The law, the Gospel, and what to do with it

A good friend of mine posted this on Facebook: ‎”The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out.” (Billy Sunday) and followed it with this: “the Gospel gives us the righteousness thru Christ that we could never attain without keeping the law in it’s entirety…which is impossible. Once we have gained that righteousness through acceptace of Christ’s free gift, we then should desire to live within the law because it is itself reflective of the nature of God. We do not attempt to keep the law to gain salvation, we attempt to keep it BECAUSE of our salvation. Romans 3:31 , 8:3-4” I told him that he was not incorrect, but that I felt it necessary to clarify what he says about the Christian’s relationship to the law. That discourse is below…

Understanding God’s law reveals our lack of ability to attain righteousness…the righteousness necessary to gain eternal life and to avoid eternal separation from God. “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). As a result of no one being righteous (Romans 3:10), we have earned death (“The wages of sin is death”- Romans 6:23). The law has therefore condemned us to death because we absolutely cannot keep it.

However, the rest of Romans 6:23 says “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “But” tells us this is a contradictory statement to the previous “wages of sin is death”…that sounds like bad news to me. So “but” means good news is coming…this gift of God through Jesus. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The rest of scripture reveals that the death we earned by breaking God’s law is death…eternal separation from God in this life and the next (or, to be honest, hell). But Jesus took our place, a substitutionary sacrifice. Why did God allow this? He knew we could never meet the requirements of the law on our own. He sends His son, Jesus, to live a perfect life we could not live. He allows His son to die in our place (the Old Testament says that without blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins). Jesus’ perfect blood was shed in our place…He paid our penalty…He died our death.

But, just because He did that, doesn’t mean it’s over. We are not justified or redeemed or forgiven just because He died. The Bible continues to teach that we have a responsibility to claim this gift. Acts 3:19 says we must repent and turn to God so that our sins may be wiped out. Without repentance, this transaction is no good to us. Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace, God’s grace, through faith – and this not of ourselves. Without faith, this transaction is no good to us. Romans 10:9-10 says, “That if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and with your mouth you confess and are saved.” Without confession and belief, this transaction is no good to us. It takes repentance, faith, confession and belief in these truths to be saved, to receive this gift from God, this new life in Jesus, through Jesus.

At this point, the law is complete. Christ is the fulfillment of the law. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus clearly says in Matthew 5:17 that He didn’t come to abolish the law, but He did say in the same verse He came to fulfill them. Paul says in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses. In Him the law reached its goal. He has now opened the way to God through trust in Him rather than through observance of legal requirements. Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

We, as Christians, experience righteousness by a faith relationship to God. Righteousness does not come from human actions in following commandments, whether human or divine commandments. Righteousness comes from God Himself. We maintain righteousness by our continual seeking of God Himself, through Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit…in seeking to follow God in this way, it will result in upholding the law (Romans 3:31). Upholding the law does not result in righteousness “for we maintain that man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28). “Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God” (Galatians 2:19).

All this to say that we do maintain the law because of our salvation, but that the law is not the reason for our seeking righteousness or even the avenue for seeking righteousness. We must seek God…”But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Trying to keep the law will only result in failure. Trying to seek God will result in being filled (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” Matthew 5:6).

The Gospel

Jer. 32:38-40,”They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.”

Whoever “They/them/their” is, I want to be them. If we turn back a few pages in Scripture we find out who Jeremiah is talking about. Jeremiah 31:31-33:
“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”

This is an Old Testament prophecy where God is comparing His current covenant with Israel (see vs. 32) and a coming covenant that was later revealed to be through Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So if we can only receive this new covenant through Jesus…how do we do so?

Scripture reveals that we must first come to the conclusion that we are completely sinful…absolutely dirty, rotten, no-good people. We all know the story of Adam and Eve. When they disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin entered the world and created a separation between holy God and sinful man. Adam and Eve’s sin created a legacy in every human we call a sinful nature. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As a result we’re all doomed to suffer the consequences of that sinful nature.

I don’t know about you, but I have come face to face with my sinful nature and I don’t like it…at all. Have you met yours?

The Bible teaches us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death…what are wages? Wages are what you earn for doing something…just like you earn wages for your job or chores, we’ve earned death because of our sins. In the scriptural definition of death, it’s not just physical death either…it is spiritual death – which is a separation from God both here on earth and after our life is over (which is a place we call hell – hell’s separation from God is considerably more drastic though. On earth we at least get to see a little of God in nature and in Christians, but in hell, there will be no God, no hint of God, therefore ZERO of anything good…what a terrible existence!)

BUT…the rest of Romans 6:23 says, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the new covenant Jeremiah was talking about.

The first thing we must do is recognize the depth of our sinfulness and the need for a cure. Secondly, we must recognize the gift God presents to us through Jesus Christ. That gift is that Jesus took our wages for us. If we were talking about money, or our paycheck, for the jobs or chores we do, that would sound like stealing! But when we look at the Scripture that teaches that the wages for our sinfulness is death…that changes things. Jesus died the death that we should have died. Our individual sin should have led to our death penalty. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He paid our penalty by his death on the cross. Because He was sinless, without committing any sin, ever, the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “God made him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us.” Also in Isaiah 53:6, “and the LORD has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity (sin) of us all.” Jesus in His perfection gave His life in our place, he paid the penalty of sin on our behalf.

Why? Romans 5:8 again, God demonstrates His love for us in this.” God loves us. He created us. He desires to have that intimate relationship with us like he had with Adam and Eve before sin created this separation between us. But is that it? Christ died and it’s over…it’s finished? Well, in truth, Jesus said while hanging on the cross, “It is finished” (which the original phrasing “Tetelestai” had several connotations – that of a financial transaction being completed, that of a judicial verdict, and that of a winning post-battle cry), He was completing the work of making payment in full for the sins of the world. But that is not the end for you and me.

The third thing we must do, after recognizing our sin and recognizing God’s gift through Jesus, the third thing is that we must do is complex with two main parts. First, we must repent. To repent simply means to change or to turn away from. If you’re going in one direction, repentance would be turning around 180 degrees and going in the opposite direction. In the spiritual sense, we’ve been living this life of sinfulness, we must now turn around, away from our sin, and move towards God through this understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place. Repentance is not just feeling sorry for our sin…nor is it just confessing our sin…repentance is making a u-turn away from sin and moving toward God. Once we make this u-turn toward God, the second part of this step is placing our faith in God, that through Jesus He has made the payment for our sin. Even better news than that is that Jesus didn’t stay dead! Because He rose from the dead, He demonstrated a victory over sin, over death, over hell! We, too, can die to our sins and be raised with a new life, as if brand new (Jesus said we could be “born again”).

How do we do this part? Romans 10:9-10 says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” I don’t know what your confession might sound like. Mine was, “Lord, I do believe! I need you in my life. I can’t do it on my own. Come and save me from my sins and give me this new life. Thank you for what you did for me.”

So how do you know if you’ve been changed? If you’ve been saved? The scriptures are quite clear that the evidence is in the “What now?” Are you different? Has God transformed your life? Has the Potter (God) been molding the clay (you) into a different thing than before? Is there evidence of God’s Holy Spirit inside you (the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, Galatians 5:22)? Listen to our opening Scripture again…

Jer. 32:38-40,”They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.”

Paul Washer says this: “The evidence that God has made an everlasting covenant with you is that he has put the fear of God in you so that you will not turn away from him and if you turn away from him and he does not discipline you and you continue turning away from him, it is evidence that he has not put his fear in you, you have not been regenerated and you have no covenant with God at all.”

God loves you. But He cannot love you in a life of sinful disobedience to Him. Through Jesus, you can have a new life…a life committed to Him and His ways. I pray you’ll make the decision to turn away from the life without God towards a life with God. I guarantee you, it is well worth it!

Radical?

I’m not sure what God is doing…besides challenging almost everything I believe 🙂

I never listen to sermons or seek out radio stations with sermons, or search for transcriptions of sermons…I’m a worship guy. I spend most of my time listening to music. Recently, I was asked to take the Wednesday Bible study for a few weeks at my church. I thought about going safe and delved back into my Bible study files from when I was a youth minister. I looked at my sermonettes about worship. I even looked at a Sunday School lesson I compiled about worship…I’m comfortable talking about the theology of worship.

But at every turn, God kept pushing me toward “Wake Up!” Glenn Beck uses that phrase…”Wake Up America!”. David Platt also uses it in his book “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.” I also listened to a Paul Washer sermon entitled “10 Indictments Against the Church.” I found myself flipping through the XM channels and finding, on way too many occasions, listening to sermons…that all dealt with who are we? Who have we become? Who is the church supposed to be? etc…you get the picture.

So…who is the church? Dictionary.com defines “church” as:
1. place of Christian worship
2. religious service
3. Christian denomination (religious body)

As you know, when words have multiple definitions or uses, dictionaries tend to put them in order of their most popular uses…so we most often use “church” as a place, a building. Second to that, we use “church” as a meeting, a service (as in worship service). And last in usage, an assembly of believers, a body of believers.

The English word “church” derives from the Greek kuriakos (belonging to the Lord), but it stands for another Greek word, ekklesia (an assembly). So literally…an assembly of those belonging to the Lord.

Jesus used the word twice…Mt. 16:18 (“upon this rock I will build my church”) and 18:17 (“tell it the church” – referring to church discipline issues). In both instances, it is used in a way as to describe something future, something not yet here. In Acts, the usage changes since at Pentecost, the church is born via the Holy Spirit’s dwelling within believers. “Church” begins to be used as a group of believers…both local house “churches” or gatherings, and as the worldwide church (all believers as the Body of Christ).

History shows us that, though the church is “one people”, it tends to have disagreements on the finer points of practicing that faith in Christ. Paul and Peter disagreed about whether the gospel was for the Gentiles (Peter finally came around). A multitude of disagreements throughout history have led us to be who we are today…but is that a biblical representation of the church? Is it the “American Dream with a little Jesus on top?”

God is challenging me to look at this in a new light. I will try to share what I learn. I covet your prayers in this journey.

Side note…it looks as if David Platt’s book, mentioned above, may be a helpful guide on this journey. May be a good read for you too.

Music Ministry as Music Education

Are you a music minister? A worship leader? A “song leader”? A Pastor of Creative Arts? A _________(fill in the blank for your title of the main music pastor of a church)?

If so…I hope you’re ready. I hope you are gearing up for the next wave of music ministry. Not only will you be responsible for all creative aspects of your church’s worship services (be it music, choir, bands, praise teams, drama, creative movement, lights, video, sound, etc.), but my prediction is that you will soon become your community’s only music educator. Did you hear that? The weight of any future in anything musical will soon become heavy upon music ministers.

This won’t happen tomorrow…or next month…and for some communities where the arts are of higher priority, maybe it won’t happen for years, maybe decades. But it is coming.

Before I tell you why I think it is coming, let me recite some stats for you.

Did you know that when children study music in school, they also improve their reading, spelling, and math skills? Music also increases a student’s learning capability in many other areas.
– in recent reports, students taking music courses scored an average of 20 to 40 points higher on both verbal and math portions of the SAT than students who took no arts courses
– moreover, students who took more than four years of music and the other arts scored 34 points better on the verbal section of the SAT than those who took less than a year
– Students who participate in their school band or orchestra are 52% more likely to go on to college and graduate – many on scholarship
– A recent Rockefeller Foundation study discovered that music students have the highest rate of admittance to medical schools.
The facts are clear: Children who study music are more successful students.

However, school systems do not generally seem to see this. With the current economic situation, “specialty” teachers are being dismissed from school districts. It includes higher language arts (foreign languages), visual arts, and performance arts (music, drama, etc.) One high school in Georgia is losing an art teacher with a Doctorate and over 35 years experience in THAT school alone to retirement…not replacing the position, just dropping the program altogether. One school in South Carolina is dropping its orchestra program – and this in a big city, not a small community! The country’s economy is forcing schools to make the hard decisions…learn to count and read…or learn to play an instrument and experience group camaraderie at its best.

Honestly, I don’t blame them too much. I can’t argue with their logic. I mean, even putting a sports program on the chopping block instead of a music program…that seriously cuts a source of revenue. So I’m not too surprised. However…how will the gap in music education be overcome? How will students of all ages ever learn the arts? Just wait until college to start? I don’t think so.

I think Music Ministers will have to pick up the mantle of Music Education. Not only within the four walls of the church (children’s choirs, youth bands, handbells, afterschool music academies, etc.)…but I think Music Ministers will have to get outside the walls of the church.

Here’s a crazy idea…when your local school is cutting their band program because they can’t afford to pay the teacher…could you step in and say, “I’ll teach it. I’ll do it for free.” Would your church leadership even let you do that? Could you teach an elementary school music class?

I’m not lifting myself up as an example…I haven’t gotten involved like I should…but I did have this happen to me one year in Texas. The local high school had to fire their band director about a month before school was to start for some “indiscrepancies”. They found a somewhat local college band director to take over the band program that year, but he could only do the band class…not the other music classes. The principal of the school, a member of my church, had a crazy idea. He came to me, his music minister, and asked if I could teach an Advanced Placement Music Theory class and an Instrumental Ensemble Class. With the church’s approval, I taught two classes for that year.

Yes…it was a tought schedule to keep. Yes…I had some rough students to deal with. But I also had successes. The ones of my Music Theory class that took the AP exam passed it. One of them went on to clep her first year of music theory at college…majoring in music (and she couldn’t even read notes or rhythms at the beginning of that theory class!).

What about you? Can you take the light of Christ into your local school system by offering to teach a program that might otherwise be cancelled? Is this the future of Music Ministry? how else will the next generation of artist be found, trained, exposed, set loose? What’s your role?

(disclaimer: I truly honor you as a music educator. I am not promoting your dismissal so I can have your job without pay. I am simply stating what you must admit is a realistic fear…that your job as a music educator will most likely be eliminated. It is a terrible need that we continue music education…this post may be an option we find necessary in the future. You have my utmost respect for what you deal with day in and day out and I will honor you any way I can.)

Adoration, Praise, Thanksgiving

Though I hated memorizing these and thought “seminary should be a cut above memorization” I am thankful to Dr. Leafblad for giving me the best understanding of true biblical worship. Though I can’t recall these definitions from memory any more (probably couldn’t within a few days of the exam), I still find them quite engaging as each word carries its own weight. Your thoughts?

1. Adoration is contemplative worship which is pre-occupied with the beauty and splendor of the Lord in the context of an intimate personal relationship of loving submission to the Savior in which the enjoyment of and delight in the revealed mysteries and experienced marvels of God’s character are expressed in attitudes and acts of intense heart-devotion.

2. Praise is celebrative worship in which believers glorify and exalt the Lord through expressive acts enthusiastically proclaiming the unrivaled excellence of His character, His Nmae and His actions in a spirit of uninhibited rejoicing.

3. Thanksgiving is grateful worship in which believers responding to the working of God around them and within them acknowledge the manifold blessings, gifts, and favors of God, and His specific actions in their behalf, in a spirit of humble appreciation.

Long time…

As I’ve stated, writing is not a huge gift of mine. Consistency in some ways isn’t either. It’s funny though, you’ll find my attitude and character to be quite consistent, but making time for blogging and daily bible reading seems to be difficult for me.

But that’s not what I came here today to share. I just want to share how amazing God has been recently to me and my family.

As you may know from previous posts, my wife and I accepted a call to move to South Carolina to begin serving a new church there (after 3 and a half years in Georgia). We have a house for sale in GA and we are living rent-free in a house in South Carolina. Even rent-free we are still struggling financially. My wife just accepted a part-time job so that will help TREMENDOUSLY but we also had a very bad few days a few weeks ago.

We finally had a contract on our house in GA! We were so excited to get out of that and move on so we could buy a place here (closer to our church than the 30 minute drive we have at the borrowed house). The contract fell through due to financing issues so we were a little down about that since it’s been about 8 months since we put it on the market. The next day, we get a call from the family that owns the house we are borrowing…unfortunately they are having some business difficulties with the economy the way it is and they are putting this house we are living in on the market. So not only has our house not sold, but the house we are living in could be sold and we could be without a place to stay. It was a very difficult few days until we really stopped to think about it…would God really put us out on the street? Even if He did, wouldn’t we still be better off in His care anyway? When we came to this realization, we understood that His plans are not our plans, His ways are not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8).

In these last few months of financial uncertainty, God has brought several different people across our path that have given un-asked-for financial contributions to our family. We found a friend of a friend who has given us some sound financial advice for our near future for purchasing a home when ours sells (www.haroldsmithteam.com).

Beyond these financial issues for which we’ve found the “peace that passes all understanding”, our new church home since July has been a huge blessing…one for which I cannot even begin to thank God enough for. This church (www.eastpickens.org) is on FIRE! God is doing some amazing things here and I cannot wait to see more of Him!

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” God is good. Give Him all the glory.

Who are we?

My heart hangs heavy tonight. Is it just being tired from a really long day? Is it God beginning to do a work in me?

I’ve been following one particular “discussion” on Facebook. The discussion began as a disapproval of homosexuality that was challenged as being intolerant and the like. I wasn’t actually offended by the guy’s response. It was more of an ache for him. Though I don’t know him, I assume two things: one he admitted to, being a Christmas and Easter Catholic, I’m sure does not help him understand the Bible. Secondly, I assume at some point in his past, he’s ran across a Christian that did not display Christ and now he has somehow placed all Christians under the label he associated with that bad example. After 82 posts to this comment on Facebook, I felt I could sit by no longer and posted the following:

— 

“I’ve been following this post from the beginning. As usual, I find it difficult for me to enter such a heated debate…to defend what I believe to be truth. We can come back to the Bible in this debate all day long. We can discuss the facts and historical evidence for the truth of the Bible (http://www.leestrobel.com and http://www.answersingenesis.org). We can quote hundreds of Scriptures to support what we say. But it is God Himself that draws people to Himself. How he may or may not use us in that process is His to decide. Our obedience or disobedience to that is His to judge.

“So the real question is not to Warren, “Why is it wrong for us to be intolerant to your views but okay for you to be intolerant of ours?” The real question is to those of you who believe, “What are you going to do with what you believe about God?”
Are you going to sit back and watch a debate like this and not say anything (like me until now)?
Are you going to sit in the stands and watch God’s work happen all around you and not get involved? … Read More
Will you walk by those in need without even giving it a second thought?
Will you get your hands dirty to help someone not like you?
Are you going to live out what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments (Love God, Love Others)?
Or will you be that one Christian someone sees as an “example” that then causes them to consider all Christians to be hypocrites, or intolerant, or holy rollers?

“My heart aches for the American Church. We’ve missed it somewhere. We must get back to living as if what we say to be truth actually causes us to act on that truth. (“Faith without action is dead,” James 2:14)

“<please hear this post as an urgent passion, not an angry comeback…I’m a worship leader, not a writer or speaker>”

So, who are you?