Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Don't I Seem to Grow Spiritually? (Hindrances to Spiritual Growth)

"Why don't I seem to grow spiritually?" is the question of many, not realizing that there are "spiritual earthworms" hindering the growth of their plant of spirituality.

1. False Security (Are you fully persuaded that you need spiritual growth?)

One hindrance to spiritual growth is the presumption that we're already spiritual enough and need to grow no more. The Bible teaches that sanctification--the process of being holy or of growing spiritually--takes a lifetime (Phil. 3:12). I think most of us are unwilling to deny that with our lips. But we do so with our lives. Sometimes we draw false security from good things around us. One of which is having godly parents, an orthodox church and/or a Christian fellowship.

We should remember that each of us has a personal accountability before God. You cannot bring your godly pastor-father there. God measures you by your own practical holiness (cf. 2 Cor 5:10).

Another good thing from where we might draw false security is our theological knowledge. Whenever we think we know God enough, our thirst for Him drifts away, along with our spiritual progress. But the infinite God can never be fully comprehended by finite, sinful creatures like us. Moreover, knowledge by itself is not enough (Jas 2:17). It takes application of the Word to cultivate holiness in our lives and, consequently, grow spiritually.

Everybody needs growth. But the question is more that just whether you intellectually believe that. The question is whether you constantly live in awareness of such need. And the sign that you don't is when you don't evaluate your spirituality everyday.

2. False Sources (What is your means of spiritual growth?)

Pragmatism is the key of most churches for discipleship. Basically, it is the belief that we should use whatever method that will work to win people. Since most young people love bonding and fun, outing and games might be a good move. Since most unbelievers love music jamming, why not utilize Praise and Worship to evangelize them?

The problem with this, aside from the fact that it is man-centered, is that it contradicts the Bible. Paul warns us from trading "the wisdom of this world" with the simplicity of the gospel preaching (1 Cor 1:17ff) and ear-tickling tactics with sound doctrine. (2 Tim. 4:3) Through and through we can read that it is God's word which transforms us. (Psa 19:7-11; 1 Pet 2:2; Rom. 12:2). Jesus Himself, while praying at Jerusalem, gave us the true key for spiritual growth: "Sanctify them by Your Truth. Your Word is truth." (Jn 17:17)

You can indulge yourself into many "spiritual" strategies but they won't grow your faith. Christ's disciples are being made holy by the truth of God's word. What we need is the word of God saturating our lives. What we need is to have the word read, the word listened to, the word prayed, the word memorized and the word sung.

3. False Standards (Who is your standard in spirituality?)

One of the biggest mistakes we can do is to compare ourselves with unbelieving people for spiritual checkup, forgetting that these people naturally will not progress in spirituality because they're dead (Eph 2:1). It is just normal for them not to grow because they don't even have life. But it is utterly abnormal for Christians not to grow because we are already born again (Jn 1:13).

How about co-believers? Albeit helpful for some reasons, comparing ourselves to them to the point of making them our standard of spirituality is wrong. Just because you are spiritually better than your churchmates or siblings, it doesn't mean you can be laxed or assume you're growing according to God's will. Also just because your mentor is better than you, it doesn't mean being like him is your chief end. Our standard for spirituality is Christ alone (1 Jn 2:6).

So the question is not whether you are better than others. The real question is whether or not you are being more like Christ everyday.

4. False Success (How do you know that you are pursuing spiritual growth?)

You've gone to the church. You've read your Bible. You've said a prayer. You got all of your spiritual disciplines done, and you still feel like God is far away and you're not spiritually growing. What's wrong?

It's not that you are doing the wrong things. But you are doing it the wrong way. We got used to do's-and-don'ts and how-to's that sometimes we already forget the essence. We are forgetting why we're trying to maintain our spiritual disciplines. We are forgetting that these are means of God's grace. It is God Himself who sanctifies. These are just doors we knock at to see God more and beg for His sovereign, sanctifying grace.

Most of the time we see spiritual disciplines as an end of themselves so we end up dog-tired with unfruitful legalism. We should, by God's grace, pursue spiritual disciplines only because we want to know God more, be closer to God more and love God more. We succeed in growing when we do not just perform our religious routines but pursue God through them.

5. False Spring (Why do you desire to grow spiritually?)

Finally, motive matters! If we seek to grow spiritually because we want the attention and praise of others, God will not bless our desire. Only when we seek His glory in our pursuit of spiritual growth will He be with us in our pursuit (1 Cor 10:31).

There is a very thin line between pursuing personal growth for God's sake and pursuing personal growth alone. Beware not to be too much consumed with looking at yourself. Those who are being transformed into Christ's likeness gaze at His beauty (2 Cor 3:18).

Had we shunned these hindrances our growth will be assured. That will happen not instantly though. So be patient and know that God is not done with you yet (Phil 1:6).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Parody: You're My Joy

You're My Joy
(a parody of "Overjoyed" by Stevie Wonder)
Psalm 73:25-26; Psalm 16:11; Jer. 2:13, etc.

Over time, I've been hoarding up treasures I love
Just to know that they never render satisfaction
Till I found the Pearl I searched all my days
Now I've got to throw my treasures away

All the gifts, which You give us, are perfect and good
But You are Your best gift, 'twas of You I've been dreaming
The heaven I want would look like a hell
Without God the One who makes heaven well

Chorus:
For whom have I in heaven but You?
And on earth, too,
There is nothing
That I desire beside you
And even though my flesh and heart grow weak
You're my heart's strength
You're my Joy and you're mine 'ternally

My vile heart had me shamefully turn the Fount down
Just to find, I hewed broken cisterns [that] can't hold water
I've now found out that without the Divine
The joy that I sought can never be mine

"God is not a tool for finding pleasure. God is not the shovel, so to speak, with which we dig for buried jewels. God is Himself the treasure. The Christian's pursuit of happiness is consummated when we find in God our all in all. He and He alone is our exceeding great reward. He is not a means to a higher end. He is the end."
(Sam Storms, Pleasures Evermore, p. 79)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Providence of God in a Nutshell

“My Father is working until now, and I [Jesus] am working.” (John 5:17)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) 

Definition of Providence
 “Providence is the theological term for the continuous going forth of God’s power whereby He causes all features of the created universe to fulfill the design for which He created them. Creation explains how there happens to be a world at all; preservation explains why it still exists in good order; and providence explains how it will develop toward God’s eternally planned goal. It is the consummation in time of the plan of God made in eternity.” (Robert Duncan Culver)
“The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, he upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory.” (J.I. Packer)
“God’s providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over His creation for His own glory and the good of His people.” (Jerry Bridges)

 
Misconceptions about Providence
1. It means God is in control of all things so we’re not responsible for the actions we make.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)
2. It means God is in control of all things so God is the author of evil
“Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17)
3. It means God has a purpose in everything and his purposes are always traceable.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)
4. It means all things work together for the good of every person in the world.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28)


The All-Inclusiveness of Providence
 
The physical world (Psalm 135:6,7)  |  Plant Life (Psalm 104:16)  |  People’s social position  |  (Psalm 139:16)  |  People’s success and failures (Psalm 75:6,7) | The time and circumstances of a person’s death (Deuteronomy 32:48-50)  |  Guidance and spiritual needs (Matthew 5:45; 6:8,11,26; Philippians 4:19)  |  His people (Philippians 1:12-14; cf. Ephesians 3:1)  |  Apparent calamities (Philippians 1:12-14; Philemon 15)  |  Temptations, trials, persecutions (1 Corinthians 10:13; cf. Daniel 3:17,18) 

 
Some Types of Providence
1. General providence – in his provision and care for all living creatures (Matthew 6:25-30).
2. Directive providence – guiding the course and destiny of the nations (Daniel 2:21).
3. Permissive providence – such as when God allowed Satan to assault Job’s family and possessions (Job 1:8-19). This demonstrates that while God permits sin in the world, he is never the cause of sin.
4. Safeguarding providence – in protecting his people, such as the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-27).
5. Restraining providence – by preventing sin and harm from happening, such as preventing Abimelek from taking Abraham’s wife, Sarah, as his concubine (Genesis 20:1-6; see also Psalm 19:13).
6. Limiting providence – such as forbidding Satan from destroying Job’s person (Job 1:12; 2:6).
7. Redirecting providence – such as when he turned the treachery of Joseph’s brothers into provision that saved many people’s lives (Genesis 50:20). Of course, the primary example of this last mode of providence was God’s work of redirecting the death of Jesus on the cross into salvation for the world (Acts 2:23).
 
The Application of Providence
1. It provides us meaning and purpose to life. Because God is the all-wise Creator and Sustainer of all things, we can be sure that we are not here by accident and everything has a purpose.

“To the person who believes in God the Creator, this world order is not an impersonal `nature', whose mechanistic systems mock our deepest needs and aspirations as people. Rather, it is a created order that reflects on the Creator, who is good and who continues to do `all things well'. Then we can see, as Paul saw, that `in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose'.” (James Houston)
2. It dispels fear and gives us certain hope for the future even amidst tragedies. We can be certain that nothing happens outside God’s sovereignty.
“The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…. All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.” (Margaret Clarkson)
“When we fully recognize God's omnipotence, we will both obey him and rest secure in his protection. We will have no superstitious fears. Some people think the stars govern the world, and worry about horoscopes. We can rest assured that the world is completely governed by the secret will of God, so that nothing happens without his permission, knowledge and will.” (John Calvin)
3. It gives us enumerable reasons to thank, praise, and worship God. Because behind all things is God’s sovereign power, we can glorify Him for all the loving providence He lavishes.
 “If God performs all things for us, then it is our great interest and concern in all things to study to please him upon whom we depend for all things…. Fear nothing but sin. Study nothing so much as how to please God. Do not turn from your own integrity under temptation. Trust God in the way of your duty. These are sure rules to secure yourselves and your interests in all the vicissitudes of life.” (John Flavel)

References:
Bridges, Jerry. Is God Really in Control?. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2006.
Calvin, John.
The Institutes of Christian Religion.
Culver, Robert Duncan. Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2005.
Demarest, Bruce and Matthews, Keith (Eds.). Dictionary of Everyday: Theology and Culture. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2010.
Houston, James. The Providence of God. Lion CD of the Bible and Christianity V 2.0.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

8 Cute (But Most Misused) Verses in the Bible


8) John 3:16
Yes, I know. It's the most popular verse EVER. But it's in #8 because of a wrong assumption that leads many to misapplication. I'm referring specifically to the word "whosoever". Some thought that this verse proves that any human has the "ability" to believe[1]. Arminians love to call it "free will" (in contrast to Total Depravity). But even if you're an Arminian, you must admit that the word "whosoever" implies general availability, NOT general ability. It implies that they may believe. It does not imply that they can believe. (For example: "whosoever will fly to the sun may own all my properties!") [click for further explanation][2]

7) 2 Chronicles 7:14
This is used oftentimes for religious Patriotism. They pray to God to "heal their land" (nation) from political dilemmas, natural disasters, moral disintegration, etc. The problem is that the verse is referring to the chosen nation Israel, not the Philippines or other countries (2 Chron. 7:18), and the prayer place is referring to the temple built by Solomon (2 Chron. 7:15,16). Israel is God's chosen people, distinguished from other nations. (Deut. 7:6) Unless we read and interpret these Old Testament verse within its historical and cultural context, we'll be at a loss. [click for further explanation]

6) 1 John 4:8
"God is love" is at no.6 because of a misconception about biblical "love". So many people think that love is tantamount to niceness. They think that if you're already offending or hurting or being disliked, you're no longer loving. Those who hold to this concept of love use this verse to degrade the truth that of God's wrath, or of church discipline. But that is a wrong concept of biblical love. Love "does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6) so it does not tolerate the untruthful sinner. Genuine love hates evil, and clings to what is good. (Rom. 12:9) [click for further explanation]

5) Matthew 18:20
It is theologically true that God hears all corporate, church-oriented prayers even if there are only two or three persons. But this verse is not about that. Neither does itl make God a genie. The context is about church discipline (Mt. 18:15-19). "For" in verse 19 means that the said verse is a reason of the preceding verses. The corporate asking here has something to do with the church's dealing with sin in the church. "Whatever you bound on earth will be bound in heaven" (v.18) has something to do with the church's heavenly authority to exercise discipline. [click for further explanation]
 
4) Revelation 3:20
So often do we use this verse in evangelism. We tell people that God is knocking at the door of "their hearts" and they should let him in. The illustration however does not pertain to individual unbelievers but to believers from the church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:14) whom God loves (Rev. 3:19). The call here is for the lukewarm to be zealous (Rev. 3:16,19). To "open the door" means being zealous to the extent of being ready for Christ's future coming (Rev. 3:21). This fits the context more. [click for further explanation]

3) Matthew 7:1
Methinks this is the most foolish misapplication: it is wrongly taken to mean that all forms of judgment are wrong. So when you seem to be judging someone about his beliefs or practices, they'll point you to this verse. Such people are actually self-contradicting because they too judge you as someone who judges others. In actuality, the Bible does not forbid all forms of judgment. For example, the Bible commands us to judge professing church members who sin (see 1 Cor. 5:11-13) and to judge a dispute between believers with wisdom (1 Cor. 5:4-6). Mt. 7:1 refers to hypocritical judgment (Mt. 7:3-5), being guilty of what you're condemning in others. [click for further explanation]


2) Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
Here's a cute one too, especially when a person has a problem and you want God's word to cheer him up. Knowing God has wonderful, prosperous plan for someone is comforting. But Jeremiah 29:11's promise "to prosper" (lit. wholeness) people is not a promise for anyone, nor is it a promise of economic well-being. Those who apply this verse to themselves are even unwilling to apply the succeeding verses. (Jer. 29:17-18) Just like in #7, the promise is for the exiled Israelites at Babylon (Jer. 29:1-10). It was a comforting message of restoration for God's exiled people whom God disciplined for years. [click for further explanation]

1) Philippians 4:13
DANDARARAN!!! I think it's one of the cutest verse! But this verse always reminds me of a motorcycle exhibitionist. When I was in highschool, a print ad of evangelistic-campaign-with-motorcycle-exhibition was labeled with that verse. In the same way, people abuse this verse and say they can be healed from all sicknesses through Christ, be never gunned down through Christ, be a millionaire through Christ, fulfill all their ambitions through Christ, and the like. Context is not in line with such interpretation though. The context is contentment even amidst sufferings. (Phil. 4:11-12) Paul is saying that he can endure with contentment all these sufferings through Jesus Christ who strengthens Him. Those who use this verse to make themselves somewhat "superman" through Christ are erring. [click for further explanation]

Twisting God's Word is Abominable
Cute as it may look, if we twist God's word we are sinning. God hates those who twist his word (Deut. 18:20; Rev. 22:18; 2 Pet. 3:16-18). Our duty then is to learn proper bible interpretation or hermeneutics(2 Tim. 2:15) And be very careful with how we interpret and use even a single verse from the word of God.

Recommended books:
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Gordon Fee; Douglas Stewart)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] The gospel offer is available to anyone. It summons everyone to faith. But it doesn't imply that anyone has the innate ability to believe just as God can call the dead to "come forth" even though the dead has no innate ability to do so (John 11:43-44). The gospel works in the same way, man is spirituality dead, God commands them to live through the gospel, God sovereignly gives them spiritual life, then they respond to the gospel by faith.
[2] That the recommended links are cited does not necessarily mean that I completely agree with and recommend the whole sites or the author.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Parody: Grace is for You

Grace is for You
(a parody of "Crazy for You" by Spongecola)

I.
Staying strong 'gainst demonic flaks [Eph. 6:12]
Struggling killing our own flesh's wants [1 Pet. 2:11]
Truly, too, the world deceives by charm [1Jn. 2:15; Jas. 4:4]

God sees you through your soul's warfare [1 Pet. 5:10]
Cast your care to Him for He cares [1 Pet. 5:7]
Satan's close but still God shows a way [1 Pet. 5:8]

Out of trials we face, in fact [1 Cor. 10:13]
 

Chorus 1:
God's grace is for you
Humbly ask and you'll know it's true [Mt. 7:7]
  God never grants us any trial which
We can't pass through, just flee to His embrace [1 Cor. 10:13]
God's grace is for you

II. 

Are you tired of deceitful hearts?
Are you buffled in where you are?
Are you worried of what the future holds?

Call Him now ere you begin to move
He'll give you grace and greatly work in you
Soon we would receive God's promised crown [Jas. 1:12]
That's when the testing's done, you see [Rom. 16:20]
 

Chorus 2:
God's grace is for you
Trust in Christ, He's faithful and true [Rev. 19:11]
God never grants us any trials strange 
[1 Cor. 10:13]
There's no brand new, Christ face them in the flesh

So He sympathizes [Heb. 4:15]

Chorus 3:
And so God's grace is for you
You can have God's grace through and through

From our worst days unto our nicest days
Christ's grace is full, just flee to his embrace [Jn. 1:14]
God's grace is for you

In Paul's greetings too [Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; etc.]
God's grace is for you
John 1:16 too
"grace upon grace" is for you
Ephesians 1 and 2
Long before grace is for you
God's grace is for you

"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace." (Jerry Bridges)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Sufferings of Christ Described in 1 Peter 3:18

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit." (1 Peter 3:18)


Christ's Suffering is...
1. Complete
2. Sin-expiating
3. Substitutionary
4. God-centered
5. Curse-absorbing
6. Victorious

(NOTE: This post is not yet done. I'll be updating this after some time. Just need to post the outline to be timely.) ^_^

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Obvious-Yet-Often-Neglected Principles in Doing Church (Gleanings from 1 Timothy)

A. Doctrine is of Utmost Priority
Before going to Macedonia, Paul already urged Timothy to remove false teachers from the church of Ephesus. But once again Paul reminded him in this letter right after the greeting. (1 Tim. 1:3) "Doctrine" (Gk. "didaskalia") appeared 21x in NT, 15x in the Pastoral Epistles, 8x in this epistle. Instructions that pervade this issue were rampant (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 2:11-15; 3:2;9; 4:1-16; 6:3-5; 6:20-21).

B. Leadership is a Crucial Issue
Closely related to the significance of doctrine is that of leadership. Actually, the whole epistle was for an ecclesiastical "leader" (Timothy) in Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:14-15; 4:11-16). Pastoral ministry is crucial from doctrinal and moral standards (1 Tim. 3) to gender issues (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 3:2). That pastors should be "above reproach" (1 Tim. 3:2, ESV) or "blameless" (NKJV) is a high qualification. Selection is also crucial (1 Tim. 5:22). Even deacons must have difficult qualifications (1 Tim. 3:8-13).


C. Godliness Involves All Areas of Life
"Godlness" (Gk. "eusebia") appeared 15x in NT, 10x in the Pastoral Epistles, 8x in this epistle. The epistle was written for ecclesiastical concerns yet it addresses personal issues like clothing (2:9-10), managing house, growing children, marriage (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:14), supporting needy relatives (1 Tim. 5:4; 5:8) and even personal money (1 Tim. 6:17-18). The church must concern itself with promoting godliness in any aspect of life of any so-called church member so as to make him "godly and dignified in every way." (1 Tim. 2:2)


D. Indispensability of Godly Testimony for Mission
Church order (1 Tim. 2:8ff) always affects evangelism (2:3) because it's part of "godliness" (1 Tim. 2:10). Leaders should be "well thought of by outsiders" (1 Tim. 3:5) and "dignified... [with] good standing" (1 Tim. 3:10,13). Pursuing godliness determines our faith in the Savior which, consequently, affects how we present him to the world (1 Tim. 4:7-10). Godly submission of slaves impacts the church's Master's testimony and the church's teachings (1 Tim. 6:1).

These things are obvious not only in 1 Timothy but also in other NT books. But so often the modern church neglects them resulting to various maladies. 


Few Practical evaluations:
1. What programs does your church implement to promote and safeguard biblical theology among all its members? (sermon series? Bible-reading plans? Christian libraries? catechisms? doctrinal conferences?)
2. In what ways does your church check every biblical qualification for a pastor, elder or a deacon? Or is it too hasty to appoint leaders as long as they're willing?
3. Does the pastor try to check up every member's aspects of life through visitation, counseling, catechism, etc? What does your church do with the often ill-fated premature relationships of the youth? How about the very busy "businessmen"? Their families? Heretics?
4. Does your church emphasize the importance of godly living in evangelistic campaigns? Is it conscious of its testimony to the society? Does it worry over church members who continuously live in sin because that could blaspheme the Lord's name and the church's teaching?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Biblical Warnings are Mine and Yours

I have at least five drafts of blog posts. I can hardly finish one. My time is being consumed by theologizing on a Pinoy Pastors' Theological Forum. My college life is about to end. I want to pursue theology more. But I know that something's wrong with my spirituality now. I thank the Lord for this video (although I might differ in some of Conway's points about assurance):


This video made me think of the place of the biblical "warnings" and how it fits with "assurance" and "eternal security".
  
I. The Comfort of Eternal Security
I always believe that true Christians who were saved by grace through faith will persevere to the end. No real Christian can lose his salvation. This is often called Eternal Security.

The realization of this security through faith produces assurance in us.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not an antinomian or a quietist. I believe that God's commands are ours to keep. Moreover, this video reminded me of the many warnings about losing our "faith". I remembered the fact that, although the genuine Christians will endure to the end, from the human perspective, some people in the visible churches are losing the Christian race. Those who fall perfectly portray the seeds who fell on rocky ground. We see them seemingly visibly just like us for a while (Mt. 13:20-21).

II. The Warnings against Falling Away
There are lots of these in the scriptures. Few examples are: 
"Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith." (1 Tim. 1:18,19) 
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." (1 Tim. 4:1)
"If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us." (2 Tim. 2:12) 
"We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (Heb. 2:1)    
"Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it." (Heb. 4:1) 
"For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:26-29) 
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain" (I Corinthians 15:1-2)

Granted, conditionality does not imply eventuality but these warnings are meant to produce fear in the believers especially when they're starting to pace away from righteousness to sin.

III. Seeking the Balance
We know that if both I and II are biblical then we can reconcile them. The fear given by the warnings (II) does not contradict the assurance given by Eternal Security (I). It balances it. It complements it.

 Let me explain. 

 A. Evaluating Our Assurance
Our only ground of assurance that we won't lose our salvation and we're surely go to heaven is Christ's work on the cross (Rom. 8:1). Our only ground of assurance is Christ, not our works or our obedience to Christ. And we experience this assurance by faith alone. (1 Jn. 5:13)

 However, there are people who feel lots of "assurance" but will be condemned in the end. (Mt. 7:21-23) So how do we know we don't that kind of assurance? It's by evaluating our assurance through evaluating our faith. And since faith is invisible, we can evaluate our faith by evaluating its fruit. The book of 1 John (1 Jn. 1:6-10; 2:3-6; 3:16,19; 4:2; 5:18-19; etc.) and the book of James discuss this. We are to ask ourselves: "Is my assurance still grounded upon a true faith in Christ manifested by sound doctrine and godly living, or is it already being grounded upon a distorted faith in Christ manifested by my ungodliness? Is my assurance from a sin-killing, God-glorifying faith in Christ in my life or is it a faith that gives license to sin?"

 So the "assurance" in I and the "fear" in II are reconcilable because we have the tendency to get our assurance from a distorted faith in Christ. If we are already doing this (marked by our faithless ungodliness) then we should fear, take heed the warning, repent, and hold firm what true faith in Christ is.

 B. Secure in the Hands of the Shepherd
John 10 is one of my favorite chapter in the Bible. The believers' Eternal Security is very clear there:
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand." (John 10:27-29)
If you're a true believer, you are Christ's sheep. And a sheep of Christ is safe in His hand, as well as in the Father's hand. "[The Father] is greater than all" suggests that there is no greater person or thing that may overpower the Triune God who secures His people.

There is security bringing us assurance

But, at the same time, the sheep here are not passive. They follow the Shepherd. They listen to the voice of the Shepherd. It is their nature to submit to the Shepherd. At times, the sheep may come near the pit or other dangerous places, but the good Shepherd warns them. He is even wise enough to strike them with the rod for their safety.

 There is warning bringing us fear. Yet such fear is part of God's securing grace. It is one of God's means to secure us. Our fleeing away from sin and hell is God's work in us, keeping us from dead faith and apostasy. 

When I'm into sin, it is just right to fear our holy God's warnings. It might shake my "assurance" for awhile but it will soon reaffirm true assurance and even strengthen it had I truly repented. I thank Christ whenever he strikes me and says "Sheep Donnie, where are you going? You're starting to go away from the pasture of communion with God in His word and prayer. You're getting away from Me through your sins. Yes, pursue theology but don't forget pursuing it for Me. Don't forget making Me the center of your life." The biblical warnings are indeed mine and yours.

Praise God for the warnings! Praise God for assurance! Praise God for His power to secure us and preserve us to the end.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"No, These Reformed Methodists are NOT Reformaniacs"

Yesterday was this blog's 1st birthday. Those who have already dug this must have already noticed my (and my fanged friends') inclination to what we call "Reformed" theology. And we're vocal. Yes, we are Calvinists. And, yes, John Wesleythe founder of Methodismisn't. Though we would argue that, even by creed and heritage, we are accepted by the United Methodist Church.

We confess that we are passionate Calvinists but we deny that Calvinism is the primary concern of these Reformed Methodists in the blogosphere. We deny that one cannot be saved and/or godly without affirming Calvinism. We further deny that one is obliged to read the books of John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur or John Piper to join our battle (though we would encourage everyone to try them). We are not Reformaniacs[1].

On the other hand, we affirm that our main concern is the vivification of TRUE United Methodism. Or, more specifically, the essentials for Evangelical Methodism, which Wesley himself enumerated in this popular quotation:
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”
There he pointed out Three Essentials for Methodists to remain as a living church rather than as a "dead sect": (1) Doctrine, (2) Spirit, and (3) Discipline.

Wesley explained the reason:
"The Methodists must take heed to their doctrine, their experience, their practice, and their discipline. If they attend to their doctrines only, they will make the people antinomians; if to the experimental part of religion only, they will make them enthusiasts; if to the practical part only, they will make them Pharisees; and if they do not attend to their discipline, they will be like persons who bestow much pains in cultivating their garden, and put no fence round it, to save it from the wild boar of the forest."
So by doctrine, Wesley was referring to intellectual understanding of biblical truths. He said that attending to this alone (knowledge) would make us forget the laws/commands of God (what he meant by "antinomians"), which should be practiced and kept with discipline.

By spirit, Wesley was referring to passionate, practical Christian living. He combined emotions and actions. Attending to "spirit" alone would make us either "enthusiasts" (ones who base their religion on emotions only) or "Pharisees" (ones who base their religion on rules only).

By discipline, Wesley was referring to corrective discipline that the church should establish to maintain both doctrine and Christian living. What is noteworthy also in that quote is that, unlike the first two, its importance is emphasized rather than the danger of isolating it. He compared it to a "fence" while the doctrine and Christian living to a "garden". Without it, false teachers and persistent sinners ("wild boars") would just destroy the other two.

Though Calvin's defining marks of a church is two-thirds different[2] from Wesley's, Calvin never undermined Wesley's.

Concerning doctrine and Christian living, Calvin said:

"Let us be warned to pursue our calling in fear and anxiety, to take the trouble to learn from good and useful doctrine, having above all this end: that we hunger to know nothing except what it has pleased God to reveal to us in his Scripture. Let us not subject the sacred Word of God to our judgments or lusts, but rather let us align ourselves entirely with what it says to us.” (Against the Fantastic and Furious Sect of the Libertines)

And concerning church discipline, he said:
"If no society, nay, no house with even a moderate family, can be kept in a right state without discipline, much more necessary is it in the Church, whose state ought to be the best ordered possible. Hence as the saving doctrine of Christ is the life of the Church, so discipline is, as it were, its sinews; for to it it is owing that the members of the body adhere together, each in its own place. Wherefore, all who either wish that discipline were abolished, or who impede the restoration of it, whether they do this of design or through thoughtlessness, certainly aim at the complete devastation of the Church." (Institutes, Book IV, Ch. 1)
I am far from suggesting that Calvin and Wesley always had parallel ideas about doctrines, piety and discipline. But I would contend that both are zealous for orthodox doctrines, serious Christian living, and courageous church discipline[3]three important characteristics that modern churches (including many United Methodist churches) lack.

By orthodox doctrines, I refer to the essentials in Christian faith.
By serious Christian living, I refer to sincere godly lifestyle.
By courageous church discipline, I refer to bold and plain execution of admonition and excommunication of persistently erring church members.

Currently, The United Methodist Church is little by little departing from these, and this is where we want "Reformation" most. 

Disagree? 

1. Attend conferences and note how often "doctrine" will be discussed. Compare it to political issues.
2. Note one sermon from the pulpit. Did the preacher mention about any historical context of the main text? How many verses did he quote, anyway?
3. Ask at least five old members in your church what "Justification by Faith Alone" is. (How about just asking them to enumerate the Bible books?)
4. Evaluate the church members' handling of money and if it somehow conforms to "gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can".
5. Check your church membership records and compare the number of members to the active members in your church.
6. Find out if there are church members who are addicted to cigarette smoking or to liquor. Now, find out if there is anyone (perhaps, a pastor or an elder) in your church who already rebuked them.
7. Check this retired Methodist Bishops' Statement of Counsel concerning homosexuality.

The list can go on and on yet the point is: United Methodism is drifting away from the important things it once embraced.

Again, we are not Reformaniacs. But we are indeed crazily in love with the United Methodist Church, thus, we are shouting for reformation. Brothers in Christ, join us in this battle. 

Soli Deo Gloria.

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[1] Ones who are overly-passionate for Reformed theology; ones whose enthusiasm for Reformed theology equates their enthusiasm for the essentials of Christian faith.
[2] Reformed teaching holds doctrine, sacraments and worship as defining marks of a true church: "[The universal] church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them” (The Westminster Confession, Ch. 25, IV) And Calvin seems to say that preaching and hearing of pure doctrine implies true worship: “Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.”
[3] I would even argue that Wesley has nearer resemblance to Calvin's theology than to Contemporary Wesleyanism: http://www.drurywriting.com/keith/wesley.the.calvinist.htm

Friday, February 11, 2011

In a Relationship... Biblical Relationship!

In almost every aspect of life, Christians may have these two extremes: legalism and antinomianism. Legalism is trying to   make a certain principle as God's commandment for us when in fact it is not. Antinomianism came from the Greek words "anti" (= against) and "nomos" (= law). It is trying to make a principle as not God's commandment for us when in fact it is. Both are wrong and both dishonor God.

When it comes to premarital, romantic relationships, how can you avoid becoming either a legalist or an antinomian? The answer, of course, is by consulting the word of God.

I believe that Dr. Rick Holland[1] beautifully did. The following is a summarized part of his essay entitled "The Guided Path", found in Alex Chediak's Book, 5 Paths To The Love of Your Love[2]. You can read the whole essay here: Part IPart II, Part III, Part IV.

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The (Single) Purpose of Premarital Relationships

"Premarital relationships should serve one purpose: to test the relationship for marriage. Let me say it another way: There is no good reason to have a girlfriend or boyfriend until a person is ready to get married! ... Readiness involves being old enough and mature enough to assume the responsibilities of marriage. No romantic relationship should ever begin unless marriage is the possible
even probableoutcome."

[The following are 10 biblical principles for romantic relationships useful to make you ready and/or to guide you when you're ready for a dating[2] relationship]

The Ten Principles for a God-Centered Relationship

1. The Character Principle
Meaning:
"The Character Principle is about being the right person more than finding the right person. If your character is being conformed more and more into the image of Christ, you will desire the right kind of person."
Biblical Basis: Titus 2:2-8
  • godly character is a product of Spiritual Discipleship (example is mentoring)
  • godly character is consisted of Qualities such as humility, (see Phil. 2:3-11) holiness (see 2 Pet. 1:14-16). godly love (see 1 Cor. 13:4-8), selflessness (see Jas. 3:14). the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25), Christlikeness (see Eph. 4:13).
  • godly character is also the main character in Evaluating a person (see Prov. 31:30)
2. The Confirmation Principle
Meaning:
"The Confirmation Principle is the commitment to submit one's life and relationship to the spiritual scrutiny of God's authority, care, and protection represented here on earth."
Biblical Basis:
  • Parental Confirmation (Exo. 20:12; Lev. 19:3; Deut. 21:18-21; 27:16; Mt. 15:4; Rom. 1:28-32; Eph. 6:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:1-5)
  • Church Affirmation (see Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Tim.; 2 Tim.; Titus; Heb. 13:7,17)
  • Friend Affirmation (Prov. 12:15; 15:22; 19:20-21; 27:9)
3. The Contentment Principle
Meaning:
"The foundation for developing a righteous relationship with a member of the opposite sex is the ultimate relationship  your relationship with God. If you are not happy with God alone, you will not be happy with someone else. ... Taking that anything other than God will bring satisfaction and happiness is to make that object an idol in one's life."
Biblical Basis: Phil. 4:10-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-7 

4. The Common Ground Principle
Meaning:
"A Christian should consider only another Christian for a romantic relationship and marriage."
Biblical Basis: 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 Cor. 7:39
"If wise King Solomon was ruined by relationships with unbelievers [1 Kings 11:4], who do we think we are imagining we can handle it?"

5. The Cultivation Principle
Meaning:
"Dating relationships need cultivating."
[It is best cultivated when...]
  • you see each other first as spiritual siblings
  • getting to know each other in groups first (parents, church leaders, spiritually mature friends).

    "Spending time together with no one else around is asking for trouble. The biggest danger in being alone is the temptation to express inappropriate physical... and inappropriate emotional affection."
Biblical Basis:
  • Christians as spiritually related (Jn. 13:34-35; 15:12,17)
  • The phrase "one another" used almost 40x in NT.
6. The Complementarian Principle
Meaning:
"The term complementary comes from the biblical teaching that men and women have been given different roles so they might complement each other. The complementarian position recognizes the uniqueness in God's creative order with respect to men and women."
"At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships. ... 
At the heart of true femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships."  (John Piper)
Biblical Basis: Gen. 1-3; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 3:4,12; Tit. 2:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7
[To be ready for marriage...]
  • Men need to learn to Christlike leadership. (see Eph. 5:22-33)
  • Women need to learn wise submission to men worthy of this privilege.
"This means that a man should be the initiator in a relationship. Because a wife's role is clearly to follow the leadership of her husband, a single woman should allow a man to pursue her only if he is worthy of her submission."

7. The Companionship Principle
Meaning:
"God invented marriage because man was alone, not because he was lonely. From the very beginning, God has intended relationships to be about glorifying Him by purposeful companionship. So the purpose of marriage is simple: to serve, represent, and glorify God as a two-in-one team. Dating[2] serves as an arena for testing a relationship to see if it glorifies God enough to warrant marriage. This is the Companionship Principle."
Biblical Basis: Gen. 2:18
"A man should not judge a woman solely on how she looks without makeup; in the same way, a man should not consider only whether or not a man has good hygiene. Instead, both should determine if the other has a true heart for the things of God."

"Physical attraction should play a part of premarital attraction, but only a part. ... physical desire should be satisfied in marriage, but the satisfaction of companionship should be more important."
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be always intoxicated in her love. (Proverbs 5:18-19, emphasis added)
8. The Commitment Principle
Meaning:
"Love is a commitment. It is a decision to be made and a promise to be kept. It is the way Christians care for one another. And it is the way a husband and wife reflect the glory of Jesus Christ. Real, genuine, sincere, biblical love endures all things and stays committed to an imperfect person. I am not suggesting that you can never break off a dating relationshipeven if you have told someone you love him or her. Rather, in a romantic context, those words should be reserved for communicating a permanent relational commitment."
Biblical Basis: 1 Cor. 13:4-18; Eph. 5:22-23

9. The Communication Principle
Meaning
"At the core of every problem in marriage and premarital relationships is prideful selfishness. And nothing solves this problem more than communication. If you want to be successful relationally, learning to communicate biblically is nonnegotiable. ... God-honoring communication is the bridge that will take you to relational enjoyment and get you over the inevitable conflicts of relationships."
  • The key is humility. Put the focus of your communication on the other person
  • Let Jesus flavor what you say and how you say it.
Biblical Basis: Eph. 4:25-29; Lk. 6:45

10. The Chastity Principle
Meaning:
"Sexual sin is prohibited, uniquely offensive to God, damaging, against God's will, a violation of the Holy Spirit's presence, and a sinful use of your body that was bought by the blood of Jesus."
Biblical Basis: 1 Cor. 6:18-20; 1 Thess. 4:3-7
"Promiscuity before marriage refers to the robbing of the other of that virginity which ought to be brought to a marriage. The future partner of such a one has been defrauded." (Leon Morris)
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I believe that these principles are to be kept regardless of your method in premarital relationships. And we should honor them because they came from the word of God. May each of us learn to submit our love life to the Lord of heaven and earth.

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[1] "Dr. Rick Holland is the pastor of College and Student Ministries at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and an instructor at The Master's College and Seminary." (p.216)  
[2] My (Donnie) personal, theological view is the same with Rick Holland. But, practically, I adhere to the "courtship" method. See Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl. For me, it is the best method to apply the biblical principles.
[3] Holland here used the term "Dating" broadly. Synonymous to the process of doing premarital relationships.