Thursday, March 31, 2016

Should We Pray "In Jesus' Name"?

What does it mean to add the phrase "in Jesus' name" after every prayer that we pray?  Is this some magic formula that brings to completion our request, or guarantees the answer that we want?  In fact, we don't see anyone using it in Scripture like we use it.  However, I must admit that I say it almost every time.  Jesus did not say to add this phrase at the end of our prayers either.

Christ did say, "Whatever you ask in my name I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son if you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (Jn. 14:13-14).  But what does this mean?

When we come in the name of someone else it means that another person has actually authorized us to come on his/her authority, not on our own authority.  Therefore, when we conclude our prayers by adding "in Jesus' name," we are offering prayer made by Jesus' authorization on the basis of His mediatorial work for us.  The name of Jesus Christ offers his authority and all of His character.  Wayne Grudem says, "Praying 'in Jesus' name' is not only praying in His authority, but also praying in a way that is consistent with his character, that truly represents him and reflects his manner of life and his own holy will."  So in essence, to pray "in Jesus' name" is to pray according to His will and His holy character.

In Acts 3:6, Peter commands the lame man, "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk", he is speaking on the authority of Jesus Christ and not his own.  The religious rulers often asked the disciples, by what authority do you speak and do these miracles?

Does this mean that it is wrong to add that long-standing adage ("in Jesus' name) that we are so comfortable saying after each prayer?  I don't believe so at all.  However, the danger is that it becomes a mere formula or ritual to complete what we want to communicate.  Could we pray and conclude with just "amen"--certainly?  Christ is our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) and He has made  provisions for us to enter the throne-room of God (Hebrews 6:19-20).  We never come on our own merit but on the merits of Jesus Christ.  Our hearts must always realize that it is our Savior, Jesus Christ, that allows all petitions and requests to be made possible.  It is by His name that we have access to God the Father!

Here is an interesting thought.  How did the Old Testament saints pray or communicate with God?  Did they know about this formula ("in Jesus' name")?  I believe they prayed to God through the sacrificial system that He established for them and that it was based on the future work of Christ that foreshadowed that system (Romans 3:19-26).  Prayer is personally communicating with God and it is made possible only through the work of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What if Christ had NOT Been Risen?

What if Christ had not been risen from the grave?  Would it really matter as long as he died for our sins?  The sacrifice was certainly acceptable in God's sight and God poured his wrath upon Christ for our sins.  It would appear that many times we freely share that Christ died for our sins and it is true.  However, Christ also rose from the grave to complete our salvation.  You see, everyone will die but not everyone can raise themselves from the grave--only Christ.

The apostle Paul presented this question to the Corinthians because there were some who denied the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12).  I would like to say that if there was no resurrection of Jesus Christ then there is no Christianity.  We would have no reason to meet and worship each week.  Our sacrifices to serve, study the Word, and be different are a waste of time.  There is no need to give to the church or to missions because there is no message of hope for the world.  The only thing that matters is the here and now.  Someone would have been correct when they said, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" if there was no resurrection.  The resurrection has massive implications and it is part of the Gospel and the Good News!  It is the cornerstone without which the building collapses.

Here is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:13-20 concerning the implications if Christ had never been risen from the grave.  If there was no resurrection of Jesus Christ....
  1. Then our preaching of the Gospel is useless (1 Cor. 15:14).  There is no point in preaching.  The Gospel (according to Scripture) is the Good News "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). There is NO Gospel without the resurrection!
  2. Then our faith is useless (1 Cor. 15:14).  All this repentance and all this faith is absolutely meaningless.  We have labored in vain and we are all fools.
  3. Then the apostles were liars (1 Cor. 15:15).  They fabricated a story of a Christ that did not rise from the grave.  These liars even wrote the New Testament which now cannot be believed.  Even the Old Testament spoke of an event that never happened (Psalm 16).  Jesus even said himself that he would come out of the grave but he would have lied to his followers as well.
  4. Then the dead are not raised (1 Cor. 15:16).  If Christ was not raised then nobody will ever live after the grave.  All Old and New Testament saints are still in the grave today and that is where we will forever remain after death.  Game over.
  5. Then we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17).  Without a resurrection there is no satisfaction of God's wrath. There is no forgiveness of sins, no penalty has been paid, no justification, no salvation.  
  6. Then our current sufferings are for nothing (1 Cor. 15:18).  It means we trusted and lived for a Savior who could never save us.  Our sacrifices for him really made no difference.
  7. Then this life is all that really matters (1 Cor. 15:19).   We made a mistake and put all of our eggs in one Easter basket for this short life.  We are the most pitiful according to Scripture.  It's all been pointless!  We've played the fool from start to finish.
Praise God for verse 20!  "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."  Because Christ did rise from the dead:  we have a life-changing Gospel, we have a faith that is alive and active, eye-witnesses saw him, believers in Christ will be raised from the grave as well,  we have been freed from our sins, we will be rewarded for our sufferings in this life, and we can live with eternity in view!  Jesus Christ is the guarantee of our salvation and future resurrection!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

How Does God Use Evil?

In my Monday morning life group we have been studying God's sovereignty and God's providence.  How are we to understand that everything is under God's control?  How can we walk in confidence knowing that God always has everyone's best interest at heart even when circumstances do not appear to be that way? Does anything happen by random chance?

I believe it is safe to say that God uses all things to fulfill his purposes and he even uses evil for his glory and for our good.  Romans 8:28 says, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose."  This type of knowledge allowed Joseph to tell his brothers, "You meant evil against me; but God meant if for good" (Gen. 50:20).  Even in the punishment of evil God is glorified.  We read in Proverbs 16:4 that "the Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble."  David says, "Surely the wrath of men shall praise you" (Ps. 76:10).

We see throughout Scripture how God used evil to bring about his desires.  Joseph was mentioned already and it serves as a very clear example of how the acts of evil men are used by God for his greater purposes.   Joseph shares with his brothers that, "God sent me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5).  He said again, "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Gen. 50:20).

The story of the exodus from Egypt repeatedly affirms that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh:  God says, "I will harden his heart" (Ex. 4:21), "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" (Ex. 7:3), "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Ex. 9:12).  God's promises happened long before Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  Paul informs us about Pharaoh, "The scripture says to Pharaoh, 'I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth'" (Ro. 9:17).

Another great example is seen in Job.  The Lord gave Satan permission (even Satan needs God's permission) to bring harm to Job's family and possessions.  Job never blamed God but acknowledged that, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).  Neither Joseph or Job suffered because of their own sin but God was working His good through these men and their circumstances.

Lastly, the most evil deeds of all history were the crimes committed against Jesus Christ.  These crimes were ordained by God and were not random acts of violence.  God's timing, the place, those who would betray Christ, and his persecutors were identified in advance.  The church of Jerusalem recognized this as they prayed, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 2:47).  It should be noted that all of the actions and all of the people noted at the crucifixion of Christ were "predestined" by God.

God NEVER does evil and is NEVER to be blamed for evil.  James says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:13-14).  ALL MEN are responsible for their choices and will be held accountable for their evil.  These are difficult thoughts to process and although we may not be able to understand it all, we can walk in confidence knowing that God has always been in control and nothing escapes him.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Does God Know My Future?

Just how much does God really control and how much do we control?  I totally object to the idea that God is learning my moves and as a result He is adjusting His moves accordingly.  This is called Open Theism and it is heresy.  David says in Psalm 139:16, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." God controls nature, governments, and mankind fully.  Paul says that God "accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will."  We even know that with random events in life and things that seem to just happen by chance that, "The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord" (Pr. 16:33).  Scripture even tells us that God "makes nations great, and he destroys them: he enlarges nations, and leads them away" (Job 12:23).

All our actions are under God's providential care, for "in him we live and move" (Acts 17:28).  Jeremiah said with confidence, "I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).  Solomon stated that "A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Pr. 16:9).  We know that we make willing choices, but who formed our will to make those choices?  God guides the desires and inclinations of believers, working in us "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). 

Although it is difficult at times to reconcile our will and God's providential care, God is in full control of ALL things.  Theologian, Wayne Grudem, summed it up, "It seems better simply to affirm that God causes all things that happen, but that he does so in such a way that he somehow upholds our ability to make willing, responsible choices, choices that have real and eternal results, and for which we are held accountable."  Scripture does not explain just exactly how these two aspects come together but they cannot be refuted.  We cannot refute the idea just because we cannot explain the idea--especially since it is in Scripture.  The number of passages that support the providential working of God are so formidable that we cannot refute this doctrine but we should be able to rest in Him and be at peace knowing that He is at the helm. 

The more that we understand God's providence the more it shapes our lives in how we pray, live, and trust Him.  What other way would we want it to be?  God has established the best plan for all of his creation to rest in Him and to move in Him.  God in His infinite wisdom has made it possible for the finite to intersect with Him through the work of Christ.  His understanding, kindness, and love is above measure!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Evidence of Our Salvation

Perhaps Christ, more than anyone, spoke about the type of life that ought to characterize His followers.  Most of you, like me, can identify with people who claim to know Jesus Christ but yet they often look nothing like Jesus Christ (That is probably all of us at times but it should definitely not be the rule.).  This is truly a Big problem as our future hinges on this issue.  If Christ's followers fail to look and act like Jesus Christ then there is a very good chance that they do not belong to Jesus Christ and it would all make sense.  However, those who are adamant that they know Jesus Christ but fail to reflect Him in how they live are probably living in disobedience to Him as their Lord.  God certainly knows the truth and will hold all men accountable to Himself.

Matthew 3:7-10 says, "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

You see, God is not so much concerned with our family tree as He is with our bearing fruit that demonstrates a repentant heart that is following Him.  The things that we say and do should give evidence of the God that we say we serve.  If found in the court of law, would there be enough evidence to convict us of being a genuine Christ--follower???  The name Christian is used VERY loosely today so we must be careful to define a Christian from God's perspective.  Hebrews 13:15-16 says, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."  A life that is sold out to God will be the greatest evidence that we truly KNOW Him as the Savior and Lord of our lives. 

The lost and dying world around us longs to see genuine Christians who are living out their faith!