Grace to You Resources
Grace to You - Resource

Well, there are many wonderful things to come by way of the instruction of the Lord that’s going to be given through those who will be ministering to you, and I count it a joy to kind of lead off this morning. In thinking about what I might talk about—I guess maybe just a bit of a preface—I have felt for, I think, the entire duration of my ministry that the church has suffered from an inadequate understanding of the doctrine that relates to sanctification—and even in recent years, when we are pretty astute on the doctrine of justification. And we have that down pretty well, as you heard in the beautiful hymn that was sung earlier, “His Robes for Mine.” We understand that. And there is uniformity on that among those who are faithful to the Word of God. We get that. We go back to the Reformers, and we hold their flag and sustain their impact by holding the same convictions that many of them discovered in a time when it was obscured.

So I think in general we do well with the doctrine of justification. We even do pretty well with the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. That’s a comfortable doctrine for us. We want that to be true. But where the church seems to lose its way is in the matter of sanctification, and that is no small issue because the function of the church is to address, in the lives of God’s people, the issue of sanctification.

I don’t need to give you illustrations of the condition of “evangelicalism” with regard to sanctification. We have lots of unsanctified people, and we have, apparently, lots of unsanctified leaders. And lots of discussion about justification and the sovereignty of God, but very little interest, at least in my mind, in the very foundational reality of sanctification.

I want to see if I can reduce that to the most simple approach, and that is this: I want to talk to you this morning on the triumph of obedience. Now there’s an odd word, obedience. Is that an oxymoron, “the triumph of obedience”? Can obedience be triumphant? Is submission some kind of victory?

There is not only indifference toward the idea of obedience, there is resistance to the reality of obedience. A contemporary church leader who rejects, outright, the idea of obedience reduces the Christian life to this absurd question: What are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything? What are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything? That’s the latest version of the “Let go and let God.”

Another author said, “We are not under law. We are not under law,” repeating it. “You can’t live under duty, you can’t live under bondage of necessary obedience; you are free in Christ, free from necessary obedience.”

I know there are people who think they’re protecting justification by faith with such an idea, and I wish I could give them the benefit of the doubt and think that primarily, they’re motivated by the desire to protect justification. But it seems to me a very convenient theology for those who are hiding a life of sin. To calm their tortured conscience, they come up with a notion that obedience is an offense to God if enacted under the sense of duty.

Antinomianism is an old heresy, and it won’t go away; it just won’t go away. It survives in every generation of the church. You can go back to the early years in our ministry here, in writing a book called The Gospel According to Jesus, which addressed a form of antinomianism where you could be saved and not be transformed, and not even necessarily continue to believe. There was no connection between repentance and salvation, no connection between good works as a fruit of salvation, and salvation.

Some of you remember those issues and the book The Gospel According to Jesus, and The Gospel According to the Apostles, discussions about cheap grace and easy-believism. There has been a sort of comfort with isolating justification from sanctification; and as long as you get justification right, sanctification doesn’t matter that much. And again, the motive is to protect—at least externally, the motive is to protect the gospel from legalism. But again, I question that.

Sinclair Ferguson has written a book called The Whole Christ. Listen to this statement: “The wholesale removal of the law seems to provide a refuge for the antinomian. But the problem is not the law, but the heart that remains unchanged.” This is the delusion. The antinomian thinks he is free from the law, but he is not. He is still bound to the law. He is still a legalist. He seeks, in going the opposite direction of rejecting the law, to be free from the law, but this is his delusion.

The truth is the antinomian is still a legalist. Why? Because he is defining his relationship to God by the law. The legalist must keep the law to please God, and the antinomian must not keep the law to please God—and so he relates to the law. The antinomian is as much a legalist as the rigid law-keeper. He has not escaped, he is not free from the law. True salvation—and this is the important thing—is never defined by someone’s relationship to the law; it is defined by someone’s relationship to Christ. Trusting, honoring, glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and especially loving Him and loving His Word, breaks the bondage of the law. The antinomian who thinks he is free from the law, free from the duty to obey the law, usually reveals that he has no relationship to Christ at all. If you’re defining your relationship to God by your relationship to the law, you may well be outside the kingdom of God.

Antinomianism perverts the gospel by making nothing of the divine work of regeneration. It doesn’t acknowledge that. Trying to earn salvation by indifference to the law is no different than trying to earn salvation by adherence to the law. The only way you can be certain of your salvation is to know that you have a relationship not to the law, but to Christ. Antinomians make duty and obedience a sin against grace. What a trap. If you don’t obey the commands, you sin; and then if you do obey the commands, you sin. A true believer would have to deny the new birth to reject his duty to obey the law of God.

And what drives that? Why is it that a true believer obeys the law of God? Well, follow with some familiar portions of Scripture. Turn to John 14—and this is by way of reminder this morning, things with which you are familiar. John 14, verse 15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” In other words, “If you have a relationship with Me, you will be obedient.”

Down in verse 21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” This is intense, and this is saying obedience is directly related to love.

Verse 23, Jesus said to one of His disciples, Judas (not Iscariot), “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My word.” Or to say it in reverse, “He who does not keep My word does not love Me.” I mean, this is foundational; we can’t avoid this.

Over in the fifteenth chapter, verse 10, in that upper room, Jesus again repeated the same truth: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Or verse 14, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” I know you know these, but I want them fresh in your mind, these wonderful statements.

Listen to 1 John 3:24, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit who He has given us.” If you have no desire to obey His commandments, then you have no love for Him. You’re not abiding in Him, you don’t know Him. Once again, in chapter 5, verse 2, of 1 John, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not”—what?—“burdensome”—because they’re kept out of love.

That defines a true believer. His relation is to the Lord, not the law. But because he loves the Lord, he loves the law of the Lord, which, Psalm 138:2 says, God has exalted His word equal to His name. He loves because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit. He has a love then defined by obedience, by obedience.

That ought to be obvious from the Great Commission. The Great Commission states that in no uncertain terms: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” What is discipleship? It’s teaching people to be obedient. I get that. I understand that. I’m not very mystical. If you tell me, “Here is what God requires, and you are to obey,” then I understand that. That’s sanctification’s pathway.

So, based on what we just saw and wrapped up in Matthew 28, what should be the goal of ministry? To produce people who are—what? Obedient. Obedient. Not people who are chasing some sentimentalism or some esoteric experience, but people who are obedient.

What is the goal of pastoral ministry? I’ll give you some more because I just want you to hear these familiar texts to refresh your mind. Listen to what Paul said in Galatians 4:19: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” The goal of ministry is to be like Christ, right? Ephesians says essentially the same thing in chapter 4: “He gave some as apostles and . . . prophets . . . evangelists, some as [pastor-teachers], for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Again, the whole ministry that you’re engaged in is to take people on the pathway to Christlikeness. You are there to enrich their relationship to Him.

In Colossians chapter 1, again, same thing. Verse 27 talks about “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And then Paul says in verse 28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Christlikeness is the goal. Again, the whole pathway of sanctification is becoming more like Christ. It’s defined by one’s relationship to Christ, not his relationship to the law.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 and verse 3, Paul basically said something very similar—and then we’ll look at chapter 10, which is kind of where I’m headed. He says in chapter 11, “I am jealous for you”—verse 2—“with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led [away]”—or “astray”—“from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” There is sanctification, right there. It’s the simplicity and devotion to Christ. It’s loving Christ. And to be like Christ is to be obedient. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Hebrews 5, “He learned obedience by the things He suffered.” He only did what the Father told Him to do. He only did what the Father willed for Him to do. He only did what pleased the Father.

The goal that we have as shepherds and pastors is the sanctification of our people, conformity to Christ. And the more they know Christ, the more they love Christ, the more eagerly they obey His commands.

Now to focus a little more on one text, turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 10, chapter 10. This passage has been on my mind, and I hope I can make this helpful to you, looking at it a number of ways. I’m going to read, starting in verse 1, 2 Corinthians 10. “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”—again, the standard for all that Paul requires is Christ—“I who am meek”—“He’s meek, so I’m meek”—“when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh”—we’re human—“we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”

Do you see your pastoral duty there? Your duty is to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and to punish the disobedient. I don’t know if you ever thought of ministry like that. But that’s what Paul says God requires.

Let’s look at verse 5 for a moment, the last part of the verse: “We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” That’s the goal. It’s about obedience. It’s about obedience to Him personally.

And we know His will because, as 1 Corinthians 2 says, “We have the mind of Christ.” That’s not something personal, like, “I think I know what Jesus feels.” We have the mind of Christ because we have the Bible. We know what He wills, what pleases Him, what honors Him. And our calling is to bring our people to the place where every thought is captive to Christ.

Now notice the beginning of the verse, he says, “We are destroying speculations”—that’s ideologies, philosophies, theories, viewpoints, opinions. “Even”—kai, better translated “even”—“even every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” This is Paul’s direct ministry. We destroy anti-God ideologies.

He sees himself as a soldier, really. The terminology is military, smashing ungodly ideas, smashing ungodly ideologies, smashing lies. And they are called “fortresses,” back in verse 4. That is a word that means “fortress,” it means “prison,” and it means “tomb.” And people are fortified in anti-God ideologies that become their prisons and end up as their tombs. And the calling we have is to destroy those speculations, destroy those anti-God ideologies; and the only way to do that is with the truth.

And then you “[take] every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Graphic language. The Greek verb there means “to take prisoners with a spear,” “to take prisoners with a spear.” It’s like he’s leading these people out of their smashed fortress to a new captivity, and they’re being led with a spear. This is demanded of them. “And every noema.” That means “thought, reasoning, design, purpose.” It’s translated “minds” in 2 Corinthians 4:4.

So Paul’s objective in ministry is to destroy the anti-God lies, and free the deceived minds from the bondage of those lies, and bring them captive to a new captor, Christ. He defines that state of conversion as being “captive to the obedience of Christ,” just beautiful language. In Romans 6, Paul said you were slaves of unrighteousness; but when that form of doctrine came, that transformed you. You became slaves of righteousness—from unrighteousness to righteousness.

The rebellion has ended, and the Christian’s life is a life of obedience to Christ whom the Christian loves—not because he has the capacity in his humanity to love like that, but because he has been regenerated to love like that. John 3:36, “He who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Whatever happened to obedience? I mean, you go back even to the gospel. Romans 1:5 speaks of “the obedience of faith among . . . the Gentiles.” “The obedience of faith” is describing saving faith. It’s an act of obedience. In Romans 2, unbelievers are those who “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness.” And again at the end of Romans, “the obedience of the Gentiles” is manifest in “word and deed.”

Paul even wraps up Romans, if you look at the final signoff in verses 25 to 27 of chapter 16, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.” Saving faith is the first act of obedience a sinner makes; and you can give God all the glory, as verse 27 says.

Hebrews 5:9 puts it this way: “He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” Peter offers us a beautiful picture of this saving obedience in 1 Peter 1, the first two verses, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.” The whole of salvation is an act of obedience.

And what is the sprinkle of blood referring to? Well, that’s taking you back to the Old Testament, where the people of Israel thought more of themselves than they ought to have thought. And when they made a covenant they would never violate the law of God, then they sealed it with blood. They were saying, “We will obey,” but they were not faithful.

It’s the obedience of Christ that defines everything. That’s how you define your Christian life: Do I obey Christ? It’s not, “What would Jesus do?” It’s, “What did He command me to do?” “And it is time,” Peter says in chapter 4, “for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” There, in a backhanded way, he is saying, “If you’re in the household of God, you came because you committed yourselves to obey God; and you did, in a sense, symbolically, what the people of Israel did when they took the blood oath to always obey.” They failed. Saving faith is about obedience; and I don’t know why we have to run from that term.

So back to chapter 10 of 2 Corinthians. This is how the relationship to the Lord begins. You’re taking a new allegiance to obedience to a new captor, and you don’t have a choice; you’ve been brought there by spear, as it were, and your life now is defined by obedience to Christ. And to press that home, Paul says to the Corinthians, “And those of you who are disobedient, I will punish.” I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about that in terms of your ministry, punishing the disobedient.

Now obviously initially, this is salvation, in verse 5. But by the time you get to verse 6, Paul is saying, “I’m going to come to that church, and I’m going to identify those people who, perhaps, claim to be Christians but are disobedient, and there will be punishment for them.” We talk about discipline in the church. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody talk about punishment. Obedience prompted by love is the character of the Christian faith and is the reality of sanctification.

Now, why am I emphasizing this today? Well because again, I think this is the world in which we all live. The work of justification and glorification is all God’s work. We have the responsibility in the middle, for the perfecting of the saints to Christlikeness. And antinomianism comes in so many forms, and it’s left such confusion about sanctification, all denying the believer’s duty to obey the moral law of God. Let me suggest some that I noted.

First, there is kind of a Gnostic-dualism approach to antinomianism, and that says the salvation of the soul is all that matters. Bodily behavior is irrelevant because your body’s not redeemed, so don’t worry about it. That has played out in some gross transgressions advocated by pastors. I know one, myself, who suggested that couples who were preparing to get married have sex together because their bodies weren’t redeemed anyway.

So there is that dualistic antinomianism. And then there’s, I guess, what you could call God-focused—although it’s bad to say it that way, that’s what they would say—God-focused antinomianism, which says He just requires love, He just requires love. And so because He just really requires love, you have to do some—you know, you have to do some editing of the Bible because so much of it is not loving. But since God is concerned only about love, you have to hold back requirements in Scripture because that wouldn’t be loving.

And then there is Spirit-prompted antinomianism: trusting in the Holy Spirit to move inwardly so as to deny any need to be subject or obedient to the moral law of God. You’re free from the law; just let the Holy Spirit do it. And if it doesn’t happen very well, well it’s probably His fault.

And then there’s Christ-centered antinomianism: God sees no sin in you anyway because Christ paid for your sin, and then He kept the law for you. So since He kept the law for you, you don’t have to worry about keeping it for yourself, which you can’t do.

And then there is cross-centered antinomianism: No need to obey the law, just flee to the cross and preach the cross to yourself.

And then there is grace-centered antinomianism: All sin has been paid for; you’re free.

Then there is something that I hadn’t come across until recently—lesser-sins antinomianism: Committing lesser sins keeps you from greater sins by granting your flesh some satisfaction.

All those seek to eliminate obedience to the moral law of God and His holy will, and all of it is an attack on God Himself. John Murray said, “In the denial of the permanent authority and sanctity of the moral law there is a direct thrust at the very center of our holy faith, for it is a thrust at the veracity and authority of the Lord Himself.

We all understand that the law has three uses. Use number one is to convict and condemn the sinner. Use number two is to provide law and order as a common grace in society. And three, to reveal the commandments that all Christians are to obey. But people who are antinomian want to get rid of the second and third use of the law.

Listen to this quote: “The law of God is holy, just, and good, but it becomes a very great evil when it is perverted and used for something other than its divine purpose—one singular purpose. It expresses man’s guilt before God, shutting him up to faith in Christ alone for salvation. To use God’s law for any other purpose is to pervert and abuse the law. When you think of the law of God and obedience to that law as an act of abuse, you have a twisted view.”

You say, “Well, the law is Old Covenant.” “Well, the law is Old Covenant.” Maybe I ought to take a few minutes and show you something. Let’s go back to Deuteronomy 6. I want you to see that the law is Old Covenant because the law reflects God’s will.

Listen to Deuteronomy 6: “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it”—very familiar text—“so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.” That’s God’s will: Keep all His commandments all your life long. Be obedient. Be obedient.

That’s the foundation. And to help you with that, you need to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and . . . soul and . . . all your might,” verse 5. And then, verse 6, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart”—this is the key. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and talk of them when you sit [down] and when you walk in the way . . . lie down . . . rise up. . . . Bind them as a sign on your hand and . . . as frontals on your forehead,” symbolic of having to think through the law of God when you work and when you think. “Write them on the doorposts of your house.” You know that. The command, then, is to obey the law of God.

Over in Deuteronomy 30, just very similarly, Deuteronomy 30, and we’ll just look at verse 1 and following. “So it shall be when all of the things have come upon you”—and after the pronouncing of blessing and cursing—“after this,” verse 2, “you [will] return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons.” This is, again, same emphasis on obedience.

Verse 8, “You shall again obey the Lord, and observe all His commandments which I command you today.” Verse 10, “If you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and statutes written in the book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” God wants obedience from the heart, obedience from the heart.

Psalm 37:31, of the righteous God said this: “The law of his God is in his heart.” That’s a divine work. Psalm 40, verse 8, David says, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.” The law was not just external in the Old Covenant; it was in the heart.

Turn to Psalm 119. I don’t know if you ever thought about this psalm the way I’m going to address it. But Psalm 119, just listen to a few of these wonderful verses. Verse 57—and you could pick any of them, really—57, that Heth portion: “The Lord is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words. I sought Your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to Your word. I considered my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies. I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments. The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your law. At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You because of Your righteous ordinances. I am a companion of all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts. The earth is full of Your lovingkindness, O Lord; teach me Your statutes.”

Go over to verse 97, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.” I love verse 103: “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Do you think that was written by a legalist? That was not written by a legalist, I think—go back to Psalm 51—any more than Psalm 19 or Psalm 1.

Psalm 51, this is the confession of David. And I think this is a salvation prayer. We’ve all probably preached on it. This comes from David’s heart. I think this is a salvation prayer. It sounds like a salvation prayer even if you put it in the New Testament.

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness”—it asks for grace; “according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” This is the true sinner’s prayer. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” He understands the depths of his sin.

“I was brought forth in iniquity, in sin my mother conceived me.” From his very conception, he bore the fallenness of Adam’s race. “And I know what You want, God”: “You desire truth in the innermost being.” That is not the prayer of a legalist. “And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. So, Lord, “purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, blot out all my iniquities.”

You want a sinner’s prayer, that’s it. That’s a salvation prayer. And look at verse 10: “Create in me”—what?—“a clean heart.” David knew he needed a new heart, and he needed a new spirit. And that’s the language of Jeremiah 31, isn’t it?

“Don’t cast me away from Your presence, don’t take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, sustain me with a willing spirit”—“I need a new spirit. I need a new heart.” And “then I will [be able to] teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You”—“I’ll be useful to you.” That’s the sinner’s prayer, in David’s experience, that led him to the reality of Psalm 119. Isaiah 51:7 says that God desires His law in the heart, in the heart. And that’s exactly what you have with David.

So as Abraham is a prototype of faith in the Old Testament because he was justified by faith—“He believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness”—David is a prototype of a sanctified believer who was given a new heart and a new spirit. And what you have in, for example, Jeremiah 31 is the promise that that’s going to happen to the whole nation of Israel.

But it wasn’t as if it never happened. You don’t think for a moment, do you, that people in the Old Testament were converted in some other way. David knew what he needed: a new heart, a new spirit. He needed a new creation. And when that new creation took place in his life, Psalm 119 became the testimony of his love for his God that showed up in his desire for obedience.

God wants the law in the heart. He always has. He always has. And David kept that law because he would rather do that than anything else. So if you are running from the law of God under some misconception of your spiritual condition, if you’re fleeing from that, you need what David needed: a new heart, a new spirit, a new creation.

So Paul’s ministry was to destroy fortresses, and then to take prisoner those who had been liberated and make them obedient to Christ. In fact it’s so basic, it’s so clearly the point, that Jesus said, “Why do you call Me Lord and not do what I say?” Completely inconsistent.

So let’s take a look, just in wrapping up, 2 Corinthians chapter 10 again. How did Paul approach this ministry? We’ll just touch lightly on it. First of all, he was compassionate. If you’re going to be confronting people with their obedience or their disobedience, you find here a model for how to do this effectively. Number one: He was compassionate.

He said, “I . . . urge you”—he’s speaking to the Corinthians, with all their issues—“I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent”—being sarcastic and saying that because that was the criticism of him. But you start out, if you’re going to call people to obedience, and that’s going to be the direction of your ministry, there needs to be compassion, meekness, and gentleness, the very meekness and gentleness of Christ. Some in Corinth saw Paul’s meekness and gentleness as weakness. He responded a little bit with sarcasm. But he had to be compassionate because the Lord was compassionate.

But he was also courageous. Verse 2, “I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh.” He is not weak. He will be bold; he will be courageous; he will confront those who are undermining his authority and his ministry, those who are accusing him of walking in the flesh. So he kind of had it coming both ways. If he did nothing, they said he was weak; if he did something, they said he was fleshly. But the balance is there, and sometimes hard to achieve. On the one hand, the apostle said, “I can be courageous,” on the other hand, “I can be compassionate”; and finding the balance may be a challenge.

Maybe more significantly, he was competent, competent. In verse 4, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful.” If you got into an argument with the apostle Paul, if you were confronted by the apostle Paul, to do battle with Paul was to do battle with a man who had a massive arsenal of divine truth at his disposal. You didn’t want to engage with him without realizing that your human arguments couldn’t withstand the power of Paul’s divine weapons. So he says in ministry, “I have been compassionate. I have been, when I needed to be, courageous. I am competent in wielding the truth with such effectiveness that it has destroyed the fortresses.”

Just two other thoughts here. He was committed. Verse 6, “We are ready to punish all disobedience.” Again, this is such an interesting statement, as if the pastor is to be the one inflicting punishment. But for the sake of the purity of the church, Paul would do that—did do that.

So he was compassionate, he was courageous, he was competent, he was committed. He was ready to punish all disobedience. And one final note: He was cautious. He says in verse 6, at the end, that punishment would occur “whenever your obedience is complete.” What are you waiting for? “I’m waiting for the obvious, meaning all who are obedient are known.” So what he is saying is the people who are obedient don’t need to be punished; the people who are not obedient, they’re the ones that need to be dealt with. He would put them to the test. If we had time, you can go through chapters 10 through 13, where he talks even more about that.

So his pastoral ministry was about this issue: “I will be compassionate to you until I can’t be, and I have to be courageous. And when the conflict comes, you will have to face the weapons of divine truth for your misdeeds, your rebellion. And I’m committed to do whatever I need to do for the purity of the church, but not until it’s clear who are the obedient ones and who are the disobedient ones.” He would be cautious and careful.

So as we think about the triumph of obedience, I think we have to introduce that back into the vocabulary of the church. It’s been absent.

Father, we thank You for the time this morning to consider something so basic, so foundational. And Lord, how can we possibly fulfill our calling? How can we possibly conform a congregation to Christ? How can we build them to the fullness of the stature of Christ? Unless, like Him, they become obedient to You. It’s not complicated. We don’t need to find some mystical path, some meditation or contemplation. We need to do what Paul said: “I beat my body to bring it into submission.”

Lord, give us the strength in Your Spirit to subdue the flesh and obey out of a heart of love—so full of love that obedience is our highest joy. That’s our prayer, in Christ’s name. Amen.

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Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time
Since 1969


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Since 1969