On Wearing Your Ash for a Hat

Ashhat

When I start this discussion, I want to be very clear. I love Ash Wednesday, and I love the season of Lent. (If you grew up under an evangelical rock like I did and are unfamiliar with these terms then here’s a good article to get you started, and here’s another one.)

Ash Wednesday and Lent are times when we can reflect on our sin and brokenness, and be thankful for God’s grace working in and through our lives to conform us to the image of Christ.

However, something I’m not a big fan of is people who go to an early Ash Wednesday service in the morning or maybe they receive ashes sometime around noon and then they wear their ashes on their forehead in public all day long.

I think receiving the ashes is a helpful reminder that we are sinful creatures that deserve death, and the ashes remind us that we will return to the dust from which we came. However, wearing them in public shows people that you’re celebrating Lent, and if people know that you’re celebrating Lent, then they know that you are fasting from something.

Jesus very plainly tells us in His Sermon on the Mount that we shouldn’t make our righteousness obvious to people.

“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18, CSB

 

If we have to practice our righteousness before others in order for it to be valid, then we prove that our righteousness is not genuine, and if our righteousness is not genuine, then it’s not a righteousness that comes from Christ.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks through Isaiah to condemn the way that God’s people were fasting. They were giving up their food just fine, but they couldn’t give up their power, their greed, or their mistreatment of others. They finally ask in Isaiah 58:3, “Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!”

And then God gives them the answer: “Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”(Isaiah 58:3-4, CSB)

In The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that when we fast we really become aware of the things that have a stronghold on us. (I’m paraphrasing.) If we can give up food, but we can’t give up power, privilege, or prestige, then what do we really live off of? Where does our life come from? Are we genuinely seeking God or are we just wearing our ash for a hat?

From Isaiah 58 to Matthew 6, and even up to now, people haven’t changed that much, but God’s word to them still remains the same. If we’re going to fast during Lent, we should do so biblically, and to fast biblically is to fast discreetly, and we should give up the things that matter – our wills, our desires, and our own righteousness.

Instead, we should seek after God’s will, God’s desires, and God’s righteousness. Do we care about what God cares about? Do we want the same things that God wants? Lent is the perfect time to pray, fast, open our Bibles, and listen to Him.

Revelation 3:14-22 // The Church that is Lukewarm

SevenLettersGraphicP7

TEXT: Revelation 3:14-22, NIV84

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Eternal God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit who writes the preached word into our hearts so that we may believe it, and be gladdened and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify Your Word in our hearts. Make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, and through Your inspiration think what is right. By Your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

I love the Rocky movies and Rocky 3 is one of my favorites. In Rocky 3, Rocky Balboa has been the heavyweight champion of the world for several years. The once obscure and impoverished street fighter from Philadelphia is now living in a Hollywood style mansion. He’s enjoying a life of wealth, fame, and self-indulgence. The day he plans to announce his retirement, he is challenged by an unknown behemoth named Clubber Lang played by Mr. T.

Rocky accepts the challenge. He trains for the fight in a circus-like atmosphere. He signs more autographs than he hits punching bags.


Meanwhile, Clubber Lang is in a meat locker, punching sides of beef and knocking around dock workers.

When the fight time comes, we might wonder whether Rocky can reach down and pull out one final victory, even though he is no longer at his peak.

Clubber Lang destroys Rocky in just three rounds, humiliated and dejected, Rocky tries to figure out what went wrong.


Apollo Creed, his opponent in the first two Rocky movies, tells him what his problem is. He said, “You used to have the eye of the tiger. You used to be hungry to win. You used to have the want-to. You used to be willing to pay the price to train. You used to fight with abandonment. You used to, but winning led to fame, and fame led to affluence, and affluence led to indulgence, and self-indulgence led to weakness, and weakness led to defeat.”

This morning as we look at the church at Laodicea, we will see that they have a similar problem. They are affluent, they are confident, and according to Jesus they say that they have need of nothing, but as we see their big problem is that they’re in denial about their condition.

When it comes to getting help for drug or alcohol addiction we’ve always heard that the first step to help is admitting that you have a problem. Well, the church at Laodicea doesn’t seem believe that they have a problem, and the you can’t help people that won’t admit that they have a problem.

 

Even when Jesus saves us, He first causes to see that we have a problem, and He is our solution. So, the first thing that needs to happen is that the church needs to see is their problem.

 

As we look at the text, we’ll see 2 Problems with the Church, 3 Things The Church Needs, and 3 Signs of Hope for the Church. So, if you’re keeping count, we have 8 points to cover.

 

2 Problems with the Church (v. 15-17)

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16, NIV84

 

Problem #1: Lukewarm

Sometimes in order to understand what a text means we have to rule out what it doesn’t mean first.

  • When Jesus is saying “You are neither hot nor cold, I wish you were one or the other.” What we think that means is that Jesus wants would rather us be red hot, on fire for Him or He would rather us be cold and completely against Him, than to be completely indifferent, but that’s not the case.

  • Jesus isn’t talking about our passion, or how we might feel about Him. He’s talking about our usefulness.

Laodicea was a city that had two major springs near it, one was a hot spring that came down from Hierapolis, and the other was from a cold spring that came down from the side of Colossae, and by the time the water came together from where they would pipe it in near Laodicea [2] it became lukewarm and it was undrinkable. [3]

 

On a hot day, you can use a cold glass of ice water to cool you down, and you can use hot water to shower with, but you can’t hardly use lukewarm water for anything.

 

Here’s another way of thinking about it: here in the south, we consume a lot of tea. We can drink iced tea or we can drink hot tea. (Whenever we go to a mall in Little Rock or Fort Smith, my wife loves going to Teavana and getting different kinds of hot tea to make at home.) Hot tea and cold tea are both pretty good, but who likes lukewarm tea? Nobody.

 

Jesus is saying, “If you’re hot I’ll use you, if you’re cold I’ll use you, but I won’t use you if you’re lukewarm. I’ll spew you out of my mouth.”

 

  • The main question for us is: Do we want Jesus to use us?

 

If we want Jesus to use us, then we have to be honest about who we are, and that leads us to the second problem.

 

Problem #2: Self-Deception

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
– Revelation 3:17, NIV84

 

This is the source of all their problems. This is the very reason that they are lukewarm. When the people in Laodicea looked at themselves, they saw the perfect church. They were wealthy, powerful and they had arrived.

 

  • The city of Laodicea itself was so wealthy that when an earthquake hit in 61 AD and destroyed the whole city, Caesar offered troops, money, resources, and anything else he could think to help them rebuild. They refused all of it, and they rebuilt the city on their own. They didn’t need anyone’s help. They were self-sufficient. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being self-sufficient in the sense that you live on your own, pay your own bills, drive yourself back and forth, etc.

  • It’s one thing to not have to depend on other people in that manner, but when you have so much that you think you don’t need what God has to offer, then you’ve got a problem.

 

They looked at their position, their possessions and their power and they said, “We have everything!” Reality is that they were indifferent, apathetic, and unmoved and they believed they were in good shape.

 

You can be sure that the road to destruction begins when you say, “Nah, I’m good, fam. I don’t need Jesus.” Every time we think that we don’t need Jesus, every time we think our own righteousness, and our own works are enough to satisfy God, it’s because we have deceived ourselves.

If we were Laocedia and we were listening to this being read in our church, this is where we need to start asking ourselves, “Okay, what needs to be done to change this?”

  • Well, Jesus, in His mercy, tells us what to do.

 

3 Things We Need

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” – Revelation 3:18, NIV84

 

There’s three things here that Jesus says we need, and gives the reason as to why we need each of these.

Faith Worth More Than Gold

Here’s the question: what kind of gold is Jesus offering? Obviously this represents something. Jesus isn’t giving us real gold… you know, unless you believe the prosperity gospel.

 

  • I believe gold here represents faith. Jesus gives us faith as a gift, and not only does he give it to us freely, but it’s a real faith that can be put to the test because Jesus says that it’s gold that’s been refined in the fire.

  • In 1st Peter 1, Peter talks about how we can rejoice now in the inheritance that Jesus because we will suffer trials, and he says in 1 Peter 1:7, “These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Jesus is telling us to get faith from Him that can be tried in the fire. What does this look like? It looks like that man in Mark 9 who says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” That’s how you get more faith. You go to the source of faith Himself, and say, “Lord, I need more faith. Help my unbelief.”

 

Clothed in His Righteousness

The next Jesus wants give us is “white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness.”

  • These clothes white clothes are the righteousness of Christ.

We already talked about it a little bit earlier, but in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve cover themselves up with fig trees, and God decides that that’s not good so Genesis 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The assumption is that God kills something and uses the death of whatever animal this was from to cover up Adam and Eve’s shame.

  • Why couldn’t they have just sewn together fig leaves? Because the work of their hands would never be good cover themselves up before God.

 

In Genesis 4, Adam and Eve have two boys. The boys names are Cain and Abel.

 

Cain is a tiller of the ground, Abel is a keeper of the animals in the field.

 

So, they both bring God sacrifices of their respective jobs. Abel sacrifices an animal, and Cain brings a sacrifice from the ground.

 

Well, God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why? Nothing died! Cain didn’t kill anything. Cain thought he could get by with the work of his hands, and that didn’t cut it. Something or someone has to die in order for your sins to be atoned for.

 

Well, for us, in this administration of the covenant, Jesus has died in our place for our sins, and He says, “Your righteousness isn’t good enough. Wear mine.”

 

And whenever Jesus gives us His righteousness to put on that’s a theological term called “imputation.” R.C. Sproul defines it this way, “Imputation means that the righteousness of Jesus is counted for me the moment I believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what Luther said. That that righteousness an “iustitia” alien—an alien righteousness. A righteousness that’s “extra nos.” A righteousness that’s apart from me, it’s not mine inherently. It belongs to Christ. And what Christ does is when I put my trust in Him, He imputes or counts to me His righteousness. And on the basis of that imputed righteousness, God declares me just right now.[4]

 

The third thing that Jesus wants to give us is salve for our eyes. 

 

Sight for Vision and Direction

This is the root problem for Laodicea, and it could be the problem for some of us, they’re blind, and Jesus wants to give them sight.

The third thing Jesus wants to give us is eyesalve so that we can see.

If you study the history of Laodicea as a city, then you know that all of these things – gold, cloth, and eyesalve – are all things had and produced in abundance. They were wealthy, they produced the finest cloth, and they were the leading producer of all kinds of medicines.

So, Jesus says, “If you think what you have is good, what I’m offering is better.”

Jesus says, “You can only heal people’s bodies, you can only appeal to their materialistic wants, but what I have is for their souls, people actually need what I have.”

And when we realize that, that’s when our eyes are opened. And the beauty of that, is that we Jesus opens our eyes we not only see where we are, but where we are going.

  • Jesus wants the church at Laodicea to see that if they continue to down this path of pride and self-sufficiency, then they are headed straight for destruction.

But see, out of all the problems with the church, there’s still three more things that should give us hope.

 

3 Signs of Hope for the Church

A Warning of Chastisement

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV84

Compare what Jesus says here to what Solomon says in Proverbs 3.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
– Proverbs 3:11-12, NIV84

If you fast forward to Hebrews 12 in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews actually tells us what it means for us to be disciplined and chastised by the Lord.

 

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:


  “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
      and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
  6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
      and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”


7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:4-11, NIV84

 

The writer of Hebrews seems to be telling us that God allows hardships in our lives for the sake of disciplining us.

So, when Jesus tells the church at Laodicea “whom I love, I rebuke and discipline,” he’s giving them the rebuke now, but the discipline is coming, and the discipline is coming in the form of hardships.

The Church has had it easy, but it will not always be that way. That’s one of the reasons why this letter is so relevant for our day. We’ve had it easy, and we’ve got it easy now, but it will not always be this way and we need to be ready.

The fact that Jesus is giving this rebuke is a sign that He’s still holding on to them. They are still his, and He’s not letting go.

The second sign of hope is that He invites them to fellowship.

 

An Invitation to Fellowship

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20, NIV84

We’re all familiar with the painting of Jesus standing on the outside of the door, and we all know the symbolism of the painting and how there’s no doorknob because we have to let him in, etc.

But this invitation is to the church. We’ve heard evangelists take this verse out of context and tell us, “Oh, sinner, just open the door to your heart and let Jesus in. Can’t you see that He’s knocking on your heart’s door?” Listen, every once in a while Jesus kicks down some doors.

Jesus is showing up and saying, “I’m at the door and I’m coming in. You can either fellowship with me and benefit from that fellowship or you can be like Laodicea and believe that your own resources are good enough.”

Jesus has told several churches so far that He is coming and they had better be ready, but here Jesus is telling Laodicea that He’s so close that He’s at the door, and they had better be ready to fellowship with Him.

 

  • Jesus is coming to dinner, and He’s the bread of life. If we want life, then we need to run to Jesus and feed off of Him. We can’t feed off the world expect to be sustained. We have to take our food from Jesus, and the good news is that Jesus is inviting us to do just that.

    • He’s not withholding Himself. John 6:37, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out.” That’s a promise straight out of Jesus’ mouth.

 

The Promise for Overcomers

“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:21-22, NIV84

 

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we hear that and we think, “How can I possibly overcome when I feel like I’ve been defeated so many times by temptation, by sin, and by my suffering. Sometimes I feel like that soil in Mark 4 where the seed of the word has been choked out by the cares of this life. How can I overcome?”

  • If you’re fighting on your own, then you never will overcome, but if you trust in Christ, then you will overcome because He already has.

 

“…those who are conformed to Christ in his trials and victories shall be conformed to him in his glory; they shall sit down with him on his throne, on his throne of judgment at the end of the world, on his throne of glory to all eternity, shining in his beams by virtue of their union with him and relation to him, as the mystical body of which he is the head.” – Matthew Henry

 

How are you conformed to Christ? By being made new. If you’re a new creature in Christ, then this victory is already yours. All you have to do is trust Him.

 

So, the next logical question: how can we trust Him?

 

Look at what Jesus says about Himself at the end of verse 14: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”

  • CSB – “originator of God’s creation”

 

According to what the Apostle Paul says about Jesus: He is God’s ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ to everyone of His promises. (2 Corinthians 1:20) How do you know God will keep His word? Because Jesus, who is Himself God in the flesh, died and rose again.

  • Revelation 19:11 even tells us that one of the names of Christ is Faithful and True. So, can you trust Him? Yes, you can.

 

Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, sometimes we’re flawed, we’re faulty and we’re unreliable, but Lord, You are Faithful and True. You are consistent when we are not. If you change us, and conform us to the image of Your Son, then we’ll be faithful and true to You. Lord, we are physically made in Your image, but conform us spiritually to the image of Your Son, in His in holy name we pray. Amen.

_________________

  1. Luther’s Prayer to Receive the Word
  2. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
  3. Sermons and Outlines, https://www.sermonnotebook.org/new%20testament/Revelation%203_14-22.htm
  4. “An Alien Righteousness.” Ligonier Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/alien-righteousness/.

Dressed in His Righteousness Alone: The Sanctification Debate, Round 3

Dressed in His Righteousness Alone

We cannot just speak of the sanctification in the theological realm and ignore the pastoral implications of our conclusions. To do so is to divorce orthodoxy and orthpraxy and dismiss the impact that this teaching has on our people. It’s not just the textbooks that will be impacted when we get this wrong. It’s the covenant child, the clinging doubter, the weary wife, or the aging senior who will bear the true weight if we err.

So if we think pastorally about what’s being said in the New Law/Sola Fide Debate we realize that where this debate leads us is in two distinct directions.

Let’s suppose that a pastor notices that there is a lack of fruit among his parishioners. Worship may be attended, but the worshippers seem disinterested. They may be apathetic to chatechisis or have begrudgingly serve their fellow members. There could be internal strife or division among brothers with no desire to reconcile. And yes, there could be greivous sin; even sin that must be disciplined.

What is a pastor to do?

He could whip them with the Law. He could demand their obedience to God’s righteous standards. He could plead and fight and remind them of their Christian duty. He may stand up every Lord’s Day and preach hellfire and damnation. He could repeat until he’s red faced that “Whoever loves me will obey my commandments” from that sacred platform.

But I’ve been there  I’ve been in that pew and felt the weight of it all. It just made me feel guilty. I didn’t obey because I loved God, I obeyed because I was guilty. I obeyed because, at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure of my salvation.

However, he won’t see true fruit because he’s not working on the root. The root of sanctification is built on the foundation of our Union with Christ. If we want to see fruit of true faith, we must preach the Gospel and pray for the Spirit to work in them.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

The mistake our New Law brothers are making is they’re making Works the basis of our “final salvation” (again this is a term that has only recently come up). Let’s take Mark Jones’ article where he talks about “ways and means”. Here’s what he says:

“Good works are not, therefore, “merely evidence of sanctity and nothing more.” They are the “way and means” that God has ordained for his children to walk to glory. If we do not walk on this path we will not be saved.”

If it sounds like that famous Norman Shepherd line “brought in by faith, kept in by faithfulness” that’s because it is. If it sounds like we’re repeating the Marrow debate it’s because we are.

Good works are not the means of sanctification, they are the evidence of it. If what Jones is putting forward is the preponderance of what the Reformed Church has held to someone didn’t tell the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism for it says

Q. 60
How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them,
and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

Q. 61
Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.

Q. 62
But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?

A. Because the righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

Q. 63
But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

But yes, our New Law brothers will try to argue that it is of Grace and Spirit. But this is the third time now and it sounds like they’re trying to make their Nomian doctrine fit a Reformed position.

So what will we tell our people? “Perform good works and live” or “Look to Christ”? Does Christ truly give us His righteousness imputed to us or do we only return to neutral and walk back to Sinai? Is the Law a guide for Christian living or the means by which we obtain or posses our full salvation?

In other words: is it truly “finished”? Can I tell my fellow Christians they are truly “dressed in a His righteousness alone?” Or must they return to the Law to live?