Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
"Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off" (Proverbs 23:18). It's hard to believe 2016 is nearing an end. A little over a week from now a new year will dawn. As 2016 draws to a close and 2017 looms on the horizon I wonder how many of us will take the time to reflect back over this past year and consider our accomplishments and our shortcomings.
What about all those New Year's Resolutions we set for 2016? If you're like me, you probably resolved to do a thing or two only to come up short! But it need not be this way. A new year provides us with the opportunity to make a fresh start. I think that is one reason God gives us a new year every January 1st.
God is, after all, in the new business. The Bible reminds us, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). John wrote, "And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new'" (Revelation 21:5).
As we prepare for the New Year we ought to pause and think about where we are spiritually and where we want to go. The Old Testament prophet Haggai wrote, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Consider your ways'" (Haggai 1:7). As 2016 draws to a close and 2017 looms before you, will you stop and consider your ways? Will you think about where you are spiritually and where you need to go? How will you seek to become more like Jesus in 2017?
Paul prayed, "For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light" (Colossians 1:9-12).
Several things are mentioned in Paul's prayer to God for us. I list them here for your consideration:
1. A prayer for knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding. Our faith is not a blind faith. It is based upon the knowledge of Christ and His Word.
2. A prayer for a Christ honoring and God glorifying life. This is the result of the knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding Paul initially mentions in his prayer.
3. A prayer for a life pleasing to God.
4. A prayer for a life that bears fruit through good works that honor and point others to Christ.
5. A prayer for increasing knowledge. Again, our faith is based on what (who) we know--Jesus.
6. A prayer for Godly strength.
7. A prayer for patient endurance. Life is not easy and, as believers, we are called to patiently endure life's trials.
8. A prayer for joyful thanksgiving. One of the many reasons we have joy and are to give thanks is because of what God has done for us in Christ--He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints.
As you prepare to begin a new year, take time to think about Paul's prayer for you. Although written nearly 2000 years ago, the prayer still rings true today. God is still hearing and answering this prayer. Furthermore, consider what you can do in 2017 to grow in your relationship to Jesus Christ.
In his book, Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth, Joel Beeke offers a list of sixteen spiritual disciplines that God uses as means of grace to make us more like Jesus. He writes, "Think of the list of sixteen disciplines as a catalog of books you receive from a great book publisher. You can't buy everything in the catalog (sadly!), but you can buy two or three books. So you flip through the catalog and circle the books that most appeal to you... In your mind (or in your notes), circle the ones that you need to work on most, then invest yourself in getting a grip on them." Remember, private time devoted to communion with God is central to growth. Here are the sixteen disciplines:
Disciplines of Personal Devotion:
1. Read the Scriptures. (See my post on Regular Bible Reading)
2. Meditate on the Bible.
3. Pray and work.
4. Keep a journal.
1. Regular family worship and catechizing.
2. Make your home the center of hospitality and fellowship for others.
3. Discipline your children in love.
4. Counsel your children in major decisions.
1. Hearing the preached Word.
2. Make diligent use of the sacraments.
3. Participate in the fellowship in the church.
4. Sanctify the Lord's Day.
1. Evangelize sinners with the gospel.
2. Serve people with your time and money.
3. Have compassion on people but flee worldliness.
4. Intercede for the world.
Dr. Beeke concludes, "Let us seek wisdom from God, and the Spirit's grace, in order to turn knowledge into practice, for we do not truly know anything until it is translated into action... It is challenging to grow in Christ's pattern and in pleaseing God. That's why we need the spiritual disciplines. Thanks be to God, He has given us many ways to apply the Word and prayer to our lives, not just in private disciplines but also in the family, church, and neighborly relationships."
So, in which two or three spiritual disciplines do you want to make the most progress during 2017? What will you do about it? Also, in what ways would you like to see 2017 different from 2016? What will you do about it? Finally, consider what one thing you can do to improve your prayer life in 2017.
The New Year provides an excellent opportunity to consider where we are spiritually and where we want to go. I hope you will take the time to consider these important matters, and by God's grace, set about to see spiritual transformation in your walk with Christ during 2017. May God bless you as you endeavor to become more like Jesus, who has "rescued us from the domain of darkness" (Colossians 1:13a).
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”(Romans 12:17-21). My sister recently asked my advice on how someone should respond to the unkind words and actions of another. This is an important question, especially if one desires to glorify God above all else. It is natural to want to respond to mistreatment with resentment, anger, and revenge but Jesus calls Christians to a supernatural response. Now I know what some of you are thinking. “But you don’t know what they did to me!” You are right, I don’t. But God does. In fact, He’s taking meticulous notes. Therefore, when dealing with difficult and downright evil people, it is imperative that we allow the Bible to inform our response. We may think that this is impossible or unreasonable. And I suppose apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit it is. But remember, as Christians we have the Holy Spirit of God living on the inside of us. Peter tells us we have “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), meaning that as believers, we share in the life of God by means of Christ and the Holy Spirit living in us. Therefore, what is impossible for those outside of Christ is quite possible for us. Not only that, God expects it of us. And if we love God and are concerned with His glory we will submit to that which He expects.
What does God expect? He expects us to “overcome evil with good.” But how, you ask. We must resolve to “never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” This recalls Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in heaven.” Paul goes on to say, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Sometimes it simply isn’t possible. If the offending party doesn’t want peace then it simply isn’t possible to be at peace. But it is possible to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This does not refer to a fondness or affection for them. It means we are to show them goodwill. We are to refuse to hold any grudges or ill-will against them. Loving your enemies is simply making the godly choice or decision to do good. Furthermore, doing good means we are to "do good to those who hate us" (Luke 6:27). We are not only to have no bitterness towards them but also to make every effort to do them good. Also, we are to do good by speaking well of the very people who speak evil of us. As Jesus put it we are to "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28). We are not to defend ourselves from their wicked words. We are not to reciprocate, seek revenge or even be silent. Rather we are to respond to their evil words with kind words and “leave room for the wrath of God.” In so doing,” the Bible says, “you will heap burning coals [upon their head].” This most likely refers to a “burning conviction” that our kindness places on our enemy. All of this is one huge act of faith for the believer. When we do good to our enemies we in essence show them mercy. And believe me, unless they repent and obey the Gospel, it’s all the mercy they’re going to get! Our prayer should be that our showing mercy rather than returning evil for evil will result in our enemies coming under such conviction that they repent and believe the Gospel.
The Bible reminds believers, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). It is here that believers will be judged for the purpose of rewards. One way to insure rewards it to patiently endure the unkind words and actions of others by doing good to them. Friend, go for rewards! In so doing, you will honor Christ while shaming those who do evil. “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you… but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:14, 16).
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified… and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:2, 4-5). Gainesville, Florida pastor Terry Jones has made news recently for his on again off again plans to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on our country. His plans have created a firestorm of protest worldwide. Political and religious leaders have expressed their concern. Many adherents to Islam the world over have staged protests in response. It was even reported that some churches in the Gainesville, Florida community would read from the Koran as part of their worship services to protest Jones’ plans—a huge mistake if you ask me. But, this article is not about the wisdom of incorporating the Koran into Christian worship services. My question is this: Is it ever right for a Christian—one who names the name of Christ—to burn or otherwise desecrate the sacred texts of other religions even though those religions are nothing more than false religious systems that lead people away from the true Christ of Holy Scripture? I think the answer is definitely no! Destroying the sacred texts of a false religious system serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
When Paul came to Corinth, the Bible tells us he came for one purpose, “to declare the testimony of God” (1 Cor. 2:1). He could have come with his superior intellect and his God-given ability to reason and debate persuasively. I would imagine he could have even hosted a scroll burning event. After all, the city of Corinth was known for its rampant immorality and paganism. But Paul chose not to waste all his energy by attacking all things Corinthian. He wrote, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The worddetermined, taken from the Greek word κρίνω (krino), here means to resolve. Paul resolved to focus on the gospel—preaching Christ—rather than “persuasive words of wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4). If we are not careful, we can get in the way of the gospel instead of being a servant or minister of the gospel. Any other approach is dangerous indeed. Burning books, especially the sacred texts of false religious systems, obscures Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit anointed preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does just the opposite. It frees God to demonstrate His power to save. When that happens, “Your faith rests not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). No one will ever be persuaded into the Kingdom of God via man’s wisdom. But when the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” is involved, people are saved and lives are changed. “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” This is the Word of the Lord!
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was an American Baptist missionary who spent almost 40 years in Burma (today known as Myanmar). He translated the Bible into Burmese. He planted more than 100 churches, and led more than 8,000 to faith in Jesus Christ. What was his secret? He preached Jesus, not anti-Buddhism. Pastor Jones could learn a lot from the Apostle Paul and from Adoniram Judson. We all can. The answer is never book burning but Holy Spirit anointed, Gospel-centered, repentance filled preaching. May we all resolve to preach Jesus—in word and deed—to all whom the Lord will grant us opportunity. Who knows, maybe long after we’re gone from this world it will be said about us, he (or she) led over 8,000 to faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t waste your energy on desecrating the sacred texts of another. Just preach Jesus and God will take care of the rest. “Jesus answered and said, … And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).
“But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23). Sanctification is one of those big theological words often misunderstood by new and old believers alike. It is the Greek word hagiasmos, meaning holiness. It is understood to include past, present, and future holiness. In reference to past holiness, it speaks of position. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “You were sanctified” (1 Cor. 6:11). In a sense, it is a position without reference to sin. In other words, as a believer I may sin from time to time but that does not change my position of holiness before the Lord. In reference to future holiness, it speaks to that time when Christ returns and I see Him face to face. This is often referred to as glorification. Romans 8:30 describes in past tense this future event wherein all believers will be glorified. This event will occur at the Rapture of the Church and will be an instantaneous conformity to the image of Christ—“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Finally, there is present holiness. This is the moment-by-moment, day-by-day process of sanctification whereby I choose obedience to God over the sinful desires of the flesh. It is made possible only by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and my choice to submit to Him. This is not always an easy choice and is yet another reason Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim. 6:12).
I think Paul has present sanctification in mind in Romans 6:22. It is a present “sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). This is a pretty strong assertion but it is the gospel truth! Basically, this means one who is truly saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8) will give evidence that he or she truly belongs to Christ. In other words, they will give evidence of a changed life. Matthew wrote, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Obviously, the Bible isn’t referring to sinless perfection but it is referring to less sinning and greater holiness! This is why the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Pursue sanctification” (Heb 12:14), and Paul wrote, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). In other words, I can’t walk the aisle of my church, pray the “sinner’s prayer,” follow that with baptism, then go out and live like the world only to fall back on “once saved always saved.” My life must give clear evidence of a change. This change is known as sanctification or holiness. Such moment-by-moment, day-by-day holiness is possible because I have “been freed from sin and enslaved to God.” The “benefit” of this freedom from sin and enslavement to God is present sanctification. And the outcome of present sanctification is eternal life! John describes this process of present sanctification as overcoming—“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). How can you know if your faith is real, that you’ve truly been saved by grace through faith, that you’ve been sanctified and will be sanctified? Ask yourself these questions: Are you fighting the good fight of faith? Are you pursuing sanctification? Paul wrote, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” I don’t know about you, but I want to live eternally with Christ! Therefore, I’m fighting the good fight and pursuing present sanctification right now.
When I was growing up we attended Silver City Baptist Church. Every so often we would have Sunday evening hymn sings where the congregation chose the songs. Without fail, Mama Nick always requested “Victory in Jesus,” only she called it “Victory of Jesus!” Because of the victory of Jesus, we can experience victory in Jesus. It troubles me deeply when I see folks who claim to belong to Christ but whose lives are anything but victorious. I’m not suggesting believers don’t struggle with temptation and sin. I know I do! But when someone continually chooses willful disobedience and sin as a lifestyle over what they know to be right, then it calls into question whether or not their faith is real. Real faith works itself out in present sanctification. This will always be the case because real faith overcomes the world! Is your faith real? Are you an overcomer? Are you experiencing present sanctification? “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). Words are the primary way we communicate to each other. Each time we open our mouths to speak to someone, whether to an individual or a group, we convey our thoughts, feelings, emotions, intentions, and attitudes. We do this not only by what we say but also how we say it. Words are a powerful force. It’s no wonder James wrote, “The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire” (James 3:5). Whether we realize it or not, others—unbelievers especially—are watching, even listening to us to see if we truly live out that which we say we believe. This is why Paul wrote, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders.” For this reason, he says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt.” This means we are to speak only what is spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, complimentary, gentle, truthful, loving, and thoughtful. Our speech should result in God being glorified and others being blessed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
I will be the first to admit that my speech is not always gracious. This would include speech in my head before it ever reaches my tongue. It is a constant struggle. It is part of the “good fight of faith” that Paul wrote about to young Timothy (see 1 Tim. 6:12). It is the primary reason the Bible repeatedly reminds us of the importance of holding the tongue before speaking. Psalm 39:1 says, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue. I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.” Sounds a lot like Colossians 4:5-6, doesn’t it? I was recently reminded of this ongoing struggle when I learned of some unnecessary and unkind words that were said about me by a fellow believer. My first reaction was “speech in my head” that was neither gracious nor edifying. This response, although natural, was clearly sinful on my part, as even our thought life is to honor Christ. But my second response I would like to think was a little more righteous. It was a two-fold response. I was angry because the words that were said were said in the company of people that included those Paul would describe as “outsiders.” Such speech sets a very poor example for those outside the body of Christ. But I was also reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7) His point is clear—forgive, forget, and move on. And, based on Colossians 4:3, we might add an additional point—pray. Paul writes, “Praying at the same time for us as well, […], so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ.” Based on all that the Bible says about speech, I have concluded the purpose for Christian speech is threefold: (1) to edify others, (2) to praise God, and (3) to proclaim the Gospel. If what we say or think about saying doesn’t fall within the purview of those three statements, then it’s best to keep our mouths shut. That’s good advice for us all!
An Eighth Century Irish proverb says, “A person should not speak evil of, or harshly reproach another, nor should he put anyone to the blush. Never should he violently rebuke anyone or carry on a conversation with a boorish person, and his speech at all times should be noted for his lack of boastfulness.” That’s just another way of saying, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” The Lord is going to return soon for His Church. There are a lot of outsiders, all of whom will be left behind to face the terrors of God’s wrath. I would hate to think that my speech might be the reason some of these “outsiders” ultimately choose to turn a deaf ear to the Gospel message. Therefore, may our speech be edifying and Christ-honoring, so that it may serve to advance the Gospel to those who are outside the body of Christ. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Let all of us who name the name of Christ determine to always speak with grace as together, we “fight the good fight of faith.”
"And 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 when faced with death" (Revelation 12:11). As we near the end of the age, persecution and even martyrdom of Christians will increase dramatically. Those of us living in the United States won’t be exempt. In fact, we are already witnessing an increase in persecution. The time to prepare for this eventual reality is now. Make sure you are thoroughly grounded in the faith. Make sure you know what you believe and why you believe it. Make sure you are truly of the faith. Make sure you are an overcomer! Otherwise, when persecution comes—particularly persecution with the threat of death—you will run the risk of denying and bringing shame to the name of Christ. Such denial may indicate another reality—that you do not belong to Christ. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand what the Bible says about those who overcome. Revelation 12:11 give us three marks of an overcomer. All three are true in the life of one who has truly been saved by the grace of God through faith in the Son of God.
John writes, "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb." In a previous article I pointed out the Greek word for overcame is the word nikao, meaning "to come off victorious." True Christians are, by nature, overcomers. But we don’t overcome in our own strength and energy. We overcome "because of the blood of the Lamb." Satan is our accuser. Yet, because of the blood of the Lamb, his accusations cannot stand. Paul wrote, "Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies" (Rom. 8:33). We are justified through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The blood emphasizes the death of Jesus. He died so that we might live. We are forgiven because of His shed blood. No accusation can stand against those whose sins have been forgiven! Because Christ was victorious, His victory is our victory. So the first defining mark of an overcomer is that they belong to Christ, having been washed by the blood of the Lamb. Secondly, John writes that we overcome the enemy, "because of the word of [our] testimony." My testimony is not walking a church aisle and praying to receive Christ. My testimony is the fact that I have been born again by grace through faith and that I continue to walk in newness of life. In other words, my testimony is a changed life! I no longer embrace my sin, but rather, I embrace Christ! Your testimony overcomes Satan’s deception. Paul could write, "I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). The writer of Hebrews echoed that truth by writing, "Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). The King James says it this way: "He is able also to save them to the uttermost." We are saved to the uttermost! This is the testimony of the believer and it is this testimony we share with others and is the living evidence of a changed life. I cannot emphasize this changed life enough! Finally, John says we overcome because, "[we do] not love [our] life even when faced with death." Overcomers are willing to make any sacrifice, including death. Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). Willingly dying for the cause of Christ is the ultimate in self-denial. Like Christ, we should all be willing to be "obedient to the point of death" (Phil. 2:8). However, self-denial begins with repenting of my sin and turning to Christ. It is an ongoing condition and lifestyle whereby I choose Christ over all else—especially self. Such a life is not easy but it is eternally rewarding. If we refuse to cling to our earthly lives, then there really is no threat Satan can bring against us. If the enemy kills you because of your faith in Christ, what else can they do (see Luke 12:4)?
To sum it all up, overcomers are first of all, saved. Secondly, they have a consistent testimony of a changed life. Finally, they would readily welcome death rather than to deny their Lord. So, the question is, are you an overcomer? Does your life give evidence of a changed life? Are you truly saved? If so, take hope in knowing that God will preserve you to the end—He is able and has saved you to the uttermost! If you are not saved, now is the time to give your life to Christ, receiving His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. The Bible says, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb. 2:3) God has provided "so great a salvation," so that through Christ we can overcome Satan, the flesh, and the world system. But it begins by simple faith in the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon returning Lord. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12).
You are welcome to leave comments and you don't have to necessarily agree with me. However, I expect a civil tone and charitable spirit. We can disagree with one another without being disagreeable. "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt." (Colossians 4:6)
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