Service: Continuing the Work of Christ in the World

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Service Please

All of God’s Children are Called to Serve

Now that we’re about halfway through our Workout Program, let’s pause briefly to review the progress we have made thus far.  We started out this regimen with four exercises in Salvationexercises through which we learned that…

  • Salvation is obtained through the one-time spiritual event known as the New Birth; an act taking us from sin-enslaved and hell-bound sinners to forgiven and heaven-bound sons and daughters of God;
  • While everyone has been Predestined, or pre-designed, by God to become one of His children, only those who elect to receive His offer of Salvation will do so; and,
  • Once that decision is made and our spiritual adoption is finalized, our Salvation is forever settled and rests Eternally Secure in the hands of our Heavenly Father.

Building upon this foundation during our next five exercises, we were introduced to Sanctification, the lifelong process of spiritual transformation which begins the moment we are reborn—and, the focus of which is the Holy Spirit’s Restoration of our Souls through Prayer, Bible Study, and Worship.  For, it is…

Through Prayer that He brings our hearts into alignment with the heart of God;
Through Bible Study that He brings our minds into alignment with the mind of Christ; and,
Through Worship that He brings our wills into alignment with the will of God.

Once these changes start revolutionizing the way we feel, think, and act, it isn’t long before our perceptions of the world around us also begin to change.  No longer approaching it from the self-centered, grab-all-that-you-can-get perspective of our pre-salvation days, we start looking at it from God’s viewpoint—that is, with a heart of compassion for those still lost in sin, and with a new desire to do something about it.  Such changes in our character and outlook as these should come as no surprise, though, because they are a reflection of the attitude and characteristics of Christ which must be developed in us, if we are to carry out His work in the world.

The Works of Jesus

…and greater works than these we will do

The Works of Jesus

When we consider the nature and the number of things that Jesus accomplished during His earthly ministry, the prospect of us continuing His work seems a rather far-fetched, if not impossible, task to undertake. After all, during His brief ministry here, He…

Revealed God to the people, and taught them what the Kingdom of Heaven was like;
Healed the sick—restoring sight to the blind, mobility to the lame, hearing and speech to the deaf and dumb;
Raised the dead, cast out demons, fed the hungry, and shared the water of life with those who thirsted for it;
Took the religious leaders to task while putting the political leaders in their places; and, then…
As if it were a small thing, walked on water and subdued the storm… 

…making His the most difficult act of all times to follow.  And yet, in the Upper Room, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples…

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the work that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12)…

But, are we really to do greater works than Jesus did—and if we are, how is that possible?  We fully expect Him to be capable of doing works of this magnitude because He is, after all, the Son of God; and, because…

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power [so that] He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him (Acts 10:38).

However, for us to be able to do even greater things than He—that’s a completely different story, isn’t it?

It would be if we were attempting to do these works in our unsaved and unsanctified conditions.  What we need to keep in mind, though, is that while Jesus is the only Begotten Son of God, when we came to Him for Salvation, we became the Adopted Sons and Daughters of God—as well as the legal heirs to and partakers of all the riches and power belonging to Christ.  And, it is for this reason that Jesus could and would make the following promises to us…

…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17); and,

…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

If we doubted the possibility of our being able to carry out the work of Jesus before, we should be encouraged by these promises of Jesus; for, in them, we are assured that He will provide everything we need to fulfill the purpose for which we were created; a purpose which is described by the Apostle Paul in this way…

…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

As for understanding what He may have meant by “doing greater works,” we must to remember that during His life on earth, and in spite of His being God, Jesus willingly chose to confine Himself to one body, living in one time and one place.  As a result, His ministry of good works was confined to a limited number of people, living in one geographic area, during one brief period in human history.  This all changed, however, following His resurrection and with the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.

After that, as His newly-anointed disciples shared the Gospel with others and they, in turn, came to faith in Christ, the same resurrection life and power that the disciples had received was also manifested in these newborn Christians.  Then, as more and more people became believers, and as these believers scattered throughout the then-known world, demonstrating the character and commitment of Christ as they went, the quantity and scope of Jesus’ works increased to a degree previously thought impossible—and resulted in an explosion of faith and service that continues to this very day.

Terms of Service

Service for Christ must be done in His Will and Way

What It Means to Serve

When thinking about service and what it means, it’s likely that a number of different images come to mind.  For instance, we might think of service as serving in the military, or as police officers and firefighters; possibly serving patrons their dinners in restaurants; or, maybe even serving the ball in a game of tennis.  But, for those of us who are Christ followers, what does it mean for us to serve? 

In pursuit of an answer to this question, I looked to my handy-dandy Webster’s pocket dictionary—where, among the many definitions for the word, I found four that are highly relevant to this discussion.  And, in adapting them to the exercise at hand, I discovered that they provide us with a systematic, progressive definition of Serving, which for the believer, means…

  1. Rendering obedience and worship to God;
  2. Complying with the commands or demands of Christ;
  3. Being of use to the Master; and,
  4. Providing services that benefit or help others.
     
  1. Rendering Obedience and Worship to God

In one of our previous exercises, Sanctification: Restoring the Will through Worship, we learned that real worship is what takes place when we lay aside our will and wants, and choose to do God’s will instead.  This is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane as He surrendered His will to that of His Father; modeling for us a type of surrender later described in Romans 12:1…

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship…

..and, a surrender that each of us will be called upon to make as a routine part of our service.  Every day, we will find that, as we are faced with the choice of doing things God’s way or our way, we will repeatedly have to make a conscious decision to climb back on the altar of sacrifice and submit our wills to His in a demonstration of our obedience and worship to God.  If we don’t, no real work for Christ will take place; for, it is at the altar of worship that all service in His name originates.

  1. Complying with the commands of Christ

In the same way that Jesus set the example for worship through the submission of His will to God’s, He demonstrated His love for the Father through His whole-hearted compliance with His Father’s commands–as He stated here in John 14:31…

…I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

Because He did this first, His expectation is for us to follow His lead and do the same thing, so that the world will see how much we love Him and He loves us…

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:12-14).

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).

From this, we learn that love must be the motivation for any service done in Jesus’ name; something which the Apostle Paul elaborates on in 1 Corinthians 13…

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.   If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends…

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The often overlooked aspect of this is that, along with our compliance to His commandment, comes the promise of Jesus that…

…whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him…[and] Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1 John 3:22, 24)…

…a promise which makes even the most impossible task or service do-able.

  1. Being of Use to the Master

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 2 Tim. 2:20-21

In this passage, the Apostle Paul is instructing his spiritual son, Timothy, on how to be a good servant through a comparison of God’s servants to household vessels.  Just as a homeowner makes distinctions between the vessels in his possession, such as using only the cleanest ones to eat off of, God will only use those servants who have cleansed themselves of sin through confession and repentance.  Or, as Paul goes on to tell Timothy in verse 22…

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart….

…with the lesson here being, service done in the name of the Lord Jesus must always proceed from a pure heart and clean hands.

Clean Hands and Pure Heart

Service for Christ Must Come from Clean Hands and Pure Hearts

  1. Providing Services that Benefit or Help Others 

With our wills surrendered to God at the altar of worship, with the love of Christ as our motivation, and with clean hands and pure hearts to keep us useful to God, we are ready to move on to the fourth aspect of service—which is, the provision of services that will benefit others.  This raises the question, though, about the kinds of service we should be providing. After all, there are so many needs in the world that are going unmet, how are we to know which ones are the most deserving of our attention?

Surely, as a result of our Salvation and of the Spirit’s work of Sanctification taking place in our souls, we are already engaged in good works that are in keeping with our new lives in Christ—works such as the ones cataloged in Ephesians 4:25 ff…

Having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor;

Be angry and sin not; do not let the sun go down on your anger;

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone who is in need;

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear;

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice; and,

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you…

…works which could be considered as the MDLA—or Minimum Daily Lifestyle Adjustments—required of each and every believer.  Moving beyond these, though—that is, moving on to doing the greater works than those previously attributed to Jesus—will call for more than just our minimum daily lifestyle adjustments; they will demand the wisdom, direction, and anointing of the Holy Spirit, working through the cooperative gifts and prayers of all believers.  In other words, providing Service for Jesus will require the active participation of the Church—something which we will discuss at length in our next exercise.

 

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The Sidewalk Prophets remind us that through our service, we show the love of the Lord to the world and bring glory to our King…

 


Images used in the Works of Jesus montage courtesy of http://www.freebibleimages.org.

 

Sanctification: Regeneration Perfected

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Regeneration

In our first set of exercises, we began stretching our spiritual muscles as we learned some of the basic principles of Salvation…

We also learned that Salvation is the process by which God redeems lost sinners—those who have been in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil since their births; buying their freedom for them through the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross and thus making it possible for them to be adopted into the family of God as His children.

A person’s Salvation isn’t limited to his just being adopted by God, though; it also involves his being transformed into a true Christ-resembling Child of the Most High.  That’s because, once a person becomes a child of God through the process known as the New Birth, he or she can no longer continue to think, speak, and act like the sinner he or she once was; instead, he or she must learn to think and behave in a manner befitting the son or daughter of a Holy King.  And, this is where Sanctification comes into play.

 

Sanctification

As we discovered in Salvation: What It Is and Why We Need It, Sanctification is the second of the three Stages in Salvation, with the first being Redemption and the last being Glorification; and, that it means…

To make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate;
To purify or free from sin;
To make productive of or conducive to spiritual blessing. 

And, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, it is something which…

…involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth:  it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration.  In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work begun in regeneration, and it extends to the whole man.[1]
 

The Work of Regeneration

In order to better understand the work being referred to here, we will need to go back to Salvation:  How Do We Get It, where we learned that…

…Regeneration is the act by which our dead spirits are brought back to life again by the Holy Spirit of God…

…and, where we learned that the need for this regeneration goes all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden.  For, it was then that their spirits, as well as those of all of their future descendants, died—or, were separated or cut off from God.  As for how this spiritual death impacted them, and us, in practical terms, it completely shut down the communication system God had established between Him and Man; and, it overturned the authority structure He had designed for His entire created world.

System Failure and Structural Collapse

When God created man, He fashioned him with a Spirit, Soul, and Body, so that…

  • Through his Spirit, he could relate to and communicate with God;
  • Through his Body, he could relate to and function in the physical world; and,
  • Through his Soul, consisting of his mind, will, and emotions, he could not only relate to other human beings, but his soul could also serve as the connecting point between his spirit and his body.

When this system was functioning as it should—which was, before the entrance of sin into the world—it meant that…

  • God’s Spirit could speak to man’s spirit, telling him what God wanted him to do;
  • Man’s spirit could relay that message to man’s soul; and,
  • Man’s soul could then direct man’s body to carry out the command it had been given by God…

…and, in this way, the will of God would be carried out on the earth by man.

As for the authority structure that God had devised for His creation, it was ordered along very similar lines—with God at the top of the structure and Man next in authority under Him; then, with Woman, an equal partner with her husband, yet coming under his authority—to be followed lastly by the creatures in the animal world.  Given that this arrangement was one which was ordained by God, it should come as no surprise that in his scheme to overturn it, Satan would come disguised in the form of an animal (a creature at the bottom rung of the ladder) and present himself first to the woman (on the next level up), who would then turn around and entice the man (on the next higher rung) to disobey God.

Unfortunately, and certainly unforeseen by our forbearers, this colossal structural collapse marked the beginning of what would turn out to be mankind’s perpetual rebellion against authority in every form; manifesting itself not only in his rebellion against God’s authority, but also in the rebellion of wives against husbands, children against parents, workers against employers, and the governed against those governing them.  It was a rebellion which also gave rise to an egocentric lust for power which would eventually lead to the commission of every other kind of sin that man could imagine.

This entrance of sin into the world also resulted in the failure of the once ideal system of communication between God and Man.  Instead of the top down system previously described, it became a bottom up one in which man’s flesh, instead of his spirit, began dictating to him what his thoughts, feelings, and actions should be.  That’s because, with the death or separation of man’s spirit from God’s Spirit because of sin, there was no longer any communication between God and man; a situation which left man’s powerful fleshly appetites to determine what he would or would not do in any given situation.  And, this is the way that it has been ever since.

The Apostle James explains the consequences of this system failure in the following way…

…what causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war with you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2)…

…each person is tempted when he lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it is conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

The Effects of the Fall
Extending Regeneration to the Whole Man

Since the unregenerate, or…

…the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14)…

…when a person becomes Born Again, it then becomes the work of the Holy Spirit, through the process of Sanctification, to restore what was lost to that person as a result of The Fall and to reprogram him as to the right way to live.  As we have just learned, this means that…

  • His soul will have to be restored to its proper function; and,
  • His inborn tendency to rebel against authority will have to be dealt with and brought under control.

Rebellion to Submission

Although this work is a challenging one, and one taking a lifetime to complete, its success will be insured by the presence of the Holy Spirit who, once a person is regenerated, takes up residence within him.  Working from the inside out, He not only begins teaching this new Child of God the right way to live, but He provides him with the supernatural power needed for him to succeed.  Evidences of this success will become apparent in the life of the believer as…

  • He learns to communicate with God, his Father, through Prayer;
  • His mind is transformed into the mind of Christ through the Study of God’s Word;
  • The character of Christ is formed in him through Testing;
  • The works of Christ are reproduced in his service through the Gifts of the Spirit; and,
  • He learns to successfully wage Spiritual Warfare through his respect for and submission to God’s Authority Structure.

We will learn more about this process of spiritual transformation in our upcoming workout sessions, as we begin the basic exercises in Sanctification dealing with Prayer, the Bible, the Fruit of the Spirit and Testing; with these to be followed later by the more advanced exercises in Service, the Gifts of the Spirit, and Spiritual Warfare.  Before moving on to these, however, we first need to become better acquainted with our Trainer and Coach, the Holy Spirit, whom we will meet when we get together for our next session.  Until then…

…may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thes. 5:23)

 

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The Sidewalk Prophets remind us that our salvation makes all things new…

 

[1]  Sanctification. Dictionary.com. Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sanctification (accessed: April 07, 2016).

 

 

Salvation: How Do We Get It?

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Way to SalvationNow that we have a better idea of what Salvation is and why we need it, let’s stretch our spiritual muscles a little further as we learn how to appropriate this wonderful gift for ourselves–through something called the New Birth.  Although some may consider the “head” knowledge of Salvation we gained in our previous workout session to be sufficient, that mere intellectual knowledge will prove to be woefully inadequate in providing us with the foundation we will need for our upcoming exercises in practical Christianity.  For the purposes of this program, then, we can gain an experiential knowledge of Salvation (if it hasn’t been done already) through an active participation in each of the following four exercises…

Exercise #1—The Mandate for the New Birth
Exercise #2—The Spiritual Dynamics of the New Birth
Exercise #3—The Legalities of the New Birth
Exercise #4—Making the New Birth Personal


Exercise #1—The Mandate for the New Birth

In His encounter with Nicodemus, one of the religious leaders of His day, Jesus made the New Birth mandatory for anyone seeking entrance into the Kingdom of God.  This meeting, recorded for us in John 3:1-14, took place one night when Nicodemus sought out Jesus for reasons which were never really made clear.  That’s because, before Nicodemus had a chance to reveal the motivation for his visit, Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (V.3).”  Thinking like a natural man, Nicodemus tried to figure out how he could go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time.  To this, Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said unto you, ‘You must be born again’ (vv. 5-7).”

Mandate for the New Birth

The Mandate for the New Birth

In this statement, Jesus made it clear that a fixed gulf exists between our fleshly and spiritual beings; and, while everyone born into the natural world would initially be born into a fleshly or physical state, that only those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God would be born into life in the Spirit.  Here, then, we find the mandate, given by Jesus Himself, that anyone who hopes to see God and participate in His kingdom must be born again. However, what isn’t provided for us here is the reason why this New Birth is necessary, or the way that we go about experiencing it.

Exercise #2—The Spiritual Dynamics of the New Birth…

If we are to understand the reason for Jesus’ mandate, we first need to learn about the dynamics involved in the New Birth; dynamics which have everything to do with regeneration.  Since, by definition, regeneration isthe act of bringing something into existence again—that is, to form again, or to be made new—for us…

…Regeneration is the act by which our dead spirits are brought back to life again by the Holy Spirit of God. 

But, why is this necessary?

To answer to that question, we must go all the way back to the beginning of human history; back to the time when Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  That’s  when their spirits, as well as those of all of their future descendants, died because their sin caused them to be separated or cut off from God.  This meant  that every human being who would ever live, with the exception of Jesus Christ, would be born spiritually dead—or, with a spirit cut off from its source of life in God.

In his book, The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee explains what is meant when we speak about this state of spiritual death…

…when we say the spirit is dead it does not imply there is no more spirit; we simply mean the spirit has lost its sensitivity towards God and thus is dead to Him.  The exact situation is that the spirit is incapacitated, unable to communicate with God…it remains in a coma as if non-existent.

Because of this spiritual death, no descendant of Adam has ever been able to have, much less maintain, a relationship with God while remaining in his or her natural or fleshly state.  The New Birth, then, is what occurs when God’s Spirit brings a man’s spirit back to life, restoring that man’s lost relationship to God, and making it possible for him to communicate with God once again.  But—and this is a very BIG BUT—before this can happen, there are certain legalities which must be addressed, legalities involving our repeated violations of God’s laws.

Exercise #3—The Legalities Involved in the New Birth…

As we learned back in Salvation—What It Is and Why We Need It, each of us has, throughout our lives, repeatedly offended God by violating His laws, or His codes of acceptable moral and spiritual conduct; and, in the process, we have unwittingly erected a barrier—or a wall of offence—between Him and us, something which makes any relationship between us impossible.  Until such a time as we confess our faults—or, until we agree with God about what we have done wrong, and seek His forgiveness—we will continue to be “cut off” from Him; losing whatever opportunities we may have had to get to know Him and to experience His grace.  Thus, the elimination of our offenses against God, as well as the removal of the wall which those offenses have created, is what the New Birth is all about.

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The Wall of Offense Between God and Us

Unfortunately, because most of us have no concept of what God’s righteous requirements for relationship with Him are, we don’t know what we have done to offend Him.  Most of us have lived our lives according to the codes of conduct that we have acquired from our parents, picked up from our friends and associates, or created for ourselves in response to the ever-changing circumstances of life.  Unlike God’s immutable standard of holiness, our concepts of what constitutes right and wrong have been derived from very human and fallible sources and, as a result, tend to have very nebulous boundaries.  Consequently, the principles by which we live are often adapted to the situations in which we find ourselves at any given moment, with what is true and right in one situation differing from that in another.  With backgrounds steeped in such a relativistic system of ethics, how are we to know for sure what God’s requirements are; and, how can we understand what our offenses against Him have been?

The only way we can know how we have missed God’s “mark” for acceptable behavior (with “sin” being defined as “missing the mark” of God) is through the Bible, where God has set forth His standard of righteousness, or right living, in Exodus 20: 1-17—a standard we know today as the Ten Commandments.  In these commandments, He makes it clear that, in order for us to have a spiritual relationship with Him, we must meet certain conditions:

  1. We can have no gods other than Him; ours is to be a personal and an exclusive relationship;
  2. We cannot make an idol, or anything in the form of a person, or an object from the natural or spiritual world, which we worship in His place; so, no person, possession, position, pleasure, power or money can be substituted for Him;
  3. We cannot take His name in vain—that is, use His name in a disrespectful or dishonest manner.  We are not to use God’s name as a swear word, or to legitimatize or authorize any activity which He has not sanctioned;
  4. We are to remember the Sabbath day, or one day in seven as a day of rest and worship, and keep it holy, or set apart for Him;
  5. We are to honor our parents, respecting them as God’s appointed authorities in our lives;
  6. We are not to murder; or, according to Jesus in an expanded version found in Matthew 5: 22, to even harbor hatred in our hearts toward another person;
  7. We cannot steal—that is, take anything which is not ours, including money, property, an employer’s time, a person’s reputation, or the affection of someone who belongs to another;
  8. We cannot commit adultery, or any sexual sin, either by thinking about it or actually doing it (see Matthew 5: 28 for another amplified rendition);
  9. We cannot bear false witness or lie about anyone else; and,
  10. We are not to covet, or want for our own, anything that belongs to another person; this includes his or her spouse, children, positions, possessions, personalities, looks, or money.
The Laws of God

The Laws of God

Since we all have violated these laws at one time or another, how can we, as naturally unrighteous people, meet such rigorous demands for righteousness, and enter into a relationship with God?  In all honesty, we can’t—at least, not on our own.  We must have the help of Someone Else who can meet these demands on our behalf; Someone who can bridge the gap between God’s holiness and our sinful condition, thereby making a relationship between God and us possible.

Exercise #4—Making the New Birth Personal

Since God is the only One who completely understands the strict demands of His law, as well as man’s total inability to meet those demands, He took it upon Himself to create a plan by which Someone named Jesus could bring God and man together.  And, for us to understand how this plan works, here is what we need to know:

  • The Bridge Between God and Man

    Our Lifeline to God

    First, we need to understand that God is so holy that anyone who comes into His presence must be free from any and all impurities, or else he will die.  When God told Adam that if he ate from the forbidden tree he would die, He was making clear to him the principle that “…the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23)” and that “the person who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:20).”

  • Since the law of God’s holiness requires that sin’s offenses be paid for by death, the one who has offended Him must die to satisfy the judgment imposed upon him by the law.
  • However, God in His grace also stipulated in His law that a substitution could be made for the offender—that is, the sinner could avoid paying the penalty for his own violations of God’s law if he could find Someone else who was willing to die in his place.  But, in order to qualify as such a substitution, this Someone could not be a person who was himself a sinner—he would have to be a person without guilt in order to satisfy everyone of God’s specific rules for holiness.  The only person who has ever lived who could meet these demands was Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
  • Therefore, God sent Jesus into the world to live a life of sinless perfection; a life which would fulfill all of the righteous demands of the law. Then, Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross—a death which paid sin’s penalty, and one which could be substituted for the death required of each and every sinner who would ever live.
  • In addition to paying the price for everyone’s sin through His substitutionary death, Jesus also conquered the power of death once and for all when He was raised from the dead to live again forever. 
  • But, even though Jesus’ death paid the price for everyone’s sin, the payment for any individual’s penalty would not automatically be credited to him:

     First, he must come humbly before God, acknowledging that he has violated the laws of     God and is unable to meet God’s demands for righteousness on his own, in order to receive, by faith, what Christ has done on his behalf;
    –  He can then exchange his sin for the gift of salvation graciously made available to him through Christ’s sacrificial death; and,
      With this transaction, the wall of offense separating him from God will come down, his spirit will be Born Again, and God’s Spirit will come to live within him and begin teaching how to live like a son of God.

If you aren’t sure that you have experienced this New Birth, then let me urge you to go to God, acknowledging the offenses which have kept you spiritually dead and alienated from Him, and ask Him, for Jesus’ sake, to remove them.  When you do, the Holy Spirit will come to live within your spirit and you, too, will be born again as a child of God.

Born Again

“You must be born again.” — John 3:7

 

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The Talley Family shares the story of our Salvation in this moving medley…

Now…On to the Welcome Center of the Word

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Well…we have made it across the border!  Having received the gift of God’s glorious Salvation as the result of the New Birth, we have left behind the spiritual bondage and death so characteristic of the dark, barren land of the natural life, and are now entering the vibrant, verdant, and fruit–filled land of the Spirit—a land simply exploding with light and liberty!  I hope you have already noticed the change in the atmosphere.

Train Going Through the Mountains

Enjoy the Beautiful Vistas of this New Land

Something else to take notice of, as you eagerly survey this brand new landscape, is that the land through which we are now traveling is one that is filled with peaks and valleys:  majestic peaks, blanketed with trees of every size, shape, and variety; and deep, lush valleys—teeming with life of every sort—that are all well-watered by the streams cascading down from those very same peaks.  Although, from here, it may look like our trip will be one of continuous highs and lows, overall, it will actually be one of steady ascent, as we stay on a course traveling due east, heading toward our destination of the ever-intensifying light and land of the Son of God.

I think it only fair to warn you, that while they are not visible from our present location, there will be some desert areas and stretches of wilderness that we must pass through, before we can arrive at that highly desired destination.  Certainly, these will be the least pleasant—and possibly even the lengthiest—parts of our travels; however, once we get to our journey’s end, I am sure that we will find our experiences there to have been some of the most instructive and valuable ones of the entire trip.

Before going any farther, though, there is one more stop that we must make.  It is just up ahead, at the Welcome Center of the Word—the place where we can get essential information about this wonderful new world where we now find ourselves, as well as instructions which should help make the time we spend here more meaningful.

Welcome Center of the Word

As you enter the center, you will see that there five information booths set up around the perimeter of the room.  Although you may not think that you need to visit all five, I would strongly suggest that you do, because each one will have something unique to give you which will make your time in the Word more fruitful.  For instance:

  • At Booth #1…you will obtain a brochure describing the Bible—what it is and what it isn’t; a little pamphlet that will be prove to be most helpful in getting and keeping your expectations in check;
  • At Booth #2…you will have the opportunity to identify and check the baggage that you have brought with you—particularly any baggage that will negatively impact your ability to navigate freely through this new land;
  • At Booth #3…you can obtain a map detailing the limitations or boundaries imposed upon all those who are visiting here;
  • At Booth #4…you will be given the opportunity to have your spiritual vision checked, to insure that you will be able to see the Truths awaiting you in the Word up ahead; and,
  • At Booth #5…you will introduced to our Guide, the Holy Spirit, and get connected to His SPS—the Spirit Positioning System—and instructed as to its use.  This device will prove to be invaluable should you ever get lost along the way. 

So, with that being said, it’s everyone off the train, and on to the Welcome Center of the Word!  Please be sure to stop by Booth #1 first and pick up a copy of the Bible brochure.  It looks like this…

Bible Study Brochure

…and if you find that this information isn’t sufficient to meet your needs, we can address the attributes of the Bible in greater detail a little later on.  For the time being, though, let’s join Shane and Shane in giving thanks for the wonderful gift of spiritual “Liberty” that is making this journey possible for us…

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Next Stop…New Birth!

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Leaving Salvation Station

Now that everyone is back on board the train, it’s time for us to leave the Salvation Station; the place where we introduced to God’s wonderful plan for saving sinners from death and destruction while, at the same time, adopting them as His very own children; in the process, giving them a hope in this life, as well as a glorious future in the next.

What we didn’t learn here, though, is just how we can appropriate this salvation that God has so graciously provided for us.  With that as our immediate goal, then, let’s make our way to the next stop on our tour, the New Birth Station; where we will not only discover what the New Birth is, but for those who have never been this way before, they will learn how they, too, can participate in the New Birth experience and be “born again.”

While some may consider the “head” knowledge of God’s salvation which we gained at our first stop to be sufficient for any venture into the world of the Word, for the purposes of this journey, that mere intellectual knowledge will prove to be woefully inadequate when it comes to providing us with access to all of the places listed on our itinerary.  That’s because, on this trip, we will actually be traveling from one land into another; going from the darkened land of the natural, where we live every day, into the illumined land of the spiritual, where God dwells eternally—and without an experiential knowledge of salvation, should we even make it into the Word, we would be at a loss to understand the language, the laws, and the culture of that land once we had arrived there.

I should also point out that there is a heavily guarded border which separates these two lands and, since it runs right through the  New Birth Station, before we can go any farther on our tour, we will have to stop there and make our way through Customs, before being allowed to cross the border.  The purpose of this processing is to help insure that all of us will have the “experiential” knowledge of salvation that it will take to make the rest of our trip truly enjoyable and productive.  And, once that has been done, we will be provided with the Passports that we will need for our further travel.

Customs Desk

“Anything to Declare?”

Well, what do you know—we’re here at the station already!  Quickly, before you leave the train, let me give you some instructions which should help to facilitate your processing through Customs.  As soon as you disembark, you will see two signs overhead:  one saying, “Something to Declare,” and the other saying, “Nothing to Declare.”  For those who are traveling in Group #1—those who have already experienced the New Birth—please proceed to the “Something to Declare” counter, where, when asked, you will declare “Salvation by the Blood of the Lamb,” be handed your passport, and then be escorted back to the comfort of the train.  However, those who are traveling in Groups #2 and #3 (and possibly some in Group #1 who are not certain that you’ve experienced the New Birth), will need to proceed to the “Nothing to Declare” counter, where you will begin your processing through Customs in the following order:

  • First, you will visit Room 1, where you will learn about the mandate for the New Birth;
  • Next, you will proceed to Room 2, where you will learn about the spiritual dynamics of the New Birth;
  • Then, you will go to Room 3, where you will learn about the legal reasons for the New Birth; and,
  • Finally, you will go to Room 4, where you can share in the experience the New Birth for yourself.

Once you have completed the process, you will also be escorted to the “Something to Declare” counter where, when asked, you too will have the opportunity to declare, “Salvation by the Blood of the Lamb,” be handed your passport, and then be escorted back to the comfort of the train.

Room 1…

Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus Explaining the New Birth to Nicodemus

Here, you will learn what Jesus had to say about the New Birth, as you witness a scene taking place between Him and one of the religious leaders of His day.  This scene, as recorded for us in John 3:1-14, takes place one night as Nicodemus seeks out Jesus, for reasons which are never really made clear to us.  That’s because, before Nicodemus is able let us in on the motivation for this visit, Jesus, knowing the real need of his heart, tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (V.3).”  Thinking like a true natural man, Nicodemus tries to rationalize how he could go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time.  To this, Jesus responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said unto you, You must be born again’ (vv. 5-7).”

During the course of this interchange, Jesus makes it very clear that there is a fixed gulf between our fleshly beings and our spirits; and that, while everyone born into this world will be initially born into a fleshly or physical state, only those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God will be born into life in the Spirit.  Here, then, is the mandate, given by Jesus Himself, stating that anyone who hopes to see God and participate in His kingdom must be born again.  But, what isn’t given here are the answers to the questions of why is this necessary, and how does one go about being born again?  So, in pursuit of those answers, you will go on to… 

Room 2…

…where you will learn about the dynamics involved in the New Birth; dynamics which have everything to do with regeneration.  Since our DOT for regeneration is—the act of bringing something into existence again—that is, to form again, or to be made new—for us, regeneration is the act by which our dead spirits are brought back to life again by the Holy Spirit of God.  You may be wondering, though, just why is this necessary?

Adam, Eve, and Serpent

It Only Takes One Sin to Separate a Person from a Holy God

In order for us to answer that question, we will need to go back to the beginning of human history, back to the time when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God; the time when their spirits, as well as those of all of their future descendants, died because sin caused them to be separated or cut off from God.  What this means is that every human being who has been born since then, with the exception of Jesus Christ, has been born spiritually dead—or, with a spirit that has been cut off from its source of life in God.

As Watchman Nee explains in his book, The Spiritual Man, “…when we say the spirit is dead it does not imply there is no more spirit; we simply mean the spirit has lost its sensitivity towards God and thus is dead to Him.  The exact situation is that the spirit is incapacitated, unable to communicate with God…it remains in a coma as if non-existent.”  And, as a result of this death, no descendant of Adam has ever been able to have a relationship with God while remaining in his or her natural or fleshly state.

The New Birth, then, is what occurs when God’s Spirit brings a man’s spirit back to life, restoring that man’s lost relationship to God, and making it possible for him to communicate with God once again.  But—and this is a very BIG BUT—before this can happen, certain legalities will have to be taken care of; legalities which will be discussed in…

Room 3…

…legalities involving our repeated violations of God’s laws.  As we learned back at the Salvation Station, each of us has, throughout our lives, offended God by violating His laws, or His codes of acceptable moral and spiritual conduct.  In the process, we have unwittingly erected a barrier between Him and us, a wall of offense which makes any relationship between us impossible.  Until such a time as we confess our faults—that is, we agree with God about what we have done wrong, and seek His forgiveness—we will continue to be “cut off” from Him, losing whatever opportunities we may have had to get to know Him and to love Him.  Thus, the elimination of our offenses against God, along with the removal of the wall which those offenses created, is what the New Birth is all about.

Unfortunately, because most of us have no concept of what God’s righteous requirements for relationship with Him are, we don’t know what we have done to offend Him.  Most of us have lived our lives according to the codes of conduct that we acquired from our parents, picked up from our friends and associates, or created for ourselves in response to the ever-changing circumstances of life.  Unlike God’s immutable standard of holiness, our concepts of what constitutes right and wrong have been derived from very human and fallible sources and, as a result, tend to have very nebulous boundaries.  Consequently, the principles by which we live are often adapted to the situations in which we find ourselves at any given moment, with what is true and right in one situation differing from that in another.  With backgrounds steeped in such a relativistic system of ethics, how are we to know for sure what God’s requirements are; how can we understand what our offenses against Him have been?

The only way we can know how we have missed God’s “mark” for acceptable behavior (and sin is defined as “missing the mark” of God) is through His Word, where God has set forth His standard of righteousness, or right living, in Exodus 20: 1-17; a standard we know today as the Ten Commandments.  There, He makes it clear that in order for us to have a spiritual relationship with Him, we must meet certain conditions:

  1. We can have no gods other than Him; ours is to be a personal and an exclusive relationship;
  2. We cannot make an idol, or anything in the form of a person, or an object from the natural or spiritual world, which we worship in His place; so, no person, possession, position, pleasure, power or money can be substituted for Him;
  3. We cannot take His name in vain—that is, use His name in a disrespectful or dishonest manner.  We are not to use God’s name as a swear word, or to legitimatize or authorize any activity which He has not sanctioned;
  4. We are to remember the Sabbath day, or one day in seven as a day of rest and worship, and keep it holy, or set apart for Him;
  5. We are to honor our parents, respecting them as God’s appointed authorities in our lives;
  6. We are not to murder; or, according to Jesus in an expanded version found in Matthew 5: 22, to even harbor hatred in our hearts toward another person;
  7. We cannot steal—that is, take anything which is not ours, including money, property, an employer’s time, a person’s reputation, or the affection of someone who belongs to another;
  8. We cannot commit adultery, or any sexual sin, either by thinking about it or actually doing it (see Matthew 5: 28 for another amplified rendition);
  9. We cannot bear false witness or lie about anyone else; and,
  10. We are not to covet, or want for our own, anything that belongs to another person; this includes his or her spouse, children, positions, possessions, personalities, looks, or money. 

Of course, we have all violated these laws at one time or another; so, how is it possible for us, as naturally unrighteous people, to meet God’s demands for righteousness, and enter into a relationship with Him?  In all honesty, we can’t—at least, not on our own.  We must have the help of Someone who can meet these demands on our behalf; Someone who can bridge the gap between God’s holiness and our sinful condition, thereby making a relationship between God and us possible–Someone you will learn more about in…

Man's Bridge to God

The Cross is Man’s Only Bridge to God

Room 4…

Since God is the only One who completely understands the strict demands of His law, and man’s total inability to meet those demands, He took it upon Himself to create a plan by which Someone, namely Jesus, could bring God and man together.  In order to understand how His plan works, here is what we need to know:

  • First, we need to understand that God is so holy that anyone who comes into His presence must be free from any and all impurities, or else he will die.  When God told Adam that if he ate from the forbidden tree he would die, He was making clear to him the principle that “…the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23)” and that “the person who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:20).”
  • Since the law of God’s holiness requires that sin’s offenses be paid for by death, this means that the one who has offended must die to satisfy the judgment imposed upon him by the law.
  • However, God in His grace, also stipulated in His law that a substitution could be made for the offender—that is, the sinner could avoid paying the penalty for his own violations of God’s law if he could find Someone else who was willing to die in his place.
  • But, in order to qualify as such a substitution, this Someone could not be a person who was himself a sinner—he would have to be Someone without guilt in order to satisfy every one of God’s specific rules for holiness.  The only Person who has ever lived who could meet these demands was Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
  • Therefore, God sent Jesus into the world to live a life of sinless perfection; a life which would fulfill all of the righteous demands of the law. Then Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross—a death which paid sin’s penalty, and one which could be substituted for the death required of each and every sinner who would ever live.
  • In addition to paying the price for everyone’s sin through His substitutionary death, Jesus also conquered the power of death once and for all when He was raised from the dead to live again forever.
  • Although Jesus’ death paid the price for everyone’s sin, the payment for any individual’s penalty will not automatically be credited to him.
    –  First, he must come humbly before God, acknowledging that he has violated the laws of God and is unable to meet God’s demands for righteousness on his own, in order to receive, by faith, what Christ has done on his behalf.
    – He can then exchange his sin for the gift of salvation that God has graciously made available to him through Christ’s sacrificial death.
    – It is with this transaction that his spirit becomes “born again”; and it is at this time that God’s Spirit comes to live within him and begins teaching how to live like a son of God.
Thank You, Jesus

After All He has Done for Us, What Else is There to Say But…

This, then, is God’s plan for providing us with a New Birth.  If you aren’t sure if you have ever experienced it, then let me urge you to go to God, acknowledging the offenses which have kept you spiritually dead and alienated from Him, and ask Him, for Jesus’ sake, to remove them.  When you do, the Holy Spirit will come to live within your spirit, and you will be “born again!”


Take as much time as you need at this station, and I will meet you back at the train whenever you are ready to travel again.

 

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You can rejoice along with Third Day because you are “Born Again”…