The Training Table: “Let’s Get Real.” (Jesus)
Welcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing chow, carefully prepared, to help you run the Godly and good race (1 Corinthians 9:24)! For what good is a good race, unless it’s a Godly race?
First off, lest anyone believe I’m misquoting Jesus Christ in the title of this feast at the Training Table, please review the numerous Bible passages included in the link below and scads more that all conclude the very same thing: The historical person of Jesus Christ… the miraculously born, 100% God-100% Man, preaching-teaching, crucified, died, buried, descended into hell for three days, and resurrected to the right hand of the Father… was urgently, unequivocally, and sacrificially devoted to the point of death to helping Humankind GET REAL!
Getting real… It was a very big, intergalactically-sized deal… a culturally-offensive mission for Jesus… that, by today’s standards of deep denial [and vast array of commensurate distractions] about what reality consists of… is even more culturally offensive and crucially important for God’s people to take up each and every day!
Because Jesus Christ the very Son of God was real… Let us please GET REAL.
“When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). + many, many more…
We live in a day, at a time, in a place when and where [as Ravi Zacharias has said] the 75+ years of incremental philosophical, cultural, institutional, societal, and personal effects of radical secularization [reality consists of the here-and-now, no God, no shame], radical privatization [what we do in our private lives has no bearing on our public life], and radical pluralization [no True Truth, relativism, what’s true for you may not be true for me] have left our heads spinning out of deception, confusion, and denial… about what’s real.
The result? We need to revisit “the planks of the faith”… our own personal faith… more often and more deeply than ever.
A Feast of the Heart
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).
Have You Been Born Again?
“Jesus said, you should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again'” (John 3:7). Practically every institution in society—including far too many churches—would have us believe that “being a born-again Christian” is only meant for that small segment of particularly needy, sinful, dirty, and destitute folks who require a radical change of heart and life. In reality, being born-again is the absolute “low bar” of God’s requirement for heart regeneration and saving faith.
As we have chewed on at The Training Table many times before, please never forget, God’s Plan of Redemption goes like this: [Out of necessity these doctrinal, “start-to-finish” realities are sufficient yet highly abbreviated and not properly footnoted in the Bible here… But every part is—as quoted in “Appendix B” my book.]
Effectual Calling—This is the supernatural work of God’s Holy Spirit, by His own sovereign and free will, to convince a person of his sin and misery, enlighten his mind in the knowledge of Christ, and renew, persuade, and enable him to embrace Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel. All of this began before time when God wrote the names of those who would believe in time in The Lamb’s Book of Life.
Regeneration—This work of God is closely, yet mysteriously, linked with His effectual calling so that the two could conceivably be considered one simultaneous work of God. It is distinguished as that act of God’s grace whereby He supernaturally implants a new, Christ-aware heart and spiritual life in us so that our internal spiritual governance changes.
Faith and Repentance—These actions are demonstrated only by those whom God has first effectually called and regenerated. They are interdependent so that faith leads to repentance and repentance requires true faith. Faith, therefore, consists of knowledge, conviction and trust specifically in Christ as Lord and Savior as He is presented in the gospel.
Justification—How can sinful people be just or right with a holy God, and therefore justified before our Judge? This also is a work of God alone and is a gift from Him, a gift freely offered to those whom He effectually calls and regenerates. It has to do with how we are made just (legally right, righteous, or “at peace”) with the God of the Bible.
Adoption—“But as many as received Him, to them gave He the authority to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). We become children of God because He bestows that right upon us. He gives this right to all who believe on Jesus’ name. God adopts believers in Christ, and we become His own children.
Sanctification—This is a continual work of God’s grace that begins at justification and ends at glorification. As the word implies, sanctification involves God’s “scrubbing program,” carried out by him as he graciously and sovereignly applies the realities of the Gospel and the various Christian disciplines to the hearts of his regenerated, justified, adopted, and faithful people. In so doing, God works to release us from the power of sin and grows us up to be more like Christ, both in our inward thoughts and outward behaviors.
Perseverance—Like all that has come before, perseverance has to do with God’s work in and for His adopted children. Many mistakenly pivot perseverance on a new Christian’s dutiful discipline or continued faithfulness. While these things are essential to our experience of security in Christ, they do not determine it. Perseverance is a work of God whereby He seals and secures His adopted children as such to the very end, to glorification.
Glorification—When Christ returns to make all things new… If justification is God’s freeing His people from the penalty of sin, and sanctification is His freeing us from the power of sin, then glorification is His freeing us completely from the presence of sin.
It’s all of grace… The manifold mercies of God. Period.
God’s Plan of Redemption is THE Most Awesome Thing Ever!
Self-Aware, Broken, Repentant, Saved
“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Saved by Grace Alone
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Adopted into a New Family
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13 ESV).
Living with No More Shame
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Made Alive by the Spirit, Born-Again, Baptized, Cleansed
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Saved to Serve; Rescued to Rescue; Comforted to Comfort; Accepted Accepting.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
The Resident Spirit Within… Speaks
It was Sunday morning May 3rd, while attending the 9:00am Greentree Community Church service. I can’t remember which hymn it was but about a quarter of the way in I sensed the Holy Spirit rising up within my heart: The seesaw of sin and salvation began as an innocuous back and forth interplay of “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”.
But by the three-quarter-through mark I was nearly overcome by an uncontrollable flow of tears. Had I simply released the floodgate of spiritual affections, I would have crumbled to the floor in “cathartic Gospel weeping”: On one extreme of the seesaw, I was overcome by the utter depravity of this world and my desperately darkened heart within it and, at the next moment, I was lifted up to a place where I could sense the sublimely real mercies of God, the joy, and the innumerable, undeserved blessings in my life. The reality of each extreme became more than I could bear. Due to the Gospel-reality of being “more sinful and yet more loved”, the Spirit [unveiling my affections for Jesus within] was bursting to get out!
Back and forth, up and down… Each salty-sweet tear was associated with the reality of the profound destruction that the Fall ushered-in while being mixed with a blessing and eternal joy God had graced and unmeritoriously blessed me with. Like stopping the blast of a sneeze, I had to tamp my feelings down to stop the tsunami of bitter-sweet emotions… and gain control again.
The song ended, but the Gospel weeping of extreme sadness coupled with sublime joy had not. In fact, I did my best hold fast to this gift of reality and remembrance I was given by God the Father, the Son, and especially the Holy Spirit.
Conversion: Making the Fact and Hallmarks of Our Faith REAL
Before I left church, I was given another gift that lay within the years, study, and memories I have garnered while plumbing the depth of the human heart in art, literature, science, music, and my own life.
Of particular note were the works of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is one of the richest resources of the faith in all of history, but at the centerpiece of his purpose and passion are his sermons and writings about the details of true conversion… and matters of the heart, affections, and faith lived-out.
Here’s the rub of getting real: Please accept a loving and truthful remembrance of the hallmarks of true conversion which Jonathan Edwards wrote so abundantly and clearly about. These truths were wafting through my mind as I left church on this most sacred Sabbath Sunday. Due to the nature of my personal story and conversion, I knew without a doubt that, in 1983, I had been radically emptied and begun to be filled again… all beginning at the age of 31.
All conversion stories are different and yet have a common outcomes that we need to be aware of and not make the mistake of NOT being sure… OF BEING ASSURED… of. We live in a largely unchurched society and church; church leadership [like Jonathan Edwards] must be lovingly and truthfully clear about what being born-again really means and looks like… and so must we. The world, the flesh, and the devil will try and keep this hidden, “assumed”, presumed, and compartmentalized; we must NOT do the very same!
Please note that the reason I’m lovingly, respectfully yet intentionally offering this reality and remembrance is twofold:
a) The Saints, called to minister to both the saved and the lost, need to be resolutely assured of their own conversion—based upon God’s universal and utterly trustworthy promises in the Bible and the details of their own personal conversion story.
b) The times we live in, analogous in many ways to Edwards’ time of increasing secularization, humanism within a culture of comfort, is rife with deception and confusion about the nature of true conversion. As one might figure, this issue is right smack dab in the sweet spot of Satan’s plan in this in-between time after Christ was resurrected and before He returns to make all things new: To keep unbelievers unbelieving, and believers as ineffective as possible.
PLEASE NOTE: If you and I are not brutally honest with ourselves [while including a faith community] about the true nature of our faith, then “the up’s and down’s OF the faith” will axiomatically, necessarily, “beyond a doubtedly”… Turn into “the up’s and down’s of a daisy-chain theology”: God loves me; He loves me not… loves me; loves me not… loves me; loves me not. And this. my feasting friends and family, is hell on earth.
Getting Real About Our Beliefs, Supernatural Transformation, and Emotions (*Taken in part from John McArthur’s treatment of the same subject. See: Resources below.)
“In 1746, about six years after The Great Awakening, in which Jonathan Edwards was the primary instrument of God to preach the Gospel and bring about the greatest revival in American history thus far, Edwards wrote A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections.”
At the heart of this magnificent yet very challenging piece of writing, Edward’s chief concern was helping THE CHURCH be reminded of how one can tell whether The Holy Spirit has performed a saving operation within the heart of the Christian. “In Edwards’s day, while various excesses and heightened emotional experiences were common, scores of people did not demonstrate any evidence in their lives to verify their claim to know and love Jesus Christ. The supreme proof of true conversion is what Edwards called “holy affections” which are a zeal for holy things, a longing after God, and an intentional pursuit of personal holiness.”
Following are some crucial attributes or fruits of true conversion we can use as a marker—first for our own faith foundations, but also for those whom we minister to:
- Do you have a conversion story?
- Have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and the Father?
- Are you sensitive to sin?
- Do you thirst for God’s “living water” in His word, the Bible?
- Do you obey God’s word?
- Are you very much aware of the spiritual battle going on within you?
- Do you reject this evil world?
- Do you eagerly await Christ’s return?
- Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life?
- Do you love other Christians (and spend time in community with them)?
- Have you made a commitment to a local church—membership, preaching/teaching, worship, growth, the sacraments, and service?
- Do you try and radically give of your time, talents, and treasure for Kingdom-building work in word and deed?
- Do you experience answered prayer?
- Do you experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit?
- Can you discern between spiritual truth and error?
- Have you suffered rejection because of your faith?
- Do you have a strong desire to know your own gifts and use them to fulfill God’s command of being light, salt, and of service?
- As you experience everyday life and the people therein, are you always listening for signs of whether or not they are saved?
- Are you angry, indignant, offended, insulted, or so confused that you’re reeling inside… by any of the above? If so, please use these emotions as a sign that you should seriously question the nature of your faith—and speak to someone of a bona fide, born-again, Biblical faith… ASAP.
Please consider first looking inwardly at these attributes offered by the Bible, Edwards, MacArthur, and then look outwardly at how you can be the sort of loving and truthful listener and caregiver in other lives to discern whether a profession of faith is accompanied by these fruits.
God may well use you to help others come to the place of blessed assurance which He intends for those He loves—and yet may be in a place of potential deception and/or confusion about the nature of a Bible-based, supernatural conversion, and living faith in word and in deed.
“The Other Side of the Coin… or Heart”
In closing, please consider what all of God’s offer of salvation, a brand new family, no more shame, and being sent on the most exciting mission any human being could ask for… Looks like when we decline God’s offer of the gift His grace: “Hell on earth as it is in Hell.” Just because we never hear about Hell anymore—obviously from this passing world that wouldn’t bring it up, but even from the church that doesn’t wish to offend—doesn’t mean Hell doesn’t exist. Jesus brought it up more than anyone…
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened… The doors of Hell are locked from the inside…” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)
God bless you as New Creations in Christ “TODAY…” (Hebrews 3:15)… Saved to Serve!
Is It Real?, John MacArthur, Grace to You
Assurance of Faith, R.C. Sproul
The Works of Faith and Assurance, Martin Luther
Crucial Questions Booklets, Ligonier Ministries
Can I Be Sure I’m Saved?, Ligonier Ministries