True Christian Conviction

What is true conviction? Is it necessary for salvation? How can we feel it? What are we to do with it?

Last week, we discussed with our college group that Christian faith has three essential parts: understanding, conviction, and commitment. This week we looked at the conviction piece, and how understanding it leads us in our pursuit of holiness, sanctification, a much deeper walk with Jesus. If we misunderstand this essential aspect of faith, we will seriously hinder our own walk with God, fellowship with others, and witness to the world. But if we do understand it, it will open the door for a vibrant, free, and exciting life in God.

 

 

Six Key Benefits of the Necessary Evangelism Component in Discipleship

Yes. I am afraid. Every time I begin to share about Jesus with someone, millions of thoughts run through my head about how I may offend or be received wrongly. Have you ever felt the same?

This is the log jam in the discipleship process and to fulfilling the Great Commission: evangelism. Sharing our faith. Why? Often times it is because we haven’t seen it modeled, or haven’t been taught “how.” Even in our rigorous attempts at discipleship have not fixed the problem, because discipleship has come to be regarded as a practice without the necessary component of evangelism training or practice. However, treating evangelism as a necessary part of discipleship helps to grow mature disciples, and is absolutely necessary. I read a great article recently highlighting 6 reasons why. Here they are: Continue reading

Discovering The True Jesus (pt.8)- Who Needs Jesus?

So far in this series, we have talked about who Jesus is and what He accomplished during His time on earth. However, it struck me this morning that all of this is in vain if we do not understand our need for Jesus. There is no benefit in understanding who He is and what He did, if we don’t understand WHY we needed Him to do it. In other words: We can’t appreciate Jesus, or even trust Him, without understanding our true need for Him.

So, what do you think? Why do we need Jesus?

Our problem, and our subsequent need, is clearly perceived when we focus on God’s attributes. He is Holy, Just, Perfect, and completely Good. These are all great things, aren’t they? But let me ask you this: what does a Good, Holy, Perfect God do with those who aren’t good, holy, or perfect? Can He have fellowship with them? Can He just forgive their wrongdoings? Unfortunately, He cannot. God cannot maintain perfect holiness and goodness if He pardons evil and sin. Similarly, a state judge would not maintain status as a “good judge” if he pardoned every criminal that walked into the courtroom. Even in society, there are standards to live by, and if one breaks the standards, there are serious consequences.

In the same way, God has set up certain standards for us to live by. These are summed up in the Ten Commandments, which we all have broken many times. Jesus summed up the commandments up when He said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12). Any single breach of these commandments has a consequence: separation from God. Any act of selfishness, greed, worry, dishonesty, pride, envy, or idolatry all break God’s standards…And He can’t simply forgive us just by us asking; there must be a payment. And as often as we will break these commandments, there must be an everlasting payment that can cover all of them! Are starting to feel your need for someone to intervene on your behalf?

In my quiet time this morning, I read in Romans 3,

None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

Paul was writing to Jews and non-Jews, showing them their desperate need for Jesus. He squashes the assumption that some people are pretty good, and he leaves no room for the possibility that some people are good enough to have a relationship with God. Paul says that no one does good, not even one- they have become worthless. 

I have seen this countless times in evangelism. Most people that I talk to, even people who claim to be Christians, place their hope in heaven or in their relationship with God based on the fact that they are “pretty good,” or that God is “a forgiving God.” If that is the basis of your hope for salvation, I can promise you that you don’t understand Jesus. Paul also says in Romans 2 that it is foolish to presume upon God’s grace or mercy, assuming that He will just pardon us. Why? Because a Holy God cannot forgive and associate with unholiness beings. He has wrath for every unrighteous act that has ever been committed, and He will pour it out on all mankind, unless a holy, perfect sacrifice can appease His wrath, and pay for the sins of mankind.

Do you see our need for a Savior yet?

Jesus fulfills our need and takes us from our helpless state and reconciles us to God. Here’s how:

2 Corinthians 5:21 (with my italics added):

For our sake he (the Father) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus came to earth to take on our sin, and pay for it completely on the cross. The wrath (punishment) that must be poured out on mankind for every unrighteous act ever committed, would be poured out on Jesus on the cross. All of this happened so that “in Jesus,” through trusting in His sacrifice, we might become “the righteousness of God.” Meaning, we are made perfectly righteous in God’s eyes.

When we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, an amazing exchange happens: Jesus takes our punishment, we are given His perfect record. From that moment on, when God looks on us, He sees the perfect obedience of Jesus. He no longer sees us as unworthy, unholy, imperfect people. He sees us as perfect, because “in Him we have become the righteousness of God.” That is why the Bible can say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) because there is no more record of our wrong doings! In fact, our entire record has been shredded! There is no more punishment for our sins, past, present or future, because Jesus paid for all of them when He experienced God’s wrath on the cross.

And this wasn’t just a coincidence: it had been planned before the foundation of the world! Jesus wasn’t just conveniently killed by Roman soldiers and God said, “alright, that’ll work!” No. You see, God has been passionately pursuing us since we committed our first sin. He has been on a mission since day one to show us how much He loves us through a relationship with us. And He knew that He could only do this through giving up His own Son to be crucified and abandoned. Isaiah 53 says,  “it was the Lord’s will to crush Him (Jesus).” It was planned by God to send His Son to pay for our sins. Out of His great love for us, He planned to send His Son to die for us. And out of His great love for us, Jesus came down to save us.

THIS is why we need Jesus: Because now, in Him, God can show us His love and care in a relationship with us without violating His attributes, because we are now righteous in His eyes, and because all of His wrath toward us, was poured out on Jesus. The payment for our sin was paid in full.

Do you see your need for Jesus?

Then look to Him! Trust Him as the perfect sacrifice for your sin! Trust Him as the bridge between you and a holy God! Trust that He did all of this- because He loves you and wants a relationship with you! Jesus is the ONLY way to have forgiveness; He is the only way to have a relationship with the very God that created you.

Do you trust Him?

If you have any questions about what I have said above, please email me at jrfletch@uga.edu.

Discovering The True Jesus (pt. 7) – The Perfect Sacrifice (pt.1)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus dying on the cross somehow saves people from their sins if they trust in Him? Or why people can be in a relationship with God because Jesus was murdered? Yes, we know that we can be “saved” through believing in Jesus, but why? What did He do that gives us the ability to be “saved?”

To help explain this point, I want to examine Jesus’ perfection. I believe that what most people don’t understand about Jesus is that He is the perfect sacrifice for mankind’s sins. He is the perfect sacrifice for many reasons; let’s look at a few.

Jesus never sinned. In Hebrews chapter 4 the author says about Jesus: He “was tempted in every point like we are, yet without sin.” Did you catch that? Not one inappropriate word ever came out of His mouth, not one unacceptable thought ever crossed His mind. Every thought, word, action, message, and decision was perfectly holy and perfectly in obedience to God’s law. Why is this important? Because God has always required a perfect sacrifice to pay for sin. Before Jesus came, people had to either sacrifice an unblemished lamb, a perfect dove, a spotless bull, or many other types of “perfect” offerings to pay for their sins and receive forgiveness from God. If the offerings weren’t perfect, then they would not be accepted by God, and there would be no forgiveness.

This is essential to understanding Jesus. A normal human being could not be a perfect sacrifice, because we are naturally born with a sin nature. Jesus wasn’t! This is also one of the reasons He had to be born of a virgin, so He wasn’t a child of sinful man (lineages were traced through the men). But as He grew up and lived His life, not only did He resist the temptation to sin, but He perfectly obeyed His Father in every situation. Jesus says in John 8:29, “I always do what pleases him.” He was perfect.

This is where we encounter the necessity for a sacrifice: God is Holy. Because He is Holy, He cannot have relationships with wicked, evil beings (which we all are). God has wrath stored up for people’s rebellion against Him, which was temporarily satisfied by the sacrifice of animals. However, animals could never pay for His entire wrath, but Jesus could. Jesus was His only Son. He was the only one able to bear such a horrific judgment (experiencing billion’s of people’s eternal separation from God). Jesus came and lived an obedient life, which no human has ever done, and experienced God’s wrath when He was sacrificed on the Roman cross. God validated Jesus’ sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. In raising Jesus, God basically says, “His sacrifice is enough. All who believe in Him will be forgiven. There will be no more wrath, no more condemnation for them.”

Jesus’ perfect obedience is what saves us, but is also what keeps us in a right relationship with God. When we believe in Jesus, we are given His righteousness. He took the punishment for our sins (wrath) and He gives us His perfect obedience. Now, when God looks on those who have trusted Jesus, He doesn’t hold them accountable for their sin. When He looks on them, He sees the righteousness of His Son. You and I can have the perfect record of Jesus, simply through believing in Him. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”( Rom. 8:1) Why? Because HE was perfect.

Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sins. THIS is the good news of the gospel!

The Never-Changing God

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Our God NEVER changes. One may think, “great, how is that of use to me?” It is of great importance to us! Think of the ways that Jesus responded to the crowds in the first chapters of Mark: there were three different instances when Jesus was almost crushed by crowds of people. He even had to tell his disciples to prepare a boat that He could get in if the crowds started to crush Him (yes, that many people were running to Him!) When He went home to sleep that night, the scriptures say that the entire town was at His house! Yet, He skipped his meal, stayed and ministered to and loved on the people so much that his own family remarked that he was “out of his mind.” So, if He never changes, He still has this disposition, and He still reacts this way to those who run to Him.

Here is solid comfort. Our human nature cannot be relied on, but we can rely on God! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God does not change. If He changed as we do; if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if He were controlled by His mood, who could reveal their secrets to Him? However, we can bring Him praise and worship, because He is ever the same! His purpose is fixed, His will is stable, His Word is sure. Here then is a Rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty oceans of life try to sweep us away. (My translation of A.W Pinks Attributes, pp 692 Kindle)

Think about it. His character is permanent. He could never change for the better, for that would imply that there was something about Him that needed improving before, and thus, He wouldn’t be a perfect God. He has always been, and forever will be, the same, perfect, God. The permanence of His character guarantees the fulfillment of His promises:

For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”               Isaiah 54:10

His promises are true. His hatred of sin endures forever. His love for His children never changes. His satisfaction with the sacrifice His Son paid for our sins will never change…Aren’t you glad that our God never changes?

Looking Unto Jesus- Charles Spurgeon

“Looking unto Jesus.” —Hebrews 12:2

“It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ.

He insinuates, ‘Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of His children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.’

All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: He tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’

Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits.

Therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith.

We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by ‘looking unto Jesus.’

Keep thine eye simply on Him; let His death, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to Him; when thou liest down at night look to Him.

Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after Him, and He will never fail thee.

‘My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesu’s blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesu’s name.’”

spurgeon_bw

–Charles Spurgeon, “June 28 – Morning” in Morning and Evening (Geanies House, Fearn, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 1994), 378.

Start The New Year Remembering Your Identity In Christ

As the new year begins, I believe that the church at large, myself included, needs to remember our identity in Christ- as it pertains to sin. If your like me, when you think about who you are in Christ-you often think of yourself as forgiven, loved, set-apart, saved, etc. These identities are very true and important, but God has reminded me early in this year of another aspect of my identity in Christ- dead to sin.

Paul writes in Romans,

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Romans 6:6-8

We as believers are told not only that Christ died for us (substitution) but that we died with Christ (identification). He not only provided the forgiveness of sins, he provided the deliverance from the enslavement of sin. Watchman Nee says, “Our sins were dealt with by the blood,we ourselves are dealt with by the cross.” The blood of Christ seals and provides our forgiveness (“without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins- Hebrews 9:22b); But the cross of Christ delivers us from what we are in Adam- slaves of sin!

You see, we were joined with Jesus on the cross. One may ask you, “who was crucified at Calvary?” Certainly most Christians would answer with Jesus, but how many would answer that we were crucified there with him, too? It is a beautiful fact–that we were united with Christ in his death and resurrection. We were united to him in death, as our old selves were crucified with him, and also united in his resurrection, as our new selves were given life!

Fellow believers, we are set free from sin! We are not only forgiven from our past, present, and future sins, but we are a new creature! (2 Cor. 5:17), able to have victory over sin, and to say “NO” to temptation. C.H. Spurgeon once said, “You cannot be married to Christ until you are first divorced from sin.” You may ask, “How can we be divorced from sin?” The answer is that Jesus provided the very divorcement papers! He declared us divorced when we were crucified with Him at Calvary.

Does this describe your walk with Jesus? Can you say that you have accepted this great truth by faith, and leaned on the Spirit to live by it? This is God’s desire for us: to trust in Christ, receive the forgiveness of sins, and to walk a new life in the Spirit, a life characterized by freedom from sin. Throw yourself upon Christ! Trust in Him! This was our greatest need- to be made dead to sin, and alive to God- and He perfectly provided for us. Our old self has been crucified, and our new self has risen with Christ in power. Will you join me in pursuing a life that lives out this identity this year?

Jesus: Giver of Living Water

At the very beginning of the story of the woman at the well, we see Jesus do something that yet again sets himself apart from most religious leaders at the time. We are told that he had to pass through Samaria (John 4:4). Most devout Jews would avoid Samaria on this journey to and from Judea, taking a much longer route, due to their racism and hatred of Samaritans. Jesus, however, walks right on through, and sits down for a divine appointment with a sinful Samaritan woman.

Jesus tells the woman,

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” -John 4:14

The woman suddenly makes a request for this water, but she does not understand what Jesus is saying. This is clearly shown in the latter part of her sentence, “..so I will not be thirsty

Jesus came to quench the “thirst” of those longing to know God. He alone provides the “living water” for us to be in a relationship with God and be satisfied with Him forever!

To aid the woman’s misunderstanding, Jesus helps her understand who he is by telling her he knows of her five husbands (4:18) and prophesying that people will eventually be able to worship anywhere (because God will no longer dwell on a mountain or in a tabernacle, but in the hearts of believers). When the woman tells Jesus that she knows that a “Messiah” is coming, he responds with what would be an incredibly dramatic scene in a movie by saying, “I who speak to you am he.”

I trust that at once the woman knew who Jesus claimed to be, and she believed- she drank of the living water.

In verse 28 we are told, “So the woman left her water jar and went away into the town..”

She left her water jar! This is not astounding to 21st century readers as it should be, because we do not understand the difficulties of retrieving water. Most women in the 1st century would walk some great distance to fill their jars for the necessities that the day held: cooking, bathing, drinking, etc. Also, the fact that the woman came at approximately noon is a possible indicator itself that she felt ashamed and didn’t want to be seen in public (potentially due to her having 5 husbands)- which makes it all the more interesting that this is the woman that Jesus speaks to. Nevertheless, what we do know for sure is that the retrieval of water was a big deal-so to leave the jar behind and return to town without it-was a big deal!

This is to say that the most important thing in the woman’s life at the time was dropped when she encountered Jesus. I believe she understood that she had encountered something far greater than a necessity for this physical life- she encountered the necessity for a spiritual life in God- Jesus.

You see Jesus offers this living water to us, it is ours for the taking. To trust him, to drink of the water that he offers, to be brought in relationship with Him, and to never thirst again- is the offer on the table. Will you take it?

If you are dying of thirst in a desert and you stumble upon a pool of water, would you look at it? Would you admire it? Would you try to understand how it got there? Or how you stumbled upon it? Would you memorize its color and study it? No- You would drink it at once!

The woman not only left her jar, she ran into the town, among the people she was ashamed to be seen by, and emphatically told them about Jesus. Her previous worries of being mocked or looked down upon were gone! She knew who she had encountered- the King of the universe. You can encounter him, too.

My friends, please drink of this living water! Drop everything else your worrying or thinking about. Nothing is as important as this- Have you accepted Jesus? Have you drank of the living water? Throw yourself upon Christ. He is waiting to quench your everlasting thirst!

Please email me at jrfletch@uga.edu with any questions!

John 3 – “You Must Be Born Again”

Jesus was very clear about the change that must take place in order to become one of his own and see the kingdom of God.

You must be born again” John 3:7

Must I go to church? No, you must be born again. Must I pray a certain prayer? No, you must be born again. Must I give to the poor? No, you must be born again. Must I be baptized? No, you must be born again. Must I follow the law? No, you must be born again. Must I teach Sunday school or sing in the choir? No, you must be born again!

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” John 3:3

One of my spiritual heroes, C.H. Spurgeon, illustrated this truth this way (in my own paraphrase):

Suppose that in England, there should be a law passed that admission to courts, preference to office, and any privileges in the nation were only given to the natural born citizens of the country. What then, would court officials say if an native Indian man came to them and said, “I will change my name” or “I will change my dress” or “I will change my family, my friends,” or “I will learn the language” or “I will work for it!” You see none of these things could admit the man, for the law is absolute, the man must be an natural born citizen to obtain the privileges, and he is not.

This illustration also correlates with us as Christians. We cannot change our names (call ourselves Christians), change the way we dress, change our friends, change our behavior, learn to talk like Christians, learn to pray like Christians, give away our money, help the poor, or do any type of Christian service. For God’s statement is clear: “You must be born again.”

This new birth is a sweeping process which is more than a change, it is a creation. Not just reformation, but regeneration. Not just becoming religious, but being born. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefor, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; Behold, the new has come.”

Do you exhibit a different life than you did before? Do you now hate the very things you used to love? Have your desires changed? Do you have a hunger for reading and understanding God’s Word? Do you desire to be around other believers? Can you persist in sin? What is your attitude towards sin- are you brokenhearted over it? or are you still indifferent to it? To whom have you entrusted your whole life to?

We cannot bring about these changes ourselves, nor make ourselves “born again.” We are only born again of the Spirit, the power of God. Salvation is a magnificent work where a soul is saved and made completely new. Ultimately, Jesus is the only one who can bring about this new creation in us.

It is imperative to understand that he brings about this change. “Behold” says Christ, “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Dear friend, you must be made new; you must be born again! I paraphrase Mr. Spurgeon again, “Christ can make you really pure in heart; he can make you a new creature, so that you shall be converted and become as a little child. “Oh!” say you, “how can I get it? How can I prepare myself for him?” You do not want to prepare yourself for him. Go to him just as you are; trust him to do it, and he will do it. That is faith, you know–trust, dependence. Can you believe that Christ can save you? Oh! you can believe that; well now, will you trust him to save you? Will you trust him to deliver you from your drunkenness, from your angry temper, your pride, your love of self, your lusts? Do you desire to be a new creature in Christ Jesus? If so, that very desire must have come from heaven. I could fain hope that he has already begun the good work in you, and he that begins it will carry it on.”

“”Oh! make me a new creature!” If you have said that from your heart, you are a new creature, dear brother, and we will rejoice together in this regenerating Savior.” (Spurgeon, A New Creation, published July 15, 1915.)

John 2: Jesus Turns Water To Wine: Amazing Symbolism

slide-8-water-into-wine

Most people have heard about Jesus turning the water into wine, but do they really know what it means? Do you really know what it means?

If you have not read this portion of scripture, please read John 2:1-12 now so that we may be taught of the Spirit together as we analyze this passage! This miracle of Jesus packs a deep meaning that radically sets the stage for the rest of his life, ministry, and purpose.

First, its important to know the setting for where He performed his first miracle. We see that he performs it at a wedding feast (John 2:1), one of the most treasured celebrations in 1st century Jerusalem. He is attending with his mother and a few of his disciples, and it is brought to his attention that there is no more wine to be served. To us, this doesn’t seem like a big issue, but the point of all Jesus’ miracles is to demonstrate spiritual truth, and what a amazing truth he reveals through this miracle!

Key Point: Jesus uses the ceremonial cleansing jars to create the wine. (John 2:6)

We need to note what Jesus used to turn the water into wine. He used ceremonial cleaning jars, which probably already had a decent amount of old water sitting in them. The Jews would use these water jars to purify themselves: to wash themselves, and make themselves “clean” before God. By using these jars, Jesus is giving us a sneak peek of what is to come. Jesus is showing us that the cleansing of His blood (as we know, in the Bible, the blood of Christ is represented by wine -Matt 26:28) is far greater than any ritual washings – and the transformation of this very water into wine symbolizes the transformation of Judaism.
The fact that Jesus changed the ceremonial washing water into wine proves that he will do away with the rituals of Judaism, and that we will be made clean before God through his blood. Jesus filled the containers to the brim (John 2:7) to show that no space is left for ritual washings after his sacrifice.

Jesus instructs the servants to take a pitcher of this water to the master, and so they did. We don’t actually know when the water turns to wine, but when the master of the feasts takes a sip, he says, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). Is this recorded just to show us that Jesus should start a new career as a wine-maker? Certainly not. The Spirit is showing us something here:

The statement made by the master of the feast implies this: That typically, the best wine is served first, so that the people “get their fill” (get drunk) and can’t tell when a cheaper wine is introduced. In the same way, The Jews had been “drinking wine” (aka. performing their ritual washings) for so long that they weren’t able to recognize when something better came along (Jesus)!

Jesus conveys this truth again in the same chapter when he drives out the temple. He exclaims, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus was talking about his own body, and it was through the “destroying of it” and his rising from the dead that was able to accomplish this new system, where his blood covers our sin, not our ritual washings or other works.

Jesus came to make everything new, and he clearly demonstrated that by turning old water used for bathing into brand new wine. He also came to make the heart new. We will see that tomorrow in John 3!

(please email me at jrfletch@uga.edu for further explanation or questions)