Saturday, May 17, 2014

"God's goal for followers of Christ: 'Aim for perfection!'"

Day #141:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 18th

Scripture Reading:  II Corinthians 11 - 13 ...

Coasting is easy ... it requires no effort.  All you have to do is start in the right direction and then just keeping going in that direction.  If there no obstacles arise, if circumstances don't change, if there are no distractions, if no one attempts to divert you from your course, then you should be able to reach your destination quite easily.  No problem!  Such, however, is not realistic.  Life in this world throws all of the above and more at those who desire to follow Christ.  As a pastor, I fully understand the Apostle Paul's concern for the believers in Corinth.  He had visited them twice, staying for some time, investing his life in theirs.  Now he was concerned about their spiritual welfare.

"I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ ... I am afraid that ... your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (11:2-3).

Paul was concerned that these believers were being led astray, not by those who claimed to worship other gods, but by those who claimed to be preaching Christ!  He explains his concern by saying, "For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough" (11:4).  Paul had the same concern voiced by Peter in his second letter to the churches:  false teachers.  And this was only about 25 years after Jesus ascended into heaven and the
Spirit of God was poured out.

Thank God for the Reformation in the 1500's and for the devotion of those in the 1600's to doctrine.  But for the past century, and especially in the last few decades, the church at large has been coasting ... and the result is that many have drifted from the truth of God's Word.  Where I live, in Western Michigan, the Bible used to be revered as the very Word of God by the majority of people.  That was probably less than fifty years ago.  Today that is no longer the case.  Today many churches teach little from God's Word, choosing instead to quote from the latest "Christian" authors or to tickle people's ears with the latest psychology of the day.  Too many pastors and teachers no longer proclaim, "Thus says the Lord," but instead offer their opinions as something to consider.  They TALK about Jesus and they claim to have "good news," but it is not the Jesus revealed in the Bible and it is not the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation.

And people by the hundreds flock to hear them.  In one instance nearly ten thousand gathered to hear a charismatic preacher as he preached about "this Jesus" and made videos used by churches around the country.  Some of us tried to warn people, but we were considered "out-of-touch" and old-fashioned, until this young man began to teach universalism and eventually went on to "better" things to do.  He was and is among many today who are, as Paul described them in his day, "false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness" (11:13-15).

What IS surprising is the ease with which people are deceived!  I would remind you that the Bible, God's Word, is the eyewitness testimony of those who walked with Jesus and/or who saw Jesus.  God chose Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and Jesus appeared to him as he was traveling to persecute Christians.  His conversion was one of the most important events following Pentecost, the pouring out of God's Spirit from heaven.  As he concludes this letter to the Corinthians Paul "boasts" about his experiences, but not in a way to make himself look like something important, but to point out that his strength through all of these trials was due to the power of Christ within him.  Always Paul pointed to Christ as the One who deserved the glory!

His heart for the Church and for those who claimed to believe in Christ is something all believers should share.  He writes, "We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ, and everything we do ... is for your strengthening" (12:19).  Yet he feared that when he visited them again he would find many of the same sins he had previously encountered among them.  Once again, today sin is tolerated in the church because people say we are not supposed to judge and besides, we ALL sin.  While that is true, it is not judging to point out sin, to pray for people, to call them to repent, to turn from sin and to experience true freedom in Christ, and to discipline those who do not.  To do less is to coast and to leave people vulnerable to false teaching.

The goal of all who know Christ, who have been born again by the Spirit of God and who have received God's grace is PERFECTION.  This should be OUR goal, because this is GOD's goal.  Paul encourages the believers in Corinth: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves" (13:5).  How do you do that without casting doubt on your salvation and drifting towards legalism ... the idea that the only way to be sure if you are saved is by your good works?  You examine yourself by looking at your life and asking, "Do I love God?  Do I understand that I have been saved totally and utterly by grace?  Am I GROWING in my devotion to Christ?  Am I seeking to live in obedience to His Word, not because I HAVE to, but because I WANT to?  Am I 'aiming for perfection?'"

Perfection???  Yes, perfection.  Paul says, "Our prayer is for your perfection" (13:9).  And then he says to them, "Aim for perfection!" (13:11).  Aiming for perfection is never to be done to try to EARN your salvation, but rather, out of gratitude and love to God for the gift of salvation in His Son Jesus Christ.  It is impossible to truly believe in Jesus, the eternal Son of God Who gave Himself to be our sacrifice on the cross and to be filled with His Spirit and NOT have the desire to please Him.  Those who are being deceived today are those who hear of another Jesus ... one who ignores sin, who loves everybody the same - even those who worship others gods or no god at all - and who would never judge anyone.  This is NOT the Jesus of the Bible.  "He" is an impostor, a counterfeit, a fraud.

The REAL Jesus offers LIFE to all who come to Him and by His Spirit transforms our hearts and minds to receive His grace and then to pursue righteousness.  If that describes you, you can know that as you "aim for perfection" it is "God who is at work in you both to will and to act according to His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).  Praise God for His amazing grace and live to glorify God!  "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!"  (13:14).

"Our Father in heaven, the enemies of our faith seek to deceive, but Your truth speaks clearly to those in whom Your Spirit is at work.  Keep me from coasting as I seek to follow Jesus.  Help me to aim for perfection, to live in obedience to Your Word as I live in this world as part of Your Church, the 'called-out ones.'  Turn my weakness to strength as I put my trust in You.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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