Archive for the ‘2 Corinthians’ Category

I know that I’ve already written on 2 Corinthians 5:17, albeit very briefly. But the verse has popped up in thought or conversation several times over the last few weeks, and to be honest I can’t even write much because I’m not equipped enough to. Yet.

I want you to think for a second about our identity before God. How does the Holy One view us? Who does God see us as? Does He see us as we are? ‘Cause I gotta tell you, it doesn’t bode so well for me if He does. I say that because I’ve already got a laundry list racked up today of sins, of my failures to live as perfectly as Christ did. I was irresponsible with my time, careless in my eating habits, abrupt with my kids, insensitive with my wife, corrupt in my speech- I could continue, but you get the point. I’m no saint.

Or am I?

See, I used to think that God doesn’t see us as we are…but what if the problem is in how I perceive myself?

I would call myself a sinner saved by grace.

I think God would call me a saint saved by grace.

What does Paul say? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Does Paul speak of a progress? Does he discuss “old self vs. new self”? No…it’s done. We are set apart. We are new creations. We are holy before God. We are saints.
And now we’ll spend the rest of our life wrapping our minds around that, allowing the beauty of these truths to transform our behavior. Will we become more Christ-like as we live? Sure…but only outwardly.

Inwardly it’s a done deal. That’s what God sees.
Before He created this world, God loved me and chose to save me from His wrath- wrath that I would well deserve. He marked me as one of His own- a child of His, a brother to Jesus. Jesus fulfilled His mission of redemption and purchased my salvation. He was nailed to the cross and bore in His body the Divine punishment that should have been mine. Before I was even born, Jesus had ensured that I would be saved by His own substitutionary atonement in my place.

Though I was born under the Fall and by nature a rebel of God, the Holy Spirit did a work in my heart over six years ago, removing from me my heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. The part of me that was spiritually dead and hostile to God was removed, and in it’s place was a heart beating with life, a heart filled with sorrow over my rebellion against God. A heart now filled with a faith that was even itself given to me as a gift.

God drew me to His Son, and upon my trusting in Him as my Savior, God declared me “Not Guilty” and He sealed me with His Holy Spirit- that same Spirit that resides within me as this new creation. Anything to follow now in terms of my actions is nothing more than  gradual outward conformity to an inward reality. I am a child of God. Period.

And it just doesn’t get much better than that.

 

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            At the tail end of 2 Corinthians, things are wrapped up between Paul and the believers in Corinth. A simple reading through both of Paul’s letters to these people would show many ups and downs in Paul’s relationship with them. He calls them spiritual babies, he chastises them for some of the sin that is flagrant among them, and he accuses them of being carnal and not spiritual.

            Many people floating around today have latched onto this idea of Christian carnality, or the idea that a person can be saved and yet still live as though they had never made a commitment to Jesus Christ. A “Carnal Christian” is how they label themselves. Yeah, I’m a Christian. I’m going to Heaven. I’m just carnal. I’ll “get right with God later.” Yeah. Right now I’m having too much fun sinning.

            I greatly fear that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians, particularly among the student population (to include even students within my own youth group) are sadly deluded and on their way to Hell. Some well-meaning person probably led them in “The Sinner’s Prayer” and assured them that “if they really meant it” when they prayed, then they became a Christian.

            I like how Paul Washer worded it: “Telling someone that the sinner’s prayer will save them is a damnable heresy.” Why does he say this? Because no prayer ever saved anyone. God saves people, and He does it through the faith that He graciously bestows an individual in the first place. Jesus told us that no one comes to Him unless drawn by the Father, and no one knows the Father except for Jesus and whomever Jesus wishes to reveal Him to.

            Salvation isn’t really that complicated. God regenerates a sinner’s dead heart through the Holy Spirit, to which our natural response is faith in God and repentance toward sin. It’s a Divine process that involves the work of all members of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all at work. Nowhere in the mix is a prayer, yet for some reason too many conservative evangelicals believe that simply saying the prayer and meaning it automatically grants salvation to the pray-er. I hate to be the pessimist, but if God ain’t involved, nothing is gonna happen to someone being led down the Roman’s Road and into the Sinner’s Prayer.

            Nonetheless, it happens every day, and we wind up with generations of lost people who call themselves Christians and defend this by appealing to the jacked-up Christians in Corinth. But look at what Paul finally says in verse five: “Examine yourselves. Test yourselves, to see if you’re even in the faith.” Would Paul have said this to a group of believers who were showing active progress in their walk with Jesus? Probably not. However, the actions of these people was so contradictory to what it should have been, Paul felt it necessary to exhort them to check to see if they were even saved in the first place.

            What about you? Are you in the faith, or are you one of those so-called carnal Christians that will one day perish and go to Hell? Take this test to find out. When you finish you should watch this video.

            If you read 2 Corinthians twelve, you’ll recall that Paul was talking about a man who went to the third heaven, either in the flesh or in the spirit. Many scholars believe that Paul is referring to himself here in the subsequent years after his gracious conversion on the road  to Damascus.

            Though God isn’t exactly in the business of giving us personal one-on-one tours of Heaven right now, the principle remains firmly in place: maturation as a Christian comes only through time spent with God. The means that we currently have for this are twofold: prayer and Bible study. As we read God’s word, we come to know more about Him and the guidelines that He has set for us, and through prayer we can communicate with Him, and His Spirit to ours.

            These simple tools are the means to growing in our walk with Christ. Wanna “get it” more than you do now? Want to become that “Super Christian” that you think you’ll never be? Than start changing things now by resolving to spend more time with our Creator.

While not  huge fan of the Message, it’s often fascinating to see Paul’s vernacular paraphrased with modern English. Have a read:

 

“Will you put up with a little foolish aside from me? Please, just for a moment. The thing that has me so upset is that I care about you so much—this is the passion of God burning inside me! I promised your hand in marriage to Christ, presented you as a pure virgin to her husband. And now I’m afraid that exactly as the Snake seduced Eve with his smooth patter, you are being lured away from the simple purity of your love for Christ.

 It seems that if someone shows up preaching quite another Jesus than we preached—different spirit, different message—you put up with him quite nicely. But if you put up with these big-shot “apostles,” why can’t you put up with simple me? I’m as good as they are. It’s true that I don’t have their voice, haven’t mastered that smooth eloquence that impresses you so much. But when I do open my mouth, I at least know what I’m talking about. We haven’t kept anything back. We let you in on everything.

 I wonder, did I make a bad mistake in proclaiming God’s Message to you without asking for something in return, serving you free of charge so that you wouldn’t be inconvenienced by me? It turns out that the other churches paid my way so that you could have a free ride. Not once during the time I lived among you did anyone have to lift a finger to help me out. My needs were always supplied by the believers from Macedonia province. I was careful never to be a burden to you, and I never will be, you can count on it. With Christ as my witness, it’s a point of honor with me, and I’m not going to keep it quiet just to protect you from what the neighbors will think. It’s not that I don’t love you; God knows I do. I’m just trying to keep things open and honest between us.

 And I’m not changing my position on this. I’d die before taking your money. I’m giving nobody grounds for lumping me in with those money-grubbing “preachers,” vaunting themselves as something special. They’re a sorry bunch—pseudo-apostles, lying preachers, crooked workers—posing as Christ’s agents but sham to the core. And no wonder! Satan does it all the time, dressing up as a beautiful angel of light. So it shouldn’t surprise us when his servants masquerade as servants of God. But they’re not getting by with anything. They’ll pay for it in the end.

 Let me come back to where I started—and don’t hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you’d rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little. I didn’t learn this kind of talk from Christ. Oh, no, it’s a bad habit I picked up from the three-ring preachers that are so popular these days. Since you sit there in the judgment seat observing all these shenanigans, you can afford to humor an occasional fool who happens along. You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down—even slap your face! I shouldn’t admit it to you, but our stomachs aren’t strong enough to tolerate that kind of stuff.

 Since you admire the egomaniacs of the pulpit so much (remember, this is your old friend, the fool, talking), let me try my hand at it. Do they brag of being Hebrews, Israelites, the pure race of Abraham? I’m their match. Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can’t believe I’m saying these things. It’s crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I’m going to finish.)

 I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

 And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.

 If I have to “brag” about myself, I’ll brag about the humiliations that make me like Jesus. The eternal and blessed God and Father of our Master Jesus knows I’m not lying. Remember the time I was in Damascus and the governor of King Aretas posted guards at the city gates to arrest me? I crawled through a window in the wall, was let down in a basket, and had to run for my life.”

2 Corinthians Ten: Careful, Bro.

Posted: September 8, 2011 in 2 Corinthians

            If there were one thing I would echo from Paul in 2 Corinthians ten, it would be this: don’t pat yourself any harder on that back than God would. Paul warns against comparing ourselves by ourselves, which in the teenage context means this: don’t judge your own spirituality by the conduct of your peers. Just because you may not be doing some of what they’re doing doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re making strides in your walk with God. Don’t seek approval from me, your parents, your peers, or even yourself. Instead, do your best to seek God’s commendation, because ultimately, pleasing Him is what matters the most.

            Aw man. I’ve officially become a good Baptist preacher. Today we’re gonna talk about tithing. Sweet! In case you didn’t know, the subject of paying a tithe (or 10%) of your income has become a subject of great debate within Christianity, with a wide range of opinions being voiced. Some positions would include the following: 1) Tithe on your gross income, and then give more as God leads, 2) Tithe on the net, and then tithe on your tax return, and then give more as God leads, 3) Tithe and then you’re done giving, 4) Just give as God leads, and 5) Don’t give. Ever.

            Now sadly enough, each of these positions can be derived from one’s understanding of Scripture, particularly as the Old Testament relates to the New. Some people believe that since Jesus approved of the Jewish tithe-paying, then the practice is still to be in place for the Church. Others believe that since the New Testament does not command Christians to tithe, then we are not obligated to, but rather should give as the Holy Spirit directs us.

            I personally have not arrived at a solid conclusion concerning my understanding of tithe and the New Testament. In case you’re wondering, yes- I do tithe faithfully, but it’s more from my desire to support my church and my church leadership than to fulfill a Biblical mandate. I’m not saying that the mandate is there or isn’t there, I’m just saying that I am not motivated to tithe solely from God’s word. I have always told people that if everyone gives as God leads them to, there would be no issues. Be it 10%, 50% or 1%. I feel as though tithing is what God wants me to do, and so I do it. Plus more sometimes. In the past, I’ve been led to give my tithe to missionaries, though this is a rare occurance. For me, it’s about where God leads me to give, though for the most part it is to my local church.

            It seems as though Paul and I are on the same page. In 2 Corinthians nine he says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Now granted, Paul is referencing a special love offering that was being collected for the Christians in Jerusalem, so it’s not even exegetically proper to attach this teaching to the subject of tithing, but I’m doing it anyways because Paul doesn’t talk about tithing (lol).

            The point is this: are you in prayer concerning what God will have you do with your finances? Better yet, should you start by giving God back 10% of what He gave you, and then allowing the Holy Spirit tweak your amount? If Paul is speaking the truth, then what we need to give is what we decided in our hearts we’re supposed to give. Is the plate coming by each week? Give as God leads. Got a lighting project coming up? Give as God leads. See that homeless person begging on the side of the road? Give as God leads.

            If our goal in life is to please God with the decisions we make concerning the things He has blessed us with, and we are in constant communication with God over the things we spend our money on, I am confident that God will in turn direct you to do with your money what He will have you do, regardless of the percentage, and in exchange for your obedience He will bless you even further. So let me echo Paul again: Figure out what God wants you to do with your resources, and then do it because you want to do it, not because you feel like you have to do it, because God loves when we give this way.

            I absolutely love the Gospel. My entire life revolves around it, and with it my theology. Soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, is my favorite doctrine in scripture. To me it’s the source of just about all other doctrines. That God would chose in eternity to save me, not because of anything He saw in me, but because of His electing grace, is one of the most precious things I can think of. It’s hard for me to fathom that Jesus went to the Cross specifically to secure my redemption, to purchase a salvation that would one day be applied in God’s timing, by grace and through faith, to the glory of God alone.

            Having said that, I found a guy in 2 Corinthians eight that I can’t wait to talk to in Heaven. Unfortunately, what I don’t know is his name. Paul refers to him only as the “brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.” I mean, this guy was so known for his particular way of proclaiming the good news that Paul didn’t even give a name. He assumed that the Corinthians would know exactly who he was referring to! Some speculate that it was Luke, others think Mark, but we’re simply unsure. Regardless, I would love to hear him preach. I’m also intrigued and pleased that the Gospel was so prevalent even to believers; it ought not ever be something that we tire of hearing.

            So what about you? How do you think Paul would describe you to a group of people who had never met you? Me, I’d probably be “the over-analytical, eager-to-argue, bull-headed and arrogant student pastor”. Hmm. I need to work on that, lol. “Guy who is forever talking about the beauty of grace” would be much nicer.