To Die is Gain

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Philippians 1:21 NASB

This single statement from Paul while in prison is one of the heaviest Paul ever said. It’s so heavy in fact that this single blog post is devoted entirely to just half of it: “…to die is gain”.

Like everything else Paul ever said, the strength of his preaching and his letters of instruction were backed by his life. Many can claim to believe a multitude of ideals, doctrines, etc. But it is only through their life that they reveal what they truly believe. Trials and difficult situations make or break you. And we clearly see that in Paul’s life.

We can turn to places like Acts 21 where Paul says that he is “ready to not only be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Or just one chapter before when Paul declares, “I did not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God”.

Very briefly, the most immediate points of application that come to my mind have to do with missions and persecuted Christians. The reason is obvious as Paul was a missionary and was heavily persecuted.

  1. The first point is that God is sovereign. God is sovereign and we must maintain a high view of His sovereignty. And in so doing we may respond to the call to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Because a high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to missions. God’s attribute of sovereignty speaks of His control, His kingship. It is our safety net as we go out and do great things for His name, even attempting to preach the gospel in countries where doing so can get you killed. Especially those countries actually. And now that we have our safety net, that segues into the second point.
  2. And the second is that we must be ready to die for Christ and we can do so because we have the ultimate weapon. What is this ultimate weapon? It is the knowledge that dying is gain. If the worst they can do to you is to kill you and from your point of view the best thing that can happen to you is to die, then you have ultimately thwarted them. Paul armed himself with this idea and so should we. Think back to Paul’s last letter in 2 Timothy when he said “I am ready to be offered”. Read again throughout Acts where Paul shows little regard for his own life in the face of gospel proclamation. And it wasn’t only Paul. Martyrs throughout church history knew that there was great triumph in death. And I don’t mean the worldly idea of leaving a lasting legacy and your name being remembered forever even if you yourself are gone. Look at 1 Peter 4:1: “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…”  What does this mean? It means that in dying, we have ceased from sin. Do you get it? If we are armed with the goal of being delivered from sin and that goal is only achieved through our death and the worst anyone can do to me is to kill me, then the worst they can do is to bring about that which is most precious to me. All the threatening has gone out of persecution.

So the question is, do you believe that? And more importantly than just saying you do, have you back it up with your life?

Thoughts from Utah – Alisa

Before going on this missions trip to Utah, my understanding of the Mormon culture was very limited. The basic facts I knew came from mostly a couple sentences within a chapter of my social studies curriculum in middle school. Joseph Smith populated Utah and to this day the majority of the population remains Mormon. I soon later learned that they also used to practice polygamy, and really these were the only things I knew. To me, Mormonism was somewhat of a fable or a myth. Throughout my week of serving in Stansbury Park, Utah, it gradually became clear to me how real Mormonism is. It is a very real, tragic falsehood. Mormons, as well as all nonbelievers, need to be taught the saving truth of the Gospel.

Therefore I was extremely encouraged by the faithfulness of Stansbury Park Baptist Church’s members, their resistance of the common Mormon culture, and their dedication in serving their community to proclaim Christ. It was a stark contrast to how the rest of their environment lived in sin. I met a girl at the church, Jenna, who shared my age of nineteen, and she told me how she had never met a Christian the same age as her. I was humbled that God has blessed me with friends back home who are my age and believers, which I have always taken for granted. Yet, I was also blessed to hear how, despite living in such Mormon-immersed surroundings, Jenna continues to find her identity and joy in the Lord even without having like-minded peers.

Additionally, Vacation Bible School was definitely some of the most enjoyable moments of the week. I was given the role of watching the group of the youngest kids, ages 4-6. Being the age group that is least likely to retain the things we teach them, I found joy in the very small things that they did, such as remembering part of the memory verse or simply jumping around during worship session. However, I became increasingly anxious knowing that these young kids are growing up in schools and environments where false teaching is so prevalent. This further motivated me to keep them in prayer, as well as trust in God’s sovereignty and authority.

At the end of the week, Pastor Andy Lynch took us to Salt Lake City to visit the Mormon temple and the Church History Museum. Seeing the deceased principal, key figures in their Mormon history gave me a wake up call in the realization that those people were now in hell. It scared me when I saw how their teaching could appear enticing and comforting to others. It made me angry at the fact that they were twisting Scripture and not acknowledging Jesus Christ for who He is. But it especially broke my heart to see the fervor and passion that the Mormons have in something that does not exist. It was overwhelming to the point that I had to sit down. God showed me how crucial and necessary evangelism truly is. 

Simply put, this trip has harshly reminded me of the depths of man’s sin and what I have been saved from. Returning home, I praise God for saving me from my flesh. It could have easily been me that was born into a Mormon family, growing up in the Mormon faith. Yet it is only by God’s grace and mercy that I am here today knowing the truth and knowing that He alone is worthy of all praise. We did not get many chances to evangelize during the trip, but it has been such an undeserved privilege to serve alongside the eight others who were on this team to serve God’s purposes. I am confident that all nine of us have returned home knowing that the Gospel needs to be shared without delay. Praise the Lord for the work He has done on the cross and the work He is continuing to do to bring more glory to Himself.

The Holiness of God

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 4:8 ESV

There is only one attribute of God that is declared around the throne day and night. The angels are not declaring “Love, Love, Love” or “Truth, Truth, Truth”. In the throne room scene in Revelation 4:8, it is His absolute holiness that the four creatures are proclaiming. In Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6:3 the angels are praising Him for His holiness. Yes God is love (1 John 4:8) and God is righteous and true (Revelation 15:8). But is is because of His holiness that He is perfectly loving, perfectly righteous, and the perfect truth.

His holiness is elevated to the superlative degree. God is not just holy but holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy means that God would be holier but holy, holy, holy means that God is holy, holier, holiest. He is the single most holy being in the entire universe. And there is no attribute with which God is more identified. His Son is the Holy One of Israel. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Holy Word of God. The temple is the Holy temple. The land is the Holy land.

What does it mean for God to be holy? In his book The Attributes of God, A.W. Pink says that God is absolute purity, the sum of all moral excellence. God’s holiness is tje veru excellency of the Divine nature; His holiness is the antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement.

Primarily it means that God is separate. He is vastly separate from us because of His moral perfection. God is absolutely holy and we are radically corrupt. The idea is God’s transcendence and His supreme greatness compared to His creation. There is a sense which all of His attributes come together to comprise His holiness. We could even say that His holiness is in His wholeness.

Here are two practical applications from this post. The first is that this understanding of God’s holiness magnifies the grace of God. God has spanned the vast chasm separating us and Him through the cross of Jesus Christ. And the higher we understand God to be and the lower we see ourselves, the more we magnify grace. But the more we elevate ourselves and if we bring down God we trivialize the cross. And it is grace that is the very backbone of everything we do as Christians. It is God’s grace that we are saved. It is God’s grace to His chosen that gives us confidence in evangelism. It is God’s grace that we may approach the throne with confidence. To say that our understanding of grace is very important is a huge understatement.

The second application is a key verse that is Leviticus 20:26: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

Holiness is what we call an incommunicable attribute. This means that we are called to emulate it. As Christians we strive to be holy just as we strive to be righteous, truthful, and loving. So the second application is that we should be striving for holiness. Holiness is what we should be longing for. But at the same time this requires a discipline in our lives. So strive for holiness. Strive to be holy as your Heavenly Father is holy.

The Daily Duty of the Mortification of Sin

“The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. When a man has confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfullness of sin.”

That’s a quote from John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. I’ve been reading it recently and I find myself amazed not only at his insights into the life-long battle Christians wage but at his articulation of those insights. I’m going through the abridged version but the above quote is from his original writings, the second chapter to be exact. In fact that’s how far I am into the book but I was so struck by this quote that I had to share.

Basically what he’s saying is this: believers who aren’t mortifying (killing) sin will find themselves peering into sin, partaking in its temporary satisfactions and not feel anything at all. In contrast, mature believers are called to hate their sin. “O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”  Psalm 97:10 ESV

So for this particular test it isn’t if you are able to avoid sinning or seeing sin. But it’s that when you do sin, do you find yourself filled with a hatred toward it? The second sentence from the quote describes it well. When you are in such a state that you “swallow and digest daily sins” without bitterness or conviction that leads to repentance, you are right on the line of being hardened by sin’s deceit. Take heed unless you cross it. In fact you should put as much distance as possible from it. How? The daily duty of mortifying your sin. Yes that’s right. It’s a duty. As slaves to the King it is our literal job. And daily speaks to the frequency of performing this duty. It probably would have been more apt for him to say every-minute-of-every-day duty but that would have been too long. Plus I think he was going for that alliteration.


For the Purpose of Godliness (1 Timothy)

 “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

1 Timothy 3:15 ESV

Primarily Paul addresses two things in this letter: what is and isn’t sound doctrine and what godliness looks like in the church. 1 Timothy is a letter from Paul to his young protege Timothy sent as a follow-up after leaving him in Ephesus to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” (1 Timothy 1:3)

The letter addresses a young church leader who may be looked down upon for his youth but must continue to “fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

Usually Paul’s letters were written to entire congregations but here we get the first of the pastoral epistles, letters addressed to church leaders he knew. While the book of Ephesians deals primarily with general ways Christians should be walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, 1 Timothy is very specific in its instruction. The reason is simple. Paul was writing to a specific church leader and friend rather than to a church. Timothy had also accompanied him on some of his journeys so they were both very familiar with each others’ challenges.

In this letter we get to see some of the challenges pastors face. We also see how Paul instructs Timothy to deal with those problems. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. 1 Timothy 1 warns against false teachings and emphasizes correct beliefs
  2. 1 Timothy 2-4 describe living in godliness and dignity. We also see some specific ways he does so.
    • Through prayer (1 Timothy 2:1–8)
    • Women in the Church (1 Timothy 2:9–15)
    • The overseers (1 Timothy 3:1–7)
    • The deacons (1 Timothy 3:8–13)
  3. 1 Timothy 5-6 are guidelines for relationships within the church
    • Caring for widows (1 Timothy 5:1–16)
    • Honoring elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)
    • Identifying false teachers (1 Timothy 6:1–10)
  4. 1 Timothy 6:11-21 is Paul’s final charge to godliness

As a final challenge to us reading this letter today, I will say this. Consider those who God has raised up to lead your church. Do they fit those characteristics in 1 Timothy 3:1-7? If so then trust them; and trust that God will in turn lead them.

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