Saved By Grace

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For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God  (Ephesians 2:8).

This little phrase “by grace are ye saved” is undoubtedly the favourite of many believers. There is no denying the fact that the Christian life is all of grace from start to finish. Even if you do not know this text, as a Christian, you know or must know that your salvation is all of grace to which you added nothing or contributed nothing and the text is clear in that sense: “and that not of yourselves.” If you don’t know this fact, perhaps I will ask you “how did you become a Christian?” B. B. Warfield, a theologian in the 19th century said that: “The whole gospel turns as upon its hinge on this fact,that salvation is of pure grace.” The text under consideration therefore is one of the glorious truth of the Christian faith that salvation is all of grace.

What Is Grace?

In the world, there are only two religions. There is a religion of grace and a religion of human effort: a religion of faith and a religion of works; True religion and false religion. And Christianity apart from all religions is a religion of grace through faith alone for salvation. Now before we can have a good appreciation of the grace of God, we need to have have a good appreciation of what our problem as human beings is. Grace has become a normal language so perhaps many often lose the true significance of grace. You ask someone how are you and whether they are a Christian or not, you are likely to hear them responding “fine by grace.” Grace is not lost on us I believe, but often many people interpret grace in very shallow and materialistic way. Listen to the words of this contemporary gospel music:

From the planes I fly, the cars I drive, the money I have
Ebe God e dey bless me
Food on my table, houses I’ve built, family I’ve got
Ebe God e dey bless me,
It’s not by power, it’s not by strength, just by the Holy Ghost
And I’m not ashamed to tell the world, my blessings dey come from God

You see what people call blessings out there? Money, cars, houses, food… Not that these are not important. But if these are what we want to point out to the world as God’s blessings, then we are doomed. Our understanding of blessing is very shallow and materialistic indeed. To have a good understanding of grace therefore, we need a good understanding of our condition as human beings. Contrast and compare the words of the song we just looked at with the words of this hymn and the difference will be clear:

Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see

Here is a true reflection of what grace really is and it reveals the condition of the sinner and everyone before they came to Christ: They were wretched, lost and blind. Wretched because we lacked the love of God. Lost because we are distanced from God and blind without an appreciation of the truth of God. Sinners are blinded to the truth of God. Grace, is commonly described as God’s unmerited favour. Others have described it as God’s Redemption at Christ’s Expense using the letters that spells grace.

All these are true. But I want us to look at the text and get our own understanding from the text about what grace is and what Paul is talking about. As we attempt to do that, we will also answer the question.

What Have We Been Saved From?

The text speaks of been saved by grace. Now to be saved means one was previously in a dangerous or precarious situation. And as we look at the Scriptures; what we have been saved from becomes clear.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Dead in trespasses and sins

The whole text we are looking at paints a picture of gloom and hopelessness from vv.1-3. Paul here contrasts the life of the Ephesian believers when they were unbelievers with their lives when they became believers. And in this contrast, we learn something true of all humanity before they come to Christ.All of us and all human beings have different personalities. We come from different backgrounds. Different parts of the world. In our own country we come from different tribes. We are different in so many ways. But all of us, despite our different background have one thing in common; we are sinners. We come into his world as sinners. One theologian has said that “we come into this world, dead on arrival” And our sin has actually separated us from God.

Hopelesness

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world (vv 11-12).

To be hopeless is simply to be without Christ and without God. The world’s greatest problem is not poverty or sickness. The world’s greatest problem is separation from God. As Gentiles, the Ephesians, before they came to faith were hopeless. They had no hope.
Not only that, as Gentiles, the Ephesians were outside of God’s family: they were aliens and strangers from the covenants of promise. When God’s people are counted, they didn’t belong. The Jews had a national pride for being the people of God and everyone else was outside of the covenant of God. Remember David’s description of Goliath? “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” Circumcision then was a mark of covenant relationship. In simple terms Gentiles did not fit in. They didn’t belong to God’s family. They were far off (v.13).

Enemies of God

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (vv. 14-16).

Because sinners are dead in sin living their lives contrary to God’s commands, they have set themselves up against God. Sinners are enemies of God, they will have nothing to do with God. We hate God. Naturally of our ownselves we will have nothing to do with God. Paul used an actual historical event to illustrate this. There is evidence that in the second temple of Jewish worship, there was an inscription barring Gentiles from entering the temple. Any Gentile who goes against this will suffer death. The inscription reads:

No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow
So both from the natural point of view and the spiritual, man is lost and helpless without God.
that not of yourselves

The very first three verses of Ephesians as you can see is full of gloom and hopelessness. Natural man is depicted as not having the ability in themselves. to respond to God: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:44). In fact, if left on her own, the sinner would not come to God. To be dead in sin is comparable to a corpse. A corpse cannot give life to itself can it? It is in this sense Paul say “not of yourselves”. You cannot save yourself. You have no power over your life. In Matthew 6 Jesus said you cant even add a cubit to your height. How much more salvation?

But God
Having spoken of how gloomy our situation was, a light of hope is shown through our hopelessness with the words in vv.4-5“But God”. This juxtaposes God’s ability with our inability: what we couldn’t do with what God did in our regeneration. Out of our despondent, desperate, hopeless situation as sinners, hope sprung from God. From v4 onwards, we see the love and mercy of God at display towards the sinner. And that’s what grace is about:

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us (v.4)

Grace is about God’s richness in mercy towards sinners. Grace is God’s great love towards his people.

A New Life

When God intervenes in our deadness, He gives us eternal life. He makes us alive to be able to relate with him. He also grants us eternal life and draws us to himself through Christ. The sinner who once had no hope is now given hope in this life because he is now united with Christ and reconciled to God (v5). We are seated in the heavenly places that means we are now citizens of heaven. We have hope now and hope in the life to come. God has purposed to show us “in the coming ages…the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus “(v7).
This new life is not a result of anything good or meritorious work in us. It is a new life that springs from the love, mercy and grace–unmerited favour– of God

What Must You Do?

If you have not come to faith in Christ Jesus, all that has been said of the former life of the believer is true of you. You are dead in sin, hopeless without God, you are an enemy of God and his wrath is upon you. This is a fearful thing and this very day, God offers you life in his Son Jesus. You have to turn to him in faith and repent of your sins. He makes a call: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

 

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“I Can Do All Things Through Christ”…You May Have Been Misinterpreting The Text.

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Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is one exuding with great joy, praise and adoration. In this epistle, you encounter words like “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1); “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (4:4). What is most fascinating is that Paul wrote these words while in prison. The epistle to the Philippians, therefore, is one of Paul’s prison epistles. Now it is fascinating because, in our normal human reasoning, a man in prison shouldn’t be exuding with such admonishments to be joyful. John MacArthur notes that “In spite of Paul’s imprisonment, the dominant tone of the letter is joyful (1: 4, 18, 25, 26; 2: 2, 16– 18, 28; 3: 1, 3; 4: 1, 4, 10)”¹. Philippians without doubts contains great themes not only of joy, but also of the humiliation of Christ and the great exchange that took place:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him a name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Here is a Christological statement telling us of the humility, humiliation, and exaltation of Christ. Albeit, despite these great themes, there is one text in Philippians which is often widely quoted, and often widely misinterpreted. That text is Chapter 4:13. It reads,

I can do all things through him[Christ] who strengthens me.

Paul’s words here have been interpreted to basically mean the ability to achieve great feats in whatever endeavour a believer sets their minds to. A believer has exams to write, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. A believer is attending a job interview, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. A Christian businessman is chasing a contract, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A believer competes in a sports event, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. An online article aptly describes how this text has been used in the sports arena by some athletes.

Tim Tebow put Phil 4:13 under his eye before football games. Jon Jones, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, has it tattooed on his chest.

What we must not do is pluck biblical texts out of context to say what we want them to say. Unfortunately, that is what many believers have done with Philippians 4:13. In hermeneutics, that is, the science of biblical interpretation, this is called eisegesis—reading into a text a meaning that is not there. On the contrary, we must be doing exegesis—reading meaning out of the text. Now, it doesn’t matter how sincere we may be with a text; once it is taken out of context we are being unfaithful to God’s word.

So, you may ask, how must we view Philippians 4:13? In dealing with any biblical text, the immediate context and the larger context of the bible is to be taken into consideration. We shouldn’t, for example, interpret a text in such a way that other passages of Scripture are contradicted. Thus, in the immediate context of Philippians 3, what do we learn?

Not A Booster for Great Achievements

Firstly, Paul’s words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” should not be taken to mean the believer can do any great thing they set their minds to. In fact, with a correct understanding of the text, I dare say “you cannot do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” Eyebrows raised? Of course, the text says exactly that so why am I saying otherwise?
Please hear me out. The fact is, Christ doesn’t empower you to be able to do ‘everything’ you want to do. If you are not a trained surgeon, for example, you cannot perform a surgery simply because you believe “you can do all things through Christ”. This may sound an extreme example but that is a perfect picture you paint if you believe you can do all things. You cannot pilot a plane if you have not been trained to do so, simply because you can do all things. In fact, you cannot fly because you believe you can fly. You are not a bird.

It has been noted earlier that Philippians is a prison epistle. Think of this: what greater feats is a man in prison attempting to achieve when he writes “I can do all things…?” No, Paul cannot do all things in the sense of achieving whatever great feat he can set his mind to. This is someone in prison, who is probably bound in shackles and couldn’t even move about freely. Achieving arbitrary great feats will not be his focus at that time. A man in prison will perhaps be making good use of the limited time he has. He wouldn’t be having “conquering the world in great achievements” on his plate at all.

Contentment

In Philippians 4:13, what Paul is speaking about condenses simply into contentment. You see, Paul is in prison and the Philippian church have finally had an opportunity to show their concern for his upkeep: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity” (v.10). It could be that perhaps hitherto, they had not had the opportunity to show their concern to Paul in prison, yet, through divine providence, it had become possible and Paul shows gratitude for their concern. However, perhaps for them not to feel compelled under duress to further provide for him, Paul quickly explains he is not appreciating them out of need. He tells them: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be a content” (v.11).

Paul here makes it clear he has learnt contentment in whatever situation he finds himself. And this is the crux of the whole text: contentment. Building up to v.13 Paul will again speak of how he has learnt contentment in every situation: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (v.12). This is very instructive to us today in a world that constantly calls us to crave for more. A consumerist spirit has gripped many and they are never content with what they have. But not so with Paul. He tells us he has learnt to endure both plenty and lack. Where did he learn this from? He learnt it by emulating Christ. Remember, earlier he had advised the Philippians to “have this mind among [themselves], which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Learn from Christ, he is saying. Set your mind upon him. Let his humiliation be an example to endure whatever situation you find yourself. Be content with whatever you have and learn to trust in God in the bad and good situations.

Logically, if you have read v.12, the meaning in v.13 must now begin to stand out when Paul says “I can do all things through him[Christ] who strengthens me.” The ‘all things’ refers in the first place to coping with need or plenty. The apostle’s words are better translated ‘I can do all things in him…’. It is ‘in Christ’ that he has learned to do this.² If you have never seen contentment in Philippians 4:13; begin looking at the text in its context. I will conclude with the words of Sinclair B. Ferguson in his book ‘Let’s Study Philippians’:

Christians today live in a society which is permeated by a spirit of discontentment. Greed has destroyed gratitude, getting has replaced giving. But in the pursuit of self-sufficiency, we have lost our way. We have developed spirits driven forwards to gain more, incapable of slowing, stopping and remembering that those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind…It is time to pause and to ask: ‘Am I content, in Christ?’ If not, it is the first thing I need to begin to relearn³.

Notes:

1. Note on Philippians 4:13 from The MacArthur Study Bible, 2006, Thomas Nelson.

2. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians (Edinburgh:Banner of Truth, 2005), 108

3. Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians, 109

Evangelist Prays Over ‘Bloody’ River: Christianity or Superstition?

 

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Much of what we call Christianity in this country is superstition carried over from animistic beliefs garnished with biblical jargon. For instance, many will explain every sickness or death as having an evil spirit behind it. In Ghana, nobody gets sick or dies of natural causes. Every sickness, death or misfortune ought to be explained ‘spiritually’. Either somebody in your family is “doing you”(an expression that means one is being  manipulated spiritually in the dark world by another) or a work colleague, business partner, family or friend is behind a misfortune of another.

Professing Christians have become obsessed with the devil to the point of making God appear powerless and out of control. I am tempted to believe the God of these so called believers is not the God of the Bible. Christians are counselled against  visiting their hometowns because family members will harm them spiritually. Others are instructed not to remit their relatives—even parents.

When I hear these things, I ask what happened to the sovereignty of God over his creation that Christians believe or must believe?

And all these, sadly, comes from Christian pulpits and churches. Preachers have become purveyors of fear instead of preachers of the love and grace of God which forgives sin through faith in Christ Jesus. Social media seem to have heightened our superstition.

On Saturday 7th October, there was a reported case of a river in the New Juaben municipality turning red like blood. This incident, according to a chief in the community was a result of a chemical pollution in the river. The Ghana Police’s preliminary investigations also corroborated the chief’s assertion. Below is an excerpt from a news item carried on Citifm.

Our preliminary investigations show that, it was not blood, but rather some unscrupulous persons might have poured some chemicals into it upstream and that was what was flowing downstream.

However, as usual, superstition came into play. Residents of the town are said to have been superstitious about the incident. What is troubling however is a Christian minister of the gospel joining in the superstition chants. A news item on GhanaWeb, “Lawrence Tetteh exorcises ‘bloody river’ of demons” reads as below:

The Founder of World Miracle Outreach, Dr Lawrence Tetteh has visited the New Juaben municipality in the Eastern Region to exorcise the ‘blood red’ Nsukwa River of any evil spirits after the water body suddenly changed colour on Saturday, 7 October.

The evangelist prayed for blessings for the townsfolk and asked for God’s intervention for “Koforidua to live in peace”.

During the prayer session, he said: “…We cast every demon, we say Koforidua shall be peaceful. There will not be bloodshed; there will not be anything evil, the people of Koforidua will be blessed”.

He added: “As we see this thing in the river; the river is looking like blood, whatever it is and wherever it comes from we bless it in Jesus’ name, Amen!”

This is sad and nothing close to Christianity. Dear Christian friend, let’s put our thinking caps on and be a little more discerning—it is a biblical charge. A social media commentator’s words will aptly conclude this short post.

Instead of switching on our brains and acting like intelligent humans, we dance around like heathen and call on God to do for us what we must do for ourselves.

Kofi Bentil

The Christian And Fruitfulness.

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John 15

The central motif of this chapter is as we read on is fruitfulness. Now when a child is born, we expect growth. When a seed or tree is planted, we expect growth and fruitfulness. Likewise, growth and fruitfulness is expected and actually required of the Christian. In John 15, Christ used an agricultural metaphor to describe his relationship with his disciples and by extension us and what’s required in that relationship–fruitfulness. John MacArthur, in his Bible Commentary notes that “The NT describes fruit[fulness] as godly attitudes (Gal. 5:22, 23), righteous behaviour (Phil. 1:11), praise (Heb. 13:15), and, especially, leading others to faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God (Rom. 1:13-16)”.¹ (Emphasis mine)

As a believer, you may want to pause and ask if  any of these describes you. Fruitfulness is not an option for the believer. It is an obligation we must work towards in cooperation with the sanctifing work of the Holy Spirit. And in this post, I hope to explore in the text how a believer can bear fruit.

The True Vine

Christ described himself as the true vine in John 15:1: “I am the true vine….” The vine was an important plant in the lives of the Jews and the disciples would be well acquainted with that metaphor hence Christ’s usage of it to depict fruit bearing:

Vine, the well-known valuable plant (virus vinifera) very frequently referred to in the Old and New Testaments and cultivated from the earliest time. The first mention of this plant occurs in Gen. 9:20,21….The vines of Palestine were celebrated both for luxuriant growth and for the immense clusters of grapes which they produced, which were sometimes carried on a staff between two men as in the case of the spies, Num. 13:23…From the abundance and excellence of the vines, it may readily be understood how frequently this plant is the subject of metaphor in the Holy Scriptures. To dwell under the vine and fig tree is an emblem of domestic happiness and peace.²

The above tells how important the vine was in the life of the Israelites. Israel was described as a vine planted by God (Ex.15:17; Jer. 2:21, 12:10; Ps. 80:8). Israel as a vine was a foreshadow of the real and true vine–Jesus Christ. So when Christ described himself as the true vine, he was juxtaposing himself with apostate Israel which didn’t bear fruit.

Now, if there is a vine, then there must a Vinedresser. And Jesus identifies the Vinedresser as the Father: “my Father is the vinedresser“. The Father as the Vinedresser also indicates to us the union of the Father and Son in working towards the fruitfulness of believers—the branches.

Fruit Bearing

In John 15, Jesus speaks of how a believer bears fruit. I will categorise these into two: (i) God’s Initiative and (ii) The Believers’ Response. This means fruit bearing is a two way approach. God works in the believer and the believer responds to God’s work. Paul in his letter to the Philippians perfectly illustrated this. He wrote:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13).

God’s Initiative.

First and foremost, fruit bearing is possible only when one is in union with Christ through faith. Fruit bearing can’t happen outside of a union with Christ: “for apart from me you can do nothing” (v.5). Ultimately, it is God who works in us to bear fruit. Sinful as we are, separated from God by sin, we can do nothing pleasing to God without him first taking the initiative to love us and reconcile us to himself (Rom. 5:6-8, Eph 2:1-10; 1Jn. 4:19). God saves the sinner by grace and joins them to Christ through faith: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (v.16).

God doesn’t leave us on our own after we are saved. He provides the strength and energy to please him through his Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. As a loving Father, one of the many ways he ensures we are bearing more fruit is pruning:

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (vv.2-3).

The believer, as we see in the text, starts from a position of justification where they are already declared clean by the word: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (v.3).We can only proceed to bear fruit because of this position of justification. We can bear fruit because we are clean before God.

Pruning

Pruning is an agricultural term where branches impeding fruitfulness on a vine are trimmed off to allow for more room to bear fruit. Sometimes it involves lifting creeping branches on the floor, supporting them with stakes and washing them with the purpose of getting maximum fruit. This agricultural imagery is what God does to a believer who is bearing fruit. God prunes them so they bear more fruit. Pruning takes place in many ways.

When the word of God is preached for example, it searches our hearts and convicts us of our sins (Heb.4:12-13). It also involves discipline and chastisement (Heb. 12: 5-11) of the believer. God has the sole aim of conforming us to the image of Christ in character and holiness; therefore any sinful habit or even a ‘good thing’ which may stand between us and God in this journey of conformity would be cleared—pruned away.

We notice also in the text that there are those who don’t bear fruit and are cut off and cast into fire. This picture depicts eternal damnation and since a believer would not be brought into eternal damnation; these unfruitful branches are actually those who may appear to be believers but are actually not. If a person claims to be a Christian and is bearing no fruit in their walk with God, it may be a cause for concern. Are you truly saved? You must bear fruit.

The Believers’ Response

So far, we have looked at God’s initiative towards the believers’ fruitfulness. As already discussed, God works and the believer responds. And in John 15, Jesus tells the disciples how they will bear fruit or how they are to respond to the vinedresser—God’s initiative. They are to abide in him“Abide in me…” (v.4).

The Bible student, to understand this, will naturally ask what it means to abide in Christ and then proceed from there  to find answers. The Christian takes her source of nourishment and growth from the vine. This means the Christian, as a branch, will have to be glued to Christ to bear fruit. To ‘Abide in Christ’ is to continue daily to nurture our relationship with Christ in faith, obedience, fellowship in prayer, study of God’s word and other spiritual disciplines.

So firstly, abide involves taking root in our faith walk. We come to Christ in faith and our journey and pilgrimage on this earth is that of faith for without faith no one can please God (Heb.11:6). It is also communion with Christ through prayer anf the study of God’s word—the Bible. Indeed Christ calls the believer into fellowship through prayer and the study of his word: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (v.7). Prayer and the study of God’s word is the means through which we encounter Christ. We cannot trust when we don’t have the word in us. Faith comes by hearing the word (Rom. 10:17).

Finally, to abide is to live in obedience—“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (v.10). In our days, any talk of obeying or keeping God’s commandments raises eyebrows and is very likely to receive the charge of legalism. However, Christ has called us to obedience. We can’t live anyhow and continue to call ourselves Christians. We must live in obedience to God’s commandments and indeed he has given us the grace to live in obedience to his word—“For this is the love of God , that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn.5:3).

Love for God is manifested in keeping his commandments. Loving God is not sentimental. It is obedience to his commandments and obedience in loving one another: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. (v.12). Remember the greatest of all commandments is love—loving God and your neighbour (Matt. 22:37-39). When we have done all these, then the joy of the Lord, which is our strength and which is a fruit of the Spirit will become ours: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (v.11).

Our response to God’s initiative is to bear fruit by abiding in Christ.

What’s The Essence Of Fruit Bearing?

Firstly, fruit bearing is a mandate given to the believer. It is a ‘charge to keep‘³ the believer has. Christ tells his disciples he chose and appointed them that they will bear fruit (v.16). God’s sovereign electing grace of the believer has fruit bearing as a goal. There are good works the believer is elected to walk in (Eph. 2:10).

Secondly, bearing fruit is evidence of discipleship. A truly converted soul will have fruits to show. Saving faith must be accompanied by fruits– good works. True discipleship is evidenced by fruit. Martin Luther aptly said “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Faith without works, James says is dead (James 2:22; 26).

God has provided all the believer needs to bear fruit. He has given us his Word, his Holy Spirit and the body of Christ—the church— to aid us in our journey of faith. If indeed we are saved, we must be desirous to bear fruit to glorify God.

Notes:

1.John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary ( Nashville, Tennesse: Thomas Nelson, 2005)

2. William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary ( Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendricksons Publishers, Inc, 2008), 731

3. From Charles Wesleys’ hymn “A Charge To Keep I Have”

 

The Believers’ Hope

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John 14

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (v.1).

What could have caused Jesus to say this to his disciples? From the previous chapters, Jesus had hinted about his death and as you enter Chapter 14, the questions which followed from the disciples reveals a kind of anxiety and fear building up in their hearts.

Simon Peter said…, “Lord, where are you going?”(Jn.13:36)

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? (Jn 14:5).

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (Jn. 14:8).

These disciples have walked with Jesus for about three years and suddenly he has started talking about his death and departure. They had hopes of a Messiah who will deliver them from Roman oppression (Luke 24:21). They were not expectant of a dying Messiah. They were fraught with fear. Their hopes dashed. Jesus, knowing all things, certainly picked up the fear and anxiety in their hearts and addressed it:

Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (v.27c)

In this discourse with the disciples, there are some lessons we can draw. John 14 contains gospel promises we can draw on to calm our anxious hearts.

Faith In God (v.1)

What Jesus proposed to deal with their anxieties is faith. As believers, the answer to our troubled and anxious heart is faith in God and in Christ. These disciples were troubled and had no clue what was going on. But Christ calls them to put their trust in God and in him. Everything is under control he assures them. Faith is trust and Christ calls them to trust God and trust him.

When we trust God, we can be certain that he has everything under control and knows what’s best for us. What we must note also is that, faith in God must necessarily be faith in Christ or it is no faith. Christ, is, exclusively, the only way to the Father and he explicitly stated that: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). We can’t bypass Christ to God. We can’t have faith in God when it is not rooted in Christ.

A Hope of eternal life (vv.2-3).

Christ assures the disciples he goes to prepare a place for them and will return for them. Here we see a certainty of Christ’s second coming. He will come for his own. Our world is overwhelmed with disease, sickness, natural disasters and many injustices. But for our hope in Christ and a life beyond this transient life; our hearts will faint. But Christ’s promises can soothe our hearts. Christ’s word is a guarantee. He will come for his own.

The world may mock our belief in the here after. In fact they did in the first century church. They mocked that where is his coming? He has gone for long. Will he come after all? The apostle Peter answers that question in 2Peter 3:1-10. Though Christ tarries in the eyes of humankind, he will come with the reward of eternal life (1Thes. 4:13–5:1, Rev. 21:4). Paul tells us if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people, most to be pitied (1Cor.15:19). We are pilgrims on this earth and look forward to a city whose builder is God (Heb. 11:13-16).

The Promised Holy Spirit (vv.16;26).

Knowing the void and vaccum his departure will create in the disciples life, he promised not to leave them as orphans (v.18) and that a Helper; Comforter in the authorised version will be sent. This promise of the Holy Spirit will come to teach the disciples all things. This is instructive. Though this promise is specific to the disciples in the sense of writing of Scripture; it extends to us in the sense that the Holy Spirit will illuminate for us the truth of God’s word. Such blessedness to have the Spirit of God to teach us.

The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation. He seals our salvation never to lose it. Related to the promise of the Holy Spirit is  also the promise of Christ’s peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”(v.27). The peace Christ gives is not what the world gives. It is peace that calms our hearts in the midst of storms. It is a peace that assures us that whatever we encounter in this life, Christ will never leave us or forsake us. It is peace of reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1)

Assurance of Answered Prayer (vv. 13-14).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 

When we pray, God hears us. Nothing can be so assuring than this. In prayer, we have an audience with the Creator of the whole universe. In fact, he is “our Father”. Christ assures his disciples, and by extension, us, of answered prayer. However, this assurance is not simply what we desire. But it is what we desire which glorifies God: “that the Father may be glorified”. James tells us “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).

Here is the difference: Prayer God answers is prayer that glorifies him. He doesn’t grant our every wish in prayer but only that which glorifies him. And the only way to know what glorifies God is the knowing and keeping of his word: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Be encouraged. When we call on God, he hears us.

Obedience To God’s Word (v.15)

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

God’s word, as David says, is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (Ps.119:105). This is equally true of us. Obedience to God’s word is a prove of our love for God. And no one who obeys God’s word will lack joy. God’s word will keep us from sin. God’s word will direct our conscience. God’s word will give us hope when in trouble. Our obedience to God is paramount.  There is no hope for the one who doesn’t keep God’s word.

Finally,

We Are Labourers In God’s Kingdom (v.12)

Christ promises the disciples they will do greater works in his name. This greater works is more of their spreading of the gospel. Indeed, their work is what has spread Christianity to the nations. We also have a privilege and joy to be part of this great work of seeing people come to the Kingdom.

Amen.

 

 

A False Pursuit Of Christ

steps-in-sand

During the week, I refuted a statement by a friend that Christianity promises riches to believers. And his basis was;

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2Cor. 8:9).

I tried explaining the true context of the text to him but his mind was made up. There are many today, who like my friend, hold this same kind of belief. To them Christianity promises everything in the world. And to these people, coming to Christ is premised on such false notions of Christianity. This false form of Christianity is pervasive in our country Ghana and indeed across the world.

Sadly, many, if not the majority, have bought into this perverse and watered down gospel which promises anything from a life of health, prosperity and comfort in the name of Christianity. People put up a pursuit of “things” as a pursuit of Christ. But they are wrong. Coming to Christ because of a false gospel produces false converts.  In the gospel of John, we are introduced to the first miracle Jesus did at a wedding in Chapter 2. Then as the narration concludes, we are told that

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (vv. 23-25).

There are a number of lessons we can draw from the text.

1 Superficial Faith Cannot Save

…many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing (v.23).

Why we come to Jesus is very important. Some come to Jesus for the wrong reasons. They want a breakthrough, a miracle, a healing…We see in the text that the people came because of the signs and miracles they saw Jesus perform. However, Jesus being God and omniscient, saw beyond their facade. He saw their hearts; the shallowness and insincerity of their faith. The only reason we must come to Christ is for our sins to be forgiven and reconciled to God. Any other thing apart from this will be a wrong reason.

What did Jesus say? “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33a). We would all have to examine ourselves to ascertain the state of our heart. Are you a genuine seeker of Christ? Is your pursuit after Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.(John 6:27).

2: Jesus Knows Our Heart

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).

You might have heard Jesus can give you a healing, a breakthrough, a miracle. Yes, you may truly have a need and you have been made to believe Jesus has the answers to your problem. Yes he does have the answers. However, your heart seeks after only what you can receive. But not a heart willing and ready to submit to Christ’s Lordship. We can be hypocritical with people. We can have double standards. We can deceive people with our piety and religious fervency. But before God, we are bare and naked. We can’t hide our true self. We can’t hide our motives. We can’t hide our intentions. He sees beyond all that: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”(Hebrews 4:13).

Just like in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid themselves from God covering themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Ironically, the loincloths didn’t cover up their shame. Is your heart sincere? What are you hiding from God while you seek His blessing? It is time to unmask and come face to face with the reality of your sinful life. Come because you need forgiveness of sins and you will not be cast out.

3. Salvation Is What You Need.

Whatever prompted you to seek Jesus is not greater than your need for salvation. Every problem is just symptomatic of humanity’s sin problem. We live in a fallen world in a fallen body. Our need for fulfilment, breakthroughs, miracles e.t.c are all a yearning for a void in our hearts to be filled. Augustine said it rightly; “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”.

What we need is Christ Himself: the bread of life, Nothing else will satisfy your famished soul. Money won’t. Healing from a disease won’t. Temporal solutions cannot be applied to an eternal problem. Your need is rooted in a far more higher need; the redemption of your soul, reconciliation to God and standing justified before God. If you are coming to Christ for anything apart from these, you are trifling with your soul. It is not surprising that in the next Chapter immediately following John 2:23-25, we read of Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus. What Jesus told him is of great significance here:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).

Are you born again? That’s what you must be pursuing Christ for if you have no relationship with him.

Rev. Korankye Ankrah Erred About Denkyira-Boasi

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Image Courtesy Starfm online

About a month ago, the nation woke up in shock of the gruesome murder of a Captain of the Ghana Armed forces, Captain Mahama, who was mistaken to be an armed robber. Following this, a number of arrests were made of those involved in this heinous crime. He was subsequently posthumously promoted to the rank of a major.

Yesterday, I read a media report on Star Fm of the words of a clergy man, Rev. Korankye Ankrah necessitating this post. In the article, various statements were attributed to the Reverend who describes himself as an ‘Apostle General.

Speaking during a 30-day prayer and fasting event at Cedar Mountain Chapel Assemblies of God Church, East Legon, Rev. Sam Korankye Ankrah pronounced no youth will go past 33 years in the town – the age of Maj. Mahama when he was murdered in cold blood.

Rev. Ankrah, who serves as the Apostle General of the Royal House Chapel International, a church in Ghana with more than 30,000 members, also prophesied that there will be no leader in the town, having killed a commander of an army.

However, Rev. Ankrah, who is the first vice president of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, said the people of Denkyira-Obuasi can atone for their sins with a three-day special fasting led by men of God.

These words if indeed uttered by a minister of the gospel must be condemned. They are not words befitting a minister of the gospel. Reverend Ankrah erred in those words and his error cuts to the root of the gospel. Among many errors, I will address three.

Pronouncement of Curses

Among many definitions, a curse is defined as the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, doom etc., befall a person, group, etc. We see the above definition clearly fitting the words of the Rev.. He pronounced a curse:

no youth will go past 33 years in the town – the age of Maj. Mahama when he was murdered in cold blood”

there will be no leader in the town, having killed a commander of an army.

What authority has Rev. Ankrah to determine the lifespan of those individuals? Only God has that authority and hence the minister is playing God by pronouncing a limit on the lives of the youths of Denkyira-Boasi.  No doubt, the people involved in the murder of Major Mahama have committed a sinful act.  They have broken the constitution of the land which upholds the dignity of all human life. Hence, the laws of the land must deal with their breach of the law as stipulated by Scripture (Romans 13:1-4). Not only have they broken the nation’s constitution. Most importantly, they have broken God’s command: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13 ESV).

Their crime however doesn’t justify a curse from a minister of the gospel.  What the perpetrators of this crime need, just as any sinner needs, is the mercy of God and his forgiveness; not curses from a minister of the gospel. The Bible doesn’t teach Christians to curse: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10). How can a minister of the gospel preach the blessings of God and pronounce curses on people at the same time, how? (James 3:9).

Fasting To Atone For Sins.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

–Robert Lowry

All human beings are sinners separated from God by virtue of our sins. The people of Denkyira-Boasi who were involved in this heinous crime are sinners acting out their natural inclination—sinning. They acted out what is in their heart just as every sinner (Jer. 17:9, Eph. 2:1-3).

Now, though separated from God by sin, God has not left sinners to their fate. Rather, he has provided for his own self an acceptable sacrifice by which sins are atoned for. He sent Jesus Christ to come and die to atone for the sins of humankind so whoever believes in him would be saved and their sins forgiven when they put their trust in Christ. However, the Rev. is asking sinners to do something they cannot do—atone for their sins.

the people of Denkyira-Obuasi can atone for their sins with a three-day special fasting led by men of God

This is a departure from essential Christian beliefs and it is troubling.  Sinners cannot atone for their sins by any act of theirs. Christ’s death on the cross is what atones for sins. And sinners are cleansed by faith in that finished work on Calvary. Nobody atones for their sins in Christian theology. Sinners, however heinous their crime must look to Christ alone and his finished work on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. (1John 2:1-2, Romans 5:7-9, 11; Hebrews 1:3). It is futile therefore to call on sinners to establish their own righteousness by their works.

Human Mediators

The Rev. didn’t only call for fasting to atone for sins. He called for that fasting to be led by men of God (whatever that phrase mens). In effect, the people involved in Major Mahama’s murder need human intermediaries to go to God to plead their forgiveness. The Bible doesn’t teach this. Christ has been put forward by God as the propitiation for sins. He is the only mediator between God and sinners.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1Tim 2:5-6).

Rev. Korankye Ankrah is the General overseer of Royal House Chapel International, a Charismatic church in the nation’s capital, Accra and also the  the first vice president of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council. His words therefore carry influence and such utterances as those he made are a serious breach of the truth of the gospel of Christ.