Articles from October 2019

Overcomers!

Last words are often profoundly important! This is definitely the case with the very last words of Jesus to His disciples. Moments before Jesus was about to be arrested, tried and crucified, He spoke words that still ring loud and clear for all disciples of Jesus. He said to them, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). This one statement includes promises that may cause our hearts to tremble, but at the same time should cause us to rise up with a persevering hope!

Tribulation is Certain
Expectations are important. If Christians are to persevere to the very end, we must know what we are getting into when we sign up. Unlike what the prosperity gospel teaches, Jesus assures all of us that we will experience tribulation. The prosperity gospel teaches that if we have enough faith we will escape trouble and live luxuriously in this life. The true Gospel is quite the opposite. Scripture is clear that those who follow Christ and desire to live a godly life in this world will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). Jesus promised that His disciples would be hated in this world (Jn 15:18-25). In his epistle Peter promised Christians that they would suffer but must entrust their souls to a faithful God (1 Peter 4:19). Tribulation is inevitable.

Not without Hope
But we are not left in this world without hope. Jesus tells His followers to “take heart.” This is not an empty pep talk from someone who doesn’t understand. But rather, Jesus being the Son of God gives us reason to have hope. Our hope doesn’t reside in what we can do, but rather what Jesus has already done! Moments away from going to the cross, Jesus told His disciples that He had “overcome the world.” He didn’t say that He was going to overcome the world in the future. Rather Jesus spoke with a past tense verb implying that this overcoming was already complete. Jesus was anticipating His powerful work on the cross and the defeat of sin, death, Satan, and the world by resurrecting from the dead. By rising from the dead, Jesus proved victorious over the grave (1 Cor 15:55-57). He destroyed the work of the devil (1 Jn 3:8). His resurrection proved victory over the world and the system of the world.

United with Christ
Since we have put our trust in Christ, we are united in Christ’s victory. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:4-5). Christ always leads us in triumphal procession (2 Cor 2:14). By believing in Christ, we become overcomers. Sin, Satan and this world no longer have a hold on us. While we will die physically, we will be resurrected and live forever with Christ (Jn 11:25-26). We also will reign with Christ in the world to come when Jesus comes to set up His new throne on the earth (Rev 20:4-6).

Therefore
Since we have been united with Christ in victory how shall we live? The Apostle Paul commands us, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). Since we have victory in Christ we must live differently.

We must be steadfast & immovable: Steadfast means literally to be seated implying that we are settled and firmly situated. We must not be moved away from the truth of the Gospel by the onslaught of diverse teaching in a pagan culture. We must remain firm in the Lord and the Word of God and not waver. In other words, we must be immovable and not easily swayed.

We must be abounding in the work of the Lord: We must also continue in the work of the Lord. This means that we must be bold and confident in sharing the Gospel and the contents of Scripture. We must edify one another. We must fight the good fight of faith, obeying all of God’s commands. We must abound and exceed in these things. Life is so short and we must not waste our lives on trivial things.

We must know that our labor is not in vain: We must labor with our lives freely in service to the Lord. He knows our work and our work on this earth is never useless. It may appear that no one notices, but Jesus knows and sees. Our prayers, edification of others, evangelistic efforts, and service are never wasted.

 

Irrevocable Joy

Songs are powerful in that while they may be simple, they convey profound truths. If you grew up in church, most likely you sang many children’s songs. A few of my favorite ones were always about having the joy of Jesus in my heart. They were fun to sing, but they also were songs that reminded us of the profound promises of Jesus to His disciples. The lyrics of one song declares, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart to stay! And I’m so happy, so very happy, I have the love of Jesus in my heart.” Another song says, “I’ve got joy down in my heart, deep, deep down in my heart. Jesus put it there and nothing can destroy, …stroy, …stroy it!” Both of these little tunes are theologically profound and are simply the promises of Jesus found in John 16:16-24 for His disciples.

A Little While: Resurrection!
As Jesus was going to the cross, He predicted that the disciples would not see him in a “little while” but then again in a “little while” they would see Him again. The context of this passage confirms that Jesus was clearly speaking about the events that were soon to happen. By a “little while” Jesus meant in the next twenty-four hours something was going to happen which would cause the disciples to no longer see Him. And that “little while” would only last 3 days, as Jesus would be crucified and buried in a grave. But then in a “little while” they would see Him again. This certainly is a reference to His resurrection.

The disciples were overwhelmed with trouble in their hearts about the prediction of Jesus leaving them and going back to His Father (Jn 14:1, 16:6). And those emotions would be increased once they would see their long-awaited messiah die at the hands of the Romans (Luke 24:17). But gloriously Jesus said that they would see him again in just a “little while” and that their hearts would rejoice” (Jn 16:22). Jesus knew that He was going to rise from the dead. And indeed, the disciples did see Jesus just three days later when He appeared to them in the upper room (John 20:19-23). It was at that time that their joy was restored. When they saw Jesus, they were full of rejoicing (Jn 20:20).

The resurrection is the foundation of every believer’s joy. First, the resurrection proves that Christ has power over death, conquering it once and for all. The resurrection of Christ proves that God the Father accepted the atoning sacrifice that is the basis of every believer’s salvation. Second, the resurrection is joy for all true believers because it means that we will also never experience the second death. Jesus promised that those who believe that He is the “resurrection and the life” will also never die (Jn 11:25). The resurrection proves that all of the promises of Jesus are true.

Irrevocable Joy
Jesus promised that when this joy came to His disciples, “no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22). This is a profound promise. There are not many things in this life that are irrevocable. But this joy that comes from Christ is a binding, irreversible, permanent joy. People cannot take joy away, nor can any horrible circumstance! This divine gift that comes to us at our conversion is certainly the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us (Gal 5:22). This is why the Apostle Paul can command believers to “rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Paul could command this while he was sitting chained in a prison cell because this joy resides in the heart of every believer never to be taken away, even amid the worst of circumstances.

Veiled Joy
For sure the joy we experience in this life is a veiled joy, shrouded with the sorrows and difficulties of this life that are common among all men. But there is a day coming when ultimate joy will be experienced in full. King David wrote that “in His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11). There is a day coming in the next life when we will experience the full measure of God’s joy in heaven, in the presence of Jesus our Savior. At that time every tear will be wiped away, death shall be no more, and there will be no more mourning, crying, pain or death (Rev 21:4). While we only know the joy of Jesus in our hearts in part, the promise of Jesus is that we will one day know that joy fully in heaven. Sadly, the opposite is true for unbelievers. This life is the only joy they will ever experience. When they die, unbelievers will only experience everlasting sadness and sorrow. This is why we must tell others the good news.

Motivated to Tell Others
In a world of so much sorrow, sadness, sickness and death, we should be motivated to tell others about how they can have this real joy. Joy is not found in material possessions. No one is ever comforted on their death bed with their possessions. The world is seeking joy in all the wrong places. But we have the answer! God made mankind with a desire to have fullness of joy. We must be ready to share the good news to others when their hearts are full of trouble. Hopefully they will see that the trouble of this life never robs us of our true joy. And when they ask us why we have such peace and joy in the midst of life, we must be able to tell them: “It’s because of Jesus!”

 

Are All Spiritual Gifts Active Today?

One of the blessings of being added to the Church and being baptized into Christ (1 Cor 12:13) is that every believer is given a spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:7). These gifts are sovereignly distributed to every believer to be used for the advancement of Kingdom work, and the edification of the Church for the “common good” (1 Cor 12:7, 14-26). Every believer has been given a gift and is valuable to the entire body of Christ.

The list of spiritual gifts can be discovered in four main passages: 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-31, Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11, and 1 Peter 4:10-11. Depending on how the gifts are categorized, there are approximately 20 gifts, excluding the gift of marriage and the gift of celibacy found in 1 Corinthians 7:7. While Peter seems to categorize his list of gifts into “speaking” and “non-speaking” gifts, theologians have also classified the gifts into permanent and temporary gifts. In most cases the majority of the gifts seem to be actively used in the current Church age. However, upon closer examination, some of the gifts are certainly not intended to be active today. Typically, the gifts under question are the following: The gift of apostleship, the gift of miracles, the gift of healing, the gift of tongues, and the gift of interpretation of tongues. Sometimes the gift of prophecy and discernment of spirits is also added to the list depending on how they are understood.

Cessationism
A cessationist is someone who “believes that certain miraculous spiritual gifts ceased when the Apostles died and Scripture was complete” (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudum, pg 1237). To be clear, cessationists don’t believe that God no longer does anything miraculous or that the Spirit cannot give a miraculous ability today. What is called into question is whether or not the actual gifts are given to individuals today as a normative pattern. Cessationists believe the Holy Spirit no longer sovereignly gives individual believers the miraculous spiritual gifts that were present in the first century. Since the Apostles died, the miraculous gifts also passed away or “ceased” as being normative for the current Church age. Following are a few of the main arguments for cessationism:

1. The qualifications of Apostleship demand that the office is no longer in operation. The office of Apostle was a very unique office that could only be occupied by men who qualified. The qualifications of an Apostle were three-fold. First, to be an Apostle a man had to be an eye witness of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22). Second, the man had to be personally appointed by Christ Himself (Acts 1:2, 24). Third, Apostles were given the ability to perform miracles (Matthew 10:1-2, 2 Cor 12:12). It is clear that there are no Apostles today. We should be concerned if someone claims to be an Apostle today, and should guard against false teaching and the abuse of authority.

2. Miracles have always been unique and were used to authenticate authority and introduce new eras of revelation. Thousands of years of history have proven that the gift of miracles was not common. Biblical history reveals only a few periods in which certain prophets were given the gift of miracles. Moses (and Joshua) was given the ability to do miracles in order to authenticate him before Pharaoh and the people of God (Exodus 4-17). The prophets Elijah (1 Kings 17-21) and Elisha (2 Kings 2-13) were also given the ability to do incredible miracles. While other miracles were performed sporadically (Jonah, Isaiah, Daniel), the only other major period where miracles were largely accomplished was the time of Jesus and the Apostles. It is clear that the miracles of Jesus were not simply for evangelistic reasons but to prove that Jesus was indeed God’s final and ultimate messenger (John 5:36, 6:14, 7:31, 10:24-26, 37-38). In the same way, the miracles of the Apostles authenticated them as genuine (2 Cor 12:12, Hebrews 2:4) and gave them the authority to speak on behalf of God and write Scripture. Not only did these miracles authenticate, but also were an indication of the introduction to new revelation from God by these men. Whenever God wanted to pour out His Word, He authenticated His chosen vessels through extraordinary miracles. There is certainly a major disparity between the amazing biblical miracles compared to the claims of the modern age. While God still does miracles today, it appears that the gift of performing true miracles has ceased. There is no need for further authentication of God’s men because there is no new revelation, and Jesus Himself was last messenger and final Word from God.

3. Since the foundation of the Church was laid by the Apostles and Prophets of the New Testament, no further revelation is needed. It is clear that the Apostles and the Prophets in the age of the New Covenant were given by God to the Church for the purpose of laying the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20). By nature, when a foundation is laid no further foundation is necessary. The foundation that was laid by the Apostles and prophets was certainly the revelation that God gave to them. The foundation was the teaching of Jesus revealed to them that they passed onto the Church through the writings of the New Testament. Since that foundation is laid and Scripture is complete, no further revelation (prophecy) and no further authentication is necessary. By default, the “sign” gifts which were given to the Apostles also passed away with them. Their work was completed and their role was done.

4. Since the Scripture is complete there is no further need for “sign” gifts. This is the logical conclusion of the above arguments. God has always authenticated his chosen men through “signs” and miracles and wonders. But since the Bible is complete and sufficient there is no need for these signs. The gift of tongues was a gift of proclamation, particularly of the Gospel (Acts 2:1-11) articulated in a known tongue or language. God miraculously gave the gift of tongues in order for His good news to be proclaimed so that the nations could hear about the saving work of Christ. But once the Scripture was complete having a full written record of the Gospel, there was no need for the gift of tongues. It shouldn’t be surprising that the gift of tongues is not mentioned in any of the later epistles (every letter of Paul after 1 Corinthians) and is surprisingly missing in all of the pastoral epistles which were written as an instruction manual for “how to do church” (1 Timothy 3:15).

If you are interested, Tom Schreiner, a professor of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes a great article for the Gospel Coalition, “Why I am a Cessationist.” Tim Challies also summarizes Tom Pennington’s 2 part sermons at the Strange Fire Conference, “Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism.” You can also listen to Tom Pennington’s sermons here. All of these are good resources. If you would like to hear the opposing view, Sam Storms offers his article for the Gospel Coalition called, “Why I am a Continuationist.”