Teach Me

Do you ever get demanding? Be honest. Sometimes, when you and I are at our weakest, we will tell God how things ought to be. We will let him know what he must do if he is going to meet our approval. And when we do this, we are clearly missing biblical truth.

In Psalm 25, we see the psalmist pray that God will help him to know his ways better. And in doing so, I think we are reminded of the perfection of God’s plan.

Psalm 25:4-5

4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

It is the line in verse 5 that got my attention as I read through this psalm. “You are the God of my salvation.” What a glorious truth. God, the only God, the one true God, is the God of my salvation. There is only one God. We have no other way of salvation.

O, I know, this is elementary stuff, but it really matters. When we think about the word of God and the truth of eternity, we need to remember that there is only one God. So often, the person put off by the claim of exclusive salvation in Christ has allowed himself or herself to reason as if there really are other ways out there. They assume that there are other gods we could follow. They assume that there are other ways that Christians just do not acknowledge. But, and this is vital, there are not.

Before David declared God to be the God of his salvation, he prayed that God would teach him. He wants God to show him his ways. HE wants God to teach him his truth. David knows that, apart from God’s teaching, he will miss it. If God does not reveal himself to us, we will assume that we know everything and can reason out how the world should run. We are wrong.

The big problem that many of us face is that, in our sinfulness, we think that we can tell God what God’s ways should be. We stop praying that God would teach us his ways. Instead, we tell God that we have concluded that this or that ought to be his ways. WE tell God how we think we would have done things were we the ones in charge.

But to tell God what God ought to do is foolish. You do not have all the knowledge God has. You are warped in your sin and cannot measure morality as God does in his holiness. And, the simple fact is, you are not the God who created the universe. You did not create the stars and planets, the people and the animals, to display your glory. You did not shape people for your purposes. So how in the world could you think that you have the ability to tell the Creator how things should be? This is hubris.

What is right is what we see the psalmist do. He prays, asking God to teach him his ways. He declares God to be the God of his salvation. And he waits on the Lord. The psalmist knows that he is not God. He knows that he does not know everything or understand everything. He instead relies on God for salvation, and he waits for God to take action and reveal truth in God’s own perfect timing.

A Reminder of Eternity before a Short-Term Mission Trip

In Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out on their first mission trip. The 12 will head to the towns of Israel to proclaim the kingdom of God just as Christ had been doing from chapters 5-9. And as Jesus gives his disciples their instructions, he has some things to say to them that are vital for our lives.

As Jesus sent his disciples out, it is unlikely that he was expecting they would face major persecution. At that time, people were primarily fascinated by Jesus and his ministry, and his followers were not yet being arrested, flogged, or executed. But, as Jesus taught his disciples here, he also taught them for the further future, when such would be the result of Christian witness.

As Jesus warned the disciples that men would hate them on his account, Jesus also told the disciples where to properly place their fear.

Matthew 10:28 – And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jesus warns that the disciples ought not allow themselves to fear the one who can kill the body alone. All sorts of people can do that. Soldiers can do that. Angry townspeople can do that. Wild animals can do that. But this is not where our proper fear lies.

Jesus tells the disciples that they should fear the one who has the power over their eternal souls. Of course, this is Jesus telling the disciples to fear God and not man. The fear of man can cause us to hide from telling the truth. The fear of man can keep us from going and proclaiming God’s kingdom as he has commanded. The fear of man eats at our souls and leads us deeply into sin.

Jesus wants his disciples to fear God. I do not think that Jesus is telling the disciples to have a terror of God, to fear that he will be cruel to them. God is always just and good. But the disciples are to have a proper respect for God. They are to grasp that God is holy where they are not. And that understanding should lead the disciples to tremble before God with awe and respect. And, for sure, the disciples should fear to oppose God.

Jesus is calling his disciples, as they launch out on their first mission trip, that they must be thinking in terms of God instead of man, of eternity instead of the temporary. These men are to remember that the work they do is not about their popularity or their physical safety. The work they do is not about their present-day success. The work they do is for the honor of the God who created them. And the work they do is about forever.

Christians, we need this reminder. WE live in a world that seems so solid, so stable, so unchanging. But if we stop to think for just a moment, we know that all that we see in our lives—the computers, the phones, the cars, the buildings—will pass away. No political movement has been eternal. No nation’s borders have stayed the same forever. No army is undefeatable. No human being lives beyond our allotted life span. We live in a very fragile world. WE live in a world that is passing away. To live for the present alone is to live as a fool. To live with a mind set on eternity is wise and honoring to the Lord.

Christian, think eternally. Live for forever. Fear God instead of man. Live to honor God more than you live to have comfort and safety. This life is passing. God is eternal and his holy judgment is eternal.

God is Concerned with Good works

Christians who love the word are a grace alone people. We affirm that we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We do not believe that our good works in any way contribute to our being saved. We do not believe that religious ceremonies or religious artifacts contribute to our salvation. Our standing before God as redeemed is entirely of God’s grace through faith.

We are saved through faith alone. But, saving faith does not remain alone. As James pointed out so clearly, faith without works is dead. Saving faith will be accompanied by a changed life, a life of good works. And we see a very similar reminder in the letter of Paul to Titus.

Titus 2:11-14 – 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

A student of Paul will know that he is very clear about the fact that we are saved through faith apart from works. Yet, as we see here, the salvation of our souls has an aim and a result that includes our change. In verse 11, we see that we have grace. In verse 12, we see that the grace of God trains us to renounce evil passions and to live different, new, godly lives. In verse 13, we await the return of Christ with anticipation. And then, in verse 14, we again see gospel followed by life change.

Look at the purposes of Jesus in verse 14: “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” He gave himself to redeem us. That is salvation by grace alone through faith alone. He gave himself to redeem us and purify for himself a people zealous for good works. That is the result of a new, righteous, lawful, God-honoring body of believers. Christ did not save us to make us rebels against the good. Christ did not save us so that we will throw off the word and ways of God. Christ saved us apart from any works on our behalf. But Christ changes us so that we will long to put away evil and become a pure people for the Lord’s glory.

So, Christian, do not think that God is unconcerned with your purity or obedience. Yes, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. But your faith must not remain alone. A goal of God’s in your salvation is that you become a person who honors him through your obedience and a new purity that stands out as different in a darkened world.

The Mind Apart from God

Do you believe the word of God? Stop and be sure of your answer. Do you really think that what Scripture says about us and about our world is the truth? If you do, this changes things.

As a quick side note, what if you do not? What if you do not think the Bible is telling the truth about God and humanity? If the Bible is not telling us the truth, what is your source of truth? Where do you get your knowledge of God? Do you take the Bible, filter it through your own preferences and understanding, and somehow think you can come up with something more accurate? Is your mind stronger than the inspired word of the Almighty? Be very careful here.

In fact, my thoughts this morning are grabbed by what the Bible says about the minds of those who are turned against the Lord.

What does the Bible say about the choices, thoughts, and morality of those who do not know the Lord? You might be one who has cited Isaiah 64:6, the verse that says all our most righteous deeds are like filthy rags in the sight of God. But you probably only use that verse in an evangelistic context, and then only to try to convince a person that they are not as good as they think they are. But do you really let it and other verses like it impact what you think God sees in the world around us? Do you really let the Bible inform your anthropology, your belief about mankind?

Ok, here are the verses that got my attention.

Titus 1:15-16 – 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Christians, these verses must inform your thinking about the society in which you live. Before we look further, let me say that these verses do not in any way open the door for you to be cruel to anyone, to abuse anyone, or to treat anyone as anything other than a human being whose worth is found in the fact that they bear the image of God. Nor do these allow you to become personally arrogant, as if you somehow freed yourself from this condition. You were dead in your sins. If you have Christ, it is because God made you alive and gave you the gift of faith. So there is no room here for boasting in yourself or your mind.

With that said, these verses do not paint a happy picture of those who are turned against the Lord. IN verse 15, look at what we see. God says to us, “both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” Do you get the significance of that? The minds of those who oppose God are defiled. Their thinking is wrong. In Ephesians 4, we see a similar claim that these are darkened in their understanding (Eph. 4:17-18). Before you allow yourself to be offended on behalf of the world here, remember that these folks are quite public in suggesting that those who believe in God or who follow the Bible are warped in their thinking. In truth, one set pretty much has to be correct here. Either the God-followers are nuts or the God-deniers are nuts.

Again, that verse also says that the ones who oppose God have defiled consciences. Our world speaks with great passion about what is right and wrong. There are assumptions being made that every human being should supposedly agree with. There is a claim of a right side of history that you want to be on. But the ones making this claim, according to the Bible, have defiled consciences. Their moral compass is broken. They do not have the ability, in the long run, to measure the morality of anything.

One might argue that this section is not talking about the lost in general, but particularly about a sect that Titus needed to deal with in Crete. Let me be fair here. Paul is writing about those who are part of a Jewish sect that was denying the grace of Jesus and attempting to force those who would follow Christ into obedience to Jewish law. But with that said, the descriptive words from Paul are words that apply to these men, not because they have a mistaken view of some basic doctrines, but because they do not know God or his Holy Son, our Savior. It is their lack of knowledge of God that has made this group into those that God says of them, “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

Why point this out? Why think about it? Christians, we need to understand the state of the minds of those who are not yet redeemed. We need to see that the unregenerate mind is different. We are not all just people who believe basically the same thing in most of life and have a small disagreement where religion is concerned. The Bible says that our minds are different. You either have a renewed mind with the Spirit and word of God to guide you, or your mind is still in the thrall of sin.

Christians, this text must make us pray for the lost. It must make us share the gospel. It must also make us fix our anthropology. Mankind is deeply broken by sin. Our sin has warped us so that we do not understand the difference between good and evil. Our rebellion against the Lord has cost us the ability to reason rightly when it comes to the standards of God. Mankind is incapable of even grasping how desperate is the human condition before the Lord. But our darkened minds do not excuse human sin, because the condition of mankind is a result of our spitting in the face of God, not the result of an innocent ignorance.

If you have a mind that trusts the Lord and follows his word, that is a gift given you by God. As you believe the word of God, you must also believe what the word of God says to us about the human condition. The lostness of the lost is a worse state than we ever realized. The only way for us to grasp the ways of God and true morality is for us to have our minds made new in Christ as we surrender ourselves to the teachings of holy Scripture. So, be humble, Be kind to those who oppose you. Love Jesus. And trust God’s word. Only in Scripture, not in the reasoning of the lost, can we find the true right side of morality.

My heart here is not to put anyone down. But I must surrender all my thoughts of what humanity is to the word of God. God knows us. God made us. God knows where I have been warped in my thinking. God knows where he had to supernaturally work to change my dead heart and mind. And he did not do this for me because of any goodness in me. He did this because of his own gracious purposes.

What if you read this as a non-believer and are insulted? I mean no offense. But we have only one set of options here. Either the Bible is true in its view of humanity or it is not. You are perhaps offended that I believe that those who deny the gospel of Jesus are wrong and that the morality proposed by those who do not know Jesus is invalid. Remember, you too have a set of beliefs. You think I am wrong for my view and that my source of morality is invalid. It is only logical that people with opposite views would actually believe themselves to be right and others incorrect. And if your thought is that you think I’m wrong for thinking others are wrong, well, are you not employing the same standard you are condemning?

Like millions before me, I believe that the Bible is the word of Almighty God. And I believe that all people must find the grace of God in Jesus Christ or face his judgment. I invite you, not to be insulted by my worldview—I’m not insulted by yours—but to cry out to Jesus for new life, forgiveness, and a renewed mind. God is gloriously gracious, saving all who call upon the Lord Jesus in truth.

Deliver God’s Call

Matthew 10:7 – And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

In Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out on a little short-term mission trip. They are going to have to preach. Jesus reminds the disciples of the message that he has been preaching all along. Both Jesus and John the Baptist in this gospel have been telling people to repent because God’s kingdom is at hand (3:2; 4:17). Now Jesus tells his disciples to go preach the very message that he has been proclaiming. They are to deliver the call of God.

What would it look like to deliver this call? The disciples were to preach the gospel, at least its beginnings. Once Jesus had finished his work, the message and call became even clearer.

What, then is the message that we proclaim that can be summarized, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?” It is the gospel message. Do you know it? Can you easily tell it to somebody? Let’s review it.

The gospel begins with God. There is a God who created this universe and everything in it. Because he created the universe, God has the right to own everything in it. God is perfect, pure, and holy in every way. He is loving toward the people he has made. He is also just and will always rightly judge.

God created humanity, mankind, in his image. The people God made are to display for the universe around us the glory of God. But mankind has rebelled against the Lord. Every last one of us has sinned against God, battling against his standards and trying to be our own masters. Because of that rebellion, we have all earned for ourselves the judgment of God, his wrath forever. If we die under that wrath, our eternal destiny will be hell.

But God determined before creation that he was going to rescue a people for himself. At the proper time in human history, God sent into the world his very own Son. Jesus, God in flesh, the second person of the trinity, was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. Jesus lived out a perfect life, perfectly fulfilling the law of God. Jesus then died on a Roman cross, suffering the wrath of God for the sins of the people God would rescue. Jesus never sinned, and did not deserve to die. Jesus never failed, and did not deserve to be punished. But Jesus chose to serve as a substitutionary sacrifice, to take the place of those God would forgive.

After his death on the cross for the sins of others, Jesus was buried. But, on the third day from his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave. In his resurrection, Jesus proved that his perfect life and sacrificial death had in fact done what God had intended them to do. Jesus proved that everything he claimed about himself was true., His sacrifice was acceptable and he would be able to grant life forever to all he would rescue.

The message of good news is that now, for all who will turn away from their sin and trust in Jesus, there is forgiveness of sin and life forever in Christ. We must realize that we do not want to live in rebellion against God. We must declare to God that we are willing to submit to him and his commands, even if we know we will be imperfect. We must believe the truth about Jesus, and place our entire trust for our entire souls in his finished work. When this happens, we can know that God has done a work in our hearts, drawn us to himself, forgiven us of our sins, made us into his children, and granted us heaven forever.

What is the message? Repent, turn from your sin and trust in Jesus. Why? Because Jesus has brought God’s kingdom. God is holy. We are sinners. Jesus is our perfect Savior who died and rose from the grave. And we must believe in Jesus and turn from our sins to be saved. That is the message we declare.

Friends, learn the gospel. Believe the gospel. And go out and deliver God’s call to a lost and dying world.

And, if you have not come to faith in Jesus Christ, I urge you to repent, for God’s kingdom is here. Repent, turn from sin and trust in Jesus. This is your only hope.

They Tried to Kill me-I’ll Go back and Preach

If you were an early evangelist, what would you do in dealing with a city where the people tried to kill you? Understand, when I say this, I’m not using hyperbolic language. Paul had been stoned and left for dead in the town of Lystra. So, what we see Paul do afterward is somewhat fascinating.

To set the stage, Paul had come to Lystra to preach. There he healed a man, and it got the attention of a crowd. IN fact, it got so much attention that the lost people of Lystra thought that the gods had come to them, and a priest from the temple of Zeus wanted to sacrifice to them. OF course, Paul and his companions would have none of that. But when they identified themselves as mere men and not the gods, when they called the crowd to stop what they were doing, the crowds turned against them and attempted to kill Paul.

Acts 14:19-23 – 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

It still stuns me every time I read this passage that, when Paul dug out from under the stones that the crowds had thrown at him, he got up and returned to Lystra. How could you go back? How could you ever walk through the gates of a town where the people had tried to kill you? Paul knew that his mission was not finished. HE knew that the gospel going forth was worth his own life.

As a fun side note, we will learn in Acts 16:1-3 that, when Paul returns to Lystra in a few years, he meets a young man named timothy there who will become a student and follower of his. Is Paul’s faithfulness to return to Lystra what God used to convert Timothy and give the church one of the greatest leaders of the first century?

Next, Paul goes to preach at a couple of other cities, returns to Lystra again, and does a couple of things before returning to his home church of Antioch. Look at the things that Paul did. These are the acts of a faithful apostle even in a city where the people had tried to kill him.

In verse 22, we see that Paul gave himself to strengthening the brothers in Lystra and the surrounding cities. Even when the people had tried to kill Paul, it was worth it to Paul under the leadership of God to strengthen the believers in that town. Paul knew that the church in that city was worth it. The followers of Jesus needed teaching. They needed strengthening. So Paul went back. Even though he’d had a bad experience there in his past, he returned for the good of the church, to encourage them to continue in the faith.

Notice as well that Paul said to the believers, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” How true is this? How perfect are those words from the swollen lips of a man who had been stoned and left for dead not too long before? Paul knew. Believers need to know. God does not promise us an easy road from initial faith to heaven. The joy of salvation is real. The joy of worship and family and Christian living is real. And the truth is, the road from salvation to the gates of heaven is still full of hardships, trials, and tribulations. If you do not understand this, you will be shocked when you think that your Christian life is not working out. But God has always told us that there will be pain and sorrow amid our joy until we are in his presence forever.

Note one final thing Paul did. This is clearly a priority. And it is a thing still neglected by many churches. Paul appointed for the churches elders. The text says in verse 23, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” In every church (singular) they appointed elders (plural). God intends that the church have multiple pastors, multiple qualified men who will share in the responsibility of leadership, teaching, and care. Paul did not appoint one pastor and some administrative board to keep him in check. He appointed multiple men to serve the church as elders, which is a role we also call pastors or overseers. It was worth it for Paul to go back to Lystra, clearly risking his life, to help make sure that the local church there had a plurality of elders.

How important is the local church? What should your commitment to your local church look like? Paul went back into Lystra, even after people had tried to kill him, for the good of the local church. He returned to strengthen the believers, warn them of the genuine hardships that believers face, and appoint for them elders in their church. He wanted them to not lose heart. HE wanted them prepared for persecution. HE wanted their church to have a biblical model of leadership, a plurality of elders. And he thought all this was important enough to be worth the risk of his safety.

IF that work was worth it to Paul, then you too should be powerfully committed to your local church. Your church needs strengthening in the word. Your church needs someone who is willing to help the body know that this life will be hard, but serving the Lord is still worth it. Your church needs someone who will call for godly men to serve as elders. Your church needs the burden to be off the shoulders of a solo pastor and shared with others who can faithfully preach and teach and care and lead. Your church needs people who will not run at the first hard experience, but who will return to help other believers serve the Lord.

Now, there are times when it is time to leave a church. If the leadership is corrupt to the point that they will accept sin and not correct it, you might need to go. If the leadership will not faithfully handle the word of God, you might need to go. But in many a case, you should stay. You should work with the elders. If they will let you help, you should help to encourage the body. And you should make it a major part of your life to be about the strengthening of the local church.

Appointed to Eternal Life

When we speak of salvation, we need to be careful to speak with the Bible’s own language. After all, the Scriptures are inspired by God and perfect in every way. Our own surmises, not so much.

In Acts 13, Paul has preached the gospel in Antioch to a group of gentiles who are saved. But look at the biblical language for that salvation.

Acts 13:48 – And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Note the ordering, as it has important ramifications for our understanding of God’s sovereignty in our salvation. The text could just as easily have said that, as many as believed were appointed to eternal life. But this is not the text. The word of God says that those who had been appointed to eternal life believed.

IF your understanding of how a person is saved is based primarily on the individual person, this text will rub up against it in an uncomfortable way. But, if you grasp that God and his divine will is at the center of how people are saved, the text will make sense to you. Is the appointing of a person to eternal life based on their faith, or is the faith of a person a result of their having been appointed by God to eternal life?

Let’s look at a couple of other places where Scripture speaks in a similar way just to see that this is not some sort of anomaly in Acts that is merely confusing in its wording.

John 8:47 – Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Notice why Jesus said the people do not believe? They do not believe because they are not of God. The Savior does not say that they do not belong to God because they do not believe. Instead, he says they do not believe because they do not belong to God.

John 10:26 – but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.

In John 10, when Jesus speaks of the people as sheep and him as the good shepherd, he points out that the religious teachers around him do not believe because they are not his sheep. HE does not say that they are not his sheep because of their lack of faith. Their lack of faith is the result of not being his sheep.

What do we see then? In Acts, the appointed believe. IN John, the ones who do not believe do not believe because they do not belong to God. The language of Scripture shows us the sovereign will of God is the determining factor that brings anyone to salvation. A person believes if they are appointed to do so by God. A person who does not believe does not believe because of his own sin. The unbeliever shows that he was not appointed by God for salvation, but God has allowed him to continue in accord with his desires.

What do you take from this? Christian, if you believe, know that this is a gift given to you by God. Give God all the glory for your salvation. Your faith is a result of God’s sovereign work. God did not choose to save you after you showed him you would believe.

But, Christian, if this makes you uncomfortable, remember that no person is forced to sin by God. Neither does God force these folks away from him. God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30). People do not repent because they do not want to. God is not in any way treating the unrepentant in an unjust way. If God owes us anything, he owes us his judgment for our rebellion against him.

All human beings are naturally opposed to God in our sinfulness. There are some that God has chosen, out of a desire to show his love and grace, and he has appointed them to eternal life. It is those he gives the gift of saving faith. Thus, if you are saved, it is a result of God’s sovereign election, a depiction of God’s great mercy and kindness, and a gift that you did nothing at all to earn. Give God praise and thanks, as this is truly grace upon grace.