Profession Without Practice: A Destructive Combination

Have you ever noticed how the Word of God seems to always keep you on your toes?  The perfection of the scriptures and God’s working providence have a unique ability to satisfy your continuous need to be rebuked and then restored.  A good preacher will never deliver a sermon that is open ended.  The hearers should always be convicted of sin and convinced of mercy.

Well, I’m no good preacher, but I have heard from and read a few in my time.  I guess you have gathered that Thomas Boston tops my list.  Boston would sometimes preach for weeks or even months on one verse of scripture and pull out many doctrines for his congregation’s edification.  In the summer of 1728, summer being a season with the most attended services, he preached a series of sermons on a scripture passage, which, on the surface would seem self explanatory.  “And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

Boston titled this series “The Sin, Folly, and Danger of Men’s Calling Christ Their Lord, and Not Yielding Obedience to His Laws” or “The Sinfulness and Hazard Of a Profession of Religion Without a Corresponding Practice.”  They either didn’t believe in catchy titles back then or maybe sermon titles could be longer because you could read more words on the sign out front of the Church building at the speed of horseback than in a car.  Regardless, Boston’s title is enough to cause us all to pause.

Chronologically Christ spoke these words, as recorded by Luke, fairly early in his ministry.  He had only recently called the disciples.  They were just beginning to realize who he was.  His healing miracles and teaching had initiated a cult following, and many were calling him Lord, a title of authority.  Though they called him Lord, it was obvious they used the term loosely.  Do we do the same?

The title “Lord” is a relative term.  In other words, you base whether you use it on your relationship to the one being addressed.  Only someone who is inferior or subordinate may address another as Lord.  Ask yourself, what is your relationship to Christ?  Do you reflect that relationship by your practice?  Or, what relationship do you reflect?

In scripture we see many titles of authority used for Christ.  Together they should better help us to rectify the matter of his Lordship in our minds.  For example, he is called Master, Redeemer, Husband, Owner, King, and Thomas goes so far as to call him “My Lord and My God.”

To put things into proper perspective, we must see who we are.  We are servants, purchased slaves, wives, property, subjects, and creations.  As believers, we fall into an even more unique category than others.  God calls unbelievers children of disobedience.  Therefore, we must be children of obedience.  As for me, I don’t feel much like an obedient child.  However, before I start feeling sorry for myself, and hanging my head, let me look up and see the light in the darkness.  Christ is the true child of obedience, and we are the children for obedience.  We are, at the moment of our regeneration, united to Christ and he becomes our representative.  Our elder brother is our Lord, and only his perfect obedience is counted.  As members of the heavenly kingdom and the family of God, the structure of our being becomes intertwined in the glorious nature of the Triune God.  Therefore, our obedience to the this system, that is engineered by his Law, becomes all the more necessary.  The strength of our faith is directly dependent on our following of the design.

Just look at how Christ explains it to the hearers on that day in the verses following verse 46.  “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  He is like a man building a house and dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.  When the flood came, the torrent struck the house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  The moment the torrent struck that house it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Gods law is not an arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts.  He did not leave us law simply to rule our lives and to keep us in line.  They are the blueprints of his character.  God’s law is liberating and being regenerated is being given freedom to follow it.  Freed from slavery to lawlessness, we are now given the liberty of the law.  Therefore, the practice of the law is the strength of our foundation and everything that is built from it.

Boston would have you to take note of the special gift you have been given.  First, the pardon of your sin makes you acceptable to become children of God.  As children, your efforts at obedience, though done imperfectly and only by degrees, are made perfect and complete by your elder brothers representation.  As you profess to call him Lord, may your practice evidence your inheritance and give structure to your faith.

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The Necessity of Self Denial: Part 3

Have you ever known someone who, if you ask them what time it is will tell you how to build a watch?  Well, that someone is probably me. In self defense, I have found that preachers are much the same.  In a sermon with a thesis, three points, and an application most preachers can miraculously stretch what could be said in ten minutes into forty-five.  Well, Christ only needed a couple of minutes to say what was important for us to know about self denial.

First of all it is not about what we do,  but rather how we think about what we do.  Self denial is not about denying ourselves material things, but rather it is about being in denial about ourselves.  We love this world.  Oh, we Christians complain about how bad the world is, and how evil everyone else is, but if you consider our actions and thought processes, concluding that we prefer this world to the next would be a logical conclusion. We love the world just fine.  We really don’t want to give it up.

We tend to have the same problem that those who were following Christ around at the time of this passage had.  Those people, particularly the recently fed five thousand, were following him for the sole purpose of what they had determined he would do for them right at that time.  They loved the world and wanted Christ to make it even better for them. What they did not understand was that where Christ was leading them was to another kingdom.  “Coming after” Christ is about following him with the understanding that he is leading you home, away from this world, where we will no longer be aliens. It is not about what he can give us now.  In fact it is not about us at all.  So when we are asked to deny ourselves, rather than give up beer, (unless your wife tells you to), be willing to give up your efforts to hang on to your views about what Christ came to do on earth.  He did not come to make this life more pleasant, nor set up a political theocracy, or to make America great, nor Israel a country in Palestine.  He came to redeem a people for himself who will worship him for eternity in spirit and in truth.

As followers of Christ we must be willing to lose this life.  I’m not talking about some morbid fascination with physical death.  It is the desire to see the death of the old man that still exists in us. Our home is where Christ is, in Heaven.  The old man has his home here.  We must be future focused.  We also must be Church focused because those are who we are traveling with.  Although Willie Nelson probably did not intend his song to be in the Gospel genre, I like to apply the lyrics to his most famous hit “On the Road Again” to my life.  “All I want is to be on the road again, going places that I’ve never been. The life I love is making music with my friends… Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway.  We’re the best of friends,  insisting that the world be running our way.”  Nelson loved to tour with his band, he loved what they did, and he hated when they were idle.  We should love to follow Christ with the Church to our home, singing, praising, and glorifying the Triune God all they way and by doing so point others in our direction.  Think about that next Lord’s Day when you enter in to your worship service like a band of gypsies.

 

 

 

 

The Necessity of Self Denial: Part 2

As I hope you have considered your thoughts on this passage since Part 1, you may have also noticed, if you read any preceding and following passages, the significance of where this dialogue falls in the events of Christ’s ministry.  The disciples had just carried out the miraculous feeding of the five thousand.  Christ was literally fleeing from these hoards of false followers.  He had stopped in a secluded place to pray.  Here he instructs the disciples.  Eight days later the transfiguration on the mount would take place.

The disciples were merely men who had the same problems we do.  They were plagued with misconceptions and a history of doctrinal error.  They were living in a time where the Jews actually had a pretty good arrangement with the Roman Imperial state.  Yet they were not satisfied.  This Jesus of Nazareth might be the political messiah they were looking for.  Though he didn’t fit the image they had in mind, he could not be discounted.  Christ used the error of the crowds to cool the jets, so to speak, of these beloved men who followed him.

He asked them who the people thought he was.  Various answers arose, but none were accurate.  He asked them who they, the disciples, thought he was, and Peter got it right.  Peter Called him the Christ or Anointed One of God.  How confused they must have been when they were then told to keep that a secret.  Things were not going to turn out as they expected.  There would be no revolution, no independence for Israel,  no reestablishment of the Nation.  Rather, the disciples and all who would later be delivered as followers of Christ would have to do everything that was contrary to there nature.  They must lose the lives they once loved, and forget about how they once thought about the dichotomy of world.

These men would eventually come to understand fully what Christ was trying to tell them.  That is the rest of the story.  That is the story that we have the benefit of recalling anytime we want by searching the record of scripture.  However, we tend to be more like these men and rely on what our corrupt nature and bad doctrine have ingrained in us.  What was Christ saying to them?

Before we delve into this, let us consider what he was not saying. Odds are, if you are anything like me, how you answer the question of what these verses mean to you, is dependent on the background of your religious instruction. Don’t be shocked or offended if what I am about to say seems contrary to everything you have believed.  Once again, if you are still reading this blog you are in the minority and these concepts are probably in line with your own beliefs but we all need reorienting sometimes.

As I mentioned in Part 1, these verses have been used as means of controlling behavior, self works to merit God’s favor, and a bent toward prideful independence.  The picture of what these verses normally imply is one of diligent striving to live a life of sacrificial self denial and radical religious devotion.  The reality is that Christ is not suggesting that you change your actions as much as your perceptions.  The picture of the man who has given up all possessions, and marches across the country carrying a cross and a sign on his back is extreme.  In fact, self denial of earthly comforts and obnoxious evangelism is not even related to this message.  Even the forsaking of sin is not the idea here.  Many a believer has gone to great efforts to conform to this image. In an effort not to be derogatory,  I will simply say this, Christ is not advocating through these verses doing anything different.

If it is your calling to quit the profession you are in, or leave the life you are currently living, to go and serve in some ministry, don’t use this verse as your theme.  I will save the topic of “callings” for another time, but remember who Christ was talking to.  These men had already done the radical ministry thing.  It would have been a bit redundant to tell them to do what they had already done.

A word of caution is prudent here.  There are plenty of verses in scripture that might be better used for doing something different in your life.  However, these verses should be the starting place for you before you go doing things differently.  Boston will help you to see that thinking differently is a prerequisite to doing.  That is what Christ was advocating to his followers.  In Part 3 we will get to the meat of the message.  What was it Christ wanted them to understand.

The Necessity of Self Denial: Part 1

There are many misconceptions regarding living the Christian life.  The struggle for all of us is the balancing of our fallen nature and our regenerate nature.  We are constantly being pulled in two directions.  We can blame the world system, Satan, or even our personal short comings (ie patience, intellect, temperament, etc.), but ultimately our own nature is the root of our difficulties.

Even though we have been given a new spirit by the workings of regeneration, the old man is still alive in us.  This remaining force tries to convince us of our need for independence.  We want to give ourselves credit for being able to strive against all the challenges set before us.  This independence stems from pride in our own works.

When my son was small he wanted to be independent.  Whenever he was trying to do something on his own and you offered to assist, his typical response was “self do it.”  From a worldly perspective his efforts would be described as initiative or drive.  A closer look through biblical glasses would reveal a perfect example of all of our problems.  We think that if we try hard enough we can accomplish all of our goals.  The world teaches that if we set a goal and work towards that end,  the means we use will eventually earn a satisfactory result.  Well, maybe I’m just a real loser or I just don’t have enough drive, but when it comes to my attempts at personal holiness or Christ likeness the harder I work the shorter I fall.

Be honest.  When you consider your own sanctification,  your walking in the faith, don’t you have the same “self do it” thing going on.  How well do you succeed, and for how long?  Eventually God will always frustrate you efforts.

Luke 9:23 & 24 has been butchered by many teachers throughout history.  It has been used to place a heavy burden on many a struggling believer.  Quoting Christ, Luke says, “Then he said to them all (the disciples). If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but who ever loses his life for me will save it.” The Roman Catholic church made this their bread and butter for controlling the faithful.  Monastic vows of poverty, sacrifice, and ritual practices were backed up by these verses. Crusading, civil wars, and the forced proselytizing drove many to their deaths.  Even children were convinced to march behind the cross for the cause of the church.

The bastardization of the Protestant Church, particularly in the early American colonial period, led to misuse of these verses as means to provoke followers to live lives of pious poverty and exclusiveness beyond what is required by scripture.  Even today there is a vibrant mindset in the church that promotes a dangerous application of Christ’s instruction to the disciples.  Your efforts to rid yourself of worldly possessions and benefits and to live a life that obnoxiously displays your religion, are done with an effort to earn God’s favor and possibly to merit your own salvation.

Lord willing, over the next few posts I intend to use the wisdom of Thomas Boston to unpack what is a very simple message to the Church regarding how to be obedient to Christ’s teaching in these verses.  In the mean time think for yourselves how you have applied your efforts since you first heard this verse.  Consider what you believe Christ to be calling you to do and how the disciples might have understood him sitting at his feet.  I hope that you, as did I, will gain a new perspective on what is required of us.