Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Grace Needed to Forgive from Our Hearts

by Eldon DeBoer  ( edeboer.gmm@gmail.com )

When Jesus taught the truth of the importance of forgiving others, He warned that if we do not do so we would remain in spiritual torment, having been turned over to torturers.  In the conclusion of His illustration of a servant that had been forgiven much but refused to forgive a fellow-servant, He put it this way:

"My heavenly Father will also [turn you over to torturers]..., if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:34-35).

The sad commentary on many a believer's life is that he/she remains in spiritual torment because of refusing to forgive someone of a wrong done against her/him.

Before I address forgiving others, allow me to make sure we all understand the forgiveness God extends to each of us through Christ Jesus for all eternity and how His forgiveness is extended to us in time from day to day and moment to moment.

By God's Grace We Are Forgiven Forever and Forgiven Again. And Again!

We are forgiven forever when we first place our faith in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:7). Being forgiven forever is a part of our eternal standing in Christ. It is a part of being identified with Him in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-5). We are sealed in Christ when we believe in Him and this is a permanent seal accomplished by the Spirit of God that includes being forgiven in eternity (Ephesians 1:13-14).

There is another dimension of being forgiven that should be understood. It is God forgiving us again and again for sins we continue to commit that cause us to be in spiritual darkness in our experience with God here and now. While I am forgiven of all sins in Christ forever, in order to live in the light and have true fellowship with God from moment to moment I must confess my sins each and every time the Spirit makes me aware that I have missed a mark that He has set for me to live by.

If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

What a glorious truth and encouraging statement of God's grace for forgiveness. When we fail to live as we should and acknowledge it to God, He is "faithful and just to forgive us" through Christ Jesus (cp. 1 John 2:1-2). And He cleanses us "from all unrighteousness"! We should know we are right with Him when we confess our sin, even though we have failed Him again by sinning against Him. This is the grace of God at work! And how encouraging it is to know this.

This truth of God's grace for forgiveness is illustrated in the life of a prominent leader of old. God was looking for a leader, a king, who would be a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:22). In other words, God was looking for a man to lead His people who wanted to be like Himself more than anything else. You probably know who that man was. Yes, it was David; a shepherd boy who became king of Israel. Was David, the man after God's own heart, perfect? Far from it. He clearly understood how desperately he needed the grace of God in forgiveness. He emphasized this when he wrote Psalm 32 and Psalm 51 after he recovered from a sin that brought a great deal of pain into the lives of many people (2 Samuel 11 & 12). Yet, long after he had died, he was still remembered as someone whose heart was “devoted” to God (1 Kings 11:4; Acts 13:22). How encouraging it is to know that God forgives and that we can recover like David did and be useful to our Lord and Savior once again.

The truth that God forgives us again and again because of Jesus Christ's suffering in our place is a reality that should deeply grip our hearts when we pause to think about what it means. No matter how often we fall to a sinful weakness, be it a wrong thought or behavior, the Lord Jesus forgives us again. And again! And again!! Through confession we recover from being in spiritual darkness and re-enter the light and joy of fellowship with God.

“ . . . these things we write to you that your joy may be full. This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:4-7).

Like King David, the Apostle Paul wrote of His struggle with sin after being a believer in Christ for a number of years and how he hated it (Romans 7:15-24). He found himself thinking and doing what he knew what was wrong over and over. But when He came to himself by the ministry of the Spirit in His life, He exclaimed,

Oh wretched man that I am! who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25).

Yes, Christ Jesus “sets us free” again and again from our spiritual deadness and uselessness to God when we sin as believers. It is thought that what Paul had in mind by the phrase “the body of this death” was the practice in his day of chaining a cadaver to a person who had been guilty of an offense that warranted the death penalty. Gangrene would set in and the guilty person would experience a horrible, drawn-out, painful death.

Who will release us from the horrible influence of our sins? From "the body of this death?" Who will deliver us from our spiritual deadness and uselessness to God while we are living in the dark because of sin? Christ Jesus sets us free from this dead condition the again and again. He forgives us every time we admit that we have sinned against Him. And because of our appreciation for His suffering in our place to provide for this forgiveness, because of His love and grace, we should cry out to Him for His help to stop succumbing to the sin. But in our frailty when we fall to that weakness again, that sin that plagues us, He forgives us again. And we then can enjoy fellowship with Him once more and live in His light and the light of His Word, the light of His teachings from the Bible.

Because of the work of Christ Jesus, God forgives us forever and He forgives us again and again when we confess our sin, when we simply admit to Him that we have done wrong. That's grace!!! And just as God forgives us again and again, He calls us to forgive others.

What does it mean to forgive someone?

When we forgive someone we put away the person’s sin against us. The word translated forgive (aphiemi) means to put away. When we forgive, as far as we are concerned, the person is no longer guilty of his sin against us. This is what Jesus did when He was being crucified (Luke 23:34). He put away their sin of crucifying Him and therefore they would not receive immediate judgment from God for that sin.

After Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, He told them, “Loose him and let him go” (John 11:44, NKJV). “Let . . . go” is the translation of aphiemi. This provides a fitting analogy that addresses attention to what we do for people when we forgive them. When we forgive someone we no longer keep the person in bondage to the guilt of their sin. As far as we are concerned the person is not guilty. We let him go and he thereby is set free from his guilt against us. This does not mean that an individual should never be held accountable for his sin against us. At times justice must be applied. (This will be addressed at another time.)

Jesus taught us to forgive. Again and again!

The Lord Jesus addressed the importance of forgiving again and again in Matthew 18:21-35.  He concluded his teaching by emphasizing that those who choose not to forgive will remain in spiritual torment until they do forgive (18:34-35).  Strong words but so very true.  The passage begins with the familiar question for Jesus from Peter.

"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?''

Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Peter probably thought he was being very generous when he asked this question about forgiveness. Certainly forgiving “up to seven times” goes beyond what God requires of us. Louis Barbieri, Jr., notes that “the traditional Rabbinic teaching was that an offended person needed to forgive a brother only three times” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 62). In what follows in Matthew 18, Peter’s lack of understanding becomes obvious in the story that Jesus told about the king and his two servants. Apparently Peter did not realize the application of God’s forgiveness to forgiving others. It seems that he did not have much appreciation for the truth that the Lord had forgiven him a huge debt of sin. He did not apply the foundational truth that we all need to understand in order to forgive from the heart.

When Jesus told Peter that we should keep on forgiving up to 490 times, he was not saying that we should keep a ledger of the sins against us. The expression, “up to seventy times seven,” emphasizes that we should keep on forgiving and not keep track of the number of times someone sins against us.

Peter’s lack of understanding concerning God’s standards for forgiving one another is not unusual among believers. Many believers do not understand the application of this truth. But what is it that believers need to grasp in order to forgive from the heart? The parable Jesus told provides the answer.

Heart-felt Forgiveness Flows from Being Forgiven a Huge Debt

In this parable the king of the servant who has incurred a huge debt is God the Father Himself. There are a number of views concerning what a talent would be worth in today’s currency, but according to one source the amount equaled about 15 years wages. If you earned an average of $30,000 a year multiplied times 15, times 10,000, your debt would be $4,500,000,000. The main point of the Lord’s illustration is that since God has forgiven us so very much, we are to forgive others from our hearts. If you appreciate the huge debt of sin that God has forgiven you, you will keep on forgiving others who sin against you. This is precisely what the servant did not do. His lack of appreciation for how much his lord had forgiven him was expressed in his refusal to forgive a fellow servant of a far lesser debt of sin. Consequently, he was handed over to the torturers (cp. Hebrews 12:4-15).

Our sins are ultimately against our holy heavenly Father.

The two servants in the story Jesus told are both representative of believers in Christ Jesus. The wicked servant who refused to forgive had incurred a debt beyond his ability to repay. When we sin against our holy God, we should understand that we are unable to pay back the debt we owe due to our sins. We do not have the ability to repay our Lord for sins committed against Him. Our sins are too great. All the Father asks is that we go to him and admit our need of His forgiveness. God always treats us in grace and forgives us because our debt has been paid through the suffering and death of Christ Jesus. The wicked servant had been forgiven by his lord. But when he refused to forgive a fellow servant, he was turned over to the torturers because of his sin of refusing to forgive. We should keep in mind that ultimately our sins are sins against our holy God and only His forgiveness removes the sin and the guilt. David understood this and expressed his indebtedness to God. After he had confessed his sin of adultery against Uriah and Bathsheba, he said to the Lord,

Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight
That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.           (Psalm 51:4)

David was well aware that he was worthy of death. And he knew that God could take His Spirit from him (Psalm 51:11). (While this cannot happen to a believer today in the Church Age, it could happen to believers in the Old Testament. Believers today fully receive the Spirit when they believe in Jesus and He continues to indwell them no matter how sinful they might become.) When we sin against the Lord God we should understand that all sins, whether seemingly significant or insignificant to us, are offenses against our holy heavenly Father and are huge in His sight.

Yet some sins cause more damage than others. It could be that the wicked servant is an illustration of a believer who has received forgiveness for a sin that has caused a great deal of damage to others. Whatever the case, the teaching is clear. Believers should maintain forgiving hearts because the holy God has forgiven them a huge debt of sin.

Sins and offenses against you

When someone does something that hurts you, there are times when the person who has offended you may not even be aware of the hurt that has been caused. Then, to the other extreme, there are sins that obviously are motivated by maliciousness. There are offenses that are perceived to be damaging which may not even be sinful at all. Sometimes we can be too sensitive about what others do to us. Whatever the case, when we feel that someone has hurt us, God calls us to forgive them. When we have disagreements with others or complaints against others for whatever reason, the Lord says,

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.                    (Colossians 3:12-13)

The Lord calls us to forgive as He has forgiven us in Christ.

Since God has forgiven us a huge debt of sin we are to forgive others. This is an important part of the Spirit of the Lord’s concern as He moved the Apostle Paul to write Ephesians. Having proclaimed the truth of the everlasting spiritual blessing of our forgiveness in Christ (Ephesians 1:7), Paul emphasizes the importance of forgiving one another:

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Forgiving one another is what accompanies being kind and tenderhearted. If believers prominently keep in mind the forgiveness that was bought and paid for by Jesus (Ephesians 5:1-2), they should keep on maintaining a forgiving heart. Notice that Paul points to God’s forgiveness as the basis for our forgiveness. The word translated forgive in this passage emphasizes grace in forgiveness (charizomai). We communicate kindness and tenderheartedness as we keep on forgiving others.

Our emotional vulnerability when angry

The fact that we should guard against not letting go of justified anger or righteous wrath before we go to bed is clear from what we are told in Ephesians 4:26-27:

"'Be angry (orgizoand do not sin': do not let the sun go down on your wrath(parorgismosnor give place to the devil" (note the root word orge found in parorgismos).

We should never go to sleep filled with anger, even though our anger may be justified because of the hurt and injury that someone caused. May we look to the Lord for the grace to put our righteous wrath to rest against those who have sinned against us or, possibly, others as well. This warning is accompanied by the real danger that even righteous wrath might turn to bitterness and sinful anger and that this may be used by the devil and his cohorts to bring us into spiritual bondage.

We understand from personal experience that often our emotions cause us to lose the ability to think clearly. When sinful emotions take over we are “in the dark” spiritually. God tells us we should be alert to this and we must draw upon His grace to overcome these harmful emotions.

Put away the emotions that torture you because you refuse to forgive.
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. Ephesians 4:31

At times, when we are reminded of the hurt that someone caused, bitterness and sinful anger apparently may overcome us. These emotions are often the torture that comes to us when we refuse to forgive. They are a huge part of the torture designed by God to get our attention. What are we to do about these sinful emotions? We are told to put them away or put them off (cf. Colossians 3:8). In Ephesians 4:31 “put away” translates airo which is also used in another place to explain how Christ Jesus came to taken away our sins (1 John 3:5).

When we do not put away someone’s sin against us by forgiving them, the Spirit of God is grieved (Ephesians 4:30). The fact that we are commanded to “put away” these sinful emotions tells us that by God’s grace, by the ministry of the Spirit through the new man, we can do something about them. We need not be enslaved to them. With God’s enabling grace, we can put a stop to these evil feelings.

Bitterness (pikria, Acts 8:23; Romans 3:14: Hebrews 12:15)) is the emotion that results when we dwell on how someone has hurt us and begin to think about revenge. We become self-centered and filled with self-pity. We can only think about ourselves or how we might vindicate ourselves. Wrath (thumos, Luke 4:28; Acts 19:28) and anger (orge, 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:19-20) are expressed as we “clamor” for attention and speak evil of the offender. We begin to plan malicious acts against our offenders.

This was not true of Stephen (Acts 7). Stephen demonstrated the grace of God as he was being stoned to death. His final words were words of forgiveness and love for those who took his life. It seems that this left a marked impression on a young man named Saul. Saul came to faith in Jesus as his Messiah and Savior a short time later and became the Apostle Paul who wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Paul knew about forgiveness and deeply appreciated the forgiveness of God. He had experienced the grace of God’s forgiveness. As the “chief of sinners” who had persecuted believers in Christ, Paul became well aware of his need for God’s forgiveness (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

How do we put away the sinful emotions that torture us?

God commands us to put away the sinful emotions that torture us. By the grace of God through the ministry of the Spirit working through the new man we can put away our sinful emotions. When the Holy Spirit convicts you about your sinful emotions confess them as sin. Then prayerfully consider the question, “Have I committed some sin that caused these sinful emotions?” Oftentimes it is the sin of refusing to forgive that has caused these emotions to surface. When the Spirit brings to your attention that refusing to forgive is the sin that is at the root of these emotional responses, then that sin must be confessed as well. Receive the forgiveness granted to you by God through Christ by admitting you have sinned (1 John 1:7, 9). Then remind yourself of the huge debt of sin that God has forgiven you in Christ. Ponder the wonder of His love and grace that He has expressed to you.

Putting these sinful emotions away is not easy (duh!). We may find that it is very difficult to completely let go of the offense against us. We forgive and let go and then we pick it up again in our thoughts. We find ourselves hanging on to it and we rework it in our minds over and over again. Very soon afterwards we are filled with bitterness and sinful anger. Hopefully we do not descend to the point of clamoring for attention by talking about it with others. May we stop short of seeking revenge. May we not carry out injurious plans for personal vindication (cf. Romans 12:14-21).

Thankfully, when we confess these sins and receive cleansing from God once again, we return to the high road of forgiveness in God’s plan for us. Our thoughts should then turn to Jesus and we should once again ponder the great debt of sin that we have been forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place. Do we deserve to be forgiven? No. Does the person who has sinned against us deserve to be forgiven. No. Yet, God’s plan for our lives is that we forgive as He forgave. When we do forgive because we have been forgiven in Christ and maintain forgiveness from the heart, God will free us from the emotional torture of bitterness and anger. When we apply God’s Word by His Spirit, He gives us peace.

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Colossians 3:15-16

Forgive and illustrate the grace of God.

We illustrate the grace and love of God when we forgive others. This is crucially important in the ministry of a church. By forgiving one another and putting up with each other, believers may powerfully communicate the love and grace of God shown them in Christ Jesus.

The chapter break is unfortunate at the close of Ephesians 4 because the following verses emphasize the importance of being like God in forgiveness and in the demonstration of love by Jesus Christ’s death.

Therefore be followers of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
(Ephesians 5:1-2

When we maintain hearts of forgiveness we demonstrate to others that we truly are followers of God. When we keep on forgiving we shine forth the light of the truth of Christ and are behaving in a way that is consistent with whom we are in Christ. We have received total and complete everlasting forgiveness in Christ. We are light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8). When we keep on forgiving we are walking as children of light. We are behaving wisely by the power of the Spirit of God (5:15-21).

By the grace of God through the ministry of the Spirit through the new man created in the image of Christ (Colossians 3:10), we may overcome the emotional torment caused by refusing to forgive. We may express the love and grace to others that God has given us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus warned those who do not forgive from the heart that they would be turned over to the torturers (Matthew 18:35). The heavenly Father will bring severe discipline upon those who refuse to forgive (Hebrews 12:3-15). Often this discipline from the Father includes emotional torture.

Forgiving someone is not a one time, now it's settled forever experience.  Many of us have felt that churning sensation within again and again as we re-live in our heads the hurt and pain we went through at the hands or words of someone.  So we need to look to our Savior for His grace to forgive again.

May we forgive from the heart because we appreciate that we have been forgiven a huge debt of sin by our holy God and thereby be free of the emotional torture that results from refusing to forgive.

A summary of God’s provisions for maintaining a heart of forgiveness:

1. Remember that in and through Jesus Christ, God has forgiven you a huge debt of sin. Keep in mind that no one can offend you or sin against you to the degree that you have sinned against God (Matthew 18:27).

2. Ponder and dwell on the wondrous love and forgiveness God has granted to you through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:9-2:2).
Think about the awful cost of your deliverance by the Son of God Himself. Keep your eyes on Jesus (Ephesians 4:29-5:2; Colossians 3:1-16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Hebrews 12:1-3).

3. Recognize that you cannot maintain a heart of forgiveness and forgive again for the right reasons in your own strength (John 15:5).

4. Keep in mind the Lord’s command to not take your righteous wrath to bed (Ephesians 4:25-27).

5. Be on the alert for signs of sinful anger and bitterness (Matthew 18:35). Remain sensitive to the convicting work of the Spirit from the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 4:30-31; Colossians 3:8-10; Hebrews 12:15).

6. Confess to the Lord the sin of an unforgiving spirit when the Holy Spirit causes you to realize that this is the reason for the emotional torture of bitterness and anger (1 John 1:9; cp. Matthew 6:14-15; Psalm 32:1-6).

7. Cry out to God for the grace to keep on maintaining a heart of forgiveness to forgive again and again so that your life will be a testimony to His love and grace (John 13:35; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Jesus taught that refusing to forgive is itself a sin and breaks fellowship with God (Matthew 6:14-15). When a believer refuses to forgive, God will not forgive him until it is confessed as sin (1 John 1:9; Psalm 32:1-5). This is forgiveness for fellowship with God in this life. Every believer remains forgiven in Christ forever whether he or she forgives or not (Ephesians 1:7). The importance of forgiving others and the sin of refusing to forgive in Matthew 6 and 18 has to do with continuing in fellowship in a meaningful relationship with Jesus here and now in this life.

Your questions and comments are appreciated ( edeboer.gmm@gmail.com ).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Joy in Knowing Jesus:  

Reasons to Rejoice in Him

by Eldon DeBoer

Chapter three of Philippians opens with a command:
Henceforth*, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.”
This challenge by the Spirit of God from the hand of the Apostle Paul is built upon the truth of Jesus Christ. The Lord has given us many good reasons to rejoice. As Paul shares his personal testimony in Philippians three, it is clearly evident why he rejoiced. He knew where true inner happiness is found. It is found in knowing Jesus Christ (3:8). Even though life is oftentimes not what we hoped it would be or what we expected it to be, we can rejoice in the Lord because we know Him. (* “Henceforth” is a good translation of the word that is typically translated “Finally” (loipon).)

Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and that they might have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). What did Jesus mean by this declaration? What is an abundant life to you? Certainly it includes happiness, wouldn’t you think?

Blaise Pascal, the accomplished mathematician of yesteryear, had some insightful thoughts about happiness and rejoicing:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. [Happiness] is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

And yet after such a great number of years, no one without faith has reached the point to which all continually look. All complain, princes and subjects, noblemen and commoners, old and young, strong and weak, learned and ignorant, healthy and sick, of all countries, all times, all ages, and all conditions.

A trial so long, so continuous, and so uniform, should certainly convince us of our inability to reach the good by our own efforts. But example teaches us little. No resemblance is ever so perfect that there is not some slight difference; and hence we expect that our hope will not be deceived on this occasion as before. And thus, while the
present never satisfies us, experience dupes us, and from misfortune to misfortune leads us to death, their eternal crown.

What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.  (Blaise Pascal, 1623–1662, Thoughts. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14, Section VII, Morality and Doctrine, the SECOND part.—That man without faith cannot know the true good, nor justice. (Brackets and emphasis added.))

It is only in God that we find joy in a world filled with sadness and trouble. This is part of the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.

An Initial Definition of Rejoice and Joy
First of all, we will consider how the Greek words translated rejoice and joy, chairo and chara, bring into view a deep sense of happiness that only comes from the Lord. The command to rejoice is not a directive to have fun or experience surface level happiness. It is much deeper than that.

The Lord frequently commands us to rejoice through the hand of the Apostle Paul. In addition to Philippians 3:1, the following verses also present this challenge (all quotations are from the NASB):

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always. . .
2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

In this verse we are directed join with others in their joy:
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, . . .
In addition to the three commands to rejoice in Philippians, Paul frequently wrote of rejoicing and possessing joy in this very same letter:
1:18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
2:17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy (sugchairo) with you all.
2:18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.
2:28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.
2:29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy (chara), and hold men like him in high regard;
4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.

Here are additional verses in which chara, the noun translate “joy,” is used in Philippians:
1:4 . . . always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,
1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,
2:2 . . . make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
2:29 Receive [Epaphroditus] then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard;
4:1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.

As the following reasons to rejoice are presented, keep in mind that the joy being addressed is a deep sense of happiness that only comes from the Lord and is only found in Him.

Reason #1: We can rejoice in the Lord Jesus because we know Him. Philippians 3:7-8

From the perspective of religious Jews, Paul had it made. He had position, power and prestige among his people. But then he met Jesus and found out what really mattered in life. Nothing compared to knowing Jesus Christ. Anything else he considered to be “rubbish.” He wrote in Philippians 3:7-10,
7. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8. 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 in order that I may gain Christ,
9. 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,
10. that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; . . .

When we have the perspective on life that Paul had, we will have a joyful life.
When knowing Jesus Christ is our main objective in life, we will rejoice in Him. In other words, when nothing else matters to us more than know Jesus Christ, no circumstance in life can take away the joy we have in Him.

When Paul writes of gaining Christ he is addressing attention to his personal relationship with him and the benefits of that relationship (3:8). In his book The Joy of Living: A Devotional Study of Philippians, Dr. J Dwight Pentecost offers this summary of Paul’s letter,

[K]nowing Christ, walking in fellowship with Him, and being obedient to Him floods the life and heart and mind of the apostle Paul with an incomparable joy...so that in Christ he has found perfect rest, satisfaction, and contentment."

Reason #2: There is cause for rejoicing in knowing that your righteousness comes from God by faith.

It should be understood that there is joy in knowing that God has given you His righteousness. You are righteous in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Paul has developed the teaching that God’s righteousness is received as a gift from Him in greater detail in his letter to the Romans, chapters three, four and five (see especially 3:21 – 4:9). But here it is clear that Paul is addressing the righteousness of Christ that he wants to be more and more of a reality in his experience before his glorification.

Notice the subjunctive moods used in Philippians 3:8-9 where Paul declares that he “counts” everything in life as rubbish “in order that [he] may gain Christ, and may be found in Him . . .” (NASB). Paul knew that He had been declared to be right with God by God Himself through faith in Jesus. He had been justified by God in Christ (Romans 5:1). But the subjunctives indicate what Paul desires to be true in his life. He wants what is his position in Christ, justification (Romans 5:1), to be his practice in his walk with Jesus. He wants to have a righteous way of life. He develops this further when he writes of his desire to attain to the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:11-13). Positionally in Christ he had been raised with Him (cf. Romans 6:4-5; Ephesians 1:3ff.). But it is the apostle’s desire that who he is in Christ may become more and more of a reality in his life as he lives righteously. This is Paul’s main concern in life for which he presses on (Philippians 3:14).

Just as our righteousness in Christ is given to us from God by faith, so righteousness in the Christian grace-way of life is also a reality when we walk by faith. Any righteousness in our life is there because we are heeding God’s word by faith (cf. Hebrews 11:4). This experiential righteousness is not performance based. It is not ours because we are focusing on keeping a set of rules that certainly are good in themselves. No, this righteousness is by faith as we keep our eyes on Jesus Christ and make our main concern gaining Him and knowing Him (cf. 1 John 2:3-6). And this is where joy in the Lord is found.

The relationship between believing God and being filled with joy is found in Paul’s wish for believers in Romans 15:13:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Back to the Importance of Knowing Christ—and sharing in His sufferings
After stating the fact that a righteous life comes from God through faith (3:9), he once again addresses attention to knowing Christ (3:10). This is where joy is found.

But what in the world, you may ask, is the “fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” about? What does that mean, exactly? You may be thinking, yes, I want the “power of His resurrection” but don’t talk to me about suffering with Christ.
Paul frequently wrote of the pain he experienced because he was outspoken about the truth of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; Galatians 5:11; 6:12; 2 Timothy 3:10-12; cf. Colossians 1:24). We may not face persecution like Paul did, but we all experience the effects of sin and the curse because we live in this fallen sinful world. Here is the truth that is taught in the Bible concerning sharing in the sufferings of Christ that has application for all believers everywhere:
Whenever we experience the effects of sin and the curse in this fallen world, we may view it as sharing in the sufferings of Christ (John 11:34; Romans 8:18-23; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; cf. Hebrews 11:24-26).
Jesus wants you to experience the power of His resurrection, drawing upon His strength, when you share in His sufferings as you experience the pain of living in a sinful world. Just as Jesus wept on His way to the burial place of His friend Lazarus, we may grieve as we experience the effects of sin in our life.
God calls us to keep on demonstrating that we want to know Jesus Christ more and more by continuing to trust in Him—no matter what. This is the Lord’s plan for our life. It is only as we trust Him to give us the strength to obey His commands that we get to know Him better and are able to rejoice in Him.

Reason #3: You rejoice in the Lord because you understand His plan for your life.
Sometimes believers do not rejoice in the Lord because they do not understand the plan of God for the Christian grace-way of life as they should. The Lord’s plan for your life here and now is not a life that is filled with only pleasant experiences. But possibly our expectations of what God should do or must do in our life are skewed, as the perspective of this lady reveals.

A woman told [Larry Crabb] with a peaceful smile that she knows God will bring her deserting husband back to her. When [she was asked to explain] the reason for the hope within her, she smiled even more broadly and replied, “He promised me an abundant life” (Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy, p. 28, brackets added).

Sadly, many believers think that an abundant life must be a life that is filled with pleasant experiences here and now on earth. And if life is not pleasant certainly God will or even must change things for the better.

But as the title of Crabb’s book indicates, Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy, a deeper experience of joy results from experiencing God’s enabling grace to face life as it is. If our first concern is to know Christ and we appreciate that He is providentially working in our life, then when our hopes and dreams do not come true we should continue to keep in mind that we live in a war zone that involves the decisions that people choose to make.

Does the Lord want a deserting husband to return to his wife? Of course! And He knows just what it will take in that husband’s life to bring that about. But the husband may continue to rebel against the Lord Jesus’ plan for his marriage no matter what He could do in his life. And Jesus knows all of this. Has God failed the wife? No, the husband has. But the wife can look to the Lord for help in the face of her pain. By her painful experience of having a wayward husband, she is sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. But through the pain she can experience Jesus’ joy as He gives her the grace to keep trusting Him to face life as it is without her husband. Or the Lord could choose to remove the husband, bringing about his untimely death.
Are we determined to let no one and nothing stand in the way of gaining Christ? Do we want to view all of life, including relationships with others, from the standpoint of carefully considering how what is happening in our life will help us get to know Christ better? Our Savior who suffered in our place wants us to get to know Him better as He views the suffering we experience because we want to get to know Him better and better.

Our Lord God certainly has given us many good reasons to rejoice. Even though life is oftentimes not what we hoped it would be or what we expected it to be, we can have joy in the Lord because knowing Him is our first concern. We experience the power of Christ’s resurrection when we have joy as we experience the pain of sharing in His sufferings.

Reason #4: You will rejoice when your life is productive for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:10-14

Jesus promises you His joy if you love Him. And to love Him is to obey Him. He declared in John 15:

8. "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
9. "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.
10. "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love.
11. "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Jesus wants you to experience the fullness of joy that He has.
It is helpful to keep in mind that the occasion in which Jesus presented the teaching of John 15 took place just prior to His betrayal and crucifixion. In the immediate context He had spoken of being troubled (John 13:21; cf. 14:1). Like Christ, we may have His joy in the midst of difficult and horribly painful times
(cf. 1 Peter 1:6,8; 4:12-13).

Reason #5: You will rejoice when you stay in the love of Jesus Christ.

There is joy in knowing Jesus Christ and enjoying a loving personal relationship with Him (Philippians 3:8,10; cf. 1 John 1:1-7).

Reason #6: You will rejoice when you obey Christ’s commands.

Joy in obedience is the experience of only those who heed the Lord’s commands out of a heart of gratitude for what He has done for them (1 John 4:17-19; 5:3).

These reasons for joy were also the experience of those who looked to the Lord in faith in ages past. The Psalm writers of the Old Testament days knew it well (Psalm 84:1-12; 16:7-11; 89:14-16; 32:10-11; 90:14-16)

Reason #7 There is cause for rejoicing—there is good reason for a deep level of joy—in those who are pure in heart by the grace of God.

The pure in heart know that everything is right between them and God. And they have joy (1 John 1:4-9).

This was true of David after he confessed his sin and cried out to the Lord to restore to him the joy of being delivered from death, sin and sin’s consequences (Psalm 51:6-14).

Reason #8 We should rejoice because there is joy in knowing about the glorious future the Lord has for us. Philippians 3:20-21

When we rejoice in the Lord we may often have to look past the circumstances of life that we are facing and bring to mind what God has done for us and what He has in store for us forever with Him.
Summary
What we have been considering thus far is a level of joy that is not determined by circumstances or the behavior of others. It is the deepest level of joy found in a trusting, loving and obedient relationship with Jesus Christ. It is the deep sense of inner happiness that our Lord God gives to us because we know Him and are trusting in Him. This is the joy that may be ours at any time, in any place, in any circumstance. Because of the grace of God we truly can rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Facing a Test and God's Promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13

"Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and He will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, He will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (Good News Translation; New American Standard Bible).

This verse points out that we all face tests on this fallen sinful planet to one degree or another by way of a
  • trial,
  • trouble,
  • tribulation or
  • terribly horrific ordeal.
Whatever the intensity of the test, the promise is given that our faithful God will provide the spiritual strength to endure it and thereby pass the test, when we keep trusting Him.  The "way of escape" may not be out from under the test but always must include renewing our faith and confidence in the Word of God and His promises, knowing that He will provide endurance when we are trusting in Him to do so.

Sometimes we might think that the test is too much.  It just seems that there is no hope and we cannot see how God will see us through it.  When this is where we are, the key to renewing faith in God is to bring ourselves to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ and remember what our God did for us there.  Bring to mind that He chose to come to this wretched sinful world as a man to serve us.  Keep in mind what we are told in Philippians 2:

" . . . Although Christ Jesus existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God something to which He would completely hold on to, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."

When we focus on the truth of the depth of God's love for us that He so clearly demonstrated by being united with true humanity so that He could serve us and deliver us from sin and its effects by His suffering and death, this should help us renew our trust in Him to see us through the test we are facing.

This one thing we can count on for sure:  we are going to be tested.  This is a huge part of life as it is on planet earth.  But the Lord Jesus will give us the grace to endure the tests, if--and this is a big if--if we keep on placing our confidence in Him and His Spirit and in His Word and not in our strength or ability.  May we not be like the children of Israel who failed miserably in doing this (1 Corinthians 10:1ff.).  And may we be alert to the deceptive thinking that we can face whatever tests may come in our own strength (10:12).

Grace Needed to be Courageous

by Eldon DeBoer

God calls us to be courageous as we engage ourselves in spiritual warfare. And there is a battle raging for the hearts and souls of everyone around us. And, apart from God providing the grace to win these spiritual battles, we won't win as we should. We won't have the courage to keep on fighting for His honor and glory.

The movie “Courageous” has had a powerful impact on my soul. It presents a tremendous challenge—especially to husbands and fathers. In my humble opinion, everybody ought to see it. Take the time and “just do it”! But it might be too much for some men to take. Especially if they are not willing to take up the challenge to courageously look to the Lord to become the husbands and fathers that God calls them to become.

Dads, there is only one perfect father, the heavenly Father. But He calls us to be like Him (Matthew 5:48). While He certainly knows we cannot be perfectly like Him all the time, He still calls us to be like Him, just the same. And apart from His grace we cannot do this. Apart from His grace we cannot keep on growing in becoming more like Him.

If there is anything that I would have added to the “Courageous” movie, it's the desperate need we have for God's grace to live out the truth. The group of men in the movie—who are all cops by the way—make a solemn resolution to God and before their families to be and become the men God has called them to be. Their vow included this: "I WILL seek to honor God, be faithful to His church, obey His Word, and do His will. I WILL courageously work with the strength God provides to fulfill this resolution for the rest of my life and for His glory. 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.'" --Joshua 24:15

The need we all have for God's grace to live out the truth should to be emphasized as it is in the New Testament Scriptures. For apart from a grace emphasis the strong tendency is to attempt to apply the truth in our own strength. Apart from God's grace we will fail. We will fail to live out the truth to the glory of Christ. For apart from Him we can do nothing that has eternal value before God (John 15:5).

When I was still in my teens (I think I was about 15 or 16) my mother shared with me that when she got pregnant with me she was not happy about it. She had four children already and she thought she was a failure as a mom. She certainly did not want a fifth child. But my mom had a tender heart toward the Lord. And she cried out to Him for help. The Lord gave Mom this verse:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9; NASB)

There is a basic truth presented in this verse that each and every one of us need to keep in mind in our quest to heed the command to “be courageous.” The Lord our God is with us! If you have believed in Jesus, He is with you and He will give you His grace that you so desperately need to be strong and courageous. The Lord gave my mom the grace she needed for my benefit and for the benefit of my older brothers and sisters as well. I am so thankful that my parents loved the Lord and wanted what was best for me. And you can count on the Lord to give you the grace you need for the benefit of those you love. You can count on Him for His grace in the spiritual battle for the application of truth in your home and community.

We are all at different stages of growth in our relationship with God. For my children's sake I wish I knew back when they were younger what I know now so that I would have had more insight to apply the truth more meaningfully for their benefit. I was not the father I wish I would have been for their sake. I'm still growing. I'm still growing in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior and, therefore, I was not what I am now (duh?). But by God's grace I can keep on advancing and keep on becoming the man God calls me to be for the sake of my wife and children. And for the sake of those close to me whose lives the Lord gives me the privilege to touch.

“We were made to be courageous!” (check out the Casting Crowns video). May we keep on encouraging each other to keep on looking to the Lord Jesus for His grace to be courageous in the application of truth for His glory and honor.

I appreciate very much your comments and questions (edeboer.gmm@gmail.com).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Freedom for Transformation by Grace

by Eldon DeBoer

Are you held in slavery to a set of rules or things you think you need to do to be accepted by God and enjoy Him forever?


Believe Jesus' words!  He said that the one who believes in Him has everlasting life ((John 6:47).  Just believe in Him and He gives you the free gift of an awesome life with Him forever and an abundant meaningful life now as you continue to walk with Him by faith.


The sad commentary on the lives of many believers in Christ Jesus is that while they once understood that they have been delivered from their sins and eternal death by God's grace in Christ Jesus, they now are living their life under the Law. Sadly, many believers become confused about God's grace plan for their life much like the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote long ago. The result is that they do not have the joy of true freedom in Christ but, sadly, they are living a life of slavery to rules and regulations that they think they have to obey in order to know that they are secure in their eternal relationship with Jesus Christ.


Just reading through 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 6:2 should cause us to draw these conclusions:


> The Law of Moses can only bring death. 

> The Spirit of God is the One who gives life. 
>  In Christ there is freedom to be transformed into His likeness by His love and grace. 

Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 3:6:

"[God] has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant (the contract agreement God signed with the blood of His Son) --not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

What is Paul’s main point? The Law of Moses had its God-given purpose. It brought death and illustrated the reasons for death. It was a message of condemnation (3:9). We have disobeyed God’s Word. We have sinned against God and therefore we die. Left to ourselves we will live in torment and be forever separated from God.

What is it that kills? What is it that can only produce death? It is God's Law that "was engraved in letters on stone" (3:7). Only the Spirit of God is able to make us alive in Christ through faith in Him (2 Corinthians 4:13-16; cf. 3:16). Only through faith in Christ is the veil of the Law taken away with its fading glory (3:14). 


At the very moment that we believed in Jesus Christ, we died with Him when God identified us with Him in His death (2 Corinthians 5:15; cp. Ephesians 1:13-14). God has reconciled us to Himself by means of Christ’s work in our place (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Christ Jesus took our sin upon Himself so that we might receive God’s righteousness (5:21). Paul clearly taught that this was appropriated to us not by any works or obedience to God's Law (His rules) but by believing in Jesus Christ. 


Whenever any human effort or obedience is presented as a requirement for deliverance from sin or maintaining one’s eternal relationship with Christ Jesus
, only confusion can result. There is the real danger of the veil remaining over the hearts of believers who once understood the grace message of the gospel but have become confused. Any true transformation into the likeness of Christ Jesus is impossible as long as the believer views his obedience as necessary in order to keep what God says that he already possesses--namely eternal life. 


The mirror of God’s grace in Christ Jesus is blurred by setting forth any requirement of obedience to the Law or God's rules for maintaining one's eternal relationship with Christ Jesus. The message of grace in Christ is distorted. And consequently believers return to slavery to the Law.

The only way the Spirit of the Lord ministers and gives life is by turning to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, believing that He and He alone saves and guarantees everlasting life. He can give us life with God forever because of who He is and what He has done for us on the cross of Calvary. Likewise, the Spirit of the Lord is the One who brings about our transformation into the likeness of Christ by His grace as we keep fixing our eyes on Christ Jesus in faith, keeping in mind His love for us as we continue to trust Him for His strength to apply His Word.


Is obedience and pleasing the Lord Jesus important? Of course!!! But we experience the freedom of His grace only when we obey Him in gratitude for His love and for the many gifts He has given, not because we fear that if we do not keep obeying Him He will take away what He in fact has freely given us through faith in Him.


Jesus Christ made it possible for us to enter heaven by His suffering and death in our place. By believing in Him we receive everlasting life with Him. The wondrous love that Christ Jesus has for us includes our position in Him, giving us resurrection bodies and rewarding us for faithful service. Paul brought this into view in 2 Corinthians 4:14-5:13. Then he explained (the explanatory gar in the Greek text introduces 5:14) to the Corinthians that he and Timothy did what they did because they understood the significance of Jesus Christ's love for them:

2 Corinthians 5:14-16  "For the love of Christ constrains (compels or motivates) us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;  and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer." 


The love that Jesus Christ so clearly demonstrated to us by His suffering and death on the cross provides real substance for the meaning and application of grace in our life. In verse 14 Paul uses the verb sunecho (pres.act.ind.). It is translated “constrains” or “controls” in other English versions. How this verb is used elsewhere helps us understand its meaning. When we comprehend the love Christ has for us, it "hems" us in (Luke 19:43), it "presses" us to act (Philippians 1:23). The grace demonstrated by the love of Jesus Christ has everything do with being properly motivated to please the Lord when we obey His commands. This is how the grace of God revealed by the love of Christ for us instructs and trains us (cf. Titus 2:11-14).


The only way the Spirit brings about transformation is by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. It is all His work in us and through us. When this is not the emphasis, when this is not understood and applied, there is a real danger that believers have received the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).We should not put up with a message that is a message of death that kills. Study Paul's concern for the believers in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4. The false teaching that declares that God's rules must be kept in order to retain one's eternal relationship with Christ is in opposition to the message of grace. This false teaching will keep people in slavery to those rules. How can anyone rejoice in a message of condemnation and death? Yet, many believers today continue to "put up with it easily enough" (2 Corinthians 11:4 in the NIV), as is evident by what is commonly taught and practiced by many. 



We are delivered from sin and death and receive eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ. And we are transformed into His likeness by His Spirit as we keep fixing our eyes on Him and His Word with faith in Him to enable us to obey.
"Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 3:1-18).

We are free to become more like Him only as we obey Him in response to His love and grace.

Don't take my word for it. Carefully study and think through what Paul is teaching, beginning in 2 Corinthians 3. You will probably find that this is not easy reading material. You are in good company. The Apostle Peter admitted that Paul's writings were "hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:15-16) But keep working at it. The reward is fantastic.  If you lost sight of it and have become enslaved to a set of rules, you might realize once again the freedom found in God's grace message for your life.

If you have questions about any of the above, send me an e-mail (edeboer.gmm@gmail.com) and I'll be pleased to do my best to respond.
Like Paul did for the leaders of Ephesus, I entrust you to God "and the message of His grace which is able to build you up . . ." (Acts 20:32). Only this wonderful message of grace is able to build you up in your relationship with God.