The Transformed Heart

But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

The key idea of these two verses is the contrast between the unbeliever and the believer. Paul uses the phrase, “the called,” to identify the believer, whether he is Jewish or not. Increasingly in this Twenty-first Century, though, American churches are being populated by people who don’t understand the power of the transformed heart.

In Paul’s day, of course, to be a Christian meant that a person had to take a stand for Jesus; their baptisms were not inside the safety of a church’s baptistry, but out in the open, in a stream or a pond, where everyone could see. Christianity was not yet the State religion, the worship of Caesar was, and at various times and places in the First Century a public stand for Jesus would lead to persecution. In those times and places, the believer had to rely upon the power and wisdom of Christ within him.

When Christ transformed my heart many years ago the Holy Spirit made it clear that I couldn’t live by my wits or on the strength of someone else’s faith. I had to turn to Jesus – the the wisdom of His Word, applied to my life by the Holy Spirit – to deal with the issues in my life. As a young man back then those issues were not as complex as they would be if I were to meet Jesus today, but they were just as real. Thankfully as I continued to read and ponder the Scriptures, the entanglements of sin didn’t get as strong of a hold on me. But I noticed that many of those around me either couldn’t get past some aspect of their perception of Christianity (they “stumbled”) or they just considered my faith to be foolishness. Usually those who “stumbled” had some previous exposure to the Church (even if they weren’t ethnically Jewish) while those with very little or even no exposure just considered the Christian faith to be laughable.

But in our day the need for a transformed heart is not proclaimed with quite the urgency as in earlier generations of the Church. Since “sin” has become a “four letter word” in many circles, forgiveness is not proclaimed either. The proclamation has become “Christianity light” – all the flavor of Christianity with nothing that will offend. And in much the same way that people can get used to diet beverages (alcoholic or not), this generation has gotten used to the “light Church.”

The antidote to the “light Church” is the proclamation of “Christ crucified,” leading to the truly transformed heart. Along with Paul, we must let the chips fall where they may. If people stumble over this message or consider it foolishness, let them – because they are lost. And before they can be found (“called” in Paul’s vocabulary), they must realize they are lost.

To Whom Much is Given

Thus says the LORD, “For three transgressions of Judah and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they rejected the law of the LORD And have not kept His statutes; Their lies also have led them astray, Those after which their fathers walked (Amos 2:4).

To a man, the Old Testament prophets preached a message of repentance to a people who said they trusted God but in reality followed after idols. Sometimes that message was a message of the tender love of God for his erring people (Hosea); sometimes it was a general call to repentance (Joel); and sometimes it was an in-your-face demand for repentance. That was Amos’ message; he wasn’t subtle at all.

The first two chapters of Amos’ prophecy pronounced judgment upon Israel and Judah and the nations surrounding them. The often-repeated phrase “For three transgressions of _____ and for four…” is a Hebrew phrase that communicates the same message as our English phrase, “The straw that broke the camel’s back…” Sin upon sin had piled up against these nations until God had to bring judgment for “the final straw,” which He names in each case.

As the judgments are pronounced for some very violent and egregious sins of the nations, similar judgments are pronounced upon Israel and Judah for much less sins – or so it would seem (see 2:4, 6). Most of us today would think it unfair that the same severity of punishment would be meted out against Judah who merely “rejected the law of God” as it was against those who “ripped open pregnant women” (1:13) simply to enlarge their borders.

To us in the conservative, right-wing movement of America, there is hardly a more vile sinner than the abortionist who employs procedures like “partial birth abortion,” except perhaps the lawyer or politician that legalizes such a procedure (and lives high off the proceeds of their actions). But in God’s eyes, there is no hierarchy of sins. The immediate consequences of the abortionist’s sin may be more apparent, but every vile consequence had its root in the first act of disobedience, the first act of justification.

Perhaps that’s why disobedience to God’s Word is a more significant sin than we in America would like to believe.

The Gospel Yeast

Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Luke 13:20-21

                 This is one of the few times in Scripture where yeast is not compared to sin. Most often it is used to speak of the way sin changes the state of a person’s heart. But in this case, that change is a positive one. The Gospel (the kingdom of God) actually alters the very nature of human development.

                 I came to know Christ in college. To many around me, the changes that took place in my life were probably considered changes that came with maturity and human development, but I knew different. There was a significant difference between the “BC” person and who I became.

                 Though my life as sheltered and stable, I grew up with no real sense of personal value. Before I came to Christ, I had no understanding of why I existed. I was scared to try new things because I feared ridicule or that I would fail and people would think poorly of me. I’m sure it was not intentionally communicated, but I believed my personal worth was a function of some unique contribution that I knew was not in me. Had I embraced an Eastern mystical religion in those days, it would have fit my don’t-rock-the-boat demeanor. I wasn’t passionate about anything so that I would avoid being criticized.

                 But Christ changed that. His presence in my life began to permeate everything I was and did. That “small” decision to trust Him with my life suddenly impacted the whole of my life, just like the yeast did to the dough in Jesus’ illustration. I recognized the Bible as the source of Truth; I saw Jesus as the Ruler over the universe; I may not have had clear vocational direction, but I knew it was somehow connected to my relationship with Him. All the pieces of my life that had previously seemed so fragmented, now were brought into order by His presence, like a magnet does to iron filings.

                 But it makes me wonder about some of the people near me. Has their internal orientation changed because of their decision to trust Christ? (Has the Gospel yeast permeated their lives?) Rather, have they viewed Christianity as “fire insurance,” simply to keep them from hell? When small children (even my own) trust Christ, does the Gospel yeast so alter their lives that they will be true to it in the turbulent adolescent years and beyond? Certainly, I can never peer into the hearts of these near me, but He does expect me to inspect the “fruit” or see if “the dough has risen.”

The Rich Man and Lazarus

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

                “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

                “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Luke 16:27-31)

 

                The text here comes from the story about the rich man and Lazarus. (Traditionally, the rich man’s name has been “Divies” because it is the term used in the Vulgate, the Latin Bible, for the rich man, but the name is not in Scripture.) Lazarus was a poor beggar who often would sit at the gate of the rich man’s home and beg. But he believed (apparently) and was rewarded with heaven while the rich man suffered in Hades. Jewish legend suggested that when a believer died he would go to Abraham’s bosom, so Jesus was using this idea to make His point, not necessarily condoning any truth to the legend.

                The rich man, while in agony, called upon Father Abraham to soothe his agony by sending Lazarus and when that was not possible, he asked him to send Lazarus back to his family that was still living so that they could be warned. Abraham explained that they had the Scriptures, but the rich man thought that someone coming back to life would more clearly convince them. But Jesus put the main point of His story in the words of Abraham, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced if someone rises from the dead.”

                There is a specific and a general application to this. The specific application is that the skeptical religious leaders would not be convinced when Jesus Himself rose from the dead. This is, at least in part, because to believe in Him would likely doom their careers within the Jewish Sanhedrin. These positions were acquired at great cost of time and effort. We might compare them to political careers in our day. Very few men are willing to risk their careers to believe in Jesus – then or now.

                The general application is that no matter how many or how stupendous the miracles, they will not convince the skeptic, unless they are convinced by the Scriptures. If a person will believe it will be because he chooses to listen to “Moses and the Prophets” (aka, the Scripture).

                This principle is really a major factor in the decline of the Church in our day. People have things backward – they want the miracles rather than the Scripture. It’s too hard and time-consuming for many to dig into the Scripture; we’d rather just have a quick, easy miracle, or some other “feel-good” entertainment. And there are always churches that will try to accommodate them. But Dr. A.B. Simpson had it right when he penned the verse, “Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord; Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word; Once the gift I wanted, Now the Giver own; Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.”

Weighed In the Scales

You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting (Dan 5:27).

I consider this to be one of the most tragic verses in all of the Scripture.

Belshazzar the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar was the co-regent of Babylon when this event took place. His father, Nabonidus ruled with him and was away from Babylon when Belshazzar decided to throw a party. At this party he thought it would be great fun to mock the Jews in his kingdom by using the fancy goblets that had been brought from the Temple before it had been destroyed. With these he toasted the wooden and stone gods of Babylon, elevating them to a position above the God of the Jews. After all, since the Jews were subservient to the Babylonians, their God must be as well.

What Belshazzar forgot – but the text makes clear that he knew about – was that his grandfather had been banished to the open field for a period of time – likely 7 years – until he acknowledged that the God of the Jews was the true God. Maybe it would be better to say that Belshazzar “chose not to remember” this incident, because despite his knowledge he flaunted his gods and his power in the face of his Creator.

His feeling of invincibility was understandable. The Babylonian Empire was at its zenith. The city was impregnable, with a major river running through it to keep the people supplied with fresh water even if someone tried to lay siege to it. But what Belshazzar didn’t know was that while he and his friends were partying, the Medes had dammed up the river enough to allow their soldiers to wade into the city without the Babylonian guard becoming aware of it. Daniel’s prophecy that Belshazzar would be killed that night came true.

Sadly – on a smaller, less dramatic scale – the judgment pronounced against Belshazzar is continually being leveled against men in this generation every day. Despite all the evidences of His existence, His power and His sovereignty men flaunt the gods of their own making before Him, declaring them to be greater than He is. The same declaration of judgment is theirs: “You have been weighed in the scales and found wanting.”

But it doesn’t have to be. This same God that Daniel and his people worshiped has revealed Himself in Jesus, proving countless times that He was and is God in flesh who went to the cross for us and for our salvation. Because He has clothed us in His righteousness, when we are weighed in the scales, they are tipped in our favor. We are no longer “wanting.”

But there is no “in between.” Either a man is found “righteous” or found “wanting.” I hope you have made the right choice.