The Pitfall of Success

There’s a lot of talk about success. As my kids get older and leave the house for college, they are surrounded by success talk and how they need to take over the world and be the best.

I heard a good phrase the other day, went something like, “there should be less talk about success and more talk about excellence.”

I think that’s spot-on. Do a good job; don’t worry about definers of success.

For most, “success” means money, followers, recognition, and other physical measurements of accomplishment. None of which necessarily mean anything. One of the Kardashians has over 100 million Twitter followers.

To most, 100 million Twitter followers is success. I would not accuse any Kardashian of being successful! That’s not success in my book.

I don’t want my kids to succeed if succeed means selling your soul to get money, fame, and celebrity. That stuff ruins people.

One of the pitfalls, the inherent weaknesses, of the Old Covenant was that success would be the result of listening to God.

If Israel kept their law they would dwell in their land and defeat enemies and have material success. God knew from the outset this would be devastating to them.

For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant.
–Deuteronomy 31:20

Remember this is said before they even got in the Land! God knew what was going to happen. Sure enough Israel gets success under Solomon and he gets arrogant, disobeys God, and the nation is divided.

The New Covenant is altogether different. We’re told repeatedly in the New Testament that if we listen to God bad things will happen to us!

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
–2 Timothy 3:12

Following Christ results in Christlike results. Christ was crucified. That’s why following Christ is referred to as “taking up the cross.”

We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. We are killed all the day long. Mortify your members on the earth. Present your body a living sacrifice.

No one likes this message. The popular Christian message is “follow Christ and you’ll get health and wealth.” What’s the difference between that and the Old Covenant’s “follow the law and you’ll get health and wealth?”

The Old Covenant didn’t work. The New Covenant, which is better according to the Book of Hebrews, keeps us from the trap of material success.

The New Covenant begins with us humbly receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then leads to humbly having the mind of Christ, who was a servant who laid down His life for others.

The New Covenant keeps us humble and keeps us from the trap of material success. We’re told that you can’t serve God and mammon–mammon represents material success.

Watch out for success and even for the lustful desire to accomplish material success. It destroys the soul.

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Think Before Communicating

The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.
–Proverbs 15:28

What a great piece of wisdom!

The righteous “studieth” to answer. Studieth is from a Hebrew word most often translated as “meditate.”

A righteous person thinks before he speaks. He doesn’t fly off the handle and get sucked into quick back and forth where dumb things are said.

That, in fact, is what the wicked person does. He “pours out evil things.”

To “pour out” means to gush forth. When wicked people open their mouths, evil flows!

It seems that silence is a bad thing in our society. When someone pauses before they answer a question, we think they are hiding something, or stupid.

In reality, taking a little bit of time before writing that comment, or spouting your opinion, or giving your flippant answer will keep the world from a flood of stupid.

Think before you speak. Think before you write. Think before you even give off rude body language or sighing or rolling your eyes or any sort of communication.

Think before reacting. That’s what righteous people do and one more major reason why we need the constant ministry of the Holy Spirit!

Good Conformity and Bad Conformity

“Be not conformed to the world” is Paul’s command in Romans 12:2. Believers have no business acting like worldly people. Come out from among them and be separate.

This is done by presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice to carry out God’s will. This is all highly reasonable, according to Paul.

Conformity means “to fashion yourself to another’s pattern.” To change into the same thing with someone else.

The world has a specific way of acting, living, and thinking. Don’t act, live, or think like them!

Peter’s version of Romans 12:1-2 is in 1 Peter 1:14-15:

As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation

“Fashioning” is the same Greek word translated “conform” in Romans 12:2.

But Christianity is not just a list of things not to do; it’s also a new way of life. Since you are not spending all your resources on sin anymore, what should you be doing with those resources?

The answer is: live like Christ. Give yourself for the benefit of others. Instead of being conformed to the world (bad conformity), be conformed to the image of Christ, fashion yourself after His pattern (good conformity).

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son
–Romans 8:29a

Perhaps a more fascinating way of putting it, or more troubling, depending on how you look at it, is what Paul says in Philippians 3:10:

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death

Being conformed to Christ’s death is a devastating teaching to your selfish flesh that wants its way all the time.

This is what Christ talks about when He tells His followers to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow Him. It’s what Paul means by being a living sacrifice.

Our old man is crucified with its affections and lusts. There is a real death to who we were before. Live like you’re dead. Live as though your life is not the main focus. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. Conform yourself to His thinking and His death and His life.

There is much in here. A lifetime of discovery as you find out what areas of your flesh are still kicking, what deeds of the body need to be mortified, and how the new life in Christ needs to emerge.

This is all part of believing the Gospel and being set free from sin. It’s a beautiful thing. Don’t let your flesh convince you otherwise!

Small God Leads to a Small Life

Our service for our Lord is consistent with our view of Him.

If God is not that big, not that powerful, not that authoritative, then we won’t do much for Him.

If God is massively big, powerful, and authoritative, then we will do much for Him.

Your view of God is not measured by your thoughts or words. Your view of God is measured by your actions.

If you believe God is who He says He is, your life will change direction into going His way and not your own.

Psalm 29 is a short psalm about the glory, power, and awe of God and His word.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.
 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
–Psalm 29:3-5

In case you don’t get the point yet, the Psalmist continues:

The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
 The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
 The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.
 The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.
–Psalm 29:7-10

God’s word should make you tremble. You should really stop fearing other people, see God for who He is, and adjust accordingly.

Here’s the Psalmist’s application for the truths he just expressed:

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
–Psalm 29:2

“Beauty” there means “to decorate.” Adorn yourself with holiness. Have your life be decorated with holy living. This is how you show glory and honor to your Great God.

He’s not interested in lofty words, sentimental songs, rote ritual, or mindless repetition. He wants you. Your life. Your all.

He deserves that, by the way, because He’s the one who gave you your life and your all.

If you understand who God is, your life will reflect that knowledge. If your God is small, a half-senile old grandpa, then you’ll go do all your stuff.

But if your God’s voice shakes creation and He sits in heaven with the earth as His footstool, your little desires will fade into nothing as you realize with whom you have to do.

You will stand before this great God some day. Now is the day to wake up! Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Go serve Him in the beauty of holiness.

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Here’s another quote I saw that rankled me:

I don’t wanna hear ‘well done good and faithful servant.’

I just wanna hear, “yup, you’re in.”

This one bothers me on several levels.

First, who in their right mind would say they don’t want to hear God say to them, “well done, good and faithful servant?” I mean, why would you not want to hear that?

Second, the context of this biblical phrase is instructive here (imagine that).

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
–Matthew 25:21,23

What do you notice about both passages?

Here’s what I noticed:

Every one he said “well done good and faithful servant” to, he then told them to “enter in!”

In other words, the only ones God says are “in,” are ones who were good and faithful servants!

I mean, I don’t know. There are days I wonder.

But this is typical Christianity today. People don’t think what they do matters. That salvation and subsequent living have nothing to do with each other.

There’s a sanctimony here as well. I’m too good for doing good. As long as I’m in is all that matters; I don’t need praise, and certainly not reward.

That is asinine.

I’ve heard many people talk about the selfishness and materialism of serving God for reward. That’s just dumb. The Bible says many times God wants to and will reward service. It’s not wrong to want God’s praise and reward.

Again, this is another effort to make what I do a minor issue, and yet the Bible is so consistent and repetitive on this: what we do matters.

The only ones who get in are the ones who do what God has created them to do. This isn’t rocket science. Not is it legalism, nor works righteousness, nor telling people to work themselves into salvation.

It’s the power of the Gospel to transform sinners into saints!

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
–1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Substitution and Transformation

“The foundation and focus of the Christian faith is Christ’s substitution not our transformation. In other words, the language of Christianity is primarily substitutional not transformational.”
–Tullian Tchividian

When I read this quote, my brain went “Wait, what?”

Tullian is a hip pastor with a large church in his past. He was fired from said church due to an extramarital affair. He says things like this quote above that get a lot of applause, but probably also lead to extramarital affairs.

I really don’t get the statement. I have no larger context to judge his words by. All I have is this quote. So, I’ll examine the quote.

He seems to be saying that The Gospel is all about Christ. What happens to me is at least distant second, if not almost irrelevant.

I’ll grant some truth here. Christ’s Gospel is the foundation of everything. Me changing does not save people. So, if that’s all he means, then fine.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s all he means.

I think what he means is that transformation should hardly be talked about. That any talk of transformation is probably detracting from any talk of Christ’s substitution.

Transformation is a biblical concept. It is mention a number of times. Romans 12:2 would be the primary passage no doubt–be not conformed to the world bu transformed by the renewing of your mind.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says we will be changed into the same image of Christ from glory to glory. “Changed” is the same Greek word as “transformed” in Romans 12:2. The Greek word is metamorphoo from which we get our word metamorphosis.

Galatians 4:19 says that Paul labors until Christ be formed in them. “Formed” is the Greek word morph.

Transformation is a thing. It is also implied in many passages–we are now servants of righteousness not unrighteousness, we are new creations in Christ, old things are passed away and all things are new, put off the old and put on the new, raised up to newness of life, etc.

Meanwhile, substitution is mentioned zero times in the New Testament. It is mentioned twice in Leviticus concerning animal sacrifice.

In all honesty, I don’t see the substitution of Christ mentioned much at all. Substitution means in the place of.

Yes, Christ died for us, but nowhere does it say He died in the place of us, or instead of us. What it does say is that He died for us, and by faith we were crucified, bruised, and raised up with Him. “With” is different than “instead of.”

Tullian is emphasizing what Christ did to the exclusion of anything we do. Paul doesn’t put it that way. Transformation is the only way to know you are part of what Christ did.

Granted, my transformation is not as earthly significant as what Christ did for the sins of the world, but it’s pretty big for me! It lets me know if I’m in or not.

Tullian is not alone in this emphasis. Everyone wants everything to be about Christ, with no responsibility, transformation, or anything about me. But read the New Testament! It’s talking about what you do quite frequently!

Don’t make a false dichotomy where there is none. Everything Christ did, He did for our transformation. It’s the reason there is a Gospel.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
–Titus 2:14

Grace To All

Calvinism is Greek philosophy read into a handful of Scriptures. If Calvinism is true, then a massive amount of verses in the Bible are not.

Here’s one:

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
–Titus 2:11

The King James Version above is not the best. It gives the idea that God’s grace that brings salvation has appeared to all men. That all men saw its appearance.

The correct translation of the Greek is better expressed in the New American Standard:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,

or the English Standard Version:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,

I mean, even the NIV gets this one right!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

The grace of God, which brings salvation to all men, has appeared. All men can receive God’s grace. It hasn’t just appeared to them; it can actually save them. Not just some of them, but ALL of them.

It is not saying that all men will be saved, but that all men can be saved by God’s grace, and His gracious salvation has appeared–referring to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. Everyone can approach the Father through the Son.

Everyone.

Not just a chosen few only.

Grace is there for everyone to be saved.

The offer of salvation is legitimately made to all people. Not just by us with God ordained means, but legitimately by God who desires all men to be saved.

Titus 2:11 rejects Limited Atonement forcefully.

I like Titus 2:11 way more than I like sticking with some guys theories.