Monday, January 20, 2020

Purposes of the Book of Acts

"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach" (Acts 1:1).

The Acts of the Apostles was written by a physician named Lucian (in English “Luke”). Neither the third gospel nor the Acts provide an explicit statement of authorship, but the testimony of the early church is clear, and there is internal evidence that demonstrates Lucan authorship. Particularly striking is that in many places in Acts, when Luke evidently joins the company of Paul during his travels, the narrative stops saying that “they” did such and so, and says that “we” did such and so (see Acts 16:10–17, etc.)

There are several major themes in Acts, and here let us consider three of them. One is apologetical. Apologetics is the branch of theology that is concerned with defending Christianity against accusations and error. In the early days of the church, many were accusing Christians of being seditious against the Roman imperial government. Luke recorded several courtroom scenes and made it clear that whenever Christians came before the Romans, the Romans recognized that the Christians were good, peaceful citizens. The real trouble, Luke showed, came from those Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah, and who thus were angry at the Christians who claimed to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.

A second theme is the validity of Paul’s apostleship. Luke showed in Acts 1 that the qualifications for an apostle were that he had spent three years with Jesus and that he had been a witness of the Resurrection (Acts 1:21–22). On the surface, Paul of Tarsus did not fit these qualifications, and so his ministry was constantly questioned by Judaizers and others. Luke’s narrative in Acts demonstrated that Paul did see Jesus in His resurrection, spent years in personal study “with Christ” before taking up the mantle of apostleship, and was accepted on an equal footing by the other apostles.

A third theme common to both Luke’s gospel and to Acts is the inclusion of the Gentiles in the new kingdom. There had been Gentile believers throughout the Old Testament, but they had not been members of the priestly nation of Israel and consequently had to worship “at a distance.” Luke shows that in the new covenant, there is no longer any difference between Jewish and Gentile believers.

As we work through Acts and New Testament history this year, take time today to skim the book of Acts. Page through it, previewing its contents and taking note of the overall movement and direction of the book. In what city does the book begin, and where does it end? Why?

Strengthened by Grace Devotional: 1/20/20

Prayer for Monday: Lord, we live in a world of change. Every day is filled with uncertainty. We are surrounded by the twists and turns of life and we often feel we have little or no control over things that happen to us. Lord, we come to stand in your eternal presence. We come to you to find ourselves, to find our way, to find hope. We come to you because in Christ you first came to us. O God who has made me, O God who keeps me, O God who will be my Lord through all eternity, shine down Your blessings and wisdom upon me like the sun upon a field; and may I keep You in the forefront of my every thought and deed, throughout this day, and forevermore. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Scripture Reading for Monday: Exodus 7-8

Scripture Reflection for Monday: Today's journey "Through the Bible" visits Exodus 7-8.

In Exodus 7, we see that God alone is Lord. Physical goods are blessings, but people can turn them into idols. Even in a secular culture, people worship money and the pleasures it can buy. They depend upon the experts to manipulate the world and give them happiness. But the Lord wages war against the idols to show that He alone is sovereign. His war will climax in the coming of Christ. Before it is too late, let us turn from idols to serve the living God and hope in His Son, the Savior. What idols tempt you? What does it mean to turn from them to the Lord?

In Exodus 8, we see that in the darkest places on earth, Christ is still able to judge His enemies and save His people. Therefore, even if we are in the shadow of Satan’s throne, let us hold fast to the Lord, not deny the faith, and bear witness even to death (Rev. 2:13). Christ will destroy our enemies, and His redemption will deliver us from His wrath.

Daily Teaching (Catechism) for Monday:

Faith that receives and rests on Christ and His righteousness is the only instrument of justification. Yet it does not occur by itself in the person justified, but it is always accompanied by every other saving grace. It is not a dead faith but works through love (Romans 3:28; Galatians 5:6; James 2:17, 22, 26).

May God help you to grow in Christ today,

Sunday, January 19, 2020

What is Faith in God?

Faith is the resting of the heart on God, the Author of life and eternal salvation, so that we may be saved from all evil through Him and may follow all good unto Him (Ps. 37:5; Isa. 10:20; Jer. 17:7).

Faith welcomes a sweet exchange of sins for righteousness, wherein a sinful man is credited as righteous in Christ, Christ having been made sin for him (Rom. 3:21–26). Faith then follows with outward evidences of itself, which are commonly called “good works.”

Faith is comprised of two distinct but inseparable tenets: an act of understanding and an act of will. First, faith involves an act of understanding wherein the mind gives assent to evidence. This is a knowledge of the declarations in Scripture regarding the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:19). However, the message itself is not the object of faith (John 20:31). The true object of faith is the Person in whom faith is placed—that is, God Himself through Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 4:10). Man not only believes about God but in God. Moreover, God is the ultimate object of faith, while Christ is the mediate object of faith (Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 3:4; 1 Peter 1:21). This means that true, saving faith is an understanding placed in God through Jesus Christ.

However, bare belief in God through Christ divorced from an act of will is not saving faith (John 7:17; 8:31, 32; 1 John 2:3). This act of will is the second necessary aspect of saving faith. Not a mere act of intellect, the exercising of faith involves an act of choice by the whole man. Faith is a determined resolve. It is a genuine turning of the will away from reliance on self toward dependence on God. This entails surrender by a consent of the will (John 6:35). To believe in God through Christ, then, is to cling to God, to lean on God, and to rest in God as our all-sufficient life and salvation (Deut. 30:20; Pss. 37:3–5; 62:7; Prov. 3:5; Isa. 10:20; 31:1; 50:10; Rom. 10:11).

Faith is a genuine receiving (John 1:12)—a sure dependence upon God (Prov. 3:5). Accordingly, faith is not uncertain and doubtful, a result of man’s imperfect knowledge of a testimony alone. Though scriptural testimony is sure in itself (John 9:29; Rom. 3:4; 1 Cor. 2:5; 2 Peter 1:20–21), faith is most certain because it unites itself to God’s Person. He who is infallible lends infallibility to true, saving faith itself. Faith lays hold of the power of the whole triune God in salvation (Mark 11:23; Luke 17:6; Rom. 1:16–17). Unfortunately, due to man’s imperfect inclinations, the surety of true faith often feels debilitated. This is why man supposes that the assurance of his faith is questionable—and why he needs the inner persuasion and strengthening of faith by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3; cf. Mark 9:24). Nonetheless, true faith, whether a feeble hand or a strong grasp, is faith in God—and therein lies assurance (cf. Matt. 9:21; Heb. 11). Therefore, faith so certainly unites man to God in Christ that none can remove him or separate him from God (John 10:28–29; Rom. 8:35–39).

In addition, though, general intellectual assent and reliance without any life is no saving faith (James 2:24). Faith is an assent based on knowledge whereby man lives to God in Christ. Faith entails declaring God our God in Christ; this is known as submission to the Sovereign. While it is the first act whereby we are saved by God in Christ, faith evokes many resultant acts of good works. Faith brings with itself man’s living to God. From the spring of faith flow sincere resolutions to a life of obedience. Furthermore, because faith in God guarantees a progressive holiness—both a separation from sin and a clinging to righteousness—the test of true, saving faith is summarized simply: faith that saves is faith that works.

Strengthened by Grace Devotional: 1/19/20

Prayer for Sunday: Heavenly Lord, this is the Lord's Day, a day for worship, a day to reset and refocus on that which is most important: living all of life for Your great glory. We do not come because we are worthy, but because You have made us worthy in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not come for our own benefit, or just to receive a blessing, though we certainly will, but we come because You are worthy of all our thanks, praise, and acclaim. Grant that in all things today, our hearts will be drawn to you, the Great Miracle Maker and the Author of our salvation. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Scripture Reading for Sunday: Exodus 4-6

Scripture Reflection for Sunday: Today's journey "Through the Bible" visits Exodus 4-6.

In Exodus 4, we are reminded that those who would lead God’s people must be faithful in their home life. Moses’ failure to circumcise his son nearly cost him his life. David resolved to walk within his house with integrity of heart (Ps. 101:2), but his adultery tore his family apart. Why is it dangerous when leaders neglect to be faithful in marriage and parenting?

In Exodus 5, we see that servants of God should not assume that obedience will bring them a life of ease and quick success. The kingdom of darkness never rages so fiercely as when the Word invades the world. God’s servants face stiff opposition from the enemy and sometimes from the visible church; they may even find their own hearts rising up against God. But Christ will build His church, and even the rage of Satan will result in His praise.

In Genesis 6, we see that redemption requires a faithful prophet to speak God’s words, a righteous priest to sacrifice and intercede, and a powerful king to deliver the enslaved. Moses, Aaron, and their family were inadequate to truly redeem God’s people, for they were stained by sin. Though mere men are instruments of God’s blessings, Christ is the only Mediator of the covenant of grace—the sufficient Prophet, Priest, and King. Trust Him for salvation, and trust Him alone.

Daily Teaching (Catechism) for Sunday:

(10.1) In God’s appointed and acceptable time, he is pleased to call effectually, by his Word and Spirit, those he has predestined to life. He calls them out of their natural state of sin and death to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. He enlightens their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God. He takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh. He renews their wills and by his almighty power turns them to good and effectually draws them to Jesus Christ. Yet he does all this in such a way that they come completely freely, since they are made willing by his grace (Romans 8:30; Romans 11:7; Ephesians 1:10, 11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14; Ephesians 2:1–6; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:17, 18; Ezekiel 36:26; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:27; Ephesians 1:19; Psalm 110:3; Song of Solomon 1:4).

May God help you to grow in Christ today,

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Return of the King

"For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

A large part of the New Testament is concerned with prophecy. Not only did Jesus fulfill all kinds of prophecies found in the Old Testament, but both He and His apostles made other prophecies and predictions concerning the future.

Much of New Testament prediction focuses on an event that was to occur within the lifetimes of many people then alive. Jesus predicted that the nation of the Jews as a whole would continue to reject the Good News, and that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed by God’s wrath. After describing this coming judgment in Matthew 23:1–24:33, using both literal predictions and symbolism, Jesus said that the generation listening to His voice would not pass away before all these things had happened.

The judgment upon Jerusalem—upon the old covenant—is a “down payment” on fulfilled prophecy. What Jesus predicted about Jerusalem did indeed come to pass in A.D. 70, and this leads us to believe that what He said about His future return will also come to pass. Jesus’ judgment upon Jerusalem was not only because she put Him to death but also because she continued to persecute His witnesses after Pentecost. This judgment proves His ascension to the Father’s right hand, His present position as King, and that He will someday come to judge all men and all nations.

Liberal theologians note that the New Testament writers frequently say that Jesus will return soon, that His coming is near. Since Jesus did not return in the first century, say the liberals, the New Testament writers were wrong. What the liberals fail to see, however, is that these passages have either partial or full reference to Jesus’ judging Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and thus were literally fulfilled.

Centuries come and go, and Jesus has not returned, but we should not be surprised. After describing the coming destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus told the disciples that it might well be a “long time” before His final return (see Matthew 24:36, 48; 25:5, 19). While we will surely rejoice at His coming, we can also rejoice that He has postponed it, giving time for the full number of His elect to be gathered into the kingdom.

Sometimes modern Christians are so enamored with the Second Coming that they overlook the ways Jesus comes to us today. The Bible says that Christ comes each Lord’s Day (Day of the Lord) to judge and restore His people. Consider how you can better prepare for each Lord’s Day worship as an anticipation of His Second coming.