Tuesday, 13 August 2019

The surprising power of God

"who by God's power are being guarded through faith"
1 Peter 1.5

The opening verses of 1 Peter are some of the most stunning in the Bible. They set out the truth that we are a people of Living Hope. It is a hope of an inheritance that has been won for us through the resurrection of Jesus. It is a hope that is kept safe in heaven for us, where nothing can destroy, despoil, distort or degrade it. But this leaves the question, "It's great to know that my inheritance will make it, but will I make it?"

At its heart, this is the secret fear of the Christian that they will lose their faith before the end. At times we are scared by all sorts of possibilities as to how we could lose our faith: prolonged hardship causing us to doubt God's power, faithfulness or even existence; an intellectual challenge to which we fear we have no answer; dementia robbing us of our knowledge of God...

All of these possible scenarios are frightening and troubling, but our passage helps us to realise that the one thing we do not need to worry about is faith. In answer to the question, "Will I make it to the end to enjoy my inheritance?" Peter gives the assurance that for the believer - God's power is guarding them. What an amazing promise. You and I, if we have put our trust in Jesus are protected by no lesser a power than the one which spoke creation into being and raised Jesus from the dead.

But what is really striking is the form that God's power takes - it is faith. Faith is the outworking of God's power. So let's look again at this faith:
  1. It is God's. The answer to the question, "Will I lose my faith?" is, "It's not yours to lose". If we have a view of faith as something we generate to bring about salvation, there is a real fear of losing it, but if we see it as God's gift which enables us to receive his salvation it changes our perspective. We will stop looking inward when things are hard, trying to diagnose how our faith is doing and wondering what efforts we can go to to give it a kick start, instead we will look to God and lean on him.
  2. It is the gospel. Paul speaks of the power of God which brings salvation for everyone who believes. He, however, says that the power of God is the gospel. This, is no contradiction. Faith is looking to the gospel. When I am afraid about whether I will make it as a Christian - all I need do is return to the gospel.
  3. It is incredibly strong and powerful. In fact there is nothing in the universe that is stronger. Peter and Jesus illustrate this with different analogies. Peter compares it to gold - and says that just as fire is used to purify gold, so faith's response to trouble is to be shown up as imperishable. In fact, Peter says that faith is even stronger in the face of fire than gold (as Daniel's three friends literally demonstrate). Jesus uses a different imagery. He says that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. On the basis of the fact that neither Scripture nor history records a single incident of a Christian moving a mountain, I don't think that his point is that we should go around moving mountains with our faith. Instead he is taking the biggest thing in the experience of people at the time and the smallest measurement they had - a bit like the camel (biggest animal) eye of a needles (smallest gap). His point is that even the very smallest amount of faith has more power in it than you could imagine - so much power that a mountain could be moved by it. Imagine for a moment the power it would take to move a mountain - I don't just mean to obliterate it - though that would take vast power - but move it and place it somewhere else. If you are a believer in Jesus, that is the power that resides in you guarranteeing you that at the end of your life you will see salvation.
There are loads of things which come out of this, but just one today - when you are going through a difficult time and there are myriad worries crowding in on you, there is one worry you can let go of. You will make it to your inheritance at the end. Your faith won't fail - it is far too powerful for that. 

This is vital. For as long as you are worried about your faith, you will stop using it to help you. It's a bit like my damaged elbow. Because it is weak, I avoid using it. So it is, if we think our faith is a fragile thing. We will stop using it. We stop praying boldly, we stop hoping in the Lord's goodness and favour to us - all because we are afraid that another disappointment might shatter our faith. But if we know that God's gift of our faith will not fail, we can lean on it, find reasssurance in it, use it, knowing that it is nothing less than the power of God. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Accelerating discipleship

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8.34-35
These verses are the centrepoint of what it means to follow Jesus. In his demanding call, the believer can see the three things which accelerate discipleship- that speed up the rate the believer becomes more like their saviour. Those three accelerants are: Surrender, Suffering and Sacrifice.
Recently I read a book called Discipleship. It is a collection of Tozer's writing relating to the topic of discipleship. The book is excellent. What is most striking is the amount of time Tozer spends on conversion and its role in discipleship. It can be summed up in the phrase, 'easy conversion, hard discipleship'. Tozer's point is that our presentation of the gospel is too often distorted. Rather than calling rebels to repentance before a merciful Lord, we end up as sales people for a Jesus who sells them forgiveness and makes no demands. Is it any surprise when these 'converts' then baulk at the idea that their lives should change or should be radically different from those around them?
We need to be open with the unbeliever, that the faith that brings salvation is not merely an intellectual assent to what Jesus has done. Instead it is a Surrender, a complete capitulation to him, an acceptance that our lives have been lived wholly at odds with him. The heart of evangelism is a call to rebels to choose surrender rather than destruction. In this is real conversion and true discipleship.
But this does not just apply to the new convert. The whole Christian journey of discipleship is a working out of that surrender. The believer should have a strong sense of convertedness. As John Stott quotes in the Cross of Christ, 'All progress in the Christian life depends on a recapitulation of the original terms of one's acceptance with God'