Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
I've been thinking. I was asked recently what I thought about Calvinism. My first thought is I really don't care too much for labels. But, we live in a world of labels. I'm a Christian. That's a label. I'm a Southern Baptist. That's a label. If I move back to Kentucky, I'll be a Kentucky Baptist. That's a label. So I guess we can't really get away from labels. Still, I prefer to focus less on labels and more on Jesus and His Word. Besides, John Calvin would cringe if he knew his name was being used as a label.
Salvation, as revealed in God's Word and delivered to us by the apostles and prophets is a mystery we don't fully understand. Paul writes about this mystery, "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things" (Ephesians 3:1-10). John speaks of a time yet future when, "the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets" (Revelation 10:7).
So what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, when it comes to salvation, it means the plans and purposes of God are far beyond anything my fallen finite mind can fully comprehend. Consider this in light of what Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers. "Rather, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him'" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
When it comes to the mystery of salvation we must remember, the Bible is replete with passages that speak of God's sovereignty. Furthermore, it is replete with passages that speak of personal responsibility. Where these two streams of thought meet is beyond me. This is part of the mystery of salvation none of us will fully comprehend this side of glory. And we may not fully comprehend it on the other side of glory either. After all, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
The bottom line is this: I don't fully understand the mystery of salvation and you don't either. It boggles my mind--even as a 46 year-old, seminary trained theologian of rare inability. But this much I do know, as a 10-year-old little boy, I prayed to receive Jesus and Jesus saved me. I didn't fully understand it all then and I certainly don't now. But I believed what the Bible taught, in, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). Since that time I have come to believe the words of Jesus, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you" (John 15:16). And therein lies the mystery. So, let's not get wrapped up in labels. Let us do what the Bible says. Let us make our own calling and election sure (see 2 Peter 1:10) and let us proclaim the gospel so that others may hear and be saved (see Matthew 28:16-20). A final word of caution: When contemplating the mysteries of God, always err on the side of sovereignty.
And For the record, the Fight for Joy! Journal is my personal spiritual journal that I don't journal in all that often but when I do it's usually worth sharing. I'm going to start doing that here from time to time. My prayer is God will use it to further sanctify and bless you.
DISCLAIMER: Although I am sharing from my journal I am also adding some textual notes, Greek word studies, and other helps to further magnify and clarify what God's Word says and how we might apply it to our lives in sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus)--see Romans 8:28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love [Him]."
From 10/2/2014: God conceived The Law, revealed The Law, interprets The Law, and applies The Law, and through the sacrifice of His Son, ALL the demands of The Law have been met for those who trust in Him.
Paul wrote, "He who did not spare His own Son (same verb used for the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:16) but delivered (gave) Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely (graciously) give us all things" (Romans 8:32). If there is a greatest verse in all the Bible, this is it. There is much to ponder and meditate upon here. There is much to consider. In the Greek there is an intensive particle (ge) which magnifies God's deed of not sparing His own Son but delivering Him over for us ("us," of course being all those who, by God's gracious choice, "are beloved of God, called as saints" (Romans 1:6). They are those who, because they are are "in Christ," are not condemened (Romans 8:1).
So, God has given us the greatest gift of all--His Son, whom He "did not spare, but delivered Him over for us all." Delivered speaks of God's active participation in the judicial condemnation of Christ. Luke writes, "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). Jesus--the God-Man--was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God."
By delivering His own Son "over for us all," is an example of a Jewish argument from the greater to the lesser. Here it is from God to us. The supreme gift of God's Son guarantees the subsequent gift of everything else we need for our full and final glory. Furthermore, the gift of "His own son," according to the late A.T. Robertson, "is the promise and the pledge of the all things for good of verse 28. Christ is all and carries all with Him."
This is heavy, or to put it another way, weighty. It is much to take in, to absorb, to ponder, to meditate upon. "With Christ," and because He has been "delivered over for us all," Paul writes, God will now "also with Him freely give us all things." Paul often uses this phrase (freely give us) to denote forgiveness and may mean that here. If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt this is Paul's meaning here, then every sin a believer commits has been forgiven--every single one--past, present, and future.
And it's not just our sins that have been forgiven. We have also been "freely [given] all things." This is similar language to what we find in Ephesians, where Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing" (Ephesians 1:3). God has freely given us all things--every spiritual blessing--everything we need for forgiveness of sins, the life He calls us to live here and now, and future grace--all that God promises to be for us in Jesus Christ from this time forth and forevermore! It is whatever is necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you and me.
APPLICATION: I believe that in order to begin to apply these truths we must think about what God's Word says here. This is called biblical meditaiton. Allow the words of Romans 8:32 (and the supporting passages) to sink into your thinking and into your heart. As you do, sanctification and transformation will occur. Here are some practical suggestions for meditating on this passage. Think about these things:
1. God delivered His own Son over to death for you. He died a judicial death in your place.
2. God has through His act of delivering His own Son over for you, now freely given you all things--every spiritual blessing--everything you need for sanctification and transformation--your so called Christian life. Here's another way of thinking about that: Jesus Christ is your life! (Read the whole book of Colossians for more of God's Word on that!).
3. God has, through His supreme gift, guaranteed the subsequent gift of everything else you need for your full and final glory. In other words, the Gospel will bring you all the way to glory. There is no such thing as a defective salvation. You have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. You've got God's Word on that!
4. Because of the supreme gift of His Son, God is going to provide you with and do everything necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you. So make your life's goals to Treasure Christ, Live the Word, Make Disciples, and Finish Well!
5. Finally, think about this...Because of the pledge of His Son, God promises to fulfill all things for good in your life (Romans 8:28).
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27a). As followers of Jesus Christ we are to live lives that are consistent with what we say we believe, teach, and preach.
For me, life is about Treasuring Christ, Living the Word, Making Disciples, and Finishing Well. I am no where close to perfect when it comes to living a life that encompasses these four goals but I do, by God's grace, strive to meet them.
I came pretty close to finishing recently. I'm not too sure it would have been well but by God's gracious provision I have been granted an extension of life. Only God knows how long this extension will be. The Bible reminds us God is behind it all. Whether we're talking midlife surprises at 39 or open heart surgery at 45, His providence neither gets it wrong nor lets us go, ever.
So what happened? I recently had open heart triple bypass surgery--at 45. I spent a total of 11 days in the hospital with five of those days in ICU. For a little over a month I had been having chest discomfort and pain. My cardiologist finally decided a heart cathertization was in order. The cathertization revealed multiple blockages with the so called "Widow Maker" having a 99% blockage. I was only a few slices of bacon away from a major event followed by sudden death.
I was admitted to ICU, put on various intraveneous drugs meant to keep me alive until they could perform the surgery. I spent those two days between the cathertization and the open heart surgery thinking about the fact I was hanging--very literally--by a thread between time and eternity. I knew I could die at any moment yet strangely enough was at perfect peace. I give God all the glory!
By God's grace I'm still here. The Bible teaches us God is sovereign over our lives so much so that He has already determined the number of our days. Job writes, "You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer" (Job 14:5).
Paul said something similar in his letter to the Philippian believers. "[It is my] earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20). He recognized God's sovereignty over his life. He, therefore, stived to exalt Christ in life and in death.
My recent hospital stay brought this verse powerfully home. I have had to reassess my life and seriously consider whether or not this verse is my prayer also. It all ties into finishing well. "Whatever happens," Paul writes, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). Whatever happens. In other words, if you live, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. If you die, let it be said of you, "He conducted himslef in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
I must admit, there was a part of me that wanted to, as Paul wrote, "To depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). In fact, the first couple of days following my surgery when the pain was almost unbearable, I prayed to die. It is clear to me now, however, that it is God's will that I "remain on in the flesh" (Philippians 1:24). I believe this was out of necessity for my own sanctification, my ministry to my family as spiritual leader, and the gospel itself which I will continue to proclaim until that time when I do see Jesus face-to-face.
Anway, I learned a lot through this ordeal and God used it to reveal some things about myself that still need sanctifying. Perhaps I will share more at a later time. But for now, I'll leave you with this. During the 3 days I spent in ICU before my heart surgery, strung out on blood thinner and nitroglycerin keeping me alive, I thought I may die at any moment. After all, as I mentioned above, my life was hanging by a thread between time and eternity and only needed 1% to completely block off the Widow Maker. Sometimes I would look around the room to make sure no one else was in there with me...you know, no one from the unseen world.
Sometimes I would think about what it was going to be like to see Jesus face-to-face for the very first time. Then I'd pray for my boy and his mama. This went on until they put me to sleep Monday afternoon but I never told anyone...until now. "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). Where is your hope?
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:7-11). That is one long passage but, man, does it say a lot. The bottomline is simply this: Paul wants to know Jesus in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Some people drift through life while others make and pursue various goals. What about you? Are you drifting or pursuing? And, if you are pursuing, what is it that you pursue? Some pursue things and riches while other pursue gym bodies and fleeting beauty. The possible pursuits are limitless it seems. For Christians, however, our pursuit is to be singular--to know Jesus and to be found in Him. Paul puts it this way: "...that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him."
I must confess I have stumbled into the trap of pursuing worldly things. Thankfully, God has not left me to myself. He always has a way to bring me back to the reality of who I am in Christ. Over the years I have developed some goals for my own life--a mission statement, so to speak. It's what I aim for and although I break it out into four areas or goals, they can ultimately be summed up in the phrase, "So that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him." I aim for these four things: (1) I want to treasure Christ; (2) I want to live the Word (sometimes I refer to this one as proclaim the Word); (3) I want to make disciples (followers of Jesus); (4) I want to finish well.
I made the above image a couple years ago to try and capture these goals. Sometimes I explain the last goal (to finish well) as the strategic focus of my life. If I finish well, then naturally, I will have treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples. At the end of his life Paul was able to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). The ongoing prayer of my heart is that I, too, will be able to say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." By God's grace--and only by His grace--I will finish well.
All this got me to thinking recently what it takes to finish well. I came up with the following list of characteristics of one who fights the good fight, finishes the course, and keeps the faith. It is in no way exhaustive. You may think of additional characteristics. But these are good ones with which to start. And, these all assume one is a believer and surrendered to God and sold out for Jesus. To finish well, therefore, a person must...
1. Be a visionary. The writer of Proverbs wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18). Vision, especially a vision to finish well, restrains a person in such a way to keep on target.
2. Be willing to suffer. It amazes me the number of so called believers I encounter who think any suffering is a sign of weak faith. The Christian life is not an easy one. If our leader (Christ) suffered, we can expect the same thing. Peter wrote, "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose" (1 Peter 4:1). Earlier, in 1 Peter 3:17, he indicates suffering is often God's will for the believer. The primary reason for suffering, I believe, is to make us more like Christ. Suffering also serves the same purpose as vision--to keep us on target.
3. Not get bogged down by past successes and failures. Paul said, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3:7). A few verses later he writes, "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13). It is good to celebrate victories but we should not camp out there. Furthermore, the devil will try to bog us down by pointing out past sins and failures. We must forget those, too. If God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus then we must move on. Otherwise, we'll fail to stay on target.
4. Be patient. In our fast-food world we want what we want and we want it now! James said, "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains" (James 5:7). A farmer doesn't go out and dig up his recently planted crop to see why it's not growing. He continues to "farm" while patiently waiting for the harvest. Likewise, a believer who wants to finish well is going to be patient. Sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus) is an often slow, tedious, and sometimes painful process. But if we're patient we'll eventually reap the reward of said patience--we'll finish well!
5. Be willing to persevere no matter what. The Bible mentions perseverance or endurance multiple times. In other words, God doesn't want us to give up. Consider Revelation 14:12, which reads, "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus." Finishing well calls for endurance. When you stumble, get back up and keep on persevering. When you fail miserably, get back up and keep pressing on. Run the race set before you until you cross the finish line. And how will you know you've crossed the finish line? You'll see Jesus face-to-face and He'll say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23).
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps you know of more. Feel free to share via the comments section below. Comments will remain open for 60 days following the date of this posting. My prayer for me and my prayer for you is that we'd run the race and finish well, having treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples along the way!
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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