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AUGUSTINE AND THE BIBLE
For 2,000 years the Bible, often unaided by any human intervention, has transformed the lives of those who read it, many times dramatically so. St. Augustine is a good example. For most of his life he was a famed academic in the Roman Empire. He was very successful in rhetoric, a noble profession. But he lived a thoroughly dissolute, self-indulgent, immoral life. The time came when he began to consider the claims of Christianity.
He was alone in a garden one day when he heard a child singing out a line from a game: "Pick it up and read, pick it up and read." He turned to his copy of the Scriptures, which was opened to Roman. 13. His eyes were drawn to the following words: "Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Rom. 13:13-14)
Deeply convicted, he surrendered to Christ, and the Roman rhetorician went on to become the Christian bishop of Hippo, the greatest theologian after Paul, and one of the most formidable intellects of Western civilization.
AUGUSTINE AND THE FOUR STATES OF MAN
In the 5th century AD, St. Augustine wrote about the "4 States of Man":
* The first state of man (the haec sunt prima) is "living according to the flesh -- with reason making no resistance." This can be seen in so many ancient cultures and religions (and unfortunately more than a few in our own time) with their human sacrifices, their idols, their pagan ceremonies, and even cannibalism. Human life -- without power -- was lightly regarded. Animals, especially domesticated animals, were often valued more highly than human life. Reason often vanishes when weighed against lust and self-gratification. Even today, this seems to be coming full circle.
* The second state of man is "recognition of sin through the Law . . . but sinning knowingly." It was so important for Satan to remove the Ten Commandments from our classrooms and courtrooms. It was critical for him to "separate church and state." So long as people knew the Law, it would not be so easy to ignore the Law. Without the reminders of the Law, we easily return to the first state of man. Does any of this sound familiar?
* The third state of man is "faith in the help of God -- but he perseveres in seeking to please God." Man has begun to be moved by the Spirit of God. We are already standing with one foot in the hell which we have created, but in the "third state", man knows it. So he still struggles against his own sinful nature because he has not yet been fully healed.
* The fourth state of man is "the full and perfect peace in God." This we find in harmony with Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the person of Jesus Christ, we see how far we have departed from God.
Augustine adds, "The will of man is always free, even and particularly when it can no longer will to do evil." But Adam and Eve were not gods, "and their 'free will' would not have sufficed, even in paradise, to merit immortality. Divine assistance was needed. Their immortality could only continue by their continued relationship with the Divine. So how much more do we need God's help since our fall?"
Augustine continues, "Even the good merits and qualities which people may display toward one another are gifts from God. Every good quality comes from His grace. God's mercy is the ground of salvation. Therefore, let no man boast. Out of faith spring hope and love. We hope only in God -- not in men and not in ourselves." ("The History of Doctrines", Reinhold Seeberg, p. 366)
Dorothy Sayers wrote, "If men will not understand the meaning of judgment, they will never come to understand the meaning of grace."
Heaven, an Inheritance
Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going... I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:1-4, 6)
The Holy Scriptures teach clearly that heaven is a real place, a permanent place, a personal place and a holy place. It is also an inheritance for those who say "yes" to Jesus Christ.
In his gospel, the beloved John conveys a powerful truth of what one must become in order to inherit eternal salvation. "...I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) And once more, "...You must be born again." (John 3:7) Twice Jesus tells Nicodemus, already a Pharisee and religious leader, "I tell you the truth..."
The truth for you is that a preacher saying nice things, nor beautiful hymns being sung at your funeral, nor the local paper announcing that you were a member of such and such church, nor even being in church nearly every Sunday will gain you entrance into heaven. Being truly born again is a necessity.
Many Scripture passages tell what God will do for a person who through repentance accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Ezekiel 36: 26, 27 is one of the most clear. It has been used frequently by Dr. Billy Graham to explain what God wants to do in the hearts and lives of those coming forward to receive the forgiveness found only in Christ. The verses say, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep my laws."
A "heart of stone" is inflexible, unyielding and insensitive. It is not apt to receive from or have any devoted affection toward its Creator. A man with a heart of stone has no fellowship with the Lord. He does not do the will of God, thus, he does what seems right in his own eyes which will lead to his own destruction. God alone gives physical life and He alone can give spiritual life in what Jesus says is being "born again."
When God supernaturally gives a repentant person a "heart of flesh" and puts His Spirit in a new believer, that person becomes sensitive and alive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Only then can he determine and do the will of God. This enables him to know the joy that comes from obedience to the Word of God. Once the Holy Spirit of God has entered the heart and life of a repentant person, they are never the same! Guaranteed! The Bible says they are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Jesus made these truths very clear to Nicodemus, and He desires to make them crystal clear to all who will hear even now. In heaven there will be only those who are born again, those who have trusted Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.
The Holy Spirit moved the apostle Paul to write to (and about) authentic Christians, "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9)
Will you receive Christ today?
A GLIMPSE OF ME—COMMUNION MEDITATION
In Mel Gibson’s Movie, “The Passion of Christ” there is an obscure detail in the crucifixion scene that probably goes unnoticed by most people, but it is a detail that says so much.
When Jesus is being placed on the cross, the camera comes close to watch as a large spike is positioned in the middle of Jesus’ hand. Then, a mallet comes into focus, and a rugged hand swings it to drive the spike. Those are all things you expect to see.
But there is something you don’t see. You never see the face of the one who drives that nail. You never get a glimpse into the eyes, or heart of the one who so assuredly pounds away until the spike has passed through Jesus’ flesh and comes to rest in the wood of the cross.
You might be interested to know that the person who plays that role in the movie is the director himself, Mel Gibson. But why does he never show the face of the one who put Jesus on the cross? Why does he not give us the identity of the one who had the gall to put the Son of God to death?
He didn’t show us that face because that face was his. It was ours. We are the ones who put Jesus to death. It wasn’t the Romans. It wasn’t the Jews. It was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14 says: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all...
The fact that our good deeds are not good enough to get us into heaven is no more cruel than it’s cruel for you to tell the fish in the water (I hope your not talking to the fish in the water) “I just can’t breath in your environment.” To say that, is not a cruel statement it is just a statement about your nature. You can’t breath under water. To say that my good deeds to God is like water to my lungs is not to say anything cruel about God it’s just the facts. God can’t tolerate us. And that’s not mean and it’s not cruel it’s just the facts. And in the world of our modern celebrities who seem to represent the thoughts of our culture, they in essence want us to believe that God can hang with sin. That God, the perfect God can somehow tolerate imperfection. And God can look at people like you and me, people who’s lives are out of sink and say “you know what, it’s OK”. But God would cease to be God the day He said that. You don’t want a God who accepts sin. Because a God who accepts sin is not a holy perfect God. It’s like when Grocho Marks said “I will never join a club who will accept me as a member.” And in reality we don’t want a God who looks at us in our sinful fallen state and say, “it’s OK your alright your in.”
The fact that you can’t breath underwater isn’t entirely true. People can breath underwater when equipped with scuba apparatus. You can conquer the environment but it’s going to take something, something you don’t have inherent in yourself. And that is what Good Friday is all about. Good Friday is about what we have in a bloody cross that allows us to live in God’s environment. And God says I’m going to provide the oxygen tanks for you, I’m going to make you acceptable in my sight. But you must recognize that there is an exchange that has to take place; your life for my Son’s. You take His life and you trade yours in for it and you can be with me. God will accept us but as the Bible puts it He will only accept us in Christ. I don’t want to just be accepted in David, I want to be accepted in Christ. That retains God’s perfection and makes me understand that I cannot be accepted aside from Jesus Christ. What I need I can’t provide, God is going to have to provide it for me.
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is (scuba gear) eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:26) God says in effect you put on the scuba gear; put on Christ and you can survive in my environment.
“The Cast of Your Misfortune!” 1 Peter 5: 1-10 Key verse(s): 9: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kin do sufferings.”
One of the loneliest times in anyone’s life is when suffering strikes and it puts you into a category of one. That’s the peculiar thing about suffering. Not only is there the pain and handicap to bear, but there is also the propensity for those who suffer to turn inward, away from the help of others. This is a natural tendency among sinful men since we are by nature corrupted and able to think only about ourselves. That’s why when suffering knocks on our door and we open our lives to it, we find it convenient, even comfortable to withdraw into the one thing we know that brings at least some relief, ourselves.
But, where does God want us to be when we are afflicted? Is He content to allow us to retreat into ourselves in hopes that our self-pity will eventually embolden us to face the world again? Or, does God have a different plan for those who suffer; one that involves others, others who may be suffering as well?
Somerset Maugham, the English writer, once wrote a story about a janitor at St Peter’s Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered that the janitor was illiterate and fired him. Without the ability to read or write, the future looked pretty bleak. Jobless, the man decided to invest his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop. He was good at what he did and in but a short period of time he began to prosper. In that prosperity he decided that it would be a sound investment to purchase another tobacco store. So he did. Prosperity continued to rain down upon the man and in time he purchased a third store, then a fourth. Eventually he owned an entire chair of tobacco stores worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a few short years he had become quite prosperous and wealthy. He had, nonetheless, never learned to read or write.
One day the man’s banker said, “You’ve done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could read and write?” “Well,” replied the man, “I’d be janitor of St. Peter’s Church in Neville Square.” (Bits and Pieces, June 24, 1993, p. 23.)
I can remember not too many years ago when we used an old hand operated flour sifter. It was a simple little contraption that consisted of a little tin can with a screen in the bottom and a crank that turned a wire against that screen. Flour wasn’t as fine in those days as it is now and it always needed sifting to get rid of the lumps.
The fine particles that made it through were used in the baking process but there was always some rock-hard pieces left over that were useless and were cast away.
Our lives are placed through a sifter. With each new day, the crank is turned and a few more of our rough edges disappear as the finer parts of our new man and the coarse parts of our sinful, fleshly nature are revealed so that these character flaws can be discarded.
“The Two Faces of Change!” 2 Kings 12: 1-8 Key verse(s): 2-3:“Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”
On June 4, 1783 at the market square of a French village of Annonay, not far from Paris, a smoky bonfire on a raised platform was fed by wet straw and old wool rages. Tethered above, straining its lines, was a huge taffeta bag 33 feet in diameter. Many of the observers just shook their heads and clicked their tongues. “How could any man make such a claim?” Yet, they continued to gather throughout the day. However, as the flames were fanned and the balloon began to pull tightly and forcibly against the basket, the skeptics began to change their minds as they saw the basket begin to lift itself up slightly above the ground, straining at its tethers. Then, in the presence of “a respectable assembly and a great many other people,” and accompanied by great cheering, the balloon was cut from its moorings and set free to rise majestically into the noon sky. Six thousand feet into the air it went -- the first public ascent of a balloon, the first step in the history of human flight. It came to earth several miles away in a field, where it was promptly attacked by pitchfork-waving peasants and torn to pieces as an instrument of evil! (adapted from Today in the Word, July 15, 1993.)
Committing to change is often like this. We arrive at our decision to change with great personal fanfare and acclaim. Despite our initial skepticism, we begin to “like our chances” and cut the ropes that are holding us down to a behavior or habit that we have longed wished to change. Then, just when we near our goal, our sinful nature, the part of us that is filled with fear and doubts, takes over and rips our best hopes and aspirations to sheds. We reach out for change but never quite get where we wanted to go in the first place. Joash was just such a king. He knew what had to be done in Judah. The people were sinning by worshipping false gods. The high priest, Jehoiada, had pretty much laid out a plan for the changes that would be needed. Joash began his “journey” to change the he...
"DON'T SIT ON ME, LORD!"
Romans 6:8-14 Key verse(s): 6: "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the bod of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin...”
There are many things that a dog does not like. Chief among them for many dogs is the seeming innocuous task of having their nails clipped. Dogs have very sensitive paws. I have often been amazed as to the amount of time our little dachshunds and the lab spend grooming them. The lick and lick is often followed by nibbles and chomps directed at the skin between the toes. Taught at a very early age to be fastidious groomers by their mothers, what we might regard as almost ritualistic and surely repetitive is really more than it seems. Dogs don’t sweat. For the most part they exchange body heat largely through panting. But there is one place on their bodies that is the exception and that is the bottom of their paws. The only place on a dog’s entire body that sweats is its paws. Stress a dog and make it pace, then touch the bottom of their paws. Surprisingly they are quite moist. It is no surprise, therefore, that dogs are so sensitive to the manipulation or grooming of their paws. Their paws are precious to them, providing not only their sole means to escape enemies and pursue prey, but also the one avenue by which they are able to employ evaporation as a means of cooling down.
The longer you allow a dog to go without grooming, especially a dog that is kept indoors and away from the natural corrosive environment that will normally serve to keep a dog’s claws blunted and short, the harder and harder it becomes for it to walk. As the claws grow, the paw is pushed upward, causing an abnormal pressure on the spine. Eventually a dog with unmanicured claws may develop back problems or become listless or agitated. Yet, as good as grooming is for a dog, the dog doesn’t seem to recognize the boon. It will pull, bite and writhe in your grasp as if you are trying to inflict great harm on it. And, the fact is, nail clipping is uncomfortable for most dogs since their paws are very sensitive to touch, temperature and pressure. The very thing that benefits them is the one thing they most fear.
Sanctification, the process by which we are made holy, like Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit seems to have the same effect on humans as nail clipping does on dogs. We want to be like Christ. We long to conform to the image of our Savior in every way possible. We long to walk uprightly and in a "holy" manner. Yet, the old Adam in us, has grown disproportionately to our ability to maintain a holy balance in our life. We often stumble and fall. But, sanctification? Sounds kind of painful and harsh, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is just better to let well enough alone and go on coping as opposed to confronting the nuisance and pain that must be involved to rid us of our old but "thank you, it will do and I will cope" nature.
As a dog must be sat upon in some instances just to convince it that what we are about to do will ultimately be for its own good, so too must our God sit upon us with the weight of his grace. Our hearts are sensitive and we strive to avoid any pain to them. Yet, they are fated to become calloused and anemic unless something crush them and break away the layer upon layer of daily sinful grime and worldly grief that serves to lacquer them. Sound painful? Death always is and that is what is transpiring on a daily basis in every Christian’s life. God is plucking the covering from our hearts; a covering we have worked hard to secure, even nurture. It is a destructive but necessary process in order to reveal what He designed in us from the beginning of time. The comfortable and warm covering of sin that helps us get through the day is seems like such a necessary enemy. We are willing to let it have its way just so we can avoid the cure that would, on the surface, seem more difficult than the illness. So on and on it grows, insidiously and silently wrapping layer upon layer so skillfully and cunningly that we are almost completely unaware of its stifling heaviness. That sin-loving nature we inherited from our father Adam will eventually hobble us. It’s crippling effect robbing us of our ability to walk uprightly in the presence of our God. Unless He sits on us, crushing our natural will to be sinful and clipping away the filth of sin, we will never know the tremendous relief that such a clipping can bring.
Author C.S. Lewis confirms these suspicions in his book God in the Dock, "Man or Rabbit?" He compares the rabbit’s nature to be careful while cowardly to our inherent willingness to avoid trouble by avoiding pain: "All the rabbit in us is to disappear--the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy." (God in the Dock, , para. 10, p. 112.)
Do you remember the symbolism behind Water Baptism?
The 2nd step of submersion in Water Baptism deals with a circumcision of the heart according to Francis Anfuso’s booklet Water Baptism he states on page 12:
a. In the Old Testament, God established circumcision to be an outward work which signified a change of heart and a new covenant relationship between the Jewish people and Himself.
b. In the New Testament, Water Baptism parallels this and is required for all of God’s people.
c. They in essence circumcise their heart to God through the act of Water Baptism.
d. He then cites Col. 2:1-11:“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…”