17 April 2011

Discerning the Beauty of the Gospel - Psalm 119 Partial Recap, Part 3

Discernment is the ability to see the truth. But for the Christian this means more than just being able to recognize false teachings when they appear. It also means that we need to be able to discern the truth of the Gospel in our own lives. I can attest from personal experience that it is possible to at times lose sight of some important aspects of our salvation in Christ, and that is why the two messages delivered by Milton Vincent at the Psalm 119 conference were so wonderful!

Milton Vincent is the author of The Gospel Primer (a book I recommended in this post) and pastor of Cornerstone Fellowship Bible Church in Riverside, CA. This was his first time speaking at a Psalm 119 conference and I am so glad that I was there! I'll try to briefly summarize his two lectures but, as usual, I make no promises that I'll actually succeed in being brief!

Vincent's first session was entitled "Surprised by Justification."Aside from giving us loads of Bible verses, he highlighted "five truths regarding justification that we do well to discern." Did you catch that? We need to be discerning about falsity, yes, but we also need to be discerning of truth! We do well to discern the truths of justification! Why? Because if we lose sight of these truths, we can become misinformed and begin to live in the shadow of a weakened understanding of this important doctrine, which will ultimately affect our Christian walk.

What is justification? Upon conversion (that is, upon repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation), justification is an instantaneous, legal act of God, whereby He:
  • decides to see our sins as forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and
  • declares us to be righteous in His sight.
How amazing is this truth! And it is a truth that, I suspect, most of my readers are well aware of and have experienced, yet it is something that is all too infrequently reflected upon. Justification is a legal act. It is binding. When God saves us, He sees us as justified before Him--always, no matter what we do. Kind of takes the pressure off, doesn't it? Not that we go out and sin all we want, but that we do not need to feel forlorn each time we inevitably fall short, whether it is by sinning or simply by not living up to the "Christian" standards of service or prayer or Bible reading that we have set for ourselves. I think that, as we come to better understand and bask in the glory of the truth of our justification in Christ, we will find that our Christian walk is strengthened and buoyed. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

What are the five truths of which Milton Vincent spoke?

1. Justification is a big deal and worthy of our diligent study.
    • For this one, you pretty much need to read through the first few chapters of Romans, particularly chapter 5. Paul gives a marvelous outline of justification and righteousness in this, his longest epistle.
2. Justification comes to us through Jesus Christ and by faith in Him alone.
    • Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
    • And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness[.](Romans 4:5)
3. Justification brings us into a right relationship with God.
    • This is where it's important to understand that legal act. Once we are justified, we are reconciled to God. Period. There is nothing you can do to lose your justification before Him. After all...there was nothing you could do to earn it in the first place!
    • You'll notice above in Romans 5:1 that when we are justified, we have peace with God. Once justified, that peace will characterize our relationship with Him.
Here I want to pause and linger again on this idea that justification means that we have been imputed with the righteousness of Christ and God will always see us clothed as such. What about when we sin? Are we still justified? Yes. Did you sin today? (And you better answer yes, because we all sin everyday!) Jesus knew you would commit that sin and He died for you anyway. But if you have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone (in this life, not the next, Rob Bell!) then when God looks at you, He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 

When we sin, have we lost favor with God? No. To be sure, sin may cause a distance between you and God but rest assured that it is you who is creating that distance, not God! Even when we have sinned, God still favors us. In fact (and I loved this when Vincent taught it), He favors us so much that when we sin, He will even bring discipline and chastisement into our lives! Don't you love that reminder? Discipline from God is proof that we are His and it is even proof that He still favors us!
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:5-8)
4. Justification brings us into a permanent and unalterable experience of God's grace. Grace is undeserved, even ill-deserved favor and it is granted to us by the holy God of the universe through this amazing act of justification! Makes you want to study this more and more, doesn't it?

5. Justification is intended to be cause for daily celebration. Do you do this? Do you remind yourself of your justification before God through Christ daily? I know I don't. But, friends, this is the Gospel! And if we preach it to ourselves daily we will no doubt find it just as life-changing as it was the day that God saved us!

If you'd like to hear a short, 15 minute or so snippet of this message preached by Milton Vincent, click here.

Okay, at this point this post is already lengthy so I may as well keep going! Vincent's second message was entitled "Discerning the Practical Value of the Gospel." This fit right alongside of his first message as he rightfully explained that we fail to give the gospel the proper place and function in our lives. It's true, isn't it? We go out and witness or we sit and read our Bible or have wonderful conversations with our family about Scripture and Christ and salvation and yet, do we truly remind ourselves everyday of that glorious Gospel which saved us and do we appropriately place it at the forefront of our lives?

Here are four facts about the Gospel that "we do well to discern:"

1. The Gospel is the power of God. Well, yeah, everybody knows that, right? What's the big deal? Stop a minute. Think about it. The Gospel is the POWER OF GOD. How about this one: The Gospel is THE power of God! Do you get it? The Gospel of the saving work of Jesus Christ is the ultimate demonstration of God's awesome power. Pick something magnificent like the sun. Created by God, it is enormously powerful and yet it still is not the ultimate expression of His power. The Gospel is. Why? Because the Gospel saves souls and brings glory to God every time it is proclaimed!
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
2. The Gospel is for Christians, too! It is so easy to only pick up the Gospel when we're witnessing and sharing with those who are not saved, but this good news is still good news long after God has saved us! Look through the epistles and you'll discover that most Gospel preaching and teaching in the New Testament is directed at Christians!

3. The Gospel is the instrument that God uses to enrich and transform us daily.
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
The "word of his grace" is the Gospel. What is it doing? It is building up the Church, it is edifying, it is creating a radical transformation in the lives of believers. Sanctification does not occur independent of the Gospel. The truth of salvation through Christ alone will be transforming us every day until finally we stand glorified before God.

4. Finally, Milton Vincent gave us some simple ways to experience the power of the Gospel. No, this was not the famous list of "do's" like seeker preachers like to give. This wasn't a "do this, get that" presentation. Take a look at the list and I think you'll get it:

  • Stare at it! We become transformed by what we stare at, by what we allow to enter our minds and our hearts. So stare at the Gospel! 1 John 3:1 is an imperative for us to "see what kind of love the Father has given to us," so do it! 
  • Believe it! "Okay," you're saying, "but I'm already saved. I believe it." Are you allowing the true transforming nature of the Gospel to grow your faith day by day?
  • Feast on it! What a great picture! Here, Vincent offered the illustration of an infant who is hungry. When a baby experiences hunger, he is obsessed with obtaining the nutrition of the milk. Our desire for the Gospel of Christ should be such a craving that it should absolutely dominate us! And then, just like an infant, we should partake with simplicity. Feast on God's saving grace. Feast on the truth of your justification before a holy God due to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Admittedly, we will never find ourselves basking as fully as possible in the light of our justification and we will always fall short of preaching and living God's Gospel daily. In fact, we can do none of this without Christ's power. But ponder these truths, and pray that God would strengthen your grasp of them and your walk in light of them. I walked away from these sessions realizing how often I rely solely on my head knowledge of these truths, and how infrequently I seek to allow them to change me.

If you have been saved, you are justified before a holy and righteous God! Oh, Lord, how can we begin to praise You and thank You for that undeserved grace?! Perhaps the best way to start is by preaching that great and glorious Gospel to ourselves daily so that it may truly penetrate every step of our day.

Psalm 119 Conference - Partial Recap
Give God Glory - Psalm 119 Partial Recap, Part 2
I Met Phil Johnson

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