Sanctification

Not One Hint of Darkness

God is spirit (Jn 4:24). God is one (Deut 6:4). God is love (1 Jn 4:8 ). God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13). God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). God is merciful (Deut 4:31). God is gracious (2 Chr 30:9). God is compassionate (2 Chr 30:9). God is judge (Ps 50:6).

God is….these character affirmations are prevalent throughout Scripture. They are invitations to explore and understand the nature of our God. John provides us with an important “God is” statement in his first letter.

“God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

John could have simply stated there is no darkness in God. His addition of “at all” (οὐδεμία) makes his claim more emphatic. The double negative communicates impossibility. There is no way, not one chance, no possibility of darkness residing in the character of God…none.

If we have ever concluded from the pain, suffering, and horrors around us that there is darkness in God we have drawn the wrong conclusion. There are horrendous things happening every day on this globe, undeniable evil, unspeakable pain and sorrow. These realities cannot be denied and must be looked squarely in the face.

We have to wrestle with these things from a biblical and theological perspective, absolutely we must. Nevertheless, 1 John 1:5 remains true, God is pure light. This must inform all of our thinking about the darkness we see in the world.

In the context of John’s letter the divine luminosity has another practical purpose. John see’s the light of God as the pattern for Christian living. We are called to walk in the light as he is in the light.

The presence of sin/darkness makes the call to walk in the light synonymous with a life of repentance. We will most definitely find ourselves wandering around in the darkness as Christians, falling into sinful thoughts and behaviors. If we deny this, we are deceived.

The mark of the Christian is not the absence of darkness/sin, but the persistent push toward the light/repentance. The Christian is miserable in the darkness and refuses to stay there. No darkness at all, this is the Christian’s aim—full confession, transparency and exposure before the Creator.

Respect & Gentleness: Two Critical Evangelistic Postures

Gospel witness is privilege and imperative. Called to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us from darkness to light we are ambassadors for Christ. Peter reminds us that the medium of the message is very important. He puts in front of us two critical evangelistic postures that need emphasis.

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).

Gentleness should mark the sharing of our faith with others. To grasp this important posture and character trait we need to look at the original language and the New Testament examples of it.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament says this about the Greek word translated as gentleness (πραΰτης).

“Praǘtēs, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason, and not getting angry at all. Therefore, praǘtēs is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. Praǘtēs is not readily expressed in English (since the term “meekness” suggests weakness), but it is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in strength of character.”

The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines gentleness as “a quality of gentle friendliness, as strength that accommodates to another’s weakness, consideration.”

Gentleness is not a lack of power, it is not weakness. It is strength under control. It is power employed for the sake of others. It is discernible in balance. It is a close cousin to humility. It is welcoming and hospitable. It is intimate with kindness and well acquainted with self-control.

The New Testament utilizes the language of gentleness around 30 times. Gentleness is a quality of God (2 Sam 22:36, Ps 18:35, Is 40:11) manifest most clearly in the person of Christ (Matt 11:29, 2 Cor 10:1). It is also characteristic of the Holy Spirit who works that same quality out in us (Gal 5:23).

It is a posture necessary to walk worthy of our calling (Eph 4:2, Tit 3:2, 1 Pet 3:4). It needs to be present when correcting a brother/sister who is straying into sin (Gal 6:1). It is the indicator of true wisdom (James 3:17). It is the mark of good ministry (1 Thess 2:7) and good pastors (1 Tim 3:3).

Respect is clear and more directly carries over into English. The word for respect (φόβος) is often translated as fear, reverence or honor. It speaks to holding another in high regard, to treating with dignity, and valuing highly. In the context it may refer to our reverence for God in our sharing or to the dignity we grant everyone with whom we share. Both are true and may be contained within the text.

Respect and gentleness are a compelling duo in evangelism. When emphasizing how we share and defend our faith Peter pulls these two characteristics center stage. Together they create parameters that ensure that the gospel alone is the only stumbling block for those hearing the message (1 Cor 1:23).

The Sweeping Call to Honor

Honor all. Two words, a command and the object of the command (1 Pet 2:17). God’s word through Peter is an imperative (τιμήσατε) to all Christians: HONOR. The object of the command (πάντας) is sweeping: ALL.

In the context, ruling authorities and human institutions are in mind. However, the “all” broadens it out to include human beings without exception. All human beings of different ages, genders, ethnicities and talents are image bearers infused with great dignity.

Honor is naturally due an image bearer of the Creator, here that honor is reinforced with a command. People should walk away feeling many things after having engaged a follower of Christ, not least among these is honor. Christian, honor all.

Falling Upward and Doing Nothing

Gerhard Forde was a Lutheran theologian that taught as a seminary professor for 40 years. He wrote some very insightful material on the doctrine of justification and the theology of the cross. He was a strong proponent of the radical grace of the gospel.

He understood the original sin to be a an upward lunge and grasp for divinity. He understood salvation to be the finished work of Christ applied to the person who does nothing but receives.

Here are a few great quotes from Forde.

“We must consider the fall and sin differently from the traditional scheme. The fall is really not what the word implies at all. It is not a downward plunge to some lower level in the great chain of being, some lower rung on the ladder of morality and freedom. Rather, it is an upward rebellion, an invasion of the realm of things ‘above,’ the usurping of divine prerogative. To retain traditional language, one would have to resort to an oxymoron and speak of an ‘upward fall.'”

“We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works. To the age old question, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ the confessional answer is shocking: ‘Nothing! Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!’

“Sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification.”

“Christian growth is forgetting about yourself.”

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Coming

It is fitting that the final pillar of encouragement centers on the return of Jesus. It is no surprise that the New Testament links encouragement to his second coming. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 makes this link explicit.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede th

ose who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

It is absolutely certain that the same Jesus that bore the wrath of God to rescue us will come back to retrieve those who have trusted him. It is so certain, it is future history as one author has called it. It is certain that you have trusted him will receive a renewed, resurrected bScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMody at that time.

It is certain that you will be reunited with fellow believers who have died before you at that time. It is certain that when he returns you will be with him forever. He will not leave us as orphans. He will come for us.

Be encouraged! Things are absolutely going to get better. For the Christian, life in this fallen world is as bad as it gets. For the person rejecting Christ this is as good as it gets. It will get better for the Christian, this is not the final chapter of the book.

What we are experiencing here and now is temporary. Do not be drawn into the lie that you only have one shot at life, you will live forever! Every disappointment, every crushed dream, every unmet expectation will be eclipsed by a life that will never end. Be encouraged. He is coming for you Christian!

At the foundation of our framework for encouragement is our God. He calls us to be encouraged and to encourage one another as we recognize the image of God in others, as we revel in the good news of the cross, as we gather together to smash hard hearts and breathe hope into each other, and as we remind one another that this is not the end of the story.

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Church

The presence of the church in the world is intended to be a tremendous source of encouragement. It is for encouragement that we gather and it is encouragement that we are called to bring to the world.

The book of Hebrews tells us that encouragement is an important means of safeguarding one another and developing perseverance in the faith.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).

Daily encouragement is the remedy for the slippery slope of unbelief, hardness of heart and falling away from God. This slope is a reality for everyone one of us. I cannot count the number of times I have come to church on a Sunday morning with a rock for a heart. I have felt the slippery slope—the slide into unbelief and callousness. I have also felt the softening touch of God’s Spirit as brothers and sisters encourage me. We need each other. Encouragement is designed to smashScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM the rock heart that can so easily overtake us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says to “encourage the fainthearted.” The word translated fainthearted means “little souled.” The idea is that our circumstances, pain, suffering and discouragements can deflate us, they can press in on us to such a degree that our capacity for hope dwindles.

Encouragement infuses hope into our hearts, it expands the walls of our soul again. It increases our capacity for hope once again. When we gather, when we encourage one another, when we communicate the gospel promises to each other again and again—this is what happens.

We need each other. This life of faith thing is a community endeavor.

 

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Creator

Encouragement is an underestimated force in our lives. It has the power to redirect our steps, change our future, eclipse our past and fill our present with courage. Scripture calls us to the great work of infusing hope in others through encouragement. In the next four posts we will develop a biblical framework for thinking on and practicing encouragement.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM

When you think about the most encouraging character in the Bible who comes to mind? Barnabas. Guaranteed it’s Barnabas. He was so encouraging that they renamed him “the son of encouragement.” But you see, Barnabas is a pale reflection, a faint whisper of the Greatest Encourager.

When building a framework you start with the foundation.

Take a look at this text from Romans 15:5-6, it provides the starting point for our discussion.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Encouragement in this verse is a descriptor of the character and nature of God himself. It does not merely say that God does some encouraging here and there. It says that he is the Encouraging God—the God who encourages…we are talking about a posture, a way of existing, a way of interacting.

The most encouraging being in existence is God himself. The storyline of Scripture is replete with examples of a God who encourages, who infuses hope and who instills courage. How encouraging were the strolls with God in the garden? How encouraging was it when the original rebellion was met with clothing for naked bodies and a promise of a Serpent-Crusher?

What about the safety of the ark, the rainbow reminder that the earth will never be flooded again? What about the promise and birth of Isaac? Don’t forget the Exodus, the taking of the promised land, the provision of the tabernacle and temple, the rise of righteous kins, the comforting words of the prophets and the promises of a coming Messiah.

The Encouraging God bursts onto the scene in the incarnation—he comes walking in the flesh. In Christ we see what divine encouragement looks like. We see it in his words and actions. Read the gospels, watch Christ interact and you will see encouragement. In the good news we find our greatest encouragement, something we will see further into our blog series. The New Testament letters are filled with encouragement flowing from the gospel for the church.

The New Testament ends with a burst of encouragement. The return of Christ, the future hope, the new heavens and new earth, the end of sorrow, the presence of God, and an eternity of hope! In the next few posts we will look at four pillars of encouragement throughout Scripture. There are many anchor points we could focus on, but I have chosen four that explicitly link the language of encouragement to their themes. At the root of all encouragement is our Creator, God himself. He is the great Encourager—everything we will explore flows out of his heart and his activity.