incarnation, about the Son leaving ineffable light to be consigned first to the darkness of Mary’s womb and then the darkness of this world? Have you never considered how He labored day-after-day in His home, obeying His parents, loving His brothers and sisters so that you could be counted righteous in the sight of His Father? Have you forgotten the bloody disgrace of the cross you deserve? Don’t you know that in the resurrection He demolished sin’s power over you? Aren’t you moved to loving action knowing that He’s now your ascended Lord Who prays for you and daily bears you on His heart? Has your heart of stone never been warmed and transformed by the Spirit? Does this grace really not impel zealous obedience? Hello…Are you there?

Honestly, even though my friends talk about you as though you were just everywhere in every church, always talking about justification but living like the devil, frankly I wonder if you even exist. I suppose you must because everyone is so afraid that talking about grace will produce more of you. So that’s why I’m writing: Will you please come forward? Will you please stand up in front of all of us and tell us that your heart has been captivated so deeply by grace that it makes you want to watch the Playboy channel?

Again, please do forgive me for calling you out like this. I really would like to meet you. I am,

Trusting in Grace Alone,

Elyse

Online source.

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Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted To Law

by Tullian Tchividjian

I’ll never forget hearing Dr. Doug Kelly (one of my theology professors in seminary) saying in class, “If you want to make people mad, preach law. If you want to make them really, really mad preach grace.” I didn’t know what he meant then. But I do now.

The law offends us because it tells us what to do–and we hate anyone telling us what to do, most of the time. But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there’s nothing we can do, that everything has already been done. And if there’s something we hate more than being told what to do, it’s being told that we can’t do anything, that we can’t earn anything–that we’re helpless, weak, and needy.

The law, at least, assures us that we determine our own destiny.

The law does promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be. (Ralph Erskine)

This we understand. And we like it. We like it because we maintain control–the outcome of our life remains in our hands. Give me three steps to a happy marriage and I can guarantee myself a happy marriage if I follow the three steps. If we can do certain things, meet certain standards (whether God’s, my own, my parents, my spouse’s, society’s, whatever) and become a certain way, we’ll make it. Law seems safe because “it breeds a sense of manageability.” It keeps life formulaic and predictable. It keeps earning-power in our camp.

The logic of law makes sense.

The logic of grace, on the other hand, doesn’t.

Grace is thickly counter-intuitive. It feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. Like Job’s friends, we naturally conclude that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. The idea that bad people get good stuff seems irrational and wrongheaded on every level. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness.

Grace is not rational…The gospel of grace throws our glory train off its tracks. Instead of calculating, mastering, and determining, we find ourselves completely helpless, left with no option but to fall into the everlasting arms of the God who could consume us in his wrath but instead embraces us in his Son. (Mike Horton)

So, it doesn’t surprise me at all when I hear people react to grace with suspicion and doubt. It doesn’t surprise me that when people talk about grace, I hear lots of “buts and brakes”, conditions and qualifications. That’s just the flesh fighting for its life, after all. As Walter Marshall says in his book The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, “By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian by believing the Gospel, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works…You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessing before you work for it.”

Because we are natural born do-it-yourselfers–God-wannabes–(and have been since Genesis 3), the vitriol reaction to unconditional grace is understandable. Grace generates panic because it wrestles both control and glory out of our hands. This means that the part of you that gets angry and upset and mean and defensive and slanderous and critical and skeptical and feisty when you hear about grace is the very part of you that needs to be reckoned dead. That’s where mortification begins–it begins with that part of us that hates grace.

But while I’m not surprised when I hear venomous rejoinders to grace (the flesh is always resistant to “It is finished”), I am saddened when the very pack of people that God has unconditionally saved and continues to sustain by his free grace are the very ones who push back most violently against it. Some professing Christians sound like ungrateful children who can’t stop biting the very hand that feeds them. It amazes me that you will hear great concern from inside the church about “too much grace” but rarely will you ever hear great concern from inside the church about “too many rules.” Why? Because we are by nature glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks. That’s why.

It’s high time for the church to honor God by embracing sola gratia anew–the “high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed…For many of us the time has come to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe, toe-dabbling Christianity and dive in” (Dane Ortlund). It is time, as Robert Farrar Capon put it, to get drunk on grace. Two hundred-proof, defiant grace.

It’s scandalous and scary, unnatural and undomesticated…but it’s the only thing that can set us free and light the church on fire.

__________

Source

Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

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How Wonderful Is the Love of God!

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if “. . .while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. . . – Rom 5:10

The following is an excerpt from the final section of a Jonathan Edwards work called “Men Naturally are God’s Enemies” which presents a Biblical view of the natural man in his fallen state. After stating his case, Edwards presents the following as "Practical Improvement".

"How wonderful is the love that is manifested in giving Christ to die for us. For this is love to enemies. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” How wonderful was the love of God the Father, in giving such a gift to those who not only could not be profitable to him, but were his enemies, and to so great a degree! They had great enmity against him; yet so did he love them, that he gave his own Son to lay down his life, in order to save their lives. Though they had enmity that sought to pull God down from his throne; yet he so loved them, that he sent down Christ from heaven, from his throne there, to be in the form of a servant; and instead of a throne of glory, gave him to be nailed to the cross, and to be laid in the grave, that so we might be brought to a throne of glory."

"How wonderful was the love of Christ, in thus exercising dying love towards his enemies! He loved those that hated him, with hatred that sought to take away his life, so as voluntarily to lay down his life, that they might have life through him. “Herein is love; not that we loved him, but that he loved us, and laid down his life for us.”

"If we are all naturally God’s enemies, hence we may learn what a spirit it becomes us as Christians to possess towards our enemies. Though we are enemies to God, yet we hope that God has loved us, that Christ has died for us, that God has forgiven or will forgive us; and will do us good, and bestow infinite mercies and blessings upon us, so as to make us happy . All this mercy we hope has been, or will be, exercised towards us forever."

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“Men Naturally are God’s Enemies” can be read in its entirety here, or at:

http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/enemies.htm

The Council of Orange

The Council of Orange was an outgrowth of the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius. This controversy had to do with degree to which a human being is responsible for his or her own salvation, and the role of the grace of God in bringing about salvation. The Pelagians held that human beings are born in a state of innocence, i.e., that there is no such thing as a sinful nature or original sin.

As a result of this view, they held that a state of sinless perfection was achievable in this life. The Council of Orange dealt with the Semi-Pelagian doctrine that the human race, though fallen and possessed of a sinful nature, is still "good" enough to able to lay hold of the grace of God through an act of unredeemed human will.

There were 25 Canons adopted. Here are the first 5:

CANON 1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was "changed for the worse" through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20); and, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:16); and, "For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19).

CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam’s sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism — if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

The entire set of Canons can be read here.