I Follow After

Saints are never content to plateau in their walk with God; we’re dissatisfied in ourselves, imperfect, always pushing forward, pursuing Him, following after Him to be yet closer to Him. (Php 3:12)

Following after Christ, pursuing Him, means taking heed, being being aware of where we are spiritually, intentionally focusing on the nature of Christ, and on the precious promises that enable us to be partakers of His divine nature. (2Pe 1:4) Every bit of Christ we can find, every step we take towards Him, is a treasure.

It’s only a frustration if we focus on ourselves; when our eyes are on Jesus like they’re supposed to be (He 12:2) it’s a delight to pursue Him. As we behold Him we are transformed into His image, from one stage of holiness to another. (2Co 3:18)

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The Election of Grace

Unconditional election is the teaching that God chooses (elects) who will be justified (saved) by and through grace (divine enablement) (Ro 11:5), independently of human works or merit (unconditionally). (Ro 11:6) This is predestination, a pre-choosing of our destiny (Ep 1:5) before the world began (Eph 1:4) based on God’s own will (Ja 1:18), not based on free will. (Jn 1:12-13)

Since Man is desperately wicked (Total Depravity), he only does good by the irresistible grace of God. (Ro 9:19) Man is unable to even consider doing anything good without God’s aid (2Co 3:5); without Him we can do nothing good. (Jn 15:5)

While infallibly saving only a few, God mysteriously offers salvation to all, inviting all to come to Him and be saved (1Ti 2:4), refusing no one who repents and turns to Him. (Is 55:7) Yet no depraved soul will ever come to God (Ro 3:11) unless He first moves in them to do so. (Jn 6:65) This is implied in Man’s nature when left to himself (Ro 1:20-21); it isn’t God’s fault. (Ro 3:4)

God forces no one against their will; He allows the wicked to sin according to His purpose (1Pe 2:8), while irresistibly and graciously working in and through His elect to will and to do good as it pleases Him (Php 2:13), guiding and forming our will so that we seek Him, believe on Him, and follow Him. (Ro 8:29-30)

All the Father ordains to come to Christ will come to Him and be saved eternally. (Jn 6:37) Our election, salvation, and sanctification are all ultimately due entirely to God, not ourselves. (1Co 1:30-31)

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Instruct in Meekness

In offering truth to others we must do so in meekness (2Ti 2:24-25), with open hand, knowing we only have what God has given (1Co 4:7), and that we remain incomplete in our own understanding. (1Co 8:2)

Striving with those who don’t yet see what we do, trying to beat our light into them, is to usurp the Spirit’s role as teacher. (1Jn 2:27) Only God gives understanding; we can’t apprehend spiritual truth without His aid. (1Co 2:14)

Incorporating new truth into our lives involves a type of spiritual surgery which requires a delicate hand, not a forceful one. Pushing truth at others almost always does more harm than good. We must offer truth without demanding others receive it; remembering that we all have areas in our life where we can’t yet bear truth (Jn 16:12); we aren’t ready for it yet and only God knows us well enough to tell.

We must humbly let others be accountable to God, offering that which is holy to those who appear to be seeking it, and looking to see how their incomplete understanding might further sharpen our own. (Pr 27:17)

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Desperately Wicked

People are bad, really bad, intensely evil (Job 15:16), desperately wicked; God says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Je 17:9

Total Depravity, a basic Christian doctrine, is simply stated: We choose the most evil choice God allows us to make every time we make a choice. In our natural state we consistently seek rebellion; we do so with relentless, unyielding, desperation; without God’s aid we’re incapable of anything else. (Je 13:23) It’s insanity at best, this mystery of iniquity within us, but it’s very, very real.

Yet we don’t ever actually experience total depravity, either in ourselves or in others; we only get glimpses of it, hints, so it’s easy to dismiss God’s Word as allegorical or obsolete. But our lack of experience proves nothing; God also says He limits or controls our wickedness, holding us back, restraining us. (2Th 2:7) This is God’s irresistible grace, enabling us to be good (He 12:15), moving in us to be less wicked, more righteous. (Php 2:12) It’s a gift, something He does in us. (Ep 3:7) One Day He’ll stop doing this with those who aren’t His; only then will depravity be on full display. (Re 6:4)

Man’s total depravity humbles us, dismissing all formal religion as vanity, all supposed religious power and authority as deceit, all hope of meriting God’s favor as a lie. It’s the key to soteriology, how God’s unconditional election and limited atonement align with His genuine, universal offer of eternal salvation. (He 5:9) It explains how God can be in absolute, total control over all things, yet how Man still has free will. It even moves Hell itself into glorious context, as awesome, unarguably appropriate and just. All these truths appear hopelessly irreconcilable until we understand Total Depravity. There’s comfort, peace and joy in seeing it all from God’s perspective. (2Co 13:11)

Yes, it seems the world’s “going to Hell in a handbasket,” it sure does, but it shouldn’t surprise or alarm us. God has a glorious purpose in all He allows. Let’s pray for and be concerned for others, and for our world, while exulting in God, being anxious for nothing. (Php 4:6-7) He knows what He’s doing.

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The Mystery of Iniquity

When Yehovah gives the Decalogue on Mount Sinai, descending from Heaven to speak with Man in Person, the children of Israel immediately retreat and ask Moses to speak on God’s behalf; they don’t want to interact directly with God Himself. Their reason? God might inadvertently kill them. (Ex 20:18-19)

Aren’t they accusing the Creator of being reckless, of not knowing what He’s doing, of not caring? Isn’t this our depravity on display? God’s choosing Israel as His special treasure (Ex 19:5) and has just delivered them from slavery in spectacular fashion (Ex 19:4) … and now He isn’t able to speak to people without killing them? Really?

God could as easily smash the earth between His thumb and forefinger (Is 40:15); if God wanted to take them out, stepping back from the mount and asking Moses to step in isn’t going to help. What are they thinking?

This isn’t just a problem with Israel, we’re all like this at heart. Man’s instinctive reaction to holiness is aversion (Ro 8:7); instead of seeking God we run and hide. (Ro 3:11) Our iniquity is relentless, irrational, inexcusable; bleeding forth and seeping out at every turn, defying, hiding, accusing, attacking and blaming divinity without shame or concern. Men not only defy Omnipotence, knowing they deserve death, they take pleasure in others joining in. (Ro 1:32)

It’s a mystery, how and why the human heart is so evil. (2Th 2:7) Resisting, dishonoring, or defying an infinitely powerful, omnipresent, holy Being is simply insane; it can never be rational. It does, however, serve a purpose: to reveal God’s justice, wrath and power. (Ro 9:22) He only allows what will eventually glorify Himself. (Ps 76:10)

God is restraining Man’s wickedness for now (2Th 2:7), so we don’t yet know its full extent. (Jer 17:9) One day we’ll see it unchained; men will defy God, blaspheming Him to His face rather than turning from their wickedness. (Re 16:11) We’ll see them prefer eternal Hell itself to loving God and ending His suffering.

Truth is we’re all utterly depraved when left to ourselves (Ps 53:2-3); we’ve nothing to boast in; apart from God’s restraining grace we’d all be defying Him. (1Co 1:29-31) Let’s not be surprised at sin, but in humility, let’s fear the living God, esteeming others better than ourselves, giving thanks for all things (Ep 5:20) and remembering that God works all things after the counsel of His own will (Ep 1:11), for our good and for His glory. (Ro 8:28)

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The Foundation

The foundation of the church is a Person: Jesus Christ (1Co 3:11); building on any other ground produces other things: religious organizations and social clubs, but not the church.

To ensure Christ is the foundation we must think carefully about why we’re meeting; the reasons believers are assembling comprise their foundation; our motives spawn all our activity and will be God’s focus in judgment. (1Co 3:13) If we don’t engage for the right reason we might defile Christ’s church, and that’s a dangerous thing to do. (1Co 3:17)

So, are we coming to hear uplifting sermons? Or to worship God and enjoy His presence? Or to invite others to hear the gospel? These are all good things, but they aren’t the foundation of the church. We can do these things for Christ, and we can enjoy and seek Him in them, but this isn’t the same as having Jesus Christ Himself as the foundation, the very reason we should be coming together. There is something even more important at the core of the church. (1Co 2:2)

To be a church, believers must be meeting for Jesus Christ, about Jesus Christ: He must be the reason we’re coming together, to bring the indwelling Christ to each other (Col 1:27), to share Him with each other so we can help each other in our walk with Him. (1Co 14:26) We must be coming to see and hear Him in each other (Php 1:21), and to help each other draw closer to Him. (Php 2:4)

To edify one another like this we must all be walking with Him, fellowshipping with Him, enjoying and obeying Him as a manner of life. In such community there can be no place in our lives for willful sin (1Jn 3:6), and we should be in close enough community that hiding our sin isn’t an option. Neither can we delegate this responsibility to a few leaders, and sit by passively, expecting them to teach us and bring Christ to us; we each carry this responsibility. (1Th 5:11)

Jesus Christ was the foundation of the very first church, when The Twelve were following Jesus, listening to Him, watching him, beholding Him, studying Him, imitating Him. (1Jn 1:1-3) Jesus Christ was all they had in common; they were pursuing Him; He was their reason for being together. For the church of Jesus Christ, no other reason is acceptable.

Why we come to church affects the leadership style, the order of service, the programs, the budget and all the activity. If in our coming Jesus Christ isn’t building believers into a living network through us, creating a temple He indwells (1Co 3:16), then we’re building on the sand. When the storms come, and they will, nothing will be left. (Mt 7:26-27)

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Tell the Church

Christ’s prescription when a professing believer offends us is straightforward. [1] Confront him/her privately. (Mt 18:15) If that fails to restore fellowship then [2] involve one or two others to [a] ensure there’s no misunderstanding, and [b] discretely encourage resolution. (Mt 18:16)  Failing here, [3] take it to court: tell the church. Her verdict is considered binding and final; those who refuse it are treated as outsiders, unbelievers. (Mt 18:16) This is ultimate spiritual authority.

Personal offenses being the most common and critical challenge to unity, Christ is actually telling us how to handle any type of corruption among professing believers; whether it be a divisive spirit promoting destructive teachings or blatant sin, this pattern is evidently applicable.

So who or what is this church, the final authority deciding all spiritual matters impacting the well-being of the body of Christ? (Col 1:24)

The word church is from the Greek ekklesia, meaning assembly or congregation (1Co 11:18), and the fact that all are subject to its judgement implies unity. In other words, spiritual authority lies only in a unified brotherhood; without this, the church is lifeless and powerless, nothing more than decor in a broken world.

To destroy a brotherhood, and thus the church herself, impose any type of hierarchical leadership; elevate a small group to exercise spiritual authority over others. This undermines the foundation and subverts the purpose of the assembly. It’s the default model in our churches today, and the result is easily observed: spiritual devastation.

Promoting this destruction presumes that Christ uses “ekklesia” symbolically here, that He must be refering to leaders representing the assembly. Yet, being honest with the text, we must still expect the brotherhood to be informed and unified, or such leadership could not intelligently speak on its behalf.

To maintain integrity in light of Christ’s instruction, we must acknowledge the centrality and spiritual authority of a unified brotherhood. This is what Christ is building, nothing less, the strongest force on Earth. (Mt 16:18)

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Speak Not Evil

When we think someone’s wrong it’s tempting to engage others in deciding they deserve to be punished. It’s a claim to know the heart and motive, the background and circumstances of another’s choices.

But God says we’re not to speak evil of each other, for this is speaking evil of the Law and judging the Law (Ja 4:11); it’s putting ourselves above the Law, usurping the place of the Lawgiver. (Ja 4:12)

It’s one thing to identify an act as sinful, contrary to God’s Law (1Jn 3:4), but declaring someone to be evil, that they’re willfully alienating themselves from God and at enmity with Him, is another matter. This is actually deciding the law itself is contrary to God, since it tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Le 19:18), which we aren’t as we take pleasure in condemnation.

If we shouldn’t speak so about others, we shouldn’t be thinking this way either. Rather, in humility, we should be giving them the benefit of the doubt, esteeming others better than ourselves. (Php 2:3)

Only God can judge the heart; we must leave this work to Him. (Ps 119:84) He doesn’t need our help. God  is just, and perfectly so; He’ll do just fine, all by Himself.

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The End of the Law

When God says Christ is the end of the Law, (Ro 10:4) He doesn’t mean the Law is obsolete. (Ro 3:31) The Greek is telos, meaning, the point aimed at, or purpose. He means the goal of the Law, its objective, is Christ; Torah is our gateway to freedom (Ps 119:133) and divine fellowship. (Jn 14:21)

In other words, the goal of Torah is love out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and genuine faith. (1Ti 1:5) Keeping God’s law to achieve any other end, for any other purpose, is pointless (1Ti 1:6-7); it’s only good for us if we have the right motive. (1Ti 1:8)

  • So, keeping Torah is NOT about:
    1. Salvation: I’m justified fully and only by the blood of Christ; nothing else. (1Pe 1:18-19)
    2. Earning acceptance: I know I can’t be accepted by God any more than I already am. (Ep 1:6)
    3. Being self-righteous: Studying Torah exposes my sinful nature (Ro 8:7) and reinforces my utter dependence on God for grace to obey Him. (Ro 7:18)
  • Keeping Torah IS about:
    1. The New Covenant: When God saved me He began writing Torah into my mind and heart. (He 8:10)  As He does this, I can’t help but delight in His Law (Ro 7:22), and obey as much of it as I can. (Ps 119:32)
    2. Love and fellowship: As I come to love Torah more and meditate on it, I begin to love God more (Jn 14:15), to love others more (2Jn 1:6), and to walk in the light in deeper, sweeter fellowship with God. (1Jn 1:6-7)
    3. Freedom: As I obey Torah I discover why God calls it “the law of freedom” (Ja 1:25): the Spirit uses Torah to identify sin (1Jn 3:4) and deliver me from its bondage. (Ps 119:45)

So, while keeping God’s law doesn’t justify me, it does provide evidence that I’m justified, and that I love him.

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