Saturday, July 21, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 19 - Perfection Before God

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 8th July 2007 in GRIIS. It was preached in Indonesian and I personally translated to English. Newton Life has it preached in Mandarin with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 17

After Hagar was pregnant, Abram could not do anything about the situation. He could only listen and accept the reality. He waited another 14 years. When Abram was 99 years old, God began to speak to him again. Hence the 13 years of silence must be very long and hard to go through. God left the one He loved on his own for 13 years after he sinned. But when God is silent, it does not mean He is not there. We need to learn to fear God even more when He is silent.

When God keeps silent, it is a serious and significant time to introspect ourselves.
We should be more afraid when God stops speaking. When God still speaks and moves our heart, it is His grace. It is in His sovereignty that we can hear His Word. For 400 years God did not speak to Israel until John the Baptist cried out, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” When God was silent for 400 years, what could men do? They could not rush God. We ought to be thankful to God if we are still given the opportunities to listen to good preaching and to have our sins rebuked by our pastor. This is God’s grace.

In 13 years of silence, God did not abandon Abram. Sometimes it appears to us as though God has abandoned us, we no longer sense His presence as we used to and we wonder why. We cannot choose how God would deal with us. But we ought to understand that God does not stop loving us. When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to Him and revealed Himself as the Almighty God, the El-Shaddai. This term “El-Shaddai” in Hebrew means fertility and abundance. God revealed Himself as the Provider for all his needs.

Do we realize that God is Almighty and can fulfil all our needs? If we do, why do we live with so much unbelief? God does not bestow His abundance upon those without the right faith. God told Abram, “I am the Almighty God, walk before me as a perfect man.”

How could a human being be perfect before God? It is impossible to be perfect before men, much less before God. But why did God demand perfection? What kind of perfection is He looking for, since all men fall short of His glory?

Perfection can be seen from different levels. The first one is the perfection of creation, that is, the perfection of man before the Fall. The second one is the perfection in the salvation of Jesus Christ. And there is another perfection, which is perfection in eternity.

Reformed theology believes that it is impossible for human beings to reach perfection in this life. Apart from Christ, no human being can live blameless before God. The Scripture exposed the sin of many men of faith like David, Paul, Peter, Job, Elijah, etc. What then is the meaning of God’s command to Abram to be perfect before Him?

Apostle Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Phil.3:12). In reformed theology, the perfection meant is not perfection of achievement, but perfection of motivation. It is to make perfection as our highest goal and the end of our struggle.

One who is moving towards perfection and has the motivation to fight and achieve perfection, is called a perfect man. It is impossible to achieve perfection quantitatively in this life. But the quality of perfection has been given to us. Just like an egg that has full potential to become a chicken, we can grow into quantitative perfection because the qualitative perfection (potential for perfection) has been given to us. There are people who have been Christian for 50 years but never progress. There are others who just believe, study hard and a few years later become very good preachers. This is because one does not want to progress while the other wants to.

Quantity is the result of growth, and before growth, the quality needs to be there first. God gives the quality as the seed, and through this seed we grow quantitatively in the right way. We should not be too hasty to grow quantitatively, but should be very careful to instill the right quality. God’s command to Abram is to demand that he has the motivation to become a perfect man. Although we cannot achieve it, at least with a perfect fear of the Lord, we will grow in steps according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We can grow in this way if we believe that God is the Almighty God who will supply all our needs and empower us to do His will.

We ought to pray that God will preserve our motivation, our fear of the Lord, and all our life not to run away from the true guidance of God.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 18 - The Importance to Wait on God

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 1st July 2007 in GRIIS. It was preached in Indonesian and I personally translated to English. Newton Life has it preached in Mandarin with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 16

Through this chapter, we come to know the origin of Arab nation and the reason for the turmoil in Middle East for thousands of years. This is the result of trying to ‘help’ God because of impatience. Abram was waiting for God but his wife Sarai in her anxiety could not wait for God to fulfil His promise. We ought to keep doing our duties while waiting for God. But this is a common struggle for many in their walk of faith. We ask God why we have to wait, and why He never fulfil what He has promised after such a long time, and how long more we have to wait. If God is good, why is His goodness so long in arriving? If He has promised, why hasn’t He realized it? We have waited and grown so old.

However, we have to be careful. If we do not obey God and honor His Word, without our realization we will enter into Satan’s trap. Why must we wait? God keeps repeating the same promise to Abram, “I will make your descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand in the ocean.” Abram must be thinking that he had memorized this promise enough, why must God keep repeating it? This is often our attitude. We think that we already know and we are already bored and sick of it. Many young people always consider themselves smart and inquisitive. They want to know more, and more. It is not wrong to desire knowledge. However, knowing cognitively and rationally is not the same as knowing truly through personal spiritual experience. There are many things we know to be wrong but we still do them. Many times we think we know, but when we enter into life’s tests, all our knowledge cannot be transformed into the power to achieve victory in life. This means that our knowledge is not integrated with our life. That is why God allows us to wait and keeps repeating His promise.

Many know what they should do but they do not obey, instead they mock God. Many are bored with doctrines and want to see God perform miracles before they are willing to believe in His power. However, God cannot be forced. Between the Old Testament and the New Testament transition, He was silent and sent not a single prophet for 400 years. God wants to test if men would remain faithful to His Word or their faith would be shaken. But often times men rather want to fulfil their own desires hence they abandon God’s Word and many false preachers emerge as a result. People who cannot wait on God will be easily fooled by Satan, who invests in their destruction by tricking their eyes with attractive things first and destroying them later.

Sarai thought that if God wanted her to be the mother of the child of promise, but she never became pregnant, then probably God wanted to use her maid to bear a child on her behalf. Could this be God’s way? Whether it was or it was not, was not Sarai’s concern at that time. Her concern was to have a child for her husband Abram, whatever the means. Abram did beget a child through Sarai’s maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and through this son was born the nation of Arab. The ancient Egyptians under Pharaoh became smaller and smaller, but after Hagar, became greater. God later on destroyed the Egyptians who enslaved the Israelites for 430 years. Today’s Egyptians are not the descendants of those Egyptians in the days of Moses. Today’s Egyptians are the Arabians.

Out of impatience and boredom of God’s unfulfilled promise, Sarai decided to intervene God’s plan. This is something we should learn never to do. Great leaders also have their weak moments where they are weaker than ordinary people. When Elijah was weak, his faith was shaken and he asked for death. When Abram was weak, he listened to his wife’s wrong suggestion. Many Christians, when they are pressed by financial needs, sell their principles and bow down to the rich. Many Christians compromise for the sake of material needs. Many Christians play at the background and use unlawful means to ‘help’ God. God knows, God does not stop them but let them do it. This permittance is a scary thing. When we think that we are free to commit sin, it is a very terrible moment in our life. When we are at the decisive direction to go astray, consequence and judgement will await us later.

Sarai let Hagar sleep with Abram and she became pregnant in one night. But Hagar started to look down on Sarai and insulted her. Do not assume that when we are good towards others, others will be appreciative of us. Many people think that they deserve all the good they can get. If we are nice haphazardly, we often times end up selling away the truth. When we are too nice to others, often times we end up compromising the right principles. If we treat people meals 10 times, and do not treat them the 11th time, people will start thinking we are evil. Many people are most disrespectful towards their parents. Why? Because they are too nice to us. We thank others who treat us a meal only once a year, but we do not thank our parents who invite us for free meals every day. This is not to say that parents should stop feeding their children, but we should learn to be thankful in a proper way.

Sarai could not stand such degrading treatment from her maid in response to her generosity to let her lie with her husband, so she complained to Abram about it. Abram told her that her maid was in her hand, she should do to her whatever seem right to her. Abram was right that he did not try to defend the maid before his wife. A maid is an outsider after all, but he was bound to his wife by a marriage covenant before God.

Hence Sarai began to persecute Hagar. But persecution always went beyond the boundary. Hagar could not take it and fled. It became a complication where Abram defended Sarai, Sarai persecuted Hagar too much, and God began to defend Hagar because she suffered much under Sarai. God sent His angel to ask Hagar to go back to her mistress and to submit to her. This is the principle of the Scripture. Hagar must go back, but with the understanding that she was a servant and Sarai was her mistress and that the child she bore was not the legal heir.

God promised to bless Hagar’s descendants. There are two types of God’s blessings, common grace and saving grace. All the Arab nations are blessed by God. Their lands are always rich in oil. But the land of Israel which is just next to Arabian land has no oil. The blessings are different. God’s blessings to Israel is that through the descendant of David, Christ the Savior of the world would be born.

There are many other blessings outside of spritual blessings. Many people want only material blessings and healing, but do not want to be saved spiritually. God gives spiritual blessings to Sarai’s descendants, but material blessings to Hagar’s descendants. God has alloted different portion of blessings for different people. Whoever is not satisfied with what God has given and want something else, is a foolish person.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 17 – God’s Promise to Abram

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 24th June 2007 in GRIIS. It was preached in Indonesian and I personally translated to English. Newton Life has it preached in Mandarin with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 15

Failures of young people always begins from over-confidence. The psalmist said if God does not build the house, its builders labor in vain. Happiness contains danger. So young people with great talents and great ambition need to be careful or else they will be trapped. But many people take grace for granted and treat parents’ love and sacrifice as though they are the things they deserve. This is the way Lot treated Abram.

God started to speak a lot to Abram when Lot left. God did not let Lot have a part because he had chosen what he wanted. God did not allow Lot to hear His word. If we learn the sovereignty of God, we have to learn to think antithetically else we misinterpret the Bible because we are trapped the letters.

The Bible says that the letter kills but Spirit gives life. The Bible is full of paradoxes. We need to understand from its entirety. It is very hard to understand because it looks conflicting but essentially harmonious. We cannot understand using ordinary logic, like the truth about Trinity. But God use paradoxes to filter away the proud people. Here the sovereignty of God is demonstrated.

God spoke to Abram in a paradoxical way. Abram was old and God promised him a son. It is very difficult to follow God because we need to learn to see the unseen. But if we are impatient, we will follow God halfway and then do things our own way. When we complain and rebel saying God is not logical, we are idolizing our own mind and using it as a final judge.

God wears the mask of paradox and waits upon those who will obey Him. Abram was asked to leave a prosperous city. God promised to give him the land between the river of Egypt to the river of Euphrates, and the plain between these two rivers is called Mesopotamia. Meso means “in the middle” and potamia means “plain”, hence this refers to the plain in the middle of two rivers.

But he never had a son till this time. And God still said He would bless him. What was the use of blessing him when he had no descendant? But Abram believed in God.

Verse 6 says Abram believed in God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Here is an important verse regarding man’s relationship with God. This is a key verse which the Apostle Paul used to explain justification through faith.

In the Scriptures, there are two key statements which express human’s relationship with God.

1. Sinners are justified by faith
2. After justification, the just shall live by faith

Hence we can see that it is salvation that is from faith to faith (Rom.1:17). And Hebrews 12:1-2 says that Christ is the Author and Perfected of our faith! The term “faith” appears 270 times in the New Testament and 99 times in the gospel of John. But the most comprehensive and concise statements about faith is written by the Apostle Paul, where he expounded on how sinners are justified through faith in Christ who took all our offences upon Himself.

This doctrine sparked reformation in the 16th century. Martin Luther summarized 5 Solas during the reformation: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone, no other supreme infallible authority), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone, not by works), Sola Fide (Faith Alone, not by human rationality), Solus Christus (Christ Alone, not by other saints or Mary) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone because all are from Him).

The Scripture speaks of how we grow from faith to faith. The first faith is basic faith in God’s existence, which is part of common grace. The next level of faith is saving grace, which is faith unto salvation. And the next level of faith is the faith that enables us to live a righteous life after we are made righteous, that is the faith that leads to obedience.

After Abram believed, God asked him to prepare sacrifices. This shows that Abram’s faith in God does not rest on empty ground, but unto Someone who would die human race. There is foundation to his faith which is not directed to empty space, but to Jesus Christ. God revealed step by step, and led Abram to abundance. At that time, Abram did not understand fully but progressively God reveal to His people His plan of salvation, and finally we understand that all the sacrifices point to Jesus Christ. This is God’s progressive revelation in history.