Friday, 16 June 2017

FINISHING STRONG, ENDING WELL

The Christian life can be seen as a race of endurance. The apostle Paul was fearful that he might be disqualified from the race. Why? 

                                                             
The apostle Paul likened the Christian life to a race of endurance. In order to win, athletes (believers) must exercise self-control and discipline.

Just as contenders in the Olympics need to be watchful about diet, rest, training and abide by the rules (no illegal drugs such as anabolic steroids), believers too have to learn how to control our fleshly desires and passions. We have to subdue our carnal inclinations so that we can finish the race well.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).


                                                                      
Let’s delve into the meaning of this verse, 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” What does it really mean and what is its relevance to us?

Paul compared himself to a contender (runner) and a herald (preacher) of the race. Though he was perhaps the most faithful apostle in Christendom, past or present, he was afraid that he might not finish well. 

The Greek word from which ‘disqualified’ is derived is ‘adokimos’, which can also mean the following: failing to pass the test, unapproved, castaway, rejected, reprobate. It is a very serious term that cannot be trifled with. Apparently, ‘adokimos’ refers to bad metals which fail to pass the test; thus they are rejected or cast away.

Put simply, Paul was afraid that he might be disapproved, rejected, cast away, deemed unfit to enter heaven. If he had allowed himself to be overcome by his inherently corrupt nature, he would not finish well and might even lose his salvation.

Two questions logically follow when we consider this verse, 1 Corinthians 9:27.  

Firstly, is Paul’s fear positive or negative? It is definitely positive for it keeps him from making the greatest mistake in life—to be lost and damned for all eternity.  

Secondly, if super apostle Paul feared that he might not make the grade in eternity, how much more ordinary heaven-bound citizens should live their days on earth with godly fear!

Come to think of it, if Paul entertained the thought he could possibly be disqualified from heaven, how much more “spiritual plebeians” like us should be cautious that we might not reach our intended final destination if we fail to fulfil certain conditions (Matthew 7:13,14, Luke 13:24).

Not everyone will agree with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 9:27, but let me explain why this verse is not just a red herring. Using a single verse to build a doctrine or premise is not a sound principle. So other references that reinforce this particular verse are listed below.

Any believer who continues to willfully live in sin will miss out on heaven if he fails to repent. God is impartial. He is no respecter of persons.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”(1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Past faithfulness cannot nullify present sinfulness.
“When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live”(Ezekiel 18: 26, 32).

If a believer fails to endure, he or she may lose the chance of entering heaven.
“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called Today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (Hebrews 3: 12-14).

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls”(Hebrews 10:36,39).

                                                                        
The moral failure of God’s people serves as a warning to us.
After leaving Egypt and miraculously crossing the Red Sea, they failed to enter the Promised Land because they committed sexual immorality and worshiped idols, not holding fast to their faith till the end (1 Corinthians 10:7-9).

The apostle Paul teaches that the failure of the exodus generation is meant to be a lesson to us. We need to keep ourselves in the love of God if we want to inherit eternal life. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10: 11).

Even Paul, for all the ministry success to his credit, was afraid that he might eventually be disqualified and cast away. So nothing is predetermined or “automatic” in the Christian life. Whether one is a great minister or an ordinary believer, one has to be faithful and endure to the end in order to inherit eternal life.

That’s why Paul was jubilant when he finished strong and ended the race well: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8).

However, we do not strive by our own strength to keep ourselves in God’s love. By seeking God and through the Holy Spirit's empowerment, we are able to walk the straight, narrow and difficult way amid trials and temptations.

As the passage in Philippians 2:12-13 puts it, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

                                                                
Though fearful that he might be disqualified from the race, Paul finished strong and ended well. He fought the good fight of faith and obtained the prize of unsurpassed worth—eternal life.

KEY TEXTS

Run the race with discipline and godly fear in order to finish well

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8).

FAITH: ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE

“It would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the Epistles where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing energetically what Christ would have them do, and are not told to “yield themselves” up as passive agents and sit still, but to arise and work. A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling, are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian.”

― Dr Michael L. Brown

RELATED POSTS

CAN FEAR BE POSITIVE?
A Facebook friend commented that we should not incite fear in people by saying that believers can lose their salvation: “If you make believers feel insecure about their salvation in Jesus, you are causing unnecessary fear. Why are you putting fear in people? This is not from God.” But don’t you think fear can be positive?
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PROPHET OF COMPROMISE
A powerful prophet of God once enjoyed God’s favour but failed to make it to heaven. Being counted among God’s chosen ones is no guarantee that all will end well. Who is he?

CAN WE TAKE GOD’S LOVE FOR GRANTED?
God’s love towards believers is immeasurable but can we take it for granted?

LOSS OF REWARDS VS LOSS OF SALVATION
Some believers may lose their eternal rewards BUT eventually they are saved. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, did the foolish virgins merely lose their rewards or much more?

IS THE WAY TO HEAVEN EASY?
Two different views—easy and difficult ways to heaven

MISSING THE MARK
As believers, what’s the point of having great miraculous power, riches, wisdom and unbridled pleasure at our disposal if we miss out on heaven?
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Thursday, 8 June 2017

MEAT: A MUST FOR MATURITY

Why we need solid food in order to be spiritually mature


                                                              
Today, there are two categories of churchgoers. There are pew warmers, whose mindset is this: “What can I get by coming to church?” In contrast, some ask, “How can I contribute?” These mature believers have a desire to serve God and others.

Spiritual immaturity is not just a current phenomenon. Long ago, there were some believers who were supposed to be teachers but they could only feed on milk, not solid food. Instead of teaching others, they remained inward-looking, immature and gullible.

“There has been enough time for you to be teachers—yet you still need someone to teach you the first lessons of God's message. Instead of eating solid food, you still have to drink milk. Anyone who has to drink milk is still a child, without any experience in the matter of right and wrong. Solid food, on the other hand, is for adults, who through practice are able to distinguish between good and evil.”
(Hebrews 5: 12-14)

What can we learn from this passage? Spiritual maturity is not necessarily related to age (number of years in the faith). What distinguishes the men from the boys is our hunger for truth. It is our attitude that motivates us to study God's word, irrespective of our age. 

Thus, there is a great need to seriously study God’s word— renew our minds—so that we do not conform to the world, we can present ourselves as a living sacrifice, and discern God's will for our lives (Romans 12:1-2).

The word has to cut deep into our lives (Hebrews 4:12) and show us areas which do not please Him, whether sins or weights that impede progress (Hebrews 12:1).

There is no shortcut to sanctification. As Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

How can we know what pleases God unless we study His word in order to know the truth? How would we know that ogling at the opposite sex with lustful thoughts is tantamount to adultery unless we are familiar with Matthew 5:27-28

“Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
(Psalm 119:104-105)

Next, the issue of God’s leading. Before the Holy Spirit can lead us into the truth (John 16:13) and show us God’s specific will (Ephesians 5: 17-18) for our lives, we need to go deep into scriptures. Believers should not be dim-witted like a horse or mule without understanding but sensitive to God’s instructions (Psalm 32: 8-9).

Another cogent reason why we need solid food is this: Deception has become so prevalent during these perilous end times.

Jesus warned believers in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) that false christs and false prophets will arise and deceive many believers, not once but four times.

Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus that, after his departure, fierce wolves will come, not sparing the flock (Acts 20: 29). 

Later, this seasoned apostle warned young Timothy that people with itching ears will seek teachers to suit their passions rather than listen to sound teaching (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Jude found it necessary to contend for the faith as false teachers had secretly slipped into the church, perverting God’s grace by turning it into a license for immorality (Jude 3-4).

The above warnings show us how important it is to be vigilant against deception. The great preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, says: “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”

                                                                       
Many fervent but gullible believers will be fooled by false prophets and teachers these last days as these wolves, well draped in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), are not easily spotted out.



How do we detect counterfeit currency? The correct approach is to begin studying the characteristics of genuine notes. Once we have mastered this, we can easily spot out the fake ones. Similarly, in the spiritual realm, we have to be well-versed with the truth before we can overcome deception.

For this reason, believers have to ground themselves on solid food ("meat”) from scriptures so that they can distinguish truth from half-truths and lies.

Though discernment is a distinctive quality of mature, spirit-filled believers (1 Corinthians 2: 12-16), this ability to distinguish between good and evil does not come automatically.  Though we may have the ‘mind of Christ’, we still need to fill it up with the truth. The Holy Spirit can only draw upon the repository of truth in our minds (John 14:26).


We need to “study to show ourselves approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

To “rightly divide the word” implies that we do not “cherry pick” only those portions that are attractive and agreeable and downplay the parts that are harsh and objectionable. If we pick and choose from scripture what we think is good for us, we will get a distorted message of the Bible.

By dwelling on the whole Bible, we do not focus on half-truths or emphasise one truth at the expense of another equally fundamental truth. Paul, while addressing the elders at Ephesus, said that he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

The following are two examples of the danger of dwelling on half-truths.

Firstly, thinking erroneously that God is always loving, gracious and merciful may prove disastrous when we are confronted by God the supreme judge at the end of life’s journey or when Christ returns (Hebrews 9:27, 1 Peter 4:7,17).

Love and mercy are important attributes of God. But He is also a God of justice and righteousness. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14).

Secondly, are believers free from the law? In a sense, the answer is ‘yes’ in that we need not arduously keep the law in order to earn our ticket to heaven. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Scripture says, "You are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14).

However, it does not mean we can do whatever we like. We are still held accountable under moral laws as revealed in the Ten Commandments. Jesus categorically stated: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17). Paul affirmed that, though believers are saved by faith, it does not mean that we can overthrow the Law, which is still upheld (Romans 3: 31).

It is through in-depth study of God’s word and constant practice that we develop discernment. Spiritual babes, merely content with the fact they are saved through faith and repentance, are unlikely to develop discernment (Hebrews 5: 12-14, Hebrews 6:1).

If we think that, having received God’s grace, we can be complacent, and merely rest on the imputed righteousness of Christ, we are seriously mistaken. The Christian life is not passive but active.  

Just as an infant’s diet has to progressively shift from milk to solid food, so too must believers grow in spiritual maturity through effort and experience.


Peter tells us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. We are to add to our faith the following qualities: goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love in order that we may not be ineffective or unfruitful. By doing so, we confirm our call and election and will never stumble (2 Peter 3:18, 2 Peter 1:5-10).

Spiritual babies need milk. Solid food, on the other hand, is for adults, who through practice are able to distinguish between good and evil.

In order to mature, believers need solid food (meat) for sanctification and victory over deception. 




RELATED POSTS

RENEWING THE MIND
Sometimes we think that being led by the Spirit means our mind is either passive or plays only a minor role. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thoughts determine our character, destiny and worldview. That’s why it’s important to renew our minds with the unchanging Word of God.

EIGHT WAYS TO FIGHT FALSE TEACHING
How to develop discernment and escape the clutches of destructive heresies

OVERCOMING DECEPTION
Understanding the wiles of Satan is the first step towards winning the battle against deception.

CHERRY PICKING
When we select portions of scripture which are attractive and agreeable to us, we are distorting the truth.

DANGER OF HALF-TRUTHS
A half-truth is a partial revelation. It can give us a wrong or false impression that's all there is to be said of a subject whereas there are other facets worth considering. The fullness of revelation only comes when all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are put in place.

GROWING IN GRACE
Receiving God’s grace is merely the first step in the life of a believer. The difficult part is to continue growing, keeping ourselves under God’s favour and impacting the world.
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MILK AND SOLID FOOD

Milk is essential for growth in the foundational years of our faith. But we must progress to solid food in order to mature. To stagnate in a diet of milk will only produce spiritual babies.

“Like newborn infants, crave pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”(1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

“There has been enough time for you to be teachers—yet you still need someone to teach you the first lessons of God's message. Instead of eating solid food, you still have to drink milk. Anyone who has to drink milk is still a child, without any experience in the matter of right and wrong. Solid food, on the other hand, is for adults, who through practice are able to distinguish between good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).