You Must Remember

Jude 17  But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”

The value of memory grows with losing it.  The value of a friend who will jog our memory grows too.  “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder.” (2 Peter 1:13)  Peter and Jude both wrote it down.  They know what memory is like.

“You must remember.”  If we do not remember the predictions, we will not benefit from the confirmations.  In Jude’s case, he had in mind the specific prediction that the presence of scoffers would be a characteristic of this last age of planet earth.  Remembering it will mean the difference between being encouraged or being disheartened.  For we will certainly encounter scoffing.

I have not seen a time when there was such a broad assault on the trustworthiness of the Gospel as this present hour.  Hardly a day passes that I do not encounter some article or hear some voice casting its doubt on the Christian message.  The only way to have a day free of this assault is to ignore modern communication almost entirely, a thing which is nearly impossible, but likely very beneficial for anyone who can pull it off.

We want to know more about tomorrow than we can know.  God offers no hour by hour itinerary of the last age.  But he has given us a sufficient glimpse into the character of the age to keep faith sound.  That glimpse is in the predictions of the prophets.

So, today, just a bit of PR for Jude and Peter.  “You must remember.”  Really, you must!  He said these days would come.  They are here.  This means the other day will also come.

Revelation 1:7  Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.  Even so, Amen.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Things of the Spirit 2

Romans 8:5-6  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

There is another aspect of setting our minds on “the things of the Spirit.”  We not only set our mind on his teaching, but we set our mind on his character.  The Holy Spirit works in the Christian’s life to produce the character of Christ.  It is described for us in various ways in the letters of the Apostles.  Here is Paul’s excellent summary to remind us.

Galatians 5:22-23  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

All of this in each of us.  Unlike gifts of the Spirit which may be had by one and not another, the fruit of the Spirit is a broad description of a single thing.  This is nothing less than a description of Jesus.  Who, after all, is all of this all the time?  If you are, I apologize.  I am not.  Yet I know that however far short of this I fall at any given moment, the Holy Spirit intends nothing less than every bit of this in me, all the time.  God is what he is at all times and in all places.  He will be nothing less than himself in you and me.

This is not a prescription for guilt but for wonder.  Can God really mean to make such beings of sinners?   “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)  If we had a clearer vision of our destiny, we would have clearer heads for the things of the Spirit.  Set the mind on these things.  They are worthy of our best thought.

What a wonderful Savior he is!  John 3:16

The Things of the Spirit

Romans 8:5-6  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Paul calls the church to action, specifically, to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.  When we think of the things of the Spirit, we may think of his teaching and his character.  What does he teach us?

Broadly speaking, his teaching is the Scripture.  The inspiration and the illumination of Scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit.  2 Peter 1:20-21  knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  It was not the genius of Isaiah or the dogged determination of Jeremiah or the blunt insight of Amos that produced the Scripture.  Those men may have been all of that and more.  But they could not produce the word of God.  They were ‘carried along’ by the Holy Spirit.  What a picture!  It was God’s initiative, God’s call, and God’s message.  When we hold a Bible in our hand, we are holding the things of the Spirit.  So it is the Spirit himself who invites us to set our mind on his things.

More narrowly, it is the explicit work of the Holy Spirit to show us Jesus.  In that grand message of comfort in John 14 thru 16, Jesus spelled out the work of the Holy Spirit in some detail.  John 16:13-14  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  The apostolic church saw Jesus everywhere in the Old Testament.  They didn’t suddenly come up with that idea.  The Holy Spirit was showing them the things of Christ.  Christ himself initiated that when he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-46)  That is not the enemy urging you to take a look at Jesus as he is presented in the Scripture.  The Holy Spirit wants to teach you about him.

To set our minds on the things of Spirit is to open his book with the expectation of meeting Christ there.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Mindset

Mindset – a fixed mental attitude or disposition.  I am not sure just when I came to dislike the word.  I think it was at seminary where it became trendy for a time.  You couldn’t turn a corner without meeting another “mindset.”  When I finished seminary, I had high hopes of escaping it.  But there was a mindset at the church and a mindset at the store.  Soon I had a set mind against a mindset.

Thankfully, Paul did not use the word.  But he did write of setting the mind.  Romans 8:5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

“Mindset” will not work here for a mindset is a fixed thing.  Like rose colored glasses permanently anchored to the face, a mindset predetermines how we will see a matter and how we will respond.  Paul writes of an action that needs to be taken, deliberately, persistently, and often.

Setting the mind on the flesh is easy.  There is no resistance.  You go with the flow until the flow dumps you.  That’s when the problem is revealed.  “To set the mind on the flesh is death.”  Death is the dumpster of humanity without God.  It’s easy to get there.  Just wait.

Setting the mind on the things of the Spirit requires work.  Not that you will be alone.  There is strong help, enduring help, loving help.  But all that strength, faithfulness, and love does not diminish the command.  It is not the Holy Spirit who is told to set our minds.  He wishes nothing greater, but he requires our partnership.  If we do not set our minds on the things of the Spirit, he will not run roughshod over our will.  God isn’t making robots but children.

The fruit of this labor is priceless, life and peace.  Setting the mind on the things of the Spirit assures us of a life that the dumpster of death cannot hold.  It grants us a peace unshaken by the vagaries of life.  That being the case, I want to know just what are these “things of the Spirit” so that I can set my mind on them?

Next – the things of the Spirit, his teaching.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Spring Up, O Well

Isaiah 58:10-11  If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

A real fast in the eyes of God may not involve food at all.  It could involve food, as in giving some away.  Isaiah 58 opens with God’s indictment of his people’s empty rituals.  Fasting was a key piece of that ritual, but it changed nothing of the people’s behavior for it had no impact upon their heart.  The focus of their fast was self.  God was at pains to show them that a real change of heart would result in a change of focus.  When they could see someone besides themselves, they would begin to see as God sees.

How many church problems would have died on the vine if people had been thinking on what others needed rather than what they wanted?  So Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (2:3-4)

Our vain attempts to satisfy self never work.  But wherever people take up the cross and follow Jesus, walking as he walked with a heart for a hurting world, the well begins to flow.  Isaiah reminded the people how God desired to continually bless them, indeed how he would bless them as soon as they turned their focus toward blessing someone else.  They would be like a spring whose waters never fail.

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  (John 7:37-38)

Spring up, O Well…  What a Savior!

A Dearth of Mirth

Isaiah 24:8 The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled.

Looking up from this text, I see the guitar, silent in its stand.  Its potential is great in the right hands.  But before others are inspired with its sound, at least one must be inspired to play.

Isaiah saw a day when the curse that “devours the earth” (24:6)  would drain the last drop of joy and “all the merry-hearted” would sigh. (24:7)  No one would have a heart to shake the tambourine or strum the strings of the lyre.  If Isaiah 24 stood alone, excised of verses 14-16a, it would depress anyone who believed its message.  Consider.

The empty earth.  Isaiah 24:1 Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.  That there is a cataclysmic conclusion to life on planet earth is everywhere attested in Scripture.

The end of exceptions.   Isaiah 24:2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; … as with the buyer, so with the seller; … as with the creditor, so with the debtor.  Religious, social, economic distinctions will fall away.  All of the exceptions of men prove to be no exception with God.

The withering joy.  Isaiah 24:4 The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish.  Isaiah described the final failure of temporal joy in verses 4-13.  The most exalted people of earth, those with the most cause to rejoice in the temporal world, discover that this joy cannot be sustained.  They empty the cup only to find that both they and the cup are empty.  In verse 7, the wine itself is mourning.  By verse 11, we have the somber statement that “all joy has grown dark.”  Dark joy!  What a phrase!  It is the joy that deceives us, that promises more than it can ever provide.

The silent witness.  In the end all things bear witness to the glory of God, some because they desire it, others even though they resist it.  The silent instruments of Isaiah 24:8 speak without a sound.

The impending implosion.  Isaiah 24:20 The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again.  The earth’s problem is not an explosion by some meteorite whistling through space, but an implosion because of a rebellion that soon will no longer be able to sustain itself.

Depressed yet?  It is the bad news that makes the good news sweet.  The dearth of mirth may quiet us down enough to hear another voice.  Isaiah heard it.  In the heart of that darkness he heard other voices persistently, patiently singing.  Can you hear them?  Isaiah 24:14-16  They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the LORD they shout from the west.  Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD; in the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the name of the LORD, the God of Israel.  From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One.

Here’s to singing in the dark!

2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  What a Savior!

Worldly Man

1 Corinthians 3:1-3  But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

Paul drew a sharp line between the natural man and the spiritual man.  The natural man is man on his own, untouched by the supernatural.  The spiritual man is saved man, born from above by God’s grace, not so much man in touch with God as God in touch with man.

Paul harnesses a third descriptor in 3:1, literally ‘fleshly.’  He often uses ‘flesh’ not in its literal sense, but to represent sinful human nature.  It is that condition of man which rebels against God and gives its loyalty to a system determined to forget him.  This devotion to the temporal is captured in the word ‘worldly.’

What is so striking about the word is that Paul uses it to describe the Corinthians.  He could have used it to describe the natural man, but that would be like calling rain wet.  It is true but why bother to say so.  All rain is wet.  The natural man is ‘of the world’ in the fullest sense.

Paul wrote to spiritual men.  He was the church planter for this congregation.  He observed the Holy Spirit’s work first hand as they came to faith in Christ.  He watched the development of their spiritual gifts and even declared that this congregation was “not lacking in any gift.” (1:7)  Paul used the word where it was most effective, describing those who should have been otherwise.  Their spiritual development had been arrested by their loyalty to the temporal world with all of its values and demands.  It was a costly detention.

They were babes.  No one despises bottle feeding an infant, but there comes a point when people say, “Look here!  You can do better than this!”  We should never expect to see redeemed behavior in the natural man.  And when we do see hints of it, we should be truly amazed and say with the Lord, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  But we should always expect it from the redeemed.  Paul expected it and he wasn’t seeing it.

They were behind.  A church with no immature people is not doing its job.  There ought to be babes born in the church family regularly.  However, the Corinthians Paul had in mind were still dealing with matters that should have been left behind long ago.

They were missing out.  The mind of Christ was theirs to know.  They could have been unpacking that marvelous gift.  But they were entangled in attitudes and actions fit for their former days as natural men.  Paul urged them to let go of some things so that they could take hold of others.  Be the new people in Christ you have been called to be.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

What a wonderful Savior!

Spiritual Man

1 Corinthians 2:15-16  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

If Paul regarded the Corinthians as natural men, he would not have written to them as he did.  He wrote to them of the cross, of their unique relation to God as temples of the Holy Spirit, and their membership in body of Christ.  These are concerns of the saved, not the lost.

When Jesus told Nicodemus of his need to be born again, he wasn’t reaching for an image Nick could understand.  The image baffled Nicodemus.  He didn’t reply “Oh, yeah, I get it!”  He asked how could such a thing be.  Jesus expounded the mystery by telling him that he must be born into the kingdom by the Holy Spirit.  This is what makes a spiritual person, nothing else.

Paul was blunt.  Romans 8:9 But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.  To belong to Christ is to have the Holy Spirit.  There is no wiggle room here.  Concerning the Corinthians, Paul believed, in spite of the spiritual warts, and worse than warts, running through the congregation, that they were born again by God’s grace.  They were spiritual people.

When Paul told the Corinthians that “we have the mind of Christ,”  he didn’t mean that if they all got together and poured the contents of their brains on the table, the sum of it all would equal the mind of Christ.  From the beginning of 1 Corinthians 2, Paul talked of nothing else but an utter reliance on the Holy Spirit.  Whether it was preaching (2:1-5) or godly wisdom (2:6-8) or assurance and understanding of God’s future for his people (2:9-13), Paul was enabled by the Spirit and the Spirit was all he offered for the enabling of others.  The mind of Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.

I am guessing that you don’t have any unopened gifts at your house.  If by chance you do, then I further guess that either you are waiting on someone to say ok, or you simply haven’t gotten to it because of other things.  Paul believed the Corinthians to be spiritual people.  God said ok at Pentecost.  The mind of Christ was theirs.  But they were wrapped up in some other things.  He wanted to speak to them like spiritual people.  They should be able to understand.  But a condition known as ‘arrested development’ was making it hard.

Next, the worldly man.

What a Savior !

Natural Man

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 – 3:4, Paul used three descriptors worthy of our attention.  Two of them are mutually exclusive, but the third is not.  They are the natural man, the spiritual man, and the worldly man.

The Natural Man.  Here is a description of man on his own without God’s aid, perhaps even believing there is no God.  Paul did not write these words to him but about him, though perhaps if the natural man read them he might recognize himself.  Paul wrote to a church who had only recently left that state to become followers of Jesus.  He was reminding them of that great fact.

To the natural man so much of what Christians talk about is confusing or even meaningless.  Words about sin and a broken relationship with God don’t register with a person who, if they believe in God at all, sees him as distinct and separate from their own existence.  What have they ever done to God that he would be offended at them?  Let God mind his business and they will mind theirs.

Of course, that all falls down once you acknowledge God as he is in Scripture, the creator.  If he made it, it is his to dispose of at will.  Every single bit of our business is his business.  Is this why modern man pushes so hard to exclude God from creation?  Is there a nagging notion deep in the human heart that creation is a planned affair and that the planner may one day ask for an account of what has gone wrong?

The natural man may be a vile fellow, but he may be very agreeable.  Some would say he is a nice man.  Others would say good.  A few would go so far as to declare that he behaves much better than some of the church folk they know.  That would be easy to say if you knew some of the folk in the church at Corinth.  They could fussy, divisive, proud, vain, and vindictive.  This fact not only confuses the natural man, it often confuses the church.  What are we to make of that pestilent neighbor who goes to church every Sunday?  Paul will help us if we listen closely.

One possibility is that our flawed neighbor is Christian in name only.  That is, he is really just a natural man.  It would not be the first time someone claimed a status that was not so.  Think politics.  Or simply recall the people who have claimed to be God or to be the Messiah of God.  They all have, or soon will have, occupied graves, save one.

Whatever a natural man’s gifts and strengths, they are still natural.  As C.S. Lewis so clearly pointed out in Mere Christianity,  one day all the natural stuff will fall away and we will see what has really been going on in every life.  Until then, comparisons are dangerous.

But there is a second possibility about our flawed neighbor who claims to be a Christian.  It begins to become clear with Paul’s second descriptor, the spiritual man.  Paul couldn’t speak to the Corinthians as natural men.  They would not be able to understand him.  He very much wanted to speak to them as spiritual men, but there was a problem.  Some of them were just like our imaginary neighbor, pestilent people.  It is possible to be a bad Christian.

But even bad Christians have a wonderful Savior!  John 3:16

Grace

Psalm 25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

You have to wonder if the last words written over the present generation will be the same as those written over the days of the judges in Israel.  “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  Grace doesn’t mean much to people who think they have no need of it.

By contrast, the psalmist recalled the sins of long ago.  Psalm 25:7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!  The most telling distinction between faith and hypocrisy is the ready and honest confession of sin.  We cannot dress it up for God.  Indeed, the act of dressing it up is one of things he most detests!  It belittles God to act as if he cannot see.

Knowing that he does see, that he sees truly, and that he sees deeper than we ourselves have yet to see, opens the flood gates of grace.  The psalmist knew that it was the nature of God himself that welcomed the sinner home.  “Good and upright is the LORD!”  His goodness and righteousness, far from barring the sinner, is the very foundation of his desire to instruct the sinner in a better way.  He welcomes the broken, or in biblical language, a bruised reed he will not break.

Does it get any more amazing than this?  What the psalmist had not forgotten for so long, the sins of his youth, God in his grace can no longer recall!  Isaiah 43:25 I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

John 3:16.  What a wonderful Savior he is!