Gospel Identity

The gospel tells us that “being” (identity) comes before “doing” (obedience). This lack of understanding our gospel identity oftentimes results in either legalistic pride or frustrating guilt. At times, we may view the gospel simply as the information a lost person needs in order to be saved. We see it as the entry requirements for the Christian life. Instead, the gospel is not just the entry ramp that gets us on the “Christian highway,” but the gospel is an intricate freeway system that spans from coast to coast. The gospel is meant to be explored and enjoyed—similar to a cross-country excursion.

Listen to how Paul describes the impact of the gospel in Colossians 1:5-6: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” Paul wrote to those who were already Christians and reminded them that the gospel was bearing fruit and growing in their lives. We need to be saturated in the gospel so that we can overwhelm the temptations of this world with the glory and majesty of Christ.

A gospel-centered believer understands that who we are in Christ (identity) must come before what we do for Christ (obedience). The Bible addresses both issues. The Bible tells us who we are in Christ and what God has done for us (the gospel indicatives); and it also tells us how to obey with holy lives (moral imperatives). What happens if you’re told to obey, but you’re not given the basis or foundation for why and how you can obey based upon your identity in Christ? It can lead to inflated pride on one hand and deflated guilt on the other. You can become puffed up in thinking you can meet God’s standard in your own strength or you shrivel in despair thinking you can never please God. We can begin to think all that God is after is behavior modification and that living the life of faith is about keeping lists and obeying rules without any connection to our dynamic relationship with Christ. Jesus wants us to obey Him because we WANT to not because we HAVE to.

The gospel tells us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and that on our best days when we are living wonderfully holy lives and on our worst days when we are struggling with sin, He does not love us any more or any less based upon our performance. On those days when you’re arguing with your spouse, speeding in traffic, and getting frustrated with your yappy dog, God does not love you less. Or on those days when you’re hitting on all spiritual cylinders by having your Quiet Time, serving at a soup kitchen, and witnessing to your neighbor, He does not love you more. He loves us constantly and permanently based upon Christ’s performance and His finished work on the cross. When we trusted Christ for salvation, all of our sins were credited to Him and all of His perfect righteousness or perfect record of obedience was credited to us. Based upon what Christ alone has done, God the Father can now declare us not guilty and we are permanently adopted into His family as a dearly loved child.

Many Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation. They often wonder if God loves them less when they are struggling with sin and that He must love them more when they are living the “victorious Christian life.” Evangelicalism has been plagued by an overwhelming confusion between justification and sanctification as the ground of our assurance, position, and acceptance in Christ. We must clearly understand how our assurance of salvation is rooted in what God alone has done for us in Christ through the power of the Spirit. In other words, our foundation for acceptance by God lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ given to us through justification; not in examining how well we are growing in holiness through progressive sanctification as the grounds for our acceptance.

Understanding your position in Christ (identity) will grant you more assurance because you become increasingly aware of God’s riches of grace, which will give you a longer lasting motivation to keep growing. You position becomes more important than you progress because it forces you to look outside of yourself to the finished work of Christ and what the Tri-Une God has sovereignly accomplished on your behalf. In response to this amazing grace, you then joyfully live a life of worship pursing holiness out of gratitude to Him instead being motivated to prove you worth to Him through your obedience. In other words, “being” comes before “doing.”

Our assurance of salvation is rooted in our gospel identity. In essence, the gospel calls you to be who you are! You are God’s chosen child who has been given the imputed righteousness of Christ and you stand accepted solely by His grace alone. Your acceptance and identity does not come in your performance or rigorous attempts to earn God’s love. Instead, your identity comes in your union with Christ as a chosen, justified, adopted child of the Father. Rest securely in your gospel identity and remind yourself daily that “being” comes before “doing.”

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Do You Hate What God Hates?

Here is yesterday sermon from Proverbs 16:16-19 and Isaiah 59 “Do You Hate What God Hates?” Do you have a category in your mind where God actually expresses a hot hatred toward sin? Proverbs 6 lists seven sins the Lord hates. Yet, in the gospel, God loved us so much to send Jesus to take the wrath of that sin He hates so much.

Do You Hate What God Hates? from Emmanuel Baptist Church on Vimeo.

The Great Commission

A few weeks ago, over seven area evangelical churches met together for a night of worship and prayer. I pray with six other pastors in our area every Wednesday and we have committed to support, encourage, and motivate one another to gospel unity in Northeastern Colorado. This community worship service was birthed out of our relationship as pastors in order to model this unity and encouragement that we experience ourselves to overflow to our respective churches.

The theme of the evening was joyful obedience to the Great Commission as evidenced in Jesus words in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

What is the main verb in this passage? It starts with “go” and in our English translations we may think that “going” is the main thing we are to do. Go out! Get going! Go door-to-door! GO! “Go” is NOT the main verb. It is actually what is called a participle or a modifier of the main verb. Usually participles end with “ing.” It really should be translated “as you are going.” So Jesus assumes that we are already going. Jesus assumes that we would be making disciples in our daily lives as we go. We are commanded to make disciples in the natural ebb and flow of our lives within our current relationships.

No in fact, “make disciples” is the main verb in this sentence. It is the primary command. Jesus tells us that we have fallen short of the mandate if we don’t make a disciple. There are two other participles that connect to the primary command. They are “baptizing and teaching.”

We then must ask the question, what is a disciple? If we are called to make one then we need to know what one is. The first qualifier is that a disciple is a believer who has made his or her profession in Christ public through the waters of baptism. This is a person who has been immersed under the water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism does not save you, but it is a beautiful symbol of how God has saved you by grace. It symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as well as it illustrates the death of our old life in sin whereby God has raised us to new life in Christ. If you have not followed Jesus in believer’s baptism by immersion I encourage you to make an appointment with your pastor to discuss this in more detail.

But the second qualifier is that we are to be teaching believers. But it doesn’t end there. Notice how specific Jesus was in His wording. We are to teach them to observe or obey all that Jesus commanded. So it’s not just teaching for information, but teaching for transformation. This involves more than just dumping Bible trivia into our heads so that we are full of knowledge. Instead it involves immersing ourselves in God’s Words so that it takes root in our lives and translates to active obedience. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” One of the crucial roles of the church is to facilitate the spiritual growth of believers to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Craig Blomberg asserts, “The verb ‘make disciples’ also commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith. The first of these (baptizing) will be a once-for-all, decisive initiation into Christian community. The second (teaching them obedience) proves a perennially incomplete, life-long task.”[1]

Are you a disciple of Jesus? Have you trusted Him alone to forgive you of your sins? Are you committed to making disciples yourself? Are you part of a Great Commission church? I pray that all of the Bible-believing churches in Northeastern Colorado and around the world remain firmly committed to obeying Jesus’ Great Commission.

[1]Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1992), 431.

How Do You Know You’re Truly Saved???

How do you know if you’re truly saved? Many Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation. They often wonder if God loves them less when they are struggling with sin and that He must love them more when they are living the “victorious Christian life.” Evangelicalism has been plagued by an overwhelming confusion between justification and sanctification as the ground of our assurance, position, and acceptance in Christ. Romans 5:1–2 reads, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

When sinners trusts in Christ for salvation, two permanent transactions occur—(1) all of their sin is credited to Christ, and (2) the perfect righteous record of Christ is credited to their account before God. Based upon this great exchange, God declares us not guilty, accepted, and forever in positive standing before His holy throne. We have peace with God. We have access to God in grace. This is the truth of justification and should serve as the basis or foundation for our assurance of salvation.

We must clearly understand how our assurance of salvation is rooted in what God alone has done for us in Christ through the power of the Spirit. In other words, our foundation for acceptance by God lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ given to us through justification. This is the objective reality that we must always put first when examining our salvation.

Yet, the Bible also speaks about sanctification, which is our growth and progress in godliness. Justification refers to our permanent position, while sanctification refers to our steady progress. 2 Peter 3:18 states, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” As believers, we should be growing in our faith and showing demonstrable evidence that we are genuinely saved. You should at times examine your life to see if you are bearing lasting fruit and growing in Christ. Yet, this progress is not the basis of God’s love for you. His love for you is constant based upon the righteousness of Christ, not your performance.

Whenever you experience doubts, anxiety or stress about your performance as a Christian, do not look within yourself to evaluate your acceptance by God based on your growth. God’s love for you does not fluctuate depending on your performance. Whenever you measure God’s love for you based upon your growth, this can lead to frustration, guilt, or even pride.

Instead, by faith, look outside of yourself to Christ and find your identity in who He is and who you are in His imputed righteousness. The Reformers differentiated between two kinds of faith—a reflective faith that looks inward for signs of personal faithfulness as opposed to direct faith that looks outside to Christ alone as the basis for my assurance.

How do you know you’re truly saved? Have you trusted in Christ alone to forgive you of your sins and are you resting in His finished work on the cross? Do you believe what the Bible says about one who is saved, instead of relying on your feelings to gauge whether or not you think God accepts you? The first answer to the question lies in trusting in the objective work of Christ and the doctrine of justification.

Yet, you must also examine yourself to see if you are showing signs of spiritual growth. Are you reading your Bible? Praying? Gathering for public worship? Partaking of the Lord’s Supper? Fellowshipping with other believers? Sharing your faith? These are marks or evidences of growth in your life, but they are not the basis, grounds, or foundation for your salvation. They are evidences, but not the foundation. The sure foundation is your permanent position in justification. The evidence of your salvation comes in the slow and steady progress in your sanctification. Confusing the two can become spiritually disastrous.

The Peril of Pride

Jonathan Edwards said, “Pride is the worst viper that is in the heart and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ…the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts.” The sin of pride hides deep within the recesses of the human heart and inevitably leads to many grievous offenses. The scary thing about pride is that we often do not see it in ourselves, but clearly see it in others. We are blinded to our own arrogance and self-sufficiency and become complacent and lulled into a deadly sleep when it comes to dealing with pride in our lives.

What does God feel about the sin of pride? Proverbs 8:13 says this, “The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” In fact, the sin of pride is an outright abomination to the Lord as evidenced in Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” Listen to this stark warning from Proverbs 16:18-19: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” The apostle James also admonishes us to be aware of the dangers of pride in James 4:6 when he writes, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Clearly we can see from the Scriptures that the living God hates pride. He opposes it, abominates it, and will not tolerate it. And yet how many times do we get wrapped up in pride and arrogance and think to ourselves that it is really no big deal. We make excuses for our pride and try to justify our attitudes and we do not truly see how God actually feels about this inexcusable sin.

So how do we humble ourselves before the Lord and kill the sin of pride? 1 Peter 5:5-6 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” Pride is a ruthless enemy like a cobra who strikes when we least expect it and causes tremendous damage in by its venom.

The sin of pride can only be combated with a healthy dose of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His cross. John Stott encourages us with these words: “Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size.”

It is only when we look at Christ on the cross and realize that we as depraved sinners should have died ourselves that we shrink to our true size. We are humbled by the grace and mercy of a loving God toward ill-deserving sinners. We are brought to our knees in desperation and thankfulness that Christ would dare love such sinners as us and forgive our sin and shame when He Himself was the perfect Lamb of God.

So how do you fight pride in your heart? You do what the great Puritan John Owen prescribes. He said, “Fill your affections with the cross of Christ that there may be no room for sin.” Fill your heart and mind with the glories of Calvary. Fix your eyes on Christ alone. Constantly look toward the all-sufficient Savior who rescued you out of bondage to sin and frees you to make much of Him, instead of making much of yourself.

 

The Chief End of Man

Why do you and I exist? A Google search for the phrase “Why do I exist,” produces 11.8 million hits. Amazon has 24 books with the title “Why Do I Exist.” There is no shortage of resources on finding purpose and meaning in life. As humans, we have a fascination with finding ultimate purpose in life. Since we are created in God’s image, He has hard-wired us to try to answer this ultimate question of why we are here on planet earth. The comprehensive and Biblical answer to that question is summed up in the famous line from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This statement is not the answer you will hear from the world. The world says that life’s meaning is wrapped up in self-centered pursuits of pleasure. The world’s mantra is this: “The chief end of man is to worship myself and enjoy as much selfish pleasure in the here and now as I possibly can!”

Think of all the commercials that you see in a given week. They try to sell you the message that YOU are the most important thing in this world. They sell you the American dream that since you’re the center of the universe, you deserve to have whatever it is they are selling. Even within the church we are often coddled into thinking that we exist for our own glory and not for God’s. We often think God is a genie in a bottle that exists for our comfort.

Isaiah 43:6-7 reads, “…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Why has the sovereign God of the universe created us? Was He lonely up in heaven and needed companionship? Absolutely not! We must never think of God as needful of anything. He is the self-existent powerful God who created all things. He formed and made us as His children so that we would display His glory back to Him in joyful worship. Isaiah 42:8 says,I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”

This word for “glory” in the Old Testament Hebrew (kabod) literally means “weight” or “to be heavy.” In summary it means that as His creation, we should view God as weighty and worthy of honor. The glory of God comprises His splendor, majesty, weightiness, holiness, and power that are intrinsic to His nature. He is absolutely glorious.

Psalm 29:2 reads, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” What does it mean to “ascribe” glory to God? Do we add to His glory? Do we somehow make Him more glorious than He already is? Absolutely not! To ascribe glory means to give Him what He alone deserves. We don’t add a measure to His glory, but we reflect back to Him the glory that He inherently has. He is worthy. He is majestic. He is powerful and glorious, and as a result, we are called to live such a life that would put on full display this glory of God to a watching world. This is ultimately why you and I exist! We exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!

Lesson on Revival from the book of JONAH

What is genuine revival and spiritual awakening? How do we truly know when God has poured His Spirit out on a people and granted them repentance? How do we know what it looks like when an entire community is transformed by the gospel?

The book of Jonah illustrates for us how God can transform and save an entire city in one day that is entrenched in wickedness, violence, and depravity. Jonah, the prophet of God, is called to go preach against the great city Nineveh, and instead of fulfilling his mandate, he flees to Tarshish aboard a ship. God poignantly gets Jonah’s attention through a massive hurricane and Jonah is thrown overboard, but yet is saved by grace through the most unusual “submarine”—a great fish. Jonah learns that “Salvation is of the Lord” and then is vomited up on dry land and is commissioned to preach a second time to this wicked city Nineveh.

In Jonah Chapter 3, we see five distinguishing marks of true repentance, revival, and spiritual awakening that serve to encourage us as we share the gospel in Northeastern Colorado and desire to see God pour out revival in our community.

The first thing we see is that God is most pleased to use the powerful preaching of His Word to confront sinners with their guilt and to lay them bare before His holiness. Jonah’s message was very simple, “Yet forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” In other words, God would utterly annihilate them if they did not flee the wrath to come by repenting of their sins. Hebrews 4:12-13 reads, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” In every great revival in the history of the world, the preaching of God’s Word has been central. Notice how these wicked, violent Ninevites responded in Jonah 3:5: “And the people of Nineveh believed God.” They trusted wholeheartedly in the Lord for salvation because the preached Word had done its amazing effect in their lives.

Secondly, when genuine revival comes upon a people, it is wide-spread and comprehensive. We see in 3:5 :“They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” The entire city (120,000 people) from the greatest to the least responded in repentance and faith toward the living God. When God pours out revival, it doesn’t just affect as small few, but impacts an entire community.

Thirdly, when God pours out revival, genuine repentance is evidenced by a heart transformation that is most demonstrated through mourning of sin and prayer. When this message “touched” the heart of the king, he traded in his royal throne and stripped himself of all pride, autonomy, and position, and mourned in an ash heap. He grieved his personal sin and humbled himself before the Lord. In times of revival, sinners mourn their sin and cry out mightily to God in prayer. The king issues this command in verse 8: “and let them call out mightily to God.” The Hebrew word for “mightily” means with violent earnestness! When God grants revival, genuine repentance manifests itself in a wide spread prayer movement where people cry out earnestly and zealously to God and desire more of Him.

Fourthly, genuine repentance always bears fruit in that sinners turn from concrete sinful behavior. Notice that the king also says this in verse 8: “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” Repentance means more than just feeling sorry for our sins and grieving over possibly getting caught. Instead, true repentance means that there is a genuine, wholesale turning from personal sin and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

Lastly, in times of true revival, sinners come to the full awareness that they are totally dependent on the sovereign grace of God for salvation and cannot demand from Him anything. The king humbly and in brokenness declares in verse 9: “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” He doesn’t appeal to his rights as king, or to his merit or goodness or position or sovereignty, but totally understands the sovereign right of the living God to show mercy and compassion to whom He wants to show mercy and compassion. All sinners can do is to cast themselves on the mercy of Jesus alone for salvation.

I pray that God would so pour out His Spirit of revival upon our community where the Word of God is preached in power every Sunday in our area churches. I pray that God would impact this entire area with spiritual transformation that is widespread. I pray that all of us would mourn our sin and cry out mightily to God in prayer and that a powerful prayer movement would sweep across this dry land like a prairie fire! I pray that sinners would turn from concrete, specific sins and trust in the living God and that there would be true behavior changes. I pray that the sovereign King would pour out His mercy upon sinners in salvation through Jesus and that every single person in Northeastern Colorado would love and worship Christ the Lord.