Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Human Nature

I just finished rereading "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is a very fascinating and entertaining read. But it does address the important truth of the nature of man. So in this story Dr. Jekyll believes that man has a dual nature, that is he has a good nature and an evil nature. He creates a potion that when drunk, separates these two natures. This he does and it works. Instead of being Dr. Jekyll, the respected and good doctor, he is now Mr. Hyde, his pure evil nature. And now as Mr. Hyde, he goes around doing evil and enjoying it. When he wants to return to Dr. Jekyll, he drinks the potion and returns to his good self. But after awhile of indulging in the evil nature of Mr. Hyde, his good nature begins to weaken and his evil nature grows stronger. In time, he can't turn back to Dr. Jekyll anymore, but must remain Mr. Hyde and die an untimely death.

It is perhaps a strange story, but it does present the author's view on human nature. But, sadly, his view is wrong as it contradicts the view of man's nature found in God's word. Humans have only one nature and it is corrupted by sin. "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." Romans 3:10-12 From birth we are children of wrath, dead in our sins. We can by nature do nothing that pleases God or could contribute to our salvation. In our heart, there is the potential for us to be able to do every kind of evil deed. Given the right time and circumstances, we could do every evil deed that has ever been done. But for the grace of God, we are not all as degraded as we could be.

God restrains evil in this world by a number of ways. He uses the government to restrain evil by making and upholding laws, even by punishing lawbreakers by death. God has given us consciences which restrain people from doing evil. People often want to feel good about themselves so they give themselves to good deeds. Or they are afraid of the thoughts and opinions of others. Some, desiring to obtain salvation, work hard to show kindness and charity to others. Also believers are God's salt and light in this world. By proclaiming the truth and walking in godliness, we have a positive influence in this world, as it reminds others of good and evil. These are all ways in which people are prevented from being as bad as they could be.

People are born liking sin. We enjoy it, even if the consequences are bad. And as we indulge and feed our desire for sin, we become more and more corrupt. And, as in the case of Dr. Jekyll, in the end, we look more like Mr. Hyde than we could ever imagine. We become monsters of sin. Even our facial features will reflect our evil nature. Let your lusts gallop away unrestrained, and they will drag you into filth and mud you never dreamed possible. Mr. Stevenson was right in a way about this aspect of human nature. If we continue to practice sin, it will corrupt us and turn us into horrible ogres.

Thankfully, in Jesus Christ there is hope. For God doesn't just forgives us, He changes us. He takes our old evil hearts out and puts in a new heart. God changes us from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll, yes even more than that for He give us new life in Christ so we begin to act more like Him. This is the great new birth.

Although we are now new creatures in Christ, yet we have remaining in us the sinful flesh. This unredeemed flesh is what makes us still sin. We are called to "put to death" our sins. (Colossians 3:5) Mr. Hyde must die. Putting sin to death is hard. It takes work, sweat, and agony. We must hunt down our sins and slay them when we find them and keep beating them down all our lives. The Christian is called to be the executioner of his own sin, even of those sins we love. This is very hard. I have found it much harder than I ever imagined. The sins are like a terrible beast that fight savagely. And even after a long battle, with many cuts and bruises, that results in victory, yet this subdued sin can rise up again if unattended and encouraged. Ah, but God has given us the power in this fight. We have the armor of God in this battle. Our sword when used right, never fails. We have God's promise that we will overcome and that we will be more than conquerors, not in our own strength but through the power of Jesus Christ. One day we will stand blameless and holy in the presence of God. Then the war with our sin will be done and we will live forever in pure joy and holiness.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Spiritually Modified People

Genetically modified foods, in which they modify the genetic material of a plant, is a controversial process. I have no intention of writing about that now. But I want to use GMO's as a way to introduce a very important truth from scripture. God is in the business of spiritually modifying people (SMP). He takes out their old, evil, stone cold hearts and inserts new hearts. Such SMP's are now drastically changed in how they think and live. This change is really the greatest miracle around and it happens all the time. Let us briefly spend some time examining what God has to say on this wonderful doctrine of regeneration.

  Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology, defines regeneration as "a secret act of God in which He imparts new spiritual life in us." Regeneration is more commonly referred to in the Bible as being born again. Being born again is an absolute necessity for salvation. " Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3. This is so because when we are born physically, we are born spiritually dead. As Paul said we "were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked" and we "were by nature children of wrath." Ephesians 2:1,2,3. After Adam sinned we all died spiritually. So it doesn't matter who you are or where we live, we all need to be born again. You could be a great moral person with a religious pedigree all the way to John Calvin or you could be the most debased sinner but you still need to be born again.

Regeneration is something we play no part in. There are no commands in the Bible that we need to regenerate ourselves. Being born again is solely an act of God. Jesus referred to regeneration as being born of the Spirit."Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." John 3:5.  See also John 1:13 and 1 John 2:29. In fact while regeneration is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit, a close study of scripture reveals that all members of the Trinity are involved in regeneration. Just as we had no part to play when we were born the first time, so we play no part in being born the second time.

 The word of God is what God uses to bring about the new life in Christ. "Since you have been born again not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God." 1 Peter 1:23.  This is also confirmed by James in James 1:18, "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures." In both these passages we learn that God uses His word, especially the gospel message, to bring about the new birth. This should make us see how important it is to communicate God's truth with accuracy in teaching and evangelism. Since God uses His word for regeneration, we should, in our evangelism, use scripture in our conversation and gospel literature.

There is a mystery in how this work of regeneration occurs in the heart of a person. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8. How exactly God works as He transforms a person spiritually is unknown. For some people, they will know the  precise day and moment of being born again and others may not realize all that is taking place inside them. But yet there is always a moment when God takes the old heart out and gives that person a new heart. We may not perceive it until later. While we may not know how God imparts new life in the hearts of people, we will always see the results.

The result of the work of regeneration will always be repentance, faith, justification, and sanctification. When God gives new life in the soul, the person will now see the holiness of God, the sinfulness of sin, and the beauty of Christ and the gospel. He will respond to his sins with godly sorrow and true repentance. He will lean on the finished work of Christ for his complete salvation. When he does that, then God declares that person not guilty and righteous based on the sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Christian is now a new creature in Christ and as such he will live differently. There will be increasing conformity to the character of Christ in a Christian's life.

 John's first letter gives some of the signs of a person who has been born of God.
1) One who is born again will not continue to live in sin. There will be true repentance and forsaking of sin. He will hate sin not love it. 1 John 3:9 and 1 John 5:18
2) The one who is born again will trust that Jesus is the only Saviour for sinners. 1 John 5:1
3) The regenerated person will desire and try to live a godly life. 1 John 2:29
4) One who is born again will love God's people, His church. 1 John 3:14
5) One truly born again will not love worldliness. 1 John 5:4

Are these signs in your life? This is an important question, for there is no other way to enter heaven. Let me finish with an illustration that I have modified from Charles Spurgeon. Suppose there was a rule in Canada that only those who were born in Canada could become citizens of this country. Now a man from Japan comes to Canada and wishes to be a Canadian citizen. He is told that is impossible. So he says that he will dress like a Canadian and eat Canadian food. Will that help him to become a citizen? No, but this man truly is willing to become a citizen so he says that he will also learn English and just to show his sincerity he will learn French too. We would admire his zeal, but the law is the law. But he continues on, "I will change my name so it is a Canadian name like Wayne or Pierre. I will study the customs and traditions of this country so that I will be able to be a typical Canadian." Sadly this man still would not be allowed to be a citizen. So it is with the heavenly country. In order to become a citizen of God's country, you must be born again. No amount of outward good deeds can get you in. Only by God's sovereign grace can you become a citizen of that country. While we cannot regenerate ourselves, God does call all of us to repent and believe in Christ.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Beef Up Your Prayers

Are there times when your prayer life is a little thin?  When all you can say are vague requests to bless so and so or be with Grandma? What can you do to put some meat on the bones of your prayers? Studying the Lord's prayer is a good place to begin, but it is also most helpful to look at the prayers that Paul recorded for us in some of the letters he wrote to churches. Paul's prayers help us to know what to pray for others and for ourselves.

Now I would first say that when praying for others we need to know if that person is a believer or an unbeliever. If the person is an unbeliever, there really is only one prayer for them. It is to pray for the salvation of this unconverted person. So if an unbeliever is sick, I will pray that this sickness would be used by God to show this person the disease of sin in their hearts and the healing that is found in the great Physician Jesus Christ. It is best not to pray that God would comfort them or heal, unless this situation would lead to their salvation. For what good is it if a person lived to 100 years old and then died and entered the fires of hell?

 One of Paul's prayers for the church is found in Colossians 1:9-14. While Paul did not plant this church he deeply cared for this church. He prayed regularly for those whom he never met. Lets look at a few aspects of what Paul prayed for this church.

1)  Knowledge and wisdom

Paul prayed that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will. Paul wanted God to teach the Colossians the great truths of the Word of God. God's word reveals His will for us. But we need Him to teach us these truth for we cannot understand them apart from His Spirit. There are many hard truths to understand. It is easy to mistreat or misunderstand God's word. One doesn't became wise and discerning over night. Being able to correctly handle the word of God doesn't come in an instant. We need to pray desperately that God would make us and others understand His word as He intended. But more than praying that the Colossians would understand God's word, Paul prays that they would have the wisdom to apply it to the many and varied situations that they would come into. Knowledge or understanding of truth is not enough. We need the skill to bring the truth to bear on the situation at hand.  All this teaches us the importance of the scriptures in our sanctification. God uses His word by His Spirit to conform us into the image of Christ. We need to read, study and meditate on His word if we hope to grow as Christians.

2) A fruitful life of holiness

This request flows out of the last two. A right theology and a right understanding of how to apply it should lead to us living a life that pleases God. We need to put our theology to work. Paul desires that they should live a godly life; a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit. A life in which we serve others with our spiritual gifts. Evangelizing the lost, giving our money to the cause of Christ, and praising and thanking God are all ways in which we can bear much fruit. All Christians will bear some fruit, but our desire should be that we and others should bear much fruit.

3) Knowledge of God

As we know God's word better we will learn more about Him. As we walk with Him in holiness, we will come to know Him in a more practical and experiential way. Knowing facts about God is not enough, we must have a deeper relationship with our God. According to 1 John 1;13, a mature Christian is one who knows "him who is from the beginning."

4) Strength

Paul knows that a fruitful and godly life lived with God is more than we can manage on our own. We need God's power to help us to live this way. So Paul prays that God would strengthen them with His almighty power. This power is infinite and never diminishing. That power is always there for His people. Paul asks God that He would strengthen His people with this power so that they can live in a manner worthy of the Lord and so that they may continue to live in this way till their earthly life is done. We persevere because God ,with His almighty power, holds us in His hands and will not let us go. We should always be praying for God's power to help us live for His glory.

5) Thankfulness

We should always be thankful. We have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. God has redeemed us from slavery to sin and the devil. God has forgiven us all our sins through Christ. He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings. We have a glorious and never ending inheritance that can never be taken away which is in heaven for us. Besides this, every moment and situation of our life God is using for our good. Even the most terrible situations are for our good. We can indeed always rejoice and be thankful to God.

I hope and pray that this will help you to beef up your gaunt prayers for the glory of our King and His kingdom.