Paul's Ponderings

Spiritual Formation. Discipleship. Christian Living.

Tag: Repentance (page 1 of 3)

Building for the Kingdom


It is always exciting when the Holy Spirit reveals an important truth to you. This happened recently as I pondered James 3:1-12, particularly verses 9 through 12:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).

James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues. Our tongues can bless God and people or our tongues can curse God and people. Of course there is a spectrum on which our words fall, but ultimately we are speaking to build others up and praise God or we are speaking to tear others down and curse God.

What James taught in this passage has wider implications than just the words that come out of our mouths. It also applies to how we live.

With these bodies God has given us we can either sin and rebel against Him or we can obey and worship Him. Just like our words, our actions fall on a spectrum between these two realities, but in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.

In his book Surprised by Hope N. T. Wright devoted a whole chapter to Building for the Kingdom. In chapter 13 Wright wrote:

“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208).

We need to ask ourselves the question, “How do we build for the kingdom?”

I would suggest that we build for the kingdom whenever we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

Here is the point I want us to get today: Just as our tongues can praise or curse God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom.

Ultimately, sin is rebellion against God. Since sin is contrary to God’s will for us it corrupts, not only our lives, but also the world. Remember, this world was created good, and Satan, sin, and death have been corrupting it ever since Adam and Eve, through sin, rebelled against God’s will. The reason repentance in necessary is because sin joins us to Satan’s effort to corrupt the good nature of creation. Through repentance we denounce our participation in Satan’s rebellion and declare our allegiance to God and His kingdom.

We are created for obedience and good works.  This leads us to join God in the work of redeeming His creation, which includes other people. When viewed through this lens it is made clear that our good works are not the way we earn salvation, but the way we join God in His redemptive work.

By devoting our time in energy to good works we are not only building for the Kingdom here on earth, but we are also avoiding sin, the force that corrupts God’s good creation in the first place. When we are involved in doing good not only will we have fewer opportunities to sin, but we will witness the devastating effects sin has had  in this world. Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).

In this passage Paul revealed the key to good works: being led by the Spirit. If we are to be led by the Spirit then we need to be students of God’s Word and we need to be actively involved in a local church family.

We will not build for God’s Kingdom by accident. The only way that it happens is to make it a priority in our lives. If it is not a priority then there will always be something else that is more urgent for us to do.  When we are intentional about doing good works, then we partner with God and work for His kingdom, rather than trying to work against Him.

In the end God’s Kingdom is going to be built. We need to decide whether or not we want to be part of the process.

God’s Rescue Mission

Rescue MissionWe live in a world gone wrong.

Not only does the News confirm this reality, but we also feel it intensely in our guts. We know, without being told, that things are not what they should be.

One of the reasons that I am convinced that Christianity is true is because it doesn’t candy coat the reality that the world is full of evil. Scripture provides the reason why the world has gone wrong. The good world that God created has been corrupted, and Satan has been at the helm. Our world, the universe that we live in, is the stage of Satan’s rebellion against God.

You and I are trapped in a great cosmic war. This is the reality of our days, and if we stop to think about it for a moment, we will realize that it explains a great many things. The reason all those bad things happen is because Satan is actively at war against God, trying his best to corrupt every inch of God’s wonderful work.

With that in mind consider what N. T. Wright wrote;

Jesus exploded into the life of ancient Israel–the life of the whole world in fact–not as a teacher of timeless truths, nor as a great moral example, but as the one through whose life, death, and resurrection God’s rescue operation was put into effect, and the cosmos turned its its great corner at last. All worldviews are challenged to the core by this claim (Simply Christian, p. 140).

I think we miss the very essence of the Gospel. We tend to talk about the Gospel in terms that we have forgiveness from sin. While this is a part of the Gospel message, it is not the main message. The core of the Gospel is found in Jesus’ message; From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17; NLT)

The message of Jesus is to defect from the kingdom of darkness, and pledge allegiance to God, because His Kingdom is breaking into this world. The message of Gospel is that God has come to rescue His creation from the corruption of sin and the decay of death.

The rescue plan of God centers around Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote; For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins (Colossians 1:13-14; NLT). This is a message that is worth sharing, and it goes far beyond escaping hell. It is the promise that God will restore Creation and make everything right.

I know that it doesn’t feel like we have been rescued at times, because there is still tremendous evil in the world and we still wrestle with personal sins. Yet, the more we surrender to God’s will and the more we seek to love people, the more darkness will be pushed aside, and the light of God’s love will come shining through.

The Courageous Life Honors Jesus

Through repentance I have pledged my life to Jesus. Repentance is the intentional act of denouncing our former way of life and surrendering our life to Jesus.

Since my life belongs to Jesus means that I need to live a life that honors him. To do anything else would bring shame to me because of the poor reflection I have given of Jesus.

One of the constant prayers of my life needs to be: Father, grant me the wisdom, strength, and courage to live a life worthy of the Lord Jesus.

This appears to be the prayer of the apostle Paul:

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.

Philippians 1:20; NLT

The apostle Paul knew that his honor was connected to his commitment to Jesus. He had pledged his allegiance to Jesus, and that meant his honor depended on living out his loyalty to his Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

This isn’t just about not doing wrong, but also about showing courage and faith as we do the right thing. Paul wrote that he would be ashamed if he did not continue to live a bold life that brought honor to Jesus.

As amazing as it might seem prison, court trials, beatings, and rejection were not sources of shame for Paul. Paul saw these things as badges of honor he received for courageously following Jesus. In Paul’s mind, it would have been shameful for him not to endure these things because of his fear. For Paul loyalty required facing his fears to do the work of his Lord.

I think it is important to remember that to refuse to do good, because of fear, is just as shameful as being caught doing something that is obviously sinful.

Open disobedience is shameful because it is there for all the world to see. Our refusal to do good is much easier to conceal to the world, but it still robs Jesus of honor. We honor Jesus when we live out his life of sacrificial love.

Courage is what we need to live a life that brings glory and honor to Christ Jesus. The courage we need comes from faith in God to provide for our needs, and in the hope that God will make all things new and set things right. Without faith and hope our courage will quickly fade away. The longer we walk in faith the stronger our courage will become and the greater honor we will give to Jesus.


Turn to the True One

one true God

Idolatry is a problem that everyone faces. We may not offer animal sacrifices to little golden statues, but we do have false gods that we worship. This worship is seen in the sacrifices that we make for the things that we declare are important. Many people have their hearts enslaved to the false gods of the world.

Our idolatry doesn’t end when we become Christians. It would be nice if it did, but we know from experience that there is a great conflict in our hearts as our false gods fight to keep Yaweh out.

The false gods that we worship are not going to walk away after we have surrendered our lives to Jesus.  Remember, we gave them our loyalty, and thus we have given them power over our lives. They are going to fight to keep that power.

It is here, in our surrendering power to the false gods, that we discover the key to breaking free from their grip.

The way forward, out of despair, is to discern the idols of our hearts and our culture. But that will not be enough. The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one. The living God, who revealed himself both at Mount Sinai and on the Cross, is the only Lord who, if you find him, can truly fulfill you, and, if you fail him, can truly forgive you.

Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods,p. xxvi

Turning back to the one true God is called repentance. Repentance means to change your direction, to change your mind, and to change your loyalty. To simply feel sorry for sin is not repentance. True repentance is nothing short of defection. (Tweet this)

Through idolatry we gave our hearts away to false gods. Our pursuit of these gods means that we are in rebellion against the One True God. If we are rebels, then we are not loyal citizens in God’s Kingdom. This is why our first order of business, if we are going to be free the counterfeit gods that enslave us, is to repent.

We must denounce our allegiance to the false gods, and declare our loyalty to the Creator God. This is why repentance is essential to our spiritual formation. It alone ushers in God’s power to free us from the chains of idolatry.

Would I Die For Jesus?

Would I die for Jesus? I think this is a valid question to ponder, especially for us who live rather easy lives, free from persecution and opposition. No matter where you are you will experiences struggles, but the life and death reality of persecution has a way of refining faith. I don't know if my faith is so refined.

In the letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), we discover a church that experienced persecution. In fact they were being persecuted severely. It appears that this persecution was all encompassing which included: discrimination, life threatening poverty, imprisonment, and even death. Through all this persecution the Christians in Smyrna remained faithful. Even though they had been through hardship, Jesus urged them to continue in their faithfulness, because more persecution is on its way.

Persecution, life threatening persecution, is not something that we have to face in the United States. We may be discriminated against from time to time, but the reality is that persecution is not one of the weapons Satan has used against us. In some ways it is very easy to be a Christian in the United States.

Because it is so easy to be a Christian, it could be argued that many of the “Christians” in the United States are simply church goers rather than true Disciples of Jesus. Many pastors, when evaluating their congregations, realize that they are failing in the discipleship process. I know I felt that way.

That is why what Craig Keener wrote in his commentary on Revelation intrigued me:

If we have not prepared ourselves and our congregations to die for Christ’s name if necessary, we have not completed our responsibility of preparing disciples (Mark 8:34-38). Like Daniel and his friends, we prepare best for more strenuous future tests by passing the ones we are given in the present. But when we remain faithful in the face of rejection and persecution, Jesus promises us a reward far greater than the power and status our oppressors now enjoy. (p. 121; The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation)

Wow! That adds another level to the evaluation of our discipleship ministries. Often it seems like we are happy if a person comes to worship for an hour a week, gives a tithe, and helps out when asked. That isn’t discipleship. True disciples are willing to die for Jesus. How many people in our church families are willing to do that? How many of us are willing to die for Christ Jesus?

Mark 8:34-38 reads:

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (NLT)

This starts with repentance (defection to God's kingdom), and flows into how we live each day. If we, as leaders, aren't sacrificing for the kingdom, then we cannot call others to sacrifice for the kingdom. We cannot call people, or lead them, further than we are willing to go ourselves. Take some time today and ponder this question: Am I willing to die the death of a martyr? That is the type of faith Jesus expects us to have.


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