The Glory of Christ’s Cross

As we draw near to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider the following quote from Arthur Pink:

“Through Christ’s obedience and death God magnified his law (Isa. 42:21). The law of God was more honored by the Son’s subjection to it, than it was dishonored by the disobedience of all of Adam’s race.

“God magnified his love by sending forth the Darling of his bosom to redeem worthless worms of the earth.

“He magnified his justice, for when sin (by imputation) was found upon his Son, he called for the sword to smite him (Zech. 13:7).

“He magnified his holiness: his hatred of sin was more clearly shown at the Cross than it will be in the lake of fire.

“He magnified his power by sustaining the Mediator under such a load as was laid upon him.

“He magnified his truth by fulfilling his covenant engagements and bringing forth from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20).

“He magnified his grace by imputing to the ungodly all the merits of Christ.

“This, then, was the prime purpose of God in the Atonement: to magnify himself” (Arthur Pink, The Life of Faith).

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An Obvious Election

This is the fourth entry in our series entitled “Ten Marks of a Healthy Church.” The fourth mark of a healthy church is an “obvious election.” It comes from 1 Thess. 1:4 — “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you” (ESV).

The doctrine of election is one of those controversial topics that often arises between theologians and aspiring theologians. Election is clearly a biblical doctrine. Let us simply observe here that Paul claims to know these Thessalonian believers have been chosen by God. He does not say, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that you have chosen Him.” Paul bases his knowledge of God’s election on two proofs: (1) the experience of the missionaries and (2) the experience of the Thessalonians.

I want you to see that the primary thrust of this is evidence of God’s activity. What God does, no one can undo. And what He begins, He completes. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6).

How can you know someone is truly saved? They experience God’s Spirit at work on them, both convicting them of sin and convincing them of the gospel message with the result, and this is the key, that they embrace Christ Jesus as Lord by grace through faith. It’s that simple.

Often I encounter people who doubt their salvation. Instead of trying to assure them on the basis of what they did to be saved, I ask them, “What did God do?” For the longest time, as a child and teenager, I struggled with questions such as, “Did I pray the right prayer?”, “Did I really mean it when I asked Jesus into my heart?”, “Did I know, as a seven year old, what it all meant?” And those questions kept me from growing in the Lord. The reason is they were all based on what I did to get salvation.

In college, I began studying the Bible like I never had before. I was extremely hungry to know what it said. And I began to realize that God takes the initiative in saving people. I was the one who needed saving; only He could save me. And whenever I encountered those same old doubts, I began to change the questions. I began asking, “When I look at the time I made a profession of faith and was baptized, what was God doing in my life?” “What was God showing me?” “What changed in my thinking about God and how I related to Him?” “Did I become convicted of sin?” “Was I convinced that Jesus is the Risen Lord and my only hope?” And these diagnostic questions are not tests of what I did, but tests of what God was doing to bring me into a saving relationship with Himself.

That is what Paul is doing here. He is recounting the experience he had when he planted the church at Thessalonica and the experiences of those new believers. When he surveyed what happened, he saw clear evidence of God’s work. God moved powerfully on him and his coworkers; God accomplished a mighty work in the lives of the Thessalonians. In the next few verses he recounts those experiences. Nothing thrills the heart of a man of God more than to experience the power of God, the moving of the Holy Spirit, in his life and in the life of his church.

God has given us clear teachings in the Scriptures so that we may know where we stand with him. An entire book of the New Testament is devoted to testing one’s salvation. That book is 1 John. In 1 John we find a three-fold test of salvation. I would like to summarize that for you in the hopes that you may have assurance of salvation. 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

The first test is Belief in the Bible – “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1). If you do not accept the Scriptural claims about Christ – that he lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose again on the third day, is Lord of all, is the exclusive way of salvation, is coming again to claim his people, you are lost.

If you reject the Word of God, if you have no real desire to hear it or heed it. If you argue with its truth claims and try to dismiss them, you are not saved. If you make little to no room in your life for God’s Word, you do not value eternal life (see Acts 13:46). Second Timothy 3:15-16 says that the Scriptures are “able to make you wise unto salvation.” James 1:21 is similar: “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” And 1 Peter 1:23 makes the statement, “you have been born again, . . . through the living and abiding Word of God.” Biblical truth plays an essential role in salvation.

The second test of salvation is Obedience to God – “But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him. Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:5). “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18). Constant habitual sin that you do not intend to change or that you just accept as not a big deal is a strong indication that something is wrong between you and the Lord. You probably have never truly been saved.

The third test of salvation in 1 John is Love of the Brethren (Church) – “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause from stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:10-11). “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

Years ago, a Christian counselor named Gary Chapman came out with a book entitled The Five Love Languages. It outlined how people express and receive love. The “languages” are Giving Gifts, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. God says if we love Him, we will love His church. What says we love his church? Do you spend quality time with his people or do you begrudge having to attend church? Do you speak words to build up the Lord’s church or tear it down?
Are you a regular, proportional, and joyful giver? Do you serve in the work of the church or are you content just to be served? Let us all evaluate ourselves, lest we be deceived (Gal. 6:7-8).

An Enduring Hope

Today’s post is the third mark in our series entitled “Ten Marks of a Healthy Church.” We are learning that churches are not merely organizations, they are bodies of God’s children united by covenant to Him and to one another.

The church is not like the Rotary Club or the Red Cross. In fact, no other organization on the face of the earth is like a Christian church. The church exists for the glory of God. No other organization, Christian or non-, is called the Bride of Christ; as such, she should be submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And no other organization represents Jesus like His church. As Paul said, “Glory to God in the church.” When the church fulfills her mission, God is glorified. When the church fails in her calling, God is shamed and Christ is reproached.

Now a church can be healthy and strong, or it can be diseased and sickly. If one part of the church body becomes spiritually diseased or does not function properly, the other parts are affected. That’s what it means to be a body.

Evaluating church health can be difficult. We are very blessed to have the Word of God to help us evaluate everything according to God’s truth. And when it comes to church health, we have the first chapter of First Thessalonians to help us see the things that are praiseworthy in a church. In that chapter Paul says some marvelous things about the church there. In fact, what he is doing is remembering them and thanking God for them. And when he does, he identifies ten marks of a healthy church.

2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:2-10, ESV).

The first mark of a healthy church is a “working faith,” not mere intellectual assent, but steadfast trust. A faith that gets up every morning and goes to work. Genuine saving faith produces fruit and draws others to Christ. In a church marked by faith, you’ll see people wanting to serve God. They value the things of God. They sacrifice for God’s purposes and mission. They believe Jesus’ words, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”

The second mark of a healthy church is a “laboring love.” Loving Jesus and loving others means that you will often clash with the impulses you have naturally. To overcome is a labor. Healthy churches are motivated by love for God and love for others. Love drives selfless labor. Love cares; it is not apathetic. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Genuine love is a rare thing in today’s world, and that means the church has an opportunity to show the world something different.

The third mark of a healthy church is an “enduring hope.” The word ‘endure’ here is from the Greek word hupomone, and it indicates the “capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances” (LN 25.174). The related verb hupomeno means to remain under. Again, here is an action based on a virtue. The virtue here is hope, an interesting and somewhat difficult word to define. It means “to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial” (LN 25.59). The only way a person can bear under the pressure of internal and external trials is to possess an enduring hope.

Hope says, “This is not all there is.” Hope tells us, “The future is good, just, righteous, glorious.” (Eph. 1:18). What gets you through a difficult time? Hope is the biblical solution for dark days. The Thessalonians experienced persecutions and difficulties. They encountered problems. But no problem can extinguish an enduring hope. In fact, the phrase here could be translated your “steadfastness of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If you want to see hope personified look at Jesus. His hope was not contingent upon His circumstances; it was based on the glory to come. That hope in the future glory was what enabled Him to endure the suffering. Someone once told me the story of a farmer and his mule:

A farmer had an old mule that could no longer pull plow or wagon. The farmer could not bear the thought of putting down the beloved animal, so he decided that instead of waiting for the creature to die, he would just bury it alive. So he put Lucky in a large hole he made with some dynamite and began to cover the mule with dirt. Every time that farmer would cast a shovel full of dirt on the mule, the mule would just shake it off and step up. Shake it off and step up. He just kept doing that simple but effective act. When the farmer saw Lucky climb back out of his grave, he changed his name. He’s not Lucky, he’s Steadfast Hope.

You too will make it if you don’t give up. Shake it off, and step up. Brighter days are ahead for those of us who know Jesus. There are lots of things in this life that might bury you. But not a single thing can keep you down. You have a promise that nothing can destroy: Resurrection! And that’s where our hope should dwell. Christian, let your hope endure!

When a church has hope, they have a vision. And where they have a vision, they will not perish. Hope springs from the eternal. When we look beyond our present circumstances to the greatness and goodness of God, we can take that next step. Without hope, you will be paralyzed with fear and throw your faith out the window. We will turn aside to replacements for God. We will follow our own weak and miserable plans instead of God’s bold mission.

Without Christ, a person has no hope. Hope begins when you are rightly related to God. The Good News is that Jesus lived and died and lived again so that you might truly live in hope. Will you turn your life over to Him today? Will you embrace the hope of the ages? Yield your life to Him now and embrace the greatest hope of all.