Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

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Thursday

25

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Living, Holy, and Acceptable Unto God

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

Life Altar 4x3 1The mercies of God found in the Lord Jesus Christ call for the songs of loudest praise, and they also flow from a heart of faith.  Early in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul stated that through the preaching of the gospel the purpose of his ministry was “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations (Romans 1:5).” This obedience of faith is described in Romans 12 as believers are called to present themselves to God as living sacrifices. This language brings us back to the old covenant sacrificial system, however Paul is challenging with a new picture, not of livestock, but of ourselves. The sacrifice we are to offer to our Savior and King is to be a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice.

What does this mean? What does such a life look like? For this post, I want to take a look at these descriptors Paul uses to call believers to give themselves to God completely. Good English translations of the Bible strive for accuracy to the original languages along with readability. For example, the English Standard Version (ESV) provides the following translation, “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1b).”  However, while reading smoothly, this gives the impression that “living sacrifice” is distanced from the adjectives “holy” and “acceptable” when all three actually describe the sacrifice in question. In other words, the text calls us to present our bodies as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice.  (more…)

Friday

19

February 2021

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COMMENTS

Take My Life and Let It Be

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Life Altar 4x3 1Reading the regiment of sacrifices in the books of Leviticus and Numbers can be a tough go. I don’t think anyone is ever tempted to want to return to the “good old days” after reading this section of Scripture.  Every year I am reminded of this in my annual Bible reading, but please don’t hear a bad attitude with regard to these Bible books.  They are after all, God’s holy word, and they are written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) I find myself thanking God as I trek through these tedious details in the books of the Law. With each repetition and requirement, my gratitude is centered on the fact that Christ has fulfilled that old system in substance and with full atonement, realities the Law only symbolized. I am thankful that his once-for-all death purchased redemption in full. No, there will never be another sacrifice than that which is found in Christ alone.

When the Apostle Paul issues the call for believers to present their bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship,” (NASB) he was using temple language which takes us to the sacrificial offerings under the old covenant. Paul was not seeking to restart the old sacrificial system, nor was he hinting at a personal payment for one’s sins, which could never be done. The old system has indeed passed away. A point the writer of Hebrews presses as a major theme of the book, In speaking of a new covenant, he (God) makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13)

However, we find in Romans 12 that there still is a New Testament sacrificial system. According to R.C. Sproul, “It is not a sacrifice that we give in order to make an atonement, but a sacrifice that we give because an atonement has been made for us. God does not ask us to bring in our livestock and burn it on the altar; he asks us to give ourselves, to put ourselves alive on the altar. To be a Christian means to live a life of sacrifice, a life of presentation, making a gift of ourselves to God.” The motivation to live such a life is always as an expression of gratitude for God’s mercies found in Christ. He has done salvation’s work, all to him we owe.

J. I. Packer in Rediscovering Holiness writes, “The secular world never understands Christian motivation.” Often Christianity is perceived as purely a quid-pro-quo relationship with God. In other words, Christians are in it for the goodies, the blessings, which motivate them to do what they do. To which we would respond that certainly God’s blessings are given to every believer in Jesus, and that these blessings bring joy to our lives. (John 15:11)   In Christ, we have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3) In Jesus Christ, we have entered a relationship with God in which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9) But with regard to our ultimate motivation, Packer helps clarify, “From the plan of salvation I learn that the true driving force in authentic Christian living is, and ever must be, not the hope of gain, but the heart of gratitude.” Followers of Jesus Christ are to be a people overflowing with gratitude to God for his abundant grace and mercy upon their lives.  (more…)

Thursday

11

February 2021

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COMMENTS

The Paradox of the Christian Life (Life on the Altar #3)

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Faith & Culture, Theology

Life Altar 4x3 1Deitrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor martyred in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. His death came by hanging in the gallows a few weeks before Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II. Through his writing, Bonhoeffer warned against “cheap grace” which he described as “preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance….grace without discipleship, grace without the cross,…grace without Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps one of the most arresting statements Bonhoeffer made was in regard to the cost of discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Bonhoeffer’s words echoed the strong demands given by Jesus in the gospels, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23)

Those who heard Jesus teach understood that he was referring to a radical call of self-denial, including actual death, in the pursuit of following him as his disciple. The demands of discipleship require a daily, moment-by-moment surrender of our goals and aspirations in order to live for Christ.  A perusal of the New Testament, as well as church history, reveal that this includes potential rejection, betrayal, mistreatment, severed relationships, the rage of crowds, physical mistreatment, and even a martyr’s death. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28; Acts 7:51-60)  Jesus defined discipleship as bringing every area of our lives under the umbrella of his Lordship. Far from our best life now, to follow Jesus Christ is a call to live for him and to be willing to die for him, “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8b)

The New Testament writers were unified in their message that if we would know Christ in a saving relationship, there was no getting around the complete presentation of ourselves to God through denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Christ in obedience through the life we live.

In the gospel accounts, we find a number who were either disgusted by the demands Jesus gave, or they left his presence sorrowful because they loved their life more than the prospect of following him. To be clear, we will never achieve complete obedience to Christ in this life. We will continually want to crawl off of this altar of obedience for offerings that are less demanding. However, true assurance of salvation is extended to every believer whose hope is in Christ alone, and in turn who live surrendered to him as the trajectory of their life. (more…)

Thursday

4

February 2021

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COMMENTS

Mercies of God- (Life on the Altar #2)

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Life Altar 4x3 1I have begun a series of posts on the message of Romans 12 entitled “Life on the Altar: The Life We Are Called to Live.” I expect this study will take us into the summer, and my prayer is that it will be an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ.

The legacy of the book of Romans roars through the centuries as a clarion word to the content and power of the Gospel. From Augustine to Luther to Wesley to a countless multitude, each coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ through the inspired message of this doctrinal treasure. The book of Romans continues to make an impact in this world for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

Romans 12:1 is a major pivot as the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12:1-2 NASB)

When Paul wrote, “Therefore,” I don’t think there has been a more consequential conjunction every used! Typically, conjunctions (and, or, but, however, etc) don’t energize us. However, in this instance, Paul’s use of “Therefore” points back to the previous chapters in which he labored to communicate what God has done in Christ. This means our lives are built on something substantial.  Because of what Christ has accomplished for us as believers, we are called to live surrendered lives to do his will in this world. (more…)

Friday

29

January 2021

2

COMMENTS

On the Eve of Romans- (Life on the Altar #1)

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Life Altar 4x3 1We are a few weeks away in our FBCG family from an extended study in the book of Romans. In my study prep for this series, I was reminded of the impact of this God-breathed letter from Apostle Paul.

In the fourth century, Augustine (A.D. 354-430) heard a child singing the words tole lege, tole lege (“take up and read”). The song was unfamiliar to Augustine, but he received the message as coming from God and promptly retrieved a copy of Scripture which he opened randomly in haste.  What some might call “the lucky dip,” Augustine read the passage which appeared before him.  The text was Romans 13:13-14, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

The application for Augustine was unmistakable as he was given over to a life described in these verses.  It was a word from God that led to his repentance and conversion.  Augustine referenced this experience in his class work, Confessions“Instantly, as the sentence ended—-by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubt was vanished away.”Augustine was converted to Christ.

Eleven hundred years after Augustine, Martin Luther (1483-1546) discovered from his study of Romans that the “righteous shall live by faith” (1:17). In God’s providence, Luther would recover the gospel which had been eclipsed through neglect of the Scripture in the life of the church. Ignorance, superstition, and religious bondage were widespread as a result. This renewed commitment to Scripture brought forth the light of the gospel and would launch the Protestant Reformation. (more…)

Friday

22

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Are Happiness and Joy the Same? 

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o-HAPPINESS-IMAGES-HAPPINESS-PHOTOS-facebookA common teaching among Christians for the last 100 years has been that happiness and joy are not the same thing. On the one hand, happiness is fleeting and circumstantial, while joy has its roots in something more substantial. Happiness is a fun, bouncy feeling that comes and goes based upon one’s circumstances. However, joy is an inner quality of delight in God that springs up within the Christian regardless of the adversities or circumstances of life.

But are these distinctions true? Does scriptural evidence support such an understanding?  I have come to believe that the Bible does not support such a separation, and that it adversely affects our communication of the gospel as a message that doesn’t really meet the deepest longings of our heart.

Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness has done much to help me eliminate the competition often presented between joy and happiness.  I would recommend his book as a “must read.” I took six months in 2020 to work through the 450 pages and extensive footnotes. It was worth every effort as Alcorn made his case that joy and happiness are in fact synonyms and used together in Scripture to describe the same experience.  My purpose in this post is to share a few thoughts I hope will help recover what it means to be happy in Christ.  (more…)

Thursday

14

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

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The events of the past year have been a profound wake-up call for the second coming of Jesus Christ. No escapism in that claim, only blessed hope. No bizarre predictions of when Christ will return because they are always wrong. Only settled conviction that the promises of Jesus’ return fill the New Testament with the triumph of the Kingdom of God over all rivals.

The pandemic and political upheaval of 2020 is yet another reminder of the groaning of this creation, and our need for redemption found in Christ alone.  Jesus taught that there would be precursors, or birth pains, prior to his coming. He spoke of wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines all serving as the labor pains of this fallen world. (Mark 13:7-18; the Apostle Paul as well, Romans 8:22)

Jesus referred to his second coming over twenty times in the gospel accounts. The New Testament writers mentioned Christ’s return in nearly every book. Jesus offered his most endearing  promises within the context of his return (John 14:1-6).

Thoughts of Christ’s return ushered me to the book of Revelation recently where I was reminded of the future gathering of God’s people called, “The marriage supper of the Lamb.”  The Apostle John describes this glorious event, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,  “Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God  the Almighty reigns.  7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,  for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;  8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19:6-8) (more…)

Thursday

7

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Every Year the Year of the Bible-2021

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dusty-bible-1I’m resuming a regular blog schedule this year that will hopefully be a weekly encouragement to press on to the high calling of God in your life.  At the top of that pursuit would be a life committed to a regular intake of Scripture.

For some years now, I have offered a message in which I challenge the FBCG family to consider fresh commitments to bring the word of God into their lives. I have called this message, usually preached on the last Sunday of the year, “Every Year the Year of the Bible.” I just can’t think of a greater commitment than an ongoing pursuit of knowing, savoring, applying, and obeying the message of Scripture.

I am writing as one who loves the Bible!  It has been a major part of my life since the summer of 1985 when I first began to read it.  At that time, I was a halfway through my college studies, and I can remember the burden I felt regarding my sin.  I would not have been able to articulate this burden at the time, only that I knew that my life was not right, with God or others.

On a park bench in my hometown, I began to call out to God for the first time in my twenty years of life. I began to read the Bible, which I previously viewed as a book for someone else in a past generation. However, as I began to read the Scripture and the claims of Jesus Christ, I was captivated by this book.  Slowly conviction formed, and I began to see that the Bible was not an archaic book, but a treasure given from the living God who cared about every detail of my life. I began to see that the Bible revealed God as sovereign and gracious and wise and holy.

On one particular Wednesday night that summer, I attended a Bible study and the pastor was teaching from Matthew 11:28-30 where Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

That evening my heart was “strangely warmed,” to quote John Wesley’s conversation experience, and I was born again.  The summer of 1985 was the beginning of a journey with the Bible that has continued to this day. My experience has fueled my efforts as a pastor to offer strong challenge to the FBCG family in bringing the Scriptures into our daily walk with Christ. (more…)

Thursday

29

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Be Anxious For Nothing

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Faith & Culture

Pic-Anxiety and StressThose who produce the YouVersion Bible App have posted in recent years the Bible verse that was most often shared, bookmarked, and highlighted in a given year. Not surprisingly, the most sought out verses had themes dealing with fear and anxiety.

In 2017, the most popular verse with YouVersion was Joshua 1:9 which is set in the context of Joshua leading Israel into the Promised Land.  Moses had died, and the Lord said to Joshua, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Four times in this chapter, God would say to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!” (vv. 6,7,9, 18) Why the quad-peat? Because Joshua was fearful, intimidated, and anxious about what was before him. In a gracious display of God’s care for His people, the Lord spoke His word into Joshua’s fear.

In 2018, Isaiah 41:10 won the most popular verse for that year. This verse offers an incredible promise to those who quake under their circumstances. The Lord says to His covenant people who are troubled, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (more…)

Monday

20

April 2020

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COMMENTS

Book Conversation #4: J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller

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71SZ-b7CKsL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Today is the final reading summary on the J-Curve by Paul Miller. I put this work by Miller high on the list of books that I have read that have fed my soul and helped me in my day-to-day walk with Christ.  The J-Curve is a simple visual to describe a fundamental aspect of the Christian life, namely as believers in Jesus Christ, we can expect to follow the pattern of His life. The life of Christ in us is our power and hope.

We covered a major section of the book this past week, which included important application including “The Art of J-Curve Living” (28), and Part 5 which focused on “Forming a J-Curve Community.” I appreciated Millers treatment of I Corinthians in the entire discussion on forming community as believers in Jesus.

In the Afterword, Miller wrote as he sought to comfort and help his daughter Ashley in her battle with cancer: “I reminded Ashley that God works in stories that are just like the story of Jesus. Like Jesus, we go through death and then resurrection. In death, we don’t know how or when a resurrection will occur.”

Miller was not speaking necessarily of physical death, but in the many ways God brings trials and challenges into our lives for the purpose of conforming us into the image of Christ.  Although in the case of Miller’s daughter, Ashley, she did die in her battle with cancer.  This is the ultimate reality of the believer’s resurrection hope.

The Apostle Paul wrote plainly about how believers should regard death and the future. To the Corinthians he declared “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8). To the Philippians, he penned from prison, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

Miller described in the closing paragraph of the book, “Whenever I describe the J-Curve to believers who are going through hard times (most everyone), they almost immediately brighten up. Suddenly, they have hope and meaning, even a hint of glory—they sense their story is part of his larger story. That’s the way the Christian life is meant to feel.”

The J-Curve helped bring a connection between the believer’s future hope in Christ with the daily challenges that make up our lives.  As I process Miller’s careful treatment of Scripture and helpful application, the simplicity of the J-Curve is its genius. This work is a great gift to God’s people in our pursuit to know Him and to follow in the marks of His wounded feet.

Here are a couple of links online that are helpful:

https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-j-curve/

https://vimeo.com/287514611 -Enjoyable video with Paul and his daughter Kim sharing about the experience of traveling to Florida described in Chapter 1- “I’ll Never Do This Again.”

Thanks for reading with me!

Rejoice,

 

Pastor Jim Law