Friday, June 16, 2017

Holding the Phalanx of the Christian Life

22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ~ Ro. 7:22-25a

As I was reading through my devotional for this morning (which is New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp, and I highly recommend it), I was struck by something in Ro. 7 that I had never really thought about before. In vv. 22-23, Paul brings out how sanctification is a war in the Christian life. Yes, that is not really new, but the way I thought about it this morning was new to me. Sanctification being a war of sin, temptation, the world, my flesh, and the devil against my my union with Christ requires me to hold the phalanx of the Christian life and march forward always.

The Phalanx

The phalanx was an ancient battle formation that was really brought to its penical by the Spartans in ancient Greece. In the above photo, you get a pretty good picture of what it looked like (though, that photo is from the movie 300, which was really not representative of Spartan battle strategies in any other way than this one scene). The front line of soldiers would line up with shields in their left hand and spears in their right. The shields would overlap, so part of your shield protected you and part of it protected your comrade to your left. Then, the next line would do the same thing, putting their shields right up against the backs of the front line, and so on and so forth back--many ranks deep. Then, they would face another army, and the line would never break. The the Spartans would often just march over entire armies this way or even push entire armies off a cliff, if that was available.

Christian Life Warfare

Since sanctification is a war of sin, temptation, the world, the flesh, and the devil against my union with Christ and since that means I must hold the phalanx of the Christian life, it is then something constant and spiritually exhausting, when we do it in our own strength. Do you ever get tired of resisting temptation to the same sin over and over again? Do you ever get so tired that you give in? Me too. Holding the phalanx can be exhausting, and we often make the same tragic outcry Paul makes in v. 24, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Holding the Line

Yet, what is Paul's answer to his outcry? It is that we never actually do hold the line on our own. We are never meant to! "Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord... There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Ro. 7:25-8:1) Our Savior--who is the only human ever to hold the line without it breaking ever in His life--delivers us and strengthens us; not just at the moment of our salvation but in every moment that follows throughout our whole life. He beckons us, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt. 11:28) He gives us rest, even in the midst of holding the phalanx in the spiritual battles of this life. A phalanx held by me will fail, but one held by faith in Jesus will hold until the end (cf. Php. 1:6).

The Shield of Faith

So, now that you know what the phalanx is, do you see why Paul used the metaphor of a shield for faith? In his metaphor about the Christian life and the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20), he says, "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." Faith in Jesus providing the strength we need is what protects us and what allows us to hold the phalanx, even in the midst of battle.

In Sparta, if you were a soldier, you could be caught without your sword or your spear during a time of war, and you might only receive a minor punishment. If you were caught without your shield, however, that was a capital crime. Why? Because being without your sword or spear would merely mean you could not go on the offensive in the phalanx, but if you did not have a shield, you were a weak point in the phalanx that might cost the whole army the battle. Your shield was absolutely essential, and you had to have it on you all the time during wartime.

For us, the shield of faith is something we cannot let drop for even a moment. We live by faith (Ro. 1:17) and walk by faith (2 Co. 5:7), for we must always acknowledge our need of Him and His gospel every moment. The war of the Christian life is not made of two or three "big" moments in life where temptation comes in a huge assault but of a million "little" ones in our daily, hourly, minutely life--the war is constant! And, we can face none of those moments on our own and hope to succeed. We must submit them all to Christ and His strength, praying that the gospel would drive us, strengthen us, and motivate us in Him to hold the line through them all. That is why Paul ends his metaphor of the armor of God by saying, "...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." (Eph. 6:18)

Holding the Line Together

There is one more thing I want to bring out: the phalanx was not a one-man line. That is obvious, but we need to think about the implications for us as believers. We hold the line against temptation with our shields of faith as a community of believers. I stand beside my brothers and sisters in Christ, and sometimes their shield of faith is what encourages me to keep mine up against the enemy. They might do this through their own prayers for me, through accountability, or simply through encouragement, but whatever way it is, one of the ways Jesus strengthens us to hold the line is through His body. We hold the line together.

O Lord, make this true of us today!

By His Grace,

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: The Greatest Love Story

As mentioned in the previous post, we are bringing this series on the book of Joshua to an end with the sermon on Jos. 24 in this post. I hope you have enjoyed this book and learning about living the Christian life as much as I have. I hope God has used it to bless your soul as much as He has used it to bless mine.

To introduce this sermon, let's review ever-so-briefly: This book shows us the Kingdom of God spreading physically into the land of Canaan as the people follow Joshua and Joshua follows God in the conquest of the Promised Land. And, again, as we have said almost every week as we have gone through this book, they had to fight by faith in God who truly fights for them. Well, in a similar way, our lives are mirrored but spiritually; not physically. Today, we’re following Jesus—the Commander of the Lord’s army to whom Joshua points us—we’re following Him as He spreads the Kingdom spiritually in our hearts and throughout the world. Yes, for us it’s spiritual and our enemies are not literal people like they were for Joshua and the Israelites, but our battles are no less real. And, their battles, just like ours, rested on spiritual principles—fighting by faith—and those principles are the same throughout space and time. So, we’ve learned a lot so far about faith and living by faith from this book as we’ve worked our way through it, and here the story of this book ends with God’s people coming together before God one more time to renew the covenant. And, this covenant renewal shows us the greatest love story of all time—a love story that not only draws us to Jesus but motivates and compels us to live for Him.

If you want to hear more, you can listen to the sermon here or read the transcript here.

I pray that God will use it and this whole series to magnify His glory in your heart and fortify you for the battles of this Christian life.

By His Grace,

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Recounting the History of God's Grace

Well, we have made it through the book of Joshua. This Sunday, the sermon posted will look at the final chapter and see how God and Joshua end this wonderful book that teaches us how to fight the good fight of the faith.

In the previous sermon, we saw Joshua's final words to the leaders of Israel that teach them about living by faith. In this final chapter of the book, Joshua leads the people in renewing the covenant with God, which is an act of rededicating themselves to His service before Joshua passes into glory and they are on their own. The way the covenant renewal ceremony is laid out in this passage is very similar to the covenants of the other peoples of the ancient near east surrounding Israel. God chose to make His covenants with them in a way that would be familiar to them (in and of itself and act of grace!).

The ceremonies generally opened with a preamble where the parties making the covenant introduce themselves, and then they go on to a "historical prologue" where the history of the relationship between the parties is recounted (i.e. everything that is leading up to the covenant ceremony). The covenant renewal ceremony in Jos. 24 follows that pattern, and it is the historical prologue that I want to focus on for this devotional. We will talk about it a little Sunday, but we will not be able to go into detail there. So, here are a few theological highlights from the recounting of the history of God and His people to this point (reading Jos. 24:1-13 first would be helpful):
  • Unconditional Election: Joshua starts out by reminding them that God took Abraham from Ur while Abraham was still a pagan. And, Abraham was chosen; not his brother Nahor, yet Abraham deserved it no more than Nahor. Abraham was no saint when God found him. He was plunged into pagan worship probably just as much as the Canaanites. Abraham did not become a believer because he was somehow inherently better than his father or brother. Abraham did not deserve it any more than anyone else. No, it was because God "took" him and "led" him. God loved Abraham when he deserved only wrath. The fact that Israel exists at all is simply an act of God's free grace and unconditional election. And, this is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The Bible constantly reminds us of who we were, but it is not to bring us to despair but to show us the incredible grace of God. Francis Schaeffer once wrote:
Whether studying the Old Testament or the New, we are reminded that we are not where we are because of a long, wise, and godly heritage. We come from rebellion. Individually, we are children of wrath. After we are Christians, we must look at others who are still under God's wrath and always say, "I am essentially what you are. If I am in a different place, it is not because I am intrinsically better than you, but simply because God has done something in my life." There is no place for pride.
  • Slow growth: Joshua tells us that God multiplied Abraham's seed, but it was really, really slow. He only gave him Isaac. Isaac only had two sons, one of which would not produce people of God (i.e. Esau). Finally, with Jacob's twelve sons, things start to speed up. So, we see from this that God does what He promises, but sometimes it is so gradual that we do not notice until it has been going on for a long time. We need to keep this in mind and walk by faith; not by sight. As one commentator says, "We easily lose sight of what Yahweh has done by demanding too much too soon."
  • Rough spots: Joshua also points out that Esau and his people (not God's people) get their inheritance right away but Jacob and his sons (God's people!) go to Egypt and become slaves. What? Why do the covenant people get slavery while the others get their land? Sometimes history seems to conflict with God's design, which is, again, why we have to walk by faith and not by sight. God always accomplishes His design, but sometimes it is not at all when we would expect it (cf. e.g. He. 11:32-38). The Scriptures are realistic about this and do not hide the "rough spots" from us, and that shows God is honest, realistic, and always faithful. God showing us the "rough spots" and confusing parts of history is not to make us relish the difficult aspects of the life to which He has called His people but to show us that He is faithful to hold us in and bring us through the "rough spots."
  • God's power: In vv. 5-12, Joshua recounts God's incredible power to deliver His people from Egypt (the greatest power in the world at the time), conquer the kings east of the Jordan, and conquer the Promised Land. Joshua sums it up with telling the people that it was not by their sword or bow that all this was accomplished but by God's mighty power. Time and time again God's people are outnumbered, outgunned, or even completely helpless, and God fights for them by His mighty power. This shows us what Jonah learned in Jon. 2:9: Salvation is of the LORD. Paul also tells us this in 2 Co. 4:7. This is not to say that we just "let go and let God," for God uses our struggles, as we fight by faith, but it does show us that our struggles would be nothing, useless, futile without God's mighty power. (We will talk more about this in the upcoming sermon.)
  • God's provision: If we look at vv. 7, 13, Joshua shows us God's provision in necessity and abundance, but also note that His provision is the basic stuff: manna, grain, towns, houses. It, with the exception of the manna, is ordinary stuff that we take for granted every day, but it is all of God's grace. God always provides for His people, but we need to remember too that God isn't some kind of genie that just grants our wishes. He gives us our needs; not necessarily our desires. And, most often He does it through the normal, ordinary means of a job, a family, etc.
You see, Joshua does not recount their history just to show them their past but to show them the great God whom they serve. That is the basis for the rest of the covenant renewal ceremony, which we will talk more about on Sunday. Until then, think about your own history, and I bet if you think long and hard enough, you could find some very similar displays of God's grace, faithfulness, power, and provision even during the rought spots, and if you do that, it will refresh your soul.

By His Grace,

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Living by Faith

In the previous post, we talked about calling in the Christian life and how God has called the vast majority of Christians to ordinary but faithful lives that glorify Him and bring them joy. In today's sermon, we are going to look at Jos. 23, which addresses a similar topic: living this Christian life by faith. Really, this has been the topic of this whole series: fighting the good fight of the faith, but in this chapter, Joshua sums up living by faith for us really, really well.

Have you ever thought about what you want your final words to be? We probably don’t think about that often, if at all, because that means thinking about our death, which we don’t like to do. But, in order to die well, perhaps we should. The Puritan, Edmund Barker, summed up the Christian life by saying, “Every Christian hath two great works to do in the world: to live well and to die well.” Our last words in this world before we cross over the Jordan River Jesus has parted for us are our greatest and final opportunity to glorify God by impressing upon those around us what’s most important in this life. Moses’ final words, for example, encouraged God’s people in His promises, “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you, and you shall tread upon their backs.” Right before he died, Moses reminded the Israelites that they had been redeemed by God and God would fight for them as they entered the Promised Land.

In our passage, we have Joshua’s final words to the leadership in Israel. They’re not technically his final words before he died, for in ch. 24, he will lead the whole nation in renewing the covenant with God, but they are his final exhortations to the leadership that will succeed him—his last opportunity to impress upon them what’s most important. In fact, this passage is very similar to Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders before he left for Jerusalem or the book of 2 Timothy—his final words to Timothy before he died. Just as Paul told the elders in Ephesus and Timothy what’s most important in leading the church, so Joshua here tells the elders, heads, judges, and officers of Israel what’s most important in finishing the settling of the Promised Land and establishing the Kingdom of Israel. And, what’s so amazing about Joshua’s final words (as well as Paul’s), is that they aren’t what we might expect at all.

Joshua was a military general who’d been leading God’s people in the conquest of the land of Canaan for years, and yet his final words weren’t about military strategy or leadership skills, as we might expect. They’re about remaining faithful to God and warnings of temptation. So also, Paul was the greatest church-planter of all time, but his final words to the Ephesian elders or Timothy weren’t about church-growth strategies or theories of church leadership, as we might expect. They too were about remaining faithful to God and warnings of temptation. This, I think, should surprise us, yet it should also show us what’s truly most important for God’s people, whether they’re trying to finish settling the Promised Land by faith—like the Israelites—or simply to live faithfully in everyday life in a hostile culture like all of us. For the Israelites, the most important thing wasn’t military strategy, and for us, the most important thing isn’t appeal in the eyes of the world or culture. It’s maintaining a healthy relationship with the Lord—living by faith in God.

If you want to hear more, you can listen to the sermon here or read the transcript here.

I pray that God will use it to magnify His glory in your heart and fortify you for the battles of this Christian life.

By His Grace,

Friday, December 9, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Fighting in Ordinary Life

As we have gone through to book of Joshua, we have been talking about living this Christian life and fighting the battles of this life--fighting the good fight of the faith (1 Ti. 6:12). And, while this book has given us a lot of great teaching from God on the Christian life, it certainly cannot cover it exhaustively. One particular part of this Christian life that we have not addressed because it does not come out of the text of Joshua is vocation--our calling in this life; what God would have us do as our career in this world. But, in God's providence, He has had Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today start a two-part series on it called: "Jesus on the Job: How Faith Mixes With Work." Part 1 is up, and it is a great start. I would particularly recommend you watch the video at the bottom. It is about six minutes, and it is a great, short explanation of how God calls His people to all sorts of vocations in this world and all are equally valuable, necessary, and dignified for the people of God. (Edit: Since I wrote this devotional as an email to my church, the second part of the series was posted.)

The article and the video are a good counter and cure for bad theologies that are being spread through the Church these days--theologies that say if do not do something "radical" or "missional" for God, then what we do is not honoring to God; is not good enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of God's people are called to glorify Him through ordinary, mundane, faithful lives, and this pleases God far more than chasing a new, radical legalism. One quick example: read the book of Ephesians through in one sitting some time, and I think you will notice this. The first three chapters are an incredible, God-exalting exposition of the supremacy of Christ, the glories of God's eternal plan of redemption, and how Jesus came into this world to redeem a people for Himself. It is an amazing and glorious exposition of God's grace that is difficult to rival, even in the rest of inspired Scripture. After that, in chs. 4-6, Paul tells us how to respond as God's redeemed people. After telling us of the incredible, radical grace of God, if Paul were a modern preacher, he might have told us that this means we all need to give all our money away, become missionaries, go to seminary, or do something like that.

But, no. What does Paul say under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? What does he tell us to do after giving an imcomparable exposition of God's amazing grace? He tells us to live with one another in patience (4:2), to grow in Christ (4:13-22), to work hard (4:28), to watch our speech (4:29-5:4), to be kind to each other (4:28), to be sexually pure (5:3-7), to walk in light (5:7-17), not to get drunk (5:18), to give thanks together (5:20), to worship together (5:19), to model our marriages after Christ and the Church (5:22ff), to love our children (6:4), children to obey their parents (6:1-3), employees to work hard for their employers (6:5-9), and to fight against the attacks of the devil (6:10-20). Huh... that sounds like an ordinary Christian life to me.

It sounds like living the Christian life for the glory of God in whatever He has called us to do in this world, and it sounds like whatever that is, we can glorify God in it by striving to be Christlike at home, at work, and at church. It sounds like what Paul says to Timothy later on in 1 Ti. 2, where he tells Timothy to pray for leaders and government, and the result of that prayer is that Christians might "lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." That is not really "radical" or "missional" according to these new theologies being taught today. In fact, it is quite ordinary, but it is God-glorifying and what God calls us to as His people in this world.

For some more resources on living a God-glorifying life in whatever vocation/work He has called you to do without creating a new legalism, I would recommend these books:
I hope they bless your soul and help you to glorify and enjoy God in your ordinary life where you live, work, and worship. 

By His Grace,