Holding Firmly Our Profession

DSCN0646Hebrews 10:23

Perhaps too often we use terms in our churches that sound strange to twenty-first century hearers. Some of these, like “making a decision for Christ”, are not found in the Scriptures and can be safely abandoned. But other terms, such as “covenant”, are good Biblical terms and need to be defined and explained. On the simplest level, we can say that a covenant is a contract or an agreement. In the Bible we find five covenants between God and man clearly mentioned: the one made with Noah, the one with Abraham and his seed (also called the “promise” in Galatians 3), the covenant made with David, and two covenants dealing with the life and worship of God’s people: the law or old covenant and the new or better covenant.

The writer has been presenting the great benefits of this new and better agreement. In chapter eight of Hebrews we read of four major provisions of God’s new agreement with us.

  • God is our God and we are his people. This is the basic promise of the contract. God enters into a personal, dynamic relationship with us, individually and corporately.
  • God’s laws are written on our hearts (the heart meaning the inner person). This means that the Holy Spirit gives us an inner responsiveness to God’s directives. Our minds agree with the truth of the Scriptures and we desire to see them actualized in the way we live, even if we know little about them. Truth resides in us.
  • We know the Lord. Since we are in a living relationship with the living God, we know more than facts about him or how to approach him. We also know him (John 10:27).
  • We have the forgiveness of sins. God does not hold our acts of rebellion against us. Instead, we are right with him.

Now since these things are so, the writer draws a few applications from this truth. We have already considered the first (“let us draw near to God”); now let us examine the second.

The writer directs us to something believers have made: “our profession or confession of hope”. What is the meaning of “profession or confession”? He is not speaking of a written document. Confessions of faith or doctrinal statements or catechisms are useful if used properly (sadly they are too often misused), but he is not talking about such documents in this verse. We should periodically examine such documents to see if they are communicating what we want to say in the present generation. Word meanings shift; errors and opinions change and we must guard the truth (2 Timothy 1:14). We should avoid empty talk about “always reforming”, until we are actually willing to evaluate what people before us have written and what the Holy Spirit is teaching us from the Word in our generation.

Instead, the writer is referring to an open acknowledgment or public declaration about our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This confession should be made early in your new life by the means of believer’s baptism, Acts 2:41; etc. (The Bible knows nothing of such human rituals like “confirmation” or “walking forward”.) The confession leads necessarily to an ongoing, public testimony. We do this among God’s people by such means as sharing in the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:26), attending the meetings of people who follow Christ (Acts 2:42), and responding to the truth of the preached word by saying “Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20) and discussing the truthfulness of what has been taught (Acts 17:11).  We do this outside the assembly by living and speaking in such a way that seeks to draw people to our Lord and Savior.

Are you regularly participating in a local gathering of God’s people (a church)? Are you building up and encouraging those that are your gospel partners? Do they experience you sharing life with them? Do they help you in your walk with the Lord?

Grace and peace, David

Faith and Assurance

FifteenFiveHebrews 10:22

Let’s briefly review what we have said in previous articles about this verse. In the inner person of the heart of everybody, there is a capacity for self-judgment, which the Bible calls the “conscience”. As Paul writes in Romans 2:15, the conscience has the function of either accusing or defending us in reference to guilt. We saw that guilt is “the fact of having performed a wrong act”. Since we are guilty, the conscience produces bad feelings—a sense of guilt. The emotional pain produced is a warning signal of our guilt. We also considered the human problem: “How can a person be rid of guilt and so the sense of guilt?” and mankind’s attempted “solutions”. Then we examined God’s solution to the problem of guilt, which is the finished saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But this led us to another question, “If I am a believer, why do I still have a sense of guilt?” Next, let us enlarge our thoughts of faith and assurance.

God invites us to draw near in full assurance of faith. We see here the total necessity of approaching God by faith. God is only pleased when we come in faith (Hebrews 11:6) in what he has done for us in Christ. The Lord wants us to rely totally on him. Faith in God is of great concern to the Lord. Consider Christ’s great question (Luke 18:8). Look at the way Jesus interacted with people: the man born blind (John 9:35) or the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28) for only two examples. Think about God’s purposeful use of the trials in our lives (1 Peter 1:6-7).

God has established faith as the nourishment and support of other spiritual graces. Faith is like the oil producing companies that sell part of their product for gasoline, part for heating, and part for other uses. If they quit producing, then other industries shut down.

  • Faith stimulates the fruit of repentance (Jonah 3:5).
  • Faith stimulates love for Christ. Love to Christ is extremely important (1 Corinthians 16:22). But it is faith that lays hold of the truth of Jesus, considers his surpassing value, which in turn yields love for Christ (1 Peter 2:7).
  • Faith lays hold of the Lord Jesus Christ to nourish and restore other graces (Psalm 42:5).

We must join assurance with our faith. Faith and assurance are not identical. Faith is reliance on God, but assurance is confidence or boldness in that reliance. You can have faith without assurance and you can have assurance without faith. Let’s contrast two different people. One person may truly believe in Christ but be greatly troubled due to a weakness of understanding, such as being troubled over the unpardonable sin. Their faith is real, but their assurance is very weak due to incorrect teaching. Another person might be very confident that his or her good works and faithful attendance on religious ritual will save, but without faith in Christ, he or she is not saved. They have great confidence, but have never placed their trust in Christ alone.

True, saving faith is made up of three elements: knowledge, assent and trust. In true faith there is some amount of certainty or conviction about what God has revealed about himself and the gospel or else there is not really faith.

Assurance rests on three bases: the testimony of the Scriptures, the testimony of a changed life, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. How do I know that I’m married? I have a marriage license. I have a beautiful wife, and three great children who are the fruit of our union, a wedding ring that Sharon gave me on June 15, 1974, and the public testimony of living together as husband and wife. And I can just smile because I know that I am married! Do not confuse faith and assurance, though true assurance flows out of true faith in Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Draw Near in Faith

DSCN0203Hebrews 10:22

God invites us to draw near in full assurance of faith. We see here the total necessity of approaching God by faith. God is only pleased when we come in faith in what he has done for us in Christ. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). The Lord wants us to rely totally on him. Faith “holds on to truth and reasons from what it knows to be fact” (Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 144). So then, as the old hymn “Jesus Paid It All” expressed God’s invitation to us, “Child of weakness, watch and pray; find in me your all in all.” Faith relies on God as our all in all.

God has been pleased to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3ff), but he only allows us to enjoy these blessings as we live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). One of the greatest blessings is that we have a place in the Father’s family through the grace of adoption (adult sonship). We are sons through faith in Christ, and so if we are to enjoy our position as sons, we must do so by that same faith. I call this the Colossians 2:6 principle: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him (NIV). God allows no reason for self-confidence, even for the believer. Without Christ we can do nothing! Remember John 15:5. But as we believe in Christ, an inexpressible and glorious joy is ours! Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory… (1 Peter 1:8 ESV).

We see the degree of confidence in Christ that we ought to show; namely, full assurance of faith. This kind of assurance flows out from a believing knowledge of Jesus, our great high priest. “Though Jesus Christ is so highly exalted in glory, yet he is not forgetful of us on earth. Some, when raised to places of honor, forget their friends; as the chief butler, when restored to his place at court, forgot poor Joseph in prison; but it is not so with Christ; though exalted to such glory in heaven, he is not unmindful of his saints on earth” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 207). Jesus deeply cares for you, regardless of your struggles with guilt feelings. Faith confidently lays hold of the greatness of Jesus, the great high priest, and his one-time, finished sacrifice for sin. The mark of true spirituality is not doubt, but the freedom and joy of full assurance.

Is this full assurance yours? You must first believe in Christ and then live by faith on him. As you follow him, the Holy Spirit will bring about bold assurance. The walk of faith experiences the unchangeable character and grace of the Lord Jesus and develops fresh dependence on him while the Spirit testifies to his greatness. Well did Isaac Watts write the following words: “Jesus, my great High Priest, offered His blood and died; my guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside. His powerful blood did once atone and now it pleads before the throne.” Amen! Praise the Lord!

Hearing this is one matter; doing this is another. We must actually draw near to God with the confidence that our consciences are cleansed through the finished work of Christ. Right now, boldly approach God the Father through his dearly loved Son. Enjoy the welcome he offers to you!

Grace and peace, David

Sorting Out Guilt and Guilt Feelings


Hebrews 10:22

The Holy God has provided a way that people can approach him and have their guilt and guilt feelings cured. First, we must understand the cure for guilt.           God offers the cleansing of the conscience. Let’s briefly review the problem that had to be dealt with.

There is a three-part true guilt because of sin: just condemnation because of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:18), righteous judgment due to personal disobedience (Ephesians 5:6), and a holy verdict of wrath because of not believing in Christ (John 3:18). Linked to this true guilt is a conscience that produced acts that lead to death: because the sinner is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), because death cannot produce life that God accepts (Romans 6:21), and because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

During the time of the law or old covenant, there was an incomplete solution to the problem of guilt. The true believers before Christ came were truly saved. Their sins were forgiven and they were right with God, because they believed that God would provide a perfect offering for sin. They were right with God (Romans 4:1-8). But their consciences were not cleared (they still felt guilty for their sins), because Christ’s better sacrifice had not yet been offered (Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4).

Now we have the better blessing of the new covenant (10:22). The blood of Christ has been sprinkled on our hearts to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. Our sins are forgiven and God and his law are satisfied. “What Christ has done in liberating us… is… to set our conscience free from the guilt of sin… [The Christian has] freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law, with a view to winning the favour of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ” (Stott, Galatians, p. 132). We have this actual cleansing as a reality in our lives. We are not guilty, but right with God. We are free people.

However, many encounter difficulties in applying this to their lives: “But I still have a sense of guilt!” This is a common affliction that afflicts many. This should caution us against giving quick, simplistic answers that pertain to all. In different people the problem may spring from one or multiple sources. Having given that caution let us think about some of these in the form of questions.

  • Are you really right with God? Perhaps you feel guilt because you are guilty. Your problem might be that you have never trusted in Christ to have your sins forgiven and to have his righteousness credited to your account.
  • Do you understand the gospel of Christ? You might be truly saved, but either you have been poorly taught or have been taught much error with the truth. When such afflicted people learn the truth and grab hold of it, it can be like “getting saved all over again!” Of course you are not, but the resulting liberation as you lay hold of Christ with a clearer understanding can make it feel that way.
  • Is there unconfessed sin in your life? I mean sin that you know about, sin that you indulge in, though you know it is inconsistent with whom you are in Jesus Christ. Have you sinned against God the Father in heaven (1 John 1:9)? Sin is not trivial and should not be played with. As you confess your sins, you will discover his faithfulness in Christ.
  • Is law in your conscience? By law I mean the ten commandments of the law covenant, human religious standards or rituals that function like law, or a wrong view of law during this new covenant age. Do you have the idea that “God will accept me or sanctify me if I keep the law?” Some imagine that God doesn’t really like them unless they are perfect. I realize that many would vehemently deny that this is true about them, yet they still feel this way inside “when other Christians aren’t looking.” The doctrinal paths into this swamp of depression are numerous, and we cannot deal with them now. But listen to the words of John Bunyan: “I may not, will not, cannot, dare not, make it [the law] my saviour and judge, nor suffer [allow] it to set up its government in my conscience; for by so doing I fall from grace, and Christ Jesus doth profit me nothing” (Treasury of Bunyan, p. 924).
  • Are you living by faith in Christ? We plan to talk about this in our next article. But for now, I want to say this: You cannot strip faith out of the Christian way of life and still call it Christian. True Christianity asserts that the supernatural is a necessary part of how we live. Faith in God through Christ by the power of the Spirit of God is essential. True confidence before God comes by his action in us. Our faith is part of this relationship.

Grace and peace, David

The Cure for a Guilty Conscience

IMG_0630Hebrews 10:22

The letter to the Hebrews is a powerful presentation of the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is better than angels and Moses; he is better than Aaron and his priesthood and the sacrifices offered by them in conformity with the old covenant. Christ has a better covenant built on better promises. The writer is teaching the same thing as the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:18. In everything Christ must have the supremacy. Since this is so, Christ’s followers must live in a new way. The truth of his superiority must control all that we are: our worship, our attitudes, our lifestyles, and who we are inside. We see this in this section of this great letter.

In the inner person of the heart of everybody, there is a capacity for self-judgment, which the Bible calls the “conscience”. As Paul writes in Romans 2:15, the conscience functions inside us to either accuse or defend us in reference to guilt. Since mankind’s fall into sin (the Bible doesn’t discuss the human conscience prior to the fall, so we will avoid speculation), the human conscience has had a problem with guilt.

  • By guilt we mean “the fact of having performed a wrong act”. According to the Bible, all of us are guilty. We all have done what it worthy of blame, whether by failing to live for God’s glory, or not seeking God, or by transgressing the Two Greatest Commandments, or by numerous transgressions of other of God’s commands, or by opposing the good news of salvation in Christ alone.
  • Everyone is guilty because everyone has disobeyed God’s law (Romans 3:9-20). So then, we are law-breakers, guilty, and under condemnation.
  • Since we are guilty, the conscience produces bad feelings—a sense of guilt. The emotional pain produced is a warning signal of our guilt.

Think of the red engine lights on your car’s dashboard. They come on to warn you that your car has a problem. The lights are for your benefit.

The human problem is, “How can a person be rid of guilt and so the sense of guilt? Humankind has proposed various “solutions”.

  • “Let’s make our own religion and seek to pacify God or whatever gods we want to imagine by religious rituals and/or good works.” This is like putting electrical tape over the red light on the dashboard.
  • “Let’s deny that there is such a thing as guilt and perhaps also deny that there is a God.” This is like looking the other way when the warning light comes on.
  • “Let’s treat the guilt feelings by whatever means is available—medication, meditation, pop therapies, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.” The list of proposed remedies goes on and on. This is like smashing the warning light with a hammer!

The problem with all human solutions is that they deal only with the sense of guilt and not with guilt itself that produces the guilt feelings. They don’t reach the root of the problem.

God has designed the nerve endings in your fingertips to warn by pain if something dangerously hot is touched. The answer to the pain is to stop touching the hot object and not to wish that you couldn’t feel the pain or to pop painkillers in the hope that you can keep your hand on the hot object! God has the only solution or cure for a guilty conscience. However, people prefer their inadequate and dangerous remedies to God’s way to cleanse a conscience from guilt. This way is in Jesus Christ and his saving work. Next time, we’ll look at this way closely. But for the present, look to Jesus, our great high priest. He is able to help you today.

Grace and peace, David

Paradise Regained: Now and Next


1 Corinthians 15:20-28

When Jesus came, he announced that the kingdom of God, God’s saving reign, had arrived (Mark 1:15). As we saw in our last article on Paradise Regained, the power of this kingdom is connected with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. His resurrection changes everything! What we should think on now is that God’s kingdom is presently active (15:25). “For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet” (cf. Psalm 110:1).

Christ is presently reigning. His reign began through the events of his resurrection and ascension. Listen to Peter’s confident words on Pentecost (Acts 2:29-36 ESV): “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (my emphasis).

Christ’s reign involves an increasing spread of his authority (Isaiah 9:6-7; 42:1-9; 49:5-7; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 1:8). People from across the globe will come under his gracious authority (Revelation 5:9-10). Jesus Christ will reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet. The enemies include the operation of sin or rebellion against God, and the ruin of creation operating through sin, but especially the force of death. Having secured eternal redemption, Jesus the Messiah rules to apply what he has purchased. Notice that Christ is actively putting his enemies under his feet. He does this through the Spirit, who takes the truth that is in Jesus and makes a new humanity under his rule (Ephesians 4:20-5:7).

We have seen the “now”, but we also need to pay careful attention to the “next”. God’s kingdom will surely triumph in this world (15:26-28). All the words of Jesus proclaim this confident expectation. If you’re not sure, I challenge you to read the Four Gospels carefully.

When Paradise was lost when man sinned, sin began to reign in death (cf. Romans 5:12-14, 21). Because of human sin, death has been a great enemy, destroying billions of human lives. Our world is one vast cemetery; a grim memorial park to this terrible foe. Through his crucifixion, our Lord dealt with the problem of sin, and in his resurrection, he dealt with the evil of death. When people come to know the Lord by grace through faith, they enter into the victory of Jesus over sin and death. As Paul says in verse 26, “The last enemy, death, is being destroyed.” Christ’s reign continues until God’s purpose in his Son is fulfilled (15:27-28). God’s plan is to show his great glory in the exaltation of Jesus, the Son of God (cf. Philippians 2:9-11). Obviously, God the Father who designed the plan and sent his Son is not subject to him. But the Son’s great desire is to bring everything subject to God, and his reign pursues that purpose. The final destiny is God glorified and his people enjoying God’s glory forever with him. This is the hope (confident expectation) that all believers share in. In the trials and struggles of life, we can look forward boldly and anticipate the time when Christ’s kingdom is fully extended over a new earth, where we will be forever with God.

Grace and peace, David

More Thoughts about Drawing Near to God


Hebrews 10:22

A few days ago, we learned from this passage that the living God wants his people to live in close fellowship with him. (I deliberately use the word “learn”, because one of the ways believers are referred to is as disciples or “learners”.) Nearness and boldness to God our Father is encouraged in this new covenant age. God welcomes us heartily into his presence. Coldness, a careless attitude, a lukewarm desire, and fear are all out of place. Instead, we are to have a proper approach to God: “with a sincere [true] heart”. So then, let us learn some more!

We ought to begin with an explanation of terms. The “heart” refers to the whole inner person: mind, emotions, will, etc. The “heart” is in contrast to the outer person (2 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Peter 3:4). Don’t restrict “heart” to the emotions. What is the nature of the Christian’s heart? To help understand it, let’s contrast it with a non-Christian’s heart. The unregenerate heart is a heart where sin reigns (Romans 1:21, 24; 2:5; Ephesians 4:18; Hebrews 3:12). But the regenerate heart is a heart where God’s reign has been established (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).

To approach God with a true heart is to draw near to him with a heart and life in conformity with the truth of God having been written in one’s heart. Remember the article about the belt of truth? We have been taught the truth in Jesus, and daily we need to apply his truth to the way we live. For example, the apostle said (Galatians 2:20), “I have been crucified with Christ.” This is a great truth of Christian experience. In our standing before God, he looks at us as crucified. Since that is true, observe how Paul follows up: “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He knew what was true and he sought to live out that truth in practical ways. In the same way, the ground or basis of approach is your union with Christ, but the manner of your approach must be with “a sincere heart”. This sincere heart requires us to draw near to God with reliance on, joy in, and a desire to conform to our Lord and Savior.

For this reason, we know the following. Merely religious persons seem to draw near to God, but they don’t come with a sincere heart. There are those who perform duties that God has commanded, but who do them in a formal manner and with the outward person only (Isaiah 1:10ff; the Holy Spirit is very emphatic in this passage!) There are also those who worship God by formal, manmade inventions (Matthew 15:7-9; the Lord Jesus is very emphatic in this passage!) God is not indifferent about how we approach him. God desires our heart. He wants our inner person fully involved in a godly manner when we come to him (Mark 12:28-30; Ephesians 5:19).

Are you making use of your privileges? God wants you to draw near to him. I’m sure you have a heating system in your house or apartment. Did you have it on when the days were cool? You probably have a bed with a comfortable mattress. Did you sleep on it or on the floor last night? Every Christian should be concerned that all believers in their local fellowship are drawing near to God. Notice the words of the text – “let us….” This ought to be one of our real and constant concerns for one another. “Father in heaven work in my brother or sister’s heart. May you give them grace so that they draw near to you. I want them to enjoy you and to know you and peace, as they trust in you. O Lord, please fill them with confidence to draw near to you.”

Grace and peace, David

Paradise Regained: Starting at the Resurrection

IMG_06101 Corinthians 15:20-28

In the beginning the Holy God created a perfect world and a people made in his image, sinless and able to glorify God by enjoying him always. The Holy God used to communicate with his people and they with him in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Filled with joy, right with God, and in perfect fellowship with one another, it was truly Paradise. But the darkest day in human history happened early. Adam rebelled against God, and his transgression brought God’s curse and the resultant ruin that our race still bitterly experiences. Paradise had been lost. Now death, disease, discord, despair, and disaster became part of human life.

However, the loss of Paradise was not humanity’s only problem, as tragic and terrible as that was. Rejecting God’s rule, people became the followers of a new leader, willingly following the evil one in a sinful way of life (Ephesians 2:1-3). Rightly, the Holy God responded to mankind in holy wrath (Romans 1:18-32). But mankind responded, not in repentance, but by striving to build up a rebellion, a kingdom or reign of darkness, against God’s kingdom or reign (Psalm 2:1-3). Now as far as overthrowing God’s reign or rule, this kingdom of darkness is hopeless and totally insignificant in power.  In fact, when he views this rebellion, the Lord laughs (Psalm 2:4). He is God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Lord of the armies of heaven, and Sovereign over all. Let us worship God, as we consider his eternal reign (Psalm 47:2; 103:19; 145:11-13).

How did God respond to human rebellion? Before we can understand his response, we must understand who the Lord is and his eternal purpose. In everything God works to lift up the glory or shining significance of his name. He wants to display all that he is, and to have a people who will sense and share his glory. Like an overflowing fountain, he chooses to display his love, patience, goodness, kindness, mercy, peace, and joy. And he freely chooses to share what he is with a totally undeserving people, by his sovereign grace. He shows himself as all that we need that our comfort and joy might be only in him (Isaiah 40:1; cf. 51:12). We lost Paradise, but God’s story, the story of the Bible, is how God decided to regain Paradise for his chosen people, all to the glory of God’s name. God tells us he does this by setting up another kingdom in humanity—the kingdom of God through his Son. Let us listen to the story of his glory.

God’s kingdom involves the salvation (resurrection) of his people (15:20-24). The central idea of God’s reign is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In contrast to the basic truth of the gospel (15:3-8), some people connected with the Corinthian believers had been denying that there was a physical resurrection (15:12). Paul first responds that such denials are against the truth of Christ’s resurrection and our hope in Christ (15:13-19). Now he proceeds to demonstrate that Christ’s resurrection has made necessary everything included in God’s reign or kingdom, including the resurrection of all Christ’s people. So Paul sets forth the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. He calls Christ “the firstfruits of those who sleep” (those believers who have died, cf. 15:18). The idea is that Christ is the first one in the resurrection to eternal life, and his resurrection guarantees the resurrection of his people (cf. 16: 15; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). In other words, the resurrected Christ is God’s pledge that many others will be resurrected also. In Christ’s resurrection, there is the regaining of Paradise, but it is a regaining with power (cf. Romans 1:4; cf. Ephesians 1:18-21).

Next, Paul steps back a bit and places the event of Christ’s resurrection into the purpose of God in history. Since the losing of Paradise happened through a man, so also through a man Paradise must be regained. The Greek text reads simply: “For since through a man, death, also through a man [the] resurrection from [the] dead” (15:21). In God’s infinite wisdom, he chose to display his glory through a man to counter the effects on mankind’s rebellion against God. The glory of God would shine forth brilliantly through his Son taking on human flesh (Philippians 2:6-8), and through his true humanity bring about his purpose. God acts to build a new humanity through Christ’s resurrection. Again, the Greek text simply says: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Paul uses the “Two Adams” to set forth the truth of the relationship between, on the one hand, Adam and his fallen, sinful, and cursed humanity, and, on the other hand, Christ and his new, justified and glorified humanity. Anyone in Adam only has death; Paradise is lost. But everyone in Christ certainly shares in life; Paradise is regained. “Those who are ‘in Christ,’ those who have entered the new humanity through grace by means of his death and resurrection, will just as certainly ‘be made alive’; they will be raised from the dead into the shared life of the risen One” (Fee, p. 751, his emphasis).

Then Paul must answer a question: “If those who are in Christ share in his resurrection, then why do his people die? Why aren’t we living in the fullness of his resurrection now?” So he answers, “But each in his/its own order: [the] firstfruits, Christ; then at his Coming, those who belong to Christ; then the goal: when he hands over the kingdom/reign to God the Father, when he brings to an end/abolishes all rule and all authority and power.” God is working out a plan. In the first order is the resurrection of Christ. When he raised Christ from the dead, God the Father set in motion a process to bring about his goal. That goal is end of all opposition to his reign and the display of the full glory of his reign. In the second order is the resurrection of those who belong to Christ. This explains why Christians die. Though resurrection power is already at work in us, it is not yet God’s appointed time for the full expression of the second order. As we have been redeemed spiritually, so will our bodies will be redeemed, and we will enter glorious freedom (Romans 8:18-25). Paradise will be regained, but it is a better Paradise of glory.

Those who follow Christ must live with a “resurrection outlook”.  We must be thankful for the now of Christ’s resurrection and assured of what will happen when Jesus returns and we are resurrected. Is the confident expectation of resurrection glory part of your world and life view? Make it part of your daily thoughts.

Grace and peace, David

Sing a New Song


Psalm 98

As we journey through life, the followers of Jesus encounter a variety of experiences. All affect us in various ways from great joy to dismal grief. I do not know where your emotions are on this spectrum today, but we need to praise God when the circumstances call for songs of joy. We read in James 5:13: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise (ESV). Today, let’s think about overflowing praise when God brings joy to our hearts.

Psalm Ninety-eight begins with a call to sing a new song to the Lord. Our God loves beauty and art. He has given us creative abilities so that we might reflect his glory as Creator. Music is a gift to gladden his heart and ours. We can say things with music that stay with people longer than with plain, spoken words. We express our emotions in artistic ways as we sing. Our big group gatherings provide opportunities to unite our voices with joyful praise. Or if you’re alone, put on some Christian music and bravely sing along.

We ought to sing to the Lord because he has done wonderful deeds (NLT). These deeds focus on the victory (NLT, HCSB) he has won. The mention of the Lord’s victory causes the psalmist to break out into exuberant praise. He senses God’s power and holiness in this victory, a victory that comes from his promise to love and be faithful to Israel (NLT) and that extends to all the ends of the earth (ESV, HCSB). Notice this is an exclamation of faith, a faith based on God’s ultimate purpose in Christ (Luke 24:44-47; Ephesians 3:11).

Next, the psalmist calls on everyone to join him in song (98:4-6). Yes, he wants them to sing and to shout (NIV, HCSB, NLT)! God’s victory is a very suitable occasion for all his people to shout and sing. Does your big group have sufficient freedom in the Spirit to be enthusiastic, high-spirited, and even boisterous? Please allow the Holy Scriptures to transform your experience of praise. Get out the musical instruments and shout for joy!

As the psalmist concludes his song, he senses that he needs a larger choir. For this reason, he calls on all nature to join in. He wants rivers to clap their hands and hills to shout for joy. Why can he call upon the inanimate creation to join in? God’s purpose includes the liberation of creation from its bondage when God reveals the freedom and glory of his sons and daughters when Christ returns (Romans 8:18-21). The Judge will come to set things right, and our songs will resound.

We need to shout and sing today. God has already won the victory at the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:15). His final victory is drawing near. So, unleash your voices. Sing a new song, shout, and clap your hands! Sing this psalm. Do you say you don’t know the tune? Then sing a happy paraphrase of Psalm 98 that Isaac Watts made years ago and was put to music by Lowell Mason. I’m sure you know it. Its name is “Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come!”

Grace and peace and joy, David

Draw Near to God


Hebrews 10:22

We live in a day that emphasizes methodology and technique above character. People in our time suppose that it doesn’t matter what you are as long as you do what you’re supposed to, whatever that means. This can be seen in the attitudes of people towards star athletes on their favorite teams. Character doesn’t matter until the athlete does something so horrendous and out of control that people have to notice. However, people of true greatness avoid that trap. For example, consider John Adams at the time of the Boston Massacre. He was then a prominent lawyer with a growing practice and enlarging political prospects. Then came the tragic events of the evening of March 5, 1770. The British officer and soldiers who fired on the crowd were charged with murder. No one would defend them in court—except John Adams. Though he feared for his reputation and even the welfare and lives of his family and himself, he did not hesitate to take the case. Why? He did so because he believed in the rule of law and the right of every man to a fair trial and a proper defense. So he risked everything to do what was right.

Every church must have a sense of Christ’s character and want to demonstrate his character and way of life before a watching world, and more importantly, to God. To say this another way, our individual spiritual lives must be in right order before the collective “body life” of our church can be right. A crucial aspect of this way of life is drawing near to God. When Christians draw near to God, then they realize that they are near to each other. Consider Romans 15:7.

The Holy Spirit in this text gives as tremendous exhortation: “let us draw near”. But think of the One whom the writer encourages us to approach. He is the true and living God. He is the God who is glorious and majestic (1:3), the Creator of all things (3:4; 11:3). He is angry with sinners (3:10; 10:27) and is all-knowing (4:13). He is also the Judge of mankind (10:30-31; 12:23; 13:4) and is a consuming fire (12:29; cf. Deuteronomy 4:23-24). Anyone that takes these words seriously might want to draw back. We might well fear him rather than want to be near him. You see, in order to draw near to God, we must have a correct concept of the God who is there and who wants us to draw near! This involves an ever-deepening knowledge of God’s revelation of himself in the Scriptures.

“As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power —the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.2)

However, (and this is the good news!), because of God’s free grace to us in Jesus Christ, we can approach God with joyful confidence. This joyful confidence rests on what we have in Christ. “Since we have… let us…” (10:21-22). In the words of Margaret Clarkson in the hymn “We Come, O Christ, to You”: “You are the Way to God, your blood our ransom paid; in you we face our Judge and Maker unafraid.” Here we see the logic of the believer. Or to say this another way, God wants us to love and worship him with our minds. Think about what you have in Christ, and then think about what you should do because you have been so richly blessed. Our nickname for this is “Therefore Christianity”. Know what you have in Christ, and therefore, live this way. How then should we think? Don’t merely moan about your failings. Proper mourning over sin is fine; in fact, it is commendable (Matthew 5:4), as long as it doesn’t leave you in the swamp of depression. True spiritual sorrow over sin in a believer will lead the saint back to Christ and real repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). However, don’t look for a supplemental experience, as if Christ were insufficient. Instead, by faith lay hold of Christ and then live like someone in Christ should live.

By these words God the Holy Spirit is revealing to us God’s desire for close fellowship with his people (1 John 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:9). God wants you! Therefore, a Christian who is living by faith in Christ should have a good self-image. On the other hand, if anyone is struggling with self-image problems it shows some sort of failure in the life. It might be sin and a guilty conscience or more specific sins or weaknesses, such as not laying hold of spiritual blessings by faith, or having little faith, or becoming disconnected from Christ by legalism, or not meditating on the Bible, or not keeping in step with the Spirit’s leadership or grieving the Holy Spirit. To draw near to God is the way to have a little of heaven on earth. In heaven you will be with God; on earth he would be with you. Is there any difference in kind? So then, we see a spiritual attitude of which we should be giving evidence and promoting. What is it? We should be exhorting one another to draw near to God. “Let us draw near to God.”

Grace and peace, David