A Final Post

Dear Friends In Christ,

                Over the past 25 years it has been a privilege for Lori and I and our family to serve the first Baptist Brampton family.  We encountered many different people in Downtown Brampton, from the marginalized community, the youth, seniors, families, and many others.  It was always our goal to find a way to share the love of Christ with each of you.  With retirement we have entered into a new phase in our service of Christ.  We will continue to serve the LORD.  That means that we will continue to pray for each of you. 

                Thank you to each of you for your support over these past 25 years.  Also we want to express our heartfelt thanks to each of you for your cards, gifts, well wishes, and prayers as we make this transition to retirement.  We already miss you very much.

                This will be my last post on this Pastor’s Blog.  It has been a labour of love for me over the years.  I will continue to post on the brand new website which I am in the process of developing.  It can be found at www.retiredpreacher.ca.  Check it out, it will have blog posts, pictures, videos, and hopefully a lot of information on our lives here in Leamington.

                For now, a hearty thank you, and a prayer that God will bless you in 2021.

                                                                                                                                                God Bless,

                                                                                                                                                David West

The Crisis Of This World

                “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will be.  My father will honour the one who serves me.  Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 12:23-28a

                In John chapter 12 something changes.  The Lord Jesus Christ has entered the Temple area in triumph.  Lazarus has been raised back to life from the dead.  The crowds are in a frenzy of excitement about Jesus and Lazarus.  The opposition to Jesus and His word has solidified with the intention to put Him to death.  Up to this point in the gospel Jesus has kept stating that His hour had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; and 8:20).  Now something has changed, a delegation of Gentiles, John calls them Greeks, are brought by Andrew and Philip to Jesus.  Their conversation with the Lord Jesus Christ is not recorded by John.  What he does record for us is the statement which Jesus makes on this occasion.  Something has changed.  Jesus’ hour has now come.  In verse 31 Jesus says that the judgment of the world and its prince has now come.  Literally what Jesus says here is that the time has come for the division, separation, judgment of this world.  The actual word here is crisis.  The crisis of the world has come.  A crisis is an event which brings change.  This is the hour that Jesus has now come to. 

                There is something about the coming of some Gentiles to Jesus which brings Him to the hour of His glorification.  He speaks to them, and His disciples, about what this crisis will require of Him and of them.  The Son of Man is about to be glorified through the cross.  Jesus’ hour is a cross centred hour.  So Jesus begins to speak about how He will glorify the Name of His father through His death on the cross.  He must die so that God’s redemptive purpose can be accomplished. 

                God is glorified through the cross of Christ.  Those who follow Jesus must be those who are crucified with Him.  We are called to heed the call of the Lord to follow Him to the cross.  There is no life for us or for others apart from the cross of Christ.  In fact Jesus tells his audience here in chapter 12 that, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am my servant must be.” We serve and follow Christ crucified.  The disciples, and us today, are called to follow Him to the cross.  Where He is found we are found and that is living the crucified life.

                George Whitefield tells us about this crucified life, which he applies to preachers, but which can be reasonably be applied to all true disciples of Christ when he writes the following.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men will they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labour and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain the earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the multitudes of human lives.” (Dallimore, Arnold, George Whitefield, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1970, Vol. 1 page 16)

Zechariah And The Spirit Of Revival

                “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look upon Me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son.  On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.  The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, and all the rest of the clans and their wives.  On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 12:10-13:1

                The Prophet Zechariah gives us a wonderful picture here of a coming revival in which many of the people of Jerusalem and of the House of David will be brought into a saving relationship with the LORD Jesus Christ.  Zechariah is looking ahead to the Day of the LORD in which there will be a separation of people into those who will be condemned in their sinful rebellion and those who will be saved by the coming Good Shepherd.  The day of the LORD is a day of separation because it is a day in which we encounter the reality of the LORD’s nature.  We therefore see our sin clearly, as well as the gift of grace that God calls us to in Christ.  Therefore we are brought to the point of decision. 

                Several things confront us as we meditate upon what Zechariah writes about here.  This is first of all a work of God’s grace.  He pours out upon His people a “Spirit of grace and supplication.”  His Spirit is poured out upon His People.  The Scriptures echo this point in numerous places.

                “Then they will know that I am the LORD their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind.  I will no longer hide My Face from them, for I will pour out My Spirit on the House of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 39:28-29

                “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Corinthians 1:18

                “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 2:14-16a

                God will pour out upon His people His Spirit causing us to draw near to Him in prayer because we see Him as He is and ourselves as those who are completely lost in our sin.  Zechariah tells us that the reason for this is found in the fact that we find ourselves looking upon the One who we have pierced.  The Apostle Paul loves to preach the message of Christ Crucified.  The description that Luke gives us of the events on the day of Pentecost show us that as Peter was preaching to the crowd under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the people began to see that they were personally responsible for the crucifixion of the LORD Jesus Christ, they cried out in anguish “What shall we do?”  Surely this is a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophesy.  Could it be that it is fulfilled every time there is a revival?  Looking ahead we can also see that there is a coming great revival in which many of the people of Israel will see Christ crucified clearly, and come to faith in Him.

                Zechariah tells us that this is the work of God among His people as He pours out His Spirit of supplication upon us.  We are called to prayer, to repentance and to see the One Pierced clearly.  We grieve, repent and come to the crucified one in faith, receiving from Him living water that cleanses us from every sin.  What a wonderful promise from God.  What a wonderful call to repentant faith in the Crucified One.

A Word Of Great Hope

“Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the Angel.  The Angel said to those who were standing before Him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”  Then He said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away all of your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:3-4

                ““Listen, o High Priest Joshua and his associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring My Servant, the Branch.  See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua!  There are seven eyes on that stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord Almighty, and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 3:8-9

                Over the past weeks we have been inundated with various kinds of bad news.  With each new event we find ourselves cast anew into the fears that dominate much of our lives.  We wonder what the future will hold.  What will happen to us?  Will there ever be joy and peace again?  Who will stand up and fight the battles which we fear we are about to face?  We wonder where the word of hope is in our uncertain times.

                It is in times like these that the words of the prophetic scriptures are so helpful and comforting.  In reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I came across a reference to Bonhoeffer’s study of the Psalms in which he made reference to the tremendous comfort that could be found there by people who were facing dangerous and difficult times.  What Bonhoeffer had learned was something which God’s people have always known.  This is the Word of God has the power to lift us out of our secular, unbelieving, frame of mind, and to cause us to focus upon the word of hope which we find in the Gospel.  It is this that we find the Prophet Zechariah doing as he passes along the visions that he had received.  He was providing ministry to people who were facing very uncertain and disappointing times.  Zechariah finds his visions pointing ahead to an incredible event that was to come.  This event, the coming of a Savoir, who would, in one day cleanse his people from all of their sin, would become a word that would provide comfort and joy for people right down to today.  Imagine what Zechariah is recording for us.  Personal, and National, sin will be cleansed away.  A new start would be given.  The benefit of what the redeemer to come would accomplish would be of eternal.  Hope is rooted in One who is eternally faithful.  It is not given by shifting people, or governments who can never be counted on.  It is not a security that is based upon fallible and weak people.  Our hope is established in the Redeemer who is unchanging, eternal God, who in love took upon Himself flesh, and came to live among us so that He could die in our place bearing our personal sin.  This hope can never be lost because it is in Him, not in us, or anything human. 

                At the heart of our hope is the forgiveness of our sin.  The wonder of this forgiveness can be illustrated by a testimony recorded by David Baron in his commentary on the book of Zechariah (David Baron, The Visions and Prophesies of Zechariah, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975, p. 93-94)

                “Some of my readers may have visited the Wartburg and had pointed out to them the black spot on one of the walls of the room which Luther occupied during his benevolently intended imprisonment.  The legend connected with it is this.  One night during this mournful solitude, when suffering from great depression, because, as he himself expresses it in a letter to Melanchthon, dated May 24, 1521, “I do see myself insensible and hardened, a slave to sloth, rarely, alas! Praying – unable even to utter a groan for the church, while my untamed flesh burns with a devouring flame” – the great reformer dreamt that Satan appeared to him with a long scroll, in which were carefully written the many sins and transgressions of which he was guilty from his birth, and which the evil one proceeded to read out, mocking the while that such a sinner as he could ever think of being called to do service for God, or even of escaping himself from hell.  As the long list was being read, Luther’s terrors grew, and his agonies of soul increased.  At last, however, rousing himself, he jumped up and exclaimed: “It is all true, Satan, and many more sins which I have committed in my life which are known to god only; but write at the bottom of your list, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleansesth us from all sin,’”  and grasping the inkstand on his table he threw it at the devil, who soon fled, the memorial of it being left in the ink-splash on the wall.”

                Amen!!  It is in that completed, holy work of the Son of God that we have hope.  It is that work that brings the joy into our lives in this new year.

Immanuel’s Land

                A few years ago in preparation for a sermon I came across this quotation which formed the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s Hymn originally entitled “Last Words” but now known by the name “The Sands of Time are sinking.” 

                “But the summons found him ill and like to die, and the court prepared to try him, received the treasured and characteristic answer: “I am summoned before a superior court and judiciary; and I behove to answer my first summons and ere your day arrive, I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”

                He died at St. Andrews, March 20th, 1661.  Late in the afternoon of the final day of his stormy life, just as the sun was sinking, he was asked by one of the friends standing by the couch.  “What think you now of Christ?”  To which he gave the answer: “Oh that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day!  I shall sleep in Christ, and then I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.  This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil; and I shall go away in a sleep by five in the morning.  Glory! Glory: to my Creator and my redeemer forever!  I shall live and adore Him.  Oh for arms to embrace Him!  Oh for a well tuned harp!  Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”  At precisely five in the morning as predicted, he crossed the border into Immanuel’s land, there to feast his eyes on “the King in His beauty.”

                Here are the lyrics to Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn inspired by these words.

                                “The sands of time are sinking.  The dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes.  Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.  And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love; the streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above;  There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove, and aye the dews of sorrow, were lustred with His love.  I’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved’s mine; He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”  I stand upon His merit; I know no safer stand, not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

                The original version of this hymn contained over twenty verses.  Our modern version has retained these five.  I want to draw your attention to one of the other verses however as it expresses the hope that is ours in Christ in the Gospel message.  Ours is indeed a resurrection faith.

                                “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, fill’d with His likeness rise, to live and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes, ‘Tween me and resurrection but paradise doth stand; Then – then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.”

An Advent Reflection

                “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  You will be true to Jacob and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:18-20

                This coming Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent.  For many this will be a delightful day in which we begin to sing Christmas carols and which we light the first Advent candle.  The songs of the Incarnation always seem to move our hearts in joyful worship.  I must confess that I love singing the Christmas carols, as they are among some of the most delightful of the hymns of the Church.  Advent looks ahead to the main event, the celebration of Christmas itself.  We love every part of that day.  We eagerly anticipate its coming each year.

                This week I looked up the definition of advent and made some discoveries.  For the Christian Church Advent is a season of anticipation where we look forward to the coming of our Redeemer, the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.  With this anticipation of His arrival we find ourselves immersed in hope that all that His coming means with become reality in our lives.  As Phillips Brooks writes in his masterful hymn “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  That line from O Little Town of Bethlehem captures our mood as we enter into advent this year.

                There is however a third element to the definition of Advent for the Christian Church.  This is the call to repentance which the season brings.  John the Baptist came and called people to prepare the way of the Lord.  In doing so John was letting his world and ours know that any communion with God requires repentance.  We must turn to Him.  This was as well the message of the Prophets.  They were sent to call God’s people back to Him.  Their message is filled with the word of the Advent.  God is coming among us.  Isaiah even has a Word or a Name to designate His coming, Emmanuel, God with us.  Therefore it should not surprise us that a substantial portion of the focus of Advent is upon the Prophetic message.

                That message consistently confronts us with the character of the God we worship.  Micah writes, “Who is a God like you?”  In fact that is the meaning of the Prophet’s name.  This is a key thought for us to focus upon this Advent season.  What do the Scriptures tell us about the character of God?  How is this reflected in the mighty works which He accomplished in the Incarnation of Christ? 

                Here we encounter the God of grace who became human flesh and dwelt among us so that He could redeem us from our sin.  The only response that is adequate to such great grace is one of believing worship.

The Gospel Is The Power of God

                “For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a

                “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.  They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

                “The sixth Angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Revelation 9:13

                For anyone who is born again there is a deep awareness of the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to save or to condemn.  The Apostle Paul certainly understood this.  The conversion experience which is described in Acts chapter nine and then which is testified to twice more in Luke’s description of the early years of the Church bear’s eloquent testimony to the power of the gospel.  Here was a man opposed to everything Christian, arrested on the Damascus road and turned into a powerful evangelist when he met Christ.

                Paul did not just have his own experience to rely upon here.  Time and again he had encountered the same power in the Gospel confronting a person and bringing them into a vibrant faith in Christ.  It is this which he gives thanks for as he begins his first letter to the Thessalonians.  This gospel has come to the Thessalonians with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.  As the Word of the Gospel was preached among them it began to do a deep work of conviction and conversion that ended up delivering them from the darkness into the light of the Lord’s Kingdom.  Describing his own conversion Paul recounts the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to him in Acts 26:16-18.

                “Now get up and stand on your feet.  I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

                Paul believed that the Gospel of Christ crucified was the power of God to save anyone who believed it.  He was so convinced of the power of the Gospel that he preached it to all who came under the sound of his voice.  He prayed that his preaching would impact all who heard him.  He not only prayed himself, he encouraged others to pray as well. 

                Paul was not the only Apostle to believe in the power of the Gospel of Christ and to link that power with the prayer of the Church. Repeatedly in the book of Revelation John links the spread of the Gospel with the symbolic prayers of the saints which God answers with warnings, calls to worship, and judgment.  

                I don’t know about you but these texts of Scripture call me to believe that the Gospel preached has the power of God to convert anyone who will believe it.  Therefore I must witness and preach in faith.  I must also be committed to a growing prayer life, calling on the Lord to rescue all who hear.  That is my calling; it is also yours as well.  Do you believe that the Gospel is the power of God to save?

Is Anyone of You in Trouble?

                “Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let him sing songs of praise.  Is any one of you sick?  He should call upon the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the Name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; and the Lord will raise him up.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you might be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:13-16

                Whenever we wrestle with the Scriptures, in earnest study we quickly discover that they contain riches of teaching that has the potential to completely change our lives.  Such is the case with the final verses of the letter of James.  Kim Riddlebarger, in a sermon on James 5:12-20 points us to the continuation of one of the main themes in the book of James.  This is the promise of our Lord to be with us and use all of the trials and distresses of our lives to mature us in Christ.  Riddlebarger complains that too often we confine these verses to merely giving us teaching about physical healing in response to prayer when in reality there is so much more here.  God does call us to bring all of our needs before Him in prayer.  We must be committed to praying for one another.  However we miss much of what James is writing here when we confine his thoughts to that limited approach. 

                As we carefully engage in a study of the words that James uses in these verses we find that rich teaching is opened up to us.  When he refers to those who are sick, in verse 14, the word he uses can also be translated as to be deficient in strength, weak, to be unsettled, afflicted, distressed, or needy.  The same word is translated as “powerless” in Romans 5:6, as “weak” in Romans 6:19 and as “unimpressive” in 2 Corinthians 10:10.  Riddlebarger correctly suggests that what James is referring to here is the trials and distress that persecuted believers were facing as they sought to faithfully lived the Christian life.  To these, many of whom were becoming so weakened by all that they were facing that they were tempted to give up all together, James gives a word of great encouragement.  This distress often does include all many of physical distress and ailment.  It is not limited to that however.  When we face distress like this what are we to do?  We are to call upon the Spiritual leaders of our Church to come, anoint us with oil, which can be understood as a symbol of our consecration to the will of God, and to pray for us.  The outcome of this prayer is that the Lord lifts us up; He encourages us, strengthening us to continue to live for His glory.  The reason for this is that we come to see clearly that in His providence He is working in us to recreate us into the image of His dear Son.  Sin is forgiven here.  Weakness is overcome.  In these few verses James calls us to see that we are delivered from sin, saved from its power over us, restored in fellowship with our Lord, and healed of all of the consequences of our sin.  Some of the consequences of this great gift will only be fully revealed in eternity but they are becoming an increasing reality for us today.

                Perhaps the author of Hebrews is reflecting upon the same reality when he writes,

                                “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as Sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father.  If you are not disciple (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we might share in His holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:7-13)

                This is the reason we are called into fellowship with other believes so that we can pray for one another.

A Call To Arms

                “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”

                “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Titus 1:5, 9

                When we wrestle with the message of the Pastoral Epistles we are led to the conclusion that these three books are something much more than just manuals for church order.  So often what we do is to look to these New Testament books for answers to questions about how we are to organize our churches.  There is something much deeper and more powerful written here however.  Steve Timmis in a Blog Post entitled “The Pillar of Truth” explores this in the following two paragraphs.  Timmis is writing specifically about 1 & 2 Timothy, but what he writes applies equally well to the book of Titus.

                “He wants Timothy to get the church at Ephesus back on gospel tracks because she has departed from the gospel.  The Pastoral Epistles are not simply manuals for church order.  They are an urgent call to arms.  Timothy needs to go to war because the gospel is at stake in this city and region.

                But critical to this strategy is the church herself.  The church, formed by the gospel, is for the gospel, and by her life and witness, she commends the gospel and is the primary apologetic for the gospel before the world.  John Stott, in his commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus, put it well when he wrote, “The church depends upon the truth for its existence; the truth depends upon the church for its defence and proclamation.”” (Timmis, Steve, “The Pillar of Truth” http://ligonier.org/learn/articles/pillar-truth/ )

                What Timmis is pointing to here is the fact that Timothy and Titus have been given the task to put their churches and the lives of the disciples in each city on a footing that will cause them to enter successfully into the great spiritual conflict that is taking place in each of their cities.  It is simple for us to drift away from the gospel footing as an individual or for that matter as a church.  We begin to enjoy the fruit of a saved life forgetting the sin that we have been saved out of.  We become uncomfortable engaging in the conflict which is before us in this world.  Titus and Timothy are to call their churches back to the conflict through which they are living as believers.  That conflict existed in their world, and it exists in ours as well.  We and our churches need to heed the calling back to sound doctrine that Paul issues here.  This sound doctrine is doctrine that radically transforms our lives so that we engage the world around us with the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ is building into our lives. 

                Perhaps this is what Paul means when he writes at the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians these words.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

A Living Sacrifice

                “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

                                                                                                                                Romans 12:1-2

                The twelfth chapter of Romans begins a long section of the letter in which the Apostle Paul applies the doctrinal message which he has been exploring in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  What this tells us is that practical Christian living is always the result of correctly understanding and incorporating Biblical Christian doctrine into our lives.  The doctrine describes the fundamental way in which we come to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ.  A Christian is a person who by faith abides in Christ.  It is not a philosophy or a lifestyle, it is not even membership in a Church, it is a relationship which is characterized by a trusting commitment to the Son of God.  The Apostle Paul outlines this in the first eleven chapters of the letter.  Then he begins to apply these truths to the life we live.  He starts with a very interesting statement in the first two verses of chapter twelve.

                This is that our response to God’s mercy which has been revealed in the Gospel must be to surrender ourselves to God.  In verse one Paul uses the word “offer” or “present” here.  Back in chapter six verses 13, 16, and 19 he uses the same word which is always translated as “offer”.  The word refers to the offering of a sacrificial animal on the altar.  The animal so offered was considered to be fully and unconditionally devoted to God.  The Apostle Paul is stating here that the consequence of God’s grace revealed in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that we surrender every part of our lives unconditionally to God in Christ.  Such surrender is not partial or conditional.  It is total and complete.  John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes it in this way in regard to his own life.  He says that when he came to terms with his own unbelief which resulted in ingrownness in his life he recognised that the way out was through first of all giving himself unconditionally to God.  Then he began to courageously obey God in every area of his life.  The ability or power to do this came, he recognised, not from himself, but from God’s Spirit. 

                This is what the Apostle Paul is writing about as he applies God’s truth to our lives.  It requires courage to obey God in this.  It also requires a growing faith.  This is the test, do we truly believe that God will keep the promises that He has made to us in His Word?  When we truly do believe it then the results are life transforming.  It all begins with a living sacrifice.