The Oasis

August 30, 2012

Once upon a time, there was an oasis in the middle of a desert. The desert was a dry wasteland where the sun burned hot. The heat rising from the blistering sand wearied many a traveler. But the oasis gave hope of refreshment to weary souls.

In the oasis was an artesian spring that gave the clearest, bubbling cool water that man has ever tasted. So much so, that its fame spread far and near. Travelers would come to the oasis just because they had heard of the refreshing spring. They drank deeply from its waters and found refreshment and contentment of soul.

Those who frequented the oasis decided to build a cistern near the spring. They used the finest materials and filled it with the pure water. They made the area around their cistern pleasant and comfortable, so that people began to prefer drinking from the cistern than the spring itself. At first no one noticed the difference.

But in time, the cistern became contaminated and leaked. The people began to drink smaller and smaller amounts. Having grown so fond of their cistern, they did not notice that they were weary and faint. They continued to go to the cistern acting as if they had forgotten the spring. Some grew weaker, and others perished in their journeys overcome by the desert’s heat.

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:13, NIV

Repent or Perish!

August 24, 2012

As Paul is explaining justification by faith in Romans, he still expects people to repent. He asks, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4, ESV)? So what is repentance?

One of the best ways to define repentance is to see its New Testament usage. John the Baptist commanded, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8a, ESV). The fruits of repentance are evidenced in his answers to various groups. They are sharing food and clothing, not collecting more tax than authorized, not abusing authority, and not giving false testimony (Luke 3:10-14). In 2 Corinthians Paul teaches, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV). Grief alone is not enough as seen in the life of Judas (see Matthew 27:3-5). One author has well defined repentance as “an act of the soul which takes place between ‘godly sorrow,’ on one side, and the ‘fruits meet for repentance,’ on the other.”1 Repentance is a change of mind that leads to changed behavior.

Further, repentance is linked with salvation.

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3, ESV

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38, ESV

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out… Acts 3:19, ESV

See also passages like Acts 11:18, Acts 17:30, and Acts 26:18-20.

For some saying repentance is necessary for salvation is troubling. For example Zane Hodges states, “Faith alone (not repentance and faith) is the sole condition for justification and eternal life.”2 Yet his statement doesn’t square with the evidence of the above passages.

Faith/trust is the means to salvation as opposed to merit/works. As a means it is also a condition, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of other conditions being revealed that are consistent with trust. Repentance obviously is consistent with trust. In fact, how can I say that I trust Jesus and God and follow their way, if I haven’t changed my mind yet about the sin in my life? We need to take Jesus’ words seriously—repent or perish!

1H.W. Everest, “Repentance—Its Nature, Conditions and Necessity,” The Old Faith Restated, I:170

2Absolutely Free!, p. 144

If God Wrote a Want Ad

August 17, 2012

All of us are familiar with want ads. A prospective employer puts out a description of what the company is looking for in an employee. Maybe you’ve had the experience of circling ads while looking for a job. You circle ads which match your qualifications. What if God wrote a want ad. What would God be looking for in human beings? A number of Bible passages might come to mind (Psalm 15, Micah 6:8, Matthew 5:3-10, etc.), but I would certainly nominate Isaiah 66:2.

All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:2, ESV

Humble. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines humble as “having or showing a consciousness of one’s defects or shortcomings; not proud.” Proverbs gives a number of warnings against destructive pride and encouragements for humility. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2, ESV). Phillips Brooks wrote, “The way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you how small your greatness is.” That higher nature is God. We must have humility before Him. Without humility, we won’t recognize our spiritual needs.

Contrite. Contrition, being contrite, has to do with remorse for having done something wrong. The etymology of the English word goes back to a Latin word meaning “grief.” The Hebrew word in Isaiah 66:2 means “broken.” It is the person with a broken spirit who recognizes sin in his or her life. Contrition leads to repentance.

Trembles at My Word. “My word” of this passage is God’s word. The trembling of this passage may reflect when God thundered from Mt. Sinai in the giving of the Ten Commandments. The people were afraid and trembled (Exodus 20:18). Yet Moses replied, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20, ESV). Reverence for God and His word will lead to the desire to know and do His will. Only 1 in 3 Americans believes that “holding the Bible to be God’s truth is absolutely necessary for someone to truly know God,” and 4 in 10 Americans say they would turn first to the Bible to test their own religious beliefs! The most important question any of us can ask ourselves it this. If I read in the Bible something that disagrees with what I currently practice or believe, am I willing to change to be in conformity with the Bible? That willingness to do God’s will is what it means to tremble at God’s word.

God’s want ad is not looking for perfect people, but for people who are aware of their need, willing to listen, and willing to trust and obey.

My Greatest Possession

August 12, 2012

In the movie, Luther, there is a memorable scene between Martin Luther and the vicar of the Augustinian order where Luther was a monk, Johann von Staupitz. Luther wrestled with spiritual uncertainty. He was always conscious of his sin. He knew that he could never be good enough. He doubted his salvation. Von Staupitz asks him, “Have you ever read the New Testament?” Luther answers, “No.” Von Staupitz informs him that he should study for his doctor’s degree which would ultimately mean he would replace von Staupitz as the Bible chair in the University of Wittenberg.

What is striking is that Luther had never read the New Testament! He had grown up in a religious home. He had studied to become a lawyer, and after a spiritual crisis, he became a monk. The New Testament had been available in Latin and Greek, but as Roland Bainton notes in his biography of Luther, “…the Bible was not the staple of theological education.” And the New Testament was certainly not available to the common man. Bainton reflects, “One is tempted to surmise that [von Staupitz] retired in order unobtrusively to drive this agonizing brother to wrestle with the source book of his religion.”1

Luther’s wrestling with the source book ignited the Reformation and brought him in conflict with church officials. At the Diet of Worms, he made his famous confession, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Those were dangerous words in 1521. Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, took Luther to the Wartburg Castle for safety. While there Luther translated the New Testament into German (1522). The entire German Bible was completed by 1534. With Luther’s influence, William Tyndale produced the first printed English New Testament in 1525. The Bible was given back to the common person.

The home I grew up in had several Bibles. I’ve had my own Bible since early elementary school. I read the New Testament as a teenager. Ninety-two percent of all Americans have at least three Bibles at home. I marvel at the technology that allows me to carry a Bible (actually multiple translations) around in my shirt pocket. We live with a surplus of Bibles, but history reminds us that it hasn’t always been that way.

With the surplus of Bibles, it is easy to take them for granted. In fact, we have so many physical blessings; it is difficult to count them all. But the lessons of history cause me to reflect. My greatest physical possession is my Bible. It is my greatest treasure, because it teaches me the words of life.

1Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, p. 60

Greater Than the Olympics

August 3, 2012

It would be hard to completely miss the ongoing coverage of the Olympics. I don’t watch a lot of sports, but I confess to being drawn into the Olympics. It takes a great deal of dedication and hard work to simply compete there, so it is not surprising that we find many life lessons from sports. Most of the athletic imagery in the New Testament is found in the writings of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul mentions two sports: running in a race and boxing.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV)

What is Paul’s point of comparison? It is not that only one receives the prize. The marathon race that is Christian living is one in which all who are in Christ receive the prize. Paul’s point is found in the phrases: “all the runners run” and “run that you may obtain it.”

Paul is emphasizing that Christian living needs determined effort. Someone might question, “Aren’t we saved by faith?” The answer is, of course, “Yes!” We are saved by trusting in God and what has been done for us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. I come with no merit of my own. But it is misleading to think of faith as some “easy-believism.” The race imagery reminds us that we need an active faith, a working faith. The Christian is a part of a great spiritual contest. It is no good to simply begin the race. We must run the entire race.

This determined effort means that our lives are not aimless but have a goal and objective. Note Paul’s sports analogies for this idea: “I do not run aimlessly” and “I do not box as one beating the air.” Runners do not zigzag down the track. It would waste steps and energy. They have a goal to cross the finish line. Boxers don’t waste energy boxing the air. They want to land blows on the opponent to win the contest. Paul is encouraging us to live the Christian life with the same sense of purpose.

Determined effort and purpose naturally involves sacrifice. If I have a purpose in life, and I’m determined to go a certain direction, then not everything fits with that purpose and determination. I must exercise self-discipline to coincide with my determination and purpose. Again, the self-control of an athlete is an admirable model.

This discipline is so important that even Paul could consider the possibility of his being disqualified from the prize despite his preaching to others if he lacked it (1 Corinthians 9:27). We cannot toy with worldliness and sin as if they are harmless.

As we watch the games, we can see the importance of determination, purpose, and discipline. May we be reminded of their importance to Christian living, because we are engaged in a struggle greater than the Olympics.