Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part I

-The Old Way Isn’t Working!

There’s a saying; and, I’m sure most of you have heard it—that, “Insanity Is Doing The Same Thing Over & Over And Expecting Different Results.” In other words, if you’re looking for different results, you’ve got to change the way you’re doing things! The American church is desperately in need of a “paradigm shift” in the way we do things! The old way isn’t working! It’s broken! You’ve heard the statistics—9 out of 10 churches, in America, are in decline! And, of that 1 in 10 experiencing growth (many are “Mega Churches”), 9 out of 10 have grown—NOT by adding new converts—but, by TRANSFER growth; or, people leaving the 9 out of 10 churches in decline!

-No More Sorry Excuses!

As for me, I’m unwilling to accept some sorry excuse that people just aren’t seeking God these days! The same God, who worked the sweeping revivals in the book of Acts, is alive and well today! The Bible offers us hope! And, there is a grass roots movement that is effecting change in the Church across our land. God is raising up modern day “prophets” who refuse to preach the pragmatic “self-help gospel” with it’s self-absorbed, man-centered appeal to consumerism—that false gospel will not endure the coming persecution! It’s a movement that’s slowly building, gaining momentum, and, returning to “ground zero”—to where Jesus said, “I will build My church.”

-Empowered By His Spirit!

He would build His Church—NOT by appealing to the fleshly lusts of the world & the unregenerate heart; but—on the WEAKNESS of man & the POWER of God! “Not by man’s might or power; but, by MY Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).  Jesus built that early church, in the book of Acts, out of broken men who were empowered by HIS Holy Spirit to simply obey His “commission” to make disciples! This post is about sustaining the spiritual momentum necessary to continue making new disciples.  In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer is addressing a falling away of some of the believers. Somehow, the momentum of the early church, in Acts, had stalled! Earlier, in the letter, the writer had warned them that they needed to learn, all over again, some of the elementary truths of faith—so, this is basic stuff! If it was a class it would be “Basic Discipleship 101.”

-Don’t Do Life Without It!

The text says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  If you had only 2 words to summarize those verses, they would be “relationships” & “gatherings”; and, that’s Church!  The writer is saying, “Church: Don’t try to do the Christian life without it!” And, his 1st point is to “be concerned about one another.” If the Church is to sustain the momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to quit making Church about ourselves! God calls us to look after one another! That Church is attractive to unbelievers! Can you  point me to one like that?

 

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Your Good Works Offend God!

-Because Jesus Already Did It!

Being a disciple of Jesus does not begin with something we do; but, with something Jesus already did! When Jesus went to the cross, He redeemed our relationship with the Father.  A relationship broken by our sin against Him! By Jesus’ death on the cross, He paid the penalty, for our sin, that we should have paid so that the Father would be just to grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love.  By Jesus sacrificial act, He made a way for the Father to actually adopt us into His family when we accept the work of His Son & His payment on our behalf.

-Don’t Disrespect Jesus’ Sacrifice!

But, Jesus’ work, on our behalf, is only effective when we quit trying to work our own way into the Father’s favor! We must accept God’s offer of salvation through Christ alone by grace alone; and, cast aside any hope that our good deeds might impress the Father.  Can you see how offensive it is to God when we try to make ourselves presentable to Him? We trample on His Son’s sacrifice when we try to impress God with our “perceived” good deeds! We spit in His face & tell Him His Son’s work on the cross wasn’t good enough; that, we need to “add” our own. What God requires of us is nothing more than humility & brokenness, along with a confession that we’re not worthy & incapable of ever becoming worthy of the salvation He offers us!

-Are You Heaven’s Citizen?

What we need is a new start; a new beginning; a new birth! “You MUST be born again,” Jesus said. He was referencing a “SPIRITUAL” birth. Your “physical” birth makes you a citizen of this world; but, only your “spiritual” birth can make you a citizen of heaven! That becomes your new identity! You’re no longer a citizen of this world; rather, Scripture calls you a “temporary resident” here! Your citizenship is heaven! And, that’s where we have to begin when we start a conversation about “spiritual growth.”

-An Identity In Christ!

You have to be sure of your identity—in Christ—before you can ever hope to mature as a disciple of Christ. That, in fact, is what Paul said happens at the moment of faith. Here’s how the Amplified Bible expands on the meaning of Paul’s words:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

-You’re Not The Old You!

If you’re a believer—or, a disciple—of Jesus, you’re no longer that OLD you. You’ve become; and, are becoming the NEW you—the spiritually born again you! And, one day God will finish the work He began in you that day you were converted—that’s the coming day of “glorification”! Until that day, God will be at work, in you, sanctifying you. That’s a big word—SANCTIFICATION—but, break it down to it’s simplest form & it’s the process by which God makes you more like Jesus and less like you! He does that, in part, by revealing to us our sin, convincing us to forsake it, and, empowering us to actually overcome it!

 

Quit Trying So Hard!

-Is Change Even Possible?

Have your “New Year Resolutions” already hit the skids! Perhaps you’re at a place in your life where you think it’s impossible to change! What you’ve confirmed is the weakness of your flesh. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church of Colosse, points out that human “regulations”—like “New Year Resolutions”—are powerless to change our fallen flesh:  “If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations:  ‘Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch?’ All these regulations…are commands and doctrines of men.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence” Colossians 2:20-23.  That’s a sample of the world’s system for “behavior modification.” In our flesh, we wanna prove we can discipline ourselves to a “better behavior.” That gives us bragging rights to judge all the other wicked sinners by—but; that’s “legalism.”

-Legalism Is Simply Self-Effort

Legalism is our attempt to reach holiness through our own self-effort; or, “regulations” as Paul calls them here! Let me be clear—Paul is NOT referring to God’s law! You’re not a legalist for keeping His law! Sexual promiscuity, lying, stealing & murder are ALWAYS sin! It’s all the other stuff they ADD to God’s law that makes them a legalist!  I used to be a legalist—I wouldn’t play cards; or, go to the movie theatre! I wouldn’t think of going to church unless I was wearing a suit! I would never consider being part of a church where there were drums & guitars; or, anything other than a King James version of the Bible used in the pulpit! You may find that bizarre; but, be careful! Legalism is rather chameleon in nature—your “list” might be different; but, you’re “extra biblical” rules to perform by & force on others is just as legalistic!

-To Be “In Christ”

If you’re “in Christ” you’ve “…died to the elemental forces of this world,” Paul says, “Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” Jesus Christ is the great liberator! He set us FREE from “performance-driven faith”! If you’re “in Christ” remove the masks! Stop pretending you’re a super saint! Quit trying so hard to make yourself acceptable to the Father! He’s already accepted you “in Christ.”

-Declared Righteous!

If your faith is in Christ’s work on the cross, you’ve been “declared righteous.” That is your forever standing before God! There is NOTHING you can do that will ever make you more acceptable to God; and, there is NOTHING you’ve done that makes you less acceptable to Him! Jesus bore ALL YOUR SIN—past, present & future; and, His righteousness was placed in your account when you trusted His work by faith! Then, God’s Holy Spirit moved in; and, told your spirit that He’s ready to go to work in you! But, it will be HIS WORK! He doesn’t need you to get in the way & put on that “HOLIER than thou mask” by keeping a bunch of man-made, human-inspired rules! It’s in your “weakness” that He is strong! God rejects all human effort!

 

God’s High Regard For His Name

-He’s The God Of The Impossible!

There’s a great story, in 2 Chronicles 14, about a “good” king named Asa. That’s significant because Israel & Judah had a lot of “bad” kings.—“…Asa did what was good and right in the sight of the LORD his God…” v.2 says.  But, as God often does, in the lives of His saints, He uses “trouble” to grow our faith. In v.8, we read that “…Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah bearing large shields and spears, and 280,000 from Benjamin…”; and, then “trouble” shows up— “…Zerah the Cushite came against them with an army of one million men and 300 chariots…” Do the math! Judah was in a mis-match, a humanly impossible situation! And, what was King Asa’s response? “Asa cried out to the LORD his God, and said, “LORD, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!” v.11.

-Why Don’t We Pray First?

Why do we tend to make prayer our last resort? Isn’t it our predisposition to try & work things out in our own wisdom 1st? We have a penchant for gritting our teeth; and, trying to work things out in our own strength! Only after we’ve exhausted all human resources do we finally pray about it! Why? Are we afraid we’re bothering Him? Waking Him up? Scripture says, “…He never sleeps, He never slumbers…” I want to challenge you to go back to v.11 and reread Asa’s prayer—this is a model prayer for getting God’s attention!

-Circumstances? Or, God’s Glory?

While his prayer was about his “circumstances,” it wasn’t really about his “circumstances”! It was a prayer about GOD! It was a prayer expressing concern for God’s GLORY! “This battle isn’t about me God,” to paraphrase Asa’s prayer, “It’s about YOU! There’s no one besides YOU! YOU help those without strength! We depend on YOU! Your NAME is at stake here! Don’t let a mere mortal hinder YOU!” God DOES NOT help those you help themselves! That’s a human LIE! He helps those who are weak & depend upon HIM! Asa understood that God’s ultimate goal in all He does is to magnify HIS GLORY!

-God’s Glory: Our Greatest Concern!

How do you define God’s “Glory”? It’s kind of like His “BEAUTY”—God’s “BEAUTY” is in His perfection; in His character; in His moral excellence! “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” James 1:13. God’s highest goal is to preserve & display His infinite, awesome greatness & worth. That’s His GLORY! There is NOTHING of higher value! If God should have greater affection for anything He created, He would be unjust—He’d be an idolater!  So, here’s the principle—King Asa prayed right because his greatest concern was for God’s GLORY; not, for victory in this battle!  Our prayers should always be a request for God to bring GLORY to Himself through His answer! His GLORY, through the answer, is more important than our need!

 

 

What Good News Can Do For You!

-The Gospel Is An “Announcement”

The word “Gospel” literally means “good news.” In the original Greek language it’s often translated “Herald” or “Evangelist.” When a Greek king won a battle, he would send a “Gospel Herald” all over the kingdom to announce the “good news” of his victory! So, in it’s purest sense, the Gospel is an “announcement”—the Biblical writers used the word “Gospel” to announce that Jesus has won the battle for our salvation by His atoning death on the cross! The Gospel is the good news, about God’s forgiveness, by Christ’s substitutionary work in our place— “…He became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2 Cor. 5:21.

-We’re Saved From Good Works

Once we’ve heard & accepted the good news—about Jesus’ payment for sin—we’re commissioned, by Him, to announce the good news everywhere & to make disciples of Christ from all nations! When we get Jesus’ Gospel right, it’s a message that saves us from our “good works”—“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” Eph 2:8,9.  From my earliest recollections of myself, as a young boy, I remember trying to impress God with my good deeds. But, Scripture clearly says here that salvation “…is NOT from YOURSELVES…”; it’s “…NOT from works…” We can never change enough to sway God! We can never justify ourselves before Him! We’re DEAD in our SIN! That’s why Jesus went to the cross—to pay the price we should have paid! It’s the “good news” of the Gospel that saves us from thinking that our good deeds can save us.

-We’re Saved From Guilt

When we get Jesus’ Gospel right, it’s a message that saves us from our “guilt”—“And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” God says in Hebrews 8:12.  The Psalmist wrote, “…then I confessed my sins to you and didn’t hide my guilt. I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord,’ and You forgave my guilt.” Psalm 32:1-5.  The same Gospel that saves us from our good works, saves us from our guilt—when guilt is our motivator, we can never do enough! That’s the unbearable burden of a “performance-driven faith”—when have you done enough? But the Gospel, of Christ, says we’re saved by GRACE!

-The Gospel Saves Us To Do Good Works

 

The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write: “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” Eph. 2:10.  Did you see that? Paul says, “…we are HIS creation”; and, it’s in our conversion to Christ that we are “…created…FOR good works”; and, God prepares us for those good works! They don’t save us! They’re the RESULT of our salvation—the RESULT of God’s sanctifying work IN US! When we truly see the beauty & glory of God’s grace in our lives, we will want to do good works that reflect well on Jesus!

God’s Radical Gospel!

-What’s Good About “Good Works”?

The whole concept of “good works” has confused and divided people & churches since the original sin in the garden! Just a casual reading, of Scripture, uncovers this tension between some “good works” that are BAD & some “good works” that are GOOD—so, how do we know if our “good works” are GOOD or BAD? Do we need “good works”? What is the purpose of “good works”?

-The Answer Is In “The Gospel”

The Apostle Paul brings some clarity to this tension by defining the Gospel for us in his letter to the Church of Corinth: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” 1 Cor. 15:1-4.  So, let me define the gospel, Paul says—Christ died for our “sin.” Sin is a “missing of the mark”; or, a breaking of God’s law. Where there is a LAW there is a LAW GIVER; and, God, the Creator, is that Law Giver. He is Holy, Just & Righteous in all His ways, Scripture informs us! And, as Creator, He has the ultimate authority to demand obedience from us, His creation!

-“The Gospel” Changes Everything

But, in Adam, we disobeyed Him; and, our sin separated us from our Holy Creator. So, Jesus came to die for our sins! That’s the Doctrine of Imputation—our sin was “imputed”; or, placed on Jesus; and, His righteousness is “imputed”; or, credited to our account when we repent of our sin & trust Jesus for our salvation. At the moment we trust Him, God “justifies” us—that means He declares us righteous! Paul also includes the good news of the Resurrection in his definition of the Gospel—Jesus was buried in a tomb & He rose bodily, from the dead, in power over sin on the 3rd day! That’s the Gospel; and, it’s not just something we preach! The Gospel impacts the rest of our life—it’s about “reconciliation”! The Gospel reconciles our hostile relationship with God, because of our sin; and, it reconciles ALL our relationships! The Gospel is also about “redemption”—it makes all things NEW!

-So, What About “Good Works”?

In his letter to the Church of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul clears this up for us—“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” Eph 2:8-10. He contrasts our “good works” that cannot save us; with, the “good works” that God creates us to do after we’ve been “reconciled” & “redeemed” in Christ!  Our “good works” are BAD if we think they save us! God’s “good works”—in us—evidences true faith! Those “good works” are GOOD!