Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Necessity of Dying to Self- Beyond Salvation

“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked… John 5:1-9a

There were “a multitude of invalids” at the pool, yet the text gives no indication of Jesus having concern for any of them except this one. This does not necessarily mean that this man was the lone elected man at the pool, but he was the only one elected to be touched by the Savior at this time. Who among us has never felt the desire to clean out the hospitals, healing all in the name of Christ? But Christ Himself had the opportunity to do exactly that at Bethesda & did not take it. God has an individually tailored method to bring His elect to the place of putting their trust in Christ & it may well require much emotional &/or physical suffering along the way. God alone perceives the state of men’s souls & therefore reserves to Himself the “right judgment” (John 7:24) as to who is healed & when. There has never been autonomous prophet in God’s Kingdom, though many have desired such unilateral authority (Acts 8:19). Balaam was enticed into error by his own sinful nature, but was thereafter restrained in his madness. He could bring no harm to God’s elect, nor blessings to their enemies, apart from God’s sovereign will.

“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” Acts 3:1-6

“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him…” Acts 7:54-58a

“When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.’ Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Acts 13:6-11

“Son of the devil, enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy”- Paul would not make such slanderous judgments spuriously. These conclusions bespeak an otherworldly insight into the very soul of Elymas; otherwise, Paul would be in sin to make such defamatory & summary rulings on the state of Elymas’ soul. The two keys to this “right judgment” that Paul makes are stated clearly beforehand- “Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him”. Paul’s “old man”, though still at war with his “new man” (by his own testimony in Romans 7), must have been weak enough to be crushed & done away with at this moment for him to be assured of the rightness of this judgment. He could not have been confidant to speak such grand denouncements if the warped wisdom of the “old man” was affecting his conclusions at that moment. This is what it means to be truly “filled” with the Spirit- filled to the utter & complete exclusion of the natural man- for a season- for a reason. The seasons & reasons are from God, according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph 1:5, Phil. 2:1); but if we want to be highly effective workers in His Kingdom, we must be ready in season & out of season to enter the state of being utterly filled by His Spirit to do that which is pleasurable to God, that thing which may well not be pleasurable to the fleshly man at all. The three examples I gave from Acts speak of three different cases in point of God using the “poor in spirit” Christian to minister both the “kindness & severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). He blesses the “poor in spirit” by making them rich in His Spirit, proving the Beatitude. Our will must be weak at such times, so as to truly know His will. Few would mind expressing the “kindness” of God as displayed in Acts 3, but what Christian still mired in the sea of self-servitude would desire to express the “severity” of God, especially when immediate death is distinctly possible result? So the fleshly man- with all his pride, selfish desires, & bad judgment- must be weak enough to be completely overcome by God’s Spirit at that moment.

“Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And he sprang up and began walking.” Acts 14:8-10

Philippians 2:12-13- “So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.”

Some who are predisposed to works as salvific use this singular verse to try to establish that belief. But even a casual reading of the New Testament & Paul’s writings in particular indicates that faith in Jesus’ works is the only source of our salvation. Scripture’s words are meant to be understood in context, & yet again context helps us to understand Philippians 2:12.When reading any work, it is important to know to whom the author is speaking. Paul establishes the fact that he is writing this letter to the already saved in when he says in 1:27-28:

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”

Paul is not preaching an evangelistic message to non-Christians in Philippians, but an admonishing message to the saints to follow the example of Christ. This strikes to the core of his intent as he tells us to “work out (our) own salvation”- he is in fact imploring the believer to put his hands to the plow & work out in the power of his (already established) salvation. Paul uses the Greek for work-“ katergazomai”- most abundantly in Romans 7:15-20, where it is translated as “do” or “perform”. So combining that understanding with the contextual understanding gained by Phil.1:28, we can confidently say that Paul is actually calling on us to “do” or “perform” our salvation in Phil. 2:12. The Father has invested His Son & His Spirit to cause our salvation & He rightfully expects a return on His investment. Our “work” is challenging & intense in this respect, but only because the fleshly nature battles against our still pubescent new nature within. But always remember what directly follows Phil. 2:12- “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We may suffer sometimes as we follow Him, but if God is within, even then we will have joy, for the saved are acquainted with no greater satisfaction than the sense that they fulfilling His “good pleasure.”

So in closing, know as well the fuller context of Philippians 1:

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” Philippians 1:27-30

“A true & faithful Christian does not make holy living a mere incidental thing. It is his great concern. As the business of the soldier is to fight, so the business of the Christian is to be like Christ.” -Jonathan Edwards, 18th century

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