As Often As You Eat . . . and Drink

Are you able to remember the Lord Jesus often? How prominent a place does that poignant and special memorial, the Lord’s Supper, have in your church life? I ask not because I seek a definitive answer, but in order to encourage reflection on a matter that is not often addressed in evangelical Christian circles.

It ought to be a habit for those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus to seek to discern first of all what He thinks about a matter, and how important a thing is to our Lord’s heart. We must all confess that we fall far short of that ideal paradigm, that godly filter for our thoughts, and so the Apostle Paul even expressed his disappointment in his brethren in this way: “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:21).

But if we would enter into the sentiments of our Savior when He asked His disciples to remember Him by the tokens of bread and wine, how might it change our thoughts, our feelings, our practices regarding it?  Would the Lord’s Supper then be to our souls an afterthought, or a burdensome ritual, or even an occasion marked by dread and awe* in which leaders seek to maintain order among their followers? My hope is that asking such questions is not a wearying exercise, but rather, that we would be stirred in our hearts to respond to what is still in the loving heart of our Lord Jesus, who is about to come for us, to bring us home to be with Himself forever.

In touching on the subject of that “blessed hope”, the rapture of the church by the returning Son of God (I Thessalonians 1:10 and 4:13-18), we are led in our thoughts to the wonderful revelation the Lord Jesus gave to Paul regarding the remembrance meal He instituted on the night in which He was betrayed. By eating the bread and drinking the cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV). The Lord asks us to look back to His death in remembrance, while looking forward in expectation to His return for us.

It is not really disputed among Bible scholars that the “breaking of bread” was at least a weekly practice among the early Christians, and several phrases from Scripture looked at in context will bear this out. “They continued steadfastly . . . in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread . . . ” (Acts 20:7). “When ye come together therefore into one place . . . to eat the Lord’s supper” (I Corinthians 11:20). There are other allusions to its normal frequency, including the Lord’s own words: “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup . . .”

An earnest soul might well ask at this point: “Is it really all that important how prominent or frequent the Lord’s supper is in my Christian experience?” I would only refer such a one back to those words of the Lord Jesus: “As often as . . .”  How important is this act of remembrance and proclamation to Him? Did He intend to exercise us to fulfill His heart’s desire? May our hearts answer to what is on His heart, and what He still so vividly remembers in His soul – His atoning death for us.

 

* (An article in a certain denomination’s online encyclopedia uses the terms “dread and awe” to describe how the “communion service” has been perceived by many historically in that denomination.)

Islam: Religion Without Life

I will begin with the disclaimer that I am not an expert on the religion of Islam. However, all who are to any degree knowledgeable on the world’s religions will have an understanding of some of the basics of this great religious system. We can likely agree that Muslims reject the gospel of Jesus Christ and deny His eternal deity, His equality with God. Islam teaches that “Allah is one”, believing that tenet excludes the possibility of a God revealed in trinity, or as three in one. It also seems evident that Islam’s deity is not known for the attributes of grace and mercy, but for his exacting justice, particularly in judging infidels and rewarding his servants.

But how might a person who is irreligious determine which religion or “faith” is true?  A gospel preacher might inform such a seeker that the Christian gospel of the grace of God must be accepted by faith, and there is no more truthful a statement than that. However, would not an Islamic mullah also instruct the seeker in the need to believe the teachings of the Koran?  For it is accepted in Islam as Allah’s words to his prophet Muhammed through the angel Gabriel.  In either case, the seeker would be asked to place his trust in persons and principles that he can neither see nor hear nor touch with his natural faculties. So how can the truth be known positively, and not remain simply a matter of religious preference, heritage, or cultural inertia?

If you are a Christian who is trying to follow my line of reasoning, I assure you that there can be no real comparison made between the Biblical gospel of peace and the teachings of the Koran, regardless of how some defend Islam as a “religion of peace”. To emulate Muhammed is to be the very contradiction of peaceable, and God forbid that we should bring the Lord Jesus, that holy peacemaker, down to the level of comparison with so fleshly a character.

But what one thing fundamentally differentiates a true believer in the “living and true God” from a servant of Allah?  It is this: the one possesses a new life, a spiritual life, and the other has but the natural life that he or she was born with, nothing more.  In my admittedly modest amount of research, I have not found any teaching in Islam on the necessity of new life, or being born again. As with all worldly religion, the whole belief system of Islam appeals to, regulates, seeks to improve, and finally promises rewards to the natural man. In any case, why would its prophet set forth the need for a new life when he was satisfied in his natural life, “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind”?

Man in his natural state is “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). God bestows new life by grace upon the objects of His eternal counsels (Ephesians 1:3-11; 2:5), causing them to be “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5; James 1:18), water being figurative of the Word of God. Jesus is the living Word in whom is life eternal, and receiving Him for the dignity of a place in God’s family flows from a soul’s new birth (John 1:1-13). A believer on Jesus, the Son of God, has “the witness in himself” – the Spirit witnessing to the effect of the water (a new, incorruptible spiritual life) and the blood of redemption (I John 5:8-12). The religion of Islam has nothing like this internal, conscious blessedness to offer the searching soul.

Is Your Sanctification Permanent?

If you should ask me that question, I could rightly say without being dismissive of you: “That depends.”  In response, you might ask another question: “What does it depend upon?”  And if I could tell that you really wanted a satisfying answer, I would be glad to explain further from the Word of God.

First of all, we must discern the meaning of the word “sanctification” within its context in any given passage of Scripture. Standing alone and apart from any context, sanctification has this meaning: to be set apart for a particular purpose. In light of that, we will now look at the three main aspects of sanctification presented to us in context in the New Testament.

In some cases, we find that sanctification has a “provisional” meaning, such as in these passages: I Corinthians 7:14 (keep in mind that “holy” and “sanctified” are from the same Greek root) and Hebrews 10:29. It seems clear that a person doesn’t need to be a believer at all to be sanctified in this way, and the effect of such a sanctification may be temporary and based on a particular outward relationship a person has been brought into. Such an external relationship with a parent or with the Christian testimony carries with it much privilege, because it brings a man, woman, or child into a realm where Christ is honored and where the Word of God is taught. But oh, the responsibility laid upon such as these who are provisionally sanctified, lest they despise that privilege!

There is also what may be called either “progressive” or “practical” sanctification, depending upon the aspect we may want to emphasize. This aspect of sanctification is true only of real believers, for it refers to the work of God by His Spirit within Christians to progressively bring about conformity to Christ and separation from evil (II Corinthians 3:18; 7:1). We see the practical nature of this sanctification, this setting apart for God’s purposes in this evil world, in the prayer of the Lord Jesus to His “Holy Father” in John 17:17: “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.”  Paul’s declaration to the Thessalonian saints leaves no doubt as to the importance God places on this practical sanctification: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (I Thess. 4:3).

But there is a “positional” or “perpetual” (permanent) aspect of sanctification that is true of every believer in Jesus whose sins are gone because He bore them in His body on the cross (Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:10, 14). This sanctification has nothing to do with the practical sanctification described above, except that both are limited to real believers. For how could the words “once for all” or “perfected in perpetuity” (Darby’s New Translation) have any degrees or conditions attached to them other than the perfection of the completed work of Christ? As certain as the Lord Jesus Christ has gone to heaven and will never return as an offering for sin, so certain may His “sanctified” ones be (sanctified ones are “saints”) that all their sins are gone from before the eyes of a thrice-holy God. We who are sanctified in this aspect are “all of one” [kind] with Jesus! (Hebrews 2:11)  And if any man sins as a saint, “we have an advocate with the Father (as His child, rather than with God as judge), Jesus Christ the righteous,” who has once for all reconciled us to God (I John 2:1; Romans 5:10-11).

Read these portions and worship, dear saint of God; you may enjoy a permanent sanctification that doesn’t depend upon you.

True Spiritual Worship

We noticed earlier the Lord Jesus’ tender dealings with the heart and conscience of the Samaritan woman in John’s gospel, chapter 4. While He reveals more to her about true worship than to others, and although she is faithful in her testimony to her neighbors, we don’t really find her worshiping there. But it is the Apostle John, elsewhere in his gospel, that in his own intimate manner gives us further insight into that supreme Christian privilege: worshiping the Father. After all, John’s gospel gives us the Lord’s teaching on the transition from the “hour” that then was to the hour that was to come (John 4:21-24), from the earthly to the heavenly things (John 3:10-13), and from Judaism to Christianity (John 15:24-27).

In chapter 1, we read of John the Baptist seeing Jesus coming, and then commenting on the Lord’s work relative to his own. But later that day, when he gazes upon Jesus, we find John to be more in the role of a worshiper, and his words become few: “Behold the Lamb of God!”  The blind man instructs us further in chapter 9, when he utters but two words (in the Greek) before it is said that “he worshiped Him” (John 9:38).  Mary’s act of adoration in chapter 12 was completely silent, but the “house was filled with the odour of the ointment”, picturing for us the effect of true worship, from a devoted worshiper, on all those near the Lord Jesus. Again, Mary Magdalene speaks but one worshipful word to the Master in chapter 20, after her broken heart was healed in an instant when He tenderly called but her name. Mere hours later, because of Mary’s faithful testimony, ten of the disciples were more prepared than she for Jesus’ revelation of Himself to their hearts. None of their words are recorded, but would you suppose there was much chatter and show in their worship of Him there? No, for the Scripture tells us simply of their collective worshiping spirits in John 20:20: “Then were the disciples glad (they rejoiced), when they saw the Lord.”

A lovely picture of corporate worship appears at the very end of Matthew, the only gospel to reveal by name the church (the assembly), whose united worship our God so highly values. The disciples went to “a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him.” Perhaps at another time we will meditate upon what is pictured in the mountain and in His appointing them to go there, but for now, let us simply mark that assembly worship is the adoration of believing hearts toward the Lord Jesus, with Him the center and object, whether or not a word is uttered.

Dear Christian, how are you seeking to practice your priestly privilege in collective worship? Might it be by listening to a sermon on how to be a better person? Is it in being entertained by music or dance led by a human “worship leader”? Or is it through a ritual administered by a clergyman?  I have no desire to offend or to provoke a defense. Rather, I hope to stir up your heart and mine to better enjoy and practice what true, spiritual, corporate worship really is, according to the New Testament pattern:  a sober yet joyful adoration of God, perhaps punctuated with words and hymns of praise, at the table of the Lord with Him in the midst, where saints bless the cup and break the bread, in fellowship together with the Father and the Son.  (I Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:23-26; 14:15-19)

Does God Accept Your Worship?

While the question in the heading above may seem unnecessarily provocative to some who read it, perhaps it is because we are not accustomed to thinking of God as discriminating with regard to how He is properly worshiped by His creature.  There was a time in the days of the judges in Israel that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), and sadly, this same attitude pervades human religion and even the Christian profession.

The God of love and grace, the “living and true God”, has revealed in His Word some important principles regarding worship, and in order to have the confidence that God accepts our worship, we are morally bound to submit to His revealed desires as to the manner in which He seeks to be worshiped.

When the Lord Jesus tenderly opened the heart of the woman at Sychar’s well in John 4, He revealed to her, and so as well to us, that God seeks worshipers who do not worship any longer in Jerusalem, nor in Mount Gerizim. “The true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth . . . God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  Note well the words “true” and “must”, and that Jesus’ reiteration (v. 24) is even more exclusive than His introductory statement (v. 23).  He leaves no room for natural or worldly religion and worship, which marked Judaism, nor of false and contrived worship, which describes that of the Samaritans.

True worship, Christian worship, must be “by the Spirit of God” (Philippians 3:3, JND and ESV) and spiritual, and not according to Jewish rituals practiced by natural man “in the flesh”. The Law was given by Jehovah to test man in his natural state, but it can never make a man spiritual or bring him into fellowship with God, who is Spirit.  True worship must also be according to the triune God’s full revelation of Himself to man by means of the written word of God, and in the fullness of time, by the Living Word made flesh, the Son of God. It cannot be contrived according to man’s thoughts, as the Samaritans’ worship was; it must be according to truth, according to God.

But we must take a step back to establish the fact that the first prerequisite for true worship of God is to have the sin question dealt with to the satisfaction of God, and to the satisfaction of the worshiper, who by nature begins his course as a sinner.  Under the Law, sacrifices were to be brought by the worshiper, as a provisional remedy for the barrier that sin has brought in between God and man (Leviticus 1-7). Now that the “better thing” of Christ and Christianity has been revealed, a purged conscience in a believing soul is required for the true worship of God as Father, and so that the Christian may “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:1-22). This purging (purifying) of the conscience comes only by genuine faith in the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and the shedding of His own blood after His atoning sufferings. There is no short-cut to true worship; it must be in virtue of the shed blood of Christ.

Lord willing, we will continue next time with more of what characterizes worship “in spirit and in truth”.

The Choices of God

It has been interesting for me to watch the rise and fall in popularity of some of the candidates for the U.S. president who are running for election this year. I refer in particular to a few candidates who have appealed to evangelical Christians for support, with more or less success. As one who is convinced that Daniel’s words to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:25 are still applicable during these “times of the Gentiles” (namely, that “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will”), I believe it is futile for believers to be supporting and defending candidates for political office. Not only is the visible and vocal support of one’s favorite candidate in social media or in the office break room a questionable use of a Christian’s time and energy, but it is almost embarrassing to see hearty support for a candidate wane in a few short weeks as he or she falls out of favor with “evangelical” voters.  One feels compelled to ask:  “Has God’s mind changed as to the viability of this candidate?”

Some of God’s choices are what we might call “provisional”, and have to do with His government of His earthly people, and of the nations. His choice of Saul as Israel’s first king is an example of that, for it was really in response to their rejection of Jehovah as their king that He served them thus (I Samuel 8:7). But then, ought we not to agree with those choices of God, who is infinitely wiser than we, and who is able to give a nation what it deserves in a leader? Is it an act of faith in God to make a choice when He has declared His competency and prerogative to choose our rulers provisionally? I am confident that God’s choice is always the right one for a given time and a given moral condition.

We can be quite certain that God’s mind never changes, though He may set up rulers and put them down according to His own will. Furthermore, His election of men, or the choice He makes to bless some from among a lost human race (for choice and election are translated from the same Greek root word), is for at least “as long as the sun and the moon endure” (Psalm 72:5), as in the case His choice of Israel through Abraham. In the case of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, that election by God was made completely outside of time, and will never change or lose its effect when the sun and moon are but a distant memory (Ephesians 1:4; I Peter 1:2).  What assurance this can bring to the heart of a believer who enjoys the import and effect of God’s choice!  With Him, there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17), and “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: Hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)  My encouragement to each dear believer in Christ is to distrust our own competence in choosing where God has already chosen, and to trust Him implicitly as to His choices, His election, for in that confidence there is great blessing.

 

Conscience Toward God (Cont’d)

In the first installment of this topic, we covered in a few words what the Scriptures mean by an “evil conscience” and a “purged conscience”. But what is meant by the concept of a “good conscience before (or toward) God” in Paul’s testimonies and in Peter’s exhortations? Let’s look at these passages one at a time.

“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council (Sanhedrin), said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). Many believe that Paul meant this introductory statement to refer to his past life as an observant and zealous, though yet unconverted, Jew. Likely he sought to appeal to their consciences, as to Jews who had the “oracles of God”, for their hatred toward him. The synopsis of Paul’s past in Philippians 3:4-6 is convincing enough in showing us that he did the religious things he did, including persecuting the church, while following the dictates of his conscience. From this, we can see the fallacy of the adage: “Let conscience be your guide.” To live with a good conscience before God is a commendable thing for even the natural man, but it is only a pure (purged) conscience that brings life and peace, and that is the result of believing on Him who is the “Light of men” (John 1:4). “In Thy light, we shall see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Again before the Jewish high priest and elders, during an answer to Felix, Paul says: “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16).  We have noticed that Paul’s life was marked by having a good conscience before God, but it took spiritual exercise to maintain that good conscience, and it will take “exercise unto godliness” for you and me as well, in order to profit and make progress in the Christian life (I Timothy 4:7-8).

Sometimes a good conscience toward God brings grief and reproach in the Christian life. Peter speaks of this when he writes in his first epistle: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully” (I Peter 2:19) at the hands or mouths of the ungodly. But the reward for following in the steps of Christ, who once suffered for us, is to have fellowship with Him now (Philppians 3:10) and to reign with Him when He reigns over the earth in power and glory (II Timothy 2:12a).

Finally, there are things that a devoted Christian will do, steps that he will take, because he desires to obtain from God a good conscience as he walks through this corrupt world, of which Satan is the prince politically (John 14:30) and the god religiously (II Corinthians 4:4).  I believe that is the sense of I Peter 3:21: “Baptism . . . now saves you . . . as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (ESV). Baptism may not have as much meaning to the masses, nor be so risky of an act of faith, as it was in the early days of Christianity. Then it had undiluted significance to all as that which separated a Christian and his household, and saved them outwardly, from this world and its religion. May we have the faith of Noah, who built an ark for the saving of his house, condemning the world by it, of which baptism and its implied separation to God speaks (Hebrews 11:7, Romans 6:1-7). It is in this manner, knowing and practicing that which our baptism signifies, that a good conscience may be obtained from our gracious God.