Articles from August 2019

Fruit, More Fruit, Much Fruit

In opposition to the Deism view which believes that God does not intervene in his creation, Scripture is clear that God is at work in the world, and specifically in His children. God promises to finish a glorious work in those who are His (Phil 1:6). God’s work begins in eternity past when God elects His children. Then in time, God promises to call, justify and sanctify them, conforming them into the image of His Son. His work concludes in eternity future when He promises to glorify all who are His (Rom 8:29-30).

God’s work of sanctification is magnificently illustrated for us by Jesus in John 15. Jesus characterized His Father as a worker who is continually working in His vineyard. The Father’s work includes cutting off branches which are fruitless, and pruning branches that are fruitful in order that they may produce much fruit. It is clear that the fruitless branches are unbelievers who do not have a permanent union with Christ. If they were connected to the vine they would inevitably produce fruit. The fruitful branches are believers which the Father promises to prune in order that they may produce as much fruit as possible. This process of pruning is theologically called sanctification. The goal of the vinedresser is that every one of His vines not only produce fruit alone, or more fruit, but “much fruit” (John 15:1-8).

Every Branch-Every Son
It is a sad reality that many orphans often do not have the tender care and continual discipline of parents to correct, encourage and shape them into fruitful human beings. Good parents are continually concerned with shaping their children. The same is true spiritually speaking. While the world uses trite names like “the man upstairs” to address God, we are blessed to call Him “Father” (Matt 6:9). Unlike unbelievers in the world, we have the special attention of God. He does not leave us alone like orphans. Rather, God is concerned about “every branch” in His vineyard, (Jn 15:2) and “every son” in His house (Heb 12:5-11). This means that every one of us are certainly going to be the recipients of God’s work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). As true branches in His garden, we will certainly experience His knife. And as true sons in his house we will certainly experience His discipline. Our heavenly Father is good in that He takes continual efforts to shape those who are His into the “image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). The lack of his working knife and discipline is a certain indication that we are not His.

Right Perspective: Welcoming the Knife
How we view the work of God’s discipline in our lives is crucial. Sometimes God allows His children to experience the worst kinds of situations. If we are not prepared mentally we may in fact curse God instead of worshiping Him. Scripture is clear that God does not spare His children from persecution, hardship, pain, suffering, death and so much more. When God providentially brings His painful knife or discipline we must remember that He is doing it for our good (Gen 50:20, Heb 12:10). God is always good, always right, and always wise! He doesn’t allow anything into our lives (even evil) that doesn’t have a divine purpose (Rom 8:28). It’s hard to say, but as believers we should welcome His knife and the discipline of God in our lives. We should long to be as fruitful as possible. This means trusting God and welcoming His divine work.

No Accidents & No Waste
Our good Father, the vinedresser doesn’t make any mistakes. Unlike humans who may not be the best at “pruning” and may butcher a plant by accident, God does not make mistakes or accidents in His children’s lives. The Father’s cultivation of our lives is according to His loving and thoughtful providence. This means that God allows the exact interventions in our lives which are designed to produce in us mature and well-rounded Christian character. Sometimes His pruning knife may seem to cut too deep, but His purposes are all-wise and designed to enable us to grow strong to produce the most fruit possible. We should also remember that the branches God removes from us are never a waste. He knows exactly what we should possess. Sinclair Ferguson said it wonderfully, “When our ambitions are thwarted, our own plans come to nothing, and we feel the blade of providence in our lives.  Here is our security: God does not waste, therefore I shall not want” (Sinclair Ferguson, Maturity, page 46).

What is the Fruit?
God’s goal in the Christian’s life is not just to produce a mediocre crop, but that we all would produce “much fruit” (Jn 15:8). It is true that some will produce more fruit than others (Matt 13:8), but it goes without saying God intends on producing a substantial harvest in each one of us. The fruit that God is interested in producing in our lives is certainly fruit that pertains to our character. Hopefully through God’s grace, by the end of our lives, we will have many successes and our “great works” will not be burned up (1 Cor 3:12-15). These for sure are important fruits. But the Lord is mostly concerned about transforming our personal lives. When God prunes, it is for the purpose of transforming us and shaping us. The Holy Spirit is mostly concerned about producing in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22). God disciplines us so that we might yield the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” and that we might “share in His holiness” (Heb 12:10-11).

Our Responsibility: Abide in Christ!
So, then what makes the difference among Christians? Why do some produce more fruit than others? God is working, but the honest truth is that many Christians are not as diligent as they should be. The key to this truth is found in the command that Jesus made to His disciples. He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me….whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4-5).

When we become Christians, Christ permanently dwells or has union with us. In response to that union we are commanded to abide in Him. This verb abide is often translated as ‘remain’, ‘stay’, ‘continue’, or ‘dwell.’ Abiding is not some mystical activity. Jesus is simply saying that we are to have “fellowship with him that is marked by a resolute, Spirit-enabled, obedience to God’s word – a willing submission of heart, soul, mind and strength to the Lord and His revealed will” (Ferguson, page 48). The Apostle Paul says it this way, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16). Abiding in Christ means being immersed with the Word of God and saturating our minds with His Word so that we will be obedient to Him.

Fruitfulness is Tied to the Word
There is no way we can bear much fruit without learning the Word and obeying it. We must learn to read Scripture properly understanding the true meaning of it. Then we must apply it and allow it to transform our minds & our wills. This will allow us to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). As a result, we will bear much fruit for the glory of God.

 

Money, Tithing and Being Generous

 

The Bible has much to say about money. It is not wrong to possess money because it is God who gives us the power to make money (Deut 8:18) and it is God who alone “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17), but the love of money and possessions has been the downfall of many and caused many to wander from the faith (1 Tim 6:10). Achan’s love for money brought disaster to himself, his family, and even the whole nation of Israel (Josh 7:1-25). Judas’s love for money led to a betrayal of Jesus and caused him to damn himself to eternal torment in hell (Matt 26:14-16). Ananias & Sapphira’s love of money led them to hypocritically lie about their giving resulting in God’s execution (Acts 5:1-10).

The Bible commands us to guard our hearts when it comes to our money. We must guard against loving money, which is the root of all evil as many who have longed for it have fallen into ruin and destruction (1 Tim 6:9-10). We must guard against covetousness because our lives in the end do not consist of our possessions or money (Luke 12:15). We must guard our heart against greed, because money will never satisfy us (Eccl 5:10). We must guard against putting our trust in our money rather than God (Heb 13:5, 1 Tim 6:17, Prov 11:28) because it can become our master instead of Christ (Matt 6:24).

 

Money is a Heart Barometer
Money is morally neutral; it is neither good nor bad, but what we do with our money is a sure indicator of our heart’s condition and acts as a sort of barometer. Just as a barometer measures atmospheric pressures, how we spend our money measures the condition of our heart. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). When the infamous tax collector Zacchaeus was saved, his heart attitude toward his money was drastically transformed. He immediately gave half of his money to the poor, and repaid his victims four times the amount he had stolen from them (Luke 19:1-10). Unlike Zacchaeus, the rich young ruler’s hard heart was revealed when he went away sad after Jesus commanded him to give his money away and come and follow Him (Matt 19:16-22).

Be Generous BUT Is Tithing Required?
Many of us have been raised believing that we are required to tithe, and legalistically look down on others for not regularly giving a ten percent offering into the “storehouse” (Mal 3:10).  A closer look at the New Testament will prove that tithing was an old covenant requirement for Israel. There is no command for tithing anywhere in the New Testament. Thomas Schreiner, a professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a great article explaining seven reasons why Christians today are not required to tithe. You can read the article here, but the following are his seven arguments:

  1. Believers are no longer under the Mosaic Law. (Rom 6:14-15, 7:5-6, Gal 3:15-4:7, 2 Cor 3:4-18)
  2. The examples of Abraham & Jacob are not normative patterns.
  3. Tithes were given to the Levites & Priests, but there are no Levites and Priests in the new covenant.
  4. The tithe is tied to the land of Israel received under the old covenant.
  5. If tithing is required, how much should we give since old testament saints were required to give closer to 20% annually?
  6. When Jesus affirmed the tithe, it was before the dawn of the new covenant.
  7. Nowhere is tithing mentioned when commands to give generously are found in the New Testament.

If you would like to explore a counterargument, read the article here by William Barcley.

To Whom are We to Give?
While the New Testament doesn’t command us to tithe, it does command us to be generous. Just like God, we are to be givers. We are primarily to give to three groups:

  1. We are commanded to give to destitute family members (1 Tim 5:8) including children, aged parents & grandparents, brothers & sisters (1 Tim 5:3-16). This does not include lazy, irresponsible family members who are not willing to work and squander their money on alcohol & drugs (2 Thess 3:10).
  2. We are to give to our local church and other doctrinally sound ministries to support the preaching of the Word (Gal 6:6, 1 Tim 5:17-18).
  3. We are to give to needy persons to help them with physical needs such as food and shelter. We should first be concerned about believers in the household of faith (Gal 6:10) and then help unbelievers as a part of our witness of the Gospel to the world.

How are We to Give?
One of the largest sections of Scripture that addresses giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul instructs the Corinthians on how they are to give. He uses the churches from the region of Macedonia (Thessalonica, Berea, & Philippi) as examples of how to give. The following is a list of ways we are to give from 2 Corinthians 8-9.

  • We are to be motivated by God’s grace; just as God gave to us we are to give. (8:1)
  • We are to be committed to give even in difficult times. (8:2)
  • We are to give with joy. (8:2, 9:7)
  • We are to be generous even when we are poor. (8:2, 1 Tim 6:17)
  • We are to give according to our ability or as we have prospered. (8:3, 1 Cor 16:2)
  • We are to give voluntarily not out of compulsion, duty or fear. (8:3)
  • We are to consider our giving a privilege and an opportunity to participate in Kingdom work. (8:4)
  • We are to consider our giving as worship and obedience unto God. (8:5-6)
  • We are to view our giving as proof of our love for Christ, others and Kingdom work. (8:7-8, 1 Jn 4:20-21)
  • We should give systematically in a pre-planned manner. (9:7, 1 Cor 16:2)
  • We should give in secret to the Lord. (Matt 6:1-4)

 To listen to a sermon I recently preached on this topic, please click here.

Need for a Change in Attitude
Many of us are trapped in a self-absorbed mentality. We make and spend our money primarily on ourselves. But as we mature in our faith, we must take on a new change of mind. Instead of being worldly minded, we must be Kingdom minded. A change in our attitude will inevitably lead to possibly radical decisions to get out of debt in order to free up money to be used as the Lord leads. Oh may we be faithful with the use of our money!

 

Christianity: The Life of God in the Soul of Man

When the disciples were troubled that Jesus was going to leave them, Jesus made a promise to them (and all future disciples) that they would not be left alone as orphans, but that the Holy Spirit was going to permanently come and be “with” them and be “in” them (Jn 14:17). This promise is a major change from the Old Covenant and describes how God works among His people in this New Covenant era. From the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the present day, every true believer experiences the abiding and forever presence of the third member of the Trinity. Because the Holy Spirit is not a power (like the Jehovah Witnesses claim) but the third person of the God-head being fully God, Christianity then is not simply a religion but a supernatural miracle whereby “the life of God comes to dwell in the soul of man.” This phrase was used by Henry Scougal, a Scottish minister and theologian in his wonderful book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man originally published in 1677 but recently republished by Sprinkle Publications in 1986. Scougal recognized that Christianity is not simply 1) theological correctness, 2) moralistic modification, or 3) affectional emotionalism (see Justin Taylor’s review of the book). Christianity is not just some system of thought or behavior, but rather the very life of God indwelling the new born believer. Scougal says it this way, “True religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us’” (Gal 4:19, see also 2 Peter 1:4).

Different from the Old Covenant
There is a radical discontinuity in how the Holy Spirit operated among God’s people from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. It is not true to say that the Holy Spirit never indwelt believers in the Old Testament. Joshua was “a man in whom is the Spirit” (Num 27:18). As Ezekiel prepared to confront a rebellious Israel, he also was filled with the Spirit (Ezek 2:2, 3:24). Prophets were filled along with Joseph and Daniel (Gen 41:38, Dan 4:8-9, 18, 5:11-14, 6:3). However more numerous are illustrations that the Holy Spirit did not indwell, but actually temporarily came “upon” particular leaders of Israel in order to empower them for particular works (see Moses, Num 11:17, Joshua, Deut 34:9, Gideon, Judg 6:34, Jephthah, Judg 11:29, Samson, Judg 14:6, 19, 15:14, David, 1 Sam 16:13). In summary we can conclude that the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in the Old Covenant was an infrequent, temporary indwelling that involved only selected leaders in Israel (Biblical Doctrine, John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue, pg. 367).

Do You Have the Spirit?
Rightly understanding the inhabitation of the Spirit should help us think correctly about conversion. To be “born again” (Jn 3:3-8) means that something radical has happened to us. Christianity is not just becoming religious, or believing some major doctrinal points of view. Scougal identified an important point that the 21st century church would do well in taking heed. In this age, becoming a Christian means placing your faith in Christ and, as a result, something radically supernaturally happens to you. So, the question for all of us is NOT 1) have you prayed a prayer, 2) have you walked an aisle, 3) have you been baptized, or 4) do you attend church. The doctrine of the indwelling Spirit demands that we ask “Do you have the Spirit of God living in you?” (2 Cor 13:5)

Gift of God by Faith
The Holy Spirit is a gift from God that comes by faith in Christ. Jesus was clear in John 7:37-39, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.” Paul was clear in Galatians 3:5 when he said, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” The answer to that question is clearly faith as Paul says in the next verse that “those of faith are the sons of Abraham.” Every believer in this age who truly repents of their sin and places faith in Christ will receive the Holy Spirit. And He will indwell fully, not partially. Immediately at conversion, every believer will be baptized once and for all (Eph 4:5-6) by the Spirit creating a new union with Christ, and with the body of believers (1 Cor 12:13).

Romans 8: 4 Blessings!
When the Spirit indwells us, everything changes and the believer is blessed. First, we have a new relationship with Christ and the Father. Paul says that when the Spirit inhabits us we “belong to Christ” (Rom 8:9) forever, never to be lost again (John 6:39). Furthermore, we are adopted into the family of God and are able to say “Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:15-17). So, the indwelling Spirit creates a living union with God the Father and God the Son. We become children of God whereby God the Father cares for us and we can cry out to Him. The Spirit’s indwelling guarantees that we are now a part of the family of God.

Second, we have new leadership in our lives. Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14). When the Spirit invades our lives there is a new leader in charge. Since the Spirit is the one leading He leads us to love the things of God, and directs us into new paths. He changes our view of God’s commandments, whereby they are no longer burdensome, but a joy to obey. The Spirit conforms us into the image of the Son and gives us the “fruits of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-26). The Spirit’s presence guarantees a transformation. And that transformation becomes more and more evident when we yield to the Spirit’s leadership. We are called not to be “drunk with wine” but be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). This filling is not the same as indwelling but is the response of the believer to the Holy Spirit’s leadership. Just as a hand “fills” a glove and controls it, or wind “fills” a sail and leads it, so the Holy Spirit must be yielded to in order that we might be controlled by Him. Spiritual maturity comes by learning to yield to the Holy Spirit’s new leadership in our lives.

Third, we have a new freedom from sin. Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). The law of Christ and His will are written in our hearts empowering us “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). So, the indwelling Spirit empowers us and frees us from the dominion of sin. This doesn’t mean that we will be perfect. In fact, our present sin will cause us to “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:24). But we will see a radical difference as we walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. We are called to live holy lives because we are indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).

Fourth, we have a new security. When the Holy Spirit resides in us we are secure forever unable to lose our salvation! God began His work in eternity past when He predestined us. And His work continues in us by guaranteeing that He will glorify those whom He predestined (Rom 8:30). The Holy Spirit’s indwelling is the “guarantee” (like a down payment) and the one who “seals” us (2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13-14) ensuring that we will ultimately be saved and secure. This is why Paul says that nothing shall be able to “separate us” from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

Walk Wise, Sing and Give Thanks
Since we have been baptized by the Spirit, we must be controlled by the Spirit. Being controlled by Him will move us to be careful how we walk in this day, not as unwise but as wise making the best use of the time because the days are evil. We must also sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father (Eph 5:14-21).