The Bible tells us that we are to be holy as the Lord is holy (1 Pet.1:15,16). But how do we get there? How do we gain a life that conforms to the likeness of Jesus Christ?
For centuries the church has relied on spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, worship, solitude, and fasting to further the sanctification of God’s people.
Following this pattern, the church today needs to recover the spiritual disciplines that are so essential to the Christian life.
Here’s why. . .
The example of the Scriptures
The Bible shows us that the Christian life is marked by certain practices. When you look at the followers of Christ in the Bible, what did they do? They prayed, they spent time in God’s Word, they served, they fasted, etc. . .
And they did these because Jesus Himself did them. Before calling His first disciples, for example, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer (Lk.6:12). The pattern of practicing the spiritual disciplines is well established in the Bible.
The instruction of Scripture
The Bible not only gives us the example of spiritual disciplines as a way of life, it also instructs us that we are to practice them. The Bible is straightforward when it tells us, for example, that those who live righteously and prosper are those who meditate on God’s Word (Ps.1:2).
Why does the Bible tell us such things? So we can be properly formed and developed as human beings to serve God in His kingdom.
To deal with the body
God gave us bodies, and with our bodies we carry out service to Him in the world. But the body is often a source of trouble for people. Many see themselves as imprisoned by their bodies and enslaved to its passions. It’s often thought that the only way to live a spiritual life is to escape from the body.
The spiritual disciplines are God’s means for bringing the body under subjection. By them we are able to bring our bodies into the service of the king rather live in service to our bodies. As Paul made clear, our bodies are to be our slaves, we are not to be enslaved to our bodies (1 Cor.9:24).
Godliness requires spiritual discipline
The Bible tells us that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, and it compares spiritual discipline with bodily discipline (1 Tim.4:7,8). Everybody is used to idea of bodily discipline for some purpose (like losing weight), but we easily presume that growth in godliness is automatic.
Could it be the reason why there appears to be so little godliness is that there is little serious application of the spiritual disciplines of the faith?
The basic orientation of the Bible toward the future is positive.
God wants us to know that He intends the days ahead to be
better than today.
This is an important orientation for us to adopt. Especially,
if things aren’t going so well for us today. Without the positive
future orientation that the Bible reveals, despair and loss of hope
easily colors one’s view of everything.
How to view the future is an issue that people have always had
to deal with. And they have always needed hope for the future
to know how to live in the present.
In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, the land of Judah was about
to fall in judgment to the Babylonian Empire. This judgment is
something the people had brought on themselves. Not only had
they been unfaithful, but the generations before them had also
forsaken the Lord. So, they were about to be corrected for
their own wickedness.
This was all very depressing to the people because it appeared
that they were trapped in an endless cycle of defeat. But God
did not intend to leave them in hopelessness. He intended that
they would learn from their hardship and come to relate
to Him in a better way.
“’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and
a hope’” (Jer.29:11)
In order for this hope to be realized, God entered into a new
covenant with the people. Through this new covenant, He forgave
them and wrote His law on their hearts. This led the people to know
Him and His mercy like never before, and it brought them into
a position to live faithfully with Him as their God.
Whenever difficult times come, there arises a mass of people who wonder whether or not we are “living in the last days.” Today, in our climate of political and economic upheaval, people again are pondering whether the last days are upon us.
Recently, I’ve been told more times than I can count, “the end must be near.” But is it? Let’s consider a few facts.
First, in the Bible the phrase “last days” does not refer to the end of the planet as we know it, but the end of the Jewish temple system with the coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:17; Heb.1:2). Consequently, we have been living in the last days since the first century.
Second, there are hundreds of instances in history when it was believed that the “signs of the times” proved that the end of all things was near. During the fall of the Roman Empire, for example, it was widely believed that the end of the world must be at hand. It wasn’t. It was simply the beginning of a new world.
Third, the Bible tells us that Jesus is the heir of the nations (Ps.2:8), and that the end will come after He has brought all things under subjection (1 Cor.15:22ff.). It’s because of this Christians have been commissioned to disciple the nations (Mt.28:18-20) and to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt.6:10).
Thinking through these facts presents an alternative scenario to the common end times vision that preoccupies many.
Just because difficult times come does not mean it’s the end of the world. Those difficult times may arrive for other reasons. For instance, the Bible repeatedly teaches that societies who disobey the Lord, He will judge – those who sow the wind will reap to the whirlwind (Hos.8:7).
We have a name for figures of speech that contain normally contradictory terms. We call them oxymorons. So, phrases like “a fine mess,” “a new classic,” and “accurate rumors,” are oxymorons.
Another oxymoron is “unchurched Christian,” because it is a contradiction for a Christian to live disconnected from the church. Sadly, this is a contradiction that is lived out by many who profess to follow Jesus Christ.
There are different reasons why people avoid making a commitment to a local church. These include bad experiences, unwillingness to change, resistance to authority, pride, laziness, and a host of others, I’m sure. And, because of the weaknesses found in any church, it’s easy to find justification to absent oneself from the corporate gathering of God’s people. But, whatever the reason, for a Christian to remain unattached to the church is neither healthy nor biblical.
God commands His people to come together to worship Him. They are not to forsake their assembling together as is the habit of some (Heb.10:25). This point can be easily established by the fact that in the Bible you don’t find solitary Christians, but Christians coming together in community.
This coming together is by God’s design. Although the Lord regularly calls people to Himself as individuals, He does not leave them by themselves. He incorporates them into His body (1 Cor.12:13). The refrain of Scripture is, “I will be your God, and you will be My people” (Jer.7:23).
It’s not uncommon for the gospel to be understood in very personal and other-worldly terms. In other words, the gospel is viewed as a message given to individuals so that they would respond in faith and have assurance of heaven when they die.
The message typically goes something like this. . . Jesus came, died, and was raised again for your sins. Repent and believe and you will be forgiven of your sins, and experience everlasting life in glory when your days on earth are over.
This message is true enough, as far as it goes. The problem with it, though, is that it often leaves those who believe it living little differently than they were beforehand. Yes, they have the hope of heaven in their hearts, but they don’t have a clear idea in their heads of what they are to be doing until they get there.
It’s because of this we need the full picture of what the gospel is all about. Yes, Jesus came to save individuals from hell and bring them to heaven. But there’s more.
In the gospel, Jesus Christ is declared the Lord of all things in heaven and on earth. As Lord he is making all things new. The message of the gospel, then, is about more than simply the salvation of individual souls. It is about nothing less than the renewal of all of creation.
This new creation was initiated and secured at the time of Christ’s resurrection. When Christ was raised from the dead, he was the “first fruits” of what is to come. And what is to come? The subjection of all things to Christ so that God would be “all in all” (1 Cor.15:20-28).
Individuals become an active part in this new world as they are joined to Christ by faith. The Bible tells us “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have past away, behold new things have come” (2 Cor.5:17). As a result, individuals who trust in Christ are not simply waiting for heaven, but are participants in the redemptive work God is doing now.
An important step toward getting on in life is for a man to realize that his greatest enemy is himself. No amount of complaining about one’s circumstances, past, boss, bank account, or political leaders will move him forward. He must take responsibility for that which is under his control – namely, his own life.
The Bible tells us that God ordained men to rule the earth as kings (Gen.1:28). In this role, human beings are to wisely cultivate all that God brings into their care. And as they do, they fulfill their highest purpose and bring glory to God.
Too often the reality is that men do not live as kings, but slaves. Instead of governing the domain that God has given them, they sit as in chains waiting for their lot in life to somehow improve. But it never does improve, because the life of a slave remains the same day after miserable day.
The good news is that men do not have to continue on as slaves. Jesus Christ came to set men free from sin and guilt, fear and folly, so that they would live as the kings God destined them to be.
How can this be?
The Bible tells us that those who have faith in Christ live in union with Him. We have been buried with Him in baptism and raised up with Him so that we would walk in the newness of life (Rom.6:4). The old things have passed away, and new things have come (2 Cor.5:17).
A consequence of this new life is that men are restored to their kingly status. They need not live bound in servitude to all that holds them back. This is confirmed in that the Bible tells us that those who have faith in Christ are seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph.2:6). In other words, all who humbly believe are put in the exalted position of co-regents with Jesus Christ.
Although there seems to be a growing and vocal number of atheists in our society, the population as a whole still overwhelmingly professes belief in God. You would think that this would be good news for believers, but such is not necessarily the case.
Beyond a mere profession of faith in God, there are questions that must be considered. What is this “god” that people profess like? And, is the God that truly exists pleased with those who profess to know Him?
In Psalm 50 God takes to task those who take up His name in vain. They speak of Him in familiar terms. They tell of His commandments and talk of His covenant. But there is a problem. For all their talk, they do not live according to God’s ways, and this makes Him mad.
So, He comes down on them, and challenges them to consider what right they have of taking up His words with such inconsistent living. And He reproves them for hating discipline, casting His words behind them, taking pleasure in thieves and associating with adulterers. Further, he convicts them for tongues that are loose with evil, as they speak deceit and spread slander.
Then, He relates how He has remained silent during this time, and how the people took false comfort in this. The reason for the false comfort is that the people made a grievously false assumption. They assumed that God was just like them, and that violating His ethical standards was of no consequence. But this was a deadly assumption to make, and God warns them that they will suffer for it.
When I read this passage a few days ago, I couldn’t help but see the parallel with our own time. So many who take up God’s words in their mouths, but so many who cast those same words behind them when it comes to their own lives.
Thievery? Just part of doing business. Adultery? A mainstay of our entertainment. Deceit and slander? All a part of everyday conversation. But all things God hates.
The point we must take from this? God is not like us. Let’s get that straight. God is not like us.
I’m often asked, “So, what do you think about predestination?”
Although many see the doctrine of predestination as a controversial one, I believe it’s one of the most comforting teachings of the Bible.
People who ask me about predestination generally seem to come from a couple of different directions. The first group appears to sincerely wonder what the Bible really teaches on this subject. The second group seems to know what the Bible teaches, yet suggests that to believe in a God who predestines is to believe in a God who is unfair.
No matter what the reason is a person may ask about my thoughts on predestination, I typically give the same answer.
What the Bible Says
First, I tell them I believe in predestination, because the Bible teaches it. There are numerous places that the Bible tells us that God has chosen (or elected) before the foundation of the world certain ones to come to faith in Jesus Christ and inherit everlasting life.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. . .” (Eph.1:3-5).
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. . .” (Eph.1:11).
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom.8:28,29).
Beyond these verses, the Bible speaks of predestination in Acts 13:48, 2 Thess. 2:13-14, and 2 Tim. 1:9 and refers to those who are “elect” in Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:22, Luke 18:7, Romans 8:33, 11:7, Colossians 3:12, 2 Timothy 2:10, Titus 1:1, 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Peter 5:13; 2 John 1:1, 13.
Justice and Mercy
After showing that the Bible teaches predestination, I then go on to explain that God is not unjust in electing some (and not others) to eternal life.
It needs to be remembered that no one deserves to be saved. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23) and that “no one seeks for God” (Rom.3:11). Not only that, God would be perfectly just to send all humanity to hell because the “wages of sin is death” (Rom.6:23).
But, because God is rich in mercy, He chooses that some will be saved. We know that number is actually quite large because the Bible tells us that the day is coming when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is.11:9).
Do you think you are too old to be used by God to do any good? Read Exodus 7:7.
Moses and Aaron were just beginning to fulfill God’s call on their lives when they were eighty and eighty-three, respectively.
As long as you have breath and a desire to serve, you’re never too old to be used by God for good. In fact, it could be that it’s just your experience and wisdom that someone around you is in need of.
Is God calling you off the sidelines?
What is God’s design for the human race? His design is to bring about of a new humanity in Jesus Christ.
What’s this new humanity to be like? It’s to be comprised of those who dwell in peace, unity, righteousness, and faith as it is given by the Lord.
Why does the realization of this new humanity seem so difficult? Because there is resistance to it from spiritual forces of wickedness.
How is this resistance to be overcome so God’s design can be brought to fulfillment? By prayer.
This is the message that the Bible gives us about God’s purpose in this world, and how that purpose is to be worked out in reality.
Through Jesus Christ, God the Father has secured the redemption of the human race and the bringing about of a new humanity. As a result, all who belong to this new humanity through faith in Christ are equipped to live differently. They are able to put off the old man and put on the new, and live in peace and righteousness. Through history, God’s Spirit works to cause this new humanity to grow and grow.
What a glorious picture! But it’s a picture not easily realized. It’s much like the promised land of old. Canaan was a place of great blessing, but there were enemies to contend with. The same thing is true regarding our own redemption. All who are in Christ are given hope and promise – but there is resistance that must be dealt with if we are to realize the blessings of redemption.
Because of this, we need God’s ongoing grace — and we need to pray.
Prayer is a general term for various kinds of communication with God. Prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication are all to be a balanced part of our lives as we seek to have God’s best realized in this world.
Most common is to raise up prayers of petition because we face so many needs and obstacles. And this is something we should do because the Lord tells us that we should ask in order to receive (Jn.16:24).