Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2010
Dear Friend in Christ:
Happy New Year! I pray this letter finds you well. There are many important issues that face us as we enter 2010, and beyond, but I want to address four specific vital issues that underlie all of our challenges: sin, salvation, the Holy Spirit and the Commission, and they are all linked together.(Soon I will be offering an audio Bible teaching series that will elaborate more thoroughly.)
THE ISSUE OF SIN
Everything begins and depends upon correctly addressing this issue. Failure to deal with sin is the underlying cause of destruction – personal and cultural. So what is sin? It is the transgression of God’s Law, failure to live up to it, or missing the mark that the Law has established. This condition has and is destroying humanity. And unless it is diagnosed and cured, it will continue to do so no matter how much we devote to treating its symptoms.
People do not like to use the word “sin” – it affects our “self-esteem.” We prefer to say “mistakes,” “bad choices,” or “psychological disorders”. But failure to diagnose guarantees a failure to cure. We usually think of sin as an act, but it is much deeper than that; it is endemic to our flesh and our nature. Just as we are born physically flawed with tendencies to heart trouble, high blood pressure, or some other malady, we are born morally flawed with tendencies toward selfishness, aggression, rebellion, or some other moral deficiency.
This truth upsets many who contend that we are “born good” or those who deny moral law of any kind, and they even become angry at the notion of genetic flaws. But we all die in any case. Reality is unavoidable. Dr. Robert Simon, a psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical School, said, “Evil is endemic, constant and a potential in all of us.” He said this after a study of serial killers and infamous characters in history such as Adolph Hitler. In this statement, he is in agreement with the Holy Scriptures.
G.K. Chesterton said, “Original sin is empirically provable.” David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably wicked: Who can know it?” And Jesus stated, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). He further said that when the Holy Spirit would come that He would convict the world of sin (see John 16:8).
The apostle Paul declared that sin and death entered the world through one man and spread to all men (see Romans 5:12). And he concluded that sin and death were originally and continually connected. In Romans 6:16, he stated that we are “slaves to sin.” The Scriptures are filled with a diagnosis that many choose to ignore to their own peril. But philosophy did not save Greece, power did not save Rome, education did not save Europe, enterprise will not save America, and the Law did not save Israel (see Romans 10:3). Human answers cannot cure the human problem. But the Good News is that there is a Great Physician.
THE ISSUE OF SALVATION
Just as we must be accurate in our diagnosis of the vital issue of sin, we must be accurate concerning the cure. A wrong diagnosis is fatal. It is vital that we realize fully that we cannot save ourselves. We must be continually aware that “Salvation belongs to God” (Psalm 3:8). Isaiah adds, “We have waited for Him, and He will save us” (Isaiah 25:9).
When Jesus was born, the angels declared, “For unto us a Savior is born.” And when old Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, he said, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (see Luke 2:30). Jesus’ very name means salvation. He stands unique in human history, born of the Holy Spirit, sinless in life, merciful in death, glorious in Resurrection, ascending in triumph, interceding in heaven.
At Jesus’ Cross we receive all that we could never attain on our own. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The apostle Paul said, “He who knew no sin became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus died our death in our place. All that we have is through and because of what He did on the Cross. He took our incurable problem of sin upon Himself, took our judgment, paid our debt to God’s justice, removed our sin as far as the east is from the west, counted us righteous with His own righteousness, and redeemed us from the curse of broken law. Became our anchor of hope in heaven, gave us full access to the Father, promised us glorification, and by faith in Him gave us a new nature – all by the shedding of His blood at the Cross.(See Isaiah 53.) Praise God!
There is no one in history who has done so much for so many. The apostles clearly declared, “There is no other name by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). No other person or religion offers us the cure for our fatal disease; they only treat symptoms and offer platitudes and rules. But Christ is the cure!
So, what must we do? To be born anew – from above – we must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord (see Romans 10:8-13; Acts 16:31). For obedience, we must be baptized and follow Him. Obedience testifies to the authenticity of our new nature. What a blessed privilege to exchange our life for His, our ways for His, our purpose for His … our grief and pain for His health and joy! (See Isaiah 61:1-3.)
I witnessed a Baptismal service conducted in a city in India, right in the center of town. The candidate testified to being healed of leprosy and being saved from atheistic communism, right in the presence of Hindus and Communists. Then he shouted so all could hear, “Heaven would not be heaven without Jesus!” Jesus had become the Savior and the Lord of his life.
Our salvation is not only a past experience, it is continual. As the apostle states in 2 Corinthians 1:10,We have been, we are being, and will be delivered. And again in Romans 6:4, “We were buried with Him through Baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Life in Christ is a continual adventure into the purpose of God.
THE ISSUE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
My friend, Ern Baxter, used to say, “The Father wills it; the Son speaks it; the Spirit executes it.” The government of God is in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 14:17). The Holy Spirit was here before the beginning began (see Genesis 1:2). He is God with us and has been both with and in those whose hearts were open to God.
He was in Joseph (see Genesis 41:38). He was in Joshua (see Numbers 27:18). He was upon Moses and the Elders (see Numbers 11:16-29). He was in Daniel (see Daniel 4:8-9). John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth (see Luke 1:15 and 2:41). The Holy Spirit was in the prophets (see 1 Peter 1:11). He was upon Jesus (see Isaiah 61; Luke 3:21-22). He was in the disciples prior to Pentecost (see John 20:22). Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to anyone who asked (see Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit has always been the Divine agent of the Father’s will and the Son’s Word.
But something extraordinary also happened at Pentecost in the Upper Room. Jesus had made a special promise and told the disciples to wait for it (see Luke 24:49). Both John the Baptist and Jesus promised a Baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (see Luke 1:15; Luke 1:41). That promise was fulfilled on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost – fifty days after the Crucifixion.
Acts 2 records the historical event. They were waiting when the Holy Spirit came in great power and they began to magnify God and speak in languages they did not know. Others who were in Jerusalem heard them and wanted to know what was going on. Peter preached the Good News that the One they had crucified had risen and was both Lord and Christ. That day, 3000 fell under the power of the Holy Spirit and were saved from their sins, from themselves, and from their culture. They were baptized and the word spread. Strongholds throughout the Mediterranean were pulled down. The goddess cultures of Artemis, Isis, Venus, Athena, Astarte, and Sophia were destroyed by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
We may have the payload of the Gospel, but the rocket of spiritual power is essential to launch the Gospel. Real revival awaits the coming of the Holy Spirit in great power once again. Methods are no substitute.
THE ISSUE OF COMMISSION
The Great Commission is in fact the Great Command (see Matthew 28:18-20). The Holy Spirit comes to empower us to obey the Lord’s command. In John 14-16, Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit. He also makes it clear that following Him means reproducing disciples (see John 15:1-8). In John 20:21, He said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” Jesus came to bring many sons to glory (see Hebrews 2:10), and so it is with us. The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Teach faithful men who will teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Salvation in Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord’s command are not separate issues. They are inextricably linked! We have separated them by placing the responsibility upon institutions. The command was not given to institutions or churches; it was given to disciples. Proof of discipleship is reproduction (see John 15:8). Sin is personal; no one can repent for us. Salvation is personal; no one can be saved for us. The Holy Spirit is personal; no one can receive Him for us. And so it is with the command; it is personal. Grateful, true disciples obey.
HOW CAN WE MAKE DISCIPLES? HERE ARE SOME THOUGHTS:
- Understand the commission is for you. Desire to obey and please our Lord.
- Ask God for spiritual sons and daughters (see John 17:6).
- Recognize those who hear you and be intentional toward them. Identify them and give them identity.
- Reveal Christ to them in conduct and words. Be an example of your faith.
- Instruct them in Scripture and prayer as Jesus did. Pray and fellowship with them in the Holy Spirit.
- Serve their needs and be an example of service, generosity, and mercy.
- Correct in love and establish them to endure under testing.
- Teach them that they are stewards and as such must pass on what they have received.
- Failure to make disciples has left a great vacuum rapidly being filled by a variety of “isms”.
- The loss of so many youth is a painful reminder of our great challenge.
These four issues greatly concern me in these latter years of life as I look at my grandchildren and the world they face. My prayer is that I can be found faithful to the One who called me and hear His “well done.” I am not concerned about being politically correct, as that has robbed our culture of truth and reality. However, it is not too late to seek the Lord, and turn our concern to His, from our plans to His. If we do so, we will see the power of the Holy Spirit work again to change hearts and lives. Revival is occurring in various places and can yet happen here, but it will not come cheap. It will cost us tears and sacrifice but no price is too high to see the salvation of the Lord. Jesus showed us that.
Let us face the fact that we are in a war that is truly spiritual and the victory lies in spiritual power. The enemy is not called “the destroyer” without a reason. He has been and will be defeated. I pray we will join in the victory of Christ, Who has overcome the world.
P.S. Please continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month and throughout 2010! Like you, we must take each day by faith in order to fulfill our mission.
Scripture Reference: Psalm, Jeremiah, Matthew, John, Romans, Isaiah, Luke, 2 Corinthians, Acts, Genesis, Numbers, 1 Peter, Hebrews, 2 Timothy