Thursday, November 27, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ When the Reason for Knowing is the Response of Rejoicing

          This morning I had to look at these two Scriptures side-by-side.
I John 1:3-4
I John 5:13
3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
          The first Scripture is John’s stated purpose at the beginning of his letter, and the second is his stated purpose at the end of his letter. Knowing these two things helps us understand everything in-between, especially the eleven “by this” statements he uses to assure us of our place in God’s work.[1]
          John begins his letter by telling his readers that he wants us to have fellowship with “us”, which I believe refers to the apostles, those who are the foundation of the church,[2] given the responsibility to lay down the hope of the gospel, and the life of the church in living true to this gospel.
          However, John clarifies that “our” fellowship, is also “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” This means that John writes in order to nurture the fellowship of the one body of Christ to our head, to promote and encourage fellowship between God and his people.
          The distinctive quality of this fellowship is that “our joy may be complete.” If John is proclaiming this good news to these people, to all who read this letter, in order to bring people into fellowship with God and his church, and these things are to complete the readers’ joy, then we have to put these together so that the message is singular: fellowship with God and his people completes our joy.
          Now, when John concludes his letter, after giving us these eleven “by this” statements to show us how we can know that we are part of this fellowship, his stated purpose is “that you may know that you have eternal life.” This is rather delightful in itself, but all the more so when we consider the significance of “knowing” in relation to “eternal life.”
          On the night of Jesus’ arrest, he prepared his disciples for what was taking place by teaching them many things about his ministry, their relationship to him, and the Holy Spirit who would take over as the divine presence with the people of God. At some point, he changed from addressing the disciples directly, to addressing his Father.
          At the beginning of this prayer, Jesus includes this description of eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”[3]
          Eternal life is to know God the Father, and to know Jesus Christ whom the Father had sent. Since the gospels, and the church, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, are all about bringing people into this eternal life, it is central to everything that eternal life is about knowing God the Father and God the Son.
          When John begins his letter to the church, and announces his purpose of leading God’s children to have fellowship with one another, and with the Father and the Son, he is showing his fellowship with the purpose of God that he bring people into this eternal life that is all about knowing the Triune.
          So, when John concludes his letter by stating his purpose as, that those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” may “know that you have eternal life,” he is doubling up the emphasis on knowing. He wants us to know that we know the Father and the Son.
          John also wants us to know that we have the Holy Spirit working in us so that we can know that we have the Father and the Son. As he stated in the middle of his letter, “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”[4] If John’s purpose for us is that we have fellowship with the Father and Son because that is eternal life, and he wants us to know that we have eternal life, then we must have the Holy Spirit who is the ultimate evidence that God abides in us.
          This is quite remarkable when we consider what the church had been taught about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This issue of us knowing that we abide in the Father, and that the Father abides in us, “by the Spirit whom he has given us,”[5]is central to our identity in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”[6]No “Spirit of God” no “sons of God,” period.
          However, this is not simply about whether we have the Holy Spirit as evidence of our abiding relationship with God the Father and God the Son. This is also about the fact that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to assure us of our relationship with the Father and the Son. Paul describes it like this, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”[7]
          Paul describes the Spirit as “the Spirit of adoption as sons,” assuring us that this is the very identity of the Holy Spirit in relation to the believer in Jesus Christ. If we have the Spirit, we have adoption as the sons of God. If we are the sons of God, as assured by the presence of the Spirit of our adoption, then we know that the Father abides in us, and us in him.
          No wonder Paul would describe it in another letter in this way, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”[8]
          So, how is it that we know that God abides in us “by the Spirit whom he has given us”?[9]It is that when we received the gospel, when our hearing of the “word of truth” causes us to “believe in him,” we received the “adoption as sons” that God predestined us to experience before the beginning of time,[10] and we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” whom Paul calls, “the Spirit of adoption as sons.”[11]
          Once we are the sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ, fulfilling God’s pre-time determination that he would adopt us as his sons, our adoption is “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”[12] The Holy Spirit is now the “guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,”[13] which means that everything to do with our inheritance, what is still unfinished in bringing us into the new home that Jesus is preparing for us,[14]is assured to us by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and churches. If we have the Spirit, we have the adoption; if we have the adoption, then the Father and the Son abide in us, and we abide in them.
          To assure us that we have this fellowship with the Father and the Son, John writes his letter so that we can know that we have this eternal life. And, if we have this eternal life, then we know God. Period. Forever.
          Adding another delightful facet of our Father’s assurances to our souls, Paul describes what the Holy Spirit does within us. He writes, “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, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”[15]
          When we understand that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of adoption as sons,”[16]we can look to him as the presence of God who “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[17] He is all about our adoption as sons, and so he ministers to us, bearing witness to us by his presence, that we truly are the children of God. This is why John would say that having the Holy Spirit is one of the assurances by which we know that the Father abides in us.
          Now, Paul who wrote that the Holy Spirit “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,”[18]speaks here of the fact that, when the Holy Spirit convicts us, and convinces us, and assures us, that we are the children of God, it is so that we would understand that, “if children, then heirs.” If we are children at all, we are the heirs of God, the children waiting for that inheritance we have not yet acquired.[19]
          And, when we know that we are heirs, we know that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” As sons of God, we are heirs of what the Father has provided for our inheritance. This gives us the distinctive fellowship with the Son, that we are “fellow heirs” with him. There is not one inheritance for Jesus, and a different one for us. Our fellowship is with the Father and his Son; our eternal life is to know the Father and the Son; John has written his letter so that we would know that we know the Father and the Son, and this involves the fellowship with the Father as his heir, and the fellowship with the Son as his fellow heir.
          While these thoughts fill the heart with wonder, as slowly turning a multi-faceted diamond in hand causes brand new expressions of the glorious light within, there is this over-riding gift of grace, that God has done everything for us to have the eternal life of knowing him, and to know that we have this eternal life.
          Of course, I cannot forget the new context that Father has given to me, that he is responsible for everything to do with our salvation. Therefore, I can receive the gospel as an expression of his responsibility to restore me to the image and likeness of his Son. And I can read the apostolic letters to the churches as the beautiful gift of grace that tells me over and over again that God is responsible for me knowing what I have in Jesus Christ my Lord.
          It seems that, since God has already given us such assurances as this, along with the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to assure us we already abide in the Father and the Son, that we ought to listen to Jesus’ words all the more readily. After all, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”[20]The more we hear Jesus’ words, the more we build up our faith.
          Jesus also said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[21]If God has given so much to fill us with his joy, so our joy can be full, we might as well honor him by soaking up all the joy the Spirit would give us today. Or, as Paul put it, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”[22]

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, Canada, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[2] Ephesians 2:20
[3] John 17:3
[4] I John 3:24
[5] I John 3:24
[6] Romans 8:14
[7] Romans 8:15
[8] Ephesians 1:13-14
[9] I John 3:24
[10] Ephesians 1:4-6
[11] Romans 8:15
[12] Ephesians 1:13
[13] Ephesians 1:14
[14] John 14:1-3
[15] Romans 8:16-17
[16] Romans 8:15
[17] Romans 8:16
[18] Ephesians 1:13-14
[19] I Peter 1:3-5
[20] Romans 10:17
[21] John 15:11
[22] Philippians 4:4

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ One Perfectly Responsible Father

          Yesterday morning I had an Aha-moment that was the sudden addition of one word to every reference to God as Father. The word? Responsible.
          Many church-going people have stumbled over God’s undeniable revelation of himself as Father. Bad experiences have a way of shaping our beliefs in bad ways. The self-protective filters we put in place as children may give the appearance of protecting us from painful circumstances while we are young, but they do nothing to help us develop a strong, secure relationship with God.
          Part of Paul’s exhortation-reminder that we were taught “to put off your old self,” was because it is the “old self” that got everything wrong, and will only hinder our relationship with God if it continues in its place.
          To explain why it is we must put off this old self, he clarifies that it, “belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.”[1] That old self does not belong to our present life in Christ. It “belongs” to that “former manner of life,” and that is why we must put it off. We have “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,”[2]and that new self loves getting to know God as Father.
          What, then, does the word “responsible” add to a new-self opportunity to know God as Father? The first answer that pops into my head is: EVERYTHING!
          One way I would describe it is as the addition of one color of the spectrum to the light that I had not realized was less brilliant and glorious than God intended. As soon as that extra color is added to its place, everything the light shines on now shows up much more clearly.
          For a long time I have taken great comfort in how different God is from earthly fathers, including me! However, I now realize that there are treasures of wisdom and knowledge far beyond what I have already known. I anticipate that, for the rest of my life, the view of God as Father will show itself more and more clearly as I see everything about God through this filter of his responsibility for his children.
          While I appreciate the positive journey of getting to know how God’s responsible fatherliness relates to everything in my life, it also helps to explain a negative phenomenon that has not made a lot of sense to me. Many Christians live as though we are saved by grace through faith, but making it to the finish line is all about us. God has done our part; now we have to do ours.[3]
          When we realize that God is our Father, and he is responsible, we can appreciate that the beginning, during, and ending of the race are all in his hands. He has not only provided for our salvation, but he is our salvation. He not only set things in motion, and saved us by his grace, but he is the one who is responsible to get us to heaven, not only in one piece, but completely conformed to the image and likeness of his Son.[4]
          One aspect of God’s responsibility that fills the child of God with confidence is the simple fact that God is able to fulfill all his responsibilities. As a Dad, I had all the fatherly duties expected of all men with children. However, I could never say that I was able to do all my responsibilities. I missed things because I wasn’t smart enough to figure out what to do. I failed at things because I was too immature to handle them. No matter how I look at my fatherly responsibilities, I did not do all I was responsible for. In fact, I’m still learning!
          On the other hand, Father God is able to fulfill all his responsibilities. He has chosen to have a creature who would be in his Son‘s own image and likeness. He has taken responsibility to deal with our sin problem, the thing that keeps us from being in his Son‘s image. The plan for our salvation is his responsibility. Foreknowing us, predestining us to his Son‘s image, calling us, justifying us, and glorifying us, are all his responsibility.[5]
          Once we can open our hearts to this wonderful truth, that God is responsible for us, beginning to end, fulfilling every promise he has made to this creature he calls his children, we can then look at all the changes that are still needed in our lives as things God is responsible to change. He gives us the renewal of our minds in salvation so that we can be transformed.[6] He is the one who began a good work in us, so he is the one who will carry it on to completion at the day of Jesus‘ return.[7] He can tell us to put off that sarky old self because he has given us a “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”[8]
          One thing that I had to present to God with respect to his responsibility for his children is in relation to prayer. There is something about God being responsible that caused him to give this to his children, to teach this to his children. There is a way that we ask and receive in prayer because God is responsible for us. This is his will that we receive ­­­­­what we ask for in prayer.[9]
          In fact, for us to understand this, that God works through prayer as a devoted Father who is responsible for his children, is his responsibility! The Aha-moment of yesterday morning was his responsibility. The hunger to know God as the responsible Father is something he is doing in us because we are his responsibility.
          God is going to stir up his children to know and do his will about prayer, and he is going to make men like me into men of prayer, because he is responsible for us. God will fatherly lead his children into prayer because it is like his Son to talk to him. God delights in us, and we depend on him.
The cross of Jesus Christ settles for every child of God how responsible the Father is to save those he has chosen. It is not only that he must do what he has set out to do, but that he is the Father. He has created a creature in the image of his Son, and so he must relate to this new creature with the same fatherly responsibility as he has towards his Son.
          A second thing that came up with respect to God‘s responsibility for his children is in relation to our so great salvation. All the things we have been learning about the “by this you shall know” statements in I John,[10] is a revelation of the God who is taking full responsibility for the saving of his children, and who writes these things in his book so that his children can know how responsible he is.
          I even think that there is something in the whole “by the Spirit whom he has given us” (3:24) that God wants us to see through this lens of his responsibility. In a way, it is not so much whether we are good at relating to God‘s Spirit, or whether we are good at being filled with his Spirit, or we are good at praying in his Spirit. It is all about the reality that God, as the one who is responsible for our salvation, has also made himself responsible to assure us of our salvation. He has not only given us his Spirit, but he has given us a book filled with instructions and descriptions and revelations of the life of the Spirit in his children.
          I am very thankful for this brighter illumination of the fatherly responsibilities of God. I know that many believers would find great comfort in this reality that they are not the ones responsible for our relationship to God, but he is fully responsible for his relationship to us. We are his idea. Making a creature out of dirt that would end up fully conformed to the image of Jesus Christ? His idea. And, because we are his idea, his design, his creation, he is obligated to his own responsibilities to his children to finish what he has started. The more we join him in his word, in prayer, and in his Spirit, the more brightly his light shines on the wonders of his fatherly relationship to his children.
© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, Canada, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Ephesians 4:22
[2] Ephesians 4:24
[3] That’s the kind of thinking I really disliked in the old Touched by an Angel TV show.
[4] Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 8:29; I John 3:2
[5] Romans 8:28-30
[6] Romans 12:1-2
[7] Philippians 1:6
[8] Ephesians 4:24
[9] I John 3:22
[10] This has been an ongoing series in our home church, and something I have written about in various posts. The ‘By This’ of Ultimate assurance:; Eleven Assurances from Older Brother John:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Done, Doing, and Waiting, of our So Great Salvation

          I would like to share with you why I do not buy into the mindset of, “everything that is wrong with us was dealt with at the cross.” Or, perhaps it would be better to say, I don’t buy into the mindset that everything that is wrong with us was so dealt with at the cross that there is no longer anything wrong with us.
          My pastoral journey in understanding the kinds of things that can be wrong with God’s children has mostly revolved around the effects of childhood trauma. When I first began learning about these things it was a huge shock to my system to realize that receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ did not wash all the heartaches away. There was more work needing to be done, and Jesus expected his church, his body, to work with him as he applied the ongoing work of healing to those who needed such a gift of grace.
          The next shock to my system was to meet professing Christians who insisted that God’s children did not have any ongoing problems from their childhoods because “everything was dealt with at the cross.” It wasn’t just a shock to discover how adamantly people would defend such a position, but also how they would treat the people who were trying to bring their unresolved problems to the church for help. There was no help offered because there was no problem admitted.
          So, what is wrong with the position of those who say that everything that is wrong with us was dealt with at the cross, and now people do not have any ongoing trauma from childhood abuse, any lingering problems with depression, and most certainly no possible room for demonic activity.[1]
          The problem is that people who hide themselves in their I’m-using-the-cross-as-a-cover-for-my-denial position forget that the cross gives us a three dimensional salvation. The three dimensions of our salvation are summarized as justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification focuses on what was applied to our lives at the moment of our conversion,[2] glorification focuses on what will be applied to our lives at the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection experience, and sanctification summarizes our journey of growing up in Jesus Christ.
          Once we remind ourselves that the cross of Jesus Christ gives us these three dimensions of salvation, we can then look at anything going on in any believer’s life and identify which dimension of our salvation we are dealing with. For example, if a believer is struggling with depression, everything true about their justification by faith is still true, and is one hundred percent complete in their lives whether they know it or not. It is also true that, no matter how much they struggle with negative thoughts and feelings, the reality of their glorification is also true, that they will become just like Jesus when he returns and they see him as he is.[3]
          However, when we understand the sanctification journey of the Christian life, we know that we are all starting out as babes in Christ.[4] We need to be part of an “each part is working properly” kind of church[5] to grow to maturity in Christ, what Paul describes as, “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”[6] We know that all believers can “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,”[7] but the fact that Paul had to teach the church to do this means that it is a process that needs to be learned.
          How do we find comfort in the cross when dealing with unresolved “issues” from the past? How do we unite as the church to help each other with the sanctification-journey, just as families walk together as each member grows up from whatever age and level of maturity they are starting from?
          The answer is to apply each dimension of our salvation to whatever anyone is going through. The cross gives us past, present, and future grace. We who believe in Jesus Christ are justified, are being sanctified, and will be glorified. Each dimension ministers to us in anything we are facing, and helps us accept whatever other believers are going through.
          When believers in Jesus Christ face painful issues of any kind, we are comforted by our justification by putting our faith in what is already completed in our lives. We are “in”.[8] We are “born again.”[9] We have a new birth that has given us a new life.[10] We are safely in the hands of Jesus Christ our Lord, and no one can snatch us out of his hands.[11] We can have every problem that Christians describe as going on in their lives,[12] with no need to deny anything a Christian is going through, because us and our problems are in the hands of our Savior. In the same way as our birth is a past event that was completed at the time, our past experience of justification by faith is complete, and final. It does not deny the problems we face in the present, but it gives us the foundation on which to experience healing and freedom in our Lord Jesus Christ.
          We can also face painful experiences of the present time with an eye to the absolute certainty of our future glorification in Christ. Yes, the cross has given us our glorification as a gift, but the benefit of being completely free from the world, the flesh, and the devil, is not yet ours. It is called hope because it is both certain, and future. Peter described it as, “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”[13]We can look to this perfect inheritance, and all that it contains, but as something that is waiting for us in heaven. Its time will come.
          As we struggle through any life-experience, this future hope in our absolute, finished, complete, Christlikeness, helps us move through things that in this lifetime sometimes seem so far from the finished product. That’s okay, because we are not yet in our glorification. Justified out of our sin? Yes. Glorified into sinless-perfection? Not yet.
          The present struggle with anything we face in our life-experiences is also encouraged along by our sanctification. Paul describes our ongoing growth in Christ in the most hope-filled terms when he writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”[14]
          The reason there is hope for every troubling situation we face, including the sudden flashbacks of childhood trauma, the overwhelming pain of immediate trauma,[15] or conflicts of body, soul, and/or spirit that leave us confused about what we are actually dealing with, is because of the fact that God is presently changing us, transforming us, to be like Jesus. We are changing. Whatever we face now, God can change it degree by degree, glory to glory.
          To put this all together, we can live by faith in what God is doing at the present time in our sanctification, knowing that he will make everything right in the end  in our glorification, because he has made everything right in our beginning, our justification by faith. And, we can thank God that, through the cross, all three are ours, each in their place, each perfectly accomplishing what God has chosen to do. As Paul declared, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[16] The “began a good work” is our justification, the “bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” is our glorification, and the being “sure of this,” along with the “good work” that is still in process, is our sanctification leading us from start to finish.
          I am on a quest to help believers come together in unity with an understanding of how the cross has given us three dimensions to our salvation. Once we appreciate the past completion of our justification by faith, our future hope of complete glorification into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and our present journey of growing up to be more and more like Jesus, we can unite around whatever is going on in our lives now. We can work together to discover how the cross of Jesus Christ has given us everything we need to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,”[17] even when that means we must work through things we all wish were no longer part of our lives.
          One thing we cannot do is tell someone that he or she not dealing with bad things because Jesus already dealt with those things on the cross. That is bad doctrine, and a bad application of “teach what accords with sound doctrine.”[18]
          Instead, we tell each other that, no matter what we are facing, the justification by faith that is ours through the cross gives us a new life in Jesus Christ in which all the promises of God will be fulfilled. We remind each other that, no matter what is going on, and no matter how confusing and traumatic it may feel, the cross of Jesus Christ has given us our future glorification as surely as if it was already ours, and God will complete all the good plans he has started in our lives. And we tell each other that we fully accept whatever anyone in the church is going through because the cross of Jesus Christ has given us our sanctification, and the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, to assure that we will constantly change to be like Jesus “from one degree of glory to another.”
          So, got problems? Got trauma? Got spiritual defeat? How ‘bout depression? Watching stuff you shouldn’t? Can’t seem to stop? Got needs going on inside you that nothing seems to satisfy? Your justification by faith on one side, and your glorification by faith on the other, assure you that your present journey of sanctification leads from the new life you were born into, to the new home Jesus is preparing for you in heaven.
          Keep on keeping on, as someone said. “Bear with one another in love.”[19] Welcome those whose faith is weak.[20] Let love cover over a multitude of sins.[21] Welcome whatever anyone in the church is going through. Run the race with perseverance, even if healing must take place for you to do so.[22] The prize is worth it.[23]

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, Canada, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] This is only a summary of the kinds of things that some Christians say they are still struggling with, while others are demanding that no such things are possible because of the cross. If you have other lingering “stuff”, be encouraged with what I am sharing here.
[2] We do not need to remember or identify the moment of our conversion to know that we are justified by grace through faith. In the same way as we all know we are alive without remembering being born (thankfully), if we know we are alive in Jesus Christ, everything about our justification by grace through faith applies, whether or not we know the exact time that our new birth took place.
[3] I John 3:1-2
[4] I Peter 2:2
[5] Ephesians 4:16
[6] Ephesians 4:13
[7] Romans 12:1-2
[8] The book of Ephesians seems to be the most concentrated emphasis on what it means to be “in Christ”. The first 14 verses of the book direct us to a variety of synonymic expressions. This “in Christ” experience is completely settled in our justification, even though we remain in desperate need of daily transformation to be like him.
[9] John 3:3; context is John 3:1-15
[10] I Peter 1:3; II Corinthians 5:17
[11] John 10:28-29
[12] Yes, even the testimonies of demonic activity
[13] I Peter 1:4
[14] II Corinthians 3:18
[15] As is the case with some of the horrific experiences of persecution the church is facing, along with any immediate experiences of sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, and the like.
[16] Philippians 1:6
[17] Ephesians 4:3
[18] Titus 2:1
[19] Ephesians 4:2
[20] Romans 14:1
[21] I Peter 4:8
[22] Hebrews 12:1
[23] I Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:8; 3:13-14; Romans 8:18; I Peter 4:13

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ Growing Up in the Perfect Love of our Protective God

          There are some passages of Scripture that speak of our justification by faith, meaning the part of our Christian experience that is 100% complete in Jesus Christ. The moment we are “saved” we are 100% saved, 100% justified.
          There are other passages that speak of our glorification by faith, referring to things we will experience in the future. These things are 0% complete because we aren’t there yet. I don’t mean by this that our inheritance is not already waiting for us in heaven,[1] only that we are not yet in heaven experiencing what is promised for our future. We get the whole 100% of our glorification when it happens.
          There are also Scriptures that speak of our sanctification by faith, encouraging us to keep pressing on in ways that we are growing up to be like Jesus “from one degree of glory to another.”[2] While this growth carries on throughout our lifetimes, there is no way for any of us to gauge the percentage God would use to describe how far along we really are.[3]
          One of the struggles that is common among Christians is when people apply justification thinking to sanctification Scriptures. This is when people treat Scriptures as if they are talking about things that are 100% complete in Christ, when they are really speaking of things that will keep growing and improving in our lives until the day of our glorification when no further growth will be required. These things will be 100% complete one day, just not on this day.
          For example, consider how this Scripture would be interpreted through both justification thinking, and sanctification thinking. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”[4]
          If we interpret this only through justification thinking, we would have to say that every Christian has come into the perfect love of God, that perfect love of God “casts out fear,” so “whoever fears” is not a Christian. Justification thinking makes people think that this must already be 100% complete, therefore, real Christians have no fear, and anyone who has fear could not possibly be a real Christian.
          On the other hand, sanctification thinking would acknowledge that there is “no fear” in the perfect love of God. It would affirm that the perfect love of God casts out fear. It would agree that the fear in people’s lives is associated with the threat of punishment. And it would have no difficulty with the thought that “whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” They would simply see this as something that every Christian can grow in until the experience is 100% fulfilled in their glorification.
          One of the simplest ways of determining if Christians are still able to have certain kinds of problems after they are justified is to ask Christians what kinds of problems they have going on in their lives. We can’t take Scriptures like above and tell Christians that this means that they can’t have fear in their lives even though so many Christians have fear in their lives.
          Instead, we address the wonderful gift of sanctification that gives us hope that we can daily change to be more like Jesus, including experiencing his perfect love in greater ways so as to experience that perfect love casting out even more of our fear. One day the unchanging perfect love will have changed us perfectly and fear will be gone. In the meantime, imperfect love covers over a multitude of sins,[5] and whatever nasty little fears are still tangled around our hearts.
          Another example of this is something the apostle John wrote down a chapter later. “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”[6]
          When this Scripture is interpreted through justification thinking, people conclude that everyone (100%), who has been “born of God” (100%), will not “keep on sinning” (100%), because God will protect them (100%), and the evil one will not be able to touch them (100%). In the justification mindset, every part of this verse has to be considered 100% fulfilled, nothing more to be improved during our growth in sanctification.
          Now, let’s consider this same verse as one more encouragement to our growing up in Jesus Christ our Lord “from one degree of glory to another.”[7] In that case it would mean that, “everyone who has been born of God” refers to our justification by grace through faith, giving us access into this grace in which we now stand.
          In fact, when Paul wrote, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God,”[8]he addressed our justification (we have also obtained access by faith into this grace), our sanctification (this grace in which we stand), and our glorification (and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God).
          Yes, being “born of God” refers to our justification, but just as a baby’s birth is one thing, and the life they live afterwards another, so our new birth experience is done and complete, but the life we live while away from home is still in progress and incomplete.
          So, when we know that “everyone who has been born of God” refers to those who are justified through faith in Jesus Christ, what does it mean that such ones do “not keep on sinning”? Was John teaching sinless perfection, as some would claim? Or was he teaching that once we are born again we do not continue living the lives of sin we were in when Jesus saved us?
          John’s answer to this question seems pretty clear when he writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”[9]John was writing to Christians (my little children). His aim was that they would not sin. However, “if anyone does sin,” they were not to be treated as though they were not Christians. Rather, they were to be reminded that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
          Now, if “everyone who has been born of God does not keep sinning” means does not continue the life of sin we left behind in the world, what is involved in experiencing this kind of protection from God in which the evil one cannot touch us? Does this mean that, in this present lifetime, we are 100% protected from God, and the evil one has no ability to touch us? Or is this another sanctification Scripture that tells us what is available in Christ, and we must keep growing up in this experience “from one degree of glory to another”?
          I believe that there is good reason to treat this issue of God’s protection in the same way as we treat his perfect love. His perfect love casts out fear, but we are growing up in that perfect love now towards that day of glorification when his perfect love will finish its work.
          We can also consider that God’s protection means one thing in our justification, another thing in our sanctification, and something perfectly complete in our glorification. The evil one cannot touch our salvation once it is given to us in Christ (justification), but our sanctification requires us to put on the whole armor of God in order to take our stand against the devil and his schemes.[10] In the same way as some Christians have a better grasp of God’s perfect love, and so a better experience of fearless faith, some Christians have a better grasp of putting on the whole armor of God, and so a better experience of God’s protection from the evil one.
          I am writing this because I believe that there are painful divisions for Christians who are dealing with unresolved issues in their sanctification, but judged by others with the justification thinking that brands them as heretics for claiming that Christians can have such problems. On one side, there are Christians who feel that the devil has found a way to “touch” them, just as some would think that fear is in the way of their experience of God’s perfect love. On the other side of the division are those who say that these things were settled “at the cross” in their justification, so any claim of such experiences is wrong.
          Perhaps it would help in such cases if we would differentiate between what any given Scripture means in our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification, just to be sure we aren’t applying God’s wonderful truth in inappropriate and demoralizing ways.         
          For me, I want every Christian to know that what God’s perfect love accomplished in our justification gives us every reason to live by faith that this perfect love will continually cast out our fears until the day of our glorification when we shall be just like Jesus, we shall “know fully, even as I have been fully known,”[11] and be free of fear forever.
          In the same way, I want every Christian to know that what’s God’s protective power has done in our justification makes our salvation so perfectly protected that God will continue sanctifying us, until the day that every remnant of the devil’s touch is gone and forgotten, and we live in the perfection of God’s glorious presence forever.
          In the meantime, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with fear, ask God to give you brothers and sisters who will so exemplify the love of God to you that you will feel that his love is driving out your fears.
          And, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and you are sure the devil has found some way to touch you that others have said could never happen, ask God to give you a spiritual family that will help you “wrestle… against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,”[12]until Satan loses his touch.
© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, Canada, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I Peter 1:4
[2] II Corinthians 3:18
[3] I suspect that it is not as high as we might hope, and yet a glorious tribute to grace that there is any transformation whatsoever.
[4] I John 4:18
[5] I Peter 4:8
[6] I John 5:18
[7] II Corinthians 3:18
[8] Romans 5:2
[9] I John 2:1
[10] Ephesians 6:10-20
[11] I Corinthians 13:12
[12] Ephesians 6:12