Sunday, May 26, 2013

"...We Are Not Ignorant of his Schemes." II Cor. 2:11

"..on earth is not his equal.."

This phrase from "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" expressed a very personal reality for its composer, Martin Luther.  As an intense monk, before salvation, he took his vows and their implications incredibly seriously.  He would take hours in the confessional, combing his conscience for the slightest infraction to confess, lest he experience an incomplete absolution.  Later in life, he would acknowledge that the extreme to which he took fasting during those days, affected his health adversely to the end.  These practices (and many more) he endured in his efforts to please God, whom he hated (by his own admission).

Having experienced the Lord Jesus' salvation, Martin was no less intense in his determination to live a holy life.  Now, however, it was not God who was his enemy, but Satan and his forces.  And, as with so many things, he took the battles very personally... at one point becoming so incensed at his foe that he threw a bottle of ink at his presence.

Now, through the centuries, people in general and believers in particular, have struggled with what to think of Satan.  Assuredly, the whole spectrum has been covered:  from those who deny that he exists at those who are consumed with every aspect of his person and ways, seeing his activity in everything.  These are the two extremes... denying his influence at all, or practically attributing to him omnipotence and omnipresence.

The biblical portrayal of the Lord's archenemy is balanced between these extremes. God declares that Satan exists and is incessantly active (Job 1:8; I Peter 5:8).  He was originally created as a beautiful angel ("the anointed cherub"), "blameless" in his ways (Ezekiel 28:14, 15), until unrighteousness was found in him, which lifted up his heart and corrupted his wisdom (vv. 15, 17).  The unrighteousness was pride (Isaiah 14:14; I Tim. 3:6), manifesting itself in his desire to make himself like God, with a throne "above the stars of God" (Isaiah 14:13).  This passage also describes his fall (vv. 12, 15), from which the Lord Jesus quotes (Luke 10:18) during His ministry.  Revelation 12:7--9 also narrates Satan's fall, adding that "his angels (a third of the angelic host, v. 4) were thrown down with him."  These became the fallen angels, or demons, mentioned in the New Testament.  Satan has the earth as his domain, being the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), and his power is sufficient to cause Michael, the archangel, to call upon the Lord to rebuke him (Jude 9), rather than doing so himself.  Yet, being a creature, he is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.  Moreover, he is a defeated foe.  By virtue of His substitutionary, atoning death, His hell-conquering resurrection, and His glorious ascension, the Lord Jesus Christ "has abolished all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." (I Corinthians 15:24b, 25).  Until then, the devil "knowing that he has only a short time, (has) great wrath, making war with (those) who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus," (Revelation 12:12, 17b).  Thus, what Luther no doubt discovered (as evidenced by the phrase in his hymn) is that, in our human strength alone, the enemy is far and away too much for us.  What are we to do?
One of the keys to defeating him is found in Rev. 12:11, where we're told "...they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death." 
Another is found in James, "Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you," (vv. 7,8a).  
Finally, we are to put on the armor mentioned in Ephesians 6:10--18, enabling us to "stand firm against the schemes of the devil," (v. 11).  

Oh, that we would so live in the light and application of such truth, as to walk in a manner worthy of the God who called us to faith... persevering until we see Him face to face! 

Friday, May 17, 2013

II Corinthians 2:14--16b

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life."

The context of Paul's teaching focuses on the Triumph, when the returned Roman army would parade through the city, accepting the accolades of the populace.  Interwoven throughout the parade was the burning of incense, as well as masses of flowers.  These would be crushed under the horses' hooves, releasing their fragrance.  So, the visual experience was enhanced by the scents and aromatic additions of the multitude lining the way.

With such a backdrop, Paul teaches that our salvation is also a triumph, too... as we identify with the victorious Savior and Lord in His conquering of sin, Satan, and the tomb through His atoning crucifixion, burial, resurrection and ascension.  Moreover, our knowledge of Him actually manifests a spiritual aroma, well-pleasing to God, which is detected by both saved and lost folk.

As our senses are trained in the discernment of spiritual things, we become more and more sensitive to the "sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ" in fellow believers.  There is a spiritual bond on a level real, yet difficult to describe.  It is a kinship of spirit, an underlying commonality witnessed to by the Holy Spirit in each believer.  Each and every believer, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit of the living God, manifests the fragrance of Christ, to a greater or lesser degree.  

And other Christians are not the only ones who "pick up on" this spiritual reality... "those who are perishing," as Paul phrases it, also sense His fragrance.  Yet, for them, it is not an appealing aroma.  It is as the stench of death... an unspoken awareness that the God-shaped vacuum in their lives is empty.  It is a silent sermon of judgment, creating animosity and discomfort.  Could this explain why, upon meeting some unbelievers for the first time, there is an instant dislike on their part?  Depending on how strongly the Lord Jesus' scent is manifest, this is a very real possibility.  It is an aspect of spiritual warfare that we do not often take into account.  

May God grant grace that we will ever, always, and in every place, live fragrant lives of love, to the glory of our Lord Jesus.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"I, the LORD, do not change..."

"Oh Father,
Your Word is true, whether I feel like it, or not.  Although I am in constant flux, changing moods, changing ways, altering plans... yet Your Word knows no such adjustments, because it is Your Word, O unchanging One.  If You could change, so too, Your Word would vacillate, as well.  Praise to Your immutable Name!
Your infinite constancy infers the same for Your Word, Your truth... Your Word can no more change than can You.  
Were You to change, Father, it would have to be for the better or worse...impossibilities considering You are absolutely perfect.  
Why is this so precious?  The promises, with which Your Word is replete, are utterly trustworthy.  If You could change, where would be the dependability of Your promises?  Gone.  
Too, Your immutability is precious because upon it rests my assurance of salvation.  And, so much of my salvation's joy is tied to confidence in Your Word's reflection of Your nature.  Should, like the mythological gods of ancient civilizations, You give Your Word, then take it back, then alter it to suit a capricious whim, salvation's assurance vanishes.  So, too, would joy.  
Yes, and the truth of Your immutability impacts Your Word's comfort regarding eternity.  Thank You, Father, for the assurance by the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, as He said, "I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:2c, 3)  
Such a thrill of confidence surges one's soul to know the character of the One making such promises!  "If it were not so, I would have told you."  Yes, blessed Master, You who cannot change, lie, or be other than You are, would have told us were it not so.  Praise to Your faithful Name!
In Your Son's Name I rejoice,

Friday, May 3, 2013

Salvation by Sovereign Grace

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.  In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.  In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.  In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory."   Ephesians 1:3-14

In a panoramic sweep from eternity past to eternity future, Paul traces the Father's master plan for the salvation of His elect.  There are basically four options related to the Father's design in salvation:

(1)  He could have provided no opportunity for anyone to be saved.

(2)  He could have provided an opportunity for all to be saved.

(3)  He could have intervened directly, and ensured the salvation of all.

(4)  He could have intervened directly, and ensured the salvation of some.

 In verses 3-6, he focuses on the role of the Father in His gracious electing of His own.  In verses 7-12, the emphasis is shifted to the present, where the Son, the Lord Jesus, and His atoning redemption are highlighted.  Finally, in verses 13 & 14, Paul describes the Holy Spirit's sealing the future of each believer by applying the Lord Jesus' salvation.
From all eternity (II Timothy 1:9), before time, creation, or humanity existed God the Father set His heart upon those He desired to save.  Why those and no others?  It was His will (Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11), and His supreme prerogative to do so (Romans 9:14, 15). 
As the sovereign Judge of all the earth, He could quite justifiably have set His heart upon no one, since (a) He is infinitely sufficient in and of Himself, needing no one (Psalm 50:10-12; Acts 17:25), and (b) man has forfeited any claim upon His favor, from the Fall of Adam and Eve onward (Romans 3:10-12; 5:12).  Indeed, it is against the black backdrop of the Fall that the diamond of God's grace sparkles most brilliantly.  For, permeated by sin's deadly effect, man has lost all ability to help himself, spiritually.  Born into this world with a sin nature, man acts according to that nature.  He cannot do otherwise.  Unless changed, (given a new nature), even the most charitable acts and seemingly-selfless deeds will be tainted by impure motives.  Too, whatever worship may be offered by the non-Christian will not be done in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), for, the Holy Spirit has not changed him into a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17), taken up residence within him (in contrast to the believer: I Corinthians 6:19), nor begun the good work of life-long sanctification (Philippians 1:6).  
It is this total spiritual inability of the natural man that made God's direct intervention an absolute necessity.  Had He taken no initiative, no one would (nor could) be saved.  He foreknew (set His heart upon) those whom He would give to His Son ("Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life," John 17:1,2).  The "all whom You have given Him" go by several names in the New Testament... the elect, God's children, 'sheep', among many others.  It is these for whom the Lord Jesus died as a substitutionary atonement.  He did not die for anyone or everyone in general, nor as a good Example of a sacrificial death...but rather, He took the place (the place of deserved Divine judgment) of those whom the Father had given Him ("I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" John 10:14, 15). 
Thus, we see a Scriptural picture of a wonderful and touching continuity among the Persons of the Godhead:  the Father setting His heart upon a multitude no man can number (but He knows perfectly), the Son agreeing to come to earth to reveal the One Who had sent Him, and to die as a Substitute for that same select group... and the Holy Spirit applying that blood-bought salvation to the same ones elected by the Father and purchased by the Son (the Lord Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" John 3:6,7).  So it is the blessed Spirit, in being sent by the Father, who regenerates lost folk, renews believers, and reveals the truth ("And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you,"  John 14:16,17).   
All glory and honor to the God who was, who is, and who shall ever be, for His sovereign grace, His distinguishing love, and condescension in the Lord Jesus Christ!